An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, November 29, 2021
Music: Current count 36797  rated (+51), 125  unrated (-5).
I'll keep this short, as I have a lot of other work to do, and need to get back to it. All new music this week. Mostly jazz. I have an advantage over the rest of you (except for Francis Davis) in that I'm reading Jazz Critics Poll ballots before they're posted. Six (of 7) new A- jazz albums were unknown to me before last week (although I must have received mail, perhaps even a download link, from Astral Spirits about Artifacts). The one non-jazz A-lister (note: full A) didn't come from an EOY list (yet), but I noticed it while searching AOTY for high-rated 2021 releases (this one from HipHopDX; very little hip-hop in the first wave of EOY lists). The other A- was an upgrade, after endorsements from Phil Overeem and Chris Monsen convinced me to give it another spin.
Seems like every JCP ballot I receive has 2-4 new albums, mostly ones I wasn't even aware of. Most disturbing was that early in the counting, 6 of the top 10 albums were things I hadn't heard. Most of those have proven impossible to stream, but the final number will probably drop anyway (4 at the moment, some I'll catch up with, most because other voters won't have heard them either, so they'll sink). One thing polls always wind up silently measuring is how effective publicists are, and how lack of a publicist keeps artists mired in obscurity.
November had five Mondays, so the monthly archive (link above) is exceptionally huge. I haven't done the indexing, so don't even have a count. (Well, subtracting Music Week count lines give us +257, with -24 unrated.) Pending count for 2021 promos is down to 6 (3 of which are Christmas music, and 1 was a 2018 release; I'll get to the Gordon Grdina albums later today). Mail didn't bring anything this week. I've started to get 2022 promos, but only 2 so far.
Some statistics: according to tracking file (of 2021 releases: 925 records rated (69.8% streamed), 2704 records logged. Metacritic file logs 2064 albums, plus 163 reissues/vault music. Current Best Jazz list has 53 new A-list, 25 reissues/archival A-list. Current Best Non-Jazz list has 46 new A-list, 5 reissues/archival A-list.
I published a Speaking of Which last week. I had a long Facebook comment that I thought could use wider and more lasting presentation. I also wanted to jump off the Paul Krugman links to talk about inflation. I got my main point in, but could have written much more. I don't feel up to adding more right now, but it's worth emphasizing that from the 1970s the right harped on the evils of inflation, and used it as an excuse to destroy the labor movement, impose austerity on government, and fuel the extreme financialization of the economy. Some people, like the Populists in the 1890s, drew the wrong conclusion, and tried to argue that more inflation would be a good thing. They were defeated so severely that no one argues that anymore, but it's always been the case that inflation has both winners and losers. Good policy attempts to balance this, protecting losers against their losses while limiting the windfalls to the winners. There are better ways to do this now than working through the Fed, which is designed to help bankers -- winners both when rates go up (they collect more interest, especially from variable-rate debtors) and when they go down (they get more money for speculation and leverage, inflating the stock market).
A big part of recent "inflation" (I think "price gouging" is a more accurate term) involves gasoline prices, and this has caused some sort of nervous breakdown in the Biden administration. It would help if the media had a bit of historial perspective. Current prices, for instance, are still lower than they were under GW Bush, at least until he cratered the economy in 2008. One big reason prices rose so much under Bush was disruption of supplies due to war and sanctions. If Biden wanted to cut oil prices, the easiest way would be to allow Iranian and Venezuelan oil back on the world market (which would be good as a break from the American conceit that claims the write to punish other countries for not liking American interference, but bad in that lower prices would encourage people to waste oil and further damage the environment we all depend on). The main effect of Trump's belligerency was to prop up oil prices, but Republicans never seem to get blamed for gas prices (or much else -- benefits of owning the media blame machine).
I've been saying for some time that we need higher oil taxes. Europe has long had hefty taxes on gasoline, initially to maintain a favorable balance of trade by suppressing imports. The result was that as early as the 1950s European cars were much more efficient than American cars. US oil production peaked in 1969, and in 1970 imported oil tipped the US into a losing trade balance which has only increased ever since. A smart move then would have been to increase taxes, to make people and (especially) businesses more conscious of the need to conserve, but we didn't do that. (Instead, they came up with the 55 mph speed limit. The immediate effect was for American auto engineering to atrophy, a reputation Detroit has strugged with ever since.) In the 1980s, when a lot of non-OPEC oil came online, Americans started buying gas guzzlers again, and now we're stuck with all these SUVs and heavy pickups -- not all driven by Trumpist blowhards, but there is a real skew in that direction. And, of course, they're up in arms: High gas prices are hitting heavy-duty pickup owners hard. I'm not unsympathetic, but in the long run we'd be better off pricing those machines off the road. If their lifetimes average 15 years, why not pass a series of gas tax bumps scheduled to kick in over 20 years, with a diminishing set of partial rebates? After all, good policy makes amends for those who face consequent losses. On the other hand, if you can't face such losses, you can't make progress at all. Biden's short-term moves to cut gas prices cast doubts on his commitment to slowing down climate change, and you don't have to have a very long term view to see that as mattering more.
One last note here. I mentioned the death of Dan Georgakas, but after I posted another valuable writer passed away: James Ridgeway. He did important work, especially on corporations and energy resources, like The Politics of Ecology (1970), The Last Play: The Struggle to Monopolize the World's Energy Resources (1973), Who Owns the Earth (1980), and It's All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources (2004).
New records reviewed this week:
ABBA: Voyage (2021, Polar): Swedish pop juggernaut, released 8 studio albums 1973-81, massive hits in Europe, less so in America but even here you don't have to be 60+ to know a dozen or so of their hits -- seems like they never left (in derivatives they never did). Couple passable songs, but nothing much that adds to their legacy. Some of it sounds like recycled Christmas jingles. B-
Android Trio: Other Worlds (2021, Cuneiform): Jazz-rock trio -- Andrew Niven (drums/synths), Eric Kierks (bass/synthbass), Max Kutner (guitar) -- plus guests, based in Los Angeles, associated (as producer Mike Keneally) with Frank Zappa. C+ [dl]
Artifacts [Tomeka Reid/Nicole Mitchell/Mike Reed]: . . . And Then There's This (2021, Astral Spirits): Third generation AACM (served together on the board 2009-11), playing cello, flute, and drums, group named for their superb 2015 album. All three write pieces, but they also look to the founding AACM generation (Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell). I've never been much of a flute fan, but she is the best. A-
Balimaya Project: Wolo So (2020 , Jazz Re:Freshed): London-based group, 17 musicians, mostly African names with a lot of percussion, but also some brass (2 trumpets, 2 trombones). Scattered vocals, but focus is on the groove, which is relentless. A- [bc]
Blu: The Color Blu(e) (2021, Nature Sounds): Rapper Johnson Barnes III, from California, prolific since 2007. Opens with blues piano, plays off blues riffs for a while, but that's not where he really wants to go. B+(*) [bc]
The Brkn Record: The Architecture of Oppression Part 1 (2021, Mr. Bongo): Project led by Heliocentrics bassist Jake Ferguson, various featured vocalists have plenty to say about racism and police abuse in Britain. B+(***) [bc]
Francesco Cafiso: Irene of Boston: Conversation Avec Corto Maltese (2020, Eflat): Alto saxophonist, from Sicily, as a young teenager recorded duets with Franco D'Andrea and toured Europe with Wynton Marsalis. At 32, he's put together a strong discography, and he's a very impressive saxophonist. Also an ambitious composer, employing pianist Mauro Schiavone to help with arranging the London Symphony Orchestra. "Irene of Boston" is an old ship, "Corto Maltese" is a Sicilian sailor, and they are inspirations for his sprawling work. A-
Brandi Carlile: In These Silent Days (2021, Low Country Sound/Elektra): Singer-songwriter from Washington, filed under Americana if not country, seventh studio album since 2005, occasionally aces a ballad but nothing else feels quite right here. B
Ron Carter/Jack DeJohnette/Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Skyline (2021, 5 Passion): Cuban pianist, based in Florida, close to 40 albums since 1985, with bassist and drummer needing no introduction. Billing order could be alphabetical or seniority or just how the name lengths fit on the cover, but it helps to focus on Carter's bass first, before the pianist explodes. Wish he did it more often, but not for lack of appreciation for the rest of his kit. A-
Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Reconvexo (2020 , Anzic): Clarinet and guitar duo, recorded in the latter's Rio de Janeiro. B+(*) [bc]
Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few: Cosmic Transitions (2020 , Division 81): Chicago saxophonist, second album, first appeared in Ernest Dawkins Young Masters Quartet, quartet with a big sound and cosmic ambitions. B+(***)
Eliane Elias: Mirror Mirror (2021, Candid): From Brazil, has sung on most of her recent albums -- Napster lists her as "bossa nova" -- but started off c. 1990 as a first-rate jazz pianist, and not even an especially Brazilian one. No voice, just lots of piano here: four duets with Chick Corea, interleaved with three duets with Chucho Valdés, both bringing their Latin game. B+(***)
Flukten: Velkommen Hap (2021, Odin): Norwegian quartet: Hanna Paulsberg (sax), Marius Hirth Hlovning (guitar), Bárður Reinert Poulsen (bass), and Hans Hulbækmo (drums). B+(***)
Erik Friedlander: Sentinel (2020, Skipstone): Cellist, albums since 1991. This one is a trio, with Ava Mendoza (guitar) and Diego Espinosa (drums). B+(**)
Rob Frye: Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes (2020 , Astral Spirits): Field recordings of birds from West Texas deserts, processed with Frye's synthesizers and handmade flutes. B [bc]
Nubya Garcia: Source + We Move (2021, Concord): Saxophonist, born in London, parents from Guyana and Trinidad, plays in Maisha, has a couple EPs and an album, Source, which is remixed here. B
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trios: Songs From My Father (2021, Whaling City Sound, 2CD): Drummer, father is vibraphonist Terry Gibbs (still ticking at 97), has used Thrasher for his various outfits since 2006, his first Dream Trio in 2013 (with Kenny Barron and Ron Carter), plural here with four trios: Chick Corea and Carter, Barron and Buster Williams, Geoff Keezer and Christian McBride, also Patrice Rushen and Larry Goldings (substituting organ for bass). B+(**)
Gift of Gab: Finding Inspiration Somehow (2021, Nature Sounds): Blackalicious rapper Timothy Jerome Parker, died in June at 50, fourth solo album. Good taste in underground beats and flow, one of the fastest, most literate rappers ever, scores some important political points, but the most poignant piece was on how he kept writing through dialysis, contemplating an end he wasn't ready for, because he had so much more to do. A
Carlos Henriquez: The South Bronx Story (2021, Tiger Turn): Bassist, born in New York City, plays in Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, third album. Some vocals, no doubt a point of the story theme. B+(***)
Arushi Jain: Under the Lilac Sky (2021, Leaving): Raised on Indian classical music, based in Brooklyn, works with modular synthesizers, the structures of the ragas that underly her longer pieces only slowly become evident through the ambient clouds. Some vocals. B+(***)
Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O: Umdali (2018 , Mushroom Hour Half Hour): South African trombonist, composer and arranger, debut as leader, gets strong support from saxophonist Daniel Nhlanhla Mahlangu (especially on "Life Esidimeni," which reminds me of Dudu Pukwana at his finest). Scattered vocals don't detract. They remind us this is still social music. A-
Samara Joy: Samara Joy (2020 , Whirlwind): Young standards singer (23), first album, won a prize named for Sarah Vaughan but sounds more like Ella Fitzgerald. With sly backing from guitarist Pasquale Grasso's trio (with Ari Roland and Kenny Washington. B+(***)
Jacqueline Kerrod: 17 Days in December (2021, Orenda): Harp player, originally from South Africa, moved to New York 1999. Debut in 2020 was a duo with Anthony Braxton. This is "solo improvisations for acoustic & electric harp," which necessarily means it's limited and esoteric. Still, rather dreamy. B+(**) [cd] [12-03]
Stefano Leonardi/Antonio Bertoni: Viandes (2018 , Astral Spirits): Italian flute and cello duo, both also play more exotic instruments (sintir, sulittu, kaval, ocarina, launeddas). B+(*) [dl]
Myele Manzanza: Crisis & Opportunity, Vol. 1: London (2021, DeepMatter): Drummer, from New Zealand, moved to London in 2019, three previous records, this one recorded in London with what's basically a hard bop quintet (trumpet, tenor sax, piano, bass) plus Mark de Clive-Lowe on synths. Exceptionally nimble within the mode, until they slide out into post-bop. B+(***) [bc]
Myele Manzanza: Crisis & Opportunity, Vol. 2: Peaks (2021, DeepMatter): Recorded in Berlin, one horn (Jay Phelps on trumpet), more focus on guitar, synths, bass, and programming. B+(*) [bc]
Hedvig Mollestad: Tempest Revisited (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitarist, last name Thomassen, mostly with her Trio (7 albums since 2011), leads a larger group here: three saxophonists, extra drummer, vibes. B+(*)
Camila Nebbia Quartet: Corre El Río De La Memoría Sobre La Tierra Que Arrastra Trazos, Dejando Rastros De Alguna Huella Que Hoy Es Número (2020 , Ramble): Tenor saxophonist from Argentina, several albums, also electronics, with Barbara Togander (vocals & turntables), Violeta Garcia (cello), and Paula Shocron (piano, vocals & percussion). Title translates as "The river of memory flows through the earth leaving traces now numbers" -- a reflection on the map of Argentina reduced to statistics after five months of pandemic lockdown (although my first thought on the title was the "dirty wars," where right-wing politicians similarly reduced the people to numbers). B+(**) [bc]
Arturo O'Farrill/The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming in Lions (2021, Blue Note): Title usually printed with ellipses fore and aft, which makes no sense to me. Son of famed Cuban bandleader Chico O'Farrill, born in Mexico after the family fled Castro but before they arrived in New York (1965). Took over his father's reconstituted big band in 2001, aligned for a while with the Marsalis regime at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and continued to be the premier name in Afro-Cuban Jazz (at least as recognized in the US). B+(**)
The Ed Palermo Big Band: I've Got News for You: The Music of Edgar Winter (2021, Sky Cat): Saxophonist-led big band, started in 1980s, went through a phase of doing Frank Zappa tributes (three in 1997-2009), and finally got busy with 8 albums (2 doubles) since 2014. C+ [dl]
Park Hye Jin: Before I Die (2021, Ninja Tune): From South Korea, rapper-singer based in Los Angeles after living in Melbourne and London, first album, name appears first in Hangul then in parens as above, but also translates as Hye-Jin Park. Not sure that "cloud rap" captures it, except inasmuch as the "cloud" has become the globalized aether we all float through. B+(**)
PinkPantheress: To Hell With It (2021, Parlophone, EP): British pop singer, barely 20, first short mixtape (10 songs, 18:36), lighter than the title implies, genre listed as "atmospheric drum & bass," which sounds about right. B+(**)
Abbey Rader/John McMinn: Two as One (2021, Abray): Drummer I ran across some time ago as a William Parker collaborator. Duo, McMinn plays tenor & alto sax, piano, and percussion. They have a couple of previous duos, and have played together at least as far back as 2004. Rugged free improv, sax impressive but can wear on you, piano less. B+(*) [bc]
Anaïs Reno: Lovesome Thing: Anaïs Reno Sings Ellington & Strayhorn (2021, Harbinger): Standards singer, at 16 has no business singing such difficult and sophisticated songs -- she leans to the Strayhorn side of the headline -- much less with such poise and nuance. Gets help from pianist-arranger Emmet Cohen, and superb spot support from Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax) and Juliet Kurtzman (violin) -- the latter her mother, who left Houston to be a concert violinist in Europe, then returned to New York to teach music, with her own, albeit modest, recording career. A-
Sara Schoenbeck: Sara Schoenbeck (2019-21 , Pyroclastic): Bassoonist, had a duo album album back in 2002 and a fair number of side credits, but not much more under her own name. But she runs the table here with nine far-ranging duets -- Roscoe Mitchell (soprano sax) is notable, followed by Matt Mitchell (piano). B+(***) [cd]
Sara Serpa: Intimate Strangers (2021, Biophilia): Vocalist-composer, from Portugal, ten or so albums since 2008, mostly intimate setting with a single accompanist (e.g., Ran Blake). This is more ambitious, with fascinating spoken word by Emmanuel Iduma (from Nigeria), more vocals by Sofia Rei and Aubrey Johnson, Matt Mitchell on piano and Qasim Naqvi on modular synth. B+(**) [cdr] [12-01]
Silk Sonic [Bruno Mars/Anderson .Paak]: An Evening With Silk Sonic (2021, Aftermath/Atlantic): A pop star in decline since his 2010 debut, and a rapper with a pop streak, a combination that must have seemed natural when they were hanging on the road, but the only distinctive voice here is the MC, Bootsy Collins. B-
Sir Babygirl: Golden Bday; The Mixtape (2021, self-released): Kelsie Hogue, non-binary, released an EP in 2019, promises "previously unreleased tracks in celebration of still being alive and music being awesome." Mostly upbeat, padded with three covers, the off-brand Joni Mitchell actually quite nice. B+(**) [bc]
Nate Smith: Kinfolk 2: See the Birds (2021, Edition): Drummer, from Virginia, debut 2017 with his first Kinfolk, also plays some keyboards but mostly has Jon Cowherd for that, and Jaleel Shaw on sax. Most songs have vocals (Michael Mayo, Kokayi, Stokley, Amma Whatti, Brittany Howard, a mixed bag), and guests drop in (Regina Carter, Vernon Reid). Has its moments, most dependably with Shaw. B
Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette & Vijay Iyer: A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday (2016 , TUM): Five original pieces by the all-stars (trumpet, drums, keyboards), the connection to Holiday tenuous at best, although Smith is in his finest Yo! Miles form, and the drummer is quite some wizard. B+(***) [cd]
Wadada Leo Smith's Great Lakes Quartet: The Chicago Symphonies (2015-18 , TUM, 4CD): Trumpet, with Henry Threadgill (alto sax/flute), John Lindberg (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums) -- for the first three discs, recorded in 2015, replacing Threadgill with Jonathan Haffner on the 2018 fourth disc. The suites aren't terribly long (36:38-39:48 for the first three, 49:13 for the last), and I have reservations about the third, but they feel more improvised than Smith's recent major productions, and with this group that's a plus. A- [cd]
The Source: . . . But Swinging Doesn't Bend Them Down (2019 , Odin): Norwegian quartet, predates its 2006 eponymous album on ECM by a dozen years, the constants saxophonist Trygve Seim, Øyvind Braekke (trombone), and Per Oddvar Johansen (drums), with Mats Eilertsen on bass. Thoughtful, intricate work, but not what I'd call "swinging." B+(***) [bc]
Vince Staples: Vince Staples (2021, Blacksmith/Motown, EP): Los Angeles rapper, started in Odd Future, or maybe the Crips, has so much rep I'm surprised how thin his discography is. This one has 10 tracks, but only runs 22:02. B+(**)
Helen Sung: Quartet + (2021, Sunnyside): Pianist, Pianist, from Texas, albums from 2003, quartet with John Ellis (tenor/soprano sax and flute), David Wong (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums), the plus being the Harlem Quartet (strings). B+(*)
Craig Taborn: Shadow Plays (2020 , ECM): Major pianist, solo this time, live concert from Vienna. B+(*)
U-Roy: Solid Gold (2021, Trojan): Legendary Jamaica toaster Ewart Beckford, recorded this star-laden pseudo-hits album shortly before his February, 2021 death at 78. Classic tunes, pumped up, sometimes over the top. Closer to its inspiration is Scientist's 15:01 closing dub. B+(*)
Will Vinson/Gilad Hekselman/Antonio Sanchez: Trio Grande (2019 , Whirlwind): Sax-guitar-drums trio, recorded in the melting pot of New York (Queens, actually; originally from England, Israel, and Mexico). Not big stars, although all three have extensive discographies since 2004 or so. They add up impressively until Vinson switches to keyb, tipping them into fusion, still well above par. B+(***)
Westside Gunn: Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely, Adolf (2021, Griselda/Empire): Buffalo rapper Alvin Lamar Worthy, started this mixtape series in 2012, not his only titles to namecheck Hitler but he also trades on Flygod. Music thrashes hard, but can't find much redeeming social value. B
Westside Gunn: Hitler Wears Heres 8: Side B (2021, Griselda/Empire): First track sounds more thoughtful. Second sounds funkier. Likely this improves on its predecessor (it's certainly more varied), but over the long run -- and it does run very long -- it proves equally tedious. B
Wiki: Half God (2021, Wikset Enterprise): New York rapper Patrick Morales, started in group Ratking, third album, produced by Navy Blue. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Grade (or other) changes:
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, ending the album on a high plateau. [was: B+(***)] A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: