An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, September 18, 2023
Music: Current count 40883  rated (+36), 28  unrated (+1).
New releases have started to pick up after the late-summer doldrums, so it's been easier to find things to listen to. One help was Robert Christgau's September Consumer Guide. Four full-A albums, three of them hyped enough I got to them previously: Olivia Rodrigo (A last week), Ashley McBryde and Speedy Ortiz (below, but written up, and commented on in Facebook, before the CG appeared). Both got multiple plays, with diminishing returns. Not that I can't hear why other people like them so much, but my own pleasure wore thin fast. I'm hardly the only guy to get cranky as he gets old, but felt it here.
Nothing wrong with the Bobbie Nelson/Amanda Shires album, but doesn't strike me as a big deal either. Nor do I find comparisons to brother Willie's Stardust or Lady Gaga's Bennetts very helpful. As a jazz critic, I listen interpretations of standards all the time, so I need to be more discerning (or maybe again I'm just being cranky). On the other hand, I thought the Muldaur/Thompson record added something significant, albeit not revolutionary, to the original duets.
The rest are below, aside from the ones I had previously dealt with: Rodney Crowell (**), Gloss Up (**), Killer Mike (***), Janelle Monae (A-), Thelonious Monk (B+), and Noname (A-, though I found several places where I hadn't updated the original *** grade). I might have given up too fast on the first two, but haven't rechecked. Discogs doesn't give a release date for my Monk box (3-CD), and the outside of the box doesn't help, but inside there's a hint that it came out in 1988. I can't find anything I wrote on it, so it was probably pre-2003. I also didn't grade the individual discs, as I sometimes did later -- but there's little to differentiate this set.
I also picked up some suggestions from Brad Luen's Countrypop Life: Love and Theft. I still haven't tackled Morgan Wallen (or Bailey Zimmerman), and everyone else I'm either up or down on, but it's a good guide. I'll also note that I have tabs open for Christian Iszchak, Sidney Carpenter-Wilson, and Steve Pick -- none of which I've exhausted.
I also took a look at Magnet's "30 for 30" lists by Dan Weiss and Thomas Reimel. Not very useful as checklists, as I've heard everything on the Weiss list, and I've only missed 2 items on Reimel's (although I had to look more up, as who remembers bands like Guided by Voices and Interpol?). I tried jotting down a list myself (or two, one comparable for non-jazz, one with zero overlap for jazz): in the notebook. I spent less than an hour on each, so they're pretty iffy -- especially the jazz one. I'd be delighted if Magnet had any interest in running my list. (I was assuming they had no interest in jazz, but I now see a review of Rempis Percussion Quartet's Harvesters in their Essential New Music section -- as well as another Guided by Voices album I haven't heard.)
The new Lehman album is in a tight race with James Brandon Lewis's For Mahalia, With Love for jazz album of the year. It took me longer to get comfortable with, but that's the kind of prickly record it is. The other Lehman thing is one of the first things I noted in my infrequent "Limited Sampling" section, panned with a U-, so I was very surprised when it came through. By the way, the aforementioned Harvesters is currently a top-five jazz album this year.
The Mike Clark album was another surprise -- not the first time he's surprised me, but he's got one of those names that gets easily mixed up with many others. Before I played Clark, I came within a hair of giving his long-time collaborator Eddie Henderson an A-, but afterwards this is the place to hear him.
Still starting each day off with something old from the stacks. This morning: Tampa Red. Playing a new-old François Carrier/Tomasz Stanko box at the moment, which is sublime background.
Another Speaking of Which yesterday (5894 words, 103 links). Got a late start Friday, as I spent Thursday cooking a small dinner for a friend's birthday. Just had a single dish: phat thai, something I make fairly often, as it's easy to keep the rice noodles in the pantry, shrimp in the freezer, eggs and scallions in the refrigerator (I buy fresh scallions every trip to the grocers, as they're always useful), peanuts, and the basic sauce ingredients. (We don't care much for the bean sprouts.) As it was a special occasion, I added a package of frozen sea scallops, and chunks of country ham I trimmed off the shank bone. For dessert, flourless chocolate cake. Couldn't be simpler, or better.
Many oft-procrastinated projects await this week. The most important, and most daunting, one is getting mail working on the server. Weather around here is forecast to be neither hot nor cold, but rather wet.
New records reviewed this week:
The Chemical Brothers: For That Beautiful Feeling (2023, Virgin EMI): British techno duo, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, have been doing this a long time (debut 1995). Takes some time warming up, then overdoes it. B+(*) [sp]
Mike Clark: Kosen Rufu (2022 , Wide Hive): Drummer, like Eddie Henderson (who plays trumpet here) started with Herbie Hancock in the early 1970s, giving him a reputation for fusion that he's often strayed from. Besides Henderson, band here is an inspired mix: Skerik (tenor sax), Wayne Horvitz (keybs), Henry Franklin (bass), and Bill Summers (percussion). Hard bop, I guess, but not as throwback, some surprises here. A- [cd]
Dave and Central Cee: Split Decision (2023, Neighbourhood, EP): British rappers, Dave Omoregie and Oakley Caesar-Su, two previous albums each (Dave's are much better), dropped this 4-song, 16:23 EP. B+(**) [sp]
The Handsome Family: Hollow (2023, Loose): Husband-and-wife duo, Brett and Rennie Sparks, he from Texas and she from Long Island, he the singer (although he never seemed like a natural), eleventh studio album since 1994. They have a distinctive sound, but this seems slightly more refined, comfortable, and fascinated with the world. A- [sp]
Eddie Henderson: Witness to History (2022 , Smoke Sessions): Trumpet player, b. 1940, long career starting with Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi fusion band, over two dozen albums as leader, several times that many side credits, notably since 2010 in the Cookers. Marks his 50th anniversary as a leader with this quintet: Donald Harrison (alto sax), George Cables (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), and Lenny White (drums). Bright, powerful mainstream jazz. B+(***) [sp]
Irreversible Entanglements: Protect Your Light (2023, Impulse!): Jazz group with poet-vocalist Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), eponymous debut 2017, core group: Aquiles Navarro (trumpet), Keir Neuringer (alto sax), Luke Stewart (bass), Tcheser Holmes (drums). Cosmic vibe rivals Sun Ra, but deadly serious words, and shooting star horns, and MVP bass. A- [sp]
Laufey: Bewitched (2023, AWAL): Singer from Iceland, last name Jónsdóttir, mother Chinese, a classical violinist, second album, has some reputation in jazz but writes most of her material, most personal ballads ("the magic in the love of being young"). Does, however, include a cover of "Misty." B+(*) [sp]
Steve Lehman/Orchestre National de Jazz: Ex Machina (2023, Pi): Alto saxophonist, a Braxton student, has a long list of outstanding albums from 2001, including complex octets and his African fusion Sélébéyone. ONJ is a venerable French organization, dating from 1986, directed since 2019 by Frédéric Maurin. I haven't followed them, but at least in this iteration, they're not just a budget big band. Maurin not only directed, but wrote 5 (of 11) pieces, as clever and tricky as Lehman's. This took me longer than usual, but surely will rank as one of the year's best. A- [cd]
Ashley McBryde: The Devil I Know (2023, Warner Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2018. Her songwriting remains sharp as ever, but the drums hit you hard from the beginning (Christgau on her second album: "Nashville rock at its bigged-up schlockiest, with McBryde belting to match"). It's not all like that, but the half that is wears me out. And once that happens, the paean to whiskey and country music no longer seem so sharp. B+(**) [sp]
Mitski: The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We (2023, Dead Oceans): Mitsuki Laycock, born in Japan with an American father who worked for the US State Department and dragged her around the world before settling in New York. Seventh studio album since 2012. One of the year's top-rated albums (Metacritic: 92/19), yet I find it almost totally opaque, requiring intense concentration to discern its artfulness -- orchestral shifts, background choirs, a real voice. B+(*) [sp]
Victoria Monét: Jaguar II (2023, RCA): Pop singer-songwriter from Atlanta, first album after the 2020 EP Jaguar. B+(**) [sp]
Megan Moroney: Lucky (2023, Sony Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter (with help), from Georgia, first album, advance single won a CMT music award for "female breakthrough video of the year." Two self-deprecating songs feel ironic. Maybe she is lucky? B+(***) [sp]
Jenni Muldaur/Teddy Thompson: Once More: Jenni Muldaur & Teddy Thompson Sing the Great Country Duets (2021-23 , Sun): Maria Muldaur's daughter and Linda Thompson's son: she released albums in 1992 and 2009, he has a few more since 2000. They teamed up for a 4-song EP of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton duets in 2021, followed by another of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Those are rolled up here, along with four more from Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Aside from jazz (sometimes even there), we tend to deprecate repertory, but these sound great, near perfect till they ad lib a bit on "Pickin' Wild Mountain Berries," where they show more chemistry than Loretta and Conway could ever muster. A- [sp]
Bobbie Nelson and Amanda Shires: Loving You (2021 , ATO): Credit order given front, back, and center, but some sources insist on crediting the singer first, instead of the pianist, whose death last year gives the album meaning, as well as an excuse for a set of standards. Brother Willie drops in for a duet on "Summertime," which would be welcome on a mixtape of the fifty (maybe even thirty) best covers of the song ever. B+(***) [sp]
Pretenders: Relentless (2023, Rhino): Chrissie Hynde, twelfth group album, band has turned over since 1978, although original drummer Martin Chambers returned, and guitarist James Walbourne co-wrote this batch of songs. B+(*) [sp]
Joshua Redman: Where Are We (2023, Blue Note): Saxophonist (tenor certainly, usually some soprano), second generation, made a big splash with his 1992 debut. This one features vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa (front cover credit), backed by Aaron Parks (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), and Brian Blade (drums), with several guest spots. The songs come first, nice enough but not exceptional, the sax secondary, but every bit as nice. B+(**) [sp]
Doug Richards Orchestra: Through a Sonic Prism: The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim (2022 , self-released): Arranger and conductor, based in Richmond, running a standard big band with guitar, plus vocalist Laurie Ann Singh. Standard stuff, but very nicely, and credibly, done. B+(**) [cd]
Jeff Rosenstock: Hellmode (2023, Polyvinyl): Singer-songwriter, fifth album, influenced by punk rock, not as austere, but noisy enough. B+(*) [sp]
Speedy Ortiz: Rabbit Rabbit (2023, Wax Nine): Singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis, plays guitar and synthesizer, plus a band that has completely turned over since their 2013 debut. Fourth album. Probably something there, but not for me. B+(*) [sp]
Chris Stamey: The Great Escape (2023, Car): Pop singer-songwriter, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina; played in the Sneakers with Mitch Easter, but is best known for the dBs, with Peter Holsapple. Scattered records, first in 1982, more since 2013. Cover features a Pontiac GTO (1967?). B+(*) [sp]
Teddy Thompson: My Love of Country (2023, self-released): British, but only one song here was written by a countryman, his father Richard Thompson. The others are what you'd expect: American, mostly country music hits, not what I think of as obvious classics but things I recognize, like "I Fall to Pieces," "Satisfied Mind," and "You Don't Know Me." B+(**) [sp]
Tirzah: Trip9love (2023, Domino): British singer-songwriter, third album since 2018, produced by Mica Levi, similar to trip hop with more distortion. B+(*) [sp]
Alex Ventling/Hein Westgaard: In Orbit (2021 , Nice Things): Pianist ("home in both Switzerland and New Zealand" but based in Trondheim), in a duo with guitar. B+(**) [bc]
Maddie Vogler: While We Have Time (2022 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, based near Chicago, first album, all original compositions, sharp postbop sextet with trumpeter Tito Carrillo especially notable, plus guitar, piano, bass, and drums. B+(**) [cd]
Morgan Wade: Psychopath (2023, Ladylife/RCA): Country singer-songwriter, from Virginia, second album, fine voice, solid-plus writing, a bit too much guitar-heavy production but not as annoying as McBryde. Christgau says this "exemplifies Nashville's evolution away from down home country toward a less regional style of autobiographical pop." That doesn't sound like a good idea to this old-timer, but the middle ground can still be fertile for someone with the talent to work it. A- [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Atmosphere: Sad Clown Bad Dub II (2000 , Rhymesayers Entertainment): Minneapolis underground rap duo, still going, here with a new remaster of the 2003 authorized version of a bootleg. I figure they had three A- 1997-2002 albums. The beats and rhymes jump like they did back in that first flush of youth, but they don't all land. B+(**) [bc]
John Blum: Nine Rivers (2013 , ESP-Disk): Pianist, from New York, studied at Bennington with Bill Dixon and Milford Graves, also Borah Bergman and Cecil Taylor. Only a handful of records. This one is solo, harsh, dissonant, the first sounds suggesting prepared. B+(**) [cd]
Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah (1976 , India Navigation): Tenor saxophonist (1940-2022), first album 1964, but during that period was closely engaged with John Coltrane, in a project that combined free and spiritual jazz. He recorded for Impulse! to 1973, then like many jazz musicians of the era, wasn't able to find another major label until 1998. This one came out on a small but important American label. Three pieces (40:20), with guitar (Tisziji Munoz), harmonium or organ, bass, and drums/percussion, with a vocal on "Love Will Find a Way." First side finds its groove. Second is a bit less successful. B+(***) [sp]
Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah [Expanded Edition] (1976-77 , Luaka Bop): This 2-LP reissue adds two live takes of the first-side piece, "Harvest Time," one from Middelheim, the other Willisau, with a quartet -- Khalid Moss (piano/electric), Hayes Burnett (bass), and Clifford Jarvis (drums) -- and the box includes a booklet I'll never see. B+(***) [bc]
Steve Lehman: Xenakis and the Valedictorian (2020, Pi, EP): Early in the 2020 lockdown, Pi Recordings asked their artists to help fill the void with digital-only releases. Lehman contributed this "concise EP" (10 pieces, 9:06) of solo practice sessions, "recorded in the passenger seat of my 2011 Honda CR-V, from March 25 to April 15, 2020." The mathematician-composer Xenakis was on his mind, as he was thinking of his mother, unable to visit on her 80th birthday. She had "introduced me to an incredibly wide array of musicians and musical styles" -- he provides a list, but nothing nearly as far out as her choice of "Bohor" as theme music for his 10th birthday party. I hated the 46 seconds Pi made public on their Bandcamp page, but this turns out to be really remarkable. I'm even a bit reminded of an experience I had with Xenakis long ago, where I left with a visceral impression of what the eye of a tornado must sound like. A- [dl]
Jenni Muldaur: Jenni Muldaur (1992, Reprise): Geoff & Maria Muldaur's daughter (b. 1965), got this one shot at recording a big-time studio album, with producer Russ Titelman pulling out all the stops: tapping David Sanborn for a sax spot, Andy Fairweather Low for a bit of slide guitar, letting Donald Fagen arrange the Brecker brothers for another. Nothing per sé bad, but not much personality emerges. B [sp]
Grade (or other) changes:
Otis Spann: Otis Spann Is the Blues (1960, Candid): Surprised, when Candid reissued it last year, I had this graded so low. Then I remember that the one I liked better was Walking the Blues (also 1960). [was: B] B+(**) [cd]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: