Sunday, January 31, 2021


Music Week

January archive (final).

Music: Current count 34897 [34864] rated (+33), 231 [224] unrated (+7).

I started this week a day late, and ended it a day early to squeeze all I could into January, but rated count is pretty decent for 5 days. I hoped I could wrap up 2020 by the end of January, and move onto 2021 and possibly a new stage in my life/work, but as the clock wound down, I had to decide whether to publish on time or hold back and try to wind things up. I decided to publish what I have, leaving a bunch of things to wrap up later. These include: indexing January Streamnotes; freezing Year 2020; ending updates to the EOY Aggregate and writing up some kind of summary of what I've learned from the year. I should get all of those things "done" by next week. I normally continue to add stragglers to the jazz and non-jazz EOY files for some time after "freeze" date, so no decision there. Freeze means I save off a copy of the file as of an arbitrary date, but I usually continue updating the Year files until the end of the following year -- the new entries are flagged by using different color type.

Very little time to write more here. One source of records here was Robert Christgau's latest Consumer Guide and Dean's List. The Dean's list encouraged me to recheck a couple of country albums I liked earlier and like even more now, as well as a couple albums Christgau published reviews of yet.

Several more quick notes:

  • As noted below, I haven't played all 30-CD of Turn Me Loose White Man, but I figured it was a 2020 release, and based on what I've seen and heard and know about compiler Allen Lowe I have no doubt it will at least merit the A- grade given. The reason for the rush was my desire to clear out the "Pending" lists. (That's also why I moved the Zoe Scott album to 2021. Although released in 2020, it's being given a relaunch by the publicist, who only sent me a copy this week.)
  • I usually grab cover scans from the web, but couldn't find a usable one of the Lowe CD box. Fortunately, I figured out how to scan it myself.
  • More ambiguity than usual between jazz and non-jazz divisions this week. The Lowe box includes quite a bit of jazz, but much more blues, country, and/or rock. I counted it as jazz in the database, but non-jazz in the EOY lists. I also counted Mukdad Rothenberg Lankow as non-jazz, although it could have gone the other way -- the Aly Keita albums I liken it to show up in my jazz lists. There's actually more borderline jazz in the non-jazz list (e.g., 75 Dollar Bill). No purists here.
  • The new jazz/non-jazz A-list split (see links above) is 82-68. That's narrowed a bit from early on, but still higher than usual. I doubt if it's going to change much in the future. Even this week, real late in the cycle, new A- records split 2-2 (counting Mukdad as non-jazz), aside from the regrades. I'm sure there's good stuff out there I haven't heard, but scanning the lists it's hard to see things that I realize I need to look up. And what we might call the "known unknowns" are actually more likely to be jazz than non -- e.g., Tyshawn Sorey's Unfiltered.
  • Of course, the simplest explanation for why I'm having trouble finding more things I want to check out is that I've rated a lot more records in 2020 than in recent years (possibly ever): if the Tracking File is right, I'm up to 1,559 rated records this year.
  • Main thing I did with the EOY Aggregate files last week was to factor in a lot of Jazz Critics Poll ballots: not all of them, but all of those I had counted in previous years, plus a few JazzTimes poll voters (again, ones I had counted in previous years). That gave jazz albums a significant bump in the overall standings (although I would argue that until the ballots were counted jazz was relatively suppressed). My last major sweep was to go through the lists at Metacritic and add in lists that I had missed (most counted in previous years). I only got about two-thirds through that file, so may continue next week.
  • A few weeks back, I added the "further sampling" section, for crude guesses on albums where I could only find streams of a few tracks. In cases where I've later been able to hear the entire record, I've started to clean those entries up. But this week I added one entry (David Ramirez) where I found the entire album but rejected it mid-play. In a couple other cases, I started an album then stopped before I had put much effort into it, but in this case I had the database and file entries set up, but simply didn't feel like spending any more time on it. My guess is that had I finished the album, it would have wound up at B-. I don't know whether that will be a regular occurrence, but it feels liberating to be able to do that.


New records reviewed this week:

Karrin Allyson Sextet: Shoulder to Shoulder: Centennial Tribute to Women's Suffrage (2019, EOne Music): Standards singer, from Kansas, all women in the sextet -- Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Mindi Abair (alto sax), Helen Sung (piano), Endea Owens (bass), Allison Miller (drums) -- but John Daversa did much of the arranging, and a few men (and many more women) drop in as guests, ranging from old texts (though Sojourner Truth hasn't lost much relevance since 1851) to a Rapsody rhyme. B+(***)

Callum Au/Claire Martin: Songs and Stories (2020, Stunt): British trombonist and vocalist, the latter with 20+ albums since 1992, a debut for the former, flexing his talents arranging for big band plus strings (24 violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 4 basses, harp). Standards Sinatra would be at home with. B+(**)

Peter Bernstein: What Comes Next (2020, Smoke Sessions): Guitarist, couple dozen albums since 1992, many more side credits. Early album titles included A Tribute to Tal Farlow and A Groovy Affair, and and he's rarely tried to extend those boundaries. With Sumner Fortner (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). B+(*)

Binker and Moses: Escape the Flames (2017 [2020], Gearbox): Popular UK sax/drums duo Binker Golding and Moses Boyd, several records together, as well as notable solo efforts. Six pieces averaging a bit over 10 minutes. At speed they are terrific, and even the change-of-pace pieces have their moments. Too bad it's not on CD. A- [os]

The Bombpops: Death in Venice Beach (2020, Fat Wreck Chords): San Diego band, founded by Poli van Dam and Jen Razavi (both guitar/voice), debut was a 2009 EP. Punk speed/intensity, storming through 12 songs in 29:42, with bass and drums, but also cello -- no chamber move, just more intensity. B+(**)

Peter Campbell: Old Flames Never Die (2020, self-released): Jazz singer from Toronto, third album since 2014 (with a fourth hot on its heels), dedicates this to voice teacher Joyce McLean. Kevin Turcotte (trumpet) and Reg Schwager (guitar) have nice turns. I have to admit that the voice has a strange allure, but I could see getting tired of him fast. B+(*)

Luca Collivasone/Gianni Mimmo: Rumpus Room (2019 [2020], Amirani): Duo, Mimmo plays soprano sax, Collivasone has an invention called the cacophonator, which generates a variety of string and percussive sounds, though not quite a cacopohany. B+(*)

Brandon Evans: The Grove (2020, Human Plastic, EP): Saxophonist (plus woodwinds), considerable discography since 1997 which I've never explored -- found his name in my database for work with Anthony Braxton. Solo bass clarinet, also credits synthesizers but they're not conspicuous. Three tracks, 23:58. B+(**)

Justin Farren: Pretty Free (2020, Bad Service Badger): Singer-songwriter from Sacramento, fourth album since 2004, the kind of unheralded, eloquent folkie Christgau has been finding and pushing lately, doesn't get interesting for me until he works up some tension, as in "Two Wheel Drive and Japanese." A-

Michael Formanek: Pre-Apocalyptic (2014 [2020], Out of Your Head): Bassist-led quartet with Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (piano), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Stellar spots, sometimes tends to slip away. B+(***) [dl]

The Henrys: Paydirt (2020, HR-2019): Instrumental folk group from Toronto, seventh album since 1994. Easy listening. B+(*)

Dave Liebman/Randy Brecker/Marc Copland/Drew Gress/Joey Baron: Quint5t (2020, Inner Voice Jazz): All-star group, order on the cover, but the Bandcamp stream I found singled-out Copland -- the only one who didn't contribute a song, unless he suggested Ellington to open. Also appears that Ralph Alessi took over trumpet on 2 tracks (leaving 7 for Brecker). B+(**)

Gianni Mimmo/Alison Blunt: Busy Butterflies (2020, Amirani): Italian saxophonist, albums since 2005, plays soprano here, duet with the violinist. Kind of scratchy, but not without charm. B+(**)

Mukdad Rothenberg Lankow: In the Wake of Memories (2020, Clermont Music): Three surnames: Syrian oud player Wassim Mukdad, based in Berlin, as is percussionist Volker Lankow. They are joined by New York-based musicologist David Rothenberg -- he writes books on bird and bug music, encountering the others while researching his Nightingales in Berlin Project. Here he plays clarinet. Fine work all around, nice balance, comparable to Aly Keita's Intakt records. A-

Ratboys: Printer's Devil (2020, Topshelf): Chicago indie group, Julia Steiner sings, writes, plays one (of two) guitars. Third album since 2015. B+(*)

Enrico Rava/Matthew Herbert/Giovanni Guidi: For Mario (Live) (2020, Accidental): Trumpet-electronics-piano, dedicated to the pianist's late father, Mario Guidi. B+(*) [bc]

Raw Poetic & Damu the Fudgemunk: Moment of Change (2020, Redefinition): Rapper Jason Moore and producer Earl Davis, five records together since 2017. B+(**) [bc]

Tim Ray: Excursions and Adventures (2019 [2020], Whaling City Sound): Pianist, early records from 1997 and 2003, more side credits including a recent stint with Tony Bennett. Trio with John Patituci and Terri Lyne Carrington. Two originals, one piece each from the others, wide range of covers from Monk to "Paint It Black." B+(*)

Reciprocal Uncles [Gianni Lenoci/Gianni Mimmo]: The Whole Thing (2019 [2020], Amirani): Piano and soprano sax duets, group named for a previous effort, pianist died in 2019 a few months after this was recorded. One 50:48 joint improv. B+(**)

Romare: Home (2020, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer Archie Fairhurst, third album, singles and EPs back to 2012. Strong dance beat patterns, run on a bit. B+(**)

Mara Rosenbloom Trio: Respiration (2020, Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, from New York, records since 2009. Trio with Sean Conley (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums), five originals plus two songs each by Ellington and Amina Claudine Myers. B+(**)

David Rothenberg: Nightingales in Berlin (2019, Terra Nova): Clarinet player, couple dozen albums since 1995 but is probably more famous as a musicologist specializing in sounds of nature. He's written a number of books on this, often tied into albums, ranging from Bug Music to Whale Music via Why Birds Sing. This is another one, mostly bird song with human accompaniment -- eight guest artists as well as clarinet. B+(*)

Jeff Rupert/George Garzone: The Ripple (2017 [2020], Rupe Media): Two tenor saxophonists, both educators, one teaches at Central Florida, the other is a legend. Backed here by Richard Drexler (piano), Jeremy Allen (bass), and Marty Morell (drums) -- names on the cover close enough to the headliners that Discogs credits the album to all five. B+(*)

Dave Stryker: Baker's Circle (2019 [2021], Strikezone): Guitarist, long career, mainstream with a soft spot for soul jazz, and good taste in saxophonists: Walter Smith III makes a strong impression early here. With Jared Gold (organ), McClenty Hunter (drums), and extra percussion here and there. B+(***) [cd] [03-05]

Tchami: Year Zero (2020, Conession): French house producer Martin Joseph Léonard Bresso, first album after five years of EPs and singles. B+(**)

TOC: Indoor (2019 [2020], Circum-Disc): French group, touted as "unclassifiable" ("free hypnotic pop punk, post-rock, jazz-core"), initials for Jérémie Ternoy (keyboards), Peter Orins (drums), and Ivann Cruz (guitar). Discogs treats this as an EP, but with 8 tracks (41:25) I don't see why. Dense rhythm tracks, nothing as comfortable as a groove. B+(***)

TOC & Dave Rempis: Closed for Safety Reasons (2019 [2020], Circum-Disc): Picked up a saxophonist here, a damn good one who adds direction and a leading voice to the volume. Four pieces, the 15:18 finale adding a second saxophonist (Sakina Abdou) to kick it up yet another notch. A- [bc]

Anna Webber: Rectangles (2019 [2020], Out of Your Head): Tenor saxophonist, quartet with piano (Marc Hannaford), bass (Adam Hopkins), and drums (Mark Ferber). One 34:30 live piece, plus an promo excerpt (the bit you can hear on Bandcamp) -- probably the hot spot. B+(**) [dl]

Ndabo Zulu & Umgidi Ensemble: Queen Nandi: The African Suite (2020, Mageba Music, 2CD): Trumpet player, from Durban, first album. Strikes me as big and messy, especially with the vocals, but the trumpet is fine, as is the sax (Linda Sikhakhane?). B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Dexter Gordon: Montmartre 1964 (1964 [2020], Storyville): The tenor saxophonist moved to Paris in 1962, then on to Copenhagen, recording often enough at this Jazzhus that when I first heard of this, I confused it with later recordings. Quartet with a "local" rhythm section -- Tete Montoliu (piano), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (bass), and Alex Riel (drums). Gordon sings one song -- an anomaly not without interest. Real nice "Misty." B+(***)

Dexter Gordon: The Squirrel: Live at Montmartre Copenhagen '67 (1967 [2020], Parlophone): Another live date from Jazzhus Montmartre, another quartet -- Kenny Drew (piano), Bo Stief (bass), Art Taylor (drums) -- didn't appear until Blue Note released it in 1996. Stretches out four cuts (66:18), starting with Tadd Dameron's title track. B+(**)

New Orleans Mambo: Cuba to NOLA (1974-2019 [2020], Putumayo World Music): "Latin tinge" has been a New Orleans calling card since long before Jelly Roll Morton named it. This mostly picks New Orleans bands that push the concept hard. While they are enjoyable, I'm more impressed with Poncho Sanchez bouncing through "Going Back to New Orleans." B+(***)

The Tabansi Studio Band: Vol. 3: Wakar Alhazai Kano/Mus'en Sofoa (1970s [2020], BBE): Nigerian (Igbo and Hausa) Afrobeat, label ran from 1975-85, dates no clearer than that, but these are two supposedly very rare albums from the period plus two short edits as bonus tracks, total 67:14. High energy, can't even fault the vocals. A- [bc]

Turn Me Loose White Man (1900-60 [2020], Constant Sorrow, 30CD): Admittedly, I have done little more than thumb through the accompanying 352 pp. book, which offers detailed notes on this massive trove of early American music. (Actually, just the first 15 CDs, through 1930. The forthcoming Volume 2 should cover the rest, but the CDs are all here.) It's likely to take me months to get through the whole thing, maybe even a life time for it all to sink in, but the production (and Lowe's reputation as a voracious connoisseur and astute critic) tempt me to assign this preliminary (and most likely minimal) grade. Besides, I'm trying to wrap up 2020 this month, and I'd rather not leave this bookkeeping detail hanging over my head. A- [cd]

Old music:

Charles Mingus: Jazz in Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Selden (1973 [2018], BBE, 5CD): Live radio shot, recorded over a week, digital has 12 tracks, 249:56 (including a 38:59 interview), 5-CD and 5-LP versions a bit less. Quintet, with Joe Gardner (trumpet), John Stubblefield (tenor sax), Don Pullen (piano), and Roy Brooks (drums). This got a lot of attention when it first appeared, but I could only find fragments to stream. Strikes me as patchy, especially compared to the live 1973 Bremen set Sunnyside unearthed last year. B+(***) [bc]


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.

Luke Norris: Northernsong (2020, Ears & Eyes): Saxophonist (soprano/tenor), quartet with guitar (Mike Baggetta). [bc: 3/8, 22:16/57:21]: +

David Ramirez: My Love Is a Hurricane (2020, Sweetworld): Ex-folkie turned crooner. [r: 3/10]: --


Grade (or other) changes:

Hayes Carll: Alone Together Sessions (2020, Dualtone): Quarantine project: acoustic versions of old songs, many memorable, ranging from 2002-19, plus a Lefty Frizzell cover, with extra help phoned in (Darrell Scott "played just about all the instruments"; Allison Moorer and Ray Wylie Hubbard sang one each). Line I jotted down: "why doesn't anybody speak about truth any more/maybe that's what songs are for." That from Trouble in Mind, still his best. I discounted the old songs when I first heard this, but it works fine as a best-of for our diminished times. [Was B+(**)] A-

Ashley McBryde: Never Will (2020, Warner Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, based in Nashville, second big-league album, strong voice, big production, but enough attitude and observation and storytelling moxie to break through it. "Album of the year" according to the country music critics. [was: B+(**)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Cowboys & Frenchmen: Our Highway (Outside In Music) [02-26]
  • Pat Donaher: Occasionally (self-released) [04-09]
  • Lukas Ligeti: That Which Has Remaind . . . That Which Will Emerge . . . (Col Legno) [03-26]
  • Sana Nagano: Smashing Humans (577) [03-19]
  • Zoe Scott: Shades of Love (Zoe Scott Music)
  • Jim Snidero: Live at the Deer Head Inn (Savant) [03-26]
  • Yuma Uesaka/Cat Toren/Colin Hinton: Ocelot (577) [03-26]
  • Theo Walentiny: Looking Glass (self-released) [04-02]