An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, June 26, 2023
Tweet: Music Week: 40 albums, 4 A-list,
Music: Current count 40476  rated (+40), 9  unrated (-3).
Another big Speaking of Which yesterday: 6163 words, 98 links. I started on Thursday, so the Prigozhin putsch drive caught me midstream. Upon reflection, the critical detail that's rarely reported is that Putin had moved to force Wagner back under Russian military command, so the revolt was a reaction to an existential threat. Anti-Russian pundits enjoyed themselves immensely this weekend by taunting Putin as weak, but at several critical junctures it was Prigozhin whose hand was forced. Also, it was rather clever of Putin to allow Prigozhin an exit ramp to Belarus.
The big question now is how much of the Wagner army will join Prigozhin in Belarus. My guess is that it won't be much, so the net effect will be equivalent to house arrest. There Prigozhin will still remain as a potential political threat to Putin, but he's given up on being a military one. And while Putin is often regarded as a front man for the oligarchs, it's worth remembering that Prigozhin's not the first one Putin forced to heel. None of this strikes me weakness. Sure, the war is still a disastrous miscalculation, and Putin is likely to be judged for that mistake eventually. But not yet.
Looking around this morning, one link worth adding is Heather Digby Parton: Trump's messianic appeal can't be replicated. One thing I've never understood about these "Revelations" scholars is why none of them recognize Trump (or, before him, GW Bush) as the Antichrist. As one who doesn't believe in that crap, this isn't a point I'm inclined to belabor, but given the assumptions, doesn't it seem pretty obvious?
Parton also gets into a story I didn't bother with, which is how Moms for Liberty got caught quoting Hitler, then had to beat a retreat. Pro tip: you're much less likely to make this mistake if you don't believe in the same things Hitler believed in. Parton quotes "Ryan Helfenbein @ the Faith & Freedom Coalition Gala": "If you don't control education, you can't control the future. Stalin knew that. Mao knew it. Hitler knew it. We have to get that back for conservative values."
The problem with this isn't that he aligned conservatism with bad examples. The problem is thinking that the future is purely a creation of will, and as such subject to thought control (or more precisely, by keeping people from thinking for themselves). One of the most important truths about the world today is that we need lots of people who are capable of thinking critically and creatively when faced with new problems, because they're coming all the time. That's way up there with we have to learn to accept and respect people different from ourselves, because we can't afford to fight all the time.
It's not that conservatives have no good ideas -- some traditional values should be honored, and some change should be resisted -- but their inability to grasp such fundamental concepts, along with their defense and promotion of greater social and economic hierarchy, has made them not just wrong but dangerously so.
I've been pretty bummed about lack of progress, even on previously simple home projects. But while writing on book projects has been hard to get into, cranking out the weekly Speaking of Which still comes easy, and almost seems therapeutic. Same could be said for Music Week, but I'm more anxious to get it out of the way, thinking that will open up a new week of opportunity.
Those frustrations, along with trouble finding things to listen to, led me to start off the last couple days with something old from the cases (leading to a couple tweets). That threatened to suppress the ratings count, but turns out not by much. Peter Brötzmann died last week, at 82, ending a 56-year career that literally spans the entire German (and for that matter, European) avant-garde. I've often had trouble with his exuberant cacophony -- his Penguin Guide crown album, 1968's Machine Gun, is a mere B+(**) in my list -- but I've occasionally found items to A-list, including this year's set with Majid Bekkas and Hamid Drake, Catching Ghosts, and, to pick an example where the noise is transcendent, 2009's Hairy Bones. Chris Monsen got me going when he linked to Sprawl.
Among new releases, I've never cared much for Jason Isbell, and had the new one wrapped up at B+(***), until I gave it a couple more plays. Also benefiting from extra attention was Mother Earth, a side trip after checking out the latest Tracy Nelson album. I remembered having at least one of their albums, but hadn't filed a grade.
Jeffrey Callahan posted a request for mid-year lists on Expert Witness. Few returns as yet, but Clifford Ocheltree identified "only three items strike me as durable":
I suppose you can derive my list from here, but I wouldn't put much stock in the order, which reflects initial slotting but little sorting.
Last Monday in the month, so I've opened a new monthly Streamnotes archive for July. But indexing for June will have to wait -- no need holding this post up for a bunch of busy work. I'll also do a post of notes on television shows, probably tomorrow. Diminishing returns have me given up on mid-year music lists, but similar lists exist for television (and probably movies, which I've lost all interest in). Not on any list so far is Deadloch, a mystery series set in Tasmania that still has a couple episodes to come. Body count is too high to really call it a comedy, but it often is very funny.
New records reviewed this week:
Charlie Apicella & Iron City Meet The Griots Speak: Destiny Calling (2022 , OA2): Guitarist, eighth album, usually plays groove-oriented fusion/soul jazz (his 2019 album was called Groove Machine), surprises here by hooking up with "legends of the 1960s NYC loft scene": Daniel Carter (saxes, flute, clarinet, trumpet, piano), William Parker (bass, doson ngoni), and Juma Sultan (congas, percussion). He means 1970s (Sultan was born in 1942, Carter 1945, Parker 1952). B+(***) [cd]
Asake: Work of Art (2023, YBNL Nation): Nigerian singer-songwriter Ahmed Ololade, stage name is his mother's, second album. B+(**) [sp]
Atmosphere: So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously (2023, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Underground hip-hop duo from Minnesota, Sean Daley (Slug) and Anthony Davis (ANT), many albums since 1997. B+(***) [sp]
Blue Cranes: My Only Secret (2022 , Jealous Butcher/Beacon Sound): Quintet from Portland: two saxes, keyboards, bass, and drums. Eighth album supposedly moves in new directions, but fusion that only intermittently passes as jazz has trouble sustaining interest. B [cd] [08-11]
Chris Byars Quartet: Look Ahead (2023, SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, largely invented what we might call "retro-bop," which he is likely to extend into a career comparable to what Scott Hamilton did with "retro-swing." Quartet with Pasquale Grasso (guitar), Ari Roland (bass), and Keith Balla (drums). Not as explicit as many of his albums, just comfortable in his secure worldview. B+(***) [sp]
The Ekphrastics: Special Delivery (2023, Harriet): Indie band picks obscure name, writes pleasant songs I don't quite get. B+(*) [sp]
Amanda Fields: What, When and Without (2023, Are and Be): Country singer-songwriter, first album, likes them slow and sweet, although it's not quite that simple. B+(**) [sp]
Béla Fleck/Zakir Hussain/Edgar Meyer: As We Speak (2023, Thirty Tigers): Banjo player, born in New York, debut 1979, expanded beyond bluegrass to jazz and world music. Second album with Hussain (tabla) and Meyer (bass), joined by (featuring credit on cover) Rakesh Chaurasia (bansuri, an Indian bamboo flute). B+(*) [sp]
Caesar Frazier: Tenacity (As We Speak) (2022, TrackMerchant): Organ player, from Indianapolis, recorded three albums 1972-78, then nothing until 2018. Gets a shot here with mainstreamers Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Vince Ector (drums). B+(*) [sp]
Caesar Frazier: Live at Jazzcup (2023, Stunt): The organ player goes to Sweden, where his pickup group includes Johannes Wamberg (guitar), Kresten Osgood (drums), and Jonas Kullhammar (tenor sax), whose extra edge is critical. B+(**) [sp]
Noah Haidu: Standards (2023, Sunnyside): Pianist, from New York, sixth album since 2011, last one was dedicated to Keith Jarrett, now this one is keyed to the 40th anniversary of Jarrett's Standards Trio. With bass (Buster Williams or Peter Washington) and drums (Lewis Nash), plus Steve Wilson (sax, but back cover says drums) on four tracks. B+(**) [cd]
Ben Howard: Is It? (2023, Island): British singer-songwriter, branded folk but leaning into electronics, which is more electropop than techno. B+(*) [sp]
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Weathervanes (2023, Southeastern): Singer-songwriter, started in Drive-By Truckers, went solo in 2007 and started co-crediting his band in 2009. Reputation precedes him, but I've never had the patience to figure out whether it's deserved. But he's singing as passionately as ever, and for once the sound is ingratiating enough to invite further inspection. For instance, consider: "I thank God you weren't brought up like me, with all that shame and certainty." A- [sp]
Christine Jensen: Day Moon (2023, Justin Time): Alto/soprano saxophonist, from Canada. Quartet with Steve Amirault (piano), Adrian Vedady (bass), Jim Doxas (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Stephen Jones & Ben Haugland: Road to No-Where (2021 , OA2): Saxophone (soprano/tenor) and piano duets, plus trumpet/flugelhorn (Kevin Whalen) on two tracks. Originals divided 2-3 in favor of the pianist, with four standards. Opens with a lovely "Without a Song." B+(**) [cd]
Kaisa's Machine: Taking Shape (2022 , Greenleaf Music): Finnish bassist Kaisa Mäensivu, second album, with new group members Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax on 5 tracks), Max Light (guitar), Sasha Berliner (vibes on 2), Eden Ladin (piano), and Joe Peri (drums). Postbop with spirit and edge. B+(**) [cd] [07-07]
Ryan Keberle's Collectiv Do Brasil: Considerando (2023, Alternate Side): Trombone player, from Indiana, based in New York, albums since 2007, second Collectiv Do Brasil album, this one recorded in São Paulo with Felipe Silveira (piano), Felipe Brisola (bass), and Paulinho Vicente (drums). Brazilian tilt is subtle. B+(**) [cd] [07-14]
Kill Bill: The Rapper: Fullmetal Kaiju (2023, Exociety): Rapper Dennis Nettles, half-dozen previous albums since 2014. Underground, with slack beats and sly jokes, and a bit of weirdness that hasn't fully registered yet. B+(**) [sp]
Gordon Lee Quartet: How Can It Be? (2022 , PJCE): Pianist, based in Portland, been around a bit, with a 1990 Quartet album and his 2004 GLeeful Big Band. With Renato Caranto (tenor sax), Dennis Caiazza (bass), and Gary Hobbs (drums). B+(**) [cd]
Bill Lowe and the Signifyin' Natives Ensemble: Sweet Cane: Suites and Other Pedagogical Prompts (2021 , Mandorla Music): Plays bass trombone and tuba, not much under his own name but side-credits back to 1975, played with Frank Foster early on, Henry Threadgill, Darrell Katz, has been a regular in the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra. Group here has vocalist Naledi Masilo and a fairly stellar lineup: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet/flugelhorn), Hafez Modirzadeh (alto sax/hoof-seed rattle/b'kongofon), Kevin Harris (piano), Ken Filiano (bass), and Luther Gray (drums). B+(***) [bc]
Greg Mendez: Greg Mendez (2023, Forged Artifacts, EP): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, third "album," I see him being compared to Alex G, which doesn't do much for me. Eight songs, 23:08. B- [sp]
Tracy Nelson: Life Don't Miss Nobody (2023, BMG): Started in the rock group Mother Earth (1967-71), aside from the 1980-93 stretch has recorded regularly since, slotted variously as folk, country, and/or blues without evolving much. Credibly covers some obvious songs, along with a couple of her own. And for a guest spot, Willie Nelson takes her "Honky Tonkin'." B+(**) [sp]
Linda May Han Oh: The Glass Hours (2023, Biophilia): Bassist, born in Malaysia, raised in Australia, based in New York, sings some but it's mostly Sara Serpa's scat here, crowding out Mark Turner's tenor sax, with Fabian Amalzan (piano + electronics) and Obed Calvaire (bass). B [sp]
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: The Harlem Suite (2021 , Ropeadope): Saxophonist from Guadeloupe, parents were writers and family traveled widely; he studied at Berklee, but always worked elements from the French Caribbean into his music. Debut 1999. B+(*) [sp]
Dave Scott: Song for Alice (2022 , SteepleChase): Trumpet player, debug 1996, sixth album on this label since 2007, a quintet with Rich Perry (tenor sax), Gary Versace (piano), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Don Toliver: Love Sick (2023, Cactus Jack/Atlantic): Second-generation rapper-singer from Houston, third album. Falls off when he sings. B [sp]
Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott: East West Trumpet Summit: Coast to Coast (2021 , Origin): Trumpet players, long on the label but from opposite coasts, backed by Orrin Evans on piano, plus bass and drums. Three Marriott originals, the rest jazz standards, including Mingus and Cherry, although my favorite is their "Girl Talk." B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Dave Douglas and Elan Mehler: If There Are Mountains (2019 , Greenleaf Music): Mehler's a pianist, based in New York, several albums back to 2007, split the compositions here with the trumpet player, many songs with lyrics sung by Dominique Eade. Group also includes John Gunther (sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), bass, and drums. Originally released on vinyl-only Newvelle in 2020. B+(*) [sp]
Johnny Hodges Septet: In Concert: Falkoner Central, Copenhagen, March 17, 1961 (1961 , SteepleChase): The alto sax great, leading a septet of Ellington veterans -- Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Al Williams, Aaron Bell, Sam Woodyard -- through his usual songbook. One treat is Nance singing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "Just Squeeze Me," and playing violin on the closer. B+(***) [sp]
Muddy Waters Blue Band Featuring Otis Spann: Live Paris 1968 (1968 , Lantower): Live set from La Salle Pleyel (39:38), originally released on France's Concert in 1988. Spann, of course, is the pianist. B+(**) [sp]
Peter Brötzmann/Alexander von Schlippenbach/Sven-Åke Johansson: Up and Down the Lion-Revised (1979 , Olof Bright): Avant-sax with piano and drums, Johansson also opening on accordion, five improv pieces (57:13). The pianist is a big help here, inspiring some of Brötzmann's most thoughtful playing. A- [bc]
Peter Brötzmann/Maleem Mahmoud Gania/Hamid Drake: The Wels Concert (1996 , Okka Disk): Recorded in Austria. Gania is a Moroccan guembri master, also sings, and Drake plays drums, tablas, and frame drum, with the alto/tenor saxophonist also playing tarogato and e-flat clarinet. B+(***) [bc]
Peter Brötzmann: Sprawl (1996 , Trost): Discogs has artist name as Sprawl, based on no other print on the cover, but it's a one-shot quintet, and the Bandcamp page credits the German saxophonist, over Alex Buess (reeds/electronics), Stephen Wittwer (guitar), William Parker (bass), and Michael Wertmüller (drums). Brötzmann just died at 82, leaving a huge body of work, and this one was singled out by fans. I've often had trouble when he simply blasted away, but this one conveys its power through subtler means. A- [bc]
Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla/Peter Friis Nielsen: Noise of Wings (1999-2001 , Jazzwerkstatt): Tenor sax, drums, bass, the leader also playing tarogato and clarinet, which softens his screech just enough. B+(***) [sp]
Peter Brötzmann/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Never Too Late but Always Too Early: Dedicated to Peter Kowald (2001 , Eremite, 2CD): Dedicated to the late German bassist (1944-2002), but recorded a year earlier, so subtitle is most likely an afterthought (but Brötzmann had a long association with Kowald, and Parker seems to have also developed a close relationship). Two long multipart pieces, and two extras, total 114:48. Good example of what they do. B+(***) [sp]
Peter Brötzmann/Michiyo Yagi/Paal Nilssen-Love: Head On (2007 , Idiolect): Yagi plays koto, a Japanese string instrument, which moderates the alto/tenor sax, albeit only a little, and rarely when he charges ahead. The drummer helps out. B+(**) [bc]
Rory Gallagher: Big Guns: The Very Best of Rory Gallagher (1970-90 , Capo, 2CD): Irish rocker (1948-95), started in blues-rock power trio called Taste, went solo in 1971, recorded eleven studio albums, released three live albums during his life, many more since. I never paid him any heed, and sat on this set until I scratched my last old unrateds from the database, but decided to give it a spin when I found it shelved. Nice package, with an ample booklet, and more music than anyone needs. Not bad, but nothing I'd pull out ahead of Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Cream. B+(*) [cd]
Mother Earth: Living With the Animals (1968, Mercury): Blues-rock band from California, first album, group name from the Memphis Slim song, title song (and a couple more) by R. Powell St. John, Jr., who sings some but is upstaged by Tracy Nelson. B+(*) [sp]
Mother Earth: Make a Joyful Noise (1969, Mercury): Second album, prophetic title, divided into a "City Side" and a "Country Side," Tracy Nelson shares lead vocals with three guys, the backups divided between Earthmen and Earthettes, the band including pedal steel guitar and a horn section. In short, they want to have it every which way. But oddly enough, they all work, even if this seems a bit heavier and more dated than some of their contemporary roots-rockers. A- [sp]
Mother Earth: Satisfied (1970, Mercury): Third album, Tracy Nelson fully in charge of the vocals, which I count as a plus. B+(***) [sp]
Mother Earth: Bring Me Home (1971, Reprise): Fourth album, singer stronger than ever, songs not so much. B+(*) [yt]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: