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I was unfamiliar with the Wabanaki bassist Mali Obomsawin but I saw she was playing with some of my favorite contemporary jazz musicians–the trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum and the drummer Tomas Fujiwara–and so I wandered up to Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Thursday to check it out. I was in for a treat. Although Obomsawin has played around New England some in Lula Wiles, which had some success, but she got sick of bluegrass fans being uncomfortable with the band’s politics around indigenous issues. Let’s face it, white people hate to be challenged around this stuff. This is her debut album and that she can work with such greats on it is a sign of how people recognize her vision. She is not the first person to create indigenous jazz–Jim Pepper is probably the most prominent example of that. But there’s not a ton of it. Moreover, this is a specifically Wabanaki vision. The album, titled Sweet Tooth and which I still haven’t heard, consists of three pieces, a suite about Native dispossession and fighting back. The Bandcamp page has a good description of all the different parts of the suite and where the lyrics come from.

Obomsawin is an activist as well as a bassist and that comes through here. She immediately dismissed land acknowledgements as “corny” and instead noted that the Puritans had imprisoned her ancestor (same last name even) and a document exists about how he was thrown into prison for years without charges in the late 17th century. There’s your land acknowledgement–the people in the audience have benefitted from white supremacy for centuries and she’s not here to make you feel good about it and embrace some liberal notion of diversity that challenges nothing. She wants to challenge you and challenge you directly. She sings in Wabanaki as well, lyrics out of their tradition applied in a brand new way. She also said Christianity was stupid and an agent of colonization and repression. Hard to argue.

As always, the politics can be what they are but the quality of the act is about the art itself. There’s no shortage of greatness on that stage. The band consisted of the six musicians on the album, except that Fujiwara replaced Savannah Harris on the drums. The rest of the band is Bynum on trumpet and flugelhorn, Miriam Elhajli on guitar, Allison Burik on bass clarinet and alto sax, and Noah Campbell on tenor, soprano, and alto sax. I was completely unfamiliar with any of these three, but they can all really play. Elhajli can really shred on that guitar. Burik is a total beast and that bass clarinet really ripped. Campbell was excellent too. Real fun show.

I might also point out that while modern jazz is not for everyone, I will state again that it has probably the most diverse bands on the planet. In this case, there were four different racial groups out of six musicians, with three women and three men. Up to you whether you think this matters, but it is interesting if nothing else. Anyway, I will check out the album soon and review it separately. Super cool show though. Really glad I stumbled on this.

In other news, we lost a couple of pretty big names this week. The most famous is of course Mimi Parker from Low, who died at only 55 of cancer. Terrible stuff. Low always existed at the edge of my consciousness and I never got super into them, but that could be for a lack of hearing them enough. Good reminder to go take care of that. Jeff Cook of Alabama died, which is a good time to remember that Alabama was a terrible band. But probably most importantly, we lost Gal Costa, one of the true legends of modern Brazilian music.

Also, just before this was published, I discovered that we lost Clash guitarist Keith Levene, at the age of 65. Ugh.

When I posted Billy Joe Shaver’s grave post, I noted that I didn’t know why someone had left a Red Bull on the grave. Well, a commenter did the research and….wow.

Billy Joe Shaver likes to drink Red Bull. A lot of Red Bull. In Nashville, he sits in a small conference room at his record label’s office, located above Grimey’s New and Preloved Music. At his feet lies a tattered old bag adorned with images of bald eagles, filled with at least six cans of the potent energy drink.

“I drink 10 to 11 a day sometimes,” Shaver says. “Other times, three or four. It’s an old man’s bumper jack.” He mimes jacking up a car. “It lifts me up.”

That this particular beverage might not be advisable for a man who had a heart attack onstage at Texas’s Gruene Hall in 2001 is of no concern to Shaver.

“I had a four-way bypass and I have stents, but I figure if there’s new stuff in there it oughta not hurt it,” he says, taking a sip from the tiny can. “It’s better than the old one.”

If you had 10 Red Bulls in a day, that’s….over 1500 calories a day from Red Bull alone. Not to mention to mention basically 10 cups of coffee. That guy was a lunatic. I can’t help but just laughing at this.

Great piece on the amazing jazz pianist Myra Melford and the way that women are FINALLY being accepted as equal in the jazz world.

Glad to see the Joni Mitchell comeback continuing to move forward. She also talks about how male musicians hated her music in the 70s. Of course they would, being a bunch of misogynist assholes and all….

The Roots making up songs on the spot to honor veterans in their audience is a fun one.

Just in case you always wanted a GWAR cuttlefish dildo

Sad stuff about a flood in eastern Kentucky wiping out a museum and school of old-timey instruments.

Political rap in Iran

Country music has pretty much always embraced nostalgia, even before it turned to garbage.

The Times “Overlooked” series has been excellent in writing about women ignored at the time and here’s a new entry on the great Cajun musician Cleoma Falcon.

This week’s playlist:

  1. Prince, Purple Rain
  2. Matt Sweeney & Bonnie Prince Billy, Superwolf
  3. West African Cosmos, self-titled
  4. Torres, Three Futures
  5. Robbie Fulks, Georgia Hard
  6. Curtis Mayfield, Superfly
  7. Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest
  8. Doc Watson, On Stage
  9. Herbie Hancock, Headhunters Live 1973
  10. U.S. Girls, Heavy Light
  11. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, disc 1
  12. Rashaan Roland Kirk, Rip, Rig, and Panic
  13. Tammy Wynette, 20 Greatest Hits
  14. The Dillards, Back Porch Bluegrass
  15. Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
  16. Miles Davis, Sorcerer
  17. The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient
  18. Tom Russell, Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs
  19. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature
  20. Sunflower Bean, Twentytwo in Blue
  21. Townes Van Zandt, At My Window
  22. Neil Young, Tonight’s the Night
  23. Ornette Coleman, This Is Our Music
  24. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
  25. The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure
  26. The Hacienda Brothers, What’s Wrong With Right
  27. Townes Van Zandt, Live at the Old Quarter, disc 1
  28. Thelonious Monk, Monk’s Dream
  29. Black Saint Quartet, self-titled
  30. The Band, self-titled
  31. Eric Dolphy, Live at the Five Spot
  32. Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
  33. Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Deluxe

Album Reviews, in what was a very good week for me picking out new stuff to hear:

Lera Lynn, Something More than Love

This is a very nice album filled with smart catchy songs. She has more of a country background, but this is a useful move toward pop singer-songwriter material, even working in some synths. Some reviewers have used the deadly term “soundscapes” here, which is a synonym for “kinda boring” but I don’t see that at all. Maybe it’s the moment I heard the album, but I felt these songs grabbed more than her previous albums did. Sometimes that happens.


Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double, March

Oh yeah this is the shit right here. I love this band so much. It’s one of my favorites in contemporary jazz. I saw this band in about 2017 and it was great. It is an experimental jazz outfit with a unique spin–2 drummers (Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver), 2 guitars (Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook), and 2 trumpeters (Taylor Ho Bynum and Ralph Alessi). Actually, when I saw them, they were short Alessi, who suffered a lip injury playing the night forward. First time I’d ever heard of a jazz injury. Anyway, this is a lot of talent! This is a new album, but it comes from a show in 2019 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, where I saw them the first time. I remember not being able to go to this show and being bummed about it. Now I’m really bummed! But what a document. Jazz for rock fans. I bought a copy right away. Will listen to this for years.


Thin Lear, Wooden Cave

Alright indie folk in the chamber pop style. Obviously big Cohen and Newman vibes here. Some reviewers really loved this, I thought it kind of hummed along alright, but in the end did not grab me in any meaningful way.


Matthew Shipp Trio, World Construct

Ho hum another astounding album from Matthew Shipp, who has a record catalog now that is equal to or greater than anyone in jazz history. This is just amazing. The interplay between Shipp, Michael Bisio on bass, and Newman Taylor Baker on drums kicks massive ass from the first note. These guys know each other so well. They’ve played together on and off for years and this is just fire.


Gili Yalo, self-titled

Yalo is Ethiopian but lives in Israel. He came over in the migration of Ethiopian Jews out of that country in 1984 during the horrible famine. So he mostly grew up in Israel. But he very much imbibes those amazing Ethiopian traditions, which might the most accessible of all African music traditions for westerners. I had his self-titled album on my list since its release in late 2017, but had never gotten around to it until now. It’s red hot. There’s the Ethiopian music front and center, sure. But then there’s funk and R&B and jazz and Latin all thrown in there too. In that, he’s not super different than the king of Ethiopian music, Mulatu Astatke, but a more modern and updated version of him (and without the vibraphone). He’s a great singer with a great sense of how to put together a song. Very fine.


Chad Fowler/Matthew Shipp, Old Stories

You have to review multiple Shipp albums a week just to keep up!

This is basically fine, but I think represents some of the reasons why in an ideal world, jazz artists would be a bit more discerning about what they release. The interplay between Shipp and the saxophonist Chad Fowler is certainly solid. Fowler can blow as hard as anyone and his more noisy squawks over Shipp’s often more sedate piano in this set can work. But does this need to be more than 80 minutes? No, it definitely does not. It’s hard to listen to a duet like this for 80 minutes. Does this really stand up from a lot of Shipp duets with a bunch of other saxophonists? I mean, not that much. It’s another entry in his gigantic recording career and as such it’s completely fine, but in comparison to a lot of other work, including the album above, it’s not that memorable.


And a final one from very deep in the archives of albums I’ve never heard:

NRBQ, Tapdancin Bats

NRBQ is one of those bands that I know exist, but that I have never really gotten around to. So I thought it was well beyond time to make that happen. It’s an interesting listen almost 40 years after its release in 1983. The 80s were not good for roots bands, with very few exceptions (Los Lobos and Dave Alvin come to mind immediately). I think in a different time NRBQ would have made a slightly deeper and somewhat less silly album, but this holds up pretty well. That a lot of this was archival material to get out of a bad contract perhaps doesn’t help either. I don’t know really know that we need a song about Captain Lou Albano, though that Captain Lou appears on the track is certainly fun. You know, this is a perfectly fine album at this point.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics, except for where relevant to the music.

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