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No. 9 - Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan - Small Town (ECM/DG) - The SPEW countdown continues.

When I was a kid reviewer, I prided myself on my range. Yup, the nineteen year-old wunderkind who reviewed the Kinks and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Used to flash some of my music theory class chops. Ooh-ah. Once I might have been able to tell you when i heard the dorian or the mixolydian. Not any more. I now embrace that I'm a rock 'n' roll singer who appreciates jazz. I’d like to think that I’ve listened carefully and conscientiously enough to know shit from shinola. Put in my 10,000 hours … or whatever. 

So here's where I testify for an artist named Bill Frisell. He is a guitarist who can play almost anything. He’s performed or recorded with an amazing variety of artists, from the traditional to the avant-garde. His touch, tone, and technique are immediately recognizable, but he never descends to schtick or branding. 

Thirty-three years ago, Frisell teamed with tenor man Joe Lovano in a trio led by the exquisite drummer Paul Motian. They made three recordings together, It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago as a trio, two others as the core of quintet recordings.The title song from Happened is graceful and touching. It’s instrumental: there’s no singer, no lyric, but it’s the kind of tune that implies the lyric, subtly and beautifully. The song has always haunted me, and Frisell must be attached to it too because he includes it on Small Town, a 2016 recital with bassist Thomas Morgan, released by ECM in 2017. The version here, nearly double the length of the trio recording, is alone worth the price of admission. Gorgeous song, two musicians of extraordinary talent and deep empathy - it simply soars. 

Frisell’s versatility is partly to do with his having grown up with rock as much as jazz. He can play blistering rock. He can go toe to toe in extreme, outsider improvisation with the likes of John Zorn. He also has a gentle, poignant aspect that makes him this generation’s Jim Hall - endlessly tasteful, tuneful, articulate. And it’s that side of Frisell that dominates here. 

Small Town was recorded live at the legendary Village Vanguard with the kind of clarity one expects from the ECM label. It’s an eclectic program, including the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower,” Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” and Fats Domino’s “What a Party. The duo give each implied idiom it’s due while still weaving them into the overall mood of the performance. Small Town is a testament to the arts of collaboration and improvisation from two terrific musicians. And one of this year’s best records. 


The people have spoken.

Jessica Lea Mayfield's unapologetic "Sorry is Gone"

Jessica Lea Mayfield, of Kent, Ohio, released her first album With Blasphemy so Heartfelt (produced by Dan Auerbach, fellow Ohioan) at the tender age of nineteen. I missed it. I probably shouldn’t have.
Her second Auerbach (Black Keys) produced record Tell Me arrived in 2011 when she was 22, 23 maybe. I listened to it. I heard talent. But somehow the combination of songs, performance and production didn’t really hook me.
Never bothered with her alleged grunge-rock record, the two previous had been loosely in the roots-rock/Americana idiom, called Make My Head Sing. No Dan Auerbach. I don’t know who produced it, but Mayfield described it loosely as dedicated to one of her favorite artists, Dave Grohl. Not being a huge fan of the Zelig of contemporary rock, that dedication probably soured me on the project. Sorry.
For me and Jessica it was a matter of timing. The time is now. And the record is Sorry is Gone. Which is pretty great.
Mayfield and producer John Agnello seamlessly blend everythi…

EMA is Ericka M. Anderson. Exile in the Outer Ring is her vision of American despair and marginalization. Yup.

When I selected Past Life Martyred Saints as my top album of 2011, Ericka M. Anderson was straight out of the American underground, not an artist widely recognized. EMA, professionally and for short, had released material with two groups, Amps for Christ and the Gowns, but PLMS was her solo debut, and it was on a small label called Souterrain Transmissions. If you want a little background, here’s a link to my original review and my 2011 Top 25:

With the 2014 release of The Future’s Void, EMA consolidated her stature as an artist to be reckoned with. After the viscerally powerful PLMS, Void was a colder, more technocratic vision. Like it’s ambiguous title, the music conveyed a vision of a sterile and oppressive near tomorrow, like something out of a William Gibson novel, humanity struggling with the powers of its own creation, with the alienations of the internet age.

Void’s slabs of distorted sounds were a blurred border…

SPEW presents the 12th-20th Best Albums of 2017. (#16 is a tie. This is my world ... and so is #10.)

12.EMA – Exile in the Outer Ring (City Slang) I had this to say when this album came out … I would still say pretty much the same.
13.Kendrick Lamar – Damn (Top Dawg/Interscope) Hip-hop. I know what I like. It’s impossible not to like Kendrick. Named for the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks, Lamar is straight outta Compton, section 8 housing, the life. He’s also an artist unafraid, not reluctant to mix genres and sounds or to speak his truth, plainly and poetically. His last, To Pimp a Butterfly, was universally, justifiably acclaimed. Damn is harder, more personal, and just as impressive. ‘Duckworth’ (Lamar’s real last name) is a lyric tour de force of black millennial life. A story too good to be true, but that don’t matter,because it says what it says so powerfully.
14.Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (Matador) Barnett has, along with a punk-assertive aspect, a droll, laconic side. Vile is all droll, laconic side.Together, they kee…