Monday, April 17, 2023

Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40031 [39968] rated (+63), 54 [58] unrated (-4: 26 new, 28 old).

Not only hit but blew right past the 40,000 rated albums mark this week. I noted the moment in a tweet on Friday (4/14). The database introduction and genre breakdown is here. Most of this framework dates back to the early 2000s, when I was scouring the album guides for prospects. Perhaps some of the genres should be divided up more, especially by time, but I keep thinking that a better solution would be a better tagged database -- a project that always seems to be slipping away into the future.

Records below are primarily non-jazz: probably the first week all year. I added a lot of stuff to my 2023 tracking file, so I've had a lot to pick from. Given how many records by reputable artists I heard, I'm surprised that so far hit the A- mark -- especially the three A records from Robert Christgau's April Consumer Guide (which I played at least three times each). Some of those I had played earlier (recently: Willie Nelson, 100 Gecs; others way back: Oranj Symphonette, Wayne Shorter. By the way, my pick of the Shorter Blue Notes is Night Dreamer, although the one I really recommend is The Classic Blue Note Recordings (2-CD, 2002). My Shorter list is here. Beyond that, his albums with Art Blakey and Miles Davis are often great, and his albums with Weather Report never are.

Seems like a lot of musicians have been dying recently, but few as notable as Ahmad Jamal (1930-2023). He almost exclusively recorded in trios, something I'm not a big fan of, but if you look at my list, you'll find A- records scattered over four decades, and also notice that I missed a lot in between.

Technically, the Christian McBride album missed my cutoff, but I decided to include it here because I thought I should have more good new releases, and because it shows you what Marcus Strickland can do when he's not recording his own albums.

Rough day today, especially with eyes and allergies. Former will probably clear up (though cataract surgery is likely in the future), and latter will probably get worse.

Wrote another monster Speaking of Which over the weekend. Kicked out a tweet this morning when I saw a particularly laughable op-ed:

I see Robert M Gates has an op-ed called "US needs to relearn how to tell its story to the world." Actually, the US needs a better story. Like, one that doesn't start with: sanction our enemies, buy our arms, and if you do, we'll excuse any human rights offenses.

The US had a better (but still imperfect) story before WWII, when an elite group of foreign policy wonks decided that America should save the world by running it, or alternatively that America should save colonialism by converting it to global capitalism, allowing natives to hold "independent" political posts subject to the tight credit controls of the World Bank and IMF.

New records reviewed this week:

100 Gecs: 10,000 Gecs (2023, Dog Show/Atlantic): St. Louis duo, Dylan Brady and Laura Les, second album, hyperpop (I'm told), turns the corner from mostly annoying to occasionally amusing. Blessedly short: 26:53. B+(*) [sp]

100 Gecs: Snake Eyes (2022, Dog Show/Atlantic, EP): Even shorter: three tracks (5:53), with Skrillex on the middle one, in case they ran short of bubblegum. B+(*) [sp]

Arooj Aftab/Vijay Iyer/Shahzad Ismaily: Love in Exile (2023, Verve): Pakistani singer, based in Brooklyn, several previous albums, working here with piano and bass, both also on synths, all three credited on all six songs. Not quite mesmerizing, but tries. B+(**) [sp]

Florian Arbenz/Greg Osby/Arno Krijger: Conversation #9: Targeted (2023, Hammer): Swiss drummer, released a couple albums in 2001 but has been most prolific since 2020, when he hit on his "Conversation" series as a pandemic lockdown workaround. Trio with alto sax and organ. Osby has been terrific of late -- last year's album with Tyshawn Sorey topped my list -- and the organ kicks off to a strong start. B+(***) [bc]

Florian Arbenz/Jorge Vistel/Wolfgang Puschnig/Oren Marshall/Michael Arbenz: Conversation #8: Ablaze (2022, Hammer): After a lockdown series of mostly duos and trios, the Swiss drummer convened a quintet, with group pic on the back cover. Others play trumpet, sax, tuba (!), and piano, with Vistel and Puschnig bringing a song each, and a cover of "Freedom Jazz Dance." B+(***) [bc]

Gina Birch: I Play My Bass Loud (2023, Third Man): British painter, photographer, moviemaker, played in the Raincoats and Red Krayola, released this debut solo album at 67. It has some of the off-kilter quirkiness of her groups, and some lessons of age. Bass isn't as loud as advertised. B+(***) [sp]

Bktherula: LVL5 P1 (2022, Warner, EP): Atlanta rapper Brooklyn Rodriguez, fourth album, albeit a short one (10 tracks, 20:57). B+(*) [sp]

Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh/Fred Lonberg-Holm: Naked Nudes [Brötz 80th at ADA 2021] (2021 [2023], Trost): Legendary German avant-saxophonist (alto/tenor), as part of his 80th birthday celebration in Wuppertal, a trio with frequent collaborators of late, on pedal steel guitar and cello/electronics. I'd hate to suggest that he's slowing down, but the background is kind of thick. B+(*) [bc]

Tom Collier: Boomer Vibes Volume 1 (2023, Summit): Born 1950, plays keyboards and drums as well as vibraphone, picks eleven songs from the 1960s (not checking, but being his age that's how I know them), offering versions that are slightly more than muzak, and slightly less than pop. B+(*) [cd]

Miley Cyrus: Endless Summer Vacation (2023, Columbia): Pop star since her teens, semi-famous father had a fluke country hit, eighth album since 2007 and still just 30. Some striking songs, but inconsistent as always. B+(**) [sp]

Jesse Davis: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (2022 [2023], Cellar): Alto saxophonist from New Orleans, established himself with seven 1991-2000 albums on Concord, but recording dates have been scarce since then. Live set here with Spike Wilner (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums), doing standards and hard bop favorites. B+(**) [sp]

Angel Bat Dawid: Requiem for Jazz (2019-20 [2023], International Anthem): Angel Elmore, based in Chicago, fourth album, plays clarinet but I don't see her in the credits here (beyond "composed, arranged, conducted & mixed"), divided between the ArkeStarzz (15-piece band including a string quartet), the Choruzz (4 singers), Special Cosmic Guests (including Marshall Allen, dubbed in later), Dancers, Set Design, and Visualz. I suppose I should be impressed by all the high-minded artfulness employed here, but some things still strike me as just plain pretentious. B [sp]

Michael Dease: The Other Side: The Music of Gregg Hill (2022 [2023], Origin): Trombonist, started in big bands with Illinois Jacquet in 2002, debut 2010, teaches at Michigan State. Joins here the wave of artists recording pieces by Michigan composer Hill. B+(*) [cd]

Lana Del Rey: Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd (2023, Interscope/Polydor): Singer-songwriter Elizabeth Grant, ninth album since 2010, all but the first charting high, but only the second (Born to Die) selling multi-millions. Long (16 songs, 77:43), co-produced and often co-written by Jack Atonoff. Low-key, but possibly of more than passing interest. B+(**) [sp]

Marc Ducret: Palm Sweat: Marc Ducret Plays the Music of Tim Berne (2022 [2023], Screwgun/Out of Your Head): Guitarist, born in Denmark, debut 1986, has played on at least 20 Tim Berne albums. As there seems to be a push to get others to play Berne's compositions, he's a natural. Sparsely accompanied by various horns (trumpet, alto flute, trombone) and cello, no drums, the music is stripped down and prickly. B+(***) [cd]

Bokani Dyer: Radio Sechaba (2023, Brownswood): Pianist-singer, born in Botswana, based in South Africa, has a half-dozen albums since 2010, has one foot in jazz but this sounds more like soul music. Ends with a nice instrumental. B+(**) [cd] [05-12]

Vince Ector Organotomy Trio +: Live @ the Side Door (2020 [2023], Cabo Verde): Drummer, has a couple albums, side credits back to 1995 (Charles Earland, which eventually led to a Charles Earland Tribute Band). Leads a quartet here, with Pat Bianchi (organ), Paul Bollenback (guitar), and Justin Jones (sax, presumably the +1). B+(**) [cd]

El Michels Affair & Black Thought: Glorious Game (2023, Big Crown): New York funk/soul instrumental band led by Leon Michels, eighth album since 2005, lands a world class MC this time, working over some loops with occasional guest spots. A- [sp]

Emperor X: Suggested Improvements to Transportation Infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor (2023, Dreams of Field, EP): Singer-songwriter Chad Matheny, gave up graduate study in physics to focus on music, self-released debut 1998, eleven albums and nine EPs. Six songs, 18:14, each tied to a regional transportation authority (from WMATA to MBATA). B+(**) [bc]

Nick Finzer: Dreams Visions Illusions (2022 [2023], Outside In Music): Trombonist, based in New York, albums since 2012. Postbop sextet, with Lucas Pino (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), bass, and drums. B+(**) [cd]

Robbie Fulks: Bluegrass Vacation (2023, Compass): Alt-country singer-songwriter, debut 1996, has done collaborations with Linda Gail Lewis and the Mekons, and covers of Michael Jackson and 13 Hillbilly Giants. This one he wrote all but one song (Delmore Brothers). B+(***) [sp]

Girl Scout: Real Life Human Garbage (2023, Made, EP): Swedish group, Emma Jansson the singer, rocks some but doesn't reduce to punk or riot grrrl. Might even pass as winsome. Five songs, 15:35. B+(**) [sp]

The Hold Steady: The Price of Progress (2023, Positive Jams): Craig Finn's band since 2003, ninth studio album (plus a few solos on the side). It's getting hard to tell their (or his) albums apart, but they're infrequent enough that each comes as a revelation: the stories interest, the words command your attention, his talkie voice is clear enough, and the music just fits. A- [sp]

JPEGMafia x Danny Brown: Scaring the Hoes (2023, AWAL): Producer-rapper Barrington Hendricks, fifth album since 2016, adding rapper Daniel Sewall here, whose discography goes back to 2010. Sounds like they threw everything into a blender, but instead of pureeing that shit, they just sent it flying everywhere. B+(*) [sp]

Larry June and the Alchemist: The Great Escape (2023, Empire): San Francisco rapper Larry Hendricks, half-dozen albums since 2017, hooks up with prolific LA producer Dan Maman. B+(*) [sp]

Jason Kush: Finally Friday (2021 [2023], MCG Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, teaches at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, seems to be his first album, a quartet with piano-bass-drums. Has a big sound and likes to soar, so it helps that the rhythm section gives him steady support. B+(***) [cd]

Julian Lage: The Layers (2022 [2023], Blue Note, EP): Jazz guitarist, six more tracks (24:44) from the sessions of last year's View With a Room, with Jorge Roeder (bass), Dave King (drums), and/or Bill Frisell (guitar) -- two are duos. B+(**) [sp]

Las Vegas Boneheads: Sixty and Still Cookin' (2023, Curt Miller Music): Trombone-heavy band, traces its history back to 1962, but has only recorded since Curt Miller took over, with their debut in 2017, and this their sophomore effort. Mostly standards, closing with "I Thought About You," "Cherokee," and "Gians Steps." B [cd]

Mark Lewis: Sunlight Shines In (2019 [2023], Audio Daddio): Saxophonist (alto/tenor, also flute), (9) at Discogs, from Tacoma, debut album 1979, original pieces, backed by piano, bass, and drums, with Nolan Shaheed on trumpet. B+(**) [cd]

Brandon Lopez: Vilevilevilevilevilevilevilevile (2023, Tao Forms): Avant-bassist, side credits start around 2012, has been very prolific of late. This is solo, impressive enough within the obvious limits. B+(**) [cd]

Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra: Lightning Dreamers (2023, International Anthem): Trumpet/electronics player, albums back to 1994, juggles several groups, eighth album with this one since 2007, now an octet, with Jeff Parker (guitar), Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez (keyboards), Damon Locks (voice/electronics), Gerald Cleaver (drums), Mauricio Takara (electronics/percussion), and Nicole Mitchell (flute). B+(**) [sp]

Christian McBride's New Jawn: Prime (2021 [2023], Mack Avenue): Bassist, from Philadelphia, established himself as the premier mainstream jazz bassist with his 1994-2000 Verves. Introduced this group on his 2018 album, with Josh Evans (trumpet), Marcus Strickland (tenor sax/bass clarinet), and Nasheet Waits (drums), with all four bringing songs. This one adds covers of Larry Young, Ornette Coleman, and Sonny Rollins; each, in its way, sharpening the edges. A- [sp]

Francisco Mela Featuring Cooper-Moore and William Parker: Music Frees Our Souls Vol. 2 (2020 [2023], 577): Cuban drummer, went to Berklee in 2000, early records more obviously Latin, but has knocked out several free jazz sets recently. This has Cooper-Moore on piano and Parker on bass, for two side-long improvs, plus a couple spare bits for the digital. B+(***) [dl]

Gurf Morlix: Caveman (2022, Rootball): Singer-songwriter, from Buffalo before Texas and Los Angeles; was drummer, producer, and more to Lucinda Williams 1985-96, has a steady stream of records since 2000. When I went to look this up in my 2022 tracking file, I noticed that it was missing (meaning that I missed it and also that it hadn't appeared on the hundreds of EOY lists I tracked), but that his 2021 album was there, indicating that the same thing happened before. This is another solid collection of songs. B+(**) [sp]

Gurf Morlix: I Challenge the Beast (2023, Rootball): Nine more songs, most comfortably within the blues idiom. B+(***) [sp]

Willie Nelson: I Don't Know a Thing About Love: The Songs of Harlan Howard (2023, Legacy): Ten songs written by Howard (1927-2002), two (one of which will be recognized as such) co-credited to Buck Owens, delivered in an economical 31:11. Songs are a mixed bag. Singer, of course, is great. B+(**) [sp]

Billy Nomates: Cacti (2023, Invada): British singer-songwriter Tor Maries, got a big jump on her 2020 debut with her connection to Sleaford Mods. Little sonic evidence of that here, especially first half, but gets more interesting on the way out. B+(**) [sp]

Grant Peeples: A Murder of Songs (2023, self-released): Folksinger-songwriter, ninth album since 2008, one memorable title: Okra and Ecclesiastes. Pieced together while dodging the pandemic. Could be more pointed politically, and/or could be funnier, but any song that reminds me of John Prine (as "Elizabeth" does) helps. B+(**) [sp]

Caroline Polachek: Desire, I Want to Turn Into You (2023, Perpetual Novice): Singer-songwriter, started in the group Chairlift, second album under her own name. B+(*) [sp]

Quasi: Breaking the Balls of History (2023, Sub Pop): Portland duo of "former spouses" Sam Coomes (vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass) and Janet Weiss (vocals, drums), started in 1993, with both also engaged in other bands (most notably, Weiss in Sleater-Kinney), this their tenth album (albeit first since 2013). Just when I was ready to shitcan this, I heard some organ I liked. When it got awful again, a bass riff caught my ear. Up and down like that, but in the end, not worth the aggravation. B- [sp]

Joakim Rainer Trio: Light.Sentence (2021 [2023], Sonic Transmissions): Norwegian pianist, last name Petersen, first album after several side-credits, a trio with Alexander Piris (bass) and Rino Sivathas (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Rent Romus/Heikki Koskinen: Itkuja Suite, Invocations on Lament (2022 [2023], Edgetone): Two saxophonists: the former also credited with flute, melodica, and voice; the latter with e-trumpet and kantele. Fine print adds: "featuring Life's Blood Ensemble and Heikki Lantinen." The former is Romus's working group; the latter the vocalist who pulls this toward opera: the point of the "invocations on lament," something I could do without. B+(*) [cd]

Ryuichi Sakamoto: 12 (2023, Milan): Japanese pianist, died a couple months (age 71) after this album was released. counted as his 12th album (although some sources credit him with more than 20, plus his work in Yellow Magic Orchestra. Minimal ambiance, aiming at serenity. B [sp]

Cécile McLorin Salvant: Mélusine (2023, Nonesuch): Jazz singer, her last four albums (2015-22) topped the Jazz Critics Poll vocal category, though her MacArthur Genius Grant was a bigger milestone. Born in Miami, father Haitian, mother French, has used the latter language frequently in the past, but this album -- based on medieval French folk tales and music, with five original pieces -- is almost all in French (with some Kreyňl and a bit of English). I've been duly impressed, but never really enjoyed her records. B+(*) [sp]

Sleaford Mods: UK Grim (2023, Rough Trade): British rap-punk duo, vocalist Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn, grim since 2007, with twelve albums as consistent as the Fall. B+(***) [sp]

Peter Smith Trio: Dollar Dreams (2022 [2023], Real Magic): Pianist, from Los Angeles, has a couple previous albums. Trio with Mike Gurrola (bass) and Reggie Quinerly (drums), playing six Smith originals and four standards. B+(**) [cd]

Bruce Springsteen: Only the Strong Survive (2022, Columbia): Covers album of soul songs from the 1960s and 1970s, panned by one reviewer as "pretty much Bruce does karaoke," but done with surpassing care, with Ron Aniello's production, clusters of horns and backing vocals, and a string section (on 10/15 cuts). Not bad, but I can't imagine ever wanting to hear it again, least of all as a goof. [PS: Soon as I wrote that line, "7 Rooms of Gloom" came on, followed by "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and "Someday We'll Be Together," which along with the earlier "I Wish It Would Rain" are some kind of camp.] B [sp]

Marcus Strickland Twi-Life: The Universe's Wildest Dream (2023, Strick Music): Saxophonist (soprano/alto/tenor, also bass clarinet), albums since 2001, played with Dave Douglas 2005-10, third album under this Afro-futurist project name (which originally dates back to his 2006 album). With Mitch Henry (keys), Kyle Miles (bass), and Charles Haynes (drums), plus guest vocals on three tracks. B+(*) [bc]

Lucas Traxel: One-Eyed Daruma (2023, We Jazz): Swiss bassist, has a couple dozen side-credits since 2012, first album under his own name, a trio with Otis Sandsjö (tenor sax) and Moritz Gaumgärtner (drums). B+(***) [sp]

The Tubs: Dead Meat (2023, Trouble in Mind): London band (not the Norwegian one), first album after an EP), a rock band with a bit of jangle pop. B+(*) [sp]

Luis Vicente 4tet: House in the Valley (2021 [2023], Clean Feed): Portuguese trumpet player, very active since 2012. Quartet with John Dikeman (tenor sax), Luke Stewart (bass), and Onno Govaert (drums), on two (or four) long pieces (67:16). The saxophonist has long struck me as a rather blunt instrument, hitting especially hard here. B+(**) [sp]

Waco Brothers: The Men That God Forgot (2023, Plenty Tuff): Mekon Jon Langford's Chicago bar band, more cowpunk when they were founded in 1995, own label now named for one of the songs on that debut. Tenth album, after a break of seven years. B+(**) [sp]

Yaeji: With a Hammer (2023, XL): Kathy Yaeji Lee, born in New York, of Korean parents, produces electronica and sings, first studio album after a couple EPs and a mixtape. B+(*) [sp]

Young Fathers: Heavy Heavy (2023, Ninja Tune): Scottish trio, one (Alloysious Massaquoi) born in Liberia but moved to Edinburgh when he was four, another (Kayus Bankole) has parents from Nigeria. Slotted hip-hop based on their two early mixtapes, but four albums later they're unclassifiable. B+(***) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Jeff Johnson: My Heart (1991 [2023], Origin): Bassist, b. 1954 in Minneapolis, long time in Seattle, debut 1986, has been a central figure in this label's sessions. Early quartet with John Gross (tenor sax), Art Resnick (piano), and Billy Mintz (drums). Skirts around the edges of postbop. B+(**) [cd]

JuJu: A Message From Mozambique (1972 [2023], Strut): Afrocentric jazz group founded in San Francisco by saxophonist Plunky Nkabinde (originally James Branch), with other African-sounding names: Ken Shabala (Kent Parker, bass/flute), Lon Moshe (Ron Martin, flute/vibes), Al-Hamel Rasul (Tony Grayson, piano), Babatunde (Michael Lea, congas/drums), and Jalango Ngoma (Dennis Stewart, timbales). A little rough, but could still get filed as spiritual jazz now, but at the time tried to fuse avant with black power community. Group evolved into Oneness of Juju. A- [sp]

Old music:

Mose Allison: The Word From Mose Allison (1964, Atlantic): Subtitle: "The Songs of Mose Allison: Words of Wisdom from the Jazz Sage." Jazz singer-pianist (1927-2016), white boy from Mississippi, invented a hipster sound that is still very distinctive. He recorded several albums for Prestige 1957-59, for Columbia (1959-61), and more for Atlantic 1962-76, then staged a comeback with Blue Note after 1987. I've only sampled him, but this LP is as consistently fine as his compilations. A- [sp]

Mose Allison: Mose Allison Sings (1957-59 [2006], Prestige): Compilation originally released in 1963 with 13 tracks, later expanded to 16. I can find all but two on albums, but Prestige often held material back to release later albums once its artists moved on. Penguin Guide recommends a 2001 reissue called Mose Allison Sings and Plays, which goes all the way to 23 tracks. Just four originals here, twelve covers, all with various bass and drums, done with his trademark light touch. B+(***) [sp]

Derek Bailey/George Lewis/John Zorn: Yankees (1982 [1983], Celluloid): Guitar, trombone, alto/soprano sax (plus clarinet and game calls). All improvised, the sort of abstract noise I rarely get into. It did have me wondering who the three baseball players on the cover were. Presumably New York Yankees, but I don't see any insignia. One song was named for Enos Slaughter (mostly a Cardinal, but finished his career with New York), but doesn't look like him. B [r]

Jeppe Zeeberg: It's the Most Basic Thing You Can Do on a Boat (2014, Barefoot): Danish pianist, half-dozen albums since 2014, this his debut, backed by bass and drums, two of each listed. Could be split into two trios, but in full fury it does sound like they're all playing. B+(***) [sp]

Jeppe Zeeberg: Riding on the Boogie Woogie of Life (2015, Barefoot): Second album, piano with alternate keyboards (synth, spinet, organ), again with the doubled-up bass and drums. B+(**) [sp]

Jeppe Zeeberg: The Four Seasons (2017, Barefoot): First large group album, his pairs of bass and drums (with Henrik Olsson also playing guitar) augmented by four horns (sax/clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and tuba). It can get to be a bit much. B+(*) [sp]

Jeppe Zeeberg: Eight Seemingly Unrelated Pieces of Piano Music (2018, Barefoot): Danish pianist, half-dozen albums since 2014, this one solo, also playing synthesizer, pipe organ, percussion, and electronics. He promises variety, and delivers: a stride piece to open, some organ ambiance, a crashing free piece ("A Regular Guy in Japan"), and another, then ends with "something jolly." He's most impressive flat out, but it helps that he doesn't stay there. A- [bc]

Jeppe Zeeberg: Universal Disappointment (2019, self-released): Various lineups, some he's not credited on, except as composer, arranger, etc. The eclecticism is getting a bit much. B [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Richard X Bennett & Matt Parker: Parker Plays X (BYNK) [05-13]
  • George Coleman: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (Cellar) [05-19]
  • Les DeMerle: Sound 67: Once in a Lifetime (1967, Origin) [04-21]
  • Lauren Henderson: Conjuring (Brontosaurus) [04-21]
  • Jeff Johnson: My Heart (1991, Origin) [04-21]
  • Jason Keiser: Shaw's Groove (OA2) [04-21]
  • John Pizzarelli: Stage & Screen (Palmetto) [04-21]
  • Alex Weitz: Rule of Thirds (Outside In Music) [04-28]

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