Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41938 [41900] rated (+38), 21 [22] unrated (-1).

I'm having a rough time getting anything done, which is my best explanation for wasting most of last week on a still-unfinished Speaking of Which -- posted well after midnight last, with a few further adds flagged today. The most important add is the link to Pankaj Mishra's The Shoah after Gaza (also on YouTube).

I've neglected pretty much everything and everyone else. My apologies to anyone expecting a response from me. As I must have noted already, I gave myself a month to write a quick, very rough draft of my long gestating political book, with the promise that if I couldn't pull it off, I'd shelve the idea once and for all, and spend my waning days reading fiction -- forty years later, I still have a bookmark 300 pages into Gravity's Rainbow, and enough recollection I'm not sure I'll have to retrace -- while slipping in the occasional old movie and dawdling with jigsaw puzzles (ok, I'm already doing the latter). I certainly wouldn't have to plow through any nonfiction that might be construed as research -- e.g., a couple items currently on the proverbial night stand: Franklin Foer's book on Biden, or Judis/Teixeira on the missing Democrats.

That month was supposed to be January, but the Jazz Critics Poll and EOY lists lapped over without me starting, so I decided I'd give it February. I still have no more than a fragment of a letter stashed away in a notebook entry, so the obvious thing to do at this point is admit failure, and be done with it. Aside from easing my mind -- the last six months have been unbearably gloomy for my politics, my prognostications turning markedly dystopian -- ditching politics might be good news for those of you more interested in my writing on music.

Two small projects that I've also neglected are: a thorough review of the Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll website, which is missing some unknown quantity of historical material (hopefully Davis has it stashed away), and needs some modernization; I'm also behind on maintenance, not to mention the long-promised redesign, of the Robert Christgau website. It would also make sense to reorganize my own data along those same lines, as even now it's virtually impossible for even me to look up what I've written about any musician.

I also have neglected house projects: the most pressing of which is the imminent collapse of a chunk of ceiling in my wife's study room. I used to be pretty competent at carpentry and home improvement tasks. About all I can claim to have managed in the last month has been replacement of two light bulbs, which took me weeks (in my defense, both involved ladders and unconventional sockets).

Nothing special to say about this week's music. A copy of the year 2023 list has been frozen, but I am still adding occasional records to my tracking file, jazz and non-jazz EOY lists, and EOY aggregate, but mostly just my own belatedly graded items. But I'm not very focused on what I'm listening to, and often get stuck wondering what to play next. I can't say I've reached the point of not caring, but I'm getting there.

My most played record of the last couple weeks is The R&B No. 1s of the '50s, especially the final disc, which has left me with Lloyd Price's "I'm Gonna Get Married" as the ultimate earworm. I should probably bump the whole set up to full A. I played the last three discs while cooking on Saturday, and I'm satisfied with them. Then I started Sunday and Monday with disc 6. As this post lapsed into Tuesday, I was tempted again, but had unfinished Vijay Iyer queued up.

Found this in a Facebook comment: "I'm not sure keeping up with Tom Hull is possible. The very thought makes my synapses cry out, 'no mas, no mas.'" But from my view, they really just keep coming poco a poco. During the long delay from listing out this file to posting it -- mostly spent on the Speaking of Which intro -- I only managed to collect four more reviews for next week: two marginally A- jazz albums (Joel Ross, John Surman), and two more marginally below A- (Vijay Iyer, Emile Parisien).

New records reviewed this week:

Black Art Jazz Collective: Truth to Power (2024, HighNote): Fourth group album, 2016 debut started with six mostly prominent mainstreamers -- Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), James Burton (trombone), Xavier Davis (piano), and Johnathan Blake (drums) -- up to nine this time: still a sextet, but with Victor Gould, Rashaan Carter, and Mark Whitfield Jr. taking over at piano-bass-drums for four tracks. Rich harmonically, but still not much of interest happening here. B [sp]

The Choir Invisible [Charlotte Greve/Vinnie Sperazza/Chris Tordini]: Town of Two Faces (2022 [2024], Intakt): Brooklyn-based trio of German saxophonist Charlotte Greve, Chris Tordini (bass), and Vinnie Sperazza (drums), the group taking the title of their initial 2020 album. Greve is also credited with voice, but the real vocal here is Fay Victor's outstanding blues, "In Heaven." B+(***) [sp]

Djeli Moussa Condé: Africa Mama (2023, Accords Croises): Kora playing griot from Conakry, Guinea; at least two previous albums, more as Kondé. B+(***) [sp]

Gui Duvignau/Jacob Sacks/Nathan Ellman-Bell: Live in Red Hook (2022 [2024], Sunnyside): Bassist, fourth album since 2016, born in France, moved to Morocco as an infant, then grew up in Brazil, eventually winding up in New York, where he recorded this trio with piano and drums. B+(*) [sp]

Alon Farber Hagiga With Dave Douglas: The Magician: Live in Jerusalem (2023 [2024], Origin): Israeli saxophonist (soprano/alto), group name is Hebrew for "celebration," has used it to frame his quintet and sextet albums since 2005, up to seven here with their guest star, who brought two (of five) songs, and plays some of his hottest trumpet since he left Masada. A group this joyous deserves as better country. B+(***) [cd]

R.A.P. Ferreira & Fumitake Tamura: The First Fist to Make Contact When We Dap (2024, Ruby Yacht): Underground rapper from Chicago, initials for Rory Allen Philip, formerly did business as Milo, based in Nashville; producer has a handful of collaborations since 2014. Music very sketchy here, but finds an interesting groove. Twelve cuts, 32:16. B+(***) [sp]

David Friesen: This Light Has No Darkness (2023 [2024]], Origin): Bassist, one should add composer as that's been key to him leading fifty-some albums since 1975, and that's the focus here, with this 12-part work arranged and orchestrated by Kyle Gordon, using a 33-piece orchestra. Classically lush, way too much for my taste. B [cd]

The Fully Celebrated Orchestra: Sob Story (2023 [2024], Relative Pitch): Group led by alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, first appeared as a trio in 1996, last heard on the terrific 2009 Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones, back here as a quintet, with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet) and Ian Ayers (guitar) joining Luther Gray (drums) and original member Timo Sharko (bass). B+(**) [sp]

Vanisha Gould and Chris McCarthy: Life's a Gig (2022 [2024], Fresh Sound New Talent): Jazz singer, has a previous self-released duo album but I could see this as her debut, wrote one song plus lyrics to another, but the focus here is on seven standards, most with just McCarthy's piano accompaniment (guest viola on two: the original and "Jolene"). Given the right song, like "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and she doesn't need more. B+(**) [sp]

Heems & Lapgan: Lafandar (2024, Veena Sounds): Rapper Himanshu Suri, formerly of Das Racist and Swet Shop Boys, third solo album (first since 2015). Lapgan is a producer with a couple recent albums, draws on Indo-Pak heritage, Lollywood dance beats, and transnational hip-hop. Beaucoup guests celebrate, and flaunt, diversity. I should dig up a lyric sheet, but the many word juxtapositions are exciting enough. A [sp]

Katy Kirby: Blue Raspberry (2024, Anti-): Folkie singer-songwriter, grew up in Texas, based in Nashville, second album. B+(**) [sp]

Lapgan: History (2023, Veena Sounds): Hip-hop producer, most likely Punjabi but no info as yet on how far removed (seems to be based in Chicago), breakthrough is with the new Heems album, which instantly validated this title. B+(*) [sp]

Lapgan: Duniya Kya Hai (2021, Veena Sounds): Earlier, beats "almost exclusively with sounds from India and Pakistan." B+(**)

Lapgan: Badmaash (2019, self-released): Digging deeper, I find his name is Gaurav Nagpal (last name reversed for Lapgan), his parents came from India (but where? samples are as likely to come from Kerala as Punjab), he was born in Queens, grew up near Chicago, and worked his way backwards into roots. B+(**) [sp]

Les Amazones d'Afrique: Musow Danse (2024, Real World): African supergroup, three brand-name Malian singers -- Mamani Keïta, Mariam Dumbia, Oumou Sangare -- plus 'French music-industry veteran" Valerie Malot. B+(***) [sp]

James Brandon Lewis Quartet: Transfiguration (2022 [2024], Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, brilliant on his 2014 major label debut, has continued to impress ever since, including landmark concept albums that won the Francis Davis Poll in 2021 and 2023. On the side, he's recorded a series of excellent working group albums for this Swiss label. Quartet with piano (Aruán Ortiz), bass (Brad Jones), and drums (Chad Taylor). A- [sp]

Cecilia Lopez & Ingrid Laubrock: Maromas (2022 [2023], Relative Pitch): Electronics musician, from Argentina, based in New York, more than a dozen releases since 2015, doesn't appear to be related to bassist Brandon Lopez, but they did a 2020 duo called LopezLopez. Duo here with the German saxophonist (soprano/tenor), also New York-based. Sketchy, but interesting. B+(**) [sp]

Corb Lund: El Viejo (2024, New West): Canadian country singer-songwriter, twelfth album since 1995. Has a good sound and good sense, but songs are a bit hit-and-miss (a tip might be that his best album so far was called Songs My Friends Wrote). B+(***) [sp]

Brady Lux: Ain't Gone So Far (2024, 6483357 DK, EP): Country singer-songwriter from Montana, reportedly "a genuine ranch hand cowboy who works his ass off every day, and at night he writes songs and saws a little fiddle when he can find the time." Sounds really western, albeit without horses. Seven songs, 23:05. B+(***) [sp]

Mali Obomsawin/Magdalena Abrego: Greatest Hits (2024, Out of Your Head): Singer-songwriter/bassist from Abenaki First Nation, started in the folk group Lula Wiles, released a jazz-powered solo debut in 2022 I liked a lot (Sweet Tooth), but title here made me wonder. Abrego is a guitarist based in Hudson, NY, with not much before this, but adds appreciable heft to the songs. Eight songs, 32:02. B+(**) [bc]

QOW Trio: The Hold Up (2024, Ubuntu Music): British trio -- Riley Stone-Longeran (tenor sax), Eddie Myer (bass), Spike Wells (drums) -- second album after an eponymous debut in 2020, basically a retro-bop band, name taken from a Dewey Redman song, Wells old enough to have played with Tubby Hayes. No complaints here if the saxophonist sounds a lot like Sonny Rollins. A- [sp]

Zach Rich: Solidarity (2021 [2024], OA2): Trombonist, originally from Wichita, teaches in Colorado, seems to be his first album. Postbop quintet with piano and guitar, bass and drums, plus string quartet, plus extra horns and voice on the second piece ("Broken Mirrors"). B+(*) [cd]

Dex Romweber: Good Thing Goin' (2023, Propeller Sound): Rockabilly/roots guitarist, singer-songwriter, surprised to hear that he died at age 56, leaving this album has his last -- ominously dedicated to his late sister and duo partner, Sara Romweber (1963-2019). A mix of originals and covers, the latter more often amusing (even if inadvertently so). B+(*) [sp]

Ignaz Schick/Oliver Steidle: Ilog3 (2021 [2023], Zarek): Germans, Schick started out as a saxophonist but credits here are "turntables, sampler, pitch shifter/looper," in a duo with the drummer ("percussion, sampler, live-electronics"). Third duo album, starting in 2015. Some splendid noise. B+(***) [bc]

Fie Schouten/Vincent Courtois/Guus Janssen: Vostok: Remote Islands (2023, Relative Pitch): A treat for Worldle devotees, improvised music "inspired by Judith Schalansky's book Atlas of Remote Islands: 50 Islands I Never Set Foot in and Never Will. Schouten plays "bass clarinet, clarinet in A, basset horn"; the others cello and keyboards, with Giuseppe Doronzo joining in on baritone sax (4 of 12 tracks). Eleven are named for islands (only a couple big enough to be Worldle answers), the other for a bird ("Inaccessible Island Rail"). B+(**) [sp]

Håkon Skogstad: 8 Concepts of Tango (2023 [2024], Øra Fonogram): Norwegian pianist, has taken tango as his art form, with previous albums called Visions of Tango and Two Hands to Tango. All original pieces here, played by a classical-sounding group of band (piano, two bandoneons, string quartet plus bass). B+(*) [cd] [03-15]

Sleater-Kinney: Little Rope (2024, Loma Vista): Portland-based rock group, now down to a duo of singer-songwriters Carrie Brownstein and Corrin Tucker, eleventh studio album since 1995. I've long respected their craft while finding one or both of the voices intensely grating. Still, repeated exposure finds me caring less than ever, although this has less than usual for me to complain about. B [sp]

Simon Spiess Quiet Tree: Euphorbia (2022 [2024], Intakt): Swiss tenor saxophonist, debut 2011, eighth album, group includes pianist Marc Méan (who wrote four pieces, same as Spiess), and drummer Jonas Ruther (writer of one piece). This sort of sneaks up on you. B+(**) [sp]

Albert Vila Trio: Reality Is Nuance (2022 [2023], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish guitarist, half-dozen albums since 2006, this a trio recorded in Brussels with Doug Weiss (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums). Nice, low-key feel, drummer excels. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Roberto Magris: Love Is Passing Thru: Solo/Duo/Trio/Quartet (2005 [2024], JMood): Italian pianist, from Trieste, many albums since 1990, has been rifling through old tapes recently, and has come up with an exceptionally delightful one here. Recorded over two dates. This works out to five solo tracks (including two takes of "Lush Life"), plus two with drums and percussion (Enzo Carpentieri, some Balinese), three more with bass (Danilo Gallo), and finally three with tenor sax (Ettore Martin). A- [cd]

Jack Wood: The Gal That Got Away: The Best of Jack Wood, Featuring Guest Niehaud Fitzgibbon ([2024], Jazz Hang): A classic crooner, "long a favorite in Southern California." No dates given here, but "some of the Wood's finest recordings," with various groups, including Doug MacDonald and John Pisano on guitar, some sweetened by the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra. The featured guest is an Australian singer, who takes over for two tracks, and is as adept as her host. I must admit that I still have a soft spot for the style, especially on the songs that it made timeless. B+(***) [cd] [03-29]

Old music:

Gigi: Gigi (2001, Palm Pictures): Ethiopian singer Ejigayehu Shibabaw, third album, got a boost on Chris Blackwell's label, produced by Bill Laswell, with a roster of jazz greats (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Pharoah Sanders, Henry Threadgill, Hamid Drake, Amina Claudine Myers) mixed in with Laswell regulars and many Ethiopians. Laswell and Gigi married, following this up with a dub remix, then Zion Roots, credited to Abyssinia Infinite, with Gigi's full name as "featuring." B+(***) [sp]

Gigi: Illuminated Audio (2003, Palm Pictures): Some sort of dub remix of Gigi, omitting most of the vocals, which was the Gigi part of the album. Also cuts out the jazz solos, so you wind up with a lot of Bill Laswell ambient groove -- not much, but pleasant enough. B+(*) [sp]

Gigi: Gold & Wax (2006, Palm Pictures): Her third, and final, album for Chris Blackwell's label, again with Bill Laswell producing. A wide range of musicians -- including Nils Petter Molvaer, Bernie Worrell, Aiyb Dieng, Foday Musa Suso, Ustad Sultan Khan, and Buckethead -- integrate seamlessly with the mesmerizing vocals. A- [sp]

Barney McAll: Precious Energy (2022, Extra Celestial Arts): Australian pianist, close to twenty albums since 1995, seems to have designed this to appeal to his featured guest, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, although the more critical collaborator may be jazz-soul outfit Haitus Kayote. This starts with a Leon Thomas/Pharoah Sanders homage, and ends with Coltrane, while touching on planets Sun Ra and Stevie Wonder. That was Bartz's golden age, but barely registers here over the zonked out vocals. B [sp]

Pajama Party: Up All Night (1989, Atlantic): Dance-pop vocal trio, released two albums, this debut and another in 1991. B+(**) [sp]

QOW Trio: QOW Trio (2020, Ubuntu Music): English sax-bass-drums trio -- Riley Stone-Lonergan, Eddie Myer, Spike Wells -- title song/group/album name from Dewey Redman, also dok one from Joe Henderson, several standards (three from Cole Porter), and two originals not far removed from their inspirations ("Pound for Prez," "Qowfirmation"). B+(***) [sp]

Stacey Q: Greatest Hits (1982-95 [1995], Thump): Dance-pop artist, Stacey Swain, opens with five resplendent remixes of singles from her 1986 solo debut, then ignores two later albums, going back to her early work in Q -- a "minimal synth/new wave" group with Jon St. James and Ross Wood, and then SSQ (supposedly emphasizing the singer's initials). B+(***) [sp]

SSQ: Playback (1983, Enigma): Stacey S[wain]'s pre-solo group, produced by guitar/synth player (and sometime vocalist) Jon St. James, both previously in the band Q, first and only album until a 2010 return. B+(**) [sp]

SSQ: Jet Town Je T'Aime (2020, Synthicide): A return to form for Stacey Swain and Jon St. James, 37 years after their first (and hitherto only) album. B+(*) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Guillermo Gregorio: Two Trios (ESP-Disk) [2023-12-01]
  • Mercer Hassy Orchestra: Duke's Place (Mercer Hassy) [04-15)
  • Ellie Lee: Escape (self-released) [05-24]
  • Matthew Shipp Trio: New Concepts in Piano Trio Jazz (ESP-Disk) [04-05]
  • Ronny Smith: Struttin' (Pacific Coast Jazz) [04-19]

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