Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Every week since January has featured multiple stories about how Donald Trump (and/or the Republicans) are corrupting government, undermining democracy, degrading our short- and long-term economic prospects, and quite often endangering world peace. Still, most of those stories could be understood as some combination of the greed, demagoguery, and narrow-minded ignorance that constitutes what passes as the conservative world-view. But some things happened this week that makes me think Trump has crossed a previously unknown line into a qualitatively new level of, well, I'm groping for words, trying to avoid "evil," so let's call it derangement. The US withdrawal from UNESCO was the first such story, followed by the trashing of the agreement with Iran to terminate their "nuclear program," but then there was Trump's executive order to undermine Obamacare -- an act of pure spite following the Republican failure to repeal the ACA. As Ezra Klein's tweet explains:

Trump's new policy will increase premiums by 20%, cost the government $194 billion, increase the deficit, destabilize insurance markets, and increase the number of uninsured Americans. There is nothing it makes better; it's pure policy nihilism.

Sure, I've often felt like Republicans generated their policy ideas from a deep well of spite and vindictiveness, with scant concern for consequences because deep down they really didn't give a shit about anyone other than themselves (actually, a small subset of the fools they manipulating into voting for them). But usually you could also discern a positive slant, like their fondness for helping predatory businesses rip everyone else off. Trump certainly isn't beyond that, especially for his own businesses, but he mostly leaves such matters to his subordinates -- after all, their experience in business and lobbies gives them a command of detail he lacks, as well as motives he doesn't disapprove of.

That's should have left Trump free to focus on "big picture" items, but not understanding them either, he's been preoccupied with petty feuds and tone-deaf publicity stunts, but his hatred for Obama is so great that he'll gladly sign any executive order that wipes out any hint of his predecessor's legacy. That's the source of much of his policy nihilism, although he's occasionally broken new ground, as with his UNESCO withdrawal -- ending 72 years of more/less trying to work with the rest of the world's nations for the common good.

I suppose what this really means is that for the first time since he took office, I've come around to the view that Trump is actually worse than the run-of-the-mill Republicans in Congress and now in his cabinet and office. I've long resisted that view, partly because the media bend over backwards to excuse and legitimize the latter, and partly because even though I disapprove of Trump's obvious character flaws (e.g., racism, sexism, xenophobia, vanity, violence, mendacity, ostentatiousness, sheer greed) I prefer to judge people on what they do rather than what they think or believe. (Indeed, those flaws are pretty common in America, but most people have enough of a superego to try to limit their exposure and maintain social decorum -- Trump, as is becoming more obvious every day, does not.)

On the other hand, let's not forget that Trump started to wander off after giving his little rant about Obamacare, and it was Mike Pence who grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him back to actually sign the executive order. That's an image to keep in mind if, say, Trump is finally dispatched as too much of an embarrassment -- and here I have to agree with Steve Bannon that the odds favor a cabinet coup using the 25th amendment to Congress taking the more arduous road to impeachment.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Aaron Blake: Almost half of Republicans want war with North Korea, a new poll says. Is it the Trump Effect? Actually, a plurality, 46-41% in favor of a preemptive strike against North Korea. Other polls produce different results, possibly depending on how the question is phrased. I doubt if even 1% of the Republicans polled have any understanding of North Korea's preparations for responding to such an attack, hence of the risks and likely costs of starting a war there. On the other hand, one may expect Mattis, Tillerson, and the upper ranks of the uniformed to at least have some idea: thousands of pieces of artillery that can reach Seoul (population 10 million, metro area 25 million), the range of rockets that can reach further (up to the US mainland), a few dozen nuclear warheads (some with hydrogen boost), the vast array of defensive tunnels, one of the largest military forces in the world. The latest assessment I've seen is that the US would prevail in such a war (assuming China does not intervene, as it did in 1950), but it wouldn't be easy and the costs would be great. Tillerson was recently quoted as saying he'll continue negotiating "until the first bomb falls" -- it's hard to take much comfort in that given that Trump's been quoted as saying his Secretary of State is wasting his time. Moreover, see Choe Sang-Hun: North Korean Hackers Stole U.S.-South Korean Military Plans, Lawmaker Says, including a "decapitation plan" for an attack targeting Kim Jong-Un. Also note the report that Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in U.S. Nuclear Arsenal -- while beyond ridiculous, such a report would play directly into North Korea's paranoia. Indeed, Trump is playing Nixon's Madman theory much more convincingly than the Trickster ever did. (For a recent review, see Garrett M Graff: The Madman and the Bomb. Among other things, this article points out how elated Trump was in ordering the "Mother of All Bombs" dropped in Afghanistan, adding "All the previous worries about the potential of a deranged president to use a nuclear button irrationally have been multiplied.") Lately Trump has made a number of bold unilateral moves, evidently meant to reassure his base that he can act dramatically on their prejudices. The more he senses support for striking North Korea, the more likely he is to do it.

  • Tina Brown: What Harvey and Trump have in common: Harvey is Weinstein, the movie mogul and current poster boy for serial sexual abuse. Brown left her job at The New Yorker to work for him, and this is what she found out:

    What I learned about Harvey in the two years of proximity with him at Talk was that nothing about his outward persona, the beguiling Falstaffian charmer who persuaded -- or bamboozled -- me into leaving The New Yorker and joining him, was the truth. He is very Trumpian in that regard.

    He comes off as a big, blustery, rough diamond kind of a guy, the kind of old-time studio chief who lives large, writes big checks and exudes bonhomie. Wrong. The real Harvey is fearful, paranoid, and hates being touched (at any rate, when fully dressed).

    Winning, for him, was a blood sport. Deals never close. They are renegotiated down to the bone after the press release. A business meeting listening to him discuss Miramax deals in progress reminded me of the wire tap transcripts of John Gotti and his inner circle at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Queens. "So just close it fast, then fuck him later with the subsidiary rights." . . .

    Harvey is an intimidating and ferocious man. Crossing him, even now, is scary. But it's a different era now. Cosby. Ailes. O'Reilly, Weinstein. It's over, except for one -- the serial sexual harasser in the White House.

    For more Weinstein dirt, see Ronan Farrow: From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein's Accusers Tell Their Stories. As for Trump, see: Jessica Garrison/Kendall Taggart: Trump Given a Subpoena for All Documents Relating to Assault Allegations.

  • Daniel José Camacho: Trump's marriage to the religious right reeks of hypocrisy on both sides: Well, sure, but hypocrisy is an old friend of Christianity in every stage of American history, and you can probably find prime examples at least as far back as Constantine, who realized how useful the religion could be for sanctifying his own political power. Christianity is, above all else, a remarkably forgiving religion, as long as you attest to its power by begging for its mercy. In country music, for instance, whatever you do on Saturday Night can be atoned for and made right on Sunday Morning, and the latter is all that really matters to the clergy -- after all, confession confirms their authority. The political right has never had a problem with that. They love the idea of hierarchy so much they strive to emulate it on earth, ruled, of course, by themselves, conferring favors upon their favored clergy. Of course, if you don't buy into this arrangement, your cynicism may lead you to charge them with hypocrisy. Indeed, the whole scam is as easy to see through as "The Emperor's New Clothes," but that only makes the believers more angry and vindictive -- hence, the rise of the Religious Right parallels liberal secularization, with its increasing militancy (and, looking at Trump, I'm inclined to add desperation) bound up with a feeling of embattled isolation that right-wing media and politicians have cynically encouraged. Still, the problem is less Christian backlash against secular culture -- something that is real but deeper and more complex than the political backlash it is often confused with[*] -- than that con artists from Reagan to Trump have often managed to wrap their scams up in various traditional pieties, as if that excuses otherwise shameless behavior.

    [*] Note that Christianity predates capitalism, so contains a strain of anti-materialist sentiment that has never been fully reconciled with modern commerce. It even predates Constantine's state religion, before which it was resolutely anti-state and anti-war, so even today a large segment of the peace movement finds its inspiration in religion (and not just Christianity).

  • William D Hartung: Here's Where Your Tax Dollars for 'Defense' Are Really Going:

    The answer couldn't be more straightforward: It goes directly to private corporations and much of it is then wasted on useless overhead, fat executive salaries, and startling (yet commonplace) cost overruns on weapons systems and other military hardware that, in the end, won't even perform as promised. Too often the result is weapons that aren't needed at prices we can't afford. If anyone truly wanted to help the troops, loosening the corporate grip on the Pentagon budget would be an excellent place to start.

    The numbers are staggering. In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon issued $304 billion in contract awards to corporations -- nearly half of the department's $600 billion-plus budget for that year. And keep in mind that not all contractors are created equal. According to the Federal Procurement Data System's top 100 contractors report for 2016, the biggest beneficiaries by a country mile were Lockheed Martin ($36.2 billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General Dynamics ($12.7 billion), and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). Together, these five firms gobbled up nearly $100 billion of your tax dollars, about one-third of all the Pentagon's contract awards in 2016. . . .

    The arms industry's investment in lobbying is even more impressive. The defense sector has spent a total of more than $1 billion on that productive activity since 2009, employing anywhere from 700 to 1,000 lobbyists in any given year. To put that in perspective, you're talking about significantly more than one lobbyist per member of Congress, the majority of whom zipped through Washington's famed "revolving door"; they moved, that is, from positions in Congress or the Pentagon to posts at weapons companies from which they could proselytize their former colleagues.

    The weapons systems are the big ticket items, but there is much more, including some 600,000 private contractors doing all sorts of things, with little effective management, while companies like Erik Prince's Blackwater lobby to privatize more combat jobs.

  • Sean Illing: 20 of America's top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They're scared. Many interesting idea here; e.g.:

    Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, began her talk with a jarring reminder: Democracies don't merely collapse, as that "implies a process devoid of will." Democracies die because of deliberate decisions made by human beings.

    Usually, it's because the people in power take democratic institutions for granted. They become disconnected from the citizenry. They develop interests separate and apart from the voters. They push policies that benefit themselves and harm the broader population. Do that long enough, Bermeo says, and you'll cultivate an angry, divided society that pulls apart at the seams. . . .

    Due to wage stagnation, growing inequalities, automation, and a shrinking labor market, millions of Americans are deeply pessimistic about the future: 64 percent of people in Europe believe their children will be worse off than they were; the number is 60 percent in America.

    That pessimism is grounded in economic reality. In 1970, 90 percent of 30-year-olds in America were better off than their parents at the same age. In 2010, only 50 percent were. Numbers like this cause people to lose faith in the system. What you get is a spike in extremism and a retreat from the political center. That leads to declines in voter turnout and, consequently, more opportunities for fringe parties and candidates. . . .

    Consider this stat: In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats objected to the idea of their children marrying across political lines. In 2010, those numbers jumped to 46 percent and 33 percent respectively. Divides like this are eating away at the American social fabric. . . .

    But for all the reasons discussed above, people have gradually disengaged from the status quo. Something has cracked. Citizens have lost faith in the system. The social compact is broken. So now we're left to stew in our racial and cultural resentments, which paved the way for a demagogue like Trump.

    One thing I would stress here is that "the erosion of democratic norms" -- voter suppression, gerrymandering, obstruction tactics, tolerance for "dirty tricks," the ever-increasing prerogatives of money -- has largely been spawned within the Republican Party, which is to say the party most desperately committed to inequality, order, privilege, and hierarchy. The article offers stats about the growing number of Americans who look favorably on a military dictatorship, but neglects to break them down by party. Still, it's worth noting that Democrats have often played into the hands of anti-democratic forces, especially those who have been most successful at toadying for donors. Although Obama, for instance, campaigned against the baleful influence of money in 2008, he managed to raise so much more of it than McCain, so Democrats didn't bother to use their majorities to address the issue.

  • Sarah Jaffe: Bernie Sanders Isn't Winning Local Elections for the Left:

    "Bernie Wins Birmingham" is convenient shorthand for those who have no idea what actually goes on in Birmingham. But Bernie Sanders and the group his 2016 campaign inspired, Our Revolution, are not winning elections in places like Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, which in June elected a mayor who's promised, "I'll make Jackson the most radical city on the planet." Activists in Birmingham and Jackson and Albuquerque and Long Island are winning them -- left-wing activists who've toiled for years in the trenches, working with a new wave of organizers from Black Lives Matter and other insurgent groups, who bring social-media savvy and fired-up young voters into the mix.

    Still, the title leans too hard the opposite way. Bernie is helping, especially to provide a nationwide support framework. Conversely, helping build local power bases helps build the nationwide movement, either for Bernie (who certainly could have used some local help in Mississippi and Alabama during the 2016 primaries) or whoever vies most successfully for his movement. Conversely, although Hillary may have given up her dream of running in 2020, her crowd is still more focused on containing (or combatting) the left than on winning elections: see Bob Moser: Clintonian Democrats Are Peddling Myths to Cling to Power. Anyone who bothers to remember McGovern's tragic 1972 loss to Nixon should heap shame on those Democrats who betrayed their party's nominee for the most devious and crooked politician in American history -- much more numerous than the tiny fraction of Sanders supporters who couldn't stomach Clinton in 2016. The so-called New Democrats have discredited themselves doubly: first by repeatedly surrendering the Party's New Deal/Great Society legacy to increasingly regressive Republicans in the name of political expediency, then by losing to the vilest candidate the GOP could muster.

  • Fred Kaplan: Certifiable Nonsense: As usual with Slate, the link title is better: "President Trump's Most Dishonest Speech Yet," adding "His announcement on the Iran deal might also be his most dangerous speech yet." Certainly true about his dishonesty, even though there's lots of competition. But most dangerous? More dangerous than his taunting of North Korea, which actually has nuclear warheads as well as more powerful missiles? Well, the two are related:

    Pulling out would also damage our posture, and possibly trigger catastrophe, in other global hot spots. If our face-off with North Korea is to end without war, it will require some sort of diplomatic settlement. But who will want to negotiate with the United States, and who would believe any deal Trump would sign or guarantee he would make, if he pulls out of the Iran deal, even though Iran is abiding by its terms?

    Also see:

  • Sarah Kliff: Trump's acting like Obamacare is just politics. It's people's lives. This is the piece Klein linked to in his tweet above, so it starts by spelling out the bottom line. One key thing Trump's order does is to end payments to insurance companies protecting against losses due to adverse selection. This wouldn't be a problem in a single-payer system with truly universal coverage, but splitting the market into multiple segments means that some will be cost more than others. If insurance companies had to bear that risk, some would drop out and the rest would raise their prices. And that's exactly what they will do under Trump's executive order.

    Ending these payments raises premiums for anyone who uses Obamacare: older people, younger people, sicker people, and healthy people. And it puts an already fragile Obamacare marketplace at greater risk of a last-minute exodus by health plans who assumed that the government would pay these subsidies -- and don't think they can weather the financial hit.

    The Trump administration has, since taking office, cut the Obamacare open enrollment period in half. Instead of 90 days to sign up, enrollees will now get 45. The Trump administration has cut the Obamacare advertising budget by 90 percent -- and reduced funding for in-person outreach by 40 percent. Regional branches of Health and Human Services abruptly pulled out of the outreach events they have participated in over the last four years. . . .

    Trump's larger presidential agenda has focused on unwinding Barack Obama's legacy. He's more focused on destroying his nemesis than trying to replace, to fix, or to improve Obama's biggest accomplishments from the Iran deal to environmental regulation.

    On health care, there are going to be immediate and very real consequences for Americans. There are real people who stand to be hurt by an administration that has actively decided to make a public benefits program function poorly.

    Also see:

  • Michael Kruse: The Power of Trump's Positive Thinking: Yet another attempt to plumb Trump's psyche, trying to impose order on a mental process that strikes most of us as supremely chaotic:

    "I've had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in a nine-month period, that's ever served," he said this week in an interview with Forbes, contradicting objective metrics and repeating his frequent and dubious assertion of unprecedented success throughout the first year of his first term as president.

    The reality is that Trump is in a rut. His legislative agenda is floundering. His approval ratings are historically low. He's raging privately while engaging in noisy, internecine squabbles. He's increasingly isolated. And yet his fact-flouting declarations of positivity continue unabated. For Trump, though, these statements are not issues of right or wrong or true or false. They are something much more elemental. They are a direct result of the closest thing the stubborn, ideologically malleable celebrity businessman turned most powerful person on the planet has ever had to a devout religious faith. This is not his mother's flinty Scottish Presbyterianism but Norman Vincent Peale's "power of positive thinking," the utterly American belief in self above all else and the conviction that thoughts can be causative, that basic assertion can lead to actual achievement. . . .

    What Peale peddled was "a certain positive, feel-good religiosity that demands nothing of you and rewards you with worldly riches and success," said Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse, the author of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. "It's a self-help gospel . . . the name-it-and-claim-it gospel." . . .

    Peale, then nearly 80 years old, officiated Trump's wedding in 1977. In 1983, shortly after the opening of Trump Tower, Trump credited Peale for instilling in him a can-do ethos.

    The piece cites various critiques of various self-help pitches, some of which fit Trump to a tee, then notes that no one who has been studied has anywhere near the power Trump has, so "the Trump presidency is uncharted territory." Of course, Peale is only one significant influence on Trump's thinking and behavior. There's also Roy Cohn, a very different and much more nefarious mentor. And there's Trump's Nazi/KKK-aligned father, and probably a few more. Some writer could build a great novel out of such clay. Unfortunately, the real thing isn't a work of fiction.

  • Dara Lind: Leaked memos show Jeff Sessions's DOJ aims to undermine due process for immigrants. Sessions is one of those "public servants" in the Trump administration that's willing to overlook getting tweet-slapped by Trump because he has important agenda work to do. This is one prime example (others include ending civil rights and antitrust enforcement).

  • James Mann: The Adults in the Room: A piece on how the generals (Kelly, Mattis, McMaster) and Boy Scout (Tillerson) Trump has surrounded himself with are keeping the ship of state afloat, their "maturity" in sharp contrast to the president's lack thereof:

    Following the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the meaning of the words "adult" and "grownup" has undergone a subtle but remarkable shift. They now refer far more to behavior and character than to views on policy. This is where Kelly, McMaster, Mattis, and (to a lesser extent) Tillerson come in; "grownup" is the behavioral role that we have assigned to them.

    For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an adult. He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies, rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their own children. Thus the dynamic was established in the earliest days of the administration: Trump makes messes, or threatens to make them, and Americans look to the "adults" to clean up for him. The "adults," in turn, send out occasional little public signals that they are trying to keep Trump from veering off course -- to educate him, to make him grow up, to keep him under control. When all else fails, they simply distance themselves from his tirades. Sometimes such efforts are successful; on many occasions, they aren't.

