Monday, December 5. 2016
I ran behind in writing this, so I'll have to postpone Music Week until tomorrow (Tuesday). Unfortunately, nobody I'm aware of thought to take any pictures of the event below, and the evidence is now far gone. Without such documentation, I reckon we're already entering the realm of myth. I figure the least I can do is to write this event up, to establish some sort of paper trail.
Friday night the Peace and Social Justice Center here in Wichita had its annual dinner and business meeting. My little part in that was to plan and direct the menu, preparing food for 62 guests. I spent much of last week hashing out the menu with Janice Bradley and Leah Dannar-Garcia. Leah and I went shopping on Wednesday. I spent about thirteen hours on Thursday at home prepping and in some cases finishing dishes, while Janice and Leah did their own home prep. On Friday about 1 PM we met at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, along with several other people (Pat Cameron, Gretchen Eick, Kathy Hull, Russ Pataki) where the dinner would be held, and started cooking. By 6 PM we had dinner ready to serve. We put small bowls of appetizers and bread on the tables so people could start noshing. And we set up a double-long table for people to serve themselves with the main dishes. The menu was mostly Mediterranean, with dishes from Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel and the Arab countries, plus one salad from Iran:
The recipes (follow the links) were typically scaled 2 times for the appetizers and desserts (more for the hummus and fruit), the salads 2-3 times, the main dishes 3-4 times (8 lbs fish, 16 lbs chicken). The main thing that limited the scaling was the size of cooking and serving dishes, although several dishes were limited by shopping -- I didn't buy nearly enough kalamata olives, so had a single one pound recipe of tapenade and had to buy extra for the salad. The salads ran out first -- possibly because they were first in the serving line, but we could have fixed another batch of the horiatiki and mast va khiar and served it in the same large bowls. The root vegetables fit neatly into two deep baking dishes, the fish into two shallow ones, and the chicken was optimally packed into my largest pot (16-inch diameter, 6-inches deep).
I made two trays of mutabbaq, and cut them into 60 2.25 x 2.5-inch pieces, so only a couple people missed out. We served them at the counter, on plates, and let people add fruit and/or cream. (I was surprised to see people dolloping the cream on top of the mutabbaq.) The cream, which I had borrowed from a "berries and cream" recipe, was exceptional -- we should have made a second batch. We had a couple cups of caponata and a couple pints of cacciatore left at the end, plus hummus and fruit -- Janice overscaled while I erred on the low side -- but I didn't hear complaints about not cooking enough.
I think it's safe to say that it all came out delicious -- one could even say fabulous. Also that the mix of dishes worked and the tastes complemented one another. (The desserts offered a mix of sweet, tart, and creamy, none of which were overly heavy.) We could have done a better job of pointing out which things were vegetarian (or vegan), which dishes had dairy or gluten or nuts or some other real or imagined hazard -- we published the menu, but that was hardly self-explanatory.
The last few years we had the dinner catered, using various Mexican and Middle Eastern sources, nothing especially memorable. Further back, we tried pot lucks, and I made large main dishes for a couple of those -- jambalaya and cacciatore are the ones I remember -- which often produced better food, but were also inconsistent and chancey. This year, when the board decided to try another pot luck, I suggested that a planned and assigned menu would work better, maybe something Mediterranean like the Ottolenghi menu we fixed for an Alice Powell memorial dinner, but a bit broader (and simpler). Leah, who runs a small organic farm east of town, suggested a seasonal fall menu, which I was fine with, but when I spelled out my proposal she embraced it, and provided invaluable support.
Also invaluable was the kitchen and equipment provided by the church. They had a 10-burner range (which we barely used), with two ovens (exactly what we needed), large baking dishes and bowls, lots of counter space, ample dishes and flatware, and a terrific dishwasher for cleaning up. We also had about the right mix of people helping out. If we were to do it again, the one change I would make would be to get together in that kitchen the night before and do the meze and prep together rather than dividing them up and working at home (especially as I had taken on most of that work myself -- by the end I was so exhausted that I wound up knicking myself a couple times cleaning up a knife). Friday had moments that seemed like chaos, but I managed to keep everything lined up and moving along properly, so it all came together at the appointed time (6 PM).
Also, other people (especially Leah and Russ) took over the clean up when I wore out. I got in line after the salads were gone, and wandered in and out of the actual meeting. The guest speaker was Maxine Phillips, a former executive editor of Dissent Magazine and a vice chair of Democratic Socialists of America, who blogs at religioussocialism.org. She spoke about "Forced Migrations and US Immigration Policy." I didn't catch enough of this to comment, but I will risk saying two things:
Unfortuantely, the 2016 election, especially of Donald Trump to the presidency, promises nothing constructive on this front. Indeed, if Trump does manages to reduce immigration it will probably be more due to making our own country less livable than to enforcing draconian laws, and even less to making the rest of the world any less treacherous.
I'm afraid I have rather mixed views on immigration. As someone whose most recent foreign-born ancestors came to America nearly 150 years ago, and whose family preserved not one shred of previous ethnic identity, I've never had any sentimental attachment to the notion that America as a melting pot of immigrants. Nor do I have a problem with the idea that a nation has a right to control its borders and limit immigration. I'll also note that the one period of history when Americans seemed to exhibit the greatest care for one another -- at least in the sense of moving furthest to the left -- was in the 1930-40s, when immigration was largely halted. One wonders whether loosening immigration restrictions in the 1970s didn't contribute somehow to the nation's rightward drift since 1980. (That nearly a third of last year's Republican presidential candidates had at least one foreign-born parent is troubling, to say the least.)
On the other hand, I've known dozens of immigrants, most real fine people, credits to our communities, and they've helped to broaden and deepen our lives. One way, of course, was to share with us the range of food we made for this Peace Dinner (plus a great many other dishes we couldn't include -- things we can explore further in future dinners). Admittedly, most of the immigrants I know are professionals, many citizens, pretty much all with their legal status in order. The only problem I see is with those lacking proper documentation, mostly because their lack of proper credentials leaves them open to exploitation, and that less because I'm sympathetic to their plight than because their vulnerability allows those in power to be more abusive -- and not just to undocumented immigrants.
But Trump's anti-immigrant tirades are not some isolated tick. They are wrapped up in all sorts of mutually reinforcing hatreds meant to appeal to the vanity of increasingly marginalized white voters -- at least those sucker enough to overlook the obvious architects of their demise: the barons of industry and finance, whose pillage of the economy has made everyone more vulnerable. But we need to recognize that what makes this tactic work is how effectively mass fears have been stoked through decades of war. The only way to break that cycle is to insist on peace, which is why organizations like out Peace Center are so important. Please consider a contribution.
Wednesday, November 30. 2016
No time to write an introduction. Maybe I'll have something to say for next week's Music Week.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (8835 records).
Sophie Agnel/Daunik Lazro: Marguerite D'Or Pâle (2016, Fou): Piano/sax duets, Lazro on tenor and baritone, although Agnel's concept of the piano ("a real living & breathing organism") had me wondering whether they had slipped a percussionist into the mix. B+(**) [cd]
Aguankó: Latin Jazz Christmas in Havana (2016, Aguankó): Percussionist Alberto Macif's group, inspired by Havana but based in Michigan, have a couple previous albums. This one's subtitled "Cool Sounds & Warm Wishes," and is that with an extra shot of clavé, but the songs keep shaking off their dressing. Still, you could be stuck in a department store with much worse. B [cd]
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio: Desire & Freedom (2016, Not Two): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, always an imposing figure in free jazz settings, with his most dependable group -- Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. Three long improv pieces, terrific all around, drummer especially. A- [cd]
Amendola vs. Blades: Greatest Hits (2015 , Sazi): Duo of drummer Scott Amendola, probably best known for his work with Nels Cline although he has his name on five previous albums (doing back to 1999), and Hammond B3 impressario Wil Blades. No known hits between them, but take the title as intending some sort of semipop move -- pop in form if not in fact -- ane enjoy the groove and pomp. B+(**) [cd]
BassDrumBone: The Long Road (2013-16 , Auricle, 2CD): Long-running free jazz trio, first album together recorded nearly 30 years ago, lineup on this seventh album the same: Mark Helias (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums), Ray Anderson (trombone). Second disc is padded out with 31 minutes live. Studio cuts include three cuts each with Jason Moran (piano) and Joe Lovano (tenor sax), the latter making the bigger splash. Still great to hear Anderson's trombone leads, but could be further concentrated. B+(***) [cd]
Martin Bejerano: Trio Miami (2016, Figgland): Pianist, teaches at University of Miami, has a couple previous albums and side credits with Roy Haynes and Russell Malone. Leads a trio, bright and fast. B+(*)
Eraldo Bernocchi/Prakash Sontakke: Invisible Strings (2016, RareNoise): The former plays baritone and electric guitar, the latter lap steel guitar, but Bernocchi is also credited with electronics, which explains the percussion. The synthetic groove may be too regular for jazz, but sets up a seductive ambience with the layered guitar. B+(***) [cdr]
Nat Birchall: Creation (2016, Sound Soul & Spirit): British tenor saxophonist, probably sounds more like Coltrane than any saxophonist alive (including Ravi Coltrane), an effect added to by pianist Adam Fairhall and bassist Michael Bardon, although the group doubles up on drums. Unlike his last two albums, I never quite shook the sense of imitation here, though it's hard to go far wrong while hewing so close to genius. B+(***) [bc]
Karl Blau: Introducing Karl Blau (2016, Raven Marching Band): Singer-songwriter from Anacortes, Washington, with seven previous records before this seeming debut, mostly Nashville covers, done with disconcerting aloofness (no drawl, scant drama, anonymous backup singers). B
Boi Akih: Liquid Songs (2016, TryTone): Dutch group, formed in 1997, has a half-dozen previous albums. Guitarist Niels Brouwer writes the pieces, Monica Akihary sings, also with: Ryoko Imai (marimba, reyong & percussion) and Tobias Klein (bass & contrabass clarinet). Abstract, arty, hated it at first but wound up pleasantly surprised. B+(*) [cd]
Christiane Bopp/Jean-Luc Petit: L'Écorce et la Salive (2015 , Fou): Free jazz duets, Bopp playing trombone, Petit contrabass clarinet, tend to be sparse and abstract. B+(*) [cd]
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Basically Baker Vol. 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker (2016, Patois, 2CD): A fine big band based in Indianapolis, led by Brent Wallarab (credited here as conductor and musical director, but previously a trombonist) and Mark Buselli (trumpet), play compositions and arrangements by David N. Baker (1931-2016), a longtime jazz studies professor at Indiana University who back in the 1960s was affiliated with George Russell. Their original Baker tribute was recorded in 2004, this one about three months after the composer's death. An impressive big band, although the case for Baker's music is less clear. B+(*) [cd]
Oguz Buyukberber and Simon Nabatov: Wobbly Strata (2014 , TryTone): Free jazz duets, clarinet/bass clarinet and piano, respectively. The former was born in Turkey, studied in Amsterdam, probably still based there but this was recorded in Germany. Nabatov is twenty years older, born in Russia, studied in Rome and New York and wound up settling in Cologne. Brisk and challenging. B+(**)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree (2016, Bad Seeds): One of the year's top-metarated records, no idea why unless the doom and gloom synth tones are somehow calming to the doomed and gloomy. When we were young we used to look for something cathartic to overcome a bad mood, not something that merely added to it. B-
John Chin: Fifth (2014 , Jinsy): Pianist, born in Korea, raised in LA and based in Brooklyn, has several albums. My advance copy has Chin's name scratched out, implying an eponymous group album. Chin's Bandcamp credits all five in alphabetical order: Chin, Stacy Dillard (soprano sax), Lawrence Leathers (bass), Spencer Murphy (drums), Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax). Indeed, all five have song credits, but mostly Chin (7) and Dillard (3), with one each for the others, and they go all sorts of ways, the free-ish postbop just one tendency. B+(**) [cdr]
Richie Cole: Plays Ballads & Love Songs (2015 , Mark Perna Music): Alto saxophonist, not quite 70, his discography goes back to 1976 but tails off after 1999 (several featured spots, one album in 2005). Quartet with Eric Susoeff on guitar, Mark Perna on bass and Vince Taglieri on drums -- surefire material, bright, lovely. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Collier: Impulsive Illuminations (2014-15 , Origin): Vibraphone/marimba player based in Seattle, discography starts with Northwest Jazz Sextet in 1979, and has a half-dozen albums since. Five 10-17 minute pieces here, with Richard Karpen on piano and one guest for each piece: Bill Frisell (guitar), Ted Poor (drums), Stuart Depmster (trombone/didjeridu), Bill Smith (clarinet), Cuong Vu (trumpet). Mostly reminds me of Dempster's "deep listening" pieces, so often too deep to keep me listening. B [cd]
Common: Black America Again (2016, Def Jam): Chicago rapper, can marshall guests ranging from BJ the Chicago Kid to Stevie Wonder, is as conscious as he should be of the uphill political struggle -- I can't fault him for being overly didactic, but the music doesn't always carry him. B+(**)
The Core Trio: Live Featuring Matthew Shipp (2014 , Evil Rabbit): Houston-based sax trio, with Seth Paynter on tenor, Thomas Helton on bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums. They have two previous albums, each with a pianist added, the second an impressive match with Shipp, who returns here for two 31-34 minute sets in a Houston night club. A bit spotty, the sax never quite getting in gear, but the piano impressive (as you'd expect). B+(**) [cd]
The Delegation: Evergreen (Canceled World) (2014-15 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Main person here is pianist-composer Gabriel Zucker, also credited with electronics and voice (along with a couple more singers). A sprawling art project, with long, complex forms and a story line that's way over my head. Group includes trumpet (Adam O'Farrill), three saxophones, violin-viola-cello, bass, drums, and additional electronics. Music has points of interest. B+(*) [cd]
Dim Lighting: Your Miniature Motion (2014 , Off): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in Chicago, Andrew Trim, Kurt Schweitz, Deven Drobka. First album, guitar metallic, can crunch out a groove or spring free, or just bide time. B+(*) [cdr]
Andrew Downing: Otterville (2016, self-released, 2CD): Bassist, born in London, Ontario and based in Toronto, plays cello here, presenting a series of ornate landscape pieces, lovely in a rather uneventful way. Group includes alto sax, vibes, lap steel guitar, bass guitar, and drums, with occasional touches of trumpet and trombone. B [cd]
Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Trio With Friends: Happy Madness (2016, Summit): Standards singer trying to pass as good-time girl -- nothing really standard but hits the usual bases including Jobim and McCartney -- backed by piano trio and presumably more, although I have no idea who the "friends" are. B- [cd]
Earth Tongues: Ohio (2015 , Neither/Nor, 2CD): Filed this under trumpeter Joe Moffett, joined here by Dan Peck on tuba and Carlo Costa on percussion, the horn players also credited with "cassette player." Long-form industrial ambient, or (not quite) noise, the length undoes any sense of structure (or as they put it, "immersive pieces that explore dynamic and temporal extremes"). B [cd]
The Fat Babies: Solid Gassuh (2016, Delmark): Seven-piece trad jazz band, founded 2010 by bassist Beau Sample, based in Chicago, they play old stuff going back to "Maple Leaf Rag" and clearly are having fun. B+(**) [cd]
Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band: ¡Intenso! (2016, Clavo): Directed by son Brent Fischer, less a ghost band than a living memorial to the late pianist-arranger, whose clients ranged from Dizzy Gillespie to Prince. Six Clare Fischer originals (out of ten), mostly old arrangements, the band solid, a couple Roberta Gambarini vocals a plus. B+(**) [cd]
David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Triple Exposure (2015 , Origin): Bassist-led piano trio, the pianist Greg Goebel, drummer Charlie Doggett. Friesen has a long discography going back to 1976. He composed and arranged all the pieces here, gets bright leads and patiently works his bass into the cracks. B+(*) [cd]
Clay Giberson: Pastures (2015 , Origin): Pianist, based in Portland, has five previous records plus four by his group Upper Left Trio. Draws on a strong quartet here with Drew Gress (bass), Matt Wilson (drums), and most valuable player Donny McCaslin, whose tenor sax chops dominate everything. Less so his flute and soprano, or the string quartet added on four tracks. B+(***) [cd]
Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Machine (2016, Moserobie): Drummer-led sax trio, with Daniel Bingert on bass guitar, and Per 'Texas' Johansson on "the saxophone." Reminiscent of the Thing in their new wave fusion mode (though less squawky, and less free). Thirteen cuts, 28:29. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Hainsworth: Third Ward Stories (2015 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist from Houston, studied in New Orleans and Florida, teaches at Broward College. Probably his debut, a lively hard bop sextet with Josh Evans on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, and Glenn Zaleski on piano, makes it seem easy. B+(***) [cd]
Stu Harrison: Volume I (2016, One Nightstand): Pianist, Canadian, leads a trio with Neil Swainson (bass) and Terry Clarke (drums) through a batch of very familiar standards, teasing and tussling without losing the thread. B+(**) [cd]
Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Flukum (2016, Flat Langston's Arkeyes): Group abbreviated HAGL, led by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis (not the sole lyricist) with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and various others, most songs with vocals in various voices ("dedicated to poets Etheridge Knight and Ntozake Shange with moments of James Baldwin and Michael S. Harper thematically-seasoned in"), pushing boundaries while the sinewy music slithers around, or sometimes just enjoys a funk groove. B+(**) [cd]
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 3: Three Places in New England (2016, Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, quintet includes trumpet, clarinet, cello, and drums. Like the two previous volumes, this picks up a piece of modernist classical music and reframes it as jazz -- the previous volumes used Stravinsky and Messaien, this one goes after Charles Ives, who patterned his own music on brass bands obliquely heard. The indirection works nicely here. B+(***) [cd]
Roger Ingram: Sklyark (2015, One Too Tree): Trumpet player, finished second for trumpet in Downbeat's 2016 Readers Poll, a complete surprise to me -- only his second album (and short ones at that, this one seven cuts, 28:40) I can find, but he has many side credits going back to Woddy Herman in 1986. Not sure of credits here, but starts solo before a big band (Jim Stewart Orchestra) with singer (Christine Cooney) enter. The vocals swing agreeably, but the instrumentals are a little gaudy. B
Erik Jekabson: A Brand New Take (2015 , OA2): Trumpet player, based in Bay Area, has a handful of records dating back to 2002. Quintet here with alto sax (Kasey Knudsen) and piano (Matt Clark), plus a couple tracks with guests -- "Thriller" is a highlight, with John Gove (trombone) and Dave Ellis (tenor sax). B+(*) [cd]
Jerome Jennings: The Beast (2016, Iola): Drummer, wrote four (of nine) songs here, leading a hard bop sextet much like the groups his bassist (Christian McBride) has led -- most obviously with Christian Sands on piano, also Sean Jones on trumpet and Howard Wiley on tenor sax. Steady pulse of energy, as if they're afraid they might be taken for retro. B+(**) [cd]
The Matthew Kaminski Quartet: Live at Churchill Grounds (2015 , Chicken Coup): Organ player, from Chicago, earns his scratch playing for the Atlanta Braves. Quartet includes guitar and tenor sax (Will Scruggs), and Kimberley Gordon sings a couple tunes. All covers, done up like a gaudy burlesque, with "Sail On Sailor" a surprise lead. B+(*) [cd]
Walter Kemp 3oh!: Dark Continent (2016, Blujazz): Pianist, sometimes adds a III to his name but styles his piano trio thusly, picking up last initials from bassist RiShon Odel and drummer David Hulett. Densely chorded pieces have some power, slower ones thoughtful. B+(*) [cd]
Frank Kimbrough: Solstice (2016, Pirouet): Pianist, first appeared as part of a New York postbop circle that included Ben Allison, Ron Horton, and Matt Wilson, and always struck me as the least adventurous of that crowd. Trio, with Jay Anderson on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. One original, one standard, the rest from postmodern jazz sources like Carla Bley, Paul Motian, Andrew Hill, Maria Schneider, and Annette Peacock (twice). B+(**) [cd]
Lambchop: FLOTUS (2016, Merge): Acronym more convoluted than expected: For Love Often Turns Us Still. Band, fronted by Kurt Wagner, has recorded a dozen albums since 1994. This one's slow with a light touch, delicate even, pleasant in passing but little registers. B
Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Twenty-four songs, runs 94:01, the first disc titled "The Nerve" and the second "The Heart." Gossip columnists tell us it's about her breakup with Blake Shelton and her current relationship with Anderson East. Still, not much tumult here -- certainly no "Kerosene" -- everything on a level keel, making me wonder why the album had to be so damn long. Probably because she's got a lot to say. B+(***)
Ingrid Laubrock: Serpentines (2016, Intakt): German tenor saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, has produced quite a few records since 1999. This one mixes in trumpet (Peter Evans), koto (Miya Masaoka), piano (Craig Taborn), electronics (Sam Pluta), tuba (Dan Peck), and drums (Tyshawn Sorey). Some bright spots, especially Taborn, but also seems rather scattered. B+(*) [cd]
Jerry Leake: Crafty Hands (2016, Rhombus Publishing): World-spanning percussionist, has a dozen or so albums as well as the books that helped name his label, but draws mostly on African and Indian here, plus a standard drum set, vibraphone, and he (and others) sing some. The others add to the "world-rock fusion" -- eclectic is their motto, making most of this enchanting, not that it all fits neatly together. B+(**) [cd]
Nate Lepine Quartet: Vortices (2016, Eyes & Ears): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, seems to be his debut album, quartet with Nick Mazzarella on alto sax, Clark Sommers on bass, and Quin Kirchner on drums. The extra sax shadows the leads, adding depth and lustre, but beware of slowing down. B+(*) [cd]
Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies: Yellow Red Blue (2015 , Paint Box): Soprano saxophonist, originally from New Zealand, based in Mexico after a few years in New York. second album, quintet with Josh Sinton (bass clarinet) and piano-bass-drums. B+(**) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: A Day in Brooklyn: At Ibeam (2015 , Constant Sorrow, 2CD): The fifth (of six so far) installment under this title, "a series of recordings based on American song forms," something hardly no one has researched deeper than alto-saxophonist Lowe. A disparate, sprawling set of works, with two mid-sized groups and a number of guest spots -- hard to see how they could all have fit into a single day of recording. Opens with a solo piano piece by Loren Schoenberg, then another by Kelly Green -- the first of several "Mary Lou Williams Variations." Then moves on to a group with Kirk Knuffke (trumpet) and Paul Austerlitz (clarinet), later to another with Lisa Parrott (baritone sax) and Larry Feldman (violin). Not easy to follow, but even when you don't something liable to jump out and grab you. B+(***) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Hell With an Ocean View (2016, Constant Sorrow): Opens with some of Lowe's best alto sax, but often gives way to let the twin guitarists (Nels Cline and Ray Suhy) shine. With Matthew Shipp (piano), Kevin Ray (bass), Larry Feldman (violin, mandolin), and Carolyn Castellano (drums). The song forms range from hymns to Hendrix, each with its own fascination. A- [cd]
Thierry Maillard Trio and Philharmonic Orchestra: Ethnic Sounds (2016, Blujazz): French pianist, has perhaps a dozen albums since 1998, explains in the liner notes that "My biggest musical dream has always been to hear one day my music written for a jazz trio and a symphonic Orchestra," so I guess he can scratch that off his bucket list. He went to Prague to get the orchestra, an outfit that has never shown much finnesse around jazz, and he brought in some ringers like guitarist Nguyen Lê. The music leans toward fusion, or maybe it's just energetically muddled. B- [cd]
Mamutrio [Lieven Cambré/Piet Verbist/Jesse Dockx]: Primal Existence (2015 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, from northern Belgium, backed by bass and drums, Verbist the main writer (5/10 compositions). Subtle, relaxed postbop, sometimes pushes not out but in. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Marko: Inner Light (2016, Summit): Drummer, director of jazz studies at Illinois State, first album, lineups vary but generally a standard quintet, sometimes with added guitar, sometimes percussion. Big name here is "special guest" Scott Wendholt (trumpet), who earns his billing. Postbop moves, has some hot spots. B [cd]
Melanie Marod: I'll Go Mad (2016, ITI): Standards singer, from Michigan, based in New York, probably her debut. Has a seductive voice, eclectic taste in Anglo standards ("Spanish Harlem," "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Candy," but "Everybody's Talkin'" is a let down; plus "Corcovado" and two equally obvious Latin tunes. Backed by guitar (Masami Ishikawa), keyboards (Art Hirahara), bass and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Bruno Mars: 24K Magic (2016, Atlantic): Loved his first album, shrugged off his second, and can't say that anything really grabs me in this big-time pop production, though I continue to be wowed by his voice. B
Delfeayo Marsalis presents the Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Make America Great Again! (2016, Troubadour Jass): Big band, led by the trombone-playing Marsalis brother, takes America to be a macro-extension of black New Orleans, with Wendell Pierce narrating a spiel that reminds me of "Chocolate City," egged on by a chorus reiterating the title with just a bit of sarcasm, reminding us that the greatest traitors to America were the "rebels" who fought the union for slavery. Frames the program with "Star Spangled Banner" and "Fanfare for the Common Man." Personally, I'd rather make America good than great, but that's the effect here, too. B+(**) [cd]
MAST: Love and War_ (2016, Alpha Pup): Album cover stylizes group name as all caps followed by an inverted-V and two backslashes, sort of a broken-M, although their Bandcamp page sticks with ASCII. Second group album, leader is Tim Conley, they didn't bother to table up the credits, but it would have been a long list, including the ten-piece Fresh Cut Orchestra. Structured as a three act play, with various spoken and sung characters, lush instrumental passages, the sort of high art concept I have trouble focusing on. I will say he's better at it than the Pretty Things, though maybe not better than Sufjan Stevens (or the Who). B+(*) [cdr]
Matt Mayhall: Tropes (2015 , Skirl): Drummer, based in Los Angeles, also credited with keyboards on this debut album, leads a trio with Jeff Parker on guitar and Paul Bryan on bass guitar, plus guests on a couple cuts each: Chris Speed (tenor sax) and Jeff Babko (organ, keyboards). Rather mellow showcase for Parker. B+(*) [cd]
Donny McCaslin: Beyond Now (2016, Motema): Tenor saxophonist, has outstanding chops which he frequently flexes to steal the spotlight on others' albums, although I've only rarely been a fan of his own albums (2008's Recommended Tools is an exception). David Bowie hired him to work on his final album, Blackstar, and McCaslin returns the compliment here, using Bowie's band (Jason Lindner, Mark Giulliana, Tim Lefebvre) on a couple of Bowie songs, others from Deadmau5 and Mutemath. Leans hard toward fusion, turning into its own kind of sax blowout. B+(*)
The Monkees: Good Times! (2016, Rhino): Someone thought some sort of 50th anniversary remembrance was in order, then discovered that three of the original four actors who were tabbed for a popular TV series about an American Beatles spoof were still living, so why not a reunion? They even hired three members of Fountains of Wayne to craft fake Monkees songs. It's not like they couldn't recapture the vibe, but somehow it sounds pathetic this time around. Indeed, the whole thing turned so depressing they let the original Monkees write some of their own songs. And they dug up an unreleased 1967 track to pretend Davy Jones lives. B-
Van Morrison: Keep Me Singing (2016, Caroline): Past 70 now, knighted, one of the all-time greats, so much so that mere echoes of his great albums can blow you away. This one is that and a bit more as he's found a new comfort not just in his skin but in the warmth of his Celtic-blues soul. A-
John Moulder: Earthborn Tales of Soul and Spirit (2014-16 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago, teaches at Benedictine and Northwestern, sixth album, cut in two sessions with different bass/drums and tablas on one, but Jim Trompeter (piano), Marquis Hill (trumpet), and Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) appeared on both. McCaslin flexes his chops, but this can get murky without him. B [cd]
Moutin Factory Quintet: Deep (2016, Blujazz): Twin brothers François (bass) and Louis Moutin (drums), leading a quintet with alto/sopranino sax (Christophe Monniot), guitar (Manu Codjia), and piano (Jean-Michel Pilc). One very nice Fats Waller medley, mostly just bass and drums, but the originals tend toward post-fusion (in the sense of what postbop made of bebop, I suspect Weather Report was their ur-text). B+(*) [cd]
Fredrik Nordström: Gentle Fire/Restless Dreams (2016, Moserobie, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist from Sweden, look him up and most likely you'll find a different person -- a heavy metal guitarist with the same name. This one has a half-dozen previous albums going back to 2000. Two albums here cut in the same two-day session, with the same quartet: Jonas Östhom (piano), Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Mixed with the gentle stuff on one disc, the restless on the other (or vice versa). Restless is better, of course, but I've played this enough I've also grown quite fond of the fire. A- [cd]
Phil Parisot: Lingo (2016, OA2): Seattle-based drummer, first album, has a couple of side-credits including the group Big Neighborhood. Sax quartet, Steve Treseler out front on tenor and soprano, Dan Kramlich on piano and Fender Rhodes, Michael Glynn on bass. Seven originals, three non-standard covers, pretty much what everyone else is doing, though lively for that. B+(*) [cd]
Felix Peikli & Joe Doubleday: It's Showtime! (2016, self-released): Clarinetist, from Norway, and vibraphonist, playing standards, backed by a swing-oriented rhythm section with Rossano Sportiello on piano. Bright, even a bit frothy. B+(*) [cdr]
Ivo Perelman/Karl Berger/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 1 (2016, Leo): Avant tenor saxophonist from Brazil, celebrated twenty years of recording back in 2009-10 with six releases, and has duplicated that feat nearly every year since. He released five records this spring (my top picks were Soul and Blue), and now for the fall he's come out with six volumes of Improv Trio -- one suspects too much and too similar, but we'll see. Berger here plays piano, a steady influence that mostly keeps the sax on track, even brings out a touch of elegance. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Whit Dickey: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 2 (2016, Leo): Tenor sax, viola, drums. Maneri is the wild card here, his microtonal meanderings sometimes lose me, but in the end he provokes the saxophonist into upping his game. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 3 (2015 , Leo): Probably the most imposing of the trio lineups, but pianist Shipp -- a frequent Perelman mate going back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz -- never charges into the clear (as he sometimes managed in the David S. Ware Quartet). Still a fine showing for the saxophonist, but not exceptional. B+(**) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 4 (2016, Leo): The bassist makes a difference here, setting up a groove (or at least momentum) that keeps the sax man on his toes, bobbing and weaving, never far from the edge. Moreover, he can go loud without knocking the leader out, so he has no need to hold back (as the pianists have done). A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 5 (2016, Leo): Morris plays electric guitar, somewhat inconspicuously poking around the edges, adding bits of color and brightness. Another strong outing for the saxophonist. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 6 (2016, Leo): Recorded in July, probably the same time as Volume 5, the difference here is that Morris has switched from guitar to bass. As with Volume 4, this both loosens up the saxophonist and lets him be fiercer or more eloquent as the opportunity arises. A- [cd]
Pink Martini: Je Dis Oui (2016, Heinz): Portland group dating back to 1994, principally pianist Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes, play an ecclectic mix of jazz, chanson, and kitsch drawing on pretty much everything. More of all of that, in some ways remarkable but less satisfying than, e.g., 2007's Hey, Eugene!. B+(*)
Bobby Previte: Mass (2016, RareNoise): Jazz drummer, often leans toward fusion but has more eclectic tastes -- esoteric, too. This starts with a baroque piece by Guillaume Du Fay (1397-1474, Missa Sancti Jacobi), adds pipe organ "inspired by Olivier Messaien" (played by Marco Benevento), vocals (The Rose Ensemble), and some electric bass that could have been dubbed by Black Sabbath. I suppose if you cared about any of those things, this might seem interesting, or blasphemous, or something. C+ [cdr]
Carol Robbins: Taylor Street (2016 , Jazzcats): Plays harp, has a couple previous albums, backed here by Los Angeles musicians -- Bob Sheppard (tenor sax), Curtis Taylor (trumpet), Larry Koonse (guitar), Billy Childs (piano), Darek Oles (bass) -- generating an easy momentum without turning too smooth. B+(*) [cd]
Rudy Royston Trio: RisEofOrion (2016, Greenleaf Music): Drummer from Texas, only his second headline album but side credits go back to 1992, notably with saxophonists Fred Hess and J.D. Allen, and more recently with Jim Snidero, Doug Webb, and trumpet master Dave Douglas. This is another sax trio, with Jon Irabagon tugging him out of the mainstream, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. B+(***) [cd]
Ken Schaphorst Big Band: How to Say Goodbye (2014 , JCA): Big band composer-conductor, chairs the jazz department at New England Conservatory, has a half dozen albums since 1989, maybe more. Plays trumpet and keyboards here, just one cut each. Band is chock full of well-known names, including Ralph Alessi, Donny McCaslin, Chris Cheek, Uri Caine, Brad Shepik, and Matt Wilson -- much solo power, some impressive passages. B+(*) [cd]
Adam Schneit Band: Light Shines In (2016, Fresh Sound New Talent): Plays tenor sax and clarinet, has two previous appearances with Old Time Musketry (both A- records), leads his debut album with Sean Moran (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums). Nice mainstream sax album, the clarinet less so. B+(**) [cdr]
Steve Slagle: Alto Manhattan (2016 , Panorama): Mainstream alto saxophonist, most often heard with Dave Stryker (who usually gets top billing), but here takes center stage and is terrific though sevel cuts, mostly burners aside from a solo "Body & Soul." He switches to flute on the last two cuts and adds congas, nice but less impressive. Joe Lovano joins in on three cuts. B+(***) [cd]
Enoch Smith Jr.: The Quest: Live at APC (2016, Misfitme Music): Pianist, born in Rochester, based in New Jersey, has several albums. Wears his religion on his sleeve -- first album was called Church Boy -- and dabbles in nursery rhymes, coming together here in two takes of "Jesus Loves Me." Uses two singers, neither adding much nuance or style. C [cd]
Snaggle: The Long Slog (2016, Browntasaurus): Jazz group, "often described as Canada's answer to Snarky Puppy," main songwriter is keyboardist (no piano) Nick Maclean, plus guitar, a couple horns (trumpet, tenor sax), bass and drums, with a "special guest" credit for second trumpet player Brownman Ali (also producer). CDBaby has a blurb from Randy Brecker saying "reminds me of a band I used to play in." Underwhelming comps pursued vigorously, leaves me uninterested. B- [cd]
Soul Basement feat. Jay Nemor: What We Leave Behind (2016, ITI): Recorded over three months in Siracusa [Sicily], Gothenburg [Sweden], and Oslo. Soul Basement is an alias for Fabio Puglisi, who plays keyboards, bass, drums, and programming, and co-wrote the songs with non-bandmember J. Harden. Nemor does the speakeasy vocals and some saxophone, making him the real focal point. All in English, including a couple timely political excursions. B+(*) [cd]
Terell Stafford: Forgive and Forget (2016, Herb Harris Music): Mainstream trumpet player, originally from Miami, last time tried his hand at a Lee Morgan tribute (BrotherLee Love), but didn't really get the vibe right until now, with a superb hard bop quintet. Pianist Kevin Hays is essential, tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield mostly shades but delivers when he gets a solo shot. But it's mostly the trumpet -- the fast ones grab you right away, the ballads take a while for the slow burn to emerge. A- [cd]
Andrew Van Tassel: It's Where You Are (2016, Tone Rogue): Alto saxophonist, also plays soprano, based in New York, probably his first album, a quartet with Julian Shore on piano and Rhodes. One cover, from Charles Ives, the originals insightful but soft-edged and pleasant. B+(*) [cd]
Anna Webber's Simple Trio: Binary (2016, Skirl): Plays tenor sax and flute, here in a prickly trio with Matt Mitchell on piano and John Hollenbeck on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Scott Whitfield: New Jazz Standards (Volume 2) (2016, Summit): Trombonist, eighth album since 1989, side credits include Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band. Quartet with Christian Jacob (piano), Kevin Axt (bass), and Peter Erskine (drums) playing song written by producer Carl Saunders. As far as I can tell, the previous volume of New Jazz Standards was released in 2014 and credited to the late flautist Sam Most -- another Saunders production. B+(*) [cd]
Basak Yavuz: A Little Red Bug (2015 , Things&): Turkish singer-songwriter, studied jazz in New York and picked up some tricks, but this second album was recorded in Istanbul with a long list of Turkish names (but no instrument credits). Music, too, is more Turkish than jazz, but its dramatic flair is informed (and stretched) by the latter -- most obviously on the "Bye Bye Blackbird" cover. B+(**) [cd]
Zarabande: El Toro (2016, AFlo): San Antonio-based marimba player Alfred Flores is billed as "El Toro" here, and seems to be the leader (listed first, producer) -- band includes Joe Caploe on vibraphone, Mark Little on piano, plus bass and drums -- and "Zarabande" is one of the song titles, but the credits are reversed, perhaps because Little and Caploe split all the song credits (6-3). Nice flow, lots of tinkle. B+(*) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance [The Bootleg Series Vol. 5] (1966-68 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): His greatest group, close to mid-term, so it's fair to expect jazz of the highest order, and to be disappointed with tentative outtakes and rambling session dialogue only scholars need to hear once. The songs mostly turned into Miles Smiles (1966) with some leftovers that wound up on Water Babies (belatedly released in 1976). The false starts and not-very-audible banter especially mar the first disc, but the music on the latter discs is pretty much what you'd expect. Doesn't strike me as essential, but I also don't have the booklet that no doubt draws out the historical context. B+(*)
Erroll Garner: Ready Take One (1967-71 , Legacy): Fourteen previously unreleased tracks from three sessions late in the pianist's career. Mostly trio, some extra percussion, the sound weak enough that the bass isn't always clear. Flashes of the idiosyncrasy that marked his work in his '50s prime, but not a major find. B+(*)
Sonny Criss: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1956 , Blue Note, 2CD): Also saxophonist, cut his first albums for Imperial at age 28 (although some older recordings were released later), three albums -- Jazz USA (with Barney Kessel and Kenny Drew), Go Man! (with Sonny Clark), and Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter (Clark again, plus Larry Bunker on vibes) -- all rounded up here. Bright and fast, manages to bridge bebop and a more mainstream standards repertoire. A- [cd]
Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington: The Stockholm Concert (1966 , Jazz World): Same year as the official Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur -- issued in an 8-CD box and a recommended 2-CD sampler. Pretty much their standard show, opening with four Ellington pieces, closing with scat takes of "How High the Moon" and "Mr. Paganini." B+(***) [cd]
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, November 28. 2016
Music: Current count 27386  rated (+24), 362  unrated (-17).
Finally, on Saturday, got my new computer build working, hooked up, and able to stream from Napster. I'm somewhat embarrassed to finally realize that the problem all along was a faulty monitor (a Samsung, like most of the other faulty equipment in the house right now -- my big complaint is a broken ice maker in the refrigerator, and by broken I mean that the plastic tray is badly cracked on both ends, such that the screw drive that moved the ice forward jams). The monitor actually displays internally generated messages fine, but doesn't display the signal coming in through the D-SUB connection. In fact, the manual says the monitor has a self-test feature, and when I tried that the self-test came out OK. But it took weeks for it to finally sink in that the monitor was the problem.
Went out on Black Saturday and picked up a new LG 24-inch monitor for about $140. The new computer works fine with it. The old computer works fine too, so now I have a spare. It had been 5-6 years since I built the old one, so one can argue that I was due for a new one, but I hate to have blundered into it like that. The new one has an 8-core AMD FX-8350 processor, ASUS motherboard and video card (not a fancy one, but has 2GB RAM), plus I have 32GB RAM and a 2TB hard drive, a DVD burner, and a parallel printer port board so I can still hook up to my old HP laser printer. Loaded Xubuntu 16.04 desktop on it, and I've had to load a couple dozen extra software packages so I have a LAMP web server, emacs, gimp, and a few extra applications that looked promising (including a CAD system, an alt-Adobe Illustrator, and a database program for recipes). That's all free software. Had to jump through some extra hoops to get non-free (but zero cost) Adobe Flash (needed by Napster) and gstreamer drivers for playing DVDs. Probably still need some further work, but it's basically functional now. Used a cheap old box, so it's not the most elegant thing in the shop, but should be a solid machine.
Only three Napster streams among the records listed below. I also played the new A Tribe Called Quest (given an A+ last week by Christgau) but didn't get into it enough to pass any sort of judgment. (Two-thirds sounds pretty good, but nothing sounds as great as that grade implies. And it's two discs, and I'm often slow getting into hip-hop records, so I figured it best to return later).l The three rated below only got a single play. Could be that a second play might nudge Common up a notch, but Bruno Mars was disappointing and Pink Martini clearly not their best work. Playing the latest Miles Davis bootleg as I write this, but at 3-CD it's going to take a while.
Besides, I needed to make a serious dent in the incoming jazz queue, which I did. The 2016 pending list is currently down to six albums: no one I've heard of (although I filed one under Ernest Dawkins, whose last three albums came in at A-, so I need to check that one out soon). Jazz Critics Poll ballot due next week, and Francis Davis is already getting anxious about that. I did a preliminary sort on my jazz list a couple weeks ago, but I still expect to fiddle with the order quite a bit (depending on time and whether I can find things, so possibly not before I have to turn a ballot in).
I'm afraid I have no sense whatsoever how that poll is going to go. I currently list 61 A- (or better) new jazz albums. The only one in my top-ten I'm reasonably sure will finish top-ten (probably top-three) is Henry Threadgill's Old Locks and Irregular Verbs. I suppose JD Allen (Americana) and David Murray (Perfection) are possibles; further down my list Steve Lehman, Sonny Rollins, Greg Ward, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, and Fred Hersch seem likely to get a few votes, but I'll be surprised if anything else cracks the top forty. (George Coleman maybe? Rich Halley? Jane Ira Bloom?)
Rather seems more likely that some of my HM records will poll well -- Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorson, Wadada Leo Smith, Tyshawn Sorey -- or records I listed lower -- Darcy James Argue, Kenny Barron, Vijay Iyer, Charles Lloyd -- not much else I've noticed other critics liking, but I'm sure I've missed some things. As for records I've heard of but haven't heard, I scanned through my checklist file and added 13 records to the "estimated to have a 2% chance of A-" list in the EOY Jazz file cited above (also added 19 to the EOY Non-Jazz file). I'll add more as I see some actual EOY lists.
Speaking of EOY lists, the first few have appeared (starting, as usual, in the UK with NME, Mojo, Uncut, and a few record store lists). I put a lot of work into tracking these things last year, and doubted that I would again, but the last few weeks have been so stressful to me that I thought it might be calming to waste some time on them this year. After eight (or so) lists this year looks like this. (Note that I'm already counting my grades, although I've only included those on other lists.) My initial guess was that Beyoncé would win going away, with Chance the Rapper in second, and then, well, I don't know -- AOTY has Nick Cave top-rated based on review averages (a B- as far as I'm concerned), followed by Bon Iver (*), Beyonce (?), Solange (**), Radiohead (B), Frank Ocean (?), Leonard Cohen (A-), A Tribe Called Quest (probably A-), Mitski (*), and Angel Olsen (***). But at least in the UK, David Bowie jumped into a clear lead, followed by Cave, Radiohead, Olsen, Thee Oh Sees, and Iggy Pop, with Beyoncé and Chance back in the 30-40 range.
However, the first American list to appear, from Consequence of Sound, is closer to what I expect: Beyoncé, Chance, Bowie, Ocean, Anohni, Cave, Olsen, Anderson .Paak, Bon Iver, Cohen, Mitski, A Tribe Called Quest (first list appearance for a late release), Radiohead, Blood Orange, Schoolboy Q, Wilco, Tim Hecker, Car Seat Headrest, Solange; plus some further down records that may do better: Kaytranada, Danny Brown, Savages, Kevin Gates, Young Thug, White Lung.
One list that's out that I haven't bothered with is Decibel's. Last year I faithfully tracked all the metal lists, but wound up listening to fewer than five albums, so that much doesn't seem to be worth the effort this year. I suppose that makes my tally a bit less objective, but I'd rather spend my time on things I consider worthy.
I made a mistake last week in listing Heroes Are Gang Leader's new album Flukum, so corrected that and repeated it this week. I liked their previous album this year (Highest Engines Near/Near Higher Engineers) a bit more, but both should be of interest if you're interested in jazz-rap fusion. The two A- records this week are from Ivo Perelman's six-volume set, only marginally better than the others because bass seems to fit in better than piano (or viola or guitar). Could be I downgraded the one with Shipp only because I expected more (it was the one volume I singled out to listen to in the car). Perelman finishes the year with 4 A-, 4 ***, 1 **, 2 * records.
PS: Monday's mail brought a nice package from NoBusiness in Lithuania, and a new Randy Weston 2-CD that officially drops on January 20 (so I can ignore it for a couple weeks). Also email from Steve Swell offering me a couple CDs, so they'll be coming soon. Also, that new Dawkins album is pretty good.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Sunday, November 27. 2016
I didn't really plan on posting a Roundup this week, but when I looked at Salon's politics section way too may red flags jumped out at me. I'm generally inclined to give Trump a little rope to hang himself, but I'm surprised by the speed with which he's set about the task. I realized that Trump was a guy who spent every waking moment conniving to make money (well, aside from the time spent plotting sexual conquests), and thought it unlikely that he'd change for a moment. But these pieces are mostly self-explanatory, so at least I don't have to annotate them.
Some scattered links this week on all things Trump:
Also a couple things not exactly on the incoming disaster, although not exactly unrelated either:
I don't have much to say about Fidel Castro. I've never held any romantic attachment for Cuba's communist regime, and I don't doubt that it has sometimes been repressive and that its planned economy could have been more dynamic. However, I can't begrudge their early expropriation of foreign (mostly American) assets, and must admit that they've built a literate, highly educated, and for the most part egalitarian society, while maintaining a vibrant culture, all despite cruel economic hardships imposed variously by America and Russia. It's worth remembering that Cuba was the last slaveholder society in the Americas, and the last of Spain's colonial outposts, and after the US seized it in America's 1898 imperialist expansion was only granted "independence" because it was thought easier to run it through local puppet strongmen -- a scandalous series that was only ended by Castro's revolution.
I've long thought that the vitriolic reaction of American politicos to Cuba's real independence and defiance reflected a deep-seated guilt (and embarrassment) about how badly we had mishandled our power there. But it manifested itself as sheer spite, ranging from the CIA's Bay of Pigs invasion and numerous assassination plots the CIA tried to mount against Castro to the long-running blockade -- all of which reinforced Castro's anti-Americanism and made him a hero for underdogs all around the world. Obama's recent normalization of US-Cuban relations finally gives us a chance to be less of an ogre -- although the reflexive instinct is still apparent in recent comments by Trump, Rubio, and others. Hopefully they'll blow this jingoistic thinking out of their systems.
Here are a few scattered comments on Castro from: Tariq Ali; Greg Grandin; Tony Karon (2008); also: Stephen Gibbs/Jonathan Watts: Havana in mourning: 'We Cubans are Fidelista even if we are not communist'; Kathy Gilsinan: How Did Fidel Castro Hold On to Cuba for So Long?.
One quote, from the Karon piece above:
Monday, November 21. 2016
Music: Current count 27362  rated (+24), 379  unrated (-16).
The old box had a 550W Thermaltake power supply which looked quite viable, so I decided to try an experiment: I swapped power supplies, then stuck my new video card into the old computer. I rebooted, and it came up with proper graphics. I finally was able to listen to a record on Napster (Erroll Garner, below, and got about half-way through the new Miles Davis bootleg before I went to bed). Anyhow, that seemed to work well enough I ordered yet another video card. Then next morning I got up and the video was blanked, and nothing I did made could wake it up. The blackout is so bad not even the BIOS splash screen appears. The monitor, however, displays diagnostic info (analog, digital, no cable). I just remotely did a software update, then reboot. Still no screen. Very frustrating, very perplexing.
Meanwhile, I've built the new computer, except for the new video card I expect to arrive tomorrow. Then I'll plug it in, do a fresh Xubuntu desktop install, and try to patch up the various things I need (emacs, mysql, apache, php, etc.). Should take the better part of a day, if all goes well. Not that anything's gone well in the last month or so. At some point all this frustration threatens to turn into depression.
So, all but one of this week's records were reviewed from CDs, so all are jazz. (I don't think I've bought a single CD all year.) At least I've drained about half of the queue that built up in September and October. Main thing left is six Ivo Perelman discs, giving him ten on the year. All are titled The Art of the Improv Trio then a volume number. First one is pretty good, and most likely they're all like that, so I'll be struggling with marginal distinctions for a couple days -- at least that beats the Xmas CDs, which I figure I'll suffer through sometime closer to the holiday.
I did finally flesh out my first pass at EOY lists: one for Jazz, and the other for Non-Jazz. The former is much larger (61 A-list, 120 HM, 385 other, so 566 total, 8-6-11=25 for reissues/compilations, vs. non-jazz: 41 A-list, 36 HM, 105 other, so 182 total, 11-9-6=26 for reissues/compilations). At this time last year the Jazz A-list was well ahead of the Non-Jazz, but eventually they evened out. That seems less likely this year, but is still possible. Assuming I get Napster up and running again, the ratio of Jazz/Non-Jazz further down the grade scale should reduce somewhat, but hard to see that ever balancing out. Reissues and compilations remain especially hard to get hold of.
No Thanksgiving plans. My wife never wants me to cook on that day, and all the usual friends and family have their own plans, so most likely we'll be home alone. Maybe I'll get some listening done.
Still scanning through the notebooks for stray record reviews. Up to December 2006, where I noticed that I had in fact made Thanksgiving dinner that year. Went Japanese that year:
Also planned on sushi rice with grilled unagi (eel), but evidently didn't get that done until the next day. I hardly ever cook Japanese (except for the salmon, one of the easiest really good recipes I know), so this mostly seems unfamiliar (aside from the ringers: the eggplant is one of Barbara Tropp's Chinese fusion recipes, and the cake is my Mom's recipe, an old family standard -- in fact, one of the cakes I made for her funeral reception).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, November 19. 2016
First, a few summary points, many drawing on my previous post-election piece:
One thing that we should bear in mind is that many disasters take a long time to fully reveal themselves. That Republican Congress elected in 1946 has had an especially long-lasting impact. George Brockway, for instance, cited a banking "reform" bill that they passed as the first chink in the deregulation that finally sunk the economy in 2008. More obvious was the Taft-Hartley Act, which made it significantly harder to form and maintain labor unions. After that act was passed, the CIO gave up on organizing unions in the South, which left American businesses with an alternative to union labor in the North. That, more than anything else, gradually ate away at the Rust Belt, leading to this year's Democratic debacle.
But then the Democrats haven't been passive observers to the destruction of their party's base. Harry Truman was so militantly opposed to worker strikes after WWII that he inadvertently validated the public opinion behind Taft-Hartley (a bill he vetoed, but his veto was overridden). And one can argue that the Clinton-sponsored NAFTA was the straw that broke the camel's back -- he's certainly the one who gets blamed, even though it was mostly Republicans who voted for the agreement.
On the other hand, the half-life of disasters certainly seems to be quickening, especially as public institutions become more and more corrupt, as wealth and income are distributed ever more inequally, as decades of bad choices slowly add up into harder ones. A lot of the links below concern the destruction of the middle class, especially in the Rust Belt, and raise the question of why even people who are still doing OK have become anxious about the economy. This can only remind me of a book published back in 1989, Barbara Ehrenreich's Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. And really, she wasn't way ahead of the learning curve. She was merely more perceptive than most people were. Recent books, such as the six recommended in the list below, focus more on those who have fallen, and who can't get up. But fear came first, and Democrats would have been better served had they recognized that, instead of blundering on and pushing more and more people down and out.
Here are a mess of links I've collected, thinking they may be of some interest (more or less alphabetical by author).
As I was putting this post together, I started reading Corey Robin's Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011), and noted this quote (p. 59) on the asymmetry between left and right, on how hard change is for the former, and how easy reaction is for the latter:
My main worry about the Sanders campaign wasn't that he might get slandered and lose his appeal, but that there wasn't a strong enough movement under him to deliver on his promises. And that mattered, of course, because his promises mattered. By contrast, all Trump voters had to do was to put their guy in power. After that, go back to work, and let their new right-thinking leader do what needs to be done. I've never had any inkling why they would trust him with that power, but then I don't think like they do: I learned early to question all authority, and found that when you give a greedy monster more power he only becomes greedier and more monstrous. But in a way, the great appeal of the right is that it offers simplistic solutions, wrapped in a little virus of paranoia which allows them to be used again and again, regardless of their repeated failures.
Wednesday, November 16. 2016
A few more posts as I'm sifting through the old online notebook for a few stray record reviews, and finding a world that looks and sounds eerily familiar, marked by six years of corrupt Republican rule (following eight years of corrupt Clinton and twelve years of even more corrupt Reagan-Bush). This shows that ten years ago I was starting to doubt that some of the damage could ever be reversed. Clearly, eight years of Obama has had little effect -- one statistic is that 97% of the gains of the recovery have been captured by the top 1%, which implies that the overwhelming majority of Americans haven't seen anything vaguely resembling a recovery, no matter what the stock markets say -- and now we're poised for another plunge into disaster.
From February 1, 2006, when "the Liar in Chief gave his State of the Disunion speech":
That was written a couple years before the predicted economic disaster got out of hand.
From February 15, 2006, when Dick Cheney went hunting:
On March 3, 2006, I wrote a comment about a quote from Robert D. Kaplan, an American journalist who served in the IDF and went on to be a major neocon cheerleader in books about Afghanistan, the Balkans, and The Arabists. I read a lot of his work after 9/11, but had largely given up on him by the time I wrote this:
On May 12, 2006, I wrote a post around quotes about Berlusconi and Nixon that seemed to fit the election results so well I went ahead and posted them here.
On June 22, 2006, I wrote a post called "Clintonistas for Armageddon" -- it's one of those things you forget about because it led to nothing, but it was about an op-ed written by two Clinton war guys, William Perry (Clinton's Secretary of Defense) and Ashton Carter (a Clinton under-secretary, who later became Obama's Secretary of Defense). They were upset about North Korea testing one of its missiles, and urged Bush to pre-emptively fire cruise missiles at the site. While North Korea's missiles (and most likely a couple fission bombs) were works-in-progress, this overlooked that North Korea has thousands of pieces of heavy artillery capable of raining destruction on Seoul. That's not a very smart deterrent to test. I spent some time researching North Korea at that point. Today I'm more struck by the Clinton connection. I led off the post with this line:
On June 23, 2006, I wrote a post based on an Eagle article reporting that sociologists are finding that Americans have fewer and fewer close friends (the average dropped from 3 in 1985 to 2). I quoted the piece, then added:
On July 8 I wrote an untitled piece, a bit of autobiography trying to explain why I write this shit. Interesting to read it a decade later, because sometimes I forget.
I've written a lot on Israel ever since 2001 but haven't quoted much in this series. However, in July 2006 Israel opened a brutal assault on Lebanon, an event Condoleezza Rice memorably dubbed "the birthpangs of a new Middle East." On July 25, I wrote:
Finally (for now, anyway), on September 13, 2006 -- two years before "The Great Recession" became official -- I called this post "The Great Decline":
Monday, November 14. 2016
Music: Current count 27338  rated (+9), 395  unrated (+1).
I spent Tuesday evening following the election results on a pair of computers -- my main writing (work) computer and a Chromebook I use for travel. I mostly used two websites: I followed 538's 2016 Election Night "live coverage and results," and I used the New York Times' Presidential Election Results page, which was the first one I found that gave me a map with red/blue states I could scroll over to see that state's vote totals. My first hint that anything was amiss was early in the evening when I saw that Trump was winning Indiana and Kentucky with 60-61% -- like everyone else, I expected those states to go to Trump, but those margins struck me as a bit on the high side. Still, at that point 538's monitor was still showing Clinton with a 75% chance of winning, and even when her chances started slipping it wasn't very obvious to me what was happening. I thought the Republicans were projected to hold the House way too early, and the Democrats' chances of taking over the Senate collapsed pretty early in the evening, as Indiana and Florida were called quite early. However, by the time I went to bed (about 4AM CST) I was shocked and rather sick.
I remained in a daze for several days (or maybe I'm still in one). I finally sat down and wrote up my analysis on Friday, then sat on it a day, edited some, and finally posted it on Sunday. I figure I'll follow up with a "Roundup" post some time this week (not necessarily waiting until my usual Sunday column -- a practice I'm thinking of discontinuing, unsure as I am of how much "reality" I can stand anymore). You might consider prodding me with questions and/or helping by pointing out particularly interesting links (I've grown rather weary of my usual sources).
Music should be a salve in times like this, but my first reaction was to favor silence -- there seemed to be too much noise, too much stimulus, from an Umwelt that suddenly seemed alien, hostile, and more than a little deranged. Since the election I've watched no conventional television news, nor have I returned to the late-night shows we followed regularly during the campaign. I still get stuff from the web, but aside from the numbers I used in Sunday's list, I haven't gone looking for much -- least of all opinions. Nor have I in any way been tempted to go out and protest -- I gather there have been anti-Trump protests, but have no idea how common they are. More generally, I don't see much point in getting worked up over what bad thing Trump and the Republicans might do (e.g., Ryan Plans to Phase Out Medicare in 2017). There will be plenty of opportunity in the future when we'll have tangible threats to try to stop, so you might as well save your energy for that, or prepare quietly out of sight (better to appear genuinely shocked than blanketly obstructionist).
When I did finally play some music, it was Leonard Cohen's Live in London. Partly I wanted to only hear real good stuff, partly I didn't want to be critical, and partly I had thought of "Democracy Is Coming to the USA" during a fairly optimistic Tuesday afternoon. I didn't know at the time that he had died (although I played it a couple more time after the news broke). After Cohen, I started playing some old jazz I liked, especially Coleman Hawkins. I mostly relied on my travel cases before I started picking things I hadn't heard in years from a nearby shelf. That's where I found the Sonny Criss set below: I had noticed it when looking for ungraded records in the database, so with it I finally returned to grading.
Only late in the week did I give the new jazz queue a chance. The Terrel Stafford looked old-fashioned, and turned out to be a good deal better than his Lee Morgan tribute (not coincidentally because it sounds more like prime Morgan). Rodrigo Amado's album came in the mail during the week, and jumped the queue. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear anything avant -- I had been considering Allen Lowe's latest when the cataclysm disoriented me -- but I have him down for four previous A- records, so he seemed like a pretty good prospect.
Still, only nine records rated this past week. Again, everything here comes from CDs. The computer I normally stream music on is unusable (well, it still prints, and I haven't tried workarounds like setting up an X-server or moving the speakers to a machine that still works, so I guess I haven't been trying very hard). I should remedy that some time this week: I've ordered new parts, so I'm pretty much building a whole new computer. The new one should actually be slightly more powerful than my work machine, so that opens up some possibilities for rebalancing my work.
I'll get to more new jazz next week -- I've gone through five records today since I started work on this post (none very good) -- and when I get the new machine running I should be able to check out some promising things on Napster or elsewhere. Still would be a good idea to drain the new jazz queue, as the Jazz Critics Poll deadline is December 4 -- well before anything else I'm likely to be invited for. (If you're a critic who hasn't gotten an invite and should, let me know and I'll pass you on to Francis Davis -- or you can contact him directly.)
I had rather hoped I'd get my Jazz and Non-Jazz working EOY lists set up by the time I posted this, but it now looks like all you're going to get if you follow the links is stubs. Also, at this point I have to stress that order is very preliminary. I'll get them fleshed out later this week, and will be updating them through the end of the year (and maybe next year as well -- as I've done so far for the 2015 Jazz and Non-Jazz lists).
I should point out that Robert Christgau has a piece on Leonard Cohen: Our Man, the Sophisticate. Christgau also tweeted a recommendation for another Noisey piece on Cohen: Rajeev Balasubramanyam: An American State of Grace: Darkness and Light in Leonard Cohen's Political Imagination. Most likely there are many other worthy pieces on Cohen: e.g., see Richard Gehr, Rob Sheffield, Adam Sweeting.
Comparatively little has been written about another music death last week: Leon Russell. For a few years in the 1970s I thought he was one of the greats (especially his eponymous debut album, plus his work on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen), and with Hank Wilson's Back it looked like he could be a credible country singer. A couple of really awful albums followed (Stop All That Jazz and Will o' the Wisp) and I quickly lost interest, so I can't say much about his last forty years. I reckon I could say he was the Mac Rebennack of Tulsa, but Tulsa doesn't give a brilliant pianist and outrageous singer much to work with. Still, something else to mourn in one helluva awful week.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 13. 2016
I suppose I should write something about last week's election. I've been sick to my stomach all week, feeling chronic maladies that make me wonder how many of the ill consequences I will actually hang on to experience. Admittedly, this reasoned forbiding was made more personal by the death and funeral of a friend and the sufferings of another. It probably didn't help that I've spent so much of my time re-reading old notebooks and blog posts going back to 2001, where I offer a strongly worded and reasoned accounting of the ongoing disaster Billmon liked to refer to as the Cheney Administration. (I haven't gotten up to the Obama era yet -- itself a lengthy chronicle of growing dismay, especially at the mental illness that so many Republicans have fallen into, but also at the haplessness of Democrats, especially Obama.)
Since 2001, I've written some five million words in the notebook. The majority of them have been on music, and I've occasionally mentioned movies, television, books, and more personal matters, but at least one million of those words have been addressed to clearly political topics (especially war). A few people do appreciate what I've had to say, but I've never managed to attract any attention beyond old friends and folks who initially tuned in for music reviews. So when confronted with results like last week's, I can't help but feel that I've wasted fifteen years of my life. I've never been, nor ever will be, a political activist, let alone a nuts and bolts political strategist. I'm starting to feel like I should hang it up, focus on other projects, and let others carry on.
Still, I guess I do have a few things to say. I haven't read many of the post-mortems, least of all the efforts of the usual suspects to shift blame (but for some examples, see Annie Karni: Clinton aides blame loss on everything but themselves). Rather, I did what I usually do, and looked at some numbers. (I mostly got these from Wikipedia and Google, perhaps not the most authoritative sources, but likely to be close to accurate.) First, they show that there was no groundswell of support for Trump. He got 817 thousand votes less than Romney did in 2012 (while losing by 5 million votes), and he only got 168 thousand more votes than McCain in 2008 (while losing by 9.5 million votes). In total votes, the Republican share has been effectively flat over the last three presidential elections. If the voter base has grown (which would be expected given that the population has grown), you could even argue that the Republican share has been declining. They didn't win this time because they gained ground. They merely lost less than Clinton did: she finished with 5.4 million fewer votes than Obama got in 2012, and even so was only done in by a quirk in where those votes were distributed, a bias rigged into the electoral system.
You might wonder about the effect third parties had, but it was negligible. After polling close to 9% for most of the season, Gary Johnson collapsed at the end, receiving 3.22% of the vote. Jill Stein suffered a comparable collapse, dropping from 3% peak polls to less than 1% (0.96%). Both of those candidates ran in 2008, and both did better this time (Johnson was up 2.23%, Stein 0.60%), but their 2.83% increase was a tiny fraction of the increased unfavorable ratings of this year's major party candidates. If Clinton could have magically counted all of Stein's votes, her plurality would have been larger -- as it was, Clinton received 439 thousand more votes nationwide than Trump did -- but even a 1.3% popular vote margin wouldn't have been enough to flip the electoral college in her favor (she would have picked up Michigan and Wisconsin, but not Pennsylvania -- Stein got 48,912 votes in Pennsylvania, but Trump led Clinton by 67,636). At most Stein accounts for one-sixth of Clinton's deficit.
In the end, it's hard to see anyone other than Clinton to blame for that 5.5 million vote drop off. Indeed, one can argue that her deficit was even larger against reasonable expectations. Economic indicators have generally been favorable, and Obama was enjoying his highest approval numbers in a many years. Moreover, Trump was a glaringly deficient, utterly ridiculous opponent: Clinton's poll numbers surged after each of three debates when viewers could see them side-by-side, even more so after the party conventions. She appeared to have the more unified party behind her. And she had more money than Trump (although Trump had pulled ahead of her in "dark money" and benefited from millions the Kochs and others plowed into down-ballot races). So you have to ask: why didn't enough people come out and vote for her?
In some cases they did: she ran ahead of her polls in Nevada, where the "get out the vote" campaign was focused on Latinos (and Democrats feared losing a critical Senate seat). But I have to wonder if she had any effective "ground game" at all in states where polls showed her leading, especially the states that ultimately sunk her: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Could be that Democrats were over-confident there, or just lackadaisical: how many people there didn't vote because they assumed their votes weren't needed? (And how many were turned away by nasty voter suppression laws?) As I understand it, Clinton didn't appear in Wisconsin after the primary. And while she did campaign in Pennsylvania, the big push there was to win over suburban Republicans, not to fortify the party base.
On the other hand, the Koch network seems to have put most of their money into down-ticket races, notably in defending endangered Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida -- all successfully, coincidentally tilting those states for Trump. (Also Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio, where Trump was expected to win -- Clinton didn't even contest Indiana or Missouri, although both states should be competitive. The Democrats did win three close Senate races, all in states Clinton won: Illinois, Nevada, and New Hampshire.)
All along, I basically felt that if Clinton could run a "get out the vote" operation comparable to Obama's in 2008-12, she would win handily. If any lesson has become a commonplace over the last 10-20 years, it's that you win elections by motivating your base and getting them out to vote. The bottom line is that Trump did that, and despite her advantages Clinton did not do an adequate job. What was unusual this year was that the primary motivator was fear and loathing of the other side, and that in turn led voters to excuse a lot of deficiencies in their own candidate. Of the two, Clinton's failure is far more spectacular, and far more damning, than Trump's success.
For starters, Clinton had a lot more to work with than Trump did. No major party candidate had ever had anything like the disapproval ratings of Trump. Moreover, he could be attacked on numerous fronts, starting with the gross dysfunctionality of his party's agenda and their obstruction against any constructive attempts to solve proven problems (e.g., health care, finance regulation, climate change). I think it was a tactical error on Clinton's part to focus instead on personal issues -- a tactic that Trump made irresistibly easy, but doing so exposed her own personality faults to greater scrutiny, and she could go overboard, especially with that "nuclear codes" thing which also reminded voters that the notoriously hawkish and anti-Russian Clinton could just as easily get them blown up. (From Karni's article above: "They explained that internal polling from May showed that attacking Trump on the issue of temperament was a more effective message." Internal? From May?)
Just before the election, Trump rolled out an ad that was quickly dismissed as anti-semitic: the problem was that aside from Clinton, all the "bad" people in the ad were Jewish (although they weren't identified as such); and since what made them "bad" was that they "control the levers of power in Washington," favor "global special interests," and "put money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations," that evokes the old anti-semitic trope of a secretive global Jewish cabal pulling strings all around the world. On the other hand, the thrust of the ad was plainly true (as far as it went): for several decades now, Washington has molded public policy to benefit special interests, especially large financial organizations, and Hillary Clinton was very much a cog in this process. I hadn't heard about the ad when I first saw it, so I was focusing on the explicit message, and for a while I thought it would have made a terrific Jill Stein spot. Then Trump came on, and of course it's ridiculous to think that he'll change any of this -- if ever there was a guy angling to get his share of the graft, it's Trump -- but his final pitch turned out to be prophetic: he proclaimed the election the last chance Americans had to stop Crooked Hillary, and that was one simple, concrete task they could carry out. And so, just enough people voted for Trump (and just not quite enough voted for Clinton) to make that much happen. After one of the most annoying and frustrating campaign seasons in American history, at least some people emerged feeling they had accomplished something. (On the other hand, had Clinton won, most Democrats would merely have been relieved, feeling they had dodged a deadly bullet, but aware that the next four years would be sheer struggle.)
The one clear result from this election is that Clinton is done. Having lost one nomination to Obama, having nearly lost another to Sanders, and now having blown a huge lead against Trump, she is a three-time loser, and at her age there's no way she's going to bounce back. And that's not only good riddance, it's a reprieve -- a chance for the Democratic Party to regroup and rebuild free of the dead weight of the Clinton legacy. Back in 1992 Bill Clinton came to Washington thinking he would show the Democrats a way to win in the post-Reagan oligarchy. All they had to do was to prove to the corporate masters that Democrats would be better for business than the Republicans were. As governor of Arkansas, Clinton had pioneered that formula, helping boost local outfits like Walmart and Tyson grew to become international giants. In Washington, one of the first things he did was to push NAFTA through -- over the protests of labor unions, but pointedly to subdue those unions, to weaken them and thereby proove his loyalty to his business friends. Even though Clinton managed to get reelected in 1996, his strategy could hardly be called a success: he cost the Democrats Congress in 1994, and all of his subsequent legislative accomplishments were compromises that Republicans agreed to because they understood that they only served to undercut the Democratic Party's base.
That was followed by eight years of Bush, which started with budget-busting tax cuts and ended with a complete financial meltdown and the worst depression since the 1930s -- conditions which, along with a similar loss of Congress in 2010, conspired to keep Obama from doing virtually anything significant to help his voters out. (His donors, of course, made out like bandits.) With Obama we effectively got eight more years of Clintonism, most obviously through a raft of Clinton-linked appointments, notably his hawkish secretary of state. What's happened in the 24 years since Clinton came to Washington is that inequality has blown up to unprecedented (nearly unimaginable) levels, we've been plagued by near-permanent war, and the Republicans have somehow convinced most Americans that government-by-Democrats can never work to their benefit. And they've een able to do that largely because Democrats like Hillary Clinton have played along. Her long history of complicity and collusion in all of this is the root of her problems, and it's why roughly a third of the country despises her so much they're willing to risk a fool like Donald Trump as president. (And in a country where 40% of the people have been turned off and never bother to vote, that's all it takes.)
I still find it almost impossible to imagine Trump as president, but I'm even more disturbed by what happened in the Congressional elections. The Republican Congress since 2010 has been nothing short of a public embarrassment. Most Republicans have been inveterate obstructionists, with nearly all adhering to extreme (and dysfunctional) ideological positions. The Democrats should have made Congress the central issue this election, much as Harry Truman won the 1948 election by campaigning against a Republican "do nothing" Congress. And if most Americans had clearly understood that message, they surely would have flipped both the House and Senate to the Democrats. But none of that happened. Sure, Democrats made modest gain: two Senate seats and seven House seats, but that left the Republicans in control of both chambers, with fat chance that Trump use the presidential veto will to tamper down their insanity (as Obama, at least, could do).
The only upside is that presumably Congressional Republicans won't feel compelled to wreck their own president's administration. They'll let him do that himself, although I full well expect them to contribute. The Republicans have been playing a weird game where they never get blamed for their obstruction or inaction. That's been going on since 1994, minus a respite when Bush was president. In effect, they've extorted the American people into giving them complete power this time -- recall that Republicans were promising to hound Clinton even if she won the election, and had vowed never to confirm any of her judicial nominees. A Trump presidency spares us that kind of discord (although he could still order prosecutors to go after Clinton -- something that would smack of petty vindictiveness, not that that's beneath him).
What the Democrats have long needed to do was to rebuild a real, effective party that squarely defends and promotes the interests of the majority of their voters. They haven't done this because the Clintons (and Obama) have been so remarkably successful at raising money from well-heeled donors, notably in finance and high-tech. The Republicans have a long head start building their party from the ground up, recruiting compliant apparatchiki to run for precinct and entry-level offices, giving them a coherent ready-built program and talking points, and promoting those who toe the line most effectively. This has resulted in Republican domination of state and local offices, and their gerrymandering has given the Republicans an edge in the House (even when Democrats get more votes). They have organizations like ALEC crafting pet legislation, plus think tanks and their extraordinary media network.
The Democrats have nothing like this, not least because they don't have a coherent program. They merely promise not to be as awful as Republicans, without even fully explaining why that might be, or what it might entail. If there's a silver lining in this election, it's that the DNC will abandon its "cult of personality" that only supports the person at the top (Clinton or Obama) and start to work toward rebuilding the party from the bottom up, formulating a coherent challenge to Republican right-wing dominance. This election debacle will cost us dearly: most obviously, the era when the courts would use constitutional rights to protect us from oppressive government will come to a quick end.
How bad it might all get is hard to forecast. Trump started his campaign by occasionally straying from conservative orthodoxy, but wound up pledging allegiance to nearly every wretched idea the Republican Party has embraced. As president, the main question will be whether he succumbs to ideologues like Mike Pence and/or Paul Ryan, or whether he resists and takes a less self-destructive course. (He has, for instance, already backtracked on Obamacare.) Same for foreign policy: does he provoke more war, or back away from destructive confrontations? I don't expect in any way that he'll become "Putin's puppet" but there are several areas where a closer relationship with Russia could reduce world tensions. On the other hand, no prospective Trump underling fills me with more dread than Michael Flynn -- I find him far more worrying than Trump's notorious "temperament."
Beyond that I don't really care to speculate. Like Reagan and Bush, his fetish for "free enterprise" and contempt for government will foster unimaginable corruption. Meanwhile, the usual Republican nostrums will fail, often catastrophically. We in Kansas have gotten more than a taste of how bad Republican fantasies can turn out. Now it's your turn. This isn't the first time I've been so sorely disappointed by the American people -- the Nixon landslide in 1972 and the Reagan landslide in 1984, both in spite of overwhelming evidence of malfeasance and sociopathy, were especially terrible, although Bush's narrow win in 2004 was even more painful. But we've grown up in a nation that's been warped by perpetual war with the world, a nation that has come to celebrate inequality and inequity, that has grown vicious and surly even while thinking itself beyond reproach. Trump has finally given America a face as ugly as the reputation we've garnered over decades. It still feels like a bad dream, but some day we must wake up and face ourselves. Hopefully that will be sobering.
Tuesday, November 8. 2016
While looking for jazz reviews tonight, I ran across a post I had written on May 12, 2006 -- that's ten-and-a-half years ago -- titled "Mobsters in Suits." At the moment it appears as though the 2016 election is ending in the ugliest way ever: with the Democratic Party nominee winning a clear plurality of the popular (democratic) vote, but the Anti-Democratic Party capturing the quintessentially Republican Electoral College, and thereby electing yet another minority president -- a rich guy with media savvy but no political experience, traits that early in the primaries reminded me of his fellow billionaire and kindred spirit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. I might as well just quote it here, and leave it to you to figure out the relevance:
The piece concluded with some quotes and comments on Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents Dinner keynote, which you can look up. As for the relevance of Berlusconi, here's what Kathleen Geier tweeted tonight:
My only additional comment at this time is that while ten years ago I thought America was relatively immune to the sort of criminality that Berlusconi practiced in Italy, it is less so now. How much less remains to be seen, but we have witnessed and suffered through eight years of relentless obstruction and sabotage against Obama's presidency, with essentially no efforts to -- indeed no conception of -- constructively address the nation's myriad problems. And now it seems like the voters have handed two branches of government over to a party hell bent on destruction.
Monday, November 7. 2016
Music: Current count 27329  rated (+42), 394  unrated (-29).
Actual rated count is probably 19 records -- at least that's how many are listed below. Counts for previous weeks are 15-9-19, so I'm in some kind of protracted rut. When I originally computed this week's count I came up with 18, but noticed that was less than I had listed, so I knew that I had failed to record some grade in the database. So I wound up listing all of the unrated records, and compared them to several other sources, and found a couple dozen records I hadn't counted correctly.
Almost everything below was listened to on actual CDs -- I see three exceptions, two from Napster and one from Bandcamp. Reason there is that the computer I use for streaming effectively died last Monday/Tuesday, so I haven't been able to do any of that almost all week. (It's also kept me off Facebook.) The computer isn't actually dead. I can remotely log into it, but either the screen is permanently locked or the display circuitry is dead. I replaced the power supply in that computer a couple weeks ago, and it did seem to resolve a clicking/popping problem in the audio. Also could be that a software "upgrade" triggered the problem -- screen lockouts are not unreported, although the fixes I've seen haven't solved the problem.
My current plan is to order new guts and rebuild the computer, pretty much from scratch (salvaging my new power supply and old hard drive, and re-using an old tower case, but not much else). I've started to shop for components, and have had a tough time settling on anything beyond an AMD FX-8350 AM3+ eight-core processor (for some reason Intel doesn't offer anything cost/performance-competitive). Anyhow, that CPU and comparable components might persuade me to consolidate my writing work on the new listening machine, at which point I can finally upgrade software on my "main" machine. Upgrade the network too. Important things I've been procrastinating on for way too long.
Second time in last three weeks I have no A- (or better) records to report. BassDrumBone was my big hope, and I have both discs three spins, finding much to like but not enough to get excited about. The Richie Cole album is really lovely, Eric Hofbauer strikes a fine balance for Ives-in-jazz, and Nat Birchall adds another worthy chapter to the St. John Coltrane gospel. So, some good records here -- just none cracking the 97 A-list albums already on my 2016 list. I figure I'll format this list into best-of-year format sometime in the next two weeks -- EOY lists traditionally start appearing around Thanksgiving, and it turns out I never ever froze last year's lists (split for jazz and non-jazz).
Also heard that NPR will once again support Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll, so I'll help out some there.
Making slow progress collecting jazz reviews. I haven't made any changes to the 21st Century book -- everything I'm scraping up is going into a scratch file for future processing -- but I have continued to add directly to the 20th Century non-book, which recently inched over the 300-page mark. I'm still thinking that what I've written there is far patchier than is needed for a real record guide, but it's getting to where I may have to take it seriously. I have, by the way, continued to use the high grade scale (A- = 9, B = 5) as I've been updating, as opposed to the low scale (A- = 8, B = 4) I used in the first pass at the Jazz CG data. When I get back to the latter, I'm pretty sure I'll switch to the high scale. Pretty much everyone I consulted preferred the low scale, but I haven't made any meaningful distinctions between A+ and A in decades, and it doesn't seem either fair or reasonable to downgrade everything else because I want to insist on some concept of perfection.
I don't expect to get much work done this coming week. For one thing, I'm sad to report that one of my oldest friends, Tony Jenkins, has died. He was 60, has struggled with liver cancer over the past year. He grew up next door, and wound up owning that house -- he was living there when we moved to Wichita in 1999, although he also had another house about a mile northeast, that he and his wife bought when they married. It was one of those tiny houses built for aircraft workers during WWII, and he transformed it into something special, tearing the roof off and building a second story with a master bedroom and bath that spanned the whole house. I spent a lot of time with him while he was doing that, trying to be helpful (but wasn't really), and he inspired much of the work I've done on our own house ever since. Haven't seen him much in the last few years, so his illness really came as shock and regret.
He is survived by his wife Kathy and a rather large dog -- when they got married nearly four decades ago they told us they were going to practice with dogs, and they stuck to that story. Tony once told me he had been surrounded with death all his life, which struck me as excessively morose. But his brother Bobby, who was a couple years older than me (so about eight years older than Tony), was killed in Vietnam -- more than any single thing his senseless death turned me against that atrocious war. He also had a much older brother, Wayne, who died in a car crash before he turned sixty, but I don't think they were close. (I barely knew Wayne, mostly by reputation as a legendary local athlete who turned down a chance to play pro baseball to pursue a lucrative business career.) I don't know when Tony's parents died, but they've been long gone -- certainly before Tony got through his 20s, though probably not while he was still in his teens.
He was a tremendous talker, the sort of guy you might be tempted to wind up a bit just to see where he takes it. He had low expectations in school -- I once prepared a very nice poetry notebook for him (not at all like the blasphemous one I prepped for my brother, the one that got him kicked out of school), and Tony declined to use it because he figured no one would believe it to be his own work. You could call that integrity -- he certainly had that. He worked in construction, doing siding for a while, then mostly ironwork for cement. Hard work, took a toll. But what he did learn, he could be downright perfectionist about. Early on I probably looked down on him as not very smart, but eventually I came to admire him, to respect his very real talents, and to appreciate his steady friendship. He was unique. He is missed, his absence an unfillable void.
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 6. 2016
I was sorely tempted to write nothing more about the election until it's all over. I doubt I'll write much below, but when I start out I never know. Part of this is just plain disgust at how the last couple weeks have played out. Part is that I've been sick, and that hasn't helped my mood one bit. A big part of the disgust is simply that Hillary Clinton seems to have blown a huge lead: FiveThirtyEight gave her an 88.1% chance of victory on October 17, 81.5% as late as October 28. Today that's down to 64.5%. In terms of states that posits her as losing six states she was previously leading in: Arizona (her odds there are now down to only 25.8%), Iowa (27.1%), Ohio (32.9%), Florida (47.4%), Nevada (48.0%), and North Carolina (48.4%). That's still based on a 2.8% popular vote margin. Some polls are closer than that, with at least one showing Trump ahead. TPM had a narrower spread yesterday (2.4%) but a larger one today (3.9%, despite Clinton dropping to 45.9% of the vote).
Throughout most of the election, the median state (as far as the electoral college is concerned) has been New Hampshire: if Clinton wins New Hampshire and every other state she's been polling better in, she gets 272 electoral votes and wins the election. She's still given a 61.2% chance in New Hampshire. Trump could win the election by capturing New Hampshire, unless he loses a larger state he holds a slim lead in (Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida are all very close, and early voting looks especially good for Clinton in Nevada). On the other hand, Trump could lose New Hampshire and still win if he pulls an upset in Colorado (where he's currently givens a 26.9% chance) or Pennsylvania (25.9%).
At this stage, the presidential race has been reduced to these nine "battleground" states. Kansas (97.5% R) isn't one of them. In fact, I don't think I've seen a single street sign for either Trump or Clinton. I did see two Trump advertisements last week, and thought they hit an effective note: it is, after all, easy to tag Clinton as the candidate of the status quo, without suggesting how attractive more status quo would be compared to Trumpian change. I haven't seen any Clinton ads, but am haunted by at least one of her soundbytes, where she warns us of the danger of entrusting "America's nuclear codes" to someone as "thin-skinned and impulsive" as Trump. That's probably as carefully phrased as could be, but it mostly reminded me that she is decidedly hawkish, someone who believes strongly in flaunting America's military power, and someone who views the presidency as almost a secondary role to being Commander-in-Chief. Isn't it odd that the numerous "checks and balances" that limit what a president can do aren't sufficient to keep a mad person from blowing up the world? I've said all along that the surest way Clinton could lose would be to remind us of her appetite for war, and she's found an inadvertent way of doing that. I figure that must be part of her blown lead, even though the emails and her linkage to Anthony Weiner (perhaps the most universally reviled man in America right now) have gotten more attention.
By the way, as I was preparing this, FBI Director Comey says agency won't recommend charges over Clinton email, admitting, in his usual backhanded way, that his previous letter about re-opening the Clinton email investigation -- the event that precipitated Clinton's polling losses -- had come to nothing. Too bad we can't inspect the internal FBI emails discussing why he exposed this baseless innuendo in the first place. The FBI has a terrible legacy of politically-minded "investigations" but they've rarely set their sights on someone as mainstream as Hillary Clinton. Once again they've embarrassed themselves.
More I could write about here, but let's wind up this intro with Seth Meyers' "closer look" at the Major Clinton and Trump scandals:
Problem here is that Meyers is still reducing the election to a choice between two celebrity personalities, as opposed to the real differences between the parties and interests they represent. Not that there are no real issues buried in the Trump litany, nor that some of the personal traits (like his seething contempt for women and non-whites, and for that matter workers) don't portend policy dangers, but one thing this campaign has spared (or cheated) us was an opportunity to debate and vote on two radically different political visions. Imagine how much different this election might be if the choice was Bernie Sanders vs. Ted Cruz? One might learn something there, and emerge from the election with a mandate and a direction. But with Clinton vs. Trump we're stuck with muddled results -- both candidates are widely viewed as crooked, greedy, deceitful, treacherous, untrustworthy, pompous, arrogant, and full of ungrounded bluster -- their few differences attributable to irreconcilable identity allegiances. And even if Clinton wins, her margin isn't going to be nearly large enough to win Congress as well and to force a rethinking of those divisions. Republicans running for Congress have pledged to block her every appointment, to stalemate government and disable her administration from day one. Trump has already convinced most of his supporters that the only way he can lose is if the system is rigged against them.
It's fair to say that America is more divided now than at any election since 1860, which precipitated the Civil War. In terms of ideas and policies, those divisions have been growing since the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns, with conservatives demanding ever more complete domination of government and business, making the state a tool of the rich while eliminating any countervailing support government might provide for working people. Of course, conservatives rarely argue their agenda coherently -- they prefer to describe clear-cutting as their "healthy forests" initiative -- because they're aware that they'd lose. What Trump adds here is an unprecedented degree of paranoia, and a demagogic style that insists on degrading and dehumanizing his opponent and all of her supporters, and that's what's made him so vile and dangerous.
Some scattered (election) links this week:
PS: Just shook up by a 5.3 earthquake centered 3 miles west of Cushing, Oklahoma. Fairly sharp for about 15 second here, unsettled for another 20-30 seconds, but I doubt we suffered any damage. On the other hand, Cushing bills itself as the "pipeline capital" of America, so they have a lot of dangerously fragile infrastructure real close to the epicenter. Happened at 7:44:25 local time.
Monday, October 31. 2016
Music: Current count 27287  rated (+15), 423  unrated (+5).
Another light week. Spent Friday evening through Sunday working on an overly ambitious birthday dinner. I doubt I'll ever try that again -- at least at such scale. Wound up scratching five dishes from the menu -- a couple I'll finish up tonight to keep from wasting the ingredients, a couple more can wait indefinitely. Theme was Greek, with three main dishes, baked and fresh veggies, pita bread, dips, stuffed grape leaves, and various hot mezze, with walnut cake for dessert. The bread was disappointing, the dips mixed, the grape leaves tasty but mostly ignored, the mezze reduced to meatballs and sweetbreads (especially good). The main dishes -- fish, shrimp, rabbit, and briami were all spectacular. Cake was fine too.
Biggest problem was logistical, as I was unable to get the food out in proper order, and we ran out of table space -- we probably would have been better off setting it up as a buffet, but we don't really have room for that either. Smaller dinners for six or so still seem workable, and the main dishes were pretty simple preparations -- long bakes or slow braises. Thanks to Elias Vlanton, Greek was the first non-American cuisine I fell in love with, but aside from Garithes Yiouvetsi I've rarely cooked it, having moved on and made Turkish cuisine my specialty. So it was nice to get back to basics recently.
I posted October's Streamnotes on Saturday, just before I started cooking, so there's virtually nothing new listed below. I posted a notice on Facebook, and was surprised to find that nearly all of the commentary concerned my ACN background grades on Bruce Springsteen. I often use Streamnotes as a tool for going back and checking out records I had missed, but since I didn't bother with previously rated records I figured that at least listing them would provide some useful context. German avant-pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach was a case in point this past month, as I reviewed his latest plus six older ones, then listed 18 others (including Globe Unity and a couple of joint projects with wife Aki Takase).
I started doing Springsteen after watching his appearance on Stephen Colbert plugging his memoir and a tie-in CD of odds and sods. Next I moved on to Live 1975-85, his famed 5-LP/3-CD live archive, then figured I might as well mop up the rest. Can't say as I discovered anything -- certainly nothing I wish I had bought earlier. As is well documented (e.g., here and here and here) I developed an intense dislike for Springsteen c. his Time cover -- partly my rather instinctive leanings toward antihype, partly revulsion over the hyperbolic dramaturgy of Born to Run (e.g., "Jungleland") and Darkness at the Edge of Town, and partly because I had become partisan in my fondness for the era's British pub rock movement (e.g., see the numerous references to Ducks Deluxe, op. cit.).
One commenter wrote "a universe where BTR is a B+ is a chilly place indeed." Actually, my original Born to Run grade was B-. I certainly didn't feel chilly at the time. Lots of other things I loved at the time, and it's always been relative. I've mellowed considerably since then, acknowledging the title cut as magnificent (despite some terrible lyrics, like "And strap your hands 'cross my engines") although "Jungleland" still sucks. The album that started to turn me around was The River, where he cut out most of the crap and started to hone his sound down to something classically rock but still distinctive. Took me a while, but he eventually turned into someone I liked (took him a while too) -- e.g., I don't get the problem some commenters have with The Seeger Sessions.
Still, I'm not here to argue that you shouldn't like something you actually do. If you have your own considered views, God bless you. I figure I'm mostly useful because I write about so much stuff you've never heard of, or never taken seriously. (Black Bombaim is a good case in point, or 75 Dollar Bill -- although Jason Gubbels and Robert Christgau got to the latter way before I did.) And when I do touch on something familiar, maybe that will help you correlate, as well as providing my own sanity check. Wouldn't want to miss anything important, especially if it's a widespread pick (like Springsteen, unlike Schlippenbach).
More useful was Dan Weiss' complaint that I underrated Rae Sremmurd. One of those acts I always seem to come out low on. A comment that's more likely to trigger re-evaluation is Michael Tatum's on American Honey: "Genres that aren't supposed to mix, artists I don't care for, even songs I never liked . . . no one listens to all this stuff at the same time. But somehow it works." I could blame Spotify (Napster only has like seven cuts), but I heard all that and still couldn't decide whether it justified what's basically a mixtape.
New issue of Downbeat came in the mail today, featuring their 81st Annual Readers Poll results. I've rarely felt further isolated from the jazz fans represented by the magazine (looks like about 15000 voted). The HOF winner was the late Phil Woods, a worthy candidate who narrowly edged out Wynton Marsalis -- not a personal favorite, but over 35 years now he's probably produced as many A- albums as Woods, maybe more. Woods also won for alto saxophone, where he was trailed by (get this): Kenny Garrett, David Sanborn, and Grace Kelly. Marsalis won trumpet, followed by a guy I'd never heard of, Roger Ingram (he's mostly played in big bands, going back to Louie Bellson and Woody Herman).
Most disappointing for me was the album standings -- not so much that Maria Schneider won (most critics adore her) as that she was followed by Grace Kelly, Gregory Porter, Arturo Sandoval, and many others. I count two A-, two B+(***), and various lower grades. What the hell, let's list them:
Hard to overstate how disgusted I am right now with the FBI over Hillary Clinton's emails -- easily the most boring subject in American politics for over a year now. (And while I don't doubt that Anthony Weiner is a creep, why the hell are they investigating him?) Before this broke I was actually thinking that both candidates had been treated unfairly. After all, the real primordial scum of American politics is Ted Cruz, but to go after him you'd have to talk about issues, and that's the real fear and dread of all sorts of media in America.
I minor exception to this is the Wichita Eagle, which has published detailed position charts on various candidates. Trump's isn't as awful as you'd expect, and Clinton's isn't as good as you'd hope, but that race at least is pretty clear cut. But I was saddened by how awful the Democratic congressional candidates are this time -- Patrick Wiesner for Senate and Dan Giroux for House. Given the Republican incumbents, I'll probably wind up voting or both (although I know a few people who prefer independent Miranda Allen over Giroux), but neither has much of a chance.
I'll be voting for Clinton too, although I fear my prediction that she'll be dogged by one stupid scandal after another for her entire term will turn out prescient. Very doubtful my wife will vote for her. Since the email thing broke open again, she's been hashtagging "itoldyouso" and heaping special scorn on those who claimed "she's been vetted" back in the primaries. Turns out none of the candidates were very well vetted, because the vanity and hubris presidential candidates all but require are endless generators of petty scandal.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, October 29. 2016
Slightly more than a month's worth of records here, as I ran into a couple bad weeks then found myself running out of month. Still a fairly substantial outing: 114 records (93 new, 3 recent comps, 18 oldies I'm just now catching up to -- mostly Bruce Springsteen and Alexander von Schlippenbach, both searches triggered by recent albums).
New records are mostly jazz, although I made an effort early in the month to check out many of the year's better regarded pop albums -- my main source Album of the Year's Highest Rated Albums of 2016 list. I'm still missing three of the top five (Nick Cave, Beyoncé, and Frank Ocean), one more down to ten (Dillinger Escape Plan), and three more down to twenty-five (DD Dumbo, Nails, The Hotelier) -- mostly not on Napster (although I now see that Nick Cave finally appeared).
Rated count for 2016 releases is currently 744 albums. I'm not sure how that compares year-to-date with 2015 but it's probably down by about 20%: by freeze date my 2015 list had hit 1112 albums, so if you scale that back to ten months you get 926, and 744 is 80.34% of that. Of course, in every year critics pick up their coverage rate toward the end when the annual best-of lists start to appear. Seems likely I'll wind up down closer to 10% than the current 20%.
A list this year is currently 97 long, down considerably from 150 last year (at freeze date, now up to 164). Same calculations show that current A-list is down 22.4% this year. I've actually wondered whether I'm getting faster and looser with grades this year. These numbers actually look rather normal, but that doesn't mean I haven't: I'd have to do some research to prove it, but I suspect that it's normal for A-grades to pile up late in the year. It's also normal for jazz to spurt ahead of non-jazz (currently 54-43, as I recall less than last year's split at this time, although the two columns wound up evenly balanced).
One reason for my doubts is that some of this month's picks are records that I don't regard as especially strong for the artist, but I've let them pass through anyway (Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Handsome Family, maybe even Revolutionary Snake Ensemble). On the other hand, I didn't quite bite on several jazz albums that have gotten a lot of critical play (Mary Halvorson, Wadada Leo Smith; perhaps halso Darcy James Argue and Andrew Cyrille). On the other hand, my favorites this time lean toward mainstream and/or groove (although I guess Black Bombaim and Damana don't fit either niche -- so much for predictable).
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 22. Past reviews and more information are available here (8746 records).
75 Dollar Bill: Wooden Bag (2015, Other Music): A duo, with Rick Brown banging on things and playing a little alto sax, and Che Chen playing guitar and more alto sax. Mostly roiling drone and percussion, and little differentiation among seven songs, but the noise is distinct and captivating, so there. B+(***) [bc]
75 Dollar Bill: Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (2013-15 , Thin Wrist): Principally a duo, with Rick Brown playing less than a full set of drums (but "plywood crate") and Che Chen more than one guitar, with a few others adding to the discordant harmonies. Four pieces, 39:20, the vaguely Saharan grooves and harmonies minimally differentiated. A- [bc]
Stefan Aeby Trio: To the Light (2015 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, third trio album, also appears on good records by label mates Christoph Irniger and Sarah Buecchli. With André Pousaz on bass and Michi Stulz on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Joey Alexander: Countdown (2016, Motéma): Pianist, from Bali in Indonesia (full name Josiah Alexander Sila), was 11 when he cut his debut and 13 for this sophomore effort. Mostly trio with Larry Grenadier or Dan Chmielinski on bass and Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums. He's gotten the red carpet treatment so far -- even won a Grammy. And he is a surprisingly adept interpreter, as well as a fairly decent writer of genre exercises, but among mainstream jazz pianists these days, who isn't? B+(*)
JD Allen: Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues (2016, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, leads a trio with Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Sticks to basics here, doesn't strain or strive, but makes it all -- mostly original pieces, only one cover dating back to the '30s -- feel natural, unforced. A- [cd]
Amber Arcades: Fading Lines (2016, Heavenly): Alias for Dutch singer Annelotte de Graaf, with a background in law working for UN war crimes tribunals. No idea how I should alphabetize names like this. Bright, tuneful pop, framed more by guitar than keyboard. B+(*)
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Real Enemies (2016, New Amsterdam): Big band, rhythm section (including guitar) often plugged in, third album, Argue composes and conducts but doesn't play. His conspiracy themes are highlighted in spoken pieces, including a lecture on "paranoid style," and he backs it all up with stark, dramatic swells. B+(**) [bc]
Jay Azzolina/Dino Govoni/Adam Nussbaum/Dave Zinno: Chance Meeting (2016, Whaling City Sound): Listed alphabetically, all four contributing songs, as listed: guitar (best known, if not best remembered, for Spyro Gyra), tenor sax, drums, and bass. Most impressed by Govoni -- unfamiliar with him, but he teaches at Berklee, and his page there asserts the obvious: "A good saxophonist, first and foremost, has to have a tremendous sound." He does. B+(**) [cd]
Andrzej Bauer/Adam Baldych/Cezary Duchnowski/Cezary Konrad: Trans-Fuzja (2012 , ForTune): Polish string jazz trio (cello, violin, bass/electronics) plus drums. Despite the instrumentation, not close to the "chamber jazz" notion. B+(**) [bc]
Beekman: Vol. 02 (2015 , Ropeadope): Tenor sax quartet based in Brooklyn, pianist Yago Vazqauez (also Rhodes) listed first although all write with saxophonist Kyle Nasser most prolific -- 4/9 songs, vs. 3 for Vazquez, 2 for Pablo Menares (bass), 1 by Rodrigo Recabarren (drums). Boppish, flows fast and hard. B+(***) [cd]
Black Bombaim/Peter Brötzmann: Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann (2016, Clean Feed): Portuguese "stoner/psychedelic rock" group, a power trio with guitar-bass-drums but no singer, so they're into densely textured noise. That suits the saxophonist. He does what he's been doing for nearly fifty years, but the framing makes this more accessible without compromising his rawness. A- [cd]
Bon Iver: 22, a Million (2016, Jagjaguwar): Justin Vernon, third album, not so much a singer-songwriter as a fairly huge cult artist, his popularity and critical favor a puzzle to me -- not that I'm immune to his appeal, I just find it hard to see how such arcane chicanery and fey disposition could gain a mass following. Perhaps that says something about the ever-evolving nature of anomie. B+(*)
Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (2016, Warp): Rapper from Detroit, apprenticed in the drug trade but has righted his career, now on his fourth album. Voice humorous similar to Young Thug, gives him a bit of lift even when the thug life doesn't deserve it. First hook goes "tell me something I don't know." Not the last, either. A-
John Butcher & Ståle Liavik Solberg: So Beautiful, It Starts to Rain (2015 , Clean Feed): Sax and drums duets, the former playing soprano and tenor. Three pieces, 35:19, choppy and rather abstract. B+(**) [cd]
George Cables: The George Cables Songbook (2016, HighNote): Pianist, has a long list of records since 1975, many well regarded ones on SteepleChase I haven't heard so I tend to remember him best for his stellar work with Art Pepper. Something of a career recap here, with a superb trio (Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis) augmented by sax (Craig Handy) on five tracks, percussion (Victor Kroom) on four, and vocals (Sarah Elizabeth Charles) on six. B+(***) [cd]
Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad Plays Jazz Arias (2015 , self-released): Alto sax and piano, respectively, adding Randy Brecker (flugelhorn) or Ted Nash (tenor sax) on most pieces -- written, as advertised, by Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, Massenet, Delibes, and Barber. But without their usual strings and voices they never trigger my usual classical gag reflex. They just seem a little overblown. B [cd]
Neko Case/KD Lang/Laura Veirs: Case/Lang/Veirs (2016, Anti-): Trio of established singer-songwriters, in alphabetical order but also from most to least famous. Reviewers like to compare this to the Parton-Ronstadt-Harris "Trio" but those were much bigger stars with instantly recognizable voices. These three are much more anonymous, yet it's remarkable how evenly they blend together. B+(**)
Nels Cline: Lovers (2013 , Blue Note, 2CD): Guitarist, pays the rent by slumming in Wilco, but that evidently hasn't dulled his ambition for solo projects. Indeed, this project is gargantuan both in length and in its credits, yet none of that is evident in the orchestral music, an mix of placid and ominous, neither all that well defined. B-
Clipping: Splendor & Misery (2016, Sub Pop): Experimental hip-hop group from Los Angeles, best known member Daveed Diggs (from Hamilton), offer a concept about about a future slave (Cargo 2331) being shipped through outer space. Progress ends in very spare and mechanical beats and blips, its own cold and unforgiving dystopia. B+(*)
Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker (2016, Columbia): Slow, grim, gravelly, the octogenarian poet backs himself into a dark corner, and then a funny thing happens: the more you strain for clues (and you do) the sweeter his serenade. A-
Cymbals Eat Guitars: Pretty Years (2016, Sinderlyn): New York band, took their name from a Lou Reed quote "describing the sound of the Velvet Underground," not that they're that disciplined. Instead, we get a better-than-average rock band with solid songs and some flash, not that I find that especially interesting. B
Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The Declaration of Musical Independence (2014 , ECM): Drummer, from Brooklyn, an important figure on the avant-garde since he joined Cecil Taylor's group in 1964. With more than dozen albums under his own name, his ECM debut is a subversive little quartet, with guitarist Bill Frisell shirking the spotlight more often than not. Equally inscrutable are Richard Teitelbaum (synth/piano) and Ben Street (bass). B+(***) [dl]
Damana (Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet): Cornua Copiae (2014 , Clean Feed): Drummer-led Norwegian octet, with three saxes (alto, tenor, baritone/bass), trumpet, trombone, piano, bass: tremendous power from a horns section, but also texture, layering, and detail, propelled by a rhythm section with a hint of swing. Looks like a debut record, likely my ballot pick. A- [cd]
Dogbrain: Blue Dog (2016, Dogbrain Music, EP): Jay Ward, a countryish songwriter who sings through his stutter because the music flows so readily, has one album and three EPs. Six cuts, 18:39. B+(***)
Dreezy: No Hard Feelings (2016, Interscope): Chicago rapper-singer, has a couple of EPs, pretty good single here in "Body" (feat. Jeremih). B+(*)
Drive-By Truckers: American Band (2016, ATO): First thing you notice is how easily Patterson Hood's southern drawl flows over the contour of the melodies. Then words kick in, starting with a remarkable song about race and shooting deaths which works in a not unrelated bit of domestic violence. A-
Earprint: Earprint (2016, Endectomorph Music): Boston quartet: Tree Palmedo (trumpet), Kevin Sun (tenor sax, clarinet), Simón Willson (bass), Dor Herskovits (drums). Slippery postbop, bouncing off walls, occasionally surprising you. B+(**) [cd]
Orrin Evans: #Knowingishalfthebattle (2016, Smoke Sessions): Postbop pianist from Philadelphia sets up a high-revving group with two guitarists (Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks), plus bass (Luques Curtis) and drums (Mark Whitfield Jr.), with guest spots for sax (Caleb Wheeler Curtis) and voice (M'Balia Singley) -- the latter's take of "Kooks" trips itself up, but her "That's All" is fine. B+(**)
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moving Still (2016, Pi): Trumpet player, previous album (Moment and the Message) was terrific, has notable side credits with Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, Mary Halvorson, and Tomas Fujiwara. Quintet with both guitar (Miles Okazaki) and piano (Matt Mitchell), tends to float above their postbop. B+(**) [cd]
Five in Orbit: Tribulus Terrestris (2015 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Franco-Catalan quintet, where Ramon Fossati (trombone), Olivier Brandily (alto sax/flute), and Laurent Bronner (piano) write the pieces (aside from a Lincoln-Roach cover), plus Nicolas Rageau (bass) and Luc Isenmann (drums). Fossati seems most drawn to Mingus, kicking the band into a higher orbit. B+(**)
Fond of Tigers: Uninhabit (2016, Offsesson/Drip Audio): Instrumental rock band from Vancouver, seven-piece, includes a couple of the city's notable jazzbos -- JP Carter on trumpet and Jesse Zubot on violin -- but guitarist Stephen Lyons (also credited with vocals, percussion and electronics) is most likely responsible, for the music if not necessarily the bloat. C+
Friends & Neighbors: What's Wrong? (2015 , Clean Feed): Another fine Norwegian freebop group, quintet with trumpet, tenor sax/clarinets, piano, bass, and drums -- no one I've heard of before. Four of the five contribute songs, with André Roligheten (reeds) marginally more prolific (and listed first in the credits). B+(***) [cd]
Future of the Left: The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left (2016, Prescriptions): Rock band from Wales, considered noise rock or post-hardcore but I'd slot them more as post-punk in a line that includes the Fall and the Three Johns. Not sure of the politics, but Falco's snarl exudes class conflict, so that's a start, and I've never found their basic grind more appealing. B+(***)
Robert Glasper Experiment: ArtScience (2016, Blue Note): Pianist, originally promised jazz with hip-hop influence and has straddled that concept inelegantly since 2005, but the vocals here push the balance toward postmodern r&b, which is where the beats derive anyway. B+(*)
GOAT: Requiem (2016, Sub Pop): Swedish group, called their first album World Music and has tried to expand on that thought ever since, but to the extent they specialize at all, they've come up with a psychedelicized form of afrobeat. They're not always that delectable, but I could listen to, say, the grind of "Goatband" much longer than 7:50, nor is that the only time they find such a compelling groove. B+(***)
Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You (2015 , Firehouse 12): Guitarist, protégé of Anthony Braxton, has previous Quintet and Septet albums, here adding Susan Alcorn (pedal steel) to the latter: Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Jacob Garchik (trombone), John Hébert (bass), Ches Smith (drums). Slippery pieces, much to admire but hard to pin them down, especially with the guitarist most elusive of all. B+(***) [cd]
The Handsome Family: Unseen (2016, Loose Music): Brett and Rennie Sparks, she (I gather) does most of the writing with its fascination for nature and science, and he does most of the singing, like the music (mostly guitar) basic but elegant. I fear some recycling of tunes, but that's mostly because they're so memorable. A-
Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band: The Broader Picture (2016, Enja/Yellowbird): The veteran drummer composed all of these pieces, some going back to the 1970s, and took over as the WDR Big Band's drummer, but the star here is Christophe Schweizer, arranger of the pieces and director of the big band. The WDR Big Band has long been one of the most competent of Europe's institutional bands, but even they have rarely brought their guest star's music so vividly to life. B+(***) [cdr]
Luke Hendon: Silk & Steel (2016, self-released): Guitarist, touches on gypsy jazz à Django Reinhardt, backed by bass and drums (and sometimes violin) but you rarely notice more than the guitar. B+(*) [cd]
Dave Holland/Chris Potter/Lionel Loueke/Eric Harland: Aziza (2016, Dare2): Bass, tenor/soprano sax, guitar/vocals, drums -- not sure why I missed the first two names when I filed this (other than that my advance didn't come with a cover, and the spine only says Aziza). Strong rhythm record, moves right along. Potter, of course, is superb, and when he switches to soprano they just double down on the Latin tinge. Two songs each, the sort of balance you rarely find in a supergroup. A- [cdr]
Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch (2016, Sacred Bones): Avant goth diva from Norway, released a couple records as Rockettothesky before reverting to her birth name, turns out some kind of soundtrack about vampires -- maybe just a concept album, but it's as scattered as many soundtracks. C+
Ital Tek: Hollowed (2016, Planet Mu): Electronica producer Alan Myson, from Brighton UK, fifth album since 2008, has a bit of industrial klang shaded toward ambience. B+(**)
Nicolas Jaar: Sirens (2016, Other People): Nominally electronica, but it's the rock and roll bits -- bass throbs, drum rolls, even a little squelchy guitar -- that impress me, not that he doesn't occasionally fade into ambiance. B+(**)
Kate Jackson: British Road Movies (2016, Hoo Ha): British singer-songwriter, formerly frontwoman for the Long Blondes, debut solo album. Solid album, but not much sticks. B+(*)
Manu Katché: Unstatic (2016, Anteprima): French drummer, group includes Tore Brunborg (saxes), Jim Watson (keyboards), and Eileen Andrea Wang (bass), adding guests here and there, notably Nils Langren (trombone on five tracks). Relaxed, a bit light, easy on the ears. B+(*)
Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate (2016, Polydor): Born in London, parents from Uganda, straight up soul singer often tagged as retro, big star in England but barely gets noticed here. Second album, nothing fancy but a simple pleasure. B+(**)
Mike LeDonne & the Groover Quartet: That Feelin' (2016, Savant): Started as a mainstream pianist in the early 1990s but has increasingly made the organ his tool, goes for old-fashioned soul jazz with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and guitarist Peter Bernstein providing tasty leads, and dependable Joe Farnsworth on drums. Vince Herring (alto sax) joins on three cuts. B+(**) [cd]
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had a Dream That You Were Mine (2016, Glassnote): Former frontman (guitar, vocals) of the Walkmen, my candidate for the most dead-ass boring alt/indie band of the last decade, working with multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of a much better band, Vampire Weekend. Splits the difference, the songs sharp and catchy, but still something I don't quite trust. B
John Lindberg Raptor Trio: Western Edges (2012 , Clean Feed): Bassist-led sax trio, with Pablo Calogero on baritone and Joe LaBarbera on drums. The deep sax meshes evenly with the bass, with no threats to break out into something crazy -- just steady, smart free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
John Lindberg BC3: Born in an Urban Ruin (2016, Clean Feed): Bassist, founder and mainstay of String Trio of New York. Trio with Wendell Harrison on clarinets and Kevin Norton on vibraharp and percussion, although more often it seems like bass duets with one or the other, or just bass solos. Each combo is interesting in its own right, but I don't see how they add up. B+(**) [cd]
Jacam Manricks: Chamber Jazz (2015 , self-released): Saxophonist, credited here with alto, soprano, tenor, flute, alto flute, and clarinet; leading a quartet with Kevin Hays on piano and Fender Rhodes, Gianluca Renzi on acoustic bass, and Ari Hoenig on drums. Nothing I think of as "chamber jazz," although he incorporates bits from some classical composers as well as Nascimento and Miles Davis, adding to the album's sheer catchiness. A- [cd]
Grégoire Maret: Wanted (2016, Sunnyside): Born in Geneva, Switzerland; based in New York; plays chromatic harmonica, an instrument which speaks blues but gets diluted in the strings and flute producer Terri Lyne Carrington brought out, not to mention the scattered soul vocals. Could be his Grammy first time out spoiled him. B-
Jørgen Mathisen/Christian Meaas Svendsen/Andreas Wildhagen: Momentum (2015 , Clean Feed): Free sax trio from Norway, Mathisen -- also on the Damana album -- playing soprano and tenor (mostly the latter), the others bass and drums. Struggles a bit, both at full roar and in more studious stretches. B+(*) [cd]
Maxwell: blackSUMMERS'night (2016, Columbia): Gerald Maxwell Rivera, neo-soul crooner, fifth album going back to 1995, but only second since 2001, the previous title differentiated from this one's only by different case. Can't say that I docked him for that, but it didn't win him the benefit of the doubt either. B
Anna Meredith: Varmints (2016, Moshi Moshi): British, background includes compositions for classical orchestra, moving into pop in 2012 with the first of two EPs, then this debut album. Favors crashing waves of synths, where words are almost an afterthought. B
Rale Micic: Night Music (2015 , Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, born 1975 in Belgrade (Yugoslavia, now Serbia), moved to US in 1995 to study at Berklee, settled in New York, has at least three previous albums. This quartet blends his guitar nicely with Danny Grissett's piano. B+(*) [cd]
Minim Experiment: Dark Matter (2016, ForTune): Guitarist Kuba Wojcik wrote all five tunes, featuring piano (Kamil Piotrowicz) and backed by bass and drums, most attractive when the beat sustains the minimalism, but interesting even when it doesn't. B+(**) [bc]
Moonbow: When the Sleeping Fish Turn Red and the Skies Start to Sing in C Major I Will Follow You to the End (2016, ILK): All tracks composed by bassist Tomo Jacobson, born in Poland, based in Copenhagen, also in the group Mount Meander, and working on a film about William Parker (who contributed a liner note poem). Septet -- three saxes, guitar and piano, bass and drums, Kresten Osgood the only familiar name. Ambitious set, with its broad sweep and towering heights, moody colors. Still, hard to get a handle on it all. B+(**) [cd]
Kevin Morby: Singing Saw (2016, Dead Oceans): Singer-songwriter from Lubbock, recording his third album in Woodstock. Outstanding song is "Dorothy," which refines a riff from . . . "Heroin." B+(***)
The Mowgli's: Where'd Your Weekend Go? (2016, Photo Finish/Island): Pop group from Calabasas, California -- a ritzy suburb in the hills west of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Bouncy upbeat, multiple singers with lots of vocal harmonies, a formula completely alien to the downer vibe that young critics seem to love. Me, I loved their previous Kids in Love, but while this has similar appeal, nothing here quite grabs me. B
Mudcrutch: 2 (2016, Reprise): Southern rock band, formed in 1970 in Gainesville, Florida, defunct by 1975 without an album but reformed in 2007 with five-sixths of the original lineup, the original lead singer having left by 1972 and been obsoleted by backup Tom Petty's post-group stardom. So basically, this is Petty in a nostalgic mood. B
Mark Murphy: Slip Away (2016, Mini Movie): Not the late jazz singer, this one's a singer-songwriter, plays guitar, also covers Dylan, McCartney, Newman, and Young. Band composed of name jazz musicians (Jon Cowherd, Chris Morrissey, Jeff Ballard, Gilad Hekselman, Dayna Stephens) with Maria Neckham joining for a duet, but no one stretches, the result barely registering as easy-listening rock. B [cd]
Naked Wolf: Ahum (2016, Clean Feed): Dutch group, has a previous album, looks like all members write with Felicity Proven (trumpet) and Mikael Szarfirowski (guitar) also singing (or rapping); the others are Luc Ex (bass), Yedo Gibson (reeds), and Gerri Jäger (drums). The vocals threaten to pull this into some weird post-rock vein, while the instrumentals drag it back into the domain of demented circus music. B+(*) [cd]
Steve Noble & Kristoffer Berre Alberts: Condest Second Yesterday (2015 , Clean Feed): English drummer, has a long discography since 1987 mostly with European avant-gardists, here in a duo with a relatively new tenor saxophonist from Norway -- brings tremendous energy, although he does tend to squawk. B+(***) [cd]
Sean Noonan: Memorable Sticks (2015 , ForTune): Drummer-led piano trio, with Alex Marcelo and Peter Bilenc, with Noonan adding a narration about chipping away in a salt mine, looking for treasures. Very upbeat, often emphatic, but I find the voice more distracting than not. B [bc]
Angel Olsen: My Woman (2016, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from St. Louis, sang backup for Bonnie "Prince" Billy, second (or third) album, adding to the critical acclaim for her 2014 Burn Your Fire for No Witness. First time through I didn't catch much, but a second spin caught my ear numerous times, even when she slows to a whisper. B+(***)
Parker Abbott Trio: Elevation (2016, self-released): From Canada, a different kind of piano trio, with both Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott playing various keyboards (including organ and good old acoustic piano, but mostly electrics), with Mark Segger on drums and percussion. B [cd]
Nicholas Payton: Textures (2016, Paytone): Around the turn of the century someone came up with the term "jazztronica" and a number of mainstream jazz artists started dabbling in that direction, including the New Orleans trumpet master. Nothing much happened, but Payton keeps plugging away, doing this solo on keyb and laptop. He succeeds in generating textures. Still doesn't amount to much by way of music. B-
Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (2015 , HighNote): Two old guys playing sax-bass duets at a casual pace on comfortable standards. Carter has probably appeared on more records than any other jazz musician (Morton & Cook once tried counting and decided Ray Brown held that distinction, but Carter has long passed Brown). Back cover has a photo of the two with an old white man sandwiched between the more imposing black figures -- presumably that's Executive Producer Joe Fields, who signed Person to Prestige in the 1960s and kept him close ever since. This isn't their first duet album. I should probably recheck that one, but for now I'm too much in love with this one. Guess I'm getting old myself. A [cd]
John Prine: For Better, or Worse (2016, Oh Boy): In 1999 Prine eased his way back from throat cancer with a remarkable album of old country tunes, the vocal duties shared with Iris DeMent and several other women. He repeats that concept here -- probably figures that at 70 he's earned another easy one, or maybe he's noticed that he hasn't written a album's worth of originals since Bush provoked him to 2005's Fair and Square. Of course, this isn't as marvelous as the first time: the songs aren't as improbable, he's lost a step, and so many young women are chasing him that DeMent only gets two highlights. None of that bothers me. And if you're waiting for a John Prine song, just wait for the end. A-
Punkt 3: Ordnung Herrscht (2015 , Clean Feed): Group named for German bassist-composer Noah Punkt, who has a previous solo album, two previous trios, and various other projects. This is a trio with saxophonist Tobias Pfister and drummer Ramon Oliveras, free jazz, sharp but not too aggressive. B+(***) [cd]
Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife 2 (2016, Eardrum/Interscope): Hip-hop duo from Mississippi, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi, second album. Pretty ragged for pop stars, somewhat catchy, might even be funny too if I was into their B- and N-shit. B+(*)
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: I Want That Sound! (2016, Innova): Alto saxophonist Ken Field's Boston-based answer to New Orleans' second line brass bands, actually just a sextet with two saxes, trumpet, and the trombonist doubling on tuba. Fourth album, more of their infectious funk groove. A- [cd]
Huerco S: For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) (2016, Proibito): Brian Leeds, Kansas-born, based in Brooklyn, second album, ambient electronica composed of little bits of synth, almost toy-like at first but grows into something. B+(**)
Savages: Adore Life (2016, Matador): London-based post-punk band, fronted by Jehnny Beth (Camille Berthomier), who has a bit of Patti Smith in her voice. Doom and gloom too, the sort of thing that could prove prophetic, although for now I'm on the fence. B+(***)
SBTRKT: Save Yourself (2016, self-released, EP): English "post-dubstep" group, primarily synths producer Aaron Jerome, with vocals from Sampha and The-Dream. Short LP (8 tracks, 25:55) after two longer albums. Kind of mopey, more like trip-hop, without the hop. B-
Schlippenbach Trio: Warsaw Concert (2015 , Intakt): Avant pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, with Evan Parker on tenor sax, and Paul Lovens on drums -- a trio for more than forty years. Frenetic and sketchy when they started out, now old masters to don't mind kicking up their heels. B+(***) [cdr]
John Scofield: Country for Old Men (2016, Impulse!): Easy-grooving guitarist, backed by Larry Goldings (piano and organ), Steve Swallow (electric bass), and Bill Stewart (drums), playing relatively old country songs (Shania Twain's "You're Still the One" is the only one less than thirty years old, and James Taylor's "Bartender's Blues" might not count as country), all familiar and still recognizable. B+(*)
Travis Scott: Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2016, Epic): Jaques Webster, Houston rapper, dreams of dollar signs in his stage name, recruits enough guests for his second album to point that way. But I mostly hear a beats record, and like it that way. B+(**)
Elliott Sharp Aggregat: Dialectrical (2016, Clean Feed): After many years as an avant-garde gadfly, mostly playing guitar, he's turned into a free jazz stalwart, here playing reed instruments (soprano/tenor sax, Bb/bass clarinet), in a group named for his 2012 album -- his best as far as I know. This one gives 76-year-old drummer Barry Altschul a "Feat." on the cover, and spreads the horns out with Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet and Terry L. Greene II on trombone, plus Brad Jones on bass. Sharp indeed, though also a bit shrill. B+(***) [cd]
Alan Silva/Mette Rasmussen/Ståle Liavik Solberg: Free Electric Band (2014 , ForTune): Silva, born in Bermuda, moved to New York at age 5, has been a minor figure on the avant-fringe since the early 1960s, mostly playing bass but increasingly since the 1990s keyboards. Regardless of the dilapidated upright on the cover, he plays synth here, the electric clashing with alto sax and drums. One 45:55 piece, rough around the edges, as advertised. B+(*) [bc]
Sleaford Mods: TCR (2016, Rough Trade, EP): New label, thought they'd test the water and make nice with a five track, 17:17 EP, so straightforward you can follow every word and step easily to the clipped beats. TCR stands for Total Control Racing. B+(***)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani: Sunergy (2015 , RVNG Intl.): Three pieces, 23/12/18 minutes, not sure who composed but both play various synthesizers, for something like ambient but with much more swish. B+(**)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Ears (2016, Western Vinyl): More synths, more scattered at first with bits of voice and woodwind (Rob Frye's credit) or maybe just more slippery, with six shortish pieces between 3:05 and 4:57 then an 11:09 finale which builds into something, justifying its title, "Existence in the Unfurling." B+(**)
Wadada Leo Smith: America's National Parks (2016, Cuneiform, 2CD): Trumpet player, came of age in Chicago's AACM but remained obscure until around 2000 when he started to break out of expectations -- an album with Thomas Mapfumo (from Zimbabwe), an "Electric Miles" trbute band with Henry Kaiser, and recently a series of extended compositions (including The Great Lakes Suites and Ten Freedom Summers). This sprawling six-piece, written for his Golden Quintet (piano-cello-bass-drums) draws inspiration from all around the country, and strikes me as being as heavy and ponderous as its subject matter, but dotted with marvelous, often breath-taking details. B+(***) [cd]
Solange: A Seat at the Table (2016, Saint/Columbia): Last name Knowles, same as her older sister Beyoncé. Third album in thirteen years, a big production with scores of writers, producers, and guests, but the sound hardly suggests such scale, and the songs are laced with a male commentary which while interesting in its own right could just as well belong to a completely different album. B+(**)
Richard Sussman: The Evolution Suite (2015 , Zoho): Pianist, also credited with electronics, more importantly as composer, arranger, etc. Played keyboards in Elephant's Memory in 1969, later spent a couple years with Blood, Sweat & Tears, while his own records started up in the 1970s. Title piece runs through five movements, with a couple "radio edits" tacked on to fill out 75 minutes. Band a quintet with trumpet (Scott Wendholt) and tenor sax (Rich Perry), expanded with a string quartet (The Sirius Quartet) and Zach Brock on electric violin. Some exciting passages, but I don't much care for the strings. B [cd]
Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos (2016, Lex): British rapper with a literary bent, not sure what the story is here but it must pick up toward the end when the grime beats come together and flower into melody -- or maybe that's just the music. B+(**)
Touché Amoré: Stage Four (2016, Epitaph): Post-hardcore band from Burbank, fourth album, work up a decent grind, tight enough I'm impressed and rather pleased, as if I still liked music of this sort. B+(*)
Wax Tailor: By Any Beats Necessary (2016, Le Plan): French trip-hop producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoût, fifth album since 2005, comes out as a blues rocker but eventually retreats to his more accustomed turf. Reminds me of a group called Was Not Was, another producer vehicle with no signature sound but a lot of smashing studio tricks. B+(*)
Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian): Alt-rock duo from Los Angeles, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, who previously did business as the Smith Westerns, plus a drummer from Unknown Mortal Orchestra and a producer from Foxygen wrapping the falsetto vocals with orchestral dross. B-
YG: Still Brazy (2016, Def Jam): Rapper Keenon Jackson, from Compton, follow up to his 2014 My Krazy Life, still shocked that a guy with such crude rhymes and so little flow can bank on a major label contract. Inspirational lyric: "Fuck Donald Trump." B+(*)
Yoni & Geti: Testarossa (2016, Joyful Noise): Collaboration between beatmaker Yoni Wolf (of WHY?) and rapper David Cohn (aka Serengeti). Musically this reminded me first of the Beach Boys then the Beatles in their most psychedelic modes but more so by half. The raps are standard-grade 'Geti. B+(**)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
American Honey (, UME): Soundtrack to a movie I hadn't heard of until Christgau raved about this download-only product. Evidently there are multiple versions, with a "complete" song list totalling 27 songs, but Rhapsody only has 8 so I turned to Spotify and found 23. A mixtape of hip-hop and Americana and some alt-rock. only a couple songs I recognized, although when I played Spotify the ones on Rhapsody stood out. Maybe they're the best, or maybe more familiarity will elevate more. B+(***) [sp]
Vieux Kanté: The Young Man's Harp (2005 , Sterns): Blind kamalé ngoni virtuoso from Mali, died at age 31 in 2005, leaving this recording from "shortly before he died" unreleased. Schematic solo intro before a singer and percussion join in. A-
Bruce Springsteen: Chapter and Verse (1966-2012 , Columbia): Compiled as a tie-in to Springsteen's Born to Run autobiography, so it starts with juvenilia: three cuts from his teenage bands, three more from the year he got signed (1972), plus one of those soppy ballads from his second album -- the first five previously unreleased -- before he gets his sound together on "Born to Run." The second half you probably know, not so much a best-of as a set of signposts to a life's work. Not a record you're likely to replay, except maybe for your grandchildren, who probably won't get it but might dig the early intensity. B+(***)
Black Bombaim: Titans (2012, Lovers & Lollypops): "Stoner/psychedelic rock" band from Portugal, Ricardo Miranda (guitar), Vitor Rodrigues (electric bass), and Paulo Gonçalves (drums), although this second album adds others on each of four LP-side-length tracks (three over 18 minutes, one just 10:36). Most mix-ins are guitar, some keybs, a muted vocal on first tracks, and some sax sounding prophetic. B+(***)
Black Bombaim/La La La Ressonance: Black Bombaim & La La La Ressonance (2013 , PAD/Lovers & Lollypops): A live mash up of two Portuguese instrumental rock bands, the former group a noise-oriented power trio, the latter a bit jazzier (and not just because they feature Paulo Araujo on alto sax). B+(**)
Black Bombaim: Far Out (2014, Lovers & Lollipops): A single LP, so just two pieces, total 34:44, the first side adding the superb saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, the second mixing in synth and electronics by Luis Fernandes. Rocksteady beat, of course, but what they build on it, unencumbered by vocals, is as complex as powerful. A-
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton/Schlippenbach Trio: 2X3=5 (1999 , Leo): Two trios, the common denominator saxophonist Evan Parker, with the latter trio adding pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and drummer Paul Lovens. One 77:07 piece, the interest often drifting to the percussion, not least the piano. B+(***)
Schlippenbach Trio: Bauhaus Dessau (2009 , Intakt): Living legends, seems like every few years they tape a concert and put it out, if only to remind you they're still around, still kicking up raw improv, with Evan Parker doing his circular breathing thing for a showstopper. B+(***)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live 1975-85 (1975-85 , Columbia, 3CD): In the 1970s most big rock groups would release a live album, usually a 2LP, either as a status item or a piece of interim product. Shortly before I moved to New York, Springsteen had played a week at the Bottom Line -- possibly the last time he played in a venue that intimate -- and those who saw him there were total converts. I wasn't, but I never saw him live, and only started to like his albums with 1980's The River (his 2LP, another of the era's status rungs). Over the next decade his songbook grew and his concerts grew longer, so when he finally did release the live album his fans had been craving, it added up to five LPs, 40 songs, 3:36:13 -- something they could also squeeze into a 3CD box. Highlights abound, including two possible national anthems we can all stand for, a story about dodging the draft, a terse take on "War." But even the 1975-78 hyper-dramaturgy I so hated at the time sounds personable framed by these arenas. B+(***)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 (1975 , Columbia, 2CD): One complete concert, 2:04:52, from the tour that followed Springsteen's Born to Run breakthrough album, released as a DVD bonus to that album's 30th Anniversary Edition package, then a year later repackaged on CD. Makes me wonder whether I would have been so appalled by the studio album had I seen them live? In an age when guitar bands were the norm, the organ-piano-sax combo both invoked rock's early roots and scaled the sound up to a new level of magnificance. Still too much drama. B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen: The Promise (1977-78 , Columbia, 2CD): Outtakes from the sessions that produced my least favorite Springsteen album, the pompous and ridiculously overblown Darkness at the Edge of Town, assembled as part of a 3-CD + 3-DVD "30th anniversary edition" -- extra baggage we can dispense with here. Two songs were hits for others, and a couple more are related to things that made the finished album, but most were most likely rejected because they weren't sufficiently hyperbolic -- a human scale that I found redemptive, at least when it appeared on better songs than these. B+(*)
Bruce Springsteen: In Concert/MTV Unplugged (1992 , Columbia): Part of MTV's Unplugged series, but after the previously unreleased "Red Headed Woman" the irregular band plugged in and played a set primarily from his uninspired current albums, Lucky Town and Human Touch (8/12 songs). B-
Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995, Columbia): Title reference is to Steinbeck channeled through Woody Guthrie, not least musically where guitar and harmonica suffice for the subdued folk music. I can relate more to the lament for the lost foundries of "Youngstown" -- but not much else. B
Bruce Springsteen: Tracks (1972-95 , Columbia, 4CD): Demos and outtakes, a couple of live tracks, a few B-sides, 66 songs in all selected from a trove of some 350 at the time. I have no idea how many turned up on later albums -- the four 1972 demos made it to 1973's Greetings From Asbury Park, and much further down I see a "Born in the USA" as a Nebraska outtake. Mixed bag, of course, but follows the arc of his career -- the third disc, where the scraps fell off his two great 1980s albums, is a lot of fun. But he slipped and slowed down a bit in the 1990s. B+(*)
Bruce Springsteen: 18 Tracks (1972-99 , Columbia): A 15-cut sampler from the Tracks box set, plus three more bait cuts, no doubt figuring that's all they'd need to get fans willing to buy a 4-CD box of outtakes to buy them again. I don't think it would be hard to carve an A- record from the box, but I'd mostly go with the fast ones, and they didn't. In fact, they only picked one of the five "choice cuts" Christgau identified in the box: "Pink Cadillac." B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live in New York (2000 , Columbia, 2CD): Recorded over two nights of a "ten-show tour-ending run at Madison Square Garden," and originally released as an HBO special (pretty sure I saw that), expanded onto two DVDs, and finally two CDs, long enough to qualify as an average Springsteen show: loud, some interesting variations, magnificent when the sax comes out on top. Due for a revival: "American Skin (41 Shots)." B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen With the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin (2006 , Columbia, 2CD): Another DVD product reissued on CD, the band refers back to the 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions -- 10 of 12 songs repeated here, plus 10 more, a mix of Springsteen's folkier oldies and even older trad fare, all given the big arena treatment by a star who can command an 18-piece band and make it cohere like a revival. B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Payan (1972 , Enja): The avant-pianist's first solo album, not that I'm so sure where all the sounds in the 10:00 closer "Kinds of Weirdness" come from. But until weirdness takes over, you get chopped abstraction, finding its unique way in the world. B+(*)
Alex von Schlippenbach/Paul Dunmall/Paul Rogers/Tony Bianco: Vesuvius (2004 , Slam): London studio session, the pianist playing with saxophonist Dunmall's trio, Rogers playing a 7-string ALL bass. Two long pieces (29:11, 34:47), not as volcanic as hoped for. B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Piano Solo: Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. 1 (2005 , Intakt): Twelve-tone theory is supposedly a way to break ingrained habits by spreading compositions evenly over all possible tones, but I doubt I'll ever be able to recognize that theory just by sound. Rather, I hear a sort of mid-tempo rambling, a lot of thought input but far less conveyed. [4/9 tracks: 35:50] B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Piano Solo: Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. 2 (2005 , Intakt): More from the same session, ending the string of originals with three Dolphy tunes, "All the Things You Are," and Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle." [6/13 tracks, 34:03] B+(**)
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section. Included extra Schlippenbach albums (Globe Unity, Aki Takase) but the Evan Parker record was picked for Schlippenbach, so this isn't the place to go through his discography (at least 26 rated records).
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Friday, October 28. 2016
More tidbits from my online notebook, which starting in 2005 became an archive and expansion of my blog.
On February 15, 2005, I wrote about North Korea's newly developed nuclear weapons, and the American response:
On February 4, 2005, I wrote a letter in response to an editorial in the Eagle by a "Social Security reformer" named Jim Clark (you may recall that Bush tried to redeem his "mandate" by wrecking Social Security, a quest which didn't go over too well):
From a post on May 29, 2005, on a couple Kansas politicians:
In early May, 2005, I noted that I succumbed to my wife's entreaties and started watching television with her, specifically the Jack Bauer terrorism fantasy 24. Since then TV has become a nightly ritual. I reckon you can date my mental rot from that date.
On May 27, 2015, I noted:
On May 31, 2015, I published a piece in the Village Voice on jazz labels. The notebook adds a note on business models that I promised to return to some day:
On September 1, 2005, I wrote this in a letter about Katrina and New Orleans:
On September 30, 2005, in the wake of Katrina, I wrote about the Republican embrace of small and/or incompetent government:
On October 17, 2005, I wrote about Bush's ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court:
From October 22, 2005, I reminded readers I had opposed going to war in Afghanistan in the first place (well, in 2001, although had I given it any thought I would have opposed it in 1979 as well), then noted:
On November 11, 2005 I wrote about Veterans Day:
Might as well end this with my Pazz & Jop ballot, from December 27, 2005: