Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41422 [41370] rated (+52), 21 [17] unrated (+4).

I've been almost totally swamped in trying to compile the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll. Deadline for ballots was Friday, December 15. I'll admit I was pretty bummed when I went to bed with only 145 ballots counted: down 6 from 2023, down 11 from 2022, so my two years in the helm were beginning to look like a death spiral.

What made this worse is that for the first time ever, I started thinking about how to expand the poll a month before the I needed to send ballots out. I had a list of contacts from a prominent PR guy. I collected the names from the DownBeat Critics Poll. Then I started searching for jazz publications and blogs, and found many more -- some pretty far-flung. I accosted contacts for leads and contact info. I had contacted over 200 possible voters in 2022, and figured 250 this year wouldn't be too much of a stretch.

Then I stumbled. I barely got my initial invite mailing out in mid-November. And while I dashed off a few letters after that, all the way to deadline day, I never came close to my goal. In the end, I only got 25-30 new invites sent out, of which only half sent in ballots (as opposed to 75% from 2022's invite list). But that only came close to making up for the attrition, less than half of which I have any insight into (illness/death, job/career shifts, a lot of "no fucking time," a couple of snits).

One possibly big problem is that it's impossible to verify that an email address works, or rather that it's impossible to distinguish a non-working email address from one that's simply being ignored, or simply being too vigilantly monitored by spam assassin robots. In a few cases, I tried to track down alternative contact routes (I've even tried Facebook messaging). Another source of attrition was the demise of JazzTimes. We've long had 10-12 of their writers voting, and a third or more dropped out this year.

Along the way, my distaste for Substack has grown by leaps and bounds: I don't see any way to contact their users, even in the few cases where I currently subscribe. Ted Gioia is only the most prominent of several searches that dead-ended there. (He claims 84,000 followers there, a really extraordinary number. His top-100 list, which I've tracked for years in my EOY aggregates, is buried behind the wall there.) While a precious few are cashing in big time, and many more figure they have nothing to lose -- indeed, I can think of a few writers, like Christian Iszchak and Brad Luen, who have really blossomed with the platform -- the obvious result is atomization, breaking culture into tiny, isolated droplets. (Of course, this line got the engineer in me to thinking up different ways to structure it, to build collectives instead of tearing them apart, but the lure of money is hard to work around, perhaps even more so when there isn't any.)

Still, I'm feeling better about the Poll today than I was back on Friday. I've extended the deadline, at least for a select few, to Tuesday night (or -- what difference does a few hours make? -- to Wednesday morning). Current ballot count is 154, so there's still a slight chance we'll hit the all-time record. More importantly, some of the late ballots have been real doozies. Just to mention one, Joe Bebco (editor of New Orleans roots rag, The Syncopated Times), managed the rare feat of voting for 16 albums no one else has voted for -- good chance I'll review most of them next week. The album list is up to 743 at the moment, and that's +32 from last year's record number.

I figure I'll start writing my essay on Wednesday. As with last year's essay, I figure I'll start with some data crunching, then try to pick out what's most interesting in the various tables. Whether this will include a capsule summary of the top-ten and the minor list winners may depend on whether Francis Davis beats me to the punch. (He's suggested he might write such a piece, or maybe not, but if he does so, he's promised to do it early. Previous essays were structured that way, followed by his own list. In the past, I've usually been content to link to my list -- up to 75 jazz A/A- this week; the Max Koch album took over the Debut slot in my ballot.)

Almost everything new this week, especially up top, comes from the jazz ballots. My non-jazz list continues to flounder (51 A/A- records, way down from last year). One problem is that I've had virtually no time to work on the EOY aggregate, which is stuck at 94 lists. I need to find time to update the Christgau database with his latest Consumer Guide (my previous grades: Buck 65: A-/A; CMAT: ***; Feelies: **; Megan Moroney: ***; Azuka Moweta: ***; Piconema: A-; Homeboy Sandman: **; not graded yet: Barbie, Dolly Parton, Tele Novela). Then it'll be easier to factor his grades into the Aggregate.

I did manage to squeeze out a relatively cryptic Speaking of Which yesterday. I noticed a couple more things today that I should have noted, so I added them to the file, with some extra mark up (red border-right) to flag the changes. I may make a regular habit of this.


New records reviewed this week:

Ambrose Akinmusire: Owl Song (2023, Nonesuch): Trumpet player, debut 2008 on Fresh Sound New Talent, moved to Blue Note in 2010 made him a star. Trio with Bill Frisell (guitar) and Herlin Riley (drums). Rather pretty, for sure. B+(*) [sp]

Lina Allemano Four: Pipe Dream (2021 [2023], Lumo): Canadian trumpet player, several albums, this with Brodie West (alto sax), Andrew Downing (bass), and Nick Fraser (drums). B+(***) [bc]

Biig Piig: Bubblegum (2023, RCA, EP): London-based Irish alt-pop singer-songwriter Jessica Smyth, spent much of her childhood in Spain, short mixtape (7 songs, 17:58) after several EPs. B+(*) [sp]

Vilhelm Bromander: In This Forever Unfolding Moment (2021 [2023], Thanatos): Swedish bassist, several widely scattered albums since 2008, although a 2016 title (Oh Lord Give Me Strange) seems most relevant here. Starts with what sounds like a prayer (vocal Marianne Svasek), then swells as the 12-piece orchestra kicks in, including an exceptional reeds section (Martin Kchen, Elin Forkelid, Alberto Pinton, and Christer Bothn), brass (Emil Strandberg and Mats leklint), violin, vibes, and rhythm. Two shorter pieces follow, each ending nice, 33:24 total. A- [sp]

Filipe Catto: Belezas Sao Coisis Acesas Por Dentro (2023, Joia Moderna): Brazilian singer-songwriter, half-dozen albums since 2011, authorities divided on pronouns. More rock than MPB. More opera, too. B+(*) [sp]

Ed Cherry: Are We There Yet? (2022 [2023], Cellar): Guitarist, played with Dizzy Gillespie 1978-92, his own first album in 1993. Quartet with vibes (Monty Croft), organ (Kyle Kohler), and drums (Byron 'Wookie' Landham). B+(**) [sp]

Avishai Cohen & Abraham Rodriguez Jr.: Iroko (2023, Nave/Believe): Bass and congas duo, the former well known since 1997, the latter a newcomer, both also credited with vocals (as is Virginia Alves). The background is interesting enough, but the vocals can turn into something of a joke ("It's a Man's World," "Venus," "Fly Me to the Moon"). B+(*) [sp]

Ryan Davis & the Roadhouse Band: Dancing on the Edge (2023, Sophomore Lounge): Name leader debut, previously fronted Louisville band State Champion, stretches seven songs to 51:10 then spreads them out over 2-LP -- I've seen them called "slacker jams." B+(**) [sp]

Marike van Dijk Nonet: Stranded (2022 [2023], Brooklyn Jazz Underground/ZenneZ): Dutch saxophonist (soprano/alto), nine-piece group spread out with only two more horns (a second sax, and a trombone), the extra rhythm players very much in flux. B+(**) [sp]

Mike Dillon & Punkadelick: Inflorescence (2023, Royal Potato Family): Vibraphonist-percussionist, long list of credits in the jazz-pop-funk margins in groups like Critters Buggin, Garage Trois and the Dead Kenny G's, also backing Ani DiFranco and Brave Combo. B+(*) [sp]

The Go! Team: Get Up Sequences Part Two (2023, Memphis Industries): English jangle rock band (or is it "noise pop"?), kicks it up a notch or two. B+(***) [sp]

Laura Groves: Radio Red (2023, Bella Union): English singer-songwriter, second album after a debut in 2009, with three evenly-spaced EPs in the interim. B+(*) [sp]

Mats Gustafsson & Ensemble E: EE Opus One (2022 [2023], Trost): Norwegian baritone saxophonist, many groups and albums since 1992, also credited here sith "flute, spilapipa and conducting. The rest of the group make for an odd mix: Helga Myhr (hardanger fiddle), Sylwia Swiatkowska (bilgoraj suka), Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Mariucha Bikont (vocal, tuba), Daniel Formo (organ, prepared piano), and Arne Forsn (prepared piano, clavichord, percussion). B [r]

Mats Gustafsson: Hidros 9: Mirrors (2022 [2023], Trost): Ninth is a series of albums that started in 1997 with Hidros One, co-credited to a group called Nu-Ensemblen ("nine improvisers, tape and conductor"). This uses two nonets -- NyMusikk Trondheim and Avant Art Ensemble -- with the same array of violin, cello, bass (2), guitar, organ/prepared piano, bass drum, and drums/electronics, plus a half-dozen soloists. B+(*) [sp]

Ron Horton: A Prayer for Andrew (2023, Newvelle): Trumpet player, part of a tight postbop collective that mostly recorded for Palmetto in the early 2000s, their interest in Andrew Hill comes as no surprise. Thirteen songs (7 by Hill, 6 by Horton), runs 78 minutes. No date given, but certainly before pianist Frank Kimbrough (in exceptional form here) died in 2020. With Marty Ehrlich or John O'Gallagher on alto sax, Marc Mommaas on tenor, Dean Johnson (bass), and Tim Horner (drums). A- [sp]

The Human Hearts: Viable (2023, Open Boat): Franklin Bruno, a Mountain Goats sideman with some solo albums hardly anyone noticed from 1991, adopted this moniker c. 2012, with a Christgau-lauded LP (Another) and EP (Day of the Tiles) that I've never managed to stream whole, and didn't get much from the bits I did hear. This is another one, not fetching enough (although Jenny Toomey helps) to motivate me to put in the work to figure out what's really here, but not so lame as to exclude the possibility. B+(**) [sp]

Terry Klein: Leave the Light On (2023, self-released): Alt-country singer-songwriter, originally from Boston (I think) but based in Austin, and sounds like the real deal. Fourth album. Third one (Good Luck, Take Care) is a good one, and this one comes real close. B+(***) [sp]

Max Koch: Ten Bulls (2021 [2023], Jazzwerkstatt): German guitarist, first album, other names on the cover, in order: Bill Elgart (drums), Max Hirth (tenor sax), Stephan Deller (bass), Max Arsava (piano). Four Koch originals, one from Ornette Coleman. Sax impressed from the start, before I started wondering who the guitarist was. Terrific all the way through. A- [sp]

Koma Saxo: Post Koma (2021 [2023], We Jazz): Berlin-based Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, fourth album under this group name, using Christian Lillinger on drums, with any of several saxophone/flute players (Mikko Innanen, Jonas Kullhammar, Maciej Obara, Otis Sandsj), with Sofia Jernberg (vocals) on three tracks. Interesting sounds, but often they together awkwardly. B+(*) [sp]

Marthe Lea Band: Herlighetens Vei (2023, Motvind): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, second group album, also credited here with flutes, piano, vocals, udungu, percussion. Joined by Andreas Rysum (clarinets; she also plays in his band), backed by fiddle, bass, and drums. The folk roots make for immediately engaging instrumental jazz, the vocals a bit more mixed. A- [sp]

Helge Lien Trio/Tore Brunborg: Funeral Dance (2022 [2023], Ozella Music): Norwegian pianist, has a 1999 debut, and mostly (more than a dozen) trio albums since 2003, joined here by the tenor saxophonist, who writes four pieces to Lien's five (plus a cover of "Aprs Un Rve"). B+(***) [sp]

Antti Ltjnen Quintet East: Circus/Citadel (2023, We Jazz): Finnish group, led by the bassist-composer, fourth album since 2020, with Verneri Pohjola (trumpet), Mikko Innanen (alto/baritone sax, oboe), Jussi Kannaste (tenor sax), and Joonas Riippa (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Tkay Maidza: Sweet Justice (2023, 4AD): Born in Zimbabwe, moved to Australia when she was five, rapper/singer, second album after several EPs. B+(**) [sp]

Robin McKelle: Impressions of Ella (2023, Doxie): Standards singer, has a 1999 album before her 2006 Introducing. She hews close enough to her model here to faithfully recall the words Fitzgerald famously ad-libbed on "How High the Moon," but such fidelity flexes for a duet on "I Won't Dance" with Kurt Elling with some ad-libbed French I don't recall. After that, her "Embraceable You" stands on its own. Accompaniment is as impeccable as you'd expect from Kenny Barron, Peter Washington, and Kenny Washington. B+(***) [sp]

Joe McPhee/Mette Rasmussen/Dennis Tyfus: Oblique Strategies (2018 [2023], Black Truffle): Tenor and alto sax duo, plus whatever it is that Tyfus -- original name Dennis Faes, a "Belgian illustrator, visual artist, radio-maker, musician and event manager" -- is doing (credits: "tape, percussion, voice," but the others also get credit for "voice"). B [bc]

Joe McPhee & John Edwards: Tell Me How Long Has Trane Been Gone (For James Baldwin and John Coltrane) (2019 [2022], Klanggalerie): Tenor sax and bass duo, opens with speech on the title subject, then gets down to business. B+(**) [sp]

Palle Mikkelborg/Jakob Bro/Marilyn Mazur: Strands: Live at the Danish Radio Concert Hall (2023, ECM): Danish trumpet player, probably best known for composing the 1989 Miles Davis album Aura, but his own discography goes back to 1967, not huge but steady ever since. Joined by guitar and percussion here, with Bro writing most of the pieces. B+(*) [sp]

Nils Petter Molvr/Norwegian Radio Orchestra: Certainty of Tides (2023, Modern): Norwegian trumpet player, started in Masqualero with Arild Andersen, developing perhaps the most appealing form of late-1990s jazztronica. The orchestra fills a similar (albeit more ambient) role here, setting up his trumpet, eloquent as ever. B+(***) [sp]

Roy Nathanson: 82 Days (2023, Enja/Yellowbird): Saxophonist (mostly alto but opens on baritone), best known for the Jazz Passengers (with the late Curtis Fowlkes) but has a few albums going back to 1987 with his name on the cover, with two recent Sotto Voce albums testing my patience with vocals (unlike, say, his 1987 cover of "Speedo," which is an all-time favorite). This started off as a 2020 lockdown-coping ritual, where he greeted 82 days with a standard played from his balcony, then on the 83rd got together with friends and "turned the ritual into a kind of free neighborhood music school." Not clear if this was recorded then or later. I love the sax, and hate the vocals (ok, not all of them, certainly not Cleo Reed's closer). B+(***) [sp]

Nation of Language: Strange Disciple (2023, PIAS):l New wave redux band, from Brooklyn, Ian Richard Devaney the singer, third album. B+(*) [sp]

Augusto Pirodda Septet: The Monkey and the Monk (2021 [2022], El Negocito): Italian pianist, several albums since 2003, three horns can mix it up, rhythm can break it up, Lynn Cassiers (voice & electronics) is the wild card. B+(**) [bc]

Anthony Pirog: The Nepenthe Series Vol. 1 (2023, Otherly Love): Guitarist (also guitar synth), several albums since 2014, this one solo piece and eight duos with as many guests, also on guitar or adjacent instruments (electric bass, pedal steel, monomachine). B+(*) [sp]

Adam Rudolph/Tyshawn Sorey: Archaisms 1 (2023, Defkaz): Percussion duo, Rudolph mostly working with hand drums. Number not evident on the packaging, but used consistently by label in its PR. B+(***) [sp]

Thollem/Terry Riley/Nels Cline: The Light Is Real (2021-22 [2023], Other Minds): That's Thollem McDonas, mostly a pianist who more than dabbles in electronics, with a diverse discography since 2004, mostly collaborations, including several trios with guitarist Cline and various guests. This is built up from Tholem and Riley's voices (or voice samples), to which Cline later added guitar and effects. I find it a bit difficult. B+(*) [bc]

Micah Thomas: Reveal (2022 [2023], Artwork): Pianist, has a couple albums, trio here with Dean Torrey (bass) and Kayvon Gordon (drums), on a thoughtful set of originals. B+(**) [sp]

U SCO: Catchin' Heat (2019 [2023], self-released): Portland-based avant-fusion (I guess?) band, third album, with Ryan Miller (guitar, clarinet), Jon Scheid (bass guitar, tenor sax, cello, synths, vocals), Phil Cleary (drums, synths), plus guests on two (of six) tracks. B+(**) [sp]

Brad Walker + Extended: Side by Side (2021 [2023], self-released): Tenor saxophonist, from New Orleans, backed by Extended, a trio of Oscar Rossignoli (piano/fender rhodes), Matt Booth (bass), and Brad Webb (drums). Strong and resilient. B+(***) [sp]

Web Web x Max Herre: Web Max II (2023, Compost): Munich-based group, half-dozen albums since 2017, sax/flute player Tony Lakatos the best known player but Roberto Di Gioia (drums, bass, guitar, strings, organ, mellotron, harp, percussion, trumpet, backing vocals) is probably the main guy, joined here by co-producer and synths player Herre. B+(*) [sp]

Hailey Whitters: I'm in Love (2023, Big Loud/Pigasus, EP): Country singer-songwriter, four albums since 2015, Raised seemed like a breakthrough. This adds six songs more , 17:41. B+(**) [sp]

Mareike Wiening: Reveal (2023, Greenleaf Music): German drummer, based in New York, two previous albums, smart postbop quintet with Rich Perry (tenor sax), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Alex Goodman (guitar), and Johannes Felscher (bass), joined by Dave Douglas (trumpet) on three tracks. B+(***) [sp]

Jack Wright: What Is What (2023, Relative Pitch): Saxophonist, b. 1942 in Pittsburgh, credits start in 1983, and have always been extremely fringe, but he's a very striking player, going solo here on soprano, alto, tenor, and soprano again. B+(***) [sp]

Neil Young: Before and After (2023, Reprise): New recordings of old songs, mostly obscure ones (although the series of "Mother Earth/ Mr. Soul/ Comes a Time" breaks that mold), done very simply, which he can do any time he wants. B+(**) [r]

John Zorn: Parrhesiastes (2023, Tzadik): Composer claims credit, band identified elsewhere as Chaos Magick, consists of Brian Marsella (fender rhodes), John Medeski (organ), Kenny Grochowski (drums), and Matt Hollenberg (guitar). B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Hasaan Ibn Ali: Reaching for the Stars: Trios/Duos/Solos (1962-65 [2023], Omnivore): Pianist, originally William Henry Langford Jr., only released one album in his lifetime (1931-80), titled The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan (1965), but recorded one in 1965 eventually released as Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album. Since that release, the label has collected more previously unreleased scraps, with a 2-CD collection of solos in 2021, and now this: a 1962 trio with Henry Grimes (bass) and Kalil Madi (drums); three 1965 tracks backing vocalist Muriel Gilliam; and two solo tracks from 1962. Some impressive piano, sound far from ideal. B+(**) [sp]

As-Shams Archive Vol. 1: South African Jazz, Funk & Soul 1975-1982 (1975-82 [2023], As-Shams Music): Ten mostly-long tracks (85 minutes), opening with Kippie Moeketsi, closing with Sathima Bea Benjamin. B+(**) [sp]

Derek Bailey & Paul Motian: Duo in Concert (1990-91 [2023], Frozen Reeds): Guitar and drums duo, combines two sets, one from Groningen in 1990, the other from NYC in 1991. B+(**) [bc]

Steve Davis: Meets Hank Jones, Vol. 1 (2008 [2023], Smoke Sessions): Trombonist, played with Art Blakey late 1980s, twenty or so albums since 1995, digs up a trio session here with Jones on piano and Peter Washington on bass. B+(**) [sp]

Bill Evans: Tales: Live in Copenhagen (1964) (1964-69 [2023], Elemental Music): Piano trio with Chuck Israels (bass) and Larry Bunker (drums), two sets from Copenhagen in August, 1964, plus a "bonus" -- a stray "'Round Midnight" from Aarhus in 1969, with different bass and drums. B+(**) [sp]

Joy: Joy (1976 [2023], Cadillac): One-shot London-based jazz group: Jim Dvorak (trumpet), Chris Francis (alto sax), Frank Roberts (piano), Ernest Mothle (bass), Keith Bailey (drums). Upbeat, with a minor South African connecation. B+(*) [bc]

Roland Kirk: Live at Ronnie Scott's 1963 (1963 [2022], Gearbox): Tenor saxophonist, also credited with stritch, manzello, flute, nose flute, and siren (but surely you knew all that), plays a set (4 songs, 37:53) with a crack local band: Stan Tracey (piano), Malcolm Cecil (bass), Ronnie Stephenson (drums). A- [sp]

Malombo Jazz Makers: Malompo Jazz (1966 [2023], Strut): First iteration of a long-running South African jazz group, led here by Abbey Cindi (flute/harmonica), with guitar, drums, and occasional vocals. B+(*) [sp]

Malombo Jazz Makers: Malombo Jazz Makers Volume 2 (1967 [2023], Strut): A second volume, appeared in 1971. B+(*) [sp]

Amina Claudine Myers: Song for Mother E (1979 [2023], Leo): Keyboard player, from Arkansas, one of her first albums, dedicated to her mother (Mrs. Elnora M. Thurman), all original pieces, four on piano, four on organ, with Pheeroan akLaff on drums. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

John Zorn: Nove Cantici Per Francesco D'Assisi (2019, Tzadik): Composed and produced by Zorn, ten songs -- I don't know which one didn't factor into the title -- played by three guitarists: Bill Frisell, Gyan Riley, Julian Lage. B+(*) [r]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Steven Kamperman: Maison Moderne (Trytone) [09-29]
  • Lothar Ohlmeier/Tobias Klein: Left Side Right (Trytone) [02-16]
  • Reggie Quinerly: The Thousandth Scholar (Redefinition) [01-19]
  • Jim Snidero: For All We Know (Savant) [02-16]

Ask a question, or send a comment.