Monday, December 20, 2021

Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36943 [36898] rated (+45), 125 [123] unrated (+2).

I should wrap this up as quickly as possible, as I have a lot more work to get into. In particular, I need to write an essay introducing the 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, results of which will be published by Arts Fuse the week of December 27. All the ballots have been counted. Francis Davis and I know the winners (and losers), and are each supposed to write a little something on that. I'm pretty lost at the moment, but for me the key thing isn't critical consensus but the wide spread of data. We have a record 156 voters this year. They voted for 510 releases of new music, and 96 reissues/archival. I've been drawing inspiration from scattered ballots for a couple of weeks now: this week that includes Bugpowder, Kimbrough, and Sing a Song of Bird (this week's other jazz pick, Henry Threadgill's Poof, was one I was always going to listen to as soon as I got the chance).

I've also been spending time monitoring other EOY lists, compiling my EOY aggregate list (and its poorer reissues/comps sibling). It's not as deep as in past years, but currently sources 147 lists, totalling 2826 new music albums and 254 old. For comparison, that's down from 5557 new music albums in the 2020 EOY Aggregate, with the leader dropping from 814 points (Fiona Apple) to 154 (Little Simz). I suspect that the leader drop isn't just due to fewer list inputs. There's just less consensus this year.

This list-scrounging has helped me flesh out my Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists. The Jazz A-list is up to 67 (still down a bit from recent years, but the 26 old music is off the charts). Non-Jazz is up to 57 new, plus a measly 6 old music. I've played about twice as much jazz as non-jazz this year, but the top numbers were close to even when I first compiled this list. Jazz has pulled ahead mostly because I've been getting better intelligence via JCP. Most years the lists even out in January, after I see more trustworthy non-jazz lists.

I've been monitoring, but haven't actually contributed anything to Glen Boothe's Pazz + Jop Rip-Off Poll in recent years. (I wasn't invited to Uproxx's post-P&J Critics Poll, so didn't have to formulate a list earlier.) If I get to it, this is what I'll likely post:

  1. East Axis: Cool With That (ESP-Disk) 14
  2. Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (Heavenly Sweetness) 13
  3. Gift of Gab: Finding Inspiration Somehow (Nature Sounds) 12
  4. Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (Impulse!) 11
  5. James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms) 10
  6. Nathan Bell: Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn't Happen Here) (Need to Know) 10
  7. Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (Luminelle) 9
  8. Maria Muldaur With Tuba Skinny: Let's Get Happy Together (Stony Plain) 7
  9. No-No Boy: 1975 (Smithsonian Folkways) 7
  10. Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (Aimless) 7

I was feeling pretty glum a month ago, when I decided to go ahead and compile the EOY Aggregates. I've been frustrated by lack of progress on both writing and technical projects, so figured I might as well submerge myself into something rote-mechanical, at least for the duration. When JCP came around, I was already in that mode, so the processing work came easy. (After all, I have a system: a set of programs that convert raw data into a website.) Still, at this point I'm feeling exhausted.

What I'd normally have to look forward to this week is cooking up a Christmas Eve dinner. Last year, I cooked more than usual, but since we couldn't have guests, I bought a lot of containers and packed up dinners-to-go for a dozen friends, who either came by and picked them up, or arranged for delivery. I spent a lot of time last year planning how to do that. (Details should be in last year's notebook. Not on the list, but I think I also made eggplant parmesan.) Probably too late to do anything like that this year. It's looking like the emptiest holiday ever.

New records reviewed this week:

Teno Afrika: Amapiano Selections (2019-20 [2021], Awesome Tapes From Africa): South African DJ/producer, his work included in Amapiano Now (below), co-credited on 6 (of 8) tracks here, suggesting to me that these "selections" were picked up from scattered singles. Steady on the beats. B+(***)

Damon Albarn: The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows (2021, Transgressive): Major British music figure since the 1990s, when he led the Britpop band Blur. In recent years he's mostly toiled as the main singer-songwriter in Gorillaz, while doing various side projects, mostly with African musicians (e.g., Mali Music in 2002, and three records with Tony Allen). He also has four soundtracks, and this is his second solo album. The album was originally planned as "an orchestral piece inspired by the landscapes of Iceland," taking its title from a poem by John Clare, but with nothing better to do during the Covid lockdown metamorphosed into a full album. Still sounds scattered to me. B+(*)

Ben Allison: Moments Inside (2021, Sonic Camera): Bassist, co-founder in New York of Jazz Composers Collective, has impressed me so much as a composer that I've voted for him in DownBeat's Critics Poll, albums since 1996. Quartet with two guitarists (Chico Pinheiro and Steve Cardenas) and drums. B+(*) [sp]

Pedro Melo Alves' Omniae Large Ensemble: Lumina (2020 [2021], Clean Feed): Portuguese drummer, group name comes from his debut Omniae Ensemble in 2017. Large (23 person) ensemble, light on brass but adds bassoon, tuba, strings, voices, and electronics. Three pieces, total 74:56. B+(*) [sp]

Roxana Amed: Ontology (2021, Sony Music Latin): Singer-songwriter from Argentina, sixth album, got JCP votes in Vocal and Latin, but sails over my head. Maybe wafts is the more apt verb? B [sp]

Patricia Barber: Clique! (2021, Impex): Jazz singer, 16 albums since 1989, writes some (one song here) but mostly does standards, also plays piano, backed by guitar-bass-drums, with saxophonist Jim Gailloreto. Every time I play this, I tune in on "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "The In Crowd," but nothing else quite hits that spot -- least of all the Brazilian option, "One Note Samba." B+(***)

Bugpowder: Cage Tennis (2020 [2021], Trytone): Amsterdam-based quartet -- Tobias Klein (alto sax/bass clarinet), Jeroen Kimman (electric/bass guitar), Jasper Stadhouders (bass/acoustic guitar), Tristan Renfrow (drums) -- plays Ornette Coleman compositions, preferring the harmolodic '70s over the now-classic '50s. Repertory from another dimension of funk. A-

Chick Corea Akoustik Band: Live (2018 [2021], Stretch, 2CD): Piano-bass-drums trio, with John Pattitucci and Dave Weckl, a lineup that dates back to their eponymous debut in 1989. I've had a lot of trouble with Corea's fusion bands over the years, but lately his trios have been very respectable. B+(**)

Joy Crookes: Skin (2021, Insanity): Singer-songwriter from London, mother from Dhaka, father from Dublin, first album after three EPs. Unusual voice reminds me of Phoebe Snow, although Crookes is framed more as a pop singer. B+(**)

Erika De Casier: Sensational (2021, 4AD): Pop singer-songwriter, both in Portugal, mother Belgian, father Cape Verdean, moved as a child to Denmark, second album. Light touch, almost raps. B+(**)

Joey DeFrancesco: More Music (2021, Mack Avenue): Organ player, so was his father Papa John DeFrancesco, lots of album since 1989, also plays keyboard, piano, trumpet, and tenor sax, this one with Lucas Brown (guitar) and Michael Ode (drums), as full of swing as ever. B+(***)

Hamid Drake/Elaine Mitchener/William Parker/Orphy Robinson/Pat Thomas: Black Top Presents: Some Good News (2019 [2021], Otoroku, 2CD): Some convoluted parsing here: Black Top is a duo of Robinson (marimba) and Thomas (piano), both also electronics, but since they're listed separately on the credit line, their place here seemed to be in the title. (They have two previous albums, each with a special guest.) Drake and Parker you know. Mitchener is a vocalist. How you react to her chatterbox scat will make or break the album. Everyone else is predictably brilliant, and when she finds a groove, she's pretty delightful too. B+(**)

John Ellis/Adam Levy/Glenn Patscha: Say It Quiet (2021, Sunnyside): Reeds (mostly tenor sax), guitars, keyboards for the headliners, also bass, drums, and vibes on 4 cuts. B+(**) [sp]

Joe Farnsworth: City of Sounds (2021, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream drummer, lots of side credits, only a handful since 2003 with his name up front. This is a piano-bass-drums trio with Kenny Barron and Peter Washington. He wrote 3 songs, Barron 2, and they do 3 standards. B+(*)

Fred Frith/Ikue Mori: A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall (2015 [2021], Intakt): Guitarist, also credited with various toys and other objects, duo with laptop electronics. B+(**) [sp]

Goat Girl: On All Fours (2021, Rough Trade): English band, Wikipedia says "post-punk" and another source I jotted down has them as "neo-psychedelia," but they sound to me like a fairly generic alt/indie g-g-b-d band, with appeal from lead singer/guitarist Lottie Pendlebury, calling herself Clottie Cream. Second album. aB+(**)

Cameron Graves: Seven (2021, Mack Avenue): Pianist, composer, founding member of West Coast Get Down Collective, plays with Kamasi Washington (who appears on two songs here), second album, sort of '70s fusion with a side of metal. B-

Grouper: Shade (2021, Kranky): Liz Harris solo project, albums since 2005, plays slow, ethereal electronic music, barely there, but appealing as far as it goes. B+(*)

Alexander Hawkins: Togetherness Music: For Sixteen Musicians (2020 [2021], Intakt): English pianist, debut 2008, picked up momentum around 2016. Cover continues "Feat. Evan Parker + Riot Ensemble." Latter group has a couple albums, personnel seems to be fluid, but they're large enough to fill out the roster. Horns a plus, strings less so. B+(***) [sp]

Jazzmeia Horn and Her Noble Force: Dear Love (2021, Empress Legacy): Jazz singer from Dallas, backed by a 15-piece big band. The more conventional swing standards seem to work best, or when she has something political to say. B+(*) [sp]

Michael Hurley: Time of the Foxgloves (2021, No Quartet): Folksinger, just turned 80, best remembered as the lead credit on 1976's Have Moicy!, where he provided the steady good humor while Peter Stampfel added manic excitement. On his own, he's always been steady, and that's rarely been quite enough. B+(**)

Boldy James & the Alchemist: Bo Jackson (2021, ALC): Detroit rapper James Clay Jones III, working again with L.A. producer Alan Mamam (ex-Cypress Hill). B+(*)

Kimbrough (2021, Newvelle): Quite a tribute to the late pianist Frank Kimbrough, 61 songs he wrote played by 67 musicians who had some direct relation, some famous, many not, recorded over four days, perhaps the most productive wake ever. It's a lot to take in. Seems likely I long underrated him (although I totally enjoyed his Monk's Dreams). A-

Martin Küchen & Michaela Antalová: Thunder Before Lightning (2019 [2021], Clean Feed): Swedish saxophonist, main group Angles but has a lot of projects, duo with Czech drummer. Neither is clear in some kind of industrial drone. B- [sp]

Mike LeDonne's Groover Quartet + Big Band: It's All Your Fault (2020 [2021], Savant): Organ player, respected pianist elsewhere but "Groover" spells organ, Quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). They play throughout, with 4 (of 8) tracks expanded to big band swagger, mostly names you'll recognize (e.g., the sax section picks up Scott Robinson, Jim Snidero, Steve Wilson, and Jason Marshall). Overkill a bit, but must have been fun. B+(*)

Dave Liebman Expansions: Selflessness: The Music of John Coltrane (2021, Dot Time): Saxophonist, huge discography since 1973, including a number of Coltrane tributes. Plays soprano sax and wood flute here, backed by keyboards (Bobby Avey), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Miko Marks & the Resurrectors: Our Country (2021, Redtone): Singer (songwriter I assume, but credits are scarce, and I recognize some covers) from Flint, Michigan; won a "best new country artist" award in 2006, back with her first album since 2007. Sounds like Bonnie Bramlett at first, then morphs into Mavis Staples. One for this year's political mixtape: "Goodnight America." A-

Miko Marks & the Resurrectors: Race Records (2021, Redtone, EP): Six songs, 22:49, countrified blues and soul-tinged country standards, reminding us that race is only in the mind of the beholder, like a fever or a fit of epilepsy. B+(**)

Terrace Martin: Drones (2021, BMG): From Los Angeles, best known as a hip-hop producer, but plays alto sax (also keyboards, drums, guitar) and sings/raps, his own albums often jazz-oriented, this one less so -- probably because most cuts have featured guests. Choice cut: "Sick of Sayin'" (thanks for the saxophone). B+(**)

Lori McKenna: Christmas Is Right Here (2021, CN, EP): Folksinger-songwriter from Massachusetts, doesn't have that country drawl but writes with detail and eloquence that puts her Nashville competitors to shame. Last thing we need from her is a Christmas album. To her credit, these six songs (19:53) don't sound like Christmas music at all, but they're not quite an album either. B+(***)

Mustafa: When Smoke Rises (2021, Regent Park Songs, EP): Canadian soul singer, parents from Sudan, last name Ahmed, first album, short (8 songs, 23:42). B+(*)

Grethen Parlato: Flor (2021, Edition): Jazz singer from Los Angeles, father was a bassist for Frank Zappa, moved to New York in 2003, sixth album since 2005. She wrote 2 songs, added some vocals. Music as a light Brazilian vibe. B+(**)

Greentea Peng: Man Made (2021, AMF): British neo-soul singer Aria Wells, Arab father, African mother, first album after two EPs and three years of singles. Soft beats, loopy, but no sooner than I wrote that down she mixed it up. B+(***)

Mariá Portugal: Erosão (2021, Fun in the Church): Brazilian drummer, from São Paulo, builds these pieces up from "song material, acoustic improvisation and electronic manipulation." The sort of disjointed experimental funk that shows up on the fringes of Brazilian music, and sometimes proves catchy. B+(**)

Jordan Rakei: What We Call Life (2021, Ninja Tune): Born in New Zealand, father Maori, grew up in Australia, wound up in London. Fourth album. Plays piano/keyboards, programs drums, voice glides toward falsetto. B+(*)

Phil Ranelin: Ininite Expressions (2020 [2021], ORG Music): Trombonist, moved to Detroit in the 1960s and co-founded the Tribe, one of the few key regional groups that kept going during the lean days of the avant-garde. Still working past his 80th, he decided to record a solo album during the lockdown, but wound up here with a little help -- especially Andre Beasley on drums. B+(**)

Porter Robinson: Nurture (2021, Mom + Pop): DJ, electronica producer from Chapel Hill, NC, second album. Synth swells and lots of vocals. I feel like he's trying to cheer me up, but it isn't working. B

Sten Sandell/Lisa Ullén: Double Music (2021, Clean Feed): Piano duo, two Swedes, Ullén established since 2009, Sandell since the late 1980s. Billed for "piano lovers," but not so delicate. B+(**) [bc]

Nitin Sawhney: Immigrants (2021, Sony Masterworks): Born in London, parents from India, albums from 1993, produces electronica, draws on Indian classical music and various other sources. Nominally a sequel to his 1999 album Beyond Skin. Interludes with topical texts, songs built from strings and beats, a little rap, a lot to say. A-

Henry Threadgill Zooid: Poof (2019 [2021], Pi): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute (more than I'd like), founded the group Air in the late 1970s, has produced a steady stream of albums since, including some of the best of the last decade. Group is an exquisitely balanced quintet, with Jose Davila (tuba/trombone), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Christopher Hoffman (cello), and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums). I sampled a cut of two when this came out, and wasn't blown away, but it all seems to work out in the end. A- [cd]

Roseanna Vitro: Sing a Song of Bird (2017-21 [2021], Skyline): Jazz singer, from Arkansas, moved to New York in 1978, 15 albums, the best are tributes but this is unique. She only sings on 6 (of 12) songs, but is key to the networking that makes the record work. Three more singers share cover credit: Bob Dorough, Sheila Jordan, and Marion Cowings. Dorough's songs were recorded in 2017, shortly before his death (at 94). Not clear when Jordan's 4 songs were done, but she's in a band picture with Dorough. The cover also credits Special Guests Gary Bartz and Mark Gross, alto saxophonists who cut their teeth learning Bird licks. Aside from "These Foolish Things" at the end, all of the tunes are from Parker, with various lyrics. I'm not a huge fan of Parker or vocalese, but the whole album is done with such good cheer I can't help but smile (or laugh). A- [sp]

Anna Webber: Idiom (2019 [2021], Pi, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, also plays flute. First disc is her Simple Trio, with piano (Matt Mitchell) and drums (John Hollenbeck). Second is Large Ensemble, a group of 13 (including conductor Eric Wubbels). Both sides start out basic then build and build, the large ensemble more impressively, no surprise given the wealth of options. B+(***)

Michael Wollny/Emile Parisien/Tim Lefebvre/Christian Lillinger: XXXX (2019 [2021], ACT Music): German pianist, mostly plays electronic keyboards here, with soprano sax, more electronics, and drums. Basically, Weather Report instrumentation, but finds much more interesting shapes and crevices. B+(***)

Yola: Stand for Myself (2021, Easy Eye Sound): Yolanda Quartey, from Bristol, UK, black, 38, improbable for an Americana icon, but she's recorded her two albums in Nashville, and that's how the marketing folk frame her. I don't really buy it, but don't have any other ideas. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Amapiano Now ([2021], NTS): South African dance music du jour, "the fledgling post-kwaito genre is the sound of joy in the midst of struggle . . . sweeping the globe." Sixteen tracks selected by Shannen SP and Joe Cotch. This didn't grabe me as fast as Earthworks' kwaito comp (way back in 2000), or recent South African albums by DJ Black Low or Sho Madjozi or Malcolm Jiyane, probably because it's less remarkably close to globalized electronica than township jive, but it keeps coming. B+(***)

Bob Marley & the Wailers: The Capitol Session '73 (1973 [2021], Mercury/Tuff Gong): Stranded in California after being dropped from a tour opening for Sly & the Family Stone, the Wailers headed to Hollywood to tape a live-in-studio set, only now released on DVD. I haven't seen, and probably wouldn't bother watching, the video, but here's the audio. The set's a bit pat, but half the songs I know well from their first two American albums -- Catch a Fire and Burnin', both masterpieces -- and the others fit in nicely. Ends with a rousing "Get Up, Stand Up." A-

Archie Shepp: Live in Paris (1974) (1974 [2021], Transversales Disques): Tenor saxophonist, major avant-garde figure following Ayler and Coltrane, had to scramble in the 1970s, which took him frequently to Europe. Backed by piano trio plus percussion here, no one I recognize. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

A Soldier's Sad Story: Vietnam Through the Eyes of Black America 1966-1973 [1966-73 [2003], Kent): The first of three volumes in this series, although the third didn't appear until 2021, 16 years after the second. The latter is probably why Christgau unearthed this after 20 years, but it's legacy worth recovering. In the late 1960s I reevaluated everything I believed through the prism of how much I hated the American War in Vietnam. Not that I remember, or even ever heard, much here, but the care and resilience was notable then, invaluable still. A-

Grade (or other) changes:

James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): Sitting on top of my A- list for most of the year, all this needed was another play to nudge it over the top. [was: A-] A [cd]

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. Turned out even better. [was: A-] A [cd]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fred Hersch: Breath by Breath (Palmetto) [01-07]
  • Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (Luminelle)
  • Roberto Magris: Match Point (JMood)
  • Tony Malaby: The Cave of Winds (Pyroclastic) [01-07]
  • Emile Parisien: Louise (ACT) [01-28]
  • The Smudges: Song and Call (Cryptogramophone) [02-18]

Ask a question, or send a comment.