Monday, September 28, 2020


Music Week

September archive.

Music: Current count 34098 [34056] rated (+42), 214 [216] unrated (-2).

Well, that's another month, not exactly wasted but not put to very good use either. I'm still reeling from recent deaths -- among friends, in my family, of semi-famous people I care about, and others I knew nothing of. I've never forgotten one of the late Diane Wahto's letters to the Wichita Eagle, probably right after the stolen 2000 election, where she bravely declared, "we survived one Bush; we can survive another." She did, but lots of people didn't, and she herself didn't survive Bush's partisan successor. Trump's death toll far exceeds the 204,888 Covid death count (as of today), and he's hurt millions more. Hurts my head just to think about it.

Rolling Stone published a third iteration (after 2003 and 2012) of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I started to transcribe it with my grades, but didn't get very far. Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell published their ballots (unranked top-50 lists) here. Greil Marcus published a top 40 ballot. Other ballots I've found: Stephen Thomas Erlewine; well, that's it (RS did publish a list of voters, but not their ballots; only 28% were identified as journalists). Wikiwand has some statistics. I wasn't invited. Thought I might edit down a list from my 1,000 Albums for a Long and Happy Life, but haven't found the time. If I do pursue this further, I'll probably listen to some of the ranked records I had missed/passed up (as far as I've checked, 24 of the top 240, so 10%).

Only anomaly in the list below worth mentioning is my dive into old Charles McPherson albums. Phil Overeem likes his newest album, Jazz Dance Suites. I wasn't able to find it, but did find a live album he released back in January, and that got me started. His 1975 album Beautiful! is a long-time favorite, and I also am a fan of his 2015 album The Journey, so I was primed to look for more.

Two grade changes this time, nudging up albums I thought were pretty good to start with. Better to recheck them before the month ends than to complicate my paperwork later.

Four week month, bumped the rated count up by 184 (so average 46/week, way above my long-term historic average) -- a bonus for not otherwise having much of a life, I guess. I haven't run the numbers yet, but I'm probably ahead on the year, even with more old music recently.


New records reviewed this week:

Artemis: Artemis (2020, Blue Note): Jazz supergroup founded 2017, seven women from six countries, first album, music director Renee Rosnes (piano), with Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Melissa Aldana (alto sax), Anat Cohen (clarinet/bass clarinet), Noriko Ueda (bass), Allison Miller (drums), and Cécile McLorin Salvant (vocals on 2 tracks, the 2nd a highlight). B+(**)

Daniel Carter/Brad Farberman/Billy Martin: Just Don't Die (2018 [2019], Ropeadope): Carter plays flute, trumpet, and tenor sax; the others guitar and drums. Credited as joint improv, but I imagine this as the guitarist's album, mostly because the others seem relucant to step on his toes, let alone show off. B+(*) [bc]

Regina Carter Freedom Band: Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground (2020, Tiger Turn): Violinist, from Detroit, eleventh album since 1995. Cover notes as featuring: Jon Batiste (piano), John Daversa (trumpet), Alexis Cuadrado (bass), Kabir Sehgal (bass/percussion), Harvey Mason (drums). Mostly trad pieces, which the violin lends an old-timey feel to, with messages in the interludes: vote! B+(*)

Tyler Childers: Long Violent History (2020, Hickman Holler/RCA): One of the best country singer-songwriters to emerge in recent years throws you a curve with no vocals (until the title song closer), just a batch of old-fashioned fiddle tunes. B+(***)

Cliff Trio [Pandelis Karayorgis/Damon Smith/Eric Rosenthal]: Precipice (2019 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Piano-bass-drums trio. Impressive pianist. B+(**) [bc]

Conference Call: Prism (2020, Not Two): Free jazz quartet, seven albums 2002-13 with George Schuller on drums, replaced here by Dieter Ulrich, joining original members Gebhard Ullmann (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), and Joe Fonda (bass). Nice balance here. B+(***)

Chick Corea: Plays (2018 [2020], Concord, 2CD): Solo piano, live, cover throws out some composer names, from 9 o'clock: Corea, Mozart, Gershwin, Monk, Scarlatti, Evans, Jobim, Chopin, Scriabin, Wonder. Play indeed he does. B+(*)

The Croaks: One of the Best Bears! (2018 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Avant-jazz trio: Martin Küchen (sopranino/soprano sax, metal objects), Martin Klapper (amplified objects, toys and small electronics), and Roger Turner (drums, metal and plastic). B+(*) [bc]

Joe Farnsworth: Time to Swing (2020, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream drummer, not much under his own name but lots of side credits since 1991. Big-name quartet here, with Kenny Barron (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Wynton Marsalis (trumpet, who checks out midway). B+(**)

Chad Fowler/WC Anderson: Lacrimosa (2020, Mahakala Music): Saxophone and drums duo, seems to be the first album for either. Fowler mostly plays alto, but ranges up and down from there. Looks like he also has a big job at Microsoft, having started out with open source start ups before cashing in, and running this label on the side. This is rough, can get on my nerves. B+(**) [cd]

Frode Gjerstad/Fred Lonberg-Holm/William Parker/Steve Swell: Tales From (2019 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): No credits, but typically sax (alto, I think), cello/electronics, bass, trombone -- the latter two fill ins for a plan that originally called for Matthew Shipp. Lonberg-Holm came best prepared, while the others do what they usually do. B+(**) [bc]

Guillermo Gregorio/Joe Fonda/Ramón López: Intersecting Lives (2018 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Clarinet player, from Argentina, lived in Europe for a while, but long based in Chicago. Backed by bass and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Diana Krall: This Dream of You (2016-17 [2020], Verve): She pieced this together from older sessions that produced Turn Up the Quiet. I haven't figured out who plays what where, but whether playing in a duo, trio, quartet, or larger ensemble, she's steady, her voice nailing each thoughtful song. B+(***)

The Mark Lomax Trio: The Last Concert: Ankh & the Tree of Life (2020, CFG Multimedia): Drummer, with the magnificent Edwin Bayard ever reliable on tenor sax and Dean Hullett on bass. Two long pieces, develop a bit slowly, peak out where they always do: strain, struggle, redemption. A-

Charles McPherson Quartet: Live at San Sebastián Jazz Festival (2019 [2020], Quadrant): Alto saxophonist, broke in with Mingus in 1961, very influenced by Charlie Parker -- his first albums were Bebop Revisted! and Con Alma! -- developed into a unique voice. Hasn't recorded much since 2000, but his 2015 album The Journey was special. With Bruce Barth (piano), Mark Hodgson (drums), and Steven Keogh (drums), playing five extended pieces. Blues-based jams, form terrific. A-

Joachim Mencel: Brooklyn Eye (2019 [2020], Origin): Pianist, from Poland, also plays hurdy-gurdy, recorded this in Brooklyn with guitar (Steve Cardenas), bass (Scott Colley), and drums (Rudy Royston). B+(*) [cd]

Vic Mensa: V Tape (2020, Roc Nation, EP): Chicago rapper, father from Ghana, original name Mensah, fifth EP (7 tracks, 26:28), has a longer mixtape and a studio album. B+(**)

Merzbow/Mats Gustafsson/Balász Pándi: Cuts Open (2018 [2020], RareNoise): Japanese noise artist Masami Akita, who if anything has a moderating effect on the Norwegian avant-saxophonist, plus a drummer. Not their first record together, but their longest one. Has its moments, but they can wear thin. B+(*) [cdr]

Helen Money: Atomic (2020, Thrill Jockey): Cellist Alison Chesley, originally from Los Angeles, moved to Chicago for college and stayed there, had an acoustic duo called Verbow, did film work and other side projects, plus a half dozen albums as Helen Money. Also plays piano here, accompanied by harp, electronics, and drums. Tight, uncomplicated but rather prog instrumental rock. B+(***)

Moor Mother: Circuit City (2020, Don Giovanni): Camae Ayewa, poet/musician/activist from Philadelphia. I originally filed her under hip-hop, but at this point hell if I know. Styled as a theatrial work in four acts, with spoken word over trumpet, sax, electronics, bass, and drums, with most contributing to perussion. Music veers into free jazz, or maybe just noise. B+(*)

Public Enemy: what You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? (2020, Def Jam): Time for a "Fight the Power" remix? That's the centerpiece here, and nothing else quite matches it. Still, this is hard and angry like few others can muster, which makes it timely, even if the time frame spans decades. A-

Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project: Kites and Strings (2020, One Trick Dog): Pianist, also plays accordion, has a previous album. Originals, three covers ("Somewhere," Neil Young, a trad Bulgarian song). Postbop, with trumpet and tenor sax/bass clarinet, guitar, bass, drums, a few guests. B+(*) [cd] [10-16]

Markus Rutz: Blueprints: Figure Two: New Designs (2018-19 [2020], OA2): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, has a previous Figure One. Six original compositions, covers of McCoy Tyner, Frank Foster, and Sam Rivers; postbop, with sax, piano, guitar, bass, drums, extra percussion. B+(*) [cd]

Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley: Birdland, Neuburg 2011 (2011 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Piano and drums duo. Taylor died in 2018, but until this his most recent records were recorded in 2008, also duos with Oxley. Two (or three) improvs, 57:23, quieter than in their heyday, but can still startle you, remind you how damn near anything is possible. After all, that's what they do. A- [bc]

Chip Wickham: Blue to Red (2020, Lovemonk): Flute player, sometimes goes as Roger Wickham (or Kid Costa), third album, with harp (Amanda Whiting), keyboards, bass/cello, drums, and percussion. B-

Immanuel Wilkins: Omega (2020, Blue Note): Alto saxophonist, grew up near Philadelphia, based in New York, first album, produced by Jason Moran, backed by piano (Micah Thomas), bass, and drums. B+(**)

WorldService Project: Hiding in Plain Sight (2020, RareNoise): British "punk-jazz" quartet -- Dave Morecroft (keyboards), Ben Powling (saxes), Arthur O'Hara (bass), Luke Reddin-Williams (drums), plus trombone on 4 (of 9) tracks, some vocals -- fifth album. I've found them to be very annoying in the past, so I reckon this one's marginal listenability an improvement. C+ [cdr]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Rich Krueger: The Troth Sessions (2002 [2020], Rockin'K Music): PhD in biochemistry, postdoc in neuroscience, day job as a clinical associate in pediatrics at the University of Chicago. Released two albums in 2018 that Christgau liked much more than I did -- second suggested that he had been writing songs for much longer. Turns out he had a folk-rock band in the 1980s, and cut these acoustic guitar and voice demos, enough for a short album (9 tracks, 29:07). B

London Jazz Composers Orchestra: That Time (1972-80 [2020], Not Two): Avant big band, I think of it as being bassist Barry Guy's vehicle, but four composers are named on the cover: Kenny Wheeler, Guy, Paul Rutherford, and Howard Riley, each with a 14-18 minute piece, the first two from 1972, the latter 1980. B+(*)

Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto (1968 [2020], Impulse!): Archival album, previously unreleased, so a big deal, recorded on a stage at Palo Alto High School, a side trip from a stand at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. Quartet, with Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Larry Gales (bass), and Ben Riley (drums). This was near the tail end of one of Monk's best quartets, with seasoned experts reworking his old songs. A-

Nublu Orchestra Conducted by Butch Morris: Live in Paris (2010 [2020], Nublu): "Conduction No. 190." At some point I should make a chart of who played on each of their live albums -- coming out now at a fairly rapid clip -- but aside from some regulars like Graham Haynes (cornet) and Doug Wieselman (guitar) the lineups seem pretty variable. B+(**)

Old music:

Charles McPherson: Con Alma! (1965 [1995], Prestige/OJC): Alto saxophonist, second album, quintet with Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Barry Harris (piano), George Tucker (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). Runs through six songs, mostly bebop standards like the title track, "Dexter Rides Again," and "Chasing the Bird." B+(*)

Charles McPherson: Live at the Five Spot (1966 [1994], Prestige): Quintet with Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet), Barry Harris (piano), Ray McKinney (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums), originally released as The Quintet/Live! in 1967, reissue tacks on three extra tracks, bringing the CD to 74:26. Mostly bop repertoire. B+(*)

Charles McPherson: From This Moment On (1968 [1997], Prestige/OJC): Quartet, with Cedar Walton on piano, Pat Martino on guitar, plus bass and drums. Walton and Martino tend to take over, but some find alto sax here and there. B+(**)

Charles McPherson: Horizons (1968 [1998], Prestige/OJC): Sextet, Walton and Martino again, different bass and drums, with Nasir Hafiz's vibes prominent from the start. Four McPherson originals, two covers ("Lush Life" and "I Should Care"). Sax more prominent here, and he's clearly developing his tone and poise. B+(**)

Charles McPherson: Siku Ya Bibi (Day of the Lady) (1972, Mainstream): He left Prestige after McPherson's Mood (1969), and recorded three 1971-73 albums for Mainstream. This is the second, dedicated to Billie Holiday. Good material for alto sax and quintet, but strings spoil half the tracks. B

Charles McPherson: Live in Tokyo (1976, Xanadu): After Mainstream, the alto saxophonist recorded 5 records for Xanadu (1975-81). The first, Beautiful! (1975) is a special favorite. This one retains the bass-drums combo (Sam Jones and Leroy Williams), reverts to the leader's usual pianist (Barry Harris), and adds some guitar (Jimmy Raney). A- [yt]

Charles McPherson: Come Play With Me (1995, Arabesque): Not much to show for the 1980s, but McPherson recorded three albums for Arabesque 1994-98. This middle one is a quartet with Mulgrew Miller (piano), Sati Debriano (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums) -- lovely effort all around. A-

Charles McPherson: Manhattan Nocturne (1997 [1998], Arabesque): Another quartet, with Ray Drummond taking over on bass. [Glitch on first song.] B+(***)

Charles McPherson: Live at the Cellar (2002, Cellar Live): Live shot from the Vancouver club, quartet with local piano trio (Ross Taggart, Jodi Proznick, Blaine Wikjord). Six songs, each topping 10:12 (up to 14:56). Closes strong. B+(***)

Charles McPherson: What Is Love (2010, Arabesque): Released a decade after his 1994-98 records for the label, having trouble with dates and such, but could be new. Quartet with Randy Porter, Rufus Reid, and Carl Allen, plus strings: The Lark Quartet. I'm not a fan of the latter, but even they cannot ruin something as luscious as "My One and Only Love." B+(*)

Charles McPherson Quartet: Love Walked In (2015, Quadrant): Quartet, with Bruce Barth (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass), and Stephen Keogh (drums). Scant discography, but mostly standards, leisurely but only two (of nine) reach 7 minutes. B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

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. [was: B+(***)] A-

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 (well, also Jason Williams' guest verse on "Supermarket Sweep," his voice barbed where hers fades away, too subtle for her material). Grows on you. [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Mary Halvorson's Code Girl: Artlessly Falling (Firehouse 12) [10-30]
  • Douglas Olsen: 2 Cents (self-released) [11-01]
  • Edward Simon: 25 Years (1995-2018, Ridgeway, 2CD) [10-09]
  • Amber Weekes: The Gathering (Amber Inn Productions) [10-01]