Monday, June 6, 2022

Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 38065 [38015] rated (+50), 107 [107] unrated (-0).

Added a link to yesterday's Speaking of Which moments after posting. It's to an Alex Pareene post, What Do Cops Do?, which referred back to an Alexander Sammon piece I had already commented on (Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs?). I had to slip the PS inline because at the end of the paragraph I segued to another Sammon piece, then to three more pieces by Charles P Pierce. This last part should have been broken out into a separate entry, as the subject changed to the relentless scheming that Republicans practice to steal elections. I didn't break it out because I came to the pieces late, but also because also because this is stuff I've been following and commenting on for decades. Pierce's "Ratf*cking" pretty explicitly invokes David Daley's 2016 gerrymandering book, Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy. But in its cynically anti-democratic soul, it goes back at least as far as Nixon's plumbers, which I got an early glimpse into back in 1969, when I read Joe McGinniss: The Selling of the President 1968.

But back to the Pareene piece. He argues that most failures in policing can be explained by a simple rule of thumb: "They do what's easy, and avoid what is difficult." He gives various examples. He cites a study showing that when we hire more police, they arrest more people for misdemeanors ("that is, the unimportant shit"). He concludes: "It's easier to arrest a fifth grader than it is to save one's life. It is far easier to do 'crowd control' -- to restrain a panicking parent, perhaps -- than it is to enter a room currently occupied by a psycho with a semiautomatic rifle."

I don't cite Pierce often enough, but that's mostly because he posts lots of short pieces that can be redundant to the longer ones I tend to cite. However, if you don't have time to shop around, and are especially interested in the pathological (i.e., Republican) side of electoral politics, he covers a lot of ground, and offers a good summary of what's recent. Another blog I recommend for much the same reason is No More Mister Nice Blog. The main guy there signs his pieces Steve M., which I'm a bit subconscious about citing, but he has a keen eye for Republican pathology, and a healthy scepticism about how well Democrats deal with such problems. If all you follow is those two blogs, you'll be pretty well informed.

Not much on Ukraine yesterday, but I want to add one thought. It's not terribly surprising that Russia botched their invasion, and it's been gratifying to see how effective Ukrainians have been at countering the offensive. But that shouldn't blind you to the critically important truth, which is that Russia has a huge margin of strategic depth: it has a much bigger economy, has a lot more soldiers it can deploy, and has a base which is safe and secure from reprisals or subversion. While it's possible that Putin et al. will decide the war isn't worth it, it's more likely that they will keep trying different things until they come up with something that works. I'm reminded here of the US Civil War, which was little short of a disaster for the North at first, but Lincoln kept shuffling his generals until he came up with ones who were effective, ones who could leverage the Union's huge strategic advantages, and turn the war in their favor. Russia seems to be doing that recently, picking up small patches of ground, expensively but inexorably. Earlier, this prospect made me think that it was important to negotiate a fair end sooner rather than later. Now, I see it as more urgent than ever. A piece I recommended yesterday stands out: Ross Barkan: The War in Ukraine Can Be Over If the U.S. Wants It. But the title reminds me that a good many other wars could also be over if the U.S. was so inclined.

Fifth straight Speaking of Which. I still don't want to make a weekly practice of it, but hit a mental dead spot last week when I couldn't think of anything better to do. Had an urgent home repair to do today, and it wound up taking three hours instead of the 15-20 minutes it should have. Moreover, I'm beginning to think I should redo it before long. Much else is proving frustrating. Got some medical anxiety this week, so I don't really see clear sailing ahead.

Another fairly big ratings week. Pulled a lot of records off the upper reaches of the metacritic list, but they are often ones that I wouldn't have bothered with otherwise, and they seem to be falling into perhaps-too-easy piles: the better ones at B+(**) (12 this week), the not-so-great ones at B+(*) (16), with the also-rans at B (5), and nothing lower (not that further exposure wouldn't have turned me vicious; I just didn't bother trying to figure out where). I continue to have mixed feelings about the Ezz-Thetics reissues: Don Cherry's Where Is Brooklyn? and John Coltrane's live A Love Supreme were previous A- albums, and that hasn't hanged. The extras neither help nor hurt, which makes them redundant, but should I grade down for that? I was struck by how much I preferred the Antibes concert to the much-hyped Seattle one that appeared (and swept the Jazz Critics Poll) last year.

Christian Iszchak has been writing annotated monthly listening reports since January, but his entry for May switched to a Consumer Guide format, the best new example of such I've seen since Michael Tatum's Downloader's Diary. I discovered the Wiz Khalifa album there.

New records reviewed this week:

Bad Bad Hats: Walkman (2021, Don Giovanni): Indie rock band from Minneapolis, debut EP in 2012, third album, Kerry Alexander the singer. B+(*)

Band of Horses: Things Are Great (2022, BMG): Rock band, led by singer-songwriter Ben Bridwell, started in Seattle with an EP in 2005 and an LP in 2006, wound up in South Carolina -- same vector as Boeing's 787, but Boeing probably got a better tax deal from the move, as well as cheaper labor and quality control nightmares. Sixth studio album. Nice band. B+(*)

Nat Birchall: Afro Trane (2022, Ancient Archive of Sound): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano), first album 1999 but his real string starts around 2009, has embraced Coltrane as thoroughly as anyone in his generation, picking up (to cite two titles) the Cosmic Language and Sacred Dimension, lacking only the intense desire to see how far he can extend the logic. Still, this is hit first title to explicitly cite Trane, appearing after one called Ancient Africa. Third solo album, where he also plays keyboards, bass, and percussion, on three originals (all with "Trane" in the title) and three covers ("Acknowledgement," "India," "Dahomey Dance"). My guess is that he loses a bit of edge in forgoing the band, but the poise and balance pays off big. A-

Kaitlin Butts: What Else Can She Do (2022, self-released): Country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma City, released a single in 2013 ("Tornadoes and Whiskey") and an album in 2014 (Same Hell, Different Devil), then went quiet until more singles in 2019. Second album, barely (7 songs, 31:47). Strong sound and character, gets a bit heavy. B+(*)

Daniel Carter/Evan Strauss/5-Track/Sheridan Riley: The Uproar in Bursts of Sound and Silence (2018-21 [2022], 577): Carter is credited with voice on two tracks, on the third: flute, clarinet, soprano and tenor sax; Strauss plays keyboards, electric and acoustic bass, bass clarinet, and tenor sax; the others guitar and drums. Seems to have been Strauss who put the final tracks together, possibly over several years. B+(***) [cd] [08-25]

Cypress Hill: Back in Black (2022, MNRK): Latino hip-hop group from South Gate, near Los Angeles; a big deal when they appeared in 1991, only their third album since 2004. Haven't they heard that weed is legal, at least in California? B+(**)

Destroyer: Labyrinthitis (2022, Merge): Canadian band, from Vancouver, fronted by Dan Bejar, 13th album since 1996. Seems like they came up with a new rhythmic fascination here, but I never paid them any heed until Kaputt (2011) got so much attention, and noticed little beyond a knack for hooks. Ends with an off-kilter ballad that is pretty nice too. B+(**)

Dubstar: Two (2022, Northern Writes): English electropop group, released three albums 1995-2000, returned with One in 2018. Steve Hillier left in 2014, leaving founder Chris Wilkie and longtime vocalist Sarah Blackwood. B+(*)

Steve Earle & the Dukes: Jerry Jeff (2022, New West): His third tribute over the last decade to the (slightly) older generation of Texas singer-songwriters, outlaws only in the sense that they stayed outside Nashville's commercial norms: Townes (Van Zandt, 2009), Guy (Clark, 2019), and now Walker. None are as satisfying as last year's tribute to his son, J.T., probably because his son was a better writer and a weaker singer. B+(**)

Ebi Soda: Honk If You're Sad (2022, Tru Thoughts): Jazz-funk group from Brighton, UK, nominally a quintet but drummer Sa Schlich-Davies seems to be the only one on all tracks. Free enough to keep you on your toes. Yazz Ahmed (trumpet) is featured guest on one track. B+(*) [sp]

Tord Gustavsen Trio: Opening (2021 [2022], ECM): Norwegian pianist, albums since 1999, fifth trio album, this one with new bassist Steinar Raknes (also electronics) and long-time drummer Jarle Vespestad. Seems to be slowing down here, and when that happens one tends to lose interest. B+(*)

Hatchie: Giving the World Away (2022, Secretly Canadian): Australian singer-songwriter Harriette Pilbeam, second album, some say dream pop, but her bass lines reverberate somewhere between shoegaze and New Order, and she doesn't shy away from the drum machines. B+(**)

Horsegirl: Versions of Modern Performance (2022, Matador): Indie rock band, guitar-bass-drums (Nora Cheng, Penelope Lowenstein, Gigi Reece) from Chicago, first album, got the sound. B+(*)

Christopher Jacob: New Jazz Standards Vol. 5: The Music of Carl Saunders (2021 [2022], Summit): Saunders is a trumpet player, 79, mostly played in big bands (Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Bill Holman, Clare Fischer) and in support of singers (list headed by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra). This seems to be Jacob's first album -- New Jazz Standards is a label series, with previous volumes by Sam Most, Scott Whitfield, Roger Kellaway, and Larry Koonse -- a trio with Darek Oles (bass) and Joe Labarbera (drums). Nicely done. B+(**) [cd]

Just Mustard: Heart Under (2022, Partisan): Irish band, mild-mannered shoegaze I guess (or metallic trip hop), Katie Ball is the singer, backed by two guitars, bass, and drums. Second album. B+(*) [sp]

Wiz Khalifa/Big K.R.I.T./Smoke DZA/Girl Talk: Full Court Press (2022, Asylum/Taylor Gang): Not exactly a tour de force for the rappers, so the secret ingredient seems to be Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk), even though his mix is much more inscrutable than the ones he served up for three superb 2006-10 mash-up albums. A-

Azar Lawrence: New Sky (2021 [2022], Trazar): Tenor saxophonist, recorded three albums for Prestige 1974-76, not much else until 2008, quite a bit since then. B+(*)

Lyle Lovett: 12th of June (2022, Verve): Country singer-songwriter, 12th album since 1986, although this one arrives a full decade after number 11, on a jazz label, with an instrumental written by Horace Silver ("Cookin' at the Continental"). Vocals follow: an offbeat original ("Pants Are Overrated"); three more standards ("Straighten Up and Fly Right"; "Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good to You"; "Peel Me a Grape"); then six more varied originals. B+(**)

Nduduzo Makhathini: In the Spirit of Ntu (2022, Blue Note): South African pianist, ten albums since 2014, this his second for Blue Note. Mostly septet with sax (Linda Sikhakhane), trumpet (Robin Fassie Kock), vibes, bass, drums, and percussion. Guests are a couple of vocalists, and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, whose big solo is the album's highlight. B+(**)

Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra: In the Valley (2019 [2022], Stricker Street): Bass clarinetist, fifth album since 2012, leads a 9-piece group: 4 reeds, 2 brass, piano, bass, drums. Big band arranging without the extra bombast. B+(*) [cd] [07-01]

Angel Olsen: Big Time (2022, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter based in Asheville, NC; sixth album since 2012. Slow songs, driven home by repetition, like waves seeping into your consciousness. B+(*)

Kelly Lee Owens: LP.8 (2022, Smalltown Supersound): Welsh electronic musicians, sings some, based in London, despite title this seems to be her third album. Interesting mix, but mostly downers. B

Tess Parks: And Those Who Were Seen Dancing (2022, Fuzz Club): Singer-songwriter from Toronto, based in London, fourth album since 2013. Has depth and resonance, with a dark overcast. B+(***)

Sean Paul: Scorcha (2022, Island): Jamaican rapper, dancehall beats, eighth album since 2000. Upbeat toaster, surprised I hadn't played him before. B+(**)

Pkew Pkew Pkew: Open Bar (2022, Dine Alone): Punk band from Toronto, EP in 2013, debut album in 2016. B+(*)

PUP: The Unraveling of PUPTheBand (2022, Rise/BMG): Canadian post-punk band, acronym for Pathetic Use of Potential, same quartet since 2010 (Stefan Babcock singer), fourth album since 2013. Feels more like they're bulking up, but at some point I suppose it's natural to forget whether you're coming or going. B+(**)

Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker: Scylla (2021 [2022], Aerophonic): Chicago saxophonist (alto/tenor/baritone), trio with bass and drums, plus piano/electronics. Starts with gentle mbira, takes its sweet time to develop, ends with the raw power you expect. A- [cd] [07-08]

Alma Russ: Fool's Gold (2022, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, based in western North Carolina, second album. B+(**)

Scalping: Void (2022, Houndstooth): "Bristol techno, noise and hardcore supremos," first album, has vocals ("abstract doom saying") and industrial clatter. B+(**)

Louis Sclavis: Les Cadence Du Monde (2021 [2022], JMS Productions): French clarinetist, several dozen albums since 1981. Quartet with two cellists (Annabelle Luis and Bruno Ducret) plus percussion (Keyvan Chemirani, on zarb and daf). Upbeat, with a fresh Mediterrean air. A- [sp]

Shabaka: Afrikan Culture (2022, Impulse, EP): Last name Hutchings, born in London, parents from Barbados, best known for starring in the groups Sons of Kemet, Shabaka and the Ancestors, and The Comet Is Coming. Short album (8 tracks, 28:22), seems to be solo with percussion (kora, mbira, bells) added to his shakuhachi, clarinet, and bass clarinet. B [sp]

Shamir: Heterosexuality (2022, AntiFragile): Last name Bailey, grew up near Las Vegas, eighth album since 2015. First three songs have something to do with sexual identity. Not my problem B+(*)

Elza Soares: Elza Ao Vivo No Municipal (2022, Deck): Brazilian samba star, many albums since 1960, died in January at 91 (earlier sources gave her birth as 1937, but now we see 1930). This was recorded live, a few days before her death. The songs include one from 1960, another from 1968, but also four from the last decade, which seems to have been one of her strongest. A-

Sonic Liberation Front and the Sonic Liberation Singers: Justice: The Vocal Works of Oliver Lake (2021 [2022], High Two): Deummer Kevin Diehl's group, had a run of extraordinary albums starting in 2000, including a 2016 meeting with saxophonist Lake (Bombogenic). Down to five members here, plus four singers, with Lake credited as "Composer, Arranger Poet." His spoken poetry is striking enough, the multi-part vocals less so, and a sax solo (presumably Elliot Levin) reminds me where his real genius lies. B+(***) [cd] [06-10]

Caroline Spence: True North (2022, Rounder): Folkie singer-songwriter from Charlottesville, Virginia; fifth album since 2015. B+(**)

Carl Stone: Wat Dong Moon Lek (2022, Unseen Worlds): Not-so-minimalist composer, studied with Morton Subotnick, had a rock band called Z'EV, divides his time between Los Angeles and Japan. Strikes me as messy, a pastiche of vocal samples. B

Oded Tzur: Isabela (2021 [2022], ECM): Tenor saxophonist, born in Israel, studied Indian classical music under Hariprasad Chaurasia, based in New York, fourth album, since 2015, second on ECM, quartet with piano (Nital Hershkovits), bass, and drums. An brief "Invocation" and four longer pieces, the sax nicely centered and defined. B+(***)

Eddie Vedder: Earthling (2022, Seattle Surf/Republic): Former Pearl Jam honcho, third or fourth solo album (depending on whether you count a 2021 soundtrack, if not his first in more than a decade). I knew the name, but didn't make the link: Pearl Jam is a band I've never had the sightest interest in, but the sound comes back whole, and this is probably better than their average album. Not that I found any reason to care. B

Anna Von Hausswolff: Live at Montreux Jazz Festival (2018 [2022], Southern Lord): Swedish darkwave singer-songwriter, plays keyboards (especially pipe organ). Albums since 2010. B

Dallas Wayne: Coldwater, Tennessee (2022, Audium/BFD): Country singer-songwriter, from Missouri, albums since 1990, this one produced by Buddy Cannon. Title song is a retread from a 2000 album. Feels like getting old. B+(*)

John Yao's Triceratops: Off-Kilter (2018 [2022], See Tao): Trombonist, mostly based in New York but teaches at Berklee, has some big band experience, fourth album, a freebop quintet with two saxophonists (Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon), bass, and drums. B+(***) [cd] [06-10]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Albert Ayler Quartet With Don Cherry: European Recordings Autumn 1964 Revisited (1964 [2022], Ezz-Thetics): Leaders play tenor sax and cornet, backed by bass (Gary Peacock) and drums (Sunny Murray), drawing on two sets in Copenhagen, one in Hilversum. B+(***) [bc]

Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn? & Eternal Rhythm Revisited (1966-68 [2022], Ezz-Thetics): Two albums that originally appeared in 1969, but were recorded two years apart: the first a blistering American quartet with Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), Henry Grimes (bass), and Ed Blackwell (drums), a synthesis of the Coleman and Coltrane strands in avant-jazz; the second a mostly European nonet following his move to Sweden -- the only other American present was guitarist Sonny Sharrock, with vibes, gamelan, and bells among the extra percussion. Both have been trimmed slightly to fit on a single CD (79:51). A- [bc]

John Coltrane: Favorites [Naima/My Favorite Things/A Love Supreme] Revisited (1963-65 [2022], Ezz-Thetics): Live Quartet tracks (with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones): his most famous composition, his most signature standard, and his most inspired album, adding up to 76:24. The latter is the same Antibes performance that has been reissued many times, including as the 2nd disc in the 2002 Deluxe Edition of A Love Supreme. This all strikes me as terribly redundant, but it's hard to complain while listening -- especially the latter, which strikes me as both more faithful and more adventurous than last year's archive find (A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle). A- [bc]

Los Golden Boys: Cumbia De Juventud (1964-69 [2022], Mississippi): Colombian cumbia group, founded 1960, a collection of "12 of the heaviest songs from their golden era," which evidently ends with the 1972 death of guitarist Pedro Jairo. Dates from the nine titles I was able to trace, so could be earlier and/or later. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Eddie Bo: Check Mr. Popeye (1959-62 [1988], Rounder): New Orleans pianist-singer, last name Bocage (1930-2009), Wikipedia says he "released more single records than anyone else in New Orleans other than Fats Domino," and he recorded for over 40 labels. But he sure sold a lot less than Domino. While these 14 cut from Ric are enjoyable, they're pretty easy to forget. B+(**)

Maggie Brown: Maggie Brown (2004, Riverwide): Country singer-songwriter, seems to be her only album -- Discogs also lists a 1970 single, but that seems unlikely; other sources get swamped by Oscar Brown Jr.'s daughter, but her discography is also spotty. That leaves me with Thom Jurek's rave review at AMG, where he begs comparison to Lucinda Williams. Seems like there should be more. B+(***)

Alma Russ: Next Town (2020, self-released): First album, started on fiddle and banjo before picking up guitar, has a small voice, takes a little getting used to. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Hugo Fernandez: Ozean (Origin) [06-17]
  • Honolulu Jazz Quartet: Straight Ahead: The Honolulu Jazz Quartet Turns 20 (HJQ) [05-20]
  • George Lernis: Between Two Worlds (Dunya) [06-10]
  • Dmitri Matheny: Cascadia (Origin) [06-17]
  • Ben Morris: Pocket Guides (OA2) [06-17]
  • Alexander Smalls: Let Us Break Bread Together (Outside In Music) [06-10]
  • Spanish Harlem Orchestra: Imágenes Latinas (Ovation) [05-20]
  • Grant Stewart Quartet With Bruce Harris: The Lighting of the Lamps (Cellar) [06-17]

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