An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, July 9, 2018
Music: current count 29939  rated (+43), 342  unrated (-6).
New video card arrived today, but I figured I should post this before I risked installation. No guarantee it will fix my screen problem, and no guarantee it won't wreck everything.
High rated count this week. Got off to a fast start last Monday as I was collecting data on mid-year best-of lists, and checking out things I had missed. Probably also helped in that more than a few of them turned out to be EPs (or "mini-albums"). Only one of those albums made this week's A-list (Seun Kuti's), but I was pleasantly surprised by Shawn Mendes, and at least understand the interest in the Carters' Everything Is Love and Against All Logic's 2012-2017. Meanwhile, after something of a drought, three good jazz albums -- one from my queue, the other two from Bandcamp. (Actually, pretty sure Again is also on Bandcamp.)
The computer problem has kept me from doing much updating of the mid-year aggregate, but Janelle Monae managed to slip ahead of Kacey Musgraves for the top spot. I haven't factored Robert Christgau's grades in yet, but doing so would help (among the top 25): Monae (A-), Cardi B (A), Courtney Barnett (A-), Black Panther (A), Superchunk (A), Superorganism (A-), and Parquet Courts (A). My grades are listed in the file, but also not counted. I have those same records at B+(***) or above, plus Kali Uchis at A- and Saba at B+(***). Latter was hard to find a streaming source for, and I'm not sure how well I heard it.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 8, 2018
I've been hampered by another, quite maddening, computer problem this week. It helps to understand that every program has its own private piece of screen buffer memory, updating the entire image whenever it wishes to change what you see. Whether you actually see the changes depends on the layering of the windows. You usually see all of the current (active focus) window, but other windows may be partially or wholly covered by the top window, or by other windows in an overlay stack. This means that every possible view of every window is stored in memory somewhere -- either the main computer memory, or dedicated screen memory on a video controller card. The computer (or the video card) keep a display list of everything that is to be shown. What's happening on my computer is that this display list is getting corrupted, so all of a sudden I'll see some screen chunk appear when it shouldn't.
The result is very disorienting. For instance, while I've been writing this in an emacs editor window, the screen to my window's left has decided to show a big chunk of a Pitchfork review that I closed from my browser a couple of days ago. I can make it go away by moving the mouse over it and using the wheel to scroll whatever the proper window there has in it (a Wikipedia page). I'm able to work around the problem by using little tricks like that to force proper screen updates, but it's a trial, a real nuisance. This started happening a week ago when I was experiencing heavy load problems. I cut down on the loads by installing an ad blocker and rebooting. That did indeed help on performance, but within a day I started experiencing this phantom screen ghosting (not a technical term, but that's what the screen fragments feel like; just happened again).
I'm guessing that the problem is in the video card, and hoping it will go away when I replace the card (new one on order). Before I installed the ad blocker, I ran into another serious problem: I kept hearing random pops from Napster (although not from Bandcamp, which also plays through the browser, or from VLC, which is a separate ap). No such problem with the ad blocker installed, so that problem was clearly due to the added overhead of processing all those annoying ads. Good riddance to the visual distraction, as well.
I've been working on a side project this past week. I started this last year, spent a couple of days on it, and let it sit, moving on to other, seemingly more urgent, tasks. The idea is to collect all of the political notes from my online notebook. This starts back in 2001, before I started my blog, and continues to archive all of my blog posts from 2005 on. Originally I was thinking of one file for the whole roll, but as I got into 2006, I realized I need to split it into multiple volumes: one for the Bush years, a second for Obama, and probably one for Trump as long as is necessary. Prime determinant was length, but it also makes more sense subject-wise.
Of course, the writing will need a lot of editing to turn it into anything useful. And it's not clear even how it should be organized: day-by-day, or sorted out into subject areas. Good news is that compared to the jazz guides, this one is going pretty fast. Unless the computer situation deteriorates further, I should finish the first pass compilation up to 2008 this coming week. Currently have 465,000 words, up to Feb. 2007 (930 pages of 12 pt. type).
I'd like to say a few things about the material I've been reviewing, but don't have much time and the circumstances aren't conducive. Suffice it to say that the one clearest lesson is that nearly everything we've found so galling and appalling about Trump had previously appeared as a big problem under GW Bush. For instance, I have a lot of material in 2006-07 on North Korea. I have a report on a mass demonstration against ICE excesses. I even have a disgusting story about the president and the Boy Scouts. It's not that nothing never changes, but it is very much the case that Trump's agenda is a direct continuation of the shit Bush tried to pull until he flamed out in 2008, leaving the economy in shambles.
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, July 2, 2018
Music: current count 29896  rated (+37), 348  unrated (-0).
Nothing monumental below that I didn't get to before posting June Streamnotes on Saturday, although the Grupo Mono Blanco records are pretty nice if you're interested in Mexican folk music that doesn't veer into Mariachi or more generally Norteño. I spent a fair amount of time in the EOM crunch pouring over Phil Overeem's We're Halfway There -- But to Where? midterm list. Still 27 records in his main list (out of "damn near 100") that I haven't heard, as well as 12 title under "Old Music Nicely Repackaged." I'll try to knock a few more off that list next week.
Since it's midway through 2018, I figured there would be some "So Far" album lists to look at. I thought it might not be too hard to adapt my EOY Aggregate architecture to collecting data from mid-year lists. (I've done minimal editing, so I can purge the mid-year data and reuse the program files come November.) I collected 21 lists, mostly from Album of the Year, which netted 240 albums (three are new releases of archival music so they're in separate files; two are new works by various artists, which I kept with the new music in large part because Black Panther: The Album is likely to show up on a competitive number of lists). The data is here. The top albums (my grades in brackets, but not counted):
The first number in braces is points, followed by number of lists the album appears on (I used that as a tiebreaker).
Main caveat here is that most of the lists were unranked, so each album listed there got one point. Numbered lists were counted on my standard scale -- 5 for number one, 4 for 2-5, 3 for 6-10, 2 for 11-20, 1 for everything else -- although only 6 ranked lists had more than 20 albums (the max was 50, by Stereogum and Uproxx). That scale works better for longer year-end lists, especially more of them, but with such a small sample expect some distortion.
I expected Janelle Monae and Cardi B to dominate the list, but not much else was obvious. I didn't like the Kacey Musgraves album at all. I'm not surprised that it has fans, but so many? The Pusha T EP was produced by Kanye West, and seems to have gotten a perverse boost as West's fortunes faded (1 mention; his Kid Cudi collaboration, Kids See Ghosts, got 2). Lot of women in the top 10 (if memory serves, 9 of 10, though only 2 of the next 8, or 4 of 20). Kali Uchis and Saba have high metacritic scores, but so do Confidence Man and Rolo Tomassi (1 mention each). Kamasi Washington's Heaven & Earth broke late (4 mentions, 4 points, tied for 54th), between Mount Eerie/Tracey Thorn and Car Seat Headrest/Ezra Furman.
One positive bit of computer news is that I bought a new keyboard -- a Logitech K740 Illuminated -- that I'm pretty happy with. Not sure what you'd call the switches, but they have a better than usual tactile feedback without being as clunky (clicky?) as the mechanical keyboards. Plus it has LED backlighting on the key legends, so I can find whatever key I'm looking for in the dark. (I am a competent touch typist, but that doesn't help if you can't find the right starting keys.)
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Grade (or other) changes:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Busy day yesterday for the anti-Trump left in Wichita. I made it to the Ice Cream Social at the Wichita Peace Center, along with about forty other people, including two candidates -- James Thompson, running for Congress, somehow escaped my attention, but I couldn't miss Lacey Cruse, running for the Sedgwick County Commission, as she was the featured entertainment. Coming at the end of a long day wrapping up my June Streamnotes, I wasn't in the mood for a folkie singalong, so repaired to a quieter nook of the Peace House. However, she mentioned two demonstrations that day: one on inequality, the other on refugee rights. My wife went to the latter, and guessed about 300 people showed up. The former seemed to be the work of DSA. About a half-dozen people in DSA tee-shirts showed up for ice cream -- only one previously known to me.
I mention this because I've been in a deep, disgusted funk all week, and expected to just go through the motions in this post today. So while my commitment and even interest are flagging, note at least that there are still others who are getting more engaged -- especially much younger ones. That is as it should be. While there are terrible things that the current regime can do to what's left of my life, it's young people today who face the real horrors of America's current political nihilism, and it's their futures that hang in the balance. I've never been comfortable thinking in generational terms, but there are massive differences from the world I grew up in to the one young people inhabit today. We saw that there were inequities that needed work and issues that needed new attention, but we still believed that America's political legacy pointed toward a fairer and more equitable world. We made some real progress on many fronts, but left the door open which allowed moneyed interests and right-wing ideologues to creep back into control.
That, in turn, led to the impoverished, disempowered, manipulated, and embittered world young people today inhabit. That world took a turn for the worse in November 2016 when Trump won the presidency and both houses of Congress. I was literally sickened by the thought. If my capacity to be shocked has since waned, it's not because Republicans have failed to deliver on their threats. It's just because what's come to pass already seemed so inevitable 20 months ago. One such prospect was that right-wing activists would strengthen their grip on the Supreme Court and increasingly use that power to advance their agenda. This week that threat became suddenly real for a lot of people, thanks first to a series of rulings where Kennedy sided with the right, then with Kennedy's retirement, allowing Trump to install yet another right-wing movement judge.
But actually that movement on the court has been growing slowly, at least since Nixon nominated Rehnquist, whose opposition to civil rights was somehow deemed less threatening without a Southern drawl. (Nixon had previously had two nominees rejected, precisely for that reason.) It hasn't gone as smoothly as conservatives wanted, but their game plan has been relentless, and focused on the branch of government that is slowest moving and least responsive to popular political opinion. Actually, until Roosevelt prevailed by outlasting the judges, the Supreme Court had always been a bastion of elite privilege. We are very fortunate to have lived during the one period in American history when the Court regularly stood up for the civil rights of individuals and minorities. Thanks to the 2016 election, the Supreme Court will be a millstone on any recovery of democracy we manage to achieve in the 2018, 2020, etc. elections -- probably for decades to come.
I don't have a citation, but I have a pretty clear memory of Lindsey Graham, back when he was in the House before he became a Senator in 2003, explaining that Republicans have to use whatever power they have to lock in long-term, hard-to-repeal changes whenever and wherever they can, precisely because they realize that they can't expect to hold power indefinitely (and possibly because they fear demographic trends might undermine their standing). The courts, with their lifetime terms, are merely the most obvious example. Indeed, for decades now they've come up with novel approaches to frustrate democracy, including feeding a steady erosion in the confidence people have that they can change lives for the better through political action.
This week has been a banner week for their cynical manipulations. The lesson Democrats should learn is that they need to defeat the Republicans so big that such schemes are overwhelmed.
Some scattered links this week:
Saturday, June 30, 2018
Streamnotes (June 2018)
One last chore to do and I can forget about June 2018, hopefully forever -- it's beginning to make sense why dementia victims forget the most recent shit first. I haven't run the stats, but looks like a pretty average month. The big problem has been working around my major computer crash, but so many things have been going so badly that's a mere highlight.
The reviews below mostly speak for themselves. Nothing systematic in the Old Music section. The Rolling Stones came up almost by accident shortly after the computer crash. I needed to test my Grade List script, and the Rolling Stones were my first test case. I noticed that I had never graded my copy of Black and Blue, so figured that would be an easy unrated record to knock off -- certainly much easier to find on Napster than in the vast disarray of my shelves and bins. I noticed a few other later albums I'd been warned off of, and some more live albums I had missed. Finally, I went back through the separate UK releases of their 1960s albums -- I had all of the US releases already in my database. As you may recall, when the Beatles appeared on CD, they decided to treat the UK releases as canonical, which made a lot of technical and aesthetic sense. (In particular, the UK Help! was a full album of songs, where the US version just included the songs from the movie, separated with stretches of background music.) So when Abkco did a major Stones remaster job, they decided to offer both UK and US versions of common titles. The main difference there was that the US label (London) didn't want to leave any hit singles off the albums (as UK labels often did in the 1960s), and that generally made for better albums. Perhaps had I understood that before I started, I wouldn't have bothered. As it was, I decided not to bother working up cover images for the A/A- UK releases, seeing them as basically inferior to my previosuly graded US versions. (Possible exception there is Between the Buttons, as explained below.)
Among the new music, the album that gave me fits was the new Lily Allen (No Shame). As Michael Tatum wrote to me, "wow, what a falloff." I didn't care for the early single leaks, nor did I enjoy a performance on one of the late night shows. Had I given it a single play -- as I did, e.g., Chvrches (which Tatum likes) -- I probably would have dismissed it with a B. However, her previous album (Sheezus topped my 2014 list) and its predecessor, It's Not Me, It's You is easily my favorite record of this century, so I gave it more chances -- eventually a lot of chances. I found a few things I liked, and gradually set aside several reservations. With my deadline approaching, I gave it one more spin, and wrote it up at B+(**). Next morning, I added a third star. However, over the last few days, I kept running two or three melodies through my head, before eventually realizing they were hers. And that, I figured, was remarkable enough that I should nudge it over the cusp to A-.
Closest analogy I can think of is Steely Dan, who started with three brilliant albums, turned in a troubled fourth that was still terrific, then fell unaccountably flat on their fifth (The Royal Scam). In retrospect they were looking to change their stripes, which they managed on their two later albums (Aja more so than Gaucho; one of those has the line "so sue me if I play too long"). Anyhow, I put a lot of effort into trying to like The Royal Scam, and at least partly succeeded, in large part because they always managed to sound much like themselves.
Another record that benefitted this time from extra plays was the Dave Alvin/Jimmie Dale Gilmore one: clicked on the third or fourth play. But most of the A-list records get 2-3 plays -- two that satisfied me with a single play were Anthony Braxton's Arista Years and the new John Coltrane vault gem. Usually when I get to B+(***) on the first play, I'll give the record another chance to see if it gets any better. The main exception this time was Kamasi Washington, who created something bigger and better than The Epic without convincing me that it's something I'm ever going to care about. It's currently one of the top-rated records of the year at Metacritic and AOTY, and may well deserve to be. But I figure I've already cut it enough slack, and will let that be.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on May 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (11306 records).
700 Bliss: Spa 700 (2018, Halcyon Veil/Don Giovanni, EP): Philadelphia hip-hop experiment: lyrics by Moor Mother, production by Haram, mixed by Hprism, mastered by Ase Manual. Five cuts, 13:48. B+(**) [bc]
JD Allen: Love Stone (2018, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Detroit, has mostly recorded trios with Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), adding guitarist Liberty Ellman here. Has a huge, remarkably clear sound, obvious from the start, but slides into a ballad on the second track and never really returns. B+(**)
Lily Allen: No Shame (2018, Parlophone): Change of pace record after three aces -- the last two tops on my 2009 and 2014 annual lists -- eschewing the "euphoric choruses and monstrous drops" that put Sheezus over the top, aiming for more of "an audio diary." Three singles I sampled early on Napster were underwhelming, but the first official one, "Trigger Bang," is just fine. But she got help there, and indeed two other songs with feat. guests stand out. Elsewhere, takes a while to sink in that the voice in "Three" is her daughter's. And while the last two songs are catchy enough, they're vamps built on obvious clichés. I've given this a lot of time, and I'm disappointed, but I still adore her. And lately I've found myself with a couple of her songs wedged in my cranium. Only other record this month I can say that for is Between the Buttons, and it had a 50 year head start. A-
Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore: Downey to Lubbock (2018, Yep Roc): Two aging and never more than marginal stars in the alt-Americana niche -- though from my vantage point each has a half-dozen essential albums, especially if you factor in former groups, the Blasters and the Flatlanders -- trying to prop each other up, stretching two new Alvin songs out with mostly obscure covers -- the few you readily recognize seem most desperate, but great songs out in the end. Especially when sung by great voices, and bolstered by a lot of guitar. A-
Rodrigo Amado: A History of Nothing (2017 , Trost): Tenor saxophonist, from Portugal, led a group called Lisbon Improvisation Players around 2000, emerging as one of the top avant-saxophonists of the young century. With Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet/soprano sax), Kent Kessler (bass), and Chris Corsano (drums) bringing the noise, he holds this set together, while having a little fun. A- [cd]
Angles 3: Parede (2016 , Clean Feed): Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen (tenor/soprano), recorded his first Angles group in 2007, a sextet, later expanding it to Angles 8 and Angles 9, here cut back to a trio -- different from his 2007 Trio and later Trespass Trio. This one has Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Kjell Nordeson (drums), with the saxophonist straining and wailing, even turning free jazz into something catchy. A-
Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018, Mom + Pop Music): Australian singer-songwriter, started folkie but distinguished herself on guitar last album. Strong guitar here, too. B+(***)
Jamie Baum Septet+: Bridges (2018, Sunnyside): Flute player, based in New York, sixth album, formed her original septet in 1999, website lists eight members -- most notably Amir ElSaffar (trumpet), Sam Sadigursky (alto sax/bass clarinet), Brad Shepik (guitar), and John Escreet (piano) -- album credits ten (adding two extra percussionists). Explores "deep connections" between Jewish, Arabic, and South Indian music, the flute blending in while the trumpet stands out. B+(*)
Bombino: Deran (2018, Partisan): Omara Moctar, a Tuareg from northeast Niger, plays guitar-driven Saharan rock, an easily mesmerizing groove music. B+(***)
Craig Brann: Lineage (2017 , SteepleChase): Guitarist, originally from Maine, based in New York since 1996, fourth album, quintet with John Raymond (trumpet), Ethan Herr (piano), bass, and drums. B+(**)
Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes (2018, Def Jam): R&B singer, an ingenue on her 1993 eponymous debut, maturing into a powerful voice and personality. B+(**)
Busdriver: Electricity Is on Our Side (2018, Temporary Forever): Rapper-beatmaker Regan Farquhar, more than a dozen albums since 1999, very erratic, as the weird shit often escapes me (or just doesn't seem worth the trouble). B-
Lynn Cassiers: Imaginary Band (2017 , Clean Feed): Born in Antwerp, Belgium, 1984; vocalist-composer, also credited with electronics. Discography lists a couple dozen items since 2008, but this seems to be the first album under her own name. Group is a septet with violin, soprano/tenor sax, euphonium, piano, double bass, drums. Rather abstract and arty. B+(*)
Chrome Hill: The Explorer (2017 , Clean Feed): Norwegian quartet, all pieces composed by Asbjørn Lerheim (baritone guitar), with Atle Nymo (tenor sax), Roger Antzen (double bass), Torstein Lofthus (drums). B+(*)
Chromeo: Head Over Heels (2018, Big Beat/WEA): Dance pop duo, David Macklovitch ("Dave 1") and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg), from Montreal, "the only Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture," fifth album since 2004. Not sure why so many critics dismiss this as retro. I find their big beat dance grooves more fun than bubblegum. A-
Chvrches: Love Is Dead (2018, Glassnote): Scottish synth-pop band, upbeat and flashy despite the title, as Pitchfork put it: "uncomplicated, unsurprising." B+(*)
Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba: Routes (2018, Twelve/Eight): Senegalese kora master, based in North Carolina, plus his American band, which does a pretty fair rendering of the deep Mande roots while adding to the leader's cosmopolitanism. He, in turn, approximates into a kinder, gentler Youssou N'Dour. A- [dl]
Scott Clark: ToNow (2017 , Clean Feed): Drummer, from Virginia, second album, quintet with Bob Miller (trumpet), Jason Scott (sax), Toby Summerfield (guitar), and Cameron Ralston (bass). Four tracks. Interesting when the guitar riffs against the horn backdrop, more so when they all kick in ("Red, White, Yellow"). B+(*)
Sean Conly: Hard Knocks (2017 , Clean Feed): Bassist, has a couple albums, this one a trio with Michaël Attias on alto sax and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. Lovely work from Attias, never straying far from or crowding out the bass melodies. B+(***)
Ronnie Cuber: Ronnie's Trio (2017 , SteepleChase): Baritone saxophonist, born 1941, worked in big bands, with George Benson, with Lee Konitz, with Billy Joel, plus sixteen (or so) albums as leader, his best title still his debut, Cuber Libre. Trio with Jay Anderson (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums), 72:45 of jazz standards -- Ellington, Waller, Porter, Kern, two Silvers, "St. Thomas," a Jobim. B+(*)
Benje Daneman Searchparty: Light in the Darkness (2017 , ACI): Trumpet player, at least one previous album, group includes Greg Ward on alto sax, Rob Clearfield on piano, plus bass, drums, and voice (Ashley Daneman). Don't care for the latter, not so much due to the voice itself but the dramatic airs that arrive with it. C+ [cd]
Daphne & Celeste: Daphne & Celeste Save the World (2018, Balatonic): Electropop duo, Karen ("Daphne") DiConcetto and Celeste Cruz, originally formed when they were teens for a 2000 album (a couple of singles charted in UK and NZ), regrouped in 2015 leading to this second effort. Upbeat but wears thin, making you wonder: saves the world from what? B
Detroit Bop Quintet: Two Birds (2014 , TQM, EP): Hard bop quintet with Dwight Adams on trumpet and Pete Mills on sax. Not even an EP: just two songs, both by Charlie Parker, "Bluebird" and "Another Hairdo." Play like their models, although no one here is going to be mistaken for Parker, Gillespie, or for that matter a real Detroit legend like Hank Jones. B [cd]
Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo: Something to Say (2018, Shanachie): Singer, born in Côte d'Ivoire, parents Wassoulou from Mali, moved on to France, where she also acts. Nice groove here, grabbed me from the start, gradually let me go. b+(**)
Olegario Diaz: I Remember Chet (2017 , SteepleChase): Pianist, from Venezuela, based in New York, fifth album on this label, has written at least that many books -- titles like Latin Jazz Piano Technique, Herbie Hancock: The Blue Note Years, 240 Chromatic Exercises + 1165 Jazz Lines Phrases for Bass Clef Instrument Players. Title song and "Rise and Fall Baker" are his only originals here; the covers not things I particularly associate with Baker, although I wouldn't be surprised to find some links. Quintet, with the horns -- Alex Sipiagin on trumpet/flugelhorn and Seamus Blake on tenor sax -- trying to keep cool, Scott Colley on bass and Bill Stewart drums. B+(***)
Pierre Dørge: Soundscapes (2017 , SteepleChase): Danish guitarist, now past 70, usually leads a large band called the New Jungle Orchestra, inspired by most Ellington and Johnny Dyani. Sextet here, most with label associations: Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Stephen Riley (tenor sax), Conrad Herwig (trombone), Jay Anderson (bass), and Adam Nussbaum (drums). All originals, opening with pieces that namecheck Mingus and Sun Ra, plus one for Dyani. Dørge usually blends into the rhythm, but offers some tasty leads here. B+(***)
Elina Duni: Partir (2017 , ECM): Albanian jazz/folk singer, based in Switzerland, accompanies herself on piano, uitar, and percussion. B+(*)
Marty Ehrlich: Trio Exaltation (2017 , Clean Feed): Mostly plays alto sax, but also clarinet, bass clarinet, and wooden flute. With John Hebert on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Original pieces, one dedicated to Ornette Coleman. B+(***)
Enemy: Enemy (2016 , Edition): British piano trio, with Frans Petter Eldh (bass), Kit Downes (piano), and James Maddren (drums). Bright, sharp, tuneful, a slightly more energetic E.S.T. B+(**)
The English Beat [Dave Wakeling]: Here We Go Love (2018, Here We Go): A great ska band for three albums 1980-82, known as The Beat in the UK, the English Beat in the US. The two singers, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger going on to uneventful solo careers (including a second joint group, General Public) before recently returning to their old brand name in two separate incarnations, Roger releasing an album in 2016, and now this one "starring Dave Wakeling." Tries to rekindle the old excitement, but feels off, not least because the ska groove has become domesticated beyond recognition. B-
Román Filiú: Quarteria (2018, Sunnyside): Alto saxophonist from Cuba, based in New York since 2011, plays in Henry Threadgill's recent groups. Group here is a septet: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), David Virelles (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), Craig Weinrib (drums), Yusnier Sanchez (percussion). Has a curious abstractness to it, all sharp edges, zigs and zags. B+(*)
Erik Friedlander: Artemisia (2017 , Skipstone): Cellist, calls this quartet Throw a Glass, "sparked by a viewing of Pablo Picasso's mysterious absinthe glass sculptures": Uri Caine (piano), Mark Helias (bass), Ches Smith (drums). The pianist is most impressive here, sparkling amidst the dense swirl of cello and bass. B+(**)
Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda/Gianni Mimmo: Triad (2017 , Long Song): Continuing the pianist's 60th birthday celebration, a trio with bass and soprano saxophone, the latter getting a slow start but ultimately carrying the record. B+(***) [cd]
Tia Fuller: Diamond Cut (2018, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, from Colorado, fifth album since 2005, teaches at Berklee, tours with Beyoncé. Produced by Terri Lyne Carrington, split between two rhythm sections (Dave Holland/Jack DeJohnette and James Genus/Bill Stewart), with occasional guitar and/or organ. Strong, boppish sax -- impresses but doesn't surprise. B+(*)
Gift of Gab: Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again! (2018, Giftstribution Unlimited, EP): Blackalicious rapper Timothy Parker, has solo projects going back to 1994. Six cuts, 21:16, most superb (especially "The Gentrification Song", "Aspire"). A-
Ginkgoa: One Time (2018, self-released, EP): Electropop duo from Paris, with New York-born singer Nicolle Rochelle and producer Antoine Chatenet. Five cuts (time?), dance beats with a soupçon of swing. First three cuts hooked me, last two let me sit down. B+(**) [dl]
Vinny Golia/Steph Richards/Bert Turetzky: Trio Music (2017 , PfMentum): Golia's credit reads "woodwinds and ethnic aerophones"; Richards (elsewhere known as Stephanie) trumpet/flugelhorn; Turetzky, who has a long association with Golia: contrabass. B+(*) [bc]
Jon Hassell: Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) (2018, Ndeya): Trumpet player, but that's always taken a backseat role to his intricately layered electronics, guitar, and percussion -- a formula Brian Eno helped him market as "Fourth World: Possible Musics." He's released little since 2000, but following his 80th birthday he's come up with a new album on his own label, and promises more coming both new and old. This one wobbles a bit, but is cooly entrancing. A-
Phil Haynes & Free Country: 60/69: My Favorite Things (2014 , Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, born in 1961 so he doesn't remember the 1960s the same way I do. For one thing, his over picks skew to the end of the decade, starting with three Jimi Hendrix songs -- "Surfer Girl" and "Walk On By" go back to 1963, only one of six Beatles songs predates 1968 (1964's "And I Love Her"). Two standards date from earlier ("Somewhere" and "My Favorite Things," though it's instantly clear that the model is John Coltrane's 1960 version). Group includes Jim Yanda (guitar), Drew Gress (bass), and Hank Roberts (cello), with Roberts singing on close to half of the songs (not very well). Roberts also arranged "People Are Strange," trying to make it as strange as possible, but his cello is lovely on "Both Sides Now." Haynes arranged all but one of the others, seemingly confused over whether he wants pop nostalgia or new jazz standards, and not quite getting either. B+(*) [cd]
Honest John w/ Ab Baars: Treem (2016 , Clean Feed): Norwegian quintet, Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (alto sax/clarinet) leads, with violin, guitar/banjo, bass, and drums, joined here by the Dutch avant saxophonist. B+(*)
Imarhan: Temet (2018, City Slang): Yet another Tuareg guitar band, this one from Algeria, which seems to mean they're not related to the Imarhan Timbuktu group I noticed in 2014. Christgau argues that this is "faster" than the norm, danceable even, but I don't hear that at all. Rather, a mild groove that charms more with its ease and comfort. B+(***)
Gene Jackson Trio NuYorx: Power of Love (2017 , Whirlwind): Drummer-led piano trio, Gabriel Guerrero on piano, Carlo De Rosa on bass. All three wrote pieces, plus two Monks and one from Cole Porter. B+(*) [cd]
Wilko Johnson: Blow Your Mind (2018, Chess): British singer-songwriter, led Dr. Feelgood, a 1975-77 pub rock band that seemed poised to be the next big thing but got blind-sided by punk. (Johnson wrote most of the songs but Lee Brilleaux was the singer. The band carried on after Johnson's departure, and still does, but Brilleaux died in 1994.) Played out his string, helming his eponymous band until diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011, but improbably beat that and cut a 2014 comeback album co-headlined by fellow has-been Roger Daltrey. Four-square blues-rock with harmonica and keyboards, as unspectacular but indelible as ever. B+(***)
Vic Juris: Eye Contact (2016 , SteepleChase): Guitarist, from New Jersey, simplified his name from Jurusz, has a tone that is metallic but silky smooth -- of the list of influences Jim Hall and Jimmy Rainey strike me as closest. Trio with Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum, with three originals, a Monk, an Evans, two Shorters, and standards like "Sweet and Lovely." B+(**)
Lana Trio: Lana Trio With Sofia Jernberg (2016 , Clean Feed): Norwegian free jazz trio, eponymous debut had two girls on the cover but group consists of Kjetil Jerve (piano), Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø (trombone), and Andreas Wildhagen (drums). Jernberg is a singer, born in Ethiopia but based in Sweden. She makes things difficult, but the band treats that as a challenge. b+(**)
Allegra Levy: Looking at the Moon (2018, SteepleChase): Website declares: "Most jazz vocalists sing standards. Allegra Levy writes her oen." Still, most of these moon songs are familiar: "Moon River," "Harvest Moon," "Blue Moon," "Moonlight in Vermont," "No Moon at All," "Polkadots and Moonbeams," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "I'll Be Seeing You." Latter is the charm. Backed by piano trio featuring Carmen Staaf. B+(**)
Lykke Li: So Sad So Sexy (2018, RCA): Singer-songwriter, born in Sweden but not blonde, full name Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson, mother a photographer, father played in a punk-reggae band, lived while growing up in Portugal, Morocco, Nepal, India, Brooklyn. Fourth album, synthpop but that's just her medium. Sad? Sure. Sexy? That's the easy part. B+(*)
Low Cut Connie: "Dirty Pictures" (Part 2) (2018, Contender): Adam Weiner's Philadelphia bar band, fifth album, last year's Part 1 was the first to disappoint me. While I like this one better, they do seem to be going through the motions. B+(**)
Joe Magnarelli: Magic Trick (2017 , SteepleChase): Mainstream trumpet player, co-founded New York Hard Bop Quintet in 1991, ninth album since 1995: a quintet with Andy Fusco (alto sax), John Hart (guitar), Ben Wolfe (bass), and Byron Landon (drums). Four originals, six standards, nice mix. B+(**)
Nellie McKay: Sister Orchid (2018, Palmetto): Seems to have given up on writing with her third straight covers album, this the first on a jazz label, and the dustiest set of standards. She takes them slow, giving me pause even before recognizing songs as familiar as "Where or When" and "The Nearness of You." Two takes of "My Romance," the second even woozier than the first. B+(**)
Brad Mehldau: After Bach (2017 , Nonesuch): Solo piano, five pieces from Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," interleaved with often longer originals in the same vein. I don't doubt his craft or dedication, but not my thing, even if pleasant enough. B
Brad Mehldau: Seymour Reads the Constitution! (2018, Nonesuch): Piano trio, only one I can recall him with: Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums). Starts with two originals, winds up with six covers from all over the place, which all sound more like his After Bach than the originals. B+(*)
Melody's Echo Chamber: Bon Voyage (2018, Fat Possum): French singer-songwriter Melody Prochet, released a debut album in 2012, with this her second. Dreamy synthpop, some in French, some in English, with scattered snippets of spoken word which occasionally had me wondering whether my computer was mixing audio streams. B
Marieann Meringolo: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Songs of Alan & Marilyn Bergman (2017 , Blujazz): Standards singer, based in New York, at least two previous albums. The Bermans wrote lyrics to melodies, most often from Michel Legrand or Marvin Hamlisch. I can't particularly recommend any of them. C+ [cd]
MIKE: Black Soap (2018, Lex, EP): Name doesn't make it easy to search, but seems to be "Mike (408)" at Discogs: Michael Bonema, "a 19-year-old rapper living in Brooklyn," "childhood hometown of London," I recall his 2017 record May God Bless Your Hustle but evidently didn't play it. Seven track, 21:18, very experimental, first track sounds like Japanese with almost no rhythm. Can't confirm his age, but if true they sure don't make teens like they used to. B+(*)
MIKE: Renaissance Man (2018, Lex): Second full-length album, although the twelve cuts merge into a blur, and total only 33:04. Still having trouble getting a handle on him. B+(*)
Mdou Moctar/Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar Meets Elite Beat in a Budget Dancehall (2017 , Boomarm Nation): Only thing I know about Elite Beat is that he/it involves Jesse Munro Johnson, who also does business as Gulls. No band credits, although the sharp metallic guitar is certainly Moctar's (a Tuareg from Niger), cutting a swath through the extended keyb/drum vamps. Three "raw, unedited, live recordings" (38:12), no voices to speak of. A- [bc]
Molly Tigre: Molly Tigre (2018, Very Special): Brooklyn band, saxophonists Mitch Marcus and Chris Hiatt up front, bassist Ezra Gale the prime writer (along with Marcus), various presumably African percussionists -- Ethiopia, maybe also Mali, with a nod toward Bollywood. B+(***)
