An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, March 1, 2021
Music: Current count 35005  rated (+38), 236  unrated (-13).
Last week I speculated that I might nudge this week's Music Week up a day to fit it into February. Of course, it could have been that I was in no mood to wrap up February Streamnotes. (I certainly wasn't.) However, my post on Tom Cotton's Big Plan chewed up all my time on Sunday. Then it occurred to me that February was a wasted month anyway, so why not cut my losses and get a fresh start on March. It was easy enough to move this week's reviews forward. And I can still postpone the wrap up bookkeeping a few days, so no pressure there.
I did make a dent in the new CD queue this week, but still quite a lot to get to there. Admittedly, didn't find much I liked there. Also my attempts at streaming new non-jazz (Willie Nelson, The Hold Steady, Slowthai) were also disappointing, so my only solid recommendations below are old music. I started the week listening to more records by the late Jamaican toaster U-Roy (including two recommended by Clifford Ocheltree), then stumbled onto some more reggae I felt like playing. After floundering around a bit, I decided to look for an expert list, and found this one on Mojo: The 50 Greatest Reggae Albums. I'm not sure it's a very good list, but it gave me some ideas to follow up on. I feel like sticking with it for a while. My own interest in reggae started in the 1970s, when I got on Island's promo list (although I may have had some earlier). Over the years, I've listened to a fair amount (although there's plenty more I haven't gotten to).
The reggae albums were just the push I needed to lift the rated count over 35,000. I was surprised to see that happen this week, but it's a big, round number I've been closing in on, so was just a matter of time before I would hit it. Not something I have to think about any more.
One thing I am tempted to think about is Chuck Eddy's 150 Best Albums of 1976. That was the year before I moved to New York, when Don Malcolm and I were planning out Terminal Zone, when my view of the rock world was at its most idealistic. My years in New York were richer in life experiences, and probably in music, but 1976 was when I started to feel like I really knew something.
Worth noting that Eddy's top two records are probably mine as well: Have Moicy! and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band. Also that at the time I used to figure I had to have at least one mainstream rock band in my top ten, and he has the year's two best: Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune (5) and Bob Seger's Night Moves (7). I can't imagine I'll ever warm to Aerosmith or Thin Lizzy or Boston or Crack the Sky or Heart, but I should track down some of his disco obscurities, especially as others are prominent on my list (and we share Silver Convention's Madhouse). Personal fave I'm surprised to see here is Michael Mantler's The Hapless Child and Other Inscrutable Stories (114).
Lawrence Ferlinghetti died last week, at 101. Seems like just yesterday we were touting his 101st birthday, so I'm still more in the mode of celebrating his life than mourning his death. There was a day (many decades ago) when I read a lot of poetry, and he was the North Star everyone else rotated around.
New records reviewed this week:
Franco Ambrosetti Band: Lost Within You (2020 , Unit): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, from Switzerland, debut in 1965, father was a saxophonist (both played with George Gruntz). Group with John Scofield (guitar), Scot Colley (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), and either Renee Rosnes or Uri Caine (or DeJohnette) on piano. B+(**) [cd]
Emmet Cohen: Future Stride (2021, Mack Avenue): Pianist, debut 2011, has taken to looking back recently, with four Masters Legacy Series volumes and a mostly-Fats Waller joint called Dirty in Detroit (with glances toward Monk and Cedar Walton). This is a mix of oldies and original reflections thereon, mostly trio (Russell Hall and Kyle Poole), with Marquis Hill (trumpet) on four tracks, plus Melissa Aldana (tenor sax) on three of them. B+(**)
Randal Despommier: Dio C'č (2019 , Outside In Music): Alto saxophonist, from Louisiana, debut album, co-produced by Jimmy Haslip. Title track is a hymn, but with vocals sounds more like a displaced Christmas song. I didn't like it at all, but the instrumental pieces are nice enough. B [cd]
Yoav Eshed/Lex Korten/Massimo Biolcati/Jongkuk Kim: A Way Out (2019 , Sounderscore): Israeli guitarist, based in New York, several albums since 2013, backed by piano, bass, and drums. Nice enough. B+(*) [cd]
Futari: Beyond (2019 , Libra): Duo, Taiko Saito (vibraphone) and Satoko Fujii (piano), mostly the latter's compositions. B+(*) [cd]
The Hold Steady: Open Door Policy (2021, Positive Jams): Craig Finn's post-Lifter Puller group, eighth album since 2004, Tad Kubler (guitar) and Galen Polivka (bass) constants since the group's founding, while Finn has recorded a few solo albums. Something slightly off about the sound here, but the songs are deeply observant -- I doubt anyone else writes more third-person songs about women. B+(**)
Ethan Iverson/Umbria Jazz Orchestra: Bud Powell in the 21st Century (2018 , Sunnyside): Pianist, "Do the Math" blogger, has another big project called "MONK@100," so seems to be focusing on roots recently. Half originals, one Monk tune, the rest from Powell, played by Italian big band horns arrayed aroud an all-star quintet: Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Ben Street (bass), Lewis Nash (drums). Not sure why I'm not more impressed. Maybe what was radical in 1950 is old hat today? B+(**)
Jazz Worms: Squirmin' (2017 , Capri): Denver quintet -- Ron Miles (cornet) and Keith Oxman (tenor sax) are the best known, with Andy Weyl (piano), Mark Simon (bass), and Paul Romaine (drums) -- cut a debut record in 1987, regrouped here for a pretty straightforward 30th anniversary bash. B+(*) [cd]
Andy LaVerne: Rhapsody (2021, SteepleChase): Pianist, several dozen albums since 1976, played with Stan Getz 1977-79, someone I clearly haven't payed enough attention to (my one database record is 1993's A- First Tango in New York). Quartet with Zach Brock (violin), Mike Richmond (bass/cello), and Jason Tiemann (drums). B+(**)
Johan Lindström Septett: On the Asylum (2020 , Moserobie): Swedish guitarist, also plays "pedal steel and more, group includes saxophonists Per Texas Johansson and Jonas Kullhammar, trombone, organ/piano, bass and drums, plus "special guests" -- Elvis Costello snuck in a lyric, which started the album off in a hole. B+(*) [cd]
Shai Maestro: Human (2020 , ECM): Israeli pianist, sixth album, second for ECM, previous one a trio with Jorge Roeder (bass) and Ofri Nehemya (drums), this one adds Philip Dizack on trumpet. B+(*)
Meridian Odyssey: Second Wave (2020 , Origin): Seattle musicians at one point, since scattered but reconvened in Alaska to record this group album: Santosh Sharma (tenor sax), Martin Budde (guitar), Dylan Hayes (keyboard), Ben Feldman (bass), Xavier Lecouturier (drums). All five contribute songs, tightly wound postbop. B+(*) [cd]
Willie Nelson: That's Life (2021, Legacy): A second volume of Frank Sinatra songs, following 2018's My Way, same producers (Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings), feels like leftovers, or just an afterthought. I've never quite bought the notion that there even is a "Sinatra songbook" -- he worked the same songs many others did, and while he had an exceptional knack, few strike me as being exclusively his (one here is "Luck Be a Lady"). Nelson can also be a pretty great interpretive singer, but not in the same way, and their hyped association doesn't amount to much more than famous people are conscious of one another. This album's duet partner is Diana Krall, who should be a step up from Norah Jones, but when you queue up "I Won't Dance," the one that's stuck in my head is by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. B
Larry Newcomb Quartet: Love, Dad (2020 , Essential Messenger): Guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli a mentor, third album since 2015 although he's old enough to have three songs, including featured bassist Jake Newcomb. Quartet adds Thomas Royal (piano) and Dave Marsh (drums). Six originals, but the covers stand out more, especially the closing "The Song Is You." B+(*) [cd]
Grete Skarpeid: Beyond Other Stories (2018 , Origin): Singer-songwriter, from Norway, has a degree in Music Therapy, second album, recorded in New York, produced by pianist Aruán Ortiz, with Rob Waring (vibes), Cameron Brown (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Originals take a while to sink in, but her cover of "My Favorite Things" leaps out. B+(**) [cd]
Slowthai: Tyron (2021, Method): British rapper Tyron Frampton, debut the memorably titled Nothing Great About Britain, sophomore effort just another of many times rappers have name-checked their given names. Organized as two discs, but they only add up to 35:17. B+(*)
Yuma Uesaka/Cat Toren/Colin Hinton: Ocelot (2019 , 577): Young Brooklyn-based trio, reeds/piano/drums; Uesaka has a debut out in January, a duo with Marilyn Crispell, while Toren's first record dropped last year. This is a quiet record, with an understated strength, the pianist most impressive. B+(***) [cd] [03-26]
Rodney Whitaker With the Christ Church Cranbrook Choir: Cranbrook Christmas Jazz (2020 , Origin): Release date Jan. 15, so they missed the season, and listening to this in February is trying my patience. Usual songs, Vanessa Rubin leads a long list of singers backed by the Choir. Leader plays bass, and Sextet is ably fronted by Timothy Blackmon on trumpet. Not bad if you're in the market. B [cd]
Greg Yasinitsky Yazz Band: New Normal (2019-20 , Origin): Saxophonist, alto probably his main choice but also plays soprano, tenor, and baritone. Big band, or close enough for practical purposes. B [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Hal Galper Quintet: Live at the Berlin Philharmonic 1977 (1977 , Origin, 2CD): Pianist, born 1938, steady stream of albums since 1971, always superb but I often need something extra to single out one of his albums. Here it's the horns, with Randy Brecker on trumpet and Michael Brecker on tenor sax. Discs run 51:31 and 36:08, three long tracks each, with the usual bass (Wayne Dockery) and drums (Bob Moses) solos. Superb piano, too. B+(***) [cd]
Juozas Milasius/Tomas Kulavicius/Dalius Naujokaitis/Lithuanian Young Composers Orchestra: Live at Willisau, 1993 (1993 , NoBusiness): Guitar/piano/drums, with extra participation from the "orchestra" -- most credited with "vocal, cymbal, clapping, tramping"; i.e., screams and cacophony. Not to my taste. C+ [cd]
Masauyki JoJo Takayanagi/Nobuyoshi Ino/Masabumi PUU Kikuchi: Live at Jazz Inn Lovely 1990 (1990 , NoBusiness): Japanese free jazz, something of a specialty for this Lithuanian label: guitar, bass, piano -- the pianist (1939-2015) best known for his Tethered Moon group, the guitarist (1932-91) known for several recent reissues on Blank Forms Editions. A bit sketchy, opening up space for all three. B+(**) [cd]
Johnny Clarke: A Ruffer Version: Johnny Clarke at King Tubby's 1974-78 (1974-78 , Trojan): A big star in Jamaica from the early 1970s, working mostly with Bunny Lee and the Aggrovators, signed by Virgin in 1976, and moved on to England in 1983. He released albums through the 1990s, and a few since. King Tubby adds his customary dub echoes, but this leaves me with the question: ruffer than what? B+(**)
Johnny Clarke: Dreader Dread (1976-1978) (1976-78 , Blood & Fire): Same years, but different recordings -- only song in common is "Play Fool Fe Get Wise" (longer here). Bunny Lee's productions are more balanced. B+(***)
Phyllis Dillon: One Life to Live (1972, Trojan): Rocksteady singer, recorded singles for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label from 1966, leading up to this single LP. Mostly covers of US-UK pop hits, poorly selected ("Love the One You're With," "Something," "Close to You"). B-
Mikey Dread: World War III (1980, Dread at the Controls): Reggae singer Michael George Campbell (1954-2008), trained as an engineer, worked as a broadcaster, recorded with Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs, aligned with dub. Third album. Rasta themes, dense and dark, title track posits war could happen any minute, then attacks with weird whistles, not that he doesn't have better ideas. B+(***)
Mikey Dread: Pave the Way (1982, Heartbeat): Eighth album, but the interval is mostly dub quickies. B+(**)
Keith Hudson: Pick a Dub (1974 , Blood & Fire): Dub producer/toaster, nicknamed "Dark Prince of Reggae," died 1984 (38). Mostly instrumental, hits some unsettling low notes, but carries on. B+(**)
Keith Hudson: Rasta Communication (1978, Greensleeves): He moved to New York in 1976, signed with Virgin, got dumped, and returned with this record. He sings here, rasta/roots themes, not much dub effect. B+(**)
Prince Buster: Fabulous Greatest Hits (1964-68 , Melodisc): Cecil Bustamente Campbell (1938-2016), early Jamaican ska star, associated with Coxsone Dodd. This early compilation misses his early singles (from 1961), but includes his biggest ("Al Capone") and several others (especially "Take It Easy"). A better package may be possible, but this is classic. A-
The Upsetters: Return of Django (1969, Trojan): Lee Perry's band's first album, title a reference to Sergio Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti western Django. Perry kept the group name through 1978 (plus a 1986 album), the titles mostly drawing on movies (most famously 1976's Super Ape). Instrumental pieces, Glen Adams' organ most prominent, with a few vocal intros. B+(***)
The Upsetters: The Good, the Bad and the Upsetters (1970, Trojan): Lee Perry's second album, more instrumentals, more focus on chunky rhythm. B+(***)
U-Roy: 30 Massive Shots From Treasure Isle (1970-74 , Attack): Duke Reid productions, with U-Roy toasting over various singles, some familiar, some obscure. The only ones I've been able track down date from 1970-71, and they represent a small subset of U-Roy's singles from the period. B+(**)
U-Roy: Version of Wisdom (1971-74 , Front Line/Virgin): One of several CD reissues with similar covers. Notes say this combines two albums -- Version Galore (originally attributed to Hugh Roy) and With Words of Wisdom (1979) -- but the 1978-79 dates were reissues of the original Jamaican albums. A- [dl]
U-Roy: The Lost Album: Right Time Rockers (1976 , Sound System): Originally released in 1977 as Dubbing to the King in a Higher Rank (King Attarney, in Canada). A- [dl]
U-Roy: Love Is Not a Gamble (1980, TR International): After his big decade, he seems ready to cruise along into middle age. Tony Robinson produced, capturing his sound and style, and adding a little rocksteady groove. B+(***)
U-Roy: Serious Matter (1999, Tabout 1): Roots throwback, songs feature vocalists, most from back in the toaster's heyday -- Horace Andy, Dennis Brown, Beres Hammond, Gregory Isaacs, Third World, Israel Vibration -- old verities (like "money is the root of all evil"), possibly old tunes too. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: