Thursday, May 26. 2016
No time to write an intro today. For some explanations, see the last month's Music Week posts, somewhere under here. Still haven't heard Merle Haggard's 1990s Curb albums. Would have done Prince, but he isn't on Rhapsody. Didn't list Coleman Hawkins' back catalog because it's huge and I've only added two titles -- nowhere near a complete mop-up. The Joint Venture album is the only thing I've found by the late avant-trumpet player Paul Smoker. Festen was a last minute addition, but I'm glad to have something new to report. Still, all the new A-list records are jazz. Tell Beyoncé to start sending me her shit.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody (other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on April 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (8163 records).
Adult Books: Running From the Blows (2016, Lolipop): Postpunk trio from Southern California (originally Orange County), first album, singer ordinary but the guitar-bass-drums is rock solid, making ordinary riffs seem perfectly functional. B+(*)
Bobby Avey: Inhuman Wilderness (2015 , Inner Voice Jazz): Pianist, plays in Dave Liebman's Expansion group and has several albums on his own. This has one solo track, three trios, and four cuts with alto saxophonist John O'Gallagher -- a fine match for the pianist's own edgy style. B+(***) [cd]
The Bill Belasco Trio: Three Musicians (2016, Summit): San Francisco drummer, leads a piano trio, with Denny Berthiaume on ("piano and arrangements") and Chuck Bennett on bass. Standards, with one original by the bassist. Cover looks like a cover too. B+(*) [cd]
Ran Blake: Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell (2010 , A-Side): Age 75 when he recorded this, Blake is an innovative, idiosyncratic, and for me often difficult pianist with a lot of solo work and duos with vocalists. But his subject here is one of my all-time favorite jazz masters, one he should know exceptionally well given that they both taught at New England Conservatory over several decades. A mix of solo and group pieces as he picks over key titles from Russell's discography, thoughtful, testy, and sometimes extraordinary. B+(***) [dl]
Jane Ira Bloom: Early Americans (2015 , Outline): Soprano saxophonist, one of the few specialists, seventeenth album since 1980. Postbop, but trio feels exceptionally lively from the start -- helps to have Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums. A- [cd]
Mike Bogle Trio: Live at Stoney's (2015 , MBP/Groove): Dallas-based piano trio, with Lou Harlas (bass) and Steve Barnes (drums). Pianist has two previous albums, the first from 1994. Five originals; covers from Chick Corea, Dexter Gordon, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington. Can make a splash, maybe even too splashy. B [cd]
Charles Bradley: Changes (2016, Daptone): Retro-soul singer, third album since 2011 when he was already in his sixties so you have to figure the James Brown/Wilson Pickett effects were learned young and have only deepened with age. Something I should be a sucker for, but impressed as I am, minor nags keep getting in the way. B+(*)
Anthony Braxton: 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011 (2011 , Firehouse 12): EEMHM stands for Echo Echo Mirror House Music, a "system" reportedly explained in the 20-page booklet. Each piece fills nearly an hour of disc space, the seven iPod-wielding musicians sloshing back and forth in an endless tumult. Of course, they also play conventional instruments: saxes (Braxton), cornet (Taylor Ho Bynum), guitar (Mary Halvorson), violin (Jessica Pavone), tuba (Jay Rozen), bass (Carl Testa), percussion (Aaron Siegel), doubling on a few others. B+(**)
Marialuisa Capurso/Jean-Marc Foussat: En Respirant (2016, Fou): Voice (and "effets, objets") and synth (AKS, and "voix, etc."), three improv pieces recorded live in Berlin. Breathes, but but doesn't do much more. B [cd]
Etienne Charles: San Jose Suite (2015 , Culture Shock): Trumpet player, born in Trinidad, studied at Florida State, teaches at Michigan State. Fifth album, looks like it was commissioned by an outfit called San Jose Jazz although he also checked San Joses in Costa Rica and Trinidad. Some Latin grooves, but doesn't really take off until the three-part "Speed City," introduced by Dr. Harry Edwards talking about the institutional racism he encountered at San Jose State University, first as an athlete then as a coach -- crucial history and rousing music. B+(**) [cd]
Rhys Chatham: Pythagorean Dream (2016, Foom): Guitarist/trumpeter, roots in post-classical avant-garde (LaMonte Young, Tony Conrad, Eliane Radigue) although he also pops up in experimental rock (e.g., no wave) and possibly jazz (if you wish to take this that way). Instrumental, tends to repeat background patterns as if gargling them, still they have some fascination. More generally a subject for further research (as is Conrad and Radigue -- I have some unplayed records by each). B+(***) [cd]
Claudia Quintet: Super Petite (2015 , Cuneiform): Drummer John Hollenbeck's long-running -- eight albums in nineteen years -- bar band, originally named for a conspicuous fan. With soft instruments -- Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor sax), Red Wierenga (accordion), Matt Moran (vibes), Dres Gress (acoustic bass) -- building on rhythm tracks, most of their records have been enchanting. This one less reliably, perhaps because the groove is prone to collapse. B+(**) [cd]
Jeremy Cunningham Quartet: Re: Dawn (From Far) (2016, Ears & Eyes): Drummer, seems to be his first album, with Josh Johnson (alto sax), Jeff Parker (guitar), and Matt Ulery (bass). Starts off sounding both edgy and grooveful, but that's mostly Parker. Slows down to merely pretty. B+(*) [cd]
Lucy Dacus: No Burden (2016, Egghunt): Singer-songwriter from Virginia, first album, guitar strum is basic but compelling, has something to sing about. B+(***)
Dälek: Asphalt for Eden (2016, Profound Lore): Experimental hip-hop crew from Newark, handful of albums since 1998, moved to a metal label for this, which certainly cranks up the reverb. B+(*)
Open Mike Eagle + Paul White: Hella Personal Film Festival (2016, Mello Music Group): White, I gather, is the beat guy, not that this is much of a beat album. Eagle is an alt-rapper who keeps things interesting even when I'm not tuning in closely. B+(***)
Empirical: Connection (2015 , Cuneiform): British postbop quartet -- Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Lewis Wright (vibes), Tom Farmer (bass), Shaney Forbes (drums) -- fifth album since 2007. They play fast and hard, and while the sax is a little rough around the edges, the vibraphonist is a talent deserving wider recognition. B+(***) [dl]
Brian Eno: The Ship (2016, Warp): Two pieces, the title a 21:19 slab of murky ambience, perhaps a death metaphor, or maybe just deadly boring -- I couldn't help but thinking maybe he's thinking of that downside he produced for the late David Bowie's Low. The other is the three-part "Fickle Sun," the initial 18:03 piece rubbing in the sores opened by the opener, the second blessedly thin, then a rather miraculous 5:18 take of Lou Reed's "I'm Set Free," which delivers the transcendent moment the rest of the album so desperately needed. Almost graded much lower. B+(*)
Orrin Evans: The Evolution of Oneself (2014 , Smoke Sessions): Pianist, well established since 1996, comes up with a strong trio with Christian McBride and Karriem Riggins -- two cuts add Marvin Sewell on guitar. A little less than half originals, presumably the other tunes have personal significance -- he certainly plays them that way. B+(***)
Festen: Festen (2015 , Clean Feed): Swedish avant quartet, no one I've ever heard of: Isak Hedtjärn (reeds), Lisa Ullén (piano), Elsa Bergmann (double bass), Erik Carlsson (drums). Four pieces, hits spots both sweet and sour, shows there's still room for a pianist in a cutting edge sax quartet as long as she makes enough noise. A- [cd]
Field Music: Commontime (2016, Memphis Industries): English indie pop group, echoes too many groups without quite coming together. B
Erik Friedlander: Rings (2016, Skipstone): Got the title wrong on unpacking, where I listed this as "Black Phebe" -- the name of the cellist's trio (Shoko Nagai on piano and accordion, Satoshi Takeishi on percussion). Don't know why at his point, as the cover and spine can only be read as Rings. Title comes from three pieces that "use live looping at a compositional process" and jump to a higher energy orbit. B+(***) [cd]
The Funky Organics: The Funky Organics (2016, Chicken Coup/Summit): Aptly named organ-drums rhythm section with trumpet (Rick Savage) and sax (Bob Hanlon). B [cd]
Kevin Gates: Islah (2016, Atlantic): Gangsta rapper from Baton Rouge, nominally his studio debut after a whole mess of mixtapes. Christgau notes "so much [criminal/sexual] detail" and claims it "has more hooks than a Temptations best-of" but I caught little if any of that (OK, something about pussy) in two plays, nor did I notice the single Dan Weiss has been hyping ("Kno One"). B+(*)
Trevor Giancola Trio: Fundamental (2015 , self-released): Canadian guitarist, probably his debut album, a trio with Neil Swainson on bass and Adam Arruda on drums, a few originals but mostly standards ("Just One of Those Things," "You Go to My Head") and jazz tunes, including two from Elmo Hope. Nice postbop middle ground. B+(*) [cd]
Glitterbust: Glitterbust (2016, Burger): Experimental guitar duo, Alex Knost (Tomorrows Tulips) and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), favors the latter's tunings, finds some chatter to sample, but doesn't aim to signify much, just guitar drone. B+(*)
Will Goble: Consider the Blues (2015 , OA2): Bassist, second album, mostly originals, with tenor saxophonist Gregory Tardy in rip roaring form, Louis Heriveaux on piano, and Dave Potter on bass. First cut has a vocal by Tabreeca Woodside, a feint they never follow up on (and just as well). B+(*) [cd]
Gunwale: Polynya (2016, Aerophonic): Free sax trio, with Dave Rempis (alto, tenor, baritone) leading, Albert Wildeman on bass, and Ryan Packard on drums (and electronics). Not familiar with the latter, but Rempis took over Mars Williams' slot in Vandermark 5, making a huge impression. He does tend to go ugly here, but there's more to it. B+(***) [cd]
Barry Guy: The Blue Shroud (2015 , Intakt): British avant-bassist, founder and leader of London Jazz Composers Orchestra, comes up with another large-scale orchestral piece here, at times an opera with Savina Yannatou's voice, otherwise thirteen pieces including strings (violin, viola, bass), four saxes (one doubling on oboe, another on "reed trumpet"), trumpet, tuba, guitar, piano, two drummers. Difficult music, often remarkable. B+(***) [cd]
Cory Healey's Beautiful Sunshine Band: Beautiful Sunshine (2016, Shifting Paradigm): Drummer-led quintet with trumpet (Jake Baldwin), tenor sax (Brandon Wozniak), guitar (Zacc Harris), and electric bass (Erik Fratzke) -- not a fusion outfit, probably just easier to find electric bass and guitar these days. Postbop with some trickiness. B+(*) [cd]
Homeboy Sandman: Kindness for Weakness (2016, Stones Throw): Alt-rapper Angel del Villar, specializes in EPs because that's what his vinyl fetish usually weighs out as, but this runs 39:10, and is solid enough. They pretty much all are. Upside: "Speak Truth." Down: "God." B+(***)
Mimi Jones: Feet in the Mud (2015 , Hot Tone Music): Bassist, also sings but less so here than on her previous two albums. Produced by Luis Perdomo, with Jon Cowherd on piano and rhodes, Samir Zarif on soprano sax, and Jonathan Barber on drums. Bouncy postbop. B+(*) [cd]
The Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra: Storming Through the South (2016, Summit): Kenton died in 1979. Trumpeter Mike Vax rounded up the Stan Kenton Alumni Band in 1991 to mark the 50th anniversary of Kenton's debut, and they've hung together for 25 years now. Kim Richmond is the only name I recognize, and many of the arrangements are still credited to Kenton -- no revisionism here. But where the original tended to be extravagant and pompous, this outfit is much more fun. B+(*)
Linda Gail Lewis: Heartache Highway (2015 , Ball and Chain): Jerry Lee's younger sister, cut two records for Smash when she was 22 -- one Together with the Killer -- then nothing until the only other album I'd noticed, 1990's International Affair (released in Sweden). Looks like she has more than a dozen albums since then. This seems to be another Swedish label -- hard to find anything about it, although Steve Gibbons and Robbie Fulks seem to be involved. Rockabilly, piano central, change-of-pace ballad reminds me a bit of Patsy Cline. B+(***)
Linda Gail Lewis: Hard Rockin' Woman! (2015, Lanark): Another recent album, distinguished mostly by its jungle cartoon cover. Her rockabilly is indelible, even when it doesn't rock quite hard enough. B+(**)
Lok 03+1: Signals (2016, Trost): Group name comes from the 2005 album Lok 03 with married avant-pianists Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach and their son Vincent von Schlippenbach, aka DJ Illvibe (turntables, sampler), with drummer Paul Lovens the plus-one (part of the Schlippenbach Trio at least since 1972). B+(**) [bc]
Tony Malaby Paloma Recio: Incantations (2015 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, also plays soprano, as a sideman he often steals the show, but is often more moderate as a leader. This quartet, named for a 2009 album, has Ben Monder (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums). Starts self-effacingly moderate, but catches fire in the end. B+(***) [cd]
Mexrrissey: No Manchester (2016, Cooking Vinyl): Ad hoc group of Mexican musicians, including Camilo Lara (Mexican Institute of Sound) and Sergio Mendoza (Calexico), rearrange a batch of Morrissey songs. Has some novelty value, although that's sort of what I thought about the originals, too. B+(*)
Nick Millevoi: Desertion (2015 , Shhpuma): Philadelphia-based guitarist, has a couple albums, plans to name this quartet after the album: Jamie Saft (organ, piano), Johnny DeBaso (upright and electric bass), Ches Smith (drums), plus a couple extras on trombone and violin. Guitar has a heavy fusion ring to it, but group skews more avant, keeping it interesting. B+(**) [cd]
Myriad 3: Moons (2016, ALMA): Piano trio, Chris Donnelly in the leader's seat, Dan Fortin on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums, with everyone pulling an extra instrument or two (mostly electric) for variety. Not fusion, but they do like a good groove. B+(*) [cd]
Naftule's Dream: Blood (2013 , self-released): Fifth album from a group led by clarinetist Glenn Dickson, or sixth if you count the 1992 album by Shirim Klezmer Orchestra that launched the group name -- Naftule, of course, is the legendary clarinetist Naftule Brandwein (1884-1963). This one's rather dark and twisty, especially Andrew Stern's guitar backed by Jim Gray's tuba. B+(***) [cd]
Oddisee: The Odd Tape (2016, Mello Music Group): Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, born in DC, father from Sudan, used to think of him as an underground rapper but this is all instrumental, and I gather not his first. B+(*)
Luis Perdomo: Montage (2015 , Hot Tone Music): Pianist, from Venezuela, based in New York since 1993, ninth album, solo, not spectacular but grows on you. B+(*) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Corpo (2016, Leo): Liner notes start (I'll spare you the ALL CAPS): "Warning, contains highly concentrated improvisation. Unless you have engaged in regular meditation or other immersive activity, you may not want to begin with a full dose." I'm a fan of both, and have heard their tenor sax-piano duos (and larger groups) going back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz, so I figured I could take it. But I guess I'm too lazy a listener, too easily annoyed. B+(*) [cd]
Ivo Perelman: Soul (2015 , Leo): Brazilian tenor sax man plus Matthew Shipp (piano), Michael Bisio (bass), and Whit Dickey (drums) -- the latter Shipp's regular trio. Everything jointly credited, so figure improv but at least they came up with nine titles. No squawk, nothing over the edge, but the sort of tight avant interplay that keeps circling around on you, rewarding close attention but pleasurable anyway you take it. A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Karl Berger: The Hitchhiker (2015 , Leo): Tenor sax duets with Berger playing vibraphone. Marvelous at first, but struggles to fill out an hour. B+(**) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris: Blue (2016, Leo): Morris plays acoustic guitar here -- not his norm, certainly not powerful enough to deflect let alone direct the tenor saxophonist in any direction, just enough to scuff up the edges, adding fractal detail. Which is to say just enough. A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman: Breaking Point (2015 , Leo): Quartet, the other names on the cover but not on the spine: Mat Maneri (viola), Joe Morris (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Maner can get on my nerves at times, but generally adds a rich dynamic here. B+(***) [cd]
ResAUnance: Migration (2014 , FMR): John Bacon (vibraphone, percussion), Jonathan Golove (electric cello), Erin Gunduz (voice), Michael McNeill (piano). Two folk songs from Thrace, two pieces each by Bacon and McNeill. Arty chamber jazz, the vocalist not so hard to take but I'd rather not. Still impressed by the pianist. B+(**) [cd]
Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker: Periheleon (2015 , Aerophonic, 2CD): Cover/spine just gives you last names, as if these Chicago avant-gardists are household names. Alto/tenor/baritone sax, bass, drums, plus piano/electronics -- three long pieces, just barely over the single-disc limit so 43:09 + 40:32. Runs the range of their art, with Rempis remaining one of the most impressive saxophonist of his time. A- [cd]
Snarky Puppy: Family Dinner Volume Two (2015 , Decca): A jazz group of some sort, formed in Denton, Texas in 2004 but now based in Brooklyn. Group itself led by bassist Michael League, with eighteen members listed, twenty-two guests, plus the group Nola International. Most pieces have vocals, few jazzy (although you do get bits of Latin and African). B-
Snarky Puppy: Culcha Vulcha (2016, Decca): Studio album, cranks up the jazz-funk grooves, piling guitars and keybs on so thick the whole thing buckles under the dead weight. Personnel list comes to twenty-one, few obvious guests, virtually no vocals. Stripped down to pure shtick, makes me wonder if I haven't cut them too much slack. C+
Ron Stabinsky: Free for One (2015 , Hot Cup): Pianist, had a debut album last year with Jack Wright, recently joined Mostly Other People Do the Killing. This is an hour of solo improv, not smashing enough to keep my ears turned in, but not without interest either. B+(*) [cd]
Tyla Gang: Stereo Tactics (2013 , Cherry Red): Singer for the great pub rock band Ducks Deluxe (1972-75), Sean Tyla did a couple albums as Tyla Gang, then Sean Tyla's Just Popped Out, then hung it up from 1983 until 2007, when he reorganized his Gang and flirted with a possible Ducks Deluxe reunion. This retro risks becoming generic until he checks some politics ("Runaway") and finds a dramatic break ("Chinee Moon"). B+(*)
Tyla Gang: Live in Stockholm (2014 , Cherry Red): Don't recognize any song title here, but they play from the middle of a rock tradition they relentlessly affirm -- well, maybe one title (worth quoting anyway), "Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie." B+(*)
Greg Ward: Touch My Beloved's Thought (2016, Greenleaf Music): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, has a couple previous albums, got a commission for a piece to go with dance and flashed back to Charles Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Came up with a tentet with three saxes and four brass to cover the harmonics and piano-bass-drums to keep it all moving. A- [cd]
Matt Wilson's Big Happy Family: Beginning of a Memory (2015 , Palmetto): Drummer, has fifteen or so albums since 1996 plus numerous side credits -- one of those guys who always seems to be helping others out. Dedicated this to his late wife, Felicia, who died at 50 in 2014. Thirteen musicians listed, but doesn't feel like a big band, probably because the numerous horns express more than arrangements. B+(***) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Fame: Jon Savage's Secret History of Post-Punk 78-81 (1978-81 , Caroline True): British broadcaster/music writer, wrote England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock and has assembled at least seven CD compilations. I only recognize a few things here (Noh Mercy's "Caucasian Guilt" is a find), with the ones that lean punk packing a lot more punch than the ones that skew towards industrial/ambient. Would be interesting to read the rationale behind the picks, which I guess means the picks don't speak for themselves. B+(**)
Merle Haggard: Best of the Capitol Years (1966-76 , Capitol): The catalog minders return with a new rehash of old product, much as they've done many times before (1990, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2012, and that's just the CD era). This one runs 19 cuts -- the same first 19 on 2007's Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard (which samples some later material to get to 26 cuts). It has five not on 2002's 20 Greatest Hits, subs the studio versions of "Okie" and "Fightin' Side," and keeps them in better chronological order. A
Coleman Hawkins: Intimate: Duo, Trio, Quartet & Quintet Recordings 1934-38 (1934-38 , Acrobat): The fount of all worthwhile saxophone playing, as one guide put it, he broke with big bands in 1934 when he moved to Europe and found himself recording with small pick-up groups, taking melodic responsibility for whole songs and driving them in ways no one expected. I wouldn't call these "intimate," at least in the sense of later "quiet storm" balladeering. Actually, one tour de force after another. A-
Allen Lowe: Julius Hemphill Plays the Music of Allen Lowe (1989-91 , Constant Sorrow): This digital-only release surfaced on Lowe's Bandcamp without any of his customary documentation, but a little digging suggests that the music is from Lowe's first two albums (At the Moment of Impact and New Tango '92). Hemphill, who died in 1995, played alto sax on those albums (Lowe played tenor). Interesting music, even within Hemphill's catalog, although the concept is a little odd. B+(**) [bc]
Allen Lowe: Louis Armstrong: An Avant Garde Portrait (1992 , Constant Sorrow): Recorded live at Knitting Factory, originally released as Mental Strain at Dawn: A Modern Portrait of Louis Armstrong (1993, Stash), the band included Doc Cheatham and Robert Rumboltz on trumpet, Paul Austerlitz (clarinet, bass clarinet), David Murray (bass clarinet, tenor sax), Lowe (alto/tenor sax), Loren Schoenberg (tenor sax), John Rapson (trombone), and Ray Kaczynski (drums). Some old, some new, Lowe is clever enough he rarely tips his hand. B+(***)
Lyrics Born: Now Look What You've Done, Lyrics Born! Greatest Hits (1997-2015 , Mobile Home): Tokyo-born Tom Shimura, grew up in Salt Lake City and Tampa before settling in Berkeley, first noticed in the duo Latyrx before releasing his solo debut Later That Day in 2003. I have four (of five) albums at A- or higher, or six (of seven) counting Latyrx (two cuts here), so it's not like he needs a compilation to rescue good cuts from bad albums. Includes the two catchiest cuts from last year's Real People -- my top-rated album last year, but deprecated by several critics I more often agree with. A-
Joey Negro: Remixed With Love by Joey Negro: Vol. Two (2016, Z, 2CD): British DJ/house producer David Lee, has his alias on dozens of albums, including this title's 2013 predecessor. Source material here is mostly 1970s disco. Mostly artists I recall, but rarely songs -- and while these are certainly danceable, that's only part of the thrill. B+(*)
Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago (1976 , Orleans, EP): Roy Byrd (1918-80) didn't record much until the last decade of his life, when he finally cashed in with a batch of live albums, often so moving redundancy didn't matter. This one is of a piece with them, but on the short side -- seven cuts (not counting a 0:19 intro), 29:08, doubt if there's anything here the New Orleans piano master hasn't done many times elsewhere, not that fans will mind. B+(**)
Blind Alfred Reed: Appalachian Visionary (1927-29 , Dust-to-Digital): Taking this on faith, as I haven't seen or heard this luxury package: an 84-page hardcover book by Ted Olson with the same 20 cuts as Document's Complete Works plus two tunes by the West Virginia Night Owls, expensive at $30. I can't say that the packaging is worth the premium, but I have been assured by Clifford Ocheltree and Phil Overeem that the remastered sound is a big plus -- so it seems even more irresponsible not to list it than to grade something I haven't heard. A-
Jane Ira Bloom: Mighty Lights (1982 , Enja): Soprano saxophonist, had a couple self-released albums before but this would have made an impressive debut, especially with Charlie Haden on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums, and a then-little-known Fred Hersch on piano. B+(***)
Jane Ira Bloom: Sometimes the Magic (2000 , Arabesque): Another quartet, again with Mark Dresser (bass) and Bobby Previte (drums), with Vincent Bourgey taking over on piano -- who sort of vanishes into the mix (where Fred Hersch competed for your attention). B+(**)
Jane Ira Bloom: Chasing Paint: Meets Jackson Pollock (2002 , Arabesque): Hard to describe the inspiration the soprano saxophonist derives from the painter's abstractions, other than that her music is exceptionally vivid here, with her high-pitched horn the perfect tool for flinging squiggles about. And her rhythm section -- Fred Hersch, Mark Dresser, Bobby Previte -- is every bit as inventive. A-
Jane Ira Bloom: Like Silver, Like Song (2004 , ArtistShare): Another quartet, with Mark Dresser and Bobby Previte (as before), but with soprano saxophonist Bloom adding electronics to her mix, both personally and via keyboardist Jamie Saft. The electronics tend toward the ambient, which is to say they slow things down, but not to the point where you lose interest. B+(***)
Merle Haggard: Strangers (1965, Capitol): Born in 1937 after his parents moved from Oklahoma to California, he was nine, living in a boxcar in Oildale when his father died, and he reacted by running wild, escalating through a series of crimes and detentions until he wound up in San Quentin, just in time to witness Johnny Cash's famous concert there. He got out in 1960, and found himself playing music, writing and singing songs -- and turned out to have one of the most remarkable voices in country music. He cut a single for Tally Records in 1962, and soon got picked up by Capitol, where he recut some singles and recorded this first album. He wrote five pretty good songs here, but the best remembered ones were by others -- Liz Anderson's title song, Wynn Stewart's "Sing a Sad Song," Tommy Collins' "Sam Hill" -- making this a "Bakersfield Sound" breakthrough. B+(***)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Swinging Doors and the Bottle Let Me Down (1966, Capitol): Second album, group named for his first album and its breakthrough top-ten hit "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," this one working its two top-five singles into the title -- two of the greatest drunkard songs in country music. His Bakersfield sound was built for bars, and the filler shows he was already rooted in honky tonk tradition. A-
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: I'm a Lonesome Fugitive (1967, Capitol): Liz Anderson was thinking of the David Jansen TV series when she wrote the title song, but it fit Haggard to a tee. Haggard wrote the rest of the songs (including "Life in Prison"), except for Jimmie Rodgers' "My Rough and Rowdy Ways" -- setting up a terrific ending. A-
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Branded Man (1967, Capitol): The title cut is his most personal, which is not to say exclusive, prison confessional -- his pardon was still a few years away -- and Tommy Collins' "I Made the Prison Band" fits too, but "Don't Get Married" is hard to swallow, just one of too many loser songs. B+(**)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde (1968, Capitol): The title song, co-written with Bonnie Owens, had a tie-in with Arthur Penn's 1967 film, but the outlaw theme is ditched after 2:04. Strangely, Haggard oversings his ballads here, even "I Started Loving You Again" -- a song covered over sixty times the next few years, something that wouldn't happen once he was a star (and a more iconic singer). B
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Mama Tried (1968, Capitol): A great doomed outlaw song, and that theme led him to pick several rather obvious covers, including "Green Green Grass of Home" and "Run 'Em Off" and a perfectly fine but unnecessary "Folsom Prison Blues." B+(**)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Okie From Muskogee (1969, Capitol): Recorded live in Muskogee, Oklahoma -- sort of a victory celebration after his breakout title hit (which he tastefully saves for last), complete with the mayor giving him a key to the city. But beyond the presentations, the concert has weak spots -- a feature for the bassist to sing, the patter about truck drivers and working men, the long intro to the lame "Hobo Bill," a new song about a dead soldier called "Billy Overcame His Size" that I doubt they ever played again -- and while the title song intro helps with context, it also reminds you that Haggard really didn't know much about Muskogee. B
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Pride in What I Am (1969, Capitol): Only one obvious hit, the title song, but accompanied by several memorable songs, including an uncomfortable libertarian anthem, a case that the "good old days" are now, and one of the best Jimmie Rodgers covers I've heard. A-
Merle Haggard: A Portrait of Merle Haggard (1969, Capitol): As was his standard practice, give him exceptional hits to kick off two sides -- "Workin' Man Blues" and "Hungry Eyes" -- and he'll fill out an album. Works fairly well here until the strings enter and the second side gets all soggy. B+(*)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: The Fightin' Side of Me (1970, Capitol): Another live album, this one from Philadelphia, which didn't offer him a key to the city but at least came up with a better sound engineer. He barely touches his own songbook here, with "Okie From Muskogee" the only repeater from the previous live album, seguing into his newer, even funnier "jingoistic anthem." Meanwhile, he covers Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, and does a "Medley of Impersonations" (Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash [thrice], Buck Owens), and Bonnie Owens fails to remember the words to "Philadelphia Lawyer." B+(**)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Hag (1971, Capitol): "Soldier's Last Letter" was written by Redd Stewart and Ernest Tubb, and repurposed for a much more controversial war, one which had nothing to do with "keep[ing] America free," no matter how fervently the doomed hoped. More political is the one that goes "this world's never been in the awful shape it's in," although the Jesus solution is a cop-out. More telling is "I believe the Lord knows I'm unhappy/cause I can't be myself when I'm with you," and "consider all the hurt I'm going through." B+(***)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Someday We'll Look Back (1971, Capitol): Nice to be reminded of Roger Miller's "Train of Life" after the title song, plus two Okie work songs -- "California Cottonfield" was borrowed, but "Tulare Dust" was so quintessential it served as title to HighTone's 1994 A Songwriter's Tribute to Merle Haggard. B+(***)
Merle Haggard: The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard (1968-71 , Capitol): No idea how they came up with this title, as this is more like a second volume to 1968's The Best of Merle Haggard -- no dupes, so they picked up some minor singles, and offered "Okie From Muskogee" (live) and "Fightin' Side" (studio, for once) as bookends, like they were something special. Christgau called this The Safest of the Best. B+(***)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Let Me Tell You About a Song (1972, Capitol): Title is the spoken intro to the first side hit, "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)." But then every song starts that way (with a woman stepping in for the one about Bob Wills' fiddle), and sometimes the intros expand. Not a good idea in general, but it turns this album very personal. B+(***)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad) (1972, Capitol): A batch of relationship songs that don't come easy and are anything but romantic, and a few about alternatives that don't work out so well either. Plus a lament for "Dad's Old Fiddle," and a song about New York City that isn't as funny as Buck Owens'. B+(**)
Merle Haggard: Vintage Collections (1965-72 , Capitol): Circa 1990 Capitol released a series of 20-cut CDs with themed artwork, The Capitol Collectors' Series, a series that included many 1950s crooners plus a couple rockers and country artists. For Haggard they had no problem picking 20 top-five singles from "Swinging Doors" to "Cherokee Maiden" -- then they let Rhino pick from the leftovers and they came up with the even better More of the Best. In 1998 Capitol figured it was time for another trawl through the archives, coming up with their Vintage Collections -- also 20-cuts, but not as many titles. Somewhat perversely, they only repeated eight titles (swapping in live versions of "Okie From Muskogee" and "Fightin' Side"), and they picked eight non-singles, including obscurities like "They're Tearing the Labor Camps Down" and "Family Bible." Nothing terribly wrong here, but much better compilations are possible, as shown by both of the above and the near-definitive 2007 Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard. And do beware of non-Capitol (non-MCA, non-Legacy) compilations, which are likely to have inferior re-recordings of his old hits. B+(**)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: If We Make It Through December (1974, Capitol): Only three original songs here, the title one of his biggest hits, the other two a bit tedious (or do I mean sanctimonious? -- one on "love and honor," the other a gospel). On the other hand, credit him as the only one I've heard to credibly cover Lefty Frizzell, and he owns Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War With You." B+(**)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album (1974, Capitol): That's just three per year for a decade, although Wikipedia counts this as only his 20th studio album -- figure several live albums, a compilation or two, and instrumental joints by the Strangers, whose very small print I dropped from the title if not the attribution -- that actually seams to be common practice. Draws on bluegrass for "Old Man From the Mountain," waxes poetic on "Things Aren't Funny Anymore," touches on blues and honky tonk and western swing and ventures south of the border. Maybe the title suggests he cuts corners to get a record out, but he doesn't cut them here. A-
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: Keep Movin' On (1975, Capitol): Three hits, none of which I'd recognize as a Haggard song save for his unique voice (actually, one is Dolly Parton's "Kentucky Gambler"). The disconnect is furthered by an original, "Life's Like Poetry," which you're more likely to recall in Lefty Frizzell's cover. The Nashville production doesn't help, until the closer, "Man's Gotta Give Up a Lot," where Haggard turns on his best Lefty impersonation. B
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: It's All in the Movies (1976, Capitol): One single, always found it rather sweet but at least it's clearly him, as is the not-quite-jingoistic "Let's Stop Pretending," but he seems to be having trouble bagging his limit, resorting to Bob Wills and Dolly Parton on the homestretch. B+(*)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: My Love Affair With Trains (1976, Capitol): Eleven train songs, none by Jimmie Rodgers, only one by Haggard ("No More Trains to Ride"), the concept stitched together with narration and sound effects. B
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: The Roots of My Raising (1976, Capitol): Haggard should have written the title tune but Tommy Collins, practically his alter ego, channeled him perfectly. Haggard, in fact, only wrote one song here, but when he saw "roots" in the title he boned up on Jimmie Rodgers (two songs), Lefty Frizzell (a marvelous "I Never Go Around Mirrors"), and Bob Wills ("Cherokee Maiden") -- actually, Cindy Walker wrote it, and Haggard turned it into a hit. B+(***)
Merle Haggard and the Strangers: A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today (1975-76 , Capitol): Came out a few months after Haggard's first MCA album, so technically a collection of leftovers but actually one of his strongest Capitol albums. "I'm a White Boy" seems, uh, dated, which may be why such a catchy thing never caught on, but the title song is truer today than ever. And the filler -- which includes "Blues Stay Away From Me," "Moanin' the Blues," and "Blues for Dixie" -- has rarely been sung better, and that's saying something. A-
Merle Haggard: 20 Greatest Hits (1966-76 , Capitol): A pretty good intro sampler without touching any of his post-Capitol catalog (as 2007's 26-cut Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard does), although you can always quibble on these things. A-
Merle Haggard: Ramblin' Fever (1977, MCA): After twelve years with Capitol, Haggard divorced Bonnie Owens and moved to Nashville for a short stint with MCA before moving on to Epic in 1981. He wrote the title cut and co-wrote one more, but not "If We're Not Back in Love by Monday," which always struck me as one of his signature songs. No roots here, and too many strings, but he could really turn a ballad. B+(*)
Merle Haggard: My Farewell to Elvis (1977, MCA): Rushed out in October after Presley died in August, with an opening song by Haggard ("From Graceland to the Promised Land") leading into an oddly amusing "In the Ghetto" followed by '50s rockers, "Blue Christmas," and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" Haggard does a fair impersonation with the Jordanaires helping out but if you want a record that sounds like Elvis, there are obvious alternatives. B-
Merle Haggard: The Way I Am (1980, MCA): After the Sonny Throckmorton title song comes "Sky-Bo" -- too big a conceptual stretch to work as a song. Then a bunch of stuff I've already forgotten, until the home stretch where you get "It Makes No Difference Now" and three Ernest Tubb classics. Curious how Haggard replicates Tubb's pace and intonation, invoking the original while cleaning up that notorious nasal twang. B+(**)
Merle Haggard: Back to the Barrooms (1980, MCA): More drinking song, practically a sub-genre within country music, one he made his mark in early ("Swinging Doors," "The Bottle Let Me Down"), so no big surprise he'd pick that as an album theme -- even if this didn't coincide with a divorce and too much drinking. "Gin and Misery" is indeed miserable, something I blame on the string-laden production. But the budget didn't allow for Jimmy Bowen to ruin the entire album, so eventually Haggard rights it -- with one from Hank Jr., his own tribute to Tommy Collins, and one more bar classic, "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink." B+(*)
Merle Haggard: Rainbow Stew: Live at Anaheim Stadium (1980 , MCA): Moving on to Epic, Haggard sloughed off the two albums he still owed to MCA with a gospel set and this live joint. Starts with four songs from Back to the Barrooms then starts to have fun, probing the back catalogue, breaking for a single with the title cut -- hearing it today makes me think it would work as Bernie's campaign theme song -- a blue yodel and the 3:48 "Fiddle Breakdown." Closes with a remarkable "Sing Me Back Home," where even an audience geared to party recognizes something solemn. B+(***)
Merle Haggard: Big City (1981, Epic): After seven 1977-80 albums with MCA, first album with Epic, with Haggard penning (or co-credited) with eight of ten songs. Most look backwards, which is where he's most comfortable. B+(**)
Merle Haggard and George Jones: A Taste of Yesterday's Wine (1982, Epic): Label mates at last, so why not? Produced by Billy Sherrill, who assumed the magic would just happen. It doesn't. B
Merle Haggard: Going Where the Lonely Go (1982, Epic): Mellowing out, although the two songs from sometime-wife Leona Williams sound like something he was forced to record by couples counseling ("You Take Me for Granted" and "Someday You're Gonna Need Your Friends Again"). And "Why Am I Drinkin'" can't be a healthful sign. B+(*)
Merle Haggard: That's the Way Love Goes (1983, Epic): Title song from Lefty Frizzell, sets the tone for about as normal a set of love ballads as he's ever done, unspectacular in every way but the voice. B+(*)
Merle Haggard: It's All in the Game (1984, Epic): Freddy Powers wrote or co-wrote five of ten songs, Haggard having a hand in three but only one solo credit. The covers lean mawkish, with the pairing of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" particularly creepy, but the nod to the late Ernest Tubb is spot on. B+(*)
Merle Haggard: Kern River (1985, Epic): The river in question runs from the slopes of Mt. Whitney through deep canyons down to Bakersfield in the south end of the San Joaquin Valley. The song is about a death in that river, and is suitably gloom. The rest of the album meanders rather than rushes, with "Big Butter and Egg Man" a curious cover, and not the only one that swings. B+(*)
Merle Haggard: Amber Waves of Grain (1985, Epic): Short (27:44) live album built around Freddy Powers' Japan-bashing title track ("would we buy our bread and butter from the Toyota man/would an Idaho spud be stamped 'Made in Japan'"), with three old hits ("Mama Tried," "Okie From Muskogee," "Workin' Man Blues") worked into medleys, two lesser-known oldies, and "American Waltz" to close. Inoffensive compared to the Reagan era, but insubstantial too. B-
Merle Haggard: A Friend in California (1986, Epic): A fairly solid album, with six originals, a cover of Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War With You," and Freddy Powers' gentle title song, all carried by his voice and the band's practiced swing. B+(**)
Merle Haggard: Out Among the Stars (1986, Epic): Two singles here peaked at 21 and 58, a bit better than 1985's Amber Waves of Grain (36 and 60) but a big drop from previous years (like three number one country hits in 1984). Nothing bad here, but the only one I really loved was his Dixieland take on "Pennies From Heaven" -- shows he could have been one helluva jazz singer if he had went that way. B
Merle Haggard/George Jones/Willie Nelson: Walking the Line (1987, Epic): Note that none of the songs feature all three singers, and while I haven't tracked them all down those I have appeared on previous duo or solo albums: two each from Haggard's 1982 duos, one with Nelson from Jones' 1979 My Very Special Guests. All the others are songs I recognize, even if I don't recall where. Not bad, but something of a fraud. B-
Merle Haggard: 5:01 Blues (1989, Epic): Sobering thought that the song that perks your ears up here is "Sea of Heartbreak" -- shows that he could have carried on as a cornball hack until we lost all interest -- but he recovers a bit at the end with "A Thousand Lies Ago" and "Somewhere Down the Line.' As it was, this was his last album for Epic, and he entered a lost decade -- only three albums on Curb in the 1990s, a mere ten percent of his prime decade. Then in 2000 he rediscovered himself as a grizzled old man, picked up by the same alt-rock label that had resuscitated Tom Waits. B
Coleman Hawkins and Chu Berry: Tenor Giants (1938-43 , Polygram): Part of a series of compilations from Milt Gabler's Commodore Records (founded 1938 and folded into Decca after WWII), not sure how I missed picking up this particular one. (I recommend the 2-CD The Commodore Story and single-artist sets by Eddie Condon and Lester Young, probably others if I racked my brain -- not an especially good period for Billie Holiday but not to be avoided.) These were scraps: two sessions each for Hawkins and Berry, none together. Berry, who died young (1908-41) played in the Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway bands, but doesn't have much as a leader. His sets here are fine, and Hawk's -- no surprise -- are even better. B+(***)
Joint Venture: Ways (1989 , Enja): Group name has been used many times (Discogs lists them as number 10), but this particular one recorded three 1987-94 albums, the principals being: Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Paul Smoker (trumpet), Drew Gress (bass), and Phil Haynes (drums). Somewhat hit-and-miss, although both horns have hot streaks. B+(***)
Bonnie Owens and Merle Haggard With the Strangers: Just Between the Two of Us (1966 , Capitol): Originally recorded for Tally but picked up and released as part of the deal that brought Haggard to Capitol. Not sure if this was the original attribution -- aside from the 2015 digital-only release, the only cover scan I'm seeing is a 2000 reissue on King that lists Haggard first. She was born Bonnie Campbell, started singing in 1947 and married Buck Owens in 1948, leaving around 1951. She met Haggard much later, married him in 1965, divorced him in 1978. She released six solo albums 1965-70, this one duet album, and backup up until their divorce and some years afterward. Nothing special, but they do sound good together. B+(**)
Blind Alfred Reed: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (1927-1929) (1927-29 , Document): Old-time country fiddler-singer, best known for the Depression Era classic "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live." Dust-to-Digital has a new edition, Appalachian Visionary, which remasters these twenty songs (plus two from the West Virginia Night Owls), packaged in a fancy 84-page hardcover book, but this is the set I found, and I can't complain about the sound. Several classics I recognize here, including a vision of heaven ("There'll Be No Distinction There") stunningly racist ("we'll all be white in that heavenly light") and sexist ("no aggravating women to boss the men around") and more jaw-droppers I had missed ("Woman's Been After Man Ever Since." Catchy in a primitive way, and sometimes you should face history warts and all. A-
Matt Wilson: As Wave Follows Wave (1996, Palmetto): First album, drummer-led tenor sax trio -- Dewey Redman and Cecil McBee -- with Larry Goldings joining in on organ on a couple cuts. B+(**)
Matt Wilson Quaret: Smile (1999, Palmetto): Two saxes here, with Joel Frahm (tenor/soprano) the steady hand, Andrew D'Angelo (alto/bass clarinet) the wild card. Yosuke Inoue plays acoustic and electric basses. B+(***)
Matt Wilson: Arts and Crafts (2000 , Palmetto): Another quartet, more conventional with piano (Larry Goldings), bass (Dennis Irwin), and one horn -- Terell Stafford on trumpet -- the album the namesake/group he would return to three more times. B+(***)
Matt Wilson Quartet: Humidity (2002 , Palmetto): Back to two saxes plus Yosuke Inoue's acoustic and electric bass, only with Jeff Lederer replacing Joel Frahm on tenor/soprano sax -- closer in tone and dynamics to Andrew D'Angelo (alto sax/bass clarinet). They sound like a double-barrel shotgun edition of Ornette Coleman -- not "double your fun" but at least some sort of approximation. A-
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, May 23. 2016
Music: Current count 26660  rated (+19), 428  unrated (+0).
Another low rated count this past week. Been busy with other stuff, and took my own sweet time with several of these items. Next week promises to be even more distracting, then I'll drive east, making the rounds (DC, NY, parts of New England which may or may not touch Boston, Buffalo, then back through Arkansas and Oklahoma). No real schedule other than June 1-5 in New York City, the main event my nephew's wedding. I haven't driven out of town since October, so I figure I'm overdue for a break from the humdrum. Just not sure how much longer I'll be able to do this sort of thing, so it's also something of a test.
Before I leave, I'll post a Rhapsody Streamnotes. Draft file has about 108 records in it, but only 48 are new -- most of the body count came from my Merle Haggard mop up nearly a month back. Very little new non-jazz in the draft file -- nothing A-list (vs. five A-list jazz albums), only three B+(***) (Open Mike Eagle, Homeboy Sandman, Linda Gail Lewis). Actually, until this month the year-in-progress list wasn't so imbalanced: it's currently 18 jazz, 13 non-jazz (counting Gary Lucas as jazz), so a month ago it must have been 13-13. I admit to not having looked very hard, with nearly all of those 13 non-jazz albums recommended by trusted sources: seven A- or higher from Robert Christgau, four more from Michael Tatum (counting Pet Shop Boys, which he wound up dropping to B+, and Gwen Stefani, which I got to first). That leaves Gambari Band and Margo Price (both on Jason Gubbels' First Quarter list.
Tatum published his second Downloader's Diary last week, which includes plaudits for two records not yet on Rhapsody: Beyoncé Lemonade and Robbie Fulks' Upland Stories. I'll get to them when I find them, but for now will only note that they are also Christgau-approved -- also haven't heard Kevin Gates' Islah, which Christgau likes (A-) and Tatum doesn't (B-). Only other quibble I have is the pan on Margo Price. Reminds me of the gripes some people had about Gillian Welch, complaining that her "authenticity" was fake because she hadn't earned it. Of course, could be that I have the record overrated -- I'm not terribly picky about clichés, and when I saw her on some late night show she came off quite dull. Should give it another spin at some point.
Christgau's column on Beyoncé and Kevin Gates is here. Hope to get an update done on his website by the time I drive off. Maybe he'll finally offer us a 2015 Dean's List?
Clifford Ocheltree and Phil Overeem both wrote in to assure me that the remastered sound on Dust-to-Digital's Blind Alfred Reed's book/CD, Appalachian Visionary. I had given a somewhat qualified A- to Document's old Reed compilation, the prosaically titled Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (1927-1929), so I took the unprecedented step of writing up an A- entry on the new comp in May's Rhapsody Streamnotes. That way it will show up on my year-end list, which is always hurting for reissues. I should, however, offer two warnings here: one is that the $30 list price is stiff, not that the fancy book won't be interesting; the other is that Reed is not for anyone who is the least bit squeamish about political correctness: he's probably a racist, and definitely a misogynist, and if you can't laugh at his absurdities, you shouldn't bother.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, May 22. 2016
No real time for this today, so I'll just try to note a few brief links without providing much in the way of commentary. Main thing that chewed up time today was my sister's birthday. She wanted a party in the new/very old house, although circumstances pretty much restricted us to the living room (repainted bright blue, wood floors refinished). She set up a table on my sawhorses, and I brought over a large pot of jambalaya and a spice cake -- two old never-fail standbys. Only work on the house today was to reinstall the toilet, but after rebuilding the bathroom floor and covering it with vinyl sheet that feels like a milestone.
One minor piece of housekeeping: Laura Tillem urged me to send an excerpt from last week's Blowing Smoke post on Hiroshima and Obama, and something like it was published in the Wichita Eagle's Letters to the Editor today:
OK, one big piece and long quote and comment:
And a few real brief links:
Monday, May 16. 2016
Music: Current count 26641  rated (+31), 428  unrated (+3).
Rated count rebounded last week from a low 16 the previous week. Most of the gain came from delving into the back catalog of soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom and drummer Matt Wilson. Both have good new records -- Wilson's Beginning of a Memory was a B+(***) last week, Bloom's Early Americans an A- below -- and sizable back catalogs going back to 1982 (Bloom) and 1996 (Wilson). I didn't find anything I didn't like, and did find a couple of albums that demanded A- grades.
For 2016 releases I've been working off several recent "so far" lists from redoubtable sources like Jason Gubbels and Phil Overeem. One recommendation there was a Dust-to-Digital compilation of Blind Alfred Reed called Appalachian Visionary. I couldn't find it but Rhapsody has Document's compilation of Reed's Complete Works, so I gave that a try. (The new compilation contains the same twenty songs plus two more attributed to the West Virginia Night Owls, and is packaged in an 84-page book.) I was conflicted on the grade: on the one hand, it features some of the worst misogynistic lyrics ever, and there's also that line about "we'll all be white in that heavenly light"; on the other the music grabs you even while it's obviously so primitive. And there's something to be said for its historical value.
The other old record that came up A- was a new compilation of Coleman Hawkins' European recordings. I didn't bother to check how redundant it is with other compilations I've heard -- I do know that it doesn't include the "Crazy Rhythm" sessions with Benny Carter and Django Reinhardt (one of the great moments in 1930s jazz). The Commodore sessions popped up in a search for something else. I'm pretty sure the Chu Berry sessions previously appeared on CD with some Lucky Thompson recordings: they're not enough to fill out a CD, and not great enough to validate Berry's legend. On the other hand, Hawkins' half could have been rated higher. I hedged because pretty much everything he recorded during the 1940s is brilliant.
I should also note that Paul Smoker died last week, age 75. Born 1941, played trumpet on various obscure avant-garde labels. I can't say as I've heard much of his early work, but Michael McNeill sent me his last two albums -- Landings and (with Phil Haynes) It Might Be Spring -- and they both came up A- for me. I'll look around for more -- probably won't find the CIMP albums, but maybe his Joint Venture with Ellery Eskelin?
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, May 15. 2016
A propos, I guess, of Obama's planned visit to Hiroshima this week, Tom Carson tweeted:
The visit has raised the question of whether Obama should, on behalf of the government he is president of, apologize for the deliberate slaughter of some 200,000 Japanese civilians -- and, for that matter, for the fact that the United States was the first and thus far is the only nation to violate the taboo against using nuclear weapons in a war. We've been assured that he will not, and indeed that he can not offer any such apology -- although Ramesh Ponnuru's reasoning rests on a fairly dubious assumption:
Like many issues, what passes for a consensus here is rooted in a serious lack of historical information and a lot of myths that try to continue justifying war in modern society. The history is complicated and elusive, but the from a pure present-tense view the immorality of the bombings should be obvious. I'm not saying that we should make a habit of revaluating past events through present sensibilities -- I would even go so far as to argue that doing so precludes us from being able to understand why history happened as it did -- but really, you cannot seriously claim that dropping nuclear bombs on two cities is in any sense justifiable morally. Sure, you might try to argue that in some case political and historical exigencies make it necessary to do such a thing, and you may present some calculation that such an act produces results that are less awful than not doing it, but that doesn't alter the matter of morality -- at least I don't see how it could.
The historical question was originally muddied by Harry ("the buck stops here") Truman, who as president ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on two Japanese cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Truman claimed that by using the bombs American troops might avoid having to invade and subdue the four main islands of Japan. His argument resonated because in recent battles -- especially Okinawa -- Japanese troops had refused surrender, fighting to the death, and because Japan surrendered unconditionally a few days after using (in Hirohito's words) "a new and most cruel bomb." This view has been repeated ever since, especially in the essay (and later book title) by Paul Fussell, Thank God for the Atom Bomb. (Fussell was a soldier who fought in Okinawa.)
Carson gives us a variation of this standard argument in his tweet -- although notably he includes future Japanese dead as well as American soldiers in the toll expected from invading Japan, a consideration that Truman and Fussell did not make in the least. Indeed, one could also include Japanese dead on all of their war fronts, as well as dead of their opponent armies and the civilians killed by both sides, and maybe even factor in some of those who starved or fell to disease, although the cease fire didn't put an immediate end to the latter. The nuclear bombs ultimately killed about 200,000 people, but you wouldn't have had to shorten the war by much to balance that out.
But even Carson is assuming here that the war had to be fought to a definitive end, that had the US not used nuclear bombs the only way to end the war would be through invasion, and that the invasion would have been far bloodier than Okinawa had been. (American deaths in Okinawa were 20,195, about 4% of all Americans to die in WWII. Japanese deaths included an estimated 77-110 thousand soldiers and 40-150 thousand civilians, i.e. 13-50% of the total civilian population. Japan had a population of 73 million in 1940.) Hardly anyone talks about the first point, since early in the war Roosevelt declared that he US would only accept unconditional surrender, but it's worth noting that that is rarely the way wars end, and in the end the US accepted a condition that Hirohito be allowed to continue, at least nominally, as Emperor (and not be prosecuted for war crimes).
We now know that by mid-1945 Japan was in extremely precarious straits: the US had effectively blockaded the homeland, isolating Japan's troops with no chance of resupply, and preventing import of food and other critical goods, causing widespread famine; and the US had bombed nearly every Japanese city, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions; many (perhaps most) government leaders saw that they had lost the war and were contemplating some sort of surrender; the Soviet Union, at the urging of the US, had finally declared war on Japan, which raised the prospect of divided occupation (as had already happened in Germany) -- some historians have suggested that fear of the Soviet Union had more to do with Japan's surrender to the US than the nuclear bombs did.
In 1965, Gar Alperovitz published the book Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, which argues that an important factor in the US decision to drop the atom bomb on Japan was a desire to intimidate the Soviet Union. I've never quite bought this argument: if the US had seen the Soviet Union as an adversary at that time, why would Truman have pressed Stalin to enter the war against Japan? For that matter, why invite Stalin if Truman had understood that the bomb would have proven so immediately decisive (and therefore so intimidating)? Stalin himself accelerated the Soviet Union's planned entry into the war, perhaps because he was aware of plans to drop the bomb, but more likely because he was aware of Japanese feelers aimed at negotiating peace -- the Soviet Union had been ostensibly neutral in the US-Japan conflict, so seemed to Japanese leaders like the obvious intermediary. Not clear to me whether Stalin jumped in to restore Russian imperial claims (many lost during the disastrous 1905 war with Japan), to advance communism (as happened with the partition of Korea), or simply to provide a counterweight to the expansion of American interests -- all likely factors. But Stalin commanded a huge mobilized and battle-hardened army that quickly routed the Japanese in Manchuria and would have proved decisive in a ground invasion of Japan. And there can be no doubt that Japan's leaders, both for nationalist and capitalist reasons, feared the Russians much more than they dreaded a purely American occupation.
Weighing these factors, I find the Soviet entry to be the more decisive factor behind surrender, but it's easy to understand why that aspect has been forgotten in America, and why the atom bomb has been raised to such a high pedestal. Some major reasons:
The thing to notice here is that the debate is less about the historical war than about later political stances. Still, those who do examine the history tend to raise questions, such as in this piece (which Milo Miles cited in response to Carson): Mark Weber: Was Hiroshima Necessary?. I think Weber makes a good case that a Japanese surrender could have been obtained without the atomic bombings. On the other hand, I also think that there was no way that either the political or military command in America could have decided to show such constraint, and I also believe that the bombings were a fitting end to the era of global imperialist war -- what Arno Mayer called the Thirty Years War of the Twentieth Century -- a demonstration of the futility of such war so graphic that no one could fail to get the point (not that certain vested interests didn't try).
As for the inevitability of the decision, you should understand three key things: how profoundly racist the US was regarding Japan (anti-Asian racism was layered on top of anti-African racism, but had a long and deep history in its own right, and that provided a prism even for viewing Japanese successes in stereotypes); how the US leadership had adopted an ethic of total war (something Churchill had practiced in WWI, but which when combined when racism would turn genocidal against Japan -- US firebombing of Japanese cities started well before Hiroshima); and nobody in the US command from Gen. Groves up seems to have really understood that nuclear weapons were anything more than souped up versions of the conventional bombs already used so prolifically, so it never occurred to them not to use a weapon they had invested so much money in (some scientists understood this, and eventually the concept sunk in).
No time tonight to unpack these three points, but John Dower's 1987 book War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War is the place to start on how racism fed into the war -- a prequel to Dower's Embracing Defeat, cited above. There are also numerous books on the history of anti-Asian racism in the US, not least on the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII -- itself a revealing prism into the racial attitudes of the time. There are even more books on the atom bomb project, of which Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb stand out.
One additional point I do wish to make is that the argument that had Truman not dropped the bomb the US would have had to invade Japan (as opposed to waiting for surrender) is at least as big and hoary a contrafactual as not dropping the bomb. The fact is that an orderly surrender with the Japanese political system intact was a much preferable solution than an invasion and occupation (as had already happened with Germany in 1945, although the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 is another example).
Also, the assumption that an invasion of Japan would have been a repeat of Okinawa scaled up about 150 times was unrealistic (basically a fever dream of American racism, which viewed all Japanese as preferring suicide to submission. Okinawa was a military outpost, where over 20% of the population was uniformed and ordered to sacrifice themselves to make Americans so fearful that they wouldn't dare invade. Japan itself had few soldiers left to defend the island -- most were stranded abroad -- and would have collapsed rapidly (not that the resulting chaos would have been easy to govern -- as I said, an orderly surrender was much preferable).
As Americans, we grow up accepting all sorts of self-flattering falsehoods, including the notion that the undoubted evil of the Axis powers' aggression justifies everything that the US did to defeat them. The fact is that the US did many things that later generations should be ashamed of, and apologizing for them would be one small but concrete step toward making sure that they never be repeated again. The genocidal bombing of cities with fire and, ultimately, nuclear radiation is just one glaring example. The fact is we never paid for those war crimes -- justice is something we imposed on defeated regimes without ever aspiring to ourselves, and failing to acknowledge that makes it seem that we needn't restrain ourselves from committing future war crimes (especially those explicitly called for by Trump, most Republicans, and more than a few prominent Democrats).
One last book I want to recommend is perhaps the most important, not least because it challenges so much of our accepted understanding of how WWII came about: Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (2008). One thing you will find there is documentation about various steps Roosevelt took to provoke the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which unified American public opinion in favor of entering the war. Another thing you will find is that the only people who made any serious efforts at preventing WWII before it broke out were pacifists. Anyone making excuses for the atrocities of war -- indeed for war itself -- is just blowing smoke.
Monday, May 9. 2016
Music: Current count 26610  rated (+16), 425  unrated (+3).
Huge drop in rated count this week, from +53 to +16. The explanation of the big count was that I was working through a deep catalog of old (and generally short) Merle Haggard albums on Rhapsody. Indeed, four of this week's sixteen were from the tail end of that project. I don't have a good explanation for the drop, although I did spend much more time working on my sister's house, where we've been playing vintage gold from one of my travel cases. Also seems like I had Claudia Quintet in my changer for two (or maybe three) days before I admitted I wasn't getting much out of it. The Ivo Perelman full house also got anywhere from three to six plays each. Other items that popped up came from a Phil Overeem best-of-so-far list (Charles Bradley, Dälek) and from an Expert Witness post (Homeboy Sandman, Lyrics Born). That didn't leave much time for the new jazz queue.
No time for a Weekend Roundup either. I was tempted by a piece in the Wichita Eagle (in the recycle now, can't find the link) about how negatively presumptive candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are viewed (you can find similar data here). The article predicted exceptionally nasty campaigning ahead. After all, you don't have to like your candidate -- just loathe him or her a bit less than the other one. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if the parties and their dark money backers weren't planning on spending upwards of a billion dollars amplifying their hate speech. Makes a good case for draining the money out of political campaigns.
One reason for taking a break is that I'm rather disgusted that both Cruz and Kasich quit after the Indiana primary, leaving Trump -- who was by no means a cinch to win on the first ballot, and almost certain to degrade on later ballots -- unopposed. Cruz is somewhat easier to take: his Indiana campaign was one of the worst I've seen, especially after the almost mechanical precision of his caucus wins and dominance of the Wisconsin primary. But Kasich had no expectations from Indiana, and should have gotten a big bump as the last anti-Trump candidate left. The reason they both dropped is likely the standard one: their money dried up as soon as they were seen as lost causes -- and that mattered to a donor class more interested in influence than ideology (which is pretty much uniform among Republicans, including Trump; Sanders, on the other hand, continues to raise money despite far worse odds, because he stands for something different than Clinton).
Another article that caught my eye was one predicting that this summer will be exceptionally hot here in Wichita. We've caught a break the last couple years, after heat waves in 2011-12 that broke dust bowl records from 1936. Also predicting an upsurge in severe thunderstorms, including tornados. Hasn't been bad so far, although we had a tornado watch yesterday, and more storms are forecast today (officially just a "severe thunderstorm watch" -- upgraded to "severe thunderstorm warning" as one passed through town around 6pm).
I haven't found much good information on the Fort McMurray wildfire, which has caused immense devastation in northeast Alberta, an area that was sparsely populated until recent expansion of tar sands operations. At 490,000 acres the burn area is somewhat larger than the 397,420 acres burned in the Anderson Creek wildfire southwest of Wichita, and the photos are more dramatic -- probably because Alberta is more forested (although I wonder whether all that tar, including waste tailings that have made the area such an environmental disaster, hasn't contributed something to the fire).
One last note on the music this week: although I picture two Merle Haggard best-ofs among the A/A- records on the right, the best single-disc Haggard collection remains 2007's Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard. It actually matches the 19 cuts of Best of the Capitol Years and adds six more later cuts. Haggard's post-Capitol stretch at MCA isn't all that good, but he did enough quality work for Epic (1981-87) to make The Essential Merle Haggard: The Epic Years worth having, and his post-2000 work is generally quite solid (no compilation yet). Still, his most famous songs came out on Capitol, mostly in the 1966-72 period.
One more note: I got email from a sysadmin today saying that my website (presumably tomhull.com) has been put on a "block list" by OpenDNS for malware. OpenDNS is some kind of commercial service, and all I'm seeing on their website is advertising, so I haven't been able to confirm that this is true, let alone find out why. If anyone can enlighten me, please do.
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:
Monday, May 2. 2016
Music: Current count 26594  rated (+53), 422  unrated (+9).
Spent first half of last week wrapping up the April Rhapsody Streamnotes column. One thing I did there was to compile a list of A/A- records in my database by the recently departed Merle Haggard and Prince. I noted that I was unable to use Rhapsody to fill in holes in my listings. Indeed, it appears that Rhapsody has none of Prince's albums online. However, I spoke too hastily regarding Haggard. Rhapsody's store is badly organized, and the old Capitol albums have reissue dates so it's not immediately clear what the chronological order is. But I finally went back and sorted that out, and blitzed through as much back catalog as I could find. The result is that the rated count this week exploded. Old country LPs are short, and I worked fast, rarely bothering with a second spin.
Also helped the record count that various aches and pains kept me from working on my sister's house all week. Not sure how much more Haggard there is to find -- none of the 1990s Curb albums are online, and I'm still missing Sing Me Back Home (1968), I Love Dixie Blues (1973), I'm Always on a Mountain When I Fall (1978), The Epic Collection (Recorded Live) (1983), duets with Bonnie Owens (1966) and Leona Williams (1983), the Strangers' instrumental albums (1969-73), scattered compilations, and bootlegs I don't care to get into. Still, this trawl doubled the number of Haggard albums in my database.
I also added Haggard's Songs I'll Always Sing (1965-74 , Capitol) to my A-list. The 2-LP compilation was one of the first tastes I had of Haggard, and I thought it was definitive until the 1990 CDs came out (Capitol Collectors' Series, Rhino's More of the Best). Sometimes I'm reminded of an album that should have been in my LP-era database but I somehow missed -- I don't recall when I started keeping the list, but it was just a memory aid before 2000 or so when I started to take it more seriously.
Recommended music links:
For some reason, Mikal Gilmore's excellent Rolling Stone piece on Merle Haggard, "The Outlaw," doesn't appear to be online.
Some recommended pieces I did find:
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, May 1. 2016
If all Democrats had the same beliefs and agenda, the only real question for the primaries would be who could best represent those values in the general election. Likewise, there would be no reason for candidates who weren't successful to continue, and when they withdrew they could be counted on to fall in behind the winner. But there are vast differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, so even though at this point it will be impossible for Sanders to overcome Clinton's lead, Sanders' supporters still have reason to get out and vote, and Sanders has an obligation to stay in the race and represent them -- at least as long as the campaign has sufficient funds, which doesn't appear to be a problem.
Sanders' people pretty much all understand this. They can give you a list of substantive platform differences between Sanders and Clinton. Moreover, they can point out that Sanders has a long and impressive record of sticking to his positions, whereas the Clintons have a history of playing up populist themes while they're campaigning then turning around and working for special interests once elections are over. Many voters, having been lied to and screwed over repeatedly, are looking not just for policies that help them but for politicians who will defend them tenaciously.
On the other hand, Clinton's people don't quite get this, although not always for the same reasons. Under her husband, the Democratic Party was refashioned from the party of labor to the party of highly educated socially-liberal professionals and businesses. Some people made a lot of money off the Clintons (and with a clear conscience), and they see nothing untoward in their triangulations -- indeed, they form the core of her donor class. Add to that those with some form of patronage attachment to the party: for them she represents success, and a meal ticket. Then there are the settlers: the people who accept the party line that significant changes are impossible given hard realities ranging from globalization to Republicans obstructionism. That, of course, is easier to accept if those realities haven't hit you personally that hard, but the age skew between Sanders and Clinton supporters suggests that they're getting harder to ignore. Indeed, Clinton's most favorable demographic got their start in more benign economic times -- before the Clintons came to power.
Less partisan observers may have noticed that the Clintons actually had something to do with the rise of the superrich and the hollowing out of the middle class, the creation of an economy that is stagnant for all but the rich, and the cult of austerity that thrown such a wet blanket on the very possibility that "the government of the people" might actually work to the benefit of the vast majority. Indeed, Thomas Frank has argued that only a Democrat could have blunted rank-and-file opposition to allow things like NAFTA, "welfare reform," deregulating banks and financial markets, declaring "the era of big government is over," and balancing the budget to pass -- all "highlights" of Bill Clinton's presidency. Frank even argues that Democrats like Clinton may turn out to be much worse than the "lesser evil" they're often viewed on the left as.
Both political parties are necessarily coalitions of imperfectly aligned interests, some attracted positively, others negatively. Both have always crossed class lines, because money has always mattered in American politics, and increasingly so lately. As the middle class withered, both have had to find voters where they could. The GOP went for the white backlash vote, playing up religion and patriotism (war) and the "fear of falling" (as Barbara Ehrenreich put it), while using whatever power they gained to feather the coffers of the rich. That cost the Democrats large chunks of their New Deal coalition -- Baptists in the South, Catholics in the North -- while the unions declined and shifted from manufacturing to services (mostly government), which they eventually replaced with educated professionals, high-tech businesses, and anyone sufficiently terrified by the rightward march of Republicans.
Still, if we've learned anything from this year's primaries, it's that the masses who picked their party negatively have started to turn on the party leaders. We've seen this in Democratic Party with the widespread rejection of Hillary Clinton -- has any Democrat other than an incumbent president ever started with such complete control of the party, then gone on to perform so poorly? Bernie Sanders nearly upset her, running on a platform the party rulers couldn't even conceive of. And something similar happened among the Republicans, where the masses preferred Donald Trump to every proper establishment candidate (even the loathsome Ted Cruz).
I started writing this to introduce some comments on recent posts by Paul Krugman, who has been so relentless in his recent attempts to discredit Bernie Sanders that he's risking becoming an incoherent crank. For instance, see Why I Haven't Felt the Bern and Sarandonizing Economics, as well as minor digs like A Note on the Soda Tax Controversy (really? I wouldn't mind a VAT if other taxes were sufficiently progressive, but a sin tax on soda is just the sort of moral snub that makes liberals seem so overbearing, so intent on imposing their values on everyone else). The "Sarandonizing" post only mentions the actress/activist once:
So Sarandon is "evil and useless" because made a joke about Hillary -- one that is built on numerous kernels of truth, from her past as a "Goldwater girl" to other traits we associate more with Republicans, like her coziness with Walmart (she's a former board member) and Goldman Sachs (that $650k speech) to her notorious hawkishness. What makes the joke effective (maybe even insidious) is the suspicion that Hillary's not really on our side -- that when push comes to shove she'll always wind up siding with the people who got the money and the power. That's certainly her track record. Why should we think that now will be any different?
For some reason, Krugman can't stand the idea that anyone on the left should have the temerity to question Clinton's leadership. She is, after all, the only person standing between civilization as we know it and the Republican Dark Ages. Still, it's not just Clinton he's getting so defensive about. It's also the authority of all those Very Serious People in the economic profession that he hasn't already lampooned himself: you know, the ones like Christy Romer and Larry Summers (and himself) who properly understand the true gospel of IS/LM. He's upset that Sanders is proposing a very serious expansion in the level of investment in infrastructure, not so much because he's against such investments as because some pro-Sanders economists have argued that the expansion will result in a level of economic growth (like 4.5%) that his own faction of economists have decided is impossible -- therefore he's repeatedly panned such analyses as equivalent to the "supply side" snake oil that right-wing ideologues like Arthur Laffer have been peddling.
When Krugman tries to explain his position, he gets slippery:
What's he trying to say here? That the left only has pie-in-the-sky visions, but can't come up with any stepwise programs to get there? (That the only "reforms" possible are cynical schemes that right-wing think tanks used to kick out, the sort of things Clinton/Obama have dusted off and presented as bipartisan?) And that the left cannot even defend their pie-in-the-sky on its merits without sinking into "ad hominem" attacks against their supposed enemies, because they're fundamentally irrational and vindictive even when they see themselves as idealistic? Or is he just talking about Sanders, who by simplifying leftist ideas into sound bites has brought out his followers latent anti-intellectualism? Or is he just saying that only professional mandarins like himself are competent to weigh in on economic matters?
There can be no doubt that social scientists have a bad history of doing "research" that winds up doing little more than advancing their prejudices. For starters, we can point to the history of race studies, since virtually every "scientific" claim to find differences has been thoroughly debunked. Economics is rife with political scams, and Krugman has slayed more than a few of them. Back when I majored in sociology, it seems like I spent most of my time identifying untoward presumptions in studies -- indeed, a common textbook at the time was How to Lie With Statistics. David Hackett Fischer wrote a whole book cataloguing Historian's Fallacies. So Krugman's warning against something real, but rejecting Sanders' programs out of hand is every bit as arbitrary. If he didn't start out with a political bone to pick, he might put some effort into refining the proposals. For instance, he's probably right that breaking up "too big to fail" banks doesn't solve the problems with "shadow banking," and he may even be right that the latter is more crucial than the former. So why not show Sanders that it's possible to come up with a plan that better achieves his goals? One reason might be he's opposed to those goals. Another is that he just doesn't like Sanders or his followers. Another is that he's committed to Hillary regardless of the issues.
I don't know which it is, but Krugman certainly fits Frank's concept of "the liberal class" -- that may be pigeonholing him a bit, but for the most part the shoe fits. His reluctance to back Sanders, much like the reluctance of similarly aged, educated, and well-heeled feminists like Gloria Steinem, smacks of class consciousness. Even if they can understand and empathize with the profound damage caused by inequality and war, they still feel that class bond with Hillary, not least because in large part they've personally never felt the costs of her mistakes.
Sure, I snuck war into that line belatedly, but that's a perilous issue to ignore with Hillary. And much like economists like Krugman are very good at rationalizing liberal compromises -- indeed, it was mostly Krugman who convince me that ACA was a pretty significant improvement even though it was far from what I wanted -- there exists a comparable body of foreign policy and security mandarins that can be counted on to rationalize all sorts of American military interventions, regardless of the track record of previous wars. I'd even say that the latter are far worse than the economists -- the latter are blinkered to alternative approaches, but the former are nothing less than obsessed with their own hegemony.
I'm reminded here of something McGeorge Bundy said, about the difference between how Kennedy and Johnson approached the challenges of war: Kennedy wanted to be smart, but Johnson wanted to be seen as tough. Both faced pressures to escalate the wars in Southeast Asia, and while Kennedy did some things there that turned out to be not so smart, Johnson made the really disastrous decisions. One might say the same things about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: he wants to be smart (but isn't always), and she wants to be seen as tough (even if that puts her in the "do stupid shit" faction). That's an analogy that doesn't bode well.
I also wanted to mention David Frum: How to Save the Republican Party, aside from begging the question of "why bother" -- we now seem to be generations removed from any form of Republican Party that that might make any sort of constructive contribution to the political system. Still, Frum's vantage point on the far right occasionally yields insights, like his observation that where the Republicans fear their base, the Democrats loathe theirs. Consider this:
When I first read this I reasoned that he was generalizing about both parties -- that "the center" rose up to nominate Clinton as well as Trump -- but he's really only concerned with the Republicans. Still, although Sanders is well to the left of Clinton, Sanders' supporters may well be closer to the center, certainly to the "underrepresented" masses that flocked to Trump. That the Democratic Party end of the "duopoly" was able to prevail over the uprising was mostly due to the party elites' unity behind a single candidate. The Republican elites had no such unity, partly because all of the candidates recited from the same party talking points -- or so it seemed at first.
The only issue Republicans were much divided on was immigration, where elites liked the idea of using guest workers to weaken labor markets, but a great many Republican-leaners were fantic not just in opposition to "amnesty" but to anything that would dilute white America. And that was the issue Trump captured, not by taking the most uncompromising stand possible but by expressing his stand with the most unforgivable rhetoric -- folks knew he meant it when he wouldn't take it back. Trump later proved shameless, refusing to walk back one gaffe after another, everything from quoting Mussolini to getting endorsed by David Duke. His willingness to go off message started to trouble the party nabobs, but all they seemed to be able to charge Trump with was not being a true conservative. As Frum shows, that turned out to be a toothless complaint, as nothing the GOP has been peddling has resonated less with the base than laissez-faire economics. One suspects that the real problem party bigwigs have with Trump is that he risks unselling their scams to help the rich. Indeed, one thing that makes him suspect is that he isn't under the thumb of a trusted billionaire. He is his own billionaire, which makes him less controllable -- even if he ultimately reverts to pursuing his own self-interest (like his doppelganger Berlusconi).
Frum is properly alarmed by Trump, and blames "the failings and self-seeking of Republican leaders":
Frum thinks it's possible to save the party by articulating a program which actually serves the base, that returns some tangible reward for their support. I have no idea what that might look like, because I don't see anything Republicans support or believe in that offers any actual hope to anyone but the already rich.
On the other hand, one can imagine the Democratic Party flipping from Clinton to Sanders, much as they previously flipped from Grover Cleveland to William Jennings Bryan, or from Al Smith to Franklin Roosevelt. Such changes occur when conservative elites no longer have answers for real world problems. But Republicans have no answers: just homilies to "family values," and a media that stokes seething rage against their supposed enemies (pretty much everyone but the rich, and even there they manage to find enemies).
Some miscellaneous links (since this is Sunday):
Thursday, April 28. 2016
Not much to say here. Fairly typical month: four weeks, 125 records. Only nine 2015 releases, although I still don't feel like I have a handle on 2016 -- indeed, I can't say as I'm trying. Just wading through, checking out things I notice -- following my mail, plus a few trustworthy critics.
Two major deaths this past month: Merle Haggard and Prince. Tried to look them up on Rhapsody to see what I've missed, but not much from either (actually nothing from Prince, a fair amount of Haggard but it will take some effort to straighten out the order -- maybe next month). As it is I have 27 Haggard albums in the database (including two filed under Willie Nelson), and 24 from Prince -- the former include more compilations, especially drawn from the early albums, and still wind up representing a smaller share of the total. I won't list them all, but here's the A-list (sorted chronologically):
I was a little more pro-active on news of the death of Ethiopian tenor saxophonist Getatchew Merkuria. I had heard him on Either/Orchestra's Live in Addis, knew that he had a well-regarded volume in Buda Musique's Éthiopiques series, and that he had a couple albums with the Dutch anarcho-punk group Ex. I was pleased to find the comp on Rhapsody, and two live albums with Ex on Bandcamp, so I tuned right into them. The Ex had also put their complete works up on Bandcamp, so I decided to fill in all the many albums I had missed, so see "Old Music" below for the rundown.
I suppose I should note that the total number of records I've run through this wringer since 2007 has topped 8000. That doesn't include the old Recycled Goods and Jazz Prospecting columns, which were done on the basis of actual CDs. I suspended those columns back in January 2014, folding the stuff I would have reviewed there into here. About one-third of the records below were reviewed from CDs (44/125, 35.2%, all jazz). What put the "Rhapsody" in "Rhapsody Streamnotes" was a (temporary) gratis subscription to the streaming service. I figured as long as I was listening I should keep notes, even if they don't amount to real reviews. That's still my practice, and a fair number of the notes that follow are far from adequate to give you a good sense of the record. Still, only so much time to go around.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody (other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (8045 records).
Antonio Adolfo: Tropical Infinito (2016, AAM): Brazilian pianist, has a couple dozen albums since 1969, nearing 70 now. Adds a horn section here -- Jesse Sadoc on trumpet and Marcelo Martins on sax -- considers guitarist Claudio Spiewak a special guest. Two originals, two other Brazilian pieces, but starts with two Benny Golson tunes, adds one each from Oliver Nelson and Horace Silver, plus "All the Things You Are" -- not just nice but delightful. B+(***) [cd]
Africaine 808: Basar (2016, Golf Channel): Berlin-based duo, Dirk Leyers and DJ Nomad, plunder their world music samples and jack them up for the dancefloor. B+(***) [bc]
Cyrille Aimée: Let's Get Lost (2016, Mack Avenue): French jazz singer, based in New York, usually sings standards but comes up with four originals here, usually sings in English but has two songs in French and one in Spanish. Backed by guitar-bass-drums, gives it an informal feel. Title usually denotes a Chet Baker crush but here it's just another Frank Loesser-Jimmy McHugh standard. B+(*)
Ralph Alessi: Quiver (2014 , ECM): Trumpet player, long struck me as a guy who stars on others' albums, now has a dozen or so albums under his own name. Quartet, with Gary Versace (piano), Drew Gress (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums). Format focuses hard on Alessi, who doesn't disappoint. B+(***) [dl]
Katy B: Honey (2016, Virgin EMI): British pop singer Kathleen Brien, third album, enough of an established powerhouse that every song gets "featuring" help and nearly every song gets its own unique producer (Geeneus five times, but paired with someone different each time). Consistent enough that they all seem to have read the same business plan. Also that none came up with a single you're going to remember this album by. B+(**)
Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Continuum (2015 , ECM): Swiss pianist, alternates between his "zen-funk" group Ronin and this slightly more streamlined ensemble -- clarinetist Sha plays in both but is less conspicuous here, merely coloring the rhythmic figures, as do the strings. The patterns remain compelling, maybe even danceable. A- [dl]
Beauty School: Residual Ugly (2015, Humbler): Matt Chandler (bass guitar), Tom Djll (electronics + trumpet), Jacob Felix Heule (percussion + electronics) -- basically improv noise, or as they put it, "extreme extended techniques . . . with nasty homemade electronics and circuit-bent keyboards. Eleven untitled cuts, 48:01, originally released on Chrome Plus "CP-Extra" tape because that's "up to 4 decibels 'hotter' than other chrome tapes. They were proud enough of their work to send me a cassette, which I couldn't play, so I'm belatedly working off Bandcamp -- which I imagine is a good 4 dB cooler than they intended. B+(*) [bc]
Bibio: A Mineral Love (2016, Warp): Stephen Wilkinson, English, seemed more of a laptronica guy at first but is singing more, turning into a falsetto soul man, which isn't significantly distinct from false soul man. B
Big Ups: Before a Million Universes (2016, Exploding/Tough Love): Brooklyn post-hardcore group, second album, like with their first (Eighteen Hours of Static) I find their grind and growl little short of contagious. B+(***)
Bombino: Azel (2016, Partisan): Guitarist Omara Moctar, from Niger, started in Group Bombino and kept the name, left for Burkina Faso, then finally to the US, recording his 2013 album in Nashville with Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), and this one in Woodstock with Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors). B+(***)
Jaimeo Brown Transcendence: Work Songs (2016, Motéma): Drummer, second album, liked his first album title so much he kept it as part of his artist credit. This is built around field recordings of work songs from Mississippi to Japan. Guitarist Chris Sholar co-produced, saxophonists Jaleel Shaw (alto) and JD Allen (tenor) impress, and the keyboards fill in. B+(***)
The Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Interview Music (2015 , Kabocha): Trumpet player, several albums since 2005. Sextet -- yes, there exists a more succinct term than "quintet + 1" -- includes bass clarinet (Sheldon Brown), alto sax (Kasey Knudsen), piano (Adam Shulman), bass and drums. Title piece a sprawling suite with four parts and an interlude, a fine example of postbop composition and arrangement. B+(***) [cd]
Hayes Carll: Lovers and Leavers (2016, Highway 87): Country singer-songwriter, last couple albums have had some remarkably funny songs (best ever is "She Left Me for Jesus") but the only one here with so much as a light touch is "Love Is So Easy." One problem may be that the leavers outnumber the lovers. Another may be that they all have co-authors, although Darrell Scott is most frequent. Much less disappointed on the second pass. B+(***)
Cavern of Anti-Matter: Void Beats/Invocation Trex (2016, Duophonic): Berlin-based project of keyboardist Holger Zapf and Stereolab members Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth. Too much guitar to really qualify as Krautrock, but their instrumental pieces (especially the 12:51 opener "Tardis Cymbals") are delightful, the song with vocals not bad, and the other vocal snippets not without interest. B+(***)
Bill Charlap Trio: Notes From New York (2015 , Impulse): Mainstream pianist, a bit retro even, twenty albums since 1994, mostly (as here) doing standards. Trio, with Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, has been together a long time (at least since 2004). Expert, although it's been a while since I've found him dazzling. B+(*)
Charli XCX: Vroom Vroom (2016, Vroom Vroom, EP): Brit pop star, really liked her second album, Sucker. Four rather prickly songs, 12:18, much tease but not a lot of payoff. B+(*)
Chimurenga Renaissance: Rize Vadzimu Rize (2014, Brick Lane): Project formed by Tandal "Baba" Maraire (Shabazz Palaces) with rapper Hussein Kalonji (aka H-Bomb), borrowing liberally from Zimbabwe's signature music -- although sometimes that isn't evident. Rather, what you get is a dense, rather busy underground rap record, albeit one that aims higher. B+(*)
Chimurenga Renaissance: Girlz With Gunz (2016, Glitterbeat, EP): Eleven short cuts, 26 minutes, busier than ever. B+(*)
Rob Clearfield: Islands (2016, Ears & Eyes): Plays piano, electric piano, organ, and guitar, backed here by bass and drums. B+(*)
The Coathangers: Nosebleed Weekend (2016, Suicide Squeeze): Atlanta girl group, or punk trio if you'd prefer, fifth album, have advanced melodically and chops-wise which is only natural, but stay true to their roots. A-
Shemekia Copeland: Outskirts of Love (2015, Alligator): Blues semi-legend Johnny Copeland's daughter, seventh album since 1998. Big voice, helps to pick good songs ("Long as I Can See the Light," "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy"). B+(*)
Matt Criscuolo: The Dialogue (2016, Jazzeria): Alto saxophonist, half-dozen albums since 2001. Takes a sharp bite with the opener, and only lets up to let "featuring" guitarist Tony Purrone make his mark. Quartet with Dave Anderson on bass and Will Calhoun on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Daria: Strawberry Fields Forever: Songs by the Beatles (2016, OA2): San Francisco-based jazz singer -- AMG classifies her as "Children's Jazz" -- last name Mautner (which I learned from the credit for the one song I didn't recognize), has a handful of albums since 1998. Beatles songs have been notoriously unjazzable, so I didn't expect much, but she does come up with some novel ideas ("Can't Buy Me Love" works), even if most of them are little more than Latin percussion. B+(*) [cd]
Stephen Davis/Ralph Alessi/Kris Davis: Sugar Blade (2015, Babel): Belfast-based drummer, has previously recorded as Steve Davis or Steven Davis but perhaps switched to steer clear of American jazz drummer Steve Davis. He's mostly worked with Paul Dunmall in the past, so is used to playing fast and loose. The others, playing trumpet and piano, are better known, playing to form here, but not much more. B+(**)
Eli Degibri: Cliff Hangin' (2014 , Blujazz): Israeli saxophonist (tenor and soprano), has a half-dozen albums since 2003, this a quartet with piano (Gadi Lehavi), bass (Barak Mori), and drums (Ofri Nehemya). Pretty conventional, although his tone is down right lustrous and the rhythm is mostly upbeat. Shlomo Ydov joins in on one song, playing guitar and singing -- voice and phrasing reminds me of Robert Wyatt. B+(*) [cd]
The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Comin' Home Baby (2014 , Origin): Drummer-singer, mostly swings standards, throwing in some blues, a couple Jobims, a couple songs by Bob Dorough and David Frishberg. He opens, then wife Bonnie Eisele enters and outshines him, a shtick Louis Prima and Keely Smith pioneered. Cover shows a couple horn players but they're not in the credits -- just Johannes Bjerregaard on piano and Chris Luard on bass. B+(***) [cd]
Dressy Bessy: Kingsized (2016, Yep Roc): Denver alt/indie band, fronted by singer-guitarist Tammy Ealom, shares a guitarist with Apples in Stereo, has a half-dozen albums going back to 1999, their previous in 2008. B+(**)
Flatbush Zombies: 3001: A Laced Odyssey (2016, Glorious Dead): Brooklyn rap group, first album (after several mixtapes), a concept thang. Underground beats, not sure what else. B+(**)
Michael Formanek/Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (2014 , ECM): Bassist, over a dozen albums since 1986, composed the title piece and eight parts of "Exoskeleton" for an 18-piece New York big band -- only name I didn't recognize on the roster was that of the marimba player -- turning the conductor duties over to fellow bassist Mark Helias. A commanding group, lots of power behind the tricky compositions. B+(***) [dl]
Nick Fraser Quartet: Starer (2015 , self-released): Drummer, from Canada, based in Toronto, same group as on the excellent 2013 Towns and Villages: Tony Malaby (tenor/soprano sax), Andrew Downing (cello), and Rob Clutton (double bass). Free jazz, focus seems to shift more toward the cello, with Malaby fading away. B+(**) [cd]
James Freeman: Echoes of Nature III (2016, Edgetone): Plays guitar and synthesizer, has two previous Echoes of Nature albums. Here, at least, the echoes are mostly bird sounds and some wind and rain, dotted around the unnatural sounds of Mads Tolling's violin, Yehudit's viola, and Nika Rejto's flute. B- [cd]
Matthew Fries: Parallel States (2015 , Xcappa): Pianist, three previous records going back to 2001. This one is solo, all original material. B+(*)
Gambari Band: Kokuma (2016, Membran Media): Mali group, includes several relatives who formerly played in Bassekou Kouyaté's Ngoni Ba group. Finds that sweet spot in the middle of Mali's pop spectrum and gently holds sway over it. A-
Jean-Brice Godet Quartet: Mujô (2013 , Fou): French, plays bass clarinet, looks like this may be his first album although he's appeared on maybe 10-12, with a couple groups, also with Joëlle Léandre. Here, with Michaël Attias (alto sax, a good match), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), and Carlo Costa (drums). B+(***) [cd]
GoGo Penguin: Man Made Object (2015 , Blue Note): Piano trio -- Chris Illingworth, Nick Blacka, Rob Turner -- , from Manchester in UK, has a couple previous albums, their last making the Mercury Award's short list, so they have some crossover appeal, more like EST than Bad Plus or Dawn of Midi, but simpler patterns, more Eno, more ambient. Could grow on you, but may still not seem like it amounts to much. B+(***)
Alex Goodman: Border Crossing (2016, OA2): Guitarist, has a previous album, wrote all the songs here but effectively turns this one over to singer Felicity Williams. B- [cd]
PJ Harvey: The Hope Six Demolition Project (2015 , Vagrant): More political than ever, not that I find that especially easy to gauge. Still, mostly lacks the raw nerve of her best (and worst) records, and not as catchy as I'd like. Still, when the sax comes out (e.g., "The Ministry of Social Affairs"), I wonder if I shouldn't listen more. B+(**)
Alexander Hawkins/Evan Parker: Leaps in Leicester (2015 , Clean Feed): Improv duo, piano and tenor sax, the former a young guy who can play with avant-gardists -- his group Decoy has several albums with Joe McPhee -- and other styles, the latter one of the legendary founders of European free jazz. A bit subdued, which makes the music seem less radical than it is. A- [cd]
Mayer Hawthorne: Man About Town (2016, Vagrant): If you want Motown revival, why not a white guy from Ann Arbor (given name Andrew Cohen)? Fourth album, not counting the Tuxedo duo I liked so much last year (pushed the envelope into disco). He does a pretty fair Smokey here. B+(**)
The Heliocentrics: From the Deep (2016, Now-Again): London-based jazz-funk group, name inspired by Sun Ra, best known for collaborations with exotic obscurities (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius). Those guests add various degrees of charisma which the band itself lacks, not that they can't kick up an engaging groove. B+(***)
Louis Heriveaux: Triadic Episode (2014 , Hot Shoe): Pianist, trio with Curtis Lundy and Terreon Gully, looks to be his first although he has side credits going back to 1993. Three originals, one with the bassist, a couple more from the band, but mostly standards buffed up bright and shiny. B+(**) [cd]
Keefe Jackson/Jason Adasiewicz: Rows and Rows (2015 , Delmark): Duets, tenor sax/bass clarinet and vibes, both established players in Chicago's avant-jazz scene. Drags a bit, as often happens in duo albums with no one pushing the pace. B+(*) [cd]
Russ Johnson: Meeting Point (2014, Relay): Trumpet player, more of a postbop player than avant but having moved to Chicago he's come up with a quartet that begs the difference: Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Anton Hatwich (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Kamaiyah: A Good Night in the Ghetto (2016, self-released): Bay Area rapper, 20 years old, first mixtape. Reads retro but has a hard edge, low budget feel, nothing frilly, plenty catchy. B+(**)
Sari Kessler: Do Right (2016, Ruby Street Music): Standards singer, first album, attracted some first-rate musicians including Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet), Houston Person (tenor sax), Ron Affif (guitar), and John di Martino (piano). B+(*) [cd]
Julie Kjaer 3: Dobbeltgaenger (2015 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, website bio doesn't bother with any mundane details like when and where born, where she studied, where she lives, but she does appear to have a previous Kvartet album, a group called Pierette Ensemble, and a chair in Paal Nilssen-Love's Large Unit. Elsewhere I find that she's Danish and based in London, which would put her close to her trio mates, John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums). I may soft on avant sax trios, but this hits all the right buttons. A- [cd]
La Sera: Music for Listening to Music To (2016, Polyvinyl): Fourth album by ex-Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman, expanded to a duo with husband Todd Wisenbaker, produced by Ryan Adams trying to span (or more accurately find a sweet spot between) "garagey pop [and] twangy country." B+(**)
Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: Solidarity (2014 , Unseen Rain): Trumpet player, one of the first places I noticed him was in William Parker's Little Huey Orchestra, and here he is returning with his own avant big band. Sixteen musicians (counting vocalist Anaïs Maviel), nothing conventional about the lineup -- Lavelle is the only brass player, the four saxes are joined by flute and bassoon; you also get violin, cello, guitar (Anders Nilsson), banjo, and vibraphone as well as piano-bass-drums. Feels like a bit too much "kitchen sink," but the revivalist closer ("Faith") is pretty rousing. B+(**) [cd]
Gary Lucas' Fleischerei: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons (2015 , Cuneiform): Max Fleischer (1883-1972) was born in Krakow, emigrated to New York when he was four, and grew up to be a pioneer in the art and technology of animated film, where his characters included Betty Boop and Popeye. Lucas is a guitarist with a checkered career since he joined Captain Beefheart in 1980, with a couple dozen albums under all sorts of names since 1991. Aside from the songs, the star here is Sarah Stiles, who gets the corniness of the jazz era perfect, then makes the switch from Boop to Olive Oyl for the Popeye-Barnacle Bill operetta finale. First-rate jazz band too: Joe Fiedler (trombone), Jeff Lederer (reeds), Michael Bates (bass), and Rob Garcia (drums). A- [dl]
Steven Lugerner: Jacknife: The Music of Jackie McLean (2015 , Primary): Alto saxophonist, has several impressive albums, describes his group -- takes their name from a McLean nickname, also the title of a 1970s compilation which was my intro to the alto great -- as postbop, although the sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums quintet is one I associate more with hard bop. But then, McLean's 1959-67 Blue Note albums practically invented postbop, moving from hard bop through avant-garde and into the synthesis postbop was founded on. Only two of six songs here were actually penned by McLean (two come from Charles Tolliver), but they all sound right, even if McLean's precise tone remains unique. B+(***) [cd]
The Tony Lustig Quintet: Taking Flight (2016, Bimperl): Originally from Detroit, now based in New York, plays baritone sax and bass clarinet. Hype sheet notes he "believes strongly in warmth and groove," and that's evident on this debut album. He does have a couple side credits with trombonist Michael Dease, who appears here, backed by piano-bass-drums. B+(**) [cd]
Roberto Magris: Need to Bring Out Love (2016, JMood): Mainstream pianist, from Italy, has quite a few albums. Trio, with Dominique Sanders on bass and Brian Steever on drums, with three vocals -- two by Julia Haile, one with Monique Danielle. B+(**) [cdr]
The Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody (2016, McCoury Music): As the cover explains, "Original lyrics of Woody Guthrie set to music by Del McCoury" -- something Wilco, Billy Bragg, the Klezmatics, and others have also done before, but the supply of worthwhile Guthrie lyrics is deep, and the bluegrass settings seem luxuriant compared to the folksinger's own recordings. You can't doubt McCoury's pedigree: he did a stint with Bill Monroe in 1963, and has run his own band (lately with two sons) since 1968. A-
Adam Meckler Quintet: Wonder (2015 , Shifting Paradigm): Trumpet player from Minnesota, second album, with tenor sax (Joe Mayo on one track, Nelson Devereaux on the rest), guitar (Zacc Harris), bass and drums. Postbop, some tricks up their sleeves. B+(**) [cd]
Daniel Meron: Sky Begins (2015 , Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit): Pianist-composer, leads a trio here plus vocalist, Maia Karo, also his wife. Art songs, a bit too tricky for voice, or do I mean the singer? B [cd]
Jane Monheit: The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (2015 , Emerald City): Standards singer, close to a dozen albums since 2000, the few I've heard unimpressive, but trawling in Ella's wake gives her a wide choice of great songs, and she doesn't go for anything too obvious. Pianist Michael Kaman's group will win no prizes for swinging, but they prop her up nicely, and Nicholas Payton's trumpet is a definite plus. B+(*) [cd]
Moodymann: DJ-Kicks (2016, !K7): Detroit DJ Kenny Dixon Jr. throws together a mixtape that sounds older than it probably is, mostly because he searches out soulful vocals to go with the beats. B+(**)
Roy Nathanson: Nearness and You (2015 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, led the Jazz Passengers with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes since 1987, also credited with soprano and baritone sax and voice here. This is a set of duets with a revolving cast: pianists Arturo O'Farrill, Anthony Coleman, and Myra Melford; trombonists Fowlkes and Lucy Hollier; Marc Ribot on acoustic guitar. Opens with Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," reprised four more times as "You" turns into "Ewes," "Youse," "Jews," and "You Too," with stilted but oddly touching vocals. B+(*) [cd]
Scott Neumann/Tom Christensen: Spin Cycle (2015 , Sound Footing): Drums and saxophone (tenor/soprano), each has a couple albums, this one a quartet with Pete McCann on guitar and Phil Palombi on bass -- their names get smaller print on the cover. Not clear to me what this album wants to be: it is rough and noisy, sometimes rockish, sometimes avant, sometimes I know not what. B+(*) [cd]
New Zion w. Cyro: Sunshine Seas (2016, Rare Noise): That's how the cover reads. Hype sheet is more expansive: "Jamie Saft's New Zion . . . Featuring Brazilian Percussionist Cyro Baptista." Saft plays keyboards, fluffing up dub riddims which Baptista riffs on. Title track has a vocal by Vanessa Saft. All very pleasant. B+(**) [cdr]
Noertker's Moxie & the Melancholics: Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck (2016, Edgetone): Composed and arranged by bassist Bill Noertker. Beck, otherwise unknown to me, plays baritone sax, but evidently is also a graphic artist, the subject of a documentary this music is the soundtrack to. Pleasant in that way, with oboe and flute among the reeds but no brass. B+(*) [cd]
The Oatmeal Jazz Combo: Instant Oats (2016, LGY): Octet, founded at Stony Brook in 2009, fifth album. Trumpet, reeds, trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums, steel pan. Postbop, jaunty over the trombone rumble. B+(*) [cd]
Phil Palombi: Detroit Lean (2015 , Xcappa): Bassist, plays electric and "Scott LaFaro's Prescott bass" -- did a record in 2011 called Re: Person I Knew: A Tribute to Scott LaFaro and has published a book titled Scott LaFaro -- 15 Solo Transcriptions, but LaFaro died in 1961 so I don't see how the math works out (Palombi's credits start around 1996 when he joined Maynard Ferguson). Nice album here, interesting rhythms, better solos from pianist Matthew Fries than on his own record, some flamenco guitar by Tony Romano, and quite a few bass solos. B+(***) [cd]
Parquet Courts: Human Performance (2016, Rough Trade): Probably the alt/indie band of the decade, based on two previous albums and several EPs, evolves a bit, their sound adding traces of Pavement (the alt/indie band of the 1990s) to their Velvets motherlode. Takes longer to digest, especially since there are more ballads than burners. A-
Pet Shop Boys: Super (2016, X2): Two spins, lead song "Happiness" has yet to connect but "The Pop Kids" would fit perfectly into their 1980s best-of, and other songs already remind me of Very. Sometimes you have to step back to go forward. A-
Pierette Ensemble: Akrostik (2014, Gateway Music): Group name is saxophonist Julie Kjaer's play on "Pierrot ensemble" -- a musical ensemble comprising flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, sometimes voice and/or percussion, per Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. Kjaer handles the flutes but also plays alto sax, and Pernille Brevort fills the clarinet slot with tenor sax and bass clarinet. B+(***)
Noah Preminger: Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (2015 , self-released): Tenor saxophonist, has had an impressive run of albums since his 2008 debut, but this blues-focused quartet with Jason Palmer on trumpet has trouble getting in gear. Title song from Blind Willie Johnson, others include Blind Lemon Jefferson, Skip James, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and Mississippi John Hurt. B+(*) [cd]
Margo Price: Midwest Farmer's Daughter (2016, Third Man): It takes two songs for the Loretta Lynn wannabe to make it obvious. Still, not a bad affectation, and that harder-to-peg first song is also pretty good. A-
Restroy: Saturn Return (2016, Milk Factory): Group led by composers Chris Dammann (bass) and Catherine Monnes (violin), with trumpet (James Davis), tenor sax (Nick Anaya), and others split between two sessions: both have drums, one has guitar-flute, the other electronics-percussion. Moody, rather dark, like the artwork with print I cannot read. B+(*) [cd]
Eric Revis Trio: Crowded Solitudes (2015 , Clean Feed): Bassist, first came to prominence in Branford Marsalis' quartet, mostly has mainstream/postbop credits but his own records have leaned more avant. Kris Davis is the pianist, and he's given her a better trio showcase than she's managed to come up with on her own. And Gerald Cleaver is the drummer -- the only trait he shares with Paul Motian is that he's become the guy who anchors all the best piano trios. A- [cd]
Rocco John Quartet: Embrace the Change (2015 , Unseen Rain): Alto/soprano saxophonist, full name Rocco John Iacovone, credits Lee Konitz and Sam Rivers as teachers and learned a thing or two from them about being aggressive and obliquely tuneful. Quartet adds Rich Rosenthal (guitar), François Grillot (bass), and Tom Cabrera (drums). B+(**) [cdr]
Rent Romus/Teddy Rankin-Parker/Daniel Pearce: LiR (2014 , Edgetone): Subtitled Live at Vamp followed by "Vintage - Art - Music" separated by bullets. "LiR" is a song title, and the artist names are all that's on the spine. Romus plays alto and soprano sax and various flutes (not that I noticed the latter), the others cello and drums. The sax is skechy, the cello like a bass that got out of its box. B+(***) [cd]
Renee Rosnes: Written in the Rocks (2015 , Smoke Sessions): Pianist, from Saskatchewan, sixteen albums since 1989, mostly on Blue Note where she established herself as one of our top postbop pianists. Quintet, with Peter Washington (bass), Bill Stewart (drums), Steve Nelson (vibes), and Steven Wilson (flute, alto/soprano sax), a bit too much window dressing. B
Carol Saboya: Carolina (2016, AAM): Brazilian songstress, more than a dozen albums since 1999, backed by longtime collaborator Antonio Adolfo on piano plus the usual Brazilian combo with Marcelo Martins on flute. Fairly classic bossa nova, with three Jobims, Bosco, Djavan, Lobo, Pixinguinha, plus exceptionally nice readings of Sting's "Fragile" and Lennon-McCartney's "Hello Goodbye." B+(*) [cd]
Kendrick Scott Oracle: We Are the Drum (2015, Blue Note): Drummer, has three albums since 2006 under this group name, with John Ellis (sax/bass clarinet), Taylor Eigsti (piano), Michael Moreno (guitar), and Joe Sanders (bass), sophisticated postbop with no rough edges, not even a lot of drum power. Lizz Wright gets a vocal spot -- not a high point. B
Mikael Seifu: Zelalem (2016, RVNG Intl, EP): Electronica from Addis Adaba, starts with a spoken sample from the former Stokely Carmichael, picks up folk and religious traditions then soups them up into something called "Ethiopiyawi Electronic." Five cuts, 28:27. B+(*)
Nana Simopoulos: Skins (2016, Na): Greek singer-songwriter, plays guitar and bouzouki, has a half-dozen previous albums. Band members come and go, but the percussionists keep a complex beat going -- note that her website has a whole section for "Dancescores" -- and the saxes bind the worldly music back to jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor's Guide to Earth (2016, Atlantic): Song-oriented enough you can pitch him as country, especially with that twang in his voice, but his guitar could fill an arena, and the strings overflow a stage. Plenty of reason to think this will be treated as one of the year's important releases. I'm almost there. B+(***)
Esperanza Spalding: Emily's D+Evolution (2016, Concord): Started off as a jazz bassist, landing a plum job in Joe Lovano's Us Five group. Even early on she looked like a star, but her efforts to cash in have been fitful, and this, where her vocals swerve like Kurt Elling before the rot sat in, is no exception. B
Mavis Staples: Livin' on a High Note (2016, Anti-): Born 1939, literally grew up in one of America's premier gospel groups, took a chance on secular music (i.e., love songs) in 1969 and has had her ups and downs, much like this record. B+(**)
Starlite Motel: Awosting Falls (2014 , Clean Feed): Yet another avant-noise group built around the very active Jamie Saft, credited here with Hammond organ, Whitehall organ, Moog, and lapsteel guitar. And I'm duly impressed with his contribution here, but rather annoyed by saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, whose alto and tenor seem stuck in screech mode. Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is credited with four different basses (all electric, I suspect), and drummer Gard Nilssen adds some electronics to his percussion kit. B+(*) [cd]
Steel Bridge Trio: Different Clocks (2015, Relay): Avant sax trio, started out sounding like Aram Shelton (alto sax) was in charge, but soon shifted to something softer, with Shelton switching to bass clarinet, so I wound up filing it under composer Tim Daisy's name -- a drummer, he shifts to vibraphone here, while bassist Safa Shokrai isn't much of a factor one way or the other. B+(*) [bc]
Tacocat: Lost Time (2016, Hardly Art): Seattle group, three women and a male guitarist, third album: snappy songs with punky crunch and a bit of bubblegum. A-
Yves Theiler Trio: Dance in a Triangle (2015 , Musique Suisses): Pianist from Switzerland, third album for his trio -- Luca Sisera on bass, Lukas Mantel on drums -- also has a duo with Omri Ziegele and a few other appearances. B+(***) [cd]
Trio Da Paz: 30 (2011 , Zoho Music): Brazilian jazz group, all big name players -- Romero Lubambo (guitar), Nilson Matta (bass), Duduka Da Fonseca (drums) -- seventh album since 1992. B+(**)
Twenty One 4tet: Live at Zaal 100 (2015 , Clean Feed): Mostly Dutch avant-jazz group, with two sparring horns -- Luis Vicente's trumpet and John Dikeman's tenor sax -- backed by Wilbert De Joode on bass and Onno Govaert on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Ernie Watts Quartet: Wheel of Time (2016, Flying Dolphin): Tenor saxophonist, one of the great ballad voices of our era, although having turned 70 he seems more intent on showing he can still rip the fast ones. Backed by piano-bass-drums, no one I've ever heard of. Picture of Watts with Charlie Haden inside, adding key words to the title: "turns, but beauty remains." B+(**) [cd]
Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (2016, Def Jam/GOOD Music): Leaked as a limited time mixtape which I missed, belatedly shows up on Rhapsody -- does that mean tangible product or is that just another leak, like he's torn between artificial scarcity and artificial ubiquity. Hooked enough this won't make believers doubt his genius, or bemused admirers acclaim it. B+(***)
Steve Wiest and Phröntrange: The High Road (2016, Blujazz): Trombonist, worked for Maynard Ferguson in the 1980s, now teaches at University of Denver, artwork here photographed in what most of us know as the Front Range. Group includes guitar, bass, EWI, keyboards, drums and an engineer, with a couple strings listed as extra. First piece is, well, bold, everything clashing to great dramatic effect. Then you get some strings and "Cantaloupe Island" and other annoyances. B- [cd]
WorldService Project: For King and Country (2015 , Rare Noise): British "punk-jazz" outfit, at least their third album, all songs composed by keyboardist Dave Morecroft, backed by sax, trombone, bass, and drums. I don't hear anything punk about them. Not much jazz either. More like bad '70s prog with Wagnerian flourishes, or maybe they're just nods to '80s arena rock. Johnny Rotten treated his monarch with more respect. D+ [cdr]
Christopher Zuar Orchestra: Musings (2014 , Sunnyside): Composer, debut album a well-stocked big band, not listed as a player. He studied under Jim McNeely, and the album was produced by Mike Holober, whose Westchester Jazz Orchestra intersects here. Arrangements have some whimsy and verve, and the band has some star power for the solos. Jo Lawry sings some. B+(**) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
John Abercrombie: The First Quartet (1978-80 , ECM, 3CD): A major figure in jazz guitar since 1974, although it took me a long time to appreciate his silvery tone and intricate style -- a break from the fusion guitarists of the time or the bopsters of the previous generation (although I can hear Jim Hall as an influence). First albums were trios -- notably the group Gateway -- plus a solo, but he put this quartet together in 1978 and they recorded three albums, neatly boxed here, with Richie Beirach (piano), George Mraz (bass), and Peter Donald (drums). Beirach is especially fluid on the first disc (Arcade), leading more often than not. And the third (M) gets denser and richer. B+(**) [dl]
Cyrille Aimée: Cyrille Aimée and the Surreal Band (2008 , Harmonic Reaction): Jazz singer, born in France (French father, mother from Dominican Republic), based in New York; seems to be her first album although I'm finding scant record of it (no AMG, no Discogs, but it is on Bandcamp). Mostly standards, backed by a hard bop quintet (plus guitar on two tracks) -- nothing particularly surreal beyond the play on her first name. B+(*)
The Jim Cullum Jazz Band/William Warfield: George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess Live (1992 , Riverwalk Jazz, 2CD): This would be Jim Cullum Jr. (b. 1941), a trad jazz cornetist and the son of Jim Cullum Sr., founder of the Happy Jazz Band. Warfield (1920-2002) was a black opera singer who appeared in the 1952 revival and later State Department tours. Warfield narrates here, providing plot synopses between instrumental versions of the songs -- many famous enough you can recall the lyrics. I was turned off at first by the stereotyping -- a problem already evident at the folk opera's 1935 debut -- but the band is superb if maybe a touch reverent, like they're recasting this for History Channel. And while Warfield delves deep into dialect, the second disc concludes with an interview that puts it all in context. B+(***) [cd]
The Ex: The Ex at Bimhuis (1991-2015) (1991-2015 , Ex, 2CD): Compiled from 25 years of gigs at Amsterdam's most famous jazz club, most dates building on the band's anarcho-punk songbook by adding guest musicians -- most often Dutch luminaries like Ab Baars, Wolter Wierbos, and Han Bennink, but also Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Merkuria and other fellow travelers like Etienne Charles, Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, and Paal Nilssen-Love. And they can shake as well as rock you -- the closing cut, "based on an Ethiopian traditional," is extraordinary. B+(***) [bc]
Ella Fitzgerald: Jazz at the Philharmonic: The Ella Fitzgerald Set (1949-54 , Verve): Three sets from Norman Granz's all-star tour featuring the singer, originally compiled into a 37:11 LP in 1983, mostly expanded to 60:20 for this reissue by picking up parts of the 1949 show previously released on The Complete Jazz at the Philharmonic on Verve (1944-1949). On the first date she's backed by piano trio (Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Buddy Rich), joined on three longer wailers by Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Flip Phillips, Charlie Parker, and a trombone. The later sets are shorter -- 2 tracks from 1953, five from 1954 when Hank Jones giving way to Raymond Tunia. The talent is huge, but the sound is far from ideal and these were really slapdash affairs. B+(*)
Awalom Gebremariam: Desdes (2007 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Singer-songwriter from Eritrea, recorded this before fleeing the troubled country to wind up in North Carolina. Traditional strings ebb and flow, carrying his chant-like vocals answered by higher pitched response, with crude percussion and what in my country are recognized as war whoops. B+(***)
Punk 45: Chaos in the City of Angels and Devils: Hollywood From X to Zero & Hardcore on the Beaches: Punk in Los Angeles 1977-81 (1977-81 , Soul Jazz): Not as well known as the New York, or for that matter the Cleveland/Akron, punk scene, at least until the early 1980s when LA bands doubled down turning punk into hardcore, but I still recognize half of these bands, even if not this fondly. B+(***)
Sonny Rollins: Holding the Stage: Road Shows Vol. 4 (1979-2012 , Okeh): He's 85 now, hasn't cut a new studio album since 2006 but has been touring, and the latest stuff here is recent enough that we'll be treating this as new music in the Jazz Critics Poll. As usual, he's picking things from all over his tape archive, and as usual they all fit together seamlessly because no one towers over his band more completely than the Saxophone Colossus. Details: one cut ("Disco Monk") from 1979, one from 1996, a medley from the 9/15/2001 Boston concert, half of the record from later tours (2006, 2007, 2012). Nothing essential (least of all the disco-era cut), nothing unlike what you've heard before, still no reason not to welcome these periodic reminders of his majesty. A- [cd]
The Rough Guide to Bottleneck Blues [Second Edition] (1926-40 , World Music Network): First edition came out in 2005. This has different songs, repeating only eight artists, mostly because it dispenses with later devotees of the guitar style in favor of old acoustic blues, the median date 1930. B+(***)
The Rough Guide to the Blues Songsters: Reborn and Remastered (1926-35 , World Music Network): Before they all got slotted as blues, many early black musicians considered themselves "songsters" -- entertainers with a broad command of the pop hits of the day (or decades). Good sampler here, many oft-repeated stories like "John Henry" and "Stackalee" and "Frankie," many less well known. A-
Soul Sok Sega: Sega Sounds From Mauritius 1973-1979 (1973-79 , Strut): Mauritius is a small island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, nominally part of Africa but 1200 miles off the continent's east coast. The island was uninhabited when the Dutch arrived in 1638, and was passed on to France in 1715 and Britain in 1810, gaining independence in 1968, with a current population of 1.26 million, mostly of Indian and/or African extraction (plus Europeans and Chinese), although the government stopped tracking such things in 1970. Upbeat dance tunes from the 1970s, sung in the local creole. B+(***)
The Ex: Disturbing Domestic Peace (1980 , Ex): Dutch band, first album, styled themselves as "anarcho-punk" (which I would read as punk with politics), a concept shared with the equally long-lived Mekons (although with lyrics in English and vocalist Jos Kley, aka G.W. Sok, they sound more like the early Fall), Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) on guitar, plus bass-drums. B+(**) [bc]
The Ex: History Is What's Happening (1982, Ex): Second album, twenty short songs, only three over 2:00, topped by "Who Pays" at 2:44 but they dispose of "$" in 0:56. Punk, especially G.W. Sok's snarl, but Terrie distinguishes himself as much more than a one chord wonder, and his guitar grind binds all the songs together. A- [bc]
The Ex: Tumult (1983 , Ex): This is where they evolve from anarcho-punk to post-punk, mostly meanings longer songs -- five over 5:00, the extension mostly in the guitar patterns, not unlike what Wire was doing by then, but a couple songs slow down aiming for ominous, not their best move -- that would be the hard riffs. Co-produced by Jon Langford, comrade. B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Blueprints for a Blackout (1984 , Ex): Their big double-LP, a ritual milestone in the pre-CD era when bands hit their stride and produce more songs than the annual release rule can handle (or they just can't sort their shit out). Adds up to 19 songs, 66:09, so like most double-LPs of the era fits on a single CD. Band expands with a second bassist and scattered guests (including Langford on marimba, rhythmbox, and guitar), and several horns. Growth, in many respects, not least pangs. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex: Pokkeherrie (1985 , Ex): Dutch title means something like "so much noise" or "awful noise" but lyrics are still all English. Sort of a back-to-basics move, the band back to guitar-bass-drums with G.W. Sok's vocals, the new drummer Katrin (Katherina Bornefeld), now second to Terrie as the longest-running band member (founding member Sok left in 2009 after 30 years). B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: 1936, the Spanish Revolution (1986, Ex, EP): Cover says "CNT" and "FAI" above the title, recognizing two anarchist trade unions that started the revolution that was overturned in 1939 by Francisco Franco's fascist movement, aided by Hitler and Mussolini. Two singles here, two songs each in Spanish and English, originally packaged with "144 pages of previously unpublished photographs taken by journalists aligned with the revolutionary forces." B+(**) [bc]
The Ex: Too Many Cowboys (1986 , Ex): Originally a live double LP, another milestone (or placeholder, as the case may be), eventually squeezed onto a single 80:10 CD. No idea how much of this material is new, but it's certainly typical: sharp, harsh songs that remind you of their anarcho-punk roots and sharp, harsh guitar riffs that extend their unique sound. B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Hands Up! You're Free (1983-86 , Ex): Odds and sods -- three sets of four tracks, the first a BBC Peel Session with sax and violin, the second with Tom Greene and Jon Langford, the third with someone named John joining on vocals. The title track -- a harrangue against imperialism -- is a high point, but even with the erratic opening it's all worth listening to. A- [bc]
The Ex: Joggers & Smoggers (1989, Ex, 2CD): More sprawl, with 34 songs adding up to 92:14, the band adding "grill, birdcage, double-bass, fire-extinguisher + hammer, bamboos, piano, electric razor, dobro, spoons, human batbox, wire, glass, castanets, bow, crackle-box, cowbells, kabassa" to their basic guitar-bass-drums-vocals quartet, plus a couple dozen guests ranging from Sonic Youth's guitarists to avant-jazzers and Jeroen de Groot playing bagpipes. Could use some editing, but "Brickbat" is a choice cut, and probably not the only one. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex: Dead Fish (1989 , Ex, EP): Seven cuts, 20:28, the CD including one not on the original 10-inch vinyl. Short, sharp, shocked, the sort of thing they'd been doing all decade. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex + Tom Cora: Scrabbling at the Lock (1991, Ex): Cora (1953-98) plays cello: trained in classical, avant-oriented, mostly played with avant-jazzers like Karl Berger, John Zorn, Butch Morris, and Curlew, but he rocks out here, reminding me of ELO's cello section -- at least until he shifts gears and slows them down, moving toward jazz. Also helping out is second guitarist, Andy Moor, still with the group fifteen years later. B+(***)
The Ex + Tom Cora: And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders (1993, Ex): Second album with the avant-cellist, a bit more scattered but not without high points. I should probably note somewhere along here that drummer Katherina is singing more. B+(**) [bc]
The Ex: Mudbird Shivers (1995, Ex): Andy Moor partly fills departed cellist Tom Cora's shoes by playing some viola, and Han Buhrs (no cover credit) joins as "guest musician" (vocals, saxophone, mouth-harp, panlids, grater). Eleven songs average just under five minutes, their music hard and sharp as ever but more dissonant and complex -- most impressively on the closer "Hunt Hat." B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Starters Alternators (1998, Touch & Go): Cut in Chicago with Steve Albini producing, this was the Dutch punk group's belated pitch at a US market that had thus far totally ignored them. Still, don't confuse trying to sell with selling out. Songs are hard and dense, the short one 3:44, the long one 6:27, everything else close to 5:00. And Katherina sings one in Dutch (I guess: "Nem Ugy Van Most"), but while they've always had a lot to say, they've never shown much talent for saying it memorably. B+(**) [bc]
Ex Orkest: Een Rondje Holland (2000 , Ex): A special project commissioned by Holland Festival 2000, the group is expanded with extra vocalists (best known is Jaap Blonk) and a dozen mostly jazz musicians (including Michael Moore, Wolter Wierbos, Ernst Glerum, Michael Vatcher, and Roy Paci). They certainly bring up the intensity and volume, but what more isn't clear. B+(*) [bc]
The Ex: Dizzy Spells (2000 , Touch & Go): This time producer Steve Albini met them in France. I still have trouble catching the lyrics -- Douglas Wolk described them as "either punning geopolitical rants [or] based on texts by obscure poets" (I recognize Eduardo Galeano) -- but the packs all the punch rants needs and more than enough rhythmic trickery. At one point it occurred to me that this is the sort of thing Gang of Four might have evolved into doing had they stuck together. A- [bc]
The Ex: 30 (1980-2006 , Ex, 2CD): Aka 30 Years of the Ex, a compilation more random sampler than best-of. The group doesn't really have hits nor, despite hiring Steve Albini, have they ever made a serious bid for commercial success (nothing like the Minutemen's Project: Mersch, for instance), although I am a big fan of their 2005 compilation, Singles, Period: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990. What this monster does is chart their sonic evolution from anarcho-punk to something more industrial and/or more free-form, and it's a pretty impressive arc -- just in one play not one that I always enjoy. B+(***) [bc]
The Ex: Catch My Shoe (2010, Ex): First thing is that founding vocalist G.W. Sok quit in 2009 after 30 years, replaced here by Arnold de Boer, who doesn't have quite the same snarl or bark. Also no bassist this time, although both Terrie and Andy are also credited with baritone guitar, and Roy Paci's trumpet heats the mix up on two cuts. B+(**) [bc]
Taana Gardner: Taana Gardner (1979, West End): One-shot disco album, ending with a remix of "Work That Body" that lives up to the album's reputation. Not sure that anything else does, least of all the lead cut. Gardner cut a number of singles over the next year, including the dance floor hit "Heartbeat" (available on Larry Levan compilations), but never cut another album. B+(***)
Del McCoury & the Dixie Pals: Classic Bluegrass (1974-84 , Rebel): After a brief stint with Bill Monroe, McCoury cut a record (or two?) for Arhoolie in 1968 then signed with old-timey Rebel in 1974 before moving on to folkie Rounder in 1990. This samples his four Rebel albums, mostly original tunes, so classics only in the ear of the compiler. B+(***)
Gétatchèw Mèrkurya: Éthiopiques 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax (1972 , Buda Musique): Tenor saxophonist, carved out a unique niche in the heyday of "swinging" Addis Ababa, his hypnotic groove like a snake charmer's potion. One cut, more crudely exotic, dates from the late 1950s, when he was in his 20s. After this compilation got him some attention, he became a minor celebrity, playing on notable records with Either/Orchestra and the Ex. Died April 4, 2016, aged 81. A-
Getatchew Merkuria/The Ex & Guests: Moa Anbessa (2006, Terp): Tenor saxophonist from Ethiopia, gained international fame when the French Buda Musique label reissued his 1972 album as part of their exhaustive Éthiopiques series, in particular catching the ears of the Dutch post-punk group Ex, who organized this live concert. The guests are extra horn players and bassist Colin McLean. The mix seems shaky at first, but by the end they are burning down the house. Title is Amharic for "conquering lion." A- [bc]
Getatchew Mekuria/The Ex & Friends: Y'Anbessaw Tezeta (1960-2012 , Terp, 2CD): First disc was recorded over several dates from December 2011 to April 2012, on tour with extra horn players -- Xavier Charles (clarinet), Ken Vandermark (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Brodie West (alto sax), Joost Buis and Wolter Wierbos (trombones), Colin McLean (bass), and Melaku Belay (dance) -- with Mekuria recently clearing his 75th birthday. Second disc adds some historical tidbits, including a 2004 date with ICP Orchestra (no Ex), various Mekuria-Ex tours (2004, 2009, 2011), and a couple very early Mekuria tracks (one from 1960, one shortly after). The new stuff seems more earnestly reflective of Mekuria's ethio-jazz, like this was meant as his final testament -- title translates as In Memory of the Lion. The tour dates are more like the Ex + horns, not that they weren't honored to play with the saxophonist. B+(***) [bc]
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Tuesday, April 26. 2016
It's been about two months since my last roundup of book blurbs (Feb. 24). I started to cherry pick some important political books -- frequently noted writers like Andrew Bacevich, Thomas Frank, Jacob Hacker/Paul Pierson, Adam Hochschild, as well as Matthew Desmond's much touted Evicted -- but I wound up filling out this set of forty with the older entries in my scratch file. Almost have enough left over for a second forty, so that could come later in the week, or next week, or next month -- not clear at the moment.
Julian Assange, ed: The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire (2015, Verso): A big chunk of data from leaked US diplomatic documents in 2010-11, edited, indexed, with notes on context -- I've seen this described as an "executive summary" to an Internet-searchable cache of 2.3 million documents. People went to jail, or were otherwise harassed, to make this information public. Other people should go to jail for what it shows.
Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016, Random House): Vietnam veteran, conservative critic of America's imperial overreach, especially since his important The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War appeared in 2005 in the wake of Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq. That book helped explain why American politicians lost their fear of getting trapped in foreign quagmires. Here he moves from the toxic effects militarism has had on American civil society to the endless chain of disasters US entanglement in the Middle East has caused going back to the 1980s. Very likely another important book.
Yochai Benkler: The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest (2011, Crown Business): Title comes from the free software ethos of Linux (with its happy penguin logo) and Hobbes' politico-philosophical landmark where the unfettered pursuit of self-interest turns into a war of all against all. It shouldn't be hard to show that cooperation is more productive -- indeed, the main thing that companies do is to build a sheltered space where workers can build together, even in a world where competition between companies can be cutthroat. Adam Smith, for instance, imagined an "invisible hand" but what he really demonstrated was the productive advantages of a division of labor. Author previously wrote The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, Yale University Press).
Phyllis Bennis: Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (paperback, 2015, Olive Branch Press): One more in a series of short primers (Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, Ending the Iraq War, Understanding the US-Iran Crisis, Ending the US War in Afghanistan), provides the basics, the history, a firm understanding of international law, and a common sense critique of American imperial hubris. Probably quite useful, but one thing I wonder about is how the idea of ISIS elicits such a knee-jerk reaction from the American psyche: the Syrian Civil War was widely regarded as such a complete mess that US intervention would be foolish, yet as soon as you uttered the words "Islamic State" the US plunged back into war, both in Syria and Iraq, and ISIS has turned into the magic word to justify US bombing in Libya and Yemen. This reaction has proved so instantaneous and unthinking I'm not sure that even Bennis can negate it.
Ari Berman: Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A history of the civil rights movement, especially the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act. The book comes shortly after said Act was gutted by the Roberts Court. Congress should have responded by extending the Act's protections to all states, especially since the Republicans discovered they do better when voter turnout is low and started passing restrictive "voter ID" laws all over the country.
Wendell Berry: Our Only World: Ten Essays (2015, Counterpoint): Kentucky tobacco farmer, poet, essayist, recently passed into his 80s, can be cranky about new technology but has great sensitivity to communal life and the natural world. Recent essay collections have tended to collect older works, so I'm not sure if the essays in this "new collection" are really new. I am sure that the old ones are very much worth your time.
Beth Buczynski: Sharing Is Good: How to Save Money, Time and Resources Through Collaborative Consumption (paperback, 2013, New Society Publishers): One thing I've come to realize is that damn near none of the things I own is in use at any given time, nor does the percentage grow much over days, week, months. I assume that's at least part of what's going on here. (I have a cousin who lives in a retirement community where the houses are tiny but nearly everything imaginable is available in shared buildings -- when I visit, it always strikes me as something of a communist paradise.) So this seems like a reasonable idea for a lower cost, higher value, sustainable future, not that I doubt the devil is in the details. Other books along these lines: Rachel Botsman: What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (2010, Harper Business; paperback, 2011, Collins); Lisa Gansky: The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing (paperback, 2012, Portfolio); Chelsea Rustrum/Gabriel Slempinski/Alexandra Liss: It's a Shareable Life: A Practical Guide on Sharing (paperback, 2014, Shareable Life); Jay Walljasper: All That We Share: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities and Everything Else That Belongs to All of Us (paperback, 2010, New Press); Malcolm Harris/Neal Gorenflo, eds: Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis (paperback, 2012, New Society Publishers).
Horace Campbell: Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya (paperback, 2013, Monthly Review Press): It's pretty clear in hindsight that the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 took a bad situation -- a civil war as Muammar Gaddafi used military force to try to suppress a popular revolt -- and turned it into chaos and who knows what? You'd think this would be cause for reflection, but the intervention came and went too fast to get onto book schedules, and since then little has been published other than the right wing's Benghazi! propaganda, so I thought I'd search out what's available. This book, very critical of NATO, was the first I found. Some others: Alison Pargeter: Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (2012, Yale University Press); Vijay Prashad: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (paperback, 2012, AK Press); Ethan Chorin: Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution (2012, Public Affairs); Maximilian Forte: Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO's War on Libya and Africa (paperback, 2012, Baraka Books); Francis A Boyle: Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade US Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution (paperback, 2013, Clarity Press); Christopher S Chivvis: Toppling Qaddafi: Libya and the Limits of Liberal Intervention (paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press); Hugh Roberts: The Fall of Muammar Gaddafi: NATO's War in Libya (2016, Verso).
Satyajit Das: The Age of Stagnation: Why Perpetual Growth Is Unattainable and the Global Economy Is in Peril (2016, Prometheus Books): Well, it does seem like the economies of the United States and Europe haven't bounced back from the 2008 financial meltdown like they did from previous recessions, and lately we've seen downturns in China and other "developing countries" that had fared so well in the previous decades. Das attributes all of this to the low interest "easy money" policies used to fight the recession and the overall growth of debt (especially public debt). I see this same stagnation, but I'm more inclined to attribute it to deliberate political policies protecting the issuers of all that debt while letting everyone else slide into an ever deeper mire. What makes this even more disagreeable is how neoliberals use debt as a cudgel to argue for austerity. An unspoken alternative would be to liquidate much of that debt, which would go a long ways toward reversing the increasing inequality trend (and all of its vile consequences).
Matthew Desmond: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016, Crown): Stories of tenants and landlords in poor parts of Milwaukee c. 2008-09: the struggle to meet the rent for bad housing in hard times, "a cycle of hurt that all parties -- landlord, tenant, city -- inflict on one another." Seems to be one of the more important books on American poverty in recent years.
Cynthia Enloe/Joni Seager: The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Myths and Truths of the United States (paperback, 2011, Penguin Press): A short (128 pp) book of maps and charts slicing and dicing the US economy and society in various ways. For instance, one map shows military deaths in Iraq by state: Texas (414) is a close second to California (468), and Oklahoma (76) is more than 50% higher than Kansas (47) (per capita would be more revealing, although it would reduce the OK/KS ratio).
Keith P Feldman: A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (2015, University of Minnesota Press): Takes the thesis that the US relationship to Israel belongs more to US domestic than foreign policy, and explores how US racial attitudes influence that policy. I imagine there's something to this, especially in the 1980s when Israel was one of South Africa's last close allies, but I imagine one can find less explicit evidence earlier -- especially as you don't have to go back very far to get past the taboo against explicit racism. Deeper down, both Israel and the US are colonial outposts of colonial outposts of Europe, and heirs of its crusader mythos -- Jews were long considered outsiders to all this, but one can argue that in colonizing Palestine they became "white," approximately even "Christian" (as the recently popular "Judeo-Christian" terminology shows).
Norman G Finkelstein: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza (paperback, 2014, OR Books): Chronicles three major assaults on Gaza since Israel dismantled its settlements in the blockaded territory: codes names Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012), and Protective Edge (2014). Finkelstein examines the logic behind these attacks, concluding they "have been designed to sabotage the possibility of a compromise peace with the Palestinians, even on terms that are favorable to [Israel]." Seems to be a collection of essays, less detailed than the book he wrote on Cast Lead: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.
Ronald P Formisano: Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): Argues that rule by the rich (plutocracy) undermines both the poor and "the middle class" -- which I take to be a way of saying "democracy." Or as Louis Brandeis put it: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; we can't have both." I think inequality is a very important topic not so much because it is unfair and unjust as because it introduces all sorts of twists and distortions into how we relate to each other. Author previously wrote The Tea Party: A Brief History and For the People: American Populist Movements From the Revolution to the 1850s.
Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016, Metropolitan Books): After three notable books on the rise of the right -- What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (2008), and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012) -- Frank takes a hard look at the Democrats who have aided and abetted the far right's stranglehold on politics. Given how the Republicans have gone from bad to worse without totally marginalizing themselves, this may seem to be an untimely subject to bring up, but politics is not just a game where you tote up points and celebrate the winner: it's how we as a democratic society try to cope with real problems, and that process has become perverted to a staggering degree. Frank is not the first writer on the left to notice that "liberal" leaders like Clinton and Obama often give up rather than fight for the people who elected them -- cf. Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010), or for that matter the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Rose George: Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (paperback, 2014, Picador): One of those books on basic, everyday life, and the technology and business that makes it possible. Author previously tried this with another important topic: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (2008).
Stanley B Greenberg: America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation's Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century (2015, Thomas Dunne): Pollster to hegemonic Democrats like Clinton and Gore, consultant to companies like Boeing and Microsoft, and all around hack reassures us that the future is rosy and won't be clouded by a Republican Party which is self-destructing as we speak. He seeks the nation "turning to Democrats to take on the country's growing challenges," continuing "the social transformations that are making the country ever more racially and culturally diverse, younger, a home to immigrants, and the metropolitan centers that foster a rising economic and cultural dynamism."
Dave Grossman/Gloria DeGaetano: Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence (1999; rev ed, paperback, 2014, Harmony): Grossman was a Lt. Col. who had second thoughts and wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995; paperback, 1996, Back Bay Books). I don't think there is a simple relationship between witnessing violence in fictional contexts and killing (or for that matter between watching porn and sex crimes), although I also don't doubt that habituation and desensitization can lead some people to become more dangerous. And I'm particularly suspicious of video games, where the point seems to be not just to kill but to develop an automatic reflex to do so thoughtlessly. But I'd worry more about the morals conveyed by our national celebration of "the troops" and their "heroism" -- by the nearly constant practice of war by the United States over the last 75 years. That the military itself is so gung-ho on games is a bad sign, but probably has less to do with violence today than the proliferation of their other favorite toy: firearms.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016, Simon & Schuster): Once upon a time Ronald Reagan told a joke -- something like "the scariest words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'" -- and some people took it as profound insight and blew it up into a nihilistic war against any and all forms of government activity, especially the kind that tries to actually help people. Hacker & Pierson have written a number of important books -- Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (2005), The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back (2007), Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer, and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010) -- and now this one, where the remind us that public investment has long been a foundation of prosperity here, and why the movement against it makes us poorer.
Adam Hochschild: Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): As Franco turned to Hitler and Mussolini to support his movement in Spain's civil war, many others around the world, including 2800 Americans, rallied to the cause of Spanish democracy, becoming (in the terminology of the post-WWII CIA, "premature antifascists." This tries to tell their story, while picking up a few others like George Orwell. Author has written several notable books about (mostly British) protest movements against war and colonialism, such as King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.
Philip T Hoffman: Why Did Europe Conquer the World? (2015, Princeton University Press): Economist, sees the answer in economics, basically the relatively intense competition between late medieval European states involving nearly continuous war. Their rivalry favored whoever could advance science and technology for destructive purposes, and whoever could solve the financial problems of such military adventures. Along the way, Hoffman rejects various other theories, like those of Jared Diamond (Guns Germs and Steel, which as I recall includes similar economic arguments among others). Evidently doesn't address the obvious next question, which is why Europe made such a mess of the world it conquered. Both rise and fall, after all, are intimately related.
Jessica Hopper: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (paperback, 2015, Featherproof Books): She mostly writes for Pitchfork, which I don't read enough to have any sense of who she is or what she likes. Pitchfork's business model is based on the ideas that bits are cheap and so are writers, so make the latter crank out plenty of the former -- always more than it takes to glaze my eyes over. Her title is provocative, and not just because Ellen Willis and Lillian Roxon are dead, or because others like Ann Powers went straight into books without bothering to gather up their numerous short pieces. Still, the main reason I mention this book is to throw in a plug for Carol Cooper's Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race: Selected Critical Essays (1979-2001), which belies Hopper's title.
Philip K Howard: The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government (2014; paperback, 2015, WW Norton): Lawyer, political theorist, wrote The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America (1994), followed by The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom (2002) and Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law (2009). His big point -- that too many laws and regulatory rules, and lawyers and bureaucrats, has turned into a trap that has all sorts of bad effects, from inhibiting common sense to sapping freedom -- is something that we can all relate to, but still you have to wonder who benefits? For instance, lawsuits have never been the great leveler of theory, but sometimes they do manage to bring corporate abuses to an end. Howard wants to get rid of most lawsuits, which sounds laudable but not if doing so leaves us without recourse to right wrongs. It turns out that Howard is founder and chair of Common Good, a "nonpartisan, nonprofit legal reform coalition" trying to implement his recommendations. He seems to have support from members of both political parties, but most of the names mentioned in his Wikipedia page (which reads like PR) are Republicans (Jeb Bush, Alan Simpson, Mitch Daniels) and mouthpieces like David Brooks. Still, I imagine someone could rewrite Howard's books to arrive at a more progressive result -- although that may involve equalizing access to lawyers and lobbyists before cutting back on the overkill. Howard, by the way, wrote another book that is alarming and self-discrediting on the surface: The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far (2001): nothing then or since suggests that we're suffering from too much fairness.
Ian Kershaw: To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (2015, Penguin): Part of a series called The Penguin History of Europe, joining the two world wars and the turbulent interwar period -- Arno Mayer called this period "the 30 years war of the 20th century." Kershaw has written several big books on the tail end of this period, including Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 (2007) and The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany (2011). On the same time period, Heinrich August Winkler: The Age of Catastrophe: A History of the West 1914-1945 (2015, Yale University Press), even longer (1016 pp).
Peter H Lindert/Jeffrey G Williamson: Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality Since 1780 (2016, Princeton University Press): The authors crunch numbers for a much longer stretch of American history than anyone else has done before, and find two time stretches where inequality rose steeply: from the 1970s to today, as you damn well know by now, and from 1774 to 1860, which actually predates the legendary robber baron period of the late 19th century and the great bubble of the "roaring '20s" -- two periods where the wealth of the very richest was especially conspicuous. Meanwhile there were three periods when the wealthy took serious hits: during the Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression.
Mike Lofgren: The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (2016, Viking): Previously wrote The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2012) -- no idea whether he's someone who can be trusted politically, but in a nutshell that sounds like the story of our times. Leaving aside the Republicans for the moment, one thing that has made Democrats so useless is how readily Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 abandoned a great many of their campaign promises as soon as they had to face with Washington's entrenched bureaucracies -- more or less what Lofgren calls "the deep state." This especially seems to be the case with security and treasury, where new advisory jobs always seem to go to old hands. But I suspect the extraordinary influence of lobbyists and donors -- not technically part of the state, but perhaps promiscuously intertwined with it -- is at least as large. And one can throw in big media (mainstream and otherwise) which are always vigilant to police what politicians can think and say.
Branko Milanovic: Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (2016, Belknap Press): Looks at inequality in a global context, finding that while inequality has been increasing within nations (especially the US), it has been falling among/between nations -- in large part because large developing nations like China and India have been promoting middle class incomes at the same time the US has been destroying them. A follow up to the author's The Haves and the Have-Notes: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010).
Ilan Pappé, ed: Israel and South Africa: The Many Faces of Apartheid (paperback, 2015, Zed Books): Various papers on comparisons and analogies, the upshot is that Israel is becoming every bit the international pariah state South Africa's apartheid regime became. Don't know if the book gets into this, but there are significant differences. Most importantly, Israel has become almost independent of cheap Palestinian labor, whereas South Africa was literally built on cheap labor.
Susan Pedersen: The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (2015, Oxford University Press): A history of the world from 1920-1939 as seen through the League of Nations, the international organization created in the wake of World War I to ensure world peace. It, of course, failed, largely because the great powers were still preoccupied with their imperialist and colonialist rivalries and grudges.
Richard J Perry: Killer Apes, Naked Apes & Just Plain Nasty People: The Misuse and Abuse of Science in Political Discourse (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): "Delivers a scathing critique of determinism" -- the notion that human behavior is genetically fixed or inherently programmed, particularly for violence. The title reminds me of certain bestsellers from back in the 1960s and 1970s, although I had thought they were pretty well debunked by now.
Serhii Plokhy: The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015, Basic Books): Ukraine has lately become a major flash point in the West's renovated cold war to contain and isolate Putin's Russia, so it's about time someone wrote a history of the nation itself rather than consigning it to a sidebar in the history of Russia. Of course, most of its long history is subsumed under Russia or any of a number of other invading tribes or nations -- early chapters include "The Advent of the Slavs," "Vikings on the Dnieper," "Byzantium North," and "Pax Mongolica" before there is any hint of "The Making of Ukraine."
Robert Pollin: Greening the Global Economy (2015, MIT Press): Leftist economist, I found his book Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (2003) insightful. This short (176 pp) book argues that it is possible to replace fossil fuels with renewables -- indeed, it is happening -- and grow the economy as a result.
Bill Press: Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down (2016, Threshold Editions): It's certainly true that "in many ways President Obama has failed to live up to either his promises or his progressive potential" -- I've often been critical both of his strategic vision and of his tactical choices -- but I (and policy-wise I'm easily to the left of Bernie Sanders) think "remorse" suggests much more disillusionment than nearly any Obama voter feels. (Remorse is more like Lyndon Johnson, who campaigned to save us from the belligerent madness of Barry Goldwater, then promptly plunged us into the Vietnam War.) So I wonder what's up here, not least because I associate the publisher with right-wing cranks (e.g., Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Oliver North).
Ray Raphael: Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past [Tenth Anniversary Edition] (2004; rev ed, paperback, 2014, New Press): Remarkable how many stories people think they know about the American Revolution have been transformed over the ages into myth -- what the author calls "cherished fabrications." Raphael has written many books aimed at broadening and deepening understanding of the period by stripping away those myths, so this is his core text, newly revised. His other books include: A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence (2001, New Press; paperback, 2002, Harper Collins), and including Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (2009, New Press); Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012, Knopf); and Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right (2013, New Press).
Eric Rauchway: The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace (2015, Basic Books): George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are widely regarded as sainted presidents, but in many ways Franklin Roosevelt's many accomplishments are more remarkable -- he's just never had the sort of activist beatification committee that has managed to deface vast swathes of America naming shit for Ronald Reagan. This story deserves to be retold, not least because we are still plagued by goldbuggers -- probably the single dumbest idea still held by any reputable politician in America.
Nicholas Stargardt: The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 (2015, Basic Books): Attempts to create a broad portrait of how the German people viewed and were engaged in the German war against Europe, notably finding that "the Wehrmacht in fact retained the staunch support of the patriotic German populace until the bitter end."
Jim Wallis: America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (2016, Brazos Press): Edits a Christian evangelical magazine called Sojourners tied to a Protestant religious sect he helped found, but has steered away from "Christian conservative" politics, recently writing books that take up political themes: like God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (2005), and Rediscovering Values: On Main Street, Wall Street, and Your Street. Here he tackles the history and legacy of racism, and appeals to end it.
Karine V Walther: Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921 (2015, University of North Carolina Press): Time framework extends from the Greek War of Independence (1821) to the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) -- curiously that period skips over the Barbary Wars (1801-05) when the US first tangled with the Ottoman Empire -- "excavates the deep history of American Islamophobia, showing how negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims shaped US foreign relations from the Early Republic to the end of World War I." I imagine thee is some evidence of that, but I've long been under the opposite impression: that US foreign policy toward the Ottomans was relatively benign, and only became more consequential once the oil industry got involved.
Ellen Willis: The Essential Ellen Willis (paperback, 2014, University of Minnesota Press): A pioneering feminist polemicist who early on wrote some notable rock criticism, since her death in 2006 her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, has done a fine job of collecting her various writings for posterity -- before this general collection there appeared Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (2011), and reissues of Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll and No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (both 2012, all University of Minnesota Press paperbacks). I've never been much of a fan -- partly because she seemed to be too glib about war for a leftist, partly because of a tone I recall in her feminism, like wrapping oneself in a flag -- but I don't doubt that these books are chock full of interesting insights.
Tim Wise: Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America (paperback, 2015, City Lights): It isn't enough for the rich to steal from the poor. They also demand that we praise the rich for their successes, and condemn for poor for their failures. Wise wrote a rather similar book in 2014: Culture of Cruelty: How America's Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future. Before that he mostly wrote about racism, which works much the same way.
Recently I decided that I needn't write a full paragraph of every book worth noting, so I started building a list. Here are a few examples that may (or may not) pique your curiosity:
I used to append a few paperback reissues of books I had previously written about, with additional blurbs, but I've tended to skip that recently. Since I've been collecting at least some, I'll list them here:
Monday, April 25. 2016
Music: Current count 26541  rated (+26), 413  unrated (-5).
Rated count back down. Still probably would have hit thirty had I not spent Thursday cooking dinner from China Moon Cookbook and listen to Prince's The Hits/The B-Sides instead. As you're no doubt aware, Prince died last week -- Papa Wemba too. I hadn't gotten around to looking up Prince's two records last year (turns out they're not on Rhapsody), but his two 2014 albums weren't bad, and I credit him with two A- albums in the previous decade (Musicology in 2004, 3121 in 2006). And, of course, much more earlier. Some links follow.
Expect Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Not a huge amount in the file, but I haven't been all that lazy either. Still, don't feel much like writing tonight, or much of anything else either. Guess that means a lazy evening of TV. What isn't self-explanatory below will be revealed soon enough.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 24. 2016
The New York primaries were held last week. Hillary Clinton won a huge win with 58.0% of the vote, giving her 139 delegates to Bernie Sanders 108. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won with his first majority in a primary all year, a big one with 60.4% of the vote vs. 25.1% for John Kasich and 14.5% for that sworn enemy of "New York values" Ted Cruz. Trump got 89 delegates, Kasich 4, and Cruz 0, so this primary went a long ways to putting Trump back on track for a first ballot win at the Republican Convention. Still, it's worth noting that Trump only got 19.5% of the votes cast on Tuesday. Sanders got 28.4%, and Clinton got 39.2% -- together the Democrats got 67.7% of the total vote, a big change from earlier primaries where Republicans generally got more votes than Democrats.
I looked at 538's What Went Down in the New York Primaries, and one thing I checked was the Clinton-Sanders split by congressional district. What I found was that Clinton ran especially well in New York City, and was much stronger in districts represented by Democrats (she won 17 of 18, only losing around Albany). Sanders, on the other hand, won 5 (of 9) districts represented by Republicans, and did better than his state average in the other four (also in Democratic districts in Buffalo and Rochester, plus the 6th in Queens and the 18th in Westchester). What this suggests is that the party machine and its patronage network held firm for Clinton. Of course, one thing that helped the machine was that the primary was closed (way in advance of the vote), so independents, which Sanders has regularly won this year, often by large margins, couldn't vote.
I came out of this feeling pretty down, not so much because I expected a Sanders win -- I did think it might be closer, but knew Clinton had a lot of structural advantages there -- but because it underscored how difficult it's going to be to dislodge the Party's power structure. Sanders could win in Republican areas because he appealed especially to people deprived of power, but the Democrats so controlled New York City that the oligarchy -- especially the nabobs of Wall Street -- owned the Party. And what made matters worse for me was that while this smackdown was going on, I was reading Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, where his big point is that the Democrats ever since Carter had courted educated professionals (following Chris Hedges, he calls them the Liberal Class), often at the expense of the workers and unions who had previously been the most effective supporters of the Democratic Party -- the net effect is that the Democrats are as much in bed with big business as the Republicans, making them preferable only in that they'll try to defend certain liberties and civil rights, and work a bit less hard at destroying the middle class. That explains the sort of marginal differentiation that is supposed to convince us that we need Clinton to save the world from Trump or Cruz, even though there is no reason to think she'll even try to do the things that need to be done to reverse the increase in inequality and the rot in practically everything else. So while the horserace watchers saw New York as the primary that virtually cinched Clinton's nomination, it looked more to me like the end of any hope for change.
Next Tuesday's primaries promise to be more of the same. Clinton is favored in Connecticut (56.2-41.3%, closest poll Clinton +6), Maryland (63.3-33.9%, closest +13), and Pennsylvania (58.9-38.2%, closest +6); I don't see any polling on Delaware and Rhode Island, but I'd expect them to be similar to Maryland and Connecticut (although there is one Delaware poll with Clinton +7, suggesting much closer than Maryland). Trump is also expected to mop up: 45.2-31.7-21.3% in Connecticut (Kasich over Cruz), 40.3-30.6-27.1% in Maryland (Kasich over Cruz), and 41.1-29.4-27.4% in Pennsylvania (Cruz over Kasich -- looks like a second straight brutal week for Cruz).
Looking further ahead, Clinton should keep on winning: 52.7-44.4% in Indiana (May 3), 56.8-41.7% in California (June 7), 51.0-41.4% in New Jersey (also June 7). Trump continues to lead in the Republican races (with Cruz getting a bit closer): 38.1-37.5-22.2% (T-C-K) in Indiana, 41.9-33.5-23.4% (T-C-K) in California, and 50.4-23.4-17.2% (T-K-C) in New Jersey.
Meanwhile I have to share the following image. Just think, with three-hundred million people in America, this is the best we can do?
Back in 1776 there were only four million people in America, yet somehow we managed to find a wide range of capable leaders. Now we find that the only possible surrogate for one Clinton is another, and that the best the opposition party can come up with is their former party pal. Hard to see any significant differences among this crowd, yet both Trump and Clinton have managed to convince most of their followers that the other is the Devil incarnate, and those followers are hysterical as expected. Still, the odds of a comparably jovial post-election photo are pretty high -- especially if Clinton wins and reverts to form, serving the billionaire class.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Monday, April 18. 2016
Music: Current count 26515  rated (+40), 418  unrated (-7).
Big bump in the rated count this week -- first time in well over a month to top 30 and did so by a bunch. Had a replenished jazz queue to work through, and until I got to the Clean Feeds they didn't require a lot of attention. Also noticed on Rhapsody a clutch of new records by artists I recognize as worth checking out (Hayes Carll, The Coathangers, Mayer Hawthorne, Parquet Courts, Sturgill Simpson, plus Kanye West finally appeared). Also had Jason Gubbels' list, and a couple Christgau Expert Witness columns (one on blues and another on alt-rock -- I had already written up Parquet Courts but not Coathangers or the new Tacocat, and my endorsement of Full Communism isn't just political).
Of the eight B+(***) records below, two were Christgau A- records (Tacocat, Kanye West). I gave up on them after two or three plays, without being certain more plays wouldn't help. Same thing for the Sturgill Simpson album, possibly an even better prospect. I'm having similar indecision with the new PJ Harvey, but save that for next week.
I voted in Downbeat's annual critics poll last week. I'm not going to do a separate post on this -- I was exhausted after it took more than 24 hours to I finish the 16 pages of ballots (with 50-some questions), on top of the usual aggravations and frustrations. Still, you can scan through my worksheet if you like. I suppose I should mention that I build each year's worksheet on the last, which helps with consistency (and jogs my increasingly damaged memory) but lets me get by without giving many questions much fresh thought. And this all the more true in categories I don't have any real thoughts -- fresh or received -- on, like Composer, Arranger, or various minor instruments (e.g., I almost never notice electric bass or keyboards, so trying to come up with three names there is even harder than trying to whittle down thirty or more luminaries on acoustic bass or piano).
I will mention that my HOF pick was George Russell. Downbeat's Hall is excessively restrictive and therefore woefully underpopulated, so there is a long list of worthies to pick from (and many more not even on Downbeat's prospect list). (By contrast, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is too large, not that the judges there have picked up all who deserve a slot.) Still, Russell is a giant among the uninducted, but he never has gotten the credit he deserves. For instance, when you think of Latin-Bebop, you recall Dizzy Gillespie (not the writer of "Cubana Be Cubana Bop"). When you think of modal jazz, you come up with Miles Davis and John Coltrane (not the guy who wrote the big book that showed how it is done). When you think of jazz workshops, you get Mingus (not Russell). Most likely you can't think of anyone who pioneered electronics in jazz. Or recall that Russell was the mentor of nearly a dozen important Scandinavian (mostly Norwegian) jazz musicians who started out in the early 1970s. When Russell returned from Norway, got a job at New England Conservatory where he was one of the architects of modern jazz education. The people who vote in Downbeat's Readers Poll are never going to put all that together, but you'd think that jazz critics would know at least this much.
Of course, many do, but they have other concerns, and the competition is stiff. It took Lee Konitz 65 years to get in last year, after finishing in the top three for nearly a decade -- leapfrogged many times recently by guys who finally got voters' attention the year before by dying (2006: Jackie McLean, 2007: Andrew Hill, 2009: Freddie Hubbard, 2011: Abbey Lincoln, 2012: Paul Motian, 2013: Charlie Haden, 2014: Jim Hall; Hank Jones won in 2008 then died in 2010; the only other living musician in this stretch was Muhal Richard Abrams in 2010; Russell died in 2009, got a boost then, but not enough). I have no idea who will win this year, but Paul Bley is probably the top choice among the recently deceased, and Anthony Braxton is the obvious pick among the living (and still very active).
I decided to write two names in, not so much because they were my next picks -- these rank lists are nowhere near that precise -- as hoping that they'll be picked up in future ballots: Mal Waldron and Jimmy Rushing. Waldron (1926-2002) is most famous as Billie Holiday's pianist, but he had a brilliant career as a leader and composer, made a remarkable move from postbop to avant-garde with his later group records like The Git Go and Crowd Scene, but perhaps his best records were duos with Steve Lacy, Marion Brown, and Jackie McLean (Left Alone '86). Rushing (1901-72) was the greatest of the Kansas City blues shouters, starting with Walter Page and Bennie Moten and following Count Basie to New York, where he cut many great albums -- a personal favorite from the year before he died is the out-of-print The You and Me That Used to Be.
This has nothing to do with music, but I should note and lament the passing of Dewane Hixon (1933-2016). He was a cousin, the oldest son of my mother's slightly older sister Edith. They moved from Oklahoma to Modesto, California in 1952, so we didn't see them much -- we drove to California in 1956; Edith, with two other sons (but I think not Dewane) came through Wichita around 1958. Dewane had a job working for an aircraft dealer and came to Wichita once for some training. He had a story about beating a traffic ticket when the cop stopped him and asked to see his pilot's license -- he whipped one out. I don't remember his father, Otis Hixon, who died from something heart-related in 1967, but relatives often said that Dewane reminded them of Otis, particularly as a practical joker. Dewane settled near Phoenix, and Edith moved there. After my mother died in 2000, we drove to Phoenix to see Edith, and spent quite a bit of time with Dewane. Edith died that December, at 89, the last of eight siblings. I went back to Phoenix two more times in the next few years. Always stopped to see Dewane, tell jokes, argue politics, and reminisce. He had a delivery service business, and was still working it last I heard last year. About half my cousins on my mother's side have passed now: all are older than me, the oldest survivor 90. Even stranger to lose that generation than my aunts and uncles before them.
Let me also note that I continue to be learn things from Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal, which I quoted from in yesterday's post. The next few pages after yesterday's quote add to the list of Bill Clinton's "counter-scheduling" practices -- the crime bill, welfare reform, the "grand bargain" he was working on with Newt Gingrich to privatize a big chunk of Social Security. Frank focuses on how these acts reflect a deeper shift in the Democratic Party from a working-class base to one based on well-to-do professionals, one that may be socially liberal but cares little about inequality. Thus far -- I've gotten to be a shamefully slow reader, as well as one who can only focus for a few pages at a time, so I'm only about half-way through a short book -- he hasn't drawn out the political conclusions: e.g., how by undermining traditional Democratic groups Clinton was able to capture the party for his own personal purposes, which include fronting his wife's candidacy. But given what Frank shows, that part is pretty obvious.
In some ways I find Frank's book even more shocking than Jane Mayer's Dark Money. If it was just the Kochs and their ilk that had set out to undermine American democracy, there would be plenty of popular reaction. But when you turn the opposition over to "leaders" like the Clintons, there's no telling what they won't surrender (supposedly to defend you).
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 17. 2016
Quickly, some scattered links this week:
I want to close with a fairly long quote from Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (pp. 89-91):
One effect of Clinton's NAFTA push was that the unions were unable to muster effective support for Clinton's signature health care bill. Then in 1994 the Republicans gained control of Congress and Clinton never again had to worry about the Democrats pushing some progressive reform through Congress. And by crippling the unions, Clinton was able to consolidate his control of the Democratic Party machine, something which kept Democrats weak in Congress (except for 2006-2010, when Howard Dean was Party Chairman) and set up Hillary's campaigns in 2008 and this year. (Sure, Obama beat Hillary in 2008, but welcomed her people into his team, got rid of Dean, and restored presidential crony control of the Party machinery, making Hillary a shoe-in this year -- at least until the rank-and-file weighed in.)
The bottom line here is that most people's interests should align with the Democrats -- they damn sure don't line up with the Republicans -- yet the Democrats don't get their votes, because party leaders like the Clintons, despite whatever they may promise during a campaign, cannot be trusted to support them.
Friday, April 15. 2016
I started writing this up as a Weekend Roundup bullet item, but decided to let it stand [almost] on its own.
Tom Hayden: I Used to Support Bernie, but Then I Changed My Mind: The famed 1960s New Left radical, a founder of SDS, defendant at the Chicago 8/7 trial, and moderately successful California politician, explains:
I'm surprised to see Sanders depicted as having "all the money in the world," but checking Open Secrets I was even more surprised to see that he has managed to collect $139 million so far -- more than Ted Cruz ($119 million, including $52 million PAC money), still less than Hillary Clinton ($222 million, including $62 million PAC; Sanders has made a big point about not having a dark money PAC). Most of Sanders' money came in February ($42M) and March ($44M), well into the primary season. Until that happened, he was mostly dependent on volunteer efforts. I know, for instance, that he's had an active supporter group here in Wichita for over a year, and they would be pretty surprised to find he's rolling in all that money. They did, however, organize Sanders' second-largest victory margin to date -- although he's since won bigger elsewhere. As primary season unfolded, the money understandably went to critically competitive states. And Clinton, who started with (and still has) much more money, had somehow locked up the Deep South where most Democrats are black -- maybe she had made the investments Hayden charges Sanders with neglecting. (Still, isn't it interesting that a seasoned politician like Hayden sees money as the essential element in securing the loyalties of black and Latino votes? The implication is that those votes are tied to group elites in a way that approximates the old political machines.) And even more than cash, the big advantage that the Clintons brought into this election was a well-oiled patronage machine. The clearest evidence that established patronage matters is Clinton's 469-31 superdelegate lead. (Sanders' contributions have averaged $27-30, which works out to five million-plus donations though there are repeaters -- I know that my wife has donated $27 several times, probably putting her over $100 by now. Beyond her PAC money, Clinton has also gone after small donations, and claims more than one million donors. Sanders has more, "nearly two million donors" (Hillary Clinton Touts One Million Donors, While Bernie Sanders Approaches Two).
I've been somewhat mystified why Clinton enjoys such a large lead over Sanders among black voters. It's certainly not based on a sober examination of positions and issues, and I doubt if it has much to do with personal style. The best I've been able to come up with is that even with growing economic inequality and the decimation of the middle class all across America, most blacks have improved their lot, and see their solidarity with the Democratic Party as having helped them out. This isn't an unreasonable stance, and no doubt if/when Clinton wins she'll owe blacks and Latinos big time -- but she'll also owe bankers and the war industry, and in the end I suspect their investments will pay off better.
If Hayden was just a cog in the Democratic Party machine, I could see his choice: indeed, it would be as unremarkable as it's been for hundreds or thousands of Party hacks all across America. But Hayden was one of the most prominent figures in the New Left in the 1960s. One might argue that choosing Clinton over Sanders shows that he's not really much of a leftist, but more likely, I suspect, he's just proving one of the major critiques of the New Left: that it was run by people who came from privileged backgrounds and saw their role as to advocate for other people who had been denied their good fortune. That's not bad per se, but in practice shifted much of the left's focus from class to minority and identity issues like race (and sex and sexual orientation). They've done good work on all those fronts, but while they were off helping others the right smashed the unions that propped up the middle class and created vast inequality -- so much so that young people in America today have less reason to expect to live out their lives in comfort and freedom (e.g., free of debt) than any past generation for at least a century.
The upshot is that we have a guy who's spent more than fifty years working towards radical political change yet can't recognize it when it's actually happening, just because it's not coming from where he's been expecting it. The irony is that the Old Left that Hayden rejected had made the same mistake, expecting the working classes to rise up even after labor unions had won them middle-class jobs and social security, enough to buy homes (and cars, etc.) and send their kids to college and retire comfortably -- enough luxury they could even afford to look down on the less fortunate. Hayden, like much of the New Left, rebelled against the white working class as much as against the Old Left. I suspect that's because he was never of it, whereas those of us who grew up there were better able to notice when things went sour.
A few other quick links, limited to the elections. Next up is the New York primary, where 538's "projected results" favor Clinton 57.8-39.6%, although I only see one (of eight) April polls where she has that kind of margin -- 10-12% is typical. I don't expect Sanders to win, but wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be much closer. (Friends who watched here -- I didn't, but baked them some cookies -- tell me Sanders had a very good debate last night.) On the Republican side it's Trump-Kasich-Cruz: 52.9-24.4-20.4%. You'd think that Trump's first majority win plus a third-place Cruz finish would turn the post-Wisconsin punditry around, but I doubt it. (Although I see that Josh Marshall is already out front there.) Trump, by the way, is polling well ahead in the April 27 primaries (Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania) -- as is Clinton (although Connecticut is closer, and a couple of Pennsylvania polls show her lead there down to +6 or +7).
By the way, while I was not listening to the debate, I somehow imagined Hillary saying:
Meanwhile, some brief links: