Album reviews: Allah-Las, Julien Chang, Various artists, Gong Gong Gong, and Tomeka Reid Quartet

Tomeka Reid Quartet's Old New is a stunner on every level. Image: Jasmine Kwong. Tomeka Reid Quartet’s Old New is a stunner on every level. Image: Jasmine Kwong.


Las (Mexican Summer)

On their fourth LP, L.A.’s Allah-Las don’t seem in any hurry to alter their psychedelic slacker twang. In fact, they don’t seem in any particular hurry at all; the baker’s dozen of songs lopes along with nary a hitch, everything a pleasant if slightly dulled blend of Beck and White Fence. It’s not that it doesn’t sound great—guitars chime and jangle, Miles Michaud gently intones oblique lyrics, nobody gets hurt. But there’s an underlying ennui, as Las seems tailor-made for sunny afternoons when you close your laptop but then can’t quite figure out what you want to do. Allah-Las play D.C.’s Black Cat on November 16. [7.1]

Julien Chang

Jules (Transgressive)

With his homemade debut, Baltimore native Julien Chang stakes a claim to prodigy status. Chang played virtually every note on Jules and the album is a modest tour de force, from the gorgeously shape-shifting baroque guitar passage that opens “Deep Green” to the bedroom prog of “Moving Parts.” Meantime, Chang’s vocals embody what the kids call “indie” these days, floating above the tracks with performative melancholy and bashfulness. For all its promise, Jules still feels more like an exercise than an album—but Chang sounds like he could deliver a keeper, and at 20, he should get plenty of chances. [7.6]

Various artists

If Music Presents You Need This: A Journey Into Deep Jazz Vol. 3 (BBE Music)

Formerly of the production team The Amalgamation of Soundz and an OG rave DJ, Jean-Claude compiles the You Need This series out of his London record shop, If Music. As you’d expect, he’s an astute crate digger, so “deep jazz” probably just refers to deep cuts—but there’s a stylistic consistency here, and it’s possible Jean-Claude is labeling a subgenre. If so, an alternate tag could be “tropical hard bop”—Coltraneisms mixed with spy jazz, served in a coconut. There’s some engaging stuff by trombonist Tyrone Jefferson and should-be-legendary drummer Beaver Harris (Thelonious Monk, Albert Ayler, etc), and the rest almost lives up to the hype of the title. [6.6]

Gong Gong Gong

Phantom Rhythm (Wharf Cat)

Though duo Gong Gong Gong calls Beijing home, this isn’t “Chinese punk”—bassist Joshua Frank grew up in Montreal, while guitarist/singer Tom Ng hails from Hong Kong and sings in Cantonese, rather than the mainland’s dominant Mandarin. Moreover, within Gong Gong Gong’s minimal scuzz are hints of the Sahara and New York, including unmistakable Talking Heads and Liquid Liquid quotes. If this makes Phantom Rhythm sound like a global rock slide show, it ain’t—the grooves lock and lumber, with nary a harmonic change in sight, much less a middle eight, and the 10 tracks also clock in at virtually the same tempo. There’s enough spunk to sustain the monotony for a while, but just. [6.8]

Tomeka Reid Quartet

Old New (Cuneiform)

It’s always a good sign when you’ve got a MacArthur fellow playing guitar in your band. On Old New, cellist Tomeka Reid leads a quartet including “genius” grantee Mary Halvorson through nine tracks of fierce yet playful avant jazz, and it’s a stunner on every level. As the quartet stretches and twists Reid’s profuse melodic ideas, its
interplay makes composition sound like improvisation and vice versa. Reid and Halvorson are joined by bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and the hornless quartet’s timbral palette is warm and woodsy even when Halvorson lays down blistering chordal leads. And while Reid’s compositional and technical gifts
transcend jazz, they exemplify the tradition wondrously. [9.5]

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