An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, December 6, 2021
Music: Current count 36843  rated (+46), 119  unrated (-6).
Former Kansas politician and Republican majordomo Robert J. Dole has died at 98, after a long and eventful life that caused immeasurable damage to American society and politics. I remember him mostly for running one of the most scurrilous political campaigns in Kansas history, when he narrowly defeated Bill Roy for his second Senate term in 1972. Dole was the first Republican in Kansas to find a way to politicize abortion and exploit the bigotry and confusion around the issue. That was the first year I voted, and not a single person I voted for -- not even the Republican who was certainly the lesser evil running against Democratic Sheriff/Attorney General Vern Miller -- won. It was also the last time I voted until 1996, and I found myself with another chance to vote against Dole. That time, at least, I was more successful, not that Bill Clinton was much of a prize.
They say that when one dies, if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. I rarely follow that advice, but in Dole's case I actually can say a few nice things (even if I have trouble limiting myself). Here goes:
But that's all I have. I've never understood why people credit him with anything more. (The biggest critical lapse was by Tom Carson, who treats him as a humble folk hero in his otherwise brilliant novel, Gilligan's Wake.) He pulled Kansas hard to the right, and for a long time remained an outlier, at least compared to decent Republican senators James Pearson and Nancy Kassebaum. It was only with the rise of Sam Brownback and Todd Tiahrt in the 1990s that Dole started to look moderate, but their demagoguery on abortion starts with Dole's 1972 campaign. After his loss in 1996, he settled into the comfortable life of a Washington shill, never using what little political stature he had achieved to try to stem the Republican slide into and beyond Trumpism. He served his party, and was rewarded with wealth and fame and flattery and forbearance. Now he's being showered with flowery eulogies, a symptom of the same mental collapse as we witnessed with Colin Powell and John McCain -- rivals in the sweepstakes to see who could make the most mileage (and moolah) out of unfortunate military careers. And what did you get for all his success? Fucked.
Very busy week looking at EOY lists and playing new music. Magdalena Bay topped the list at Gorilla vs Bear, and is near the top of my A- bracket, a good chance to go full A. Everything else is toward the bottom of the A- bracket, but that mostly reflects the limited time I've been able to give each release. They are all distinctive, interesting albums, very good ones. I probably left a few more short at B+(***) -- Mexstep? Navy Blue? R.A.P. Ferreira? I don't have a good ear for lyrics, and not enough patience to properly process rap albums, so I guess a lot.
Amyl & the Sniffers topped Louder Than War's list (not a source I look to, but still). Little Simz and Floating Points have topped the most lists so far. I gave the former *** and the latter **, and should revisit both. Number three on my EOY Aggregate is Dry Cleaning, which I bumped to A- after an initial lower grade. Tyler, the Creator (another ***) has moved into 4th, displacing Low, which I'll never return to. Tyler is the only US hip-hop contender: Mach-Hommy is at 30, Vince 33, Lil Nas X 38, Doja Cat 71, Armand Hammer 96, J Cole 104.
Jazz Critics Poll ballots are due Sunday, December 12.
Some brief notes. I jiggled New Music around to get something I found aesthetically pleasing and well-suited to the year. This list (at least at the moment) matches my Jazz EOY List. I favored albums I had physical copies of, but included two I had only streamed (Braxton and Altschul). I did enforce a CD-only policy for the old music section, so my ballot is very different from the EOY list, where the top album was Charles Mingus, Mingus at Carnegie Hall [Deluxe Edition]. The Joseph album is an irregular choice for Vocal, in that I parked it on top of the Non-Jazz EOY List, but I find myself enjoying very few jazz vocalists -- the only ones to make my A-list were Sarah Buechi and Anaïs Reno -- while Joseph's is one of the year's very best albums. I went with somewhat arbitrary choices for Debut and Latin as well. I actually have a group, Body Meπa, higher on my list than Jiyane, but we tend to frown on group debuts. I like classic Latin jazz, but I'm rarely impressed enough by recent efforts to have any of it show up on my A-list, so I usually wind up picking something tangential. This year that's Zenón's not-all-that-Latinized Ornette Coleman tribute, which I prefer over his explicitly Latin El Arte del Bolero. One curious fact from counting the JCP votes is that thus far all but one of Zenón's New Album votes are for Law Years, but all of his Latin votes are for El Arte del Bolero.
It's possible to change ballots up to Dec. 12. (Hopefully, that's incentive to send them in earlier.) I may wind up changing my ballot a bit, but I'm pretty happy with it now. I will certainly wind up changing my EOY files as I find new things, and sometimes as I further review initial grades. I'm finally streaming James Brandon Lewis' Code of Being as I write this. Supposedly, Henry Threadgill's Poof is in the mail. There are at least three Blue Note albums that I haven't been able to stream, as I have their other records for many years now. (I don't even know why does publicity there anymore, but I assume the reason they do so well in polls is the breadth of their PR operation -- I can't say much for their quality in recent years.)
Much more could be said, but I'm pressed for time, and this is enough for now. Still haven't done the indexing on the November Streamnotes file.
I thought I might note that I was pleased with the small-committee selections to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Especially Minnie Minoso, who clearly would have topped 3,000 hits had he not been excluded from the Major Leagues for the first half of his career. I'll also note that while Jim Kaat's 283 career wins were an obvious qualification, the article doesn't note how many Gold Glove awards he won (16) -- Randy Robbins throws some shade on his fielding reputation, but one thing I remember from watching him is how he always looked ready to field a ball hit back to him, unlike most pitchers, who come off their pitch off-balance and are lucky to get out of the way. Gil Hodges and Tony Oliva were slightly lesser stars I have no complaints about. I don't know the Negro League numbers, which have only recently been systematically compiled and accepted as official, like I do the old majors, so I only know Buck O'Neil by reputation (including as the inspiration for Darby Conley's Get Fuzzy cat name), and Bud Fowler less than that. The latter offers us a teachable moment, reminding us that segregation was the cardinal sin of baseball not just when O'Neil played (1937-48) but from the very beginning.
New records reviewed this week:
Adele: 30 (2021, Columbia): British singer-songwriter, last name Adkins, became a huge international star with her age-named albums 19 and 21, only her fourth album, with 25 in between. Marriage and divorce themes. I find it all overblown. B-
Amyl and the Sniffers: Comfort to Me (2021, Rough Trade): Australian post-punk band, Amy Taylor the singer. Reminded me a bit of X-Ray Spex, more of L7. Can't say I didn't get a bit tired by the end of the second play, but as solid as any such band I've heard in more than a few years, and considerable pleasure at first. A-
Florian Arbenz/Hermon Mehari/Nelson Veras: Conversation #1: Condensed (2021, Hammer): Swiss drummer, first of what promises to be a dozen albums conversing with guest musicians: in this case, a trumpeter from America and a guitarist from Brazil. Terrific mix. A- [bc]
Florian Arbenz: Conversation #2 & #3 (2020 , Hammer): Swiss drummer, duo with Jim Hart (vibes/marimba), or trio adding Heiri Känzig (bass). B+(***) [bc]
Florian Arbenz/Maikel Vistel/François Moutin: Conversation #4: Vulcanized (2021, Hammer): drums, tenor/soprano sax, bass. Starts with a swinging "Bemsha Swing," one of two Monk covers, along with pieces by Bill Evans, Joe Zawinul, and Eddie Harris, as well as originals by Vistel (2) and Moutin (1). B+(***) [bc]
Blue Reality [Michael Marcus/Joe McPhee/Jay Rosen/Warren Smith]: Quartet! (2020 , Mahakala Music): Cover can be parsed various ways, but different type colors lean my way. Two reeds players, two drummers, group name from Marcus' 2002 trio album (with Rosen and Taurus Mateen). B+(***)
Weedie Braimah: The Hands of Time (2021, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Djembe master, born in Ghana, comes from a long line of notable percussionists, raised in East St. Louis, based in New Orleans, bunch of side credits (especially with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who plays here) but this seems to be his first album. B+(**)
Chamber 4: Dawn to Dusk (2020 , JACC): Trumpet (Luís Vicente) and strings: violin (Théo Ceccaldi), cello (Valentim Ceccaldi), and acoustic guitar (Marcelo dos Rios). Most impressive when the trumpet opens up. B+(***) [cd]
Margo Cilker: Pohorylle (2021, Loose): Country singer-sonwriter from Oregon, first album. Sounds just about perfect for country. Songs take a bit longer to settle in, but she's got something there too. A-
Theo Croker: BLK2LIFE // A Future Past (2021, Sony Masterworks): Trumpet player, from Florida, eighth album since 2006, sort of a funk/fusion thing, with vocals on most tracks, including Ani Lennox, Kassa Overall, and Wyclef Jean. Mixed feelings about this, even within a piece like "Hero Stomp," boldly over the top. B
Angel Bat Dawid: Hush Harbor Mixtape Vol. 1 Doxology (2021, International Anthem): Angel Elmore, from Chicago, third album plays clarinet and, well, everything here, "vocalz" included. Cover illustration goes back to slavery, and is disturbing. Same for the songs, as disquieting as they are striking. B+(**)
Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take (2021, Saddle Creek): Alt/indie band from Asheville, NC, and/or the lead singer, also plays guitar and keyboards and wrote the songs (10, with 2 co-credits). B+(*)
Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers: Set Me Free (2021, Louisiana Red Hot): Accordion player Dwayne Rubin, carrying on the family trade of his father Alton Rubin, better known as Rockin' Dopsie. Band has been rolling since 1999, with 10 or so albums. No idea how this one stacks up against them, but it'd be hard to top as a party record. B+(***)
Wendy Eisenberg: Bloodletting (2019 , Out of Your Head): Guitarist, from Boston, dozen albums since 2017. This one is solo, a suite played through twice, once on banjo, again on guitar. B+(*) [dl]
R.A.P. Ferreira: The Light Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures (2021, Ruby Yacht): Initials stand for Rory Allen Philip, rapper from Wisconsin, formerly did business as Milo, third album under this (real) name. (Short one, 11 songs, 28:37.) B+(***)
Sierra Ferrell: Long Time Coming (2021, Rounder): Country singer-songwriter from West Virginia, based in Nashville, third album, big step up in labels. A bit of jazz in the bluegrass. A-
Ben LaMar Gay: Open Arms to Open Us (2021, International Anthem): From Chicago, sings, plays cornet, many other instruments. B+(*)
Ghost Rhythms: Spectral Music (2021, Cuneiform): French group, experimental rock-qua-jazz, half-dozen albums since 2007. Rhythm is relentless but wears thin. Noise helps, but too little, too late. B- [dl]
Gordon Grdina's Square Peg: Klotski (2021, Attaboygirl): Canadian guitar/oud player, has several groups, this the second album with this quartet: Mat Maneri (viola), Shahzad Ismaily (bass/moog), and Christian Lillinger (drums). Original pieces, rich harmony of strings over free rhythm. B+(***) [cd]
Gordon Grdina: Pendulum (2021, Attaboygirl): Solo guitar and oud, usual limits but he is one of the best anywhere. B+(**)
Jeff Hamilton Trio: Merry & Bright (2021, Capri): Drummer-led piano trio, with Tamir Hendelman and Jon Hamar, slant the usual tunes a bit toward the hip and/or secular ("The Little Drummer Boy," "Santa Baby"), sometimes so tastefully you can forget that crass commercialism extends even into the jazz world. B [cd]
Miho Hazama: Imaginary Visions (2021, Edition): Japanese composer and big band arranger/conductor, studied in New York, has positions with New York Jazzharmonic and Danish Radio Big Band -- the latter plays here. B+(**)
HTRK: Rhinestones (2021, N&J Blueberries): Australian duo, Jonnine Standish (vocals) and Nigel Yang (guitar and drum machine), originally Hate Rock Trio (with bassist Sean Steward, d. 2010). Sounds to me like I imagined "slowcore" might be, before Low spoiled the notion. B+(***) [bc]
Jon Irabagon: Bird With Streams (2020 , Irabbagast): Tenor saxophonist, recorded this collection of Charlie Parker tunes solo in a secluded canyon in South Dakota, one of those pandemic lockdown projects that never would have been done otherwise. B
The Klezmatics: Letters to Afar (2013 , Chant): Long-running New York klezmer group. Ambient-to-ominous soundtrack to Peter Forgacs' film. B+(*)
Mick Kolassa: Uncle Mick's Christmas Album (2021, Endless Blues): Blues singer-songwriter from Michigan, tenth album, wrote 2 (of 9) songs this time, the covers ranging from Mariah Carey to "Beale Street Christmas Jam." Original lyric: "and now our kisses don't need mistletoe." B [cd]
Mon Laferte: Seis (2021, Universal Music Mexico): Singer-songwriter from Chile, fairly big star, name shortened from Norma Monserrat Bustamente Laferte, moved to Mexico City in 2007, sang in a heavy metal band there. Sixth album (aside from her 2003 debut as Monserrat Bustamente), draws on regional Mexican styles. I like the fast ones, and even more so the over-the-top "La Mujer." A-
Lukah: Why Look Up, God's in the Mirror (2021, Fxck Rxp Rxcxrds): Rapper, from Memphis, third album. Comes from a harsh world, yet still finds inspiration. "God put me here to be something great" . . . like this, I guess. A- [bc]
Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (2021, Luminelle): Synth-pop duo from Miami, singer-songwriter Mica Tennenbaum and producer Matthew Lewin, first album after 3 EPs and 2 mixtapes. Dance beats initially reminded me of Chic. While they increasingly became distinct, they didn't lose anything. Could turn out to be better. A- [bc]
Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Live at the Village Vanguard (2014 , Mack Avenue): Mainstream bassist, albums since 1994, a couple (2009-13) with this quintet -- Steve Wilson (sax), Christian Sands (piano), Warren Wolf (vibes), Carl Allen (drums) -- a couple more live from this venue. B+(**)
Mexstep: Vivir (2021, Mexstep Music): Rapper from San Antonio, moniker shortened from Mexican Stepgrandfather, released an album in 2018 (Resistir) I was very taken with, this only slightly less so. Mostly works in English, but the beat seems to pick up a bit when he switches to Spanish. B+(***) [bc]
Samuel Mösching: Ethereal Kinks (2021 , Bronzeville Music): Guitarist, probably from Switzerland ("Univerity of Lucerne"), based in US since 2013, also plays bass, drums, and synths, with a couple guest spots. All originals, title has nothing to do with the UK band ("without kinks life would be flat"). B [cd] [2022-02-18]
Navy Blue: Navy's Reprise (2021, Freedom Sounds): Rapper Sage Elsesser, third album. B+(***)
Adam O'Farrill: Visions of Your Other (2021, Biophilia): Trumpet player, son of Arturo, sidework mostly on the avant side of NYC postbop, second album, pianoless quartet with Xavier Del Castillo on tenor sax, Walter Stinson on bass, and brother Zack O'Farrill on drums. Impressive work all around. A-
Pino Palladino and Blake Mills: Notes Wtih Attachments (2021, Impulse): Welsh bass guitar player, has done a lot of session work, almost all with rock musicians starting with Jools Holland in 1981 (better known names include Eric Clapton, Elton John, John Mayer, and D'Angelo). First album with his name listed first. Mills has a shorter but similar resume, plays many instruments but mostly guitar. B+(*)
Barre Phillips/John Butcher/Ståle Liavik Solberg: We Met - and Then (2018-19 , Relative Pitch): Bass, saxophones, drums. Recorded on two dates, note how the bass leads. B+(**)
Robert Plant/Alison Krauss: Raise the Roof (2021, Rounder): I can't say as I followed his career after Led Zeppelin, but he released an album every 2-3 years 1982-93, slowed down after that, but his 2007 collaboration with bluegrass star Krauss got my attention, even if it didn't leave much of an impression. After a long break, here's a second album together, also produced by T-Bone Burnett, with side-credits for David Hidalgo, Bill Frisell, Buddy Miller, and Marc Ribot. One original credited to Plant-Burnett, the others folk covers from both UK and US. Seems like paltry returns for all the talent employed. B+(*)
RP Boo: Established! (2021, Planet Mu): Chicago footwork producer Kavain Space. Dance beats, exhortations, couldn't be more straightforward. B+(**)
Allison Russell: Outside Child (2021, Fantasy): Singer-songwriter from Montreal, absent father from Grenada, mother put her into foster care then got her back, step-father sexually abused her (subject of first song here), first album under her own name, after group efforts with Po' Girl, Birds of Chicago, and Our Native Daughters. Hard to get a grip on, but haunting and revealing and redeeming, somewhere between folk and soul, with bits of gospel, blues, jazz, and French. A-
Jared Schonig: Two Takes Vol. 1: Quintet (2021, Anzic): Drummer, member of the Wee Trio, debut, released same day as Vol. 2: Big Band. Eight songs on both albums, this one padded out with an "Intro" and three "Drum Interludes." With Marquis Hill (trumpet), Godwin Louis (alto sax), Luis Perdomo (piano), and Matt Clohesy (bass). B+(**) [bc]
Jared Schonig: Two Takes Vol. 2: Big Band (2021, Anzic): New York big band, loaded with solo talent, playing the hell out of the same eight songs from Vol. 1: Quintet. B+(***) [bc]
Shad: TAO (2021, Secret City): Canadian rapper Shadrach Kabango, born in Kenya, parents from Rwanda, grew up in Ontario, seventh album since 2005. Conscious lyrics, knows a lot and cares a lot, but sometimes the music veers off on pop tangents that seem surreal and/or psychedelic. B+(***)
Esperanza Spalding: Songwrights Apothecary Lab (2021, Concord): Started as a jazz bassist, found a crossover niche as a singer, eighth album since 2005. Twelve numbered pieces each called "Formwela." Purportedly "designed to address specific emotions and stresses," I can't attest to the "healing power of music" here. But it does strike me as overly tricky. B
Kaidi Tatham: An Insight to All Minds (2021, First Word): British multi-instrumentalist (no credits here, but keyboards, drums, bass synth, flute, vocals elsewhere), half-dozen albums since 2008. Picked this off a jazz list, but will file under electronica with a side of hip-hop. B+(**)
Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Fools for Yule (2021, Housekat): Singers Ginny Carr Goldberg, Robert McBride, Holly Shockey, and Lane Stowe, only their fifth album since Half-Past Swing in 1999 (Goldberg, née Carr, and McBride were original members). Starts tolerably with "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," and does manage to swing through "Winter Wonderland," but sinks like a rock with with a truly awful "Silent Night." C [cd]
The War on Drugs: I Don't Live Here Anymore (2021, Atlantic): Indie rock band from Philadelphia, fifth album since 2008, commercial breakthrough was their third, in 2014. Adam Granduciel sings, writes, and co-produces. Nice sound, not a lot of substance. B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Oscar Peterson: A Time for Love: The Oscar Peterson Quartet - Live in Helsinki, 1987 (1987 , Mack Avenue): Piano, as sumptuous as ever, the trio (Dave Young and Martin Drew) joined by guitarist Joe Pass. B+(***)
Marcos Resende: Marcos Resende & Index (1976 , Far Out): Brazilian keyboard player, previously unreleased debut album, wrote 5 (of 6) tracks, bassist Rubão Sabino the other. With bass, drums, and tenor/soprano sax/flute (Oberdan Magalhães). B+(**)
Roswell Rudd & Duck Baker: Live (2002-04 , Dot Time): Trombone and guitar duo. Nice pairing. B+(***)
Roseanna Vitro: Listen Here (1982 , Skyline): Standards singer, originally from Arkansas, 15 records, my favorite her 1997 Catchin' Some Rays (Ray Charles). This was her first, originally released 1984, cover cites Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Ben Riley, and Arnett Cobb (3 tracks). B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: