Down in The Flood: Best Records of 2022, January 1 to July 1.

I apologize for being farther behind in examining new releases this month than I usually am (and I always am). I did have some good reasons. I am one of those people who can read with fine concentration while I have, say, a Last Exit record cranked up to 6 or 7. However, my recently completed journey through the second book in Marlon James’ frightening, mind-boggling, and revolutionary fantasy/horror/unclassifiable trilogy, Moon Witch Spider King could not have been completed with anything other than Bill Evans or Morton Feldman as background, and even those might have been distracting. (Please note: the journey through these books is definitely worthwhile, and one hell of a lot safer than the characters’ journeys.) In addition, rereading Will Friedwald’s assessments of Shirley Horn’s ouevre sent me on another journey to pretty much plumb its depths. Horn’s best work is gorgeously hypnotic, and she did not record much that wasn’t good, so I am talking many hours spent. (Where to start, the uninitiated might ask? The very early Embers and Ashes, which knocked Miles Davis out and confirmed for him that slow tempos and floating space were indeed great ideas, and 1992’s Here’s To Life. Resonance Records’ recently issued Live at the Four Queens is a knockout, with the lagniappe of brilliant notes that will send you further. Ok…I’m getting distracted again.) Plus, I took a little vacation, and both my wife and I are home, so I can’t just listen to anything anytime (I often feel headphones are rude when you have company). Most ironically, the new record that debuted highest on the chart below was maybe my biggest distraction: a scintillating five-disc box of jazz duets that I kept returning to rather than sampling other new stuff–that’s high praise for a new box set, coming from someone who feels he has to “keep up.” Wadada Leo Smith’s The Emerald Duets, on TUM Records (City Hall Records stateside), features the octogenarian trumpet master going head to head–disc-long (the shortest piece runs 36:39)–with four equally masterful drummers: Pheeroan akLaff (67, the baby of the project), Andrew Cyrille (82), Han Bennink (80), and Jack DeJohnette (79). akLaff you may know from his fiery work with Sonny Sharrock; Cyrille’s played with damned near everybody in jazz, specifically including Cecil Taylor and David Murray; DeJohnette, who occupies the last two discs, most will know from his backing of Miles (notably on Bitches Brew); and Bennink is the clown-prince of European improvisatory drumming, best heard on his many recordings with Instant Composers Pool but another musician who has definitely been around (as a young man he even backed Dolphy). On a project like this, there’s no place to hide when there’s only two of you, and if you’re going to play a 74-minute and 58-second piece (Smith and akLaff’s “Litanies, Prayers, and Meditations”), you best keep it lively and shift a few gears. I’m happy to say that this set rewards close attention. If you’ve not heard Smith, he is a responsive player of deep feeling and many moves–he might remind the first-time listener of Miles himself–and he famously can tell a story with his horn. Of course, you can tell jazz drummers apart (it would seem, perhaps, harder to do in duet settings), and these men are indeed stylists. I enjoy each disc, but my favorite, perhaps because it is the most playful (not a mood one frequently associates with Smith) is the Bennink duet, aptly titled “Mysterious Sonic Fields.” Han is a trickster; Smith’s far too wizened to get tricked, and there’s some of the tension. The least interesting discs were those with DeJohnette, maybe because of fatigue (I need to listen to them out of order) but also because of DeJohnette’s switches to piano and Fender Rhodes on disc five, which I consider a distraction, rather than a change of pace. But even it, when you lean forward to listen to these sages listening to each other (these are no dialogues of the deaf), conjures fascination, and the whole set gives one hope for growing older, wiser, and better. I haven’t been encountering that hope all that much lately. My only real beef, and it’s silly, is that Smith didn’t hold onto his previously-released duet piece with the late engine-room wizard (not fair: he was a scientist) Milford Graves, which came out in another TUM box set, Sacred Ceremonies. Speaking of TUM box sets, they are very impressively appointed, with terrific cover art and insightful notes.

I also have been occupied with Smith’s other (yes, other) box set, the seven-disc String Quartets Nos. 1-12, recorded mostly by the Red Koral Quartet, with Smith, who composed the pieces, appearing only briefly on two of then. I do not have the expertise to properly evaluate these compositions–I’m only four-deep into them–but I can say that I’ve had a bit of trouble finding a way into them. Smith’s composing style for the quartet (three violinists and a cellist) not only allows for improvisation but also takes an approach that deliberately eschews development for expression. I hear many moments of tenderness disrupted by dissonant string-strikes and was briefly delighted by some rollercoaster-like passages–but that’s as good as I can do, and it ain’t good enough. Perhaps I’ll report back in August after I’ve absorbed the entire box.

I wrote the above instead of my usual odds-and-sods list of observations because The Emerald Duets is truly a masterful set of performances by five jazz elders who need to get the proper respect while they’re living. This ain’t a rehearsal, and another such performance ain’t guaranteed.

Now, on with the show…

(Bolded items are new to the list)

New Music (Updated 7/2/22 after I hunkered down that morning and got half-caught-up)

  1. 75 Dollar Bill: Social Music at Troost, Volume 3–Other People’s Music (Black Editions Group)
  2. Rosalia: MOTOMAMI (Columbia)
  3. Billy Woods: Aethiopes (Backwoodz Studios)
  4. Tanya Tagaq: Tongues (Six Shooter)
  5. Ricky Ford: The Wailing Sounds of Ricky Ford—Paul’s Scene (Whaling City Sounds)
  6. Stro Elliot & James Brown: Black & Loud—James Brown Reimagined (Polydor)
  7. Miranda Lambert: Palomino (Vanner)
  8. Willie Nelson: A Beautiful Time (Sony)
  9. Wadada Leo Smith: The Emerald Duets (TUM)
  10. Superchunk: Wild Loneliness (Merge)
  11. Gonora Sounds: Hard Times Never Kill (Phantom Limb)
  12. Wet Leg: Wet Leg (Domino)
  13. Amber Mark:Three Dimensions Deep (PMR / Interscope)
  14. Etran de L’Air: Agadez (Sahel Sounds)
  15. Morgan Wade: Reckless (Deluxe) (Ladylike)
  16. Lady Wray: Piece of Me (Big Crown)
  17. Bob Vylan: Bob Vylan Presents The Price of Life (Ghost Theatre)
  18. Moor Mother: Jazz Codes (Anti-)
  19. Mark Lomax II: Prismatic Refractions, Volume I (self-released)
  20. Horace Andy: Midnight Rocker (On-U Sound)
  21. ensemble 0: Music Nuvulosa (Sub Rosa)
  22. Anna von Hausswoolff: Live at Montreaux Jazz Festival (Southern Lord)
  23. Various Artists: Lespri Ka—New Directions in Gwoka Music from Guadeloupe (Time Capsule Sounds)
  24. Ches Smith: Interpret It Well (Pyroclastic)
  25. Mark Lomax Trio: Plays Mingus (CFG Multimedia)
  26. 700 Bliss: Nothing to Declare (Hyperdub)
  27. Heroes Are Gang Leaders: LeAutoRoiGraphy (577 Records)
  28. Jinx Lennon: Pet Rent (Septic Tiger)
  29. Freakons: Freakons (Fluff & Gravy)
  30. Daniel Villareal: Panama ’77 (International Anthem)
  31. Joy Guidry:Radical Acceptance(Whited Sepulchre)
  32. Kehlani: blue water road (TSNMI/Atlantic)
  33. Felipe Salles: Tiyo’s Songs of Life (Tapestry)
  34. Javon Jackson & Nikki Giovanni: The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni (Solid Jackson)
  35. Oumou Sangare: Timbuktu (World Circuit Limited)
  36. Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (pgLang/Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath/Interscope)
  37. OGJB: Ode to O (TUM) (Note: Band name – O = Oliver Lake, G = Graham Haynes, J = Joe Fonda, B = Barry Altschul / Title – O = Ornette)
  38. Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, and Enrico Rava: Two Blues for Cecil (TUM)
  39. Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio: The Bottom (Cuneiform)
  40. Tyler Mitchell: Dancing Shadows (featuring Marshall Allen) (Mahakala Music)
  41. Nduduzo Makhathini: In the Spirit of Ntu (Universal)
  42. Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few: Lift Every Voice (Division 81 Records)
  43. Priscilla Block: Welcome to the Block Party (InDent)
  44. Anitta: Versions of Me (Warner)
  45. Wild Up: Julius Eastman, Volume 2—Joy Boy (New Amsterdam)
  46. Carl Stone: Wat Dong Moon Lek (Unseen Worlds)
  47. Mitski: Laurel Hell (Dead Oceans)
  48. Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand (Blue Note)
  49. David Murray Brave New World Trio: Seriana Promethea (Intakt)
  50. Fulu Miziki: Ngbaka (EP)
  51. David Virelles: Nuna (Pi / El Tivoli)
  52. Leikeli47: Shape Up (Hardcover/RCA)
  53. Hurray for The Riff Raff: Life on Earth (Nonesuch)
  54. Rokia Koné and Jacknife Lee: Bamanan (3DFamily)
  55. Tomas Fujiwara: Triple Double (Firehouse 12)
  56. Ibibio Sound Machine: Electricity (Merge)
  57. Zoh Amba: O Life, O Light, Volume 1 (577 Records)
  58. Burton/McPherson Trio: The Summit Rock Session at Seneca Village (Giant Step Arts)
  59. Kahil El’Zabar Quartet: A Time for Healing (Spirit Muse)
  60. Pastor Champion: I Just Want to Be a Good Man (Luaka Bop)
  61. Nduduzo Makhathini: In the Spirit of Ntu (Blue Note)
  62. Pusha T:It’s Almost Dry (G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam)
  63. Elza Soares: Elza Ao Vivo No Municipal (Deck)
  64. SAULT: AIR (Forever Living Originals)
  65. Nilufer Yanya: Painless (ATO)
  66. Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda: Thread of Light (Fundacja Słuchaj)
  67. Charli XCX: Crash (Atlantic)
  68. Pete Malinverni: On the Town—Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein (Planet Arts)
  69. David Friend & Jerome Begin: Post- (New Amsterdam)
  70. Dedicated Men of Zion: The Devil Don’t Like It (Bible & Tire)
  71. Space Afrika: Honest Labour (Dais)
  72. Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul: Topical Dancer (DeeWee)
  73. Earl Sweatshirt: Sick! (Tan Cressida / Warner)
  74. Belle & Sebastian: A Bit of Previous (Matador)
  75. Big Thief: Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You (4AD)
  76. Jeff Arnal and Curt Cloninger: Drum Major Instinct (Mahakala Music)
  77. Tee Grizzley: Half Tee Half Beast (self-released)
  78. Hoodoo Gurus: Chariot of The Gods (Big Time Photographic Recordings)
  79. Natsuki Tamura: Summer Tree (Libra)
  80. (D)ivo: Perelman, Berne, Malaby, Carter (Mahakala Music)
  81. Spoon:Lucifer on the Sofa (Matador)
  82. Manel Fortia: Despertar (Segell Microscopi/Altafonte)
  83. Ray Wylie Hubbard: Co-Starring Too (Big Machine)
  84. Keith Oxman: This One’s for Joey (Capri)
  85. Marta Sanchez: SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum) (Whirlwind)
  86. Earthgang: Ghetto Gods (Dreamville/Interscope)
  87. Mavis Staples & Levon Helm: Carry Me Home (Anti-)

Archival Digs:

  1. Los Golden Boys: Cumbia de Juventud (Mississippi Records)
  2. Albert Ayler: Revelations—The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings (Elemental)
  3. Cecil Taylor:The Complete Legendary Live Return Concert at the Town Hall (Oblivion)
  4. Various Artists: Lovers Rock—The Soulful Sound of Romantic Reggae (Trojan)
  5. Albert Ayler: La Cave Live 1966 (Ezz-Thetics)
  6. Various Artists: Cumbia Sabrosa—Tropical Sound System Bangers From The Discos Fuentes Vaults 1961-1981 (Rocafort Records)
  7. Various Artists: A Chat About the Beauty of the Moon at Night–Hawaiian Steel Guitar Masters 1913-1921 (Magnificent Sounds)
  8. The Rolling Stones: Live at the El Mocambo (Interscope)
  9. Son House: Forever on My Mind (Easy Eye Sound)
  10. Lavender Country:Blackberry Rose and Other Songs & Sorrows (Don Giovanni)
  11. Horace Tapscott Quintet: Legacies for Our Grandchildren (Dark Tree)
  12. Various Artists: The D-Vine Spirituals—Sacred Soul (Bible & Tire)
  13. Hermeto Pascoal: Hermeto (Far Out Recordings)
  14. Sun Ra: Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt (Strut)
  15. Asha Puthi: The Essential Asha Puthi (Mr. Bongo)
  16. Malik’s Emerging Force Art Trio: Time and Condition (moved-by-sound)
  17. Volta Jazz: Air Volta (Numero)
  18. Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come is Now (ESP-Disk)
  19. Cecil Taylor: Respiration (Fundacja Stuchaj)
  20. Norma Tanega: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964-1971 (Anthology)
  21. Irma Thomas: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 1976 (Good Time)
  22. Afrika Negra: Antologia, Volume 1(Bongo Joe)
  23. Various Artists: Summer of Soul (Legacy)
  24. Ann Peebles and the Hi Rhythm Section: Live in Memphis (Memphis International)
  25. Neil Young: Carnegie Hall 1970 (Reprise)

A 2022 Top Ten Already? All. Ready. I Got 17 + 2.

One thing I do like about striving to root out excellent albums in the first month of a new year is the search forces me out of my comfort zones. True: I’m seldom uncomfortable in any particular musical zone if I can dig deep enough to find the right stuff; I’m hesitant about anything too bourgeois, to be frank, but even such artifacts can provide thrills. I’ve also been aided by having found myself on a few jazz labels’ mailing lists, so some items below aren’t yet out (soon, soon), but I’ve sampled them enough to get a kick out of ’em. Will any of these stick to the list? That’s always the question when it comes to the early months–last January I opened with a couple of classical albums by artists just disruptive enough for me to be attracted to their work, and one made it (big time) and the other faded (though I still like it). But I guarantee those top three will still be riding high.

Odds and ends:

*Tagaq’s album is a companion to her very unique and blazing memoir, Split Tooth. Read that.

*I was previously unfamiliar with Mark’s work. Pitchfork dug it and the album cover gave me Miguel vibes. I really enjoyed it end to end, and there’s something that tears slightly in her voice at just the right times that engage me in her singing and songs even more deeply.

*Since Greg Tate passed, I’ve revisited a bit of his writing, but I’ve also been alerted to pieces I didn’t know about–particularly about master poet Nikki Giovanni’s recordings. Tate’s writing always costs me money because he turns me on to music and books about which I know nothing or little; I am confident, had he lived to hear it, he would have loved saxophonist Jackson’s gospel album with Giovanni. I’m an atheist and I’ve already played it thrive. Coming soon.

*I ONLY tried to the von Hausswoolff because the album cover looked like Gustave Dore’s work. THEN I find myself unable to turn it off.

*I was totally uninformed about old directions in music from Guadeloupe. Based on the new directions, I probably better change that condition.

*Pete Malinverni might not seem my (or your) jam, but I’ll be damned if the West Side Story remake didn’t bubble my blood for Bernstein, and Malinverni’s foray below injected itself right into my satisfaction of that desire.

*Valid questions both: Do I really need another live Ayler record? Do I really need another live Neil record? Yes and yes. Ayler’s set was played before a Cleveland audience, and perhaps it inspires him to take several unexpected turns in musical variation, space, and tone–at least to my ear, and I’m an Aylerian. Neil’s acoustic at Carnegie, but it’s the surprise inclusions in the set list as well as stellar performances that have me contemplating a vinyl purchase (if that’s even possible). OK, on with it…

*The 75 Dollar Bill is easily my favorite album of the year. I forgot all about it somehow because I had not added it to my reference folder–probably because I was distracted by playing it over and over. It’s a covers album. Y’know, the usual suspects: Ono, Partch, Oliveros, Neg-Fi, Ron Padgett. Plus some outsiders like Dylan, Toussaint, and the MC5. They do ’em up.

New (and Upcoming) Releases That I’ve Heard And Really Like (Kinda in order, especially the first three):

75 Dollar Bill: Social Music at Troost, Volume 3–Other People’s Music (Black Editions Group) (left off my original post unaccountably!)

Tanya Tagaq: Tongues (Six Shooter)

Amber Mark: Three Dimensions Deep (PMR / Interscope)

Javon Jackson & Nikki Giovanni: The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni (Solid Jackson)

Morgan Wade: Reckless (Deluxe) (Ladylike)

Mark Lomax II: Prismatic Refractions, Volume I

Anna von Hausswoolff: Live at Montreaux Jazz Festival (Southern Lord)

Various Artists: Lespri Ka—New Directions in Gwoka Music from Guadeloupe (Time Capsule Sounds)

OGJB: Ode to O (TUM) (Note: Band name – O = Oliver Lake, G = Graham Haynes, J = Joe Fonda, B = Barry Altschul / Title – O = Ornette)

The Weeknd: Dawn FM (XO / Republic)

Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, and Enrico Rava: Two Blues for Cecil (TUM)

Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio: The Bottom (Cuneiform)

Chief Keef: 4Nem (Glo Gang / RBC)

Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand (Blue Note)

Earl Sweatshirt: Sick! (Tan Cressida / Warner)

Pete Malinverni:  On the Town—Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein (Planet Arts)

Martin Wind: Air (Laika)

Archival Digs:

Albert Ayler: La Cave Live 1966 (Ezz-Thetics)

Neil Young: Carnegie Hall 1970 (Reprise)