Monday, September 21, 2020


Music Week

Expanded blog post, September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34056 [34007] rated (+49), 216 [217] unrated (-1).

I have very little to say here, so will keep it short. High rated counts continue, although some records below (Shipp, Pretenders) took 4-5 plays to settle down. Pretenders record is almost very good, but I shut it down on one song I lost interest in. That left me with some fairly obscure jazz titles for an A-list. Shipp and Bergman suggest it helps to actually send me the record. DMG sent me several records in the past, but I had no idea this Last Exit album existed. Stumbled on it by accident when I was following up on Piotr Orlov's Bandcamp piece, How South Africa's Blue Notes Helped Invent European Free Jazz. Otherwise, I just followed my nose. Especially looked through Music Tracking for priority picks.

Jazz critic Stanley Crouch died last week. I have a question pending on him, so will write more once I collect my few thoughts. Meanwhile, Robert Christgau wrote Appreciation: Stanley Crouch, a towering critic, loved a good fight. Christgau previously reviewed Crouch's book on Charlie Parker, Kansas City Lightning. Crouch tried his hand at writing a Jazz Consumer Guide, although I think he only got one published. (Gary Giddins and Francis Davis also tried their hands at the format, well before mine from 2004-10.) One thing I will say about Crouch is that he was more persuasive writing about what he liked* than what he hated. (Asterisk there is that I haven't read the Parker book. Parker is worshipped by all reputable jazz critics, no doubt including Crouch, but I've never given up my doubts.) By the way, Phil Freeman writes about Crouch in his Ugly Beauty column, along with notes on the late Gary Peacock and a bunch of new records I need to check out.

Haven't done this week's new releases in the metacritic file yet, but did catch up the previous week. That seems to be the new normal.


New records reviewed this week:

Fontaines D.C.: A Hero's Death (2020, Partisan): Rock group from Dublin, Ireland; first album was punkish enough to remind one of the Pogues, second is toned down in several ways. B+(*)

Robert Gordon: Rockabilly for Life (2020, Cleopatra): Rockabilly revivalist from the late 1960s, when he teamed up with Link Wray and tried crashing the CBGB's scene. He recorded 7 records 1977-82, another burst 1994-97, another 2004-07, this one coming after a 6 year hiatus which spanned his 70th birthday. Nothing in my database since his grade B debut, so he's been pretty far out of mind. Fifteen songs here, each with a guest, unlikely any are originals but the only one I instantly recognized was "Hot Dog! That Made Her Mad" (with Rosie Flores). Digital adds as many "original reference mixes" -- sans guests is how I understand that, and often sharper. Not a major talent, but he's entitled to relish his life's work. B+(*)

Frank Gratkowski/Simon Nabatov/Dominik Mahnig: Dance Hall Stories (2017 [2020], Leo): Free jazz, German reeds player who's recorded since 1991, picking up the pace in 2000, playing alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute here, backed with piano and (on 4/8 tracks) drums). Not especially danceable. B+(**)

Gordon Grdina's the Marrow: Safar-E-Daroon (2020, Songlines): Guitar and oud player, from Vancouver, BC, prolific since 2006, second album with this string and percussion group: Grdina on oud, Josh Zubot (violin), Hank Roberts (cello), Mark Helias (bass), and Hamin Honari (tombak, daf, frame-drum). B+(***)

Gordon Grdina: Prior Street (2019 [2020], self-released): Guitarist from Vancouver, BC, also plays oud, has a long list of impressive albums. This one is solo, perhaps his first. B

Charlotte Greve/Vinnie Sperrazza/Chris Tordini: The Choir Invisible (2018 [2020], Intakt): German alto saxophonist, based in New York, several albums since 2009 (four with Lisbeth Quartett). Trio with drums and bass. B+(*)

Tee Grizzley: The Smartest (2020, 300 Entertainment): Detroit rapper Terry Wallace, active since 2016, mixtape. Love the beats. Words rather less so. B+(***)

GuiltyBeatz: Different E.P (2020, Banku Music, EP): Ronald Banful, born in Italy (Palermo), moved to Ghana at age 6, learned to make beats on computer, had a hit single with Mr Eazi in 2018, did some production for Beyoncé. Few details available, but looks like six tracks, 16:00. B+(*) [yt]

Haiku Hands: Haiku Hands (2020, Mad Decent): Australian dance-pop outfit, sisters Claire and Mie Nakazawa and Beatrice Lewis. First album. Bassist has a major in Chic riffs, and the oft-repeated lyrics are dumb enough to get smart. B+(*)

Tigran Hamasyan: The Call Within (2020, Nonesuch): Armenian pianist, won prizes as a teenager, based in Los Angeles, tenth album at age 33, draws on folk influences and Middle Eastern scales, once dreamed of being a "thrash metal guitarist." Also sings and plays electronic keyboards and drums, only other regular musician is Evan Marien on bass, but guests come and go. Strong, dramatic, an impressive piece of work, just not one I'm wild about. B+(*)

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Co-Starring (2020, Big Machine): Country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, called his late-1970s band the Cowboy Twinkies, languished on folkie labels, started producing impressive albums in his 60s, and at 73 has a long list of people who want to appear with him: Ringo Starr, Don Was, Joe Walsh, Chris Robinson -- that's just the first song, but it clears most of the pop names away, leaving a mixed bag of country artists. Not his best batch of songs, but some notable passages. The label brought their big rock production, for better and worse. B+(**)

I Think You're Awesome: Suite to Be You and Me (2019 [2020], Jaeger Community): Danish instrumental group, fifth album since 2014, electric bassist Jens Mikkel the composer/arranger, with two guitarists (one also on banjo), keyboards, drums, a second percussionist also on electronics, and this time Taiga String Quartet. More of a prog rock feel, but can click into place. B+(*)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Sherman Irby's Inferno (2012 [2020], Blue Engine): Irby is an alto saxophonist, from Alabama, recorded a couple impressive mainstream albums for Blue Note 1997-98 (cf. Big Mama's Biscuits), not much since, but he's played in JLCO since 2005, and this is his Dante-themed "epic composition." Overture, six movements, big band. B+(*)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Black Brown & Beige (2018 [2020], Blue Engine): Duke Ellington composed this suite for his 1943 Carnegie Hall Concert, underscoring the idea that jazz was becoming America's classical music. B

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Rock Chalk Suite (2019 [2020], Blue Engine): Basketball on the cover, tatooed with two icons, one for jazz, the other for KU. Liner notes by Derek Kwan, executive director, Lied Center of Kansas -- the big performing arts facility in Lawrence, KS. The songs were written by many JLCO members, each a basketball dedication, most (as far as I recall) for KU players -- head honcho Wynton Marsalis claimed Wilt Chamberlain and Lynette Woodward (who was sort of the Satchel Paige of women's basketball, joining the WNBA at 38 after spending her prime years in the Harlem Globetrotters). One vocal, Chris Crenshaw singing Sherman Irby's "The Truth" for Paul Pierce. A better-than-average outing, maybe because the lowbrow concept suits their middlebrow aesthetics. B+(**)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Christopher Crenshaw's the Fifties: A Prism (2017 [2020], Blue Engine): A rare JLCO album cover that doesn't mention leader Wynton Marsalis by name, but the website does. Crenshaw plays trombone, has no albums under his own name but deserves full credit here, as composer, musical director and producer (elsewhere he is JLCO's first-call singer). B+(**)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: The Ever Fonky Lowdown (2019 [2020], Blue Engine, 2CD): A "funky jazz parable for 2020," ranging "from football to politics, from power to poverty, from love and romance to betrayal and corruption; it will make you dance and think." Wynton Marsallis wrote, "based on decades of conversations with my brother Ellis." Wendell Pierce narrates as Mr. Game, several others sing, and they brought in extra congas and persussion. As is often the case, Marsalis' penchant for sprawl overwhelms his limited stores of insight and utter lack of humor. B-

Vic Juris: Let's Cool One (2019 [2020], SteepleChase): Cool-toned guitarist, 1953-2019, couple dozen albums since 1978, 50+ side credits (most often with Richie Cole or Dave Liebman). Cut this a few months before his death, with Gary Versace (piano), Jay Anderson (bass), and John Riley (drums). Nice and thoughtful. B+(*)

Kaze & Ikue Mori: Sand Storm (2020, Libra): Free jazz quartet, one of pianist Satoko Fujii's many groups: two trumpets (Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura) and drums (Peter Orins). Sixth group album I'm aware of, this one adding Mori's laptop electronica and some spurious voice (Tamura). Some terrific passages. B+(***) [cd]

La Lucha: Everybody Wants to Rule the World (2019 [2020], Arbors): Translates as fight, or struggle. Florida trio -- John C O'Leary (piano/keyboards), Alejandro Arenas (bass), and Mark Feinman (drums) -- several albums since 2009, this one augmented with guests including producer Ken Peplowski (clarinet) and Houston Person (tenor sax). Latin rhythm when it doesn't get gummed up. Peplowski has an ace solo. B [bc]

Jacám Manricks: Samadhi (2018 [2020], Manricks Music): Australian saxophonist ("of Sri Lankan & Portuguese origin"), plays alto, tenor, and soprano here, as well as clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, and midi strings. Fifth record since 2009, ably backed by piano trio (Joe Gilman, Matt Penman, Clarence Penn). B+(**) [cd]

Adam Niewood: Blue as a Whistle (2018 [2020], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist (also plays soprano), debut 2004 but second album didn't come until 2015, four more since. Mix of originals, two tracks by guitarist Gene Segal (plays on 4/9 cuts), covers of Coltrane and Mingus. B+(**)

Adam Nussbaum: Lead Belly Reimagined (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Drummer, mainstream, since the late 1980s, previously did The Lead Belly Project (2018), with this same quartet: Steve Cardenas (guitar), Nate Radley (guitar), Ohad Talmod (tenor sax). No doubt, Leadbelly is underappreciated as a standards source -- Clifford Jordan's These Are My Roots (1965) is an exception. Talmor isn't as imposing a saxophonist, but the guitarists help. B+(***)

Pretenders: Hate for Sale (2020, BMG): Chrissie Hynde's London-based band, gold records 1979-1994, fifth since, spaced 3-6 years apart. First I've heard since 2002's Loose Screw, which come to think of it was a pretty good album. So is this, recapturing the old sound and adding contemporary ideas to it. Then it ends with a slow one called "Crying in Public," where the anguish is palpable. B+(***)

The Psychedelic Furs: Made of Rain (2020, Cooking Vinyl): Big group in the early 1980s, started declining with 3rd or 4th album, broke up after 1991, regrouped in 2000 but this is their first album since. First song's an impressive return to form, but while their sound remains distinct, it's carrying some excess weight.

Dan Reeder: Every Which Way (2020, Oh Boy): Folkie singer-songwriter, originally from Louisiana but he's been around (including a spell in Germany). Fifth album since 2004, all on John Prine's Oh Boy Records. Twenty songs, short, slow and simple, voice an acquired taste. B

Rumer: Nashville Tears: The Songs of Hugh Prestwood (2020, Cooking Vinyl): British singer-songwriter, Sarah Joyce, born in Pakistan, where her father was chief engineer on a dam project, turned out her biological father was the family's cook. Grew up in England, moved to Los Angeles, then to Arkansas, where she married Burt Bacharach's former music director. Fifth album, the fourth subtitled A Bacharach and David Songbook. This one covers 15 songs by Prestwood. Leans toward countrypolitan, but the lush settings work for once. B+(**)

Scenes: Trapeze (2020, Origin): Seattle group, seventh album since the 2001 title attributed to John Bishop (drums), Jeff Johnson (bass), Rick Mandyck (tenor sax), and John Stowell (guitar). Most of the series were trios I filed under Stowell, but Mandyck's return here shifts the focus, and adds a welcome dimension. B+(**) [cd]

Matthew Shipp Trio: The Unidentifiable (2019 [2020], ESP-Disk): Piano trio with Michael Bisio (bass) and Newan Taylor Baker (drums). There's no shortage of these, and it took me a lot of plays to decide that this one stood out from the crowd -- those trademark hard chords for one, the ability to navigate the trickiest of rhythms for another. A- [cd]

Greg Spero + Spirit Fingers: Peace (2020, Ropeadope): Pianist, Wikipedia lists eight albums 2002-14, including one called Radio Over Miles (2010), which is some kind of mashup of Miles Davis and Radiohead. Since 2014 he's been music director for Halsey, but also released an eponymous Spirit Fingers album in 2018.l Slightly off-kilter fusion band with guitar-bass-drums plus guests -- singer Judi Jackson (4 tracks), saxophonists Braxton Cook and Greg Ward (1 each). The latter are better, not least because they soar with the rhythm, whereas the vocals slow it down. B+(*)

Henri Texier: Chance (2019 [2020], Label Bleu): French bassist, long list of albums and side credits since 1971. Quintet with Vincent Lę Quang (tenor/soprano sax), Sébastien Texier (alto sax/clarinet/alto clarinet), Manu Codjia (guitar), and Gautier Garrigue (drums). Guitar provides the muscle here. B+(**)

Throttle Elevator Music: Emergency Exit (2020, Wide Hive): California "punk jazz" group, originally (2012) a trio -- Lumpy (drums/guitars), Matt Montgomery (piano/bass), and Kamasi Washington (tenor sax) -- five albums later an octet, adding texture to sound, but also smoothes off the rough edges. B+(*)

Azu Tiwaline: Draw Me a Silence Part II (2020, IOT, EP): Electronica producer from Tunisia. Five tracks, 28:09. B+(*)

Kali Uchis: To Feel Alive (Virgin EMI, EP): Pop singer from Virginia, actual name Karly-Marina Loaiza, father a refugee from Colombia. Four tracks, 10:03, follow up to her 2018 hit Isolation. Recorded during quarantine, feels skimpy. B

Village of the Sun Feat. Binker & Moses: Village of the Sun/TED (2020, Gearbox, EP): Two songs, 11:01, where Simon Ratcliffe (of Basement Jaxx) meets Binker Golding (tenor sax) and Moses Boyd (drums). Starts to build something, but ends too soon. B

Greg Ward/Jason Stein/Marcus Evans/Chad Taylor/Matt Lux: 85bears (2020, Ears & Eyes): Chicago group, title refers to Bears running back Walter Payton. Alto sax, bass clarinet, two drummers (Taylor overdubbed 3 tracks in post-production), and bass. Loose-jointed free jazz, highlighted by the contrast of the two horns. B+(***) [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Borah Bergman/Perry Anderson/Steve Swell/Ray Sage: Quartets Trios Duos (2007 [2020], Mahakala Music): Piano (d. 2012), clarinet (d. 2018), trombone, drums -- when I looked up Sage, Discogs only listed 3 albums, all from 2007. Swell assembled this, with 2 duos and 5 trios in various configurations, and 2 quartets. He only plays on 6 (of 9) cuts, but they are the ones that jump out at you. A- [cd]

The Claire Daly Band: Rah! Rah! (2008 [2020], Ride Symbol): Baritone saxophonist, half-dozen albums since 1999, this one had a very limited release in 2009. Title is a shout-out to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, covering four of his songs, along with a couple originals, covers of Charlie Parker and Frank Foster, some standards. Daly sings two: "Alfie" and "Everyday People." Quartet with Eli Yamin (piano), bass, drums, the sax shading everything. B+(**) [cd] [10-02]

Dudk Pukwana: Dudu Phukwana and the "Spears" (1968-69 [2020], Matsuli Music): Alto saxophonist from South Africa, left the country in 1964 with Chris MacGregor and the Blue Notes. This combines his first album (1968) with a second unreleased album. Pukwana moved into avant-garde circles quickly enough, but he started out with a jazzed-up take on township jive, which is mostly what he presents here (and even better on 1973's In the Townships). B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Frank Gratkowski Quartet: Spectral Reflections (2001 [2003], Leo): Second Quartet album, after Kollaps (a 4-star Penguin Guide pick). Leader plays alto sax, clarinet, and contrabass clarinet, with Wolter Wierbos (trombone), Dieter Manderscheid (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums). B+(***)

Frank Gratkowsi Quartet: Facio (2003 [2004], Leo): Same group, the leader adding bass clarinet to his arsenal. Same ups and downs, too. B+(***)

Last Exit: Headfirst Into the Flames: Live in Europe (1989 [2008], DMG/ARC): Short-lived avant-fusion quartet (1986-89), with Sonny Sharrock (guitar), Peter Brötzmann (reeds), Bill Laswell (bass), and Shannon Jackson (drums); two studio records plus some live tapes -- this one first appeared in 1993. You rarely think of Brötzmann as the guy who adds color and harmony, but that's the role Sharrock leaves him. A- [bc]

Selwyn Lissack/Friendship Next of Kin: Facets of the Univers (1969 [2014], Downtown Music Gallery): Drummer from Cape Town, South Africa, moved to Britain in 1967, recorded this one album, released by Goody in France in 1971, and supplemented with a third long piece here. With Mongezi Feza (pocket trumpet), Mike Osborne (alto sax), Kenneth Terroade (tenor sax), and Earl Freeman (bass/piano/voice). An energetic free-for-all, doesn't strike me as exceptional but does appeal. B+(***) [bc]

Gwigwi Mrwebi: Mbaqanga Songs (1967 [2006], Honest Jons): South African alto saxophonist, also known as Benjo or Benny, with the better known South African alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana (who wrote 8 songs to Mrwebi's 6), with Ronnie Beer (tenor sax), Chris McGregor (piano), Coleridge Goode (bass), and Laurie Allan (drums). Original album title was Kwela, after another genre (which unlike here I associate with pennywhistle). Recording isn't spectacular, but I do love this music. B+(**)

Pretenders: Break Up the Concrete (2008, Shangri-La Music): Six years after Loose Screw, the longest break to date. The songs may be coming slower, but there's little evidence of a drop in quality, and the slightly more leisurely pace can be a plus. B+(***)

Pretenders: Live in London (2009 [2010], E1/Stroboscopic): Details are sketchy, but this is tied to a film by Pierre & François Lamoureux, some editions also providing a DVD. [Napster just provides 19 tracks, but other editions have more.] Some pretty great songs. B+(***)

Pretenders: Alone (2016, BMG): Regular band went AWOL, so this is just Chrissie Hynde and studio musicians -- most famous is Dan Auerbach (unless Duane Eddy is more famous). Maybe the band mattered more than anyone thought. B+(*)

Jim Waller and the Deltas: Surfin' Wild (1963 [1995], Sundazed): Waller plays piano and organ here, with Terry Christofsen on guitar, Ray Carlson on sax, plus bass and drums, through a set of surf instrumentals. Title cut may have been a minor hit. Guitar fits the surf paradigm, but organ and sax owe more to r&b models. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Osvaldo Golijov/The Silkroad Ensemble: Falling Out of Time (In a Circle) [10-09]
  • Tobin Mueller: What Survives: Radio Edits (self-released)
  • Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project: Kites and Strings (One Trick Dog) [10-16]
  • Walter White: BB XL (Walter White Music)
  • Nate Wooley: Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic) [10-16]