An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 24, 2023
Music: Current count 40078  rated (+47), 49  unrated (-5: 21 new, 28 old).
Again, mostly new music, mostly attributable to the tracking file, which is usually the first thing I consult when I need a new record. Pace picked up considerably from Friday, when I started collecting Speaking of Which: at 5668 words, just a bit shorter than the previous week (5773 words). The difference (and much of the difference from the even longer previous weeks (of April 9 and April 2) is in the introductions, which I cut short this week.
It's a grind to pull those posts together in three days, which results in another grind as I process music in the background. I'm usually paying enough attention to form a reasonable opinion, but rarely have the time to write down much detail: hence, you get a bunch of reviews that hardly say anything. That probably says something about my priorities: I'd rather get to the next record than nail the one I just heard, and in any case I care more about making my political points than music crit ones: I feel like I have more to say, more that is original, and more that matters.
Unfortunately, few others feel that way. And frankly, I was rather gratified in a noticeable uptick of interest in last week's Music Week. That marked the week when my rated count topped 40,000, so it was as much a lifetime achievement as another weekly installment. My wife recently watched Sullivan's Travels for her film group, so for a week there I kept imagine people coming up to me and advising, "forget about the politics you can't do anything about anyway, and just write better record reviews." But here I am, still taking a half-assed stab at both.
I'm almost done with Brian T Watson's Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We'll Face. I'm not convinced that the forces he identifies will lead to the doom of civilization he predicts, but he got me thinking about other things he slights (war, guns, racism, civil strife, injustice, surveillance, repression) and in some cases misses completely (his book appeared just before Covid broke out). He is fairly good on climate change (without more than a few lines on how it might generate waves of emigration, resource conflicts, and war), a little both-sidesy on capitalism and politics, and way over the top on what he calls Webworld.
He understands that these "forces" interact and compound in ways that are hard to separate out -- his Webworld is largely a confluence of dangers he doesn't fully articulate in capitalism, technology, politics, and human nature. The latter is by far the trickiest to write about: even though we've been studying it for ages, it's almost impossible to generalize about in contexts that haven't yet happened.
What I do believe is that there are practical, technical solutions to virtually all problems we face, except that there is (and will continue to be) formidable political opposition to doing anything before it is much too late. So, I think it's ultimately very important to thoroughly critique those political opponents. Of course, it's also nice to have some nice music to play in the background. (I happen to be on an Ivo Perelman kick at the moment.)
Next book up is probably Kurt Andersen's 2017 book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. I read Andersen's later (2020) book, Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America shortly after it came out, and consider it the single best book on the rise of the political right in recent America. The earlier book won't have the luxury of pointing to Trump (although it serendipitously arrived with America's most ridiculous fantasy president). I've long regarded Reagan's 1980 election as a decision to live in a fantasy world (his catchphrase was "morning in America") as the real one was becoming too grim, but when you think about it, everything from "city on a hill" to "go west, young man" to the "new frontier" was fantasy.
Maybe there's a fantasy for a political era that actually faces problems and turns them into opportunities for a better world, as opposed to the usual ones where you look away and pretend it's got nothing to do with you.
This is the last Music Week of April, so the monthly archive should be complete (see link above), but I decided to post this before I do all my usual indexing. I'll catch up later in the week. Meanwhile, the first nominal week of May has started, here.
New records reviewed this week:
Susan Alcorn/Patrick Holmes/Ryan Sawyer: From Union Pool (2022 , Relative Pitch): Pedal steel guitar, clarinet, and drums, playing very free, which leaves you wondering what the guitar really sounds like. B+(*) [sp]
Ralph Alessi Quartet: It's Always Now (2021 , ECM): Trumpet player, from San Francisco, a dozen albums since 1999, plus more side credits (especially with Uri Caine, Steve Coleman, and Ravi Coltrane). Quartet with Florian Weber (piano), Bänz Oester (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Algiers: Shook (2023, Matador): Alt/indie band from Atlanta (or maybe London), fourth album. Mojo hears "stories of struggle, pain and healing are painted in edgy electro, impassioned punk-soul, cloudbursts of jazz and rattlesnake trap pulses." I don't hear much of that, but some concerned talk with grim overtones. B+(*) [sp]
Matt Barber: The Song Is You (2023, MB): Standards singer, seventh album (per hype sheet; I can't find any confirmation on sites like Discogs, although he's pretty clearly not the Canadian singer-songwriter Matthew Barber, or the British politician). One co-writing credit (with pianist Day Kelly), and covers advancing the songbook to Billy Joel. B+(*) [cd]
Kenny Barron: The Source (2022 , Artwork): Pianist, approaching 80 (b. 1943), recently elected by the fans to DownBeat's Hall of Fame, offers a solo album, his first since 1982, with four original pieces, two Ellingtons, two Monks, and a standard ("I'm Confessing"). B+(***) [sp]
Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (2023, Matador): Scottish indie pop group, since 1996. Mostly engaging. B+(***) [sp]
Boygenius: The Album (2023, Interscope): Implicit supergroup, consisting of three recently but firmly established singer-songwriters: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. First album, after a much-noticed EP. B [sp]
John Cale: Mercy (2023, Domino): From Wales, studied in London, moved to New York in 1963, was part of the experimental music underground until he joined the Velvet Underground for two pathbreaking albums. His subsequent solo career was all over the map, aside from a three album 1974-75 stretch when he deserved to be a major rock star. Now 81, with his first album of new songs in over a decade, a monster running 71:34 with a guest list that couldn't be guessed (7/12 songs have featuring credits). Sounded awful at first, but got interesting at some point, and might merit further study. B+(*) [sp]
Rodrigo Campos: Pagode Novo (2023, YB Music): Brazilian singer-songwriter, albums since 2009, but surprisingly little on him. Seems to fit in the MPB mainstream, with a previous album called 9 Sambas. B+(***) [sp]
Joe Chambers: Dance Kobina (2023, Blue Note): Drummer, b. 1942 (80), sixteenth album since 1974, has hundreds of side credits, playing on many major albums in the 1960s, plays vibes (5 tracks, with Michael Davidson on 3) as well as drums here. Caoilainn Power plays alto sax on three tracks, Marvin Carter alto on one and tenor on another, with piano and bass duties split, and extra percussion (Latin or African). B+(**) [sp]
Slaid Cleaves: Together Through the Dark (2023, Candy House Media): Singer-songwriter from DC, grew up in Maine, wound up in Austin, where he can pass for country but not for Nashville, more than a dozen albums since 1990. Solid. B+(***) [sp]
Das Kondensat: Andere Planeten (2020 , WhyPlayJazz): German saxophone/clarinet player Gebhard Ullmann, prolific since 1985, leads a quartet with Liz Kosack (keyboards), Oliver Potratz (electric bass/electronics), and Eric Schaefer (drums/modular synthesizer) on third group album. The keyboard is an addition from two earlier trios. A- [cd]
Yelena Eckemoff: Lonely Man and His Fish (2021 , L&H Production, 2CD): Russian pianist, usual classical training, came to US in 1991 and switched to jazz. Original compositions, trio with Ben Street and Eric Harland plus major help from Kirk Knuffke (cornet) and Masaru Koga (Japanese flutes). B+(***) [cd]
Michael Feinberg: Blues Variant (2022 , Criss Cross): Bassist, has a half-dozen albums since 2012, postbop quartet here with Noah Preminger (tenor sax/flute), Leo Genovese (piano), and Nasheet Waits (drums). He gets a lot of sound and action from that lineup. B+(***) [sp]
Fever Ray: Radical Romantics (2023, Rabid/Mute): Swedish singer-songwriter Karin Dreijer, previously did business as The Knife (a duo with brother Olof Dreijer), third album under this alias. B+(**) [sp]
Anat Fort Trio: The Berlin Sessions (2022 , Sunnyside, 2CD): Israeli pianist, debut 1999, trio with Gary Wang (bass) and Roland Schneider (drums). B+(**) [sp]
GoGo Penguin: Everything Is Going to Be OK (2023, XXIM): British piano-bass-drums trio (Chris Illingworth, Nick Blacka, Jon Scott), albums since 2012 including a run on Blue Note, with some crossover appeal. B+(**) [sp]
Mette Henriette: Drifting (2020-22 , ECM): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, backed with piano (Johan Lindvall) and violoncello (Judith Hamann), takes chill a bit too far. B [sp]
Hieroglyphic Being: There Is No Acid in This House (2022, Soul Jazz): Electronica producer Jamal R. Moss, from Chicago, many albums since 2008. B+(***) [sp]
Lonnie Holley: Oh Me Oh My (2023, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from Alabama, hard to classify, long more noted for his paintings and sculptures, only recording from 2012 on. B+(*) [sp]
Islandman Feat. Okay Temiz/Muhlis Berberoglu: Direct-to-Disc Sessions (2021 , Night Dreamer): Turkish groove merchant Tolga Böyük, debut 2015, credits: drum machine, electric bass, synthesizers. Percussionist Temiz (b. 1939) has been on the fringe of the European free jazz scene since the 1970s (including albums with Johnny Dyani and Monghezi Feza). Berberoglu is younger, plays baglama and cura (plucked string instruments used in Ottoman classical music), while others play guitar (Erdem Baser) and drums (Eralp Guven). A- [sp]
Karol G: Mañana Será Bonito (2023, Universal Music Latino): Colombian singer, Carolina Giraldo Navarro, from Medellin, fourth album. B+(***) [sp]
Kate NV: Wow (2023, RVNG Intl): Russian electronica producer-singer Kate Shilonosova, sixth album since 2016. A little on the campy side this time. B [sp]
Kelela: Raven (2023, Warp): Pop singer-songwriter, last name Mizanekristos, born in DC of Ethiopian heritage. Second studio album, plus mixtapes and singles and EPs back to 2014. Soft soul, sometimes too atmospheric, but savvy as ever. B+(**) [sp]
The Long Ryders: September November (2023, Cherry Red): Country-rock band from Los Angeles, released three studio albums 1984-87, broke up, reunited in 2004 and occasionally since, releasing a new album in 2019 and now this one. B+(**) [sp]
Loscil & Lawrence English: Colours of Air (2023, Kranky): Scott Morgan, from Vancouver, ambient electronica producer (and sometime Destroyer drummer), albums since 1999, working with an Australian producer of similar experience and bearing. B+(*) [sp]
Brad Mehldau: Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays the Beatles (2020 , Nonesuch): Pianist, plays solo, a live recitation of ten Beatles songs (including one by George Harrison), opening with "I Am the Walrus," plus "Life on Mars?" to close. B [sp]
Margo Price: Strays (2023, Loma Vista): Country singer-songwriter, fourth studio album. B+(*) [sp]
Taiko Saito: Tears of a Cloud (2022 , Trouble in the East): Japanese marimba/vibraphone player, solo. B+(*) [cd] [04-28]
Kendrick Scott: Corridors (2023, Blue Note): Drummer, from Houston, half-dozen albums since 2007, 80-90 side-credits. Trio with Walter Smith III (tenor sax), and Reuben Rogers (bass). B+(**) [sp]
Slowthai: Ugly (2023, Method/Universal): British rapper-turned-singer Tyron Frampton, third album, title supposedly an acronym for "U Gotta Love Yourself" (spelled out but not expanded on in the title song). B+(***) [sp]
Wadada Leo Smith and Orange Wave Electric: Fire Illuminations (2023, Kabell): Trumpet player, has a new group in his Yo! Miles! mode, with three guitarists (Nels Cline, Brandon Ross, Lamar Smith), two bassists (Melvin Gibbs and Bill Laswell), drums (Pheeroan aKlaff), percussion (Mauro Refrosco), and electronics (Hardedge) bringing the avant electrofunk. A- [sp]
Walter Smith III: Return to Casual (2023, Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist, debut 2006 (Casually Introducing), titled a 2014 album Still Casual), so this suggests a return to his roots. Band here includes Kendrick Scott (drums) and Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet, 2 tracks) from his debut, as well as Taylor Eigsti (piano), Matt Stevens (guitar), Harish Raghavan (bass) -- listed with Scott on the cover. Smith makes a better (less casual) impression on Scott's recent Corridors. B+(*) [sp]
Something Blue: Personal Preference (2021 , Posi-Tone): Effectively producer Marc Free's house hard bop band, a showcase for his label's younger musicians, with only bassist Boris Kozlov returning from the 2019 release under the same group name. Newccomers, all on the cover: Markus Howell (alto/soprano sax), Willie Morris (tenor sax), Altin Sencalar (trombone), Misha Tsiganov (trombone), and Donald Edwards (drums). B+(*) [sp]
Mark Soskin/Jay Anderson: Empathy (2022 , SteepleChase): Piano and bass duets, Soskin has a couple dozen albums since 1980, more side credits, including a 1978-91 run with Sonny Rollins. Nothing terribly flashy here, but the pair live up to the title. B+(***) [sp]
Ben Wendel: All One (2020-22 , Edition): Tenor saxophonist from Vancouver (also soprano and bassoon), seventh album since 2009, plus seven in the group Kneebody, and more side-credits. Tracks were laid down at home, then guests dubbed in (Cécile McLorin Salvant on "I Love You Porgy," Terence Blanchard, Bill Frisell, Elena Pinderhughes, José James on "Tenderly," and Tigran Hamasyan). B [cd]
Buster Williams: Unalome (2022 , Smoke Sessions): Bassist, has led more than a dozen albums since 1975, many more side credits back to Gene Ammons in 1961, back cover calls this group the Buster Williams Something More Sextet: Jean Baylor (vocals), Bruce Williams (sax/flute), Stefon Harris (vibes), George Colligan (piano), Lenny White (drums). B [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Chet Baker: Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland (1979 , Jazz Detective, 2CD): First release of three studio sessions recorded for Dutch radio: two quartet dates in April with Phil Markowitz on piano, plus one from November with Frans Elsen. Typically nice trumpet, with a few vocals, and long piano leads. B+(**) [cd] [04-28]
Bill Charlap: All Through the Night (1997 , Criss Cross): Mainstream pianist, mother is singer Sandy Stewart, debut 1993, a later run at Blue Note (2003-10) made him one of the best known pianists around. This is the third of three Criss Cross albums, a trio with Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums). Standards, smartly done as usual. B+(**) [sp]
Dream Dolphin: Gaia: Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works (1996-2003) (1996-2003 , Music From Memory, 2CD): Japanese electronica producer Noriko, recorded 20 albums 1996-2003, trimmed down here to 18 pieces, 116 minutes. Has some beat, vocals (mostly spoken) too. B+(**) [sp]
Dick Sisto: Falling in Love (1994 , SteepleChase): Vibraphonist, this looks like a reissue of his American Love Song album from 1995, mostly standards, backed by Fred Hersch (piano), Drew Gress (bass), and Tom Rainey (piano). B+(**) [sp]
Das Kondensat: Das Kondensat (2016 , WhyPlayJazz): The first of three albums (so far) by this group, at this point just a trio of Gebhard Ullmann (tenor/soprano sax, looper/sampler), Oliver Potratz (bass/effects), and Eric Schaeffer (drums/modular synth). B+(**) [sp]
Das Kondensat: 2 (2020 , WhyPlayJazz): Same trio, Poltratz adding bass synthesizer, "live without overdubs." This may be the best I've heard Ullmann play, probably because the electric bass sets him up to soar while still eschewing predictable grooves. A- [sp]
Gebhard Ullmann: Kreuzberg Park East (1997 , Soul Note): German saxophone/bass clarinet player, joined by Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Drew Gress (bass), and Phil Haynes (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: