December 2012 Notebook
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Monday, December 31, 2012

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20874 [20844] rated (+30), 586 [585] unrated (+1).

Added a couple new jazz reviews to the draft, but still not enough new Jazz Prospecting to bother with. Rated count mostly reflects last week's big Rhapsody Streamnotes, and I've moved on to Recycled Goods -- a week ago pretty anemic, but growing fast with an unusually high concentration of real finds -- the best so far a hitherto unknown Billy Bang set, although I've also been delving into Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Don Cherry, Little Richard, and others.

Will probably have a short Jazz Prospecting next week, mostly because the quality of the few records I have bothered with has been very high -- even found a record that should have made my top-ten list, although in fairness to me I only received it after deadline.

Very little in the mail this week. Probably seasonal, but I'm not unsure paranoia isn't warranted.


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet: Beautiful Friendship (Planet Arts)
  • Ken Hatfield Sextet: For Langston (Arthur Circle Music): Feb. 1
  • Art Johnson/Marc Devine: Blue Sud (Warrant Music/ITI)
  • Bob Wolfman: Transition (self-released)


Miscellaneous notes:

  • Louis Armstrong and the All Stars: Satchmo at Symphony Hall: 65th Anniversary: The Complete Performances (1947 [2012], Hip-O Select, 2CD): Complete comes to 119:37, a full 49:36 more than the 1996 Decca CD, which shaved a few seconds off everything, and a lot more by discarding feature spots for the All Stars -- from Jack Teagarden down to Arvell Shaw's bass solo, but mostly Velma Middleton; restoring all that reduces the real star's prominence, but also makes this show less like every other show, and more of a special event. A- [rhapsody]

Expert Comments

Didn't publish this one.

A couple points on Houston vs. Summer. Over the 1970s, rock critics gradually lost interest in sales as a matter of interest. If I wanted to assign a point, it would be "Frampton Comes Alive" in 1976 -- there had been bad bestsellers earlier, but were there any so insignificant? By the mid-1980s -- i.e., about when Houston arrived -- mainstream r&b still charted very well, but (except for Prince and rap) had lost the interest of (white) critics (Christgau was one of the few who tried to stay on top of it). . . .

This one I did post:

Since Greg mentioned Mary Halvorson, I'll mention that she's on one of the A- records I didn't do Jazz Prospecting on today: it's a group called Living by Lanterns where Mike Reed and Jason Adasiewicz take a bunch of unpublished Sun Ra compositions and build an Arkestra of Anthony Braxton students (Halvorson is one of those) plus a few of their Chicago buddies.

The Halvorson record I haven't heard is this year's Quintet, Bending Bridges -- Monsen likes it, and Francis Davis voted for it, so the odds that I would too are pretty high. What I've heard by her is pretty erratic, but if you throw out the ones with Jessica Pavone -- sort of the anti-folk analogue to free jazz -- the odds get much better. Her first record with Weasel Walter and Peter Evans wasn't special, but this year's Mechanical Malfunction is something anyone who still thinks fusion might have a future should listen to.

The other record I alluded to was Live, by "The Group" -- Ahmed Abdullah, Marion Brown, Billy Bang, Sirone, Fred Hopkins, and Andrew Cyrille, recorded in 1986. More on that later.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Expert Comments

I wrote:

I just folded Under the Radar's top-100 list into my metacritic file. I always assumed that their title signified an interest in searching out the non-obvious, but I've never picked up the magazine and found anything I didn't know about already. Still, I was taken aback by how lame their top ten is: Wild Nothing, Tame Impala, Beach House, Bat for Lashes, Django Django, Chairlift, Dirty Projectors, Fiona Apple, Grizzly Bear, Grimes. (I know BH and DP have fans in these parts, but I'm not one of them. I have FA as the sole A-, C and G at low B+, everything else worse, except WN, unheard but I've heard them before.)

Obviously one problem is lack of color: further down they did note Frank Ocean (11), Twin Shadow (27), Flying Lotus (56), Kendrick Lamar (63) -- obviously, they didn't have to look very hard to find those. One commenter also complained about the lack of "stringed instruments" and "literate singer-songwriters" -- harder to quantify but certainly true. (Cohen and Springsteen made the cut, but not Dylan or Young or any of the Wainwrights.) Every zine has its niche limits, but you rarely appreciate how narrow the middle of the road can be. To be fair, they did come up with two records I hadn't heard of before: The Darcys (65), and Man Without Country (98).

On P&J, I did some research last year wondering whether Maura Johnston had gerrymandered the electorate -- Tune-Yards and Wild Flag exceeded at least my expectations by quite a lot -- and had to conclude that she hadn't. As far as I can tell, the Voice's roster of 1500 critics is about the same as it's been since Bob and Chuck left. Some names have been added due to lobbying, but I don't think there has been any effort to clean out the dead wood or to search out new writers, and the latest invite didn't even ask who you write for. Two more clues: one is that when Matos tried to run a competing poll he did make an effort to sweep up a lot of younger writers, and it did have an impact in the results; the other is that the voter turnout is down around 60%. The last two years the new poohbahs have had had no time to do anything about the electorate, so there's no reason to think that they did.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Expert Comments

I wrote:

Since nobody's mentioned it, let me plug my own year-ending Rhapsody Streamnotes column, up last night chez moi. Links there to three year-end lists you should be aware of, as well as my own on-the-fly summary (currently 970 rated records, 897 new; 95 more in the queue). Don't have the numbers handy, but I think that's actually down from recent years -- I know I've heard 100 fewer jazz records this year as I no longer have the imprimatur of writing for the Village Voice.

Didn't link to the metacritic file, but it's settling out, with Frank Ocean a big winner, Kendrick Lamar a solid 2nd, some daylight between the 3-4-5 (Tame Impala, Grimes, Fiona Apple), Grizzly Bear and Japandroids tied for 6th, Swans-Beach House-Dirty Projectors tied for 8th, and Jack White out of the top ten. I've linked enough to it you should be able to find it, and if not I'll write about it more before I'm done. Interesting finding out what other people think, even if you couldn't care less.

A         5                   2     7
A/A-     96  111             12   108   125
B+(***) 169                  11   180   305
B+(**)  230  399             12   242   547
B+(*)   241  630             14   255   802
B       105  735              8   113   915
B-       33  768              3    36   951
C+       15  783              1    16   967
C         3  786  897               3   970
U        93                   2

Friday, December 28, 2012

Rhapsody Streamnotes (December 2012)

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

Update announcement:

I made a long-delayed update to robertchristgau.com this afternoon. CG database includes today's entries. Bibliography includes last week's bonanza. JY submitted an old piece (see "What's New"). You can get an index of all 2012 releases (get_ydate.php; look under Consumer Guide).

Fans who subscribe to webinfo AT robertchristgau.com have already received a more detailed notice on all of the changes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Expert Comments

My post, based on above:

Filed my P&J ballot tonight:

  1. Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now - 15
  2. Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent - 15
  3. Van Morrison: Born to Sing, No Plan B - 10
  4. Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables - 10
  5. Chris Knight: Little Victories - 10
  6. Chiddy Bang: Breakfast - 8
  7. Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: Reunion: Live in New York - 8
  8. The Coup: Sorry to Bother You - 8
  9. Iris DeMent: Sing the Delta - 8
  10. Houston Person: Naturally - 8

Two EW A records, two A-, three jazz, three others pretty much no one else likes (although I swear folks are really missing something special). Two of the three jazz finished in the top ten of Francis Davis' poll (as yet unpublished), so the jazz isn't way out of critical consensus, but everything else is. The highest scorer in my metacritic file right now is Dement (28), followed by Snider (25), Wainwright (23), Rivers (20), Lehman (18), Coup/Morrison (15), Chiddy Bang (12), Knight/Person (3).

I've heard 80 of the top 100 records in my metacritic file, and rated 11 of those A-, with Frank Ocean closest to making my list (currently 12) -- the others are: Kendrick Lamar (takes some time but not a turkey), Fiona Apple, Killer Mike, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young (Psychedelic Pill, not Americana), Neneh Cherry, Patti Smith, Vijay Iyer, Jens Lekman. My A-list currently numbers 109, a bit more than half jazz.

No time to try to concoct a singles list. Hope to get the Christgau website updated and a new Streamnotes posted by tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Notes

Wrote the following in a letter:

Steve and the Washington contingent left this afternoon, flying with one way-out-of-the-way stop in Houston. (Silver lining there is that it's one of the few airports almost guaranteed to be open.) Didn't get to see them much, but we had dinner last night. Everything there turned out near perfect, so I guess my reputation as a cook survived. Less so as a host: we had 14 adults + 3 babies (one barely 2 years old, plus Rachel's 6-month-old pair). Didn't have enough plates, and I think some people ate standing. Mom was equipped to handle that, but I flunked.

Final menu: chicken liver pate, garum (olives-anchovies-capers) and escalivada (eggplant-red pepper-tomato) on garlic toasts (bought the rosemary-potato bread, rubbed it with butter and roast garlic); roast lamb legs (2 semi-boneless); scalloped potatoes; Cuban black beans; tomato-bacon gratinee; roast brussel sprouts (with more bacon); garlic shrimp; asparagus wrapped with prosciutto and dotted with fontina cheese; had Amish date pudding and flourless chocolate cake for desert, but Kirsten and Mike also made Mom's homemade candies (except for the date-nut roll). Mike goes back to NY tomorrow. He helped with the cooking, the candy, and made a double batch of chicken and dumplings for a Christmas Eve do, so I saw more of him.

This was my second dinner. First was the 20th, a Chinese fire drill for Mike and Morgan (she left early, so missed the second dinner). It was: Szechuan chicken, orange scallops, dry-fried string beans, Moslem hot & sour soup, sweet & sour eggplant, sweet & sour baby back ribs, ham & egg fried rice, spice cake. Had eight adults (plus one child) for that, so dining was more manageable.

Made some stock today using the leftover lamb bones. Not sure what I'll do with it -- one possibility is a Middle Eastern lentil soup, like harira, with chick peas and lentils. Should do this sooner rather than later. Main reason I did the hot & sour soup was I've had a jar of duck stock in the fridge for months since I tried making cassoulet, and felt I should finally use it for something.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20844 [20816] rated (+28), 585 [583] unrated (+2).

Taking a couple weeks off from Jazz Prospecting, partly because I made a big push the last couple weeks to cram in as much new jazz as I could with the year-end poll(s) pending, partly because I'm shifting over my catch-up operation to non-jazz for those polls. I also expected to get into some other things, but that for the most part didn't happen. (About all that did was relatives came to visit and I wound up cooking a lot, with the biggest deal coming tomorrow.)

Not sure when, or if, things will get back to normal. I will have a Rhapsody Streamnotes up sometime this week -- not a huge one, more like average monthly size. Don't know about Recycled Goods, which is currently very thin. Jazz Poll results should be early January, and I should have a piece in the package for Rhapsody, as well as my annual compilation of the various ballots.

As for jazz, one thing I can say is that two of the three albums I wrote Jazz Prospecting notes for last week cracked my A-list, as did one more jazz album I sampled on Rhapsody. Enterprising readers can discern them in the lists. Everyone else will have to wait.


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Thomas Borgmann/Wilber Morris/Reggie Nicholson: Nasty & Sweet (NoBusiness)
  • Roger Chong: Live at the Trane (self-released)
  • The Group: Live (1986, NoBusiness)
  • William Hooker Quintet: Channels of Consciousness (NoBusiness)
  • Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra: Bloom (19/8): Jan. 26
  • Chris Knight: Little Victories (Drifter's Church)
  • Sudo Quartet: Live at Banlieue Bleue (NoBusiness)
  • Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Canons: 2nd Hosting (NoBusiness): advance

Friday, December 21, 2012

Expert Comments

Robert Christgau:

There's been a lot of '50s stuff recently because I started working on some of it a year ago and finally its moment came. There's more pending. The Monks were written early September as a direct result of my quest for a few more Monk albums I wanted to play. Now's the Time, however, was book-related. It was the music I decided to write about for the college chapter.

Now one other thing. The hope has been voiced yet again that I'll ratify records related to those I've just reviewed. As I've said many times before, I will not. I never grade on a whim or a hunch--I relisten. And relistening is work. Verstehen?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Expert Comments

Cam Patterson:

I just picked up two perfectly symmetrical compilations that came out this year, Country Funk 1969-1975 and Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Funk. The former is the story of country boys trying to get funky (should be spelled "fonky") and the latter features soul artists of various repute covering country songs. The differences are more than white versus black -- it's probably fairer to say the schism is one of talent. If Country Funk was consistently up to the standard of, let’s say, Ronnie Van Zant singing "I Ain't the One" (which isn't on here and blows every song on this CD except Johnny Jenkins' "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" out of the water), then I might think this CD was telling us something new. Instead, we must suffer through ignorant dreck like Mac Davis' "Lucas Was A Redneck" and something awful called "Hawg Dawg." I'm not sure whether this is more musically dispiriting or culturally embarrassing, but it is definitely a lot of both.

Behind Closed Doors is, in comparison, a long drink of sweet iced tea with a little bourbon mixed in, starting with Aaron Neville's sideways melisma creaming up a George Jones tune and ending with Brook Benton breaking down on "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye." This compilation is much more about telling the story of the soul-country nexus than it is about mining for rarities, but that affects the overall quality in a positive way. In some cases (Joe Tex's "Rope A Dope" for one) the tunes are so sui generis that I never realized they had a previous existence. When this CD lags (Tami Lynn followed by the Limelites), it comes back hard with an Al Green-James Carr-Candi Staton sequence that would bring a (perhaps deeply mortified) Hank Williams back from the grave. Well done, great notes, and yeah there was more to country soul than Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Expert Comments

I wrote something on Leo Records:

For you bargain hunters, Leo Records -- Brit avant-jazz label run by Lou Fagin, perhaps most famous for introducing Russians like Ganelin Trio to the west -- is having an "end of the world" sale (ends Dec. 21, natch): buy in lots of 10, 2 quid per disc + shipping (14 pounds for 10 discs to the US, I think that works out to about six bucks each). Penguin Guide covers their stuff extensively.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20816 [20786] rated (+30), 583 [592] unrated (-9).

Had a scare in the rated count when an editing mishap caused the count to drop, despite what felt like a lot of effort. Took a couple hours to track down and restore the lossage. Plus-thirty is my standard for a heavy week, and it feels like it's getting heavier all the time. I'm going to take a break, at least from Jazz Prospecting, for a few weeks -- at least until after the first, perhaps longer. I still expect to post a Rhapsody Streamnotes sometime this month -- I have about 20 records in the file -- and there will probably be a Recycled Goods in early January (only one record there, so don't expect much).

Work file currently has 168 records in it, but the 2012 subset is down to: 85. (The remainder includes 10 records with 2013 release dates, plus stuff that I've been super-slow getting to -- 2005: 1; 2006: 4; 2007: 12; 2008: 5; 2009: 13; 2010: 22; 2011: 15 -- not that the possibility of bookkeeping error can be excluded.) But of those 85 unheard 2012 releases, only 7 show up in this year's metacritic file (and one of those just came in the mail today, and two more I just noticed in rechecking my numbers). Should have done better, but it's been a tough year, and I did about as well as I ever have. Chances are less than a handful of those 85 will eventually pan out. Much more likely I missed things I didn't get. I'll generate a list of those when the Jazz Critics' Poll results are posted.

One more note: I'm painfully aware that a few of the following say nothing of note (e.g., Anthony Branker). Sometimes I get to a grade point and find I have nothing much to say. Seems like that's happening more and more here. Something that bothers me, but for now I figure it's better than nothing.


Jeff Babko: Crux (2012, Tonequake): Keyboard player, from California, fifth album since 1995, lots of studio work, arranger for Jimmy Kimmel Live since 2003. I figure this multi-layered momentum for fusion, most striking when the trumpet (Walt Fowler or Mark Isham) cuts through the haze, least when Babko indulges the strings. B+(*)

Anthony Branker & Ascent: Together (2012, Origin): Composer-arranger, commands a postbop quintet here with two saxes, fender rhodes, bass, and drums. B+(**)

John Daversa: Artful Joy (2012, BFM Jazz): Trumpet player, also dabbles with EVI, from Los Angeles, studied at UCLA, third album since 2009, last one a big band deal, this smaller -- electric keybs give it a fusion sound, which he keep supbeat and engaging. B+(*)

Hal Galper Trio: Airegin Revisited (2012, Origin): A fine mainstream pianist, b. 1938, has over 25 albums since 1971 -- I have Portrait (1989), Just Us (1993), and Art-Work (2009) on my A-list -- in a trio with Seattle stalwarts Jeff Johnson (bass) and John Bishop (drums). One original, six covers, "Airegin" included. B+(*)

Mac Gollehon: La Fama (1980-96 [2012], self-released): Trumpet player, seventh album since 1996, including two with Smokin' in the title and one called In the Spirit of Fats Navarro, but these live cuts predate all that. Big band, no idea how many were playing at any given time, but 35 musicians listed on the back cover, with the Latin tinge provided by congas, timbales, bata drums, bongos, and two guys just credited with "percussion" -- 11 of those 35, or 13 if we count drums and vibes. B+(**)

Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires: If I Walked on Water (2011 [2012], Onager): Singer-songwriter, second album, guess you can call him a jazz singer because the band uses an upright bass, Hefko plays tenor sax on the side, and he has a guy who plays trumpet and valve trombone -- otherwise he's not far from Americana, minus the twang, plus a sense of humor. B+(**)

Sylvia Herold and the Rhythm Bugs: The Spider and the Fly (2012, Tuxedo): Herold seems to have started out as a British folk singer, but her path crossed with the Hot Club of San Francisco and through a group called Cats & Jammers, with her latest sounding like an Andrews Sisters tribute. Jennifer Scott and Ed Johnson harmonize, Cary Black and Jason Lewis keep the swing beat humming. B

Hood Smoke: Laid Up in Ordinary (2012, Origin): Group led by bassist Bryan Doherty, who produced, composed, and arranged; has a previous album under his own name, evidently fusion -- press clips compare him to Jaco Pastorius -- whereas this is, well, I don't know, rock I guess, at least rhythmically: guitar, keybs, singer is Sarah Marie Young. Title suffices as a readymade review. C+

Al Jarreau and the Metropole Orkest: Live (2011-12 [2012], Concord Jazz): Vocalist, cut an album in 1965 and many more since 1975; built his jazz credentials on idiosyncrasy, a trap that seems to have consumed his entire generation, plus or minus one, of male jazz singers. Backed here by Vince Mendoza's big band, as sharp as any. B

Christian Lillinger's Grund: Second Reason (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1984 in what was then East Germany. Second album with this group, which expands on Achim Kauffmann's piano trio with a second bassist, two saxes, and vibes. Scratchy, squeaky avant. B+(**)

Karl 2000 (2012, self-released): Avant sax trio: Daniel Rovin (tenor sax), Austin White (bass), Dave Miller (drums). First album. They claim Russian folk music and the Alexandrov Ensemble as inspirations, but you hear more Albert Ayler, which seems more to the point. B+(***)

Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters Quartet: Urban Nightingale (2011 [2012], Origin): Trumpet player from Seattle, also plays in the West African-influenced Kora Band, met the Dutch pianist in Canada in 2009, and this is their second album together. With Piet Verbist on bass and John Bishop on drums. Carefully layered postbop, trumpet is engaging, but won't blow anyone away. B

Musaner: Once Upon a Time (2012, Lucent Music): Boston group, eleven musicians led by pianist Ara Sarkissian, play the leader's compositions and Armenian and Balkan folk tunes with a mix of native (duduk, shvi zurna) and western instruments (an imposing sax section). Second album. Like so much Balkan music, most fun when they pick up the pace and let the clarinet (or whatever) fly free. B+(**)

Myriad 3: Tell (2012, ALMA): Piano trio, with Chris Donnelly (piano), Dan Fortin (bass), and Ernesto Cervini (drums). Donnelly and Cervini have a couple albums each under their own names. All three contribute songs (edge Donnelly, 4-3-3), with one cover, Ellington's "C Jam Blues." B+(**)

Thea Neumann: Lady & the Tramps (2012, self-released): Singer, from Alberta up in Canada -- her guitarist, Clint Pelletier, has a group/album called Hot Club Edmonton -- wrote two songs on her debut, but mostly works old standards (two Cole Porters, "Makin' Whoopee," "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," "In Walked Bud"), slipping in pieces by Gillian Welch and Thom Yorke. Band is piano-bass-drums, plus Pelletier on four tracks, plus a couple horn spots. B+(**)

Sophisticated Ladies: A True Story (2012, self-released): French quartet. Rachael Magidson seems to be the main vocalist although the others are credited with vocals (with a dangling asterisk), and Magidson also plays flugelhorn and percussion; the others: Emilie Calme (flute, bansuri), Nolwenn Leizour (acoustic bass), Valerie Chane-tef (piano). Standards -- "The Lady Is a Tramp," "Sophisticated Lady," "Autumn Leaves," "You Go to My Head" -- with the two closers in French and a Charlie Parker bit for a segué. Has a fake allure, which I find to be the charm. [Bandcamp] B+(*)

Mort Weiss: I'll Be Seeing You (2012, SMS Jazz): Clarinetist, eighth album since 2006 when as a 60-year-old he returned to the instrument he played in his youth, playing bebop and blues with the grace of swing. With bass and drums and "special guest" Ramon Banda on conga. Not sure if he's the one singing "Gots the Horn in My Mouth Blues," or even whether that should be called singing -- an odd break in the middle of what's otherwise his most accomplished album. A-

The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy (2012, Driff): Very few avant-gardists have had their compositions recorded by others, much less by tribute bands, but Lacy is well on his way, with two albums by Ideal Bread, and now this inspired sextet: Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Pandelis Karayorgis (piano), Mary Oliver (violin, viola), Nate McBride (bass), and Han Bennink (drums). Seven Lacy tunes cut at odd angles, the growl of the trombone especially appreciated. Then closes with Monk's "Locomotive," much as Lacy would have done. [Bandcamp] A-

Pharez Whitted: For the People (2012, Origin): Trumpet player, b. 1960, studied at DePauw and Indiana; fourth album since 1994, a sextet with Eddie Bayard on tenor/soprano sax, both piano (Ron Perrillo) and guitar (Bobby Broom), bass and drums -- all originals, bright and tough; effectively: post-hardbop. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around Here (Pel Pel): Jan. 15
  • Jerry Leake: Cubist: Prominence (Rhombus Publishing): Jan.
  • Carolyn Mark: The Queen of Vancouver Island (Mint)
  • Chris McNulty: The Song That Sings You Here (Challenge)
  • Old Time Musketry: Different Times (Steeplechase)
  • Dan Phillips BKK Trio: Bangkok Edge (self-released)
  • Sherri Roberts: Lovely Days (Blue House/Pacific Coast Jazz): Jan. 15
  • Tim Warfield's Jazzy Christmas (Undaunted Music)

Purchases:

  • The Coup: Sorry to Bother You (Anti-)
  • Zani Diabaté & Les Héritiers: Tientalaw (Sterns Africa)
  • Homeboy Sandman: First of a Living Breed (Stones Throw)
  • Pete Seeger: The Complete Bowdoin College Concert 1960 (Smithsonian/Folkways, 2CD)
  • Staff Benda Bilili: Bouger Le Monde (Crammed Discs)

Expert Comments

Chris Monsen wrote:

Bummer!

Got an e-mail from Scott Menhinick aka Improvised Communications an hour or so ago saying he'll be taking a hiatus from next year in order to "recharge my creative batteries and explore new opportunities".

Dunno if any of you writers here ever had any contact with him (he did PR for AUM Fidelity, Mary Halvorson, Jon Irabagon and many more), but he was 100% professional, always very helpful and an extremely nice guy to boot. Hopefully, I'll still be getting records from AUM and the likes, but I'm going to miss his services.

I responded:

I've been thinking about "taking a hiatus" myself, and Menhinick is a big part of the reason. He started excluding me over three years ago, and I've gotten nothing at all from him (doesn't even answer email) in well over a year -- even from people like Irabagon and Steven Joerg who had been friendly for many years. He does have a very high quality roster of clients, which is what makes his blacklisting of me all the more painful. Over the last few years, he's regularly placed a couple of unheard-by-me records in the top ten of the Jazz Critics Poll. On the other hand, looks like he struck out this year, so maybe it is time he hung it up.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Expert Comments

Christgau asked about Jessie Ware, which he was unable to find on Rhapsody. I wrote:

Don't see it now, but I did find Jessie Ware Devotion on Rhapsody back in September. Gave it a B but didn't write much -- certainly nothing memorable. It's currently #23 in my metacritic file, behind the Chromatics and ahead of Killer Mike. It's made four top-10 lists (#4 at BBC, #5 at Fly and Stereogum, #8 at PopMatters), two more top-20 (Drowned in Sound, This Is Fake DIY).

By the way, Tame Impala is currently tied for #2 with Grimes; Kendrick Lamar is tied for #4 with Blunderbuss; Fiona Apple is back up to #6, edging ahead of Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Japandroids, Beach House, with The XX and Cat Power trailing off.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Expert Comments

I wrote:

On Ravi Shankar, I sorted through most of his records in a Recycled Goods column, cg10-03.php.

On Philip Larkin, about all I know is what a delight I found his All What Jazz: A Record Diary to be -- not least as an antidote to the insufferable idolatry I was reading from everyone else re Charlie Parker. Proper has a cheap 4-CD box called Larkin's Jazz -- very nice collection of early jazz.

Milo singled out one of my bits ("not least as an antidote to the insufferable idolatry I was reading from everyone else re Charlie Parker"):

So leaning too far over backward is way superior to falling flat on your face?

He also answered "in terms of being on the wrong side of history, do we consign Adorno to the dustbin?" with a resounding "Yes."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Expert Comments

Joey Daniewicz:

Ratio of winner to second placer over P&J since 2000.

  • tUnE-yArDs/PJ Harvey: 1.11
  • Kanye West/LCD Soundsystem: 1.99
  • Animal Collective/Phoenix: 1.23
  • TV on the Radio/Vampire Weekend: 1.62
  • LCD Soundsystem/Radiohead: 1.03
  • Bob Dylan/TV on the Radio: 1.01
  • Kanye West/M.I.A.: 1.04
  • Kanye West/Brian Wilson: 1.39
  • OutKast/The White Stripes: 1.47
  • Wilco/Beck: 1.55
  • Bob Dylan/The Strokes: 1.87
  • OutKast/PJ Harvey: 1.51

Frank Ocean's domination leads me to believe that his victory will be at least as profound as the 2008 win. Predicting he multiplies the second placer (Kendrick, Fiona?) by 1.7.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20786 [20754] rated (+32), 592 [615] unrated (-23).

Made a big dent in the new jazz queue, even a few vocal albums. With next to nothing incoming, I even feel like I'm liquidating my backlog -- the unrated count finally dropped under 600, probably for the first time ever (at least, since I've been tracking it). Sent my Jazz Critics Poll ballot in, fairly well shuffled from the first-pass I posted last week. Main drop was Vijay Iyer -- actually played the record twice, enjoyed it, but didn't think it had any special edge over a dozen or two others. Fact is, aside from Steve Lehman in the number one slot, it's not clear to me how to rank most of the A-list jazz records this year, so I went with things I thought might be interesting to write about -- a definition that didn't leave much room for piano trios.

One thing I always wonder about is what am I missing, and one way to measure that is how long it takes to find something I did in fact miss. For the A-list, that turned out to be just a few hours -- see Kyle Brenders, below. The Eric Revis album took another day or two, but none of numerous the high B+ grades below came very close. Most of what's left -- other than the Whammies, playing now -- doesn't look that promising, but you never know. Twice in the last few years I've found top-ten records in my queue that I had missed, and every year I find a handful of A-list extras.

By the way, I've started adding EOY lists to the metacritic file. I probably have about a third of the EOY lists I'll wind up with. (I currently have 23 major publication lists, which should be a bit less than half; some examples: American Songwriter, Clash, Drowned in Sound, Filter, Jazzwise, Magnet, Mojo, NME, Paste, PopMatters, Q, Rocksound, Stereogum, This Is Fake DIY, Uncut, Wire.) Below are the top 25. Totals include review scoring, but the numbers in brackets are the raw EOY list counts (some top-10 picks get an extra point), so higher counts there show gainers (Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar) and droppers (El-P, Cloud Nothings).

  1. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Def Jam) [56]
  2. Grimes: Visions (4AD) [38]
  3. Tame Impala: Lonerism (Modular) [41]
  4. Jack White: Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia) [34]
  5. Grizzly Bear: Shields (Warp) [38]
  6. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (Domino) [31]
  7. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, Maad City (Interscope) [36]
  8. The XX: Coexist (XL) [30]
  9. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel . . . (Clean Slate/Epic) [28]
  10. Beach House: Bloom (Sub Pop) [34]
  11. Japandroids: Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl) [28]
  12. Cat Power: Sun (Matador) [31]
  13. Swans: The Seer (Young God) [28]
  14. Sharon Van Etten: Tramp (Jagjaguwar) [28]
  15. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory (Carpark) [21]
  16. Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes (Warp) [27]
  17. Alabama Shakes: Boys and Girls (ATO) [26]
  18. El-P: Cancer4Cure (Fat Possum) [12]
  19. Bat for Lashes: The Haunted Man (Capitol) [23]
  20. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (Columbia) [17]
  21. Bob Dylan: Tempest (Columbia) [23]
  22. Jessie Ware: Devotion (Island) [23]
  23. Dr John: Locked Down (Nonesuch) [16]
  24. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation) [22]
  25. Killer Mike: RAP Music (Williams Street) [16]

The jazz subset is in a bit better shape this week. As you can see above the sources rarely focus on jazz, but I've picked up a dozen-plus lists from JJA members, an actual subset of the voting public. Cherry and Glasper are crossover records which won't do so well (see the bracketed counts). Again, the current top 25:

  1. Neneh Cherry: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound) [6]
  2. Vijay Iyer: Accelerando (ACT) [9]
  3. Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio (Blue Note) [2]
  4. Chick Corea/Eddie Gomez/Paul Motian: Further Explorations (Concord) [5]
  5. Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode (Nonesuch) [3]
  6. Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: Reunion: Live in New York (Pi) [11]
  7. Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society (Heads Up) [2]
  8. Ravi Coltrane: Spirit Fiction (Blue Note) [6]
  9. Billy Hart: All Our Reasons (ECM) [3]
  10. Ahmad Jamal: Blue Moon (Jazz Village) [2]
  11. Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent (Pi) [4]
  12. Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin' Tunes (Marsalis Music) [3]
  13. Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform) [6]
  14. Tim Berne: Snakeoil (ECM) [2]
  15. Christian Scott: Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord) [3]
  16. Henry Threadgill Zooid: Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp (Pi) [5]
  17. Fred Hersch Trio: Alive at the Vanguard (Palmetto) [6]
  18. Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts: An Attitude for Gratitude (Palmetto) [5]
  19. The Bad Plus: Made Possible (E1) [1]
  20. Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (Greenleaf Music) [4]
  21. Kenny Garrett: Seeds From the Underground (Mack Avenue) [2]
  22. Charles Gayle Trio: Streets (Northern Spy) [2]
  23. Darius Jones Quartet: Book of Mae'bul (Another Kind of Sunrise) (AUM Fidelity) [3]
  24. John Surman: Saltash Bells (ECM) [1]
  25. John Abercrombie Quartet: Within a Song (ECM) [5]
  26. Chick Corea/Gary Burton: Hot House (Concord) [2]

The bracket numbers aren't readily available -- perhaps omething I should write some software to fix. I expect Iyer to win in a landslide -- probably a reason I didn't feel the need to pile on, but I'm happy with all my picks, and there are many more fine albums I left out. Not so happy with the reissues category, which I wound up boycotting, in part because it's been boycotting me.


The Julian Bliss Septet: A Tribute to Benny Goodman (2012, Signum): Clarinettist, of course, b. 1989 in England, has a couple of classical records under his belt and has designed his own clarinet. Septet adds piano, vibes, trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums, of which guitarist Colin Oxley is the most important, even if he's more Eddie Condon than Charlie Christian. B+(*)

Kyle Brenders Quartet: Offset (2012, 18th Note): Plays sax (soprano, tenor) and clarinet (plus bass), based in Toronto where he is artistic director of AIMToronto Orchestra. Has a handful of albums since 2008, including one of duets with Anthony Braxton. Quartet adds a contrasting horn -- Steve Ward's trombone -- plus bass (Tomas Bouda) and drums (Mark Segger). Likes to roll up repeated rhythmic figures, but he can just as well bust loose and run away with a solo. A-

Zach Brock: Almost Never Was (2012, Criss Cross): Violinist, b. 1974, has several previous albums (although AMG doesn't seem to know about them). Quartet with piano (Aaron Goldberg), bass (Matt Penman), drums (Eric Harland), an impeccable postbop group, on three originals, six covers -- including Monk, Henderson, and a not-very-energetic Hendrix. B+(*)

Jeff Coffin & the Mu'tet: Into the Air (2012, Ear Up): Saxophonist, has more than eight albums since 1997, but may be better (at least more widely) known as a side man to Béla Fleck and Dave Matthews. Formed his Mu'tet in 2001, and this is their fourth album -- first I've heard, not that his mild-mannered funk is especially memorable. With Bill Fanning on trumpet, and an electric bassist named Felix Pastorius. B

Avishai Cohen: Triveni II (2009 [2012], Anzic): Trumpet player, from Israel, brother of Anat Cohen, has more than seven records since 2002 (AMG's count, missing at least two Third World Love albums). "Triveni" is Sanskrit for three rivers meeting, hence his trio, with Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The format puts the trumpet up front, and he sounds terrific. His songs are less imposing, with three (of four) originals up front, the six covers including two from Ornette, one from Don Cherry, one from Mingus, and the odd juxtaposition of "Willow Weep for Me" and "Woody n' You." B+(**)

Coat Cooke/Rainer Wiens: High Wire (2011 [2012], Now Orchestra): Cooke is a saxophonist, based in Vancouver, Canada; he founded NOW Orchestra in 1987, which continues as one of the world's premier avant-big bands -- their recordings seem to be limited to when guests arrive (Barry Guy in 1994, George Lewis in 2001, Marilyn Crispell in 2005). Cooke has a trio album, and two new duos. Wiens plays guitar and thumb piano, a bit ambient, but that draws out the scratchy sax. B+(***)

Coat Cooke/Joe Poole: Conversations (2011 [2012], Now Orchestra): Another duo, pitting Vancouver saxophonist Cooke with drummer Poole, a slightly more conventional match up than the one with Cooke and Rainer Wiens (guitar, thumb piano), losing just a tad on variety and surprise, but louder. B+(***)

Roger Davidson Trio: We Remember Helen (2011 [2012], Soundbrush): Pianist, has specialized in Latin (especially Brazilian) music since 2000, although you would never guess that from this mainstream trio record, supported by David Finck on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. "Helen" is Helen Keane, a jazz producer and manager who died in 1996, and who had been a critical supporter of Davidson at least since 1987. Keane introduced Davidson to Finck for a record they cut in 1991. Not clear what Nash's connection to Keane is, but he's peerless as a mainstream drummer -- who wouldn't want to work with him? B+(***)

Ingebrigt Haker Flaten New York Quartet: Now Is (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Norwegian bassist, doesn't have a lot under his own name but I've probably heard him on 50 albums, to no small extent because he's managed to collect most of them on Bandcamp. Main groups are Atomic and The Thing, plus various Vandermark projects, and lots more. With Joe McPhee (tenor sax), Nate Wooley (trumpet), and Joe Morris (guitar). All joint credits, but without a drummer the scratchy makeshift music seems to well up from the bass, gain volume through the guitar, and richochet off the horns. B+(***)

Letizia Gambi: Introducing Letizia Gambi (2012, Jando Music): Singer, from Naples, Italy; first album. Attracted the interest of drummer Lenny White, who co-wrote several songs with her, and rounded up a roster of famous names who chip in for a track or more, not that you'd notice or care -- front cover touts Gato Barbieri, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, Gil Goldstein, Wallace Roney, Patrice Rushen, and White. Covers include Italian favorites, Prince, Björk, opera, damn near anything theatrical. C+

Joe Gilman: Relativity (2010 [2012], Capri): Pianist, b. 1962, eighth album since 1991, a classic quintet with trumpet (Nick Freney) and tenor sax (Chad Lefkowitz-Brown), although it's more postbop than hard -- thick and lush and a bit tricky. B+(*)

Hardcoretet: Do It Live (2010 [2012], Tables and Chairs): Self-released in 2011, picked up for a reissue; second album. Seattle quartet, members listed alphabetically: Tarik Abouzied (drums), Art Brown (alto sax), Tim Carey (electric bass), Aaron Otheim (keyb); five tracks, all contribute, two from the drummer. The sax has some charm, but the electric instruments are stuck in soft-edged fusion. Docked a notch for the misleading name. B-

Ig Henneman Sextet: Live @ the Ironworks Vancouver (2012, Wig): Viola player, from the Netherlands; AMG credits her with eight albums, plus she played on at least the latest Queen Mab album. Her sextet expands upon Queen Mab (Marilyn Lerner on piano, Lori Freedman on clarinet/bass clarinet), adding Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi), Axel Dörner (trumpet), and Wilbert De Joode (bass). With no drummer, this tends to wander, the clash of strings and horns somewhat random. B+(**)

Fred Hess Big Band: Speak (2012, Alison): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1944 in Pennsylvania, moved to Colorado in 1981, where he has played a major role above and beyond his own work -- sixteen albums under his own name, plus some other groups. Third Big Band album, with ringers John Fedchock and Matt Wilson cited on the cover. Hess wrote 5 (of 6) pieces, and is probably the saxophonist who first breaks out of big band orthodoxy and gets this cooking. B+(***)

Benedikt Jahnel Trio: Equilibrium (2011 [2012], ECM): Pianist, b. 1980 near Munich, Germany. Third album, first for ECM, a piano trio with Antonio Miguel on bass and Owen Howard on drums. Has a nice rhythmic roll, toned down, of course. B+(**)

Dave King: I've Been Ringing You (2012, Sunnyside): Drummer, plays in Happy Apple and the Bad Plus; third album under his own name, a piano trio with Bill Carrothers and Billy Peterson, seven standards, one joint credit. Fine pianist, but very quiet, you hardly ever notice that there is a drummer, much less King. B+(*)

Chris Lawhorn: Fugazi Edits (2012, Case/Martingale): As best I can tell, Lawhorn is a DJ, runs a blog aimed at selecting workout songs, not sure what else. Twenty-two cuts, each composed from instrumental fragments of several songs by the 1987-2002 hardcore band Fugazi. I didn't enjoy the group's well-regarded first album, and never gave them another chance, but the dense guitar offers a nice fusion crunch here. [Bandcamp] B+(***)

Vincent Lyn: Wing Sing (2012, Budo): Kung fu fighter, at least in the movies, turned pop jazz keyboardist. His acoustic piano is respectable enough, the electric a bit chintzy. Michelle Bradshaw sings two songs, adding substance, and fluffs a bit on "Walk On By," which we'll generously consider a joke. B

Cristina Morrison: I Love (2012, Baronesa): Singer, actress, originally from Florida but also lived in Quito and Rome. First album, wrote lyrics on six (of nine) songs, the music by alto saxophonist Christian Hidrobo, favoring Latin percussion (Sammy Torres), looking as much to Gregoire Maret's harmonica for soaring breaks as to the saxes (Hidrobo and Alex Harding). The three covers are especially striking. B+(***)

Kat Parra: Las Aventuras de ¡Pasión! (2012, JazzMa): Singer, b. 1962, based in San Francisco, fourth album, all more or less Latin-themed, with a special interest in Sephardic styles. Starts upbeat, turning "Iko Iko" into a bomba, but tails off, especially when she brings out the strings. B-

Dave Phillips & Freedance: Confluence (2011 [2012], Innova): Bassist, son of legendary bassist Barre Phillips; fourth album since 2000, all with Freedance either as group name or part of the title -- the lineups change, but "Freedance" is easier to search on than "Dave Phillips" -- I looked through about 30 of the latter at AMG. Current lineup: John O'Gallagher (alto sax), Rez Abbasi (guitar), Jon Werking (piano), Tony Moreno (drums), Glen Fitten (percussion). All Phillips originals, steady flow with complex postbop harmonies, few rough edges. B+(**)

Eric Revis 11:11: Parallax (2012, Clean Feed): Bassist, b. 1967, two previous records (2004, 2009), several dozen side credits, ranging from Branford Marsalis to Avram Fefer. Dream quartet here with Ken Vandermark (tenor sax, clarinet), Jason Moran (piano), and Nasheet Waits (drums). Half Revis originals, two group improvs, one Vandermark tune, one each from Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton, all of interest, perhaps not adding up to more than the sum of the parts but brilliant musicians like these manage to hold their own. A-

Carol Saboya: Belezas (2012, AAM): Singer, from Brazil, daughter of pianist-composer Antonio Adolfo (on piano here, the songs focusing on Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento). Has close to a dozen albums since 1997, many looking back to the music of her father's generation (Bossa Nova, Nova Bossa, Bossa Nova Forever). Nice guitar (Claudi Spiewak), and guests spots by Dave Liebman and Hendrik Meurkens brighten it up. B+(*)

Tessa Souter: Beyond the Blue (2011 [2012], Motéma): Singer, b. 1956 in England, based in New York; fourth album since 2004. Has a torch singer's voice, lots of emotion. For this album she raided her classical archives for melodies -- Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Borodin, Fauré, Albinoni, Rodrigo -- adding her lyrics to make songs that don't come close to triggering my classical gag reflex. One big help there is a band that could hardly be improved on: Steve Kuhn, David Finck, Billy Drummond, Joe Locke, Gary Versace (accordion), and Joel Frahm -- especially the latter, whose saxophones make for every singer's nonpareil duet partner. B+(***)

Tim Sparks: The Nutcracker Suite (1993 [2012], Tonewood): Guitarist, has ten or so albums, most solo, most rooted in Eastern European music. This looks like a reissue of his first, which I've seen dated 1992, 1993, or 1995 -- back cover mentions 1993 as the date he won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship playing Tchaikovsky's famous suite. It fills the first half of this album, familiar even to someone who swore allegiance to Chuck Berry back in the 1950s. Second half is Sparks' "Balkan Dreams Suite," arranged from Greek, Albanian, and Romanian folk songs. B+(*)

David Maxwell: Blues in Other Colors (2012, Shining Stone): Pianist, b. 1950 near Boston, longtime sideman cut an album in 1997 called Maximum Blues Piano; has a few more since then. This one looks to take the blues on a worldwide tour, with Jerry Leake's Indian and West African percussion, various ouds and neys. "Harry's Raga" is the one that really gets out of his original skin. B+(*)

Mikolaj Trzaska/Olie Brice/Mark Sanders: Riverloam Trio (2011 [2012], NoBusiness): Sax-bass-drums trio. Trzaska, b. 1966 in Poland, plays alto sax and bass clarinet; has a large pile of albums since 1992, including jousts with Joe McPhee and Peter Brötzmann, with guitarist Noël Akchoté, and trios with the Oles Brothers. This was released as 2-LP vinyl, limited 300 copies. Free jazz -- breaks little new ground, but no doubt Trzaska can play in this league. B+(**) [advance]

Allison Wedding: This Dance (2012, GroundUp Music): Singer-songwriter, b. 1972, grew up in Dallas and studied at UNT; went west, to Los Angeles, then Melbourne in 2001 and back to New York in 2007; has several previous albums, released in Australia. Produced by bassist-guitarist-Snarky Puppy leader Michael League, Wedding's soprano voice is surrounded by strings (including Zach Brock), which often enough provide just enough support to let the songs work -- "Carry On" is one that soars -- not that I wouldn't mind hearing more of Chris Potter, who guests on one track. [Bandcamp] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ken Field: Sensorium: Music for Dance & Film (Innova)
  • Matthew Shipp: Greatest Hits (Thirsty Ear): Jan. 29

Purchases:

  • Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (Aftermath)
  • The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth (Merge)
  • Pink: The Truth About Love (RCA)
  • Saigon: The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses (Suburban Noize)


Miscellaneous notes:

  • The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume One (1980-87 [2010], Stones Throw): From Minimal Wave Recods, founded in 2005 by Veronica Vasicka, but the music is older, drawing on 1980s new wave/post-disco obscurities, dispassionate with a slight industrial air, minimally danceable. B+(**) [rhapsody]

  • The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume Two (1981-2004 [2012], Stones Throw): Aside from the outlier, all 1981-88, which is the idea, dance music as postindustrial pop, more beat less atmosphere this time, one song oversung but that turns into its charm. B+(***) [rhapsody]

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Michael Jackson: Bad (1987, Epic): B+
  • Mink DeVille: Cabretta (1977, Capitol): Both Christgau and myself listed this as Mink DeVille, but I'm not seeing any indication of an eponymous album, and I clearly recall the cover. (The music, less so.) B

Expert Comments

Made an announcement:

Updated my website today with new metacritic files, which have added the first large batch of EOY list info. There's a link and an exec summary in the intro to today's Jazz Prospecting post. Even shorter summary: Frank Ocean wins in a landslide, no contest there; slots 2-9 are very competitive, although Tame Impala and Kendrick Lamar seem to have the momentum -- a week ago XX was in 2nd place and Fiona Apple in 4th; now they're 8th and 9th. Lots more data could be worked up -- for example, the biggest "bubbling under" threat is Alt-J, currently 35th, but its 28 list mentions ties with Apple. (I keep expecting that bubble to burst, given the early Brit bias, but it hasn't happened yet. But I don't expect to see much more of the Bill Fay bubble.) Also, Neil Young list mentions: 14 for "Psychedelic Pill"; 3 for "Americana."

Another one:

Noted while scrounging around: Douglas Wolk's EOY list at Time:

  1. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel . . .
  2. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, Maad City
  3. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange
  4. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan
  5. Getatchew Mekuria & the Ex & Friends: Y'Anbessaw Tezeta
  6. Swans: The Seer
  7. Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1967-74
  8. The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
  9. Azealia Banks: 1991
  10. Killer Mike: RAP Music

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Expert Comments

Christgau reviewed two Dave Brubeck albums: Jazz Goes to College (his old favorite), and Time Out (the classic), giving the former an A and the latter a B+. I wound up posting:

Some quick Brubeck notes. I have 26 albums rated in my database, so can't claim to be especially comprehensive -- without counting, there must be 60 to choose from, without getting into comps more than I did. I came to him late, in no particular order, and as much as I admire his piano I have to admit that it's Desmond who sweeps me off my feet. I gave the two records here opposite grades: Time Out the A, Jazz Goes to College a high B+. Fact is, I don't even own the latter -- just played it on Rhapsody when I was doing that big Columbia LP-box thing (RG 11-11). More time could very well help, as more time helps you see beyond the obvious classics in Time Out.

Time Out was reissued in 2009, both as a single and in a 2-CD+DVD Legacy Edition -- the latter adds a lot of live material, not especially related to the original LP. It also appeared in the 5-CD box For All Time along with four sequels (A- for Time Further Out and Countdown: Time in Outer Space, B+ for Time In, B for Time Changes).

Jazz Goes to College has been reissued recently as part of a couple of big boxes, including the 19-CD The Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1955-1966 -- I believe using the original album cover (different from the 1989 edition posted), but they haven't reissued it as a single.

For compilations, the 2-CD The Essential Dave Brubeck (2003, Columbia/Legacy) is superb, and you might consider adding 50 Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007 (came out in 2008). Also look out for Brubeck and Rushing, reissued in 1998 and available cheap: not one of the singer's greatest (that would be The You and Me That Used to Be), but utterly charming. The 4-CD box, Time Signatures: A Career Retrospective, thins out, but the booklet is very good. The Ken Burns Jazz single is better than nothing -- and much better than the 30 seconds Brubeck got in the video.

For Desmond, don't miss Two of a Mind with Gerry Mulligan. Incidentally, Mulligan also appears on what may have been Brubeck's best album without Desmond, Live at the Berlin Philharmonie (1970, 2-CD reissue in 1995).

Brubeck has a couple sons in the business, and their recent albums have been fun: e.g., Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Life Times -- with some sizzling versions of their father's oldies.

Changed "obvious hits" to "obvious classics" after MSN's obscenity filter changed the former to "obviou****" -- sheesh, but the edit was an improvement.

Tempted to carp on the attribution. Originally, Bob had Jazz Goes to College credited to The Dave Brubeck Quartet, even though the front cover only credited Dave Brubeck, while he had Time Out credited to Dave Brubeck, while the front cover clearly said The Dave Brubeck Quartet. I would have resolved the inconsistency in favor of just Dave Brubeck (which, btw, is what Francis Davis always does); he went with The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Christgau's fidelity to the letter of the slug line is the cause of what I regard as the worst flaw in his website design: the proliferation of superficially varying artist names, which messes up the artist-album table join making it hard to index albums under artists.

Previously, note this from Jason Gubbels:

John - "Brubeck Plays Brubeck" (1956) is solo piano, which may or may not tell you all you need to know. It has the original version of Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," which is worth hearing in this setting. "Jazz Impressions Of New York" does not have a very good critical reputation. "Brandenburg Gate" is with an orchestra, which, again, might tell you all you need to know, although it's less Third Stream than his much earlier Octet recordings (which are actually worth tracking down or at least hearing).

Interesting thing about Brubeck the composer is that outside of "In Your Own Sweet Way," very few of his songs have become standards within the tradition, even though there are plenty of worthy tunes - "Koto Song," "The Duke," "One Moment Worth Years". I've always been fascinated by the fact that it was Miles Davis who helped turn "In Your Own Sweet Way" into the sorta-standard it's become, cutting it during his marathon 1956 Quintet sessions (eventually released on "Workin" a few years later), especially since Davis and Brubeck are mostly associated by the typically biting comments Davis made about the pianist during a DownBeat interview.

But it was also Brubeck who first turned "Someday My Prince Will Come" into a jazz standard on 1957's "Dave Digs Disney," a tune Davis would lift into the heavens a few years later with the help of Coltrane (and Hank Mobley, to be fair). I'm not sure how much Brubeck can be credited with turning Miles onto this song's possibilities, especially since Bill Evans covered it on "Portrait In Jazz" in 1959, definitely the year in which Evans exerted the most palpable influence on Davis. But Brubeck was there first.

Milo Miles:

Like to note that the famous cover of Time Out was by Neil Fujita (who also designed covers for The Godfather and In Cold Blood) and that the cover art of the followup Time Further Out was by no less than Miro (a reprint, I believe). You were supposed to sit around in yer Modernist sling chair next to yer Modernist Noguchi table and contemplate Modernist abstract art while listening to yer Modernist hi-fi set play Modernist jazz.

I responded:

Ah, modernism -- reminds me of a time when one thought that the future was going to be better.

Back on Monday, Jacob Bailis published the results of "the Anti-Dean's List Poll": favorite records that Christgau either didn't review or gave less than A- grades to. I didn't participate, and missed the announcement -- sudden comment spike between refreshes and no time to look back. Results:

1. Bruce Springsteen Darkness On The Edge Of Town 114
2. David Bowie Ziggy Stardust 92
3. Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon 86
4. Fleetwood Mac Tusk 67
5. Big Star # 1 Record 60
5. U2 Achtung Baby 60
7. The Undertones The Undertones 55
8. Tom Waits Rain Dogs 54
9. The Smiths Queen Is Dead 47
10. Avalanches Since I Left You 42
11. The Smiths Hatful of Hollow 40
12. Pixies Doolitle 38
13. Can Tago Mago 37
13. Marvin Gaye What's Going On 37
15. Go-Gos Beauty At The Beat 36
15. Sonny Rollins This Is What I Do 36
17. Lou Reed Transformer 35
17. Television Television 35
19. Roxy Music Roxy Music 34
19. R.E.M. Automatic For The People 34
19. Paul Simon Hearts And Bones 34
22. Pixies Surfa Rosa 33
22. A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory 33
24. Roxy Music Country Life 32
25. Roxy Music Stranded 31
26. De La Soul Is Dead 30
26. Wilco Sky Blue Sky 30
28. Dire Straits Making Movies 29
28. Van Morrison Veedon Fleece 29
28. R.E.M. Reckoning 29
28. Bob Dylan Good As I Been To You 27
32. Radiohead OK Computer 26
32. The Soft Boys Underwater Moonlight 26
34. Allman Brothers Live At The Fillmore East 25
34. David Bowie Low 25
34. Jackson Browne Late For the Sky 25
34. Daft Punk Discovery 25
34. The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin 25
34. The Stone Roses The Stone Roses 25
34. Richard Thompson Rumour And Sigh 25
34. David S. Ware Go See the World 25

Only two jazz records (Rollins, Ware). I would have expected more 1970s import-only albums, like X-Ray Spex: Germ Free Adolescents, Ronnie Lane: One for the Road, the Heartbreakers: LAMF, and Johnny Thunders: So Alone. I didn't like the way the poll was constructed, would have had way too many records to squeeze into way too few slots, and didn't have the time. I think the rationale behind the poll was the frequent charge that we're all such slovenly followers of Christgau. And I'm not sure that the results disprove the charge.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is utter crap -- Christgau was far too kind to it. Otherwise I split about 50-50. Christgau commented later that records he rated B+ should have been excluded, which seems right to me (call them "margin of error" disagreements). That might have wiped out most of the records I favor there. I'd also split the poll into two categories: one for disagreements and the other for omissions. And for more consistency I'd stop the poll at 2000, since nothing later has been rolled up into a book, and especially since EW omissions have proliferated.

This was then followed by many individual ballots -- more interesting than the sums. Would be nice to have a full tabulation somewhere (as Brad Sroka has done in his polls), but I don't feel like trying to put it together. For now, just a link to the thread.

I have a flat file that keeps track of all of my grades (column 14) and most of Christgau's (column 13) so it's fairly easy to write an awk script to find everything I graded A or better that Christgau graded B or worse or didn't grade. When I run that I get 739 lines. Going through that file by hand, throwing out all the compilations, "deluxe editions," and pre-1970 music, I wind up with 153 lines. Lots of jazz, of course. The non-jazz comes down to (in alpha order, Christgau grades in brackets):

  • King Sunny Ade: Eje Nlogba (1980, Sunny Alade)
  • Kevin Ayers: Whatevershebringswesing (1972, Harvest)
  • Big Youth: Screaming Target (Trojan/Sanctuary)
  • Blondie: Autoamerican (1980, Chrysalis) [B-]
  • Anne Briggs: The Time Has Come (1971 [2007], Water)
  • Cedric Im Brooks: Cedric Im Brooks and the Light of Saba (1974-76 [2003], Honest Jons)
  • James Brown: Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang (1970 [1996], Polydor)
  • Robert Calvert: Lucky Leif and the Longships (1975, United Artists)
  • Carlene Carter: I Fell in Love (1990, Reprise)
  • Manu Chao: Clandestino (1998, Ark 21)
  • The Clash: The Clash (1977, CBS [UK])
  • Hazel Dickens/Alice Gerrard: Hazel and Alice (1973, Rounder)
  • Thomas A. Dorsey: Precious Lord: The Great Gospel Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey (1973 [1994], Columbia)
  • Ducks Deluxe: Taxi to the Terminal Zone (1975, RCA)
  • John Fogerty: Revival (2007, Fantasy) [s]
  • Jimmie Dale Gilmore & the Wronglers: Heirloom Music (2011, Neanderthal Noise)
  • The Heartbreakers: L.A.M.F. (1977, Track Record)
  • John Hiatt: Overcoats (1975, Epic)
  • Jesus and Mary Chain: Automatic (1989, Warner Brothers) [B-]
  • Jesus and Mary Chain: Stoned and Dethroned (1994, Warner Brothers)
  • Tom Johnson: An Hour for Piano (1979 [2000], Lovely Music)
  • Kelis: Tasty (2003, Star Trak/Arista)
  • Chris Knight: Little Victories (2012, Drifter's Church)
  • Ronnie Lane: One for the Road (1976 [1995], Edsel)
  • L.L. Cool J: 14 Shots to the Dome (1993, Def Jam) [B]
  • The Miracles: City of Angels (1975, Motown) [B]
  • Van Morrison: Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012, Blue Note)
  • Niney and Friends: Blood and Fire (1971-72 [1998], Trojan)
  • Augustus Pablo: King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown (1976 [2004], Shanachie)
  • Augustus Pablo: Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Fire House (1980 [2003], Shanachie)
  • The Perceptionists: Black Dialogue (2005, Definitive Jux)
  • Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon (1973 [1994], Capitol) [B]
  • Dudu Pukwana: In the Townships (1973 [1988], Earthworks)
  • Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (2004, Brute/Beaute)
  • Brinsley Schwarz: New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz (1974, United Artists)
  • Silver Convention: Love in a Sleeper (1978, MCA)
  • Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (2007, Anti-)
  • Swamp Dogg: Total Destruction to Your Mind (1970, Canyon)
  • Johnny Thunders: So Alone (1978, Warner Brothers)
  • Voice of the Beehive: Honey Lingers (1991, London)
  • Robert Wyatt: Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (1975, Caroline)
  • X-Ray Spex: Germ Free Adolescents (1978, Blue Plate)

The jazz is a much longer list (108 vs. 42), most of which I've rehashed elsewhere, so I won't bother with formatting it.


Tatum made a comment about Bertrand Russell's atheism, and AN responded that the man was "vile." Russell was still alive when I was a teenager, and I can't overstate how much I admired him. He was very active against the Vietnam War, as he had been against the so-called Great War, at great personal peril. AN went on to spew hatred against less admirable atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins) that I could care less about, but I've had people do that to me as well, so subtle distinctions don't matter. I felt like commenting: "If Christians weren't so full of hate, they'd drive fewer of their brethren away." Turns out that many stalwart peace activists here are still devout Christians, and many of them are good friends. Makes me wonder if I would have turned out differently had I known them back then. Probably not, but one never quite knows.


Rodney Taylor posted a multi-part "Jorge Ben Projeto" -- worth snatching up here:

I'm going to do what I've wanted to do for a while, but kept putting off until I could get it perfect or learn to write about music. Stupid move, so here it is -- over several posts -- imperfect but consumable. Enjoy.

In that sonic chasm between the demise of the CG and the birth of EW, I jumped into music Christgau had not really focused on. So I asked for a bunch of Brazilian CDs for Xmas. Then came Cam's Brazil project. Now I want to evangelize on Jorge Ben. I've tracked down his studio albums over the past two years. I'm going to say a few words about the albums, and for some no longer in print or available for download, I'll provide links (zipped, 320 bit mp3). Albums that you can buy downloaded from ITunes and/or Amazon will have a (DL) after the grade.

Let me know if there are problems with links or content. In the past Apple users have sometimes been unable to open stuff I posted, but someone always suggested a workaround. The links from this first half will be available until 14 December, and then I'll post the second half with new links.

Oh, and I'm no Brazil expert, but I have tried to contextualize a bit.

I

Over 40+ years and some 29 albums, Jorge Ben established himself as one of the most consistent, funky and compelling musicians of the second half of the 20th century. In Brazil, he seems to have appealed equally to traditionalists and revolutionaries, thereby securing wide appeal. Spiritually, he recalls Stevie Wonder and early Bill Withers: middle class aspirational in the best sense of the term. Race is a factor here, and black pride is one of the recurring political perspectives within his songs. But like Wonder, Ben's music embodies a kind of pop universalism that points to a world in which all sorts can live amicably. Although his music has plenty of variety, it's defined by a relaxed groove driven by, and often in tension with, Ben's guitar, as sharp and funky in its way as anything by Nile Rodgers or Chuck Berry.

Early Phillips period: 1963-1965

At the start of his career, Ben converses with jazz, not rock. His first album, which translates to "New Style Samba," sets out his ambitions. Spritely, percussive guitar anchors the songs, and Ben's smooth/rough voice puts them across. Horns, percussion and strings color the tunes, but never pull the focus from Ben. 'Mas Que Nada' ranks as one of the most popular songs in the world. The follow-up, however, loses this balance, and ham-handed horn arrangements overwhelm the weaker songs. Ben rights himself on "Sacundin Ben Samba" with the bigger band arrangements fleshing out his sound rather than drowning it. "Big Ben" sees him experimenting with more straightforward rock rhythms, while continuing the success of the previous album. If he'd stopped recording here, Ben would be a minor artist of note. Instead he became something much bigger.

  • Samba Esquema Novo (1963) -- A- (DL)
  • Ben e Samba Bom (1964) -- C+ (DL)
  • Sacundin Ben Samba (1964) -- A- (http://tinyurl.com/bahjjju)
  • Big Ben (1965) -- A- (http://tinyurl.com/aksf7xd)

II

Breakthrough period: 1967-1971

"O Bidu" marks Ben's first real attempt to merge rock and samba. He writes tougher. Plays tougher. And his sidemen, Os Fevers, can't quite equal him. The pianist, in particular, needs to learn the virtues of restraint and simplicity. His/her tinkles piss all over the Ben's songs. The rhythm section needs a little less swing, a little more thump. But did I mention the tougher songs and playing? They barrel through the weaknesses and presage the greatness to come.

On 1969's self-titled, Ben finally breaks through. Two key components: Trio Mocoto, the backing band, can handle Ben's samba-rock fusion, and string arrangements by Jose Briamonte and Rogerio Duprat take the songs straight into the kind of tropical psychedelia Gil, Veloso and Os Mutantes aimed for. The album includes classics such as 'Pais Tropical' and 'Que Pena'. 'Descobri Que Eu Sou Um Anjo' sounds like a hard-rocking outtake from "Forever Changes." 'Take it Easy My Brother Charles' adds funk to the mix. Throughout, Ben's guitar ricochets so hard you'll think he's going to bust your speakers. Not a great Brazilian album: a great album.

Forca Bruta is the sound of pleasant exhaustion. Ben and Trio Mocoto chill out at the after-party of "Jorge Ben." Songs lengthen and grooves dominate. Not as compelling as what comes before or after, but a pleasant lull before the run up to "Africa Brasil." "Negro e Lindo" (translation: Black and Beautiful), Trio Mocoto's last outing with Ben, risks being overwhelmed by string arrangements that tend toward the conventionally lush, but Ben's songs triumph. More mellow than "Jorge Ben" but sharper than "Forca Bruta," and, to my ears, his second best album. Includes tributes to Rita Lee (from Os Mutantes), Cassius Clay, his (then?) wife Maria Domingas and a Brazilian sports hero ('Comanche').

  • O Bidu (Silencio no Brooklin) (1967) -- A- (DL)
  • Jorge Ben (1969) -- A+ (http://tinyurl.com/7obeu42)
  • Forca Bruta (1970) -- HM: *** (DL)
  • Negro e Lindo (1971) -- A (http://tinyurl.com/ahmxnky)

III

Peak period: 1972-1977

With the departure of Trio Mocoto, Ben pares down his sound for three relatively spare albums. Horn and string arrangements are more subtle and less pervasive, and Ben's guitar and voice take center stage. He also ups the acoustic funk in a manner reminiscent of early Bill Withers. "Ben," a favorite of Caetano Veloso, includes the first version of his oft-recorded 'Taj Mahal'. It's probably the best, too, with the psychedelic tinges flavoring the song more tastily than the straight funk-samba-rock of the more famous 1976 version on "Africa Brasil." "A Tabua de Esmeralda," rated his best by some, plays up the folk elements, while "Solta o Pavao" digs into his funk. All three albums sound remarkably similar and strong, like peak Stevie Wonder or Rod Stewart, but I'd give the nod to "Solta" slightly ahead of the others.

This is probably a good place to talk about lyrical content, as the English language track 'Brother', from "Tabua" will be a turnoff for many. The brother in question is Jesus, and mysticism (primarily Christian, but also from Umbanda -- a Brazilian syncretism of Xity and nationalism -- and alchemy) is one of Ben's favorite subjects: 'Brother', 'Hermes Trismegisto e Sua Celesta Tabua de Esmeralda', 'Assim Falou Santo Tomaz de Aquino', 'Os Alquimistas Estao Chegando Os Alqumistas', 'Occulatus Abis' and 'Jesus de Praga' are just a few examples.

But don't worry. Ben also sings about other things. He probably sings more about sports (soccer mainly) than any other popular singer: 'Zagueiro' (defender/goalkeeper), 'Umbabarauma,' 'Cassius Marcelo Clay,' 'Fio Maravilha,' 'Comanche' . . . it goes on. Ben describes himself as apolitical, but race ('Negro e Lindo,' 'Xica da Silva') keeps popping up, and 'W/ Brasil' was apparently an unofficial theme song during one of the country's transitions from military control to democracy. He also comments (not particularly insightfully to my decontextualized English-reading eyes) upon at the kinds of targets (businessmen in 'Um Homen de Nogocias,' poverty in 'Paz e Arroz') any well-meaning person might. And he sings about love and fun. You know, those minor things. (If you are interested in his lyrics, go to vagalume.com.br in Google Chrome, search for Jorge Ben and start picking songs. Chrome will give you the choice to translate. Seems to have lyrics for most of his songs through the mid-80s.)

Understanding what Ben's singing about sometimes helps, sometimes hurts. But translations can never capture how language, perhaps especially sung or poetic language, works in its context. But I write that as a listener who's never been particularly bothered about lyrics. I love a good lyric, but rarely find ones I do (in part because I prefer narrative to poetic or stream of consciousness).

IV

"Solta" represented a kind of apotheosis of Ben's work since "O Bidu." It was the sound of an artist in complete control. But where to go after that kind of peak? Change directions entirely, of course. Well, maybe not entirely. Ben had been deepening his funk for three albums, but still "Africa Brasil" hits like I expect Dylan going electric did about a decade earlier. Its greatness is partly in the shock of the new direction. In fact, "Africa Brasil" lays down the sonic foundation that will shape the rest of Ben's career. But it's also just a quality album. Both sides kick off with classics ('Umbabarauma' and 'Xica da Silva'), and spend the rest of the side exploring how far Ben can take his samba-rock-funk synthesis. The answer? Far indeed. While Ben's Brazilian funk might sound a little stiff at first to those raised on P-Funk, let it sink in, and you'll be rewarded.

He closes out his run on the Philips label with "Tropical," a mixed bag that revisits older tunes with his new sound and provides new ones that continue to point the way forward. Not bad. But not good either. It also contains his fourth recorded version of 'Taj Mahal' in six albums. (I've omitted Ben's collaboration with Gilberto Gil. No need to duplicate Xgau's comments here. Also left out the rerecorded-with-new-sound-greatest-hits-medley "10 Anos Depois." Skip that one.)

  • Ben (1972) -- A- (http://tinyurl.com/bdp29cl)
  • A Tabua de Esmeralda (1974) -- A- (DL)
  • Solta o Pavao (1975) -- A (DL)
  • Africa Brasil (1976) -- A (http://tinyurl.com/bcxa48g)
  • Tropical (1977) -- B- (http://tinyurl.com/axwlm44)

That's all for now.

More from Taylor appeared Dec. 15:

Part 5: Som Livre period: 1978-1986

The standard judgment seems to be that after "Africa Brasil" Ben fades gently into the respectable twilight of honorable mentions. But, like Cam, I disagree. Clearly his work after "Africa Brasil" is post peak, but it's not the sound of an artist stuck in neutral either. The primary difference is that Ben changes with the times (often successfully) rather than changing them. The Som Livre period starts with what sounds like the missing link between "Solta" and "Africa Brasil". The massed band of "Africa Brasil" has shrunk into a tighter unit, and the songs sound like the "Ben"-"A Tabua"-"Solta" gems rocked and funked up. However, it also marks an unwelcome tendency in his later albums: the weaker songs get pushed up front. 'Troca Troca', the second track, derails the momentum, and although it doesn't ruin the album, I always find weaker tracks up front sound worse than weaker tracks toward the end of an album.

"Salve Simpatia" embraces disco more successfully than many American soul/r&b artists did, but too many mid-tempos keep the album from fully catching fire. "Alo, Alo" explores dance rhythms more fruitfully and forcefully, but, again, has couple of weak tracks toward the beginning. "Bem-Vinda" pushes the guitar more to the front, moving slightly away from the dance elements of the previous two albums. Again, the second half is much stronger than the first. Both "Alo" and "Bem-Vinda" would have been improved if the sides had been reversed. Strangely, "Dadiva" sounds like it was recorded before "Bem-Vinda" as it's of a piece with "Salve" and "Alo", whereas "Bem-Vinda" fits nicely with the later "Sonsual" and "Ben Brasil". "Salve"-"Alo"-"Dadiva" are strong on dance rhythms and synth, while "Bem-Vinda"-"Sonsual"-"Ben Brasil" favor a thin, high guitar with chunky riffs. Among the highlights on "Dadiva" are a duet with Brazilian soul legend Tim Maia, 'Eu Quero Ver a Rainha'. It also features of medley of three classics that he will revisit in the studio frequently in the coming years: 'Taj Mahal', Pais 'Tropical' and 'Fio Maravilha'. "Sonsual" and "Ben Brasil" continue the guitar focus of "Bem-Vinda" with more explicit Latin rhythms, although to diminishing marginal returns. Both are perfectly fine records with several great tracks. "Sonsual" has greater highs, but less consistency; "Ben Brasil" is consistently good -- but in that kind of competent-bordering-on-boring way.

These underappreciated albums have three problems. First, running order is rarely as good as it could be. Second -- not really a problem per se, but something that I bet annoys many -- these albums sound very much from their time period (syndrums, ugh). Third, and most significant, Ben's slow ones don't win you over as easily as they used to. Sometime he slips into the kind of sickly sweet Latin melodicism that can be hard on the ears of a rock and roller. But despite these issues, underrated these albums are. Giving up on Ben after "Africa Brasil" is like giving up on the Stones after "Exile".

Albums:

  • A Banda do ze Pretinho (1978) -- A- http://tinyurl.com/cl6uxak
  • Salve Simpatia (1979) -- HM: ** http://tinyurl.com/boajpxa
  • Alo, Alo, Como Vai? (1980) -- A- http://tinyurl.com/bu8b2gl
  • Bem-Vinda Amizade (1981) -- A- http://tinyurl.com/d6th4zc
  • Dadiva (1984) -- A- http://tinyurl.com/cvkvvt9
  • Sonsual (1985) -- B+ http://tinyurl.com/c4zyrgl
  • Ben Brasil (1986) -- HM: ** http://tinyurl.com/bmtrvoj

Part 6: WEA/Sony period (1989-2007)

Where "Solta" was apotheosis, "Ben Brasil" had more than the hint of spinning wheels. But though the end is near artistically -- his career is definitely winding down by this point -- Ben doesn't go down without a fight. "Benjor" was his most compelling album since "Africa Brasil". Again, Ben pushes himself in new directions. Perky horn charts and bright sonics? Check. King Sunny Ade cameo? Check. Reggae tune? Check. Yep, an '80s 'world' music record. I admit I like this one more than is probably warranted: it's not a world changer, or even a 'world' music changer. It's just an artist I love sounding revitalized. And of course he follows it up with as pro forma of an album as he made: the boringly named 23 (his 23rd album, of course). Starts with the rousing "Alcohol" (which apparently is only for disinfecting, not drinking), and then drops into anonymous funk tunes that mostly sound fine enough singly, but are hard to distinguish one after the other.

"World Dance" collects of singles and remixes from the period. The first three songs, 'Pisada de Elefante', 'W/Brasil' and 'Dzarm', would fight to be included on any worthy career overview. The rest are rerecorded songs from his past (including a few from "23"). Unlike "Tropical", however, these engage you. I especially like how this "Taj Mahal" sounds as if it's explicitly referencing Rod Stewart's "cover" version. Heh. "Homo Sapiens" adds alt-rock seasonings to the guitar, but still sounds like a late period Ben album nonetheless. Not the album to convince you, but if you're a fan, it's a nice one to return to on occasion.

"Elevador", however, gives up the fight. A disguised tribute album in which Ben records with younger artists (and according to one Google translated article, he often wasn't even in the studio with them), "Elevador" is the first time Ben really sounds like he's resting on his laurels. The songs do not tempt you to forget the originals; worse, they don't even make you ponder the originals' continuing significance. Even his earlier failures had life in them. "Elevador" sounds like retirement beckons. "Unreleased Sessions" collects leftover remixes from the "World Dance" period. In 2004, Ben reemerged with his, to this point, final studio album of new material: the beat is strong, but the songs have stayed behind. Here and there a groove sneaks out of the background and grabs your attention. But focus in and interest flags. Ben sounds like a ballplayer who came back for one more season only to show why retirement was a good idea in the first place. "Recuerdos" collects leftovers from the Som Livre years, with Ben throwing in one decent new track to prove he's not dead. A better professional epitaph than "Reactivus".

  • Benjor (1989) -- A- http://tinyurl.com/ck533uq
  • 23 (1993) -- B (DL)
  • World Dance (1995) -- HM: ** http://tinyurl.com/bug7s7w
  • Homo Sapiens (1996) -- HM: *** (DL)
  • Musicas Para Tocar em Elevador (1997) -- C
  • Unreleased Sessions (2001) -- HM: * http://tinyurl.com/d2gf33f
  • Reactivus Amor Est (Turba Philosophorum) (2004) -- C+ (DL)
  • Recuerdos de Asuncion 443 (2007) -- HM: * http://tinyurl.com/bpz3fut

Language and, as Milo pointed out, the lack of a proper stateside record deal might have kept Jorge Ben from our consciousness, but it's also true that he simply doesn't have the aura of Bob Marley or Fela Kuti (or even Gilberto Gil or Caetano Veloso). Musically, however -- note what I'm leaving out -- he is every bit the giant they are. (I've neglected some of his interesting history: his Ethiopian mother linking imaginatively to Africa, his suing of Rod Stewart for ripping off 'Taj Mahal' for "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy' which ended with Stewart donating his profits from the song to UNICEF, his changing of his name to Jorge Ben Jor because George Benson was supposedly getting some royalties due him. But it's not wise for a non-Portuguese speaker to string these anecdotes together and ascribe meaning to them. I really wish I could find a good bio.) But regardless of biography, lyrical content or political activity, to my ears any good history of popular music would list him along with the greats of the last half of the 20th century. I'm guessing I spent north of $450 tracking down all these albums. Some are duds and others I probably won't be listening to within a year, but I've enjoyed it immensely and discovered several that I suspect I will treasure the rest of my life. I hope some of you can share in that pleasure.

A Personal Jorge Ben Top Ten

  1. Jorge Ben (1969) -- A+
  2. Negro e Lindo (1971) -- A
  3. Africa Brasil (1976) -- A
  4. Solta o Pavao (1975) -- A
  5. A Tabua de Esmeralda (1974) -- A-
  6. Samba Esquemo Novo (1963) -- A-
  7. Benjor (1989) -- A-
  8. A Banda do ze Pretinho (1977) -- A-
  9. Dadiva (1984) -- A-
  10. Bem-Vinda Amizade (1981) -- A-

Friday, December 07, 2012

Jazz Critics Poll

Sent this ballot in to Francis Davis:

Affiliation: tomhull.com

Your choices for 2011's ten best new releases (roughly speaking, albums released between Thanksgiving 2011 and Thanksgiving 2012) listed in descending order one-through-ten.

  1. Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent (Pi)
  2. Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: Reunion: Live in New York (2007, Pi, 2CD)
  3. Houston Person: Naturally (High Note)
  4. Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Living Jelly (Leo)
  5. Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem (self-released)
  6. The Ben Riley Quartet: Grown Folks Music (Sunnyside)
  7. Fred Lonberg-Holm's Fast Citizens: Gather (Delmark)
  8. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (ECM, 2CD)
  9. Arthur Kell Quartet: Jester (Bju'ecords)
  10. Jacob Garchik: The Heavens: The Athetist Trombone Album (Yestereve)

Your top-three reissues, again listed in descending order:

  1. William Parker: Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (No Business, 6CD)
  2. Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78, Porter)
  3. Scott Fields: 5 Frozen Eggs (1996, Clean Feed)

Your choice for the year's best vocal album:

  1. Sheila Jordan/Harvie S: Yesterdays (1990, High Note)

Your choice for the year's best debut CD:

  1. Michael McNeill Trio: Passageways (self-released)

Your choice for the year's best Latin jazz CD:

  1. Sonic Liberation Front: Jetway Confidential (High Two)

Actually, I find it hard to rank anything from #2 to #50, so I went more with records I'd like to write about than anything else. Looking through the A- list, one thing I was struck by was how sloppy my sort originally was. In particular, Vijay Iyer's Accelerando wound up number two, and is the big casualty on the ballot. It won't need my votes to win, but I actually did manage to play it twice in the last week, and while not doubting its quality found I didn't like it any more than Michael McNeill's debut. So I went more with horns -- feels more satisfying.

Dipped into B+ territory for my third reissue: very aggravating that I don't get more to choose from. Art Pepper's bootleg was judged a new recording, as was Frank Wright's Blues for Albert Ayler, and the Sheila Jordan. Picked Fields over anything else as much to credit the label as anything else.

Update: Francis Davis rejected my "reissue" votes of William Parker and Juma Sultan -- evidently he thinks that nothing on either has been previously released. I told him to leave the entire section blank for me. (So much for Scott Fields.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A Downloader's Diary (25): December 2012

Insert text from here.


This is the 25th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 638 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Recycled Goods (103): December 2012

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3528 (3093 + 435).

Expert Comments

Awaiting the Parker shitstorm, I notice this, in Facebook, a long quote from Wallace Shawn in support of Jewish Voice for Peace (no link):

I personally always find it nauseating when I hear President Obama or Hillary Clinton defending this or that indefensible policy of the Israeli government. It gives me a uniquely terrible feeling. It's partly that it's painful to hear apparently nice people praising brutality. But in addition, as a Jew, I can't escape the impression that these well-meaning politicians have treated me somehow with a lack of respect.

Obviously I don't know what's really going on in their minds, but I always imagine that they're thinking something like, "Damn, this is awful. I hate defending these vile policies, but I have to do it to please the Jews."

They're thinking about me. They're trying to please me. But I'm not pleased. And neither are most other American Jews. The Jews who are pleased are a wealthy minority who have spent piles of money to convince these politicians that they, the minority, represent "the Jews."

Then my mind travels to the awful truth that American politicians don't just support immoral policies with words; they also support immoral actions with cash. And then I'm obliged to think, "But wait, that's my cash. Those are my tax dollars. I'm involved in paying for these immoral activities. I'm as involved as anyone in committing these crimes."

In other words, if I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that I've hurt people, perhaps killed people, simply by paying my taxes each year. And this is partly why it gives me such pleasure each year to contribute money to Jewish Voice For Peace, a voice of reason and compassion that represents the best qualities of the Jewish tradition.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20754 [20724] rated (+30), 615 [619] unrated (-4).

After two straight sub-30 weeks, seems like I broke out of a slump, not that the net effect is much different. More (and better) prospecting here than in some time, plus put some work into Recycled Goods, which will appear later this week -- thinner than the last two months, but relatively free of my old dirty laundry.

Jazz Poll ballot is due December 9. [Originally wrote Dec. 6, which was the original plan.] The following is my first pass at constructing such a list, just a sort of my current A-list. No guarantee that it will hold (actually, as I look at it I'm certain I'll reshuffle a lot):

New music:

  1. Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent (Pi)
  2. Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando (ACT)
  3. Houston Person: Naturally (High Note)
  4. The Ben Riley Quartet: Grown Folks Music (Sunnyside)
  5. Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem (self-released) [**]
  6. Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Living Jelly (Leo)
  7. Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: Reunion: Live in New York (2007, Pi, 2CD)
  8. Arthur Kell Quartet: Jester (Bju'ecords)
  9. Ehud Asherie with Harry Allen: Upper West Side (Posi-Tone)
  10. Juhani Aaltonen and Heikki Sarmanto: Conversations (TUM, 2CD)
  11. Charles Gayle Trio: Streets (Northern Spy) **
  12. Ivo Perelman/Matt Shipp/Gerald Cleaver: The Foreign Legion (Leo)
  13. Miles Okazaki: Figurations (Sunnyside)
  14. Jacob Garchik: The Heavens: The Athetist Trombone Album (Yestereve)
  15. Andrew Lamb: Rhapsody in Black (NoBusiness)
  16. Michael McNeill Trio: Passageways (self-released)
  17. Andy Sheppard/Michael Benita/Sebastian Rochford: Trio Libero (ECM)
  18. Sheila Jordan/Harvie S: Yesterdays (1990, High Note)
  19. Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Family Ties (Leo)
  20. John Surman: Saltash Bells (ECM)
  21. Angles 8: By Way of Deception: Live in Ljubljana (Clean Feed)
  22. Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Clean on the Corner (482 Music)
  23. Fred Lonberg-Holm's Fast Citizens: Gather (Delmark)
  24. Jerry Bergonzi: Shifting Gears (Savant)
  25. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (ECM, 2CD)
  26. Louis Sclavis Atlas Trio: Sources (ECM)
  27. Holus-Bolus: Pine Barren (Prom Night) *
  28. Eivind Opsvik: Overseas IV (Loyal Label)
  29. Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: The Air Is Different (482 Music) **
  30. Medeski Martin & Wood: Free Magic (Indirecto) *
  31. Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: The Clairvoyant (Leo)
  32. Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Mechanical Malfunction (Thirsty Ear) *
  33. Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: No New Tunes (Hot Cup) *
  34. Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin' Tunes (Marsalis Music)
  35. The Peggy Lee Band: Invitation (Drip Audio)
  36. Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (Verve)
  37. Ernest Dawkins: Afro Straight (Delmark)
  38. Hairy Bones: Snakelust (to Kenji Nakagami) (Clean Feed)
  39. Ted Nash: The Creep (Plastic Sax) **
  40. Neneh Cherry & the Thing: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
  41. Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (Greenleaf Music)
  42. Peter Zak: Nordic Noon (Steeplechase)
  43. Don Byron New Gospel Quintet: Love, Peace, and Soul (Savoy Jazz)
  44. Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo: Ancestors (TUM)
  45. Sonic Liberation Front: Jetway Confidential (High Two)
  46. Elliott Sharp Trio: Aggregat (Clean Feed)
  47. François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: In Motion (Leo)
  48. Frank Wright Quartet: Blues for Albert Ayler (1974, ESP-Disk)
  49. Raoul Björkenheim/Anders Nilsson/Gerald Cleaver: Kalabalik (DMG/ARC)
Old Music:
  1. William Parker: Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (No Business, 6CD)
  2. Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78, Porter)
  3. Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. VII: Sankei Hall, Osaka, Japan (1980, Widow's Taste, 2CD)
  4. Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady/Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963, Impulse) **
  5. Keith Jarrett: Mysteries/Shades (1975, Impulse) **

Vocal:

  1. Sheila Jordan/Harvie S: Yesterdays (1990, High Note)
  2. Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (Verve)
  3. Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (Greenleaf Music)
  4. Neneh Cherry & the Thing: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
  5. Don Byron New Gospel Quintet: Love, Peace, and Soul (Savoy Jazz)

Latin:

  1. Sonic Liberation Front: Jetway Confidential (High Two)

Debut:

  1. Michael McNeill Trio: Passageways (self-released)
  2. Holus-Bolus: Pine Barren (Prom Night) *

The complete A-list currently numbers 97, so 49 jazz, 48 other, with Neneh Cherry the swing vote. The metacritic file currently lists 623 new jazz albums. I haven't factored in any year-end lists yet, so I think it currently has almost no predictive value. Cherry (to a huge extent) and Glasper (much less so) pick up crossover votes that won't be present in the Jazz Poll. Beyond that the top 30-40 slots reflect larger publicity efforts, some of which have escaped me -- my wish list starts with Darius Jones and Mary Halvorson. Further down, the list is mostly the work of Tim Niland, Stef Gijssels, and me, so you can't draw much there.

At this point, the Poll's prohibitive favorite is Vijay Iyer, but I'd like to think Steve Lehman has an outside chance. Beyond that there are some mainstream records I like (but generally not enough to come close to the top of my list above): The Bad Plus, Tim Berne, Anat Cohen, Ravi Coltrane, Chick Corea's Bill Evans tribute (as opposed to his Gary Burton record), Dave Douglas, Kenny Garrett, Branford Marsalis, Matthew Shipp, John Surman, Henry Threadgill, Matt Wilson, Miguel Zenon. I suspect that much of the competition will come from that list, but there are also records I haven't heard (Brad Mehldau, Ahmad Jamal, William Parker's Ellington, Jones, Halvorson), and things I have heard but don't think much of (Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny, I suppose you could add Christian Scott). We'll see, soon enough. Too soon as far as I'm concerned, as I always feel unprepared when these things sneak up on me.

One more little note: I usually try to flag "advance" copies -- partly a bit of resistance against not getting final copies, partly a reasonable caveat as I can't review the actual packaging and documentation. However, more and more I'm finding these are CDR burns of vinyl- and/or download-only product, so actually the publicists are doing me a big favor. I've started trying to mark these cases. Also, in a couple of cases, I've noticed that it's possible to preview these albums on Bandcamp, and have started to provide the appropriate links. The latter will happen only when I notice them, which is certainly not guaranteed.


Eivind Aarset: Dream Logic (2011-12 [2012], ECM): Guitarist, b. 1961 in Norway, eighth album since 1998. Producer Jan Bang -- a figure on Nils Petter Molvaer's jazztronica albums -- feed him samples, with Aarset adding guitar, bass, percussion, electronics, and what have you, all at the dreamy level promised by the title. B+(**)

Jeb Bishop/Jorrit Dijkstra: 1000 Words (2011 [2012], Driff): Trombone/alto sax duo, both also credited with mutes, which must help homogenize the sound. Bishop is a Chicago trombonist, best known for his tenure in the Vandermark 5, but he has a handful of albums under his own name (starting in 1998 with 98 Duets) as well as several post-V5 group projects. Dijkstra is Dutch, moved to US in 2002, teaches at New England Conservatory, has ten albums. Resembles a sax choir, with the horns hopping over one another in interesting patterns. B+(**)

Caroline Davis Quartet: Live Work & Play (2012, Ears & Eyes): Alto saxophonist, b. in Singapore, based in Chicago, first album, with guitar-bass-drums, no one I've heard of but expect to hear more from guitarist Mike Allemana. Wrote six (of ten) pieces, covering Billy Strayhorn and Charlie Parker, getting songs from two band members (Allemana and drummer Jeremy Cunningham). Unexceptional postbop, flows nicely, makes a strong impression. B+(**)

Kui Dong/Larry Polansky/Christian Wolff: Trio (2012, Henceforth): Dong is a pianist, b. 1966 in Beijing, China; moved to US in 1991 and teaches at Dartmouth, as do the others. Wolff, b. 1934 in France but grew up in the US, also plays piano here. He was influenced by postclassical composers like John Cage and Cornelius Cardew. I first ran across him on one of Brian Eno's Obscure Records. Polansky plays guitar and mandolin -- a way of interjecting some contrasting sounds, not that the pianos are all that predictable. Improv that would satisfy Cage, for just that reason. B+(***)

Hobson's Choice: Of the Waves (2011 [2012], Barnyard): Dictionary defines this as "an apparently free choice that offers no real alternative." AMG describes one Virginia band with this one album, which is in fact by a completely different band, one based on Toronto, calls itself a "contemporary chamber jazz group." The chamber effect is mostly vocal (presumably Felicity Williams), surrounded by guitar, trumpet, marimba. Art song, extended through scatting or warbling -- first song I managed to tune into had a Rumi text that I mistook for Joni Mitchell in her most ponderous phase. B

Holus-Bolus: Pine Barren (2012, Prom Night): Josh Sinton, plays baritone sax and bass clarinet here, in his Steve Lacy tribute band Ideal Bread, and elsewhere. Builds most pieces from rhythmic vamps down low (helped by Peter Bitenc on bass), with vibes for contrast, occasionally breaking loose with hellacious solo runs -- Jonathan Goldberger's guitar, or more often Jon Irabagon's sax. Seems to be download-only. [Bandcamp] A- [advance]

I Compani: Garbo (2011 [2012], Icdisc, 2CD): Extended title adds: and other Goddesses of Cinema, with Brigitte Bardot at least as prominent as Garbo. I Compani is saxophonist Bo van der Graaf's outfit, a group that specializes in film music -- records on Fellini, Nino Rota, Aida, Last Tango in Paris, a side trip into Circusism. The band is large, but only two horns -- the leader's sax and one trumpet -- with piano/synth, bandoneon, a string section, vibes, and drums, and some vocals. The first disc is delirious and exhilarating, especially when the whole group is firing. The second is a bonus, a live "Tango and Impro" concert in memory of actress Maria Schneider (1952-2011), featuring big chunks of Gato Barbieri's heavy-handed Last Tango in Paris soundtrack. It drags a bit, especially compared with the first disc. One more caveat: possibly the worst CD packaging ever. B+(***)

Erik Jekabson: Anti-Mass (2011 [2012], Jekab's Music): Trumpeter, from California, studied at Oberlin, wound up in San Francisco, where the DeYoung Museum commissioned his title piece. Third album since 2004. With violin (Mads Tolling) and viola (Charith Prwardhana) and bits of vibraphone, a nice example of postbop chamber music, although the horns threaten to break loose, especially Dayna Stephens' tenor sax. B+(*)

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: No New Tunes (2012, Hot Cup): Guitarist, rolled out the Big Five Chord name on his 2003 debut, and is up to five albums now. All originals, not sure whether they're new or not, but the band has been together for some time, and return here more imposing than ever: Bryan Murray (tenor sax), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Moppa Elliott (bass), Dan Monaghan (drums). The sax thrash is as powerful as ever, and the guitar is even sharper. Download/vinyl only. A- [advance]

Paul Lytton/Nate Wooley: The Nows (2011 [2012], Clean Feed, 2CD): Drums and trumpet, respectively; Lytton, b. 1947 in England, a long-time fixture in avant jazz; Wooley, b. 1974 in Oregon, very prolific on the avant scene since 2005. The drummer does a lot of duos, so he's very prepared for this sort of mix up. But while both sides start as duos, they soon expand to trios, with Ikue Mori (computer) on the first, and Ken Vandermark (clarinets and saxes) on the latter. Even the latter stays within the basic chop-chop format. B+(*)

Medeski Martin & Wood: Free Magic (2007 [2012], Indirecto): Organ trio, been around for twenty-some years, remarkably popular although John Medeski (keyboards) and Billy Martin (drums) have a parallel history of dabbling in avant-garde projects. When they set up their own label and started diving into old live tapes, they initially reached for the one with John Scofield -- it's their thing, right? This one is older, coming from their "first-ever acoustic tour." That mostly means Medeski playing piano, with such astonishing flair you wonder why he doesn't do more of it. Hype sheet talks about him "channeling his inner Cecil Taylor," but I hear as much Bud Powell, and at least a little Jerry Lee. Closes with a Mingus/Sun Ra medley. A- [advance]

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: The Clairvoyant (2012, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, drums. Shipp and Dickey were in David S. Ware's original quartet, and played several duos and trios around that time (c. 1990). Shipp and the Brazilian saxophonist go back about that far too, and while Ware may be the model for their interaction, Perelman has developed his own distinctive voice, especially when he doesn't have to bring the noise. This is part of the second batch of three albums he's released this year, the third with Shipp, a following hugely prolific 2011. A-

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Michael Bisio: The Gift (2012, Leo): Case study, where The Clairvoyant was Perelman-Shipp plus drummer (Whit Dickey), this is the same duo plus bassist (Bisio). The difference is that when the duo slows down they're more likely to stall, but over time they find outs -- a little cocktail jazz, a slow burn, a spot for the bassist -- even solo the saxophonist has little trouble carrying on, wth his most impressive turn solo. B+(***)

Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Living Jelly (2011 [2012], Leo): Tenor sax, guitar, drums, respectively, although Morris is also an accomplished bassist. His leads are more effective than Shipp's in the other two albums, probably because the tone of his guitar lines up more harmonically with the sax -- similarly, his comping is more transparent. But the leader excels here, uncommonly eloquent in the slow stretches and as thrilling as ever at high speed. A-

The Reveries: Matchmakers Volume 2: The Music of Sade (2012, Barnyard): I know so little about Nigerian-born chanteuse Sade Adu or her band that I recognize none of these songs -- indeed, only two (of eight) show up on her first Best Of -- that I have to assume that the nasal falsettos squeezed through "mouth-speaker" and such are meant as satire. Canadian group -- Eric Chenaux (guitar), Ryan Driver (bass), Doug Tielli (guitar), and Jean Martin (drums) -- did this once before with Willie Nelson. B

Scott Robinson Doctette: Bronze Nemesis (2001-09 [2012], Doc-Tone): Plays various saxes, clarinets, flutes, euphonium, Moog theremin, percussion, "gadgets"; b. 1959, has close to a dozen albums since 1984 (his debut was called Multiple Instruments, some close to trad jazz but others not. Front cover proclaims this as "12 Fantastic Musical Adventures Inspired by the Amazing Worlds of Doc Savage!" Comes with a lot of doc, but not knowing the references I'm at a more/less complete loss. Group: Randy Sandke (trumpet), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Pat O'Leary (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums), with Dennis Irwin taking over bass for one cut. Suffers a bit from soundtrack syndrome, especially the dingy atmospherics, but there are lots of interesting passages. B+(*)

Sara Serpa/Ran Blake: Aurora (2012, Clean Feed): Serpa is a vocalist, from Portugal, studied at NEC which brought her into contact with the pianist. Blake has a long history of working with singers, often in duo formats -- not unrelated is that he must have more than a dozen solo piano albums -- and this is his second pairing with Serpa. Hard for me to care much about their stripped-down abstractions, except when they offer a bent cover of something familiar, like "The Band Played On." B+(*)

Andrea Wolper/Connie Crothers/Ken Filiano: Trance Formation: In Concert (2009-10 [2012], New Artists): Crothers is a pianist, b. 1941, a student and protégé of Lennie Tristano. She has at least 14 albums since 1974, and I'm embarrassed to say I've yet to hear any of them (although about six were on the 20-page shopping list I used to carry around to used stores). On the other hand, I've heard 35 albums with Filiano, one of the great bassists of our age. Wolper is a singer, married to Filiano, with three previous albums since 2005, a background before that in theatre and writing. All improv, words (if that's what they are) included, which tends to separate the instruments out into their own spaces, with Wolper's voice functoining as a thin and starchy horn. B+(*)

Katherine Young: Releasing Bound Water From Green Material (2012, Prom Night, EP): Bassoon player, has a couple recent records. This download-only has three cuts, runs 21:39, definitely within EP length, although there is also an accompanying Michael Kenney video (which I didn't watch). Percussion trio, with deep drone sounds from the accompanying horns/synth, an interesting concept, just one that doesn't last long. [Bandcamp] B+(*) [advance]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Miles Davis: Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (1969, Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): advance, Jan. 29
  • Yelena Eckemoff Trio: Glass Song (Yelena Music): Feb. 19
  • Ingebrigt Haker Flaten New York Quartet: Now Is (Clean Feed)
  • I Never Meta Guitar Too (Clean Feed)
  • Christian Lillinger's Grund: Second Reason (Clean Feed)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak (ACT): advance, Jan. 29
  • Eric Revis: Parallax (Clean Feed)
  • The Paul Winter Sextet: Count Me In (1962-63, Living Music, 2CD)

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • William Astore: Generals Behaving Badly: Among other things, this answers one question I've been wondering about: how damn many generals (and admirals) are there?

    America's military is astonishingly top heavy, with 945 generals and admirals on active duty as of March 2012. That's one flag-rank officer for every 1,500 officers and enlisted personnel. With one general for every 1,000 airmen, the Air Force is the worst offender, but the Navy and Army aren't far behind. For example, the Army has 10 active-duty divisions -- and 109 major generals to command them. Between September 2001 and April 2011, the military actually added another 93 generals and admirals to its ranks (including 37 of the three- or four-star variety). The glut extends to the ranks of full colonel (or, in the Navy, captain). The Air Force has roughly 100 active-duty combat wings -- and 3,712 colonels to command them. The Navy has 285 ships -- and 3,335 captains to command them. Indeed, today's Navy has nearly as many admirals (245 as of March 2012) as ships.

    Any high-ranking officer worth his or her salt wants to command, but this glut has contributed to their rapid rotation in and out of command -- five Afghan war commanders in five years, for instance -- disrupting any hopes for command continuity. The situation also breeds cutthroat competition for prestige slots and allows patterns of me-first careerism to flourish.

  • Justin Elliott: Have US Drones Become a "Counterinsurgency Air Force" for Our Allies?: US drone strikes have killed about 2500 people since Obama became president. Some of those were "high value targets" that have been publicized, but most weren't. (The number works out to about two per day.)

    Under the Obama administration, officials have argued that the drone strikes are only hitting operational Al Qaeda leaders or people who posed significant and imminent threats to the U.S. homeland. If you actually look at the vast majority of people who have been targeted by the United States, that's not who they are.

    There are a couple pieces of data showing this. Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation has done estimates on who among those killed could be considered "militant leaders" either of the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, or Al Qaeda. Under the Bush administration, about 30 percent of those killed could be considered militant leaders. Under Obama, that figure is only 13 percent.

    Most of the people who are killed don't have as their objective to strike the U.S. homeland. Most of the people who are killed by drones want to impose some degree of sharia law where they live, they want to fight a defensive jihad against security service and the central government, or they want to unseat what they perceive as an apostate regime that rules their country.

  • Robert Reich: Wal-Mart and McDonald's: What's Wrong with U.S. Employment: "The walkouts were no coincidence. Low wages are strangling the economy."

    Jobs are slowly returning to America, but most of them pay lousy wages and low if non-existent benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7 out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage -- like serving customers at big-box retailers and fast-food chains. That's why the median wage keeps dropping, especially for the 80 percent of the workforce that's paid by the hour.

    It's also part of the reason why the percent of Americans living below the poverty line has been increasing even as the economy has started to recover -- from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2011. More than 46 million Americans now live below the poverty line.

    Many of them have jobs. The problem is that these jobs just don't pay enough to lift their families out of poverty. [ . . . ]

    The wealth of the Walton family -- which still owns the lion's share of Wal-Mart stock -- now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

    Last week, Wal-Mart announced that the next Wal-Mart dividend will be issued on December 27 instead of January 2, after the Bush tax cut for dividends expires -- thereby saving the Wal-Mart family as much as $180 million. (According to the online weekly "Too Much," this $180 million would be enough to give 72,000 Wal-Mart workers now making $8 an hour a 20-percent annual pay hike. That hike would still leave those workers under the poverty line for a family of three.)

    Reich reminds us that in Paul Ryan's Republican budget 62 percent of spending cuts fall on the poor. But it's hard to see just how much can be squeezed there: one key thing that spending does is to make it possible for workers to work for less, so you might as well view the "safety net" as a bizarre form of subsidy for low-wage employers. Take that away and what happens? Hard to say, but it's already ugly, and getting worse. Businesses feel pressure mostly from their financial backers to push wages down, but that in turn pushes the buying power of the economy down, which increases those financial pressures (as if sheer greed wasn't enough), into a form of death spiral. It's one of those trends that can't go on forever without something breaking bad.


Also, for further study:

  • Bruce Bartlett: Revenge of the Reality-Based Community: Oh, to be young and Republican again. Well, not really. I had pretty much written him off as a possibly useful source after his series of special pleading books, but I saw him on TV recently and no one -- and on a panel where everyone was respectable or better -- managed to be so sharp and pointed. This piece explains how he got to where he is now, a combination of push (revulsion over George W. Bush) and pull (realization that Paul Krugman is always right). Still, he probably does still yearn to be young and Republican again: he just knows that neither are possible.


Nov 2012 Jan 2013