An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, December 7, 2020
Music: Current count 34511  rated (+67), 215  unrated (+5).
I've been working very fast and very hard, as should be obvious from the ridiculously high rated total this week. I've been counting ballots for the Jazz Critics Poll (71 submitted so far, which is pretty good with six days to go). I've been toting up EOY lists. I've been playing things I'm seeing on these lists, though rarely giving them more than a single spin. (I should give those Schubert albums another shot; also seems likely that one or more of the hip-hop albums might click; on the other hand, Kimbrough got three spins today, thanks to having the CD, which I could play while making soup and coleslaw (separate projects, but both kitchen-based).
All this listening is causing my EOY lists for jazz and non-jazz to churn, but is having surprisingly little effect on the upper reaches. I haven't formally submitted a Jazz Critics Poll ballot, but nothing new has come close to top-ten level. This is probably because I've managed to hear more of what I've heard about this year than in any previous year. For instance, if you look at the current EOY Aggregate file, the top-rated records I haven't heard are:
Most of these are metal or near-metal -- things I almost never like. The frequency of unheard records increases after that, but I have to scroll down toward 330 to get a screen with more black than green (or blue), and from 582-624 colors outnumber black 27-16 (at 5-6 points, my own votes are starting to have more influence). My coverage of jazz is even deeper. At present, there are 111 albums with 9(2) or higher scores. Of those, I've heard all but the following (11, so less than 10%; I've heard the top 34):
I recall looking the first three up on Bandcamp, and didn't find enough cuts to review. (I should recheck them for "Further Sampling," which I'm still doing -- just not very aggressively.) I already have a download of Douglas, so I'll get to that. I was surprised to find that I've only received one record from Pi this year. They usually do a very good job of servicing critics, but cut back when the lockdown hit, and started releasing digital-only home recordings. Besides, I've panned all of Dan Weiss's CDs, so maybe they're keeping track.
As far as the EOY Aggregate is concerned, I continue to cheat in ways designed to make the list more interesting. I ignore exclusive metal magazines -- although enough leaks through that the metal subset of the big list has reached 160 albums (I've heard 2: kind of liked one, and didn't hate the other). I pick up jazz that the big aggregators ignore (including some JJA lists, but I haven't dipped into the JCP ballots yet), and I look out for country and hip-hop lists, and somewhat less aggressively for electronica and world lists. I've heard 42 of the top 50 country/folk/Americana albums (84%, 135 albums listed), 47 of the top 50 hip-hop/rap albums (94%, 214 albums listed), 22 of the top 50 electronica albums (44%, although 9/10 and 14/16, 197 albums listed), and 31 of the top 50 world albums (62%, 80 albums listed).
I've also started to pick off some ballots from the Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll, although thus far my standard is to only pick names I've tracked in previous EOY Aggregates (many from Village Voice Pazz & Jop polls, or the Christgauvian Expert Witness Facebook group, so that warps the results toward Christgau's picks, as does the extra points for his grades). One such ballot came from Tom Lane, who followed up by sending me a much longer list via email (which I will count in due course; any reader who deigns to send me a ranked list via email is also likely to get counted).
My EOY lists were up to date as of last Friday (at least based on what I've found on Acclaimed Music Forums), but I've slipped a bit over the weekend. I should also note that I've depended a lot on lists by Phil Overeem, Chris Monsen, and Tim Niland.
One anomaly this week is that I threw in a cover scan for a mere B+(***) record. Just saw Gnod's record in the recommendations of a Bandcamp page, and my interest was piqued enough that I played it -- the only non-new record this week (not that 2017 is that old). Couldn't quite give it an A- (a bit too noise/metal for my taste within the limits of one spin), but wanted the cover anyway. My prerogative.
Current jazz/non-jazz split for new A-list albums: 69/48. Most years eventually even out. Maybe Christgau's December Consumer Guide -- out Wednesday for paying subscribers -- will offer some non-jazz candidates?
By the way, Michaelangelo Matos' new book, Can't Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop's Blockbuster Year, is coming out this week. I'd still argue for 1964, but he's a good deal younger than me. For a review, check out Jack Hamilton: The Great New Book About the Year That Changed Pop.
By the way, Matos passed along my favorite tweet of the week: "Pro-tip: Never say 2020 can't get any worse!"
New records reviewed this week:
Eivind Aarset & Jan Bang: Snow Catches on Her Eyelashes (2020, Jazzland): Norwegian duo, the former plays guitar and bass, the latter samples, mixes, and produces, with a few guest spots along the way (e.g., one track with Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet). Ambient, washes over you gently. B+(*) [bc]
Backxwash: God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out of It (2020, Grimalkin, EP): Rapper Ashanti Mutinta, born in Zambia, moved to Canada at 17 to study computer science, transgender, pronouns she/her, which is part of the subject matter. Second studio album, short (10 tracks, 22:05, as was the first, Deviancy), but dense and heavy. B+(**) [bc]
Barrage: The Was and Is to Come (2020, Øra Fonogram): Bassist Alexander Riris composed these pieces, played by a Norwegian septet, with trumpet, three saxes, piano, and drums. Impressive at speed, loses a bit when they slow down. B+(***)
Ran Blake/Andrew Rathbun: Northern Noir (2018 , SteepleChase): Duets, piano and tenor sax. Opens and closes with "Strange Fruit," which seems about right for the somber, measured intimacy. B+(**)
Urs Blöchlinger Revisited: Harry Doesn't Mind (2018 , Leo): Tribute group for the late Swiss saxophonist (1954-95), a septet led by son Lino Blöchinger, also a saxophonist, playing the old compositions. B+(**)
Peter Brötzmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm: Memories of a Tunicate (2020, Relative Pitch): Tenor sax and cello duo, a small but loud subset of their Chicago Tentet. The former sometimes takes the edge off by switching to clarinet or tarogato, while the latter adds electronics. As Mark Corroto put it, "entertaining and exhausting." B+(*) [bc]
Paul Bryan: Cri$el Gems (2020, self-released): Los Angeles-based bassist, Discogs credits him with one previous album (from 2003), but he seems to do a lot of production work on the side, including Jeff Parker's Suite for Max Brown. Parker plays guitar here, Lee Pardini electric piano, plus three percussionists, in an album that puts groove first but isn't satisfied to leave it there. B+(*)
BTS: BE (2020, Big Hit): Korean boy band, big stars worldwide. I've seen them dance through their revolving vocals a few times, and they're a lot of fun to watch. Less fun to just listen to, and the 3:00 "Skit" in the middle here is dead time, not that the closing single ("Dynamite") doesn't make up for it. Short (8 tracks, 28:30). B+(*)
Conway the Machine: From a King to a GOD (2020, Griselda): Buffalo rapper Demond Price, brother of Westside Gunn, cousin of Benny the Butcher, mixtapes from 2015, first studio album. "It's all good crap." B+(***)
Conway the Machine/The Alchemist: Lulu (2020, Griselda/ALC, EP): Seven tracks, 22:42. B+(**)
Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger: Force Majeure (2020, International Anthem): Bass and harp duets, recorded in their shared Harlem apartment between March and June, 2020. A unique item, the mesh and contrast of the instruments near perfect, but I doubt it's something I'll want to return to, except to recall what those months were like, and how to survive them. B+(***)
Kurt Elling: Secrets Are the Best Stories (2020, Edition): Jazz singer, impressed a lot of people but I've always found him way too mannered, and have even started to question his chops of late. Big help here musically from Danilo Perez (pianist and co-producer). B-
Enemy Radio: Loud Is Not Enough (2020, SplitSLAM): A Chuck D project, with DJ Lord Aswod and Jahi Torman, the sound as punched up as Public Enemy can bring it, the message even more deeply political. I missed this when it came out in April, but it belongs in the Spring/Summer soundtrack, and is not likely to lose relevance for quite some time. A-
Fleet Foxes: Shore (2020, Anti-): Mild-mannered rock group (chamber or baroque pop), formed near Seattle c. 2006, principally Robin Pecknold. Fourth album, I've never understood the critical interest in this group, but this at least is pretty easy listening. B
Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Pentas: Tribute to Eric and Chris Stern (2019 , Not Two): Piano and trumpet duo, four compositions each. No idea how the Sterns figure into this. B+(**)
Future/Lil Uzi Vert: Pluto x Baby Pluto (2020, Atlantic): Two rappers, title refers back to the 2012 album by Future (Nayvadius Wilburn) and the lead song from the latter's 2020 album. This got pretty severely panned, but I'm finding the dense, beatwise banter about par for the course. B+(*)
GoGo Penguin: Live From Studio 2 (2020, Decca): English piano trio -- Chris Illingworth, Nick Blacka, Rob Turner -- strong on rhythm, a crossover threat niche previously developed by EST and Bad Plus. Digital only, billed as an EP, really a short album (7 tracks, 35:18). B+(*)
Devin Gray: Socialytics (2019 , Rataplan, EP): Drummer, composer, leads trio with names below and right of title: Dave Ballou (trumpet) and Ryan Ferreira (guitar). Short (6 tracks, 24:17), but Ballou makes a big impression. B+(**)
Devin Gray/Gerald Cleaver: 27 Licks (2019 , Rataplan): Two drummers, duets, something of an acquired taste. B+(*) [bc]
Connie Han: Iron Starlet (2020, Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Los Angeles, second album (or third, counting a Richard Rodgers Songbook she did as a teenager). Impressive speed, wrote 5 songs, to 3 by drummer-producer Bill Wysaske, and 2 covers. Gets significant help from Walter Smith III (tenor sax) and, especially, Jeremy Pelt (trumpet). B+(**)
Elisabeth Harnik & Steve Swell: Tonotopic Organizations (2019 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Piano and trombone duets, recorded in Vienna (the pianist's home turf). Limited, but notable streaks from both. B+(*) [bc]
Honey Harper: Starmaker (2019 , ATO): Born William Fussell, grew up with country music in Georgia, seems to be based in UK now, debut album after an EP and singles. Not conventionally country, but maybe a glittered up stage rendition. B
Headie One: Edna (2020, Relentless): British rapper Irving Adjei, first album after several mixtapes. B+(**)
Ian Hendrickson-Smith: The Lowdown (2019 , Cellar Live): Alto saxophonist, mainstream, his debut a memorable early Jazz CG find, continues in that vein, with Cory Weeds (tenor sax), Rick Germanson (piano), John Webber (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). B+(**)
HHY & the Macumbas: Camouflage Vector: Edits From Live Actions 2017-19 (2017-19 , Nyege Nyege): Jonathan Saldanha and/or his "cryptic collective" from Porto, Portugal, with a strategic intervention by dub producer Adrian Sherwood, working from Barcelos to Tenerife then editing the rhythm tracks under lockdown in Kampala. B+(**)
Jon Irabagon: I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues: Volume 3: Anatomical Snuffbox (2019 , Irabbagast): Tenor saxophonist, has done a fairly wide range of work since staring with Mostly Other People Do the Killing in 2006, but opts for avant-screech here ("46:54 of brutal, non-stop, cataclysmic end-of-the-world guitars, saxophone, and drums"). I mostly blame the guitars (Mick Barr and Ava Mendoza), although drummer Mike Pride is someone I associated with such din. B- [bc]
Keefe Jackson/Jim Baker/Julian Kirshner: So Glossy and So Thin (2018-19 , Astral Spirits): Chicago trio -- tenor/sopranino sax, piano/synthesizer, drums -- two track live at the Hungry Brain (21:38 and 23:45). B+(***) [bc]
Jubileum Quartet [Joëlle Léandre/Evan Parker/Agustí Fernández/Zlatko Kaucic]: A Uis? (2018 , Not Two): Bass, tenor sax, piano, drums; a single 45:02 improv piece, recorded at Cerkno Jazz Festival, "celebrating 40 years of Kaucic's professional career as a musician." B+(**)
Junglepussy: JP4 (2020, Jagjaguwar): New York rapper Shayna McHayle, parents from Jamaica and Trinidad, several albums and mixtapes. Short album (10 tracks, 29:35). Murky early, snaps sharp toward the end. B+(*)
Will Kimbrough: Spring Break (2020, Daphne): Singer-songwriter from Mobile, Alabama; based in Nashville, had a group called Will and the Bushmen (1985-91), half-dozen or so solo albums since 1999, side credits with Todd Snider and Amy Rigby (well, also Jimmy Buffett and Rodney Crowell, but first things first; two co-writes here with Snider). Notes on two of the more political songs: "Cape Henry" is not about a Civil War battle; and it's easier to have a "Right Wing Friend" if that friend also loves John Prine (as my own do). A- [cd]
Mary Lattimore: Silver Ladders (2020, Ghostly International): Classically trained harpist from North Carolina, seventh album since 2013. Generally classified as experimental or ambient, a few notes convinced me to file her under new age -- that haven for acoustic music which neither swings nor rocks nor evokes trad or classical roots. B+(*)
José Lencastre/Hernâni Faustino/Vasco Furtado: Vento (2018 , Phonogram Unit): Portuguese avant-jazz trio: alto sax, bass, drums. Continues to impress. B+(***) [bc]
Lil Baby: My Turn (2020, Quality Control): Atlanta rapper Dominique Jones, second album, half dozen mixtapes. Trap beats, clipped flow, still works. B+(**)
Lil Uzi Vert: Eternal Atake (2020, Atlantic): Rapper Symere Woods, from Philadelphia, second studio album, after four mixtapes. B+(*)
Brian Lisik: Güdbye Stoopid Whirled (2020, Cherokee Queen): Singer-songwriter from Akron, Ohio. Google identifies him as a journalist, but website is focused on music, including six previous albums. Some garage klang. Relatively short (10 songs, 32:37). B+(**) [cd]
Tkay Maidza: Last Year Was Weird (Vol. 2) (2020, 4AD, EP): Rapper/singer, born in Zimbabwe, first name Takudzwa, moved to Australia when she was 5. Has a 2016 album (Tkay), two short mixtapes since (with a 3rd volume promised for 2021), this one 8 tracks, 26:54. Weirdest is "You Sad," which isn't sad at all. B+(**)
Anna McClellan: I Saw First Light (2020, Father/Daughter): Singer-songwriter from Omaha, third album. Lo-fi, sounds like early Liz Phair -- real early. B+(*)
Flo Milli: Ho, Why Is You Here? (2020, RCA): Rapper Tamia Carter, from Mobile, first album, rolls up a couple 2019 singles ("Beef FloMix," "In the Party"). Good beats, plenty sass, not what you'd call deep. B+(*)
Keir Neuringer/Shayna Dulberger/Julius Masri: Dromedaries II (2020, Relative Pitch): Alto sax/bass/drums trio, leader has albums since 2010, including one from 2017 with this trio. B+(**) [bc]
Keir Neuringer & Rafal Mazur: The Continuum (2018 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Alto sax and acoustic bass guitar duo, recorded live in Krakow. Circular breathing for continuous engagement, B+(**) [bc]
Guillaume Nouaux: Guillaume Nouaux & the Stride Piano Kings (2019 , self-released): French drummer, debut was 1998 album Creole Pinasse Hot Jazz Band, not a lot since then but these piano-drums duets would seem to be a dream project. Two tracks each from seven retro-swing pianists: Bernd Lhotzky, Louis Mazetier, Luca Filastro, Chris Hopkins, Rossano Sportiello, Harry Kanters, and Alain Barrabes. A couple songs could have been better chosen, but most are bright and cheery. B+(***) [cd]
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs: Viscerals (2020, Rocket): Brit rock group, fairly hard (Bandcamp tags range from psych and stoner rock to sludge and doom metal), from Newcastle Upon Tyne. Bass riffs feel strong, guitar shrill, voice hoarse. Not clear if they're full of shit, but no harder to listen to than vintage Black Sabbath. B
Chris Potter: There Is a Tide (2020, Edition): Big time tenor saxophonist, plays more soprano than he should, evidently plays everything else in a pinch -- a polite way to describe the circumstances of this lockdown recording, a dubbed solo effort where his credits read: "piano, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute, percussion, samples, and saxophones." He does a nice job comping behind one monster sax solo, but not much else of interest. B-
Abbey Rader/John McMinn: Duo From the Heart (2019 , Abray): Drummer, "whose 'free' approach is heavily influenced by Buddhism." Records since 1979, including work with William Parker and Billy Bang. Duets, McMinn is an alto saxophonist who plays a lot of piano here. B+(**) [bc]
Eric Reed: For a Time Such as This (2020, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream pianist, started out with Wynton Marsalis, dedicated his first album to Art Blakey, has many more since 1990. Trio here with Alex Boneham (bass) and Kevin Kanner (drums), plus Chris Lewis (tenor/soprano sax on 4 tracks), and Henry Jackson (one gospel vocal). B+(*)
Matana Roberts & Pat Thomas: The Truth (2018 , Otoroku): Alto sax and piano duets, recorded live in London. B+(**) [bc]
Frank Paul Schubert/Dieter Manderscheid/Martin Blume: Spindrift (2019 , Leo): German saxophonist (alto, soprano), twenty-some albums since 2005, trio with bass and drums. Two long pieces, impeccable free jazz sets. B+(***)
Frank Paul Schubert/Alexander von Schlippenbach/Martin Blume: Forge (2020, Relative Pitch): Alto/soprano sax, piano, drums: one 47:30 improv piece, followed by a 6:47 encore. Another impressive outing, even more so. A-
Nadine Shah: Kitchen Sink (2020, Infectious Music): British singer-songwriter, fourth album (plus 2 EPs) since 2012. Has a distinctive voice, and this record breaks out of the folkie rut. B+(**)
Skurkar: Skjulte Motiver (2019 , Øra Fonogram): Trondheim-based jazz band, two saxophones -- baritone (Jenny Frøysa) and alto (Amalie Dahl) -- bass (Oda Steinkopf), and drums (Emma Lönnestål). Starts free and punkish, settles into patterns. B+(***)
Spillage Village: Spilligion (2020, Dreamville/SinceThe80s/Interscope): Hip-hop collective from Atlanta, includes members of EarthGang and rapper JID, first major label outing after three digital-onlys. Framed as a take on religion, ranges far and wide, lost me a bit on "Hapi" (the Nile River God), where the rap parted to let the choir spill over. B+(*)
Bartees Strange: Live Forever (2020, Memory Music): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, actual surname Cox, debuted with an EP of National covers, then released this first album. Sharp-edged, kind of arty, rooted in garage rock, no interest in folkie confessionals. B+(*)
Talibam! With Silke Eberhard and Nikolaus Neuser: This Week Is in Two Weeks (2020, ESP-Disk): Group is a duo -- Matt Mottel (keyboards, guitar) and Kevin Shea (drums, from MOPDTK) -- with 30+ albums since 2007, joined here by two German horn players (alto sax and trumpet). B+(**)
Duval Timothy: Help (2020, Carrying Colour): Pianist, sings some, b. 1989, divides time between London and Freetown, Sierra Leone. I saw this pegged as jazz, but aside from the pure piano bits this is impossible to pigeonhole. B+(*)
Kali Uchis: Sin Miedo (Del Amor Y Otros Demonios) (2020, Interscope): Pop star, Karly-Marina Loaiza, born in Virginia, father from Colombia, where she moved at some point. Breakthrough album Isolation was one of my favorites in 2018. Switches to Spanish here -- "Without Fear (Of Love and Other Demons)." Loses more than a little in transition: not just the words I don't grok, but also the hooks I don't feel. B+(*)
Birgit Ulher/Franz Hautzinger: Kleine Trompetenmusik (2018 , Relative Pitch): Two trumpet players, German and Austrian, more than a dozen records each since 1996/1998. B- [bc]
Luís Vicente/John Dikeman/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Goes Without Saying, but It's Got to Be Said (2020, JACC): Trumpet, tenor sax, bass, drums. Note says "recorded live at ZDB by Kellzo on the 19th July 2020." No idea where that is, or how they managed to get musicians from Portugal, Netherlands, and US together. The horn players have been on the free jazz scene for a while, but nothing like the world's greatest bass-drums team for inspiration. A-
Fay Victor's SoundNoiseFunk: We've Had Enough! (2019 , ESP-Disk): Recorded last December, bet she's even more pissed off now. Adventurous group -- Sam Newsome (soprano sax), Joe Morris (guitar), Reggie Nicholson (drums) -- a little rough and unsteady, but she takes risks others cannot imagine. B+(**)
Virtual Company: Virtual Company (2018 , Confront): Bassist Simon H. Fell, who died in June at 61, organized this "live" set at Café OTO, with Mark Wastell (cello, percussion) and pre-recorded fragments from Derek Bailey (guitar) and Will Gaines (tapdance) -- an "in-concert, virtual Company performance" (reference to Bailey's old avant-improv group, which Fell and Wastell played in). I've probably heard (and certainly appreciated) less by Bailey/Company than any of the other Penguin Guide demigods, and for that matter I've barely scratched Fell, but 46:37 is fascinating in a low-key, off-kilter way. A- [bc]
Working Men's Club: Working Men's Club (2020, Heavenly): Electropop group from Yorkshire, auteur Sydney Minsky-Sargeant. Seems like a throwback to 1980s new wave disco, a bit louder and shriller, which may turn into annoying should the initial thrill wear off. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Victor Chukwu: Akalaka/The Power (1977-79 , BBE): Combines two LPs of vintage Igbo highlife, the second title fully credited to Uncle Victor Chuks & the Black Irokos. One of my favorite African styles, not the slickest version but upbeat, a delight. A-
Full Blast [Peter Brötzmann/Marino Pliakas/Michael Wertmüller]: Farewell Tonic (2007 , Trost): Reeds, electric bass, drums, trio going under the name of their 2006 debut. Front cover just shows the last names. Live shot. Crowd is really into it. B+(**) [bc]
Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live in Maui (1970 , Experience Hendrix/Legacy, 2CD): "The trio's second-to-last performance in the U.S. during their final The Cry of Love Tour," on July 30, before his death (at 27) on September 18. Some parts have been plundered for previous posthumous product. This time, the presentation is as two complete sets (51:34, 48:44), no songs repeated. No surprises here, but a fair sampler from a major artist, enjoyable in its own right. B+(***)
Wolfgang Lackerschmid and Chet Baker: Ballads for Two (1979 , Dot Time): German vibraphone player, young (22) at the time, in a duo with the trumpet legend. Originally released with Baker's name first. Nice showcase for Baker at his most laconic. B+(**)
Wolfgang Lackerschmid/Chet Baker: Quintet Sessions 1979 (1979 , Dot Time): Second album together, also originally released with Baker's name first, with ample cover space for the stellar rhythm section: Larry Coryell, Buster Williams, and Tony Williams. Trumpet stars less here, but the rhythm makes up. B+(***)
Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 (1983-87 , Captured Tracks): Not a period when I paid much attention to pop music, but 28 tracks by as many artists, none I recall, but the guitar sound is distinctive, and everything is upbeat, so this coheres, about as much as Nuggets did for the late 1960s. The difference is that Nuggets mostly picked hits, so they jogged your memory, whereas this leaves you blank. B+(*)
Gnod: Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine (2017, Rocket): British rock band from Manchester, formed 2006, Discogs lists 34 albums, this particular title jumped out at me. Psych and/or drone, I gather, eases off a bit toward the end. Let's post the cover anyway. B+(***)
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Mark Helias/Tim Berne: Blood From a Stone (2020, Radiolegs): Bass/alto sax duo. [bc: 1/5, 9:07/51:04]: +
The Human Hearts: Day of the Tiles (2020, self-released, EP): Franklin Bruno project. Christgau's a big fan, but I don't hear it. [bc: 3/6, 12:16/21:50]: -
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: