Surcease of Sorrow: My Favorite New Releases of the First Half of 2017, and My Top 40 Older Thangs I’ve Bought

In so many ways, this year has flat sucked. I’m a born optimist, and I’ve never considered that a disability, but now? I guess that I just don’t know. As long as I keep certain names off my tongue, my eye on the courts, my feet on the street and trails, my arms around my woman, and my ears on this stuff, well…I guess I will power through. Perhaps you will be tempted to try one of the following aural encouragements, and it’ll help you through, too.

TOP 50 New Releases of the First Half of 2017

(in order of my preference if the world goes up in flames tomorrow):

  1. Zeal and Ardor: Devil is Fine
  2. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  3. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  4. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  5. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyai
  6. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  7. Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood
  8. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is
  9. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  10. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  11. Obnox: Niggative Approach
  12. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  13. Syd: Fin
  14. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP) (Not the late jazz soprano master Steve Lacy, BTW!)
  15. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  16. Sampha: Process
  17. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  18. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  19. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound
  20. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel
  21. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  22. Body Count: Blood Lust
  23. Angaleena Presley: Wrangled
  24. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong
  25. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  26. Filthy Friends: “Any Kind of Crowd”/”Editions of You”
  27. John Escreet: The Unknown
  28. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  29. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  30. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  31. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  32. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  33. Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  34. Thundercat: Drunk
  35. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions
  36. Gato Preto: Tempo
  37. Paul Rutherford and Sabu Toyozumi: The Conscience
  38. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Up for Anything
  39. Various Artists: Mono No Aware
  40. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
  41. Various Artists: Outro Tempo–Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
  42. Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem
  43. Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar
  44. Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang?
  45. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
  46. Damaged Bug: Bunker Funk
  47. Black Lips: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?
  48. Vagabon: The Infinite Worlds
  49. Tamikrest: Tidal
  50. Chuck Berry: Chuck

Note: the above is not featured on the Wayne Cochran album listed below, but it’s what you need to know to make a more informed choice.

40 Great Older Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Still Can’t Get Enough Of

  1. Allison, Mose: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
  2. Anderson, Fred, and Hamid Drake: …together again
  3. Astatke, Mulatu: Mulatu of Ethiopia
  4. Blythe, Arthur: Illusions
  5. Bowie, David: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
  6. Carmichael, Hoagy: Music Master
  7. Case, Neko: The Tigers Have Spoken
  8. Cochran, Wayne: Wayne Cochran!
  9. Cohran, Philip: Armageddon
  10. Coursil, Jacques: Trails of Tears
  11. The Creation: Action Painting
  12. Davis, Anthony: Episteme
  13. DiMucci, Dion: Kickin’ Child–The Lost Album 1965
  14. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
  15. E: E
  16. Evans, Bill: Some Other Time–The Lost Session from the Black Forest
  17. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
  18. Fela: Live in Detroit
  19. Gibbs, Melvin: Ancients Speak (all hail Pete Cosey!)
  20. Gonzalez, Dennis: Idle Wild
  21. Ink Spots: These Cats Are High
  22. Instant Composers Pool: Aan & Uit
  23. Jamal, Ahmad: The Awakening
  24. JJ DOOM: Bookhead
  25. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
  26. London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Theoria
  27. McGann, Bernie: Playground
  28. Outkast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (that’s right—I only just NOW bought this for myself)
  29. Perry, Lee Scratch: Voodooism
  30. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Face to Face
  31. Stanko, Tomasz: Leosia
  32. Sun Ra: The Space Age Is Here to Stay
  33. This Heat: Out of Cold Storage
  34. Morgan, Lee: Live at The Lighthouse (please go see this documentary on Mr. Morgan!)
  35. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
  36. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
  37. Various Artists: Killed by Death #5
  38. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, 1 & 2
  39. White, Ruth: Flowers of Evil
  40. Wray, Link: Beans and Fatback

Good to My Earhole: The Edge of ’17–Heard You Didn’t Even Miss Me, Now I’m Back Anyway!

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.

(This track’s fromHarriet Tubman’s 2011 release on Sunnyside, Ascension; no video currentl available for the album below).

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).