Rhapsody Streamnotes: June 30, 2016

Ran out of month before I hit 100 records for the first time since, well, looks like December 2014, although this month's 66 is closer to October 2014's 63 -- must have been another month I lost two weeks of on the road. Further slowing me down was a bout of something or other this past week. Indeed, for several days the only thing I listened to was The Art and Soul of Houston Person, a 3-CD compilation of standards that I graded A in 2008 and was even more soothing now.

Almost got through the month with no old music, but after spending the time on Legacy's obviously redundant extension of Van Morrison's extraordinary 1973 live album, It's Too Late to Stop Now, I thought I might fill in Morrison albums I had missed (mostly because they had been panned by Christgau). Rhapsody had all but one: 2000's Linda Gail Lewis duet, You Win Again (a bomb in Christgau's lexicon). Aside from the Chieftains collaboration, they couldn't be anyone else's records, and lacking anything to compare it to I would have been suckered -- I still recall hearing 1977's A Period of Transition in EJ Korvettes and feeling compelled to buy it even though I already realized that I'd never pick it off the shelf over Moondance or His Band and Street Choir or Tupelo Honey or even Veedon Fleece.

The ones I previously checked out are in the ACN, including two 21st century items that I count among his best: Down the Road (2002) and Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012). I should also note that The Best of Van Morrison: Volume 3 compiles two CDs from 1992-2005, including a handful of cuts not from his albums, and makes a superb case for the aging Morrison.

The Grade Changes section lists one album I changed from a very old grade, but omits two new ones that I originally reported lower in my Music Week posts but upgraded here: Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book and Robbie Fulks' Upland Stories. Both arrived with high expectations but sounded no more than half-great to me first time through. That merited a couple extra plays before my initial judgments, but those plays left me with reservations that great albums shouldn't evoke: Chance's flow and consistency, and my fleeting interest in Fulks' ballads. Even now, I'm not as sure of either as I should be: to some extent I'm merely leaning into a consensus I'm not part of -- Christgau and Tatum have both at A, and Coloring Book is high on every mid-year list I've seen -- or maybe just playing the odds.

Nearly all the non-jazz albums on the list below were recommended by other critics who are much more pro-active than I am in searching these records out. In particular, Eric Pridz came in 3rd on Dan Weiss' list, Phil Overeem likes Elizabeth Cook and Van Morrison's 1973 trove, Jason Gubbels Can't You Hear Me?, and Christgau got first to Aesop Rock and exclusively to Heartsrevolution (two years after the fact, which makes his find all the more remarkable). Most of the also-rans came from those same sources. I've never felt more like a fraud. I guess I can cite some jazz you haven't heard of yet -- still, even there the one clear pick is the one you most likely beat me to.

Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody (other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on May 26. Past reviews and more information are available here (8229 records).

Recent Releases

Adele: 25 (2015, XL): British singer-songwriter, names her albums after her age, with this her third after 19 and 21. Huge star: this was the bestselling album of 2015, selling 19 million units worldwide (8,774,000 in US), numbers that pale only compared to 21's 31 million units. Specializes in heartfelt ballads. Guess there's a market for that. B

Ben Adkins: Salmagundi (2016, Ben Adkins Music): Drummer, first album, wrote five (of ten) songs including the Monkish opener, fitting in with a tradition that spans Charlie Parker and Billy Strayhorn. With trumpet, piano, guitar, bass, and a creaky vocal by Linda Cole to close. B+(**) [cd]

Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid (2016, Rhymesayers): Rapper Ian Bavitz, first album came out in 2000 when his rapid fire and loquacious vocabulary gave critics an opportunity to show off fancy words of their own, like logorrhea. I still listen to this sort of thing mostly for the beats, which pass muster, but when I do catch a rhyme it helps if it's smart. A-

Alchemy Sound Project: Further Explorations (2014 [2016], ARC): Group led by five composers -- Samantha Boshnack (trumpet), Erica Lindsay (tenor sax), Salim Washington (tenor sax, oboe, alto flute, clarinet), Sumi Tonooka (piano), and David Arend (double bass) -- plus trombone and drums. The size gives them harmonic options as some of the compositions threaten to break out from postbop to avant. B+(*) [cd]

Kris Allen: Beloved (2015 [2016], Truth Revolution): Alto saxophonist (soprano one cut), Jackie McLean protégé, has at least one previous album. Quartet with Frank Kozyra on tenor sax, Luques Curtis on bass, and Jonathan Barber on drums. Not much of a joust, but the saxes are on edge. B+(**) [cd]

Jonas Cambien Trio: A Zoology of the Future (2016, Clean Feed): Pianist, from Belgium, has previously recorded in groups Platform and Karokh but this qualifies as his debut. Trio adds André Roligheten (soprano/tenor sax, bass clarinet) and Andreas Wildhagen (drums), and they mix it up. B+(***) [cd]

Lou Caputo Not So Big Band: Uh Oh! (2015 [2016], JazzCat 47): Saxophonist (alto, baritone, soprano, flute), leads a 14-piece band -- just two trumpets, one trombone, tuba, three saxes, but extra percussion -- so not so little either, especially given that the arrangements and solos all fit the standard big band handbook. B+(*) [cd]

Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book (2016, self-released): I've seen this reported as Chancelor Bennett's third mix tape, which suggests last year's Surf (attributed to Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment) was more his doing than I realized. This took me a long time and still seems to have so much going against it -- muddled mixes, beats more slippery than bouncy, a voice that sounds like some sort of caricature, all that God hyperbole -- yet nearly every other critic seems to love it, and after a half-dozen plays I find myself dragged -- at least as an admirer, albeit still a troubled one. A-

Chat Noir: Nine Thoughts for One Word (2016, Rare Noise): Self-described "avant piano trio" -- Michele Cavalieri (keyboards, piano), Luca Fogagnolo (electric and acoustic bass, trombone), J Peter Schwalm (electronics, beats, keyboards, acoustic guitar) -- plus a couple extras (guitarist Daniel Calvi, vocalist Alessandro Tomaselli). The electronics makes for an interesting ambience, or soundtrack, as the case may be. B+(*) [cdr]

Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Love (2016, Agent Love): Alt-country singer-songwriter, seems to be moving ever further out of Nashville. Songs this time are not as immediately appealing as on Welder or (for that matter) Balls, partly because they're buried so much deeper in the guitar, but it's pretty impressive guitar, and when I hear some words I want to hear more. A-

Jack DeJohnette: In Movement (2015 [2016], ECM): Drummer, leads a sax trio, with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison -- sons of the most legendary quartet of the 1960s plying their fathers' trades -- their names prominent enough on the cover that they could be listed on the artist line. Starting with the Father's "Alabama, touching on Miles Davis and EWF, with Ravi playing as much soprano sax as tenor, ending with something DeJohnette couldn't help but call "Soulful Ballad." Not a bad idea to focus on the drums. A- [dl]

Jeff Denson Quartet: Concentric Circles (2016, Ridgeway): Bassist, ten or so albums including several with Lee Konitz, also sings some, leads a quartet here with bassoon (Paul Hanson), piano (Dan Zemelman), and drums (Alan Hall). Has some nice moments, but the horn doesn't grab you like a sax, the groove pieces don't break out of the ordinary, and the vocals don't interest at all. B- [cd]

DJ Shadow: The Mountain Will Fall (2016, Mass Appeal): Some entrancing beat patches here couldn't have come from anyone else. On the other hand, I can't say I care to ever hear the last two tracks again, so a bit of a mess. B+(*)

Kali Z. Fasteau: Intuit (2012-13 [2016], Flying Note): Multi-instrumentalist (here: drums, nai flute, viola, mizmar, aquasonic, voice) and avant-garde gadfly, continues her work with saxophonists Kidd Jordan and L. Mixashawn Rozie. Jordan's opening foray is one of the most delicately measured things I've ever heard him do, and he remains notable in the hit-and-miss that follows. B+(***) [cd]

Romulo Fróes: Por Elas Sem Elas (2015, YB Music, EP): Brazilian singer-songwriter, started in a group called Passo Torto, presumably also plays the guitar that accompanies these 10 short songs (27:29), which I gather were written for women singers but performed simply by the auteur. B+(*)

Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories (2016, Bloodshot): Alt-country singer-songwriter, his straighter rock albums less compelling than when he turns up the twang. Same thing here, where close to half the songs are hard bluegrass and slightly more come off as deceptively even-tempered folk. But the latter grow on you, and at some point I gave up on the distinction. A-

Brian Groder Trio: R Train on the D Line (2014 [2016], Latham): Trumpet player, leans avant, especially working with Michael Bisio (bass) and Jay Rosen (drums), as he does here. Sparkles, but doesn't always make it seem easy. B+(**) [bc]

Elektro Hafiz: Elektro Hafiz (2016, Guerssen): Turkish musician, based in Germany (Cologne), plays electric saz, darbuka, and other instruments, dense rhythmically and enchanting, maybe even belly-danceable. B+(***) [bc]

Heartsrevolution: Ride or Die (2013, Owsla, EP): New York duo/trio, singer Leyla (Lo) Safai, instrumentalist (guitar, keyboards) Ben Pollock, cut this 5-cut, 16:08 EP a year before an album with the same name -- probably the latter that Christgau gave an A- to, but Rhapsody confused me by claiming this is more recent (and only has one cut of the album, so it may be some time until I get to it). Lead two cuts show some postpunk verve, can't say as I recall the rest. B+(*)

Heartsrevolution: Ride or Die (2014, Owsla): OK, Christgau's review at Noisey includes a widget that supposedly plays the whole album although it does nothing else -- no idea of which song is playing when. Not sure how to tag, but I guess it counts. What I can say is that my interest didn't wane after the lead two cuts (from the EP, I think). Indeed, this sounds like the sort of record that could keep growing on you, not that the electrothrash doesn't provide instant gratification enough. A- [os]

The Hot Sardines: French Fries + Champagne (2016, Decca): A New York-based retro swing band led by Evan Palazzo with French chanteuse Elizabeth Bougeroi, their eponymous debut thoroughly delighted me, but the pleasures in this more varied set are modest: a romping "Running Wild," "Comes Love" in French, an old reefer song ("When I Get Low I Get High"). B+(*)

Kel Assouf: Tikounen (2016, Igloo): Saharan group based in Belgium, mostly Tuareg from Niger, second album. Rolls more than they rock, probably because they depend more on voices than on guitar, but they get the basic sound right, and can be mesmerizing even if they never knock you out. B+(**)

LUME: Xabregas 10 (2014 [2016], Clean Feed): Group name an acronym for Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble, a 15-piece big band (six reeds, six brass, piano-bass-drums) led by pianist Marco Barroso. Four pieces, most working up a rolling rumble the soloists can build on. B+(**) [cd]

Branford Marsalis Quartet: Upward Spiral (2016, Okeh): Superb mainstream outfit, with Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis, and Justin Faulkner backing the tenor saxophonist. They're fine as long as they stick to their knitting, but the kicker is "special guest Kurt Elling," a singer I normally cannot stand but here merely don't much care for. B-

Andrew McAnsh: Illustrations (2014-15 [2016], self-released): Trumpet player, probably his first album, mostly sextet (tenor sax, trombone, guitar, bass, drums) with scattered voice. The sort of postbop exercise I hate reviewing because he clearly worked so hard yet all I can remember (after two plays) is that I didn't enjoy it. No telling how many plays it would take before I could explain why. On Bandcamp if you think I'm being unfair. B- [cd]

Sei Miguel: (Five) Stories Untold (2014-15 [2016], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, born in Paris, based in Portugal, more than a dozen albums since 1988. Starts with a bare bones duo with Fala Mariam on trombone, later adds guitar, drums, electronics, finally several saxes/reeds without ever losing the initial intimacy. B+(**) [cd]

Mr. Lif: Don't Look Down (2016, Mello Music): Rapper Jeffrey Haynes, made a big splash c. 2002 but whose last album came out in 2009, returns, pretty much to a form that sounds more old school now than it did then, only dragging a bit toward the end. B+(***)

Nacka Forum: We Are the World (2016, Moserobie): Swedish group, Google suggests they must have been named after a suburban shopping center near Stockholm. Quartet, Jonas Kullhammar (saxes) is the name I'm most familiar with, along with Goran Kajfes (cornet, trumpet), Johan Berthling (bass), and Kresten Osgood (drums, also some piano). Opens with bravado, then shifts to more methodical constructions, rewarding close listening. B+(***) [cd]

New Standard Jazz Orchestra: Waltz About Nothing (2015 [2016], OA2): Big band, directed by Andy Baker (trombone) and Ken Partyka (alto sax, flute), based in Chicago. Swings on occasion, sometimes stalls. B- [cd]

Pascal Niggenkemper: Le 7čme Continent: Talking Trash (2014-16 [2016], Clean Feed): Bassist, describes himself as German-French, based in New York since 2005, has several albums and side credits. Group here is described as a double trio, with clarinets (Joris Ruhl and Joachim Badenhorst), prepared pianos (Eve Risser and Philip Zaubek), but in lieu of a second bass Julián Elvira plays deep flutes (sub-contrabass and pronomos). Effect is complicated chamber jazz, sometimes pushing into avant territory. B+(**) [cd]

Sebastian Noelle: Shelter (2015 [2016], Fresh Sound New Talent): Postbop guitarist, third album on FSNT, don't know where he comes from or how old he is, but he's based in New York and has a name quintet: Marc Mommass (tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), Dan Weiss (drums). Some tricky music, but that's what postboppers do. B [cdr]

Jason Palmer/Cedric Hanriot: City of Poets (2014 [2016], Whirlwind): Trumpet and piano respectively, mainstream postbop, probably more notable for the smaller-print, better-known names on the front cover: Michael Janisch (bass), Clarence Penn (drums), and especially Donny McCaslin (tenor sax). Palmer has several previous albums, including a Miniie Riperton tribute. B+(**) [cd]

Bruno Parrinha/Luis Lopes/Ricardo Jacinto: Garden (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): Portuguese, I think, guitarist Lopes the best known, with Parrinha (alto/soprano sax, clarinet) and Jacinto (bass, electronics) all converging on a fractured program of ambient noise. B+(**) [cd]

Pinegrove: Cardinal (2016, Run for Cover): NJ group, vehicle for singer-songwriter Evan Stephens Hall, who has a voice that doesn't really need a band, not that having one hurts. B+(*)

Plus Sized Dan: Plus Sized Dan With Marshall Ruffin (2015, Plus Sized Dan, EP): Hard to see what production duo Clay Harper and Ruari Kilcullen adds to folksinger-with-guitar Ruffin -- at least I assume he's the one doing the heavy lifting here. First song about poor people hits home, and four more point toward a fine album that isn't quite finished. Time: 21:29. B+(***)

Eric Prydz: Opus (2016, Astralwerks, 2CD): Swedish electronica producer. AMG styles as "Club/Dance, House, Euro-Dance," but to me this sounds more like the more giddily extravagant wing of late-'70s Krautrock although if anything it's even more jacked up. Several tracks have vocals: they don't signify much to me, but hardly break the vibe. Too long, at least to process, but hits too many pleasure spots to deny. A-

Pup: The Dream Is Over (2016, Side One Dummy): Canadian rock band, emo or so I gather -- not sure what that means other than unnecessarily loud and cluttered, which this is in spades. C+

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (2016, XL): Legendary Brit rock band since the 1990s, always seemed destined to make cushy, atmospheric chamber pop, with this one more gracious (and forgettable) than most. B

RED Trio/John Butcher: Summer Skyshift (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): Portuguese piano trio led by Rodrigo Pinheiro. Since their excellent eponymous debut, they've made it a habit to hook up with various guests, and the English avant-saxophonist is an ideal mate. At least, seems so at first, although they aren't always up to that level of fire. B+(***) [cd]

Samo Salamon/Stefano Battaglia: Winds (2015 [2016], Sazas/Klopotec): Guitarist from Slovenia, has been quite prolific since the early 2000s, in a duet with the Italian pianist. Battaglia comes off even more measured than on his ECM releases, something Salamon respects with the appropriate shadings. B+(**) [cd]

Jim Self and the Tricky Lix Latin Jazz Band: ˇYo! (2016, Basset Hound): Tuba player, also something he calls a fluba -- basically an overgrown flugelhorn, not some weird flute hybrid. B

Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger (2016, Concord): I've never been a fan, although he has surprised me on occasion, mostly correlating with the quality of rhythms he appropriates, and inversely with the exposure of his solipsistic personality. This has a bit of the former and not too much of the latter. B+(*)

Tyshawn Sorey: The Inner Spectrum of Variables (2015 [2016], Pi, 2CD): Drummer by trade, but he doesn't play much here, his compositions largely turned over to a quartet of strings (including contrabass), occasionally to piano (Chris Smythe). I suppose this focus on classical-sounding composition reinforces his academic credentials, most notably that he's been chosen to assume Anthony Braxton's post at Wesleyan University. I find parts beguiling, but I'm not a big fan of the chamber jazz concept, or of naming all your pieces "Movement" when they don't move much at all. I'll also note that the stretches I find myself most enjoying are the ones where the auteur joins in. B+(***) [cd]

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down: A Man Alive (2016, Ribbon Music): Vehicle for singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen, originally formed in Virginia but since relocated to San Francisco. Fourth album, first I've heard, produced by Merrill Garbus (Tune-Yards), whose quirky rhythms and sensibility I've tried many times to get into and so far have failed. B+(*)

Allen Toussaint: American Tunes (2013-15 [2016], Nonesuch): Better known as a producer, especially during the heyday of Minit Records (1960-62; one of my favorite travel records is Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet: 20 Classic Allen Toussaint Productions for Minit Records 1960-1962), he has a spotty solo career starting with his eponymous 1971 album and ending with this here compilation of mostly piano pieces, the last cut a month before his November 2015 death. Two originals, two from Professor Longhair, an old danza from Louis Gottschalk and "Big Chief" from Toussaint's Wild Tchoupitoulas days evoke New Orleans, while he draws broader inspiration from Ellington, Waller, Hines, Strayhorn, and Bill Evans. Two vocal pieces with Rhiannon Giddens, plus a Paul Simon song he sings casually. B+(**)

Ukandanz: Awo (2016, Buda Musique): "Ethiopian crunch music" -- vocalist Asnake Guebreyes hails from Addis Ababa, but the band is based in Lyon, France, and they crank up the kind of grand drama that turns him into an arena rock shouter. At least he's up to the challenge. B+(*)

Underworld: Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future (2016, Astralwerks): A British group I've never researched, dating back to 1988, most often slotted as electronica, more specifically "progressive house," principally Karl Hyde (vocals, recently on a couple Eno albums) and Rick Smith (keyboards), comes out of the gate here riding a bass riff like the Fall. Third song in shifts to a slower gear and nothing remarkable ensues, just better-than-average ambient groove. B+(**)

Harvey Valdes: Point Counter Point (2016, self-released): Brooklyn guitarist, definitely electric, second album, a trio with Sana Nagano on violin and Joe Hertenstein on drums. The violin predominates, sharpening the edges of the guitar strings to create a fresh take on postpunk fusion. B+(***) [cd]

Waxwing: A Bowl of Sixty Taxidermists (2015, Songlines): Vancouver [BC] trio, did a 2007 album under their various names before settling on this group nomiker. Those names are: Tony Wilson (guitar), Peggy Lee (cello), and Jon Bentley (tenor, soprano, and c-melody sax). The strings and lack of drums suggest chamber jazz and it can drift into that sort of moodiness, but rarely settles there. B+(**)

White Lung: Paradise (2016, Domino): Vancouver BC postpunk group featuring singer Mish Way, fourth album, regarded as a pop move although it's plenty loud and the ten songs clock in at a no-flab 28:24. B+(**)

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Can't You Hear Me? 70's African Nuggets & Garage Rock From Nigeria, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (1970s [2016], Now-Again): Most of you world music fans look to Africa for exotic beats and ecstatic chants, and that's what you find in stellar compilations from The Indestructible Beat of Soweto to Guitar Paradise in East Africa to Zaire Choc to The Music in My Head. No telling how much more of that awaits discovery, but there also exists huge troves of efforts to imitate western pop from reggae to rap and even, here, 1960s-style garage rock. This one works because the source nations were English colonies, picking up enough of the language to carry on. Also because you've never heard a snatch of this not unfamiliar music before -- but its obscurity derives not just from prior lack of access but from the fact that we're only slowly realizing how much we share with Africa. A-

Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now: Volumes II, III, IV & DVD (1973 [2016], Legacy, 3CD+DVD): More from the 1973 tour that produced Morrison's original live album, a landmark summation after only six Warners albums (plus the one on Bang and whatever Them recorded). Those albums contain hits enough, but he also supplements them with more than the usual load of covers, especially blues. The 11-piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra adds strings and horns, but the main thing you feel is the mastery of the man who was born to sing. Can be redundant, definitely de trop, but not a problem for me. [No DVD.] A-

Old Music

Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983, Warner Brothers): Unmistakable, even in the instrumentals that fill up over a third of the album, or on the two takes of the title song, the lyric there barely a chant, so stretched awfully thin. B

Van Morrison: Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1983 [1984], Mercury): A return to Morrison's home town for his second live album, a decade after It's Too Late to Stop Now. Limits the songbook to his last four albums, two I consider masterpieces (Into the Music and Beautiful Vision), two not. B+(**)

Van Morrison: A Sense of Wonder (1985, Mercury): Covers Ray Charles and Mose Allison, tries to make music of mysticism from Blake and Yeats, all this looking inward leaves little on the outside. Reissue helps itself by repeating the title track, typical enough you can bury it on the backside of a best-of and not notice how it fails to deliver. B-

Van Morrison: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986, Mercury): At his best Morrison makes his brand of Celtic soul seem effortless. Here he makes it look like hard work, but at least the constant struggle produces decent quality results. B+(**)

Van Morrison: Poetic Champions Compose (1987, Mercury): Takes it easier this time, possibly realizing how little reward he got from his recent hard work, possibly just realizing he's in a long rut. B+(*)

Van Morrison & the Chieftains: Irish Heartbeat (1988, Mercury): Irish folk group, had close to twenty albums since 1963 when this meetup was recorded, with twenty-some more yet to come. A publicist sent me several of the group's records back in the 1970s but I didn't recall them when I jotted down my original records list, the basis of my later database. Not something I've ever had much interest in, I guess, but they also were never surprising enough to make me make an exception. Eight trad songs barely lifted, plus two old Morrisons waylaid. B-

Van Morrison: Enlightenment (1990, Mercury): The 1980s were a bad decade politically and, coincidentally I'm sure, were rough on many rock stars from the 1960s, but like Dylan, say, Morrison started to return to form at decade's end with 1989's Avalon Sunset. This one is a bit more rickety -- not something you'd pull off the shelf in place of his classics, but one you'd enjoy if you did. B+(***)

Van Morrison: Hymns to the Silence (1991, Mercury, 2CD): Promises excess, but starts off with a streak of winning tunes leaving me no doubt that the 21-song 94:53 sprawl could be edited down to a pretty solid but still idiosyncratic A- single. I'd start by cutting the two songs with the Chieftains, then take a hard look at the gospel covers and the Dr. John co-write, although I can't swear they wouldn't grow on me. B+(***)

Van Morrison: A Night in San Francisco (1993 [1994], Polydor, 2CD): Recorded live at Masonic Auditorium, twenty years after It's Too Late to Stop Now. His songbook is so broad he resorts to medleys, but also more than a few covers, especially blues John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, and Jimmy Witherspoon sharing vocals -- also does justice to Sly Stone and James Brown, and starts the second disc with "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid" -- one case where the thought counts. Closing medley: "Shakin' All Over/Gloria." Encore: "Cleaning Windows." Maybe not the hardest working man in show business, but damn close. A-

Van Morrison With Georgie Fame & Friends: How Long Has This Been Going On? (1995, Verve): Fame (né Clive Powell) was rather famous in England c. 1964-69 when his group, Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, scored three number one (and nine top-40) singles in the UK (but only two, a 7 and a 21, in the US). He plays organ, sings a bit, and has appeared on several recent Morrison albums. Signed to a jazz label, Morrison met them more than half way: recording "live" (but without an audience) at Ronnie Scott's in London, the "friends" include vocalist Annie Ross, alto saxophonists Pee Wee Ellis and Alan Skidmore, Leo Green on tenor, and Guy Barker on trumpet. He slips four of his own songs in with ten jazz standards, leaning toward vocalese and Mose Allison. I've been tempted to vote for him in jazz polls: he's always had an innately jazzy feel, and he goes to town here with "Moondance," but the more trad fare rarely rises beyond the group's expertise. B+(**)

Van Morrison/Georgie Fame/Mose Allison/Ben Sidran: Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison (1996, Verve): Cover says "with" before listing the four artists, a curious indirection but all sing and offhand I'd say Allison takes more leads, cutting into Morrison's superior marketing clout (and for that matter voice). Band is largely the same as on the previous Verve album, which prefigured this by offering two Allison songs. B+(*)

Van Morrison: Back on Top (1999, Point Blank): Life after Verve, Morrison bounces back with yet another of his marvels, steeped in blues, sliding through jazz moves. Title song is a bit labored as he realizes there is nowhere left to go but down. B+(***)

Van Morrison: Magic Time (2005, Geffen): Another solid album with minor annoyances, such as his rewrite of "Black and Blue" as "Lonely and Blue" (talk about tragedy turning into farce). B+(**)

Revised Grades

Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:

Van Morrison: Too Long in Exile (1993, Polydor): The only Morrison record Christgau graded above me, so I figured it was worth another listen. One anomaly here is a fairly large share of covers, including his own "Gloria" sung by John Lee Hooker. The bluesman fits in an album that is mostly blues, and so does Georgie Fame's organ. [Was B+] A-

Additional Consumer News:

Previous grades on artists in the old music section.

  • Van Morrison: Blowin' Your Mind (1967, Bang): A
  • Van Morrison: T.B. Sheets (1967 [1973], Columbia): A-
  • Van Morrison: Bang Masters (1967 [1991], Epic): A-
  • Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (1968, Warner Brothers): A
  • Van Morrison: Moondance (1970, Warner Brothers): A+
  • Van Morrison: His Band and Street Choir (1970, Warner Brothers): A
  • Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey (1971, Warner Brothers): A-
  • Van Morrison: St. Dominic's Preview (1972, Warner Brothers): A-
  • Van Morrison: Hard Nose the Highway (1973, Warner Brothers): B
  • Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now (1973 [1974], Polygram, 2CD): A
  • Van Morrison: Veedon Fleece (1974, Warner Brothers): B+
  • Van Morrison: A Period of Transition (1977, Warner Brothers): B+
  • Van Morrison: Wavelength (1978, Warner Brothers): A-
  • Van Morrison: Into the Music (1979, Warner Brothers): A+
  • Van Morrison: Common One (1980, Warner Brothers): B+
  • Van Morrison: Beautiful Vision (1982, Warner Brothers): A
  • Van Morrison: The Philosopher's Stone (1969-88 [1998], Polydor, 2CD): B+
  • Van Morrison: Avalon Sunset (1989, Polydor): A-
  • Van Morrison: The Best of Van Morrison (1965-89 [1990], Polydor): A
  • Van Morrison: The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 2 (1984-91 [1993], Polydor): B
  • Van Morrison: Days Like This (1995, Polydor): B+
  • Van Morrison: At the Movies: Soundtrack Hits (1964-95 [2007], Exile): B
  • Van Morrison: The Healing Game (1997, Polydor): B+
  • Van Morrison/Lonnie Donegan/Chris Barber: The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast (1998 [2000], Point Blank): A-
  • Van Morrison: Down the Road (2002, Universal): A
  • Van Morrison: What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003, Blue Note): B
  • Van Morrison: The Best of Van Morrison: Volume 3 (1992-2005 [2007], Exile/Manhattan, 2CD): A
  • Van Morrison: Still on Top: The Greatest Hits (1964-2005 [2007], Hip-O, 2CD): A+
  • Van Morrison: Pay the Devil (2006, Lost Highway): B+(***)
  • Van Morrison: Keep It Simple (2008, Lost Highway): B+(***)
  • Van Morrison: Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2008 [2009], Listen to the Lion): A-
  • Van Morrison: Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012, Blue Note): A
  • Van Morrison: Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue (2015, RCA): B+(*)


Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [os] some other stream source
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo