An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, June 28, 2021
Music: Current count 35715  rated (+51), 205  unrated (-6).
June Streamnotes (link above) wraps up this week. I'll do the indexing later, but a quick fgrep shows 203 albums for the month. I started last week thinking about 1971, which explains old music by Curtis Mayfield, Ike & Tina Turner, and Archie Shepp. I came up shorter in A- records this week, but a couple of those Shepp albums could merit further listening. I haven't been able to follow Hat's Ezz-thetics series, but noticed that they have a new Blase and Yasmina Revisited reissue. I should also note that I decided to go with reissues of the individual BYG albums, not the twofers that later appeared on Affinity.
The Joe Newman reissue got me to take a look at his back catalog, which in turn led me to two of my favorite 1950s tenor saxophonists: Illinois Jacquet and Budd Johnson. Nothing I found there blew me away, but I did enjoy every minute of the search. Johnson's Let's Swing remains one of the all-time great tenor sax albums. Newman's 1955-56 albums, The Count's Men and I Feel Like a New Man, are highly recommended, and there is a lot of primo Jacquet to choose from.
Listened to more new music last week, but non-jazz forays were few and far between. Main find was an EP that didn't show up in any of my 2020 lists, but its videos have gotten a lot of notice. See this one to get the key song, "Rät," in real time, then look at this one for the annotation. I got the tip from Phil Overeem, who also recommended Ashnikko, another young woman who knows a lot about the world. I shouldn't be surprised, but following politics I'm constantly bombarded with staggering levels of stupidity.
Many thanks to Dave Everall for posting Music Week notices on Facebook's Expert Witness thread -- something I've never gotten the hang of. Last week's post elicited a few comments, mostly about Elton John in the 1980s. I wrote about the documentary series 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything and its Univeral-delimited soundtrack album last week. The series was based on David Hepworth's book, Never a Dull Moment: 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded, so Clifford Ocheltree posted a link to a 283-song Spotify playlist based on the book. I asked for opinions on the book, but only after doing a bit of due diligence. I quoted one line I found in the book: "I was born in 1950. For a music fan, that's the winning ticket in the lottery of life." Several readers took offense at that line.
Of course, it resonated for me because I was born in 1950. But also because I've thought quite a bit about the effect of age at time. For instance, I was significantly different in 1957, 1964, 1971, and 1978, which were four pivotal years in the history of rock. My first memories of popular music date from around 1957, but they don't include emerging rock stars like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly. What I remember from the late 1950s are novelties, including my longstanding love for "16 Tons" (Tennessee Ernie Ford) and "Mack the Knife (Bobby Darin) -- versions that neither older nor younger critics would still prefer. I eventually filled in the gaps, but older critics like Robert Christgau (b. 1942) and Greil Marcus (b. 1945) experienced the birth of rock and roll in real time -- like I did the Beatles and the British Invasion as a teenager in 1964. By the time I became aware of Presley, he was a mediocre actor whose career was interrupted by the Army, so he meant little to me (whereas he meant the world to my elders, especially to Marcus). I know all the songs now, but have little sense of how the chronology played out. On the other hand, I lived through everything from 1964 on, fully conscious of who broke new ground and what followed up.
I suppose it's possible that I imposed that 7-year cycle on the available music, as opposed to it fortunately synching up with my life. I don't see anything comparable looking back to 1950, 1943, 1936, 1929 (although the crash did end the "roaring '20s"). Going forward there's some evidence for 1985 (Michaelangelo Matos wrote a recent book on 1984 as a pivotal year in music) and 1992 (grunge and gangsta take over), but what's groundbreaking about 1999, 2006, 2013, 2020? Maybe the music, like me, is getting old? Maybe as old people we just don't notice the changes? What is certain is that we don't live them the same way.
It's also possible that change is changing. Kurt Andersen, in his book Evil Geniuses, argues that the decadal changes in fashion and design which made it easy to date artifacts from the 20th century have largely vanished in the 21st. My 2006 car doesn't look far removed from 2021 models, unlike the differences between my father's series of cars (1932, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1979, 1987 -- that '73 Maverick was a real lemon). Progress was dramatic in the 20th century, but it's harder to discern in the 21st: technological changes are more esoteric and harder to grasp, and often turn out to be mixed blessings (e.g., climate). But also blame politics for increasing inequality, which makes affluence harder to come by and hope for.
Aside from music, I've long been conscious of the peculiar blessings and handicaps of my age. Nearly all of my cousins are older than me, some a mere two years younger than my father, so they offer a sample group of birth dates from 1925-50, and the second-cousins start up in 1949. What I concluded was that the ones born in the late 1930s were most fortunate: they didn't remember the Depression, were too young for WWII and Korea, and too old for Vietnam; they came of age during the postwar boom, included the first in our family to go to college, many started businesses and prospered, and retired with a fair degree of comfort (several touring the country in RVs, which is sort of a generational calling card). They all lived much longer than their parents, and were generally better off. On the other hand, most are dead now, or getting pretty old, so younger generations do have that advantage.
Long ago it occurred to me that there never before was a generation gap as large as the one between my cohort and our parents. The obvious point at the time is that we grew up in a time of sudden affluence and expanding horizons, whereas they grew up during the Great Depression and had to surive World War. But as I thought more about it, I realized that a lot of things started shifting between the end of the war in 1945 and the stalemate in Korea in 1952. The very week I was born, China entered Korea and drove American forces back from the border. Americans didn't realize that they had switched sides, ceasing to be liberators and turning into the backstop of western imperialism. The decline wasn't instantly obvious. We grew up thinking we were on top of the world, and became increasingly cross when the world had other ideas. I recently saw an Elizabeth Warren meme that dated the war on the middle class to "thirty years ago," but there were earlier stages: fifty years ago domestic oil production peaked, and the US started running trade deficits. A sensible choice then would have been to tax oil (like Europe was doing), but we pretended nothing was happening (after all, domestic and foreign oil were controlled by the same international corporations). In the 1970s, capitalists (increasingly financiers) plotted to take over the government and get rid of all the countervailing power/public interest "nonsense" -- with slower growth the only way they could maintain profits was to take more -- and in 1980, they managed to get Ronald Reagan elected.
It's been all down hill from there, so of course people growing up now view the world much differently than we did.
Rapper Timothy Parker died last week, at 49. He called himself Gift of Gab, started with the group Blackalicious. I wrote about them for Rolling Stone. I thought his 2018 EP Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again! was terrific.
I will have answers to some questions later in the week. [PS: Link here.] Also the indexing on Streamnotes. Don't know about Speaking of Which, but it's hard not to find things to write about these days.
New records reviewed this week:
Rebecca Angel: Just the Two of Us (2021, Timeless Grooves): Standards singer, first album, wrote the last two songs here, producer/keyboardist Jason Miles wrote one. Covers include Jobim, Marley, Satie, "For What It's Worth." Single is "Just the Two of Us." B+(*) [cd]
Ashnikko: Demidevil (2021, Parlophone, EP): Singer/rapper Ashton Nicole Casey, from North Carolina, "her parents exposed her to country music and Slipknot" but the music that turned her on was M.I.A., went to high school in Latvia, moved to London at 18. Mixtape (25:24) after three EPs. Cartoonish, until she explains her boredom. B+(**)
Steven Bernstein: Community Music (2020 , Royal Potato Family, EP): Trumpet player, played in the Lounge Lizards and Sex Mob, got the gig for musical director for Robert Altman's Kansas City, which led to his big band, Millennial Territory Orchestra. Haven't heard much from him since MTO Plays Sly in 2011, so I jumped on this 4-song, 18:57 EP. Turns out it's a teaser for four forthcoming albums, recorded over four days in 2020, with MTO and Bernstein's Hot 9. Catherine Russell's vocal is a highlight, but I like "Black Bottom Stomp" even more. B+(***)
Dopolarians: The Bond (2021, Mahakala): Free jazz group, originally from Arkansas (Chad Fowler on alto sax and Christopher Parker on piano), picked up a singer in Memphis (Kelley Hurt) and wound up in New Orleans, adding Marc Franklin (trumpet) and ringers William Parker and Brian Blade for this record. Hurt enters in a relatively quiet spot around the 7-minute mark, intonating with the band rather than singing over it (which makes her a minor presence here). That first piece runs 21:15, and the second is longer (30:22), ending with a shorter one (9:42). B+(***)
Robert Finley: Sharecropper's Son (2021, Easy Eye Sound): Bluesman from Louisiana, born in 1954, released his first album at 62, this is his third. Powerful voice. B+(***)
Fire in Little Africa (2021, Motown): More than 60 Oklahoma hip-hop artists -- too many to be a collective, but they can still get together for a cover photo -- reflect on the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which I believe is still the only instance where people used airplanes to fire-bomb an American neighborhood. Still, don't look here for a history lesson. But beware that history isn't even past yet. B+(***)
Sean Michael Giddings: Red Willow (2021, Origin): Pianist, from Kansas City, studied at UNT, based in Austin, seems to be his first album. All originals, piano trio with Sam Pankey (bass) and Daniel Dufour (drums), with "orchestral programming on four cuts. B+(*)
Pedro Giraudo Tango Quartet: Impulso Tanguero (2021, Tiger Turn): Bassist from Argentina, based in New York since 1996, has eight previous albums (back to 2000). Quartet with Nick Danielson (violin), Rodolfo Zanetti (bandoneon), and Ahmed Alom (piano). Tango, of course, lush, but a bit stilted, which I blame on the connection to classical music. B
Ben Goldberg: Everything Happens to Me (2018 , BAG Productions): Clarinetist, steady stream of records since 1991, recruited some superb musicians for this effort: Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael formanek (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). B+(***) [cdr]
John Hart: Checkmate (2019 , SteepleChase): Guitarist, 70 this year, shares the spotlight here with Gary Smulyan (baritone sax), a nice mix of tones, also with bass (David Wong) and drums (Andy Weston). B+(**)
Kevin Hays/Ben Street/Billy Hart: All Things Are (2021, Smoke Sessions): Piano trio, occasion was the drummer's 80th birthday, Hays and Street have albums going back to the 1990s. B+(*)
David Helbock: The New Cool (2020 , ACT): Austrian pianist, albums since 2006, this a trio with Sebastian Studnitzky (trumpet) ad Arne Jansen (guitar). Four Helbock originals, one by Studnitzky, seven covers ranging from Chopin to Cyndi Lauper. B+(*)
Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview on Phenomenal Nature (2021, Ba Da Bing): Singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, second studio album, short (7 songs, 31:44) -- fairly minimal, both in music and words (more spoken than sung). Rather appealing. B+(**)
Julian Lage: Squint (2021, Blue Note): Guitarist, albums since 2009. Trio with bass (Jorge Roeder) and drums (Dave King). Typically nice record, not have much more to say. B+(**)
Lorraina Marro: Love Is for All Time (2021, self-released): Standards singer, from Los Angeles, third album since 2004, "was honored as a Los Angeles 'Jazz Living Legend.'" Risks comparison to Streisand on "People," and pulls it off. Does a couple songs in Spanish. Touts "a team of some of L.A.'s finest musicians. One I've heard of, but haven't heard much from lately, is tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard. B+(**) [cd] [07-15]
Jason Nazary: Spring Collection (2020 , We Jazz): Drummer, alto electronics, first album under his own name but has appeared in various groups going back to Little Women in 2007. Solo, plus guest spots in 5 (of 9) songs. The electronics are disconcerting at first, but eventually this finds a bit of groove. B+(**) [cd]
Pluto Juice: Pluto Juice (2019 , Contagious Music): Fusion project, led by saxophonist Dayna Stephens (mostly EWI here) and Anthony Fung (drums), with Andrew Marzotto (guitar) and Rich Brown (electric bass). B+(*) [cd] [07-16]
Samo Salamon/Hasse Poulsen: String Dancers (2020 , Sazas): Acoustic guitar duets, former plays 12-string as well as 6-string. Former is well known here, a consistently inventive player. B+(**) [cd] [09-01]
Penelope Scott: Public Void (2020, Tesla's Pigeon, EP): Twenty-year-old singer-songwriter, DIY electronics, song "Rät" has over a million YouTube views, a story of nerd love and disillusionment ("I bit the apple 'cause I trusted you, it tastes like Thomas Malthus, you proposal is immodest and insane . . . you promised you would be Tesla, but you're just another Edison"). Initially released as a 6-cut download, then reissued a month later with a 7th song (total 26:06). A-
Senyawa: Alkisah (2021, Burning Ambulance): Indonesian doom metal duo, Wukir Suryadi (custom instruments) and Rully Shabara (vocals). Industrial klang, slightly exotic, not unbearable. [PS: Duo had a previous album, Sujud, on Sublime Frequencies, that I liked more.] B [bc]
Chris Speed: Light Line (2018 , Intakt): Solo clarinet, a departure from his usual tenor sax but the lighter horn maneuvers better, a big help here. B+(**)
Natsuki Tamura: Koki Solo (2020 , Libra): Trumpet player, turns 70 this year, wife Satoko Fujii celebrated 70 by releasing a new album every month, but he's less prolific, at least on his own. Biggest surprise here is how he mixes it up, with piano, wok, and voice credits. Piano forced me to check the credits: he's not as fast as she is, but works in a similar vein. B+(**) [cd] [07-09]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Hamiet Bluiett: Bearer of the Holy Flame (1983 , Strut): Baritone saxophonist (1940-2018), also plays clarinet and alto flute, live set that originally appeared on Black Fire in 1994. With John Hicks (piano), Fred Hopkins (bass), Marvin Smith (drums), and Chief Bey (percussion). Terrific, both the big rhythmic romp that is Bluiett's calling card, and Hicks' marvelous piano. A-
ICP Orchestra: Plays Herbie Nichols in Nijmegen 7 May 1984 (1984 , ICP): Dutch group, 12 pieces here, led by Misha Mengelberg (piano) and Han Bennink (drums), with four reeds (including Steve Lacy on soprano sax) and four brass (including tuba), viola, and cello. Mengelberg and/or Lacy have explored Nichols' work on numerous occasions. B+(***) [bc]
Joe Newman: Joe Newman at the Atlantic (1977 , Phontastic): One of the lesser-known swing trumpet players, started with Lionel Hampton in 1941, spent 13 years with Count Basie, played with Illinois Jacquet and others. Two 1955-56 albums are favorites. This was recorded in Sweden, with clarinetist Ove Lind's quintet, featuring Lars Erstrand (vibes). B+(***)
Cecil Taylor Ensemble: Göttingen (1990 , Fundacja Sluchaj, 2CD): Lineup similar to the Workshop Ensemble that recorded Legba Crossing in 1988, as part of the pianist's massive Berlin showcase: 13 musicians here, 15 then, 10 in common. Two sets, totals 138:34. Noisy, chaotic, difficult to listen to, but long stretches are also quite marvelous. B+(***) [bc]
Cecil Taylor Quintet: Lifting the Bandstand (1998 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Recorded at Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland, with his regular drummer Paul Lovens, Tristan Honsinger on cello, and two local musicians: Harri Sjöström (soprano sax) and Teppo Hauta-Aho (bass). Slow start, but by mid-point the musicians are finding ways to make sense of the chaos, and even more. A-
Barney Wilen Quartet: Barney and Tete Grenoble '88 (1988 , Elemental Music): Tenor sax quartet, cover extends the credit to "feat. Tete Montoliu," the blind Spanish pianist, and Discogs also credits Riccardo Del Fra (bass) and Aaron Scott (drums), although I don't see their names on the cover. One Wilen-Montoliu credit, two Charlie Parkers, more standards (at least in France). [NB: Napster omits the two medleys, 13:40 + 12:57, so hedged on 7/9 tracks.] B+(**)
Illinois Jacquet: Swing's the Thing (1957, Verve): Real first name: Jean-Baptiste. Born in Louisiana, grew up in Houston, so he's usually counted among the "Texas tenors" -- robust blues/swing saxophonists like Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate. Started out with Lionel Hampton's big band, and is most famous for his "Flying Home" solo -- widely considered to be one of the first eruptions of rock and roll. All-star sextet -- Roy Eldridge, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Jones, Ray Brown, Jo Jones -- divided into a slow side and one that kicks up heels (for a while). Still, no complaints about Jacquet's ballad style. B+(**)
Illinois Jacquet: Bottoms Up: Illinois Jacquet on Prestige! (1968, Prestige): Quartet with Barry Harris, Ben Tucker, and Alan Dawson. Title cut is a monster blues wail. Settles down after that, with a nice ballad to close. B+(***)
Illinois Jacquet: The Comeback (1971 , Black Lion): Originally released 1971 as Genius at Work!, but picked up the title song (the only Jacquet original) for the CD, and went with that. Recorded in London with Milt Buckner on organ and Tony Crombie on drums. Opens with Basie, a ballad ("Easy Living"), and "C Jam Blues." Closes with a blues called "I Wanna Blow Now," where he mostly sings. [5/6 tracks] B+(**)
Illinois Jacquet: Bottoms Up [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1974 , Black & Blue): Recorded in Paris, the CD fleshed out with alternate takes. Quartet with Milt Buckner (organ on 7 tracks, piano 5), Roland Lobligeois (bass), and Jo Jones (drums). Mostly easy-going blues. B+(**)
Illinois Jacquet: God Bless My Solo [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 , Black & Blue): Another Paris tour, with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and J.C. Heard (drums). B+(***)
Budd Johnson: The Chronological Budd Johnson 1944-1952 (1944-52 , Classics): Tenor saxophonist, one of the all-time swing greats, though rarely recognized as he was most often buried in big bands or working for other leaders (e.g., Earl Hines). Indeed, his name only leads the artist credits in 6 (of 23) tracks here, the others belonging to Clyde Hart, Al Killian, J.C. Heard, Dickie Wells, Leslie Scott, and Johnny King. Varied material, from big band to r&b, including a number of vocals (King is most impressive), but often the saxophone reigns supreme. B+(***)
Budd Johnson: French Cookin' (1963, Argo): Mostly French titles (exception is Johnson's own "I Can Live With the Blues"). His quartet (with Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Ossie Johnson) is beyond reproach, but the extra guitar/marimba/percussion can be disconcerting. B+(**)
Budd Johnson With Joe Newman: Off the Wall (1964 , Argo): Tenor sax and trumpet, with piano (Al Dailey Jr.), bass (George Duvivier or Richard Davis), and drums (Grady Tate). Title cut is irresistible. B+(***)
Curtis Mayfield: Curtis/Live! (1971, Curtom): Live double, 12 songs and 4 "raps" (lame spoken intros) picks up pieces from his Impressions catalog, while adding some of his solo album. Light touch, perhaps a bit thin, lots of congas, but great songs. B+(***)
Jason Moran: The Armory Concert (2016, Yes): Pianist, recorded for Blue Note 1999-2014, quickly establishing himself as one of the top jazz pianists of his generation. After leaving Blue Note, he started his own label, but he's gotten little publicity (at least none my way), and it's been hard to follow him. This is solo piano. B+(*)
Joe Newman With Frank Foster: Good 'n' Groovy (1961, Prestige Swingville): Trumpet and tenor sax, both Basie veterans, backed by a Tommy Flanagan piano trio, playing four Newman pieces, plus "Lil' Darlin'" and "Just Squeeze Me." B+(**)
Joe Newman: I Love My Woman [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1979 , Black & Blue): The label usually waited until artists came to Paris, but they picked up this live set from London, with the trumpet player (and sometime singer) leading a quartet with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). B+(***)
Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man (1971, Flying Dutchman): Spoken-word artist, mostly sings here, music by pianist Brian Jackson, second album, leads off with his most famous piece: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" -- perhaps the song of the year, heavily featured in a recent documentary claiming the 21st century was being invented in 1971. Nothing else matches it, or is even in the proto-rap mode. More striking now is the jazzy vibe, with Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, and Pretty Purdie in the band. B+(***)
Archie Shepp: Life at the Donaueschingen Music Festival (1967, SABA): Tenor saxophonist, first appeared in the New York Contemporary Five (based in Denmark with John Tchicai and Don Cherry), followed closely in the footsteps of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane -- first album under his own name was Four for Trane. This live set -- with Grachan Moncur and Roswell Rudd on trombone, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Beaver Harris on drums -- consists of a single 43:45 piece, "One for the Trane." B+(***)
Archie Shepp: Blasé (1969, BYG): Live in Paris, with vocalist Jeanne Lee, Lester Bowie (trumpet) on the opener, Dave Burrell (piano) on all but the closer, plus bass (Malachi Favors) and drums (Philly Joe Jones). Good spotlight for the remarkable Lee, and Shepp's perhaps surprising skill at shadowing a siger. B+(***)
Archie Shepp: Yasmina, a Black Woman (1969, BYG): Recorded in Paris, title cut is the 20:00 first side with an expanded band. Second side has "Body and Soul" and a piece by Grachan Moncur, with a quartet (plus Hank Mobley on the Moncur piece). B+(***)
Archie Shepp: Poem for Malcolm (1969, BYG): Two sidelong pieces with different bands, a bit of voice (Shepp) on the title cut. The other is rather more interesting, especially for Grachan Moncur III's trombone. B+(**)
Archie Shepp: Live at the Panafrican Festival (1969 , BYG): Live in Algiers, two pieces, with Algerian and Tuareg musicians adding to the carnival atmosphere, Clifford Thornton (cornet) on both, Grachan Moncur III (trombone) on the first, piano-bass-drums on the second, with Ted Joans poetry read by Don Lee and Joans. B+(***)
Archie Shepp: Things Have Got to Change (1971, Impulse!): Tenor saxophonist, leaned avant in the 1960s, got political after 1968 and started making social music, radicalized by black power as well as avant-jazz. First side is the sprawling "Money Blues," co-written by Beaver Harris, Joe Lee Wilson shouting. Second is a short piano piece, "Dr. King, the Peaceful Warrior," then the 16:13 title cut, with Leroy Jenkins on violin. Messy. B+(*)
Ike & Tina [Turner]: 'Nuff Said (1971, United Artists): Surname omitted on cover, as title explains. Everything else seems a bit abbreviated. B+(*)
Barney Wilen: Jazz Sur Seine (1958 , Gitanes Jazz): French tenor saxophonist, if Americans recognize the name it's probably for the record he made with Miles Davis, but he's been consistently terrific from the mid-1950s up to his death in 1996 (e.g., New York Romance, from 1994). He gets a lift here from a trio of Americans -- with Milt Jackson on piano, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke -- but remains the star. Originally released by Philips in 1959, several editions since, but I thought I'd credit Verve for their generally excellent Gitanes Jazz series. A-
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: