Monday, December 21, 2020


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34609 [34569] rated (+40), 213 [215] unrated (-2).

No real time to work on this, so I need to rush through. Continuing to update various tracking files (although I've fallen way behind with the EOY aggregate):

I've finished compiling the Jazz Critics Poll, toting up 148 ballots. NPR will publish the results, but I don't know what their schedule is. Full rankings and all the ballots will be available on my website, once NPR has done their thing.

Two fairly major musicians died last week: Jazz pianist Stanley Cowell, and country singer-songwriter K.T. Oslin. Oslin's Love in a Small Town is a personal favorite. Cowell's 1969 album Blues for the Viet Cong was an early breakthrough, seems more radical today than it was then. Here are a couple links:

Here's a link for a new Iris DeMent song: Going Down to Sing in Texas. I haven't seen any reports of a new album coming out, but the song is clearly recent and topical.

I'm going to do a fair amount of cooking this week. We won't be hosting our usual Christmas Eve dinner, and we won't be attending the big Christmas Day bash at my cousin's farm, but I'm planning on delivering "meals on wheels" for 15-20 friends. I'll be listening to music while I cook, but nothing I'll write about, so next week's report should be relatively thin. It will also be the last of the month and year, so I might be tempted to push it out a bit.


New records reviewed this week:

75 Dollar Bill: Little Big Band Live at Tubby's (2020, self-released): Instrumental rock duo -- Che Chen (guitar) and Rick Brown (drums) -- with Saharan influences (Chen studied in Mauritania with Jheich Ould Chighaly). They picked up five more musicians for this gig -- a big band only given their bearings -- including a sax, viola, and more guitars and drums. Last show before Covid lockdown in March. They describe it as "bittersweet." B+(***)

75 Dollar Bill: Live at Cafe Oto Dec. 19, 2019 (2019 [2020], self-relased): As the lockdown progressed, the duo rumaged through their old tapes for product, and picked out this trio date in London, where they were reunited with their former bassist Andrew Lafkas. Digital only, very long, collecting three hour-long sets (12 tracks, 183:09), but the basic patterns never wear out -- in fact, the opener runs 30:26 without ever going anywhere, and the only time you really notice it is when it stops, like an old friend hanging up. A- [bc]

75 Dollar Bill: Power Failures (2018 [2020], self-released): Unclear when these six tracks (77:49) were recorded, but it's basically an "odds and sods" collection, with extra people showing up on several tracks. B+(**) [bc]

75 Dollar Bill Little Big Band: Roulette, March 27, 2017 (2017 [2020], self-released): Nine names on the cover, although the opener is just the two principals (Rick Brown and Che Chen). B+(**) [bc]

Bab L' Bluz: Nayda! (2020, Real World): Moroccan-French "power quartet," first album, lead singer Yousra Mansour. B+(*)

William Basinski: Lamentations (2020, Temporary Residence): Experimental composer, trained in clarinet, several dozen albums since 1998, his early albums self-descriptive: Shortwavemusic, Watermusic, The Disintegration Loops, the latter followed by II, III, IV. Ambient drone with occasional choir. B+(*)

Nat Birchall: Mysticism of Sound (2020, Ancient Archive of Sound): English saxophonist, records since 1999, plays what they're calling spiritual jazz, in his case heavily indebted to John Coltrane. Plays everything here: keyboard (korg minilogue), bass, drums, percussion, tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet. Loses some urgency, but nicely at one with the cosmos. B+(**) [bc]

Nat Birchall Meets Al Breadwinner: Upright Living (2020, Tradition Disc): Second album with Alan Redfern, Manchester-based reggae musician (drums, guitar, organ, piano, percussion), who leads a group called the Breadwinners. Lots of dub echo, the leader's tenor and soprano sax (also keyboards and percussion) joined by more horns (trumpet, trombone, baritone sax). B+(***) [bc]

Nat Birchall Sextet: Exaltation: Live in Athens Vol 1 (2018 [2020], Parafono): Quartet plus a couple picked up for the spot: Harris Lambrakis (ney) and Nikos Sidirokastritis (drums). Three pieces, seems short (39:55). B+(*) [bc]

Blu & Exile: Miles (2020, Fat Beats): Rapper Johnson Barnes III, from Los Angeles, with producer Alex Manfredi, third album together (previous in 2007 and 2012). Title refers to Miles Davis. Subtitle: From an Interlude Called Life. Assembled by mail, runs long (20 tracks, 95:29), covers a lot of ground. A-

Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill: Jorun-PMC (2020, AE Productions): Actual name, DJ/producer from Halifax, Nova Scotia, led a 1990s coalition there that included Buck 65, working here with rapper Phill Stroman. Big, old school beats and scratches. B+(***) [bc]

Phoebe Bridgers: Copycat Killer (2020, Dead Oceans, EP): Her big albums this year, Punisher, ranks third in my EOY aggregate. I'm not a big fan, but can't deny that it has something going for it. This follow-up is a microcosm: four songs, 12:51, too many strings, but we're used to them in movies, where they set up drama. Same here. B+(*)

Phoebe Bridgers: If We Make It Through December (2020, Dead Oceans, EP): Another 4-song EP (11:39), covers which touch on Christmas without getting too comfortable: the title is a Merle Haggard song about how cold and poverty undermines the usual seasonal joy, and even "Silent Night" plays background to a bitter news reel (which would have been even more horrifying had she waited to sample this December's news). "You don't have to be alone to be lonesome," and "it's Christmas, so no one can fix it." B+(***)

Brad Brooks: God Save the City (2020, Brad Brooks): Singer-songwriter based in Oakland, couple previous albums, hard to pin this one down. B+(*)

Disclosure: Energy (2020, Island): English electropop duo, brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, third album, guest vocals on most tracks. B+(**)

Elzhi: Seven Times Down Eight Times Up (2020, Fat Beats): Detroit rapper Jason Powers, first EP 1998. Underground, with some rough edges and awkward moments. B+(**)

Felt: Felt 4 U (2020, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Hip-hop duo, Slug (of Atmosphere) and Murs, fourth album after a decade-long hiatus, the first three (2002-09) framed as tributes to actresses (Christina Ricci, Lisa Bonet, Rosie Perez). Ant produced, so beatwise figure Atmosphere, but Murs delivers the sharper, more political rhymes. A-

Matthew Halsall: Salute to the Sun (2020, Gondwana): British trumpet player, from Manchester, albums since 2008. Spiritual jazz, which for all practical purposes means he's happy to inhabit grooves drawn from Coltrane, with the economy of Miles Davis. Nice trick. B+(***)

Headie One x Fred Again: Gang (2020, Relentless, EP): Short mixtape (8 tracks, 22:13), rapper Irving Adjei and producer Fred Gibson. B+(*)

Jihee Heo: Are You Ready? (2020, OA2): Korean pianist, based in New York, second album, a trio with Marty Kenney (bass) and Rodney Green (drums), with spoken voice on two songs: the leader asking "Are you ready?" on the opener, and Saidu Ezike rapping on "Trust." B+(**) [cd]

Nicholas Jaar: Cenizas (2020, Other People): Chilean-American electronica composer, does more dance-oriented work as Against All Logic, uses his own name for more ponderous ambient records, like this one. B+(*)

Nicholas Jaar: Telas (2020, Other People): Four LP-sidelong pieces, starts off like he's thinking about free jazz, but doesn't sustain that mood. B+(**)

Aubrey Johnson: Unraveled (2017 [2020], Outside In Music): Jazz singer, studied at Western Michigan and New England Conservatory, teaches at Queens College and Berklee (based in New York), seems to be her first album. More than a bit much. B-

Jimmy Johnson: Every Day of Your Life (2019, Delmark): Chicago bluesman, born in Mississippi, brother of Syl Johnson, has recorded albums since 1977, this the first after turning 80. Not a great blues voice, even with age, but still a pretty fair guitarist. B+(**)

Simone Kopmajer: Christmas (2020, Lucky Mojo): Jazz singer from Austria, 17 albums since 2004, opens with a delectable "Santa Baby." Aside from "Baby, It's Cold Outside," not enough songs like that, and she runs out of jazz shots well before lapsing into German for a rather lovely "Stille Nacht." B [cd]

Marlowe: Marlowe 2 (2020, Mello Music Group): Hip-hop duo -- producer L'Orange and rapper Solemn Brigham -- second album. Vast cinematic motifs, reminiscent of Dr. Doom. B+(***)

Moodymann: Taken Away (2020, Mahogani Music): Detroit techno producer, Kenny Dixon Jr., active since 1992. This one is kind of retro, riding on bass lines reminiscent of Larry Graham. B+(***)

New Orleans High Society: New Orleans High Society (2020, 1718/Slammin Media): Trad jazz outfit, first album, somewhat sly and off-handed approach to standards from "Down by the Riverside" to "Lil Liza Jane." Trumpeter Cleveland Donald and Angie Z. sing. B+(***)

Tivon Pennicott w/Strings: Spirit Garden (2020, New Phrase): Tenor saxophonist, grew up in Georgia, parents from Jamaica, second album, has impressed me as a sidean (don't recall where, probably not with Gregory Porter). With Philip Dizack on trumpet and, well, too many strings. B

Zach Phillips: The Wine of Youth (2020, self-released): Singer-songwriter from San Diego, third album, seems nice enough, grows on me though I'm not sure why. B+(*) [cd]

Polo G: The Goat (2020, Columbia): Rapper Taurus Bartlett, from Chicago, second album. I initially assumed that the caps were meant to signify "Greatest Of All Time" -- quite a boast for a 21-year-old -- but I'm not finding much evidence for such an interpretation, and that's probably for the best. B+(**)

ROPE [Frank Paul Schubert/Uwe Oberg/Paul Rogers/Mark Saunders]: Open Ends (2017 [2020], Trouble in the East): Soprano sax (sounds more like alto to me, at least early on), piano, bass, drums. B+(**)

J. Peter Schwalm/Arve Henriksen: Neuzeit (2020, RareNoise): Duo, piano and trumpet, although Schwalm also gets credits for drums, electronics, and programming. My usual rule is to solely credit the first-named artist if the name appears above the title, and others come below, but will make an exception here. Nice and a bit atmospheric. B+(**) [cdr]

Sturgill Simpson: Cuttin' Grass Vol. 2 (The Cowboy Arms Sessions) (2020, High Top Mountain): Vol. 1 was a lockdown-necessitated break from his arena ambitions, taking old songs and framing them in bluegrass. I haven't figured out whether this is just more easy pickings, or he's evolving this way, but I sure like the sound, and for that matter, the songs. A-

Alan Sondheim & Azure Carter: Plaguesong (2020, ESP-Disk): Recorded at home, both in a single room with "little resonance" and "minor background sound on occasion." Carter wrote the lyrics and sings. Both are credited with "instruments." Opens with harmonica, but wanders all over the place. B+(**) [cd]

Tell No Lies: Anasyrma (2019 [2020], Aut): Italian quintet, second album, pianist Nicola Guazzaloca the composer, with two saxophonists (Edoardo Marraffa and Filippo Orefice), bass, and drums, plus a couple guest spots. B+(**)

Papo Vázquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours: Chapter 10: Breaking Cover (2020, Picaro): Trombonist, born in Philadelphia, lived off and on in Puerto Rico, records start in 1992, many of his groups involving Pirates and/or Troubadours. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ambiance: Into a New Journey (1982 [2020], BBE): Bandcamp page for this "impossibly rare and sought-after private label spiritual jazz masterpiece" talks about producer Daoud Abubaker Balewa ("Nigeria-born, LA-tutored"), but Discogs shows him as the group leader through six 1979-86 albums, playing sax, flute, and keyboards. The Afro-tinged jazz-funk is enticing until the hit-and-miss vocals intrude. B+(**) [bc]

Misha Mengelberg: Rituals of Transition (2002-10 [2020], I Dischi Di Angelica): Somehow I missed that the great Dutch avant-pianist had passed (1935-2017), although I was aware that he was unable to play and ICP Orchestra had carried on with Guus Janssen. Solo piano from four dates, the longest 3 tracks 30:01 from Kiev in 2005. Marked by his good humor, probably even more so when he sings/talks along. B+(**)

Neil Swainson Quintet: 49th Parallel (1987 [2020], Reel to Real): Bassist, from Canada, quite a few side credits, not much under his own name, but wrote 5 (of 6) pieces here, evidently enough to overcome the relative fame of his front-line horn players: Joe Henderson (tenor sax) and Woody Shaw (trumpet), in typically fine form. B+(***)

Cecil Taylor: At Angelica 2000 Bologna (2000 [2002], I Dischi Di Angelica, 2CD): First disc is solo piano, a typically flamboyant and puzzling set. Second disc is "Rap" -- the artist talking, fielding questions, flaunting his genius. No idea how to assign a grade to that, but while you may (or may not) enjoy that, his piano remains inscrutable. B+(**)


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Lisa Mezzacappa Six: Cosmicomics (2020, Queen Bee): Bassist, title from Italo Calvino, only horn is tenor sax, so focus on rhythm. [bc: 1/11, 6:25/66:11]: ++


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Christiane Bopp/Jean-Marc Foussat/Emmanuelle Parrenin: Nature Still (Fou)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat/Thomas Lehn: Spie(l)gehungen (Fou)