December 2004 Notebook


Friday, December 31, 2004

Movie: Kinsey. Much of what I know about Albert Kinsey came from a Stephen Jay Gould essay, so the connection between Kinsey's sex studies and his entomology didn't come as a surprise, but it's good to see such background given further exposure. Much that could be said about this film. I am struck by the awkwardness of the first (pre-Kinsey) human sexuality class, where one expects reason and scientific rigor but gets myths meant to reinforce the conventional moral expectations. Sad to say, this is a problem that still plagues us -- especially here in Kansas, where Susan Wagle led a political inquisition to kill a K.U. human sexuality class for using less explicit graphics than Kinsey used. (Similar problems exist in the perennial creationism vs. evolution debate, which is back on the Kansas BOE agenda after the 2004 elections.) Two especially striking scenes illuminate the terror that those myths caused: one where Kinsey interviews his father (John Lithgow), the other an interview with an elderly lesbian (Lynn Redgrave). On the other hand, the shattering of so much myth has its own darker side, which the film also explores. A

Thursday, December 30, 2004

My third Jazz Consumer Guide column will be published in the Village Voice on Tuesday, January 4, 2005. I jot down notes and trial runs at CG reviews as I go along, and they pile up in the "done" file. When I publish a column, I move the "done" files into the notebook -- a good place to preserve them, without them getting in the way of ongoing work. The following are the notes/drafts for the records covered by the Jazz CG #3. (326 records in file before this purge.)

  • Geri Allen/Dave Holland/Jack DeJohnette: The Life of a Song (2004, Telarc). The achievement here is as much sonic as musical: Holland's bass has rarely been rendered so clearly. When you focus on it, it is the center of a universe where piano and drums flash through the sky like meteors. A-
  • Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Hollywood (2004, Tzadik). What if the Jews who scored '40s Hollywood movies and the Jews who chilled west coast jazz in the '50s had reached deeper into their ethnic legacy? That's the concept here: mostly traditional pieces, played soundtrack-style not as social music but for atmospheric effect. Special treat: X drummer D.J. Bonebrake, playing vibes. A-
  • Big Satan (Berne, Rainey, Ducret): Souls Saved Hear (2003 [2004], Thirsty Ear). Tom Rainey's perpetually broken time gives this trio a lurching stutter step that Tim Berne's sax abstraction only makes more cartoonish. Marc Ducret's guitar provides the sinew that keeps the works from flying apart, and fills in stretches of relative calm when his cohorts take a breather. Berne's albums always hew close to the edge. It's a pleasure for once to hear one that doesn't crash. A-
  • Chicago Underground Trio: Slon (2004, Thrill Jockey). The two most distinctive cuts here are the first two, which represent the far poles of their experimentation: "Protest" is acoustic, a fast beat propelled mostly by Noel Kuppersmith's bass, with spectacular cornet from Rob Mazurek; "Slon" is electronic, an odd, fractured beat with little blips on the side, with the cornet adding a bare wash of color. The rest lean toward the electronics, but the real kick more often comes from the cornet soaring over Chad Taylor's drums. Synthesis may not be the point, as each experiment holds its own fascination. And why be underground if not to experiment? A-
  • Denis Colin Trio: Something in Common (2001 [2004], Sunnyside). Not quite a throwback to the black power jazz of the early '70s: the trio is French; the instruments are bass clarinet, cello, and zarb; the lead song is Wyclef Jean's "Diallo." But that's the spirit. Most songs have vocals: rappers, soul sisters, gospel group. They play Hendrix ugly, Stevie Wonder sweet; they transcribe Coltrane, Rollins, Shepp, John Gilmore; and they go pan-African with Beaver Harris. A-
  • Chick Corea Elektric Band: To the Stars (2004, Stretch). The problem with fusion wasn't that good jazz was cheapened by crass rock and roll. The problem was that so many fusioneers were fooled by bad rock. Corea reconvened his 1986-93 Elektrik Band to power through a suite of pieces based on the L. Ron Hubbard sci-fi novel, and you can guess the rest: vintage space opera that Pink Floyd or Hawkwind wouldn't have touched under LSD, soundtrack melodramatics without visual cues, and a fresh coat of Jelly Roll's Famous Latin Tinge. C
  • Firehouse: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (2004, Ayler). The hype here touts this as "jazz-rock n' roll the way it should sound!" What they mean is that Firehouse is led by an electric guitarist, John Lindblom, who's into dirty power chords (i.e., rock n' roll), while the rest of the band is a jazz combo (tenor sax, trumpet, bass, drums). There is some truth to the assertion, but what this fusion takes from rock is the raw sound and power of hardcore thrash, which it fuses with the raw sound and power of the '60s high energy jazz avant garde. This is an exhilarating mix, at least at first. The horns (Fredrik Ljungkvist and Magnus Broo) also play in Atomic, which teamed up recently with Ken Vandermark's School Days, to similar effect, but here they mostly pile on top of the guitar. More like punk-jazz. B+
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet: Zephyros (2004, NatSat). Her crashing entrance here shows why she gets compared to Cecil Taylor. Then she backs off a bit and lets the band do some work. The rhythm section was built for speed, with Takeharu Hayakawa's propulsive electric bass filling out the bottom. On the other hand, husband/trumpeter Natsuki Tamura prefers to wax lyrical even when surrounded by chaos -- which gives this music a touching voice, although what impresses most is the finely drawn manga violence of Fujii's piano. A-
  • Satoko Fujii Trio: Illusion Suite (2003 [2004], Libra). Very different from her *Zephyros* quartet (seems like all her albums are very different). Rigorously avant, I don't think I've ever heard Black or Dresser in better form, and what she does is very distinctive. The title piece runs 34:04, much of it stretched out, but very impressive when they kick up the energy. B+
  • Eddie Gale: Afro-Fire (2004, Black Beauty). After his apprenticeship with Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, Gale cut two deep, grooveful albums for Blue Note in 1968-69 (Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening, reissued recently on Water), then essentially nothing until this year. Like the Blue Notes, this one has an affinity for the rhythm of the people, but these days that is mostly cranked out through synths. For instance, his Sun Ra tribute draws as much on Afrika Bambaataa. The years out of the action may also have taken something away from his trumpet -- less limber and not as bright as in the '60s -- but it may also be that he prefers to retrench in Miles Davis' funk period. B+
  • Jan Garbarek: In Praise of Dreams (2004, ECM). The synths and drums are minimal: most of this stark, lovely album is built around a single string player (Kim Kashkashian on viola), with Garbarek improvising much as he's done for two decades now over all sorts of exotic tableaux. His tone is clear as the frozen Nordic landscape he evokes almost automagically, but ultimately this turns out to be just another sax and strings album, reduced to its absolute minimum. B+
  • Jerry Gonzalez y los Piratas del Flamenco (2001 [2004], Sunnyside). In the gypsy flamenco that Gonzalez encountered on moving from New York to Madrid he found a third leg to his fusion of rumba and Monk. The old world is evident in Nino Josele's guitar and Diego El Cigala's vocals, but the rhythms sound Afro-Cuban. This record came from a rehearsal tape, with most tracks limited to two or three musicians. One is just conga and cajon; others muted trumpet, guitar, and percussion. And, of course, Monk goes flamenco, with hand claps. A-
  • The Great Jazz Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come (2002-03 [2004], Eighty-Eights/Columbia). Hank Jones has used this group name several times before, starting in 1976 with Buster Williams and Tony Williams. This time he's joined by Richard Davis and Elvin Jones. I haven't heard the earlier editions, but I gather that the point is to show off the bass-drums stars, else this would just be a Hank Jones trio record (and there are plenty of those). Indeed, Davis gets prime time, with a fine arco solo on "Moose the Mooche." But in retrospect let's dedicate this one to the late great Elvin Jones, who even gives "Caravan" a new lease on life. Last chance to hear him on something new. B+
  • Mats Gustafsson/Sonic Youth With Friends: Hidros 3 (2000 [2004], Smalltown Supersound). The spine just says "Mats Gustafssons Hidros 3" so I'm doing some name dropping per the sticker. One could further note that this is dedicated to Patti Smith, but the significance of that isn't obvious. Nor is this really a Sonic Youth record, although Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore are two of the four guitarists involved, Kim Gordon wrote lyrics and sings (declaims shrilly is more like it) four times, and Jim O'Rourke did a real-time mix of streams of music coming in from separated rooms. Gustafsson wrote the music and plays contrabass sax, an extremely low pitched instrument with limited acoustic range, so when he rips off a solo it sounds more like a drugged bull elephant than his usual whining stallion. The dominant sound, then, comes from the guitars and scattered electronics, a long recombinant metallic grind. Interesting experiment, remarkable when it comes together at the end, with Gordon complaining that "men talk to other men through fashion" and teasing Lou Reed's "I just don't know" until it becomes "I just don't know what to wear." B+
  • Helen Merrill: Lilac Wine (2002 [2004], Sunnyside). The once and future Jelena Milcetic, one of the great jazz singers of the latter half-century (and we mean all of it; her early cohort Clifford Brown has been dead 48 years now), is still in remarkably fine voice, but her excursions in Eastern Europe have saddled her with some dull, dreary orchestras. This time it is a 32-piece group in Prague, and they plod through a set of pieces from "Wild Is the Wind" to "Love Me Tender" and something by Radiohead as slow and surreal as a coma. B-
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Live at MCG With Special Guest Kurt Elling (2004, MCG Jazz). As a big band date, the sound is washed out a bit, the section work nothing special, the soloists (especially Mintzer) not bad. They have a slight inclination to delve south of the border, but they aren't especially good at it. But the problem I have isn't the big band; it's Kurt Elling, a hugely hyped jazz singer who embodies damn near everything I've never liked about '50s jazz vocalists -- especially those midway between crooning and hipsterism. Especially when he dumps a load of scat, he sounds like a caricature. C+
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Dual Pleasure 2 (2003 [2004], Smalltown Supersound, 2CD). Two more discs of intense interplay between drums and tenor sax or clarinet: one from the studio session that yielded last year's Dual Pleasure, the other recorded live at Kampen Jazz in Oslo. Nothing new here for anyone who's heard the previous set, just a lot more of it. It does seem like more clarinet (at least on the first disc), a more subdued instrument which they take in more abstract directions. But the tenor sax duos are avant-honk, as you'd expect. B+
  • Paradigm Shift: Shifting Times (2004, Nagel Heyer). At first I thought of this as an uncommonly sharp crossover group, but closer examination reveals that it is basically a throwback to the soul jazz groups of the '60s: organ-guitar-drums are the constant across the whole album; the other instruments are brought in for a song or two: trumpet, trombone, saxophone, vibes. Or more properly, it's an update. The core group is Melvin Henderson (guitar), Gerry Youngman (organ), and Ted Poor (drums), but the featured guests give them a lot of looks and angles. They're ready to cross over, but not to beg. B+
  • Adam Pieronczyk: Amusos (2002 [2003], PAO). Singer Mina Agossi opens like a tipsy Sheila Jordan, unsettling until you refocus on the band busy pulling the rug out from under her. Pieronczyk's saxophones add to but rarely emerge from an ether of bass, cello, beats drummed and synthesized, intent on a postmodern cool in an arena where nothing is stable, where even the programming runs free. Agossi asks, "où donc est le bonheur?" Good question. B+
  • Don Pullen: Mosaic Select (1986-90 [2004], Mosaic, 3CD). Pullen had a gimmick: he would turn his hands over and smash out huge clusters of notes with his knuckles. It was the most astonishing sound ever to come out of a piano, and he could play in that mode long enough to take your breath away. But it was less a gimmick than the ultimate example of his unprecedentedly physical attack on the piano. He built up harmonies with explosions of dissonant color and rhythmic complexity, as fast as Art Tatum with his curlicues. But he died in 1995, at 51 neither a shooting star nor a living legend, and his records have vanished from print -- especially the eight he cut for Blue Note from 1986 until his death. This limited edition brings the first four back, squeezed onto three CDs. The first two are quartet albums with r&b-flavored saxophonist George Adams. Both are rousing, especially the first. The next two were trios, where the focus is even more squarely on his piano. He did much more in a short career -- he was perhaps the most interesting organist to emerge since Larry Young, and his later Ode to Life is poignant and moving -- but this was the pinnacle of his pianistic power. A
  • Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Paseo (2004, Blue Note). A-
  • Septeto Rodriguez: Baila! Gutano Baila! (Tzadik). Roberto Juan Rodriguez learned klezmer as a Cuban expatriate in Miami, working Yiddish theatre companies and bar mitzvahs. His synthesis of Jewish melodies and Cuban percussion dreams of roots that never were, yet it is convincing enough that one can imagine generations of conversos gathering in private to keep the ancient secrets of their culture alive. This sequel to *El Danzon de Moises* is less surprising but broader and happier, with touches of tango and gypsy dance. A-
  • Matthew Shipp: Harmony and Abyss (2004, Thirsty Ear). Shipp's early records were minimal affairs, often duos where he would project long melodic lines like Bud Powell swept into the avant '90s. Until he hooked up with Thirsty Ear he never showed much interest in rhythm, but working for a rock label brought out his inner David Bowie. Still, he veiled his increasingly rhythmic play behind horn leads. This one is the breakthrough he advertised on *Nu Bop* and promoted on *Equilibrium*, and the reason is that finally the masks are gone: no horns, no vibes, just a piano trio plus programmer Chris Flam, so Shipp's piano (or synth) is always up front, the pieces differentiated by rhythm, and the rhythms as varied and creative as Shipp's old melodic lines. A
  • Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor Sextet: L'Histoire du Clochard: The Bum's Tale (2002 [2004], Palmetto). With no drums, two reeds (tenor sax, clarinet), two brass (trumpet, trombone), violin and Swallow's electric bass, this is chamber music with virtually no pulse but a lot of color. Swallow wrote the pieces. Talmor arranged them. The sole saving grace that I can find is Meg Okura's violin, which could cut through some of the hyperseriousness if she could let loose. But nobody does. C+
  • The Thing: Garage (2004, Smalltown Superjazz). They start with recent alt-rock songs by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and White Stripes and turn them into noise fests, then pick one from Peter Brötzmann to chill out with. Mats Gustafsson is the noise master, working on tenor and especially baritone sax, slicing each song to the bone then knicking it up like a bear smacking its chops. The rhythm section is the back end of Ken Vandermark's School Days, and Paal Nilssen-Love is especially active: this is further evidence that he's one of the great drummers working today, possibly *the* guy in the avant-rock spotlight. Harsh, nasty, chilling: most people will hate this, but it's close to being a tour de force. Play it for the young punk who thinks Black Sabbath is heavy. It will scare the hell out of him. B+
  • Tripleplay: Gambit (2003 [2004], Clean Feed). The delta from Spaceways Inc. to Tripleplay is the replacement of Hamid Drake with Curt Newton, but switching bassist Nate McBride from electric to acoustic shifts the emphasis from funk grooves to blues. Both moves make the band more intimate, and Ken Vandermark responds with some of his most thoughtful chamber jazz. Even if it feels like it was made up on the fly, which it probably was. A-
  • Warren Vaché: Dream Dancing (2003 [2004], Arbors). The difference between this and *2Gether*, the duo Vaché and Bill Charlap cut for Nagel Heyer in 2000, is the difference between a fine modernist antique and an overstuffed easy chair. With bass and drums, Charlap eases back, and Vaché settles into his comfort zone. Now that he's too old to be called a "young fogie" anymore, maybe the notion that his genteel swing is retro should also be retired. A-
  • Kim Waters: In the Name of Love (2004, Shanachie). Touted as "the #1 Saxophonist in Smooth Urban Jazz," he gets a sweet, lustrous tone from his alto, which sounds good on top of the usual synth mishmash. Starts by covering the latest R. Kelly standard -- it's popped up on at least one competing record as well. Introduces a song in the middle of the album with "right now we're gonna go way back" -- way back to Barry White's "Love's Theme," which says something about his sense of history and tradition. I can't begrudge him on that one -- I find it even more comic than White's original. But without a foil like White his lite, brite soul funk doesn't offer much. C+

Over the course of the first three Jazz Consumer Guides I've collected notes on quite a few records that I'm very unlikely to write about there. I've been carrying these along in the workfile, where they're turning into clutter. So I'm moving the notes here, effectively to be buried.

  • Josh Abrams: Cipher (2003, Delmark). Jeff Parker's guitar has such a pretty ring to it you wonder what he's doing hanging around with the rest of these guys. I guess it takes all sorts. Parker's payoff comes with the closer, "For SK," where both trumpet and clarinet follow him with lovely solos, and even Abrams lays out some nice bass. So pencil that down as a Choice Cut. Given the instrumentation, nothing here is plug ugly, but much of it is rather scattered. The opener ("Mental Politician") has a bass-guitar groove with the two horns flying off in odd tangents, unsettling the rhythm. It sets you up looking for expansive freejazz, but the next two cuts chill out with slow moving tone poems and some of Parker's pretty guitar. The title cut picks up some static (don't know where that's coming from). And so it goes. B
  • Karrin Allyson: Wild for You (2003 [2004], Concord). Covers of '70s pop songs, mostly from women's albums -- Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, Melissa Manchester -- plus a little Cat Stevens and Elton John. The Joni Mitchell covers are carbon copies vocally, except that Mitchell sounded jazzier. In fact, none of the music sounds like they made much of an effort to jazz up. The result is as wan as any rock star's oldies album, although the oldies probably aren't up to the standards of any self-respecting rock star. C+
  • The Essential Louis Armstrong (1925-67 [2004], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). Scott Yanow panned Legacy's previous Armstrong compilation, the 4CD Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, arguing that anyone who inadvertently purchased the box would be throwing their money away, because they'd wind up wanting to buy all of the source discs that it was selected from. That's a pretty hardcore argument. Even if one were to concede that there's nothing that should be missed on Columbia's 7CD early Armstrong series -- which is truer than you can imagine -- the box did a brilliant job sorting out Armstrong's more marginal period work with King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, and scads of blues singers (collected on 6CD by Affinity). However, limiting Armstrong to two CDs, covering the same early period plus another thirty-some years, will definitely leave you wanting more. We can argue about omissions, but it's hard to begrudge anything that was selected. Notably, Legacy reached out to UMG for the 1936 "Shadrack" and the 1967 "What a Wonderful World," and to BMG for the 1947 "Rockin' Chair," filling in holes in Columbia's own catalog. A nice gift for the young person you know who don't know squat, as is the more cost effective (25 classics on one CD, vs. 37 on two here) Ken Burns Jazz: Louis Armstrong. But get The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (4CD, on Columbia/Legacy, or cheaper on JSP) and The California Concerts (4CD, on Decca) for yourself. And don't expect to be satiated. Yanow was being foolish, but not stupid. A
  • Barbara Balzan Quartet: Tender Awakening (2004, TCB). The road goes on forever, and the sad songs never end. But cut with cello, bass and piano, everything sounds sad -- especially in French or Italian, which crop up here and there. My first take was that this record is dreadfully dull. Subsequently I've had to revise my estimation: this record is very skillful at achieving a dreadfully dull finish. But I'm not sure what the practical difference is. B
  • Gary Bartz Ntu Troop: Harlem Bush Music (1970-71 [2004], Milestone). This stitches together two more albums from the chance historical meeting of the jazz fringe with the black power masses, originally released as Uhuru and Taifa, but cut from the same sessions, with the same group, under the same rubric of "Harlem Bush Music." Bartz was a hard bop alto saxophonist who had done a tour with Art Blakey and would soon hook up with Miles Davis, but while his idiom was bop his fast and furious style came from the avant-garde. He is joined here by Andy Bey, whose polished jazz singing softens the edges of Bartz's agitprop lyrics. This renders "Vietcong" into a catchy hymn, although some lines bear repeating: "twenty years of fighting for his homeland/he won't give up the rights for no man." In "Blue (A Folk Tale)" Bartz critiques, "blues ain't nothing but misery on your mind"; but the blues he makes is a vehicle of strength and endurance and hope. A-
  • Jamie Baum Septet: Moving Forward, Standing Still (2004, Omnitone). She's the product of a broad musical education: plays flute, composes pieces at least as deeply rooted in 20th century European modernism as the jazz tradition, able to slip in snatches of Latin music. She leads a skillful group, including Ralph Alessi (the standout here, on trumpet and flugelhorn), Tom Varner (french horn), and Drew Gress (bass). The one cover is a bit from Trilok Gurtu, which she works into a medley. I should be impressed, and to some extent I am, but I also find myself disinterested. B
  • Joshua Breakstone: A Jamais (2003 [2004], Capri). Straightforward bop, transcribed to guitar in the usual manner, which is to say as long lines of notes. He gets a distinctive tone on the guitar: a dull metal thud, with a little reverb. This was done as a trio, with notable help from Louis Petrucciani on bass, and two cuts done solo. The absence of a horn keeps the guitar on top. Skillful, pleasant, just not a lot to it. B
  • Bob Brookmeyer: Get Well Soon (2002 [2004], Challenge). Big band record; what the hell, huge band record. Brookmeyer has a rep as an arranger, which he shows off in spades here. The band crackles. Still, who cares? B+
  • Lenny Bruce: Let the Buyer Beware (1948-66 [2004], Shout! Factory). I wonder how many people born after Bruce's death in 1966 have any idea who he was. Can't be many: comics don't have much of a shelf life, especially ones with no tv exposure. Older generations will know the name, even though few actually saw him perform, heard his LPs, or read his book. No, he was famous for getting busted -- 15 times in two years, mostly for saying bad words. Bruce was one of those Jews who adopted a goyische stage name to start his career, then spent nearly every moment on stage reminding you that he was Jewish: he savaged Barry Goldwater for changing his religion and not his name; he ran through lists of entertainers ("the Mills Brothers were goy; Coleman Hawkins was a Jew; Ben Webster was so Jewish, he was an orthodox Jew"); he poured so much Yiddish into his act the box includes a dictionary. Most of his shtick has dated: even with the biographical notes you had to have lived through Lawrence Welk and the Lone Ranger to get those bits. He barely touches politics -- nothing on Vietnam or Israel, but lots on race and homosexuals and the hypocrisies of the pious and the merely liberal. And by featuring mostly unreleased tapes the box aims to flesh out a portrait that only his devoted fans can fully dig. But excessive and peculiar as it is, those fans fear it may become timely again. America in the '50s was a cloistered society of deeply repressed people, and Bruce sliced through all that false consciousness, with an innocent's faith in simple justice and a mischievous glee. He didn't live to enjoy the liberating lifeforce of the '60s, but he had something to do with making it possible -- in death as much as in life. For most of the years since he's just been history, but some bits here do seem to be coming back to life: take his "Religions, Inc." and substitute Jerry Falwell for Oral Roberts, or let him quote Will Rogers again, "I never met a dyke I didn't like." So maybe it is time to resurrect him; after all, Jesus wasn't the only Jew who died for our sins. A-
  • Dave Budbill/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Songs for a Suffering World (2003, Boxholder). Incantation and improvisation, subtitled "A Prayer for Peace, a Protest Against War." Good sentiments, but Budbill's poetry is so obvious and so forthright it makes me cringe. His eastern religious schtick is also way beyond my pale, and the constant declamations of "we want to live" give me second thoughts. A good guy, no doubt, but a little wit, even a bit of irony would be appreciated. What saves this from a grade down in the E range is the improvisations, the work of two more good guys, who also happen to be geniuses. Even so, I would be tempted to point you to other records they've done together, but I have to note that they get the spirit here even when Budbill himself goes over the deep end, and as such they do things here I haven't heard them do elsewhere. B-
  • Joey Calderazzo: Haiku (2002 [2004], Marsalis Music/Rounder). Solo piano, from a pianist best known for taking over Kenny Kirkland's chair in the Branford Marsalis Quartet. Plays a piece by Marsalis, one by Kirkland, one by Cole Porter, another old one called "My One and Only Love," and a bunch of originals. I don't really see the point of it all, but it's pleasant enough. B
  • Jesse Chandler: Somewhere Between (2003, Fresh Sound). Chandler plays organ without grits; combined with Mike Moreno's guitar and limited but tasty sax and reeds, this sounds like uncommonly smart crossover pop, except that it's not pop, and it's not about to cross over anywhere. Which makes it just another nice record all dressed up with nowhere to go. B
  • Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company (2004, Concord/Hear Music). Having skipped virtually everything Charles recorded after 1965, except for brief checks on box sets which didn't convince me I had erred, one thing I can't judge is where this one ranks among his post-Genius work. I think it depends a lot on your expectations, and on how sympathetic you feel following his passing. (It was, I have to admit, a nice touch that the Feds declared a national holiday to memorialize the sad event.) On the other hand, the fact that this isn't half bad isn't really cause for rejoicing. It's not a return to form so much as a lot of help from his friends and admirers, which include the producers who do so much to prop him up. On the plus side: two old classics with pop jazz singers, neither as delectable as Roseanna Vitro; a "Fever" that reminds you that it was his kind of song; and Van Morrison clearing the table with "Crazy Love." On the down side Willie Nelson bites into the wrong loaf, while James Taylor, Elton John, and Michael McDonald do nothing to elevate their sullied reputations. So is the glass half full? Or half empty? B
  • Miles Davis: Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964 ([2004], Columbia/Legacy). Seven discs, starting with a nondescript L.A. studio session released as Seven Steps to Heaven, stepping through a series of live recordings including the date in Berlin when Wayne Shorter completed the Quintet, the most famous Davis group of all. As the pieces come together -- Ron Carter from the start, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams to finish the studio album in New York -- the band starts to sizzle and Davis plays as imaginatively as ever. In retrospect one likes to see this period as transitional, but the one disc with Shorter is anticlimactic. One thing this box should do is give George Coleman, who plays tenor sax on five discs here, some well deserved respect. Even more intriguing is the road not taken: Sam Rivers lights up the stage in Tokyo, prodding Davis to play as far out as he ever got. All but six cuts are previously released, but only the studio album has been in print recently. When/if this gets cut up, look first for the Antibes and Japan sets. A-
  • Alex DeGrassi: Folk Songs for the 21st Century (2003, Tropo). Subtitled "contemporary arrangements for guitar": solo acoustic guitar (except for two songs, one adding bass, both percussion), mostly on well worn songs where we are not used to such simple treatments ("Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Saint James Informary") or songs whose inate simplicity makes this treatment seem unduly fancy ("Shortnin' Bread," "Oh Susanna"). Pleasant, of course, but compared to its intention this doesn't go very far. B-
  • Baby Dodds: Talking and Drum Solos (1946-54 [2003], Atavistic). B
  • Duke Ellington: Piano in the Background (1960-61 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). New arrangements of old warhorses, designed to feature the piano player, at least as they start and sometimes for brief breaks. But with the full orchestra in tow, that's most of what you hear. He must have been right when he said that his real instrument is the orchestra. B+
  • Duke Ellington: Piano in the Foreground (1957-61 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). Ellington wasn't a great pianist, but he was a smart one, with a marvelous touch. These simple trio pieces isolate him, but also draw him out a bit. It's tempting to give this extra credit for that, but when all is said and done, 'tis true that his real instrument was the orchestra. This is roughly as good as his 1952-53 trios for Capitol; haven't heard the 1972 This One's for Blanton (Pablo OJC). B+
  • Dexter Gordon: Dexter Calling . . . (1961 [2004], Blue Note). A quartet with his old bop chums including Kenny Drew, leaving him a lot of space to blow, and with eight pieces he casts his net wide enough to show his stuff. B+
  • Dexter Gordon: One Flight Up (1964 [2004], Blue Note). One of the later Blue Notes, recorded in Paris with Donald Byrd, Kenny Drew, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (their first of many sessions), and Art Taylor -- the line-up a matter of convenience, although the bassist (age 18) was quite a find. The original LP had three longish hard bop jams; a fourth cut, Gordon's "Kong Neptune" didn't make it, but has been tacked on here. Probably the most ordinary of his Blue Notes, not that there's anything particularly wrong with it. B
  • Charlie Haden: Land of the Sun (2004, Verve). Beautiful record. Mexican themes, the land of enchantment. A-
  • Dave Holland: Rarum Vol. 10: Selected Recordings (1972-2000 [2004], ECM). Holland has recorded 15 albums under his own name for ECM, plus two as Gateway (with John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette), starting with a 1971 bass duo (with Barre Phillips) and 1972's Conference of the Birds -- an amazing piece of avant blowing by Anthony Braxton. AMG lists 217 albums that Holland has appeared on (excluding VA comps, but including some artist comps). B+
  • The Hot Club of San Francisco: Be That Way (2004, Panda Digital). Not as hot as you'd figure: the name and lineup is meant to recall Django Reinhardt, which makes this a string-driven thing (three guitars, violin and bass) devoted to laconic gypsy jazz, as opposed to the really hot dixieland revival bands that also frequently hail from San Francisco. This is something like their seventh album, going back to 1993. First one I've heard, so I don't know how it compares. But I do have a shelf full of Reinhardt and/or Grappelli, and compared to them this is slower, thinner, more wistful -- not a bad idea, but not a convincing one either. B
  • Freddie Hubbard: Blue Spirits (1965 [2004], Blue Note). The best of his later Blue Notes, even though the album proper is split between two somewhat different groups: "Soul Surge" is a groove piece driven by Big Black's congas and Harold Mabern's gospel-tinged piano, a strong mover by any measure; "Blue Spirits" is lighter and slicker, with McCoy Tyner, Bob Cranshaw and Pete LaRoca in the rhythm section, and one of James Spaulding's best flute solos ever. The contrast between Mabern and Tyner is clearer than the one between Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley -- if it had been planned one might have switched them. Two bonus cuts bring in a Herbie Hancock/Reggie Workman/Elvin Jones rhythm section, including the relatively abstract "True Colors," a slippery excursion outside. That these all fit together just reminds you that Hubbard could do it all. A-
  • Freddie Hubbard: Breaking Point (1964 [2004], Blue Note). The liner notes posit this as the launching point for Hubbard's career -- the first time he recorded with his own touring group. That must mean that the half-dozen or so previous albums that he recorded for Blue Note, as well as three for Impulse, were just studio groups; conversely, that explains his no-name rhythm section. This is a mixed bag of pieces. The title cut is a strange mix of stops and lurches, at times dazzling and at other times puzzling. The next three are more conventional, "Blue Frenzy" especially pleasing. Joe Chambers' "Mirrors" is slow, opaque, rather hazy. James Spaulding complements, including a flute solo. But most of the interest comes from Hubbard, who plays superbly. B+
  • Freddie Hubbard: The Night of the Cookers (1965 [2004], Blue Note, 2CD). Recorded live at Club la Marchal in Brooklyn on Apr. 9-10, 1965, the treat here is in hearing Hubbard square off with Lee Morgan, an equally brilliant and even more fiery second trumpet. Each disc has two long pieces, and they develop as long pieces do, with lots of trade-offs. The rhythm section includes Harold Mabern on piano, and is supplemented by Big Black on congas -- a nice touch. The fireworks are present, but hardly as spectacular as hoped, which leaves us with not much more than the usual jam session. B
  • Frank Jackson: New York After Dark (2003 [2004], Kasis). Evidently a fixture on the San Francisco jazz scene, where he has worked since getting a start in Slim Gaillard's Voute City. But I can't find any records under his name before he started recording for Kasis c. 2002, nearing his 80th birthday. The late James Williams produced this one, welcoming Jackson to New York with a group that includes Ron Carter and Kenny Washington, with Billy Pierce adding soprano or tenor sax to a couple of cuts. Some of this, especially "Summertime," is worth the listen just for Carter. Jackson is an impeccable but pale singer, with little accent, not much nuance, little to distinguish himself beyond his undoubted skill. B
  • Illinois Jacquet: Desert Winds (1964 [2004], Verve). B+
  • Vic Juris: Blue Horizon (2002-03 [2004], Zoho). Juris has a distinctive style on guitar -- not Montgomery, not McLaughlin, not Abercrombie (although we're getting warmer). I've heard him compared to Larry Coryell and Birelli Lagrene -- at least he's duetted with both -- but I don't know them well enough to say. This album pairs him with Joe Locke (vibes, marimba), which adds some tinkle to the ring of his guitar. The record is artful, perhaps masterful, but in a way that I don't quite feel like sussing out. B
  • Eric Kloss: First Class! (1966-67 [2004], Prestige). Blind since birth, but as prodigously talented as anyone who ever picked up an alto saxophone, Kloss was barely 16 when he started recording for Prestige. He recorded prolifically up to 1981, then vanished. He could play anything, any way, but as far as I can tell he never developed a style or sound of his own. Some argue that he could have become the greatest jazz saxophonist of all time, but nobody argues that he did. This CD collects his 3rd and 4th LPs, cut when he was 17-18. The music is all over the place, but Prestige paired him with first rate modernists, keeping the mix interesting and providing a solid platform for Kloss to lick his chops. The first LP, Grits & Gravy, seems to have been meant as a soul jazz shot, but most of it was cut with Jaki Byard's trio, and it all seems a bit confused. At times it makes me wonder what he might have done in the age of Kenny G -- compared to which he's Roland Kirk. The latter LP, First Class Kloss, is more scattered and much more fun. It ranges from the warped polyphony of "Psychedelicatessen Rag" to the avant-blowout "African Cookbook" without stopping any place long enough to get your bearings -- except to marvel at Cedar Walton. B+
  • David Krakauer: Live in Krakow (2004, Label Bleu). Krakauer in Krakow, "welcome to my town." He has a group called Klezmer Madness, which on this evidence doesn't strike me as quite mad enough. The addition to the group here is Socalled, a DJ who tosses in some samples and beats, but ultimately doesn't make much of an impression. Most of what's left is competent enough, with a slight edge to the traditional pieces over the originals. The most promising track comes after the close of the show (the track where they introduce the band, ending in applause): a short one called "Sirba" where guitarist Sheryl Bailey manages to make some noise. B
  • The Ramsey Lewis Trio: Sound of Christmas (1961 [2004], Verve). There's nothing like Christmas music to bring out the "bah humbug!" in me, but if you really want to rub it in, toss in a string orchestra. The first half here, with just the trio, is tolerable, although I doubt that Charlie Parker could roast some of these chestnuts. The second half, with Riley Hampton's strings, is appalling hackwork. D+
  • Ramsey Lewis Trio: Time Flies (2004, Narada Jazz). Not really a trio: he picks up guests here and there, including a whole gospel choir for two cuts and another vocalist for "Wade in the Water." He plunders Bach and Brahms, and covers things like "Midnight at the Oasis" and "The In Crowd" (how many times has he done that one?). He picks up programmed beats, especially when he wants a bit of that Spanish Tinge. He shifts bassist Larry Gray over to cello and flute, brings Kevin Randolph in to play organ. In other words, this has nothing to do with his jazz roots. Rather, this is pure kitsch. It would be easy to trash, but everywhere you go his piano sparkles. Maybe not like diamonds, but more than the mere glitter he'd probably be satisfied with. B
  • Dave Liebman Group: In a Mellow Tone (2001 [2004], Zoho). Liebman comments in his liner notes that this album has more tenor sax than is usual for the group, but his soprano sax predominates. Guitarist Vic Juris chimes in, sometimes taking the role of second horn, sometimes piano, but his tone tends to reinforce the soprano - keeps this up in the higher registers. Mostly soft pieces, not so fast, but not really ballads either, despite the Ellington composition which serves as a title. I like Liebman's tenor a lot more than his soprano, which also tends to subdue Juris; Juris' tone adds a metallic tinge to Liebman's soprano which tends to sound thin and whiny. B
  • Guitar Moods by Mundell Lowe (1956 [2004], Riverside/OJC). He's got an interesting guitar sound: not quite metallic like so many guitarists, almost harp-like. These mood pieces are played so slow that sound is most of what you get. The bass and drums add little in the way of dynamics, and the occasional horns (one each on 7 of 12 tracks) just supplement Lowe's sound -- the horns themselves being unorthodox enough (English horn, flute, bass clarinet, oboe) that they bring virtually no jazz baggage with them. Not ambient, just ambling. B
  • Machito and His Afro-Cuban Orchestra: Vacation at the Concord (1958 [2004], Verve). A souvenir of one of those pleasant summer weekends in the Catskills, back when Cuba was still a well-behaved (well, not really) colonial outpost. The band is uncredited, and plays anonymously: the brass is bright but securely tethered, the rhythm is full of cha-cha but never shows off. Sorry to pick on such a nice little record, but I've heard Machito when he had something to say, and know he can make himself and his band heard. Just not here. B-
  • Herbie Mann/Phil Woods: Beyond Brooklyn (2004, MCG Jazz). Herbie Mann was a tough guy who played a wimpy instrument. He was by far the most famous flute player in jazz -- probably because he had a few successful commercial flings in the '60s, but also because there hasn't been much competition (James Newton? Jeremy Steig? Robert Dick? 80% of the players who show up in Downbeat's annual flute poll are dabblers who spend most of their lives on other instruments). But he grew up in thrall to bebop, like most of his generation -- like Phil Woods, in fact -- and up to this his last recording bebop vitiated his work. Still, it's just flute, the instrument of the pied piper. One is tempted to cut him some slack in memoriam, but the flute still feels disembodied here. The real meat comes from Woods, who has rarely sounded so relaxed and settled. B
  • Billy Martin: Drop the Needle / Illy B Eats (2002, Amulet, 2CD). Two discs. The first is remixed from Martin's beats, with anonymous raps and other distractions. The second is just the beats. I actually prefer the second. The raps and remixes don't strike me as especially noteworthy, although they function in a rather utilitarian way, as do the beats. Martin knocked off a bunch of records like this, fine as a side-project when away from Messrs. Medeski et Wood. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing earthshaking either. B
  • Lee Morgan: The Sixth Sense (1967-68 [2004], Blue Note). The album proper -- with Jackie McLean, Frank Mitchell, and Cedar Walton -- is plain old hard bop, bright and shiny, exuberant even, but little more than typical for someone as sparkly as Morgan. The three bonus tracks are more narrowly bebop, two fast ones and a ballad -- McLean is absent, and Harold Mabern replaces Walton. B+
  • Paul Motian: Rarum Vol. 16: Selected Recordings (1972-87 [2004], ECM). Best known as the drummer of choice for pianists from Bill Evans to Marilyn Crispell (including Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley here), Motian's own groups eschew piano in favor of saxophonists from Charles Brackeen to Joe Lovano (both heavily featured here), playing his own loose-limbed compositions. This is an appetizing platter, but Motian's later groups (including much more with Lovano and Bill Frisell) developed further, recording extensively with JMT and Winter & Winter. B+
  • Eddy Orini: Divine Mustache: Musical Tribute to the Genius of Salvador Dali (2003 [2004], TCB). AMG characterizes Orini, born in Switzerland in 1943, as a versatile musician more closely associated with prog rock than jazz. Indeed, his credits here (percussion, vocals) don't make for much of a jazz career. His label doesn't disagree: TCB has a color scheme for the spines of their releases, and this one came out black -- their code for "world music," but perhaps more tellingly the last classification on their list. Evidently Orini cut an earlier version of this album in 1976, and had it blessed by Dali himself. There are even pictures of the young Orini with an old Dali, the former doing his best to look like the latter. I find this weird, for while it's easy to take Dali to be a subversive the fact is that he sided with the fascists, and once one knows that it affects how one looks at everything else he did. But while the book and lyrics are pointed at Dali, the music is off in its own world. Or several of them. It's been orchestrated hugely, turned into something of an opera under an aesthetic that is, indeed, more prog rock than jazz. Some small pieces are lovely, and the keyboard work (by Joel Vandroogenbroek, a Daliesque name if ever there one) is fine. And the operatics are never excessive; indeed, if anything they shortchange expressiveness. Seems harmless enough; pointless too. B-
  • Ken Peplowski: Easy to Remember (2003 [2004], Nagel Heyer). A lot brighter and bouncier than the stuff he was doing on Concord: while Peplowski was always a young fogie, he never actually swung all that hard, and his preference for the clarinet over the tenor sax (which he is actually quite good at) seemed like an expression of shyness. (He also had a classical jones, which he's indulged on several occasions.) So credit new producer Frank Nagel-Heyer with the hot band, the two singer shots (the winner is Bobby Short's Tom Waits impression on "It's Easy to Remember"), and the general uplift. Still, this seems kind of rote, perhaps because it's not really Peplowski's kind of thing. B
  • P.J. Perry Quintet (1993 [2004], Unity Jazz/Page Music). Not sure whether this is a reissue or just something from the vault. Perry is a Canadian saxophonist (alto, soprano; mostly alto here) who plays in an aggressive postbop vein. He's joined here by relative unknowns, some of whom (e.g., trumpeter Bob Tildesley) have played with him at least since 1977. While much of this album is sprightly and energetic, two things annoy me: the unision horn work and some melodramatic piling on. When they keep it simple, as in the closer with its organ-like synth, "Don't Forget," they can put on a good show. B
  • Dave Pike and His Orchestra: Manhattan Latin (1964 [2004], Verve). Some first-rate latin rhythm here (Cachao, Patato), which provides a natural backdrop for Pike's vibraphone. The few horns are deployed one at a time: some trumpet, Hubert Laws on tenor sax and piccolo. It might be a nice diversion, but it sags in the middle -- why slow things down when all you really got going for you is rhythm? B-
  • Maria Schneider: Concert in the Garden (2004, Artists Share). Francis Davis swears this is the jazz album of the year, by a huge margin. Nate Chinen put it #3 on his year-end list. It is popping up elsewhere, and it seems likely that the consensus will side with Davis. Nonetheless, I don't hear whatever it is they hear, or more likely I'm just not impressed by it. I'm tempted to write this off as evidence that my primordial loathing of euroclassical music still at work. The first point worth making is that this isn't a big band, at least not in the sense that Ellington and Lunceford and Herman and even Kenton were big bands; this is an orchestra, even if there are no strings and lots of brass. Big bands were built for volume (at least in the pre-amplified era) and as such they were built to reinforce the music, to muscle it up. This is a lot more intricate, with the surplus of instruments employed like so much filagree. This is too complex for me, with no center that I can recognize -- just a lot of effects. Of course, that may be the point, and I'm just being dense expecting something that is not there when the point is more likely to enjoy what is there. Schneider was a protege of Gil Evans, and it's likely that she picks up where Evans left off. Evans differed from the big band leaders in that he was a studio arranger who specialized in tiny little effects. His work with Miles Davis was full of that sort of thing, but it at least was always centered on the boss man. Even without Miles, Evans was a guy who had simple tastes and a particular fondness for the bold and brassy. But I don't hear that sort of thing here: I can count up the brass instruments in the credits, but I don't feel them in the music. Similarly, I can recognize the numerous Latin influences, but I don't feel them. I suspect that in the long run the real problem I have with this record is one of utility: I don't listen to music so closely that I give this sort of thing a fair chance to dazzle me. I want records that grab my attention even when I'm not paying any, and this is way too polite for that. When I asked for a copy of this, I got back a nice note from Schneider where at the end she fretted that I might make this a Dud of the Month. I'm not annoyed enough to do that, nor am I secure enough in my judgment here. But I've played this more than ten times, and it doesn't do anything for me, nor offer any prospect of a breakthrough. B
  • Louis Sclavis: Napoli's Walls (2002 [2004], ECM). This is a strange and fascinating album. Sclavis plays soprano and baritone sax as well as his clarinets, and he's joined by cello, pocket trumpet, guitar, various electronics, and occasional vocals. The latter sound operatic to me, but may be rooted in European (in this case probably Italian) folk and pop, like opera presumably was. The rockish beat of the closing cut ends on an up, but more here seems linked to the Euroclassical tradition, or again its antecedents -- I can't really say. B+
  • Tab Smith: Crazy Walk (1955-57 [2004], Delmark). This is the fourth of four CDs Delmark has released collecting nearly 100 sides that Smith recorded for United from 1951 to 1957. Like its predecessors, it is nothing special, other than that it represents the polar opposite of Charlie Parker. Where Parker pushed his horn to its limits, Smith luxuriates in its simplicity, but that's something too. B+
  • McCoy Tyner: Tender Moments (1967 [2004], Blue Note). A nonet with a lot of brass and James Spaulding flute, thickly arranged but rather impersonal, without much space for the pianist; this was the first of Tyner's many efforts at extended orchestration, and has a few exquisite moments. But I don't see that he's pulled it together yet. B
  • Ray Vega: Squeeze Squeeze (2004, Palmetto). Bright, flashy trumpet in latin and mainstream postbop settings, mostly uptempo. A quick rush, but wears you down. B
  • Eberhard Weber: Rarum XVIII: Selected Recordings (1974-2000 [2004], ECM). The German bassist mostly works with open, airy expanses of sound. It's tempting, especially given his early album titles, to think of him as a painter (a watercolorist), dabbing pastels on pastoral canvases, with only an occasional streak of brightness imparted by a colleague -- a Jan Garbarek, Paul McCandless, Charlie Mariano, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell. Yet most of the guests here are as dull as Weber (even Mariano, whose own records are often incandescent). Still, this generalization underrates him. Teamed with someone like Jon Christensen he can kick up a rhythm, and on his solo album Pendulum he shows a wide range of skills. B
  • Forever, for Always, for Luther: A Tribute to Luther Vandross (2004, GRP). The affinity between "smooth jazz" and recent r&b, which could just as well be called "smooth r&b" if anyone bothered to hire a PR flack to christen it, shouldn't be surprising. You can follow the thread of r&b back at least fifty years and find jazz analogues every step along the way. If today's matches seem to suffer by comparison, it's probably because the vocalists -- usually an afterthought on the jazz side of the fence -- don't make the grade, and because what separates the best contemporary r&b from the rest is singers who do make the grade. This "tribute to" (or regurgitation of) Luther Vandross offers us Lalah Hathaway on Luther's "Forever, For Always, For Love," and I rest my case there. Mostly, though, we have here the usual guitarists, keyboardists, and saxophonists (ignoring Rick Braun, not a bad idea), playing nice and grooveful. I like Kirk Whalum's fullsome tone and Mindi Abair's cheekiness, but the rest is pleasantly lightweight. It no doubt helps that the songs fit together, and that none of the musicians wear out their welcome. B
  • Soul Satisfaction: A Collection of Nu-Soul Gems (1999-2004 [2004], Shanachie). With just two homegrown cuts, this is meant to be genre defining. But the association of "nu-soul" with "neo-soul" loses steam when you consider that AMG's Neo-Soul main artist list only lists one artist here: Rahsaan Patterson. So maybe "nu-soul" is meant more like the alt-underground division of "neo-soul"? Maybe, but the real difference seems to be that these artists are a shade less well known because they're a shade (or two) less talented. Soft soul, sluggish beats, dull rhymes, occasional hysteria. What less could you ask for? C

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

More year end lists:

The New Yorker: Pop Notes:

  • The Arcade Fire: Funeral (Merge)
  • Dizzee Rascal: Showtime (XL)
  • The Futureheads: The Futureheads (Warner)
  • The Hives: Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)
  • Van Hunt: Van Hunt (Capitol)
  • Jorge Ben Jor: Reactivus Amor Est [Turba Philosophorum] (Universal)
  • Tift Merritt: Tambourine (Lost Highway)
  • U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope)
  • Tom Waits: Real Gone (Anti-)
  • Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
  • Gretchen Wilson: Here for the Party (Epic)

Village Voice: Francis Davis:

  1. Maria Schneider: Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare)
  2. Dave Burrell: Expansion (High Two)
  3. Revolutionary Ensemble: And Now . . . (Pi)
  4. Louis Sclavis: Napoli's Walls (ECM)
  5. Jazz Ambassador: Scott Robinson Plays the Compositions of Louis Armstrong (Arbors)
  6. Bob Brookmeyer: Get Well Soon (Challenge)
  7. Matthew Shipp: Harmony and Abyss (Thirsty Ear); Matthew Shipp: The Trio Plays Ware (Splasc[h])
  8. Charlie Haden: Land of the Sun (Verve)
  9. Ray Anderson & Mark Dresser: Nine Songs Together (CIMP); Ray Anderson & Bob Stewart: Heavy Metal Duo (Ray Anderson/Bob Stewart)
  10. Cecil Taylor: The Owner of the River Bank (Enja); Cecil Taylor: Incarnation (FMP)
  11. Dave Douglas: Strange Liberation (RCA); Dave Douglas/Louis Sclavis/Peggy Lee/Dylan van der Schyff: Bow River Falls (Premonition)
  12. Masada String Trio (Tzadik)

Also listed as honorable mentions:

  • The Bad Plus: Give (Columbia)
  • Don Byron: Ivey-Divey (Blue Note)
  • ICP Orchestra: Aan & Uit (ICP)
  • Joe Lovano: I'm All for You (Blue Note)
  • John McNeil: Sleep Won't Come (Omnitone)
  • Tony Malaby: Adobe (Sunnyside)
  • Myra Melford: Where Two Worlds Touch (Arabesque)
  • Hugh Ragin: Revelation (Justin Time)
  • Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls: Breeding Resistance (Delmark)
  • Trio X: Journey (CIMP)
  • The Vandermark Five: Elements of Style . . . Exercises in Surprise (Atavistic)
  • Matt Wilson: Wake Up! (To What's Happening) (Palmetto)
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Experience (Justin Time)

Also listed for vocals:

  • Andy Bey: American Song (Savoy Jazz)
  • Suzie Ariola: That's for Me (Justin Time)
  • Barbara Lea & Keith Ingham Celebrate Vincent Youmans (A)

Village Voice: Tom Hull:

  1. Sonic Liberation Front: Ashé a Go-Go (High Two)
  2. Matthew Shipp: Harmony and Abyss (Thirsty Ear)
  3. The Vandermark Five: Elements of Style . . . Exercises in Surprise (Atavistic)
  4. David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters: Gwotet (Justin Time)
  5. Charlie Haden: Land of the Sun (Verve)
  6. Triage: American Mythology (Okka)
  7. Jewels & Binoculars: Floater (Ramboy)
  8. Zu & Spaceways Inc.: Radiale (Atavistic)
  9. Satoko Fujii Quartet: Zephyros (NatSat)
  10. Don Byron: Ivey-Divey (Blue Note)

Village Voice: Nate Chinen:

  1. Marilyn Crispell: Storyteller (ECM)
  2. Craig Taborn: Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear)
  3. Maria Schneider: Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare)
  4. Andy Bey: American Song (Savoy Jazz)
  5. Revolutionary Ensemble: And Now . . . (Pi)
  6. Don Byron: Ivey-Divey (Blue Note)
  7. Dave Burrell: Expansion (High Two)
  8. Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Paseo (Blue Note)
  9. Jim Black: Habyor (Winter & Winter)
  10. ICP Orchestra: Aan & Uit (ICP)

Took a look at the Village Voice's "6th Annual Film Critics' Poll 2004." As usual, I've only seen four of the top ten (Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sideways, I [heart] Huckabees), and they thin out after that: 15. Kill Bill Vol. 2, 17. Hero, 25. Fahrenheit 9/11, 36. Maria Full of Grace, 46. The Motorcycle Diaries, 60. Closer, 63. The Manchurian Candidate, 84. Ray. Some others are here now and likely to get seen (The Aviator, Kinsey), others here and less likely (Ocean's Twelve); I've seen the trailer for #9 Vera Drake, but no telling when the movie will follow. Haven't even seen the trailer for #12 Bad Education or #11 Billion Dollar Baby. Main reason I mention all this isn't to show how poorly I follow the movies; I'm just pleased that Before Sunset won.

Monday, December 27, 2004

More year-end lists:

Entertainment Weekly: David Browne:

  1. Danger Mouse: The Grey Album ()
  2. Joseph Arthur: Our Shadows Will Remain (Vector)
  3. The Black Eyes: Rubber Factory (Fat Possum/Epitaph)
  4. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
  5. Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose (Interscope)
  6. Brandy: Afrodisiac (Atlantic)
  7. PJ Harvey: Uh Huh Her (Island)
  8. Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-)
  9. Green Day: American Idiot (Reprise)
  10. The Walkmen: Bows + Arrows (Record Collection)

Entertainment Weekly: Tom Sinclair:

  1. N.E.R.D.: Fly or Die (Virgin)
  2. The Paybacks: Harder and Harder (Get Hip)
  3. American Music Club: Love Songs for Patriots (Merge)
  4. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
  5. The Black Keys: Rubber Factory (Fat Possum/Epitaph)
  6. TV on the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go)
  7. The Zutons: Who Killed . . . the Zutons (Epic)
  8. U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope)
  9. The A-Bones: Daddy Wants a Cold Beer and Other Million Sellers (Norton)
  10. Saliva: Survival of the Sickest (Island)

New York Times: Jon Pareles:

  1. U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope)
  2. Youssou N'Dour: Egypt (Nonesuch)
  3. Brian Wilson: Smile (Nonesuch)
  4. Bjork: Medulla (Elektra)
  5. Green Day: American Idiot (Reprise)
  6. Juana Molina, Tres Cosas (Domino)
  7. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
  8. TV on the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go)
  9. Juliana Hatfield: In Exile Deo (Zoe)
  10. Animal Collective: Sung Tongs (Fat Cat)

New York Times: Kelefa Sanneh:

  1. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
  2. Gretchen Wilson: Here for the Party (Epic/Sony Nashville)
  3. Cam'ron: Purple Haze (Roc-A-Fella)
  4. Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)
  5. Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Sony)
  6. Daddy Yankee: Barrio Fino (VI/Universal)
  7. The Arcade Fire: Funeral (Merge)
  8. Crime Mob: Crime Mob (BME/Reprise)
  9. Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music (Drag City)
  10. Ada: Blondie (Areal/Kompakt)

New York Times: Ben Ratliff:

  1. Joe Lovano: I'm All for You (Blue Note)
  2. The Great Jazz Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come (Eighty-Eights/Columbia)
  3. Brad Mehldau Trio: Anything Goes (Warner Bros.)
  4. Soweto Kinch: Conversations With the Unseen (Dune)
  5. Eric Alexander: Dead Center (High Note)
  6. Fly: Fly (Savoy Jazz)
  7. Geri Allen Trio: The Life of a Song (Telarc)
  8. Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (BMG Spain)
  9. Wynton Marsalis: The Magic Hour (Blue Note)
  10. Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins: Which Way Is East (ECM)

Slate: Fred Kaplan (All That Jazz): New Releases:

  • Chris Potter: Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside)
  • Geri Allen: The Life of a Song (Telarc)
  • Masada String Trio: 50, Volume 1 (Tzadik)
  • Don Byron: Ivey-Divey (Blue Note)
  • Maria Schneider: Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare)
  • The Great Jazz Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come (Eighty-Eights/Sony)
  • Ben Allison: Buzz (Palmetto)
  • Matt Wilson: Wake Up! (Palmetto)
  • Jenny Scheinman: Shalagaster (Tzadik)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: The Out-of-Towners (ECM)

Slate: Fred Kaplan (All That Jazz): Reissues:

  • Duke Ellington: Masterpieces by Ellington (Columbia/Legacy)
  • Herbie Hancock: The Piano (Columbia/Legacy)
  • Dexter Gordon: The Complete Prestige Recordings (Fantasy)
  • Don Pullen: Mosaic Select (Mosaic)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Music: Initial count 10027 [9997] rated (+30), 982 [992] unrated (-10). Despite an intent to sort out year-end lists this week, I've mostly been nibbling around the edges. The unrated 2004 new release list is still over 90 albums long. I'm pretty sure there are no top ten candidates there, but there are probably another dozen A- records -- enough to put the year-end A-list over 100.

  • The Essential Allman Brothers Band: The Epic Years (1990-2000 [2004], Epic/Legacy). They regrouped in 1990 -- at least the ones who were still among the living -- cutting the fairly well received Seven Turns more than a decade after Enlightened Rogues stiffed. Why not? After all, Lynyrd Skynyrd was at least as scarred, and they too returned to cash in on the '90s. They're not above quoting themselves, and often it helps -- they're a shell of what they used to be, but it never hurts to get down like on "No One to Run With." "Soulshine" is the only ballad, and a high point. Padded with live versions of their classics. B+
  • Burrito Deluxe: The Whole Enchilada (2004, Luna Chica). The Burritos link is Sneaky Pete Kleinow, but the big name here is Garth Hudson. "Everywhere I Go" sounds like Hudson, with the familiar organ as well as voice. But most of this is pointless, starting with the leadoff covers from John Prine (good choice) and Alex Chilton (bad choice). The other song I like is "Rex Bob Lowenstein," about a disk jockey: "his request line is open but he makes no bones/about why he plays Madonna/after George Jones." Nothing here reminds me of Gram Parsons, so we can't accuse them of that kind of opportunism. B-
  • Don Cherry: Complete Communion (1965 [2000], Blue Note). Two long pieces, each a suite with four movements: the title cut at 20:38, "Elephantasy" at 19:36. If that sounds like he's spoiling for a big band, rest assured: all you get here is a four-piece, with Ed Blackwell and Henry Grimes down below, and Gato Barbieri and Cherry up front. The combination really crackles, especially on the title piece. A-
  • Don Cherry: Blue Lake (1971 [2003], Fuel 2000). With South African bassist Johnny Dyani and Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz, with Cherry chanting and playing piano as well as his usual pocket trumpet, a taste of the world music of a future that never came and probably never will be. B+
  • The Essential Rosemary Clooney (1947-56 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). Mixed bag from her early period, including big pop hits like "Come On-A My House," "Mambo Italiano," and "This Ole House," plus standards of the era like "The Lady Is a Tramp." B+
  • The Essential Rodney Crowell (1981-2004 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). "I Ain't Llving Long Like This," the title song to his 1978 Warner Brothers debut, was re-recorded to kick off this not-quite-career-spanning compilation. Then come two 1981 songs from his third album for Warners, licensed here. Then come a bunch from his Columbia period (1986-92), one MCA (1994-95, two albums), one Sugar Hill (2001), two DMZ/Epic (2003, in the Sony family), and one new one. Still, the licensing budget here may not be the problem: the weak spots sag in the middle, on home turf. Useful, but not as good as I'd expect, let alone hope for. B+
  • Dead Prez: Get Free or Die Tryin': The Mixtape Vol. 2 (2003, Boss Up/Landspeed). More troubles, not to mention attitude, in the 'hood. One of those things that probably deserves more attention than I can afford it right now: flows better and hits harder than what little I recall of their first album. B+
  • El-P: Fantastic Damage (2002, Definitive Jux). More of a producer than a rapper. This is dense, dark, full of heavy riffs that stick on the obscure side. B+
  • Gotan Project: Inspiración-Expiración Remix (2004, Beggars/XL, 2CD). This group did an album in 2003 called La Revancha del Tango, which I haven't heard beyond snatches, but it sounded interesting. Not sure if this is a remix from there, or elsewhere. The two discs are labelled "Mixed CD" and "Bonus CD" -- not sure whether the latter, with a 9:46 video, should count. The Remix CD ends on a sour note, but there's much more going on here -- don't have a good fix on it, but the tango base isn't sacrosanct, just a base for all sorts of progressivism. B+
  • Lateef and the Chief Present Maroons: Ambush (2004, Quannum Projects). Short at a bit over 38 minutes, tossed off like a side project -- the artist appelation suggests as much, or at least makes one wonder. The Truth Speaker takes on Bush, especially on "If," an alternate history with much to recommend it. B+
  • Van Morrison: What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003, Blue Note). Well, for one thing the songs aren't very good. The lament about the vicissitudes of fame is especially pathetic, but his blues are standard issue and he rarely pulls a chestnut out of the jazz tradition -- "Whinin Boy Moan" is the best, "Saint James Infirmary" an easy pick. B
  • Mos Def: The New Danger (2004, Geffen). For a rapper who's best known for his word-slinging, the most striking thing is how much of this record rides on its hard rockin' bottom line. The simplest piece here is "The Rape Over" -- a gripe about who's "running this rap shit." But it's followed up by a bluesrock piece sweetened with Shuggie Otis guitar, which refers back to the self-descriptive "The Boogie Man Song." Runs on too long for me to really keep up with it, but the latter cuts rock more than rhyme too. A-
  • The Neville Brothers: Walkin' in the Shadow of Life (2004, Back Porch). Despite all the talent, the only great album they've put together was Yellow Moon, way back in 1989. This is conceptually similar. While the funk feels forced, they reach back for covers that signify, and try to fit them into a matrix that is both purposeful and motorvating. This doesn't do the job nearly as well -- "Rivers of Babylon" is nowhere near as inspired as "A Change Is Gonna Come." B+
  • The Josh Roseman Unit: Cherry (2001 [2002], Knitting Factory). Young trombonist leads a big band of local big names, plus a couple of obvious ringers (Lester Bowie, Bob Stewart) through an unusual mix of covers (the first three are "Don't Be Cruel," "If I Fell," and "Kashmir" -- Elvis, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin; three more are by Sun Ra; others are Bacharach/David, Marvin Gaye, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit") plus three originals. "Don't Be Cruel" is hilarious, but the others feel strange -- none stranger than "Kashmir." The Sun Ra stuff is fun, and the originals are promising, but somehow the excesses here seem too muted. The Bad Plus beat Roseman to Nirvana, emphatically. Ken Vandermark's Sun Ra/Funkadelic shtick came later, but went much further. Rather, this sounds like Lester Bowie's work, just a bit duller. B
  • A Western Jubilee: Songs and Stories of the American West (1995-2004 [2004], Dualtone). New wave cowboy music, proof that nothing ever dies in American culture -- it just gets sillier; it helps that this never sticks on one sour note too long (e.g., Waddie Mitchell's idiot poetry, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra plays "Shenandoah", the Sons of the San Joaquin sounding like a choir of Marty Robbins clones, Glenn Ohrlin's belly music). Looks like much of this was previously released on Shanachie, and has now been picked up by Dualtone. All the proof you need that Don Edwards is the most important singer in his genre since Gene Autry. B
  • The Wizards From Kansas (1970 [2004], Radioactive). Originally from Kansas, but recorded in San Francisco for their one-shot record on Mercury. Reportedly the band broke up when some members left to play jazz, then the label deep sixed the unpromoted album. I hear elements of psychedelia and prog, mediocre vocals, some bright and challenging guitar work. Seems like something I probably saw 30 years ago in the 99-cent cutout racks and never gave a second thought to. It says something about the way the universe has evolved that there are people who consider this to be a classic. But my first instinct was more economical. B

More old LPs graded from memory:

  • The Allman Brothers Band (1969, Polydor). B+
  • The Allman Brothers Band: Idlewild South (1970, Polydor). A-

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Movie: Closer. Romantic comedy, sans romance, not to mention comedy. I found this confusing to follow because there was little if any signal when time would jump forward, possibly by years, nor were the flashbacks much clearer. Plot is something like: Dan meets Alice in a car-pedestrian wreck; they shack up, he writes a novel about her; Anna photographs Dan, a publicity job, and they flirt, while Alice eavesdrops; Dan pretends to be Anna during an internet chat with Larry, the hottest sex in the movie; Larry meets Anna in the aquarium, they flirt, eventually get married; meanwhile Anna and Dan have an affair, both before and after her marriage, leading to break-ups between Dan and Alice, Anna and Larry; Larry finds Alice in a strip club, propositions her; Anna tries to get Larry to sign divorce papers, but his price is sex, which they have; Dan finds out about this and leaves Anna, who gets back together with Larry; Larry gives Dan Alice's address, so they get back together again, but that breaks again when Dan grills Alice about her having sex with Larry; Alice (not her real name) goes back to America (Anna is also American; Dan and Larry and the setting are English). Something like that, anyway. All we actually see are the initial meetings/flirtings and the splits, so scratch romance -- especially given that all the openings are more/less adulterous. The characters probably match some matrix of defective personality types -- Larry is manipulative, so he gets the best of the others' neuroses, if you have low standards for best. There is an air of contrived normalness to the film, as if this be normal. B

Friday, December 24, 2004

Movie: Sideways. Several sources peg this as the best movie of the year. I suppose it depends on how much of the featured wine you've imbibed. Not that it isn't a pretty good buddy movie -- the odd couple complement each other nicely, with Thomas Haden Church doing a particularly apt job of balancing his selfishness with genuine feeling for Paul Giamatti's character. The detail on the wine is both ridiculously excessive and believable, in one key case deliverng small talk in the form of technical lectures. The scenery helps. B+

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Cadence Record Poll: New Issues:

  1. Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost (Revenant)
  2. Steve Swell: Suite for Players, Listeners & Other Dreamers (CIMP)
  3. Dennis Gonzalez: NY Midnight Suite (Clean Feed)
  4. Peter Brotzmann/Joe McPhee/Ken Kessler/Michael Zerang: Tales out of Time (Hatology)
  5. Bill Charlap: Somewhere (Blue Note)
  6. Vandermark 5: Elements of Style (Atavistic)
  7. Triage: 20 Minute Cliff (Okka)
  8. Rob Brown: The Big Picture (Marge)
  9. Fred Hersch: Trio + 2 (Palmetto)
  10. Ernie Krivda: Plays Ernie Krivda V. 1 (CIMP)
  11. Parker-Schlippenbach-Lytton: America 2003 (Psi)
  12. Liberty Ellman: Tactiles (Pi)
  13. Ray Anderson-Mark Dresser: 9 Songs Together (CIMP)
  14. Loren Stillman: How Sweet It Is (Nagel Heyer)
  15. Malik-McPhee-Robinson: Sympathy (Boxholder)
  16. Ernie Krivda: Focus on Stan Getz (Cadence Jazz)
  17. Sam Rivers: Celebration (Positone)

Also mentioned in voters lists [reference count in brackets]:

  • Jimmy Lyons: The Box Set (Ayler) [10]

  • Kurt Elling: Man in the Air (Blue Note) [3]
  • Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (Blue Note)
  • Irene Schweizer/Pierre Favre: Ulrichsberg (Intakt)

  • Conrad Bauer: Hummelsummen (Intakt) [2]
  • Bite the Gnatze: Wilde dans . . . (Trytone)
  • Geof Bradfield: Rule of Three (Liberated Zone)
  • Dead Cat Bounce: Home Speaks to the Wandering (Innova)
  • Harris Eisenstadt: Jalolu (CIMP)
  • Either/Orchestra: Neo-Modernism (Accurate)
  • Mongezi Feza: Free Jam (Ayler)
  • James Finn: Opening the Gates (Cadence Jazz)
  • Globe Unity Orchestra: 2002 (Intakt)
  • Vinny Golia: One, Three, Two (JazzHalo)
  • Dennis Gonzalez: Old Time Revival (Entropy)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Up for It (ECM)
  • Charlie Kohlhase: Play Free or Die (Boxholder)
  • Joe Lovano: I'm All for You (Blue Note)
  • Joe Magnarelli-John Swana: N.Y.-Philly Junction (Criss Cross)
  • Tony Malaby: Apparitions (Songlines)
  • One for All: No Problem (Venus)
  • Jenny Scheinman: Shalagaster (Tzadik)
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach: Broomriding (Psi)
  • Stan Tracey/Evan Parker: Suspensions & Anticipations (Psi)
  • Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra East: Live at Birdland (Summit)
  • Nils Wogran: Construction Field (Altrisuoni)

  • Juhani Aaltonen: Mother Tongue (Tum) [1]
  • Ahmed Abdullah: Nam . . . Song of Time (Clean Feed)
  • Eric Alexander: Nightlife in Tokyo (Milestone)
  • Ari Ambrose: Waiting (Steeplechase)
  • Fred Anderson: Back to the Velvet Lounge (Delmark)
  • Harry Arnold: Big Band, 1964/65, Vol. 1 (Dragon)
  • Harry Arnold: Big Band, 1964/65, Vol. 2 (Dragon)
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Reunion (Il Manifesto)
  • Atomic/School Days: Nuclear Assembly Hall (Okka)
  • Bob Barnard/John Sheridan: Thanks a Million (Sackville)
  • Fontella Bass + Voices of St. Louis: Live in Italy (Il Manifesto)
  • David Basse: Like Jazz (Citylight)
  • Michael Bates: Outside Sources (Pommerac)
  • Bix Beiderbecke Centennial All Stars: Celebrating Bix! (Arbors)
  • Gianni Bedori: Controtempo (Splasch)
  • Belcanto: Piu' (Splasch)
  • Borah Bergman/Thomas Chapin: Toronto 1997 (Boxholder)
  • Blue Wisp Big Band: A Night at the Wisp (Sea Breeze)
  • Raymond Boni: Terrones (Bluemarge)
  • Boulebard Big Band: Take Only for Pain (Sea Breeze)
  • Don Braden: The New Hang (High Note)
  • B. Bradford/F. Wong/W. Roper: Purple Gums (Asian Improv)
  • Nick Brignola: Things Ain't What They . . . (Reservoir)
  • Alan Broadbent: You and the Night and the Mujsic (A440)
  • Brussels Jazz Orchestra: Music of Bert Joris (Dewerf)
  • Butcher/Irmer/Fernandez: Clearings (Act)
  • Jaki Byard: The Last From Lennie's (Prestige)
  • Teri Lynne Carrington: Structure (Act)
  • K. Cartwright/R. Oppenheim: A Mumbai of the Mind . . . (Harriton Carved Wax)
  • Cedar Avenue Big Band: Land of 10,000 Licks (CABB)
  • Conference Call: Spirals (582 Music)
  • Cooper-Moore/Assif Tsahar: America (Hopscotch)
  • Laila Dalseth: Everything I Love (Gemini)
  • Day & Taxi: Material (Percaso)
  • Dominic Duval/Mark Whitecage: Rules of Engagement (Drimala)
  • Madeline Eastman: The Speed of Life (Mad Kat)
  • John Edwards/Mark Sanders: Nisus Duets (Emanem)
  • Marty Ehrlich: Line on Love (Palmetto)
  • Dave Ellis: State of Mind (Milestone)
  • Emergency!: Loveman Prays for Psychical Sing (Studio Wee)
  • Hannes Enzlberger: Tango 1-8 (Between the Lines)
  • P. Ewald/W. Hohn/F. Stormer: Away With Words (Jazzhaus)
  • Fat Chops Big Band: Nightingale Song . . . (Fat Chops)
  • Flutology: First Date (Capri)
  • Free Fall: Furnace (Wobbly Rail)
  • Erik Friedlander: Quake (Cryptogramophone)
  • The Fujii: We Pray the Brooze (Gramophone)
  • Satoko Fujii: Zephyros (MTCJ)
  • Curtis Fuller: Up Jumped Spring (Delmark)
  • Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Trio: Live at the Noe Valley Ministry (IML)
  • William Gagliardi: NHLAHLA (CIMP)
  • William Gagliardi: Hear and Now (CIMP)
  • Giorgio Gaslini: Urban Griot (Soul Note)
  • The Gathering: For John Stevens (Emanem)
  • Geoff Goodman: Naked Eye (Tutu)
  • Gunda Gottschalk: Wassermonde (Free Elephant)
  • Burton Greene: Live at Grasland (Drimala)
  • Simone Guiducci: Slang (Abeat)
  • Tardo Hammer: Tardo's Tempo (Sharp Nine)
  • David Hazeltine: Close to You (Criss Cross)
  • Percy Heath: A Love Song (Daddy Jazz)
  • Fred Hess: The Long and the Short of It (Tapestry)
  • Frank Hewitt: We Loved You (Smalls)
  • Ari Hoenig: The Painter (Smalls)
  • Richard 'Groove' Holmes: On Basie's Bandstand (Prestige)
  • Joe Hunt: The Joe Hunt Trio (Dreambox Media)
  • Sunny Jain: Mango Festival (Zoho)
  • Kidd Jordan/Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder: Live at Tampere (Charles Lester)
  • Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith: Sky Garden (Cuneiform)
  • Peter Kowald/William Parker: The Victoriaville Tape (Victo)
  • Oliver Lake Big Band: Cloth (Passin' Thru)
  • B. Lea/K. Ingham: Celebrate Vinent Youmans (A)
  • Mike Ledonne: Smokin' Out Loud (Savant)
  • Tom Lellis: Southern Exposure (Adventure)
  • Russ Lossing: As It Grows (Hatology)
  • Brian Lynch: Meets Bill Charlap (Sharp Nine)
  • Peter Madsen: Sphere Essence (Playscape)
  • Diane Marino: A Sleepin' Bee (M&M)
  • Denman Maroney: Fluxations (New World)
  • Wynton Marsalis: All Rise (Sony)
  • Myra Melford: Where the Two Worlds Touch (Arabesque)
  • Midiri Brothers: Jammin' at Bridgewater (Midi)
  • Dom Minasi: Time Will Tell (CDM)
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Solo 3 (Mutable)
  • Jemeel Moondoc/Denis Charles: We Don't (Eremite)
  • Paul Murphy: The Red Snapper (Cadence Jazz)
  • David Murray: Gwotet (Justin Time)
  • NAM: End of Time (Clean Feed)
  • Night & Day: Plays Them All (Edition Artelier)
  • Kevin Norton: Not Only in That Golden Tree . . . (Clean Feed)
  • Kevin Norton/Joelle Leandre/Thomas Ulrich: Ocean of Earth (Barking Hoop)
  • Ochs/Jeanrenaud/Masaoka: Fly Fly Fly (Intakt)
  • Greg Osby: Public (Blue Note)
  • Roberto Ottaviano: Pow Wow (Splasch)
  • Paris Jazz Big Band: Mediterraneo (Cristal)
  • Mario Pavone: Orange (Playscape)
  • Oscar Penas: Astronautus (Fresh Sound)
  • Ivo Perelman: Suite for Helen F (Boxholder)
  • Odean Pope: Two Dreams (CIMP)
  • Dianne Reeves: A Little Moonlight (Blue Note)
  • Tim Richards: Twelve by Three (33)
  • Sam Rivers: Vista (Meta)
  • Jim Robitaille: To Music (Whaling City Sound)
  • Enzo Rocco: Tubatrio's Revenge (Caligola)
  • Adam Rogers: Allegory (Criss Cross)
  • Rolling Thunder: Live in Japan (Aketa's)
  • Barbara Rosene: Ev'rything's Made for Love (Stomp Off)
  • Jim Rotondi: New Vistas (Criss Cross)
  • Keith Rowe/John Tilbury: Duos for Doris (Erstwhile)
  • Keith Rowe/Thomas Lehn/Marcus Schmickler: Rabbit Run (Erstwhile)
  • Pharoah Sanders: The Creator Has a Master Plan (Venus)
  • Barbara Sfraga: Under the Moon (A440)
  • Elliott Sharp: The Velocity of Hue (Emanem)
  • Paul Silbergleit: My New Attitude (Silberspoon)
  • Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls: Breeding Resistance (Delmark)
  • Ray Skjelbred: Piano Jazz: Last Time I Saw Chicago (Triangle Jazz/RhythmMaster)
  • Charlie Smith: Ahead and Behind (Conduit)
  • Wadada Leo Smith & Anthony Braxton: Organic Resonance (Pi)
  • Lisa Sokolov: Presence (Laughing Horse)
  • Spring Heel Jack: Live (Thirsty Ear)
  • Tomasz Stanko: Suspended Night (ECM)
  • Sally Stark: Sings Maxine Sullivan (SS)
  • Joan Stiles: Love Call (Zoho)
  • Rob Stoneback Big Band: Mad to the Bone (Stonequake)
  • Erika Stucky: Love Bites (Traumton)
  • Sun Ra: Piano Recital: Teatro La Fenice, Venezia (Golden Years)
  • Jorgen Svare/Bjorn Thoroddsen: Jazz Airs (Sonet)
  • Cecil Taylor: Incarnation (FMP)
  • Malachi Thompson and Africa Brass: Blue Jazz (Delmark)
  • Chucho Valdes: New Conceptions (Blue Note)
  • Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: The Way (Planet Arts)
  • Chris Washburne: Paradise in Trouble (Jazzheads)
  • Jon Weber: Simple Complex (2nd Century Jazz)
  • Walt Weiskopf: Sight to Sound (Criss Cross)
  • Tommy Whittle: Grace Notes (Spotlite)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Glamoured (Blue Note)
  • Phil Woods/Carl Saunders: Play Henry Mancini (Jazzed Media)

Cadence Record Poll: Reissues:

  1. Warne Marsh: All Music (Nessa)
  2. Revolutionary Ensemble: The Psyche (Mutable)
  3. Evan Parker: The Snake Decides (Psi)
  4. Bobby Bradford: Love's Dream (Emanem)
  5. Peter Kowald: Duos 2: Europa America Japan (FMP)
  6. Warne Marsh: Jazz of 2 Cities (Fresh Sound)
  7. Archie Shepp: NY Contemporary 5 (Storyville)
  8. Cecil Taylor: Conquistador (Blue Note)
  9. Sam Rivers: Contours (Blue Note)
  10. Steve Lacy: The Holy La (Sunnyside)
  11. Pepper Adams: Plays Charles Mingus (Fresh Sound)
  12. Coleman Hawkins: Complete Jazztone '54 (Fresh Sound)
  13. MJQ: Complete Prestige/Pablo (Prestige)
  14. Kenny Wheeler: Song for Someone (Psi)
  15. Roy Eldridge: Complete Verve (Mosaic)

Also mentioned in voters lists:

  • Randy Weston: Mosaic Select (Mosaic) [6]

  • Mario Schiano: On the Waiting List (Atavistic) [5]

  • Bennie Green: Mosaic Select (Mosaic) [4]

  • Brotzmann/Van Hove/Bennink: 1973/FMP 130 (Atavistic) [3]
  • Paul Desmond/Gerry Mulligan: Two of a Mind (Bluebird)
  • Eddie Lang: 1927-1932 (Classics)
  • Dizzy Reece: Mosaic Select (Mosaic)
  • Pisa 1980 Improvisers Symposium (Psi)

  • Bunny Berigan: Complete Brunswick, Parlophone & Vocalion Sessions (Mosaic) [2]
  • Sonny Criss: Live in Italy (Fresh Sound)
  • Baby Dodds: Talking & Drum Solos (Atavistic)
  • Ganelin/Chekasin/Tarasov: Golden Years of Soviet New Jazz IV (Golden Years)
  • Tubby Hayes/Ronnie Scott: Couriers of Jazz (Fresh Sound)
  • Improvisational Arts 5tet: No Compromise! (Danjor)
  • Vic Lewis: N.Y> Jazzmen & Jam Session 1944 (Upbeat)
  • Paul Lingle: Live at the Jug Club (Delmark)
  • Shelly Manne: Steps to the Desert (Contemporary)
  • Sun Ra: Spaceship Lullaby (Atavistic)
  • Lucky Thompson: Lucky Moments (Ocium)
  • Lester Young: 1951-1952 (Classics)
  • Angola Prison Spirituals (Arhoolie)

  • Louis Armstrong: 1952-1953 (Classics)
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Kabalaba (AECO)
  • Mildred Bailey: 1945-1947 (Classics)
  • Chet Baker: Chet Is Back (Bluebird)
  • Bob Barnard/Ralph Sutton: The Joint Is Jumpin' (Sackville)
  • Greg Bendian's Interzone (Atavistic)
  • Ruby Braff: You're Getting to Be a Habit . . . (Fresh Sound)
  • Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams: Out of This World (Fresh Sound)
  • Buck Clayton: 1949-1953 (Classics)
  • Buck Clayton: Complete Legendary Jam Sessions: Master Takes (Lonehill)
  • Wild Bill Davison: Live! 1955 Miami Beach (Storyville)
  • Harry "Sweets" Edison: At the Haig 1953 Recordings (Fresh Sound)
  • Duke Ellington: 1952 (Classics)
  • Tal Farlow: Complete Verve Sessions (Mosaic)
  • Maynard Ferguson: Live at Peacock Lane/Hollywood, '56-'57 (Fresh Sound)
  • Curtis Fuller: Boss of the Soul Stream Trombone (Fresh Sound)
  • Juanita Hall: Sings the Blues (Fresh Sound)
  • Noah Howard: Eye of the Improvisor (Altasax)
  • Freddie Hubbard: Blue Spirits (Blue Note)
  • Reverend Charlie Jackson: Got's Got It (Case Quarter)
  • Harry James: 1945-1946 (Classics)
  • Irene Kral: Better Than Anything (Fresh Sound)
  • Gene Krupa: Who's Rhythm? (Ocium)
  • Byard Lancaster: It's Not Up to Us (Water)
  • George Lewis: Ice Cream (Delmark)
  • Louisiana Rhythm Kings: 1929-1930 (Classics)
  • Shelly Manne: West Coast Sounds (Jazz Factory)
  • Jackie McLean: Right Now (Blue Note)
  • Marian McPartland/Lionel Hampton: Piano Jazz (Jazz Alliance)
  • Moholo/Stabbins/Tippett: Tern (Atavistic)
  • Oscar Peterson: Dimensions (Pablo)
  • Bud Powell: Parisian Thoroughfare (Pablo)
  • Sonny Rollins: Newk's Time (Blue Note)
  • Charlie Rouse/Red Rodney: Social Call (Uptown)
  • Shirley Scott: Trio Classics, Vol. 1 (Prestige)
  • Archie Shepp: I Know About the Life (Hatology)
  • Willie "The Lion" Smith: 1950 (Classics)
  • Joe Sullivan: 1945-1953 (Classics)
  • Jack Teagarden: Accent on Trombone (Fresh Sound)
  • Cootie Williams/Rex Stewart: The Big Challenge (Fresh Sound)
  • Mary Lou Williams: 1951-1953 (Classics)
  • Mary Lou Williams: Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian/Folkways)
  • K. Winding/C. Fontana: Complete Ohio Sessions (Lonehill)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Year end list data piles up.

Blender: The 50 Greatest CDs of 2004:

  1. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
  2. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic)
  3. Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose (Interscope)
  4. Usher: Confessions (Laface)
  5. Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)
  6. Morrissey: You Are the Quarry (Attack/Sanctuary)
  7. Alicia Keys: The Diary of Alicia Keys (J)
  8. The Streets: A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice)
  9. Nellie McKay: Get Away From Me (Columbia)
  10. Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch)
  11. Dizzee Rascal: Showtime (XL/Matador)
  12. Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters (Universal)
  13. Ghostface: The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
  14. Gretchen Wilson: Here for the Party (Epic)
  15. Beenie Man: Back to Basics (Virgin)
  16. Jadakiss: Kiss of Death (Ruff Ryders/Interscope)
  17. Eagles of Death Metal: Peace Love Death Metal (Rekords/Rekords/Antacidaudio)
  18. The Libertines: The Libertines (Sanctuary)
  19. Caetano Veloso: A Foreign Sound (Nonesuch)
  20. The Secret Machines: Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise)
  21. Drive-By Truckers: The Dirty South (New West)
  22. The Hives: Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)
  23. Jimmy Eat World: Futures (Interscope)
  24. Todd Snider: East Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy)
  25. Courtney Love: America's Sweetheart (Virgin)
  26. Prince: Musicology (NPG/Columbia)
  27. Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic)
  28. The Good Life: Album of the Year (Saddle Creek)
  29. Dangermouse: The Gray Album ()
  30. Coheed and Cambria: In Keeping . . . (Columbia)
  31. Snow Patrol: Final Straw (A&M)
  32. Nancy Sinatra: Nancy Sinatra (Sanctuary)
  33. Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-)
  34. Brian Wilson: Smile (Nonesuch)
  35. Björk: Medulla (Elektra)
  36. Magnetic Fields: I (Nonesuch)
  37. Nelly: Sweat (Universal)
  38. PJ Harvey: Uh Huh Her (Island)
  39. Sonic Youth: Sonic Nurse (Geffen)
  40. Lloyd Banks: The Hunger for More (Interscope)
  41. Katy Rose: Because I Can (V2)
  42. The Roots: The Tipping Point (Geffen)
  43. Regina Spektor: Soviet Kitsch (Sire)
  44. TV on the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go)
  45. Ashee Simpson: Autobiography (Geffen)
  46. Jason Forrest: The Unrelenting Songs of the 1979 Post Disco Crash (Sonig)
  47. A.C. Newman: The Slow Wonder (Matador)
  48. Kasey Chambers: Wayward Angel (Reprise)
  49. The Thermals: Fuckin A (Sub Pop)
  50. Janet Jackson: Damita Jo (Virgin)

Rolling Stone: The Top Fifty Records of 2004:

  • Aerosmith: Honkin' on Bobo (Columbia)
  • Alfie: Music From the Motion Picture (Virgin)
  • The Arcade Fire: Funeral (Merge)
  • Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs (Capitol)
  • Big and Rich: Horse of a Different Color (Warner Bros.)
  • Brandy: Afrodesiac (Atlantic)
  • Jimmy Buffett: License to Chill (Mailboat/RCA)
  • Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company (Hear/Concord)
  • Eric Clapton: Me and Mr. Johnson (Duck/Reprise)
  • Elvis Costello and the Imposters: The Delivery Man (Lost Highway)
  • The Cure: The Cure (I Am/Geffen)
  • Dizzee Rascal: Boy in Da Corner (XL/Matador)
  • Drive-By Truckers: The Dirty South (New West)
  • Eminem: Encore (Shady/Aftermath)
  • Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic)
  • Green Day: American Idiot (Reprise)
  • Handsome Boy Modeling School: White People (Atlantic/Elektra)
  • Interpol: Antics (Matador)
  • Jadakiss: Kiss of Death (Ruff Ryders/Interscope)
  • Jimmy Eat World: Futures (Interscope)
  • Elton John: Peachtree Road (Rocket/Universal)
  • Kelis: Tasty (Star Trak)
  • The Killers: Hot Fuss (Island)
  • The Libertines: The Libertines (Sanctuary)
  • Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose (Interscope)
  • Nellie McKay: Get Away From Me (Columbia)
  • Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic)
  • Mos Def: The New Danger (Geffen)
  • Northern State: All City (Columbia)
  • Phish: Undermind (Elektra)
  • Prince: Musicology (NPG/Columbia)
  • R.E.M.: Around the Sun (Warner Bros.)
  • Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)
  • The Rolling Stones: Live Licks (Virgin)
  • Patti Scialfa: 23rd Street Lullaby (Columbia)
  • Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters (Universal)
  • Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-)
  • Patti Smith: Trampin' (Columbia)
  • Gwen Stefani: Love, Angel, Music, Baby (Interscope)
  • The Streets: A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice)
  • Taking Back Sunday: Where You Want to Be (Victory)
  • Tegan and Sara: So Jealous (Vapor/Sanctuary)
  • TV on the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go)
  • U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope)
  • Usher: Confessions (Laface)
  • Velvet Revolver: Contraband (RCA)
  • Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
  • Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch)
  • Brian Wilson: Smile (Nonesuch)
  • Gretchen Wilson: Here for the Party (Epic)

Rolling Stone: The 10 Best Reissues & Anthologies:

  • Nirvana: With the Lights Out (Geffen/UME)
  • Grateful Dead: The Closing of Winterland, December 31, 1978 (Rhino)
  • Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins (Matador)
  • Doug Sahm: The Genuine Texas Groover (Rhino Handmade)
  • Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost (Revenant)
  • Goodbye, Babylon (Dust-to-Digital)
  • Johnny Winter: Second Winter (Legacy)
  • Candi Staton: Candi Staton (Honest Jons/Astralwerks)
  • The Animals: Retrospective (Abkco)
  • Lift Up Yuh Leg and Trample (Honest Jons/Astralwerks)

Spin: 40 Best Albums of the Year:

  1. Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
  2. Green Day: American Idiot (Reprise)
  3. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic)
  4. Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic)
  5. Danger Mouse: The Grey Album (self-released)
  6. Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-)
  7. The Streets: A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice)
  8. Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose (Interscope)
  9. Interpol: Antics (Matador)
  10. Brian Wilson: Smile (Nonesuch)
  11. Dizzee Rascal: Showtime (XL/Matador)
  12. TV on the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go)
  13. The Hives: Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)
  14. DFA Compilation #2 (DFA)
  15. Courtney Love: America's Sweetheart (Virgin)
  16. The Killers: Hot Fuss (Island)
  17. Madvillain: Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
  18. Prince: Musicology (NPG/Columbia)
  19. Björk: Medulla (Elektra)
  20. Ted Leo/Pharmacists: Shake the Sheets (Lookout)
  21. Jimmy Eat World: Futures (Interscope)
  22. Le Tigre: This Island (Strummer/Universal)
  23. Snow Patrol: Final Straw (A&M)
  24. Morrissey: You Are the Quarry (Attack/Sanctuary)
  25. The Secret Machines: Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise)
  26. Eminem: Encore (Shady/Aftermath)
  27. Tom Waits: Real Gone (Anti-)
  28. Kompakt 100 (Kompakt)
  29. U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope)
  30. The Libertines: The Libertines (Sanctuary)
  31. PJ Harvey: Uh Huh Her (Island)
  32. The Faint: Wet From Birth (Saddle Creek)
  33. Comets on Fire: Blue Cathedral (Sub Pop)
  34. My Chemical Romance: Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (Reprise)
  35. Air: Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)
  36. Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)
  37. RJD2: Since We Last Spoke (Def Jux)
  38. Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch)
  39. Ghostface: The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
  40. Joana Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)

Spin: Ten Best Reissues of 2004:

  1. Nirvana: With the Lights Out (Geffen/UME)
  2. Talking Heads: The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (Rhino/Sire)
  3. Vashti Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day (DiCristina)
  4. The Kinks: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (Special Deluxe Edition) (Sanctuary Midline import)
  5. Arthur Russell: The World of Arthur Russell (Soul Jazz)
  6. Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins (Matador)
  7. Faces: Five Guys Walk Into a Bar . . . (Rhino)
  8. The Third Unheart: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979-1983 (Stones Throw)
  9. Bob Dylan: Live 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall (Columbia Legacy)
  10. Unclassics: Obscure Electronic Funk & Disco 1978-1985 (Environ)

Spin: Ten Best Albums You Didn't Hear:

  1. The Hold Steady: Almost Killed Me (Frenchkiss)
  2. Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats (Essay)
  3. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: The Doldrums (Paw Tracks)
  4. The Wildhearts: The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed (Sanctuary)
  5. Devin the Dude: To Tha X-Treme (Rap-A-Lot)
  6. The Thermals: Fuckin A (Sub Pop)
  7. The Comas: Conductor (Yep Roc)
  8. Jason Forrest: The Unrelenting Songs of the 1979 Post Disco Crash (Sonig)
  9. TV: Upwards (Big Dada)
  10. Bobby Bare Jr's Young Criminals' Starvation League: From the End of Your Leash (Bloodshot)

Entertainment Weekly: David Browne and Michael Endelman round up 10 albums we missed this year -- but that you shouldn't:

  • Unclassics (Environ) [B+]
  • Mark Lanegan Band: Bubblegum (Beggars Banquet) [A]
  • The Hidden Cameras: Mississauga Goddam (Rough Trade) [B]
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Careless Love (Rounder) [A-]
  • Haiku d'Etat: Coup de Theatre (Decon/Project Blowed) [A-]
  • Wattstax: Highlights From the Soundtrack (Stax) [A-]
  • Ambulance LTD: LP (TVT) [B+]
  • Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama: There Will Be a Light (Virgin) [B+]
  • Amp Fiddler: Waltz of a Ghetto Fly (Genuwine) [B]
  • DJ/Rupture: Special Gunpowder (tigerbeat6) [B+]

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Music: Initial count 9997 [9979] rated (+18), 992 [982] unrated (+10). Spent most of last week thinking about top-ten jazz albums for 2004, which meant spending time listening to previously rated records -- which by and large held up very well. Found a few new things along the way. Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll is due Jan. 3, so I expect much the same thing this week, with a somewhat broadened scope. Also I expect more volatility: since I don't write much about new rock-rap-pop, I haven't actually spent much time with most of my A-listed records -- e.g., I'm sure that Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys put out very good records this year, but I doubt that I've played either more than twice. On the other hand, there's not a lot of non-jazz in the Pending file that looks promising. Will know more in a week or two.

  • Celebrating Bix! The Bix Centennial All Stars Celebrate His 100th Birthday (2003, Arbors). Bought this mistakenly: I had remembered that Randy Sandke had done a well-regarded Bix tribute album (The Re-Discovered Louis and Bix, as opposed to the later Randy Sandke Meets Bix Beiderbecke) and Sandke plays cornet here. It's natural that Sandke would zero in on Beiderbecke, and I suspect that the historical specificity might be just what he needed to overcome the laxness in his retro-swing repertoire. This one also features Dick Hyman, most recently heard with Tom Pletcher on one called If Bix Played Gershwin. And there are others here, like Scott Robinson, who went on to cut Jazz Ambassador: Scott Robinson Plays the Compositions of Louis Armstrong. But playing this leaves me wondering whether I wouldn't be better off investing in JSP's Bix and Tram compilation -- not that there's nothing like the real thing, but at least it might help to know what the real thing was like. As it is, I've only heard Beiderbecke's two Columbia comps, with the brilliant "Singin' the Blues" and a lot of pretty jumpy dixieland. My suspicion is that Bix is a bit overrated, partly for the same reason as Bird (died tragically young), partly for the reason Bubber Miley and Jabbo Smith aren't (race), partly because he came and went before Bunny Berigan (also white). The problem with this one is that expert as it may well be it isn't as exciting as you'd hope for. Part of this may be that when you get so many prime musicians together you expect them to swing, but swing came later. That doesn't completely stop them, but it does seem to inhibit them, and in that indecision something's missing. B
  • Max Eastley/David Toop: Doll Creature (2000 [2003], Bip-Hop). Experimental ambient noise, only some of which holds much interest. Hard to get excited one way or another. B-
  • Echo and the Bunnymen: Heaven Up Here (1981, Sire). A band with a pretty solid reputation that I was warned off of and never (until now) got around to. I should probably go cautious and treat them as SFFR. Among the warnings are a "C" grade from Christgau, and comparisons to the Doors both by Christgau and AMG. What I hear sounds more like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and maybe Shriekback, bands that I liked while admitting that they probably weren't as sharp or smart as the Fall or the Three Johns. All of these bands (including the more pop-worthy Doors; one could also throw in Ministry, the Revolting Cocks, and, what the hell, the Butthole Surfers) get a dark, dense, roiling sound, of which this is probably the more normatively English version, a bit fey and arty with philosophical baggage that has haunted English prog-rock from Pink Floyd to Radiohead. SFFR, but so far, so good. B+
  • 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong: The Very Best of the Fall 1978-2003 (Beggars Banquet, 2CD). Maybe not as right as 50,000,000 Elvis fans, but clearly they have a lot more on the ball than those 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans. A-
  • Funki Porcini: The Ultimately Empty Million Pounds (1999, Ninja Tune). Discounting the spoken bits, which are meant to be funny (and in some cases are), this is fairly rote drum 'n' bass, breakbeats with accents, plus occasional stretches of noodling. B
  • Stan Getz: Mickey One (1965 [1998], Verve). A soundtrack to a movie starring what must have been a pretty young Warren Beatty. The music was composed by Eddie Sauter, whose had collaborated with Getz previously on Focus -- the only sax-with-strings album that was ever worth listening to just for the strings (not that Getz wasn't brilliant in his own right). This one is a lot less consistent -- perhaps an inevitable problem with soundtracks given their need for variety, although the bigger problem here is that the strings are often schmaltzy (a staple with soundtracks, as is hysterical melodrama, which pops up as well). Getz, of course, is magnificent. But while I find Sauter's music amusing even at its worst, I don't expect to make a habit of listening to it. B
  • A Proper Introduction to Rosco Gordon: No More Doggin' (1951-53 [2004], Proper). Early work -- real early work -- from the Memphis r&b shouter who recorded for Sam Phillips in pre-Elvis days. B+
  • Jean Grae: This Week (2004, Orchestral/Babygrande). As much as I like the understatated underground beats here, I find it curious that none of the raps move me, or even elicit much attention (probably the more basic problem). B+
  • Hot Women: Women Singers From the Torrid Regions (1927-50 [2003], Kein & Aber). Cajun, Cuban, Mexican, Brazilian, French Caribbean, Chilean, Spanish, Sicilian, Greek, Algerian, Tunisian, Turkish, African, Malagasy, Hindustani, Burmese, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Tahitian -- all culled from old (and old-sounding) 78s, mostly from the '30s; all feature women singers, the "hot" determined mostly by R. Crumb's libido (your mileage may vary). The order sweeps the globe from new world to old and across the Pacific, not quite sorted by latitude, but close. Effectively, it moves from the relatively familiar to the relatively exotic. I don't love it all, but the more I play it the more cogent it sounds, slowly dragging you into odd meters and shrill harmonies -- the stuff that makes southeast Asian music so inaccessible. This at least is a framework to show you much of the world -- the old, pre-globalized world -- without it wearing out its welcome. A-
  • Michael Hurley: Down in Dublin (2004, Blue Navigator). Like most live albums, a holding pattern, recycling old songs and sometimes reinterpreting them; packaged with new comix, a plus. B+
  • Toby Keith: Shock'n Y'All (2003, Dreamworks). First song, "I Love This Bar," is a pretty good one. Third one, "American Soldier," is patriotic pimpwork. Fourth one, "If I Was Jesus," offers the line, "I'd walk on some water/just to mess with your head." Those are the high points; the filler is pretty muddled. Keith is a pretty strong singer, and he can work up a honky tonk sound, but he's not much on thinking clear, and there's only so much you can say for alcohol. The album concludes with two "bus songs" -- done live for yucks. One is about bombing Afghanistan, supposedly told from the vantage point of a camel-riding Afghan cave-dweller: "we prayed to Allah with all of our might/until those big U.S. jets came flying in one night/and they dropped little bombs all over their holy land/man you should have seen them run like rabbits they ran/the Taliban." The other is about getting bombed on Willie's weed, and he can't handle that one either. C+
  • New Estate: Considering . . . (2003, W.Minc). Last song is called "Out of Control" -- could be a theme song for a band that doesn't seem to quite have its hands on the wheel. B
  • Jean-Michael Pilc Trio: Welcome Home (2001 [2002], Dreyfus). Piano trio, with Ari Hoenig and François Moutin. Pilc is fast and sturdy, takes risks, does a fine job of holding this together. Got this from the library -- first thing I've heard from him, by now a couple of records back. Penguin Guide gave this (and two other albums) four stars. Under the circumstances I don't have time to live with it to figure out how good it really is. B+
  • Stan Ridgway: Black Diamond (1995 [2001], New West). Scratchy singer-songwriter, the minimalism of his work has a certain appeal, but also has its limits. B
  • Charlie Robison: Good Times (2004, Dualtone). He's got a little bit of John Prine going for him -- a bit of the voice, a little bit of familiar melody (especially on the title song), some quirks. Of course, he ain't John Prine -- doesn't have the wit or the bite, and he's more disposed to them good times. B+
  • Brian Setzer Orchestra: The Dirty Boogie (1998, Interscope). This is fun enough for the first two cuts, even though they are best taken as jokes. This is a retro-swing big band, the sort of band that likes "Jump Jive an' Wail" because it's hot, but they're only tolerable as long as they keep it hot. In that regard, "Sleepwalk" fails miserably -- some sort of Hawaiian steel guitar thing. And nothing after that rises to the level of the first two songs -- not even "Jump Jive an' Wail." C+
  • Brian Setzer Orchestra: Vavoom! (2000, Interscope). This one corrects the faults of the previous by remaining consistently, insidiously upbeat (well, discounting the lame doo-wop closer). He's still too grossly derivative -- the Bobby Darin impression on "Mack the Knife" adds nothing and is distinguishable only because it isn't good enough. And he's not funny, which could have been some sort of saving grace. C
  • Shalamar: Anthology (1977-87 [2004], The Right Stuff/Solar). The last of the great '70s soul groups -- so late that most of their hits came out in the '80s when few rock fans even noticed, so they never broke out of their AM niche; the single-CD Greatest Hits is more concentrated, but the broader swath here holds up admirably. A-
  • Paul Simon: One Trick Pony (1980 [2004], Warner Bros.). Soundtrack-connected album of little repute, from far back enough that it should have been forgotten by now -- but Warners decided to reissue everything, so here we go. Lead-off song is a nice one, "Late in the Evening" -- like all of Simon's better songs it steals a rhythm from somewhere. On the other hand, one called "Nobody" is as close to nothing as a song can get, and that's more like par for this course. C+
  • Split Lip Rayfield: Should Have Seen It Coming (2004, Bloodshot). I don't normally write single-record reviews at Static -- I'm buried with my columns and it rarely seems like it'd be worth the hassle -- but I agreed to do one on this band. Like me, they come from Kansas (Winfield, I think, but for most intents and purposes that translates as Wichita). This won't be that review; this is just an attempt to triage my y2004 list, and find my bearings. But the main reason is that this record ain't all that great. Four-piece band, all strings (bass, mandolin, guitar, banjo), no drums, three guys write (although one only has one song this time), at least that many sing. They have one speed, which is pretty fast, and basically one riff. Songs are nothing special, although I like the cheap one, "Just Like a Gillian Welch Song," mostly because it ain't. "Union Man" could use a little more bite. The answer to "A Little More Cocaine Please" is "just say no." The answer to "Hundred Dollar Bill" is "more like a twenty." I hear they're fun live, but I've never heard them live, even though they play hereabouts all the time. But then the publicist who begged me to review them up and quit his job, so maybe we'll forget all about it. B
  • Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994 ([1994], A&M). Early stuff sounds like watered-down Police, although that's much too kind to "They Dance Alone (Cueco Solo)." B-
  • Wylie and the Wild West: Hooves of the Horses (2004, Western Jubilee). Wylie Gustafson plays guitar, sings, yodels, and rides rodeo. This is his seventh album of cowboy songs, so you'd have to figure that songs as obvious as "Happy Rovin' Cowboy" may have been around the pen before. This is the first one I've heard, so I'm only guessing when I say that most likely the rest are about as good as this one, that this one is as good as any of the others, that you don't necessarily need any but you won't mind having one (or maybe two). In other words, he's a limited artist in a narrow niche, but there's nothing wrong with that. B
  • Rancho Texicano: The Very Best of ZZ Top (1970-92 [2004], Warner Bros., 2CD). Actually, the real very best of ZZ Top -- possibly the only really great thing they ever did -- was an album that they put out in 1979, after a couple years hiatus hanging out in Paris and taking life easy. Deguello may not have been the greatest blues album ever made by white guys -- Layla is pretty hard to top -- but it is certainly the most comfortable. Its four cuts which end the first disc here stand head and shoulders above everything but "Tush," and the six they omitted would have done the same. The best of the rest of their oeuvre may just be chopped liver (Texas style, with roasted anchos and BBQ sauce), but what's wrong with that? The first disc here is nothing but blues, dirty (as in dirt) and gritty (as in grit). The second disc is more prog (as in "Velcro Fly") and more camp (as in "Viva Las Vegas"), and they throw in a couple of dance remixes and a live "Cheap Sunglasses" for laughs. They're the world's least pretentious arena rock band, a triumph of luck over design, and wise enough to enjoy that. A-

Got this jazz best-of list in email from Paulo Barbosa:

Record of the year:

  • Rodrigo Gonçalves - Tribology (Capella)

The other new releases (top ten):

  • Alberto Sanz - Los Guys (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Alexis Cuadrado - Visual (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Benardo Sassetti - Indigo (Clean Feed)
  • Chris Speed yeah NO - Swell Henry (Squealer)
  • Dave Douglas - Strange Liberation (RCA)
  • Gorka Benitez - Solo La Verdad Es Sexy (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Joe Smith - Melodic Workshop (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Matthias Lupri - Transition Sonic (Summit)
  • Uri Caine - Live at the Village Vanguard (Winter & Winter)

The other new releases (top thirty, less above):

  • Aldo Romano - Threesome (Emarcy)
  • Andrew Hill Jazzpar Octet + 1 - The Day the World Stood Still (Stunt)
  • Bill Carrothers - Armistice 1918 (Sketch)
  • Charlie Haden - Land of the Sun (Verve)
  • Chris Potter - Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside)
  • Dave Burrell Full-Blown Trio - Expansion (High Two)
  • David Binney - Welcome to Life (Mythology)
  • David Mengual - Deriva (Satchmo)
  • Don Byron - Ivey-Divey (Blue Note)
  • Enrico Rava - Easy Living (ECM)
  • Henry Kaiser & Wadada Leo Smith 'Yo Miles!' - Sky Garden (Cuneiform)
  • Jef Neve Trio - It's Gone (Contour)
  • Jim Black & AlasNoAxis - Habyor (Winter & Winter)
  • John Abercrombie - Class Trip (ECM)
  • Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette - The Out-of-Towners (ECM)
  • Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier & Jeff Ballard - Fly (Savoy Jazz)
  • Patricia Barber - Live: A Fortnight in France (Blue Note)
  • Stefon Harris - Evolution (Blue Note)
  • Third World Love - Avanim (Akum)
  • Tomasz Stanko - Suspended Night (ECM)


  • Andrew Hill - Dance With Death (Blue Note)

Boxed set:

  • Anthony Braxton - 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (Leo)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Got the raw data collected for the 6th-to-7th-edition deltas for Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD. Raw changes: 5143. Records added: 2993. Records deleted: 2120. Records with grade changes: 30. New crown records: 6. New four-star records: 214. New fourth-star-in-parentheses records: 609. 1725 pages, up from 1601 not counting index, which has been dropped this year. There is also a new concept called the "core collection" where something like 200 entries (haven't counted them) have been flagged, their reviews printed in bold type. While most are four-star, a few are rated lower, while many higher rated albums (including some crowns) are omitted. I may pull those lists out at some time too.

The new crown records are:

  • Amalgam: Prayer for Peace (1969, FMR)
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk: A Meeting of the Times (1966-72, Warner Bros.)
  • Lee Konitz: Motion (1961, Verve)
  • René Marie: Vertigo (2001, MaxJazz)
  • New Orleans Rhythm Kings: 1922-1925: The Complete Set (Retrieval)
  • Evan Parker: The Snake Decides (1986, Psi)

The only one of the six that I have is the Konitz, but I have some of the N.O.R.K. recordings, probably a substantial overlap. René Marie is the only relatively recent album, and is the biggest surprise -- from what I've heard she strikes me as a competent B+ singer, but I haven't heard this one. Amalgam is an early English avant group, with Trevor Watts and Barry Guy.

The deletions list is highly label-specific, the most-deleted being: Concord (355), Enja (99), Black Lion (92), DIW (77), Evidence (50), Music & Arts (37), Steeplechase (37), Verve (37), Columbia (26), Sunnyside (26), Soul Note (26), Timeless (21). Some deletions are merely because artists dropped below some threshold of interest, but the top deletions labels reflect business decisions. Concord is still very much in business, but was sold to investors who moved the company to Los Angeles. They've gone on to release hit records like the Ray Charles duets, but one of the first things they did was to remainder a lot of old catalogue. They have 39 additions here (tied for #9), some of which are repackagings of old material, but their overall count has still been reduced by more than 300 records. Concord has recently announced that they've acquired Fantasy, which probably (if you combine all of their labels) has more records reviewed than any other label -- probably by a pretty big margin. So the fear there is that they'll do something similar with Fantasy, but a more sensible approach would be to keep Fantasy intact and let them release key parts of Concord's back catalogue under their Original Jazz Classics (OJC) series.

The top additions by label are: Classics (102), Verve (82), Blue Note (74), Collectables (64), Fresh Sound (47), Columbia (46), ECM (42), Steeplechase (40), Concord (39), Criss Cross (39), Black & Blue (37), Winter & Winter (37), Storyville (36), Leo (35), Hatology (33), Neatwork (32), High Note (31), Candid (30). Fantasy would come in #2 if we added the OJC, Prestige, Milestone, Pablo, and Contemporary labels to it. Or #3, if we add Impulse, Emarcy, and GRP to Verve (113). All these numbers are subject to various errors, so are likely to change as I find mistakes in my input.

I will say that while I've always found The Penguin Guide to be very useful in finding good records (especially European jazz and classic jazz), their ratings of new that I am familiar work, especially over the last 2-3 revisions, don't strike me as terribly reliable. One obvious problem is that adding almost 3000 records in about 2.5 years doesn't leave you a lot of time to make anything more than snap judgments. Splitting the work between two people that would work out to 11 reviews/ratings per week for each. I've actually been working at a higher rate (1282 records from 14-Dec-2003 to 12-Dec-2004, an average of 24/week), so maybe the problem is on my end, but even so it's tough to do. (It's also unlikely that they get a perfect division of labor.)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Music: Initial count 9979 [9947] rated (+32), 982 [991] unrated (-9). Closing out a new Recycled Goods: got almost two columns written, so most of what remains is to split the columns up.

  • John Abercrombie: Animato (1989 [1990], ECM). Mild mannered guitar record, with Vince Mendoza writing most of the pieces and playing synthesizer, while Jon Christensen adds some percussion. B+
  • Monty Alexander: Ivory and Steel (1980, Concord). The steel drum complements piano much like a vibraphone does, and gives it a further lift on the faster calypsos here. Piano is fast and sure. Not sure that this is a great idea, but at least it's an enjoyable oddity. B+
  • Grenadier: Hand Offensive (2004, Grenadier Music). Self-released album from a DeKalb, IL alt-rock band, led by a Jeremy Heroldt. Been sitting on my shelf for months now, and surprise, it's pretty good. B+
  • Jewels and Binoculars: The Music of Bob Dylan (2000, Ramboy). This is the first of two albums (Floater came out in 2004) where the trio of Michael Moore, Lindsey Horner, and Michael Vatcher transfigure Bob Dylan's melodies. Excepting "With God on Our Side" the melodies are rarely apparent, but then it's always been Dylan's words and twangy slur that nailed his songs to our minds. Here, with no guitar and no vocals, they collapse back into their elementary selves -- if indeed that's what they are. Moore's reeds are ingeniously subtle, and while he must be improvising like hell to render these melodies so opaque he's not doing it in any obvious way -- certainly not the way Charlie Parker or Coleman Hawkins might have done it. A lovely record. Floater may even be better. A-
  • Lee Konitz: Sound of Surprise (1999, RCA). Played this while working on something else, knowing I wouldn't have to write about it, at least for now. It's rare to hear Konitz in a group with so many options, not that anything sounds cluttered here. Ted Brown is credited as a second saxophone, which I've rarely noticed -- no jousting, little (if any) unison work. The guitarist, however, is hard to miss, and not hard to identify as John Abercrombie. Marc Johnson and Joey Baron are really superb. Konitz gets to lay out more than usual, and he usually comes in light as a feather. Nothing flashy, but superb, thoughtful work. A-
  • Lou Levy: Lunarcy (1992, Verve/Gitanes). Piano trio plus Pete Christlieb on tenor sax. I'm used to Levy with Stan Getz; Christlieb has a heavier sound, a bit more aggressive -- I associate him with Warne Marsh, but he's very lucid here. Levy is sparkling. A very enjoyable session. A-
  • The Rolling Stones: More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies) (1964-71 [2002], Abkco, 2CD). Figure the two discs on Hot Rocks scraped off the most obvious stuff, although how they missed "The Last Time" and "Out of Time" and "Lady Jane" and "Have Your Seen Your Mother, Baby" is something that I'd have to research to understand. Those are all on the first disc here, which is roughly comparable to Through the Past Darkly. The second disc strays further: it starts with a couple of Satanic Majesties songs, picks off "Let It Bleed," then dives back into their early cover songs, including two takes of "Poison Ivy." Not much here you shouldn't already know. A-

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Movie: The Motorcycle Diaries. In what is basically a travelogue, it seems fair to say that the star here is the continent of South America. It's a remarkable place, and the traversal of Argentina and Chile is taken leisurely enough to get a sense of how elevation and the prevailing winds affect the biota. After that they have to pick up the pace a bit and expand on the human story, and they've run out of time once they hit Colombia: we get one scene of them arriving at the port where Colombia touches the Amazon, then a cut to the airport at Caracas. None of this geography is explained; if you don't know something of it I can't imagine what you'd make of it, but it strikes me as fundamentally accurate. (My impression of the Atacamba is that there's a lot more nothing there than the mines they show, but by that point they were shifting focus to the human dimension, so that's what little they had to show of the world's driest desert. On the other hand, the striking visual entrance to the uninhabited, tourist-uninfested Macchu Picchu seems unlikely even in 1952 and utterly impossible now.) This would have been interesting even if the diarist had not been Che Guevara, even if this trip had not been the eye-opening, life-changing experience that metamorphosed Guevara into a revolutionary. The transformation is effected by peeling back one layer of oppression and rejection after another, until they hit bottom at a leper colony on Peru's Amazon, and find the human spirit to not just persevere but to rise up. This part of the story strikes me as a little too pat, but closing sequence of still portraits puts a determined human face on the ordeal: the people thus framed each showing determined pride and humanity. A-

Friday, December 10, 2004

Picked up the 7th edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD. Started to sort out the differences. This will probably take several weeks. Last time the deltas ran to 3703 lines, mostly uninteresting comings and goings. Last time the demise of the 32 Jazz label caused a large part of the deletions. This time most of the delitions I've noticed come from Black Lion and Concord. The former is defunct, but Concord is very much alive, just strangely changed as it has been transformed into some sort of conglomerate. One thing they did was to discontinue vast swathes of their remarkable catalog. I heard earlier this week that Concord has bought out Fantasy, so one has to wonder about the future of their extensive reissue program (comprising such legendary labels as Prestige, Riverside, Contemporary, and many more). Few large jazz labels do a good job of keeping their catalog in print: Blue Note and Verve rarely keep new jazz releases in print more than five years, even though they have extensive reissue programs; RCA has little new to work with, but their reissues are frequently culled and rarely re-reissued. Fantasy probably has more important jazz from the '50s and '60s in print than any other label in the world, so there is much to worry about there.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Music: Initial count 9947 [9915] rated (+32), 991 [1013] unrated (-22). Most of the ratings come from cleaning up mid-level jazz releases. Need to go back to Recycled Goods this week, so figure more reissues coming.

  • The Abyssinians and Friends: Tree of Satta (1969-2003 [2004], Blood & Fire). Named for Emperor Haile Selassie's homeland, the Abyssinians were Jamaica's first vocal trio to latch onto rastafarianism to produce the roots-rock mythology came to dominate our view of reggae. And "Satta Massa Gana," cut in 1969, was their great single, and given Jamaica's culture of reuse the classic bass line and horn figure have been recycled hundreds of times since then. When Bernard Collins, lead singer of the Abyssinians, conceived this album he had collected sixteen versions of the song, imagining it as a tree that shoots branches off in every direction. The producers ordered up more versions, and this is a best-of a set that will include at least another volume. Twenty takes of "Satta Massa Gana" may sound like too much of a good thing, but only rarely does the concept become obvious -- most often just the first few notes of a new take. The rhythm carries you along with the overwhelming force and quiet subtlety of a gently-graded river, floating an extravaganza of sanctified dub. A
  • The Essential Roy Acuff (1938-49 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). A major country star of the era before honky tonk, he is best known for "sacred" songs like "Great Speckled Bird" and "Wreck on the Highway" -- not to my mind sacred so much as preaching that old time religion. This is unnecessarily shorter than 1992's Essential Roy Acuff. A-
  • Alan Broadbent: Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Volume Fourteen (1991, Concord). They may be the ideal way to listen to Broadbent: solo. He works through a couple of originals and a wide range of standards, but always seems in complete control, playing with sure-footed elegance. B+
  • Lenny Bruce: Thank You Masked Man (1958-63 [2004], Fantasy). Early bits, mostly unreleased, most with extreme voices, including the semitic Lone Ranger and the antisemitic Fat Boy car salesman; mostly of its time, too, but note that the bleeped out four-letter word in "The Sound" (the story of a jazz musician, the funniest thing here) is "Welk." B+
  • Capital D: Insomnia (2004, All Natural). He's graduated from concerned citizen to political provocateur, the big picture spelled out in missives like "Culture of Terrorism," "Mississippi," "Blowback," "1984," "Toy Soldiers," and, of course, "Start the Revolution." His insight is tied to Islam, and he explains that too. Only one song ("Enough Already") is ready to conquer the pop culture world -- one might quibble with an anti-gay line there, but it's mild enough and I have my quibbles with the quibbles these days. And while the music isn't as tightly hooked as Eminem, say, it's good enough to run an instrumental without any complaint. A-
  • The Essential David Allan Coe (1974-86 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). His name-dropping got so desperate he once stooped to claiming to "sound a lot like David Allan Coe." His ambitions were so low he's probably as surprised as anyone to have become a star, and his accomplishments, like "the perfect country and western song" so low that he's in a class of one. I could complain about this being inconsistent, but that's just one more joke. B+
  • The Best of Jimmy Dean (1961-65 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). He talked his way through a novelty hit with "Big Bad John" and followed it up with one called "P.T. 109," parlayed those into a tv show, and cashed in selling sausage. This ignores the front and tail ends of his career, just catching those hits, and fills it out with more talkies, including his solution to the cold war ("Dear Ivan") and an even worse whisper to his daughter ("To a Sleeping Beauty"). The revelation here is a funny one called "I Won't Go Huntin' With You Jake (But I'll Go Chasin' Wimmin')," which among other things reveals him as a pretty good back-country singer. Dean got by more on personality than on talent. B-
  • The Ex: Turn (2004, Touch and Go, 2CD). Holland's answer to the Mekons, or maybe the Gang of Four, which lacking a country jones they sound a bit more like. They've been around since 1980. I've heard little that they've done -- my favorite before this one was Instant (1995), which was two discs of miniature jazz pieces and miscellaneous noise. This one is Velvets-rooted rock 'n' roll, recorded in Chicago by Steve Albini. A-
  • Peter Green: Man of the World: The Anthology (1968-88 [2004], Sanctuary, 2CD). He stayed true to Fleetwood Mac's original blues vision even after nobody else remembered that they had ever had one, and he furthered that legacy more nobly than Eric Clapton. Still, like Clapton he's only a pale English reflection of the blues, a craftsman in thrall to the American music but with a recessive gene toward the pastoral. The Brits who actually made something out of the blues were the ones who had the gumption to make them rawer, nastier, and above all bigger than the originals: the Animals, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. Graded leniently for historical value, and because he's impossible to hate. B+
  • The Essential Merle Haggard: The Epic Years (1981-87 [2004], Epic/Legacy). The stuff he's most famous for was recorded from 1963-77 for Capitol, peaking in the late '60s. After that he recorded for MCA, then Epic. But he never stopped writing great songs -- he just didn't write as many or as often. This starts with "Big City" and "Are the Good Times Really Over" which, despite and in some ways because of their bitter nostalgia, are among his great ones. But one part of nostalgia isn't so hopeless, as in "Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room" and, especially, "I Always Get Lucky With You." One of the few times narrowing the focus sharpens the picture. A-
  • Guillermo Klein: Los Guachos III (2002, Sunnyside, 2CD). A sprawling project, with a large group. The results are a bit hit-and-miss, but the main vibe is a propulsive rhythm which plays out on a fairly open field. This becomes distinctively latin on the second disc, especially in "Hermanos Latinos." There are some more atmospheric pieces, and a couple of pieces have vocals, mostly for additional texture. B+
  • Miriam Makeba: Reflections (2004, Heads Up). First song sounds like township heaven, although it's just a title repeated over and over against a classic beat. But the next cut loses the edge, and the third is a string-drenched chanson (in French, no less). Even worse is "I'm in Love With Spring," where a male voice opens up, then they duet amidst the usual string crap. A Jorge Ben tune follows, but at least it has drums, and an infectious chorus, a return to the form of the first cut. (Both here and there Makeba's contribution is negligible.) C+
  • Oliver Mtukudzi: Shanda (2004, Alula). This is the soundtrack to the career retrospective of the other guy from Zimbabwe -- the booklet has a picture of a young Mtukudzi alongside Thomas Mapfumo, tribute and cred; enough to show off the sweet and sour guitars that motorvate chimurenga, to remind you he's still knocking on our doors. There's also a DVD, which I haven't seen yet. Couple of songs in English. He's trying hard, and he's worthwhile, but he's still not Mapfumo. B+
  • Hank Penny: Flamin' Mamie (1938-41 [2004], Krazy Kat). "Yankee Doodle"? They jazz it up fine once the verse completes, but still can't cut the corn. These are early studio recordings from a singer-guitarist-bandleader who jumped into western swing as the tide was going out. One clue to the limits of this band is that the slap bass keeps foursquare time but doesn't swing, but the leader is going places. Of marginal historical interest, although there are some fine spots. Better things were to come. B+
  • Hollywood Western Swing: The Best of Hank Penny (1944-47 [1999], Krazy Kat). The improvement here is in the band, which really puts the swing into western swing; the horns, fiddle, steel guitar, and accordion all stand out, and the leader has a blast riding herd. A-
  • Putumayo Presents Greece: A Musical Odyssey (1993-2003 [2004], Putumayo World Music). Released in time for the Olympics, souvenir music if you didn't get creeped out by the forecasted terrorists or the guaranteed counterterrorists; softer than the real thing, which for once is nice. B+
  • Putumayo Presents Music From the Chocolate Lands (1990-2004 [2004], Putumayo World Music). Another excuse -- they previously did coffee and tea -- for the easy-going, albeit rather generic, near-equator worldbeat that this label specializes in. Note that the ringers from London and East L.A. are the ones you notice, and that the contender from the Ivory Coast, currently the reigning champion chocolate producer (or maybe that was last year? this year hasn't been so good), is the one you wish you hadn't. B
  • Putumayo Presents Women of Latin America (1999-2004 [2004], Putumayo World Music). Another even-handed, temperate, almost boring collection. The homogenization is less annoying here than on Women of Africa, perhaps because Latin America is much less diverse. But it's nowhere near this undiverse: you can find more range in Brazil or Mexico or Colombia or Cuba even (no Cuba here; guess Celia Cruz doesn't rate). Not to mention excitement. The good thing about Putumayo is that they have an ear for making mix tapes that just flow and flow, but that's also the bad thing because they never risk surprise. B
  • Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats ([2004], Essay). I don't know much about this. Got a copy from the label in Berlin. Matos wrote about it in Seattle Weekly, identifying a lot of the pieces but not really explaining where it comes from, or why. Finally tried to decipher a doc file that I got, which explains: "And forget what you know about Brasilian music so far. . . . No world music and certainly not another Brasilian chlich pumped up with electronic beats. This is music from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Bouncing booty beats with portugese raps that make 50 Cent look like a wimp." Well, we won't go into 50 Cent here; Matos makes the comparison to 2 Live Crew. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Fado ([2004], World Music Network). Per usual, no discographical dates, plus the booklet is printed in the usual mess of colors, including whole pages of white on yellow. The range of artists include the fabled Amália Rodrigues (1920-99), a big star in the '50s, and the photogenic Joana Amendoeira. The style has deep roots -- Maria Severa, who appeared in the 1830s, is regarded as an important transitional figure. In a nutshell, the style is built around guitarra portuguesa (a guitar with a rounded box, like a lute) and a singer. The music here is almost all taken at ballad pace, pitched for maximum emotional impact. It takes a while to sink in, but it can be lovely if you relax with it. B+
  • Studio One Classics (1964-81 [2004], Soul Jazz). Give that the only song here that I recall hearing before is "Simmer Down" I'm not sure that "classics" is the right word A-
  • Rokia Traoré: Bowmboï (2004, Nonesuch). The cut that kicks this over the top is "Nienafing," precisely because it picks up the pace so you don't have to wonder about it. Up to that point, there is a simple grace to the songs, a precise and delicate articulation. The nuances win out here. But the fast ones help. A-
  • Happy Together: The Very Best of the Turtles (1965-70 [2004], Shout! Factory). Great song I don't remember: "Let Me Be." Another one (I remember a bit, I think): "Elenore." They did a pretty good "It Ain't Me Babe" too, although "Eve of Destruction" (even if expertly done) counts as filler. B+
  • The United Records Story (1951-57 [2004], Delmark). Delmark has mined the archives of Leonard Allen's United/States records for a dozen or more releases. One of the first black-owned labels, United/States recorded the usual range of black Chicago music -- blues, R&B, gospel, with perhaps a slight preference for honking sax. It's hard to make a case that this was a great label -- in particular, it doesn't stand up to Duke/Peacock among black-owned contemporaries, nor to Chess among Chicago contemporaries -- but there's a good deal of valuable music there. This is a fair sampler: most impressive are bluesmen like Junior Wells, Robert Nighthawk, and Roosevelt Sykes. B+
  • The Best of Bobby Vinton (1962-72 [2004], Epic/Legacy). The first LP that I ever bought was Bobby Vinton's Greatest Hits -- a source of embarrassment until I saw David Lynch's movie and had to admit that "Blue Velvet" was still a pretty great song. A-
  • The Best of Frankie Yankovic (1947-65 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). A brief but choice selection the "polka king" -- a sobriquet he obtained the old-fashioned way, by earning it. B+
  • Yes Indeed! Women Vocalists on United (1949-53 [2004], Delmark). A grabbag of early r&b, with mostly unknown singers -- Della Reese gets first billing because you might have heard of her; more likely than Betty Mays, Dixie Crawford, Terry Timmons, Helen Fox, Debbie Andrews, Helen Thompson, and Jewel Belle -- fronting slumming swing bands. (Jimmy Hamilton is the best known, but J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding are called out on the back cover.) Will be interesting for people who want to recover this history (I know, because I am one), but nothing here sounds like a long lost hidden classic. Note that only one cut here made The United Records Story. B

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I believe that the right and the left are fundamentally divided over their understanding of how the world works and what behaviors are and are not moral given that understanding. The right believes that human nature is fundamentally vile and unchangeable and therefore must be controlled by force and repression. The left believes that human nature is fundamentally open and changeable, indeed self-improving. The right believes that humankind will always be divided between rich and poor, that poverty is a sign of low moral character, and that the rich are justified in defending their property. The left believes that war and hatred are plots by the right to prevent equality, which almost all human beings aspire to, from developing. Much of the political strife we see around us can be extrapolated from this simple split. One thing I find especially interesting about the split is this fundamental ideological split is self-selecting: the idea that human nature is fundamentally vile and unchangeable is particularly appealing to those people who most exhibit those tendencies.

Juan Cole has written an interesting comment on the differences between what he calls liberals and conservatives -- pretty much what I call left and right -- in how they view the U.S. assault on Fallujah:

The big divide between liberals and conservatives in regard to Fallujah is that most liberals do not believe that force can be used to solve problems. They may believe that force is sometimes necessary. But they think it most often just causes new problems. They tend to see the world as complex, not in black and white terms, so that an unalloyed "bad guy" is rare (Bin Laden managed to make himself an exception). Liberals also see military force in the context of the whole society, so that they worry about what happens to children and grandmothers when it is deployed. It is liberals who remember that the Vietnam war killed 2 million Vietnamese peasants. And, they find US military deaths unacceptable.

So from a liberal point of view, Fallujah was terrible. It involved displacing hundreds of thousands of people, subjecting civilians to bombardment and crossfire, and resulted in over 2000 deaths, including over 50 US troops. The icon of Fallujah for the liberals was the little boy with the shard of grenade shrapnel lodged near his liver, or the old woman bewailing her dead relatives.

Conservatives do believe that force can be used to solve problems. They think in terms of good guys and bad guys, and it seems obvious to them that if you kill the bad guys, then you have solved the problem. Getting at the bad guys may be disruptive to civilian populations, and may cause some collateral damage, and may incur some troop casualties, and all that is bad, but it is necessary and worth it. You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs.

Many bloggers are complaining from a liberal point of view about the downsides of the use of force. They are completely uninterested in the activities of the Baathist and radical Sunni guerrillas holed up in Fallujah. They are uninterested in whether these guerrillas terrorized the local population. All they can see is the vast destruction caused by the US assault, and the innocent lives damaged. From their point of view, the whole operation against the city is a form of collective punishment.

The US military powerpoint slides are classical conservatism. They identify the bad guys, who are the problem. They lay out their crimes. And they document the way the good guys went in to kill or capture them and so solve the problem.

The US military seems strangely unaware of the realities of insurgencies. It seems to think there are a limited number of "bad guys," who can all be killed or captured. The possibility that virtually all able-bodied men in Fallujah supported the insurgency, and that many are weekend warriors, does not seem to occur to them. In fact, as Mao noted, guerrillas swim in a sea of supportive civilians. The US military slides suggest that now that the bad guys have been taken care of, the civilians can be won over. That this outcome is highly unlikely does not seem to occur to them.

The thing that strikes me about the military powerpoint slides is that they don't make the argument to the general public. Because they just assume the conservative view of the use of military force, they concentrate on the crimes of the guerrillas but do not successfully defend the need to deal with them by assaulting the whole city.

My quibbles with "liberals" and "conservatives" go back to the '60s and before when liberals were very likely to be interventionist hawks and conservatives were somewhat more likely to be isolationists. The current neocons, for instance, fit more accurately the definition of liberals that I grew up with. (But then, so do the liberal hawks who apologize for the neocons and insist on our moral obligation to clean up after them.) But these days we know who we're talking about even if we quibble over the labels.

Nov 2004