An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, March 14, 2022
Music: Current count 37510  rated (+45), 146  unrated (-3).
I wanted to close this off Sunday evening to get it out of the way, but yesterday's political post ran well into the evening, and I had had unpacking to do. I also had a programming task to do, and that (plus other errands) wiped out Monday afternoon, and into the evening.
Don Malcolm requested the change: that I add A- albums to the A/A+ breakouts in the ratings database. He noted how rarely I used A/A+ in recent years, and argued that expanding the selection would be more useful. That made sense to me, and I figured it would be an easy change, but hadn't reckoned with the re-learning curve on a set of programs I originally hacked together 20+ years ago (mostly make and shell scripts, using awk and sed, but the biggest one is in C++, which I'm especially rusty in). And while the change turned out to be as simple as I expected (changing 14 to 13 in two places), I found other issues that needed attention:
One thing I noticed but didn't do anything about was the granularity of the files. I haven't, for instance, generated new files for rock or jazz after 2020. I've spent enough time today looking at the code that I have a pretty good idea how to do that, but still don't see the need. A better solution would be to move all of the data into a real database, which could then be sliced and diced as thin as one might desire. Big job, though.
Moving on, another fairly large batch of new records this week, with the majority (34 of 41, so 83%) 2022 releases. A-list items are both numerous and diverse. One source was Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. (Pleased to see Fimber Bravo and A Gift to Pops there -- records I stuck my neck out in touting. Also Big Thief, but everybody knew about that. I also gave an A- to Playboi Carti, over a year ago.) Other tips came from all over the place, or from nowhere at all.
No time for a 2021 summary. I've done some minor maintenance on the usual lists, but I've gotten over spending any significant time on them. I'm thinking now I'll turn from this to do a fairly quick Speaking of Which (most, but not all, on Ukraine), then get back to working on a Book Roundup. Draft file for the latter has 32 books at the moment, plus 212 books in the scratch file (mostly unwritten), so I have enough for a post (maybe two: standard is 40 blurb notes + another 30-60 listings).
Just finished Astra Taylor's first book, The People' Platform. I bought it several years ago on a friend's recommendation, but didn't pick it up until recently, after I read her second book, on democracy. One thing I'm impressed by is the breadth of her reading, and her ability to make connections between a wide range of sources. (My Book Roundups help me fake it, but give me a ballpark idea of what she's drawing on.) Like David Graeber, her politics developed out of Occupy Wall Street, but she strikes me as both more flexible and more innovative. I have a new collection by her, Remake the World: Essays, Reflections, Rebellions, so that's the obvious thing to pick up next. Still, the books exercise is suggesting a lot more I'd like to read.
New records reviewed this week:
75 Dollar Bill: Live Ateliers Claus (2016-19 , self-released): Saharan-influenced instrumental rock duo -- Rick Brown (percussion) and Che Chen (guitar) -- started around 2013, one of those artists who released a lot of live tapes during the pandemic, leaving us with too much material available, and no easy job of sorting out which albums are more valuable than others. This combines two sets, one a duo from 2016 (22:34), the other from 2019 (50:21, with Andrew Lafkas on bass). B+(**) [bc]
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul: Topical Dancer (2022, Deewee/Because Music): Born in France, grew up in Belgium, traces her ancestry back to Nigeria (Yoruba) via Martinique and Guadeloupe. First album, after a couple EPs and a "self-meditation" cassette. I know less about Pupul, other than that he's collaborated with her on singles, and has a couple of his own. Spare but danceable beats, words mostly in English, like: "Don't say 'we need to build a wall'/ Say, I'm a world citizen, I don't believe in borders" A- [sp]
Melissa Aldana: 12 Stars (2021 , Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist, from Chile, father a jazz saxophonist (Marcos Aldana), sixth album since 2010. Quintet with Lage Lund (guitar), Sullivan Fortner (piano), bass, and drums. Postbop, nice tone and flow. B+(***)
Brandon Allen: The Stanley Turrentine Project (2022, Ubuntu Music): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Australia, based in London since 2000, has a previous Gene Ammons Project, also a Monk-oriented Mysterioso Quartet. Backed here by piano (Will Barry), bass (Conor Chaplin), and drums (Dave Ingamells). Song selection is a little corny ("Can't Buy Me Love," "Little Green Apples," "The Fool on the Hill"), but he powers through them, like T would do. B+(**)
Benji.: Smile, You're Alive! (2021, SinceThe80s): Atlanta rapper, toured with EarthGang, joined Spillage Village in 2020, appearing on several tracks on their Spilligion album. Some sources co-credit Spillage Village here, but I only see Benji.'s name on the cover. B+(**) [sp]
Tim Berne/Gregg Belisle-Chi: Mars (2021 , Intakt): Alto sax and guitar duo, the latter having released a set of solo takes on Berne songs last year. B+(**) [sp]
Mary J. Blige: Good Morning Gorgeous (2022, 300/Mary Jane Productions): Big star, thirty years past "What's the 411?"; five years since her last (13th) studio album. She's settling in nicely here, perhaps stronger than ever, less urgent, the few high points lifting an impeccable consistency. I doubt I've ever fully appreciated her before, as my only previous A- grade was for Herstory, Vol. 1, so this may not be her best ever, but it's the one that got me. A-
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine (2021, Oh Boy): A year after Prine's Covid death brought forth a flood of eulogies that approached what he deserved, his label limps on with a small stable of good-but-not-Prine songwriters. So with another product shortfall, why not invite a second volume of tribute covers? Eleven years after Vol. 1, it's not like they're going to the well too often (though they probably won't stop until they do). And they did draw bigger and better names this time, without coming close to running out of songs. A- [sp]
James Brown: Song Within the Story (2021 [2022[, NGP): Guitarist, from Toronto, fourth album, the last one Sevendaze in 2009 -- or so the hype sheet says. Searching for him is well nigh impossible, like trying to identify a small asteroid backlit by the sun. (Discogs has at least 83 James Browns and no Sevendaze. Google produced some results after adding "guitar" and "toronto" to the name.) Original material, with bass and drums, plus tenor sax (Mike Murley) on 3 (of 10) tracks. Respectable postbop, solid support, Murley's always a plus. B+(**) [cd]
Caroline: Caroline (2022, Rough Trade): British post-rock group, first album, Casper Hughes plays guitar and sings. B [sp]
CMAT: If My Wife New I'd Be Dead (2022, AWAL): Irish singer-songwriter Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, first album. Strong singer, thinking about "Nashville" and cowboys. B+(***) [sp]
Elvis Costello & the Imposters: The Boy Named If (2022, Capitol): Band name he's used since 2002, long-taken to mean "not the Attractions." Here, the opener ("Farewell, OK") sounds like a throwback to his youth, but soon enough he's orating again, albeit with a harder guitar edge ("Magnificent Hurt" is another example). So, yeah, better than he's been in quite some while (aside from Spanish Model, which recycled some of his best old songs en españnol, hot enough he called that group The Attractions). B+(*)
Kit Downes/Petter Eldh/James Maddren: Vermillion (2021 , ECM): Piano/bass/drums trio. British pianist has more than a dozen albums since 2009. Swedish bassist, based in Berlin, has a comparable discography, and wrote five originals here, as did Downes. Album closes with a Jimi Hendrix tune, "Castles Made of Sand." B+(*)
Erin Rae: Lighten Up (2022, Good Memory): Last name McKaskie, singer-songwriter, third album, easy on the ears. B+(*) [sp]
Julieta Eugenio: Jump (2021 , Greenleaf Music): Tenor saxophonist, from Argentina, based in New York, first album, backed by bass (Matt Dwonszyk) and drums (Jonathan Barber). Eight originals, two standards, tone and phrasing remind me of Coleman Hawkins. A- [cd]
Fanfare Ciocarlia: It Wasn't Hard to Love You (2021, Asphalt Tango): Romanian brass band, which probably means Romani [confirmed], formed in the late 1990s with albums in 1998 and 1999 (World Wide Wedding). Starts with a Bill Withers cover, strange enough to make you hungry for more, then lapses into more traditional fare: upbeat party music. A-
Wolfgang Flür: Magazine 1 (2002, Cherry Red): Percussionist from classic German "krautrock" group Kraftwerk (1973-87), not a lot since then, but after Florian Schneider's 2020 death, he looks to reclaim the franchise sound. He does so, and rather humorously, helped by a series of guests like U96, Midge Ure, Carl Cox, and Juan Atkins. B+(***)
Keeley Forsyth: Limbs (2022, The Leaf Label): British singer-songwriter, better known as an actor before her 2019 debut album. Slow, overdramatic, again. B [sp]
Foxes: The Kick (2022, PIAS): British dance pop singer-songwriter Louisa Rose Allen, third album. Sounds a bit like Madonna, except for a shortfall of hit songs. B+(*)
Satoko Fujii & Joe Fonda: Thread of Light (2021 , FSR): Piano and bass duo, latter also plays cello and flute. They've played together before (I'd be hard pressed to count the times, but at least 5 times), and each has well over 50 albums with others (many notable). B+(***) [cd]
Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double: March (2019 , Firehouse 12): Drummer, an Anthony Braxton student, runs the Firehouse 12 club and label in New Haven. Second album for his Triple Double group: two each trumpets (Ralph Alessi and Taylor Ho Bynum, latter on cornet), guitars (Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook), and drums (Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver). Some tremendous talent here, a little rough to start out, with both the horn and guitar jousts fast and furious. Ends with a long and remarkable drum duo, dedicated to Alan Dawson, the patron saint of New England drummers. A- [cd]
Gordon Grdina's Haram With Marc Ribot: Night's Quietest Hour (2022, Attaboygirl): Guitarist from Vancouver, also plays oud (exclusively here, with Ribot on guitar). He's often incorporated Arabic elements into his music, but dives deep here, with a large group of mostly Canadian luminaries playing a mix of Arabic (ney, riq, darbuka) and jazz instruments (sax, clarinet, trumpet, two violins). Extended jams on five more/less trad Arabic songs, with vocals by Emad Armoush. B+(***) [cd]
Gordon Grdina: The Music of Tim Berne: Oddly Enough (2022, Attaboygirl): Compositions by Berne, played solo by Grdina on his range of instruments: electric/midi guitar, classical, acoustic, oud, and dobro. Interesting pieces and effects, although I'm not sure I'll ever be able to recognize Berne's compositions. B+(***) [cd]
Imarhan: Aboogi (2022, City Slang): Saharan guitar band, Tuareg, from the Algerian side of the border with Mali and Niger, a groove that has repeatedly been embraced by westerners with no clue to the language. Third album. Strikes me as a bit muted, which may mean they're hoping you'll understand what they're saying, not just how they say it. B+(**)
Calvin Johnson Jr.: Notes of a Native Son (2022, self-released): Saxophonist from New Orleans, plays soprano and tenor, opens with "I'm Walkin'" and "Summertime," some originals in the middle, closing with "Lift Every Voice and Sing." B+(*) [cd]
Ryan Keberle Collectiv Do Brasil: Sonhos Da Esquina (2021 , Alternate Side): Trombonist, this music grew out of 2017 and 2018 trips to Brazil (not clear when this was recorded). Quartet with Felipe Silveira (piano), Thiago Alves (bass), and Paulinho Vicente (drums). B+(**) [cd] [03-18]
Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee: Bamanan (2022, Real World): Singer-songwriter from Mali, nicknamed "the rose of Bamako," has appeared in Les Amazones d'Afrique, releases her debut album with co-credit to Irish producer Garret Lee. B+(***) [sp]
Cate Le Bon: Pompeii (2022, Mexican Summer): Cate Timothy, singer-songwriter from Wales, sixth album since 2009, has recorded in Welsh as well as English. B+(*) [sp]
Mark Lomax, II: Prismatic Reflections No. 1 (2021 , CFG Multimedia): Drummer, based in Columbus, Ohio, impressed me on numerous occasions though I've always given much of the credit to saxophonist Edwin Bayard. But here he's alone, a whole album of drum solos. B+(***) [sp]
Brandon Lopez/Ingrid Laubrock/Tom Rainey: No Es La Playa (2021 , Intakt): Bass/sax/drums, reading cover clockwise from top. B+(***) [sp]
Lump: Animal (2021, Chrysalis): British electropop duo, singer Laura Marling (who has 7 albums since 2008) and producer Mike Lindsay (of Tunng and Throws), second album, clever and comfortably appealing. B+(**)
Myra Melford's Fire and Water Quintet: For the Love of Fire and Water (2021 , RogueArt): Pianist, her 1990 debut was a Francis Davis Jazz Consumer Guide Pick Hit in 1990 (along with an Allen Lowe album, both unknown to me at the time but major figures ever since). Quintet brings together several recent alliances: Ingrid Laubrock (tenor/soprano sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Tomeka Reid (cello), Susie Ibarra (drums). B+(***) [cd] [04-01]
Dolly Parton: Run, Rose, Run (2022, Butterfly): Title ties in to what's described as her first novel, for which she shares credit with James Patterson, who has written at least 200 since 1976 -- most, it appears, with co-authors, the most famous (and notorious) Bill Clinton. She did write all the songs this time (no Patterson credits there), a solid batch with prim neo-trad arrangements (lots of credits there). B+(**)
Eric Person Featuring Houston Person: Blue Vision (2018 , Distinction): Alto/soprano saxophonist, debut 1993, mainstream player, inevitably ran into the elder tenor saxophonist and hit it off (no relation). They play together on 4 (of 7) tracks here, in a quintet with Pete McCann (guitar), organ (Adam Klipple), and drums (Tony Jefferson). The other three tracks cut back to trio. B+(**)
RXK Nephew: Slitherman Activated (2021, Towhead): Rapper from Rochester, aka RX Nephew, possibly Kristopher Kevon Williams, popped up around 2019 but exploded in 2021, reportedly releasing some 400 songs, yet still barely recognized (this album didn't make my EOY Aggregate, but another one did, barely: Crack Dreams, not in Discogs but several volumes of Crack Therapy are). Fast and feverish, hard to keep up. Not on the album is his 9:44 "American Tterroristt," which takes a rebelious instinct so far as to praise Trump -- a bit too far, I'd say. B+(**)
Sevdaliza: Raving Dahlia (2022, Twisted Elegance, EP): Iranian singer-songwriter, based in Rotterdam, two previous albums, usually sings in English, backed with electronics. Six songs (one a remix), 26:08. B+(*) [sp]
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Nightroamer (2022, Abeyance): Country-rock singer-songwriter with a working band, third album, I liked her debut on Bloodshot, but expected more. B+(**)
Slum of Legs: Slum of Legs (2020, Spurge): From Brighton, UK, a "queer, feminist noise-pop DIY band," first album after a couple singles, made my 2020 tracking list, so not totally unheralded. Sextet, everyone credited with lots of things, but the basics: Tamsin (vocals), Mich (drums), Maria (violin), Kate (guitar), Emily (synths), Alex (bass guitar). The violin raises the texture, if not the spirit, above punk. A-
Walter Smith III/Matthew Stevens/Kris Davis/Dave Holland/Terri Lyne Carrington: In Common III (2021 , Whirlwind): Tenor saxophonist, third album in this series, all quintets, all with guitarist Stevens, the other spots shifting each time -- this piano/bass/drums combo easily the most famous. B+(**)
Stromae: Multitude (2022, Mosaert): Belgian singer, rapper, and songwriter Paul van Haver, father Rwandan (Tutsi), third album, first two were bestsellers in Europe and Canada. Sings mostly in French. B+(**)
Omri Ziegele Where's Africa: That Hat (2021 , Intakt): Swiss saxophonist (alto, also plays nai), group named for a 2005 album with Irène Schweizer, since then he's used the name for several groups, including this trio with Yves Theiler (piano) and Dario Sisera (drums). The African interest shows in the rhythms, but also in the social feel, not least when Ziegele puts down his horn and sings. A- [sp]
Brandon Allen: The Gene Ammons Project (2016, RT Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, has a new album called The Stanley Turrentine Project, the second in a likely series that starts here, with one of my favorites. B+(**)
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine (2010, Oh Boy): Probably looked like stopgap product at the time: Prine was five years past Fair and Square, and six years shy of For Better, or Worse, with only a singalong with Mac Wiseman and In Person & on Stage in between. Maybe they figured he could use some reassurance of what a great songwriter he was. Still, the artist line up was so-so: starts with Justin Vernon, Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket, Josh Ritter, Lambchop. More promising are Drive-By Truckers and Those Darlins, but I wouldn't say they deliver more. B+(**)
Lump: Lump (2018, Dead Oceans): Short (7 tracks, 31:56, including audio credits) debut album from the duo of Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay. Ambient electronics, shaped around Marling's lyrics and voice. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: