Thursday, April 28. 2016
Not much to say here. Fairly typical month: four weeks, 125 records. Only nine 2015 releases, although I still don't feel like I have a handle on 2016 -- indeed, I can't say as I'm trying. Just wading through, checking out things I notice -- following my mail, plus a few trustworthy critics.
Two major deaths this past month: Merle Haggard and Prince. Tried to look them up on Rhapsody to see what I've missed, but not much from either (actually nothing from Prince, a fair amount of Haggard but it will take some effort to straighten out the order -- maybe next month). As it is I have 27 Haggard albums in the database (including two filed under Willie Nelson), and 24 from Prince -- the former include more compilations, especially drawn from the early albums, and still wind up representing a smaller share of the total. I won't list them all, but here's the A-list (sorted chronologically):
I was a little more pro-active on news of the death of Ethiopian tenor saxophonist Getatchew Merkuria. I had heard him on Either/Orchestra's Live in Addis, knew that he had a well-regarded volume in Buda Musique's Éthiopiques series, and that he had a couple albums with the Dutch anarcho-punk group Ex. I was pleased to find the comp on Rhapsody, and two live albums with Ex on Bandcamp, so I tuned right into them. The Ex had also put their complete works up on Bandcamp, so I decided to fill in all the many albums I had missed, so see "Old Music" below for the rundown.
I suppose I should note that the total number of records I've run through this wringer since 2007 has topped 8000. That doesn't include the old Recycled Goods and Jazz Prospecting columns, which were done on the basis of actual CDs. I suspended those columns back in January 2014, folding the stuff I would have reviewed there into here. About one-third of the records below were reviewed from CDs (44/125, 35.2%, all jazz). What put the "Rhapsody" in "Rhapsody Streamnotes" was a (temporary) gratis subscription to the streaming service. I figured as long as I was listening I should keep notes, even if they don't amount to real reviews. That's still my practice, and a fair number of the notes that follow are far from adequate to give you a good sense of the record. Still, only so much time to go around.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from 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 March 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (8045 records).
Antonio Adolfo: Tropical Infinito (2016, AAM): Brazilian pianist, has a couple dozen albums since 1969, nearing 70 now. Adds a horn section here -- Jesse Sadoc on trumpet and Marcelo Martins on sax -- considers guitarist Claudio Spiewak a special guest. Two originals, two other Brazilian pieces, but starts with two Benny Golson tunes, adds one each from Oliver Nelson and Horace Silver, plus "All the Things You Are" -- not just nice but delightful. B+(***) [cd]
Africaine 808: Basar (2016, Golf Channel): Berlin-based duo, Dirk Leyers and DJ Nomad, plunder their world music samples and jack them up for the dancefloor. B+(***) [bc]
Cyrille Aimée: Let's Get Lost (2016, Mack Avenue): French jazz singer, based in New York, usually sings standards but comes up with four originals here, usually sings in English but has two songs in French and one in Spanish. Backed by guitar-bass-drums, gives it an informal feel. Title usually denotes a Chet Baker crush but here it's just another Frank Loesser-Jimmy McHugh standard. B+(*)
Ralph Alessi: Quiver (2014 , ECM): Trumpet player, long struck me as a guy who stars on others' albums, now has a dozen or so albums under his own name. Quartet, with Gary Versace (piano), Drew Gress (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums). Format focuses hard on Alessi, who doesn't disappoint. B+(***) [dl]
Katy B: Honey (2016, Virgin EMI): British pop singer Kathleen Brien, third album, enough of an established powerhouse that every song gets "featuring" help and nearly every song gets its own unique producer (Geeneus five times, but paired with someone different each time). Consistent enough that they all seem to have read the same business plan. Also that none came up with a single you're going to remember this album by. B+(**)
Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Continuum (2015 , ECM): Swiss pianist, alternates between his "zen-funk" group Ronin and this slightly more streamlined ensemble -- clarinetist Sha plays in both but is less conspicuous here, merely coloring the rhythmic figures, as do the strings. The patterns remain compelling, maybe even danceable. A- [dl]
Beauty School: Residual Ugly (2015, Humbler): Matt Chandler (bass guitar), Tom Djll (electronics + trumpet), Jacob Felix Heule (percussion + electronics) -- basically improv noise, or as they put it, "extreme extended techniques . . . with nasty homemade electronics and circuit-bent keyboards. Eleven untitled cuts, 48:01, originally released on Chrome Plus "CP-Extra" tape because that's "up to 4 decibels 'hotter' than other chrome tapes. They were proud enough of their work to send me a cassette, which I couldn't play, so I'm belatedly working off Bandcamp -- which I imagine is a good 4 dB cooler than they intended. B+(*) [bc]
Bibio: A Mineral Love (2016, Warp): Stephen Wilkinson, English, seemed more of a laptronica guy at first but is singing more, turning into a falsetto soul man, which isn't significantly distinct from false soul man. B
Big Ups: Before a Million Universes (2016, Exploding/Tough Love): Brooklyn post-hardcore group, second album, like with their first (Eighteen Hours of Static) I find their grind and growl little short of contagious. B+(***)
Bombino: Azel (2016, Partisan): Guitarist Omara Moctar, from Niger, started in Group Bombino and kept the name, left for Burkina Faso, then finally to the US, recording his 2013 album in Nashville with Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), and this one in Woodstock with Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors). B+(***)
Jaimeo Brown Transcendence: Work Songs (2016, Motéma): Drummer, second album, liked his first album title so much he kept it as part of his artist credit. This is built around field recordings of work songs from Mississippi to Japan. Guitarist Chris Sholar co-produced, saxophonists Jaleel Shaw (alto) and JD Allen (tenor) impress, and the keyboards fill in. B+(***)
The Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Interview Music (2015 , Kabocha): Trumpet player, several albums since 2005. Sextet -- yes, there exists a more succinct term than "quintet + 1" -- includes bass clarinet (Sheldon Brown), alto sax (Kasey Knudsen), piano (Adam Shulman), bass and drums. Title piece a sprawling suite with four parts and an interlude, a fine example of postbop composition and arrangement. B+(***) [cd]
Hayes Carll: Lovers and Leavers (2016, Highway 87): Country singer-songwriter, last couple albums have had some remarkably funny songs (best ever is "She Left Me for Jesus") but the only one here with so much as a light touch is "Love Is So Easy." One problem may be that the leavers outnumber the lovers. Another may be that they all have co-authors, although Darrell Scott is most frequent. Much less disappointed on the second pass. B+(***)
Cavern of Anti-Matter: Void Beats/Invocation Trex (2016, Duophonic): Berlin-based project of keyboardist Holger Zapf and Stereolab members Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth. Too much guitar to really qualify as Krautrock, but their instrumental pieces (especially the 12:51 opener "Tardis Cymbals") are delightful, the song with vocals not bad, and the other vocal snippets not without interest. B+(***)
Bill Charlap Trio: Notes From New York (2015 , Impulse): Mainstream pianist, a bit retro even, twenty albums since 1994, mostly (as here) doing standards. Trio, with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, has been together a long time (at least since 2004). Expert, although it's been a while since I've found him dazzling. B+(*)
Charli XCX: Vroom Vroom (2016, Vroom Vroom, EP): Brit pop star, really liked her second album, Sucker. Four rather prickly songs, 12:18, much tease but not a lot of payoff. B+(*)
Chimurenga Renaissance: Rize Vadzimu Rize (2014, Brick Lane): Project formed by Tandal "Baba" Maraire (Shabazz Palaces) with rapper Hussein Kalonji (aka H-Bomb), borrowing liberally from Zimbabwe's signature music -- although sometimes that isn't evident. Rather, what you get is a dense, rather busy underground rap record, albeit one that aims higher. B+(*)
Chimurenga Renaissance: Girlz With Gunz (2016, Glitterbeat, EP): Eleven short cuts, 26 minutes, busier than ever. B+(*)
Rob Clearfield: Islands (2016, Ears & Eyes): Plays piano, electric piano, organ, and guitar, backed here by bass and drums. B+(*)
The Coathangers: Nosebleed Weekend (2016, Suicide Squeeze): Atlanta girl group, or punk trio if you'd prefer, fifth album, have advanced melodically and chops-wise which is only natural, but stay true to their roots. A-
Shemekia Copeland: Outskirts of Love (2015, Alligator): Blues semi-legend Johnny Copeland's daughter, seventh album since 1998. Big voice, helps to pick good songs ("Long as I Can See the Light," "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy"). B+(*)
Matt Criscuolo: The Dialogue (2016, Jazzeria): Alto saxophonist, half-dozen albums since 2001. Takes a sharp bite with the opener, and only lets up to let "featuring" guitarist Tony Purrone make his mark. Quartet with Dave Anderson on bass and Will Calhoun on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Daria: Strawberry Fields Forever: Songs by the Beatles (2016, OA2): San Francisco-based jazz singer -- AMG classifies her as "Children's Jazz" -- last name Mautner (which I learned from the credit for the one song I didn't recognize), has a handful of albums since 1998. Beatles songs have been notoriously unjazzable, so I didn't expect much, but she does come up with some novel ideas ("Can't Buy Me Love" works), even if most of them are little more than Latin percussion. B+(*) [cd]
Stephen Davis/Ralph Alessi/Kris Davis: Sugar Blade (2015, Babel): Belfast-based drummer, has previously recorded as Steve Davis or Steven Davis but perhaps switched to steer clear of American jazz drummer Steve Davis. He's mostly worked with Paul Dunmall in the past, so is used to playing fast and loose. The others, playing trumpet and piano, are better known, playing to form here, but not much more. B+(**)
Eli Degibri: Cliff Hangin' (2014 , Blujazz): Israeli saxophonist (tenor and soprano), has a half-dozen albums since 2003, this a quartet with piano (Gadi Lehavi), bass (Barak Mori), and drums (Ofri Nehemya). Pretty conventional, although his tone is down right lustrous and the rhythm is mostly upbeat. Shlomo Ydov joins in on one song, playing guitar and singing -- voice and phrasing reminds me of Robert Wyatt. B+(*) [cd]
The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Comin' Home Baby (2014 , Origin): Drummer-singer, mostly swings standards, throwing in some blues, a couple Jobims, a couple songs by Bob Dorough and David Frishberg. He opens, then wife Bonnie Eisele enters and outshines him, a shtick Louis Prima and Keely Smith pioneered. Cover shows a couple horn players but they're not in the credits -- just Johannes Bjerregaard on piano and Chris Luard on bass. B+(***) [cd]
Dressy Bessy: Kingsized (2016, Yep Roc): Denver alt/indie band, fronted by singer-guitarist Tammy Ealom, shares a guitarist with Apples in Stereo, has a half-dozen albums going back to 1999, their previous in 2008. B+(**)
Flatbush Zombies: 3001: A Laced Odyssey (2016, Glorious Dead): Brooklyn rap group, first album (after several mixtapes), a concept thang. Underground beats, not sure what else. B+(**)
Michael Formanek/Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (2014 , ECM): Bassist, over a dozen albums since 1986, composed the title piece and eight parts of "Exoskeleton" for an 18-piece New York big band -- only name I didn't recognize on the roster was that of the marimba player -- turning the conductor duties over to fellow bassist Mark Helias. A commanding group, lots of power behind the tricky compositions. B+(***) [dl]
Nick Fraser Quartet: Starer (2015 , self-released): Drummer, from Canada, based in Toronto, same group as on the excellent 2013 Towns and Villages: Tony Malaby (tenor/soprano sax), Andrew Downing (cello), and Rob Clutton (double bass). Free jazz, focus seems to shift more toward the cello, with Malaby fading away. B+(**) [cd]
James Freeman: Echoes of Nature III (2016, Edgetone): Plays guitar and synthesizer, has two previous Echoes of Nature albums. Here, at least, the echoes are mostly bird sounds and some wind and rain, dotted around the unnatural sounds of Mads Tolling's violin, Yehudit's viola, and Nika Rejto's flute. B- [cd]
Matthew Fries: Parallel States (2015 , Xcappa): Pianist, three previous records going back to 2001. This one is solo, all original material. B+(*)
Gambari Band: Kokuma (2016, Membran Media): Mali group, includes several relatives who formerly played in Bassekou Kouyaté's Ngoni Ba group. Finds that sweet spot in the middle of Mali's pop spectrum and gently holds sway over it. A-
Jean-Brice Godet Quartet: Mujô (2013 , Fou): French, plays bass clarinet, looks like this may be his first album although he's appeared on maybe 10-12, with a couple groups, also with Joëlle Léandre. Here, with Michaël Attias (alto sax, a good match), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), and Carlo Costa (drums). B+(***) [cd]
GoGo Penguin: Man Made Object (2015 , Blue Note): Piano trio -- Chris Illingworth, Nick Blacka, Rob Turner -- , from Manchester in UK, has a couple previous albums, their last making the Mercury Award's short list, so they have some crossover appeal, more like EST than Bad Plus or Dawn of Midi, but simpler patterns, more Eno, more ambient. Could grow on you, but may still not seem like it amounts to much. B+(***)
Alex Goodman: Border Crossing (2016, OA2): Guitarist, has a previous album, wrote all the songs here but effectively turns this one over to singer Felicity Williams. B- [cd]
PJ Harvey: The Hope Six Demolition Project (2015 , Vagrant): More political than ever, not that I find that especially easy to gauge. Still, mostly lacks the raw nerve of her best (and worst) records, and not as catchy as I'd like. Still, when the sax comes out (e.g., "The Ministry of Social Affairs"), I wonder if I shouldn't listen more. B+(**)
Alexander Hawkins/Evan Parker: Leaps in Leicester (2015 , Clean Feed): Improv duo, piano and tenor sax, the former a young guy who can play with avant-gardists -- his group Decoy has several albums with Joe McPhee -- and other styles, the latter one of the legendary founders of European free jazz. A bit subdued, which makes the music seem less radical than it is. A- [cd]
Mayer Hawthorne: Man About Town (2016, Vagrant): If you want Motown revival, why not a white guy from Ann Arbor (given name Andrew Cohen)? Fourth album, not counting the Tuxedo duo I liked so much last year (pushed the envelope into disco). He does a pretty fair Smokey here. B+(**)
The Heliocentrics: From the Deep (2016, Now-Again): London-based jazz-funk group, name inspired by Sun Ra, best known for collaborations with exotic obscurities (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius). Those guests add various degrees of charisma which the band itself lacks, not that they can't kick up an engaging groove. B+(***)
Louis Heriveaux: Triadic Episode (2014 , Hot Shoe): Pianist, trio with Curtis Lundy and Terreon Gully, looks to be his first although he has side credits going back to 1993. Three originals, one with the bassist, a couple more from the band, but mostly standards buffed up bright and shiny. B+(**) [cd]
Keefe Jackson/Jason Adasiewicz: Rows and Rows (2015 , Delmark): Duets, tenor sax/bass clarinet and vibes, both established players in Chicago's avant-jazz scene. Drags a bit, as often happens in duo albums with no one pushing the pace. B+(*) [cd]
Russ Johnson: Meeting Point (2014, Relay): Trumpet player, more of a postbop player than avant but having moved to Chicago he's come up with a quartet that begs the difference: Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Anton Hatwich (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Kamaiyah: A Good Night in the Ghetto (2016, self-released): Bay Area rapper, 20 years old, first mixtape. Reads retro but has a hard edge, low budget feel, nothing frilly, plenty catchy. B+(**)
Sari Kessler: Do Right (2016, Ruby Street Music): Standards singer, first album, attracted some first-rate musicians including Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet), Houston Person (tenor sax), Ron Affif (guitar), and John di Martino (piano). B+(*) [cd]
Julie Kjaer 3: Dobbeltgaenger (2015 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, website bio doesn't bother with any mundane details like when and where born, where she studied, where she lives, but she does appear to have a previous Kvartet album, a group called Pierette Ensemble, and a chair in Paal Nilssen-Love's Large Unit. Elsewhere I find that she's Danish and based in London, which would put her close to her trio mates, John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums). I may soft on avant sax trios, but this hits all the right buttons. A- [cd]
La Sera: Music for Listening to Music To (2016, Polyvinyl): Fourth album by ex-Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman, expanded to a duo with husband Todd Wisenbaker, produced by Ryan Adams trying to span (or more accurately find a sweet spot between) "garagey pop [and] twangy country." B+(**)
Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: Solidarity (2014 , Unseen Rain): Trumpet player, one of the first places I noticed him was in William Parker's Little Huey Orchestra, and here he is returning with his own avant big band. Sixteen musicians (counting vocalist Anaïs Maviel), nothing conventional about the lineup -- Lavelle is the only brass player, the four saxes are joined by flute and bassoon; you also get violin, cello, guitar (Anders Nilsson), banjo, and vibraphone as well as piano-bass-drums. Feels like a bit too much "kitchen sink," but the revivalist closer ("Faith") is pretty rousing. B+(**) [cd]
Gary Lucas' Fleischerei: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons (2015 , Cuneiform): Max Fleischer (1883-1972) was born in Krakow, emigrated to New York when he was four, and grew up to be a pioneer in the art and technology of animated film, where his characters included Betty Boop and Popeye. Lucas is a guitarist with a checkered career since he joined Captain Beefheart in 1980, with a couple dozen albums under all sorts of names since 1991. Aside from the songs, the star here is Sarah Stiles, who gets the corniness of the jazz era perfect, then makes the switch from Boop to Olive Oyl for the Popeye-Barnacle Bill operetta finale. First-rate jazz band too: Joe Fiedler (trombone), Jeff Lederer (reeds), Michael Bates (bass), and Rob Garcia (drums). A- [dl]
Steven Lugerner: Jacknife: The Music of Jackie McLean (2015 , Primary): Alto saxophonist, has several impressive albums, describes his group -- takes their name from a McLean nickname, also the title of a 1970s compilation which was my intro to the alto great -- as postbop, although the sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums quintet is one I associate more with hard bop. But then, McLean's 1959-67 Blue Note albums practically invented postbop, moving from hard bop through avant-garde and into the synthesis postbop was founded on. Only two of six songs here were actually penned by McLean (two come from Charles Tolliver), but they all sound right, even if McLean's precise tone remains unique. B+(***) [cd]
The Tony Lustig Quintet: Taking Flight (2016, Bimperl): Originally from Detroit, now based in New York, plays baritone sax and bass clarinet. Hype sheet notes he "believes strongly in warmth and groove," and that's evident on this debut album. He does have a couple side credits with trombonist Michael Dease, who appears here, backed by piano-bass-drums. B+(**) [cd]
Roberto Magris: Need to Bring Out Love (2016, JMood): Mainstream pianist, from Italy, has quite a few albums. Trio, with Dominique Sanders on bass and Brian Steever on drums, with three vocals -- two by Julia Haile, one with Monique Danielle. B+(**) [cdr]
The Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody (2016, McCoury Music): As the cover explains, "Original lyrics of Woody Guthrie set to music by Del McCoury" -- something Wilco, Billy Bragg, the Klezmatics, and others have also done before, but the supply of worthwhile Guthrie lyrics is deep, and the bluegrass settings seem luxuriant compared to the folksinger's own recordings. You can't doubt McCoury's pedigree: he did a stint with Bill Monroe in 1963, and has run his own band (lately with two sons) since 1968. A-
Adam Meckler Quintet: Wonder (2015 , Shifting Paradigm): Trumpet player from Minnesota, second album, with tenor sax (Joe Mayo on one track, Nelson Devereaux on the rest), guitar (Zacc Harris), bass and drums. Postbop, some tricks up their sleeves. B+(**) [cd]
Daniel Meron: Sky Begins (2015 , Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit): Pianist-composer, leads a trio here plus vocalist, Maia Karo, also his wife. Art songs, a bit too tricky for voice, or do I mean the singer? B [cd]
Jane Monheit: The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (2015 , Emerald City): Standards singer, close to a dozen albums since 2000, the few I've heard unimpressive, but trawling in Ella's wake gives her a wide choice of great songs, and she doesn't go for anything too obvious. Pianist Michael Kaman's group will win no prizes for swinging, but they prop her up nicely, and Nicholas Payton's trumpet is a definite plus. B+(*) [cd]
Moodymann: DJ-Kicks (2016, !K7): Detroit DJ Kenny Dixon Jr. throws together a mixtape that sounds older than it probably is, mostly because he searches out soulful vocals to go with the beats. B+(**)
Roy Nathanson: Nearness and You (2015 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, led the Jazz Passengers with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes since 1987, also credited with soprano and baritone sax and voice here. This is a set of duets with a revolving cast: pianists Arturo O'Farrill, Anthony Coleman, and Myra Melford; trombonists Fowlkes and Lucy Hollier; Marc Ribot on acoustic guitar. Opens with Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," reprised four more times as "You" turns into "Ewes," "Youse," "Jews," and "You Too," with stilted but oddly touching vocals. B+(*) [cd]
Scott Neumann/Tom Christensen: Spin Cycle (2015 , Sound Footing): Drums and saxophone (tenor/soprano), each has a couple albums, this one a quartet with Pete McCann on guitar and Phil Palombi on bass -- their names get smaller print on the cover. Not clear to me what this album wants to be: it is rough and noisy, sometimes rockish, sometimes avant, sometimes I know not what. B+(*) [cd]
New Zion w. Cyro: Sunshine Seas (2016, Rare Noise): That's how the cover reads. Hype sheet is more expansive: "Jamie Saft's New Zion . . . Featuring Brazilian Percussionist Cyro Baptista." Saft plays keyboards, fluffing up dub riddims which Baptista riffs on. Title track has a vocal by Vanessa Saft. All very pleasant. B+(**) [cdr]
Noertker's Moxie & the Melancholics: Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck (2016, Edgetone): Composed and arranged by bassist Bill Noertker. Beck, otherwise unknown to me, plays baritone sax, but evidently is also a graphic artist, the subject of a documentary this music is the soundtrack to. Pleasant in that way, with oboe and flute among the reeds but no brass. B+(*) [cd]
The Oatmeal Jazz Combo: Instant Oats (2016, LGY): Octet, founded at Stony Brook in 2009, fifth album. Trumpet, reeds, trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums, steel pan. Postbop, jaunty over the trombone rumble. B+(*) [cd]
Phil Palombi: Detroit Lean (2015 , Xcappa): Bassist, plays electric and "Scott LaFaro's Prescott bass" -- did a record in 2011 called Re: Person I Knew: A Tribute to Scott LaFaro and has published a book titled Scott LaFaro -- 15 Solo Transcriptions, but LaFaro died in 1961 so I don't see how the math works out (Palombi's credits start around 1996 when he joined Maynard Ferguson). Nice album here, interesting rhythms, better solos from pianist Matthew Fries than on his own record, some flamenco guitar by Tony Romano, and quite a few bass solos. B+(***) [cd]
Parquet Courts: Human Performance (2016, Rough Trade): Probably the alt/indie band of the decade, based on two previous albums and several EPs, evolves a bit, their sound adding traces of Pavement (the alt/indie band of the 1990s) to their Velvets motherlode. Takes longer to digest, especially since there are more ballads than burners. A-
Pet Shop Boys: Super (2016, X2): Two spins, lead song "Happiness" has yet to connect but "The Pop Kids" would fit perfectly into their 1980s best-of, and other songs already remind me of Very. Sometimes you have to step back to go forward. A-
Pierette Ensemble: Akrostik (2014, Gateway Music): Group name is saxophonist Julie Kjaer's play on "Pierrot ensemble" -- a musical ensemble comprising flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, sometimes voice and/or percussion, per Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. Kjaer handles the flutes but also plays alto sax, and Pernille Brevort fills the clarinet slot with tenor sax and bass clarinet. B+(***)
Noah Preminger: Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (2015 , self-released): Tenor saxophonist, has had an impressive run of albums since his 2008 debut, but this blues-focused quartet with Jason Palmer on trumpet has trouble getting in gear. Title song from Blind Willie Johnson, others include Blind Lemon Jefferson, Skip James, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and Mississippi John Hurt. B+(*) [cd]
Margo Price: Midwest Farmer's Daughter (2016, Third Man): It takes two songs for the Loretta Lynn wannabe to make it obvious. Still, not a bad affectation, and that harder-to-peg first song is also pretty good. A-
Restroy: Saturn Return (2016, Milk Factory): Group led by composers Chris Dammann (bass) and Catherine Monnes (violin), with trumpet (James Davis), tenor sax (Nick Anaya), and others split between two sessions: both have drums, one has guitar-flute, the other electronics-percussion. Moody, rather dark, like the artwork with print I cannot read. B+(*) [cd]
Eric Revis Trio: Crowded Solitudes (2015 , Clean Feed): Bassist, first came to prominence in Branford Marsalis' quartet, mostly has mainstream/postbop credits but his own records have leaned more avant. Kris Davis is the pianist, and he's given her a better trio showcase than she's managed to come up with on her own. And Gerald Cleaver is the drummer -- the only trait he shares with Paul Motian is that he's become the guy who anchors all the best piano trios. A- [cd]
Rocco John Quartet: Embrace the Change (2015 , Unseen Rain): Alto/soprano saxophonist, full name Rocco John Iacovone, credits Lee Konitz and Sam Rivers as teachers and learned a thing or two from them about being aggressive and obliquely tuneful. Quartet adds Rich Rosenthal (guitar), François Grillot (bass), and Tom Cabrera (drums). B+(**) [cdr]
Rent Romus/Teddy Rankin-Parker/Daniel Pearce: LiR (2014 , Edgetone): Subtitled Live at Vamp followed by "Vintage - Art - Music" separated by bullets. "LiR" is a song title, and the artist names are all that's on the spine. Romus plays alto and soprano sax and various flutes (not that I noticed the latter), the others cello and drums. The sax is skechy, the cello like a bass that got out of its box. B+(***) [cd]
Renee Rosnes: Written in the Rocks (2015 , Smoke Sessions): Pianist, from Saskatchewan, sixteen albums since 1989, mostly on Blue Note where she established herself as one of our top postbop pianists. Quintet, with Peter Washington (bass), Bill Stewart (drums), Steve Nelson (vibes), and Steven Wilson (flute, alto/soprano sax), a bit too much window dressing. B
Carol Saboya: Carolina (2016, AAM): Brazilian songstress, more than a dozen albums since 1999, backed by longtime collaborator Antonio Adolfo on piano plus the usual Brazilian combo with Marcelo Martins on flute. Fairly classic bossa nova, with three Jobims, Bosco, Djavan, Lobo, Pixinguinha, plus exceptionally nice readings of Sting's "Fragile" and Lennon-McCartney's "Hello Goodbye." B+(*) [cd]
Kendrick Scott Oracle: We Are the Drum (2015, Blue Note): Drummer, has three albums since 2006 under this group name, with John Ellis (sax/bass clarinet), Taylor Eigsti (piano), Michael Moreno (guitar), and Joe Sanders (bass), sophisticated postbop with no rough edges, not even a lot of drum power. Lizz Wright gets a vocal spot -- not a high point. B
Mikael Seifu: Zelalem (2016, RVNG Intl, EP): Electronica from Addis Adaba, starts with a spoken sample from the former Stokely Carmichael, picks up folk and religious traditions then soups them up into something called "Ethiopiyawi Electronic." Five cuts, 28:27. B+(*)
Nana Simopoulos: Skins (2016, Na): Greek singer-songwriter, plays guitar and bouzouki, has a half-dozen previous albums. Band members come and go, but the percussionists keep a complex beat going -- note that her website has a whole section for "Dancescores" -- and the saxes bind the worldly music back to jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor's Guide to Earth (2016, Atlantic): Song-oriented enough you can pitch him as country, especially with that twang in his voice, but his guitar could fill an arena, and the strings overflow a stage. Plenty of reason to think this will be treated as one of the year's important releases. I'm almost there. B+(***)
Esperanza Spalding: Emily's D+Evolution (2016, Concord): Started off as a jazz bassist, landing a plum job in Joe Lovano's Us Five group. Even early on she looked like a star, but her efforts to cash in have been fitful, and this, where her vocals swerve like Kurt Elling before the rot sat in, is no exception. B
Mavis Staples: Livin' on a High Note (2016, Anti-): Born 1939, literally grew up in one of America's premier gospel groups, took a chance on secular music (i.e., love songs) in 1969 and has had her ups and downs, much like this record. B+(**)
Starlite Motel: Awosting Falls (2014 , Clean Feed): Yet another avant-noise group built around the very active Jamie Saft, credited here with Hammond organ, Whitehall organ, Moog, and lapsteel guitar. And I'm duly impressed with his contribution here, but rather annoyed by saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, whose alto and tenor seem stuck in screech mode. Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is credited with four different basses (all electric, I suspect), and drummer Gard Nilssen adds some electronics to his percussion kit. B+(*) [cd]
Steel Bridge Trio: Different Clocks (2015, Relay): Avant sax trio, started out sounding like Aram Shelton (alto sax) was in charge, but soon shifted to something softer, with Shelton switching to bass clarinet, so I wound up filing it under composer Tim Daisy's name -- a drummer, he shifts to vibraphone here, while bassist Safa Shokrai isn't much of a factor one way or the other. B+(*) [bc]
Tacocat: Lost Time (2016, Hardly Art): Seattle group, three women and a male guitarist, third album: snappy songs with punky crunch and a bit of bubblegum. A-
Yves Theiler Trio: Dance in a Triangle (2015 , Musique Suisses): Pianist from Switzerland, third album for his trio -- Luca Sisera on bass, Lukas Mantel on drums -- also has a duo with Omri Ziegele and a few other appearances. B+(***) [cd]
Trio Da Paz: 30 (2011 , Zoho Music): Brazilian jazz group, all big name players -- Romero Lubambo (guitar), Nilson Matta (bass), Duduka Da Fonseca (drums) -- seventh album since 1992. B+(**)
Twenty One 4tet: Live at Zaal 100 (2015 , Clean Feed): Mostly Dutch avant-jazz group, with two sparring horns -- Luis Vicente's trumpet and John Dikeman's tenor sax -- backed by Wilbert De Joode on bass and Onno Govaert on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Ernie Watts Quartet: Wheel of Time (2016, Flying Dolphin): Tenor saxophonist, one of the great ballad voices of our era, although having turned 70 he seems more intent on showing he can still rip the fast ones. Backed by piano-bass-drums, no one I've ever heard of. Picture of Watts with Charlie Haden inside, adding key words to the title: "turns, but beauty remains." B+(**) [cd]
Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (2016, Def Jam/GOOD Music): Leaked as a limited time mixtape which I missed, belatedly shows up on Rhapsody -- does that mean tangible product or is that just another leak, like he's torn between artificial scarcity and artificial ubiquity. Hooked enough this won't make believers doubt his genius, or bemused admirers acclaim it. B+(***)
Steve Wiest and Phröntrange: The High Road (2016, Blujazz): Trombonist, worked for Maynard Ferguson in the 1980s, now teaches at University of Denver, artwork here photographed in what most of us know as the Front Range. Group includes guitar, bass, EWI, keyboards, drums and an engineer, with a couple strings listed as extra. First piece is, well, bold, everything clashing to great dramatic effect. Then you get some strings and "Cantaloupe Island" and other annoyances. B- [cd]
WorldService Project: For King and Country (2015 , Rare Noise): British "punk-jazz" outfit, at least their third album, all songs composed by keyboardist Dave Morecroft, backed by sax, trombone, bass, and drums. I don't hear anything punk about them. Not much jazz either. More like bad '70s prog with Wagnerian flourishes, or maybe they're just nods to '80s arena rock. Johnny Rotten treated his monarch with more respect. D+ [cdr]
Christopher Zuar Orchestra: Musings (2014 , Sunnyside): Composer, debut album a well-stocked big band, not listed as a player. He studied under Jim McNeely, and the album was produced by Mike Holober, whose Westchester Jazz Orchestra intersects here. Arrangements have some whimsy and verve, and the band has some star power for the solos. Jo Lawry sings some. B+(**) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
John Abercrombie: The First Quartet (1978-80 , ECM, 3CD): A major figure in jazz guitar since 1974, although it took me a long time to appreciate his silvery tone and intricate style -- a break from the fusion guitarists of the time or the bopsters of the previous generation (although I can hear Jim Hall as an influence). First albums were trios -- notably the group Gateway -- plus a solo, but he put this quartet together in 1978 and they recorded three albums, neatly boxed here, with Richie Beirach (piano), George Mraz (bass), and Peter Donald (drums). Beirach is especially fluid on the first disc (Arcade), leading more often than not. And the third (M) gets denser and richer. B+(**) [dl]
Cyrille Aimée: Cyrille Aimée and the Surreal Band (2008 , Harmonic Reaction): Jazz singer, born in France (French father, mother from Dominican Republic), based in New York; seems to be her first album although I'm finding scant record of it (no AMG, no Discogs, but it is on Bandcamp). Mostly standards, backed by a hard bop quintet (plus guitar on two tracks) -- nothing particularly surreal beyond the play on her first name. B+(*)
The Jim Cullum Jazz Band/William Warfield: George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess Live (1992 , Riverwalk Jazz, 2CD): This would be Jim Cullum Jr. (b. 1941), a trad jazz cornetist and the son of Jim Cullum Sr., founder of the Happy Jazz Band. Warfield (1920-2002) was a black opera singer who appeared in the 1952 revival and later State Department tours. Warfield narrates here, providing plot synopses between instrumental versions of the songs -- many famous enough you can recall the lyrics. I was turned off at first by the stereotyping -- a problem already evident at the folk opera's 1935 debut -- but the band is superb if maybe a touch reverent, like they're recasting this for History Channel. And while Warfield delves deep into dialect, the second disc concludes with an interview that puts it all in context. B+(***) [cd]
The Ex: The Ex at Bimhuis (1991-2015) (1991-2015 , Ex, 2CD): Compiled from 25 years of gigs at Amsterdam's most famous jazz club, most dates building on the band's anarcho-punk songbook by adding guest musicians -- most often Dutch luminaries like Ab Baars, Wolter Wierbos, and Han Bennink, but also Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Merkuria and other fellow travelers like Etienne Charles, Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, and Paal Nilssen-Love. And they can shake as well as rock you -- the closing cut, "based on an Ethiopian traditional," is extraordinary. B+(***) [bc]
Ella Fitzgerald: Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set (1949-54 , Verve): Three sets from Norman Granz's all-star tour featuring the singer, originally compiled into a 37:11 LP in 1983, mostly expanded to 60:20 for this reissue by picking up parts of the 1949 show previously released on The Complete Jazz at the Philharmonic on Verve (1944-1949). On the first date she's backed by piano trio (Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Buddy Rich), joined on three longer wailers by Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Flip Phillips, Charlie Parker, and a trombone. The later sets are shorter -- 2 tracks from 1953, five from 1954 when Hank Jones giving way to Raymond Tunia. The talent is huge, but the sound is far from ideal and these were really slapdash affairs. B+(*)
Awalom Gebremariam: Desdes (2007 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Singer-songwriter from Eritrea, recorded this before fleeing the troubled country to wind up in North Carolina. Traditional strings ebb and flow, carrying his chant-like vocals answered by higher pitched response, with crude percussion and what in my country are recognized as war whoops. B+(***)
Punk 45: Chaos in the City of Angels and Devils: Hollywood From X to Zero & Hardcore on the Beaches: Punk in Los Angeles 1977-81 (1977-81 , Soul Jazz): Not as well known as the New York, or for that matter the Cleveland/Akron, punk scene, at least until the early 1980s when LA bands doubled down turning punk into hardcore, but I still recognize half of these bands, even if not this fondly. B+(***)
Sonny Rollins: Holding the Stage: Road Shows Vol. 4 (1979-2012 , Okeh): He's 85 now, hasn't cut a new studio album since 2006 but has been touring, and the latest stuff here is recent enough that we'll be treating this as new music in the Jazz Critics Poll. As usual, he's picking things from all over his tape archive, and as usual they all fit together seamlessly because no one towers over his band more completely than the Saxophone Colossus. Details: one cut ("Disco Monk") from 1979, one from 1996, a medley from the 9/15/2001 Boston concert, half of the record from later tours (2006, 2007, 2012). Nothing essential (least of all the disco-era cut), nothing unlike what you've heard before, still no reason not to welcome these periodic reminders of his majesty. A- [cd]
The Rough Guide to Bottleneck Blues [Second Edition] (1926-40 , World Music Network): First edition came out in 2005. This has different songs, repeating only eight artists, mostly because it dispenses with later devotees of the guitar style in favor of old acoustic blues, the median date 1930. B+(***)
The Rough Guide to the Blues Songsters: Reborn and Remastered (1926-35 , World Music Network): Before they all got slotted as blues, many early black musicians considered themselves "songsters" -- entertainers with a broad command of the pop hits of the day (or decades). Good sampler here, many oft-repeated stories like "John Henry" and "Stackalee" and "Frankie," many less well known. A-
Soul Sok Sega: Sega Sounds From Mauritius 1973-1979 (1973-79 , Strut): Mauritius is a small island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, nominally part of Africa but 1200 miles off the continent's east coast. The island was uninhabited when the Dutch arrived in 1638, and was passed on to France in 1715 and Britain in 1810, gaining independence in 1968, with a current population of 1.26 million, mostly of Indian and/or African extraction (plus Europeans and Chinese), although the government stopped tracking such things in 1970. Upbeat dance tunes from the 1970s, sung in the local creole. B+(***)
The Ex: Disturbing Domestic Peace (1980 , Ex): Dutch band, first album, styled themselves as "anarcho-punk" (which I would read as punk with politics), a concept shared with the equally long-lived Mekons (although with lyrics in English and vocalist Jos Kley, aka G.W. Sok, they sound more like the early Fall), Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) on guitar, plus bass-drums. B+(**) [bc]
The Ex: History Is What's Happening (1982, Ex): Second album, twenty short songs, only three over 2:00, topped by "Who Pays" at 2:44 but they dispose of "$" in 0:56. Punk, especially G.W. Sok's snarl, but Terrie distinguishes himself as much more than a one chord wonder, and his guitar grind binds all the songs together. A- [bc]
The Ex: Tumult (1983 , Ex): This is where they evolve from anarcho-punk to post-punk, mostly meanings longer songs -- five over 5:00, the extension mostly in the guitar patterns, not unlike what Wire was doing by then, but a couple songs slow down aiming for ominous, not their best move -- that would be the hard riffs. Co-produced by Jon Langford, comrade. B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Blueprints for a Blackout (1984 , Ex): Their big double-LP, a ritual milestone in the pre-CD era when bands hit their stride and produce more songs than the annual release rule can handle (or they just can't sort their shit out). Adds up to 19 songs, 66:09, so like most double-LPs of the era fits on a single CD. Band expands with a second bassist and scattered guests (including Langford on marimba, rhythmbox, and guitar), and several horns. Growth, in many respects, not least pangs. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex: Pokkeherrie (1985 , Ex): Dutch title means something like "so much noise" or "awful noise" but lyrics are still all English. Sort of a back-to-basics move, the band back to guitar-bass-drums with G.W. Sok's vocals, the new drummer Katrin (Katherina Bornefeld), now second to Terrie as the longest-running band member (founding member Sok left in 2009 after 30 years). B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: 1936, the Spanish Revolution (1986, Ex, EP): Cover says "CNT" and "FAI" above the title, recognizing two anarchist trade unions that started the revolution that was overturned in 1939 by Francisco Franco's fascist movement, aided by Hitler and Mussolini. Two singles here, two songs each in Spanish and English, originally packaged with "144 pages of previously unpublished photographs taken by journalists aligned with the revolutionary forces." B+(**) [bc]
The Ex: Too Many Cowboys (1986 , Ex): Originally a live double LP, another milestone (or placeholder, as the case may be), eventually squeezed onto a single 80:10 CD. No idea how much of this material is new, but it's certainly typical: sharp, harsh songs that remind you of their anarcho-punk roots and sharp, harsh guitar riffs that extend their unique sound. B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Hands Up! You're Free (1983-86 , Ex): Odds and sods -- three sets of four tracks, the first a BBC Peel Session with sax and violin, the second with Tom Greene and Jon Langford, the third with someone named John joining on vocals. The title track -- a harrangue against imperialism -- is a high point, but even with the erratic opening it's all worth listening to. A- [bc]
The Ex: Joggers & Smoggers (1989, Ex, 2CD): More sprawl, with 34 songs adding up to 92:14, the band adding "grill, birdcage, double-bass, fire-extinguisher + hammer, bamboos, piano, electric razor, dobro, spoons, human batbox, wire, glass, castanets, bow, crackle-box, cowbells, kabassa" to their basic guitar-bass-drums-vocals quartet, plus a couple dozen guests ranging from Sonic Youth's guitarists to avant-jazzers and Jeroen de Groot playing bagpipes. Could use some editing, but "Brickbat" is a choice cut, and probably not the only one. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex: Dead Fish (1989 , Ex, EP): Seven cuts, 20:28, the CD including one not on the original 10-inch vinyl. Short, sharp, shocked, the sort of thing they'd been doing all decade. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex + Tom Cora: Scrabbling at the Lock (1991, Ex): Cora (1953-98) plays cello: trained in classical, avant-oriented, mostly played with avant-jazzers like Karl Berger, John Zorn, Butch Morris, and Curlew, but he rocks out here, reminding me of ELO's cello section -- at least until he shifts gears and slows them down, moving toward jazz. Also helping out is second guitarist, Andy Moor, still with the group fifteen years later. B+(***)
The Ex + Tom Cora: And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders (1993, Ex): Second album with the avant-cellist, a bit more scattered but not without high points. I should probably note somewhere along here that drummer Katherina is singing more. B+(**) [bc]
The Ex: Mudbird Shivers (1995, Ex): Andy Moor partly fills departed cellist Tom Cora's shoes by playing some viola, and Han Buhrs (no cover credit) joins as "guest musician" (vocals, saxophone, mouth-harp, panlids, grater). Eleven songs average just under five minutes, their music hard and sharp as ever but more dissonant and complex -- most impressively on the closer "Hunt Hat." B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Starters Alternators (1998, Touch & Go): Cut in Chicago with Steve Albini producing, this was the Dutch punk group's belated pitch at a US market that had thus far totally ignored them. Still, don't confuse trying to sell with selling out. Songs are hard and dense, the short one 3:44, the long one 6:27, everything else close to 5:00. And Katherina sings one in Dutch (I guess: "Nem Ugy Van Most"), but while they've always had a lot to say, they've never shown much talent for saying it memorably. B+(**) [bc]
Ex Orkest: Een Rondje Holland (2000 , Ex): A special project commissioned by Holland Festival 2000, the group is expanded with extra vocalists (best known is Jaap Blonk) and a dozen mostly jazz musicians (including Michael Moore, Wolter Wierbos, Ernst Glerum, Michael Vatcher, and Roy Paci). They certainly bring up the intensity and volume, but what more isn't clear. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex: Dizzy Spells (2000 , Touch & Go): This time producer Steve Albini met them in France. I still have trouble catching the lyrics -- Douglas Wolk described them as "either punning geopolitical rants [or] based on texts by obscure poets" (I recognize Eduardo Galeano) -- but the packs all the punch rants needs and more than enough rhythmic trickery. At one point it occurred to me that this is the sort of thing Gang of Four might have evolved into doing had they stuck together. A- [bc]
The Ex: 30 (1980-2006 , Ex, 2CD): Aka 30 Years of the Ex, a compilation more random sampler than best-of. The group doesn't really have hits nor, despite hiring Steve Albini, have they ever made a serious bid for commercial success (nothing like the Minutemen's Project: Mersch, for instance), although I am a big fan of their 2005 compilation, Singles, Period: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990. What this monster does is chart their sonic evolution from anarcho-punk to something more industrial and/or more free-form, and it's a pretty impressive arc -- just in one play not one that I always enjoy. B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Catch My Shoe (2010, Ex): First thing is that founding vocalist G.W. Sok quit in 2009 after 30 years, replaced here by Arnold de Boer, who doesn't have quite the same snarl or bark. Also no bassist this time, although both Terrie and Andy are also credited with baritone guitar, and Roy Paci's trumpet heats the mix up on two cuts. B+(**) [bc]
Taana Gardner: Taana Gardner (1979, West End): One-shot disco album, ending with a remix of "Work That Body" that lives up to the album's reputation. Not sure that anything else does, least of all the lead cut. Gardner cut a number of singles over the next year, including the dance floor hit "Heartbeat" (available on Larry Levan compilations), but never cut another album. B+(***)
Del McCoury & the Dixie Pals: Classic Bluegrass (1974-84 , Rebel): After a brief stint with Bill Monroe, McCoury cut a record (or two?) for Arhoolie in 1968 then signed with old-timey Rebel in 1974 before moving on to folkie Rounder in 1990. This samples his four Rebel albums, mostly original tunes, so classics only in the ear of the compiler. B+(***)
Gétatchèw Mèrkurya: Éthiopiques 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax (1972 , Buda Musique): Tenor saxophonist, carved out a unique niche in the heyday of "swinging" Addis Ababa, his hypnotic groove like a snake charmer's potion. One cut, more crudely exotic, dates from the late 1950s, when he was in his 20s. After this compilation got him some attention, he became a minor celebrity, playing on notable records with Either/Orchestra and the Ex. Died April 4, 2016, aged 81. A-
Getatchew Merkuria/The Ex & Guests: Moa Anbessa (2006, Terp): Tenor saxophonist from Ethiopia, gained international fame when the French Buda Musique label reissued his 1972 album as part of their exhaustive Éthiopiques series, in particular catching the ears of the Dutch post-punk group Ex, who organized this live concert. The guests are extra horn players and bassist Colin McLean. The mix seems shaky at first, but by the end they are burning down the house. Title is Amharic for "conquering lion." A- [bc]
Getatchew Mekuria/The Ex & Friends: Y'Anbessaw Tezeta (1960-2012 , Terp, 2CD): First disc was recorded over several dates from December 2011 to April 2012, on tour with extra horn players -- Xavier Charles (clarinet), Ken Vandermark (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Brodie West (alto sax), Joost Buis and Wolter Wierbos (trombones), Colin McLean (bass), and Melaku Belay (dance) -- with Mekuria recently clearing his 75th birthday. Second disc adds some historical tidbits, including a 2004 date with ICP Orchestra (no Ex), various Mekuria-Ex tours (2004, 2009, 2011), and a couple very early Mekuria tracks (one from 1960, one shortly after). The new stuff seems more earnestly reflective of Mekuria's ethio-jazz, like this was meant as his final testament -- title translates as In Memory of the Lion. The tour dates are more like the Ex + horns, not that they weren't honored to play with the saxophonist. B+(***) [bc]
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Tuesday, April 26. 2016
It's been about two months since my last roundup of book blurbs (Feb. 24). I started to cherry pick some important political books -- frequently noted writers like Andrew Bacevich, Thomas Frank, Jacob Hacker/Paul Pierson, Adam Hochschild, as well as Matthew Desmond's much touted Evicted -- but I wound up filling out this set of forty with the older entries in my scratch file. Almost have enough left over for a second forty, so that could come later in the week, or next week, or next month -- not clear at the moment.
Julian Assange, ed: The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire (2015, Verso): A big chunk of data from leaked US diplomatic documents in 2010-11, edited, indexed, with notes on context -- I've seen this described as an "executive summary" to an Internet-searchable cache of 2.3 million documents. People went to jail, or were otherwise harassed, to make this information public. Other people should go to jail for what it shows.
Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016, Random House): Vietnam veteran, conservative critic of America's imperial overreach, especially since his important The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War appeared in 2005 in the wake of Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq. That book helped explain why American politicians lost their fear of getting trapped in foreign quagmires. Here he moves from the toxic effects militarism has had on American civil society to the endless chain of disasters US entanglement in the Middle East has caused going back to the 1980s. Very likely another important book.
Yochai Benkler: The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest (2011, Crown Business): Title comes from the free software ethos of Linux (with its happy penguin logo) and Hobbes' politico-philosophical landmark where the unfettered pursuit of self-interest turns into a war of all against all. It shouldn't be hard to show that cooperation is more productive -- indeed, the main thing that companies do is to build a sheltered space where workers can build together, even in a world where competition between companies can be cutthroat. Adam Smith, for instance, imagined an "invisible hand" but what he really demonstrated was the productive advantages of a division of labor. Author previously wrote The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, Yale University Press).
Phyllis Bennis: Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (paperback, 2015, Olive Branch Press): One more in a series of short primers (Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, Ending the Iraq War, Understanding the US-Iran Crisis, Ending the US War in Afghanistan), provides the basics, the history, a firm understanding of international law, and a common sense critique of American imperial hubris. Probably quite useful, but one thing I wonder about is how the idea of ISIS elicits such a knee-jerk reaction from the American psyche: the Syrian Civil War was widely regarded as such a complete mess that US intervention would be foolish, yet as soon as you uttered the words "Islamic State" the US plunged back into war, both in Syria and Iraq, and ISIS has turned into the magic word to justify US bombing in Libya and Yemen. This reaction has proved so instantaneous and unthinking I'm not sure that even Bennis can negate it.
Ari Berman: Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A history of the civil rights movement, especially the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act. The book comes shortly after said Act was gutted by the Roberts Court. Congress should have responded by extending the Act's protections to all states, especially since the Republicans discovered they do better when voter turnout is low and started passing restrictive "voter ID" laws all over the country.
Wendell Berry: Our Only World: Ten Essays (2015, Counterpoint): Kentucky tobacco farmer, poet, essayist, recently passed into his 80s, can be cranky about new technology but has great sensitivity to communal life and the natural world. Recent essay collections have tended to collect older works, so I'm not sure if the essays in this "new collection" are really new. I am sure that the old ones are very much worth your time.
Beth Buczynski: Sharing Is Good: How to Save Money, Time and Resources Through Collaborative Consumption (paperback, 2013, New Society Publishers): One thing I've come to realize is that damn near none of the things I own is in use at any given time, nor does the percentage grow much over days, week, months. I assume that's at least part of what's going on here. (I have a cousin who lives in a retirement community where the houses are tiny but nearly everything imaginable is available in shared buildings -- when I visit, it always strikes me as something of a communist paradise.) So this seems like a reasonable idea for a lower cost, higher value, sustainable future, not that I doubt the devil is in the details. Other books along these lines: Rachel Botsman: What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (2010, Harper Business; paperback, 2011, Collins); Lisa Gansky: The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing (paperback, 2012, Portfolio); Chelsea Rustrum/Gabriel Slempinski/Alexandra Liss: It's a Shareable Life: A Practical Guide on Sharing (paperback, 2014, Shareable Life); Jay Walljasper: All That We Share: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities and Everything Else That Belongs to All of Us (paperback, 2010, New Press); Malcolm Harris/Neal Gorenflo, eds: Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis (paperback, 2012, New Society Publishers).
Horace Campbell: Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya (paperback, 2013, Monthly Review Press): It's pretty clear in hindsight that the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 took a bad situation -- a civil war as Muammar Gaddafi used military force to try to suppress a popular revolt -- and turned it into chaos and who knows what? You'd think this would be cause for reflection, but the intervention came and went too fast to get onto book schedules, and since then little has been published other than the right wing's Benghazi! propaganda, so I thought I'd search out what's available. This book, very critical of NATO, was the first I found. Some others: Alison Pargeter: Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (2012, Yale University Press); Vijay Prashad: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (paperback, 2012, AK Press); Ethan Chorin: Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution (2012, Public Affairs); Maximilian Forte: Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO's War on Libya and Africa (paperback, 2012, Baraka Books); Francis A Boyle: Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade US Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution (paperback, 2013, Clarity Press); Christopher S Chivvis: Toppling Qaddafi: Libya and the Limits of Liberal Intervention (paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press); Hugh Roberts: The Fall of Muammar Gaddafi: NATO's War in Libya (2016, Verso).
Satyajit Das: The Age of Stagnation: Why Perpetual Growth Is Unattainable and the Global Economy Is in Peril (2016, Prometheus Books): Well, it does seem like the economies of the United States and Europe haven't bounced back from the 2008 financial meltdown like they did from previous recessions, and lately we've seen downturns in China and other "developing countries" that had fared so well in the previous decades. Das attributes all of this to the low interest "easy money" policies used to fight the recession and the overall growth of debt (especially public debt). I see this same stagnation, but I'm more inclined to attribute it to deliberate political policies protecting the issuers of all that debt while letting everyone else slide into an ever deeper mire. What makes this even more disagreeable is how neoliberals use debt as a cudgel to argue for austerity. An unspoken alternative would be to liquidate much of that debt, which would go a long ways toward reversing the increasing inequality trend (and all of its vile consequences).
Matthew Desmond: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016, Crown): Stories of tenants and landlords in poor parts of Milwaukee c. 2008-09: the struggle to meet the rent for bad housing in hard times, "a cycle of hurt that all parties -- landlord, tenant, city -- inflict on one another." Seems to be one of the more important books on American poverty in recent years.
Cynthia Enloe/Joni Seager: The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Myths and Truths of the United States (paperback, 2011, Penguin Press): A short (128 pp) book of maps and charts slicing and dicing the US economy and society in various ways. For instance, one map shows military deaths in Iraq by state: Texas (414) is a close second to California (468), and Oklahoma (76) is more than 50% higher than Kansas (47) (per capita would be more revealing, although it would reduce the OK/KS ratio).
Keith P Feldman: A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (2015, University of Minnesota Press): Takes the thesis that the US relationship to Israel belongs more to US domestic than foreign policy, and explores how US racial attitudes influence that policy. I imagine there's something to this, especially in the 1980s when Israel was one of South Africa's last close allies, but I imagine one can find less explicit evidence earlier -- especially as you don't have to go back very far to get past the taboo against explicit racism. Deeper down, both Israel and the US are colonial outposts of colonial outposts of Europe, and heirs of its crusader mythos -- Jews were long considered outsiders to all this, but one can argue that in colonizing Palestine they became "white," approximately even "Christian" (as the recently popular "Judeo-Christian" terminology shows).
Norman G Finkelstein: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza (paperback, 2014, OR Books): Chronicles three major assaults on Gaza since Israel dismantled its settlements in the blockaded territory: codes names Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012), and Protective Edge (2014). Finkelstein examines the logic behind these attacks, concluding they "have been designed to sabotage the possibility of a compromise peace with the Palestinians, even on terms that are favorable to [Israel]." Seems to be a collection of essays, less detailed than the book he wrote on Cast Lead: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.
Ronald P Formisano: Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): Argues that rule by the rich (plutocracy) undermines both the poor and "the middle class" -- which I take to be a way of saying "democracy." Or as Louis Brandeis put it: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; we can't have both." I think inequality is a very important topic not so much because it is unfair and unjust as because it introduces all sorts of twists and distortions into how we relate to each other. Author previously wrote The Tea Party: A Brief History and For the People: American Populist Movements From the Revolution to the 1850s.
Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016, Metropolitan Books): After three notable books on the rise of the right -- What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (2008), and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012) -- Frank takes a hard look at the Democrats who have aided and abetted the far right's stranglehold on politics. Given how the Republicans have gone from bad to worse without totally marginalizing themselves, this may seem to be an untimely subject to bring up, but politics is not just a game where you tote up points and celebrate the winner: it's how we as a democratic society try to cope with real problems, and that process has become perverted to a staggering degree. Frank is not the first writer on the left to notice that "liberal" leaders like Clinton and Obama often give up rather than fight for the people who elected them -- cf. Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010), or for that matter the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Rose George: Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (paperback, 2014, Picador): One of those books on basic, everyday life, and the technology and business that makes it possible. Author previously tried this with another important topic: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (2008).
Stanley B Greenberg: America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation's Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century (2015, Thomas Dunne): Pollster to hegemonic Democrats like Clinton and Gore, consultant to companies like Boeing and Microsoft, and all around hack reassures us that the future is rosy and won't be clouded by a Republican Party which is self-destructing as we speak. He seeks the nation "turning to Democrats to take on the country's growing challenges," continuing "the social transformations that are making the country ever more racially and culturally diverse, younger, a home to immigrants, and the metropolitan centers that foster a rising economic and cultural dynamism."
Dave Grossman/Gloria DeGaetano: Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence (1999; rev ed, paperback, 2014, Harmony): Grossman was a Lt. Col. who had second thoughts and wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995; paperback, 1996, Back Bay Books). I don't think there is a simple relationship between witnessing violence in fictional contexts and killing (or for that matter between watching porn and sex crimes), although I also don't doubt that habituation and desensitization can lead some people to become more dangerous. And I'm particularly suspicious of video games, where the point seems to be not just to kill but to develop an automatic reflex to do so thoughtlessly. But I'd worry more about the morals conveyed by our national celebration of "the troops" and their "heroism" -- by the nearly constant practice of war by the United States over the last 75 years. That the military itself is so gung-ho on games is a bad sign, but probably has less to do with violence today than the proliferation of their other favorite toy: firearms.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016, Simon & Schuster): Once upon a time Ronald Reagan told a joke -- something like "the scariest words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'" -- and some people took it as profound insight and blew it up into a nihilistic war against any and all forms of government activity, especially the kind that tries to actually help people. Hacker & Pierson have written a number of important books -- Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (2005), The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back (2007), Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer, and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010) -- and now this one, where the remind us that public investment has long been a foundation of prosperity here, and why the movement against it makes us poorer.
Adam Hochschild: Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): As Franco turned to Hitler and Mussolini to support his movement in Spain's civil war, many others around the world, including 2800 Americans, rallied to the cause of Spanish democracy, becoming (in the terminology of the post-WWII CIA, "premature antifascists." This tries to tell their story, while picking up a few others like George Orwell. Author has written several notable books about (mostly British) protest movements against war and colonialism, such as King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.
Philip T Hoffman: Why Did Europe Conquer the World? (2015, Princeton University Press): Economist, sees the answer in economics, basically the relatively intense competition between late medieval European states involving nearly continuous war. Their rivalry favored whoever could advance science and technology for destructive purposes, and whoever could solve the financial problems of such military adventures. Along the way, Hoffman rejects various other theories, like those of Jared Diamond (Guns Germs and Steel, which as I recall includes similar economic arguments among others). Evidently doesn't address the obvious next question, which is why Europe made such a mess of the world it conquered. Both rise and fall, after all, are intimately related.
Jessica Hopper: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (paperback, 2015, Featherproof Books): She mostly writes for Pitchfork, which I don't read enough to have any sense of who she is or what she likes. Pitchfork's business model is based on the ideas that bits are cheap and so are writers, so make the latter crank out plenty of the former -- always more than it takes to glaze my eyes over. Her title is provocative, and not just because Ellen Willis and Lillian Roxon are dead, or because others like Ann Powers went straight into books without bothering to gather up their numerous short pieces. Still, the main reason I mention this book is to throw in a plug for Carol Cooper's Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race: Selected Critical Essays (1979-2001), which belies Hopper's title.
Philip K Howard: The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government (2014; paperback, 2015, WW Norton): Lawyer, political theorist, wrote The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America (1994), followed by The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom (2002) and Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law (2009). His big point -- that too many laws and regulatory rules, and lawyers and bureaucrats, has turned into a trap that has all sorts of bad effects, from inhibiting common sense to sapping freedom -- is something that we can all relate to, but still you have to wonder who benefits? For instance, lawsuits have never been the great leveler of theory, but sometimes they do manage to bring corporate abuses to an end. Howard wants to get rid of most lawsuits, which sounds laudable but not if doing so leaves us without recourse to right wrongs. It turns out that Howard is founder and chair of Common Good, a "nonpartisan, nonprofit legal reform coalition" trying to implement his recommendations. He seems to have support from members of both political parties, but most of the names mentioned in his Wikipedia page (which reads like PR) are Republicans (Jeb Bush, Alan Simpson, Mitch Daniels) and mouthpieces like David Brooks. Still, I imagine someone could rewrite Howard's books to arrive at a more progressive result -- although that may involve equalizing access to lawyers and lobbyists before cutting back on the overkill. Howard, by the way, wrote another book that is alarming and self-discrediting on the surface: The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far (2001): nothing then or since suggests that we're suffering from too much fairness.
Ian Kershaw: To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (2015, Penguin): Part of a series called The Penguin History of Europe, joining the two world wars and the turbulent interwar period -- Arno Mayer called this period "the 30 years war of the 20th century." Kershaw has written several big books on the tail end of this period, including Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 (2007) and The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany (2011). On the same time period, Heinrich August Winkler: The Age of Catastrophe: A History of the West 1914-1945 (2015, Yale University Press), even longer (1016 pp).
Peter H Lindert/Jeffrey G Williamson: Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality Since 1780 (2016, Princeton University Press): The authors crunch numbers for a much longer stretch of American history than anyone else has done before, and find two time stretches where inequality rose steeply: from the 1970s to today, as you damn well know by now, and from 1774 to 1860, which actually predates the legendary robber baron period of the late 19th century and the great bubble of the "roaring '20s" -- two periods where the wealth of the very richest was especially conspicuous. Meanwhile there were three periods when the wealthy took serious hits: during the Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression.
Mike Lofgren: The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (2016, Viking): Previously wrote The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2012) -- no idea whether he's someone who can be trusted politically, but in a nutshell that sounds like the story of our times. Leaving aside the Republicans for the moment, one thing that has made Democrats so useless is how readily Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 abandoned a great many of their campaign promises as soon as they had to face with Washington's entrenched bureaucracies -- more or less what Lofgren calls "the deep state." This especially seems to be the case with security and treasury, where new advisory jobs always seem to go to old hands. But I suspect the extraordinary influence of lobbyists and donors -- not technically part of the state, but perhaps promiscuously intertwined with it -- is at least as large. And one can throw in big media (mainstream and otherwise) which are always vigilant to police what politicians can think and say.
Branko Milanovic: Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (2016, Belknap Press): Looks at inequality in a global context, finding that while inequality has been increasing within nations (especially the US), it has been falling among/between nations -- in large part because large developing nations like China and India have been promoting middle class incomes at the same time the US has been destroying them. A follow up to the author's The Haves and the Have-Notes: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010).
Ilan Pappé, ed: Israel and South Africa: The Many Faces of Apartheid (paperback, 2015, Zed Books): Various papers on comparisons and analogies, the upshot is that Israel is becoming every bit the international pariah state South Africa's apartheid regime became. Don't know if the book gets into this, but there are significant differences. Most importantly, Israel has become almost independent of cheap Palestinian labor, whereas South Africa was literally built on cheap labor.
Susan Pedersen: The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (2015, Oxford University Press): A history of the world from 1920-1939 as seen through the League of Nations, the international organization created in the wake of World War I to ensure world peace. It, of course, failed, largely because the great powers were still preoccupied with their imperialist and colonialist rivalries and grudges.
Richard J Perry: Killer Apes, Naked Apes & Just Plain Nasty People: The Misuse and Abuse of Science in Political Discourse (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): "Delivers a scathing critique of determinism" -- the notion that human behavior is genetically fixed or inherently programmed, particularly for violence. The title reminds me of certain bestsellers from back in the 1960s and 1970s, although I had thought they were pretty well debunked by now.
Serhii Plokhy: The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015, Basic Books): Ukraine has lately become a major flash point in the West's renovated cold war to contain and isolate Putin's Russia, so it's about time someone wrote a history of the nation itself rather than consigning it to a sidebar in the history of Russia. Of course, most of its long history is subsumed under Russia or any of a number of other invading tribes or nations -- early chapters include "The Advent of the Slavs," "Vikings on the Dnieper," "Byzantium North," and "Pax Mongolica" before there is any hint of "The Making of Ukraine."
Robert Pollin: Greening the Global Economy (2015, MIT Press): Leftist economist, I found his book Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (2003) insightful. This short (176 pp) book argues that it is possible to replace fossil fuels with renewables -- indeed, it is happening -- and grow the economy as a result.
Bill Press: Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down (2016, Threshold Editions): It's certainly true that "in many ways President Obama has failed to live up to either his promises or his progressive potential" -- I've often been critical both of his strategic vision and of his tactical choices -- but I (and policy-wise I'm easily to the left of Bernie Sanders) think "remorse" suggests much more disillusionment than nearly any Obama voter feels. (Remorse is more like Lyndon Johnson, who campaigned to save us from the belligerent madness of Barry Goldwater, then promptly plunged us into the Vietnam War.) So I wonder what's up here, not least because I associate the publisher with right-wing cranks (e.g., Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Oliver North).
Ray Raphael: Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past [Tenth Anniversary Edition] (2004; rev ed, paperback, 2014, New Press): Remarkable how many stories people think they know about the American Revolution have been transformed over the ages into myth -- what the author calls "cherished fabrications." Raphael has written many books aimed at broadening and deepening understanding of the period by stripping away those myths, so this is his core text, newly revised. His other books include: A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence (2001, New Press; paperback, 2002, Harper Collins), and including Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (2009, New Press); Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012, Knopf); and Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right (2013, New Press).
Eric Rauchway: The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace (2015, Basic Books): George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are widely regarded as sainted presidents, but in many ways Franklin Roosevelt's many accomplishments are more remarkable -- he's just never had the sort of activist beatification committee that has managed to deface vast swathes of America naming shit for Ronald Reagan. This story deserves to be retold, not least because we are still plagued by goldbuggers -- probably the single dumbest idea still held by any reputable politician in America.
Nicholas Stargardt: The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 (2015, Basic Books): Attempts to create a broad portrait of how the German people viewed and were engaged in the German war against Europe, notably finding that "the Wehrmacht in fact retained the staunch support of the patriotic German populace until the bitter end."
Jim Wallis: America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (2016, Brazos Press): Edits a Christian evangelical magazine called Sojourners tied to a Protestant religious sect he helped found, but has steered away from "Christian conservative" politics, recently writing books that take up political themes: like God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (2005), and Rediscovering Values: On Main Street, Wall Street, and Your Street. Here he tackles the history and legacy of racism, and appeals to end it.
Karine V Walther: Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921 (2015, University of North Carolina Press): Time framework extends from the Greek War of Independence (1821) to the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) -- curiously that period skips over the Barbary Wars (1801-05) when the US first tangled with the Ottoman Empire -- "excavates the deep history of American Islamophobia, showing how negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims shaped US foreign relations from the Early Republic to the end of World War I." I imagine thee is some evidence of that, but I've long been under the opposite impression: that US foreign policy toward the Ottomans was relatively benign, and only became more consequential once the oil industry got involved.
Ellen Willis: The Essential Ellen Willis (paperback, 2014, University of Minnesota Press): A pioneering feminist polemicist who early on wrote some notable rock criticism, since her death in 2006 her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, has done a fine job of collecting her various writings for posterity -- before this general collection there appeared Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (2011), and reissues of Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll and No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (both 2012, all University of Minnesota Press paperbacks). I've never been much of a fan -- partly because she seemed to be too glib about war for a leftist, partly because of a tone I recall in her feminism, like wrapping oneself in a flag -- but I don't doubt that these books are chock full of interesting insights.
Tim Wise: Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America (paperback, 2015, City Lights): It isn't enough for the rich to steal from the poor. They also demand that we praise the rich for their successes, and condemn for poor for their failures. Wise wrote a rather similar book in 2014: Culture of Cruelty: How America's Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future. Before that he mostly wrote about racism, which works much the same way.
Recently I decided that I needn't write a full paragraph of every book worth noting, so I started building a list. Here are a few examples that may (or may not) pique your curiosity:
I used to append a few paperback reissues of books I had previously written about, with additional blurbs, but I've tended to skip that recently. Since I've been collecting at least some, I'll list them here:
Monday, April 25. 2016
Music: Current count 26541  rated (+26), 413  unrated (-5).
Rated count back down. Still probably would have hit thirty had I not spent Thursday cooking dinner from China Moon Cookbook and listen to Prince's The Hits/The B-Sides instead. As you're no doubt aware, Prince died last week -- Papa Wemba too. I hadn't gotten around to looking up Prince's two records last year (turns out they're not on Rhapsody), but his two 2014 albums weren't bad, and I credit him with two A- albums in the previous decade (Musicology in 2004, 3121 in 2006). And, of course, much more earlier. Some links follow.
Expect Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Not a huge amount in the file, but I haven't been all that lazy either. Still, don't feel much like writing tonight, or much of anything else either. Guess that means a lazy evening of TV. What isn't self-explanatory below will be revealed soon enough.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 24. 2016
The New York primaries were held last week. Hillary Clinton won a huge win with 58.0% of the vote, giving her 139 delegates to Bernie Sanders 108. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won with his first majority in a primary all year, a big one with 60.4% of the vote vs. 25.1% for John Kasich and 14.5% for that sworn enemy of "New York values" Ted Cruz. Trump got 89 delegates, Kasich 4, and Cruz 0, so this primary went a long ways to putting Trump back on track for a first ballot win at the Republican Convention. Still, it's worth noting that Trump only got 19.5% of the votes cast on Tuesday. Sanders got 28.4%, and Clinton got 39.2% -- together the Democrats got 67.7% of the total vote, a big change from earlier primaries where Republicans generally got more votes than Democrats.
I looked at 538's What Went Down in the New York Primaries, and one thing I checked was the Clinton-Sanders split by congressional district. What I found was that Clinton ran especially well in New York City, and was much stronger in districts represented by Democrats (she won 17 of 18, only losing around Albany). Sanders, on the other hand, won 5 (of 9) districts represented by Republicans, and did better than his state average in the other four (also in Democratic districts in Buffalo and Rochester, plus the 6th in Queens and the 18th in Westchester). What this suggests is that the party machine and its patronage network held firm for Clinton. Of course, one thing that helped the machine was that the primary was closed (way in advance of the vote), so independents, which Sanders has regularly won this year, often by large margins, couldn't vote.
I came out of this feeling pretty down, not so much because I expected a Sanders win -- I did think it might be closer, but knew Clinton had a lot of structural advantages there -- but because it underscored how difficult it's going to be to dislodge the Party's power structure. Sanders could win in Republican areas because he appealed especially to people deprived of power, but the Democrats so controlled New York City that the oligarchy -- especially the nabobs of Wall Street -- owned the Party. And what made matters worse for me was that while this smackdown was going on, I was reading Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, where his big point is that the Democrats ever since Carter had courted educated professionals (following Chris Hedges, he calls them the Liberal Class), often at the expense of the workers and unions who had previously been the most effective supporters of the Democratic Party -- the net effect is that the Democrats are as much in bed with big business as the Republicans, making them preferable only in that they'll try to defend certain liberties and civil rights, and work a bit less hard at destroying the middle class. That explains the sort of marginal differentiation that is supposed to convince us that we need Clinton to save the world from Trump or Cruz, even though there is no reason to think she'll even try to do the things that need to be done to reverse the increase in inequality and the rot in practically everything else. So while the horserace watchers saw New York as the primary that virtually cinched Clinton's nomination, it looked more to me like the end of any hope for change.
Next Tuesday's primaries promise to be more of the same. Clinton is favored in Connecticut (56.2-41.3%, closest poll Clinton +6), Maryland (63.3-33.9%, closest +13), and Pennsylvania (58.9-38.2%, closest +6); I don't see any polling on Delaware and Rhode Island, but I'd expect them to be similar to Maryland and Connecticut (although there is one Delaware poll with Clinton +7, suggesting much closer than Maryland). Trump is also expected to mop up: 45.2-31.7-21.3% in Connecticut (Kasich over Cruz), 40.3-30.6-27.1% in Maryland (Kasich over Cruz), and 41.1-29.4-27.4% in Pennsylvania (Cruz over Kasich -- looks like a second straight brutal week for Cruz).
Looking further ahead, Clinton should keep on winning: 52.7-44.4% in Indiana (May 3), 56.8-41.7% in California (June 7), 51.0-41.4% in New Jersey (also June 7). Trump continues to lead in the Republican races (with Cruz getting a bit closer): 38.1-37.5-22.2% (T-C-K) in Indiana, 41.9-33.5-23.4% (T-C-K) in California, and 50.4-23.4-17.2% (T-K-C) in New Jersey.
Meanwhile I have to share the following image. Just think, with three-hundred million people in America, this is the best we can do?
Back in 1776 there were only four million people in America, yet somehow we managed to find a wide range of capable leaders. Now we find that the only possible surrogate for one Clinton is another, and that the best the opposition party can come up with is their former party pal. Hard to see any significant differences among this crowd, yet both Trump and Clinton have managed to convince most of their followers that the other is the Devil incarnate, and those followers are hysterical as expected. Still, the odds of a comparably jovial post-election photo are pretty high -- especially if Clinton wins and reverts to form, serving the billionaire class.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Monday, April 18. 2016
Music: Current count 26515  rated (+40), 418  unrated (-7).
Big bump in the rated count this week -- first time in well over a month to top 30 and did so by a bunch. Had a replenished jazz queue to work through, and until I got to the Clean Feeds they didn't require a lot of attention. Also noticed on Rhapsody a clutch of new records by artists I recognize as worth checking out (Hayes Carll, The Coathangers, Mayer Hawthorne, Parquet Courts, Sturgill Simpson, plus Kanye West finally appeared). Also had Jason Gubbels' list, and a couple Christgau Expert Witness columns (one on blues and another on alt-rock -- I had already written up Parquet Courts but not Coathangers or the new Tacocat, and my endorsement of Full Communism isn't just political).
Of the eight B+(***) records below, two were Christgau A- records (Tacocat, Kanye West). I gave up on them after two or three plays, without being certain more plays wouldn't help. Same thing for the Sturgill Simpson album, possibly an even better prospect. I'm having similar indecision with the new PJ Harvey, but save that for next week.
I voted in Downbeat's annual critics poll last week. I'm not going to do a separate post on this -- I was exhausted after it took more than 24 hours to I finish the 16 pages of ballots (with 50-some questions), on top of the usual aggravations and frustrations. Still, you can scan through my worksheet if you like. I suppose I should mention that I build each year's worksheet on the last, which helps with consistency (and jogs my increasingly damaged memory) but lets me get by without giving many questions much fresh thought. And this all the more true in categories I don't have any real thoughts -- fresh or received -- on, like Composer, Arranger, or various minor instruments (e.g., I almost never notice electric bass or keyboards, so trying to come up with three names there is even harder than trying to whittle down thirty or more luminaries on acoustic bass or piano).
I will mention that my HOF pick was George Russell. Downbeat's Hall is excessively restrictive and therefore woefully underpopulated, so there is a long list of worthies to pick from (and many more not even on Downbeat's prospect list). (By contrast, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is too large, not that the judges there have picked up all who deserve a slot.) Still, Russell is a giant among the uninducted, but he never has gotten the credit he deserves. For instance, when you think of Latin-Bebop, you recall Dizzy Gillespie (not the writer of "Cubana Be Cubana Bop"). When you think of modal jazz, you come up with Miles Davis and John Coltrane (not the guy who wrote the big book that showed how it is done). When you think of jazz workshops, you get Mingus (not Russell). Most likely you can't think of anyone who pioneered electronics in jazz. Or recall that Russell was the mentor of nearly a dozen important Scandinavian (mostly Norwegian) jazz musicians who started out in the early 1970s. When Russell returned from Norway, got a job at New England Conservatory where he was one of the architects of modern jazz education. The people who vote in Downbeat's Readers Poll are never going to put all that together, but you'd think that jazz critics would know at least this much.
Of course, many do, but they have other concerns, and the competition is stiff. It took Lee Konitz 65 years to get in last year, after finishing in the top three for nearly a decade -- leapfrogged many times recently by guys who finally got voters' attention the year before by dying (2006: Jackie McLean, 2007: Andrew Hill, 2009: Freddie Hubbard, 2011: Abbey Lincoln, 2012: Paul Motian, 2013: Charlie Haden, 2014: Jim Hall; Hank Jones won in 2008 then died in 2010; the only other living musician in this stretch was Muhal Richard Abrams in 2010; Russell died in 2009, got a boost then, but not enough). I have no idea who will win this year, but Paul Bley is probably the top choice among the recently deceased, and Anthony Braxton is the obvious pick among the living (and still very active).
I decided to write two names in, not so much because they were my next picks -- these rank lists are nowhere near that precise -- as hoping that they'll be picked up in future ballots: Mal Waldron and Jimmy Rushing. Waldron (1926-2002) is most famous as Billie Holiday's pianist, but he had a brilliant career as a leader and composer, made a remarkable move from postbop to avant-garde with his later group records like The Git Go and Crowd Scene, but perhaps his best records were duos with Steve Lacy, Marion Brown, and Jackie McLean (Left Alone '86). Rushing (1901-72) was the greatest of the Kansas City blues shouters, starting with Walter Page and Bennie Moten and following Count Basie to New York, where he cut many great albums -- a personal favorite from the year before he died is the out-of-print The You and Me That Used to Be.
This has nothing to do with music, but I should note and lament the passing of Dewane Hixon (1933-2016). He was a cousin, the oldest son of my mother's slightly older sister Edith. They moved from Oklahoma to Modesto, California in 1952, so we didn't see them much -- we drove to California in 1956; Edith, with two other sons (but I think not Dewane) came through Wichita around 1958. Dewane had a job working for an aircraft dealer and came to Wichita once for some training. He had a story about beating a traffic ticket when the cop stopped him and asked to see his pilot's license -- he whipped one out. I don't remember his father, Otis Hixon, who died from something heart-related in 1967, but relatives often said that Dewane reminded them of Otis, particularly as a practical joker. Dewane settled near Phoenix, and Edith moved there. After my mother died in 2000, we drove to Phoenix to see Edith, and spent quite a bit of time with Dewane. Edith died that December, at 89, the last of eight siblings. I went back to Phoenix two more times in the next few years. Always stopped to see Dewane, tell jokes, argue politics, and reminisce. He had a delivery service business, and was still working it last I heard last year. About half my cousins on my mother's side have passed now: all are older than me, the oldest survivor 90. Even stranger to lose that generation than my aunts and uncles before them.
Let me also note that I continue to be learn things from Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal, which I quoted from in yesterday's post. The next few pages after yesterday's quote add to the list of Bill Clinton's "counter-scheduling" practices -- the crime bill, welfare reform, the "grand bargain" he was working on with Newt Gingrich to privatize a big chunk of Social Security. Frank focuses on how these acts reflect a deeper shift in the Democratic Party from a working-class base to one based on well-to-do professionals, one that may be socially liberal but cares little about inequality. Thus far -- I've gotten to be a shamefully slow reader, as well as one who can only focus for a few pages at a time, so I'm only about half-way through a short book -- he hasn't drawn out the political conclusions: e.g., how by undermining traditional Democratic groups Clinton was able to capture the party for his own personal purposes, which include fronting his wife's candidacy. But given what Frank shows, that part is pretty obvious.
In some ways I find Frank's book even more shocking than Jane Mayer's Dark Money. If it was just the Kochs and their ilk that had set out to undermine American democracy, there would be plenty of popular reaction. But when you turn the opposition over to "leaders" like the Clintons, there's no telling what they won't surrender (supposedly to defend you).
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 17. 2016
Quickly, some scattered links this week:
I want to close with a fairly long quote from Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (pp. 89-91):
One effect of Clinton's NAFTA push was that the unions were unable to muster effective support for Clinton's signature health care bill. Then in 1994 the Republicans gained control of Congress and Clinton never again had to worry about the Democrats pushing some progressive reform through Congress. And by crippling the unions, Clinton was able to consolidate his control of the Democratic Party machine, something which kept Democrats weak in Congress (except for 2006-2010, when Howard Dean was Party Chairman) and set up Hillary's campaigns in 2008 and this year. (Sure, Obama beat Hillary in 2008, but welcomed her people into his team, got rid of Dean, and restored presidential crony control of the Party machinery, making Hillary a shoe-in this year -- at least until the rank-and-file weighed in.)
The bottom line here is that most people's interests should align with the Democrats -- they damn sure don't line up with the Republicans -- yet the Democrats don't get their votes, because party leaders like the Clintons, despite whatever they may promise during a campaign, cannot be trusted to support them.
Friday, April 15. 2016
I started writing this up as a Weekend Roundup bullet item, but decided to let it stand [almost] on its own.
Tom Hayden: I Used to Support Bernie, but Then I Changed My Mind: The famed 1960s New Left radical, a founder of SDS, defendant at the Chicago 8/7 trial, and moderately successful California politician, explains:
I'm surprised to see Sanders depicted as having "all the money in the world," but checking Open Secrets I was even more surprised to see that he has managed to collect $139 million so far -- more than Ted Cruz ($119 million, including $52 million PAC money), still less than Hillary Clinton ($222 million, including $62 million PAC; Sanders has made a big point about not having a dark money PAC). Most of Sanders' money came in February ($42M) and March ($44M), well into the primary season. Until that happened, he was mostly dependent on volunteer efforts. I know, for instance, that he's had an active supporter group here in Wichita for over a year, and they would be pretty surprised to find he's rolling in all that money. They did, however, organize Sanders' second-largest victory margin to date -- although he's since won bigger elsewhere. As primary season unfolded, the money understandably went to critically competitive states. And Clinton, who started with (and still has) much more money, had somehow locked up the Deep South where most Democrats are black -- maybe she had made the investments Hayden charges Sanders with neglecting. (Still, isn't it interesting that a seasoned politician like Hayden sees money as the essential element in securing the loyalties of black and Latino votes? The implication is that those votes are tied to group elites in a way that approximates the old political machines.) And even more than cash, the big advantage that the Clintons brought into this election was a well-oiled patronage machine. The clearest evidence that established patronage matters is Clinton's 469-31 superdelegate lead. (Sanders' contributions have averaged $27-30, which works out to five million-plus donations though there are repeaters -- I know that my wife has donated $27 several times, probably putting her over $100 by now. Beyond her PAC money, Clinton has also gone after small donations, and claims more than one million donors. Sanders has more, "nearly two million donors" (Hillary Clinton Touts One Million Donors, While Bernie Sanders Approaches Two).
I've been somewhat mystified why Clinton enjoys such a large lead over Sanders among black voters. It's certainly not based on a sober examination of positions and issues, and I doubt if it has much to do with personal style. The best I've been able to come up with is that even with growing economic inequality and the decimation of the middle class all across America, most blacks have improved their lot, and see their solidarity with the Democratic Party as having helped them out. This isn't an unreasonable stance, and no doubt if/when Clinton wins she'll owe blacks and Latinos big time -- but she'll also owe bankers and the war industry, and in the end I suspect their investments will pay off better.
If Hayden was just a cog in the Democratic Party machine, I could see his choice: indeed, it would be as unremarkable as it's been for hundreds or thousands of Party hacks all across America. But Hayden was one of the most prominent figures in the New Left in the 1960s. One might argue that choosing Clinton over Sanders shows that he's not really much of a leftist, but more likely, I suspect, he's just proving one of the major critiques of the New Left: that it was run by people who came from privileged backgrounds and saw their role as to advocate for other people who had been denied their good fortune. That's not bad per se, but in practice shifted much of the left's focus from class to minority and identity issues like race (and sex and sexual orientation). They've done good work on all those fronts, but while they were off helping others the right smashed the unions that propped up the middle class and created vast inequality -- so much so that young people in America today have less reason to expect to live out their lives in comfort and freedom (e.g., free of debt) than any past generation for at least a century.
The upshot is that we have a guy who's spent more than fifty years working towards radical political change yet can't recognize it when it's actually happening, just because it's not coming from where he's been expecting it. The irony is that the Old Left that Hayden rejected had made the same mistake, expecting the working classes to rise up even after labor unions had won them middle-class jobs and social security, enough to buy homes (and cars, etc.) and send their kids to college and retire comfortably -- enough luxury they could even afford to look down on the less fortunate. Hayden, like much of the New Left, rebelled against the white working class as much as against the Old Left. I suspect that's because he was never of it, whereas those of us who grew up there were better able to notice when things went sour.
A few other quick links, limited to the elections. Next up is the New York primary, where 538's "projected results" favor Clinton 57.8-39.6%, although I only see one (of eight) April polls where she has that kind of margin -- 10-12% is typical. I don't expect Sanders to win, but wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be much closer. (Friends who watched here -- I didn't, but baked them some cookies -- tell me Sanders had a very good debate last night.) On the Republican side it's Trump-Kasich-Cruz: 52.9-24.4-20.4%. You'd think that Trump's first majority win plus a third-place Cruz finish would turn the post-Wisconsin punditry around, but I doubt it. (Although I see that Josh Marshall is already out front there.) Trump, by the way, is polling well ahead in the April 27 primaries (Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania) -- as is Clinton (although Connecticut is closer, and a couple of Pennsylvania polls show her lead there down to +6 or +7).
By the way, while I was not listening to the debate, I somehow imagined Hillary saying:
Meanwhile, some brief links:
Monday, April 11. 2016
Music: Current count 26475  rated (+29), 425  unrated (+11).
Count up a bit, but that's mostly because I got into a run of listening to the legendary Dutch anarcho-punk group Ex, finding virtually all of their catalog easily accessible on Bandcamp. I discovered this cache when Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Merkuria (or Merkurya) died and I went off looking for his old Éthiopiques volume -- one I had long hoped to listen to. I also recalled that he had done a live album with the Ex (one I thought I had heard, but evidently not), as well as an A- record with Either/Orchestra (Éthiopiques 20: Live in Addis). I've long been interested in Ex, but it hasn't been easy coming across their records. Before this binge, my ratings were:
Perhaps I should also include some jazz-oriented records that guitarist Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) has done:
This preoccupation with the Ex has taken up so much time (and I'm still a few records short of done) that I haven't done anything in recognition of the recent deaths of Merle Haggard and Tony Conrad. The one thought I have on Haggard is that I'll always be grateful to my old friend Harold Karabell for prodding me to look beyond Hag's "Fightin' Side" jingoism. I have 25 of his records graded in my database, which leaves me far short, especially on the early LPs, but that's still quite a few. As for Conrad, I'm looking at his Early Minimalism box still sitting on my unplayed shelf over a decade after a publicist generously sent it to me. Safe to say, he's due.
I also want to note the recent death of a non-musician here, Manfred Menking. Born in Germany (East Prussia) in 1934, he survived bombing in WWII, fled west in advance of the Soviet army in 1944. He studied to become a doctor, was offered a Fulbright scholarship to complete his pediatric residency in Ohio. In 1973 he moved to Wichita, where one of his patients was my nephew. He was devoted to peace, working with Physicians for Social Responsibility and Wichita's Peace and Social Justice Center -- where we met him shortly after moving here in 1999. He was charming, delightful, very kind. It was a pleasure to have known him.
There was an uptick of incoming mail last week. Most importantly the long-awaited package from Portugal arrived -- probably a replacement after I complained last week. Probably just a temporary blip, but with my general slowdown this is the first time in a long time I've felt behind.
I commented on a Tom Carson tweet a couple days ago. Carson responded in an email that Robert Christgau forwarded to me, part of which noted that I don't allow comments on the blog. I've been using a piece of blog software called Serendipity. It has a reasonably nice feature set, but having used it for more than a decade, I'm stuck with an older version (which I've hacked on a bit), and more importantly I've been stuck on a server that isn't up to handling the now large (and somewhat bloated) database. I tried turning comments on for a while, but I didn't get much valuable feedback, partly because people had trouble with the interface. Spambots, on the other hand, seemed to sail through, and the maintenance got to be too much. Then I ran into database performance problems, so I hacked what I called a "faux blog" in parallel to the Serendipity one, and I've been updating both for some time now. I use the latter for links I post, because it's more likely you'll be served the page, but it doesn't have some nice features, like RSS, of comments.
However, because the "faux blog" is just a collection of hand-edited web pages, I can insert comments into those pages. The only thing is that you have to email them to me, and I have to decide it's worth the trouble, and we all have to wait until I update the site (which usually happens when I have something new to post, or sometimes when I've screwed up and need to fix something fast).
So I've added Carson's letter and a rather long-winded response to my Candidate Analogies post. Not sure whether this will become standard ractice or is just a one-shot. I should note that I've bumped into Carson numerous times over the years. Back in the 1970s, he submitted an unassigned review of Brian Eno's Another Green World which Voice music editor Christgau liked enough to consider running alongside the review he had assigned me to write. Carson was one of the organizers of the Christgau 60th birthday Festschrift, Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough, and he edited my piece there (A Rock & Roll Critic Is Something to Be). He also offered invaluable editing advice when I wrote a "mass letter" as the 2004 election approached -- let's see, where is that thing? Oh, here. I've only read him erratically -- a big compilation of his writings would be most welcome, or maybe several as his political writings are matched by his culture critique (he long did a TV column for Esquire) -- and he's usually not only a sharp thinker but has retained a rock critic's ear for hook lines: possibly the most radical thing I've ever read was his conclusion to an essay (which I can't find now) on 1945 pointing out that winning WWII was the worst thing that ever happened to the United States.
I should also mention his novel, Gilligan's Wake -- perhaps the only novel I've read since 2001, partly because I could imagine him writing it just for me -- or more precisely because he presented a vision of 20th century America in myriad dazzling details that I was uniquely prepared to appreciate. Perhaps too much Alger Hiss, and too kind to Bob Dole, but brilliance abounds -- one bit that seems perfect is Mary Ann's self-healing hymen, maintaining her virginity no matter how much she screws around, a knack shared with America, the only country in the world that can fuck you over while remaining as pure and innocent as ever.
I've been struggling to get anything read recently, only finishing Jane Mayer's invaluable Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right a couple days ago. I should write something about the book, which updates and deepens Max Blumenthal's 2009 book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party while paying particular attention to the Kochs and their financial and political networks, but no telling when I'll get around to it. Meanwhile, I came across Carson's review of Daniel Schulman's Koch family bio, Sons of Wichita, so thought I'd pass it along: The Brothers Koch: Family Drama and Disdain for Democracy.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, April 9. 2016
I wanted to reply to this tweet by Tom Carson, but no way to unpack so much misunderstanding in 144 characters:
First, very obvious point: left and right are never symmetric, let alone mirror images of one another. Granted, the core issue can be viewed as a continuum: people on the left believe that all people are fundamentally decent, that everyone shares equal rights and deserves respect and fairness, while people on the right hold that for civilization to exist and survive society must be organized as a hierarchy, with those favored by great wealth lording over the hapless masses, using whatever force is needed to maintain order. Unpack this a bit and you'll see that left and right are inhabited by fundamentally different kinds of people. So when you say "X is the lefty Y" the main thing you're saying is that X is so profoundly different from Y that analogies can only be superficial.
Even so, the only linkage I can imagine Carson making between Goldwater and Sanders is that he thinks Sanders, if nominated, will lose as badly this year as Goldwater did in 1964. Leaving that for the moment, it's hard to see much similarity -- even in the funhouse mirror of centrist punditry. Most obviously, Goldwater was extremely rigid in his adherence to principles -- most scandalously in his opposition to using the federal government to secure civil rights systematically denied by a dozen-plus state governments -- whereas Sanders has always been flexible and pragmatic (e.g., in supporting Obamacare even though he knew it wasn't the best, or even a very good, solution). And Goldwater was so fanatic in his opposition to Communism he couldn't be trusted not to start a thermonuclear war. Sanders elicits no such fears -- which isn't to deny that neocon warmongers fear him.
As for the Nixon-Clinton mashup, I reckon that the association here is that both are unscrupulous opportunists willing to say and do anything that seems to work to their personal advantage. No doubt that both Clintons have been opportunistic at times, often siding with rich and powerful interests against the very people they depend on for votes. Nothing unusual about that, but you have to question how far left they really are on the left-right line I plotted above. I don't really consider them lefties at all.
Still, for all the times the Clintons have been slagged as liars -- Christopher Hitchens' book on them was titled No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family -- I'm hard pressed to recall specific deceits (aside from the Lewinsky blow jobs, and blaming Arafat for the Camp David failure, the latter a big one), as opposed to grandstanding (like the Sista Souljah slam) or plain old bad policy choices (like NAFTA, or repealing Glass-Steagall). I don't doubt that the Clintons are greedy, ambitious, and vain -- willing to use office to get rich, and to use their wealth to build a political machine to seek further office. Still, the scandals that have dogged their rise have been remarkably hollow.
On the other hand, Nixon holds a unique place in American history, not just for bad policy and malign intentions but for actual crimes against American democracy as well as egregious crimes against world peace -- sure, the later have since become routinized and Nixon didn't invent them all, but the scope of his crimes was breathtaking -- and for a while shocking, although his obsession with winning at all costs and his cynicism at manipulating people's fears has since become baked into the American pie. If Carson wanted to pose a true conundrum, he might have posed a choice between the real right-wingers Goldwater and Nixon. I have no more answer there than I would have had if asked who is the best (in the sense of least awful) of this election's crop of Republican presidential aspirants.
Carson at least is right to place Nixon on the right, avoiding the recent revisionism trying to rehabilitate him as some kind of closet liberal. I suppose the main impetus behind this has been to show how far the right has stooped since Nixon's time, but doing so forgets (and forgives) the fact that the rotten impulses that have permeated today's right owe more to Nixon's craven realpolitik than to Goldwater's so-called principles.
If you do have to make predecessor analogies, you might try casting Trump as Nixon and Cruz as Goldwater. With the latter pair you at least know what you're up against and start organizing against it, although the prospect of itchy trigger fingers is always a threat. But with the Nixon-Trump pair, you don't know shit -- just that it's likely to be pretty nauseating and the sickness they sow is likely to return again as precedent, possibly for even worse.
I suspect that what worries Carson about Sanders has less to do with Goldwater's 1964 loss than McGovern's in 1972, thanks in no small part to Nixon's dirty tricks. McGovern wasn't fundamentally more liberal (let alone lefty) many other Democratic candidates -- Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Walter Mondale in 1984, Michael Dukakis in 1988, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 -- but he lost bad, due I think to a combination of factors. One is that the media has always had it in for anyone who might rock the boat (Roosevelt was the exception, but he came along after the boat had already capsized, and Obama got something of a pass for the same reasons). McGovern also ran afoul of the Democratic Party's patronage-focused elites, especially their hawk faction, and also the rump Wallace voters -- all of whom chose Nixon's dirty tricks over the most decent and honest politician the Democrats ever nominated.
All those losses by self-avowed liberals -- a string that really starts with Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 -- have left centrist pundits with the stunted thought that Americans refuse to lean left. If Sanders is further to the left than McGovern (or anyone else on that loser-laden list) what's to stop the entire establishment banding together to stop him? (Billionaire self-promoter Michael Bloomberg has already vowed to run a spoiler third-party campaign if Sanders is nominated.) That seems like a fair question, but I'm not sure the coincidences it is based on really supports the conclusion. Several things have changed since, say, McGovern won and lost:
These point don't guarantee that Sanders can defeat a full bore Republican assault, but they offer some reasons to think that he might do much better than McGovern did. The similarity to McGovern that I worry more about is Sanders' exceptional integrity and public spirit, which at least in McGovern's case was overwhelmed by Nixon's dark money and dirty tricks. The one thing we can be sure of is that in this year's election the Republicans and their dark money sponsors won't hesitate to go places Nixon only dreamed of. The voters could very well reject such tactics, but the Republicans have had no small measure of success thus far at manipulating people to vote against their own interests and desires.
Hillary Clinton has relied heavily on arguments that she's much more electable than Sanders is. The most common argument here is that she can attract a broader slice of the left-right spectrum, allowing her to pick up moderate/centrist voters Sanders can't reach while keeping the left captive, if only as the lesser evil. There are several problems with this formulation: most people don't fit comfortably, let alone mechanically, on a left-right axis, but bring other factors into play, including several where Clinton may compare poorly against Sanders -- for instance, integrity and credibility. Sanders has stood firm with his principles much more consistently than Clinton, and a good part of the reason for that is that he's much less tainted by association with private interests -- e.g., he's never spoken to Goldman-Sachs, much less for $650K. One thing that's clear from primary results so far is that Sanders has done much better among (presumably centrist) independents than Clinton has.
Indeed, in head-to-head polls Sanders regularly outperforms Clinton against virtually any Republican candidate, suggesting that for whatever reason Sanders is the more electable Democrat. Yet some Clinton supporters, even ones who admit to being closer to Sanders on the issues, persist in their belief that Clinton is more electable. Aside from ideology, the other reason they commonly give is the claim that Clinton has already had to face so many attacks from right-wingers that she has been thoroughly vetted, whereas Sanders has yet to feel the full fury of the Republican hate machine. That may be true but glosses over several things, including that Clinton has more points on which she is compromised, and that she's not exactly unscathed by all those attacks -- her unfavorability polls are exceptionally high.
On the other hand, I think there is one area where Clinton does have a substantial advantage over Sanders, and that is her ability to raise dark money and use it to underwrite the same sort of vicious mudslinging right-wingers can be counted on doing. So when the campaign gets dirty, as it's sure to do, she's arguably in a much better position to fight that kind of fight. Whether that's an argument in her favor is hard to say, but it's certainly a reasonable position -- the counter is that if Sanders could win without PACs and dark money that might help break the grip big money has on the political system, and our democracy would be much better for it.
Still, Clinton wooing big money donors and playing the dark money game won't be enough to make her Nixon, even a hypothetical lefty version. Nor will it make her a right-winger, even though it would indebt her to people who are on right of center, at least in terms of equality. And having done all of that, I wonder how much energy or will she is going to be able to muster to start to reverse the nation's long slide into oligarchy. At some point things get so bad that lesser evils don't cut it. If Sanders' popularity shows anything it's that many Democrats believe we've passed the point where yesterday's palliatives are all it takes.
It's normal for people to reach for historical analogies when trying to understand today's issues, but it can also lock you into illusions and blind you to opportunities. And sometimes produce outright absurdities. My original response to Carson's tweet just touched on one small aspect of this post, which is that real people don't necessarily gravitate toward the middle when faced with real choices:
Monday, April 4. 2016
Music: Current count 26446  rated (+26), 414  unrated (+4).
Rated count up a bit this week, probably because I only spent one day and a couple nights working on my sister's house. Also because I wrapped up a Rhapsody Streamnotes. Still, short of the 30-milestone that constitutes a productive week. On the other hand, seasonal allergies hit with force, and I barely sleepwalked my way through yesterday's abbreviated Weekend Roundup. But at least I had Jason Gubbels' unranked list of 40 recommendations, New Music 2016: First Quarter, to start wading through. Thus far everything I've checked out has been pretty good, although I've mostly left them at B+(***) -- aside from the Margo Price find, the closest of the HMs was the Heliocentrics album, where I talked myself out of an A- by re-reading my review. (An edit of my Willie Nelson review also resulted in downgrading Summertime. The Rihanna upgrade occurred after at least five replays.)
Not much new jazz coming in, and not much good among what does show up. I usually start the day with a CD from the queue, and several days I haven't had anything to follow it up with. Only seven actual CDs in the list below (and, OK, they're better than I remembered: 3 ***, 3 **, 1 *; as I recall, the previous week's CDs left a lot more to be desired, and today's mail doesn't look very promising). One big disappointment is that a month after I got the promo material by email I still haven't received the March package from Clean Feed. Mail is often slow from Portugal, but it would hugely bum me out if they drop me. (Not that I wouldn't look up what I could on Rhapsody.)
I did get an invite to vote in Downbeat's annual Critics Poll today. I've also gotten a record number of personal pleas to vote for them, something I'm pretty good at forgetting instantly. (I mind less when I get past-year lists from publicists because they help me identify things that fell through the cracks -- I don't think I've gotten any of them this year, but have in the past, and they're a regular year-end ritual.) I'll take the time to vote later this week -- I've never managed to plod through the ballot in just one day, so it's a big commitment -- and I'll publish an annotated ballot once I do. Aside from albums, which follow that aggravating April-March annual skew, this year's should be much like last year's ballot. I'd argue that having an extra three months to let the old calendar year (2015 in this case) settle down would be worth more than pretending we're already on top of the first quarter of 2016. (For that matter, the Readers Poll, which skews three months later, could also benefit from a settling-down period.)
Well, one ballot change is that since last year's HOF pick, Lee Konitz, finally won, George Russell will move up as my top pick. A second big annoyance about the poll is the HOF bottleneck. Downbeat has 141 inductees into its Hall of Fame (starting with Louis Armstrong in 1952). Compare this with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which has 312 inductees (749 people) since 1986. Now, you can argue that that's too many, and make a pretty good case by pointing to the 2016 crop (Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and NWA). But fewer than five of the names in the Downbeat HOF (which basically expands at 2 per year, plus they've recently added a Veterans Committee which helps a bit) raise an eyebrow (rockers Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, although I can't begrudge the latter; some others I wouldn't have voted for but can (sort of) understand -- Glenn Miller, Red Rodney, Maynard Ferguson, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny), maybe a "veteran" who seems a bit obscure (Jimmy Blanton, Paul Chambers, Baby Dodds). On the other hand, just working from last year's ballot, the list of non-inductees includes: Han Bennink, Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Jaki Byard, Don Byas, Don Cherry, Jack DeJohnette, Jimmy Giuffre, Benny Golson, Grant Green, Dave Holland, Abdullah Ibrahim, Illinois Jacquet, John McLauglin, Tito Puente, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, Tomasz Stanko, Cedar Walton, Randy Weston, Phil Woods.
And that must mean that the following didn't even qualify for the ballot (and this list could grow much longer): Rashied Ali, Henry "Red" Allen, Mildred Bailey, Billy Bang, Chris Barber, Gato Barbieri, Chu Berry, Carla Bley, Ruby Braff, Cab Calloway, Sid Catlett, June Christy, Buck Clayton, Arnett Cobb, Cozy Cole, Vic Dickenson, Harry "Sweets" Eddison, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan, Bud Freeman, Slim Gaillard, Herb Geller, Lars Gullin, Al Haig, John Hicks, Budd Johnson, Leroy Jenkins, Wynton Kelly, Louis Jordan, Sheila Jordan, Eddie Lang, George Lewis (either/both), Albert Mangelsdorff, Misha Mengelberg, David Murray, Herbie Nichols, Anita O'Day, Evan Parker, William Parker, Houston Person, Louis Prima, Don Pullen, Don Redman, Charlie Rouse, Jimmy Rushing, Luis Russell, Alex von Schlippenbach, Irène Schweizer, Bud Shank, Sonny Sharrock, Archie Shepp, Stuff Smith, Horace Tapscott, Lucky Thompson, Stanley Turrentine, Mal Waldron, David S. Ware, Barney Wilen, Gerald Wilson. Just saying, a lot of (to use an old Downbeat phrase) talent deserving wider recognition.
RIP: Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri (1934-2016), and Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya (1935-2016).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 3. 2016
Started to work on this, then got so waylaid by allergies my brain froze up. Of course, trying to write about whether Trump is a fascist is a question that begs so much backtracking it's easy to get lost.
Worth noting here that the Wisconsin primary is Tuesday. Cruz has long been favored over Trump and Kasich: the latest 538 poll averages are 44.1-32.1-21.4%, and since it's mostly winner-take-all Trump is likely to fall short of the delegate count to stay on track for a first ballot win -- so expect some pundit talk about Trump stumbling, but Trump is a lock for a big win in New York on April 19, and has a good chance of scoring his first greater than 50% win there (538's poll average is 52.1-24.0-21.8%, with Cruz second and Kasich third).
More interesting is the Democratic primary, which 538 still gives to Clinton, but the poll averages have narrowed to 48.8-48.6%, with Sanders leading in five of the seven most recent polls. At this point I expect Sanders to win there, but it won't be a landslide. 538 is still showing Clinton with a huge lead in New York, 61.0-37.0%, but the last two polls there have Clinton +12 and +10, a far cry from the 71-23% outlier 538 still factors in. Clinton also has big leads in the other April primaries (65.9-30.5% in Pennsylvania, 70.6-27.0% in Maryland); also in California and New Jersey on June 7.
Some scattered links this week: