Best Rekkids of ’19 – End of Febru-weary Edition

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Behold–a rather tentative list of 30 pretty damn decent releases from the 2019th year of our lord (is that right? asks the history-challenged heathen). I would not say that, so far, our musical high priests have laid a cornucopial spread before our weary, hungry, hopeful selves; I would say, however, that plenty of interesting stuff is at your fingertips. The following are in rough order of how much enjoyment I’ve gained from and willing repetition I’ve applied to each long-player. Certain of my regular prejudices are in play: Joe McPhee is a genius and a saint to me, musically and personally, and in his 79th year (50 or so of them as a devoted free-playing jazz multi-instrumentalist and happy noise-maker) he shows no signs of slowing down or having passed his sell-by date–I love all three of his new records, including all six discs of his “Nation Time!”-keyed live collaboration with DKV (that’s Hamid Drake, Ken Kessler, and Ken Vandermark); I come alive at the sound of a Tuareg guitar, no matter how familiar or how augmented by Western intrusion; I am certain Yugen Blakrok needs more recognition and I will bend over backwards to see that, at least within my very circumscribed social range, she gets it; I have a very soft spot for the hoarier artist. But I’d almost argue that those strong prejudices, built from high expectations, might just make me more likely than most to recognize why records therein don’t really cut it. Almost.

Also, I am being very strict about releases being from 2019. If I am not, I will get my wrists slapped.

If anything really obvious is missing (Sharon Van Etten, Future, Gary Clark, Jr.) it might well be assumed that I am immune to its spells.

Finally, I am including new releases of material recorded in bygone days (rather than listing those separately) because pickings are just that slim. So far. [Ex Hex, Mekons, Jamila Woods, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Royal Trux (Royal Trux?), Quelle Chris, hell, ol’ dead Marvin Gaye each have one in tha chamba for future firing.]

After the list is a YouTube playlist where you can test-drive some of the stuff if it’s unfamiliar to you.

  1. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  2. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  3. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  4. Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  5. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  6. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dure–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  7. Que Vola: Que Vola
  8. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  9. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  10. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  11. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  12. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  13. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  14. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  15. People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, The P
  16. Powder: Powder in Space (DJ Mix)
  17. Hama: Houmeissa
  18. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
  19. Ill Considered: 5
  20. M’dou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  21. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  22. Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood
  23. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  24. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  25. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  26. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  27. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE
  28. The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet (featuring Joe McPhee): Sweet Oranges
  29. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  30. The Specials: Encore

A note on the playlist: two-three full albums are included (one of them a three-disker) because single tracks were not available, so you may want to be prepared to click past them after an initial taste. Or you may not…

 

 

Three Lists (which The Blogger Sheepishly Submits)

Posting every other day has been the hardest of the five-six resolutions I cornily made for myself (I’m doing great on the others). Life has happened, and you can’t push that river. Perhaps I should post just when I want to and I have something urgent to communicate? Yes, and that would be today.

TEN OF MY “FAVORITE ALBUMS OF ALL-TIME”

Recently I asked my Facebook friends the impossible: name your favorite album of all-time. I led with my choice (Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta, which I’ve definitely played more than any other over the past 15 years) and instantly regretted it, not because it isn’t sublime, but someone else listed something more important. So, here aren’t my 10 favorite albums of all-time, in order; here are 10 records I’d list as my very favorite record, based on number of lifetime plays, significance to my development as a human, sparked joy, and facility in connecting me with other humans. I steadfastly avoided trying to have a politically correct representative list; these are the ones my heart reaches for, instantly.

The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime

Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

Howlin’ Wolf

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin

Lucinda Williams

Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys: Basin Street Blues–The Tiffany Transcriptions, Volume 3

The Best of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975

The Clash: London Calling

Having a Good Time with Huey “Piano” Smith and The Clowns

 

MY TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2019

I don’t know about you, but the offerings thus far have been slim compared to last January. I will stretch to 10, nonetheless, though I may have to lean on reissues of older stuff. There is no serious priority order–it’s too early, and some of these may not end up making my Top 100 in the end. Also: a deep bow of amazement to the ageless Joe McPhee, who’s the star of no less than three of these; an acknowledgement that I have only sampled the glam comp below via YouTube searches; a thank you to my young friend Lucas Fagen, who convinced me that I was not too old and trap-rattle-addled to return to, and enjoy, Bad Bunny; and my apologies if some of these are kinda-’18. I remain needing serious convincing regarding Sharon Van Etten (Remind Me Tomorrow is an “up” album for her???).

Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions

Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dure–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent

Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist

Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee

DVK and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time

The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet: Sweet Oranges

Sir Shina Peter and His Internation Stars: Sewele

Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks

Bad Bunny: X 100PRE

 

TEN GREAT BRAZILIAN ALBUMS THAT PAAL NILSSEN LOVE AND CATALYTIC SOUND HAVE LED ME TO (SO FAR)

I ordered and received a CD recently from the fascinating experimental music label Catalytic Sound (Sweet Oranges, above), and within was a neat little ‘zine-styled “quarterly” with poetry and other neat stuff–especially master free drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s list of his 100 favorite Brazilian records. Nilssen-Love’s made many sojourns to Brazil in the recent past, and he’s clearly a sharp, indefatigable crate-digger (that describes his drumming, too). What blew my mind is, though I really love Brazilian music, I’d only heard of 10 or so of them, and didn’t own many. Thus–and this is a reason I haven’t posted recently–I’ve been on a grail quest of my own, using his list as a road map. I’ve heard at least 20 of the records he’s listed since Friday; these are my favorites, and I only have 60-70 to go!

Pedro Santos: Krishnanda

Alessandra Leao: Dois Cordoes

Underground Samba Lapa

Ile Aiye: Canto Negro

O Som Sagrado de Wilson Das Neves

Clara Nunes: Esperanca

Tim Maia: Racional, Volumes 1 and 2

Moacir Santos: Coisas

Grupo Fundo De Quintal: Samba E No Fundo Do Quintal

Elis Regina: Samba, Eu Canto Assim

 

 

Three for A King

Let me recommend three records that can help you celebrate the life work and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (upper square, lower right)

This four-disk, Pulitzer Prize-winning set looks back at the titular time period and ahead to the massive work we still have to do. In 19 pieces composed across 35 years, trumpeter Smith, his celebrated Golden Quartet, and Southwest Chamber Music tap into the danger, gravity, turbulence, and intensity and purity of focus that defined the Civil Rights Movement. Almost five hours in length, the set is never less than absorbing. Special props to the dual drummers of the Quartet: Pheeroan akLaff and Susie Ibarra.

Click here to sample an excerpt of the composition “Martin Luther King, Jr: Memphis, the Prophecy,” the set’s coda.

Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee (upper square, lower left)

Two hornmen dialogue about oppression, freedom and resistance in the Chihuahuan Desert, at the site of Magee’s mysterious sculpture near Cornudas, Texas. The recording has the character of a religious service and includes the ambient noise of the place. One of the best records of 2019.

Click here to sample the track “Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No” (McPhee is in the left stereo channel, Butcher in the right).

Ustad Saami: God is Not a Terrorist

Saami, a Palestinian, is the last living practitioner of a pre-Islamic music (featuring elements of Farsi, Hindi, Vedic, and Sanskrit) that does not endear him to local extremists. His practice is a testament to courage, belief, and devotion–and it sounds fascinating and moving (and good, to be sure): a kind of Middle Eastern Gregorian chant with tense instrumental backing.

Click here to sample a track and read more about Saami’s background.

Click here for an album “teaser.”

Quick Takes on My Other Listening Adventures

James Brown: Foundations of Funk–A Brand New Bag 1964-1964

Brown at his finest, on tracks that are gripping and propulsive not even considering his vocals, which are punctuated by screams that sound as avant-garde as Ayler’s honks.

Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow

Though I found myself enjoying “Comeback Kid,” I just don’t have patience for whites people miserably moaning right now.

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

That title’s enticing, and the music’s admirable intense when the guitarist isn’t taking a turn; fortunately, the leader’s sax, Quin Kirchner’s drums and the compositions (!) win the day.

JLin: Black Origami

This landmark of EDM and the style known as footwork has spell-casting power: normally immune to such stuff, I’ve played it 20-25 times since its 2017 release and it mesmerizes and mesmerizes, even though I’m too old and not imaginative enough to dance to it.

Hama: Houmeissa

Synth music is back–even in the Sahara (try it–you’ll like it)!

Skulldoggery (May 7th, 2018, Columbia, MO)p

Under the weather and confined somewhat to bed, I needed musical medicine. As happens more and more as I age, I turn to free music, and more and more as I turn to free music, I turn to the work of Joe McPhee. This time, it was his Skullduggery album, recorded with Amsterdam’s Universal Indians (named very appropriately after an Albert Ayler composition) and American saxophonist John Dikeman. I find that McPhee’s performances, where he employs multiple instruments in playing reactively to his fellows but also creates , sustains, and deconstructs themes, often mirror the hops, skips, jumps, and stretches of straight travel by which my mind works. Whether I am listening in dedicated fashion or reading, his work (quite frequently without regard to with whom he’s working–and he has many playmates) calms me. I’ve grown deeply familiar with and fond of his sound, whether he’s wielding sax, pocket trumpet, or something else; I feel confident I could pick him out of any free lineup in a blindfold test. Here–try the title track, and listen for what I mean when I say he doesn’t just react in a free context, but creates and sustains (bass player Jon Rune Strok is great here, too):

McPhee’s music may relax me, but my dog? He became disturbed, as this sequence demonstrates (you can see my little Bluetooth speaker on the window’s ledge):

Enjoy more of McPhee, Dikeman, and Universal Indians live, right here, from a year ago:

Speaking in Tongues: Diary Playlist 2 (April 15-21)

My second week of reviewing my seven days’ listening with a Spotify playlist and dispensing imaginary awards to notable records.

Plucked from History’s Dustbin (best recent purchase of an old record): Joe McPhee, Oleo

Grower, Not a Shower (old record I already owned that’s risen significantly in my esteem): Grace Jones, Island Life

Encore, Encore! (album I played at least twice this week): Tracey Thorn, Record

Through the Cracks (sweet record I forgot to write about): Sons of Kemet, My Queen is a Reptile

Coming Attractions (Sunday’s Children): Hamilton (traveling to St. Louis to see–and mos def hear–it today); all things Shabaka Hutchings!

Comfort Food (April 20, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Hustlin’ and bustlin’ for my baby today, I was in both vehicles doing errands today.

Had a chance run-in with the sister of one of our state senators; she noticed the blazing orange #NeverAgain shirt I was wearing while having coffee in a local shop (national student rallies on the Columbine anniversary), sat down across from me and introduced herself. I’d have preferred to talk about rock and roll, but we chatted for a half hour about politics and I learned why I should want our oily governor Eric Greitens to go down (he’s put himself under serious fire) later than sooner.

After Nicole got off work, we had Friday comfort food and drink–pints and cheeseburgers–at Booche’s, a fantastic local tavern, where we listened to Springsteen, Skynyrd, and The New York Dolls on the sound system, then crossed the street to hear Zadie Smith open the controversy ridden Unbound Book Festival with a keynote address; she opened by reading her essay “Speaking in Tongues.” Among the many things of interest she said, she acclaimed Kendrick Lamar a genius. I would have liked to, but didn’t get a chance to, ask her about the genesis and development of her stunning piece on Billie Holiday, “Crazy They Call Me.” We left a bit early for last beers at another bar we ended up getting kicked out of. (Fortunately, Smith talks about the piece here, I just discovered.) In Little Rock, some friends were at a Charles Portis festival (!) where they heard the bands Wussy and The Paranoid Style, but I still think Nicole and I won.

All this is to say that I did my serious listening, mostly to aural comfort food, on the fly:

Grace Jones–can’t wait for the doc!

John Prine–had to hear the hilarious “The Accident,” and more, from Sweet Revenge!

Gary Stewart–the prime Record Store Day jewel is a 45 from much-rumored demo session where he cut Motown songs; the simple knowledge of this (I’ve got an eBay bid down on it–I go to record stores regularly) was enough for me to bring along The Essential Gary Stewart for the ride!

The “comfort food” to beat all comfort food, though I suppose it can still make some listeners uncomfortable!

And…well…I told you I listen to Joe McPhee a lot!

All those exclamation points are very deliberate. It was a good day–musically and otherwise.

McPhee-ver (April 19th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

McPhee

Poughkeepsie, NY, legend Joe McPhee will turn 79 in November. I already have a predilection for musicians whose work continues to astound beyond their fifties–it’s probably partially because I require hope as I age myself–and I am not sure I know of one who’s work is more astounding, more prolific, and more consistently satisfying to me than Joe’s. His late-’17/early-’18 album Imaginary Numbers, in a responsive trio setting and featuring a scintillating Coltrane nod, is one of my recent favorites (I’ve probably played it seven times in four months), and I learned yesterday that he has a new one in the chamber, access to which follows, should I seduce you into partaking of the man’s magic:

McPhee plays tenor, alto, and soprano saxophone, the trumpet, flugelhorn and valve trombone–at least. I suspect that’s a partial list. Also, “plays” is a reductive verb in Joe’s case; from caresses and whispers to jolts and hollers, he knows how to speak multiple musical, emotional, and intellectual languages through his instruments. Yes, he’s a jazz player, and he can play inside, outside, and in between, sometimes all in the same song–try “Never Again,” from In Finland, with Matthew Shipp, if you can find it.

But he also defies that categorization. He can play, and has played (damn near) with everyone: the example I’m listening to as I hunt and peck is one of his recordings with Two Bands And A Legend (that’s also the title), which features Norwegian garage rockers the Cato Salsa Experience and Scandinavian wailers The Thing. By his partners’ acclaim, McPhee is the legend, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another album that includes covers of “Louie Louie,” The Sonics (taken into free jazzland and dragged screaming back), Ornette Coleman, and The Cramps.

In additional, he’s comfortable in every numerical combination I can think of. He’s heart-piercing on the solo Tenor, endlessly interesting across seven discs with only his drummer (and frequent partner) Paal Nilssen-Love on Candy (yes, I’ve listened to it in its entirety twice, holding his own and then some with a free jazz big band (Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Octet / Tentet).

Yesterday, I listened to McPhee’s Hat Hut label release Oleo, which is built around an at times very straightforward cover of Sonny Rollins’ title composition. At times, because another of McPhee’s frequent partners, guitarist Raymond Boni sproings into the fray with a spree of spastic-intergalactic wah-wah, which leads the rest of the unit into a strategy of deconstruction of which Rollins himself would probably approve. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say it, but I will: one who puts merely a skimming ear to work like McPhee’s might come to the conclusion that the players are just making noise, that that’s easy, that if they really had to play conventionally, they’d find it rougher going. Therefore, one reasons, one doesn’t need to respect McPhee’s kind of music. Au contrair. Joe’s work far exceeds in imagination, diligence, close listening, physical energy, and challenge 90% of the music you’d read about in Downbeat or Jazz Times. And. And. McPhee does play tight and inside when he feels like it, and when it fits his chosen design, and when he does, on conventional terms, he’s a skilled and even easily recognizable player.

Joe McPhee is one of my biggest heroes. I hope he makes it past 100, and I hope I make it to his current age of 78 with a fraction of the vigor, curiosity, dedication, and imagination he puts into his work. If you’ve been curious about free music, his oeuvre ain’t a bad place to dip in. If you like folks who enjoy getting out of their lanes on a regular basis, or who aspire to get to know and work with as many people as they can, you’ll like him for sure. You can even start at his own beginning, with the legendary recordings Underground Railroad and Nation Time, the vintage of which you can likely guess from the titles and the quality of which is even more exciting when you consider he grew by leaps and bounds from those starting points.

Hangovers and Catch-Up (March 2nd, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Yesterday, I mostly played out an intensely pleasant Sonny Rollins hangover and caught up with some music I’d be hearing about but not hearing. And Marvel put some more flava in my ear, though I’d originally tasted it a while back.

Rollins Hangover:

“G-Man” (Ride the wild, folks!)

Night Music: “Who By Fire” (w/Leonard Cohen–is Rollins undermining the song’s grimness with that coda? Certainly possible.)

Tattoo You cameos (“Waiting on a Friend,” “Neighbors“) (The last time the Stones were charming?)

Playing Catch-Up:

Joe McPhee: In Finland (I’m a McPh(r)ee(k), and he’s at his finest–as are Matthew Shipp and Dominic Duval–in this live trio recording, where he engages in some witty inside quotations. Curious? Here’s an Apple Music playlist, since YouTube isn’t helpful.)

Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom(More engaging than Black Panther–The Album.)

Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (Starts a mite slowly, finishes awful strong, inspires serious empathy, and extends obvious Richman influence through new vistas.)

JPEGMAFIA: Scalding, slot-mouthed social commentary with Dub Housing-like soundscapes in a hip-hop mode? Yes, please.

Marvel-ous Ideas, from Luke Cage:

I was introducing the Netflix series to Nicole when I was reminded of the great “Harlem’s Paradise” sequences (and forced to mourn some great ones passing again):

Raphael Saadiq

Charles Bradley

Sharon Jones

Also: Luke raisin’ some muhfukkin’ ruckus!

The series lost its musical thread somewhat as it went along, I think.

January Top 10: Best of 2018 So Far

I realize that many of the choices below are actually releases from 2017, but they are fresh enough and so hard to have gotten one’s hands on that I’m-a have to count them. Happy hunting, and enjoy the above playlist of highlight tracks (excluding the Dawkins album, as no video was available.

  1. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  2. Princess Nokia: 1992
  3. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  4. CupcaKe: Ephora
  5. Ernest Dawkins: Transient Takes
  6. Rahim Alhaj: Letters from Iraq
  7. Moor Mother: Fetish the Bones
  8. Joey Badass: All-Amerikkkan Badass
  9. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  10. Ty Segall: Freedom’s Goblin

“Sound Unheard, Word Unread” (January 12, Columbia, Missouri)

Who are the artists whose releases you buy sound unheard, critical word unread? I am assuming this is a practice of yours, and that you do still buy music. Mine have changed over the years. In my twenties: George Jones, Minutemen, Replacements, Husker Du, Prince, anything George Clinton-related, Tom Waits. In my thirties: Public Enemy, Mekons, The Oblivians, James Carter. Over the past 17 years, though (my forties and fifties), skepticism’s cold hand has fallen on my shoulder and my coin has not been offered so automatically. When it has been, it’s been for artists with unique vision who live on the margins, like Tyler Keith, Swamp Dogg, Bobby Rush, MF Doom. Today, I spent time with two of those.

Ever since I first laid ear to Jean Grae, she’s been one of my favorite MCs. She has a flintiness of tone that reminds me of Rakim, a winning emotional tension created by toughness and vulnerability, a deadly and surprising pen, and, until recently, a consistency that satisfies my preference for album artists. One terrific Grae record even fans of hers may have missed is Evil Jeanius, created in collaboration with Blue Sky Black Death. All the above qualities are in play, but of special note is the mesmerizing “Threats,” which features multiple cascading Etta James samples that reinforce them:

Elsewhere, the team makes use of one of John Cale’s violin stabs from “Venus in Furs.” Though I can’t help but encourage Jean’s recent attempts to diversify artistically (into singing, television, and books), it’s not been great for her rapping, but I’ll still buy any record she releases.

I have a weakness for old folks who’ve prospered doing very unconventional things on the margins for decades. Such is the case of Poughkeepsie’s finest, saxophonist/trumpeter/percussionist/composer Joe McPhee.

McPhee, who turned 78 in November, makes wonderful music out of blips, blaps, squeaks, squeals, wails and whispers. The unconverted have been known to say that all free jazz sounds alike, that such artists are “just playing” anything, but I’d know a McPhee performance a mile away. Joe’s new record, Imaginary Numbers, on Clean Feed, showed up in my mailbox yesterday, and did not disappoint. Try this:

Short-shrift division:

Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure. I love post-Eno Roxy, but I wish he’d stuck around a little longer.

Shame: Songs of Praise: Read in The Guardian today that these guys could be the next punk thing in the UK. I wasn’t knocked out, nor was I repelled–I guess I just want to note that today was the day I first heard them (across a room and hallway’s distance, and not cranked, so I need to return to the record).