An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, September 11, 2023
Music: Current count 40847  rated (+36), 27  unrated (-7).
I rushed through another Speaking of Which Sunday (5873 words, 91 links). As I noted there, I started working on a books post, so got a late start, but still managed to write quite a bit. One item of possible interest here is that I collected several links on the Olivia Rodrigo album, reviewed below. It's currently rated 86/17 at AOTY, which puts it as 25 on the year, so behind Boygenius, Caroline Polachek, Foo Fighters, and Young Fathers among albums with 17+ reviews.
I added a link to Molly Jong-Fast: [09-05] Can Joe Biden ride "boring" to reelection?. I had included several links about Biden's weak polling numbers, even though I regard such stories are generally worthless. But they reflect a severe misunderstanding of politics (cliché: "the art of the possible") and government (which should be boring to all but the most dedicated wonks). While it's always easy to blame the American people for their ignorance, shouldn't we start with the media, who are actually paid to report on things they show little evidence of (or interest in) understanding? Biden's fate in 2024 is going to depend on people getting better informed (and smarter) than they evidently are now.
I've also added a postscript on Biden's diplomatic trip: more specifically on how it's misreported and misunderstood. As much as I've been pleasantly surprised by Biden's domestic policy accomplishments, I've been alarmed by his foreign policy (his "reworking of global relationships"), especially how completely most of the Democratic Party has fallen into line behind Ukraine as America's war party (a reputation they earned in WWII, which then tricked them into taking the lead in the Cold War).
You might also want to take a look at this picture of Trump and his fans.
My listening scheme is mostly an extension of last week's checklists, picking up stragglers, and moving on. I did get to the end of DownBeat's jazz albums ballot, with only a John Zorn album unheard. Reissues/historical were harder to find, but I picked up a few of those, too. But also, new releases get an uptick in September.
Bassist Richard Davis died last week, so I took a look there, which led me to Elvin Jones, and then to Bennie Wallace.
Sometime last week, I commented on a Chris Monsen Facebook post, regarding James Brandon Lewis's For Mahalia, With Love (reviewed here, a couple weeks back). I figured the comment was lost, but it popped up again, so let's preserve it here:
New records reviewed this week:
Jon Batiste: World Music Radio (2023, Verve): Keyboard player, sings, seventh album, could probably do anything, so is tempted to try everything, the radio concept tying together twenty pieces that mostly feature happy beats and varied hooks. B+(**) [sp]
Billy Childs: The Winds of Change (2023, Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Los Angeles, has composed classical music as well as jazz, 18th album since 1985. Quartet here with Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Theo Croker: By the Way (2023, Masterworks, EP): Trumpet player, from Florida, debut 2006, some crossover moves, did this five track (21:57) with British singer-songwriter Ego Ella May and producer D'Leau. Slight soul-funk, dressed up with nice trumpet. B+(*) [sp]
Open Mike Eagle: Another Triumph of Ghetto Engineering (2023, Auto Reverse): Underground rapper, ninth album, short at 25:28, but still has lots to mull over. B+(***) [sp]
Darrell Grant's MJ New: Our Mr. Jackson (2023, Lair Hill): Pianist, born in Pittsburgh, grew up in Denver, studied at Eastman, moved to New York (where he joined Betty Carter's group), wound up teaching in Portland. Scattered records, starting with mainstream Criss Cross in 1994. This one is dedicated to drummer Carlton Jackson (1961-2021), who anchors this quartet with Mike Horsfall (vibes) and Marcus Shelby (bass). B+(**) [cd] [10-06]
José James: On & On (2023, Rainbow Blonde): Jazz singer, from Minneapolis, dozen albums since 2008. Six (of seven) songs co-written by Erica Wright (Erykah Badu); the most prominent songwriter on the other is Isaac Hayes. B+(*) [sp]
Bobby Kapp: Synergy: Bobby Kapp Plays the Music of Richard Sussman (2023, Tweed Boulevard): Drummer, credits go back to 1967 with Marion Brown and Gato Barbieri, have picked up a bit since 2015 with Matthew Shipp and Ivo Perelman. Sussman, who plays piano here, has a comparably long but thin discography, leading a couple 1978-79 records for Inner City. Group here: Zach Brock (violin), Aaron Irwin (clarinet/bass clarinet), Abraham Burton (tenor sax), John Clark (French horn), and Harvie S (bass), with Scott Reeves as conductor. B+(**) [cd]
Pascal Le Boeuf: Ritual Being (2016-19 , SoundSpore): Pianist, from Santa Cruz, also records with his saxophonist brother Remy as Le Boeuf Brothers. Pieces here are built on vigorous strings, either with Friction Quartet, the 5-piece Shattered Glass ensemble, or violinists Todd Reynolds and Sara Caswell, with Linda May Han Oh (bass), Justin Brown (drums), and on some cuts Remy Le Boeuf (alto sax) and/or Ben Wendel (tenor sax). B+(***) [cd]
Vince Mendoza/Metropole Orkest: Olympians (2023, Modern): From Connecticut, played keyboards but has mostly worked as a big band arranger and conductor, since 1997 mostly with the Dutch Metropole Orkest. B- [sp]
Joni Mitchell: Joni Mitchell at Newport (2022 , Rhino): Major folkie singer-songwriter in her first period (1968-74, through Court and Spark), after which she got jazzier and more obscure, up to her 2000 standards album Both Sides Now, with subsequent albums in 2002 and 2007. She gets vocal help here from Brandi Carlisle and others, focusing on her best-known songs, plus a cover of "Summertime." But sometimes more help isn't better. B [sp]
Todd Mosby: Land of Enchantment (2022 , MMG): Guitarist, title the state motto of New Mexico, album recorded in California, opens with five originals, including a nod to Georgia O'Keefe, adds one more between covers of "Norwegian Wood" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." B [cd]
Jean-Michel Pilc: Symphony (2021 , Justin Time): French pianist, had a couple earlier albums but came into prominence in 2000. Solo. B+(*) [sp]
Darden Purcell: Love's Got Me in a Lazy Mood (2023, Origin): Standards singer, based in DC, couple previous albums, sang for the Airmen of Note. Nice, clear voice, backed with guitar (Shawn Purcell), piano (Todd Simon), bass, drums, and Joe Locke on vibes (6 of 11 cuts). B+(**) [cd] [09-15]
Olivia Rodrigo: Guts (2023, Geffen): Second album, her debut at 17 was attention-grabbing, and this one, where the production goes big and where she pops through the cracks to claim it all, is even more impressive. A mere two plays through what may well be the record of the year. A [sp]
Romy: Mid Air (2023, Young): Singer-guitarist in The XX, Romy Madley Croft, the last of the trio to spin off a solo album. Dance pop, strong beats, rich tones but trimmed back a bit, very catchy, romantic interests female, but not too close. Fred Gibson (Fred Again) conspicuous among the collaborator. A- [sp]
SLUGish Ensemble: In Solitude (2023, Slow & Steady): Steven Lugerner, plays bass clarinet, baritone sax, and alto flute here, second album with this densely layered sextet, with piano, synthesizer, guitar, bass, and drums -- most prominently the guitar (Justin Rock?). B+(**) [cd] [09-15]
Smoke DZA & Flying Lotus: Flying Objects (2023, The Smoker's Club, EP): Rapper Sean Pompey, debut 2009, Discogs lists 21 albums, nearly as many EPs, this part of a flurry of five such releases. Five tracks, 14:11, including features for Conway the Machine, Black Thought, and Estelle. B+(*) [sp]
Speaker Music: Techxodus (2023, Planet Mu): DeForrest Brown Jr., originally from Alabama, self-described "Ex-American theorist, journalist, and curator," produces electronic music "representative of the Make Techno Black Again campaign," several albums (one from 2020 I like is Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry, but beware that Discogs has this album listed under that title), also has a book, Assembling a Black Counter Culture. B+(**) [sp]
Melissa Stylianou: Dream Dancing (2018 , Anzic): Jazz singer, from Toronto, sixth album since 1999, all standards (including two Jobims), backed by Gene Bertoncini (a delight on guitar) and Ike Sturm (bass). B+(**) [sp]
Ulaan Passerine: Sun Spar (2021 , Worstward): Guitarist Steven R. Smith, from California, many records since 1995, both under his own name and various aliases/groups -- four starting with "ulaan." Ensemble here adds organ, banjo, violin, alto flute, bass clarinet, French horn. Achieves the minimal level of exotica evidently aspired to. B [sp]
Sachal Vasandani & Romain Collin: Still Life (2022, Edition): Jazz singer, born in Chicago, early albums (from 2007) as Sachal, this his second duo with pianist Collin. Wrote the title song, has a credit in a second, Collin wrote one, the others non-traditional standards (Elizabeth Cotten to Billie Eilish via Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel). B- [sp]
Claudia Villela: Cartas Ao Vento (2023, Taina Music): Brazilian jazz singer, based in Santa Cruz since the mid-1980s, has a handful of albums since 1996, this the first one she's recorded in Brazil. B+(***) [cd]
Hein Westgaard Trio: First as Farce (2022 , Nice Things): Guitarist, from Norway, based in Copenhagen, recorded this "debut" in Sweden -- he appears to have a couple duo albums they're not counting. With Petter Asbjørnsen (bass) and Simon Forchhammer (drums). I'm impressed by the complementary thrash that often erupts from the occasional background noodling. A- [cd]
Ben Wolfe: Unjust (2021 , Resident Arts): American bassist, debut 1996, support at various times includes Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Immanuel Wilkins/Nicole Glover (sax), Joel Ross (vibes), Addison Frei/Orrin Evans (piano), and Aaron Kimmel (drums). Some nice combinations. B+(***) [sp]
Lizz Wright: Holding Space: Live in Berlin (2018 , Blues & Greens): Jazz singer, from Georgia, grew up in church, where her father was minister and musical director. Seventh album since 2003, with Chris Bruce (guitar), Bobby Sparks (keybs), Ben Zwerin (bass), and Ivan Edwards (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Bobby Zankel/Wonderful Sound 8: A Change of Destiny (2022 , Mahakala Music): Alto saxophonist, long based in Philadelphia, has a side credit from 1977 but debut as leader was 1992, and he's remained relegated to small avant labels, scattered from Krakow to Little Rock. He did a Wonderful Sound 6 album in 2017, and builds on that here, with a second alto sax (Jaleel Shaw), trombone (Robin Eubanks), violin (Diane Monroe), piano (Sumi Tonooka), bass (Lee Smith), and drums (Pheeroan Aklaff), plus singer Ruth Naomi Floyd. Of course, I prefer the blazing sax runs. B+(***) [09-22]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Brian Blade Fellowship: Live From the Archives: Bootleg June 15, 2000 (2000 , Stoner Hill): Drummer, group named from his 1998 debut album, group with Myron Walden (alto sax/bass clarinet), Melvin Butler (tenor/soprano sax), Jon Cowherd (piano), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), and Christopher Thomas (bass). I don't particularly see the point of this. B [r]
Charlie Parker: The Long Lost Bird Live Afro-Cubop Recordings (1945-54 , RockBeat): Nice packaging. The music comes from six widely scattered sources, including guest spots with Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and Machito, and an early quintet with Dizzy Gillespie. Sound is variable, as is the "cubop" quotient, though the "Manteca" with Machito overcomes all my reservations. [Previously released on CD in 2015, now on vinyl.] B+(***) [r]
Johnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways (2003 , American): When Rick Rubin stepped in to record Cash in 1994, the idea was less to cement his legend than to just keep him going, after Columbia dropped him in 1986, and Mercury in 1991. He was only 62, but had less than a decade left, and he spent it singing whatever songs took his fancy, in the simplest of arrangements, his voice still unique but losing its force. Four volumes appeared before he died in 2003, and this -- the only one I missed -- and American VI were released later. American IV was the pick -- the others struck me as various shades of B+ -- but the more time passes, the more fortunate these recordings feel. B+(***) [r]
Richard Davis: One for Frederick (1989 [1990, Hep): Bassist (1930-2023), not a lot of albums under his own name -- Discogs lists 33, but only 13 list him first -- has a huge list of side-credits, starting with Don Shirley in 1955 and Sarah Vaughan in 1957, with 1964 an early peak (Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch and Andrew Hill's Black Fire), and even a few "beyond" albums, like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks (of which Greil Marcus wrote: "Richard Davis provided the greatest bass ever heard on a rock album"). This one was live at Sweet Basil, co-credited to "and Friends," a sharp quintet with Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), Ricky Ford (tenor sax), Roland Hanna (piano), and Freddie Waits (drums, the Frederick of the title, who died November, 1989, after this was recorded in July). B+(***) [sp]
The Fugs: The Fugs' Second Album (1966 , Fantasy): Folk-rock group founded 1964 by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums, with others joining on occasion -- most famously Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. They released a 1965 album on Broadside/Folkways titled The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views, and General Dissatisfaction, which a year later was reissued as The Fugs' First Album, along with a second album, just The Fugs, but rechristened here. Both pick up spare tracks. They held together until 1969, recording one more album for ESP-Disk, an unreleased album for Atlantic, and three for Reprise (eventually boxed as Electromagnetic Steamboat: The Reprise Recordings). This album even cracked the charts at 95, so their indifference to commercial success wasn't totally unreciprocated. Big pieces here are the not-quite-ironic-enough "Kill for Peace" and a stab at new age exotica called "Virgin Forest" (11:17). Bonus tracks include some live cuts and end with a whimper on "Nameless Voices Crying for Kindness." [sp]
Elvin Jones and Richard Davis: Heavy Sounds (1968, Impulse!): Heavy that drummer and bassist should share billing credit, but they claim it with an 11:33 duet on "Summertime." The other five cuts (30:23) add Billy Greene on piano and Frank Foster, really tasty on tenor sax. A- [sp]
Elvin Jones: Poly-Currents (1969 , Blue Note): Drummer (1927-2004), one of the Jones Brothers (with Thad and Hank), played with Sonny Rollins (A Night at the Village Vanguard) in the late 1950s, but is most famous for the 1960-66 John Coltrane Quartet, and echoes followed him ever after. This is one of a bunch of 1968-73 records for Blue Note. Five tracks, first three with Candido Camera (congas), Wilbur Little (bass), and saxophonists George Coleman, Joe Farrell (also English horn and flute), and Pepper Adams (baritone). The last two cuts trim down a bit. Needless to say, the drummer puts on a show. B+(***) [sp]
Richard Thompson: (Guitar, Vocal): A Collection of Unreleased and Rare Material 1967-1976 (1967-76 , Island): English folkie, guitarist first, singer-songwriter in a duo with wife Linda 1974-82, solo for 40+ years after. This picks up scattered bits starting with six songs with Fairport Convention, then adds some outtakes with or without Linda, including one new track. Seems like a hodgepodge, where the artist only starts to reveal himself toward the end. [NB: Issued in UK by Island 1976, as 2-LP; reissued in US by Carthage in 1984, and by on CD Hannibal in 1989.] B [sp]
Richard Thompson: Mirror Blue (1994, Capitol): Eighth studio album, about par for the course. B+(**) [sp]
Richard Thompson: Mock Tudor (1999, Capitol): Another solid record. B+(**) [sp]
Bennie Wallace: Big Jim's Tango (1982 , Enja): Tenor saxophonist, from Tennessee, fifth album since 1978, a trio with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, playing four originals plus one Cole Porter. Mainstream player, always loved his tone, especially on mid-tempo pieces, but even there this rhythm section keeps him on his toes. [PS: Album cover from 1995 CD reissue.] A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: