*The great American music scholar, musician, and composer Allen Lowe, in league with his razor-sharp jazz unit East Axis, knocked out one of his best recordings ever, Cool With That, in the fall of 2020. Ill health proceeded to fall upon him, and though he appears to have survived it, more struggles lay ahead. This is the best free jazz disc yet released in ’21–pay Lowe back and check it out.
*Speaking of jazz players, composers, and freedom, William Parker’s career output is a challenge to explore fully, but do not miss his new release, Mayan Space Station, which features the exciting guitarist Ava Mendoza. Parker’s made a wide variety of records, but never one with six-string this cutting.
*Inexplicably–well, I have been under a lot of stress for many months, and thus distracted–I dropped the ball on Bob Dylan’s there-and-gone film Shadow Kingdom: The Early Songs of Bob Dylan (early–the old fucker’s still got a hell of a sense of humor). I missed it, flat out. Also, instead of simply admiring the indefatigable energy of my longtime lamplight, I occasionally suspect him of, um, gambits; I’m not sure what exactly that means, but maybe “hustle” is a better word. My own gambit not to get my knickers in a twist over the production, however, proved stupid at least from the aural evidence. This morning I was able to access the commercially unavailable soundtrack (cheating, I list it below), and it kicks mountains of ass. Getting sidelined from constant touring’s cleared out his larynx, but more importantly, via neat new arrangements, subtly altered lyrics, and a lot of vim, he made several of his “old” tunes completely fresh–in fact, “To Be Alone With You” and “The Wicked Messenger” (at least) top the originals, and from his current mortal vantage point, “Forever Young” is forever young. BluRay, please?
*My wife Nicole and I helped crowdfund the Smithsonian’s rap project back in 2014, via Kickstarter. The nine-disc box finally arrived in stores this week; it was also our donors’ gift. Even though the tracks stop at 2014, it’s excellently selected and sequenced, it sounds incredible, the accompanying book and vintage photographs are stunning, and…well…it was about damn time. Among the minor quibbles: no DOOM.
*Alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s intense new tribute to Ornette Coleman’s work is the THIRD of the year to make the list, and they’re all so good it makes you miss Ornette even more deeply. PLEASE sample Miguel Zenon’s and Gimenez Lopez’s as well.
*I don’t know any one in person or in cyberspace who loves the British rapper Dave as much as I do. I suppose hardcore hip hop heads might malign his rhyming and flowing skills, or sniff at his beats, but he is the kind of storyteller we need right now, and from the beginning of his last record to the end of his new one I’ve never been bored. In a way, Florence Shaw of the band Dry Cleaning is his narrative sibling; she mostly talks, but it’s what she talks about, and the settings that surround the stories, that count.
*The Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri–COVID Central once already, and probably heading that way again right now. But HEY–if you’re starving for lounge rockabilly with an edge, slide on over to Sundazed Records and check out their latest excavation: the J Ann C Trio Live at Tan-Tar-A (the site of many Missouri public education retreats and worse). Fans of Wanda Jackson and The Skeletons/Morells should NOT miss it.
*I feel like I may have underrated Low Cut Connie’s “Quarantine Concert” covers comp on this list. They’re a group I admire more than I listen to, BUT…this record can open up your waterworks. Adam Weiner is indeed among the last of our eighty-eight-key rock and rollers, and he puts EVERYTHING into these performances. You can feel it in the choices, in his playing, and particularly in the singing–plus? The tough cookies he was referring to were–are, goddam it, we have to be all over again–us.
*The pandemic slowed most musicians, but some, like tenor saxophonist extraordinaire JD Allen, took the bull by the horns and just recorded alone. Allen’s record of solo performances is searing.
*If you’re reading this, you certainly know Bad Brains. Likely, you know Death (well, we all do, but I’m talking about the band). Probably, you don’t know Pure Hell (at least you don’t know the band by that name). Yep: there were at least THREE punk bands of color in the ’70s.
*I want to thank the longtime record gobbler and music sage Tom Hull for regularly linking me on his absolutely essential blog. He is a giant when it comes to keeping fanatics informed about the best of the wide range of music humans make, and he is quite a sharp political mind and cook as well. I am truly humbled he occasionally checks this spot out, and it’s perhaps out of embarrassment that I’ve started commenting more as well as thinking about and slapping down a damned list. Anyone can do that. (I DO listen to them all, though–just sayin’….LOL….)
*I totally love what Sweden’s Jobcentre Rejects label has been up to lately: digging up spunky but obscure Rust Belt metal from the early Eighties. Mistreater’s album is on the main list, and Axxe’s killer 45 is down on my teensie singles listing below. Thing is, there was no pomp in these bands; they existed solely to head-bang and lay down the bad-ass sound–the bad-ass non-technophilic sound, I should say.
BOLDED ITEMS are new to the list. #s indicate archival music.
- AUM Grand Ensemble x Ensemble 0: Performs Julius Eastman’s Femenine