An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Music: Current count 34401  rated (+45), 213  unrated (-7).
A day later than usual. Got distracted on Monday, and was too tired to write an introduction. I did the cutover when I got up Monday, and resisted the temptation to sneak in anything extra during the day, so chalk the high rating count up to hard work. Invites went out for the Jazz Critics Poll on Wednesday, so I've had a few ballots to count (16 at present, typically about 12% of the total). They've given me some listening suggestions, as well as motivated me to get to some queue items (e.g., Sonny Rollins).
The first EOY lists have started to appear. I've added Mojo and Uncut to my metacritic file (which at some point I should rename my "EOY Aggregate"). I compiled Mojo (including genre side-lists, except for soundtracks) from a scan of the glossy magazine, but for Uncut, I went to the more easily usable Acclaimed Music Forums (half-dozen more lists there already; while they frown on "single-critic" lists, like mine, they do an especially thorough job of collecting lists from European sources).
Both Mojo and Uncut picked Bob Dylans' My Rough and Rowdy Ways as the year's best record. Dylan is pretty clearly among the top three contenders this year, along with Run the Jewels' RTJ4 and Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Mojo had Apple at 2 and RTJ at 8. Uncut had Apple at 22, and no mention of RTJ4. I don't see any rappers at all on their list (even Brits, although there are a dozen-plus Black artists, including some Americans -- Thundercat came in at 5, and I don't see any Brits until Jarvis at 8, Shirley Collins 9, and Laura Marling 10). Early lists tend to be disproportionately British, and short on hip-hop.
My own working EOY lists are here, split into jazz and non-jazz. Usually they start with a strong jazz bias, which evens out over the season, as I scour over the vast array of pop and specialty lists. However, so far I've been looking mostly at jazz ballots, so the jazz list is the one that's seen a growth spurt this week (and probably for the next 2-3 weeks -- I've already added two more A- entries for next week's report: Luke Stewart: Exposure Quintet, and Dave Rempis: Stringers and Struts).
Phil Overeem noted that every record in my non-jazz list is marked with **, which means that I streamed or downloaded it. (Actually, there are two exception: Al Gold's Paradise, a blues album from a jazz publicist, and Thank Your Lucky Stars: Girl in Her 29s, which the artist was kind and/or desperate enough to send me.) I still get a fair number of jazz promos -- down at least 50% from the days when I was writing Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, and all the way to zero this week -- but haven't bought more than a couple dozen CDs in any of the last 5-8 years, and zero so far this year. Admittedly, that changes the way I listen to music, and you can take that as a caveat if you want. It does reduce the chance of adding any new music to my all-time list. On the other hand, it presents a pretty level playing field.
One new feature this week is that I finally added a section on "records I played parts of, but not enough to grade." I've thought about this before, but it always seemed like a bookkeeping headache. Still, last week I was going through the year's list promoted by a jazz publicist, seeking out items he hadn't sent me, and was left with two albums that were only partially available on Bandcamp. So I played what I could, and noted that for future reference. They are not counted as graded in my database, so won't inflate rated counts. I decided to go with four levels:
I don't know how many more of these I'll do, but I run across partial selections at Bandcamp several times each week, and many other records that aren't available on streaming sites at least make a song or two available, even if only on Soundcloud or YouTube. One thing I do in the EOY lists is try to compile a list of records which by reputation have a 2% or better chance of an A- grade, so they are the most obvious prospects. I could also see doing this for back catalog items, which are particularly hard to find.
For now, the plan is to have a single section in Music Week each week, and two sections (new and historical) in the music year file. I'm not adding them to the EOY files, although they'll have some influence in the 2% sections. They won't show up in any of the database files, but I will be able to see comments in the source files. I might at some point figure out how to generate a collective list, but that will require some programming, so isn't in the cards for now. For now, I'm not adding them to the Record Guides, although I could see an argument for doing so.
One thing I was aware of while writing Sunday's Weekend Roundup was that I had written various conflicting things on Trump's post-presidential prospects. There is much speculation but no answers. I have no real idea, and chances are neither does Trump. For one thing, there's a very real question as to whether he will be prosecuted (there is very little doubt but that he will be hit with civil lawsuits, some of which are already in progress). Trump's public profile will have some bearing on those cases. In some ways, I think the main benefit from keeping the option to prosecute "on the table" is that the threat may force him to moderate his behavior. And I may add that I don't want to muzzle him to stifle his political impact, but just because he's been such a painfully tiresome presence in our lives.
The only reason I'm returning to this is that I wanted to pass on a link: Sean Illing: A historian on the perils of chaotic White House transitions. The historian is Eric Rauchway, and he recently wrote a book on the long stretch (November to March) from the 1932 election defeat of Herbert Hoover to the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt. I've talked about my notion that you can divide US history into four long partisan eras, each initiated by a major president and ended by a one-term failure: Jefferson to Buchanan (1800-1860), Lincoln to Hoover (1860-1932), Roosevelt to Carter (1932-1980), and Reagan to Trump (1980-2020). One thing I hadn't really thought about was how painful the transitions were between those eras. One can also throw in the transition from Adams to Jefferson in 1800-01, which like Hoover-Roosevelt was so bad it led to a constitutional amendment (the former separated the elections of presidents and vice-presidents, the latter moved the inauguration date up from March to January to shorten the lame duck period). The Buchanan-Lincoln transition period was when the Civil War started (although Rauchway doesn't blame Buchanan for that -- nonetheless, many pre-Trump polls of historians ranked Buchanan as the worst president ever). The Carter-Reagan transition was benign only in comparison to the others: it was conspicuously marked by Reagan's back channel negotiations with Iran to release the American embassy hostages only after Carter left office. What makes Hoover so relevant is the degree of crisis the nation faced then and is facing now.
One more week before we wrap up the November Streamnotes archive. I expect it will be a busy one. We have no plans for Thanksgiving. I may try to cook a nice dinner for two, but I don't even have plans at present, and I'm unlikely to go out shopping. No guests, not even virtual ones. We're pretty severely hunkered down, as Kansas pandemic numbers have kept shooting up.
Lina Allemano's Ohrenschmaus: Rats and Mice (2019 , Lumo): Canadian trumpet player, based in Toronto, first record a 1998 quintet that listed William Carn first, seems to have a Berlin connection -- appeared in Satoko Fujii's Orchestra Berlin, and recorded this trio there: Dan Peter Sundland (electric bass) and Michael Griener (drums), group name translates to "festival for the ears." B+(***) [bc]
Lina Allemano: Glimmer Glammer (2019 , Lumo): Solo trumpet, rarely done, rarely successful, but a game effort. B+(*) [bc]
The Awakening Orchestra: Volume II: To Call Her to a Higher Plain (2019 , Biophilia): Big band, directed by Kyle Saulnier, released a Volume I in 2014 and an Interlude in 2016. Cites George McGovern for inspirational "higher plain" quote, but I have to wonder whether the word intended wasn't "plane." Tracts on patriotism, divided into two parts: "The Pessimist's Dilemma" and "The Optimist's Folly," each embedding a short symphony. One vocal bit, but mostly lets the music talk, speaking volumes. B+(***)
Baby Queen: Medicine (2020, Polydor, EP): Bella Latham, South Africa-born, London-based, don't know if she's done anything else. Six songs, 22:47, half sly talky grooves ("Buzz Kill"), half pop genius ("Internet Religion," "Want Me"). Title song synthesizes both. A-
Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brotherhood: Live (2019 , International Anthem): From Chicago, credited with clarinet, keys, and vocals, band has tenor sax, electronics, bass, two drummers, "auxiliary instruments," and more vocals. Can get intense, probably for good reason. Her fan base is pretty intense, too. B+(**) [bc]
Alabaster DePlume: To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 (2020, International Anthem): British spoken word artist, from what I hear, plays tenor sax and guitar here, with voice (his and others) used for background color. Cy & Lee are only identified as "two men with learning difficulties" DePlume befriended in Manchester, who worked on music with him, finding it to have a calming effect. One can see why. B+(**)
Fox Green: The Longest April (2020, self-released): Alt/indie band from Little Rock, Wade Derden singer-guitarist, with Cam Patterson (guitar), Steve Kapp (upright bass), and Dave Hoffpauir (drums), plus a true connoisseur's selection of guest spots (Peter Stampfel, John Kruth, Adam Weiner, Lisa Walker), plus various backup vocals on most tracks. Clear, easy-going country rock. Inspired concept: "The Day Marc Bolan Went to Nashville." B+(***) [bc]
Sam Gendel: Satin Doll (2020, Nonesuch): Saxophonist, several albums but first on a major label, pitches this as "a futuristic homage to historical jazz." Standards, 1950s jazz tunes as well as older Ellington and "Stardust," tweaked with synths, which is itself an older vision of the future. B
Sam Gendel: DRM (2020, Nonesuch): Solo experiments with vintage instruments -- antique synths and drum machines, a sixty-year-old nylon-string guitar -- with voice. Loose-limbed and out of kilter, reminds me a bit of Arto Lindsay, but not that good. B
Julian Gerstin: Littoral Zone (2020, self-released): Subtitled (back cover but not front or spine) "Percussion for Mollusks." Implies that he's mostly working with shells, but details list four dozen percussion "instruments," including Fanta bottle, rice cooker, and espresso maker, as well as most of the Afro-Latin kit. Lovely within its limits, which expand a bit with guest marimba on three tracks, even more with clarinet on one. B+(***) [cd]
Ben Goldberg/Kenny Wollesen: Music for an Avant-Garde Massage Parlour (2020, BAG Production): Clarinet player, spent the pandemic lockdown period from March 19 to August 27 recording 137 pieces for his Plague Diary, and has since kept adding to it, hitting 186 on November 16. That's mind-numbingly long for me -- I don't even have the stomach to add up the times (the pieces range from 1:26 up to 24:54, with the mean close to 7 minutes). This duo with percussionist Kenny Wollesen seemed more tractable (21 songs, 64:49). B+(**)
Majamisty Trio: Organic (2019 , Sokoj): Piano trio, from Serbia: Maja Alanovic (piano), Ervin Malina (bass), and Lav Kovac (drums). B+(**)
Carla Marciano Quartet: Psychosis: Homage to Bernard Herrmann (2019 , Challenge): Alto/sopranino saxophonist, Italian, several albums starting with Trane's Groove in 2002. Quartet adds Alessandro La Corte (keyboards), Aldo Vigorito (bass), and Gaetano Fasano (drums). Herrmann (1911-75) was an American composer, mostly wrote soundtracks, including themes here from Taxi Driver, Marnie, Twisted Nerve, Psycho, and Vertigo, plus a John Williams piece to close. Intense, nothing atmospheric here. B+(***) [cd]
Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Orchestra: Dimensional Stardust (2020, International Anthem): Large group -- my count is 13, but short on horns with just trumpet (Mazurek and Jaimie Branch) and flute (Nicole Mitchell) -- seventh album since 2007. Instead, he's rounded up a lot of electronics, strings, and rhythm, with occasional words by Damon Locks. Doesn't swing like Sun Ra did, but bops along with comparable cosmic flair. A-
Charles McPherson: Jazz Dance Suites (2020, Chazz Mack Music): Two major pieces, titles on the cover -- "Song of Songs" and "Sweet Synergy Suite" -- as well as "Music and Motion." The second has more motion, and more impact from Terrel Stafford (trumpet). The alto saxophonist is lovely throughout. B+(**) [bc]
Megan Thee Stallion: Good News (2020, 300 Entertainment): Rapper Megan Pete, from Texas, first studio album after a good mixtape and an even better EP. Big production, with one song ("Circles") listing 24 writers, and most of the rest featuring guests as prominent as Young Thug, SZA, and Beyoncé. Beats super sharp, hooks ascendant. Not sure that freeing your ass will liberate your mind, but so far, so good. A-
Todd Mosby: Aerial Views (2020, MMG): Guitarist, first album, produced by Will Ackerman (guitarist, new age guru, founder of Windham Hill Records). Various lineups, violin the best match, some vocal bits. B [cd]
Pa Salieu: Send Them to Coventry (2020, Warner Music UK): British rapper, last name Gaye, born in Slough, spent his early years with relatives in Gambia, moved back to UK at age 10, turned to music after a friend was killed. First album. Dense, not easy to follow. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Amalgam (2020, Mahakala Music): Tenor sax and piano duets. They've done a lot of them lately -- 10 albums with 17 CDs -- so it's hard to tell what this one adds. B+(**)
Margo Price: Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman (2018 , Loma Vista): Country singer-songwriter, recorded this between her second and third studio albums. Snappier than Sunny Sweeney's new live album, but also less consistent. B+(**)
Jason Robinson: Harmonic Constituent (2019 , Playscape): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano, also alto flute), albums since 1998. Each piece "inspired by a technical, and sometimes impressionistic, aspect of the oceanography, tidal dynamics, and geography specific to the coastline" near Mendocino, CA. With Joshua White (piano), Dave Gress (bass), and Ches Smith (drums). A-
Bree Runway: 2000and4Eva (2020, Virgin EMI, EP): British rapper/singer Brenda Wireko Mensah, first album (or mixtape), although length (21:45 including a bonus remix with Rico Nasty) looks more like an EP. B+(***)
Lori Sims/Andrew Rathbun/Jeremy Siskind: Impressions of Debussy (2020, Centaur): Piano, soprano sax, piano. Sims teaches at Western Michigan, seems to be strictly classical, no other albums I could find. The others are established postboppers. B
Chris Stapleton: Starting Over (2020, Mercury Nashville): Nashville singer-songwriter, fourth album, deep roots, solid voice, pretty fair songs (well, "Watch You Burn" is more than fair, at least until the climax). B+(**)
Dayna Stephens: Right Now! Live at the Village Vanguard (2019 , Contagious Music, 2CD): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, from Berkeley, studied at Berklee, impressed me first on side credits, but he's putting a solid resumé together as a leader. Quartet with Aaron Parks (piano), Ben Street (bass), and Greg Hutchinson (drums). B+(***) [cd]
Kevin Sun: (Un)seaworthy (2019 , Endectomorph Music): Tenor saxophonist, fourth album (counting his eponymous group Mute), all winners. Trio with Walter Stinson (bass) and Matt Honor (drums). Feels like he's master the whole tradition, and can pick his way through anything. A- [cd] [11-27]
Sunny Sweeney: Recorded Live at the Machine Shop Recording Studio (2020, Aunt Daddy): Country singer-songwriter, from Houston, four studio albums since 2006. I never stuck with her albums, so I have no idea how many of these songs are how old, but this might work as a best-of, or at least as a sampler. B+(***)
Tani Tabbal Trio: Now Then (2020, Tao Forms): Drummer, originally from Chicago, played in James Carter's peak period quartet, with Roscoe Mitchell, many others. Not much as leader -- website lists five previous albums on Tabbalia label, but links go to the now defunct CDBaby, and other sources don't recognize them. So probably not a debut at 66, but an impressive arrival: a trio with Adam Siegel (alto sax) and Michael Bisio (bass), with Bisio contributing four pieces to Tabbal's six. I love the balance between the two, and how Siegel builds on their rhythm. A-
Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii/Ramon Lopez: Mantle (2019 , Libra): Japanese trumpet-piano duo, a marriage as well as a long-time partnership, his name first for a change. Plus a drummer -- always good to have one of those. B+(***) [cd]
Thaba: Eyes Rest Their Feet (2020, Soundway): Duo from different continents, met online: South African singer/songwriter Khusi Seremane, who died at 41 before this was released, and American producer/musician Gabriel Cyr, drawing on musicians from Antibalas. Doesn't seem to belong either here or there. B+(*)
Micah Thomas: Tide (2019 , self-released): Pianist, from Columbus, OH, first album, a trio with bass and drums. B+(**)
Peeter Uuskyla/Tellef Řgrim/Anders Berg/Per Anders Nilsson: Isn Hi Lagt Sae Pĺ Fjellvatna (2020, Simlas): Swedish drummer, I recognize him from one of Peter Brötzmann's best trios, has his own trio with Řgrim (guitar) and Berg (bass), adding Nilsson (sax) this time, a little extra shrill to go with the thrash. B+(***) [bc]
The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound: Soundpath (Composed by Muhal Richard Abrams) (2018 , Clean Feed): Big band, previous album listed alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel ahead of the group name, this one lists Marty Ehrlich (another alto saxophonist) as co-producer and conductor. One 41:34 composition by AACM founder Abrams. B+(***)
WHO Trio: Strell: The Music of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington (2018 , Clean Feed): Group name from artist initials: Michael Wintsch (piano), Gerry Hemingway (drums), Bänz Oester (bass). Fifth group album, spaced every 4-6 years since 1999. Usual songs, rendered delicately. Hemingway sings "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." B+(***)
Wood River: More Than I Can See (2020, Enja/Yellowbird): Charlotte Greve, plays sax and keyboards but mostly sings here, backed by guitar, bass, and drums. Long on texture, vocals nice enough, much prefer the sax. B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Dave Alvin: From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings (, New West): Former Blaster, went solo in 1987 and has produced some terrific albums since. No idea where or when these sixteen songs come from -- hype suggests many come from opportunistic studio dates, not part of regular album projects -- but most feature his signature melodic ease and deadpan delivery. B+(***)
Don Cherry: Om Shanti Om (1976 , Black Sweat): Recorded in Rome for a television broadcast, an example of Cherry's global eclecticism, where he plays pocket trumpet, flute, and kora, accompanied by Gian Piero Pramaggiore (guitar, flute), Nana Vasconcelos (percussion, berimbau), and Moki Cherry (tambura), with uncredited vocals as the grooves elicited sing-along. B+(*) [yt]
Jay Clayton/Fritz Pauer/Ed Neumeister: 3 for the Road (2001-02 , Meistero Music): Jazz singer, backed by piano and trombone. (Pauer died in 2012.) B+(**)
Sonny Rollins: Rollins in Holland (1967 , Resonance, 2CD): Three dates on two days in early May, with local musicians: Ruud Jacobs (bass, d. 2019, package dedicted to his memory) and a young (25) drummer, Han Bennink. This comes after his most avant records for Impulse, at the start of a hiatus (his second), which he broke in 1972. Not all first rate, but great to hear his unique sound, especially when he picks up the pace, and the CDs come with a substantial booklet, so gets extra credit for historical import. A- [cd] [12-04]
Horace Tapscott/Michael Session: Live in Avignon, France 1989 (1989 , The Village): Piano and tenor sax duo. Session only has one album under his own name, but played in Tapscott's Pan-Afrikan Peoples Orchestra and related groups. He makes a strrong impression here. B+(***)
René Thomas: Remembering René Thomas: Rare and Unreleased (1955-62 , Fresh Sound, 2CD): Belgian guitarist (1927-75), moved to Paris in early 1950s, recorded an album for Vogue, moved to Canada in 1956 then US, leaving a second album (Guitar Groove, then back to Europe in 1962. This starts with a sextet led by Jaccques Pelzer (alto sax), then some live trio tracks, some work with Bobby Jaspar (tenor sax/flute), quartets with piano-bass-drums, and one track with Jimmy Smith (organ). B+(***)
Dave Alvin: Blue Blvd. (1991, Hightone): Second solo album. Solid. B+(***)
Dickie Landry: Fifteen Saxophones (1977 , Unseen Worlds): Saxophonist, from Louisiana, four albums 1973-78, a Solo released in 2006 (one track called "12 Saxophones"), did some work with Philip Glass, website has more on his photography and paintings. Title cut is probably just what he says: 15 saxophones overdubbed into thick, shimmering sheets of sound. Other self-descriptive titles: "Alto Flute Quad Delay," "Kitchen Solos." B+(**)
Horace Tapscott: Songs of the Unseen (1978, Interplay): Pianist (1934-99), born in Houston but moved to Los Angeles as a child and became the focal point there for avant-jazz, not just through his Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. This is solo, a title he would reuse for his autobiography (published posthumously in 2001). I don't have the patience to decide just how brilliant this impressive but mixed set is, but I have no doubt he's one of the era's most important jazz pianists. B+(***) [yt]
Horace Tapscott Sextet: Dial 'B' for Barbra (1980 , Nimbus West): With trumpet (Reggie Bullen), two saxes (Gary Bias and Sabir Mateen), bass violin (Roberto Miguel Miranda), and drums (Everett Brown Jr). A- [yt]
Horace Tapscott: The Tapscott Sessions Vol. 9 (1983 , Nimbus West): The pianist released seven volumes of solo piano sessions 1982-84, on vinyl only and long out Vols. 8-11 came out much later, the first two from the same period, less clear about the others. B+(**)
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ probable prospect.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: