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Monday, November 18, 2019


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32371 [32345] rated (+26), 221 [221] unrated (+0).

I've been dreading this date for more than a month now. I should be feeling relief that the worst-case scenario has been avoided, but I'm still feeling pretty shaken and tattered. Thought I'd celebrate by rustling up a fairly simple dinner on Tuesday -- a big pot of paella plus something for dessert -- for a small group, figuring that's the one thing I can still depend on my competency for. But at the moment I'm feeling overwhelmed by pressing work -- including lots of things I've been putting off.

Indeed, I had quite a bit I wanted to write about here, but will have to cut very short. One thing that will seem obvious from the list below is that Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide: November 2019 came out on Wednesday. As the column currently depends on paid subscribers, I've held back the grade schematic from previous news rolls, but I will note a few things here: three pick hits are albums I previously graded A- (Raphael Saadiq: Jimmy Lee; Rachid Taha: Je Suis Africain; Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!). Three more I came up short on, but revised my grades below: Kim Gordon: No Home Record; Sonic Youth: Battery Park; and That Dog: Old LP. I don't often change my grades after a Christgau review -- the only other time it's happened this year was The Coathangers: The Devil You Know.

My initial assessments of the first two were pretty close to the mark, but at the time I didn't feel like giving them the extra play they needed, and took that as a sign. That left one new record I hadn't gotten to (Ed Sheeran's -- well, more if you count the HMs, where I struck out), and two old ones where I was familiar with the music from other packages: I have two Spaniels CDs on Collectables which match the 2-CD Jasmine compilation closely, and I've heard all of the music on the 8-CD Bud Powell bargain box -- my previous grades (I have the two Trio albums on Roost combined on a single Roulette CD):

  1. Bud Powell Trio (1951) -- in The Bud Powell Trio Plays (1947-53, Roulette) [A-]
  2. The Amazing Bud Powell (1951) -- (1949-51, Blue Note) [A]
  3. The Amazing Bud Powell Volume 2 (1953) -- (1951-53, Blue Note) [A-]
  4. Bud Powell Trio Volume 2 (1953) -- in The Bud Powell Trio Plays (1947-53, Roulette) [A-]
  5. The Amazing Bud Powell Volume 3: Bud! (1957) -- (1957, Blue Note) [B+]
  6. The Amazing Bud Powell Volume 4: Time Waits (1958) -- (1958, Blue Note) [A-]
  7. Blues in the Closet (1958) -- (1956, Verve) [B+(**)]
  8. The Amazing Bud Powell Volume 5: The Scene Changes (1959) -- (1958, Blue Note) [A-]

I should note that my 2019 ratings and music tracking files have continued to grow (927 new releases rated so far, 3167 records listed). I've also done a very preliminary sort of my top-rated jazz and non-jazz records, showing 67 A/A- jazz records vs. 54 non-jazz. Last year at this time the split was 46-46, which I noted at the time was unusually balanced. Not easy to dig up stats on previous years, but I suspect 2016 was more typical, with a 61-41 jazz/non-jazz split. In most years, the numbers eventually even out, but I typically hold off on non-jazz records until I see them show up in EOY lists. One thing I should emphasize here is that the current lists are a first pass, and I expect the rank order to shift a lot in the near future. The other thing is that I will keep adding to (and otherwise reshuffling) those two files well into 2020 (as I've done in years past).

I should also note that my metacritic list is still growing. I started this file with mid-year lists, then added points based on grades (mostly as reported by AOTY and Metacritic). I don't have any actual EOY lists factored in (the first usually show up just before Thanksgiving, so . . . next week), but have added new records as they come out. First place has tottered between Sharon Van Etten and Billie Eilish all years, with Van Etten recently back on top. If I had time, I'd speculate on where I see the EOY lists going, based on this research (factoring in certain data artifacts), but will have to skip that for now.

Final point I wanted to make is that Francis Davis is running his 14th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, and once again I'll try to help out. I also don't have time to speculate on likely standings there -- indeed, I've given the subject very little thought, and doubt my metacritic file sheds much light on it at this point. One thing I do want to pass along from the invite letter is this:

One last request. I need your help to expand the poll's voter base. If you can recommend any writers, bloggers, broadcasters, or podcasters you believe are qualified but believe I've overlooked, please let me know as soon as possible.

I'd be happy to forward any critic nominations.


New records reviewed this week:

Lolly Allen: Coming Home (2016 [2019], OA2): Vibraphone player, based in Los Angeles, first album, opens with Horace Silver's "The Hippest Cat in Hollywood," closes with "Bebop," wrote two songs and her trumpet player Carl Saunders added one called "Lolly's Folly." B+(*) [cd]

Jon Batiste: Anatomy of Angels: Live at the Village Vanguard (2018 [2019], Verve): New Orleans pianist, calls his band Stay Human, culled six nights of sets down to this slab of vinyl. Three originals, an arrangement of "Round Midnight," and a short bit of "The Very Thought of You," sung by Rachael Price -- a standout moment, along with Tiven Pennicott's tenor sax blast. B+(*)

Jon Batiste: Chronology of a Dream: Live at the Village Vanguard (2018 [2019], Verve): A second helping from the six-night stand, also vinyl-sized. B+(*)

Gerald Cleaver & Violet Hour: Live at Firehouse 12 (2019, Sunnyside): Drummer from Detroit, complains he's "been unfairly pigeonholed as a free jazz player for much of his career," strikes back with an unabashed hard bop sextet, reassembling a group he first led in 2008: JD Allen (tenor sax), Andrew Bishop (bass clarinet, soprano & tenor sax), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Ben Waltzer (bass), Chris Lightcap (bass). Good blowing session, especially for Allen. B+(**)

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra: DIVA + the Boys (2017 [2019], MCG Jazz): Drummer Sherrie Maricle conceived this as an all-female big band back in the 1990s, eighth album here following 2017's 25th Anniversary Project. The "boys" are guests Ken Peplowski (clarinet), Claudio Roditi (trumpet), Jay Ashby (trombone), and Marty Ashby (guitar). B+(*) [cd]

DJ Shadow: Our Pathetic Age (2019, Mass Appeal, 2CD): Josh Davis, 1996 Endtroducing was a brilliant debut, 2002 The Private Press still a staple in my travel case. I hear occasional echoes here, among the beats on the mostly instrumental first disc. Second disc offers a parade of rappers, fine enough individually, can't say they add up to much more. B+(**)

FKA Twigs: Magdalene (2019, Young Turks): British crooner-songwriter Tahliah Barnett, second album, producers are often well known electronica artists -- Nicholas Jaar, Daniel Lopatin, Skrillex, Cashmere Cat -- but leans toward torchy ballads. B

Gauche: A People's History of Gauche (2016-18 [2019], Merge): DC band, second album, singers Mary Jane Regalado and Daniele Yandel come from other notable bands (Downtown Boys and Priests). A reviewer I saw was reminded of Devo and B-52s, but for me the saxophone can only mean X-Ray Spex. Not quite that good, of course. B+(***)/p>

Charles Gayle/Giovanni Barcella/Manolo Cabras: The Alto Sessions (2017 [2019], El Negocito): Free jazz saxophonist, spiritual kin to Albert Ayler, played on the streets of New York before eeking out a career on obscure jazz labels. Recorded this one in Belgium, with locals on drums and bass (Barcella originally from Italy), and as the title suggests, plays alto instead of his usual tenor. Also plays some piano. B+(**) [bc]

Ben Goldberg: Good Day for Cloud Fishing (2017 [2019], Pyroclastic): Clarinet player, mostly trio with Nels Cline (guitar) and Ron Miles (trumpet), with Dean Young (poems) also featured on the cover -- inspiration for the music and fodder for the print package, but not an obvious connection. B

Laura Jurd: Stepping Back, Jumping In (2019, Edition): British trumpet player, leads the group Dinosaur, who play here as well as a string quartet and extra odds and ends -- trombone, euphonium, santoor, banjo, electronics. The strings are modern/abstract, don't do much for me, but other spots take off. B

Kneebody: Chapters (2018-19 [2019], Edition): Fusion band, based in Brooklyn, eighth studio album since 2005: Ben Wendel (tenor sax), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Adam Benjamin (keyboards), and Nate Wood (bass/drums), plus various guests, including four vocalists. Not much to start, but gets much better when after guests Josh Dion and Kaveh Rastegar add some bent skronk to "Hearts Won't Break," and hits the occasional moment thereafter. B+(*)

Kodian Trio: III (2019, Trost): Avant-jazz trio: Colin Webster (alto sax), Dirk Serries (electric guitar), and Andrew Lisle (drums). Third album, five pieces ("I" through "V"), cut this on a day off while touring Netherlands. Fairly intense free-for-all. B+(***)

Konstrukt + Ken Vandermark: Kozmik Bazaar (2018 [2019], Karlrecords): Turkish avant-jazz group (alto sax/guitar/bass/drums), two dozen or so albums since 2008, many featuring guests who wandered their way -- Marshall Allen, Peter Brötzmann, and Evan Parker each appeared on 2011 albums, so this paring was almost inevitable. The guest contributes to the free thrash, but doesn't stand out as much as expected -- though that's probably his clarinet on the closing space excursion. B+(**)

Liquid Quintet [Agusti Fernandez/Artur Majewski/Albert Cirera/Rafal Mazur/Ramon Prats]: Flux (2017 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Barcelona pianist Agustí Fernández, prolific since 1986, has recorded as The Liquid Trio before, with Albert Cirera (saxes) and Ramon Prats (drums), adds Artur Majewski (trumpet) and Rafal Mazur (bass) here. B+(**) [bc]

Made to Break: F4 Fake (2017 [2019], Trost): Ken Vandermark project, seventh group album since 2011, with the leader on reeds, Christof Kurzmann (electronics), Jasper Stadhouders (bass, guitar), and Tim Daisy (drums). Three longish pieces, Vandearmark impressive as ever, the noise around him conducive. A-

Rachel Musson/Pat Thomas/Mark Sanders: Shifa: Live at Cafe Oto (2019, 577): British saxophone/piano/drums trio (tenor/soprano), Musson impressed me on Federico Ughi's Transoceanico. She impressed again here, and the pianist starts out sparkling, but this free improv does wear a bit. B+(**)

Bob Ravenscroft & Inner Journeys: Phantasmagoria (2019, OA2): Piano-bass-drums trio, 25 short improv pieces, with Dwight Kilian (bass) and Rob Moore (piano). Ravenscroft did a couple of albums 1982-83, not much since. B+(*) [cd]

Bria Skonberg: Nothing Never Happens (2019, self-released): Canadian trumpet player, also sings -- hype sheet cites Louis Armstrong and Anita O'Day as models, but also describes her voice as "smoky." Sixth album starts sultry, offers some blues, a rather avant instrumental, then turns "Bang Bang" into a standard. B+(***)

SLD Trio: El Contorno Del Espacio (2018 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Argentine piano-bass-drums trio: Paula Shocron, German Lamonega, Pablo Diaz. Shifts around, including some strong free passages. B+(**) [bc]

Tierney Sutton Band: ScreenPlay (2019, BFM Jazz): Jazz singer, mostly standards, first record 1998, most records attributed to her band. These are songs from movies, originally released in five EPs corresponding to five acts, each with 3-5 songs. Some are quite striking, including "Sound of Silence" (one I normally can't stand) and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." B+(***)

Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band: Obiaa! (2019, Strut): From Ghana, a highlife star in the 1960s -- see his Coming Home 2-CD compilation), got another shot when he formed this band in 2015. This one seems to be new, but still dwells largely in the past. B+(**)

Threnody [Johan Berthling/Martin Küchen/Steve Noble]: A Paradigm of Suspicion (2018 [2019], Trost): Bass-sax-drums trio, looks like their third album together, the group namme appearing here after being part of the second album's title (Threnody, at the Gates). First album evidently listed Küchen first, as does Bandcamp page here. Free and hard. B+(***)

Jonah Tolchin: Fires for the Cold (2019, Yep Roc): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey, fourth album, 2014's Clover Lane was the one that got my attention. He remains a thoughtful songwriter, but shies away from grabbing you. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Future: Monster (2014 [2019], Freebandz): Nayvadius Cash, rapper, released a bunch of mixtapes from 2010, this his 13th in five years, but one of the first to get widely noticed. Reissued for streaming. B+(***)

ICP Orchestra: ICP Orchestra in Albuquerque: The Outpost Performance Space, March 17th, 2003 (2003 [2019], ICP): Justly famous Dutch avant big band (11 pieces), initials stand for Instant Composers Pool, founded 1967 and led until recently by pianist Misha Mengelberg, just started trawling through their vault tapes for lost treasures. Meanders, sometimes brilliantly. B+(**) [bc]

Old music:

Charles Gayle/Giovani Barcella/Manolo Cabras: Live in Belgium (2015 [2017], El Negocito): One of the grand old avant tenor saxophonists goes to Belgium, picks up local drummer and bassist, and does what he's often done, for an often stunning series of righteous riffs. Plays some piano too, as sigular as his sax. B+(***) [bc]


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Kim Gordon: No Home Record (2019, Matador): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-
  • Sonic Youth: Battery Park, NYC, July 4th 2008 (2008 [2019], Matador): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-
  • That Dog: Old LP (2019, UMe): [r]: [was: B+(**)]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Georg Graewe/Ernest Reijseger/Gerry Hemingway: Kammern I-V (2009, Auricle)
  • Isabelle Olivier/Rez Abbasi: OASIS (Enja/Yellowbird) [12-06]
  • Sonar With David Torn: Tranceportation (Volume 1) (RareNoise): cdr [11-29]

Sunday, November 17, 2019


Weekend Roundup

Once again, no time for introduction.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Zeeshan Aleem: Trump just issued multiple war crime pardons. Experts think it's a bad idea.

  • Andrew Bacevich: Trump isn't really trying to end America's wars.

  • David Bromwich: The medium is the mistake: Review of James Poniewozik: Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America, and Matt Taibbi: Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another. I got a lot out of the former book, and think it gets raked unfairly here -- not that I won't give Bromwich a couple of his points (The Beverly Hillbillies, Playboy). I've seen some parts of Taibbi's book, but didn't read them closely, and don't have a clear picture of the whole. Taibbi's first book on campaigning, Spanking the Donkey, was very sharp, not just on the candidates but on the press covering them (that's where he wrote up his Wimblehack brackets). Since then he's developed his own idiosyncratic version of "fair and balanced" centrism, which sometimes wears my patience thin. By the way, Bromwich has a recent book I hadn't noticed, but should take a look at: American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us. I'm also intrigued by parts of his earlier Moral Imagination: Essays. Just to pick one almost random quote from the latter's preface:

    We ought to describe as "terrorist" any act of deliberate violence that compasses the deaths of innocent persons in order to achieve a political end. State terror, such as Britain practiced in Kenya, Russia in Chechnya and the U.S. in Iraq -- state terror, as exemplified by our own state among others -- differs morally in no way from the terror of the people we are in the habit of calling terrorists. Moral imagination affirms the kinship in evil of these two sorts of violence.

  • Laura Bult/Liz Scheltens: America's wilderness is for sale.

  • Jonathan Chait:

  • Isaac Chotiner: How a Trump administration proposal could worsen public health: "Now, the Trump administration has proposed a new measure that would limit the research that the Environmental Protection Agency can use when regulating public health." Interview with Douglas Dockery.

  • Jason Del Rey: The Seattle politician Amazon tried to oust has declared victory: Kshama Sawant.

  • Masha Gessen:

  • David Graeber: Against economics: Review of Robert Skidelsky: Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics. Skidelsky is best known as Keynes' biographer, and wrote what was for all intents and purposes Keynes' reply to the 2008 collapse (Keynes: The Return of the Master), but seems to venture further here -- which Graeber, an anarchist-anthropologist whose most famous book was called Debt, applauds. Lots of interesting points here, including a discussion of money which echoes some points Art Protin's tried to convince me of last week. Of course, the following nugget helped convince me they're on solid ground:

    Surely there's nothing wrong with creating simplified models. Arguably, this is how any science of human affairs has to proceed. But an empirical science then goes on to test those models against what people actually do, and adjust them accordingly. This is precisely what economists did not do. Instead, they discovered that, if one encased those models in mathematical formulae completely impenetrable to the noninitiate, it would be possible to create a universe in which those premises could never be refuted. . . .

    The problem, as Skidelsky emphasizes, is that if your initial assumptions are absurd, multiplying them a thousandfold will hardly make them less so. Or, as he puts it, rather less gently, "lunatic premises lead to mad conclusions." . . .

    Economic theory as it exists increasingly resembles a shed full of broken tools. This is not to say there are no useful insights here, but fundamentally the existing discipline is designed to solve another century's problems. The problem of how to determine the optimal distribution of work and resources to create high levels of economic growth is simply not the same problem we are now facing: i.e., how to deal with increasing technological productivity, decreasing real demand for labor, and the effective management of care work, without also destroying the Earth. This demands a different science.

  • Michael M Grynbaum: Blloomberg's teamcalls his crude remarks on women 'wrong'.

  • Jeet Heer: The foreign policy establishment is hijacking impeachment. Trump has done hundreds of things that I would be happy to impeach him for, but to be real, impeachment needs a broad consensus, and the FPE has expanded that from roughly half of the Democrats in the House to all of them. So that puts them first in line to level charges, even if they pick a few that I wouldn't prioritize.

  • Sean Illing:

    • The post-truth prophets: "Postmodernism predicted our post-truth hellscape. Everyone still hates it." Not his usual interview, although it's likely he's done interviews in this vein. I stopped paying attention to social theory around 1975, so I missed Lyotard's 1979 book where he coined the term postmodernism -- I did read precursors like Baudrillard, Foucault, and Lacan, but can't say as I ever got much out of them. The term meant nothing to me for a long time, before I came up with my own definition, using it to describe a world that had lost all sense of direction -- the one thing modernism promised -- and therefore let any damn thing go. I saw this most clearly in architecture, eventually in other arts, but it always remained something of a grab bag. What it might possibly mean for politics is especially hard to pin down, maybe because none of the rival claimants for a modernist politics ever got close to their intrinsic limits.

    • Did Trump just commit witness tampering? I asked 7 legal experts. "Probably not, but here's why it likely doesn't matter anyway."

    • Why we need a more forgiving legal system: Interview with Martha Minow, author of When Should Law Forgive?

  • Alex Isenstadt: Louisiana delivers Trump a black eye: "The president lost two of three gubernatorial elections in conservative Southern states, raising questions about his standing heading into 2020." Louisiana just re-elected Democrat John Bel Edwards to a second term as governor.

  • Molly Jong-Fast: Why Trump attacked Marie Yovanovitch: "He can't help but go after women, even when doing so hurts his cause."

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • Warren proposes two-step plan to implement Medicare for All. I see this as a fair and reasoned bow to the inevitable, not that I have any problem with Sanders sticking with his full-blown plan: how to get there matters, but not as much as knowing where you want to go. I could imagine even more steps along the way. M4A faces two major challenges: one is the money that is currently paid to private insurance companies over to the public program (most of that money is controlled by employers, who would like to keep it themselves); the other is getting the providers integrated into the M4A network, preferably on terms that allow M4A to better manage costs without reducing service. Warren's "head tax" is one way of dealing with the former (not an ideal solution, but should work as a bridge gap). Few people talk about the latter, probably because Medicare already has a large service network, but even there Advantage plans limit the network, and similar limits are common with private insurance plans. On the other hand, M4A would be more efficient (which is to say affordable) if providers dealt exclusively with it. I think this opens up three ideas that I've never seen really discussed. The first key is realizing that for well into the future private insurers will still be able to sell supplemental insurance plans. I'm on Medicare, but I still buy a "Medigap" private health insurance policy, which picks up virtually all of the deductibles and miscellaneous charges Medicare sticks you with. Sanders wants to eliminate all of those charges, but anything short of his plan will leave the insurance companies a viable market. Most practical implementations of M4A will leave a role for supplemental insurance. Doesn't this imply that M4A won't totally end the need for private insurance, but will simply shift it from primary to supplemental coverage? This opens up another way to incrementally shift to M4A: start by insuring everyone for certain conditions, and expand that list as you build up a general tax base to support it (part of the tax could be on private insurance premiums, which could be cost-neutral for the insurance companies). Some obvious candidates for the initial list: ER trauma, vaccinations, pre-natal care and deliveries. Another idea would be to start investing more funds into non-profit provider networks (which could be built around existing public providers, like the VA). Under M4A Medicaid wouldn't be needed as a second-class insurer, but could be repurposed to build affordable and accessible clinics, which would compete effectively with for-profit providers, and thereby help manage costs.

    • Bevin concedes after Republicans decline to help him steal the election.

    • Deval Patrick is officially running for President. Two-term governor of Massachusetts, a black politician who's open for business, so much so that after politics he went to work for Mitt Romney's vulture capital firm, Bain Capital. I recall that Thomas Frank, in Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Part of the People, looked past the Clintons to single Patrick out, along with Andrew Cuomo and Rahm Emmanuel, as prominent Democrats always eager to sell out to business interests. Patrick's hat in the ring tells us that certain donors are spooked by Warren and Sanders, are convinced Biden will collapse, realize that none of the Senators (Booker, Harris, Klobuchar) have attracted enough interest, and doubt Buttigieg can expand beyond his niche. Those donors have been pushing several names recently, including Bloomberg (who has even more negatives), but Patrick is the first to nibble. The problem is that unless you're looking for financial favors, it's hard to see any reason for anyone to pick Patrick over anyone else in the middle of the Democratic Party road. Also on Patrick: Matt Taibbi: Deval Patrick's candidacy is another chapter in the Democrats' 2020 clown car disaster.

    • Nikki Haley's skillful and opportunistic MAGA balancing act: "Once again, Nikki Haley has figured out how to keep herself in the news as a potential Trump-Pence successor while declaring her Trumpist loyalties."

    • Is Buttigieg's presidential bid buoyed by male privilege? Amy Klobuchar seems to think so. I don't doubt that lots of people have lots of prejudices governing their preferences, but such a claim isn't going to change anything. Among moderate ("no we can't") candidates, maybe Buttigieg and Biden have advantages other than sex -- one's an old establishment figure, the other is a complete outsider not tainted by past failures. Besides, didn't Hillary break the "glass ceiling" for wimpy moderates (at least in the Democratic primaries)? You could just as well argue that Cory Booker hasn't taken off due to white privilege, but Obama didn't seem to have that problem.

  • German Lopez:

  • Alec MacGillis: The case against Boeing. Specifically, regarding the 737 MAX. One can make lots of other cases against Boeing, perhaps not all "proving that the company put profit over safety," but profit is never far from management's thinking.

  • Ian Millhiser: 3 ways the Supreme Court could decide DACA's fate.

  • Andrew Prokop:

  • Emily Raboteau: Lessons in survival: Review of two books: Elizabeth Rush: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, and Gilbert M Gaul: The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts.

    Both make the controversial case for managed retreat as our best defense, given the scale of the problem. This approach calls for withdrawing rather than rebuilding after disasters, and would include government buyout programs to finance the resettlement of homeowners from vulnerable areas.

  • Robert Reich: Warren doesn't just frighten billionaires -- she scares the whole establishment.

  • David Roberts: With impeachment, America's epistemic crisis as arrived: "Can the right-wing machine hold the base in an alternate reality long enough to get through the next election?"

    They [the right] are working with a few key tools and advantages. The first is a strong tendency, especially among low-information, relatively disengaged voters (and political reporters), to view consensus as a signal of legitimacy. It's an easy and appealing heuristic: If something is a good idea, it would have at least a few people from both sides supporting it. That's why "bipartisan" has been such a magic word in US politics this century, even as the reality of bipartisanship has faded.

    Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell was very canny in recognizing this tendency and working it it ruthlessly to his advantage. He realized before Obama ever set foot in office that if he could keep Republicans unified in opposition, refusing any cooperation on anything, he could make Obama appear "polarizing." His great insight, as ruthlessly effective as it was morally bankrupt, was that he could unilaterally deny Obama the ability to be a uniter, a leader, or a deal maker. Through nothing but sheer obstinance, he could make politics into an endless, frustrating, fruitless shitshow, diminishing both parties in voters' eyes.

    This is what Republicans need more than anything on impeachment: for the general public to see it as just another round of partisan squabbling, another illustration of how "Washington" is broken. They need to prevent any hint of bipartisan consensus from emerging.

    Roberts refers to several previous articles, worth collecting here, starting with his own:

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • Dominic Rushe: Boo-hoo billionaires: why America's super-wealthy are afraid for 2020.

  • Dylan Scott: Trump's big veterans health care plan has hit a snag. The "big plan" is to privatize health care services for veterans who don't live close enough to heavily used VA facilities. Once again, the privateers have overestimated the competency of the private sector, and underestimated its rapacity.

  • Emily Stewart: "ok billionaire": Elizabeth Warren is leaning into her billionaire battle.

  • Matt Stieb:

  • Jim Tankersley/Peter Eavis/Ben Casselman: How FedEx cut its tax bill to $0: "The company, like much of corporate America, has not made good on its promised investment surge from President Trump's 2017 tax cuts."

  • Peter Wade: 'You're done': Conservative radio host fired mid-show for criticizing Trump.

  • Alex Ward: The one big policy change 2020 Democrats want to make for veterans, explained.

  • Matthew Yglesias:

Monday, November 11, 2019


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Current count 32345 [32307] rated (+38), 221 [220] unrated (+1).

Pressure continues to build on my psych crisis. Hoped for a break today, but may have underestimated the holiday. Maybe tomorrow? I've been in a rut for nearly a month, getting damn little done. Still, might as well knock this out. Don't actually have much to say about it, anyway.

Next week will either be much better . . . or worse.


New records reviewed this week:

Ben Allison/Steve Cardenas/Ted Nash: Quiet Revolution (2015 [2018], Sonic Camera): Bass/guitar/tenor sax, also some clarinet. Same trio as Nash's later Somewhere Else, but artists listed here as above, the mix favoring the bass, and indeed this one is on his label. One song from each, covers from Jim Hall (6) and Jimmy Giuffre (2), closing with "Love Theme From Spartacus." [CD reissue; first appeared vinyl-only 2016 on Newvelle.] B+(***)

Byron Asher: Byron Asher's Skrontch Music (2018 [2019], Sinking City): From New Orleans, plays clarinet and tenor sax, first album, organized a ten-piece ensemble to play around excerpts from oral history recordings, giving it a trad jazz reference even when the music is aggressively postmodern. B+(**)

The Bad Plus: Activate Infinity (2019, Edition): Piano trio, founded in 2000 by Reid Anderson (bass), Dave King (drums), and Ethan Iverson (piano) -- replaced in 2017 by Orrin Evans, a star in his own right. B+(**)

Kenny Barron & Mulgrew Miller: The Art of Piano Duo: Live (2005-11 [2019], Sunnyside, 3CD): Two pianists, three encounters, the first in Marciac in 2005, the others in Zurich in 2011, two years before Miller (the junior partner by 15 years) died. Barron is famous as an educator, and playing along with students is part of his shtick, but few are as gifted as Miller. The pair merge together so seamlessly it's rarely clear who's playing what -- indeed, the occasional solo can be hard to detect. Endlessly entertaining. Dare I say flawless? A-

Harold Danko/Kirk Knuffke: Play Date (2018 [2019], SteepleChase): Piano and cornet duo. Alternates Duke Jordan songs with jointly-credited originals, cycling through "Flight to Denmark" three times. B+(***)

David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Interaction (2018 [2019], Origin, 2CD): Bassist, also plays piano (four tracks here), notable as a composer, has close to 50 albums since 1975. Trio with Joe Manis (tenor/soprano sax) and Charlie Doggett (drums), more free than I expected. B+(***) [cd] [11-15]

Andy Fusco: Vortex (2017 [2019], SteepleChase): Alto saxophonist, played with Buddy Rich 1978-83, debut album in 1996, now has four albums on the Danish label since 2016. This is a septet, with Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax -- another Rich alumnus Fusco recorded a 2006 album with, Tea for Two), Joe Magnarelli (trumpet), John Mosca (trombone), Peter Zak (piano), bass and drums. B+(**)

Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich: A Tangle of Stars (2018 [2019], New Amsterdam): Guitar duo, she recently won a MacArthur Genius Grant, he best known as a long-term member of Deerhoof, although this isn't his first side project with jazz musicians. B+(**)

Kevin Hays/Mark Turner/Marc Miralta: Where Are You (2018 [2019], Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano/tenor sax/drums, all write original pieces, plus they cover Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman. Turner is as solid as ever, while the pianist adds some spice. B+(***)

Zlatko Kaucic Quintet: Morning Patches (2018 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Slovenian Drummer, credited with "ground sounds" here, couple dozen albums since 1994, quintet members get "feat." credit on cover: Michael Moore (alto sax/clarinet), Marco Colonna (clarinet/bass clarinet), Albert Cirera (tenor sax), Silvia Bolognesi (bass). B+(*) [bc]

Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (2019, Polydor): British singer-songwriter, born in London, parents from Uganda, don't think I accept his classification as "indie folk," but don't see many other pigeonholes. Third album, a star in UK, still a curiosity here. B+(*)

Kronos Quartet: Terry Riley: Sun Rings (2019, Nonesuch): String quartet, more than 40 albums since 1979, including various forays into jazz and world music as well as modern/postmodern classical -- this looks like their fourth Terry Riley album. The strings tend to be scruffier than Riley's usual electronics, which is OK by me, but I'm less taken by the choir. B

Travis Laplante: Human (2018 [2019], New Amsterdam): Tenor saxophonist, best known for his sax quartet Battle Trance, goes solo here, with various effects, including circular breathing his way into air raid siren territory. B

Jeffrey Lewis & the Voltage: Bad Wiring (2019, Don Giovanni): New York folkie, started out drawing comic books, fifteen years later he goes to Nashville, gets a producer, and rocks harder than ever. Good opening song, a surefire single on "LPs" (advice: "if it's cheap there's less chance you'll regret it"), tails off a bit toward the end. B+(***)

Joe Morris & Evan Parker: The Village (2014 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Guitar and sax duo, the latter switching between soprano and tenor. A bit scratchy, which is what Morris does best. B+(**) [bc]

Ted Nash/Steve Cardenas/Ben Allison: Somewhere Else: West Side Story Songs (2019, Plastic Sax): Sax/guitar/bass, the former listed first in larger type. Can't say as the songs mean much to me, but nicely done. B+(**)

One O'Clock Lab Band: Lab 2019 (2019, North Texas Jazz): As you probably know by now, University of North Texas has one of the largest and most successful jazz programs anywhere (in the USA) outside of the Boston-New York corridor. This is their big band class, directed by Alan Blaylock, and their section work and arranging are pretty sharp. Also note that the vocal cut, with Marion Powers, is a highlight. B+(*) [cd] [11-22]

Evan Parker/Lotte Anker/Torben Snekkestad: Inferences (2016 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Sax trio, not an auspicious lineup as all three play soprano, with minor switches helping (Anker to tenor sax, Snekkestad to trumpet), but not often enough. Two pieces, 41:00. B+(*) [bc]

Marta Sánchez Quintet: El Rayo De Luz (2019, Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish pianist (not the singer who outranks her on Google), based in New York, handful of albus since 2008, third quintet effort, with Chris Cheek (tenor sax) joining mainstays Roman Filiu (alto sax), Rick Rosato (bass), and Daniel Dor (drums). Sneaks up on you, with one of Cheek's finest outings. A- [cd] [11-22]

Sirkis/Bialas IQ: Our New Earth (2018 [2019], Moonjune, 2CD): IQ stands for International Quartet, led Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis and Polish singer Sylwia Bialas, with Frank Harrison (keyboards) and Kevin Glasgow (electric bass) -- both from UK, which appears to be where Sirkis and Bialas are based, although the latter identifies as Scottish. Folkish, has a dark, brooding beauty. B+(**) [cd]

That Dog: Old LP (2019, UMe): Alt-rock group from LA (1991-97), singer-songwriter Anna Waronker, two of Charlie Haden's daughters, and a drummer. Cut three albums before breaking up. After some solo albums, regrouped recently (minus Petra Haden) and finally came up with this new album (title a nostalgic song). B+(**)

Jeremy Udden: Three in Paris (2018 [2019], Sunnyside): Postbop saxophonist (alto/soprano), from Massachusetts, based in New York, half-dozen albums since 2006. Thinking about Steve Lacy here, backed by Nicolas Moreaux (bass) and John Betsch (drums). "Bone" is a highlight, thanks to a Latin twist. B+(***)

Michael Zilber: East West: Music for Big Bands (2018 [2019], Origin, 2CD): Saxophonist, originally from Vancouver, BC, moved to Boston, New York, later San Francisco. He's assembled two big bands here, one in San Francisco, the other in New York, and gives each a full disc, writing four pieces on each, adding covers ranging from "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." B+(*) [cd] [11-15]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Bulawayo Blue Yodel (1950s [2019], Olvido): "High lonesome sounds from 1950s Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa" -- "14 lost classics . . . all reissued for the first time from original 78rpm discs." The reference to bluegrass isn't too far fetched, but older and more exotic folk forms, lending with something that sounds Hawaiian. Extensive notes are promised. B+(**) [bc]

Lloyd McNeill: Treasures (1975 [2019], Soul Jazz): Flute player, emerged around 1969 playing an intimate pan-African soul jazz, developed further here in a meeting with Brazilians -- Dom Salvador (piano), Portinho (drums), Ray Armando (percussion) -- backed by bass (Cecil McBee) and more drums (Brian Blake). B+(**)

Lee Moses: How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles and Rarities 1965-1972 (1965-72 [2019], Light in the Attic): Soul man from Georgia, released his only album in 1971 (Time and Place, also the title of a 2007 compilation). This pulls his early singles together, including a couple before he really found his voice. B+(**) [bc]

Phil Ranelin: Collected Works 2003-2019 (2003-19 [2019], Wide Hive, 2CD): Trombonist, born in Indianapolis, moved to Detroit in the 1960s, co-founding Tribe in 1971, and later moved on to Los Angeles, hit 80 this year. I discovered his 1970s records when they were reissued (along with a Remixes) by Hefty c. 2002. That rejumped his career, leading to the 5 records that are sampled here, evidently with 3 or 4 new tracks. Various lineups, especially strong at sax -- Pharoah Sanders is most readily recognized, Kamasi Washington is another powerhouse -- and percussion. A-

Tribe: Hometown: Detroit Sessions 1990-2014 (1990-2004 [2019], Art Yard/Strut): Jazz collective founded in 1971 by Wendell Harrison (reeds) and Phil Ranelin (trombone), with Marcus Belgrave (trumpet) perhaps the best known. Ran their own label 1972-76, with various comebacks and throwbacks over the years, including the album Rebirth in 2009. Not clear that this should should be regarded as a named group: Harrison only appears on 6 (of 10) tracks, as does Harold McKinney (piano/vocals). Belgrave is on 4 (as is Pamela Wise, piano/vocals), Ranelin only 2. B+(***)

Old music:

Ben Allison: The Stars Look Very Different Today (2013, Sonic Camera): Bassist, one of the few jazz composers to impress me enough to write his name in that slot on ballots. After nine Palmetto albums set up his own label and made his records scarce. This is a quartet, moves into fusion territory with two guitarists (Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook), plus Allison Miller on drums. B+(*)

Ben Allison: Layers of the City (2017, Sonic Camera): With Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Matt Kimbrough (piano), and Allan Mednard (drums). B+(**)

Harold Danko: After the Rain (1994 [1995], SteepleChase): Pianist, from Ohio, debut album in 1974, joined this Danish label in 1993. This is his second album there, solo piano, a set of John Coltrane songs. B+(**)

Harold Danko Quartet: Tidal Breeze (1995-96 [1997], SteepleChase): Pianist-led quartet, cut several albums in the 1990s, with Rich Perry on tenor sax, Scott Colley on bass, and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. Strong performances all around. B+(***)

Lloyd McNeill and Marshall Hawkins: Tanner Suite (1969 [2015], Universal Sound): Flute and bass duo. Four ten-minute pieces, hold your interest. B+(*)

Lee Moses: Time and Place (1971, Maple): First and only album, nine tracks (33:20) of exceptionally gritty soul, even if some of the covers aren't promising ("California Dreaming," "Hey Joe"). B+(***)

Phil Ranelin: A Close Encounter of the Very Best Kind (1996, Lifeforce): Not much in the trombonist's catalog between his stint with Freddie Hubbard (1979-80) and his revival after 2002 -- one 1986 album, and this trio plus guests -- title cut expands the band to nine, including congas and Steve Turre's conch shell. B+(***)

Phil Ranelin: Living a New Day (2005, Wide Hive): Trombonist, band has two guitars, keys, bass, vibraphone, and drums. Vocal on the title cut is a strong message for peace. Grooves hard, with two alternate takes -- underscoring how good that title piece is. B+(**)

Phil Ranelin & Tribe Renaissance: Reminiscence: Live! (2009, Wide Hive): Discogs has nothing on this release, but AMG offers a lineup: Ranelin (trombone), George Harper Jr (tenor/baritone sax), Carl Randall Jr (tenor sax), Zane Musa (alto sax), Louis Van Taylor (clarinet, flute, alto flute), Keith Fiddmont (flute, soprano sax), Jinshi Ozaki (guitar), Danny Grissett (organ, piano), William Henderson (piano), Nate Morgan (piano), Ryan Cross (bass), James Leary (bass), Lorca Hart (drums), Thomas White (drums), Don Littleton (congas, drums/percussion), Tambu (congas, percussion). Apt title: "Thrivin on a Groove." Closer: "Caravan." B+(***)

Phil Ranelin: Portrait in Blue (2015, Wide Hive): Where Tribe was expansive and all-inclusive, above all else a rallying of community, this is a back-to-basics move: a quintet with trombone, Pablo Calogero (on bass clarinet and tenor/soprano sax), piano, bass, and Don Littleton (drums, congas, percussion), playing bluesy material. Doesn't have the exultation of some of his other albums, but makes up for that lack in subtler ways. B+(***)

Pamela Samiha Wise: A New Message From the Tribe (2017, Tribe): Pianist, sings some, from Cleveland, moved to Detroit in 1978, married Tribe founder Wendell Harrison, wrote the last three tracks on Tribe's Hometown: Detroit Sessions. Fifth album. Emphasizes the Latin tinge in the African diaspora -- as indeed did her debut, the Jerry Gonzalez-produced Songo Festividad. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lolly Allen: Coming Home (OA2) [11-15]
  • The Diva Jazz Orchestra: Diva + the Boys (MCG Jazz)
  • Rozina Pátkai: Taladim (Tom-Tom)
  • Charlie Porter: Immigration Nation (OA2) [11-15]
  • Bob Ravenscroft & Inner Journeys: Phantasmagoria (OA2) [11-15]
  • Toh-Kichi: Baikamo (Libra)

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Weekend Roundup

Another "going through the motions" week, so no introduction. I noted a friend of a friend commenting that people don't realize how much time it's going to take after the 2020 election to undo the damage Trump has inflicted (and is continuing to, no doubt with a special flurry after he gets beat, including a bunch of pre-emptive pardons). This person was citing the difficulties Laura Kelly has faced since becoming governor of Kansas, but it's a general rule. For me, the best election news last week was the defeat of Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, who spent his term making shady deals with real estate developers. One of those was to wreck McLean Boulevard, which used to hug the river from 13th North to Pawnee (23rd South), but now will have its downtown passage moved so realtors can offer exclusive river views. Unlikely that would ever have passed a public vote, but it's also unlikely that the new mayor will be able to undo the blight. Of course, a big part of Kelly's problem is that the state legislature is still controlled by Republicans. The bigger the Democratic wave in 2020, but more a new president will be able to do. But still, the task list is daunting, and growing every day.


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, November 4, 2019


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: current count 32307 [32276] rated (+31), 220 [224] unrated (-4).

Not as physically miserable on waking up this morning as last, but more deeply troubled. Figured I'd get even by doing a long groan and rant here, but 9-10 hours later, when I finally got started, all I wanted was the day to be over with. So I'll spare you the details on two major personal crises, other than to note that one I made some headway on today, and the other I sensibly put off until tomorrow. That leaves two or three technical problems that are easier to talk about. The one that bothers me most is the new computer.

To recap, I order a bunch of parts to build a new computer:

  • AMD Ryzen 7 2700X 8-Core 3.2GHz CPU
  • ASRock X570 Steel Legend Motherboard
  • G.SKILL TridentZ RGB Series 64GB (4x16GB) DDR4 3000 SDRAM
  • XFX Radeon RX 570 RS 8Gb Graphics Card
  • Intel 660p Series M.2 1TB Solid State Drive (SSD)
  • Lite-On DVD Burner SATA
  • Corsair RM Series 750W Full Modular Power Supply
  • Fractal Design Focus G Mid Tower ATX Computer Case
  • AmazonBasics DisplayPort 6 Foot Cable
  • Logitech M705 Cordless Mouse
  • Samsung 32-Inch UJ59 UHD 3840x2160 Monitor

I'm reusing a Logitech K740 Mechanical Keyboard, plus (for now) a pretty cheap set of speakers -- gear originally attached to an old (and pathetically slow) machine that will be retired (or maybe used as a print server, as it's the last machine standing with a parallel port for my HP Laser Printer). Originally I misread the motherboard specs and thought I could make do with onboard video, but turned out that was dependent on a different CPU, so I had to add the video card. When I did install the card, the machine came up nicely, and I loaded Xubuntu 18.04 LTS easily enough.

Main problem I ran into then was that the default fonts were awful small on the high-resolution monitor, so I've had to find the various places where they are defined and tweak them up. The new machine is as powerful as I expected. However, I ran into a problem: the machine freezes after some period of inactivity. I've spent 3-4 days chasing after this problem, and still don't have a handle on it.

The obvious suspect is the power save and screen lock functions of the window manager. I've scaled them back (and eliminated light-locker all together). That eliminated the blank screen, but the system would leave either just wallpaper or the full workspace window when it freezes (in which state neither mouse nor keyboard wakes it up). I wondered whether parts of the window manager crashed, in which case it should be possible to ssh in from another machine -- but active ssh sessions are disconnected when the machine freezes. I've poured through syslogs, but have yet to find anything enlightening (obviously have more of that to do). The box felt a bit warm to me, so I wondered about thermal. Inserting an instant read thermometer through the back grill registers 93F, which doesn't strike me as unusually hot. Also, the timing always follows inactivity -- I played music for about 5 hours last night, then it shut down a few minutes after the music stopped.

Good news, I suppose, is that reset wakes it up, and reboot is pretty quick. Still, the most vexing problem I've run across in 6-8 computer builds -- rather dispiriting given my age and psychic frailty. Also, I shot way pass my original budget, so I'm extra reluctant to swap in extra new hardware. Plus this has come at a time when I'm also having to deal with repair/replace questions on dishwasher and car. One bit of good news is that I seem to have managed to repair the dishwasher leak.

[PS: I have ascertained that the freeze is a kernel panic, more specifically a watchdog timer detecting a soft lockup during a system call (timeout is 20 seconds). This indicates a bug in a kernel module, although I suppose it could be caused by a hardware fault. I need to better understand the context to figure out how to fix the problem or work around it. It would be helpful to get a call trace, which would map the source back to an application program.]


Not much to say about this week's music. Swapping out the old computer before getting the new one working forced me to spend more time working off the promo queue than streaming. As for the "old music," I picked up a friendly download of Carmen McRae's Live at the Dug -- one of the few records recommended in Will Friedland's The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums I hadn't heard), and thought I'd check out a few more promising albums without taking a deep dive.

In recent weeks I've been the best-reviewed new albums plus identifying other new ones of exceptional interest. Not much to report on that front this week: top-rated this week was Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (12), followed by Miranda Lambert: Wildcard (7), and Sudan Archives: Athena (4). The other new release that looks most promising is: Jeffrey Lewis & the Voltage: Bad Wiring.

Among records I previously reviewed, the best to finally appear last week were: Roger Kellaway: The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway [A-]; and Roberto Magris: Sun Stone [***].


New records reviewed this week:

Areni Agbabian: Bloom (2016 [2019], ECM): Vocalist, pianist, from California, Armenian descent -- mixes trad Armenian hymns and folk songs in with originals, some credited to producer Manfred Eicher. Very minimal, only other musician is percussionist Nicolas Stocker. B

The Carter Family: Across Generations (2019, Reviver Legacy): A John Carter Cash project, the son of June Carter, who first appeared in her famous family's group at age 10, and her second husband, an even more famous country singer-songwriter. JCC has made his mark as a producer lately, so this must have seemed a natural. Not sure of the details, but he started with old tracks from the group's heyday, cleaned them up and added extra voices from later Carter generations. Not sure it's worth the effort. B

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (2019, Ghosteen/Bad Seeds, 2CD): Australian singer-songwriter, a big deal since the early 1980s, but I was warned off him early, and have only sampled his last two (now three) albums. Still, I recognize his voice from songs used on the 1920s British gangsters show Peaky Blinders, where their industrial klang worked fairly well. But none of that here: everything is slow, eerie perhaps, with nothing much registering beyond a certain pained beauty. B

Clipping.: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (2019, Sub Pop): Experimental rap group from Los Angeles, best known member Daveed Diggs. On an alt-rock label, where their focus on noise over beats seems to be appreciated. I go back and forth. B+(*)

Dave Douglas: Engage (2018 [2019], Greenleaf Music): Trumpet player, you know that, lists his band members in same-sized type below the title, for good reason: Anna Webber (alto & bass flutes/tenor sax), Jeff Parker (guitar), Tomeka Reid (cello), Nick Dunston (bass), Kate Gentile (drums). Also employs two more trumpet players on occasion. A- [cd] [11-08]

Nick Dunston: Atlantic Extraction (2019, Out of Your Head): Brooklyn-based bassist, first album, has a half-dozen side credits over last couple years, notably one with Dave Douglas. Emphasis on strings, the bass supporting a balance between guitar and violin/viola, with flute (Louna Dekker-Vargas) and drums, and a bit of vocal. B+(**) [cd]

Lorenzo Feliciati/Michele Rabbia: Antikythera (2019, RareNoise): Primarily an electric bassist (with or without frets), but nothing here makes you think of bass-and-drum duets. Feliciati is also credited with keyboards, samples, soundesign, and electric guitar, and Rabbia does electronics as well as drums. Plus you get guests on all eight tracks: Cuong Vu (trumpet), Andy Sheppard (sax), Roy Powell (organ), and two pianists (Rita Marcotulli and Alessandro Gwis). B+(**) [cdr]

Floating Points: Crush (2019, Ninja Tune): English electronica producer Sam Shepherd, also has a PhD in neuroscience and epigenetics. Third album, some danceable beats, more ambient whorls of shaded sound. B+(**)

Calabria Foti: Prelude to a Kiss (2019, Moco): Singer, plays violin, fourth album, wrote one song here, rest are standards. Bob McChesney arranged and produced, bands ranging from solo piano (Roger Kellaway) up to full-blown orchestra. Results vary, but at her best on "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" (with Kellaway). B [cd]

Hal Galper Trio: The Zone: Live at the Yardbird Suite (2016 [2019], Origin): Pianist, a good one, first side credit looks to be Chet Baker in 1964, 30+ albums since 1971, a few struck me as A-list, like his 2009 trio with Reggie Workman and Rashied Ali (Art-Work), and last year's album with Jerry Bergonzi (Cubist). This one, a trio with his label's resident rhythm section (Jeff Johnson and John Bishop), live from Edmonton in Canada, isn't quite such a tour de force, but reminds you how impressive he can be. Note that Johnson wrote 4 (of 7) songs, to the leader's one. A- [cd] [11-15]

Francesco Guerri: Su Mimmi Non Si Spara! (2019, RareNoise): Italian cellist, several albums since 2010, solo here, also credited with electronics, which may explain why this doesn't feel overly constrained. B+(**) [cdr]

Jerome Jennings: Solidarity (2019, Iola): Drummer, one previous album. Starts with "Bebop," expands in many directions with various guests, including a pretty good Camille Thurman vocal, and a striking excerpt from a speech by Stephanie Flowers. B+(***) [cd] [11-09]

Per Texas Johansson: Strĺk Pĺ Himlen Och Stora Hus (2019, Moserobie): Swedish, plays clarinets, tenor sax, oboe, and flute, usually puts "Texas" in quotes, released one of the year's best albums (Orakel) as an avant-sax trio. Here goes for something closer to chamber jazz, with violin, vibraphone/marimba, harp, and timpani (OK, some drums), two vocals (one a choir) -- not things I particularly approve of, but has some nice passages. B+(***) [cd]

Lakou Mizik: HaitiaNola (2019, Cumbancha): Haitian group, formed after the big 2010 earthquake, visit New Orleans and are greeted warmly. Early rhythm tracks are exciting enough, but I found my interest waning when they slowed it down. Did perk up on their kreyol take on "Iko Iko." B+(*)

Miranda Lambert: Wildcard (2019, RCA Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, seventh album (tenth if you include Pistol Annies), hard to improve on her voice or ask for more spunk, and I'm not finding any reason to doubt this album. A-

Joăo Lencastre's Communion 3: Song(s) of Hope (2019, Clean Feed): Portuguese drummer, has several groups including this trio with piano (Jacob Sacks) and bass (Eivind Opsvik). B+(**) [bc]

Chris Lightcap: SuperBigmouth (2019, Pyroclastic): Bassist, builds on his Bigmouth group -- two previous albums, with Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby (tenor saxes), Craig Taborn (keybs), and Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- by adding his Superette group: Curtis Hasselbring and Jonathan Goldberger (guitars), and Dan Rieser (drums). Two good ideas that often as not bog each other down. B

Lil Tjay: True 2 Myself (2019, Columbia): Tione Jayden Merritt, 18, from the South Bronx, was featured on Polo G's hit "Pop Out," first album, wound tight. B+(*)

Fredrik Ljungkvist Trio: Atlantis (2019, Moserobie): Swedish saxophonist, not a lot under his own name -- two 1995-97 Quartet albums, a couple duos -- but is a front line player in Atomic, pops up elsewhere (including my favorite 2018 album). Acquits himself well here, with Mattias Welin (bass) and Jon Fält (drums), plus guests on 3 (of 7) tracks (one a Sofia Jernberg vocal). B+(***) [cd]

Maurice Louca: Elephantine (2019, Northern Spy): Egyptian composer, plays guitar and piano, several albums, leads a group of twelve here including vocalist Nadah El Shazly, some oud, but mostly a large (and occasionally unruly) jazz ensemble. B+(*)

Nellie McKay: Bagatelles (2019, Palmetto, EP): Started out as a singer-songwriter on the pop/rock side of the fence, but lately has focused on repertoire, making short work of eight standards here, dispatched in 17:29, most with little more than a bit of ukulele, "I Concentrate on You" close to a cappella. A trifle, but a charming one. B+(*)

MIKE: Tears of Joy (2019, 10K): Mixtape, from New York rapper Michael Bonema, difficult person to look up -- Discogs lists him as "Mike (408)," credits him with 15 recordings, this one under "Miscellaneous." No paragon of clarity, either in samples or words, but something there. B+(**) [bc]

Mute: Mute (2018 [2019], Fresh Sound New Talent): New York-based quartet, name an anagram from plucking random letters from the artists' names: Kevin Sun (C-Melody sax/clarinet), Christian Li (piano), Jeonglim Yang (bass), Dayeon Seok (drums). All four write songs (3-3-2-1). The saxophonist continues to impress, even spread a bit thin over a finely balanced group. A- [cd] [12-13]

The Niro Featuring Gary Lucas: The Complete Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas Songbook (2019, Esordisco): Lucas played guitar in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band 1980-82, and has done more than anyone else to keep that flame burning, especially with his Fast 'n' Bulbous jazz band. He's dabbled in all sorts of things, including a 10-month collaboration with singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, before his one studio album, Grace (1994), made him famous, and before his death in 1997 promoted him to infamous. The songs Buckley and Lucas wrote were released in 2002 as Songs to No One 1991-1992, and are reprised here, with Davide Combusti (aka, The Niro) singing, and Lucas helping out. The singer isn't much of an improvement over the model, but the guitarist is. B [11-08]

Northern Ranger: Eastern Stranger (2019, self-released, EP): Canadian drummer Harry Vetro, quartet with violin (Nelson Moneo), piano/wurlitzer (Noah Franche-Nolan), and bass (Victor Vrankulj). Violin invokes a "Newfoundland-Irish jig," so they're tempted to pass this off as "world fusion," hoping to snare a few customers afraid of what it is, namely jazz. B+(**) [cdr]

Nicholas Payton: Relaxin' With Nick (2019, Smoke Sessions, 2CD): Trumpet player from New Orleans, but he takes the opener on piano, rather impressively, and plays electric keyboards later on. Backed by a terrific mainstream rhythm section: Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums). B+(**)

Roberta Piket: Domestic Harmony: Piket Plays Mintz (2019, Thirteenth Note): Pianist, more than a dozen albums since 1996, mostly trios but this is her third solo. All songs written by Billy Mintz, who led one of the few other albums she's played on. B+(**) [cd] [12-06]

Polo G: Die a Legend (2019, Columbia): Chicago rapper Taurus Remani Bartlett, first album, went gold with a hit single "Pop Out." Trap influence, sound anyway. B+(**)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Colorado (2019, Reprise): New material (as far as I can tell), Young's 39th studio album, ten songs straight and true, "Rainbow of Colors" effectively political in today's world. With Nils Lofgren, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina back on board. His best since 2012's Psychedelic Pill, coincidentally his last Crazy Horse rendezvous. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

James Brown: Live at Home With His Bad Self (1969 [2019], Polydor): Archival release of the complete show in Augusta, GA on October 1, 1969, originally planned for release, then excerpted (four cuts) for Sex Machine. Not hard to see why this was shelved at the time: a fair amount of patter, some uninspired instrumental breaks ("Spinning Wheel"?), especially compared to the later material they went with. On the other hand, much of it is as great as you'd expect. A-

Johnny Griffin & Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: Ow! Live at the Penthouse (1962 [2019], Reel to Reel): Two previously unreleased live shots, recorded in Seattle, led by two tenor saxophonists who've done their fair share of jousting over the years, are pretty simpatico here. Backed by Horace Parlan (piano), Buddy Catlett (bass), and Art Taylor (drums). A- [cd] [12-06]

Old music:

Carmen McRae: Torchy (1955, Decca): Jazz singer, second album, standard ballads arranged by Ralph Burns and Jack Pleis. Strong, clear voice, frames every song precisely. B+(**)

Carmen McRae: Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics (1961 [1962,1997], Columbia/Legacy): First reaction is what do we need an inferior collection of Billie Holidays songs for, but this is as good as McRae can make it, a set of swing standards given precise readings, a strong band that includes Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Nat Adderley. Holiday's own "God Bless the Child" is a highlight. The CD bonus tracks are too much (especially "The Christmas Song"). B+(***)

Carmen McRae: As Time Goes By: Carmen McRae Alone Live at the Dug (1973 [1974], Victor): Ten standards done solo, backed by nothing but her own piano, from a concert in Japan. B+(***) [dl]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Interaction (Origin, 2CD) [11-15]
  • Hal Galper Trio: The Zone: Live at the Yardbird Suite (Origin) [11-15]
  • Roberta Piket: Domestic Harmony: Piket Plays Mintz (Thirteenth Note) [12-06]
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet: El Rayo De Luz (Fresh Sound New Talent) [11-22]
  • Jim Snidero: Project-K (Savant) [01-24-2020]
  • Sirkis/Ballas IQ: Our New Earth (Moonjune)
  • Michael Zilber: East West: Music for Big Bands (Origin, 2CD) [11-15]

Sunday, November 3, 2019


Weekend Roundup

Late getting into this, and beset by more problems than I can cope with these days, so no introduction. Nothing fundamentally different. Just lots more of the same old shit.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Spencer Ackerman:

  • Jared Bernstein: Medicare-for-all won't happen anytime soon, but Democrats should keep talking about it. I've been wondering why we don't see more practical half-measures advanced about health-care, as the debate between Medicare for All and its opponents has basically devolved into a debate over whether we can or cannot solve the most basic problem in the world's most expensive (and relative to cost most inefficient and in many ways dysfunctional) health care system. There were several such proposals early on, such as adding a "public option" to ACA and/or allowing various constituencies to buy into Medicare. But now that the race has boiled down to Sanders and Warren vs. Biden and Buttigieg, the debate is between those who understand the problem and are willing to present bold solutions vs. those who deny that significant change is possible, who don't even seem to understand the problem, and in any case won't put any serious effort into changing anything. Which is say, health care has become a proxy for the deeper division among Democrats: the rift between the "radicals," who believe that government should serve the people, and the "moderates," who believe that government should serve the donors, preferably without most other people getting hurt too bad (at least compared to Republican standards).

  • Christopher Bertram: Contempt for human life: Starts with case in UK where the bodies of 39 Chinese nationals were found dead in a parked lorry container.

  • Charles Bethea: After ICE came to Morton, Mississippi: "About one in ten of the city's residents was jailed or fired after raids at local chicken plants."

  • Alexia Fernández Campbell:

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • GOP leader has one chart showing why Republicans hate democracy. Kevin McCarthy's tweet shows a county map of 2016 voting results, so it heavily favors more rural, less populated counties. Head is: 63 million Americans put President Trump in office/ 231 Democrats are trying to reverse the results." Top line ignores the fact that Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes than Trump, plus third party candidates got another 2 million votes, so Trump's total share was only 46.09% of the total. Second part ignores that impeachment would not make Clinton or any other Democrat president (isn't that what "reverse" means?). It would merely remove one spectacularly corrupt and vile office holder, in accordance with the US Constitution.

    • Trump: The Soviet witch coup has found me innocent: Steve Scalise's poster decrying "37 days of Soviet-style impeachment proceedings" shows how little he knows about the Soviet Union -- also the US Constitution. Also how little grasp he has of irony.

    • If Trump is impeached or defeated, conservatives will call it a 'coup'.

    • The White House's Godfather fantasy.

      Stone's case underlines a principle that's long been clear: It is impossible to understand the Trump administration's cast of characters, their lingo, and their governing ethos without a working knowledge of La Cosa Nostra and its Hollywood lore. If the Kennedy administration created Camelot, the Trump presidency has built a kind of cultural gangster state.

  • Chas Danner: Trump has been booed at another major sporting event: Well, only if you call "an Ultimate Fighting Championship event at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night" a "major sporting event."

  • Lisa Friedman: EPA to roll back rules to control toxic ash from coal plants.

  • Dan Gearino: Coal giant Murray Energy files for bankruptcy despite Trump's support.

  • Masha Gessen: How Trump's supporters distort Alexander Vindman's very American origin story.

  • Shirin Ghaffary:

  • Tara Golshan:

    • In Iowa, only 5 percent of Biden supporters are younger than 45. That compares to Warren (62%), Sanders (55%), and Buttigieg (30%); Biden also trails: Yang (12%), Harris (8%), and Don't Know/Refused (6%). Under "no big surprise," Yang has the highest M-F ratio (7%-1%), followed by Gabbard (3%-1%) and Klobuchar (7%-3%), skipping those with 0% F (Delaney 2% M, O'Rourke and Messam 1% M). Harris is the only candidate with a major F-M skew: 5%-1%. More surprising, Yang also has the highest ratio of High School or Less to Bach/Postgrad Degree, 10%-2% -- again, skipping 0% denominators for Delaney (4%) and Messam (2%); Biden is 35%-26%, and Sanders is 25%-24%. Most candidates do better with college graduates, like Booker 0%-5%, Harris 2%-7%, Klobuchar 4%-13%, and Buttigieg 9%-40%, but by far the most extreme is Warren 3%-59%. Those with electability concerns should be especially concerned about Biden's age skew. Most polls show young people breaking strongly for Democrats, but they're also the age group least likely to vote, and it stands to reason that many fewer will vote if the Democrats nominate Biden, especially compared to Sanders or Warren.

    • Kentucky's Republican governor is facing a tough race -- and he wants Trump to save him.

  • Jeff Hauser/Eleanor Eagan: The impeachable offense that Democrats should stop ignoring: "A constitutional violation worthy of an impeachment probe has been sitting under Democrats' noses since Trump took office -- his efforts to undermine Obamacare."

  • Fred Kaplan: The defeat of General Mattis: Review of Guy M Snodgrass: Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis, and Mattis' own memoir (with Bing West): Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.

  • Ed Kilgore:

  • Catherine Kim: Trump stumps for himself during a Mississippi rally for a tight governor's race.

  • Jen Kirby: The future of Brexit will be decided in December 12 elections.

  • Ezra Klein: Elizabeth Warren's plan to pay for Medicare-for-all, explained. Let's group some more pieces on Warren's Medicare-for-all plan:

  • Michael Kruse: The 5 people who could have stopped Trump: "Gambling regulators once contemplated yanking Trump's casino licenses. Why they didn't holds a lesson for lawmakers today."

  • Eric Levitz:

  • Marie Lodi: Tasteless 'Build the Wall' decor seen at White House kids' Halloween party.

  • Mike Lofgren: 'Republicans have become a cult run by crooks': "Former GOP congressional staffer explains why the party 'has become a creepy mashup of grade B totalitarianism' and 'Freudian manias.'"

  • Martin Longman: Hope for humanity as Trump's base begins to leave him.

  • Denise Lu/Christopher Flavelle: Rising seas will erase more cities by 2050, new research shows.

  • Ian Millhiser: The most important part of the Democrats' impeachment resolution.

    The most significant provision in the resolution exempts the Intelligence Committee's impeachment hearings from a rule that ordinarily limits questioning of witnesses to five minutes per committee member. Though the resolution leaves the five-minute rule in place for most members, it allows Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff to extend his own question time to as much as 45 minutes, so long as he gives equal time to Republican ranking committee member Devin Nunes.

    These are important changes because they will allow Schiff and the team of lawyers working for him to focus their time on the impeachment hearings and to spend significant amounts of time asking probing questions during those hearings. The new rules help ensure that the hearing will not be a disjointed process, constantly jumping from one questioner to the next, without giving anyone time to build a coherent narrative.

  • Nicole Narea:

  • Olivia Nuzzi: Inside MAGA Country's hottest club: The Trump-Pence 2020 Halloween Eve witch-hunt party.

  • Peter Osnos: Editing Donald Trump: "What I saw as the editor of The Art of the Deal, the book that made the future President millions of dollars and turned him into a national figure."

  • Thomas Pepinsky: Why the impeachment fight is even scarier than you think: "Political scientists have studied what our democracy is going through. It usually doesn't end well."

  • Andrew Prokop:

  • John Quiggin: Arrogance destroyed the World Trade Organisation. What replaces it will be even worse.

  • David Roberts: The radical reform necessary to prepare California's power system for the 21st century.

  • Theodore Schleifer: Silicon Valley billionaires keep getting richer no matter how much money they give away.

  • Nathan Robinson: Goodbye, Beto O'Rourke. What a sad end to a pointless campaign. Also:

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • Emmanuel Saez/Gabriel Zucman: Make no mistake: Medicare for All would cut taxes for most Americans.

  • Michael D Shear, et al.: How Trump reshaped the presidency in over 11,000 tweets.

  • Jack Shenker: This wave of global protest is being led by the children of the financial crash.

  • Katie Shepherd: An ad smeared a Kansas Democrat for sexual harassment. The main charge actually described a Republican. Wichita's nominally non-partisan mayoral race makes the national news.

  • Alan Singer: Historian explains what binds Trump's extremely rich and economically struggling supporters together:

    What I struggle with understanding is how Trump, who is so self-evidently incompetent, morally repulsive, and biased in favor of the rich, holds onto his support among the white working-class and religious voters who attend his rallies and cheer hysterically for their hero. . . . What binds Trump's extremely rich and economically struggling supporters together are their cynical beliefs about the motives of others. They think everyone else is out to steal what is rightfully theirs.

  • Matt Stieb:

  • Matt Taibbi: Baghdadi story reveals divided -- and broken -- news media.

  • Alex Ward: The White House's top Ukraine official confirms there was a quid pro quo: "Tim Morrison tried not to make the president look bad. He failed."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Health care is on the ballot in state elections starting next week.

  • Li Zhou: The double standard at play in Katie Hill's resignation: Compared to, e.g., Duncan Hunter (R-CA). Also on Hill:

  • Thursday, October 31, 2019


    Book Reports

    Another batch of 40 brief notes on recently published books -- the third I've published this year, after March 15 and June 1. Actually, a good deal more than 40 books mentioned below, as I've tacked on lists of related books where it seemed appropriate and useful -- in some cases, the list is probably the point. Inclusion in a list doesn't guarantee that I'll never write a book up separately, but usually satisfies my sense of duty.

    While the dates above seem to suggest a regular, orderly process, I only managed to do this once in 2018, and twice in 2017 (here and here), so I feel like I'm working my way out of a deep hole. Indeed, I have 55 more-or-less written entries in my scratch file for later, so I could do a fourth one next week, or at least by the end of the year. Oh, and that doesn't count the merely noted titles that follow the top 40 -- 46 more of them in the file, but I'll list some of them to end this post.

    Worth noting that I have read (or am working on) the books I have cover art for on the right. Kate Brown's book on Chernobyl is probably the "best read" of the bunch. Just started Poniewozik's Audience of One, and he's scoring points from the very start (unlike, say, Tim Alberta, who wants you to regard John Boehner and Paul Ryan as normal, decent human beings). I checked out Astra Taylor's Democracy May Not Exist but We'll Miss It When It's Gone, but ran out of time before I got deep enough into it to count. I bought a copy of Stanley Greenberg's RIP GOP, but haven't gotten to it yet -- I figure it's next in queue after Poniewozik, but a lot of what I've read recently has been plucked opportunistically from the city library.

    It occurs to me that I should probably do a whole piece on music, but these days I never find the time to read up on what's supposed to be my specialty. Still, I have a handful of music books in the draft file, starting with Robert Christgau's Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading, and John Corbett's Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music. I also started a list entry on cookbooks, which could grow into a specialized post -- not least because I do regularly buy and use cookbooks.


    Tim Alberta: American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (2019, Harper). It's pretty easy now to see how everything Republicans did from 1968 to 2016 paved the way for electing this crass, bigoted grifter and sham. Nixon laid the foundation with his crass appeals to racists and reactionaries, his Orwellian "peace with honor" (a tactical retreat covered by real and feigned escalation), above all his conviction that winning is the only thing that matters, and that excuses all manner of criminality. Reagan put a sunnier face on an even darker heart. Ditto the Bushes, less artfully. Alberta only picks up this digression in 2008, with the Sarah Palin boomlet, and 2009, with the Tea Party eruption, then goes on to show how Trump won the party over, delivering the one thing they craved most of all: winning. Of course, you know all of that, but Alberta puts you in the rooms as the party brass figures it out and comes to terms with their debasement. Some other recent books on how we got to Trump:

    • Jim Acosta: The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America (2019, Harper).
    • Dale Beran: It Came From Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump Into Office (2019, All Points Books).
    • Barry Levine/Monique El-Faizy: All the President's Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator (2019, Hachette Books).
    • Amanda Marcotte: Troll Nation: How the Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set on Ratf*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself (2018, Hot Books).
    • Joy-Ann Reid: The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story (2019, William Morrow).
    • Rick Reilly: Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump (2019, Hachette Books).
    • Nathan J Robinson: Trump: Anatomy of a Monster (paperback, 2017, Demilune Press).
    • Michael Wolff: Siege: Trump Under Fire (2019, Henry Holt).

    Binyamin Appelbaum: The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society (2019, Little Brown): A history of the growing influence and power of economists from 1969, when economists were kept to the basement of the Federal Reserve, to 2008, when the world transformed by their fundamentalist faith in markets crashed and nearly burned. In between, business and political interests looked to economists for help, and many economists strove to service their masters. One line I noted: "Conservatism was a coalition of the powerful, defending the status quo against threats real and imagined." More recent books on economics:

    • Abhijit V Banerjee/Esther Duflo: Good Economics for Hard Times (2019, Little Brown).
    • David G Blanchflower: Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone? (2019, Princeton University Press).
    • Heather Boushey: Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It (2019, Harvard University Press).
    • Thomas Philippon: The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets (2019, Belknap Press).
    • Katharina Pistor: The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality (2019, Princeton University Press).
    • Robert J Shiller: Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events (2019, Princeton University Press).
    • Jean Tirole: Economics for the Common Good (2017; paperback, 2019, Princeton University Press).
    • Janek Wasserman: The Marginal Revolutionaries: How Austrian Economists Fought the War of Ideas (2019, Yale University Press).

    Kathleen Belew: Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (2018; paperback, 2019, Harvard University Press): Locates the roots of the alt-right/white power movement less in opposition to the civil rights movement than in reaction against the loss of the Vietnam War -- though either way you can see how Richard Nixon's "silent majority"/"Southern strategy" conjured up the seething hatred of this movement, which Trump has only stoked further. More recent books on the racist right-wing fringe:

    • Kyle Burke: Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War (2018, University of North Carolina Press).
    • George Hawley: The Alt-Right: What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).
    • Daryl Johnson: Hateland: A Long, Hard Look at America's Extremist Heart (2019, Prometheus).
    • George Lipsitz: The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics (1998; revised and expanded edition, paperback, 2006; 20th anniversary edition, paperback, 2018, Temple University Press).
    • Michael Malice: The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics (2019, All Points Books).
    • Elizabeth Gillespie McRae: Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy (2018, Oxford University Press).
    • Angie Maxwell/Todd Shields: The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics (2019, Oxford University Press).
    • Jonathan M Metzl: Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland (2019, Basic Books).
    • David Neiwert: Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (2017; paperback, 2018, Verso).
    • Christian Picciolini: White American Youth: My Descent Into America's Most Violent Hate Movement -- and How I Got Out (paperback, 2017, Hachette Books).
    • Eli Saslow: Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist (paperback; 2019, Anchor Books).
    • Alexandra Minna Stern: Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination (2019, Beacon Press).
    • John Temple: Up in Arms: How the Bundy Family Hijacked Public Lands, Outfoxed the Federal Government, and Ignited America's Patriot Militia Movement (2019, BenBella Books).
    • Vegas Tenold: Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America (2018, Bold Type Books).
    • Mike Wendling: Alt-Right: From 4Chan to the White House (paperback, 2018, Pluto Press).

    Marcia Bjornerud: Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World (2018, Princeton University Press): After my first wife died, I went through a period of several years where most of what I read was on geology, ranging from semi-popular books like John McPhee's I-70 quartet (later collected as Annals of the Former World) through some very technical texts on plate tectonics, plus a lot of paleontology and contemporary earth science. I suppose a big part of the attraction came from the vast time frameworks geologists routinely deal with, but I was also much impressed by the logic behind the science: how geologists work and think. Since 9/11, I've denied myself the indulgence of pursuing such pleasant interests. Otherwise this book would jump to the top of my reading list. Some other geology books that caught my eye:

    • Michael J Benton: Dinosaurs Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution in Paleontology (2019, Thames & Hudson).
    • Marcia Bjornerud: Reading the Rocks: The Autogiography of the Earth (2005; paperback, 2006, Basic Books).
    • Lewis Dartnell: Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History (2019, Basic Books).
    • William E Glassley: A Wilder Time: Notes From a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice (paperback, 2018, Bellevue Literary Press).
    • Mary Caperton Morton: Aerial Geology: A High-Altitude Tour of North America's Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters, and Peaks (2017, Timber Press).
    • Donald R Prothero: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution (2015, Columbia University Press).
    • Donald R Prothero: The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks: Tales of Important Geological Puzzles and the People Who Solved Them (2017, Columbia University Press).

    Kate Brown: Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (2019, WW Norton): History of the 1986 nuclear plant explosion at Chernobyl, Ukraine, Soviet Union, but less on the explosion than on the disaster it spread, especially the faulty, fitful efforts to understand (or in some case not) the widespread effects of the radiation it left. Author has written a couple of books leading up to this one, and there's been a spate of recent books on Chernobyl and so forth:

    • Svetlana Alexievich: Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (2005; paperback, 2019, Dalkey Archive Press): This is the classic book everyone draws on. The author later won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her oral histories of WWII and the postwar Soviet Union.
    • Kate Brown: A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Hinterland (2004; paperback, 2005, Harvard University Press).
    • Kate Brown: Dispatches From Dystopia: Histories of Places Not Yet Forgotten (2015, University of Chicago Press).
    • Kate Brown: Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (2013; paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press).
    • Charles A Castro: Station Blackout: Inside the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Recovery (2018, Radius).
    • Adam Higginbotham: Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster (2019, Simon & Schuster).
    • Andrew Leatherbarrow: Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World's Worst Nuclear Disaster (paperback, 2016, Andrew Leatherbarrow).
    • Serhii Plokhy: Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe (2018, Basic Books).
    • Silent Bill: Of Dust and Echoes: A Tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (paperback, 2019, self-published).

    Elizabeth C Economy: The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (2018, Oxford University Press): A history of China since Xi Jinping came to power, bringing a series of reforms distinct enough from Deng Xioping's "second revolution" reforms to merit the title. I'm not really up enough on the subject to judge, but it seems that China has found a very different path to development -- one that Americans are especially ill-prepared to understand. Other recent books on contemporary China:

    • Elizabeth C Economy/Michael Levi: By All Means Necessary: How China's Resource Quest Is Changing the World (2014; paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press).
    • Graham Allison: Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? (2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
    • Yuen Yuen Ang: How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (2016, Cornell University Press).
    • Yukon Huang: Cracking the China Conundrum: Why Conventional Economic Wisdom Is Wrong (2017, Oxford University Press).
    • Sulimaan Wasif Khan: Haunted by Chaos: China's Grand Strategy From Mao Zedong to Xi Jiping (2018, Harvard University Press).
    • Bruno Maçăes: Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order (2019, Hurst).
    • George Magnus: Red Flags: Why Xi's China Is in Jeopardy (2018, Yale University Press).
    • Dinny McMahon: China's Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle (2018, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
    • Tom Miller: China's Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road (paperback, 2017, Zed Books).
    • Carl Minzner: End of an Era: How China's Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise (2018, Oxford University Press).
    • Klaus Mühlhahn: Making China Modern: From the Great Qing to Xi Jinping (2019, Belknap Press).
    • Evan Osnos: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (2014; paperback, 2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
    • William H Overholt: China's Crisis of Success (paperback, 2018, Cambridge University Press).
    • Robert S Ross/Jo Inge Bekkevold, eds: China in the Era of Xi Jinping: Domestic and Foreign Policy Challenges (paperback, 2016, Georgetown University Press).

    Richard J Evans: Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History (2019, Oxford University Press): A big (800 pp) biography of a great historian, born in Egypt of 2nd generation British parents, orphaned at 14 in 1931, living in Berlin at the time, fleeing to England when the Nazis came to power, joined the Communist Party, went on to write major histories of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The author is a notable historian in his own right, his writings including three major books on Nazi Germany (The Third Reich Trilogy).

    Adam Gopnik: A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism (2019, Basic Books): A staff writer for The New Yorker, seems like he's mostly written about innocuous topics, like art, travel, food, and (mostly) himself, so this foray into political philosophy ("a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition") comes as a bit of a surprise. Or maybe just to me, as his bibliographic note opens with a fairly long list of essays he has published on political figures. The central section of the book consists of three parts: a "manifesto," followed by chapters on "Why the Right Hates Liberalism" and "Why the Left Hates Liberalism" (the longest). If he's honest, the reasons are very different: the right fears any challenge to hierarchical order, while the left sees liberals as too willing to compromise their principles, because in a world of individualism self-interest is ultimately decisive. I recall being very critical of liberalism back in the late 1960s, when it seemed to be hegemonic. I've softened my stance since then: as the right has emerged as the greater threat, liberals offer a respectable stance and critique. Related:

    • Richard Ebeling: For a New Liberalism (paperback, 2019, American Institute for Economic Research).
    • Robert Kuttner: The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy (2019, WW Norton).
    • Deirdre Nansen McCloskey: Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All (2019, Yale University Press.
    • James Traub: What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea (2019, Basic Books).

    Stanley B Greenberg: RIP GOP: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans (2019, Thomas Dunne Books): Pollster, worked for Clinton and Obama, seems like he's been peddling rosy futures to mainstream liberals for more than two decades now: Middle Class Dreams: Building the New Majority (1995, Crown); The New Majority: Toward a Popular Progressive Politics (ed. with Theda Skocpol, 1997, Yale University Press); The Two Americas: Our Current Political Deadlock and How to Break It (2004, Thomas Dunne Books); It's the Middle Class Stupid! (with James Carville, listed first, and probably to blame for the title, not least the missing comma; 2012, Blue Rider Press); America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation's Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century (2015, Thomas Dunne Books). This one seems more plausible, as it shifts the focus to Republicans with their failing programs and declining demographics.

    Victor Davis Hanson: The Case for Trump (2019, Basic Books): The author is supposedly expert on ancient Greek military history, but he's been such a shameless right-wing hack for so long his credentials don't carry much weight any more -- other than perhaps to make him the natural leader of the parade of hacks and hysterics with recent books defending their Fearless Leader, campaigning for him, and (most often) slandering his "enemies":

    • Conrad Black: Donald J Trump: A President Like No Other (2018, Regnery).
    • Don Bongino: Exonerated: The Failed Takedown of President Donald Trump by the Swamp (2019, Post Hill Press).
    • L Brent Bozell III/Tim Graham: Unmasked: Big Media's War Against Trump (2019, Humanix Books).
    • Tucker Carlson: Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution (2018, Free Press).
    • Jason Chaffetz: Power Grab: The Liberal Scheme to Undermine Trump, the GOP, and Our Republic (2019, Broadside Books).
    • Jerome R Corsi: Killing the Deep State: The Fight to Save President Trump (2018, Humanix Books).
    • Alan Dershowitz: The Case Against Impeaching Trump (2018, Hot Books).
    • John L Fraser: The Truth Behind Trump Derangement Syndrome: "There Is More Than Meets the Eye" (paperback, 2018, JF).
    • Newt Gingrich: Understanding Trump (2017, Center Street).
    • Newt Gingrich: Trump's America: The Truth About Our Nation's Great Comeback (2018, Center Street).
    • Newt Gingrich: Trump vs China: Facing America's Greatest Threat (2019, Center Street).
    • Sebastian Gorka: Why We Fight: Defeating America's Enemies -- With No Apologies (2018, Regnery).
    • Sebastian Gorka: The War for America's Soul: Donald Trump, the Left's Assault on America, and How We Take Back Our Country (2019, Regnery).
    • Charles Hurt: Still Winning: Why America Went All In on Donald Trump -- And Why We Must Do It Again (2019, Center Street).
    • Gregg Jarrett: The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump (2018; paperback, 2019, Broadside Books).
    • Gregg Jarrett: Witch Hunt: The Story of the Greatest Mass Delusion in American Political History (2019, Broadside Books).
    • Corey R Lewandowski/David N Bossie: Trump's Enemies: How the Deep State Is Undermining the Presidency (2018, Center Street).
    • Lily Manchubel: Too Far Left: An Eroding United States Democratic Republic: Anecdotal Observations of President Obama's Administration Left Leaning Cultural Shift, Poor Foreign and Domestic Government Policies; Versus That of Trump's More Right of Center Programs (paperback, 2019, Lulu Publishing Services): Deserves some sort of award for cutest fascist title.
    • Jeffrey Lord: Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and the New American Populism vs. the Old Order (2019, Bombardier Books).
    • Matt Margolis: Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy (paperback, 2019, Bombardier Books).
    • Andrew C McCarthy: Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency (2019, Encounter Books).
    • Bill O'Reilly: The United States of Trump: How the President Really Sees America (2019, Henry Holt).
    • Jeanine Pirro: Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy (2018, Center Street).
    • Jeanine Pirro: Radicals, Resistance, and Revenge: The Left's Plot to Remake America (2019, Center Street).
    • Allen Salkin/Aaron Short: The Method to the Madness: Donald Trump's Ascent as Told by Those Who Were Hired, Fired, Inspired -- and Inaugurated (2019, All Points).
    • Michael Savage: Trump's War: His Battle for America (2017, Center Street).
    • Roger Stone: The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Donald Trump Really Won (paperback, 2019, Skyhorse).
    • Kimberley Strassel: Resistance (At All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America (2019, Twelve).
    • Donald Trump Jr: Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us (2019, Center Street).

    Reed Hundt: A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions (2019, Rosetta Books): Inside adviser to Clinton (via Gore) in the 1990s, and to Obama from campaign to transition, recounts the personnel and policy decisions made by Obama during his transition and first few months which sharply limited the set of options that could be entertained to halt the collapse of the financial sector and to rebuild an economy that had been decimated by banking risks. One thing that was especially shocking was how little consideration was given to anyone other than Tim Geithner and Larry Summers for roles which ultimately prevented Obama from doing anything but protect the bankers who caused the recession. Hundt's own pet project during this period was setting up a program for infrastructure development, but it was killed by Summers on the assumption that the recession would be so short-lived that only short-term spending was needed. Other memoirs and assessments of the Obama years (skipping the most obvious right-wing rants):

    • Brian Abrams: Obama: An Oral History (2018, Little A).
    • Jonathan Chait: Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail (2017, Custom House).
    • Pat Cunnane: West Winging It: An Un-presidential Memoir (paperback, 2018, Gallery Books).
    • Michael D'Antonio: A Consequential President: The Legacy of Barack Obama (2017, Thomas Dunne Books).
    • Andra Gillespie: Race and the Obama Administration: Substance, Symbols, and Hope (2019, Manchester University Press).
    • Mark Greenberg: Obama: The Historic Presidency of Barack Obama: 2,920 Days (2017, Sterling): Photo blog.
    • Valerie Jarrett: Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward (2019, Viking).
    • David Litt: Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years (2017; paperback, 2018, Ecco).
    • Alyssa Mastromonaco: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House (2017; paperback, 2018, Twelve).
    • Gautam Raghavan, ed: West Wingers: Stories From the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House (paperback, 2018, Penguin Books).
    • Ben Rhodes: The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House (2018; paperback, 2019, Random House).
    • Pete Souza: Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents (2018, Little Brown).
    • Beck Dorey Stein: From the Corner of the oval: A Memoir (2018, Spiegel & Grau).
    • Julian Zelizer, ed: The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment (paperback, 2018, Princeton University Press). Previously edited The Presidency of George W Bush: A First Historical Assessment (paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press).

    Nancy Isenberg/Andrew Burstein: The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality (2019, Viking): A dual biography of father and son, the second and sixth presidents of the US, each limited to a single, controversial term as they were the exceptions to the Virginia planters who dominated the early democracy, a forum they worked in if never totally approved of. Not sure what the "cult of personality" was -- Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson are mentioned, and they no doubt qualify. Isenberg previuosly wrote White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Burstein has written books on Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Lincoln, and Washington Irving. His most intriguing title was Democracy's Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead (2015; paperback, 2017, University of Virginia Press).

    Stuart Jeffries: Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School (2016, Verso): A group biography of the Frankfurt School, an important intersection of German Marxist thinkers who came together around 1923, and remained outside of (and often opposed to) the Soviet circle, ultimately having great influence in the development of the New Left in 1960s Europe and America. The standard book on the subject is Martin Jay: The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute for Social Research 1923-1950 (1973), which appeared when I was deeply immersed in these thinkers. Related:

    • Perry Anderson: The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci (2017, Verso).
    • Deborah Cook: Adorno, Foucault, and the Critique of the West (paperback, 2018, Verso).
    • Howard Eiland/Michael W Jennings: Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (2014; paperback, 2016, Belknap Press).
    • Peter E Gordon: Adorno and Existence (2016, Harvard University Press).
    • Martin Jay: Reason After Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory (paperback, 2017, University of Wisconsin Press).
    • Stefan Müller-Doohm: Adorno: A Biography (2004; paperback, 2009, Polity).
    • Stefan Müller-Doohm: Habermas: A Biography (2016, Polity).
    • Eric Oberle: Theodor Adoro and the Century of Negative Identity (paperback, 2018, Stanford University Press).

    Eric Kaufmann: Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities (2019, Harry N Abrams): Tempted to file this in the long list of books about how threatened white identity is shaping American and European politics, but this is a much bigger (624 pp), broader, deeper, and presumably more nuanced undertaking. Still, the very subject lies somewhere between unsavory and offensive. The basic truth is that when Europe started its project to conquer and colonize the world, it became inevitable that the conquered peoples would seep back into Europe and eventually change it: domination never lasts.

    Naomi Klein: On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019, Simon & Schuster): Bestselling Canadian whose critique of capitalism started with globalization -- No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000) -- and evolved as the neoliberal market engulfed politics -- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) -- and the environment -- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014). Her vision of the Green New Deal is way to fight back, but beneath it all is an ever-sharpening critique of capitalism.

    • Kate Aronoff/Alyssa Battistoni/Daniel Aldana Cohen/Thea Riofrancos: A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (paperback, 2019, Verso Books): Foreword by Naomi Klein.
    • Larry Jordan: The Green New Deal: Why We Need It and Can't Live Without It -- and No, It's Not Socialism! (paperback, 2019, Page Turner Books).
    • Ann Pettifor: The Case for the Green New Deal (2019, Verso Books). Previously wrote: The Production of Money: How to Break the Bankers (2017; paperback, 2018, Verso Books).
    • Jeremy Rifkin: The Green New Deal: Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028, and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth (2019, St Martin's Press).

    Nicholas Lemann: Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Profiles of "three remarkable individuals who epitomized and helped create their eras": Adolf Berle (of FDR's "brain trust"), Michael Jensen (of Harvard Business School), and Reid Hoffman (a Silicon Valley venture capitalist). Presumably the first two correspond to the Roosevelt and Reagan eras. Harder to figure where that third avatar is dragging us, but as the title suggests, the author is looking not at where we want to go, but where how the era's great profiteers intend to con us.

    Christopher Leonard: Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America (2019, Simon & Schuster): Focuses more on the business behind the political forces that Jane Mayer wrote about in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016).

    Jill Lepore: This America: The Case for the Nation (2019, Liveright): A short (160 pp) postscript, I would guess, to last year's massive These Truths: A History of the United States, described as an "urgent manifesto on the dilemma of nationalism and the erosion of liberalism in the twenty-first century." Sees American history as a struggle between liberal and illiberal nationalism, and tries to buck up the former at a time when many liberal-minded folks see nationalism as an atavistic regression. Lepore's earlier The Story of America: Essays on Origins (paperback, 2013, Princeton University Press) started with the same problems, exploring them in scattered essays, as historians are prone to do.

    Rachel Maddow: Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth (2019, Crown): The MSNBC pundit's obsession with Russia has been aired so thoroughly since the 2016 debacle that this book is likely to rise to the level of self-parody, but somewhere along the line Maddow discovered that Russia is a petro-state, and broadened her aim to include the international oil industry, finding particularly juicy stories in Oklahoma earthquakes.

    Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite (2019, Penguin Press): I thought the best previous book on "meritocracy" was Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, which made it clear that "meritocracy" was little more than a deceptive argument for maintaining the class dominance of established elites. Markovits takes the further step of arguing that "meritocracy now ensnares event hose who manage to claw their way to the top, requiring rich adults to work with crushing intensity, exploiting their expensive educations in order to extract a return." Related:

    • James Bloodworth: The Myth of Meritocracy (2019, Biteback).
    • Lani Guinier: The Tyranny of Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (2015; paperback, 2016, Beacon Press).
    • Nicholas Lemann: The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy (1999; paperback, 2000, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
    • Jo Littler: Against Meritocracy: Culture, Power and Myths of Mobility (paperback, 2017, Routledge
    • Stephen J McNamee: The Meritocracy Myth (4th edition, paperback, 2018, RL).
    • Michael Schwalbe: Rigging the Game: How Inequality Is Reproduced in Everyday Life (paperback, 2014, Oxford University Press).

    Branko Milanovic: Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World (2019, Belknap Press): Economist, wrote Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, Aims at a big picture, noting capitalism's considerable material benefits as well as its moral failings, trying to weigh such factors. Someone more optimistic might frame this as "post-capitalism," but he sees nothing beyond -- just a long struggle to keep from devouring ourselves.

    Alexander Nazaryan: The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington (2019, Hachette Books): Attempts to look past Trump's personality and showmanship, but doesn't get deep enough to see the real effects of his administration. Rather, he offers us a rogues gallery of Trump's cabinet-level deputies, who more often than not turn out to reflect the vanity and avarice of their leader. Curiously, doesn't cover the whole cabinet, with scarcely any mentions at all of State, Defense, Justice, or Homeland Security. It might be interesting to contrast this with John Nichols' Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Giude to the Most Dangerous People in America, written and rushed into print almost as soon as the initial cabinet picks were announced.

    Martha C Nussbaum: The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis (2018, Simon & Schuster): Teaches philosophy in a law school, author of twenty-somebooks, won the 2016 Kyoto Prize ("the most presigious award available in fields not eligible for a Nobel" -- she accepted this the day after the Trump election, so it's a starting point), knows her Greeks and checks back with them regularly, also knows some psych and is not above folding in a little empirical research from the social sciences. Key concerns here are fear, disgust, and envy -- feelings which contribute to and exacerbate our struggles with everyday life, not least in politics.

    Robert L O'Connell: Revolutionary: George Washington at War (2019, Random House): Looking for something to round out my evaluation of the USA's first president -- my gut tells me he presents a stark and illustrative counterpoint to the latest (or maybe last?) president -- I picked this up and found it fascinating. Far from hagiography, it presents us with a flesh-and-blood figure, molded by the events of war but always with a fine sense of political mission.

    Daniel Okrent: The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America (2019, Scribner): Probably spent more time as an editor than anything else, first attracting notice for his baseball fandom, but lately has been writing substantial, sweeping books on history: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003), Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010), and now this book on the racist and xenophobic movement to pass the 1923 law that radically restricted immigration to the United States. As timely now as those working to resurrect that movement.

    George Packer: Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century (2019, Knopf): Major (608 pp) biography of the late diplomat, whose career started with the American War in Vietnam, and ended with his failure to make any headway as Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Along the way, he gained a modicum of fame for brokering the Dayton Accords which ended the war between Serbia and Bosnia. Reviewers have focused on how both author and subject supported the Bush War in Iraq despite knowing better -- for Holbrooke it was a calculated cost of his ambitions to become Secretary of State (had Hillary Clinton won in 2008; with Obama winning, she settled for that position, and wrangled Holbrooke the Afghanistan/Pakistan portfolio). I suppose it's naďveté that lets Packer think Holbrooke's a worthy subject for such a massive effort. In the end, though, Holbrooke is a prime example of the moral and political bankruptcy of "the American era." And Packer's too competent a journalist not to expose that, even if he doesn't want to admit it.

    Raj Patel/Jason W Moore: A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (2017; paperback, 2018, University of California Press): A sweeping critique of capitalism, the force that cheapens things, in this case: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. This may slight what strikes me as the main effect of cheapening, which is that it makes things more plentiful. Moore previously wrote Capitalism in the Web of Life (paperback, 2015, Verso), which treats capitalism as a "world-ecology," Patel previously wrote Stuffed and Sarved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (2008), and The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (2010).

    James Poniewozik: Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America (2019, Liveright). TV critic for the New York Times, traces Trump's long history of promotion and exposure on the tube, alongside the evolution of television from three major networks to "today's zillion-channel, internet-atomized universe, which sliced and diced them into fractious, alienated subcultures." I've long suspected that too much TV isn't a good thing -- the classic treatment is Neal Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, which I've seen this likened to -- but fragmentation would seem to limit the appeal of someone like Trump. Indeed, it took no effort to ignore him until he ran for president, and the news masters found their love/hate obsession with him. So I suspect there are more levels to this than a mere TV critic can develop, although that may be a good place to start.

    Corey Robin: The Enigma of Clarence Thomas (2019, Metropolitan Books): Author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (or, as recently reprinted, to Donald Trump), takes a shot at reconciling contradictions in the far right Supreme Court Justice, from his early embrace of black nationalism to the extreme conservatism he is known for -- another species of "reactionary mind," determined more by what he reacts so virulently to more than anything he believes in.

    Brian Rosenwald: Talk Radio's America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States (2019, Harvard University Press): This goes back to 1988, when "desperate for content to save AM radio, top media executives stumbled on a new format that would turn the political world upside down." They may have only been seeking profits, but rage and reaction was quickly recognized as effective conservative propaganda, an easy way to move a mass of voters to support the right-wing agenda. After the Republican debacle in 2008, the dynamic changed, as mass rage wound up leading the politicians, and in Donald Trump ("the kind of pugnacious candidate they had been demanding for decades") they put their own chump in charge.

    Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance (2018, Thomas Dunne Books): These days most major election campaigns kick off with a book to introduce the candidate and set the tone for the campaign. But in 2016, Sanders waited until his campaign was over before releasing his, allowing him to open with a memoir, then tack a manifesto on at the end. He called it Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, and it was pretty credible for the genre. This one is reportedly sketchier, but even if he's just recounting his reaction to events, he's likely to give you insights you won't pick up from the usual sources. Elsewhere in the 2020 campaign wave (some are a bit old, more are on the way; some are by non-candidates, but fit the mold; I've written about Elizabeth Warren's book previously):

    • Stacey Abrams: Minority Leader: How to Lead From the Outside and Make Real Change (2018, Henry Holt).
    • Michael Bennet: The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring America in an Age of Broken Politics (2019, Atlantic Monthly Press).
    • Joe Biden: Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose (2017, Flatiron).
    • Michael Bloomberg: Bloomberg by Bloomberg (2nd edition, 2019, Wiley).
    • Cory Booker: United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good (2016; paperback, 2017, Ballantine Books).
    • Pete Buttigleg: Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future (2019, Liveright).
    • Julian Castro: An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up From My American Dream (2018, Little Brown).
    • John K Delaney: The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation (2019, Henry Holt).
    • Tulsi Gabbard: Is Today the Day? Not Another Political Memoir (2019, Twelve).
    • Kirsten Gillibrand: Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World (2014; paperback, 2015, Ballantine Books).
    • Kamala Harris: The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (2019, Penguin Press).
    • John Hickenlooper: The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics (2016, Penguin Press).
    • Jay Inslee/Bracken Hendricks: Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy (2007, Island Press): Pre-campaign book, establishes his bona fides to run on climate change issue.
    • Amy Klobuchar: The Senator Next Door: A Memoir From the Heartland (2015, Henry Holt; paperback, 2016, University of Minnesota Press).
    • Jeff Merkley: America Is Better Than This: Trump's War Against Immigrant Families (2019, Twelve).
    • Beto O'Rourke/Susie Byrd: Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the US and Mexico (paperback, 2011, Cinco Puntos Press): Old book, so not a campaign primer.
    • Tim Ryan: Healing America: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Recapture the American Spirit (paperback, 2018, Hay House). Previously wrote A Mindful Nation (2012), and The Real Food Revolution (2014).
    • Howard Schultz: From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America (2019, Random House).
    • Joe Sestak: Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream (paperback, 2015, Infinity).
    • Elizabeth Warren: This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class (2017, Metropolitan Books).
    • Marianne Williamson: A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution (2019, HarperOne). Also note: Healing the Soul of America (20th anniversary edition, paperback, 2018, Simon & Schuster).
    • Andrew Yang: The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future (2018, Hachette Books).

    Isabel Sawhill: The Forgotten Americans: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation (2018, Yale University Press); Economist at the "centrist" Brookings Institute, stresses the importance of "mainstream values, such as family, education, and work." Detractors decry her as left wing nut job . . . the logic of know it all 5th grader and the mind set of a soviet thug." Chapters include "Why Economic Growth Is Not Enough," "The Limits of Redistribution," "A GI Bill for America's Workers," "A Bigger Role for the Private Sector" and "Updating Social Insurance." That all seems pretty modest to me, but "conservatives" can't so much as acknowledge the problem without flying off half-cocked. Makes one wonder why bother to appeal to them anyway.

    Tom Segev: A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big (816pp) biography of Israel's first Prime Minister, by one of Israel's most important historians. Few national leaders in our time have more completely defined their nations -- Attaturk comes to mind as the closest comparable figure, although Mao and Castro ruled longer and more forcefully. Even today, it's possible to map most currents in Israeli political life to one facet or another of Ben Gurion complex view of his mission. Other recent books relating to Israel:

    • Seth Anziska: Preventing Palestine: A Political History From Camp David to Oslo (2018, Princeton University Press).
    • Khaled Elgindy: Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, From Balfour to Trump (2019, Brookings Institution Press).
    • Noura Erakat: Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (2019, Stanford University Press).
    • Michael R Fischbach: Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color (2018, Stanford University Press).
    • Michael R Fischbach: The Movement and the Middle East: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Divided the American Left (2019, paperback, Stanford University Press).
    • Matti Friedman: Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel (2019, Algonquin Books).
    • Micah Goodman: Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War (2018, Yale University Press).
    • Daniel Gordis: We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel (2019, Ecco Books).
    • Sara Yael Hirschhorn: City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement (2017, Harvard University Press).
    • Amy Kaplan: Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance (2018, Harvard University Press).
    • Susie Linfield: The Lions' Den: Zionism and the Left From Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky (2019, Yale University Press).
    • Shaul Mitelpunkt: Israel in the American Mind: The Cultural Politics of US-Israeli Relations, 1958-1988 (2018, Cambridge University Press).
    • Ilan Pappe: The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories (paperback, 2019, Oneworld).
    • Dennis Ross/David Makovsky: Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel's Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny (2019, Public Affairs): Ben-Gurion, Begin, Rabin, Sharon ("a leader who tells the settlers to give up the dream").

    JC Sharman: Empires of the Weak: The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order (2019, Princeton University Press): They say "history is written by the victors," and for 500 years we've been reading about how Europe's maritime conquest of the world reflected superior technology (and, less fashionably these days, genes and religion). This thin (216 pp) book tries to flip that argument on its head, asserting that the conquest "is better explained by deference to strong Asian and African polities, disease in the Americas, and maritime supremacy earned by default because local land-oriented polities were largely indifferent to war and trade at sea." Some of these ideas resemble the ones Jared Diamond put forth in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), but both underestimate the amount of greed, bad faith, and knavery involved. The pattern I see most clearly is that European contact always started a corrosion of traditional social, economic, and political ties well before Europeans were able to seize control.

    Jake Sherman/Anna Palmer: The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump's America (2019, Crown): Congress beat reporters for Politico report on the two year stretch when Republicans controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress, rehashing the jockeying behind the "repeal and replace" of Obamacare, the massive corporate tax giveaway, the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, and the partial government shutdown.

    Matt Taibbi: Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another (2019, OR Books): Journalist, covers elections and other scandals for Rolling Stone, a path paved by Hunter Thompson, so he's all but expected to get a little gonzo. Outside the mainstream hive, he's written some of the sharpest analysis of the media's coverage of elections, starting with Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches From the Dumb Season (2005), but I thought his quickie book on 2016, Insane Clown Posse: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus failed to rise to the absurdity of events he was forced to cover. In some ways, this book looks like a do-over, but rather than stare straight into the sun, he's focusing on the mediaa, and how they got blinded not just by events but by their devil's bargain with the mega-corporations that employ them. Two appendices: "Why Rachel Maddow is on the Cover of This Book," and "An Interview with Noam Chomsky." I guess Sean Hannity's appearance on the cover (on the red side vs. Maddow on the blue) requires no further explanation. Taibbi has long had a habit of burnishing his independence by attacking both parties, or both right and left, even when there's no equivalence.

    Astra Taylor: Democracy May Not Exist: But We'll Miss It When It's Gone (2019, Metropolitan Books): Ruminations on a much declaimed and frequently confused political principle, something we're taught to believe in, to pride ourselves in, yet not take too seriously, as it's been much abused by self-interested elites. That those abuses seem to increased, both in frequency and in crassness, in recent years is probably due to increasing inequality. Author also has a documentary film, What Is Democracy?, and another film on Marxian philosophe Slavoj Zizek.

    Adam Tooze: Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (2018, Viking): Economic historian, has a couple of major works: Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2007), and The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (2014). This sums up the decade following the 2008 crash. There have been a lot of books about the immediate causes of the crash.

    David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019, Tim Duggan Books): A general primer on global warming, albeit one that goes beyond presenting what we know to look at, and take seriously, the worst case scenarios scientists imagine -- hence the title -- without blunting the impact by parading the usual list of "what we can do about it" palliatives. Reviews tend toward hyperbole: "the most terrifying book I have ever read," and "the most important book I have ever read." May be a good lead in for yet another list of recent climate books (I started one earlier under Jeff Goodell but they do keep coming):

    • Mike Berners-Lee: There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
    • Amitav Ghosh: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (paperback, 2017, University of Chicago Press).
    • Andreas Malm: Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (paperback, 2016, Verso Books).
    • Greta Thunberg: No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (paperback, 2019, Penguin Books).

    Brenda Wineapple: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation (2019, Random House): This is probably number one on the short list of events that could have changed American history had it gone slightly differently. As it was, Andrew Johnson did much to weaken and undo plans to empower freed slaves and reconstruct the south more equitably. Those years he held power made it easier for white southerners to reclaim power and create a racist order that prevailed into the 1960s, with remnants still evident today. Wineapple previously wrote the broader period history, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (2013; paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial). More on impeachment history (expect more on impeachment news soon):

    • Frank O Bowman III: High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump (2019, Cambridge University Press).


    Other recent books noted with little or no comment:

    HW Brands: Heirs of the Founders: Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants (2018, Doubleday; paperback, 2019, Anchor Books).

    Bill Bryson: The Body: A Guide for Occupants (2019, Doubleday).

    Gail Collins: No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History (2019, Little Brown).

    Jay Cost: The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy (2018, Basic Books).

    Kathleen Day: Broken Bargain: Bankers, Bailouts, and the Struggle to Tame Wall Street (2019, Yale University Press).

    Larry Diamond: Ill Winds: Saving Democracy From Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency (2019, Penguin Press).

    Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (paperback, 2018, Beacon Press).

    Ronan Farrow: Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (2019, Little Brown).

    Silvia Federici: Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (paperback, 2018, PM Press).

    Aaron Glantz: Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream (2019, Custom House).

    Garrett M Graff: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster).

    Gerald Horne: The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean (paperback, 2018, Monthly Review Press).

    Tom LoBianco: Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House (2019, Dey Street Books).

    George Monbiot: Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (paperback, 2018, Verso Books).

    Philip Mudd: Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World (2019, Liveright).

    Margaret O'Mara: The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America (2019, Penguin Press).

    Samantha Power: The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir (2019, Dey Street Books).

    Susan Rice: Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For (2019, Simon & Schuster).

    Christopher Ryan: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress (2019, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster).

    Tatiana Schlossberg: Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You Have (2019, Grand Central Publishing).

    Rebecca Solnit: Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (paperback, 2019, Haymarket Books).

    The Washington Post: The Mueller Report (paperback, 2019, Scribner).

    Gary Younge: Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives (2016; paperback, 2018, Bold Type Books).

    Monday, October 28, 2019


    Music Week

    October archive.

    Music: current count 32276 [32248] rated (+28), 224 [224] unrated (+0).

    Birthday last week, so I lost a day to cooking, most of another to shopping and prep. I usually like to do something new and extraordinary, but had a terrible time settling on a theme and menu this year. Finally, the final decision was made by Laura, in favor of an idea Max Stewart floated: fire up the grill and made burgers. That seemed pretty ordinary to me, but in fact I can't recall ever grilling hamburgers (I've grilled or smoked pretty much everything else). Turned out to be a pretty good idea. I picked up a new cookbook (The Ultimate Burger), and came up with three variations: teriyaki pork burgers with grilled pineapple, salmon burgers with tomato chutney, and good old bacon cheeseburgers. Even took a shot at making some potato buns (although I bought more for backup, mostly brioche and pretzel buns).

    For side dishes, I did baked beans, two potato salads, coleslaw, corn and tomato salad, and my standard cucumber-yogurt thing. And for dessert, I stuck with my original choice: Mom's coconut cake, served with vanilla ice cream. Had nine people, and everyone seemed pleased.

    October archive (see link above) is wrapped up and indexed. Not much to say about this week's haul, except perhaps that The Daisy Age was the surprise A+ in Robert Christgau's first new Consumer Guide under his And It Don't Stop subscription newsletter, and the only new CD I've bought in 3-4 months (not that I couldn't have assembled the play list from Napster). Back when I was writing Recycled Goods, I tried to get on Ace Records' promo list, but never got so much as a reply. So I was pretty jealous when Bob told me a few years back that they had started sending him records. This looks like the tenth of their records he's reviewed since 2013. (If anyone cares, I'd review every damn one.)

    Some of the old music this week were rap records from that vintage (1989-95). Also filled in some EST back catalogue, after reviewing their Live in Gothenburg as an A- last week (which makes it, in my humble estimation, their best record ever).

    Best-reviewed albums from the week of 10-25 (according to my metacritic file (4+ counting my grades in brackets, but paren totals don't count my grades): Anna Meredith: FIBS (9); Rex Orange County: Pony (5); Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Colorado (5); Blaenavon: Everything That Makes You Happy (4); Cigarettes After Sex: Cry (4) [***]; Hana Vu: Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway (4). Also note: Kanye West: Jesus Is King (2).

    Best-reviewed albums from 10-18: Floating Points: Crush (13); Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 2) (9); Caroline Polachek: Pang (9); Battles: Juice B Crypts (7); Clipping: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (7); Vagabon (7); Patrick Watson: Wave (5); Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (3) [***].

    New records I want to track down: The Bad Plus: Activate Infinity; Lakou Mizik: HaitiaNola; Nellie McKay: Bagatelles; Van Morrison: Three Chords & the Truth.

    Also out since last week, previously graded: Randy Brecker/Ada Rovatti: Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond [**]; Jeff Denson/Romain Pilon/Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds [*]; Laszlo Gardony: La Marseillaise (Sunnyside) [**]; Carmen Sandim: Play Doh (Ropeadope) [*]; Leo Sherman: Tonewheel (Outside In Music) [*]; Esbjorn Svensson Trio: EST Live in Gothenburg (2001, ACT -2CD) [A-].


    New records reviewed this week:

    Big Thief: Two Hands (2019, 4AD): Adrianne Lenker's group, fourth album, hot on the heels of this year's U.F.O.F., a widely praised breakthrough album. Comparable songs here, somewhat less compelling. B+(**)

    The Nat Birchall Quartet: The Storyteller: A Musical Tribute to Yusef Lateef (2019, Jazzman): British tenor saxophonist, main influence is Coltrane, also plays soprano sax and bass clarinet but no flute here (a big part of Lateef's repertoire). With Adam Fairhall or John Ellis on piano, Michael Bardon on bass, and Andy Hay on drums, plus Birchall and Hay add some African percussion. Some originals as well as originals and covers from Lateef's songbook. Still sounds more like Coltrane, but that's nothing to sneeze at. B+(**)

    Daniel Carter/Julius Priester/Adam Lane/Reggie Sylvester/David Haney: Live Constructions Volume 2 (2018 [2019], Slam): Leader plays saxophones and trumpet, did Volume 1 with Haney (piano) and Hilliard Greene (bass), returns in a new set, adding trombone (Priester) and drums (Sylvester), with Lane taking over the bass slot. Keeps it rather skeletal. B+(*)

    Daniel Carter/Stelios Mihas/Irma Nejando/Federico Ughi: Radical Invisibility (2018 [2019], 577): Saxophonist, best known for his work in William Parker's groups, also credited with trumpet, clarinet, flute, and keyboard. The others play guitar, bass, and drums, recording in New York, all titles joint credits. B+(**) [bc]

    Cigarettes After Sex: Cry (2019, Partisan): Mainly Greg Gonzalez, from El Paso, relocated to New York, and recorded this second album in Mallorca and Germany. First album had a Pet Shop Boys vibe. This one is slower and milder, takes longer to seduce you, but comes close. B+(***)

    Harry Connick Jr.: True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter (2019, Verve): Singer, backed by a 25-piece orchestra which seems like overkill on the one hand and nothing special on the other. Still, easy to get a kick out of the Porter songbook. B+(*)

    Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda: Four (2018 [2019], Long Song): Piano-bass duo, fourth album together, two cuts add Natsuki Tamura on trumpet. B+(***) [11-08]

    Binker Golding: Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers (2018 [2019], Gearbox): British tenor saxophonist, half of Binker & Moses, goes for a conventional quartet here with Joe Armon-Jones (piano), Daniel Casimir (bass), and Sam Jones (drums). All originals, most build on riffs, and the larger group pays dividends in swing. A- [cd]

    Kim Gordon: No Home Record (2019, Matador): Sonic Youth chanteuse (1983-2009), now 66, first nominal solo album although she had a side project in the 1990s (Free Kitten), several more since, including post-SY albums as Body/Head and Glitterbust. She does a masterful job of capturing Sonic Youth's sound, then folds it back on itself, making it more impenetrable then ever. But didn't she used to be the one who opened it up? B+(***)

    Homeboy Sandman: Dusty (2019, Mello Music Group): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, nine albums and nine EPs since 2007, not that there's much distinction between them, as his albums all fit comfortably on vinyl -- this is one of his longer ones, with 15 cuts (34:52). B+(***)

    Mute: Mute (2018 [2019], Fresh Sound New Talent): New York-based quartet, name an anagram from plucking random letters from the artists' names: Kevin Sun (C-Melody sax/clarinet), Christian Li (piano), Jeonglim Yang (bass), Dayeon Seok (drums). All four write songs (3-3-2-1). The saxophonist continues to impress, even spread a bit thin over a finely balanced group. A- [cd]

    Miles Okazaki: The Sky Below (2019, Pi): Guitarist, most recently heard on his 6-CD Work, where he played solo every tune Thelonious Monk ever wrote. Returns to a quartet format here, with Matt Mitchell (keyboards), Anthony Tidd (electric bass), and Sean Rickman (drums). B+(***) [cd]

    Anne Phillips: Live at the Jazz Bakery (2019, Conawago): Singer, recorded an album in 1959, another in 2000, then (I guess) this one, with scattered studio work (she was a backup singer on Leslie Gore's "It's My Party") and advertising jingles. Much too much talk in between songs, but she explains it all if you're interested. Husband Bob Kindred plays sax, Roger Kellaway piano, and Chuck Berghoffer bass. B- [cd]

    Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (2019, Constellation): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, latterday AACM member, Bandcamp page says she's in Indonesia (but I've also heard New York, and this was recorded in Montreal). I've had problems with the vocals before, but these seem to fit the bill. Band includes two guitarists who switch off to other instruments, bass, drums, occasional vibes, and Steve Swell (counted as a guest) on trombone. B+(***)

    Rocket 808: Rocket 808 (2019, 12XU): Austin band, a project of guitarist John Schooley (best known for the Revelators), mostly instrumental rock band, guitar reminds me of Link Wray, but not that special. B [bc]

    Michael Jefry Stevens & the Mountain Chamber Jazz Ensemble: The Poet Is in the House (2019, ARC): Avant-pianist, based in Black Mountain, NC, where he rounded up this 14-person group, with everything from strings to voice. A pretty mixed bag, the vocals a particular sore point. B [bc]

    Devin Brahja Waldman: Brahja (2019, RR Gems): Saxophonist, also plays other instruments (piano, synthesizer, drums here), has several previous albums. Some version confusion here: Bandcamp offers four tracks (31:30), Discogs for the LP lists eight tracks (46:25), but my CDR from the artist adds a ninth track (total 54:51). Lineups vary, scattered vocals, seductive grooves, bits of exotica, steady saxophone. B+(***) [cdr]

    Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

    The Daisy Age (1989-94 [2018], Ace): A blip in the history of hip-hop, where pop rap took an underground twist, perhaps all the more to distinguish itself from the contemporary vogue for gangsta. I didn't respond at all well to De La Soul at first -- they lead off here, and are credited with a ridiculous acronym for DAISY -- but I've logged A-list albums for nine other artists here (although a couple only with later compilations), and eventually got into some later De La Soul albums. Half of these cuts are well remembered (not that I've pulled the albums out recently). The others fit the flow, which is what a good various artists comp should do. [NB: 2-LP adds 2 cuts: Fu-Schnickens with Shaquille O'Neal: "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock?) (K-Cut's Fat Trac Remix); Leaders of the Old School: "Case of the P.T.A."] A [cd]

    Saadet Türköz/Elliott Sharp: Kumuska (2007 [2019], Intakt): Turkish singer, ancestors recently arrived from Central Asia, now based in Switzerland, backed by the American, who gives up his usual guitar for analog synthesizers, bass clarinet, and glissentar. B+(*)

    Old music:

    Black Sheep: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (1991, Mercury): Hip-hop duo (Dres and Mista Lawange), from New York but met up in North Carolina, affiliated with Native Tongues ("which included the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul"). First album, a little rough out of the gate but finds its flow. B+(**)

    Brand Nubian: Foundation (1998, Arista): Afro-centric hip-hop group from New Rochelle, New York, named like their first hit single in 1989. Fourth album, second best after their 1990 debut. Choice cut: "Probable Cause." B+(***)

    Fu-Schnickens: Greatest Hits (1992-95 [1995], Jive): Brooklyn hip-hop trio, cut two albums 1992-94, reduced them to four cuts each and added four odds and ends in this career-capper. Don't know that any of them went any further. Dense, rapid-fire, turntables and a sideline in dancehall toasts. B+(***)

    Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Plays Monk (1996, Superstudio Gul; [2000], ACT): Major Swedish piano trio with Dan Berglund (bass) and Magnus Östrum (drums), first album in 1993, so this is fairly early. Monk tunes, nicely done but fancied up a bit, with strings on a couple. B+(**)

    Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Winter in Venice (1997, Superstudio Gul; [1999], ACT): Original material, including the four-part "Semblance Suite in Three or Four Movements." B+(*)

    Esbjörn Svensson Trio [EST]: From Gagarin's Point of View (1999, ACT): Looks like this was initially released by Superstudio Gul, but picked up fast by the German label, which went on to reissue earlier albums. First appearance of initials on the cover, more background image than logo, and first album where Magnus Öström pushes the rhythm to the fore, which would significantly broaden their popular appeal. B+(**)

    Esbjörn Svensson Trio [EST]: Good Morning Susie Soho (2000, ACT): "EST" on spine but spelled out on cover. B+(***)

    E.S.T.: Leucocyte (2007 [2008], ACT): Recorded in Australia, not released until shortly after pianist Svensson died in a scuba diving accident. Two long, multi-part pieces (plus a few more), the title tract running 27:37. Everyone doubles on electronics, adding bits of sparkling light to the settings. B+(**)

    E.S.T. [Esbjörn Svensson Trio]: 301 (2007 [2012], ACT): Named for the studio in Australia where Leucocyte was recorded, sessions from that same month. My favorite here is the drum roll of "Three Falling Free: Part II." B+(***)


    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Dave Douglas: Engage (Greenleaf Music) [11-08]
    • Nick Dunston: Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Head) [11-01]
    • Johnny Griffin & Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: Ow! Live at the Penthouse (1962, Reel to Reel) [12-06]
    • Remy Le Boeuf: Assembly of Shadows (SoundSpore) [11-01]

    Purchases:

    • The Daisy Age (1989-94, Ace)

    Sunday, October 27, 2019


    Weekend Roundup

    Been distracted, so chalk this up as another week going through the motions, keeping open the option of looking back at this presidential term week-by-week as it unfolded. More time might have given me chance to group links on the same basic stories, as well as to build a bit more structure around everything. Started collecting on Saturday, after which the Baghdadi assassination story broke, John Conyers died, and Trump was greeted with boos and chants of "lock him up" at the World Series.


    Some scattered links this week:

    Monday, October 21, 2019


    Music Week

    October archive (in progress).

    Music: current count 32248 [32212] rated (+36), 224 [229] unrated (-5).

    As of late Sunday. Monday's mail unpacked below but not counted above.

    Last couple weeks I've barely been able to scratch out two A- records. In fact, only one of the last six weeks yielded more than three, but I'm up to a nearly unprecedented nine here (E.S.T. a late add). One reason is I did something different last week, in that I jotted down a list of seven "new records I most want to track down." I found all seven, and got four A- records there (Jaimie Branch, Chris Knight, L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae, Kelsey Waldon). Although I must admit that part of the reason I did that was that Knight and Waldon were riding multiple A/A- streaks, and L'Orange/Jae's previous also came in at A-. Nor was Branch much of a surprise. Had I looked further, I would also have flagged Crosscurrents Trio (Dave Holland has his own streak going), and maybe the two new Intakt releases.

    Also got a couple pleasant surprises out of the promo queue. My other main source this week was Saving Country Music: I added their top-reviewed albums to my metacritic file, but the winners there were the expected ones from Knight and Waldon. Adds to this and my tracking file help keep me up to date. For instance, I can tell you the best-reviewed new records of the week (10-18): Battles: Juice B Crypts (6); Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 2) (6); Vagabon (6); Clipping: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (5); Floating Points: Crush (4); Caroline Polachek: Pang (4); Patrick Watson: Wave (4). Best-reviewed new records of the previous week (10-11): Big Thief: Two Hands (17); Kim Gordon: No Home Record (12); Elbow: Giants of All Sizes (9); Richard Dawson: 2020 (8).

    New records I most want to track down: Homeboy Sandman: Dusty; Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis; Rocket 808.

    Also out 10-18, listed below or previously graded: Gebhard Ullmann: MikroPULS [A-]; Michael Formanek: Even Better [***]; Petros Kampanis: Irrationalities [**]; Derel Monteith: Connemara [**]; Chris Speed: Respect for Your Toughness [**]; Chip Stephens/Stenn Wilson: Sadness & Soul [**]; John Yao: How We Do [**]; Rez Abbasi: A Throw of Dice by the Silent Ensemble [*]; Derel Monteith: Quantity of Life [*]; Carrie Wicks: Reverie [*]; Katerina Brown: Mirror [B]; Dan McCarthy: City Abstract [B].

    Old records this week were mostly the result of collecting several recent decade-or-two best-of lists. I've started to copy these down, mostly to provide a checklist against my own listening. There weren't many titles I hadn't heard, but I had totally missed Chromatics and Joanna Newsom, so now I know something. You can find the lists with my grades here (original links in the files):

    One more week left in October, promises to have more than the usual batch of distractions. Had a "furnace tuneup" last week, which left both the system and us pretty confused, so I need to call them back and get to the bottom of that. Weather itself has been up and down, enough so to remind me that as much as I hate the heat, the cold is actually more painful. Birthday coming up, so I'll take a day or two cooking something. I usually do a broad tasting menu from some exotic cuisine (started with Chinese, then Indian, then Turkish; finally got to French last year), but I'm feeling more like comfort food this year (or maybe I just really want to end it with Mom's coconut cake).

    Last two big meals have been Hungarian, so I'm done with that for a while (although I still want to make the dumplings at some point, possibly the rabbit goulash and/or the venison meatballs, and for that matter the somloi trifle and/or the dobos torte -- the two insanely classic Hungarian desserts). Just not this week. Two more big projects are putting together a new computer, and doing a major cleanup/reorganization of the tools in the basement and garage.

    Decided to buy the computer parts after my secondary machine temporarily crapped out a week ago. Eventually got it to boot, but it's been so slow I've dragged my feet something awful on website work. But rather than buy something cheap to replace the secondary machine, I figured I should jump whole hog into a new primary unit. Well, "half hog": went with the $200 AMD Ryzen 2700 CPU (8 cores, double the Passmark of my main machine), but much cheaper than the $565 Ryzen 3900 (twice again as fast); 64G of DDR 3000 SDRAM, instead of the 128G maximum; a 1TB M.2 slot SSD; on-board graphics (serious gamers could double the price of their computer here); a mid-range 750W power supply; and a relatively cheap box (because I still want a built-in DVD drive, which the fancy boxes no longer support). Where I did splurge was on a new 32-inch monitor UHD monitor. Should be relatively easy to put it together and load up Xubuntu. One resolution is to only do UTF-8 on the new box, so to get the extra speed, I'll have to convert the websites.

    The basement/garage project will be a lot more work, and take a lot more out of my music time. I'm sick and tired of not being able to find tools I know I have. I expect to wind up with an inventory, in some kind of database or spreadsheet, with everything a bit neater. Perhaps success there will lead to a second project, to start to unburden the house of excess stuff, including a few books and CDs. At one point I thought of donating the latter to a library, and never went through with that (and feel less inspired every time they name another building after the Kochs). Open to ideas there.

    Haven't done any significant work on my 2020 election book, but keep thinking about it. The book I'm currently reading on George Washington has some relevance, as he has one thing in common with Trump (extraordinary riches) but is otherwise Trump's polar opposite (well, aside from the race thing).


    New records reviewed this week:

    Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia (2016-19 [2019], Ropeadope): British-Bahraini trumpet player, third album. Long list of credits for this, as it seems to have undergone a lot of "additional recording and overdubs" following the initial 2016 session. B+(**)

    Michaela Anne: Desert Dove (2019, Yep Roc): Country singer, moved from Brooklyn to Nashville to break into the business, but recorded this third album in California, which seems like fate. B+(*)

    Bonnie Bishop: The Walk (2019, Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from Texas, eponymous debut in 2002, eighth album, can pass for country but reminds me more of Bonnie Raitt. Seven songs, stretched out past 40 minutes. B+(**)

    Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (2018 [2019], International Anthem): Trumpet player, from Chicago, second album, also sings, plays synths and percussion. The vocals (including a bit from Ben LaMar Gay) add to the exuberance, but are beside the point, which starts with the excitable groove. A-

    Chromatics: Closer to Grey (2019, Italians Do It Better): Electropop band from Portland, OR; fifth album since 2003, first in seven years (not counting the much bruited but unreleased Dear Tommy). Apt title. Docked a bit for reminding me of "Sound of Silence" (sorry about that). B

    Crosscurrents Trio [Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter]: Good Hope (2018 [2019], Edition): Bass, tabla, and saxes (mostly tenor), writing credits pretty evenly divided. Potter is always capable of a bravura performance, but is rarely as consistent as here -- a credit to the others, especially Hussain, whose subtle beats entice and disarm the saxophonist like a master snake charmer. A-

    Croy & the Boys: Howdy High-Rise (2019, Spaceflight): Singer-guitarist Bad Boy Croy leads a five-piece band including a bassist named Amy Hawthorne, presumably writes the humorous ditties he sings -- assuming you find the humor in laments like "I'm Broke" and "Luxury (Is a Four Letter Word to Me)." B+(**)

    Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio/Tim Berne/Mary Halvorson: Even Better (2019, Intakt): Bassist, long list of albums, his collaborators here stellar enough their names appear before and bolder than the title. Interesting mix, but seems to be lacking something. Drums? B+(***)

    Bill Frisell: Harmony (2016 [2019], Blue Note): Guitarist, has often dabbled in Americana over his long career, hooks up with vocalist Petra Haden, with Hank Roberts (cello, voice) and Luke Bergman (baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, voice). Recording date not given, but originally performed in November 2016, so will go with that. Some songs are striking: "Hard Times" for its simplicity, "Lush Life just the opposite. Here and there a gemlike bit of guitar catches your ear. B+(*)

    Abdullah Ibrahim: Dream Time (2019, Enja): Great South African pianist, 85, playing a solo program of 17 pieces, not his catchiest or most dynamic but touching nonetheless. B+(**)

    Gethen Jenkins: Western Gold (2019, 5 Music): A throwback to the Outlaw Country vogue, which is to say he sounds a lot like Waylon Jennings, and doesn't seem to be much smarter. Choice cut: "Basket Case." B+(*)

    Georgette Jones: Skin (2019, self-released): First name Tamala, Georgette seems to be the middle, and Jones is inherited from famous father George, though web search makes more of her mother, Tammy Wynette. Worked as a registered nurse before recording her debut album in 2010. B+(**)

    Roger Kellaway: The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway (2010 [2019], IPO): Pianist, debuted with A Portrait of Roger Kellaway in 1963, many albums since and still active as he turns 80, although this one has been sitting in the vault a while. Trio with Bruce Froman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass. Seven standards, the piano racing even as they're stretched between 5:02 and 12:12, closes with a sparkling "Caravan." A- [cd] [11-01]

    Chris Knight: Almost Daylight (2019, Drifters Church): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, ninth album since 1998 (seven years since his last and best, Little Victories). The band has muscled up, his voice thick and grizzled -- nowhere more than on John Prine's "Mexican Home," their duet close to seamless. A-

    L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: Complicate Your Life With Violence (2019, Mello Music Group): Hip-hop producer ("sampledelic North Carolina cubist") and Chicago lyricist ("fracture rap demigod"), second album together (L'Orange has also worked with Mr. Lif, Kool Keith, Stik Figa, and Homeboy Sandman, but his first round with Jae was his best). Dingy film noir dystopia, not sure whether futuristic (as suggested), uncannily perceptive, or just an improved Czarface yarn. A-

    Doug MacDonald & the Tarmac Ensemble: Jazz Marathon 4: Live at Hangar 18 (2019, DMAC, 2CD): Guitarist, originally from Philadelphia but long-established on the West Coast. Recorded this in Los Angeles with a nine-piece group featuring Kim Richmond (alto sax, better known as a big band arranger). Mostly standards, "Pennies From Heaven" as delicious as ever. B+(*)

    Dan McCarthy: City Abstract (2019, Origin): Vibraphone player, from Canada, quartet with guitar, bass, and drums, none of which add much. Opens with a dedication to Carla Bley, closes with one to Gary Burton. B

    Mike & the Moonpies: Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold (2019, Prairie Rose): Austin-based honky tonk band, Mike Harmeier leader, sixth album since 2010, for a change of pace trekked to England to record in the Abbey Road studio backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Nothing fast or hard, but the strings are unobtrusive. Still, seems a bit budget-limited: 8 tracks, 31:36. B+(*)

    Joshua Redman & Brooklyn Rider: Sun on Sand (2019, Nonesuch): Tenor sax trio, with Scott Colley and Satoshi Takeishi, and a string quartet, playing a suite composed and arranged by Patrick Zimmerli. Brooklyn Rider has over a dozen albums since 2008, including two volumes of Philip Glass and several with Béla Fleck, but nothing recognizably jazz. Strong pulse through the strings, more modernist than jazz. B+(**)

    Reut Regev's R*Time: Keep Winning (2019, Enja): Trombonist, like husband-drummer Igal Foni born in Israel, based in New York. Quartet with Jean-Paul Bourelly (guitar) and Mark Peterson (bass). Strong groove but doesn't lose interest when they break it up. Daughter Liana, age 7, adds a vocal interruption. A-

    Chris Speed Trio: Respect for Your Toughness (2018 [2019], Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, plays free but rarely shows any strain (much less screech), with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums) -- all musician names on the front cover, but below the title. B+(***)

    Chip Stephens/Stenn Wilson: Sadness & Soul (2018 [2019], Capri): Piano and baritone sax, just the duo, make a point of noting the antiquity of their instruments (1876 and 1946, respectively). Title tune is original, rest are standards, two from Coltrane the most recent, Monk's "'Round Midnight" as vintage as the sax. B+(**) [cd]

    Gebhard Ullmann/Hans Lüdemann/Oliver Potratz/Eric Schaefer: MikroPULS (2017 [2019], Intuition): German reeds player, sticks with tenor sax here, supported by piano, bass, and drums. Free jazz, but almost a ballad album, with all four contributing pieces, with a nice flow, intricate, touching even. A- [10-18]

    Kelsey Waldon: White Noise/White Lines (2019, Oh Boy): Country singer-songwriter from Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, probably the best voice in recent years, and one of the better songwriters. Third album, all superb; this one on John Prine's label, first new artist there since Todd Snider. A-

    Alice Wallace: Into the Blue (2019, Rebelle Road): Southern California-based Americana singer-songwriter, fourth album, big voice, overly dramatic, sometimes reminds me of the Eagles, but she's not that kind of jerk. B

    Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

    Ernest Hood: Neighborhoods: Memories of Times Past (1975 [2019], Freedom to Spend): One-shot album (although Hood also recorded a single as Hawg Thistlefield and the Hawg Brothers Family Band): zithers, synthesizer, and found sounds. Aims at ambience and nostalgia, but too modern and unsettled to relax and doze off. B

    Esbjörn Svensson Trio: E.S.T. Live in Gothenburg (2001 [2019], ACT, 2CD): Swedish piano trio, formed in 1993, ended with the pianist's death in 2008, was very popular in Europe, less so here. Much of their appeal was rhythmic, good examples of that here, but they're remarkably listenable even when they slow it up. A- [cd]

    Barney Wilen: Live in Tokyo '91 (1991 [2019], Elemental Music, 2CD): French tenor saxophonist (1937-96), a terrific musician. Very solid live shot, quartet with piano (Olivier Hutman), bass, and drums. B+(***)

    Old music:

    Chromatics: Kill for Love (2012, Italians Do It Better): Fourth album, the one that showed up on Uproxx's decade list, and it's easy to hear why: the guitar has some bite to it, and the table-setting cover is Neil Young's "Into the Black" (from Rust Never Sleeps). B+(***) [sc]

    Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004, Drag City): Plays harp, sings in a weird child's voice. Christgau gave this, her first album, an A-, then slammed her second (Ys) with a C+, noting "original in one thing, worth doing another." I hear the "original" in this one, but also the likelihood that it will soon wear out its novelty. B+(*)

    Joanna Newsom: Ys (2006, Drag City): "Second system complex" that an engineer, having been cautious and successful on a first project, will build on confidence gained and take more risks on a second effort, ultimately failing. Something of that here, with two tracks stretched to 12:08 and 16:53, five total to 55:42. On the other hand, this sold better and made more year-end lists, which can only partly be attributed to momentum. Of course, I can't speak to the "ach Gott!" libretto, although her whimsy is less obvious, ditto her annoying quirks. B

    Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (2010, Drag City, 2CD): Third album, sprawls to 124:08, filling 3-LP or 2-CD, with more than two dozen musician/vocalist credits. She remains a distinctive voice and idiosyncratic artist, but this all tends to flow together, not unpleasantly, but not adding up to much. B

    Reut Regev: This Is R*Time (2008 [2009], Ropeadope): Trombonist, also plays flugabone (no slide, looks like a bugle swallowed the guts of a French horn), first album, with guitar (David Phelps), drums (Igal Foni), electric or acoustic bass, congas on a couple cuts, bongos on one. B+(**)


    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Calabria Foti: Prelude to a Kiss (Moco) [11-01]
    • Jerome Jennings: Solidarity (Iola) [11-09]
    • Per Texas Johansson: Strĺk Pĺ Himlen Och Stora Hus (Moserobie)
    • Fredrik Ljungkvist Trio: Atlantis (Moserobie)

    -- next