    Leaving aside the question whether Trump's immaturity is a matter of his spoiled upbringing, sociopathy, or some kind of dementia (what we usually mean when we speak of people his age undergoing "a second childhood"), what I find most incongruous here is the notion that we should consider generals to be grown-ups. We are, after all, talking about people who dress up in uniforms with flashy medals, who prance about and play with guns or, at their rank, maneuver soldiers around battlefields. Those are all things that I enjoyed in my pre-teens but rapidly grew out of, especially as I became conscious of the very grim and senseless war my country was fighting in Vietnam. Ever since then, I figured those who pursued military careers to be stuck in some kind of adolescence, at least until PTSD disabuses them of their fantasies. Maybe generals are different, although I don't see why, and I doubt they often function well outside of the closed system that selected them. (Tillerson, of course, didn't fall for the military fantasy, but he got a taste of the worldview in the Boy Scouts, and his advancement through the ranks of Exxon was every bit as cloistered -- something we see in his performance as Secretary of State.)

    I also couldn't help but notice this piece: Eric Scigliano: The Book Mattis Reads to Be Prepared for War With North Korea. The book is T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War, originally published in 1963, evidently focused on the importance of putting "boots on the ground" while recognizing how little America's scorched earth air bombardment had accomplished. No idea what lessons Mattis draws from this, other than ego-stroking from a fellow Marine. As I recall, the first thing I read about Mattis (back in early Iraq War days) stressed what an intellectual he was, with his vast library of war books. I flashed then on Robert Sherrill's book title, Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music, and figured "military intellectuals" were likely to be similarly debased.

  • Donald Macintyre: Tony Blair: 'We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its election win': Only eleven years too late. I don't recall whether Blair has issued his mea culpa for the Iraq War or any of the dozens of other things he's famously screwed up, but it's worth noting this one. One thing we should always work toward is getting groups to lay down their arms and work to advance their cause through an electoral framework. The Hamas electoral victory in 2006 offered an opportunity to restart the "peace process" that Barak and Sharon aborted in 2000, with broader Palestinian representation than was ever possible under Arafat. Of course, Sharon wanted no part in any peace process, and Blair and Bush sheepishly went along, not simply adding more than a decade to the conflict but allowing Israel's illegal settlement actions to sink ever deeper roots into the West Bank.

  • Andrew Restuccia: Bannon promises 'season of war' against McConnell, GOP establishment: Specifically, "to challenge any Senate Republican who doesn't publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump." On the one hand, I'm tempted to say, "let the bloodletting begin"; on the other, while it will be easy to characterize Bannon's insurgents as extremists, his willingness to challenge oligarchy gives him a potential popularity that establishment Republicans as Mitch McConnell lack. Bannon argues here that "money doesn't matter anymore" -- while that's certainly not true, his "grass roots organizing" was able to negate Hillary's huge fundraising advantage. Seemingly unrelated, also note that:

    [Bannon] also appeared to hint that the administration was planning to soon declare that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, perhaps as soon as next week.

    But a senior administration official disputed that such an announcement was in the works for next week.

  • Philip Rucker/Ed O'Keefe: Trump threatens to abandon Puerto Rico recovery effort: Among the many things Trump has threatened to blow up this past week, one of the most vexing is the quasi-colonial relationship of the US to Puerto Rico. Trump has vacillated between taking responsibility for recovery and attempting to disown the island, to write it off like one of his bad debts. Here he declares Puerto Rico's infrastructure a disaster before the storm. There he lectures on the sanctity of debts accured by state and local government there. Political sentiment in the US generally favors aid, but I suspect his base is more antagonistic. The banks, on the other hand, would probably prefer a bailout before anything drastic happens. Puerto Ricans recently voted for statehood, which Republicans in Congress are likely to block if they think there's any reason -- like a racist, xenophobic president -- doing so might not add to the GOP majority. Indeed, Trump has already started to follow through on his threats to withdraw aid by allowing a temporary waiver to the Jones Act to expire.

    Meanwhile, a couple recent reports from Puerto Rico:

  • Gabriel Sherman: "I Hate Everyone in the White House!": Trump Seethes as Advisers Fear the President Is "Unraveling": Stephen Colbert's comment on this headline was: "This means up until now, he's been raveled." Inside you get lines like "One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike." And: "According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." All very gossipy. Too much smoke to tell where the fire actually is.

  • Emily Shugerman: US withdraws from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias': "The US helped found Unesco in the wake of the Second World War, with the aim of ensuring peace through the free flow of ideas and education." I found this shocking, even though it's long been clear that the US has its most anti-education and anti-free speech administration in history, and possibly its most anti-peace one as well. The most disturbing thing here is the extent to which anti-UN prejudice has permeated Republican ideology (and make no mistake about it, this is a purely partisan view). But even as a go-it-alone (i.e., isolationist) "America first" stance, it's pretty self-deprecating: if the stated rationale is true, this as much as admits that tiny Israel has taken charge of US foreign policy; the alternative theory, that "Mr Tillerson simply wanted to stem outgoings," also reflects poorly on the US, as much as admitting that "the richest country in the world" can't afford to contribute to preserving heritage and supporting education in poorer countries.

  • Pieces by Matthew Yglesias this week:


Special bonus link: Dalia Mortada: A Taste of Syria: A recipe for a Syrian dish, fatteh, "a hearty dish of crispy pita bread beneath chickpeas and a luscious garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce." I should note that the picture appears to have a sprinkling of ground sumac (or maybe Aleppo pepper) not listed in the recipe.

Monday, October 9, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28766 [28749] rated (+17), 401 [404] unrated (-3).

Light week all around. I spent several days working on a fairly extravagant dinner. I had checked out a copy of The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods from the local library, thinking I'd try a few dishes before I had to check the book back in. I made fourteen of them, counting some basic ones that got folded into other recipes (like the Apple-Pear Sauce, which went into Grandma Fay's Applesauce Cake, and the Everything Bagel Butter, perfect for spreading on the Seeded Honey Rye Pull-Apart Rolls). The cookbook has recipes for basic DIY ingredients: the one recipe I botched was the Sauerkraut, needed for Wine-Braised Sauerkraut and Mushrooms, itself a component to the Braised Sauerkraut and Potato Gratin. So I wound up buying Bubbies Sauerkraut for the Gratin, but my Sauerruben came out perfect, so I think the Sauerkraut would have worked if I had been more careful to keep the cabbage submerged.

While cooking, I went back to the travel cases, so I listened to a lot of great music, even if I have little to report. In fact, the two A- records below were things I wrote a bit about last week, so it was all downhill from last Monday. After cooking, I wrote up recipes and notes on the meal, but they're in the notebook. I haven't been able to update the website, so you probably won't be able to find them. (But note: I see a bit of disk space opened up, so maybe I can wrap this up and get it up there before it closes again. If you see album covers, that's a good sign I managed an update.)

Next week is likely to be short as well. We have a guest midweek, so will be spending time with her -- showing off the town, and maybe some of the countryside, and cooking a bit (Moroccan tomorrow night).


New records rated this week:

  • Tony Allen: The Source (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Blue Note All Stars: Our Point of View (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yedo Gibson/Hernâni Faustino/Vasco Trilla: Chain (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gordon Grdina Quartet: Inroads (2017, Songlines): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Dylan Jack Quartet: Diagrams (2017, Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Pierre Kwenders: Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time (2017, Bonsound): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Ian O'Beirne's Slowbern Big Band: Dreams of Daedelus (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Wojciech Pulcyn: Tribute to Charlie Haden (2016 [2017], ForTune): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Tom Rainey Obbligato: Float Upstream (2017, Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference (2017, Young Turks): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tal Yahalom/Almog Sharvit/Ben Silashi: Kadawa (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Chévere (2017, Parma): [cd]: B

Old music rated this week:

  • Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: New Rules for Noise (2007, Spool): [r]: B+(***)
  • New Lost City Ramblers: Volume II: Out Standing in Their Field (1963-73 [1993], Smithsonian/Folkways): [r]: A-
  • Trevor Watts/Peter Knight: Reunion: Live in London (1999 [2007], Hi 4 Head): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Trevor Watts/Veryan Weston: Dialogues in Two Places (2011 [2012], Hi 4 Head, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)

Monday, October 9, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Very little time to work on this, but here are a few things I noted. The big story of the week probably should be Puerto Rico, especially how poorly America's quasi-benevolent gloss on colonialism has wound up serving the people there, but that would take some depth to figure out -- much easier to make fun of Trump pitching paper towels. Aside from the Las Vegas massacre, the media's favorite story of the week was Tillerson calling Trump a "fucking moron," then quasi-denying it, followed by reports of his "suicide pact" with fellow embarrassed secretaries Mattis and Mnuchim. Meanwhile the Caribbean cooked up another hurricane, Nate, which landed midway between Harvey and Irma, reported almost cavalierly after the previous panic stories. How quickly even disaster becomes normalized these days!

Obviously, many more stories could have made the cut, if only I had time to sort them out. Still, this is enough bad news for a taste, especially since so much of it traces back to a single source.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Harry Enten: Trump's Popularity Has Dipped Most in Red States.

  • Thomas Frank: Are those my words coming out of Steve Bannon's mouth? "My critique of Washington is distinctly from the left, and it's astonishing to hear conservatives swiping it." I've long been bothered by how Frank's taunting of the right-wing base got them to demand more from their political heroes. It's also true that Frank's exposure of the neoliberal rot in the heart of Washington's beltway has played into Trump rhetoric. Indeed, it's probable that Frank's Listen, Liberal undercut Hillary much worse than anything Bernie Sanders ever said or did -- a distinction that Hillary's diehard fans don't make because most of Frank's readers supported Bernie. Frank points out that Republicans offer no real fixes for his critiques. So why don't Democrats pick up the same critique and flesh it out with real solutions? Probably because Hillary and company were so content with sucking up to their rich donors, but now that we know that doesn't work, why can't they learn?

  • Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Externalities of Mass Gun Ownership: This in turn cites David Frum: The Rules of Gun Debate, which points out a basic truth that hardly anyone wants to admit:

    Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides, more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades.

    Marshall goes on to point out that the sheer popularity of guns is making the problem worse for everyone -- he speaks of "externalities," although the game model is closer to an arms race. But Frum also notes:

    o in a limited sense, the gun advocates are right. The promise of "common sense gun safety" is a hoax, i.e. Americans probably will not be able to save the tens of thousands of lives lost every year to gun violence -- and the many more thousands maimed and traumatized -- while millions of Americans carry guns in their purses and glove compartments, store guns in their night tables and dressers. Until Americans change their minds about guns, Americans will die by guns in numbers resembling the casualty figures in Somalia and Honduras more than Britain or Germany.

    It's truly hard to imagine that this change will be led by law. . . . Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are endangering themselves and their loved ones.

    Specifically on Las Vegas, note I'm not going to criticize Caleb Keeter -- the guitarist who "has had a change of heart on guns."

  • Dylan Matthews: Trump reignites NFL protest controversy by ordering Mike Pence to leave a Colts game: Pence showed up for a Colts game to stand for the national anthem, then left in protest of players who took a knee during the anthem. Pure PR stunt, and a huge insult to NFL fans, who pay good money to watch the game, even if that means enduring the pre-game pomp. Worse, Trump is so locked into his echo chamber he thinks he's making a winning point.

  • Jeremy W Peters/Maggie Haberman/Glenn Trush: Erik Prince, Blackwater Founder, Weighs Primary Challenge to Wyoming Republican: Billionaire brother of Betsy DeVos, like her made his money inheriting the Amway fortune but built a lucrative side business providing mercenaries for the Global War on Terror, most recently in the news lobbying the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan -- if you wanted to write a new James Bond novel about a megalomaniacal privateer, you wouldn't have to spruce his bio up much. He hails from Michigan, but isn't the first to think Wyoming might be a cost-effective springboard to the Senate and national politics (think Lynne Cheney). Behind the scenes here is Steve Bannon, who's looking for Trump-like candidates to disrupt the Republican Party. He's likely to come up with some pretty creepy ones, but Prince is setting the bar awful high.

  • Andrew Prokop: Trump's odd and ominous "calm before the storm" comment, not really explained: This followed Trump's dressing down of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for trying to talk to North Korea (not to mention Tillerson's description of Trump as a "fucking moron"). As Prokop admits, there is no real explanation for Trump's elliptical remarks, but as I see it, he's doing a much more convincing act of Nixon's Madman Theory than the Trickster ever managed.

  • David Roberts: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more than we thought.

  • Dylan Scott: How Trump is planning to gut Obamacare by executive order.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Puerto Rico is all our worst fears about Trump becoming real:

    To an extent, the United States of America held up surprisingly well from Inauguration Day until September 20 or so. The ongoing degradation of American civic institutions, at a minimum, did not have an immediate negative impact on the typical person's life.

    But the world is beginning to draw a straight line from the devastation in Puerto Rico to the White House. Trump's instinct so far is to turn the island's devastation into another front in culture war politics, a strategy that could help his own political career survive.

    One problem Trump has, even if it doesn't explain his administration as a whole, has been the relative shortfall of news on Puerto Rico -- especially from the Trump whisperers at Fox (see Druhmil Mehta: The Media Really Has Neglected Puerto Rico). A lot of people, and not just immigration-phobes like Trump, have is seeing Puerto Rico as part of the USA, even though everyone there has American citizenship and are free to pick up and move anywhere in the country. Also see: Harry Enten: Trump's Handling of Hurricane Maria Is Getting Really Bad Marks.

    The notion that Trump hasn't done a lot of damage to the country yet is mostly delayed perception. His regulatory efforts have allowed companies to pollute more and engage in other predatory practices, but it takes a while to companies to take advantage of their new license. The defunding of CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) didn't immediately shot off insurance, but it will over several months. Those who lose their insurance may not get sick for months or years, but across the country these things add up. Trump's brinksmanship with North Korea hasn't blown up yet, but it's made a disaster much more likely. Some of these things will slowly degrade quality of life, but some may happen suddenly and irreversibly. That people don't notice them right away doesn't mean that they won't eventually. One thing politicians hope, of course, is that bad things happen they won't be traced back to responsible acts. Indeed, Republicans have been extraordinarily lucky so far, to no small extent because Democrats haven't been very adept as explaining causality. Yglesias returns to this theme in Trump's taste for flattery is a disaster for Puerto Rico -- and someday the world;

    The scary message of Puerto Rico -- like of the diplomatic row between Qatar and Saudi Arabia before it -- is that a man who often seemed like he wasn't up to the job of being president is, in fact, not up to the job of being president.

    At times, of course, his political opponents will find this comforting or even to be a blessing. His inability to involve himself constructively in the Affordable Care Act debate, for example, likely saved millions of people's Medicaid coverage relative to what a more competent president might have pulled off.

    But when bad luck strikes, the president's problems become everyone's problems. And in Puerto Rico we're seeing that the president's inability to listen to constructive criticism -- and his unwillingness to incentive people to give it to him -- transforms misfortune into catastrophe.

    This tendency to cut himself off from uncomfortable information rather than accept frank assessments and change course has impacted Trump's legislative agenda, peripheral aspects of his foreign policy, and now a part of the United States of America itself.

    If we're lucky, maybe the global economy will hold up, we won't have any more bad storms, foreign terrorists will leave us alone, and somehow we'll skate past this North Korea situation. Maybe. Because if not, we're going to be in trouble, and the president's going to be the last one to realize it.

    Yglesias says "we'd better hope Trump's luck holds up," but he doesn't sound very hopeful. I'm reminded of the famous Branch Rickey maxim, "luck is the residue of design." Rickey was talking about winning baseball games, but losing is the residue of its own kind of design. It was GW Bush's bad luck that the economy imploded on his watch, but his administration and his party deliberately did a lot of things that hastened that collapse, so it's not simply that they were unlucky.

    Other pieces by Yglesias last week: The 4 stories that defined the week: Dozens were massacred in Las Vegas; Trump flew to Puerto Rico; Tax reform is looking shaky; and Morongate rocked the Cabinet. One aspect of the latter story: "due to the structure of his compensation and certain quirks of tax law, [Tillerson will] be hit with a $71 million tax bill on the proceeds [of cashing out his Exxon stock] unless he stays with the government for at least a year." Other pieces: Meet Kevin Warsh, the man Trump may tap to wreck the American economy: to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve; After Sandy Hook, Trump hailed Obama's call for gun control legislation; Trump's reverse Midas touch is making everything he hates popular; After a year of work, Republicans have decided nothing on corporate tax reform.

Monday, October 2, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28749 [28719] rated (+30), 404 [398] unrated (+6).

I wrapped up September's Streamnotes on Saturday. I couldn't update the website, so the only workable link at present is here. Inability to update means that eight cover pics of A- records won't be found. Same for the seven A- records in the list below (only one not in Streamnotes). Still no idea when I'll manage to straighten this mess out. There are so many things to do I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around it all.

The one new record was recommended by Phil Overeem, as he expanded his 2017 My Fav-O-Rite New and Old Records of 2017 list to 85. I'm not much of a Cajun fan, but the latest Lost Bayou Ramblers album hits the spot.

I tried closing the week on Sunday, but found a couple more incoming records on my messy desk, so I figured I should at least add them, and wound up updating the rated totals as well. One thing I notices was that I hadn't recorded the grade (A-) for Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite, so most likely that didn't get registered in its appropriate Music Week post. Things slowed down after posting on Saturday. I've been playing new jazz in FIFO order, but decided to let the September Intakt releases jump the line. Both -- an Irène Schweizer duo with Joey Baron and a second record by Tom Rainey's Obbligato quintet -- are somewhat less than I hoped for (well, expected), but still close enough I wound up sinking a lot of time in them. Schweizer has a lot of drummer duos on record, and the ones with Han Bennink and Pierre Favre are nothing short of astonishing. I've long admired Baron, but he doesn't bring out the same spark in the pianist. Rainey's record is tougher to decide -- I'm not really much good with subtle, and there's a lot of that here.

I tried to catch up with Robert Christgau's recent picks, and was most impressed by L'Orange. The 2015 album with Jeremiah Jae had the special mix of sound and words that Christgau recognized, but I was every bit as taken by the 2016 collaboration with Mr. Lif, in part because its Orwellian dystopia seems amusingly quaint next to the actual hell we're (mostly) living through. I woke up this morning to news of last night's mass shooting in Las Vegas, with TPM offering as its lead story: White House: 'Premature' to Talk Gun Control in Wake of Las Vegas Shooting. "Too late" would have been more like it, but with an average of one mass shooting per day (273 times in the first 273 days of this year, counting 4+ people shot as a "mass shooting"), timing doesn't really seem to be the question. (For a level-headed summary of the facts: German Lopez: Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts.)

I come from a family chock full of hunters, and I grew up with guns in my home and in the homes of most of my relatives. My father took a course on how to do taxidermy, so I also grew up surrounded by stuffed dead animals -- they were my specialty at school show-and-tells (the rattlesnakes were the biggest hits, but the badger and owl were the stars). The Idaho relatives are more likely to have stuffed bear and moose. One of them not only hunts; he makes his own antique rifles to get back closer to the pioneer spirit. My father and most of his generation served as soldiers, and that's still pretty common among the Arkansas-Oklahoma relatives. So I'm not someone who gets riled up easily over guns. Nor do I think it's government's job to protect us from every possible harm -- especially self-harm (one of those charts shows that guns kill many more people through suicide than murder -- I'd like to see the same chart include accidents and "justified" self-defense, which is surely the smallest slice of the pie). Still, I do have a problem with stupid, and there's way too much of that -- on both sides, but it's far from distributed evenly.

It's also important to realize that when people understand a problem, they can if not fix at least ameliorate it. In this regard, I noticed two tweets today. One pointed out that "The Onion has run this story verbatim five times since 2014, switching out only city, photo, and body count" (link). The story title: "No Way to Prevent This," Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens." The other was The Onion's own tweet: "Americans Hopeful This Will Be Last Mass Shooting Before They Stop On Their Own For No Reason." Probably the single most obvious point one can draw from the Las Vegas shooting is that it would have been much less destructive had a federal law banning assault weapons not been allowed to expire back when Bush was president. (The latest count I've seen is 59 dead, 525 injured. That takes a lot of bullets over a mere 15 minutes.) Sure, it's not like Congress authorized the massacre, but that Congress could have prevented it (and some lesser cases) had they maintained existing law. You can blame them not doing so on NRA lobbying ($3,781,803 donations to current members of Congress), but I think it has more to do with continuous war since 2001, habituating us to the notion that all we need to solve problems is more firepower.

I bring up the lapse of law because Congress has just allowed several other important laws to expire, replacing them with nothing but anarchy and cowardice. As Rep. Joe Kennedy III listed them:

  • Healthcare for low-income kids
  • Community health centers
  • Loans for low-income college students

This story is unlikely to make the network news, especially on a day with so much bloodshed, but over time they will affect many more lives than the shooter in Las Vegas, and some of those effects will be dire. Again, these are not new things that we cannot do. They are things that we have been doing -- things that we actually should be doing better -- but are stopping because we've elected a Congress that can't be bothered even maintaining a semblance of civilization. (Isn't there a quote somewhere, to the effect that taxes are what we pay for civilization? One reason these laws are lapsing is that Congress is preoccupied with slashing taxes -- no doubt figuring that if they focus on helping the wealthy civilization will take care of itself.)


Speaking of dead people, Tom Paley and Tom Petty passed in the last few days. [The Petty report may have been premature.] The former was a founder of the legendary folk group New Lost City Ramblers. Their early work, before Paley left in 1962, was their best. The latter is a well known rocker, although the first image that pops into my mind is the girl in Silence of the Lambs singing along to "American Girl" in the car on her way to being kidnapped.


New records rated this week:

  • Atomic: Six Easy Pieces (2016 [2017], Odin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Heart Knows (2017, Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Collective Order: Vol. 2 (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Fat Tony: MacGregor Park (2017, First One Up, EP): [bc]: A-
  • Four Tet: New Energy (2017, Text): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Ghost Frets (2016 [2017], Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4: Reminiscing in Tempo (2017, Creative Nation Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: The Night Took Us in Like Family (2015, Mellow Music Group): [bc]: A-
  • L'Orange & Mr. Lif: The Life & Death of Scenery (2016, Mello Music Group): [bc]: A-
  • Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda (2017, Rice Pump): [r]: A-
  • Matt Mitchell: A Pouting Grimace (2017, Pi): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chris Parker: Moving Forward Now (2017, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: The French Press (2017, Sub Pop, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Irène Schweizer/Joey Baron: Live! (2015 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lyn Stanley: The Moonlight Sessions: Volume Two (2017, A.T. Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Stik Figa: Central Standard Time (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(***)
  • Summit Quartet: Live in Sant' Arresi (2016 [2017], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Fred Thomas: Changer (2017, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nestor Torres: Jazz Flute Traditions (2017, Alfi): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan (2017, World Circuit): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vector Families: For Those About to Jazz/Rock We Salute You (2017, Sunnyside): [r]: A-
  • Ken Wiley: Jazz Horn Redux (2014 [2017], Krug Park Music): [cd]: B+(*)

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

  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Talk Tight (2015 [2017], Sub Pop, EP): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • James Brown: Cold Sweat (1967, King): [r]: A-
  • L'Orange & Stik Figa: The City Under the City (2013, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(*)
  • L'Orange & Kool Keith: Time? Astonishing? (2015, Mello Music Group): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Fred Thomas: Everything Is Pretty Much Entirely Fucked (2002, Little Hands): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fred Thomas: All Are Saved (2015, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Borderlands Trio [Stephan Crump/Kris Davis/Eric McPherson]: Asteroidea (Intakt): October 15
  • Cowboys and Frenchmen: Bluer Than You Think (Outside In Music): October 13
  • Jason Paul Curtis: These Christmas Days (self-released): November 24
  • Jeff Dingler: In Transit (self-released)
  • Hans Hassler: Wie Die Zeit Hinter Mir Her (Intakt): October 15
  • Steve Hobbs: Tribute to Bobby (Challenge): January 8
  • Bob Ferrel: Bob Ferrel's Jazztopian Dream (Bob Ferrel Music): October 6
  • Danny Janklow: Elevation (Outside In Music)
  • Alma Micic: That Old Feeling (Whaling City Sound)
  • Nicole Mitchell and Haki Madhubuti: Liberation Narratives (Black Earth Music)
  • Paul Moran: Smokin' B3 Vol. 2: Still Smokin' (Prudential): October 29
  • Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group: Three Minutes to Four (Whaling City Sound)
  • Adam Rudolph: Morphic Resonances (M.O.D. Technologies): October 20
  • Samo Salamon/Szilárd Mezei/Achille Succi: Planets of Kei: Free Sessions Vol. 1 (Not Two)
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet: Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • The U.S. Army Blues: Swinging in the Holidays (self-released)
  • Deanna Witkowski: Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns (Tilapia)
  • Mark Zaleski Band: Days, Months, Years (self-released): October 6

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Hard to get psyched up for this week, what with my website woes, having sunk a lot of time into yesterday's Streamnotes, and various other malaises. Two pieces of relative good news this week: the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal-and-decimate Obamacare failed to advance to a vote; and HHS Secretary Tom Price, one of the Cabinet's most obnoxious secretaries, was forced to resign. Hurricane Marie is much reduced and well out to sea, heading toward Ireland, and no new Atlantic hurricanes have been named. On the other hand, that just leaves the destruction Marie wrought in Puerto Rico in the media spotlight, with the Trump administration all but cursing the Spanish-American War (wasn't that the first great MAGA crusade?). Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing "tax reform" with no evident ability to make their numbers add up.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Karen DeYoung, et al: Trump signed presidential directive ordering actions to pressure North Korea: This included extensive cyberwarfare operations against North Korea. Not clear on exact chronology, but this suggests that much of the confrontation with North Korea was precipitated by Trump's direction.

  • Anne Gearan: The swamp rises around an administration that promised to drain it:

    Candidate Trump would have been appalled.

    "A vote for Hillary is a vote to surrender our government to public corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of our constitutional system," Trump said during an Oct. 29 speech.

    He went on to describe his broader belief that public corruption and cronyism were eating away at voters' faith in government -- a situation he would remedy.

    "I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and to heed the words I am about to say," Trump said. "When we win on Nov. 8, we are going to Washington, D.C., and we are going to drain the swamp." . . .

    Trump's critics say no one should be surprised that he hasn't followed through on his campaign promise. They argue that the mere idea of a flamboyantly rich New York real estate mogul as the champion of workaday lunch buckets in Middle America was silly.

    "The tone on this stuff gets set at the top," said Brian Fallon, spokesman for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and a former Justice Department official in the Obama administration.

    "Tom Price's wasteful jet-setting is not causing Trump embarrassment because it violates any kind of reform mind-set within the Trump administration. No such mind-set exists," Fallon said. "It is simply because Price got caught and is reminding everyone of how Trump has turned Washington into an even bigger swamp than it was in the first place."

    Of course, it was ridiculous to ever think that Trump, let alone a Congress run by Republicans, would so much as lift a finger to try to curtail the influence of money in Washington or more generally in politics. It was easy to tar Hillary on this account, given how much she seemed to prefer courting donors to voters, given how brazenly the Clintons had cultivated influence peddling (going back to Arkansas, when he was Governor and she sat on the WalMart board), and given how they had risen from bankruptcy to considerable wealth cashing in their chips after he left office in 2001. But while Democrats from Grover Cleveland to Barack Obama provided a measure of background corruption in government, it was the self-styled "party of greed" that hosted our most notorious corruption scandals: Grant's Credit Mobilier, Harding's Teapot Dome, Reagan's HUD scandals and Iran-Contra, and too many squalid affairs under Bush-Cheney to name. But never before have the Republicans nominated someone as rapacious and as shameless as Trump. Tom Price ran into trouble not by offending Trump's ethics but his ego, by acting like he's entitled to the same perks as the boss. If anyone ever doubted that "public corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of our constitutional system," Trump will show them.

  • David A Graham: Why Does Trump Keep Praising the Emergency Response in Puerto Rico? "The president's insistence that he's doing a great job sits uneasily with stories of desperation in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria."

    Part of this seems to be Trump's struggle to project empathy, which he displayed in the early days after Hurricane Harvey, where he excelled at the inspirational, rah-rah, we will rebuild aspects of presidential response, but found it very hard to show he felt the pain of Gulf Coast residents. (By contrast, he has expressed caution about what to do in Puerto Rico, tweeting, "The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!") Another part is Trump's tendency toward puffery: In all situations, for his entire career, his impulse has been to magnify and celebrate his own prowess and success, and so he's doing that here too. But that fake-it-till-you-make-it approach understandably rankles people like Yulín.

    Damning as this is, it's way too kind to Trump, already forgetting that he did a completely dreadful job of showing empathy in Texas -- although at least there he made a little effort to fake it. AT least he acknowledges that Texas is part of "his" America, something that he doesn't feel with Puerto Rico. A couple more sample pieces on how the Trump administration is handling the Puerto Rico crisis: Trump Attacks Critics of Puerto Rico Aid Effort: 'Politically Motivated Ingrates'; FEMA Administrator Swipes at San Juan Mayor, Those Who 'Spout Off' About Aid.

  • Sarah Kliff: Obamacare repeal isn't dead as long as Republicans control Congress: In fact, lots of horrible things will keep coming up as long as Republicans control Congress. A couple weeks ago my cousin asked me who I'd like to see the Democrats nominate in 2020, and my response was that it doesn't matter until Democrats can start winning state and local races, especially for Congress. One thing I continue to fault both Clinton and Obama on is their loss of Congress two years into their first terms, and their failure to build up effective coattails even when they won second terms. Hillary Clinton spent a ton of time raising money, but didn't build up any down-ticket strength to build her own candidacy on -- a big part of the reason she lost. Without Congressional support, neither Clinton nor Obama got more than a tiny percentage of their platforms implemented, and that failure in turn ate at the credibility of their promises -- something Hillary paid dearly for, which in turn is why we're suffering through Trump and the Republican Congress.

  • Paul Krugman: Shifts Get Real: Understanding the GOP's Policy Quagmire: I mentioned in the intro that Republican plans don't add up: they want big cuts in tax brackets, especially for corporations from 35% to 20%, and they want to eliminate the estate tax altogether, but even a few of those things would bust the budget. "Reforms" to simplify the code and eliminate current deductions could offset at least some of the cuts, but those all look like tax increases to those who currently benefit, and their lobbies are out in force to keep that from happening. Even busting the budget is a problem given the Senate's no-filibuster "reconciliation" path. So while everyone in the majority caucus is sworn to cut taxes, getting there may prove difficult.

    Right now it looks as if tax "reform" -- actually it's just cuts -- may go the way of Obamacare repeal. Initial assessments of the plan are brutal, and administration attempts to spin things in a positive direction will suffer from loss of credibility on multiple fronts, from obvious lies about the plan itself, to spreading corruption scandals, to the spectacle of the tweeter-in-chief golfing while Puerto Rico drowns. . . .

    One important goal of ACA repeal was to loosen those constraints, by repealing the high-end tax hikes that paid for Obamacare, hence giving a big break to the donor class. Having failed to do that, Rs are under even more pressure to deliver the goods to the wealthy through tax cuts.

    But deficits are a constraint, even if not a hard one. Now, Republicans have always claimed that they can cut tax rates without losing revenue by closing loopholes. But they've always avoided saying anything about which loopholes they'd close; they promised to shift the tax burden away from their donors onto [TK], some mystery group. It was magic asterisk city; it was "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree" on steroids. . . .

    So what were they thinking? My guess is that they weren't thinking. What we learned from health care was that after 8 years, Republicans had never bothered to learn anything about the issues. There's every reason to believe that the same is true for the distribution of tax changes, which Paul Ryan called a "ridiculous" issue and presumably nobody in his party ever tried to understand.

    So now the lies and willful ignorance are catching up with them -- again.

    An earlier Krugman post ( Unpopular Delusions and the Madness of Elites) notes some polling and adds:

    There really is no clamor, even among Republicans, for tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations. And overall public opinion is strongly against.

    Nor is there a technocratic case for these cuts. There is no evidence whatsoever that tax cuts produce great economic outcomes -- zero, zilch, nada. The "experts" who claim otherwise are all hired guns, and notably incompetent hired guns at that.

    Yet faith in and demands for tax cuts remains; it's the ultimate zombie idea. And it's obvious why: advocating tax cuts for the rich and inventing rationales for those cuts is very lucrative.

    also, in Voodoo Gets Even Voodooier:

    That said, Trumpcuts are an even worse idea than Reaganomics, and not just because we start from much higher debt, the legacy of the financial crisis, which cut deeply into revenue and temporarily boosted spending. It also matters that we start from a much lower top tax rate than Reagan did. . . . So even if you believed that voodoo economics worked under Reagan -- which it didn't -- it would take a lot more voodoo, in fact around 4 times as much, for it to work now.

    Which makes you wonder: how can they possibly sell this as a responsible plan? Oh, right: they'll just lie.

  • Peter O'Dowd: 18-Hour Vietnam Epic Is Lesson on Horror of 'Unleashing Gods of War': Actually, the interview isn't that interesting, except for a long quote on the Burns-Novick documentary from Daniel Ellsberg:

    I think there were some some major omissions that are quite fundamental that disturbed me quite a bit, although the overall thing is very impressive.

    First of all, the repeated statement that this was a civil war on which we were taking one side, I think it's profoundly misleading. It always was a war in which one side is entirely paid, equipped, armed, pressed forward by foreigners. Without the foreigners, no war. That's not a civil war. And that puts -- it very much undermines, I'd say, a fundamentally misleading statement at the very beginning in the first five minutes or so of the first session.

    I don't see anything in the Pentagon Papers, 7,000 pages, that could be called good faith by anybody, in terms of the American people, our values, our Constitution. This was a war, as I say initially, to keep Vietnam a French colony. And that was not admitted to the American people. It was well known inside. We preferred that they be at war, and there was never a year that there would have been a war at all without American money in the end. So I thought that was extremely misleading.

    I'll probably write some more about Vietnam later, but I do want to add one comment on the last episode, which features heavily the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. The design suggests a gash in the earth, one side lined with black marble engraved with the names of 58,318 Americans who died perpetuating this war. I find it impossible to look at this wall and not imagine extending it upward to include the three million Vietnamese who also died. It seems extraordinarily conceited, even more so misleading, to omit those names. Of course, if you want to preserve the gash-in-the-earth visual effect, you could dig a deeper hole instead of building the wall up hundreds of feet.

  • Alex Pareene: You Are Jonathan Chait's Enemy: Chait is complaining "about the 'dangerous consequences' of the left's use of the label 'white supremacist' to describe Donald Trump, the alt-right, and American conservatism in general," in what Pareene describes as "just another paint-by-numbers 'the greatest threat to free speech in the nation today is college students heckling an asshole' column."

    Chait is policing the way the left does politics because he does not want the left-wing style of doing politics to gain prominence.

    Something that is well-known to people who've read Chait for years, but may not be apparent to those who just think of him as a standard-issue center-left pundit who is sort of clueless about race, is that he is engaged in a pretty specific political project: Ensuring that you and people like you don't gain control of his party.

    Pareene's getting a bit touchy here, but he's not the only one suspicious that so-called centrists relish attacking the left while offering the right undeserved respect and legitimacy -- which in the long run works in their favor. The problem with centrism is that the track record doesn't show that taking such a conciliatory stance delivers much in the way of tangible benefits -- indeed, if anything it shows retreats while the right grows stronger and more aggressive. It seems time to ask whether stronger leftist critiques might turn out to be more effective, especially with people who don't start out with a strong political stance. For instance, why not refer to people as white supremacists who may merely be garden variety racists? -- especially people like Trump who seem so comfortable aligned with undoubted white supremacists like the KKK?

  • David Rothkopf: The NSC is 70 this week -- and the first thing it ever did was meddle in a foreign election: In 1947, created by the National Security Act, its first paper ("NSC 1") approved by Truman to covertly meddle in elections in Italy, "trying to counter the effects of the Soviets to support the rise of the Italian Communist Party," no mention of the popularity the PCI gained by resisting Mussolini and the German occupation. Of course, the CIA went on to do much more than merely game foreign elections; e.g.: Vincent Bevins: In Indonesia, the 'fake news' that fueled a Cold War massacre is still potent five decades later:

    Gen. Suharto, then the head of the army's strategic reserve command and relying on support from the CIA, accused the powerful Communist Party of orchestrating a coup attempt and took over as the military's de facto leader. Over the next few months, his forces oversaw the systematic execution of at least 500,000 Indonesians, and historians say they may have killed up to 1 million. The massacre decimated the world's third-largest Communist Party (behind those of the Soviet Union and China), and untold numbers were tortured and killed simply for allegedly associating with communists.

    The military dictatorship that formed afterward, led by Suharto, made wildly inaccurate anti-communist propaganda a cornerstone of its legitimacy and ruled Indonesia with U.S. support until 1998.

  • Alex Thompson/Ryan Grim: Kansas Won't Expand Medicaid, Denying a Lifeline to Rural Hospitals and Patients: Well, some, like the one in Independence, are already dead. Gov. Brownback, who vetoed the bill to expand Medicaid, has been nominated to a State Department post to hector the world on God, but Lt. Gov. Colyer promises to veto future bills as well, so no relief in sight.

  • Zeynep Tufekci: Zuckerberg's Preposterous Defense of Facebook: It's become clear that Russia created hundreds of clandestine Facebook accounts and used them and Facebook's advertising system to spread misinformation about the 2016 election. People are upset about that because they don't like the idea of a foreign power attempting to tilt an American election, possibly as a general principle but often just because it's Russia attempting to undermine Hillary Clinton and/or to elect Trump. Still, doesn't the US do the same thing to other countries? And don't both parties and their donors do the same thing to each other? I have no doubt that Facebook makes the general problem much worse, mostly because it allows unprecedentely precise, even intimate, targeting by whoever's willing to put the money into it. Advertisers have been trying to refine targeting for decades, but they've mostly been concerned with efficiency -- getting the most cost-effective set of buyers to consider a standard product pitch. Political advertising is different because votes are different from purchases, and, given limited choices, negative advertising is often more effective. Until recently, we could limit this damage by requiring disclosure of whoever is buying the advertising. Facebook undermines this paradigm in several ways: it helps advertisers hide their identity, and thereby avoid responsibility for any damages; it allows messages to be very narrowly tailored; its effect is amplified by viral "sharing"; it precludes any systematic effort to recall or correct misinformation. Americans have long been lulled into the lure of advertising, which offers to pay for entertainment and news while only demanding a small (and initially distinct) slice of your time. And we've basically gone along with this scheme because we haven't noticed what it's doing to us -- much like a lobster doesn't notice heating water until it's much too late. It's going to be difficult to unravel all these levels of duplicity and to restore any measure of integrity to the democratic process. But two things should be clear by now: the fact that someone like Donald Trump got elected president shows that our system for informing ourselves about the world is badly broken; and that as long as powerful forces -- I'd start with virtually all corporations, most Republicans, and many Democrats, and throw in a few more special interest groups (not least the CIA and the post-KGB -- believe that they benefit from this system there will be much resistance to changing it. Indeed, it probably has to be defeated before it can be changed.

    By the way, Matt Taibbi has a relevant piece: Latest Fake News Panic Appears to Be Fake News, wherein he suggests:

    The irony here is that the solution to so much of this fake news panic is so simple. If we just spent more time outside, or read more books, or talked in person to real human beings more often, we'd be less susceptible to this sort of thing. But that would take effort, and who has time for that?

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that really mattered this week: i.e., more than Trump's spat with the NFL: Obamacare repeal died again; Puerto Rico is in crisis; Republicans rolled out a tax cut plan; Roy Moore won the GOP nomination in Alabama. Other recent Yglesias posts: Trump is proposing big tax hikes on vulnerable House Republicans' constituents (ending deductability of state and local taxes [SALT], a big deal in upscale suburban districts); A House Republican explains why deficits don't matter anymore: Mark Walker says "It's a great talking point when you have an administration that's Democrat-led" -- this just confirms what we've already observed, as when Nixon declared "we're all Keynesians now" when he wanted more deficit spending to prop up his re-election economy, or Cheney declared "deficits don't matter," yet Clinton and Obama were constantly pounded over deficit spending; Trump keeps saying Graham-Cassidy failed because a senator's in the hospital; Nobody wants Donald Trump's corporate tax cut plan: "Americans overwhelmingly want large businesses to pay more taxes rather than less"; The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico, explained; Trump's plan to sell tax cuts for the rich is to pretend they're not happening; Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones's campaign against Roy Moore; Angela Merkel won in a landslide -- now comes the hard part; Donald Trump versus the NFL, explained.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Streamnotes (September 2017)

No free disk space on my server, so it's impossible to update the website. Hence: no "faux blog" post, no new images (several late-breaking A- records, plus notice that I'm currently reading the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes horror story, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign).

The Serendipity blog appears to still be working, so I should be able to post my text there. I'm tempted to cross-post elsewhere, but don't have any good ideas at the minute.

After procrastinating some, I finally started to work on moving the website last night. My first idea was to install a Serendipity blog locally -- I vaguely recalled that it has some import tools, so hoped I might be able to import directly from the old blog, but after I got it working the import tools doesn't seem likely to work. (One big problem with my ISP is that I haven't been able to do a full database dump for several years now, and not having any disk space means I wouldn't have any place to temporarily hold the dump.)

My second idea was to use HTTrack to clone the blog-portion of the website, but simple operation would pick up too many redundant pages. I suspect there are options to limit this -- there seem to be about a hundred option switches -- so it can probably be done, but thus far I haven't figured out how. Still, I made a little progress last night: I wrote a shell script to collect all 171 pages of entries (2558 total) in the blog roll and save them in a directory. Today I realized this doesn't include the "further reading" parts of long blog posts, so I will have to identify them and go back a second time. Indeed, it might be best to use the pages I extracted to get the individual page URLs and grab them all again, so they'd wind up in separate files. In any case, it will take another program to extract usable data from the captured HTML files. The easiest thing then would be to convert it into my "faux blog" format, although it might be more useful to hack it into something I can stuff into a database (e.g., another blog, not necessarily Serendipity).

Good news, I suppose, is that when I get what I want from the site, I can end my dependency on the ISP (ADDR.COM -- highly unrecommended) and install at least my static files on a new server. No idea when that will be possible -- probably a week or two, although I could get snagged up in something or other.

Normally I'd try to write some notes out on the music below, but given the circumstances, I'll let it speak for itself. A review of last month's Music Week posts might help.


Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on August 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (10173 records).


Recent Releases

Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: Diablo en Brooklyn (2017, Saponegro): Trumpet player from Peru, sextet includes Laura Andrea Leguia (tenor/soprano sax), Yuri Juarez (guitar), Freddy Lobatón (cajon), Hugo Alcazar (drums), and normally a bassist (John Benitez or Mario Cuba, but I don't see either in the credits, just a couple guest spots for keyboardist Russell Ferrante and one for guitarist Jocho Velásquez). Comes out hard on the beat, then sashays through several parts of "The Brooklyn Suite," with various interludes including a marvelous snatch of "Summertime." A- [cd]

Alfjors: Demons 1 (2015 [2017], Shhpuma, EP): Portuguese avant-rock trio -- Mestre André (tenor sax, electronics, percussion, mbira, voice), Bernardo Alvares (bass, voice), Raphael Soares (drums) -- claim influences from African forests and Mongolian steppes, from Can and Lemmy and Hawkwind and "Saint John Coltrane," pounded into dense, ecstatic rhythms. Two fairly long cuts plus an interlude, 3 tracks, 28:39. B+(**)

Chino Amobi: Paradiso (2017, Non): Born in Alabama, based in Richmond, VA. Discogs lists style as "Experimental, Bas Music, Grime, Industrial" -- I've seen this described as a "dystopian soundtrack." It's certainly harrowing enough, but it's not as if we're not living through dystopia enough in the real world. B

Atomic: Six Easy Pieces (2016 [2017], Odin): Swedish/Norwegian supergroup, fourteenth album since 2001, the six pieces split between Fredrik Ljungkvist (sax/clarinet) and Håvard Wiik (piano), the others: Magnus Broo (trumpet), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass), and Hans Hulbaekmo (drums; until recently the drummer was Paal Nilssen-Love). The pianist often takes charge here, the horns rarely breaking as free as you'd expect. Title also seems to be available in an expanded 3-CD package, adding a couple live sets. B+(**)

Michaël Attias Quartet: Nerve Dance (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, born in Israel, grew up in Paris and Minneapolis, based in New York since 1994. Quartet with a fine rhythm section, most notably pianist Aruán Ortiz but also John Hébert (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums). B+(***)

João Barradas: Directions (2017, Inner Circle Music): Accordion player, from Portugal, young, appears to be his first album. Guest spots for Greg Osby (alto sax), Gil Goldstein (accordion), and Sara Serpa (voice). Backed with guitar, piano, bass, drums. Shows some range, lots of energy. B+(**)

Django Bates: Saluting Sgt. Pepper (2016 [2017], Edition): British jazz pianist, mixed a Jimi Hendrix tribute in with more avant experiments back in the 1990s but hasn't recorded much since 2009. Goes for a straight 50th anniversary remake of the Beatles classic here, backed by Frankfurt Radio Big Band, with a Danish trio called Eggs Laid by Tigers handling the vocals, bass, and drums. Still a great record, but an unnecessary version. B

Richard X Bennett: Experiments With Truth (2017, Ropeadope): Pianist, based in New York, has two new records out, old ones back to 2010. This is a fusion-groove set with two saxophonists -- Matt Parker (mostly tenor) and Lisa Parrott (mostly baritone). B+(**) [cd]

Richard X Bennett: What Is Now (2017, Ropeadope): Piano trio, with Adam Armstrong (bass) and Alex Wyatt (drums). All originals except for "Over the Rainbow." Stress again on rhythm, but nothing hinting of fusion. B+(**) [cd]

Black Lips: Satan's Graffiti or God's Art? (2017, Vice): Garage rock band, formed in Dunwoody, Georgia, based in Atlanta, eighth studio album since 2003. B+(*)

Lena Bloch & Feathery: Heart Knows (2017, Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, born in Moscow, emigrated to Israel in 1990, studied in Germany, currently teaches in Brooklyn. She released Feathery in 2014, and has kept the name for her quartet: Russ Lossing (piano), Cameron Brown (bass), and Billy Mintz (drums). Bloch and Lossing wrote four cuts each. They flow easily, nothing really standing out. B+(*) [cd]

Bomba Estéreo: Ayo (2017, Sony Music Latin): Colombian group, cumbia with electro glitz, the beat hard, the vocals a bit in your face. B+(**)

Jean-François Bonnel and His Swinging Jazz Cats: With Thanks to Benny Carter (2017, Arbors): French alto saxophonist, plays clarinet on two cuts here; seems to have had several albums, although a list isn't easy to come by. At any rate, mostly plays with trad jazz musicians like Ken Colyer and Keith Nichols. Carter tunes and other standards, with Chris Dawson (piano), François Laudet (drums), and singer Charmin Michelle (6/9 cuts). B+(**)

Action Bronson: Blue Chips 7000 (2017, Vice/Atlantic): Rapper Arian Asllani, from Flushing, father Albanian Muslim, mother American Jewish, worked under various names before settling on this one -- most notably, Mr. Baklava. Fourth studio album (not counting four mixtapes), second on a major label. Underground beats, stoned sneer, lots of chopped salad. B+(**)

Don Bryant: Don't Give Up on Love (2017, Fat Possum): Memphis soul singer-songwriter, b. 1942, cut an album for Hi in 1969, wrote several famous song with/for wife Ann Peebles, tried his hand at gospel in the late 1980s and 2000, recycled some old songs and a few new ones here. B+(*)

Chamber 4: City of Light (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Franco-Portuguese group: Luis Vicente (trumpet), Théo Ceccaldi (violin), Valentin Ceccaldi (cello), Marcelo dos Reis (acoustic and prepared guitar), the latter three also credited with voice. All improv, notes say they never even discussed what they might do. Ambles some, but guitar can surprise you. B+(**)

Brian Charette Circuit Bent Organ Trio: Kürrent (2017, Dim Mak): Organ player, with Ben Monder (guitar) and Jordan Young (drums). "Circuit Bending is a technique where electronic instruments are manipulated so that they misfire (!!!) creating far out sonic landscapes." Charette does a good job of steering clear of the genre's clichés, but this isn't bent enough to be especially interesting. B+(*)

Zack Clarke: Random Acts of Order (2017, Clean Feed): Pianist, based in New York, first album, a trio with Henry Fraser on bass and Dre Hocevar on percussion. B+(*)

Collective Order: Vol. 2 (2017, self-released): Toronto collective, not really a group album, more like "various artists" -- a dozen or so leader/composers, sharing a pool of 19 musicians (3 vocalists). Some pieces catch my ear, like Connor Newton's Latin-flavored "Mahsong"; most kind of elide together. B+(*) [cd]

Stanley Cowell: No Illusions (2015 [2017], SteepleChase): Pianist, first impressed me with his 1969 Blues for the Viet Cong, now 75 with a large discography -- mostly trios, but this one brightens up with Bruce Williams' alto sax and flute. Also with Jay Anderson (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums). B+(**)

Damaged Bug: Bunker Funk (2017, Castle Face): Electronica side project by John Dwyer, best known (though not very well by me) for Thee Oh Sees. B

DEK Trio: Construct 1: Stone (2016 [2017], Audiographic): Group named for first initials: Didi Kern (drums), Elisabeth Harnik (piano), Ken Vandermark (reeds). Two cuts, 43:48, recorded live at the Stone in NYC. Vandermark works his way through his instrument rack, especially masterful on tenor and baritone, and piercing on what I assume to be his clarinet. The Austrians support him with a range of overlapping and suitably discordant rhythms. A- [bc]

DEK Trio: Construct 2: Artfacts (2017, Audiographic): Third album, back in Austria, with pianist Harnik coming out more while Vandermark screeches on clarinet. Best stretch comes in "Paper Tongue": a strong platform rhythm under some of Vandermark's finest tenor sax honk. B+(***) [bc]

DEK Trio: Construct 3: Ovadlo 29 (2017, Audiographic): Moving on, nine days later in the Czech Republic. Three more pieces, two 21-minute bashes and a 4:10 variation. Best clarinet bit yet, a very strong tenor sax stretch. B+(***) [bc]

Dave Douglas With the Westerlies and Anwar Marshall: Little Giant Still Life (2016 [2017], Greenleaf Music): The Westerlies, who have a previous album with Wayne Horvitz, add two trumpets and two trombones to the leader's trumpet, with Marshall on drums. Similar to Douglas' other brass band experiments, but less bottom, more postbop. B+(**) [cd]

Mike Downes: Root Structure (2016 [2017], Addo): Bassist, from Canada, sixth album since 1997, won a Juno Award for Ripple Effect in 2014. Quartet with guitar (Ted Quinlan), piano/keys (Robi Botos), and drums. Original material (aside from odd bits by Botos and Chopin). Pleasantly engaging. B+(*) [cd]

Chet Doxas: Rich in Symbols (2017, Ropeadope): Artist's name, credited with "woodwinds and synths," not on cover or spine -- in fact, nothing on cover. Quartet with guitar (Matthew Stevens), bass and drums, loosely fits as fusion elaborating riffs into grooves. Guests Dave Douglas and John Escreet appear on one track each, Dave Nugent on three, producer Liam O'Neil all over the place. B+(*) [cd]

Kaja Draksler Octet: Gledalec (2016 [2017], Clean Feed, 2CD): Pianist from Slovenia, also in European Movement Jazz Orchestra, fourth and most ambitious album, although note that two singers occupy slots in the Octet, leaving six instrumentalists: two saxophonists (Ada Rave and Ab Baars), violin (George Dumitriu), bass, and drums. The vocals are arch and/or arty, the sax much preferred, although both struggle on the rough footing. B

Bob Dylan: Fallen Angels (2016, Columbia): Spacing for Dylan albums since 1993's World Gone Wrong: 4 years, 4, 5, 3, 3 (Tempest, in 2012, the most forgettable of the run). So, you might expect a new one around 2015, but the muse evidently failing him, Dylan decided to cover Ye Great American Songbook for his godawful Shadows in the Night. That proved easy enough he's come up with this sequel just one year later (and even more in 2017). But where the previous album's renditions were grating, he's softened these up to the point of insignificance. C+

Bob Dylan: Triplicate (2017, Columbia, 3CD): More songbook, spread out over three discs but they're short ones: 31:48, 32:07, 31:47, 10 songs each. Notes: Jimmy Van Heusen seems to be Dylan's favorite songwriter (7 songs, 4 with Johnny Burke, 2 with Sammy Cahn); only one Irving Berlin (one each Arlen, Rodgers, Kern, Carmichael), nothing by Cole Porter or the Gershwins; horns on the opener, but strings are more prevalent later. I probably hear more than fifty vocal standards records each year, and I can't think of any aspect Dylan isn't below average in. Not his worst -- the horns do perk things up -- but still. C+

Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day Quartet: On Parade in Parede (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Drummer, group dates back to 2009 Canada Day album, with Nate Wooley (trumpet), Matt Bauder (tenor sax), and Pascal Niggenkemper (bass). Strongest when the two horns spin free. B+(**)

John Escreet: The Unknown: Live in Concert (2016, Sunnyside): Pianist, seventh album since 2008, started on mainstream labels but this quartet represents an avant move: John Hébert (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums, vibes), and most importantly (and unmistakably) Evan Parker (tenor sax), with the pianist distinguishing himself with his oblique cross rhythms. Two parts, from two consecutive days in the Netherlands, totalling 74:47. A-

Adam Fairhall: Friendly Ghosts (2017, Efpi): British pianist, has a couple previous album and sidework with Nat Birchall. Takes this one solo. I'm not seeing a credits list, but several songs have words like "rag," "stomp," and "boogie" in the title, and the music reminds me of Dave Burrell's more antique explorations. B+(***) [bc]

Erica Falls: Home Grown (2017, self-released): Soul singer from New Orleans, second album, can't find much bio and was thrown by description of "her sophomore project titled Vintage Soul" -- must be this one. Doesn't strike me as vintage but if she wants to claim Irma Thomas -- not actually on her list of claimed influences, but the best model I can come up with -- she has a strong start. B+(**)

Fat Tony: MacGregor Park (2017, First One Up, EP): Houston rapper, born in Nigeria as Anthony Lawson Jude Ifeanyichukwu Obiawunaotu, shortened to Anthony Jude Obi. Fourth studio album, a bit short at eight cuts, 28:35, but with an infectiously easy flow, not that life comes so easy. A- [bc]

George Freeman: 90 Going on Amazing (2005 [2017], Blujazz): Guitarist from Chicago, brother of saxophonist Von Freeman, cut his first record in 1969, side credits go back to a 1961 record with Richard "Groove" Holmes and Ben Webster, 90 and still performing now but a mere 78 when this was recorded. Mostly easy-going funk, a quartet with Vince Willis prominent on piano. B+(*) [cd]

Tomas Fujiwara: Triple Double (2017, Firehouse 12): Looks more like a double trio, with Ralph Alessi and Tyler Ho Bynum on trumpet/cornet, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Gerald Cleaver and Fujiwara on drums. I haven't quite figured out the parts where the leader talks about music direction, but I'm quite taken by how they all bounce off one another. A- [cd]

Gato Preto: Tempo (2017, Unique): Dance groove duo, producer Lee Bass (from Ghana) and singer-rapper Gata Misteriosa (from Mozambique) -- based somewhere in Europe, but that's about all I've been able to find, although I count 25 releases (including EPs and Remixes) on their Bandcamp page. Which makes them a subject for further research, although for now I'd rather not muddy up the clear uniqueness of their electro rush. A-

Philipp Gerschlauer/David Fiuczynski: Mikrojazz: Neue Expressionistische Musik (2016 [2017], Rare Noise): German alto saxophonist, American guitarist, the latter 22 years older, basically a fusion player (early album title: Jazz Punk). Gerschlauer, best known for his group Besaxung, developed a microtonal technique that splits an octave into 128 pitch steps. Band includes Jack De Johnette (drums), Matt Garrison (bass), and Giorgi Mikadze (microtonal keyboards). Doesn't sound all that exotic, but flows nicely. B+(*) [cdr]

Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn: Ljubljana (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): Duo, slide and baritone saxes vs. piano, two improv pieces totalling 38:04 so they decided to release it on vinyl. The saxophonist backs off his usual squall, deferring to the pianist, who provides most of the interest. B

João Hasselberg & Pedro Branco: From Order to Chaos (2017, Clean Feed): Portuguese bass and guitar duo, based in Copenhagen, backed discreetly by drummer João Lencastre, with an occasional guest or two on half the tracks -- saxophonist Albert Cirera changes the chemistry to something much more combustible. B+(*)

Florian Hoefner: Coldwater Stories (2016 [2017], Origin): German pianist, based in Canada (off the beaten path in St. John's, Newfoundland), half-dozen records, this one solo, improvising against the steady roll of his rhythmic figures. B+(**) [cd]

Eric Hofbauer: Ghost Frets (2016 [2017], Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, Discogs only lists four albums since 1998 but I've heard many more than that, most quite interesting. This one is solo, deftly picked: four originals, two from kindred spirit, the late Garrison Fewell, five more from the tradition (Oliver, Monk, Dolphy) and beyond. B+(***) [cd]

Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4: Reminiscing in Tempo (2017, Creative Nation Music): Previous volumes have picked on modern classical music (Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ives), so why not Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, widely cited as the great composer of "America's classical music"? Quintet: guitar, trumpet, clarinet, cello, drums. Ellington's piece, a tribute to his mother from 1935, was originally spread out over four 10-inch sides, but still only came to 12 minutes. Hofbauer picks it apart, extending his deconstruction to 24:50, but the theme comes through as elegant as ever. B+(***) [cd]

Honest John: International Breakthrough (2015-16 [2017], Clean Feed): Norwegian-Swedish quintet, musician order seems significant here: Ole-Henrik Moe (violin), Kim Johannesen (guitar/banjo), Ola Høyer (double bass), Erik Nylander (drums/drum machine), Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (alto sax/clarinet). Actually, Holm becomes more prominent toward the end, but the early string focus is most distinctive. B+(**)

Humcrush: Enter Humcrush (2014-15 [2017], Shhpuma): Norwegian jazztronica duo, Ståle Storløkken (keyboards) and Thomas Strønen (drums), fifth album together, mostly a rush complex enough to keep it interesting, but tails off a bit. B+(**)

Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem (2017, Luna Park): Singer-songwriter, has played off his biracial roots for most of his career, a status he indulges when he can't shake it, which is most of the time. Biggest surprise: a pair of covers, songs by Lou Reed and Lennon-McCartney, the latter with Reed in the band. B+(*)

Kesha: Rainbow (2017, Kemosabe/RCA): Kesha Sebert, returns with her third album five years after number two, starting with a timely song that goes "don't let the bastards get you down," and bending several genres around her pop pinky. B+(*)

Lauren Kinhan: A Sleepin' Bee (2017, Dotted i): Singer, best known as a member of New York Voices since 1992, fourth solo project since 1999, "the inspiration of this project sprung from nancy wilson's iconic collaboration with cannonball adderley." Still, she took to Wilson more than to Cannonball, not bothering to hire a saxophonist (although Ingrid Jensen makes a fair sub for Nat). B [cd]

Kirk Knuffke: Cherryco (2016 [2017], SteepleChase): Cornet player, from Colorado, Discogs credits him with 19 albums since 2009. This is a trio with Jay Anderson (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums) playing songs by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry -- the focus is on the latter, both because he played various trumpets and because he was an essential part of Coleman's pathbreaking quartet, so in a sense what we're hearing here is Coleman without the saxophone. A-

Kokotob: Flying Heart (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Trio, with Taiko Saito (marimba/vibraphone), Niko Meinhold (piano), and Tobias Schirmer (clarinets) -- name assembled from first name fragments (hint: Saito and Meinhold had a 2006 duo album named Koko). None of the trio have extensive discographies, but I should note that Discogs lists two different Schirmers -- the other a drummer. An attractive beatwise, if not very jazzy, piece of chamber music. B+(**)

LCD Soundsystem: American Dream (2017, DFA/Columbia): Fourth album, moving ever closer to what we used to call new wave, at one point reminding me of Talking Heads, but less interesting, of course. B+(**)

David Lopato: Gendhing for a Spirit Rising (2017, Global Coolant, 2CD): Pianist, from Brooklyn, fifth album since 1981, also plays some other instruments here including "Embertone Friedlander virtual violin" and percussion (mostly with mallets). He also makes occasional use of reeds (Marty Ehrlich, Lucas Pino), strings (Erik Friedlander, Mark Feldman), vibes (Bill Ware), drums (Tom Rainey, Michael Sarin), and more exotic instruments. Sometimes seems closer to baroque than jazz, but not always. B+(*) [cd]

Luis Lopes: Love Song (2015 [2016], Shhpuma): Portuguese guitarist, I've found him to be especially impressive in his Lisbon Berlin Trio and Humanization 4Tet. This is solo, electric but so muted it hardly matters. B

L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: The Night Took Us in Like Family (2015, Mello Music Group): Don't know anything about L'Orange, but he seems to be the beat guy, with Jae rapping (also guest spots for Gift of Gab and Homeboy Sandman). Skits can break the groove, which is pretty compelling. A- [bc]

L'Orange & Kool Keith: Time? Astonishing! (2015, Mello Music Group): Beats still interesting -- in fact, starts with an instrumental and could build on that. The once-and-future Dr. Octagon goes spacey here, probably for the best. B+(**) [bc]

L'Orange & Mr. Lif: The Life & Death of Scenery (2016, Mello Music Group): Conceived as an Orwellian dystopia, where art and music are banned and people are herded into worshipping the sun, the moon, and, of course, their fearless leader. Released about a month before we entered our own brave new world, where art and music survive because the new leaders are too clueless to suspect they're subversive. That may be why I found this much funnier than was no doubt intended, but that's how we deal with dystopia these days. A- [bc]

Tony Malaby/Mat Maneri/Daniel Levin: New Artifacts (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): An avant variation on sax-with-strings, with the viola and cello alternately seeking to harmonize the sax and pull it in unexpected directions. An improvised live set, the lack of drums placing it uneasily in the realm of chamber jazz. B+(**)

Luís José Martins: Tentos -- Invenções E Encantamentos (2017, Shhpuma): Portuguese guitarist, in a band called Powertrio, credited with classical and prepared guitars here, also electronics and percussion, the former setting the sound. All originals, even with his "remote evocation of that rudimentary and warm Iberian musical form of the 17th century." B+(*)

Ernest McCarty Jr. & Jimmie Smith: A Reunion Tribute to Erroll Garner (2017, Blujazz): Bassist and drummer in pianist Garner's 1970-77 quartet -- the fourth player was congalero José Mangual, replaced here by Noel Quintana. The songbook includes Garner's "Misty" and "Gemini" but mostly features standards, opening with "Caravan." The record is pure delight, but you have to dig deep into the book to discover the all-important pianist: Geri Allen. Her recent death makes this even more poignant. A- [cd]

Meridian Trio: Triangulum (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Alto sax trio based in Chicago: Nick Mazzarella, Matt Ulery, and Jeremy Cunningham. Avant or postbop, shades of both, part of their triangulation. Runs long, could benefit from what we call editing. B+(*)

Emi Meyer: Monochrome (2009-16 [2017], Origin): Singer, wrote five (of nine) songs here, born in Japan but grew up in Seattle, studied in Los Angeles, splits her time between Seattle and Tokyo bases. Plays piano, but mostly defers here to Dawn Clement. Nice closer: "What a Wonderful World." B+(*) [cd]

Mind Games [Angelika Niescier/Denman Maroney/James Ilgenfritz/Andrew Drury]: Ephemera Obscura (2013 [2017], Clean Feed): Alto sax, piano, bass, percussion -- Maroney's machine doesn't sound all that "hyper" this time out. Nice sax tone, nimble, moves all around. B+(***)

MIR 8: Perihelion (2017, Shhpuma): Quartet: Andrea Belfi (drums), Werner Dafeldecker (function generators, bass), Hilary Jeffery (trombone), Tim Wright (computer/electronics). Website dubs these "four cinematic tracks . . . through panoramic landscapes . . . with multi-layered hybrid structures" and that's about right, as far as one cares. Vinyl length: 32:22. B+(*)

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: The Punishment of Luxury (2017, White Noise): English electropop duo, a pioneer if not inventor of wry, danceable pop as far back as 1980. Half the songs sparkle much like their prime period, especially the first two, not that they don't stall out here and there. B+(***)

Chris Parker: Moving Forward Now (2017, self-released): Drummer, also plays tenor sax, "debut" album (evidently not the drummer who played with the Brecker Bros., nor the pianist who's recorded on OA2), tries to do a little bit of everything on his first album, with thirteen other musicians listed on the cover. Starts off with "Battle Hymn of the Republic," segues into Rachmaninoff. None of it is especially notable, least of all Rachel Caswell's vocal turn on "Don't Think Twice It's Alright." It isn't. B- [cd]

Jonah Parzen-Johnson: I Try to Remember Where I Come From (2017, Clean Feed): Baritone saxophonist, grew up in Chicago, based in New York. This is solo, "recorded live to two track without loops or overdubs," yet Parzen-Johnson also manages to play analog synthesizer almost continuously, adding rhythm and harmony to the horn's fluttering vibrato. B+(**)

Mario Pavone: Vertical (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Bassist, an important composer with a substantial discography since 1979, working with a sextet here: Dave Ballou (trumpet), Tony Malaby (tenor/soprano sax), Oscar Noriega (clarinet/bass clarinet), Peter McEachern (trombone), Mike Sarin (drums). Noriega is especially striking here -- a favored voice the others revolve around. B+(***)

Debbie Poryes Trio: Loving Hank (2017, OA2): Pianist, third album since 2007, a trio plus Erik Jakobson's flugelhorn on one cut. Half originals, the first dedicated to Hank Jones sets the tone. B+(**) [cd]

Franciszek Pospieszalski Sextet: 1st Level (2016 [2017], ForTune): Polish bassist, probably his first album (Discogs lists two others he has played on). Group includes tenor sax, alto sax, piano, two drummers (one also credited with electronics and vibraphone), plus a guest trumpet on one cut -- only two names I've run across before, neither I particularly remembered. Sound has a bit of circus air, slinking by through sleight-of-hand. B [bc]

Public Enemy: Nothing Is Quick in the Desert (2017, Enemy): Old school, dense with a lot of guitar as well as ever-so-hard beats. Could be that more plays would put this over -- can't say as I picked up on any lyrics, but they certainly have points to make. Was available for free download for a few days up to July 4, but I missed that window. B+(***) [yt]

Dave Rempis: Lattice (2017, Aerophonic): Saxophonist from Chicago tries a solo album, playing alto, tenor, and baritone. Cherry-picked together from four spots, with two covers among the six cuts (Billy Strayhorn, Eric Dolphy), keeps it tight and thoughtful, minimizing the usual solo sax pitfalls. B+(***) [cd]

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cochonnerie (2015 [2017], Aerophonic): So-named for two drummers, Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly, joined by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and leader Dave Rempis on alto/tenor/baritone sax, who started stealing scenes in the Vandermark 5. Sixth group album, all impressive, this one all the more together. A- [cd]

Rolling Blackouts C.F.: Talk Tight (2015 [2017], Sub Pop, EP): Australian group, first of two EPs -- this one 7 songs, 28:59, released in Australia in 2015 with "C.F." spelled out as Coastal Fever. Picked up along with the follow-up by an American alt-indie label. They sustain their 4-minute average with ringing altish guitars, then for a change of pace do a nifty Go-Betweens impression. A-

Rolling Blackouts C.F.: The French Press (2017, Sub Pop, EP): Cover abbreviates last half of group name, although I've seen this credited both ways. A bit shorter at 6 cuts, 25:09. Maintains their trademark guitar sound, but not sure what else. B+(**)

ROVA Saxophone Quartet/Kyle Bruckmann/Henry Kaiser: Steve Lacy's Saxophone Special Revisited (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): Lacy's 1975 album is much more obscure than Ascension, John Coltrane's original sax orgy, which ROVA has twice re-recorded -- I've never heard it, although it was noted in my database -- but it is an immediate forebear of the saxophone quartet (WSQ and ROVA first recorded in 1977). Lacy's album also featured four saxophonists (Lacy on soprano, Steve Potts and Trevor Watts on alto, Evan Parker on tenor), guitar (Derek Bailey), and synthesizer (Michel Waisvisz), so this offers essentially the same lineup (occasionally switching to baritone and/or sopranino). In some ways quite remarkable, but too harsh for me to enjoy. B+(*)

Vitor Rua and the Metaphysical Angels: Do Androids Dream of Electrid Guitars? (2017, Clean Feed, 2CD): Portuguese guitarist, discography back to 1990, first disc is solo, second with his group (bass, drums, piano, trumpet, clarinets). The solo relies heavily on synth effects for its distinctness. The group develops slowly, before turning into more of the same. B+(*)

Rune Your Day: Rune Your Day (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Scandinavian avant-jazz group (recorded in Oslo, anyway): Jørgen Mathisen (tenor/soprano sax, clarinet), André Roligheten (tenor/baritone sax), Rune Nergaard (bass), Axel Skalstad (drums). Plods along, heavy and awkward, but there's something to be said for brute power. B+(**)

Saint Etienne: Home Counties (2017, Heavenly): British pop group featuring singer Sarah Cracknell, first album in 1991. I've never gotten into their pleasant melodiousness, but this is as pleasing, beguiling even, as anything I've heard from them. B+(***)

San Francisco String Trio: May I Introduce to You (2016 [2017], Ridgeway): Fairly well-known musicians: Mads Tolling (violin), Mimi Fox (guitars), Jeff Denson (bass and vocals on three tracks). Conceived as a 50th anniversary salute to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the arrangements often sly, the vocals unnecessary (although I found "A Day in the Life" rather charming). B+(*) [cd]

The Angelica Sanchez Trio: Float the Edge (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Pianist, born in Phoenix, half-dozen albums as leader since 2003, this a trio with Michael Formanek (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) underpinning the rhythmic abstractions. B+(**)

The Selva: The Selva (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Portuguese trio: Ricardo Jacinto (cello), Gonçalo Almeida (bass), Nuno Morão (drums). First album, all improv, the bass resonates most deeply. B+(*)

Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star (2017, Sub Pop): Experimental hip-hop duo from Seattle, with Ishmael Butler (aka Palaceer Lazaro, formerly Butterfly of Digable Planets) and Tendai "Baba" Maraire ("son of mbira master Dumisani Maraire"). Two previous albums, plus some EPs, plus another album released the same day as this one, the common concept Quazarz, whatever that may mean. I've always found them to be inscrutable and indecipherable, but I hear they get better if you play them loud and/or dig in for the long haul. Fair chance that's true here as well. B+(***) [bc]

Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz vs the Jealous Machines (2017, Sub Pop): "Quazarz came to the Earth from somewhere else, a musical ambassador from his place to ours." If that sounds a little vague, try figuring out the album. "Coming from a simpler, more essential, innocent place, the hero could not make heads nor tails of most advancements." B+(**) [bc]

Matthew Shipp Quartet: Not Bound (2016 [2017], ForTune): Avant pianist, third album this year, making it hard to take seriously his periodic retirements. Quartet adds Daniel Carter (flute, trumpet, tenor/soprano sax) to his usual Trio with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey. Reminds me how effective Shipp can be working behind and around a saxophonist -- e.g., his decade-plus with David S. Ware -- but also a good outing for Carter. A- [bc]

Tommy Smith: Embodying the Light: A Dedication to John Coltrane (2017, Spartacus): Scots tenor saxophonist, born on the same day Coltrane died -- which might explain some things if you believe in reincarnation like the Dalai Lama -- assembled a batch of Coltrane songs for their 50th. Done in classic Quartet style with Peter Johnstone (piano), Calum Gourlary (bass), and Sebastian de Krom (drums) holding their own. Still, it's the saxophonist's extraordinary chops that make the album undeniable. A-

Wadada Leo Smith/Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii/Ikue Mori: Aspiration (2016 [2017], Libra): Two trumpet players, piano, and electronics, with Fujii writing four (of six) pieces, one each for the trumpet players. Surprisingly sedate given the company, the trumpets often retiring, the electronics hard to locate, but the piano offering a thoughtful framework. B+(**) [cd]

David Stackenäs: Bricks (2013 [2017], Clean Feed): Swedish guitarist, Discogs lists a dozen albums since 2000, but most (including the two I've heard) would be filed under other names. This is solo acoustic, somewhat given to plucky noodling circling around deeper thrusts. B+(*)

Lyn Stanley: The Moonlight Sessions: Volume Two (2017, A.T. Music): Standards singer. Pianists Mike Garson, Tamir Handelman, and Christian Jacob get cover credit, but the ever so tasteful backup musicians deserve more credit, and when you dig into the fine print you find folks like Chuck Berghofer (bass), Luis Conte (percussion), Hendrik Meurkens (harmonica), Carol Robbins (harp), and most notably Ricky Woodard (tenor sax). They aim for a midnight smolder, and the singer meets them there. B+(***) [cd]

Stik Figa: Central Standard Time (2017, Mello Music Group): Rapper John Westbrook Jr., from Topeka, Kansas. Nice bounce to it. Nine cuts, 31:38, so a bit more than an EP. B+(***)

Rain Sultanov: Inspired by Nature (2017, Ozella): Saxophonist (soprano/tenor) from Azerbaijan, second album. Backed by piano, cello, oud, bass, drums, and percussion, the take on nature is vibrant and often quite lovely. B+(**)

Summit Quartet: Live in Sant' Arresi (2016 [2017], Audiographic): Two avant saxophonists, Ken Vandermark (tenor and baritone) and Mats Gustafsson (just baritone), backed by Luc Ex (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums). The saxophonists have always had a knack for bringing out the ugly in each other, but usually avoid such excess here. B+(**)

Swet Shop Boys: Sufi La (2017, Customs, EP): Anglo-American hip-hop duo -- or Indian-Pakistani if you trace them back a generation -- Heems (Himanshu Suri, ex-Das Racist) and Riz MC (Riz Ahmed, had a breakout acting role in The Night Of). Dropped a terrific album last year, Cashmere, following it up with this six track, 15:22 EP. A-

Fred Thomas: Changer (2017, Polyvinyl): Singer-songwriter, formerly of His Name Is Alive and Saturday Looks Good to Me, Discogs lists ten albums since 2002, starting with Everything Is Pretty Much Entirely Fucked. Not so bummed out here, the music scattered but most with some edge. B+(***)

Nestor Torres: Jazz Flute Traditions (2017, Alfi): Puerto Rican flautist, fifteen or so albums since 1981, covers pretty much all of the bases here with pieces by Mann, Lateef, and Kirk, standards, and Latin jazz favorites, opening with Moe Kaufmann ("Swinging Shepherd's Blues") and closing with Irving Fields ("Miami Beach Rhumba"). B+(*) [cd]

Trespass Trio: The Spirit of Pitesti (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): One of Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen's groups, with Per Zanussi (bass) and Raymond Strid (drums), fourth group album (odd fact: Küchen, with 23 albums listed by Discogs, is the only one without a Wikipedia page). Pitesti is a town in Romania that was the site of a notorious prison brainwashing experiment. Seems to have bummed everyone out here. B+(*)

Umphrey's McGee: Zonkey (2016, Nothing Too Fancy): Group dates back to 1997 in South Bend, Indiana, alternately described as a jam band and as a prog rock group. Discography is large, with 9 studio albums, 10 live albums, 4 videos, 2 EPs, and probably scads of live bootlegs. These are mashups, evidently covered as they keep a consistent guitar-heavy sound -- typical is a piece that bounces back and forth between "Electric Avenue" (Eddy Grant) and "Highway to Hell" (AC/DC). Sort of fun, but has its limits. B+(**)

Unhinged Sextet: Don't Blink (2016 [2017], OA2): Recorded in Arizona, but band members teach all over the country. Eight pieces by five members: Vern Sielert (trumpet), Will Campbell (alto sax), Matt Olson (tenor sax), Michael Kocour (piano), Jon Hamar (bass), Dom Moio (drums -- the only non-writer). Postbop, no reason I can think of for the group name. B [cd]

Vector Families: For Those About to Jazz/Rock We Salute You (2017, Sunnyside): Minneapolis group, drummer Dave King the best known (Bad Plus, Happy People), with Anthony Cox (bass), Dean Granros (guitar), and Brandon Wozniak (sax). The rock allusions are far from obvious, even when King explains their sound as "Ornette Coleman's Prime Time meets Bad Brains with a bit of Pere Ubu" -- for one thing, time is completely free, even when covering Ellington's "Satin Doll" (the piano sounds are something Granros whipped up using "a Guitar Band video game controller"). They also cover Ornette. A-

Martti Vesala Soundpost Quintet: Helsinki Soundpost (2016, Ozella): Finnish trumpet player, debut album (maybe just by group), a quintet with tenor sax/flutes, piano, bass, and drums -- a classic hard bop lineup, but softer and more ornate, not a mix I especially care for. But some fine trumpet leads. B

Ken Wiley: Jazz Horn Redux (2014 [2017], Krug Park Music): French horn player, fourth album, groups shifts around a lot from cut to cut, Bob Sheppard (tenor sax on three cuts) makes me think Los Angeles. Lightweight, but still swings hard. B+(*) [cd]

Carl Winther & Jerry Bergonzi: Inner Journey (2016 [2017], SteepleChase LookOut): Danish pianist, son of the late trumpet player Jens Winther (not to be confused with label head Nils Winther), has a couple albums, wrote 6 (of 9) pieces pieces here, for a vigorous, robust quartet. The star, of course, is the tenor saxophonist. B+(***)

Nate Wooley: Knknighgh (Minimal Poetry for Aram Saroyan) (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Avant trumpet player, records a lot, here with a pianoless quartet: Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax), Brandon Lopez (bass), Dre Hocevar (drums). I've forgotten whatever I once knew of Saroyan's poetry, and none is actually used here -- at least in verbal form, but I gather it was fragmented and abstract, something like the jazz here. A-

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Vincent Ahehehinnou: Best Woman (1978 [2017], Analog Africa): Name reversed on cover, as it is on most (but not all) of his records, most co-credited with his band, L'Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Four-track vinyl reissue, runs 36:38, a satisfying length for such amiable groove pieces. B+(**)

James Luther Dickinson: I'm Just Dead, I'm Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) (2006 [2012], Memphis International): Born in Arkansas, spent most of his life (1941-2009) in Memphis, best known as a record producer but cut a dozen albums, including his groups Mudboy and the Neutrons and Raisins in the Sun. His only album before 1986, Dixie Fried, wasn't as good as the title promised, but as he aged he turned into an amusing old weirdo. This was culled from a late live date, introducing two sons in the band (aka, as the cover but not the band intro notes, North Mississippi All-Stars). Reissued this year bundled with a hardcover book -- Phil Overeem insists "READ THE BOOK." B+(***)

Dick Hyman: Solo at the Sacramento Jazz Festivals 1983-1988 (1983-88 [2017], Arbors): Pianist, a master of every piano style from ragtime to swing, the most recognizable tunes here from Fats Waller. B+(***)

Joe King Kologbo & the High Grace: Sugar Daddy (1980 [2017], Strut): Touted as "a lost Nigerian disco funk classic," the first of a promised series of "Original Masters" curated by Duncan Brooker. I know essentially nothing about Kologbo or anyone else on the album. Title cut runs 15:38, two more add up to 14:35. A bit chintzy, but the grooves keep powering on. B+(***)

Mono No Aware (2017, Pan): Sixteen previously unreleased pieces of ambient electronica by as many artists, none I'm familiar with. Mostly synth curtains with occasional muted chatter, not exactly fading into the background, but probably better for that. B+(*)

Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra: My Brother the Wind Vol. 1 (1969 [2017], Cosmic Myth): Remastered and expanded from a single 1970 album, this marks the point where the pianist-leader discovered the Moog, and gets a little blip-crazy. B+(**)

Sun Ra and His Astro Infinity Arkestra: My Brother the Wind Vol. 2 (1969-70 [2017], Cosmic Myth): Based on a 1971 album, again remastered and expanded, with Sun Ra playing farfisa on half, minimoog on the rest -- the former more playful, with an amusing stretch of vocal. B+(**)

Shina Williams & His African Percussionists: Agboju Logun (1984, Strut, EP): Nigerian disco, just a 11:43 single extended with an 11:39 "LP version" of the same. B+(*)

Neil Young: Hitchhiker (1976 [2017], Reprise): Part of his archives series, effectively a demo session with Young trying out various songs with just his guitar (or sometimes piano). Eight (of ten) songs eventually appeared elsewhere: one edited for 1977's Decade compilation, three on 1979's classic Rust Never Sleeps, the title cut finally appearing on 2010's Le Noise. "Give Me Strength" is the better of the unknowns (the rhymes are strained on "Hawaii"). I'm most taken with his laconic take on "The Old Country Waltz." B+(***)

Zaïre 74: The African Artists (1974 [2017], Wrasse, 2CD): Live recordings from a big concert in Kinshasa, part of the entertainment program but the "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman. The roster is worthy -- Rochereau, Franco, Orchestre Stukas, Abeti, and Miriam Makeba (opens with "Mobuto Praise Song" -- thankfully not in English) -- and the characteristic soar of soukous guitar paradise prevails. B+(**)

Old Music

Bee Gees: Bee Gees' 1st (1967, Atco): The three Gibb brothers, born in Isle of Man, grew up in Manchester then moved to Australia in 1958, cut their first singles in 1963 and had two obscure albums before being re-introduced as a pop group here (the first to receive a US release). One great single ("To Love Somebody"), two more pretty decent ones, the filler straining against the icky strings, often succumbing. B

Bee Gees: Horizontal (1968, Atco): Second US album, same basic string-driven formula but they left out the hits -- only "Massachusetts" was released as a single in the US, and while it has a minor hook, nothing else -- especially the UK single "World" -- comes close. C

Bee Gees: Idea (1968, Atco): The brightest idea here was that someone learned to play guitar, evidently by listening to Hollies records. Still, the strings return, as does the pomposity of the vocals. C+

Bee Gees: Odessa (1969, Atco): Originally a double LP, a rite of passage for ambitious '60s (and '70s) groups, although few lived up to the hype. This one certainly doesn't. Tentative but finally rejected titles include An American Opera and Masterpeace. Songs include "Seven Seas Symphony" and "The British Opera," and their longing for glory days of the British Empire is palpable. C

Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Warsaw) 2012 (2012 [2013], ForTune): One piece, "Composition 363b+," runs 70:05, with James Fei on alto sax, the leader on alto and tenor, Tyler Ho Bynum on cornet, and Erica Dicker on violin. Despite its abstraction, this is a remarkable piece of music. A- [bc]

James Brown: Cold Sweat (1967, King): One new single, a great one, in two parts, plus ten covers -- upbeat ones on the front side power by His Famous Flames, ballads on the back side that he redeems through extraordinary vocal athleticism. A-

Tim Buckley: Goodbye and Hello (1967, Asylum): Singer-songwriter, started folkie on his debut but edging toward baroque (or psychedelic) on his second album -- there are moments I can imagine swapping in Grace Slick's voice. Elsewhere he mixes in some intense exotic percussion and other surprises, although it grows heavy and weary in the end. B+(*)

Bulbul: Hirn Fein Hacken (2014, Exile on Mainstream): Rock group from Austria, guitar-bass-drums, discography goes back to 1997, caught my attention because drummer is Didi Kern, who also plays in DEK Trio with pianist Elisabeth Harnik and avant-saxophonist Ken Vandermark. Dense postpunk with a minor hint of jazz, lyrics mostly in English, terse too. B+(**)

DEK Trio: Burning Below Zero (2014 [2016], Trost): Ken Vandermark trio, recorded in Austria with two locals: Elisabeth Harnik (piano) and Didi Kern (drums, listed as ddkern). Vandermark has only rarely played with piano backup -- mostly Håvard Wiik in their Giuffre-inspired Free Fall group -- but Harnik suits him, probably because her fills add to the rhythm rather than harmonics. B+(***)

Donovan: Sunshine Superman (1966, Epic): Scottish folk-pop singer-songwriter Donovan Leitch, third album, the first to get much attention in the US with its chart-topping title single. First side filler is a bit weak, but second side picks up, leading with "Season of the Witch." B+(**)

Donovan: Mellow Yellow (1967, Epic): Title song a second huge hit single, the "electric banana" a vibrator although I recall investigating a rumor about smoking banana skins at the time. Reverts to more folkie fair after that, although "Sunny South Kensington" is pretty cheerful. B+(**)

Kaleidoscope: Side Trips (1967, Epic): Byrds-flavored psychedelic folk band, cut four albums 1967-70, best known member was David Lindley (who in the 1980s cut a couple of retro-rock records I liked, especially El Rayo-X) although Chris Darrow (who soon moved on to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) had a slight edge as a songwriter. No real hits, but plenty of old-timey filler, like "Hesitation Blues," "Oh Death," "Come On In," and "Minnie the Moocher." B+(***)

B.B. King: Blues Is King (1967, Bluesway): Live from the International Club in Chicago, where he's introduced as "the world's greatest bluesman." Raw, no shortage of intensity, but that doesn't help the flow, or let songs stand out, like, say, the slightly earlier Live at the Regal. B+(**)

L'Orange & Stik Figa: The City Under the City (2013, Mello Music Group): The former does beats, the latter raps. Played it twice while thinking about something else, enjoyed it, and have nothing more to say. B+(*)

Mario Pavone: Sharpeville (1985 [2000], Playscape): The bassist's third album, originally released in 1988: with Marty Ehrlich (alto/soprano sax, clarinet, flute/alto flute), Thomas Chapin (alto sax, flute/bass flute), and Pheeroan Ak Laff (drums) named on the cover, but also, on the title track, Mark Whitecage (alto sax), Peter McEachern (trombone), and John Betsch (drums). Has its moments, not least the bass solos, but they come and go. B+(*)

Mario Pavone Nu Trio: Remembering Thomas (1999, Knitting Factory Works): Thomas is presumably Chapin, the alto saxophonist who died tragically at 41 the year before: Chapin and Pavone were very closely linked, playing on virtually all of each other's records for a decade. Still, these pieces were all composed by Pavone and arranged for piano trio, with Peter Madsen and Matt Wilson, marking Chapin's absence as much as his inspiration. B+(***)

Mario Pavone/Michael Musillami: Op.Ed (2001, Playscape): Leaders play bass and guitar, and split the writing, but these aren't duets: they're joined by Peter Madsen (piano) and Michael Sarin (drums). Still, an especially good showcase for the guitarist. B+(**)

Mario Pavone Nu Trio/Quintet: Orange (2003, Playscape): The Nu Trio, of course, features Pavone and Peter Madsen, with Gerald Cleaver taking over the drums. The trio cuts are first rate, but the horns are more noticeable: Steven Bernstein (trumpet) and Tony Malaby (tenor sax), with Bernstein arranging three pieces. B+(***)

Saint Etienne: Good Humor (1998, Sub Pop): Fourth album, a little sharper and shriller than their usual soft alt-dance pop shtick. B+(**)

Saint Etienne: Sound of Water (2000, Sub Pop): Fifth album, surprised to find it on Chris Monsen's 2017 list as it is quite old. Still, soft and smart, mostly interchangeable with the others I've heard. B+(**)

Saint Etienne: Finisterre (2002, Mantra): Starts stronger, ends wimpier, otherwise about par. B+(**)

Saint Etienne: Travel Edition 1990-2005 (1991-2004 [2004], Sub Pop): Best-of, rounded up to fifteen years in a shorter package than the 2-CD London Conversations that appeared about the same time. [16/18 cuts.] B+(***)

The Serpent Power: The Serpent Power (1967, Vanguard): San Francisco group, David Meltzer and Clark Coolidge originally poets, Tina Meltzer singer, several others. Basically folkie, leaning toward psychedelia, has trouble getting there. B

Fred Thomas: Everything Is Pretty Much Entirely Fucked (2002, Little Hands): First solo album, a side project while Thomas was in the band Saturday Looks Good to Me. Mostly solo, a bit of harmonica to go with the guitar, strained and bummed out, though he picks up a trashy noise band toward the end ("When You Fuck Things Up With Your Baby"). Two covers: one from Warn DeFever (His Name Is Alive, another band Thomas played in), the other a remarkably pained Brian Wilson's "Don't Worry." B+(*)

Fred Thomas: All Are Saved (2015, Polyvinyl): Skipping past titles like Turn It Down, Sink Like a Symphony, and No Other Wonder (Seemingly Random Unreleased Songs 1997-2012), this seems to have been the singer-songwriter's breakthrough album (to the extent he's ever had one). One advance is that he's using a lot more band power, adding to the sonic edge while still keeping it personal. B+(**)

Trio-X [Joe McPhee/Dominic Duval/Ray Rosen]: On Tour . . . Toronto/Rochester (2001, Cadence): McPhee's long-running avant trio with bass and drums, first recorded in 1999, continuing at least through 2012 (Duval died in 2016). Four long cuts, including "Try a Little Tenderness" and "My Funny Valentine," from Toronto, but only 8:59 from the night before in Rochester. Opens on pocket trumpet, switches to tenor sax, burning and smoldering, the bass and drums only to serve, yet they have some of the best moments. B+(***) [bc]

Trio-X [Joe McPhee/Dominic Duval/Jay Rosen]: Journey (2003, CIMP): McPhee plays alto and tenor here, backed by bass and drums. After all the storm and clang, ends with a lovely "Amazing Grace." B+(**)

David S. Ware: Live in the Netherlands (1997 [2001], Splasc(H)): Tenor saxophonist, playing solo back during the heyday of his quartet. Four pieces, runs 39:07, inevitably limited in color and rhythm, but a powerful, protean force. B+(**)

Trevor Watts & Veryan Weston: At Ad Libitum (2013 [2015], ForTune): Improv duets, recorded live in Poland, soprano/tenor sax and piano. Watts I recognize as one of the founding figures in the English avant-garde. Weston came along later, in the late 1980s, and has several duo albums with Watts, Eddie Prévost, and Lol Coxhill -- mostly on Emanem, which kept them off my radar. The soprano can be a little screechy, but remarkable overall, especially impressed by the pianist. B+(***) [bc]

The Youngbloods: The Youngbloods (1967, RCA Victor): Another band on a folk-to-psychedelic rock tangent, not to mention New York-to-San Francisco, originally Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods, they sounded like a synthesis of everyone else -- indeed, their biggest hit ("Get Together") had previously been done by Jefferson Airplane, and only hit on a reissue after being picked up as an advertising jingle. B+(*)

The Youngbloods: Earth Music (1967, RCA Victor): Second album, draws a little more on blues riffs for their own songs, picks up three covers that stake out their outer limits: Tim Hardin, Chuck Berry, Robin Remailly (you know, Unholy Modal Rounders). B+(**)

Notes

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

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [yt] available at youtube.com

Monday, September 25, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28719 [28690] rated (+29), 398 [392] unrated (+6).

As I'm writing this, there is no free disk space available to my server account, so I won't be able to update the website. That was the situation last night as well when I went to add my Weekend Roundup post, but just in time a sliver opened up and I was able to make the update -- my first in over a week (I was able to sneak my post on Bill Phillips up by deleting a huge file and pushing the single file up). If you're reading this (at least in the "faux blog" I lucked out again. I dread having to move the website, but unless something changes soon I'll have to. The problem isn't the static files, which I have on my work machine. The big problem is the blog, which will surely be lost. Due (I assume) to disk quotas (or possibly some other bottleneck) I haven't been able to dump the blog database for several years now. And the ISP, ADDR.COM, has for all intents and purposes stopped providing any form of support -- at this point it's rather surprising that they've even kept the machines running. Oddly enough, I have been able to store new blog posts lately, so that may still work.

As for this week's music, I'm surprised the rated count is as high as it is. I got off to a very slow start last week. Surprisingly, the two A- records this week were the first two I rated, and they got 5-6 plays each. I picked up some speed as I got into less interesting albums, but what salvaged the week was a side effect of reading the latest Rolling Stone paean to their birth year, 1967: 50 Essential Albums of 1967. This was written by David Fricke and Robert Christgau, expanded a bit from their 2007 survey of the same year, The 40 Essential Albums of 1967. Christgau had actually written a Consumer Guide to 1967 back in 1977, the only such retrospective Consumer Guide he ever wrote -- I added those entries to his Consumer Guide database, leaving a never-filled hole for 1968 and into 1969, when he started writing his monthly columns.

I made a list and decided to check out the records I didn't have ratings for, and picked up a few extras along the way. The closest thing to a find was David Lindley's early band Kaleidoscope's Side Trips, although the only songs that stuck in my head afterwards were Donovan's two title singles and the Youngbloods' "Get Together." Still, a surprising number of albums weren't on Napster: Bobby "Blue" Bland's Touch of the Blues, The Four Tops' Reach Out, B.B. King's The Jungle, Moby Grape, The Best of Wilson Pickett, Procol Harum, Diana Ross and the Supremes' Greatest Hits, Dionne Warwick's Golden Hits/Part One -- just found James Brown's Cold Sweat under "various artists," so next week for that.

No jazz on their list. I figured I could rectify that, but a quick search through my database suggests that 1967 was a sub-par year for jazz -- maybe the poorest of the decade. Major jazz labels went into sudden decline after 1965, although there was a partial rebound in 1969 with the emergence of fusion and an avant-garde rebound, both aided by new artists and labels in Europe. But for 1967 (and I could be off slightly, as I'm more likely to have recording than release dates in the database) I only count 2 A records and 15 A- (partial checking revealed 2 more A- recorded in 1967 were released later). Sorted approximately:

  1. Duke Ellington: And His Mother Called Him Bill
  2. Johnny Hodges: Triple Play
  3. Miles Davis: Nefertiti
  4. Jackie McLean/Ornette Coleman: New and Old Gospel
  5. McCoy Tyner: The Real McCoy
  6. John Coltrane: Interstellar Space
  7. Jimmy Rushing: Every Day I Have the Blues
  8. Miles Davis: Sorcerer
  9. Stan Getz: Sweet Rain
  10. Gordon Beck: Experiments With Pops
  11. Don Ellis: Electric Bath
  12. Antonio Carlos Jobim: Wave
  13. Keith Jarrett: El Juicio (The Judgment)
  14. Pete La Roca: Turkish Women at the Bath
  15. Bobby Hutcherson: Oblique
  16. Thad Jones/Mel Lewis: Live at the Village Vanguard
  17. Tony Scott: Tony Scott

No progress to report on Jazz Guides. The Streamnotes draft file for September has 122 reviews. I should post it this week, no later than the end of month (Saturday), if I can get the website working. Quite a bit of new jazz in the queue right now -- partly because I managed to account for today's mail from Lithuania. I'd hate to see the unrated count top 400 again, so I should focus more there. One reason I slacked off last month was that most of the new records had much later release dates. Of course, with September waning, we're nearly there.


New records rated this week:

  • Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: Diablo en Brooklyn (2017, Saponegro): [cd]: A-
  • Richard X Bennett: Experiments With Truth (2017, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Richard X Bennett: What Is Now (2017, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jean-François Bonnel and His Swinging Jazz Cats: With Thanks to Benny Carter (2017, Arbors): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tomas Fujiwara: Triple Double (2017, Firehouse 12): [cd]: A-
  • Philipp Gerschlauer/David Fiuczynski: Mikrojazz: Neue Expressionistische Musik (2016 [2017], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Lauren Kinhan: A Sleepin' Bee (2017, Dotted i): [cd]: B
  • Florian Hoefner: Coldwater Stories (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Emi Meyer: Monochrome (2009-16 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Debbie Poryes Trio: Loving Hank (2017, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Franciszek Pospieszalski Sextet: 1st Level (2016 [2017], ForTune): [bc]: B
  • Umphrey's McGee: Zonkey (2016, Nothing Too Fancy): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Dick Hyman: Solo at the Sacramento Jazz Festivals 1983-1988 (1983-88 [2017], Arbors): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sun Ra and His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: My Brother the Wind Vol. 1 (1969 [2017], Cosmic Myth): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sun Ra and His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: My Brother the Wind Vol. 2 (1969-70 [2017], Cosmic Myth): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Bee Gees: Bee Gees' 1st (1967, Atco): [r]: B
  • Bee Gees: Horizontal (1968, Atco): [r]: C
  • Bee Gees: Idea (1968, Atco): [r]: C+
  • Bee Gees: Odessa (1969, Atco): [r]: C
  • Tim Buckley: Goodbye and Hello (1967, Asylum): [r]: B+(*)
  • Donovan: Sunshine Superman (1966, Epic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Donovan: Mellow Yellow (1967, Epic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kaleidoscope: Side Trips (1967, Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • B.B. King: Blues Is King (1966 [1967], Bluesway): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Serpent Power: The Serpent Power (1967, Vanguard): [r]: B
  • The Youngbloods: The Youngbloods (1967, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Youngbloods: Earth Music (1967, RCA Victor): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rez Abbasi: Unfiltered Universe (Whirlwind): November 10
  • Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Magic Triangle (NoBusiness): CDR
  • Chévere (Parma)
  • Mark Dresser: Modicana (NoBusiness): CDR
  • Harris Eisenstadt/Mivos Quartet: Whatever Will Happen That Will Also Be (NoBusiness): CDR
  • Yedo Gibson/Hernâni Faustino/Vasco Trilla: Chain (NoBusiness)
  • Andrew Lamb/Warren Smith/Arkadijus Gotesmanas: The Sea of Modicum (NoBusiness): CDR
  • Roberto Magris Sextet: Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery (JMood)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Agrima (self-released): CDR, October 21
  • Liudas Mockunas: Hydro (NoBusiness): CDR
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Paint (Hot Cup): October 20
  • Teri Parker: In the Past (self-released): October 20
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM): October 20
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa (TUM): October 20
  • Charles Thomas: The Colors of a Dream (Sea Tea)
  • Ton-Klami [Midori Takada/Kang Tae Hwan/Masahiko Satoh]: Prophecy of Nue (1995, NoBusiness)

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Weekend Roundup

Biggest news for me is that the server I use for TomHull.com is wedged, with no disk space available for uploading updates. I may (or may not) be able to insert this post into the blog software (which I've had problems with in the past, but evidently uses its own separate storage), but cannot update the "faux blog" (which I've been linking to for the last year-plus). The ISP, Addr.com, seems to be on auto-pilot, with all of their support tools broken and no one responding even to email. I know I've threatened this in the past, but I suppose I have to bite the bullet and move the site. That will be a pain for me, and disruptive for the world -- as if I don't have enough problems already.


Some fairly large topics I have nothing on below: Hurricane Maria and the mass destruction of Dominica and Puerto Rico; devastating earthquakes in Mexico; elections in Germany which gave the far-right AfD party seats in parliament; the never-ending Russia investigation (starring Paul Manafort and Facebook this week); Betsy DeVos' latest efforts to make college a safe haven for rapists; a revised anti-Muslim travel ban; the ongoing protests against police brutality and injustice in St. Louis (special hat tip to Greg Magarian and Bronwen Zwirner on the ground there); and, of course, the big deal of protesting the national anthem at NFL football games (and Trump's hate tweets against those who do) -- the latter is the subject of the first five articles at Slate, and evidently the top trending hashtag(s) at Twitter (Jeffrey Goldberg tweet: "The President of the United States is now in a war with Stephen Curry and LeBron James. This is not a war Trump will win").


Some more reviews of Hillary Clinton's What Happened and comments on the 2016 election:

  • Glenn Greenwald: The Clinton Book Tour Is Largely Ignoring the Vital Role of Endless War in the 2016 Election Result:

    Part of that is the discomfort of cognitive dissonance: the Democratic branding and self-glorification as enemies of privilege, racism, and violence are directly in conflict with the party's long-standing eagerness to ignore, or even actively support, policies which kill large numbers of innocent people from Pakistan, Libya, and Somalia to Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza, but which receive scant attention because of the nationality, ethnicity, poverty, distance, and general invisibility of their victims.

    Actually, Hillary gets hurt in several ways: because she always rose to support the wars, no one can identify with her as a war critic; because she was actually in office during much of this time (as senator and especially as secretary of state) she bears some responsibility for the failure of the wars to accomplish their proclaimed goals; and the simple fact is that after 15 years of continuous war Americans are poorer and meaner than they would have been otherwise, and Republicans feed on that.

  • Katherine Krueger: Hillary Clinton Will Never Understand What Happened:

    Those looking for mea culpas will get them, but only up to a point, and always closely followed by qualifications. . . . She then pivots to consider the "strong headwinds" her scrappy little $623 million campaign-that-couldn't was up against. . . .

    Most of all, Clinton can't understand why young voters were won over by Sen. Bernie Sanders. And it is here where the essential cynicism underlying her worldview -- and which ultimately played a key role in her doom -- comes most sharply into focus. For Clinton, politics are fundamentally about pragmatism, where strategic concessions and horse-trading with Republicans necessarily means sacrificing ideals for the ultimate good of Getting (Some) Things Done. To her, change within the system is needed and worthy, but the system itself can never change. . . .

    After a career built on steadfastly upholding the status quo, Clinton didn't share the anger of the people she sought to govern, because, to her, the state of the U.S. is not something to be angry about. Even as she criss-crossed the country talking with veterans and moms and immigrants, their problems were never her problems. As her fellow Americans continue to lose their jobs and homes and fall into medical debt and struggle with opioid addictions, the system Clinton has for years fought to keep intact is humming along just fine. The fact that racism, militarism, inequality, and religious fundamentalism pervade this country, or that poor people are being consumed by the gears of our economy and left exhausted in its dust, is not something to get "angry" about. In Clinton's words, "It's always been thus."

  • Jon Schwartz: Hillary Clinton doesn't understand why the corporate media is so bad:

    The New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, et al., are gigantic corporations -- in most cases owned by even larger ones. And the job of giant corporations is not to inform American citizens about reality. It's not to play a hallowed role in the history of a self-governing republic. It's to make as much profit as possible. That in turn means the corporate media will never, ever be "liberal" in any genuine sense and will be hostile to all politicians who feint in that direction.

    From that perspective, the media's performance in 2016 was a shining, glorious success. As Les Moonves effused just as the primaries were starting, Donald Trump's campaign was "good for us economically. . . . Go Donald! Keep getting out there!" The entire Hieronymus Bosch-like nightmare, said Moonves, "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." CNN made $1 billion in profits during the election year, far more than ever before.

  • Matthew Yglesias: What really happened in 2016, in 7 charts: The key one is the monumental unpopularity of both candidates. Still, in that comparison, the odd thing is that Trump ranks much worse than Clinton, yet more people who disliked Trump voted for him than people who disliked Clinton voted for her. Why was that? My best guess is that having no real track record, people significantly underestimated how damaging Trump would be, whereas she was much more of a known, and one of the main things you knew was she would be dogged by and endless procession of (mostly) fake scandals as long as she was in the public eye. Trump exploited this by asking the question: "what have you got to lose?"

  • Joshua Holland: How Right-Wing Media Played the Mainstream Press in the 2016 Election: Not on Hillary's book, but this is the piece she should have read before writing up her excuses.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Andrew J Bacevich: Past All Reason: Review of the 18-hour Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War and, to some extent, the war itself. The series remains focused on its American audience, going out of its way to stress the patriotism and idealism of American soldiers (though less so of America's political leaders and generals). But it shies away from war propaganda, mostly because they make extensive use of Vietnamese voices (from all sides) and video -- putting human faces on people long caricatured in American minds.

    Burns and Novick pay surprisingly little attention to why exactly the United States insisted on butting in and why it subsequently proved so difficult to get out. Their lack of interest in this central issue is all the more striking given the acute misgivings about a large-scale US intervention that Lyndon Johnson repeatedly expressed in the fateful months between late 1964 and early 1965.

    The anguished president doubted that the war could be won, didn't think it was worth fighting, and knew that further expansion of US involvement in Vietnam would put at risk his cherished Great Society domestic-reform program. . . . Despite his reservations, Johnson -- ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- somehow felt compelled to go ahead anyway. Yet Burns and Novick choose not to explore why exactly Johnson felt obliged to do what he did not want to do.

    Our present situation makes the question all the more salient. The US war in Afghanistan, although smaller in scale than the war in Vietnam, has dragged on even longer. It too has turned out to be a misbegotten enterprise. When running for the presidency, Donald Trump said as much in no uncertain terms. But President Trump -- ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- has not turned his skepticism into action, allowing America's longest war to continue. . . . As Trump has affirmed, even (or perhaps especially) presidents must bow to this pernicious bit of secular theology.

    According to Burns and Novick, the American war in Vietnam was "begun in good faith, by decent people." It comes closer to the truth to say that the war was begun -- and then prolonged past all reason -- by people who lacked wisdom and, when it was most needed, courage.

    Other reviews:

    Whereas I found the first four episodes valuable, the biases in the fifth (January-July 1967) started to get out of hand. It's not clear yet whether Burns-Novick will wind up adopting the position that the only reason the US lost in Vietnam was that the American people let the Vietnamese down -- the early episodes seemed to recognize that the American neo-colonial project never had a chance, but their take on the Tet Offensive suggests the opposite. Also, as is still the case in St. Louis today, their cameras love to seek out violence in antiwar protests, and their narrative goes out of its way to stress the that there was still much pro-war support -- what Nixon would come to call "the silent majority" (something I expect we'll hear much more about in later episodes).

  • Sarah Kliff: I've Covered the GOP repeal plans since day one. Graham-Cassidy is the most radical. It surely says something about rank-and-file Republicans these days that each and every time their "repeal-and-replace" bills fail to pass, they go back to the drawing board to come up with something even more damaging.

    While other Republican plans essentially create a poorly funded version of the Affordable Care Act, Graham-Cassidy blows it up. The bill offered by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy takes money from states that did a good job getting residents covered under Obamacare and gives it to states that did not. It eliminates an expansion of the Medicaid program that covers millions of Americans in favor of block grants. States aren't required to use the money to get people covered or to help subsidize low- and middle-income earners, as Obamacare does now.

    Plus, the bill includes other drastic changes that appeared in some previous bills. Insurers in the private marketplace would be allowed to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example. And it would eliminate the individual mandate as other bills would have, but this time there is no replacement. Most analysts agree that would inject chaos into the individual market.

    The right has employed the back-to-the-states scam before, but it strikes me as especially explosive here: whereas now we have a unified national debate about health care policy, this bill will turn health care info a burning issue for fifty state political contests -- an area where Republicans have gained considerable power recently not least due to the widespread perception that states don't matter much. That strikes me as a big political risk: both to their own control in competitive states, and because at least some blue states will use those block grants to implement single-payer schemes (not that they won't be inhibited by cutbacks and other regulations).

    More on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill:

  • Fred Kaplan: Trump's Reasons for Scrapping the Iran Deal Are the Definition of Self-Destructive. Also see the Trita Parsi pieces below.

  • John Nichols: Bernie Sanders Just Gave One of the Finest Speeches of His Career: "Outlining a vision of an America on the side of peace and justice, the senator shredded Trump's brutish foreign policies." Sanders gave his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri -- the site of several famous world affairs speeches, including the one in 1946 when Winston Churchill coined the term "iron curtain," to some extent starting the Cold War. This is especially noteworthy because Sanders has long shied away from challenging the precepts of American foreign policy. Some more links:

    Sanders' speech stands in especially stark contrast to Trump's UN speech. For more on that, see:

  • Evan Osnos: The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea: A long "letter from Pyongyang," which Osnos recently visited for a tightly guided tour. While he wasn't able to meet many people, or see many things, that first-person experience gives him a leg up on Trump, his generals, Nikki Haley, or pretty much anyone else in the administration. The portrait he paints of Kim Jong Un is actually pretty scary, but the balance of terror is firmly if cavalierly dominated by Washington.

    There is also scattered support for a less confrontational option, a short-term deal known as a "freeze for freeze." North Korea would stop weapons development in exchange for a halt or a reduction in U.S.-South Korean military exercises. Proponents say that a freeze, which could be revoked if either side cheats, is hardly perfect, but the alternatives are worse. Critics say that versions of it have been tried, without success, and that it will damage America's alliance with the South. Thus far the Trump Administration has no interest. "The idea that some have suggested, of a so-called 'freeze for freeze,' is insulting," Nikki Haley, the U.N. Ambassador, said before the Security Council on September 4th. "When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard."

    Outside the Administration, the more people I talked to, the more I heard a strong case for some level of diplomatic contact. When Obama dispatched James Clapper to Pyongyang, in 2014, to negotiate the release of two prisoners, Clapper discovered that North Korea had misread the purpose of the trip. The government had presumed that he was coming in part to open a new phase in the relationship. "They were bitterly disappointed," he said. Clapper's visit convinced him that the absence of diplomatic contact is creating a dangerous gulf of misperception. "I was blown away by the siege mentality -- the paranoia -- that prevails among the leadership of North Korea. When we sabre-rattle, when we fly B-1s accompanied by jet escorts from the Republic of Korea and Japan, it makes us feel good, it reassures the allies, but what we don't factor in is the impact on the North Koreans."

    The striking thing about the Haley quote is how easily North Korea could justify taking the same stance. North Koreans surely recall that prominent US generals advocating nuking Korea during the 1950-53 war. And while it's only been since the 1960s that the US has had ICBMs capable of hitting Korea, the US has had conventional bombers within striking distance since that war. So what gives us the right to insist that North Korea lower its guard? If it's that the US should be trusted, that isn't a very convincing argument. Another quote:

    Our grasp of North Korea's beliefs and expectations is not much better than its grasp of ours. To go between Washington and Pyongyang at this nuclear moment is to be struck, most of all, by how little the two understand each other. In eighteen years of reporting, I've never felt as much uncertainty at the end of a project, a feeling that nobody -- not the diplomats, the strategists, or the scholars who have devoted their lives to the subject -- is able to describe with confidence how the other side thinks. We simply don't know how Kim Jong Un really regards the use of his country's nuclear arsenal, or how much North Korea's seclusion and mythology has distorted its understanding of American resolve. We don't know whether Kim Jong Un is taking ever-greater risks because he is determined to fulfill his family's dream of retaking South Korea, or because he is afraid of ending up like Qaddafi.

    More on Korea this week:

    A recent poll shows that Trump is especially untrusted by Americans to deal with North Korea (see Trump seen by 66 percent in US as doing more to divide than united country): the "trust to act responsibly handling North Korea" is 37% favorable, 62% negative, compared to which US military leaders score 72-27% favorable. The notion that military leaders are both competent and trustworthy is widely held, though I'd be hard pressed to cite any evidence showing it should be. One cautionary piece is: Stephen Kinzer: America's Slow-Motion Military Coup. He notes that "given the president's ignorance of world affairs, the emergence of a military junta in Washington may seem like welcome relief," then goes on to offer some reasons to worry. There's been much talk of a coup since Trump took office, but that seems unlikely as long as Trump lets the junta do whatever they want. The only time I've actually worried that the military brass might move against civilian government was when Clinton was elected in 1992, but his surrender to the chiefs was so complete they didn't have to flex a muscle. Obama proved to be every bit as supine, not even bothering to replace Bush's Secretary of Defense (although after Gates quit, he went through a series of safe names: Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and Ash Carter).

  • Gary Rivlin/Michael Hudson: Government by Goldman: "Gary Cohn is giving Goldman Sachs everything it ever wanted from the Trump administration." Important, in-depth article, goes well beyond explaining why Cohn hasn't resigned in disgust, which he certainly felt after Trump's embrace of the Nazis in Charlottesville.

    There's Ultimately no great mystery why Donald Trump selected Gary Cohn for a top post in his administration, despite his angry rhetoric about Goldman Sachs. There's the high regard the president holds for anyone who is rich -- and the instant legitimacy Cohn conferred upon the administration within business circles. Cohn's appointment reassured bond markets about the unpredictable new president and lent his administration credibility it lacked among Fortune 100 CEOs, none of whom had donated to his campaign. Ego may also have played a role. Goldman Sachs would never do business with Trump, the developer who resorted to foreign banks and second-tier lenders to bankroll his projects. Now Goldman's president would be among those serving in his royal court.

    Who can say precisely why Cohn, a Democrat, said yes when Trump asked him to be his top economic aide? No doubt Cohn has been asking himself that question in recent weeks. But he'd hit a ceiling at Goldman Sachs. In September 2015, Goldman announced that Blankfein had lymphoma, ramping up speculation that Cohn would take over the firm. Yet four months later, after undergoing chemotherapy, Blankfein was back in his office and plainly not going anywhere. Cohn was 56 years old when he was invited to Trump Tower. An influential job inside the White House meant a face-saving exit -- and one offering a huge financial advantage. . . .

    The details of the president's "$1 trillion" infrastructure plan are similarly favorable to Goldman. As laid out in the administration's 2018 budget, the government would spend only $200 billion on infrastructure over the coming decade. By structuring "that funding to incentivize additional non-Federal funding" -- tax breaks and deals that privatize roads, bridges, and airports -- the government could take credit for "at least $1 trillion in total infrastructure spending," the budget reads.

    It was as if Cohn were still channeling his role as a leader of Goldman Sachs when, at the White House in May, he offered this advice to executives: "We say, 'Hey, take a project you have right now, sell it off, privatize it, we know it will get maintained, and we'll reward you for privatizing it.'" "The bigger the thing you privatize, the more money we'll give you," continued Cohn. By "we," he clearly meant the federal government; by "you," he appeared to be speaking, at least in part, about Goldman Sachs, whose Public Sector and Infrastructure group arranges the financing on large-scale public sector deals.

  • Jon Schwartz: The History Channel is finally telling the stunning secret story of the War on Drugs: A four-part documentary. Much of it seems to involve the CIA, which has repeatedly forged alliances with drug traffickers -- in Laos, Nicaragua, and most recently in Afghanistan.

    That core truth is: The war on drugs has always been a pointless sham. For decades the federal government has engaged in a shifting series of alliances of convenience with some of the world's largest drug cartels. So while the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since President Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, top narcotics dealers have simultaneously enjoyed protection at the highest levels of power in America.

    This might be a good place to mention Sheelah Kolhatkar: The Cost of the Opioid Crisis -- an awful piece which tries to quantify the economic costs of opioid overdoses by toting up lost hours worked and similar metrics. I don't doubt that these deaths add up to some kind of crisis, but you need to back up a bit and frame this issue in terms of two much larger, less acute crises: one is the "war on drugs," which has accomplished little other than to make people really stupid about what drugs do; the other is the for-profit health care system, which has veered inconsistently on pain management, doing first too little then too much and probably, if the crisis-mongers get their way, reverting to too little. The big money is in prescribing pills, not in monitoring treatment.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Madness of Donald Trump: Starts by noting that Trump's August 22 speech in Phoenix was "Trump's true coming-out party as an insane person." Goes on to try to draw fine distinctions between Campaign Trump, who was crazy in ways that seemed to work, and President Trump, whose craziness is becoming more and more dysfunctional. After considering the possibility that America deserves Trump, he pulls out the DSM and comes up with a diagnosis:

    Everyone with half a brain and a recent copy of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used by shrinks everywhere) knew the diagnosis on Trump the instant he joined the race. Trump fits the clinical definition of a narcissistic personality so completely that it will be a shock if future psychiatrists don't rename the disorder after him.

    Grandiosity, a tendency to exaggerate achievements, a preoccupation with "fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love," a belief in one's specialness (which can only be understood by other special people), a need for excessive admiration and a sense of entitlement -- sound like anyone you know?

    Trump's rapidly expanding list of things at which he's either a supreme expert or the Earth's best living practitioner would shame even great historical blowhards like Stalin or Mobutu Sese Seko.

    Taibbi's points on Trump's losing war with the English language are more to the point (though "he makes George W. Bush sound like Vladimir Nabokov" shows how quickly we forget). He tries to take some comfort by viewing Trump as just desserts for a country with so much blood and oppression staining its history, but Trump's too deranged to deliver a lesson on karma. For more on the madness, see: Alex Morris: Trump's Mental Health: Is Pathological Narcissism the Key to Trump's Behavior? One note here deserving caution is a study that "found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having a psychiatric disorder," although some ailments, like depression, "do not typically lead to psychosis or risky decision-making." More interesting is this paragraph:

    When it comes to presidents, and perhaps all politicians, some level of narcissism is par for the course. Based on a 2013 study of U.S. presidents from Washington to George W. Bush, many of our chief executives with narcissistic traits shared what is called "emergent leadership," or a keen ability to get elected. They can be charming and charismatic. They dominate. They entertain. They project strength and confidence. They're good at convincing people, at least initially, that they actually are as awesome as they think they are. (Despite what a narcissist might believe, research shows they are usually no better-looking, more intelligent or talented than the average person -- though when they are, their narcissism is better tolerated.) In fact, a narcissist's brash leadership has been shown to be particularly attractive in times of perceived upheaval, which means that it benefits a narcissist to promote ideas of chaos and to identify a common enemy, or, if need be, create one.

    I've long noted something like this: the tendency of people in times of crisis to rally around whoever seemed to be the most self-confident. I figure that's something we learned in our early evolution, something that back in primitive times worked well enough it didn't get erased through natural selection. However, in modern times such "emergent leaders" rarely turn out to be wise choices.

    By the way, Taibbi has another piece out: Steve Bannon Splits From Trump: Hilarity Ensues. This is about the Republican Senatorial primary runoff between Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions' seat and is backed by Trump and McConnell, and Roy Moore, the former judge with the Moses complex who is backed by Bannon. In this contest, you'd have to say that Strange is the lesser evil, but the margin is so thin I find it hard to care. I'm even tempted to think that we might be better if they elect the greater embarrassment (Moore), although that's pretty much what happened with Trump.

    By the way, there are more Alabama races down ballot. See: Christina Cauterucci: Some of the US's Creepiest Anti-Abortion Men Are Running for Office in Alabama.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Bill XCIX Phillips

I was dawdling on Facebook last night, and clicked on "Notifications," wondering what (if anything) that might do. I scrolled down the widget, and noticed that someone I didn't recognize commented on something I had written, so I was curious and clicked. That someone was the sister of Bill Phillips, telling me that he had died back in January. I got a Facebook notice that Bill's birthday was June 3, so (something I don't often do) I sent him a little note. The response came on June 8, but . . . well, I checked my email trash and there was no mention of it among 1628 deleted Facebook messages. Somebody's algorithm sure sucks. I should have noticed something was amiss when he stopped posting after January 3, but I just didn't pay that much attention, even less than usual this year.

I first met Bill around 1978-79. I was working for a typesetting shop in New York City, and the co-owner decided to buy a computer and hire a consultant to set up an accounting system. The computer was a low-end PDP-11, and Bill was the consultant (or maybe just the guy the consultant assigned to do the work). At the time I was trying to read electronics textbooks, thinking I might go back to college and study engineering. I was making slow progress, especially on the analog stuff, but at some point I picked up a book on programming in Pascal and it seemed like the easiest thing in the world. I decided to buy a personal computer. My first choice was something called the Pascal Microengine, but when the dealer couldn't deliver, I settled for an Apple II. I wrote some trivial programs in Basic, but my real interest was designing my own typesetting systems software. I talked to Bill about this, and we wound up pitching the co-owner on the idea. He gave us an allowance to buy some hardware, and I wrote a 300-page functional spec for a distributed, networked multinode editing ("front end") system.

By the time we gave up on the project, Bill had steered me toward programming in C and using an editor called MINCE (a recursive acronym for "MINCE Is Not Complete Emacs" -- basically, a text editor inspired by Richard Stallman's LISP-based EMACS editor, written in C to run on a Z-80 microprocessor). MINCE came with partial source code, and the documentation was the author's Master's Thesis. Both turned out to be remarkably fine tutorials, and Bill was my first brilliant mentor. I left Wizard in 1980 and landed a job as a Software Engineer at Varityper in East Hannover, NJ. Varityper made "direct-entry" phototypesetters, which set type incrementally as you keyed the text and commands in. But they had just started a project to build a multi-user system not unlike the one I had designed, so they hired me to consult on that, then wound up throwing a number of tricky programming assignments my way. I spent the next three years there, then moved to Massachusetts to work for Compugraphic, their largest competitor, and a year later moved on to a start-up working on color prepress software for package design: Contex Graphics Systems.

While I was learning lots of new things in my various jobs, Bill was mostly stuck babysitting legacy systems in New York, which left him in something of a rut. We kept in touch over those years: not close, but I knew he was having trouble finding work in New York, and that he was especially fond of Boston. When I started taking on management duties, I had the opportunity to hire a couple of consultants, so I offered Bill a job, and a place to stay until we turned it into a regular job, and he and his wife Jane moved to Cambridge. Over the next couple years, Contex went through a lot of ownership trouble, eventually being sold to Xyvision shortly before their main business ("tech pubs" systems, again similar to my original design) crashed. I had to lay Bill off then, and I don't think he ever made much of a living again. But Jane had found a decent job, he loved Cambridge, and he was very active in local computer clubs, so he was reasonably content. I saw him socially, and tried to rope him into my Ftwalk project, but he resisted.

After I left Massachusetts and wound up back in Kansas, I picked his brain for various projects -- among other things, he made a contribution to robertchristgau.com. After Jane died in late 2011 he moved back to New York. I saw him at least three times there -- most recently in June 2016. He had gotten into political interests, adopting "XCIX" as his middle name to signify solidarity with the 99%, and was the first person I knew to get involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign. For some reason we had never talked about politics back in our initial period -- though we talked a lot about music (not that we had much in common: he turned me on to some quality folk music, but by then he was mostly into new age, and I was more into punk, funk, and avant-jazz).

First inkling I had of his politics must have been in 1989 when Abbie Hoffman died, and Jane (I think it was) suggested they should go to the funeral to show solidarity. I didn't get the impression they had a direct connection, but that does say something about where they came from. As I'm writing this, I realize there's so much about him I don't know. He was born in Queens, a few years older than me but I'm not sure how many -- not a lot -- and was living in Queens when I first met/visited him. His mother was still alive when he moved back to New York. He had two sisters, I think, but I never met either. They had a son, who was close to ten when I first met him. Went to college in Binghampton, and at least for a while turned into a Dead Head. Last I knew they didn't seem to be close, but I don't think I ever met the son as an adult. Toward the end he seemed worn and weary, and felt trapped. He talked like he might leave New York, possibly for Washington State, but I doubt he had the energy.

I do remember lots of little things. He always had a beard, which I can't remember not being grizzled white but it may have been blond way back when. He always looked rumpled, moving slow and speaking softly. He liked model trains and western shirts -- had a whole rack of them bought mail-order from Sheplers, the famous outfitter in my own home town. (I had a few myself, though I regarded them more as a joke. But I don't think I ever saw his trains.) He used the alias "Old Professor Bear," and called his web business Shoestring Projects. He spent most of his disposable income on books and records, especially books, and lived in a constant state of hopeless clutter -- no doubt a big part of the reason he had such trouble picking up and moving. I was taken aback at one point when he was at Contex and I noticed the title, How to Work for a Jerk -- but I already owned the same title.

He liked assembly code, working "close to the machine," and his favorite programming stories were clever optimizations. At one point I was taken with the ideal of "simple and elegant." He came back with: "but why make something simple and elegant when you can make it complex and wonderful." Not really the words of a first-rate engineer, but he made a marvelous mentor, and a fine friend. One of the sweetest, most generous people I've ever known.

I'm really staggered that we've lost him.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Music Week

Music: Current count 28690 [28650] rated (+40), 392 [376] unrated (+16).

Did almost nothing last week but listen, all jazz except for a couple items Phil Overeem recommended in tweets, only three albums coming from my recently expanding CD queue. The majority (22+5/40) of the records were Clean Feed/Shhpuma releases I never got in the mail -- I just brought up their 2017 releases pages and found it all on Napster, so easy enough. Nothing bad or especially good there: high was two B+(***), low three B. I rather expected more given that I had previously logged six A- records on Clean Feed (three on CD, three streamed). I don't believe this includes their September releases (I have some email on such, but lately they've gotten into making life difficult).

I did manage a push forward on compiling the Jazz Guide(s) last week. Up to John Hébert in the Jazz Post-2000 file (39%), which brings the post-2000 guide to 1140 pages. I was at 29% a week ago, so if I keep up the slog I still have six weeks to go (plus the groups I've shunted to the side). I'm still estimating it will hit 1500 pages, although the estimating formula I've been using shows it a bit shorter (1375, down from 1425, but that doesn't account for group entries).


By the way, some very bad political news since yesterday's already grim Roundup: John McCain announced he will "regrettably" vote for the Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal (see Arizona Governor Backs O'care Repeal, Likely Securing McCain's and Flake's Votes). The Graham-Cassidy bill is in many ways even worse than the previous Repeal/Replace bills, reminding us that as with the House bills, the key to getting more Republican support is to make the legislation even more vicious.

Perhaps even more disturbing is this report: U.S. warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with North Korea. I think the last time that precise headline was used was 1914: "Austria-Hungary warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with Serbia." By the way, it was Rex Tillerson delivering the threat. Isn't he supposed to be the adult in the Trump playpen? Slightly less ominous but still way past the cusp of sanity, there's a picture of Trump and Netanyahu shaking hands under the title Trump on Withdrawing From Iran Nuclear Deal: 'You Will See Very Soon'.

Of course, we've seen plenty of hints already of these things, but it's part of human nature to discount worst-case scenarios.


New records rated this week:

  • Alfjors: Demons 1 (2015 [2017], Shhpuma, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chino Amobi: Paradiso (2017, NON): [r]: B
  • Michaël Attias Quartet: Nerve Dance (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chamber 4: City of Light (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Zack Clarke: Random Acts of Order (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kaja Draksler Octet: Gledalec (2016 [2017], Clean Feed, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day Quartet: On Parade in Parede (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn: Ljubljana (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B
  • João Hasselberg & Pedro Branco: From Order to Chaos (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Honest John: International Breakthrough (2015-16 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Humcrush: Enter Humcrush (2014-15 [2017], Shhpuma): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kokotab: Flying Heart (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Luis Lopes: Love Song (2015 [2016], Shhpuma): [r]: B
  • Tony Malaby/Mat Maneri/Daniel Levin: New Artifacts (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Luís José Martins: Tentos -- Invenções E Encantamentos (2017, Shhpuma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Meridian Trio: Triangulum (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mind Games [Angelika Niescier/Denman Maroney/James Ilgenfritz/Andrew Drury]: Ephemera Obscura (2013 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • MIR 8: Perihelion (2017, Shhpuma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jonah Parzen-Johnson: I Try to Remember Where I Come From (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mario Pavone: Vertical (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cochonnerie (2015 [2017], Aerophonic): [cd]: A-
  • Dave Rempis: Lattice (2017, Aerophonic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • ROVA Saxophone Quartet/Kyle Bruckmann/Henry Kaiser: Steve Lacy's Saxophone Special Revisited (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vitor Rua and the Metaphysical Angels: Do Androids Dream of Electric Guitars? (2017, Clean Feed, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rune Your Day: Rune Your Day (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Angelica Sanchez Trio: Float the Edge (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Selva: The Selva (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet: Not Bound (2016 [2017], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • Tommy Smith: Embodying the Light: A Dedication to John Coltrane (2017, Spartacus): [r]: A-
  • Wadada Leo Smith/Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii/Ikue Mori: Aspiration (2016 [2017], Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • David Stackenäs: Bricks (2013 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rain Sultanov: Inspired by Nature (2017, Ozella): [r]: B+(**)
  • Trespass Trio: The Spirit of Pitesti (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Vincent Ahehehinnou: Best Woman (1978 [2017], Analog Africa): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Warsaw) 2012 (2012 [2013], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • Mario Pavone: Sharpeville (1985 [2000], Playscape): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mario Pavone Nu Trio: Remembering Thomas (1999, Knitting Factory Works): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mario Pavone/Michael Musillami: Op.Ed (2001, Playscape): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mario Pavone Nu Trio/Quintet: Orange (2003, Playscape): [r]: B+(***)
  • Trevor Watts & Veryan Weston: At Ad Libitum (2013 [2015], ForTune): [bc]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Heart Knows (Fresh Sound New Talent): September 25
  • Collective Order: Vol. 2 (self-released): September 29
  • Corey Dennison Band: Night After Night (Delmark)
  • Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies Vol II (Accurate): October 20
  • Gordon Grdina Quartet: Inroads (Songlines)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4: Reminiscing in Tempo (Creative Nation Music): November 3
  • Dylan Jack Quartet: Diagrams (Creative Nation Music): September 22
  • Matt Mitchell: A Pouting Grimace (Pi): September 29
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Duets With Anthony Braxton (1976, Sackville/Delmark)
  • Ian O'Beirne's Slowbern Big Band: Dreams of Daedelus (self-released)
  • Chris Parker: Moving Forward Now (self-released): October 6
  • Tom Rainey Obbligato: Float Upstream (Intakt)
  • Irène Schweizer/Joey Baron: Live! (Intakt)
  • Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal (Rune Grammofon)
  • Lyn Stanley: The Moonlight Sessions: Volume Two (A.T. Music): October 6
  • Trio S: Somewhere Glimmer (Zitherine)
  • Tal Yahalom/Almog Sharvit/Ben Silashi: Kadawa (self-released)

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