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Music Notes


Been too long again since I did one of these.

I’ve seen a few shows in the last month that need discussion. I’ve seen four shows, three of which are jazz. Let’s start with James Brandon Lewis and the Messthetics, who I saw up in Boston. The Messthetics are the Fugazi rhythm section, plus the guitarist Anthony Pirog. Pirog also plays with the saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. So they decided to combine for an album and tour that meshed some very different styles. The Messthetics are basically punk jazz. Lewis is usually someone very much out of the soul jazz tradition. So they do a little of everything here. I haven’t heard the album, so I can’t speak to that. What I can say is that it’s a fun show, if not the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I sometimes thought Lewis’ sax got a bit lost in the noise when they really got going. But it is also wonderful to see all the ways in which jazz musicians are incorporating the entirety of contemporary music and doing astounding things with it. I maintain that the early 21st century is equal to any age of jazz in the genre’s history and those stuck in the past are missing out on a lot of great music. So I’d at least check this out.

And here’s a good piece on the Messthetics/JBL project.

I saw Adam Rudolph’s Sunrise Quartet at Firehouse 12 in New Haven. That consisted of Rudolph on percussion, Alexis Marcelo, piano, keys, percussion; Kaoru Watanabe, percussion, taiko, flutes, electric koto, processing; Stephen Haynes, cornet, flugelhorn, trumpet, conch, didgeridoo, percussion. I had seen Rudolph once before with some North African musicians and a cornet player and I thought it one of the most astounding things I had ever seen. Rudolph is a truly master percussionist who merges the jazz tradition with other traditions from around the world. This one was heavily Japanese influenced, thanks to Watanabe, who was really fun to see play with these wild instruments. These were two very long pieces, even for jazz. In fact, these Firehouse 12 sets are usually just an hour, which is normal for jazz, but this was well over that, about 1:20, again over two pieces. They rarely fully let loose–it’s not a noise jazz fest. It’s a set of remarkable musicians building off each to high levels of tension at low volumes. Very cool.

I had to be in New York City last weekend for a family thing, so I managed to squeeze in a set at The Stone, where the clarinetist Ben Goldberg was playing, with Michael Goldman on synths, Hamir Atwal on drums, and Kenny Wollesen on electric vibraphone. Let me say, that electric vibes stuff was interesting. Wollesen usually plays the drums and I didn’t know Atwal, but he was outstanding. However, watching Wollesen screw around with an electrified vibraphone was fascinating. He spent a good bit of the set playing the thing with a bass bow between the different vibes, making all kinds of unusual noises. Goldman was super fun on the synths too. I had not seen Goldberg before, though I have some of his work. He’s certainly not the most accessible composer in the universe, but he’s a true master of his instrument and knows how to put people around him to really accentuate what he is doing with it. Cool show.

Finally, I saw the great Willi Carlisle at a tiny little space in Boston. Man, that guy is great. Imagine Pete Seeger as a slightly insane guy who sings about doing too much coke in an Arkansas Walmart parking lot or spending time in intentional communities and you get something like what Carlisle does. He’s a bit of a wild man, talking openly about his issues, trying to get people into sing-alongs on some verses, and building community in his own way. It was super great. I loved it very much. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Other news and notes:

On Alice Randall and the Black Country project

More on Black Country, this time from Rhiannon Giddens and Brittney Spencer.

20 years since the release of Sonic Nurse, not only an underrated album in the Sonic Youth catalog, but also their last great release.

We lost Françoise Hardy, at the age of 80, which classifies as a national day of mourning in France. Also, Doug Ingle, the vocalist for Iron Butterfly, who largely bailed on music shortly after the band became famous for its incredible exercise in self-indulgence, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Mark James, writer of “Suspicious Minds,” “You Were Always on My Mind” and many other great songs, died. I still think Waylon and Jessi Colter have the best version of “Suspicious Minds,” not Elvis. And then we lost Johnny Canales, who is a Tejano singer who also helped discover Selena.

The consolidation of the music touring industry, with Live Nation owning both Ticketmaster and large concert venues is leading to acts being placed in enormous arenas they can’t come close to filling because the tickets are so freaking expensive for these places. Canary in the coal mine on this was the Black Keys cancelling their tour because no one was buying the tickets. This is a good run-down of the whole issue.

The Mexican musician Carin León is combining traditional northern Mexican music and modern country to great results.

Robbie Fulks on Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter album and the ridiculous debates over authenticity in country music.

Playlist for the last three weeks:

  1. Indigo de Souza, Any Shape You Take
  2. Matt Sweeney/Bonnie Prince Billy, Superwolves
  3. Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet, Way Out East
  4. Drive By Truckers, Live from Austin TX
  5. Spider John Koerner, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Been
  6. Bobby Previte, Just Add Water
  7. Fred Moten, Brandon López, and Gerald Cleaver, Moten
  8. Hard to Find 45s: Sweet Soul Sounds
  9. Richard Thompson, You? Me? Us?, electric disc
  10. Billy Joe Shaver, I’m Just a Old Chunk of Coal
  11. Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame
  12. The Waco Brothers, Going Down in History
  13. Dua Saleh, Nur
  14. Old & In the Way, self-titled
  15. Cherry/Redman/Haden/Blackwell, Old and New Dreams
  16. Frank Lowe, Lowe and Behold
  17. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
  18. The Paranoid Style, The Interrogator
  19. X, Wild Gift
  20. Sonny Sharrock, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast Soundtrack
  21. Girlpool, Powerplant
  22. Buddy Tabor, Blinding Flash of Light
  23. Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World
  24. Craig Taborn, Daylight Ghosts
  25. Sonny Sharrock, Seize the Rainbow
  26. Townes Van Zandt, Rear View Mirror
  27. Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whaleheart
  28. Matthew Shipp, Pastoral Composure
  29. Merle Haggard & Bonnie Owens, Just Between the Two of Us
  30. The Gourds, Cow Fish Fowl or Pig
  31. Waylon Jennings, Waylon Live, disc 2
  32. Johnny Paycheck, Modern Times
  33. Tom T. Hall, New Train Same Rider
  34. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
  35. Old 97s, Satellite Rides
  36. Drive By Truckers, Brighter than Creation’s Dark
  37. Highwomen, self-titled (x2
  38. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
  39. Johnny Paycheck, Slide Off Your Satin Sheets
  40. George Jones, A Picture of Me (Without You)
  41. Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple
  42. Billy Bang, Vietnam: Reflections
  43. David S. Ware Quartet, Freedom Suite
  44. Riddy Arman, self-titled
  45. Rusty & Doug Kershaw, Louisiana Man
  46. Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl
  47. Jessi Colter, A Country Star is Born
  48. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen
  49. Marianne Faithfull, Broken English
  50. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
  51. Bomba Estereo, Elegancia Tropical
  52. Amyl & The Sniffers, Comfort to Me
  53. Tomeka Reid Quartet, Old New
  54. Duke Ellington, Black, Brown & Beige, disc 2
  55. Algiers, The Underside of Power
  56. Wednesday, Rat Saw God
  57. Otis Redding, Otis Blue
  58. Torres, Silver Tongue
  59. Palace Brothers, There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You
  60. Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger
  61. Bobby Bare, The Winner and Other Losers
  62. Del Reeves, Before Good Bye
  63. Kris Kristofferson, Repossessed
  64. Éthiopiques Vol. 8: Swinging Addis
  65. Roscoe Mitchell, Distant Radio Transmission
  66. Charles Mingus, Live at the Bohemia
  67. Welcome To Zamrock! How Zambia​’​s Liberation Led To a Rock Revolution, Vol. 1 (1972​-​1977)
  68. Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins, Which Way is East?
  69. Mitski, Puberty 2
  70. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can
  71. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean
  72. Jason Isbell, Live from the Ryman
  73. Old 97s, Most Messed Up
  74. Laura Veirs, The Lookout
  75. Bill Callahan, Dream River
  76. John Moreland, In the Throes
  77. George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Golden Ring
  78. Wussy, Forever Sounds
  79. Bill Monroe, Live at the Opry
  80. Matt Sweeney & Bonnie Prince Billy, Superwolf
  81. Chris Stapleton, Traveller
  82. Miles Davis, Dark Magus, disc 1
  83. Ramones, Leave Home
  84. Richard Thompson, Live at Rock City
  85. Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+ Revolution
  86. Waylon Jennings, Dreaming My Dreams
  87. Ray Charles, The Genius of Ray Charles
  88. MC5, High Time
  89. Miles Davis, Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet
  90. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
  91. Last Exit, Headfirst into the Flames
  92. Plains, I Walked With You A Ways
  93. Mourn, self-titled
  94. Henry Threadgill, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs
  95. Priests, Nothing Feels Natural
  96. Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird is Home
  97. Carrie Rodriguez, Lola
  98. Sturgill Simpson, High Top Mountain
  99. Alison Russell, Outside Child
  100. Ryley Walker, Deafman Glance
  101. Jesca Hoop, Stonechild
  102. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There?
  103. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else
  104. Sunny Sweeney, Trophy
  105. Indigo de Souza, Any Shape You Take

Album Reviews:

Vijay Iyer/Linda May Han Oh/Tyshawn Sorey, Compassion

Is this the best working p/b/d jazz trio working today? I think the answer is yes. This is another fantastic, if not completely world-changing, example of three complete masters playing off each other in ways that both represent jazz tradition and push the music forward in interesting ways that challenge but don’t overwhelm the more casual listener. In fact, if you are someone interested in maybe checking out some modern jazz, but find the whole project kind of intimidating and maybe some of it too weird, the Iyer Trio would be a great place for you to start.


The Vaccines, Pick Up Full of Pink Carnations

Pretty catchy indie rock project. Nothing super remarkable here, but all parts of it are more than fine–the hooks, the vocals, the songs. Completely acceptable within the genre.


Sean Shibe, Lost & Found

Ok, now this is interesting. One of the most fascinating electric guitarists I’ve heard in a long time, this is a solo project that takes the instrument in some, ur, rather unexpected places. Shibe decided to do something like Richard Thompson’s 1,000 Years of Popular Music and make it way weirder with solo electric guitar. So if you wanted to hear outre versions of Hildegard of Bingen-written melodies, well, this is your chance! Other favorites of his are Bill Evans, Messiaen, Chick Corea, Julius Eastman, and Meredith Monk. My only critique is that it runs a bit too long and as such, becomes less compelling toward the end. But I might have just been getting physically and mentally tired from listening to this unusual work. You really haven’t heard anything like it.


John Moreland, Visitor

Moreland is one of my favorites, but after his early albums made a huge impact, even leading to a New Yorker profile, his last couple didn’t sell so well. His fans largely fetishize A MAN AND HIS GUITAR and thus were resistant to his sonic experiments that included computerized effects and bird chirps and stuff. Now, to be fair to these fans, I’d also argue that songs on the few records are merely really good rather than the utterly astounding confessional stuff he did on In the Throes and High on Tulsa Heat. But still, the indifferent reaction to some of these albums really irritated because I hate the fetish of folkie/Americana/country types about what is and is not acceptable sounds. Don’t even get me started on how this works with bluegrass purists, though I know I have gone into that before from time to time.

Well, Moreland just completely disappeared for a year. He cut himself off from almost everything, except his wife. No touring, no computers, no smartphones. He just wanted to reconnect with himself. So without even announcing it first, he dropped his latest album earlier this year. I didn’t even know about it until a couple of weeks ago and I pay close attention to these things. It is quiet, introspective, and quite nice. It does continue his run of songs better described as good than great. It is lovely and I will buy it. You should too. It’s not In the Throes. But that’s like comparing an album to Blood on the Tracks. You aren’t going to do that every time and no one should expect you to either. This is more than good enough.


The Thing with Joe McPhee, She Knows

This is a 2001 album that I pulled from the deep archives to check out. The Thing is (or was) a Swedish jazz band made up of Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone sax, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. For this project, they invited the New York legendary saxophonist Joe McPhee to participate. The Thing has always been more interesting than most European jazz, which I often find too rooted in the classical tradition of playing, if not of material per se. But The Thing, they also had some serious punk attitude to their jazz and they worked with all sorts of interesting people, including Thurston Moore. When they broke up in 2019, or at least went on hiatus, some of their early releases got a re-release and this is how this album got on my radar screen. It’s a super collaboration. The band itself initially was a Don Cherry cover/tribute band. This is the second album and they kind of started moving in new directions already, though there is a Cherry cover here. But if you are a bunch of wild Scandos and you call Joe McPhee and say you are channeling Cherry’s work, I mean, why not take the chance with the guys? So they not only cover Cherry here, but do some McPhee originals and also cover Frank Lowe and James Blood Ulmer and Ornette. More important than the covers though is the spirit. The highlight is the dueling saxes, where McPhee gets the opportunity to lead since he’s the legend but Gustafsson more than holds his own. Worthy re-release, to say the least.


The London Suede, Suede

Let’s go deep into the archives for an album from 1993 that I have never heard before. I simply was not listening to this kind of music my freshman and sophomore years of college. In that era, I was in my extremely brief prog-rock phase that mercifully died the moment I heard an Emerson Lake and Palmer album, while beginning to explore jazz. I was not listening to anything new and British, and really hardly anything new at all. I never did like the pop music of the 80s and still largely don’t. So I was almost completely unaware this band existed, and of course they were more popular in the UK than the US anyway.

30 years later, I can see why this album is well-regarded. It really does mix everything that was good about the late 70s through the early 90s–the glam and the punk and the experimentation and the Bowie and the Eno. The sad vocals, the shimmery guitars, the tension and the partnership between the band members, it’s all kind of there. I still don’t know that I’d buy this or anything, but you know, if you put it on, I’d be cool with it.


Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio, Jet Black

Having seen Fujii a couple of times, I expect the Japanese pianist to be making some really freaking difficult music, even by my standards. That’s fine, yes, but also even I have my limits of how much prepared piano I can handle on a given day. But lately, she has released some reasonably accessible albums that continue to demonstrate her mastery of the instrument and her incredible interaction with her musicians. Her music will never not be tough to play. A friend of mine who used to play with her told me that sometimes this stuff was not within the realm of physical possibility to pull off the way she wanted. But if she pushes musicians to the brink of their capabilities, the payoff is well worth it in this case.


Beyoncé, Cowboy Carter

All Hail Our New Country Queen!

Now, there is nothing less interesting than authenticity debates in country music. Is this a country album? Well, yes, I don’t see how you could really dispute it. But even with someone like Lil’ Nas X, who cares what is country or not? It’s a simple matter–is the music good? But with country music, you can’t ever have that and that’s mostly because at the core of country music’s fan base are a bunch of racist pieces of shit who are outraged that a Black person would play country music. Then you have the not-particularly-racist but authenticity fetishizers who think country should be A MAN WITH A GUITAR, as I discussed above with the John Moreland album. So despite the endlessly long history of pop country, with Ray Price and George Jones using enormous amounts of strings in their 60s albums as just one of many examples, there is a constant discourse that whatever is old is OK, but new stuff is not. Add an enormously popular Black pop star to the mix and some of the country music world is going to lose their shit. If you didn’t read the Robbie Fulks discussion of the album linked above, do so.

As for me, I just think this is a damn good album. If you really authenticity, whatever that is, you have Willie and Dolly on the album doing spoken word intros and Beyoncé recasting “Jolene.” And you have outright respect for the history of Black country, including Rhiannon Giddens playing on the album and Linda Martell showing up to do an intro as well. If it matters, Beyoncé is showing respect.

She is also working her ass off. She’s in her 40s and has more money than God. She doesn’t need to recast herself in this way. That should does is worthy of acclaim alone. That she would enter into the most fraught debate in modern music is even better.

But whatever on all of this–this album is freaking full of bangers, including the big hit with “Texas Hold ‘Em,” which is just a great song. Is it a bit long, as a lot of pop star albums are today? Yeah, it is. Cut 15 minutes off this and it’s clearly the album of the year. But even with a bit of filler, this is a big triumph. Congrats to her.


Ratboys, The Window

I got dragged to a Ratboys show recently without having heard them, but I’m always up for new things. This album was on my list anyway. So I finally checked it out. It’s good solid indie rock. Working with the prominent producer Chris Walla, they sought to step their game up and while I can’t speak to their earlier work, I can’t complain about the results here. If anything, I guess Julia Steiner’s voice is a bit thin for this kind of rock and roll. The production helps. Certainly solid work, at the very least.


Adrian Quesada, Jaguar Sound

Jammy and jazzy south Texas-based instrumental rock. Similar vein to Khurangbin, Enjoyable, if limited. Good background music for working though. In fact, it’s totally perfect for that.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics.

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