Tuesday, June 2, 2020


Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33378 [33333] rated (+45), 209 [209] unrated (+0).

Post delayed a day because, well, a lot of things kept me from working on it on Monday. Frozen Sunday night, aside from adding Monday's unpacking.

A few weeks ago, I set up a form for asking questions. I finally decided I had enough to do the extra work of setting up an answer page, so Q&A is now a going concern. I've added a couple fields beyond what I did for Robert Christgau, but I'm not really using them yet. At some point, it should be possible to get selective lists based on keywords, or possibly other search methods.

One question I didn't answer was actually a tip, Jeopardy-style phrased as a question. Mongo asked if I had heard Whitney Rose's We Still Go to Rodeos ("the best country album I've heard so far this year"). No, I hadn't, but the obvious response was to listen to it, so it's in this week's list. I disagree, but my initial reaction was pretty similar to my initial underrating of Kalie Shorr's Open Book in 2019. Still, have major doubts it will ever catch up with the Lucinda Williams and Brandy Clark records (or Chicago Farmer, if he qualifies). I went on and sampled a few more recent alt-country albums, but didn't find anything really better.

Until those, most of what I listened to last week were old jazz albums. The first few were unheard items from the JazzTimes ballots I mentioned recently, at least until I got carried away with Paul Motian. Then I got into Max Roach, partly in response to one of the questions.

Got a rare rock record in the mail recently, with a hand-printed note explaining that Robert Christgau reviewed Thank Your Lucky Stars' debut album, Spinning Out of Orbit, in my one shot 2013 Black Friday Special, and hoping I might like the new one. I do. The CD is actually very nicely packaged, but has no presence on the web, and the note didn't even include an email address, so I have no idea how you'd go about buying a copy. (The old CD, which I haven't heard, is listed on Amazon, at $30.08, 1 copy left, with other vendor offers from $29.09.) Without an album cover available, I thought I'd try my old scanner -- an "all-in-one" Epson Stylus Photo RX580 -- only to find it doesn't work. (I replaced the 6 ink cartridges a while back, and now it's stuck in a mode where it insists on me first installing new ink cartridges before it does anything else. Two Ubuntu scanner programs fail to recognize it.) What I wound up doing was taking a picture with my cell phone, then running it through a bunch of rotate/shear/crop commands in Gimp. Very little margin on top to work with, but I managed to keep it even though I chopped off the other three edges. I'm real surprised it looks as good as it does.

I should mention that Joe Yanosik has written up Sonic Youth: A Consumer Guide to their live albums. They've released a bunch of them on Bandcamp. I had seen mention of a couple of them recently, but didn't realize there were this many, and after last year's release of Battery Park NYC, July 4th 2008 -- which Joe also includes, as an A+ -- I wasn't in a big hurry to go there. Nice that Joe has illuminated the way.

Alto saxophonist Lennie Niehaus (90) died last week. He's probably best known as the director of many Clint Eastwood soundtracks, but he was an important "West Coast cool jazz" musician, played for Stan Kenton 1952-59 (minus a stretch in the Army), and recorded a number of well-regarded (albeit a bit fancy for my taste) albums, especially in the 1950s, before focusing on soundtracks. I've heard a couple of his albums, and need to check out more.

English tenor saxophonist Don Weller (79) also died. I can't say that I know his work. I also heard that Sun Ra bassist Bill Davis died, but haven't found an obituary yet. Other recent musician deaths: Majek Fashek (57, Nigerian reggae singer), John Nzenze (80, Kenyan guitarist), Evaldo Gouveia (91, MPB singer-songwriter).

Horrors enough on Monday and Tuesday to get me to open Weekend Roundup as soon as I post this.


New records reviewed this week:

Caitlin Cannon: The TrashCannon Album (2020, Caitlin Cannon): Country singer-songwriter from Alabama "with a hairdresser mom and a brother in prison," first album, trashes education in the opener ("your BA is BS"), flirts with rockabilly, eventually settles down. B+(**)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Reunions (2020, Southeastern): Singer-songwriter, in Drive-By Truckers 2001-07, seventh solo album since. Some people I respect consider him major, but I can't say as I ever hear much in his sober, tasteful, well-structured songs. B+(*)

Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated Side B (2020, School Boy): Canadian singer-songwriter/pop star, pairs this album with her 2019 Dedicated, much as she released a Side B sequel to her 2015 album E-MO-TION. Album came out with no publicity or reviews, and I'm not quick enough to sort it out. B+(**)

Rent Romus/Heikki Koskinen/Life's Blood Ensemble: Manala (2019 [2020], Edgetone): Alto saxophonist, plays other instruments, with Finnish e-trumpet player, and nine others, present "a musical adventures inspired by Finnish mythopoetics and Uralic oral traditions." Starts shaky, but finds its groove, Gaby Fluke-Mogul's violin stands out among the instruments, occasional vocals don't hurt. B+(***) [cd]

Whitney Rose: We Still Go to Rodeos (2020, MCG): Country singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island in Canada, third album (plus an well-regarded EP). Good songs, not wild about the big production. B+(**)

Thank Your Lucky Stars: Girl in Her 29s (2020, Sounds Deevine): Searching for the artist name returns a 1943 movie starring Eddie Cantor, about a musical revue/charity extravaganza, with many cameos ranging from Humphey Bogart and Olivia de Havilland to Dinah Shore and Spike Jones. Adding "band" got me Beach House's 2015 album, and a "disambiguation" page that added a 1990 album by Whitehouse and a 1961-66 British TV variety show, which showcased the Beatles as early as December 1962. Adding the album title got gar nichts (well, more of the same, but nothing new). Searching for their/his 2016 record Spinning Out of Orbit got me product on Amazon and reviews by Robert Christgau and AMG, and a hint that the album may have been on CdBaby. A- [cd]

Pam Tillis: Looking for a Feeling (2020, Stellar Cat): Country singer-songwriter, daughter of Mel Tillis, 14 albums since 1983 (including two recent duet albums with Lorrie Morgan). B+(*)

Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra: Smile (2020, Planet Arts/43 Street): Trumpet player, cut his first records with the Towson State College Jazz Ensemble, has led a big band since 1990. Fanciful choice of songs here, including "Ode to Billy Joe" (Jane Stuart sings) and "Theme From Law and Order." Ends with a big, broad "Smile." B

Jaime Wyatt: Neon Cross (2020, New West): Country singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, first album after an EP (Felony Blues). Finds her voice midway through. B+(*)

Old music:

Paul Bley/Paul Motian: Notes (1987 [1988], Soul Note): Piano-drums duo, cover omits first names, the only duo of eight 1964-98 Bley albums Motian played on (plus two led by Charlie Haden). Mostly improv, not that it's ever easy to pin these two down. B+(***)

Paul Bley: Reality Check (1994 [1996], SteepleChase): Piano trio with Jay Anderson (bass) and Victor Lewis (drums). Six originals plus a cover of "I Surrender Dear." B+(**)

Paul Bley: Notes on Ornette (1996 [1997], SteepleChase): Piano trio, with Jay Anderson (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums). Six Ornette Coleman pieces, closing with one original. B+(***)

Paul Bley/Evan Parker/Barre Phillips: Sankt Gerold (1996 [2000], ECM): Piano, soprano/tenor sax, bass, recorded at the Monastery of Sankt Gerold, twelve pieces, named "Variation 1" to "Variation 12": 5 joint credits, otherwise split 2-3-2, with their signature solos scattered like gems in a less distinctive base. B+(***)

Paul Bley: Play Blue: Oslo Concert (2008 [2014], ECM): Pianist, died in 2016, leaving this solo piano as his last recording. Four originals plus a Sonny Rollins piece, averaging 10 minutes. Can't say as it particularly moves me, but gives you a glimpse of his range and dynamics. B+(*)

Clifford Brown/Max Roach: Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street (1956 [2002], Verve): Actually recorded at Capitol Studios in New York, quintet with Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Richie Powell (Bud's brother, piano), and George Morrow (bass) -- second to last session before Brown and Powell were killed in a car crash, the later one with the same quintet released as Sonny Rollins Plus 4. Three Powell songs, a Tadd Dameron piece, and three standards. May have been the best jazz group in the world at this juncture, but still not as inspired as you'd hope. CD reissue adds 35:31 of outtakes. A-

Miles Davis: Big Fun (1969-72 [2000], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Pieced together from scattered sessions, each with 10-13 musicians, originally released on 2-LP with four side-long tracks (98:45), the 2-CD reissue adding four shorter tracks (43:29). Hard to say whether the extras dilute the experience given that it's all pretty diffuse anyway. Does remind you of the great albums that got released before this one. B+(***)

Booker Little: Booker Little 4 & Max Roach (1958 [1959], United Artists): Trumpet player, died in 1961 at age 23, so only recorded three years. Joined Roach's group in 1958, and got the spotlight in this debut, with George Coleman (tenor sax), Tommy Flanagan (piano), and Art Davis (bass). CD reissue adds two tracks (18:53) with only Little and Coleman returning, and a second trumpet in Louis Smith. B+(**)

Paul Motian: Conception Vessel (1972 [1973], ECM): Drummer, joined Bill Evans in 1959, playing on his breakthrough early albums, the first of many exceptional piano trios he anchored. This was his first album as a leader. Six original pieces, mixes up the lineups for each: bass (Charlie Haden) and guitar (Sam Brown); drum solo; bass and guitar; piano (Keith Jarrett); flute (Jarrett); bass, flute (Becky Friend), and violin (Leroy Jenkins). B+(**)

Paul Motian: Tribute (1974 [1975], ECM): Second album, quintet with Carlos Ward (alto sax), two guitars (Sam Brown and Paul Metzke), and Charlie Haden (bass). Three origials, Haden's "Song for Che" (done stripped down to guitar and bass) and an Ornette Coleman piece. B+(***)

Paul Motian Trio: Le Voyage (1979, ECM): Playing in so many major piano trios, Motian decided to do something different for his own trios, using a saxophonist (Charles Brackeen) instead of piano. This is their second, with J.F. Jenny-Clark joining on bass. B+(**)

Paul Motian: Pslam (1981 [1982], ECM): Quintet with two tenor saxophonists (Joe Lovano and Billy Drewes, the latter also playing alto), guitar (Bill Frisell), and bass (Ed Schuller). Frisell is the major find here. B+(***)

Paul Motian: It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago (1984 [1985], ECM): After several quintet albums, drops back to a trio, keeping Joe Lovano (tenor sax) and Bill Frisell (guitar) -- evidently expecting them to slip around the melody as deftly as the drummer evades rhythm. They don't, quite. B+(*)

Paul Motian Trio: Sound of Love: At the Village Vanguard (1995 [1997], Winter & Winter): Live, with Lovano and Frisell, opens with Monk ("Misterioso") and Mingus ("Duke Ellington's Sound of Love"), before easing into Motian's more abstract pieces (and another Monk). Frisell and (especially) Lovano have developed into masters. A-

Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band: Flight of the Blue Jay (1996 [1997], Winter & Winter): Group debuted in 1993, defined more by lineup than personnel -- two guitars (Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Schoeppach), electric bass (Steve Swallow), and tenor sax (originally one, but two here: Chris Potter and Chris Cheek) -- but also with more bop era covers (Parker, Powell, Davis, three Monk; only one piece by the drummer, plus two by Rosenwinkel). B+(**)

Paul Motian: Trio 2000 + One (1997 [1999], Winter & Winter): First of several "Trio 2000" albums, some "+ One," others "+ Two": common denominator seems to be Masabumi Kikuchi (piano) and Larry Grenadier (bass), with the extras on horns (here tenor saxophonist Chris Potter), but this particular record also has Steve Swallow on electric bass. B+(**)

Paul Motian and the E.B.B.B.: Europe (2000 [2001], Winter & Winter): Initials stand for Electric Be-Bop Band, fifth group album since 1992. Two saxophonists (Chris Cheek and Pietro Tonolo), two guitarists (Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas), and electric bass (Anders Christensen). B+(*)

Paul Motian and the E.B.B.B.: Holiday for Strings (2001 [2002], Winter & Winter): Same group, no extra strings. B+(**)

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard Volume III (2006 [2010], Winter & Winter): Original Trio 2000 with Masabumi Kikuchi (drums) and Larry Grenadier (bass), joined by Chris Potter (tenor sax) and Mat Maneri (viola), with leftovers after the first two volumes were releaed in 2007 and 2008. B+(***)

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: On Broadway Volume 5 (2008 [2009], Winter & Winter): Thomas Morgan takes over at bass, joining pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, the "+ Two" saxophonists Loren Stillman and MichaŽl Attias (doesn't specify, but both are primarily altos). Starts with an original, followed by six tunes that I must know but still aren't overly familiar to me, played gracefully and a bit on the pretty side. A-

The Odean Pope Saxophone Choir: The Saxophone Shop (1985 [1986], Soul Note): Tenor saxophonist, born in South Carolina but raised in Philadelphia, one previous album in 1982, but is best known for his Saxophone Choir, which starts here: 4 tenors, 3 altos, 1 baritone, with piano (Eddie Green), bass, and drums. Even with all that help, Pope's own solo lines really stand out, making it unclear why he needs them. B+(***)

Buddy Rich/Max Roach: Rich Versus Roach (1959 [1990], Mercury): Two famous drummers play battle of the bands, each armed with a quintet: Rich with alto sax (Phil Woods), trombone (Willie Dennis), piano (John Bunch), bass; Roach with tenor sax (Stanley Turrentine), trumpet (Tommy Turrentine), trombone (Julian Priester), and bass. CD reissue adds 4 alternate takes to the original 8 pieces. B+(**)

Max Roach/Clifford Brown: The Best of Max Roach and Clifford Brown in Concert (1954 [1956], GNP): Short-lived hard bop group, formed in 1954, ended in 1956 when Brown and two others were killed in a car crash, but Brown recorded enough for a 10-CD box (Brownie). Brown got top billing for most of those records, but in 1955 GNP released two 4-cut live EPs, combined here. B+(***)

Max Roach: Max Roach + 4 (1956-57 [1990], Emarcy): After Clifford Brown and Ronnie Powell died in that car crash, Roach found replacements in Kenny Dorham (trumpet) and Ray Bryant (piano), carrying on with Sonny Rollis (tenor sax) and George Morrow (bass). Leads off with George Russell's "Ezz-Thetic," includes two Roach originals, winds up with "Body and Soul" and "Woody 'N' You." CD adds three extra tracks (with Billy Wallace on piano). A-

Max Roach: Jazz in 3/4 Time (1956-57 [1957], Emarcy): Waltz time, vows that it's possible to swing in something other than 4/4 time, a case I'm not sure is made. Impressive horns -- Kenny Dorham on trumpet and Sonny Rollins (author of "Valse Hot") on tenor sax -- with George Morrow on bass and Bill Wallace on piano (Ray Bryant for the final track). B+(*)

Max Roach: The Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker (1957-58 [1995], Verve): In the early days, only three drummers appear on memorable bebop albums: Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, and Roach. From 1950 on you get more, a new generation that grew up with the music, plus some older guys who figured it out (like Shelly Manne). But Roach was the main guy, not least because he was the one who usually played with Parker. Six Parker tunes here, with Kenny Dorham on trumpet, either Hank Mobley or George Coleman on tenor sax, and George Morrow or Nelson Boyd on bass. The sax players aren't quite up to snuff -- no tenor can match Parker for speed and glitz, although Sonny Rollins Plays for Bird held its own. CD reissue adds four more tracks. B+(***)

Max Roach: Award-Winning Drummer (1958 [1960], Time): Quintet with Booker Little (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor sax), Ray Draper (tuba), and Arthur Davis (bass). Not the drummer's best showcase, but Little and Coleman have their moments. B+(**)

Max Roach: Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961, Impulse!): Drummer-led septet plus congas and cowbell on three cuts and vocalist Abbey Lincoln on two, doing six Roach compositions. One of trumpeter Booker Little's last sessions, backed by a young band we'd recognize as all-stars today: Julian Priester (trombone), Eric Dolphy (reeds), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Mal Waldron (piano), Art Davis (bass). Some thrilling moments here, but feels a bit overmuch. Lincoln's song ("Mendacity") is especially striking, but I didn't like her scree on the opener at all. B+(***)

Max Roach: It's Time: His Chorus and Orchestra (1962, Impulse!): Roach's career took a dramatic turn in 1961 toward politics with his We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. This album is every bit as ambitious, with Coleridge Perkinson conducting the chorus, and Roach arranging to make his "orchestra" seem much bigger than the six stellar credits: Richard Williams (trumpet), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Julian Priester (trombone), Mal Waldron (piano), Art Davis (bass). I'm not a fan of the chorus, but the music is bold and sweeping. B+(***)

Max Roach Quartet: Speak, Brother, Speak! (1962 (1963], Fantasy): Live, from The Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, Quartet with Cliff Jordan (tenor sax), Mal Waldron (piano), and Eddie Khan (bass). Two long pieces, the title (25:00) and "A Variation" (23:30), each with a round of flashy solos -- Jordan's are especially terrific. A-

Max Roach: The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan (1964 [1965], Atlantic): The "legendary Hasaan" was a pianist (1931-80) from Philadelphia, birth name William Henry Langford, Jr. This seems to be his only recording, a trio with Art Davis (bass) and Roach (drums), playing seven original songs. Has a strong rhythmic undertow. B+(***)

Max Roach: Drums Unlimited (1965-66 [1966], Atlantic): Drummer's record, three (of six) tracks are drum solos, but that's only 11:01 of 41:27. The other three tracks are quintet, with Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto sax), Ronnie Matthews (piano), and Jymie Merritt (bass). B+(**)

Max Roach: Members, Don't Git Weary (1968, Atlantic): Short album (6 tracks, 32:12). Like Art Blakey, Roach was always looking for new people to play with, but had much less interest in taming them. The new generation here: Gary Bartz (alto sax), Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Stanley Cowell (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass). Cowell brought three songs, Bartz and Merritt one each, leaving only the title song, with an Andy Bey vocal, by Roach. B+(***)

Max Roach Quartet: Pictures in a Frame (1979, Soul Note): First generation bebop drummer, co-led important 1952-54 group with Clifford Brown, yet by 1979 was consigned to European labels and mostly playing with younger avant-gardists (his big records that year were duos with Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor). This one splits the distance, with Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), Odean Pope (flute, oboe, tenor sax), and Calvin Hill (bass). Styles shift several times, with an awkward vocal at the end. B+(**)

Max Roach: M'Boom (1979 [1980], Columbia): Percussion ensemble, most pieces have eight members on various mallet instruments, drums, chimes, etc. B+(***)

Max Roach: Live in Berlin (1984 [2009], Jazzwerkstatt): Quartet with Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), Odean Pope (tenor sax), and Tyrone Brown (electric bass) -- vocalist on "Six Bits" not credited, but it's Roach's only original. Ends with a hot take of "Perdido." [Previously issued as Jazzbuhne Berlin '84, on Repertoire.] B+(***)

Max Roach: M'Boom (1979 [1980], Columbia): Percussion ensemble, most pieces have eight members on various mallet instruments, drums, chimes, etc. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • John Finbury: Quatro (Green Flash Music)
  • Madre Vaca: Winterreise (Madre Vaca) [06-04]
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio (Whirlwind) [06-19]