Monday, November 15, 2021

Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36694 [36637] rated (+57), 128 [133] unrated (-5).

Long list of records this week. Had one of the best weeks this year for adding new A-list records, mostly thanks to Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. I even liked the two gospel records, although I've been miserable with the genre lately, especially slogging through the Verity compilations that have been part of my housecleaning chore. Unrated list still dropping, but I ran into a batch this week that I had little stomach for. Also, I'm running out of findable A-list entries in the unheard Christgau list (indeed, three of the Old Music entries below were reviewed from constructed playlists).

Other stuff happening that I can't really get into right now.

PS: One thing I can mention now is that there will be 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, with Francis Davis directing and me helping out, as usual. Top results and essays will appear on The Arts Fuse before January 1, and complete results and individual ballots will appear on my Jazz Critics Poll website. (Page is currently primitive, but I'm working on that.) Ballot invites will go out to critics by Monday. If you expect an invite (especially if you've voted in the past) and don't get one, please let us know.

Continuing to add to my Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY files. I've also started to assemble a Metacritic/EOY Aggregate file. Only 3 major lists so far, all British, so don't expect much. At this early stage, points for Christgau's and my grades are a large part of the total, creating a major skew. (Nathan Bell, for instance, is currently ranked 11, but realistically unlikely to finish in the top 300 -- not that he shouldn't be in the top 10, but the world is missing out on a lot of good things these days.) On the other hand, there is only 1 record in top 70 I haven't heard (Low's Hey What). The other thing worth noting is that I spent a lot of time collecting 4-star (and up) ratings from All About Jazz, Downbeat, and Free Jazz Collective, so the jazz skew is probably at an all-time peak. Part, but not all of the reason, Sons of Kemet and Floating Points are in the top three.

Also note that I published a set of Questions & Answers. Worth noting that so did Robert Christgau, who got an unusually meaty batch of questions this month.

Finally (for now), I copied this quote down from Twitter, someone known as @TheBlueMeme:

Our politics suffer from an immune defiency akin to AIDS -- while individuals see the danger, we cannot, as a society, mobilize our defenses against a pathogen that has evolved to capitalize on its weaknesses.

IOW, we're fucked.

Not sure that's exactly right, but it does resonate for those of us who have long been aware of the abyss we seem to be inexorably drawn into. And the conclusion is probably spot on. The acquittal of an Illinois teenager who crossed state lines to murder anti-racism protesters is just one more troubling note. In some sense this is much like the precedent of using drones to kill people abroad, with the same lame justification of self-defense. But it does hit close to home, as the victims this time could just as well have been us. I can't fathom the implications, but it surely undermines the case for gun rights, especially the whole notion that guns are defensive. Effectively they are signs saying "shoot me." Had anyone else shot and killed Rittenhouse, they would have had an equally valid case, for self-defense. (One comment I noted on Facebook: "Rittenhouse is free but it's ok to shoot him.") Unless, that is, the real message is how the case was politicized, and how that was reflected in the obvious prejudices of the judge.

On a lighter note, Ethan Iverson wrote a piece: "What do you give someone to introduce them to modern jazz?" He recommends Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, and a stack of classic Blue Note albums. I'm not a huge fan of Dexter Gordon's Go (I prefer Our Man in Paris) or Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil (Night Dreamer is a bit better, but this is where I might go for Tina Brooks' Minor Move, or Jackie McLean's Swing Swang Swingin' (assuming New Soil is a bit too far out for this list).

New records reviewed this week:

Greg Abate: Magic Dance: The Music of Kenny Barron (2021, Whaling City Sound, 2CD): Saxophonist, plays four weights plus flute here, has recorded quite a bit since his 1993 album Straight Ahead. Quartet here playing 14 Barron songs, with the man himself on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. B+(**)

Ada Lea: One Hand on the Steering Wheel the Other Sewing a Garden (2021, Saddle Creek): Nominally a band from Montreal, although name could just be an alias for singer-songwriter Alexandra Levy. Second album, with a couple EPs. B+(**)

Asleep at the Wheel: Half a Hundred Years (2021, Home): Founded in West Virginia in 1970, they soon moved to California, then to Austin in 1974, trading in their bluegrass roots for Western swing. Some of their best records since then have been Bob Wills tributes (Ridin' With Bob in 1999 and Still the King in 2015), although they've also done well with Willie Nelson (Willie and the Wheel, from 2009). A plethora of guests pitch in and help out, but fifty years provide the perspective. A-

Attitude!: Pause & Effect (2019 [2021], ESP-Disk): New York trio, mixes post-punk and free jazz, features singer Rose Tang ("a Mongol from Sichuan," also guitar, piano, percussion), saxophonist Ayumi Ishito (from Japan), and drummer Wen-Ting Wu (from Taiwan). Full of rage, not least about politics (if "stand with Hong Kong" counts), less so toward the end. B+(**) [cdr]

Aya: Im Hole (2021, Hyperdub): Electronica artist, based in London, previously recorded as Loft. Spoken word over all sorts of beats and other intriguing noises. B+(**)

Bktherula: Love Black (2021, Warner): Young Atlanta rapper Brooklyn Rodriguez, second or third album, surprisingly little info on her (no Discogs? no Wikipedia?). I'm finding this rather opaque, but the underground vibe has considerable appeal. B+(***)

Johnathan Blake: Homeward Bound (2021, Blue Note): Drummer, side credits range from Kenny Barron to Maria Schneider, made a big impression with his 2019 album Trion. Move to Blue Note hooks him up with young stars Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax) and Joel Ross (vibes), with David Virelles (piano) and Dezron Douglas (bass). Fine drummer, but most impressive when Wilkins charges. B+(***)

Darrin Bradbury: Talking Dogs & Atomic Bombs (2019, Anti-): Nashville-based singer-songwriter, calls himself a songster and occasionally reminds one of John Prine, first album, short at 26:41 but with 11 songs counts as an album. Cover features the dog. B+(**)

Darrin Bradbury: Artvertisement (2021, Anti-): Second album, 12 songs totalling 27:41. B+(***)

Hayes Carll: You Get It All (2021, Dualtone): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, albums since 2002, most real good. This comes close, both for sharp observations and basic form, and gets deeper as it sinks in. A- [bc]

Cochemea: Vol. II: Baca Sewa (2021, Daptone): Last name Gastelum, alto/tenor saxophonist with Sharon Stone's band the Dap-Kings (2009-18), had a 2010 album under his full name, also a 2019 All My Relations, implicitly Vol. I to this one. Plays alto, electric, and flutes here, backed by lots of percussion (secondary credits for bass and electric piano) and some chanting. B+(*)

The Contraptionists: Working Man's Dread (2021, self-released): Americana duo, Paul Givant and Stephen Andrews, first album, "murder ballads, road legends, and lovestory songs for the hopeful and broken-hearted." B

Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The News (2019 [2021], ECM): Drummer, closing in on 80 when this was recorded, gets equal help with the songwriting from Bill Frisell (guitar) and David Virelles (piano), also with Ben Street (bass). Toned way down, toward the vanishing point. B

Lana Del Rey: Blue Bannisters (2011, Polydor/Interscope): Pop star, eighth album since 2010, second this year. Mostly slow and rather dreamy. B+(***)

David Friesen: Day of Rest (2020 [2021], Origin): Primarily known as a bassist, with 50+ albums since 1975, plays solo piano here, a Ravenscroft Grand, through 20 pieces, all original. Nice, delicate touch. B+(**) [cd] [11-19]

Scott Hamilton/Duke Robillard: Swingin' Again (2021, Blue Duchess): Robillard is a blues guitarist, but he titled his 1987 debut album Swing, and he recruited a number of reputable jazz musicians for the project, notably Hamilton (tenor sax). The two are reunited here on a mix of standards, none especially electrifying, with Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), and a couple of singers on isolated spots (Sugar Ray Norcia and Sunny Crownover), as Robillard takes it easy. B+(*)

Illuminati Hotties: Let Me Do One More (2021, Snack Shack Tracks/Hopeless): Indie pop band from Los Angeles, principally Sarah Tudzin, second album. Several fast ones are terrific, slow ones less immediately appealing. A-

Injury Reserve: By the Time I Get to Phoenix (2021, No Label): Hip-hop crew from Tempe, Arizona, fourth album since 2015. Emphasis on the mix, which swallows up words, worlds even. B+(*)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Georgia Blue (2021, Southeastern): Former Drive-By Trucker, eighth album since going solo in 2007, fifth co-crediting the band. Covers of songs by 12 Georgia artists (R.E.M. twice), fulfilling a promise Isbell made if Biden won the state. Most songs have featured guests. They don't always help, and the R&B he greatly respects isn't his forté. Still, I can't fault his intentions (or his guitar). B

JPEGMafia: LP! (2021, Republic): Rapper Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, from Brooklyn, based in Los Angeles, fourth album, successor to EP!. As a producer he's often brilliant. Not so sure about his rapping, which can get lost in the chaos. B+(**)

Darrell Katz & OddSong: Galeanthropology (2019-21 [2021], JCA): Teaches at Berklee, founder of Jazz Composers Alliance in 1985, by far the most prolific composer among them, although he remains obscure enough not to have a Wikipedia page -- a serious oversight. Has a previous Oddsong release (2016), a vocal project based largely on texts by Katz's late wife Paula Tatarunis -- which account for 6 (of 14) tracks here, followed by all sorts of covers, including "Sweet Baby James," "Dirty Water," and "I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." Rebecca Shrimpton is the vocalist. B+(**) [cd] [11-19]

Doug MacDonald: Serenade to Highland Park (2021, DMAC Music): Guitarist, has been recording frequently of late -- this is his third album this year, a trio with bass and drums, ten standards and two originals. B+(**) [cd] [11-16]

Mereba: Azeb (2021, Interscope, EP): First name Marian, born 1990 in Alabama, father Ethiopian, moved around a lot, attending college in Atlanta and winding up in hip-hop group Spillage Village. Has a 2019 album, a couple EPs -- this one 7 songs, 23:04. Sings here, soft edges, entrancing. B+(***)

John R. Miller: Depreciated (2021, Rounder): Nashville singer-songwriter, from West Virginia, has a couple previous albums. Makes himself comfortable, settling into a nice groove and telling stories about people you must have known, or just bumped into. A-

OneTwoThree: OneTwoThree (2021, Kill Rock Stars): Three Swiss women -- Klaudia Schifferle, Madlaina Peer, Sara Schär, the former of limited Kleenex/Liliput fame -- sing in stripped down English over stripped down bass riffs, reminds me of B-52s as much as Liliput. A-

Phil Parisot: Inventions (2021, OA2): Drummer, from Seattle, third album, conventional hard bop quintet with trumpet (Jared Hall), tenor sax (Steve Treseler), piano, and bass. All originals, but not so hard. B+(*) [cd] [11-19]

William Parker/Patricia Nicholson: No Joke! (2019-20 [2021], ESP-Disk): Bassist, very prolific, already has several of the year's best albums, with his wife adding spoken word over the brash free jazz, smacks a bit of preaching to the choir but nothing you shouldn't hear. Band includes saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Devin Brahja Waldman, with Melanie Dyer's viola prominent on three cuts. A- [cd]

Professor Cunningham and His Old School: The Lockdown Blues (2021, Arbors): Saxophonist Adrian Cunningham, from Australia, based in New York, leads a retro-swing octet through the title piece and several topical songs (like "Six Feet Is Too Far From You"), as well as oldies that seemed to fit the bill (e.g., "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"). B+(*)

Steph Richards With Joshua White: Zephyr (2019 [2021], Relative Pitch): Trumpet and piano, her name much larger on cover, she's also credited with flugelhorn and "resonating water vessels" (evidently an effect of playing in water), he with preparations and percussion. B+(**)

ROVA: The Circumference of Reason (2018-19 [2021], ESP-Disk): Saxophone quartet founded 1977, name from initials of its founding members (Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voight, Bruce Ackley), although Voight was replaced by Steve Adams in 1988. There is something intrinsically ugly about nothing but monophonic instruments, but the interplay here is so fascinating I suspended prejudice most of the way through. Then, well, it got a bit too ugly. B+(***) [cd]

Sacred Soul of North Carolina (2020 [2021], Bible & Tire): Various gospel artists, including some who have been in business for considerable years, but recorded at the same time (11 groups in 8 days in February 2020). The band is presumably the same for all, and they rock. No guarantee I won't grow tired of this much holy rolling, but damn impressive for what it is. A- [bc]

Jacob Shulman: Connectedness (2021, Endectomorph Music): Saxophonist (alto, I think), from Los Angeles, based in New York, first album, quartet with piano (Hayoung Lyou), bass (Simón Willson), and drums (Avery Logan). Impressive work, very solid. B+(***) [cd] [11-14]

Snail Mail: Valentine (2021, Matador): Singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan, plays guitar, second album. B+(**)

Tommy Vig: 2022: Jazz Jazz (2021, Klassikus Jazz): Hungarian drummer/vibraphonist, fled to Vienna then to US after 1956, worked in movies, moved back to Hungary in 2006. Big band here, loves Monk, loves Beethoven, mostly loves lapsing into schlock, like he's rerunning old movie scores at treble speed and volume. C [cd]

Dean Wareham: I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A. (2021, Double Feature): Singer-songwriter, responsible for two catchy but soft-edged indie bands (Galaxie 500, Luna), solo records began in earnest in 2013, although last year's Quarantine Tapes credits Dean & Britta (Phillips, Luna bassist and part-time vocalist, also his wife). B+(**)

Remi Wolf: You're a Dog (2019, Island, EP): Fun/pop singer-songwriter from Palo Alto, based in Los Angeles, first of three dog-themed titless, 6 songs, 17:59. B+(*)

Remi Wolf: I'm Allergic to Dogs (2020, Island, EP): Second of three dog-themed titles, 5 songs, 16:39. Increases the funk quotient. B+(**)

Remi Wolf: We Love Dogs! (2021, Island): Remix album, juices up the songs from the previous EPs. Mixed bag: sometimes the jacked up beats help, but there is a tradeoff against the personal, or something else completely. B+(**)

Remi Wolf: Juno (2021, Island): Funk/pop singer-songwriter from Palo Alto, based in Los Angeles, 25, first album after several EPs. Upbeat, comic flair, seems like I should like this better. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ben Black: Mystery & Wonder (2007 [2021], Origin): Jazz singer, active in Seattle since 1985, debut album 1996, released another album in 2001. Remarkably ambisexual voice, a bit too operatic for my taste. B+(**) [cd] [11-19]

Joe Harriott Quintet: Free Form & Abstract Revisited (1960-62 [2021], Ezz-Thetics, 2CD): Alto saxophonist (1928-73), born in Jamaica, moved to UK in 1951. Followed Charlie Parker with his 1950s EPs, but with his 1960 album (Free Form) started gathering comparisons to Ornette Coleman. It remains his masterpiece, nicely packaged here with its worthy successor. Beyond this, his growth path in the 1960s skirted the avant-garde for "Indo-Jazz" fusion. A- [bc]

Calvin Keys: Shawn-Neeq (1971 [2021], Black Jazz): Guitarist, first album, funk grooves with electric piano, bass, drums, and flute. B+(*)

Jim Knapp Orchestra: It's Not Business, It's Personal (2009 [2021], Origin): Composer, arranger and conductor, formerly played trumpet, released three JKO albums 1999-2003. Conventional big band, has some bright spots. B+(*) [cd] [11-19]

Harold Land: Westward Bound! (1962-65 [2021], Reel to Real): Bebop saxophonist, plays tenor, from Houston but associated with West Coast bands, made his mark in the late-1950s with albums like Harold in the Land of Jazz. This selects pieces from three sets at the Penthouse in Seattle with different piano-drums (bassist Monk Montgomery is on all three), and trumpet (Carmell Jones) on the first set. B+(**)

Archie Shepp: Blasé and Yasmina Revisited (1969 [2021], Ezz-thetics): Tenor saxophonist, pushed the avant-garde envelope in the 1960s and by 1969 was looking for a label in Europe. He recorded several albums for BYG in Paris. This reissues all of Blasé, including four cuts featuring Jeanne Lee vocals -- some of her most striking work -- and adds the 20:06 "Yasmina," recorded with an 11-piece band that doubled up on bass and drums and added extra percussion (rhythm logs and balafon). A- [bc]

Old music:

Dr. John: The Very Best of Dr. John (1968-92 [1995], Rhino): Mac Rebennack, New Orleans pianist, spent a decade doing studio work before trying his hand as a freakish rock star, had a bit of success, then when that gig started failing, revived with a definitive roots album (Dr. John's Gumbo), then settled into a long twilight as his home town's professor emeritus. Died in 2019, leaving a huge discography of distinguished work, but it's hard to put it together into an overview because he was all over the place. A-

Illuminati Hotties: Kiss Yr Frenemies (2018, Tiny Engines): First album from Sarah Tudzin's group. Like the sound and the sentiment, but not much sunk in. B+(**)

John P. Kee: The Essential John P. Kee (1991-2000 [2007], Verity/Legacy, 2CD): Gospel singer/preacher from North Carolina, calls his church the New Life Fellowship Center. Early in, a song about saving a sick child with prayer convinced me he's full of shit, but the barnburners proved as invigorating as annoying. B- [cd]

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers: The Very Best of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers (1956-60 [2000], Rhino): Series limited to 16 tracks each: easy here given that Rhino had released a 20-track The Best of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers in 1989, so all they had to do was scratch four songs. I might have picked a couple different, but this not only has "all the original hits" (only 2 charted top-20) but lots of glorious filler, proving the youngest teenager as one of the great voices of the 1950s. As you probably know, Lymon struggled after 1960 and died at 25. The stories are horrifying, including a daughter who died two days after birth, and a heroin bust that sent him into the army instead of jail, only to be dishonorably discharged for going AWOL to sing in local clubs. A

John R. Miller: Service Change (2014, 789875 DK): First album, leads off with "Motor's Fried" -- one of the best songs on his new album. One more song reappears. Several more good songs here, including one that reminded me of Joe Ely. B+(***)

John R Miller & the Engine Lights: The Trouble You Follow (2018, Emperor): Everything he does sounds good. Still, this one slipped by without really sinking in. B+(**)

New Jack City [Music From the Motion Picture] (1991, Giant): Soundtrack to the Mario Van Peebles movie (with Wesley Snipes and Ice-T), although conceptually the movie could just as well be the product tie-in for the soundtrack. B+(***)

Eliane Radigue: Adnos I-III (1973-80 [2002], Table of the Elements, 3CD): French electroacoustic composer, b. 1932, worked as assistant to Pierre Henry 1967-68, has several dozen records since 1970. Long ambient pieces, minimalism without repetition or rhythm, doesn't seem like much but stays with you. B+(**) [cd]

Sugar and Poison (1971-89 [1996], Virgin, 2CD): Compilation programmed by David Toop, aims at the "quiet storm" aesthetic in 1980s soul balladry, mostly drawing on similar -- one might say, prescient -- material from the 1970s, which at the very least offers bigger names, albeit with more obscure songs (names I know, but less than a quarter of the songs are familiar). Christgau exclaimed, "only my wife has ever made me a better mix tape." Still, my playlist seems a bit unsteady. Seems like this disappeared as soon as it came out. Nice, but not sure it's worth the search. B+(***)

Swan Silvertones: Amen Amen Amen: The Essential Collection (1952-63 [2015], Rockbeat/Archive Alive): Gospel group, not my cup of tea these days but a fundamental building block of the R&B I do love. And as gospel groups go, this is one of the great ones. Draws on early (1952-53) sides for Specialty, for which I've previously recommended Love Lifted Me/My Rock, and later (1957-63) work for Vee-Jay -- cf. Swan Silvertones/Singin' in My Soul and Get Your Soul Right. This is as good as any. A-

Trin-I-Tee 5.7: Holla: The Best of Trin-I-Tee 5.7 (1998-2002 [2007], GospoCentric/Legacy): Gospel girl group, had recorded 4 albums before this best-of, with two more to come (one a Christmas album). I got suckered in a bit at first, but they go typically overboard on the second half. Still, "People Get Ready" sounds as great as ever. B [cd]

Zetrospective: Dancing in the Face of Adversity (1978-84 [1989], ZE): New York label sampler, founded by British mogul Michael Zilkha (wound up selling Zilkha Energy for $1 billion) and Michel Esteban, drawing on No Wave and Disco, most successfully with Kid Creole & the Coconuts and Was (Not Was), but even the oddities and trivia are odd and/or trivial in interesting ways. A-

Zetrospective: Hope Springs Eternal (1980-84 [1989], ZE): Companion sampler, starts with two songs each from Kid Creole, Davitt Sigerson, Cristina, John Cale, The Waitresses, and Was (Not Was), then adds a third for three of them. Not a very compatible grouping, so don't expect flow, just an interesting bunch of odds and ends. [The two Zetrospective volumes were reissued in a 2-CD package. When reissued separately the artwork adds #1 and #2.] B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Attitude!: Pause & Effect (ESP-Disk) [11-19]
  • Bridge of Flowers: A Soft Day's Night (ESP-Disk) [10-22]
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio: Merry & Bright (Capri) [11-19]
  • Jacqueline Kerrod: 17 Days in December (Orenda) [12-03]
  • William Parker/Patricia Nicholson: No Joke! (ESP-Disk)
  • ROVA: The Circumference of Reason (ESP-Disk)
  • Josh Sinton: B. (Form Is Possibility) [12-10]
  • Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette & Vijay Iyer: A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday (TUM) [11-19]
  • Wadada Leo Smith's Great Lakes Quartet: The Chicago Symphonies (TUM, 4CD) [11-19]

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