Allen Lowe’s New Adventures In the Diaspora of the Diaspora

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This post is dedicated to the very recent work of Allen Lowe, not only one of the most ambitious, prolific, and interesting jazz composers alive but also a talented saxophonist, an essential author for anyone wanting to deeply understand this country’s music, and a musicologist who can compile a 36-disc about the flexibility and mischievousness of the blues that, at this late date, is full of surprises, no matter how well-versed the listener is. Among musicians, only Swamp Dogg, Charles Mingus, and early Bob Dylan are his peers in piquantly and entertainingly writing one’s own liner notes. He toils away in the state of Maine, pursuing the “everlasting beauty of monotony” (Benjamin Britten) and–successfully, I would argue–pushing his work to speak in new ways about who we are. If that sounds complicated, it is, a little, but it doesn’t violate the law of diminishing returns, I assure you. He has recently released five new records that deserve praise; since, according to Roger Price’s Law, “if everyone doesn’t want it, nobody gets it,” the best way to grab ’em is to contact Allen directly at allenlowe5@gmail.com about the ones you’re interested in, or browse to http://www.allenlowe.com/for-sale/  Keep your eyes peeled for his upcoming Mary Lou Williams Suite, portions of which appear herein. Now, to the reviews, w/accompanying unscientific but deeply-felt ratings out of 10…

Shipp

MATTHEW SHIPP PLAYS THE MUSIC OF ALLEN LOWE – 8.8 – Shipp, who’s made his pianistic bones in more abstract settings (notably with David S. Ware), is movingly earthbound here, often striking veins of dark, complicated romanticism that are, I think, at the heart of Lowe’s work. The composer’s alto will remind you of Dolphy’s angularity and Parker’s headlong expressionism–a pleasingly drier-toned version–and bassist Kevin Ray, who plays on most of these recordings, is a wonder: I seemed to learned more about Lowe’s writing following Ray on my third and fourth listen than from focusing on any other musician.
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From the IN THE DIASPORA OF THE DIASPORA* series :

Bluiett

WE WILL GATHER WHEN WE GATHER – 10 – One of the very best jazz albums of the year, with the baritone of Master Hamiet Bluiett shooting worship and subversion through Lowe’s blues- and gospel-colored compositions. Ava Mendoza’s guitar-skronks, Matt Lavelle‘s skittery trumpet (makes me miss Don Cherry even more–and you should mos def try his Monk record!), and Jake Millet’s turntable scrubs and scratches combine with Bluiett’s inventions to do the most justice to Lowe’s vision of any in the series. Pick to click: the first serious composition–to my knowledge–to honor and mourn the murdered Charleston churchgoers, “Theme for the Nine,” maybe my favorite and definitely my most-played track so far. I wish I could share a track with the ‪#‎CharlestonSyllabus‬ project. There is a way….

Johnson

MAN WITH THE GUITAR: WHERE’S ROBERT JOHNSON? – 9.3 – Electronics and turntables are frequent voices in Lowe’s work, and here DJ Logic and Millett answer the title question: Johnson’s ghost haunts the spaces in our best music, as it certainly does on this record (though you won’t hear Robert sampled, you’ll be excitingly jolted out of your contemplation by flickers of Charley Patton’s rasp). Lowe plays tenor and operates electronics on this recording along with playing alto, and Gary Bartz sounds more alive than he has in years, testifying on alto on “Slave Rebellion,” “Delta Sunset,” and “Blues Forever After.”

Cigarette

WHEN A CIGARETTE IS SMOKED BY TEN MEN – 9 – A showcase for an exciting young clarinetist, Zoe Christiansen, with a nod to Pee Wee Russell, a wry jab at Howard Hunt, and two joyful tracks with desolate titles.

Albert

BALLAD FOR ALBERT – 8.5 – This is essentially a trio record, with Millet’s almost-subliminal murmurings of current providing some disruptive texture. I am not sure which Albert the record’s named for (could be Ayler, but, being a longtime fan, I don’t quite hear it), but I am sure that the ballads are lovely and deep–in fact, Lowe’s ballad playing is a shining thread that runs through all five records. Special shout-out to “Maui Shuffle,” which, like many of Allen’s compositions, can make you think the record’s advanced a track if you leave the room, which I adamantly advise you not to do on these records. Hit the WC ahead of time, grab a drink, get comfortable, and lock in–you will be rewarded.

If you are looking to get more deeply into Lowe’s work, advance directly to his masterpiece, MULATTO RADIO: FIELD RECORDINGS 1-4, one of my very favorite records of 2014–so good I couldn’t write about it, if that makes sense. And explore his earlier work, which, unsurprisingly–ranges across the diaspora of the diaspora.

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*Allen considers all of his work as fitting under this umbrella, which refers to the diaspora cascading out from the original music of the African diaspora–where, in Lowe’s own words (words, I suspect, that have gotten him in Dutch), “tradition becomes both a means of respectful worship and a matter of subversion…”–but these four records are specifically designated as such.

100+ Strong–2015 Fave Raves

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UPDATED December 18

Overeem’s End-of-Year Best-of-2015 

“Guaranteed Interesting” (at least)

Not all of the below are 2015 releases–some were released earlier but are just now breaking the cyber-surface. But the thing is, for those who argue good music is dead (ho-fucking-hum), here’s 121 slabs that have given me pleasure this year. Not all are perfect, but I stand behind this statement: it’s all good. Also, if you’ve looked at the list and are thinking, “Where’s x? What about y?” and it’s not Taylor Swift, I probably haven’t listened to it yet–like you, probably, I follow my nose, and it’s attuned to certain, um, scents. Note: These are in alphabetical order, obviously. The grading scheme is borrowed from master critics Bob Christgau and Tom Hull. The asterisks next to each B+ indicate how close that record is to excellent. Fascinating, isn’t it?  Note 2: See my official Top 20 in meaningful order, plus a list of great reissues, also in order, here.

Rock and Roll and Such

  1. Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch) A-
  2. Aram Bajakian: There Were Flowers Also in Hell(Dalava) A-
  3. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit(Mom & Pop) A
  4. Alex Chilton: Ocean Club ’77(Norton)  B+ (***)
  5. The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open(Austin)  A-
  6. Coneheads:  aka “14 Year Old High School PC–Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo for the Sake of Extorting $$$ from Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks L.P.”(Erste Theke Tontraeger) A-
  7. Continental Drifters: Drifting—In the Beginning and Beyond(Omnivore) B+
  8. Dead Moon: Live at Satyricon (Voodoo Doughnut) A
  9. Dead Weather: Dodge and Burn(Third Man)  B+ (*)
  10. Drive-By Truckers: It’s Great to Be Alive! (ATO) A
  11. Bob Dylan: 1965-1966–The Cutting Edge: The Bootleg Series, Volume 12(Sony)  B+ (*)
  12. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night(Sony)  B+ (***)
  13. Robert Forster: Songs to Play(Tapete)  B+**
  14. Girlpool: Girlpool(Wichita)  A-
  15. Hop Along: Painted Shut(Saddle Creek)  A-
  16. The Horribly Wrong: C’Mon and Bleed…with The Horribly Wrong(Shitcan)  A-
  17. John Kruth: The Drunken Wind of Life—The Poem/Songs of Tin Ujevic(Smiling Fez)  A-
  18. John Kruth: Splitsville(Gern Blandsten)  B+ (***)
  19. Jinx Lennon: 30 BEACONS OF LIGHT FOR A LAND FULL OF SPITE THUGS DRUG SLUGS AND ENERGY VAMPIRES(Septic Tiger) B+ (**)
  20. Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts: Manhattan(Rough Trade)  A
  21. Los Lobos: Gates of Gold(429)  A-
  22. Low-Cut Connie: Hi Honey (Ardent) B+ (***)
  23. Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ(Merge) B+ (***)
  24. Natural Child: Live at The End—Freakin’ Weekend V(self-released cassette) B+ (**)
  25. Nots: We Are Nots(Goner)  A-
  26. Obnox: Boogalou Reed(12XU)  B+ (**)
  27. Obnox: Know America(Ever/Never)  B+ (***)
  28. Obnox: Wiglet(Ever/Never)  A-
  29. The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can’t Recall (self-released) B+ (***)
  30. Public Image Limited: What the World Needs Now Is… (PiL Official) B+ (**)
  31. Pussy Riot: Kill the Sexist(self-released)  B+ (***)
  32. Reactionaries: 1979(Water Under the Bridge)  B+ (*)
  33. Rocket From the Tombs: Black Record(Fire)  B+ (**)
  34. Boz Scaggs: I’m a Fool to Care(429)  B+ (*)
  35. Ty Segall: Ty Rex(Goner)  B+ (***)
  36. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love(Sub Pop)  B+ (***)
  37. The Sonics: This is The Sonics(Revox)  B+ (**)
  38. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell(Asthmatic Kitty)  (A-)
  39. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada) (A-)
  40. Richard Thompson: Still(Fantasy)  B+ (*)
  41. Titus Andronicus: The Most Lamentable Tragedy(Merge) B+ (*)
  42. Various Artists: Burn, Rubber City, Burn(Soul Jazz)  A-
  43. Various Artists: Ork Records–New York, New York(Numero)  A-
  44. Various Artists: Oxford American Georgia Music Issue CD Companion (OxfordAmerican.org) A-
  45. Various Artists: The Red Line Comp(self-released)  B+ (*)
  46. The Velvet Underground: The Complete Matrix Tapes(Polygram)  A
  47. Viet Cong: Viet Cong(Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar)  B+ (*)
  48. Wreckless Eric: amERICa(Fire)  A-
  49. x_x: Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at The Yellow Ghetto(Smog Veil)  A-
  50. Yo La Tengo: Stuff Like That There(Matador)  B+ (**)

R&B, Soul, and Blues

  1. 79rs Gang: Fire on the Bayou(Sinking City)  A
  2. Erykah Badu: But You Cain’t Use My Phone(self-released)  A-
  3. The Falcons:The World’s First Soul Group—The Complete Recordings (History of Soul) B+ (***)
  4. Kelela: Hallucinogen(Cherry Coffee)  A-
  5. J. D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll(Rounder)  B+ (**)
  6. Big Chief Juan Pardo and Golden Comanche: Spirit Food(self-released) B+ (*)
  7. Shamir: Rachet (XL) A-
  8. J. B. Smith: No More Good Time in the World For Me(Dust-To-Digital)  B+ (**)
  9. Pop Staples: Don’t Lose This(Anti-)  B+ (***)
  10. Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It(S.D.E.G.)  B+ (**)
  11. Various Artists: Beale Street Saturday Night(Omnivore)  A-
  12. Various Artists: Blues Images Presents 20 Classic Blues Songs from the 1920s, Volume 13 (BluesImages.com) A-
  13. Leo Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues(Fat Possum)  B+ (*)

Rap

  1. Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman: Lice(Stones Throw)  A-
  2. Donnie Trumpet & Chance the Rapper: Surf(self-released) B+ (***)
  3. Doomtree: All Hands(Doomtree)  B+ (***)
  4. Future: Monster(self-released)  B+ (***)
  5. Heems: Eat Pray Thug(Megaforce)  A-
  6. Kendrick Lamar: to pimp a butterfly(Aftermath)  A
  7. Lyrics Born: Real People(Mobile Home)  B+ (*)
  8. Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerilla Funk) B+ (***)
  9. Public Enemy: Man Plans, God Laughs(Spitdigital)  B+ (*)
  10. Bobby Rush: Chicken Heads—50 Years (Omnivore) A-
  11. Scarface: Deeply Rooted(Facemob)  B+ (**)
  12. Vince Staples: Summertime ’06(Def Jam)  B+ (***)
  13. Various Artists: Khat Thaleth–Third Line: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness(Stronghold Sound)  A-
  14. Young Fathers: White Men are Black Men Too(Ninja Tune)  B+ (**)
  15. Young Thug: Slime Season 1(self-released)  B+ (*)
  16. Young Thug: Slime Season 2(self-released)  B+ (***)

 Country and Folk

  1. Iris DeMent: The Trackless Woods(Flariella)  A-
  2. Kinky Friedman: The Loneliest Man I Ever Met(Avenue A)  B+ (**)
  3. Brian Harnetty: Rawhead and Bloodybones(Dust-To-Digital)  B+ (**)
  4. Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free(Southeastern) B+ (**)
  5. Jerry McGill: AKA Jerry McGill(Fat Possum) A-
  6. James McMurtry: Complicated Game(Complicated Game) B+ (***)
  7. Kasey Musgraves: Pageant Material(Mercury) (A-)
  8. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard: Django & Jimmy(Legacy) B+ (***)
  9. Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day(Legacy) A
  10. Mark Rubin: Southern Discomfort(CDBaby) A-
  11. Various Artists: Have Moicy 2–The Hoodoo Bash(Red Newt) A-
  12. Various Artists: The Year of Jubilo(Old Hat) A-
  13. Wussy: Public Domain, Volume 1(Shake It) B+ (***)
  14. Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart(Warner Brothers) B+ (**)

International

  1. Africa Express: Terry Riley’s “In C”—Mali(Transgressive) A
  2. Ata Kak: Obaa Sima(Awesome Tapes from Africa) B+ (***)
  3. Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni: Ba Power(Glitterbeat) A-
  4. Bob Marley & The Wailers: Easy Skankin’ in Boston, 1978(Tuff Gong) A-
  5. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa(World Circuit) A-
  6. Mdou Moctar: Soundtrack to the film Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai(Sahel Sounds) A-
  7. Mammane Sani et son Orgue:La Musique Electronique du Niger(Sahel Sounds)  B+ (***)
  8. Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile(Atlantic) A-
  9. Omar Souleyman: Bahdeni Nami(Monkeytown) A-
  10. Tal National: Kaani(Fat Cat) A-
  11. Tal National: Zoy Zoy(Fat Cat) A-
  12. Tamikrest: Taksera (Glitterbeat) B+ (**)

Jazz

  1. J. D. Allen: Graffiti (Savant) A-
  2. Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (ECM) A
  3. Vijay Iyer: Break Stuff (ECM) B+ (***)
  4. Oliver Lake and William Parker:For Roy (Intakt)  A-
  5. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro: Harmolodic Monk (CDBaby) A-
  6. James Brandon Lewis: Days of FreeMan(Okeh) B+ (*)
  7. Allen Lowe: Where’s Robert Johnson?—The Man with the Guitar (Constant Sorrow) B+ (***)
  8. Allen Lowe with Hamiet Bluiett: We Will Gather When We Gather (Constant Sorrow) A-
  9. Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (International Anthem) B+ (***)
  10. Joe McPhee:  Solos–The Lost Tapes 1981-1984 (Roaratorio) B+ (**)
  11. Charles McPherson: The Journey (Capri) A-
  12. Irene Schweizer, and Han Bennink: Welcome Back(Intakt) A
  13. Sonny Simmons and Moksha Samnyasin: Nomadic (Svart) B+ (***)
  14. Sun Ra: To Those of Earth…and Other Worlds–Gilles Peterson Presents Sun Ra And His Arkestra(Strut) A-
  15. Henry Threadgill & Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi) A-
  16. Kamasi Washington: The Epic(Brainfeeder) B+ (**)