An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, December 13, 2021
Music: Current count 36898  rated (+55), 123  unrated (+4).
Spent most of last week transcribing Jazz Critics Poll ballots. Deadline was Sunday night, so in theory that's done, but we'll accept stragglers at least until tomorrow. We currently have 150 ballots, one more than last year's record. Of course, I can't talk about results now -- you should be able to see the critics list, but when you lick on the links the choices should remain blank, until we unleash them last week of December.
Still, a lot of the records in this week's haul came from picks on those ballots. The total number of records receiving votes is 673, which is about 4.5 times the number of ballots (full ballots list 16 albums). That's the third highest number of albums, behind 2020 (683) and 2019 (674), but could edge up a bit.
Second significant source for records this week was Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. I had previously looked for Courtney Barnett and Neil Young, but only found them this week. Among other picks, good to see the Gift of Gab album I gave an A to recently, less so a Jason Isbell album that struck me as a B, in between a Parquet Courts I deemed a B+(***). That was also my initial grade for the Burnt Sugar album I revisited. I didn't get to it until after the news that Greg Tate had died, so can't meet Bob's claims to an unaffected grade, but I'm happy to have enjoyed the record more than when I rushed it before.
Something else to note this week is that I signed up for one of those three-month free trials of Spotify. I've been increasingly frustrated by hangs listening to Napster, and coverage of some labels has been spotty. I've suspected that Spotify has a small but significant number of albums not on Napster (or impossible to find on Napster), so I waited until the next offer came around, and took it. I almost immediately got pissed off at it, as the browser ap defaulted to autoplay -- the whole point of streaming for me is that I know what I'm listening to, and when it ends. However, I did some research and discovered that their Linux ap (something Napster doesn't have) has a settings switch, so I downloaded that, and plunged into Limpopo Champions League (a desired album not on Napster that I had found on Spotify). So there's a few "[sp]" records on this week's list, and more to come. One especially pleasant surprise was finding an already constructed playlist for one of the Vietnam War anthologies Christgau reviewed in the latest Consumer Guide. Unfortunately, the other two volumes don't seem to exist.
I don't have a lot to say about the late Greg Tate. He, like me, gained his first prominence as one of Robert Christgau's stable of freelancers at the Village Voice, but he was 7 years younger, and entered that orbit after I had checked out (so I never actually met him). We had one thing in common: we were both huge P-Funk fans before we hooked up with Bob. I remember Carola wondering whether Bob's late conversion might have been influenced by my arrival in New York, but Bob dismissed the idea, instead citing Parliament's Live album, appearing shortly before we saw them at Madison Square Garden (coincidentally, a first date with my future wife) -- we were all in a cluster of freeloaders on the floor, a white hole in the middle of a chocolate donut. Tate, of course, was more credible and more memorable in his enthusiasm. He was one of the few Voice critics I read regularly once I left New York. He had eye-opening insights had an astonishing gift for language. I'm not surprised as I read young critics cite him as their inspiration, but being 7 years older, I can't say that. All I can allow is that after he came around, it's just as well I had retired.
After Tate died, I jotted down some tweets:
I can also cite a few articles, although the collection here is haphazard:
I'm a bit surprised that there's less out on his music. I've listened to (and liked) most of it, but don't have my scraps of writing readily available, nor have I seen much else. Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber has rarely been reviewed by jazz critics (Angels Over Oakanda has 4 JCP votes this year, probably his first ever), let alone others (only a partial exception is Robert Christgau -- page doesn't yet include his A review of Angels). I've been toying with the idea of jazz as "social music" lately, by which I mean music that organizes social movement, often with a political goal, but always as an assertion of cultural worth. I see this in the crossover jazz that's become popular in London recently. It seems to me that Tate was trying to do something like that here, even though hardly anyone's been paying attention.
Meanwhile, I seem to have misplaced my copy of Flyboy in the Buttermilk, just when I could use something new to read. Ordered a copy of Flyboy 2, but the delivery schedule on that stretches out another week. I have the Graeber/Wengrow The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity in the wings, but that seems like a big chunk to chew off. I've found Amitav Ghosh's The Nutmeg's Curse very stimulating, although not without problems (as I cling to my stubborn faith in reason).
New records reviewed this week:
Rodrigo Amado Northern Liberties: We Are Electric (2017 , Not Two): I'd hazard a guess that per capita the top two jazz countries in Europe are Norway and Portugal. Small size is part of the equation, but wealth isn't: Portugal is the poorest country in western Europe, while Norway is one of the richest. But cross-pollination has helped, especially as Portugal's Clean Feed label regularly hooked Portuguese jazz masters up with peers from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. This particular meeting from the two countries -- Amado (tenor sax), Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Jon Rune Strøm (bass), and Gard Nilssen (drums) -- took place in a London club and is being released on a Polish label. Nothing particularly electric in the lineup, but they do keep you turned on. A- [cd]
Courtney Barnett: Things Take Time, Take Time (2021, Mom + Pop): Singer-songwriter from Australia, breakthrough in 2015 was driven by her guitar, which remains a strong suit here. Innovation here is her phrasing, which reminds me ever so much of Lou Reed, which sometimes rises to the level of a tic -- one I adore. A-
Rubén Blades y Roberto Delgado & Orquesta: Salswing! (2021, Rubén Blades Productions): From Panama, back in the 1980s was a pop star and actor, had a law degree, was touted as a future president of Panama, but never got further than Minister of Tourism.
Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies: This Land (2019 , Westerlies Music): Jazz singer from Germany, based in New York since 1989, albums since 1993, teaches at Manhattan School of Music. Remarkable skills, but I find his penchant for difficult music very hit and miss. The Westerlies are a brass quartet (two trumpets, two trombones). Sort of a folk Americana thing, with bits of "Wade in the Water" and "In the Sweet By and By," but also "Look for the Union Label" and "Tear the Fascists Down." B+(***) [sp]
Dean Blunt: Black Metal 2 (2021, Rough Trade): Actual name Roy Nnawuchi, London-born, bunch of mixtapes and albums since 2011 including his previous Black Metal in 2014. Hard to describe, but not that. Short: 11 songs, 25:31. B+(**)
Anthony Braxton: 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (2017 , Firehouse 12, 12CD): Twelve compositions, numbered between 402 and 420, diagrams on cover, averaging a bit less than an hour each (6 in 40-50 minute range, 4 in 50-60, 2 a bit over 70). Unlikely that all 12 performers play on all 12 pieces, given that 4 credits are for harp, but there's generally a lot going on: notably Dan Peck on tuba, Adam Matlock on accordion and aerophones, cello (Tomeka Reid) violin, brass (Tyler Ho Bynum and Steph Richards), and reeds (Ingrid Laubrock and Braxton). Writing this a bit more than half way through, and contemplating a break. Much more than I have any desire to digest, but lots of fun, interesting things whenever I tune in. B+(***) [bc]
Patricia Brennan: Maquishti (2018 , Valley of Search): Vibraphone/marimba player, born in Mexico, based in New York, first album, various side credits. Solo pieces, using "extended techniques and electronic effects." B+(*)
Bill Charlap Trio: Street of Dreams (2021, Blue Note): Mainstream pianist, albums since 1993, most (11 since 1997) with Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums). Standards, typically light touch. B+(**)
Boubacar "Badian" Diabaté: Mande Guitar (2021, Lion Songs): Guitarist from Mali, mostly solo acoustic. Nice. B+(**)
Mathias Eick: When We Leave (2020 , ECM): Norwegian trumpet player, on ECM since 2008. Only the one horn, over an atmospheric backdrop including piano, violin,, pedal steel guitar, and percussion. B+(**)
Sam Fender: Seveneen Going Under (2021, Polydor): English singer-songwriter, second album, fairly big star in UK, not much beyond. Has a good sense of traditional rock form, including the occasional hook, and sometimes has something to say. Promising, except when the arena beckons. B
Friends & Neighbors: The Earth Is # (2021, Clean Feed): Norwegian group, fifth album since 2011, quintet with trumpet (Thomas Johansson) and tenor sax (André Roligheten, also plays flute, bass clarinet, and bass sax) up front, plus piano-bass-drums. Four composers here, all but one piece coming from the names I skipped. Helps explain why I find this rather mixed, but the saxophonist is a tower of strength throughout. B+(***) [sp]
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: G_d's Pee at State's End (2021, Constellation): Canadian "post-rock" band, had a run 1994-2003, broke up, regrouped in 2011, with 3 albums early, 4 later. Instrumental, thickly layered with intimations of magnificence. B+(*)
Muriel Grossmann: Union (2021, Dreamland): Saxophonist (alto, soprano, tenor), born in Paris, grew up in Vienna, based in Ibiza since 2004, 13th album since 2007, quartet with guitar (Radomir Milojkovic), organ (Llorenç Barceló), and drums (Uros Stamenkovic). Appealing soul jazz groove with cosmic Coltrane overtones, a combo beyond reproach. B+(***)
Thomas Heberer: The Day That Is (2021, Sunnyside): German trumpet player, based in New York, composed this during lockdown, not clear when he recorded it. Another German in New York, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, provides a second horn, backed by John Hébert (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums). B+(***) [bc]
William Hooker: Big Moon (2020 , Org Music): Drummer, entered the New York loft scene in mid-1970s, debut album 1976, has been productive and remained obscure ever since. Nine musicians, including two saxes (Stephen Gauci and Sarah Manning), flute, three keyboardists, bass, and extra percussion. Runs long at 83 minutes, and can get noisy. B+(***) [bc]
François Houle/Samo Salamon: Unobservable Mysteries (2020, Samo): Canadian clarinetist, Slovenian guitarist, improvising long distance. B+(**) [bc]
Susie Ibarra: Talking Gong (2020 , New Focus): Percussionist, albums since 1997, credit here is "gong, percussion, drums." Most tracks add Claire Chase (flutes) and/or Alex Peh (piano). B+(*) [bc]
Susie Ibarra: Walking on Water (2018-19 , Innova): Eleven "spirituals" composed to accompany paintings for the victims of the March 11, 2011 Tohoku Great Earthquake and Tsunami, based on field recordings from underwater microphones. Various voices (most prominently Claudia Acuña), strings (Jennifer Choi), and electronics, strangely affecting. B+(**) [bc]
Frank Kimbrough: Ancestors (2017 , Sunnyside): Pianist, died in late 2020 at 64, was one of the postbop musicians who made Matt Baltisaris' Palmetto an important label in the 2000s. Trio with Kirk Knuffke (cornet) and Masa Kamaguchi (bass), a rather subdued but touching session. B+(***)
Craig Klein: Talkative Horns: Musical Conversations on Lucien Barbarin (2021, Tromboklein Music): New Orleans-based trombonist, one previous album, sings some, as does Kevin Louis (long cornet). Backed with piano, guitar, bass, and drums -- the latter by Barbarin's nephew, Gerry Barbarin Anderson. Lucien Barbarin (1956-2020) was a trad jazz trombonist, and his grand-uncle was drummer Paul Barbarin, who played with King Oliver in Chicago and Luis Russell in New York, as well as leading his own bands. B+(**)
La La Lars: La La Lars III (2021, <1000): Swedish group, third album, principally drummer Lars Skogland, who wrote the songs, produced, also plays some guitar and keyboards. With Goran Kajfes (trumpet), Jonah Kullhammar (tenor sax/flute/bassoon), Carl Bagge (keyboards), and Johan Berthling (bass). B+(***) [bc]
Mary LaRose: Out Here (2021, Little (i) Music): Jazz singer, based in Brooklyn, sixth album since 1995. Title comes from Eric Dolphy, with LaRose writing lyrics to Dolphy's sinewy compositions. Band members are listed on the cover, because they're something to brag about: Jeff Lederer, Tomeka Reid, Patricia Brennan, Nick Dunston, Matt Wilson. B+(***)
James Brandon Lewis Quartet: Code of Being (2021, Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, one of the giants of his generation, backed by Aruán Ortiz (piano), Brad Jones (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums). Something less than his usual tour de force, but softer touches are appealing as well, heightened perhaps by the always present tension. A-
Harold Mabern: Mabern Plays Coltrane (2018 , Smoke Sessions): Pianist, from Memphis, recorded for Prestige 1969-70, didn't find another dependable label until DIW in the 1990s, finally finding a home here from 2014 past his death in 2019. This is the 3rd release (4th CD) they've culled from Mabern's January stand. I was most impressed by the first, The Iron Man: Live at Smoke. That was quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), John Webber (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). This adds a couple extra horns: alto sax (Vincent Herring) and trombone (Steve Davis). Not ideal picks for a Coltrane tribute, but energetic. B+(*)
Nick Mazzarella/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Avreeayl Ra: What You Seek Is Seeking You (2019 , Astral Spirits): Alto sax/bass/drums trio, recorded in Chicago. If I hadn't heard a dozen more records like this, I'd be blown away. B+(***)
Makaya McCraven: Deciphering the Message (2021, Blue Note): Drummer, born in Paris, father an American drummer, mother a Hungarian singer, moved to Chicago in 2007, albums and mixtapes since 2008. This is a remix project, starting with Blue Note tapes from the 1960s, retooling the beats and adding contemporary players like Joel Ross (vibes), Jeff Parker (guitar), Marquis Hill (trumpet), and Greg Ward (alto sax), plus a bit of rap and chant. Not entirely successful. B+(**)
Pat Metheny: Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV) (2019 , Modern): Jazz guitarist, has floundered somewhat since his 1977-2010 Group with Lyle Mays expired, comes up with an effective successor here, with James Francies (keyboards, mostly organ) and Marcus Gilmore (drums). Live set, touring shortly before the pandemic shut them down. Seven originals, plus a cover from old standby Ornette Coleman. B+(*)
Ming Bau Set: Yakut's Gallop (2020 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Gerry Hemingway (drums), Vera Baumann (vocal), and Florestan Berset (guitar). Improv, although the liner notes include lyrics from Paul Eluard, Patti Smith, and Levin Westermann. B+(***) [dl]
Mogwai: As the Love Continues (2021, Temporary Residence): Scottish "post-rock" band, tenth album since 1997, three of four original members still active. Huge waves of instrumentals, only occasional vocals. B
Angelika Niescier/Alexander Hawkins: Soul in Plain Sight (2020 , Intakt): Alto sax and piano duo, both on the adventurous side, impressive but doesn't always sit right. B+(***)
Stephanie Nilles: I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag: The White Flag (2019 , Sunnyside): Title, and music, from Charles Mingus, focusing on his more political titles, from "Fables of Faubus" to "Remember Rockefeller at Attica." Nilles sings some, and plays a lot of solo piano. B+(**) [bc]
Joy Orbison: Still Slipping Vol. 1 (2021, XL): Real name Peter O'Grady, electronica producer, nephew of drum & bass DJ Ray Keith. Numerous singles since 2009, but this is his first album. Nice vibe to it. B+(**)
Hannah Peel: Fir Wave (2021, My Own Pleasure): Irish singer-songwriter and soundtrack producer, based in London, 7th album since 2011. B+(**)
Punkt. Vrt. Plastik [Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger]: Somit (2020 , Intakt): Piano-bass-drums trio, group name from their 2018 release. B+(***)
Emily Scott Robinson: American Siren (2021, Oh Boy): Folk/country singer-songwriter from North Carolina, signed to John Prine's label, which isn't a lock but they do have a track record. Couple excellent songs, voice way up there. B+(***)
Andreas Røysum Ensemble: Fredsfanatisme (2021, Motvind): Norwegian clarinetist, second album leading this nonet, with flute, two saxophones (Signe Emmeluth and Marthe Lea), a low twist on a string quartet (violin, cello, two basses), and drums. Freedom can get rough. B+(**)
Paula Shocron/William Parker/Pablo Díaz: El Templo (2019 , Astral Spirits): Pianist from Argentina, opens with deft runs before bringing out the strong chords that drive these four pieces. Disappointing when she back off, but then you remember who the bassist is. A- [bc]
Tyshawn Sorey/King Britt: Tyshawn & King (2021, The Buddy System): Latter's full name is King James Britt, probably best known as the DJ in the 1990s jazzy hip-hop band Digable Planets, although he has quite a bit under his own name (or aliases like Fhloston Paradigm) since 1998. He knows his way around beats, but I doubt he's ever worked with a drummer with Sorey's chops before. Loses a bit when the drummer checks out, but by they you're hooked. A-
Rossano Sportiello: That's It (2021, Arbors): Retro swing pianist from Italy, dozen-plus albums since 2003, many with Harry Allen, Scott Hamilton, or Nicki Parrott. This one is solo, mostly standards with a few originals in the mix. B+(**)
Strictly Missionary: Heisse Scheisse (2021, Astral Spirits): Brooklyn group, big names are Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax, voice, electronics, etc.), Wendy Eisenberg (guitar), and Kevin Murray (drums), plus electric bass and extra percussion. Hot indeed. B+(***) [bc]
Ohad Talmor Trio: Mise En Place (2020 , Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, based in New York, albums since 1999, worked often with Lee Konitz. Trio with Miles Okazaki (guitar) and Dan Weiss (drums). Smart, tricky postbop. B+(***)
Unscientific Italians: Play the Music of Bill Frisell Vol. 1 (2019 , Hora): Large (11 piece) Italian band led by pianist Alfonso Santimone, who arranged seven Frisell compositions for a band with four brass, four reeds, piano, bass, and drums. Without guitar, to my ears this doesn't sound anything like Frisell, but it's bright, energetic, amusing, and thought-provoking. A- [bc]
Butch Warren & Freddie Redd: Baltimore Jazz Loft (2013 , Bleebop): Bassist, played on A-list albums 1959-65 (Sonny Clark, Leapin' and Lopin'; Herbie Hancock, Takin' Off; Jackie McLean, Tippin' the Scales; Hank Mobley, No Room for Squares; Thelonious Monk, It's Monk's Time; Horace Parlan, Happy Frame of Mind), before he suffered a mental breakdown and quit. He did start playing a bit in his 70s, a "French Quartet" album in 2011, and finally this one with Redd on piano, Matt Wilson on drums, and Brad Linde on tenor sax, just before his death. B+(**) [bc]
Martin Wind Quartet: My Astorian Queen (2021, Laika): Austrian bassist, recorded this under Matt Baltisaris at Maggie's Farm, Pennsylvania,with Scott Robinson, Bill Mays, and Matt Wilson. B+(**) [cd]
The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars: A Gift to Pops (2021, Verve): No surprise this opens with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," but the unique voice took me aback, unquestionably Armstrong himself, plundered from a 1964 live shot. In the tribute that follows, Nicholas Payton (or is it Wynton Marsalis? or one of the not-yet-all-stars who staff this band?) offers a fair approximation of the trumpet, but no one dares the voice, and not for lack of vocals. I wish I had a track-by-track credits list, but only Common's rap on "Black and Blue" is certain. Ends with Armstrong's voice again, on "Philosophy of Life." He was a blessing, who changed the world, and people who don't know that need to listen up. Even if this tribute's a bit half-assed, it still brings me joy. A-
Neil Young/Crazy Horse: Barn (2021, Reprise): Another very solid album, mostly laid back, more comfortable in the country than in Nashville, but they can still bring some heat when they feel it's needed. A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings (1961 , Blue Note): Previously unreleased set from January 14, refuting the title of Solar's 2014 compilation Tokyo 1961: The Complete Concerts (which has sets from January 2 & 11). One of Blakey's greatest lineups -- Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt -- kicking off what was probably Blakey's greatest year (Roots & Herbs, The Freedom Rider, The Witch Doctor, Mosaic, Buhaina's Delight). So, by now familiar repertoire, but what you want from live: everything cranked up a notch. A- [sp]
Jeanne Lee: Conspiracy (1975 , Moved-by-Sound): Jazz singer, first recordings were backed by Ran Blake's solo piano and dubbed The Newest Sound Around (1962), and was also striking in Carla Bley's 1971 opera Escalator Over the Hill. Most of her recordings in the 1970s were in groups led by Gunter Hampel, who plays flute, piano, vibes, and clarinet here, along with other avant figures like Sam Rivers and Steve McCall. B+(*)
Bheki Mseleku: Beyond the Stars (2003 , Tapestry Works): Pianist from South Africa, self-taught, also played sax and guitar, moved to Botswana and then to London in late 1970s, half-dozen records 1991-2003, died at 53 in 2008. This is a solo piano set. B+(**)
New Life: Visions of the Third Eye (1979 , Early Future): Guitar-bass-drums trio: Brandon Ross, David Wertman, and Steve Reid, drummer listed first (and he's especially inventive). B+(***) [bc]
Bola Sete: Samba in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 1966-68 , Tompkins Square, 3CD): Brazilian guitarist Djalma de Andrade (1923-87), stage name means "Seven Ball" (a snooker reference), discography starts in 1957 but he began to pick up a US audience with 1962's Bossa Nova. Backed here with bass and drums, which help but are totally overshadowed by the guitar -- I doubt there's a single non-guitar solo here. Way too much to listen to at once, but pretty amazing when you do. A- [bc]
Ken Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra: Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote (1969 , Decca): Canadian trumpet player, better known as Kenny, moved to UK in 1952, and became a major artist for ECM, with a sideline of playing in many of Europe's top free jazz orchestras. Dankworth is a saxophonist, led a big band and smaller groups from the early 1950s. This was really his group, with the trumpet featured, but winds up being counted as Wheeler's debut album. B+(***) [yt]
Sho Madjozi: Limpopo Champions League (2018, Flourish and Multiply): South African rapper Maya Wegerif, main language Tsonga but she's been around, and you'll recognize some English. Terrific beats, very impressive album. A- [sp]
Grade (or other) changes:
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Angels Over Oakanda (2018-21 , Avantgroidd): Ace critic Greg Tate's jazz project, co-led by bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, 20 years and about that many records into their own long, strange trip. Conducted improv, starts evoking 1970s Miles, adds a bit of mythopoetic vocal chorus, then settles into seductive groove. [was: B+(***)] A- [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: