Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39836 [39787] rated (+49), 50 [48] unrated (+2: 22 new, 28 old).

I want to write more about the weekend posts, but let's get the music out of the way first. Old Music continues to work through the Penguin Guide unheard 4-star list, which netted six A- records and eleven high B+'s. Also a fair amount of new music, mostly because I started looking for records I knew existed (three from Christgau Consumer Guides, and several more I received PR on but had been waiting, hoping that a CD might appear in the mail: most obviously, previous chart-toppers East Axis and James Brandon Lewis). More finds there from Intakt and Mahakala Music, which are on Spotify. Four five more A- records there, plus seven high B+, so a big haul this week.

Minor bookkeeping news: I've finally decided I should start a tracking file. It's not even caught up yet, and I doubt I'll pursue it aggressively, but it's clear that it would help as a prospect list, and it will eventually be necessary if/when I do another Francis Davis Jazz Poll. I still don't plan on doing any metacritic/EOY aggregate lists this year (or ever again), but eliminating the tracking file seems to be a bit too much.

I thought I'd dust off a few of my old blog pieces around from the first year of the Bush War in Iraq. We saw a bunch of pieces last week on the 20th anniversary of the war, and there's always a temptation to say "I told you so." I've always been a bit proud of my opposition not just to the Iraq war and to the Afghanistan war that preceded it and made it not just possible but probable.

But also I can claim to be one of the few people who saw the writing on the wall as early as 1989, when I got a letter from a generally apolitical cousin accepting the assertion that Saddam Hussein was really "another Hitler." That was part of GHW Bush's war propaganda, and it implied that Americans couldn't let it go until he was dead. It was a particularly stupid thing to say, especially given that the deal with the Saudis and most of the UN was to simply clear Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, then let them be. That solution never sat well with Cheney, Powell, and the other "vulcans" in Bush's war entourage, not so much because they admired FDR's resolve as because they thought letting him go made America look weak. Their whole idea was that America should be so strong, so imposing, that the rest of the world would fall meekly in line. Yet, for thirteen years and counting, they took Hussein's very existence as a grave insult.

Even if you hadn't figured that out by 1990, when US troops twiddled their thumbs while Hussein brutally suppressed a Shiite revolt egged on by Bush just a few miles away, it should have become clear through the machinations of the Project for a New American Century in the 1990s, which Clinton not only went along with but accented with his sanctions, "no fly zone" and periodic bombings of Iraq. I was so upset with Clinton over Iraq that I wrote letters urging conviction even though the charges he was impeached over were bogus. He was dangerous and needed to be stopped (not that Gore was clearly better).

It took until Sunday night before my Speaking of Iraq was ready to post. I wrote a fairly long introduction, edited and annotated the blog posts (nothing substantial, but the originals were posted immediately, so could use some tuning), then added a pretty comprehensive reading list at the end, which both puts the year in context and provides a rough update to the present. My blogging at the time was pretty sporadic, so I missed a bunch of details, but in the end, I was pretty pleased with the piece, both as an "I told you so" and for the deeper analysis underlying it. So I tweeted my usual announcement, and also put up a Facebook post (something I rarely do; my Facebook is mostly limited to food pics and family matters).

Then, well, nothing happened. Neither post showed up in my feed, and when I tracked down Twitter a day later, I found that fewer than 10% of my followers had seen it. I wrote that story up in the introduction to yesterday's Speaking of Which. While I could have rested on my first post of the weekend, a couple things suggested I should spend Monday collecting links and commenting, instead of rushing out this Music Week. Aside from unfinished business in the introduction, I wanted to note many of the other Iraq 20th anniversary articles, especially ones that spurred me to make further points. Plus, for future reference, I took note of many other stories, even if just barely (like the climate report, the anti-abortion madness, and the long-anticipated Trump indictment -- which he's playing up like a campaign stunt).

There was lots more I skipped, especially the rather fascinating story of bank bailouts and the Fed's quixotic campaign against inflation -- which like everything the Fed does was initially meant to help banks. (It is, after all, a fully captured regulatory agency.) Also, the first week in many with nothing on Israel, but more will surely follow. Smotrich is back to claiming that Palestinians don't exist, and that both banks of the Jordan River are "ours." As always, see Mondoweiss for the latest.

One thing I've been thinking about is the comparison between Iraq and Ukraine. Both, regardless of previous complaints, were clear acts of aggression, wars that everyone should condemn. There's another similarity that's been little commented on: both invasions started with a separatist toehold -- there is little difference between the Kurdish area in Iraq pre-2003 and Crimea/Donbas in Ukraine pre-2022. But there are two big differences. One is that no other nation nor the UN stepped in to help Iraq repel American aggression, whereas the US and NATO have jumped in, and largely taken over, the fight against Russian aggression. Consequently, many people -- including many on the left whose first instincts are for peace -- have come to support the armed response. Second, the antiwar movement has been squashed brutally in Russia, where it is most needed. Due to these two factors, and the isolation Russia was subjected to before it started the war, it's been impossibly hard to formulate an antiwar movement in the US and Europe.

Back in 2003, I took heart in the size of the prewar antiwar protests, both in the US and in Europe, and expected a movement to build from there. That didn't happen, for reasons I can't fully explain (I can think of lots of reasons, but none fully convincing). And while most Americans readily admit that Iraq and Afghanistan have been disasters, the lessons we should have learned from those wars haven't sunk in. We're still stuck in the same mindset that led to those wars, which is one reason the hawks then are still hawks now (the Kagans are an especially good barometer). It's dismaying that they haven't been stripped from power, but the simplest reason is that no one else has come up with a different approach to take their place.

The Patrick Cockburn quote near the top of yesterday's post is revelatory. Putin actually beat Bush to the War on Terror, and he's survived longer because until Ukraine he never overplayed his hand.

Next irregular post will probably be a Book Roundup.

New records reviewed this week:

Sarah Bernadette: Sad Poems on My Phone (2023, Blujazz, EP): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey, studying at Berklee, has a couple of previous EPs and a live album on her Bandcamp. Three songs, 16:18. Middle one ("Do You Know What Betrayal Is?") makes me think of Annette Peacock. B [cdr]

Jim Black & the Schrimps: Ain't No Saint (2022 [2023], Intakt): Drummer, modeled this band on Tim Berne's Bloodcount, which he was a member of in the late 1990s, starting afresh with young musicians I've never heard of: Asger Nilssen (alto sax), Julius Gawlik (tenor sax), and Felix Henkelhausen (bass). Gets the sound right (minus Berne's later addition of guitar), and keeps the rhythm well lubricated, as he always does. A- [sp]

Ludovica Burtone: Sparks (2020 [2023], Outside In Music): Italian violinist, seems to be her first album (although she has a number of side-credits). String quartet with Fung Chern Hwei on second violin, backed by a Marta Sanchez-led piano trio, with guests, including vocalist Sami Stevens on one cut, saxophonist Melissa Aldana on another. Vigorous and varied. B+(**) [cd]

Sara Caswell: The Way to You (2019 [2023], Anzic): Violinist, from Indiana, only her third (fourth?) album since 2000 but has appeared fairly regularly with others. Backed with guitar (Jesse Lewis), bass (Ike Sturm), drums (Jared Schonig), plus vibes (Chris Dingman) on 4 (of 9) tracks. B+(***) [cd]

Che Noir: Noir or Never (2023, Poetic, EP): Buffalo rapper Marche Lashawn, has a couple albums, new one is a shorty (9 songs, 22:41). B+(**) [sp]

Andrew Cyrille: Music Delivery/Percussion (2022 [2023], Intakt): Drummer, born 1939 in Brooklyn of Haitian immigrants, joined Cecil Taylor in 1965, many records since then. This is solo. B+(**) [sp]

DJ Black Low: Impumelelo (2023, Awesome Tapes From Africa): South African amapiano producer Sam Austin, second album. B+(***) [sp]

