An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 5, 2021
Music: Current count 35184  rated (+43), 209  unrated (-3).
I had less trouble finding records to listen to last week. I picked some obvious new records off Napster's recommendations list, and decided to follow up Dr. Lonnie Smith's new one with a dive into old catalogue. Aside for a few CDs, most of the rest came from Chris Monsen's 1st quarter round-up, and AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2021. I had heard 6 of 20 records on Monsen's (only 2 from promo CDs), so I scrambled to add 9 more, including both of this week's A- records. (Actually, I wrote up Miguel Zenón's Law Years before Monsen posted, so at the time I claimed 7/20, but the review is in this week's batch.) The other five don't seem to be available online, at least complete enough to review.
I'm not tracking reviews this year, so had no idea which albums might be on the AOTY list, and indeed had no idea most of them existed. (The ones I had previously reviewed were: Floating Points, Ghetts -- the former is on the Monsen and Phil Overeem lists, while the latter was the first thing I checked out from the AOTY list. Julien Baker is also on Overeem's list. I've heard 15 of Overeem's 30 records, counting Baker this week.
Just saw Dave Sumner's Best Jazz on Bandcamp: March 2021. I've heard 3 of 14 records. More alarmingly, I haven't heard of most of the artists. More evidence I'm falling far behind.
I'm a bit chagrined over the two A- records this week. Zenón's publicist still sends me most records. I got some email on this one, but the CD never showed up. Takase's label was sending me promos up to some time in 2019, so not getting this one was less of a mystery. I made up for the lost promos by streaming most of their releases on Napster, which is where I found this one. I'd be happy to continue in that way, but their more recent releases aren't on Napster, and one by Alexander Hawkins that came out the same day as Takase's has been withdrawn. Intakt does use Bandcamp, but don't offer complete albums there, so they're no substitute for reviewers. I count six A- records on Intakt last year, so not being able to review their releases will be a major loss.
April should be less stressful -- unless, as forecast, we get hit by an exceptionally rough tornado season, or the earthquakes on the east side of town get more severe. (It is established that they're caused by injection wells between Wichita and El Dorado.) I got my second Covid-19 vaccination a couple weeks ago, and Laura got hers on Saturday. Perhaps we'll soon be able to entertain for the first time in more than a year.
One frequent dinner guest from recent years will be missed. Rubena Bradley died last week. I haven't seen an obituary yet, but have heard from good friends -- two of her six daughters. They've invited us to Thanksgiving several years -- one with all six daughters visiting. A remarkable family. We're fortunate to have known Ruby.
New records reviewed this week:
The Anchoress: The Art of Losing (2021, Kscope): Catherine Anne Davies, born in Wales, grew up in England, got a PhD in "literature and queer theory" (published a book, Whitman's Queer Children), played in Simple Minds 2014-18. Second album, debut was Confessions of a Romance Novelist. Makes a strong impression here, although I'm not prepared to try to figure out whether she's as smart as she seems. B+(***)
Julien Baker: Little Oblivions (2021, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Tennessee, third album (not counting all-star trio Boygenius). Rocks a little harder than her "sad girl" works. B+(*)
Yaala Ballin: Sings Irving Berlin (2021, SteepleChase LookOut): Standards singer, from Israel, moved to New York "in 2004 to study with Sheila Jordan," fourth album -- her second, On the Road (2011), was a personal favorite. Backed by a swing-oriented band -- Michael Kanan (piano), Chris Flory (guitar), and Ari Roland (bass) -- hard to go wrong with Berlin. B+(***)
Jon Batiste: We Are (2020 , Verve): Pianist, from New Orleans, debut 2005, upped his profile in 2015 as music director of Stephen Colbert's Late Show. Title song, with its New Orleans marching band backup, was released as a single in June 2020, inspired by Black Lives Matter protests. Vocals abound -- I count 11 credits, but that includes Gospel Soul Children -- so slot this under r&b, not jazz. Choice cuts: "Freedom," "Sing." B+(**)
John Butcher/Veryan Weston/Øyvind Stonesund/Dag Erik Kriedal Andersen: Mapless Quiet (2018 , Motvind): Tenor/soprano sax, piano, bass, drums; one 49:28 piece, recorded live in Norway. Some strong patches, but seems to run out early. B+(**) [bc]
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Carnage (2021, AWAL): Singer-songwriter from Australia, started 1970s in the Birthday Party, has fronted the Bad Seeds since 1983. I've never liked his albums, but many critics do, and it's possible someone could compile a best-of I'd have to show some respect to (a concession based mostly on use of their songs in Peaky Blinders). Ellis joined the Bad Seeds in 1994, and has done a number of side projects with Cave (mostly soundtracks). His trademark is the murky darkness his voice strains against. A couple spots here test my resistance, but I still came away with no interest. B
Michael Dease: Give It All You Got (2019 , Posi-Tone): Trombone player, originally from Georgia, more than a dozen albums since 2005. Jim Alfredson can lay the organ on a bit thick at times, but Gregory Tardy (tenor sax) and Anthony Stanco (trumpet) impress. B+(*)
Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (2021, 4AD): English post-punk band led by singer Florence Shaw, first album after EPs and singles. Talks over rock solid riffs. B+(**)
Paul Dunmall/Percy Pursglove/Olie Brice/Jeff Williams: Palindromes (2020 , West Hill): Tenor sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, live set at Café Oto in London. B+(***) [bc]
For Those I Love: For Those I Love (2019 , September): David Balfe, Irish, first album self-released in 2019, given a proper unveiling this year. Heavily accented spoken word over electronica. B+(***)
Frode Haltli: Avant Folk II (2021, Hubro): Norwegian accordion player, albums since 2002 including folk and classical as well as jazz. Assembled this group for a 2018 album, with Hardanger fiddle, violin, sax, trumpet/goat horn, organ/synth, guitars, bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]
Joseph Howell Quartet: Live in Japan (2018 , Summit): Clarinet player, second album, dedicated his debut to Buddy DeFranco, mostly plays Joe Henderson songs here, along with three swing era standards. Backed by a Japanese piano trio -- pianist Keigo Hirakawa is most impressive. B+(**) [cd]
Kari Ikonen: Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions (2020 , Ozella): Finnish pianist, new to me but eight albums since 2001. Nominally solo, but in spots the strings produced so much resonance I wondered whether a guitar or bass had slipped in. B+(***)
La Femme: Paradigmes (2021, Disque Pointu): French "psych-punk" band, some women in the band but founders wee Sacha Got and Marlon Magnée. Third album since an EP in 2010. Genre strikes me as iffy, but first album was called Psycho Tropical Berlin, and I don't have any alternative suggestions, especially as each song points them in another direction. B+(**)
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: Tone Poem (2020 , Blue Note): Tenor sax legend, also plays some flute, third group album, with Bill Frisell (guitar), Greg Leisz (steel guitar), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Three originals, after two Ornette Coleman pieces and Leonard Cohen's "Anthem," a 10:26 stretch on "Monk's Mood," a couple others. B+(***)
Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun (2021, BMG Modern): Popular jazz guitarist, composed two suites here, the first ("Four Paths of Light") played by Jason Vieaux ("perhaps the most precise and soulful classical guitarist of his generation"), the title set played by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Wraps up with Metheny playing a solo piece by Arvo Pärt. B
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 4: Azymuth (2020, Jazz Is Dead, EP): First three albums listed Younge first. No idea why they swapped, but Muhammad is older (1970 vs. 1978), and his tenure with A Tribe Called Quest may have made him more famous (not that I recognized the name). Focus here is the Brazilian jazz-funk group, dating from 1972 up to 2016. This runs longer (8 tracks, 41:25), but is less engaging. B
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 5: Doug Carn (2020, Jazz Is Dead): Eleven tracks, 41:03, so they've outgrown the series' EP start. Carn is a soul jazz pianist, husband of singer Jean Carn, recorded 1969-77 and occasionally thereafter, changed his name to Abdul Rahim Ibrahim by 1977. He mostly plays organ here. High point is a sax solo, probably Gary Bartz. B+(***)
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 6: Gary Bartz (2021, Jazz Is Dead, EP): Alto saxophonist, cut some avant-soul fusion albums in the early 1970s with his Ntu Troop, later struck me as a pure bebop player. His sax nudges this entry back into jazz territory, no matter where the producers go with the rhythm. Eight tracks, 27:35 B+(***) [bc]
Nubiyan Twist: Freedom Fables (2021, Strut): Large British jazz-funk group, third album. B
R+R=Now: Live (2018 , Blue Note): "All-star jazz collective," formed in 2018 for a studio album and a live stand at New York's Blue Note club, Robert Glasper (keyboards) cited as leader, with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (trumpet), Terrace Martin (sax/vocals), Taylor McFerrin (synth), Derrick Hodge (bass), and Justin Tyson (drums), plus spoken word on one of the better tracks, but pretty hit-and-miss. B
Dan Rose: Last Night . . . (2017 , Ride Symbol): Rose cut an album in 1979, a couple in the 1990s, released two this year. This one is solo guitar, cautiously feeling his way through standards, some in medleys. B+(*) [cd]
Dan Rose/Claudine Francois: New Leaves (2019 , Ride Symbol): Guitar-piano duo. Francois is French, has an album from 1984 but not much since. Four originals (two each), five more pieces, mostly from pianists (Monk, Silver, Waldron, Bley, Swallow). "Señor Blues" is especially tasty. B+(**) [cd]
Serpentwithfeet: Deacon (2021, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter Josiah Wise, from Baltimore, grew up in his mother's church choir, studied classical music and was infatuated with opera. Second album, short (11 songs, 29:09). Choice cut: "Fellowship." B+(*)
Skarbø Skulekorps: Dugnad (2020 , Hubro): Norwegian drummer Øyvind Skarbø, several albums since 2009, second under this group name, which includes trumpet, three saxes (Signe Emmeluth, Eirik Hegdal, and Klaus Holm, who also plays clarinet), guitars (including pedal steel), and bass, with a couple guests. B+(**)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Breathe (2021, Blue Note): Organ player, not to be confused with his contemporary Lonnie Liston Smith (more of an electric piano guy), has wavered between soul jazz and pop, never impressing me much, but this is pretty agreeable. Produced by Don Was, half trio with Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar) and Johnathan Blake (drums), half adding horns (John Ellis, Robin Eubanks, Sean Jones), with two vocals toward the end (Alicia Olatuja on something gospelly, and Iggy Pop crooning "Sunshine Superman"). B+(**)
Veronica Swift: This Bitter Earth (2021, Mack Avenue): Jazz singer, semi-famous musical parents (Hod O'Brien, Stephanie Nakasian), cut a record when she was 10 with Richie Cole and her father's piano trio. (O'Brien was pianist on Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer, which is my favorite Sheila Jordan album ever.) Second big label effort, backed by Emmet Cohen (piano), bass, and drums, occasionally others. Standards, some common but most not, done with authority and panache. B+(***)
Aki Takase/Christian Weber/Michael Griener: Auge (2019 , Intakt): German piano-bass-drums trio, the pianist moving from Tokyo to Berlin in 1987. Explosive. A-
Thumbscrew: Never Is Enough (2019 , Cuneiform): Guitar-bass-drums trio (Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara), sixth album since 2014, nary a false step -- a fine context for the guitarist. B+(***) [dl]
Tony Tixier: I Am Human (2020 , Whirlwind, EP): French pianist, has a couple albums. Originally released as a 6-track EP in 2020, reissued with an extra track (bringing it to 25:12). Two solo pieces, the others duets, including a lovely "Someone to Watch Over Me" with his twin brother Scott Tixier on violin. B+(*)
Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 3: Marcos Valle (2020, Jazz Is Dead, EP): R&B producers, first volume entertained several guest artists, but the second one focused on a single artist (Roy Ayers). Valle is a Brazilian pop star, started with the bossa nova craze in 1963, and still working at 77. Not sure whether these are new performances or remixes, but the luscious samba groove argues for the latter. Eight tracks, 27:29. B+(***)
Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo: El Arte Del Bolero (2020 , Miel Music): Alto sax and piano duo, from Puerto Rico and Venezuela respectively, but have played together often over the last decade-plus. Six songs by as many composers, taken at a leisurely pace (51:47). B+(***)
Miguel Zenón/Ariel Bringuez/Demian Cabaud/Jordi Rossy: Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (2019 , Miel Music): Alto saxophonist, one of the major players of his generation, has spent most of the last decade cultivating his Puerto Rican roots, looks another direction here, for this live set from the Birds Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland. The others, from various points in Latin America, play tenor sax, bass, and drums, on seven Ornette Coleman compositions. The tunes are as radical ever, and played with aplomb. But for some reason I'm not nearly as blown away as I was on first hearing The Shape of Jazz to Come. A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Roberto Miranda's Home Music Ensemble: Live at Bing Theatre: Los Angeles, 1985 (1985 , Dark Tree): Bassist, born in New York, parents Puerto Rican, long based in Los Angeles, teaches at UCLA, most of his recordings are connected to the "four giants" here: Bobby Bradford (cornet/trumpet), John Carter (clarinet), James Newton (flute), and Horace Tapsott (piano). Band also includes two members of the bassist's family: Louis R. Miranda Sr. (vocals/percussion), and Louis R. Miranda Jr. (drums), along with a few others. Starts with some brilliant piano, works around to give everyone a spotlight, some better than others. B+(***) [cd]
Neil Young: Young Shakespeare (1971 , Reprise): Between After the Gold Rush and Harvest, Young did a solo tour, his set captured here at Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, Connecticut. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Think! (1968 , Blue Note): Played organ on George Benson's early albums, which led to his own 1967 debut, Figer Lickin' Good Soul Organ. Then, as Benson moved into pop, Smith went with a fading but still powerful jazz label, picking up Melvin Sparks (guitar), David Newman (tenor sax/flute), Lee Morgan (trumpet), and lots of percussion. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Turning Point (1969, Blue Note): With Bennie Maupin (tenor sax), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), Melvin Sparks (guitar), and drums. Two originals, three covers: "See Saw" up his alley, "Eleanor Rigby" not nearly as awful as one would expect. B+(*)
Lonnie Smith: Move Your Hand (1969 , Blue Note): Third Blue Note album, live from Club Harlem in Atlantic City. Four 8-11 minute tracks, two original and two covers ("Charlie Brown" and "Sunshine Superman"). Two saxes (Ronnie Cuber and Rudy Jones), guitar, and drums. Vocal on the title cut. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Live at Club Mozambique (1970 , Blue Note): Live set from Detroit, issued 25 years after the fact. Two saxes (Ronnie Cuber and Dave Hubbard), George Benson on guitar, extra percussion. Six originals, including a vocal on "Peace of Mind," followed by covers from Sly Stone and Miles Davis. B+(***)
Lonnie Smith: Mama Wailer (1971, Kudu): After Blue Note, one album on Creed Taylor's soul jazz subsidiary (released 39 records 1971-79, 8 by Grover Washington Jr., who plays tenor sax and flute here). Two Smith originals, two covers ("I Feel the Earth Move" and "Stand" -- the latter running 17:20). B+(**)
Lonnie Smith/Alvin Queen: Lenox and Seventh (1985 , Black & Blue): Reorded in Paris. Original release listed drummer Queen's namme first, and added "feat. Melvin Sparks," but the reissue (with an extra cut) swapped the order, and left Sparks on a sidebar, where the organ player's name starts with "Dr." Like everything on this label, leans hard on the blues. B+(***)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Boogaloo to Beck: A Tribute (2003, Scuffin'): Smith recorded for minor various labels in the 1970s -- Kudu, Groove Merchant, LRC -- and doesn't really pick up until he signs with Palmetto for Too Damn Hot in 2004, or this from a year earlier. First record I can find credited to Dr. Lonnie Smith was The Turbanator in 2000, recorded in 1991. No idea why he'd record a tribute to 1990s rock star Beck unless he was just hard up, which he was. Eleven Beck songs, larded out with plenty of boogaloo (the only one I recognized was "Loser," although Odelay was my favorite album of 1998), with guitar, drums, and "special guest" Fathead Newman (tenor sax) on five. B+(*)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Rise Up! (2008 , Palmetto): He cut four albums 2004-2009 for Palmetto, this the third, and only one I missed. Mostly quartet with Donald Harrison (alto sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Herlin Riley (drums). B+(**)
Neil Young: Eldorado (1989, Reprise, EP): Released in Japan only, shortly before Freedom, which it shares three songs with (different mixes), plus two songs that don't appear elsewhere, totalling 25:30. B+(**) [yt]
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Arc (1991, Reprise): Edited from their 1991 tour, picking out noisy bits from various songs and piecing them together into a single 35:00 mixtape. Originally appeared along with two CDs of live songs, packaged as Arc-Weld, then split into separate releases. I skipped both at the time, then accidentally queued up this one while looking for that one. Not as unlistenable as I had been led to believe. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: