Monday, September 14, 2020


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34007 [33954] rated (+53), 217 [212] unrated (+5).

Got a late start writing today. I had the idea yesterday that I'd finally try to make lasagna -- something I've never tried before, although I have been known to make a pretty awesome pastitsio. Back when I first had the idea -- well over a year ago -- most of the recipes I consulted called for oven-ready noodles, so that's what I bought and still had on hand. I started with Mark Bittman's classic lasagna recipe, and made the bolognese sauce yesterday, but ran out of time and saved it overnight. Bittman called for boiled noodles, but all I had was oven-ready, so I wound up mostly following the box recipe -- adding an extra cup of water to my reduced meat sauce to make sure the noodles had plenty of liquid. Made pretty much every mistake possible in assembling the loaf, and it looked pretty ugly when it came out of the oven. Not bad, but the noodles were the weak link.

A bit surprised the rated count is so high, but my method for getting there was pretty conducive to quantity over writing. I searched through my tracking file for records I had given a medium/high priority to (basically 2 vs. 1, on what I had originally conceived of as a 3-to-0 scale, but haven't been using the ends). Currently I have 164 records at priority 2, mostly jazz. I started the week adding Saving Country Music picks to my metacritic file, so there's a fair number of alt-country albums in this week's crop. I also stumbled my way onto the Aerophonic Records Bandcamp, where Dave Rempis has been releasing a lot of his old tapes (a fairly common strategy for musicians sidelined by the pandemic). I also rummaged through my Downloads directory, sorted out what I had accumulated, and created a log to manage it better.

My other splurge this week was from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide, which aside from a few records I had previously given various B+ grades to (Chicks, No Age, No Joy, Taylor Swift -- I revisited No Age, see below), and Nat King Cole's Jumpin' at Capitol (released in 1990, an A- from way back, and not the only one), had a lot of things I hadn't heard. Only one I couldn't find was The Human Hearts, which back in 2012 released another Christgau A- I never managed to hear. Surprised I didn't like Billy Nomates more, especially given that I like Sleaford Mods a lot more than Bob does, but maybe that was the point?

Christgau, by the way, published his guide to volunteering to work on the side of sanity and civilization in the 2020 election today: Vote! It Ain't Illegal Yet!. He's practiced what he preaches for many years now. I know a couple others who volunteer regularly to help with campaigns, but no one who's put more into it. All I can manage to do is to write up some obvious truths (as I've been doing weekly in my Weekend Roundups; for the Trump era, you can download this [odt format], which isn't totally up to date).

I usually spend a fair amount of time updating the metacritic file on Mondays before posting this, but decided I'd rather get this out at a decent hour, and catch up later. Also thought I'd do a books post this week, but didn't make much progress on that, given the sheer length of yesterday's Weekend Roundup (1738 lines, 12816 words, making it the longest ever, eclipsing 1601/11281 from two weeks back)..


New records reviewed this week:

The 81's: 2 Things & 118 Others (2020, The 81's): Nashville rock group, principally Tom Siering and Tim Carroll. Group with the obvious website is different (as far as I can tell), making this a debut album. Comparisons to the Blasters are unwarranted, but they have some good lines and riffs. B+(**)

100 Gecs: 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues (2020, Dog Show): Dylan Brady and Laura Les, originally from St. Louis, but at last report split between Los Angeles and Chicago. Ten-track debut appeared in 2019. Dan Weiss recommended it, and replied to my review: "I can't believe you found 100 gecs more annoying than black midi." I found it so annoying I didn't check the length (didn't feel like I needed to) so didn't even flag it as a 23:07 EP. Christgau wound up grading both 100 Gecs and Black Midi at A-, but I didn't revisit either. Did check out this remix album, fleshed out to 51:10, mostly through redundancy (18 tracks). This time, I loved the "ringtone" remix (with Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, and Kero Kero Bonito); also "xXXi_wud_nvrstop_ÜXXx" (another baby song, with Tommy Cash & Hannah Diamond). Still found many things annoying, but fans somehow manage to laugh (or snicker?) at them. B+(**)

Jessi Alexander: Decatur County Red (2020, Lost Creek Music): Country singer-songwriter, from Jackson, Tennessee, recorded an album for Columbia in 2005, but was dropped and this is only her second album since, a short one (8 songs, 28:58). Thoughtful songs, aside from the duet with Randy Houser which is plain fun. B+(*)

Pedro Melo Alves: In Igma (2019 [2020], Clean Feed): Portuguese drummer, second album. Other musician names on the cover: Aubrey Johnson (voice), Beatriz Nunes (voice), Mariana Dionísio (voice), Eve Risser (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), Abdul Moimême (guitar). Way too much voice, a choral cloud, still not enough to obscure the creaky industrialism in the background. B-

American Aquarium: Lamentations (2020, New West): Country-rock band from North Carolina, founded by singer-songwriter BJ Barham in 2005, eleventh album, no other members date back past 2017. B+(**)

Antibalas: Fu Chronicles (2020, Daptone): Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band, founded 1998 by Martin Perna (baritone sax) -- the only original member remaining, although Duke Amayo (vocals/percussion) and Jordan McLean (trumpet) have been with the band nearly as long. B+(***)

Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience: To Know Without Knowing (2020, Agogo): Ethiopian vibraphonist, also plays keyboards and percussion, invented a style he calls Ethio-jazz, studied engineering in UK and music in London and Boston. Responded to revived interest in his 1970s music by playing with groups like Heliocentrics and Either/Orchestra, and most recently with Black Jesus Experience -- an Ethio-jazz band based in Melbourne, Australia, which adds a bit of hip-hop to the flow. B+(***)

Teodross Avery: Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk (2020, WJ3): One of the impressive young tenor saxophonists of the 1990s, got distracted by fusion then dropped out for a long spell, returning with a Coltrane tribute in 2019. Plays 10 Monk tunes here, split between two rhythm sections (pianists Anthony Wonsey and DD Jackson). B+(***)

Jon Balke: Discourses (2019 [2020], ECM): Norwegian pianist, albums since 1991. This one is solo, 16 mostly short pieces. B

Ballister: Znachki Stilyag (2019 [2020], Aerophonic): Dave Rempis sax trio, with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello/electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), fifth album since 2010, this one recorded in Moscow, title Russian for "hipster icons." This has long been the most fevered of Rempis groups, and doesn't shirk here. The 38:37 "Fuck the Money Changers" is a tour de force. A- [bc]

J Balvin: Colores (2020, Universal Latin): Colombian reggaeton star, short album (10 tracks, 28:52). Nice beat. B+(**)

Black Thought: Streams of Thought Vol. 1 (2018, Human Re Sources, EP): Philadelphia rapper Tariq Trotter, lead MC of the Roots, first solo effort this 5-track, 17:15 download, produced by 9th Wonder. Sounds like half of a pretty good Roots album. B+(***)

Black Thought: Streams of Thought Vol. 2 (2018, Human Re Sources, EP): Another 9 tracks, 23:25. Second half of that Roots album even stronger, with no reason to miss the live band. A-

Afel Bocoum: Lindé (2020, World Circuit): Guitarist, singer-songwriter from Mali, several albums since 1999, a key player on the 2002 Damon Albarn-produced Mali Music. B+(**)

Bonjintan: Dental Kafka (2018 [2020], Trost): Free jazz quartet, second album, led by Japanese saxophonist Akira Sakata (also clarinet/voice), with Jim O'Rourke (double bass), Giovanni Di Domenico (keyboards), and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto (drums). B+(**)

Alan Braufman: The Fire Still Burns (2019 [2020], Valley of Search): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute, recently reissued his 1975 debut Valley of Search to much acclaim, returns with something new, with Cooper-Moore (piano) from his old group, and relative newcomers James Brandon Lewis (tenor sax), Ken Filiano (bass), Andrew Drury (drums). Always impressed by the pianist, but the horns come on rather heavy. B+(*)

Steve Cardenas: Blue Has a Range (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Guitarist, dozen-plus albums since 2000, quartet with Jon Cowherd (piano), Ben Allison (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). Mild. B

Lynn Cassiers: Yun (2019 [2020], Clean Feed): Belgian vocalist, plays electronics, third album. With Bo Van der Werf (baritone sax), keyboards, bass, drums, with group improvs and reworked standards. B

Ernesto Cervini: Tetrahedron (2019 [2020], Anzic): Canadian drummer, half-dozen albums since 2006, this a quartet with Luiz Deniz (alto sax), Nir Felder (guitar), and Rich Brown (bass). Cover has a "featuring" credit for Felder, but the saxophonist has most of the appeal. B+(**)

Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath (2020, Agent Love): Country singer-songwriter, seventh album since 2000, had a breakthrough with 2007's Balls and the even better 2010 Welder. Rocking harder here, which is appealing enough but makes it harder to follow her songs. The exception is the closer, a reworking of John Prine's "Jesus: The Missing Years" to focus on Mary. B+(***)

Vladislav Delay: Rakka (2020, Warp): Finnish electronica producer Sasu Ripatti, 15+ records since 1999. Industrial rumble, up and down. B+(*)

Vladislav Delay/Sly Dunbar/Robbie Shakespeare: 500-Push-Up (2020, Sub Rosa): Second album pairing the Finnish electronica producer with Jamaica's legendary rhythm section, but 2018's Nordub was dominated by Norwegians Nils Petter Molvaer and Eivind Aarset, leaving Delay's electromurk in the background. Here it's foreground, and while the extra rhythm helps, it's not likely to be recognized as such. B+(**)

Daniel Donato: A Young Man's Country (2020, Cosmic Country Music): Singer-songwriter, Nashville native, more rock and roll than country, has a distinctive guitar style (or maybe that's the bass?), and the guitar leads here. Produced by Robben Ford, who never struck me as that good, but he certainly inspired Donato to show off. B+(***)

The Engines: Wooden Legs (2011 [2020], Aerophonic): Free jazz quartet from Chicago, recorded an eponymous album in 2006, two more through 2011, with a couple archive tapes appearing since. Jeb Bishop (trombone), Dave Rempis (saxes), Nate McBride (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums) -- three Vandermark 5 alums plus another frequent collaborator. B+(***)

Frazey Ford: U Kin B the Sun (2020, Arts & Crafts): Canadian singer-songwriter, father was an American draft dodger, third album since 2020, before that was in a folkie group called the Be Good Tanyas. Has a nice, light touch. B+(**)

Arna Georgia: Yes Girl (2020, Arna Georgia): Country singer, from Sydney, Australia, first album. Nice voice, songs have some promise. B+(*)

Tom Guarna: Spirit Science (2019 [2020], Destiny): Guitarist, eighth album since 2005, quintet with Ben Wendel (tenor sax/bassoon), Aaron Parks (keyboards), bass, and drums. Nice groove for postbop. B+(*) [09-18]

Russ Johnson/Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Isaiah Spencer/Jeremy Cunningham: Harmattan (2019 [2020], Aerophonic): Trumpet, alto/tenor/bari sax, bass, two drummers, one 41:02 live jam. B+(***) [bc]

Knxwledge: 1988 (2020, Stones Throw): Hip-hop producer Glen Boothe, lots of records since 2010, this one named for his birth year, 22 short tracks, 38:41 (longest 4:28, 3:19, 2:49, 2:09). B [bc]

The Magnetic Fields: Quickies (2020, Nonesuch): Stephin Merritt runs through 28 songs, none over 2:35, 46:40 total, additional vocals by Claudia Gonson and Shirley Simms. Perverse fragments: "I've Got a Date With Jesus" was fetching, "You've Got a Friend in Beelzebub" less so. B+(**)

Arlo McKinley: Die Midwestern (2020, Oh Boy): Singer-songwriter from Cincinnati, first album, landed on John Prine's label, which has usually been a pretty solid recommendation. Unclear why in this case. B

Cahalen Morrison: Wealth of Sorrow (2020, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, from New Mexico, plays guitar and banjo, recorded this solo in "an old adobe chapel." Bare bones folk tunes. B+(**) [bc]

Tatsuya Nakatani/Shane Parrish: Interactivity (2018 [2020], Cuneiform): Percussion and guitar duo, the former originally from Japan but now based in New Mexico, the latter in North Carolina, where this was recorded. B+(**)

Nas: King's Disease (2020, Mass Appeal): Rapper Nasir Jones, went platinum with his 1994 debut (Illmatic), twelfth studio album, debuted at number 5. B+(**)

Billy Nomates: Billy Nomates (2020, Invada): British singer-songwriter Tor Maries, first album, some sources say "No Mates," produced by Geoff Barrow (Portishead), draws comparisons to Sleaford Mods for her talkie style and class consciousness. B+(***)

Oddisee: Odd Cure (2020, Outer Note): DC rapper, Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, father from Sudan, grew up in Prince George's County in Maryland, short album with six songs wrapped around five quarantine phone calls -- a sign of the times. B+(***)

Gregory Porter: All Rise (2020, Blue Note): Singer, "the best-selling contemporary Jazz/soul artist with over 3 million album sales." Sixth album since 2010, a long CD which stretches to 2- or 3-LP length. Towering voice, couched in strings with fancy acoutrements. I've never cared for his art, but occasionally here I can fathom the appeal. But he doesn't deliver anything undeniable until the closer, "Revival," where his church roots meet the Four Tops. B+(*)

Dave Rempis/Elisabeth Harnik/Michael Zerang: Triple Tube (2019 [2020], Not Two): Alto sax/piano/drums trio, recorded at Tube's in Graz, Austria, the pianist's home turf, the others from Chicago. B+(**)

Rempis Percussion Quartet: The Long Haul (2011 [2020], Aerophonic): Chicago group, dates from 2006, led by saxophonist Dave Rempis (alto/tenor/baritone), with two drummers (Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly) and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass. Rempis is a terrific saxophonist, and he's frequently in top form here. A- [bc]

Eric Revis: Slipknots Through a Looking Glass (2019 [2020], Pyroclastic): Bassist, probably best known for his work with Branford Marsalis since 1997, but before that started out with Betty Carter, and his own records have been adventurous. Uses two saxophonists here -- Bill McHenry (tenor) and Darius Jones (alto) -- with Kris Davis (piano) and Chad Taylor (drums). The rhythm breaks up nicely, especially with Davis. The saxes take a while to develop -- even Jones, who is usually a terror. A- [cd]

Bobby Rush: Rawer Than Raw (2020, Deep Rush): Bluesman Emmett Ellis Jr., at 86 he's slowed down enough to sound like he crawled out of the 1930s Delta. B+(***)

Christian Sands: Be Water (2020, Mack Avenue): Pianist, Pianist, was a prodigy releasing his first album at 13, mentored by Billy Taylor. Fourth album on this label, albums a mix of trio and extra guests: two tracks add horns, four guitar, one a string quartet. B+(*)

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Axiom (2020, Ropeadope): Trumpet player from New Orleans, nephew of Donald Harrison, more than a dozen albums since 2002, adopting this extended name in 2012. Live album, septet, with Elena Pinderhughes (flute), Alex Han (alto sax), keyboards, bass, percussion (djembe, congas, bata) and drums. Party friendly. B+(***)

Archie Shepp/Raw Poetic/Damu the Fudgemunk: Ocean Bridges (2020, Redefinition): Order from album cover, but other sources list hip-hop drummer/producer Damu (Earl Davis) first -- he has 51 releases on his Bandcamp page, but while I recognize the name I've never indulged before. Raw Poetic (Jason Moore) is the rapper/lyricist, and Shepp is a tenor sax legend who c. 1970 broadened from avant-garde to black power funk -- hip-hop before the term. As hip-hop, seems a bit scattered, but great to hear the sax, especially when the beats free up. B+(***)

Gary Smulyan: Our Contrafacts (2019 [2020], SteepleChase): Baritone saxophonist, more than a dozen albums since 1991 plus 80 or so side credits (starting with Woody Herman in 1981). Trio with bass (David Wong) and drums (Rodney Green), all originals (6 Smulyan, 2 each for the others). B+(***)

Stillefelt: Stillefelt (2018 [2020], Stoney Lane): British bassist Chris Mapp, also electronics, has at least one previous release, leads a trio here with Percy Pursglove (trumpet) and Thomas Seminar Ford (guitar/electronics). Leans toward ambient. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Peter Stampfel & the Bottle Caps: Demo '84 (1984 [2020], Don Giovanni): Nine tracks, 29:10, 8 of the 12 that appeared on the group's eponymous 1986 Rounder LP, plus a cover of "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)," a 1959 Johnny Horton hit. Demos usually signify sketchy, but these pieces are fully fleshed out, the guitar rocking hard, Stampfel's unique voice inevitably standing out, but also integral to the flow. I don't remember being especially impressed by the album, and it's possible this impresses partly in stark contrast to the gradual decline of his recent years. A

Triage: Live at the Velvet Lounge (2005 [2020], Aerophonic): Saxophonist Dave Rempis' first group outside of the Vandermark 5, released three 2001-04 albums, the third (American Mythology) one of my early Jazz CG Pick Hits. Trio with bass (Jason Ajemian) and drums (Tim Daisy). B+(**) [bc]

Old music:

Good Ol' Persons: Anywhere the Wind Blows (1989, Kaleidoscope): Bluegrass group, fifth and final album (not counting the 1995 "20th Anniversary" Good N' Live). No recollection why I downloaded this, but found it cleaning up, and recognize the two major singer-songwriters: Kathy Kallick (guitar) and John Reischman (mandolin). B+(**)

Devin Gray/Ryan Ferreira/Jonathan Goldberger/Chris Tordini: Devin Gray's Fashionable Pop Music (2012 [2016], Rataplan): Drummer, composes and leads a group with two guitars and bass, through two sidelong pieces ("Antiplutocracy," "Sowieso"). B+(*) [bc]


Grade (or other) changes:

No Age: Goons Be Gone (2020, Drag City): Noise pop duo from Los Angeles, formed 2005, released a consistent stream of fine albums. This one seemed to get slammed hard. I gave it a play, concluded it had their sound down pat, but hedged. Several more plays and it's hard to see how anyone could have missed it. [was: B+(**)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Borah Bergman/Perry Anderson/Steve Swell/Ray Sage: Quartets Trios Duos (2007 [2020], Mahakala Music)
  • Chad Fowler/WC Anderson: Lacrimosa (Mahakala Music)
  • Lafayette Gilchrist: Now (Lafayette Gilchrist Music, 2CD) [10-02]
  • Hazar: Reincarnated (IAN Productions)
  • Joachim Mencel: Brooklyn Eye (Origin) [09-18]
  • Markus Rutz: Blueprints: Figure Two: New Designs (OA2) [09-18]
  • Scenes: Trapeze (Origin) [09-18]
  • Jim Waller Big Band: Bucket List (self-released)