An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, January 9, 2023
Music: Current count 39353  rated (+23), 42  unrated (+3: 14 new, 28 old).
In early November, Francis Davis decided that he couldn't afford the time needed to run a 17th annual edition of his Jazz Critics Poll. He asked me to take over, as I had done most of the grunt work last year, and had helped out for many years before that. I agreed, figuring I'd spent a lot of time this year tracking music, even aggregating ratings, plus I had been procrastinating on other projects, so why not finish out the year doing a good turn? I organized a mailing list, and sent ballots out around November 13, with a December 12 deadline. I wound up collecting and compiling 151 ballots: down a bit from 2021's 156, but still a good showing. I worked out a deal with Arts Fuse to publish the results, and started to prepare them for publication.
Then I got Covid. While I was never very sick, it created a lot of stress as we tried to keep my wife from getting infected. Also producing a lot of stress was the terminal spiral of our dog Sadie, nearly 15, inherited 8 years ago with Liz Fink died (and as such, sort of a sacred trust). I totally missed our original delivery date, and didn't make any serious progress until New Year's. I finally pulled most of it together on Wednesday, and sent the pieces in Thursday. They were published Friday afternoon, about the same time we had a vet visit to put the dog down.
The archive index page is: The 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll: 2022. This includes links for the articles published at Arts Fuse:
The two pieces by me were originally conceived of as four, but Bill Marx wanted to combine the tables with the essays. Francis's essay came in after I had handed all of my pieces in. He had seen all of my stuff by then.
The archive page also includes links for complete results (the Arts Fuse list stops at 50 new releases, and 20 reissues/historical), and for all of the individual voter ballots:
I suppose I'll have more to say about the Poll, its results, and the process behind it, but at this point the combination of exhaustion and frustration probably makes that unwise. As I point out in one (or both) of the essays, the most important point for the poll is the data it generates, so please dig into that. You're bound to learn some things.
My listening of late has been very skewed. One thing that has frustrated me immensely, and is wholly my own fault, is that my system for filing CDs has completely broken down, to where I can't find anything. I should have spent the last several weeks rechecking the year's highest rated albums, but have failed in that almost completely. I wound up streaming the top three finishers, leaving Mary Halvorson's Amaryllis and Cécile McLorin Salvant's Ghost Song at my original B+(***) -- although Salvant's Kurt Weil cover is pretty great -- but I did bump up the grade for Immanuel Wilkins's The 7th Hand considerably. Below that, I could neither stream nor find my copy of Tyshawn Sorey's Mesmerism, another B+(***) first time around. I only had two of the top ten finishers made my A-list, and only three of the next ten (ok, four more from 21-30, three from 31-40, and two from 41-50).
Still, I emerged from this experience with more respect than ever for my fellow voters. I suspect that Francis was a bit reluctant to hand his baby over, because he regarded me as some kind of fringe critic. I found myself caring very little about the standings, as long as the ballots showed considerable thought, which they did.
So, instead of catching up with new jazz (as I did a lot of in November and especially December), I played old records, especially a lot of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Lester Young. Then last week, I pulled up a list of unheard Penguin Guide 4-star albums, and thought I'd knock off a few. Hence, the reviews below are almost all modern but not recent jazz. No idea why I first landed on an Italian clarinetist, but I worked back from him, then returned to the top of the list.
I should mention that despite being so out of it, I did manage a Speaking of Which news revue yesterday. I also added three books to the Recent Reading roll, after several weeks of neglect.
Matt Taibbi did some brilliant work early in his career -- like his designation of presidential campaign coverage as "the stupid season," and his Wimblehack rankings of America's worst political journalists (note that Karen Tumulty has defended her title numerous times, not that I'm sure she's still the worst). But his Twitter feed has become little short of obnoxious, so I was thinking of dropping him -- but I figured the book looked like it had a sound premise, so maybe I should give him that chance. It is, indeed, a pretty good book, even if a little too both-sidesy. And sure, he goes a bit off the deep end on Russiagate, but that's more in his conclusions than in the reporting. And although Rachel Maddow (who I find seriously annoying) splits the cover, in the book she's relegated to an appendix.
Lepore's The Name of War is more about how Prince Philip's War (1675-76) has been remembered than what actually happened, which borders on genocide. Kaplan's 1959 makes a case for that year as one of pivotal change in America. So far, it's pretty convincing. A big concern of my memoir is how much America has changed, especially in the first twenty years of my life (the 1950s and 1960s). By the way, Kaplan is a Jazz Critics Poll voter, and he has a very detailed chapter on Kind of Blue in the book.
New records reviewed this week:
75 Dollar Bill: Social Music at Troost Vol. 3: (Other) People's Music (2015-17 , self-released): Guitar and drums duo, Che Chen and Rick Brown, debut 2014, have added others especially to the live albums they've been releasing on Bandcamp since the lockdown, including sax, vocals, and bass to some of these pieces, as well as "bar patrons, friends, neighbors." This is a set of covers, ranging from Harry Partch and Pauline Oliveros to Yoko Ono to Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton. Phil Overeem's record of the year. A- [dl]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Chet Baker Trio: Live in Paris: The Radio France Recordings 1983-1984 (1983-84 , Elemental Music, 2CD): Collects two sets of radio shots, with Baker playing trumpet and singing, backed by piano (Michel Graillier) and bass (Dominique Lemerle or Riccardo Del Fra). B+(*) [sp]
Arcana: The Last Wave (1995 , DIW): Avant-fusion trio, recorded two albums, this first one with Derek Bailey (guitar), Bill Laswell (bass), and Tony Williams (drums), with Laswell producing. B+(***) [sp]
Derek Bailey: Drop Me Off at 96th (1986-87 , Scatter): British avant-guitarist, revered by the Penguin Guide but barely sampled by me, solo from two live sessions. My favorite bit is one where Bailey talks about his record company catalog, as his scattered guitar licks take a back seat. B+(**) [bc]
Chet Baker: The Best Thing for You (1977 , A&M): Don Sebesky produced this session, which doesn't look to have been released until shortly after Baker's death in 1988. The first side is standards, with Paul Desmond (alto sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums). Second side is a 17:03 Sebesky piece with a bunch of extras. Both sides impress, even Sebesky's kitchen sink treatment. A- [sp]
Chet Baker Quartet Featuring Phil Markowitz: Live at Nick's (1978 , Criss Cross): Trumpet and vocal (including some scat), from a live set in London, with Markowitz on piano, Scott Lee on bass, and Jeff Brillinger on drums. Reissue adds two pieces, expanding from 44:53 to 68:37. B+(***) [r]
Chet Baker Quintet Featuring Warne Marsh: Blues for a Reason (1984 , Criss Cross): No vocals, just trumpet and tenor sax, backed with piano (Hod O'Brien), bass (Cecil McBee), and drums (Eddie Gladden). Marsh makes a huge difference here, cutting corners and slashing around curves, but Baker, too, gets the idea. A- [r]
Chet Baker Trio Featuring Philip Catherine: Chet's Choice (1985 , Criss Cross): Trumpet/vocal with guitar and bass (mostly Jean-Louis Rassinfosse), the CD adding three tracks. Catherine provides a bit of groove, keeping it all running smoothly. A- [r]
Bernt Rosengren: Notes From Underground (1973 , EMI Svenska): Swedish tenor saxophonist, also plays flute and piano, played early on with George Russell, Krzysztof Komeda, and Don Cherry. The occasional vocal tracks have a Middle Eastern sound, and Okay Temiz helps the the percussion (and Bengt Berger plays tabla). The horns can get intense. B+(***) [sp]
Bernt Rosengren: Stockholm Dues (1965 , Columbia): The Swedish tenor saxophonist's first album, at least as a leader, reissued in a "Swedish Jazz Masters" series with three extra tracks. With trumpet (Lalle Svensson), piano, bass, and drums, plus vocals on a couple tracks. B+(**) [sp]
Jimmy Rowles and George Mraz: Music's the Only Thing That's on My Mind (1976 , Progressive): Piano and bass duets, with Rowles singing three songs. B+(**) [sp]
Jimmy Rowles: Shade and Light [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 , Black & Blue): Piano trio with George Duvivier (bass) and Oliver Jackson (drums), recorded in Paris. B+(***) [sp]
Terje Rypdal: Lux Aeterna (2000 , ECM): Norwegian guitarist, early on was one of many Norwegians influenced by George Russell, recorded with ECM since 1971. This is a large-scale suite in five movements, featuring Bergen Chamber Ensemble conducted by Kjell Seim, with organ and many strings, way too thick, also a vocal section. Only Palle Mikkelborg's trumpet stands out. B- [sp]
Terje Rypdal: After the Rain (1976, ECM): Essentially a solo album, with the guitarist dubbing in keyboards, soprano sax, flute, and bells. Guitar tone cries and shimmers. B [sp]
Randy Sandke and the New York Allstars: The Rediscovered Louis and Bix (1999 , Nagel Heyer): Trumpet player (also cornet here), not exclusively a trad jazz guy but is such a Beiderbecke fan that he named his son Bix, and Armstrong is hardly an afterthought. One side for each, drawing on obscure compositions. George Avakian produced ("presents"), and the Allstars are aptly named (as well as a nod to Armstrong: featured on the cover are Kenny Davern, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Hyman, and Ken Peplowski, with many more in the fine print. A- [sp]
Louis Sclavis/Dominique Pifarély/Marc Ducret/Bruno Chevillon: Acoustic Quartet (1993 , ECM): French clarinetist, many albums since 1981, Discogs co-credits with with the violinist, and indeed only their names are above the title, and Pifarély wrote three tracks to Sclavis' four, but the other names (on guitar and bass) are in the same oversized type as the leaders. B+(***) [sp]
Louis Sclavis Sextet: Les Violences de Rameau (1995-96 , ECM): Play soprano sax as well as his usual clarinets, in a group with trombone (Yves Robert), violin (Dominique Pifarély), keyboards, bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Louis Sclavis Sextet: Ellington on the Air (1991-92 , Ouch!): An earlier Sextet album, originally issued on IDA, with the same group as above. This one is built around Ellington pieces (including Bubber Miley and Juan Tizol). B+(***) [sp]
Louis Sclavis Quintet: L'Affrontement Des Prétendants (2000 , ECM): Clarinet and soprano sax, joined up front by Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet, backed by cello (Vincent Curtois), bass (Bruno Chevillon), and drums (François Merville). B+(***) [sp]
Bud Shank: The Doctor Is In (1991 , Candid): Alto saxophonist, originally from Ohio, studied in North Carolina, moved to California and played with Short Rogers, Charlie Barnet, and Stan Kenton. A cool jazz icon in the 1950s, recorded regularly but seems like he caught a second wind in the early 1990s. Quartet with Mike Wofford (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass), and Sherman Ferguson (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Tommy Smith: Spartacus (2000 , Spartacus): Scottish tenor saxophonist, had a run of flashy records on Blue Note (1989-94) and Linn (1995-2000) before settling into his own label here. Quartet, featuring credit for pianist Kenny Barron, with James Genus (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). Leans toward ballads. B+(**) [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi: Around Small Fairy Tales (1998, Soul Note): Italian clarinet and alto saxophone player, albums since 1978, throw in the kitchen sink here, in the form of Orchestra Da Camera Di Nembro Enea Salmeggia, with oboe, harp, vibes, and at least a dozen string instruments. B+(**) [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: In Cerca Di Cibo (1999 , ECM): Clarinet (piccolo/alto/bass) and accordion duets. B+(**) [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi: Dedalo (2001 , Enja): Leads off with alto sax here, later switching to his clarinets, backed by the WDR Big Band, in an exceptionally festive mood. Also named on the cover: Markus Stockhausen (trumpet), Fulvio Maras (percussion, and Tom Rainey (drums). The opener "Hercab" is funky enough they reprise it live at the end. A- [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi Ottetto: Fugace (2002 , ECM): The leader, composer of all but two fragments (from trad. and W.C. Handy), plays alto sax and clarinet, the octet rounded out with trumpet, trombone, cello, two bassists, drums, and percussion (Fluvio Maras), with several of those also credited with electronics. B+(***) [sp]
Grade (or other) changes:
Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand (2022, Blue Note): Alto saxophonist, major debut in 2020, second album, quartet with Micah Thomas (piano), Daryl Johns (bass), and Kweku Sumbry (drums), plus guest spots. Even more ambitious: "hour-long suite comprised of seven movements that strive to bring the quartet closer to complete vesselhood." Impressive chops, but also structure and flow. Once again I underrated him. [was: B+(*)] A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: