Monday, July 26, 2021


Music Week

July archive (final).

Music: Current count 35900 [35855] rated (+45), 210 [212] unrated (-2).

Did my cutoff Sunday evening, while I was in the middle of looking at older, missed John Hiatt albums, so while tempted to move the rest forward to keep them together, expect them next week. One thing I did notice after the review was that one of the more memorable songs on the new one appeared on an old album. Good chance of more recycled songs, which may contribute to the relative high quality here. When I've noticed, Hiatt's New West albums have been pretty good. I gave an A- to his Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012, and to Terms of My Surrender (2014), as well as the new one.

I mentioned below seeing Hiatt in his native habitat, but maybe I should expand on that story. Shortly after I started writing for the Village Voice, Robert Christgau send me Hiatt's first two albums. He wound up grading them B, but he must have suspected that I might get into them and write something interesting. Didn't happen, at least not in time, but eventually they clicked for me: a solid A- for Hangin' Around the Observatory, and an A for Overcoats (on my all-time list; for a review see my Terminal Zone spotlight reviews -- there's also a review there of Hirth From Earth, another B+ oddity Christgau sent me, which led to me reviewing Hirth Martinez's second album).

I was back in Wichita at the time, having retreated from St. Louis after I got sick and lost my job. One of my closest St. Louis friends had moved to Washington, D.C., and wanted me to join his commune. I agreed. He flew to Wichita, and we drove back to D.C., with stops in St. Louis and Indianapolis, where another St. Louis friend -- one of my major music mentors -- had returned after graduating college. He knew I liked Hiatt, and found him performing in a suburban bar, so we checked him out. He was solo, playing guitar and some keyboard, songs from the two albums I by then knew inside and out. The albums had band arrangements, but the songs were even more striking in their stark immediacy.

D.C. turned out to be a bust. I got sick again, returned to Wichita, floundered a while, eventually got a job, saved some money, and (after an exploratory trip) decided to move to New York. Don Malcolm and I published Terminal Zone in the interrim, but I was disappointed in the lack of interest we received in New York. It was a rude introduction to the vagaries of commerce, and I didn't handle it well -- may be one reason why I still regard making money as a piss poor excuse to do anything. (Malcolm went on to publish a second TZ, and maybe a third, without me.) I wrote a few reviews for the Voice, but never got around to Hiatt. John Piccarella, a freelancer I most admired, pitched a Hiatt piece, but he got stuck with Hiatt's first mediocre album, Warming Up to the Ice Age (kind of like I got stuck with a wobbly BTO album for my debut). After that, I lost interest, and didn't bother with his well-received A&M albums. But he's still around, and holding up better than most.

One cluster of new records this week is a bunch of Astral Spirits downloads. I get a lot more download links and offers than I follow up on, but there were a couple there I felt I should try to listen to, and wound up downloading the whole stack.

The East Axis promotion comes after receiving a CD. I had a pretty good idea that's where it would wind up after reviewing it off Napster (you can also hear it complete on Bandcamp). The Bill Evans and Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller 2-CD sets were most likely helped by having physical packages, which allowed me to spread out my attention (as well as to see the booklets, although my eyes don't encourage close study). I don't consciously favor CDs over downloads or streams, but sometimes it works out that way.

I'm likely to have a short "Speaking of Which" later this week. Got a couple things I want to get off my chest. I'm half way through the Michael Lewis Premonition book. I'm not the least bit inclined to rehabilitate the legacy of GW Bush, but at least he allowed at least some public servants to do their job. Meanwhile, Laura is playing the audible of Michael Wolff's Landslide. It's a "fish starts to rot at the head" story, with everyone close to Trump increasingly implicated. I've seen scattered speculation about how much worse shape we'd be in if we had a Trumpian leader who was actually competent, but I wonder if incompetence isn't something that endears Trump to his followers.


