Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Monday, November 15, 2021


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36694 [36637] rated (+57), 128 [133] unrated (-5).

Long list of records this week. Had one of the best weeks this year for adding new A-list records, mostly thanks to Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. I even liked the two gospel records, although I've been miserable with the genre lately, especially slogging through the Verity compilations that have been part of my housecleaning chore. Unrated list still dropping, but I ran into a batch this week that I had little stomach for. Also, I'm running out of findable A-list entries in the unheard Christgau list (indeed, three of the Old Music entries below were reviewed from constructed playlists).

Other stuff happening that I can't really get into right now.


PS: One thing I can mention now is that there will be 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, with Francis Davis directing and me helping out, as usual. Top results and essays will appear on The Arts Fuse before January 1, and complete results and individual ballots will appear on my Jazz Critics Poll website. (Page is currently primitive, but I'm working on that.) Ballot invites will go out to critics by Monday. If you expect an invite (especially if you've voted in the past) and don't get one, please let us know.

Continuing to add to my Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY files. I've also started to assemble a Metacritic/EOY Aggregate file. Only 3 major lists so far, all British, so don't expect much. At this early stage, points for Christgau's and my grades are a large part of the total, creating a major skew. (Nathan Bell, for instance, is currently ranked 11, but realistically unlikely to finish in the top 300 -- not that he shouldn't be in the top 10, but the world is missing out on a lot of good things these days.) On the other hand, there is only 1 record in top 70 I haven't heard (Low's Hey What). The other thing worth noting is that I spent a lot of time collecting 4-star (and up) ratings from All About Jazz, Downbeat, and Free Jazz Collective, so the jazz skew is probably at an all-time peak. Part, but not all of the reason, Sons of Kemet and Floating Points are in the top three.

Also note that I published a set of Questions & Answers. Worth noting that so did Robert Christgau, who got an unusually meaty batch of questions this month.

Finally (for now), I copied this quote down from Twitter, someone known as @TheBlueMeme:

Our politics suffer from an immune defiency akin to AIDS -- while individuals see the danger, we cannot, as a society, mobilize our defenses against a pathogen that has evolved to capitalize on its weaknesses.

IOW, we're fucked.

Not sure that's exactly right, but it does resonate for those of us who have long been aware of the abyss we seem to be inexorably drawn into. And the conclusion is probably spot on. The acquittal of an Illinois teenager who crossed state lines to murder anti-racism protesters is just one more troubling note. In some sense this is much like the precedent of using drones to kill people abroad, with the same lame justification of self-defense. But it does hit close to home, as the victims this time could just as well have been us. I can't fathom the implications, but it surely undermines the case for gun rights, especially the whole notion that guns are defensive. Effectively they are signs saying "shoot me." Had anyone else shot and killed Rittenhouse, they would have had an equally valid case, for self-defense. (One comment I noted on Facebook: "Rittenhouse is free but it's ok to shoot him.") Unless, that is, the real message is how the case was politicized, and how that was reflected in the obvious prejudices of the judge.

On a lighter note, Ethan Iverson wrote a piece: "What do you give someone to introduce them to modern jazz?" He recommends Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, and a stack of classic Blue Note albums. I'm not a huge fan of Dexter Gordon's Go (I prefer Our Man in Paris) or Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil (Night Dreamer is a bit better, but this is where I might go for Tina Brooks' Minor Move, or Jackie McLean's Swing Swang Swingin' (assuming New Soil is a bit too far out for this list).


New records reviewed this week:

Greg Abate: Magic Dance: The Music of Kenny Barron (2021, Whaling City Sound, 2CD): Saxophonist, plays four weights plus flute here, has recorded quite a bit since his 1993 album Straight Ahead. Quartet here playing 14 Barron songs, with the man himself on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. B+(**)

Ada Lea: One Hand on the Steering Wheel the Other Sewing a Garden (2021, Saddle Creek): Nominally a band from Montreal, although name could just be an alias for singer-songwriter Alexandra Levy. Second album, with a couple EPs. B+(**)

Asleep at the Wheel: Half a Hundred Years (2021, Home): Founded in West Virginia in 1970, they soon moved to California, then to Austin in 1974, trading in their bluegrass roots for Western swing. Some of their best records since then have been Bob Wills tributes (Ridin' With Bob in 1999 and Still the King in 2015), although they've also done well with Willie Nelson (Willie and the Wheel, from 2009). A plethora of guests pitch in and help out, but fifty years provide the perspective. A-

Attitude!: Pause & Effect (2019 [2021], ESP-Disk): New York trio, mixes post-punk and free jazz, features singer Rose Tang ("a Mongol from Sichuan," also guitar, piano, percussion), saxophonist Ayumi Ishito (from Japan), and drummer Wen-Ting Wu (from Taiwan). Full of rage, not least about politics (if "stand with Hong Kong" counts), less so toward the end. B+(**) [cdr]

Aya: Im Hole (2021, Hyperdub): Electronica artist, based in London, previously recorded as Loft. Spoken word over all sorts of beats and other intriguing noises. B+(**)

Bktherula: Love Black (2021, Warner): Young Atlanta rapper Brooklyn Rodriguez, second or third album, surprisingly little info on her (no Discogs? no Wikipedia?). I'm finding this rather opaque, but the underground vibe has considerable appeal. B+(***)

Johnathan Blake: Homeward Bound (2021, Blue Note): Drummer, side credits range from Kenny Barron to Maria Schneider, made a big impression with his 2019 album Trion. Move to Blue Note hooks him up with young stars Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax) and Joel Ross (vibes), with David Virelles (piano) and Dezron Douglas (bass). Fine drummer, but most impressive when Wilkins charges. B+(***)

Darrin Bradbury: Talking Dogs & Atomic Bombs (2019, Anti-): Nashville-based singer-songwriter, calls himself a songster and occasionally reminds one of John Prine, first album, short at 26:41 but with 11 songs counts as an album. Cover features the dog. B+(**)

Darrin Bradbury: Artvertisement (2021, Anti-): Second album, 12 songs totalling 27:41. B+(***)

Hayes Carll: You Get It All (2021, Dualtone): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, albums since 2002, most real good. This comes close, both for sharp observations and basic form, and gets deeper as it sinks in. A- [bc]

Cochemea: Vol. II: Baca Sewa (2021, Daptone): Last name Gastelum, alto/tenor saxophonist with Sharon Stone's band the Dap-Kings (2009-18), had a 2010 album under his full name, also a 2019 All My Relations, implicitly Vol. I to this one. Plays alto, electric, and flutes here, backed by lots of percussion (secondary credits for bass and electric piano) and some chanting. B+(*)

The Contraptionists: Working Man's Dread (2021, self-released): Americana duo, Paul Givant and Stephen Andrews, first album, "murder ballads, road legends, and lovestory songs for the hopeful and broken-hearted." B

Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The News (2019 [2021], ECM): Drummer, closing in on 80 when this was recorded, gets equal help with the songwriting from Bill Frisell (guitar) and David Virelles (piano), also with Ben Street (bass). Toned way down, toward the vanishing point. B

Lana Del Rey: Blue Bannisters (2011, Polydor/Interscope): Pop star, eighth album since 2010, second this year. Mostly slow and rather dreamy. B+(***)

David Friesen: Day of Rest (2020 [2021], Origin): Primarily known as a bassist, with 50+ albums since 1975, plays solo piano here, a Ravenscroft Grand, through 20 pieces, all original. Nice, delicate touch. B+(**) [cd] [11-19]

Scott Hamilton/Duke Robillard: Swingin' Again (2021, Blue Duchess): Robillard is a blues guitarist, but he titled his 1987 debut album Swing, and he recruited a number of reputable jazz musicians for the project, notably Hamilton (tenor sax). The two are reunited here on a mix of standards, none especially electrifying, with Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), and a couple of singers on isolated spots (Sugar Ray Norcia and Sunny Crownover), as Robillard takes it easy. B+(*)

Illuminati Hotties: Let Me Do One More (2021, Snack Shack Tracks/Hopeless): Indie pop band from Los Angeles, principally Sarah Tudzin, second album. Several fast ones are terrific, slow ones less immediately appealing. A-

Injury Reserve: By the Time I Get to Phoenix (2021, No Label): Hip-hop crew from Tempe, Arizona, fourth album since 2015. Emphasis on the mix, which swallows up words, worlds even. B+(*)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Georgia Blue (2021, Southeastern): Former Drive-By Trucker, eighth album since going solo in 2007, fifth co-crediting the band. Covers of songs by 12 Georgia artists (R.E.M. twice), fulfilling a promise Isbell made if Biden won the state. Most songs have featured guests. They don't always help, and the R&B he greatly respects isn't his forté. Still, I can't fault his intentions (or his guitar). B

JPEGMafia: LP! (2021, Republic): Rapper Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, from Brooklyn, based in Los Angeles, fourth album, successor to EP!. As a producer he's often brilliant. Not so sure about his rapping, which can get lost in the chaos. B+(**)

Darrell Katz & OddSong: Galeanthropology (2019-21 [2021], JCA): Teaches at Berklee, founder of Jazz Composers Alliance in 1985, by far the most prolific composer among them, although he remains obscure enough not to have a Wikipedia page -- a serious oversight. Has a previous Oddsong release (2016), a vocal project based largely on texts by Katz's late wife Paula Tatarunis -- which account for 6 (of 14) tracks here, followed by all sorts of covers, including "Sweet Baby James," "Dirty Water," and "I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." Rebecca Shrimpton is the vocalist. B+(**) [cd] [11-19]

Doug MacDonald: Serenade to Highland Park (2021, DMAC Music): Guitarist, has been recording frequently of late -- this is his third album this year, a trio with bass and drums, ten standards and two originals. B+(**) [cd] [11-16]

Mereba: Azeb (2021, Interscope, EP): First name Marian, born 1990 in Alabama, father Ethiopian, moved around a lot, attending college in Atlanta and winding up in hip-hop group Spillage Village. Has a 2019 album, a couple EPs -- this one 7 songs, 23:04. Sings here, soft edges, entrancing. B+(***)

John R. Miller: Depreciated (2021, Rounder): Nashville singer-songwriter, from West Virginia, has a couple previous albums. Makes himself comfortable, settling into a nice groove and telling stories about people you must have known, or just bumped into. A-

OneTwoThree: OneTwoThree (2021, Kill Rock Stars): Three Swiss women -- Klaudia Schifferle, Madlaina Peer, Sara Schär, the former of limited Kleenex/Liliput fame -- sing in stripped down English over stripped down bass riffs, reminds me of B-52s as much as Liliput. A-

Phil Parisot: Inventions (2021, OA2): Drummer, from Seattle, third album, conventional hard bop quintet with trumpet (Jared Hall), tenor sax (Steve Treseler), piano, and bass. All originals, but not so hard. B+(*) [cd] [11-19]

William Parker/Patricia Nicholson: No Joke! (2019-20 [2021], ESP-Disk): Bassist, very prolific, already has several of the year's best albums, with his wife adding spoken word over the brash free jazz, smacks a bit of preaching to the choir but nothing you shouldn't hear. Band includes saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Devin Brahja Waldman, with Melanie Dyer's viola prominent on three cuts. A- [cd]

Professor Cunningham and His Old School: The Lockdown Blues (2021, Arbors): Saxophonist Adrian Cunningham, from Australia, based in New York, leads a retro-swing octet through the title piece and several topical songs (like "Six Feet Is Too Far From You"), as well as oldies that seemed to fit the bill (e.g., "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"). B+(*)

Steph Richards With Joshua White: Zephyr (2019 [2021], Relative Pitch): Trumpet and piano, her name much larger on cover, she's also credited with flugelhorn and "resonating water vessels" (evidently an effect of playing in water), he with preparations and percussion. B+(**)

ROVA: The Circumference of Reason (2018-19 [2021], ESP-Disk): Saxophone quartet founded 1977, name from initials of its founding members (Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voight, Bruce Ackley), although Voight was replaced by Steve Adams in 1988. There is something intrinsically ugly about nothing but monophonic instruments, but the interplay here is so fascinating I suspended prejudice most of the way through. Then, well, it got a bit too ugly. B+(***) [cd]

Sacred Soul of North Carolina (2020 [2021], Bible & Tire): Various gospel artists, including some who have been in business for considerable years, but recorded at the same time (11 groups in 8 days in February 2020). The band is presumably the same for all, and they rock. No guarantee I won't grow tired of this much holy rolling, but damn impressive for what it is. A- [bc]

Jacob Shulman: Connectedness (2021, Endectomorph Music): Saxophonist (alto, I think), from Los Angeles, based in New York, first album, quartet with piano (Hayoung Lyou), bass (Simón Willson), and drums (Avery Logan). Impressive work, very solid. B+(***) [cd] [11-14]

Snail Mail: Valentine (2021, Matador): Singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan, plays guitar, second album. B+(**)

Tommy Vig: 2022: Jazz Jazz (2021, Klassikus Jazz): Hungarian drummer/vibraphonist, fled to Vienna then to US after 1956, worked in movies, moved back to Hungary in 2006. Big band here, loves Monk, loves Beethoven, mostly loves lapsing into schlock, like he's rerunning old movie scores at treble speed and volume. C [cd]

Dean Wareham: I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A. (2021, Double Feature): Singer-songwriter, responsible for two catchy but soft-edged indie bands (Galaxie 500, Luna), solo records began in earnest in 2013, although last year's Quarantine Tapes credits Dean & Britta (Phillips, Luna bassist and part-time vocalist, also his wife). B+(**)

Remi Wolf: You're a Dog (2019, Island, EP): Fun/pop singer-songwriter from Palo Alto, based in Los Angeles, first of three dog-themed titless, 6 songs, 17:59. B+(*)

Remi Wolf: I'm Allergic to Dogs (2020, Island, EP): Second of three dog-themed titles, 5 songs, 16:39. Increases the funk quotient. B+(**)

Remi Wolf: We Love Dogs! (2021, Island): Remix album, juices up the songs from the previous EPs. Mixed bag: sometimes the jacked up beats help, but there is a tradeoff against the personal, or something else completely. B+(**)

Remi Wolf: Juno (2021, Island): Funk/pop singer-songwriter from Palo Alto, based in Los Angeles, 25, first album after several EPs. Upbeat, comic flair, seems like I should like this better. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ben Black: Mystery & Wonder (2007 [2021], Origin): Jazz singer, active in Seattle since 1985, debut album 1996, released another album in 2001. Remarkably ambisexual voice, a bit too operatic for my taste. B+(**) [cd] [11-19]

Joe Harriott Quintet: Free Form & Abstract Revisited (1960-62 [2021], Ezz-Thetics, 2CD): Alto saxophonist (1928-73), born in Jamaica, moved to UK in 1951. Followed Charlie Parker with his 1950s EPs, but with his 1960 album (Free Form) started gathering comparisons to Ornette Coleman. It remains his masterpiece, nicely packaged here with its worthy successor. Beyond this, his growth path in the 1960s skirted the avant-garde for "Indo-Jazz" fusion. A- [bc]

Calvin Keys: Shawn-Neeq (1971 [2021], Black Jazz): Guitarist, first album, funk grooves with electric piano, bass, drums, and flute. B+(*)

Jim Knapp Orchestra: It's Not Business, It's Personal (2009 [2021], Origin): Composer, arranger and conductor, formerly played trumpet, released three JKO albums 1999-2003. Conventional big band, has some bright spots. B+(*) [cd] [11-19]

Harold Land: Westward Bound! (1962-65 [2021], Reel to Real): Bebop saxophonist, plays tenor, from Houston but associated with West Coast bands, made his mark in the late-1950s with albums like Harold in the Land of Jazz. This selects pieces from three sets at the Penthouse in Seattle with different piano-drums (bassist Monk Montgomery is on all three), and trumpet (Carmell Jones) on the first set. B+(**)

Archie Shepp: Blasé and Yasmina Revisited (1969 [2021], Ezz-thetics): Tenor saxophonist, pushed the avant-garde envelope in the 1960s and by 1969 was looking for a label in Europe. He recorded several albums for BYG in Paris. This reissues all of Blasé, including four cuts featuring Jeanne Lee vocals -- some of her most striking work -- and adds the 20:06 "Yasmina," recorded with an 11-piece band that doubled up on bass and drums and added extra percussion (rhythm logs and balafon). A- [bc]

Old music:

Dr. John: The Very Best of Dr. John (1968-92 [1995], Rhino): Mac Rebennack, New Orleans pianist, spent a decade doing studio work before trying his hand as a freakish rock star, had a bit of success, then when that gig started failing, revived with a definitive roots album (Dr. John's Gumbo), then settled into a long twilight as his home town's professor emeritus. Died in 2019, leaving a huge discography of distinguished work, but it's hard to put it together into an overview because he was all over the place. A-

Illuminati Hotties: Kiss Yr Frenemies (2018, Tiny Engines): First album from Sarah Tudzin's group. Like the sound and the sentiment, but not much sunk in. B+(**)

John P. Kee: The Essential John P. Kee (1991-2000 [2007], Verity/Legacy, 2CD): Gospel singer/preacher from North Carolina, calls his church the New Life Fellowship Center. Early in, a song about saving a sick child with prayer convinced me he's full of shit, but the barnburners proved as invigorating as annoying. B- [cd]

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers: The Very Best of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers (1956-60 [2000], Rhino): Series limited to 16 tracks each: easy here given that Rhino had released a 20-track The Best of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers in 1989, so all they had to do was scratch four songs. I might have picked a couple different, but this not only has "all the original hits" (only 2 charted top-20) but lots of glorious filler, proving the youngest teenager as one of the great voices of the 1950s. As you probably know, Lymon struggled after 1960 and died at 25. The stories are horrifying, including a daughter who died two days after birth, and a heroin bust that sent him into the army instead of jail, only to be dishonorably discharged for going AWOL to sing in local clubs. A

John R. Miller: Service Change (2014, 789875 DK): First album, leads off with "Motor's Fried" -- one of the best songs on his new album. One more song reappears. Several more good songs here, including one that reminded me of Joe Ely. B+(***)

John R Miller & the Engine Lights: The Trouble You Follow (2018, Emperor): Everything he does sounds good. Still, this one slipped by without really sinking in. B+(**)

New Jack City [Music From the Motion Picture] (1991, Giant): Soundtrack to the Mario Van Peebles movie (with Wesley Snipes and Ice-T), although conceptually the movie could just as well be the product tie-in for the soundtrack. B+(***)

Eliane Radigue: Adnos I-III (1973-80 [2002], Table of the Elements, 3CD): French electroacoustic composer, b. 1932, worked as assistant to Pierre Henry 1967-68, has several dozen records since 1970. Long ambient pieces, minimalism without repetition or rhythm, doesn't seem like much but stays with you. B+(**) [cd]

Sugar and Poison (1971-89 [1996], Virgin, 2CD): Compilation programmed by David Toop, aims at the "quiet storm" aesthetic in 1980s soul balladry, mostly drawing on similar -- one might say, prescient -- material from the 1970s, which at the very least offers bigger names, albeit with more obscure songs (names I know, but less than a quarter of the songs are familiar). Christgau exclaimed, "only my wife has ever made me a better mix tape." Still, my playlist seems a bit unsteady. Seems like this disappeared as soon as it came out. Nice, but not sure it's worth the search. B+(***)

Swan Silvertones: Amen Amen Amen: The Essential Collection (1952-63 [2015], Rockbeat/Archive Alive): Gospel group, not my cup of tea these days but a fundamental building block of the R&B I do love. And as gospel groups go, this is one of the great ones. Draws on early (1952-53) sides for Specialty, for which I've previously recommended Love Lifted Me/My Rock, and later (1957-63) work for Vee-Jay -- cf. Swan Silvertones/Singin' in My Soul and Get Your Soul Right. This is as good as any. A-

Trin-I-Tee 5.7: Holla: The Best of Trin-I-Tee 5.7 (1998-2002 [2007], GospoCentric/Legacy): Gospel girl group, had recorded 4 albums before this best-of, with two more to come (one a Christmas album). I got suckered in a bit at first, but they go typically overboard on the second half. Still, "People Get Ready" sounds as great as ever. B [cd]

Zetrospective: Dancing in the Face of Adversity (1978-84 [1989], ZE): New York label sampler, founded by British mogul Michael Zilkha (wound up selling Zilkha Energy for $1 billion) and Michel Esteban, drawing on No Wave and Disco, most successfully with Kid Creole & the Coconuts and Was (Not Was), but even the oddities and trivia are odd and/or trivial in interesting ways. A-

Zetrospective: Hope Springs Eternal (1980-84 [1989], ZE): Companion sampler, starts with two songs each from Kid Creole, Davitt Sigerson, Cristina, John Cale, The Waitresses, and Was (Not Was), then adds a third for three of them. Not a very compatible grouping, so don't expect flow, just an interesting bunch of odds and ends. [The two Zetrospective volumes were reissued in a 2-CD package. When reissued separately the artwork adds #1 and #2.] B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Attitude!: Pause & Effect (ESP-Disk) [11-19]
  • Bridge of Flowers: A Soft Day's Night (ESP-Disk) [10-22]
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio: Merry & Bright (Capri) [11-19]
  • Jacqueline Kerrod: 17 Days in December (Orenda) [12-03]
  • William Parker/Patricia Nicholson: No Joke! (ESP-Disk)
  • ROVA: The Circumference of Reason (ESP-Disk)
  • Josh Sinton: B. (Form Is Possibility) [12-10]
  • Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette & Vijay Iyer: A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday (TUM) [11-19]
  • Wadada Leo Smith's Great Lakes Quartet: The Chicago Symphonies (TUM, 4CD) [11-19]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, November 8, 2021


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36637 [36591] rated (+46), 133 [145] unrated (-12).

Got up this morning to find that we had no internet, which less importantly also took out the TV and phone line. Major disruption to my usual day, which I compounded by doing some long-procrastinated yard work. Also some grocery shopping, and picked up some food for dinner. Finally up and working now, but late start here. Still haven't read the morning on-line newspaper.

I spent a good deal of time yesterday organizing my 2021 EOY lists for jazz and non-jazz. I've been doing it this was since 2013, figuring that since I started writing Jazz Consumer Guide in 2005 half or more of the records I listen to each year are jazz, and I follow different rules and heuristics in deciding what to listen to in jazz and non-jazz. In particular, I still receive a fair (albeit declining) number of jazz promos, which I almost always listen to -- even those that wouldn't have caught my attention otherwise. I'm pickier when it comes to non-jazz, favoring genres I've tended to enjoy, avoiding ones I've rarely cared for. I usually wind up checking out 95% of the top 100 EOY albums, 80% of the top 200, with numbers falling of considerably from there.

First key statistic is that the initial draft of the files shows 509 jazz and 276 non-jazz albums (i.e., 65% jazz). I expected the number of records to drop this year. Early on, I decided not to try to keep a running metacritic album list this year, so I've spent a lot less time following reviews (especially non-jazz), and as such have much less idea of what is out and what other people are liking. Also, I've been searching out a lot of old music -- my rated totals are actually up this year (1960 vs. 1726 for the first 10 months in 2020, so up 13.5%), but new records are down (785 vs. 982 when I initially compiled the EOY files in 2020, so down 20.1%). I'm still undecided on doing an EOY aggregate this year. If I do so, I'm likely to make up more ground than if I don't. At any rate, the years of me doing 1200-1500 records per year are probably done.

The statistic I was surprised by this year is that both my jazz and non-jazz lists show 38 A/A- albums each. That's about half the number I wind up with most years (2020 wound up with 86 jazz, 76 non-jazz, although the more relevant stat was the initial draft number: 54 jazz, 43 non-jazz). That points to the second statistical anomaly this year. As far as I can recall, the EOY lists always started with significantly more jazz A-list than non-jazz (2020 was closer than usual). As you can see, the domain split is almost 2-to-1 in favor of jazz, so I've been paying lots of attention to new jazz releases. Indeed, the archival split of 22 jazz/5 non-jazz is way above any past norms. I don't know why, but it's been a very active year for jazz reissues/archival music, and those releases have been more accessible this year than has been the case for many years.

One more thing I'll note is that (working from memory) only 14 of my top 38 non-jazz albums have been graded A/A- by Robert Christgau; 3 have lower Christgau grades (as does Sons of Kemet on my jazz list); the other 21 haven't been reviewed/graded by Christgau. Of the 14, I got to 8 first (although Billie Eilish was a close call; I reviewed Dry Cleaning earlier, but only raised my grade to A- after Christgau's review). (Actually, four more Christgau A-list albums made other parts of my list: three in Non-Jazz Reissues/Historic Music [out of 5, so 60%], and Body Meπa on the Jazz list -- all albums I only heard about through him.) At least 9 more Christgau A-list albums appear lower down my Non-Jazz List, with Tune-Yards at the bottom (B).

As always, I will update the lists as I listen to new music. Note that order isn't at all well established. I try to keep the A-list in some sort of rank order, but my usual method isn't very reliable, so when I finally look at the whole list I wind up doing a log of juggling. I did some of that while I was putting this together, and expect to do more, especially as I re-listen to select items. Also, one thing I haven't worked on yet is to fill in the unheard prospects at the bottom of the files ("estimated to have a 2% or better chance of making the A-list if/when I finally hear them"). I'll add to that list as I look at other lists (and my own tracking file), and then tick them off as I listen to some of them.


I hear that NPR is dropping its support for Jazz Critics Poll this year. I'm inclined to run the poll anyway, posting the results on my Hullworks website (as I've done for many years; that way we provide complete ballot accountability without encumbering the sponsor, who's usually only interested in the winners). Waiting to hear what Francis Davis thinks of my proposal, and what (if any) contribution he'd like to make. It's been his forum since its inception back when we were both writing for Village Voice, so what he thinks carries a lot of weight. Last year, ballot invites went out on November 20, with a deadline of December 13. The idea was for NPR to post the results first week of January, although last year they weren't posted until January 14.

The downside to not having a sponsor is that we won't get paid, even the modest sums we're used to. At this point, that's not a big concern, for me at least. I have a system for collating and counting the ballots, and it's reliable and pretty easy to work, so that part is straightforward. I'd like to set up a package with the results and whatever writing we can come up with, and see if we can nudge it out so it spreads virally around the Internet, increasing its visibility and interest in new jazz. I'd appreciate any suggestions on how to do that. Also tips on people we should invite but haven't.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Borderlands Trio [Stephan Crump/Kris Davis/Eric McPherson]: Wandersphere (2021, Intakt, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Daniel Carter/Tobias Wilner/Djibril Toure/Federick Ughi: New York United, Volume 2 (2018 [2021], 577): [bc]: A-
  • Claudia Quintet: Evidence-Based (2021, Flexatonic): [bc]: A-
  • Gerald Cleaver: Griots (2020 [2021], Positive Elevation/577): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Cookers: Look Out! (2021, Gearbox): [r]: B+(*)
  • Elvis Costello & the Attractions: Spanish Model (2021, UMe): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier/Mary Halvorson: Searching for the Disappeared Hour (2021, Pyroclastic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Daggerboard: Last Days of Studio A (2018-19 [2021], Wide Hive): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Fred Frith Trio With Lotte Anker/Susana Santos Silva: Road (2021, Intakt, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Futari: Underground (2018-21 [2021], Libra): [cd]: B+(**) [11-19]
  • Wanda Jackson: Encore (2021, Big Machine, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Irene Jalenti: Dawn (2020 [2021], Antidote Sounds): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Remy Le Boeuf's Assembly of Shadows: Architecture of Storms (2019-21 [2021], SoundSpore): [cd]: B
  • Megan Thee Stallion: Something for Thee Hotties: From Thee Archives (2019-21 [2021], 300 Entertainment): [r]: A-
  • Allison Miller/Jane Ira Bloom: Tues Days (2021, Outline): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Cameron Mizell & Charlie Rauh: Local Folklore (2020-21 [2021], Destiny): [cd]: B
  • Parquet Courts: Sympathy for Life (2021, Rough Trade): [r]: B+(***)
  • Self Esteem: Prioritise Pleasure (2021, Fiction): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp: Codebreaker (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): [cd]: A-
  • This Is It!: Mosaic (2021, Libra): [cd]: B+(***) [11-19]
  • Mareike Wiening: Future Memories (2020 [2021], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(*) [11-12]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Laurence Cook/Jacques Coursil/Warren Gale/Perry Robinson/Steve Tintweiss: Ave B Free Jam (1967 [2021], Inky Dot): [cd]: B [11-30]
  • Harvie S Trio: Going for It (1985 [2021], Savant): [r]: A-

Old music:

  • Glen Campbell: The Legacy (1961-2002) (1961-2002 [2003], Capitol, 4CD): [cdr]: C
  • Sylvie Courvoisier/Mary Halvorson: Crop Circles (2016 [2017], Relative Pitch): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Bing Crosby: Bing! His Legendary Years, 1931 to 1957 (1931-57 [1993], MCA, 4CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • A Good Year [Music From the Motion Picture] ([2006], Legacy/Sony Music Soundtrack): [cd]: B
  • Heart of the Forest: The Music of the Baka Forest People of Southeast Cameroon (1993, Hannibal): [r]: B+(***)
  • Make 'Em Mokum Crazy: This is the New Sound of Popcore (1995-96 [1996], Mokum): [yt]: A-
  • Donnie McClurkin: The Essential Donnie McClurkin (2000-05 [2007], Verity/Legacy, 2CD): [cd]: B-
  • Notekillers: Airports + Ants (2006, Notekillers, EP): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Putumayo Present: Christmas Around the World (1990-2002 [2003], Putumayo World Music): [cd]: C+
  • Juan Carlos Quintero: Joy to the World (2007, Tenure): [cd]: B-
  • Rhythm Love and Soul Live (2002 [2003], Shout! Factory): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kevin Roth: Between the Notes (2006, Star Gazer): [cd]: B
  • The Rubinoos: The Rubinoos (1977, Beserkley): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: It's Your World (1976, Arista): [yt]: A-
  • Snapback: Purgatory (2006, "Insert Your Major Label Name Here" Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Steppin' Out: Disco's Greatest Hits (1970-78 [1978], Polydor): [yt]: A-
  • Luther Vandross: The Best of Luther Vandross: The Best of Love (1980-89 [1989], Epic, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Very Best of Praise & Worship Volume 2 (1996-2006 [2007], Verity/Legacy): [cd]: B-
  • Andreas Vollenweider: Midnight Clear (2006, SLG}: [cd]: B-
  • Hezekiah Walker: The Essential Hezekiah Walker (1992-2005 [2007], Verity/Legacy, 2CD): [cd]: C
  • Wide Right: Wide Right (2002, Wide Right, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jesse Winchester: Jesse Winchester (1970, Ampex): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bill Withers: The Best of Bill Withers (1971-74 [1975], Sussex): [r]: A-
  • ZZ Top: Greatest Hits (1979-90 [1992], Warner Brothers): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ben Black: Mystery & Wonder (Origin) [11-19]
  • Daggerboard: Last Days of Studio A (2021, Wide Hive) [10-15]
  • David Friesen: Day of Rest (Origin) [11-19]
  • Futari: Underground (Libra) [11-19]
  • Rich Halley/Dan Clucas/Clyde Reed/Carson Halley: Boomslang (Pine Eagle) [12-03]
  • Darrell Katz & OddSong: Galeanthropology (JCA) [11-19]
  • Jim Knapp Orchestra: It's Not Business, It's Personal (Origin) [11-19]
  • Mick Kolassa: Uncle Mick's Christmas Album (Endless Blues) [10-15]
  • Phil Parisot: Inventions (OA2) [11-19]
  • This Is It!: Mosaic (Libra) [11-19]
  • Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Fools for Yule (Housekat) [11-01]
  • Tommy Vig: 2022: Jazz Jazz (Klassikus Jazz) [11-03]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, November 1, 2021


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36591 [36534] rated (+57), 145 [149] unrated (-4).

After last week's birthday dinner, friends advised me to take it easy. Easiest thing for me to do was to continue down my unheard Christgau-rated list. Having passed 'z' and moving into various artists compilations, I was a bit surprised to find a mis-sorted block of artist albums starting with Plastic People of the Universe, although I didn't find streamable copies of any A-list albums until I got down to Smokey Robinson. I also worked a few of my unrated albums in, although I slowed down when I hit a pile of Verity gospel compilations (blame Fred Hammond). Most of the few other records came from Facebook tips (e.g., Disco Tex was Chuck Eddy's first pick in 150 Best Albums of 1975). Sorry I'm not as impressed with O.V. Wright as Cliff Ocheltree is.

Actually, I've known about the sort bug for a long time, but when I've looked at it, the only things I could find were data errors that produce inconsistent qsort() comparisons. This results in locally sorted blocks (themselves sorted properly) being thrown out of order. I just found and fixed one such error, and now it looks like all.tbl is fully sorted. Still doesn't fix the subset I previously extracted for the Christgau grade list, but does feel a lot tidier.

Late in the week, I turned to the Ezz-Thetics Bandcamp for something under the "recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries," and accidentally found they had slipped a new release into the catalogue. Finally, I thought I should have something new and recent from the demo queue. Glad I went for the Steve Coleman. Only after I had the review mostly written did I discover that there were two discs -- I had been listening to the second, which I still slightly prefer, but both are delightful. Could well be a ballot pick.

I finally did the indexing on October Streamnotes, which came out to 218 albums, pushing the Streamnotes total to 18011 albums (although that's included real CDs, and a handful of LPs, since 2014; still, we're approaching the point where half of my rated records have been streamed).

My daily routine is to get up whenever seems appropriate, take a bunch of pills, get a bowl of yogurt for breakfast, put some music on, and settle down in front of the computer, scanning through the Wichita Eagle on-line. Used to be thumbing through the paper news, but digital has introduced some subtle changes in my reading habits. For one thing, I see and read a bit more. I see more because I wind up forwarding through every page, instead of skipping whole sections. Mostly I see more sports, which makes up about a third of the whole paper. I find myself actually following NBA basketball, which is the only sport I still have any feel for. Occasionally I stop on an auto racing story. And I have to admit, I've picked up a bit of baseball for the first time in 25 years. I still don't recognize any of the players, but I'm beginning to know a bit about teams.

I find myself reading more news articles, superficial as they so often are. Occasionally I feel like commenting on something, but the logistics are inconvenient. Updating my blog is also inconvenient, which is probably why I've tended to group comments into weekly posts, like Music Week or Speaking of Which (which I haven't been doing much of lately). I've thought about using Twitter to forward the occasional article link (as I did yesterday), but it's hard to make a point (let alone several) in 280 characters. Besides, Twitter is such a fleeting forum (and Facebook is even more limited). Then I remembered that I already have a domain name, Notes on Everyday Life, with a WordPress blog set up but unused. I've used that domain for a couple of since-crashed websites. So I resurrected it yesterday, had trouble finding my original About page, so I wrote another, then a new post on VA health care and how the Republicans have a weird knack for creating crises and the fobbing off blame for them on Democrats. I had previously tweeted about a Washington Monthly article that I wanted to expand on.

I updated the WordPress site software, and am still finding a lot of things about it confusing (like why it doesn't include the author name with the article, except on rare occasions, or how I get rid of that "Proudly powered by WordPress" footer). So working on that.

Finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's novel The Ministry for the Future, but haven't finished my commentary on an article he wrote about the book, something I started working on before I got to the book. Meanwhile, I've started a second novel, called We, the House, by Warren Ashworth and Susan Kander. My wife is an editor for a local publishing house, Blue Cedar Press, founded by a couple of local friends (guests at my birthday party, by the way), and they were offered the novel because it's about an old house in nearby Newton, Kansas. It has two major characters: one is a painted portrait of a Mrs. Peale that hangs in the dining room and can observe the people inside the house, and the other is the house itself (pronoun we), which can only report the view outside the house. My wife loves the book, and I've been hearing her praise it for several months now. And while I'm not much of a fiction reader, I do have a thing for houses.

Just happened to take a look at the Covid map today, and what I'm seeing looks rather alarming: not just the slight uptick in the last week (since Oct. 25), reversing a downward trend since the second peak on Sept. 13, but the county map looks a lot like a map of fall colors, with Alaska the worst, a stretch from Maine down the Appalachians to West Virginia, the Great Lakes from Michigan to Minnesota, and the High Plains and Rocky Mountains stretching into the Sierra Nevada nearly all high. This is a big shift from September, when the correlation was strongest with dipshit Republican governors. Flus have always peaked in Winter, as Covid did last year. Looks like we're not out of the woods yet, although you can thank your vaccinated friends and neighbors if this year isn't as bad as last. And if you ban the unvaccinated from your Thanksgiving feasts, you'll come out ahead two ways.

Many elections tomorrow. Hopefully we'll get a city council rep (Michelle Ballard) who's not in the pockets of the developer lobby. The only election that's likely to be read as a barometer on Biden (at least vs. Trump) is Virginia governor. I can understand lamenting the inability of Democrats to deliver on campaign promises, but that's no reason to vote Republican. All they have to offer is spite and stupidity. Democrat Terry McAulliffe is pretty uninspiring, but do voters really want to choose nothing (and no hope) over something?

Actually, I continue to be impressed by Biden's ability to shift the Overton Window (the domain of issues being seriously discussed). For instance, see: G20 Leaders Endorse Plan to Block Corporations From Sheltering Profits. This is something literally no one in power was talking about when Trump was president. The G20 pledges on climate change may be lame, but they would have been pointless with Trump still in charge. Sens. Manchin and Sinema may succeed in scuttling much of Biden's Build Back Better bill, but they're looking desperate and obtuse in doing so.


New records reviewed this week:

Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Live at the Village Vanguard Volume II (MDW NTR) (2018 [2021], Pi, 2CD): Alto saxophonist, has recorded over 20 albums under this group name since 1986. Current lineup: Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Kokayi (vocals, mostly rap), Anthony Tidd (bass), Sean Rickman (drums). The group has always worked a funk-fusion vein, but they've rarely integrated hip-hop this well. Plus long stretches without vocals. Coleman has rarely played so powerfully. A- [cd]

Nick Fraser Quartet: If There Were No Opposites (2019 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Canadian drummer, from Toronto, debut 1997, fourth quartet album since 2012, with Tony Malaby (sax), Andrew Downing (cello), and Rob Clutton (bass). Originals plus a couple of group improvs. B+(*)

Lady Gaga: Dawn of Chromatica (2021, Interscope): Remixes based on her 2020 album Chromatica. Beats sharpened, persona reduced, like a filter that turns realistic photos into caricatures. B+(*)

Lainey Wilson: Sayin' What I'm Thinkin' (2021, Broken Bow): Country singer, from Louisiana, third album, co-credits on all 12 songs. Kicks up her heels, keeps bars in business, speaks her mind ("so don't ask me if you don't want total honesty"). B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Jimmy Giuffre 3: Graz Live 1961 (1961 [2019], Ezz-Thetics): Started as a saxophonist in Woody Herman's Second Herd, wrote "Four Brothers" for their saxophone section. From 1956, started playing in trios, mostly with Jim Hall, taking a radical turn in 1961 when he was joined by Paul Bley (piano) and Steve Swallow (bass) and switched exclusively to clarinet. Quite a bit from their 1961 tour is available, including sets on Hat for their Stuttgart (Nov. 7) and Bremen (Nov. 23) sets. This one is a bit earlier (Oct. 27). Not sure if it's better or not, but does include two songs by and one dedicated to the pianist's not-yet-famous wife, Carla. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Be Kind Rewind [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (2007 [2008], Lakeshore): Buddy comedy film, directed by Michel Gondry, starring Jack Black and Mos Def, music mostly by Jean-Michel Bernard. With Mos Def on three tracks, Booker T. Jones on three more, a couple Fats Waller songs, and Billy Preston doing "Nothing From Nothing." B [cdr]

Between the Covers (1989-2005 [2006], Legacy): Charity album, proceeds to T.J. Martell Foundation "to help find the cure for cancer, leukemia and AIDS." Songs are covers, mostly by well-known artists (U2, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Dixie Chicks, Eric Clapton, David Bowie & Mick Jagger) of well-known older songs (the last pair do "Dancing in the Street"). B [cd]

Tony Conrad: Thunderboy! (1971-73 [2002], Table of the Elements): Filmmaker, composer, sound artist, writer (1940-2016); important figure on the avant/minimalist scene in New York from the 1960s. Name appears here only on back cover ("recorded and produced by"). Album built from audio samples, some from rock and roll, pasted together in short, repetitive bursts. One of those things that's more high concept than something you'd actually enjoy listening to. B- [cd]

Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes: Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes (1975, Chelsea): Studio disco assemblage, "masterminded by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan," featuring Sir Monti Rock III, recorded three albums 1975-77, this their debut. Chuck Eddy picked this as the best album of 1975. Sounds too offhand and farcical for me, with all the crowd noise and gross gestures, but maybe they were just crying out for a clarifying video. Still gains something by the end. B+(**)

Arnold Dreyblatt: The Sound of One String (1979-91 [1998], Table of the Elements): Avant composer, from New York, where he founded The Orchestra of Excited Strings, based in Berlin since 1984. Eleven live and previously unreleased recordings, from as many sets and locations, various artists, mostly strings including his own E-bow solo. The earliest tracks are the harshest, setting up the more sophisticated minimalism to follow. B+(***) [cd]

Fred Hammond: The Essential Fred Hammond (1991-2004 [2007], Verity/Legacy, 2CD): Gospel singer, from Detroit, started as bassist for the Winans, original member of Commissioned (1985-95), also with Radical for Christ (1995-2000). This picks up pieces from both groups, as well as solo work, much in roof-raising live mode. No single piece seems so bad, but boy do they pile up on you. C+ [cd]

The Orioles: For Collectors Only (1948-57 [1992], Collectables, 3CD): Doo-wop group, from Baltimore, sometimes Sonny Til & the Orioles, had a number of r&b hits starting with "It's Too Soon to Know" in 1948, their biggest "Crying in the Chapel" (1953). Title warns you there's more here than you really need. Not sure whether they even merit a single-disc -- something to look out for. B+(*) [cd]

The Orioles: Sing Their Greatest Hits (1948-54 [1991], Collectables): Fourteen cuts, so should be pretty condensed, but that doesn't seem to make much difference. They were a ballad group, mostly quite lovely. B+(**)

Smokey Robinson: Where There's Smoke . . . (1979, Tamla): One of the pillars of Motown, perhaps the one I've paid the least attention to: I love a few of his Miracles singles, like many more, but paid scant attention to his post-1973 solo albums, with a Best Of garnering a mid-B+. Christgau reviewed 14, this the only A-. Could be, but the remake of "Get Ready" is the song that stands out, and not as much as the Temptations version you know. B+(***)

Tom Robinson: North by Northwest (1982, IRS): British singer-songwriter, led TRB (Tom Robinson Band) through two albums. Solo albums start with Sector 27 in 1980 (unless that was a band name), or here, with many more to follow. I liked those early albums, but don't get much out of this batch. B+(*)

Roxy Music: Greatest Hits (1972-75 [1977], Atco): Bryan Ferry's pioneering glam rock group, with Andy McKay (oboe/sax), Phil Manzanera (guitar), Paul Thompson (drums), and keyboards (Eddie Jobson replacing oblique strategist Eno after two albums). New York Dolls fanatic Robert Christgau resisted their first four albums, opened up a bit to Siren, and was won over here (full A). Stranded was the one that did it for me, and is still my first pick (3 cuts here, plus 3 from runner-up Country Life). Extra bait is the non-album single "Pyjamarama," but the real plus here is that they pulled the stompers from For Your Pleasure, ending side one with "Editions of You." A

Roxy Music: The High Road (1982 [1983], Warner Brothers, EP): Cover identifies band as Musique Roxy. Four song, 26:38 live shot, from Glasgow, opening with two Bryan Ferry originals (not hits), and covers from Neil Young ("Like a Hurricane") and John Lennon ("Jealous Guy"), more in tune with Ferry's solo trajectory than the glam-era band. B+(***) [yt]

Roxy Music: Heart Still Beating (1982 [1990], Reprise): Live set from Fréjus, France, includes the four songs from The High Road, recorded a month earlier in Glasgow. The greater length (14 songs, 67:52) helps, smoothing out the transition from the early albums to Avalon, folding Ferry's solo career back into band context. A-

Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together/Attica/Les Mouton De Panurge (1973 [1974], Opus One): Avant-classical composer, pianist (1938-2021), drew on minimalism but nothing here feels overly constrained or repetitive. Three pieces here, appearing in order listed above but I've seen covers implying different orders (mostly Attica first). First two pieces have spoken word (Steve Ben Israel) driving home political points -- "Coming Home" has a text by Sam Melville, "Attica" by Richard X. Clark. Mostly jazz musicians on those, notably Karl Berger on vibraphone. The third piece is the most minimalist, although the mix of percussion instruments keeps it interesting. A- [yt]

Sarge: Distant (2000, Mud): Indie rock band from Champaign, Illinois, principally singer-songwriter Elizabeth Elmore, third and final album, the three new songs padded out with live cuts and demos. She broke up the band to go to law school, and has practiced law since 2004, but from 2002-04 recorded two more albums as The Reputation. B+(**)

The Selecter: Too Much Pressure (1980, Chrysalis): British ska band from Coventry, first album. B+(***)

The Sex Pistols: Filthy Lucre Live (1996, Virgin): Britain's definitive punk band, self-destructed after one pathbreaking album, itself built on 2-3 incendiary singles. I remember snapping them all up one by one, interspersed with competitive product from the Clash and X-Ray Spex, and while I wouldn't say they were the best of the trio, they hit early and hard. I figured this for a bootleg from back in the day (of which there are several), but this was their first (of several) reunion tours (minus dead Sid Vicious, of course). Filthy lucre indeed, lapped up with all the contempt it deserves. A-

Shalamar: Three for Love (1980, Solar): Vocal trio from Los Angeles, two guys (Jeffrey Daniel and Howard Hewett) and a girl (Jody Watley), started on Soul Train (with a different lineup, with this "classic" one not destined to last either). Fourth album, first to go platinum. Bits of disco-funk-soul, but not enough to typecast as anything other than danceable pop. I know and like their compilations, but never stopped for their albums. Reportedly one of their best. B+(***)

Shalamar: Go for It (1981, Solar): Fifth album, same lineup, strikes me as a bit more funk (but maybe I just mean Chic-groove) but they call their closer "Rocker." B+(***)

Shalamar: Greatest Hits (1978-81 [1982], Solar): Spans four albums, skipping their Soul Train debut, leaning hard on Three for Love (5 tracks, of 10 here) and Big Fun (3). Three cuts were dropped from 1999's expanded 17-song Greatest Hits -- the preferred choice, but this never lets up. A-

Shoes: Present Tense (1979, Elektra): Power pop band from Illinois, principally brothers John and Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe, with various drummers over a long career (at least up to 2013). Second album (not counting early private releases). B+(***)

Shoes: Tongue Twister (1981, Elektra): Another straight pop album, the music's subtle hookiness similar to Marshall Crenshaw, but doesn't hit you as hard. The secret to making this soft touch work is consistency, and this one never wavers. Except perhaps on "Karen," where the slowdown is most touching. A-

Shop Assistants: Shop Assistants (1986, Blue Guitar): Scottish group, four women and one bloke (plays guitar), only released this one album plus occasional singles and an EP, Safety Net, 1984-90. Christgau's A- lists this title, but looks like it was for the EP. It is flagged as such, label given is 53rd & 3rd, and praises song "Safety Net" (not on album). A later CG mentions the album in ACN as one he played but decided not to review. Safety Net cover has band name but no separate cover. Christgau wrote: "everything I wanted the Slits to be" -- right idea, but this one doesn't quite cut it. B+(**)

Shop Assistants: Will Anything Happen (1986 [2008], Cherry Red): Reissue of their 1986 album Shop Assistants plus two extra songs, one upbeat, the other down, neither adding much. B+(**)

Silkworm: Lifestyle (2000, Touch & Go): Indie band, formed in Montana, self-released two albums 1987-89, moved to Seattle in 1990. They broke up in 2005, following their drummer's death in a homicidal car crash, leaving nine more albums. By this point they've matured as songwriters and absorbed a bit of Pavement. Lament: "never in our lives have we been so entertained." A-

The Silos: About Her Steps (1985, Record Collect): Debut album for Walter Salas-Humara and Bob Rupe, a short one (8 songs, 29:49), steeped in American vernacular, what was called country-rock at the time. B+(***)

Silos: Cuba (1987, Record Collect): Folkish, violin/viola prominent, unclear what, if anything, it has to do with Cuba. B+(**)

Slade: Slayed? (1972, Polydor): British rock band, often grouped as glam rock but count as progenitors of hard rock and metal even, but catchier and funnier (sometimes inadvertently). Second album, following the programmatic Play It Loud, this was their first UK number one (but only 69 US). B+(**)

Slave: Show Time (1981, Cotillion): Funk band, founded 1975 in Dayton, Ohio by horn players Steve Washington (trumpet) and Floyd Miller (trombone), joined by drummer-vocalist Steve Arrington in 1978 -- with Washington leaving before this album, Arrington right after. B+(*)

Phoebe Snow: The Best of Phoebe Snow (1974-78 [1982], Columbia): Singer-songwriter, played guitar, literate and sometimes funky, draws these ten songs from five albums which could benefit from some sifting. All ten appear on 2001's The Very Best of Phoebe Snow, which has another 13 years to draw on, but not much there (e.g., "In My Girlish Days" hails from 1976). B+(**)

The Specials: Ghost Town/Why?/Friday Night Saturday Morning (1981, Chrysalis, EP): British ska group, two albums in 1980, then the discography gets real messy, with this 3-song, 13:29 effort exceptional, in part because it doesn't really sound like their usual grind. All three tracks appear in 1991's The Singles Collection, which is the one to look for. B+(***)

The Speed Boys: That's What I Like (1982, I Like Mike): Rock band from Lancaster, PA, fronted by singer Robert Bobby, with Bobby Kinsley and Bobby Blue Blake on guitars, Bobby Lawson on bass, Bobby Schmidt on drums, and Bobby Lowry on keyboards, vibes, harmonica, and trombone, plus some more non-Bobby horns. Didn't know there was much of a boogie tradition in Pennsylvania, but recommended to Low Cut Connie fans. A-

The Speedboys: Look What Love's Done to Me Now (1983, I Like Mike): Second album, songs are more structured, leading off with old-fashioned rock and roll but not stopping there. And while love themes predominate, Robert Bobby has things to say about anabolic steroids and nuclear bombs. They disbanded in 1985, with Bobby releasing occasional records under his own name (and one more as Speedboys in 1989) -- most recently Folk Art in 2015 -- before he died in 2018. A-

The Strokes: The Modern Age (2000, Rough Trade, EP): Three tracks, 11:09, basically a preview for their debut album Is This It, which instantly obsoleted it (I wound up with a playlist from the album, which shortchanged "Barely Legal" 30 seconds). I remember them as the most ridiculously hyped New York band since the CBGB's era, but the album turned out to be pretty good -- a feat that unlike Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie, even Television they never repeated -- and these are up to snuff. Docked a notch for obsolescence, and because I don't see a cover scan I want to show. B+(***)

The Strokes: First Impressions of Earth (2005 [2006], RCA): Third album, official release date seems to be Dec. 30, 2005, but many editions only appeared in 2006. Recognizably the same band that arrived to so much acclaim in 2001 (or 2000, as some date The Modern Age), same thrash and angularity, but singer Julian Casablancas is starting to turn into one of those overweening voices you (or I, at least) can't stand (e.g., "On the Other Side"). B+(*)

The Suburbs: In Combo (1980, Twin/Tone): Postpunk band from Minneapolis, EP in 1978, this the first of four albums up to breakup in 1987; regrouped in 1992, with three more albums since 2013 -- only original members left are Chan Poling (keyboards) and Hugh Klaers (drums). Poling has a background in minimalism and music theatre, which doesn't prove anything but fits in with the album's surprising boisterousness. A-

Billy Swan: I Can Help (1974, Monument): Country singer-songwriter from Cape Girardeau, about as far south as you can get in Missouri. Had some success as a songwriter even before moving to Nashville in 1972, but his biggest hit ever was his first single, the title song. The album is a rush job, six originals and four covers, very hit-and-miss. B+(**)

Billy Swan: Billy Swan (1976, Monument): Third album. Not just upbeat, downright ebullient, rockabilly puffed up with extra voices and the occasional horn. B+(***)

Billy Swan: At His Best (1974-76 [1978], Monument): First-draft best-of, 10 tracks from his first three albums (3-3-4), building on rockabilly roots with incandescent swing and bonhomie. Same 10 tracks lead off 1998's The Best of Billy Swan, but they don't tail off here. A-

Billy Swan: Like Elvis Used to Do (1999 [2000], Audium Entertainment): Before Swan moved on to Nashville, he made a stop in Memphis to work with Bill Black. Rockabilly was always a key component to his work, so 25 years after his freak hit may have seemed like the moment when covering Presley was his best option. This is about half of a 1999 release on Castle Select, but probably enough. He doesn't have a great voice, and his best trick is to slow it down and fluff it up -- cf. his 1974 "Don't Be Cruel," best matched here with "Heartbreak Hotel." B+(**)

Billy Swan and Buzz Cason: Billy & Buzz Sing Buddy (2018, Arena): Eleven Buddy Holly songs, short at 31:25 but not nearly as short as the originals, which rarely topped 2:20. Cason, by the way, was a founding member of the Casuals ("Nashville's first rock and roll band"), worked with Snuff Garrett in the 1960s, produced at least one record for the Crickets, recorded as Garry Miles, released Buzz in 1977, and has recorded several tribute albums since 2007. Not sure when this was recorded, as there is a similar record from 2014. Similar to Swan's treatment of Elvis Presley. B+(*)

Tavares: The Best of Tavares (1974-76 [1977], Capitol): Disco/soul group, five brothers, name from parents of Cape Verdean descent, started 1959 as Chubby and the Turnpikes (middle brother Antone was Chubby). Albums start in 1974, their first four feeding into this 9-track best-of. At best the group sounds like they fell off the Motown assembly line, but good as they are, memorable they are not. B+(**)

The Thermals: The Body, the Blood, the Machine (2006, Sub Pop): Indie rock band from Portland, OR, principally Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster; third album, a blinded Jesus on the cover amidst much trial and turmoil ("the album tells the story of a young couple who must flee a United States governed by fascist faux-Christians"). The music is sharp and crisp, a bit heavy for my taste. The story line? Well, I can see their point, but don't really feel it. When I was a teenager, I decided that Christians were foul-minded hypocrites, more trouble than they were worth. I don't exactly believe that now, but the bonds of faith were broken, which makes the rest unimportant and uninteresting. B+(**)

Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments: Straight to Video (1997, Anyway): Columbus, Ohio band, led by Ron House, previously of Great Plains (three albums, Sum Things Up their best). Second album with this group. A little dense for me to catch on the fly. B+(***)

Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments: No Old Guy Lo-Fi Cry (2000, Rockathon): Third and last album. Loud and dirty, not that Ron House doesn't have shit to say. B+(***)

Sally Timms: Cowboy Sally (1997, Bloodshot, EP): Singer from Leeds, joined the Mekons in 1985 as they were making their country-rock move (Fear and Whiskey), like Jon Langford moved to Chicago (was married to Fred Armisen there). Has several solo albums like this 5-track, 16:47 EP, "sings with the Waco Brothers, the Handsome Family, and Friends." B+(**)

Sally Timms & Jon Langford: Songs of False Hope and High Values (2000, Bloodshot, EP): Mekons, both moved from Leeds to Chicago, closer to country music. Eight songs, 24:23, four co-written by both, one more by just Langford, Timms gets the two country covers ("Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Down From Dover"), Langford takes "Joshua Gone Barbados." B+(**)

Sally Timms: In the World of Him (2004, Touch & Go): Significant Mekons contributions, covers from odd places. I'm finding it all a little too down. B+(*) [bc]

Tokyo Police Club: A Lesson in Crime (2006, Paper Bag, EP): Indie band from near Toronto, first EP (7 songs, 17:38) before their 2008 LP debut. Starts very strong, promising group, as their 2008 album Elephant Shell proved. B+(***)

Tony Toni Toné: Hits (1988-97 [1997], Mercury): Artist credit often with exclamation marks after each name. Something they called "new jack soul," brothers D'wayne and Charles Wiggins (aka Raphael Saadiq) and cousin Timothy Riley, cut four albums 1988-96, debut gold, rest platinum. A-

Pete Townshend: Who Came First (1972, Track): First solo album, discounting two loosely credited tributes to Meher Baba, from the Who majordomo. Even this seems like a side project, with Ronnie Lane's "Evolution" a highlight (obviously sung by Lane, not coincidentally the best thing here). Townshend returned to his group after this, returning to solo albums in 1980 (five through 1993) after Keith Moon's death rendered the Who a relic. (Well, not counting a 1977 duo album with Lane, by far the best of the bunch.) B+(*)

Trouble Funk: Drop the Bomb (1982, Sugar Hill): Funk band, part of the D.C. "go-go" scene, formed in 1978, had a live album before this six cut, 36:43 party platter. Not sure whether the title cut is warning or defiance, but "Pump It Up" is pure adrenaline. A- [yt]

Trouble Funk: Trouble Over Here/Trouble Over There (1987, Island): Mostly a local phenomenon, but in mid-1980s Island started to give them broader distribution, just as they were slowing down. But Bootsy Collins does help here. B+(**)

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Live Alive (1985-86 [1986], Epic): Blues rocker, from Dallas, debut 1983, three studio albums before this live epic. By rep, a great guitarist, so-so singer. I'm not so sure about either. B+(**)

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Greatest Hits (1983-90 [1995], Epic): Vaughan died in 1990, in a helicopter crash, aged 35, so that provides a bound to the dates -- his sixth studio album, The Sky Is Crying, was released posthumously in 1991. This starts with a previously unreleased cover of George Harrison's "Taxman," then delves into more conventional blues, as well as a nod to Jimi Hendrix. A-

Tom Waits: Blood Money (2002, Anti-): Singer-songwriter, has done some acting, early on you could imagine him as Billy Joel in the noir underworld. Circa 1983 (Swordfishtrombones) he got even harder boiled, his voice rougher, his melodies more fractal/percussive, and he upped his game again around the fin de siècle. He released this one same day as Alice, which is the one I bought, probably because this one was supposed to be stranger. And it is. A-

Tom Waits: The Black Rider (1993, Island): Songs written for a play directed by Robert Wilson, some with lyrics by William S. Burroughs. B+(***)

O.V. Wright: The Soul of O.V. Wright (1972-73 [1992], MCA): Memphis soul singer, died young (41 in 1980), started in gospel, worked with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records. He's pretty good, but for every song I can probably find a similar but better one by someone else. E.g., he owned "That's How Strong My Love Is" until Otis Redding came around. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Laurence Cook/Jacques Coursil/Warren Gale/Perry Robinson/Steve Tintweiss: Ave B Free Jam (1967, Inky Dot) [11-30]
  • Doug MacDonald: Serenade to Highland Park (DMAC Music) [11-16]
  • Sara Serpa: Intimate Strangers (Biophilia) [12-01]
  • Dave Stryker: As We Are (Strikezone) [2022-01-07]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021


Music Week

October archive (done).

Music: Current count 36534 [36480] rated (+54), 149 [159] unrated (-10).

Took a break from the computer yesterday, playing oldies and cooking dinner to celebrate my 71st birthday. That puts me a year older than my grandfather was -- he believed the Bible promised "three score and ten" years, and died right on schedule. That leaves me five years short of my father. I never knew my mother's parents, neither of whom made it to 70. My father's mother lived into her 90s, but suffered from dementia her last decade or more. My sister died at age 60. She was the last born and the youngest to die among the cohort of 20 cousins on my mother's side. And my younger brother is struggling with more health issues than I am (or than I know about). So I approached the date with a bit of grim foreboding.

We had eight people total, four older than me, three younger, but only one who had to think about work the next day. All were vaccinated. One topic discussed was family members who are becoming ostracized for their refusal: the word "selfish" was used to describe them. I'm pretty sympathetic to laissez faire arguments, but I've lost my patience for them, regardless of their motivations. I'm particularly bothered by the bad faith of people who campaign against other getting vaccinated -- even if you thought there was a risk in being vaccinated (and I don't see that there is one), wouldn't encouraging others to become immunized help protect yourself? It's hard to see their logic as anything short of political, and that's where the malevolence shows through. I'm even more irked by anti-vaxers who claim any form of patriotism or religion or community spirit, as their efforts are aimed at undermining all of those things. But I should also note that while the political right has claimed anti-vaccination, and therefore promoting the spread of pandemic, many of the people we know who have refused to get vaccinated are highly critical of the right: they are cynical about business and politics, and are often committed to what I can only describe as extra-scientific health fads. I find these people even more frustrating to argue with or be critical of.

By the way, Laura and I got Pfizer booster shots recently. I got a flu shot earlier this week, while I was out grocery shopping. And Sadie (Liz Fink's orphaned dog) got her mandated shots today.

The only birthday gift I hope for is that my guests will submit gracefully to letting me cook for them. I started the tradition back in the 1990s, usually using it as the excuse for a fairly deep dive into a foreign cuisine (first was Chinese, second Indian, and I've since done Turkish, Thai, Spanish, French, Greek, Russian, Korean, Mexican, Brazilian, several variations on Middle Eastern). Last year we ate Turkish and Moroccan food in the backyard. This year my exotic food venture was directed at the US South. I always like my mother's coconut cake for birthday, and it occurred to me that I hadn't fried chicken in several years -- last time, I think, was a visit from my brother -- so it felt a bit rarer than last year's yogurtlu kebap and bisteeya. Besides, I had a copy of Edna Lewis's The Gift of Southern Cooking (with Scott Peacock) that I bought in 2016 but still hadn't cooked anything from.

So this seemed like a good time to broaden my mother's backwoods Arkansas background with a deeper survey of (mostly Afro-American) Southern cooking. Once I made that decision, I ordered three more cookbooks to broaden my perspective and cross-reference:

I also referred to several other cookbooks I already owned, most importantly The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book (my primary source for baking except for cakes). I also thumbed through Betty Fussell's I Hear America Cooking (my "go to" for jambalaya). What I ultimately came up with was:

  • Fried chicken, per Lewis: brined, buttermilk, cast iron, lard and butter, dredge in flour and fry, making gravy from the drippings (no recipe, but that's the way we always did it).
  • Biscuits.
  • Mashed potatoes, cooked in chicken stock, whipped up with butter and cream, with shredded white sharp cheddar.
  • Sweet potato casserole, topped with pecans, brown sugar, and a flour-butter combo similar to pie crust.
  • Greens in pork stock: collard, turnip, kale. I couldn't get the "country ham" for the stock, so bought and roasted 4 lb. pork bones, then simmered them and a chunk of salt pork for 10 hours.
  • Maque choux: corn, onion, and green bell pepper, sauteed, then added cream.
  • Eggplant relish: roasted, with onion, tomato, and raisins.
  • Apple chutney.
  • Bacon jam.

I had planned on making green beans, but couldn't find them loose. I bought a bag at Sprouts, but they tasted off when I boiled them, so I threw them out. Also planned on making cornbread, but I got rushed and confused and decided to just do the biscuits. I thought the chutneys would go nice with the cornbread, but they wound up getting left to the side (although they were all very good, as was everything).

For dessert I wanted to make the coconut cake and a pecan pie. Wound up making two pies, both with ATK's all-butter crust. For one I used Lewis's bourbon pecan pie filling, for the other ATK's chocolate pecan. I also made the Fudgy Flourless Brownie Pie from the Black Girl Baking book, with its tahini-maple sauce. I posted a picture of the desserts on Facebook. My caption there: "When I was growing up, I learned that dinner is just a social ritual you have to get through in order to get to dessert."

With dinner plans afoot, I expected a drop in the number of records reviewed this week, but the numbers held up pretty well. I knocked off 7 new jazz promos, another dozen-plus old unheard CDs, and a bunch of unheard Christgau picks. I also picked up a copy of the new Nathan Bell album Christgau reviewed, and was impressed enough to go back to all his other albums on Napster (where the new one isn't). First two were real impressive, but I cooled a bit when he trimmed down to solo albums -- lots of good things in the songs, but not as much fun to listen to.

I've been hearing rhapsodic reports on the new Coltrane vault tape, and I'm a huge fan of A Love Supreme, but I was disappointed when I finally got a chance to hear it. Not inconceivable my opinion could improve, but strikes me as a case of hope getting ahead of reality.

Thanks to the reader who tipped me to the "new" Kid Creole album. Unfortunately, it's not really new, nor really good. Thanks to another reader for catching some typos (one crippling), and for pointing out the recent death of Dutch classical conductor/violinist Bernard Haitink (also see Bernard Haitink, Perhaps the Wisest Conductor of Them All). I grew up despising classical music -- one prejudice I've never felt the slightest desire of working on -- so I don't see myself following up here, but seems like a public service announcement to note that someone who likes most of what I like also holds this guy in highest esteem.

I will note that Mort Sahl died today, age 94 (also see: Mort Sahl, Whose Biting Commentary Redefind Stand-Up, Dies at 94.) I remember him as one of the first comics I heard who was really outspoken on political issues. My favorite line of his goes something like: "Charlton Hesston says he hopes his children will one day live under Fascism. If he were more perceptive, he'd be a happy man today."

This is the last Music Week of October. I've opened a Streamnotes file for November, and started to add new things to it (although I liked A Rhys Chatham Compendium enough to sneak it in this week). I haven't done the indexing for October yet, so will get to it later this week. But as you can see from the link up top, it's been a big month for sampling old music. Easy to keep doing that. A good deal easier than figuring out what's new and interesting. Not sure whether I'll do an EOY compilation this year. Early on I would have said no, but not sure I'll be able to hold myself back.


New records reviewed this week:

JD Allen: Queen City (2020 [2021], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, a major figure for over two decades, coped with lockdown by recording this solo album. B+(*)

Atmosphere: Word? (2021, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Long-running Minneapolis hip-hop duo, debut 1997, Ant and Slug. B+(*)

Nathan Bell: Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn't Happen Here) (2021, Need to Know): Singer-songwriter, from Iowa, looks like he has ten or so albums going back to 2007 (In Tune, On Time, Not Dead). Sings about prison and guns and money and Jesus and his father, and most of all about an America that's making it rougher and tougher than anyone deserves. Patty Griffin helps out. Need to hear more. A [cd]

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: Tinctures in Time (Community Music, Vol. 1) (2021, Royal Potato Family): Trumpet player, played with Lounge Lizards, founded Sex Mob, did some arranging for Robert Altman and came up with his Millennial Territory Orchestra in 2006. Returns here after a ten-year break, referencing Ellington, Fela, and Hal Willner. B+(***) [bc]

Erin Enderlin: Barroom Mirrors EP (2021, Black Crow Productions, EP): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, quite some voice, three albums, best-known single "I Can Be Your Whiskey," offers two more "whiskey" titles here, several more set in bars. Six songs, 21:24. B+(**)

Adam Forkelid: 1st Movement (2021, Prophone): Swedish pianist, third album, I was very impressed by his previous Reminiscence (2018). Originals, backed by guitar, bass, and drums. B+(***) [cd]

Jazz Daddies: Moontower Nights (2021, self-released): Austin, TX group: regulars are Randy Larkin (guitar), Kenny Felton (drums), and Andrew Malay (sax), with Shane Pitsch (trumpet) on 5/10 tracks, and either Marty Mitchell or Gary Feist on bass (8-2). First album. Pleasant enough. B [cd]

David Leon: Aire De Agua (2020 [2021], Out of Your Head): Cuban-American alto saxophonist, born in Miami, based in Brooklyn, first album, quartet with piano (Sonya Belaya), bass, and drums. Free jazz, intriguing stuff. B+(***) [cd]

Lil Nas X: Montero (2021, Columbia): Montero Hill, more-singer-than-rapper, from Georgia, 22, broke a number one single off his debut EP, has a couple more hits off this debut album. Which makes him an icon as well as a hit machine, though I'm not clear on any of it. B+(*)

Karen Marguth: Until (2014-21 [2021], OA2): Jazz singer, born in Minneapolis, raised in Bay Area, based in Fresno? Four previous albums, this one adding four recent recordings to material from 2014-15. Most songs are from rock singer-songwriters (Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell through Sting to Andrew Bird), which may be one reason "Comes Love" stands out. B+(*) [cd]

John Moulder: Metamorphosis (2019 [2021], Origin): Guitarist, out of Chicago, handful of albums since 2003, backed here by piano trio (Richie Beirach, Steve Rodby, Paul Wertico). Centerpiece is "Metamorphosis Suite." B [cd]

Randy Napoleon: Rust Belt Roots: Randy Napoleon Plays Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell (2018 [2021], OA2): Guitarist, originally from Michigan, half-dozen albums since 2002. Wrote 5 pieces here, the rest from the aforementioned guitarists (and Buddy Montgomery). Backed by piano trio. For a long time every American jazz guitarist sounded like Wes Montgomery. Some still do. B+(**) [cd]

RaeLynn: Baytown (2021, Round Here): Country singer Rachel Lynn Woodward, from Baytown, Texas, second album, same title and same cover pose (different background colors) as her 2020 EP. Big sound, deep drawl, feisty and brassy. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (1965 [2021], Impulse): Stunningly brilliant quartet album, was followed by a slightly extended live performance in Paris which was eventually included in A Love Supreme [Deluxe Edition], but otherwise the piece was rarely referenced in later live dates (which have been mined extensively in the US and even more in Europe, where they seem to be regarded as fair game. So this find was instantly touted as a big deal. It certainly is big: group adds two saxophonists -- Carlos Ward on alto and Pharoah Sanders on tenor) -- and a second bassist (Donald Garrett), and the movements have extended interludes, stretching the whole thing to 76:09. Everywhere I look, I see accolades, but what I hear, even allowing for the muddled sound, is tentative and messy. Three months before this concert, Coltrane added 7 avant-oriented musicians to his quartet and recorded Ascension, a free-for-all I long resisted and only recently made my peace with. This sounds like he's trying to force the original themes, so clear and precise and moving, through his free jazz sausage-making machinery. Perhaps if I give it enough chance this too will grow on me. Last play I did find a passage that moved me, but it was just a long Elvin Jones drum solo. The following McCoy Tyner piano solo was also pretty good. B+(**)

Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Nothin' Left but the Rest (1996 [2021], 2C2C): Reissue of The Kid and I, originally released in France under August Darnell's own name, presented here as a long-lost Kid Creole album. Adds three tracks, two described as "A KCC Treasure Chest Demo." B+(**)

Lionel Loueke: Close Your Eyes (2018 [2021], Sounderscore): Jazz guitarist from Benin, moved to Ivory Coast to study, then Paris, then Berklee. Records from 2005, this a basic trio with bass (Reuben Rogers) and drums (Eric Harland), doing standards, a nice way to showcase his tone and style. Originally on vinyl-only subscription label Newville, so this is first CD release. B+(***) [cd]

Nadje Noordhuis: Gullfoss (2019 [2021], Little Mystery): Trumpet player, from Australia, based in New York, Newville released this on vinyl in 2019, which makes this a reissue. Also credited with electronics, band with guitar, marp, synthesizer, and bass, risking ambient. B+(*) [bc]

Send I a Lion: A Nighthawk Reggae Joint (1979-84 [2019], Omnivore): Nighthawk Records was originally a blues label founded by Robert Schoenfeld and Leroy Pierson, who moved it into reggae, with an emphasis on roots/rastafaris, like the Itals. This 20-track comp repeats 5 titles from 1982's Calling Rastafari (but none from 1981's Wiser Dread or 1983's Knotty Vision), and offers no Itals (but 5 Gladiators). Selected and annotated by Pierson, with some "non-LP stray tracks." B+(***)

Billy Joe Shaver & Kinky Friedman: Live Down Under (2002 [2021], Omnivore): Two Texas legends, long way from home playing three nights in Sydney, sharing the same band but alternating songs. Seems like an odd way to do it: Shaver has the deeper songbook, and Friedman tends to break him up. Then, of course, they get to religion. [PS: There is also a 2-CD from this tour, Live From Down Under, released 2002 on Sphincter Records.] B+(**)

Old music:

Nathan Bell: In Tune, On Time, Not Dead (2007, Zensuit): First album, as far as I can tell, same voice and eye for detail, rocks a bit harder to start, and features two standout political songs that these days remind you that the Bush/terror years were pretty bad too: "What Did You Do Today" and "It's Not the Heat" ("it's the stupidity"). A-

Nathan Bell: Traitorland (2008, Zensuit): Fundamentals: country voice, folk guitar and blues harmonica. Father was a poet, and he puts a lot of effort into his words, even when a title gets the better of him ("The Legendary Legend of the Legendary Hoyet Henry's Legendary Guitar"). Well, some electric guitar, too. Title strikes me as prescient: I can't recall lefties talking about traitors before Trump turned the world upside down and made us realize we love this land and people much more than the flag-waving bigots do. "We shall be free." A-

Nathan Bell: Black Crow Blue (An American Album) (2011, Stone Barn): Slow ones, like reading a book . . . mostly about crows. B+(**)

Nathan Bell: Blood Like a River (2013, Stone Barn): Another slow one, just guitar and words. B+(*)

Nathan Bell: I Don't Do This for Love, I Do This for Love (Working and Hanging On in America) (2015, Stone Barn): More finely wrought songs -- lyrics booklet is up to 20 pages -- some with band and/or backup singers, some served up plain. B+(***)

Nathan Bell: Love > Fear (48 Hours in Traitorland) (2017, Stone Barn): Sounds live and minimalist, just guitar and voice, and some recycled songs. First up is "The Big Old American Dream," as in: "he was just slipping off the edge of the big old American dream." He coined the term "traitorland" six years earlier, but it was never more a propos than when Trump made "America Great Again." B+(***)

Nathan Bell: Er Gwaetha Pawb a Phopeth (In Spite of Everyone & Everything) (2017 [2018], Angry Stick): Live from Cwitch Coffee, Pembroke Dock, Wales, with four new songs as well as "11 favorites." B+(**)

Nathan Bell: Loves Bones and Stars, Love's Bones and Stars (2018, Angry Stick): Another thoughtful, carefully wrought low-key album. B+(***)

Chris Berry and the Bayaka of Yandoumbe: Listen . . . OKA! (2011, Oka Productions): Artist credit per Discogs, though I don't see it on the cover scans: just OKA! on the spine, with a much smaller print Listen . . . centered above. Discogs doesn't specify which Chris Berry -- a search offers 16 of them -- but Wikipedia has a page for him, just not any discography. From California, got into African percussion, and wound up recording Bayaka Pygmies in the Central African Republic for a soundtrack. The drums and chants and sounds of nature seem primitivist, redolent of the "darkest Africa" mythos, yet with a vibrancy and complexity civilization like to crush because it cannot be tamed. A-

Calling Rastafari (1981 [1982], Nighthawk): Unsure of dates, as I can find versions of songs as far back as 1974, but this seems to have been conceived as a label sampler for their roots artists (label founded 1979): Culture, Gladiators, Mighty Diamonds, Itals, Wailing Souls. B+(***)

Rhys Chatham: A Rhys Chatham Compendium (1971-89 [2002], Table of the Elements): Avant composer, plays guitar, has records like Two Gongs (1971), Guitar Trio (1977), and A Crimson Grail (For 400 Electric Guitars). This slims down a 2-CD box set -- An Angel oves Too Fast to Sea (Selected Works 1971-1989) -- including bits from some of those titles. Choice cut is the 21:46 guitar romp from 1985: Die Donnergötter. A- [cd]

The Ebony Hillbillies: Barefoot and Flying (2011, EH Music): All-black bluegrass band, founded in New York in 2004, third album. B+(***)

Maria Kalaniemi: Maria Kalaniemi (1992 [1994], Xenophile): Finnish accordion player. B+(**) [cd]

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan/Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri: Passing on the Tradition (1995 [1996], AMMP): Bengali sarod player (1922-2009), as was his famous father Allauddin Khan. He recorded at least 90 albums, including quite a few with Ravi Shankar. He was both a traditionalist and a popularizer, founding music colleges in Calcutta, Switzerland, and California (where he lived much of his life). Chaudhuri (b. 1945) plays tabla, with a long and distinguished career that started as one of Khan's students in Calcutta. Here they play two long pieces (28:31 + 44:54), backed by tanpuras. B+(*) [cd]

Kodo: Ibuki (1997, Tristar): Japanese taiko drum group, many records since 1982, this just happened to be the one I picked up. B+(*) [cd]

Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007 ([2007], Invisible China/Bloodshot): Alt-rock bands from Shanghai, mostly singing in English not that lyrics matter much. With one of every six people in the world, seems like just a matter of time before China bursts its dam and floods the world with all kinds of music. The title suggests they could do this any year, but as far as I know, this is unprecedented and unfollowed, making it all the more impressive, or freakish. B+(***)

Masters of the Boogie Piano [Delmark 50th Anniversary Collection] (1939-2001 [2003], Delmark): Pretty definitive for a label comp, with the big names -- Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, plus a track with all three at once -- second tier players like Speckled Red and Roosevelt Sykes, and some others I may or may not recognize. B+(***)

Pointer Sisters: Pointer Sisters' Greatest Hits (1978-81 [1982], Planet): Soul group, sisters, initially June and Bonnie, later Anita and Ruth (though usually just three of them), recorded 1973-77 for ABC/Blue Thumb, moved to Planet/RCA 1978-88. This slices out four source albums produced by Richard Perry before RCA bought up Planet, yielding three pretty big hits ("Fire," "He's So Shy," "Slow Hand"). Best of the rest is "Should I Do It," with its retro girl group sound. Tails off with nondescript filler. B+(*)

Pointer Sisters: Greatest Hits (1973-85 [1989], RCA): Keeps the three big hits from 1978-81, adds four singles from 1983's Break Out, where they found their dance beat -- 6 (of 13) songs appear here in extended dance versions. Still having trouble filling the album out. B+(**)

The Ramones: Pleasant Dreams (1981, Sire): Sixth album. I can't say as I was ever a huge fan, but got off a bit in the reflected excitement of friends who were. That's probably why my interest flagged after their Phil Spector-produced fifth album (End of the Century). This starts strong with "We Want the Airwaves" and "The KKK Took My Baby Away," and nothing much sucks. So count this as a return to form, with better albums to come before their inevitable slide. B+(***)

The Rave-Ups: Town and Country (1985, Fun Stuff): Indie rock band from Pittsburgh, Jimmer Podrasky singer-songwriter, first album (of 3 through 1990; preceded by a 6-track EP in 1983 called Class Tramp). Gets more countryish as they pick up steam. B+(***)

R.E.M.: New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996, Warner Bros.): I never liked Michael Stipe's voice, but with Out of Time that didn't matter, and with Monster (as here) it became a non-issue. Still, I was paying very little attention to Amerindie bands at the time, especially ones I thought I knew. Even now, it takes me a while to warm up to them, although I concede this long album sounds pretty solid. B+(***)

The Replacements: Stink ("Kids Don't Follow" Plus Seven) (1982, Twin/Tone, EP): Post-punk band from Minneapolis, one sloppy album before this 8 track, 14:25 mini, several brilliant ones to come. Tempting to listen for signs of maturity as they emerge, but that was inconceivable at the time, when "Fuck School," "God Damn Job," and "Dope Smokin' Moron" were as sophisticated as their concept went. B+(**)

Jack Smith: Les Evening Gowns Damnées: 56 Ludlow Street 1962-1964 Volume I (1962-64 [1997], Table of the Elements): Underground cinema pioneer (1932-89), "generally acclaimed as a founding father of American performance art," his work, with its focus on camp, kitsch, and drag culture, anticipating better known films by Andy Warhol and John Waters. Tony Conrad produced two CDs from Smith's recordings at 56 Ludlow Street. Conrad plays much of the music here, and John Cale has a small bit. The unlistenable opener sounds like it was snipped from a horror film, but the later stories get more perversely interesting, especially the piece that finally references the title. B+(*) [cd]

Jack Smith: Silent Shadows of Cinemaroc Island: 56 Ludlow Street 1962-1964 Volume II (1962-64 [1997], Table of the Elements): Not so funny this time, especially when the narrator keeps sickly laughing through tragic stories ("The Horrors of Agony"). The music helps, but not a lot. John Cale has another minor side credit. B [cd]

The Sound of Kinshasa: Guitar Classics From Zaire (1950s-70s [1982], Original Music): Compiler John Storm Roberts was the one who introduced many of us to African music, starting with his 1972 Africa Dances album. Roberts released about 40 albums up through 1995, most expertly selected compilations like this one, drawn from Cuban-influenced dance bands of the once-and-future Congo. Big names here include Franco and Rochereau, and Orchestras OK Jazz and African Fiesta appear with various leaders. Good sampler for its time, but you could probably do better now. A- [yt]

Streets of Dakar: Generation Boul Falé ([1999], Sterns): From Senegal, obviously, home of the continent's most complex rhythms, no idea when these were recorded, but the influence of Youssou N'Dour (not credited) is everywhere, so probably not too vintage. Raam Daan is the biggest name here (3/14 tracks), but everyone impresses. A-

The Tanzania Sound (1960s [1987], Original Music): Large country in East Africa, claimed by Germany in the late 19th century, ceded to Britain as war booty in 1919, and independent in 1962, merged with the island of Zanzibar (an old Arab trading post, also newly independent from British colonial rule) a year later. Music seems to be a nice fusion of divers African influences, most often from Congo. A- [yt]

A Taste of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto ([1993], Earhtworks): Sampler, skips the original 1985 Indestructible Beat of Soweto, which introduced many Americans to the wonders of black South African music as the struggle against Apartheid was approaching its climax, in favor of selections from subsequent volumes. Every one of them is worth owning, which seemed to make this superfluous, but if you don't, this is a nicely programmed short cut. Includes three pieces with "goat-voiced" superstar Mahlathini (two with the Mahotella Queens), and ends with rising (albeit ill-fated) star Mzwakhe Mbuli (whose Resistance Is Defence is worth seeking out). A

James Blood Ulmer: Black Rock (1982, Columbia): Guitarist, from South Carolina, played in soul jazz groups in the 1960s, but gained some fame with Ornette Coleman and Arthur Blythe -- the latter leading to a three album run with Columbia, the third his masterpiece Odyssey. This was the second, veering wildly with funk beats, gutbucket blues, and Hendrix-like pyrotechnics. A- [yt]

Neil Young & the Bluenotes: This Note's for You (1988, Reprise): He seemed to come unmoored in the 1980s, although I loved his hardcore Reactor (1981) and enjoyed his Krautrock experiment (Trans, 1982), his subsequent stabs at rockabilly, country, and whatever the hell Landing on Water was meant to be fizzled, his skid winding up with this horn-backed jump blues charade. Holds up better than expected for 2-3 cuts, then doesn't. B-

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Weld (1991, Reprise, 2CD): Live double, first since Live Rust 12 years back, both albums preceded by harder rock turns (Rust Never Sleeps in 1979, with precursors back to 1975's Tonight's the Night); Freedom and Ragged Glory in 1989-90), forming some kind of suspension bridge over the mixed up morass of the 1980s. Songs split 7-7 between 1975-79 and 1989-90, with "Cinnamon Girl" from the end of an earlier decade and a cover of "Blowin' in the Wind" I see no point to. A-

Neil Young: Unplugged (1993, Reprise): Leans folkie with acoustic guitars -- no Crazy Horse but Nils Lofgren is on hand, plus dobro, piano/pump organ, bass, drums, backing singers. B+(***)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Broken Arrow (1996, Reprise): Missed this one. Interest waxes and wanes, and was at a low ebb following Mirror Ball (1995), although I did check out Year of the Horse (1997), and didn't care for it either. This starts out strong enough, settles down to merely solid, ends with a fading bootleg take of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do." B+(**)

Yuri Yunakov Ensemble: New Colors in Bulgarian Wedding Music (1997, Traditional Crossroads): "Turkish-Bulgarian Roma" saxophonist, based in US since 1994. Several albums 1995-2001. Engagingly intense, don't have much other framework to work from. B+(***)

Z-Man: Dope or Dogfood (2003, Refill): Bay Area rapper Zamon Christian, works with Gurp City collective, fourth album since 1998, does his own cover art, parties hard, which is harder than you think. B+(***)

Tapper Zukie: Man Ah Warrior (1973 [1977], MER): David Sinclair, from Jamaica, spent some time in UK, where Clement Bushay recorded this dub-influenced debut album. Feels jumbled, but could be version discrepancies. B+(***) [yt]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Nathan Bell: Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn't Happen Here) (Need to Know)
  • Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Live at the Village Vanguard Volume II (MDW NTR) (Pi) [10-29]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 18, 2021


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36480 [36433] rated (+47), 159 [188] unrated (-29).

Picked up a couple new (and one old) music tips from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide: October 2021. I can note that I previously reviewed both Dave albums, Homeboy Sandman's Anjelitu, and Kalie Shorr's I got Here by Accident, all four at A-. Also Baloji at B+(***). While I had missed this particular Howlin' Wolf edition, the same 20 songs are also available in the same order on The Definitive Collection (released 2007), previously graded A+. It's depressing to compare the pitiful one below to the one I wrote back then:

Howlin' Wolf: The Definitive Collection (1951-64 [2007], Geffen/Chess): "Hidden Charms" was just a song, one about his girl. Chester Burnett had nothing to hide except his name. He was a big man, "three hundred pounds of heavenly joy," "built for comfort, not for speed." And he was bold. His voice sounded like gravel, but he could sing with it as well as bark, growl, and howl. He may not have been a great guitarist, but Hubert Sumlin was -- when Buddy Guy joined the band he played bass. Despite his mass, he had a light touch, an uncanny rhythmic cadence that dropped the words gracefully into place. Chess helped, too. Coming up from Memphis he was howlin' at midnight; soon he was sittin' on top of the world. A+

Otherwise, last week was like the week before, except even more depressing. Going through a sad, miserable patch, but at least I do take a little pleasure in crossing previously unplayed CDs off my "unrated" list -- at least as I cross them off my list, especially ones I didn't much enjoy listening to. Still, two of those records made the A-list this time (Ian Dury, Bert Williams). The other "old music" records -- most of the ones not marked [cd] -- continued my scan through the unheard Christgau-graded albums list, starting with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, up to Dwight Yoakam this week. Deep down in the alphabet there, but still only 73% through (lot of various artist compilations to follow). Also, I'm aware of a few records I skipped that I can find on Napster or YouTube (shit I've really been avoiding -- Robert Cray is the name I'm most conscious of, probably because there's like three albums by him).

By the way, I don't seriously believe that anyone needs all three Cleanhead A- albums this week. I think he's terrific, but damn little difference between them, and any one will give you a good sample. (I probably prefer Clean Head's Back in Town.) By the way, he's also on two somewhat more varied records I'm also a fan of: Cleanhead and Cannonball, as in Adderley, and Blues in the Night Volume 2: The Late Show, filed under Etta James, and marginally better than Volume 1: The Early Show.

I wound up showing covers of two albums not reviewed below. The alternate Howlin' Wolf is really the same record, and when I looked up the review (above), I found I already had the cover scan handy. The Double Dee & Steinski EP didn't actually have a cover: it was just a sleeve with the label showing through, not that you'd ever find a copy anyway. The pictured Steinski comp starts off with those three pieces, then adds two more hours of brilliance. It's a desert island disc (well, two).

Reviewing old compilations always presents maddening, perhaps even impossible, trade-off questions between multiple editions. When I pointed out the Howlin' Wolf equivalence, Robert Christgau left his review unchanged, but tweeted:

To spare myself an insane amount of discographical nitpicking, I chose to base this week's Howlin' Wolf pick solely on what was in my shelves. But note that indefatigably punctilious Tom Hull has determined that Chess's 2007 Wolf Definitive Collection is identical to His Best.

Punctilious as I am, I also work mostly from my own shelves, plus a few things that are readily streamable. So sometimes I pull obsolete (out-of-print) compilations off my shelf. Since I've been checking up on old Christgau grades, I look for the releases he reviewed, even if they are long out-of-print, superseded by more recent editions -- even if that requires assembling an approximate playlist. That doesn't seem like ideal consumer guidance, but some kind of compromise is necessary. One odd artifact this week is that I've ignored the 2004 release dates on my Jethro Tull reissues in favor of their original dates, since that seems like a better baseline. I own a copy of A + Slipstream, but since the latter is just a live DVD, I limited the review to A. On the other hand, it's possible that on occasion I devalue an old LP compilation in favor of later CDs. That's likely with Don Williams below, as I at least partly explain in the review.

The Ezz-Thetics reissues continue to bug me. After I reviewed four a couple weeks ago, a reader pointed out that the series is curated with great care, with detailed liner notes from reputable critics. I review two more below, and find them slightly more useful than the original releases. I will get to more later.

I had to make my own scan of the Bert Williams, a release that seems to have escaped notice on the Internet. Archeophone's three volumes are probably the preferred source, not least for sound quality, but my single disc fills the bill nicely. I didn't write it as such, but that final trio of A-list albums (Williams, Betty Wright, Yo Yo) says much about the trajectory of race in America (and you can fill in a few gaps with Wynonie Harris, Howlin' Wolf, Cleanhead Vinson, and Marion Brown. Bought a new HP all-in-one printer in hopes of doing some scanning with it, but hadn't tried it, and it turned out xsane couldn't work with it. Very unhappy about that, and I blame HP -- for business tactics I hitherto mostly associated with Apple.

Started reading Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future -- the first novel I've tackled in close to 20 years. I've long said that when I finally get so disgusted with the world I give up, I'm going to give up and switch to fiction. I'm not sure if that's what this signals. For one thing, it's been touted as a superb wonk book. I've been writing a bit on annotation for a KSR article in Financial Times (paywalled, but I secured a samizdat copy). I'm despairing of getting it into publishable shape, but we're not so very far apart: he's both more pessimistic (maybe I mean panicky) and more optimistic (a faith in geoengineering I'm not convinced of), but we share common ground in believing that survival depends on fundamental changes in attitudes and beliefs, especially toward each other.

That would be difficult in any case, but the degree of stupidity and vileness exhibited lately on the US right is mind boggling. I haven't written a Speaking of Which in nearly a month in large part because words seem so insufficient. Another problem, by the way, is that my sources have been drying up, increasingly blockaded by paywalls. Latest seems to be Politico. I've never put much stock in them, but occasionally issues are so obvious they break through their studied bipartisanship. I don't see how an informed electorate is possible when everything's pay-to-play.

This week is countdown to my 71st birthday. I usually make a big dinner, and a month ago was looking forward to this one. As of today, I have no fucking idea what I'm going to do. (Well, the minimum is probably cake.) Have some other projects around the house to work on, so might be a good time to take a break from the usual grind.


New records reviewed this week:

Thomas Anderson: Ladies and Germs (2021, Out There): Singer-songwriter, debut 1988, ten albums since, nice unfancy melodies, clever words that mature into stories. Christgau considers this his best since that debut. I'm not so sure, but this is another good one, getting better as I try to write. A-

Mickey Guyton: Remember Her Name (2021, Capitol Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, first album after four EPs and a Grammy nomination for "Black Like Me." More than a bit overproduced, sometimes over the top, although she has her points, and make some so convincingly, I wish I could leave it there. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Albert Ayler Quintet: 1966: Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm. Revisited (1966 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Scattered live tracks from a November, 1966 tour of Europe, tenor saxophone backed by trumpet (Don Ayler), violin (Michel Samson), bass, and drums. This repackages material previously on two Hatology CDs, returning to the same pieces each concert: "Truth Is Marching In," "Omega (Is the Alpha)," "Our Prayer," "Ghosts," and variations on same. Ayler was "far out," but rooted in a spiritual primitivism. B+(***) [bc]

Marion Brown: Capricorn Moon to Juba Lee Revisited (1965-66 [2019], Ezz-Thetics): Alto saxophonist (1931-2010), born in Atlanta, wound up in New York with the avant-garde. This recycles some of his ESP-Disk records, with two tracks from Marion Brown Quartet sessions (with Alan Shorter and Rashied Ali), plus two (of 4) tracks from his Septet Juba Lee. A- [bc]

Old music:

Keola Beamer: Wooden Boat (1994, Dancing Cat): Hawaiian slack key guitarist, first record was called Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style (1972), has a couple dozen more up to 2012-13, this the only one I bothered to pick up. Sings some here. Very slack. B+(*)

Bingo: Songs for Children in English With Brazilian and Caribbean Rhythms (2005, Soundbrush): No artist credit, but not a "various artists" compilation: one band, one sound, throughout. Christy Baron is the singer, and pianist Roger Davidson is the critical factor, a master of the Latin groove that conveys these nursery rhymes (and a couple pop songs simplistic enough to pass), and organizes the percussion and the horns. B+(*) [cd]

The Contemporary Piano Ensemble: The Key Players (1993, DIW/Columbia): James Williams produced, is one of five pianists here, along with Geoff Keezer, Harold Mabern, Mulgrew Miller, and Donald Brown (on 4 tracks), backed with bass (Christian McBride) and drums (Tony Reedus). They (minus Brown, with different bass/drums) recorded a second album called Four Pianos for Phineas (Newborn, 1996). This is a mix of original and trad pieces, ending with an Ellington medley. B+(**)

Don Dixon: Chi-Town Budget Show (1988, Restless): Singer-songwriter, debut in 1985, did production for R.E.M., Marshall Crenshaw, and others. Wife Marti Jones recorded a good album in 1985 (Unsophisticated Time), and she appears here, introduced at the start. B+(*) [cd]

Double Dee & Steinski: The Payoff Mix/Lesson Two/Lesson 3 (1985, Tommy Boy, EP): DJs Doug DiFranco and Steven Stein, cut and pasted these three "lessons" (14:43), landmarks in dance music history, but rarely precedents rarely followed, probably due to legal complications, but one might think because no one did it better. I searched for this for 20+ years before the three tracks appeared to lead off Steinski's 2-CD What Does It All Mean? [cover right], which gets even better, and is the one to search for. A

Ian Dury & the Blockheads: Live! All the Best, Mate (1990 [2000], Music Club): Past his prime, but his oldies haven't aged, and while he skipped a few great ones, he worked in a couple pleasant surprises. Originally issued in 1991 on Demon as Warts 'N' Audience (Live: 22 December 1990), reissue with two extra tracks and a nicer title came out the year he died. Twenty years later he's even more missed. A- [cd]

Shirley Eikhard: The Last Hurrah (2000, Shirley Eikhard Music): Canadian singer-songwriter, debuted as a teen in 1972, I filed her under country -- she won Juno Awards for Best Country Female Artist 1972-73 -- but at this point her phrasing draws more on jazz, as does her band, including horns: Kevin Turcotte (trumpet) and Mike Murley (tenor sax). B+(**) [cd]

Shirley Eikhard: End of the Day (2001, Shirley Eikhard Music): All songs written by Eikhard, all vocals, all instruments too, recorded in her home studio. I'm most impressed by the bit of tenor sax, but the vibes are nice too. Mostly instrumental pieces. B+(*) [cd]

Shirley Eikhard: Stay Open (2002-03 [2003], Shirley Eikhard Music): Definitely a jazz singer, and back with a band she can focus on her vocals. One choice song philosophizes: "Aren't we clever? But not very wise." B+(***) [cd]

Dan Fogelberg: The Essential Dan Fogelberg (1973-90 [2003], Epic/Legacy): Singer-songwriter, first six albums through 1981 went platinum, singles did best on the Adult Contemporary list. Early cuts were fairly upbeat, but aren't very interesting. One early album got help from Don Henley and Graham Nash -- seems about right. C+

Forgetting Sarah Marshall [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] ([2008], Verve Forecast): Nicholas Stoller film, written by Jason Segel and produced by Judd Apatow, starring Kristen Bell. I've never had any interest in soundtracks, especially random (or eclectic) ones, so I certainly didn't buy this one. Still, I can report a few oddities: "Fucking Boyfriend" (The Bird and the Bee), Desmond Dekker, Os Mutantes, and three Coconutz songs in Hawaiian, including "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." B [cd]

Gimme Indie Rock V. 1 (1984-99 [2000], K-Tel, 2CD): As a genre, "indie rock" always struck me as vague, more a business plan than an aesthetic not that either has held much interest for me. Three pairs of groups I do know stake out the domain: The Fall/The Mekons, The Minutemen/Hüsker Dü, The Feelies/Yo La Tengo. Maybe a fourth: The Meat Puppets/Black Flag. I recognize most of the other groups, although I doubt I could pick them out in a blindfold test. B+(*) [cd]

The Golden Gate Quartet: Travelin' Shoes (1937-39 [1992], RCA/Bluebird): Gospel group, formed in 1934 in Virginia, appeared in John Hammond's famous 1938 Spirituals to Swing Carnegie Hall concert. This is the original group: William Langford left in 1939, replaced by Clyde Riddick, who retired in 1995, as the group carried on with new members. B+(***) [cd]

Barry Harris: Live at Maybeck Recital Hall Volume Twelve (1990 [1991], Concord): Pianist, from Detroit, started around 1960, has about 30 albums, more side credits. This is solo, part of a series that just about defined who's who in mainstream jazz piano. Still living at 91, but nothing since 2009. B+(**) [cd]

Wynonie Harris: Rockin' the Blues (1944-50 [2001], Proper, 4CD): Rhythm and blues singer, started in big bands (Lucky Millinder, Illinois Jacquet, Johnnie Alston), had a dozen or so R&B chart hits 1945-52, the latter missing here due to the arbitrary cutoff date -- for a superb one-CD overview, seek out Bloodshot Eyes: The Best of Wynonie Harris (Rhino, long out of print so good luck). This goes for quantity (81 tracks), which given his limits should be monotonous, but isn't. A- [cd]

Tish Hinojosa: Dreaming of the Labyrinth/Soñar del Laberinto (1996, Warner Brothers): Folk singer-songwriter from San Antonio, sings in Spanish as well as English. B+(***) [cd]

Robin Holcomb: Robin Holcomb (1990, Elektra): Singer-songwriter, plays piano, interests include Civil War songs and Charles Ives, married jazz pianist Wayne Horvitz, and they've recorded piano music together. Second album (not counting one where Horvitz, Butch Morris, Bill Frisell, and Doug Wieselman Play Robin Holcomb). Those (save Morris) also appear here. B+(*) [cd]

Howlin' Wolf: His Best (1951-64 [1997], MCA/Chess): Part of The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection, a series you can pretty safely buy on sight (but now mostly out-of-print). Somehow I missed this one. Still, nothing here I didn't already have in The Chess Box (3-CD), or later in The Definitive Collection, a 2007 compilation that recycles these 20 classic songs in order, which I previously graded: A+

Ella Jenkins: Little Johnny Brown (1971 [2001], Smithsonian/Folkways): Folksinger, born in St. Louis in 1924, her specialty was songs for children, her first collection recorded by Moses Asch in 1957 as Call-and-Response: Rhythmic Group Singing. This album was originally co-credited to Girls and Boys From "Uptown" (Chicago). Some message songs that would upset the Trumpist thought police: "Freedom Train," "Be Ready When Your Freedom Comes." Most likely, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" too (not to mention "Mexican Hand Clapping Song"). B+(***) [cd]

Jethro Tull: Live: Bursting Out (1978 [2004], Chrysalis, 2CD): British prog rock band with some folk-rock airs, debut 1968, led by Ian Anderson, who sung and played flute. Big deal through the 1970s, less reliably in the 1980s. I never was much of a fan, but heard a few albums and liked the occasional track, so parts of this have a pleasant familiarity later albums lack. Patter helps too, but nothing helps much. B- [cd]

Jethro Tull: Stormwatch (1979, Chrysalis): Twelfth album. Losing interest. C+ [cd]

Jethro Tull: A (1980, Chrysalis): Thirteenth album, chart peak 25 in UK, 30 in US. Nothing much here. [I have 2004 reissue called A + Slipstream, which adds a DVD I have from Slipstream tour.] C+ [cd]

George Jones: The Definitive Collection 1955-1962 (1955-62 [2004], Mercury): One of the all-time great country voices, his early records for Mercury contain many honky tonk classics -- Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years fills two CDs and only gets to 1959. This condensation hits many of those, then adds a few United Artists hits that remained signatures ("The Window Up Above," "Tender Years," "Achin' Breakin' Heart," "She Thinks I Still Care"). So great not even Billy Sherrill could ruin him. A

Kartet: The Bay Window (2006 [2007], Songlines): French quartet -- Benoît Delbecq (piano), Guilaume Orti (alto sax), Hubert Dupont (bass), Chandler Sardjoe (drums) -- recorded five albums 1991-2001, this their sixth, one more in 2014. Tricky postbop, the pianist most impressive. B+(***) [cd]

Alan Morse: Four O'Clock and Hysteria (2007, Inside Out Music): Guitarist, only album under his own name but he recorded quite a few in Spock's Beard ("American symphonic progressive rock band" active from 1995 at least to 2018). Brother Neal Morse plays keyboards, co-wrote and co-produced. B [cdr]

Genesis P-Orridge & Astrid Monroe: When I Was Young (2001 [2004], Important): Former was born 1950 in Manchester, UK as Neil Andrew Megson, died 2020. Best known as lead singer in Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, but also has 24 solo projects/joint credits (Discogs). In 1993 met Jacqueline Breyer (aka Lady Jaye) in a BDSM dungeon in New York, and underwent multiple surgeries to make both look alike, merging into one pandrogenous being. All I know about Monroe is that's her real name, and she's "a real artist." Music is much less weird than the artists, with nice beats and spoken word (evidently male). CD has no booklet or print. B+(**)

Mike Rizzo: Webster Hall's New York Dance CD v.6 (2003, Webster Hall NYC): Dance mix, high-powered techno, a dozen artists I've never heard of, but they keep it going. Commes with a DVD I haven't seen. B+(**)

Daryl Stuermer: Go (2007, Inside Out Music): Guitarist, played with Jean-Luc Ponty in 1975, also a fairly long term with Genesis, so figure fusion and/or prog rock with emphasis on rave ups. B- [cdr]

Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind (1996, Young God/Atavistic, 2CD): Experimental/noise rock band led by Michael Gira, had a run to 1997 as a prolific fringe band, broke up, then restarted with other musicians in 2010 (some early members returned in the 2019 lineup), finally gaining a critical following. This is long (72:06 + 69:31), sometimes loud, mostly plodding, with occasional words and/or groans. B [cd]

UTD [Urban Thermo Dynamics: DCQ/Ces/Mos Def]: Manifest Destiny (2004, Illson Media): Hip-hop trio, front cover stresses UTD under the artist names, back cover spells out the acronym. B+(***) [yt]

Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson: Clean Head's Back in Town (1957, Bethlehem): Debut album, cover proclaims "Eddie Vinson Sings" but the smaller-print seems to be the title. From Texas, came up playing alto sax in swing bands -- with Milton Larkin (along with Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet) and Cootie Williams -- but only sings here, a dozen songs, including a couple he later built whole albums around ("Kidney Stew," "Cherry Red"). Lots of horns here, but not his: Joe Newman (trumpet), Henry Coker (trombone), various saxophonists -- Bill Graham on alto with Charlie Rouse on tenor (4 tracks), or Frank Foster or Paul Quinchette. A-

Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson: The Original Cleanhead (1970, BluesTime): Sings blues and plays alto sax, backed by a swing band with Plas Johnson (tenor sax), Joe Pass (guitar), and Earl Palmer (drums). [Ace's 2014 reissue adds three live tracks, including an "I Had a Dream" where he meets "President Nixon."] A-

Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson: Kidney Stew [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1969-78 [1996], Black & Blue): From France, the first 10 cuts were recorded and released as Wee Baby Blues (by Black & Blue) and as Kidney Stew Is Fine (by Delmark) in 1969, with Hal Singer on tenor sax, Jay McShann on piano, and T-Bone Walker on guitar (plus bass and drums). CD adds 2 cuts each from 1972 and 1978 -- both sets are backed by organ (Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett) with Lockjaw Davis (tenor sax) on the latter. A-

Bert Williams: "It's Getting So You Can't Trust Nobody": The Songs of Bert Williams Volume One (1901-22 [199X], Vaudeville Archive Records): Comedian and singer (1874-1922), born in Antigua, moved to New York, easily the most famous black entertainer of the period. Archeophone reissued all of his recordings on 3-CD in 2002-04, and that's probably the way to go, but this 1-CD selection (total time 71:55) is the one I found. What I haven't found is a release date, or any evidence on the Internet of the label's existence, but the cover sheet has the dates for all 25 songs, and a brief but informative bio. W.C. Fields described Williams as "the funniest man I ever saw -- and the saddest man I ever knew." A- [cd]

Don Williams: The Best of Don Williams, Volume II (1975-78 [1979], MCA): Mild-mannered country singer (1939-2017), started with Pozo Seco Singers (but forget that), started cranking out solo hits in 1973. The implied Volume I was actually titled Greatest Hits, although there are many more comps muddying the waters. Not sure how good his early singles were, but he hits his stride here: 11 songs, 6 topped the country chart, most of the rest came close. No complaints here, but later compilations offer more worthy songs over a slightly longer period -- e.g., 20 Greatest Hits (1987) and The Definitive Collection (2004; both start in 1973 and end in 1986), or for that matter the short 20th Century Masters best-of (2000). B+(***)

Bobby Womack: Greatest Hits (1972-89 [1999], Capitol): Soul singer, name stuck in my mind as the author of "It's All Over Now" (the Rolling Stones hit in 1964, originally released by Womack's group, The Valentinos), but his solo records didn't start until 1969, when he caught the tail end of Minit. While he had some hits in the 1970s, they were pretty minor (biggest was a re-recording of another Valentinos song, "Lookin' for a Love"). B+(*)

Stevie Wonder: Original Musiquarium I (1971-82 [1982], Motown, 2CD): Singles from his 1972-80 era, centered on 4 albums worth owning whole -- albums which everyone who cared at the time actually did own -- providing cover for 4 new ("previously unreleased") songs, of which "Do I Do" -- 10:30 upbeat funk with Dizzy Gillespie guesting -- is the most interesting. B+(***)

Stevie Wonder: In Square Circle (1985, Tamla): "Part-Time Lover" strikes first. The other songs take longer to sink in. B+(***)

Stevie Wonder: Jungle Fever (1991, Motown): Billed as "Music from the movie," the movie "a Spike Lee joint," the marketing angle boosting a relatively unspectacular album. B+(**)

Betty Wright: Danger High Voltage (1974, Alston): Debut album (My First Time Around) when she was 14, big hit ("Clean Up Woman") at 17, died last year at 66. This was her fourth, produced by T.K. in Miami. A-

Betty Wright: Live (1978, Alston): Extends her hit into a medley, closing with some burners. B+(***)

Yo Yo: You Better Ask Somebody (1993, EastWest): Rapper Yolanda Whitaker, four albums 1991-1996, a fifth album (1998) unreleased (although some promo copies were sent out). After first two (both, like this, Christgau A-) disappointed me, I skipped this third album. Not sure that was a mistake, as there's little chance this twist on old school/gangsta would have sounded as good then as it does now. Especially waking up in a bad mood. A- [yt]

Dwight Yoakam: Just Lookin' for a Hit (1986-89 [1989], Reprise): Country singer, best-of after three albums that could use a bit of trimming, plus two new songs -- covers, actually, "Sin City" and "Long Black Cadillac," which raids country-rock canon for depth. B+(***)


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.

Henry Threadgill Zooid: Poof (2021, Pi): Also sax and flute player, has had a brilliant run on this label (which used to be the best in the world at servicing critics, but no longer is). Quintet with Liberty Ellman (guitar), Jose Davila (tuba/trombone), bass and drums. [2/5]: +


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Leon: Aire De Agua (Out of Your Head) [08-27]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 11, 2021


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36433 [36370] rated (+63), 188 [203] unrated (-15).

Almost no new jazz (or new anything else) this week. I continued with the Christgau unheard list, moving from B.B. King to Merle Travis, although I couldn't find most of the A-list records in the bottom half of that list. (This is my second pass, and while I skipped a lot of A-N albums in the first pass, I had made a more diligent effort further down.) Note that 4 of this week's A-list items are albums I didn't buy because I had previously heard/rated most of the music from other editions (Fela, Lovin' Spoonful, Roy Orbison, Merle Travis). I've noted some of those other editions below.

The other thing I did last week was to rifle through a shelf unit which (at least originally) had old CDs from my unheard list, and played what looks like a random selection. I had bought a ton of CDs early in the 2000s, especially in "going out of business" sales, and many of them languished. I've been keeping track of "unheard albums" since 2003, when the total was over 900. Eventually I got it down to the low 200s, but as I've streamed more, I've scrounged less, and I was getting frustrated at my inability to drop the unrated number below 200. Well, I made a dent in that list this week. To my surprise, three of those albums made this week's A-list, in very different ways (folksinger Ewan MacColl, Mardi Gras Party, and a hip-hop mix). The remaining unrated albums are listed here. Where they are in the house is anyone's guess, but I figure this is at least in part a housekeeping task.

One excuse I have is that the new promo queue has shrunk to the point where I only have one album past its release date (and that was one I received last week, by a group I had never heard of). That doesn't count downloads, which I don't keep very good track of. Actually got a fair amount of unpacking last week, mostly into November. I'll do them when I get around to it. Things are pretty messy right now.


Wichita suffered a catastrophe last week: the city water system broke down, leading to a "boil water alert." The pumps were shut down by an electrical failure. Then when they started up again, the restored pressure broke a 42-inch main a couple miles east of us, flooding streets and dropping pressure again. We spent a few days working around the various restrictions and warnings, thinking about how critical it is to have a safe, reliable source of water. And contemplating how callous and stupid Republicans (and a couple Democrats) are in their opposition to sorely needed infrastructure investments.

Wichita (and most of Kansas) set a record high temperature on Saturday. I've set up a fairly fancy weather station here, so we're keeping a close watch. Got 1.55 inches of rain yesterday. We've generally been pretty lucky this year: hot but not exceptionally so, a bit drier than usual but not quite enough to call it a drought, and the jet stream has been well to the north, so we haven't seen much smoke from the fires out west.


New records reviewed this week:

Jü: III (2021, RareNoise): Avant-rock trio from Budapest, guitar-bass-drums with some vocals, sound like they might be onto something but tend to wear out their welcome. B+(*) [cdr]

Jo Berger Myhre: Unheimlich Manoeuvre (2021, RareNoise): Norwegian bassist, also does electronics, third album since 2017 (or fourth if you count the one headlined by Nils Petter Molvaer). Three solo tracks, the others have 1-3 guests -- acoustic guitar, keyboards, percussion, narration (Vivian Wang). B+(**) [cdr]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets: Walkabout (2013-19 [2020], Yep Roc): Originally a promo for an Australian tour of Lowe backed by the Nashville-based band: first half credited to Lowe (from two recent EPs), second credited to the band (Latin-tinged instrumentals of Lowe songs from 2017's What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets plus an earlier "Friday on My Mind"), plus "Heart of the City" from both. B

Old music:

Fela and Afrika 70: Zombie (1976 [1977], M.I.L. Multimedia): Christgau's first Fela Kuti review, a 1977 release not in Discogs, which lists alternatives on Coconut (Nigeria), Polydor (Ghana), and Creole (UK). Later reissues add two 1978 tracks to the original 2-cut, 25:24 LP -- I own and recommend the MCA from 2001, but Wrasse (2001) and Knitting Factory (2010) follow suit. All have the same cover, depicting the musician standing out against military oppression. The groove pieces are immensely satisfying, and if you get the extra cuts, they don't wear down. A-

Hard Times Come Again No More Vol. 1: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardships (1924-37 [1998], Yazoo): As a fan of Vol. 2, I had to check this one out. Title comes from an old Stephen Foster song, sung here by the Graham Brothers, up last as the fourth song with "Hard Time" in the title, outnumbered by eight "Blues." About half of the songs pre-date the Depression. More whites than blacks, but that just underscores how poverty cut across the other social fissures. A-

B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King (1969-71 [1973], ABC): Bluesman, first singles date from 1949, so this offers a narrow slice, even at the time -- he recorded for another 35 years, before dying in 2015. I can recommend his 1952-62 Flair compilations (Do the Boogie: Early 50s Classics to 1956, or The Best of B.B. King, Volume One, or Blues Kingpins). He moved on to ABC in 1963 (Mr. Blues, their catalog later picked up by MCA), but this skips their early albums, starting out shortly before his Live at Cook County Jail. B+(***) [yt]

B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1967-85 [1999], MCA): Guessing at some of the dates as many of these songs appear multiple times, but safe to say they all come from ABC/MCA masters. The key period there is 1967-74, with an outlier from 1985 ("Into the Night"). Searching for dates suggests it shouldn't be hard to construct a better best-of, with more songs like "I Got Some Help I Don't Need." B+(***)

B.B. King: Blues Summit (1993, MCA): Eleven duets, each with one from the cover menu: Ruth Brown, Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Lowell Fulson, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Koko Taylor, Irma Thomas, Joe Louis Walker, Katie Webster. The twelfth song is a 8:57 mash of two King originals. "And more" includes Ben Cauley (trumpet) and Lee Allen (sax), and some featured names hang around to play elsewhere (especially Robert Cray). B+(***)

B.B. King: His Definitive Greatest Hits (1963-93 [1999], Polygram, 2CD): With so much ABC/MCA material to choose from, it shouldn't be hard to pick out a first-rate compilation. This hits about 80% of the time. A-

B.B. King: Deuces Wild (1997, MCA): Another album of duets, but instead of pairing off with his blues peers, he entertains a wide swath of the pop universe, from Van Morrison to Willie Nelson. I particularly like the Dr. John piece. B+(***)

B.B. King: Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan (1999, Geffen): He's game to sing this songbook, but the original's voice is funnier, and I find myself noticing that on 16/18 songs. King does take command on blues fare (or non-hits?) like "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town." The band is also game to swing, with Dr. John (piano), Russell Malone (guitar), and an all-star horn section (Marcus Belgrave, Hank Crawford, Fathead Newman). B+(**)

Ali Hassan Kuban: From Nubia to Cairo (1980 [1989], Piranha): Born 1929 in a Nubian village near Aswan, moved to Cairo but continued to identify as Nubian. Several records up to his death in 2001, followed by a fine Rough Guide summary. B+(***)

Fela Ransome Kuti and His Koola Lobitos: Highlife Jazz and Afro-Soul (1963-1969) (1963-69 [2016], Knitting Factory, 3CD): First disc collects the singles, second their 1968 Parlophone (Nigeria) album, third some live tracks. The only Fela this early I had heard before was the six Koola Lobitos tracks included in the 2001 reissue of The '69 L.A. Sessions. The highlife connection is clear from the early tracks -- being a saxophonist, he styled his take as "highlife jazz" -- with the James Brown impact still in his future. While much of this is unformed, there are patches of wonder and brilliance, including an exuberant "Highlife Time" and some real jazz. [Knitting Factory originally released this in 2005, with a different cover. VampiSoul reissued this on 2-CD in 2008 as Lagos Baby 1963-1969.] B+(***)

Lady Saw: Passion (1997, VP): Jamaican "Queen of Dancehall" Marion Hall, fourth album. B+(*)

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (1975-85 [1992], Shanachie): South African male choral group -- a style known as iscathimiya or mbube -- led by Joseph Shabalala, many records since 1973, with a US breakthrough in 1984 (Induku Zethu) on Shanachie, which followed up with several other albums (both earlier and later) and 1990's Classic Tracks. I was quite taken by the latter, but my interest in the others soon flagged. Surprised to see a second compilation just two years later, especially one with three repeats. B+(***)

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Gift of the Tortoise (1994, Music for Little People): After Paul Simon featured them on Graceland (1986), the world opened up a bit to them, leading to projects like this one: narrated in English and pitched as music for children. The animal-themed songs are mostly in Zulu, which passes as the language of the animals. B+(*) [cd]

Tony Lakatos/Al Foster/Kirk Lightsey/George Mraz: News (1994 [1995], Jazzline): Hungarian saxophonist (tenor/soprano), albums since 1982, this quartet was recorded in Brooklyn, about 8 albums in. Four Lakatos originals, one each from Lightsey and Foster, one from Dave Brubeck, the last one a Jerome Kern song ("The Way You Look Tonight"). Nice mainstream tone, rhythm section makes it look easy. B+(**) [cd]

Jim Lauderdale: Pretty Close to the Truth (1994, Atlantic): Alt-country singer-songwriter, second album, has stuck with it with a new album every year or two since. Songs and voice are somewhere between not bad and pretty respectable. B+(*) [cd]

Linx: Intuition (1981, Chrysalis): British soul/funk duo, first of two albums before splitting in 1983. B+(**)

Living Things: Ahead of the Lions (2004 [2005], Jive/Zomba): St. Louis band, Discogs tags them as "Glam" -- probably reminds someone of Iggy Pop, or maybe because the Rothman brothers renamed themselves Lillian, Eve, and Bosh Berlin. US label had qualms about their Black Skies in Broad Daylight debut, so held it up, reshuffled, and finally released this title, keeping 7 songs, replacing the other 6 with 5 new ones. I replayed the new ones, and two are worthy additions ("Bom Bom Bom" and "Monsters of Man"). So I give the edge to the original, but "Bombs Away" is on both. B+(***)

Love: Da Capo (1967, Elektra): Famous rock band from Los Angeles, second album, led by Arthur Lee with Johnny Echols on lead guitar. Six first-side songs offer scattered looks that impress without convincing. Second side perks up with the 18:57 "Revelation," with highly charged guitar, harmonica, and sax against a commanding beat. B+(***)

Love: Four Sail (1969, Elektra): Fourth album, only Arthur Lee remaining from the original group, or for that matter from their third (and possibly best) album, Forever Changes. Still sounds like a band. Just less like a great one. B+(**)

Love: Out Here (1969, Blue Thumb): Two LPs (69:23) of what were basically outtakes from Four Sail. A couple good things here, like "Stand Out" and the 11:20 guitar bash "Love Is More Than Words or Better Than Never." But some things are truly awful ("Discharged"). B-

Love: False Start (1970, Blue Thumb): Jimi Hendrix, whose career intersected with Arthur Lee's before, leads off, which you kinda forget by an end that's more confusing than not. B+(**)

The Lovin' Spoonful: Greatest Hits (1965-68 [2000], Buddha): Pioneering folk-rock band, principally John B. Sebastian, had a two-year stretch with 7 top-ten singles, two more years where they charted lower and lower, then they were done (although Sebastian had a mediocre solo career to 1978, and has occasionally resurfaced). This covers them generously, as did 1990's Anthology -- both run 26 tracks, 23 in common. A-

Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit: The Rose of England (1985, Columbia): Missed this one after a couple disappointments from the middle of his Nashville period -- he was married to Carlene Carter 1979-90 -- so I felt I should rectify the omission and was pleasantly surprised. Granted, it's only half new originals, and that's counting the instrumental featuring Duck Deluxe Martin Belmont, and it tails off a bit toward the end. B+(***)

Nick Lowe: Untouched Takeaway (1995-2001 [2004], Yep Roc): Live album, billed as his first ever, divided into two parts: from his 2001 European tour after The Convincer, and a 1995 set at Gino's Stockholm after The Impossible Birds. Mostly songs (I've heard but don't know) from those recent albums, but a few old ones (usually slowed down) and a couple country covers ("Tombstone Every Mile," "I'll Be There"). B

Luna: Slide (1993, Elektra, EP): Dream pop band, led by singer-songwriter Dean Wareham, first album the excellent Lunapark (1992), followed by this 6-track, 27:00 EP. Repeats two songs from the debut (including the title, one of their best), adds three covers and one original. Seems like the very definition of redundant, but sounds pretty impressive. B+(***)

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Nuthin' Fancy (1975, MCA): Jacksonville natives, the most legendary of the Southern rock bands that followed the Allmans, also marked by tragedy when leader Ronnie Van Zant perished in a 1977 plane crash. I thought their first album was pretty great -- I particularly related to the cowardice (or prudence) of "Gimme Three Steps" -- but their Second Helping filled me up, and I didn't bother with their following albums (especially the post-1977 revival, which continues to this day). Christgau was even more attached, going so far as to follow them on tour for a feature -- a personal connection he rarely indulged in, and one I've never touched -- so their albums loom large on my unheard-but-Christgau-rated list. This was their third, pretty much as advertised. B+(**)

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gimme Back My Bullets (1976, MCA): Perhaps a bit funkier, also meaner. "You won't hear me crying, because I do not sing the blues." B+(*)

Lynyrd Skynyrd: One More From the Road (1976, MCA): Double-LP live set from Fox Theatre in Atlanta, 14 songs, 81:30, including an 11:30 wind up of "Freebird" and most of their obvious hits. [Initial reissue in 1986 dropped two tracks to fit onto a single CD. In 2001, reissued on 2-CD as Deluxe Edition, with restored cuts and edits -- e.g., "Freebird" grows to 14:48 -- and other extras.] B+(**)

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors (1977, MCA): Released three days before the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and others -- the emergency landing killed 7, while 7 more survived, enough to keep the band going despite the immeasurable loss. Leads off with one of their best songs ("What's Your Name"). B+(***)

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gold & Platinum (1972-77 [1979], MCA, 2CD): Serviceable best-of the Ronnie Van Zant period, pulls two tracks from their first album (1972, unreleased until parts appeared in 1978's Skynyrd's First and . . . Last), slips in three cuts from their live double (including a 14:10 "Freebird"), because that's the kind of band they were. Probably should grade it higher, but I'm running out of patience with them. B+(***)

Yo-Yo Ma: Classic Yo-Yo (1992-2001 [2001], Sony Classical): Classical cellist, parents Chinese, born in Paris, studied at Juilliard and Harvard, "has recorded more than 90 albums and received 18 Grammy Awards" (14 through 2001, so the pace has slackened). Side interests include tango (Astor Piazzolla) and bluegrass (Mark O'Connor). Despite my deep-seated aversion, he's often pretty tolerable. [I previously reviewed a 2-CD 2005 compilation: The Essential Yo-Yo Ma: B+] B+(*)

Ewan MacColl: Black and White: The Definitive Collection (1972-86 [1990], Green Linnet): Folksinger, born 1915 in Lancashire of Scottish parents, died 1989. A "lifetime communist," political themes abound: "I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I'm a free man on Sunday." Not a style I'm fond of, but remarkable in its way -- not least when he sings unaccompanied. A- [cd]

Mardi Gras Party (1971-90 [1991], Rounder): Mardi Gras Indians, Professor Longhair on "Big Chief," James Booker on Professor Longhair (and yet another "Tipitina"), "Mardi Gras Mambo" and "Mardi Gras Zydeco," "Hey Pocky Way" twice (by Art Neville and as part of Irma Thomas' "Second Line Medley"). I was on the fence until midway, when Rebirth Brass Band blasted out "Do Whatcha Wanna, Pt. 3," followed by the Thomas medley. Ends with Tuts Washington playing "Saints" as a brief coda. A niche record, but earns it. A- [cd]

The Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar: Apocalypse Across the Sky (1992, Axiom): Jbala sufi trance musicians from the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. Group (loosely speaking) dates back to the 1950s, with a bit of international fame coming with Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka, recorded in 1968, but various splits and permutations followed. This is one, led by Attar (born in 1964; his father was on the 1968 album), and produced by Bill Laswell, again providing a conduit to the west. B+(***)

Johnny Mathis: The Ultimate Hits Collection (1956-86 [1998], Columbia): Possibly the squarest crooner of the 1950s, doesn't even have the excuse of having started before rock and roll exploded in 1956. Perhaps we can blame Mitch Miller and Ray Coniff (producer and orchestrator, respectively, of his early hits), but his clear and supple voice practically begged for their lush adoration. He recorded over 70 albums with more than 110 singles (up through 2017, when he was 82), and has been compiled dozens of times. I've sampled several of those, always impressed early on -- "Chances Are" was his biggest early hit, and deservedly so -- before my patience wore thin, even if I refrained from gagging. Christgau recommended this one, but even so concluded: "Give him his due -- and then use your programming buttons." B+(**)

Moby Grape: Moby Grape (1967, Columbia): Debut album from one of those San Francisco bands that demonstrated the promise and perils of psychedelia -- per Jeff Tamarkin: "The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak." He went on about "great music," something that previously escaped me. (I've heard two comps: Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape, which starts with this album complete, and Listen My Friends: The Best of Moby Grape, and left both at B.) I can note a slight country streak, a loose sense of time, and a bit of thrash that could be extended live. Also one song that's kinda catchy. B+(*) [yt]

Moby Grape: Wow (1968, Columbia): Second album. Easier to accept that this is godawful -- Christgau: "one of the worst cases of Pepper-itis on record" -- than that the debut was brilliant. [Looks like this was originally released with a 2nd LP called Grape Jam. The initial CD reissue combined the two LPs into one CD, but later reissues treat the two as separate albums.] C+ [yt]

Moby Grape: Moby Grape '69 (1969, Columbia): Third (or fourth) album, intended as a return to "normal" after the over-produced Wow and the departure of resident genius/psycho Skip Spence. Some regard this as early country-rock ("predating the more popular first country rock releases by Poco and The Eagles"), but country is rarely this plain or uninteresting. B- [yt]

M.O.P.: Handle Ur Bizness (1998, Relativity, EP): Hip-hop duo, Billy Danze and Lil' Fame, acronym for Mash Out Posse, gangsta shit, best known for their 2000 album Warriorz. Raw and hard. Nominally an EP: eight tracks, 31:12. Reminds me why I soured on so much 1990s hip-hop, though from today's vantage point, I'm more embittered by the era's attention-grabbing critics Bill Clinton and Tipper Gore, with their censorious overreach. In such times, "You think your bullshit bothers me?" is reasoned defiance. B+(*) [cd]

Bill Morrissey: North (1986, Philo): Singer-songwriter from Connecticut, folkie division, died 2011 at 59, debut in 1984. This was his second album, just voice and guitar. Rather low-key. B+(*)

Bill Morrissey: Bill Morrissey (1991, Philo): New recordings of the songs from his 1984 debut album, plus three more. Basic guitar and vocals, songs have some weight. Probably no reason to prefer one version or the other. B+(*)

Bill Morrissey & Greg Brown: Friend of Mine (1993, Philo): Similar folk singers, Brown a couple years older, still alive, and somewhat more prolific. Only one original, the rest scattered blues and country and rock, with "You Can't Always Get What You Want" especially true. B+(**) [cd]

Pablo Moses: I Love I Bring (1975 [1978], United Artists): Reggae singer-songwriter Pablo Henry, first album, produced by Geoffrey Chung, originally released as Revolutionary Dream. Simple, well-meaning songs, the appeal is obvious. Sound seems a bit off, especially the rattle of percussion. B+(**) [yt]

Motörhead: No Remorse (1979-84 [1984], Bronze): English heavy metal band, nonsensical umlaut, led by Lemmy Kilmister (1945-2015), debut 1979, this initial 2-LP compilation celebrates 5 years and adds 4 new songs, a closer for each side. I have no use, let alone desire, for metal, but this is one of the few such groups I can listen to, and took this 83:34 in one sitting (as background for writing about the decline and fall of Western Civilization, but that's not why I selected it). One saving grace is that it's squarely rooted in classic rock. Another is that Lemmy himself isn't full of shit. I won't try to figure out just how good this particular set is, but I'll note that Christgau gave the group's next four albums all A- grades, and I concurred on the latter two, demurring only slightly on the others. [Initial CD reissue omitted 2 songs to fit on 1 CD; later (1996, 2005) reissues restored the cuts and added 5 bonus tracks, 3 from the 1982 EP Stand by Your Man.] B+(***)

The Walter Norris Quartet: Sunburst (1991, Concord): Pianist (1931-2011), originally from Arkansas, played on Ornette Coleman's first album, moved to New York in 1960, recorded a dozen or more postbop albums, mostly trios although this one adds tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson -- a definite plus. B+(***) [cd]

Roy Orbison: 16 Biggest Hits (1960-64 [1999], Monument/Legacy): Remarkable voice, so extraordinary he's often compared to opera -- but while divas may compare for range and phrasing, I've never heard one with his sense of rhythm. His songs soar and swell and dance in your head. He started earlier with Sun, and he held on a long time, but his signature output was concentrated in five years with Monument. I have two other compilations -- Rhino's For the Lonely: 18 Greatest Hits (1988), and The Monument Singles: A Sides (1960-1964) -- which are slightly longer but effectively equivalent to this budget item. No real reason to favor one over the others. A

Annette Peacock: I Have No Feelings (1986, Ironic): Original name Coleman, wrote songs from an early age, married bassist Gary Peacock in 1960, developed a Synthesizer Show with second husband Paul Bley, recorded vocal albums in 1972 and 1978 (X-Dreams, a personal favorite). Her compositions were later featured in tributes by Bley and Peacock (with Marilyn Crispell and Paul Motian). But this vocal album is rather plodding, arch, scattered. B- [yt]

Annette Peacock: An Acrobat's Heart (2000, ECM): Piano and vocal, all original pieces, backed by the Cikada String Quartet. Another slow one. B

Ken Peplowski: The Other Portrait (1996, Concord): Clarinet player, mainstream, goes semi-classical here, with his quartet backed by the Bulgarian National Symphony. They do short bits of jazz standards, from "Anthropology" to "Lonely Woman," but the features here are classical: Witold Lutoslawski ("Dance Preludes"), Darius Milhaud ("Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra"), Plamen Djurov ("Cadenza"). B [cd]

Ralph Peterson Quintet: Art (1992 [1994], Blue Note): Drummer (1962-2021), apprenticed to Art Blakey in 1983, led his own bands from 1988 on (most often his Fo'tet), did more than anyone to keep Blakey's memory alive, including this tribute two years after the master's death. Quintet with Graham Haynes (cornet), Steve Wilson (soprano/alto sax), Michele Rosewoman (piano), and Phil Bowler (bass), plus trombone and tenor sax on the opener ("Free for All"). B+(*) [cd]

Prodigy Present: The Dirtchamber Sessions: Volume One (1998 [1999], XL): DJ mix by Liam Howlett of the British techno group The Prodigy. Wikipedia has a long list of samples, mostly from hip-hop records -- first track hits up Run D.M.C., Mantronix, Sugarhill Gang, Double Dee & Steinski, Chemical Brothers, Ultramagnetic MCs, Afrika Bambaataa, among others -- with a little Sex Pistols, James Brown, Barry White, and Wild Magnolias. This sort of mash up that briefly looked like the future of music, before the copyright tyrants quashed it. [Volume Two never appeared, but they must have cleared the samples, as this is still in print.] A- [cd]

Dr. Krishna Raghavendra: RARE Pulse (2001, GEMA): Founding member of USA-based Ragha School of Music and a senior member of the Karnataka College of Percussion (KCP), acronym for Raga and Rhythm Ensemble. First of at least 14 albums, plays veena, a plucked string instrument from South India, not far removed from sitar. May have some spiritual/healing claims. B+(*) [cd]

Remember Shakti [John McLaughlin/Zakir Hussain/U. Shrinivas/V. Selvaganesh]: The Believer (1999 [2000], Verve): Shakti was guitarist McLaughlin's Indian fusion group, formed in 1975 with Hussain (tabla) and three others, recording three albums, and revived for three more albums from their millennial tour. B+(**) [cd]

Remember Shakti: Saturday Night in Bombay (2000 [2001], Verve): The quartet is expanded for this big show, including vocals by Shankar Mahadevan. B+(**) [cd]

Jimmy Rogers: The Complete Chess Recordings (1950-59 [1997], MCA, 2CD): Bluesman (1924-97), born in Mississippi, raised in Atlanta and Memphis, moved to Chicago in the mid-1940s, played with Little Walter early on, had a minor hit with "That's All Right" in 1950. Journeyman blues player with some soul moves, intriguing here but not very developed. B+(**) [cd]

Nate Ruth: Whatever It Meant (2002, Soundless): Shoegaze, lots of fuzzy noise, throws in one off-speed track that's clearer but still marked by fuzz. Seems to be a one-shot. B [cd]

Jeremy Steig/Eddie Gomez: Outlaws (1976 [1977], Enja): Flute and bass duo. Steig (1942-2016) was one of the few jazz flute players of the 1970s not established on other instruments (Frank Wess and Yusef Lateef were poll-winners, and primarily saxophonists; James Newton debuted in 1977; Sam Most and Herbie Mann preceded Steig). He plays alto flute here, lower-pitched and airier. Gomez is best known for his Bill Evans Trio work -- Steig joined the trio for a 1969 album, What's New. B+(***) [cd]

Swayzak: Himawari (2000, Medicine): British tech house duo, James S. Taylor and David Brown, name adapted from a Polish word for union. Third album, good beats, bits of spoken word -- I like the one in German. B+(***) [cd]

Swayzak: Dirty Dancing (2002, !K7): Beats broken up in interesting ways, but could be more danceable, or for that matter dirtier. B+(**) [cd]

Train Don't Leave Me: Recorded Live at the 1st Annual Sacred Steel Convention (2000 [2001], Arhoolie): Fourteen songs from ten artists, each led by pedal or lap steel guitar, not all with vocals, a mix of originals and gospel standards. Gets increasingly heated. B+(**) [cd]

Merle Travis: Sweet Temptation: The Best of Merle Travis 1946-1953 (1946-53 [2000], Razor & Tie): Country singer from Kentucky, especially renown as a guitarist, had a string of big hits in the late 1940s, leading off with "Cincinnati Lou," "No Vacancy," and "Divorce Me C.O.D." (all from 1946). I know him most from Rhino's The Best of Merle Travis, but can also recommend Hot Pickin' (2-CD on Proper), and individual albums like Songs of the Coalmines -- his original "Sixteen Tons" is much different from the Tennessee Ernie Ford cover I first loved. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sylvie Courvoisier/Mary Halvorson: Searching for the Disappeared Hour (Pyroclastic) [10-29]
  • Adam Forkelid: 1st Movement (Prophone) [10-09]
  • Jazz Daddies: Moontower Nights (self-released) [09-06]
  • Karen Marguth: Until (OA2) [10-15]
  • Cameron Mizell & Charlie Rauh: Local Folklore (Destiny) [10-29]
  • John Moulder: Metamorphosis (Origin) [10-15]
  • Randy Napoleon: Rust Belt Roots: Randy Napoleon Plays Wes Montgomery, Grand Green & Kenny Burrell (OA2) [10-15]
  • Jacob Schulman: Connectedness (Endectomorph Music) [11-14]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 4, 2021


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36370 [36323] rated (+47), 203 [207] unrated (-4).

Spent much of the week whittling down the unheard Christgau list, this week starting at Grateful Dead and working my way to Jaojoby (B.B. King next, playing now). Took a couple side trips along the way. I was excited to hear that Hat Hut's Ezz-Thetics reissue label has a Bandcamp page, then chagrined to find that many of their "Revisited" sets were purloined from other labels (probably aided by Europe's 50-year copyright limit). Hat was an important label for new jazz from the early 1970s on, so they have a lot of important music in their vaults, but they've always had certain business quirks. Another diversion was Michaelangelo Matos publishing a 2021 top-ten ballot on Facebook, so I checked out the half I hadn't heard (or for that matter heard of). The Matos list also led me to find a couple Burnt Sugar albums I had missed.

My other big diversion (a/k/a waste of time) this week was to play around with singles lists. What I have so far is tucked away in the notebook, but I'll probably move it into a standalone file if I ever get it close to presentable. (Temporary link here, but this is very short of ready, and also the numbers are for counting, not rank -- each list is alphabetical by artist.) My methodology was to start by looking at the Rolling Stone list (via Rock NYC and the ballots by Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell and Chuck Eddy, and pick out what seemed most indubitable. Then I started looking through my database to find various artists compilations I liked. I would then pull them up on Discogs or Wikipedia for song lists, and pick a few more titles from them. Once I decided I wanted something from an artists, I would go on to Wikipedia to look at artist discographies (especially singles, which are usually presented with chart numbers).

Two insights occurred after I got started: (1) I decided to break up the list by decades, otherwise comparisons became difficult (too many apples-to-oranges) and would ultimately just prove my period prejudice: as someone born in 1950, the 1960s and 1970s were my peak exploration period, where everything was new and much of it exciting. I've continued to follow (and enjoy) new music since then, but after I stopped writing rockcrit in 1980 (and listening to radio a few years earlier, and stopped buying singles) I thought about it differently. If I tried to balance out a life-spanning singles list, it would wind up being about 80% pre-1980 (and 60% pre-1970), which says something about singles vs. albums -- the latter really came into their own around 1967-70 -- but mostly that I'm just an old fart. (2) is that after starting to pick one song per artist (per decade), I decided it would be worthwhile to add a few alternatives -- in case I wanted to refine my choices later on, or simply because some songs were too good to omit, and I started to get greedy.

I initially decided to leave jazz out completely -- no disrespect, but they became different things, with different aims, about the time LPs split off from singles in the 1950s. I may revise this to make vocals the dividing line. That would leave some rock instrumentals out, but not many were ever likely to be considered ("Rebel Rouser"? "Pipeline"? "Honky Tonk"?) And post-1970 I've picked the occasional album-only track (I think the first one I jotted down was Mott the Hoople's "I Wish I Was Your Mother"). I'm doing this almost exclusively from a memory that since the late 1970s has almost exclusively been formed from listening to albums, so it's no surprise that many of the songs that stuck in my cerebellum like singles used to were never marketed as such. (Note that not every critic has experienced this the way I have: in the late 1970s 12-inch singles became favored by DJs; in the 1980s MTV started the flood of video singles; and from the late 1990s the Internet has done much more to break singles than radio, which for all I know is nothing but senseless blather these days. Younger critics started with these media, much as I started with AM radio.)

So far I mostly have records from 1955-70, not just because that's my prime period, but also because that's where I've looked most intensively. I'm starting to think the 1960s and 1970s need to be broken into two halves, both due to quantity but also due to the rapid rate of change in those two decades, with 1964 and 1976 especially pivotal dates. As I recall, the first halves of both decades were much disparaged, although looking back I find them to be especially fertile (albeit as extensions of the previous half-decade).

One side effect was noticing one of Capitol's 2002 "Crescent City Soul" compilations that I had missed. I had to construct a playlist to review it, but it was worth it. (Still, not as good as the Minit-based Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet.) Tried to do the same with David Toop's Sugar and Poison, but couldn't find all the songs.

I also depleted enough of my promo queue that I inadvertently reviewed records as far out as November 12. (I've been sitting on the Fiedler and Balto albums for longer than I could stand.) Haven't done anything yet with the latest Phil Overeem list, but nice to see William Parker's Painter's Winter high on the list (higher than Mayan Space Station, which got first notice).


I finally bought a copy of a novel: Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, based on Robert Christgau's review, although I had previously linked to the New Yorker essay Christgau cites. (Has it really been that far back? First piece linked to there is titled, "As death toll passes 60,000, Trump's team searches for an exit strategy." As you probably know, the US death toll passed 700,000 last week.) I quoted Robinson there:

Margaret Thatcher said that "there is no such thing as society," and Ronald Reagan said that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." These stupid slogans marked the turn away from the postwar period of reconstruction and underpin much of the bullshit of the past forty years. . . .

Economics is a system for optimizing resources, and, if it were trying to calculate ways to optimize a sustainable civilization in balance with the biosphere, it could be a helpful tool. When it's used to optimize profit, however, it encourages us to live within a system of destructive falsehoods.

I'm beginning to wonder whether the only forum for serious discussions of viable solutions to ongoing crises isn't science fiction. I've long wanted to collect my more harebrained ideas under a recycling of Paul Goodman's 1962 title, Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals, but it's getting hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Indeed, in the minds of certain "centrist" Dems all variants are equally impossible, precisely because they are held to be inconceivable.

I also ordered William T. Vollman's Carbon Strategies for reference. I've thumbed through the two volumes at the library, and can't imagine reading them through, but thought they might be useful as references (although I have to wonder whether the deep discounts at Amazon don't imply that they're already obsolete).


I've added a link at the bottom of every blog post to "Ask a question, or send a comment." This links to my old Ask a Question form, which I've hacked a bit on. You can now choose "Question" or "Comment." The former gives me input for my Questions & Answers page. The latter sends me a comment without expectation of answer. I'm not going to be a stickler on that point. There's also a new form field for "URL Context." Eventually I'll figure out how to set this form from the referer context, but I don't have that working yet. In the future, I could add this link to many more pages, and could even develop some kind of comment system. But for now, these changes haven't been given much of a test. I appreciate your feedback, and would like to see more. Thanks.


New records reviewed this week:

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Angels Over Oakanda (2018-21 [2021], Avantgroidd): Ace critic Greg Tate's jazz project, co-led by bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, 20 years and about that many records into their own long, strange trip. Conducted improv, but rarely strays far from its seductive groove. B+(***) [bc]

Whit Dickey/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Village Mothership (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): Drums-bass-piano trio, joint song credits so auteurs listed alphabetically, though it may help that the drummer has raised his profile significantly over the last couple years (also that this is his label). Shipp honors him with some of his most percussive playing. A- [cd] [10-15]

DMX Krew: Loose Gears (2021, Hypercolour): One of several alias used by British electronica producer Edward Upton, many records since 1996. Nice beats, not supercharged, but don't fade away. B+(***)

Hernâni Faustino: Twelve Bass Tunes (2020 [2021], Phonogram Unit): Portuguese double bass player, probably best known for RED Trio, but has a fair number of side credits, including work with Rodrigo Amado and José Lencastre. Solo bass, as advertised, the format limited as usual, but his execution thoughtful as ever. B+(***) [cd]

Thomas Fehlmann: Böser Herbst (2021, Kompakt): Swiss electronica producer, based in Berlin, been doing it since the 1980s, not a huge number of albums (Discogs lists 13). Title translates as: bad (or evil) autumn. Written as soundtrack for a documentary, related to Babylon Berlin (previous alsum was 1929: Das Jahr Babylon). Ambient in tone, but never fades into background. A-

Joe Fiedler's "Open Sesame": Fuzzy and Blue (2021, Multiphonics): Trombonist, debut album 1998 but more recent, with one called Open Sesame in 2019. Quintet with trumpet (Steven Bernstein), soprano/tenor sax (Jeff Lederer), bass, and drums, plus a couple vocals by Miles Griffith (hated them at first, still not a fan but they do sorta fit in). Not far removed from Bernstein's postmodern take on swing (although he could have backed into it). B+(***) [cd] [11-12]

Kazemde George: I Insist (2019 [2021], Greenleaf Music): Tenor saxophonist, from California, studied in Boston, wound up in New York. Debut album. Bio talks about African diaspora music, including hip-hop. My guess is that he's aiming at the kind of crossover that's popular in London recently, but has rarely worked in the US. Backed by piano/keyboard, bass, and drums, his groove is engaging and solo flights majestic. Also features vocalist Sami Stevens, who I am less taken with. B+(***) [cd] [10-22]

Julia Govor: Winter Mute (2021, Jujuka, EP): Russian techno producer, based in New York, has more than a dozen singles/EPs since 2014. This one has 4 tracks, 20:14. Nice beats. B+(**)

Eunhye Jeong: Nolda (2021, ESP-Disk): Korean pianist, fourth album, solo, impressive strength and daring. B+(**) [cd] [09-24]

Rochelle Jordan: Play With the Changes (2021, Young Art): R&B singer-songwriter, born in UK, grew up in Toronto, based in Los Angeles, fourth album since 2011, atmospheric electronica with some gravitas, not sure how danceable (if that's the point). B+(***)

Kuzu: All Your Ghosts in One Corner (2020 [2021], Aerophonic): Free jazz trio -- Dave Rempis (saxophones), Tashi Dorji (guitar), Tyler Damon (drums) -- played for noise, at the limits of what I can stand, but sounded pretty great when I got to it. Hedged because I didn't feel like repeating the experience right away. B+(***) [cd] [10-05]

José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro: Thoughts Are Things (2021, Phonogram Unit): Portuguese saxophonist (tenor and alto), fourth album with this group -- two-thirds of RED Trio (Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano and Hernâni Faustino on bass) plus his brother João (drums). Guest Carneiro plays marimba, neither here nor there, but the saxophone is superb, even when he slows it down. A- [cd]

Bryan Murray & Jon Lundbom: Beats by Balto! Vol. 2 (2021, Chant): Saxophonist Murray (aka Balto Exclamationpoint) provides the beats. Lundbom plays guitar, was credited first on Vol. 1, and claims all of the compositions here. Joined by Jon Irabagon (more saxophones), Matt Kanelos (keyboards), Moppa Elliott (bass), and others. A little more erratic than their previous effort, but the concept of free jazz over fractured beats is sound. B+(***) [cd] [11-07]

Q'd Up: Going Places (2021, Tantara): Long-running group of faculty at Brigham Young University School of Music, founded in 1983 by Ray Smith (as Faculty Jazz Quintet), adopting its current name in 1998. Discogs lists two albums, one from 2009, another from 2018. Percussionist Jay Lawrence composed 6 (of 11) tracks. Pleasant, easy-listening jazz. B [cd] [10-08]

Rebellum: The Darknuss (2021, Avantgroidd): "Burnt Sugar Arkestra's Avant Funk & Roll Splinter Cell": down to five musician credits, but with guests and four vocalists, they make for a postmodern Funkadelic. B+(***) [bc]

Matthew Stevens: Pittsburgh (2021, Whirlwind): Guitarist, originally from Toronto, based in New York, third album, solo, on a 1956 Mahogany Martin 00-17 with "warm, brilliant steel-string tone." B [cd]

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & The MaXx: Live (2018 [2021], MNJ): Norwegian big band, more than two dozen albums since 2005, each co-credited with a guest, in this case a "power pop/indie/fusion trio" -- Petter Kraft (guitar/tenor sax/vocals), Oscar Grönberg (keybs), Tomas Järmyr (drums) -- with one EP on their resume, and credit for these pieces. Finds a compelling groove when the vocalist (Mia Marlen Berg?) enters on the second track ("Orgelbla"). Next cut rocks harder, which brings out the noise in the free jazz contingent, but that's not all they do. B+(**)

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan: Plastic Wave (2020 [2021], Odin, 2CD): Bassist-composer Vågan was previously featured guest on 2018's Happy Endings. Lots of interesting looks here, starting with Ola Kvernberg's violin, but the piece that really takes off is "Pickaboogaloo" on disc 2, so much so everything else gets sharper. A- [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Albert Ayler: New York Eye and Ear Control Revisited (1964 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Straight reissue of the 1966 ESP-Disk album (3 tracks, 43:27), previously jointly credited with Don Cherry (cornet/trumpet), John Tchicai (alto sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Gary Peacock (double bass), and Sunny Murray (drums). B+(*) [bc]

John Coltrane Quartet: Newport, New York, Alabama, 1963 Revisited (1963 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Live recordings from a year when Coltrane and his Quartet (even with Roy Haynes sitting in, as he did at Newport) could do nothing wrong. First three tracks were previously on Newport '63 (released 1993 with a fourth piece). The other five tracks (including two actually recorded at Van Gelder Studios) were released in 1964 as Live at Birdland, one of Coltrane's masterpieces. "Alabama," by the way, is just a song title, although you probably knew that. Total 79:56. My big question is how and why they wound up on this legendary Swiss label offshoot (Hat Records by another name). Docked a bit for the confusion. B+(***) [bc]

John Coltrane: Chasin' the Trane Revisited (1961 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Another retitling of a Coltrane live classic, the master takes from Live at the Village Vanguard, plus an alternate take of "Spiritual" to bring the time up to 79:29. Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet) joins for 3/6 tracks. Grade docked, but this is some of his greatest music ever. A- [bc]

Mike Taylor: Trio, Quartet & Composer (1965-68 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): British pianist, drowned in 1969 at 30, released a trio album in 1967 (Jon Hiseman on drums, bass split between Ron Rubin and Jack Bruce, all here), and a quartet in 1966 (with Dave Tomlin on soprano sax, one cut here, "A Night in Tunisia"). Last three tracks here were pieces he composed for Cream's Wheels on Fire (with Ginger Baker lyrics), which is an odd way to stretch a rare and historic jazz CD to 71:17. B+(*)

Old music:

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Live From Minnegiggle Falls (2004 [2007], Avant Groidd): A Greg Tate conduction of a nine-piece group (plus vocals) recorded in Minneapolis. B+(**)

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All Ya Needs That Negrocity (2008-11 [2011], Avant Groidd): Looks like the group generated a lot of music from 2000-07, slowed down through this 2011 release, then started a comeback in 2017. Conduction with 27 musicians (total, probably not all at once), starts with a riff on "Cold Sweat," moves on to "Libertango," then mixes it up further. A- [bc]

Thomas Fehlmann: 1929: Das Jahr Babylon (2018, Kompakt): "Original Filmmusik" for Volker Hesse's documentary meant to provide historical background his series Berlin Babylon. Watching the latter offers the odd sensation of knowing that no matter how things work out at the time (and like most drama they like to cut it close) it would all go to shit in the near future. Listening to this gives you an ambient background of carefree industrial hum, which also could get worse. B+(*)

Grateful Dead: Dozin' at the Knick (1990 [1996], Grateful Dead, 3CD): I liked some of their early stuff, especially their most tuneful Workingman's Dead, but never saw them and never understood the fascination some people have for them. I got the impression they stopped caring about studio albums in the mid-1970s, but they kept touring, and from about 1992, some business type decided to make up their losses by dumping dozens of live tapes onto the market. I bought Two From the Vault, which was of Live/Dead vintage and not bad, but not enough to keep me interested. This is the other one that Christgau -- who saw them early and connected enough he's often rhapsodized about them -- has recommended, and it's much later. First disc is quite good, especially the Dylan cover ("When I Paint My Masterpiece"). Second disc wanes, and third wanders, but I liked the drums bit, and enjoyed much of the rest. B+(**)

Grateful Dead: Crimson White & Indigo (1989 [2010], Grateful Dead/Rhino, 3CD): From Philadelphia, July 7, starts promising, but they do go on and on and on. B

The Guess Who: The Greatest of the Guess Who (1969-75 [1977], RCA Victor): Canadian rock group, founded 1962 as Chad Allan and the Reflections, with Randy Bachman on guitar. Keyboardist Burton Cumming joined in 1966, taking over vocals when Allan left. They broke into the US charts in 1969-70 with "These Eyes," "Laughing," "Undun," "No Time," "American Woman," "Hand Me Down World -- the first side here. Second side picks up after Bachman departed for Bachman-Turner Overdrive, as Cummings held on, through 1975, turning out catchy tunes that didn't quite chart as high, perhaps because they felt a tad light. B+(*)

Jimi Hendrix Experience: Radio One (1967 [1988], Rykodisc): BBC radio shots, scattered from February to December around the May release of Are You Experienced (5 songs repeated here, plus 2 from Axis: Bold as Love, 10 others, 6 of them covers. The covers shade this a bit toward blues, although they also have fun with "Day Tripper," and write a "jingle" for "Radio One" that's miles above what you're used to. B+(***)

Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock (1969 [1994], MCA): The rare rock musician who's live performances transcended the redundant (and whose innovation, fame and early death left hope of finding more gems among his detritus), Hendrix's posthumous discography soon dwarfed the three studio albums released during his lifetime -- the only comparable figure was John Coltrane, whose heirs still struggle to compete. The early phase was spent scouring live tapes and studio outtakes for said gems. A second phase started more/less here, as the focus shifted to whole concerts. This CD was edited down to 63:46, only to be replaced in 1999 with the 2-CD (96:38) Live at Woodstock -- the latter adds five songs, plus patter that stretches most of the rest of the recording times. I couldn't find the former, so constructed a playlist from the latter, getting all the songs in the edited order (but missing the 1:54 "Farewell"), but with the introductions still wasting time. I'm not enough of an aficionado to compare versions, but the "Jam Back at the House"-"Voodoo Child"-"Star-Spangled Banner" sequence is pretty amazing. I'm not a big fan of the latter, but will note that he neither shreds the anthem nor flinches from its ugliness. Rather, he makes something not beautiful but powerful out of it. I could see MAGA enthusiasts embracing it, but I doubt they will. "Purple Haze" comes next, continuing the high level streak. A-

Jimi Hendrix: Hendrix in the West (1968-70 [2011], Experience Hendrix/Legacy): Live album, originally stitched together with performances from Royal Albert Hall, Isle of Wight, San Diego Sports Arena, and Berkeley Community Theatre and released relatively early (1971) in the posthumous sweepstakes. I can't find/reconstruct the original album, as legal disputes forced the reissue to replace the Royal Albert Hall tracks ("Little Wing" and "Voodoo Child") with other versions, while adding extra tracks to expand the album from 40:21 to 65:16. I've never been a huge fan, but this "Voodoo Child" is pretty amazing. B+(***)

Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune (1969-70 [2010], Experience Hendrix/Legacy): Studio tracks, post-Electric Ladyland, may or may not have been intended for a fourth album (but no dupes from First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which appeared in that niche in 1997). This one needs work (even after it got some posthumous help), but if you can listen to Hendrix for background music -- and I'm finding I can -- this fills the bill, without too many distractions. B+(**)

Jimi Hendrix: Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight (1970 [2002], Experience Hendrix/MCA, 2CD): Expanded edition of a concert previously released in 1971 (Isle of Wight) and 1991 (Live Isle of Wight '70), opening with the "God Save the Queen"/"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" sequence that led off Hendrix in the West. Recorded three weeks before his death, runs long, sounds typical enough. B+(**)

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection (1967-70 [2001], Experience Hendrix/Universal, 2CD): Useful, I suspect, for young 'uns -- and 50 years after his death that's 'most everyone -- who are looking for a starting point or an expertly balanced overview. First disc draws on three good-to-great studio albums, with some extras or alternates mixed in. Second draws on his now-numerous live albums, repeating three songs ("Fire," "Hey Joe," and "Purple Haze"), with a couple legendary pieces ("Star Spangled Banner" from Woodstock, "Wild Thing" from Monterey). Of course, you might find yourself wanting more. But if this doesn't do it for you, he's really not for you. A

Jimi Hendrix: Fire: The Jimi Hendrix Collection (1967-70 [2010], Experience Hendrix/Legacy): Generous single-disc compilation, 14 songs from his three studio albums, 6 more from posthumous sources, including 2 from the simultaneously released Valleys of Neptune. First half could hardly be better. After that, just go with the flow. A

His Name Is Alive: Stars on E.S.P. (1996, 4AD): Fringe rock band from Michigan, principally Warren Defever, first release 1988 (I Had Sex With God), still active (at least through 2020). Not clear who else is doing what. Karin Oliver sang on earlier albums, but Lovetta Pippen appears here. Not that it matters much. B+(*)

The Hollies: In the Hollies Style (1964, Parlophone): Manchester's answer to the Beatles, second album, released in UK and Canada but not US. Three songwriters (Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Graham Nash, jointly credited as L. Ransford), but nearly half covers (e.g., "Something's Got a Hold on Me," "It's in Her Kiss," and "Too Much Monkey Business"). Not the Beatles, of course, but no other band distilled the sound more completely. B+(*)

The Hollies: The Hollies' Greatest Hits (1965-72 [1973], Epic): But they did come up with some hits that established their own sound (perhaps more Byrds than Beatles). The breakthrough came from non-member songwriter Graham Gouldman (later the cleverer half of 10cc), with "Look Through Any Window" and "Bus Stop," but most of the rest came from their core (but dwindling) trio, with Graham Nash leaving in 1968 and Allan Clarke in 1971 (returned in 1973). Only one of the three post-1967 songs earns its keep ("Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," where they started listening to CCR). B+(***)

Hüsker Dü: Everything Falls Apart (1982 [1983], Reflex, EP): Minnesota hardcore group, a big deal while they lasted (1982-87), with guitarist Bob Mould going on to a long solo career along the same lines, drummer Grant Hart occasionally writing a song with a surprising hook (his solo career was much less substantial, 4 albums before he died in 2017, and bassist Greg Norton (co-wrote 2 songs here). First album (aside from the live Land Speed Record, a 19:22 EP (despite 12 songs, including 1:51 of "Sunshine Superman"). [1993 Rhino reissue expanded to 42:07.] B+(**)

Irakere: Irakere (1978 [1979], Columbia): Stellar Afro-Cuban jazz band, founded and led by pianist Chucho Valdès in 1973, at this time including Arturo Sandoval (trumpet) and Paquito D'Rivera (sax), who later left Cuba for fame and fortune in the US. Third album, first of two picked up by Columbia. Recorded live, intense, possibly brilliant. [4/5 cuts also on The Best of Irakere, along with 6/8 from Irakere 2.] B+(***)

Ronald Shannon Jackson: Pulse (1984, Celluloid): Drummer, from Texas, joined Ornette Coleman in 1975's electric free funk Prime Time, led his own group (Ronald Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society) from 1979. This is one of the few albums from the 1980s solely under his own name, as it's almost all drums and spoken word. B+(*)

Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Decode Yourself (1984, Island): Sixth group album since 1980, septet follows in Ornette Coleman's Prime Time footsteps, with added violin and trombone, saxophonist Eric Person doesn't come close to Coleman's magic. Bill Laswell produced. B+(*)

Ronald Shannon Jackson: Red Warrior (1990, Axiom): Post-Decoding Society, straight fusion with three guitarists here and there spinning up to tornado force, two bassists, impressive drumming. Laswell co-produced. B+(**)

The Jacksons: The Jacksons (1976, Epic): First album after leaving Motown (for which the Jackson 5 recorded 10), the name change partly reflecting a lineup change, with Jermaine leaving and younger brother Randy joining, and Gamble and Huff producing, with MFSB the Philadelphia house band. Seems pretty generic, with Michael nearly undetectable. B

The Jacksons: Destiny (1978, Epic): Opens with a template for Michael's solo career, identifiable even if it's not particularly deep ("Blame It on the Boogie"; better still: "Shake Your Body"). B+(***)

The Jacksons: Triumph (1980, Epic): First group album after Michael's blockbuster Epic debut (Off the Wall -- he had four previous and inconsequential solo albums on Motown), doesn't seem very satisfying to merge him back into the group, even if it's a family thang. B+(**)

The Jacksons: Victory (1984, Epic): With Jermaine back, the only album with all six Jackson brothers -- although Michael and Marlon left afterwards, only appearing on the title track of the 1989 album that would mark the group's terminus. Easily their best group album, at least for the second side -- "We Can Change the World" convinced me, as did "The Hurt." B+(***)

Jaojoby: Aza Arianao (2001, Label Bleu): First name Eusèbe, from northwestern Malagasy, plies a local style called salegy, not unlike many other local African styles. B+(**)

Let the Good Times Roll: 20 of New Orleans' Finest R&B Classics 1949-1966 (1949-66 [2002], Capitol): Part of their Crescent City Soul series. I was surprised I didn't have it listed, as two other albums in the series are among my favorites (The Fats Domino Jukebox and Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet -- a Minit Records compilation). This draws on (mostly) earlier Aladdin and Specialty releases, most recorded by Cosimo Matassa. Easy enough to construct a playlist, but may not have all the right versions. Two Shirley & Lee hits, the others more obscure than not, but they live up to the party cover. A-

Shirley and Lee: Let the Good Times Roll (1952-59 [2000], Ace): New Orleans duo, Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee. The title song was their big hit, of five they charted through 1957. They split up in 1963, he died at 40 in 1976, she had a freak hit in 1975 as Shirley & Company ("Shame, Shame, Shame"), retired, and passed in 2005. Goes through a dull stretch, then picks up with "Feels So Good," and finishes strong (e.g., "Marry Me"). B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Hernâni Faustino: Twelve Bass Tunes (Phonogram Unit)
  • Jü: III (RareNoise) * [09-24]
  • José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro: Thoughts Are Things (Phonogram Unit)
  • Jo Berger Myhre: Unheimlich Manoeuvre (RareNoise) * [09-24]
  • Mareike Wiening: Future Memories (Greenleaf Music) [11-12]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 26, 2021


Music Week

September archive (closed).

Music: Current count 36323 [36271] rated (+52), 207 [220] unrated (-13).

Only four Mondays in September, so the monthly archive (link above) is closed with 188 albums. Breakdown is 77 new music releases, 15 new archival releases, 90 old albums, 5 limited sampling, 1 grade change. This week's albums were split 23-3-26, as I finally took a bite out of my demo queue. Most surprising stat of the month is only 4 new music A-list records (none this week). I have 63 in my 2021 Music Year list, so average so far is close to 8 per month (discounting January, which usually is mop up for the previous year, so first 8 months this year; at that rate, I'll wind up with a bit less than 100 A-list new music albums for the year. That's way down from 156 (+6 post-freeze) in 2020. This year's Tracking File shows 701 new albums (including archival) graded, vs. 1637 in 2020. So my pace for rated records this year is down 35.8% from last year, and my pace for A-list new music is down 39.5%.

I expected my listening to tail off when I decided not to compile a metacritic file this year, so that part is no surprise. I'm a bit surprised that A-list has dropped more than total, as I'm still listening to nearly every well-publicized, well-regarded new album out, but the variance may not count for much. But I'm still listening to a lot of records. I'm just cribbing more from old lists than new ones. The main one I've been using lately is of albums Christgau graded but I haven't. The list is longer, but I've been picking out the A* records -- a big part of the reason so many of these albums hit the spot. This week I scanned from Devo to Go-Betweens -- but wasn't able to find or construct items from Dramarama, Stoney Edwards, Fat Boys, The Fever, Franco, and Go-Betweens (2-CD Spring Hill Fair and The Peel Sessions). I had scanned through this section of the list before, so this time I was checking out things that hadn't appealed to me before. I started off surprised by how much I liked The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified and War on 45 -- two groups I'd never cared for before. (Ferron was another pleasant surprise.)

As I noted below, I've never bought comedy albums, but lately I have wondered whether I might enjoy streaming a few. Christgau reviewed them with some regularity in the early 1970s (but rarely since), so I didn't flinch when Firesign Theatre popped up. Made for a couple unpleasant days -- I do think I got better at hearing them over time, but mostly that just increased my certainty that I don't enjoy them. The few comedy albums I have heard (and some merely heard of) are in my Unclassified file, along with spoken word/poetry, children's music, and a few more things I never managed to classify. I wrote about Lenny Bruce here. Re-reading it, it occurs to me that if I had focused more on politics, I might have wound up more generous to Firesign Theatre (also Credibility Gap, maybe even Month Python).

I will note that while I played everything I could find in this week's section of the file, I did skip Bill Cosby last week. I can compartmentalize with the best of you, but that's one I didn't care to try. Next in my (not Christgau's) file was Redd Foxx, who might still be fun. But I figured I'd had enough for now, and wanted to move on to some music. Go-Betweens. Grateful Dead next.

I've neglected Robert Christgau's website this week. He has two pieces I haven't announced yet: Xgau Sez, and Favorite vs. Best vs. Whatever, on the Rolling Stone song poll. I'll get to that when I'm done here. Maybe I'll add write up my own take on the songs list -- not that I'm sure I can construct a ballot. My idea of singles is still rooted in the era when that's what I listened to on radio (something I rarely did in the 1970s, almost never since -- one time I recall was driving a rental car for hours around Boston in 1984; during that time, only 4 songs I liked came on, Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life" and three by Madonna).

Finished Ed Ward's deeply enjoyable two-volume History of Rock & Roll, only to be disappointed not to be able to turn the page to 1977. Reportedly there is a third volume written, but never published. Finished it late one night and was looking for something to take to bed, when I saw Read This Next shouting off from the shelf. I've often been tempted by meta-books (which is how it got on the shelf in the first place). Not sure whether it's good or bad that I haven't even heard of at least half of the 500 recommended books here. I've only read a few dozen, with a similar number I've seen movies or TV series based on. Probably worth a list.

Jimmy Kimmel runs a bit fairly often with clips of a dozen-plus TV heads declaring "I can't believe that it's already [insert month/season]." Well, I'm having trouble recognizing the end of September, mostly because it hit 94°F again today. I expect the first two weeks to be miserably hot here, but this year it's going down to the wire. I haven't gotten a God damn thing done this month. (Well, other than to have written up 188 records.)


New records reviewed this week:

Air Craft: Divergent Path (2021, Craftedair/Blujazz): Pianist Doug McKeehan wrote and produced, a fairly slick suite with occasional vocals. B [cd]

Arab Strap: As Days Get Dark (2021, Rock Action): Scottish indie rock band (vocalist Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton), six albums 1996-2005 (haven't heard any of them), reunion album after 16 years. Slow and talky, more interesting than expected. B+(**)

Baby Queen: The Yearbook (2021, Polydor): South African pop star Bella Latham, first album (or mixtape, as it's presented -- a distinction I don't begin to understand) after my favorite EP of 2020. Her moniker was bound to be ironic, but she's outgrown it pretty fast. B+(***)

Lena Bloch & Feathery: Rose of Lifta (2019 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli tenor saxophonist, moved to Europe in 1991, on to Brooklyn in 2008, recorded the album Feathery in 2012, kept that as a band name, replacing the guitarist with pianist Russ Lossing (Cameron Brown and Billy Mintz remain). B+(*) [cd] [10-08]

Butcher Brown: #KingButch (2020, Concord Jazz): Jazz-funk group from Richmond, VA; half-dozen albums since 2013. Keyboardist Devone Harris (aka DJ Harrison) seems to be the main writer/arranger, with Marcus Tenney (aka Tennishu) rapping on several pieces, playing trumpet, tenor sax, or drums on others. B+(*)

Butcher Brown: Encore (2021, Concord Jazz): Not a great idea for a jazz-funk band to slow it down, especially when your vocalist is a rapper, who makes only a token appearance. Five tracks, 15:26. B

George Cables: Too Close for Comfort (2021, HighNote): Pianist, 76 now, cut his first album in 1975, caught my ear playing on some of the best Art Pepper albums of his last couple years. Trio with Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis, with a couple solo cuts. B+(*)

Mike Cohen: Winter Sun (2021, Blujazz): Saxophonist (alto/soprano), based in New York, has a couple albums, including one recorded in Uganda, another in a klezmer group called Kletraphobix. Mainstream quintet with trumpet (Ron Horton), piano, bass, drums. Bright and cheery. B+(**)

Graham Dechter: Major Influence (2018 [2021], Capri): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, fourth album, quartet with piano (Tamir Hendelman), bass (John Clayton), and drums (Jeff Hamilton) -- Dechter started out with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Nice postbop lines, first-rate rhythm section. B+(**) [cd]

Satoko Fujii: Piano Music (2021, Libra): Solo piano, but focus is more on coaxing unusual sounds from the instrument than more traditional pursuits. B+(*) [cd]

Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction (2021, ArtistShare): Alto saxophonist, albums since 1989, offers a nonet (or two) here, rich in horn interplay and harmony. B+(**) [cd]

India Jordan: Watch Out! (2021, Ninja Tune, EP): British DJ/electronica producer, pronoun "they," house (I guess; optional adjectives: ecstatic, euphoric). Five songs, 25:24. B+(**)

Timo Lassy: Trio (2021, We Jazz): Finnish tenor saxophonist, debut 2007, trio with bass and drums, but also strings (Budapest Art Orchestra) on most cuts, extra keyboards and percussion. B+(***)

Adam Nolan Trio: Prim and Primal (2021, self-released): Alto saxophonist, from Ireland, backed by bass (Derek Whyte) and drums (Dominic Mullan). Impressive free jazz, with glances back at tradition. B+(***) [cd]

Alexis Parsons: Alexis (2021, New Artists): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums. Backed by two piano trios, one led by David Berkman, the other by Arturo O'Farrill. Striking vocalist, faded a bit toward the end. B+(**) [cd] [10-01]

Lukasz Pawlik: Long-Distance Connections (2017-19 [2021], Summit): Polish composer, second album, plays piano/keyboards and cello. Prominent among the musicians are Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Stern (electric guitar), and Dave Weckl (drums, co-producer), so the temptation to slot this as fusion is strong. Bright and shiny, for sure. B+(**) [cd]

Houston Person: Live in Paris (2019 [2021], HighNote): Tenor saxophonist, one of the great mainstream players of his generation, started playing soul jazz in the 1960s, backed by organ trios much like this one: Ben Patterson (organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Willie Jones III (drums). B+(***)

Mauricio J. Rodriguez: Luz (2021, self-released): Bassist, from Cuba, moved to Venezuela in 1994 and on to the US in 2001, teaching at University of South Florida and Miami Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-Residence. Latin jazz, originals and pieces by Vicente Vioria and Chucho Valdes, plus "My Funny Valentine" -- sung by Adriana Foster. B

Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Petite Fleur (2019-20 [2021], Storyville): Drummer, debut 2007, took over as Artistic Director of NOJO in 2017, following founder Irvin Mayfield -- the big band goes back at least to 2005. Second group album with Rose in charge, featuring singer Cyrille Aimée, who wrote the closer. Two French titles, some interesting standards, most inspired "It Don't Hurt Anymore." B+(***) [cd]

Renee Rosnes: Kinds of Love (2021, Smoke Sessions): Canadian pianist, still a big deal there with 5 Juno best albums, 20 albums plus 2-3 times that many side credits (most recently the septet Artemis). Third Smoke Sessions album, quintet with Chris Potter (sax), Christian McBride (bass), Carl Allen (drums), and Rogerio Boccato (percussion). Impressive solos for Rosnes and Potter -- no surprise there. B+(*)

Saint Etienne: I've Been Trying to Tell You (2021, Heavenly): English "indie dance" group (mostly electronic but I've never thought of them as especially danceable; I'd hazard something more like "esoteric pop"), two rock critics backing singer (often songwriter) Sarah Cracknell, 10th album since 1991, based on samples and field recordings from 1997-2001 ("the optimistic years twisted into half-remembered afterimages of a dream"), tied to a film project. B+(**)

David Sanford Big Band Featuring Hugh Ragin: A Prayer for Lester Bowie (2016 [2021], Greenleaf Music): Doesn't play, but composed six pieces and arranged "Dizzy Atmosphere," while Ragin (trumpet) offered the title piece. Twenty-piece big band, brash and eager. B+(***) [cd]

Pauline Anna Strom: Angel Tears in Sunlight (2020 [2021], RVNG Intl.): Electronic music composer, started in the 1970s with synthesizers and a 4-track recorder, recording six albums 1983-88 as Trans-Millenia Consort, before she quit and sold off her equipment. A reissue in 2017 got her interested again, and she prepared this new album shortly before her death in 2020. Mix of rhythm and atmospheric pieces, the former especially appealing. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years (1995-2009 [2021], BMG): Fourteen selections from five appearances at Montreux Jazz Festival, four songs from Broken English, other highlights include the Van Morrison opener, Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song," and an expert take on "Solitude." B+(***)

Jim Snidero: Strings (2001 [2021], Savant): Alto saxophonist, albums regularly since 1985, rehearsed this quartet plus 10-piece string orchestra on 9/10/2001, then had to postpone recording, the record finally released in 2013 on Milestone. The basic formula for strings + sax is to lay down a lush backdrop, then let the saxophone soar majestically -- something the alto's tone is superbly suited for. In that respect, this one is utterly conventional, just exceptionally gorgeous. A- [cd]

Pauline Anna Strom: Trans-Millenia Music (1982-88 [2017], RVNG Intl.): Compilation from six 1982-88 albums Strom released as Trans-Millenia Consort. Synth pieces, not much beat but color and flow aplenty. B+(***)

Old music:

50 Cent: The Massacre (2005, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): Rapper Curtis Jackson, got rich with his debut (12 million sales worldwide), so decided to double down on the dying, and got richer still. Eminem produced six songs, Dr. Dre two more, with Needlz, Scott Storch, and Hi-Tek picking up the slack. So it's decent enough, sure, but who cares? B+(**)

The Credibility Gap: A Great Gift Idea (1974 [1974], Reprise): Comedy group, organized by a Los Angeles radio station in 1968, originally led by Lew Irwin, dropped from KRLA in 1970, but kept going through 1979, recruiting Harry Shearer, and recording four more albums. Skits, much easier to follow than Firesign Theatre, helped by one song ("You Can't Judge a Book by Its Hair"), impressions of Johnny Carson and Don Rickles. Some of the jokes are rather dated, but some at least are recognizably funny. B+(*)

Devo: Greatest Hits (1977-84 [1990], Warner Bros.): New wave band from Akron, cartoonish, robotic electropop. I loved their first album (three songs here, but the first taste only shows up mid-way through this, with "Jocko Homo" saved for last), after which I fairly quickly lost interest. B+(***)

Devo: Greatest Misses (1976-82 [1990], Warner Bros.): Redundancies include the original demo of "Jocko Homo" and a "Booji Boy" remix of "Satisfaction." Otherwise, there's not much difference between their "Hits" and "Misses," probably because the "Hits" don't sound much like hits (marginal exception: "Whip It"). B+(*)

The Dismemberment Plan: The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified (1997, DeSoto): DC-based post-punk band, although on this second album they don't sound punk at all -- more like a slightly harder and cruder Pavement. I've never been a fan, so my piqued interest this time is a big surprise to me. It may be I've misjudged them elsewhere (including a compilation that draws from this album), or it may just be a miracle that all the junk they juggle doesn't crash all over them. A-

The Dismemberment Plan: Change (2001, DeSoto): Last of four albums from their initial 1995-2001 period -- they regrouped in 2011 and released one more album in 2013, Uncanney Valley. Smoothed out their delivery, making it less weird, and less exciting. B+(**)

D.O.A.: War on 45 (1982, Alternative Tentacles, EP): Vancouver, BC hardcore punk band, founded 1978, still kicking around, 8-song, 20:32 mini-album after two slightly longer albums. Cover exclaims: "8 Great Tunes!" "8 Songs to March By!" "March Into the 80s." Five originals by "Joey Shithead," plus covers of "Class War," "War," and "Let's Dance" (retooled as "Let's Fuck). Sounds crisp and punchy, with crystal clear lyrics -- not exactly the way I remember 1980s hardcore going. [Haven't heard the 2005 CD reissue, expanded to 18 songs.] A- [yt]

The Doors: Morrison Hotel (1970, Elektra): Fifth album, a back-to-basics effort after the horns and strings of The Soft Parade, and after Jim Morrison was arrested for indecency, among other public embarrassments. Starts promising "Hard Rock Café," ends in "Morrison Hotel." B

The Doors: 13 (1967-70 [1970], Elektra): Slightly premature best-of -- Morrison died the following July, after L.A. Woman appeared in April -- with three cuts from their debut, four from Strange Days, and two each from the other three albums. It's been superseded by other compilations, like The Very Best of the Doors (2001). B+(***)

Marianne Faithfull: Come and Stay With Me: The UK 45s 1964-1969 (1964-69 [2018], Ace): A singer and actress who looked the part of mod London in the 1960s, as famous for her relationship with Mick Jagger as for any of her own accomplishments, which included 4 UK albums (two top-20) and 4 top-10 singles in the UK. Her first hit was a cover of "As Tears Go By," and her last B-side was "Sister Morphine," between which you get unremarkable covers of songs that never needed them, like "Blowin' in the Wind," "House of the Rising Sun," and "Yesterday." Her career ended after breaking up with Jagger in 1970, but she returned with a little-noticed album in 1976, then reinvented herself in 1979 with Broken English, with a new voice that would never again be tethered to anyone else. B

Marianne Faithfull: Marianne Faithfull's Greatest Hits (1964-69 [1987], Abkco): Cover recycled from her 11-track 1969 Greatest Hits, to which this CD reissue drops one song ("Scarborough Fair") and adds six (including "Sister Morphine"). Shorter should concentrate the high points, but only if you actually have some. B

Marianne Faithfull: Faithfull: A Collection of Her Best Recordings (1964-94 [1994], Island): Leads off with five songs from her first Island album, Broken English, then fills out with one song each from four later albums, a previously unreleased Patti Smith cover ("Ghost Dance"), and her one keeper from the 1960s. A-

Marianne Faithfull: Vagabond Ways (1999, IT/Virgin): A new batch of old songs -- "Tower of Song" sounds like it was made for her -- into which she's slipped four originals, coarse and hardened, as usual. B+(**)

Marianne Faithfull: Before the Poison (2005, Anti-): Five tracks written and produced by PJ Harvey, three collaborations with Nick Cave (who produced with Hal Willner), one piece each written by Damon Albarn and Jon Brion. I'm not especially impressed by any of these alignments, although she continues to add gravitas. B

Freddy Fender: Canciones De Mi Barrio [The Roots of Tejano Rock] (1959-64 [1993], Arhoolie): Born 1937 in San Benito, Texas, real name Baldemar Huerta, bounced out of the Marines and all around, changed his name in 1958 and started recording (also a 1961 album attributed to Eddie Con Los Shades). This collects 24 songs, almost all in Spanish, from Ideal Records, and as far as I can tell doesn't mention Huey P. Meaux, who Fender also recorded for (but when?). B+(**)

Freddy Fender: The Best of Freddy Fender (1974-77 [1977], Dot): I count 8 albums during his 4-year stint on Dot, but for practical purposes you can skip the live one, the Xmas, and Canta En Español. Although that's only one sliver of his career, it's the only one that registered on the charts, and he was so hit-and-miss you might as well look for a compilation. This was the first, and remains the best -- although you get 10 (of 12) of these songs on the CD-available The Millennium Collection (the extras here are marginally preferable to the extras there, particularly "The Wild Side of Life"). [PS: Wikipedia erroneously footnotes my review of the Millennium Collection CD under this album. All the more reason to grade this one.] A-

Freddy Fender: Swamp Gold (1978, ABC): Newly recorded, produced by Huey P. Meaux, who had been reissuing his earlier work with Fender on his Crazy Cajun label. Fifteen songs, sweet spot toward the middle when he tackles ones you know (e.g, "It's Raining," "These Arms of Mine"). B+(**)

Ferron: Testimony (1981, Philo): Canadian folk singer-songwriter Deborah Foisy, third album, publicly lesbian at a time that got her segregated into a "women's music" section in the few record stores that carried her (alongside Holly Near; as I recall, there also was an even thinner "men's music" section). First half didn't blow me away, but second won me over anyway. A-

The Firesign Theatre: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (1969, Columbia): I never bought comedy records, figuring that I'd never want to listen to them more than once (even pretty great ones). But I also never listened to comedy (or drama) on radio -- the "golden age" was before my time -- so I never developed the discipline to hang on every word. On the other hand, I have enjoyed my share of stand-up and sketch comedy on TV and films, so I should be able to stream comedy albums and attach fair and reasonable grades, but until I've surveyed a few dozen one can't be sure. With two Christgau-certified A+ albums, this quartet seemed like a good place to start (but I did buy their Shoes for Industry! 2-CD best-of, graded A, and shelved it after one play, grade B). Album cover parodies a Communist parade review, with a poster hailing Marx and Lennon (Groucho and John), but the cover's relevance to the content isn't evident. Fractured, hard to follow, bits of wit you can recognize but don't have to enjoy. Second side is a 1941 radio play, "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger," where Roosevelt surrenders after Pearl Harbor. B-

The Firesign Theatre: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970, Columbia): Divided between "This Side" and "That Side." Most of the fun comes from slight-of-word gags, and I suppose they deserve some credit for lampooning advertising so savagely, but the cut-up is way too extreme for my brain to piece it back together into something sensible. B-

The Firesign Theatre: I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus (1971, Columbia): Christgau: "everything you would expect from the Firesign Theatre except funny." I could say the same about the earlier albums. C+

The Firesign Theatre: Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974, Columbia): Skipping forward four albums, you get this epic dive into egg-shaped flying saucers and nudist aliens. Helps a bit to watch the video -- at least there it's clear when they've switched scene, or simply cut to a parody commercial -- also to crank up the sound to it's a bit less garbled. Neither of which make it very funny. B [yt]

The Firesign Theatre: Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death (1998, Rhino): Group split up in 1985 (David Ossman left a couple years earlier), but reunited in 1993 for a 25th anniversary tour. Their optimism over Clinton's 1992 election ("when we kicked the fascists out of office it was time for the Firesign Theatre to come back") doesn't seem to have lasted much longer for them, as this album kicks off their We're Doomed trilogy. Presents a broadcast for Dec. 31, 1999, obsessed with the Y2K bug, or more ominously the megacorp that owns "the idea of America." B

The Firesign Theatre: Boom Dot Bust (1999, Rhino): In a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, the Y2K bug caused very few computers any inconvenience, but crashed the dot-com bubble and the high-tech industry that fed it. But this middle installment in their We're Doomed trilogy remains mired in fiction, its strangeness reeking of frenetic desperation. They're looking old on the cover. I'm feeling older listening to them. B-

The Firesign Theatre: The Bride of Firesign (2001, Rhino): Supposedly the climax of their We're Doomed trilogy, but the Y2K/millennium having passed, they return to floundering. The opening dick joke bit is amusing enough (still early enough the VP fits right in). Then they revive Nick Danger and Rocky Rococo. Typical interchange: "Don't spend all day on your cell phone." "You can have a phone in your cell?" Or: "Maybe take out her heart?" "That's a little Aztec, Danny." Or: "These insightful interior monologues really need writers." B-

The Go-Betweens: Metal and Shells (1983-84 [1985], PVC): Australian band, two major singer-songwriters (Robert Forster and Grant McLennan), founded 1978 but didn't get a US release until this best-of compiled from two albums, Before Hollywood and Spring Hill Fair, which didn't get US releases until 1990 and 2002 (the latter as a 2-CD I still haven't heard). I bought and lost this LP (and the next few -- 1987's Tallulah was the one I finally fell for), but know most of these songs from their superb 1978-1990 compilation. A-


Grade (or other) changes:

New Millennium Doo Wop Party (1954-61 [2000], Rhino): Twenty-two songs, a little more eclectic/unconventional than Rhino's earlier, much revered The Best of Doo Wop Uptempo, but this is the CD I'm most likely to grab on my way to the car (perhaps because I initially undervalued it, so omitted it from the less convenient "A shelves" or the travel cases -- which are overkill for a mere errand). So I've wound up playing it hundreds of times, loving every moment. [was: A-] A+


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Eunhye Jeong: Nolda (ESP-Disk)

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Friday, September 24, 2021


Speaking of Which

I wasn't planning on posting anything this week, but I tweeted after reading the Dougherty article below, and felt like I should expand on that a bit more.

I don't want to get into the weeds over Biden's approval poll dip, or into its associated (all too predictable) politics, but I was rather taken aback by a piece of email I got from something calling itself National Democratic Training Committee. Omitting the poll solicitation and the garish background colors, it looked rather like this:

BAD NEWS: REPUBLICANS CALL FOR PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN TO BE IMPEACHED

President Biden is UNDER ATTACK. Unless we can prove good Democrats are still standing by him, this could spell the END of Joe Biden's presidency.


Republicans are OVER-THE-MOON.

Their baseless calls for Biden's impeachment are working, and now his presidency is on the verge of COLLAPSE.


This is a C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E!!!


But without MASSIVE support from Democrats, Biden's presidency will be doomed.

Biden is working day and night to END the pandemic and SAVE our voting rights . . . while Republicans try to sabotage his presidency???

We must act quickly! Respond before 11:59 PM to give Joe Biden a fighting chance >>

I realize all they're really doing is phishing for donations for their organization (National Democratic Training Committee), which may (or may not) be worthy, but this level of hysteria is totally uncalled for, and counterproductive. Impeachment is a press release, not a practical threat. (Marjorie Taylor Greene filed impeachment articles the day after Biden was inaugurated. Four more Republicans filed articles last week, trying to make political hay out of Afghanistan. Two Texas Republicans added their articles over border policy. Also: Greene's impeachment rant goes off the rails.)

Impeachment cannot possibly proceed, let alone succeed, without significant Democratic defections. Even if the House acted, the Senate would fail to convict, the process would be viewed as purely political, and consequences would be few and far between. Assuming Biden's health holds up, his presidency is secure through 2024, and the only real threat is if Democrats lose Congress in 2022 (which is something that happened to the last two Democratic presidents). But that's still more than a year away, and unless you're running for office then, there's very little you can do about it now, so please chill, and save your energy for when it's needed. Above all, don't panic and back down. Republicans are unhinged, and their devotion to fringe insanity will ultimately undermine them. Don't help them by going insane yourself.


On my Facebook feed, a right-wing relative forwarded this meme:

In the 60s, the KGB did some fascinating psychological experiments.

They learned that if you bombard human subjects with fear messages nonstop, in two months or less most of the subjects are completely brainwashed to believe the false message.

To the point that no amount of clear information they are shown, to the contrary, can change their mind.

My first thought was to respond, "so you're working for the KGB now?" Her personal posts are harmless enough, but in spurts as much as 10-20 times a day she forwards right-wing troll memes, many designed to inculcate fear, others aimed to flatter totems of the right, and all massively mendacious and mean. I've replied to a few, like the one that tried to illustrate the evils of socialism by offering Facebook as an example (as I pointed out, "I think the word you're looking for is capitalism"). But I may have learned something from this one: namely, that the reason Russia's trolls favor the Republicans has less to do with currying favor with their fellow oligarchs than because they've both embraced the same model of psychological manipulation.

Further down, my relative forwarded another meme, which shows a donkey in a chemical protection suit, carrying a tank marked "Center for Democrat Control" and spraying "FEAR" all over. I didn't recognize the donkey at first, so my initial reading was that "FEAR" was being used to control Democrats. No Democrat would label it that; not that they would use "Center for Democratic Control" either, as democracies are opposed to control, but using "Democrat" as an adjective breaks the association of the Party with democracy -- something at least until recently that Republicans had to give lip service to. The donkey spoils the malaproprism, but it underscores how Republicans' worst fears are that Democrats will act just like they do.

It seems like Republicans are flipping on a lot of rhetoric these days, whatever it takes to make their side sound plausible. The big recent one is how vaccine refusal rests simply on "free choice" -- something they deny in their efforts to criminalize abortion.

Another meme: "Right now, TODAY . . . We have the very government our Founding Fathers warned us about." Only thing I can think of there -- at least it's one that was widely discussed at the time -- is the peril of having a standing army.


Carter Dougherty: Senate Democrats Have a Big New Corporate Tax Idea: Democrats want to pass a fairly major public works bill -- top line is advertised as $3.5 trillion over 10 years, which works out to a measly $350 billion/year, well less than half of what the Defense Department costs, but for things that are actually useful and valuable. (For more context, see: Peter Coy: It's Not Really a '$3.5 Trillion' Bill; also: Eric Levitz: $3.5 Trillion Is Not a Lot of Money; and Michael Tomasky: How the Media's Framing of the Budget Debate Favor the Right.) But to get it through the Senate reconciliation process (i.e., around the filibuster), they have to offset that cost with revenue increases. Reversing Trump's corporate income tax giveaway is an obvious candidate, but swing voter Joe Manchin has been balking at anything over 25% (up from 21%, or down from 35%, depending on your perspective). So Bernie Sanders has proposed a compromise, which "would impose a surcharge on corporate income tax if the company paid its CEO 50 times more than what its median employee earns." Dougherty applauds this as "a wildly popular idea just waiting for them." Sounds like a real dumb idea to me. Sure, CEO compensation is ridiculous, but there are more straightforward ways to deal with it: income tax, and you can also limit the deductibility of the corporate expense (since executive bonuses are basically profit-sharing, why not tax them twice, first as profits, then as income?). To raise any significant revenues, the surtax would have to be steep, which puts a lot of emphasis on the pivot point: why 50 times? Doesn't that suggest that CEO pay 40-49 times is OK? You don't have to go back very far to find years when that ratio was not just exceptional but unheard of. This also raises questions about what is CEO compensation (base salary, obviously, but CEOs also routinely get "performance" bonus, stock options, and all sorts of non-salary perks, treated variously). And why just CEOs? Aren't their also issues with COOs, CFOs, CTOs, board members, and others? The whole proposal is simply perverse.

All the more so because there is a simple alternative, one so obvious I'm shocked no one seems to be discussing it: make corporate income tax progressive. It should be easy to pick out brackets and a range of tax rates -- say, from 21% (or less) to 35% (or more). Given the concentration of profits in large companies, one could even lower the tax rate for a majority of corporations while increasing total revenue. Seems like that would be good political messaging. One might object that a progressive profits tax would discriminate against companies that are simply large and/or successful (have high profit margins). That sounds to me like a feature. High profit margins are almost always due to monopoly effects. It's very difficult to break up or even regulate monopolies, especially in marginal cases. Taxing them will make them more tolerable. And if the prospect of higher taxes leads some corporations to spin off parts to tax them separately, that too sounds like a benefit.

There are cases where flat taxes are appropriate, but income/profit taxes aren't one. It's OK to have flat taxes on consumption (sales and excise taxes), because that saves having to identify and qualify the spenders. But income/profit taxes are always identified, and the level is an intrinsic part of what's being taxed. Elsewhere I've proposed a scheme where unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains, gifts, inheritance, prizes) should be taxed at a rate which is progressive over the lifetime sum (see: here and here and here and here). Admittedly, it's fun to tinker with tax schemes, but the real questions are harder, as they turn on what income and what can be deducted. The big problem with corporate income/profit taxes is that many corporations are able to avoid/evade them -- in which case the marginal rate may be moot. On the other hand, it's just those questions that are least transparent and most subject to interest group lobbying. It's very hard to develop a fair tax system when every political office is up for auction, as is the case now.

[PS: A related story: House Bill Would Blow Up the Massive IRAs of the Superwealthy: The rationale behind IRAs is to allow people to postpone paying tax on retirement savings until they need them, at which point their incomes will probably come down, so they'll save a bit when they have to pay tax on their withdrawals. However, Peter Thiel (to take just one example) has used this loophole to shelter $5 billion. The proposal is to limit tax-sheltered savings to $20 million, which is still pretty generous.]

Anne Kim: A Case for a Smaller Reconciliation Bill: Of all the sources I read regularly, Washington Monthly has been consistently defending the more conservative Democrats in their efforts to go slow and small (if they have to go at all). I don't particularly agree with them, but I'm not especially bothered as well. I'd like to pocket a few real (even if ultimately inadequate) gains as soon as possible, like the "bipartisan" infrastructure bill and the whittled-down Manchin-approved fragment of the $3.5 trillion reconstruction package. Pass those and you can go into 2022 with a message that you've already produced important, tangible gains -- things that were never even attempted when Trump was president -- and all you need to do more is get more Democrats elected. As this piece advises: "Take a longer view, with a strategy and tactics geared toward building a sustainable governing majority." On the other hand, while I can see the centrists' impulse to take things gradually, they need to decide which side they're on, and act accordingly. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

PS: Seth Myers recently pointed out that Democrats in Congress are divided into three groups: progressives, moderates, and "Republicans" -- cue picture of Manchin (Follow the Money Into Joe Manchin's Pockets) and Sinema (Kyrsten Sinema Is Corporate Lobbies' Million-Dollar Woman). By the way, Steve M. has a theory about conservative/corrupt Democrats like Manchin and Sinema: No, Mr. Bond, They Expect the Democratic Party to Die:

I don't think she cares. She's being sweet-talked by corporate interests who've undoubtedly made it clear that whatever happens to her in the future, she'll never go hungry. She'll be taken care of if she carries out a hit on Biden and the rest of the Democrats. So she knows she has nothing to fear. She'll be fine.

This country is in deep trouble because even people who should know better can't grasp how dangerous the Republican Party is -- and it's also in deep trouble because of a failure to understand the stranglehold corporate America has on our politics. We need to see Republicans and the rich as the enemies of ordinary Americans. And we need to recognize that the damage the rich do isn't always done by means of the GOP.

By the way, I noticed that the former right-wing of the Democratic Senate, Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp, have been in the news recently, appearing as paid corporate lobbyists against the Biden bill, so the notion that Manchin and Sinema will, in cue course, dutifully lose their seats and wind up making more money lobbying, isn't at all far-fetched.

For more on this, see Krugman, below.

Ezra Klein: The Economic Mistake the Left Is Finally Confronting: Interesting article, although the title doesn't do it any favors. The "Left" is Biden's economic team, and the "Economic Mistake" is, well, what? Arthur Laffer-style "supply side" gimmickry? Opposition to same? Does it matter? The point is that they're looking not only at increasing demand (by government spending, plus putting more money into the hands of workers and the poor) but also at supply-side bottlenecks, hoping to limit friction that could produce inflation. Of course, one big item there (infrastructure) works both ways, which is why investments in infrastructure and education have such big returns. Klein cites two papers, one on the problem: Cost Disease Socialism (an even worse title) from the "center-right" Niskanen Center; and one on the solution: An Antidote for Inflationary Pressure by Biden advisers Jared Bernstein and Ernie Tedeschi. I'd add a few more points. Antitrust enforcement would help eliminate supply bottlenecks, by encouraging more companies to exist and add capacity. Eliminating patents and limiting other forms of "intellectual property" would prevent many monopolies from forming. And while government can encourage private companies to form and invest by guaranteeing future purchases, it could be more efficient to directly fund new ventures.

Paul Krugman: Are Centrists in the Thrall of Right-Wing Propaganda? Republicans are predictably acting out as nihilists, but:

More surprising, at least to me, has been the self-destructive behavior of Democratic centrists -- a term I prefer to "moderates," because it's hard to see what's moderate about demanding that Biden abandon highly popular policies like taxing corporations and reducing drug prices. At this point it seems all too possible that a handful of recalcitrant Democrats will blow up the whole Biden agenda -- and yes, it's the centrists who are throwing a tantrum, while the party's progressives are acting like adults.

So what's motivating the sabotage squad? Part of the answer, I'd argue, is that they have internalized decades of right-wing economic propaganda, that their gut reaction to any proposal to improve Americans' lives is that it must be unworkable and unaffordable.

Well, right-wing propaganda for sure, which includes the occasional nod to economists like Hayek and Friedman, although these days they rarely bother with rationalizations for their political preferences when shouting them louder will do. Keynes, who like Krugman held his occupation in exceptionally high regard, famously derided political opponents as "slaves of some defunct economist," but the less-quoted continuation is more true today: "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." Or for every stupid idea in circulation today, you can find some past "thinker" who articulated it first. (Sure, this is just a variation on one of my old aperçus: that every bad idea in Western thought can be traced back to some Greek.)

It's mind-boggling to recall this now, but back in the 1990s Reagan Republicans were widely regarded not just as crafty politicians but as serious thinkers. Not that the "Laffer curve" survived much more than the few months when it was useful for selling the Reagan tax cuts, but the idea was propagated so widely that some Democrats started buying into it, which is how we got Clinton and Obama -- Democrats who raked in huge donations on the promise that they could do more for the wealthy than even the Republicans could. That idea lost its lustre during the Obama years, and especially with Hillary Clinton's loss to Trump. But it's recent enough that it's no surprise that there are still Democrats trying to make the "Reagan Era" Clinton-Obama model working -- the one they've been fairly successful at for their own political careers. Besides, nothing has been done to reform the system that allows the rich to dominate elections and smother elected officials with lobby interests.

Indeed, the real surprise is that Biden, who followed the Reagan Era's zeitgeist as uncritically as anyone, and who was the overwhelming choice of the Clinton-Obama legacy minders in 2020 (at least once every other right-center candidate had been eliminated), should have broken the mold as definitively as he has. I attribute that to two things: one is that politics has ceased to be simply a vehicle for office-seekers to advance their careers on -- voters have started to demand services and representation, which means that Democrats have to consider more than their donors; and the other is that most serious thinking about practical solutions to increasingly dire real problems is concentrated on the left these days.

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Monday, September 20, 2021


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36271 [36230] rated (+41), 220 [231] unrated (-11).

I have nothing much to say about music (or anything else) this week. Lots of things been getting me down, although I had a respite over the weekend when niece Rachel came for a visit. I managed to come up with one decent Chinese, then totally blew my attempt at maqluba (rice never cooked; I've made it successfully before, but can't find the picture).

Only things I did manage to write during the week were a few Facebook rants, which I collected in the notebook.


New records reviewed this week:

Eivind Aarset 4tet: Phantasmagoria, or a Different Kind of Journey (2021, Jazzland): Norwegian guitarist, stradles jazz and electronica, ninth album since 1998, long association with Nils Petter Molvaer. Quartet with bass and two drummers, plus guests like Jan Bang (samples) and Arve Henriksen (trumpet). B+(***) [cd] [09-24]

Adult Mom: Driver (2020 [2021], Epitaph): Originally a Stevie Knipe solo project, since added a guitarist and a drummer, third album. B+(**)

Lauren Alaina: Sitting Pretty on Top of the World (2021, Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Georgia, spent much of her childhood pursuing talent contests, leading up to a runner-up placing on American Idol and her first album in 2011. This is her third, more than a bit overproduced and overvoiced (especially her male duettists: the Lukas Graham duet is a spoiler), and the songs aren't so interesting, either. B-

Bomba Estéreo: Deja (2021, Sony Music Latin): Colombian band, sixth album since 2006. B+(**)

The Bug: Fire (2021, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer Kevin Martin, has a number of aliases but most often appears as The Bug (8 albums since 1997), drawing on dancehall, dubstep, and grime. He's rarely been denser or more oblique. B+(*)

Marc Cary: Life Lessons (2020 [2021], Sessionheads United): Pianist, grew up in DC, worked early on with Betty Carter and Abby Lincoln, debut album 1995, plays a fair amount of electric keyboard as well as acoustic piano in this trio. B+(***) [cd]

Charley Crockett: Music City USA (2021, Son of Davy): From Texas, but he's been around -- New Orleans, New York, Paris, Spain, Morocco, Northern California (got busted "working the harvest in clandestine marijuana field in the northwest"). Ninth album since 2015, including ventures into blues and honky tonk. Cultivates an old-fashioned style, but doesn't have an outstanding sound, so songs make or break him, and several here are near-classic. B+(***)

Sasha Dobson: Girl Talk (2021, self-released): Napster filed this under country, but she's a jazz singer -- the scat is a hint, but Peter Bernstein's featured guitar cinches the deal -- one I didn't immediately recognize because I hadn't heard anything by her since her 2004 debut. (Among the items I missed was a trio with Norah Jones and Catherine Popper called Puss n Boots.) The band also includes Ian Hendrickson-Smith (alto sax), Steven Bernstein (trumpet), bass, drums, vibes and percussion. B+(**)

Chet Doxas: You Can't Take It With You (2019 [2021], Whirlwind): Canadian tenor saxophonist, from Montreal, has played with Dave Douglas. Original pieces reflecting on jazz tradition, with spare backup by Ethan Iverson (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). B+(**) [cd] [09-24]

Gerry Eastman Trio: Trust Me (2021, self-released): Guitarist, debut 1986, just a few albums. Organ trio dominated by Greg Lewis, with Turu Alexander on drums. B+(*) [cd] [10-01]

Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound Orchestra: The Other Shore (2020 [2021], Outnote): Trumpet player, also credited with santur and voice, born in Chicago, parents Iraqi (father a physicist), incorporates Middle Eastern tonalities and rhythms, albums since 2006. Got some notice for his 2007 album Two Rivers and has used Two Rivers Ensemble as his group name since then, scaled up here (17 pieces). B+(***) [cd]

Family Plan: Family Plan (2020 [2021],Endectomorph Music): Piano trio: Andrew Boudreau, Simón Wilson, and Vicente Hansen. Postbop, strong and dramatic. One piece adds tenor saxophonist Kevin Sun, who also produced. B+(***) [cd] [09-24]

Alon Farber: Hagiga: Reflecting on Freedom (2020 [2021], Origin): Israeli saxophonist (alto/soprano), with a second sax, piano, bass, and drums, extra percussion on 5 tracks, vocals on 3, steering the vibe toward Brazil. Don't care for the extras, although the saxophonist is fine without them. B [cd]

The Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust (2021, Yep Roc): Country rock band, albums nearly every year since 2005, Ian and James Felice remain from the original trio. B+(**)

Gordon Grdina/Jim Black: Martian Kitties (2021, Astral Spirits): Guitar/oud and drums/electronics, two exceptional talents. B+(**) [dl]

Lyle Mays: Eberhard (2020 [2021], self-released, EP): Keyboard player, died last year at 66, member of Pat Metheny Group from 1978-2005. Single track, 13:03. B [cd]

Aakash Mittal: Nocturne (2018 [2021], self-released): Alto saxophonist, born in Texas, debut album, trio with Miles Okazaki (guitar) and Rajna Swaminathan (mrudangam & kanjira). B+(***) [cd]

Kacey Musgraves: Star-Crossed (2021, MCA Nashville): Singer-songwriter, started out in country, fourth album, even more pop-flavored than her platinum crossover (2018's Golden Hour), but I like it more -- has a nice, comfy feel. Ends with one in Spanish. B+(**)

Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Within Us: Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge (2021, MAMA/Summit): Composer, arranger, big band leader, teaches at University of South Florida, debut 1995, recorded this seventh album in May, 2021. Six originals plus pieces by Chick Corea and Miles Davis. Usual horn sections, but adds some unusual touches: Warren Wolf (vibes/marimba) is guest soloist, Sara Caswell (violin) and Corey Christiansen (dobro/nylon-string guitar) are prominent, and Owen himself plays accordion and hammered dulcimer. B+(*)

Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone (2021, Big Machine): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, moved to Nashville at 19 to seek her fortune, and got a (not very good) album released at 27. At 31, this is her third album, a 15-song expansion on a 7-song February EP. Title song reflects back: "29 is the year that I got married and divorced/ . . . the year I was going to live it up, now I'm never gonna let it down." All songs have co-writers, with Brandy Clark contributing to the first one that stands out ("Dear Miss Loretta"), but after two plays they're all fitting in. A-

The Scenic Route Trio: Flight of Life (2021, self-released): Bay Area piano trio, led by bassist Ollie Dudek, with Genius Wesley on drums and Javier Santiago on piano. Seems to be Brice's first album, but Santiago hails from Minneapolis, splits his time in the Bay Area, and has several previous albums. B+(*)

Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States (2021, Joyful Noise): Australian group, third album. Lead singer Gareth Liddiard, plus three women in the band. Don't know what you'd call it, but has some psych and some politics but isn't really folk-punk (or vice versa). Until they do something that makes me care (which doesn't seem inconceivable): B+(*)

Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell: Streams (2018 [2021], Not Two): Young (b. 1991) saxophone/clarinet player, debut album with his Ocelot trio earlier this year, but this duo with the piano great was recorded earlier. His compositions. B+(***) [cd] [10-15]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Sheila Jordan: Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (1960 [2021], Capri): Original name Dawson, born 1928 in Detroit, grew up in Pennsylvania but returned to Detroit in 1940. Hung around jazz clubs ("chasing Bird"), married pianist Duke Jordan (1952-62), made an impression as a singer in 1962 with a striking rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" for George Russell, then her debut album, Portrait of Sheila, but didn't record again until 1974, when she sang on Roswell Rudd's utterly marvelous Flexible Flyer. So this 1960 session (34:19) is a find, although it doesn't deliver as much as one might hope. Backed by literally forgotten musicians on piano, bass, and drums, a mixed bag of eleven standards, with some hints at the phrasing that made her legendary (e.g., "They Can't Take That Away From Me"), but not quite there yet. B+(***) [cd] [09-27]

What Goes On: The Songs of Lou Reed (1967-2019 [2021], Ace): I know all of these songs intimately, but I've rarely heard anyone but Reed play them. The selection ranges widely, yet familiarity binds them together, one pleasant surprise after another. Makes me finally recognize that Reed's songs aren't just for him. They're for all of us. A- [dl]

Old music:

Eivind Aarset: Électronique Noire (1998, Jazzland): Norwegian guitarist, first album, although he had already carved out a niche as the first-call guitarist for jazztronica experiments -- he appeared on Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz and Nils Petter Molvaer's Khmer in 1997, and they both return the favor here. Lineups vary, occasionally dabbling in dance or industrial, turning up the heat or chilling out. A-

Eivind Aarset's Électronique Noire: Light Extracts (2001, Jazzland): Like the previous album, the guest spots are mix and match. A little softer in some spots, harder in others. B+(***)

Eivind Aarset: Connected (2004, Jazzland): Wires on the cover, guitar and electronics inside, with some bass grooves. Tones it down a bit, gets atmospheric, then tones it down a bit more. B+(**)

Eivind Aarset: Sonic Codex (2007, Jazzland): Diversifying, not least by rocking harder, impressive here and there, but I'm still partial to the early jazztronica drums. B+(**)

Eivind Aarset & the Sonic Codex Orchestra: Live Extracts (2010, Jazzland): Undated tracks, album the band name is based on released in 2007, so probably from a tour following the album. Probably wrong to describe this as his arena rock move, but it's definitely bigger and louder. B+(**)

Autosalvage: Autosalvage (1968, RCA Victor): One-shot rock band, founded in New York with a couple of Boston folkies and the brother of the Lovin Spoonful's drummer. They cut one album, scored no hits, disbanded and were quickly forgotten -- except by Ed Ward, who designated this a "lost masterpiece." The time shifts and guitar flash mark it as psychedelic, although I'm more impressed when they feel their roots. B+(***)

Gene Chandler: The Duke of Earl (1962, Vee-Jay): Soul singer from Chicago, more than a one-hit wonder -- he released eight albums through 1971, and posted 5 top-40 pop singles, and 8 top-10 r&b singles, one as late as 1978 -- but his number one in 1962 defined and haunted his career. Nothing else comes close here, but he does credible versions of other people's hits ("Stand by Me," "Turn on Your Love Light"). B+(**)

Gene Chandler: The Girl Don't Care (1967, Brunswick): The first of three 1967-69 albums for Brunswick. Shows some Motown influence. Title cut was a minor r&b hit (16). B+(*)

The Chi-Lites: (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People (1971, Brunswick): R&B vocal group from Chicago, started in high school in 1959, first as The Hi-lites, then as Marshall [Thompson] & the Chi-Lites, demoting Thompson when Eugene Record took over. Third album, first hit (12 pop, 3 r&b), the title song (an anthem of the era) rising to 26 and 4, "Have You Seen Her" to 3 and 1. A- [yt]

Carly Pearce: Carly Pearce (2018-19 [2020], Big Machine): Second album, played this after the new one, so I'll note the big changes here: she only co-wrote 4 songs here, vs. all 15 on the new one, and while she has 2 duets on both albums, they're with guys here (Lee Brice, Michael Ray), vs. Patty Loveless and Ashley McBryde there. I saw something recently about how "artists have to suffer for their art." While she was 29 when this appeared, her pivotal year hadn't sunk in yet. Or maybe she was in denial: why else could one pick out a long as clichéd as "Love Has No Heart." B

Carly Pearce: 29 (2020, Big Machine, EP): Seven song EP, 22:14, released in February, superceded by her 15-song September album, 29: Written in Stone, but after two slabs of bland Nashville pap, maybe she felt the need to market-test this turn to real person songs. Co-produced by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Jimmy Robbins, who helped with the songs without taking them over. B+(***)

Puss N Boots: No Fools, No Fun (2013-14 [2014], Blue Note): Alt-country vocal trio on a jazz label: Norah Jones (guitar/fiddle), Sasha Dobson (guitar/bass/drums), Catherine Popper (bass/guitar). Each contributes a song (or two for Popper), and they cover Johnny Cash, George Jones, Neil Young, The Band, Wilco, and others. B+(*)

Puss N Boots: Sister (2020, Blue Note): A second trio album, with more original material: 3 group songs, 2 each by Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson (plus one by Dobson and Don Was), the 3 covers less country (Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, "Same Old Bullshit"). B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Air Craft: Divergent Path (Craftedair/Blujazz) [07-15]
  • Mike Cohen: Winter Sun (Blujazz)
  • Graham Dechter: Major Influence (Capri) [09-17]
  • Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Petite Fleur (Storyville) [09-24]

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