No Fast Food: Settings for Three (2016 , Corner Store Jazz): Trio, names listed alphabetically -- Drew Gress (bass), Phil Haynes (drums), Dave Liebman (woodwinds) -- but Haynes is the leader and composer. Still, a tour de force for Liebman, whose Coltrane-ish freebop has rarely sounded better. Dedicated to the late avant trumpet player Paul Smoker. Haynes played on his last records, and they're dandies. A- [cd]
Jason Palmer: At Wally's: Volume 1 (2016 , SteepleChase): Postbop trumpet player, originally from North Carolina, based in Boston. Mostly quintet (plus Fender Rhodes on one cut), with Noah Preminger (tenor sax) and Max Light (guitar). All Palmer pieces, impressive chops. B+(*)
Jason Palmer: At Wally's: Volume 2 (2016 , SteepleChase): More from same group, probably same date -- pianist Chris McCarthy seems to play more, not that he makes much difference. B
Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg (2018, C Kunspyruhzy): So George Clinton revives his most popular front group 38 years after he mothballed it, promising this last tour "after which the Parliament-Funkadelic legendary juggernaut will continue on its own without Clinton." I'd say he'll be missed, but he hasn't been present: his last "solo" album in my database came out in 1996 (looks like I missed George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love in 2008), but I did notice a Funkadelic revival in 2014. Some trademark funk here, in his later mode when not even slinkier: "Kool Aid" would be filler on Motor Booty Affair (or the single on Trombipulation), but the singer on the single "I'm Gon Make U Sick O'Me" makes me think of Bill Cosby, and that after a fat-shaming song that would have been the first of several songs I would have cut. B
Alberto Pinton Noi Siamo: Opus Facere (2017 , Clean Feed): Italian baritone saxophonist (also alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet), based in Sweden, two-horn quartet with Niklas Barnö on trumpet, Torbjörn Zetterberg on bass, and KonradAgnas on drums. He's used this group name before, on Resiliency (2016), highly recommended. This one runs hots and cold, impressive but not consistently so. B+(**)
Jure Pukl: Doubtless (2017 , Whirlwind): Tenor saxophonist, from Slovenia, based in New York, several previous albums, this one a quartet with Melissa Aldana also on tenor sax, plus Joe Sanders on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Mainstream postbop, the second sax adding a curious shadowing. B+(**) [cd]
Jure Pukl/Matija Dedic: Hybrid (2016 , Whirlwind): Last year's record, Pukl playing soprano sax and bass clarinet as well as tenor sax, with Croatian pianist Dedic, Matt Brewer on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums, with Melissa Aldana on tenor sax on two tracks. B+(***) [bc]
Pusha T: Daytona (2018, GOOD/Def Jam, EP): First of five planned seven-cut mini-albums to be produced by Kanye West this year, runs 21:08, gangsta converging on business, as always. B+(**)
Joshua Redman/Ron Miles/Scott Colley/Brian Blade: Still Dreaming (2018, Nonesuch): Postbop quartet, no piano or guitar, which should make the horns more freewheeling. I'm more impressed by the cornet than by the tenor sax. B+(**)
Bebe Rexha: Expectations (2018. Warner Brothers): Singer-songwriter born in Brooklyn, of Albanian heritage, has had some success songwriting for artists from G-Eazy to Florida-Georgia Line. Still, odd flow appending latter to an otherwise pretty fair pop album. Doesn't say much for the role of marketing in art. B+(*)
Stephanie Richards: Fullmoon (2018, Relative Pitch): Trumpet player, from Canada, based in New York, first album, close to solo (only other credit is Dino J.A. Deane: sampler). She also appears in Henry Threadgill's Kestra and on Trio Music with Vinny Golia. Dense, dark, deliberate. B+(**) [bc]
Rolling Blackouts C.F.: Hope Downs (2018, Sub Pop): Australian guitar band, from Melbourne, released a couple of widely praised EPs, picked up by influential alt/indie label Sub Pop, with this their first LP. Their guitar jangle is mesmerizing, with faint echoes of the Go-Betweens, and the lyrics I notice smart (though not as touching). Still, impressive. A-
J. Peter Schwalm: How We Fall (2017 , RareNoise): German composer, plays guitar, piano, electronics, started "experimental electro-jazz" Projekt Slop Shop in 1990s, two co-credited albums with Brian Eno 2000-01. Fourth solo album since 2006, with Eivind Aarset (guitar) and/or Tim Harries (bass) joining in on most cuts. Somewhat industrial. B+(*) [cdr]
Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher (2018, Deckdisc): Brazilian samba singer, discography goes back to 1960 although I didn't notice her until 2016's A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo). The back catalog may be worth a trawl, but moving forward, at 80 she's clearly not intent on fitting into anyone else's genre. Raps some, rocks more. A-
Mark Soskin: Upper West Side Stories (2017 , SteepleChase): New York pianist, one I hadn't noticed much despite a discography going back to 1976. Trio with Jay Anderson (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums), who've been showing up a lot on SteepleChase records recently. Only two originals, counting his extension to Billy Strayhorn's "UMMG" -- covers range from the Frank Loesser opener to "Ugly Beauty" and "Un Poco Loco." B+(**)
Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara (2018, Mr. Bongo): Highlife bandleader from Ghana, had a collection of his 1973-80 hits compiled by Strut in 2012, which brought him back to the studio, even as he turned 80 -- still upbeat, often joyous. B+(**)
Chris Thile/Brad Mehldau: Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau (2017, Nonesuch): Mandolin-piano duets, both also credited with vocals. Thile started out in bluegrass, joining Nickel Creek as a pre-teen -- his father played bass at the time -- recording five albums 1993-2005 plus a sixth for a 2014 reunion. All the time he also recorded solo albums, duets with Mike Marshall and Edgar Meyer, and a set with Yo-Yo Ma. Half originals, the covers include Dylan and Mitchell songs, plus an "I Cover the Waterfront" that puts the singer in especially harsh light. The pianist is a dutiful accompanist, the mandolin fragile, the voices not even that. B-
This Is It!: 1538 (2018, Libra): Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii, with Natsuki Tamura (trumpet) and Takashi Itani (drums), her basic trio, and a fair showing of her range and dynamics as a pianist. That should be welcome after a series of large-scale works that sidelined her instrument, and often is, but maybe fatigue is setting in as her album every month grind starts to wear down. B+(***) [cd]
Thumbscrew: Ours (2017 , Cuneiform): Trio adopting the title of their 2014 album -- Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums) -- developed this music during a residency in Pittsburgh last year. My copy came shrinkwrapped with a second album, Theirs, but looks more like two separate albums now -- the distinction original pieces here, covers there. Would have been easier to grade as a single item, as the second is pretty much more of the same. I'm not one of Halvorson's more complete fans, but this is the combo I find her most interesting in. A-
Thumbscrew: Theirs (2017 , Cuneiform): Maybe a bit catchier, which may make it a bit less fascinating to follow, or just more simply pleasurable. A-
Rafael Toral/Hugo Antunes/João Pais Filipe/Ricardo Webbens: Space Quartet (2017 , Clean Feed): Bassist Antunes is the only name I recognize here. Filipe plays drums/percussion, the others various electronics -- Toral the big name with 27 albums since 1994. Interesting squiggles over basic free rhythm. B+(**)
Sidi Touré: Toubalbero (2018, Thrill Jockey): Singer-songwriter from northern Mali, started in Songhaï Stars in 1976, released first solo album in 1996, at least four since then. On the folk/blues end of the pop spectrum. B+(**)
Joshua Trinidad: In November (2015 , RareNoise): Trumpeter player, based in Denver, went to Norway for this dose of Nordic cool, a trio with Jacob Young (guitar) and Stale Liavik Solberg (drums). B+(*) [cdr]
Will Vinson: It's Alright With Three (2017 , Criss Cross): Alto saxophonist, also soprano, half-dozen albums since 2008, strips down to a trio here with Gilad Hekselman (guitar) and Antonio Sanchez (drums). Three originals, five covers -- one from Marc Johnson, the others from the trad songbook. B+(**)
Jerry Vivino: Coast to Coast (2005-17 , Blujazz): Alto saxophonist, mainstreamer, stitched this together from four sessions, with two cuts dating back to 2005, one from 2014. Mostly originals, but he takes a vocal on "Honeysuckle Rose," and offers a shout out to Bucky Pizzarelli before a solo that couldn't possibly be by anyone else. B+(**) [cd]
Tim Warfield: Jazzland (2017 , Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, also soprano, impressed me hugely when he first appeared in the late 1990s but has appeared erratically since. Looks for a hybrid here, part hard bop, bigger part soul jazz. With Terrell Stafford trumpet, Pat Bianchi organ, drums and extra percussion. B+(*)
Kamasi Washington: Heaven and Earth (2018, Young Turks, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, big, deep tone, seemed on his way to becoming a very respectable jazz musician before he took a Flying Lotus turn on The Epic in 2015 and became a crossover pop star -- while managing to retain a good deal of jazz respect. Not sure where he lands after this effort, which is no less epic: if anything, more diverse, more pop, more richly textured, maybe even danceable. I can't say as I feel the need for anything so grandiose, but it's here if you want it. B+(***)
Kanye West: Ye (2018, Def Jam/GOOD Music, EP): Seven tracks, 23:41, thus far digital only. Initially I wondered if this was a publicity stunt to cash in on the rapper's recent inroads with the Trump base, but I doubt they'll get it any more than I do, or even care. If you think he's a genius, you might be impressed by his production savvy. If you think he's a fool, well, there's evidence for that too. He starts off talking about committing murder, justifying it because he thinks about suicide, "and I love myself much more than I love you." Later on: "That's why I fuck with you . . . that's my superpower." B+(*)
WorldService Project: Serve (2017 , Rare Noise): British quintet, bills itself as "jazz-punk," not really either, with two horns (tenor sax and trombone) merely adding to the synth noise, the pompous riffs and bellowing vocals the antithesis of punk. C- [cdr]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Anthony Braxton: The Essential Anthony Braxton: The Arista Years (1974-80 , Arista/Legacy, 2CD): A surprise add to Sony/Legacy's long-running (mostly) 2-CD sampler series -- launched in 2001 with Columbia artists like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis (also illy Joel and Neil Diamond), eventually picking up other labels like RCA and Arista as they were acquired by Sony. Arista, founded by ex-Columbia honcho Clive Davis, made a couple of interesting forays into jazz in the 1970s, including signing a hot young AACM saxophonist named Anthony Braxton. Those records went out of print long before Arista sold out to RCA, until Mosaic reissued them in an 8-CD box in 2008, and unavailable separately until Legacy offered them digital-only last year. This, too, is only on digital. More a wide-ranging sampler than a best-of, the highlights are still amazing, the explorations daring, the faux pas -- well, that happens. A-
Gene Clark: Gene Clark Sings for You (1967 , Omnivore): Byrds founder (guitar/vocals), left to pursue a solo career, releasing Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers in 1967, followed by two Dillard & Clark albums, and various reunions with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. Not sure if this "acetate" has appeared before -- a couple songs appear on Echoes, released after his death at age 46 in 1991. Not much more than folkie demos here, the voice familiar, the songs unmemorable. B
John Coltrane: Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (1963 , Impulse, 2CD): Recorded March 8, 1963 with his famous quartet, unreleased, the master destroyed in some senseless housekeeping. However, a second copy recently surfaced among his first wife's (Naima's) things, and is organized here with multiple takes, including four of "Impressions" (the title track, recorded earlier, of an album released later in 1963). Nothing here markedly different from the year's major releases -- certainly no reason to prioritize this over Live at Birdland or Crescent or the live Afro Blue Impressions, although I would rank it above John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman and Impressions itself. A-
Lee Konitz: Prisma: By Guenter Buhles (2000 , QFTF): "Concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra," composed by Buhles at Konitz's request, runs through four parts in 17:01 backed by the strings of the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt -- awful, of course, but the saxophone is lovely, even when stuck in Buhles' melodies. The album is filled out with three standards (16:57), in a duo with pianist Frank Wunsch. B
Ernie Krivda and Swing City: A Bright and Shining Moment (1998-2002 , Capri): Tenor saxophonist, cut these pieces -- five originals and eleven standards arranged by the leader -- in three sessions with near-identical septets: trumpet (Steve Enos), trombone (Chris Anderson or Gary Carney), piano (James Hunter), guitar, bass, and drums. As advertised, they swing. B+(**) [cd]
Professor Rhythm: Professor 3 (, Awesome Tapes From Africa): From South Africa, Thami Mduli's third album, six very rhythmic tracks (28:40), reminds me of pennywhistle or township jive, some catchy instrumentals, some adding even catchier vocals. Somewhat earlier than last year's Awesome find, Bafana Bafana. A-
The Rough Guide to the Best Country Blues You've Never Heard (1927-36 , World Music Network): Twenty-five tracks, suitably primitive, and sufficiently obscure: I was able to locate every song, thanks to the Austrian Document label, but I think only two artists managed to fill up a complete CD: J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith and Charlie McCoy. Maybe a third of the songs show up on various Yazoo compilations, including at least one I own. I don't own Allen Lowe's 36-CD blues set, but he must have heard a bunch of them. B+(***)
The Savory Collection, Vol. 4: Embraceable You: Bobby Hackett and Friends (1938-40 , National Jazz Museum of Harlem): Three previous volumes are well regarded by critics who've heard them -- featuring Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie/Lester Young, and Fats Waller, I can well believe their rep, but can't confirm it. Unfortunately, they're only available on Apple Music, although I've seen promise of an expensive 5-CD box on Mosaic later this year. I'm working off a download from the publicist, who ignored my request for the previous volumes, and I'm more than a little aggravated, given that it took a couple of hours to unpack the archive and rename and reorganize the files so I could finally play all fifteen tracks in order. Also note that Hackett (trumpet) only appears on seven tracks, only one under his own name -- the others are by a group led by clarinetist Joe Marsala, plus you get three tracks by Teddy Wilson, two by Jack Teagarden, and three by Glenn Miller. The Wilson tracks, with Ben Webster on tenor sax, are the real prizes, but everything else is first-rate traditional jazz, and Miller's "The Mood" is a rousing finish. The tracks were recorded by Bill Savory from ballrooms and broadcasts. He's evidently a legend among audio engineers, and everything here is sharp and clear. I'm tempted to slam the (lack of) packaging, but love the music too much. A- [dl]
Esbjörn Svensson Trio: E.S.T. Live in London (2005 , ACT, 2CD): Swedish piano trio, with Dan Berglund on bass and Magnus Öström on drums, formed in 1993 and until the pianist's death in 2008 probably the world's most popular jazz group, at least in Europe -- the Bad Plus attempted to fill a similar niche in the US. Nothing spectacular here, but a fine example of what made they so appealing. B+(**)
Rodrigo Amado/Carlos Zíngaro/Ken Filiano: The Space Between (2002 , Clean Feed): Tenor sax, violin, and bass, Zíngaro the senior and most distinctive member, the others early into distinguished careers. The concept was "real-time composition," one way to view their edgy music, but sometimes one wishes for a drummer to hurry them along a bit. B+(**) [bc]
Gene Clark: Gene Clark With the Gosdin Brothers (1967, Columbia): Clark's first post-Byrds album. Vern and Rex Gosdin were unknown at the time -- their only other album appeared in 1968, but Vern had played with Chris Hillman in the Hillmen and went on to chart 41 singles on Billboard's country charts 1976-93 (3 at number one, 10 more top-ten). The Gosdins only add backing vocals to Clark's leads, but the studio band includes Hillman, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Van Dyke Parks, Jim Gordon, and Michael Clarke, with spots for Doug Dillard and Clarence White. Aside from a strings faux pas, the band impresses, and the Gosdins blend in so neatly you hardly notice they're here. B+(*)
Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: We've Got a Live One Here (1976, Warner Brothers): George Frayne's pioneering good-timey country-rock band, formed in 1967 in Ann Arbor, scored a novelty hit off their 1971 debut, followed that up with a collection of Trucker's Favorites that remains a personal favorite. In 1976 Geoffrey Stokes wrote a fine book about their ill-fated struggle for stardom (Star Making Machinery), but the band was winding down, releasing their second live album in two year as they broke up. Long set, pretty much sums up their career, although not as exciting as they could be. B+(**)
Pierre Dørge Quartet: Ballad Round the Left Corner (1979 , SteepleChase): Danish guitarist, early album before his long-running New Jungle Orchestra, with John Tchicai on alto sax, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. Free jazz with bop elements, nice balance between guitar and sax. B+(**)
Pierre Dørge/Harry Beckett/Marilyn Mazur/Klavs Hovman: Echoez Of . . . (1990, Olufsen): Discogs lists Beckett, a trumpet player from Barbados who moved to the UK as a teenager in 1954, first, but I copied the top-to-bottom from the cover, where they were listed below the title. The song credits are split 4-4. Mazur plays drums, Hovman bass (they are, by the way, married). B+(**)
Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra: Zim Zag Zimfoni (2000 , Stunt): Danish guitarist-led ten piece group (plus a few guests), see the world as their oyster, ripe for the picking, with one title exemplifying their roots ("Ellingtonian Space Is the Place") and others evoking Arab and African lands ("Arab Klap" is a rousing intro). [6/11 tracks] B+(**)
Pierre Dørge: Blui (2014 , SteepleChase): The Danish guitarist and New Jungle Band leader drops back to a quartet here -- a format he hadn't used since 36 years before -- with Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Thommy Andersson (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums). Faintly exotic but fairly minimal, the cornet a bright spot. B+(**)
Lisbon Improvisation Players: Live_LxMeskla (2000 , Clean Feed): Portuguese free jazz group, three saxophonists -- Rodrigo Amado (alto/baritone), Paulo Curado (alto/soprano), and Marco Franco (soprano) -- plus bass and drums. The first of three albums to 2006, with Amado going on to an especially distinguished solo career. B+(**)
MIKE: May God Bless Your Hustle (2017, self-released): Promising debut mixtape, beats very underground, has some flow but not obvious, draws "feat." spots on 7/16 but no one I've heard of. B+(**)
The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones [UK] (1964, Decca): Like the Beatles, the Stones' early albums were released in different configurations in the UK and US. Their debut landed in the US as The Rolling Stones (England's Newest Hitmakers) six weeks later, the only change swapping in the Buddy Holly cover Not Fade Away" for a terrific version of Bo Diddley's "Mona." Nine covers, three originals (including a Phil Spector co-credit), no actual hits (although "Not Fade Away" went to 3 in UK). Remarkable touch for r&b covers, but the one Jagger-Richard credit points to the future ("Tell Me"). A-
The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones No. 2 [UK] (1965, Decca): Starts to get messy here, as London rushed a second US album out in October 1964 before this second UK album came out in January 1965 -- followed a month later by a third US release, The Rolling Stones, Now! Again, nine covers and three new originals, all sharp but no classics. The two US releases are, if anything, both a shade better. B+(***)
The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads [UK] (1965, Decca): US release came first, on July 30, followed by UK on September 24, then the US-only December's Children (And Everybody's) (with the UK Out of Our Heads cover pic). Eschewing singles (aside from the US hit "Heart of Stone"), the UK version contains four originals and eight covers, while the US version split six-to-six, adding "The Last Time," "Play With Fire" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." A-
The Rolling Stones: Aftermath [UK] (1966, Decca): First album with nothing but Jagger-Richards songs, the 14-cut, 53:20 UK edition appeared on April 15, 1966. That must have seemed overly generous to the US label: for their June 20 release, they dropped four songs (including the singles "Mother's Little Helper" and "Out of Time"), then added the latest hit, "Paint It Black." A-
The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons [UK] (1967, Decca): The last of the UK albums reshuffled by the US label, dropping two songs ("Back Street Girl" and "Please Go Home") in favor of two hit singles ("Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday" -- both reappeared on the US-only Flowers later in 1967, along with the missing songs, a couple other singles, two US-dropped songs from Aftermath, and a couple of previously unreleased tunes). That should favor the US version, but this was the first Stones album I bought (after a bunch of singles and the Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass compilation) and I wound up playing it to death, reveling in every nuance (of which there were many). Also, the two missing songs, equally familiar through Flowers, fit better. Whoever dropped "Please Go Home" needs their head examined. A
The Rolling Stones: Got Live if You Want It! (1963-66 , Abkco): Short (33:25) live album, filled a marketing gap but was later disowned by the band. Mostly from their post-Aftermath tour, plus a couple of older tracks (the earliest a cover of "Fortune Teller." All but their change-of-pace hit "Lady Jane" are hard and sharp, including a couple of my favorites from the day. Lots of audience noise to remind you how popular they were. B+(***)
The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968 , Abkco): Soundtrack to an "ill-fated 1968 TV special," meant to promote Beggars Banquet by staging a circus with various guest acts, including Jethro Tull, the Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, and the Dirty Mac (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell, joined with an amusing Yoko Ono screech on one cut). The Stones open in circus spirit with a bit of "Entry of the Gladiators," followed by their guests mostly for one song each, winding up with a six recent/new Stones songs -- which tower over everything else. B+(**)
The Rolling Stones: Made in the Shade (1969-74 , Rolling Stones): Not quite "the best of the Mick Taylor years" -- the guitarist, formerly of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, joined the band for Let It Bleed. But Decca owned it, so it got slotted into Abkco's Hot Rocks 1971-72 compilations, and this picks up from there: three songs each from two of their greatest albums (Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street), two each trying to salvage singles from the group's first descent into mediocre self-parody (Goat's Head Soup and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll) -- not especially interesting picks in either case, just conventionally canonical. B+(**)
The Rolling Stones: Black and Blue (1976, Rolling Stones): After 1972's Exile on Main Street, the Stones seemed to be stuck in a mid-life crisis. Ron Wood replaced Mick Taylor here, and that seems to have put them more into a partying mood. Still, just eight tracks including a cover of "Cherry Oh Baby" to lend a whiff of Jamaica, and two decent but minor singles ("Hot Stuff," which won't dislodge Donna Summer from your brain, and "Fool to Cry"), one pleasant surprise ("Hand of Fate"), and one called "Memory Motel" which suggests early-onset dementia. B+(**)
The Rolling Stones: Still Life (American Concert 1981) (1981 , Rolling Stones/Virgin): Amusing nod to America to use "Take the A Train" as intro and Hendrix's arrangement of "Star Spangled Banner" as outro, but both are very brief. Four newish (1978-81) songs, including a very energetic "Start Me Up" (from Tattoo You), with old songs from the mid-1960s ("Satisfaction" through "Under My Thumb") plus a Motown remake they could have done then, but nothing from their elf-proclaimed "greatest" era. Sounds about right. B+(***)
The Rolling Stones: Undercover (1983, Rolling Stones): Still an impressive sounding band, but not a single song stuck with me (even the single, full title: "Undercover of the Night"), except for the one about chainsaws, which was unwelcome. B
The Rolling Stones: Flashpoint (1989-90 , Rolling Stones/Virgin): Another live one, a full 76 minutes including two new studio tracks at the end. The tour (Bill Wyman's last) was in support of Steel Wheels, which landed three (of 14) songs, the others fairly evenly distributed from "Satisfaction" to "Start Me Up." Dense and hard -- probably what gets the best response in the arenas they habituate, but the new songs are hard and dense too. B+(*)
The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge (1994, Virgin): The five-year studio album gap since Steel Wheels was their longest yet -- note that Jagger and Richards both released solo albums during the hiatus -- although their later gaps were 3, 8, and 11 years (and the latter was a blues cover album). Feels like they're just going through the motions, but it's not like they don't know how to do this. B+(*)
The Rolling Stones: Bridges to Babylon (1997, Virgin): As the live albums show, from the mid-1970s on their arena act has only gotten harder, denser, and ultimately more brittle, especially on new songs which you've never heard any other way, and most likely won't remember anyway. Here they finally seem to be developing a sense of nuance -- something they've never had much interest in before, or for that matter much need of. Does help a bit. Actually, pretty good: Already Over Me." B+(**)
The Rolling Stones: Live Licks (2002-03 , Virgin, 2CD): Another of their periodic live releases: previous ones came out in 1966, 1970, 1977, 1982, 1991, 1995 (the acoustic Stripped), and 1998, with another in 2008 before they started dumping out bootlegs (14 from 2011-17). Not having a new album, the tour was packaged around the compilation 40 Licks, with the live album split between one disc of perennials and one of relative rarities (though second-tier songs from Some Girls aren't my idea of rarities, nor is "Rocks Off" second-tier, even on Exile). B+(**)
Skadedyr: Kongekrabbe (2013, Hubro): Norwegian jazz band, twelve-pieces, self-described as "democratic-anarchistic," first album. Leaders play tuba and keyboards. I don't get much out of the vocals, but the eclectic music has its intriguing moments. B
Skadedyr: Culturen (2016, Hubro): Second album, same group -- although Ina Sagstuen's vocals are much reduced, leaving a much more atmospheric form of anarchism. B+(*)
John Tchicai & Pierre Dørge: Ball at Louisiana (1981 , SteepleChase): Duo, alto sax and guitar, both also credited with voice and percussion, recorded live at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark. B+(*)
Sidi Touré: Hoga (1996, Sterns Africa): First album -- at least the first noticed this far from Mali, a fairly classic slice of Sahel blues, or something like that. B+(***)
Sidi Touré: Alafia (2013, Thrill Jockey): More, goes down easy but hard to make worthwhile distinctions. B+(**)
Whirl: Revolving Rapidly Around an Axis (2014 , Den): Tenor sax/clarinet (Tobias Delius), double bass (Adrian Fiskum Myhr), trombone (Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø). Avant, difficult, but not lacking the intended momentum. B+(**) [bc]
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, June 25, 2018
Music: current count 29859  rated (+20), 348  unrated (-1).
I expected many distractions last week to depress this week's rated count. Indeed, I didn't manage to play any new music until Friday, when my nephew flew out after nine days of photographing my late sister's art. We did a big mixed grill bash on Thursday to wrap things up -- chicken wings; kebabs of lamb, pork, and swordfish; quail, squid, thin-sliced steak, with a range of marinades from Turkey, Iran, China, and Korea. Added a sweet potato platter, horiatiki salad, soft shell crabs, and grilled Japanese eggplant with spicy peanut sauce. Date pudding for dessert. Only thing there I had never done before was the pork, but I found some fresh ham, cut it into cubes, and mixed up a hoisin/bean sauce. Very tasty. Should be memorable. We gave most of the excess away, but I kept the lamb and made Turkish yogurtlu kebap with the leftovers.
Friday I started working on the intro to yesterday's Weekend Roundup. After finding the latest Satoki Fujii in the queue, I turned to my tracking file looking for jazz I could find on Napster, figuring I would have trouble mustering the requisite attention for sorting out new pop records but I could multitask new jazz easily enough. Wound up playing a lot of records (some old) on the Danish SteepleChase label, and they all went pretty fast (although the new Pierre Dørge merited a couple of extra spins). Moved on to Clean Feed, and I'm still working there.
Meanwhile, my website/system recovery work has slowed down. I probably have about half of the robertchristgau.com files working at this stage. I did manage to implement a new feature but it hasn't been announced yet: something similar to the Ask Greil thing, where you can ask questions and Bob can answer (if he deigns them worthy of an answer, or maybe just if he thinks his answer would be worthwhile). I suppose I could consider offering something similar here, if there's any interest. I've long suspected I would be more productive on demand-driven projects (or in collaborations where I'd feel more compelled to keep up my end).
I'm still not doing complete updates of any of my websites. I'm not aware of a lot of unfixed problems with this one, but need to get some testing in before I feel confident to update. Nor have I extracted and tested my old disk drives. One thing I did want to do was to replace my cheap keyboard here with a fancy mechanical one. To that end I bought a Corsair Strafe, only to find out it doesn't work at all with my computer. So back to the drawing board on that.
Month runs out on Saturday, so I should post Streamnotes no later than then. Draft file currently runs to 99 records (100 counting the new Lily Allen, which I'm not done with yet), of which 72 are new (65 new music, 7 compilations). Despite the shortfalls the last two weeks, should wind up as a pretty average month. Also, despite scant A-list records the last two weeks, should wind up pretty solid in that regard too.
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, June 24, 2018
Sometime last week I got the feeling that the Trump administration has entered a new phase or level. From the start, they said and often did bad things, but they came off as confused, stupid, and/or evil, and they weren't very good at following through, so most people didn't feel any real change. The administration seemed to be collapsing into chaos, while a highly motivated resistance was scoring political points even when they fell short of disrupting Trump's agenda. It's still possible to look at last week that way, especially as public outrage forced Trump to make a tactical retreat from his policy of breaking up and jailing refugee families at the border.
Nonetheless, as I've watched clips of Trump and read stories of his cronies this week, I've started to see a potentially compelling story coming together. And as I've watched the late-night anti-Trump comics fumble and flail in their attempts to skewer the news, I'm reminded of that line about how the Democrats managed to misunderestimate Bush on his way to a second term. For me, the clearest example was how the big three (Colbert, Kimmel, Meyers) all jumped on a Trump line where he bragged about eliminating more regulations within 500 days than any previous president -- regardless of how many years they served ("4, or 8, or in one case 16 years"). All three pounced on "16 years" as the big lie, pointing out that while Franklin Roosevelt was elected to four four-year terms, he died a couple months into his fourth, so actually only served 12 years. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect Trump tossed that in just to throw them off the scent.
The real problem -- the things that critics need to focus on -- is the claim of eliminating a record number of regulations in whatever time frame you want to use: Trump's "500 days," a whole term, full tenure, etc. I have no way of checking -- it's not like anyone's been keeping records on this -- but Trump's claim is at least plausible. I suppose you might nominate Harry Truman, who ended rationing, wage and price controls, and many other regulations after WWII ended, but none of those were ever intended to last beyond wartime. But much of "deregulation" during Truman's first term was done by Congress, most extensively after Republicans won Congress in 1946, in some cases passing laws (like Taft-Hartley) over Truman's veto. Carter and Reagan did some deregulating, but mostly through Congress. Congress has helped Trump out a little, but nearly all of his "deregulation" has been done by executive order and/or through the discretionary acts of his political appointees.
Trump's boast assumes that cutting regulations is always a good thing, but that isn't necessarily the case. Each regulation needs to be reviewed on its own merits. Often they need to be revised, curtailed, or expanded, based on how effective (including cost-effective) they are at achieving stated goals. But it must be understood that some degree of regulation is necessary to protect the public from unscrupulous and/or simply sloppy operators -- especially businesses, which always feel pressure to cut corners. Trump's own motivations are twofold: first, he seems hell bent on obliterating everything Obama signed his name to; second, he's eager to shower favors on any business/lobbyist he or his cronies deem to be in their corner. In short, Trump's deregulation boast is a perfect storm of vanity, ego, ideological extremism, and graft. There's no shortage of things to criticize there. Nitpicking over when FDR died misses it all.
The thing is, unless you start tearing apart the vanity and corruption of Trump's "deregulation" record -- I'm tempted to put it into quotes because it's not just eliminating regulations, it also involves changing them to favor private over public interests, or to signal what will and will not be enforced -- will congeal into a positive story that lots of people will find attractive. (After all, few things are less favorably viewed than government red tape -- salmonella, for instance, or airplane crashes and oil spills.) Trump's trade moves and tariffs are another case. Democrats haven't figured out a workable counter to Trump's emerging story here, and if no one really seems to understand the issues, Trump's likely to score a political coup hurling a simple "fuck you" at China and Canada. Lots of Americans will eat that up.
Meanwhile, the economy is not significantly worse for most people, and is downright peachy for the very rich. It looks like Trump has scored some sort of win against ISIS, and maybe a diplomatic break with North Korea, and none of the other wars he's left on autopilot have blown up in his face yet (although the Saudis seem to be making a real mess of Yemen). And Congress has passed a few truly odious bills recently, including serious damage to Dodd-Frank and a farm bill with major cuts to SNAP. Six months ago one could point out how little Trump has actually accomplished, but it's beginning to look like quite a lot -- nearly all bad, but who exactly notices?
I'm not even sure Trump's losing on immigration. Sure, he's had a bad week with the family separation/incarceration fiasco, but even after his retreat, he's still got the incarceration part working: so the net result is that refugee-immigrants will be detained in places that look less like jails and more like concentration camps? He had a similar bad week when he ended DACA, and while he seemed to wobble for a while, he's emerged more hardcore than ever. If Democrats get stuck with the impression that they're more concerned with immigrants than with native-born American citizens, that's bound to hurt.
Nor do I have any hope that Mueller's going to come up with anything that changes the game. Sure, he's got Russian hackers, but he hasn't come up with any interaction between Trump's hackers and Russians, which is where collusion might amount to something. The higher-level meetings are mostly between idiot-functionaries -- lying for them is habitual, so catching them hardly matters. Then there is the corruption around the fringes -- Flynn, Manafort, Cohen -- which will give Mueller some scalps, but change nothing. As long as Mueller stays within the parameters of Russia and the 2016 election, there's not enough there, and Trump can keep his followers in tow with his "witch hunt" whines. The Democrats have to move beyond those parameters, which for starters means they have to realize that Russia's favoring Trump reflects the same interests and analysis as other corrupt and authoritarian regimes (notably Saudi Arabia and Israel), and that Trump's courting of crooks abroad is just a subset of his service to America's own moguls (not least himself).
One effect of this unique confluence of paranoia, fanaticism, and buckraking is that the hopes some had that sensible Republicans would turn on Trump have been shattered. The first clue, I suppose, was when Senators Flake and Cocker decided not to risk facing Trump candidates in their primaries. Then there was Ryan's decision to quit the House. Since then the tide in Trump's direction, at least within increasingly embattled Republican ranks, has only strengthened. As long as Trump seems to be getting away with his act, there's little they can do but protect and cling to him.
The highlight of Trump's week was his rally in Duluth, where he said a bunch of stupid things but seemed to be glowing, basking in the adulation of his crowd. A big part of his speech was a pitch to get more Republicans elected in 2018, so unlike Obama in 2010, he's going to try to turn the election into a referendum on himself -- instead of passively letting the other party run roughshod. I'm not sure it will work -- an awful lot of Americans still can't stand anything about the guy -- but he's showing a lot more confidence than just a few months ago.
Some scattered links this week:
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Music: current count 29839  rated (+21), 349  unrated (+5).
A day late and a few records short of a normal week. We attended a reception for the opening of the Sacred Space Exhibition at Wichita State University. My nephew, Mike Hull, came to Wichita for the reception, and has stayed on to continue photographing artwork my late sister Kathy Hull. My modest contribution to all this hasn't gone much beyond cooking, including a roast chicken last night, and some Korean ribs today. Unfortunately, I didn't feel up to doing a big Korean thing today, so I decided to accompany with my everyday Chinese fried rice and lima beans. [PS: Wound up also making three distinctly Korean little dishes: sliced cucumbers with garlic, sesame, and Korean red pepper; dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and stir-fried with garlic, sesame, and scallions; and dried squid softened up in a sweet-and-spicy glaze.]
Started working on the Korea piece back on Thursday, thinking of a different entry angle -- one that would focus on how Democrats should talk about Trump when he veers away from neocon warmongering. But I didn't do my due dilligence there, and as the dumb chatter died down decided not to beat myself up over it. (When Colbert last night announced he'd be doing something "after the break" on Kim, Trump, and Putin, I hit delete.) And, as I noted, the family separation at the border story has taken over. I have little to add there, and don't even feel much like piling on. (Although, here's a link to a video Mike and Ellyssa Roberson did on a demonstration here in Wichita.) Nor am I the least bit obsessive about the Russia collusion/obstruction news, but it's hard to believe that even Trump's diehard supporters aren't picking up on how guilty he's managing to look -- of course, some of them are actually get off on his criminal side.
Mixed bag of records this week, including four very different ones at A-. Also a couple of lower-than-usual grades. Not much jazz. I wasn't able to find the new Skadedyr record Chris Monsen likes, so checked out the old ones but didn't get into them. Next week should be similar, maybe even shorter.
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, June 17, 2018
Korea on My Mind
The evening after the short and sweet Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, I watched the reactions from late show hosts Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Kimmel. One expects them to take some liberties with the facts, but since Trump's election in 2016 they've generally tried to do so in ways that help illuminate the world they are satirizing. However, they botched this big story almost completely Tuesday night. And Colbert was so bad Wednesday I wound up walking out of the room. Thanks to DVR, we've watched Colbert and Meyers almost nightly since the election, and as I've noted, I've often taken heart in their daily reminder that there are many people -- some with public platforms -- that can't stand Trump and the cruel, vicious, and avaricious regime he heads. But the only way their humor works is when it's rooted in a deep and critical understanding and and a sense of empathy that goes beyond mere partisan advantage. They blew the Singapore summit because they don't know or understand the history of how we got here, and because they don't appreciate the costs and risks of perpetuating the state of belligerency that's prevailed in Korea for 68 years now.
Meyers at least conceded that it's better that Trump and Kim are talking than shooting, but he invariably followed that concession with a "but," like it was something his lawyer forced him to disclaim. All three repeatedly described Kim as "murderous dictator" (sometimes just "brutal dictator"). Granted, a couple of times they built jokes implying that Trump, too, is (or wants to be) a dictator. But they wouldn't dare characterize Trump as murderous, even though as president he's rung up by far the larger body count. And while people think it's ironic that Kim is fat while millions of North Koreans starve, no one bothered to mention how US and UN sanctions impose hardships on the North Korean people (without, obviously, cramping the style of regime leaders like Kim).
It is easy for many Americans to fall into the rut of hurling crude slurs at North Korea and ad hominem attacks on Kim. Such were a staple of Cold War propaganda, going back to the "yellow peril" fears of the 1940s -- originally Japan, but readily remapped by racist minds to China, Korea, Vietnam. In the anti-communist mind we are free, and they are enslaved, ruled by brutal dictators in the name of atheistic, collectivist ideology. The Cold War mindset thawed a bit after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, but when North Korea (and China, Vietnam, and Cuba -- coincidentally the only Communist states the US had actually fought hot wars and imposed long-term embargos against) persisted, the old tropes were available for recycling. And no nation has been treated more harshly by the US than North Korea.
Some relevant history: Organized states in Korea date back to Goguryeo in 37 BCE, with various kingdoms coming and going, broken up by periods of foreign (mostly Chinese) domination. Korea had become a borderland repeatedly attacked by foreign powers, like Japan in 1592-98, the Manchus in 1627 and 1636. After the Manchus established the Qing Dynasty in China, Korea became a vassal. As China weakened in the 19th century, Britain, France, Russia, and Japan ventured into Korea. The US also got into the action, sending gunboats (ostensibly to "open trade") to Korea, notably conflicts in 1853, 1866, and 1871 -- the latter killing 243 Koreans, one of those incidents that they remember but we don't. Japan fought a war with China in 1894-95. One result was the short-lived Korean Empire, annexed by Japan in 1910, and occupied until the Empire was defeated in World War II.
American gunboats sailed into Tokyo Bay to force Japan to open itself to foreign trade in 1853. This resulted in a revolution in Japan that transformed the nation into an imperial state (the Meiji Restoration), as the Japanese scrambled to adopt western technology and empire-building. Japan fought a war against China in 1894-95, capturing Taiwan (Formosa), breaking Korea off, and establishing a toehold on the Chinese mainland. In 1905 Japan defeated Russia, grabbing some Russian territory and concessions in Manchuria. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea. During WWI Japan declared war on Germany, capturing a number of German islands in the west Pacific. In 1929, Japan invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet kingdom there. In 1936, Japan expanded its war against China, occupying major cities and much of the coastline. In 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Act, allying itself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but in April 1941 Japan signed a Neutrality Pact with the Soviet Union, sparing Russia the risk of having to fight a two-front war against Germany and Japan, while allowing Japan to direct its imperial aims south. In December 1941, Japan attacked the US Navy in Pearl Harbor, as part of a major offensive in which they quickly overrun Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Thus the US entered World War II.
In 1945, with Germany defeated, Truman begged the Soviet Union to join in the war against Japan. Japanese forces had "fought to the death" against American invaders, especially on Okinawa, and Americans were fearful that they would prove even more fatalistic when, in late 1945, the US could finally mount an invasion of Japan itself. However, Japanese resolve collapsed in August 1945 after the Soviet Union entered the war, driving through Manchuria, and the US dropped its first atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The sudden victory gave the US more leverage viz. its allies in Asia than it had in Europe, where Stalin was able to insist on a partition of Germany and Austria (but not Italy, which like Japan was under exclusively American control). The Japanese themselves were desperate to avoid any form of Russian occupation, but the US had no troops in Korea, so offering the split the country at the 38th Meridian was more of a Russian concession than an American one.
Both the US and the USSR installed congenial dictators over their respective partitions. Both had spent the war in exile, garnering favors from their respective hosts: Syngman Rhee was the toast of cocktail parties in New York and Washington, and Kim Il Sung commanded a small guerrilla unit biding its time in Siberia. Once in power, both waged brutal crackdowns on those they deemed "subversives" while vowing to reunite Korea under their domination. History tells us that the North invaded the South on June 25, 1950, but that act was at least in part precipitated by massive arrests in the South. Kim's forces nearly overran the entire peninsula before the US was able to muster a counteroffensive, which in turn by October nearly reached Korea's northern border. Then on October 25 a large number of Chinese "volunteers" entered Korea, bringing the war to a stalemate formalized in the 1953 Armistice line.
By the time Eisenhower replaced Truman and signed the Armistice, over 36,000 US soldiers had been killed, some 183,000 Chinese, and pproximately 3 million Koreans -- more than 10% of the Peninsula's total population, higher in the North, where the US dropped more tons of bombs than it had dropped on Japan during WWII. Although the front had stabilized in early 1951, the war ground on for two more years. Even in signing the Armistice, neither side was willing to admit that its aims had failed. The US retained massive bases in the South and nearby regions. Both sides engaged in provocative behavior and extravagantly belligerent rhetoric. North Korea made enormous, self-hampering investments in defense, maintaining a huge army, digging bunkers deep underground, developing massive artillery, rocketry, and ultimately nuclear warheads. All along the US refused to end the formal state of war and normalize relations, even to the extent it normally accorded other Communist states.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, and after China introduced a degree of capitalism that attracted western interests, North Korea became even more isolated. Meanwhile, South Korea overthrew their US-backed military dictatorship, and developed a vibrant export-led economy, becoming one of the wealthiest nations in Asia while the North stagnated in isolation, its orthodox communist party evolving into a strange quasi-religious cult around the "dear leader." Or so it seemed, because the extreme isolation made it almost impossible for Americans (or anyone) to understand what life was like there -- of course, that didn't stop our so-called experts from playing up their "human rights violations" and decrying their sanctions-imposed shortcomings.
North Korea's economy rapidly deteriorated after the Soviet Union ended its subsidies in 1991, with China only grudgingly offering a trade relationship. Kim Il Sung's health deteriorated, and he died in 1994, replaced by his son Kim Jong-il. North Korea has long been haunted by its lack of petroleum and coal resources, so started to look at nuclear power, which was its right as a member of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). The US, recognizing the potential use of any nuclear power technology for developing warheads, raised a huge stink and tightened its restrictions on North Korea even further. This came to a head in 1994, when Jimmy Carter trekked to Pyongyang and negotiated the "Agreed Framework" between the US and North Korea, but Clinton's residual cold warriors sandbagged the deal, and GW Bush blew it up completely, ominously grouping North Korea into his "Axis of Evil" along with two countries it had no relations with -- two countries which had fought a decade-long war against each other, Iran and Iraq. Bush invaded and desroyed Iraq, while his lieutenants joked about taking on Iran next ("real men go to Tehran"). North Korea responded to the threat by withdrawing from the NPT and accelerating their nuclear weapons and missile work, testing a bomb in 2006. That may have dampened Bush's ardor to attack, but Iraq was already turning out to be more than Bush's army could handle.
Still, the "weapons of mass destruction" pitch Bush had used to sell his invasion of Iraq was easily retooled for Iran and North Korea, with harsh sanctions the preferred stick for coercion, but no enticing carrot -- "normalization," maybe, but most hard-liners wouldn't accept anything less than regime change. Obama did sign an agreement which allowed them to continue low-grade enrichment while ending any possible advance toward nuclear weapons, but the deal fell far short of normal diplomatic relations, allowing US sanctions not tied to Iran's "nuclear program" to continue -- and Trump, bowing to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, reneged from even that modest deal. (One hesitates to refer to Israel and Saudi Arabia as America's allies, given how Trump has subordinated America's interests to their parochial whims. But clearly neither country takes Iran's "nuclear threat" seriously enough to give up the immediate value their leaders find in isolating Iran.)
Whereas the nuclear programs Iraq, Iran, and Libya supposedly posed were never serious, North Korea does have bombs (including hydrogen-boosted) plus they have missiles capable of delivering them to the continental America. After Bush provoked North Korea to accelerate their program, Obama largly ignored them. Trump, on the other hand, panicked, mocking "little Rocket Man" and threatening "fire and fury like the world's never seen" if Kim didn't surrender. As near as I can tell, four things changed his course and attitude:
I don't care to speculate on what will happen next, but there's no good reason why the state of hostility shouldn't end, including the sanctions that have imposed such fear and hardship on the Korean people. Both Korea should dial back their militaries, with the US withdrawing its forces from South Korea. Trade and travel should be eased, and diplomatic relations established. I doubt that North Korea will make any significant changes to its politico-economic system, but that shouldn't be a problem for the US: while many Americans claim to be sensitive about North Korean "human rights violations," the US government (especially under Trump) has been remarkably unbothered when its ostensible allies are concerned (e.g., Israel, Saudi Arabia, China, the Philippines). Trump has promised that if Kim follows his lead, North Korea will become prosperous, but there is zero evidence that the prescriptions known as "the Washington consensus" actually raise living standards. More likely, Kim will look at other models, like the mix of a closed political system and private incentives that China has used to generate persistent double-digit growth rates. As a leftist, I may not approve, but as an American I can hardly object.
What concerns me more is how people ostensibly on the left/democratic end of the American political spectrum react to Trump's summit and to the possible opening up of North Korea. The reaction so far has been very mixed, with much of it -- as with the late-night comics I started with -- downright atrocious. This matters because it's critical that Democrats take smarter positions on world affairs, especially on matters of war and peace. While most Democrats (and really most Americans) have grown weary of the perpetual war machine, Democratic politicians have reflexively bought into the world-hegemonic mindset, styling themselves as the true believers in Americanism -- the civic religion that thinks American leadership will save the world by conquering it. (Republicans, on the other hand, cynically expect power to cower the world, reaping profits. Neither approach has worked lately, partly because condescension is no more appealing than arrogance.)
Oddly enough, Trump is on a mini-roll. While there is much to disagree with, Democrats need to talk intelligently about these issues, rather than just fall back on familiar tropes to score cheap points. Consider:
I haven't had time or stomach to track down many of the stupid things Democratic pundits and politicos have said about Trump and North Korea. (I have seen a few wretched examples on Twitter, and my wife has been fuming about many more, so I've been aware of more than I've read.) I've been using Vox as my first source on most things political, so the first post-summit piece I read was Zack Beauchamp/Jennifer Williams: 4 winners and 4 losers from the Trump-Kim summit. They saw Kim as a clear winner, describing him as "a brutal dictator who starves and imprisons his own citizens." His triumph? "And he just got the president of the United States to fly halway around the world to meet, shake his hand, and cencel military exercises with his greatest enemy -- all without giving up anything major in return." How quickly the authors forgot that North Korea had already released three American prisoners (search for "hostages" or you'll miss the story), halted all nuclear and missile tests, and destroyed his nuclear test site; also that the US and South Korea had called off their scheduled "war games" as a pre-summit gesture. For months now we've been hearing that Kim's real goal was to get world legitimacy by being photographed with Trump. And here they're still clinging to this line a mere week after Steph Curry and LeBron James went out of their way to make sure they wouldn't get a White House invite from Trump. (Granted, Kim may be more hard up for attention than they are, but on the other hand, the US hasn't been organizing "war games" to terrorize the NBA.
Worse still, the authors listed South Korea as the big loser in the summit, because they lost out on participating in those "war games," therefore undermining their confidence that the US would defend them from an attack from the North. Moreover, they claimed that South Korea wasn't even consulted before Trump sold them out -- another case of the US double-crossing its faithful allies. In point of fact, South Korea had previously agreed to canceling the "war games," and after the fact reassured Trump of their agreement. But the most important fact forgotten here is that South Korea has by far the most to lose in a war between the US and North Korea, and therefore the most to gain by agreements for peace. Except maybe for the "suffering North Koreans," also counted among the summit's losers, because nothing concrete was agreed to relieve their suffering at the summit -- as if the only way out of their conundrum would be an American "humanitarian war." Even if "hundreds of thousands of Koreans have died in these gulags over the past several decades," a renewed war would surely kill more than the three million killed with relatively primitive weapons 65 years ago.
After thinking about it a couple more days, Vox revised its winner-loser calculations, concluding The big winner of the Trump-Kim summit? China. Again, their calculus was based exclusively on geopolitical strategic concerns: if the US withdraws troops from South Korea, that would make it easier for the Chinese military to flex its muscles in the region. Of course, no consideration was given to other reasons why China might benefit from avoiding a new war in Korea: most obviously the threats of stray radiation and massive refugees.
Several links worth reading on the Singapore summit:
Also on the G7, see George Monbiot: Donald Trump was right. The rest of the G7 were wrong. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Trump's opposition to NAFTA and other trade deal is right, because I doubt that his reasoning on the subject. On the other hand, sometimes you have to credit unlikely allies for doing the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.
By the way, I haven't run across nearly as many dumb Dem-leaning articles on the summit as I expected, probably because many of the writers so-inclined have moved onto safer moral high ground, attacking Trump for the new policy of separating children from parents at the border. That has become by far the big story of the past week.
Monday, June 11, 2018
Music: current count 29818  rated (+32), 344  unrated (+5).
Not much to say about music this week. Just sort of feeling my way around the new computer. One thing I noticed is that it's much easier to go straight to a download/stream from email now that I'm doing both on the same machine. In particular, I used to get a lot of CDs from the world music publicist Rock Paper Scissors, but for the last few years all they've sent was email, which I almost never dealt with. But a couple records below (Diali Cissokho, Ginkgoa, Parliament) came out of their mail. I also made a point of thumbing through the July issue of Downbeat and looking up most of the reviewed records I didn't receive. Neither of those strategies led to great discoveries, but they did turn up some pretty good records.
Overall count for the week was solid. Most likely it will fall off next week, as we're expecting company for a big event on Wednesday, 4:30-7:00 PM, at McKnight Art Center on the campus of Wichita State University: Sacred Space Exhibition Reception. This is a set of seven large portals: doorways opening to views of the world through various prisms of religion. The artwork was originally constructed and painted back in 2002, under the direction of the late Diane Thomas Lincoln, with my sister, Kathy Hull, taking a major role. I have write ups and some pictures from the original development and exhibit here. The artwork has been in storage for much of the intervening time. Before her fatal accident this spring, my sister had campaigned to remount the exhibit, and she conspired with my nephew Mike Hull to produce a documentary on the work. This project won't come off quite as originally intended, but Mike will be here to film what he can, and we'll try to be helpful.
The exhibit will be on view, free to the public, 9 A.M.-5 P.M. at the Clayton Staples Gallery, second floor of McKnight Art Center West, through August 31, 2018.
Coincidentally, I just heard this week that another of Kathy's major projects -- a mural based on the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration on the south side of a laundromat at Arkansas and 25th St N here in Wichita -- is going to be painted over sometime soon. I only found one Google image search picture, here, as it was being painted (Linda Jordan left, Kathy right). I also have a finished photo in my archives, as well as a picture of Kathy holding her sketch in front of the work-in-progress which at the time appeared in the Wichita Eagle. Ram Lama Hull posted a couple more recent photos on Facebook: here and here. Ram commented:
Mike has already photographed a lot of Kathy's art, and I expect he will be doing more this week, including some "last shots" of the mural.
Actually, I guess I do have a couple of brief notes on music. Michael Tatum has been doing one of those "10 records in 10 days" things on Facebook. His first three picks recapitulate my own evolving tastes in the years just before I started writing rock crit: The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo; Rhino's disco compilation, Turn the Beat Around (1974-1978); and Roxy Music, Siren. I would have picked Stranded, and tried to work in Al Green, I'm Still in Love With You, and Brinsley Schwarz's New Favourites, but Michael is definitely onto something. Given that I've archived his work in the past, I've started to squirrel away these new posts.
I'll also note that Robert Christgau's latest Expert Witness has two A records that I gave very solid A- grades to some time back: Parquet Courts: Wide Awaaaaake!, and No Age: Snares Like a Haircut. I see now that I screwed up the news roll notice for that post -- sorry about that. I've been making slow progress fixing my local copy of the website, but I'm still a long ways away from being able to do a general update. (Same, really, for my own websites.)
I'll also note that I played the new Lily Allen album (No Shame) a half-dozen times today without being able to grade it A-. May still happen: I've decided to back off and give it some time, but it's clearly not going to be my album of the year, as her last two were. Not that I don't still adore her, but only a few songs reinforce that (like "Waste"). On the other hand, a couple songs are very bland, and "Cake" is way too much of a cliché. And only on the last play did it sink in that "Three" is meant to be in the voice of her daughter. Sure, makes sense that way, but doesn't sound right.
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:
Miscellaneous Album Notes: