Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 42101 [42079] rated (+22), 37 [39] unrated (-2).

Last week was severely disrupted, with several days not spent anywhere near the computer -- mostly Washington family passing through town on their way to Arkansas for the eclipse -- so I figured there was no point playing new music I'd need to take notes on. So what little I have below was mostly picked up after they cleared out Saturday, leaving me to cobble together what turned out to be an exceptionally long Speaking of Which (217 links, 12552 words). Several links to music pieces there, including a bunch on Beyoncé.

We did two manage two family major dinners during the week. The first (plate pictured here) featured three Ottolenghi recipes (roast chicken with fennel, mandarins, and ouzo; sweet potatoes with scallions and dates; and a pearl barley salad) plus old standby recipes for caponata (Sicilian eggplant and zucchini), horiatiki (Greek chopped salad), and mast va khiar (Iranian yogurt with cucumbers, scallions, sultanas, walnuts, and mint), with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert.

Leftovers went into a second dinner which my nephew Mike took charge of, adding kofta/chicken/swordfish kebabs, pitas, hummus, asparagus, quick pickles, eggplant slices topped with spiced yogurt, a spinach salad with dates and almonds, and a mixed bean salad. Another friend made a carrot cake and white-chocolate cookies. Much more chaos than I can handle on my own anymore, but I can take some credit for having the kitchen and pantry organized.

The eclipse was rated at 88% here, so we got the idea, but it wasn't much compared to what we saw on TV. The dimming was less than we often get from passing cumulonimbus clouds.

I only heard about the passing of Clarence "Frogman" Henry after my cutoff, but decided I might as well squeeze his compilation in here. Albert "Tootie" Heath also died last week, and my exploration of his first albums also got promoted.

As noted, I finished Tricia Romano's brilliantly titled book on the Village Voice, The Freaks Came Out to Write. My own involvement with the Voice dates back to 1968-69, when as a high school dropout in Wichita, KS, still in my teens, I started subscribing, not so much for the politics -- for that I had I.F. Stone's Weekly, The Minority of One, and Ramparts -- as for the bohemian culture. I followed them for most of my life, which in the late 1970s included a few years living in New York, and thanks to Bob Christgau, they even published me, both in the 1970s and much later (most notably Jazz Consumer Guide. So, while I was never mentioned in the book, there was a strong sense that it tracked much of my life: lots of stories I knew, at least partly (often indirectly), some I didn't, and a few more I could have added to.

Moving on, I finally got around to Cory Doctorow's The Internet Con, which I had identified as "in my queue, waiting for my limited attention" back in my latest Book Roundup, dated Sept. 23, 2023 -- and way overdue for a sequel. I see now that I failed to index that post, so more drudge work to do.

The other still-pending book from that list is Franklin Foer's The Last Politician, which the death of the political book project has made unnecessary, especially on top of my mounting disappointment with "Genocide Joe." At least when we talk about "lesser evils" in 2024, there won't be any serious debate over the evil term.

Next week will also be disrupted, as our guests head home from Arkansas, hopefully passing through here again. Hopefully they will be a bit less rushed heading back. Where that leaves my weekly posts I neither know nor much care. They merely mark time while I age rather gracelessly.

New records reviewed this week:

Neal Alger: Old Souls (2023 [2024], Calligram): Guitarist, based in Chicago, debut album from 2001, mostly side credits since, including five albums with Patricia Barber. Here with Chad McCullough (trumpet), Chris Madsen (tenor sax), Clark Sommers (bass), and Dana Hall (drums). B+(**) [cd]

Thomas Anderson: Hello, I'm From the Future (2024, Out There): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, debut 1989, the first of many finely wrought albums. A dozen new songs here. A- [sp]

Sam Anning: Earthen (2024, Earshift Music): Australian bassist, third album, composed nine pieces, leads a septet most prominently featuring Mat Jodrell (trumpet), with two saxophones, keyboards, guitar, and drums. Most pieces are somber-to-haunting, drawing inspiration from aboriginal land. B+(***) [cd] [04-05]

Alex Beltran: Rift (2022 [2024], Calligram): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, based in Chicago, looks like his first album, mostly an energetic mainstream quartet with Stu Mindeman (piano/wurlitzer), Sam Peters (bass), and Jon Deitemyer (drums), with guests on two track each: Chad McCullough (trumpet), Lenard Simpson (alto sax). B+(***) [cd]

Beyoncé: Cowboy Carter (2024, Parkwood/Columbia): Mega pop star, "rose to fame" in Destiny's Child, last name then Knowles, now seems to be Knowles-Carter after the merger with the now relatively obscure rapper Jay-Z. Eighth solo album since 2003, first seven debuted at number one, awaiting confirmation on this one. She's parlayed her music into a business empire, where her Wikipedia page has as much about "wealth" and "philanthropy" as music. I thought her early work, both group and solo, was ok at best, more often not. She got better, but I never found any reason to think she was more than money talking. Even after I revised my grade upward and bought a copy, I never played Renaissance again. My inability to recall any of her songs might be chalked up to my aging -- I can't recall much Taylor Swift either -- or maybe just my increasingly broad-but-shallow streaming, where I'm most likely to pick up on my long-cultivated idiosyncrasies. Aware of this, I held off writing up my first play, and gave it a closer listen the morning after. I heard a lot more: nothing I love, but a wide range of credible bits, enough to suggest that with another 3-5 plays, I could edit this 78:21 sprawl down to a 45-minute high B+ (but probably not a 35-minute A-). The result would be even less cowboy than this is: I'm all for genre-fuck, but she gave up that game with the "Blackbird" cover in the two slot (even with four certified country guests, including Tanner Adell), then slipped the album's best song (six writers, but my guess is that Raphael Saadiq is key) in between "Texas Hold 'Em" and "Jolene." Aside from Saadiq, other notable contributors include Nile Edwards, Pharrell Williams, and Shawn Carter, as well as guests Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Miley Cyrus, and snips from Chuck Berry and Brian Wilson: all things you can do with money to make more. B+(**) [sp]

Martin Budde: Back Burner (2023 [2024], Origin): Guitarist, based in Seattle, seems to be first album but had a 2021 group album as Meridian Odyssey. Recorded in Alaska, eight originals plus a Joni Mitchell cover, backed by bass (Ben Feldman) and drums (Xavier Lecouturier). Nice enough. B+(*) [cd]

Mackenzie Carpenter: Mackenzie Carpenter (2023, Valory Music, EP): Country singer-songwriter from Georgia, one of the writers on the Megan Moroney single "I'm Not Pretty," debut 5-song EP (15:57). Annoying when it takes longer to look up a label and release date than it takes to listen to a record (and that doesn't even count the 17:27 "Introducing Mackenzie Carpenter" video on YouTube). Offhand, seems about as credible (and about as pretty) as Moroney. B+(***) [sp]

Chromeo: Adult Contemporary (2024, BMG): Canadian electropop duo, sixth album since 2004. Dance grooves, hard to resist. B+(**) [sp]

Hannah Frances: Keeper of the Shepherd (2024, Ruination): Singer-songwriter, based in Chicago, plays guitar, released a debut album in 2018. B+(*) [sp]

Gossip: Real Power (2024, Columbia): Indie band, formed in Olympia, WA by three Arkansas expats, fronted by plus-sized singer Beth Ditto, who went on to a solo career, wrote a book, did some acting, but is back here for their first album since 2012. B+(**) [sp]

Helado Negro: Phasor (2024, 4AD): Roberto Carlos Lange, born in Florida, parents from Ecuador, ninth album since 2009. First approximation is something similar to the slinky Brazilian music of Tom Zé. B+(**) [sp]

Last Word Quintet: Falling to Earth (2021-22 [2024], Origin): Group formed when performance poet Marc Kelly Smith hooked up with "four of Chicago's more active musicians and songwriters": Al Day (vocals/guitar), Bob Long (piano), Doug Lofstrom (bass/keyboards), and Brian Gephart (sax), with Sarah Allen (drums) listed on back cover but not in group pic. Day's vocals are rather talkie, rather like Mose Allison, so they blend in with the poetry as opposed to giving you two distinct voices. For that, you have the sax. B+(**) [cd]

Molly Lewis: On the Lips (2024, Jagjaguwar): Musician from Orange County, California, plays ukulele and other novelty instruments, and whistles, her early albums out for laughs, this one reminding me more of soft jazz pleasantries. B+(*) [sp]

Ms. Boogie: The Breakdown (2024, self-released): Brooklyn-based rapper, drill style, first album. B+(*) [sp]

Sam Outlaw: Terra Cotta (2024, Black Hills): Country singer-songwriter, based in Nashville, fourth album since 2015, original name Morgan but adopted his mother's maiden name -- kind of pulls a punch he really never throws. B+(*) [sp]

Jim Rotondi: Finesse (2021 [2024], Cellar Music): Trumpet player, originally from Montana, studied at UNT, played in New York, now based in Graz, Austria. Backed here by the Notes and Tones Jazz Orchestra, a big band, plus an unnamed Orchestra with strings and reeds (flute, oboe, bassoon, horn) on six (of 13) tracks. Jakob Helling arranged and conducted Rotondi's compositions, with featured soloists Steve Davis, Dick Oatts and Danny Grissett. B [sp]

Claudio Scolari Project: Intermission (2022 [2024], Principal): Italian drummer, discography goes back to 2004, seventh group album (although Discogs only lists two), quartet features a second drummer, Daniele Cavalca (also keyboards, with Scolari some "synth programming"), trumpet (Simone Scolari), and electric bass (Michele Cavalca). Occasionally hits an Miles Davis fusion vibe, which is excellent, but not really the point, so it tails off into something more ambient, which is also fine. A- [cd]

Tyla: Tyla (2024, Epic): Popiano (pop + amapiano) singer-songwriter from South Africa, last name Seethal, first album after a worldwide breakout single in 2023 ("Water"). B+(**) [sp]

Bob Vylan: Humble as the Sun (2024, Ghost Theatre): British grime/punk/hip-hop duo, singer/guitarist Bobby Vylan and drummer Bobbie Vylan, released a terrific EP in 2018 (We Live Here), later expanded to album length and followed up with a 2022 album (The Price of Life). Back here with 10 songs, 34:44. Title song suggests they're getting nice, but this picks up soon enough, and ends strong with the reminder, "I'm Still Here." A- [sp]

Dan Weiss: Even Odds (2023 [2024], Cygnus): Drummer, over 100 side-credits since 1998, a dozen-plus of his own compositions since 2005, the latter I rarely enjoyed but here he tries something different: a bare-bones trio with brilliant improvisers -- Miguel Zenón (alto sax) and Matt Mitchell (piano) -- making the most out of his broken free rhythms. A- [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestkra Chamber: The Reconstru-Ducted Repatriation Road-Rage ReMiXeS (2020-21 [2024], Avantgroidd): Jazz/funk group, mostly under the direction of the critic Greg Tate from 2000 to his recent death. Marque Gilmore tha' Inna-Most remixes of their 2021 album Angels Over Oakanda. B+(**) [bc]

Pete Jolly: Seasons (1970 [2024], Future Days): Pianist (1932-2004), actual surname Ceragioli, born in Connecticut but considered a West Coast player; played with Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Marty Paich, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, many others; 1955 debut title Jolly Jumps In; recorded this album for Herb Alpert at A&M, with guitar (John Pisano), bass (Chuck Berghofer), drums, and percussion. A fairly minor groove album. B+(*) [sp]

Mixmaster Morris/Jonah Sharp/Haruomi Hosono: Quiet Logic (1998 [2024], WRWTFWW): The former is Morris Gould. Discogs only credits him this one album, but also lists DJ Mixes and Compilations with titles like God Bless the Chilled, Abstract Funk Theory, and Calm Down My Selector (but not Give Peace a Dance?). Sharp is younger, from Scotland, also has a rep for UK chill rooms. Hosono's name wasn't on the original release, but this was crafted in his studio. Definitely chill, but a lot of fascinating detail rarely revealed in ambient. A- [bc]

Old music:

Kuumba-Toudie Heath: Kawaida (1970, O'Be): Artist per Discogs, but you know him as Albert "Tootie" Heath (1935-2024), who came out of Philadelphia with his brothers Percy (1923-2005) and Jimmy (1926-2000) to have major careers in jazz. He played on numerous classic albums from 1956 on, but this is the first listing him as leader -- although it was later reissued under the marquee names of Herbie Hancock and Don Cherry, with Heath relegated to a second tier of Jimmy Heath, Buster Williams, James Mtume, and Ed Blackwell, and most names were Africanized (Mtume was the only one that stuck, although you may recognize Mwandisi). Mtume (1946-2022, who was Jimmy Heath's son but grew up with a stepfather's name) wrote five pieces, the other one credited to "Kuumba." This was from a heady moment when Black Power, Pan-Africanism, and the Avant Garde joined forces to make revolution. A- [yt]

Albert Heath: Kwanza (The First) (1973 [2015], Elemental Music): Drummer, a rare album as leader, originally on Muse in 1974, reissued as Oops! on Xanadu in Japan in 1993 with an extraneous piano solo track from 1981. With Jimmy Heath (tenor/soprano sax, flute), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Kenny Barron (pianos), Ted Dunbar (guitar), and Percy Heath (bass). B+(**) [sp]

Clarence "Frogman" Henry: Ain't Got No Home: The Best of Clarence "Frogman" Henry (1956-64 [1994], MCA): New Orleans pianist and singer, just passed (1937-2024), title song was a hit (3 r&b, 20 pop), earned him that frog-in-the-voice nickname but that wasn't his only trick (cf. "I'm in Love"), had two more minor hits in 1961 -- "You Always Hurt the One You Love" and "(I Don't Know Why) But I Do" (better known from Bobby Charles, and later by Bobby Vinton) -- but settled into a comfortable groove, which is just fine for filling out an 18-song profile. A- [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Noah Haidu: Standards II (Sunnyside) [04-12]
  • Chuck Owen & Resurgence: Magic Light (Origin) [04-26]
  • Idit Shner & Mhondoro: Ngatibatanei [Let Us Unite!] (OA2) [04-26]
  • Geoff Stradling & the StradBand: Nimble Digits (Origin) [04-26]
  • Jordan Vanhemert: Deep in the Soil (Origin) [04-26]

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