Highlights of my last several
weeks’ months’ listening (hey—I’ve been rattled), yielding only lazy one- or two-liner commentary and scored on a 10-high scale based absolutely on how much the item has stuck to my ribs:
Betty Harris: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL – 9 – ’64 – ’67 vintage soul: Meters behind her, Toussaint pennin’ and producin’, sexy power in her delivery…what else ya want? Question: how did she not break big?
Deap Vally: FEMIJISM – 9 – Thought I’d had my fill of two-piece bands for the next century, but these ladies’ bad attitudes and arrogant tempos—like cool, slow-walking juvies making you tardy for class—are just different enough to whet my appetite.
Dr. Lonnie Smith: EVOLUTION – 8.7 – Be-turbaned self-appointed Hammond B-3 physician sweeps romantically and slyly through some grooveful originals and survives “My Favorite Things” intact (check out the young master drummer from NOLA, Joe Dyson).
Gravediggaz: NIGGAMORTIS – 9.5 – Pithily retitled from its original release, this wry horror-rap classic is the only place you’re gonna hear Biz Markie enveloped in RZA productions—but at times you will wonder if any of it is really a joke.
Harriet Tubman: ARAMINTA – 10 – If you dig Miles circa ’70-’75 or John McLaughlin’s Devotion, you’ll need this, my favorite album of the year after a trying month: a Black Rock- and free jazz-pedigreed trio (augmented in the seeming flower of his youth by the 76-year-old Wadada Leo Smith, definitely on his magic) that isn’t named that whimsically, as they roll like a leviathan through the fathoms across compositions that suggest turbulence and threat, imagination and resistance, and grace under the pressure of the moment. Can’t keep it to one sentence: guitarist Brandon Ross seems to have absorbed everything from the instrument’s black body electric, from Sharrock to Cosey to Ulmer to Reid, and whipped it into his own unique lightning.
THE INTIMATE KEELY SMITH – 8.0 – The cover art finds Louis Prima’s cool ol’ foil looking desolate (and by virtue of the truly intimate session you can hear hurt in the husk at the end of her phrases), but she stands up to these standards fine without The Lip and often makes them her own—albeit by occasionally distorting her vowels, as in “Time After Time” (or, as she has it—perhaps mischievously?—“Tommmmmm after Tommmmmm”). Note: the blue-eyed label chief gets a nice duet.
Myra Melford: SNOWY EGRET – 9.5 – Melford plays wonderful piano on this, and her compositions are challenging and beautiful, too—but this is one of the greatest opportunities among many to hear the genius drummer Tyshawn Sorey…well, listen and respond: he’s that quick and imaginative.
RUN THE JEWELS 3 – 8.9 – Have always liked this pairing in theory, but drifted when engaging with reality; this time, with a shift in politics seeming to juice their enthusiasm and their (trap?) music, I haven’t fidgeted once in four trips through. You can get it 4 free, too.
Regina Carter: SOUTHERN COMFORT – 9.1 – MacArthur violin Genius, inspired by her father’s roots, heads south out of Detroit to encounter Dock Boggs, Gram Parsons, Dennis McGee, and The Hillbilly Shakespeare, with the influence of field recordings keeping her one step ahead of classiness—in other words, not your typical jazz journey.
SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON’S FAR EAST SUITE – 9.3 – If you know the original, you might look askance at the idea of it as “soul party”—but these Brooklyn Balkanites pull it off, occasionally sounding less Slavic and more like they’re leading a second line.
Tisziji Munoz: WHEN COLTRANE CALLS—SESSION 1: FIERCE COMPASSION – 9.5 – Normally very skeptical of spiritualists, particularly ones as serious (check his website) as Munoz, I approached this exploration of Trane’s “compassionate” compositions with great wariness—only to be immediately gripped by the man’s near-unholy electric guitar torrents, which extends Sonny Sharrock’s promise (broken only by The Reaper) that such heights can be reached via six-string. Docked .5 for Munoz’s choice NOT to play on “Alabama.” I’m in for your other
services sessions, Tisziji.
A Tribe Called Red: WE ARE THE HALLUCI NATION – 8.8 – The other hip-hop Tribe nailed their best record last year, too—I didn’t get to it until after I’d submitted my year-end list, or it would have been high up on it. Red means Indian, as Sherman Alexie would have it, and in fact listening to this while reading Alexie produced in me an almost hallucinogenic state, especially with the voice of long-gone hero John Trudell intoning words of wisdom. Also on hand: Yasiin Bey, Saul Williams, and Tanya Tagaq, who, um, make an impression.
Wadada Leo Smith: AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS – 9.0 – As expansive in its form and varied in its sensual brilliance as its subject—with, of course, a storm rising. This Pulitzer Prize-nominee knows what to do with a commission, and every sentient American should know his name and work: arguably, he is the Prince of Light to Miles Davis’ Prince of Darkness (though it must be admitted light could not exist without dark).