Monday, April 18, 2022

Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37739 [37689] rated (+50), 128 [130] unrated (-2).

I've been trying to write a piece on Ukraine. Yesterday I got so frustrated with it, I decided I'd post it that night regardless of what state it was in. It's not as if I expect anyone to read it or care. But I wrote another couple points last night, getting as far as this:

One must recognize that the only way this ends is through an agreement with Russia. Russia is too big to be bled to death by their losses in Ukraine, and there's no way Ukraine could effectively take the war onto Russian soil (after all, Napoleon and Hitler tried that and failed, even before Russia built a nuclear arsenal).

That seemed to require at least one more paragraph, on what such an agreement should (really, must) look like. So instead of rushing the post out last night, I decided to give myself another day, and post it tomorrow. But first Music Week.

Robert Christgau interrupted his 80th birthday holiday to post a Consumer Guide. Fourteen albums, seven I had already reviewed:

  • Amyl and the Sniffers: Comfort to Me (ATO '21) [A-]
  • Jon Batiste: We Are (Verve '21) [B+(**)]
  • Cheekface: Emphatically No. (New Professor '21) [B+(***)]
  • Ray Wylie Hubbard: Co-Starring Too (Big Machine) [A-]
  • Pony: TV Baby (Take This to Heart) [B]
  • Spoon: Lucifer on the Sofa (Matador) [B+(***)]
  • Superchunk: Wild Loneliness (Merge) [A-]

The rest are caught up below (the Lenny Kaye comp assembled into a nearly complete songlist, the other two songs sampled from YouTube). I have no recollection at all of TV Baby. Christgau also published a 41-song playlist to mark 80 years. I can't describe how awful I felt when I got up this morning, but the piece came with a Spotify playlist (thanks to Joe Levy), and I figured that might pick me up a bit. First 11 songs were all classics from the 1950s, then after Ray Charles, he threw a curve and picked up bits by Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk before trying to cover the 1960s in 8 tracks, and skipping through the 1970s way too fast (4 songs), followed by a break for 2 African pieces. After that there's nothing I would have come close to picking (although "That's the Joint" and "It Takes Two" sounded great, and it would be hard to improve on the James McMurtry and Robyn songs). The only WTF pick was the Brad Paisley. I'm lukewarm on the Selo i Ludy album below, but "It's My Life" ended this list, and sounded pretty good after 38-40.

New records reviewed this week:

Teno Afrika: Where You Are (2022, Awesome Tapes From Africa): Young (22) South African DJ/producer, second album, works in a style called amapiano, which seems to draw as much or more from deep house as South African hip-hop variants like kwaito or gqom. Eight beatwise pieces, five with shared or featured credits, not that any of them seems much different. B+(***)

Priscilla Block: Welcome to the Block Party (2022, InDent/Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, from North Carolina, first album after a couple EPs. Good voice, fairly generic songs, not without interest but not worth much thought. B+(*)

Sergio Carolino: Below 0 (2021 [2022], Clean Feed): Portuguese tuba player, invented something called the Lusophone "Lucifer" (a picture looks like an overgrown tuba bell at the end of an oversized saxophone with a couple of trombones up top), played solo here. B+(*)

Hugo Carvalhais: Ascetica (2021 [2022], Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist, fourth album since 2010, original pieces with three co-credited to pianist Gabriel Pinto. Sextet also includes Liudas Mockunas (tenor sax/clarinet), Fabio Almeida (alto sax/flute), Emile Parisien (soprano sax), and Mário Costa (drums). B+(**)

Pastor Champion: I Just Want to Be a Good Man (2018 [2022], Luaka Bop): Outsider gospel artist Wylie Champion (1946-2021), brother of soul singer Bettye Swann, left Louisiana for Oakland, recorded this one album, a homey affair with his electric guitar, basic band, sing-alongs and handclaps, then delayed release by refusing to talk about it. No raising the rafters, no sublimated ecstasy, but down to earth faith to see you through hard times. Got to respect that. A-

Chicago Farmer & the Fieldnotes: Fore!!!! (2022, Chicago Farmer, EP): Folkie singer-songwriter Cody Diekhoff, "from a small town in Illinois," albums since 2005. Last couple were pretty impressive. Goes for slow and soulful here, which rarely beats fast and/or funny. Four songs, 19:09. B+(*) [sp]

Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer: Recordings From the Åland Islands (2022, International Anthem): Chiu, from Los Angeles, plays keyboards, although that's only fourth on his list of occupations, after "community organizer, graphic designer, artist." Bandcamp page shows six other recordings, at least one LP. Honer plays viola, synthesizer, and hand chimes. There is also a bit of guest flute. The Åland Islands are in the Baltic, south of Finland. Although there are bits of field recordings (e.g., birds), this is minimalist ambient music, the sort of thing you might be delighted to find from Jon Hassell. A- [sp]

Confidence Man: Tilt (2022, Heavenly): Australian electropop band, second album, I thought the first one was pretty great, starting with its title (Confident Music for Confident People). Two singers that go by Janet Planet and Sugar Bones, backed by a masked band. B+(***)

Natalie Cressman & Ian Faquini: Auburn Whisper (2022, Cressman Music): Faquini is Brazilian, moved to Berkeley at age 8, plays guitar, wrote or co-wrote all of these songs, and sings most of them. Cressman shares three writing credits, sings some, but mostly plays trombone, which adds some gravity to the froth. Turns out to be surprisingly beguiling. B+(***) [cd]

Dedicated Men of Zion: The Devil Don't Like It (2022, Bible & Tire): Gospel vocal group from North Carolina -- the lead group on 2021's Sacred Soul of North Carolina -- backed by the Sacred Soul Sound Section. Second album. B+(***)

Stro Elliot: Black & Loud: James Brown Reimagined by Stro Elliot (2022, Republic): Remix album, I've seen Brown on the artist credit line, as the music (especially the vocals) is uniquely his, but he's dead, and this particular mix is new. Elliot released a hip-hop instrumental album in 2016, joined the Roots in 2017, playing keyboards and beat machines. The shifts seem trivial at first, then subtle, then eventually they sweep the entire edifice into somewhere new. A-

Ensemble 0: Music Nuvolosa (2022, Sub Rosa): French group, nominally avant-classical but open to whatever. I noticed them last year with a version of Julius Eastman's Femenine, then got their name wrong in my review. Two compositions here: Pauline Oliveros: "Horse Sings From Cloud" (19:12); and György Ligeti: "Musica Ricercata" (27:39). B+(**) [bc]

Ilhan Ersahin/Dave Harrington/Kenny Wollesen: Invite Your Eye (2022, Nublu): Ersahin plays sax and keyboards, was born in Sweden to a Turkish father, moved to New York in 1990, owns the bar Nublu and its label, has a dozen or so albums since 1996. Harrington plays guitar, electronics, bass, and percussion, and Wollesen is a well-known drummer. B+(*)

Mané Fernandes: Enter the Squigg (2021 [2022], Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist/bassist, third album. Group with alto sax (José Soares), flute, synth/piano, synth/accordion, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Ricky Ford: The Wailing Sounds of Ricky Ford: Paul's Scene (2022, Whaling City Sound): Tenor saxophonist, from Boston, debut 1977, recorded for Muse and Candid up to 1991, intermittently since, strong sides with Abdullah Ibrahim and Mal Waldron. Quartet with Mark Soskin (piano), Jerome Harris (bass), and Barry Altschul (drums). Mostly standards, some pointed to South Africa. B+(***)

Freakons: Freakons (2022, Fluff & Gravy): Joint venture by countryish bands Freakwater and Mekons. Freakwater, from Kentucky, recorded 8 albums 1989-99, but only two since. Mekons started as a punk-political band Leeds, UK, in 1979, made a country move in 1985 (Fear and Whiskey), and continued to reconvene periodically even after Jon Langford moved to Chicago and created the Waco Brothers. They find common cause here in "songs about heroic union organizers, deadly mine disasters, wailing orphans, or mining's grim history of economic and ecological devastation." A-

Clay Harper: They'll Never Miss a Five (2022, Clay Harper Music): Singer-songwriter from Atlanta, started in the 1980s in a band call the Coolies, has several solo albums since 1997, also has written a children's book, and opened a number of restaurants (including a barbecue chain called The Greater Good). Seven songs (35:37), opening with an instrumental. B+(*)

Ibibio Sound Machine: Electricity (2022, Merge): London-based Afrofunk band, led by UK-born singer Eno Williams, fourth album since 2014. Groove takes off midway, which makes all the difference. B+(**)

Terry Klein: Good Luck Take Care (2022, self-released): Folkie singer-songwriter based in Austin, third album, recorded this one in Nashville, opener rocks so hard I filed it there, but he mostly goes mid-tempo, so you can follow words that mean something. A-

Lavender Country: Blackberry Rose and Other Songs & Sorrows From Lavender Country (2019 [2022], Don Giovanni): Led by Patrick Haggerty, claims their 1973 debut as "the first openly gay country album." Second album 49 years later. Nothing as explicit this time as "Cryin' These Cocksucking Tears," or maybe I'm just a bit slow on the uptake. I did notice that he sounds like he's been taking voice lessons from label mate Peter Stampfel. Also some politics, like "she loves Karl Marx more than she loves me." Last song is called "Eat the Rich." B+(**)

Lights: PEP (2022, Fueled by Ramen): Canadian pop singer-songwriter Valerie Bokan (née Poxleitner), eighth album since 2009. B+(***)

The Linda Lindas: Growing Up (2022, Epitaph): Four teen girls from Los Angeles (well, three: drummer Mila de la Garza is 11; Bela Salazar is oldest, at 17), play punk, released a 4-song EP in 2020, got a bigger push when their video of "Racist, Sexist Boy" went viral. First LP (10 songs, 25:30), cartoon cover suggests a nod to bubblegum. Wish they were as consistently great as they sometimes are. B+(***)

Mazam: Pilgrimage (2020 [2022], Clean Feed): Portuguese quartet: João Mortágua (alto/soprano sax), Carlos Azevedo (piano), Miguel Ângelo (bass), Mário Costa (drums). B+(**) [bc]

Brad Mehldau: Jacob's Ladder (2022, Nonesuch): Pianist, specialized in trios for his first decade, before starting to branch out with larger-scale works and even a splash of fusion. This is a sprawling tableau of prog rock with biblical motifs and allusions, covering Gentle Giant and Rush, and ending in 10:07 of "Heaven." I got turned off by the opening vocal, and nothing that came later changed my mind, but the rare bits of piano impress, and the broad swathes of synths remind me that I once fancied prog rock. But even then I had no use for liturgy, and all the less so here. Still, could be a wondrous piece of work, were one so inclined. B

Gurf Morlix: The Tightening of the Screws (2021, Rootball): Singer-songwriter, from Buffalo, moved to Texas, where he performed with Blaze Foley and Lucinda Williams. Thirteenth album since 2000. B+(*)

Keith Oxman: This One's for Joey (2021 [2022], Capri): Tenor saxophonist, mainstream, based in Denver, dozen albums since 1995. Quartet with Jeff Jenkins (piano), bass, and drums; mostly Oxman originals, with Jenkins contributing two songs, plus a couple standards. Joey is Pearlman, the late bassist who appears on the final cut. B+(***) [cd]

Rich Pellegrin: Passage: Solo Improvisations II (2019 [2022], OA2): Pianist, lives in Seattle when he's not teaching in Florida, fifth album, solo, minor bits and bobs. B+(*) [cd]

Marek Pospieszalski: Polish Composers of the 20th Century (2021 [2022], Clean Feed, 2CD): Polish saxophonist, has a previous album tribute to Frank Sinatra, not sure how much else. Octet here, with a second saxophone, trumpet, viola, guitar, piano, bass, and drums, only two names there I recognize (Tomasz Dabrowski and Grzegorz Tarwid), playing 12 pieces by as many composers (Andrzej Panufnik is the only one I sort of recognize; total time 110:08). Strikes me as a little heavy. B+(*) [bc]

Joel Ross: The Parable of the Poet (2022, Blue Note): Vibraphone player, third album, his appearance on Blue Note gave him visibility that his peers will be unlikely to match. Still, ambitious album, styled as a 7-part suite played by an 8-piece ensemble, led by Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax), Maria Grand (tenor sax), and Marquis Hill (trumpet), with trombone, piano, bass, and drums. B+(**)

Sault: Air (2022, Forever Living Originals): British group, sixth album since 2019, line-up still something of a mystery (one name seems to be Dean Josiah Cover, aka Inflo). Change of pace here, lots of spacey orchestration and choral singing, not much beat. They lost me. B [sp]

Selo I Ludy Performance Band: Bunch One (2019, self-released): Ukrainian band, from Kharkiv, offers a bunch of covers of western pop songs, some in English, some in German, the accordion and balalaika offering just the right amount of exoticism, along with the rhythmic drive of the bass and drums, to what is otherwise pure corn. B+(**)

André B. Silva: Mt. Meru (2021 [2022], Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, has a previous album as The Rite of Trio. Group includes alto sax, bassoon, bass clarinet, cello, bass, and drums, but feels like less. B+(*) [bc]

Jon Spencer & the HITmakers: Spencer Gets It Lit (2022, In the Red): Garage rocker, recorded a dozen-plus albums with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (1991-2015), went solo for the 2018 Spencer Sings the Hits. Harsh and erratic, nothing remotely hitbound (even the James Brown). I never bothered with him before, and probably won't again. B-

Survival Unit III: The Art of Flight: For Alvin Fielder (2018 [2022], Astral Spirits): File under Joe McPhee (tenor sax), the link to previous Survival Unit iterations (although not to the metal band of that name, which had 15 albums 1999-2007): Survival Unit II was active in 1971, and this trio -- with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello & electronics) and Michael Zerang (drums) -- has seven albums since 2006. Fielder (1935-2019) was a drummer with Sun Ra, and a charter member of the AACM. His last appearance was on the same three-act bill as this set. A little rough for my taste. B+(*) [bc]

Vasco Trilla/Liba Villavecchia: Asebeia (2020 [2021], FMR): Spanish duo, drums and alto sax, Trilla has been prolific since 2013. Title defined as "criminal charge for desecration and disrespecting of divine objects." B+(*) [bc]

Jordan VanHemert: Nomad (2021 [2022], Origin): Korean-American tenor saxophonist, second album, teaches at Schwob School of Music. Mainstream, trio with Rodney Whitaker (bass) and David Alvarez III (drums), with extra guest spots, including two Sharon Cho vocals. B+(*) [cd]

Liba Villavecchia Trio: Zaidan (2021 [2022], Clean Feed): Spanish saxophonist, from Barcelona, records go back to 1999, trio with Alex Reviriego (bass) and Vasco Trilla (drums). B+(***) [bc]

Fabian Willmann Trio: Balance (2021 [2022], CYH): German tenor saxophonist, has credits back to 2014 but this appears to be the first album under his own name. New Swiss label stands for Clap Your Hands. With Arne Huber (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), plus alto sax (Asger Nissen) on two tracks. Mainstream, nice tone, closes with a "No Moon at All" that lingers long past the record. B+(***) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Dave Brubeck Trio: Live From Vienna 1967 (1967 [2022], Brubeck Editions): As one who usually listens to Brubeck records for Paul Desmond's gorgeous alto sax, it's easy to forget how brilliant a pianist the leader could be, so this is a wake up call. Brubeck rarely made trio records, and this one was an accident: Desmond missed the flight to the last stop of a tour, so the rest -- Eugene Wright (drums) and Joe Morello (drums) -- went on as a trio, their set shifted to mostly standards. Opens with a rousing "St. Louis Blues" followed by Brubeck's "One Moment Worth Years." Second side gets even hotter with Brubeck extemporizing on "Swanee River," and wrapping up with "Take the A Train." A- [cd]

Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking (1934-2013 [2022], Ace, 2CD): Compilation of 48 songs, mostly from 1955-1979 with a few outliers (mostly metal later), tied to Kaye's new book, Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll: the ten chapters are: Memphis 1954; New Orleans 1957; Philadelphia 1959; Liverpool 1962; San Francisco 1967; Detroit 1969; New York 1975; London 1977; Los Angeles 1984/Norway 1993; Seattle 1991. The last two are represented by 8 tracks I have no idea how to evaluate (LA hardcore/Norwegian metal is highlighted by a later Japanese cut; Seattle grunge is barely represented by Mudhoney and Mark Lanegan). Up through Kaye's own minor fame in New York 1975 (he was Patti Smith's guitarist, before that mostly known as the compiler of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era), there's no doubting his expertise or his knack for picking out obscurities that help illuminate the better known hits (not easy for me to figure out the ratio, but 1:1 to 1:2 is ballpark). I have doubts about how useful this is: a better solution might be to program a whole CD for each chapter, adding depth while keeping the periods/styles separate. No doubt Kaye could have found the songs, if only the economics were viable. [From Napster playlist, so some versions may differ; 2 missing songs found on YouTube.] B+(***)

Old music:

Amyl and the Sniffers: Amyl and the Sniffers (2019, ATO): Australian punk rock band, fronted by Amy Taylor, first album after a couple of EPs. I put their second album (Comfort to Me) on my 2021 A-list, but didn't bother looking back to see what else they had done. Maybe the album cover looked crude, or the length (11 songs in 29:00) insubstantial? Christgau marked it down ("sound a little thin in the end"), but that strikes me as a formal choice, and few bands have followed it more rigorously. As for statement: "Some Mutts (Can't Be Muzzled)." A- [sp]

Horace Andy: In the Light (1977, Hungry Town): Fifth album, regarded as one of his best, and I can't quarrel with that. Has an even flow, nothing really great, but plainly enjoyable. B+(***)

Mark Charig With Keith Tippett/Ann Winter: Pipedream (1977 [2010], Ogun): Cornet player (also tenor horn), started with Long John Baldry's Bluesology along with Elton Dean, went on to play in Soft Machine, King Krimson, and various projects with Dean, Barry Guy, Chris McGregor, and/or Tippett (organ/piano here; Winter sings; both also play bell). B- [bc]

Stro Elliot: Stro Elliot (2016, Street Corner Music): LA-based hip-hop producer, not sure how he balances that with membership in Philadelphia-based Roots, which he joined in 2017 after releasing this set of beats with occasional vocal samples. B+(*)

Terry Klein: Great Northern (2017, self-released): First album, short (8 songs, 29:43), deep thinking about life, from "they say life is wasted on the living" to "there is joy in this life if you're willing to make a mess." B+(***)

Terry Klein: Tex (2019, self-released): Second album, got himself a band, still I don't find myself hanging on every word, and the often slack music has something to do with that. B+(*)

Lavender Country: Lavender Country (1973 [2014], Paradise of Bachelors): Originally released by Gay Community Social Services of Seattle, Inc., which was leader Patrick Haggerty's day job. Music is fairly stock, but the lyrics aren't. B+(**)

Louis Moholo-Moholo Septet/Octet: Bra Louis - Bra Tebs/Spirits Rejoice! (1978-95 [2006], Ogun, 2CD): First disc is a previously unreleased 1995 set, with Evan Parker and Tobius Delius (tenor sax), Jason Yarde (alto/soprano sax), Claude Deppa (trumpet), Radu Malfatti (trombone), Pule Pheto (piano), Roberto Bellatalla (bass), and Francine Luce (vocals). I'm no more happy with the vocals here than elsewhere. However, the reissue of Moholo's 1978 album Spirits Rejoice! is something to savor. B+(***) [bc]

Soft Head [Hugh Hopper/Elton Dean/Alan Gowen/Dave Sheen]: Rogue Element (1978, Ogun): Ex-Soft Machine bassist, used "Soft" for several later group names, with Dean (another Soft Machine alumnus) on alto sax, plus keyboards and drums. Packaging poses a number of problems: group name not on cover, misspelled on spine (Soft Heap is a real Hopper group, just not this one, and the elephant picture caused me to mistype the title). The rhythm section isn't extraordinary on its own, but they really turn Dean loose. A- [bc]

Keith Tippett's Ark: Frames: Music for an Imaginary Film (1978, Ogun, 2CD): Orchestra 22 strong: 8 horns, 6 strings, double up on piano (Tippett and Stan Tracey), bass (Peter Kowald and Harry Miller), and percussion (Louis Moholo and Frank Perry), with two vocalists (Maggie Nicols and Julie Tippetts). Originally 2-LP, but totals 83:58, so needs 2-CD. Massive, generates a lot of motion with some cacophony. B+(*) [bc]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Milen Kirov: Spatium (Independent Creative Sound and Music) [06-05]

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