An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, November 28, 2022
Music: Current count 39159  rated (+43), 33  unrated (+0: 5 new, 28 old).
First half last week I spent thinking about cooking a little something for Thanksgiving dinner. We wound up with five people. I bought a pound of ground turkey and two of hamburger. I mixed the former with chopped spinach and feta cheese, and added a little butter and garlic powder to both. The idea was to cook them on the little-used gas grill, but it didn't heat up, so my fallback was frying pans indoors. They both came out very well done, but with a lot of tasty brown. Topped them with smoked gouda and havarti, and had bacon, red onion, and pickles to add. Sides were baked beans (topped with bacon), Russian potato salad (with olives, red onion, smoked salmon, and dill), and Spanish slaw (with carrots, red bell pepper, and golden raisins). Had spice cake for dessert, with store-bought butter pecan ice cream. I'm learning to settle for relatively simple dishes that don't kill me. Not quite as good as the birthday dinner, but fit the bill, and didn't leave us with a lot of leftovers.
Second half of the week felt like a void. I finally opened up a file for Speaking of Which, figuring I'd just copy down a few links for future reference -- sort of a placeholder, with few if any comments. But on Sunday I made the rounds, and often couldn't help but write something. Rarely as much as I could, but this sort of analysis is all but second nature these days.
One nice thing about the meal was that I got a chance to talk shop with my nephew. He's been using some kind of AI software to generate images. I had a fairly serious interest in AI back in the 1980s, but haven't followed it much since then. Still, I have some ideas about what it might be good for and where it might cause more trouble than it's worth, so it was good to compare my thoughts with his actual experience.
[PS: I added a link to yesterday's post, as part of Vox's "World to Come" series: AI experts are increasingly afraid of what they're creating. Just a thought, but if you got rid of patents and copyright for AI code, and required that all code be open source, that would slow down the pace of development, and make it harder to hide harmful applications. I also added a link to another No More Mister Nice Blog piece, about how Mike Pompeo rates the head of a teacher's union as "the most dangerous person on the planet."]
A couple notes on the 17th Annual Jazz Critics Poll: Francis Davis asked to be kept informed of the voting, so I've been forwarding mail to him. I also broached the possibility of including his name on the masthead, and he said he'd be honored. I have 26 ballots counted so far, with two more weeks until deadline. I haven't had much time to go back over possible voter lists, but I'll try to do that over the next few days. The most striking thing so far is that the vote is exceptionally scattered: three albums appear on six ballots each, so 23% of the total. This compares to 2021, when James Brandon Lewis appeared on 34% of the ballots, and to 2020, when Maria Schneider scored 36%. Still early days. As I recall, there were six other leaders last year before Lewis finally broke from the pack.
I've done the basic indexing for November Streamnotes, but still have the Music Weeks to compile. I've also fallen behind on the EOY Aggregate, but that's largely because the number of EOY lists doubled today. (Pro tip: I mostly use the lists collected by Album of the Year and Acclaimed Music Forums.) I want to settle on a jazz ballot by Friday. This is what my 2022 list currently looks like. No way will I have time to resample everything on it, so I'm stuck with my memory and spot checks. I did replay Omri Ziegele today, and dropped it a tiny bit -- probably the vocals, as almost everything else is marvelous.
The EOY file has traditionally included a "2%" list of records I haven't heard but think might be worth looking for. This year I've significantly expanded that list to include everything that's gotten Jazz Critics Poll votes, even if I'd put their odds of hitting A- at much less than 2%. I may thin them out later, or just revise the explanation.
A couple quick notes on the music. The Paul Smoker albums are actually remastered digital-only, so the label arguably should be to the reissue, if only there was one. In general, when I stream an album that matches an original release, I attribute it to the original label, instead of the reissue label. I have no qualms about that with streaming services, but it may be a bit unfair in this case.
I've also resurrected "Limited Sampling" this week. I really wanted to hear the Dick Hyman album, but could only find fragments. I expect there will be more of these in the next few weeks. In most cases so far, they're possibly good albums that Bandcamp only has a couple tracks from. However, in the future, I may start including records that are fully available but I hit reject on. Similarly, limited sampling could mean something I've only heard a YouTube or Soundcloud single from. I don't count these as graded albums, but they do show up as heard in the EOY aggregate, with +/- notes.
New records reviewed this week:
Arctic Monkeys: The Car (2022, Domino): Britrock band, have grown increasingly baroque (and unpleasant) since their pretty good 2006 debut. Seventh album. I can't say this one is unlistenable, but the strings and stuff aren't very interesting. And I have no reason to think that Alex Turner is, either. B- [sp]
Simon Belelty: Pee Wee (2020 , Jojo): Guitarist, first album, although he seems to have been around a while, with a 2001 credit with pianist Kirk Lightsey, who appears here. Provides plenty room for leads from Josh Evans (trumpet) and Asaf Yuria (sax), as well as Lightsey. B+(**) [cd]
Wolfert Brederode: Ruins and Remains (2021 , ECM): Dutch pianist, albums since 1997, this one has credits below the title for Matangi Quartet (strings) and Joost Lijbaart (percussion). B+(**) [sp]
Sarah Elizabeth Charles: Blank Canvas (2022, Stretch/Ropeadope): Jazz singer-songwriter, several albums since 2012, backed by piano, guitar, bass, and drums, with a couple guest spots. B+(*) [cd]
The Chicago Plan [Gebhard Ullmann/Steve Swell/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang]: For New Zealand (2019 , Not Two): Group name from the title of a 2016 album by the same quartet. Leaders play tenor sax/bass clarinet and trombone, credited with three songs each, backed by cello and drums -- the latter pair their Chicago connection. B+(***) [cd]
The Clarinet Trio: Transformations and Further Passages (2021 , Leo): Three clarinetists, nothing else, with Jürgen Kupke, Michael Thieke (alto clarinet), and Gebhard Ullmann (bass clarinet). They open with a collective improv, each takes a solo interlude at some point, the other pieces tend to be by German avant composers, with Albert Mangelsdorff the most frequent touchstone. B+(***) [cd]
Louis Cole: Quality Over Opinion (2022, Brainfeeder): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, plays drums, keyboards, guitar, and bass, also sings. Fourth album since 2010. Seems to have a jazz background, going back to his parents, but straddles genres without getting stuck anywhere. Twenty mostly-short songs, but adds up to 69:59. B+(*) [sp]
Hollie Cook: Happy Hour (2022, Merge): British singer-songwriter, father was Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, mother a backing singer for Culture Club, played keyboards in a late edition of the Slits, fourth solo album since 2011. Weaves a bit of reggae rhythm in. B+(**) [sp]
Cooper-Moore & Stephen Gauci: Conversations Vol. 1 (2019 , 577): Piano and tenor sax duo, collecting six improv pieces (41:47), with another volume kept back in reserve (released 2022). The first sax notes fly awkwardly, but once the piano kicks in, Gauci finds his track. A- [sp]
Craig Davis: Tone Paintings: The Music of Dodo Marmarosa (2021 , MCG Jazz): Pianist, studied at Indiana and Manhattan School of Music, seems to be his first album but claims "30 years of professional experience." Ten songs by bebop pianist Marmarosa, plus his own "A Ditty for Dodo," ably supported by John Clayton (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Paul Dunmall Quintet: Yes Tomorrow (2021 , Discus): British saxophonist (alto/tenor), has a long career on the free jazz scene. Group backs him here with guitar (Steven Saunders), trombone (Richard Foote), bass, and drums. B+(***) [sp]
Chad Fowler/Ivo Perelman/Zoh Amba/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Steve Hirsh: Alien Skin (2022, Mahakala Music): An impromptu session, with three saxophonists -- Fowler plays stritch and saxello, Amba and Perelman tenor, with Amba also on flute -- backed by piano, bass, and drums. Starts off cautiously with a bass solo. Still, impossible to keep this much firepower down. Invigorating when they bust out, intriguing when they hold back a bit. A- [sp]
Laszlo Gardony: Close Connection (2022, Sunnyside): Hungarian pianist, albums since 1984, teaches at Berklee. Trio with John Lockwood and Yoron Israel, "embraces his Hungarian folk-music and prog-rock roots." B+(**) [cd] [12-02]
Ben LaMar Gay: Certain Reveries (2022, International Anthem): From Chicago, credited with cornet, synthesizer, and vocals, in a duo with drummer Tommaso Moretti. Shifts between several modes: the free jazz improv the most immediately appealing, the more ambient stretches take some time to sink in, but can't be dismissed as merely ambient. B+(***) [sp]
Milford Graves/Jason Moran: Live at Big Ears (2018-20 , Yes): Legendary avant percussionist, died in 2021, in a duo with the once-famous pianist -- Moran's string of 1999-2010 Blue Notes dominated the decade, but aside from a 2014 Fats Waller tribute and a couple side-credits, hardly anyone managed to hear his self-released albums. B+(***) [bc]
Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen (2022, Blue Note): Covers twelve Leonard Cohen songs, the core band has some jazz cred -- Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax), Bill Frisell (guitar), Kevin Hays (piano), Larry Goldings (organ), Greg Leisz (pedal steel guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Nate Smith (drums) -- with ten guest vocalists, few doing justice to the songs (Sarah McLachlan's "Hallelujah" is an exception). B [sp]
Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Mingus (2022, Savant): Trombonist, started as a mainstream player in the 1980s with Clark Terry, played in big bands (Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mingus Big Band), picked up some Latin moves with Eddie Palmieri. This is his seventh Latin Side Of album, following tributes to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, and Horace Silver. This one touts Randy Brecker and Ruben Blades as special guests, with a half-dozen more names on the cover. A lot of Mingus tributes on the 100th anniversary of his birth. B+(**) [sp]
Aubrey Johnson & Randy Ingram: Play Favorites (2022, Sunnyside): Standards singer, second album, accompanied by just piano. Works several Brazilian songs in (two by Jobim), along with Joni Mitchell (whose voice she closely resembles) and Billie Eilish. B [cd]
Angélique Kidjo/Ibrahim Maalouf: Queen of Sheba (2022, Mister Ibé): Afropop singer from Benin, albums since 1989, I've never been very taken with her work, so credit Maalouf -- from Lebanon, based in Paris, his parents and other family are notable musicians -- with raising the musical bar, as well as adding some nice trumpet. B+(**) [sp]
Sam Kirmayer: In This Moment (2021 , Cellar Live): Canadian guitarist, a couple previous albums, this one with tenor sax (Al McLean), piano (Sean Fyle), trombone, bass, and drums. B+(*) [sp]
Lantana: Elemental (2020 , Cipsela): Portuguese group, all women, with trumpet (Anna Piosik), two cellos, violin, electronics, and voice (mostly Maria Radich). I could do without the singing voices, but there's something to the dense string-laden din, even with voiceover. B+(**) [cd]
Ramsey Lewis: The Beatles Songbook [The Saturday Salon Series: Volume One] (2020 , Steele): Pianist, debut album was 1956, had a surprise hit in 1965 with his Trio's cover of "The In Crowd," followed that up with many more light covers of contemporary pop tunes, including several by Lennon-McCartney ("A Hard Day's Night," "Day Tripper," "Julia") -- enough to be collected as Plays the Beatles Songbook. That's what I expected when I first say this, but it turns out these are recent solo recordings (with "Imagine" slipped in). Given how hard it is to jazzify Beatles songs, I expected nothing here. But Lewis doesn't much try, settling for sober, stripped down melodies, and that seems to work. Title suggests there are more volumes like this to come, but Lewis died in September, at 87. B+(*) [cd]
Kirk Lightsey: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (2021 , Cellar): Pianist, long career including leadership of The Leaders, was 84 when this was recorded, and has rarely appeared more sprightly. With Mark Whitfield (guitar), Santi Debriano (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums), all of whom help him shine. A- [cd]
Charles Lloyd: Trios: Sacred Thread (2020 , Blue Note): The tenor saxophonist's third (and final) trio album this year, also plays alto flute and tarogato, joined this time by Julian Lage (guitar) and Zakir Hussain (percussion, vocals). The co-stars get ample opportunities here, often for better but not always. B+(**) [sp]
Jasmine Myra: Horizons (2022, Gondwana): British alto saxophonist, alto plays flute, from Leeds, first album, neatly wrapped up in silky strings, including guitar and harp, plus Jasper Green on keyboards. B+(*) [sp]
Flora Purim: If You Will (2022, Strut): Brazilian singer, started with bossa nova in 1964, moved to New York in 1967 and gravitated toward jazz fusion, singing in Chick Corea's Return to Forever. First studio album in 15 years, did this for her 80th birthday. Remarkably solid work all around. B+(***) [sp]
Hal Smith's New Orleans Night Owls: Early Hours (2021-22 , self-released): Drummer, plays trad jazz, has led a few groups like this one (e.g., Hal Smith's Rhythmakers, Creole Sunshine Orchestra, Swing Central), while being drummer of choice for groups like Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Yerba Buena Stompers, and outfits led by James Dapogny, Ted Des Plantes, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, and Butch Thompson. Group here has cornet, trombone, clarinet, piano, banjo, and string bass. B+(**) [bc]
Hal Smith's Jazzologists: I Scream, You Scream, Everybody Wants Ice Cream (2021, self-released): Exceptionally jaunty trad jazz septet, with several members -- Katie Cavera (bass), Clint Baker (trumpet), and John Gill (trombone) -- stepping up for vocals. "Ice Cream" indeed is a screamer. B+(***) [bc]
Hal Smith's Jazzologists: Black Cat on the Fence (2021, self-released): Same group, I'm working backwards, this coming out several months before Ice Cream. Only note is "remote recordings from six U.S. cities." B+(**) [bc]
Wil Swindler's Elevenet: Space Bugs: Live in Denver (2022, OA2): Alto saxophonist (also soprano and flute), came out of UNT, has a previous Elevenet album from 2010. Group is large enough to provide big band complexity, but not risk breaking into swing. Original pieces, aside from one by Regina Spektor, and the never jazzable "Julia/Blackbird." B [cd]
The Dave Wilson Quartet: Stretching Supreme (2017-18 , Dave Wilson Music): Tenor/soprano saxophonist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania; fourth album, quartet with piano, bass, and drums. Starts out by biting off two parts of A Love Supreme (25:03), follows that up with four more stretched pieces (51:21), with two more Coltrane pieces, an original, and "Days of Wine and Roses." Strong player, has a lot to work with. B+(**) [bc]
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: World Record (2022, Reprise): Per Wikipedia, this is studio album number 42, with Rick Rubin co-producing, and the relatively genteel "Love Earth" the lead single. Sounds better when the band gets the feedback going, but doesn't sound essential. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Elton Dean Quartet: On Italian Roads: Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979 (1979 , British Progressive Jazz): British saxophonist, perhaps best known for his long tour with Soft Machine, but he had a parallel career in free jazz, as evidenced by the company he keeps here: Keith Tippett (piano), Harry Miller (bass), and Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums). That's one hell of a rhythm section. B+(***) [sp]
Bill Evans: Morning Glory: The 1973 Concert at the Teatro Gran Rex, Buenos Aires (1973 , Resonance): Piano trio, with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Marty Morell (drums). Typically superb, bass solos included. Package reportedly includes 2-CD, extensive booklet. A- [sp]
Bill Evans: Inner Spirit: The 1979 Concert at the Teatro General San Martín, Buenos Aires (1979 , Resonance): Another piano trio, same year, same city, but with a different bassist (Marc Johnson) and drummer (Joe LaBarbera). B+(***) [sp]
Michel Petrucciani: Solo in Denmark (1990 , Storyville): French pianist (1962-99), born with a genetic bone disease which "caused his bones to fracture over 100 times before he reached adolescence and kept him in pain throughout his entire life." Nonetheless, he was a remarkable pianist, as is more than established in this recording. B+(***) [sp]
John Sinclair Presents: Detroit Artists Workshop: Community, Jazz and Art in the Motor City 1965-1981 (1965-81 , Strut/Art Yard): I tend to think of Sinclair as a political figure, but aside from consorting with Yippies and co-founding the White Panthers and the Rainbow People Party, and spending way too much time in jail -- he was notorious enough that a "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" to protest his sentence was headlined by John Lennon and Stevie Wonder -- he's mostly viewed as a poet with a long connection to music (starting with the MC5). Unclear exactly what his role in these groups/tracks is, other than archivist and author of the booklet. Group leaders include Donald Byrd, Charles Moore, and Bennie Maupin. While I'm impressed by the horns, the rhythm is what finally won me over. A- [bc]
Brian Charette: Music for Organ Sextette (2011, SteepleChase): Organ player, third album after a self-released debut, probably the farthest he got away from the soul jazz paradigm, with four reeds -- Mike DiRubbo (alto/soprano sax), John Ellis (bass clarinet), Jay Collins (flute, baritone sax), and Joel Fraham (tenor sax) -- plus drums (Jochen Rueckert). B+(*) [cdr]
Jason Moran: Bangs (2016 , Yes): The pianist's third self-released album, after a solo and a live Village Vanguard set with his long-running trio. This is a different kind of trio, with Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Ron Miles (cornet). (Not clear where the drums on some tracks come from.) B+(***) [bc]
Paul Smoker Trio: QB (1984, Alvas): Trumpet player (1941-2016), first trio album with Ron Rohovit on bass and longtime collaborator Phil Haynes on drums, plus "special guest" Anthony Braxton (alto sax). Title cut is where they finally mesh. B+(***) [dl]
Paul Smoker Trio: Mississippi River Rat (1984 , Sound Aspects): Second trio album: trumpet, bass (Ron Rohobit), and drums (Phil Haynes). The upbeat opener is especially impressive, but the album holds up throughout. A- [dl]
Paul Smoker Trio: Alone (1986 , Sound Aspects): Trumpet-bass-drums trio with Ron Rohovit and Phil Haynes, third album together. Bandcamp edition drops the covers of "Cornet Chop Suey" and "Caravan," which offer some useful framework for the improv fury. A- [dl]
Paul Smoker Trio: Come Rain or Come Shine (1988 , Sound Aspects): Fourth trumpet-bass-drums trio album, again with Ron Rohovit and Phil Haynes. B+(***) [dl]
Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn: Lead Me On (1972, Decca): Second duet album, after 1971's We Only Make Believe. Problematic as usual, finding love easier to fall out of than to fall into -- perhaps why "Never Ending Song of Love" feels wrong. B+(**) [dl]
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.
Dick Hyman: One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and the Austin High Gang (1992, Rivermont): Title could start with George Avakian Presents, referring back to an album produced by Avakian 50 years prior, "transcribed and directed" by Hyman, featuring clarinetists Kenny Davern and Dan Levinson prominently on the cover, but the whole lineup is star-studded, from the cornets (Peter Ecklund and Dick Sudhalter) to the banjo-guitarists (Marty Grosz and Howard Alden). ++ [os]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: