Good to My Earhole, January 22-29: Serenades to a Cuckoo

Highlights of my week’s listening, scored on an ethereal 10-point scale. By the way, besides sharing good stuff I have actually been listening to, I am trying innocently and with benevolent intent to put some possibly soon-to-be-forgotten goodies/things you’d never otherwise try in your eyeline:

James Carter/CARIBBEAN RHAPSODY – 9.0 – Carter weaves jubilantly in and around, over and under orchestrations by Puerto Rican American composer Roberto Sierra. I was digging it the most back in ’11 when it came out, then I read a review dissing it. Afraid there was something I didn’t understand about orchestration, I shelved it. Stupid reviewers. Stupid me. When you hear and feel jubilant weaving happening, trust yourself. And check JC out live if you never have.

HAUNTED MELODIES: SONGS OF RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK (“All Three-Sided Dreams in Audio Color!”) (1998) – 9.0 – Some serious fans gather to p(l)ay tribute to the Rah–among the last names, Byard, Lovano, Spaulding, and Harrison should ring bells for jazz buffs. The tunes, played straighter and with more consistent levity than Kirk would ever be accused of, make a great case for the man’s composing skills: so many of the selections sound completely repertoire-ready. A very deep, loving bow to one who left too soon, and who would have been a wonderful octogenarian jazzman. I think there’s somethin’ in my eye….

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys/LA TOUSSAINT – 8.8 – Riley caught my eye when Quintron covered the Playboys’ relentless “Chatterbox”; he caught my ear after I tracked down the original to Riley’s movin’ and moving GRAND ISLE (8.7, case you’re wondering); he convinced me with this All Saints Day-inspired set–when a Cajun musician is honoring dead relatives, you best pay attention, or as Clifton Chenier would say, “Ay toi!” Speaking of Chenier, he’s covered twice here, along with legendary Cajun fiddler Canray Fontenot, which points to the sweet spot between zydeco and Cajun music Riley aims for and so often hits. Y’know–I think the young folks have updated their music better than the newer generation of country artists have theirs. By the way, Riley’s excitingly aggressive on accordian, and sings his heart out.

Steve Turre/THE SPIRITS UP ABOVE (2004) – 8.5 – What? ANOTHER‪#‎RahsaanRolandKirk‬ tribute album? Usually one is more than enough for a deceased or disabled artist. Let me pull your coat on this, though: 1) Again, a nice case made for the Kirk composer: just one Turre tune, and only one overlap (“Serenade for a Cuckoo,” and why not?) with HAUNTED MELODIES; 2) Turre was Kirk’s late-period trombone wing man, so it’s a labor of love, and you can hear it; 3) This takes more chances, and is more uneven than its predecessor, but that’s almost compensated for by the tenor sax assault James Carter unleashes on the ever-more-relevant “Volunteered Slavery.” The world awaits Carter’s own RRK tribute album–as inevitable a joy as the sun coming up.

STOMP DOWN ZYDECO – 9 – I’m recommending this multi-artist sampler as a next step deeper into more zydeco for the fan who knows only Clifton Chenier. It features Chenier’s fellow royalty (Buckwheat, Boozoo, and Nathan), classic tunes that will never die (“Hot Tamale Baby,” “Everything on the Hog (is Good),” “Sugar Bee”), and, to my mind and ear, the most underrated man in the genre, Lynn August, exercising his special magic: making old things new (with two trad tunes) and adapting jumpin’ r&b Louisiana style (Louis Jordan’s “Choo-Choo-Ch-Boogie”). Not to mention that it’s anchored John Delafose of the zydeco Delafoses, with sons Tony and Geno in the engine room!

Tom Ze/ESTUDANDO O PAGODE – 9.5 – An maculist opera? That’s two ways I’d normally never go. Ze is an crafty old miracle worker, though, and, from the thrilling, unpredictable, oddly high-register jumpiness that is his music’s ID to a heavy-breathing track that ranks with Chakachas’ “Jungle Fever” to the surprise, wonderfully-timed appearance of a braying donkey, this “study in three parts” is a triumph. No one this old or older currently makes music this alive.

Good to My Earhole, January 17-21: Life on Mars?

David Bowie/HUNKY DORY – 9.5 – Bowie’s passing reminded me that I had never listened to this album beginning to end (oh YEAH! I miss a lot of stuff), and really only knew “Changes” well among the album’s cuts. Took immediate action to fix that–what an amazing first side, and the second side ain’t no slouch. We shall never see his like again. Played and played and played again: “Life On Mars?” Presto! New favorite Bowie album!

Childbirth/WOMEN’S RIGHTS – 8.5 – With titles like “More Fertile Than You,” “You’re Not My Real Dad,” “Since When Are You Gay?,” and “Breast Coast (Hangin’ Out),” the full song lyrics best be even funnier. These wiseacres deliver like a midwife.

JESSE MAE HEMPHILL – 9.0 – Some may complain that the North Mississippi Hill Country blues queen’s singing wasn’t distinctive enough, and that her guitar was pedestrian to the point of droning boredom. On the first point, maybe, but she has soul, as many who have distinctive voices don’t; on the second, um–trance is the trademark of her brand of blues. A criminally underrecognized regional master. Picks to really, really click: “She-Wolf” and “Go Back to Your Used-To-Be.”

Ross Johnson, “The Hot Monkey” (Scott Taylor), and Jim Dickinson/HAMBONE’S MEDITATIONS – 8.0 – Memphis weirdness: my favorite kind. Long-time local lunatic and librarian Johnson assaults a subtly titled “Oh, When the Saints Go Marchin’ in Dixie.” Cult muso Taylor takes a sideways run at Jerry Lee and doesn’t quite knock himself unconscious. “Pope of Memphis,” North Mississippi All-Stars dad, and extraordinarily effective producer Dickinson drifts bebop-Beat style through what sounds like a tour journal account of an extremely interesting patch of boredom (featuring Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ace Cannon, and Mick Jagger’s pimples), and demands to be cut at seven-and-a-half.

Ed Sanders/YIDDISH SPEAKING SOCIALISTS OF THE LOWER EAST SIDE – 9.0 – When I want lefty history, I often turn to The Fugs’ founder, Manson biographer, and fellow Missouri-born lover of life. He’s a generous, funny poet and plays a mean pulse lyre (an electronic tie, basically). This 10″ record documents an American period of “FOB”–fear of Bolsheviks.

Othar Turner’s Rising Star Fife and Drum Band/FIELD RECORDINGS FROM GRAVEL SPRINGS MISSISSIPPI – 10 – Every household needs a fife and drum recording, and this 45 by the first family of the style is as good as it gets. Sounds great played at the wrong speed, too. Available from Shangri-La Projects.

Good to My Earhole, January 10-16: Wailin’ in the New Year with Jazz


In response to the strong showing of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, a three-CD jazz expression of what might be companion sentiments to Kendrick Lamar’s to pimp a butterfly, a bit of controversy has emerged among music wags regarding whether a) Washington’s project deserves the rankings it’s getting, and b) he really ranks as a jazzman. Rather than be a curmudgeonly old fart shooting my mouth off after a listen and a half, I decided to give it two-and-a-half more listens–it takes up an afternoon, folks–sandwiching each disk between past jazz projects that have similarities with the project’s design. Obviously, it’s sprawling; its inclusion of human voices (sometimes in light chorus) and Washington’s touching at the edges of a Pharoah Sanders-like cry signal that it might be about the endless incidents of black men being shot dead in the street; its cast of players (and Washington’s appearance on to pimp a butterfly) (and its ground zero being Central L. A., long an influential cultural nexus of black America and the classroom turf of Horace Tapscott) could indicate that the record is a statement about community. Here are the records I used in my listening experiments, and my thoughts, for what they are worth (scores given from the ear-brain-gut obstacle course out of 10):

The Sonny Criss Orchestra/SONNY’S DREAM – BIRTH OF THE NEW COOL – 10 – Truly, one of the most underrated records of the late ’60s. Great blowing by alto man Criss, driving and inventive arrangements and compositions by Horace Tapscott (see above, and note subtitle), and some interesting nonverbal social commentary, the most striking in solidarity with Native Americans. Should be a part of every jazz aficionado’s collection.

Booker Ervin/BOOKER ‘N’ BRASS – 9.5 – I have been binge-listening to Denison, Texas’ finest tenor saxophonist this week, and, of the six records or so of his I’ve played (a couple multiple times), this has been the shining star. Nuthin’ fancy: Ervin in front of a powerful orchestra, wailing away on pieces like “Harlem Nocturne” and “Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)?” Those selections might not fill you with excitement, but if you want to understand the term “Texas tenor” you’ll want to seek it out. Booker stepped on a rainbow far too soon at 39 years.

Dexter Gordon/MORE THAN YOU KNOW – 9.1 – Like THE EPIC, this album not ineffectively bolsters its star with strings, orchestrations, and occasional vocals. Unlike THE EPIC, the star is consistently inventing, in a wry, knowing, allusive flow of notes that could only emanate from Long Tall Dexter. Also, it’s clear HE’S the show, though I suppose Washington may have intended to be more of a team player on his record.

Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy/CORNELL ’64 – 10 – If you haven’t heard this amazing but oh-so-short-lived band at length, and you like powerful music, sorry–you may not have fully lived. Tenor isn’t the show, though Clifford Jordan plays fine: it’s Dolphy’s scintillating tripartite inventions on alto, bass clarinet, and flute, Jaki Byard’s shape-shifting piano (which kicks things off with the rollicking “ATFW”–that’s short for “Art Tatum Fats Waller”), the leader’s muscular bass, inspiring, funny, and exciting vocal encouragements–the recording is very intimate, but the playing and exhorting are explosive–and the repertoire, a mix of addictive Mingus compositions the band had become deeply invested in, nods to Ellington/Strayhorn and Waller, and a post-St. Pat’s “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” (a March 18th show). To have been there. This band was ALIVE on stage.

David Murray/SOUTH OF THE BORDER – 9 – Just prior to hitting middle-age, I overdosed so much on Murray’s great run of mid-’80s-to-early-’90s recordings that I eventually had to wean myself off of them and regard them as fine wine for special occasions. Complicating that is his habit–slowed a bit recently–of churning out pretty powerful and often conceptually different records at a dizzying pace. This 1995 recording features the tenor giant surrounded by a large orchestra of the last quarter-century’s greatest players, conducted by the late great Butch Morris to put a Latin/Spanish tinge on covers like Sonny Rollins’ “St Thomas,” future standard repertoire (I’m betting) like Wayne Francis’ “Calle Estrella,” and Murray’s on durable, flexible “Flowers for Albert.” One to turn up. LOUD.

Hannibal Peterson/CHILDREN OF THE FIRE – 10 – Like Washington’s record (in part), Peterson’s suite is a response to violence and an attempt at reconciliation–in this case, the children who became collateral damage of the war in Vietnam. One of jazz’s greatest statements about that time, criminally underrecognized, and really, really, really good. Peterson’s on trumpet, Richard Davis is on bass, David Amram’s the arranger, and poetry and voices deepen rather than distract from the message. For more on Vietnam from jazz musicians, look into the work of Billy Bang and Leroy Jenkins.

Pharoah Sanders/TAUHID – 8.8 – Washington’s playing recalls Sanders, though Kamasi doesn’t quite ever enter the all-out scream zone that is/was (?) Pharoah’s domain. On this late ’60s recording, Sanders had something similar to say, and a secret weapon on guitar named Sonny Sharrock to help me get it across. Sharrock’s wellings and wailings at the record’s opening make it all worth it.

Kamasi Washington/THE EPIC – 8.3 – That’s a high score for three discs’ worth of studio recordings of tenor-driven “Compton jazz” with occasional vocals and chorale. Kamasi needs to figure out a more distinct and consistently inventive way to say what’s on his mind (something damned important), but some hard r&b in the middle of disc two and bassist Thundercat’s submarine pulse have gotten me through three full listenings without pain. I will return to it.

So long, Thin White Duke.

I am feeling sadness of an “unexpected” depth at David Bowie‘s passing. Please don’t call me cynical, because if it’s true, it’s a master stroke DIRECT FROM A MASTER’S HAND: to orchestrate a record release–a record, as I understand, that takes some chances–with one’s own passing. Even if that’s an illusion, which it almost surely is (but how did he keep his illness under such careful wraps?), it does justice to everything he was. And maybe that is where my smiling sadness is coming from. What an exit.

My 50 Favorite Music Purchases of 2015 That Were New to Me

8 Bold

Eight Bold Souls

Field Mob

Field Mob


Joe Harriott

As wave after wave of tracks and albums wash over our cyber-eyes and into our cyber-ears, I become more and more committed to exploring the past, to seeking out releases I learn about from my reading and conversations that sometimes end up barely available on Amazon or Discogs or eBay. Honestly, I find this pursuit more exciting—at least at present—than I do hearing new music, which I do continue to enjoy thoroughly. Though it does make me smack myself upside the head quite frequently: how did I miss 8 Bold Souls, Joe Harriott, and Field Mob—easily my favorite “excavations” of the year, and clearly significant innovators in their fields?

So, continuing to strive to counteract the pull of the dustbin of time, here are my 50 favorite purchases of old stuff from 2015 (the links don’t necessarily take you to tracks from the album, because, contrary to popular belief, “Everything is[n’t] on YouTube!”):

  1. 8 Bold Souls: Last Option/Ant Farm/Sideshow/8 Bold Souls
  2. Animals: We’re Gonna Howl Tonight
  3. Bang, Billy: Bang On!
  4. Barbieri, Gato: Chapter One – Latin America
  5. Barker, Thurman: Strike Force
  6. Beausoleil: Hot Chili Mama
  7. Brotzmann, Peter: Tentet–Stone/Water
  8. Chappelear, Leon: Western Swing Chronicles, Vol. 2
  9. Cook, Elizabeth: Gospel Plow
  10. Curtis, King, and Champion Jack Dupree: Blues at Montreux
  11. Dexateens: Lost and Found
  12. Dunn, Bob: Master of the Steel Guitar
  13. Field Mob: From Tha Roota To Tha Toota/613—Ashy but Classy
  14. Garner, Erroll: Afternoon of an Elf
  15. Geller, Herb: Plays the Songs of Arthur Schwartz
  16. Gordon, Roscoe: Let’s Get High–The Man-About-Memphis!
  17. Hamilton, Chico: Man from Two Worlds
  18. Harriott, Joe: The Joe Harriott Story
  19. Horribly Wrong: C’Mon and Bleed with…The Horribly Wrong
  20. Hayes, Clifford, and the Louisville Jug Bands: Volume 1 (1924-1926)
  21. Ice Cube: The Essentials
  22. J-Wonn: I Got This Record
  23. Katey Red: Melpomene Block Party
  24. Keith, Tyler: Tyler Keith is The Apostle
  25. Lane, Ronnie: Ooh La La–An Island Harvest
  26. Lewis, Furry: 4th and Beale
  27. Lonesome Sundown: I’m a Mojo Man–The Excello Singles
  28. McIntyre, Makanda Ken: In the Wind
  29. Memphis Slim: The Come Back
  30. Murray, Sunny (with Sabir Mateen): We Are Not at The Opera
  31. Newborn, Phineas: Here is Phineas/Fabulous Phineas
  32. No Speed Limit: Sweet Virginia
  33. Pickett, Charlie, and The Eggs: Live at The Button
  34. Prince Buster: Jamiaca’s Pride / Rocksteady
  35. Raw Spitt: Raw Spitt
  36. Sani, Mammane et son Orgue: La Musique Electronique du Niger
  37. Schlippenbach, Andrew Von: Monk’s Casino
  38. Selvidge, Sid: Waiting for a Train
  39. Smart, Leroy: The Don Tells It Like It Is
  40. Soulja Slim: The Streets Made Me
  41. Super Chikan: Shoot That Thang/ Blues Come Home to Roost
  42. Townsend, Henry: Mule
  43. Twilley, Dwight: I’m on Fire! 1974-1984
  44. Various Artists: The Last Soul Company—Malaco, A Thirty Year Retrospective
  45. Various Artists: Rare Electric Blues—’60s Era
  46. Various Artists: Wrestling Rocks!
  47. Vinson, Eddie “Cleanhead”: The Original Mr. Cleanhead
  48. Waldron, Mal, and Steve Lacy: Live at Dreher Paris 1981
  49. White, Bukka: Sky Songs
  50. X_X: x_StickyFingers_x

GOOD TO MY EARHOLE: End of ’15, Start of ’16

UPDATED, January 7, 2016–Happy New Year, and keep exploring music!

Living To Listen

These posts originally appeared on Facebook, where my potential audience is much larger than here. My thinking behind the somewhat-weekly series was to help people sift through albums from the past that might easily be forgotten in the tsunami of information about new reviews–as well as occasionally commenting on significant newer items. That concept is dressed up like simple reportage about what I have actually been listening to, by choice as opposed to in an attempt to stay on top of new thangs. Which I am struggling, like you, to do.

8 BOLD SOULS – 8 – I am hooked on Edward Wilkerson, Jr.’s arrangements for this terribly underrated AACM-sprung unit. They’re always interesting and fun and funky. The otherwise-reliable PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ RECORDINGS doesn’t see fit to even mention them. Bullshit. Every one of their records are good-plus to excellent, and Wilkerson needs to be recognized as a luminary of…

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