An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, October 24, 2022
Music: Current count 38918  rated (+38), 43  unrated (+2: 15 new, 28 old).
I spent a lot of time working on my Book Roundup post, which got rushed out late Saturday. I suppose it wouldn't tip my hand severely if I linked to my Books: Next Draft file, which is where I've been organizing the column. The "Main" and "Secondary" sections should be empty after each post. "Draft" contains entries I've written a bit about: I may be planning to return and write more, or they simply didn't make the cut, but they may show up in a future "Main" section. Similarly, "Noted" missed the "Secondary" cut, but could be expanded into "Main" section entries later (or grouped under other "Main" section entries).
That left me Sunday to scratch together a Speaking of Which. Considering the late start and limited time, and the fact that I posted before midnight, I feel like I came up with quite a bit. I wrote half of the introduction to start, then finished it at the end. As we get closer to the election, I feel more like spelling out the obvious.
I have very little to add on the music, except that I found out about Mary McCaslin's death last week, which sent me back to pick up the ones I missed. The others are here. I played Swift and Jepsen today, in that order, while trying to write, so I wasn't hanging on every word (not that I ever am, but they got three plays each). Swift is higher on the list, and more likely to go up than down (unlike Jepsen, which tails off a bit toward the end -- maybe because I wound up listening to the longer version).
One more thing here, and it's important (at least to me): if you've voted in Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll in the past, and you would like to help out with my organization of this year's poll, send me an email to express your interest. I want to set up a mailing list, and need some people to test it out on before I send out the actual ballot invitations (around mid-November, with a mid-December deadline). I'll also explain some of the mechanics of how the poll works, and how I see using the website as a voter reference (e.g., I'd like to add a FAQ). I'd welcome comments and questions, but I'm not asking a lot: mostly just tolerate getting some test email. Also, as per recent years, if you want to nominate a voter, or nominate yourself, please let me know.
Need to get this up and out of the way early, so I can get on with cooking birthday dinner. Going with some favorite comfort foods this year, not least because I expect that will reduce wear and tear.
New records reviewed this week:
Claudia Acuña: Duo (2022, Ropeadope): Singer from Chile, based in New York since 1995, presents nine songs, featuring jazz notables like Kenny Barron, Christian McBride, Fred Hersch, Regina Carter, and Russell Malone. Remarkable singer, working in her native Spanish. I find her a bit too operatic, but one can't help being impressed. B+(*) [cd]
The Airport 77s: We Realize You Have a Choice (2022, Jem): Indie band from Maryland's DC suburbs, guitar-bass-drums with a bit of keyb, longer follow-up to their 2021 (8 songs, 25:56) debut. Chunky rhythms, some hooks, closer to rockabilly than to punk. B+(*) [sp]
Akusmi: Fleeting Future (2022, Tonal Union): French producer Pascal Bideau, first album under this alias, plays alto sax, flute, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, percussion, with a group that also includes saxophonist Ruth Velten, plus trombone and drums -- sort of a jazz band playing dance music riffs. B+(**) [sp]
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz (2022, Agogo): Saxophonist from Ghana, bandleader since 1973, his debut album defined a genre, Simigwa, but his roots are in high-life, which he's messed with enough to be called "the godfather of hiplife." I'm not seeing credits or dates, but this seems to be new (he is 75 this year), and not better for the postmodern effects. B [sp]
Bibio: Bib10 (2022, Warp): Electronica producer Stephen Wilkinson, from England, tenth album since 2005, has a similar number of EPs. B+(*) [sp]
Burial: Streetlands (2022, Hyperdub, EP): William Bevan, electronica producer since 2005, niche ambient. He mostly releases EPs: this 3-track job runs long enough at 34:27 but the concept is so small we might as well label it accordingly. B [bc]
Tommy Crane: We're All Improvisers Now (2020-21 , Whirlwind): Montreal/New York-based drummer, has a couple albums, also plays keyboards and synth bass here, augmented by occasional guests: saxophonists Charlotte Greve, Logan Richardson, and Chris Speed get one track each, guitarist Simon Angell three, electric bassist Jordan Brooks six, French horn (Pietro Amato) two. Lives up to its billing as "tranquil yet propulsive," but not to its title. B+(*) [sp]
Criolo: Sobre Viver (2022, Oloko): Brazilian singer-songwriter Kleber Cavalcante Gomes, raps some, eighth album since 2006. B+(**) [sp]
Jens Düppe: Ego_D (2022, Enja/Yellowbird): German drummer, has a few albums since 2004, also plays piano (like a drum), possibly everything else here, including some (but not all) of the spoken word, which starts with "the beat." B+(***) [sp]
Open Mike Eagle: Component System With the Auto Reverse (2022, Auto Reverse): Chicago rapper, born with the name Michael Eagle, eighth album since 2010, reportedly a revue of his whole oeuvre, hard for me to ascertain even though I'm something of a fan. I just enjoy the ride. A- [sp]
Flohio: Out of Heart (2022, AWAL): London rapper Funmi Ohiosumah, billed as her debut album (although Discogs lists another, from 2020). B+(**) [sp]
Darryl Harper: Chamber Made (2022, Stricker Street): Clarinet player, has been around a while, although there is little on him in sources like Discogs (at least that I can find; he's cut a number of albums as The Onus). This starts with a "Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet" written by Ryan Truesdell. The album is filled out with pieces written by others (Stevie Wonder is the only one that qualifies as a cover), further exercising the "chamber jazz" idea. B+(*) [cd] [10-28]
Hickeys: Fragile Structure (2022, self-released): Spanish rock group, four women, sing in English (I think), a little darker and harder than indie pop. B+(**) [sp]
Jason Kao Hwang/J.A. Deane [Dino Duo]: Uncharted Faith (2021 , Tone Science Music/Blue Coast Music): Violin/electronics duo, started with violin solos which Deane (aka Dino) added to remotely while suffering from throat cancer, dying before release. I wasn't familiar with Deane, but Discogs credits him with a dozen albums (1986-2011). B+(**) [sp]
Dieter Ilg: Dedication (2020 , ACT): German bassist, more than two dozen albums since 1989, at least if you count group efforts, especially with Marc Copland and Charlie Mariano. Solo bass, twelve original pieces, although he cites inspirations on three: Bach, Beethoven, and Nat Adderley. Solo bass albums have inevitable limits, but this one remained engaging and interesting, even while I was working on other stuff. B+(**) [sp]
Dieter Ilg: Ravel (2021 , ACT): He has been leaning toward classical composers lately, with volumes on Bach and Beethoven. This trio -- Rainer Böhm (piano) and Patrice Héral (drums) plays eleven pieces by Maurice Ravel, a name but not music I know, but evidently able to craft fetching melodies. B+(*) [sp]
Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time (2022, Interscope): Canadian pop singer, sixth album, light and catchy, works with a bunch of producers and gets something out of all of them. Weak spot is Rufus Wainwright's help on the title track. A- [sp]
Keith Kirchoff/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble: Christian Wolff: Exercises and Explorations (2013 , Spoonhunt): Wolff is an avant-classical composer (b. 1934 in France; his parents were German book publishers Kurt and Helen Wolff, who fled Nazi Germany and wound up in New York, where they helped found Pantheon Books). Wolff's was associated with John Cage and Merce Cunningham in the 1950s. His later work often had political references, like the piece dedicated to Marxist economist Harry Braverman. He doesn't play here, so I moved his headline name to the title and credited the work to the musicians, who play piano, bass, and drums (in the Vortex, a London jazz club). B+(***) [sp]
Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: Spirit to All (2022, Wirlwind): Polish bassist, mostly works through this Quintet -- tenor sax (Marek Pospiezalski), trumpet (Oskar Torok), piano (Joana Duda), and drums (Oba Janicki) -- which over 10+ years has earned the right to go by the initials WMQ. I rarely mention composers because everyone does that these days, but what's outstanding here isn't the individual performances (note-perfect as they are), but the flow and texture. A- [sp]
Louis Moutin/Jowee Omicil/François Moutin: M.O.M. (2022, Laborie Jazz): The French brothers play drums and bass, usually in groups like Moutin Réunion Quartet or Moutin Factory Quintet. Trio here, with Omicil -- born in Montreal of Haitian descent, studied at Berklee, divides his time between Miami and Paris -- playing sax and clarinet, most impressively. B+(***) [cd] [10-25]
Carlos Niño & Friends: Extra Presence (2019 , International Anthem): Percussionist, based in Los Angeles, also does electronics, released an album in 2020 called Actual Presence, which is expanded and remixed here from 10 to 18 tracks. Opens jazzy with Devin Daniels on alto sax, but later pieces shade into ambience. B+(*) [sp]
Christopher Parker & the Band of Guardian Angels: Soul Food (2019 , Mahakala Music): Pianist, from Little Rock, but recorded this group in Brooklyn, with Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Daniel Carter (winds), William Parker (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums), and wife Kelley Hurt (vocals). I could do without the vocals, but the band lives up to its reputation. B+(**) [sp]
John Patitucci Trio: Live in Italy (2022, Three Faces): Bassist, website lists 17 albums since 1988, skipping over a long list of side-credits, including long stints with Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. He did a previous Trio album in 2009, with Joe Lovano (tenor sax) and Brian Blade (drums). This one has Chris Potter ably taking over the saxophone spot. B+(**) [sp]
Photay With Carlos Niño: An Offering (2021 , International Anthem): Electronica producer Evan Shornstein, has several albums and EPs since 2014, self-released this collaboration with percussionist Niño in 2021, has an ambient feel with a lot of shimmer. B [sp]
Charlie Puth: Charlie (2022, Atlantic): American pop singer-songwriter, third album. Catchy enough it seems like there must be a boy band in his past, but not really a surprise there isn't. B+(**)
Kristjan Randalu/New Wind Jazz Orchestra: Sisu (2021 , Whirlwind): Pianist from Estonia, albums since 2002. The 11-piece Orchestra is directed by Wolf Kerschek, with a couple of famous guests (Ingrid Jensen, Ben Monder) added for one track each. B
The Daniel Rotem Quartet: Wise One: Celebrating the Music of John Coltrane: Live at Bluewhale (2020 , self-released): Saxophonist from Israel, based in Los Angeles, looks like his fourth album since 2018. With Billy Childs (piano), Darek Oles (bass), and Christian Euman (drums). Coltrane songs (one trad., "Song of the Underground Railroad"). B+(**) [sp]
Harvie S & Roni Ben-Hur With Sylvia Cuenca: Wondering (2022, Dot Time): Bass, guitar, and drums. The guitarist suggests a cross between Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery, the former's precision and he latter's effortless groove. The leaders have done this before with another drummer, but this one deserves more than afterthought billing. B+(***) [cd]
The Angelica Sanchez Trio: Sparkle Beings (2022, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Arizona, debut 2003, this a trio with Michael Formanek (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Jason Stein/Damon Smith/Adam Shead: Volumes & Surfaces (2021 , Balance Point Acoustics): Bass clarinet player, based in Chicago since 2005, has had a string of superb albums. Backed by bass and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Taylor Swift: Midnights (2022, Republic): Tenth album, I'm listening to the 13-track, 44:02 "Standard Edition," but two longer versions are available. Serious people are studying this like the pop event of the year (at least, post-Beyoncé, who got a similar treatment). I've heard all of her albums, and mostly liked them, but I couldn't recall a single song on Rob Sheffield's top-50 ranking (not that I would do any better with a Beyoncé list). But I can say that this seems real fine as background while I'm trying to write, and when I stop a minute to tune in, it just gets better. But I can't begin to tell you how good this really is, or how it stacks up against any of her other good albums. A- [sp]
Bilana Voutchkova/Susana Santos Silva: Bagra (2021 , Relative Pitch): Bulgarian violinist, 10+ albums since 2013, duets with the even more prolific Portuguese trumpet player. Both also credited with "objects," which include something flute-like. Free improv, often too subliminal for my ears. B [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (2010 , Enja/Yellowbird): Group founded in 1987 by Roy Nathanson (sax) and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), with Bill Ware (vibes), Sam Bardfield (violin), Brad Jones (bass), and EJ Rodriguez (drums), recording regularly through 1998, less often since (most recently 2017). Group here adds guests Marc Ribot (guitar, 1-6), and spots three vocalists: Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, and Susi Hyldgaard (but not on "Reunited," which sounds odd enough to be Nathanson and Fowlkes). Reissue adds two tracks. B+(**) [bc]
Mal Waldron: Searching in Grenoble: The 1978 Solo Piano Concert (1978 , Tompkins Square): Pianist, was long remembered as Billie Holiday's last accompanist, but did brilliant work throughout a long career (1956-2002). B+(***) [sp]
Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): Folk singer-songwriter, born in Indianapolis but raised in California, where she developed a fondness for western ballads. Second album, the first to get much notice. While I missed it at the time, I recognize half of the songs from her 1992 The Best of Mary McCaslin: Things We Said Today, and the other half could fit just as well. A- [sp]
Mary McCaslin: A Life and Time (1981, Flying Fish): Last album of her 1973-81 prime period, only to be followed by a couple of distant additions (1994, 2006). Voice is prime, songs (only three originals, plus one by husband Jim Ringer) are pretty good, too. B+(***)
Jowee Omicil: Let's Do This (2006, Jowee Juise): First album, just has "Jowee" on the cover, with a picture of the artist with soprano sax pointed to the heavens. Also also plays clarinet and alto sax, with Darren Barrett on trumpet, and a groove-oriented rhythm section. B [sp]
Jowee Omicil: Let's Bash (2017, Jazz Village): Fourth album, doubles down on the funk concept, adds some narration, and at times waxes elegant. B+(*) [sp]
Jim Ringer: Waitin' for the Hard Times to Go (1972, Folk-Legacy): Folk singer-songwriter from Arkansas (1936-92), married Mary McCaslin, released six albums 1972-81, including one duo album with McCaslin (The Bramble & the Rose). This was his first, mild-mannered and easy-going, and smart enough to sneak in a John Prine cover. B+(*) [bc]
Jim Ringer: The Band of Jesse James: Best of Jim Ringer (1973-81 , Rounder): Nothing here from Ringer's first album, but all the rest are sampled liberally, with Mary McCaslin two duets from The Bramble & the Rose sorted to the end. McCaslin wrote the liner notes, a few years after Ringer's death. B+(*) [sp]
Rocket From the Tombs: The Day the Earth Met the . . . Rocket From the Tombs (1975 , Smog Veil): Legendary Cleveland punk rock band, nothing released during their 1974-75 lifetime: singer David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner moved on to Pere Ubu (Laughner died young, leaving "Life Stinks!"), while a couple others wound up in Dead Boys (long-forgotten, but for a while they were the more famous group). These live tapes surfaced in 2002, just before Thomas organized a revival of the band. The high points are songs I know from Pere Ubu, which quickly developed into a more nuanced band. Still, this sounds pretty remarkable. A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: