Monday, July 6, 2020


Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33567 [33526] rated (+41), 212 [211] unrated (+1).

I've been ambivalent about adding mid-year lists to the metacritic file. Last couple years I actually started with those lists, but this year I've been collecting ratings pretty extensively, so the current file should provide you with a fairly accurate account of critical consensus on records so far. More importantly, the method should continue to work week in, week out through the end of the year. Right now, the ratings (with points in braces, and, where available, my grades in brackets):

  1. Run the Jewels: RTJ4 (Jewel Runners/RBC/BMG) {58} [A-]
  2. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Epic) {54} [A-]
  3. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud (Merge) {46} [A-]
  4. Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways (Columbia) {40} [A-]
  5. Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher (Dead Oceans) {38} [**]
  6. Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia (Warner) {34} [A-]
  7. Lucinda Williams: Good Souls Better Angels (Highway 20) {34} [A-]
  8. Haim: Women in Music Pt III (Columbia) {33} [**]
  9. Perfume Genius: Set My Heart on Fire Immediately (Matador) {31} [*]
  10. Caribou: Suddenly (Merge) {30} [**]
  11. Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (Interscope) {28} [*]
  12. Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling (ATO) {27} [A-]
  13. Thundercat: It Is What It Is (Brainfeeder) {27} [B]
  14. Jessie Ware: What's Your Pleasure? (Interscope) {26} [***]
  15. Shabaka and the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here by History (Impulse!) {25} [A-]
  16. Soccer Mommy: Color Theory (Loma Vista) {25} [***]
  17. Yves Tumor: Heaven to a Tortured Mind(Warp) {25} [**]
  18. Charli XCX: How I'm Feeling Now (Asylum) {25} [***]
  19. Moses Sumney: Grae (Jagjaguwar) {23} [B]
  20. Gil Scott-Heron: We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven (XL) {22} [**]
  21. Grimes: Miss Anthropocene (4AD) {22} [***]
  22. Lady Gaga: Chromatica (Interscope) {21} [***]
  23. Pearl Jam: Gigaton (Monkeywrench/Republic) {20} []
  24. Jehnny Beth: To Love Is to Live (Caroline) {19} [*]
  25. Cornershop: England Is a Garden (Ample Play) {19} [A-]
  26. Destroyer: Have We Met (Merge) {19} [*]
  27. Halsey: Manic (Capitol) {19} [***]
  28. Laura Marling: Song for Our Daughter (Chrysalis/Partisan) {19} [**]
  29. Mac Miller: Circles (Warner) {19} [A-]
  30. Rina Sawayama: Sawayama (Dirty Hit) {19} [B-]
  31. US Girls: Heavy Light (4AD) {19} [B-]
  32. Hayley Williams: Petals of Armor (Atlantic) {19} [*]

Well, it's skewed somewhat. Some of the lists I monitor are from friendly sources, and that moves the consensus a bit toward things that are more likely to interest me. Also, I don't skip sources that focus exclusively on metal or classical, though I occasionally pick up samples of each from elsewhere. The idea is less to sample public opinion than it is to sift through it to find things that might be interesting to review. And while this top-32 (despite the numbers, everything from 24-32 are tied). But I also feel entitled to add in some points myself (matching the points for Robert Christgau's grades; all other sources are treated as one point each mention as noted in the legend).

I skewed the results further by adding in mid-year lists scraped from the Expert Witness Facebook group, comments to a July 2 post. I picked up lists from: Steve Alter, Kevin Bozelka, Jeffrey D. Callahan, Joey Daniewicz, Chris Gray, Paul Hayden, Eric Johnson, Tom Lane, Brad Luen, Eric Marcus, Greg Morton, Stan Piccirilli, Harden Smith, John Speranza, Thomas Walker, plus a few bits from others I had already been following (especially Chris Monsen). In compiling these lists, I've omitted records that didn't qualify by my relaxed 2020 standards (which include all December 2019 releases and any other 2019 releases that didn't appear in my 2019 EOY aggregate). Also note that the lists almost always identify records by artist name only, so I had to guess here and there. (Old releases I didn't tally were: Constantinople & Ablaye Cissoko, Kefaya + Elaha Soroor, Jeffrey Lewis & the Voltage, Post Malone, Red Velvet, Matana Roberts, Kalie Shorr.)

All this skewing probably contributed to me grading 10 (of 32) records A-, 6 more B+(***). If you subtract my points, Christgau's, the Expert Witness lists, Monsen, Phil Overeem, and Tim Niland, the list would run: Phoebe Bridgers {33}, Run the Jewels {32}, Fiona Apple/Haim {31}, Perfume Genius/Waxahatchie {30}, Caribou {28}, Bob Dylan/Tame Impala {27}, Thundercat {25}, Dua Lipa {24}, Yves Tumor/Charli XCX {22}, Moses Sumney {21}, Pearl Jam/Soccer Mommy {20}, US Girls/Jessie Ware {19}.

The new records below mostly came from the Expert Witness lists -- expecially from Monsen (6). The other big block is a bunch of records by the late Freddy Cole. I've long recommended two later records -- The Dreamer in Me (2009) and Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (2010) -- so I was especially surprised to find my favorite among the rest was his 1964 debut. Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson are names I know well, but this also made me want to explore saxophonist Sam "The Man" Taylor. He recorded quite a bit, but only has one compilation on Napster, and I passed on it due to lack of discography.

Ennio Morricone (91) has died. He was possibly the most famous soundtrack composer of the last 50-60 years. I've always harbored an active dislike for soundtrack albums, which is probably why I've never delved into his, despite much enjoying his music in the context of the movies. I can recommend his 1987 compilation on Virgin, Film Music, Volume 1.

Another recent death was English bassist Simon H. Fell (61), another musician I've heard very little from. I dutifully listed 12 of his titles, all highly touted by Penguin Guide, in my shopping list/database, but never found a one of them, so I've only heard one more recent album -- SFE (2011, Clean Feed) [B+(***)]. That's not likely to change much. I see that selections from most of his albums are available on Bandcamp, but none complete enough for me to review.

I am toying with the idea of taking notes on fractional albums, since that would seem to offer a way to glimpse much of the work that I find currently inaccessible. I currently use U to designate records that I possess a copy of but haven't graded yet. I'm tempted to add a new U+ for records I've only heard part of but would like to hear more, and U- for records I've heard enough of to doubt any further interest. One reason I haven't done this is that I'm not sure how the programs would deal with the introduction of a new grade. I wouldn't want to count U+ or U- albums as graded, or as ungraded (a number I've been trying to whittle down, without much success lately).

One question in the queue, which I'll probably get to this week. By all means, please ask more.


New records reviewed this week:

6lack: 6pc Hot Ep (2020, Interscope, EP): Atlanta rapper Ricardo Valentine, two albums, came up with this 6 song, 18:48 EP. Starts impressive, drags at the end. B+(*)

Juhani Aaltonen/Jonas Kullhammar/Christian Meaas Svendsen/Ilmari Heikinheimo: The Father, the Sons & the Junnu (2019 [2020], Moserobie): Two tenor saxophonists, the former also playing flute, the latter baritone sax, with bass and drums. Order from spine. Cover interleaves names with title, tagging Kullhammar as father and the much older Aaltonen as Junnu. Two masters. And while I prefer his sax, Aaltonen's flute remains impressive as ever. A- [cd]

Aardvark Jazz Orchestra: Faces of Souls (2015-19 [2020], Leo): Long-running Boston group, first two records (1993-95) under leader Mark Harvey's name, but group seems to date back to 1972 ("48 years"). Harvey started out on trumpet, but plays piano here, and composed everything. This was cobbled together from four sets, so the personnel shifts a bit, but you usually get around 15 musicians, playing dirge-like suites. A group I should explore. B+(*)

Aksak Maboul: Figures (2020, Crammed Discs): Belgian experimental pop group, principally Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis, recorded two 1977-80 albums, released an earlier shelved one in 2014, recently revived for a new album. In the meantime, Hollander runs Crammed Discs, and Kenis produced their Congotronics albums. Long, complex, more Euro than African, may grow on you, but hard for me to pass a snap judgment. B+(**)

James Carney Sextet: Pure Heart (2020, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Syracuse, New York, based in New York City, eighth album since 1993. With Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Oscar Noriega (bass clarinet/alto sax), Ravi Coltrane (tenor/soprano/sopranino saxes), Dezron Douglas (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums). Sophisticated postbop, the rhythm section never finding the beat nor losing it completely, the horns swooping in and out of the chaos. B+(***)

Drakeo the Ruler: Thank You for Using GTL (2020, Stinc Team): Rapper Darrell Caldwell, from Los Angeles, resume starts with "first arrested at the age of 12." Has been in and out of jail ever since, recording several mixtapes when he got out. He was acquitted of murder in 2019, but the charges were refiled as "criminal gang conspiracy," and he was still in jail when he recorded this, using GTL (Global Tel Link)'s ICS (Inmate Calling Service), with JoogSZN producing. Feels claustrophobic, lots of pressure, little hope. B+(**)

Hegge: Feeling (2020, Particular): Norwegian bassist Bjørn Marius Hegge, who wrote all but two songs -- Jonas Kullhammar (tenor sax) and Vigleik Storaas (piano) wrote those; also in the band: Martin Myhre Olsen (alto/soprano sax) and Håkon Mjåset Johansen (drums). Upbeat, playful even. B+(***)

Derrick Hodge: Color of Noize (2020, Blue Note): Bass guitarist, third album (fourth counting R+R=Now), side credits with Terence Blanchard, Robert Glasper, and a few more. B

John Pål Inderberg Trio: Radio Inderberg (2019 [2020], AMP Music): Norwegian baritone saxophonist, albums date from 1995, including a couple with Lee Konitz. Trio with bass (Trygve Waldemar Fiske) and drums (Håkon Mjåset Johansen). Mostly trad pieces, some by group, covers of Konitz, Monk, and Lars Gullin. B+(***)

Edward "Kidd" Jordan/Joel Futterman/William Parker/Hamid Drake: A Tribute to Alvin Fielder: Live at Vision Festival XXIV (2019 [2020], Mahakala Music): Fielder (1935-2019) was a drummer, born in Mississippi, a charter member of AACM, only one record as leader but a fair number, especially with Jordan (tenor sax) and/or Futterman (piano), who are the stars in this 45:03 blow out. Kidd's closing comments are every bit as good. B+(***)

Machine Girl: U-Void Synthesizer (2020, 1818199 DK2): Real name: Matt Stepheson. Seventh album since 2014. Tags: electronic, breakcore, death metal, drum and bass, footwork, hardcore, juke, jungle, punk, thrash metal. More annoying than not, although "Scroll of Sorrow" has some redeeming merit. B-

Nicole Mitchell/Lisa E. Harris: EarthSeed (2017 [2020], FPE): Flute player from Chicago, has recorded a lot since 2011, often overcoming my wariness of her instrument. Lyrics are drawn from Octavia E. Butler's dystopian novels, sung by Harris, an operatic soprano I often find unbearable, and Julian Otis. Not without the occasional patch of musical interest. C-

Noshir Mody: An Idealist's Handbook: Identity, Love and Hope in America 2020 (2020, self-released): Guitarist, originally from Mumbai, based in New York since 1995. Several previous albums, one in the group EthniFusion. Kate Victor sings. B [cd]

Hedvig Mollestad: Ekhidna (2020, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitarist, full name adds Thomassen, six Trio albums since 2011, this just under her name, with new bass and drums, keyboards (not very noticeable), and Susana Santos Silva on trumpet (fiery). The fast ones are as fierce as ever. Two change-of-pace stretches threw me at first. A-

Willie Nelson: First Rose of Spring (2020, Legacy): "Seventhieth solo album" (per Wikipedia), two new originals (co-written with producer Buddy Cannon). All good, nothing great, seems like he's hit a plateau he can sustain until he drops. B+(***)

Pere Ubu: By Order of Mayor Pawlicki: Live in Jarocin (2017 [2020], Cherry Red): Last year's The Long Goodbye was supposedly the end of the road for this band, which started out in 1975 in Ohio, and produced one of my all-time favorite albums -- The Modern Dance (1978). Singer David Thomas keeps the sound together as others have come and gone. One feature here is that they went back to the 1970s for the song list. Great songs, but it's all rather messy. B+(**)

Francis Quinlan: Likewise (2020, Saddle Creek): Singer/songwriter, from New Jersey/Pennsylvania, first solo album, formerly fronted Hop Along. B+(*)

Jorge Roeder: El Suelo Mio (2020, T-Town): Peruvian bassist, based in New York, has side credits with Brad Shepik, Julian Lage, Shai Maestro, and others. First album as leader, solo, 13 pieces in the 2:20-5:05 range. B+(*)

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen: Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 (2020, Lil' Buddy Toons): Two Texans play trad country, lots of fiddle and pedal steel, name dropping Jones and Haggard. Five years after Vol. 1. Typical line: "I got a warm beer and a cold woman/ wish it was the other way around." B+(*)

Claire Rousay: A Heavenly Touch (2020, Already Dead): Based in San Antonio, "a person who performs and records," exploring "queerness, human relationships, and self-perception through the use of physical objects and their potential sounds." Discogs lists 8 albums since 2019, some with jazz connections. Mostly found sounds, road noise, dog barks, booms, a bit of "Tenderly" wafting through the breeze. B

Sault: Untitled (Black Is) (2020, Forever Living Originals): UK group, oft described as "elusive," released two albums in 2019 that reminded me of prime Chic. No such comparisons possible here, although the political moment does occasionally come to the fore. "Don't shoot/ guns down." B+(***) [bc]

Øyvind Skarbø/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Kris Davis/Ole Morten Vågan: Inland Empire (2016 [2020], Clean Feed): Drums, tenor sax/clarinet, piano, bass. Recorded in Norway, everyone contributed pieces and shared credit on the title track. B+(**)

Stephane Spira/Giovanni Mirabassi: Improkofiev (2020, Jazzmax): Soprano sax and piano, quartet with bass (Steve Wood) and drums (Donald Konyomanou), plus flugelhorn on one track. Title is a suite with "excerpts from violin concerto no. 1." Other pieces cover Erik Satie and Carla Bley. B+(**)

Grant Stewart Quartet: Rise and Shine (2019 [2020], Cellar Live): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, young enough his oldies are more likely post-bop than pre-bop. Backed by Tardo Hammer (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Phil Stewart (drums). Includes a vocal (Lucy Yeghiazaryan) for the radio programmers. B+(**)

Jessie Ware: What's Your Pleasure? (2020, Interscope): British dance-pop diva, fourth album, starts retro-disco, ending up more new wave. B+(***)

Bobby Watson: Keepin' It Real (2020, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, from Kansas City, broke in with Art Blakey in the late 1970s, widely acclaimed in the 1980s including a Penguin Guide crown for Love Remains (1986), recorded for Blue Note and Columbia in the 1990s, flirting with fusion (Post-Motown Bop was a good title, but not much of an album). Floundered before landing here, a label which encouraged him to revert to his inner Bird. With Josh Evans or Giveton Gelin (trumpet), Victor Gould (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Victor Jones (drums). Calls the group New Horizon, probably because his head's still stuck in the 1990s. B

Westside Gunn: Flygod Is an Awesome God II (2020, Griselda): Buffalo rapper Alvin Worthy, used FLYGOD as an alias, also title of his 2016 album, also appears on several mixtapes including this one's 2019 predecessor. B+(*)

Hailey Whitters: The Dream (2020, Pigasus): Country singer-songwriter from Iowa, second album, Wikipedia pegs her sales at 300. Started off just guitar and voice, which seemed to be her metier, so I was surprised when the drums kicked in. Plain-spoken, common touch, could amount to something. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Mark Harvey Group: A Rite for All Souls (1971 [2020], Americas Musicworks, 2CD): Trumpet player, based in Boston, best known as the founder of Aardvark Jazz Orchestra ("now in its 48th season"). This group was founded in 1969, ran for a few years, left one 1972 live album before this "long lost recording" came to light. Started "playing hard-bop and jazz-rock," but this is mostly free, with scratchy sax (Peter Bloom), lots of percussion, some spoken word. B+(***) [cd] [07-17]

Old music:

Freddy Cole: "Waiter, Ask the Man to Play the Blues": Freddy Cole Plays & Sings Some Lonely Ballads (1964, Dot): Twelve years younger than his famous brother, Nat "King" Cole, also plays piano, cut his first single in 1952 but no LP until this set, the only one to appear before his brother's death. Close to the mark, a small jazz combo playing cocktail blues, but a path his brother never quite took. With Sam Taylor on tenor sax, Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson in the rhythm section. A-

Freddy Cole: The Cole Nobody Knows (1973, First Shot): Third album (second was On Second Thought), third label, backed with guitar/bass/drums, recycled the title cut from his first album in a closing medley. B

Freddy Cole: One More Love Song (1978, Poker): Backed by an anonymous big band, arranged by Jerry Van Rooyen and Tony Nolte. Nice voice. B

Freddy Cole: I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me (1990 [2004], High Note): But he keeps the distinctions subtle, mostly that he was approaching 60 here, whereas brother Nat died at 45. The voice is damn close, he plays similar piano, in a guitar-bass trio (Ed Zad and Eddie Edwards). His best original ("Fried Potatoes") echoes "Frim Fram Sauce" (but with a little more meat). He works in a short medley and offers a touching tribute, setting up the title song, which he aces. B+(***)

Freddy Cole: This Is the Life (1993 [2003], Savoy Jazz): Originally released on Muse, beginning a long, career-defining relationship that continued on High Note. One plus here is the supporting cast: six musicians plus Cole on piano, most notably Houston Person on tenor sax. Mostly ballads, tends toward smooth, clearly enjoys the title song. B+(**)

Freddy Cole: To the Ends of the Earth (1997, Fantasy): Between the demise of Muse and the founding of High Note, Cole recorded five 1995-98 albums for Fantasy. Produced by Todd Barkan, who employed big band numbers (including help from Cyrus Chestnut on piano) while still making it sound intimate. B+(**)

Freddy Cole: Love Makes the Changes (1998, Fantasy): Todd Barkan produced again, with Cedar Walton helping with piano and arranging, with Eric Alexander and Grover Washington on sax. Four originals, Among the covers, Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" is likely to enter the standards canon. B+(***)

Freddy Cole: Le Grand Freddy: Freddy Cole Sings the Music of Michel Legrand (1994-99 [1999], Fantasy): Eleven songs from the French composer, nine with lyrics by Alan Bergman. Many of the same musicians from earlier Todd Barkan albums, including Cedar Walton and Cyrus Chestnut on piano, and Grover Washington Jr. on tenor sax. B+(**)

Freddy Cole: This Love of Mine (2005, High Note): First album with Joe Fields' new label, which served him well for the rest of his career. Typical songs, strong voice, lets John DiMartino handle the piano and most of the arranging. Eric Alexander and Fathead Newman play tenor sax. B+(***)

Freddy Cole: He Was the King (2016, High Note): Finally, enough distance to record an explicit treat to his brother. Most I recall clearly as Nat "King" Cole hits, but the only Cole credit is to Freddy's title song, previously recorded in 1990, where it leads into "I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me." Harry Allen and Houston Person play tenor sax. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gregory Dudzienski Quartet: Beautiful Moments (OA2) [07-17]
  • Bartosz Hadala Group: Three Short Stories (Zecernia)
  • Jeremy Levy Jazz Orchestra: The Planets: Reimagined (OA2) [07-17]
  • Quinsin Nachoff: Pivotal Arc (Whirlwind) [08-07]
  • Owl Xounds Exploding Galaxy: The Coalescence (ESP-Disk)
  • Soft Machine: Live at the Baked Potato (Moonjune)