East Axis: No Subject (2023, Mack Avenue): Quartet, three holdovers from their 2021 album (which topped my list): Gerald Cleaver (drums), Kevin Ray (bass), and Matthew Shipp (piano). Allen Lowe's sax slot now belongs to Scott Robinson, so they've replaced an avant player who knows tons about old jazz with a trad player who's been known to swing free (and one who plays a wider range of instruments: tenor sax, alto clarinet, tarogato, trumpet, and slide cornet). B+(***) [sp]

Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Ghost Cat (2022 [2023], Intakt): Swiss tenor saxophonist, fifth group album, several more on the side. Quintet, with names on the cover: Stefan Aeby (piano), Dave Gisler (guitar), Raffaele Bossard (bass), and Michael Stulz (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Floy Krouchi/James Brandon Lewis/Benjamin Sanz: Cliffs (2022, Off): Two French musicians I had never heard of invited the saxophonist for a week in the south of France, where they came up with this totally unheralded album. Not as expansive as Lewis's own work, but in many ways a better showcase for his prodigious skills. A- [sp]

Bill Laurance & Michael League: Where You Wish You Were (2022 [2023], ACT): Piano and oud/guitar duo, compositions evenly divided (with 4/11 shared credits). B+(**) [sp]

Joëlle Léandre: Zurich Concert (2022 [2023], Intakt): French bassist, tries her hand at a solo album, with her vocals. B+(**) [sp]

Leap Day Trio: Live at the Cafe Bohemia (2020 [2023], Giant Step Arts): Drummer Matt Wilson, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, and bassist Mimi Jones, group assembled for a Leap Day Eve concert, where Wilson and Lederer have played on many of each other's albums. B+(***) [sc]

James Brandon Lewis Trio: Eye of I (2021 [2023], Anti-): Tenor saxophonist, consistently impressive since his 2011 debut, won Jazz Critics Poll for Jesup Wagon in 2021. Seems to be making a bid here for a broader rock audience, what with the new label, and liner notes by Thurston Moore. Nominally a trio with Chris Hoffman (cello/loops) and Max Jaffe (drums), but Kirk Knuffke adds his cornet on two tracks, with the latter bleeding into a closer, where the Trio gets mashed up against the another trio called the Messthetics -- guitarist Anthony Pirog plus the rhythm section from Fugazi. The resulting piece, "Fear Not," is a triumph, but I'm less sure of the rest, including covers from Cecil Taylor and Donny Hathaway. A- [sp]

Andrew Moorhead: Interleaved (2022 [2023], OA2): Pianist, first album, nominally a trio with bass (Marcos Varela) and drums (Ari Hoenig), although much of this is layered electronics. B [cd]

The Necks: Travel (2023, Northern Spy): Long-running (since 1989) Australian trio, with Chris Abrahams on piano and organ, Lloyd Swanton (bass guitar/double bass), and Tony Buck (drums/guitar). Double LP, each side a densely patterned texture (17:14 to 20:50). B+(**) [sp]

Aymée Nuviola: Havana Nocturne (2022 [2023], Worldwide): Cuban singer, a half-dozen albums since 2008. Cover adds a featuring credit for pianist Kemuel Roig. B+(**) [cd]

Christopher Parker & the Band of Guardian Angels: Yeah Yeah! (2019 [2023], Mahakala Music): Pianist from Little Rock, wife Kelley Hurt sings, recorded this in Brooklyn with Daniel Carter (winds) and Jaimie Branch (trumpet), backed by William Parker (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Piano is impressive. The others are all over the place. B+(**) [sp]

Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris: Elliptic Time (2021 [2022], Mahakala Music): Brazilian tenor saxophonist, extremely prolific, comes out with another duo, this with guitar. I've fallen behind in my Perelman listening: I missed his 9-CD Brass and Ivory Tales, haven't gotten to my download of his 11-CD Reed Rapture in Brooklyn, and I'm sure there are others. This, however, is the right combination for a reasonable stretch of time. A- [sp]

Dave Sewelson/William Parker/Steve Hirsch: The Gate (2022, Mahakala Music): Baritone saxophonist, best known for his work with Microscopic Septet and in William Parker's Little Huey Orchestra, but he ventured out on his own in 2018 with Music for a Free World, and it's been all aces since. Just a basic trio with bass and drums here. B+(***) [sp]

Steve Swell/Joe McPhee/Chris Corsano: Sometimes the Air Is (2022 [2023], Mahakala Music): Two horn (trombone and tenor sax) trio, with drums. Label promises "aggressively beautiful music," which this certainly is, though after several such albums I'm having trouble distinguishing. B+(***) [sp]

Stephen Ulrich: Music From This American Life (2023, Barbčs): Guitarist, led an instrumental folk-rock group called Big Lazy from 1999, first album under his own name, backed by drummer-producer Dean Sharenow and (more faintly) keyboards. B+(***) [sp]

Nadia Washington: Hope Resurgence (2023, New): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and many other instruments, nine songs ("six years in the making"), doesn't fit any genre (least of all jazz), although I wouldn't be surprised to find a church back story. Skillful, and annoying, in more ways than I can list. B- [cdr]

Wednesday: Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling 'Em Up (2022, Orindal): Indie shoegaze band from Asheville, NC, with a couple albums under their belt. Nine covers, including a couple country songs (Roger Miller, Gary Stewart), Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos," and others closer to niche, and therefore less interesting. MJ Lenderman joins for the back side. B+(*) [sp]

Yo La Tengo: This Stupid World (2023, Matador): Indie band, goes way back, many albums, guitar remains distinctive (as much so as Sonic Youth), and that's the payoff in most of the songs here (in what they describe as their "most live-sounding" Yo La Tengo album in years"). Lyrics and vocals less so, but I've never been a stickler on that account. A- [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:


Old music:

Stefon Harris/Jason Moran/Greg Osby/Mark Shim: New Directions (1999 [2000], Blue Note): At least one source credits this to The Blue Note New Directions, others just to New Directions, but the four names are on the cover, young stars at the label with a couple notable records out each, and more to come. Not on the cover: bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. One song each from Harris, Moran, and Osby, but everything else comes from Blue Note artists from the early 1960s -- newly arranged, as if recovering the mojo of a classic period might be the way forward. No lack of chops here. B+(***) [sp]

Butch Morris: Homeing (1987 [1989], Sound Aspects): Cornet player (1947-2013), credits from 1977, known for his process of conducting improvisers (conduction). Live from Berlin, a fairly large group: 11 pieces, including violin (Jason Hwang), French horn, oboe, vibes, and electronics, plus voice (Shelley Hirsch). B+(**) [sp]

New Winds: Potion (1997 [1998], Victo): Group founded by JD Parran (clarinet), Ned Rothenberg (alto sax/bass clarinet), and Robert Dick (various flutes, down to bass) in 1989, recorded two albums for Sound Aspects (1989-91), then two more for Victo (1995-98), this the last. The winds are augmented here by Herb Robertson (trumpet/flugelhorn). B+(**) [sp]

New Winds: Digging It Harder From Afar (1989-94 [1995], Victo): Not sure which of this dates from when, but the three principals -- JD Parran, Ned Rothenberg, and Robert Dick -- have been in for the duration, and there's little to distract from the open airiness of the deep flutes, clarinets, and bass saxophone. Only other credit is Gerry Hemingway on one track, for electronics. B+(***) [sp]

David Newton: 12th of the 12th: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1995, Candid): Scottish pianist (b. 1958), albums from 1990 (mostly trios), accompanied Stacey Kent 1997-2003. His second solo album here, standards, and while Sinatra didn't write any, there's no doubting over a list that starts with, "My Kind of Town," "I've Got the World on a String," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "Witchcraft," "The Lady Is a Tramp," and ends with "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." It's all very nice, but odd in that I rarely notice the songs unless I concentrate. B+(**) [sp]

Anita O'Day: Anita O'Day's Finest Hour (1954-62 [2000], Verve): Jazz singer (1919-2006), joined Gene Krupa's band in 1941 and had her first hit ("Let Me Off Uptown," featuring Roy Eldridge, reprised here). Part of a series of 34 albums, released 2000-03. Variety helps here, with small groups mixed in with the big band tracks (only two led by Billy May), showing how well she could acquit herself even with minimal backup (a highlight is a "God Bless the Child" with just Barney Kessel (guitar). A- [r]

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band: The First Jazz Recordings 1917-1921 (1917-21 [1998], Timeless): White "jass" band from New Orleans, led by cornet player Nick LaRocca, jumped the line to be the first to record, which they followed up with widely acclaimed tours to New York and London. To a large extent, they defined the 1920s as "the jazz age," although today we tend to favor the great soloists who emerged later, like Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins. Still, they were a fine band, and remain a model for still-vibrant trad jazz bands. Penguin Guide prefers the sound here to RCA's The 75th Anniversary collection [1992], although they seem to have gotten the title wrong. B+(***) [sp]

Greg Osby: Zero (1998, Blue Note): Alto saxophonist, albums from 1987, got a boost when he joined Blue Note in 1993, and lapsed back into obscurity after his last album there (2005), although he sounded better than ever on last year's Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1. Jason Moran plays piano piano/organ/electric, with Kevin McNeal (guitar), bass, and drums. B+(***) [sp]

Greg Osby: Inner Circle (2002, Blue Note): Alto sax-led quintet with Jason Moran (piano), Stefon Harris (vibes), Tarus Mateen (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Moran is sharper sticking to piano, breaking the rhythm up more, but the slow ones hold Osby back a bit. B+(***) [sp]

Greg Osby: St. Louis Shoes (2003, Blue Note): Jazz standards, opens with "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" and closes with "St. Louis Blues," but jumps from the opener straight into "Shaw Nuff" and Monk, before cycling back to "Summertime" and "The Single Petal of a Rose." Nicholas Payton's trumpet adds an authentic touch, but most pieces are stretched 5-8 minutes, so there are plenty of tangents. With piano (Harold O'Neal), bass (Robert Hurst), and drums (Rodney Green). B+(**) [sp]

Oslo 13: Off Balance (1987 [1988], Odin): Large Norwegian band, led by pianist Jon Balke, released four albums 1983-93 (a derivative group without Balke called itself 1300 Oslo for one more album in 2001). With Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet, two trombones, and an impressive array of saxophonists. B+(***) [sp]

Tony Oxley: Ichnos (1969 [1971], RCA): British drummer, from Sheffield, his 1969 debut (The Baptised Traveller) a Penguin Guide crown album. Difficult free jazz, one cut percussion solo, two quartet, two sextet: young players at the time, now regarded as giants of the genre: Evan Parker (soprano/tenor sax), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet/flugelhorn), Paul Rutherford (trombone), Derek Bailey (guitar), and Barry Guy (bass). B+(**) [yt]

Tony Oxley: 4 Compositions for Sextet (1970, Columbia: Second album out, although it was recorded after Ichnos. Aside from Jeff Clyne taking over at bass, same sextet: Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Derek Bailey. Unruly, but a bit better thought out than Inchos. B+(***) [yt]

Tony Oxley/Derek Bailey: Quartet (1993 [2008], Jazzwerkstatt): Drums and guitar, quartet filled out by Pat Thomas (piano/electronics) and Matt Wand (sampler). I've always had trouble getting a handle on Bailey, who seems to crave chaos, or at least breaking things. Teaming up with a drummer seems like his zone. B+(***) [sp]

Tiny Parham: Tiny Parham 1928-1930 (1928-30 [1996], Timeless, 2CD): Pianist (1900-43), born in Canada, grew up in Kansas City, moved to Chicago in 1925, picked up the nickname because he was the opposite of tiny. Cover notes as featuring: Punch Miller (cornet), Charles Johnson (clarinet/alto sax), Milt Hinton (bass tuba). The latter, along with banjo, violin, and washboard, contributes much to the sound. Much more than you need, especially with all the extra takes, but a good example of those years. B+(***) [sp]

Evan Parker/Keith Rowe: Dark Rags (1999-2000 [2000], Potlatch): Duo, Parker plays tenor sax, Rowe guitar and electronics. Recorded on two consecutive nights starting with the eve of Y2K. Dark indeed. B+(***) [yt]

Evan Parker Trio & Peter Brötzmann Trio: The Bishop's Move (2003 [2004], Victo): Festival set in Victoriaville, one 73:31 piece, a clash between two premier avant-saxophone trios. Parker's trio, with Alex von Schlippenbach (piano) and Paul Lytton (drums), goes way back. Brötzmann picked up William Parker (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums) for the occasion. I'm not normally happy with blowouts, but this is exceptional in many ways. Schlippenbach, especially, is outstanding. Even the breather, a Parker bass solo offered an hour in, is a highlight. A- [sp]

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Zafiro (2006, Maya): Avant sax (soprano/tenor)-bass-drums trio, all three played in Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra in 1972, often since. Live set from Barcelona, as solid as any they've done. A- [bc]

Evan Parker/Matthew Wright/Adam Linson/John Coxon/Ashley Wales: Trance Map +: Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (2017 [2019], Intakt): Parker (soprano sax) and Wright (turntable/live sampling) above the line, the others (bass/electronics, turntable/electronics, electronics) below, with "Trance Map +" larger and brighter and on the spine, whereas "Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf" is the 7-part song title (58:47). Coxon and Wales are better known as Spring Heel Jack. B+(**) [sp]

Partisans: Max (2004 [2005], Babel): British group -- Phil Robson (guitar), Julian Siegal (tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet, cuica), Thaddeus Kelly (bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums) -- produced three albums for Babel in the 2000s, two more on Whirlwind to 2019. This one is dedicated to Max Roach, with guest trumpet, percussion, and organ (three tracks each). A- [bc]

Rich Perry: Beautiful Love (1994 [1995], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Cleveland, in New York since 1976, second album, trio with bass (Jay Anderson) and drums (Victor Lewis), playing standards. The mid-1990s were a golden age for mainstream saxophonists. While Perry got less notice than many others, he shows he belongs here. A- [sp]

The Rich Perry Quartet: What Is This? (1995 [1996], SteepleChase): With Fred Hersch (piano), Jay Anderson (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums). Starts with an original called "Squishy," includes one of Hersch's tunes, the rest standards ending with "Epistrophy." B+(***) [sp]

Rich Perry Quartet: So in Love (1997 [1998], SteepleChase): Different but very comparable group: Renee Rosnes (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). Seven standards, three edging over 10 minutes. He keeps sounding better. A- [sp]

Cecil Taylor/Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley: Cecil Taylor/Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley (2002, Victo):n Piano, trumpet, drums, a live improv set from the festival in Victoriaville. They go back quite a ways: Dixon was on famous Taylor albums in the late 1960s, Oxley has been Taylor's most frequent drummer for almost that long. B+(**) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Canadian Jazz Collective: Septology: The Black Forest Session (HGBS Blue) [03-31]
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Lonely Man and His Fish (L&H Production, 2CD) [04-28]
  • Vince Ector Organotomy Trio +: Live @ the Side Door (Cabo Verde) [03-17]
  • Nick Finzer: Dreams Visions Illusions (Outside In Music) [04-14]
  • Bára Gisladottir: Silva (Sono Luminus) [01-27]
  • Las Vegas Boneheads: Sixty and Still Cookin' (Curt Miller Music) [04-01]
  • Steve Smith and Vital Information: Time Flies (Wounded Bird) [05-05]
  • Ben Wendel: All One (Edition) [04-21]

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