Monday, November 16, 2020


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34356 [34320] rated (+36), 220 [223] unrated (-3).

I continued my post-election practice of starting each day with a couple of vintage jazz CDs, although I stopped tweeting about it at some point. I published the previous week's selection, so might as well follow it up with this week's (as best I recall):

  • Don Byas: Don Byas on Blue Star
  • Charles McPherson: But Beautiful!
  • Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um
  • Sonny Rollins: Falling in Love With Jazz
  • Sidney Bechet: The Legendary Sidney Bechet
  • Duke Ellington: The Far East Suite
  • Coleman Hawkins: A Retrospective 1929-1963 [2CD]
  • Earl Hines: Piano Man! (ASV's 1928-41 big band comp)
  • Roy Eldridge: The Nifty Cat
  • Ben Webster/Buck Clayton: Ben and Buck
  • Ben Webster/Harry Edison: Ben and Sweets
  • Lester Young: The "Kansas City" Sessions

Only a couple A- records on that list (very solid ones). The Mingus (A+) got an encore spin. Only one today, as I had to venture out early. The practice cut down on my listening, especially from the demo queue (which I'm working on now). Still got a fairly decent haul. Several records I was tipped to from Facebook posts (e.g., Aesop Rock, Harald Lassen, Big Mama Thornton). Several came from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide: I already had Thelonious Monk and Elizabeth Cook (both of them) at A-, Margo Price at B+(*), and Low Cut Connie at B, so I checked out the rest (aside from Slim Gaillard, who I like enough to have given his 4-CD Properbox Laughin' in Rhythm an A-, but didn't expect the 2-CD Verve reviewed to improve on the 1-CD Verve from 1994, Laughin' in Rhythm). Pleasant surprise from the list was Rodney Rice, but where he was nice and comfy, I wound up preferring Tim Barry's anger (choice cut: "Prosser's Gabriel"). The Barry tip, by the way, came from Napster, explained thusly: "because you like Johnny Cash." They're often wrong (not least about what I like), but for someone I had never heard of that was a pretty good tip. One caveat: given its 2-hour-plus length, I only played the record once. Still left me feeling it's more likely to get better than worse.

I noticed this Richard Scheinin tweet:

Sad news: the passing of Andrew White, one of the most brilliant & exciting saxophonists I've ever witnessed. An outrageous character, too. Brilliant man. Coltrane transcriber. Oboist. Electric bassist with Stevie Wonder and Weather Report. R.I.P., genius.

I've heard a few records White played on, but his name never stuck in my mind, and I don't have anything by him in my database. I searched for records online and came up empty. Wikipedia credits him with 42 albums, but they're self-released, and I'm not finding them anywhere. (I did find some YouTube videos -- one fairly long one I listened to was pretty impressive.) Seems like getting his music organized on Bandcamp would be a good project for his estate.

I've done some work on the Christgau website (not updated yet). I have all of the And It Don't Stop Consumer Guides in my database, and have written a bit of code that drops the most recent reviews out (supposedly this is an incentive for people who pay for their subscription). The transition from PHP 5 to 7 broke the old database code (and other stuff), so I'm having to go through dozens of files and rewrite code. Started that project way back, got distracted, but now I'm finally intent on plugging through to the end, at which point it'll be possible to update the database.

I can also tell you that Francis Davis and I will be doing another Jazz Critics Poll this year. Invites should be going out real soon now. (I heard "over the weekend" but haven't seen mine yet.) If you think you should be invited but haven't been in the past, or have been and haven't heard from us within the week, please send email and make your case. NPR will publish the headline results, and I'll publish all the gritty details, as usual. To help out, I've prepared a version of my music tracking file that omits my grades and only lists jazz albums. It covers everything I've noted since December 1, 2019, plus some earlier 2019 albums that were so obscure I hadn't noticed them in the 2019 music tracking file. Obviously, the list is far from complete.

I still haven't done any fine tuning for my own EOY lists, but you can see them in their initial state here: Jazz and Non-Jazz. I did a bit of reshuffling, but I'm still not very happy with the ordering -- especially non-jazz, where I own virtually none of the records and haven't replayed any (other than Dua Lipa) since they came out. Also, I've barely started the 2% section on prospects I haven't heard (but would like to).

EOY lists should start appearing around Thanksgiving, which is next week. (I've given zero thought to cooking for anyone, then or pretty much forever.) Meanwhile, my metacritic file offers a few hints as to how the year's shaping up.

I'm sitting on a tough question about African music. Would be nice if you asked me more.


New records reviewed this week:

Aesop Rock: Spirit World Field Guide (2020, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Rapper Ian Bavitz, quick with his words, sharp with his beats. B+(***)

Susan Alcorn Quintet: Pedernal (2019 [2020], Relative Pitch): Pedal steel guitarist, common in traditional country music but rarely used in jazz. Discogs credits Alcorn with 25 albums since 2000 -- many free jazz collaborations, but still more than I expected. Quintet here, mostly strings -- violin (Michael Feldman), double bass (Michael Formanek), guitar (Mary Halvorson) -- plus a drummer (Ryan Sawyer). All original compositions, although I think I hear bits from folk songs. B+(**)

Tim Barry: Live 2018 (2018 [2020], Chunkasah): Country singer-songwriter, started in Virginia punk bands -- (Young) Pioneers, Avail -- solo albums since 2006. Never heard of him before, but Napster recommended him "because you like Johnny Cash." Collects two hour-long sets, no hits, no duplicate songs. Some striking songs. In one he gets 28 years for a moment, when he took credit after his sister shot a man who abused her. In another, he's the one getting shot, in Iraq. Most striking song is "Prosser's Gabriel," about a slave rebellion in 1800 and the city's crumbling monuments to slaverholders (a/k/a "rich white motherfuckers"). Presented as a time capsule, with "nothing glossed over." He adds, "it's a lot to absorb." And advises, "be fucking resilient." A-

Noah Bless: New York Strong: Latin Jazz! (2020, Zoho): Trombonist, studied in Cincinnati, moved to New York in 1990, appeared on dozens of mainstream and Latin jazz albums, not much under his own name. Percussion as expected, nice trombone leads. B+(*) [cd]

Will Butler: Generations (2020, Merge): Arcade Fire member, brother of frontman Win Butler, third solo album, has a couple of well-hooked songs, ends with one on George Washington which starts like Randy Newman. Turns out "Fine." B+(***)

Carla Campopiano: Chicago/Buenos Aires Connections, Vol. II (2020, self-released): Flute player, from Argentina, moved to US in 2011 and teaches in Chicago. Second album, a short one (27:02), one original, seven covers, tango classics, two sung by Alba Guerra. U [cd]

The Nels Cline Singers: Share the Wealth (2020, Blue Note): The guitarist's long-running project with Trevor Dunn (bass) and Scott Amendola (drums), augmented here by Skerik (sax), Brian Marsella (keyboards), and Cyro Baptista (percussion), none of whom sing. B+(*)

Cortex: Legal Tender (2019 [2020], Clean Feed): Free jazz quartet from Norway -- Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Kristoffer Berre Alberts (sax), Ola Hřyer (bass), Gard Nilssen (drums) -- fourth album. Neither horn dominates, but hits strong notes, while the rhythm stays fresh. A-

André Fernandes: Kinetic (2020, Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, studied at Berklee, lived in New York for a while, returned to Lisbon. Ten (or more) albums since 2003. Quintet with alto sax (Perico Sambeat), keyboards (Xan Campos), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Rich Halley/Matthew Shipp/Michael Bisio/Newman Taylor Baker: The Shape of Things (2019 [2020], Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist from Portland, had been playing for a while but got serious after he retired from his day job, and has been producing excellent records every year. Had been using locals, but picked up a world-class rhythm section last year, and they're even better this time out. A- [cd]

Theo Hill: Reality Check (2020, Posi-Tone): Pianist, plays Rhodes and synthesizer here, fourth album, trio (Rashaan Carter and Mark Whitfield Jr.) plus vibes -- Blue Note star Joel Ross. B+(*)

Jaga Jazzist: Pyramid (2020, Brainfeeder): Norwegian acid jazz group, 7th studio album since 1996, on an electronica label (new, but last three were on Ninja Tune). Horns down to two (trombone and tuba, with guitarist-keyboardist Lars Horntveth also playing a bit of clarinet and sax), guitar and synths up. Pretty good groove band, adept at avoiding the ruts. B+(**)

Harald Lassen: Human Samling (2020, Jazzland): Norwegian saxophonist, also plays piano, couple previous albums. His sax takes a back seat to the guitar-keyboards-electric bass, shading to soften the fusion groove. B

José Lencastre/Jorge Nuno/Felipe Zenícola/Joăo Valinho: Anthropic Neglect (2019 [2020], Clean Feed): Brazilian guitarist Nuno, background in "psychedelic rock," joins Portuguese sax-bass-drum trio. Three pieces, 39:11, the fast one most immediately compelling, but the slow one also develops a fine burn. A-

Nicole Mitchell/Moor Mother: Offering: Live at Le Guess Who (2018 [2020], Don Giovanni): Flutes and vocals, both also credited with electronics. Camae Ayewa's poetry is often worthy, but long stretches here are hard to take in. Probably more interesting to watch. B

Ikue Mori/Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Prickly Pear Cactus (2020, Libra): Japanese drummer, credited with electronics here, part of New York's No Wave noise-punk movement c. 1980, Discogs lists 40 albums since 1992, swaps quarantine files with the even more prolific piano-trumpet duo. B+(**) [cd] [12-04]

Oneohtrix Point Never: Magic Oneohtrix Point Never (2020, Warp): Daniel Lopatin, electronica, albums since 2007. This one seems all over the place, but a few passages are so sublime there may be more to it. B+(*)

Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree: Names of North End Women (2020, Mute): Sonic Youth guitarist, has dabbled in experimental pursuits, ranging from avant-noise to jazz, on dozens of releases since 1987. Refree is a Spanish (Catallan) producer, Raül Fernandez Miró, with 16 releases since 2002. Songs here, oblique ones, eased into. B+(*)

Rodney Rice: Same Shirt, Different Day (2020, Moody Spring Music): Country singer-songwriter, from West Virginia, based in Colorado, second album. Identifies working class. Voice has a bit of John Anderson and John Prine, but mellower. B+(***)

Scott Routenberg: Inside (2020, Summit): Pianist, plays electric keyboards here, with occasional guests, most likely socially distanced. B [cd]

Sad13: Haunted Painting (2020, Wax Nine): Sadie Dupuis, side project from her band Speedy Ortiz (which also started out as side project, though I know not to what), second album. I can't say as I get much from it, but doesn't seem like the concept is sad. B+(*)

Alexa Tarantino: Clarity (2020, Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist (also soprano, flute, alto flute), second album, backed by piano (Steven Feifke), bass (Joe Martin), and drums (Rudy Royston). B+(*)

Trees Speak: Ohms (2020, Soul Jazz): Arizona group, synthesizers, draws on Krautrock but reminds me more of the equally vintage Mother Mallard. B+(*)

Andreas Tschopp Bubaran: Tambuk (2019 [2020], Enja/Yellowbird): Swiss trombonist, first (2017) album Bubaran, kept that for his group name, both album names derived from Indonesian gamelan music. Both groups have trumpet, second trombone, guitar, and drums. B [bc]

Savina Yannatou & Joana Sá: Ways of Notseeing (2020, Clean Feed): Voice and piano duo. I can't follow the words, if indeed that's what they are. The notes refer to John Berger's eye-opening book, Ways of Seeing. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Blue Note Re:imagined 2020 (2020, Blue Note): Date in smaller print, but probably important as they could be recycling this formula for some time. Samples from the label's 1960s golden age (Herbie Hancock, Eddie Henderson, Joe Henderson, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, McCoy Tyner, Donald Byrd, Dodo Greene, and especially Wayne Shorter) remixed by up-and-coming UK jazz stars. They (and other labels) have gone down this rathole before. At best, the records are amusing for a while. At worst, they aren't. B

Brian Eno: Film Music 1976-2020 (1976-2020 [2020], Astralwerks): It was inevitable that his ambient electronica would find a home in films. As early as 1978, he had enough for his first Music for Films. No idea how much more followed, but 15 of 17 tracks here came later, including several previously unreleased and one new one to stretch the window. B+(*)

Mort Garson: Music From Patch Cord Productions (1968-74 [2020], Sacred Bones): Canadian composer, electronic music pioneer, an early (1967) adopter of the Moog synthesizer. Some vocals, pop moves. B+(*)

Mort Garson: Didn't You Hear? (1970 [2020], Sacred Bones): Soundtrack for an "experimental film." Title track (reprised at the end) is pretty awful. Moog filling not so bad. B

The Heshoo Beshoo Group: Armitage Road (1970 [2020], We Are Busy Bodies): South African jazz group, only album, two sax players (Henry and Stanley Sithole), guitar (Cyril Magubane), bass, and drums. Guitarist the steady hand here, playing off the township jive groove like Wes Montgomery on the blues. B+(***)

Space Funk: Afro Futurist Electro Funk in Space 1976-84 (1976-84 [2019], Soul Jazz): Fifteen obscure funk tracks with synths and space themes -- only group name I thought I recognized is Funk Machine, but that's only because it's so rote. Nothing here that Dr. Funkenstein couldn't bump into a higher orbit. B+(*)

Peter Stampfel/The Dysfunctionells: Not in Our Wildest Dreams (1994-96 [2020], Don Giovanni): No "&" on the cover, and the group -- Rich Krueger plus four (or more) -- can stand on their own, and appear to have sought out the folk legend. Sloppy on all counts, especially when trashing pop hits, but also when covering Have Moicy! B+(**)

Cecil Taylor/Tony Oxley: Being Astral and All Registers/Power of Two: Live at the Ulrichsberg Festival, May 10th 2002 (2002 [2020], Discus Music): Cover adds quote marks, dots, and a dash to the title, but it's really just two piece titles, totalling 59:41, and the sub at the bottom could just as well be the real title. The pianist's later recordings almost all feature drummer Oxley, most (like this one) duos. How many anyone needs is unclear, but since Taylor's death in 2018, it's been nice to get periodic reminders. B+(***) [bc]

Neil Young/Crazy Horse: Return to Greendale (2003 [2020], Warner): From a live tour in support of a well-regarded but minor enough to be easily forgotten album. The original 10 songs ran 78:19. This one reprises all ten, in order, two shortened by less than a minute, the rest a bit longer (total 80:36), not stretched but just a bit relaxed. No need to own both, but for the moment relaxed works for me, not least on long yarns that are packed with tension. A-

Old music:

Rodney Rice: Empty Pockets and a Troubled Mind (2014, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, first album, has an easy way about him but doesn't slight hard subjects. B+(**)

Sad13: Slugger (2016, Carpark): Singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis, away from her band Speedy Ortiz (between their 2nd and 3rd albums). Has some moments, but in general I don't see the point. B+(*)

Big Mama Thornton With the Muddy Waters Blues Band: 1966 (1966 [2004], Arhoolie): Famed for recording "Hound Dog" before Elvis, but worth exploring at greater length. I had two of her CDs in my database, both at A-: Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings (1952-57 [1992], MCA), and Ball N' Chain (1965-68 [1989], Arhoolie), which mixes six tracks from this album with other live tracks (some with Buddy Guy). Here she borrows the band for a San Francisco gig, with Waters and Samuel Lawhorn on guitar, Otis Spann piano, Luther Johnson bass, Francis Clay drums, James Cotton harmonica, and Everett Minor tenor sax. Terrific band, maybe a bit fancy for Thornton. Padded with alternate takes. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Friesen With Orchestra and Quartet: Testimony (Origin)
  • Jihee Heo: Are You Ready? (OA2)
  • Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii/Ramon Lopez: Mantle (Libra)