An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, December 5, 2022
Music: Current count 39203  rated (+44), 32  unrated (-1: 4 new, 28 old).
I sent a deadline reminder to Jazz Critics Poll invitees on Friday, and get a deluge of ballots back, bringing the total to 55. Took a long time to get them all counted, so yesterday's Speaking of Which was exceptionally short, mostly limited to links I might want to look back at later. Actual deadline is still a week away: December 12. We got 156 ballots last year, and I sent out more than 200 invites this year, so I expect a lot more work coming in.
With all this, I had little time to review my own prospective ballot. However, I might as well practice what I preach and settle on a ballot now (with extra mentions for context:
Aside from Historical, this mostly corresponds to my highly volatile Best Jazz of 2022 list. My Historical votes have varied from the list for several years now, mostly because I value archival albums over reissues (especially the often-excellent Ezz-Thetics series), and because I value physical CDs over downloads and streaming. That worked against Cecil Taylor, and in favor of Sam Rivers (although I could just as well have picked Dave Brubeck, so there may be some mystery factor at work there).
The Vocal category may also call for some explanation. The Hemingway album has vocals throughout, but isn't jazz in any broadly conventional sense -- you just hear little bits that suggest a jazz sensibility, which is to be expected from one of the great jazz drummers of the last 40 years. Camae Ayewa unconventional in other ways: a poet who first turned to rap then to jazz, her record is more explicitly jazz, but her vocals aren't. I found myself wanting to file several records last year on both lists, as I did Hemingway and Moor Mother this year. On the other hand, if you want a real, classic jazz singer, try Sheila Jordan.This week's haul is, once again, almost all jazz. A few weeks ago, when I first assembled the EOY Jazz and Non-Jazz files, I was surprised to find, for the first time since I've been splitting them, many more A-listed Non-Jazz albums. The gap has now closed to 68 to 75, and will probably close further next week. My secret tool is getting to see the Jazz Critics Poll ballots first. One thing that's slowed me in the counting is that I've been assembling a list of everything voted for that I haven't heard yet, which is currently 130 albums out of 443. That number has been increasing much faster than I can whittle it down. Most years we get votes for about 600 albums. There seems to be even less consensus than usual this year, so the final number may well exceed expectations.
Meanwhile, other projects -- like the EOY Aggregate -- are languishing. I doubt that will change until the end of the year.
If you're sitting on a Jazz Critics Poll invite, please fill it out and send it in. If you're not, but think you should be and want to fill one out, holler at me. I'm running out of time and energy to vet new voters, but we do have another week left.
New records reviewed this week:
Rodrigo Amado: Refraction Solo: Live at Church of the Holy Ghost (2021 , Trost): Tenor saxophonist from Portugal, I've heard 25 of his albums since Lisbon Improvisation Players in 2002, and this is the 12th I've A-listed, including all but one of the last nine. What makes this one improbable is that it's solo -- as much as I love tenor sax, it's hard for any monophonic instrument to satisfy without some rhythm to nudge it along and/or bass for harmonics (or piano for both). Yet this one works: it opens with "Sweet Freedom," a profound (20:54) meditation on Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins -- a quote from the latter always grabs me -- and two shorter pieces don't outstay their welcome (total: 33:41). A- [cd]
Kate Baker & Vic Juris: Return to Shore: The Duo Sessions (2019 , Strikezone): Jazz singer, has some side credits but this is the first album under her name, co-wrote three songs (out of 10). Date is "shortly before" her guitarist-husband's death, and much of the interest here will be in hearing him in such an intimate setting. But she's every bit as appealing. B+(***) [sp]
Jeb Bishop/Pandelis Karayorgis/Damon Smith: Duals (2021-22 , Driff/Balance Point Acoustics, 3CD): Trombone, piano, bass, three hour-long sets each duos of two of the three. Such duets are intrinsically limited, but each player brings real strengths to the match ups. B+(**) [dl]
Michael Blake: Combobulate (2022, Newvelle): Canadian saxophonist, mostly tenor but credit here is plural, debut 1997, backed here by brass section -- Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Clark Gayton on trombone, Bob Stewart and Marcus Rojas on tuba -- plus drums. B+(***) [dl]
Emmet Cohen: Uptown in Orbit (2022, Mack Avenue): Pianist, albums since 2011 include four Masters Legacy Series volumes -- sessions with Jimmy Cobb, Ron Carter, Benny Golson, and George Coleman -- a respect for tradition he continues here, framed by pieces from Willie "The Lion" Smith and Duke Ellington. Between, you'll find originals plus his arrangements of Neal Hefti, Cedar Walton, and Gerry Mulligan. Backed by bass and drums, half with a horn or two present (Sean Jones on trumpet, Patrick Bartley on alto sax). I have to admit, I'm partial to his stride. B+(**) [sp]
Allen Dennard: Flashback (2022, Allen Dennard Music): Trumpet player from Detroit, seems to be his first album. Annoying lack of info on this album, but he's got some chops. B+(*) [sp]
Dopolarians: Blues for Alvin Fielder: Live at Crosstown Arts, Memphis (2022, Mahakala Music): A tribute to the late drummer (1935-2019), who was born in Mississippi, headed to Chicago, played with Sun Ra, was a charter member of the AACM, eventually returned to the South, and plugged into the tiny free jazz scenes in New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas, and (joining this group in 2018) Little Rock. Billed here as a sextet, core members are Christopher Parker (piano), Chad Fowler (sax), Kelly Hurt (vocals), and Chad Anderson (drums, taking over Fielder's chair), joined here by Marc Franklin (trumpet), Douglas Ewart (sax), and William Parker (bass). Ends with a nice dedication. B+(**) [bc]
Dopolarians: Sunday Morning Sermon (2022, Mahakala Music): No recording date, but obviously before drummer Alvin Fielder died in 2019. Core group is Christopher Parker (piano), Chad Fowler (alto/baritone sax), and Kelley Hurt (vocals), with Fielder on drums and Kidd Jordan on tenor sax. Bassist William Parker is listed on the cover, but not on the Bandcamp page. The piano solos cut down on the fire-breathing, which is probably just as well. B+(**) [bc]
Dezron Douglas: Atalaya (2021 , International Anthem): Bassist, many side credits but only a 2012 live album and a locked-down 2020 duo with wife-harpist Brandee Younger have his name up front. Quartet with sax (Emilio Modeste), keyboards (George Burton, and drums, plus one vocal (Melvis Santa). I like the way the bass leads into the sax, something he must have learned with Pharoah Sanders. I didn't like the vocal, and not just the singer. B+(***) [bc]
Mats Eilertsen: Hymn for Hope (2021, Hemli): Norwegian bassist, more than a dozen albums since 2004 as well as a wide swathe of side-credits. This a quartet with Tore Brunborg (tenor sax), Thomas Dahl (guitar), and Hans Hulbaekmo (drums). Consistently nice vibe here. B+(***) [sp]
Fractal Sextet: Fractal Sextet (2020-22 , Alchemy): Guitarist Stephan Thelen, who has released a couple volumes of Fractal Guitar, got the ball rolling with four compositions, then sent the files around to be developed and detailed by this international coterie: Jon Durant added more guitar, along with Fabio Anile (keyboard), Colin Edwin (bass guitar), Yogev Gabay (drums), and Andi Pupato (percussion). A- [sp]
Satoko Fujii: Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams (2022, Libra): Japanese pianist, very prolific since 1995, even went monthly a couple years back for her 60th birthday. Counts this as her 100th album, and I'm not about to check her math. She rounded up eight frequent collaborators for this, but unlike most nonets, this is light on horns (two trumpets, tenor sax, and bassoon), with double drums and Ikue Mori electronics. A single piece in five parts, but it doesn't feel arranged -- more like a series of do-you-thing solo spots. So it's not one of her more compelling statements, but offers a nice synopsis of a remarkable career (including some of the piano that caught our ears in the first place). A- [cd] [12-09]
Forbes Graham/Jeb Bishop/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Kresten Osgood: Water Lilies (2022, Driff): Artist order as given on cover, but Graham (trumpet) and Bishop (trombone) only play on the fifth and last track (a 30:52 "Quintet Improvisation"). The others (piano, bass, drums) play rhythm there, and trio for the first four tracks (34:14). Both are substantial. B+(***) [dl]
Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet: The Sound of Listening (2022, Edition): Drummer, from New Jersey, started in the trio Heernt, has leaned toward fusion but this is more postbop, with Jason Rigby (tenor sax/clarinet/flute), Shai Maestro (piano), and Chris Morrissey (bass). B+(**) [sp]
Mats Gustafsson & Nu Ensemble: Hidros 8: Heal (2016 , Trost): Swedish saxophonist (all weights plus related instruments, but probably best known for baritone, which he plays here), main group in 1990s was AALY Trio, followed by The Thing since 2000, but he has many more records. First Hidros album in 2001. Group here is a conduction tentet, with Anna Högberg (alto and bari sax), Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Per-Ĺke Holmlander (tuba), Hedvig Mollestad (guitar), Massimo Pupillo (bass), plus turntables, electronics, and two drummers, with an intriguing Christof Kurzmann vocal in the middle of the second side, which then sets up the massive ending we've all been waiting for. A- [bc]
Jo Harrop: The Heart Wants (2021, Lateralize): British jazz singer, billed as her "first self-penned album," but Discogs lists a previous album. Has so-credits on eight (of 12 or 13) songs, with Duke Ellington and Tom Waits among the covers. B+(**) [sp]
Gerry Hemingway: Afterlife (2020-22 , Auricle): Drummer, was part of Anthony Braxton's extraordinary Quartet in the 1980s, also of the long-running BassDrumBone trio with Ray Anderson, and has dozens of significant albums on his own, over 250 in total. Still, none of the others are like this: songs with words, sung or just rapped, over widely varied beats with scattered instrumental colors. Bandcamp page cites 11 contributing musicians with no clue to what or where, since their contributions are just samples applied to the mix. First few second remind me of DJ Shadow. Rest isn't so obvious, but shades from pop to blues, with fanciful rhythm throughout. A- [bc]
Ifsonever: Ifsonever (2022, Jazz & Milk): Daniel Helmer, first album, opens with voiceover presumably to clear his head, follows with ambient electronics with just enough beat to keep it enjoyable. B+(***) [bc]
George V Johnson Jr: Walk Spirit Talk Spirit (2022, Your Majesty): DC-based jazz singer, Discogs lists one previous album, but offers no help parsing this one. Website suggests In Memory of McCoy Tyner as a subtitle, but he only does two Tyner songs, plus pieces by Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, and Nat Adderley, writing his own lyrics (aside from deferring to Mark Murphy for "Canteloupe Island"). So, vocalese? No credits for the hard-swinging band, either. B+(**) [sp]
Max Johnson Trio: Orbit of Sound (2021 , Unbroken Sounds): Bassist, handful of albums since 2012, composed all five pieces, joined by Anna Webber (tenor sax/flute) and Michael Sarin (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Pandelis Karayorgis Trio: The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project (2021-22 , Driff): Greek pianist, moved to Boston in 1985, first album (1989) was a Monk set, trio with bassist Nate McBride goes back to 1999, drummer Luther Gray joined by 2012. This mixes six Monk tunes in with pieces by Elmo Hope (3) and Hasaan Ibn Ali (4). B+(**) [dl]
Ruben Machtelinckx + Arve Henriksen: A Short Story (2022, Aspen Edities): Belgian guitarist, eighth album since 2012, a duo with the Norwegian trumpet player. Nice, ambient pairing, always attentive. B+(***) [bc]
Hermon Mehari: Asmara (2022, Komos): Trumpet player, from Eritrea (although Discogs says Kansas City, where he got his degree), has a couple albums -- I was especially taken by his one with Florian Arbenz. Reflects on his war-torn nation here, backed by a band with piano/vibes (Peter Schlamb), bass, and drums, plus Eritrean vocalist Faytinga on two songs. Some terrific trumpet. A- [sp]
Raul Midón: Eclectic Adventurist (2022, Artistry/Mack Avenue): Guitarist, from New Mexico, dozen albums since 1999. Mostly solo. B+(*) [sp]
Per Mřllehřj/Kirk Knuffke/Thommy Andersson: 'S Wonderful (2022, Stunt): Danish guitarist, has a couple albums, wrote three (of nine) songs here, with cornetist Knuffke writing two. Those pieces, with Andersson on bass, offer nice instrumental filler between the swing-era covers from Gershwin and Ellington, and two classics (with Knuffke vocals) from W.C. Handy. B+(**) [sp]
Hedvig Mollestad & Trondheim Jazz Orchestra: Maternity Beat (2021 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitarist, sings some, mostly works in her Trio but her brings in the heavy guns: 12-piece avant-jazz group founded in 2015 with a couple dozen albums, each featuring some special guest. Some terrific passages, but bogs down in spots. B+(*) [sp]
Ra Kalam Bob Moses/Damon Smith: Purecicle (2021 , Balance Point Acoustics): Drums and bass duo, Moses goes back to 1975, Smith to 1999. Smith conjures up a lot of quasi-industrial grunge here. B+(**) [sp]
Qasim Naqvi/Wadada Leo Smith/Andrew Cyrille: Two Centuries (2021 , Red Hook): Pakistani drummer, best known in the piano trio Dawn of Midi, composed their pieces and plays modular and minimoog synthesizers, deferring to Cyrille on drums, with Smith on trumpet. One of many fine settings for Smith this year. B+(***) [sp]
Oxbow & Peter Brötzmann: An Eternal Reminder of Not Today: Live at Moers (2018 , Trost): Fringe hardcore rock group from San Francisco -- first three albums, starting in 1989, were titled: Fuckfest, King of the Jews, and Let Me Be a Woman -- pick up a saxophonist, who adds a new dimension to their g-b-d thrash plus words (Eugene Robinson), working hard to fit in and inevitably standing out. B+(***) [bc]
Nicholas Payton: The Couch Sessions (2022, Smoke Sessions): Trumpet player from New Orleans, also keyboards, debut 1993, father played bass and sousaphone in trad jazz bands. Basically a hard bop player, but knows his tradition, and likes to dabble in electronics. Trio with Buster Williams (bass) and Lenny White (drums). Nothing special about his keyb groove, or his rapping, but his trumpet can still light up the room. B+(**) [sp]
Dafnis Prieto Featuring Luciana Souza: Cantar (2021 , Dafnison Music): Cuban drummer, hot shit when he hit New York, though I found his early albums more impressive than enjoyable. Group here -- Peter Apfelbaum (woodwinds), Martin Bejerano (piano), and Matt Brewer (bass) -- manage to keep up, redeeming the herky-jerk rhythms. Singer is probably a plus, too. At least there's no ballad risk. B+(***) [sp]
Scenes: Variable Clouds: Live at the Earshot Jazz Festival (2021 , Origin): Seattle quartet, seventh album since 2006, with Rick Mandyck (tenor sax), John Stowell (guitar), Jeff Johnson (bass), and John Bishop (drums). Closes very strong (with Jim Pepper's "Witchi Tai To"). B+(***) [cd]
Patrick Shiroishi: Evergreen (2021 , Touch): Los Angeles-based saxophonist, huge number of recordings since 2017: Discogs lists 46 albums, 2 singles/EPs, 6 miscellaneous -- which is where this 4-cut, 42:06 set is filed. Starts with cemetery field recordings, adding synths, clarinet, and tenor sax, with a spoken word memoir of the Japanese-American concentration camps. B+(*) [bc]
Tom Skinner: Voices of Bishara (2022, Brownswood/International Anthem/Nonesuch): British drummer, debut album, but Discogs offers 100+ side-credits, including Sons of Kemet, Melt Yourself Down, Owiny Sigoma Band, and the Smile. Two star saxophonists (Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings), with cello and bass. A- [bc]
Cory Smythe: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (2021 , Pyroclastic): Four original pieces with a large group -- eleven, including singer Sofia Jernberg -- that feels smaller because they pick things apart rather than build them up, followed by seven solo piano takes of the title piece, that sound different because, well, I don't know why. B [cd]
Tyshawn Sorey + 1 [With Greg Osby]: The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism (2022, Pi, 3CD): Drummer-led trio, with Aaron Diehl (piano) and Russell Hall (bass), plus alto saxophonist guest, who makes all the difference, not that the rhythm section doesn't keep him going. Osby was something of a star during his 1995-2005 run on Blue Note, but since then has only released one album as sole leader, so I was surprised that Discogs gives him a steady stream of co-leader credits, like this one. He even wrote two songs here, slipped in with 17 "standards and jazz classics," from Cole Porter and Fats Waller to Ornette Coleman, springboards running anywhere from 7:09 to 20:00. [Haven't played this enough, but pretty sure this is the right grade.] A [dl]
Stephan Thelen: Fractal Guitar 3 (2021-22 , Moonjune): American guitarist, based in Zürich, leads the band Sonar as well as pursuing various solo projects, often tied to mathematical concepts, like the third installment of this series. Each track has 3-5 guitars (Thelen plus Eivind Aarset and Markus Reuter, often Jon Durant) with drums (Manuel Pasquinelli), sometimes keybs, bass, and/or percussion. Patterns: deeply ingrained, finely tuned, just noisy enough. A- [bc]
Rodney Whitaker: Oasis: The Music of Gregg Hill (2022, Origin): Bassist from Detroit, albums since 1996, this his third one featuring Hill's compositions -- Hill is a self-taught composer-pianist based in Lansing, who's still active feeding compositions to several followers, including Bruce Barth (piano here). Strong leads from Terell Stafford (trumpet) and Tim Warfield (tenor/soprano sax), plus four vocals by Rockelle Fortin. B+(**) [cd]
Eri Yamamoto Trio: A Woman With a Purple Wig (2022, Mahakala Music): Japanese pianist, based in New York since 1995, more than a dozen albums since 2006, mostly trios, like this one with David Ambrosio (bass) and Ikuo Takeuchi (drums). She sings a couple songs here, but doesn't show much subtlety as a lyricist. B+(*) [bc]
Jeong Lim Yang: Zodiac Suite: Reassured (2021 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Korean bassist, based in Brooklyn, has a couple previous albums. This one offers a "free reinterpretation" of Mary Lou Williams' 1945 suite, with Santiago Leibson (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). B+(***) [bc]
The Zebra Street Band: Shirwku (2021 , Trytone): Dutch group (well, Amsterdam, more or less): Alistair Payne (trumpet), Salvoandrea Lucifora (trombone/tuba), Andrius Dereviancenko (tenor sax), John Dikeman (baritone sax), plus two drummers (Fabio Galeazzi and Onno Govaert) keeping it bouncy, while the horns riff on brass bands. A- [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Geri Allen/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at the Village Vanguard (Unissued Tracks) (1990 , DIW): All-star piano-bass-drums trio, supplements the same-titled album released in 1991, which grabbed nine original pieces (Allen 2, Haden 3, Motian 4). The leftovers include some nice covers like "Cherokee" and "In Walked Bud." B+(**) [sp]
Derek Bailey: Domestic Jungle (1990s , Scatter): British avant guitarist (1932-2005), big Penguin Guide favorite but I've only lightly sampled his work. This is a private cassette recording (aside for two tracks released by David Toop in 1997), often guitar played along to the radio or some other unreliable rhythm/noise source -- surprisingly a plus here. B+(***) [bc]
Joyce With Mauricio Maestro: Natureza (1977 , Far Out): Brazilian pop/jazz singer-songwriter since 1969, last name Moreno but usually the first name suffices. Claus Ogerman produced this album in New York, but it didn't get released (until now). Maestro (original surname Figueiredo) wrote or co-wrote four (of 7) songs (Moreno wrote the other three, and shares one of Maestro's credits), plays guitar, and sings (two leads). Drags a bit when he leads, but a spot of Michael Brecker sax clears the fog. B+(**) [sp]
Julieta Eugenio: Unaccompanied Saxophone Vol. 1 (2020, Greenleaf Music, EP): Tenor saxophonist, from Argentina, based in New York, released a superb full-length album in 2022, following this EP (4 tracks, 24:54). Four standards, takes them at a sensible pace. B+(**) [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: