An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, June 7, 2021
Music: Current count 35564  rated (+42), 217  unrated (+9).
Saddened to hear that Frederic J. Fleron, Jr., died last week. Odd that I haven't found an obituary yet -- I did find one for his mother, Esther, from 1998, but it always seemed like fame was his due. He came into my life as Fritz, when he married my cousin, Lou Jean, and was a huge influence until they divorced. He got a Ph.D. in political science at Indiana, and taught at Kentucky and SUNY Buffalo. His specialty was Soviet Studies, and has his name on several academic books, but seemed to slow down with tenure. He came from a ritzy family, and struck me as a boisterous bon vivant, as well as a serious intellectual. He broadened my horizons, and inspired me to persevere through a very tough period in my life (not that my cousin didn't have even greater influence).
I became reacquainted with him sometime after 2000. I was visiting my cousin. He recognized me in a Buffalo record store, and came up and started talking. I remember him as being into old blues, which now included a fair sampling of folk and country. He occasionally sent me mixtapes. I didn't reciprocate, because I've never done that sort of thing, but I did return occasional tips and reviews. I follow him and their daughter Ingeri on Facebook, which is where I learned of his death. He was quite a character, and will be remembered and missed.
[PS: Here's an obituary for Fred Fleron.]
I made a minor change to the Christgau website recently: I was fixing a security issue with the "Google Search" widget, and decided it would be better to target a new tab for the search results, since going to them would lose the website's navigation menus.
A bit later, I thought I should have that same functionality on my website. Turns out I had implemented it some time back, but it was only showing up on some pages. It shows up on more now, although the historic sprawl has left some pages with older framing. Reminds me that a redesign is in order, but unlikely any time soon.
Redesigning the Christgau website is a higher priority -- one that I've made very little progress towards. I did catch up the Consumer Guide database last week (still not public; probably later this week, but the new stuff is embargoed, anyway; may wait until his June CG comes out).
I started this week off by noticing a Randy Sandke reissue in Napster's featured jazz list. Turns out that a lot of Nagel Heyer releases are now available, so I took a dive, which shortly led me to saxophonist Harry Allen. Nagel Heyer is a German label which released a fair amount of retro-swing in the 1990s and afters. One problem with their discography is that they have a bad habit of reissuing old records under new titles, often changing the artist credits as well. I ran across several such cases below, finally noting it on the Butch Miles release(s).
Harry Allen is one of my favorite saxophonists, so his dive went further. He developed a big following in Japan in the 1990s, with BMG releasing 3-4 records per year there -- only a few appeared in the US on RCA. I've long been frustrated by inability to find those titles, but Slider reissued the Japanese BMG/Novus records in 2007, and they're now on Napster (and probably other streaming sources).
Still, half of this week's A-list records are new music. Having listened to very little new non-jazz over the last couple months, it was easy to pick promising candidates off lists presented on the Expert Witness Facebook Group (one from Sidney Carpenter-Wilson proved most useful: his only A-list album I didn't check out was Black Midi, and the others scored *** or better, while a couple items from his B-list beat the odds). [PS: Gave Black Midi a B: "started better, ended worse."]
I'll follow up on more tips next week, including the latest from Phil Overeem, plus whatever Christgau comes up with. (Meanwhile, enjoying Awesome Tapes From Africa at the moment, especially DJ Black Low.)
Unpacking up this week, after a recent drought, so suddenly I'm behind on new jazz. Still not much there (other than Dave Rempis' The Covid Tapes) I'm really looking forward to. When I do bother to check sources, it seems like I'm getting very few of the top-tier albums (i.e., by artists I'll check out because everyone else will). I didn't have to look beyond Napster's featured list to find Tony Allen, Jaimie Branch, Dave Holland, and Sons of Kemet -- only two of those I knew were coming.
Managed some minor home projects, including a couple bathroom items (faucet aerator, grab bar mounted on tile) that had vexed me for a long time. Trying to figure out what to do about a faulty air conditioner this week -- troubleshoot, repair or replace? I'm already bothered by the heat, and it hasn't hit 90F yet (although it will by Wednesday).
Approaching the end of Jack E. Davis' The Gulf, where he gets into the chemical pollution allowed by the right-wing political regimes in the region, especially in Texas and Louisiana. This after the environmental destruction in Florida, which was mostly the work of developers. One might hope that some of this has been reversed, but for four years Trump gave clear signals to pollute all you want, and the impact of that takes time to accumulate. How much we will pay for the folly of letting his corrupt regime take power is still unfathomable. (Of course, it's not just the Gulf. Look at Turkey this week.)
Part of the reason is that it's hard to see where real change might come from. While the right-wing gets ever uglier, we're still beset by people (especially in the media) willing to patronize them. Especially ugly this week is Netanyahu's panic over the agreement to make someone else (Naftali Bennett, if that matters) prime minister of Israel. Looks like the intent there is to show Trump what a real coup looks like. (See: Shin Bet chief warns against Netanyahu incitement to political violence.) And speaking of ugly, consider this: Younger brother of Michael Flynn takes command of US Army Pacific.
New records reviewed this week:
Harry Allen/Mike Karn: Milo's Illinois (2021, GAC): Pandemic project, tenor sax and bass duo, mostly standards. Allen is one of the premier retro-swing players, and sounds typically fine, but the bassist doesn't give him much to swing. Karn, by the way, started out as a tenor saxophonist (one album on Criss Cross) before switching to bass. B+(**)
Tony Allen: There Is No End (2020 , Blue Note): Nigerian drummer, started with Fela Kuti, died in 2020. No recording date given, no idea what state this album was in when he died, but as presented features a dozen rappers, most names I recognize (Sampa the Great, Koreatown Oddity, Jeremiah Jae, Danny Brown, Marlowe, Skepta). Most striking cut is "Cosmosis," with Skepta and Ben Okri (Nigerian poet/novelist, won the 1991 Booker Prize). B+(**)
Aly & AJ: A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun (2021, Aly & AJ Music): Electropop duo, sisters Alyson and Amanda Michalka, released three albums 2005-07, this their fourth. B+(*)
Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die Live (2021, International Anthem): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, has two Fly or Die albums (2017, 2019), a side project called Anteloper. She recorded this one in Switzerland, January 2020, with cello (Lester St. Louis), bass (Jason Ajemian), and drums (Chad Taylor), all credited with vocals (mostly on the "anti-Tr*mp" "Prayer for Amerikkka," sung by Ben Lamar Gay in 2019). Has crossover reach like 1970s Miles Davis, replacing the fusion with even more intense and complex rhythm. A-
The Chills: Scatterbrain (2021, Fire): New Zealand singer-songwriter Martin Phillips, formed this band in 1980, reformed it in 1984, 1994, and 1999, the second iteration producing their best albums -- a best-of from this period was called Heavenly Pop Hits. Little change in their basic sound, but the songs take a bit longer to kick in. B+(***)
Dave Holland: Another Land (2020 , Edition): English bassist, straddled Miles Davis and Anthony Braxton in the early 1970s, filled in much postbop territory since then. Plays bass guitar as well as acoustic here, with Kevin Eubanks (guitar) and Obed Calvaire (drums), an echo of his g-b-d trio from 1975-96 (Gateway, with John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette). B+(**)
Jack Ingram/Miranda Lambert/Jon Randall: The Marfa Tapes (2021, RCA Nashville): Lambert you know. Ingram and Randall I don't know, although the former has ten albums since 1995, while the latter has three (his first also appeared in 1995), and more production efforts. Country pros do campfire sing-alongs, against the dry, West Texas sky -- Marfa is near Big Bend, and has been losing population since 1930. B+(***)
Gabor Lesko: Earthway (2021, Creativity's Paradise Music): Guitarist, from Italy, has at least one previous record. With various bassists and drummers, bits of sax (Eric Marienthal) and vocals (Guido Block). B [cd]
The Linda Lindas: The Linda Lindas (2020, self-released, EP): LA girl group, "half Asian and half Latinx, two sisters, a cousin, and their close friend" -- a formula that has me thinking Beach Boys, but now. Billed as punk, fits the form -- four songs, 9:32 -- but at this point settles for catchy little songs. On the other hand, three more/less later singles -- "Claudia Kishi," "Vote!," and "Racist, Sexist Boy" -- up the punk quotient several levels. I doubt we'll have to wait long for a compilation. B+(***)
L'Orange & Namir Blade: Imaginary Everything (2021, Mello Music Group): Producer and rapper/lyricist, Blade, from Nashville, released his debut album last year, so some further research is in order. L'Orange has a real knack for putting tracks together, but he also picks interesting collaborators. A-
Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime (2021, Matador): Tuareg guitar god, from Niger, sixth studio album since 2008, first on a rock label, resulting is some amusing hype: this album supposedly evolves from ZZ Top/Black Sabbath to Van Halen/Black Flag/Black Uhuru. I hear none of that, but fine with me if you want to try Ravi Shankar reaching for Jimi Hendrix's sky. Still, not just guitar. He/they sing in Tamasheq, "with poetic meditations on love, religion, women's rights, inequality, and Western Africa's exploitation at the hands of colonial powers." A-
Maria Muldaur With Tuba Skinny: Let's Get Happy Together (2021, Stony Plain): Trad jazz band from New Orleans, Todd Burdick plays the tuba, but Shaye Cohn (cornet) usually gets first mention, backed by trombone, banjo, clarinet, two guitars, and washboard. They have close to a dozen albums since 2009, usually with Erika Lewis singing. Muldaur, who started in Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, is perfectly at home here. A-
Olivia Rodrigo: Sour (2021, Geffen): Teenage (18) pop singer-songwriter from Temecula, California; great-grandfather from Philippines. Started taking acting and singing classes at age 6, got a film role at 12, a Disney+ series at 16, and is beginning to sound like a grizzled veteran -- even more so on the expertly paced ballads than on the opening anthem, "Brutal." A-
Paul Silbergleit: The Hidden Standard (2018 , BluJazz): Guitarist, four albums in his store (but none on Discogs), also some books on guitar, including Play Like Joe Pass. I'm all for expanding the standards repertoire, but "Eleanor Rigby" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" aren't hidden standards -- they're failed ones. With trumpet, sax, piano trio, and Latin percussion on "Danny Boy" -- another bad idea that doesn't work. B- [cd]
Ches Smith/We All Break: Path of Seven Colors (2015-20 , Pyroclastic, 2CD): Percussionist, half-dozen albums since 2006, many more side credits. He released his Vodou project We All Break in 2017, and follows that up here with two discs: one earlier quartet (2015), the other recent octet (2020), packaged in a small box with two substantial booklets. Matt Mitchell (piano) and Miguel Zenón (alto sax) turn in stellar performances. Beyond that, lots of fractured percussion and some voices. The quartet gets the balance better. The octet is best when they fly away from the chants. [Hype sheet says there's a movie, but I haven't found it.] A- [cd]
Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (2021, Impulse!): British jazz group, led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, fourth album, second on major label, first was a major crossover success, and this currently ranks 6th at AOTY with an 87 over 23 reviews -- compare to Vijay Iyer with 6 reviews for a measure of how much attention they've garnered. With Theon Cross on tuba and two percussionists, they put out a lot of rhythm, without simplifying. Nor is it the guest rappers and singers they showcase, although their words have serious impact. Starts with George Floyd, and threatens to burn, before they sweep you away. A
The Harry Allen-Keith Ingham Quintet: Are You Having Any Fun? A Celebration of the Music of Sammy Fain (1994, Audiophile): Ingham's an English trad jazz pianist, teamed up with tenor saxophonist Allen for several early-1990s albums. B+(**)
Harry Allen: Tenors Anyone? (1996 , BMG Novus): Tenor saxophonist, a retro-swing player, reprises the greats here, with "Flying Home," "The Peacocks," "Four Brothers," and a lot of Lester Young. One original: "Cool Man Chu." Backed by John Pizzarelli's trio (with Ray Kennedy on piano and Martin Pizzarelli on bass, but no drummer), sounding much like his father on guitar. A-
Harry Allen: Here's to Zoot (1997, BMG Novus): Young enough that his models were less Hawkins and Young than the generation that came up after WWII, which included Zoot Sims. No songs by Sims here: just standards they had in common, backed by a rhythm section that knew how to swing: Dave McKenna, Michael Moore, Jake Hanna. B+(***)
Harry Allen/Randy Sandke: Turnstile: Music of the Trumpet Kings (1997 , Nagel Heyer): Tenor sax and trumpet, backed by the RIAS Big Band Berlin. This looks very much like a reissue a 1997 album, The Music of the Trumpet Kings, credited to "Harry Allen and Randy Sandke Meet the RIAS Big Band Berlin," so much so that I'll ignore the one source that has the music recorded in 1998. I don't have song credits either, but it starts with "I Love Louis" and ends with tunes by Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. Not wild about the big band, but the soloists get their licks in. B
Harry Allen: Day Dream (1998, BMG Novus): Quartet with Tommy Flanagan (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums). Seems like his ideal rhythm section, especially on ballads, where his more trad outfits have trouble slowing down. A-
Harry Allen: When I Grow Too Old to Dream (1999 , BMG Novus): Standards, backed by guitar (Herb Ellis), bass (Ray Brown), and drums (Jeff Hamilton). Typically solid effort, with some amusing song choices, but I find my attention flagging, only to be snapped back by some brilliant run. B+(***)
Harry Allen: Once Upon a Summertime (1999, BMG Novus): A nod toward Brazil, with drummer Duduka Da Fonseca most valuable, the band rounded out with Joe Cohn (guitar), Larry Goldings (piano), and Dennis Irwin (bass), with Maucha Adnet singing a couple. Impressive. B+(***)
Harry Allen: Cole Porter Songbook (2001, BMG Novus): At some point, I should note that Allen quickly became very popular in Japan, where his BMG Novus releases were released. They could turn him loose on any slice of tradition, as with these famous pieces, backed with piano (Benny Green), guitar (Russell Malone), and bass (Peter Washington). This is often lovely, but shouldn't the songs be jumping out more? B+(***)
Harry Allen: Dreamer (2001, BMG Novus): Yet another Brazilian project, this one arranged by Dori Caymmi (guitar, vocals), with Gary Meek (clarinets), Bill Cantos (keybs), bass, drums, and strings, with Kevyn Lettau singing two songs. Don't they now strings are almost never a good idea? B
Harry Allen: I Can See Forever (2002, BMG Novus): More Brazilian waves for the Japanese market, with Guilherme Monteiro and Jay Berliner on guitar, and Sumiko Fukatsu on flute. B+(*)
Harry Allen: I Love Mancini (2002, BMG Novus): Not as surefire as Cole Porter, but the saxophonist is as happy swooning as swinging. Kenny Werner plays piano and synth, and arranged, which here includes bass and percussion, but also vibes, harp, and strings. The latter, clichéd as ever, are the problem, but "Moon River" is so sappy even they can't sink it. B
Harry Allen: The Harry Allen Quartet (2003, self-released): Recorded in New York, with a rough draft for the group he co-led with guitarist Joe Cohn through 2008. With bass (Joel Forbes) and drums (Chuck Riggs). One original, eleven covers, including three by Cohn's father, saxophonist Al Cohn. He seems in exceptional spirits here, pleased that his guitarist is in such fine fettle. A-
Harry Allen/Joe Cohn: The Harry Allen & Joe Cohn Quartet (2005, self-released): Leaders play tenor sax and guitar, backed with bass and drums. Quartet recorded a half-dozen albums 2004-09, including two notable collections of show tunes (Guys and Dolls and South Pacific). B+(**)
Harry Allen/Rossano Sportiello: Conversations: The Johnny Burke Songbook (2011, GAC): After listening to so many quartet albums with occasional extras, this basic tenor sax/piano duo is a revolution. The Italian pianist came to America idolizing not just the swing classics but the retro-swing players who carried on, logging significant time in the studio with both Scott Hamilton and Allen. Here all he has to do is set up Burke's songs, and Allen knocks them out of the park. A-
Harry Allen: Love Songs Only! (1993-2001 , Nagel Heyer): Not in Discogs; all I've found is a song list and partial credits, which leads me to think these came from multiple live shows in the mid-1990s: three each pianists/bassists/drummers, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, and omits two vocalists and at least one big band. Cover and concept similar to Love Songs Live! (released by Nagel Heyer in 2000, but culled from 1993-96, so I'll use those dates), but none of the same songs. A very mixed bag, mostly useless but has some redeeming moments. [PS: I extended the recording dates after I heard what's probably the same version of "Straighten Up and Fly Right" on Allan and Allen, below.] B
Alan Barnes/Harry Allen: Barnestorming (2006 , Woodville): English saxophonist (alto/baritone), with his quartet in London, joined by the tenor saxophonist. Leaders wrote two songs each, the title romp Allen's. B+(**)
Butch Miles and Friends: Cookin' (1995, Nagel Heyer): Drummer, actual name Charles J. Thorton Jr., first records appeared in 1978 with Scott Hamilton and Bucky Pizzarelli (latter credited to Butch & Bucky). Friends here are: Randy Sandke (trumpet), Harry Allen (tenor sax), Howard Alden (guitar), Frank Tate (bass), and Terrie Richards Alden (vocals) -- she enters on the fifth song; I didn't count how many more, but I like her. B+(***)
Butch Miles and Howard Alden: Soulmates (1994 , Nagel Heyer): Reissue of Cookin', with new title and recording date moved up a year. Question is whether to give it the same grade, or dock it a bunch. B+(***)
New York Allstars: The Bix Beiderbecke Era (1993, Nagel Heyer): Octet led by trumpet player Randy Sandke, playing 78 minutes of jazz tunes from the 1920s in the Musikhalle in Hamburg. Leon Bismark Beiderbecke was an early cornet player from Iowa, recorded 1924-30 before his early death at 28. Sandke was such a fan he named his son Bix. Band isn't as famous as advertised, but some names you should recognize: Dan Barrett (trombone), Scott Robinson (sax), Ken Peplowski (clarinet), and Marty Grosz (guitar, sings one, which he introduces in German). B+(**)
The New York Allstars: We Love You, Louis! (1995 , Nagel Heyer): Led by Randy Sandke, an octet with tuba and a second trumpet (Byron Stripling, who sings a couple), where only Kenny Davern has much credentials as a star. Like the Beiderbecke tribute, live in Hamburg, with lots of tunes you know, done with great respect and care. B+(*)
Randy Sandke: Randy Sandke Meets Bix Beiderbecke (1993 , Nagel Heyer): Reissue of The Bix Bederbecke Era, plus three songs (not sure how they managed that). B+(**)
Randy Sandke and the Buck Clayton Legacy: All the Cats Join In (1993 , Nagel Heyer): Clayton and Harry Edison were Count Basie's trumpet players, later noted for his jam sessions. Sandke plays trumpet and leads an octet with Harry Allen, Danny Moss, and Anti Sarpila on reeds, through a batch of Basie standards, recorded live at Birdland Jazzclub in Hamburg. With a smaller band, they generate Basie-level power, at least with the saxes. B+(***)
Randy Sandke and the New York Allstars: The Re-Discovered Louis and Bix (1999 , Nagel Heyer): Cover adds "George Avakian presents" and "Lost musical treasures of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke," and names featured allstars Kenny Davern, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Hyman, and Ken Peplowski -- the actual credits list is far deeper, with many substitutions between the two sessions. Wish I had a booklet with the details, but both sets are quite remarkable. A-
Vladimir Shafranov Meets Harry Allen With Hans Backenroth/Bengt Stark: Dear Old Stockholm (2016, Venus): Russian pianist, moved to Finland in 1974 and took up jazz. Recorded in Stockholm, with tenor sax, bass, and drums -- could easily be filed under Allen. Usual standards, including a Jobim and a Monk (ok, "Round Midnight"), for the insatiable Japanese market. B+(**)
Shaolin Afronauts: Flight of the Ancients (2011, Freestyle): Australian group, draws on Afrobeat and Sun Ra, first album (of 4 through 2014). Band led by bassist Ross McHenry, with trumpet, two saxophones, three guitars, lots of percussion, no vocals. Horns large at first, but over time the rhythm intensifies and carries the day. A-
Shaolin Afronauts: Quest Under Capricorn (2012, Freestyle): Second album, considerable personnel churn. B+(**)
Rossano Sportiello/Matthias Seuffert: Swingin' Duo by the Lago (2005-06 , Styx): Piano/sax duo (tenor/clarinet), at least for 7 tracks, before Harry Allen joins in for 3 more, with Anthony Howe on drums. Winds up with three earlier tracks from Seuffert's quartet, with guitar-bass-drums, but no piano. No real complaints about Seuffert, but the temperature picks up when Allen enters with "Lester Leaps In," and his "Chelsea Bridge" is beyond gorgeous. B+(*)
Allan Vaché and Harry Allen: Allan and Allen (2001 , Nagel Heyer): Clarinet and tenor sax, the former the brother of cornetist Warren Vaché Jr., their father a bassist who played with Eddie Condon and Doc Cheatham and led his own Dixieland bands. Vaché called his group the Big Four, with Eddie Higgins (piano), Phil Flanigan (bass), and Eddie Metz Jr. (drums), and the saxophonist has rarely found himself in more congenial company. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: