Monday, March 25, 2024


Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 42039 [42007] rated (+32), 31 [28] unrated (+3).

Speaking of Which ran over again. I posted what I had late Sunday night (227 links, 9825 words; the former possibly a record, the latter well above usual but less than 10883 for the week of March 3. (Updated tally: 259 links, 11559 words, so may very well be the biggest one ever.)

I got this started early Monday afternoon, but probably won't post until late, not so much because I expect this to take much as because I'd rather spend the time cleaning up Speaking of Which. I'm under no delusions that what I say here will make any difference to the world, but times like these need witnesses. And that is the one thing I can still offer.

Not a lot of albums this week -- played a lot of old stuff again -- but I'm fairly pleased with the finds this week, including some jazz artists not previously on my radar (Espen Berg, Roby Glod, Nicole McCabe) and a couple old-timers who returned to form with their best releases in years (Kahil El'Zabar, Charles Lloyd). I'll also note that results flipped expectations for two much-hyped reissues (Joe Henderson, Alice Coltrane).

Very little non-jazz this week, especially if you count Queen Esther as jazz (which you should for her better releases below, but not for the still-recommended Gild the Black Lily). Tierra Whack came from Robert Christgau's latest Consumer Guide. I should replay the records he liked better than I did -- Yard Act, Les Amazones d'Afrique, the Guy Davis I reviewed shortly after it came out in 2021. Most other records I have similar grades for (the three I mentioned I'm just one or two notches down on), leaving unheard the Queen compilation and a Thomas Anderson album that isn't streamable yet. By the way, Christgau skipped over Anderson's recent odds & sods set, The Debris Field (Lo-Fi Flotsam and Ragged Recriminations, 2000-2021), which I gave an A- to in my review.

Unpacking below does not include Monday's haul, which looks to be substantial. Most promising among the new releases is Dave Douglas with James Brandon Lewis, but note also a new album with Kevin Sun as Mute. Plus a lot of vault discoveries: Chet Baker/Jack Sheldon, Yusef Lateef, Sun Ra, Art Tatum, Mal Waldron/Steve Lacy, in addition to the Sonny Rollins already uwrapped.


New records reviewed this week:

Espen Berg: Water Fabric (2023, Odin): Norwegian pianist, dozen or so albums since 2007. Cover shows "featuring": Hayden Powell (trumpet), Harpreet Bansal (violin), Ellie Mkel (viola), Joakim Munker (cello), Per Oddvar Johansen (drums). I'm not often a big fan of strings, but here they take themes that start enchanting and raise them to something magnificent. A- [sp]

Espen Berg: The Hamar Concert (2022 [2023], NXN): Solo piano, recorded at Kulturhus in Hamar, Norway. B+(**) [sp]

Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Open Me, a Higher Consciousness of Sound and Spirit (2023 [2024], Spiritmuse): Chicago percussionist and vocalist (perhaps a bit too much), celebrates fifty years of mostly working within this ensemble, lately a trio with Corey Wilkes (trumpet) and Alex Harding (baritone sax), supplemented here by James Sanders (violin/viola) and Ishmael Ali (cello). A potent mix here, especially on the funk classic "Compared to What" -- vocal is perfect there. A- [sp]

Roby Glod/Christian Ramond/Klaus Kugel: No ToXiC (2022 [2024], Nemu): German trio -- alto/soprano sax, bass, drums -- reportedly have been playing together twenty years but discography is thin; Glod and Kugel have an album together from 2013; Glod has side credits back to 1992. One Connie Crothers piece, the rest joint improv credits. The sort of free sax tour de force I always love. A- [cd]

Julian Lage: Speak to Me (2024, Blue Note): Guitarist, debut 2009 on EmArcy, after stints with Palmetto and Mack Avenue landed on another major in 2021. This one leans a bit more rock, produced by Joe Henry, with Levon Henry (sax), Patrick Warren (keyboards), Joege Roeder (bass), and Dave King (drums). Except when it doesn't, and I lose all interest. Then, well, there's some piano that sounds like Kris Davis, and I'm interested again. B+(*) [sp]

Remy Le Boeuf's Assembly of Shadows: Heartland Radio (2023 [2024], SoundSpore): French alto saxophonist, also plays flute, several albums, this group a big band (third album, group named for the first) with vocals on two tracks. Some nice passages but generally too many classical moves for my taste, and I don't think the vocals help. B [cd]

David Leon: Bird's Eye (2022 [2024], Pyroclastic): Cuban-American alto saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, has a couple previous albums, also plays soprano sax, alto flute, and piccolo. Trio with DoYeon Kim (gayagum, voice) and Lesley Mok (percussion). Rather sparse and scattered, with some very interesting stretches, and some that don't do much (or worse, like the voice). B+(**) [sp]

Charles Lloyd: The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow (2024, Blue Note, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, released this album on his 86th birthday (any reason Blue Note can't give you recording dates?), was sort of a crossover star in the late 1960s, solidified his career when he moved to ECM in 1989, remaining pre-eminent within his move to Blue Note in 2013. Also plays some alto here, as well as bass and alto flute. Backed by Jason Moran (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Brian Blade (drums), a sprawling 15 songs (90:25). Longer than I'd like as a straight-through stream, but the CD/LP versions would break that up into manageable chunks, and it would be hard to pick among them. He's in fine form throughout, and the band (especially Moran) are superb. A- [sp]

Nicole McCabe: Live at Jamboree (2023 [2024], Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist, from Los Angeles, Introducing debut from 2020, second album here. She recorded this in Barcelona, with Iannis Obiols (impressive on piano), Logan Kane (bass), and Ramon Prats (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Moor Mother: The Great Bailout (2024, Anti-): Camae Ayewa, from Philadelphia, poet first, then musician, spoken word under this alias initially suggested hip-hop, but several side projects moved into jazz, most notably the group Irreversible Entanglements, and she's always had an activist angle. Numerous guest features here, hard to follow (but seems very Anglo-themed), music murkily industrial. B+(*) [sp]

Willie Morris: Conversation Starter (2022 [2023], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, from St. Louis, Discogs page adds a III to his name. First album, quintet with Patrick Cornelius (alto sax/alto flute), Jon Davis (piano), Adi Meyerson (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums), playing eight originals, two covers, one of those from Joe Henderson. B+(**) [sp]

Willie Morris: Attentive Listening (2023 [2024], Posi-Tone): Second album, similar lineup, with Patrick Cornelius (alto sax/alto flute) and Jon Davis (piano) returning, plus label regulars Boris Kozlov (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums). Another solid mainstream record. B+(*) [sp]

Kjetil Mulelid: Agoja (2022 [2024], Odin): Norwegian pianist, several albums, also electric piano and synth, quartet with pedal steel plus bass and drums, but most tracks have a scatter of guests, including violin, vibes, and/or some famous horn players. Still stays within atmospheric bounds. B+(**) [sp]

Queen Esther: Things Are Looking Up (2024, EL): Bio is evasive beyond raised in Atlanta and "embedded" in Charleston, Discogs says "vocalist, songwriter, lyricist, producer, musician, actor, performance artist, TED Speaker and playwright," credits her with 7 albums (but not yet this one), also six groups (Hoosegow, JC Hopkins Biggish Band, The 52nd Street Blues Project, The Harlem Experiment, The Memp0his Blood Jugband Singers, Yallopin' Hounds). Last I heard was the banjo-fied roots album Gild the Black Lily (an A-), so I was surprised and taken aback by the jazz diva styling here, before the fine print revealed a Billie Holiday project, with the few original songs credited to Lenny Molotov. Replay required, and worth it. Promised later this year: "the alt-Americana album Blackbirding." A- [cd] [04-09]

Queen Esther: Rona (2023, EL): I missed this one, only a bit more than an EP (8 songs, 29:18), in her country mode, often with ukulele and/or strings. Mostly originals, but note that the first cover is "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- Queen, but just one voice, just a bit of guitar, but long at 6:39. B+(*) [sp]

Ron Rieder: Latin Jazz Sessions (2023 [2024], self-released): Composer, seems to be his first album, inside pic shows him at piano but album credits Alain Mallet (piano), one of nine musicians listed on cover, including impressive tenor sax from Mike Tucker, flute from Fernando Brando, and lots of rhythm. B+(***) [cd]

Viktoria Tolstoy: Stealing Moments (2023 [2024], ACT): Swedish jazz singer, great-great-granddaughter of the famous Russian writer, dozen-plus albums since 1994, sings in English, song credits to others but I don't recognize them as standards (mostly Ida Sand and Anna Alerstedt). B+(*) [sp]

A Tonic for the Troops: Realm of Opportunities (2022 [2023], Odin): Norwegian quartet led (at least all songs composed) by Ellen Brekken (bass), with Magnus Bakken (tenor sax), Espen Berg (piano), and Magnus Sefniassen Eide (drums), second group album, Brekken's side credits mostly with Hedvig Mollestad. B+(**) [sp]

Tierra Whack: World Wide Whack (2024, Interscope): Rapper from Philadelphia, her own name (after trying Dizzle Dizz), famous for her 13-songs-in-13-minutes mixtape Whack World (2018), followed by a trio of EPs in 2021, and now this debut studio album (15 tracks, 37:47). Same shtick here, short bits with a tasty hook but scant adornment, moving easily from set to set, like in her video. A- [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Alice Coltrane: The Carnegie Hall Concert (1971 [2024], Impulse!): Pianist and harpist, formerly Alice McLeod, of Detroit, her mother a choir singer, others in the family had musical careers, while she had a trio and played with others (Terry Pollard, Terry Gibbs; possibly her first husband, singer Kenny Hagood). She married John Coltrane in 1965, joined his quartet in 1966 (replacing McCoy Tyner), and had three children with him (most famous is Ravi Coltrane), but he died in 1967. In 1968, she released her own album, A Monastic Trio, and followed it with six more, also on Impulse!, through 1973, continuing on other labels through 1978, a few more later on. This live concert, part of which was previously released in 2018 as Live at Carnegie Hall, 1971, happened about the same time as what was perhaps her best known album, Journey in Satchidananda appeared. Title song leads off here (15:02), followed by three more pieces, centered on the 28:09 "Africa." She did much to develop the spiritual side of her husband's legacy, and if you follow the reviews, you may detect its center of gravity shifting from him to her: she was, after all, the one who lived the life. But compared to most recent reissues, this concert most securely links her back to his music, most obviously through bassists Jimmy Garrison and Cecil McBee, and saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp. But her harp is developing (though it is her piano that brings "Africa" to its climax), and she adds harmonium (Kumar Kramer) and tamboura (Tulsi Reynolds), along with two drummers (Ed Blackwell and Clifford Jarvis). I've listened to most of her albums, but this is the first one that really moved me. A- [sp]

Joe Henderson: Power to the People (1969 [2024], Craft): Tenor saxophonist (1937-2001), his early records for Blue Note (1963-67) helped define that label's golden age, his move to Milestone (1968-77) much less storied (although Milestone Profiles found enough for an A-). Pitchfork calls this "an essential document of a transitional moment in which everything in jazz seemed up for grabs." It was a time of intense political ferment, whence the title, but for jazz musicians, it was more stress as labels dwindled and died. With names on the cover: Herbie Hancock (piano/electric), Jack De Johnette (drums), Ron Carter (bass/electric), Mike Lawrence (trumpet on two tracks). The band helps, but the only real point is the saxophone, which wakes you up with a few strong solos, including a monster to end. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Espen Berg Trio: Blge (2017 [2018], Odin): Norwegian pianist, albums since 2007, this the second of four trio albums with Brur Reinert Poulsen (bass) and Simon Olderskog Albertsen (drums). Opens with a Sting cover, then on to nine Berg originals. Strong album, good rhythmic sense. B+(***) [sp]

Espen Berg Trio: Fjre (2021 [2022], Odin): Same piano-bass-drums trio, but three more names in fine print on cover: Mathias Eick (trumpet, 2 tracks), Silje Nrgard (vocal, 1 track, the Paul Simon song, "I'd Do It for Your Love"), Hanna Paulsberg (tenor sax, 1 track). B+(**) [sp]

The Herb Geller Quartet: I'll Be Back (1996 [1998], Hep): Plays alto and sopranino sax here, with Ed Harris (guitar), Thomas Biller (bass), and Heinrich Kbberling (drums), on four originals and six standards (including a Jobim). B+(**) [r]

The Herb Geller Quartet: You're Looking at Me (1997 [1998], Fresh Sound): Alto and soprano sax, featuring Jan Lundgren (piano), with Dave Carpenter (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums), on ten standards followed by four tracks Geller wrote for a musical about Josephine Baker. B+(***) [r]

Herb Geller and Brian Kellock: Hollywood Portraits (1999 [2000], Hep): Duets, alto/soprano sax and piano, Kellock is Scottish, did some very good duets with Tommy Smith shortly after this one. Geller composed twenty pieces here, each named for a famous actress, most 1930s through 1950s. B+(***) [r]

Herb Geller With Don Friedman: At the Movies (2007, Hep): Alto/soprano sax and piano, also with Martin Wind (bass), Hans Braber (drums), and Martien Oster (guitar on four tracks, of 13). Standards, back cover names some but not all of the movies. B+(**) [r]

Nicole McCabe: Introducing Nicole McCabe (2020, Minaret): Alto saxophonist, not much biography I can find, but studied in Portland and at USC, is based in Los Angeles, teaches there, released this debut with George Colligan (piano, terrific), Jon Lakey (bass), and Alan Jones (drums), plus Charlie Porter (trumpet, a plus on three tracks). Very strong performance, with a nice touch on the rare slow bits. A- [sp]

Nicole McCabe: Landscapes (2022, Fresh Sound New Talent): Second album, alto saxophonist continue to impress, this time with piano-bass-drums I've never heard of, an equally obscure vocalist adding scat I barely noticed to one track, forgotten by the next. B+(***) [sp]

Queen Esther: Talkin' Fishbowl Blues (2004, EL): First album, although a duo with guitarist Elliott Sharp as Hoosegow came out in 1996. Produced by Jack Spratt, tagged as "Black Americana," with a dark cover of "Stand By Your Man." B+(**) [sp]

Queen Esther: What Is Love? (2010, EL): Jazz ensemble this time, piano trio plus four horns (Patience Higgins on tenor sax, plus trumpet, trombone, and French horn), with JC Hopkins producing and writing most of the songs. The occasional standard makes it easier to appreciate the precise nuance the singer is capable of. B+(***) [sp]

Queen Esther: The Other Side (2014, EL): This one, with nine originals, two covers of Paul Pena (q.v.), one each from Charlie Rich and Bryan & Wilda Creswell, is filed under country rock. Band is mostly guitar, including pedal and lap steel, but note that the fiddle player (just two tracks) is Charles Burnham. B+(**) [sp]


Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Nicole McCabe: Improvisations (2022, Minaret, EP): Solo alto sax with pedals, for something of a bagpipe effect. Four tracks, 20:46. [1/4 tracks, 5:01/20:46] - [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Owen Broder: Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. Two (Outside In Music) [04-12]
  • Benji Kaplan: Untold Stories (self-released) [05-01]
  • Joo Madeira/Margarida Mestre: Voz Debaixo (4DaRecord) [02-17]
  • Ivo Perelman Quartet: Water Music (RogueArt) * [04-00]
  • PNY Quintet: Over the Wall (RogueArt) * [03-00)
  • Ernesto Rodrigues/Bruno Parinha/Joo Madeira: Into the Wood (Creative Sources) [01-09]
  • Sonny Rollins: Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings (Resonance, 3CD) [04-20]
  • Dave Schumacher & Cubeye: Smoke in the Sky (Cellar) [04-19]

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