Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Monday, January 16, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 27639 [27586] rated (+53), 370 [367] unrated (+3).

Fifty-one records in the list below, so at most I picked up two extras I had graded but not recorded in the past, or maybe there's a record or two I added to the database but somehow forgot to list below. Either way, I clearly kept my ears to the grindstone all last week, as I was working on updating the Robert Christgau website and adding lists to this year's EOY Aggregate file. I should update the former more often than every six months, but it's done for now -- only missing last week's EW on Run the Jewels and T.I. No idea how many more EOY lists I'll add, but that project is done enough I could walk away from it at any time.

While I'm thinking of it, let me make a pitch for an Indiegogo project my nephew is working on: Help Us Save the Elizabeth M. Fink Attica Archive. Liz was a radical lawyer who joined the Attica Brothers defense team shortly after Nelson Rockefeller ordered the massacre of dozens of prisoners and guards, and saw the case to its conclusion thirty-some years later. In the process, she collected a huge amount of evidence on what actually happened. My nephew, Mike Hull, is a filmmaker and Liz entrusted him with the video evidence before her death last year. He's already digitized the video evidence, and now needs some funding to properly organize the archive for posterity. Would appreciate it if you can help him out.

By the way, we went to a screening of a new film that Mike and Jason Bailey produced. It was very funny, a pseudo-documentary about an exploitation filmmaker in the 1970s and 1980s, cutting between "newly discovered" film trailers and critics talking about how bad they were. I think the title is Lost & Found, but it's not the 2017 film by that name at IMDB, and I'm not seeing anything on it either at the Films on Consignment or Fifth Column Filmworks websites, so I'll have to get more info later.

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New records rated this week:

  • Bill Anschell: Rumbler (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Arca: Entrańas (2016, self-released, EP): [sc]: B+(*)
  • BJ Barham: Rockingham (2016, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Luke Bell: Luke Bell (2016, Bill Hill): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jakob Bro: Streams (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B
  • Brookzill!: Throwback to the Future (2016, Tommy Boy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Apollo Brown & Skyzoo: The Easy Truth (2016, Mello Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bibi Bourelly: Free the Real (Pt. 1) (2016, Circa 13/Def Jam, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bibi Bourelly: Free the Real (Pt. 2) (2016, Circa 13/Def Jam, EP): [r]: B
  • The Cactus Blossoms: You're Dreaming (2016, Red House): [r]: B+(*)
  • Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Bye Bye Blackbird (2016, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gustavo Cortińas Snapshot: Esse (2016 [2017], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Laura Dubin Trio: Live at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (2016 [2017], self-released, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Fall: Wise Ol' Man (2016, Cherry Red, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fumaça Preta: Impuros Fanáticos (2016, Soundway): [r]: B+(*)
  • Noah Haidu: Infinite Distances (2015-16 [2017], Cellar Live): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cynthia Hilts: Lyric Fury (2014 [2017], Blond Coyote): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lonnie Holley: Keeping a Record of It (2013, Dust-to-Digital): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cody Jinks: I'm Not the Devil (2016, Cody Jinks Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands: The Hazel & Alice Sessions (2016, Spruce and Maple): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mark Lewis: New York Sessions (2015 [2017], Audio Daddio): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mannequin Pussy: Romantic (2016, Tiny Engines, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kjetil Mřster/Hans Magnus Ryan/Stĺle Storlřkken/Thomas Strřnen: Reflections in Cosmo (2016 [2017], RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel: Rising Grace (2016, ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Ted Nash Big Band: Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom (2016, Motema, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Youssou N'Dour: #Senegaal Rekk (2016, self-released, EP): [yt]: A-
  • Tami Neilson: Don't Be Afraid (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nu Guinea: The Tony Allen Experiments [Afrobeat Makers Vol 3] (2016, Comet): [r]: A-
  • Randy Rogers Band: Nothing Shines Like Neon (2016, Tommy Jackson): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jimetta Rose: The Light Bearer (2016, Temporary Whatever): [r]: B-
  • L.A. Salami: Dancing With Bad Grammar (2016, PIAS America): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hillary Scott & the Scott Family: Love Remains (2016, Capitol Nashville): [r]: B-
  • Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home (2010-14 [2017], Eden River): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Aubrie Sellers: New City Blues (2016, Warner Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
  • Amanda Shires: My Piece of Land (2016, BMG): [r]: B+(***)
  • Shura: Nothing's Real (2016, Polydor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sia: This Is Acting (2016, Inertia/Monkey Puzzle/RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Wainwright Sisters: Songs in the Dark (PIAS): [r]: B+(**)
  • Warehouse: Super Low (2016, Bayonet): [r]: B+(**)
  • Watkins Family Hour: Watkins Family Hour (2015, Thirty Tigers): [r]: B
  • Eri Yamamoto Trio: Firefly (2012 [2013], AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(*)
  • Eri Yamamoto Trio: Life (2016, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(**)
  • Miguel Zenón: Típico (2016 [2017], Miel Music): [cd]: A-
  • Zomba Prison Project: I Will Not Stop Singing (2016, Six Degrees): [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Mose Allison: American Legend: Live in California (2006 [2015], Ibis): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta (1970s [2016], Numero Group, 3CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Boogie Breakdown: South African Synth-Disco 1980-1984 (1980-84 [2016], Cultures of Soul): [r]: B-
  • Joe Bushkin: Live at the Embers 1952 (1952 [2016], Dot Time): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Rogers: Voyage Home (2001 [2017], Art of Life): [cd]: B
  • Sheer Mag: Compilation (2014-16 [2017], Wilsuns RC): [bc]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Joe Bourne: Upbeat and Sweet (Summit)
  • The CCM Jazz Orchestra as James Bond: Nobody Does It Better (Summit)
  • Stephan Crump/Ingrid Laubrock/Cory Smythe: Planktonic Finales (Intakt)
  • Tim Daisy: Red Nation "1" (Relay)
  • Jon De Lucia Group: As the River Sings (Fresh Sound New Talent): cdr
  • The Brian Dickinson Quintet: The Rhythm Method (Addo): January 28
  • Nick Finzer: Hear & Now (Outside In Music): February 17
  • Jihye Lee Orchestra: April (self-released): February 24
  • Arthur Lipner: Two Hands One Heart: Best of Arthur Lipner (Malletworks Media, 2CD)
  • Aki Takase/David Murray: Cherry Shakura (Intakt)
  • Baron Tymas: Montréal (Tymasmusic): January 23
  • Miguel Zenón: Típico (Miel Music): February 10

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Odd that this week intellectuals promoting Trump had more interesting things to say than intellectuals still defending Hillary Clinton. Not necessary truer things, but less hackneyed and disturbing, even if the overall trend is a race toward complete stupor.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Michelle Goldberg: Democrats Should Follow John Lewis' Lead: I have considerable respect for Lewis, a long-time civil rights leader before he became (thanks to gerrymandering) Georgia's token black Democrat in the House, and it doesn't bother me in the least that he's decided not to attend Trump's inaugural. I don't see why his presence is in any way necessary, and I sure can't think of anything more stupefying a person can do on that day than attend. But according to Goldberg, this all turns on the Clinton Democrats' favorite scapegoat, Vladimir Putin:

    Lewis was speaking for many of us who are aghast at the way Trump benefited from Russian hacking and now appears to be returning the favor by taking a fawning stance toward Putin. He spoke for those of us who are shocked by the role of the FBI, which improperly publicized the reopening of its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails but refuses to say whether it is investigating Trump's ties with Russia. Trump lost the popular vote; he is president-elect only because the country values fidelity to the democratic process over popular democracy itself. (The Constitution, it turns out, may in fact be a suicide pact.) If the process itself was crooked -- if Trump's campaign colluded in any way with Russia -- his legitimacy disappears. If he scorns the Constitution by, say, violating the Emoluments Clause, it disappears as well. A president who lost the popular vote, who may have cheated to win the Electoral College, and who will be contravening the Constitution the second he's sworn in is due neither respect nor deference.

    I suppose there's a focus group somewhere that says anti-Putin rants are politically effective, but really, this has got to stop. The fact is Hillary Clinton lost for dozens of reasons, and the fact that WikiLeaks (with or without Russian help) exposed John Podesta and Donna Brazile as political hacks didn't help but is surely way down the list. They must realize as much because they never mention the substance of Russian interference: they focus on Putin as an evil manipulator who will wind up dominating a submissive US president because Trump owes his election not to the millions of Americans who voted for him but to a foreign ogre who orchestrated some dirty tricks -- a ruse they can only get away with by replaying cold war stereotypes (e.g., Putin is a dictator, although he's been elected several times by large margins in reasonably fair and competitive elections, and his background in the KGB proves he's always been anti-US); and secondly, they posit Trump as a dissenter from the consensus views of the American "intelligence community" -- the secret clan of spooks who have one of the world's worst track records for truth and accuracy.

    Worse still, I think, are the practical consequences: they are demanding that the US ramp up its hostility toward Russia, including sanctions that were previously in place for other supposed affronts, threatening a war that unlike America's recent attacks on marginal or failed states could be genuinely disastrous. And why should we risk world peace? To revenge Podesta's tarnished reputation? Because Clinton Democrats can bear to take responsibility for blowing the election to Donald Trump? There's plenty of blame to go around for the latter, and it's well nigh time for Clinton and her career to admit that they should have done a better job campaigning. And when they do so, they should realize that obsessing over the Trump-Putin connection was one of the things they did wrong. The first fact is that people don't care. The second is that it's not healthy for Democrats to be seen as the war party (and bear in mind that Hillary, given her past hawkishness, is already so tainted).

    Still, if you have to blame someone else, there are real ogres much closer to home. Look first at the Republican laws aimed at suppressing the vote, and gerrymandering congress. Look especially at the billion dollars or so that the Koch network and other GOP mega-financiers spent on getting their vote out. I think it's quite clear that there was a sustained, methodical effort to undermine democracy in 2016, but it wasn't the Russians who were behind it. It was the Republicans. Maybe if you hack some emails -- seems like fair play at this point -- you might even find a smoking gun showing that the Russians were working for the Republicans (a much more credible story than vice versa; it would, in fact, be reminiscent of finding out that Nixon interfered with the talks to end the Vietnam War, or that Reagan kiboshed Carter's efforts to negotiate the release of hostages in Tehran).

    And by all means, note that Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton by nearly three million votes, yet through a 227-year-old quirk in the constitution is being allowed to install the most extreme right-wing oligarchy ever. Then, if you like, you can point out that Putin enjoys a similar relationship to Russia's oligarchy -- I never said he was beyond reproach, let alone a saint, but has to be respected as leader of a major nation, and (unlike Trump) a democratically-elected one at that.

    As for John Lewis, bless him: after spending his life working hard to make this country a better place for all who live here, he's earned the right to take a day off, especially when the alternative is having to witness such tragedy.

    Relevant here: Patrick Lawrence: Trump, Russia, and the Return of Scapegoating, a Timeless American Tradition.

  • Tony Karon: The US media is not equipped to handle a Trump White House: There's an old adage that generals always prepare to refight the last war, and as such are always surprised when a new war happens. Something similar has been happening in media coverage of politics, but in many ways the media landscape has changed over the last 4-8-16 years, yet veterans of past campaigns (and clearly HRC fits this mold) still seem to believe that what worked in the past must still work today. Not clear whether Trump was smart or lucky -- I'd say he was selected from the large Republican field because he fit the evolving right-wing media model remarkably well, and he merely lucked out over Clinton due to a wide range of factors, including an electoral structure which allowed him to squeak out a win despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Still, his election was especially astonishing to those of us who thought, based on long experience, we understood how the system works. In the end, his biggest assets were a vast electorate willing to believe anything and the opportunistic and unscrupulous media that indulged them with all manner of fantastic innuendo.

    Mr Trump emerged as a public figure by mastering this fractured landscape, where distinctions between news and entertainment were increasingly blurred and where the business model's reliance on "click-bait" favours provocation. He connects instinctively with a public likely to judge the veracity of information not on its own merits, but according to existing attitudes towards the news outlets publishing it. Thus the logic behind his off-the-cuff remark last summer that "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."

    But while painting him as a pawn of Moscow is certainly unlikely to weaken Mr Trump's political base, his empty promises on health care and job creation are a real weakness, because failure to deliver will increase the pain of many people who voted for him.

    It's critically important, therefore, for the media to focus on what Mr Trump's government and their allies on Capitol Hill are actually doing -- not simply what they say about what they're doing.

    The problem is that sort of journalism hardly exists anymore, anywhere, and certainly not on the 24-hour news torrents. And while the election seemed to set new qualitative lows practically every week, post-election coverage has been even lamer: even for "reporters" who never delve any deeper than sifting quotes for gotchas, the only Washington source sure to get reported on is Trump's latest tweetstorm -- and that's more for entertainment than insight. You'd think that as America goes to hell the vested interests that own big media would realize that they actually need to better know and understand what's happening, but recent experience suggests that groupthink (the Bushies used to call it "message discipline") breaks hard.

  • Paul Krugman: There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement: Read past the snark about Comey and Putin, and look at the policy analysis.

    From the beginning, those of us who did think it through realized that anything like universal coverage could only be achieved in one of two ways: single payer, which was not going to be politically possible, or a three-legged stool of regulation, mandates, and subsidies. [ . . . ]

    It's actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye to this logic, and some -- maybe even a majority -- are still in denial. But this is as ironclad a policy argument as I've ever seen; and it means that you can't tamper with the basic structure without throwing tens of millions of people out of coverage. You can't even scale back the spending very much -- Obamacare is somewhat underfunded as is.

    Will they decide to go ahead anyway, and risk opening the eyes of working-class voters to the way they've been scammed? I have no idea. But if Republicans do end up paying a big political price for their willful policy ignorance, it couldn't happen to more deserving people.

    I have little faith that sanity will save the Republicans at this late date, but to destroy Obamacare they're going to run afoul of some powerful special interests, and while they may try to assuage them by permitting them to operate even more fraudulently than before the ACA was passed, the result will be millions of people screwed, and most likely the health care industry itself will lurch into contraction.

    Also see: David Dayen: Trump Just Stumbled Into a Canyon on Obamacare.

  • Kelefa Sanneh: Intellectuals for Trump: I must admit that I never liked the idea of intellectuals -- I always thought that learning and reasoning were things that everyone did, so dividing people between a self-defining intellectual elite and the ignorant masses never set well with my democratic instincts (not to mention that those same self-identified intellectuals tended to exclude me, not because I didn't know or think but because I often knew and thought the wrong things -- elites, as ever, being jealous guardians of their ranks). But I was also quick to realize that thinking doesn't always work out right: indeed, that clever people could contort their command of history, logic, and rhetoric to justify almost anything, most often whatever their interests and upbringing (which is to say, class identity) favored. So perhaps we're best off characterizing intellectualism as a style with no intrinsic merit. Throughout history, political leaders have had little trouble gaining the rationalizing support of intellectuals, just as intellectuals have struggled to raise their baser instincts to fine principles.

    Donald Trump makes for a fine case in point. He has so little cred and rapport with liberal intellectuals that some scurried off to re-read Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life for a refresher course on how willfully stupid the people can be. Even conservatives with intellectual pretensions were almost unanimous in their dismay over Trump: his early vocal supporters were almost exclusively limited to professional bigots like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage. Still, what finally made Trump palatable to Republican elites was the only thing they really cared about: winning. So, as Sanneh chronicles, of late right-wing intellectuals have started flocking to Trump. Two varieties have emerged. One, including Heritage Foundation chief honcho Jim DeMint and his crew, are ordinary conservatives continuing to spout their usual nostrums while claiming validation by Trump's victory. The others, including an anonymous group which evidently started "The Journal of American Greatness" as "'an inside joke,' which in the course of a few months, attracted a large following, and 'ceased to be a joke.'" The website was subsequently deleted, but blogger Publius Decius Mus, the main subject of Sanneh's piece, is still attempting to develop a coherent intellectual Trumpism:

    Decius is a longtime conservative, though a heterodox one. He had grown frustrated with the Republican Party's devotion to laissez-faire economics (or, in his description, "the free market über alles"), which left Republican politicians ill-prepared to address rising inequality. "The conservative talking point on income inequality has always been, It's the aggregate that matters -- don't worry, as long as everyone can afford food, clothing, and shelter," he says. "I think that rising income inequality actually has a negative effect on social cohesion." He rejects what he calls "punitive taxation" -- like many conservatives, he suspects that Democrats' complaints about inequality are calculated to mask the Party's true identity as the political home of the cosmopolitan élite. But he suggests that a government might justifiably hamper international trade, or subsidize an ailing industry, in order to sustain particular communities and particular jobs. A farm subsidy, a tariff, a targeted tax incentive, a restrictive approach to immigration: these may be defensible, he thought, not on narrowly economic grounds but as expressions of a country's determination to preserve its own ways of life, and as evidence of the fundamental principle that the citizenry has the right to ignore economic experts, especially when their track records are dubious. (In this respect, Trumpism resembles the ideologically heterogeneous populist-nationalist movements that have lately been ascendant in Europe.) Most important, he thinks that conservatives should pay more attention to the shifting needs of the citizens whom government ought to serve, instead of assuming that Reagan's solutions will always and everywhere be applicable. "In 1980, after a decade of stagnation, we needed an infusion of individualism," he wrote. "In 2016, we are too fragmented and atomized -- united for the most part only by being equally under the thumb of the administrative state -- and desperately need more unity."

    Decius takes perverse pride in having been late to come around to Trump; as a populist, he likes the fact that everyday American voters recognized Trump's potential before he did. When Decius started paying serious attention, around January, he discerned the outlines of a simple and, in his view, eminently sensible political program: "less foreign intervention, less trade, and more immigration restrictions." [ . . . ] In his "Flight 93" essay, Decius called Trump "the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey," and he didn't mean it as an insult. Trump argues that the government should do more to insure that workers have good jobs, speaks very little about religious imperatives, and excoriates the war in Iraq and wars of occupation in general. Decius says that he isn't concerned about Trump's seeming fondness for Russia; in his view, thoughtless provocations would be much more dangerous. In his telling, Trump is a political centrist who is misconstrued as an extremist.

    Emphasis added, the rare insight a conservative's focus on social order is likely to latch onto that liberals, whether individualistic or utilitarian, tend to miss. Of course, what pushes conservatives in that direction is the belief that cohesion involves acceptance of the traditional pecking order.

    The "Flight 93" post, by the way, comes off as a sick joke: he's arguing that folks should vote for Trump for the same reason that Flight 93 passengers committed suicide by rushing their hijackers rather than wait for the hijackers to kill them (and presumably others). No rational person can claim that Obama or Hillary would affect much change, much less destroy the country, and no Republican (much less a Trump partisan) can plausibly claim to care about the effects of America's self-destruction on the rest of the world. The post tacitly admits that electing Trump would be suicidal, yet like suicide bombers all around the world (indeed, like their old "better dead than red" slogan) were so convinced of their righteousness they no longer cared about the consequences.

    The rest of Decius' argument is more interesting, but still deeply confused. He's not the first Republican to recognize that inequality is a serious problem, not just because it hurts the people who get pushed aside and makes the so-called winners look callous and unjust, but because it threatens to undermine the entire fabric of society. Kevin Phillips, who back around 1970 plotted out The Emerging Republican Majority, wrote three remarkable books in 2004-08 -- American Dynasty, American Theocracy, and Bad Money -- which recognized the problem squarely. And there have been others, but the only policies that would mitigate inequality are ones that move the nation to the left, and the mindset of the conservative movement is constructed like a valve which only permits policy to flow ever further to the right.

    I think the key to Trump's primary victory was in how he reinforced the party base's prejudices, thus showing he was one with them, without embracing the slashed earth destruction of the liberal state which has become unchallenged gospel among conservatives -- therefore the base didn't find him either alarming (like Ted Cruz) or callow (like Marco Rubio). On the other hand, to win the election Trump had to keep the support of dogmatic conservatives and moneyed elites, which he paid for by basically delivering the administration to their hands (cf. Pence and the cabinet of billionaires and their hired guns). The dream that Trump might blaze a new path that breaks from conservative orthodoxy while avoiding the taint of liberal-baiting, even assuming he had the imagination and desire to do so, has thus been foreclosed. The only question is the extent to which he can act as a brake on the damage his administration might cause, not least to him. And he really doesn't strike me as sharp enough to keep himself out of trouble, much less to help anyone else out.

    Yet "intellectuals" will keep constructing fantasies about what a truly Trumpist Trump might do, and in the end will wind up blaming his failures on him not being Trumpist enough. After all, nothing defines an intellectual like one's commitment to pursue unfounded assumptions to ridiculous ends.

  • Justin Talbot-Zorn: Will Donald Trump Be the Most Pro-Monopoly President in History? Given the competition, it's going to be hard to tell. I can't recall any big cases either for Bush or Obama. The Clinton DOJ mounted (and won) a case against Microsoft, which Ashcroft settled as soon as he took over, achieving virtually nothing. But it's becoming more widely recognized that mergers and lack of competition not only drive profits up, increasing inequality, but also kill jobs.

    While Republicans have been skeptical of antitrust enforcement since Robert Bork came on the scene in the late 1970s, Democrats have been part of the problem too. Bill Clinton took antitrust out of the party platform in 1992, and, only in 2016 -- with a push from Bernie Sanders -- was the plank restored.

    This also ties into Brian S Feldman: How to Really Save Jobs in the Heartland.


Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:

Monday, January 9, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 27586 [27548] rated (+38), 367 [366] unrated (+1).

Ran through a lot of records last week, including finally dipping into the 2017 release queue, starting with a Randy Weston joint that garnered a couple votes in the 2016 Jazz Critics Poll, then following up with Intakt's January releases and Satoko Fujii's best Orchestra album ever. Along with Run the Jewels (a December 24 digital release but I'm figuring the January 13 CD release to be more official) I already have four A-list albums for 2017. But most of the albums listed below are 2016 releases recommended by various EOY lists, whatever I could find that tickled my fancy. Good hip-hop week. Of the HMs, the one that tempted me most was by the Klezmatics.

I should note that Nat Hentoff died last week, at 91. I met him once back in the 1970s, and at the time thought of him mostly as a political columnist rather obsessed with defending free speech. Since then I've gotten an inkling of his deep commitment to jazz. It says something that the two jazz musicians I most closely link to him are Ruby Braff and Cecil Taylor -- he was a huge critical fan of both. Here's an obit from Evan Haga. Probably much more out there.

I'm more or less caught up with the EOY Aggregate file, but will probably keep adding stragglers and late finds of personal interest. One surprise at this point is that margins for two pair of high slots are currently down to one vote: Beyonce 389-388 in 2nd over Frank Ocean, and A Tribe Called Quest 298-297 in 6th over Nick Cave. Highest tie at present is 89-89 between Avalanches and Iggy Pop for 28th place.

Link to share: Can't Slow Down: Michaelangelo Matos' "notes toward a history of the pop world of 1984."


New records rated this week:

  • 21 Savage/Metro Boomin: Savage Mode (2016, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Amanar: Tumastin (2015 [2016], Sahel Sounds): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jim Black/Óskar Gudjónsson/Elias Stemeseder/Chris Tordini: Mala Mute (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mykki Blanco: Mykki (2016, !K7): [r]: B+(*)
  • Peter Brötzmann & ICI Ensemble: Beautiful Lies (2014 [2016], Neos Jazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • Judy Carmichael and Harry Allen: Can You Love Once More (2016, GAC): [r]: A-
  • Childish Gambino: Awaken, My Love! (2016, Glassnote): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dr. Mint: Voices in the Void (2016 [2017], Orenda): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Echoes of Swing: Dancing (2015 [2016], ACT): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ellery Eskelin/Christian Weber/Michael Griener: Sensations of Tone (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Peace (2014 [2017], Libra): [cd]: A-
  • Gallant: Ology (2016, Mind of a Genius/Warner Bros.): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vince Gill: Down to My Last Bad Habit (2016, MCA Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nancy Harms: Ellington at Night (2016, Gazelle): [r]: B+(**)
  • Steve Hauschildt: Strands (2016, Kranky): [r]: B+(**)
  • Terrie Hessels & Ken Vandermark: Splinters (2014-15 [2016], Audiograph): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Ethan Iverson: The Purity of the Turf (2016, Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Klezmatics: Apikorsim/Heretics (2016, World Village): [r]: B+(***)
  • Rolf Kühn: Spotlights (2016, Edel/MPS): [r]: B+(**)
  • Little Simz: Stillness in Wonderland (2016, Age 101): [r]: B
  • Lasse Marhaug & Ken Vandermark: Close Up (For Abbas Kiarostami) (2016, Audiographic): [bc]: B
  • Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Black Stabat Mater (2016, Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hedvig Mollestad Trio: EVIL in Oslo (2015 [2016], Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Simon Nabatov/Mark Dresser/Dominik Mahnig: Equal Poise (2014 [2016], Leo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Prince Rama: X-Treme Now (2016, Carpark): [r]: B-
  • Isaiah Rashad: The Sun's Tirade (2016, Top Dawg Entertainment): [r]: B+(**)
  • Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3 (2016 [2017], Run the Jewels): [r]: B+(***)
  • Matthew Shipp/Michael Bisio: Live in Seattle (2015 [2016], Arena Music Promption): [r]: B+(**)
  • T.I.: Us or Else (2016, Grand Hustle/Roc Nation, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • T.I.: Us or Else: Letter to the System (2016, Grand Hustle/Roc Nation): [r]: A-
  • David Wise: Till They Lay Me Down (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • C. Spencer Yeh & Ken Vandermark: Schlager (2015 [2016], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Dhafer Youssef: Diwan of Beauty and Odd (2016, Okeh): [r]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Brother Ahh/Sounds of Awareness: Move Ever Onward (1975 [2016], Manufactured): [r]: B-
  • Brother Ah and the Sounds of Awareness: Key to Nowhere (1983 [2016], Manufactured): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris McGregor & the Castle Lager Big Band: Jazz/The African Sound (1963 [2016], Jazzman): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cecil Taylor: Live in the Black Forest (1978 [2016], MPS): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Simon Nabatov/Mark Helias/Tom Rainey: Tough Customer (1992 [1993], Enja): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bill Anschell: Rumbler (Origin): January 20
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: Freedom Is Space for the Spirit (FMR)
  • Gustavo Cortińas: Snapshot (OA2): January 20
  • Howard Johnson and Gravity: Testimony (Tuscarora)
  • Adam Pieronczyk: Monte Albán (Regent)
  • Dave Soldier: The Eighth Hour of Amduat (Mulatta): January 6

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Weekend Roundup

After a couple weeks I had enough open tabs to think I should hack out another links-plus-comments column. Nothing systematic here, just a few things that caught my fancy.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Jamelle Bouie: The Most Extreme Party Coalition Since the Civil War: The first book I read on alternative politics back in the 1960s was called The New Radicals, a survey of various thinkers and activists on the New Left. In it, radicals were people who looked for root causes and core principles, as opposed to those who casually wandered from one compromise to another. While it's certainly true that radicals can be wrong, and that they can become obsessed by their insights and oblivious to consequences, the problem there is picking bad principles, not radical ones. In fact, the only other time when "radical" was commonly used to describe politics was after the Civil War, when the GOP was dominated by so-called radicals like Thaddeus Stevens who advocated a deep-seated reconstruction of the former Slave South. Bouie is right that today's GOP is chock full of folks who hold very dangerous views, but those people are not radicals -- they're just wrong. Indeed, in terms of their eagerness to impose their ideology on a world that has moved way past it, they share much more than attitude with pro-slavery activists like John Calhoun than with Republicans like Stevens. But as Corey Robin has pointed out, the proper term for Calhoun and his ilk isn't radical -- it's conservative. The first thing Bouie must do to get smarter is to disabuse himself of the notion that conservatism is a respectable political philosophy. Leftists learned this lesson long ago, which is why they readily identify people who are willing to wreck the world to save the rich -- people like Trump, Pence, and Ryan -- as fascists. That may seem reflexive and excessive, but it serves us well.

  • Gorbachev: US Was Short-Sighted After Soviet Collapse: So true, but America's effective policy toward the former Soviet Union was to rub their faces in the dirt. We helped turn their collectivist economy into a Mafia-run kleptocracy. The result was near-total economic collapse -- so severe that even life expectancy dipped by as much as a decade. And to add insult to injury, the US started picking off former satellite nations and SSRs that formerly propped up the Russian economy and turned them westward, hugely expanding both NATO and the EU. This produced a huge backlash in Russia, and its face is Vladimir Putin, a guy we fear and loathe as a nationalist strongman, but who Russians flock to precisely because he doesn't look like as an American flunky. Sure, it's not clear why the US didn't handle the situation more adroitly, but from the start American Cold Warriors did everything they could to prevent any form of free/open/humane socialism from securing a foothold anywhere. Americans always preferred to work through corrupt strongmen, and even if Yeltsin didn't qualify as strong, he more than made it up as corrupt. Those who complain so much about Putin today should bear this history in mind, but the lesson they draw is inevitably wrong, because we are incapable of considering what would be good for the welfare of people in other nations -- Republicans, especially, don't even care about people living here. And the only thing the foreign policy mandarins consider is whether foreign leaders follow or challenge America's power dictates.

  • Bradley Klapper/Josef Federman/Edith M Lederer: US Rebukes and Allows UN Condemnation of Settlements: Widely interpreted as a "parting shot" rebuke of Netanyahu by the Obama administration, the fact is that it's been US policy since 1967 that Israel must retreat to its pre-1967 armistice borders as part of a "land-for-peace" deal, a scheme which later came to be described as "the two-state solution." That was, after all, the basis for George Mitchell's mission to restart final status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and before that was the official expectation for Bush's Roadmap, for the Clinton-era Oslo Accords, and for Carter's peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Mitchell himself spent most of his mission time trying to convince Israel to halt settlement construction, and his complete failure to limit Israel destroyed any hope for an American-brokered peace. In past years, the intransigence of an Israeli PM like Yitzhak Shamir would have led to a breach with the US, rectified by Israel electing a more flexible leader (Yitzhak Rabin). Even GW Bush was able to put pressure on Israel, at the time led by Ariel Sharon (not a pushover), to dismantle settlements as part of his poisoned Gaza withdrawal. But Obama never did anything like that, and over eight years Netanyahu discovered he could walk all over Obama, ensuring that the US would never challenge Israel in an international forum. Given that the UNSCR resolution does nothing more than reiterate four decades of US policy, the real question isn't why Obama didn't veto it. It's why Obama didn't direct his ambassador to vote for it, indeed why he didn't sponsor the resolution eight years ago, when it might have been more effective -- when at least it would have served notice that the US is serious about peace and justice in the Middle East. Rather, Obama wasted eight years digging ever deeper holes in the region, obliterating any doubts that the US could ever be a force for peace, security, and equitable prosperity.

    Of course, Netanyahu and his American political lackeys and allies have gone ballistic over Obama's affront to Israeli power, but that is less to punish him than to threaten Trump, who despite his vaguer "America first" rhetoric has promised to be the most servile American president ever. The vote stands, and hopefully will help Palestinians seek justice in the international courts system, but the intensity of the political rebuke that Obama's belated gesture has raised, along with the imminent inauguration of Trump, only goes to show how far the United States has strayed from the ideals of international law and order, and cooperation, that were once our best hope for world peace and prosperity. Trump has, for instance, vowed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, in flagrant disregard for international law -- although that's pretty minor compared to the practices Jeremy Scahill documents in Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield -- his big book on how Bush and Obama ran roughshod over international law to prosecute their misguided "war on terror." The significance of the 14-0 UNSCR vote isn't just that it shows how isolated and delegitimized Israel has become in the eyes of the world. It also shows how marginal the US has become after decades pursuing policies Israel has pioneered. One clear conclusion must be that any notion the US might once have had of being an "honest broker" for peace have vanished. If Europe, Russia, China, etc., really want to do something to bring peace and justice to Israel-Palestine, they're going to start with the recognition that the US is a big part of the problem and no or little part of the solution. Obama, Trump, and Netanyahu, each in his own way, have helped clarify that point.

    Also see: Richard Silverstein: Kerry's Speech: America Lost in Two-State Ether, Israel Spied on Nations Supporting UN Vote.

  • Dennis Laumann: The first genocide of the 20th century happened in Namibia: The party responsible was Germany, the time 1904-07, the territory South-West Africa, the target the Herero, a tribe of herders who got on the colonial power's wrong side mostly by just being in the way. Laumann describes the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians in 1915 as "indisputable" but it was nowhere near as clear cut as Lt. Gen. Lothar von Trotha's Vernichtungsbefehl, which specified: "Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, shall be shot." Oddly enough, I first learned about this event from a novel, Thomas Pynchon's V., where it appears as a key link in a chain of increasingly mechanized slaughter. Also worth seeking out is Sven Lindqvist's book "Exterminate All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide, which puts the Herero genocide into the broader context of European colonial brutality, making it more the culmination of the 19th century than a harbinger of the 20th.

  • Reihan Salam: Will Donald Trump Be FDR or Jimmy Carter? Sub-hed: "We're on the cusp of either a transformative presidency or a party-killing failure" -- oddly conflating Ronald Reagan with the former and Herbert Hoover with the latter. I've never doubted that it's important to know of and learn from history, but this sort of muddying makes me wonder. The pairings suggest that Salam is uncertain whether Trump will be seen as a winner (like Roosevelt-Reagan) or a loser (Hoover-Carter), so that's one level of ignorance he brings to the table. Another is that while Roosevelt is properly viewed as "transformational" that status is rooted in his unique time period (the depression, which forced the state to become a major economic factor, and the war, which transformed the state into empire). On the other hand, there was nothing distinctive about the Carter-Reagan years, and the myth of Reagan's success was largely based on ignoring reality and engaging in fantasy -- the bankruptcy of which would have long been obvious had not Democrats like Clinton, Gore, and Obama not built their own careers on indulging that same fantasy. At most, this article might have exposed the hollowness of this PoliSci paradigm, but Salam rarely offers more than lines like "Trump will put a candy-covered nationalist shell over Reaganism's chocolate-covered peanut." Peanut? Wasn't Carter the peanut guy? Wasn't Reagan more into jelly beans?

    Actually, Salam does try to make a case that some sort of Trumpian nationalism might be politically successful enough to move Trump into the winners column, but this would involve building on ideas from the center-left, including embracing and defending the safety net. Whether even such a hypothetical program might work isn't analyzed, but the more obvious problems are touched on: that Republican regulars would sabotage any gestures he might make toward the center, and that Trump himself isn't really serious about the platform he ran on (as evidenced, for instance, by his cabinet). Of course, someone who knows a little history might help out here. One might argue that Hoover, for instance, would actually have preferred to move toward what became the New Deal but that he was checked at every step by the dead-enders within his own administration (e.g., Andrew Mellon). One might equally argue that Carter wanted to move toward what eventually became Reaganism -- he did in fact start the recession that broke the back of the American labor movement, and his anti-regulation schemes and anti-communist militancy paved the way for Reagan, but he too faced a debilitating revolt from his own party. Whatever people thought when they voted for Trump, what they wound up with was a politician deep in hock to his party and the insatiable greed of their donors, and that's more or less the only thing he'll ever be able to deliver. If you think that's going to be some kind of booming, transformational success, well, you're fucking nuts.

  • Steven Waldman: The Strangest Winner on Election Night Was Not Trump: He means the Republican Congress, enjoying an approval rating of just 15%, yet they only lost two Senate and six House seats, retaining a thin but anomalous and ominous majority.

    And yet the Republican Party has more power now than it has in decades, and is acting as if the party received a tidal-wave mandate.

    How did this happen? While Trump occasionally clashed with Republican leaders during the campaign -- leading to the impression that he was at war with the GOP establishment -- it was always over lack of fealty more than policy. The main exception was trade but so as long as the Republican's are "saying nice things" to Trump, he was perfectly happy to embrace almost all of their policies. The rift with the GOP establishment was always less than advertised.

    Second, as has been often noted, Trump's lack of knowledge and curiosity about policy has meant he is totally reliant on the people who have the plans -- who are congressional republicans, K street lobbyists and industry groups. There is no shadow world of public policy centers crafting a Trumpian alternative to Republican orthodoxy. With the exception of trade and immigration, Trump's views are standard issue Republican policies, albeit sprinkled with extra bile.

    Finally, because so much of the GOP power is safeguarded by gerrymandering, congressional Republicans can act like they have a mandate without much fear that swing voters will punish them.

    All in all, it adds up to an odd situation: the Republican party is less popular than its been in ages -- and has more power.

    One part of why this happened was that the GOP donor network focused on down-ballot races, which had the effect of lifting Trump up without having to bear all his dead weight. Indeed, all they needed to close the deal was to convince their voters that Hillary was a tad worse, or that they had nothing to lose by giving Trump a chance. Indeed, they seemed to understand that in the end Trump would turn into the party toady he's since become. The other part is that the Democrats focused on supporting Hillary over, and free from, their party -- all those appeals to "moderate suburban Republican housewives" and neocons and other chimerical groups. The biggest gripe I've had against Obama and the Clintons is how they've neglected building a party to compete with the Republicans, instead usurping the party apparatus for their own cult of personality (and appeals to elite donors).


Also, a few links very briefly noted:


Laura Tillem forwarded one of those Facebook image/memes that I can't share anywhere else due to devious Facebook programming, but it's all text so I'll just retype it (originally from The Other 98%):

TOP 10 REASONS FOR SINGLE PAYER

  1. Everybody in, nobody out
  2. Portability: Change jobs, get divorced, lose your job, etc. - won't lose coverage
  3. Uniform benefits for everyone
  4. Enhance Prevention
  5. Choose your physician
  6. Ends insurance industry interference with care
  7. Reduces administrative waste
  8. Saves money
  9. Common Sense Budgeting - set fair reimbursements and apply them equally
  10. Public oversight, public ownership

This could be spelled out a little better, but is all basically true, and for sound reasons. However, single-payer only gets at part of the problem -- basically the easy one, as insurance companies are mostly parasitical, hence it's easy to imagine a scenario where everything is better once they're gone. The bigger piece of the problem is for-profit health care providers, and dealing with their conflicts of interest and inefficiencies is more complex.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


Home Cooking

While rumaging through my old on-line notebooks, I noticed that in the early days (2001, a bit before 9/11) I felt few inhibitions about writing whatever happened to me or happened to catch my fancy. This included bits of music and politics, which later came to dominate the blog, but also books, movies, lectures I attended, dinners I cooked, and trips I took. After 9/11, and especially as the Iraq War approached in 2003, I started to take politics more seriously, and after I started Recyled Goods in 2003 and Jazz Consumer Guide in 2004 I found myself putting even more time and effort into writing about music. To some extent they soon crowded everything else out, but I also started having qualms about exposing myself too much on-line, and thought it would look more professional to focus. It had become a cliché that most blogs were nothing more than exercises in personal vanity, and I certainly didn't want to be viewed that way. I even came up with a plan to split the politics and music into two distinct websites, dusting off the old titles I had used for actual paper publications back in the 1970s: Notes on Everyday Life and Terminal Zone. I even had a fanciful hope that I might entice some of my old comrades into joining in, but alas that never came to pass.

Since the election I've been in a deep funk: not that I was in any way looking forward to Hillary Clinton picking her own cabinet of war criminals and Goldman-Sachs executives, but I really don't have anything deeper to say about the Republican stranglehold on government that "I told you so" -- in fact, if you want to read more on what's happening today go back to the notebook link above and scan through the literally millions of words on the subject I've written since 2001. I really did tell you so, repeatedly, rarely mincing words, yet obviously millions of Americans didn't get the message and couldn't figure it out on their own (as millions who also didn't read me nonetheless managed to do). So I can't point to much tangible satisfaction for all that work.

So over the last few weeks, as it's gotten nasty cold even here in the land of the "south wind," about the only satisfaction I've gotten has been in cooking the occasional nice dinner for friends. So I thought I'd break the usual Monday (music)/Sunday (news) rut and write about cooking, or at least jot down some notes on three recent dinners. None came out without a hitch, but most of the food was memorable, and those in attendance seemed to appreciate it.


I originally scheduled the first dinner for Sunday, December 18, but didn't realize we had another commitment that day. This was a party to honor Mary Harren, and it was suggested I fix something for it, but the only direction I was given was "finger food," and the only inspiration I had was to make cookies. I figured two batches (four dozen) cookies would suffice, and expected to have what I would need in stock, so didn't do any real planning.

I did two variations on the Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book: one with white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts, the other with dark chocolate chips and pecans. The basic recipe calls for 1.5 sticks of butter, 1 cup light brown sugar, 0.5 cup sugar, 0.5 tsp baking soda and salt, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk. (I fried up the leftover white for the dog.) Mix in the extras and bake 15-20 minutes at 325F.

I ran into a problem on the second batch: ran out of butter. It was brutal cold, so I tried to cheat. I had some Light Salted Butter that we were never going to use, so melted two sticks. (I figured what made it light was probably air, so more would get me closer, but I don't think that's all there was to it. I also cut back on the salt.) I also figured the dark chips and the pecans would help. They came out a bit off, with a slightly chewier texture, but not likely to draw much nitpicking from anyone else. On the other hand, we didn't get a chance. The event got canceled, and we were stuck with four dozen super-rich cookies.

Roast chicken with fennel, clemtines, and ouzo.

Meanwhile, the first dinner was rescheduled for Tuesday, December 20. Just two guests: Kathy Jenkins, the widow of my next door neighbor Tony Jenkins, and her mother. I asked for a hint as to what to fix, and she said "chicken" and added "not spicy." My first thought was a Moroccan chicken tagine with lemon peel and olives, then I thought of another half-dozen superb chicken dishes. In the end, I figured the winner would be Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem Cookbook, with its spectacular medley of tastes plus the fact that it's extremely easy to produce a stunning dish. With that I picked out three side dishes from the same cookbook, plus my Iranian cucumber-yogurt standby (better than Ottolenghi's cucumber-yogurt recipe). All four dishes could be done well ahead of time and served room temp (or chilled for the yogurt), so it's about as easy logistically as any possible meal. For dessert I decided to break out of the Middle East and go with an old standby, pineapple upside-down cake, topped with whipped cream.

I did my shopping on Monday, then got started that evening. I made the cake using a recipe I picked up from the web -- somehow I had misplaced my mother's recipe, and this one was terrific the previous time I had made it. Two differences this time: I started from a whole pineapple, so I cut exceptionally thick slices. I used a glass quiche pan which unfortunately was smaller than I really needed. I added some chopped pecans to the butter-brown sugar mix, and skipped the maraschino cherries. The recipe called for beating egg whites until fluffy and carefully folding them into the batter -- something I didn't recall doing before, but this time I came up with an exceptionally light batter.

But this time disaster struck: the cake appeared to bake nicely, but when I flipped it over it turned to mush, its juices spilling out onto the floor. After mopping up, my only idea to fix it was to scoop it back into the pan and bake it some more. I wound up giving it a good extra 30 minutes of baking time. When I put it back into the oven, it was effectively pineapple pudding (actually, quite tasty), and when I pulled it out it was more like cobbler. I tasted it: it was still rather mushy, but very sweet and a bit sour, an aesthetic disaster but a damned tasty one, so I decided to use it. I let it sit overnight before flipping it over. Next day I whipped some cream with a little sugar and vanilla to serve over it.

I bought a whole chicken plus a package of thighs, so I cut them up and prepared the marinade: ouzo, olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, grain mustard, brown sugar, fresh thyme, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. The recipe calls for arak, but offers ouzo or pernod as substitutes. First time I made it I was able to find arak from Lebanon, but since I wasn't able to find it again, I picked up a bottle of ouzo as a backup. I also had two fennel bulbs, which I cut into chunks, and a bag of clementines -- I sliced about six into rounds, and juiced a couple more. They went into two freezer bags with the chicken and marinade, and into the refrigerator overnight, until I was ready to roast the chicken. At that point the whole thing is dumped into a roasting pan and tidied up a bit, to be roasted in a 475F oven for 35-45 minutes.

That evening I also made the cucumber-yogurt (mast va khiar): peel, seed, and dice two cucumbers, and salt them in a colander; chop 5-7 scallions, and put them into a second bowl, along with a handful each (about 1/2 cup) of golden raisins and black walnuts, plus mint (1 tsp dried or 1 tbs fresh chopped) and a sprinkle of ground white pepper; add 2 cups of plain yogurt (Greek Gods doesn't require draining like I used to have to do with Dannon); fold in the unrinsed cucumbers, check the salt, and refrigerate.

Leftover plate, clockwise from left: sweet potatoes, barley-parsley salad, zucchini-tomato salad, cucumber-yogurt.

The three other Ottolenghi side dishes were: roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs (I substitute mejdol dates, a big improvement); chunky zucchini & tomato salad; and parsley & barley salad. I made them the next afternoon, and pretty much had them done by the time to start roasting the chicken.

I think I had three small-ish sweet potatoes. I left the peels on, but cut them into wedges 3-4 inches long; dressed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and lined them up on a foil-lined baking tray; roasted them at 475F for 25 minutes; lined them up on a serving dish. I pitted about a dozen mejdol dates and cut them into slivers (four per date), and tucked them around the sweet potatoes. I took a half-dozen scallions, cut them into 3-inch lengths (splitting the whites in half), sauteed them in olive oil, and dumped them (with the oil) on top of the sweet potatoes. I then drizzled a balsamic reduction (from a store bottle, although in the past I've followed the recipe and done it from scratch) over the dish, then sprinkled some soft goat cheese.

For the zucchini-tomato salad, I started by cutting three zucchini and three tomatoes in half; I brushed the cut ends with olive oil, and seared them in a very hot cast iron skillet until they were blackened. I then took the zucchini and tomatoes and put them onto a foil-lined baking sheet, cut-side down; roasted them 20 minutes at 425F; cooled and coarsely chopped them. I mixed the dressing: yogurt, garlic, lemon zest and juice, date syrup, black walnuts, mint, parsley, salt and black pepper; then folded the zucchini and tomatoes in. I thought this was overly sweet last time I made it, so was careful with the date syrup this time.

For the parsley-barley salad: cover 1/4 cup pearl barley with water and boil for 30-35 minutes. On the side, crumble the feta cheese and dress with olive oil, za'atar, toasted/crushed coriander seeds, and cumin. Mix the barley with chopped parsley, chopped scallions, roasted cashew nuts, a diced green bell pepper, and dress with allspice and lemon juice. The recipe suggests plating the salad and topping it with spiced feta, but I just mixed the two together, and checked the salt and pepper.

This had all proceeded smoothly until just after 5PM when I was warming the oven up, planning on having the chicken come out of the oven at 6:30. Then the power went out, leaving me without a main course -- or amenities, like lights. We conferred and decided to go ahead. The power came back on just moments before the guests arrived, so I turned the oven on and we had four lovely dishes for a first course. The chicken was ready an hour later, and I served it straight out of the roasting pan without bothering to reduce the juices. So it wasn't optimal -- I probably should have let it brown a few more minutes to crisp up the skin, and the reduced juices would have intensified the flavor (especially the fennel), but having waited so long I went with the short cut.

Finally, we finished with the pineapple upside-down mess, topped with whipped cream. It was pretty ugly, but scrumptious. After dinner I did reduce the pan juices and poured them over the leftovers. They reheated nicely.


Second dinner was December 24, Xmas Eve. Ever since my parents died I've cooked that evening, usually just for my sister and her son. That was the plan this year, but Kathy messed up the dates and planned some sort of pot luck get-together for her friends that evening, and Ram was off with his girlfriend's family. So we wound up inviting Kathy's friends to our place for my dinner. Only the vegan brought food, which was just as well given that I didn't even have a salad she'd deem edible.

My only idea going into the dinner was that I had a duck in the freezer that needed to be cooked. I remembered that I had once attempted to fix a Thai panang curry duck -- it was my favorite dish at a Thai restaurant we used to frequent in Brookline (Sawasdee). I've done some Thai cooking but not a lot -- did a birthday dinner once but I can't find mention of it in my notebook (2003 is probable; did Moroccan in 2002, nothing in 2004, feijoada in 2005, Peking duck in 2006 -- note there says I had done Thai, and I know I've only done it once), and I make pad thai rather often. So I thought I'd try panang curry duck again, plus a pad thai, a couple side dishes, and our traditional Amish date pudding for dessert.

Roast duck (minus one wing).

Problem is I've had to extrapolate a recipe from various sources. I have several panang curry recipes (and looked up a couple more on the web), and sort of mixed them together. Not fond of hot chilis, I limited myself to one long serrano (seeded), which I pounded into a paste with garlic, galangal, lemongrass, cilantro stems, coriander and cumin seeds (ground), shallots, shrimp paste, lime zest and leaves, peanuts, salt, and white pepper. The night before, I defrosted the duck, pricked the skin, and rubbed it with roasted Szechuan pepper-salt and paprika, and propped it on a rack in a baking dish. I put it into a 450F oven, which 15 minutes later I turned down to 350F, and roasted it for another hour or more, until it read 180F at the thigh bone. Next day I chopped it up, more or less Chinese-style.

I opened a can of chickpeas and picked the skins off. I peeled two sweet potatoes, cut them into 3/4-inch cubes and steamed them until barely done, about 8 minutes. To finish the dish, I fried the curry paste in a little oil, then added two cans of coconut milk. I probably should have added chiffonaded lime leaves and adjusted the seasoning with a little palm sugar and fish sauce, but wasn't paying enough attention to the recipe I was improvising on. I added the chickpeas and sweet potatoes, then finally the duck and cooked a few minutes to get it evenly heated through. Then I added a handful of chopped Thai basil, and it was done.

Earlier that afternoon I put the side dishes together: cucumber salad, water chestnut salad, and sweet & sour eggplant salad. The cucumber was peeled, seeded, sliced, salted, and rinsed, then dressed with sugar, fish sauce, and lemon juice. (Recipe calls for a grated onion, chilis and prawn powder, but I don't recall using them.) The water chestnuts were peeled and sliced thin. I mixed them with a can of crabmeat and a can of tiny shrimp, lime juice, roasted peanuts, fried garlic and shallots (both bought that way), half a serrano chili, and cilantro. I made a dressing with tamarind juice, fish sauce, brown and regular sugar, and poured it over everything.

I roasted three Japanese eggplant -- it took about twice as long as the recipe called for. I made a chili-tamarind sauce from dried shrimp (softened), garlic, shallots, a serrano chili, tamarind concentrate, fish sauce, palm sugar, and peanut oil, and added that to the chopped eggplant, along with a finely chopped stalk of lemongrass, more shallots, lemon juice, cilantro, and mint. The three salads were done early and out of the workflow.

Clockwise from top: pad thai, cucumber salad, panang curry duck, eggplant salad

That just left the pad thai. I thawed and peeled two pounds of large shrimp (recipe calls for 1/2 pound, but expects other meat; I usually do one pound, but with extra guests I decided to scale up everything but the noodles). I soaked some dried shrimp -- they add a little crunch to the garlic. About 40 minutes before cooking, I soaked 8 oz. of thin rice noodles. I mixed up a batch-and-a-half of sauce: 6 tbs sugar, 9 tbs white vinegar, 6 tbs fish sauce, 2 tbs ketchup. I cut a bunch (plus a couple extra) scallions into 2-inch lengths, and split the white ends. I broke four eggs into a bowl and mixed them with a fork.

The stir fry goes fast: I heated my largest skillet, added some peanut oil, about 8 cloves of chopped garlic, the dried shrimp, then the large shrimp. When they were mostly cooked, I added the sauce, brought it to a boil, then added the noodles, stirred to coat, and covered the pan for a couple minutes. I lifted the cover, stirred to evenly coat the noodles, pushed them to one side and poured the eggs into the other, flipping them as they set, then scattering them throughout the noodles. Then I added the scallions, stirred some more, and finished with dish with a couple handfuls of chopped peanuts. I use Victor Sodsook's True Thai recipe mostly for the sauce, leaving out all sorts of complication (especially the usual bean sprouts). Sometimes I add a little sesame oil, but this time I didn't.

This effectively worked out to about half of my old Thai birthday dinner, but was more than enough food for eight people. I referred to three cookbooks: Sodsook, Su-Mei Yu's Cracking the Coconut, and Charmaine Solomon's trusty Asian Cookbook (my first, its binding now failing, but she does an admirable job of saving these cuisines from excess complication). Thanks to a large Vietnamese population here in Wichita, it's pretty easy to get ingredients -- only problems I had were cilantro roots (I used stems and ground seeds) and kaffir lime leaves (I bought "lemon leaves"). I could have bought Thai bird chilis, but felt more comfortable working with serranos.

I made the date pudding the night before. I found the recipe in the newspaper long ago, and copied and adapted it. Pit and chop two cups of mejdol dates, put into a bowl with 2 tsp soda and 2 tbs butter, cover with 2 cups boiling water, and let soak for an hour. Mix two eggs, 2 cups sugar, 2.25 cups flour, 1 tsp vanilla, then add 5/8 cups chopped black walnuts. Bake in a 9x13 cake pan at 275F for about 50 minutes (more like 70). The middle collapses as it cools, so you get cakey on the outside, pudding in the middle. Make a caramel sauce with 1.5 cups brown sugar, 2 tbs cornstarch, 1 cup water, and a dash of salt, boiled 6-8 minutes. Stir in 2 tbs butter, 2 tbs cream, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and 1/8 tsp maple extract, then dump it on the pudding. Let it all cool, then whip 1.5 cups heavy cream with a tsp sugar and a half-tsp vanilla, and spread over the pudding, and refrigerate. Probably the richest, certainly the most delicious, dessert ever concocted.


Third dinner was Wednesday, December 28: our annual Hannukah dinner ritual. No menorahs, no old tales of Hebrew military prowess, just an excuse to fry up a batch of potato pancakes (latkes). The main course is quite simple, but they're best when served hot off the griddle, so I spend most of the dinner over a hot stove while everyone else enjoys themselves. But I've also developed a repertoire of side dishes to go with them, and added a few wrinkles this year.

The main things you need are sour cream and applesauce. We buy the former (Daisy), but I've learned to make the latter. I take four gala apples, peel, quarter, and core them, and put them in a saucepan with 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and the zest of one lemon. Bring it to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then uncover and cook most of the liquid away. Add a little cinnamon, and mush with a potato masher. (I adapted this from The Gourmet Cookbook, which called for twice the sugar, half the cinnamon, and 2 tbs calvados -- an apple brandy, a very Gourmet touch. I don't know apples, so promptly forgot what I bought. Looking at charts they could have been honeycrisp instead of gala -- both seem to be good sauce choices.)

I also like to serve cured salmon. This year I got a 2-lb slab of Canadian, skin on, dusted all sides with 3 tbs of kosher salt, put it in a freezer bag and refrigerated overnight. Next day I washed it off, found it wasn't too salty (if so, soak until it isn't), and sliced it thin. It's basically homemade lox without the smoke (which turns out not to be very important; commercial nova or scottish lox is "cold smoked" at temperatures below 85F, which means they're depending on the salt, and not the smoke, for texture, preservation and bacteria prevention).

I also make chopped liver, and while Joan Nathan's recipe served me well for many years, Ottolenghi's is even better: hard boil 5 eggs, and set aside; slice 2 cups of onions and sauté them, until dark, in duck fat (reserved from above). Move them using a slotted spoon to the food processor bowl, then sauté the chicken livers until they are cooked through. Add them to the food processor. Peel and grate four of the eggs and add them to the food processor, along with 4 tbs of dessert wine, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Pulse to chop (don't overdo it). Garnish with the other egg (grated), scallions and/or chives. I make this every year, but as we all know chopped liver is best spread on fresh rye bread, so I thought I'd make some rye bread this year.

Rye bread and pumpernickel bread, fresh from oven.

One thing I am not is a practiced breadmaker, so I figured this task to be a learning experience. I decided to try two different recipes, both from Joan Nathan, scaled down to produce one loaf each. Both involved starting the night before. The pumpernickel called for creating a starter the night before (1 tbs dry yeast, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup white bread flour, 1/4 cup rye flour), then mixing the dough proper the next day. The rye bread recipe mixed that dough the night before: 1.5 tbs dry yeast, 1 tbs honey, 1/2 cup water (let this proof), 3.5 cups rye flour, 3.5 cups white bread flour, 1 tbs salt, 1 tbs sugar, 3-4 tbs caraway seeds, 2 tbs vegetable oil, about 1.5 cups lager beer. I halved this, tried mixing it up and kneading it in my horrible KitchenAid mixer, hating it more and more, eventually kneading it by hand (and suspecting the whole thing was way too dry, but what do I know?). It did rise though, and I punched it down, shaped it to fit the loaf pan, cut diagonal slits on top, and let it rise again.

Meanwhile, I screwed up the pumpernickel. I mixed up the dough: 1 tbs dry yeast, 2 tbs honey, 1-2/3 cup water, 3-1/3 cups rye flour, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 cups white bread flour, 1 tbs salt, 2 tbs caraway seeds (in both cases I ground the seeds up), 4 tbs oil, 4 tbs dark molasses. Again, the mixer was awful, and the dough seemed too dry, so I added more (and more) water. Then I remembered the starter, added it, and found the dough was too wet (but at least much easier to knead). I let this rise, punched it down, formed it to fit the loaf pan (tearing off an excess bit), cut orthogonal slashes, and let it rise again. The pumpernickel rose about 50% more than the plain rye bread, filling up the loaf pan nicely. I beat a raw egg and painted the tops of both loaves, and sprinkled some whole caraway seeds on top.

The recipes called for different baking temperatures/times, but I decided to standardize on the pumpernickel: 350F for 1 hour (the rye called for 375F for 50-55 minutes). I put a bowl of water on the lower left rack, and the two loaves on the top rack, near the middle. They came out looking and smelling like rye bread, the pumpernickel a bit larger and softer (but, contrary to expectations, no darker than the rye). Both were more than acceptable.

I also usually serve herring in sour cream and in wine sauce, the two kinds it's possible to buy here. I would, of course, prefer to dress my own herring -- as I did, for instance, when I brought some maatjes back from Buffalo last summer, but that wasn't an option this time. However, I did find some smoked herring packed in olive oil in a middle eastern store, so I had the idea of drying that off and making a mustard sauce for it. I found a Swedish recipe online and adapted it. I was out of whole grain mustard, so used Dijon then ground up some black mustard seeds and mixed them in. I used light olive oil instead of grapeseed. I tried whisking up an emulsion with vinegar and egg yolks, and failed. I put it aside, disgusted, then tried again later and it worked fine -- I've read that those yolks have to be room temperature, something I should remember in the future. Not perfect, but not bad.

As I said, the latkes were straightforward. I chopped three onions, and put them in a large bowl. I peeled five russet potatoes, soaked them in water, then ran them through the coarse grating disc in the food processor, then used the knife to chop them into small bits. I mixed the potatoes in with the onions, and added five eggs, salt, and pepper. I should have put a piece of plastic wrap in to keep the potatoes from discoloring, but they would wind up being browned anyway. I took a large frying pan and an even larger griddle, heated them up on the stove, added oil, and ladled out 3-to-4-inch discs, flipping them once they set and browned, then piling them onto a paper-towel-lined plate, to be served as fast as they came out. Don't know how long it took to work through them all.

I rarely make dessert for latke dinners, but decided to try a couple of things this time. Ottolenghi has a recipe for pears poached in wine and cardamom (and saffron), which seemed like a good choice. I also tried Nathan's reiz kugel, but somehow didn't get it to thicken sufficiently, so it resembled a thin, cold, sweet soup. My one real disappointment, although like the pineapple upside-down mess the taste was close to right, so the embarrassment was mostly aesthetic.


Pineapple upside-down cake (from an earlier time when I didn't screw it up).

Of course, I rarely cook like this for just the two of us. For one thing, I almost never have the ingredients I'd need for a dinner with three or more dishes, so I have to go out shopping -- and in some ways that's the hardest (certainly the most unpleasant) part of any meal. One thing I like about inviting guests for dinner is the engineering aspect of planning the project, envisioning how the whole dinner fits together, figuring out the logistics, especially how to manage my own time so each meal comes together smoothly. Practice has made me better at that; also steadier and more resourceful as things (as they inevitably do) go wrong. These dinners give me a sense of accomplishment that little else in my life these days offers. But more basically, it's simply a pleasure to offer other people pleasure, and I can fairly say that each of these meals did just that. And they remind me of one of the central truths of our times: there is an extraordinary amount of knowledge at our fingertips, and much of the material world is easily (and economically) accessible if we just know what to look for, and to expect. I think, these meals prove that much.

By the way, I took a break from writing this afternoon to whip up a small dinner-for-two, something very simple and basic. I had some frozen pacific cod in the freezer, so I semi-thawed it, and cut the thicker chunks in half (so they were about 1/2-inch thick). I opened a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, added a little sugar, about 2 tbs capers, juice of one lemon, and 15 or so pitted green olives (cut in half). I Mixed that sauce up, spooned it over the fish in a baking pan, sprinkled panko bread crumbs on top, drizzled a little olive oil, and baked it at 400F for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, I stir-fried lima beans (fordhooks) for a side dish, using Irene Kuo's recipe (from The Key to Chinese Cooking): thaw, sizzle in some oil, sprinkle with salt and sugar, add chicken stock and cover to steam about five minutes, remove cover and boil off the excess liquid, and drizzle a little toasted sesame oil to finish.

At some point I should probably go back and jot down the remaining recipes -- a few that do already exist in my online recipe file: Mast Va Khiar, Panang Curry Duck, Phat Thai, Water Chestnut Salad, Amish Door's Date Pudding, Baked Fish with Capers and Olives, Stir-Fried Lima Beans, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake; also note that virtually all of the Ottolenghi recipes are online somewhere -- and add the appropriate links, but I wanted to the flow and process more than to provide a guide to duplicating these dinners.

Monday, January 2, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 27548 [27512] rated (+36), 366 [362] unrated (+4).

Most of the week's discoveries have already been unveiled in Saturday's Streamnotes post, although I did add one more A- record a day later, from Venetian Snares -- a synth programmer from Winnipeg with a jazz master's sense of rhythm. Also came close to adding the new Klezmatics album, but I stretched its consideration beyond my cutoff moment. Whereas alt-country provided most of my A- finds last week, this week's winners were mostly rap albums.

I temporarily caught up with my backlog of EOY lists, not that I won't keep adding data at least up through Pazz & Jop (as it used to be known). Top of the list is pretty consistent at this point, with only minor fluctuations and no trends I can discern. The top 50 reads as follows (with my grades in brackets):

  1. David Bowie: Blackstar (Columbia) {491} [***]
  2. Beyonce: Lemonade (Parkwood/Columbia) {378} [A-]
  3. Frank Ocean: Blonde (Boys Don't Cry) {367} [**]
  4. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (XL) {326} [B]
  5. Solange: A Seat at the Table (Saint/Columbia) {293} [**]
  6. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed) {276} [B-]
  7. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic) {273} [A-]
  8. Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (Def Jam/GOOD Music) {270} [***]
  9. Bon Iver: 22 a Million (Jagjaguwar) {246} [*]
  10. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book (self-released) {245} [A-]
  11. Angel Olsen: My Woman (Jagjaguwar) {235} [***]
  12. Anohni: Hopelessness (Secretly Canadian) {200} [*]
  13. Anderson Paak: Malibu (OBE/Steel Wool/ArtClub/Empire) {194} [A-]
  14. Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker (Columbia) {187} [A-]
  15. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (Matador) {183} [***]
  16. Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (Warp) {171} [A-]
  17. Mitski: Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans) {141} [*]
  18. Kaytranada: 99.9% (XL) {139} [A-]
  19. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound (Domino) {138} [A-]
  20. Rihanna: Anti (Roc Nation) {136} [A-]
  21. Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered (Top Dawg Entertainment) {109} [***]
  22. Skepta: Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know) {101} [***]
  23. Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones) {98} [C+]
  24. Parquet Courts: Human Performance (Rough Trade) {96} [A-]
  25. PJ Harvey: The Hope Six Demolition Project (Vagrant) {95} [**]
  26. Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor's Guide to Earth (Atlantic) {92} [***]
  27. James Blake: The Colour in Anything (Polydor) {90} [B-]
  28. The Avalanches: Wildflower (Astralwerks) {85} [B]
  29. Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista) {82} [*]
  30. Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate (Polydor) {79} [**]
  31. Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian) {78} [B-]
  32. Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos (Lex) {74} [**]
  33. Nicolas Jaar: Sirens (Other People) {70} [**]
  34. Margo Price: Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man) {70} [A-]
  35. The 1975: I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (Dirty Hit/Interscope) {66} [*]
  36. Drive-By Truckers: American Band (ATO) {66} [A-]
  37. Savages: Adore Life (Matador) {65} [***]
  38. Young Thug: [No My Name Is] Jeffery (300 Entertainment/Atlantic) {62} [A-]
  39. Drake: Views (Cash Money) {55} [*]
  40. Jessy Lanza: Oh No (Hyperdub) {55} [A-]
  41. Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP (Interscope/Top Dawg) {51} [***]
  42. YG: Still Brazy (Def Jam) {51} [*]
  43. Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (Sony Music Nashville) {47} [A-]
  44. Noname: Telefone (self-released) {47} [**]
  45. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity (ATO) {46} [*]
  46. Kevin Morby: Singing Saw (Dead Oceans) {43} [***]
  47. Christine and the Queens: Chaleur Humaine (Because) {41} [**]
  48. Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger (Concord) {41} [*]
  49. Wilco: Schmilco (dBpm) {41} [*]
  50. BadBadNotGood: IV (Innovative Leisure) {40} [B]

Probably the first year ever where I've heard all top-50 albums (informed as I am that this year's Chaleur Humaine is just a British repackaging of last year's eponymous Christine and the Queens album -- the one I've heard -- which was itself a reissue of the 2014 French Chaleur Humaine). The top five have been stable for a while now, even though the 2-3 margin is just 11 (I don't think the lead has ever changed). I had originally expected Beyoncé to catch Bowie but the closest they've come was about 30 points, and Bowie has been steadily building his lead over the last 2-3 weeks. I suspect she's lost votes (at least positions) to sister Solange.

Note that 6-7-8 are still very close (6 points total). Nick Cave does exceptionally well in non-English-language pubs, and I've picked up quite a few of them. Tribe got a late start, but seems to have hit a plateau, at least here -- I figure they'll finish 4th in the Voice poll, behind Bowie-Beyoncé-Ocean. The 9-10 race is also close (1 point), but 11-16 is pretty well spread out, 17-20 close (5 points), then a big jump to 21 (27 points).

My grade breakdown is: 15 A-, 10 ***, 8 **, 10 *, 3 B, 3 B-, 1 C+. I'd be real surprised if any previous year broke that favorably. (Last year I had 9 A- [-6], 11 *** [-1], 12 * [+2], and 9 B/lower [+2], with 3 unrated.) Number of lists compiled is down from 720 to 231, so there are quite a few more I could add if the spirit moves me. Total records are down from 5285 to 2402.

At this point, all of the new jazz CDs in my queue are scheduled for release in 2017, so I've felt justified in ignoring them. (I also held a few that I have listened to back for January's Streamnotes.) I'll start digging into them over the next week or two, but for a while I plan on concentrating on 2016 releases I've missed. Maybe start thinking about what to do in this coming year.


New records rated this week:

  • Adia Victoria: Beyond the Bloodhounds (2016, Canvasback/Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016, Parkwood/Columbia): [cd]: A-
  • David Bromberg Band: The Blues, the Whole Blues and Nothing but the Blues (2016, Red House): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Uri Caine Trio: Calibrated Thickness (2015 [2016], 816 Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Club D'Elf: Live at Club Helsinki (2012 [2017], Face Pelt, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • CupcakKe: Cum Cake (2016, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Dear Eloise: Uncontrollable, Ice Age Stories (2012 [2016], Maybe Mars): [bc]: B+(*)
  • El Guincho: Hiperasia (2016, Nacional): [r]: B
  • EOLA: Dang (2016, Leaving, EP): [r]: B-
  • Family Atlantica: Cosmic Unity (2016, Soundway): [r]: B+(*)
  • Brent Gallaher: Moving Forward (2016 [2017], V&B): [cd]: B
  • GFOTY: Call Him a Doctor (2016, PC Music, EP): [r]: B-
  • Wayne Hancock: Slingin' Rhythm (2016, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(**)
  • Heron Oblivion: Heron Oblivion (2016, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Horse Lords: Interventions (2016, Northern Spy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carly Rae Jepsen: E-MO-TION: Side B (2014-15 [2016], School Boy/Interscope, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ka: Honor Killed the Samurai (2016, Iron Works): [r]: A-
  • King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity (2016, ATO): [r]: B+(*)
  • Krokofant: Krokofant II (2015, Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Moor Mother: Fetish Bones (2016, Don Giovanni): [r]: B
  • Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (2016, Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nice as Fuck: Nice as Fuck (2016, Loves Way, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Noname: Telefone (2016, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • NxWorries: Yes Lawd! (2016, Stones Throw): [r]: B+(***)
  • Preoccupations: Preoccupations (2016, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B+(*)
  • Serengeti & Sicker Man: Doctor My Own Patience (2016, Graveface): [r]: B
  • Sleigh Bells: Jessica Rabbit (2016, Torn Clean): [r]: B
  • Elza Soares: A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo (2015 [2016], Mais Um Discos): [r]: A-
  • Susso: Keira (2016, Soundway): [r]: B+(*)
  • A Tribe Called Red: We Are the Halluci Nation (2016, Radicalized): [r]: B+(***)
  • Venetian Snares: Traditional Synthesizer Music (2016, Timesig): [r]: A-
  • The Weeknd: Starboy (2016, XO/Republic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Andre Williams: I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City (2016, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jamila Woods: HEAVN (2016, Closed Sessions): [sc]: B+(*)
  • Yussef Kamaal: Black Focus (2016, Brownswood): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Mark Lewis: New York Sessions (Audio Daddio): January 27
  • Chelsea McBride's Socialist Night School: The Twilight Fall (Browntasaurus): January 13
  • Chris Rogers: Voyage Home (Art of Life): February 3
  • Matthew Shipp Trio: Piano Song (Thirsty Ear)

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Streamnotes (December 2016)

Again, backed up against the end of the month, and for that matter the year. No time to write a proper introduction, but this month's list is long enough you should have plenty to chew on. Many EOY lists fed into my effort to mop up this month, and that will continue for another month of two. Once again my New Year's Resolution is to cut back. Indeed, I did cut back a bit this year, with only 964 records in this year's rating file, vs. 1112 (1269) for 2015, 1167 (1248) for 2014, 1151 (1222) for 2013, 978 (1190) for 2012, and 1247 (1419, my all-time record, back when the Village Voice was publishing Jazz Consumer Guide) for 2011. (The numbers in parens include post-freeze grades, so it's premature to compare this year against them.)

Here are my EOY lists for Jazz and Non-Jazz. Also, the EOY Aggregate file. These are still "works in progress," but are at this point pretty well fleshed out.


Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on November 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (8978 records).


Recent Releases

Ab-Soul: Do What Thou Wilt (2016, Top Dawg): LA rapper, came out of the Black Hippy collective (along with Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q) but has stayed underground through four albums. This is a long one (76:57), clever words and social concerns twisted around minor beats, has some guests I've actually heard of but doesn't look to go mainstream. A-

Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: We Be All Africans (2016, Strut): Saxophonist, b. Bruce Baker in Chicago, c. 1950, studied and toured with Cecil Taylor, also an actor, tap dancer, founder/director of San Francisco performance company Cultural Odyssey, has a handful of album since 1997 ranging from avant jazz to Afrobeat, which is more/less what this is. Vocals are rather perfunctory, but the sax leads command attention. B+(***)

Adia Victoria: Beyond the Bloodhounds (2016, Canvasback/Atlantic): Last name Paul, singer-songwriter originally from South Carolina, now based in Nashville, but I don't hear any country influence, nor blues nor gospel -- more like a non-Anglo Kate Bush, posh poesy with lush melodies but none too comfortable. B+(*)

Aesop Rock & Homebody Sandman: Lice Two: Still Buggin' (2016, Stones Throw, EP): Sequel to 2015's EP, this one also five cuts (16:06), rushes by so fast it seems even shorter. B+(***) [bc]

Harry Allen's All Star New York Saxophone Band: The Candy Men (2016, Arbors): Three mainstream tenors -- Allen, Eric Alexander, and Grant Stewart -- plus Gary Smulyan on baritone, backed by Rossano Sportiello's piano trio. Lest you doubt the obvious, they kick off with "Four Brothers." You're left marveling not just at how much the tenors sound like their mentors, but also each other. B+(*)

Babyfather: BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (2016, Hyperdub): Alias for Dean Blunt, who's also recorded under his own name and (with Inga Copeland) as Hype Williams. Electronica with something that sounds like harp, his mantra ("that's why I'm proud to be British") falls on unreceptive ears, and the white noise of "Flames" was so insufferable I turned the volume way down low. Has some redeeming value, but not enough. B-

BadBadNotGood: IV (2016, Innovative Leisure): Jazz quartet (sax-keys-bass-drums), tempted to say they're Canada's answer to the Yellowjackets but they're a couple generations removed, their fusion more informed by hip-hop, especially in the five (of eleven) songs with featured guests -- e.g., Kaytranada and Mick Jenkins, but Colin Stetson also appears. B-

John Beasley: Presents MONK'estra Vol. 1 (2016, Mack Avenue): Pianist, here just arranges and conducts, running Monk tunes through the mill of a big band plus the occasional guest soloist -- credits are hard to come by, but one source mentions "MONK'estras" like Gary Burton and Gregoir Maret. Has some flash and sizzle, but too often rubs me the wrong way. B-

William Bell: This Is Where I Live (2016, Stax): Memphis soul singer, had some minor r&b hits for Stax in the late 1960s, is 77 now with his first album in a decade. No problem evoking the classic sound, and that almost suffices, but the songs aren't up to snuff, and not just because they're dead ass dreary. B

Sarah Bernstein Quartet: Still/Free (2015 [2016], Leo): Violinist, has several avant recordings as Iron Dog, backed by piano trio here -- Kris Davis (piano), Stuart Popejoy (electric bass), Ches Smith (drums) -- this is sometimes polite enough for chamber jazz, but often risks something more, especially when Davis kicks it up a notch. B+(***)

Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016, Parkwood/Columbia): Not on Rhapsody, so I waited before finally breaking down to buy a copy, and hesitated again when I found I'd have to pay for a DVD in the bargain. Haven't watched the latter yet, nor have I seen the videos from the "Platinum Edition" repackaging of her eponymous 2013 album, nor have I found any time to track down her internet videos (even the one that pre-sold this album). I might not even have bothered but given the way Beyoncé broke in Pazz & Jop after its late release, this looked like this year's odds-on favorite -- and as it turns out was the only EOY Aggregate top-forty album I hadn't heard. Lots of good records on that list this year, but none I especially love. This is more impressive than most, although I doubt I'll ever care that much for someone who aspires to be "the black Bill Gates." A- [cd]

Black Art Jazz Collective: Presented by the Side Door Jazz Club (2016, Sunnyside): Sextet, hard bop lineup although they don't mean to be a throwback. Front-line horns have serious chops -- Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax -- and pianist Xavier Davis impresses. Two songs "inspired by Barack Obama," one each for W.E.B. Dubois, Sojourner Truth, and Joe Henderson. B+(**)

Aziza Brahim: Abbar El Hamada (2016, Glitterbeat): Singer-songwriter, born 1976 in a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, at age 11 received a scholarship to study in Cuba, based in Spain since 2000. Fifth album. Don't know what the songs refer to, but I get their heartfelt depth, and the attractive, not especially exotic, beat. B+(**)

David Bromberg Band: The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing but the Blues (2016, Red House): Cut four records 1971-74 for Columbia, mostly played blues but seemed so short of grit he got filed as a folksinger. Since then he's bounced down to lower rung labels -- Fantasy in 1978, Rounder in 1989, Appleseed in 2007, with sizable gaps in between, finally landing in alt-blues land. Christgau says this "smokes" the Rolling Stones' recent blues cover album, but surely that's not the right word. More like sneaks by on the sly. B+(***)

Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Copenhagen (2016, Not Two): The saxophonist backs a bit off his usual full fury, giving the trombone a fighting chance -- something Swell makes the most of. And the drummer is always masterful in this sort of company. A- [cd]

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque: Oddara (2016, Linus Entertainment): Soprano saxophonist, also plays flute, her interest in Cuban music going back at least to 1991's Spirits of Havana. Second album under the Maqueque banner, a group featuring several vocalists -- often the rub for me, especially on the overripe "Song for You." The flute just blows in the wind, but the sax solos impress. B

Burial: Young Death/Nightmarket (2016, Hyperdub, EP): Dubstep producer William Bevan, actually just a single, the two named tracks, 13:14 total. First cut doesn't do anything for me, but the latter hits the same sweet spot he's been mining for years, perhaps with a bit more clutter than usual. B+(*)

Taylor Ho Bynum: Enter the Plustet (2016, Firehouse 12): Cornet player, Braxton protégé, has built an impressive body of work since 1999, recently working with mid-size groups, this one much grander with fifteen names on the cover, only two I didn't immediately recognize. Unconventional big band, the six brass including French horn and tuba, only three reeds, violin (Jason Kao Hwang), cello (Tomeka Reid), bass (Ken Filiano), guitar (Mary Halvorson), drums and vibes. Three pieces, richly varied, neglecting neither group power nor individual finnesse. A-

Joăo Camőes/Jean-Marc Foussat: Ŕ La Face Du Ciel! (2014 [2016], Shhpuma): Viola player, has a couple recent albums, this a duo where Foussat works his electronics in around the edges, just enough to keep the string sound from wearing thin. B+(***)

François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: The Joy of Being (2015 [2016], NoBusiness): Alto sax trio, drummer Lambert is pretty much inseparable from the saxophonist, and is joined here by Mazur on acoustic bass guitar. Carrier is impressive as usual, but one hardly notices the others. B+(***) [cd]

Albert Cirera/Hernâni Faustino/Gabriel Ferrandini/Agustí Fernández: Before the Silence (2015 [2016], NoBusiness): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, based in Lisbon, backed by the bassist (Faustino) and drummer (Ferrandini) from the RED Trio and avant-pianist Fernández. Three long pieces (average 18 minutes), plus a brief coda. Best here is the pianist -- I've mostly heard him in duos before, but he throws himself into this with abandon, certainly helped by the rhythm section, and the sax benefits as well. A- [cd]

J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only (2016, Dreamville/Roc Nation/Interscope): Rapper, sells well but tends to release albums in December, too late to build any EOY list momentum. Like many popular rap records of late, this slacks off and slithers underground, not so much because that's a viable strategy for business as for survival. Time and again he draws me in and pushes me away -- not that I have any business taking his shtick personal. B+(**)

Jeff Collins: The Keys to Christmas (2016, Crossroads): Pianist, arranger, producer, evidently works mostly in gospel with sides in Americana and Bluegrass, here marches a big band through eclectic medleys of some of the smarmiest melodies in the history of Christmas commercialism. Maybe I should be amused by how far over the top he goes, but I'm not. C- [cd]

Alexis Cuadrado: Poética (2016, Sunnyside): Bassist, studied in Barcelona and Paris before moving to Brooklyn. Crafts his engaging music -- with Miles Okazaki (guitar), Andy Milne (piano), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) -- around spoken word by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu, the former close to rap, the latter in some other language, probably Catallan. B+(**)

CupcakKe: Cum Cake (2016, self-released): Rapper Elizabeth Eden Harris, from Chicago, turned some heads with her explicit raunch ("Vagina," "Deepthroat," "Tit for Tat," "Juicy Coochie" -- "don't need no drink to get naughty/ because I'm not Bill Cosby") but the strongest cut here is an acappella dis ("Reality, Pt. 2") -- not that I have any complaints against her beats. A-

Daniele D'Agaro/Giovanni Maier/Zlatko Kaucic: Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette (2015 [2016], Not Two): Sax trio, D'Agaro playing alto, tenor, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- the ostensible group name actually a Coleman Hawkins song, but the label actually credits the musicians, and that's as plausible as anything given the cover. Sounds a bit thin for Ornette, but the alto captures the right tone. B+(**)

Deap Vally: Femejism (2016, Nevado): LA rock duo, Lindsey Troy (guitar) and Julie Edwards (drums), both sing, second album, a consistently hard thrash but two songs in the middle come clear and stand out -- one on feminism, one on critics and cynics. B+(***)

Dear Eloise: Uncontrollable, Ice Age Stories (2012 [2016], Maybe Mars): Chinese husband-wife shoegaze duo, Yang Haisong and Sun Xia, several albums since their 2010 debut (The Words That Were Burnt. They produce indistinct vocals wrapped in a dense swarm of guitar noise punctuated by hard, regular beats. Not really my thing, but I'm impressed nonetheless. B+(*) [bc]

John Dikeman/Luis Vicente/Hugo Antunes/Gabriel Ferrandini: Salăo Brazil (2016, NoBusiness): Tenor sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, free improv recorded live in Coimbra -- "Salăo Brazil" is evidently a club there, and released on vinyl, which hopefully has more sound depth than my CDR (or maybe you're just supposed to play it louder). B+(*) [cdr]

The Dining Rooms: Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra)? (2015, Schema): Electronic music duo from Milan, Italy, formed in 1998 by Stefano Ghittoni and Cesare Malfatti. Subtitle: "A soundtrack of cosmic funk, abstract jazz and cinematic avant-garde"; that mostly means ambient, with some overtalk exploring the title question, and more. B+(**)

The DKV Thing Trio: Collider (2014 [2016], Not Two): Actually, a double sax trio, with Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson on various saxes and clarinet, Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten and Kent Kessler on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love and Hamid Drake on drums. Three joint improv pieces, 53:36, recorded in Krakow. Mucho squawk, but the last piece pounds the chaos into enough order to bring the noise home. B+(**)

Dog Leg Dilemma: Not This Time (2016 [2017], self-released): Canadian (Toronto) jazz group, first album (after a live EP), Peter Bull (basses, whistling, woodblock, acoustic guitar, organ, electric whip) seems to be the leader, along with alto sax, guitar, drums, and violin on a couple tracks. Has a fusion flow but that's not really the feel. B+(*) [cd]

Pierre Dřrge & New Jungle Orchestra: Ubi Zaa (2016, SteepleChase): Guitarist, founded his Danish not-quite-big band in 1982, thinking Ellington while collaborating with South African bassist Johnny Dyani (d. 1986). Lots of dramatic build up for the guest star -- Kirk Knuffke on cornet -- but somehow their trademark swing got waylaid. B

Dave Douglas: Dark Territory (2014 [2016], Greenleaf Music): Trumpet maestro, did some relatively early experiments with electronics but nothing very successful, takes another shot at it here with Shigeto (electronics), Jonathan Maron (electric/synth bass), and Mark Guilliana (acoustic/electric drums). B+(*)

Dave Douglas/Frank Woeste: Dada People (2015 [2016], Greenleaf Music): Woeste is a pianist from Germany, split the writing chores five each with the trumpet star. Quartet adds Matt Brewer (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). Only thing exceptional here is the trumpet, but you could have guessed that. B+(***)

Mark Dresser Seven: Sedimental You (2016, Clean Feed): Bassist-led septet, the lead horns -- Nicole Mitchell's flutes and Marty Ehrlich's clarinets -- are so soft they merely add coloring, while Michael Dessen's trombone adds some ring to the bass. Joshua White plays piano and Jim Black drums, but they too lurk in the background, as David Morales Boroff's violin dominates the group sound -- for better or worse. B+(**) [cd]

D.D. Dumbo: Utopia Defeated (2016, 4AD): First LP after a couple EPs for Oliver Hugh Perry, from Australia but recorded in England. Singer-songwriter, framed in a little extra pop jangle glitz. B

El Guincho: Hiperasia (2016, Nacional): Spanish laptronica producer, Pablo Diaz-Reixa, draws on tropicalia and at his best recalls Tom Zé, but his cut-up techniques are awful choppy here, so much so that the miracles that Zé routinely pulls off elude him here. B

ELEW: And to the Republic (2016, Sunnyside): Pianist Eric Lewis, has a couple of previous volumes of what he calls Rockjazz, here with a piano trio with -- smaller print on the cover -- bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. This doesn't strike me as "jazzrock" although it rolls plenty hard. Title cut built around Mark Antony's famous speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I reckon to remind us how a previous republic descended into empire. B+(***)

EOLA: Dang (2016, Leaving, EP): Orlando FL-based group, principally Edwin Mathis White but probably other singers (and not much, if any, more) strikes me as bent gospel except when they're trying to make doo wop odder and more inaccessible -- I wasn't surprised to find an earlier album called The Lord's Jam. Nine cuts, 29:08. B-

Family Atlantica: Cosmic Unity (2016, Soundway): London-based group, second album, led by Jack Yglesias (Heliocentrics), featuring a Venezuelan diva (Luzmira Zerpa), a phalanx of west African percussionists, and various guests including saxophonists Marshall Allen and Orlando Julius. B+(*)

Fire!: She Sleeps/She Sleeps (2015 [2016], Rune Grammofon): Norwegian group led by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (big horns: tenor, baritone, bass), with Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums, lap steel guitar), plus guests on cello (2 of 4 tracks) and guitar (1 other cut). B+(**)

Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa: Eros (2016, Otá): Trumpet and piano, backed with strings, and, as front cover notes, featuring Natacha Atlas (vocals) & Jaques Morelenbaum (cello). Fresu and Sosa also credited with percussion, a nice little beat in places but not enough to drive the vocalist on the early tracks. More atmospheric to close, which suits them better. B+(*)

Jonny Fritz: Sweet Creep (2016, ATO): Started out as a "filthy and whimsical" Brooklyn cowboy, but gave up his original alias (Jonny Corndawg) for his more mature Dad Country and loses even more this time, turning into a rather sweet but straight songster. B+(*)

Future: EVOL (2016, Epic): Atlanta rapper, puts out quite a few mixtapes in addition to legit albums like this one. Beats are pretty compelling here, but none of the raps are sticking. B+(**)

GFOTY: Call Him a Doctor (2016, PC Music, EP): Brit pop singer, Polly-Louisa Salamon, uses an acronym for "girlfriend of the year," has a half-dozen singles/EPs since 2013 plus a handful of "mixes." Elements of electropop, but bent and often broken, or maybe just spoofed -- hard to tell when you don't quite care. Nine tracks, 20:22. B-

Margaret Glaspy: Emotions and Math (2016, ATO): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and fiddle with authority, has an idiosyncratic voice I'm not much comfortable with, and writes song with some depth that more literary-minded listeners admire. I'm not there yet. B+(**)

Macy Gray: Stripped (2016, Chesky): Soul singer, pushing 50, signs to a jazz label and recycles her songbook as standards, backed tastefully by trumpet (Wallace Roney), guitar (Russell Malone), bass and drums. Low key, stripped down, her voice not much more than a whisper, which doesn't do much to remind me of her own songs but works nicely on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." B+(**)

Charlie Haden/Liberation Music Orchestra: Time/Life (Song for the Wahles and Other Beings) (2011-15 [2016], Impulse): The bassist died in 2014, after the live tracks that open and close, but before the middle three studio cuts where Steve Swallow fills in. Still, fairly seamless with Carla Bley arranging throughout and no other personnel changes. Richly textured, deeply resonant. Haden gets a bit sappy at the end, but that's the way he lived his life, and we should be grateful. A-

Wayne Hancock: Slingin' Rhythm (2016, Bloodshot): Has a great country voice, all drawl and bite, mellowed a bit here as is the music, which has settled ever more into a western swing groove. Covers "Divorce Me COD," at once a smart choice and an obvious one. I'd say he's coasting, but he may just be aging gracefully. B+(**)

Freddie Hendrix: Jersey Cat (2010 [2016], Sunnyside): Young mainstream trumpeter, first album on his own although he has close to two dozen side credits, basically fields a hard bop quintet (plus a couple guest spots). His pairing with Abraham Burton (tenor sax) works well on the fast ones, and he's got a nice slow burn on the ballads. B+(**)

Heron Oblivion: Heron Oblivion (2016, Sub Pop): Psychedelic rock "supergroup" joining ex-members of Espers, Comets on Fire, Howlin' Rain, and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound -- I only vaguely recognize half of those band names, and only singer Meg Baird among the principals. Often I wonder what "psychedelic" means, but here I clearly hear echoes of those Jefferson Airplane guitars, so I figure that counts. B+(**)

Dre Hocevar: Transcendental Within the Sphere of Indivisible Remainder (2016, Clean Feed): Drummer, from Slovenia, leads a nine-piece group here, no one I recognize, where the first credit (Sam Pluta) is for live electronics and signal processing, and there is a synth player as well as a pianist (plus trumpet, two saxes, cello, and bass). The horns can get rough and rowdy, but the more discrete forms of chaos are hard to pin down. B+(*) [cd]

I Am Three: Mingus Mingus Mingus (2015 [2016], Leo): Filed this under German saxophonist Silke Eberhard, who's also the leader of Potsa Lotsa, a larger group with two albums surveying Eric Dolphy compositions. This trio -- name comes from the first line of Charles Mingus' autobiography -- with Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet and Christian Marien on drums plays classic Mingus tunes, but whereas the master took small groups and blew them up to sound like big bands, they pick at and chew over the bones, often to interesting effect. B+(***)

Ich Bin Nintendo: Lykke (2016, Shhpuma): Hardcore trio, I'd guess from Norway -- guitar/vocals Christian Skĺr Winther, bass Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard, drums Joakim Heibř Johansen -- play six songs averaging more than 5 minutes each (31:17). Hard, harsh, metallic, the rhythm with one foot dangling in free jazz. A thrill at first. B+(**)

Carly Rae Jepsen: E-MO-TION: Side B (2014-15 [2016], School Boy/Interscope, EP): Leftovers from the sessions for her 2015 album E-MO-TION, eight previously unreleased songs, 27:36. Three or four of them are good enough they reminded me of Lily Allen (although not nearly so smart and/or cheeky), while the others would make for decent filler. B+(***)

Ka: Honor Killed the Samurai (2016, Iron Works): Kaseem Ryan, Brooklyn firefighter, his rap sideline dating back to 1993 but I'm unclear on details before his 2008 solo debut. This one weaves samurai lessons into a more domestic thread, offering a sense of hard-earned accomplishment and brutal fates. A-

Bobby Kapp/Matthew Shipp: Cactus (2016, Northern Spy): First album I see to list drummer Kapp's name first, but he dates back to the avant 1960s, and more recently played in the Fine Wine Trio. Duo with the younger but much more famous pianist -- who is terrific here, thinking percussion and building on that. A-

Brian Kastan: Roll the Dice on Life (2016 [2017], Kastan, 2CD): Guitarist, fusion with a hard rock thrash, electric bass, drums, and vocals, with Miles Griffith singing, rapping, and mostly scatting, adding yet more thrash. I suppose I should credit the closing "Black Lives Matter" -- the only piece I recall any vocal detail from -- but by then I was plain impatient for the damn thing to end. C+ [cd]

Tyler Keith & the Apostles: Do It for Johnny (2016, self-released): From Mississippi, came up in a late-1990s punk band called the Neckbones which had at least one good record, went solo with a band called The Preacher's Kids. Rockabilly junkie Phil Overeem has this number three on his 2016 list, and I sorta hear it, just not as much. B+(**) [bc]

Irene Kepl: SololoS (2016, Fou): Solo violin, saws back and forth, up and down. Final 'S' in title is mirrored in print, probably meant to convey how everything is refracted within itself. B+(*) [cd]

Alicia Keys: Here (2016, RCA): Sixth album, sales steadily declining since her 2001 debut sold 12 million copies. Still, sounds to me like her best, with catchy beats, pop hooks, and often deep lyrics. Inspirational lyric: "you glow." A-

Kirk Knuffke: Little Cross (2014 [2015], SteepleChase): Trumpet player, prolific since 2009, with five records on Nils Winther's relatively mainstream Danish label and double that on more avant labels. This is the first of the former group I've heard, a trio with Jamie Saft on organ/synth and Hamid Drake on drums. They start with a trad gospel, then get original. Trumpet impressive, but sometimes gets snagged on Saft's keyboards. B+(*)

Konx-Om-Pax: Caramel (2016, Planet Mu): Scottish "animator, graphic designer, DJ and producer" Tom Scholefield. Thick, shimmering layers piled on beats that barely support them. B+(*)

Kornél Kovács: The Bells (2016, Studio Barnhus): DJ/deep house producer from Sweden, first album after a half-dozen singles. Minor variations and other fluff on top of fast rocking beats, a nice trick. B+(**)

Krokofant: Krokofant II (2015, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion ("semi-improvising power") trio -- Tom Hasslan (guitars), Axel Skalstad (drums), Jřrgen Mathisen (sax) -- like to play it fast and hard, which can be their undoing. B+(*)

Martin Küchen/Mark Tokar/Arkadijus Gotesmanas: Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival (2016, NoBusiness): Sax trio, the Swedish saxophonist playing tenor, alto, and flute, the others bass and drums. Joint improv, takes a while to heat up, cooks when it does. B+(**) [cdr]

Lady Gaga: Joanne (2016, Streamline/Interscope): Album title is Stefani Germanotta's middle name, although it was reportedly named, like her, for her aunt Joanne Stefani Germanotta. A step toward maturity, perhaps, but pushing no buttons/boundaries gives us little more than impeccable professionalism to care for. Not sure whether I should credit that the first song I liked was in the "Deluxe version bonus tracks" ("Grigio Girls"). B

Jinx Lennon: Past Pupil Stay Sane (2016, Septic Tiger): Irish singer-songwriter, or talker, ranter, rapper, has two new records, six (or more) old ones, would probably have been a folksinger forty years ago but he's endured too much complication to settle for simple clarity. Crams 24 titles in here, though it's not clear there are that many different songs. B+(***)

Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift Grief Magnets (2016, Septic Tiger): Recorded with two members of the Liverpool band Clinic, this promises to be more structured, with just twelve songs averaging close to three minutes (33:16). I don't doubt that he's an interesting guy, but at some point I gave up trying to follow this. B+(**)

Live the Spirit Residency: Presents the Young Masters 1: Coming of Age (2016, self-released): The key here, of course, is tenor saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, executive director of Live the Spirit Residency, which runs after-hours jazz ed programs for Chicago youth. They put together a group called the Young Masters Ensemble -- Isaiah Collier (tenor sax), Jeremiah Collier (drums), Alex Lombre (piano), and James Wenzel (bass) -- and they're terrific even when the saxes lay out for a blues vamp. And while I suspect Dawkins plays most of the superb sax runs, they've all earned their group name. A- [cd]

The Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams (2016, Motéma): Conga player, also plays bata drums, born in Havana, based in New York since 1997, sings, which makes this strike me as more pop than jazz, even if the Afro-Cuban traditions run deep. B+(*)

Rob Mazurek & Emmett Kelly: Alien Flower Sutra (2016, International Anthem): Kelly wrote and sings the lyrics here, also strums some guitar, with most of the music coming from Mazurek's electronics (also a bit of cornet, and some guests). Very disjointed, the songs slapped onto the music (or vice versa), the discord palpable and more than a little hideous. C

Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads (2012-14 [2016], Nonesuch): Long-running trio, with Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), cover seven songs, precisely, expertly, not even fumbling tunes by the Beatles and solo McCartney. B+(**)

Mekons: Existentialism (2015 [2016], Bloodshot): I'm at a huge disadvantage here, in that this live album ("why should a record take more time to record than it does to listen to?") from last year's Mekonception at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn ("with the help of 75 mekonsters") is properly part of a 96-page book ($24.95), the 12 songs accompanied with "twelve chapters of writing and art from mekons and mekon friends" -- so I can't tell you who's who, let alone the back stories and concepts. What I can say is that the music is terrific, harsh as the working life it transcends, the words biting and/or poignant. A

Myra Melford + Ben Goldberg: Dialogue (2014 [2016], BAG): Piano and clarinet duets, working through five Goldberg pieces, eight from the pianist. There are moments when Melford does something characteristically brilliant, but more often the clarinet lays over everything like a wet blanket. B

Parker Millsap: The Very Last Day (2016, Okrahoma): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, so defaults to country. Feels at home wailing gospel and blues, and gets some liberal credit for a song about the gay son of a preacher. B+(*)

Modus Factor: The Picasso Zone (2015 [2016], Browntasaurus): Self-described as "a modern electric groove trio," from Canada, drummer Chris Lesson evidently first among equals, alongside Brownman Ali (electric trumpet) and Ian De Souza (bass, effects). Still, the trumpet does much more than groove. B+(**)

Moker: Ladder (2016, El Negocito): Dutch jazz quintet (although Google also digs up a "brutal death metal" band), fifth album -- trumpet, tenor sax/clarinet/bansuri, guitar/alto horn, bass and drums, most also into electronics with krautrock legacy, not that they strike me as all that fusionish. B+(*)

Moor Mother: Fetish Bones (2016, Don Giovanni): Chamae Ayewa, from Philadelphia, has released more than a dozen EPs since 2012, this one more experimental postrock noise than hip-hop (no hop to it). Has a time travel motif, and refuses to overlook more than a century of violence against black folk. No fun, but I suppose that's part of the point. B

Donny Most: Swinging Down the Chimney Tonight (2016, Summit): Best known as an actor -- only regular gig seems to have been playing Ralph Malph on Happy Days -- has a previous standards album as D Most. This is just four secular (mostly Santa-themed) songs plus a non-Xmas "bonus": "C'est Si Bon"), 14:18, with an uncredited big band and backup singer. Fine voice, not bad as these things go. B [cd]

Motif: My Head is Listening (2013-15 [2016], Clean Feed): Norwegian jazz group, half dozen albums going back to 2005, leader-composer is bassist Ole Morten Vĺgan. Sextet with trumpet, tenor sax/bass clarinet, clarinet, piano (Hĺvard Wiik), and drums. Free jazz, in some sort of a fancy chamber setting. B+(**)

Nao: For all We Know (2016, Little Tokyo): British soul singer (Neo Jessica Joshua), first album, attempts to channel some Prince funk, impressive when she actually pulls it off (i.e., not always). B+(*)

Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (2016, Legacy): Circa 1980 Nelson a series of duet albums with peers and slightly older country legends, including San Antonio Rose with Price, whose biggest hits spanned 1956-73. Price rejoined Nelson for two even better 2003-07 casual classics, so a tribute after Price's 2013 death seems like a sure shot. Still, the strings are a bit much, Nelson is occasionally mannered, and Price's songs tend to revert to their originators without his voice. B+(*)

Nice as Fuck: Nice as Fuck (2016, Loves Way, EP): All-female indie rock trio, best known Jenny Lewis but also Erika Forster (Au Revoir Simone) and Tennessee Thomas (The Like). One of those short vinyl albums that comes up just short (9 songs, 25:51), and just shy of substantial. B+(*)

Noname: Telefone (2016, self-released): Chicago rapper Fatimah Warner, first album (err, mixtape), shuffles patiently through everyday life. B+(**) [bc]

Nots: Cosmetic (2016, Goner): Memphis punk band, second album, Alexandra Eastburn's keyboards add something to the guitar-bass-drums formula, and vocalist-guitarist Natalie Hoffmann is hard-pressed to sing over the noise, so it isn't immediately obvious that this is a grrrl band. What is obvious is that they're a damn catchy one. A-

The Nu Band: The Final Concert (2012 [2016], NoBusiness): Avant supergroup, although the cover rightly features trumpet player Roy Campbell, whose 2014 death turned this date in Austria final. The quartet -- Mark Whitcage (alto sax), Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums) -- first recorded in 2001, cut a half-dozen albums over the next decade-plus, and has since recorded The Cosmological Constant with Thomas Heberer on cornet. Hesitates in spots, not the brightest recording, but a remarkable group. B+(**)

NxWorries: Yes Lawd! (2016, Stones Throw): Hip-hop duo, the rapper known as Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. Nineteen cuts, none over 4:03, the sort of slippery beats and soft edges so much in vogue recently, talked-sung, relies a bit much on the lingo for my taste but comparable to a bunch of records I'm impressed by but can't quite get into (Chance the Rapper, for one). B+(***)

Uwe Oberg/Silke Eberhard: Turns (2015 [2016], Leo): Two Germans, duets between piano and alto sax or clarinet, the pianist the senior player by more than a decade. Both provide originals, but they also work through covers from Jimmy Giuffre, Carla Bley, and Annette Peacock. B+(***)

Roberto Occhipinti: Stabilimento (2016, Modica Music): Canadian bassist, several albums, employs twenty-some musicians including a fairly hefty string section, although I can't see well enough to map the asterisks to the songs so I'm unsure who's playing what when. As for how, the postbop and third stream moves (including a Beethoven theme) never command much attention. B

Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016, Boys Don't Cry): Cover says blond but nearly everyone agrees that's a typo (or a "stylization"). Currently running 3rd in my EOY Aggregate, despite having a nebulous existence as product, and I'm afraid it's not much more substantial as music (with a couple exceptions). B+(**)

Phronesis: Parallax (2015 [2016], Edition): Piano trio, based in London, half-dozen albums since 2007, leader seems to be bassist Jasper Hřiby, with Ivo Neame on piano and Anton Eger on drums, all three writing pieces (three each this time). Tight group, power moves to open and close, wide range in between. B+(**)

Populous: Night Safari (2014, Bad Panda): Italian electronica producer Andrea Mangia, looks south, across the Sahara, and dreams. B+(***) [bc]

Mark Pritchard: Under the Sun (2016, Warp): British electronica producer, has several albums, the gentle ambience of his wordless passages is pleasing, his guest vocalists/lyricists -- Stephen Wilkinson, Thom Yorke, Linda Perhacs, Beans -- are not unpleasant but don't add much either. B+(*)

Pussy Riot: XXX (2016, Nice Life, EP): Russian "feminist punk rock protest group" formed in 2011, variable cast of members, some having been arrested for "hooliganism," various previous recordings have been rumored but this three-cut, 11:37 single is the first I've managed to track down. Two of those are in English over funky beats, the third in gloomy Russian. B+(***)

Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (2016, Clean Feed): French pianist, has a half dozen previous albums, working frequently with prepared piano. This is something else: a ten-piece orchestra (two saxes, flute, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar and bass, drums), the pieces inspired by various rugged landscapes, a rhythm section itching to break free, the horns striving to heighten the tension, not to break free. A- [cd]

The Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome (2016, Polydor): Still taking their cues from Chicago bluesmen, Jagger and company understand that the fount of youth for septagenarian rockers is the still the classic blues riff, and if they can't get it up to write their own, they can knock off an album of covers and make them sound great. B+(***)

Daniel Romano: Mosey (2016, New West): Canadian country singer, doesn't really have the voice for the job but impressed with his sincerity in the past. Still, this one sounds way off the mark, even when the mark seems to be Marty Robbins. B-

Ned Rothenberg/Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier: In Cahoots (2014 [2016], Clean Feed): Leader plays various reeds (clarinet, alto sax, bass clarinet, shakuhachi), free jazz backed in chamber jazz fashion with violin and piano, respectively. B+(**) [cd]

Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP (2016, Top Dawg/Interscope): LA rapper, actually born in Germany, like Ab-Soul came out of Black Hippy but has harder, more mainstream beats and rhymes that flirt with gangsta. B+(***)

Serengeti & Sicker Man: Doctor My Own Patience (2016, Graveface): Underground Chicago rapper David Cohn pairs off oddly Tobias Vethake from Germany for a pleasantly non-descript song cycle, with a vaguely Eno-ish vibe. Built for vinyl: 9 cuts, 31:25. B

Sleigh Bells: Jessica Rabbit (2016, Torn Clean): Noisy pop band, principally Alexis Krauss (vocals) and Derek Miller (everything else). Fourth album, still know how to bait a hook but I'm not catching much (other than desperation -- not that I didn't notice the one about tornadoes in Kansas). B

Todd Snider: Eastside Bulldog (2016, Aimless): So short (25:22) Napster considers this an EP, but it sports ten songs, only one over 2:48 but only one sub-2:00. That's because he plays fast and hard -- you could shelve this one under rockabilly. But he also writes fast and loose: only the title cut and "Come On Up" are really keepers. B+(***)

Elza Soares: The Woman at the End of the World (A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo) (2015 [2016], Mais Um Discos): Brazilian samba singer, b. 1937, has fifty-some albums since 1960 but I can't say as I've ever taken notice of her before. But at least at this point in her career she's way coarser and weirder than anyone in MPB -- rhythmically she's gravitated toward Tom Zé. Wikipedia notes she's been dubbed "the Brazilian Tina Turner," but I'm thinking more Alberta Hunter. A-

Regina Spektor: Remember Us to Life (2016, Sire): Singer-songwriter, born in Moscow, based in New York, has a handful of albums crossing over from Soviet Kitsch to American pop and what I suppose might be called more cultured forms -- mostly piano-based. Being an uncultured sort, I'm more impressed than enamoraed here. B+(**)

Steve Swell Quintet: Soul Travelers (2015 [2016], RogueArt): Avant-trombonist, quintet adds Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Dave Burrell (piano), William Parker (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums), each adding something distinctive and remarkable to the mix. Still, I always enjoy a good trombone lead, of which there are many. Looks like this only came out on vinyl, so runs to a respectable length (4 cuts, 43:40). A- [cdr]

Steve Swell/Gebhard Ullmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang: The Chicago Plan (2015 [2016], Clean Feed): Recorded in Chicago, home of Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Zerang (drums), if not the front line (and composers) -- trombone and tenor sax/bass clarinet. The trombone leads are bracing, but the others on their own tend to melt together. B+(***) [cd]

Swet Shop Boys: Cashmere (2016, Customs): My kind of supergroup, two rappers with Indian/Pakistani heritage, although the Indian was born in Queens, New York (Heems, aka Himanshu Kumar Suri, formerly of Das Racist) and the Pakistani in London (MC Riz, aka Riz Ahmed, who had a standout acting role in HBO's The Night Of playing another Queens boy. As postmodern westerners, they see the potential of playing off their heritage, especially as they intuit it gets under the skin of less worldly westerners. A-

Tanya Tagaq: Retribution (2016, Six Shooter): Inuit throat singer, early on was just a weird blip on the world music continuum but has grown into a cosmopolitan rocker from the edges of a larger (and colder) world than you're used to. Includes a physics lesson/impending doom story remind you that "Gaia likes it cold." A-

Gregory Tardy: Chasing After the Wind (2015 [2016], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, got some attention 1998-2001 but fell off my radar after that -- turns out this is his ninth album since 2005 for SteepleChase. Sextet, Bruce Barth on piano, Alex Norris on trumpet, but instead of trombone the third horn is Sam Sadigursky's flute -- the weak link, I think, but also a bid to move beyond hard bop into something vaguely postbop. B

Tell Tale: Film in Music (2014 [2016], Drip Audio): Vancouver BC group, septet, hype sheet cites cellist Peggy Lee as the leader but album lists drummer Dylan Van Der Schiff as co-producer, and the includes other well-known musicians -- indeed, they often play on one another's albums. Not sure if this is actual film music, but could be. B+(*) [cd]

A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service (2016, Epic): Hip-hop group, recorded five albums 1990-98, finding success with a jazzy underground sound before Q-Tip went solo. The reunion is also billed as a fluke, promised to be their last album even though it's much better than anything Q-Tip produced on his own (certainly since 1999's Amplified). Christgau gave this an ultrarare A+, but I can't fathom why he (or anyone else) finds it compelling -- maybe just desperate for some good news? A-

A Tribe Called Red: We Are the Halluci Nation (2016, Radicalized): Trio of "First Nations" musicians based in Ottawa, Canada; Wikipedia described them as a "Canadian electronic music group" but a better approximation would be hip-hop crew -- indeed, their name makes that explicit. Results are mixed: I'm most struck by the more radical political rants and critiques, which usually get sharper beats, than with the more generic war whoops. B+(***)

William Tyler: Modern Country (2016, Merge): Guitarist, played in Lambchop and Silver Jews before going solo in 2010. Fourth album, no vocals, not solo but often feels like it -- albeit oddly lush. B+(*)

Alexander von Schlippenbach: Jazz Now! (Live at Theater Gütersloh) (2015 [2016], Intuition): German avant-pianist, a major player since the late 1960s, in a quartet with Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, plus bass (Antonio Borghini) and drums (Heinrich Köbberling). They play one Monk tune, plus a mix of Herbie Nichols (3), Eric Dolphy (4), and Schlippenbach himself (5) -- longtime touchstones. B+(***)

Kelsey Waldon: I've Got a Way (2016, Monkey's Eyebrow): Singer-songwriter from an unincorporated town in Kentucky, moved to Nashville and released a debut album that deserves to be heard (The Goldmine). The first half here is at least that completely realized, and if the closing ballads slip a bit, the voice and pedal steel are sure purty. And at least one generalization has become more specific: "you can't place a crown on the head of a clown/and then hope it turns out to be a king." A-

Mat Walerian-Matthew Shipp Duo: The Uppercut: Live at Okuden (2012 [2015], ESP-Disk): Polish alto saxophonist (also bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, flute), matched up with the pianist. They range widely here, going hard and soft, rough and not-so-rough. B+(***) [bc]

Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/Hamid Drake: Jungle: Live at Okuden (2012 [2016], ESP-Disk, 2CD): Same deal as The Uppercut, plus a drummer -- a real good one -- and a few months practice. Often superb free jazz, but does run long (99:41). B+(***) [bc]

Becky Warren: War Surplus (2016, self-released): Former singer for a group called the Great Unknowns, structures her album as a "he said/she said" song cycle, loosely based on an ex-husband who flew off to Iraq and came back with PTSD crutched with alcoholism -- pretty much a cliché these days, and frankly her domestic travails rank pretty low on the scale of horrors war has produced. But as a piece of navel-gazing Americana this is pretty acute, and as country it's rock solid. A-

The Weeknd: Starboy (2016, XO/Republic): The opening Daft Punk single is fabulous, but the fall off without that level of help is pretty steep, but then several cuts return -- well, if not there, at least somewhere. One spin isn't nearly enough to sort out the peaks and troughs, but I'm not the one who decided to release 18 scattered tracks when some editing would yield a consistently pleasurable 10-cut album. B+(*)

Wilco: Schmilco (2016, dBpm): Big-time alt-indie band, as melodic as ever, just a bit softer and slower. B+(*)

Andre Williams: I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City (2016, Bloodshot): Obscure "R&B legend," wrote "Shake a Tail Feather" way back when, eventually got picked up by this very-alt country label and released a pretty remarkable album in 2012 with help from the Sadies (Night and Day). Could use some more help here. B+(*)

Jamila Woods: HEAVN (2016, Closed Sessions): Chicago R&B singer, close to hip-hop, associated with Chance the Rapper, smart and savvy but a little forced. Doesn't help that my stream source is so hard to follow. B+(*) [sc]

Neil Young + Promise of the Real: Earth (2015 [2016], Reprise, 2CD): Live double from his Rebel Content Tour with the band he organized for The Monsanto Years -- I'll backtrack to that under "old music" -- so he works in a few (superior) old songs along with his more recent rants. It may be an existential condition for old white men to turn into cranks, but that doesn't mean they have to fall for Trump. B+(*)

Neil Young: Peace Trail (2016, Reprise): Continues his political crankiness in a more acoustic vein, although he does return to his '80s electronic treatments when he wants to give voice for a robot -- doesn't he know modern voice synthesis is all based on samples? So softer and kinder this time out. My guess is that sonic outrage will return, pretty damn soon. B+(**)

Yussef Kamaal: Black Focus (2016, Brownswood): London jazzy electronica group -- can't peg them as "pop jazz" -- principals are Henry Wu (keyboards) and Yussef Dayes (drums), with some others credited for tenor sax (Shabaka Hutchings), trumpet, electric bass and guitar, and "words" (Gordon Wedderburn). B+(*)

Tom Zé: Cançőes Eróticas De Ninar (2016, Circus): Brazilian singer-songwriter, took tropicalia to idiosyncratic extremes back in the 1970s and has cultivated his eccentricity ever since, often winning me over. Released as he turned 80, other print on the cover reads Para Dançar O Sobe Ni Mim and Urgéncia Didatica. Not sure if this one is exceptional, but few records sustain this level of jaunty playfulness. A-

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Dave Burrell and Bob Stewart: The Crave (1994 [2016], NoBusiness): Piano and tuba duets, the fine print reads "play the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Dave Burrell." Three of each, but Burrell was likely thinking of Morton when he wrote his. Indeed, this set follows Burrell's 1991 album The Jelly Roll Joys, and improves upon it, the not-so-secret ingredient Stewart's tuba. A- [cdr]

Bob Dylan: The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert! (1966 [2016], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Evidently the much-bootlegged "Royal Albert Hall" concert officially released in 1998 as Volume 4 of The Bootleg Series was actually recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, so what makes this "real" is geographical, but not much more. Both concerts were divided into solo-acoustic and band sets (the future Band billed as The Hawks), and the set lists are exactly the same. Times vary slightly, as do the catcalls, but all in all: pretty redundant. B

Dizzy Gillespie & Friends: Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (1980 [2016], Justin Time): Concert in Montreal, different venue but same city as 1953's legendary Parker-Gillespie-Powell-Mingus-Roach Jazz at Massey Hall. Group here is nearly as stellar -- Gillespie, James Moody, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Philly Joe Jones -- but much further into their respective careers. B+(*)

Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul (1964-69 [2016], Soul Jazz): Born 1941, she cut 15 singles during the 1960s, mostly for Allen Toussaint and backed by the Meters, only three scratching the charts, none remembered as classic, but professional enough for this solid, unremarkable compilation. B+(**)

Steve Lehman's Camouflage Trio: Interface (2004 [2016], Clean Feed): I've been meaning to dig up the alto saxophonist's slightly earlier FSNT album (Artificial Light), the only one I've heard that I didn't much care for. This was cut a year later, an avant trio with Mark Dresser (bass) and Pheeroan Aklaff (drums), and has now been remastered. His hard freebop style is fully formed, the spots given over to Dresser more iffy. B+(***)

Joe McPhee & Raymond Boni: Live From the Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama) (1985 [2016], Trost): McPhee is credited with soprano sax, electronics and voice; Boni with electric guitar and electronics. Duet, titles like "Set 1" and "Set 2 Part A." Interesting how the electronics defocuses the lead instruments, but more exciting when they clash. B+(**) [bc]

Evan Parker/Daunik Lazro/Joe McPhee: Seven Pieces: Live at Willisau 1995 (1995 [2016], Clean Feed): Three saxophonists -- tenor/soprano, alto/baritone, and alto/soprano + alto clarinet and pocket trumpet -- although I wouldn't call them a sax choir: it's not like three free improvisers are concerned much with harmony. Still, it's rare when an all-sax record doesn't leave you wishing for something more, and this previously unreleased tape is that. B+(***) [cd]

Howard Riley: Constant Change 1976-2016 (1976-2016 [2016], NoBusiness, 5CD): British avant-pianist, a Penguin Guide favorite. I've heard very little aside from a couple of outstanding 1968-70 albums (Angle, The Day Will Come), but he's still active in his 70s -- indeed, three-fifths of this solo piano trove date from 2014 or later. That later material is interesting, but the early discs -- especially the first from 1976-80 -- is more like exciting. Includes a short booklet by Brian Morton. B+(***) [cd]

Pat Thomas: Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1967-1981 (1967-81 [2016], Strut, 2CD): Still active at 65, this label picked up his new record last year, and finally decided to dig into his long-forgotten prime period, before he left Ghana for Germany. Not exceptionally great, nor at least consistently so, but there are few beats I enjoy more than classic highlife, and he was definitely part of that scene. A-

Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics (1972-82 [2016], Sterns Africa, 2CD): Benga, rhumba, Afrobeat, pop dance singles from Tanzania and Kenya, not as slick as the legendary Guitar Paradise of East Africa compilation or several other compilations I've heard (one called Muziki Wa Dansi actually covers the following decade), but I still find the uplift irresistible. A-

David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp Duo: Live in Sant'Anna Arresi, 2004 (2004 [2016], AUM Fidelity): Half of Ware's fabulous Quartet, perhaps before the pianist became a star in his own right but he does much more than comp here on this posthumous tape (Ware died in 2012, and this is the second of what promises to be an archive series). B+(***)

Neil Young: Bluenote Café (1987-88 [2015], Reprise, 2CD): In the late 1980s Young seemed to be desperately trying out new styles, producing an eclectic mix of poorly received albums. On one, This Note's for You, he fronted a lounge band with soul horns. This is from that band's live tour, part of an ongoing archives series. It works mostly as a blues set, the horns present but not so much as the guitar. B+(*)

Old Music

Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings: Other Stories (2003-05 [2005], 482 Music): Cornet player, first album to introduce his strings group (two violins, viola, two cellos, guitar) plus tuba, vibraphone, and drums. Three extended sequences, ambitious compositions, tricky and fragile. B+(*)

Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths (2008, Hatology): At full strength (only for the three-part centerpiece, "WhYeXpliCitieS," although that's most of the album), the leader's cornet, Matt Bauder (bass clarinet/tenor sax), two guitars (Evan O'Reilly and Mary Halvorson), viola (Jessica Pavone), and drums (Tomas Fujiwara). Scattered results, although I do love the intro to "Part 3" -- reminds me of South Africa's pennywhistle jive. B+(**)

Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (2015, Reprise): Band was borrowed from Lukas Nelson -- Willie'son, joined here by brother Micah -- after a Farm Aid concert, with Young providing a gaggle of anti-corporate protest songs, joining Monsanto to Walmart, Starbucks, Chevron, and others. Some I recognize from the live Earth, but I like them better here -- the guitars ring louder, and the backup singers stay in the background. B+(**)

Revised Grades

Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:


Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Greg Morton convinced he to give this another spin, and he may still right that this is even better than I can presently acknowledge. [was: B+(***)] A-

Additional Consumer News:

Previous grades on artists in the old music section.

  • Taylor Ho Bynum: The Middle Picture (2005-06 [2007], Firehouse 12) B+(**)
  • [Taylor Ho Bynum] Positive Catastrophe: Garabatos Volume One (2008 [2009], Cuneiform) B+(*)
  • Taylor Ho Bynum & Spidermonkey Strings: Madeleine Dreams (2009, Firehouse 12) B
  • Taylor Ho Bynum/Tomas Fujiwara: Stepwise (2009 [2010], Not Two) B+(***)
  • Taylor Ho Bynum/Joe Morris/Sara Schoenbeck: Next (2009 [2011], Porter B-
  • Taylor Ho Bynum: Apparent Distance (2011, Firehouse 12) B+(***)
  • Taylor Ho Bynum: Navigation (The Complete Firehouse 12 Recordings) (2012 [2013], Firehouse 12) B+(***)
  • Neil Young: 45 other albums

Notes

Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [sp] available at spotify.com
  • [os] some other stream source
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo

Monday, December 26, 2016


Music Week

Music: Current count 27512 [27465] rated (+47), 362 [383] unrated (-21).

This week's rated count when I first ran make was +24, but when I counted the rated records this week, I came up with 28, so clearly I had missed at least four. I made a deeper search of unrated records and found them plus a bunch more (+19), hence this week's inflated count. Actually, I lost a couple days this week to cooking, but I also made up ground by leaning rather hard on Napster and Bandcamp, as I checked out interesting records from various EOY lists. Most helpful this week was Tom Lane's list (emailed personally), as it yielded about a dozen albums I hadn't previously tracked, including two of this week's A- finds (Kelsey Waldon and Becky Warren).

NPR published the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll this year. Francis Davis organized the poll of 137 jazz critics, and wrote two essays:

Once again, I compiled all of the critics' ballots into presentable form here, and tabulated them all to provide complete results down to the most obscure single votes. My own ballot is here, which includes, I believe, four singular votes (Keita, Person, Lucas, Rempis -- plus Lucas and Sonic Liberation 8 in the special categories; Amado got one other vote, and Rudd two; Damana got two other votes for Debut). I voted for records which finished 1st (Threadgill), 13th (Allen), 14th (Murray), and tied for 30th (Coleman), but I also graded eight other top-31 finishers A- (DeJohnette, Haden, Lehman, Bloom, Ward, Holland, Rollins, and Hersch), and ten more B+(***) (Smith, Halvorson, Formanek, Wilson, Sorey, Cyrille, Davis, Ortiz, Guy, Brown), plus five B+(**) (Iyer, Argue, Lloyd, Finlayson, Dresser). I didn't manage to hear two (Harrell, Moran). So all in all I find this a very respectable consensus -- in fact, probably fewer records here I disfavor than ever before.

Since the Jazz Critics Poll went up, I've mostly been trying to bring my EOY Aggregate up to date. Thus far I've mostly tried to pick up the (mostly foreign) polls listed at Acclaimed Music Forums. I'm currently up to 166 lists (as compared to about 750 lists last year, a total I'm not even remotely hoping for this year). (By the way, the list-of-the-week is from Dan Weiss. And while I haven't read/counted it yet, here's one from Jason Gross).

The current top-10: David Bowie, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, Solange, Nick Cave, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, Bon Iver, and Chance the Rapper. Second 10: Angel Olsen, Anohni, Anderson .Paak, Car Seat Headrest, Leonard Cohen, Danny Brown, Kaytranada, Blood Orange, Rihanna, and Mitski. The recent infusion of non-Anglo lists has helped fuel bubbles for Nick Cave (up to 6 from 9 last week), Bon Iver (9 from 11), and Anohni (11 from 13). I suspect those three will settle down a bit as the list focus moves back to America. That should also help Beyoncé, but at this point it's pretty clear that Bowie will wind up in first place (current margin +83), and it's not inconceivable that Beyoncé will lose second place to Frank Ocean (her lead is currently 306-300, so very close). I still expect Beyoncé to win the Village Voice Critics Poll, but my own scheme doesn't allow enough weighting for high finishes to make such a lead reversible.


I was invited to vote in El Intruso's annual poll, so this is what I sent in. They asked for "no more than three choices in each category." Most of those are for musicians-by-instrument. I don't think it makes much sense to try to rank musicians, so please consider this just an exercise in name-dropping.

  • Musician of the year: Ivo Perelman, Allen Lowe
  • Newcomer Musician: Dag Magnus Narvesen
  • Group of the year: Made to Break, Black Bombaim
  • Newcomer group: Damana, Festen
  • Album of the year: Aly Keita, Kalo-Yele (Intakt); Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (HighNote), Henry Threadgill: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi)
  • Composer: Carla Bley, John Zorn
  • Drums: Gerald Cleaver, Paal Nilssen-Love, Gerry Hemingway
  • Acoustic Bass: William Parker, John Hebert
  • Electric Bass: Devin Hoff, Rafal Mazur
  • Guitar: Samo Salamon, Eric Hofbauer, Luis Lopes
  • Piano: Irene Schweizer, Kris Davis, Nik Bartsch
  • Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ
  • Tenor Saxophone: David Murray, Ellery Eskelin, Ernest Dawkins
  • Alto Saxophone: Francois Carrier, Greg Ward, Brahja Waldman
  • Baritone Saxophone: Vinny Golia
  • Soprano Saxophone: Jane Ira Bloom, Sam Newsome
  • Trumpet/Cornet: Taylor Ho Bynum
  • Clarinet/bass clarinet: Marty Ehrlich
  • Trombone: Steve Swell, Roswell Rudd, Joe Fiedler
  • Flute: Nicole Mitchell, Robert Dick
  • Violin/Viola: Jason Kao Hwang
  • Cello: Fred Lonberg-Holm, Erik Friedlander
  • Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz
  • Electronics: Jean-Marc Foussat
  • Other instruments: Aly Keita (balafon/kalimba)
  • Female Vocals: Sarah Stiles, Barbara Dane
  • Male Vocals: Freddy Cole
  • Best Live Band: Cortex
  • Record Label: Intakt, Clean Feed, Pi

I also voted in the Village Voice Music Critics Poll 2016 (formerly Pazz & Jop, originally -- i.e., 1971 -- named for a similar poll published by Jazz & Pop magazine). The poll asks critics to vote for their 10 favorite albums, dividing up 100 votes among them (5 minimum, 30 maximum), and also for 10 songs (with no point system).

  1. Aly Keďta/Jan Galega Brönnimann/Lucas Niggli: Kalo-Yele (Intakt) 14
  2. Mekons: Existentialism (Bloodshot) 13
  3. Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (HighNote) 13
  4. Pet Shop Boys: Super (X2) 11
  5. Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town (Warner Brothers) 11
  6. Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi) 9
  7. Drive-By Truckers: American Band (ATO) 8
  8. Murray, Allen & Carrington Power Trio: Perfection (Motéma) 8
  9. Gary Lucas: Fleischerei: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons (Cuneiform) 7
  10. Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers) 6

I haven't been tracking singles, so have no idea what to vote for there, and no time at the moment to figure out how to fake it. I only picked five records from my 2016 Jazz List and one (Lucas) was picked ahead of order because it's more pop/vocal, with five more from the 2016 Non-Jazz List. For a variety of reasons, my present integrated EOY list is rather heavily skewed toward jazz (for one thing, I have 71 A-list jazz records, vs. 51 A-list non-jazz). But the former hardly ever get any Pazz & Jop support, and I don't wish to be totally marginal there. For one thing, we've lost way too many elections already this year.

On the other hand, I'm not terribly excited by the records leading the EOY Aggregate count. Looking at my grades for the top 20 (and I still haven't heard Beyoncé), I come up with zero A records, 8 A- (Chance the Rapper [44], A Tribe Called Quest [27], Anderson .Paak [7], Leonard Cohen [30], Kaytranada [13], Rihanna [25], Danny Brown [12], Blood Orange [28]), 4 B+(***) (David Bowie, Kanye West, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest), 2 B+(**) (Frank Ocean, Solange), 3 B+(*) (Bon Iver, Anohni, Mitski), 1 B (Radiohead), 1 B- (Nick Cave), nothing really worse than that. While I can't say as I understand the attraction of the bottom two, the average year has 3-4 times as many "deplorables," so it's hard to complain about this year's polls. In fact, it's never been clearer that the Trump demographic has never been more culturally impotent (or should I just say eclipsed?).


New records rated this week:

  • Harry Allen's All Star New York Saxophone Band: The Candy Men (2016, Arbors): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Beasley: Presents MONK'estra Vol. 1 (2016, Mack Avenue): [r]: B-
  • William Bell: This Is Where I Live (2016, Stax): [r]: B
  • Sarah Bernstein Quartet: Still/Free (2015 [2016], Leo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Copenhagen (2016, Not Two): [cd]: A-
  • J Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only (2016, Dreamville/Roc Nation/Interscope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniele D'Agaro/Giovanni Maier/Zlatko Kaucic: Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette (2015 [2016], Not Two): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pierre Dřrge's New Jungle Orchestra: Ubi Zaa (2016, SteepleChase): [r]: B
  • DD Dumbo: Utopia Defeated (2016, 4AD): [r]: B
  • ELEW: And to the Republic (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jonny Fritz: Sweet Creep (2016, ATO): [r]: B+(*)
  • Future: EVOL (2016, Epic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kirk Knuffke: Little Cross (2014 [2015], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(*)
  • Konx-Om-Pax: Caramel (2016, Planet Mu): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kornél Kovács: The Bells (2016, Studio Barnhus): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams (2016, Motéma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rob Mazurek & Emmett Kelly: Alien Flower Sutra (2016, International Anthem): [r]: C
  • Parker Millsap: The Very Last Day (2016, Okrahoma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Modus Factor: The Picasso Zone (2015 [2016], Browntasaurus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Uwe Oberg & Silke Eberhard: Turns (2015 [2016], Leo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Roberto Occhipinti: Stabilimento (2016, Modica Music): [cd]: B
  • Phronesis: Parallax (2015 [2016], Edition): [r]: B+(**)
  • Populous: Night Safari (2014, Bad Panda): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Todd Snider: Eastside Bulldog (2016, Aimless): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gregory Tardy: Chasing After the Wind (2015 [2016], SteepleChase): [r]: B
  • Tell Tale: Film in Music (2014 [2016], Drip Audio): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kelsey Waldon: I've Got a Way (2016, Monkey's Eyebrow): [r]: A-
  • Becky Warren: War Surplus (2016, self-released): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Led Bib: Umbrella Weather (RareNoise): advance, January 20
  • Brad Myers & Michael Sharfe: Sanguinaria (Hopefulsongs) (Colloquy): March 3
  • Reflections in Cosmo (RareNoise): advance, January 20

Monday, December 19, 2016


Music Week

Music: Current count 27465 [27433] rated (+32), 383 [385] unrated (-2).

Spent most of last week building the website for the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which NPR will publish tomorrow, or maybe a bit later. I won't disclose anything here, other than that we received 139 ballots, down a bit from last year's record 147 (where's John Chacona? Steven Dollar? David Hajdu? Lyn Horton? Garrett Shelton?). When they do go up, my pages will look a lot like last year's. Francis Davis again deserves a big round of applause for making this happen.

Mostly picking things off lists opportunistically, as well as mopping up a few 2016 stragglers in my queue: down to 6 pending records. With all the JCP work, I've done very little on my own EOY Aggregate file: today belatedly adding only a few of the recent lists (Blare, Gigwise, Line of Best Fit, Pitchfork, Q, Tiny Mix Tapes). I'll add more when I get some time next week, although several things are going to slow me down. For one, I have dinners to cook on Tuesday and Saturday. For another, I have ballots due for the Village Voice (evidently not Pazz & Jop anymore) and El Intruso polls, though those at least I can safely wing.


New records rated this week:

  • Ab-Soul: Do What Thou Wilt (2016, Top Dawg): [r]: A-
  • Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: We Be All Africans (2016, Strut): [r]: B+(***)
  • Babyfather: BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (2016, Hyperdub): [r]: B-
  • Black Art Jazz Collective: Presented by the Side Door Jazz Club (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jane Bunnett & Maqueque: Oddara (2016, Linus Entertainment): [r]: B
  • Jeff Collins: The Keys to Christmas (2016, Crossroads): [r]: C-
  • Alexis Cuadrado: Poetica (2016, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Deap Vally: Femejism (2016, Nevado): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Dining Rooms: Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra?) (2015, Schema): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dog Leg Dilemma: Not This Time (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dave Douglas/Frank Woeste: Dada People (2015 [2016], Greenleaf Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mark Dresser Seven: Sedimental You (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Fire!: She Sleeps/She Sleeps (2015 [2016], Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(**)
  • Freddie Hendrix: Jersey Cat (2010 [2016], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dre Hocevar: Transcendental Within the Sphere of Indivisible Remainder (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bobby Kapp/Matthew Shipp: Cactus (2016, Northern Spy): [r]: A-
  • Irene Kepl: SololoS (2016, Fou): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads (2012-14 [2016], Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Moker: Ladder (2016, El Negocito): [r]: B+(*)
  • Donny Most: Swinging Down the Chimney Tonight (2016, Summit, EP): [cd]: B
  • Motif: My Head is Listening (2013-15 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nao: For All We Know (2016, Little Tokyo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nots: Cosmetic (2016, Goner): [r]: A-
  • Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016, Boys Don't Cry): [r]: B+(**)
  • Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP (2016, Interscope/Top Dawg): [r]: B+(***)
  • Steve Swell/Gebhard Ullmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang: The Chicago Plan (2016, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mat Walerian-Matthew Shipp Duo: The Uppercut: Live at Okuden (2012 [2015], ESP-Disk): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/Hamid Drake: Jungle: Live at Okuden (2012 [2016], ESP-Disk, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Neil Young + Promise of the Real: Earth (2015 [2016], Reprise, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Neil Young: Peace Trail (2016, Reprise): [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Bob Dylan: The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert! (1966 [2016], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Dizzy Gillespie & Friends: Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (1980 [2016], Justin Time): [r]: B+(*)
  • Evan Parker/Daunik Lazro/Joe McPhee: Seven Pieces: Live at Willisau 1995 (1995 [2016], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Howard Riley: Constant Change 1976-2016 (1976-2016 [2016], NoBusiness, 5CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Neil Young: Bluenote Café (1987-88 [2015], Reprise, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (2015, Reprise): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jim Black/Óskar Gudjónsson/Elias Stemeseder/Chris Tordini: Mala Mute (Intakt): January
  • Ellery Eskelin/Christian Weber/Michael Griener: Sensations of Tone (Intakt): January
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Peace (Libra): January 27
  • Cynthia Hilts: Lyric Fury (Blond Coyote): January 13
  • Gary Lucas' Fleischerei: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons (Cuneiform)
  • Tell Tale: Film in Music (Drip Audio)

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Weekend Roundup

I have better things to do than to continue documented this entirely predictable trainwreck. Still, a few links and brief notes if you're still transfixed:


  • David Atkins: Democrats Should Hope the Economic Populists Are Right:

  • More than a month after the election, a war of words and ideas still rages on the left between the Sanders-leaning economic populists and the more establishment defenders of the Clinton campaign. Broadly speaking, the contours of the argument center around whether Clinton could have done more from a populist messaging standpoint to appeal to white working class Rust Belt voters and to disaffected voters who stayed home, or whether Clinton's overall approach was good, but that she was overwhelmed by the prejudices of white voters and stabbed in the back by Comey, Russia, and various parts of the progressive left.

    I suppose I quoted this because the last clause led me to react: well, the progressive leftists I know gave her a lot more support than she would have given us over the next four years had she won. And I say that even though I know a few Stein supporters (probably, even, a couple folks who voted for Johnson), and I know a lot of people who voted for Clinton but weren't happy with her. I voted for her, fully understanding that we'd wind up spending the next four years protesting and organizing against much of her platform, because I was also every bit as aware that putting the Republicans into power would be far worse for virtually all of us. That's what we call a rational decision, and that's something we on the left weigh carefully and practice more or less consistently. Clinton's problem in the 2016 election wasn't with rational people, ergo it wasn't with "progressive leftists." Her problem was with crazy people, or effectively the same thing, people who were willing to put aside reason and vote on some emotional whim, a belief backed with no more than a scintilla of evidence.

    There are, of course, two approaches to this problem: one is to make voters more conscious of real problems and to better articulate real solutions. The other is to do a better job of identifying the emotions that can be made to work for you, and to hit them in ways that move voters to your side. (The Republicans are quite good at the latter, and have the much easier job doing the opposite of the former: all they need to do is to convince voters that problems are beyond political remedy, and ignorance helps as much as mendacity there.) As much as we'd like to see reason win out, that's a long term project. For right now, suffice it to say that wasn't especially effective at picking her issues, and was vulnerable to precisely the sort of attacks Republicans specialize in.

  • Lauren Fox: Obama: 'Reagan Would Roll Over in His Grave' Over GOP Support for Russia: One of Obama's strangest quirks is his continuing affection for Ronald Reagan, even to the point of imagining he's some sort of kindly national father-figure far removed from his actual history and legacy. It's not as if Obama wasn't conscious during the Reagan administration -- he was 18 when it started -- but he didn't have the Vietnam War to inform his politics at that age (like I did), so maybe he's normalized his memory in some way those of us who can recall Reagan from his days as governor of California in the 1960s cannot. (Maybe he's conflated Reagan with his first experiences of getting high and getting laid?) In any case, his comment reflects a simpler misunderstanding. Reagan's wailing about the Soviet Union was purely ideological -- even when he framed it as some sort of Manichaean struggle between good and evil -- he never went off on nationalist rants against the Russians, nor did he grasp the neoconservative doctrine that seeks to punish any nation that isn't sufficiently obsequious to American power. Moreover, like all conservatives of his era (and for that matter today), he appreciated the efficient order that dictators abroad offered -- one might even say he preferred them to the risks of unruly democracy America itself posed. So why on earth would Reagan be disturbed by Trump's fondness for Putin? -- a fellow plutocrat who's willing to cut corners when it comes to democratic niceties to consolidate the power of his favored cronies? It's not like conservatives care any more about ordinary Russians than they do about ordinary Americans.

    Liberals (and leftists), at least, can offer a plausible claim to caring about iniquities around the world, because they care about them at home, and recognize that the rest of the world isn't that different. Still, nothing Obama (nor any of the Democrats who have lately been obsessed with Russian meddling in our election) has said indicates any concern for the Russian people. Rather, he has simply fallen for the post-Cold War neoconservative line that demonizes any nation outside of America's "security" umbrella -- especially any political leaders who think they have any interests beyond their own borders (as Russia does with Syria and Ukraine). The neocons motives are pretty transparent: they like to puff up Russia and China as rivals and enemies to justify America's expensive indulgence in world-threatening arms. On the other hand, it's just plain ignorant and lazy for Democrats like Obama (and the Clintons) to take up the neocon cudgel against Russia. It leads to greater militarization, less diplomacy, a world torn into hostile camps where America rules by brute intimidation, and has ceded any motivation except for self-interest.

    As for the "Russian hack" of the election, which is presumably the imagined (if not the real) inspiration for Obama's attempt at wit, see Sam Kriss: The Rise of the Alt-Center, or as the subhed put it, "Why did establishment liberals fall in love with a deranged Twitter thread?" Or as the link I followed read: "Establishment Liberals Have Lost Their Damn Minds." The tweet thread was by Eric Garland, and Kriss adds a full paragraph of liberal praise, including "if there were a Pulitzer for tweeting -- this thread would be the updisputed winner of 2016." Kriss continues:

    Clearly something horrifying has happened to America's great liberal intellects. One moment they were yapping along in the train of a historic political movement; now, ragged and destitute, they wander with lolling tongues in search of anything that might explain their new world to them. This is, after all, how cults get started. Cultists will venerate any messianic mediocrity and any set of half-baked spiritual dogmas; it's not the overt content that matters but the security of knowing. If Trump's devoted hype squad of pustulent, oleaginous neo-Nazis can now be euphemized as the "alt-right," the Eichenwalds and Jefferys of the world might have turned themselves into something similar: an alt-center, pushing its own failed political doctrine with all the same vehemence, idiocy, and spleen. So it's strange, but not surprising, that so many people would sing the praises of Garland's masterpiece, because it is absolutely the worst piece of political writing ever inflicted on any public in human history. [ . . . ]

    Whatever Russia did or didn't do, the idea that its interference is what cost Hillary Clinton the election is utterly ludicrous and absolutely false. What cost Hillary Clinton the election can be summed up by a single line from Sen. Chuck Schumer, soon to be the country's highest-ranking Democrat: "For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin." As it turned out, he was fatally wrong. It wasn't the Russians who told the Democratic Party to abandon the working-class people of all races who used to form its electoral base. It wasn't the Russians who decided to run a presidential campaign that offered people nothing but blackmail -- "vote for us or Dangerous Donald wins." The Russians didn't come up with awful tin-eared catchphrases like "I'm with her" or "America is already great." The Russians never ordered the DNC to run one of the most widely despised people in the country, simply because she thought it was her turn. The Democrats did that all by themselves.

  • Barack Obama's presidency will be defined by his failure to face down Assad: No, Obama's presidency has been defined by his failure to face down the real threat to the security and welfare of the American people: the Republicans. He's done this by not blaming them for their misdeeds. He's done this by not breaking with their failed policies -- above all the wars against Muslims, but also much of their domestic policy. And he's done this by not offering real alternatives, and by not supporting his party or its voters. As for Syria, sure, he screwed up, but not for backing away from the "red line" over chemical weapons -- pace, the author, he won the only meaningful resolution of that issue, and did it diplomatically (the only way that would stick). But in his early rejection of Assad, his congenital antipathy to Russia and Iran, his willingness to give supposed allies (like Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) a free hand to pursue radically opposed goals), and his general belief in the effectiveness of military might (and his continued support for the most clandestine and irresponsible American warmakers), he made sure the US would be a much bigger part of the problem than of the solution.

And briefly noted:

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