An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 4, 2022
Music: Current count 37641  rated (+44), 137  unrated (+9).
Another week. Surprised that the rated count held up, given that I took a day off to cook, and that it feels like I often got stuck looking for new things to play. Also spent a lot of time (4 plays) with Bouvier before I decided it didn't quite click -- easily the most tempting of an admirable bunch of B+(***) albums below. But I guess I got a solid start with the Ogun Bandcamp, which I still haven't exhausted.
Woke up this morning realizing it was already April and we hadn't done anything about income taxes. Tried calling the person who has done them for 20+ years, only to find out that she died last May, so we need to find someone else. Taxes are always a great psychic strain for me, although the relief once it's done is considerable.
I haven't had the slightest inclination to do Wordle, although my wife has a winning streak since her second game (and only loss), and has sought out variants, including the daily Quordle, which appears at midnight, interrupting our television time, so I occasionally consult. Sometimes I think of words, but mostly draw on letter frequencies, which somehow I know a bit about.
The game I have gotten into the habit of is Worldle, which also appears daily, giving you a Rorschach blob claiming to be the borders of a country or territory, which you get six guesses at. Each false guess gives you a distance and direction to the answer. Geography was my subject as a child: by age 10 or so I could rattle off not just all the states and their capitals, but the provinces of Canada and Australia, the SSRs in the Soviet Union, and virtually every nation-state on a continent. I've retained most of that, and have found most of these puzzles instantly recognizable. Today's Latvia took two guesses but less than 5 seconds (my first was Turkmenistan, off by 3224km NW, and while I don't think in metric, that seemed about right for the Baltic area, and the shape excluded every other nation in the area). Monaco took three, and much more time. Only problem has been with islands. Anguila eluded me, although it would have been easy with a map of the Lesser Antilles (I did narrow it down between Antigua and the Virgin Islands). I recognized Kerguelen (after an initial guess of Svalbard), but the name wasn't accepted, so I had to look up French Southern and Antarctic Lands. I can't say as I've ever heard of Heard and McDonald Islands (though consulting maps using directions and distances got me there in three). Christmas Island also took an open book approach, though I sort of recognized it once I got there. I view the game as sort of a two-tiered test: first of what you recognize and recall; second, if I didn't get the answer within a minute, of what you can figure out. My 8th Grade US History teacher was a big believer in open book tests, and I learned more there than I did in practically all the rest of grades 7-9 combined.
No Speaking of Which last week, as I put most of my effort into yesterday's big Book Roundup. I have zero interest or concern in the Will Smith slap that dominated our fickle media's limited attention span. Meanwhile, Republicans have been so puerile it's getting hard to dignify them with scorn. (Madison Cawthorn seemed to top them all last week, but not without stiff competition from Cruz, DeSantis, and Graham.) And Ukraine slogs on, rerunning tragedy inside the country and farce everywhere else. I'm sure I'll have more to say about that at some point. I suppose I could at least link to Jeffrey St. Clair's Roaming Charges, but it's a pretty mixed bag, more reliably on point about WWI than Ukraine. I particularly like a line in a longer Bertrand Russell quote: "The English and French say they are fighting in defense of democracy, but don't want their words to be heard in Petrograd or Calcutta."
What I wanted to mention in the Book Roundup but ran out of time for was how stimulating I've been finding Louis Menand's The Free World. The book, at least as far as I've read, consists of a series of portraits of seminal figures, starting with George Kennan, whose prescription for containment of the Soviet Union was always more nuanced than the policies of his followers. An important nuance was his insight that Stalin's efforts to secure the perimeter around Russia had nothing to do with communist ideology and everything to do with Tsarist Russia's fear and pride. We see this same attitude today with Putin asserting Russia's right to save Ukraine from itself -- as we also see Americans ignoring this crude conceit in favor of ideological and/or psychological explanations.
The book follows with pieces on George Orwell, James Burnham (and C. Wright Mills), Jean-Paul Sartre (and Simone de Beauvoir), Hannah Arendt, and David Riesman. I thought that Riesman's critique of Arendt was particularly timely: "Might Arendt be mistaking the ideology of totalitarianism for the lived reality? Might she be imagining that totalitarian systems are more coherent and all-powerful than they really are? . . . Riesman's suggestion that underneath the ideological swagger, the Soviet Union was a klutzy bureaucracy run by thugs was just the kind of inability to take totalitarianism seriously that she had written her book to warn against." Riesman also has a critique of democracy, where polling is mudied by people insisting on having opinions even when they know nothing, but ignorance itself is some kind of virtue. Still makes for messy politics -- which corresponds rather well to history.
Next up was Clement Greenberg and Jackson Pollock, so finally we get into art. I barely recognized Greenberg's name, but found I could unpack a lot of my own experience from his "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" essay. This was, after all, the world I was born into, even if it took a while for their ideas to sink down to the lower-class Wichita I was desperate to escape. But isn't the avant-garde a vector you can trace back to bourgeois revolution (even as the bourgeoisie themselves elected for kitsch)? And isn't part of the motivation the feeling of superiority you get from mastering the rare and esoteric in a world that is otherwise leveling? I got into avant-garde art and left-wing politics more/less simultaneously, and reconciled the two by insisting that nothing prevents leftists (or anyone) from also enjoying the avant-garde, but experience suggests it's not often that easy.
Quite a bit of unpacking this week. Most pleasant surprise was a package of 577 Records that don't appear to be out yet (although they look like product. On the other hand, it seems like it's gotten much harder to stream their records, so my coverage has gotten spottier.
New records reviewed this week:
Nia Archives: Forbidden Feelingz (2022, Hijinxx, EP): British jungle producer-singer, from Manchester, 6 songs, 16:53, impressive start, runs a bit thin. B+(**) [sp]
Lynne Arriale Trio: The Lights Are Always On (2021 , Challenge): Pianist, from Milwaukee, 15+ albums since 1994, all originals here, backed with bass (Jasper Somsen) and drums (EJ Strickland). B+(**) [cd] [04-08]
Aaron Bazzell: Aesthetic (2022, self-released): Alto saxophonist, born in Boston, grew up in Atlanta, studied at Michigan State, based in Brooklyn. Debut album, all originals, backed by piano-bass-drums. Nice tone, impressive flow. Rachel Robinson sings one track, for radio programmers who are into that sort of thing. B+(**) [cd] [04-22]
David Binney Quartet: A Glimpse of the Eternal (2021 , Criss Cross): Alto saxophonist, mainstream, started c. 1990, quartet with Craig Taborn (piano), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). Mostly originals, covers not obvious standards (Vince Mendoza, Jan Garbarek, Michael Cain) aside from Harry Warren ("I Had the Craziest Dream"). B+(*)
Bouvier: Blachant (2022, Renewell): Singer Dr. Jackie Copeland, "social finance and justice innovator," taps into her South Carolina Gullah-Geechee heritage, touches on Yoruba and other points in the African diaspora, for a debut album. Striking voice, erudite, not sure why it doesn't quite grab me. B+(***) [cd] [04-13]
Club D'Elf: You Never Know (2022, Face Pelt): Boston group, since 1998, core group includes Mike Rivard (bass), Dean Johnston (drums), and Brahim Fribgane (oud/vocals), with others rotating in and out, most of their records live to capture whatever the combination of the moment is (this is an exception, but the cast is still varied). Half Rivard originals ("following a near death experience in the remote jungle of the Peruvian Amazon"), the rest covers of Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul, Frank Zappa, Nass el-Ghiwane, and traditional Gnawa. B+(**)
Avishai Cohen: Naked Truth (2021 , ECM): Israeli trumpet player, not the same-named bassist, brother of Anat Cohen, records since 2002. Backed by piano (Yonathan Avishai), bass (Barak Mori), and drums (Ziv Ravitz). B+(**)
Armen Donelian: Fresh Start (2020-21 , Sunnyside): Pianist, born in New York City, "reinvents himself at age 71," in a trio with Jay Anderson (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums). Sings one song. B+(**) [cd]
Jacob Garchik: Assembly (2021 , Yestereve): Trombonist, from San Francisco, albums since 2005, this a quintet with Sam Newsome (soprano sax) and Thomas Morgan (bass) joining his long-running trio with Jacob Sacks (piano) and Dan Weiss (drums). B+(***) [cd] [05-13]
Giacomo Gates: You (2022, Savant): Jazz singer, 8th album since 1995, 18 songs with "You" in the title ("Exactly Like You," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," "You're Blasé," "You've Changed," "You Never Miss Your Water 'Till the Well Runs Dry") backed by Tim Ray's piano trio. B+(***)
Aldous Harding: Warm Chris (2022, 4AD): Hannah Sian Topp, singer-songwriter originally from New Zealand, based in Wales, fourth album, produced by John Parish. B+(**)
Walker Hayes: Country Stuff: The Album (2022, Monument): Country singer-songwriter, from Alabama, got a music degree with "an emphasis on piano," moved to Nashville 2005, released his first EP in 2010, followed by an LP in 2011. Third album, recycled all six songs from 2021's EP. I rather liked the EP [B+(**)], with guest spots by Carly Pearce and Lori McKenna, so was surprised to find this is one of the most widely loathed albums of 2022 (not many critical reviews, but 28 user score on 93 ratings at AOTY, while 174 at RYM give it 1.51 of 5 stars). Country fans may object to the production, which eschews conventional Nashville styles (neotrad, countrypolitan, or arena rock): the rhythm and choruses remind me more of pop rap like Nelly, only, you know, dumbed down for white folk. Lyrics can get dumber still (except, you know, when McKenna wrote them). B
Benji Kaplan: Something Here Inside (2021 , Wise Cat): Nylon-string guitarist, Brazilian, fourth album, moves into American Songbook standards, done with rare delicacy. B+(*) [cd] [05-06]
Kyle: It's Not So Bad (2022, self): Last name Harvey, from California (Ventura), started as a soft-edged rapper but mostly sings here (softer than ever). B+(*)
Loop: Sonancy (2022, Cooking Vinyl): English new wave band formed in 1986 by Robert Hampson in Croydon, recorded three albums through 1990, broke up, reformed in 2013, released an EP, and finally this year their first album in 31 years. With its drone and grind, this reminds me of some other 1980s English band I'm having trouble placing -- not the Fall (which had a singer), nor New Order (which had a more compelling groove), or the Three Johns (which had songs); maybe Red Lorry Yellow Lorry? B+(***)
Yuko Mabuchi: Caribbean Canvas (2022, Vista): Pianist, from Japan, studied in Los Angeles, looks to be her sixth album, a venture into easy-going Latin jazz, although most of the pieces are originals. Ends with "Of Freedom," following Coltrane. B+(**) [cd]
Paul Messina: Blue Fire (2021, GVAP Music): Saxophonist, also plays flute and keyboards, grew up in Miami, Discogs shows a previous album from 2014, website lists seven more. Scott Yanow notes his "warm melodies, catchy rhythms, and excellent playing." Can't say that adds up to much. B- [cd]
Maren Morris: Humble Quest (2022, Columbia Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, three early albums on a label called Mozzi Bozzi (2005-11), then caught a break with a major and went platinum. I didn't care for her last two albums, but this one sounds sweet and rings solid all the way through. B+(***)
Josh Nelson/Bob Bowman Collective: Tomorrow Is Not Promised (2021 , Steel Bird Music): Leaders play piano and bass, backed by Larry Koonse (guitar) and Steve Houghton (drums), with guest spots (4 of 11 songs) for trumpet (Clay Jenkins) and sax (Bob Sheppard). B+(**) [cd]
The Nu Band: In Memory of Mark Whitecage: The Nu Band Live at the Bop Shop (2018 , Not Two): The alto saxophonist died last year at 83. He founded this quartet in 2001 with Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums), and Roy Campbell (trumpet). After Campbell's death in 2014, they brought in Thomas Heberer and carried on, but this looks to be their swan song. There's a nice symmetry to it, given that their debut album was live at this same Rochester, NY venue. B+(***)
Danily Peréz: Crisálida (2022, Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Panama, studied at Berklee, joined Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra. A dozen-plus albums since 1993, this one featuring The Global Messengers, with musicians and singers from around the world. Not the sort of project I can easily follow, but some fine piano. B
Dave Rempis/Elisabeth Harnik/Michael Zerang: Astragaloi (2020 , Aerophonic): Alto/tenor saxophonist, in a trio with piano and drums. Harnik is Austrian, has appeared several times with Rempis and Zerang (both from Chicago). A- [cd]
Huerco S.: Plonk (2022, Incienso): Electronica producer and DJ Brian Leeds, originally from Kansas, based in Germany, fourth album. Odd song out is "Plonk IX" thanks to a SIR E.U. vocal. B+(*)
Mark Turner: Return From the Stars (2019 , ECM): Tenor saxophonist, one of the "tough young tenors" who broke through in the 1990s. Quartet with Jason Palmer (trumpet), Joe Martin (bass), and Jonathan Pinson (drums). B+(***)
Years & Years: Night Call (2022, Polydor): British singer-songwriter Olly Alexander, seems to have a reputation as an actor, third album with his pop group, catchy enough. [Standard edition; at least two more longer ones exist.] B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
John Coltrane Quartet: Song of Praise: New York 1965 Revisited (1965 , Ezz-Thetics): Two live set, belatedly released as One Up, One Down: Live at the Half Note on 2-CD in 2005, reordered and trimmed a bit to fit onto one 79:52 CD. Coltrane plays four long pieces with great intensity, but the Quartet (most especially Tyner) sounds like it's on the verge of breaking. B+(***) [bc]
Sun Ra Arkestra: Nothing Is . . . Completed & Revisited (1966 , Ezz-Thetics): Revisits the 11-piece group's 1966 ESP-Disk album, reordered and expanded from 39:15 to 64:46. Peak period of their space race. B+(***) [bc]
Elton Dean Quintet: Welcomet: Live in Brazil, 1986 (1986 , Ogun): Alto saxophonist, also plays saxello, leads a quintet with trumpet (Harry Beckett), trombone (Paul Rutherford), bass (Marcio Mattos), and drums (Liam Genockey). Album appeared on Impetus in 1987 with just the 43:41 title track cut up. Reissue adds a second track, "Rio Rules" (33:53). Rutherford is most impressive. B+(***)
The Dedication Orchestra: Spirits Rejoice (1992, Ogun): Large orchestra organized to pay tribute to the Blue Notes shortly after pianist Chris McGregor's passing (1990), with only one original member (drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo) but practially everyone else who crossed paths with McGregor, which is to say a "who's who" of the British avant-garde: 21 musicians + 3 vocalists (Phil Minton, Maggie Nichols, Julie Tippetts). As advertised: "a mighty recording, in every way." Gets weird at the end. B+(***) [bc]
The Dedication Orchestra: Ixesha (Time) (1994, Ogun, 2CD): Credits list up to 27 names, haven't checked to see who's come and gone, but Steve Beresford signed on as arranger and musical director. I'm more impressed by the flow, at least until the singers take over and slow down "Lost Opportunities." Runs 90:06. Vocals return at the end. B+(***) [bc]
Radu Malfatti/Harry Miller: Bracknell Breakdown (1977 , Ogun): Trombone player from Austria, duo with South African bassist. Two pieces, 38:21, fairly austere pleasures. B+(*) [bc]
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Live at Willisau (1973 , Ogun): South African pianist's post-Blue Notes band, recorded from 1970 up to his death in 1990. The South African rhythm section (McGregor, Harry Miller, and Louis Moholo) backed three saxes (Dudu Pukwana, Evan Parker, Gary Window), three trumpets (Mongezi Feza, Harry Beckett, Marc Charig), and two trombones (Nick Evans, Radu Malfatti). They can get pretty far out, but South African roots run deep, and when they get the jive working (e.g., "Andromeda") it's quite some party. A- [bc]
Chris McGregor: In His Good Time (1977 , Ogun): Solo piano, recorded in Paris, CD greatly expands upon the 1979 album. The African themes sound especially good here. B+(**) [bc]
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Procession: Live at Toulouse (1978 , Ogun): Another hot set, not least because it hews closer to the South African melodies that all the horns (4 saxes, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone) brighten up. Maybe also with Johnny Dyani joining Harry Miller on bass. A- [bc]
Harry Miller: Children at Play (1974, Ogun): Bassist, from South Africa, came to England young and played in Manfred Mann (originally a group led by South African keyboardist Manfred Lubowitz, who assumed the group name as his own). Moved into free jazz circles, taking over bass in Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, and leading his own group, Harry Miller's Isipingo, with many of the same musicians. He founded Ogun Records with his wife, but died in a car crash in 1983. First album under his name, solo but multi-tracked, with percussion, flute, and effects dubbed in. B+(*) [bc]
Harry Miller: Different Times, Different Places (1973-76 , Ogun): Starts with a short set (23:33) from London with Mike Osborne (sax), Nick Evans (trombone), McGregor (piano), and Louis Moholo (drums), then adds a longer one from Chateauvillon (53:53) with Osborne and Moholo, plus Mark Charig (trumpet), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), and Keith Tippett (piano). A- [bc]
Harry Miller's Isipingo: Family Affair (1977, Ogun): Bassist-led sextet, only album they released at the time, although a couple more have appeared since. Familiar names: Mike Osborne (alto sax), Mark Charig (trumpet), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), Keith Tippett (piano), Louis Moholo (drums). B+(***) [bc]
Harry Miller: In Conference (1978, Ogun): Features two saxophonists -- Willem Breuker (soprano/tenor, bass clarinet) and Trevor Watts (alto/soprano) -- with Keith Tippett (piano), Julie Tippetts (voice), and Louis Moholo (drums). Terrific version of the South African "Orange Grove." I'm less delighted by the vocals, which enter on the third track. B+(**) [bc]
Harry Miller: Different Times, Different Places: Volume Two (1977-82 , Ogun): Seven tracks from three sessions. The opening delight takes off on Bernie Holland's guitar, with Alan Wakeman chasing on sax. Wakeman returns with Keith Tippett (piano) on three dicier 1978 tracks. The final three tracks feature Trevor Watts (alto sax), with extra brass. More than a few rough edges. B+(***)
Louis Moholo/Evan Parker/Pule Pheto/Gibo Pheto/Barry Guy Quintet: Bush Fire (1995 , Ogun): Three South Africans -- the Phetos play piano and bass -- with two giants of the English avant-garde on sax (tenor/soprano) and bass. B+(**) [bc]
Louis Moholo-Moholo Meets Mervyn Africa/Pule Pheto/Keith Tippett: Mpumi (1995 , Ogun): Piano-drums duos, one each with two fellow South Africans (13:47, 17:32), the last in three "chapters" totalling 45:28. Mpumi was Moholo's wife. [Nompumelelo Ebronah Moholo, 1947-2001; they met in South Africa in 1973; lived in England until they returned to South Africa in 2005. Moholo adopted the double name around 2002, when the death of a grandmother elevated his tribal status. Some earlier albums have picked up the later name.] B+ [bc]
Louis Moholo-Moholo/Stan Tracey: Khumbula (Remember) (2004 , Ogun): Drums and piano duo. Tracey (1926-2013) has a huge discography I've barely scratched the surface of, and probably slighted (aside from his justly celebrated 1965 Jazz Suite: Inspired by Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, a full A). He is quite remarkable here, and in good company. A- [bc]
Louis Moholo-Moholo Unit: An Open Letter to My Wife Mpumi (2008 , Ogun): Sextet, the usual mix of South Africans and English avant-gardists -- Jason Yarde and Mtshuka Bonga on saxophones, Pule Pheeto (piano), Orphy Robinson (vibes), and John Edwards (bass) -- plus vocals by Francine Luce. The drummer seems to thrive on chaos, of which there is a bit much. B+(*) [bc]
Louis Moholo-Moholo Unit: For the Blue Notes (2012 , Ogun): Last surviving member of the legendary South African jazz band, although saxophonists Jason Yarde and Ntshuka Bonga played with the band after arriving in England in 1964. Octet, including younger UK stars like Alexander Hawkins (piano) and John Edwards (bass), also Francine Luce (voice). B+(*) [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: