Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 55 albums, 5 A-list,

Music: Current count 37256 [37201] rated (+55), 142 [132] unrated (+10).

I wrote a little over 6,000 words last week for a Speaking of Which post. Several motivations behind it, other than the obvious political points (most of which should be obvious to you all, but often aren't). These pieces provide a catalog of links I might want to go back to. They provide markers in time for when events took place. And they're sort of a laboratory for breeding bits of prose for future use. Note that in terms of the later, I've never felt proprietary about my language. If you see something you wish to repeat, or feel you can improve on, by all means go ahead and do so.

Ran a day late posting this, mostly because I got distracted with the idea that I might make one last pass on the EOY Aggregate: I was about half through my straggler pass of Metacritic's Top Ten Lists, and I did manage to get to the bottom of it, as well as Acclaimed Music Forums: EOY 2021 (at least through Feb. 1), but I didn't get through my last bit of due diligence: a Google search for "best|favorite albums of 2021." (I'm down to page 8. In past years I usually go 20-30 deep before giving up.) I haven't been taking notes beyond my list index, but I can reconstruct a couple based on still-open tabs:

  • The Best Music of 2021: NPR Staff Picks: I rarely do this, but wound up counting every ballot here. Among the larger samples, I counted about 80% of the Jazz Critics Poll ballots, maybe a bit more from Jazz Times' much smaller sample, but certainly less than 20% from Pazz & Jop Ripoff Poll (my rule there was to only count ballots by people I've counted before).
  • I never could find the individual ballots for The 2021 Uproxx Music Critics Poll, which I have selectively counted in past year. I counted the poll itself down to 150, although the link goes all the way to the bottom (710).
  • I have a still open tab for Beehype, a "best music from around the world" site which organizes its long list by country. I may or may not add it, but it's certainly of interest to world music afficionados.
  • The short world music list that had the biggest impact on me this week was from NCPR's Beat Authority: led me to Fimber Bravo, Femi/Made Kuti, Ifé, and Okuté, and got me to reexamine Silk Sonic. Other A- records on the list: Arlo Parks, Mon Laferte, Mdou Moctar, and Sa-Roc.

Aside from a bit of new jazz, this week's records fell out of various EOY lists, although they started to dry up toward the weekend. Most of this week's A-list are revisits. All three are records I gave B+(***) to first time around. A couple records that started lower got a boost, but not to A-. Several more (not noted) stuck where they were.

One of the new records I belatedly got around to was by Caetano Veloso, a Brazilian star I've long admired but rarely understood. My sampling so far has been light, so I'm especially delighted to see this new consumer guide to Veloso by ace Brazil Beat critic Rod Taylor. [PS: New Yorker also has a long piece on Veloso: Jonathan Blitzer: How Caetano Veloso Revolutionized Brazil's Sound and Spirit.]

Still too early to summarize the EOY lists, but I can note: The 2021 music tracking file currently shows 1317 rated albums, combining 2021 releases with a few earlier ones from December 2020 (or earlier for records that missed the 2020 music tracking file). That seems like a lot, but is down from my 2020 count of 1627. I entered 2021 thinking I was bound to slow down, so I'm only surprised that the 2021 count isn't lower. Next year's will surely be less.

The EOY A-lists are currently at 74 for jazz and 68 for non-jazz (that adds up to 138, as 4 records are counted in both splits. I'd normally freeze the latter file by now, and call 2021 done, but haven't brought myself to do it. Only 10 (19% of 52) new records this week are 2021 releases. I will do the freeze by the end of February, but I'm not feeling any urgency to get into 2022. As the rated totals show, I'm in no danger of running up my 2021 stats.

New records reviewed this week:

Arca: Kick II (2021, XL): Alejandra Ghersi, born in Venezuela, studied in NYU, based in Barcelona, albums since 2013, Kick I appeared in 2020, this is the first of four additional volumes that appeared in late 2021. Has a flair for the dramatic. B+(*)

AZ: Doe or Die II (2021, Quiet Money): Rapper Anthony Cruz, from New York, at 50 returns with a sequel to his 1995 debut, his first album since 2009. B+(**)

Baby Keem: The Melodic Blue (2021, PgLang/Columbia): California rapper Hykeem Carter, first album after a couple mixtapes and EPs (mostly under his given name). B+(*) [sp]

James Blake: Friends That Break Your Heart (2021, Republic): British singer-songwriter, seemed like electronica when he broke in in 2010, fifth album plus a bunch of EPs. I've never quite felt the appeal. B

Nathan Borton: Each Step (2021 [2022], OA2): Guitarist, originally from Wichita, based in Michigan, studied under Randy Napoleon and Rodney Whitaker, who plays here, along with Xavier Davis (piano), and Keith Hall (drums). Four Borton originals, the last called "Grant's Groove," following Grant Green's "Grantstand." B+(**) [cd]

Fimber Bravo: Lunar Tredd (2021, Moshi Moshi): From Trinidad, based in London, plays steel pan, released a soca album back in 1990, most recent album Con-Fusion in 2013. Opens with "Can't Control We," placing steel pan in a tradition of defiance rooted in Africa and stoked by slavery and repression. But the steel pans don't star here: they're embedded in the very fabric of life. A-

Burial: Antidawn EP (2022, Hyperdub): William Bevan, British ambient producer since 2005, mostly produces EPs but with five songs stretched out to 43:27 this is EP in title only. Always the risk with ambient, but this one seems deliberate: "Antidawn reduces Burial's music to just the vapours." Maybe, but they don't waft away quickly enough. B-

Burial + Blackdown: Shock Power of Love EP (2021, Keysound, EP): William Bevan and Martin Clark, two pieces each, one a Blackdown remix of a Joseph Whittle (Heatmap) piece), total 27:33. Why am I not surprised that the Blackdown pieces have a lot more energy? Still, the Burial's closer has a bit of the old magic. B+(**)

Tré Burt: You, Yeah, You (2021, Oh Boy): Folkie singer-songwriter from Sacramento, second album, on John Prine's label, but his voice reminds me more of Dylan. B+(**)

Combo Lulo: Neotropic Dream (2021, Names You Can Trust): Brooklyn group, thirteen musicians plus singers on three tracks, play "Caribbean music," mixing cumbia instrumentals with dancehall reggae, or maybe they're just fucking with you. B+(***)

Common: A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2 (2021, Loma Vista): Rapper Lonnie Rashied Lynn, 14th album since 1992, relegates his 2020 album to Pt. 1, although both are short enough (34:18 + 38:23) they've already been reissued together. B+(**)

Ifé: 0000+0000 (2021, Discos Ifá): Yoruba priest Otura Mun (originally Mark Alan Underwood, from Indiana), based in Puerto Rico (after moving there from Texas). B+(**)

Femi Kuti & Made Kuti: Legacy + (2021, Partisan, 2CD): Fela Kuti's Afrobeat lives on, with son Femi and grandson Made each leading a disc's worth of songs. Femi's songs are as political as ever: not just "Stop the Hate" and "Privatisation" but "Na Bigmanism Spoil Government" and "You Can't Fight Corruption With Corruption." Made is more into "Free Your Mind" and "We Are Strong," and takes the music in that direction. B+(***) [sp]

SG Lewis: Times (2021, PMR): British singer-songwriter, electropop producer, initials for Samuel George, singles/EPs since 2015, first full album. Nicely rooted in the disco era. B+(**)

Amber Mark: Three Dimensions Deep (2022, PMR): Singer-songwriter born in Tennessee, father Jamaican, mother German, lived in Miami, India, Germany, New York. First album after a mini and a well-regarded EP. This will probably get slotted as r&b, but it's both straighter and stranger than that. Complicated world we live in. B+(***)

Stephen Martin: High Plains (2021 [2022], OA2): Tenor saxophonist, based in Kansas City, appears to be his first album, quartet with Peter Schlamb (vibes/piano), bass (Ben Leifer), and drums (David Hawkins). Leads off with a piece by Leifer, with two originals by Martin, covers from other saxophone touchstones Benny Golson, Joe Henderson, and Frank Foster. B+(*) [cd]

Maxo Kream: Weight of the World (2021, Big Persona/RCA): Houston rapper, name Emekwane Ogugua Biosah Jr., father Nigerian, third album after several mixtapes. Easy rolling trap beats. B+(**)

Nas: Magic (2021, Mass Appeal, EP): Longtime rapper Nasir Jones, mine-tracks, 29:16, dropped on Xmas Eve as a stopgap or throwaway between King's Disease II and a promised "KD3." Old school: "we don't want money in a bag/we want it in a bank." B+(**)

Sebastian Noelle/Matt Mitchell/Chris Tordini/Dan Weiss: System One (2021, Fresh Sound New Talent): German guitarist, based in New York, fourth album since 2016, backed by well-known New York musicians on piano, bass, and drums. B+(**)

Okuté: Okuté (2021, Chulo): Afro-Cuban rumba group, drums and voices darting every which way, "raw and unfiltered." B+(***)

Dave Rempis/Avreeayl Ra Duo: Bennu (2021 [2022], Aerophonic): Alto/tenor sax and percussion, 21 minutes per side (21:04 for first two pieces, 20:58 for last one). First time either had played in person in several months, so they sort of ease into it, relishing the circumstances. There is a point where they turn it on, as you know they can, but they mostly take it easy, which make clear how consistently inventive they are. A- [dl]

Rüfüs Du Sol: Surrender (2021, Rose Avenue/Reprise): Australian electropop group -- Tyroe Lindqvist (guitar/vocals), Jon George (keyboards), James Hunt (drums) -- fourth studio album since 2013. Swelling sheets of sound, wraps you up. B+(**)

Samo Salamon: Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar (2021 [2022], Samo, 2CD): Slovenian guitarist, has recorded a lot since 2004. Eric Dolphy, on the other hand, had his brilliant career limited to 1960-64. Same concept as several others have done with Monk, but his songs are nowhere near as distinctive, which in some ways just reduces this to a virtuosic solo ehxibition. B+(***) [cd]

The Smudges: Song and Call (2021 [2022], Cryptogramophone): String duo, Jeff Gauthier (violin) and Maggie Parkins (cello), a bit on the bracing side, which helps. B+(*) [cd] [02-18]

Martial Solal: Coming Yesterday: Live at Salle Gaveau 2019 (2019 [2021], Challenge): French pianist, b. 1927, one of the major players to put France on the jazz map in the 1950s, still interesting at 92, even solo. B+(***)

Omar Sosa/Seckou Keita: Suba (2021, Bendigedig): Cuban pianist, moved to Ecuador in 1990s, spent some time around San Francisco, wound up in Barcelona. Second duo album with the Senegalese singer and kora player. B+(**) [sp]

Earl Sweatshirt: Sick! (2022, Tan Cressida/Warner, EP): Rapper Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, born in Chicago, father a noted South African poet, mother a law professor ("critical race theorist"). Fourth studio album (but short: 10 tracks, 24:05). B+(*)

C. Tangana: El Madrileńo (2021, Sony Music): Spanish rapper, real name Altón Álvarez Allaro, previously dba Crema, fifth album since 2011. B+(*)

Ben Thomas Tango Project: Eternal Aporia (2021 [2022], Origin): Vibraphone player, also plays bandoneon here, with clarinet, bass, cello on five tracks, piano and violin on two of those. All original compositions. Tango, of course. B+(*) [cd]

Torres: Thirstier (2021, Merge): Singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott, fifth album since 2013. Latest gripe: "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die to get there." B

Caetano Veloso: Meu Coco (2021, Sony Music Brasil): Brazilian singer-songwriter, started the tropicalismo movement in the late 1960s, politically charged and rhythmically daring, Discogs lists 64 albums since 1967. I've only heard a few, and usually need a strong shot of rhythm to get interested -- something a reknowned wordsmith doesn't always offer. But there is at least a scattershot of it here. B+(***)

Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand (2022, Blue Note): Alto saxophonist, major debut in 2020, second album, quartet with Micah Thomas (piano), Daryl Johns (bass), and Kweku Sumbry (drums), plus guest spots. Even more ambitious: "hour-long suite comprised of seven movements that strive to bring the quartet closer to complete vesselhood." I'm underwhelmed, although he remains an impressive player. I also recall that I underrated his debut. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Arv Garrison: Wizard of the Six String: Classic and Rare Recordings 1945-1948 (1945-48 [2021], Fresh Sound, 3CD): Jazz guitarist (1922-1960), recorded very little under his own name -- 6 tracks here, closing out the third disc, but several more tracks appeared under his wife's name, bassist-singer Vivien Garry. So this is mostly side credits, some famous ("Moose the Mooche," "Yardbird Suite," "Ornithology," and "A Night in Tunisia" from Charlie Parker Septet; other spots with Dizzy Gillespie, Howard McGhee, Lionel Hampton, Les Paul, Frankie Laine, and Leo Watson/Vic Dickenson -- my favorite), some air shots with iffy sound. Also available as separate volumes, where the second is probably the best, but together they offer a more compelling portrait of a young musician navigating an era of tumultuous change. B+(**)

Jimmy Gourley: The Cool Guitar of Jimmy Gourley: Quartet & Trio Sessions 1953-1961 (1953-61 [2021], Fresh Sound): Guitarist, born in St. Louis, played with Lee Konitz in a high school band in Chicago, moved to France in 1951 and stayed there. Early tracks here with Henri Renaud and Buddy Banks (a bassist, leading a quartet with Bob Dorough and Roy Haynes), ending with two quartets he led, the last two cuts recorded in Poland with Kryzstof Komeda on piano. B+(**)

It's a Good, Good Thing: The Latin Soul of Fania Records: The Singles (1967-75 [2021], Craft, 4CD): New York-based salsa label founded by Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci in 1964 (Masucci bought Pacheco out in 1967, and died in 1997, the catalog eventually owned by Concord). Even in its 87-track, 4-CD version, this has got to be a small slice of Fania's singles: "soul" is the distinction sought here. Early on that refers to a sort of salsafied Motown sound. Later on they dig into r&b covers: I first noticed this with Ralph Robles doing "Maybe," which was pretty authentic, but they quickly got ridiculous with "Spinning Wheel" and "Stand." Still, the point seems to be the culture crash: if you want salsa, Fania can easily top this, and if you want soul, look elsewhere. Title also available as a 27-track, 2-LP set: a more sensible length, but maybe not the point. B+(**) [sp]

Michael Gregory Jackson: Frequency Equilibrium Koan (1977 [2021], self-released): Guitarist, best known for a 1976 album called Clarity (with David Murray, Oliver Lake, and Leo Smith, but not nearly as good as the names imply), which he used as a later trio name. Here he leads a quartet with Julius Hemphill (alto sax), Abdul Wadud (cello), and Pheeroan aKLaff (drums), which is as edgy but more together. B+(***) [bc]

Noertker's Moxie: Walking on Blue Eggshells in Billville (2001-20 [2021], Edgetone): Bassist Bill Noertker, has 13 previous albums under this group name, celebrating their 20th anniversary with three CDs selected from bi-monthly live performances at the Musicians' Union Hall in San Francisco. Specific dates aren't provided, but the lineups vary considerably: most common band member is Annelise Zamula (flute/tenor sax) at six (of 9) tracks; drummer Jason Levis appears on five, with three drummers dividing the rest. No other instrument appears on more than five tracks (piano and flute, two musicians each). B+(**) [cd]

Noertker's Moxie: More Fun in Billville (2001-20 [2021], Edgetone): Eight more pieces, similar lineups, similar results. B+(**) [cd]

Noertker's Moxie: Pantomime in Billville (2001-20 [2921], Edgetone): Eight more pieces, again widely scattered, not sure if the selection flags a bit, or I'm just losing a bit of interest. B+(*) [cd]

Peter Stampfel & the Dysfunctionells: Not in Our Wildest Dreams (1994-96 [2020], Don Giovanni): The band is a Chicago group led by Rich Krueger long before he became semi-famous. Evidently some of this was released in 1995, but this reissue has more, two sets each in Chicago and New York. Several songs from Have Moicy!, one "massacred," and a bunch of standards, massacred worse. B+(*) [sp]

Neil Young: Carnegie Hall 1970 (1970 [2021], Reprise): Seems like a long time ago, but coming off his third solo album, he already had lots of still-familiar songs. Solo, acoustic, folksinger mode. Struck me as tedious at first, but I softened up. In particular, I found "Ohio" very touching, and resonant at the moment. B+(**)

Old music:

The Al Cohn-Zoot Sims Quintet: You 'N Me (1960 [2002], Verve): Tenor saxophonists, half of Woody Herman's famous "Four Brothers" sax section, played together often in the late 1950s, occasionally later on. With Mose Allison (piano), Major Holley (bass), and Osie Johnson (drums), playing three Cohn tunes, one from Sims, and various standards. The saxophonists are typically fine, but on "Angel Eyes" they (or someone) tries to vocalize the horn parts, to not-even-comic effect. B+(*)

Al Cohn: Rifftide (1987 [1988], Timeless): Recorded in Holland, backed by a local piano-bass-drums trio (Rein de Graaff, Koos Serierse, and Eric Ineke). Six standards, including the title piece from Coleman Hawkins, ending up with two originals. B+(***)

Dennis Gonzalez/Yusef Komunyakaa: Herido: Live at St. James Cathedral, Chicago (1999 [2001], 8th Harmonic Breakdown): Avant trumpet player from Dallas, responsible for the music here, backing and complementing the Pulitzer-winning poets' meditations. Backed by Mark Deutsch (baantar/electric bass/sitar), Susie Ibarra (percussion), and Sugar Blue (harmonica). [Reissue 2021, details uncertain.] B+(***) [bc]

Grade (or other) changes:

Doja Cat: Planet Her (2021, Kemosabe/RCA): Amala Dlamini, rapper/singer from Los Angeles, third album, big, flashy pop production, first half (plus closer "Kiss Me More") as strong as any 2020 pop album. Sags a bit in the middle, and I'm not wild about the song delicately titled "Ain't Shit." [was: B+(*)] A-

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. Not sure why it seemed so off when I first played it, but it showed up on a lot of otherwise solid EOY lists, and I found myself enjoying a video. Not as consistent as I'd like. Secret weapon: MC Bootsy Collins. [was: B-] B+(**)

Spillage Village: Spilligion (2020, Dreamville/SinceThe 80s/Inerscope): Atlanta-based hip-hop collective, several names I recognize from solo projects (EarthGang, JID, Mereba, 6lack), others I probably should. Christgau pick as the 3rd best album of the year after the one this was released in (September 25). I've replayed this several times, but doubt I'll ever get it, whatever it may be. [was: B+(*)] B+(***)

Morgan Wade: Reckless (2021, Ladylike): Country singer-songwriter from Virginia, second album. Great voice, solid (and then some) songs. I played this during a stretch with a lot of more idiosyncratic country albums, so its virtues stood out less. But it only gets better. [was: B+(***)] A-

Wild Up: Julius Eastman Vol. 1: Femenine (2021, New Amsterdam): Eastman was a commposer, pianist, vocalist, and dancer, who grew up in upstate New York, lived 1940-90, anticipated elements of minimalism but didn't dare make it boring. This major work first appeared in 1974, and was revived by two groups in 2021 (the other is by Ensemble O/Aum Grand Ensemble). Led by cellist Seth Parker Woods, handful of albums since 2014, I count 17 musicians plus voice, with less electronics and more horns (including sax solos), making it more dramatic, more fun. [was: B+(***)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Wayne Alpern: Secular Rituals (Henri Elkan)
  • Aaron Bazzell: Aesthetic (self-released) [04-22]
  • Michael Bisio Quartet: MBefore (Tao Forms) [03-25]
  • Bouvier: Blanchant (self-released) [04-13]
  • Dave Douglas: Secular Psalms (Greenleaf Music) [04-01]
  • James Gaiters Soul Revival: Understanding Reimagined (self-released) [03-01]
  • Micah Graves: Pawns (self-released)
  • Hinda Hoffman Meets Soul Message: People (Know You Know)
  • Javon Jackson: The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni (Solid Jackson) [02-18]
  • Ryan Keberle Collectiv Do Brasil: Sonhos Da Esquina (Alternate Side) [03-18]
  • The Adam Larson Trio: With Love, From Chicago (Outside In Music) [02-11]
  • Doug MacDonald and the L.A. All-Star Octet: Overtones (DMAC Music) [02-15]
  • Bill O'Connell: A Change Is Gonna Come (Savant) [01-28]
  • Sergio Pereira: Finesse (Sedajazz)
  • Dave Rempis/Elisabeth Harnik/Michael Zerang: Astragaloi (Aerophonic) [04-01]
  • Kenny Shanker: Vortex (Wise Cat) [03-04]
  • Natsuki Tamura: Summer Tree (Libra) [02-11]
  • Deanna Witkowski: Force of Nature (MCG Jazz) [01-28]

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