Monday, September 6, 2021


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36194 [36142] rated (+56), 230 [226] unrated (+4).

Fell further behind the promo queue. Haven't paid much attention to it given that nearly everything there isn't scheduled for release until later in the Fall, but I did start to get into the recent NoBusiness package. Good stuff there if you're into free jazz, although I might have given the archival material the benefit of doubt. I guess I'm not as much of a flute hater as I thought.

Judging from Facebook discussions, lots of people love the Kenny Garrett album. I like it quite a bit when the sax is up front and running away from the pack. Wish there was more of that (as there is on most of this week's saxophone records).

Old music (and there's quite a bit of that this week) is mostly from the unheard Christgau A-list, basically Dave Bern to Childish Gambino. The latter's impressive Culdesac mixtape grade is hedged, because I had to switch streaming sources midway and I'm not sure I heard it all, but also because it's so rich and varied it should take several plays to get it sorted. I moved on to one of his later albums after the cutoff. It's all over the place, too, but nothing I ever want to hear again. The other old music clusters are for the late Larry Harlow and Lee Perry -- neither comes anywhere near qualifying as a deep dive, although I wasn't starting from scratch with Perry.

Finally, I noticed Specialty's Vol. 3 Roy Milton compilation, but had to hear Vol. 2 first. I highly recommend the initial Roy Milton & His Solid Senders, and found the others damn enjoyable as well -- I toyed with the idea of bumping them all up a notch, but got lazy and figured that was just me (jump blues ranks high among my favorite music). This reminds me I should track down all the rest of those early-1990s Specialty CD compilations. I'm aware of A/A- sets by Jimmy Liggins, Joe Liggins, Little Richard, Percy Mayfield, Roy Milton, Art Neville, and Lloyd Price. Also one of the all-time great New Orleans compilations: Creole Kings of New Orleans.

By the way, skipped one cover scan to the right: Chuck Berry's Gold is identical but for the cover to The Anthology. I figured I'd list them both, given that they have different titles, but I just preferred the earlier cover -- even though you're more likely to find that later reissue. I'm not going to look up examples, but UME has done this before in their Gold series. Probably no worse a practice than swapping an arbitrary title to make a token change.


Lead article in the Wichita Eagle this morning was about how Gov. Laura Kelly and leading Republican legislators had agreed on a bill to increase the pay of nurses increasingly stressed by Covid work. However, other Republicans are threatening to hold up the bill unless it includes a proviso that none of the money can be channeled through hospitals that require their staff to be vaccinated against Covid. This crosses some kind of line, of sanity for instance. I've generally held to the belief that most Republicans are decent people who happen to have some mistaken opinions -- indeed, I recognize that many have similar views of Democrats, but that's just one of the many things they are wrong about. But I think we have to recognize that a small but growing segment has turned malignant and sociopathic. Nor is their promotion of the pandemic the only example. Take guns, where they've moved way past defending the rights of honest, law-abiding citizens to guaranteeing that criminals will have unimpeded access.


New records reviewed this week:

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Field (2019 [2021], NoBusiness): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, one of the most adventurous anywhere, trio with cello (Miguel Mira) and drums (Gabriel Ferrandini), live in Vilnius, with the avant-pianist sitting in. One 56:10 improv, wanders a bit, but the piano is especially impressive. A- [cd]

Dmitry Baevsky: Soundtrack (2019 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): Russian alto saxophonist, based in New York, first album in 2004 (with Cedar Walton and Jimmy Cobb). Two originals, mostly picks with jazz standards from the 1950s-60s. With Jeb Patton (piano), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Nat Birchall: Ancient Africa (2021, Ancient Archive of Sound): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano), debut 1999, sounds an awful lot like John Coltrane -- reminds me of that time when someone was accused of copying Charlie Parker, and replied: here, let's see you copy. I don't see any credits, but last time he appeared on this label, he dubbed in his own bass, keyboards, and percussion, so that may be happening here (or maybe he's just sampled Jimmy Garrison's bass lines). B+(***) [bc]

Chvrches: Screen Violence (2021, Glassnote): Scottish electropop group, Lauren Mayberry the singer, fourth album. Big pop sound. B+(***)

Lao Dan/Deng Boyu: TUTU Duo (2019 [2021], NoBusiness): Recorded in Guangzhou, free jazz from China, at last. Alto sax and drums duo, the former also playing Chinese (bamboo) flute. First I've heard of them, but Dan Lao has a substantial Discogs entry, with albums back to 2016. B+(***) [cd]

Caroline Davis: Portals, Volume 1: Mourning (2020 [2021], Sunnyside): Original name Anson, parents British and Swedish, born in Singapore, moved to Atlanta when she was six, PhD from Northwestern. Albums since 2011. Alto saxophonist. Group is a quintet -- trumpet (Marquis Hill), piano (Julian Shore), bass, and drums, plus a string quartet. Both halves have their moments. B+(**)

Kenny Garrett: Sounds From the Ancestors (2021, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, major postbop figure since he signed with Atlantic in 1989. Groove-oriented band with piano, bass, drums, and percussion, plus a roster of guests, including too many vocals. I don't mind the groove, but the payoff is when the sax outraces it. B+(**)

Georg Graewe & Sonic Fiction Orchestra: Fortschritt Und Vergnügen (2020, Random Acoustics): German avant-pianist, recorded for FMP 1976-77, several dozen albums since then -- one a piano trio called Sonic Fiction from 1989, but hard to see a connection between it and this group, with clarinet, bassoon, guitar, harp, strings, vibes, and drums. Title translates as Progress and Pleasure. B+(**) [bc]

The Halluci Nation: One More Saturday Night (2021, Radicalized): Electronic duo, Tim Hill and Ehren Thomas, Canadian (I think), Native American (for sure), recorded three albums as A Tribe Called Red (2012-16), the third titled We Are the Halluci Nation, which they've decided makes a better group name. I've seen this described as a fusion of dubstep, pow wow, and hip-hop, but the electronics are more flexible, as with the guest spot for Tanya Tagaq. B+(***)

Walker Hayes: Country Stuff (2021, Monument, EP): Country singer-songwriter, moved to Nashville in 2005, debut EP 2010, two albums, back with another EP (six songs, 18:26). Engaging songs, not much depth, but note featuring spots for Carly Pearce and Lori McKenna. B+(**)

Marc Johnson: Overpass (2018 [2021], ECM): Bassist, originally from Nebraska, played in Bill Evans' last trio (1978-80), lots of side credits, tenth album since 1986. Solo bass, pretty interesting for that sort of thing. B+(**)

Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021, Age 101): British rapper Simbiatu Ajikawo, Nigerian heritage, fourth album, follow up to 2019's breakthrough Grey Area. This is mostly as sharp, although several cuts keep kicking me out. B+(***)

Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Rested Turquoise (2018 [2021], NoBusiness): Most often plays viola, born in Serbia but Discogs identifies him as "Hungarian free violinist." He plays double bass here, along with three others, plus Kornél Pápista on tuba. Doesn't plod as much as you'd expect, but does take its own sweet time. B+(***)

Liudas Mockunas/Christian Windfeld: Pacemaker (2018 [2021], NoBusiness): Lithuanian saxophonist (tenor/soprano, contrabass and prepared clarinets) and Danish drummer, duo. Slow start, a bit abstract. B+(*) [cd]

Nils Petter Molvaer: Stitches (2021, Modern): Norwegian trumpet player, started in the 1980s in Masqualero (a group with Arild Andersen that picked up an interest in electronics from George Russell), developed as the star of jazztronica, much like Miles Davis in fusion. The electronics, mostly by producer Jo Berger Myhre (who also has most of the writing credits), are more subdued here, making for interesting atmospherics. B+(***)

Pink Siifu: Gumbo'! (2021, Field-Left): Rapper Livingston Matthews, from Alabama, handful of records since 2019, plays around in ways that often aren't recognizable, with fractured rhymes and beats. B+(**) [bc]

Penelope Scott: Hazards (2021, Many Hats, EP): Young singer-songwriter, 2020 debut Public Void blew me away, back with 6 short tracks, 14:48, nothing smashing but she's still plenty clever. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

John Coltrane: Another Side of John Coltrane (1956-61 [2021], Craft): Before Coltrane latched onto the concept of modal improvisation and rode it through the avant-garde and into the cosmos, he was a much-in-demand sideman -- here with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Art Taylor, Red Garland, Tadd Dameron, and Sonny Rollins (as sparring partner in Tenor Madness). Most of these cuts come from A-list albums, but I don't really see the point. B+(***)

John Hiatt: The Confidence Man in Canada (1989 [2021], Hobo): Hardly any info available on this, but front cover adds "Classic FM Radio Recording" (note singular) and his intro to "Drive South" notes it was recorded "last year." B+(*)

Itaru Oki Quartet: Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (1975 [2021], NoBusiness): Japanese trumpet player (1941-2020), also plays flute, moved to France in 1975 shortly after his first album, but recorded this in Fukuoka, with alto sax/flute (Yoshiaki Fujikawa), bass (Keiki Midorikawa), and drums (Hozumi Tanaka). Free improv, has some strong stretches, especially toward the end. B+(***) [cd]

Lee Scratch Perry: The Specialist: The Pama Years (1969-71 [2021], Pama): British reggae label, active 1967-73, revived in 1978 as Jet Star (although the Pama name has been restored for recent reissues). Discogs shows they released one Upsetters album (Clint Eastwood, in 1970) and a few singles, but eventually offered two volumes of The Best of Lee Perry and 'The Upsetters', which is roughly what's collected here. [PS: Part of a series that includes volumes on Laurel Aitken, Alton Ellis, Winston Groovy, Pat Kelly, Derrick Morgan, and Rico Rodriguez.] B+(***)

Sam Rivers Quartet: Undulation [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 5] (1981 [2021], NoBusiness): Quartet with Jerry Byrd (guitar), Rael-Wesley Grant (electric bass), and Steve Ellington (drums). Starts with one of those "what is this shit" moments, but rights itself fairly quickly in a torrent of inspired tenor sax blowing. But that only covers the first 21:20, then you realize the tracks are organized by instrument: Drum solo, piano solo/section, guitar solo, flute solo/section, with a 5:21 bass solo tucked in the middle. Rivers also plays the piano (dense and impressive) and flute (veers toward funky), and scats a bit. A- [cd]

Mototeru Takagi/Susumu Kongo/Nao Takeuchi/Shola Koyama: Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (1999 [2021], NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist from Japan, albums from 1971 up to his death in 2002, in a group with two more saxophonists (alto and tenor, doubling on flute and bass clarinet) and a drummer. Free jazz, considerable poise and balance. A- [cd]

Old music:

Dan Bern: The Swastika E.P. (2002, Messenger, EP): Singer-songwriter, bunch of albums since 1997, can't say I was much impressed by his debut, and I didn't bother with this one because, well, I don't think EPs are worth my time, nor do I care much for swastikas (even in jest). Still, it's on the list, and on the last weekend of America's occupation of Afghanistan, his Dylanesque "Talkin' Al Kida Blues" has proven not just smart but prophetic. Five songs, 27:24, including his 11:05 sage of "Lithuania, which proclaims the end of Kristallnacht." SFFR. A-

Chuck Berry: The Anthology (1955-73 [2000], MCA/Chess, 2CD): Everyone should own a single-CD compilation like The Great Twenty-Eight (1984) or The Definitive Chuck Berry (2006, with 31 tracks, adding his late novelty, "My Ding-a-Ling"). The Chess Box expands to 3-CD, 71 tracks, arguably a stretch toward the end, but remains interesting when it isn't flat out genius. This splits the difference, 50 songs on 2-CD. A

Chuck Berry: Gold (1955-73 [2005], Chess): Reissue of The Anthology, repackaged to fit Universal's 2-CD compilation series. One could complain that sells Berry short, especially with the generic cover art, but nothing else is changed. A

Big Brother and the Holding Company: Be a Brother (1970, Columbia): San Francisco acid/blues group, Janis Joplin stole their second album (Cheap Thrills) then took off for her brief solo career, leaving Nick Gravenities et al. to lick their masculine egos ("feel like a man/ act like a man"). Still, as a change of pace, they offer "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle." B+(*)

Black Flag: Damaged (1981, SST): Hardcore punk band from California, Greg Ginn plays guitar, Henry Rollins sings. Several songs I know from elsewhere. B+(**)

Mary J. Blige: Herstory, Vol. 1 (1992-97 [2019], Geffen): Major R&B singer, made pioneering use of hip-hop beats, 1992 debut was a big hit, a dozen more albums followed, plus lots of remixes (8 of 16 tracks here are flagged as such), many with featured rappers, two tracks her own features with Method Man and Jay-Z. No subsequent volumes so far, but the Vol. 1 is earned by sticking to the mid-1990s. I've never been a huge fan, but this makes a good case. A-

Mary J. Blige: Love & Life (2003, Geffen): Big album, runs 70:41, tries my patience, but much of it makes me suspect she deserves more attention. B+(***)

Kurtis Blow: The Best of Kurtis Blow [20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection] (1979-86 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles): Old school rapper Kurtis Walker, had a hit in 1980 called "The Breaks," preceded by his "Christmas Rappin'." He cut eight albums for Mercury, sampled here, very scattered releases since. One cut that rises above his norm is "Throughout Your Years"; another "Party Time." But he was pretty hit and miss. B+(***)

Burning Spear: Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings From Studio One (1969-72 [2004], Heartbeat): Winston Rodney's earliest recordings, for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, a little more subdued than the norm, but then he was never going to be a source of fun. A-

Burning Spear: Reggae Greats (1975-78 [1984], Island): Winston Rodney's deep rasta roots group, was picked up early by Island for a series of more/less classic albums -- Marcus Garvey and Social Living are the best, with the 1979 compilation Harder Than the Best an alternative. This comes from a later label-wide compilation series. It's redundant in that it repeats 8 (of 10) songs from Harder, but adds 4 more (most notably "Lion"). A-

Burning Spear: People of the World (1986, Slash): He seems settled here, into a nice groove, with nice songs. B+(**)

Burning Spear: The Best of Burning Spear [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1975-91 [2002], Island/Chronicles): Sticks to the series' 12-cut max, but includes a couple extended mixes, plus two title songs from 1990-91 albums. As satisfying as any of the single-CD compilations -- I doubt that it's possible to rank them, but you could punt and splurge on the 2-CD Chant Down Babylon, which covers the same extended time period. A-

Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers (1983, Alternative Tentacles, EP): Hardcore band, formed in San Antonio but soon departed for California. Given their name, lyrics, and slasher noise, clearly had no commercial ambitions, but stuck with it long enough their 7th album (Electriclarryland) cracked the charts (31) and went gold. This EP (7 tracks, 18:39) introduced them. Christgau reviewed it as "nihilist grossout . . . crests and roils like a river of shit," and that was from a favorable review. They weren't that bad, but that didn't make them very good either. Note how "Hey" goes downhill when they add vocabulary to the title. B+(**)

Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers/Live PCPPEP (1982-84 [2003], Latino Buggerveil): Combines the initial EP with the live album that preceded their first studio album by a month, plus four bonus tracks, for a historical document of no major import. B+(*)

Butthole Surfers: Electriclarryland (1996, Capitol): I suppose it says something about America that a major label was willing to pick them up in 1993 without insisting on changing their name. That album (Independent Worm Saloon) grazed the charts (154), and this one rode the single "Pepper" to 31. I didn't get much out of it, but I do rather like the country-ish "TV Star," and I'm impressed by the creeping professionalism of "Ah Ha." I wouldn't say they've sold out, but it's hard to be an asshole all the time. B+(*)

Childish Gambino: Culdesac (2010, Glassnote): Atlanta rapper Donald Glover, mixtapes and EPs from 2005, writer for 30 Rock, acted in Community, and did it all in Atlanta, so his 4 albums since 2011 have been big sellers. This was his 5th free mixtape, dropped shortly before EP and his first album, Camp. Some stuff here that I love, which is something I can't say for his later albums (at least the ones I've heard), but I'm hedging because I don't trust my stream source(s). B+(***) [os]

Orchestra Harlow: El Exigente (1967, Fania): Led by pianist Larry Harlow (1939-2021), last name Kahn, from Brooklyn, father was a bandleader who performed as Buddy Harlowe, mother was an opera singer, he got into Latin music and studied in Cuba in the 1950s. His band was one of the first signed by New York salsa label Fania, and he wound up producing 260 records for Fania. This is one of his better-regarded early albums, "a blend of salsa dura and bugalu music," with punchy horns and lots of percussion. B+(***)

Orchestra Harlow: Hommy: A Latin Opera (1973, Fania): Inspired by The Who's Tommy, "the story of a deaf and blind boy who could play the drum." Doesn't sound like opera, or The Who. Does include a feature for Celia Cruz. B

Orchestra Harlow: Salsa (1973 [1974], Fania): Vocals by Junior Gonzalez. Izzy Sanabria claimed to be the first (in 1973) to use the word "salsa" as a generic term for Latin or Cuban music. This may have been Fania's first album with "salsa" in the title, but by the end of the 1970s the term had proliferated. B+(***)

Larry Harlow: Greatest Hits (1971-79 [2008], Fania): Described as "the perfect introduction" in an article on "5 Essential Albums by Larry Harlow" -- along with three albums above and one for Ismael Miranda below -- and indeed it is very consistent, the horns strong, the rhythm furious, the singers, well, a tad operatic at the end. If you find salsa too slick and too thick, as I often do, this won't convert you. But it's pretty impressive for what it is. A-

Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 2: Groovy Blues (1945-53 [1992], Specialty): Drummer-led jump blues band out of Los Angeles, first volume highly recommended, not sure of all the dates here but mostly 1947-51. Sings most of the songs, with a couple turned over to pianist Camille Howard. Leans on standards, and really makes them swing. B+(***)

Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 3: Blowin' With Roy (1945-53 [1994], Specialty): A third helping, from roughly the same years, falls of a bit but not much. B+(**)

Ismael Miranda Con Orchestra Harlow: Oportunidad (1972, Fania): Salsa singer, from Puerto Rico, grew up in New York, was just 17 when he joined Orchestra Harlow (El Exigente), his second album there called Presenta A Ismael Miranda, got top billing on 1971's Abran Paso!. B+(**)

Lee Perry: Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle (1973 [2004], Auralux): Artist credit reads: "Produced and directed by Upsetter Lee Perry." Album was originally titled Black Board Jungle, a pressing of 300 copies, then reissued in 1981 as Blackboard Jungle Dub, but this edition is credited with restoring original order. Almost universally considered part of the Perry canon, deservedly so. A- [yt]

Lee Scratch Perry: Upsetter in Dub: Upsetter Shop Volume One (1970s [1997], Heartbeat): Compilation of dub singles (mostly B sides), with some unreleased cuts, unclear on dates. My first guess was that this must precede the 1969-73 Upsetter Shop Volume Two, but then I heard snips of "War Ina Babylon" and "Police & Thieves" (1976-77), and the one B-side I was able to locate was 1976. Also, the Black Art logo suggests 1975-79. The search wound up fatiguing me more than the musical murk, about what I expect from early dub. B+(**)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Soundzs From the Hot Line (1970s [1992], Heartbeat): Undated "incantations from the vaults," a "missing link in the Lee Perry legacy," "recorded during the heyday of the Black Ark in the Seventies." B+(***)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Meets Bullwackie in Satan's Dub (1990, ROIR): Bullwackie is Lloyd Barnes, a protégé of Prince Buster's, ran the label Wackies. B+(*)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: From the Secret Laboratory (1990, Mango): Doesn't seem to be a compilation. Also doesn't seem to have been recorded in the now-famous "secret laboratory" in Switzerland that burned down in 2015. Main clue is that Adrian Sherwood is a co-producer, and Skip McDonald plays guitar and sings harmony. B+(***)

Lee "Scratch" Perry + Subatomic Sound System: Super Ape Returns to Conquer (2017, Subatomic Sound): Refers back to the 1976 Upsetters album Super Ape, and its 1978 sequel Return of the Super Ape. Partly recorded live, which may explain such old songs as "Chase the Devil," "War ina Babylon," and "Super Ape" itself, but the remix is new, going well beyond dub. Maybe not the "dubstrumental mixes" at the, but after the main show, they're a bonus. A-

The Upsetters: Clint Eastwood (1970, Pama): Lee Perry's studio group's first batch of records played off Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, with titles like Return of Django and The Good, the Bad, and the Upsetters. B+(***)

The Upsetters: Blackboard Jungle Dub (1971-73 [1981], Clocktower): The more common, reordered Black Board Jungle reissue, found by me later due to the artist credit on the cover and the Various Artists linkage at Napster. Should grade the same, but slipped by a bit too easily. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Rose of Lifta (Fresh Sound New Talent) [10-08]
  • Chet Doxas: You Can't Take It With You (Whirlwind) [09-24]
  • Gerry Eastman Trio: Trust Me (self-released) [10-01]
  • Family Plan: Family Plan (Endectomorph Music) [09-24]
  • Alon Farber: Hagiga: Reflecting on Freedom (Origin) [09-17]
  • Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction (ArtistShare) [09-17]
  • Remy Le Boeuf's Assembly of Shadows: Architecture of Storms (SoundSpore) [11-05]
  • Adam Nolan Trio: Prim and Primal (self-released) [08-19]
  • The Scenic Route Trio: Flight of Life (self-released) [07-22]
  • Matthew Stevens: Pittsburgh (Whirlwind) [10-01]