On Saturday, while making chopped liver for a dinner party and emptying a bookcase in need of repair, I listened to and commented on Facebook about 14 cds from the stacks of dozens of albums that have arrived since the first of the year seeking my review. I chose what I heard almost at random, pulling discs from the tops of piles, and rather than pre-selecting artists in whom I have established interests and prior knowledge, I mostly checked out people and groups I hadn’t encountered before (I acknowledge a couple exceptions). I employed this standard for rating the cds, allowing no half-points into the process:
5 — great, everybody ought to hear it
4 — really, really good or peculiarly interesting, recommended to aficionados
3 — good, not bad at all, good, maybe even very good (no half-points!)
2 — ok, but maybe flawed, commonplace or I don’t get it
1 — stay away, waste of time, who cares but the artist’s mom?
In the order I put them on, with the intention of listening ’til I felt I understood what was being offered. I am not posting links to each of them, but assume most can be ordered, if you’re interested, through Amazon.com.
Fareed Haque + The Flat Earth Ensememble — Flat Planet — 4 (sharp, sometimes raucous Chicago electric guitarist, fusionist South Asian background, tendencies, rhythms, collaborators; includes three-movement suite)
Fat Cat Big Band — Meditations on the War for Whose Great God is the Most High You are God — 3 (modestly original melodies but nice charts and admirably loose swing from Mingusesque youngish New York Village hangout 11-tet ed by guitarist Jade Synstelien; don’t fear the title, there’s also a tune called “F*ck the Man (Please Vote)”)
Aki Takase/Rudi Mahall — Evergreen — 4 (wacky chamber jazz as spiky pianist and masterful bass clarinetist stretch but don’t break “Mood Indigo,” “Tea for Two,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon” and other old favorites, akin to Steve Lacy w/Misha Mengleberg; quite well recorded in Berlin)
Marc Courtney Johnson — Dream of Sunny Days — 3 (debut of a Chicago neighborhood-kinda singer inspired by Kurt Elling and similarly interested in startling re-evaluation of crooners’ possibilities, working towards his own image/sound/style. Various settings include pianist Dan Cray’s trio, horns and strings; repertoire from standards (“I Wish You Love,” “Old Devil Moon”) to original “Brand New Day” based on Coltrane and Obama).
Sound Assembly — Edge of the Mind — 3 (fancy writing/angular orchestrations by NYC co-leaders David Schumacher and JC Sanford reminiscent of Michael Mantler’s for the Jazz Composers Association but less extreme and Jim McNeely’s for the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra; new music elements worked with improvising soloists; John Hollenbeck drums, Andrew Green on breakthrough guitar, Kate McGarry sings one song; impressive and/or pretentious?).
Submerged — Violence as First Nature — 4 (for brash originality: unruly urban ugly electronic mixes, analog & digital sources plus slamming beat, processed vocals, stretched rubber explosions, white noise and dark slurs, the usual; disc 2 makes further hash of it all, opposite of easy listening).
Ramana Vieria & Ensemble — Tears of a Queen — 2 (She sings fado dramatically, in Portuguese, with precision accompaniment, all crisp, expressive, professional. Not my thing for more than a couple of tunes).
Nels Cline — Coward — 3 (Unapologetic distortion from gizmos and post-folkie guitar/autoharp, sometimes both together, by the Wilco member and longtime West Coast avant-gardist who favors Andrew Hill. Self-produced in his home studio. Is it indulgent? Well, there’s a six part Onan Suite. . . )
Will Sellenraad — Balance — 2 (Wake up you guys! Drummer Victor Lewis is one of the finest with straight hardbop momentum but the material all by guitarist Sellenraad and bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa is undistinguished, the guitar esthetic/approach/sound/at
Alex Heitlinger — the daily life of uncle roger — 3 (Heitlinger is a trombonist who’s written moody material for trumpet & clarinet/alto sax to join him in the frontline, piano or Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. Maybe Uncle Roger has a farm and is threatened by changing circumstances; reminiscence, regret, determination, defiance, reluctant acceptance, self-assertion seem to come up, but the title track finds wry bounce in the cyclical nature of ‘most everything. The good playing, sudden shiftsRak and not over-politeness by the entire company might grow on me).
Rakalam Bob Moses — Father’s Day B’Hash — 2 (From the freedoms that veteran drummer Moses encourages in his band mostly comprising students from New England Conservatory, you can tell he’s a true-believer in the art and universalism of intuitively improvised music. But 17 minutes into it I’m waiting for a theme to emerge from the twittering, for ideas to take hold and move. Here’s Moses playing frenetic piano with a cymbal or tambourine clattering — inside the well? — and horns massed a la Ayler et al on New York Eye and Ear Control. Elsewhere, massed dissonant tutti. The solo “Drums for Shompa Lodro,” Moses’ father aka Richard Moses, is happening. . . Not sure I’ll return to this, however attractive the cover and transparent the engineering. I’ve given it a good chance.)
Flow Trio an> — Rejuvenation — 3 (it’s a lot easier to get into an improvisational ensemble’s stream of consciousness when there are three well-attuned players than nine, as in Moses’ recording. Tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis goes deep into himself and far to the edge with his horn; Morris is not as good a bassist as guitarist, but serves the function, and Charles Downs simmers on drums. The music’s discordant but nonetheless comforting, companionable. Thanks for that.)
I’ll try this again sometime — or is it too dismisive a way of “reviewing” cds?