Highlights of my June listening so far, ranked on a 10-point scale determined by a drunken game of darts:
Van Morrison/IT’S TOO LATE TO START NOW, VOLS. II, II, IV and DVD – 9.0 – Volume 1 was so good I spoiled a great date during my wayward youth just to concentrate on it. This ain’t quite that, but if you want to hear how an orchestra can be fitted effectively to a rock/r&b/folk/you-name-it singer’s attack, dig in. And The Man himself is in great form saving Hard Nose the Highway from its studio wreckage, taking Kermit the Frog to Belfast (thanks, Ken!), and proving he’s no sobersides by doing Louis Prima justice. Plus: many early ’70s classics from his own pen, and a too-short video that burns. Docked 0.5 for too many versions.
Morton Feldman/ROTHKO CHAPEL + WHY PATTERNS? – 9 – A classical-expert friend told me,” Debussy did all this years ago and he only needed six minutes to make his point.” Well, he also hadn’t been to the meditative sanctuary of the title, which is decorated only with Rothko paintings, and not only did Feldman capture Rothko’s simple but resonant approach, but he also got the peace and beauty you can experience therein.
Chance the Rapper/COLORING BOOK – 10 – I often have former students who are now old rap heads asking me rhetorically, “What new can compare to the old?” I also have friends who ask the same question about music in general. After giving this mixtape (wait, is it?) four progressively more enjoyable plays, I’d offer it as an answer to both parties. How’s this for a review: it makes me happy. And it ain’t sappy. Dude’s smart, funny, and versatile, with a bouquet-like imagination. He’s also bemused, but determined. And does he have help, from Jay Electronica to, um, The Biebs.
Elizabeth Cook/EXODUS OF VENUS – 8 – On first contact, I reported that she had one foot in the mountains and one foot in Florida, which, by the latter, I meant (metaphorically) in a dark, dangerous, crazy swamp–her home swamp, hiding the demons of excess, heartbreak, and, well, the habits of Venus. For those who love her spunk, unfortunately, she’s also a bit ankle-deep in swampy production. I implore you to be patient with this unregenerate honky tonk wonder as she looses her inner Stevie Nicks (who of a certain age doesn’t have one of those within?), and you’ll get paid with some perky-catchy from the likes of “Straight Jacket Love,” “Broke Down in London on the M25,” and the pick-to-click “Methadone Blues.” She goes out on a meditation which remembers Tabitha Tuders (could have been me, I can hear her thinking), and reaches out to Tuders’ grieving mama.
Allen Toussaint/AMERICAN TUNES – 8.8 – He didn’t know he’d be shuffling off this mortal coil after playing a European show shortly after he recorded these–but it’s a valediction nonetheless. Professor Longhair‘s all over the record–including hidden within Toussaint’s last original, the opening “Delores’ Boyfriend”–but he’s woven into the quiet, seductive eloquence that’s AT’s trademark. He also pays lovely tribute to his fellow groundbreaking Creole Louis Gottschalk and his fellow bon vivant Fats Waller, makes two stops at Ellington’s station (with controlled aid from Rhiannen Giddens), and applies his own vocals only to Paul Simon’s appropriate title closer. He didn’t assemble it–but he might as well have.
Last Exit/HEADFIRST INTO THE FLAMES – 9 – The record isn’t called that for nuthin’, folks! When drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, (electric) bassist Bill Laswell, saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, and (electric!!!) guitarist Sonny Sharrock collectively improvised, there was no foreground or background. As such, under the live conditions in which they always recorded, you might expect a dialogue of the deaf. Fact is, through the caterwaul, you can hear them listening to each other, and creating structures. This is their best album; I have ’em all. Decider: it features some of Sharrock’s greatest chainsaw jazz creations. Try it if you can stand the wailing heat, or if you need to clear the room.