An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, August 2, 2021
Music: Current count 35949  rated (+49), 212  unrated (+2).
Only one A-list album by closing time Thursday -- The Locals Play the Music of Anthony Braxton, which had me hooked less than a minute in -- but Phil Overeem came to the rescue. Three of this week's A-list albums came from his list (although I may have gotten to Dave before reading his list), as well as several high HMs.
Dan Weiss opened an "open grade" thread on Friday's Billie Eilish album. I never bother with articles on "most anticipated albums," but it's fair to say Eilish's would have topped most critics' lists. I gave it two plays, looked at a Tom Breihan review in Stereogum, and played all the videos there. Unusual move for me, something I last did for Taylor Swift last year, and before that -- well, can't remember. Videos didn't help, and the album struck me as slack and uneven, although a few songs registered nonetheless. My initial grade was B+(***), as I noted there. I played it a couple more times since, and also replayed Eilish's first album -- a high A- that wound up my number one non-jazz album of 2019. Part of my thinking was that perhaps I should bump it up to A, which would make it easier to give the new one an A-. What happened was the old one didn't get any better -- indeed, my reservations about the new one would have been as valid there -- and the new one has, if anything, more compelling songs.
Most of Weiss' commenters liked the album a lot, and Weiss seemed to like it more as the thread unwound. I ended my comment with "Moving on to Dave now." Which I did, and got there a bit faster (as I did for his 2019 album, Psychodrama). Los Lobos and Prince were also Friday releases.
The old music section is background for recent albums, with John Hiatt continued from last week, plus Brad Mehldau, Freddie Redd, and Jaleel Shaw. Redd died earlier this year, and the only things I had by him were two brilliant releases from 1960. I've heard all of Mehldau's early Warners releases, but had missed his earlier FSNTs. And although it seems like I've run into Shaw a lot, I didn't have any of his own albums in my ratings database.
The other piece of "old music" is the Pulnoc. Joe Yanosik, in his A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe, reports that Pulnoc's Live at P.S. 122 will finally get an official release in 2022. I recall having a cassette of Robert Christgau's top-rated album of 1989, but didn't get it into my database, so I begged a CDR copy, and didn't feel like waiting until real product appeared. I figured I'd have to go without a cover scan, but found this YouTube artwork, and synthesized my own fake cover from it. Not as great as remembered, but it was quite an eye-opener at the time.
Mike Hull's film, Betrayal at Attica, is streaming now at HBO Max. Here's a link (not sure if it's the best one). [PS: Here's the official movie website, and the archive. Mike talks about the making of the film with Jason Bailey on their Fun City Cinema podcast (seems to be locked up on Patreon, but you can find the audio here -- no idea why, but I had to restart it and scroll forward every 5 minutes or so, 42:02 in all).
New records reviewed this week:
BaianaSystem: OXEAXEEXU (2021, Maquina De Louco): Brazilian group, founded in Bahia in 2019, group name a nod to Bahian guitar and Jamaica sound systems. Elements of rock, rap, dub. B+(***)
Dave: We're All Alone in This Together (2021, Neighbourhood): British rapper David Omoregie, born in Brixton, parents Nigerian, second album. His stardom leaves him alone but constantly connected to the binds of race and class, the common condition that informs his brilliant title. A-
Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (2021, Interscope): Second album, still a teenager (though I'm not sure she ever was), produced by her brother Finneas O'Connell, reducing her budget to slack DIY beats. Nothing here grabs he like her debut, but lots of things hint at her appeal, not to say genius, even if her charms are decidedly cerebral. B+(***)
Alvin Fielder/David Drove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith: The Very Cup of Trembling (2016 , Astral Spirits): Drummer (1935-2019), from Mississippi, moved to Chicago, played with Sun Ra, charter AACM member, returned to Mississippi but continued to play in groups with Joel Futterman and/or Kidd Jordan. Others play trombone, tenor/baritone sax, and bass. B+(***) [dl] [08-13]
Graham Haynes vs Submerged: Echolocation (2020 , Burning Ambulance): Cornet player, son of drummer Roy Haynes, scattered albums since 1989, here with electronics by Kurt Gluck -- a Brooklyn DJ, with albums going back to a Bill Laswell collaboration in 2004. The combination recalls Nils Petter Molvaer's jazztronica, but the beats have more industrial and hip-hop overtones. A- [bc]
Alan Jackson: Where Have You Gone (2021, EMI Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, called his 1987 debut New Traditional, exemplified that genre through twenty more albums. Six years since his previous album is by far the longest gap in his discography. Long (82:52), mostly originals, covers from Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. "I got my boots/ I got my hat/ I'm bringing country back." B+(***)
Alexey Kruglov/Carolyn Hume/Paul May/Oleg Yudanov: Last Train From Narvskaya (2019 , Leo): Russian alto saxophonist, several dozen albums since 2002, surprise I've heard virtually nothing by him before. Quartet with piano, drums, percussion. B+(*)
Joachim Kühn: Touch the Light (2021, ACT): German pianist, many albums since 1969, takes it easy with a solo one, 13 widely scattered songs, each nice and simple. Most touching for me was "Redemption Song." B+(***)
Jeff Lederer/Sunwatcher: Eightfold Path (2020 , Little(i)Music): Tenor saxophonist, reunited the quartet from his 2011 album Sunwatcher: Jamie Saft (organ/piano), Steve Swallow (bass), Matt Wilson (drums). Impressive outside player, sometimes a little unsteady. B+(**) [09-03]
Gianni Lenoci: A Few Steps Beyond (2019 , Amirani): Italian pianist, died at 56 in 2019, this his "very last concert - live at Talos Festival 2019." Solo, two pieces each by Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman. B+(*)
Les Filles De Illighadad: At Pioneer Works (2021, Sahel Sounds): Touareg group named for their home town in remote central Niger, third album. Saharan groove and chant, strong and clear but not all that exceptional. B+(**) [bc]
Lord Huron: Long Lost (2021, Republic): Indie band from Los Angeles, principally Ben Schneider, fourth album since 2012. Slouching toward ambiance. B
Los Lobos: Native Sons (2021, New West): Band introduced itself in 1978 as Del Este de Los Angeles, came up with one new song this time, contextualized with a dozen covers drawing on other Los Angeles bands, from Buffalo Springfield and the Beach Boys to War and the Blasters, including a couple of their Hispanic specialties. B+(*)
L'Rain: Fatigue (2021, Mexican Summer): Taja Cheek, "experimentalist and multi-instrumentalist," from Brooklyn, second album. B+(*) [bc]
Charlie Marie: Ramble On (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter, moved from Rhode Island to Nashville to focus on "classic country." First album, after a couple of EPs. B+(**)
Brad Mehldau/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: Variations on a Melancholy Theme (2013 , Nonesuch): Piece was commissioned in 2011, and performed in 2013, but not clear whether this is that or something else. Then, as now, Orpheus is a going concern at Carnegie Hall, a small classical orchestra -- I haven't found a credits list, but count 27 heads in a (probably recent) photo. B
Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Ding Dong. You're Dead. (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio, with Ellen Brekken on bass (wrote 2 of 7 songs) and Ivar Loe Bjĝrnstad on drums; seventh group album since 2011. B+(***)
Kassa Overall: Shades of Flu 2: In These Odd Times (2021, Flu Note): Remixes of 14 jazz pieces, ranging from Ahmad Jamal to Kris Davis, by the drummer-sometime-rapper, with various guests spliced in. Takes a while to start to kick in, not sure it ever really does. B [bc]
Ivo Perelman/Gordon Grdina/Hamin Honari: The Purity of Desire (2020 , Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, trio with oud and percussion (mostly tombak and daf). B+(***)
Portico Quartet: Terrain (2021, Gondwana): English "modern instrumental music" group, dozen albums since 2006, originally distinguished by use of the Chinese hang, which now plays a minor role, behind the sax and keyboards that are Jack Wyllie's domain. B+(*)
Freddie Redd: Reminiscing (2013 , Bleebop): Pianist, died in March at 92, didn't record a lot, but shared a 1955 piano album with Hampton Hawes, peaked with two A-list albums on Blue Note in 1960 (Music From "The Connection" and Shades of Redd), and wound up with a pair of 2015-16 albums on Steeplechase I haven't heard. This is a bit earlier, with Brad Linde (tenor sax), Michael Formanek (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums). Feels engagingly retro, reminding me more of Teddy Wilson than of the beboppers of Redd's generation. Or maybe with nothing else to prove, they're just having fun. B+(***) [bc]
Jaleel Shaw: Echoes (2021, self-released): Alto saxophonist, from Philadelphia, studied at Berklee, debut 2005. Lockdown exercises, most short pattern pieces, nice. B+(**)
Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Reels (2019 , Burning Ambulance): Piano/drums duo, long-time collaborators. B+(***) [bc]
Gary Smulyan/Ronnie Cuber: Tough Baritones (2021, SteepleChase): Two veteran baritone saxophonists, backed by piano (Gary Versace), bass (Jay Anderson), and drums (Jason Tiemann). Tough isn't the word that comes to mind. Steeped in bebop, they still swing. B+(***)
The Spirit of the Beehive: Entertainment, Death (2021, Saddle Creek): Psych rock group from Philadelphia, band name from a 1973 Spanish film directed by Victor Erice (El Espiritu de la Colmena). Fourth album since 2021. I'm usually instantly turned off by this kind of pretentious pastiche, with bits of tune snipped apart and scattered like confetti. This one was amusing enough it took a while. B
Trak Trak: Sur Sur (2020, Ciclismo): Argentinian singer-songwriter Romina Schenone and a band that looks suspiciously German, play intense dance music that draws on cumbia and reggaeton. A vigorous workout, very catchy. A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Guillermo Gregorio/Damon Smith/Jerome Bryerton: Room of the Present (2007-08 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Clarinet player from Argentina but long based in Chicago, started around 1963, still active. Backed with bass and drums. B+(*) [bc]
The J Ann C Trio: At Tan-Tar-A (1966 , Modern Harmonic/Sundazed): Covers band, recorded this album at a resort in the Ozarks. Ann Delrene sings and plays electric bass, with Jerry Dugan (drums) and Carl Russell (guitar). Two Hank Williams songs anchor the LP sides, each followed by an instrumental, then four scattered surprises, ranging from "Hey Bo Diddley" to "Moon River" and (less successfully) "Girl From Ipanema" to "If I Had a Hammer." B+(***)
Prince: Welcome 2 America (2010 , NPG/Legacy): Another posthumous album, recorded during the artist's "Welcome 2 America" tour. Album was recorded in Spring before 20Ten was released in July. The latter album picked up material as far back as 2006, and wasn't followed up until 2014. Not prime material, with the one non-Prince song (Dave Pirner's "Stand Up and B Strong") the one that grabbed my attention. B+(*)
Pat Thomas: The Locals Play the Music of Anthony Braxton (2006 , Discus Music): British avant-pianist, took six pieces and sharpened the angles, giving them a more playful beat than we had any right to expect. With clarinet (Alex Ward), electric guitar (Evan Thomas), electric bass (Dominic Lash), and drums (Darren Hasson-Davis). Album could be attributed to The Locals, but group doesn't seem to have anything beyond this album. A- [bc]
John Hiatt: Y'All Caught?: The Ones That Got Away 1979-1985 (1979-85 , Geffen): Best-of limited to five MCA and Geffen albums, two I have at A- (Slug Line and Riding With the King), three well below that, compiled after he finally started selling some on A&M. B+(***)
John Hiatt: Perfectly Good Guitar (1993, A&M): Comes down hard on anyone who disrespects their guitar. Even if they do nothing special with it. B+(*)
John Hiatt: The Best of John Hiatt [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1983-93 , A&M): Twelve songs, one predates his 1987-93 tenure with A&M, four from Bring the Family. Probably better than any of the constituent albums, but not by much. B+(*)
John Hiatt: Crossing Muddy Waters (2000, Vanguard): More of a folk label, so he accommodates by hiring a couple of bluegrass musicians -- Davey Faragher (bass guitar/tambourine) and David Immerglück (slide & 12 string guitar/mandolin) -- and ditching the drummer. Got him a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. B+(**)
John Hiatt: The Tiki Bar Is Open (2001, Vanguard): Second album for label, back to his (somewhat weird) normal. Enjoy the long instrumental outro on "Farther Stars." B+(***)
John Hiatt & the Goners: Beneath This Gruff Exterior (2003, New West): Long-time Nashville denizen lands on Nashville's premier alt-country label. Seems inevitable. First step was to give his Sonny Landreth-led band a name. And no problems with the occasional dip into rockabilly. As for the songwriting: "I do my best thinking/ sitting on my ass." B+(***)
John Hiatt: Master of Disaster (2005, New West): Produced by Jim Dickinson with his band, North Mississippi Allstars, helping out, plotting a return to the blues. B+(**)
John Hiatt: Mystic Pinball (2012, New West): Hits some kind of sweet spot: at 39, his highest charting album ever, but at this late date almost certainly not his best-selling. Pretty much his average album, flawless enough no one can complain, or get excited. B+(**)
Brad Mehldau/Mario Rossy/Perico Sambeat/Jordi Rossy: New York-Barcelona Crossing (1993 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano/bass/alto sax/drums, recorded in Barcelona a couple years before Introducing Brad Mehldau, but released later. Mostly standards, with one original each by Sambeat and Mario Rossy. B+(**)
Brad Mehldau/Mario Rossy/Perico Sambeat/Jordi Rossy: New York-Barcelona Crossing: Volumen 2 (1993 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Seven more pieces from the same date, all standards. B+(**)
Mehldau & Rossy Trio: When I Fall in Love (1993 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano trio, Brad Mehldau with brothers Mario and Jordi Rossy (bass and drums). Starts with a fairly dazzling "Anthropoogy." Looks like the first Mehldau album released. B+(**)
Pulnoc: Live at P.S. 122 (1989, bootleg): Czech rock group, certifiable Velvet Underground fans, released a good album on Arista in 1991, a few more in Europe -- for full details, see Joe Yanosik's A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe. A bit earlier, Robert Christgau flagged this bootleg tape as his top album of 1989. Someone gave me a cassette, but it never showed up in my database. Reports are this will finally be released on 2-CD next year, but life's short, so I figured I should go ahead and mention it now. A- [cdr]
Freddie Redd/Hampton Hawes: Piano East/Piano West (1952-55 , Prestige/OJC): Two pianists, packaged together: starts with a 1952 Hawes quartet session (8 tracks, 21:20), with Larry Bunker on vibes, then tacks on Redd's 1955 debut trio (4 tracks, 20:07). Not an inspired match, but it moves the fast, boppish pieces up front, then relaxes a bit. B+(*)
Freddy Redd Trio: San Francisco Suite: For Jazz Trio (1957 (1990), Riverside/OJC): Starts with the 13:36 title suite, in five movements. Winds up a half-dozen pieces (three original, three standards). B+(**)
Freddie Redd: Redd's Blues (1961 , Blue Note): With Benny Bailey (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), and Tina Brooks (tenor sax). Session sat on the shelf until 1999, when it came out in Japan. B+(*)
Freddie Redd: Music for You (2014 , SteepleChase): First album since 1991, but still spry at 87, in a trio with Jay Anderson and Billy Drummond, playing one of his songs and a batch of standards. Nothing spectacular, but nice. B+(**)
Freddie Redd: With Due Respect (2014-15 , SteepleChase): This looks to be his last album, his trio from the previous album plus some horns: John Mosca (trombone), Chris Byars (alto sax/flute), and Stefano Doglioni (bass clarinet). Give Byars a lot of credit here. B+(***)
Jaleel Shaw: Perspective (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist, first album. Originals, one by guitarist Lage Lund, plus a nod to Coltrane. With Lund, Robert Glasper (piano), Vicente Archer (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums), plus Mark Turner (tenor sax) on two tracks. B+(***)
Jaleel Shaw: Optimism (2007 , Changu): Second album; Glasper, Lund, and Blake return, Joe Martin on bass and more guest spots. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: