Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Tuesday, June 9, 2020


Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33418 [33378] rated (+40), 214 [209] unrated (+5).

Cutoff was Monday evening, after I wrapped up Weekend Roundup, so that has a bit to do with the above-average count. Shifted back to new music last week, starting with some Phil Overeem recommendations, and ended with rummaging through my tracking file (jazz subset), with a few asides along the way. (One of Cliff Ocheltree's Facebook posts mentioned If Deejay Was Your Trade and Hyphy Hitz. Couldn't find the latter, but the Blood & Fire compilation was so good I wanted to hear more from Big Joe.) Still, didn't bother with my promo queue at all. It had been near-empty, but has recovered to the extent I need to pay it some attention.

I reviewed Thank Your Lucky Stars' Girl in Her 29s last week, noting that I couldn't find anything via Google on the CD. I'm told that this website will help. I also received a hand-written letter from Ben Barnes, which reads in part (or I think it does, as my eyes and his handlettering don't always mesh; I also spared you the all-caps, and added a link I'm almost 100% sure of and italics for the album title):

As for the mysterious online presence I vowed long ago to only spend time and money on the things I love and never try to profit from them. Whenever someone asks about buying a disc I ask them to contribute to Mikey's Chance Canine Rescue and then I happily mail them Girl in Her 29s.

Looking back at last week's "review," I realize I didn't finish it -- by, like, saying something about the record. Meant to, but ran out of time and decided to run what I had anyway, and still haven't gotten back to it, so sorry. I will re-run the album cover.

On June 3, Robert Christgau tweeted:

I try to be shrewd about this stuff, not show my hand before I publish my review, but it would be just wrong to deny that it's been A LONG TIME since I felt like a new album was just what I'd been needing the way the new Run the Jewels does.

I had the same reaction to RTJ4, although I didn't explain it very coherently below -- written after two plays before I saw the tweet -- no doubt because I always have trouble following rap lyrics. But even I caught enough to realize that this was the time. (Link above is to the whole feed. Even now the tweet in question is well down, but it won't hurt you to scroll for it.)

The Ogún Meji Duo album was reviewed by Karl Ackermann as a new release at All About Jazz. Ackerman wrote: "The album makes a powerful statement that could have been a response to Emmett Till in 1955 or George Floyd in 2020." True enough, but it actually dates from the Michael Brown era. I might have graded it higher, but tired of the lecture, and got annoyed by the Soundcloud-like website streaming. But drummer Mark Lomax and saxophonist Edwin Bayard are awesome as usual. I should note that Lomax's 400 Years Suite is currently number one on my 2020 list, and his 12-CD 400: An Afrikan Epic was number three on the 2019 list.


In non-musical matters, Crocodile Chuck suggested a Weekend Roudup link: Jack Rasmus: Confronting Institutional Racism. Rasmus is an economist in California, subtitles his blog "Predicting the Global Eonomic Crisis," has a bunch of books on economics (keyword: neoliberalism), as well as some stage plays and DVDs. I noticed one of his books in 2010 -- Epic Recession: Prelude to Global Depression -- but missed six since then. Most evocative title was Obama's Economy: Recovery for the Few (paperback, 2012, Pluto Press). First book was a big one: The War at Home: The Corporate Offensive From Ronald Reagan to George W Bush (2006, Kyklos)./p>


I got one question following last week's Questions and Answers post. I'll take a stab at answering it later this week. Meanwhile, ask me more.


New records reviewed this week:

79rs Gang: Expected the Unexpected (2020, Sinking City): New Orleans Indians: Big Chief Romeo from the 9th Ward, and Big Chief Jermaine from the 7th. Doesn't break form, which is ok with me, but also doesn't swing as hard as the ancients did, especially when the Meters were in the studio. B+(***)

Sebastien Ammann: Resilience (2018 [2020], Skirl): Swiss pianist, based in New York since 2008, third album, quintet with Michaël Attias (alto sax), Samuel Blaser (trombone), bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Lucian Ban/John Surman/Mat Maneri: Transylvanian Folk Songs: The Bela Bartók Field Recordings (2020, Sunnyside): Romanian (or perhaps I should say Transylvanian) pianist, studied in Bucharest, moved to New York in 1999, ninth album since 2002. With reeds (bass clarinet, baritone/soprano sax) and viola. Based on field recordings Bartók made when Austria-Hungary still controlled Transylvania. B+(**)

Will Bernard: Freelance Subversives (2020, Ropeadope): Guitarist, originally from Berkeley, based in New York, records since 1998, likes a nice groove, often with organ (three players here, with John Medeski on two cuts). B

Body Count: Carnivore (2020, Century Media): Rapper Ice-T (Tracy Marrow) launched this heavy metal group in 1992. He alternated albums through 1999, then leaned this way, with only one more rap album (2006). Seventh Body Count album. Second song, recorded in 2019, is about police violence. First is about meat, and fourth is a Motorhead cover. Normally I can't stand metal, but turned this down and moved away and still found things to admire. B+(**)

Daniel Carter/Patrick Holmes/Matthew Putman: Whoadie (2018-19 [2020], 577): Two clarinet players (Carter also credited with saxes, trumpet, flute) and piano, three members of the Telepathic Band -- shows you how much they need that rhythm section. C+

Emmet Cohen Featuring Benny Golson & Albert "Tootie" Heath: Masters Legacy Series Volume 3 (2019, self-released): Pianist, had a couple albums before he hit on the idea of showcasing old-timers. First two albums spotlighted Jimmy Cobb and Ron Carter. Annoying lack of information on this session, like who is the fourth person on the cover (presumably a bassist)? The headliners are legends, Golson (now 91) a major songwriter as well as a leading tenor saxophonist, Heath a widely traveled drummer, including a stretch in Golson's most famous groups. Some reminiscences, lovely music. B+(**)

Emmet Cohen Featuring George Coleman: Masters Legacy Series Volume 4 (2019, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, started in the 1950s, played for Miles Davis before Wayne Shorter took over, has a few good-to-great albums under his own name. With bass and drums (Russell Hall and Bryan Carter). Monk tunes, blues, "On Green Dolphin Street" -- strong stuff. B+(***)

Dinosaur: To the Earth (2019 [2020], Edition): British jazz "supergroup" -- Laura Jurd (trumpet) and Elliot Galvin (piano) are the ones I recognize elsewhere, bass and drums not so much (Conor Chaplin and Corrie Dick are the names). Third album, a very respectable postbop effort. B+(**)

Dave Douglas: Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity (2019 [2020], Greenleaf Music): Nominally a tribute to bebop trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie, not that I hear it much on the originals that sandwich the two covers in the middle ("Manteca" and "Pickin' the Cabbage"), the difference mostly in the rhythm, although the same guitar-piano-bass-drums play throughout. No extra horns other than a second trumpet (Dave Adewumi), less for chops than to polish up the brass. B+(**)

Lajos Dudas: The Lake and the Music (2020, JazzSick): Hungarian clarinet player, long based in Germany, in Überlingen, on the north shore of Lake Constance, opposite Switzerland. Ten standards, backed by guitar, bass, and drums, with appearances from Karl Berger (vibes) and Gerd Dudek (soprano sax). B+(***)

Freddie Gibbs/The Alchemist: Alfredo (2020, ESGN/ALC/Empire): Rapper, from Indiana, last name Tipton, eighth albums, half collaborations, half of those with Alchemist (Daniel Maman). Has a little gangsta in the sauce. B+(*)

GoGo Penguin: GoGo Penguin (2020, Blue Note): British piano trio -- Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (bass), Rob Turner (drums) -- fifth album since 2012. Strong groove pieces, more like EST than Bad Plus. B+(***)

Human Feel: The Tower Tapes #5 (2019 [2020], Jazz Club Ferrara): Two sax quartet, with Andrew D'Angelo (alto + bass clarinet), Chris Speed (tenor + clarinet), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar/electronics), and Jim Black (drums/electronics), released a good album in 2019 (Gold). As with all of these tapes, consists of two sets, no song breakdown, something the Club is doing to tide itself over. B+(**) [bc]

Anne Mette Iversen Quartet + 1: Racing a Butterfly (2020, Bjurecords): Danish bassist, lived in New York 1998-2012, was co-founder of Brooklyn Jazz Underground, dozen albums since 2004, always struck me as a composer first, but has been working with this group so long they've achieved a lovely balance. Group includes John Ellis (tenor sax), Danny Grissett (piano), Otis Brown III (drums), with Peter Dahlgren (trombone) the "+ 1." A-

KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl (2020, Keiya): Chicago-based neo-soul singer, production murky, but seems to have something to it. B+(**)

Lady Gaga: Chromatica (2020, Interscope): Pop star, started off as a gay icon, later moved into acting, not sure where her duet album with Tony Bennett belongs. Reverts to hard dance pop form here: hard beats, strong words, arena acoustics. Reminds me of Madonna, a bit too much. B+(***)

John Law's Congregation: Configuration (2018 [2020], Ubuntu Music): British pianist, regarded as an avant-garde figure in the 1990s (e.g., Extremely Quartet), has largely escaped my attention ever since. Emerges here with a quartet -- James Mainwaring (saxes, guitar, electronics), Ashley John Long (bass), and Billy Weir (drums) -- with strong beats and powerful riffing. B+(***)

Little Simz: Drop 6 (2020, AWAL, EP): London rapper, Simbi Ajikawo, had a major album last year in Grey Area, returns with a 5-cut, 12:49 quickie lockdown EP, lost me at the end. B+(*)

Sabir Mateen/Patrick Holmes/Federico Ughi: Survival Situation (2018 [2020], 577): Holmes plays clarinet, as does Mateen (credited first with saxophones, also with flute, farfisa matador, and voice), with Ughi on drums. Rather hit and miss. B+(**)

Medhane: Cold Water (2020, TBHG): Brooklyn rapper. A little murky. B+(*) [bc]

Medhane: Full Circle (2020, TBHG, EP): Came out a bit earlier. Same concept. Might be something here. B [bc]

Mike and the Moonpies: Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart (2020, Prairie Rose): Austin band, Mike Harmeier sings and usually writes, called their first record The Real Country (2010), their second one Hard Way. The guys at Saving Country Music are big fans, but I've never been that impressed. It helps here that they've got their hands on a batch of Stewart's songs. Would help more if they were all as good as "Smooth Shot of Whiskey." B+(**)

Eva Novoa: Satellite Quartet (2017 [2020], Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, born in Barcelona, based in Brooklyn, handful of albums since 2010. Quartet with guitar, bass, and drums -- nothing challenging the pianist. B+(*)

Kurt Rosenwinkel Trio: Angels Around (2020, Heartcore): Guitarist, originally from Philadelphia, based in Switzerland, over a dozen albums since 1996, many more side credits. Trio with Dario Deidda (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). B+(**)

Run the Jewels: RTJ4 (2020, Jewel Runners/RBC/BMG): Rap duo, El-P and Killer Mike, fourth album, released a few days early, because "fuck it, why wait." Hard thrash, can't say as I'm following it very well, but complaints about police violence don't appear to be tacked on. Likely to remain one of the signature albums of 2020. A-

Matthew Shipp: The Piano Equation (2020, Tao Forms): Pianist, turning 60, decided to celebrate with a solo album -- not my favorite party treat, but a major pianist with a lot on his mind. B+(**)

Sunwatchers: Oh Yeah? (2020, Trouble in Mind): New York quartet, more instrumental rock (psychecelic?) than jazz, Jeff Tobias on alto sax/keyboards/whistling, others on guitar, bass guitar, and drums. Six pieces, the last running 19:53. B

Chad Taylor Trio: The Daily Biological (2019 [2020], Cuneiform): Drummer, trio mates Brian Settles (tenor sax) and Neil Podgurski (piano) get a "featuring" credit on the cover and wrote most of the pieces (2 and 4 vs. 3 for Taylor). First group album, although all three were friends at New School in the 1990s. Feels balances with strong leads all around, and a lot of momentum. A- [dl]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Bobby Shew/Bill Mays: Telepathy (1978 [2019], Fresh Sound): Trumpet/piano duets. West Coast players, intersected a lot, each producing a couple dozen albums without me noticing. This was one of their first, two joint credits here, the rest standards, easy going and elegant. B+(**)

Old music:

Big Joe: Keep Rocking and Swinging (1977, Live and Love): Joe Spalding, from Trenchtown, recorded a couple dozen singles 1972-79, this his first album, produed by Striker Lee. Influeced by roots reggae and dub, hints at a classic without quite being memorable enough. B+(***)

Dave Burrell: Black Spring (1977, Marge): Solo piano. Title cut features a still poem, written and read by Hart Leroy Bibbs. B+(**)

Emmet Cohen Featuring Jimmy Cobb: Masters Legacy Series Volume 1 (2017, Cellar Live): The first of four (so far) volumes, reminds me that when Branford Marsalis started his own series of Honors albums the first musicians on his list was also Cobb. The veteran drummer died in 2020, his career spanning hundreds of albums, a few (mostly recent ones) under his own name, but most in groups -- the one invariably mentioned is Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. With Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Cobb does what he always does: makes everyone else sound better. Godwin Louis (alto sax) adds to two tracks. B+(***)

Emmet Cohen Featuring Ron Carter: Masters Legacy Series Volume 2 (2017 [2018], Cellar Live): Bassist, joined Miles Davis in 1963, part of his "second great quintet," Wikipedia credits him with 45 albums (some co-headlined, including three recent ones with Houston Person), but he's also garnered more side-credits than anyone ("2,221 recording sessions," per Wikipedia). With Evan Sherman on drums. B+(**)

Emmet Cohen Trio: Dirty in Detroit (2017 [2018], self-released): Piano trio, with Russell Hall (bass) and Kyle Poole (drums). Mostly standards, with Monk and Waller multiple sources, ending with a rousing "Handful of Keys." B+(**)

Lajos Dudas: Radio Days: Birthday Edition 75 (2016, JazzSick): Hungarian-German clarinet player, celebrating his 75th birthday, several dozen albums but many are missing from Discogs, so no credits or discographical details here, other than one tune from Attila Zoller, the rest originals. He sent me records over several years, so I was surprised to find out how far I had fallen behind. Some bright ensembles and remarkable leads here. Wish I knew more. B+(***)

Lajos Dudas: Some Great Songs Vol. 2 (2017, JazzSick): Sequel to his 1998 album, quartet with Philipp van Endert (guitar) and two percussionists. So many great songs I have no idea why he chose these, though occasionally he hits on one I would have picked ("Smile," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"). B+(**)

If Deejay Was Your Trade: The Dreads at King Tubby's 1974-1977 (1974-77 [1994], Blood & Fire): Minor reggae stars from the heyday, only ones I don't recognize are Big Joe and Little Joe, and the former's "In the Ghetto" leads off and steals the show here. A-

Mister Charlie's Blues (1926-1938) (1926-38 [1970], Yazoo): Old-time compilation, label did a lot of these but this one doesn't look like it ever made it to CD. Front cover shows two white guitarists, one in blackface, the other painted even whiter. Main artist I recognize is Sam McGee, but Dick Justice, Buster & Jack, and South Georgia Highballers also get two cuts. Fine picking. B+(**)

Ogún Meji Duo: #BlackLivesMatter (2014, CFG Multimedia): Duo -- Edwin Bayard (tenor sax) and Mark Lomax II (drums) -- based in Columbus, Ohio, the essential core of Lomax's larger groups. Narration means to give you an education in black history, the speeches errupting in sax fury and drums, starting with a severely distorted "America, the Beautiful." Comes with a supplemental reading list. B+(***) [os]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Caterpillar Quartet: Threads (ESP-Disk) [06-26]
  • Whit Dickey: Morph (ESP-Disk, 2CD)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat/Daunik Lazro/Evan Parker: Café Oto 2020 (Fou)
  • The Mark Harvey Group: A Rite for All Souls (1971, Americas Musicworks, 2CD) [07-17]
  • Alister Spence: Whirlpool: Solo Piano (Alister Spence Music, 2CD) [07-24]

Monday, June 8, 2020


Weekend Roundup

While this week was unfolding, I've been reading a book by Sarah Kendzior: Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America. She is a journalist based in St. Louis, with a Ph.D. in anthropology and a specialty in post-Soviet Central Asia and its descent into mafia capitalism and oligarchy. She sees Trump as part of a vast criminal enterprise, anchored in Russia, which she insists on describing as "hostile to America." I think she has that analysis ass-backwards. Capitalism's driving force everywhere is greed, which constantly pushes the limits of custom and law. The only thing that separates capitalists from criminals is a democratic state that regulates business and enforces limits on destructive greed. The former Soviet Union failed to do that, but the United States has a checkered history as well, with the major entrepreneurs of the 19th century known as Robber Barons, and a sustained conservative assault on the regulatory state at least since 1980. Trump may be closer to the Russian oligarchs than most American capitalists because of his constant need to raise capital abroad, but he is hardly Putin's stooge. Rather, they share a common desire to suppress democratic regulation of capital everywhere, as well as an itch for suppressing dissent. Arguing that the latter is anti-American (treason even) ignores the fact that that's a big part of the program of the reigning political party in the US.

Kendzior's arguments in this regard annoy me so much I could go on, explaining why the supposed US-Russia rivalry is based on false assumptions, and why Democrats are hurting themselves by obsessing on the Trump/Russia connection. I was, after all, tempted at several points to give up on the book. But I stuck with it: it's short, and anyone who despises Trump that much is bound to have some points. Also, I lived in St. Louis a few years myself, so was curious what she had to say about her battleground state. My interest paid off with her discussion of the 2014 protests against police brutality in Ferguson, a majority-black suburb just north of St. Louis with a predominantly white police force that was largely self-funded by arrests and fines. This is history, but it's also today in microcosm (pp. 164-166):

Understanding Ferguson is not only a product of principle but of proximity. The narrative changes depending on where you live, what media you consume, who you talk to, and who you believe. In St. Louis, we still live in the Ferguson aftermath. There is no real beginning, because [Michael] Brown's death is part of a continuum of criminal impunity by the police toward St. Louis black residents. There is no real end, because there are always new victims to mourn. In St. Louis, there is no justice, only sequels.

Outside of St. Louis, Ferguson is shorthand for violence and dysfunction. When I go to foreign countries that do not know what St. Louis is, I sometimes joke, darkly, that I'm from a "suburb of Ferguson." People respond like they are meting a witness of a war zone, because that is what they saw on TV and on the internet. What they missed is that Ferguson was the longest sustained civil rights protest since the 1960s. The protest was fought on principle because in St. Louis County, law had long ago divorced itself from justice, and when lawmakers abandon justice, principle is all that remains. The criminal impunity many Americans are only discovering now -- through the Trump administration -- had always structured the system for black residents of St. Louis County, who had learned to expect a rigged and brutal system but refused to accept it.

In the beginning, there was hope that police would restrain themselves because of the volume of witnesses. But there was no incentive for them to do so: no punishment locally, and no repercussions nationally. Militarized police aggression happened nearly every night, transforming an already traumatic situation into a showcase of abuse. The police routinely used tear gas and rubber bullets. They arrested local officials, clergy, and journalists for things like stepping off the sidewalk. They did not care who witnessed their behavior, even though they knew the world was watching. Livestream videographers filmed the chaos minute by minute for an audience of millions. #Ferguson, the hashtag, was born, and the Twitter followings of those covering the chaos rose into the tens of thousands. But the documentation did not stop the brutality. Instead, clips were used by opponents of the protesters to try to create an impression of constant "riots" that in reality did not occur. The vandalism and arson shown on cable news in an endless loop were limited to a few nights and took place on only a few streets.

National media had pounced on St. Louis, parachuting in when a camera-ready crisis was rumored to be impending, leaving when the protests were peaceful and tame. Some TV crews did not bother to hide their glee at the prospect of what I heard one deem a real-life Hunger Games, among other flippant and cruel comments. The original protests, which were focused on the particularities of the abusive St. Louis system, became buried by out-of-town journalists who found out-of-town activists and portrayed them as local leaders. The intent was not necessarily malicious, but the lack of familiarity with the region led to disorienting and insulting coverage. Tabloid hype began to overshadow the tragedy. Spectators arrived from so many points of origins that the St. Louis Arch felt like a magnet pulling in fringe groups from around the country: Anonymous and the Oath Keepers and the Nation of Islam and the Ku Klux Klan and the Revolutionary Communist Party and celebrities who claimed they were out of deep concern and not to get on television. Almost none of the celebrities ever returned.

In fall 2014, the world saw chaos and violence, but St. Louis saw grief. Ask a stranger in those days how they were doing and their eyes, already red from late nights glued to the TV or internet, would well up with tears. Some grieved stability, others grieved community, others simply grieved the loss of a teenage boy, unique and complex as any other, to a system that designated him a menace on sight. But it was hard to find someone who was not grieving something, even if it was a peace born of ignorance. It was a loss that was hard to convey to people living outside of the region. I covered the Ferguson protests as a journalist, but I lived it as a St. Louisan. Those are two different things. It is one thing to watch a region implode on TV. It is another to live within the slow-motion implosion. When I would share what I witnessed, people kept urging me to call my representative, and I would explain: "But they gassed my representative too."

By the way, here are the latest section heads (as of 7:37 PM CDT Sunday) in The New York Times' Live Updates on George Floyd Protests:

  • Majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledges to dismantle the Police Department
  • Trump sends National Guard troops home
  • New York's mayor pledges to cut police funding and spend more on social services
  • Democratic lawmakers push for accountability, but shy away from calls to defund the police
  • Barr says he sees no systemic racism in law enforcement
  • Romney joins protesters in Washington.
  • Protesters march through Manhattan, calling for an end to police violence.
  • Thousands turn out in Spokane, Wa., to protest "a virus that's been going on for 400 years."
  • Biden will meet with the family of George Floyd in Houston.
  • The view from above: aerial images of protests across the country. [link]
  • A Confederate status is pulled down during a protest in Virginia
  • Global protests against racism gain momentum.
  • An officer shot an anti-bias expert who was trying to end a clash at a protest in San Jose, Calif.

A couple items there look like major breaks with the past. While the "progressive" mayors of Minneapolis and New York seems to have spent much of the last week being intimidated by the police forces that supposedly work for them, the balance of political forces in both cities may have shifted to viewing the police as the problem, not the solution. I started off being pretty skeptical of the protests, and indeed haven't been tempted to join them. But it does appear that they're making remarkable progress. And while I abhor any violence associated with the protests, one should never allow such noise to distract from the core issue of the protests. Indeed, given that so much of the violence the media likes to dwell on is directly caused by the police and the government's other paramilitary forces, it's hard not to see that the only way this ever gets resolved is by restoring trust and justice -- which is to say, by radically reforming how policing is done in America.

I expected such sprawl at the start of the week that I decided not to bother organizing sublists. Still, some fell out during the process, but I haven't gone back and organized as many as might make sense. In particular, there are several scattered pieces on the "jobs report": the one by Robert J Shapiro is the most important, but I got to it after several others.

This wound up running a day late. Only a couple links below came out on Monday, and I tried to only pick ones that added to stories I already had (e.g., I added Yglesias' piece on economic reporting, but didn't pick up the one on Biden's polling).


Here's a piece of artwork from Ram Lama Hull occasioned by the recent demonstrations. I pulled this particular one (out of many) from his Facebook page. Some are also on Imgur.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that has come up a lot recently, as it makes it very difficult to hold police officers liable for their acts, even the use of excessive or deadly force. For example:

Parting tweet (from Angela Belcamino):

Who else but Trump could bring back the 1918 pandemic, the 1929 Great Depression, and the 1968 race riots all in one year?


Some scattered links this week:

Friday, June 5, 2020


Questions and Answers

I asked Michael Tatum to take a look at my first batch of Questions and Answers. He helped flag some necessary edits before I posted them early this week. He also suggested that instead of just linking to them (as I did again above), I should have included them directly in the blog. I don't plan on doing that as a matter of course, but this time I reckon they could use a little more exposure. For one thing I got zero new questions (here's the form) since they went up.

I imagine there are hundreds (if not thousands) of similar offers scattered around the web. I've felt a need for some kind of feedback for a long time, but found that comment systems were more work to maintain than they're worth. Two features are direct antecedents to mine: Greil Marcus's Ask Greil), and Robert Christgau's Xgau Sez. Joe Levy suggested the latter as a way of generating some public interest in Christgau's then-new Duke University Press essay collections, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 and Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading.

Joe suggested "Ask Greil" as a model, but when I looked at the implementation, I had some second thoughts. I adapted the news roll code to display the Q&A in 15-unit chunks, most recent first, stringing earlier pages together. ("Ask Greil" is in flat files, one per year.) I added tags to the data file, thinking that someday I could support more search options. (I'd like to eventually put them into the database, but didn't want to have to update it more often than I do.) I also added a captcha to cut down on spam questions. I recently adapted the Christgau code for my own site, adding a few more tags (but still not making good use of them).

My main change was to add a "keywords" field. I expected (or hoped) to get a broader range of questions than the music queries that predominate for Christgau and Marcus, and thought it would be a good idea to be able to easily sort my answers into topics. Still, four of the first five questions were on music, including one of those potentially tedious requests to elaborate on grades. A sixth question, which I didn't answer here, was really more of a tip (Whitney Rose) -- more properly answered in last week's Music Week. While my email is elsewhere on the site (and still works best if you want a direct answer), feel free to use the form for tips, comments, or occasional kind words.

I rather hope to see wide-ranging questions, one that provoke me to think, maybe even do a little research, although I'd be happy enough with ones where I can just rattle off experiences and opinions. I like to keep an open mind about where this is going. And I'd like some feedback to prod me along. Thanks, in advance.


[Q] Combining two of your interests, music and politics (maybe next time for food), is a Geoffrey Himes column about how songs about blue collar life are ignored. or misinterpreted, by the audience they depict. "Born In The USA", possibly the most egregious example, may not need to be listed but I do wonder how you interpret this music/audience disconnect. It's weird, don't you think? -- Gregory Morton, Caldwell, ID [2020-05-25]

[A] I'm not sure I think anything about this, other than that stereotypes are worse than worthless, and generalizations leave out all meaningful detail by definition. Songwriters start with what they know and feel, which includes class and race and sex and a lot more, and it rarely reduces to just one thing. Their cohort may recognize themselves in such art, or not, just as other people may relate to it, or not. Add politics to the mix if you dare. Unfortunately, many people tend to straitjacket themselves to only like or dislike things they perceive as politically correct, and lose touch with the muddle we call life. I've known more people like this on the left than on the right, but I know more people on the left, and people like this on the right stay away from me, so it'd be wrong to generalize. What I can say is that when John Prine died, outpourings of grief came from all across the political spectrum -- even though you and I know he was one of us. One of my pro-gun, anti-abortion, Trump-loving relatives forwarded my link to my review of Fair & Square, even though I could hardly have been more explicit about both my and Prine's politics. Perhaps she didn't understood me? Or perhaps she misunderstands her own politics? Regardless, I love her, and politics has nothing to do with that.


[Q] Do you listen to music differently when you are trying to "grade" an album, trying to figure out whether it's any good or not? If so, do you find that type of listening enjoyable? How much of your listening is done trying to suss out the merits of a work, as opposed to just enjoying it?

Those came out as very specific questions, but my question is broader than that, but I'm not sure how to ask it. Which is to say, if you answer this, feel free to take it broadly. -- Matt Crawford, Pacifica, CA [2020-05-19]

[A] I don't do anything special for grading, or listen any differently when I know I'm going to grade a record. Grades are always provisional, just a note to myself, a crude of measure of how much I enjoyed a record, and not much else. I don't have any fixed aesthetic standards. Bad execution and/or lack of inspiration may count against it, but that's mostly because such things detract from enjoying a record.

Back when I was writing assigned reviews, I took more extensive notes, looking for details I could use in a review, and I kept playing a record until I finished writing. That's a lot of work, and I rarely put that much into a record any more. If I had to write at greater depth, I wouldn't be able to get to nearly as many records, and my sense of comparative value would suffer. The downside is that I regard most of words I do wind up publishing as crap: not exactly useless, but lacking in insight and craft. Probably why I tend to denigrate my skills as a reviewer.

I started grading just as a memory aid. I was very familiar with Robert Christgau's grading scale, so that gave me a framework with a few thousand data points. But whereas he insists that "grading is hard work," and has minimal standards of how many times he has to play a record before grading it, for me it's just data -- necessarily approximate at first, better considered over time, not that I have any way of making that distinction. (I toyed with the idea of using two numbers for grades: one for level and a second fraction or degree of certainty, but decided that would be way too much trouble.)


[Q] Found you by looking up who made the Robert Christgau website. I love it! It really captures the internet in the '90s. Was curious, did you make all of the websites you have linked here, or are these just things are recommended? i.e. did you make the original website for FiveThirtyEight and Glenn Greenwald?

Thanks! Also wanted to add that I love this website: http://carolcooper.org/ -- Naif Alrayes, San Francisco [2020-05-19]

[A] I built Robert Christgau's website in 2001, and Carol Cooper's a bit later. I had the idea of creating a portal toolkit for music writers based on a more generalized revision of the Christgau website code. Several writers expressed interest, but Cooper signed up first, so I rushed a site together for her, and when I didn't develop my proposal further, her prototype stuck. I've done several other websites, including one for Carola Dibbell, but not the ones you mentioned, or anything else in the "Links" list on most of my pages. ("Local Links" directs you to various spots in my own website; "My Other Websites" points you to other websites I maintain, although the current version of Wichita Peace was designed by someone else -- I built an earlier one using Drupal.) Hullworks was intended for other people's data, but mostly contains my Jazz Critics Poll pages.

I suppose the "Links" list is also attributable to me being stuck with a 1990s web aesthetic. I used to have a whole "Links" section, but found it impossible to maintain, and got increasingly annoyed when website maintainers wrote me begging to get included. On the other hand, I've never gotten into the habit of using my browser's bookmarks, or for that matter a RSS reader, so the links still help me get around.

I have on occasion gotten complaints about the "1990s look" of my websites (but never from Christgau or Cooper -- their interest has always been in their words, so the lack of graphics has never bothered them). Some of those principles I still regard as valid, and I still don't see much value in JavaScript, or in things like cookies. But it has become clear to me that some degree of design changes are necessary. About a year ago, I announced that I was going to do a redesign, and I set up a mailing list for people who would like to consult. Lots of things have slowed me down, so I have little progress to show at present, but if you'd like to be included in the list, and especially if you think you could help, please drop me a line.


[Q] You obviously listen to a lot of music and read a lot books on politics, but I wondered if you also read a lot of music books. For instance, Rolling Stone just published a list with The 50 greatest rock memoirs of all time: are there many on it you have read? As for myself I am specially fond of books with references to other records, like the Questlove book. Speaking of Questlove: he published a list last year with his favorite albums. I was pleased to see Coltrane Plays the Blues on it, a personal favorite. But I also noticed some jazz albums you haven't graded as far as I know (by Ahmad Jamal and Max Roach), something I didn't think was possible for some one with such an jazz affliction. -- Ziggy, Amsterdam, Netherlands [2020-05-13]

[A] I'm not a very fast reader, but I've read steadily since I quit high school in 1966, and keep plugging away at it. After losing my tech job in 2001, I thought I'd focus on writing, and figured the subject I knew the most about, and had the most to contribute to, would be political philosophy -- a pursuit my wife, who's always been a political obsessive, encouraged. Ever since then I've focused almost exclusively on political topics, as you can see from my list here. As fate would have it, I've written a lot more about music during this period -- even made a little bit of money off it -- but I really haven't read many books on music. In particular, I haven't read a single one of Rob Sheffield's The 50 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time. The only one I've even been tempted by was Patti Smith's Just Kids. The Questlove book does look promising, and Luke Haines' Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Role in Its Downfall might be fun. The one music memoir that I did read recently was Ani DiFranco's No Walls and the Recurring Dream, which surely belongs on Sheffield's list. I've written a good deal about DiFranco before, and I had a personal interest, in that I have family in Buffalo who knew her growing up. Indeed, for me the later music/career parts were less interesting than her childhood and emancipation.

The Questlove list appears here. Should be easy to see how I've missed some jazz albums. I don't have any real idea how many jazz albums have been released. My first swag was 100,000, which would be 1,448 per year since 1950. Then I thought I'd try Discogs, which comes up with the number 1,159,285, but that includes reissues and singles. Hard to extrapolate from that, but it certainly doesn't suggest that my swag is too high. I currently have 17,966 jazz records (including pop vocals) rated, so that's what? 12-18%? I've made several attempts to come up with a sample size over the years. Even with promos and streaming in recent years, I doubt if I've ever heard more than 25% of all the new jazz being released. Looking at my 2020 music tracking file, I've heard about 40% of all the jazz I've taken the trouble to list. I've omitted at least as many jazz albums as I've listed, reducing my share to 20% or less.

So far, I've heard 11 Ahmad Jamal records (2 A-), out of 24 in my database (but he's released more like 80). I've heard 9 Max Roach records (1 A-), out of 31 in my database (that's just records which list Roach as leader; I have 10 more rated with Roach as co-leader, including 5 at A/A-; with co-leader records he's released close to 100 records, plus side credits on another 100+, some as monumental as The Amazing Bud Powell and Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus). I'm not a big fan of piano trio or drum ensembles, but those are major artists, and I'll check out more of their work when I can.[1] But there are lots of jazz musicians I've barely sampled (if at all). That's just inevitable.

[1] I listened to a bunch of Roach records in the following week, so the numbers above have roughly doubled.


[Q] Your reception to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and Whipsmart mirrored that of the critical establishment at the time, but something changed for you circa Juvenilia, and you outrightly panned Whitechocolatespaceegg despite Christgau's positive reception to both albums (A- and A respectively). What changed for you, especially as it relates to Whitechocolatespaceegg which Christgau treated as a comeback of sorts? -- David [2020-05-06]

[A] Those albums date from 1995 and 1998. I wasn't writing about music then -- at least not in any systematic way -- and I wrote nothing about Liz Phair until Funstyle in 2010 (which I liked much more than Christgau did: A- vs. *). I vaguely remember Juvenilia as being short and rough, a step back, so I'm not surprised I found it wanting. Those tracks are probably all in the 3-CD box The Girly Sound Tapes (2018), which I graded more generously (***), but 25 years after her masterpiece, it probably sets somewhat differently in my mind. I don't remember the other album, or for that matter her 2003 Liz Phair (a B+ which Christgau graded A), at all. I did start to stream White*egg after this question, and shut it down three tracks in. Maybe it's a tad better than B-, but not so much I felt I needed to figure it out.

You previously asked me this same question about two other records: Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Robert Cray's Strong Persuader. Those I remembered, not only the records but the exact point when I decided I couldn't stand them any more. I suppose the reason I can remember them so vividly is that I quickly grasped their appeal, before something else turned me off. I won't go into what -- one thing I never want to do is to spoil a record that you like just because I don't, and you should never let me. But part of the story thers is that I've always had an anti-hype reflex. (I don't recall much hype behind the Cray or Phair albums, but they sold well and the former won a Grammy, so must have had hype beyond Christgau.) It's not that I don't like Dylan, but I've often been out of sync with whatever the critical consensus is on him. The best known cases where my initial reaction was heavily influenced by anti-hype are Bruce Springsteen and Charlie Parker. I've since made my peace with both, although at a lower level than they are generally accorded.

But back to the Phair album(s). Christgau wrote not just capsules but feature reviews of White*egg and Liz Phair. I don't know whether he did that because he initially thought them important, or thought them newsworthy and wound up deciding that he really liked them, but either way he spent a lot of time with the records, whereas I played them once or twice and decided I had wasted my money. Maybe I played them more -- I often do that with records I initially panned that Christgau came to like (most don't move much, but one that really did was Randy Newman's Harps & Angels).

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33378 [33333] rated (+45), 209 [209] unrated (+0).

Post delayed a day because, well, a lot of things kept me from working on it on Monday. Frozen Sunday night, aside from adding Monday's unpacking.

A few weeks ago, I set up a form for asking questions. I finally decided I had enough to do the extra work of setting up an answer page, so Q&A is now a going concern. I've added a couple fields beyond what I did for Robert Christgau, but I'm not really using them yet. At some point, it should be possible to get selective lists based on keywords, or possibly other search methods.

One question I didn't answer was actually a tip, Jeopardy-style phrased as a question. Mongo asked if I had heard Whitney Rose's We Still Go to Rodeos ("the best country album I've heard so far this year"). No, I hadn't, but the obvious response was to listen to it, so it's in this week's list. I disagree, but my initial reaction was pretty similar to my initial underrating of Kalie Shorr's Open Book in 2019. Still, have major doubts it will ever catch up with the Lucinda Williams and Brandy Clark records (or Chicago Farmer, if he qualifies). I went on and sampled a few more recent alt-country albums, but didn't find anything really better.

Until those, most of what I listened to last week were old jazz albums. The first few were unheard items from the JazzTimes ballots I mentioned recently, at least until I got carried away with Paul Motian. Then I got into Max Roach, partly in response to one of the questions.

Got a rare rock record in the mail recently, with a hand-printed note explaining that Robert Christgau reviewed Thank Your Lucky Stars' debut album, Spinning Out of Orbit, in my one shot 2013 Black Friday Special, and hoping I might like the new one. I do. The CD is actually very nicely packaged, but has no presence on the web, and the note didn't even include an email address, so I have no idea how you'd go about buying a copy. (The old CD, which I haven't heard, is listed on Amazon, at $30.08, 1 copy left, with other vendor offers from $29.09.) Without an album cover available, I thought I'd try my old scanner -- an "all-in-one" Epson Stylus Photo RX580 -- only to find it doesn't work. (I replaced the 6 ink cartridges a while back, and now it's stuck in a mode where it insists on me first installing new ink cartridges before it does anything else. Two Ubuntu scanner programs fail to recognize it.) What I wound up doing was taking a picture with my cell phone, then running it through a bunch of rotate/shear/crop commands in Gimp. Very little margin on top to work with, but I managed to keep it even though I chopped off the other three edges. I'm real surprised it looks as good as it does.

I should mention that Joe Yanosik has written up Sonic Youth: A Consumer Guide to their live albums. They've released a bunch of them on Bandcamp. I had seen mention of a couple of them recently, but didn't realize there were this many, and after last year's release of Battery Park NYC, July 4th 2008 -- which Joe also includes, as an A+ -- I wasn't in a big hurry to go there. Nice that Joe has illuminated the way.

Alto saxophonist Lennie Niehaus (90) died last week. He's probably best known as the director of many Clint Eastwood soundtracks, but he was an important "West Coast cool jazz" musician, played for Stan Kenton 1952-59 (minus a stretch in the Army), and recorded a number of well-regarded (albeit a bit fancy for my taste) albums, especially in the 1950s, before focusing on soundtracks. I've heard a couple of his albums, and need to check out more.

English tenor saxophonist Don Weller (79) also died. I can't say that I know his work. I also heard that Sun Ra bassist Bill Davis died, but haven't found an obituary yet. Other recent musician deaths: Majek Fashek (57, Nigerian reggae singer), John Nzenze (80, Kenyan guitarist), Evaldo Gouveia (91, MPB singer-songwriter).

Horrors enough on Monday and Tuesday to get me to open Weekend Roundup as soon as I post this.


New records reviewed this week:

Caitlin Cannon: The TrashCannon Album (2020, Caitlin Cannon): Country singer-songwriter from Alabama "with a hairdresser mom and a brother in prison," first album, trashes education in the opener ("your BA is BS"), flirts with rockabilly, eventually settles down. B+(**)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Reunions (2020, Southeastern): Singer-songwriter, in Drive-By Truckers 2001-07, seventh solo album since. Some people I respect consider him major, but I can't say as I ever hear much in his sober, tasteful, well-structured songs. B+(*)

Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated Side B (2020, School Boy): Canadian singer-songwriter/pop star, pairs this album with her 2019 Dedicated, much as she released a Side B sequel to her 2015 album E-MO-TION. Album came out with no publicity or reviews, and I'm not quick enough to sort it out. B+(**)

Rent Romus/Heikki Koskinen/Life's Blood Ensemble: Manala (2019 [2020], Edgetone): Alto saxophonist, plays other instruments, with Finnish e-trumpet player, and nine others, present "a musical adventures inspired by Finnish mythopoetics and Uralic oral traditions." Starts shaky, but finds its groove, Gaby Fluke-Mogul's violin stands out among the instruments, occasional vocals don't hurt. B+(***) [cd]

Whitney Rose: We Still Go to Rodeos (2020, MCG): Country singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island in Canada, third album (plus an well-regarded EP). Good songs, not wild about the big production. B+(**)

Thank Your Lucky Stars: Girl in Her 29s (2020, Sounds Deevine): Searching for the artist name returns a 1943 movie starring Eddie Cantor, about a musical revue/charity extravaganza, with many cameos ranging from Humphey Bogart and Olivia de Havilland to Dinah Shore and Spike Jones. Adding "band" got me Beach House's 2015 album, and a "disambiguation" page that added a 1990 album by Whitehouse and a 1961-66 British TV variety show, which showcased the Beatles as early as December 1962. Adding the album title got gar nichts (well, more of the same, but nothing new). Searching for their/his 2016 record Spinning Out of Orbit got me product on Amazon and reviews by Robert Christgau and AMG, and a hint that the album may have been on CdBaby. A- [cd]

Pam Tillis: Looking for a Feeling (2020, Stellar Cat): Country singer-songwriter, daughter of Mel Tillis, 14 albums since 1983 (including two recent duet albums with Lorrie Morgan). B+(*)

Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra: Smile (2020, Planet Arts/43 Street): Trumpet player, cut his first records with the Towson State College Jazz Ensemble, has led a big band since 1990. Fanciful choice of songs here, including "Ode to Billy Joe" (Jane Stuart sings) and "Theme From Law and Order." Ends with a big, broad "Smile." B

Jaime Wyatt: Neon Cross (2020, New West): Country singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, first album after an EP (Felony Blues). Finds her voice midway through. B+(*)

Old music:

Paul Bley/Paul Motian: Notes (1987 [1988], Soul Note): Piano-drums duo, cover omits first names, the only duo of eight 1964-98 Bley albums Motian played on (plus two led by Charlie Haden). Mostly improv, not that it's ever easy to pin these two down. B+(***)

Paul Bley: Reality Check (1994 [1996], SteepleChase): Piano trio with Jay Anderson (bass) and Victor Lewis (drums). Six originals plus a cover of "I Surrender Dear." B+(**)

Paul Bley: Notes on Ornette (1996 [1997], SteepleChase): Piano trio, with Jay Anderson (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums). Six Ornette Coleman pieces, closing with one original. B+(***)

Paul Bley/Evan Parker/Barre Phillips: Sankt Gerold (1996 [2000], ECM): Piano, soprano/tenor sax, bass, recorded at the Monastery of Sankt Gerold, twelve pieces, named "Variation 1" to "Variation 12": 5 joint credits, otherwise split 2-3-2, with their signature solos scattered like gems in a less distinctive base. B+(***)

Paul Bley: Play Blue: Oslo Concert (2008 [2014], ECM): Pianist, died in 2016, leaving this solo piano as his last recording. Four originals plus a Sonny Rollins piece, averaging 10 minutes. Can't say as it particularly moves me, but gives you a glimpse of his range and dynamics. B+(*)

Clifford Brown/Max Roach: Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street (1956 [2002], Verve): Actually recorded at Capitol Studios in New York, quintet with Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Richie Powell (Bud's brother, piano), and George Morrow (bass) -- second to last session before Brown and Powell were killed in a car crash, the later one with the same quintet released as Sonny Rollins Plus 4. Three Powell songs, a Tadd Dameron piece, and three standards. May have been the best jazz group in the world at this juncture, but still not as inspired as you'd hope. CD reissue adds 35:31 of outtakes. A-

Miles Davis: Big Fun (1969-72 [2000], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Pieced together from scattered sessions, each with 10-13 musicians, originally released on 2-LP with four side-long tracks (98:45), the 2-CD reissue adding four shorter tracks (43:29). Hard to say whether the extras dilute the experience given that it's all pretty diffuse anyway. Does remind you of the great albums that got released before this one. B+(***)

Booker Little: Booker Little 4 & Max Roach (1958 [1959], United Artists): Trumpet player, died in 1961 at age 23, so only recorded three years. Joined Roach's group in 1958, and got the spotlight in this debut, with George Coleman (tenor sax), Tommy Flanagan (piano), and Art Davis (bass). CD reissue adds two tracks (18:53) with only Little and Coleman returning, and a second trumpet in Louis Smith. B+(**)

Paul Motian: Conception Vessel (1972 [1973], ECM): Drummer, joined Bill Evans in 1959, playing on his breakthrough early albums, the first of many exceptional piano trios he anchored. This was his first album as a leader. Six original pieces, mixes up the lineups for each: bass (Charlie Haden) and guitar (Sam Brown); drum solo; bass and guitar; piano (Keith Jarrett); flute (Jarrett); bass, flute (Becky Friend), and violin (Leroy Jenkins). B+(**)

Paul Motian: Tribute (1974 [1975], ECM): Second album, quintet with Carlos Ward (alto sax), two guitars (Sam Brown and Paul Metzke), and Charlie Haden (bass). Three origials, Haden's "Song for Che" (done stripped down to guitar and bass) and an Ornette Coleman piece. B+(***)

Paul Motian Trio: Le Voyage (1979, ECM): Playing in so many major piano trios, Motian decided to do something different for his own trios, using a saxophonist (Charles Brackeen) instead of piano. This is their second, with J.F. Jenny-Clark joining on bass. B+(**)

Paul Motian: Pslam (1981 [1982], ECM): Quintet with two tenor saxophonists (Joe Lovano and Billy Drewes, the latter also playing alto), guitar (Bill Frisell), and bass (Ed Schuller). Frisell is the major find here. B+(***)

Paul Motian: It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago (1984 [1985], ECM): After several quintet albums, drops back to a trio, keeping Joe Lovano (tenor sax) and Bill Frisell (guitar) -- evidently expecting them to slip around the melody as deftly as the drummer evades rhythm. They don't, quite. B+(*)

Paul Motian Trio: Sound of Love: At the Village Vanguard (1995 [1997], Winter & Winter): Live, with Lovano and Frisell, opens with Monk ("Misterioso") and Mingus ("Duke Ellington's Sound of Love"), before easing into Motian's more abstract pieces (and another Monk). Frisell and (especially) Lovano have developed into masters. A-

Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band: Flight of the Blue Jay (1996 [1997], Winter & Winter): Group debuted in 1993, defined more by lineup than personnel -- two guitars (Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Schoeppach), electric bass (Steve Swallow), and tenor sax (originally one, but two here: Chris Potter and Chris Cheek) -- but also with more bop era covers (Parker, Powell, Davis, three Monk; only one piece by the drummer, plus two by Rosenwinkel). B+(**)

Paul Motian: Trio 2000 + One (1997 [1999], Winter & Winter): First of several "Trio 2000" albums, some "+ One," others "+ Two": common denominator seems to be Masabumi Kikuchi (piano) and Larry Grenadier (bass), with the extras on horns (here tenor saxophonist Chris Potter), but this particular record also has Steve Swallow on electric bass. B+(**)

Paul Motian and the E.B.B.B.: Europe (2000 [2001], Winter & Winter): Initials stand for Electric Be-Bop Band, fifth group album since 1992. Two saxophonists (Chris Cheek and Pietro Tonolo), two guitarists (Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas), and electric bass (Anders Christensen). B+(*)

Paul Motian and the E.B.B.B.: Holiday for Strings (2001 [2002], Winter & Winter): Same group, no extra strings. B+(**)

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard Volume III (2006 [2010], Winter & Winter): Original Trio 2000 with Masabumi Kikuchi (drums) and Larry Grenadier (bass), joined by Chris Potter (tenor sax) and Mat Maneri (viola), with leftovers after the first two volumes were releaed in 2007 and 2008. B+(***)

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: On Broadway Volume 5 (2008 [2009], Winter & Winter): Thomas Morgan takes over at bass, joining pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, the "+ Two" saxophonists Loren Stillman and Michaël Attias (doesn't specify, but both are primarily altos). Starts with an original, followed by six tunes that I must know but still aren't overly familiar to me, played gracefully and a bit on the pretty side. A-

The Odean Pope Saxophone Choir: The Saxophone Shop (1985 [1986], Soul Note): Tenor saxophonist, born in South Carolina but raised in Philadelphia, one previous album in 1982, but is best known for his Saxophone Choir, which starts here: 4 tenors, 3 altos, 1 baritone, with piano (Eddie Green), bass, and drums. Even with all that help, Pope's own solo lines really stand out, making it unclear why he needs them. B+(***)

Buddy Rich/Max Roach: Rich Versus Roach (1959 [1990], Mercury): Two famous drummers play battle of the bands, each armed with a quintet: Rich with alto sax (Phil Woods), trombone (Willie Dennis), piano (John Bunch), bass; Roach with tenor sax (Stanley Turrentine), trumpet (Tommy Turrentine), trombone (Julian Priester), and bass. CD reissue adds 4 alternate takes to the original 8 pieces. B+(**)

Max Roach/Clifford Brown: The Best of Max Roach and Clifford Brown in Concert (1954 [1956], GNP): Short-lived hard bop group, formed in 1954, ended in 1956 when Brown and two others were killed in a car crash, but Brown recorded enough for a 10-CD box (Brownie). Brown got top billing for most of those records, but in 1955 GNP released two 4-cut live EPs, combined here. B+(***)

Max Roach: Max Roach + 4 (1956-57 [1990], Emarcy): After Clifford Brown and Ronnie Powell died in that car crash, Roach found replacements in Kenny Dorham (trumpet) and Ray Bryant (piano), carrying on with Sonny Rollis (tenor sax) and George Morrow (bass). Leads off with George Russell's "Ezz-Thetic," includes two Roach originals, winds up with "Body and Soul" and "Woody 'N' You." CD adds three extra tracks (with Billy Wallace on piano). A-

Max Roach: Jazz in 3/4 Time (1956-57 [1957], Emarcy): Waltz time, vows that it's possible to swing in something other than 4/4 time, a case I'm not sure is made. Impressive horns -- Kenny Dorham on trumpet and Sonny Rollins (author of "Valse Hot") on tenor sax -- with George Morrow on bass and Bill Wallace on piano (Ray Bryant for the final track). B+(*)

Max Roach: The Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker (1957-58 [1995], Verve): In the early days, only three drummers appear on memorable bebop albums: Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, and Roach. From 1950 on you get more, a new generation that grew up with the music, plus some older guys who figured it out (like Shelly Manne). But Roach was the main guy, not least because he was the one who usually played with Parker. Six Parker tunes here, with Kenny Dorham on trumpet, either Hank Mobley or George Coleman on tenor sax, and George Morrow or Nelson Boyd on bass. The sax players aren't quite up to snuff -- no tenor can match Parker for speed and glitz, although Sonny Rollins Plays for Bird held its own. CD reissue adds four more tracks. B+(***)

Max Roach: Award-Winning Drummer (1958 [1960], Time): Quintet with Booker Little (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor sax), Ray Draper (tuba), and Arthur Davis (bass). Not the drummer's best showcase, but Little and Coleman have their moments. B+(**)

Max Roach: Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961, Impulse!): Drummer-led septet plus congas and cowbell on three cuts and vocalist Abbey Lincoln on two, doing six Roach compositions. One of trumpeter Booker Little's last sessions, backed by a young band we'd recognize as all-stars today: Julian Priester (trombone), Eric Dolphy (reeds), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Mal Waldron (piano), Art Davis (bass). Some thrilling moments here, but feels a bit overmuch. Lincoln's song ("Mendacity") is especially striking, but I didn't like her scree on the opener at all. B+(***)

Max Roach: It's Time: His Chorus and Orchestra (1962, Impulse!): Roach's career took a dramatic turn in 1961 toward politics with his We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. This album is every bit as ambitious, with Coleridge Perkinson conducting the chorus, and Roach arranging to make his "orchestra" seem much bigger than the six stellar credits: Richard Williams (trumpet), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Julian Priester (trombone), Mal Waldron (piano), Art Davis (bass). I'm not a fan of the chorus, but the music is bold and sweeping. B+(***)

Max Roach Quartet: Speak, Brother, Speak! (1962 (1963], Fantasy): Live, from The Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, Quartet with Cliff Jordan (tenor sax), Mal Waldron (piano), and Eddie Khan (bass). Two long pieces, the title (25:00) and "A Variation" (23:30), each with a round of flashy solos -- Jordan's are especially terrific. A-

Max Roach: The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan (1964 [1965], Atlantic): The "legendary Hasaan" was a pianist (1931-80) from Philadelphia, birth name William Henry Langford, Jr. This seems to be his only recording, a trio with Art Davis (bass) and Roach (drums), playing seven original songs. Has a strong rhythmic undertow. B+(***)

Max Roach: Drums Unlimited (1965-66 [1966], Atlantic): Drummer's record, three (of six) tracks are drum solos, but that's only 11:01 of 41:27. The other three tracks are quintet, with Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto sax), Ronnie Matthews (piano), and Jymie Merritt (bass). B+(**)

Max Roach: Members, Don't Git Weary (1968, Atlantic): Short album (6 tracks, 32:12). Like Art Blakey, Roach was always looking for new people to play with, but had much less interest in taming them. The new generation here: Gary Bartz (alto sax), Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Stanley Cowell (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass). Cowell brought three songs, Bartz and Merritt one each, leaving only the title song, with an Andy Bey vocal, by Roach. B+(***)

Max Roach Quartet: Pictures in a Frame (1979, Soul Note): First generation bebop drummer, co-led important 1952-54 group with Clifford Brown, yet by 1979 was consigned to European labels and mostly playing with younger avant-gardists (his big records that year were duos with Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor). This one splits the distance, with Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), Odean Pope (flute, oboe, tenor sax), and Calvin Hill (bass). Styles shift several times, with an awkward vocal at the end. B+(**)

Max Roach: M'Boom (1979 [1980], Columbia): Percussion ensemble, most pieces have eight members on various mallet instruments, drums, chimes, etc. B+(***)

Max Roach: Live in Berlin (1984 [2009], Jazzwerkstatt): Quartet with Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), Odean Pope (tenor sax), and Tyrone Brown (electric bass) -- vocalist on "Six Bits" not credited, but it's Roach's only original. Ends with a hot take of "Perdido." [Previously issued as Jazzbuhne Berlin '84, on Repertoire.] B+(***)

Max Roach: M'Boom (1979 [1980], Columbia): Percussion ensemble, most pieces have eight members on various mallet instruments, drums, chimes, etc. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • John Finbury: Quatro (Green Flash Music)
  • Madre Vaca: Winterreise (Madre Vaca) [06-04]
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hero Trio (Whirlwind) [06-19]

Sunday, May 31, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Lot of articles below on the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the demonstrations that have ensued, and reports of violence (especially in Minneapolis). I have no idea how extensive the violence is, let alone who's responsible for what, but I'm skeptical of reports that the nation is being torn apart, let alone that urban America is being reduced to rubble. I remember the riots of the late 1960s, Kerner Commission Report, and the backlash Nixon so profited from. I doubt this is anything like that, but should also note that the degree of anger over this particular killing -- as you well know there have been dozens that have risen to cause célèbre status, and hundreds that remain obscure. There was, for instance, a completely peaceful demonstration here in Wichita that drew some 2,000 people -- much more than I would have imagined. (No link, as The Wichita Eagle won't let me get past the headline, even with a subscription -- making it pointess to pass the link along.) What does make the current situation worse than in the 1960s is malignant lout in the White House, his toxic party, and their deluded followers. We used to jeer LBJ with "how many kids did you kill today?" but there's no point taunting Trump like that: not only doesn't he care, he's likely to take it as a challenge.

Speaking of the dead, the coronavirus death count in the United States topped 100,000 this week. It topped 10,000 on April 17, and 50,000 18 days later, on April 25. It took 32 days from there to double. The lockdown in Kansas has pretty much ended, although that makes me even more wary of going out. I do, however, have a doctor appointment on Monday, and have been assured they got their protocols together. May make a grocery run as well, as we're low on pretty much everything.

When I got up this morning, I played Down in the Basement (a "treasure trove of vintage 78s 1926-1937") and Maria Muldaur's Garden of Joy. From the former, I was especially struck by the continuing relevance of Bessie Brown's "Song from a Cotton Field." The latter ends with a 2009 remake of the Depression-era "The Panic Is On," with a new line for Obama. Couldn't find a YouTube link, but here's Spotify, if that helps. Here's the 1931 original, by Hezekiah & Dorothy Jenkins; I'm more familiar with a later version which drops the complaint about Prohibition and adds an optimistic like about FDR -- on a compilation somewhere, can't find the link now. I did find more recent ones: by Loudon Wainwright III (2010); Daddy Stovepipe (2013); and by Matt Rivers (2013).


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, May 25, 2020


Music Week

May archive (finished).

Music: Current count 33333 [33277] rated (+56), 209 [214] unrated (-5).

Played a lot of old jazz last week. I mostly started with albums that were nominated by JazzTimes in reader polls to select the best albums of the 1970s and 1980s, but once I got into an artist's oeuvre I let myself wander. A couple of these albums were singled out by Chris Monsen as among the ten best of the 1980s, and they fared considerably better than average. I was particularly on the lookout for ECM releases, as they've only recently become available on Napster. Dozens more records on the list, so I may stick with this for a while.

I'm not giving up on new records -- more like pacing myself. I am still maintaining my tracking and metacritic files. They're just not inspiring me to check out a lot of albums at the moment.

Rated count includes a few records I missed counting in previous weeks, but mostly reflects that I rarely gave records a second play (especially old jazz). More exposure could lift a few of them -- especially among the Sonny Rollins releases, given that I have The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1962-64, 6CD) at A-, and Gary Giddins' expert selection from the Milestones (1972-2000), with one song per album, Silver City, at A+.

This is the last Monday of May, so Streamnotes (May, 2020) is wrapped up. I noticed that I had missed doing the indexing for April, so fixed that. I still haven't done the indexing for the last two Book Roundups, so need to work on that. I also have enough Questions to start trying to write up some answers. Should have some of them by the end of the week.

PS: Thought I had got through a week with no major jazz or pop deaths to report, but found out about Jimmy Cobb (91) just after I posted. Also missed Mory Kanté (70).


New records reviewed this week:

The Dream Syndicate: The Uiverse Inside (2020, Down There): From Los Angeles, 1980s band, regarded as neo-psychedelia, broke up in 1989 with Steve Wynn going on to a moderately successful singer-songwriter career. Regrouped in 2012, third album since. Especially fond of soaring vamps, which can run as log as the 20:27 opener. B+(*)

Steve Earle: Ghosts of West Virginia (2020, New West): Coal mining songs for a Coal Country documentary, 10 of them but only runs 29:46. Several are memorable, not least the one Eleanor Whitmore sings. B+(***)

Joe Harrison +18: America at War (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Noting that the US has been engaged in war "nearly every year" since his birth in 1957 (I would have said 1941), he offers this "musical meditation on a lifetime of ruinous armed conflicts conducted by the United States." Big band, conducted by Matt Holman. Some remarkable passages here: big, bold, more than a little discomfiting. B+(***)

Alain Mallet: Mutt Slang II: A Wake of Sorrows Engulfed in Rage (2018 [2020], Origin): Pianist, from France, studied at Berklee and now teaches there, Google describes him as "Jonatha Brooke's ex-husband" (on the other hand, Brooke has a substantial Wikipedia page that doesn't mention him). Has a previous album, Mutt Slang. Long album, leans Brazilian. B+(*)

Ted Moore Trio: The Natural Order of Things (2019 [2020], Origin): Drummer, director of Jazz Department at UC Berkeley, graduated from Eastman 1973, not sure if he has anything else under his own name, but he was part of Paul Winter's groups, and led a group called Brasilia. Wrote 7 (of 8) tracks here, arranged the other. With Phil Markowitz on piano and Kai Eckhardt on bass. B+(**)

Shelly Rudolph: The Way We Love (2010-17 [2020], OA2): Singer-songwriter from Portland, OR; website shows five albums. Nine songs, short at 30:40, credits scattered aside from David Darling on cello, with four pianists. My first impression was overwrought, but a closer listen reveals a distinctive voice. Nice cover of "Stand by Me." B [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Apala: Apala Groups in Nigeria 1967-70 (1967-70 [2020], Soul Jazz): A Yoruba music style, originated in the 1930s, based on talking drums, thumb piano, percussion, originally rooted in religion -- strikes me as a parallel to nyahbinghi in Jamaica, but harder to understand. Haruna Ishola is the biggest star, responsible for 5 (of 18) tracks here. B+(*)

Eddie Russ: Fresh Out (1974 [2019], Soul Jazz): Keyboard player from Pittsburgh (1940-96), recorded three albums 1974-78, this his first. Mostly groove, with Larry Nozero (flute, soprano sax), guitar, bass, drums, extra percussion, mixing in anonymous strings and horns. Three originals, covers from Les McCann, Chuck Mangione, and Stevie Wonder. B

Old music:

Muhal Richard Abrams: Young at Heart/Wise in Time (1969 [1996], Delmark): Pianist from Chicago, AACM founder, second album, two long pieces: a 29:20 piano solo, and a 21:52 quintet track, with Leo Smith (trumpet), Henry Threadgill (alto sax), bass, and drums -- by far the more exciting piece. Not sure if the original LP runs that long. B+(**)

Muhal Richard Abrams: Think All, Focus One (1994 [1995], Black Saint): Plays synthesizer as well as piano, leads a septet with most of the options of a big band: trumpet, trombone, tenor sax/bass clarinet, guitar, bass, drums -- not big names but each has a role. B+(***)

Muhal Richard Abrams: Song for All (1995 [1997], Black Saint): Piano/synthesizer, leading a septet -- trumpet (Eddie Allen), trombone (Craig Harris), saxes (Aaron Stewart), vibes, bass, drums, with voice (Richards Abrams) to start. B+(***)

George Adams: Sound Suggestions (1979, ECM): Tenor saxophonist, joined Charles Mingus in 1973 and played on his last great albums (along with Don Pullen and Dannie Richmond -- from 1979 members of the Adams/Pullen Quartet). With Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Heinz Sauer (tenor sax), Richie Beirach (piano), Dave Holland (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Wheeler wrote 2 (of 5) songs, vs. 2 by Adams, 1 by Sauer. Only true Adams moment is "Got Someethin' Good for You," a huge blues with his growling vocal and hottest sax. B+(*)

George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet: Live at Montmartre (1985 [1986], Timeless): Live shot from Copenhagen, with Cameron Brown (bass) and Dannie Richmond (drums) filling out the Quartet, and John Scofield (guitar) along for the ride (starts with one of his pieces). [Later reissued under Adams' name only. Some good moments here.] B+(**)

The Art Ensemble of Chicago: Bap-Tizum (1972 [1973], Atlantic): Cover proclaims "Great Black Music" and "Recorded in performance at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972." Long-running group, founded by AACM members in 1968, with Lester Bowie (trumpet), Roscoe Mitchell/Joseph Jarman (reeds), Malachi Favors (bass), and Don Moye (drums), everyone also on percussion, which is what ultimately matters. Other stuff harder to take. B

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Nice Guys (1978 [1979], ECM): Group recorded inensely 1969-70, a few more to 1974, then a break until they landed here on ECM. Starts with Lester Bowie's bent reggae "Ja," and ends with a flair. B+(***)

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force (1980, ECM): Four pieces, one each by all but Moye, one by everyone. Lives up to title. B+(***)

Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Third Decade (1984 [1985], ECM): The number of credited instruments has hit a likely record here. According to Discogs: Lester Bowie (4), Joseph Jarman (19), Roscoe Mitchell (16), Malachi Favors (8), Don Moye (20). B+(**)

Tim Berne Sextet: The Ancestors (1983, Soul Note): Alto saxophonist, first album on a label that got any notice. With Mack Goldsbury (soprano/tenor sax), Herb Robertson (trumpets), Ray Anderson (trombone/tuba), Ed Shuller (bass), Paul Motian (drums). Three longish pieces. B+(*)

Tim Berne: Mutant Variations (1983 [1984], Soul Note): Quartet with Herb Robertson (trumpet), Ed Schuller (bass), and Paul Motian (drums). Five songs, each with a different concept as he sets and defies expectations. Most impressive for me is "Clear," where the horns run free. B+(***)

Arthur Blythe: Blythe Spirit (1981, Columbia): Alto saxophonist, from Los Angeles, part of Horace Tapscott's scene before he landed a major label contract and responded with Lennox Avenue Breakdown, his masterpiece. This is his fourth album for Columbia, midway through a decade tenure. Most tracks have guitar, cello, tuba, and drums. The other two: a resplendent "Misty" with piano-bass-drums (John Hicks, Fred Hopkins, Steve McCall), and a trad gospel with organ-tuba (Amina Claudine Myers, Bob Stewart). B+(***)

Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: I Only Have Eyes for You (1985, ECM): Trumpet player from St. Louis, member of Art Ensemble of Chicago, first album (of nine) with this group, a nonet with four trumpets, two trombones, French horn (Vincent Chancey) and tuba (Bob Stewart), plus drums. Most impressive at the bookends: the title standard, and a Bowie credit that draws heavily on old gospel. B+(***)

Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: Avant Pop (1986, ECM): Alternates originals, including one dedicated by Steve Turre to Machito, with pop tunes ("Saving All My Love for You," "Blueberry Hill," "Crazy," "Oh, What a Night"). The covers are fun, but a Bowie credit with its "No Shit" chorus is even more so -- I hesitate to call it an original because it sure sounds like it was cribbed from somewhere. A-

Tommy Flanagan: Thelonica (1982 [1983], Enja): Pianist, plays nine Thelonious Monk tunes, with George Mraz (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). B+(**)

Charlie Haden/Paul Motian Feat. Geri Allen: Etudes (1987 [1988], Soul Note): Bass-drums-piano trio, the pianist much the junior partner here with one original song ("Dolphy's Dance") vs. three each (although two of Motians were short "Etude" titles), plus covers from Ornette Coleman and Herbie Nichols. Remarkable balance and poise, and when the piano drops out you still get something remarkable. A- [yt]

Jimmy Lyons: Other Afternoons (1969 [1979], Affinity): Alto saxophonist, best known for his work with Cecil Taylor from 1961 up to his death in 1986. This, recorded in Paris for BYG, is his first album as a leader -- only one until 1979. Quartet with Lester Bowie (trumpet), Alan Silva (bass), and Andrew Cyrille (drums). B+(**)

Jimmy Lyons Quintet: Wee Sneezawee (1983 [1984], Black Saint): Alto saxophonist, best known for his work with Cecil Taylor, in a quintet with Raphe Malik (trumpet), Karen Borca (bassoon), William Parker (bass), and Paul Murphy (drums). Exciting runs from all three horns, but especially Lyons, and you do notice how great the bassist is. A-

Jimmy Lyons Quintet: Give It Up (1985, Black Saint): Karen Borca (bassoon) and Paul Murphy (drums) return, this time with Enrico Rava (trumpet) and Jay Oliver (bass). B+(***)

Oregon: Oregon (1983, ECM): Jazz/world fusion group formed in Eugene, Oregon in 1971, recorded their early albums for Vanguard (most notably 1973's Music of Another Present Era). Ralph Towner (guitar, but mostly synthesizer here), Paul McCandless (reeds), Glen Moore (bass), Colin Walcott (percussion). B

Oregon: Crossing (1984 [1985], ECM): More guitar, a little more upbeat. B+(*)

Sonny Rollins: With the Modern Jazz Quartet (1951-53 [1982], Prestige/OJC): Originally on 10-inch albums, compiled into Rollins' first LP in 1956: four tracks as billed from 1953, eight Quartet tracks from 1951 (Kenny Drew, Percy Heath, and Art Blakey), and one earlier track with Miles Davis, Heath, and Roy Haynes. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins [Volume 1] (1956 [1957], Blue Note): Not sure when this officially became Volume 1 -- the only thing other than the artist name on the original LP was "blue note 1542," and I've never seen any "Volume 1" artwork, although a 1988 reissue says Volume One on the CD, and most sources even for earlier reissues are explicit. Vol. 2 came out in 1958, and they were reissued together many times. Quintet with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano), Gene Ramey (bass), and Max Roach (drums) on five songs, a relaxed 40:41. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins Volume 2 (1957, Blue Note): With JJ Johnson (trombone), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Blakey (drums), and two pianists listed (Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk, nothing on who plays what but it shouldn't be hard to figure out). Two Rollins originals, two Monk songs, two standards. Feels like three scattered singles, and I'm not sure any of them really belong to Rollins. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins Plays (1956-57 [2010], Essential Music Group): LP originally released by Period (probably in 1958), as a "Leonard Feather Presents," only one side (three songs, 19:37) by Rollins (Quintet with Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Gil Coggins on piano, plus bass and drums), the other by Thad Jones and His Ensemble (with Frank Foster or Frank Wess on tenor sax). Strong period for both artists, though caveat emptor is in order. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins Featuring Jim Hall: The Quartets (1962 [1986], RCA Bluebird): Reissue of The Bridge -- Rollins' first record for RCA -- plus two tracks from What's New? All tracks have Hall on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and most have Ben Riley on drums. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins & Don Cherry: Live at the Olympia '63 (1963 [2010], Master Classics): Tenor sax and trumpet, quartet with Henry Grimes (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), one of several recordings made during a two-month tour of Europe, has appeared on several labels under various titles (e.g., The Complete 1963 Paris Concert, on Gambit). B+(***)

Sonny Rollins/Don Cherry Quartet: The Complete 1963 Copenhagen Concert (1963 [2014], Doxy, 2CD): Same group, live set, four days before the Olympia radio shot, five pieces stretched out even more. Sound is a bit dodgy, but the excitement is palpable. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Live in Tokyo, Japan '63 (1963 [2010], Master Classics): Long takes of "Mack the Knife" and "Oleo" (22:06 and 23:12) with a quintet: Reshid Kmal Ali (trumpet), Paul Bley (piano), Henry Grimes (bass), Ron McCurdy (drums), two short tracks with Betty Carter vocals, and a final "On a Slow Boat to China" with a Japanese pick-up rhythm section. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins & Co. 1964 (1964 [1995], RCA Bluebird): Six tracks from The Standard Sonny Rollins (1965), one from Now's the Time (1964), six more not issued at the time. Some trio with bass and drums, three tracks add Jim Hall (guitar), five others Herbie Hancock (piano). That's a formula for a messy collection, but Rollins in one of those grooves he barely needs anyone else. A-

Sonny Rollins: Horn Culture (1973, Milestone): Second album for Milestone, his regular label from returning from his hiatus in 1972 up to his definitive This Is What I Do in 2000. With piano (Walter Davis Jr.), guitar (Yoshiaki Masuo), electric bass (Bob Cranshaw), drums (David Lee), and percussion (Mtume). A-

Sonny Rollins: The Cutting Edge (1974, Milestone): Live, from Montreux Jazz Festival, with same band except for Stanley Cowell on piano, plus bagpipes on the long "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" closer. Mostly seems to be in a laid-back mood, although occasionally you get a glimpse of what he can do. B+(*)

Sonny Rollins: The Way I Feel (1976, Milestone): George Duke wrote two songs, but Patrice Rushen is the keyboard player here (and wrote the other non-original). With Lee Ritenour (guitar), Billy Cobham (drums), Bill Summers (conga), bass or tuba, and much more on 4 (of 7) tracks. All meant to make him feel happy, which is contagious. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins: Easy Living (1977, Milestone): Fifth Milestone album, six tracks: three originals, "Isn't She Lovely?," "My One and Only Love," "Easy Living." Band mostly electric -- guitar, bass, keyboards (George Duke) -- with Tony Williams. Takes two songs on soprano, not what you generally pay your money for, but we're still talking Sonny Rollins here. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins: Don't Stop the Carnival (1978, Milestone): Live double from Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, runs 9 songs, 70:56. Electric guitar, bass, keyboards, plus Tony Williams, with Donald Byrd (trumpet) joining midway. Critics have been harsh, but Rollins can be awesome, especially on his solo intro. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Don't Ask (1979, Milestone): Electric band, with Larry Coryell (guitar), Jerome Harris (bass), Mark Soskin (keyboards), Al Foster (drums), and Bill Summers (congas). Flirts with disco (although I can't see "Disco Monk" breaking on the dance floor) and orientalism ("Tai-Chi," where he plays lyricon?). Title anticipates the reviews. B

Sonny Rollins: Love at First Sight (1980, Milestone): Two trio cuts, with George Duke (keyboards) and Stanley Clarke (electric bass), four more add drums (Al Foster), two of them also add congas. Pretty solid album. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins: No Problem (1981, Milestone): First thing I noticed here was the vibraphone (Bobby Hutcherson), which adds a little sparkle to his basic groove band: Bobby Broom (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Tony Williams (drums). Still, the only reason to listen is the saxophone, which he kicks up a notch (e.g., "Coconut Bread"). B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Reel Life (1982, Milestone): Two guitars here, with Bobby Broom from recent albums and Yoshiaki Masuo from Rollins' mid-1970s group, plus Jack DeJohnette joins on drums. None of which really matter, as the best thing here is the 2:12 "Solo Reprise" at the end. B+(*)

Sonny Rollins: The Solo Album (1985, Milestone): One piece, 56:10, split into two parts. I've seen this panned viciously, but solo sax is hard to do, every little bit exposed, and when you get down to it, the sonic palette isn't very broad. I find it often remarkable, but even I have trouble sitting still for the entire run. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Old Flames (1993, Milestone): Mostly stadards, like his 1989 Falling in Love With Jazz, all the better to wax eloquent. [5/7 tracks] B+(**)

Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High (1975, ECM): Canadian trumpet player, studied at Royal Conservatory of Music in 1950, moved to UK in 1952, played in many free jazz groups but always seemed like more of a postbop player, especially on his many ECM albums. This was his first, playing flugelhorn (really his main instrument), in a quartet with Keith Jarrett (piano), Dave Holland (drums), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). B+(***)

Kenny Wheeler: Around 6 (1979 [1980], ECM): Sextet: Evan Parker (soprano/tenor sax), Eje Thelin (trombone), J.F. Jenny-Clark (bass), Edward Vesala (drums), Tom van der Geld (vibraharp). Parker has some strong runs. B+(**)

Kenny Wheeler: Double, Double You (1983 [1984], ECM): Quintet: Mike Brecker (tenor sax) is the surprise name on the cover; John Taylor (piano) a close long-time collaborator, plus Holland and DeJohnette. Stellar cast, but I doubt Wheeler has ever been more on top of a record. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sara Serpa: Recognition (Biophilia) [06-05]

Sunday, May 24, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Robert Christgau wrote an impassioned piece last week on why it matters for people to vote for Biden and the Democrats against Trump and the Republicans in November. You can find it here and here -- scroll down to the last question and answer. I agree substantively, but have a few quibbles.

First, I gagged on the phrase "criminally stupid." Stupid, maybe, but that isn't (and shouldn't be) a crime. Gauging the importance of any election requires both a lot of information and a good sense of political dynamics over time. How difficult it is should be clear from our different estimates and prognoses of what a Trump victory would mean. (Which, just to be clear, don't diminish our agreement that this election is "crucial" and that if it goes the wrong way a lot of very bad things will happen.)

For instance: "Abortion will end, feminism atrophy, gay rights shrivel." If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, states will be free to outlaw abortion (and for that matter birth control), but only a few states will. Same with LGBTQ rights. The effect will be to undermine rights that currently all Americans share, but unless this can be followed up with new federal legislation the effect will be to make red and blue states diverge further. Granted, if Republicans win by landslides (augmented or enabled by gerrymandering and voter suppression, which is the only way that seems possible) they might be able to rewrite federal law to force their views on blue states. They might even amend the constitution to get rid of parts they don't like (although most likely they'll be happy enough to have their packed courts read the constitution their way).

None of this woud cause feminism to "atrophy": if anything, it will make it sharper and more necessary. Indeed, while we prefer not to speak of it, one thing that invariably happens is that when power tilts one direction, resistance grows. A lot of bad things have happened since 2016, but resistance has grown, both in numbers and in clarity and resolve. The lines about what Hillary would have done differently aren't very convincing -- especially the one about billionaires, because while she was chummy with different ones than Trump was, she was always very deferential to them (as were Democrats like Obama and Biden). At least with Trump as president, we don't have to go through this election defending her. I'm not a person who believes that things have to get worse before they can get better, but I do recognize that people often learn things only the hard way. I voted for Hillary even though I thought she was fucking awful, because I understood how much worse Trump was, but also because I thought we'd be better off starting from her as a baseline than we'd be with Trump.

Obviously, I think that with Biden vs. Trump, as well. I voted for Bernie Sanders, and Biden was one of my least favorite candidates, so I'm not happy he's the nominee, but I'm also not very unhappy with the way the race has shaped up. Aside from the necessity of beating Trump and the Republican ticket -- which in terms of policy (if not personality) if anything worse than Trump -- the second most important thing for me is to advance the ideas of the left. While Sanders and others have made remarkable progress, it was clear that they have not swayed the powers in the party, and that the latter would stop at nothing (including self-defeat) to keep control of the Democratic Party. With Biden we have a seat at the table to argue for policies on their merits, and we shouldn't have to spend much of our energy fighting off internecine attacks from the right. Nothing is certain, but as I keep insisting, the answers to our major problems are on the left. Biden needs answers as much as we do.


The Democratic Primary in Hawaii went for Joe Biden (63.23%), over Bernie Sanders (36.77%). You can draw either conclusion from this. On the one hand, Biden has drawn consistent majorities everywhere since shortly after Super Tuesday, and there's no real chance he's going to weaken. On the other hand, there's still a sizable bloc of Democrats who think we can do better, and that too -- despite the campaign blackout and Bernie's own endorsement of Biden -- shows no sign of weakening.


Some scattered links this week:

Friday, May 22, 2020


Book Roundup

Aside from last week's Trump Books, this is my first Book Roundup since October 31, 2019, so lots of ground to cover. As usual, 40 books in the main section (well, 45), some with lists of extras tacked on. Then a bunch of "briefly noted" -- most just noted. Not inconceivable I could return and write more about some of them later. I've even been known to read the occasional book that first appeared there. But at least this includes them in the big file for future reference.

This time I have a third section, which includes leftovers from the Trump Books roundup. I didn't sort them out as I did before. Again, this section includes some forthcoming books -- some surprisingly close to the election, like they're deliberately planning on being irrelevant. [PS: On further reflection, I think I should move these new books back into the old post, but will hold off on doing that until later, so those reading in real time won't have to go back.]

My usual methodology here is to start with Amazon's tracking of my tastes and interests, and see where their recommendations lead me -- especially given that their book pages contain blurbs and user reviews, often even a partial "look inside," usually sufficient information to base my notes on. However, Amazon has become much more frustrating and much less useful lately. Their "my recommendations" page is now about 80% non-book clutter, and their book subject lists have generally been slashed from 50 to 15 books (I've seen them with as few as 4), so not much to explore from there. Their book pages used to have long lists of related books (usually books that others have bought or looked at), but the only thing they offer regularly now is "books you may like" -- pretty much the same list on every page. Their subject browsing has never been useful (it's even hard to find it). Even searches are pot shots. For the Trump books, I scoured through 50-60 screens of titles before posting last week. Most of the books below showed up in the next 20-30 screens.

I wound up going to Barnes and Noble for Trump books. Their subject browsing has been slightly better in the past, although it, too, seems worse than before. (Filters now seem to cancel each other out rather than further refine, and order by date is flat out broken.) Plus they don't have nearly as much aggregate information, so when I do find a book there, I wind up having to search it out on Amazon. I also looked at Indie Bound, but found no help at all. Looks like you can order there, but can't really shop. [PS: Finally, looked at Good Reads, which turns out to be more useful.]

In the future, it looks like I'm going to have to return to doing things like thumbing through the New York Review of Books looking for advertisements. (In the past, I went to libraries and bookstores to jot down lists of titles. From age 16 on I prowled around bookstores several times a week, regarding it as essential to my mental health, but that practice declined and ended when Borders went bankrupt.) I even tried doing a Google search for "new political books," which referred me to BookAuthority's 63 Best New Politics Books to Read in 2020. Some real crap, but at least 25% of the books there didn't show up in my Amazon searches. (Thanks to that list, I added Lawrence Lessig's book to the list, and after looking up Lessig I wrote the two Ganesh Sitaraman entries, increasing the main list to 42 books.)

Two of the longer sublists deserve special mention. I often list previous works by authors, but that went a little long with Joseph J Ellis. I look at the aforementioned "big file" often to see what other books someone has written, so it's always tempting to broaden that list -- currently, it's just everything mentioned in previous Book Roundups, but I can imagine stuffing it into a database. On the other hand, I didn't do that for the next author down, Eric Foner. That's partly because I've followed Foner more closely in the past, and indeed have read several of his books that predate the file (actually starting with Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (1970; paperback, 1995, Oxford University Press).

Also did a long list under Nathan J Robinson, but the other list I wanted to mention was the one under Laurie Garrett. You hear people arguing that no one could have anticipated the pandemic, but as the list shows, there's actually a pretty substantial literature on the subject, with Garrett's big 1994 book as a cornerstone. Admittedly, I padded the list with historical books on the 1918 influenza. That is the most similar historical event to the present one, so seems of special interest today. I wasn't finding much on older plagues, but given how much else I had I decided not to look harder. But I did think of a Robert Desowitz book I had read 20+ years ago, and thought it worth mentioning. Also stumbled across a new article by Garrett, which would have been good in a Weekend Roundup.

Hard to predict when the next Book Roundup will appear, given what a mess my scratch file is currently in, plus the recent search troubles. I currently have 49 books left over, but most of them are mere stubs (some of those I might as well add as such below). On the other hand, at least a dozen are ready to go, and even as I write this I'm finding more books I want to comment on.

Books (from the main section) I've read so far: Erwin Chemerinsky: We the People; Ani DiFranco: No Walls and the Recurring Dream; Matt Farwell/Michael Ames: American Cipher; Eric Foner: The Second Founding; Ezra Klein: Why We're Polarized; John McPhee: Draft No. 4; Suketu Mehta: This Land Is Our Land; Cailin O'Connor/James Owen Weatherall: The Misinformation Age; Charles Postel: Equality; Emmanuel Saez/Gabriel Zucman: The Triumph of Injustice; Joan C Williams: White Working Class. Most of these I picked up rather haphazardly from the library. I've also read all (or nearly) of Robert Christgau: Book Reports and Paul Krugman: Arguing With Zombies as pre-book essays. Wrote two of those up at the end, only after seeing them in my book feed.

Posting this without yet doing the indexing. The "big file," see above for link, currently has 4,505 books (paragraphs, approximately the same thing), so it is already pretty unwieldy (although I can still load its 1.8 MB into an emacs buffer and search it almost instantly, so it still works for me).


David A Ansell: The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills (paperback, 2019, University of Chicago Press): Doctor, has spent 40 years working in some of the poorest hospitals in Chicago, wrote a book about his experiences: County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago's Public Hospital (2011, Academy Chicago Publishers). Problem here is not just that America's health care system fails poor Americans, inequality has stacked the deck against them even before illness or injury strikes. Related:

  • Heather Boushey: Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It (2019, Harvard University Press).
  • Michael Marmot: The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our health and Longevity (paperback, 2005, Owl Books).
  • Michael Marmot: The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World (2015; paperback, 2016, Bloomsbury).
  • Jonathan Rothwell: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society (2019, Princeton University Press).
  • Nelson D Schwartz: The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business (2020, Doubleday).
  • Veronica Squires/Breanna Lathrop: How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick: Restoring Health and Wellness to Our Communities (2019, paperback, IVP Books).

Andrew Bacevich: The Age of Illusions (2020, Metropolitan Books): Ex-soldier, professed conservative, Bacevich has written a long series of books about the revival of militarism in America after Vietnam and how that renascent military was wasted and ruined in a series of wars in the Middle East. He looks to be retracing his steps here, focusing especially on the decision to maintain "sole superpower" status after the Cold War's sudden end, a decision that encouraged new enemies to replace the old. While that has been profitable for an arms industry and a bureaucracy always in need of enemies, the forever wars have only left America poorer and shabbier than before.

Christopher Caldwell: The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties (2020, Simon & Schuster): This is regarded as a rare conservative attempt at serious cultural history, but as always the word "entitlement" gives the mythmaking impulse away. Caldwell takes "readers on a roller-coaster ride through Playboy magazine, affirmative action, CB radio, leveraged buyouts, iPhones, Oxyconti, Black Lives Matter, and internet cookies" to illustrate his case that "the reforms of the 1960s, reforms intended to make the nation more just and humane, instead let many Americans feeling alienated, despised, misled."

Erwin Chemerinsky: We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2018, Picador): Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, previously wrote The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (2011), and The Case Against the Supreme Court (2014). His "progressive reading" emphasizes the preamble, which among other things permits the government to "promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" -- about as progressive a directive as one can imagine. Also see:

  • Erwin Chemerinsky: The Case Against the Supreme Court (2014; paperback, 2015, Penguin Books).
  • Danielle S Allen: Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (paperback, 2015, Liveright).
  • Stephen M Feldman: The New Roberts Court, Donald Trump, and Our Failing Constitution (2017, Palgrave MacMilan).
  • Eric J Segall: Originalism as Faith (paperback, 2018, Cambridge University Press).
  • Ilan Wurman: A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press).

Robert Christgau: Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading (paperback, 2019, Duke University Press): Second collection of essays, following up Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 (paperback, 2018, Duke University Press) with a selection of book reviews -- some on music history and criticism, some on fiction, some loosely grouped as "Bohemia Meets Hegemony" and "Culture Meets Capital."

Adam Cohen: Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America (2020, Penguin Press): From 1936 to 1969 we were fortunate to have a Supreme Court that leaned left, for the only real period in American history when the Court worked to broaden and deepen the rights of all citizens, often in opposition to repressive and reactionary state and even federal laws. In 1969, Nixon started a campaign to pack the court with right-wingers (although his first two nominees were rejected by the Senate, his choice of William Rehnquist started to change the tide). Also see (plus the Robin Pogrebin/Kate Kelly book below, and the Erwin Chemerinsky book/list above):

  • Mollie Hemingway/Carrie Severino: Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (2019, Regnery).
  • Carl Hulse: Confirmation Bias: Inside Washington's War Over the Supreme Court, From Scalia's Death to Justice Kavanaugh (2019, Harper).
  • David A Kaplan: The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court in the Age of Trump (paperback, 2019, Broadway Books).
  • Ruth Marcus: Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover (2019, Simon & Schuster).
  • James D Zirin: Supremely Partisan: How Raw Politics Tips the Scales in the United States Supreme Court (2016, Rowman & Littlefield).

John Corbett: Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music (2019, University of Chicago Press): Music writer and impressario (owns his own reissue label), reminiscences about 4-11 records from each year of the 1970s -- a pretty hip selection, many (even obscurities) I would have picked, probably more jazz than I knew at the time. Starts with the Kinks' "Lola," ends 1979 with the Raincoats' cover of same (plus one 1980 album, Grace Jones' Warm Leatherette).

William Dalrymple: The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire (2019, Bloomsbury): Major historian of British India, focuses here on the early period when English power was entrusted to private enterprise, the notorious East India Company -- a case example of what's likely to happen when the powers of state are directed exclusively for the profit of foreign shareholders. The progression is spelled out in chapter titles: "1599," "Sweeping With the Broom of Plunder," "Bloodshed and Confusion," "Racked by Famine," and "The Corpse of India." After the revolt of 1859, the British government had to step in and take over. They, too, did a lousy job.

Ani DiFranco: No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir (2019, Viking; paperback, 2020, Penguin Press): DIY folksinger from Buffalo, released her own records and made a business out of that, which she still regards as a pretty weird thing to do. I have a cousin who moved to Buffalo and knows her -- my cousin's family shows up here and there in the book, and I figure I probably caught a glance of Ani as a girl, long before I started hearing about how amazing she was, which was long before you did, so I've always felt a bit of a personal connection. Also I figure it's good for me to read the occasional memoir, especially of people growing up political, as I may write one myself some day. I found the early family/city parts fascinating, the music/industry less so. I suspect she does too.

EJ Dionne Jr: Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country (2020, St Martin's Press): The Washington Post columnist's second Trump book, perhaps a little more desperate than the first (One Nation Under Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported), but doubling down on his centrist pitch, that progressives have to give in and accept nothing for their votes, so the centrists can cut their own deals furthering oligopoly.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Had I Known: Collected Essays (2020, Twelve): Starts with the Harper's piece that grew into her bestseller, Nickel-and-Dimed, with more on inequality, health, men, women, science, joy, God, and "bourgeois blunders" -- a rather vast category. A good selection, but after two dozen books, not remotely close to collected.

Joseph J Ellis: American Dialogue: The Founders and Us (2018, Knopf): Historian, has written a number of books on the founding of the United States (partial list below). Notes the persistence of "what would the Founding Fathers think?" questions on current topics, tries to juxtapose several contemporary questions with thinking from those founders: Thomas Jefferson (racism), John Adams (inequality), George Washington (imperialism), and James Madison (the doctrine of original intent). I wouldn't put much stock in the answers (at least from the first two), but shows us again how the study of history is always (for better or worse) an interaction with the present. More Ellis books, and other recent period titles:

  • Joseph J Ellis: After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture (1979; paperback, 2002, WW Norton).
  • Joseph J Ellis: Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993; paperback, 2001, WW Norton).
  • Joseph J Ellis: American Sphinx: the Character of Thomas Jefferson (1996; paperback, 1998, Vintage Books).
  • Joseph J Ellis: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2000; paperback, 2002, Vintage Books).
  • Joseph J Ellis: His Excellency: George Washington (2004; paperback, 2005, Vintage Books).
  • Joseph J Ellis: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic (2007; paperback, 2008, Vintage Books).
  • Joseph J Ellis: First Family: Abigail and John Adams (2010; paperback, 2011, Vintage Books).
  • Joseph J Ellis: Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence (2013; paperback, 2014, Vintage Books).
  • Joseph J Ellis: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution 1783-1789 (2015; paperback, 2016, Vintage): Singles out George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.

Matt Farwell/Michael Ames: American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan (2019, Penguin Press): Bergdahl was a troubled teenager in Idaho, signed up and got thrown out of the US Coast Guard, joined the US Army as a private and got sent to Afghanistan. There, he wandered off his base, was captured by the Taliban and held for five years before being repatriated in a prisoner exchange. He was then reviled by the right-wing press, and as a result was court-martialed for desertion, convicted, and dishonorably discharged, without further incarceration. His story parallels America's futile and foolish war effort.

Eric Foner: The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (2019, WW Norton): America's foremost historian of the period, his main book Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988; updated edition, paperback, 2014, Harper). This focuses most specifically on the three constitutional amendments of the period, including the one about "birthright citizenship" that Trump has most explicitly attacked. This details how and why they were passed, and how they've been reinterpreted by the courts ever since (e.g., how the 14th Amendment has been taken as carte blanche for corporate power).

Laurie Garrett: The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (1994; paperback, 1995, Farrar Straus & Giroux): This is an old book, massive (768 pp), nothing remotely specific on this year's pandemic, but a solid rejoinder to anyone's insinuation that "no one could have anticipated this." Garrett, by the way, is still around, most recently writing Trump Has Sabotaged America's Coronavirus Response. Here are some more books on pandemics and plagues, broadening the net both going back and forward.

  • Laurie Garrett: Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health (paperback, 2001, Hachette Books).
  • Laurie Garrett: I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks (paperback, 2012, CreateSpace).
  • Warren A Andiman: Animal Viruses and Humans: A Narrow Divide: How Lethal Zoonotic Viruses Spill Over and Threaten Us (paperback, 2018, Paul Dry Books).
  • Katherine Arnold: Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts From the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History (paperback, 2020, St Martin's Griffin).
  • John M Barry: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (2004; paperback, 2005, Penguin Books).
  • Thomas J Bollyky: Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways (paperback, 2019, MIT Press).
  • Nancy K Bristow: American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic (2012; paperback, 2017, Oxford University Press).
  • Jeremy Brown: Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History (paperback, 2019, Atria Books).
  • Alfred W Crosby: America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (2nd edition, paperback, 2003, Cambridge University Press).
  • Molly Caldwell Crosby: The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History (2006; paperback, 2007, Berkley).
  • Mike Davis: The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005, New Press; paperback, 2006, Holt).
  • Robert S Desowitz: Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria? Tracking the Devastating Spread of Lethal Tropical Diseases Into America (1997; paperback, 1998, Harcourt Brace).
  • Michael Greger: Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (2006, Lantern Books).
  • Oscar Harway: Spanish Flu 1918: Data and Reflections on the Consequences of the Deadliest Plague, What History Teaches, How Not to Repeat the Same Mistakes (paperback, 2020, independent).
  • Mark Honigsbaum: The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris (2019, WW Norton).
  • Ali S Khan: The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind's Gravest Dangers (2016, PublicAffairs).
  • Christian W McMillen: Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2016, Oxford University Press).
  • Michael BA Oldstone: Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future (paperback, 2009, Oxford University Press).
  • Michael T Osterholm/Mark Olshaker: Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs (paperback, 2020, Little Brown).
  • David Quammen: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012; paperback, 2013, WW Norton).
  • David Quammen: Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus (paperback, 2014, WW Norton).
  • David Quammen: The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged From an African Forest (paperback, 2015, WW Norton).
  • Pardis Sabeti/Lara Salahi: Outbreak Culture: The Ebola Crisis and the Next Pandemic (2018, Harvard University Press).
  • Soia Shah: Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond (2016, Sarah Crichton Books; paperback, 2017, Picador).
  • Alan Sipress: The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic (paperback, 2010, Penguin Books).
  • Laura Spinney: Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (2017, PublicAffairs).
  • David Waltner-Toews: On Pandemics: Deadly Diseases From Bubonic Plague to Coronavirus (paperback, 2020, Greystone Books). [May 28]
  • Nathan Wolfe: The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age (2011, Times Books; paperback, 2012, Griffin).
  • Slavoj Zizek: Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World (paperback, 2020, Polity).

Kim Ghattas: Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unravaled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020, Henry Holt). There's a natural dynamic to revolution to try to expand -- one thinks of the French wars against European monarchies, and Russia's appeal to proletarian revolution elsewhere. When Iran threw off the Shah, one of the first things the new Islamic Republic did was to mount a challenge for leadership of the Muslim World -- something Saudi Arabia had assumed since occupying the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina. Hence the "forty-year rivalry" documented here. While revolutionary fervor in Iran has ebbed, isolation orchestrated by the Saudis, Israel, and the United States (as always, the sorest of sore losers) has kept a desperate edge on the conflict.

Dan Kaufman: The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics (2018, WW Norton): The Kochs put a lot of money and organization into flipping Wisconsin, and had their most remarkable success these, with Scott Walker winning two terms as governor, Ron Johnson twice defeating Russell Feingold for the Senate, and a state legislature so gerrymandered Republicans still have a massive edge despite losing the popular vote -- Democrats did manage to rebound some in 2018. Moreover, Republicans won not by sugar-coating their ideology, but by taking advantage of their wins to implement some of the most radically right-wing policies in the nation.

Marc Hetherington/Jonathan Weiler: Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide (2018, Houghton Mifflin): Sure, badly. On the other hand, if you tell someone what your politics are, then ask them to answer the questions for you, the answers will probably correlate, at least in that people with different politics will probably put you into the authors pigeonholes. All that proves is that you can lie with statistics, as opposed to the usual process of just spouting nonsense. Authors also wrote:

  • Marc J Heherington/Jonathan D Weiler: Authoritarian and Polarization in American Politics (paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press).

AG Hopkins: American Empire: A Global History (2018, Princeton University Press). I thought I'd slip this in under Daniel Underwahr's How to Hide an Empire, but at 960 pp this is by far the more sweeping book, basically a recasting of the whole history of America as viewed through its imperialistic proclivities. Author is British, which no doubt helped set up the global imperial framework.

Ezra Klein: Why We're Polarized (2020, Simon & Schuster): Polarization per se doesn't bother me. Indeed, given that Republicans have moved significantly to the right, it's good that Democrats have moved somewhat left, and would I'd be happier if they moved even further. Sure, this does cause problems, like when one party (almost always the Republican) tries to obstruct the other from doing it would do itself if under different circumstances (like pass stimulus bills). Klein cites a lot of political science research on how people identify themselves in groups, but he refuses to credit any kind of "identity politics" strawman (unlike, say, Mark Lilla, in The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics). He sees identity as inevitable but also flexible and multi-layered, which strikes me as right.

Paul Krugman: Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future (2020, WW Norton): New York Times columnist and sometime economist recycles his columns, organized into thematic sections, like how Obamacare was supposed to work, why the Euro didn't, why tax cuts aren't always good, why deficits aren't always bad, and how politics affects (and infects) everything.

Michael Lind: The New Class War: Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite (2020, Portfolio): Started out as a thinker with conservative impulses, gradually turned on the right without abandoning those instincts. Seems to be intent on defending working class Trump voters here from the charge of bigotry, arguing that they're caught in the grip of a class war against them, and for a "class compromise that provides the working class with real power."

Andrew Marantz: Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation (2019, Viking). You know, there's a lot of incoherent shit on the internet. If you look for it, you'll find it, and if you take it seriously, you'll start to worry about, oh say, the future of civilization. As near as I can tell, that's what Marantz is doing here, plus a little legwork to meet up with some of the people who play assholes in virtual space. I'm not sure any of it matters, but he does spend enough time chatting up the alt-right to draw out their general maleficence, so that's something. Just not sure it's worth the trouble.

Branko Marcetic: Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden (paperback, 2020, Verso): Intended as "a deep dive into Joe Biden's history and the origins of his political values," argues that "far from being a liberal stalwart, Biden often outdid even Reagan, Gingrich, and Bush, assisting the right-wing war against the working class, and ultimately paving the way for Trump." Even though Biden's been the Democratic frontrunner, we haven't seen many books reviewing his life and record. But I'm reminded here that the publisher has a history of dredging up dirt on Democratic candidates -- back in 2000, I read one of their more brutal hatchet jobs, Al Gore: A User's Manual (by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair). Biden is a much easier target -- Gore at least seemed to have the gravitas and smarts to make his frequent maneuvers to the right seem merely opportunistic, whereas Biden simply does whatever seems easiest. On the other hand, Biden's running less on his own record than on someone else's, and few have seen fit to call him on that. More on Biden:

  • Mike McCormick: Joe Biden Unauthorized: And the 2020 Crackup of the Democratic Party (paperback, 2020, 15 Years a Deplorable).

Michael J Mazarr: Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America's Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy (2019, PublicAffairs): A RAND Corporation senior analyst, the sort of person who would have rubber-stamped the Bush administration's plot to invade Iraq, claims to have figured out how it all went so horribly wrong. He blames the decision on "a strain of missionary zeal that lives on" -- clearly, John Bolton is a particularly odious example. But while it's pretty easy these days to find politicians who admit that Iraq was a mistake, it's much harder to find ones who question the assumptions that went into that miscalculation. As such, even with books like this on the shelf, we have little reason to expect future war planners to have learned from past disasters.

John McPhee: Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process (2017; paperback, 2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux): My favorite nonfiction writer constructs a memoir of his writing, stories of who and when and why, mixed with occasional grammar tips. I was hooked at the latter, although his thoughts on structure will challenge me more. Still, I'm reluctantly coming to suspect that at 89 his major works are behind him: The Founding Fish was 2002, Uncommon Carriers 2006, and since then just collections, most recently The Patch (2018), which I passed up at the library: essays on fishing, football, golf, lacrosse, bears, and something called "An Album Quilt."

Suketu Mehta: This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Born in India, grew up in New York, wrote journalism all around the world, giving him the feel and perspective to write his major book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (2004). "Mehta juxtaposes the phony narratives of populist ideologues with the ordinary heroism of laborers, nannies, and others . . . also stresses the destructive legacies of colonialism and global inequality on large swaths of the world: When today's immigrants are asked, 'Why are you here?' they can justly respond, "We are here because you were there.'"

Cailin O'Connor/James Owen Weatherall: The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread (2018; paperback, 2020, Yale University Press): Useful anecdotal history of many cases where blatant falsehoods were propagated far and wide, both recent and fairly deep into the past (e.g., the "health benefits" of bleeding). Also a series of approximate mathematical models of how such ideas are transmitted, ranging from gossip to propaganda.

Kevin C O'Leary: Madison's Sorrow: Today's War on the Founders and America's Liberal Ideal (2020, Pegasus Books): A research fellow at the Center of the Study of Democracy at UC Irvine, previously wrote Saving Democracy: A Plan for Real Representation in America (paperback, 2006, Stanford University Press). Argues that Madisonian democracy was essentially liberal, and that the Republican Party has "unleashed an illiberal crusade against the ideals of the Founding Fathers." Both liberals and conservatives have tried to claim the Founders and their Constitution as their own. I've long thought that Scalia's "originalism" is a crock. On the other hand, the liberal case has mostly been aspirational, as they recall best sentiments and overlook how often those ideals have been failed. Still, I recall that my own politics started with a naive embrace of our noble past, leading me to turn against modern politicians of both parties for their many failures to live up to those ideals. But since then, one party has stood out in its desire to wreck the very foundations of democracy and equality: the Republicans, as O'Leary makes clear here.

Thomas Philippon: The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets (2019, Belknap Press): By which he means: stopped worrying about monopoly power and shied away from antitrust enforcement. Economist, teaches finance at Stern School of Business. That's a reasonable position: capitalists wax eloquent about the efficiencies of the free market, but the first thing they learn to do in business school is to undermine and thwart competition. But I've seen this book picked apart by none other than James K Galbraith -- to some extent in defending his father (who was tolerant of well-regulated monopoly), but also for lionizing Wright Patman (D-TX), who had a reputation as a populist in the 1930s but didn't impress me much when he was chairing the House Banking Committee in the 1960s.

Thomas Piketty: Capital and Ideology (2020, Belknap Press): Massive successor to the French economist's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, runs 1104 pages. Krugman panned this for wandering too far afield, but one suspects that a good part of the complaint has to do with Piketty's more radical political leanings. Goes deep in time, and all around the world, seeking to understand the roots of inequality and its extension today.

Robin Pogrebin/Kate Kelly: The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation (2019, Portfolio): The authors dug up some of the background exposés that crowded out discussion of judicial philosophy -- reason enough to keep him far away from the Supreme Court. Book includes several revelations that resurfaced questions as to whether Kavanaugh lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings, and whether he should be impeached for it. Clearly, as a Supreme Court Justice, he's well positioned to do immense damage to our rights under the Constitution.

Charles Postel: Equality: An American Dilemma 1866-1896 (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A history of several political movements following the Civil War that took the notion of equality, given renewed emphasis following the end of slavery and the constitutional promise of equal rights, and tried to expand it to various groups -- farmers, women, labor. It's worth noting that several of those movements made alliances with the restoration of white power in the South, and as such compromised the equality they sought on the fractured ground of racism. Postel wrote a previous book, The Populist Vision.

Jedediah Purdy: This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth (2019, Princeton University Press): Philosopher, I guess, although he makes his living teaching law. Hailing from West Virginia, he's haunted by the relationship between environmental destruction and poverty. A blurb touts this as a "Thoreauvian call to wake up," but surely he realizes that lifting a title from Woody Guthrie suggests a more straightforward revolution.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen: The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History (2019, Oxford University Press): Intellectual history, "from the Puritans to Postmodernism, and everything in between." That's a tall, probably impossible order, especially given how much actual thinking in American history simply cancels one another out. To come up with something more usually requires an agenda. This one isn't clear, not least because what we might have recognized as a liberal/progressive consensus a generation or two ago has been widely trashed of late, mostly (but not only) by the right. Author previously wrote American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas (2011; paperback, 2012, University of Chicago Press).

Nathan J Robinson: Why You Should Be a Socialist (2019, All Points Press): Editor of Current Affairs, has a pile of books since 2013, including ones focused on Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, but more intent on explaining how much better life could be with democratic socialism. Other books by Robinson and other books on democratic socialism:

  • Nathan J Robinson/Oren Nimni: Blueprints for a Sparkling Tomorrow: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (paperback, 2015, Demilune Press).
  • Nathan J Robinson: Superpredator: Bill Clinton's Use and Abuse of Black America (paperback, 2016, Demilune Press).
  • Nathan J Robinson: The Current Affairs Mindset: Essays on People, Politics, and Culture (paperback, 2017, Demilune Press).
  • Nathan J Robinson: Trump: Anatomy of a Monster (paperback, 2017, Demilune Press).
  • Nathan J Robinson: Interesting Times: Arguments & Observations (paperback, 2018, Demilune Press).
  • Nathan J Robinson: The Current Affairs Rules for Life (paperback, 2018, Demilune Press).
  • Paul S Adler: The 99 Percent Economy: How Democratic Socialism Can Overcome the Crises of Capitalism (2019, Oxford University Press).
  • Kate Aronoff/Peter Dreier/Michael Kazin, eds: We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism -- American Style (paperback, 2020, New Press):
  • Micah Uetricht: Bigger Than Bernie: How We Can Go From the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism (2020, Verso).
  • Richard D Wolff: Understanding Socialism (paperback, 2019, Democracy at Work).

David Rohde: In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth About America's "Deep State" (2020, WW Norton). All bureaucracies have their own special interests, and those that act in secrecy are especially likely to hide their own agendas. The FBI, especially but not exclusively under J Edgar Hoover, often put its own agenda first, which led to numerous abuses, especially directed at what they dubbed "subversive" groups, like civil rights activists and labor unions. The CIA has been even more secretive, and their remit to run clandestine operations has been even more widespread. Moreover, they've enjoyed direct private access to the president -- at least since 9/11 on a daily basis, so their ability to shape US foreign policy, whatever their motives may be, is nonpareil but also obscure. Indeed, it's not uncommon for presidents-elect to reverse course following their first briefing, which only adds to the aura of mysterious power. So much as been obvious to everyone on the left since Harry Truman, but the last few years it's been Trump et al. who've been up in arms over the "deep state" -- an epithet they tend to apply indiscriminately to the whole civil service. This book provides some background, but mostly to help sort out the charges that the FBI and CIA, with their Obama-era leadership, were out to get Trump. I don't doubt there's something to those charges, but Trump's demands are such an overreach not just of decent policy but of law that it's hard to side with him, even against adversaries this bad.

Heather Cox Richardson: How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America (2020, Oxford University Press): Historian, argues not just that the defeated Confederacy was able to restore its old system of white supremacy for a century after the Civil War, but that a the American West provided a key vector for Southern political influence, notably through the "movement conservatives" like Barry Goldwater. Thus we see that their efforts to maintain supremacy did not end with the civil rights movement, but continue to influence the Republican Party today. Richardson previously wrote:

  • Heather Cox Richardson: West From Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America After the Civil War (2007, Yale University Press).
  • Heather Cox Richardson: To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party (2014, Basic Books).

Emmanuel Saez/Gabriel Zucman: The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay (2019, WW Norton): Saez is the world's foremost statistician of inequality, so expect a fair amount of number crunching here. Zucman, who I associate with French economist Thomas Piketty, has a previous book more specific to this concern: The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens (2015; paperback, 2016, University of Chicago Press). Makes a strong case for cracking down on tax havens, showing that the failure of the US and other countries to do so is a deliberate choice in favor of oligarchy. Also makes a case for a wealth tax.

Gabriel Sherman: The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News -- and Divided a Country (2014; paperback, 2017, Random House). This is the basis for Showtime's TV series, with Russell Crowe playing Ailes. I had missed the book, which sounds like it's meant to blow smoke up Ailes' ass, and couldn't stand watching the show -- mostly because I didn't find Ailes' bloviating speeches credible (not so much that I couldn't believe he gave them but I couldn't stomach the notion that anyone bought them). Still, probably the single most important political story of the last quarter-century, so someone had to tell it.

Ganesh Sitaraman/Anne L Alstott: The Public Option: How to Expand Freedom, Increase Opportunity, and Promote Equality (2019, Harvard University Press): The most often hear "public option" these days as Joe Biden's preferred way of patching up Obamacare's failure to assure competitive private health insurance. As such, it's seen as an alternative to Medicare for All, but the latter is a much better example of what the authors mean by "public option": a case where the government provides a public service, not bound by the private sector's need to maximize profit. The section on history offers examples like public libraries and Social Security, and admits "mixed results in education and housing." Part Three plots out where this could go, and probably shortchanges "And More" with just 12 pages.

Ganesh Sitaraman: The Great Democracy: How to Fix Our Politics, Unrig the Economy, and Unite America (2019, Basic Books): Author of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic (2017, Knopf), which offered a pretty convincing account of the founding of the nation as an egalitarian ideal struggling to become real. Here he focuses on more recent history: the rise of the right from Reagan on (which he roots in and doesn't distinguish from neoliberalism, a term he uses a lot but I'd prefer to limit). Prescriptions follow. [PS: In his "Acknowledgments" I was surprised to find generous mention of Pete Buttigieg.]

Gene Sperling: Economic Dignity (2020, Penguin Press): Cover adds: "Chief White House Economic Adviser to President Obama and President Clinton." Sperling advertised himself as The Pro-Growth Progressive in 2005, with his "economic strategy for shared prosperity." At that time, he was cooling his heels, working at the Brookings Institution, waiting to become Hillary Clinton's chief economic adviser for her ill-fated 2008 campaign (2008 was, however, very good to Sperling, as he received $2.2 million "from a variety of consulting jobs, board seats, speaking fees and fellowships" (that's prosperity, but not what I'd call shared). He easily made the transition from Clinton to Obama, and was a prominent player in Ron Suskind's 2011 book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President. The new book leads off with a blurb from Hillary Clinton, who says "it should be our North Star for the recovery and beyond." There are people with worse resumes in Washington (e.g., those currently working for Trump), but few "progressives" have aimed so low and still failed to deliver. Even now, he's trying to buy us off with "dignity" (which, by the way, he defines as "you know it when you see it"). Good luck with that.

Matt Stoller: Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy (2019, Simon & Schuster): Big book on the dangers of concentration of economic power as companies connive to prevent or limit competition: something antitrust law was meant to prevent, but has been hobbled by loose definitions and lax enforcement, not unrelated to the ever-greater role that lobbying and campaign "contributions" play in American politics.

Joan C Williams: White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (paperback, 2019, Harvard Business Review Press): Sympathetic enough to her subjects, emphasizing how the desire for stability and belief in self-sufficiency offer the white working class a conservative ethos, a point which could be extended to the non-white working class if they only had a party option that wasn't as offensive as the Republicans. Contrasts this to the urban professionals who may be more liberal socially but also lack the grounding in community and its identities, and may wind up more alienated as a result. In passing, she mentions "class migrants," who typically come from the working class but are able to function in the professional world, appreciating bits of both.


Other recent books noted with little or no comment:

Alberto Alesina/Carlo O Favero/Francesco Glavazzi: Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn't (2019, Princeton University Press).

Charlotte Alter: The Ones We've Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America (2020, Viking). Profiles of young politicians, the eldest Pete Buttigieg (b. 1982), the only other one I recognize Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (b. 1989).

Andrew J Bacevich, ed: American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition: A Century of Writings From Henry Adams to the Present (2020, Library of America).

Molly Ball: Pelosi (2020, Henry Holt).

Frida Berrigan: It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood (paperback, 2015, OR Books).

Rutget Bregman: Humankind: A Hopeful History (2020, Little Brown): "A more politically radical Malcolm Gladwell."

Vincent Brown: Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (2020, Belknap Press).

Oren Cass: The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America (2018, Encounter Books): Former "domestic policy director for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign."

Panashe Chigumadzi: These Bones Will Rise Again (2020, The Indigo Press): On Zimbabwe and overthrowing Robert Mugabe.

Michael D'Antonio: The Hunting of Hillary: The Forty-Year Campaign to Destroy Hillary Clinton (2020, Thomas Dunne Books).

Alan Dershowitz: Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo (2019, Hot Books).

Joan Marans Dim/Antonio Masi: Lady Liberty: An Illustrated History of America's Most Storied Woman (2019, Fordham University Press).

Mike Duncan: The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic (2017; paperback, 2018, PublicAffairs).

Anna Fifield: The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jung Un (2019, PublicAffairs).

Marc Fleurbaey, et al: A Manifesto for Social Progress: Ideas for a Better Society (paperback, 2018, Cambridge University Press).

Kristen Ghodsee: The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe (paperback, 2015, Duke University Press).

Ted Gioia: Music: A Subversive History (2019, Basic Books).

Malcolm Gladwell: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know (2019, Little Brown).

Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment (paperback, 2019, Berrett-Koehler).

Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America (paperback, 2019, Berrett-Koehler).

Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of the War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote -- and How to Get It Back (paperback, 2020, Berrett-Koehler).

Nolan Higdon/Mickey Huff: United States of Distraction: Media Manipulation in Post-Truth America (And What We Can Do About it) (paperback, 2019, City Lights).

Jonathan Horn: Washington's End: The Final Years and Forgotten Struggle (2020, Scribner).

Susan Jacoby: The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies (paperback, 2018, Vintage Books): Revised edition of her 2008 The Age of American Unreason, itself a return to Richard Hofstadter's famous Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

Sean Kay: Rockin' the Free World! How the Rock & Roll Revolution Changed America and the World (2016, Rowman & Littlefield; paperback, 2018, RL).

Stephen Kinzer: Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control (2019, Henry Holt).

Michael T Klare: All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change (2019, Metropolitan Books).

Michael J Klarman: The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (2016, Oxford University Press).

Mikael Klintman: Knowledge Resistance: How We Avoid Insight From Others (2019, Manchester University Press).

Nicholas D Kristof/Sheryl WuDunn: Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope (2020, Knopf).

Peter La Chapelle: I'd Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music (paperback, 2019, University of Chicago Press).

Rob Larson: Capitalism vs. Freedom: The Toll Road to Serfdom (paperback, 2018, Zero Books).

Erika Lee: America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States (2019, Basic Books).

Lawrence Lessig: They Don't Represent Us: Reclaiming Our Democracy (2019, Dey Street Books).

Steven Levingston: Barack and Joe: The Making of an Extraordinary Partnership (2019, Hachette Books).

Matthew Lockwood: To Begin the World Over Again: How the American Revolution Devastated the Globe (2019, Harvard University Press).

Agusto Lopez-Claros/Bahiyyih Nakhjavani: Equality for Women = Prosperity for All: The Disastrous Global Crisis of Gender Inequality (2019, St Martin's Press).

Allen Lowe: God Didn't Like It: Electric Hillbillies, Singing Preachers, and the Beginning of Rock and Roll, 1950-1970 (paperback, 2013, Constant Sorrow Press).

Annie Lowrey: Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World (2018, Crown).

George Monbiot: Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (2017; paperback, 2018, Verso).

Jenny Odell: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019, Melville House).

Michael O'Sullivan: The Levelling: What's Next After Globalization (2019, PublicAffairs).

Robert B Reich: The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It (2020, Knopf).

Ruth Reichl: Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir (2019; paperback, 2020, Random House).

Thomas E Sheridan/Randall H McGuire, eds: The Border and Its Bodies (2019, University of Arizona Press).

Frank Smyth: The NRA: The Unauthorized History (2020, Flatiron Books).

Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir (2020, Viking).

Joseph E Stiglitz: Globalization and Its Discontents Revisited: Anti-Globalization in the Era of Trump (paperback, 2017, WW Norton).

Cal Thomas: America's Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers . . . and the Futrure of the United States (2020, Zondervan).

Jia Tolentino: Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (2019, Random House).

Rick Van Noy: Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South (2019, University of Georgia Press).

Michael Walzer: A Foreign Policy for the Left (2018, Yale University Press).

Jesse Wegman: Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College (2020, St Martin's Press).

Tara Westover: Educated: A Memoir (2018, Random House).

Kevin D Williamson: The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics (2019, Gateway).


Even after trying hard to round up all but the flimsiest and most ridiculous books on Trump, his administration, and the 2020 election, I find I still missed a few:

Seth Abramson: Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019, St Martin's Press): Previously wrote Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018, Simon & Schuster), and has a third volume in the works, each over 400 pp range (this one 592).

Seth Abramson: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020, St Martin's Press): A third volume, after Proof of Collusion (2018) and Proof of Conspiracy (2019). This seems to me like far and away the fattest subject, even before the author tacked on something about the pandemic, probably making it one of the first books to broach the subject. Still, seems too early to tell much. [September 8]

Jeffrey F Addicott: Trump Judges: Protecting America's Establishment Pillars to "Make America Great Again" (paperback, 2020, Imprimatur Press).

Dan Alexander: White House, Inc: How Donald Trump Turned the Presidency Into a Business (2020, Portfolio). Senior Editor at Forbes, so it's unclear whether this is muckraking or just their usual run of business puff pieces. But possibly useful to the extent he shows how it's done. [August 11].

Martin Amis: The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabakov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1986-2016 (2017, Joathan Cape).

Sara Azari: Unprecedented: A Simple Guide to the Crimes of the Trump Campaign and Presidency (2020, Potomac Books): Author is "a practicing lawyer who specializes in white-collar crime," and at least starts with cases that led to prosecutions -- first chapter is on George Papadopoulos). Doesn't read "simple," but at 176 pp is short.

Kobby Barda: The Key to Understanding Donald J Trump (2019, Simple Story).

Edwin L Battistella: Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, From Washington to Trump (2020, Oxford University Press).

Joy Behar: The Great Gasbag: An A-Z Study Guide to Surviving Trump World (2017; paperback, 2018, Harper).

Pablo J Boczkowski/Zizi Paracharissi, eds: Trump and the Media (paperback, 2018, MIT Press).

Dan Bongino: Spygate: The Attempted Sabotage of Donald J Trump (2018, Post Hill Press).

Ben Bradlee Jr: The Forgotten: How the People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America (2018, Little Brown).

Donna Brazile: Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House (2017, Hachette Books).

Laura Briggs: How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump (2017, University of California Press).

Martha Brockenbrough: Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump (2018, Feiwel Friends).

FH Buckley: The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed (2018, Encounter Books).

Leonard Cruz/Steven Buser, eds: A Clear and Present Danger: Narcissism in the Era of Donald Trump (paperback, 2016, Chiron Publications).

Brian Francis Culkin: The Meaning of Trump (paperback, 2018, Zero Books).

The Daily Show With Trevor Noah: The Donald J Trump Presidential Twitter Library (2018, Spiegel & Grau).

Kim Darroch: Collateral Damage: Britain, America, and Europe in the Age of Trump (2020, PublicAffairs): Former British Ambassador to the US, resigned under fire "after a series of cables containing unflattering descriptions of President Trump." [September 15]

Alan Dershowitz: Defending the Constitution: Alan Dershowitz's Senate Argument Against Impeachment (paperback, 2020, Hot Books).

Ian Doescher/Jacopo della Quercia: MacTrump: A Shakespearean Tragicomedy of the Trump Administration, Part I (paperback, 2019, Quirk Books): An adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, or possibly Barbara Garson's Macbird (1967)?

Lou Dobbs: The Trump Century (2020, Broadside Books): The Thousand Year Reich in an age of diminished expectations. [September 1]

Jesse Duquette: The Daily Don: All the News That Fits Into Tiny, Tiny Hands (paperback, 2019, Arcade).

David A Farenthold: Uncovering Trump: The Truth Behind Donald Trump's Charitable Giving (paperback, 2017, Diversion Books).

John Bellamy Foster: Trump in the White House: Tragedy and Farce (paperback, 2017, Monthly Review Press): Marxist sociologist, editor of Monthly Review, has a number of books on ecological and financial crises. This is a short (144 pp), early take on Trump's election, by a guy who knows a "neo-fascist" when he sees (or smells) one.

John Gartner/Steven Buser, eds: Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump (paperback, 2018, Chiron Publications): Some chapters: "If Trump Were a Policeman I Would Have to Take Away His Gun"; "Trump's Sick Psyche and Nuclear Weapons: A Deadly Mixture"; "Facing the Truth: The Power of a Predatory Narcissist"; "Trump's No Madman, He's Following the Strongman Playbook"; "Visions of Apocalypse and Salvation."

John Glaser/Christopher A Preble/A Trevor Thrall: Fuel to the Fire: How Trump Made America's Broken Foreign Policy Even Worse (and How We Can Recover) (2019, Cato Institute).

Mardy Grothe: Deconstructing Trump: The Trump Phenomenon Through the Lens of Quotation History (2019, Quoterie Press).

Pete Hegseth: American Crusade: Our Fight to Stay Free (2020, Center Street): Flag-waving "old school patriot" with military background and tattoos, sees Trump as a "sign of a national rebirth," while decrying "Leftists who demand socialism, globalism, secularism, and politically-correct elitism." Parlayed his conceits into a job as co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend.

Donald Heinz: After Trump: Achieving a New Social Gospel (paperback, 2020, Cascade Books).

Rosanna Hildyard: Ubu Trump (paperback, 2017, Eyewear Publishing): Alfred Jarry's 1888 play Ubu Roi, "translated and entirely updated" by Hildyard. When I first saw MacTrump, I flashed on this as the more apt production . . . and here it is!

Gene Ho: Trumpography: How Biblical Principles Paved the Way to the American Presidency (paperback, 2018, iUniverse).

Adam Hodges: When Words Trump Politics: Resisting a Hostile Regime of Language (paperback, 2019, Stanford University Press): Analysis of Trump's words (you know, "the best words"), especially via Twitter.

Carl Hoffman: Liar's Circus: A Strange and Terrifying Journey Into the Upside-Down World of Trump's MAGA Rallies (2020, Custom House). Katy Tur's Unbelievable (2017) provides a sense of what Trump's rallies are like, or at least were during the 2016 campaign, but this promises to be both more in-depth and more up-to-date. While the fans and the appeal are likely to be the same, I can't help but wonder if Trump being president doesn't intensify the sense of power. [September 22]

Charles Hurt: Trump Saves America: Our Last Hope to Be Great Again (2019, Center Street).

Aaron James: Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump (2016, Doubleday).

Brittany Kaiser: Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower's Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again (2019, Harper).

David King: Why Trump Deserves Trust, Respect, and Admiration (paperback, 2016, CreateSpace): Blank pages -- not the first such Trump book I've seen.

Edward Klein: All Out War: The Plot to Destroy Trump (2017, Regnery).

Howard Kurtz: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War Over the Truth (2018, Regnery).

Gary Lachman: Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (paperback, 2018, TarcherPerigee).

Martin E Latz: The Real Trump Deal: An Eye-Opening Look at How He Really Negotiates (2018, Brisance Books).

David Limbaugh: Guilty by Reason of Insanity: Why the Democrats Must Not Win (2019, Regnery).

Trevor Loudon: White House Reds: Communists, Socialists & Security Risks Running for US President, 2020 (paperback, 2020, independent): Quotes Trump saying the 2020 election would be about "Communism versus Freedom," then proceeds to red-bait "ten high profile contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination." Previously wrote Barack Obama and the Enemies Within (2011, 688 pp), and The Enemies Within: Communists, Socialists and Progressives in the US Congress (2013, 702 pp).

Michael Maccoby, ed: Psychoanalytic and Historical Perspectives on the Leadership of Donald Trump (paperback, 2020, Routledge).

Derek Mailhiot: Trump: America's First Zionist President (paperback, 2019, independent): Author means this as a compliment, but where exactly does that leave America First? Even if you see Trump's "deep relationship" is really with Christian Zionism, what does that mean but a yearning for Armageddon? And that's a longing Israeli Zionists want to encourage?

Stephen Mansfield: Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him (2017, Baker Books).

Gerardo Marti: American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency (paperback, 2020, Rowman & Littlefield).

Mike McCormick: Fifteen Years a Deplorable: A White House Memoir (paperback, 2019, 15 Years a Deplorable).

Rachel Montgomery: All I Ever Wanted to Know About Donald Trump I Learned From His Tweets: A Psychological Exploration of the President Via Twitter (paperback, 2017, Skyhorse).

Samhita Mukhopadhyay/Kate Harding, eds: Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America (paperback, 2017, Picador).

Stephanie Muravchik/Jon A Shields: Trump's Democrats (2020, Brookings Institution Press). [August 25]

Jack Murphy: Democrat to Deplorable: Why Nine Million Obama Voters Ditched the Democrats and Embraced Donald Trump (paperback, 2018, independent).

Caitríona Perry: In America: Tales From Trump Country (2018, Gill Books).

Carol Pogash, ed: Quotations From Chairman Trump (2015, RosettaBooks). I'm surprise this hasn't been revised and reissued, given how much additional verbiage Trump has spewed in the meantime. Maybe the editor thinks it was already perfect? By the way, this wasn't the first attempt to parody Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book": I had a copy of Quotations From Chairman LBJ back in the day; and it was followed by a little blue book of Richard Nixon quotes, Poor Richard's Almanack.

Joel Pollak/Larry Schweikart: How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution (paperback, 2017, Regnery).

Kevin Powell: My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man (2018, Atria Books).

Jack Rasmus: The Sourge of Neoliberalism: US Economic Policy From Reagan to Trump (paperback, 2020, Clarity Press).

Ted Rall: Trump: A Graphic Biography (paperback, 2016, Seven Stories Press).

Ian Reifowitz: The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (paperback, 2019, Ig Publishing).

Sheldon Roth: Psychologically Sound: The Mind of Donald J Trump (Bombardier Books). Against every other psychologist and psychiatrist who's weighed in on the subject, argues that Trump is "remarkably complicated, often brilliant, comfortingly human, and most importantly, of completely sound mind."

David Rubin: Trump and the Jews (2018, Shiloh Israel Press): Note that Amazon's "frequently bought together" adds David Rubin: God, Israel, and Shiloh: Returning to the Land (paperback, 2011, Shiloh Israel Press), and Mark Blitz: Decoding the Antichrist and the End Times: What the Bible Says and What the Future Holds (paperback, 2019, Charisma House).

John Bernard Ruane: The Real News! The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News (paperback, 2018, Post Hill Press).

Michael Savage: Stop Mass Hysteria: America's Insanity From the Salem Witch Trials to the Trump Witch Hunt (2018, Center Street).

Steven E Schier/Todd E Eberly: The Trump Presidency: Outsider in the Oval Office (paperback, 2017, Rowman & Littlefield).

Ben Shapiro: The Establishment Is Dead: The Rise and Election of Donald Trump (2017, Creators Publishing).

Marsha Shearer: America in Crisis: Essays on the Failed Presidency of Donald Trump (paperback, 2019, GoMyStory).

James B Stewart: Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law (2019, Penguin Books).

David A Stockman: Trumped! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin . . . And How to Bring It Back (2016, Laissez Faire Books): Ronald Reagan's Budget Director, turned libertarian iconoclast, fantasizes a bit about Trump making "ten great deals" -- which, of course, he never came close to considering, and not just because he doesn't really consider anything.

Gene Stone: The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen (2017, Dey Street Books).

Roger Stone: The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution (2017, Skyhorse). I missed this, but did list Stone's later book, The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Donald Trump Really Won (paperback, 2019, Skyhorse).

Stephen E Strang: God, Trump, and Covid-19: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Christians, the World, and America's 2020 Election (paperback, 2020, Frontline): Short (128 pp) follow up to the author's God, Trump, and the 2020 Election: Why He Must Win and What's at Stake for Christians if He Loses (2020, Frontline), and for that matter his 2017 book, God and Donald Trump.

Joe Walsh: F*ck Silence: Calling Trump Out for the Cultish, Moronic Authoritarian Con Man He Is (2020, Broadside Books): Author is a "rock-ribbed conservative," a former Republican congressman from Illinois who briefly challenged Trump in the 2020 Republican presidential primary.

Jonathan Weisman: (((Semitism))) Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump (2018, St Martin's Press).

Shannon Wheeler: Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J Trump (2017, Top Shelf Productions).

John K Wilson: President Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire (paperback, 2017, OR Books).

Byron York: Obsession: Inside the Democrats' War on Trump (2020, Regnery). Chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner, and Fox News hack. Previously wrote: The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President -- and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time (2005, Crown Forum). [September 8]

Also: books that I've written about (or noted) before, that I missed when looking for old Trump books:

Tucker Carlson: Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution (2018, Free Press).

Andrew C McCarthy: Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency (2019, Encounter Books).

Saturday, April 18, 2020


Music Week

Expanded blog post, May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33277 [33244] rated (+33), 214 [212] unrated (+2).

First a reminder that you can use this form to ask me a question, or just make a comment. I'll start answering when they've piled up to a presently undetermined critical mass. The form is similar to the one I created for Robert Christgau. Both use a free software captcha package to cut down on spam. I've heard it cuts down on legit submissions as well, although Christgau has received close to 1,000, so it seems to work well enough.

I hadn't noticed any prominent musician deaths in the past week. Well, Phil May, 75, singer for The Pretty Things, a Brit Invasion group that had a cult following among my Terminal Zone comrades.

I did find out about a couple of older deaths last week, when I received a PDF booklet with biographical sketches of a few dozen people who participated in antiwar protests at Washington University in St. Louis in 1970. I moved to St. Louis a couple years later, so wasn't directly involved at that stage, but wound up knowing close to a third of the people in the booklet, as well as others unlisted. Two had died a few years back: Larry Kogan, who I knew as the owner of Left Bank Books but had been one of the main figures prosecuted for burning down the ROTC building in 1970; and Fred Faust, who had edited the student newspaper and been the main technical guy for every radical publication of the period. Fred started a typesetting business called Just Your Type, and one day he came up to me in Larry's book shop and offered me a job. That was the first job I ever had, and it changed my life: taught me I could make a living and survive on my own. Incidentally, when I left academia, I got into reading rock crit, and started my own checkered career as a record reviewer.

I noticed that JazzTimes is running a readers' poll to pick the 10 best jazz albums of the 1980s. I've jotted down their ballot for future reference (162 albums). First thing I'm struck by is that I missed a majority of the albums (100, 61.7%). I bought some jazz in the late 1970s, and lots from 1995 on (increasingly shifting to promos and streaming), so what I know of jazz in the 1980s has mostly been backfill, and almost all from purchases, so I've been pretty selective. Still, I can't complain that the ballot has a lot of obviously mediocre pop jazz (some: one Kenny G, one Bob James, two George Benson, one Yellowjackets, two Bobby McFerrin). Still, a lot of stuff on that list I would like to hear sooner or later (including 12 from ECM, 6 from Soul Note/Black Saint, 3 from Enja). Still, I've only graded 17 records on the list A- or above (4 by Don Pullen, 3 by Ornette Coleman), so a lot of fairly typical B+ material.

I'm not prepared to offer a list, but here's one that Chris Monsen posted on Facebook (with my grades in brackets -- checked out the last three while writing this):

  • David Murray Octet, Ming [A-]
  • Air, 80° Below '82 [A-]
  • John Carter Octet, Dauwhe [**]
  • Tim Berne, Mutant Variations [***]
  • Detail, Okhela [] -- reissued as Day Two [**]
  • Jimmy Lyons Quintet, Sneezawee [A-]
  • Bill Dixon, Thoughts [B-]
  • Ganelin Trio, Poco-A-Poco [***]
  • Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Etudes [A-]
  • Henry Threadgill Sextett, Rag, Bush and All [+]

I looked for their 1970s poll, but the page has been taken down. I did manage to scrounge up a results page from Google's cache, so added it to my notebook. The results page only listed 82 albums. With a shorter list of more famous records, the share I've listened to rose to 63.4% (up from 38.3% for the 1980s). The number of A- or better albums remained close to constant (16 vs. 17, 30.7% of graded albums vs. 27.4% for the 1980s). More really low grades, too (8 B- or lower in the 1970s vs. 3 in the 1980s).

Several points on this week's haul:

  • I made a much procrastinated effort to catch up with whatever promo vinyl I've received (never much, but Astral Spirits sent three LPs recently and I had a couple more leftover from 2017). I also found an ungraded Pamelo Mounk'a album in the pile (which led me to look at streaming archives). I almost never play LPs, and I'm not equipped very well to do so. My ancient Bang & Olufsen turntables (I've had two, one from the 1970s and one from around 1980) died long ago, so I'm using Laura's 1980s Technics -- seems to run my old LPs OK, but the new platters were all warped and slipped (I wound up using downloads for reference). I got rid of most of my vinyl when we moved to Wichita in 1999, so there's never been much need to make it accessible. I should search for more ungraded records, just to clean up dangling bits in the database. But the whole setup is pretty inconvenient right now. I certainly don't see any need to invest in a new turntable, no more than I enjoy this one.

  • Robert Christgau mailed out his May 2020 Consumer Guide last week. He recommended two full A records: one by Lucinda Williams (which I gave a solid A- to last week), and the one by Fiona Apple everyone seems to love (I hedged it down to B+(***) a couple weeks ago, then nudged it up a bit on revisiting it this week, but I'm still not a huge fan). I checked out some of his other picks, and a few Phil Overeem likes.

  • Tim Niland pointed me to one of Jazz Club Ferrara's releases, which led me to their Bandcamp page, where I found sixteen volumes of "unpublished live recordings selected from [their] archives." This is one of possibly many digital releases meant to provide relief from the pandemic quarantine.

After no unpacking last week, this week bounced back to something more normal, maybe even a bit above normal.


New records reviewed this week:

The Bad Plus: The Tower Tapes #4 (2019 [2020], Jazz Club Ferrara): Trio, formed in 2000 with Reid Anderson (bass) and David King (drums), Orrin Evans taking over the piano slot in 2018. Two sets (42:48 and 57:59). B+(**) [bc]

Danny Barnes: Man on Fire (2020, ATO): Singer-songwriter from Texas, plays banjo, best known for his 1991-2000 group Bad Livers, less so for his 2014-18 group Test Apes, more than a dozen solo albums, can sound old-timey country with a hint of bluegrass, or postmodern. B+(***)

Majid Bekkas: Magic Spirit Quartet (2018 [2020], ACT Music): Moroccan singer, plays various instruments (guimbri, oud, guitar), in a Scandinavian quartet with Goran Kajes (trumpet), Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), and Stefan Pasborg (drums), with Chaouki Family adding karkabas and backing vocals on two tracks. B+(*)

Josh Berman/Paul Lytton/Jason Roebke: Trio Discrepancies (2018 [2019], Astral Spirits): Cornet, percussion, bass, second of two records for this trio. [PS: Side B didn't play cleanly.] B+(**) [lp]

Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Tower Tapes #1 (2017 [2020], Jazz Club Ferrara): Part of a large stash of live recordings from Ferrara, Italy -- sixteen volumes at the moment, wide range of jazz groups, quickly dumped for your quarantine listening pleasure. Leader on alto sax, with his main group since 2011: Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano), Ches Smith (percussion). Two long sets (51:41 and 51:59), no attempt to identify pieces within. B+(**) [bc]

Broken Shadows: The Tower Tapes #2 (2020, Jazz Club Ferrara): More quarantine tapes. Quartet name comes from an Ornette Coleman piece, with Tim Berne (alto sax), Chris Speed (tenor sax), Reid Anderson (bass), and Dave King (drums). Two sets (47:16 and 57:35), no songs let alone song credits. Reminds me how terrific Berne's 1990s group with Speed was, and this rhythm section may be even more of a powerhouse. A- [bc]

Wayne Escoffery: The Humble Warrior (2019 [2020], Smoke Sessions): Tenor saxophonist (some soprano), born in London, based in New York, albums since 2001. Mostly quartet with piano (Dave Kikoski), bass (Ugonna Okegwo), and drums (Ralph Peterson), adding trumpet (Randy Brecker) and/or guitar (David Gilmore) to four tracks in the middle, one with a vocal (Vaughn Escoffery). B+(*)

Bob Gluck: Early Morning Star (2019 [2020], FMR): Pianist, rabbi, professor, has written books on Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Paul Winter; composed electronic music before moving into jazz; fifth album since 2011, group has clarinet, bass, drums, and voice (Andrea Wolper). I find the voice uncomfortably operatic, but the music is engaging. B+(*) [cd] [06-15]

The Howling Hex: Knuckleball Express (2020, Fat Possum): Rock group, principally Neil Hagerty, who co-led Royal Trux 1987-2001, closer to grunge than to punk, but similarly straightforward and sharp. More than a dozen albums since 2003. This one is on the short side (ten songs, 28:48, but two of them top 4:45). B+(**)

Sam Hunt: Southside (2020, MCA Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, second album (plus a "mixtape"), both hits, has a big sound which occasionally puts a single over. B+(*)

KVL: Volume 1 (2019, Astral Spirits): Trio, initials for Quin Kirchner (drums), Daniel Van Duerm (keyboards), and Matthew Lux (bass), each with a side of electronics. Jaimie Branch (trumpet) has a stellar turn on one cut. [PS: Vinyl was warped so bad I couldn't play Side B.] B+(*) [lp]

Rob Luft: Life Is the Dancer (2019 [2020], Edition): British guitarist, second album, quintet with Joe Wright (tenor sax), Joe Webb (organ/piano), bass, and drums. Two tracks add trumpet and voice -- latter is a problem. Some adventurous sax spots, but not much else. B

Chad Matheny: United Earth League of Quarantine Aerobics (2020, Dreams of Field, EP): Singer-songwriter, better known as Emperor X, American but based in Berlin, offers a quickie quarantine special. Seven songs (four versions of "Stay Where You Are"), 26:06, the others every bit as topical, including an inspirational labor anthem. A- [bc]

Mdou Moctar: Mixtape Vol. 1 (2020, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Niger, plays guitar, half-dozen albums, some among his region's finest. This one's a single 44:37 rack, mixed together from demos and live scraps -- the latter especially intense. B+(***) [bc]

Lido Pimienta: Miss Colombia (2020, Anti-): Singer-songwriter, born in Colombia, raised in Canada, based in Toronto, second album. In Spanish, beats a little choppy, then gets even choppier. B+(**)

Charles Rumback: June Holiday (2018 [2020], Astral Spirits): Chicago drummer, eight album since 2009, leads a trio here with Jim Baker (piano) and John Tate (bass). [NB: Couldn't play second side of LP, which slipped due to warpage. I did play an MP3 dowloads of the entire album.] B+(**) [lp]

Shabazz Palaces: The Don of Diamond Dreams (2020, Sub Pop): Hip-hop duo from Seattle, fifth album, an anomaly on their indie rock label, where they tend toward dark atmospherics and obscure iconography. B+(**)

Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Born Deadly (2020, Fontana North, EP): Canadian "First Nations" rap duo, Yung Trybez and Young D, three albums, the most recent (Trapline) recommended. Five tracks, 15:48. B+(**)

Craig Taborn/Dave King: The Tower Tapes #3 (2019 [2020], Jazz Club Ferrara): Piano-drums duo, both also credited with electronics. Two parts (57:04 and 18:22). Taborn is one of the top pianists today, but he first started winning polls in the less competitive electric keyboard category, which he returns to impressively here. B+(***) [bc]

Azu Tiwaline: Draw Me a Silence Part I (2020, IOT, EP): Electronica producer from Tunisia, Nice beat and ambience. Six songs, 27:04. A Part II is due late May, as is a 2-LP that combines the two. B+(**)

Rod Wave: Pray 4 Love (2020, Alamo): Young rapper from Florida, Rodarius Green (how young? "grew up listening to E-40"). Second album, a hip-hop lovers rock. B+(**)

Hayley Williams: Petals for Armor (2020, Atlantic): Singer-songwriter, first solo album after five fronting Paramore. Organized as three discs, but at five songs each, totals 55:47. B+(*)

Charli XCX: How I'm Feeling Now (2020, Asylum): English pop star, Charlotte Aitchison, fourth album, a quickie recorded under quarantine in her home studio in Los Angeles. Doesn't allow her the usual kitchen sink pop production, but she cranks the synths up loud enough it doesn't matter. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Derek Bailey/Greg Goodman: Extracting Fish-Bones From the Back of the Despoiler (1992 [2017], The Beak Doctor): Duo, guitar and "objets d'intérieur" (mostly percussion). Goodman has played on a dozen-plus albums 1978-2017, mostly improv settings with everyone's name on the top line. B+(**) [lp]

Emperor X: Nineteen Live Recordings (2005-13 [2020], Dreams of Field): Singer-songwriter Chad Matheny, debuted under his alias in 1998, got some notice for his 2011 album Western Teleport, released this in 2013, the date still on Bandcamp despite adding a "2020 Preface" to the page (sounds like a reissue to me, especially as the label has changed). Interesting guy, but expect rough spots. B+(*) [bc]

The Good Life: The Animals Took Over (2009 [2020], self-released): Drummer Scott Amendola put this together, taking the name from a piece on the Pat Matheny/Ornette Coleman album Song X, recorded it live in Oakland, and finally decided to donate it to Food Bank NYC. With two guitarists (John Dieterich and Nels Cline), clarinet (Ben Goldberg), and electric bass (Trevor Dunn) -- a slightly augmented Nels Cline Singers. Two Coleman tunes, an opener by Jimmy Giuffre, three originals from the band. Could be tighter, but nearly ever song peaks. A- [bc]

John Gruntfest/Greg Goodman: In This Land All the Birds Wore Hats and Spurs (1984-2008 [2017], The Beak Doctor): American alto saxophonist, only other album Discogs lists is from 1977, plus a couple of side credits. Goodman, a British gadfly who shows up on widely scattered platters with various avant-gardists, is credited with "Every Thing Else." That seems to be about right. A- [lp]

Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Egypt 80: Perambulator (1983 [2020], Knitting Factory): Two tracks, "Perambulator" (14:36) and "Frustration" (13:42). Title track appears to date from a 1978 release of Shuffering and Shmiling, but when MCA did their 1978 reissues it was replaced by "No Agreement" (the title of a 1977 album that didn't get reissued). Fairly classic groove pieces, dubious discography. B+(***)

Nina Simone: Fodder on My Wings (1982 [2020], Verve): Originally released as Fodder in Her Wings on Carrere in France, reissued in France by CY in 1988, and by Sunnyside in 2015. A mixed bag of pieces, including some Latin rhythm, an upbeat gospel, and the aptly titled "Liberian Calypso." B+(**)

Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987 (1977-87 [2020], Light in the Attic): Crate digging, 19 songs from 15 artists I've never heard of. Title cut was by O.T. Sykes, a dentist, and has a bit of Commodores funk to it. Nothing brilliant here, but the soft ballads are fetching, the nods toward disco and funk functional. B+(**)

Old music:

Luís Lopes: Noise Solo at ZBD Lisbon (2011-12 [2013], LPZ): Portuguese guitarist, has impressed me, especially with his Humanization 4tet, plays solo, focus on noise but not for its own sake. B+(*) [lp]

Pamelo Mounk'a: No. 1 Africain: Ça Ne Se Prete Pas (1982, Star Musique): Congolese singer-songwriter (1945-96), from Brazzaville, had a hit "L'Argent Appelle L'Argent" (1981), later recorded with Rochereau and M'Bilia Bel. Christgau recommended his 1983 album Propulsion!, but this was the only LP I managed to track down. Soukous groove music, but first side sounds off to me, like the speed is wobbling. Nice ballad on the flipside, and better groove. B+(*) [lp]

Pamelo Mounk'a: Propulsion! (1983, Disques Sonics): Four-track LP (30:05), found them on a compilation (L'Essentiel, on Syllart), but thought I'd review them separately as I've long looked for this particular album. Relatively light touch for soukous, but the groove wins out. A-

Pamelo Mounk'a: L'Essentiel (1981-84 [1993], Syllart): Minor soukous star from Brazzaville, on the other side of the Congo River. Ten-track compilation, the first four tracks (including hit "L'Argent Appelle L'Argent") from his eponymous 1981 album, next four from 1983's Propulsion!, plus two more I haven't found any other home for ("Le Travail, Toujours Le Travail," "Adjoussou D'Abidjan"). High point is the album Propulsion!, which you're most likely to find here. A-

Pamelo Mounk'a: L'Indispensable (1982-85 [1993], Syllart): As far as I can tell, Syllart's three compilation all appeared at the same time, and don't have clear chronology or pecking order. This starts off with the 1982 album Samantha, then adds five tracks from I know not where. At least two tracks here belong on his best-of: "Samantha" and "Camitina." B+(***)

Pamelo Mounk'a: L'Incontournable (1982-85 [1993], Syllart): Starts with Africain No. 1: Ça Ne Prete Pas (1982), adds five more songs of unknown providence. As with the other volumes, gets stronger as it goes. B+(***)

William Elliott Whitmore: Kilonova (2018, Bloodshot): Folk/country singer-songwriter from Iowa, ninth album since 1999, went with covers this time, "punk rock without the breakneck tempos." The best are the most obscure. B+(**)

Hal Willner: Whoops, I'm an Indian (1998, Pussyfoot): Record producer, best known for a series of tribute albums where various artists rehash the works of some notable composer -- my favorite has long been Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, but he's also honored Nino Rota, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Harold Arlen, Leonard Cohen, and several genres, like Walt Disney songs, or pirate ballads, sea songs, and chanteys. But while I've filed several albums under his name, this is the only one he put his own name on, crediting Martin Brumbach and Adam Dorn (Mocean Worker) and himself as co-authors and producers. Audio collage with occasional references to trad tunes, and Ralph Carney adding some reeds. B+(***) [bc]


Grade (or other) changes:

Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020, Epic): Best regarded/most hyped album of the year so far. I played it two or three times when it came out, was impressed by the drums, less convinced by the songs, so I hedged. Played it more, impressed by how effortlessly it flows together without ever seeming formulaic, so hedging it the other way. [Was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Glasser: Hypocrisy Democracy (Here Tiz)
  • Daniel Hersog: Night Devoid of Stars (Cellar Live)
  • Alain Mallet: Mutt Slang II: A Wake of Sorrows Engulfed in Rage (Origin)
  • Ted Moore Trio: The Natural Order of Things (Origin)
  • Rent Romus/Heikki Koskinen/Life's Blood Ensemble: Manala (Edgetone)
  • Shelly Rudolph: The Way We Love (OA2)
  • Thank Your Lucky Stars: Girl in Her 29s (self-released)
  • Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra: Smile (Planet Arts/43 Street)

Sunday, May 17, 2020


Weekend Roundup

No introduction. No time, and none needed.

I should note that you can ask questions (or comment) on this or pretty much anything else by using this here form.


Some scattered links this week:

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