Wednesday, August 30. 2017
I suppose I should make a big deal out of the fact that the rated count since I started writing this Streamnotes column in late 2007 has now topped 10,000 records. But that's only a thousand per year, 85 or so per month, less than 3 per day. The metric measures time more than anything else. And even if the records were all new at the time, my sample of what's been added to the world's pile of recorded music during this time is well under 2%, probably under 1% -- so I've lost way more ground than I've gained.
Back in 2007, I did a little work for Rhapsody, and one of the perks was a free subscription. I figured I should take notes on what I heard there, hence the column. Well, it didn't even become a column until sometime later -- the notes originally appeared in my Notebook, until I realized I was checking out enough stuff to post something regularly. At the time I was doing Jazz Consumer Guide, Jazz Prospecting, and Recycled Goods, but RG was erratic after I stopped posting at Static Multimedia, and JCG ended after 2009 -- although I continued to get jazz promos, the rate has gradually declined (currently a bit less than half the 2009 level). In January 2014 I decided to consolidate everything under the Streamnotes umbrella -- even actual CDs (about half of the jazz below (25/51 of new jazz, but adding in the old jazz changes the share to 26/87, or 29.8%). The share of non-jazz that is streamed is, like most months, 100%.
So it's fair to say that streaming has not only changed my life as a reviewer, it's the main reason I've been able to hang on. I dropped "Rhapsody" from the title when they rebranded as Napster -- an early digital music purveyor that I never used and never felt any nostalgia for -- but they remain my main source, followed by Bandcamp (not bothering with records that only have a few cuts available), then by download links provided by publicists. I've never mastered the more arcane methods of downloading, so when I run into a wall I tend to back out. And it's been a long time since I bothered to pitch or beg a release -- only one I recall in the last couple years was a letter to the since-departed Joe Fields that got me two top-rated 2016 releases: Houston Person's Chemistry and JD Allen's Americana. (If Steven Joerg is reading, the new William Parker Quartets is at the very top of my wish list -- it's also at the top of Chris Monsen's favorites list, which also notes a new JD Allen release, Radio Flyer).
So, in a sense, this column is running on fumes. This month's 119 records is down from 136 in July and 149 in June, although it's slightly above the previous three-month lull: 111-115-114. And it is August -- never a pleasant month here in Wichita, although pace global warming we've gone all month without a single 100F day, and we've had enough rain to keep the grass green (most years it's brown). Still, always glad when August is over.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (10029 records).
Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (2017, Eclectus): Standards singer (not the actress), one original here, from Dallas, third album since 2012. Nice voice and phrasing, stays away from overly familiar songs, nice sax touches. B+(**) [cd]
Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (2017, Cahara): Singer-songwriter, plays keyboards, seven albums since 2005, bills herself as smooth jazz but I recognize this as art-disco, the dance beat on the soft side and occasionally nodding toward MPB. Pleasant surprise. B+(**) [cd]
Barry Altschul 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (2016 , Not Two): American drummer, a free jazz legend since his early 1970s records with Dave Holland, later with Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet, dropped from sight in the 1990s until 2010 when he appeared on saxophonist Jon Irabagon's Foxy, the first of a bunch of collaborations under one name or another (third as 3Dom Factor, with Joe Fonda on bass). Mostly notable for Irabagon's no holds barred sax, although the bass-and-drums duets are super too. A-
Arcade Fire: Everything Now (2017, Columbia): Alt/indie group from Montreal, fifth album since 2004, hugely popular and critically esteemed -- third album, The Suburbs, seemed to be a lock on album of the year polls until Kanye West spoiled their party. I'm not a huge fan but haven't found much cause to fault their albums. I might quibble about this being too ornate, but after five or six plays nearly every song has clicked. Still, probably won't play it again until EOY, but I have little doubt I'll enjoy it then. A-
Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (2017, Summit): Flutist, from Beaumont, TX, studied at UNT, moved on to San Francisco. Sixth album, long personnel list but typical groups have 5-6 musicians, the standout alto saxophonist Ruben Salcido. Nine covers, several (Piazzolla, Pascoal, Tjader) bringing the Latin tinge, others mainstream jazz (Davis, Mulligan, Ellis Marsalis), with a long "Out of This World" to close. B+(*) [cd]
Tim Berne's Snakeoil: Incidentals (2014 , ECM): Alto saxophonist, influenced by Julius Hemphill, which shows up strongest here in his harmonics with Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet). Group name comes from their 2012 Snakeoil, with Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Matt Mitchell (piano/electronics), and Ches Smith (drums, vibes, percussion). Dense and turbulent, has some marvelous moments as well as puzzling ones. B+(***) [dl]
Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of the Emerging Species (2015 , Shhpuma): Swiss-Portuguese quartet: Marco von Orelli (trumpet), Sheldon Suter (prepared drums), Luis Lopes (guitar), and Travassos (electronics). One 43:02 piece, plumbs sonic depth but rarely rises to demand your attention. B
Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (2017, Outline, 2CD): Soprano saxophonist. Group: Dawn Clement (piano), Mark Helias (bass), Bobby Previte (drums), plus Deborah Rush reading Dickinson poetry on the second disc only. I'm inclined to favor the music-only disc, but while I rarely register the words, somehow the music on the second disc seems even more vibrant. B+(***) [cd]
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All You Zombies Dig the Luminosity (2016-17 , Avant Groidd): Group assembled by noted rock critic Greg Tate back in 2001, more of a jazz group then but with more lyrics their 13th album is exceptionally jazzy funk. Steven Bernstein (trumpet) and Avram Fefer (alto sax) are probably the best known musicians, but the core is guitars (4), bass, keys, violin, and drums -- not counting Tate, creditd with guitar, bass, and "beats & loops." B+(***)
Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro: Rosa Dos Ventos (2017, Anzic): The clarinetist joins a Brazilian choro group -- Dudu Maia (bandolim), Douglas Lora (7-string guitar), Alexandre Lora (pandeiro, hand pan, percussion). Clarinet tends to blend in with the strings. B
Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos (2017, Anzic): More Brazilian, a duo with Cohen on clarinet and Gonçalves playing 7-string guitar, on a set of "things" from Brazilian saxophonist Santos. The clarinet is somewhat delicate here, but still stands out framed against spare guitar. B+(**)
Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life (2017, Interscope): Fifth album since 2010, started as a young pop ingenue but shifted last time into a winning slowcore groove which works even better here, especially when she plaintively demands "the fucking truth" -- helps that she doesn't evince any of the genre's depressiveness, and employs the occasional rapper. Tails off a bit at the end, but only after a trio of songs that I take to be patriotic in the best sense -- about caring for each other. A-
Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (2017, Virgin): Mary Beth Patterson, "fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas," singer in the so-so indie band Gossip, went solo with an EP I liked in 2011. This is her first full-length solo effort, produced by Jennifer Decliveo as exceptionally straight and clear, perhaps even a bit simplistic, major league pop. B+(***)
Miles Donahue: The Bug (2015 , Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, b. 1944, didn't record until around 1992, also plays trumpet and flugelhorn here, keyboards elsewhere. Even when he switches off you get strong saxophone from Jerry Bergonzi, guitar by Mike Stern on three tracks, piano (Tim Ray), bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (2017, Sub Pop): Radical punk band from Providence, formed by a tuba player and singer Victoria Ruiz. Third album, pounding beat, loud scream and indecipherable screed, probably smart but I like it best when topped with a little saxophone. B+(**)
The Fall: New Facts Emerge (2017, Cherry Red): Mark E. Smith's pioneering post-punk group, dating back to 1979, still featuring their trademark crunch and growl. While I'm a fan of the growl, the signature-sounding closing instrumental piece is this album's saving grace. B+(*)
Filthy Friends: Invitation (2017, Kill Rock Stars): Portland supergroup, only ones I'm familiar with are singer Corrin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), guitarist Peter Buck (REM), and bassist Krist Novolselic (Nirvana). First album, after group appeared on the politically themed Battle Hymns benefit album. Seems like a better-than-average hard rock group here, nothing more. B+(*)
Floating Points: Reflections - Mojave Desert (2017, Luaka Bop): British, someone with the memorable but not very original name Sam Shepherd, has a previous album and beaucoup short pieces, plays keyboards but works with larger groups. The dominant sound for much of this is guitar, reminding me of Pink Floyd spaced out under a vast nightsky. B+(*)
Billy Flynn: Lonesome Highway (2017, Delmark): Chicago blues guitarist-singer, originally from Wisconsin, seventh album since 1992, whips up impressive groove but somehow it all feels rote. B
Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet: The Pythiad (2016 , Origin Classical): Soprano saxophonist, with a string quartet plus bass and singer Cheryl Wilson -- a combination I don't care for on many levels, one where the classical underpinnings make it hard to hear any jazz. B- [cd]
Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (2016 , Origin): Pianist, started in the mid-1970s and has had a long and remarkable career, joined here by three young musicians I've never heard of -- Nathan Bellott (alto sax), Dean Torrey (bass), and David Frazier (drums) -- on four pieces ranging from 11:08 to 17:40. I'm especially struck by Bellott and, of course, the pianist. B+(**) [cd]
Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (2017, self-released): Percussionist, teaches ethnomusicology in Vermont, credits here include tanbou bèlè, congas, tupan; seems to be his first album although I've found a side-credit on a 1992 album by Kotoja -- a California-based Nigerian-American group. Sextet adds clarinet, trumpet, piano, bass, and drums, plus a singer shows up on one track that sounds rather Brazilian. B+(*) [cd]
Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders (2017, Cooking Vinyl): Gypsy punk band from New York with roots back in Ukraine, first emerged in 1998 and has some very notable records. This one scores high marks for energy and sometimes adds insight and humor. B+(**)
Laurel Halo: Dust (2017, Hyperdub): Born in Ann Arbor, based in Berlin, third album, disjointed electronica with (presumably her own) vocals. B+(*)
Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (2017, New West): Singer-songwriter Ed Hamell has been cranking out DIY folk tunes with punk intensity since 1989, includes a song here mostly about Trump ("The More You Know"), one about the fear even white folk have about getting shot by cops, and best of all an Australian "Mouthy B"'s critique of America (some choice lines: "I don't think your government cares about its people," "what's with all the flags? I've never seen such insecurity in all my life," "along with freedom 'heroes' is the most overused word in your national vocabulary"), as well as four "Froggy" songs. Cover shows a burning city behind a blasphemous Lady Liberty. Title song is about life coming with many hooks. A-
Hamell on Trial: Big Mouth Strikes Again: Hamell Live (2017, New West): Seems to be download only, with a code provided with the new studio album, but streams separately. Some redundancy (including another "Mouthy B"), some songs from earlier albums (like "The Happiest Man in the World"), some patter including a story about three grandmas coming up to him and asking whether he has any edgier material. He tries to satisfy them, even to the point of explaining "that's how you wave a towell." A-
Hard Working Americans: We're All in This Together (2017, Melvin): Todd Snider's hard working alt-rock band, with a few other guys I don't recognize from bands I've barely heard of (Widespread Panic, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Great American Taxi). Title cut actually works as a live band intro after their hardest guitar rave, followed by a souped up "Is This Thing Working?" and ending with a Chuck Berry anthem -- a fine encore. B+(***)
H. Hawkline: I Romanticize (2017, Heavenly): Welsh singer-songwriter Huw Gwynfryn Evans. Fourth album, has a high voice and a light, jangly feel that gradually grows on you. B
Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: Crooked Calypso (2017, Virgin EMI): Main singer-songwriter behind the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, probably my favorite bands in the waning days of the 20th century. Third album with Abbott, their most problematical one, with flashes that bring back fond memories but he's packed it with way too much pomp. Deluxe edition adds four long songs (25:26), changing little B+(*)
Fred Hersch: Open Book (2016-17 , Palmetto): Solo piano. Three originals plus pieces from Monk, Jobim, Benny Golson, and Billy Joel. He reached a new plateau with 2014's Floating, and continues at that level, thoughtful, serene, touch as deft as ever. B+(***) [cd]
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can (2017, Bordello/Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, called the band on his first (1976) record the Cowboy Twinkies, didn't strike me as very important until his 2010 album A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), but has topped that good one three times since. A-
Jon Irabagon/John Hegre/Nils Are Drønen: Axis (2013 , Rune Grammofon): Saxophone-guitar-drums trio, the latter two Norwegian. Two pieces, 17:43 and 18:56, focus on stress, eventually breaking free. B+(*)
Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017, ECM): Pianist, very highly regarded, used to lead a group called Fieldwork with Steve Lehman on alto sax and Tyshawn Sorey on drums -- they had three superb albums 2002-08 -- and essentially doubles that group here, adding Mark Shim (tenor sax), Graham Haynes (cornet/flugelhorn/electronics), and Stephan Crump (bass). I'm not sure the extra weight helps, but Lehman remains especially striking, as is the dense piano scaffolding. B+(***) [dl]
Max Johnson: In the West (2014 , Clean Feed): Young bassist, b. 1990, fifth album, with Susan Alcorn (peddle steel), Kris Davis (piano), and Mike Pride (drums) -- the pianist making by far the biggest impression. B+(*)
Paul Jones: Clean (2017, Outside In Music): Tenor saxophonist, has at least one previous album. Postbop, all original pieces, core group a quintet with Alex LeRe on alto sax and Glenn Zaleski on piano, plus various extras including the SNAP Saxophone Quartet (5/14 tracks), the Righteous Girls (flute/piano, same 5), guest clarinet/oboe (same 5), cello (4 others), and bassoon (9). B [cd]
Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (2011 , Hatology): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano), has a couple previous records. MVP here is guitarist Joe Morris, invariably the one you wind up focusing on. With Giacomo Merega (electric bass) and Jason Nazary (drums & electronics). A- [cd]
LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst: Metamorphosis (2016 , Clean Feed): Mostly Portuguese avant trio with Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Gonçalo Almeida (bass/keys), and Greg Smith (drums), the latter two dabbling in electronics. Their guest, who also appeared on their 2015 album, plays clarinet and bass clarinet -- Chris Speed was their guest back in 2013. Wound tight, makes me think it's the bassist's album, but the horns get the best breaks. B+(*)
Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (2016 , Whaling City Sound): Drummer-led piano trio, with Kevin Harris on piano and Dave Zinno on bass. Zinno wrote two songs, one each for the others, plus pieces from Chick Corea, Richard Rodgers, and "unknown" -- "Down By the Riverside" is a highlight. B+(**) [cd]
Lean Left: I Forgot to Breathe (2015 , Trost): Fifth album, the first subtitled The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo -- the former being Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) and Andy Moor, with Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Ken Vandermark on reeds. B+(**)
The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (2017, Ad Astrum): Nearly a big band -- 13 pieces, plus an extra guitar on a couple cuts, and singers, based in Chicago, founded by bassist Hannah Fidler and trumpeter Matt Riggen, citing the "activist tradition of such jazz composers as Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and Charlie Haden." Not quite, of course, and the lyrics never grab me. B+(*) [cd]
Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin' Thru (2016 , Blue Note): Not exactly new -- this Quartet lineup dates back to Rabo De Nube, recorded in 2007: Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), Eric Harland (drums). His tenor sax is as lucid as ever, and Moran is an impressive accompanist. Flute feature has Indian airs and what sounds like guitar -- presumably bass. B+(***)
Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface (2017, Loma Vista): Indie rock group from Atlanta, fifth album since 2006, all serious and a bit heavy-handed. B
Rob Mazurek: Chants and Borders (2016 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player from Chicago, credited here with cornet, modular synth, sampler, and piano, with a group in Brazil that expands beyond Mazurek's São Paulo Underground group: Guilherme Granado (keyboards, synthesizer, sampler, electronics), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca, flute, soprano sax, electronics), Philip Somervell (piano, prepared piano), Mauricio Takara (drums). B+(**)
Rob Mazurek: Rome (2014 , Clean Feed): Solo, credits read: cornet, piano, prepared piano, electronics. Recorded in Rome, which inspires some titles but probably has little to do with the music. Tends toward atmospheric but doesn't intend to stay there. B+(*)
Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (2017, Roc Nation): Chicago rapper, name shortened from Mensah, first studio album after a couple of well-regarded EPs/mixtapes. This rubbed me wrong from the start -- a boast about striking it rich while keeping one's integrity -- but the teenage sex yarns aren't so bad, not that I don't get he's some kind of cad. Still no interest in the drugs or suicide. B-
Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature (2015 , ECM): Composer, has worked in music, dance, theatre and film since the 1960s, with a dozen records for ECM since 1981's Dolmen Music, mostly in their postclassical New Series. She sings here, often with others, against a fairly minimalist backdrop. B+(*) [dl]
Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (2017, Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, from Massachusetts, has at least one previous record. Quartet with piano, electric bass, and drums (Steve Langone). Wrote three originals (of 12 songs), covers ranging from Horace Silver to Michael Jackson. Fairly mainstream, but rich tone and easy swing. B+(***) [cd]
Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch): First album of new songs since 2008's Harps and Angels, not that he hasn't been busy during the Obama era: Discogs shows him with two Songbook volumes, two live albums, and five soundtracks -- by now, not just his meal ticket but his toolchest. The first three songs, with their historical-philosophical concerns, are so detailed it takes little effort to imagine the videos. The rest of the album, aside from the story of Sonny Boy the First, is unsentimental filler, and probably better for that. Christgau proclamed this an "album of the year contender" -- something I don't hear at all, but I massively underestimated Harps and Angels, doubting it for much the same offhandedness. A-
Pale Horse: Badlands (2015 , 5049): Clarinet player Jeremiah Cymerman, group name taken from the previous album by this "apocalyptic chamber ensemble" with Christopher Hoffman on cello and Brian Chase on drums. Two LP-length tracks, total 34:02. Cites as inspiration "the work of composers Scelsi & Ligeti, the novels of Cormac McCarthy, the films of Wim Wenders and the hypnotic beauty of Swans." More modest than any of those, but more pleasing than his early raw noise. B+(*) [bc]
Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (2015 , Creative Sources): German pianist, real name seems to be Oliver Schwerdt -- has a previous trio album with Axel Dörner and Christian Lillinger and a couple albums as Schwerdt. This is solo, short (31:46), named for two of the three pieces (the other is the 2:21 "Farewell"). Impressive, more for the rumble he generates than for the runs. B+(***) [cd]
Richard Pinhas/Barry Cleveland: Mu (2016, Cuneiform): Pinhas is a French guitarist, formed the "electronic rock" band Heldon in the 1970s, has also recorded as Schizo and Schizotrope, and has twenty-some records under his own name, three with Merzbow. Cleveland is another guitarist ("new age and experimental ambient"), and Michael Manring (bass, elbow bass) and Celso Alberti (drums, electronic drums, percussion) are also "featuring" on the cover, if not the spine. B+(**) [dl]
John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (2017, Concord): Marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 encounter between the crooner and Brazil's most famous songwriter (who played piano and guitar and contributed some backing vocals) -- not a very good album for either, with Claus Ogerman's arrangements part of the problem. Pizzarelli's catalog includes titles like Dear Mr. Sinatra and Bossa Nova, so I don't doubt his dedication. He takes some liberties with the arrangements, turning two pairs of songs into medleys and interposing bits of other songs. Daniel Jobim adds his voice, Helvio Alves and Duduka Da Fonseca manage the rhythm, and someone they don't mention plays some nice sax. B-
Platform: Flux Reflux (2017, Clean Feed): French clarinet player Xavier Charles, discography goes back to 1996, second album under this name, with Katrine Schiøtt (cello), Jan Martin Gismervik (drums), and Jonas Cambien (keyboards). All improvised, the focus more on deep sound than on flow. B
Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group: Three Minutes to Four (2017, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist Scarff has been a member of Aardvark Jazz Orchestra since 1993, and leads the group Natraj, which plays Indian classical music. Pianist Porter has played with AJO on several occasions, and has shown up on a couple Allen Lowe projects, but is probably better known as an author and educator. With John Funkhouse (bass) and Bertram Lehmann (drums). Can't say I hear the "east-meets-west jazz, where Indian raga merges with western classical" -- reminds me more of someone like Charlie Mariano, with a real sharp rhythm section. B+(***)
Dave Potter: You Already Know (2017, Summit): Drummer, first album, has a few side credits with Jason Marsalis (vibes), Miguel Alvarado (saxes), and Will Goble (bass), all present here. Mostly originals, one tune each by Marsalis and Alvarado, five covers, mostly jazz sources (Monk, Shorter, Golson, Watson). Cut in several sessions, using three bassists, three pianists, two trumpeters, but never more than quintets. Swings, bops, swings some more. B+(**) [cd]
Eric Revis: Sing Me Some Cry (2016 , Clean Feed): Bassist, played for Betty Carter and Branford Marsalis but has tended to be more avant on his own albums. Quartet here with Ken Vandermark (tenor sax/clarinet), Kris Davis (piano), and Chad Taylor (drums) -- an explosive combination, most often moderated by the bassist but extraordinary when he cranks them up. A-
Roots Magic: Last Kind Words (2016 , Clean Feed): Italian group, second album: Alberto Popolla (clarinet, bass clarinet), Errico De Fabritiis (alto/baritone sax), Gianfranco Tedeschi (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums), plus guests on organ/piano (4 tracks), cello (2), and dub effects (1). Plumbs a deep blues base drawing on Charlie Patton and similarly influenced jazz musicians like Julius Hemphill and Marion Brown, tuned up to a fine fury. A-
Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma: Songs for the Hangman's Daughter (2017, Rubinchik): Folk singer-songwriter, plays a range of instruments, born in Stillwater, OK, but "Texas-reared, and now living in New Orleans" -- clearly not one to shy away from audience prejudices. He sings about being bipolar ("it's a wonder I've yet to land in prison"), shows his regional colors when he decries "the war of northern aggression," claims to have mastered barbecue with kosher beef, covers "a fun old Bad Livers tune" (a band he was in). B+(**) [bc]
Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (2015 , Euphorium, 2CD): German pianist, also records as Elan Pauer, goes long here with two substantial servings of solo piano, dense and crunchy, much like the Pauer record above. B+(***) [cd]
Matthew Shipp: Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zürich (2016 , Hatology): Solo piano, recorded live at the Swiss festival, all originals except for "Tenderly." His usual impressive range from deep rumble through long lines to delicate touch. B+(***)
Skyzoo: Peddler Themes (2017, First Generation Rich/Empire, EP): Rapper Gregory Taylor, from Brooklyn, seven LPs, scads of mixtapes, third EP, eight solid tracks (30:36). B+(**)
Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (2016 , Pi): Drummer, sometime pianist -- he played a big chunk of his 2007 2CD album That/Not -- I've even seen him lately on trombone, but here just drums. I mention this because this strikes me as very much a piano album (Corey Smythe), the percussion and bass (Chris Tordini) often all but vanishing. Sometimes the piano, too. I'd prefer something more in-your-face, and there's some of that here too. A- [cd]
Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (2016 , Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, has a fairly short list of albums under his own name since 1997, but has a pretty long list of side credits. This format, with Chris Tordini on bass and Dave King on drums, pushes him out front, and he doesn't bother with the clarinet, so you get a consistent sound which grows in authority and panache. A- [cd]
Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (2017, Delmark): From Chicago, plays bass clarinet, quartet adds Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, contrabass clarinet), Joshua Abrams (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- terrific group, with Jackson complementing the leader's airy sound. Three originals, covers from Bird and Monk, two from Lennie Tristano and another from Warne Marsh, plus one called "Roused About" that I assume honors Charlie. A- [cd]
Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (2017, Six Degrees): Guitarist-singer from Mali, father was Ali Farka Touré, pioneer of Saharan/desert blues, a tradition he carries on and extends, mostly by rocking harder. B+(***)
Triocity [Charles Pillow/Jeff Campbell/Rich Thompson]: I Believe in You (2016 , Origin): Reeds-bass-drums trio, Pillow credited with alto sax, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- last is certainly not least. He only has a couple previous albums, but appears in quite a few notable big bands (John Fedchock, Alan Ferber, David Liebman, Pete McGuinness, Bob Mintzer, Ted Nash, Maria Schneider, and others). Songbook and jazz standards (Monk, Parker, Davis), closing with "Cherokee" -- always a thrill. B+(**) [cd]
Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (2017, Odd Future/Columbia): Los Angeles rapper Tyler Okonma, started out in Odd Future collective, never seemed like he was quite ready but gets a major label deal here. Has managed to smooth off the rough edges, but that doesn't leave him with much. B
Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Escalator (2016 , Not Two): Tenor sax/clarinet trio, drums and bass respectively, recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow. I'm afraid I find the clarinet annoyingly squeaky, but Vandermark is a tower of power in this context, and remarkably adept. B+(***) [bc]
Raphael Vanoli: Bibrax (2017, Shhpuma): Guitarist, based in Amsterdam, first record, solo. Metallic tones, patiently experimental. B+(*)
John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (2016 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, leads a big band (16 pieces, only 2 saxes and 2 trombones, but 5 trumpets and 2 French horns) through a splashy set of Nelson pieces, with sharp solos and a certain postbop swing. B+(**) [cd]
Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (2016 , Palmetto): Subtitle: "Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg." Snatches of Sandburg poetry as well, read by various members of the band and extras, as well as vocals (and guitar) by Dawn Thompson. With Ron Miles (cornet), Jeff Lederer (reeds), Martin Wind (bass), and Wilson on drums. Too many words for my taste, but sometimes remarkable music. B+(*) [cd]
Reggie Young: Forever Young (2017, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, first album but not so young, born in 1936, started out playing rockabilly in Memphis, part of the Bill Black Combo (led by Elvis Presley's first bass player, opened for the Beatles on their 1964 US tour). Best known for session work, including "Down in the Boondocks" (Billy Joe Royal), "The Letter" (Box Tops), Dusty in Memphis (Springfield), "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis), and "I Can Help" (Billy Swan). Nice relaxed groove album with keyboards, bass, drums, and sometimes a little cello. B+(*) [cd]
Bobby Zankel & the Wonderful Sound 6: Celebrating William Parker @ 65 (2017, Not Two): Alto saxophonist, a couple years older than the famous bassist -- on board here, an event in Philadelphia, along with Steve Swell (trombone), Diane Monroe (violin), Dave Burrell (piano), and Muhammad Ali (drums). Old-fashioned avant joust, something the bassist has presided over many times. B+(**)
Omri Ziegele: Where's Africa: Going South (2016 , Intakt): Credit could be parsed several ways, including mention of Yves Theiler (keyboards, reed organ, melodica, vocals) and Dario Sisera (percussion, drums). Where's Africa is the name of a 2005 album -- a duo with pianist Irène Schweizer -- and was also used in the credit of a 2010 trio (with Schweizer and Makaya Ntshoko). Ziegele is Swiss, plays alto sax, Uzbek flute, and is credited with vocals. Not sure who sings (weirdly) and who raps (impressively), affectations which annoyed me at first as they interfered with the wonderful Township Jive-inflected groove. A- [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Albert Ayler Quartet: European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (1964 , Hatology): Two sessions from the tenor saxophonist's banner year, a quartet -- Don Cherry (cornet), Gary Peacock (bass), Sunny Murray (drums) -- that toured Europe in the latter months of the year. Six tracks from Hilversum, three more from Copenhagen -- The Hilversum Sessions first appeared in 1980, The Copenhagen Tapes (also including a Club Montmartre date) in 2002. Strikes me as a bit hit-and-miss, which isn't quite the same as saying his avant-garde's become old hat. B+(**)
Albert Ayler Quartet: Copenhagen Live 1964 (1964 , Hatology): This is the Club Montmartre set previously released on The Copenhagen Tapes, minus the three radio shots moved into European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 -- these releases are evidently part of an Ayler Estate effort to bring some order to the various long-circulating Ayler bootlegs. Same quartet. Same chaos. B+(**)
Albert Ayler: Stockholm, Berlin 1966 (1966 , Hatology): Two dates, a week apart, same group: Donald Ayler (trumpet), Michel Sampson (violin), William Folwell (bass), Beaver Harris (drums). Tightly layered, especially with the violin, around a skeleton of gospel and circus music. B+(***)
Paul McCandless With the Paul Winter Consort: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (1970-2010 , Living Music): Playing oboe mostly, some English horn (soprano sax and bass clarinet elsewhere, notably with Oregon from 1980 on), McCandless joined soprano saxophonist Winter's group for three 1969-72 albums, with several reunions from 1986 to 2010. Together they sound like medievalists trying to pass for new age, and the occasional vocals hardly qualify as either. C+ [cd]
John Prine: September 78 (1978 , Oh Boy): Recorded Sept. 23, 1978 in Chicago, after his four justly famous Atlantics and first of three mostly forgotten Asylums (Bruised Orange). Originally released on numbered orange vinyl for Record Store Day 2015, now available for the masses. I first saw him a decade later when he was reduced by playing solo, which he carried off easily on wit, but this band, with organ and flashy guitar, hems him in, although they rock impressively on his lesser known songs (one appeared later on 1980's Storm Windows, two only show up here, including one tantalizingly close to Chuck Berry). B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live From Banlieus Bleues (2004, Trugroid): Cover reads Live 01 at Banlieus Bleues but website gives this title. This closes out the group's most intensive period, following six releases (7-CD) in three years. Personnel list omits credits, but aside from leader Greg Tate the names I don't need to look up are Vijay Iyer (keybs), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Matana Roberts (alto sax), and Mazz Swift (violin) -- figure most of the 16 for guitar and vocals, plus bass and drums. Slippery groove, not a lot of vocals but they can swing either atmospheric or funky. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: If You Can't Dazzle Them With Your Brilliance, Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth (2004 , Trugroid, 2CD): Another live set, from performances in Spain, France, and New York. Unable to find a credits list, but the first concerts immediately follow Not April in Paris. "A Night in Tunisia" gives you something you can calibrate from, or try, as the multipart pieces run on and on. No idea what "blisluth" means. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006, Trugroid, 2CD): Personnel list runs to 37 names: 4 guitarists, 5 drummers, and 10 vocalists (counting "rhymes" and "recitation/oratory"), the goal "23rd century R&B," the grooves stretched and pliable. Like most of their records, especially the long ones, there are patches of brilliance and long stretches of enjoyable groove. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Chopped and Screwed: Volume 2 (2007, Trugroid): Remixes, the title referring to a technique DJ Screw developed in Houston in the 1990s based on slowing the beat down -- something I don't know enough about to judge how it was applied here. No evidence of a Volume 1. Personnel listed as Greg Tate, Jarid Michael Nickerson, and Mazz Wright, although horns are audible, as is some spoken word (rap?). B
Jeremiah Cymerman: Purification/Dissolution (2011-12 , 5049): Clarinetist, fifth album since 2007, solo but also credited with amplifiers, synths, and electronics, which push this into the domain of avant-noise. Bit harsh for me. B [bc]
Jeremiah Cymerman/Christopher Hoffman/Brian Chase: Pale Horse (2013 , 5049): Clarinet/cello/drums, two cuts at 21:45 and 16:26. Less of a noise album, but dense and mysterious, not anything you'd take for chamber jazz. B+(*) [bc]
Jeremiah Cymerman/Evan Parker/Nate Wooley: World of Objects (2013 , 5049): The clarinetist returns to noise world through his "digital post-production." Saxophonist Parker is still unmistakable, especially on soprano, while trumpet player Wooley remains a journeyman. Not uninteresting, but my tolerance for this sort of thing is limited. B- [bc]
Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (1999 , Nonesuch): Solo guitar, sometimes banjo, mostly originals but five covers offer framework -- two old country songs, two showbiz standards, a piece from John McLaughlin. Nothing exciting, but picks carefully. B+(*)
George Garzone: Moodiology (1998 , NYC): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Boston, a legendary educator and mentor to many dozens of famous saxophonists, has most often recorded as the Fringe, a sax trio as ragged as its name. With Fringe rhythm section here -- John Lockwood on bass and Bob Gullotti on drums -- plus Douglas Yates (alto sax/bass clarinet), Claire Daly (baritone sax), Kenny Werner (piano), and Mike Mainieri (vibes). Exceptional chops, but the other horns sometimes add a sour note, and some of his cover ideas don't work out so well. B+(**)
George Garzone: The Fringe in New York (2000, NYC): The Fringe albums date back to 1978, and this is the only one with the star saxophonist's name on the cover, hence the credit. Mike Mainieri joins on vibes, which can tilt the group into something merely pretty -- especially when Garzone gives up his fierce tenor for pretty soprano. B+(**)
George Garzone: Among Friends (2009, Stunt): Especially pianist Steve Kuhn, who often takes over the album, also Anders Christensen (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). The leader's tenor sax is especially eloquent on the ballads. B+(***)
Jon Irabagon/Andrew Neff/Danny Fox/Scott Ritchie/Alex Wyatt: Here Be Dragons (2009 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor sax/alto sax/piano/bass/drums, with Chris Cash (programming) a guest on one cut. Opens with the saxes neatly in sync, but the leader is hard to contain. B+(*)
Noah Kaplan Quartet: Descendants (2008 , Hatology): Same group as on the new album. Guitarist Joe Morris is the main draw, with the leader playing more soprano sax, and taking the tenor slower. B+(**)
Joe Morris Trio: Antennae (1997, AUM Fidelity): Avant guitarist, discography starts around 1990. With Nate McBride on bass and Jerome Deupree on drums, loose yet jagged. B+(**)
Joe Morris/Mat Maneri: Soul Search (2000, AUM Fidelity): Guitar and viola duets, both electric, neither overpowering, closer in effect to Maneri's bent avant-classicism than to the guitarist's usual idiosyncrasies. B+(*)
Joe Morris: Singularity (2000 , AUM Fidelity): As the title suggests, a solo album, with Morris playing steel string acoustic guitar instead of his usual electric -- adds more texture while better exhibiting his speed and dexterity. B+(**)
Joe Morris Bass Quartet: High Definition (2007 , Hatology): No fear, just one bassist -- Morris, better known at guitar but has many recordings on double bass. Two horns: Alan Chase (alto, soprano, and baritone sax) and Tyler Ho Bynum on cornet, with Luther Gray on drums. Tails off a wee bit at the end, but most of the way the horns spin gloriously, while the leader's longtime drummer keeps the rhythm surprising. A-
Joe Morris: Mess Hall (2011 , Hatology): Guitarist, emphasis on electric here, backed by Jerome Deupree on drums and (less obviously) Steve Lantner on keyboards. Five pieces from 9:01 to 11:52, dense and gnarly. B+(**)
Randy Newman: Live (1971, Reprise): Recorded at the Bitter End in New York, just singer-songwriter and his piano, after only two studio albums -- notably his likely best-ever 12 Songs (4 songs from there, 5 from his debut, 2 destined for Sail Away, 1 eventually reworked for 1977's Little Criminals, 2 more). B
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003, Nonesuch): Reconstructed demos, just the songwriter pounding on his piano and barking out his lyrics -- except to songs you already know -- well, songs I know. Strikes me as long on history and "Political Science" (a title as well as a theme). "Rednecks" catches ever deeper in my craw, perhaps because he sings it with such gusto. He does "God's Song" the same way, and that's fine by me. B+(*)
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 (2016, Nonesuch): Released five years after Vol. 2, itself eight years following Vol. 1, he's obviously in no hurry. He opens with two of his most famous/notorious songs, "Short People" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come," although he winds up picking a couple songs I don't recall (one with a surprisingly generous refrain: "it's just amazing how fair people can be"). Also one song I've been thinking about a lot as Trump and Pruitt lay waste to the environment: "Burn On," about the time the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Just piano and vocal, scaling "I Love L.A." back to human size, especially touching on "Guilty." B+(***)
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook (2003-16 , Nonesuch, 3CD): This box rolls up the three Songbook volumes, plus four extra songs at the end, including the caustic Bush-era "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" and the presumably satiric Obama-era "I'm Dreaming" ("of a white president") with lines like: "he won't be the brightest/but he'll be the whitest/and I'll vote for that." B+(**)
Flip Phillips: Swing Is the Thing (1999 , Verve): Tenor saxophonist, original name Joseph Edward Flipelli, born 1915 in Brooklyn, came up in big bands including the Benny Goodman and Woody Herman outfits and was a Jazz at the Philharmonic regular. Died in 2001, so this was his last album: with Benny Green (piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Christian McBride (bass), Kenny Washington (drums), and guest spots for Joe Lovano and James Carter -- they bump up the energy level, but the leader's light tone swings everything else. B+(**)
Flip Phillips: Celebrates His 80th Birthday at the March of Jazz 1995 (1995 , Arbors): Big party, as befits an eminent swing-to-bop saxophonist, surrounded here by near contemporaries and younger retro players -- eighteen names in the "combined personnel," including fellow saxophonists Scott Hamilton, Phil Woods, and Bob Wilber, plus Buddy DeFranco on clarinet, Randy Sandke on trumpet; three each pianists, guitarists, and bassists; two drummers. Gives the party a JATP flavor, especially closing with "Perdido." B+(***)
John Pizzarelli: Let There Be Love (2000, Telarc): Guitarist, working on becoming a standards crooner, with band going soft to keep from overwhelming his voice -- Ray Kennedy on piano, brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Tony Tedesco's credit is "brushes on book." Some guests (including father Bucky Pizzarelli) show up late but don't make much of an impression. B
John Prine: Prime Prine: The Best of John Prine (1971-75 , Atlantic): Twelve songs from four albums worth owning on their own, released as soon as Prine left (was cut?) for Asylum. Christgau panned this: "Not as rewarding cut for cut as John Prine or Sweet Revenge, not as interesting conceptually as Diamonds in the Rough or Common Sense. Good songs, useless album." I wouldn't have bothered but I owned the album way back when -- probably bought it after I got my first taste on personal favorite Common Sense but before I wised up and grabbed the others. Superseded by the first disc of Rhino's Great Days, but somehow this is the one that stayed in print. So if you don't know any better: A-
John Prine: Pink Cadillac (1979, Asylum): Sixth album, second for Asylum, recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Studio by sons Knox and Jerry Phillips, with only five Prine originals -- Billy Lee Riley joins to duet on his song, and others include Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War With You," "Baby Let's Play House," and "Ubangi Stomp." I'm not sure that any of the rockabilly moves work -- for one thing the sound leaves much to be desired -- but the Tillman cover shows that he can always fall back on country tradition, and "Down by the Side of the Road" is top-shelf. B
John Prine: Storm Windows (1980, Asylum): Midway in a series of five albums between the four Atlantics and his two brilliant 1991-95 albums (The Missing Years and Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings), a solid album I might have taken for more had I been paying attention at the time. Only two covers, and his originals are much more appealing -- a couple I know from elsewhere (probably Great Days), others that couldn't be by anyone else. A-
John Prine: John Prine Live (1988, Oh Boy): Double LP, later a single CD, with 19 songs, recorded at five spots but the only dates provided are song copyrights -- all but two 1971-79 (1981, 1986). Mostly solo, acoustic guitar and vocals, which fits my memory of the period -- I didn't pick up a lot of the patter but did recognize "the happy enchilada song" bit. Steve Goodman joins in for one song, and Bonnie Raitt takes the lead on "Angel From Montgomery." B+(*)
Schweizer Holz Trio [Hans Koch/Urs Leimgruber/Omri Ziegele]: Love Letters to the President (2008, Intakt): Swiss wood, as in woodwinds: bass clarinet/soprano sax, soprano/tenor sax, alto sax/voice. With no rhythm to move them along, the horns are erratic, prickly, and sometimes a bit warbly. B+(*)
Matthew Shipp: Duos With Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (1997-98 , Hatology): Alternates tracks from two of Shipp's Duo albums, Thesis with guitarist Morris (6/13 tracks), and Gravitational Systems with violinist Maneri (5/10). Neither were personal favorites, but the mix helps focus on the remarkable pianist. B+(*)
Chris Speed: Yeah No (1997, Songlines): The tenor saxophonist's first album, a title he later recycled as a group name. He also plays some clarinet, with Cuong Vu on trumpet, Skuli Sverrisson on bass, and Jim Black on drums. The two-horn freeplay starts in high gear, downshifts later. B+(**)
Chris Speed: Deviantics (1998, Songlines): Same group, with trumpeter Vu doing much of the slicing and dicing. B+(**)
Chris Speed: Emit (2000, Songlines): Same quartet, the leader playing some clarinet as well as tenor sax, drummer Jim Black also credited with melodica. Trumpet player Cuong Vu continues to claim the high ground. B+(***)
Chris Speed/Chris Cheek/Stéphane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil (2006 , ESP Disk): I've been known to confuse the two Chrises: they were born a year apart, both mostly play tenor sax, have less than a dozen headline albums (starting in 1997-98) but play on many more. Cheek plays tenor and soprano here, Speed clarinet, Leibovici bass. Very minimal, soft harmonies with a little fuzz, no beat. A second disc, Jugendstil II, was released in 2010 with Lee Konitz replacing Speed. B
Chris Speed/Zeno De Rossi: Ruins (2011-13 , Skirl): Duets. De Rossi is an Italian drummer -- not much under his name but he's recorded in a couple dozen groups, especially with Franco D'Andrea but the groups also include Full Metal Klezmer and Meshuge Klezmer Band. Speed plays some of his most powerful tenor sax in this stripped down framework. A-
Chris Speed: Really OK (2013 , Skirl): Tenor saxophone trio with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums), same as his later Platinum on Tap, pushing him to the forefront to show off his chops. Seven originals, plus pieces from Coltrane and Coleman and "All of Me." B+(***)
Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: The Silence Behind Each Cry: Suite for Urs Voerkel (2001 , Intakt): Alto saxophonist, born in Israel, studied in Boston and London, settled in Zürich. Group here is a nonet, named for a "workplace" (Google translates as "cheap farmer") in Zürich. Voerkel was a Swiss pianist (1949-99), honored but evidently uninvolved in this project, a four-part suite built around poems by Robert Creeley (sung operatically, presumably by Ziegele). B+(*)
Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: Edges & Friends (2004 , Intakt): Octet, just two horns (Ziegele on alto and Jürg Wickihalder on soprano sax), with piano, cello, two each bass and drums. Eight pieces, again structured around poetry -- Robert Creeley, Dylan Thomas, Ziegele himself. The band can impress -- especially pianist Gabriela Friedli -- but I could do without the poetry. B
Omri Ziegele's Where's Africa Trio: Can Walk on Sand (2009 , Intakt): Expands the Swiss alto saxophonist's duo with pianist Irène Schweizer from their 2005 Where's Africa, adding South African drummer Makaya Ntshoko, with Jürg Wickihalder adding his soprano sax to three cuts. Abdullah Ibrahim is a shared passion. B+(***)
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, August 28. 2017
Music: Current count 28590  rated (+27), 374  unrated (-4).
August weekly rating totals: 18, 30, 25, 27, for a total of 100, down a bit given that typical months top 120. Streamnotes draft file currently has 111 reviews, so maybe the rated counts have missed a few things. I'll post Streamnotes by the end of the month, Thursday at latest. Maybe I'll find something more by then, but I currently have 14 new A- records. That's actually a bit above average -- e.g., see my 2016 list, which shows 142 new A/A- records last year (average month just under 12). My 2017 list currently shows 88 A- (no A) records so far, so I'm averaging 11/month. The split is currently 49 jazz, 39 non-jazz. In recent years, as far back as I've noticed, jazz runs up a big edge early then non-jazz catches up when I start looking at EOY lists. Last year's split wound up 74 jazz, 67 non-jazz.
Guitarist John Abercrombie died last week. You can find my grade list here. As I recall, I had Timeless on LP back shortly after it appeared. I was rather underwhelmed at the time, but came to appreciate him over the last 10-15 years, often when he made appearances on other folks' records. Could be I still have The Third Quartet underrated. It garnered a crown in the last edition of the Penguin Guide. When I initially panned it, ECM's publicist wrote me to ask if I was feeling OK. As it happened, I wasn't -- it was shortly after a very traumatic event. I eventually went back to the album, gave it another chance, and found much more there. Died at age 72.
One piece of news last week was that the Village Voice announced they would cease publication of its print edition, which had been distributed for free since 1998. The paper was founded in 1955, and had become famous enough that I bought a subscription when I was living in Wichita in 1968 or 1969. (Somewhat before I also had a subscription to the New York Free Press; no Wikipedia and very little Google on that -- did it only exist in 1968?) I mostly read politics and theater reviews then, but several years later, after I started reviewing records for the Voice, I was able to find Robert Christgau's 1969 articles stashed away in my parents' attic. I doubt I read the Voice regularly while I was at college in St. Louis, but after I dropped out, I started reading a lot of rock crit. wrote a little, and wrote to Christgau in 1975. He wrote back and asked me to write a review of a new Bachman-Turner Overdrive album (see my archive). I moved to New York City a couple years later and got to know him pretty well, but never developed much of a relationship with the Voice except through him. I stopped writing for the Voice in 1979, moved to New Jersey to write software, and on to Massachusetts, back to NJ, and finally returned to Kansas in 1999. In 2004 Christgau asked me to write a Jazz Consumer Guide for the Voice, which continued past 2006 (when Christgau was fired) until Rob Harvilla left in 2011.
The Voice continues online, and since Peter Barbey bought the paper from New Times (the company responsible for the mass firings of 2005-06) they've started to bring back some of the writers who made the paper so distinctive. It's been over a decade since I've even seen a print copy, but still this seems like another end-of-era moment. To mark this, the following are a couple links to articles with reminiscences by several writers/editors:
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, August 27. 2017
The big story, one I have nothing on below, is probably what Hurricane Harvey is doing to Texas as I write -- and as I look at the forecast map, will keep doing through Wednesday. I watched one woman on Fox News going on about how this disaster will finally give Trump the chance to appear presidential and gain back some of his lost support. I noted how the governor of Texas was thanking the federal government for their support. Evidently this won't be the week when Republicans go around quoting Ronald Reagan on how the scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." In point of fact, the party that wants to reduce government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub doesn't have a very good record in responding to natural disasters (or, really, any kind of disaster -- cf. 9/11 as well as Katrina).
This week's scattered links:
For background on the Confederate monuments issue, Paul Woodward points us to a 2001 book review by James M McPherson: Southern Comfort, which makes it crystal clear that the Confederate states seceded to buttress and defend (and ultimately to promote) their system of race-based slavery. That's shown well in the quote Woodward plucked out. That much has been clear to me for a long time, but I was struck by the timeliness (or timelessness) of the following:
Of course, having grown up in the '50s and '60s when Senate filibusters were almost exclusively used to frustrate majority-supported civil rights bills, it's always been clear to me that "states rights" was never more than an opportunistic ruse. More recently, it's become clear that Republicans will exalt the use of any jurisdiction they happen to hold power over -- the most obvious example is how they have taken to using their state legislative powers to overturn city and county statutes they dislike (Missouri vs. St. Louis is a leading case-in-point). Most recently, we see Trump and Sessions attempting to impose broad federal powers on "sanctuary cities" -- ostensibly to force them to help enforce federal anti-immigration law, which come to think of it isn't far removed from the 1850s Fugitive Slave Law.
Monday, August 21. 2017
Music: Current count 28563  rated (+25), 378  unrated (+0).
First, I want to single out a link from yesterday's Weekend Roundup that I added late, barely scanned, and didn't much comment on: Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won. I see now that I got it way out of my usual alphabetical-by-author order, but that's not worth correcting. It's a book review. The book is Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. It's primarily about an economist who Charles Koch knows well even if you or I didn't: James McGill Buchanan. I've bought a copy of the book, and intend to read it soon. (I figured I'd read the new paperback of Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and How the Military Became Everything first, in honor [horror?] of Trump's new Chief of Staff, John Kelly.) Anyhow, if I hadn't been so rushed, I would have singled out this quote:
This is all stuff I had figured out, so the only surprise is the extent to which it was designed, and I suppose the frankness with which it was articulated as a strategy to subvert democracy and impose despotism. My own discovery started with the observation that while rich people strongly favor Republicans and poor people strongly favor Democrats in every state all across the nation, richer states tend toward Democrats (the exceptions are Alaska and Utah) while relatively poor states go Republican. The latter happens because people in those states have learned better than o expect help from their elected government, because governments long controlled by reactionaries have long disabused them of their hopes and faith in democracy.
People in richer states have more faith in government, because public institutions there serve them better, not least because a more efficient, more supportive state helps build the economy. (The Republican capture of Wisconsin is offering a real time example of turning a rich state into a poor one.) Of course, Republicans didn't need Buchanan's theorizing to understand that the first step in turning a popular program into one seen as worthless was rendering it incompetent: Richard Nixon provided a classic example of this when he put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Still, no one ever came out and said that's what Nixon and Rumsfeld were up to and why. They simply set up a situation which later Republicans could exploit by arguing that the OEO was a waste of money, that government never could have alleviated poverty in the first place. What Buchanan, and McLean's book, give us is the smoking gun: they show how disaster was planned, and why a few extraordinarily greedy people made it happen.
They also remind us that this is a program to subvert democracy and install despotism in its place. Once you grasp this struggle in those terms, you can see clearly how critical stealth and deception have been to their program, and start to see through them.
I've read a couple of pieces on Afghanistan in anticipation of Trump's big speech tonight. General themes: many antiwar quotes from his campaign, bits on how the hawks are delighted to have gotten rid of Bannon, and pretty much universal agreement that he's going to double down on the war and make things worse rather than better. The only twist I've heard of is a plan to coerce whoever's in charge of Pakistan this week to do its dirty work else face the wrath of America supporting India to bring Pakistan to heel -- as if nuclear brinksmanship in Korea wasn't bad enough.
Nothing really to quote yet. Meanwhile, here's Matt Taibbi misunderestimating Trump again: Why Trump Can't Quit the Alt-Right. Taibbi talks about how Trump's "secret technique" worked so well during the campaign: "He continually keeps his enemies off-balance by alternately playing the menace and the raving buffoon" -- then notes that the buffoon bit doesn't work so well for an actual president. I expect that Trump will stick to the teleprompter tonight, and therefore look semi-coherent, which in some quarters will pass as "presidential" given that he's doing what so many other presidents before him have done: blundering into a wider, deeper, and even dumber war.
Not much to say about music this week. Rated count is down a bit as I missed a day-plus cooking. Following my citation of Tim Niland's blog last week I checked out several Clean Feed and Hatology releases. Roots Magic makes two A- records I didn't get from Clean Feed (along with Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry, last week). I spent a lot of time on the Beth Ditto record that Robert Christgau likes -- I previously gave Waxahatchee's Out in the Storm an A-, Ivy Tripp B+(**), Paramore B+(***), and Valerie June B+(**), so we're fairly close this week. By the way, it wasn't really Ditto's solo debut: she released a quality EP in 2011, which I thought an A- at the time (and you all know how I tend to downgrade EPs).
The old music mostly came from trying to look for 2000 releases I had missed, although I poked around a bit more, not really finding anything very important. The 2000-03 period predates my Jazz Consumer Guide column, and therefore is the least well covered period as I try to collect my Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century: A Consumer Guide.
Jason Stein's album cover appeared, without mention, in last week's Music Week: I graded the record A- after I close my listings, but before I finished writing the post. Same thing this week with the new Chris Speed Trio album, Platinum on Tap.
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, August 20. 2017
Tina Fey got flack for this skit on Thursday's Saturday Night Live news special, where she advised people to skip Nazi/White Supremacist counter-protests and express their frustration by eating cake instead. I followed her advice and made a pan of extra-rich brownies, but I had an occasion to honor: Frank Smith was passing through Kansas, returning home after an AFSCME conference in DC, where he also found time for a demonstration outside the White House. I fixed a little vegetarian (not vegan) dinner in his honor: a leek-goat cheese quiche, three Ottolenghi salads -- spinach with dates, onions, toasted pitas and almonds; roast eggplant with tahini sauce; sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pecans -- and the brownies. I was so exhausted afterwards I went to bed early and slept eleven hours. It wasn't so much the work as general world-weariness. I remember a sense of unease back in 2001 when a friend chirped "we survived one George Bush; we can survive another." Well, lots of folks didn't survive that second one, and hardly anyone came out better from the ordeal. And as you get older, you start to wonder whether you're ever going to see a better world. Still, cake tastes good. Brownies with 6 oz. premium unsweetened chocolate even better.
[PS: Also see Tom Carson: The Brilliance of Tina Fey's Cake Satire, Explained.]
Meanwhile, I offer these links and comments because I don't really feel up to working on anything more creative or constructive.
The usual scattered links:
I wrote a bit recently about how my parents voted for George Wallace in 1968 (not a post, probably in the notebook): they had soured on the Vietnam War (after the next-door neighbor kid was killed there, and my brother and I turned hard against the war), intensely distrusted Dick Nixon, and had no particular fondness for Hubert Humphrey. They weren't particularly racist -- my father still resented the South from the Civil War (his grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln Hull, his father Robert Lincoln), and my mother hailed from an all-white Republican stronghold in Arkansas (her grandfather fought for the union before moving from Ohio to the Ozarks) but they weren't very sensitive about race either, and Wallace's "little guy" message appealed to them. I grew up with Republican leanings, but the war pushed me away from conventional politics. In 1968 I was very enthusiastic about Gene McCarthy's primary challenge to LBJ, and continued to support him through the convention. So I was trying to remember who I preferred in the 1968 election -- certainly not Nixon or Wallace, and while I probably wound up hoping Humphrey would win, I never thought of myself as supporting him. The most likely answer to my question died last week: Dick Gregory. I had long enjoyed his stand-up comedy, and when he ventured into politics in 1967-68, I bought and read his book Write Me In. I was too young to vote in 1968, but certainly would have written him in. He would have made a better "first black president" than the one we wound up having. I never noticed him much after 1968, but according to his Wikipedia page he remain active politically. And I'm sure he could still be funny (when he wasn't dead serious, and sometimes when he was). Here's an obituary.
I also see that Jerry Lewis has died. I was a huge fan, starting about as far back as I can remember. By that time Lewis had already split from Dean Martin (who I later loved for other reasons). I can't say as I ever noticed him much after his 1968-69 talk show (aside from The King of Comedy in 1982), but he was the funniest person in the world for the first decade I was conscious of.
Monday, August 14. 2017
Music: Current count 28538  rated (+30), 378  unrated (+3).
Average week, although more old music than usual as I followed a recent Burnt Sugar album into their back catalog (still missing 2011's All Ya Needs That Negrocity), then also picked up old records from avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris -- I found some new Ken Vandermark albums on his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp, although better still was a 2008 album Morris album with Vandermark. Unfortunately, a lot of the new Catalytic Sound albums don't come with any music, but I found several on Napster.
Another of the new Vandermark albums is under Eric Revis' name -- like his last several, a good one. It's the first album on Portugal's Clean Feed label I've reviewed since they stopped sending me CDs -- I hope they don't take the grade as positive reinforcement. I probably have download codes for more, but haven't chased them down yet. I did pick up new albums on ECM by Vijay Iyer, Tim Berne, and Gary Peacock. I spent quite a bit of time with the Iyer, and basically timed out in trying to determine whether it's an A-, so I guess it isn't. Still, the Fieldwork-times-two band dazzles here and there, and the mix is more interesting than his last couple ECM albums. Will get to the others sooner or later.
The Hamell Live album seems to be some sort of download-only bonus to the new studio album, but I figured I'd treat it as a separate release as that's how it appears on Napster. Figured it would slack off a bit, but I like it as much (if not more).
I'm a little confused about how the numbers add up, since I graded 5 CDs while only unwrapping 3 new ones, yet wound up with +3 unrated instead of -2. I've double-checked and haven't found the discrepancy.
No progress on the Jazz Guides this past week. I have started on collecting Robert Christgau's Expert Witness pieces at Noisey for a website update, probably by the end of the month. I've probably lost some of the corrections readers sent in. If you sent one in and haven't heard back from me, assume that I did and resubmit it.
I should also note that I've added @BirdIsTheWorm to my twitter feed. He probably tweets too much (13.1K tweets vs. 1815 for me, but he has 3588 followers to my 271), but I figured maybe he'd point me toward some things that I was missing, as in his latest The Round-up: What went unseen. Actually, I've seen 2 (of 5) of those new records -- both B+(*) -- but hadn't heard of the others (just added to my Music Tracking file). I also recommend following @TimothyNiland. At this moment, the front page of his Music and More blog has seven substantial album reviews on it: three of records I've heard [A-, B+(***), B+(*)], the others I will want to check out soon. (Playing Shipp as I write.)
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 13. 2017
Laura came downstairs yesterday playing Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist -- a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.
Brief scattered links this week:
I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4). We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50, which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list -- only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.
I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:
My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent history-qua-travelogue).
Thursday, August 10. 2017
This is only the second Book Roundup I've done this year -- the last one was back on April 26, with the second most recent, on August 21, 2016, dating from almost a year ago. Limiting myself to 40 blurbs per post, I should be able to do one of these every other month (six times a year), but it's hard to get into the right research mode. Still, when I do, I tend to overshoot, coming up with two or more posts in rapid succession (five is my current record). Right now I only have 18 leftover blurbs in the scratch file, but I expect it won't be hard to round them up to a second post.
I suppose one thing that helps thin them out is that I recently started adding a section listing books without blurbs -- gives me a way I can note the existence of something without having to take the time to write much. I don't count those books under my 40 limit. On occasion I've also noted paperback reprints of previously noted books, and there are some of those below. The Thomas Frank and Jane Mayer books were written before the 2016 election, but they turned out to be the year's most prophetic books (note that both paperbacks have post-election I-told-you-so afterwords).
Most recently I've been reading Hacker and Pierson, a book that's been sitting on my shelves a fair while. Its paean to "the mixed economy" could be sharper, but its review of the political forces that stripped us of past keys to prosperity is reasonably thorough. I would add that the more you forget about how things work, and the more you adopt ideas that are just plain wrong, the deeper you enter into what the late Jane Jacobs recognized as "the coming dark age."
Going through this list, some books that I either already have or am particularly likely to pick up are Andrew Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East, Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman: Kingdom of Olives and Ash, Michael J Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics, Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning, Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains, Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand. I'll also note that my wife is currently listening to China Miéville: October. One thing I've learned from this book so far is that the Bolsheviks came out on top because they were the only party willing to walk away from the disastrous World War.
Tariq Ali: The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism War Empire Love Revolution (2017, Verso Books): One expects that the centenary of the Russian Revolution will produce the usual spate of new books, so this is nominally one of them. But for a good while now we've known that in his last couple years Lenin was unhappy about the drift of his revolution, so it's never been quite fair to blame him for the whole dead weight of the Stalinist system. Not sure whether Ali can freshen him up in any useful way, but it's worth noting that the hopes that many people held for the workers' paradise weren't wrong, even if they were somewhat misplaced. Forthcoming [Sept. 19]: Slavoj Zizek: Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through (2017, Verso Books).
Jon Bakija/Lane Kenworthy/Peter Lindert/Jeff Madrick: How Big Should Our Government Be? (paperback, 2016, University of California Press): Looks like each author gets separate chapters around the question. The only one I'm familiar with is Madrick, who wrote The Case for Big Government (2008), so you know where he's going. Right-wingers have argued for shrinking federal government back to an arbitrarily small percent of GDP, a level not seen since Calvin Coolidge, although few of them are on record in favor of shrinking the federal government's most cancerous tumor, the Department of Defense, proportionately. Even so, they've shown no allowance for the ways the world has changed since the 1920s, such as the much greater complexity of the marketplace, the need for a much more skilled and knowledgeable workforce, the need for modern transportation and communication networks, the impacts of larger population and production on the environment, and many other things -- even if (like me) you think the growth of the "defense" and "security" sectors (i.e., war and repression) is largely bogus. I would go further and argue that public takeover of dysfunctional markets like health care would be a good idea, as well as some way to subsidize creative development of products that can be freely mass-produced (like software and many forms of art). I don't see how you can map any of these needs to a fixed size, so size itself isn't a very good measure.
John Berger: Portraits: John Berger on Artists (2015, Verso Books): Art critic and novelist, died earlier this year at 90, his early books Art and Revolution (1969), The Moment of Cubism (1969), Ways of Seeing (1972), and About Looking (1980) had a huge effect of me personally. This is a collection of 74 pieces on more/less famous artists, starting with the Chauvet Cave Painters but quickly jumping to Bosch (6) and Michelangelo (11), and ending with ten names born post-1950 (most, sad to say, unknown to me). The sort of book you're bound to learn a lot from. Tom Overton edited this, and also: Landscapes: John Berger on Art (2016, Verso Books). Also recent: John Berger: Confabulations (paperback, 2016, Penguin Books); Lapwing & Fox: Conversations Between John Berger and John Christine (2016, Objectif).
Heather Boushey/J Bradford DeLong/Marshall Steinbaum, eds: After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality (2017, Harvard University Press): Large (688 pp) collection of essays on Thomas Piketty's pathbreaking book Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the myriad problems associated with increasing inequality.
Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman, eds: Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (paperback, 2017, Harper Perennial): Connecting with Breaking the Silence, a number of well known writers (mostly novelists) took a tour of Israel and its Occupied Territories, and chronicled what they found as they bear "witness to the human cost of the occupation."
Frans de Waal: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016, WW Norton): Interesting question, most likely one the biologist/primatologist has much fun poking holes in. More or less related: Jennifer Ackerman: The Genius of Birds (2016, Penguin); Jonathan Balcombe: What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux); Charles Foster: Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide (2016, Metropolitan Books); Sy Montgomery: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness (paperback, 2016, Avila); Virginia Morell: Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2014, Broadway Books); Carl Salina: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2015, Picador).
Bill Emmott: The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World's Most Successful Political Idea (2017, Economist Books): British, editor of The Economist, same basic shtick as Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Blames Moscow, Beijing, but also Washington, and locates "the west" as much in Tokyo and Seoul as in Europe, the idea being the promise of neoliberalism (if not necessarily the reality): "It relies on the operation and staunch defense of several principles, first among them relative equality of income and opportunity as well as openness . . . An open society is thus one of porous borders rather than of walls, friendly to free trade agreements as opposed to protectionist tariffs, outward-looking rather than nationalist." Perhaps the idea wouldn't be fairing so poorly if the practice did a better job of delivering the promised broad-based wealth. The recent Brexit vote provides a detailed map of who wins and loses from open borders.
Niall Ferguson: Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist (2015, Penguin Press): Hagiography, based on access to private papers, the first installment of a "magisterial two-volume biography," written by a pseudo-scholar with politics and morals flexible enough for the task. Anyone else would subtitle the second volume War Criminal, even if the time frame had to extend beyond 1976. But my guess is that Ferguson is thinking of The Realist, a suitable philosophical refuge for idealists once their hands get bloody. Myself, I'm more inclined to call this period The Bullshit Artist, then look for something even more scatological to follow.
Peter Fleming: The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself (paperback, 2015, Pluto Press): Argues that "neoliberal society uses the ritual of work (and the threat of its denial) to maintain the late capitalist class order," despite all sorts of technological and cultural changes that could reduce the class-definitional role of work toward the sidelines. In the US you might want to substitute "jobs" for "work," and I-don't-know for "neoliberal society" -- the corporate-political system? Also wrote Resisting Work: The Corporatization of Life and Its Discontents (paperback, 2015, Temple University Press).
James Forman Jr: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux): How many black politicians got wrapped up in the post-1970 "war on crime" and its attendant mass incarceration. Forman worked six years as a public defender, a stark contrast to other jobs on his resume, like Supreme Court clerk and Yale Law School professor.
Thomas L Friedman: Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Anyone who can get away with as many clichés and as much cant as Friedman must truly feel blessed. However, the very facts and trends that makes him so optimistic signify little more than mental rot to me. For more, see Matt Taibbi's review.
Kelly Fritsch/Clare O'Connor/AK Thompson, eds: Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle (paperback, 2015, AK Press): Recalling Raymond Williams' Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), the activist-editors and forty-some contributors attempt to map contemporary movements by their jargon, terminology, language. Probably a worthy undertaking, interesting to me because I opened a file recently under the same rubric, but not to explore language so much as to offer a framework for hanging short topical essays on. Williams' book goes deeper into history and etymology -- he was, after all, primarily a literary critic. Best case this one does too. Worst case it tries to codify some form of "political correctness" -- to pick a term that postdates Williams' work.
Bruce Cannon Gibney: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (2017, Hachette): Author is a venture capitalist, a guy who made a fortune mostly betting on high-tech start ups, so it's rather ripe for him to blame a whole generation for the short-sighted squandering of the unprecedented wealth many Americans enjoyed after the Great Depression and WWII. He berates "a generation whose reckless self-indulgence degraded the foundations of American prosperity . . . [who] ruthlessly enriched themselves as the expense of future generations . . . turned American dynamism into stagnation, inequality, and bipartisan fiasco." That all happened, and I think it is fair to say that the Boomer generation, which grew up with postwar prosperity and its focus on individual freedom was further removed from the previous generation than is generally the case, but those effects the author describes as sociopathic were just one political strain in a broad spectrum, that of the resurgent right-wing and its promotion of often predatory greed. Perhaps the author has some other political agenda, but offhand this looks like he's representative of the rarefied class that captured the nation's wealth then blamed the less fortunate for their "entitlements." Just who are the real sociopaths here?
Joshua Green: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (2017, Penguin): Campaign reporting, focusing on Bannon -- presumably the Devil in the title, although it's since become clear that he picked a very leaky and unstable vessel for his machinations. I have no idea what Bannon's been able to accomplish since moving into the White House. During the campaign he provided Trump with a gloss of fascist aesthetics and a whiff of ideological coherence distinct from the usual run of conservative nostrums -- that probably contributed to Trump's win, but was far less significant than Hillary's failures, the lock-step support of the Koch/Republican machines, and the amazing gullibility of so much media and so many people. On the other hand, one might cast Trump as the Devil, and explore why Bannon would invest all his hare-brained ideological fantasies in such a shoddy salesman. I suppose because doing so made him famous, and in America fame is merchantable (and money is everything).
Chris Hedges: Unspeakable: Talks With David Talbot About the Most Forbidden Topics in America (2016, Hot Books): Conversations, evidently the publisher has a series of these. Hedges was a divinity student who left the church and became a prize-winning war journalist, then the more he saw the more he moved to the left. Among his books: American Fascists, written back in 2007.
Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet): Presented as a "companion" to his 2015 book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. Starts with an "A-to-Z" of key economic terms, nothing that "economic vocabulary is defined by today's victors -- the rentier financial class," and working to unmask their spin. Follows up with several scattered essays, like "The 22 Most Pervasive Economic Myths of Our Time," "Economics as Fraud," and "Methodology Is Ideology, and Dictates Policy." He was one of the first to recognize the real estate bubble of the 2000's and predict its bust -- a now obvious point that all but a few conventional economists missed.
Frederic Jameson: An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army (paperback, 2016, Verso): Marxist literary critic and political theorist -- I must have a copy of his 1971 Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories in Literature somewhere upstairs -- takes a shot at sketching out his utopia in the lead essay here, followed by nine responses edited by Slavoj Zizek (only other author I recognize is novelist Kim Stanley Robinson). I haven't read any of his later books, most recently (all Verso): Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality (2016); The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms (2015); The Antinomies of Realism (2013, Verso); Representing 'Capital': A Reading of Volume One (2011); The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of Spirit (2010); Valences of the Dialectic (2009).
Matthew Karp: This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (2016, Harvard University Press): When I think of southerners running US foreign policy, I think of James Byrne's decisive role in launching the Cold War, and later Lyndon Johnson plotting a coup in Brazil as well as "Americanizing" the civil war in Vietnam. But this goes back to the first half of the nineteenth century, before the South tried to secede from the union, a period when prominent southerners agitated to expand American power south and west, and thereby to buttress and advance their system of slavery. I suppose you can start with the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, as well as the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, but there were other schemes that didn't come to fruition, notably the desire to annex Cuba as a "slave state."
Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016; paperback, 2017, Nation Books): I've long thought that the "definitive" history was Winthrop Jordan's monumental White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, which won the National Book Award for 1968, but that book was focused more on the early development of Anglo-American racism. Those ideas have since been recapitulated (sometimes with mutations) in many ways up to the present day -- the key to Kendi's own National Book Award winning tome. Many reviewers describe this book as "painful" -- often citing the skewering of otherwise admirable abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison for adopting racial stereotypes (the book consists of five parts built around individuals: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis). I don't know whether the author adopts a fatalist position on the racist ideas, but I believe that their persistence has everything to do with increasing inequality, much as the origins of those ideas had everything to do with exploiting negro labor. As Kendi argues: "Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America."
Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): Describes Trump as "a logical extension of the worst and most dangerous trends of the past half-century" -- trends Klein has made a career of writing about; e.g., No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).
James Kwak: Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality (2017, Pantheon): A primer on how "Economics 101" is wrapped up in political biases which promote inequality, passing it off as the genius of markets. Another book along the same lines: Joe Earle/Cahal Moran/Zach Ward-Perkins: The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts (paperback, 2016, Machester University Press); also Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet).
Guy Laron: The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (2017, Yale University Press): Fifty years later, has the advantage of recently declassified documents. "The Six-Day War effectively sowed the seeds for the downfall of Arab nationalism, the growth of Islamic extremism, and the animosity between Jews and Palestinians." The latter started much earlier, but the war led to a massive increase in the number of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, and started the great land grab known as the Settler Movement -- so, yes, it did much to poison relations. I don't know if Laron discloses anything new about the run up to the war -- 90% of the book is on the events before the war itself -- but it seems pretty clear to me that Ben-Gurion regarded the 1950 armistices as temporary stays while Israel gathered strength to launch new offensives to grab the various territories they've long coveted. Their military success changed the nation's psychology, as they stopped paying heed to world law and opinion, and set out on their own arrogant path, trusting only in their own brute force and cunning.
Chris Lehmann: The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (2016, Melville House): A book on how often throughout America's history Christianity has upheld and celebrated economic iniquity -- "the pursuit of profit, as well as the inescapability of economic inequality."
Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): British political writer, has covered both Washington and New Delhi for Financial Times. No relation to Henry Luce, but you get the feeling he'd like to occupy a similar perch, but where Henry proclaimed "the American century," Edward bemoans its eclipse, lamenting both the decline of western power in the world and the erosion of Democratic norms in the west. At first blush, this all has a whiff of "white man's burden" to it. Not sure if that's fair, but one should note that the assault on liberal democracy in America and elsewhere comes almost exclusively from entrenched elites whose "populist" pitch is purely cynical.
Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (2017, Viking): This traces the Koch political machine back to the ideas of an Nobel prize-winning economist, James McGill Buchanan (1919-2013), a president of the Mont Pelerin Society, distinguished senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and professor at George Mason U. -- although the reality has more to do with the Kochs' money than with Buchanan's ideas (which included the book Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism). Should be an interesting book (in my queue, anyway).
Viet Tranh Nguyen: Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016, Harvard University Press): Vietnamese novelist, moved to US at age 4, won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, writes about how most or all sides remember the war and aftermath he grew up in.
Thomas M Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017, Oxford University Press): My own impression is that we don't lack for expertise, but as inequality increases so does the temptation for experts to hire themselves out to private interests, which in turn makes people more suspicious of experts. The author seems more inclined to blame the internet for 'foster[ing] a cult of ignorance" -- but that strikes me as a secondary effect.
PJ O'Rourke: How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016 (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): Famed right-wing humorist, not that he was ever very funny -- if you ever bother to scan through conservative editorial cartoons you'll get a sense of how low the bar is -- but do you really want to bother with lines like this: "America is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking stool?"
Ilan Pappé: Ten Myths About Israel (paperback, 2017, Verso Books): Only ten? Some are big ones, long since debunked, like that Palestine was "a land without people" (therefore perfect for "a people without land"), that Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947-49 did so voluntarily, and that Israel had no choice but to start the 1967 war. I don't have the full list, but they evidently extend to Israel's rationalizations for its periodic assaults on Gaza and the question of why people who have repeatedly sabotaged the "two state solution" still insist it's the only one possible. Pappé has written many important books on Israel and the Palestinians, especially The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007), and more recently The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014).
Keith Payne: The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die (2017, Viking): Textbooks on inequality invariably start with lists or charts of numbers -- after all, the most straightforward thing you can do with money is count it. However, the problem with inequality has never just been who gets (deservedly or not) what. Every bit as important is how it makes us think and behave toward each other. Several books have explored these ways -- e.g., how inequality worsens health care outcomes, even beyond the correlation between inequal societies and crappy health care systems -- although this promises to delve deeper into experimental psychology.
Charles Peters: We Do Our Part: Toward a Fairer and More Equal America (2017, Random House): Founder and long-time editor of The Washington Monthly, a journal I've long admired both for its heart-felt liberal bearings and its shrewd analysis of what government can and cannot do. And while he would like to point us toward "fairer and more equal," the trajectory he's recognized since 1970 has been pointed the other way. (Although I've lately discovered that he coined the term "neo-liberal" and seems to have a dark side -- especially an antipathy to unions, which for many years were the most effective and practical advocates for "a fairer and more equal America.")
Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017, Chelsea Green): The doughnut image depicts "a sweet spot of human prosperity" -- where economics should aim for widespread human satisfaction, as opposed to the 20th-century (and earlier) obsession with scarcity and growth. The seven ways are better captured by their subtitles: from GDP to the Doughnut; from self-contained market to embedded economy; from rational economic man to social adaptable humans; from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity; from 'growth will even it up again' to distributive by design; from 'growth will clean it up again' to regenerative by design; from growth addicted to growth agnostic. The last few years have seen a rash of books complaining about how economic theory is shot through with false and damaging assumptions, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to build a new understanding around more contemporary goals.
TR Reid: A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System (2017, Penguin Press): Author of a very good international survey of health care systems, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009), tries to work the same magic by comparing tax codes around the world. While he's probably correct that the US tax code (plus the huge state-by-state variations and wrinkles for other taxing authorities) is "a fine mess," and that other nations have come up with "tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and easy on the taxpayer," the whole issue seems much less important. It is, however, something that Republicans obsess on, as with most things usually with an eye toward making it much worse.
Walter Scheidel: The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality From the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017, Princeton University Press): A rather depressing argument: he argues that inequality has been the default state of civilization ever since agriculture started producing surpluses that predatory elites could seize. The exceptional periods of leveling only seem to occur due to wars and other disasters. One might still hope that reason might come to our rescue, but empiricists are unconvinced.
Gershon Shafir: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World's Most Intractable Conflict (2017, University of California Press): Fiftieth anniversary of 1967, when Israel dismantled its internal military occupation and seized new territory from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, allowing them to bring back military occupation on an even larger scale. Author has written a number of books on the conflict, going back as far as Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflit 1882-1914.
Thomas M Shapiro: Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future (2017, Basic Books): We certainly need more books that come up with vivid examples of how inequality poisons social and political and economic relationships, which is what this title promises. Focuses on race, which follows up from the author's previous The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. One thing that should be obvious is that you can't achieve racial equality in an era of increasing wealth/income inequality.
Steven Slowan/Philip Fernbach: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (2017, Riverhead): "Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works." (For the record, I can answer both of those, although never having read about pens -- unless Henry Petroski's book on pencils ventured there -- I'd have to offer a guess there, based on other principles I understand.) But the basic idea is sound. I'm not sure what the authors draw from this, but I'd say that one important thing is that as we become ever more dependent on advanced technology, it becomes ever more important that we develop social relations that increase trust. This in turn implies several changes: we need to cultivate more widespread expertise; we need to make that information more open; and we need to shift incentives for experts toward openness and generosity and away from selfishness and exploitation. I should also add that this has generally been the direction over the last couple centuries, hand in hand with technological advancement. But all this is increasingly at risk because various business and political interests find it more profitable to appropriate and monetize "knowledge" -- for a sketch of the possible outcomes here, see Peter Frase's Four Futures.
Wolfgang Streeck: How Will Capitalism End? (2016, Verso): Depicts a world of "declining growth, oligarchic rule, a shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption, and international anarchy," adding up to instability, probably collapse, certainly a need for profound change. Contradictions of capitalism has been a staple of Marxist thought for 150 years now, so even if the author doesn't come up with an answer to his question, he has plenty of theory to build on. Streeck also wrote Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2nd edition, paperback, 2017, Verso).
Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (2017, Metropolitan Books): Hard to think about the conflict without considering how to end it, especially if you're an American, since we've long assumed that our mission on Earth is to oversee some sort of agreement. Thrall has been following the conflict closely for some time now, and writes up what he's figured out: that the only way it ends is if some greater power wills it. The title has a certain irony in that the Israelis, following the British before them, have often said that violence is the only language the Palestinians understand. But as students of the conflict should know by now, the only times Israel has compromised or backed down have been when they been confronted with substantial force: as when Eisenhower prodded them to leave Sinai in 1956, when Carter brokered their 1979 peace with Egypt, when Rabin ended the Intifada by recognizing the PLO, or when Barak withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000. Since then no progress towards resolution has been made because no one with the power to influence Israel has had the will to do so -- although Israel's frantic reactions against BDS campaigns shows their fear of such pressure. On the other hand, one should note that force itself has its limits: Palestinians have compromised on many things, but some Israeli demands -- ones that violate norms for equal human rights -- are always bound to generate resistance. What makes the conflict so intractable now is that Israel has so much relative power that they're making impossible demands. So while Thrall would like to be even-handed and apply external force to both sides, it's Israel that needs to move its stance to something mutually tolerable. The other big questions are who would or could apply this force, and why. Up to 2000, the US occasionally acted, realizing that its regional and world interests transcended its affection for Israel, but those days have passed, replaced by token, toothless gestures, if any at all. It's hard to see that changing -- not just because Israel has so much practice manipulating US politics but because America has largely adopted Israeli norms of inequality and faith in brute power.
Bassem Youssef: Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring (2017, Dey Street Books): Egyptian, dubbed "the Jon Stewart of the Arabic World," had a popular television show during the brief period when that was possible -- the brief, unpopular period of democracy sandwiched between the even less popular (but who's counting?) Mubarak and Sisi dictatorships.
Other recent books also noted:
Gilad Atzmon: Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto (paperback, 2017, Interlink)
Nir Baram: A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank (paperback, 2017, Text)
Mark Bowden: Hue 1968: A Turning Point in the American War in Vietnam (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press)
Noam Chomsky: Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): interviews by CJ Polychroniou.
Joan Didion: South and West: From a Notebook (2017, Knopf)
Richard Falk: Palestine's Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (paperback, 2017, Pluto Press)
Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (2017, Twelve)
Henry A Giroux: America at War With Itself (paperback, 2016, City Lights Press)
Al Gore: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (paperback, 2017, Rodale Books)
Jeremy R Hammond: Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (paperback, 2016, Worldview)
Yaakov Katz/Amir Bohbot: The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (2017, St Martin's Press)
China Miéville: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (2017, Verso)
Vijay Prashad: The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (paperback, 2016, University of California Press)
David Roediger: Class, Race, and Marxism (2017, Verso Books)
Alice Rothchild: Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2017, Just World Books)
Raja Shehadeh: Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine (2017, New Press)
Peter Temin: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy (2017, MIT Press)
Also, some previously mentioned books new in paperback:
Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016; paperback, 2017, Random House): A self-styled conservative, but a useful critic of militarism in post-Vietnam America (see 2005's The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War). As the Cold War wound down, the military pivoted to focus on the Middle East, most dramatically with the 1990-91 Gulf War, which turned into a 12-year containment project aimed at Iraq, and boosted by 9/11 backlash into a massive war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more clandestine operations from Libya to Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan.
David Daley: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy (2016; paperback, 2017, Liveright): More nuts-and-bolts on how the right-wing -- the financiers of the Koch Bros. dark money networks -- has plotted its takeover of American democracy, especially by targeting and capturing state legislatures.
Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016; paperback, 2017, Picador): Shows how the Democratic Party, especially since the arrival of Bill Clinton in 1992, has triangulated its way into the good graces of bicoastal urban elites more often than not at the expense of the party's old base -- people they could continue to take advantage of because the Republicans have left them nowhere else to go. This was damning and embarrassing when it came out last summer, and after white working class voters flocked to elect Trump over Hillary people started pointing to this book as prescient. Paperback includes an afterword where the author gets to "I told you so." Real question is whether the Democratic Party moving forward can learn from its mistakes. A good place to start is here.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster): Argues that ever since Madison and Hamilton crafted a strong federalist constitution, America has benefited from a strong activist government, one that regulated commerce to limit market failures, that made major investments in infrastructure, and eventually built a modern safety net -- lessons that too many Americans have forgotten as narrow-minded business interests have sought to capture government for their own greedy ends.
Jane Mayer: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionairse Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016; paperback, 2017, Anchor): To assess the disaster of the 2016 elections, it is not only important to look at the shortcomings of the Democrats -- start with Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal before you move on to Jonathan Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- but also at what made the Republicans so effective, mostly a huge clandestine political machine only marginally connected to the RNC and/or the Trump Campaign, largely funded by the Koch Bros. and their fellow travelers. This is the best book on the latter, and the paperback as an "I told you so" afterword. Still, Mayer's excavation of these misanthropes has only barely begun.
Monday, August 7. 2017
Music: Current count 28508  rated (+18), 375  unrated (+10).
Basically took a break for the latter half of the week (Wednesday to Saturday). Main reason: Korean dinner. For this stretch, I mostly played CDs from one of my travel cases: Lilly Allen, Beautiful South, Bobby Bland, Manu Chao, Dance Floor Divas, Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins, English Beat, Franco, Girl Group Greats, Mighty Sparrow, Roger Miller, Van Morrison, Nigeria 70, Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Wilson Pickett, Shirelles, Phil Spector, Velvet Underground, Mary Wells, Hank Williams. That, plus the work, kept me in a pretty good mood.
Before that, I was probably off to a typical week. The Tyshawn Sorey album took a bit of time, and I think I probably played the Elan Pauer (the only other CD in the list below) 3-4 times. Evidently Pauer is an alias for Oliver Schwerdt -- he also sent me a 2-CD under that name, one of a fair number of things in a suddenly resurgent queue (seems to be split evenly between September-October releases and things already out). For a long stretch the queue had been so depleted I stopped paying much attention to it, but I got more records in the mail last week than in any week for many months.
I spent Sunday playing Randy Newman. Robert Christgau proclaimed his new Dark Matter an "album of the year contender" on Friday. I still don't hear anything like that, but gave it five plays before parking it in the bottom half of my 2017 A-List -- didn't want to underrate it as badly as I had Harps and Angels, but I still doubt I'll wind up liking it as much. I had heard "Putin" on a late night show, and it seemed pretty awful at the time. It's funnier here with orchestra and "the Putin girls" chorus. But the opener (whence the title, but not its title) is an awkward, incoherent mess, and "Brothers" is just a bummer until it breaks into a celebration of Celia Cruz. Good song about the original Sonny Boy Williamson, and "She Chose Me" works for him.
I also went back through the Songbooks -- I had given Vol. 2 a B+(**), but missed Vol. 1 and Vol. 3, and wound up replaying the whole 3-CD "box" to pick up the songs Bob mentioned that were left off Vol. 3: "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" as timely as it was in 2008 (the death of one of those Supreme Court Italians proving inconsequential), but I'm not hip enough to his irony to stomach his 2012 "I'm Dreaming [of a white president]" ("he won't be the brightest/ but he'll be the whitest/ and I'll vote for that"). The box does offer a really terrific "A Wedding in Cherokee County."
I bumped up the grade of Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life from where I had it last Monday. Among other things, it offers a sharper political commentary than Newman does. We need more people demanding "the fucking truth." And while she's right that "critics can be mean sometimes" I'm not feeling that now.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 6. 2017
I took a break from the politics and music this past week to cook a dinner served Saturday. I started my "birthday dinner" tradition back in the mid-1990s, where I would take a national cuisine and try to make as many varied dishes as I could muster. I suppose the original idea was just to show off: the first two dinners were Chinese, which I largely figured out in the early 1980s while living in New Jersey. Then I moved on to Indian -- another old interest although I didn't get to be really good at it until the birthday dinners started up -- and then Turkish. Later on I started using the dinners as research projects as I attempted to figure out other cuisines: Spanish, Thai, Moroccan, Lebanese, Japanese, Iranian, Italian, Greek, Brazilian, Cuban, Russian.
I've long felt like Korean would be worth trying. I've dabbled a bit, mostly from working from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook. My first Korean food came from a restaurant in Cambridge (MA): small nuggets of intensely flavored beef. A decade later, I had a friend in Boston who several times fixed huge feasts of homemade Korean food. One of the first times I tried cooking at a relative's home, we bought beef short ribs and I marinated and grilled them. But I never got out of the rut of habitually ordering bulgogi when I got the chance. A couple years back I bought a copy of Young Jin Song's The Food and Cooking of Korea, but until recently it languished on the shelf.
A few months ago I decided to give it a go. I planned out a menu, and knowing I'd need some lead time I went ahead and made a batch of classic kimchi. I did some shopping to figure out what could be found, but we couldn't schedule the dinner I had hoped for, and I wound up making a "practice run" with what I had bought -- a pretty substantial dinner in its own right. I finally got a chance to go all out this week. I started shopping on Wednesday, and made the first batch of kimchi that night. More shopping Thursday, plus an emergency run on Friday. Cooked some things on Friday, and finished up on Saturday, producing the spread (not very artfully laid out) photographed below:
In addition to the Song cookbook mentioned above, I bought two more Korean cookbooks: Deuki Hong/Matt Rodbard, Koreatown: A Cookbook, and Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking. I ordered the latter after finding several promising recipes on the author's website. I built up a long shopping list with a tentative menu (16 dishes), noting what I already had and what I would need. Then I added various things as I looked through the books, trying to expand my options or just to get a sense of what's available. For example, I never found perilla leaves, bellflower root, or dried file fish (although I did something labeled "filetfish"); I found but didn't buy fresh burdock and dried fernbrake.
I started my shopping at Thai Binh, the largest Vietnamese grocery in town. They cover Chinese and Thai pretty well, with a smallish specifically Korean section where I had previously bought chili paste (gochujang), bean paste (doenjang), coarse chili powder (gochugaru), and coarse sea salt. They have a substantial produce section (although no water chestnuts this time) and a tremendous variety of frozen fish so I figured they'd be my best shot. Then I stopped at Dillons to get the beef, pork ribs, and some more conventional vegetables. Still, I came up short in several respects, so I googled for Korean groceries and found two more: Grace Korean-Japanese Market and Kimson Asian Food Market. I went to them on Thursday, and that evening went to Sprouts and Dillons. I didn't actually have much on the list by that time, other than English mustard, which I finally found at Dillons (Rock/Central).
Grace was small but had a couple things I hadn't picked up before. They also have a small cafe area which seemed pretty inactive. I picked up a couple "homemade" batches of seaweed and shrimp salads, but didn't particularly like either. Kimson only had about a third as much space as Thai Binh but was packed so they had almost as much stuff, including some things I had never seen locally (like frozen sea urchin for sushi). I wound up having to go out again on Friday -- Thai Binh and Dillons -- as I couldn't find the short-grain (sushi) rice I was sure I had plenty of.
Notes on the menu: Most Korean food is very hot (spicy, but aside from chilis, garlic, and ginger there are virtually no spices). The heat comes from chili powder, chili paste, or (much less often) chili oil or fresh peppers. I can barely tolerate hot peppers, so in all of the following recipes I either cut them way back or completely out (though I usually kept the garlic and sugar which are probably included just to draw out the heat). I thought about serving a hot sauce on the side, but doubted any of my guests especially wanted it. (The kimchis were still pretty hot in my book.) Also, virtually every Korean dish is topped with sesame seeds, which I also omitted (although I offered black sesame seeds on the side).
I'm reconstructing this from memory, so I may not even have the right cookbook for several recipes that appeared on multiple books. I did what seems like more than the usual mount of fiddling, not just to adjust the heat and avoid sesame seeds. I did quite a bit of fiddling with various sauces to get an appealing mix of tastes. And aside from the dessert it pretty much all worked. Interesting that the dishes with the highest-percentage leftovers were the kimchi (although the rice, which is usually the least popular choice, was most nearly wiped out).
I scratched a half-dozen possible dishes at various points in the afternoon. I had bought groceries to make: zucchini namul, buckwheat noodles, braised bean curd. I could have done a chives namul. I had more bok choy which I could have fixed with the bean paste. I had cucumbers which could have been used several different ways (but I didn't have time to do proper pickles). I could have made the extra jellyfish into its own dish (similar to the squid). I also had dried anchovies that could be given the squid treatment. I bought red and green bell peppers and can't remember what they were for. I have a piece of barbecued eel in the freezer. I could have taken some of the rice, dressed it with sugar and vinegar, and made sushi, topped with wasabi, broiled eel, and sweetened soy. (Would have been better than the dessert I served.)
There's a lot more Korean food I could have made -- something to try out later. I wanted to have lots of little things (Koreans call them banchan) rather than a big main course. That's why I didn't consider doing a soup or a combo rice dish like bibimbap. In fact, I didn't want to serve plain rice, even though that's the foundation virtually all Korean meals are built upon. I also figured I should stay away from obvious Japanese imports like sushi, teriyaki, and tempura (all common in Korea). I figured the bulgogi was essential, and what sold me on the pork ribs was the possibility of sticking it in the oven and forgetting about it. Similarly, the seafood salad could be made early and out of the way, and having those three dishes really didn't leave much room for chicken or fish. One thing I was tempted by but figured was too tricky and/or marginally weird was the raw blue crabs -- Thai Binh stocks them, and they basically get kimchi'ed for a couple days before serving, so they wouldn't have presented a logistical problem.
Figuring out the logistics is a big part of these large-scale dinners. In fact, this one was relatively easy, the first critical task figuring out what I could (and could not) obtain, and where to shop for it. The kimchis had relatively long lead times (pickles were already out of the question), so that determined when I had to start. I've done meals so complicated that I've mapped them out using charts, but this one wasn't that mind-boggling. After I made the kimchis, on Friday I cooked the seafood, roasted the sweet potatoes, steamed the spinach and eggplant, cooked the plain rice, made the squid, and marinated the meat. Hardest thing there (by far) was picking out the crab meat. I got up a little after noon on Saturday and started working through the little dishes -- the braises sometimes took an hour or more, but I could plate them when they were done. While the braises were going on I julienned the vegetables and dressed the salad, then put it back in the refrigerator. I usually get desserts out of the way early, but this one could be cooked anytime, and there was very little prep to it. The final push could hardly have been simpler: put the ribs in the oven, fix the fried rice, then finish the steak. And I could wait until the guests arrived to do the latter.
So, a pretty memorable dinner. Learned a lot while doing it. The guests seemed pretty pleased. The dog tried crawling into the dishwasher to help with the prewash. I won't try to get into the dinner discussion and all that, which for me was probably the highlight of the evening. Had some leftover ribs and sweet potatoes for dinner this evening. Have some people coming over Monday to help clean out the leftovers -- and maybe I'll cook some of the scratched dishes then. Hopefully Trump won't start bombing Korea by then. I was born during the Korean War. I'd hate to suffer through a second one.
Thursday, August 3. 2017
Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no one."
Let me also note this trip down memory lane: Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis. I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington U.