Monday, September 10, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30295 [30261] rated (+34), 271 [278] unrated (-7).

Pretty average week, maybe skewed a bit more than usual toward jazz, as I continued adding jazz albums to my Music Tracking file (up to 2062 records now, 913 of them jazz). As the week started, I was still playing catch up with the late Randy Weston. After that, new adds to the tracking file steered me to various jazz artists -- Gordon Grdina, Tord Gustavsen, Scott Hamilton, Uwe Oberg. Also made a dent in my incoming queue. Only three non-jazz albums this week -- two from Christgau (who also noted Kali Uchis' Isolation as an HM, but I have it at A-).

I'm not expecting to get much work done this coming week. My late sister's big art project will be dismantled toward the end of the week, and either packed up and hauled somewhere (still, as far as I know, undetermined) or tossed into the trash. Some relatives are likely to show up for this, but I don't have any details. (I'm feeling really out of the loop here.) This summer has been an awful slog for me. Don't know whether I'll be relieved or shattered when the week is over.

Meanwhile, I've dropped the ball on my server project, and for that matter on long-delayed maintenance work on Robert Christgau's website. Probably won't make much progress there until this week's dust settles, but I've started to think about the tasks again, after blanking out a week ago.

Still reading books on Russia, although nothing new is quite as enlightening at David Satter's 2003 book, Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State. Satter's more recent The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep reprises his sensational charge that the FSB was responsible for the 1999 terror bombings of apartments in Moscow (pictured) and elsewhere, providing the perfect provocation for Putin to demolish Chechen independence and consolidate his grip on Russian political power. Of course, this sounds much like so many 9/11 conspiracy theories, especially with its cui bono rationales, but it's hard to imagine how else an unknown insider like Putin could have overcome the morass Boris Yeltsin's presidency had left Russia in. I'm midway through the book, just reading about the massacres in the Moscow theater and the Beslan school. Satter suggests these terrorist attacks may also have been guided by the FSB as provocations -- by this point support for the Chechen War was again flagging, so they laid the ground for another round of Russian escalation -- but thee's less evidence and rationale behind those charges. Later chapters should move on to the Ukraine crisis in 2014, but they are bound to be brief.

Masha Gessen, in The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, follows several (mostly) elite families from Glasnost on -- some semi-famous, most liberal dissenters but also neo-fascist ideologist Alexander Dugin (you might think of him as Putin's Steve Bannon). I think the key thing here is that while she doesn't excuse Yeltsin and Putin, she sees the return to totalitarianism as a mass preference rather than as something the leaders inflicted on the people. Reading the book, it occurred to me that the main reason for this was that 70 years of Communist rule had left people so cynical about the left critique of capitalism that it's since been impossible to form a significant democratic socialist opposition to the self-dealing oligarchy that took over with Yeltsin.

The least satisfactory book is Timothy Snyder's The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, although I did find useful how he tracked Gessen's history from a slightly broader perspective. Snyder is a historian who has specialized in the war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to control Eastern Europe (his big book is Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin), but he's never rasped the difference between fascism and communism, so he readily falls for the Cold War ploy of treating both as totalitarianism, making it easy to see Putin as the unification of both evils. He even finds a forgotten philosopher, Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954) as the key ideologist behind Putinism. (Gessen, on the other hand, starts with psychological studies of Homo sovieticus, ties them to the "authoritarian personality" studies of Adorno and Arendt, and charts how those traits have persisted under Putin.) Snyder likes to call the Ilyin-Putin idea "the politics of eternity" -- sounds a bit like thousand-year Reich extrapolated to infinity, but smells more like bullshit.

Gessen, by the way, has a piece I should have mentioned yesterday, The Undoing of Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin's Friendship, and How It Changed Both of Their Countries. Clinton's decision to bomb what was left of Yugoslavia over Kosovo offended Yeltsin, both by harming an important relationship for Russia and by making Russia look weak and helpless when faced with American hostility. It also re-established NATO as a counter-Russian threat, and set a precedent for the US to unilaterally start wars elsewhere (e.g., Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003). It also changed Russia:

What was seen as a unilateral American decision to start bombing a longtime Russian ally emboldened the nationalist opposition and tapped into a deep inferiority complex. Sensitive to these sentiments, Yeltsin responded that May by celebrating Victory Day with a military parade in Red Square, the first in eight years. In fact, military parades took place all over the country that year, and have been repeated every year since. What was even more frightening were a series of nongovernmental Victory Day parades by ultranationalists. That these public displays, some of which featured the swastika, were tolerated, and in such close proximity to celebrations of the country's most hallowed holiday, suggested that xenophobia had acquired new power in Russia. Later that year, Yeltsin anointed Vladimir Putin his successor and signed off on a renewed war in Chechnya. This offensive, designed to shore up support for the country's hand-picked new leader, was both inspired and enabled by Kosovo. It was a dare to the United States, an assertion that Russia will do what it wants in its own Muslim autonomy.

One thing that should be clear by now is that Clinton and other independent western actors like George Soros actively intervened in Russian politics in the 1990s, in support of Yeltsin, they never cared the least for the welfare of Russia, or even for making their supposed friendly politicians look good. Clinton just assumed that Russia would never be a problem again, no matter how much popular enmity he caused. Bush and Obama took much the same tack with Putin, who actually did a pretty decent job of humoring them as long as that proved possible, but in the end, sure, he pushed back. My evolving view of Putin is that he is a smart, canny politician, careful to maintain his popularity as well as his hand on the levers of power in Russia. But, unlike Snyder, I don't see him as a person of strong ideological conviction. It's true that he embraces various conservative/nationalist positions, but most likely because that's where his natural political base is. He exercises a discomforting degree of control over the media and all forms of political discourse, and he has done some unsavory things with his power, but he also seems to have some sense of limits, unlike many dictators we can recall. In short, he seems like someone the US can work with, and that would be better for all concerned than the recent spiral of escalating offenses.

Still, one should be clear about the ways of power, in Russia, in the United States, everywhere. Change what you can, and don't get suckered into projects that can only make matters worse (e.g., ones involving real or even just mock war).

Recommended music links:

  • The Last of the Live Jazz Reviewers: An Interview With Nate Chinen. Book includes a list of "The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far)." I should dig this list up and see how it jives with my own lists. But for now, note that Chinen has written about some of them here, and is promising more. [PS: Made a stab at this, but can't find the list for 2014-2017, so I only have 100 albums in list: 17 I haven't heard, grade breakdown for rest: A: 2, A-: 23, B+: 44 (16-10-10), B: 7, B-: 5. That's not far from my usual intersection with jazz critics polls, but given that he's only picking 5-7 records per year, and I regularly find over 50 A/A- jazz albums per year, I'm surprised the spread didn't skew a bit higher. ]

New records rated this week:

  • Bali Baby: Baylor Swift (2018, TWIN, EP): [r]: A-
  • Dave Ballou & BeepHonk: The Windup (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Carter/Hilliard Greene/David Haney: Live Constructions (2017 [2018], Slam): [r]: B
  • Cyrus Chestnut: Kaleidoscope (2018, HighNote): [r]: B+(*)
  • George Colligan: Nation Divided (2017 [2018], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(*)
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Better Than Gold and Silver (2018, L&H Production, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Equity & Social Justice Quartet: Argle-Bargle or Foofaraw (2018, Edgetone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Fred Frith Trio: Closer to the Ground (2018, Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Gordon Grdina/François Houle/Kenton Loewen: Live at the China Cloud (2017, Big in Japan): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Gordon Grdina's the Marrow: Ejdeha (2018, Songlines): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (2018, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton: Meets the Piano Players (2016 [2017], Organic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Scott Hamilton: The Shadow of Your Smile (2017, Blau): [r]: A-
  • Scott Hamilton: Moon Mist (2018, Blau): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hieroglyphic Being: The Replicant Dream Sequence (2018, Moog Recordings Library) **
  • Hinds: I Don't Run (2018, Mom + Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra: Down a Rabbit Hole (2015-17 [2018], Summit): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Yves Marcotte: Always Know Monk (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Ernest McCarty Jr./Theresa Davis: I Remember Love (2018, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Myriad 3: Vera (2018, ALMA): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Uwe Oberg/Heinz Sauer: Sweet Reason (2017 [2018], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ivo Perelman/Jason Stein: Spiritual Prayers (2018, Leo): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ivo Perelman/Rudi Mahall: Kindred Spirits (2018, Leo, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • University of Toronto 12Tet: When Day Slips Into Night (2018, UofT Jazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Andrés Vial: Andrés Vial Plays Thelonious Monk: Sphereology Volume One (2017 [2018], Chromatic Audio): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Western Michigan University Jazz Orchestra: Turkish Delight (2018, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Tord Gustavsen Trio: Changing Places (2001-02 [2003], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rudi Mahall: Quartett (2006 [2007], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Uwe Oberg: Work (2008 [2015], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Randy Weston: Portraits of Thelonious Monk: Well You Needn't (1989 [1990], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Randy Weston: Portraits of Duke Ellington: Caravan (1989 [1990], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Weston: Self Portraits: The Last Day (1989 [1990], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Weston: Marrakech in the Cool of the Evening (1992 [1994], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Weston: Earth Birth (1995 [1997], Verve): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Cory Smythe: Circulate Susanna (Pyroclastic)
  • Steven Taetz: Drink You In (Flatcar/Fontana North)