An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, November 22, 2021
Music: Current count 36746  rated (+52), 130  unrated (+2).
Getting into the end-of-year crunch, so nearly everything this week is in the "new music" list. The exceptions are: a Bobby Hutcherson album that a reader recommended, and a Sonny Clark album that has a new vinyl reissue in Blue Note's Tone Poet series (but I went with the 9-track CD instead of the 6-track LP, so I counted it as old instead of as a new reissue).
Six (of 7) new A-list albums are jazz, although the break in records listened to isn't that skewed. Two of the picks (Carrier and Halley) are perennial favorites, and I tend to like everything they do. Two more are groups (Ill Considered and Irreversible Entanglements) that his fusion seams that I'm easily drawn to. So there was something semi-automatic about those four picks, not involving a lot of thought, especially as I didn't do any comparative listening with old favorites (all have multiple A/A- records in their catalogs). The other two picks were, indeed, surprises (especially Buechi; Gjerstad always seemed like a good, solid contributor, but this is his first headline record I've given an A- to).
It's been harder to identify promising non-jazz, but also I haven't stuck long enough with good records to rate them higher: Idles, Kasai Allstars, and the two Taylor Swift retreads got one play each. and part of the reason I didn't give them a second play was that I already had a track record of stopping at B+(***) for each of them (the last two Idles, two previous Kasai Allstars, and the original Swifts). On the other hand, Dua Saleh overcame my usual anti-EP prejudice with three plays (although I was pretty sure on the first).
The first EOY lists have appeared, from Mojo, Uncut, and Rough Trade -- all British but still not a lot of common ground (and literally zero interest in US hip-hop, or in US pop phenoms like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo -- although Lana Del Ray, St. Vincent, and the Weather Station got some support). I've started a Metacritic/EOY Aggregate file, but it shows very little at this point. (Also not clear when/if I'll find time to keep it up.) I'm not getting a lot of inspiration from what I've seen so far. After Black Country, Country Road, the next highest unheard record so far was Low's Hey What, a group that has gone from boring to majorly annoying (they ranked 4th both at Mojo and Uncut; Nick Cave's Carnage was 3rd and 5th, but I wasted my time on it some months ago). Still unheard in the current top 100: The War on Drugs, Paul Weller, Courtney Barnett, David Crosby, John Grant. Only one I've looked for is Barnett, but Napster only has 6/10 tracks.
Invites went out on Sunday for the 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll. I sent 173 invitations out to voters in recent years (we had a record 149 voters last year). Got six ballots so far. Biggest surprise is how many records have already popped up that I wasn't aware of. As I learn more, I'm likely to concentrate on those records this week.
Feels like I should be cooking something for Thanksgiving, but I've rarely done so in the past, and thus far no one has showed any interest in me doing so this year. Boo hoo. More time for fucking lists, I guess.
Just finished Adam Serwer's excellent book on the Trump years: The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America. He seems to be the best of Atlantic's writers (although their paywall has limited my access -- one of the very few gated publications I'm at all tempted by). Much emphasis on racism, not unwarranted but just one of many complaints I have about Trump and the Republicans. Still tempted to sketch out an outline of what I think the right book should be, but it's become increasingly clear I'm never going to get around to writing such a thing. Meanwhile, the country and world goes to hell, because even the people who can conceive of an alternative can't figure out how to implement it. (One of the things Serwer talks about is the gap between ideals and implementation.) Or more succinctly, it's impossible to build anything when people are shooting at you.
I should note that I published answers to a couple of questions last week.
New records reviewed this week:
Aesop Rock X Blockhead: Garbology (2021, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Rapper Ian Bavitz, albums since 1997, beats by Tony Simon, who produced Aesop Rock as far back as 1999. B+(**)
Fatima Al Qadiri: Medieval Femme (2021, Hyperdub): Electronica artist, born in Dakar, raised in Kuwait, based in Berlin, fourth album. Arabic string fragments veiled in synth mist, with intimations of drama. B-
Anika: Change (2021, Sacred Bones): Last name Henderson, first trimmed back from Annika, from Britain but based in Berlin, second album, a decade after her 2010 debut. B+(**)
Badbadnotgood: Talk Memory (2021, XL/Innovative Leisure): Canadian group, combines "jazz musicianship with a hip hop production perspective," half-dozen albums since 2011, last three have topped the US Contemp Jazz charts. Odd album out has them backing Ghostface Killah (Sour Soul). Aside from that, I've never been impressed. B
Black Country, New Road: For the First Time (2021, Ninja Tune): British "experimental rock" group, first album, given to highly dramatized tableaux, works often enough to pique interest. Of course, I like the saxophone. They insist on this line more than seems appropriate, but it sums them up: "I'm more than adequate!" B+(**)
The Black Keys: Delta Kream (2021, Nonesuch): Group founded in 2002, effectively a duo (Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney), has a reputation as a blues-rock powerhouse, but I can't say as I've ever felt them before. Secret this time may be that they didn't try anything original: songwriter list leans heavy on Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside (7/11 songs), spiced with John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Big Joe Williams. B+(**)
Terence Blanchard: Absence (2021, Blue Note): Trumpet player, from New Orleans, played with Lionel Hampton and Art Blakey, discography (dating from 1983) includes a lot of soundtrack work. This one, dedicated to saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter, features E Collective (his "plugged in" band) and the Turtle Island Quartet (strings). B+(**)
Bridge of Flowers: A Soft Day's Night (2021, ESP-Disk): Label counts this as part of its "Drive to Revive Weird Rock." Jeff Gallagher sings and plays guitar, backed with guitar/keyboards, bass, and drums, group from Fitchburg, MA. Weirdest thing is the decidedly slapdash approach to sound, although the instrumental closer nicely shows off their lo-fi meander. B+(*) [cdr]
Sarah Buechi/Contradiction of Happiness & Jena Philharmonic: The Paintress (2020 , Intakt): Swiss vocalist, albums since 2014, leads a septet (piano-bass-drums + strings) named for her 2018 album, reinforced by a chamber orchestra. In English, no pedestals or spotlights, voice moves gingerly and the musicians never lose step. A-
John Butcher/Dominic Lash/John Russell/Mark Sanders: Discernment (2020 , Spoonhunt): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), with bass, guitar, and drums, improv set from Cafe Oto in London. Guitarist died in Jan. 2021, so one of his last records. B+(*) [bc]
John Butcher/Sharon Gal/David Toop: Until the Night Melts Away (2019 , Shrike): Another Cafe Oto set, a single 35:31 piece, saxophone plus kitchen sink: Gal is credited with "voice, electronics, bells, objects"; Toop with "lap steel guitar, flutes, bass recorder, African chordophone, objects." B [bc]
François Carrier: Glow (2019 , FMR): Canadian alto saxophonist, many excellent records since 2000 as he's found his unique sound and niche in free jazz. This was recorded in Spain with two guitarists, Pablo Schvarman and Diego Caicedo, plus his regular drummer, Michel Lambert. Can't say much for the guitarists here, but doesn't matter the way Carrier is playing. A- [cd]
Neil Cowley: Hall of Mirrors (2021, Mote): British pianist, trio albums began in 2006, this is solo but broadened out with electronics into something pleasantly ambient. B+(**)
Cyclone Trio: The Clear Revolution (2020 , 577): Free jazz trio, Australian ("Brisbane-based"; recorded in London, but label is based in New York). Massimo Magee (saxophones) and two drummers (Tim Green and Tony Irving). Opener runs 23:30, two more pieces bring the total to 50:51. B+(**)
Jeremiah Cymerman/Charlie Looker: A Horizon Made of Canvas (2020 , Astral Spirits): Clarinet duets, Looker playing piano to open, before switching to deep, brooding guitar. B+(*) [bc]
Dos Santos: City of Mirrors (International Anthem): Chicago group, Latin orientation, on a jazz label, so there's some of that too. B+(*)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: (Exit) Knarr (2021, Odin): Norwegian bassist, huge discography since the mid-1990s including a long run in The Thing and various Vandermark groups. Leads an octet here, mostly Norwegians (Mette Rasmussen and Atle Nymo on sax, Eivind Lønning on trumpet), doubling down on percussion. Six pieces, named for world cities (although Oppdal, in Norway, is more of a village). Austin is funky and fun. Amsterdam is a bit overwhelming. B+(***)
Frode Gjerstad/Isach Skeidsvoll: Twenty Fingers (2021, Relative Pitch): Norwegian saxophonist (alto and clarinet here), many albums since Detail in 1983, duets with piano. Skeidsvoll has a record in the group Bear Brother, but this is his first slugline. Not fancy, just heavy chords with some abstract tinkling, but it really sets the saxophonist off. A tour de force. A-
The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade: The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade (2021, Nomad Eel): Two bassists, Devin Hoff (Nels Cline Singers and other groups, like Good for Cows) and Mike Watt (Minutemen, on bass guitar), plus a drummer (Joseph Berardi). B+(**)
Rich Halley/Dan Clucas/Clyde Reed/Carson Halley: Boomslang (2021, Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist, has been on a tear since he retired from his day job more than a decade ago. Recent records have been elevated by Matthew Shipp, so this one starts a little uncertain, but the cornet player (Clucas) opens things up with a blistering solo, and by midway Halley has found his wind. One of the major tenor saxophonists of our time. A- [cd] [12-03]
Louis Hayes: Crisis (2021, Savant): Drummer, 84, debut was with Horace Silver in 1956, group with Abraham Burton (tenor sax), Steve Nelson (vibes), David Hazeltine (piano), and Dezron Douglas (bass), with Camille Thurman singing two songs. The vibes are especially prominent. B+(**)
Natalie Hemby: Pins and Needles (2021, Fantasy): Country singer-songwriter, second album at 44 (although she was included in the star-laden Highwomen lineup). B+(*)
Hiss Golden Messenger: Quietly Blowing It (2021, Merge): Folk-rock band from North Carolina, MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch, dozen-plus albums since 2008. Comfy country. B+(*)
Jon Hopkins: Music for Psychedelic Therapy (2021, Domino): British electronica producer, sixth album since 2001. Synth sounds with minor variations. I suppose with the right drugs they could be major. B
Idles: Crawler (2021, Partisan): British post-punk band, from Bristol, fourth album, Joe Talbot the singer, basic sound reminds me of the Fall, but they experiment more. I've never stuck with them long enough to sort out the lyrics, but good politics have been reported. B+(***)
Ill Considered: Liminal Space (2021, New Soil): British group, nominally a trio -- Idris Rahman (sax), Liran Donin (bass), Emre Ramazanoglu (drums) -- but often with extras (Theon Cross and Sarathy Korwar most famous), incorporate world rhythms or just swing free. Their live albums are exciting. This is their first studio effort, and they keep the heat turned up. A- [bc]
Irreversible Entanglements: Open the Gates (2021, International Anthem): Third album, avant-jazz group with two horns -- Keir Neuringer (sax) and Aquiles Navarro (trumpet) -- bass and drums, plus a vocalist, Camae Ayewa (who also does hip-hop as Moor Mother). Often strong politically, not that the music could go some other direction. A-
Vera Kappeler/Peter Conradin Zumthor: Herd (2020 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, several albums since 2009, including a previous duo with percussionist Zumthor. Runs hot and cold, or light and heavy. B+(*)
Kasai Allstars: Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound (2021, Crammed Discs): Large group in Kinshasa, Congo, assembled by Belgian producer Vincent Kenis for the label's Congrotronics series, fourth or fifth album. B+(***)
Langhorne Slim: Strawberry Mansion (2021, Dualtone): Singer-songwriter Sean Scolnick, from Pennsyvania (Langhorne), ten or so albums since 2004. High, whiny voice, no drawl but works for blues, and grows a bit as he reels off song after song. B+(**)
LoneLady: Former Things (2021, Warp): Manchester, UK electropop producer Julie Campbell, third album, strong pulse. B+(**)
Brandon López Trio: Live at Roulette (2021, Relative Pitch): Bassist, with saxophonist Steve Backowski and Gerald Cleaver on drums. B+(**)
Low: Hey What (2021, Sub Pop): Slowcore band/duo from Duluth, Minnesota, with Mimi Parker (vocals/percussion) and Alan Sparhawk (guitar/vocals), 13th album since 1994, their third produced by BJ Burton. Slow as in dirges, but more pretentious, or just annoying. C
Francisco Mela Featuring Matthew Shipp and William Parker: Music Frees Our Souls (2020 , 577): Cuban drummer, studied at Berklee, close to 10 albums as leader since 2008. You know the others. B+(***) [bc]
Moor Mother: Black Encyclopedia of the Air (2021, Anti-): Poet/rapper/activist Camae Ayewa in underground hip-hop mode (as opposed to jazz mode with Irreversible Entanglements). Half-dozen albums since 2016. B+(*)
Van Morrison: Latest Record Project: Volume 1 (2021, BMG/Exile, 2CD): Perfectly generic title for a very generic Van Morrison album, reserving the option of future reuse -- but given that the thing runs over two hours (28 songs averaging over 4.5 minutes), none too anxious to get to Volume 2. The lyrics have generated bad word of mouth (aside from Armond White's rave in National Review), but I'm more struck by their triviality -- nowhere more so than on the title song (yes, there is one). B
Willie Nelson: The Willie Nelson Family (2021, Legacy): Short "collaborative" album (12 songs, 31:55), with sons Lukas and Micah, daughters Paula and Amy, and sister Bobbie, with Willie doing most of the singing (well, all that's worth saving). Songs dwell on religious themes, with "I Saw the Light" rising from the depths of "All Things Must Pass." Could credit the album to the group, but why encourage them? B
Zeena Parkins/Mette Rasmussen/Ryan Sawyer: Glass Triangle (2021, Relative Pitch): Electric harp player, not to be confused with Andrea Parkins (although both play accordion and piano), in a trio with alto sax and percussion. A little rough on the cutting edge. B+(*)
Nicholas Payton: Smoke Sessions (2021, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream trumpet player from New Orleans, also plays a fair amount of piano here, backed by Ron Carter (bass) and Karriem Riggins (drums), with George Coleman (tenor sax) guesting on two tracks (one called "Big George"). Carter-Coleman reflects back on Miles Davis, a big influence on any trumpet player of Payton's generation. B+(**)
Dua Saleh: Crossover (2021, Against Giants, EP): Born in Sudan, left at age 5 and wound up in Minnesota, makes a point of being non-binary, hip-hop but sings more than raps, third EP (7 songs, 22:56). Diverse songs, each with its own unique allure. A-
Nala Sinephro: Space 1.8 (2021, Warp): Caribbean-Belgian composer/producer, based in London, first album. Ambient, with overtones of harp. B+(*)
Josh Sinton: B. (2021, Form Is Possibility): Saxophonist, plays baritone here, solo, engaging but has its limits. B+(**) [cd] [12-10]
Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Life After (2021, Distorted Muse/Fontana North): Canadian First Nations hip-hop duo, Darren Metz ("Young D") and Quinton Nyce ("Yung Trybez"), fourth album. B+(**)
Space Afrika: Honest Labour (2021, Dais): Electronica duo, Joshua Reidy and Joshua Inyang, based in Manchester, the latter with roots in Nigeria. Third album. B+(*)
Taylor Swift: Fearless (Taylor's Version) (2021, Republic): Let's set out some ground rules: I've heard all nine of Swift's studio records, rated them favorably (A- for Speak Now), * for the debut, ** for Reputation, *** for the other 6). I even own a couple (Speak Now and Red), but I don't remember any of them, so one thing I can't do here is offer any insightful comparisons between new and old versions (although I could easily believe that she knows more about how to run a studio now, or at least can hire more expert help). Moreover, my plan, after having ignored this for six months, is to stream it once and react as if it's all new (which it effectively is to me). Big difference here is the sprawl, from 53:41 to 106:20, as the new edition re-records the 19-track Platinum Edition plus six extra songs they held back. No doubt there's a terrific album in here somewhere, waiting for an editor to bring it into focus. B+(***)
Taylor Swift: Red (Taylor's Version) (2021, Republic): Her 4th Big Machine album, 2nd to get the "Taylor's Version" treatment, which means re-recording old songs, including extras that didn't make the original release, extending the album from 65:09 to 130:26. Same basic deal. Ends with a 10:13 "All Too Well" that holds up all the wa to the end. B+(***)
Aki Takase/Daniel Erdmann: Isn't It Romantic? (2020 , BMC): Piano and tenor/soprano saxophone duo. Six compositions each, plus the Richard Rodgers title song. B+(**)
Tirzah: Colourgrade (2021, Domino): Singer-songwriter, from England, second album. Sort of like trip hop but not as luxe. B+(*)
Trees Speak: PostHuman (2021, Soul Jazz): Duo from Arizona, Daniel Martin Diaz and Damian Diaz, fourth album, electric keyboards with more than an echo of Krautrock. B+(*)
Two Much [Reut Regev and Igal Foni]: Never Enough (2021, Relative Pitch): Trombone and drums duo. B+(***) [bc]
Pabllo Vittar: Batidão Tropical (2021, Sony, EP): Brazilian drag queen, given name Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva, lots of skin on the cover, mostly background. Considered forró electronico, pretty upbeat. Nine songs, 23:05. B+(*)
Summer Walker: Still Over It (2021, LVRN/Interscope): R&B singer from Atlanta, debut Over It was a sizable hit, sequel is same but longer (63:36 vs. 42:49). B+(*)
Marcin Wasilewski Trio: En Attendant (2019 , ECM): Polish pianist, long-running trio with Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass) and Michal Miskiewicz (drums). B+(*)
Jane Weaver: Flock (2021, Fire): British singer-songwriter, 11th solo album since 2006, before that she was in bands like Kill Laura and Misty Dixon. Describes this as "inspired by Lebanese torch songs, 1980s Russian Aerobics records and Australian punk," but your guess is as good as mine. Starts wobbly, but finds a shiny groove. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Mujician: 10 10 10 (2010 , Cuneiform): British avant-jazz supergroup: Keith Tippett (piano), Paul Rogers (bass), Tony Levin (drums), and Paul Dunmall (soprano/tenor sax, also bagpipes). Founded 1990, did this tour with Levin turned 70. B+(**) [dl]
Sonny Clark: My Conception (1957-59 , Blue Note): Hard bop pianist, had a terrific run from 1957 to his early death (at 31 in 1963). This quintet session with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), and Art Blakey (drums) wasn't released until 1979. CD adds three tracks from 1957 with Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Chambers, and Pete La Roca (drums). B+(***)
Bobby Hutcherson: Medina (1968-69 , Blue Note): Vibraphone player, debut in 1965 marked him as a major player, recorded a lot for Blue Note up through 1977, but seems like the label left a lot of his work on the shelf, releasing it well after the fact. This collects two sessions: this adds 5 (of 6) tracks from Spiral (released 1979, 30:21; they left out a 1965 track) to Medina (6 tracks, 40:05), which hadn't appeared until 1980. Both sessions use the same group: Harold Land (tenor sax), Stanley Cowell (piano), Reggie Johnson (bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: