Monday, April 19, 2021


Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35256 [35216] rated (+40), 214 [211] unrated (+3).

Thought I'd sample some records from Chuck Eddy's 150 Best Albums of 1992/'93, but I didn't get very far. He does have two of my A records in his top ten (David Murray: Shakill's Warrior, and Justin Warfield: My Trip to Planet 9), and another dozen-plus albums I like further down the list, but nothing I played came close to A-. I gave up three cuts into Caifanes' rock en español El Silencio, not feeling like even trying to write something on it.

But also my mind moved on to another idea: why not try to stream Christgau A-list albums that I had missed? One of those was on Eddy's list: Uz Jsme Doma's Hollywood. I vaguely remembered assembling a crib sheet like that. When I had trouble finding it, I constructed another one (although my method wasn't flawless). Looking for A/A+ records mostly gave me comps I had different versions of. For instance, Christgau reviewed three different but overlapping compilations of Lee Dorsey's 1960s singles, all graded A. I had the 1985 Holy Cow! The Best of Lee Dorsey on LP, and the 1997 Wheelin' and Dealin': The Definitive Collection on CD, so didn't see much need to pick up Music Club's shorter/cheaper 2001 package -- or review it now given how long it's been out of print. But as an afterthought, I did construct an equivalent playlist, and gave it a couple spins just to see how it fit together. Pretty good, of course.

I've built playlists to match unavailable albums a few times. While there's always a risk of picking out the wrong version, I've found it to be useful -- especially for assembling original albums from later, more expansive box sets. The other thing I tend to do is to drop bonus cuts from stream albums, to get back to the original excuses. Christgau recently commented that it's hard to go back and do retrospectives of pre-CG years (1960s) because so many reissues add extraneous material. If streaming works for you, it's actually pretty easy. It also has the advantage of establishing a stable baseline, which later reissues can preserve or deviate from.

I got an invite to vote in DownBeat's Critics Poll. I worked through the ballots today, trying to put as little thought into it as possible. When I was first invited, I wound up spending a couple days turning over each question. I became increasingly frustrated, then annoyed. To speed things up, last year I wound up leaning heavily on my previous year's picks. I raced through the thing today, complete in less than four hours. Here are my notes. Maybe I'll do some research on it later. But one thing I've noticed in recent years is that my own votes have next to zero effect. One indication of how out of step I am with the critical consensus is that I gave A/A- grades to only 8 of their 97 album of the year nominees. Conversely, they only nominated 8 of my 84 A-list albums from my 2020 Best Jazz file. OK, they (wrongly, I think) offset the year by three months, so the lists don't exactly line up. On the other hand, they nominated zero of my 8 (so far) 2021 A- jazz releases. (I'm most surprised they missed Miguel Zenón's Law Years. I haven't figured out how any 2021 releases they nominated, but the answer must be not many. On the other hand, they nominated a Sons of Kemet album, Black to the Future I hadn't heard of, probably because it doesn't drop until May 14.)

Everyday life has been slightly better this week. We got our taxes figured and filed. I got a new batch of prescriptions from my obscure Medicare D provider. Snow is forecast for tonight, but I doubt we'll have to shovel anything to get to Laura's hair appointment tomorrow. Still too many struggles, but at least I won't have to post anything else until next week.


New records reviewed this week:

Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine (2021, Not Two): Drummer-led free jazz trio, Altschul played on several major albums in the 1970s, never really went away but rarely appeared as leader until he put this group -- with Jon Irabagon (saxes) and Joe Fonda (bass) -- together in 2013. (Irabagon had sought him out for an album in 2010, Foxy, and Fonda was in his FAB Trio with Billy Bang.) Irabagon has been erratic lately, but in the right company he still has tremendous chops -- and this is that, as they show even when he lays out. A-

Avishai Cohen: Two Roses (2020 [2021], Naive): Israeli bassist, based in New York since 1992, couple dozen albums since 1998. Co-credit to Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Alexander Hanson) is earned, but my rule of thumb is to omit extra credits below the title. Mostly originals, but arranges Arab folk songs and standards like "Nature Boy." Also sings, too much. B

Damata: What's Damata (2021, Dugnad): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio (Torstein Slåen, Karl Erik Horndalsveen, Ola Øverby), first album, tempted to describe it as ambient but that's just a starting place. B+(***) [cd]

Scott DuBois: Summer Water (2021, Sunnyside): Guitarist, sixth album since 2008, consistently impressive. This, however, is solo. Has its moments, but also limits. B+(**)

Jared Feinman: Love Is an Obstacle (2021, West of Philly): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, plays piano, first album, title song appeared as a single in 2018. Offers "four clusters of love songs for the lovelorn and murder ballads in time for Valentine's Day in the midst of a global pandemic." A bit overwrought, reminds me of some long-forgotten 1970s songsters (i.e., not quite Billy Joel, let alone Elton John). B+(*) [cdr]

Vijay Iyer: Uneasy (2019 [2021], ECM): Pianist, has a new trio, with Linda May Han Oh (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). B+(***)

Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Keshin (2020 [2021], Libra): Trumpet-piano duets, the former getting top billing, probably because for once he's louder and more demanding. B+(**) [cd]

Three-Layer Cake: Stove Top (2020 [2021], RareNoise): Trio: Brandon Seabrook (guitar, banjo, tapes), Mike Pride (drums, glockenspiel, bells, organ), Mike Watt (bass). Percussion is most striking. B+(***) [cdr] [05-28]

Michael Waldrop: Time Frames (2019-20 [2021], Origin): Plays marimba and vibraphone here, drums elsewhere. Mostly percussion, including djembe, bongos, and congas. B+(***) [cd]

Rodney Whitaker: OutroSpection: The Music of Gregg Hill (2020 [2021], Origin): Bassist, leads a piano trio with occasional horns -- trombonist Michael Dease only plays on two tracks, but I looked up both times -- and vocals (Rockelle Whitaker 4 times). Hill Hill is a Michigan composer, a mentor to the bassist, who released a previous collection of Hill compositions in 2019. B+(*) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 1 (2007 [2020], Stony Plain): Blues supergroup, names on the cover: Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson. (The elder Dickinson died in 2009; the younger ones are better known as the North Mississippi Allstars.) B+(**)

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 2 (2007 [2021], Stony Plain): More from the same session. More obvious songs, but that's not a bad thing. B+(**)

Old music:

Black Uhuru: Chill Out (1982, Mango): Major reggae group, with singers Duckie Simpson, Michael Rose, and Puma Jones, and Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare for riddim. This one was sandwiched between their two masterpieces (Red and Anthem), along with poorly-regarded dub and live albums. A bit chill, as advertised. B+(**)

Blake Babies: Innocence and Experience (1986-91 [1993], Mammoth): Alt/indie trio, named for the poet (via Allen Ginsberg): Julia Hatfield, John Strohm, Freda Boner. Odds and sods collection, assembled after breaking up after their most sucessful album. This picks up quite a bit midway, with "Sanctify" (repeated from Sunburn), and finishes strong, especially with the live Neil Young song. A-

Boogie Down Productions: Sex and Violence (1992, Jive): Fifth and last album, rapper KRS-One continuing under his own name, but this "group" had really been him since 1987, when DJ Scott La Rock was murdered. He's got this rhythm down where he's always coming at you, punching hard and punching often, which he can do because he never overcomplicates things, even when he admits complication. A-

The Books: The Lemon of Pink (2003, Tomlab): Duo -- Nick Zammuto (guitar/vocals) and Paul De Jong (cello) -- make extensive use of sound and speech samples, producing a disjointed effect. B+(*)

The Books: Lost and Safe (2005, Tomlab): Third album, duo both credited simply with "music, mastering, mixing, recording." Pays off in more flow, sometimes even tunes, with less pastiche. B+(***) [yt]

The Books: Thought for Food (2002, Tomlab): First album, played it out of sequence. Introduces their musique concrète approach, with the prominent cello smoothing off the rough edges. B+(***) [yt]

The Bottle Rockets: 24 Hours a Day (1997, Atlantic): Country-rock band from Missouri, founded in 1992 and a going concern up to 2018, with Brian Henneman (guitar/vocals) and Mark Ortmann (drums) in for the long haul. Third album. B+(***)

Cybotron: Enter (1983, Fantasy): Electropop group, founded by Detroit techno pioneers Juan Atkins and Richard "3070" Davis (both electronics and vocals), with John "Jon-5" Housely (guitar). Group is inspired by Parliament/Funkadelic and Kraftwerk, but only has the chops for the latter. [Album reissued as Clear in 1990, and as Enter with unheard bonus cuts in 2003, both Fantasy.] B+(*)

The dB's: Stands for Decibels (1981, Albion): Jangle pop group, although they might prefer Big Star, with three members who went on to notable solo careers (Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby). First album. B+(**) [yt]

The DeBarges: The DeBarges (1981, Gordy): Motown vocal group, siblings (four on cover, five in credits), first album, group name later shortened to DeBarge, with Eldra eventually going solo. Light funk, even lighter harmonies. B+(**)

DeBarge: All This Love (1982, Gordy): Second album, slimmed down group name, gaining chops both instrumental and vocal. Change of pace ballad ("Life Begins With You") works too. B+(***)

DeBarge: Rhythm of the Night (1985, Motown): Fourth album, their third gold record and chart high at 19. Cover shows the five siblings in separated boxes, with El's much larger, anticipating their break up? Six new songs padded out with three recycled from earlier projects. Title song is a choice cut. B+(*)

El DeBarge: El DeBarge (1986, Gordy): First solo album from the family's star, although the remaining brothers (no Bunny, either) went on to release Bad Boys (1987), and to regroup (with Bunny but not Eldra) as The DeBarge Family for the gospel Back on Track (1991). Pleasant enough, but not much here. B+(*)

El DeBarge: Gemini (1989, Motown): Second solo album, more focus on rhythm, stiffer eats: one step forward, one (or two) back. B

The Del-Lords: Get Tough: The Best of the Del-Lords (1984-90 [1999], Restless): Old-fashioned rock & roll band from New York, 3-5 songs each from 4 albums plus 3 previously unreleased tracks (including covers of Johnny Cash and Dr. John) for a solid 73:08. Establishes their populist cred with a straight rock rendition of Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand These Times and Live?" The other high point, also from their debut, is a song about working one's aggressions out by playing the drums. B+(***)

Descendents: Milo Goes to College (1982, New Alliance): Los Angeles punk band, formed 1977 with drummer Bill Stevenson, adding singer Milo Aukerman in 1979. This was their debut, 15 tracks in 22:20. [Later reissued with Bonus Fat as Two Things at Once.] B+(***)

Descendents: Bonus Fat (1980-81 [1985], New Alliance, EP): Combines the 5-track "FAT" E.P. (1981) with a single and a spare cut from a label comp, adding up to 8 tracks, a mere 10:22. B+(**)

Descendents: Somery (1981-87 [1991], SST): Compiles 28 songs from Fat EP and four albums plus odds and sods, total time 53:12. B+(***)

Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can (1970, Polydor): New Orleans singer, producer Allen Toussaint does the writing (aside from a cover of Joe South's "Games People Play"). Dorsey's best known for 1960s singles like "Ya Ya" and "Working in a Coal Mine," but only cut two albums in the 1970s, and no more before he died in 1986. This doesn't blow you away like 1960s comps like Holy Cow! and Wheelin' and Dealin', but it's funky and grows on you. A-

Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can . . . and Then Some (1970 [1993], Polydor): Reorders his 1970 album, omitting one track (why?), adding five singles and four previously unreleased tracks. Probably the better deal, not least thanks to his spin on the extra covers. A-

Lee Dorsey: Night People (1978, ABC): Second 1970s album, turned out to be his last. Again depends on Allen Toussaint for songs and production. "Babe" suggests he's listened to Al Green during his time off. A-

Lee Dorsey: Working in a Coal Mine: The Very Best of Lee Dorsey (1961-78 [2001], Music Club): Christgau was very fond of this UK label, reviewing 32 of their cheap, short (16 cuts max), poorly documented oldie anthologies (counting the Merle Haggard set he misjudged and withdrew). Hard to find now, but I was able to peace a songlist together to get the effect: mostly 1960s singles, with a couple 1970s tracks slipped in. I doubt the latter recommend this over Wheelin' and Dealin', but they don't hurt, either. A

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: James Monroe H.S. Presents Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington (1979, Elektra): Founded by half-brothers Stony Jr. and Thomas Browder, the latter better known as August Darnell, even better as Kid Creole. With singer Cory Daye and percussionists Mickey Sevilla and "Sugar Coated" Andy Hernandez, their eponymous debut in 1976 looked retro but invented a whole new synthesis of mambo, swing and disco. I totally loved that album, rejected its sequel (Meets King Penett), and missed this one altogether. B+(***)

Freestyle Fellowship: Inner City Griots (1993, 4th & B'way): Los Angeles hip-hop collective, released two 1991-93 albums, two more since (2001, 2011), all four principals (Aceyalone, Myka 9, Peace, and Self Jupiter) went on to solo careers -- the only one I've followed is Aceyalone. All over the place. B+(**)

Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons/Clifford Jordan/Don Cherry: It Is Revealed (1963, Zounds): Flute/alto sax/tenor sax/trumpet, with Fred Lyman (fluegelhorn), two bassists, and the drummer dropped from the cover credit. B+(**) [yt]

Midi, Maxi & Efti: Midi, Maxi & Efti (1991, Columbia): One-shot Swedish trio, twin sisters Midi and Maxi Berhanu from Ethiopia and Efti Tehlehaianot from Eritrea, all born in 1976 and arrived in Sweden in 1985. Opens with "Ragga Steady," which sounds more Indian than Jamaican to me, but world beats turn crystaline in the Swedish pop machine. B+(***) [yt]

Sonny Simmons: Burning Spirits (1970 [2003], Contemporary): Original 1971 2-LP credited to Huey Simmons (his given name). Plays tenor sax as well as alto and English horn, six tracks (79:01), with violin (Michael White) on five, trumpet (Barbara Donald) on four of those, piano on just two, plus bass and drums. B+(**)

Sonny Simmons: American Jungle (1995 [1997], Qwest/Warner Brothers): The alto saxophonist hit a rough patch after 1971 (divorce, homelessness, no new records). He survived by busking in San Francisco, eventually worked his way into the clubs, and cut records from 1990, eventually landing two albums with a major label. This is the second (after Ancient Ritual), a quartet with Travis Shook (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), and Cindy Blackman (drums). Four originals plus "My Favorite Things." Hard to imagine what more the label could have hoped for. A-

Sonny Simmons Quintet: Mixolydis (2001 [2002], Marge): Back cover credits Quintet, front names Simmons in large type, smaller type for "with": Eddie Henderson (trumpet), John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**)

Sonny Simmons Trio: Live in Paris (2001 [2002], Arhoolie, 2CD): With Jacques Avenel (bass) and George Brown (drums). Long, has some dull spots (and I don't mean the bass solos), but also some genuine hot streaks. [Missing 1 track, 14:00] B+(**)

Uz Jsme Doma: Hollywood (1993 [1996], Skoda): Czech group, founded 1985, influences list starts with the Residents and the Damned and goes on to add Pere Ubu and Uriah Heep, emerged from the underground in 1990, Discogs credits them with 17 albums through 2020 but this is the one most noticed. With intense acoustic strum, sudden time shifts, and touch-of-opera vocals, this could be some kind of masterpiece. Just one I'm not inclined to appreciate. B+(**)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • DeBarge: In a Special Way (1983, Gordy): [r]: [was: B+] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Enzo Carniel/Filippo Vignato Silent Room: Aria (Menace)
  • Focusyear Band 2021: Bosque (Jazzcampus) [04-29]
  • Aaron Germain: Bell Projections (Aaron Germain Music) [05-14]
  • Ben Goldberg: Everything Happens to Me (BAG Productions) * [06-18]
  • Maria Grand: Reciprocity (Biophilia) [05-14]
  • James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms) [05-07]
  • Simon Moullier Trio: Countdown (Fresh Sound New Talent) [06-11]
  • Quartet Nortonk: Quartet Nortonk (Biophilia)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The 2021 Jazz Heritage Series (self-released)