An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
My Other Websites
Monday, January 24, 2022
Music: Current count 37154  rated (+37), 140  unrated (+3).
I wrote quite a bit about political matters in yesterday's Speaking of Which. One point I want to emphasize because this isn't a commonly stated point: NATO was never about defending Europe from Russian aggressiveness. It was a tool for imposing American control over Western Europe without the risk and expense of maintaining an occupation force. The main effect was to force Europe to turn its colonies over to local oligarchs, opening them up for American (and ultimately other globalized) business interests. The "spectre of communism" was more worrisome in the "third world," but was necessary to sell NATO, and it helped conservative business interests control their labor problems and left-leaning publics.
The current demonization of Russia and China is every bit as manufactured as the Cold War was, and predictably falls into the same rhetoric and logic. Why it's happening is rather harder to understand, given that China and (especially) Russia are governed by the same sort of repressive oligarchs that the US has been happy to do business with all along. It's possible that it's no more than a scam by the politically influential arms industry to sell more arms. That was pretty clearly the point of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, where nations were led to believe that if they joined NATO (and bought new weapons systems) they'd get a chance to join the EU. And that, in turn, has created a cycle of aggressive pettiness that seems to be coming to a head.
Another point that I didn't get into is that Putin (and Xi) are far from political geniuses. The US (and not just Trump) is leaving them a lot of moral high ground they aren't showing much consideration for. Part of this is that they misjudged Trump as someone they could deal with, oligarch to oligarch. Worse was Putin's election meddling, which served mostly to make Democrats more irrationally anti-Russian. The obvious thing would be to offer serious arms limitation talks, while trying to shift international conflict resolution back to the UN (which Russia and China would have to buy into, and which the US could still veto, but responsibility for failures there would be clearer). I could go on and on, especially if we allowed for some positive attitude adjustment on both sides. China doesn't need to treat the Uighurs as brutally as it does, and doesn't need to keep pressure on Taiwan. Russia doesn't need to help its clients repress democracy movements, or to annex bits of neighboring territory. The US doesn't need Ukraine in NATO or the EU. All sides need to cut back on the cyberwarfare. Russia did a good thing last week in arresting the REvil hacker group, but they're not getting any credit because the US propaganda machine only ratchets toward war. All three could benefit from a change of heart that prioritizes peace, openness, and mutual support over zero-sum antagonism.
Nothing much to say about this week's music. I've slowed down on the EOY list aggregate, but I'll probably continue a bit until the end of the month. I'm having a hard time finding things to play, which led to two strategies this week: I spent a bunch of time on the Ezz-Thetics Bandcamp page, including playing some things I had heard in earlier editions (like the Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman Blue Notes); and I went back to my list of unheard Christgau-graded albums, particularly as some I hadn't been able to find on Napster show up on Spotify (or sometimes YouTube).
Calendar shows one more Monday in January, so we'll wrap up the month, then -- effectively the year as well. Maybe I'll have some numbers to talk about then.
New records reviewed this week:
Alice Phoebe Lou: Glow (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter from South Africa, surname Matthew, has lived in Paris and seems to be based in Berlin, third album (fourth later in 2021). B+(*)
Alice Phoebe Lou: Child's Play (2021, self-released): Fourth album. More ambient, which in a pop star should be a downer, but in this case isn't. B+(*)
Scott Burns/John Wojciechowski/Geof Bradfield: Tenor Time (2021 , Afar Music): Three tenor saxophonists, backed by piano (Richard D. Johnson), bass (Clark Sommers), and drums (Greg Arby). Eight pieces, two each for the saxophonists and Johnson. B+(*) [cd] [01-21]
Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire: Fresh Pickles (2022, self-released): Singer-songwriter for a Minnesota jam band called the Big Wu, tries his hand as a leader, drawing on bluegrass guests like Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan, but dropping a little Tex-Mex into the mix. B+(***) [cd] [02-04]
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet With Wynton Marsalis: The Democracy! Suite (2020 , Blue Engine): "Jazz music is the perfect metaphor for democracy," sez Marsalis, who taps into vintage brass band traditions and adds considerable swing and swagger. B+(***)
The Killers: Pressure Machine (2021, Island): Rock band from Las Vegas, principally Brandon Flowers (vocals), early albums sold millions, and they sound more arena than indie to me. Seventh album since 2003. Not unappealing once it settled down. There's also an "abridged version," which knocks out 5 minutes of spoken introductions. B+(*)
Man on Man: Man on Man (2021, Polyvinyl): Pandemic lockdown recording by 58-year-old Imperial Teen Roddy Bottum, with boyfriend Joey Holman. B+(**) [sp]
Joe McPhee: Route 84 Quarantine Blues (2020 , Corbett vs. Dempsey): Numbered 2 following Ken Vandermark's solo album, another pandemic solo outing, for tenor sax and found sounds. Odds and ends, most touching his Mingus-on-Lester-Young, "Goodbye Porky Pig Hat." B+(**)
Matt Olson: Open Spaces (2021 , OA2): Tenor saxophonist, leads a sprightly postbop quintet with alto sax, guitar, bass, and drums. B+(**) [cd]
Hank Roberts Sextet: Science of Love (2021, Sunnyside): Cellist, one of the few in jazz following his 1987 debut, ten or so albums as a leader, three with Arcado String Trio, regular side credits with Tim Berne and Bill Frisell. Nicely balanced sextet with Mike McGinniss (clarinet/soprano sax), Brian Drye (trombone), Dara Lyn (violin), Jacob Sacks (piano), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). B+(**)
Rostam: Changeophobia (2021, Matsor Projects): Last name Batmanglij, US-born, parents Iranian, founding member of Vampire Weekend, second solo album. Has a good command of popcraft. B+(*)
Anna B Savage: A Commmon Turn (2021, City Slang): English singer-songwriter, first album. Remarkable voice, just one I don't particularly enjoy. B
Elvie Shane: Backslider (2021, Wheelhouse): Country singer from Kentucky, got the drawl, the testosterone, a "public education in the back of the bus," blind props to God and Country, an anthem that could be hateful or maybe just dumb: "Amazing Grace/how sweet the sound/of Sundays in the South." B+(*)
Ayanda Sikade: Umakhulu (2021, Afrosynth): South African drummer, second album, credit info hard to come by, but looks like: Nduduzo Makhathini (piano), Simon Manana (alto sax), Nhlanhla Radebe (bass). Early on barely hints at township jazz heritage, but as the album develops, first the piano then the sax come into focus. Manana is described as "young," but he impresses like Dudu Pukwana. A- [bc]
Ken Vandermark: The Field Within a Line (2020 , Corbett vs. Dempsey): Pandemic project: "a new book of works for solo reed instruments." B+(***) [bc]
Vario 34-3: Free Improvised Music (2018 , Corbett Vs. Dempsey): German free jazz musician Günter Christmann, plays cello and trombone, played in Globe Unity Orchestra, has organized fifty-some iterations of "Vario" since 1979. Vario 34 originally recorded in 1993, returns here with 5 (of 6) original members: Christmann, Mats Gustafsson (soprano sax), Thomas Lehn (electronics), Alexander Frangenheim (double bass), and Paul Lovens (percussion). B+(*) [bc]
Villagers: Fever Dreams (2021, Domino): Irish band, principally Conor J O'Brien, sixth album since 2010. B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Albert Ayler: La Cave Live Cleveland 1966 Revisited (1966 , Ezz-Thetics, 2CD): Previously unreleased (at least with any official imprimatur), three sets over two days in Ayler's home town, one a quintet with trumpet (Donald Ayler), violin (Michel Samson), bass, and drums; the other adds Frank Wright (tenor sax). B+(***) [bc]
Paul Bley Trios: Touching & Blood Revisited (1965-66 , Ezz-Thetics): Canadian pianist, a decade into his career, had already played in Jimmy Giuffre's famous trio, led the quintet that first recorded Ornette Coleman, and had at least one dazzling trio album (his 1953 debut). This reissues the album Touching, recorded live in Copenhagen with Kent Carter (bass) and Barry Altschul (drums), plus the 18:45 title piece from the follow-up album Blood, with Mark Levinson taking over bass. Three of his own songs, one from first wife Carla, four from second wife Annette Peacock. Black Lion's 1994 CD of Touching includes the same bonus. B+(**) [bc]
Marion Brown: Why Not? Porto Novo! Revisited (1966-67 , Ezz-thetics): Alto saxophonist, reissues two major albums: a quartet with Stanley Cowell, Sirone, and Rashied Ali, that originally appeared on ESP-Disk; and a trio recorded in the Netherlands with Maarten Van Regerten Altena and Han Bennink, that appeared on Polydor in 1969, and later on Freedom and Black Lion (the latter added two later cuts, not included here). A- [bc]
Don Cherry: Complete Communion & Symphony for Improvisers Revisited (1965-66 , Ezz-Thetics): Cornet player, in with Ornette Coleman's legendary quartet, early appearances with Albert Ayler, Steve Lacy, George Russell, and John Coltrane. These were his first albums as leader, released on Blue Note, and squeezed down to 79:24 for this compilation. The quartet with Gato Barbieri (tenor sax), Henry Grimes, and Ed Blackwell is epic. The larger group, adding Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), Karl Berger (vibes & piano), and a second bassist -- is more unruly. B+(***) [bc]
Ornette Coleman: New York Is Now & Love Call Revisited (1968 , Ezz-Thetics): Two 1968 albums, the end of Coleman's brief 1960s fling with Blue Note, still best remember for his live trio sets, At the "Golden Circle" Stockholm: Volume One and Two. This was a quartet, with Dewey Redman (tenor sax) plus Coltrane's former bass-drums duo, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Not always top drawer material, but often amazing anyway. A- [bc]
Instant Composers Pool: Incipient ICP (1966-71 , Corbett Vs. Dempsey): First tremors of the Dutch avant-garde, with Misha Mengelberg (piano), Willem Breuker (reeds), and Han Bennink (drums) in on the ground floor. The group eventually settled on ICP Orchestra, and recently released a 53-CD box set collecting their work -- the group continues today, although Breuker and Mengelberg have passed. A- [bc]
The New York Contemporary Five: Copenhagen 1963 Revisited (1963 , Ezz-Thetics): Before Archie Shepp emerged as a leader, he spent some time in Copenhagen, with local alto saxophonist John Tchicai and a few fellow New Yorkers (notably cornetist Don Cherry). They went on to record two volumes in 1964, and reunited for a 1966 album. This early live set eventually appeared on Storyville in 1972, reissued on CD in 1992. This has same songs, but finally reordered in set sequence, with enough applause and chatter removed to squeeze it down to 79:30. Exciting music. A- [bc]
New York Contemporary Five: Consequences Revisited (1963-64 , Ezz-Thetics): Reissue of their 1966 album, originally recorded in August 1963 in New York except for one cut from Copenhagen (October 1963), plus three more cuts (total 68:15) from a 1964 session in Newark, with Ronnie Boykins (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums) replacing Don Moore and J.C. Moses, and Ted Curson instead of Don Cherry on two tracks. B+(***)
Akira Sakata/Takeo Moriyama: Mitochondria (1986 , Trost): Japanese duo, alto sax and drums, fairly intense free jazz, not least because the drummer is not just engaged but commands attention even on his solos. B+(***) [bc]
The Robert Cray Band: Shame + a Sin (1993, Mercury): Blues singer-guitarist, touted as the next great hope but came up as the genre was going down. Still, got a lot of ridiculous hype for 1986's Strong Persuader, and sold impressively. I eventually decided I really disliked the album, and followed him long enough to note that he got worse. I gave up before this one, the last of five Christgau A-listed (not counting his Heavy Picks comp). This is less obnoxious, but still a few cringe-inducing moments, and not enough chops, let alone inspiration, to make me care. B
The Robert Cray Band: Heavy Picks: The Robert Cray Collection (1980-97 , Mercury): Spans much of his career, including albums before he had his breakthrough on Mercury. Several I recognized, but even title songs don't stand out much. Not as annoying as I feared, but not close to great either. B
Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society: Nasty (1981, Moers Music): Drummer from Texas (1940-2013), most of his records include his first name (Ronald), first recordings in late 1960s with Albert Ayler and Charles Tyler, worked with Ornette Coleman in mid-1970s, formed his own "free funk" group in 1980. This version has three saxes (Byard Lancaster, Charles Brackeen, Lee Rozie), electric guitar (Vernon Reid), electric bass (Melvin Gibbs and Bruce Johnson), and vibes (Khan Jamal). A- [yt]
Jaojoby: Malagasy (2004, Discorama): From Madagascar, proximate to Africa but geologically far removed, and populated initially by people from Indonesia, a unique terrain, overlaid with various waves of imperialism. The most celebrated music there is Salegy, and Eusèbe Jaojoby is their star, although interest from elsewhere has been spotty. B+(***)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Inala (1985 , Shanachie): South African male choral group, founded by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 but unknown in America until Shanachie started reissuing their Gallo albums with 1984's Induku Zethu. So while this is well into their discography, it's only number three for Americans (or number one if you started with Paul Simon's Graceland, which featured them). Only problem is they're pretty much interchangeable, although I think Classic Tracks is especially well selected. B+(***) [sp]
Lifter Puller [LFTR PLLR]: Soft Rock (1996-2000 , The Self Starter Foundation, 2CD): Minnesota rock group, immediately recognizable as singer-songwriter Craig Finn, before Hold Steady. Collects much of what they recorded, sprawling out to 2:19:39. And no, there's nothing soft to it. A- [yt]
Los Guanches: The Corpse Went Dancing Rumba (1996, Corason): Cuban ensemble, a son band from Santiago de Cuba, released three albums in the late 1990s, the third also under Armando Garzón's name. This was the second, a fine balance between folkie and fancy. A- [sp]
Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque: Volume 2 (1973-76 , Syllart, 2CD): Senegalese band, established 1970 as house band of the Baobab Club in Dakar, drawing on Star Band of Dakar. During the mid-1970s, they were the nation's most popular band, but the Club closed in 1979, and they broke up in 1987 -- only to reunite in 2001, and go on to release new albums to international acclaim. This adds to a 2-CD first volume, somewhat haphazardly, although you edit it down to one landmark disc, or credit its historical import. [Digital splits this into Volume 2 and Volume 3.] B+(***) [sp]
Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together/Attica/Les Moutins de Panurge (1973 , Opus One): Composer-pianist, died last year, made his mark early with this remarkable LP. Three pieces, the first two with Steve Ben Israel speaking texts by Sam Melville and Richard X. Clark over jazzy minimalist patterns. Third piece is for percussion group. A- [yt]
Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1986 , Hat Art): His most famous composition, "36 Variations on a Chilean Song," for solo piano, often recorded. The version I first encountered was played by Ursula Oppens and released by Vanguard in 1978, but there are others: by Stephen Drury on New Albion (1994); by Marc André Hamelin on Hyperion (1998); by Ralph van Raat on Naxos (2008), by Corey Hamm on Redshift (2014); by Lee Sangwook on Audioguy (2014; by Omri Shimron on New Focus (2014); by Igor Levit on Sony (2015); by Daan Vandewalle on Etcetera (2017); and a "four hands" version by Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal (2015). Rzewski has recorded it himself at least twice: for Edizioni di Cultura Popolare in 1977, and here. B+(***)
Frederic Rzewski: North American Ballads & Squares (1991, Hat Art): Piano pieces, the four ballads -- extended improvs on trad pieces like "Which Side Are You On" and "Down by the Riverside" -- run long (38:40). The four "Squares" are briefer (19:05). B+(***)
Frederic Rzewski: De Profundis (1993 , Hat Art): Two compositions (36:32 + 31:38), performed solo by Rzewski, his 1991 "Sonata for Piano" and 1992 "De Profundis for a Speaking Pianist." B+(**)
Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Darius Jones: Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) (2019 , Northern Spy): Alto saxophonist, tends to run hot and rough, solo here, settles for plug ugly. [2/5 tracks] - [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: