An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 2, 2022
Tweet: Music Week: 54 albums, 8 A-list,
Music: Current count 37831  rated (+54), 127  unrated (-0).
It's been a very frustrating week for reading the news, with one story after another provoking rage and a sense of doom. I hit some sort of breaking point on Saturday, when I felt the last iota of hope drain from my body. Previously, I might try to document these feelings in a blog post, but I don't feel like indulging in that much self-abuse. I will note that the story that pushed me over the edge was one about Kansas Republicans on the verge of passing a bill legalizing sports betting, taxing the bets at 10%, and dedicating 80% of the revenues to luring professional sports teams to Kansas. I hate betting in all forms, but recognize it's better legal and regulated than left as a cash cow for organized crime, and there's always public needs that could be addressed with additional tax revenues. (Same can be said for drugs, but that seems to be a bigger cognitive problem with local Republicans. When I was growing up, gambling was every bit the sin, but Republicans have come around, probably due to the way it fetishizes money.) The problem is the italicized bit: sports teams are invariably owned by some of the most ridiculously wealthy people in the world -- the KC major league teams are owned by the Hunt and Walton heirs -- so it's especially insane to dedicate a major tax revenue stream to their benefit. Evidently Democratic Governor Kelly is on board with this disgusting scheme. (I'll spare you the rant on the graft involved in Wichita's recent minor league ballpark disaster, which should be cautionary lesson enough.) At the same time, both parties are interested in cutting sales taxes on food, but no one is suggesting making up the difference with the sports-gambling revenues (let alone legalizing marijuana, which would be much more popular).
I'm already starting to forget many of the other outrages in the newspaper lately. An article finally popped up on how Elon Musk plans to recover his sunken investment in Twitter by firing employees and making other service cuts. (As an aside, I saw a graph Musk evidently put out placing himself on a left-right continuum over time. He stays in the same position, but extends the "woke left" line enormously, as if the left is getting more extreme, and is pulling the center past him, moving him from left-of-center to right-of-center. It doesn't take much genius to realize that what's really happening is that he's moving right, reflecting his increasing wealth, but can't see beyond his own ego.)
There's a whole bunch of economic news. Amazon is slipping because they overbuilt warehouses and shipping during the pandemic, and Apple is slipping due to supply chain issues, and Netflix stock collapsed when they lost a few subscribers (which they hope to remedy by kicking freeloaders off). All three companies were hugely overvalued, but we assume markets price stock correctly, so normal corrections look like catastrophes. Speaking of which, Twitter is even more overvalued, but having found a greater fool in Musk, but now, having locked in a price, the only thing they can do is squeeze and devalue. What we need to be doing is figuring out how to stand up free services that compete with big tech but don't do the data mining and brokering they do to make money off your attention. But nobody's talking about that (except Kim Stanley Robinson, but that's science fiction).
There's a story about crypto getting "the regulator they want," which probably means worse than no regulation at all. Then there's the bizarre stuff about GDP shrinking while the Fed is contemplating a half-point interest rate increase, which will lead to disastrous losses abroad as well -- at the same time global supply is being crippled by the Ukraine war and attendant sanctions. Meanwhile, those involved in Ukraine are doubling down, getting even more bloody-minded, which is great for the arms and oil industries, and ominous for everyone else. (Meanwhile, there was another paean to Madeline Albright today.)
And of course there are the usual run of political stories, most involving Trump's involvement in Republican primaries, because the news industry would much prefer talking about Trump than Biden, and have no interest whatsoever in issues other than the culture war flashpoints. (I think only once have I read something about Florida's infamous "don't say gay" bill that pointed out what I take to be the real problem: that the law incentivizes "parents" to file frivolous lawsuits against teachers and school boards. The right seems to feel that, having packed the courts, the best way to advance their claims is to flood them with suits.)
OK, that's too many words for explaining why I decided not to write about this shit anymore. But at least I didn't burn up two days digging up links you're unlikely to follow anyway (not least because so many of them are behind fucking paywalls). How can we have a democracy when information is so exclusively partitioned? A quick look around suggests maybe we don't.
Big piece of news since I wrote the previous section was the tornado that hit Andover, a suburb east of Wichita. It's now considered to be an EF3, on the ground for 21 minutes, during which time it moved 12.5 miles. No official deaths, but something 1,000 structures were damaged. Severe weather had been forecast, but our area (about one mile northwest of downtown) was clear enough that we were out walking the dog when the sirens went off. Storms typically track northeast in Kansas, so I wasn't personally worried: all the storm clouds were north and east of us, and the tornadoes (a second one appeared in Greenwood County) headed away from us. We got some rain and small hail a couple hours later, when the cold front that had triggered the tornado cells finally passed through.
I filled out my ballot for DownBeat's annual critics poll (notes here). I've been voting in it for at least 10 years now, but this was the first year where I was invited in the Veterans Committee. Voters there can pick up to 10 out of 25 nominees, where the winners are anyone who gets picked on 75% or more of the ballots. The winners join DownBeat's Hall of Fame, which is set up to add just 2 new members per year: one each from the Critics Poll and the Readers Poll. That creates a huge bottleneck, which the Veterans Committee doesn't alleviate so much as create another set of idiosyncratic criteria. (Most candidates have to wait 100 years past their birth, but some can get in 50 years after their death, which biases the VC to picking musicians who died young, like Booker Little and Scott LaFaro.) See the notes file for details, but my top choice was Jimmy Rushing.
I've been known to spend a couple days on the ballot -- there are 50 categories to vote for, some extremely competitive, others with hardly anyone of note, and some categories are just hard to judge (e.g., composer, arranger, producer -- but lately have tried to cut corners, especially later on. What slows me down is note taking and checking, so I can save a bunch of time if I simply vote for the same people year after year. Not the way I'd like to do it, but I'm not all that keen on ranking musicians at instrument positions anyway. I take the album categories more seriously, collecting all of their nominees and using them as a checklist to measure how much I've heard. A lot of this week's records are best jazz album nominees that I hadn't heard. They nominated 128 records this year. With this week's haul, I've managed to hear all but three:
I can't say I picked up any outstanding records in this exercise. I also have lists of nominees for jazz reissues, blues, and "beyond." Each has its own problems: jazz reissues are hard to find, at least from streaming sources (big boxes of audiophile vinyl seem to be the norm these days); I almost never hear more than 10-20% of the blues records; and while I hear much more of their "beyond," it's never a very coherent category.
I started last week listening to Specialty compilations (after Art Rupe died). After listening to the big box, I looked for a smaller compilation, and found two (almost identical). I went a bit further, but didn't get into the gospel that was an important part of the catalog. I also dug up some extra Mingus albums, after finding the new "lost album" somewhat wanting. A couple other "old music" items were related to recent product, but two more exceptions: Vi Redd was an unfamiliar name on DownBeat's Hall of Fame ballot, so I thought I should look her up. Ricky Ford released a B+(***) album I reviewed a couple weeks ago. I had a couple ungraded LPs by him, but couldn't play them at the time. My wife's ancient Technics turntable seems to have died, so I had to wait until I could buy a new one. I play so little vinyl these days I convinced myself the bottom-of-the-line Audio Technica would suffice. It's no great shakes, but does the job. In coming weeks, I need to see what else in the unrated list I can find on LP.
I screwed up my numbering when I posted my Book Roundup Sunday evening instead of tomorrow, as I had originally planned. That leaves a gap at 3018, but I doubt anyone will notice.
New records reviewed this week:
The Kevin Brady Electric Quartet: Plan B (2020 , Ubuntu Music): Drummer from Dublin, has a couple previous albums (back to 2007), group here with Seamus Blake (sax), Bill Carrothers (electric piano), and Dave Redmond (electric bass), with five pieces by Brady, three by Carrothers. B+(***)
Tomasz Dabrowski: Tomasz Dabrowski & the Individual Beings (2021 , April): Polish trumpet player, also credited with electronics, albums since 2012, septet with two saxophonists, piano/keyboards (Grzegorz Tarwid), bass, and two drummers. Group name, and much else, inspired to Tomasz Stanko. B+(***)
Chris Dingman: Journeys Vol. 1 (2022, self-released): Vibraphonist, albums since 2011, solo album seems to have been a pandemic project, with some overtones above the tinkle. B+(*) [sp]
Nick Finzer: Out of Focus (2021, Outside In Music): Trombonist, albums since 2012, mostly New York but teaches now at UNT. Much unclear about credits here: some solo or duo, two tracks with a quartet (Xavier Davis on piano), a 15-trombone finale -- the fourth Ellington piece. B+(*)
Bruce Forman With John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton: Reunion! (2021, B4Man Music): Guitarist, records (for Muse and Concord) start in 1981. This was advertised as The Poll Winners Revisited, a reference to the 1950s guitar-bass-drums trios of Barney Kessel, Ray Brown, and Shelly Manne, which "established the guitar trio as a viable jazz ensemble." B+(**)
Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart: Perpetual Pendulum (2021 , Smoke Sessions): Organ-guitar-drums trio, a soul jazz staple, trio goes back to Goldings' first album (1991, a trio plus Fathead Newman on two tracks). B+(**)
Russell Gunn & the Royal Krunk Jazz Orchestra: The Sirius Mystery Opus 4 No. 1 (2020 , Ropeadope): Trumpet player, started in 1990s incorporating electronics with a nod to hip-hop. Refers back to a 2016 album. Big band plus extras, spoken word as far out as Sun Ra. Four tracks, 33:55. B+(**)
Tigran Hamasyan: Stand Art (2022, Nonesuch): Pianist, from Armenia, moved to California at 16, eventually returned to Yerevan. Eleventh album since 2006, a collection of standards, with trio (Matt Brewer on bass and Justin Brown on drums), plus guest spots (Ambrose Akinmusire, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner). Most sources elide the title, but words are separate on cover. B+(*)
Oscar Hernández & Alma Libre: Visión (2022, Ovation): Pianist, born in New York, third group album since 2016, with Justo Almario (sax/flute), bass, drums, congas, and some guests (notably Joe Locke on vibes). B+(*)
Bob James Trio: Feel Like Making Live! (2022, Evolution): Pianist, released a debut called Bold Conceptions in 1963, followed it up with an avant-sounding ESP-Disk (Explosions), then settled into a long and undistinguished pop jazz career, in and out of the group Fourplay. B [sp]
Willie Jones III: Fallen Heroes (2020 , WJ3): Drummer, seventh album since 2000, fair number of mainstream side credits. Opens with a solo piece here. Occasional spots for George Cables (piano), Sherman Irby (alto sax), and others. Renee Neufville sings. B+(*)
Anders Koppel: Mulberry Street Symphony (2021 , Cowbell Music, 2CD): Danish composer, father a classical composer, started in 1967 in a rock group (Savage Rose), has gone on to compose for ballets, films, plays, and this at least counts as jazz, with its soloists -- son Benjamin Koppel (sax), Scott Colley (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) -- on top of the Odense Symphony Orchestra. The sax is the star, but he's got a lot to work with. B+(***) [sp]
Miranda Lambert: Palomino (2022, Vanner, RCA Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, ninth album, not sure there's a merely good album in the sequence. Covers a Mick Jagger song, three songs recycled from The Marfa Tapes, co-wrote the rest, most with Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby. Special treat: the B-52s backing up "Music City Queen." A-
The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band: Both Ways (2017 , self-released): Fringe-folk supergroup, both leaders have multiple albums I love, so their collaboration should delight, but their eponymous 2013 album fell flat for me (though Christgau and others celebrated it). No idea why they shelved this sequel, but as "lost albums" go it hasn't sat long. But with only 3 (of 26) cuts on Bandcamp, and unavailable via streaming, all I did was a "limited sampling" note (++). It wound up the only album on Christgau's Dean's List I didn't hear, until a reader kindly sent me a copy. Lots of minor annoyances here, especially in the first half. But it does pick up with "The New Old Georgia Stomp" (song 17, a public Bandcamp cut), and it's ok-to-good from there out, including covers of the Beachnuts, Hawkwind, and Television, "Heroin" rewritten as "Internet," and a pair of anti-Trump songs (one on tax forms, another that with a "the cat grabbed back" refrain). Lewis's 2020 Tapes and 2021 Tapes ("shelter-at-home recordings & pandemos") are also locked down, so he seems to be the marketing genius preserving their obscurity. B+(**) [dl]
Taj Mahal & Ry Cooder: Get on Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (2022, Nonesuch): Traditionalists even in their youth, in the 1970s each found fame providing a gentle slant on old songs and new ones that sounded old. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to find out they had recorded together in 1965-66 in a group called Rising Sons, but the records disappointed. First glance at this album cover looks like an archival find, except the faces are old and grizzled, as we soon find also are the voices. B+(**)
Charnett Moffett Trio: Live (2021, Motéma, EP): Bassist, played electric as much as acoustic, died in April at 54. This was recorded last July, at Yoshi's, five songs (20:13), the cover continuing: "featuring Jana Herzen [guitar/vocals] with Corey Garcia [drums]." Opens with a smoky "Summertime," but when the striking vocals end, the set slides into background. B+(**)
Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time (2022, Legacy): Seventy-second studio album, released on his 89th birthday. Five original songs, co-authored by Buddy Cannon, including two memorable ones that reflect his seniority ("I Don't Go to Funerals," "Live Every Day" -- "like it may be your last, because some day it will be"). Two covers seem like mis-steps but grow on you: "Tower of Song" (Leonard Cohen, the "golden voice" line less of a joke) and "With a Little Help From My Friends" (Beatles). The rest fits in nicely. A-
Nikara: Nikara Presents Black Wall Street (2021, Railroad Hart): Last name Warren, which may or may not belong in the credit. From Brooklyn, plays vibes, sings (or someone does), Bandcamp tags: hip hop, jazz, r&b, soul. Has elements of each without settling anywhere. No band credits, but Kenny Barron is featured on two tracks. B+(*) [bc]
Mark O'Connor: Markology II (2017-20 , OMAC): Started off as a champion bluegrass fiddler (first album was titled: National Junior Fiddling Champion), also plays mandolin and guitar (his instrument here, title referring back to a 1978 album). B+(*)
Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band: Soul Conversations (2021, Outside In Music): Drummer, from Florida, half-dozen albums since 2012, experience in several big bands, comes out swinging here, conventional big band with vibes (Stefon Harris) but no guitar (Takeishi Ohbayashi on piano), with vocals by Charles Turner III. B+(*)
Samora Pinderhughes: Grief (2022, Ropeadope): Singer-songwriter from Bay Area, based in New York, plays piano, arranges strings, first album, sister Elena Pinderhughes plays flute, saxes help (Lucas Pino, Immanuel Wilkins). I suppose there might be something subtle here I'm not recognizing. B
Bonnie Raitt: Just Like That . . . (2022, Redwing): Bluesy singer-songwriter, developed a strong following in the early 1970s but didn't really sell well until 1989's Nick of Time. Releases slowed down to every 3-4 years after 1991, the last three appearing after 7-4-6 year gaps. The extra time goes into the songs, and the production looks back to her youth. B+(***)
Scary Goldings: Scary Goldings IV (2021, Pockets): Fourth collaboration between LA-based jazz-funk group Scary Pockets -- unclear who's in them, but they've released a lot since 2017 -- and organ player Larry Goldings, presumably their fourth. Notable guest here is John Scofield (guitar, ft. on 6/10 songs). B+(*) [sp]
SFJazz Collective: New Works Reflecting the Moment (2021 , SFJazz): Founded 2004, Discogs lists 21 albums, personnel has varied over the years, currently nine (including two singers: Martin Luther McCoy and Gretchen Parlato), who either wrote (8 pieces) or arranged (3, including "Lift Every Voice & Sing" and "What's Going On"). Chris Potter plays large, but I weary of the vocals, even when they're good for me. B+(*)
Becca Stevens: Becca Stevens & the Secret Trio (2021, GroundUp Music): Jazz/folk singer-songwriter, half-dozen albums since 2008, fair number of side-credits. The trio is Middle Eastern: Ara Dinkjian (oud), Ismail Lumanovski (clarinet), Tamer Pinarbasi (kanun). There is an odd delicacy to this, one I'm not very comfortable with. B
Trombone Shorty: Lifted (2022, Blue Note): New Orleans trombonist Troy Andrews, debut 2002, moved to Verve 2010, on to Blue Note 2017. His records have always disappointed as jazz. Ups the funk quotient here, bringing more voices to the fore, brass to the back. B
UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra: Last Dance: New Music for Jazz Orchestra by Ed Partyka (2020 , Neuklang): Finnish big band, founded 1975 by Heikki Sarmanto and Esko Linnavalli, initials translate to New Music Orchestra, "Helsinki" inserted in 2018. Partyka is a trombonist from Chicago, has worked in big bands and led large groups. Four pieces, 47:58. B+(*)
Sachal Vasandani/Romain Collin: Midnight Shelter (2021, Edition): American jazz singer, several records back to 2007 released under first name only. Backed here by piano only, not much for such a plain voice. B-
Cory Weeds: O Sole Mio! Music From the Motherland (2019 , Cellar Music): Canadian alto saxophonist, owns the Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver, the source of most of the records on his Cellar Live label, as well as a dozen of his own since 2010. Not sure what his claims to Sicily are, as the songs here mostly come from Americans (with names like Mancini, Marmarosa, Martino, Corea, and Chambers). But it's bright and bouncy, with organist Mike LeDonne's Groover Quartet -- Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Joe Farnsworth (drums). B+(**)
Corey Weeds With Strings: What Is There to Say? (2021, Cellar Music): Tenor sax this time, with piano (Phil Dwyer), bass, drums, and a phalanx of strings. B+(*)
Lucy Yeghiazaryan/Vanisha Gould: In Her Words (2021, La Reserve): Two vocalists, one from Armenia, the other California, alternating songs, backed by fractured guitar and wispy strings.
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Doug Carn: Adam's Apple (1974 , Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Pianist, fourth album since 1971, last for this label, turns toward gospel, or social relevancs -- lots of voices (notably Jean Carn). B+(*)
John McLaughlin: The Montreux Years (1978-2016 , BMG): Fifth installment in a series that started in 2021, 8 tracks from 5 festivals (82:00; CD drops the one from 1978), with various lineups: 1978 with L. Shankar; 1984 Mahavishnu; 1987 with Paco de Lucia; 1998 with Gary Thomas; 2016 4th Dimension Band. B+(**) [sp]
Charles Mingus: The Lost Album: From Ronnie Scott's (1972 , Resonance, 3CD): Two sets, 2.5 hours of music, recorded for possible release by Columbia, but shelved in 1973 when they killed off their jazz division (keeping only Miles Davis). Mingus struggled after a big year 1964, and there is little from him until live sets pick up in 1970. His studio album for Columbia in 1972 (Let My Children Hear Music) is possibly his worst ever. In 1974, he put a new band together and released a couple of masterpieces, before ALS started to disable him, leading to his death in 1979. This is rather a mess, but not the sort of thing that careful editing could fix: indeed, on his centenary this reminds us that much of his genius was outrageous spontaneity. Not one of his great bands -- a septet with 19-year-old Jon Faddis on trumpet, saxophonists Charles McPherson and Bobby Jones, John Foster on piano (also sings a couple), Roy Brooks on drums (a rare set without Dannie Richmond) -- but few bandleaders could whip up more frenzy. Big booklet. B+(***) [cd]
George Russell: Ezz-thetics & The Stratus Seekers (1961-62 , Ezz-Thetics): Two important albums by one of the most important figures in jazz history. The former, the namesake for this Swiss reissue label, is a sextet with Eric Dolphy (alto sax/bass clarinet) and Don Ellis (trumpet), David Baker (trombone), Steve Swallow (bass), and Joe Hunt (drums). The latter acknowledges that it takes two saxophonists to replace Dolphy. The albums are hard to peg, easy to underestimate, rich and varied and always a step ahead of you. A- [bc]
Irma Thomas: Full Time Woman: The Lost Cotillion Album (1972 , Real Gone Music): Aka Soul Queen of New Orleans, first singles 1959, Wikipedia doesn't show much chart action but any comp of her 1961-66 Minit and Imperial sides is prime. She struggled in the 1970s, finally staged a "living legend" comeback in the 1990s, and is still ticking. This was recorded for Atlantic, but unreleased until 2014. Great singer, but not a very good album. B
Irma Thomas: Live! New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 1976 (1976 , Good Time): Originally released in 1977 by Island, reissued several times since. Starts with the memorably titled "You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don't Mess With My Man)." Runs through several of her big 1960s hits ("Ruler of My Heart," "It's Raining"), followed by some 1970s hits by others ("Shame, Shame, Shame," "Lady Marmalade"). Highlight is the closer, "Wish Someone Would Care," where she really works the crowd. B+(***)
Eberhard Weber: Once Upon a Time: Live in Avignon (1994 , ECM): German bassist, a signature artist for the label since his 1974 debut, hasn't recorded since a 2007 stroke. Since then ECM released a couple albums of reprocessed bass solos, but this is the first live album they've pulled off the shelf. It's a solo performance, but has a light touch and melodic flair that is exceptional. B+(***)
Barney Wilen: La Note Bleue (1987 , Elemental): French tenor saxophonist, established himself in the late 1950s and 1960s, stopped recording after 1972, then started again in 1987 with a remarkable series of albums, including this one. Kicks off with a marvelous "Besame Mucho. [PS: Slightly confused about the editions. Mine has the original album plus three alternate takes not in Discogs, but not the 1989 live album tacked onto the box.] B+(***) [sp]
Dopplereffekt: Gesamtkunstwerk (1995-97 , International Deejay Gigolo): Despite German alias/title, this is Detroit techno producer Gerald Donald's post-Drexciya project, collecting a series of EPs plus a couple stray tracks. Vocals presumably his partner, To-Nhan. Lyrics not a strong suit. B+(**)
Ricky Ford: Looking Ahead (1987, Muse): Tenor saxophonist, I probably noticed him first with Abdullah Ibrahim, recorded 10 albums (1979-89) for Muse, this is number eight, with James Spaulding (alto sax/flute) and John Sass (tuba) on 4 tracks, Kirk Lightsey (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and Freddie Watts (drums) on all eight. B+(**) [lp]
Ricky Ford: Saxotic Stomp (1988, Muse): Another sextet, with Spaulding and Lightsey returning, plus Charles Davis (baritone sax), Ray Drummond (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). Strong sax leads, as usual. B+(**) [lp]
Miranda Lambert: Kerosene (2005, Epic Nashville): Second album, follows a self-released eponymous joint when she was 18, but 3.5 years later she's on a major label, going platinum, and she's never had reason to look back. Does't quite have control of her production, but no shortage of voice or grit. B+(**)
Charles Mingus: Mingus (1960 , Candid): Second album for Candid, recorded a month after Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. This expands on the quartet -- Ted Curson (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (alto sax/bass clarinet), and Dannie Richmond (drums) -- with a second trumpet, two trombones, two more saxes (Charles McPherson and Booker Ervin), and piano (Nico Bunink or Paul Bley). Opens with a 19:49 "M.D.M. (Monk, Duke and Me)." Second side starts with 13:23 of "Stormy Weather," then reflects on his psychiatric experience in "Lock 'Em Up (Hellview of Bellevue)." A- [sp]
Charles Mingus: Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert (1972 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Recorded at Philharmonic Hall on February 4, six months before the "lost" Ronnie Scott's session reviewed above, and released on 2-LP (87:49) later that fall, expanded to 130:36 for 2-CD. Same core group, except Joe Chambers on drums, plus lots of extras, including: trumpets (Eddie Preston, Lloyd Michaels, Lonnie Hilyer), trombone (Eddie Bert), French horns (Dick Berg, Sharon Moe), tuba (Bob Stewart), saxophones (Gene Ammons, Gerry Mulligan, George Dorsey, Richie Perri, Howard Johnson), even a second bassist (Milt Hinton), and vocals (Honey Gordon on three tracks; announcer Bill Cosby and writer Dizzy Gillespie on "Ool-Ya-Koo"). I also see solos for James Moody, and Randy Weston. Some great pieces, but doesn't feel like Mingus is really in charge. B+(**) [sp]
Charles Mingus: Three or Four Shades of Blues (1977, Atlantic): Late album, opens up with new takes of "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" and "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," plus three lesser pieces. Group with Jack Walrath (trumpet), Ricky Ford (tenor sax), and Dannie Richmond (drums), plus various piano and guitar, bass help although the solos are all credited to Mingus. B+(*) [sp]
Charles Mingus: Thirteen Pictures: The Charles Mingus Anthology (1952-77 , Rhino, 2CD): Part of a series of 2-CD jazz comps, each a handsome book in a hard box, a clever move back when we thought of CD boxes as prestige items. Jazz has rarely seemed right for the "greatest hits" treatment: even at best, think of them as introductory samplers. I had to build a playlist here, but first surprise here is that this ranges way beyond the Atlantic sides the label owns, picking up such obvious peaks as "Haitian Fight Song" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" but atypical pieces like a Jackie Paris vocal and a Duke Ellington piano trio. It also packs two long pieces: "Meditations on Integration" (24:50), and "Cumbia & Jazz Fusion" (27:52, one of his last records, one that I panned, although it sounds pretty good here). A-
Vi Redd: Bird Call (1962, United Artists): Sings and plays alto sax, recorded two albums 1962-63, another with Mary McPartland in 1977, and has since picked up some awards, but I hadn't heard of her until she popped up on DownBeat's HOF ballot, at age 93. Mix of standards (including "Summertime") and bebop. Her vocals are fine, but her sax is more persuasive. The vibes (Roy Ayers) are often a plus. B+(***)
Vi Redd: Lady Soul (1963, Atco): Second album, organ (mostly Dick Hyman) and guitar (Bucky Pizzarelli or Barney Kessel) marks a move toward soul jazz. Shows more poise as a singer, but plays her saxophone less (Bill Perkins helps out). B+(**)
Rock 'n' Roll Fever! The Wildest From Specialty (1956-59 , Specialty): The wildest was Little Richard, but this opts for obscurities -- Jerry Byrne's "Lights Out" is the one I'm most familiar with, followed by pieces from the bottom tier of artists with single-CD compilations (Don & Dewey, Larry Williams, Floyd Dixon), and a cover of Huey Smith's "Don't You Just Know It." B+(**)
Specialty Legends of Boogie Woogie (1947-51 , Specialty): Song selection here is easy: look for songs with "boogie" in the title (18 of 19 here, not counting two "unidentified" pieces, leaving as the sole exception "Rock That Voot"), then make sure you hear the tinkle in the piano, even on what would otherwise be a plain jump blues. "Woogie" optional (3 titles). The star here is Camille Howard (8 pieces), followed by Willard McDaniel (4). B+(***)
The Specialty Story (1944-64 , Specialty, 5CD): Art Rupe (né Goldberg) died on April 15, age 104. Among rock and roll's founding entrepreneurs, he's less famous than Sam Phillips, Leonard Chess, or Ahmet Ertegun, but starting in Los Angeles in 1944, with a later pipeline to New Orleans (thanks to Johnny Vincent), he released as many great records as anyone else in the business. His catalog got picked up by Fantasy, which in the early 1990s repackaged it into several dozen critically important CDs. I bought so many that I skipped this flagship box set as redundant, but on his death it looks perfect for a wake. You might fault it for focusing too much on stars you already know (e.g., 19 Little Richard tracks), or you might deem that a feature. A-
Specialty Records Greatest Hits (1946-58 , Specialty): Single-CD selection, all hits, 20 songs from 10 artists, nicely balanced between early jump blues and later rockers, although the latter is dominated by Little Richard (5 songs). Essential music, but note that eight of those 10 artists also own an A/A- single-CD compilation (Jimmy Liggins has two). A
Rip It Up: The Best of Specialty Records (1946-58 , Craft): Repeats 18 songs from Specialty Records Greatest Hits, but let's dock it for dropping two great ones: "Thrill Me" (Roy Milton and Camille Howard), and "Good Golly Miss Molly" (Little Richard). So you can also fault them for lack of imagination, but the label exists to restore indelible classics to vinyl, and that's what they do here. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: