Monday, January 3, 2022

Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37032 [37011] rated (+21), 128 [126] unrated (+2).

Update (January 4): Thought this could use another edit pass. Mostly wanted to make plain the line in bold below.

I kept last week's Music Week open until Friday, December 31, so today's report covers a mere three days. The rated count for the two weeks combined is a prodigious 89 -- nothing to sniff at. However, I am surprised that two weeks at this stage in the year would result in only three A- new music releases (well, also three A- new releases of old music, all 1960s British jazz from last week. I've been doing some mop up: I've chopped an initial list of records that I hadn't heard from the upper ranks of Jazz Critics Poll in half (leaving 16 of the top 187 unheard, mostly items I looked for but haven't found complete copies of); I've also knocked off a few of the higher-rated previously-unheards from my EOY aggregate (I've heard the top 91, balking at Deafheaven, Every Time I Die, Gojira, and Mastodon -- they smell of metal); I checked out a bunch of EPs from Dan Weiss's list (on Facebook, but it usually takes me more than EP-length to get into something); I also checked out a couple late adds to Phil Overeem's latest list. Some good stuff there, but the only new record that really stood out for me was one I hadn't heard of until I spotted it on Dave Everall's PJPRP top-ten. I've added a few PJPRP lists to my EOY aggregate, limiting myself to names I recognize for some reason.

The EOY Aggregate has been pretty stable this year, with: Little Simz, Floating Points, Olivia Rodrigo, Tyler the Creator, Dry Cleaning, Japanese Breakfast, Billie Eilish, Low, Turnstile, Arlo Parks, Lucy Dacus, Jazmine Sullivan, Weather Station, Mdou Moctar, Adele, Sons of Kemet, Wolf Alice, Lil Nas X, Nick Cave, Snail Mail (down to 20). (Well, at the top: over the course, Low, Sons of Kemet, and Nick Cave have settled down while Tyler, Billie Eilish, Jazmine Sullivan, and Adele have risen. The top jazz record is James Brandon Lewis at 22: at least that's the one that gives you a barometer of the jazz bias in my lists (he does have a few crossover votes, more than usual, but he's still very strongly identified as jazz; on the other hand, Floating Points and Sons of Kemet are about equally likely to show up on jazz and non-jazz lists). I'm not done fiddling with the EOY Aggregate, but I suspect I've already learned most of what I will.

The Old Music Aggregate has been taken over by jazz reissues, with this year's John Coltrane opening up a 2-to-1 margin over Hasaan Ibn Ali's Lost Atlantic Album. Structurally, there is little chance of anything else happening, although the effect seems greater this year, probably because I haven't been looking for reissue/compilation/archival lists. I've also moved a couple of newly-recorded various artists records into new releases (Sacred Soul of North Carolina, Kimbrough -- the former would actually be leading the Old Music list, which wouldn't be right).

Various other things I was tempted to write about but don't have in me at the moment:

  • One nice thing about the Jazz Critics Poll was that I got a small surge of new followers, edging just over 500. Also a lot of thanks for my "hard work." Didn't seem all that hard, but did turn out to be a lot of work.

  • I should note that I've gone back and replayed a few records lately, ones others like a lot and I liked enough to wonder if I should have given them more of a chance. I've raised the grades of a couple earlier this year (Dry Cleaning was one), but Little Simz, Mach-Hommy, and Maria Grand (and probably others I've already forgotten) didn't budge last week.

  • I got a question about RSS feeds. I have one, but don't know how well it works, mostly because I've never seen a RSS reader that does what I expect it to do. I was able to set up Thunderbird to read my feed (also the one for Robert Christgau).

  • I've seen a lot of folk complain about the movie Don't Look Up, and most of them are wildly off base. Still, the worst is the Wikipedia line: "The comet is an allegory for climate change and the film is a satire of government and media indifference to the climate crisis." The comet is a real thing, very unlikely, but one did hit Earth 65 million years ago, which did cause most species at the time to die, so it's something people have thought about, and crunched some numbers on, and the science and math are very clear. Climate change is different in lots of significant details: it moves slower and less dramatically, but it's locked in as a certainty; economic interests promoting it are more mundane, yet are harder to imagine changing; technical solutions are far more complex and probably harder (not that deflecting a comet is as easy as they'd have you think). But I doubt the point here is the crisis: it's the corrupt politics that fucks everything up. Back in 1979 there was a movie called Meteor with the same set up, but one big difference: even in the peak of the Cold War it was conceivable that the US and USSR could team up against a common threat, because both had a fundamental commitment to reason and to humanity. Nothing like that is possible in the world of Don't Look Up, so we're doomed. One thing the comet does, that climate change couldn't, is make that doom explicit and dramatic. If nothing else, that ending disabuses us of the tendency to think that all adversity can be overcome by willing it differently.

    For another take, see Nathan J. Robinson: Critics of Don't Look Up Are Missing the Entire Point.

  • I've been sitting on an article by Michael Hiltzik, Farewell to 2021, the stupidest year in American history. Needless to say he's wrong a lot, and not just old canards like "Britain in 1938 under Neville Chamberlain." The year before Roosevelt became president in 1933 was monumentally stupid, as were all the preludes to era-defining political changes: to Lincoln in 1861, to Jefferson in 1801, even to Reagan in 1981. (As Jimmy Carter's Fed pick wrecked the economy to slay inflation and the labor movement, while launching ill-fated conflicts with Afghanistan and Iran, Carter was such a wet rag that he made Reagan -- a Dickensian villain if ever there was one -- look like a glimmer of hope.) And how can any observer really have already forgetten Trump's last year? If 2021 seems stupid beyond that league, it's only because the media are stuck propagating Trumpist-Republican lies and bullshit. The plain and simple truth is that a lot of very positive things have happened since Joe Biden became president, and we do ourselves a grave disservice when we gloss over that. Sure, it could be better. And sure, the residual stupid, including some that has penetrated the DNA of various Democrats, is cause for concern. But 2021 would have been incomparably stupider had Trump and his fascist putschists clung onto the presidency.

  • I have a couple questions to answer. One is tricky because it starts from a major misperception from which it draws an even worse conclusion. Kind of like the Hiltik article.

I woke up today in more pain than in weeks or months, and struggled all through this. I'm spent (but, with only a bit less pain, bounced back to edit this, mosty because I felt the need to add the bold line). Sorry I don't have more good new music to share, but perhaps there's something you missed here and/or here. Lots of good new music in 2021. Despite the last week or two, I'm sure we haven't run out.

New records reviewed this week:

Charlie Ballantine: Reflections/Introspection: The Music of Thelonious Monk (2021, Green Mind): Guitarist, several albums including a collection of Bob Dylan songs, does Monk tunes here, half trio with Jesse Whitman and Chris Parker, half quartet with Amanda Gardner on sax and Cassius M. Goens III taking over on drums. I prefer the latter, especially the lovely "Ask Me Now." B+(***)

Bitchin Bajas: Switched on Ra (2021, Drag City): Side project by Cave keyboardist Cooper Crain, with close to one album per year since 2010. Eight Sun Ra tunes, played on synths with Dan Quinlivan, Rob Frye, and (sometimes) Jayve Montgomery joining in. B+(***)

Lindsey Buckingham: Lindsey Buckingham (2021, Buckingham): American singer-songwriter, erratic solo career (mostly since 2006), but formed a duo with Stevie Nicks in 1973, and together they merged with (took over?) British blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac, leading to some of the best-selling albums of the late 1970s. So, strikes me he's a little old (71) to be introducing himself with an eponymous album. Still has some songwriting and arranging skills. Still not much of a singer. B+(*) [sp]

Eris Drew: Quivering in Time (2021, T4T LUV NRG): Chicago house DJ/producer, second album. Fun beats, not much more. B+(**)

Ducks Ltd.: Modern Fiction (2021, Carpark, EP): Jangle pop duo from Toronto, with some sort of connection to Australia. First album, short (7 songs, 21:48), following an EP as Ducks Unlimited. B+(**)

Kurt Elling: Superblue (2021, Edition): Jazz singer, from Chicago, has dominated the category since joining Blue Note in 1995. I've never liked his hip swagger and undeniable chops, and see no reason to start now -- other than that Charlie Hunter's grooves are sinuous indeed, and Elling's one of the few who can follow them. B

Ezra Furman: Sex Education: Songs From Season 3 (2021, Bella Union, EP): American singer-songwriter, has some good albums, got tapped for this British comedy-drama series streaming on Netflix. Five songs, 16:12, "Don't Turn Your Back on Love" the best. B+(**)

Ezra Furman: Sex Education Original Soundtrack (2020, Bella Union): Nineteen songs, no soundtrack dross. Seems odd to pick a quintessentially American rocker for a tie in to a British TV series -- one I haven't seen, so I have no idea how or whether these songs fit. B+(**)

Slava Ganelin/Alexey Kruglov/Oleg Yudanov: Access Point (2017 [2021], Losen): Avant trio -- piano, alto/soprano sax, drums -- recorded live in Moscow. B+(***)

John Glacier: Shiloh: Lost for Words (2021, PLZ Make It Ruins): British hip-hop, or glitch hop, the beat broken and scattered but still more of a focus than the words. Short: 12 songs, 25:16. B+(**)

Charlotte Greve: Sediments We Move (2021, New Amsterdam): German-born, Brooklyn-based composer, singer, and saxophonist. Credit muddled here, as one interpretation is that she is the composer, but the performers are Wood River (a quartet she leads, with guitar, bass, and drums) and Cantus Domus (a Berlin choir conducted by Ralf Sochaczewsky). Way more vocals than I can usually handle, but not so bad here. B+(**)

Kaytranada: Intimidated (2021, RCA, EP): Electronica producer Louis Celestin, born in Haiti, grew up in Montreal, acclaimed debut album in 2016. Three tracks, 9:13. B+(*) [sp]

Lily Konigsberg: Lily We Need to Talk Now (2021, Wharf Cat): New York "polymath," has a couple EPs, some side projects (e.g., Palberta), a compilation Best Of, and has been sneaking up on an album. Not sure whether this one counts (11 tracks, 23:52). But it does earn her self-assurance: "you've got a lot of fucking things to be proud of." B+(**)

Kate McGarry + Keith Ganz Ensemble: What to Wear in the Dark (2021, Resilience): Jazz singer, 8th album since 2003, Ganz plays guitar and is her husband, band includes Ron Miles (cornet), Gary Versace (piano), bass, and drums. Standards, but she prefers late 1960s/early 1970s soft rock (Beatles, Eagles, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon). B+(**)

Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Étoile De Dakar: Mbalax (2021, Universal Music Africa): Very little information on this, but he's brought back his original band name, and styled a tribute to the style they made famous. Sounds very much of a piece with what he's been doing forty years now. A- [sp]

Helado Negro: Far In (2021, 4AD): Roberto Carlos Lange, born in Florida, parents from Ecuador, based in New York, eighth album since 2009. Has a soft lilt appeal. B+(*)

Orquestra Afro-Brasileira: 80 Anos (2021, Day Dreamer): Brazilian group founded 1942 by Abigail Moura, continued until 1970, although recordings are scarce. Revived here under the direction of Caio Cesar Sitorio. Not sure who the singer is. B+(***) [sp]

Rainbow Girls: Rolling Dumpster Fire (2021, self-released, EP): Folkie group, female harmonies remind me of the Shams, enough to get me wondering whether there's a genius therein. Seven cuts, two of them mere fragments, so total 16:30. B+(*)

Isaiah Rashad: The House Is Burning (2021, Top Dawg Entertainment/Warner): Rapper, last name McClain, from Tennessee, has a easy delivery. B+(*)

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine: A Beginner's Mind (2021, Asthmatic Kitty): Singer-songwriter from Detroit, prolific since 2000, recorded this collaboration locked down in a cabin in upstate New York. Fourteen songs, each inspired by a film they watched. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Black Unity Trio: Al-Fatihah (1968 [2021], Salaam/Gotta Groove): One-shot avant-garde trio, credits: Joseph Phillips (Yusuf Mumin): alto sax; Ron DeVaughn (Abdul Wadud): cello and bass; Hasan Abdur Shahid (Hassan-Al-Hut, AKA Hasan Al-Hut): percussion -- the latter was originally Amos Franklin Gordon Jr. By far the best known is Wadud, for his work with Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, and others. B+(**) [bc]

Lily Konigsberg: The Best of Lily Konigsberg Right Now (2017-21 [2021], Wharf Cat): Seventeen DIY cuts posted on the sly while working on her main band, Palberta, released before her short 2021 album. Small songs, neatly done. B+(*) [bc]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Andrew Cyrille/William Parker/Enrico Rava: 2 Blues for Cecil (TUM) [01-22]
  • The OGJB Quartet: Ode to O (TUM) [01-22]

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