An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, March 9, 2020
Music: Current count 32897  rated (+41), 223  unrated (-21).
Close to a year ago, an old friend approached me about creating a game that hopefully would help torpedo Joe Biden's presidential run, mostly by exposing and publicizing many of the dastardly deeds he has been party to. My friend offered to put some money up, and I got him in contact with a game designer and offered to help on tech questions, but I wasn't very enthusiastic about the project. Not sure what exactly my feelings were: on the one hand, I figured Biden would fall apart as a viable candidate without any push from me; on the other hand, I had a vague sense of wanting to stay aloof from the fray, so while I was pretty certain that Sanders was my favorite, I've tried not to judge any of the other candidates harshly, figuring the best thing was to let the campaign play out. That other hand seems to be playing out now, and I'm finding it rather depressing.
Michigan votes tomorrow. In 2016 Clinton was heavily favored there, but Sanders pulled out an upset victory, which helped keep his campaign credible through the rest of the primaries. Sanders had taken over the polling lead there in early February, and has steadily built up his share ever since (from 23.8% to 31.6%), but in the last few days Biden has opened up a huge lead, currently polling 54.8% (from a low of 17.0% on Feb. 24, just 14 days ago). And that's just the average: one poll has him leading 65% to 24%.
Nationwide polling, which had Sanders in first place from Feb. 11 (22.0% to 21.6% for Biden, 13.5% for Warren, 12.7% for Bloomberg, 9.0% for Buttigieg, 3.7% for Klobuchar) through March 3 (29.0% to 18.1%) has now flipped all the way to 51.6% for Biden to 33.5% for Sanders. That's pushed FiveThirtyEight's Democratic Primary odds for Biden up to 99 in 100, effectively declaring Biden the inevitable winner. But isn't this all very peculiar? It's remarkable that Sanders increased his polling share while he was on top, and has continued to increase them even as Biden shot past him. Biden hasn't gained any ground from Sanders. He's merely swept up everyone else.
Still, you have to wonder, how much do people really know (or for that matter care) about Biden? As Vice President, he rarely (if ever) had an opportunity to voice his own opinion on anything. His Senate career is public record, but little publicized and mostly forgotten. His plagiarism scandal is ancient history. And while Republicans are going to make hay out of his family's efforts to make money off his career, his fellow Democrats did little to air the issue. Indeed, in the last two weeks the only Democrats who had to face much criticism were Sanders and Bloomberg. When he did face some scrutiny, back in Iowa and New Hampshire, he took a beating.
I doubt my friend's game would have shifted public opinion, but you have to wonder about how uninformed his new supporters are, and whether knowing more would have made any difference. It feels like they were stampeded by their fear of Trump into making a decision they're likely to regret. I'm feeling the regret now, big time. For more personal reasons, I've been pretty bummed out for a while now, which has only gotten worse considering this wave. I started working on yesterday's Weekend Roundup post on Thursday, and it was a hard, cruel slog. All year I've been viewing this election through my "four eras" model, where the Reagan-to-Trump era is held to be ending, replaced by a dramatically new era. A defining characteristic of political eras is that opposition parties tend to think like the dominant ones. Clinton and Obama were remarkable politicians, but they inevitably danced to the Republicans' tune. I didn't require that the new era be ushered in by a leader as different as Sanders, but I did think that the one candidate least able to make the transition was Biden, as he was the most thoroughly ingrained with Reagan-era thinking. Biden's nomination means that my big idea has turned from hopeful to tragic. Here we had this tremendous opportunity to turn things around, and squandered it by nominating the one candidate least able to make the break -- even assuming he beats Trump to get the chance.
If Biden continues to win like this, I'm tempted so say I'm done with politics. I'll vote for Biden against Trump in November, and I'll vote for local Democrats (unless Vern Miller runs again, which is pretty unlikely). But I don't see what else I have to offer. I may go back to the drawing board and write some long-term (which is to say utopian) political essays. But political analysis for the foreseeable future is going to turn on questions of mass delusion -- not just last week's Biden surge, but similarly irrational turns like the one that elected Trump in 2016. (Hint: in both cases, the surge occurs at the same time the candidate is largely hidden, the decisive negative focus pointed elsewhere, and the media unclear on how it's being played.)
Quite a few records this week, with close to half of them coming from my promo queue, which I cut in half. Such attention was overdue, but I was also having trouble figuring out which records to look up on Napster and Bandcamp, so in some ways this was just easier. Not as many finds this week as last, but three A- records is a pretty average week.
Was delighted to get some promos from the Polish label Fundacja Sluchaj, then disappointed that they turned out to be rather marginal. I also received a copy of Georg Graewe/Ernst Reijseger/Gerry Hemingway: Concertgebouw Brugge 2014, which I had previously graded B+(**) based on their Bandcamp stream. I reviewed 15 of their records in 2019 -- the only A- was AgustÝ Fernandez: One Night at the Joan Mirˇ Foundation, with Awatair: Awatair Plays Coltrane, Brad Barrett: Cowboy Transfiguration, and Franšois Carrier: Nirguna at B+(***). A- records from previous years: Barry Guy: Barry Guy @ 70 (2018), and Evan Parker/RGG: Live @ Alchemia (2017).
Shouldn't be so hard to identify new records worth streaming now that I have my 2020 metacritic file up and running. I'm tracking all but the metal grade lists (80+) on AOTY and Metacritic (but looking less often at the latter, as it takes more work). I'm also factoring in a few other review sources (including All About Jazz, Downbeat, and Free Jazz Collective) and lists (like Phil Overeem's latest), and I've started to look at Bandcamp's guides. The latter got me to thinking about 2019 releases that only got noticed after January 1. In recent years I've been very hard-assed about filing them in their calendar years, but if I do that I lose track of them. Besides, EOY lists (including Jazz Critics Poll) are almost always slightly out of sync with the calendar. I finally decided the rule should be: any late 2019 record that didn't get any points in the 2019 EOY Aggregate will be counted as new in the 2020 list. Of course, that means I have to go back to a few reviews that I initially skipped, so things are a bit inconsistent at the moment.
New records reviewed this week:
Bad Bunny: YHLQMDLG (2020, Rimas): Puerto Rican reggaeton rapper Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, third album (counting last year's one with J Balvin), acronym stands for "Yo hago lo que me da la gana" ("I do what I want"). B+(**)
Gerald Beckett: Mood (2019 , Summit): Flute player, half-dozen albums since 2004, wrote four (of nine) pieces here, covers other postbop jazz musicians (Barron, Mabern, Marsalis, Chestnut, Ron Carter) to take out his own mainstream turf. B [cd]
Boogat: El Gato Y Los Rumberos (2020, Ray-On, EP): Daniel Russo Garrido, born in Montreal, parents from Mexico (and Paraguay?), dozen albums since 2004, sings and raps in Spanish (and French?). Title cut jumps, but slips elsewhere. Five songs, 20:22. B
Benjamin Boone With the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy (2019 , Origin): Saxophonist, teaches in Fresno, CA; has two very good records with poet Philip Levine. Got a Fulbright Scholar ticket to Ghana, where he put this ambitious group together. Strikes me as excessive on many counts, which makes it hard to hear the trad fusion concepts. B [cd] [03-20]
Caribou: Suddenly (2020, Merge): Dan Snaith, from Canada, started in laptronica, more electropop now, fifth album as Caribou (other names he's used are Manitoba and Daphni). B+(**)
Franšois Carrier/Tomek Gadecki/Marcik Bozek/Michel Lambert: Wide (2018 , FMR): Alto sax/drums duo, one of my favorites, goes to Poland, picks up a second saxophonist (Gadecki, on tenor) and a bassist (Bozek, who also plays French horn). The result is a freewheeling riot, a bit too much for me, although when I can pick Carrier out, he sounds as sharp as ever. B+(***) [cd]
Brandy Clark: Your Life Is a Record (2020, Warner): Country singer-songwriter, third album, more or less as good as the first two. Picks up a surprise duet partner (Randy Newman) on her most political song ("Bigger Boat"). A-
Jeremy Cunningham: The Weather Up There (2020, Northern Spy): Drummer, based in Chicago, originally from Cincinnati, second album, in a number of projects, ranging from a duo with Dave Rempis to crossover efforts. This starts with his quartet -- Josh Johnson (alto sax/bass clarinet), Jeff Parker (guitar), and Matt Ulery (bass, although Paul Bryan takes over for 4 songs here) -- then adds guests, including his Chicago Drum Choir (with Makaya McCraven and Mike Reed), Jamie Branch (trumpet), Ben LaMar Gay (vocals/electronics), Dustin Laurenzi (tenor sax), and Tomeka Reid (cello). B+(**)
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats: Unlocked (2020, Loma Vista, EP): Florida rapper, four albums since 2013, produced by Kenneth Blume III, tied into a 24-minute short film. Eight tracks, 17:52. B+(*)
Davido: A Good Time (2019, RCA): David Adedeji Adeleke, born in Atlanta but parents are Nigerian, his father a prince and a billionaire business magnate (his company is called Pacific Holdings Limited). He grew up in Nigeria, attending elite schools in Lagos, college in the US, then after his interest turned to music he moved to London. Closer to neo-soul than to afrobeat, but his mix of beats and production glitz serves him well. B+(***)
Sarah Elgeti Quartet With Friends: Dawn Comes Quietly (2019 , Gateway Music): Danish tenor saxophonist, also plays flute and bass clarinet, several previous albums. Writes lyrics as well as music, sung here by Sidsel Storm. One title is "A Lot of People -- A Lot of Sad Stories." Most in Danish, I presume, but sad, sure. B [cd]
Vincent Glanzmann/Gerry Hemingway: Composition O (2017 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Two percussionists, some electronics, voice, harmonica; joint composition, runs 36:33 in 6 parts. Limited palette, but consistently interesting. B+(***) [cd]
Joyce Grant: Surrounded by Blue (2019 , Craftedair/Blujazz): Standards singer, but three (of eight) songs are by pianist Douglas McKeehan, and the others aren't all that standard ("My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Help"). B [cd]
Wolfgang Haffner: Kind of Tango (2019 , ACT Music): German drummer, several dozen albums since 1989, this billed as the third entry in a "Kind of . . ." trilogy. Three Astor Piazzolla tunes are more than kind of, but the band's originals are less. With guitar (Ulf Wakenius), accordion, piano, vibes, and bass/cello (Lars Danielson). B
JC Hopkins Biggish Band: New York Moment (2019 , Twee-Jazz): Pianist, third album with this group, has done some producing on the side. Band is big enough (about ten pieces), not counting five vocalists that lean toward cabaret. Odd song out here is the one cover (and one instrumental), a super-hot take of Mingus' "Better Git It in Your Soul." B+(**) [cd] [04-05]
Christopher Icasiano: Provinces (2018 , Origin): Filipino-American percussionist from Seattle suburbs, not sure if he was born in US or immigrated, but works some Filipino field recordings into this debut solo effort (after a couple records with/as Bad Luck), along with synthesizer and shells. Too ambient too much of the time, but has some moments. B [cd]
Charles Lloyd: 8: Kindred Spirits (Live From the Lobero) (2018 , Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist, quintet -- Julian Lage (guitar), Gerald Clayton (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), Eric Harland (drums) -- celebrating his 80th birthday. Available in a deluxe box with 3-LP, 2-CD, DVD, and 96-page hardcover book, but all I've heard is a 4-track, 59:47 stream. Doesn't strike me as something special, although his sax is still a source of delight. B+(**)
Paul Lytton/Nate Wooley: Known/Unknown (2018 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Drums-trumpet duo, Lytton from the late 1960s a key figure in the European avant-garde, mostly in groups led by others (e.g., Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Alexander von Schlippenbach, later on Ken Vandermark). Wooley is 27 years younger, attracted to those same leaders, prolific since 2005. Three cuts, 77:09, both add some minor electronics, with not much obviously happening for long stretches. Ends with a nice stretch. B+(*) [cd]
Denise Mangiardi: Brown Book (2019 , Alice's Loft Music): Singer-songwriter, based in London although she started in New York and studied at Berklee, has composed classical works ("3 full-scale orchestral works as well as many chamber pieces"). Added words to a Monk piece, wrote the rest, employing well known jazz musicians (Mark Soskin on piano, saxophonists are Tony Dagradi, Dave O'Higgins, and Jerry Bergonzi), with strings by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. B+(**) [cd]
Joe McPhee/John Edwards/Klaus Kugel: A Night in Alchemia (2018 , Not Two): Leader credited with trumpet and saxophones, backed by bass and drums, a live set from Krakow, Poland. The sort of powerhouse performance he always seems capable of. A-
Pat Metheny: From This Place (2020, Nonesuch): Jazz guitarist, gained a popular following with his fusion work (RIP Lyle Mays) although he's often ventured elsewhere. This is rather expansive, with groove and texture, even the Hollywood Studio Symphony. B+(*)
Nutria: Meeting in Progress (2019 , Ears & Eyes): Byron Asher, originally from Maryland, based in New Orleans, plays tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. With his large Scrontch Music group, released a well-regarded album last year. This group is a trio with bass (Trey Boudreaux) and drums (Shawn Myers). They keep it tighter, more intimate. B+(***) [cd]
Agnes Obel: Myopia (2019 , Blue Note): Danish singer-songwriter, fourth album, wouldn't put much weight on that it's on a jazz label, or that it's also distributed by Deutsche Grammophon. She plays keyboards, augmented by violin and cello. Has a haunting ambience to it. B+(**)
Kassa Overall: I Think I'm Good (2020, Brownswood): Jazz drummer, from Seattle, based in Brooklyn, also plays hip-hop, which seems closer to the mark here until you notice that most of the "feat." entries are for jazz musicians (Joel Ross, Theo Croker, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Parks, Vijay Iyer -- on a tribute to Geri Allen). B+(*)
Keith Oxman: Two Cigarettes in the Dark (2018 , Capri): Denver-based tenor saxophonist, sixth album since 1995, joined here by Houston Person (tenor sax) on six (of ten) cuts, backed by piano (Jeff Jenkins), bass, and drums. Three Oxman originals, one from Jenkins. Annette Murrell sings two songs. Mainstream with a lot of terrific-sounding sax. B+(***) [03-20]
Jonah Parzen-Johnson: Imagine Giving Up (2020, We Jazz): Baritone saxophonist, based on Brooklyn, half-dozen albums since 2012. This one appears to be solo (and not for the first time), playing over electronic rhythm tracks. B+(**)
Gloria Reuben & Marty Ashby: For All We Know (2018 , MCG Jazz): Canadian standards singer, better known as an actress (mostly TV, but was in the movie Lincoln), also wrote a memoir. May be her first album. Ashby is a guitarist, and arranged these songs, mostly taking them slow and steady. B+(**) [cd]
Reverso [Frank Woeste/Vincent Courtois/Ryan Keberle]: The Melodic Line (2019 , Out Note): Chamber jazz: piano, cello, trombone. As with the group's 2018 debut (Suite Ravel), they draw inspiration from modern classical composers (in this case Les Six, a group including Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc). B+(*) [cd]
Suzanna Ross: Is Bewitched* . . . *Not Bothered, Not Bewildered (2019 , self-released): Standards singer, first album. Title song is the theme to the Elizabeth Montgomery TV show (1964-72), not the Rodgers & Hart classic, so you can't complain the title wasn't explicit enough. Other picks are less obscure, aside from two in French. Pianist Gregory Toroian produced and arranged, and is backed by bass and drums. B [cd] [03-20]
Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band: Hold On (2018 , Blujazz/PAO): Jazz singer, rooted in gospel and soul, added lyrics to several trad songs (7/9 credited to Trad, the other "I'll Fly Away" and "Come Sunday"). Has some blues spunk, and horns. B+(**) [cd]
The Secret Sisters: Saturn Return (2020, New West): Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers, from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, fourth album since 2010. Nice harmonies, inspirational closer. B+(*)
Sestetto Internazionale: Live in Munich 2019 (2019 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Italian group name, but only one Italian in line up: Gianni Mimmo (soprano sax). The others are Alison Blunt (violin, British, born in Kenya), Achim Kaufmann (piano, German), Veli Kujala (quartet tone accordion, Finnish), Ignaz Schick (turntables/sampler, German), and Harri Sj÷str÷m (soprano and sopranino sax, Finnish). Has its chamber jazz air, but broken up, especially with the electronics adding surprising percussion. B+(***) [cd]
Sl°tface: Sorry for the Late Reply (2020, Nettwerk): Norwegian punk/pop group, Haley Shea sings, co-writes with guitarist Tor-Arne Vikingstad, originally called Slutface (new spelling keeps old pronunciation). Second album. Could be prophetic. B+(***)
Curt Sydnor: Deep End Shallow (2019 , Out of Your Head): Keyboard player, based in Richmond [VA], Google lists him as "progressive rock," his own self-description as "a different kind of jazz" is more credible but hardly more inspiring. Come to think of it, I can imagine his rave-ups filling the dead space in a Yes album, but they'd disrupt the chill. B- [cdr] [03-20]
The Third Mind: The Third Mind (2020, Yep Roc): Legend has it that Teo Macero's formula for producing Miles Davis albums was "gather great musicians in a studio, pick a key and a groove and then record everything live over several days." Then edit and shape those improvs into compositions. Dave Alvin decided to try working like that, with Victor Krummenacher (bass), David ImmerglŘck (guitar/keybs), Michael Jerome (drums), and "special guest" Jesse Sykes (guitar). The latter provides a vocal, as do most of the others, on most of the songs, lest you think they've done a jazz record. Still, great to hear Alvin's distinctive guitar stretch out. And as songs go, those are pretty good, too. A-
Waclaw Zimpel: Massive Oscillations (2020, Ongehoord): Polish clarinetist, varied catalog since 2008. Mostly electronics here, rendering the title literal, toned down for the last piece, which adds guest bass and voice. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Brent Jensen: The Sound of a Dry Martini: Remembering Paul Desmond (2001 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, reissue of his first album, recorded live at the Bakery in North Hollywood, quartet with guitar (Jamie Findlay), bass, and drums. Three Desmond songs (including a terrific "Take Five"), seven more standards. Nice way to start a career. B+(**)
New Stories: Speakin' Out (1999 , Origin): Seattle-based piano-bass-drums trio, with Marc Seales, Doug Miller, and John Bishop; recorded four albums 1994-2001 (counting one headlined by Lynn Bush). Bonus here is tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, who guests on five (of nine) tracks, and blows everyone away. B+(***) [cd]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: