Monday, May 13, 2019

Music Week

Music: current count 31498 [31469] rated (+29), 249 [248] unrated (+1).

Weird how these weekly totals keep landing on 29 (6th time so far this year). Should have been less, given that I drove to the Tulsa area on Wednesday, returning Friday evening. Took my travel cases for the car, nothing remotely new in them. Packed the Chromebook, but inadvertently left it at home. Supposedly I can check email and web on phone, plus a million apps including Napster, but I've never got the hang of that. My second cousin down there swears she does everything with Siri, and I could see how that might be better than trying to type on a clumsy and error-prone touch screen. As a confirmed Apple-phobe, that isn't even an option I'd consider, but I gather Samsung has something along those lines (bixby?). I suppose I should look into that. Meanwhile, I seem to be the only person I know who can go 3-4 days between charges, so I take comfort in that.

I wanted to visit my cousin Duan, second son of my mother's oldest sister, Lola. I hadn't been down there since his older brother, Harold, passed several years ago, and he's up to 92 now. He's lived in/around Bristow as long as I can remember -- we went to visit Aunt Lola every couple months when I was young, and by then Harold and Duan had their families, my second cousins just a couple years younger than I was, so we were fairly close. Harold and Duan were drafted into WWII, and Duan got called back for the Korean War. That seems to have qualified him for living in the Veterans Center in Claremore, where he moved a few months ago. Probably a good place for him at this stage, but not one I'd ever look forward to (not a prospect with my 4F). Can't say as we had good talks, but was good to see him.

I saw live music twice in Oklahoma, although nothing I can recommend. The first was a free concert at the Veterans Center, with a c&w singer who called himself Cowboy, and who toured with a dwarf pony in tow -- something the vets seemed to appreciate. He mostly played Merle Haggard songs (and nothing as obvious as "Okie From Muskogee"; more like "Silver Wings"). One bizarre moment: he had a little girl bring him up a disguise designed to make him look like Elvis Presley, then launched into a medley of three r&b songs ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy," "See See Rider," don't recall the third), suggesting not only that even today black music was only acceptable if dressed up as white. He then played a fourth Elvis song, something late and not black, and didn't bother with the disguise for that. Blackface has gone out of fashion, but whiteface still works in Oklahoma. (There were a few black residents at the Center, but they were a tiny minority, and I don't recall any at the show.)

Second live music experience was attending a recital at the Coweta High School of their various band ensembles, starting with 6th grade. All three of my second-cousin's granddaughters played there, among at least a hundred others. No strings, but lots of flutes and clarinets -- I counted 12 and 18 in the high school band -- a few saxophones, the odd oboe or bassoon, a fair amount of brass, and a pretty substantial investment in percussion (including a featured percussion ensemble). Best was a pair of Cuban tunes. More typical were the Andrew Lloyd Weber medleys. Lasted over two hours, which was exhausting for all (huge crowd, by the way). They made passing reference to also having a jazz ensemble, but nothing I heard fit that bill.

Given that hole in my week, the only way I got to 29 was by streaming oldies. I started by looking for Betty Carter's album with Ray Charles. Napster didn't have it, or for that matter much of anything else after Charles left Atlantic for ABC. I mostly know his Atlantics through the 1991 Rhino 3-CD box, The Birth of Soul (my grade: A), but since the individual albums were available, I worked through them, yielding most of this week's pick hits. That also got me Ray Charles Presents David 'Fathead' Newman, and I followed that up with a few more of Newman's records (especially his early HighNotes). I didn't go very deep there, as I've never found him to be especially remarkable.

After I got back from Oklahoma, I played the new Greg Abate record, so I took a look at his back catalog. He's a mainstream saxophonist, more rooted in bebop than swing, and I especially liked his 2014 album Motif, so I was more hopeful there. I skipped a few things like his samba album, but got a fairly good sense of where he's come from. Several very nice albums, the best being one with Alan Barnes. The next logical step would be to see what else I can find by Barnes. My database lists six of his albums, all Penguin Guide ***(*)-rated, but I haven't heard any of them yet. Surprised I've missed him, although I have rated records he shared but I've filed under other names: Tony Coe, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vaché.

Revisited the latest Coathangers album this week, after Robert Christgau gave it an A-. As I recall, Michael Tatum also likes the album. I gave it a B+(***) on one or two plays back in March, and found that my review didn't need much tweaking. I played his other pick, Priests' The Seduction of Kansas, after the break, so next week for it and Camp Cope's How to Socialise & Make Friends -- both good, high B+ records.

New records reviewed this week:

Greg Abate with the Tim Ray Trio: Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ The Z (2019, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist, grew up in Rhode Island, plays alto and tenor, adds baritone and flute here, well schooled in bebop. Ray is a pianist, his trio with bass and drums, featured on Abate's recent albums. Mostly originals, including a Phil Woods tribute, with three covers: one each from Roland Kirk and Joe Henderson, plus a nice feature for the pianist: "Jitterbug Waltz." B+(***) [cd]

Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Combo: Chez Nous (2018 [2019], Summit): Standards singer, started in New York singing and acting, now based in San Francisco, has several albums, this one backed by Miller's piano trio plus Brad Buethe on guitar. Touches all the usual bases, from Jobim ("So Danco Samba") and the Beatles ("Yesterday"), with two songs in French, all tastefully done. B+(**) [cd]

Peter Jensen & DR Big Band: Stand on Your Feet and Fight: Voices of the Danish West Indies (2018 [2019], ILK): Denmark was a relatively minor player in the transatlantic slave trade, possessing three islands in the Caribbean, populating and exploiting them with 100,000 slaves, and eventually selling them off to the United States to become the US Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas). The music here is a lament, contemplating this history, and recalling it through the spoken word of its survivors (recordings made between 1978 and 1985, recalling rebellions in 1878 and 1915). B+(*) [cd]

Ellynne Rey: The Birdsong Project (2019, self-released): Standards singer, second album, band includes Joel Frahm on tenor sax. Casting about for songs featuring birds, she struggles with "Skylark," "The Peacocks," "Song to a Seagull" (J. Mitchell), only hitting her stride near the end -- "Flamingo," "Blackbird," and that ultimate Bird song, "Ornithology." B [cd]

Gwilym Simcock: Near and Now (2018 [2019], ACT): British pianist, half-dozen albums since 2007, this his second solo effort. No shortage of harmonies here, yet this doesn't do much for me. B

Aki Takase Japanic: Thema Prima (2018 [2019], BMC): Pianist, born in Japan but long based in Germany. A lot going on here, with adventurous free jazz, wild flings, scattered electronics, sound effects, even some hip-hop. A major factor is turntablist Takase's son Vincent Graf von Schlippenbach (dba DJ Illvibe), but the band also includes Daniel Erdmann (sax), Johannes Fink (bass), and Dag Magnus Narvesen (drums). B+(***)

The United States Air Force Band: The Jazz Heritage Series: 2019 Radio Broadcasts (2019, self-released, 4CD): Radio shots, hour-long discs with a sound test to start, super-annoying plugs for the Air Force, musicians all prefaced by rank. Three are build around featured guests, including snippets of anodyne interviews. Cyrille Aimée actually sounded pretty good, especially coming on after the group's Tech. Sgt. chick singer. Kenny Barron was a good sport, and Branford Marsalis was on his best behavior. I passed out during the fourth disc. They play perfectly ordinary swing-to-bop, which would be easily forgettable except for the evil of their mission. C- [cd]

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: The Rhythm of Invention (2019, Patois): Trombonist, from San Francisco, gravitated toward Latin jazz and has specialized lately. Quintet adds piano, bass, drums, and congas, but doesn't stop there, as the album lists 20 guest musicians, usually 2-4 cuts each, mostly horns and strings, plus a bit of spoken word. B+(*) [cd]

Old music:

Greg Abate Quartet: Bop City: Live at Birdland (1991, Candid): Plays alto, tenor, sopranino sax, and flute, but pictured with the alto. He released an album in 1981, but his career basically starts here, his original title cut pledging allegiance to bebop, although he doesn't do anything more obvious than a piece called "Basting the Bird." With James Williams (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums). Nice tone, shown to best effect on an atypical cover of "These Foolish Things." B+(***)

Greg Abate: Straight Ahead (1992 [1993], Candid): As advertised, a quintet with "featuring" names on the front cover because they're bankable: Claudio Roditi, Hilton Ruiz, George Mraz, Kenny Washington. B+(**)

Greg Abate Quintet: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1995, Candid): Featuring Richie Cole (alto sax), the leader's main tool, but that encourages him to switch off to everything from baritone to soprano plus flute. With Chris Neville (piano), Paul Del Nero (bass), and Artie Cabral (drums). Live, somewhere. B+(*)

Greg Abate Quintet: Bop Lives! (1996, Blue Chip Jazz): Just alto sax this time, his group expanded with the addition of Claudi Roditi (5/9 cuts, trumpet on 3, flugelhorn on 2), backed by Kenny Barron (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), and Ben Riley (drums). B+(**)

Greg Abate: Evolution (2002, 1201 Music): A chance to show off all his kit: four saxes (tenor on the cover, no flute this time), all originals, backed by piano-bass-drums (James Williams, Harvie S, Billy Hart). B+(***)

Greg Abate/Alan Barnes: Birds of a Feather (2007 [2008], Woodville): Two saxophonists, a quintet recorded on the latter's label, with John Donaldson (piano), Andy Cleyndeft (bass), and Spike Wells (drums), a strong rhythm team. Reminds me of those Ammons-Stitt blow-outs. A-

Ray Charles: Ray Charles (1953-56 [1957], Atlantic): First album, first on Atlantic, anyway: a 14-cut LP, the first side shows off his distinctive sound, that blend of blues and jive that would soon make him one of rock and roll's most distinctive hit makers. How soon? Well, side two starts with "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and "Mess Around," and ends with "I Got a Woman." A

Ray Charles: The Great Ray Charles (1956 [1957], Atlantic): Where his first and third Atlantic albums were cobbled together from singles, this second album was recorded as such, with eight longer tracks (3:40-5:54, total 37:37), all instrumentals, the idea perhaps to establish a jazz identity as well as r&b. He gets a distinctive sound on piano, but the arrangements are nothing special, and the musicians come and go. B+(**)

Ray Charles: The Genius After Hours (1956-57 [1961], Atlantic): Outtakes from the sessions for The Great Ray Charles, organized into a quickie album when the Genius left the label. Feels more intimate, as the big band stuff got moved out first. B+(**)

Ray Charles: Yes Indeed! (1952-58 [1958], Atlantic): Third album, compiling various earlier singles, some memorable, all true to his form. A-

Ray Charles: What'd I Say (1952-59 [1959], Atlantic): Title song, nominally two parts split on the single, run together for 6:26 here, is Charles' greatest vamp piece. The 3:54 "Rockhouse" also runs two parts, with everything else short, 10 titles totalling 30:08. A

Ray Charles: The Genius of Ray Charles (1959, Atlantic): At this point he's starting to figure that everything he touches turns to genius, and he's half right. He picks a mixed bag of standards, but the arrangements are more crucial: Quincy Jones' big band is stellar on the first side, but Ralph Burns' string orchestra is a drag. B+(**)

Ray Charles: Ray Charles In Person (1959 [1960], Atlantic): Seven-cut, 29:19 live set, recorded in Atlanta. No complaints, far as that goes. B+(*)

Ray Charles: Ray Charles Live (1958-59 [1987], Atlantic): Double LP compilation from 1973, combining Charles two live albums from the Atlantic period -- 1958's Ray Charles at Newport and 1960's Ray Charles in Person (at Herndon Statium in Atlanta) -- reordered with an extra track on the CD reissue, still just 71:55. B+(***)

Ray Charles: The Genius Sings the Blues (1952-60 [1961], Atlantic): A rumage through the tapes to eke out an extra album as he left the label. The theme is a natural one, although this does remind you that before he became a genius, he started out as a pretty fair Charles Brown clone. B+(***)

David "Fathead" Newman: Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David 'Fathead' Newman (1958 [1960], Atlantic): Saxophonist (tenor on 5 cuts, alto on 3), first album in a long career, mostly pleasant soul/groove albums, best known for his work with Charles -- pianist here, along with Hank Crawford (bari sax), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet), bass, and drums. B+(*)

David Newman: Fire! At the Village Vanguard (1988 [1989], Atlantic): From two nights, dropped the nickname, mostly plays tenor sax but opts for the flute for "Filthy McNasty," backed by Kirk Lightsey (piano), Steve Nelson (vibes), bass, and drums, with Hank Crawford joining on alto sax for 4 (of 8) cuts, Stanley Turrentine on tenor for 3 -- not much fire early on, but Turrentine brings it. B+(**)

David "Fathead" Newman: Chillin' (1998 [1999], HighNote): Ray Charles' saxophonist recorded very regularly on his own all the way up to his death in 2009 -- fifty years, about that many albums. His home stretch starts with this first album for Joe Fields' label. With John Hicks on piano, Bryan Carrott on vibes, bass and drums, the leader with a little flute, soprano, and alto as well as his tenor sax. Gentle, often lovely, especially "My Favorite Things." Cadino Newman sings the last two. B+(*)

David "Fathead" Newman: Keep the Spirits Singing (2000 [2001], HighNote): Mostly sax quartet with John Hicks on piano, with a little flute thrown in. But three tracks add trombone and percussion, and Steve Turre nearly runs away with the record on those. B+(*)

David "Fathead" Newman: The Gift (2002 [2003], High Note): Pretty typical album, with the tenor saxophonist showing off his flute and other saxes, backed by John Hicks (piano) and Bryan Carrott (vibes) as well as bass (Buster Williams) and drums (Winard Harper). B+(*)

David "Fathead" Newman: Song for the New Man (2004, HighNote): He seems to have found his voice here, even on the Herbie Mann tribute (long at 8:58). Trombonist Curtis Fuller (5/9 cuts) fits in better, and pianist John Hicks remains strong throughout. B+(***)

Grade (or other) changes:

The Coathangers: The Devil You Know (2019, Suicide Squeeze): Punkish girl group from Atlanta, a going concern since 2007, made me wonder whether they're going soft, but "F the NRA" allayed those fears, and the next song ("Memories") is even better. As for the slow ones, further listening reveals how together they are. [was B+(***)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Charlie Apicella & Iron City: Groove Machine (OA2): May 17
  • Fred Hersch & the WDR Big Band: Begin Again (Palmetto): June 7
  • The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: Along for the Ride (Summit): June 7
  • Scheen Jazzorkester & Thomas Johansson: As We See It . . . (Clean Feed)
  • Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Transitions (MSO): June 7
  • Rodney Whitaker: Common Ground: The Music of Gregg Hill (Origin): May 17

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