Monday, July 29, 2019

Music Week

For all of this month's reviews, see Streamnotes (July, 2019).

Music: current count 31831 [31798] rated (+35), 257 [259] unrated (-2).

Got a good start last week, even while I delayed posting Music Week, then lost most of three days with company and cooking, before partially recovering while I wrote up Weekend Roundup. The reason for last week's delayed posting was that I was tied up in one of my favorite wastes of time: compiling several dozens of mid-year ("so far") best-of lists. I've scoured through 66 lists, where each mention counts as one point regardless of rank (most lists are unranked, and many are are short compared to EOY lists, so this scheme is just easier to build the EOY list aggregate on top of. I've also included letter grades for Robert Christgau and myself (although only so far for records mentioned on other lists), using { A = 5, A- = 4, B+/*** = 3, ** = 2, * = 1 }. This introduces a slight skew, but it's diminished as I've added more lists. And since I'm actually more interested in using this as a tool to guide my own listening than as some sort of value-free social science research, I've included a few lists from friends and allies, including at least one I scraped off the unlinkable Facebook. (I suppose it might be possible to link to it, but common decency suggests otherwise.)

One thing I found odd is that I literally didn't find a single jazz list. Maybe I'll write one up later this week. The other thing I'm tempted to do is to add in points for AOTY 80+ ratings. For a few years I actually collected those ratings, but gave it up 2-3 years ago as too much work. On the other hand, some record of those ratings would round out the picture.

Without further ado, here are the top 30 records (so far), with point counts in braces and my grades in brackets:

  1. Billy Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? (Darkroom/Interscope) {43} [A-]
  2. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You (Nice Life/Atlantic) {40} [A-]
  3. Tyler the Creator: Igor (Columbia) {38} [**]
  4. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (Columbia) {38} [**]
  5. Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar) {38} [*]
  6. Solange: When I Get Home (Saint/Columbia) {37} [*]
  7. Ariana Grande: Thank U Next (Republic) {33} [**]
  8. Big Thief: UFOF (4AD) {32} [A-]
  9. Little Simz: Grey Area (Age 101) {32} [A-]
  10. James Blake: Assume Form (Polydor) {25} [B-]
  11. Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated (604/School Boy/Interscope) {25} [***]
  12. Jenny Lewis: On the Line (Warner Bros) {24} [*]
  13. Charly Bliss: Young Enough (Barsuk) {23} [A-]
  14. Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy! (Jagjaguwar) {23} [A-]
  15. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs (Secretly Canadian) {22} [***]
  16. Slowthai: Nothing Great About Britain (Method) {22} [***]
  17. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising (Sub Pop) {22} [B-]
  18. Dave: Psychodrama (Neighbourhood) {20} [A-]
  19. Flying Lotus: Flamagra (Warp) {20} [**]
  20. Fontaines DC: Dogrel (Partisan) {19} [***]
  21. Megan Thee Stallion: Fever (300 Entertainment) {19} [***]
  22. Anderson .Paak: Ventura (Aftermath/12 Tone Music) {19} [***]
  23. Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans) {18} [*]
  24. Denzel Curry: Zuu (Loma Vista) {18} [**]
  25. The National: I Am Easy to Find (4AD) {18} [**]
  26. Maggie Rogers: Heard It in a Past Life (Capitol) {17} [**]
  27. Billy Woods & Kenny Segal: Hiding Places (Blackwoodz Studioz) {17} [***]
  28. Nilufer Yanya: Miss Universe (ATO) {17} [A-]
  29. Rico Nasty/Kenny Beats: Anger Management (Sugar Trap) {16} [**]
  30. Kevin Abstract: Arizona Baby (Question Everything/RCA) {14} [**]
  31. Julia Jacklin: Crushing (Polyvinyl) {14} [B]

Cutoff just above {13}: PUP, Quelle Chris, Toro Y Moi; {12}: Malibu Ken, Khalid, Bassekou Kouyate; {11}: 2 Chainz, Chemical Brothers, The Comet Is Coming, Aldous Harding, Priests, Todd Snider. Highest ranked records I haven't heard: {10}: Holly Herndon: Proto, Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs; {8}: Deerhunter: Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?; {6}: Baroness, Gary Clark Jr., Flume, Foals, Cate Le Bon, Mark Ronson, Yola. I didn't bother with metal lists, so only noted 35 records as such, 0 heard by me. The overall list collected 745 titles (only 64 jazz, 50 heard by me).

I can't draw many conclusions from this data. The point scheme tends to keep any record from breaking out, with the top nine records (down to Little Simz but not James Blake) on most of the same lists. My guess is that if I had consistent ranking information Tyler, Vampire Weekend, and/or Solange would advanced a bit (also Weyes Blood, which topped two lists). Indeed, without the RC/TH grade points, Tyler would have come in first, with 36 points, vs. Eilish (34), Vampire Weekend/Van Etten (33), Lizzo (32), Grande (28), Blake (25), Big Thief/Little Simz (24).

I will probably add a few more lists as I find them. For instance, I have two specialized lists at Noisey open in tabs now (33 Essential Albums You Probably Missed So Far in 2009 and The 37 Best Ambient Albums of 2019 So Far) but held them back in case I found a more general list there. I may also, as noted, come up with a way to factor some grading data into the list.

Most of the non-jazz albums I've listened to in the last two weeks were suggested by these lists. They haven't been especially reliable, but have generated a couple surprise finds (e.g., Christina Barbieri and Queen Key last week). But two of this week's top records came on CDs from a friendly publicist. I dragged my feet on the Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery label best-ofs, thinking I'd prefer to hear the original albums they were selected from. Finally broke down and graded them last week, then found some of the missing records (badly misfiled by Napster). We're still missing the latest releases -- Evans in England and Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings. Turns out that the compilations do a good job of picking hilights from the series, and help round out a view of the artists beyond their masterworks (still Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Incredible Jazz Guitar).

I wanted to write a few words about DownBeat's Critics Poll results, but don't have the time (or possibly the stomach) for that right now. I missed the official deadline to vote, but was able to submit a ballot, which evidently was counted (my name is in the voter list, and they sent me a T-shirt). On the other hand, the disconnect between my votes and the charts is almost complete. Their HOF picks were especially paltry: I can sort of understand Nina Simone, who could be a great singer on occasion, but released a lot of bad-to-worse albums; but the Veterans Committee picks of Scott LaFaro and Joe Williams are hard to imagine. I might be OK with Williams if Jimmy Rushing was in, but even then he wouldn't be an obvious pick. LaFaro died at 25, having played with Bill Evans for two years, and with Ornette Coleman for considerably less. I've been touched by some of his work, but I have no idea how to compare his tiny discography against that of many other bassists not in the DBHOF. (On the other hand, the similarly short-lived Jimmy Blanton is in, as are such obvious contemporaries as Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, Milt Hinton, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and his predecessor with Coleman, Charlie Haden.)

Forthcoming week relatively open. Hope to get some work done on the Christgau website.

New records reviewed this week:

James Blake: Assume Form (2019, Polydor): British singer-songwriter, started in electronica but never offered much in the way of beats -- at any rate I've never understood his appeal. Comes and goes here. B-

Whit Dickey Tao Quartets: Peace Planet/Box of Light (2018 [2019], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Drummer, has a long association with Matthew Shipp, including a stint in David S. Ware's famous Quartet. Two quartets, one disc each: the first with Rob Brown (alto sax), Shipp (piano), and William Parker (bass); the other with Brown, Steve Swell (trombone), and Michael Bisio (bass). Noticed last year that multi-disc releases fare well in EOY polls, which may explain why they seem to be becoming the rule, leaving me with the problem of deciding whether to grade the stronger or weaker disc. Swell is impressive enough here, but Brown doesn't do much working around him. On the other hand, Brown is terrific on the first, probably because Shipp sets him up so well. B+(***)

Julia Jacklin: Crushing (2019, Polyvinyl): Australian singer-songwriter, second album. B

Judy and the Jerks: Music for Donuts EP (2019, Thrilling Living, EP): "Over the past half-decade Hattiesburg, MS has become a perhaps unlikely center of the international punk scene." Inspired by the Circle Jerks ("kin in not just name alone"). This group has even less song sense, trying 6 times, giving up after 7:54. C+ [bc]

Aubrey Logan: Your Mom's Favorite Songs (2019, Resonance, EP): Carole King, Aretha Franklin, lesser knowns, sung with more panache than the cover/title implies. Just barely old enough to have spared us Your Granny's Favorite Songs. Six tracks, 23:15. B+(*)

Charlie Marie: Charlie Marie (2019, self-released, EP): Nashville singer-songwriter, originally from Rhode Island, second five-cut eponymous EP separated by a live LP from a B&B in Charleston, SC. Full band, impressive sound and voice. B+(**) [bc]

The Mauskovic Dance Band: The Mauskovic Dance Band (2019, Soundway): Dutch group, principally Nic Mauskovic, first album after several EPs, a mix of "no-wave dance punk, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and space disco." B+(**)

MC Frontalot: Net Split, or the Fathomless Heartbreak of Online Itself: Damian Hess, day job web designer, started rapping about the Internet in 1999, leading to his 2005 debug album, Nerdcore Rising. Seventh album. Haven't followed his arc, but his love affair with tech isn't turning out the way he expected. B+(**)

Nots: 3 (2019, Goner): Memphis punk trio -- Natalie Hoffmann (vocals/guitar), Charlotte Watson (drums), Meredith Jones (bass) -- minus the keyboards from their debut. Third album, strong and catchy riffs, tone seems a bit off. B+(**)

Nubiyan Twist: Jungle Run (2019, Strut): British group, 12 pieces, groove pieces, hit and (mostly) miss. B-

Karen O & Danger Mouse: Lux Prima (2019, BMG): Orzolek, born in Korea, father Polish, grew up in New Jersey, singer for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, second solo album. Producer pulls consistently interesting music together. B+(**)

Old Man Saxon: Goldman Sax (2019, Saxon Kincy, EP): Rapper, know very little about him, based in Los Angeles (or Denver, according to Bandcamp page). Third EP (7 tracks, 21:02). B+(**)

William Parker/In Order to Survive: Live/Shapeshifter (2017 [2019], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Quartet, named for the bassist's 1995 album with Rob Brown (alto sax) and Cooper-Moore (piano), recorded several albums in late 1990s with Susie Ibarra on drums. Parker went with Hamid Drake on drums for his post-2000 pianoless quartets (with Lewis Barnes on trumpet and Brown on alto sax). He kept Drake when he reconvened IOTS in 2012, and in 2016 recorded a 2-CD album to showcase the two quartets (Meditation/Resurrection). The star has always been Cooper-Moore, who remains as distinctive as ever. A-

Joel Ross: KingMaker (2019, Blue Note): Vibraphone player, first album, major label but no one I've heard of in the band (Immanuel Wilkins on alto sax, plus piano-bass-drums), aside from guest vocalist Gretchen Parlato (one track, just enough for radio). Strikes me as rather conventional (more Milt Jackson or Joe Locke than Stefon Harris). B+(*)

Mavis Staples: Live in London (2018 [2019], Anti-): Selected from two nights, including a birthday wish, reprises songs from her neighborhood even if I don't particularly recognize them as hers (Curtis Mayfield, Little Milton). B+(**)

Wreckless Eric: Transience (2019, Southern Domestic): Eric Goulden, British, part of the Stiff Records stable as pub rock gave way to punk and new wave, probably the main reason I habitually misspelled "reckless" for decades, tried various other aliases until he found himself in Nashville and married Amy Rigby. Not nearly her equal, but plods along agreeably on his own. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Bill Evans: Smile With Your Heart: The Best of Bill Evans on Resonance (1968-69 [2019], Resonance): Selected from four recent (since 2012) caches of previously unreleleased trio tapes, with Eddie Gomez on bass and either Marty Morell or Jack DeJohnette on drums. Consistently fine work, well selected (as far as I can tell). A- [cd]

Jazz Piano Panorama: The Best of Piano Jazz on Resonance (1968-2011 [2019], Resonance): Label sampler, a mix of new mainstream releases and older archival material (Jaki Byard, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan, Gene Harris), closing with Marian Petrescu doing about as note-perfect an Oscar Peterson as you could ever hope for. B+(*) [cd]

Wes Montgomery: Wes's Best: The Best of Wes Montgomery on Resonance (1956-66 [2019], Resonance): Nice selection from five previous sets of archival material. Guessing at dates, since In the Beginning starts in 1949, but the guitarist's career doesn't really pick up steam until 1956-58 -- his breakthrough was 1960's Incredible Jazz Guitar, and through Smokin' at the Half Note in 1965 he redefined jazz guitar so successfully that even today most American jazz guitarists seem to be in his thrall. As with Charlie Parker, I've long been a skeptic, but those bookends are too brilliant to be denied, and this more scattered selection comes close enough. A- [cd]

Sing a Song of Jazz: The Best of Vocal Jazz on Resonance (1956-2018 [2019], Resonance): Sampler, label best known for archival tapes although they've released a few new artists, especially standards singers. The latter are in the majority here, the most impressive Aubrey Logan's new take on "A Natural Woman," mixed in with older fare from Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, and Debbie Andrews (credited, justly so, to Wes Montgomery). B [cd]

Neil Young + Stray Gators: Tuscaloosa (1973 [2019], Reprise): Another archival tape in what promises to be an endless series, recorded early on the tour that produced the live album Time Fades Away, this is the first one I've heard that feels totally superfluous. The great songs are greater elsewhere, and the rest, well, who cares? B-

Old music:

The Legendary Bill Evans Trio: The 1960 Birdland Sessions (1960 [2005], Fresh Sound): Radio shots, from four dates, sound leaving something to be desired, narration excessive. The piano trio, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, would peak a year later with Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard, and end with LaFaro's tragic death a few weeks later. Not the pianist's best work, but worth focusing on LaFaro. B+(***)

Bill Evans: Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forests (1968 [2016], Resonance, 2CD): Trio with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums), recorded at MPS in Villingen, Germany, previously unreleased. B+(***)

Bill Evans: Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (1968 [2017], Resonance): Piano trio, with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums), recorded at Netherlands Radio Union in Hilversum, Netherlands. B+(***)

Franco, Josky, Matalanza Du T.P. OK Jazz: A Paris 1983 Missile (1983 [1996], Sonodisc): One of Joe Yanosik's favorites from his deep dive into Le Grand Maitre's oeuvre. Pure guitar paradise. A [dl]

Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery: Smokin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966 [2017], Resonance): With Ron McClure on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums, only the bassist changed from the group that recorded the famous Smokin' at the Half Note (which Pat Metheny credits as the greatest guitar album ever) less than a year prior. This only hits that level in the last three cuts, leaving me a bit unsure of the first two-thirds. B+(***)

Wes Montgomery: In the Beginning (1949-58 [2016], Resonance, 2CD): The label picked up a trove of unreleased Montgomery recordings in 2012, and have gradually been making them available. Two chunks here originally appeared in 2014 on vinyl, attributed to Wes Montgomery & the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet, with brothers Buddy (piano) and Monk (bass) plus two Johnsons: Alonzo "Pookie" (tenor sax) and Robert "Sonny" (drums). Aside from a 1955 set, not clear when most of the tracks were recorded, but they cover years when the guitarist was 24-33, before his first (1958) album. Mixed bag, including a couple of vocals. B+(**)

Wes Montgomery: Fingerpickin' (1957-58 [1996], Pacific Jazz): Reissues the album The Montgomery Brothers and 5 Others along with the title track and three more from a later date in Los Angeles. Four cuts add Pookie Johnson on tenor sax and a 19-year-old trumpeter named Freddie Hubbard. Wes is developing his style, but the focus seems to be on Buddy Montgomery's vibes. B+(**)

Wes Montgomery: Far Wes (1958-59 [1996], Pacific Jazz): Compiles two more Montgomery Brothers albums, most with Harold Land (tenor sax) and Tony Bazley (drums): Montgomeryland, and Wes, Buddy and Monk Montgomery. B+(*)

Wes Montgomery: One Night in Indy (1959 [2016], Resonance): The guitarist on the verge of fame, playing for the home town folks, backed by pianist Eddie Higgins' trio (Walter Perkins on drums, "bassist unknown"). Starts with a 9:14 "Give Me the Simple Life" -- my favorite piece from the new best-of, and moves on through "Prelude to a Kiss" and four shorter pieces. Higgins impressed me as much as the guitarist. A-

Kristi Stassinopoulou/Stathis Kalyviotis: NYN (2016, Riverboat): Greek duo, have worked together since 1989, mostly on local labels (aside from a previous Riverboat album in 2012), seemingly rooted in folk but sped up and filled out. B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Moy Eng/Wayne Wallace: The Blue Hour (Patois)
  • Pearring Sound: Nothing but Time (self-released): October 4
  • Fabrizio Sciacca Quartet: Gettin' It There (self-released): September 1

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