An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, June 15, 2020
Music: Current count 33449  rated (+31), 215  unrated (+1).
British avant-pianist Keith Tippett died last week, at 72. He was a major figure, although having never sorted out his scattered discography, I can't say how major. I can say that on occasion he rivaled Cecil Taylor for explosive invention. One issue is that while he recorded several albums with Mujician as a title, he also led a group (with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, and Tony Levin) by that name through seven 1990-2006 albums. Another is that he dabbled in a wide range of music, especially along the prog rock fringe. He married pop singer/actress Julie Driscoll in 1970, and she changed her name to Julie Tippetts (meanwhile, her husband dropped the 's'), continuing a long career that veered far from the pop charts. She survives him. Also on Tippett:
I'll look into Tibbett a bit more next week, but as I'm writing this I've headed off on a Stan Tracey (1926-2013) detour.
One other death last week I should note somewhere is Carl Brewer, a former two-term mayor of Wichita. He was a moderate black Democrat, always seemed to be in tune with local business leaders but always seemed like a decent guy, never had a whiff of scandal, and never embarrassed us. (I'd like to say never did anything blatantly stupid, but I have to question his support for Lyndy Wells in the latest mayoral election.) People I know who knew him liked him a lot. None of those traits were common among the recent run of Wichita mayors.
Robert Christgau published his Consumer Guide: June, 2020, with an A+ for Run the Jewels RTJ4 (an A- here last week); an A for the Wussy album below; A- for Princess Nokia's Everything Is Beautiful, Serengeti's Ajai, and a Fats Domino live album I previously gave good but somewhat lower grades to; an A- for a Malian record I haven't found; a B+ for the Hamell on Trial album below; and a few more things -- I tried Westside Gunn, and even went back two previous releases, but nothing really stuck with me. I'm not conceding that I screwed up, but I've often had trouble catching rap lyrics (especially given limited plays), and that may be at work here.
Christgau asked me for some info on David Murray (occasioned by an Xgau Sez question), so I pasted a chunk of my Jazz Guides into an email. It occurred to me that I could add that to my Village Voice David Murray Guide (2006). The file turned out to be a mess, so I cleaned it up from "unpublished draft" and notes to incorporating the published edits. But rather than appending the more extensive reviews, I created a separate file. I also used the occasion to pick up a few records I had missed, as well as Kahil El'Zabar's new one, just out. Started a list of "other records" as a self-check, but haven't gotten very far with it.
After all my pleading, I only have one question answered this week. More, please.
I did get one more piece of mail via the form: Piotr wrote in to inform me that he's created a Wikipedia page for Tom Hull (critic). It's a very substantial page, with a lot of biographical detail, all properly footnoted (most based on my RockCritics.com interview). I've written him with a few corrections and clarifications, so no need to itemize them here. Besides, most make for slightly better myth than reality.
Two of the three new jazz A-list records this week were reviewed the old-fashioned way, from CDs. Probably helped get them the attention they deserve. I missed the A- Murray album because it was a mere Penguin Guide ***, but turns out it features El'Zabar as the magic beans. Found the old Joe Harriott records after noting the new vault release. Been wanting to hear them for a long time, but none match Free Form (1960).
By the way, I've been keeping the metacritic file reasonably up to date. Run the Jewels' RTJ4 made a strong run for the top spot, but is still one point behind Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters. At AOTY and Metacritic, the latter has slightly higher scores, but fewer reviews. Waxahatchie's Saint Cloud is third, then there's a substantial point gap before you get to Caribou, Dua Lipa, Perfume Genius, Tame Impala, Thundercat, Yves Tumor, Lucinda Williams, Charlie XCX, Shabaka and the Ancestors, and Soccer Mommy.
New records reviewed this week:
AuB: AuB (2020, Edition): British quartet, "pronounced ORB," tenor saxophonists Tom Barford and Alex Hitchcock, backed with bass and drums, most also credited with synthesizers. B+(*)
César Cardoso: Dice of Tenors (2020, self-released): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, third album, a tribute with such sax standards as "Giant Steps" and "St. Thomas." Octet, with Jason Palmer (trumpet), Miguel Zenón (alto sax), trombone, vibes, piano, bass, and drums. B+(*)
Elysia Crampton: Orcorara 2010 (2020, Pan): Electronica producer, originally from California, has some interesting records. This is an ambitious piece that comes off way too heavy for my taste. B
Whit Dickey: Morph (2019 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Second of four drummers in David S. Ware Quartet (1993-96), cut his first record with Matthew Shipp in 1992 and remains his most regular trio partner. Dozen albums as leader since 1998, with this his second straight 2-CD affair, although it could just as easily be split into two releases, each disc even having its own title. The first, Reckoning, is a duo with Shipp, the piano so dense I didn't notice that there was no bassist. The second, Pacific Noir, adds Nate Wooley (trumpet), with one of the more impressive outings of his career. A- [cd]
Dion: Blues With Friends (2020, Keeping the Blues Alive): Last name DiMucci, lead singer in white doo-wop band the Belmonts, put his (first) name out front around 1960, scored big hits for a few years, had some success with a folkie phase up to 1965, has tried other things to avoid just being an oldies act, most recently blues (e.g., 2007's Son of Skip James). Eighty now, looks and sounds younger (not necessarily a compliment for blues musicians), lists 17 friends on the cover four 14 songs, ceding lead vocals twice (Van Morrison and Paul Simon, but Billy Gibbons and Bruce Springsteen just play guitar). B+(*)
Kahil El'Zabar Ft. David Murray: Kahil El'Zabar's Spirit Groove (2019 , Spiritmuse): Chicago percussionist, leads a quartet with Murray on tenor sax, Justin Dillard on keyboards, and Emma Dayhuff on bass. The leaders have history, but it's been a while since their 1997-2000 albums. Both have slowed down, gotten sentimental, which is why I forgive El'Zabar's singing, and treasure what's left of the saxophonist's chops -- not awesome, but still inspiring. A-
Hamell on Trial: The Pandemic Songs (2020, self-released): R-rated folksinger, decided to fight pandemic boredom by writing 15 songs in 15 days, cut this down "the best 9 I think," about disease and masks and social distancing and murder and mayhem and MAGA hat fans getting what's coming to them ("got no problem with that"). Runs 30:11. A- [bc]
Daniel Hersog: Night Devoid of Stars (2019 , Cellar Live): Trumpet player from Vancouver, doesn't play here, composed all but one piece and leads a multifaceted big band, with Frank Carlberg (piano) and Noah Preminger (tenor sax) the ringers. Didn't really catch my attention until "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" came wafting through, after which a lot of intricate details began to emerge. B+(**) [cd]
Norah Jones: Pick Me Up Off the Floor (2020, Blue Note): Singer-songwriter, plays piano, famous father Ravi Shankar, grew up in Texas with mother Ann Jones after age 7, eighth album since 2002 (the mega-selling Come Away With Me). I'm reminded how appealing her voice is. B+(*)
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene (2020, Jazzhaus): German singer-actress, first recorded appearance was on the original Vienna production of Cats, quickly found her niche with Ute Lemper Singt Kurt Weill and Life Is a Cabaret, so of course she has a Marlene Dietrich songbook -- she's lived it for decades, but specifically cites "a 3-hour phone call and exchange between Marelene and Ute in 1988 in Paris" as the basis for this production. I found the theatricality a turn off at first, but ultimately was won over. Mostly in German, bits of French and English, often sliding from one to another line by line -- the German bits of "Blowing in the Wind" are genius, as is the intro to "Falling in Love Again." B+(***)
Madre Vaca: Winterreise (2020, Madre Vaca): "Dynamic collective of artists, three "founders" among the eight musicians here: Jarrett Carter (guitar), Jonah Pierre (piano), and Benjamin Shorstein (drums). Music is by Franz Schubert, words by Wilhelm Müller (not a big deal), arrangements by Shorstein. Starts semi-classical and moves toward Latin. B [cd]
Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio (2020, Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, major, decided to do an album of covers here, not clear whether it's the band or the subjects (Charlie Parker, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Johnny Cash, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker again, and again) who are the heroes. Trio with François Moutin (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), the rhythm section from his quintet Bird Calls -- probably the most popular and my least favorite of his albums. This one is more fun, probably because his Parker is so upbeat. Recorded avant le deluge, but couldn't be timelier. A- [06-19]
Stephen Riley: Friday the 13th (2018 , SteepleChase): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, from North Carolina, roughly one album per year since 2005. Quartet with Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Jay Anderson (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums): all standards, most from 1950s/60s jazz musicians. Horns do a nice job of shading each other. B+(***)
Dua Saleh: Rosetta (2020, Against Giants, EP): Minneapolis Rapper, born in Sudan, came to US as a child. Second EP (6 tracks, 17:36). Rejoined by Psymun, scoring the music, which slips by without quite registering. B+(*)
John Scofield: Swallow Tales (2019 , ECM): Guitarist, playing songs by Steve Swallow, who joins on electric bass, along with Bill Stewart on drums. Tricky songs, nice tone. B+(***)
Sara Serpa: Recognition (2019 (2020), Biophilia): Vocalist, eighth album including three duos with Ran Blake, this mostly music composed for a film, originally appearing silent with live music. With Zeena Parkins (harp), Mark Turner (tenor sax), and David Virelles (piano). High, lonesome soprano, tends to be arty and/or arch, but the variety helps. Choice cut: "Queen Nzinga." B+(**) [cd]
Walter Smith III/Matthew Stevens/Micah Thomas/Linda May Han Oh/Nate Smith: In Common 2 (2020, Whirlwind): Tenor saxophonist, debuted in 2006, Bandcamp page co-credits this (and 2018's In Common) to guitarist Stevens, but the others (new on this volume) follow in same type, on piano, bass, and drums. B+(*)
Westside Gunn: Hitler Wears Hermes VII (2019, Griselda): Alvin Worthy, from Buffalo, seventh mixtape in this name series (plus several more, albums, bunch of EPs). B+(*)
Westside Gunn: Flygod Is an Awesome God (2019, Griselda): Third album, title a sequel to his debut Flygod. B+(*)
Westside Gunn: Pray for Paris (2020, Griselda): Rapper Fourth album. Sounded promising, but lost me about half way through -- probably in a skit. B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Joe Harriott Quintet: Jazz for Moderns (1962 , Gearbox, EP): Jamaican alto saxophonist (1928-73), moved to UK in 1951, short but innovative career, developed what he called "free-form" but also played vigorous bebop. This is a previously unreleased BBC set, 4 tracks (13:17), with Shake Keane on trumpet, Pat Smythe on piano, plus bass and drums. B+(**)
Wussy: Ghosts (2006-19 , self-released): Odds and sods mixtape, two tracks previously unreleased, the others from EPs, singles, and side-projects, available as a free download, "created to thank Wussy fans." Fans who love everything the band does seem to be delighted with this. I was most impressed by the live "Shunt," a song from one of their better albums. B+(***) [bc]
The Channels Featuring Earl Lewis: Golden Oldies (1956-59 , Essential Music Group): New York doo-wop group, sometimes lead singer Lewis got top billing, not sure how long they lasted, but Discogs' singles listing gets iffy after 1959. No big hits, sound varies, padded out with covers. B+(*)
Joe Harriott & Co. Feat John Dankworth & Tubby Hayes: Helter Skelter: Live, Rare and Previously Unreleased Recordings 1955-1963 (1955-63 , Acrobat): Alto saxophonist, 44 when he died in 1973, enough of a legend that there's still interest in rediscovering and repackaging his work -- e.g., the 2-CD Killer Joe (Giant Step) and the 4-CD The Joe Harriott Story (Proper). This combines four sets, starting with a lively 1955 EP, ending with some unreleased live shots (Dankforth and Hayes appear on 4 tracks from Paris 1963, as does Humphrey Lyttelton and Kenny Ball). The big band cuts aren't that interesting, although they rise to the occasion in "A Night in Tunisia." B+(**)
The Joe Harriott Quintet: Abstract (1961-62 , J. Joes J. Edizioni Musicali): The alto saxophonist's breakthrough album was Free Form in 1961, followed by this adventurous venture. Recorded in two sessions, "Oleo" the only non-original. Quintet with Shake Keane (trumpet), Pat Smythe (piano), bass and drums, plus bongos on two cuts. B+(***)
The Joe Harriott Double Quintet: Indo-Jazz Suite (1966, Atlantic): Cover credit continues: "under the direction of John Mayer." Mayer (1929-2004), was an Anglo-Tamil composer, born in Calcutta, wrote all four pieces (35:38), played violin and harpsichord, directing the Indian musicians including sitar player Diwan Motihar (whose 1967 Jazz Meets India was another pioneering world jazz fusion work). Seems a bit tame now, but was pathbreaking then. B+(***)
Ranee Lee: Seasons of Love (1997, Justin Time): Jazz singer, born in Brooklyn but based in Montreal since 1970, recording a dozen albums 1980-2009. Tenor saxophonist David Murray gets a "with special guest" credit on the cover, but only plays on 4 (of 12) songs. Otherwise backed by piano, guitar, bass, and drums, all very deliberate. B+(*)
David Murray: Let the Music Take You (1978, Marge): Tenor saxophonist, early quartet, with Lawrence "Butch" Morris (cornet), Johnny Dyani (bass), and George Brown (drums), live shot from Rouen, France. Strong performance, wobbles a bit. B+(***)
David Murray: Intergoogieology (1978, Black Saint): The tenor sax great's first album on the Italian label that first established him as a star (and, more than any other label, rescued the American avant-garde by providing an outlet for their work). Quartet with Morris, Dyani, and Oliver Johnson (drums), plus Marta Contreras vocals on two (of four) tracks. "Blues for David" is the only cut that really catches fire. B+(**)
David Murray: The London Concert (1978 , Cadillac, 2CD): Quintet in August, Morris again, plus locals on piano-bass-drums. Album appeared as 2-LP in 1979, reissue adding two long songs (46:27). B+(***)
David Murray Quartet: A Sanctuary Within (1991 , Black Saint): With Tony Overwater (bass), Sunny Murray (drums), and Kahil El'Zabar (percussion, voice, thumb piano) -- names featured on the cover, each bringing a song (Sunny 2, leaving 5 for Murray). His sax runs are often brilliant, and El'Zabar can chant "song for the new South Africa" as long as he keeps the beat. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: