Monday, May 3, 2021

Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35336 [35287] rated (+49), 220 [220] unrated (+0).

The music part is easy enough to introduce. Early in the week, I pulled enough new music from the demo queue to keep the backlog count even. I tried to grab things that were already available, but I went ahead with Simon Moullier (out June 11) after I inadvertently slapped it on. The other future release is the new James Brandon Lewis, coming out later this week. I couldn't wait.

I did a little work last week adding jazz records to my tracking file, so that suggested some of the new non-CD records, and leaves me more for the future. First time I did that this year, but the list currently has 109 unheard records (almost all jazz), in addition to the 226 records I have rated (or have in my queue). Still far from exhaustive. (I've only made it about 50% of the way through Discogs 2021 jazz list, and have only picked out records that struck me as interesting.)

More old music again. I lost track of where I was with my file of albums that Christgau has graded but I haven't heard, so started again at the top, with Asleep at the Wheel and Asylum Street Spankers. I like the former's more recent Bob Wills tributes (Ride With Bob and Still the King), also the Spankers' The Last Laugh, but had heard little of their earlier work. I also had totally missed Sam Baker. Still working on him.

Before that I took a dive into Jorge Ben, who Christgau hasn't reviewed (except for Gil E Jorge). I had listened to a fair amount of Gilberto Gil recently, which led to the Ben recommendation. I had two unrated Ben albums in my database: Tropical and Samba Nova, both on Mango in 1976, but I couldn't find the LPs. I did find the former on YouTube, but not the latter -- a comp from 1970-74 albums, but I couldn't find enough of them to assemble a songlist, so I wound up dropping it from my unrated list.

While researching the Ben albums, I was surprised to find Wikipedia citing my grades for albums I had never heard before. Turns out the grades came from a notebook entry, where I had squirreled away a multi-part "Jorge Ben Projeto" that Rodney Taylor had posted on the now-defunct MSN Expert Witness forum. Taylor covers everything there, but it turns out he later revised and greatly expanded his piece, available on his Brazil Beat blog. Someone should alert Wikipedia and get them to credit the grades properly. They definitely shouldn't drop them, nor should they substitute (or even include) my new grades, which are little more than guesses from someone who knows very little about Brazilian music, who doesn't speak or follow the language, and who has rarely heard these records more than once or twice.

For resources on Brazilian music, I should also mention Cam Patterson's Brazil Project, which also dates from MSN EW days (2011), and I've long hosted in my "guests" space. Knowing a little bit more now than I did then, I should revisit the piece and check out some of his recommendations.

Still not finding much new non-jazz that appeals to me, but I'm not looking very hard. Just notice Phil Overeem's Most Euphonious Fruit of First Quarter, 2021, so I have work to do catching up, but will note that his 3 and 5 picks are new jazz: James Brandon Lewis's Jesup Wagon and Miguel Zenon's Law Years, which rank pretty high on my 2021 list.

Christgau wrote a nice, ungraded review of Peter Stampfel's 20th Century in 100 Songs. I slogged through the Bandcamp a while back, and gave it a B+(**). Chances are that in CD-sized chunks, with the nice packaging and extensive documentation, it might rate better -- although I may have already cut him some slack.

Bought a new printer, and I'm already hugely annoyed at HP for insisting that it be connected to the Internet and not to my computer for set up. Supposedly I get eight months of "free ink," but looks like I have to sign up for a subscription to get that. We hardly ever print anything, so this involves a lot of speculation. Trying to clean up and reorganize as I go on, so that's another excuse to take it slow.

Made trivial progress on memoir last week, a bit more on collecting the blog posts into a Trump era book. I need to be very selective with the latter, to compress 2800 pages into something like 300. I find I'm doing a lot of rewriting as I proceed -- not that I need to change my arguments so much as I'm seeing easy ways to squeeze sentences into more compact form. At least, until I ran into the RNC in July, 2016 post, which includes a long intro that is too kind to Trump. At the time, I stressed that Trump was no worse than his rivals. I haven't changed my mind -- thank God we don't four years led by Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich for comparison -- but didn't stress enough how low that bar was.

Sometimes I miss writing about politics, but I sure don't miss the pressure on Sundays. I'm pretty happy with Biden so far. Two things: he recognizes that real answers come from the left these days; and he recalls that Obama's bipartisan outreach fell into a trap, and that Republicans cannot be trusted. Those are big things, and they're not things you would have predicted from him, either based on his 2020 campaign or on his 50-year track record of dealing with the devil. I could rag on him over foreign policy, but it looks like he's taking a circuitous route to progress on Iran and North Korea, and the hot air on China and Russia seems to be just that.

No doubt if I dug deeper, I'd find things to get upset over, but I'm too old to sweat that many details. Jeffrey St. Clair is still trying, but even he is losing much of his vitriol. ("One hundred days of platitudes" is something we should be alarmed by?)

I should write up answers to whatever questions I have pending. I don't have many. Some are mere suggestions, which I may follow up on and maybe even report. Also, questions about specific album grades aren't very interesting. However, if there is something you're curious about, or just want to prod me into expanding on something, now would be a good time to use the form.

New records reviewed this week:

Lina Allemano Four: Vegetables (2020 [2021], Lumo): Canadian trumpet player, divides her time between Toronto and Berlin, seventh quartet album with various lineups, here: Brodie West (alto sax), Andrew Downing (bass), Nick Fraser (drums). Opener is "Onions," reminds me a bit of the Beach Boys song but free jazz. B+(**) [bc]

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Made Out of Sound (2020 [2021], Palilalia): Drums and guitar duo, former has been prolific since 2002, often working with guitarists (including several previous albums with Orcutt). Some debate whether this is jazz -- Orcutt has more of a noise/rock profile, but that doesn't seem to limit the drummer. B+(**) [bc]

David Friesen & Bob Ravenscroft: Passage (2015-20 [2021], Origin): Bassist, Discogs credits him with 65 albums since 1976, in a duo with the pianist -- his much thinner discography goes back to 1982, mostly devotional music for Music Serving the Word Ministries. Short, interesting pieces, nicely turned out. B+(**) [cd]

Vincent Herring: Preaching to the Choir (2021, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, hard bopper these days but he started farther out in left field. Quartet with Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums). Hype talks about him getting Covid, which led to rheumatoid arthritis, which made it hard to play, but doesn't pin down the date when this was recorded. He does sound pretty sharp, so hoping this documents his recovery. B+(***)

James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): Tenor saxophonist, always impressive, means to pay homage to George Washington Carver (1864-1943), but see the booklet for that. A blindfold test puts him closer to David S. Ware, aside for the change-of-pace closer ("Chemurgy"), my favorite piece here. With Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass/gibri), and Chad Taylor (drums/mbira). A- [cd] [05-07]

Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble: Now (2020 [2021], International Anthem): Credited with "samples & electronics," also "lyrics & compositions," with a half-dozen other vocalists, backed by Angel Bat Dawid (clarinet), Ben LaMar Gay (cornet/melodica), Dana Hall (drums), and Arif Smith (percussion). I'm not getting a lot out of the vocals, but the closer, "The Body Is Electric," offers an inspiring groove. B+(**)

Simon Moullier Trio: Countdown (2020 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): French vibraphonist, second album, scattered standards ("Hot House," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Nature Boy," two Monks). Trio with Luca Alemanno (bass) and Jongkuk Kim (drums). B+(**) [cd] [06-11]

Natural Information Society With Evan Parker: Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (2019 [2021], Aguirre/Eremite): Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams, plays guimbri in this group, which dates back to his 2014 album Natural Information. Group also includes Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Lisa Alvarado (harmonium), and Mikel Patrick Avery (drums). Recorded live at Café Oto in London, with Parker sitting in on soprano sax. One long groove piece with a lot of Parker's signature circular breathing. B+(***)

Evan Parker Quartet: All Knavery and Collusion (2019 [2021], Cadillac): Tenor sax, backed by Alexander Hawkins (piano), John Edwards (bass), and Paul Lytton (drums). Passes rather uneventfully. B+(*)

Nicki Parrott: If You Could Read My Mind (2021, Arbors): Bassist from Australia, has developed into a fine standards singer. Nudges the songbook into the 1970s, with "Jolene," "Lean on Me," "Every Breath You Take." Good as she is, the sweet spot here is any time tenor saxophonist Harry Allen butts in. B+(**)

Rich Pellegrin: Solitude: Solo Improvisations (2019 [2021], OA2): Pianist, based in Seattle although he teaches in Florida and has written "extensively" on jazz. Fourth album, solo, XXV numbered improvisations. Nice. B+(**)

Ruben Reinaldo & Kely Garcia: Acuarel (2019 [2020], Free Code): Guitar duo, probably Spanish, only album I can find by either, cover can be parsed to read credits either way, but spine is as listed. Hard to say much about this pleasant and engaging record. B+(***) [cd]

Jeff Rosenstock: Ska Dream (2021, Polyvinyl): Former leader of the Arrogant Sons of Bitches (1995-2004) and Bomb the Music Industry (2004-14), fifth solo album since 2015. The earlier groups classified themselves as ska-punk, and this album is conceived of as a ska re-recording of his 2020 album No Dream. I suppose it helps, but not a lot. B+(*)

Greg Skaff: Polaris (2020 [2021], Smoke Sessions): Mainstream guitarist, only his sixth album since 1996, a trio the cover notes as "featuring Ron Carter & Albert 'Tootie' Heath," who played together in the 1960s backing Wes Montgomery. B

Alexa Tarantino: Firefly (2021, Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, also plays soprano, flute, and clarinet, from Connecticut, fourth album since 2015, with Behn Gillece (vibes), Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Koslov (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Henry Franklin: The Skipper (1972 [2021], Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Bassist, first album, with trumpet (Oscar Brasheer), tenor sax (Charles Owens), guitar, electric piano, and drums. Franklin wrote 4 (of 6) tracks. Adventurous postbop, has some passages that could be taken as spiritual. B+(***)

Henry Franklin: The Skipper at Home (1974, Black Jazz); Second album, more horns, with trombonist Al Hall Jr. contributing 3 (of 6) songs. Seemed like a step up until "Soft Spirit" went too soft. B+(*)

Chester Thompson: Powerhouse (1971 [2021], Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Organ player, first album, nothing more until 2012, having spent the intervening years playing keyboards in Tower of Power and Santana. Soul jazz moves, with sax (Rudolph Johnson), trombone (Al Hall), and drums. B+(*)

Old music:

Asleep at the Wheel: Comin' Right at Ya (1973, United Artists): Founded in West Virginia by Ray Benson and Reuben Gosfield (aka Lucky Oceans), they soon moved to Berkeley (well, East Oakland), crossing bluegrass with hippiedom, then decided they could have it all. Drummer LeRoy Preston's originals fit comfortably with country standards that probably seemed less obvious at the time, and Chris O'Connell's vocals balance nicely against Benson's. A-

Asleep at the Wheel: Asleep at the Wheel (1974, Columbia): Label dropped them, they moved to Austin, and wound up in a Nashville studio. LeRoy Preston only penned three originals, so they doubled down on Bob Wills, and stretched a bit with Count Basie and Louis Jordan, picking "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" as their lead single. B+(**)

Asleep at the Wheel: Texas Gold (1975, Capitol): Third album, third label, finally sold some records. Identifying more with Texas. B+(**)

Asleep at the Wheel: Wheelin' and Dealin' (1976, Capitol): Down to two LeRoy Preston originals, they're becoming a covers band: "Route 66," "Miles and Miles of Texas," "Blues for Dixie," "They Raided the Place." B+(*)

Asleep at the Wheel: The Wheel (1977, Capitol): Big change here is original songwriting, reducing the cover count to one, a "traditional" instrumental they arranged. And for once the originals aren't just nice filler but could have been obscure gems ("A Dollar Short and a Day Late," "My Baby Thinks She's a Train," "Am I High?"). B+(***)

Asleep at the Wheel: Collision Course (1978, Capitol): This year the writers came up near-empty: Benson (1), Preston (1). They go back to the well for more Louis Jordan and Count Basie. Also Randy Newman. B

Asleep at the Wheel: Western Standard Time (1988, Columbia): Christgau stopped reviewing them after 1979's Served Live (C+). I didn't start until their first Bob Wills tribute in 1993, which doesn't come close to their 1999 Ride With Bob or their 2015 Still the King -- both fortified with a long list of guests. Among their 1980s albums, this set of obvious covers seemed promising: Three from Bob Wills, a "Hot Rod Lincoln" to match Commander Cody's, a Willie Nelson guest spot on the opener, and Ernest Tubb to close. B+(*)

The Asylum Street Spankers: Spanker Madness (2000, Spanks-a-Lot): Acoustic blues-roots band from Austin, active 1994-2011, four lead vocalists but foremost is Christina Marrs, who wrote the five songs she leads. Mostly drug songs, although one after running the gamut winds up preferring beer. A-

Asylum Street Spankers: Mercurial (2004, Yellow Dog): Looks like all covers (well, one credited to Wammo), from "Tight Like That" and "Digga Digga Doo" to the B-52s and Beastie Boys. B+(***)

The Asylum Street Spankers: What? And Give Up Show Biz? (2008, Yellow Dog, 2CD): Live double, recapitulates most of the albums above with lots of extra patter. A good argument for catching them live, but I'm not sure how often I'd want to replay it. B+(***)

Au Pairs: Sense and Sensuality (1982, Kamera): British post-punk band, seemed promising but this second album turned out to be their last. B

Average White Band: AWB (1974, Atlantic): Hailing from Scotland, a modest but somewhat above-average approximation of a soul group, with several voices intertwined, and an instrumental for their hit single. Second album, their commercial breakthrough. Nothing here feels like disco or funk, which is where the 1970s went without them. They fell off the charts after 1979, broke up in 1982, regrouped 1989. B+(**)

Eric B. & Rakim: Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em (1990, MCA): Turntablist Eric Barrier and rapper Rakim (William Griffin Jr.), recorded four famous hip-hop albums in the 1987-92 golden age, this the third. The flow is steady, the rhymes part of the rhythm. B+(***)

Sam Baker: Mercy (2003 [2004], Blue Lime Stone): Austin-based singer-songwriter, folkie division, first album at age 50. Eighteen years earlier was riding a train when a bomb exploded, killing seven including three sitting with Baker. He suffered numerous injuries, including brain damage, blown-in eardrums, and possibly what sounds like a speech defect here. He has a song about it here, plus others with one-word titles. He rounded up a six-piece band here with pedal steel and violin, and picked up some guests, but it sounds pretty basic, the 8:08 title cut especially lovely. A-

Sam Baker: Pretty World (2006 [2007], Blue Lime Stone): Thoughtful singer-songwriter, but weaves bits of other songs into his tapestry. Title song gets a well-deserved reprisal. A-

Sam Baker: Cotton (2009, Music Road): I'm not seeing the familiar band credits from previous albums. The album is quieter, although piano grounds most of it, and a female singer helps out. Baker's voice has smoothed out into a rather offhanded John Prine. B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Samba Esquema Novo (1963, Philips): Major Brazilian artist, Jorge Duilio Lima Menezes, adopted Jorge Ben as his stage name, then extended it to Jorge Ben Jor in the 1980s. First album, a hit, tapping into the popular samba mainstream, which would define him even as he moved on. B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Sacundin Ben Samba (1964, Philips): Third album. B+(**)

Jorge Ben: Big Ben (1965, Philips): Fourth album, ends his early period on Philips, the label he would return to in 1969. B+(*)

Jorge Ben: O Bidú: Silêncio No Brooklin (1967, Artistas Unidos): Regarded as his samba-rock fusion breakthrough, I can hear both sides but have trouble reconciling them, especially as he seems to be reaching for something they'd soon be calling tropicalía, or psychedelic to foreign ears. B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Jorge Ben (1969, Philips): Backed by Trio Mocoto, with some strings to slick down the rough edges, flowing as naturally as samba but with so much more going on. A-

Jorge Ben: Negro É Lindo (1971, Philips): "Black and beautiful." More recognizable as a samba album, even when inscrutable. [YouTube version looks to be scrambled, with all the songs but in the wrong order.] B+(***) [yt]

Jorge Ben: A Tábua De Esmeralda (1974, Philips): Seems to be going singer-songwriter here, not that I can really tell (aside from the Jesus paean "Brother"). B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Solta O Pavão (1975, Philips): "Unleash the peacock," referring "to the outward expression of inner beauty." Samba flow, but more urgent and complex. Seems to be entering a peak period. A-

Jorge Ben: África Brasil (1976, Polygram): Dense rhythm, much going on, but flows easily enough, some kind of masterpiece. A- [yt]

Jorge Ben: Tropical (1976, Mango): His regular label is Philips, a major in Brazil, but this one was picked up by Island, hoping it might piggyback on their success introducing reggae to the American market. Hard to peg this, but veers toward salsa (and misses). B [yt]

Jorge Ben: Alô Alô, Como Vai? (1980, Som Livre): Rod Taylor admits that Ben declined after África Brasil, but argues that his "Som Livre period" continued to produce worthwhile music -- his comparison is to the Rolling Stones post-Exile. I'm not specialist enough to know or care, but this is agreeably upbeat most of the way through. B+(**)

Jorge Ben: Dádiva (1983, Som Livre): Same here, feels live, note that the high point is a medley of oldies. B+(**)

Gilberto Gil: Refavela (1977, Philips): Opens with the very slippery title tune, and matches it later on, but not so reliably. B+(***)

Charles Tolliver Music Inc: Live in Tokyo (1973 [1974], Strata-East): Trumpet player, used "Music Inc" as his group name on his 1969 debut (The Ringer), and kept that through the 1970s, although the only constant in his quartets was pianist Stanley Cowell (co-founder of Strata-East Records). With Clint Houston (bass) and Clifford Barbar (drums). Three originals, one by Cowell, and "'Round Midnight." B+(**) [yt]

Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Mandatory Reality (2017 [2021], Eremite): [1/4, 23:39/81:39] +

Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Ding Dong. You're Dead. (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio. [2/7] +

Grade (or other) changes:

Gilberto Gil/Jorge Ben: Gil E Jorge (1975 [1992], Verve): Two stars meet up, or collide. Alternate (original?) title: Ogum, Xangô. I bought the CD long ago, found it bewildering, and only gradually acclimated myself to radical fringe artists like Tom Zé, who took advantage of these liberties. Most striking now: how neither singer-guitarist backs down or shies away. [was: B] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alchemy Sound Project: Afrika Love (ARC) [05-14]
  • Flow Trio With Joe McPhee: Winter Garden (ESP-Disk)
  • Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio: Moon on the Lake (Libra) [05-07]
  • Noah Haidu/Buster Williams/Billy Hart: Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (An Die Musik) [05-08]
  • Liudas Mockunas/Arfvydad Kaziauskas: Purvs (Jersika -2LP)
  • Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Joshua Abrams/Tim Daisy/Tyler Damon: The Covid Tapes: Solos, Duos, & Trios (Aerophonic, 2CD) [06-15]
  • Almog Sharvit: Get Up or Cry (Unit) [05-28]
  • Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue: Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (Pi)

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