New records reviewed this week:

[Ahmed]: Nights on Saturn (Communication) (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits): Tribute to bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik (1927-93), born Jonathan Tim Jr. in Brooklyn, recorded some of the first American jazz albums to look to Africa and the Middle East, starting with Jazz Sahara in 1958. British quartet: Pat Thomas (piano), Joel Grip (bass), Antonin Gerbal (drums), Seymour Wright (alto sax). One 41:47 piece, taken from a 1961 album, plus an 8:25 "sample" (the bit you can hear on Bandcamp). Much edgier than the original, which captures the spirit. A- [dl]

Michaël Attias/Simon Nabatov: Brooklyn Mischiefs (2014 [2021], Leo): Alto sax and piano, recorded in Brooklyn, four joint pieces plus a Herbie Nichols medley. B+(**)

Mandy Barnett: Every Star Above (2019 [2021], BMG): Standards singer, strong voice, slotted as country because she started out in a Patsy Cline revival, intends this as a tribute to Billie Holiday and her penultimate Lady in Satin album, selecting 10 (of 12) songs, set to similar maudlin strings. Picking on Holiday's worst album lowers the bar enough Barnett can clear it, but it's hard to see why. At least she doesn't try on Holiday's tone or phrasing -- impossible on a good day, or even on her death bed. B

Olie Brice/Binker Golding/Henry Kaiser/N.O. Moore/Eddie Prévost: The Secret Handshake With Danger: Vol. One (2020 [2021], 577): Recorded in London, British bassist, saxophone star, two guitars, drums. B+(*)

Eric Church: Heart (2021, EMI Nashville): The first of three short albums, released separately a few days apart, one "available exclusively to members of Church's official fan group, the Church Choir", although I've seen art work that combines them into a single product: Heart & Soul (24 songs, 85:47). This one is 9 songs, 31:24. Solid start toward a pretty good album. B+(**)

Eric Church: Soul (2021, EMI Nashville): Third album, skipping the unavailable &, 9 more songs, 31:21. Well, maybe not so good? B+(*)

Clairo: Sling (2021, Fader/Republic): Singer-songwriter Claire Cottrill, second album, rather reserved. B+(*)

Harold Danko: Spring Garden (2019 [2021], SteepleChase): Pianist, 30+ albums since 1974, early side-credits include Chet Baker and Lee Konitz. Original compositions, with Rich Perry (tenor sax), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Joel Frahm: The Bright Side (2021, Anzic): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from Wisconsin, based in New York, albums since 1999, but mostly side-credits. Trio with bass (Dan Loomis) and drums (Ernesto Cervini). B+(**)

Frisque Concordance: Distinct Machinery (2017-18 [2021], Random Acoustics, 2CD): Free jazz group, recorded one previous album in 1992. Common to both are Georg Graewe (piano) and John Butcher (tenor/soprano sax), joined here by Wilbert de Joode (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums). First disc is studio, second live, both recorded in Vienna. The pianist, in particular, is full of surprises. A-

Rob Frye: Exoplanet (2021, Astral Spirits): Plays woodwinds and synthesizer, third album, also plays in various groups like the Bitchin Bajas. With Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, more synths and electronics, more drums, violin on three tracks, voice on two. Engaging groove with occasional spaciness. B+(***) [dl]

Rhiannon Giddens With Francesco Turrisi: They're Calling Me Home (2021, Nonesuch): Former Carolina Chocolate Drops singer, plays violin and banjo, went on her own in 2015, moved to Ireland, formed a partnership there with Italian multi-instrumentalist Turrisi, second album together. The old songs are the most striking, especially "O Death." A couple in Italian are possibly older, but resonate less. B+(***)

Mats Gustafsson/Joachim Nordwall: Shadows of Tomorrow/The Brain Produces Electric Waves (2019-20 [2021], Astral Spirits, EP): Actually, 7-inch single, with radio-friendly lengths of 3:50 and 3:46, not that you should expect to hear them broadcast. Both Swedish, Nordwall seems to be some kind of electro-acoustical sound producer. They did an album together in 2017 where the saxophonist was credited simply with "blowing stuff." He's toned that down to heavy breathing here. Not bad, but much to it. B [dl]

John Hiatt With the Jerry Douglas Band: Leftover Feelings (2021, New West): Singer-songwriter from Indianapolis -- I remember seeing him play solo in a bar there -- settled in Nashville, with 24 albums since 1974. Douglas is a bluegrass guy, and his band swings gently, getting by without a drummer. The unrushed atmosphere suits Hiatt, whose voice has moderated without losing its distinctness. Also, the songs are full of memorable images and turns of phrase. [PS: Didn't check, but found at least one leftover song: "All the Lilacs in Ohio," from The Tiki Bar Is Open -- best song there, and one of the better ones here.] A-

Dylan Hicks: Accidental Birds (2021, Soft Launch): Singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, literate enough he's turned out a couple novels. First few songs are captivating enough, but I found myself paying less attention as the record continued, pleasantly. B+(**)

Rocco John Iacovone/Phil Sirois/Tom Cabrera: Synchronics (2021, Unseen Rain): Sax-bass-drums trio, the leader playing tenor, alto, soprano, and bass clarinet. Another slow-developing pandemic project. B+(**)

Jaubi: Nafs at Peace (2021, Astigmatic): Pakistani instrumental quartet, exploring "eastern mysticism and the spiritual self [Nafs]." Starts calmly, not unlike Orüj Güvenç's Ocean of Remembrance, but doesn't stay in that groove as they move from Lahore to Oslo and pick up a couple of ringers, notably on towering saxophone. A- [bc]

Khrysis: The Hour of Khrysis (2021, Jamla): Hip-hop producer Christopher Tyson, from North Carolina, half of the Away Team, raps some here. B+(**)

Angélique Kidjo: Mother Nature (2021, Decca): Singer from Benin, based in France, 17th album since 1981, one of the most recognized African singers in the US, but I can't say as I've ever been much impressed. She's got beats, languages, beaucoup help -- 9 (of 13) songs here have featured guests. Did manage to jot one bit of lyric down: "feel the music/it's never dull." B

Lost Girls: Menneskekollektivet (2021, Smalltown Supersound): Norwegian duo, Jenny Hval voice and lyrics spoken over guitar-tinged electronica by Hval and Håvard Holden. Five tracks, two run to 12:10 and 15:30, consciousness rising out of mesmerizing depths. A-

Roscoe Mitchell/Mike Reed: The Ritual and the Dance (2015 [2021], Astral Spirits): Reeds and drums, the latter also credited with electronics. One 36:43 improv, plus a 16:08 "sample." Intense free jazz, but can be a bit shrill. B+(***)

Liudas Mockunas/Arfvydad Kaziauskas: Purvs (2020 [2021], Jersika, 2LP): Saxophone duo, both playing a wide range, from sopranino to bass, and something called "keyless overtone." One disc is called "The Bog Sessions," the other "Live at the Peat Amphitheater." None of the LP sides runs less than 22:53, and I'm intimidated by the sheer weight of the vinyl. As for the music, the patterns and interaction are interesting when you can pay them close attention, but don't do much as background. B+(**) [lp]

The Modern Jazz Trio With Jerry Bergonzi: Straight Gonz (2021, AMM): MJT is described as a "Nordic supergroup," but I can't find any other albums under that group name. The members are Carl Winther (piano), Johnny Åman (bass), and Anders Mogensen (bass), and they have played with tenor saxophonist Bergonzi before -- one source says this is their sixth album together, and I can account for three, going back to 2013. B+(**)

Aaron Novik: Grounded (2020 [2021], Astral Spirits): Clarinet player (including bass and contrabass clarinets), "minimal effects," composed and recorded this during lockdown last year, much closer to minimalism than to jazz. B+(**) [dl]

William Parker: Painter's Winter (2020 [2021], AUM Fidelity): Title a reference back to the bassist's 2000 album Painter's Spring, reconvening the same trio: Daniel Carter (trumpet, alto/tenor sax, clarinet, flute) and Hamid Drake (drums). Carter pokes around the edges, rarely taking charge, which is fine given how strong the bass lines are. A-

William Parker: Mayan Space Station (2020 [2021], AUM Fidelity): Another trio, unlike anything in Parker's enormous catalog, as it features a guitarist (Ava Mendoza), with Gerald Cleaver on drums. Mendoza has a fair number of albums since 2013, including a similar trio led by William Hooker. Mendoza is impressive, someone I should look into further, but the fusion moves don't quite seem right here. [PS: Parker does have an earlier g-b-d trio with Raoul Björkenheim and Hamid Drake, DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2 (2008), but it's less of a fusion move.] B+(***)

Powers/Rollin Duo: Strange Fortune (2021, Astral Spirits): Jen Powers (hammered dulcimer/autoharp) and Matthew J. Rolin (12-string guitar/chimes), half-dozen albums together since 2018. B+(*) [dl]

Andrew Renfroe: Run in the Storm (2021, self-released): Guitarist, based in New York, officially his debut album after a 2020 EP (Dark Grey). Postbop, with alto sax (Braxton Cook), keyboards, bass, drums, "plus special guest Marquis Hill" (trumpet). B+(**) [cd] [08-27]

Chris Schlarb/Chad Taylor: Time No Changes (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits/Big Ego): Guitarist, also plays keyboards, owns a studio and label in California, has a half-dozen albums I've usually filed as rock, in a duo here with the jazz drummer (and mbira player). B+(*) [dl]

Alex Sipiagin: Upstream (2020 [2021], Posi-Tone): Russian trumpet player, moved to US in 1990, regular albums since 1998. Quartet with piano (Art Hirahara), bass (Boris Kozlov), and drums (Rudy Royston). Five pieces by the leader, two by Kozlov, one by Hirahara, one by Wayne Shorter. B+(*)

Wadada Leo Smith/Douglas R. Ewart/Mike Reed: Sun Beans of Shimmering Light (2015 [2021], Astral Spirits): Trumpet, reeds (sopranino sax, bassoon, flute), and drums. Trumpet stands out early on. B+(***) [dl]

Emma-Jean Thackray: Yellow (2021, Movementt/Warp): British trumpet player, "multi-instrumentalist" (no music credits here), after at least three EPs, this is billed as her debut album, "draws glowing lines between '70s jazz fusion, PFunk, the cosmic invocations of Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane." True enough, but less remarkable than you'd hope. B

Chris Williams/Patrick Shiroishi: Sans Soleil (2021, Astral Spirits): Trumpet and sax duo, both playing a wide range of family instruments and other objects, bouncing scattered sounds off each other. The former has a couple records as Chris Ryan Williams, as opposed to the Australian Chris Williams who plays trupet and didgeridoo, and most likely others -- Discogs lists him as "Chris Williams (84). Shiroishi has a long list of marginal-looking albums going back to 2013. B+(*)

Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 7: João Donato (2021, Jazz Is Dead, EP): First three volumes listed Younge first, next three Muhammad, now back to Younge. They've been picking out a mix of jazz-funk oldsters and Brazilians to feature, and while these could be remixes they've all been made with living musicians: Donato is a pianist who started in the bossa nova era and is now 86, with a couple dozen albums under his name, and at least as many side-credits. Flirts with LP-length (9 tracks, 26:44). B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony (2006-07 [2021], Resonance, 2CD): Trumpet and piano duo, two live shows a little more than a year apart. The artists seem a little young for this sort of archival dig -- Hargrove first appeared in 1988, and quickly became the trumpet star of the 1990s; Miller started in 1984 with Art Blakey, and while his own records were less popular, he spent the 1990s in Kenny Garrett's band, Hargrove's main rival for "next big thing" -- but both died young (49 for Hargrove, 57 for Miller), leaving their estates to pick through the remains. Aside from Blakey, Miller apprenticed with Woody Shaw and Betty Carter -- the latter an especially demanding leader. He always reminded me of McCoy Tyner (he even looked like Tyner), with flashes of Oscar Peterson to show off, making him an ideal accompanist, as well as someone who could spell the leader with a dazzling piano solo. Includes a big booklet, but it's mostly tributes from younger musicians who grew up in awe of these two. A- [cd]

Rare.wavs Vol. 1 ([2021], Foreign Family Collective): American electronica label, founded by Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight of Odesza. Fifteen pieces by other artists, no dates -- I'm taking their word for obscurity, although Kasbo, Jai Wolf, Ford, Robotaki, possibly others have albums on the label (all that I've found since 2017). Nice variety, rare vocals don't hurt. B+(**)

Shem Tupe/Justo Osala/Enos Okola: Guitar Music of Western Kenya: 45s From the Archive of Shem Tupe (1960s-70s [2021], Mississippi): Nine tracks, six with Tupe (aka Shem Tube, five list him first), eight with Osala (three first), six with Okola (none first), so at least one on each cut. The trio also recorded as Abana Ba Nasery. Falls short of Guitar Paradise of East Africa, but in its simpler way fills the same need. B+(***) [bc]

Vernacular: The Little Bird (2003 [2021], Astral Spirits): Cleveland group, somewhere in the seam between jazz, blues, and agitprop, with Lawrence Daniel Caswell (bass and vocals), R.A. Washington (trumpet/percussion), and Chris Kulcsar (drums/guitar). Caswell's slightly better-known band was This Moment in Black History, which had one of the all-time great titles: It Takes a Nation of Assholes to Hold Us Back. Liner notes by Amiri Baraka. Ends with a 17:43 live jam with Black Ox Orkestar (not on the original release), which moves boldly into free jazz territory. B+(***) [dl]

Old music:

Ahmed Abdul-Malik: East Meets West (1959 [1960], RCA Victor): Second album (after Jazz Sahara), plays oud as well as bass, a mix of exotics and hard bop stars -- in Japan the album was credited to Lee Morgan and Benny Golson. Still, this date belongs to the oud, darabeka, kanoon, and violin. B+(*)

Ahmed Abdul-Malik: The Music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik (1961, New Jazz): Bass and oud, less of an indulgence in middle easern music than the previous albums although the influence was still here, more tightly interwoven than before. With trumpet (Tommy Turrentine), tenor sax (Eric Dixon), clarinet, cello, and a young drummer named Andrew Cyrille. B+(***)

John Hiatt: Bring the Family (1987, A&M): Eighth album, his first to chart, although my impression that this was his breakthrough hit is dashed by seeing it peaked at 107 -- four later albums (1993, 1995, 2012, 2014) edged into the top-50, peaking at 39 with Mystic Pinball. Band here had Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass guitar), and Jim Keltner (drums) -- they also recorded an album as Little Village. B+(*)

John Hiatt: The Eclipse Sessions (2017 [2018], New West): Recorded in Nashville "in August 2017 as the solar eclipse travelled across the U.S.," although I count more songs (6-5) recorded in October. B+(**)

Biz Markie: I Need a Haircut (1991, Cold Chillin'): Rapper Marcel Hall, dead this year at 57, debut 1988, this was his third album, banned from the market by a federal judge for using an uncleared sample -- the judge was so prejudiced against him that he also referred Markie for criminal prosecution. What ticked plaintiff Gilbert O'Sullivan off was hearing that Markie's use of the sample is "humorous" -- more an affront to his self-conception than than a lost chance to cash in on Markie's added-value. (Of course, race had nothing to do with anything.) The immediate effect of the suit was explained in Markie's next title, All Samples Cleared. The long term effect was to reduce the use of samples, one way hip-hop expanded on popular culture. (Ample sample budgets is one advantage artists like Eminem and Kanye West have enjoyed.) B+(***) [yt]

Biz Markie: Biz's Baddest Beats: The Best of Biz Markie (1987-94 [1994], Cold Chillin'): Leans heavily on his first album, filled out with singles, so "best" is subject to interpretation, but it doesn't skimp on the human beatbox, the old school boasts, not to mention the boogers and doo doo that were his trademark. B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

East Axis [Matthew Shipp/Allen Lowe/Gerald Cleaver/Kevin Ray]: Cool With That (2020 [2021], ESP-Disk): Piano, alto sax, drums, bass. Joint improv, artist order some approximation of fame, though Lowe is the commanding presence here. Cleaver defines "free jazz" as "many contexts and frames of reference held at once." You feel them in the space these artists maneuver through so deftly. [was: A-] A [cd]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Wayne Coniglio & Scott Whitfield: Faster Friends (Summit)
  • Dominican Jazz Project: Desde Lejos (Summit)