Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 53 albums, 8 A-list,

Music: Current count 37375 [37322] rated (+53), 139 [141] unrated (-2).

Music Week delayed a day this week, as I spent much of Sunday and Monday cooking birthday dinner for my wife (Laura) and nephew (Ram). I thought I had some scallops in the freezer, and I've been wanting to make coquille saint-jacques, so crafted a French-ish menu around that. I also noticed a brandade recipe, and had some salt cod in the refrigerator, and just enough lead time to soak it. I also had some chicken liver I needed to use, so decided I'd start the meal with spreads on crostini: the brandade (salt cod and potatoes), chopped liver, sardine rillettes, and eggplant-olive tapenade. For sides, I thought I'd go with simple for brightly-colored dishes: glazed carrots, baby spinach sauteed in butter, slow roasted cherry tomatoes, and mashed celery root. Plate looks like this. For dessert, a very intense flourless chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Each dish was exquisite in its own way.

I didn't have much time (or, frankly, desire) to follow political matters last week, so missed Putin's speech where he announced Russian recognition of independent republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. But as I understand it, this still doesn't come close to the threat of invasion the Biden administration has been breathlessly hyping. Anatol Lieven reports: Putin's move on Donetsk, Lugansk is illegal but falls short of new 'invasion'. Given many precedents I can think of, I'm not sure that complaints about illegality are meaningful or helpful. This did lead me to a useful historical paper Lieven dated Jan. 4, 2022: Ending the Threat of War in Ukraine: A Negotiated Solution to the Donbass Conflict and the Crimean Dispute. I have two further comments on this: 1) I would personally be happy to resolve Donbass and Crimea by allowing either or both to be annexed by Russia, subject to a fair election (based on current population, which most probably tilts pro-Russian). 2) I regard Biden's aggressive and self-righteous rhetoric as reckless and dangerous, but I will allow that it may have made it harder for Russia to invade or to pressure Ukraine (while scaring the hell out of Ukrainians, in the hope of bullying them into being more pro-west and anti-Russian); one problem is that it risks exposing US "intelligence" as totally dishonest and incompetent; another is that it leaves Putin very few options to step back without being humiliated.

One political thing I'm more inclined to write about later this week is the manifesto Sen. Rick Scott is circulating about what to expect if Republicans win Congress in 2022. For a rundown, see If McConnell Disapproved of Rick Scott's Neo-Bircher Agenda, It Would Never Have Been Released. Consider how disconnected from reality one has to be to write something like this:

The militant left now controls the entire federal government, the news media, academia, Hollywood, and most corporate boardrooms -- but they want more. They are redefining America and silencing their opponents.

I've considered myself a (not-very-militant) member of the left since about 1967, when I found a book called The New Radicals (edited by Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau), and with it a label and context for much of what I believed. And for my whole life since then, I've never had reason to think that my fellow leftists had any power whatsoever in any of the forums Scott lists. Never once. Nor is redefining and silencing our style. The only way Scott's sentence makes any sense is if you read it as a complaint that the views of Scott and his cohort have become so completely unhinged that they've lost so much support in the halls of power that they now fear persecution. probably because in their bones they know that if they had that same power, that's what they would be doing.

The document continues with a list of things that the left wants "to change or destroy," so it would be easy (and possibly clarifying, or maybe just funny) to write up a point-by-point rebuttal. Of course, it would be a pointless exercise if Scott were really as marginal a figure as his rants suggest, but he is a US Senator from the 3rd most populous state in the US, and chairman of the US Senate Republican Campaign Committee, so it seems he should be taken seriously.

Despite losing a day from my usual week, we have a substantial list of records below, again mostly 2021 releases, many of which showed up on lately perused EOY lists. The blues albums came from AMG's genre lists (I previously had about half of them). I made a special search for hip-hop lists, which pushed Tyler the Creator into 3rd, displacing Olivia Rodrigo, and bumped Lil Nas X to 15th. I was surprised to find a lot of those lists touting Kanye West (up to 48) and Drake (up to 119) -- respectively, C+ and B for me. A set of lists at Wicked Sound helped, although none were labeled hip-hop or rap (closest was "beats").

The A- item in the "Old Music" section was offered up as a download by a reader, as a tangent to another discussion. Takes me back to my childhood, although it's actually better than I remembered. I guess that's one way to get me to write about something hard to find. (I'm still mostly using Napster, but also finding some things on Spotify that I can't find on Napster -- just not much.)

New records reviewed this week:

42 Dugg: Free Dem Boyz (2021, 4PF/CMG): Detroit rapper Dion Marquise Hayes, fourth mixtape. Like his voice, and the beats got some bounce. B+(*)

The Allergies: Promised Land (2021, Jalapeno): British electronic/remixing duo (DJ Moneyshot, Rackabeat) from Bristol, fifth album since 2016, by this evidence hip-hop, more vintage/funk than UK norms. Guest spots for rappers include Dynamite MC, Andy Cooper, Marietta Smith, and Lyrics Born. B+(***)

Wayne Alpern: Secular Rituals (2022, Henri Elkan): Composer, originally from Detroit, based in New York, "his musical scholarship and theoretical expertise focuses on Schenkerian analysis and 20th-century music." Music here is "digitally created," patterns somewhere between minimalism, new age, and Krautrock. B+(**) [cd]

AminÚ: TwoPointFive (2021, Republic/CLBN): Rapper Adam AminÚ Daniel, from Portland, parents from Ethiopia, several albums since 2017, title here reflects on OnePointFive (2018). Short album (12 tracks, 27:20), nice and tight. B+(***)

Pat Bianchi: Something to Say: The Music of Stevie Wonder (2021, Savant): Organ player, albums since 2006, leads a quartet with Paul Bollenback (guitar), Byron Landham (drums), and (sometimes) tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. You'd think Wonder's songs would work out better, but they rarely do. B

Selwyn Birchwood: Living in a Burning House (2021, Alligator): Blues singer-songwriter, from Tampa, plays guitar and lap steel, fifth album (third on Alligator). B+(*)

Pi'erre Bourne: The Life of Pi'erre 5 (2021, SossHouse/Interscope): Rapper Jordan Jenks, born in Kansas but grew up in South Carolina, second studio album after a pile of mixtapes (including the first three in the Life of Pi'erre series). B+(***)

Leon Bridges: Gold-Diggers Sound (2021, Columbia): Retro-soul singer, third album since 2015. B+(*)

The Buttshakers: Arcadia (2021, Underdog): French retro soul group, led by American singer Ciara Thompson, fifth album since 2010, extra gritty. B+(**) [bc]

Daniel Carter/Avi Granite: Together Song: The Improvisations of Daniel Carter and Avi Granite Vol. 1 (2018 [2021], Pet Mantis): Duets, three improv pieces (35:59), Granite plays guitar, Carter various wind instruments (flute, clarinet, tenor/soprano sax, trumpet). B+(*)

Curly Castro: Little Robert Hutton (2021, Backwoodz Studioz): Philadelphia rapper, several albums since 2013, part of groups ShrapKnel and Wrecking Crew, tapped for featuring spots here. Looks back to the Black Panthers, and finds a long tradition of radicalism. B+(***)

Steve Cropper: Fire It Up (2021, Provogue): Famous r&b guitarist, backed Stax stars from the late 1960s, playing in their "house band," famous in their own right as Booker T. & the M.G.'s. His career as a leader has been spotty, although his 2011 Dedicated: A Salute to the 5 Royales is a high point. Solid original blues set here, where he shares most writing credits with Jon Tiven (bass/sax/keyboards) and Roger C. Reale (vocals). B+(**) [sp]

Damu the Fudgemunk: Conversation Peace (2021, Def PressÚ): DC rapper Earl Davis, better known as a hip-hop producer, Discogs credits him with 23 albums since 2008, including one from 2020 that featured Archie Shepp. This is the first volume in the label's KPM Crate Diggers series, where various hip-hop producers are invited to rumage through the KPM Music library. Good choice, spinning the beats into a perfectly inconspicuous flow, adding thoughtful raps from Raw Poetic, Insight, Nitty Scott, Blu, and Damu himself. A-

Richard Dawson & Circle: Henki (2021, Weird World): English progressive/freak folk singer-songwriter, albums since 2005, plus long-running Finnish band Circle (for which Discogs lists 54 albums since 1992). I was more impressed before I realized the band they remind me of is Jethro Tull. B

Dijon: Absolutely (2021, R&R Digital/Warner): Singer-songwriter, last name Duenas, born in Germany, grew up in Maryland, first album after a couple EPs. Stressful. B

Drake: Certified Lover Boy (2021, OVO/Republic, 2CD): Canadian rapper Aubrey Graham, goes by his middle name, hit platinum with his debut and remains profitable, although seems like he gets little respect. Sure, this shows up in the middle-third of several hip-hop EOY lists, perhaps a nod to his sales, or to his liberal use of guests (12 of 21 songs here). Typical example: "Way 2 Sexy," built on the Right Said Fred sample handed over to Future and Young Thug. I like it, but it's not close to great. Same can be said often enough that one could imagine editing this down to a perfectly acceptable mid-B+ album. Still, one wonders what Drake's personal contribution is, other than signing the checks. B

Kahil El'Zabar Quartet: A Time for Healing (2021 [2022], Spiritmuse): "Chicago's legendary jazz shaman," a percussionist who sometimes sings too much, leads a group with Cory Wilkes (trumpet), Isaiah Collier (reeds), and Justin Dillard (keyboards), everyone also adding to the percussion. Some lovely music, but so subdued his "We'll Get Through This" doesn't come close to convincing me. B+(**) [bc]

EST Gee: Bigger Than Life or Death (2021, CMG/Warlike/Interscope): Rapper from Louisville, George Stone, has a couple mixtapes but this is his first big label shot. Whiff of gangsta, but steadying himself. B+(**)

Flying Lotus: Yasuke (2021, Warp): Steven Ellison, LA-based electronica producer, has had some crossover success, but this is soundtrack work, "music from the Netflix original anime series." Which means scattered, with dark and/or dramatic swells, not that the sounds aren't often remarkable. B+(**) [bc]

Sue Foley: Pinky's Blues (2021, Stony Plain): Blues singer-songwriter, originally from Canada, based in Austin when she released Young Girl Blues in 1992. Sixteenth album, leads with a pretty mean guitar instrumental, and keeps the heat up, especially on her "Hoochie Coochie Man" rewrite, "Hurricane Girl." Closes with another guitar romp: "When the Cat's Gone the Mice Play." A-

Four Tet: Parallel (2020, Text): Electronica producer Kieran Hebden, many albums since 1999, most under this name but he's also used his own name, particularly for collaborations with the late jazz drummer Steve Reid. Ten numbered pieces, one 26:46, two under 1 minute, adding up to something significant. B+(***)

GA-20: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It! (2021, Karma Chief/Alligator): Boston blues band, second album, guitarist Matthew Stubbs, singer-guitarist Pat Flaherty, and drummer Tim Carman, play 7 songs penned by Taylor plus 3 more. First impression is that they add not much. Second is that's fine. B+(**)

Micah Graves: Pawns (2021 [2022], self-released): Pianist from Philadelphia, also plays electric and synths, third album. Energetic fusion, not especially interesting, and the vocals don't help, but the saxophonists do: most likely Yesseh Furaha-Ali, or maybe Dick Oatts (the only name I recognize, but only one cut). B- [cd]

Curtis Harding: If Words Were Flowers (2021, Anti-): Soul singer-songwriter from Saginaw, Michigan, third album. B+(***)

H.E.R.: Back of My Mind (2021, RCA): Initial for Having Everything Revealed, real name Gabriella Wilson, first studio album after EPs and certified gold compilations of same. Major sprawl: 21 songs, 79:18. B+(**)

Heritage Orchestra/Jules Buckley/Ghost-Note: The Breaks (2021, Decca): British classical orchestra ("40 or so of the brightest and best young classical musicians in London"), with Buckley conducting, sometimes composing, and leading forays into "heavy jazz and funk." Ghost-Note is an American funk band, sharing several musicians with Snarky Puppy. Program includes pieces like "Get on the Good Foot" and "Dance to the Drummer's Beat," with various feature spots. The breaks themselves are sharp as ever, the orchestral background enthusiastic but a bit thick. B+(**) [sp]

Javon Jackson: The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni (2021 [2022], Solid Jackson): Tenor saxophonist, emerged in the 1990s, recording for mainstream Criss Cross, then Blue Note. The poet curated this collection of old gospel tunes, singing one, reading some poetry on another. B+(***)

Jazz Spastiks: Camera of Sound (2021, Jazz Plastic): Underground hip-hop beatmakers, based in Scotland, dozen-plus albums since 2010. Focus is on the beats and scratches, rather old school, but nearly half the pieces have guest rappers (most quite good, like Wee Bee Foolish), with skits sprinkled about like DJ Shadow fragments. Group name in appropriate on all counts. A- [bc]

Karkhana: Al Azraqayn (2021, Karlrecords): Jazz group with members from Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, and Chicago (Michael Zerang), sixth album since 2015, includes some oud but more electric guitar and bass, with organ/synthesizer (Maurice Louca) signaling fusion which they then rip apart -- yes, they can break free and get noisy. Credits include Umut Caglar (reeds/flute) and Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet/electronics). A-

The Adam Larson Trio: With Love, From Chicago (2021 [2022], Outside In Music): Chicago tenor saxophonist, with bass (Clark Sommers) and drums (Dana Hall), with Sommers writing 4 songs, to 3 for Larson and 3 covers (including a Monk). B+(***) [cd]

Rick Margitza: Sacred Hearts (2021, Le Coq): Tenor saxophonist, a fairly major figure from his 1989 Blue Note debut to his last Palmetto album in 2001, rarely heard from after he moved to Paris in 2003. French group, with Manuel Rocheman (piano), guitar, bass, drums, percussion, some vocals and handclaps. Still has a lovely tone. B+(**)

Mas Aya: Mascaras (2021, Telephone Explosion): Solo project by Toronto percussionist-producer Brandon Miguel Valdivia, mostly electronics with vocal samples from Nicaragua, and one song written and sung by Lido Pimienta. B+(**)

Otis McDonald: Beats Vol. 3 (2021, Track Tribe): Name adopted, Elton John-style, from Shuggie Otis and Michael McDonald, which doesn't inspire me with confidence -- but neither does Joe Bagale. In 2015 he released 30 tracks copyright-free via YouTube, which have since been downloaded over 5 million times. Not sure if this is that or just more: his only album in Discogs is People Music from 2019, but he has more stuff on Spotify. Functional, and varied enough. B+(*)

Mathias Modica: Sonic Rohstoff (2021, Kryptox): German DJ/producer, seems to have a long list of groups and aliases (especially as Munk, from 2000-14). Plain keyb at first, changes gear around "Le Sud" with the entry of a saxophone and background vocals (but also a better beat). Too bad nothing else comes close. B+(*)

Gary Numan: The Intruder (2021, BMG): British synthpop pioneer, I remember his 1978-79 albums as a big deal, although I stopped paying attention after 1980's Telekon. But he kept releasing records, making this one his 21st. A bit overblown, but as catchy as ever. B+(**)

Joy Oladokun: In Defense of My Own Happiness (2021, Amigo/Verve Forecast/Republic): Singer-songwriter, grew up in Arizona, parents Nigerian immigrants, moved to Los Angeles, then Nashville. Not country, but her straightforward songwriting is at home there. Especially catchy: "I See America." A-

Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band: Dance Songs for Hard Times (2021, Family Owned): Country/blues band from Brown County, Indiana; 11th album since 2004, the "big" band a trio with Breezy Peyton on washboard and Max Senteney on drums and bucket, the Reverend playing antique guitars and singing. Rough and rambunctious, with "Too Cool to Dance" so perfect the Blasters could sue, and "Come Down Angels" a hymn that seeks not just to raise the rafters but rip them asunder. A-

Zilla Rocca: Vegas Vic (2021, Three Dollar Pistol Music): Philadelphia rapper, associated with Wrecking Crew, albums since 2008, called his 2019 album Future Former Rapper then went on a tear. Sounds a bit like Atmosphere, but more political. B+(***)

Jacob Sacks/David Ambrosio/Vinnie Sperrazza: Trio Trio Meets Sheila Jordan (2021 [2022], SteepleChase): Label founded in 1972 in Denmark by Nils Winther, drawing mainly on American bebop expats and tourists, and remains a major outlet for mainstream players, especially Americans. But they have virtually no web presence, so it's often hard to get discographical details. The singer is 92, and hasn't recorded much lately, so one wonders when this was recorded [March 2021]. One also wonders about the artist attribution, but Trio or "trioTrio" is so generic I decided to go with the musician names, also on the cover. Jordan is not in her best voice, and the songs are old ones, not that I mind her hearing her memoir of "The Bird" again, and I still get a kick out of "all God's children got bebop." The clincher is a brave and touching reading of her 1984 title song, "The Crossing." A-

Jared Sims: Against All Odds (2021 [2022], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, big sound, has several albums, this one a quartet with guitar (Steve Fell), bass (Keala Kaumeheiwa), and drums (Luther Gray). One cut features his wife, Amy M. Alvarez, with poetry. B+(**) [cd]

Steve Slagle: Ballads: Into the Heart of It (2021 [2022], Panorama): Alto saxophonist, albums since 1982, many in a group co-led by guitarist Dave Stryker. This one with Bruce Barth (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Jason Tiemann (drums), with orchestrations by Richard Sussman and Randy Brecker guest spots. I'm iffy on the strings, and the fiery closer suggests that ballads might not be their fortÚ. B+(*)

Sv1: Health (2021, Curiosity Shop, EP): Electronica producer Samuel Vaille, from Texas, singles since 2019, seems to be his longest effort to date (8 tracks, 24:13). Ambient tableaux with glitches, so not so ambient. B+(**) [yt]

Deanna Witkowski: Force of Nature (2021 [2022], MCG Jazz): Pianist, has several albums back to 1999, doesn't sing here but has been known to. She also wrote a book last year, about Mary Lou Williams, and this record is a tribute, offering a nice slice of her songbook (including parts of Zodiac Suite) as well as Witkowski's title piece. Mostly trio, with Clay Jenkins' trumpet a plus on 4 (of 12) tracks. Closes with "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "My Blue Heaven." B+(***) [cd]

Carolyn Wonderland: Tempting Fate (2021, Alligator): Blues singer-songwriter, originally from Houston, now in Austin, albums back to 2001, labels obscure, plays lots of instruments but her guitar really rips. She wrote six songs, including the political "Fragile Peace and Certain War." Covers from John Mayall, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob Dylan (featuring Jimmie Dale Gilmore), and Garcia/Hunter (which finally proved too much). Dave Alvin produced. B+(**)

W.R.D. [Robert Walter/Eddie Roberts/Adam Deitch]: The Hit (2021, Color Red): The name partners play organ, guitar, and drums, with side credits for sax (Nick Gerlach) and bass (Josh Fairman), but they aren't immediately obvious. B+(*) [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim: Harlem (1988 [2021], Acid Jazz): American percussionist, born in New York, original name Juan Amalbert, living in Denmark since 1977, where this was recorded. With saxophonist Ed Epstein, piano (Karsten S°rensen), guitar, bass, more percussionists, so the Latin is more than a tinge. B+(**) [bc]

Doug Carn: Infant Eyes (1971 [2021], Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Pianist, first album, resurfaced recently with a volume in the Jazz Is Dead series. Leads a sextet here, also playing organ. Draws on major jazz figures of the 1960s, writing one original plus lyrics to four more, sung by wife Jean Carn. After three albums together, she went on to a successful soul/disco career. Striking voice, though I find I'd rather listen to George Harper's saxophone. B+(**)

Rudolph Johnson: Spring Rain (1971 [2021], Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Tenor saxophonist from Ohio, played with Jimmy McGriff, first album, nothing in his discography after 1976 (d. 2007). Backed by piano-bass-drums. After a wobbly start, finds a nice soul jazz groove. B+(*)

Roots: Roots (1975 [2021], Frederiksberg): South African jazz group, first of two albums released in 1975, with alto saxophonist Barney Rachabane, with Duke Makhasa (tenor sax), Dennis Mphale (trumpet), piano/organ (Jabu Nkosi), bass (Sipho Gumede), and drums (Peter Morake), with Gumede writing 3 (of 6) songs. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Charles Mingus: Mingus Plays Piano: Spontaneous Compositions and Improvisations (1963 [1997], Impulse): Deserves his rep as the leading bassist of his generation on chops alone, but he's possibly even more famous as a composer and bandleader. He's also, evidently, a fine pianist, not that his solo doodling is going to rank high in his discography. B+(*)

Charles Mingus: Mingus at the Bohemia (1955 [1990], Debut/OJC): I think of 1956 as being his watershed year, but he had accomplished a lot before then. He had played with Kid Ory, Red Norvo, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker. He founded Debut Records with Max Roach, and recorded enough material there to eventually fill up a 12-CD box. This is a live set, a quintet with George Barrow (tenor sax), Eddie Bert (trombone), piano (Mal Waldron), and drums (Roach or Willie Jones). His compositional style is already clear. CD adds two alternate takes. B+(***)

Roy Rogers: Roll On Texas Moon (1945-52 [1986], Bear Family): Leonard Slye (1911-98), from Cincinnati, gained fame as a singing cowboy in the 1930s, most notably in Sons of the Pioneers, and moved on to films and TV -- I remember his 1951-57 The Roy Rogers Show better than the dates suggests, and I saw him and Dale Evans performing at the Seattle World's Fair, in what was probably my first concert. So I've always had a soft spot for him, but the records I've found were spotty at best. Clifford Ocheltree recommended this one. The one place where he slows to a ballad reveals him as a fairly ordinary crooner, but as long as he keeps the pace up, he's very pleasing. A- [dl]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Henry Franklin: Daggerboard & the Skipper (Wide Hive) [02-04]
  • Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double: March (Firehouse 12) [03-04]
  • Kim Nalley Band With Houston Person: I Want a Little Boy (Kim Nalley Productions) []
  • Josh Nelson/Bob Bowman Collective: Tomorrow Is Not Promised (Steel Bird Music) [04-01]

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