An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 3, 2023
Music: Current count 39927  rated (+54), 52  unrated (-4: 24 new, 28 old).
I'm continuing to focus on the unheard Penguin Guide 4-star albums list, and having pushed my pass into the V's, I might as well continue to the end. I ran into a bit of trouble with Martial Solal, John Surman and Sun Ra, as the Penguin Guide recommendations didn't line up with what I could find to stream. I dealt with this by breaking things up or selecting playlists from available sources, which led to some extra entries in "grade (or other) changes." In some cases, credits have shifted (Billy Myers and Dick Mills have given way to Martial Solal; John McLaughlin to John Surman, Mr. Sun Ra to Sun Ra), so entries get broken up. Reissues get shuffled around all the time, so it shouldn't be a surprise that it's impossible to keep them aligned with what's available now or what was available at any past point.
Still, when I'm working off a check list, the temptation to check things off is too much to resist. Nowadays, you might as well go straight to the John Surman box (Glancing Backwards) rather than try to find the Sequel set the Penguin Guide reviewed. The extra in the box is the first The Trio album, which is one of the best things British jazz ever produced. As for Sun Ra, the series of twofer CDs Evidence produced in the 1990s are prime targets for scroungers, but almost everything has been reissued in digital by reverting to the original LP configurations (as is whatever new vinyl is available). This reshuffling has produced some redundancies in my Sun Ra listing.
I should mention that Henri Texier's Izlaz seems to be available these days in a two-CD package with Colonel Skopje. I reviewed the latter long ago as a B, didn't bother to listen to it again just to compromise on the package. Sometimes I went off on tangents: Warren Vaché's Zephyrs seem pretty much of a piece; Petter Wettre seemed to demand further research. Vienna Art Orchestra was particularly frustrating, with nine 4-star albums I looked for but couldn't find, while I checked out three albums not even on my list (some remarkable music, but too many vocals, and too much Strauss).
I did finally add some unheard albums to my tracking file, but haven't delved in as yet. My desk is still a mess, and the demo queue remains far from sorted, so the best new jazz this week won't be available until 4/28 (Dave Rempis) or 5/12 (Javier Red). Sorry about that, but it was nice to pull out something from the queue that I really liked.
Another substantial Speaking of Which yesterday. I started off by writing the introduction, as soon as I saw Jeffrey St Clair's Roaming Charges. I regard gun control as a losing political issue, so I cringe whenever one of these shootings happens and the same old song plays out. Granted, it makes Republicans look not just stupid but pathological. It also makes Democrats look like scolds and enemies of freedom, and that's neither good for politics nor for policy. Still, I see no problem in talking about why people are so enamored with guns, especially the connections between America's war culture and the way too common desire to attack social and cultural problems with guns.
After the intro, I started gathering other stories. I wasn't surprised that Trump dominated the news. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to sort out what I collected, so a better structure would have helped, and there may be some redundancy. I was surprised that I didn't pick up anything on Trump's post-indictment fundraising, but after a quick search, I've added some links today. (Latest haul figure is $7 million, which is simultaneously too much and too little for a needy billionaire.)
Kind of lost in the noise is Trump's request for battle plans to attack Mexico. Were it not so stupid, it would have deserved its own section. Meanwhile, I collected quite a bit on casual attacks on Syria and Iran, as well as the worsening situation in Israel. I didn't make the comparison of Ben Gvir's new National Guard to the SA lightly, nor my comment about the genocide countdown clock.
I'm continuing to monitor my Twitter statistics. It's pretty regular that announcements of "Music Week" columns gather 300-350 views, but "Speaking of Which" has been steadily falling since 209 on Feb. 27, and rarely gets more than 115. I don't know what the Facebook situation is: the Expert Witness notices go to a group with 372 members, but I only get feedback from a dozen or so each week, and usually just likes, often no comments at all. I don't use my regular account for notices. I'm toying with the idea of doing a Substack as a cheap hack to push pieces out via email. I don't expect to make any money out of it, but it might be nice to provide a venue independent of the rotting social media swamp. No immediate plans.
New records reviewed this week:
Konrad Agnas: Rite of Passage (2021 , Moserobie): Swedish drummer, family well stocked with musicians, has a couple albums with lead credits but this is the first as leader and composer. Also plays synthesizer, with Per Texas Johansson (reeds), Johan Graden (piano/organ), and Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass). B+(***) [cd]
Dave Askren/Jeff Benedict: Denver Sessions (2022 , Tapestry): Guitar and saxophone, backed by vibes, bass, and drums. They've had several albums together, going back at least to 2005, including a big band led by Benedict. B+(**) [cd]
Hailey Brinnel: Beautiful Tomorrow (2023, Outside In Music): Wrote two songs but is mostly a standards singer, with trombone (prominently pictured) her side instrument. Voice is sweet with a bit of sour, delectable on fare like "Tea for Two" and "Candy." Band includes Terell Stafford on trumpet and Chris Oatts on sax. B+(***) [cd]
Mark Feldman/Dave Rempis/Tim Daisy: Sirocco (2022 , Aerophonic): Violin, saxophones (alto/tenor/baritone), and drums, the latter two a long-running Chicago duo, Rempis one of the most consistent free jazz players around. A- [cd] [04-28]
MUEJL [Michel Stawicki/Uygur Vural/Elisabetta Lanfredini/João Madeira/Luiz Rocha]: By Breakfast (2022 , 4DaRecord): Sax, cello, voice, bass, clarinet. Instrumentation favors chamber jazz, the voice arty and arcane. B+(*) [cd]
Javier Red's Imaginary Converter: Life & Umbrella (2023, Desafio Candente): Pianist, from Mexico, based in Chicago, second album, with Jake Wark (tenor sax), Ben Dillinger (bass), and Gustavo Cortinas (drums). Cover text: "Spreading empathy, understanding, and love for Autism." No idea what that means, but the music has an inner tension that is constantly shifting and refocusing. Remarkable. A- [cd] [05-12]
Natsuki Tamura/Ittetsu Takemura: Lightning (2022, Libra): Trumpet and drums duo, two pieces, 38:32, some uncredited vocal, some runs I can't help but be amused by. B+(**) [bc]
Petter Wettre: The Last Album (2021, Odin): Norwegian saxophonist, rarely specifies but tenor is his main horn, started out around 1996 as a young man with a hot hand, offers a lot of excuses -- mostly economic, including the new old saw that "the full length album has had its time" -- for quitting, but decided his "swan song" should be a luscious set of ballads ("since ballads has been avoided before"). Quartet, with Fred Nardin (piano), Viktor Nyberg (bass), and Francesco Ciniglio (drums). Nice enough, but I suspect he could do better if he gives himself another chance. Meanwhile, still a lot I haven't heard. B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Steve Swell's Fire Into Music: For Jemeel: Fire From the Road (2003-04 , RogueArt, 3CD): Trombonist (b. 1954), played a lot of different things early on but moved to the front of the avant-garde in the late 1990s, and is the first person I think of for polls and such these days. He released an album in 2004 called Fire Into Music, co-credited to Hamid Drake (drums), Jemeel Moondoc (reeds), and William Parker (bass), and took that group out on the road for the three superb concerts collected here. A- [cd]
Kenny Baker and Warren Vaché: Ain't Misbehavin' (1996-97 , Zephyr): Baker's a British trumpet player (1921-99), was lead trumpet in Ted Heath's post-WWII orchestra, led his own groups from 1954 on. He's looking much older than the American, who sticks to cornet, backed by Brian Lemon (piano), Howard Alden (guitar), bass, and drums. Standards, few as upbeat as the title, but slow is just sublime. A- [sp]
Billy Byers & Martial Solal: Jazz on the Left Bank & Réunion à Paris (1956 , Fresh Sound): Two LPs on one 72:13 CD, credits on each just listed the whole bands, but Byers and Solal are the common denominator, and wrote most of the songs (Byers 4-1 on the former, Solal 5-1 on the latter; Benoit Quersin played bass on both albums; for the others, see the breakouts below). Byers (1927-96) was a trombonist and arranger for many post-WWII big bands, later working for Quincy Jones and Count Basie. Solal (b. 1927) was just starting out on his brilliant career. The combination plays nice at first, then adds solo power. B+(***) [sp]
Dick Mills/Billy Byers/William Bouchaya/Martial Solal/Wessel Ilcken/Benoit Quersin: Jazz on the Left Bank (1956 , Epic): Band members as listed on front cover (trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, piano, drums, bass), although Byers wrote four songs, Solal one, and both were listed in the Fresh Sound reissue as arrangers. [per Billy Byers, above] B+(**) [sp]
Jim Snidero: The Music of Joe Henderson (1998 , Double-Time): Alto saxophonist, steady stream of albums since 1985, leads a sextet through eight pieces by Henderson (1937-2001). With Joe Magnarelli (trumpet), Conrad Herwig (trombone), David Hazeltine (piano), Dennis Irwin (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Martial Solal: Réunion à Paris (1956 , Vogue): Discogs credits this to the pianist, but album cover lists all names: Billy Byers (trombone), Allen Eager (tenor sax), Jimmy Deuchar (trumpet), Benoit Quersin (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums). Probably helps that the pianist is more clearly in charge, but Deuchar and Eager add solo power. [per Billy Byers, above] B+(***) [sp]
Martial Solal: Improvise Pour France Musique (1993-94 , JMS, 2CD): Solo, de trop, but masterful as long as you can sit still. B+(***) [sp]
Martial Solal With Peter Erskine and Marc Johnson: Triangle (1995, JMS): Piano trio, you know who plays what, Johnson and Erskine contribute one song each, to eight for the pianist. B+(**) [sp]
Martial Solal Trio: Balade Du 10 Mars (1998 , Soul Note): Another piano trio, with Marc Johnson (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). B+(**) [sp]
South Frisco Jazz Band: Sage Hen Strut (1984, Stomp Off): Trad jazz band, founded in Orange County, California, its name a tribute to Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, led by cornetists Dan Comins and Leon Oakley, with clarinet/sax, trombone, piano, banjo, tuba, and washboard/percussion. B+(***) [sp]
South Frisco Jazz Band: Broken Promises (1987, Stomp Off): Eighteen good ol' good ones (well, sixteen, plus two Mike Baird originals). Recorded in Alameda, so maybe they moved north. Dan Comins sings a couple. B+(***) [sp]
Bobo Stenson/Anders Jormin/Jon Christensen: Reflections (1993 , ECM): Piano-bass-drums trio. B+(***) [sp]
Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano (1977 , Improvising Artists): Solo piano, in his own zone but very much of this world, adds "Three Little Words" and "Honeysuckle Rose" to the title track and four originals. B+(***) [r]
Sun Ra: We Travel the Spaceways/Bad & Beautiful (1956-61 , Evidence): Two albums on one CD, since split back up for digital. Front cover credits Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra, back cover Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra, spine just Sun Ra, which is good enough for me. Former was pieced together from several sessions, latter came from one session that wasn't released until 1972. First one starts with one of those ditties that makers you think these guys can't be serious, then settled down and eventually finds its groove. Second album, highlighted by a cover of "Just in Time," is more consistent. B+(**) [r]
John Surman & Friends: The Dawn Sessions: Where Fortune Smiles/Live at Woodstock Town Hall (1971-75 , Sequel, 2CD): English groups from the brief moment when fusion and free jazz were intertangled. The first was credited to guitarist John McLaughlin, with Surman (reeds), Karl Berger (vibes), Stu Martin (drums), and Dave Holland (bass) on the credit line. The second was a duo of Martin (also synthesizer) and Surman. While McLaughlin impresses as expected, the revelation is the saxophonist, fresh and fiery to an extent never reproduced in his many later ECM albums. B+(***) [sp]
John Surman: Glancing Backwards: The Dawn Anthology (1970-75 , Sanctuary, 3CD): Easy enough to nitpick the second half of this, which is still far more aggressive and heartfelt than the often expert work he followed with in his long run with ECM. However, the first half, released in a double-LP simply called The Trio (with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin), is a landmark of British free jazz, one that erases all those caveats. And having them all together defines an era. A- [sp]
Ralph Sutton: Ralph Sutton at Café Des Copains (1983-87 , Sackville): Old-fashioned stride pianist (1922-2001), first records 1950, a signature title is Last of the Whorehouse Piano Players (1989, with Jay McShann), but these solo performances are livelier, downright delightful. A- [sp]
Ralph Sutton: More Ralph Sutton at Café Des Copains (1988-89 , Sackville): As advertised, but some confusion over dates. Not much of a drop off, although the applause strikes me as more tepid. B+(***) [sp]
Ralph Sutton/Kenny Davern: Ralph Sutton & Kenny Davern (1980 , Chiaroscuro): This looked like an ideal pairing, and it's a delight: the clarinet soars, and the piano produces so much rhythm you don't notice the absence of a bassist (although you do notice Gus Johnson on drums). Three vocals, one each, with Johnson's "Sweet Lorraine" a highlight. A- [sp]
Martin Taylor: In Concert: Recorded at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (1998 , Milestone): British guitarist, grew up on Django Reinhardt and wound up playing with Stephane Grappelli (13 albums, 1981-99), as well as several dozen of his own, from 1979 on. Solo, a live set in Pittsburgh, a dozen standards. Really lovely. B+(***) [r]
John Tchicai: Grandpa's Spells (1992 , Storyville): Danish saxophonist (1936-2012), father Congolese, moved to New York in 1964 and played with Albert Ayler and John Coltrane (Ascension) as well as New York Art Quartet and New York Contemporary Five, then back to Europe, where he played with ICP, Brotherhood of Breath, Pierre Dørge, and many others. This is a quartet featuring Misha Mengelberg (piano), with Margriet Naber (synth) and Peter Danstrup (bass). Hard to miss Mengelberg here. A- [sp]
Henri Texier Transatlantik Quartet: Izlaz (1988, Label Bleu): French bassist, albums from 1976, group here includes Aldo Romano (drums), plus two Americans: Joe Lovano (tenor/soprano sax, clarinet, percussion) and Steve Swallow (electric bass). The saxophonist was just getting started, but excels, guided by the bassists. A- [sp]
Jean Thielemans: Man Bites Harmonica (1957 , Riverside): Belgian harmonica player (1922-2016), better known as Toots, also played guitar and accordion (his first instrument), was initially influenced by Django Reinhardt, but joined a 1949 jam session with Charlie Parker, and played with Benny Goodman on a 1949-50 European tour. This New York session followed his 1955 debut. Names on the front cover: Pepper Adams (baritone sax), Kenny Drew (piano), Wilbur Ware (bass), and Art Taylor (drums). He plays harmonica on six tracks, guitar on the other three. B+(**) [r]
Toots Thielemans: Live (1974, Polydor): Various live albums with various dates, but this seems to be the favored Penguin Guide album. Leader plays guitar and harmonica, with more guitar by Joop Scholten, plus Rob Franken (electric piano/organ), bass, drums, and percussion. Sound strikes me as a bit off. B+(**) [sp]
Radka Toneff: Winter Poem (1977, Sonet): Norwegian jazz singer (1952-82), father from Bulgaria, first album. She wrote original music for five poems (Sylvia Plath, Robert Creeley, and three by Nikki Giovanni), and bassist Arild Andersen wrote music for two more Creeley poems. More striking still are the covers, a torchy "All the Sad Young Men" and a very striking "Mr. Bojangles." Group is mostly strings, with piano (Lars Jansson) and guitar (Jon Eberson). B+(**) [sp]
Mel Tormé: The Duke Ellington & Count Basie Songbooks (1960-61 , Verve): Reissue of his 1962 album I Dig the Duke, I Dig the Count, with six songs each, loosely speaking. Big band, Johnny Mandel arranger. B+(***) [r]
The Trio: Conflagration (1971, Dawn): Originally John Surman (saxes), Barre Phillips (bass), and Stu Martin (drums), released a very strong eponymous double album in 1970, joined by a long list of names for this sequel: Harold Beckett (trumpet, Mark Charig (cornet), Chick Corea (piano), Nick Evans (trombone), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), Dave Holland (bass), John Marshall (drums), Mike Osborne (alto sax/clarinet), Alan Skidmore (soprano/baritone sax/flute), Stan Sulzmann (clarinet/flute), John Taylor (piano, Kenny Wheeler (trumpet). Overkill perhaps, invigorating if you're into that sort of thing. A- [sp]
The Trio: Meet the Locals (1998 , Resonant): Different group, this one from Norway, first of two albums, led by tenor saxophonist Petter Wettre, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Jarle Vespestad (drums). A terrific sax trio album. A- [sp]
The Trio: In Color (1999 , Resonant): Second album, later editions attribute this to Petter Wettre Trio, adding Dave Liebman for five (of 10) tracks. B+(***) [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi Octet: From G to G (1992, Soul Note): Italian alto saxophonist (also alto/bass clarinet), debut 1978, octet also includes Pino Minafra (trumpet, etc., including voice and "noises"). Jaunty pieces like "Hercab" have the most appeal. B+(***) [r]
Warren Vaché and Brian Lemon: Play Harry Warren: An Affair to Remember (1995 , Zephyr): Cornet and piano duo. Harry Warren songs, including two takes of "Nagasaki," and a couple vocals -- uncredited, but Vaché sings some elsewhere. B+(***)
Warren Vaché/Tony Coe/Alan Barnes Septet: Jumpin' (1997 , Zephyr): Cornet with two English saxophone/clarinet players, all inclined to straddle the swing-to-bop eras, backed by guitar, bass, and drums. Standard fare, from two Ellington pieces to "Giant Steps." B+(**) [sp]
Warren Vaché & Alan Barnes: Memories of You (1997 , Zephyr): Cornet and alto/baritone sax, backed with guitar (Dave Cliff), piano (Brian Lemon), bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Warren Vaché & Tony Coe: Street of Dreams (1997 , Zephyr): Coe playe tenor and soprano sax. Otherwise, this is the same deal, same group, similar batch of songs. I give it a slight edge, mostly based on Coe's ballad tone. B+(***) [sp]
Warren Vaché/Allan Vaché: Mrs. Vaché's Boys (1998 , Nagel Heyer): Cornet (with some flugelhorn) and clarinet, backed by piano (Eddie Higgins), guitar (Howard Alden), bass (Phil Flanagan), and drums (Ed Metz Jr), mostly playing 1930s swing classics (three Ellingtons, one Goodman). More Ellington would be better, especially more like the blazing "Cottontail." B+(***) [sp]
Warren Vaché: I Can't Get Started: Warren Vaché Meets Derek Watkins Again! (2000, Zephyr): Watkins (1945-2013) was a British trumpet player, mostly played in big bands but released two 1995 records on Zephyr: Over the Rainbow, with the Brian Lemon Quartet, and Stardust, his previous meeting with Vaché. No info on this album, which seems to have escaped notice at Discogs and AMG. Release date isn't authoritative, and session date probably earlier. Still a lovely record. Nice guitar. B+(***) [sp]
Kid Thomas Valentine: Kid Thomas in California (1969 , GHB): Old-time trumpeter (1896-1987) from New Orleans, sings some, developed his style in the 1920s and stuck with it. His 1962 Ragtime Stompers album with George Lewis was a Penguin Guide crown album, and this one, with Capt. John Handy, Big Bill Bissonnette, Dick Griffith, and other stalwarts, plus two Carol Leigh vocals, doesn't fall much short. A- [sp]
Tom Varner: Martian Heartache (1996 , Soul Note): From New Jersey (b. 1957), plays French horn, albums from 1985. This is a group with two saxophones (Ed Jackson on alto and Ellery Eskelin on tenor), bass (Drew Gress), and drums (Tom Rainey), plus guest spots for guitar (Pete McCann, 3 tracks) and vocals (Dominique Eade, the closer, the only cover, a trad folk song). B+(***) [sp]
Joe Venuti and Dave McKenna: Alone at the Palace (1977, Chiaroscuro): Violin and piano duo. Venuti (1903-78) first achieved fame in the late 1920s with guitarist Eddie Lang, who died in 1933. Their string-based swing had a parallel in France with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. In both cases, the violinists went on to long solo careers. McKenna (1930-2008) is an old-fashioned pianist, who often got by playing solo because he generated so much rhythm. They're an ideal pairing here. A- [sp]
Vienna Art Orchestra: Suite for the Green Eighties (1981 , Hat Art): Experimental big band, founded 1977 by composer-director Nicholas Rüegg, disbanded 2010 after releasing 35 albums, mixing jazz and classical in improbable combinations. Here Rüegg conducts 11 musicians plus vocalist Lauren Newton in three pieces (32:02) plus the five-part title piece (38:01). B+(**) [sp]
Vienna Art Orchestra: Quiet Ways: Ballads (1996 , Amadeo): Nine songs, each with a different guest vocalist, starting with Helen Merrill on "What's New." B+(**) [sp]
Vienna Art Orchestra: All That Strauss (2000, TCB): Mostly nine pieces from Johan Strauss (1825-99), with one by brother Josef Strauss and two by brother Eduard Strauss, including waltzes and polkas. Live recording, cover looks like Johan Strauss playing tenor sax. The arrangements are suitably extravagant, far removed from a classical recital. B+(*) [sp]
Petter Wettre Quartet: Pig Virus (1998, Curling Legs): Saxophonist, from Norway, his Trio albums encouraged further research. First album, a quartet with Håvard Wiik (piano), Terje Gewelt (bass), and Per Oddvar Johansen (drums). Another powerful album. B+(***) [sp]
Petter Wettre Quintet: Household Name (2002 , Household): Saxophone, with piano (Håvard Wiik) and guitar (Palle Pesonen), bass and drums. Well enough, but more piano and guitar means less saxophone. B+(**) [sp]
Petter Wettre/Dave Liebman: Tour De Force (2000 , Household): Live set, following the Trio In Color sessions that Liebman crashed -- same bass and drums here, both saxophonists playing soprano, with Wettre also on tenor. B+(**) [sp]
Grade (or other) changes:
Stu Martin/John Surman: Live at Woodstock Town Hall (1975 , Pye): [sp]: B+(***)
John McLaughlin/Dave Holland/John Surman/Stu Martin/Karl Berger: Where Fortune Smiles (1971, Dawn): [sp]: [was: B+] B+(***)
Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra: We Travel the Space Ways (1956-60 , El Saturn): [r]: B+(*)
Mr. Sun Ra and His Arkestra: Bad and Beautiful (1961 , El Saturn): [r]: B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: