An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 1, 2023
Music: Current count 40117  rated (+39), 48  unrated (-1: 20 new, 28 old).
I wrote and posted two big pieces last week. One was the usual news roundup, Speaking of Which, on Sunday. Most of the links are on various demented Republicans (like "All of Ron DeSantis's Crimes Against Good Etiquette") and their nefarious schemes (like "Why Republicans Hate It When Poor People Have Food to Eat"), but I also added a section on Biden given his campaign announcement ("It's me or the abyss" is about right). The subject I wrote more about is foreign policy, where Biden leaves a lot to be desired.
One piece I cited without comment was Ethan Iverson's The End of the Music Business. I figured it might be something I'd want to circle back around to, but for now: the music business hasn't ended; it's just changing, and like most businesses that's been bad for workers. However, even if it does end, music will survive, because it meets needs that don't have to be monetized. That may be hard to grasp in a world that tries to reduce everything to money, but it could also be an example for moving past such alienation.
The other piece was my second Book Roundup in a year (last was October 22, 2022, and before that May 1, 2022. I spend a lot of time scrounging around virtual bookstores, looking for nonfiction titles of interest. I publish something when I come up with 40 blurbs, by which time I've accumulated a bunch of secondary and miscellaneous lists, which get flushed out at the same time.
I count this as important work, because it gives me a fairly good sense of what people know and think. I also find it calming. For most of my life I used to regularly retreat into bookstores, studiously examining the shelves, especially for new books -- that's probably why libraries had less allure -- which I'd pick up, look over, poke my nose into, it being just as interesting to know what I was missing as what I was reading. I didn't break that habit until Borders was shut down, and Barnes & Noble turned into a toy store/café.
Since posting, I've ordered two books from the list: Myth America, ed. by Kevin Kruse & Julian Zelizer; and A Climate Vocabulary for the Future, by Herg Simmens (buried in the long list of climate books under Greta Thunberg). The former complements my recent/current reading in American history. The latter seems like it might be useful for deciding how to write about the climate crisis.
A few weeks ago, Rick Mitchell asked me to participate in a podcast for the Jazz Journalists Association. The topic was to be jazz polls. Of late, I've been running the Francis Davis Jazz Poll, and in vote in a couple others (DownBeat, El Intruso). The original idea was to pair me with Frank Alkyer (DownBeat editor). After a no-show, Geoffrey Himes agreed to join in. We talked last week, and they posted the Jazz Buzz podcast today. I've never done anything like that, and had little sense of how well it went. I'll revisit it later, and try to write some more: no doubt I'll want to clarify a few points. If you have any comments, questions, or just wish to express outrage, please write me through the usual channels. (Note that there is a "Contact" button in the navigation bar.)
Last week, I also got my invite to vote in DownBeat's Critics Poll, so I'll take a look at that later in the week. I should also point out that the Jazz Journalists Association's 2023 Awards nominees have been announced, broken down to Performance & Recordings and Journalism & Media. I've never been a member of JJA, so I have no involvement there, and had to pass when their poll came up in the podcast. As I recall, they do an awards schmooze fest, which makes them more like the Grammys, minus the TV contract glitz. The nominee lists strike me as short (3-6 per category, just 4 for new albums) and pretty mainstream. I couldn't find any reference lists for who has won in the past, even in the "lifetime achievement" categories (this year's musicians are George Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd, and Wadada Leo Smith, so presumably they hadn't won before).
By the way, while poking around the JJA site, I was sad to see that Ken Franckling died on March 24. He's been a long-time contributor to our poll, and his Jazz Notes blog has always been a delight.
Records this week are almost all jazz (Brit Taylor the exception). I tried to play down my queue, but other than that my prospecting system had a lot more jazz prioritized than anything else, and with all the writing, I just went for whatever was easiest to find.
New records reviewed this week:
Michael Blake: Dance of the Mystic Bliss (2020 , P&M): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano, also flute), from Montreal, based in New York, albums since 1997, with guitar (Guilherme Monteiro), percussion/marimba (Mauro Refosco and Rogerio Boccato), bass (Michael Bates), and strings (violin and cello). Not his first Latin/Brazilian turn. B+(*) [cd] [05-26]
George Coleman: Live at Smalls Jazz Club (2022 , Cellar): Tenor saxophonist, best known as the younger guy Wayne Shorter replaced in the Miles Davis Quintet, although he's turned in a few masterpieces over the years -- the first (and most classic) Eastern Rebellion (1976), My Horns of Plenty (1991), and A Master Speaks (2016) -- and still retains one of the instrument's most recognizable voices. His set here includes an original blues and seven standards (starting with Davis, and including a Jobim), backed by Spike Wilner (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Few have ever made great sound easier. A- [cd] [05-19]
Day & Taxi: Live in Baden (2021 , Clean Feed): Saxophonist (soprano/alto/c-melody) Christoph Gallio, with Silvan Jeger (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums), group with a dozen albums going back to 1997 (various lineups, Gallio the only constant). B+(***) [sp]
Rachel Eckroth: One (2022 , Blackbird Sessions): Pianist, albums since 2014, sings elsewhere but this is solo piano, originals except for an Ellington and one by Joshua Redman. B+(*) [cd]
Wayne Escoffery: Like Minds (2022 , Smoke Sessions): Tenor saxophonist, born in London, moved to US at 11, studied under Jackie McLean, eleventh album since 2001. Mainstream quartet with David Kikoski (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Mark Whitfield Jr (drums), plus guest slots for Gregory Porter (vocals on 2 tracks, "Rivers of Babylon" especially awful), Tom Harrell (trumpet on 2), and Mike Moreno (guitar on 4), and Daniel Sadownick (percussion on 1). An often impressive player who could be making better albums. B- [sp]
Everything but the Girl: Fuse (2023, Buzzin' Fly/Virgin): British electropop duo, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, had a run 1984-00, went off to pursue solo careers (five albums for Thorn, four for Watt, none you'd call hits), back after 24 years with a reunion album. B+(*) [sp]
Frank Gratkowski/Simon Nabatov: Tender Mercies (2022 , Clean Feed): German saxophonist (alto, plus flute, clarinet, bass clarinet) and Russia pianist (based in Germany), a duo. The piano breaks up the ugliness, but doesn't quite overcome it. B+(*) [sp]
Lauren Henderson: Conjuring (2023, Brontosaurus): Jazz singer, sometime songwriter (5 of 10 songs here), eighth album since 2011. The covers are most striking, especially "That Old Black Magic," and two takes of "It's Magic" (one in Spanish, as "Es Magia"). Band features Joel Ross on vibraphone. B+(***) [cd]
Marc Jordan: Waiting for the Sun to Rise (2023, Linus Entertainment): Has a rep, with John Capek, as a songwriter, less so for his albums, fifteen since 1978. Plays guitar, but relies mostly on strings. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Keiser: Shaw's Groove (2022 , OA2): Guitarist, from San Jose, Bandcamp has a couple previous albums but Discogs hasn't noticed him yet. Woody Shaw pieces, with Erik Jekabson (trumpet), Aaron Lington (baritone sax), a second guitarist (John Stowell), bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Le Boeuf Brothers: Hush (2021 , Soundspore): From California, Remy Le Boeuf (sax/clarinet) and Pascal Le Boeuf (piano), fifth (or sixth) album together, as well as several on their own. Quintet with Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Christian Euman (drums). Tends to be quiet, almost meditative. B+(**) [cd]
Asbjørn Lerheim/Roger Arntzen/Michiyo Yagi/Tamaya Honda: Chrome Hill Duo Meets Dojo: Live at Aketa No Mise (2020 , Clean Feed): Chrome Hill is a Norwegian quartet led by Lerheim (guitar) with Arntzen (bass), with four records 2008-20. Dojo is a Japanese duo of Yagi (electric 21-string koto/electronics) and Honda (drums). B+(*) [bc]
Luis Lopes Abyss Mirrors: Echoisms (2022 , Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, has put together an impressive discography since 2007. Large group here (tentet), with a second guitarist (Flak), two saxophonists, two electronics credits, electric bass, and three strings (violin, viola, cello). B+(**) [bc]
Brandon Lopez Trio: Matanzas (2023, Relative Pitch): Avant-bassist, very active since 2017, trio with Steve Baczkowski (sax) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Bass lays down industrial-grade noise, which the sax eventually builds on. B+(**) [sp]
Bill Mays: Autumn Serenade (2023, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Sacramento, twenty-some albums since 1976, more side credits (early on with Bud Shank). Trio with Dean Johnson (bass) and Ron Vincent (drums), playing nine autumn-themed songs (six with "autumn" in the title). Mays sings two, the second a duet with Judy Kirtley. B+(**) [sp]
Steve Millhouse: The Unwinding (2022 , SteepleChase): Bassist, possibly his first album (although he has side credits back to the 1990s), plays six-string contrabass guitar here, with Rich Perry (tenor sax) and Eric Halvorson (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Move: The City (2022 , Clean Feed): Intense Portuguese avant-jazz trio: Felipe Zenicola (electric bass), Yedo Gibson (saxophones), and João Valinho (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Natural Information Society: Since Time Is Gravity (2021 , Aguirre/Eremite): Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams, debut 2002, fifth album since 2015 with variants of this group, expanded here to eleven, including Ari Brown (tenor sax) and Hamid Drake (percussion). The key to the group has always been its ability to sustain a groove while doing interesting things with it. More horns here steers it back a bit toward a more conventional jazz sound, so that's what's interesting this time. A- [sp]
Aruán Ortiz Trio: Serranias: Sketchbook for Piano Trio (2022 , Intakt): Cuban pianist, in US for twenty years now, with Brad Jones (bass) and John Betsch (drums). Starts flashy, ends pensive. B+(**) [sp]
Ed Partyka Jazz Orchestra: Hold Your Fire (2022 , Neuklang): Trombonist, from Chicago, formed his big band in 2001 to support Bob Brookmeyer, fourth album since, this particular edition recorded in Zürich, mostly German musicians, including singer Julia Oschewsky (in English). B+(*) [sp]
Ivo Perelman/Elliott Sharp: Artificial Intelligence (2022 , Mahakala Music): Brazilian tenor saxophonist, has tons of albums, many duos, including a particularly good one last year with guitarist Joe Morris (Elliptic Time), follows that up with another guitarist duo, this time with stray electronics, which work just as well. A- [sp]
Ivo Perelman/Dave Burrell/Bobby Kapp: Trichotomy (2021 , Mahakala Music): Tenor sax trio, with piano and drums, veterans who go way back. Kapp is the least well known, but played on 1967-68 albums for Gato Barbieri, Marion Brown, and Noah Howard, and played on Burrell's most famous album in 1976. He appeared on two recent albums with Perelman, Matthew Shipp, and William Parker, so this lineup squares a circle. Two long blowouts, with details that matter. A- [sp]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Jeff Cosgrove: Live in Carrboro (2017 , Soul City Sounds): Live shot, tenor sax trio with his favorite pianist and a relatively unsung free drummer -- from the same year as the trio's Live in Baltimore appeared. B+(***) [bc]
Ivo Perelman/Ray Anderson/Joe Morris/Reggie Nicholson: Molten Gold (2022 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Tenor sax, trombone, bass, and drums. Anderson turns out to be a great accompanist here. A- [dl]
John Pizzarelli: Stage & Screen (2021 , Palmetto): Guitarist-turned-standards singer, many albums since 1992 (including some with his trad-minded guitarist father Bucky Pizzarelli), backed here by the impressive swing and boogie of Isaiah J. Thompson (piano) and Michael Karn (bass). Primo songs help, too. B+(***) [cd]
Eric Reed: Black, Brown, and Blue (2022 , Smoke Sessions): Mainstream pianist, dedicated his 1991 debut to Art Blakey, played with Wynton Marsalis through the 1990s. Trio with Luca Alemanno (bass) and Reggie Quinerly (drums), one song each, standards from Ellington to Monk to Silver to Tyner, and two vocal spots: Calvin B. Rhone for "Lean on Me" (Bill Withers), and David Daughtry for "Pastime Paradise" (Stevie Wonder). B+(**) [sp]
Mike Richmond: Turn Out the Stars (2023, SteepleChase): Bassist, albums back to 1978, plays cello here, with Andy Laverne (piano), Jay Anderson (bass), and Anthony Pimciotti (drums), on what is mostly a set of Bill Evans songs. B+(**) [sp]
Diego Rivera: Love & Peace (2023, Posi-Tone): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, born in Ann Arbor, teaches at Michigan State, half-dozen albums since 2013. Lively quartet here with Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums), all up for more than a little Latin tinge. B+(**) [sp]
Roots Magic Sextet: Long Old Road: Retold Pasts and Present Day Musings (2022 , Clean Feed): Italian group, fourth album, started as a quintet with Alberto Popolla (clarinet), Errico de Fabritis (alto/baritone sax), Gianfranco Tedeschi (bass), and Fabrizio Spera (drums) continuing, plus Eugenio Colombo (soprano sax/flutes) and Francesco Lo Cascio (vibes/percussion) making six. Leads with a strong groove, riffs on top of that, tries some change of pace. B+(***) [sp]
Dan Rosenboom: Polarity (2022 , Orenda): Trumpet player, albums since 2005, this one a quintet with Gavin Templeton (alto/baritone sax), John Escreet (piano/keyboards), Billy Mohler (bass), and Damion Reid (drums). B+(***) [cd]
Steve Smith and Vital Information: Time Flies (2022 , Wounded Bird, 2CD): Drummer-led fusion group, named for their 1983 debut album, principally Manuel Valera (keyboards) and Janek Gwizdolo (electric bass), with guest spots for George Garzone (tenor sax) and Mike Mainieri (vibes). Garzone is always an imposing soloist, especially on the bonus disc, which features him throughout. B+(**) [cd]
Bobo Stenson Trio: Sphere (2022 , ECM): Swedish pianist (b. 1944). I was always a big fan of his 1973 album with Jan Garbarek, Witchi-Tai-To. This is a trio with Anders Jormin (bass) and Jon Fält (drums), with Jormin composing or arranging four (of 9) tracks, with others coming from Per Nørigärd, Sven-Erik Bäck, and Jean Sibelius (and nary a hint of my first thought, Monk). B+(*) [sp]
Brit Taylor: Kentucky Blue (2023, Cut a Shine): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, second album, a fresh voice from the hills, with a lot of fiddle. B+(***) [sp]
Erik Truffaz: Rollin' (2023, Blue Note): Swiss trumpet player, albums since 1997, accompanied here by Marcello Giuliani (electric & acoustic bass); don't see the credits, but also piano and drums, with a couple vocal spots. B+(**) [sp]
Alex Weitz: Rule of Thirds (2022 , Outside In Music): Saxophonist (mostly tenor), has a previous self-released album, quartet here with piano (Tal Cohen), bass (Ben Tiberio), and drums (Michael Piolet), eight original compositions plus "Love for Sale." Has a sound that's prepared to soar, or perhaps just swing. B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Les DeMerle Sound 67: Once in a Lifetime (1967 , Origin): Drummer, backdates his debut a couple years to when he was 21, with a group that featured Randy Brecker (trumpet), a couple cuts with Genya Ravan singing, one more from the Mike Douglas show with Rosemary Clooney. B+(**) [cd]
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Mandatory Reality (2017 , Eremite, 2CD): Octet led by Joshua Abrams, who is credited not with his usual bass but with guimbri and flute (actually, everyone gets a flute credit on the last, and shortest, track). At this stage (their third album), the band is clearly into minimalism, with subtle variations on rmesmerizing rhythmic patterns, extended in four pieces to 81:39. B+(***) [sp]
Day & Taxi: Less and More (1997 , Unit): Group led by soprano/alto saxophonist Christoph Gallio, second album, with Dominique Girod (bass) and Dieter Ulrich (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble: Drum Dance to the Motherland (1972 , Eremite): Born Warren Cheeseboro (1946-2022), played vibraphone and marimba, still appeared on DownBeat "rising star" ballots into his 70s, after his last album (2009). This was his first, released 1973 on Dogtown, with him and drummer Dwight James also playing scratchy clarinet, backed by guitar, bass, and a second drummer with African percussion. B+(***) [sp]
Mike Lipskin: Spreadin' Rhythm Around (2002, Buskirk): Stride pianist, someone I hadn't noticed until Allen Lowe mentioned him, but I found a co-credit in my database, Stride Piano Summit (with Ralph Sutton, Jay McShann, and Sweets Edison). Perhaps better known as a producer, especially of RCA reissues. Mostly solo, with Leon Oakley (trumpet) on five tracks. B+(***) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: