There are some big marquee names on this week’s list of releases — Bloc Party, Yeasayer — but the big news is just below the fold, with slow-burning, excellent records from Matthew E. White, Jessie Ware, and British cult legend Bill Fay. Leggo:
Jessie Ware, Devotion – Former backup singer steps out into the spotlight with a quietly confident, lightly Aaliyah-reminiscent record of wispy, jazzy R&B. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Bloc Party, Four â€“ Kele and the boys are back together again, and they are making a louder, gnarlier, more distorted version of the strident, catchy, fighting-fit post-punk anthems they made their name writing. Ryan Reed writes:
“Can’t shake the feeling we’re moving backwards,” sings Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke over de-tuned acoustic strums on “Coliseum,” moments before his band launches into a nasty blues-metal stomp. In a way, his intuition is spot-on: On Four, Bloc Party’s fourth overall album (and first in four years), these former indie-rock poster boys have re-harnessed the urgent, anthemic sound that catapulted their debut, 2005â€²s Silent Alarm, into the critical limelight.
Yeasayer, Fragrant World â€“ The wide-eyed Brooklyn hippie rockers return with their most accessible and danceable effort thus far. Barry Walters has this to say:
Following the self-consciously arty impulses of 2007â€²s All Hour Cymbals and the heightened accessibility of 2010â€²s Odd Blood, Fragrant World is Yeasayer’s synthesis move: Pitting the band’s strongest batch of songs against its most jarring sounds, it radiates the tension of its opposing impulses and resolves them with rhythm. Described by the band during its creation as “demented R&B,” it’s by far their most danceable record; you could play at a party and keep everyone on the floor.
Matthew E. White, Big Inner â€“ A classic. Hushed, immaculate late-night brandy-snifter music. Like Lambchop if they made baby-making music. White sings in a low, hushed whisper about God and Love and You surrounded by a quiet haze of Hi Records soul strings and muted The Band horns. HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, one of my favorite albums of the year, beautiful and heartbreaking. The kind of record you lean in more closely to listen to, because you want to learn something. Andy Beta filed this review for us:
The biggest man to ever utter a line like “I am a barracuda/ I am a hurricane” and make it into the gentlest of admissions, White emerges on Big Inner fully steeped in the nuanced, vigilant and incisive songcraft of the likes of totemic American tunesmiths like Newman, Allen Toussaint and Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner. And while such debuts are usually tinged by youthful exuberance and metabolism, there’s such patience in White’s delivery and his backing band’s pacing that belie their years.
Bill Fay, Life is People â€“ The first new record from the British cult legend Bill Fay since 1972, a British singer-songwriter whose beatific and keenly observed music might remind you of Randy Newman or Wilco, is a small reason to celebrate. The fact that it exists is heartening, but it’s also a worthy addition to a small but hallowed canon of material. Wilco have covered him over the years, and are probably responsible for bringing his name to thousands of people; here he returns the favor with a solemn, still rendition of “Jesus, Etc.” HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Darkness, Hot Cakes â€“ The yowling, outrageous, are-they-a-joke-or-aren’t-they parody-rock hotshots return. I still rep for Permission to Land. Barry Walters writes:
Every hard rock and metal band worth its weight pushes the line of good taste until it risks parody, but few do this as deliberately as The Darkness. Their cheekiness with glam-metal clichÃ©s suggests they think it all a joke; their undeniable talent argues it’s not … on Hot Cakes, there’s a renewed emphasis on generating hits. From the swaggering opening “Every Inch of You” to the closing power ballad “Love Is Not the Answer,” brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins bang out textbook rock anthems. Being that this is the Darkness, their note-perfect craft is both heightened and subverted by their shamelessness.
Owl City, The Midsummer Station â€“ These guys are back, still sounding like wispy, anonymous, serviceable electro-pop.
Taj Mahal, Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal â€“ The rare “official bootleg” compilation that everyone needs, not just Taj Mahal freaks. Bill Murphy writes:
These early outtakes and live performances reveal a free-wheeling, unpredictable side to Taj Mahal and his music that doesn’t always shine through in the shorter, polished format of his late-’60s studio albums. That’s not to say that his self-titled 1968 debut is anything other than an essential classic of the period bridging the gap, as it does, between the old-school delta blues canon and modern blues-rock but you don’t need to know this to get a rise out of an unreleased gem like “Yan-Nah Mama-Loo,” with its sassy swamp-funk backbeat, or the bawdy 16-minute shuffle “You Ain’t No Streetwalker, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff.” The same holds true for the collection’s second disc a live set, in its entirety, from an April 1970 appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
JJ Doom, Keys To the Kuffs â€“ New DOOM record! Here he is, spitting grizzled riddles over small, muddied-feet loops of waterlogged-sounding TV-commercial samples and off-kilter soul loops. He sounds like DOOM, in other words, and if there are no longer surprises in DOOM record, there are lots of pleasures.
Ombre, Believe You me â€“ Collaborative effort from Helado Negro and Juliana Barwick. Lovely, a mix of her misted, bodiless vocalizations and Helado Negro’s gentle tropicalia lilt.
DJ Khaled, Kiss The Ringâ€“ The Roly-Poly Shouting Person Who Knows A Lot of Rappers is back. DJ Khaled makes rap music to smash together Transformers to — it’s big and very dumb and loud and incoherent, but it also has a lot of famous people you recognize in it, and you can’t really deny that it exists.
DAVE SUMNER’S JAZZ PICKS
While there’s definitely some albums that stretch the definition of Jazz, this week’s drop leaned more toward the center of the Jazz sound. Both my Pick and Find of the Week are large ensemble albums, but the smaller groups appear in greater numbers. ACT Music label had a couple decent albums drop this week; I only mention one of them. And two albums, one by Portico Quartet and the other by Brian Patneaude, hit eMusic after a small delay, but both definitely worth the wait. Also, Portico’s previous album is back on eMusic, under a different label, which I mention in case you either purchased it previously or missed it the first time around. Let’s begin…
Jazz Bigband Graz, Urban Folktales: A dynamic recording by the Jazz Bigband Graz that expertly mixes old and new-school conventions. Plenty of the rich soaring passages one expects from a large ensemble, but also some electronics, effects, and sampling. Guest soloists include Theo Bleckmann’s vocals, Nguyen Le’s guitar, Gianluca Petrella’s trumpet, Verneri Pohjola’s trumpet, and Hadja Kouyate’s vocals. An amazing album that has moments of sheer euphoric bombast and others that skip peacefully like stones across the water. Pick of the Week.
Brian Patneaude, All Around Us: Patneaude returns with a quartet, dropping the guitar from his previous quintet albums, and it makes for a less introspective, far warmer recording. And while the album does have it’s heavier moments, overall it’s an affable personality that drifts from the stereo speakers. Patneaude continues to develop his personal voice on tenor sax, and it’s been fun to be along for the ride. His album Riverview was one of my first purchases on eMusic years ago, and it’s one that still sees a play button with some regularity. Both albums, Highly Recommended.
Bill Anschell, Blueprints: Pianist Anschell has successfully teamed up previously with Brent Jensen’s soprano sax before on 2009′s We Couldn’t Agree More. For this session, they add Chris Symer’s bass for a set of peaceful tunes perfect for the stillness of a Sunday morning. Outstanding. Recommended.
Portico Quartet, Isla: After a lengthy delay, eMusic finally has the latest from Portico Quartet. Their mix of hang drum and modern Nordic Jazz makes for a potent combination. Whippoorwill reeds, ambient drones, and jazz-rock rhythms endow this music with a hypnotic ambiance easy to like. Not as cohesive as their last album Knee Deep In the North Sea, but I think the storybook feel of Isla serves them well by way of presenting another facet of their music.
Sylvain Rifflet, Beaux-Arts: Multi-reedist Rifflet has created an intriguing recording for guitar trio and string quartet. Sort of a modern avant-garde gypsy jazz album, it’s at times frenetic, other times as luxuriant as the fall of night over a calm day. This is something quite different, and very worth checking out.
Joe La Barbera Quintet, Silver Streams: Likable quintet date led by former Bill Evans drummer. Straight-ahead jazz that ain’t gonna offend anybody. Features Clay Jenkins and Bill Cunliffe. More bop than ballad, and democratic on giving time in the spotlight to each member.
Blommor Inomhus, Blommor Inomhus: A Swedish trio of vocals, trombone, and piano that brings an orchestra along for the ride. This is Scandinavian jazz… moody, melancholy, and sudden rays of sunshine. On this self-titled album, the trio adds some Indie-pop sensibilities to their sound, to great effect. Just an EP, this is a dramatically evocative recording. I hate saying I’m addicted to this album after so few listens… but I’m addicted to this album. Find of the Week.
Jeronimo Martin Sexteto, Quinoa: Lyrical modern jazz recording, with pianist Martin in the lead. Piano, trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, bass, and drums. Pleasantly moody without ever getting morose. Album has a nice sway to it. Would be unsurprised to see Brian Blade’s Fellowship listed under Martin’s influences. Good stuff.
Massimorganti Quartet, Musiplano: Trombonist Morganti leads a peaceable quartet in an exploration of the melodic side of trombone. A few covers, a few originals, it’s mostly straight-ahead jazz, though with a modern flair, both in terms of composition and the occasional use of effects.
Paul Dunmall, Thank You To John Coltrane: Free Jazz sax great Paul Dunmall teams with drummer Tony Bianco to run down a set of Coltrane compositions (with one original, the album’s title track). Fiery, yet with that touch of restraint that makes it easy to listen without getting the ears singed. Just solid playing all the way around. If you need a tenor sax fix (or, for that matter, a ferocious drums fix), then just hit the download button.
Sebastian Rochford, Days and Nights at the Takeaway: 7/7/2012: Polar Bear’s Sebastian Rochford has been creating some nifty experimental music in his studio, the Takeaway. The music often veers out of Jazz territory, but it’s no less compelling for that. Electronics and effects are hot and heavy in this music. This two song EP are drum-piano duos he performed with Jason Moran. Other albums in this ongoing series are just as interesting. Worth delving into.
And this week’s Probably-Shouldn’t-Be-In-The-Jazz-Category album is the new one from experimental sound composer and multi-instrumentalist Eli Keszler, Catching Net: Noises that sound like they originate from objects purchased at a hardware store. Weird tonal shifts, waves of dissonance, and sounds that stretch the definition of music. Also, pretty damn interesting.
SINGLES + EPs
The Gaslamp Killer, Flange Face/Seven Years of Bad Luck for Fun â€“ Very dark, corroded industrial piece of evil electronic music from the hip-hop producer known as Gaslamp Killer. DOOM would sound good rapping over this, actually.
Hooray For Earth, Never/Figure â€“ eMusic Selects alums! The tone of the production is much darker and fuzz-obscured than HFE usually sound to me, but it explodes into the same big hovering-castle chorus they do so well.
Hundred Waters, Thistle EP â€“ Remix EP from a band who put out an excellent self-titled debut this year, featuring work from Araabmusik, Starslinger, and others.