Monday, June 22, 2020


Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33485 [33449] rated (+36), 216 [215] unrated (+1).

Don't feel like writing much here. Started the week thinking I'd track down some records by the late Keith Tippett, but quickly got sidetracked by Stan Tracey, an older British pianist who did some duet records with Tippett c. 1977. I then picked up some old World Saxophone Quartet records, adding them to my David Murray Guide. I probably should have done this anyway, but someone on Facebook commented on my missing Revue, which he teased was some kind of consensus pick as the greatest jazz album of the decade. The old Gary Bartz records came after reviewing his new one. I should note that Harlem Bush Music, which combines the two albums before Juju Street Songs, was previously A-.

Didn't do much on new records this week. Started most days with golden oldies, then when I sat down at the computer, switched over to old jazz rather than going through my new queue. Best reviewed new records this week were by Bob Dylan and Phoebe Bridgers -- who got more favorable reviews than Dylan this week (32 to 22 in my metacritic file.) I'll check out both soon, but was more curious about Black Eyed Peas (AOTY critic score 50/1, user score 83/30). Not great, but much better than that, with a choice cut called News Today.


New records reviewed this week:

Ambrose Akinmusire: On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment (2020, Blue Note): Trumpet player, from Oakland, sixth album since 2008 (30+ side credits), quartet with Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Justin Brown (drums). Good player, wide range, still he's never blown me away. B+(**)

Gary Bartz and Maisha: Night Dreamer Direct-to-Disc Sessions (2019 [2020], Night Dreamer): Alto/soprano saxophonist, long career starts in early 1960s, led albums since 1967. Backed by drummer Jake Long's British band (minus saxophonist Nubya Garcia), on five songs (35:20), vamping freely over an appealing rhythm. B+(***)

Black Eyed Peas: Translation (2020, Epic): Seems like they had a perfectly functional hip-hop/funk album on tap for summer release, then wound up adding a most atypical and remarkable topical song, "News Today." B+(***)

Chromeo: Quarantine Casanova (2020, Chromeo, EP): Canadian electropop duo, six albums since 2004, threw this together quick, donating proceeds to Know Your Rights Camp's COVID-19 Relief Fund. Five topical songs -- "Chlorox Wipe," "6 Feet Away," "Stay in Bed (And Do Nothing)," "'Roni Got Me Stressed Out," and "Cabin Fever" -- 18:01, padded out with instrumentals of same (another 16:41). B+(**)

Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band: The Intangible Between (2020, Smoke Sessions): Pianist, raised in Philadelphia, couple dozen albums since 1995, including at least four with his big band, twenty strong. Didn't really mesh for me until "Tough Love," where the narration gave the musicians something to get worked up about. B+(**)

Fra Fra: Funeral Songs (2020, Glitterbeat): Group from North Ghana, voices and percussion, billed as "field recordings" so hard to say how old these are. Pretty raw. B

Mike: Weight of the World (2020, 10k): New York rapper Michael Bonema, remains nearly impossible to google despite at least six albums and more singles and EPs since 2015. Partly, I suppose, because his beats and rhymes are so far underground one rarely notices them. B+(*) [bc]

Aaron Parks: Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (2019 [2020], Ropeadope): Pianist, from Seattle, half-dozen albums since 2008 (plus a couple as a teenage prodigy). Quartet with guitar (Greg Tuohey), bass, and drums, plays some electric keyboards, strong focus on beat and flow. B+(**)

Perfume Genius: Set My Heart on Fire Immediately (2020, Matador): Singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, fifth album since 2020. I've never gotten anything from his records, but he has a story, and if you're young and male you might appreciate someone who's had it even rougher than you and tried to make something beautiful out of it. Which, in a way, he has. B+(*)

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Sideways to New Italy (2020, Sub Pop): Australian jangle pop group, second or third album, when they turn wistful they sound a bit like the Go-Betweens, but it's hard to figure out why (beyond Australian, obviously). B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Misha Mengelberg/Peter Brötzmann/Evan Parker/Peter Bennink/Paul Rutherford/Derek Bailey/Han Bennink: Groupcomposing (1970 [2018], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Piano, three saxes, trombone, guitar, drums. One 42:38 piece split for LP. Feels improvised. B+(*) [bc]

Old music:

Gary Bartz Ntu Troop: Juju Street Songs (1972-73 [1997], Prestige): Alto saxophonist, a powerful bebop player with a taste for funk rhythms, formed this group in 1969, recording seven LPs through 1974. This combines the 4th (Juju Street Songs) with the fifth (Follow, the Medicine Man) on one long CD. Quartet on the first, with Stafford James (bass), Howard King (drums), and Andy Bey (electric piano/vocals). Second adds guitar and replaces Bey on 2 (of 7) tracks. The vocals don't help the jazz, but the jazz adds to the funk. From a time when the world seemed big enough for both. B+(**)

Gary Bartz Ntu Troop: I've Known Rivers and Other Bodies (1973, Prestige): Double album, from a live performance at Montreux, quartet with Hubert Eaves (keyboards), Stafford James (electric and acoustic bass), and Howard King (drums), with Bartz vocals -- well enough that the title cut could find a home on an obscure funk best-of. Still more impressive when he blows. B+(***)

Gary Bartz: Shadows (1991 [1992], Timeless): Cover lists Willie Williams (tenor sax), Benny Green (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**)

Gary Bartz: The Red and Orange Poems (1994, Atlantic): Quintet, with Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Dave Holland (bass), and Greg Bandy (drums), plus extra percussion on two tracks. B+(**)

Joe Harriott Quintet: Swings High (1967 [2004], Cadillac): LP released by Melodisc in 1970, reissued by Cadillac on LP in 1989, CD in 2004, and "glorious downloadasound" in 2020. I'm crediting the CD here, but listening to the digital, and will list it as a 2020 reissue in the list(s). Recent covers add featuring credits for Phil Seaman (drums) and Pat Smythe (piano) -- not all that famous, but sure, more so than Stu Hammer (trumpet) and Coleridge Goode (bass). Vibrant hard bop, even if it sounds a bit old-fashioned compared to his other 1960s work. B+(**) [bc]

Dudu Pukwana & Bob Stuckey: Night Time Is the Right Time: 60s Soho Sounds (1967-68 [2010], Cadillac): Alto saxophonist from South Africa, left for Europe in 1964, settling down in London, ranged from kwela to avant-garde. Stuckey plays organ throughout: 9 tracks with Pukwana, guitar, and drums, plus 4 tracks with different guitar and drums. B [bc]

Keith Tippett Tapestry Orchestra: Live at Le Mans (1998 [2009], Edition, 2CD): Big band effort, for better (parts really swing hard) and worse (gets messy and loses direction. I count 18 pieces (including tuba, two drummers, and Paul Dunmall's bagpipes), plus 3 singers. B

Stan Tracey: Showcase (1958, Vogue): British pianist, toured with Cab Calloway and Ronnie Scott in the 1950s. First album. The leader plays vibraphone on three tracks, piano on nine, backed by bass/drums, plus guitar on three tracks. Standards, few out of the ordinary. B+(*)

The Stan Tracey Quartet: Jazz Suite: Inspired by Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood (1965, Columbia): He composed this album based on a 1953 BBC broadcast of the play. Quartet with Bobby Wellins (tenor sax), Jeff Clyne (bass), and Jack Dougan (drums). A 1976 recording added narration, but you don't miss the story line here. Widely regarded as a classic of British jazz -- beautiful at first, then gets even better. A

Stan Tracey/Keith Tippett: Supernova (1977 [2008], Resteamed): Piano duo. Tracey (1926-2013) was a generation older, more conventional (cited Ellington and Monk as his main influences) but worked with a number of avant-garde musicians (e.g., Evan Parker). Tracey and Tippett intersected several times in the late 1970s. This live tape from ICA in London is a good example. B+(**)

The New Stan Tracey Quartet: For Heaven's Sake (1995 [1996], Cadillac): As the pianist gets older, the band gets younger: Gerard Presencer (trumpet/flugelhorn), Andrew Cleyndent (bass), and Clark Tracey (drums). Tracey and Presencer each wrote one song, the rest standards, three sharp ones by Monk. B+(***)

Stan Tracey: Solo : Trio (1997 [1998], Cadillac): Five solo piano tracks, six trio with Andrew Cleyndert (bass) and Clark Tracey (drums). Ellington and Monk are touchstones. B+(***)

Stan Tracey & Danny Moss: Just You, Just Me (2003 [2004], Avid): Moss (1927-2008) was a tenor saxophonist, played other reeds, recorded with Ted Heath 1952-56, probably ran into Tracey there. He liked standards, so that's what they play here -- most from Ellington and his crew. B+(***)

Stan Tracey Quartet: Senior Moment (2008 [2009], Resteamed): Pretty lively album for 82, the pianist is joined by Simon Allen (saxes), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Stan Tracey Quintet: The Flying Pig (2013 [2014], Resteamed): Seems to be his final record, released shortly after his death at 86 in December 2013. With Mark Armstrong (trumpet), Simon Allen (saxes), Andy Cleyndert (bass), and Clark Tracey (drums). B+(***)

Ben Webster/Stan Tracey: Soho Nights Vol. 1 (1968 [2008], Resteamed): Live shot from Ronnie Scott's, tenor saxophonist backed by a local piano trio: Tracey, Dave Green (bass), Tony Crombie (drums). Tracey was already pretty well known by then, and given his Ellington love an inspired choice. B+(***)

Ben Webster/Stan Tracey: Soho Nights Vol. 2 (1964 [2012], Resteamed): An earlier quartet, with Rick Laird (bass) and Jackie Dougan (drums), also at Ronnie Scott's in London. Webster sounds especially debonair here, and the pianist is an ideal accompanist. A-

World Saxophone Quartet: Steppin' With the World Saxophone Quartet (1978 [1979], Black Saint): If this was their only album I'd use the names on the cover as the artist credit: Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax/flute), Julius Hemphill (alto/soprano sax), Oliver Lake (alto/soprano sax), David Murray (tenor sax/bass clarinet). But they recorded 20+ albums, starting with a 1977 debut on Moers, then five albums on Black Saint, a major label move to Nonesuch, then from 1996 on Justin Time (like Murray). Hemphill dominates, writing 4 tracks vs. 1 each for Lake and Murray, but the whole approach to harmony was his -- something he pursued on his other records, but kept especially pure here. I've always found their limited monophonic range unpleasant, but this is more dynamic than most. B

World Saxophone Quartet: W.S.Q. (1980 [1981], Black Saint): Hamiet Bluiett steps up here, with two short pieces (or five, as his "Suite Music" is broken into five parts), vs. 3-2-1 for Hemphill, Lake, and Murray. B+(*)

World Saxophone Quartet: Revue (1980 [1982], Black Saint): Hemphill wrote four pieces, the whole first side. The others split the second, with Murray offering "Ming" and "David's Tune," and Lake and Bluiett offering hymns. Hemphill's side is the more cohesive, which doesn't necessarily make it better. B+(*)

World Saxophone Quartet: Live in Zürich (1981 [1984], Black Saint): Bluiett riff pieces open and close, brief at 1:40 and 1:30. In between it's all Hemphill, six substantial pieces, played slow and soft enough to focus on complex harmony rather than indulging in the thrash that gladiators are prone to. B+(*)

World Saxophone Quartet: Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music (1985 [1986], Black Saint): More of a group effort, with Murray's "Great Peace" longest at 14:58, but Hemphill gets the last word. B

World Saxophone Quartet: Four Now (1995 [1996], Justin Time): Julius Hemphill became ill, stopped playing, left the group in 1990 (between Rhythm & Blues and Metamorphosis), and died in 1995 (age 57). (He continued composing. His 1993 Five Chord Stud, played by six other saxophonists, perhaps the best of his sax choir records, and a sextet in his name recorded a good Live in Lisbon in 2003. He had a profound influence on many saxophonists, notably Tim Berne and Allen Lowe.) The other three sax giants kept WSQ going through 2006, running through a series of alto replacements (Arthur Blythe was the first, but it's John Purcell here) and adding other musicians as opportunity arose. The cover notes: "With African Drums" (Chief Bey, Mor Thiam, and Mar Gueye). They make a difference, inspiring a vocal on the Thiam's closer, "Sangara." B+(**)

World Saxophone Quartet: Takin' It 2 the Next Level (1996, Justin Time): The four saxophonists (Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake, David Murray, and John Purcell) get a full rhythm section for backup this time: Donald Blackman (keyboards), Calvin X Jones (bass), and Ronnie Burrage (drums). All but Jones contribute pieces, and they're all over the place. B

World Saxophone Quartet: 25th Anniversary: The New Chapter (2000 [2001], Justin Time): After a decade of trying new things, back to the well -- just four saxophonists harmonizing, no bells or whistles (or African drums). Before this came their look back, Requiem for Julius, their tribute to founder and visionary Hemphill. Here they look forward, dressed on the cover in white tuxes, John Purcell way out front, pictured with saxello but credited with alto. Once again, I get it, but don't especially enjoy it. B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jeff Cosgrove/John Medeski/Jeff Lederer: History Gets Ahead of the Story (Grizzley Music) [07-17]
  • Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen: The Monk Project (Belle Avenue) [07-17]