An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 11, 2022
Music: Current count 37689  rated (+48), 130  unrated (-7).
Continued with the Ogun Bandcamp. Several readers singled out Chris McGregor's first two Brotherhood of Breath albums for praise, so I started there. Aside from new jazz from my queue (topped by Whit Dickey and Kalí Rodríguez-Peña), plus some of the links I had downloaded and neglected, almost everything else came from sifting through lists, collected in my metacritic file.
Exception: Old records by Bob Andy, Chic, and Soft Machine showed up in research on other records, and seemed like holes in the database ratings. The Soft Machine albums were ones I actually owned, but hadn't remembered well enough to include in my first cut of the ratings list. I probably never owned any Chic before Believer, but C'Est Chic was the only one still unrated.
Thought about writing a theses-type piece on Ukraine, but got lost trying to sort out the ancient history: the arrival of various Slavic groups, Byzantine influences, the Khazars and other Turkic groups, the Varangians (Vikings), the Mongols, the encroachments from the north (Poland, Lithuania, Russia) and the south (Ottomans), the Cossack revolts and mercenaries, more Russians (with its Pale of Settlement), the Germans in the World Wars. Russia clearly dates back through the Tsars to the Grand Duchy of Moscow (1263-1480), or perhaps to Kievan Rus (879-1240), given that both were ruled by the Rurik dynasty, but it's not clear how or when Ukrainians became distinct from Russians (or vice versa) -- only that they did by the late 18th century, when Catherine the Great extended Russian control over most of Ukraine, and started a campaign of Russification (going so far as to refer to Ukraine as Novorussiya -- a term recently credited to Putin), and the breaks from Russian rule in 1917-20 and after 1991 have only added to the separation. That Putin thinks Russia knows best can be credited to the myopia that shields the progeny of former empires from seeing the harm those empires caused. Even Russian leaders who knew better have tended to revert to the mindset of Tsars.
The big question at this point is why do none of the principals (and I think we have to include the US and UK on that list) seem concerned with getting a cease fire? More war means more destruction, but also deeper scars that will take longer to heal. Meanwhile, I think it's clear that many of the assumptions of post-WWII defense strategy have proven to be wrong -- something which NATO powers have missed, given their recent pledges to spend even more money on arms, and place them even more aggressively to threaten Russia. Few seem to recognize that the famous "madman theory" depends on the other side reacting sanely, an assumption Putin has shown to be no longer operative.
Some serious rethinking is called for.
New records reviewed this week:
Mike Allemana: Vonology (2018-21 , Ears & Eyes): Guitarist, grew up near Chicago, moved there and found a mentor in Von Freeman, the subject of and inspiration for these compositions. Octet. Greg Ward and Geof Bradfield are the saxophonists, Victor Garcia (trumpet), Kendall Moore (trombone), Tomeka Reid (cello), bass, and drums, plus a choir, which I don't regard as a plus. B+(*) [cd] [04-15]
Horace Andy: Midnight Rocker (2022, On-U Sound): Reggae singer Horace Hinds, recorded regularly since his 1972 Studio One breakthrough (Skylarking), at least up to 2010. Still not all that old (71). B+(*)
Chief Keef: 4Nem (2021, Glo Gang/RBC): Chicago rapper Keith Cozart, fourth studio album, lots of mixtapes back to 2011 (when he was 15). Gangsta-ish, doesn't seem worth the risk. B
Rob Clearfield & Quin Kirchner: Concentric Orbits (2019 , Astral Spirits): Piano and percussion duo, from Chicago (although Clearfield has since been described as "France-based"). Two pieces, 30:25 (the digital adds a few more minutes of excerpts). Each build into a strong statement. B+(***) [dl]
Denzel Curry: Melt My Eyez, See Your Future (2022, PH/Loma Vista): Florida rapper, fifth album since 2013. B+(**)
Kady Diarra: Burkina Hakili (2021, Lamastrock): Singer from Burkina Faso, a wedge of former French colony tucked below Mali and Niger, and above Ghana, formerly known as Upper Volta. Third album, title translates as "Spirit of Burkina," songs in four languages, including Bwaba ("her native") and Bambara (more common in Mali), as well as French. I can't speak to the "political elements," but clearly a strong force with a solid groove, propped up by rock guitar toward the end. A- [bc]
Whit Dickey Quartet: Astral Long Form/Staircase in Space (2021 , Tao Forms): Drummer, more than a dozen albums since 1998, long association with Matthew Shipp, including a spell in the David S. Ware Quartet. With Rob Brown (alto sax), Mat Maneri (viola), and Brandon Lopez (bass), offers adventurous improvs with superb mix and balance. A- [cd] [05-06]
Jean Fineberg: Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria (2022, Pivotal): Bay Area tenor saxophonist, first album as leader, website credits her with side credits on 50 albums, including some that date her: We Are Family (1979, Sister Sledge), C'est Chic (1978, Chic) and Young Americans (1975, David Bowie), and the 1974-77 all-female band ISIS. Octet, mostly women, leans toward swing. B+(**) [cd] [04-08]
Asher Gamedze With Xristian Espinoza and Alan Bishop: Out Side Work: Two Duets (2019-20 , Astral Spirits): South African drummer, debut album 2020. Two duo sides, each with a fierce saxophonist: Espinoza (tenor) in London, Bishop (alto and voice) in Cairo. B+(**) [dl]
Josean Jacobo Trio: Herencia Criolla (2022, self-released): Dominican pianist, leads a trio with Daroll Méndez (bass) and Otoniel Nicholás (drums), plus guests on 4 (of 8) songs, including Miguel Zenón (alto sax). B+(**) [cd]
Mike Kuhl/Dave Ballou/John Dierker/Luke Stewart: Kraft (2021 , Out of Your Head): Part of the label's digital-only "Untamed" series, a word (plus ellipsis) prominent enough on the cover to tempt one to include it in the title. Drums, trumpet, reeds, bass. Sharp, impressive freewheeling quartet. B+(***) [dl]
Ben Markley Big Band With Ari Hoenig: Ari's Fun House (2021 , OA2): Pianist, teaches at University of Wyoming, plays in Denver area, Discogs credits him with a couple albums in the 1970s which clearly belong to someone else. Hoenig wrote the pieces here, also plays drums, to Markley's arrangements. Very energetic, splashy even. B [cd] [04-15]
The Muslims: Fuck These Fuckin Fascists (2021, Epitaph): Second line to the title song is "they can kiss our asses." Punk band from North Carolina, "black + brown queer muzzies," name calculated to offend, but they're serious enough they enunciate clearly, so you can tell how political they are, and they're jokey enough (cf. the Rezillos) you wonder how serious they really are. B+(***) [bc]
Ivo Perelman/Tim Berne/Tony Malaby/James Carter: (D)IVO (2022, Mahakala Music): All-star saxophone quartet, playing tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone, respectively, all improv pieces, but safe to say that Perelman is the prime mover here. I've never been a big fan of the format -- something about the sound of the horns all by themselves -- and nothing here overcomes my reservations. B+(**) [sp]
Raw Poetic & Damu the Fudgemunk: Laminated Skies (2022, Def Pressé): Rapper Jason Moore, from Virginia, half dozen albums, most (as here) with DC DJ Earl Davis. B+(**)
Kalí Rodríguez-Peña: Mélange (2019 , Truth Revolution): Trumpet player, from Cuba, moved to New York in 2014, a lot of print in the package that I'm having trouble reading, but seems to be his first album. Impressive trumpet, crackling rhythm, scattered vocals. I doubt I'll hear a better Latin jazz album this year. B+(***) [cd]
Shenseea: Alpha (2022, Rich Immigrants/Interscope): Jamaican dancehall singer, 40 singles since 2016, 4 of them on this debut album. Her networking offers lots of guest spots, which can make the difference, or not. B+(***)
Somi: Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba (2022, Salon Africana): American-born jazz singer Somi Kakoma, of Rwandan-Ugandan descent, also an actor and writer, albums since 2007, pays tribute to the legendary South African singer. B(*) [cd]
Luke Stewart's Silt Trio: The Bottom (2021 , Cuneiform): Bassist, from DC, active in a number of groups including Heroes Are Gang Leaders and Irreversible Entanglements. Group debut with Brian Settles (tenor sax) and Chad Taylor (percussion). Taylor's opening rhythm on mbira sets up an enchanting groove, which the sax colors delicately, although later on Settles gets to strut his stuff. A- [dl]
Luke Stewart: Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier Vol. 1 (2021, Astral Spirits): Not a promising title, especially for a single song title (58:12), divided for vinyl purposes into four parts. B+(*) [bc]
Luke Stewart: Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier Vol. 2 (2022, Astral Spirits): Presumably the bass is the sound source, but the amplifiers are where the action is (if you can call it action). B+(*) [bc]
Wet Leg: Wet Leg (2022, Domino): British indie rock duo from Isle of Wight, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, first album, but hugely anticipated after six singles/videos (33 AOTY reviews first week out). Doesn't quite do it for me, but the second half gets sharper, or at least more distinctive. B+(***)
Jack White: Fear of the Dawn (2022, Third Man): Roots rocker, started in White Stripes. Some solid licks, but more annoying than not here. B-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Blue Notes: Blue Notes in Concert (1977 , Ogun): Original South African group minus trumpet player Mongezi Feza, who died at 30 in 1975, leaving Chris McGregor (piano), Dudu Pukwana (alto sax), Johnny Dyani (bass), and Louis Moholo (drums). Recorded live at 100 Club, originally released in 1978, this expanded version finally appearing in The Ogun Collection in 2008, finally appearing as a digital in 2021, with a CD coming 2022-04-22. B+(***) [bc]
Son House: Forever on My Mind (1964 , Easy Eye Sound): Delta blues legend, b. 1902, recorded a handful of sides in 1930, got a more extended hearing from Alan Lomax in 1941-42, then got on with his life, working as a railroad porter and chef, until he got rediscovered in 1960s folk-blues revival. Robert Santelli, in The Best of the Blues: 101 Essential Blues Albums, ranked his 1941-42 sessions at 17, and a 1965 session at 41. This previously unreleased set was recorded just before his "rediscovery," and is as strikingly authoritative as anything he ever did. A-
Lèspri Ka: New Directions in Gwoka Music From Guadeloupe 1981-2010 (1981-2010 , Séance Centre): No names I recognize. Takes a couple cuts for the groove to kick in. B+(**) [sp]
Sal Mosca: For Lennie Tristano: Solo Piano 1970 & 1997 (1970-97 , Fresh Sound): Pianist (1927-2007), from upstate New York, student and disciple of Tristano, fairly thin discography which includes albums with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. All standards, six cuts from 1970, including two medleys, plus two short ones (7:54) from 1997. B+(**)
Bernardo Sassetti Trio: Culturgest 2007 (2007 , Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist, died 2012 at 41 (fell off a cliff). With Carlos Barretto (bass) and Alexandre Frazão (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Soft Machine: Facelift: France & Holland (1970 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Canterbury rock group, originally with singer-songwriter Kevin Ayers, who left after their debut album, leaving a prog-oriented trio (Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, Robert Wyatt), adding saxophonist Elton Dean for their Third album. Dean has joined for these January (Amsterdam) and March (Paris), along with a second saxophonist, Lyn Dobson. Dean puts on a bravura performance on the second disc, before it goes south again. B [dl]
Summer of Soul ( . . . Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised): A Questlove Jam [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (1969 , Legacy): Soundtrack to Questlove's documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of six free concerts held on Sundays from June 29 to August 24. The Festivals ran yearly from 1967 to 1974, and this particular one was filmed by Hal Tulchin, leaving Questlove 40 hours of video to choose from. The soundtrack offers 17 performances by 14 artists (The 5th Dimension, Sly & the Family Stone, and Nine Simone get two shots each; Mavis Staples appears in a piece with her family, then returns to join Mahalia Jackson in a gospel sequence). Sound is a bit rough in spots, but feels real and immediate. Film won an Oscar, but the soundtrack stands on its own. A- [sp]
Horace Andy: Skylarking (1972, Studio One): First album, backed by Coxsone Dodd's studio band, led by Leroy Sibbles. shows up in several top/greatest reggae lists. Somehow he never strikes me as all that great. B+(**)
Chic: C'Est Chic (1978, Atlantic): Funk/disco band, second (and highest charting) of seven 1977-83 albums, the singles (especially their big hit, "Le Freak," but also "I Want Your Love" and "At Last I Am Free") familiar from best-ofs, the filler readily forgotten. B+(**)
Alexander Hawkins & Louis Moholo-Moholo: Keep Your Heart Straight (2011 , Ogun): Piano-drums duo, one of the prolific pianist's first albums. B+(**) [bc]
The Chris McGregor Group: Very Urgent (1968 , Fledg'ling): Reissue of album released by Polydor in 1968, with the original five Blue Notes plus Ronnie Beer (tenor sax). Outsiders finding their footing in the rapidly evolving British avant scene. B+(**) [sp]
Chris McGregor Septet: Up to Earth (1969 , Fledg'ling): Previously unreleased, four pieces, 38:01, transitional step between McGregor's South African Blue Notes and the much larger Brotherhood of Breath he formed in 1970. Built around his piano and Blue Notes Mongezi Feza (trumpet), Dudu Pukwana (alto sax), and Louis Moholo (drums), plus two young British saxophonists (Evan Parker and John Surman), with bass split between Barre Phillips and Danny Thompson. More avant than expected, with a bit of circus-like delirium, and the piano: well, in a blindfold test I would have said Keith Tippett, who ran in the same circle and was sometimes this brilliant. A- [sp]
The Chris McGregor Trio: Our Prayer (1969 , Fledg'ling): Piano-bass-drums trio, common among pianists but the only one I'm aware of with McGregor. Group includes Barre Phillips (bass, contributes one song) and Louis Moholo (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Chris McGregor: Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath (1970, RCA): South African pianist, came to England with his group Blue Notes. Before that group dissipated -- bassist Johnny Dyani moved to Denmark, trumpeter Mongezi Feza died in 1975, McGregor and alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana died in 1990 -- McGregor formed this larger group, with Harry Miller taking over bass and Louis Moholo on drums, plus a lot of breath: two trumpets (Feza and Harry Beckett), corner (Marc Charig), two trombones (Malcolm Griffiths and Nick Evans), five saxophones (Pukwana, Alan Skidmore, John Surman, Mike Osborne, Ronnie Beer), with Feza and Osborne also on flute. Township jive with avant drive and distortions, a marvelous formula McGregor sustained for two decades. A- [sp]
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Brotherhood (1972, RCA): Second album, sax section down to four (Pukwana, Osborne, Skidmore, and Gary Windo). Opener is one of their more rambunctious South African romps, followed by a dicey piano solo, then more chaos. B+(***) [sp]
Chris McGregor: Sea Breezes: Solo Piano - Live in Durban 1987 (1987 , Fledg'ling): First time back in South Africa since leaving with the Blue Notes in 1964. B+(**) [sp]
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath/Archie Shepp: En Concert A Banlieues Bleues (1989, 52e Rue Est): Closing in on 20 years since the group's debut, only the pianist and Harry Beckett (trumpet) remain, although at 14 musicians plus singer Sonti Mndébélé, the group is larger than ever. McGregor's South African themes get them going, and Shepp solos mightily and shouts some blues. B+(***)
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: The Memorial Concert (1994, ITM): No date or venue given, but McGregor died in 1990, and it's likely this was recorded soon thereafter, with Roland Perrin taking over the piano spot. Even so, only 7 (of 16) musicians returned from their 1989 live album -- the 9 adds having no previous association I'm aware of with McGregor. Not as spirited as I would have liked, but they do have choice picks from the songbook, including two Dudu Pukwana tunes. B+(**)
Louis Moholo-Moholo's Five Blokes: Uplift the People (2017 , Ogun): Drummer, live at Cafe Oto in London, with two saxophonists -- Jason Yarde from the old days, and newcomer Shabaka Hutchings -- plus Alexander Hawkins (piano) and John Edwards (bass). B+(*) [bc]
The Soft Machine: Volume Two (1969, Probe): English prog rock group, from Canterbury, founders included Daevid Allen, who left in 1967 and went on to found Gong, and Kevin Ayers, who wrote most of Odd Ditties (a later compilation title) on their first album but left in 1968 for a solo career. That left Mike Ratledge (keyboards), Hugh Hopper (bass), and Robert Wyatt (drums and vocals), plus a bit of sax from Brian Hopper, for an album of amusing and/or pretentious fragments (at one point jumping from Schoenberg to Hendrix without properly crediting either). B
Soft Machine: 5 (1972, Columbia): Saxophonist Elton Dean joined in 1970, for Third. Drummer Robert Wyatt left in 1971, after Four, and was replaced by Phil Howard, who plays on the first half here, replaced by John Marshall for the second half (which also includes a double bassist, Roy Babbington, in addition to bass guitarist Hugh Hopper). After Wyatt's departure, no one much wanted to sing, and Dean remade them as a credible jazz band. [UK title: Fifth.] B+(*)
Soft Machine: Six (1973, Columbia): Karl Jenkins takes over on sax (also oboe, keyboards, celeste), with Ratledge, Hopper, and Marshall settled in. Double album, split between live and studio. B
Soft Machine: Seven (1973, Columbia): Hugh Hopper left to pursue a solo career, leaving Roy Babbington as the bassist. The last of the numbered albums, although the band kept plugging away, with further albums in 1975 and 1976, and occasional revivals later. B+(*)
Keith Tippett Septet: "A Loose Kite in a Gentle Wind Floating With Only My Will for an Anchor" (1984 , Ogun): Four-part suite, brimming with ideas, followed by "Dedication to Mingus," which captures the tone if not quite the excitement. Timings vary between the original 1986 LP release (77:38) and the CD reissue (77:00). With Marc Charig (cornet), Elton Dean (alto sax/saxello), Larry Stabbins (tenor sax), Nick Evans (trombone), Paul Rogers (bass), Tony Levin (drums). B+(***) [bc]
Keith Tippett Octet: From Granite to Wind (2011, Ogun): British pianist, major, accompanied here by wife Julie Tippetts (voice, often not my thing), four saxophonists (Mujician-mate Paul Dunhall by far the best known), bass, and drums, for one 47:00 suite. B+(*) [bc]
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.
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Country Cooking (1988, Venture): Ex-LP, at least some kind of B+; title song is one of McGregor's classics, and the band has impressive saxophone power in Julian Argueles and Steve Williamson, as well as the ever-dependable Harry Beckett. ++ [yt]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: