Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Monday, March 2, 2020

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32856 [32823] rated (+33), 244 [245] unrated (-1).

[PS: Made some changes below, fixing a bad typo, and noting that Buttigieg (as well as Klobuchar) has endorsed Biden. Beto O'Rourke has also endorsed Biden.]

Might as well sweep up some loose ends missed from yesterday's Weekend Roundup, starting with Amy Klobuchar drops out of the 2020 presidential race. I didn't expect this until after Super Tuesday, where she still had a chance to win her home state, Minnesota. Instead, she's headed to Dallas to endorse Joe Biden. She may figure this "bold move" puts her in good stead to become Biden's VP pick, but I doubt there's a deal: the nomination is still pretty far off, so Biden needs to reserve his options, and she's really not that important.

When I started writing about Dylan Matthews' If anti-Bernie Democrats were serious, they'd unite around Joe Biden right now, it was still just a piece of armchair quarterbacking. I figured all the candidates had already sunk so many resources into Super Tuesday -- just three days after South Carolina, and tomorrow as I write -- that the sensible thing for all to do would be to let that play out. That Steyer, who had focused hard on South Carolina, saw his third-place finish as the end there wasn't a big surprise, but Buttigieg and Klobuchar never had a prayer in South Carolina, and could easily have waved away their inevitable failures there. (Buttigieg finished a respectable fourth there, with 8.25%, ahead of Warren's 7.06%. Admittedly, Klobuchar's 6th place 3.15% was a pretty poor showing.)

The main, and perhaps the only, reason candidates drop out of the presidential race is the money dries up. Steyer had his own money, so we can fairly assume he made his own decision. But Buttigieg and Klobuchar were dependent on donors, and big donors at that, so they were finished as soon as their donors' calculations drifted elsewhere. Indeed, both coupled their withdrawals with endorsements of Biden -- even though Buttigieg's donors seemed closer to Bloomberg, who having sunk a lot of money into Super Tuesday is still in the race. Still, part of the calculation here is recognition that Bloomberg has failed to establish himself as anywhere near as effective a candidate as Biden -- a pretty low bar. Assuming the polls are correct that Biden beats Bloomberg everywhere, you'll hear a lot next week about how Bloomberg split the "moderate" vote, putting pressure on him to drop out soon. After all, Bloomberg got into the race for fear that Biden would stumble. He was right that Biden did, but himself proved to be even more hapless.

In some circles, you'll also hear complaints about Warren splitting the progressive vote. (E.g., Sarah Jones: The most progressive thing Warren can do is leave the race.) It's certainly the case that if she can't win Massachusetts (and/or her native state of Oklahoma) it's hard to imagine where else she could win. While in theory she could still be a compromise pick at a deadlocked convention, I doubt that having lost everywhere is going to persuade delegates whose prime concern is nominating a candidate who can beat Trump. Still, I have to respect that she's not caving in on the eve of the big election -- even if all that shows is that her donors aren't as fickle as the ones who decided that Biden's 49% in South Carolina -- a state he's polled over 60% in most of last year -- makes him a juggernaut. And, frankly, her spirited evisceration of Bloomberg earns respect, even from those of us who prefer Sanders. Bloomberg may be trying to buy votes from the "moderate lane" but he's really just a "Never Trump" Republican, and his nomination would be the end of the Democratic Party as a source of hope for the vast majority of Americans.

We'll know more in a couple days. By the end of the week, the race may be down to just Sanders and Biden, to be decided over the next few months in large battleground states from New York to Illinois. Those split only slightly in favor of Clinton in 2016, with Clinton winning in party strongholds (like NYC and Chicago) and Sanders everywhere else. Sanders is better organized this year. Clinton and Biden have various tradeoffs, which don't necessarily favor one or the other.

I didn't write much about coronavirus yesterday, but we should stress one key point: while many health issues are non-contagious, and therefore even systemic failure only has piecemeal effects, this sort of contagious pandemic affects not just the individuals who get sick, but also the public that interacts with them. Therefore, this puts exceptional emphasis on public health. The US, where illness is most often seen as little more than an opportunity for business to exploit, is especially ill-prepared for this -- and would be even if the people who in charge of the public response weren't ridiculously incompetent, especially at the Trump-Pence level. (Nonetheless, I did feel it was premature to point out pieces like this one: Ryu Spaeth: The coronavirus is Trump's worst nightmare.

The virus has exposed another pretty major systemic weakness, starting with the stock market crash last week. For more on this, see Charlie Warzel: Coronavirus will test our new way of life. As Warzel explains, the search for extreme economic efficiency has left most businesses with fragile supply lines, so local disruptions quickly hit other locations, or even become global shortages.

I expected to find more pieces on the prevalence of "irritable mental gestures" at this year's CPAC, but most must have already vanished in the blogroll scrolls. Here's one I missed, touching on themes I did notice: Osita Nwanevu: At CPAC, the socialists are coming to get you.

Back to music, an exceptional number of A- records this week, all (but one) in the "new music" domain. Three came from my queue (Kenny Barron, Al Gold, TorbjÖrn Zetterberg). One was a leftover from December 2019 that only showed up in Dave Sumner's January edition of The best jazz on Bandcamp. There is quite a bit of back catalog by Muriel Grossmann, so I should probably search further, but it's also possible that Llorenç Barceló's organ is what made the difference this time. Guitarist Ross Hammond was known to me, but looks like he has a bunch of records I've also missed.

Of the others, the late rapper Mac Miller's swansong is the biggest surprise, and the only record here that's been widely praised. (Well, further down the list there's Grimes, and further still Destroyer, 070 Shake, J Hus, and Beatrice Dillon.) The Evan Parker/Paul Lytton duo is the third straight A- from Intakt -- but the Tim Berne Snakeoil, despite the return of Marc Ducret from his best-ever period, didn't quite make it four straight. I suppose I should have resisted Waco Brothers' retreads, but couldn't. Stuck in my brain ever since: "$ Bill the Cowboy." [PS: Only after my initial draft did I figure out that these are reissues instead of remakes.]

I did an update to Robert Christgau's website last week, then didn't get around to making a public announcement (beyond the one on the website itself), or even my promised update to the "tech" mailing list. Added to the website are all the pieces from And It Don't Stop subscription newsletter. We had always planned on adding them sooner or later, but it proved difficult to nail down just when (even after I went ahead and did it). As subscribers know, some content there is restricted to those who pay for it ($5 per month), and some is free. I believe you can subscribe to just get the free stuff, but haven't tested that. The restricted material is primarily the new Consumer Guides, as they demand by far the most work to research and write, so it was felt that they should be withheld for a fairly long period, so subscribers get a sense of exclusivity for their money. The number they came up with is eight months, so I locked that in to the Consumer Guide columns. It was also (eventually) decided to embargo the free material for one month, but that happened after my update, so what got through is already unlocked. In the future, I'll apply the one-month lock on free articles, but not on Xgau Sez, because it's easiest (for now) just to plug it into the pre-existing unlocked framework.

A couple more technical details. I added an And It Don't Stop menu selection under "Writings," which leads you to a directory where most of the free articles reside (exceptions are Xgau Sez, 2019 Dean's List, and Consumer Guides (currently stubs, which will unlock when the time comes). I added a feature to the directory index code to pick up descriptions (copied from the article subheds) and add them to the listing, which should make it easier to identify articles. It also adds a HMTL "meta description" declaration, which may help Google (and others) with their indexing. The same format could be used for adding "meta keywords" declarations, but I'm not doing that yet. The changed code is commonly used throughout the site, so one could go back through the thousand-plus articles and use it to add descriptions and/or keywords -- a daunting but not impossible task. (One reason I did it here was that Christgau had already written text that I could use for the purpose.)

I've also added And It Don't Stop entries to the Bibliography, which gives you a serial index by date. Long ago I had planned to eventually replace these flat files with database queries, which would be more flexible for searching by date, publication, maybe even subject or keywords. Never did that, and didn't even bother imposing the five-year chunk rule to what used to be "2010-2014" (but now is "2010-" and continuing to grow). We would be better off if we did all of the indexing from the database, but I keep dragging my feet on the project, so it remains conceptual.

I haven't added the new consumer guide entries to the database yet. It appears as though they, too, have to be timelocked, so anything I did now wouldn't be visible to you for another 4-5 months. The obvious way to do this is to modify the SQL code to pull out the "ent_date" table entry, then write some PHP code to drop the review and grade on entries less than eight months old. I'd have to track down all of the places where this code exists (probably 10-20), standardize the tables, and pass them through a filter to enforce the timelock. Not hard, but I haven't yet finished converting all of the database code to work with PHP 7, so that needs to be done at the same time.

One thing I'd like to do at the same time is to grab a list of newsletter subscribers and use it to validate users, so subscribers can see the latest reviews on the website as well as via And It Don't Stop. Substack doesn't seem to have any useful API for this, so I'd have to hack something less dynamic. Not impossible, but a fair bit of learning curve (e.g., it would require use of cookies, something I've avoided so far).

It bothers me that I've made so little progress on this project. The last few weeks have been especially depressing, extending several months of lethargy. I keep thinking that once I finish the weekly posts, I'll get to doing some real work. Will see what happens tomorrow.

New records reviewed this week:

070 Shake: Modus Vivendi (2020, GOOD Music/Def Jam): Hip-hop singer-songwriter Danielle Balbuena, from New Jersey, first album (after a mixtape and an EP). B+(**)

Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band: Just Like Moby Dick (2020, Paradise of Bachelors): Singer-songwriter from the western fringe of country, born in Wichita, grew up in Lubbock (title of his 1979 album, probably his best), has a reputation as a visual artist as well as over a dozen albums. B+(***)

Kenny Barron/Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake: Without Deception (2019 [2020], Dare2): Piano-bass-drums trio, on Holland's label, crediting him as producer. Credits favor Barron 4-2, with covers of Ellington, Monk, Mulgrew Miller, and Sumi Tonooka -- pianists all (Miller was Barron's partner for The Art of Piano Duo: Live, and Tonooka was one of his assistants at Rutgers, and a brilliant pianist in her own right). One of those rare piano trios where everything seems just right. A- [cd] [03-06]

Antoine Berjeaut: Moving Cities (2017 [2019], I See Colors): French trumpet player, third album, cover proclaims "produced by Makaya McCraven." The drummer also share composition credits, and many sources give him top-line co-credit, merited far beyond his beats. B+(**)

Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Fantastic Mrs. 10 (2019 [2020], Intakt): Alto saxophonist, debut in 1979, released four albums on ECM with this group -- Oscar Noriega (clarinets), Matt Mitchell (piano), Ches Smith (drums), replacing Ryan Ferreira with Marc Ducret at guitar (Ducret played with Berne on many 1991-2007 albums). A bit too much clutter for my taste, but a lot of talent, with a few amazing stretches. B+(***)

Calle Loiza Jazz Project: There Will Never Be Another You (2019 [2020], self-released): Latin jazz group, from Puerto Rico, reunites a quartet first formed in 1990 -- listed first is either pianist Mark Monts de Oca or drummer Jimmy Rivera -- with ample reinforcements. B+(**) [cd]

Chicago Farmer: Flyover Country (2020, Chicago Farmer): Folksinger-songwriter Cody Dieckhoff, grew up in the small farming community of Delavan, Illinois, wound up unassimilated in Chicago, covers Hank Williams (an eery "Ramblin Man"), cites John Prine as his model. Seventh album, including a live one from 2018 that Christgau recommended and I was unable to find. Takes pride in dirty uniforms, disparages $13 beer, invokes the Mississippi Delta. A-

Destroyer: Have We Met (2020, Merge): Vancouver BC band, principally singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, twelfth album since 1996, who also lurks in the background of New Pornographers. Some nice touches here and elsewhere, but ultimately never enough to make me care. B+(*)

Beatrice Dillon: Workaround (2017-19 [2020], Pan): British electronica, mostly beats ("a hypnotic series of polymetric permutations at a fixed 1150bpm tempo"). B+(**)

Yelena Eckemoff: Nocturnal Animals (2018 [2020], L&H Production, 2CD): Russian pianist, got a good education in classical music before moving to US in 1991, where her interests eventually turned to jazz (especially from 2009 forward). Recorded this one in Oslo with all-stars Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen on drums. B+(**) [cd]

Nick Finzer: Cast of Characters (2019 [2020], Outside In Music): Trombonist, from Rochester, based in New York (although he seems to have a connection to UNT), several albums, this a sleek postbop sextet with Lucas Pino (reeds), guitar, piano, bass, and drums. B+(*)

Al Gold: Al Gold's Paradise (2019 [2020], self-released): Bluesman from New Jersey, plays guitar and mandolin, sings, writes his own songs. Don't know much about him other than that he organizes block parties and jams. Sounds old and gritty enough for the blues, even with his light touch. Roped some jazz musicians into his project, including Dave Stryker and Jared Gold. A- [03-06]

Grimes: Miss Anthropocene (2020, 4AD): Canadian pop singer-songwriter Claire Boucher, born in Vancouver, studied in Montreal, fifth studio album since 2010. Hard to get a firm handle on this, as it gets hard and even a bit noisy toward the end, but is likely to grow on you. B+(***)

Muriel Grossmann: Reverence (2019, RR Gems): Saxophonist (soprano/alto/tenor), born in Paris, grew up in Austria, based in Ibiza (Spain), eleventh album since 2007. Quintet with guitar, organ, bass, and drums: long, sinewy groove pieces with cosmic dust, reminiscent of Coltrane at his (or her) most spiritual (do I detect a bit of uncredited harp?). A- [bc]

Ross Hammond/Oliver Lake/Mike Pride: Our Place on the Wheel (2020, Prescott): Guitarist, more than two dozen albums since 2008 -- I've heard less than a third, my favorite 2013's Cathedrals. Credited with steel guitar here, he plays a low key, almost ambient, blues, with alto sax shading and harmonizing, and percussion accents. A-

The Heliocentrics: Infinity of Now (2020, Madlib Invazion): London jazz-funk collective, core members Malcolm Catto (drums), Jake Ferguson (bass), and Jack Yglesias (keybs); original inspiration was Sun Ra, but they've adapted to key guests (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius, Melvin Van Peebles) and mostly recorded on world/funk labels (Madlib's sole credit here is executive producer). I have my doubts about the vocals, but the instrumental pieces are pretty impressive, especially the closer, "People Wake Up." B+(***)

J Hus: Big Conspiracy (2020, Black Butter): British rapper Momodou Lamin Jallow, mother a Fula from Gambia, second album. B+(**)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: The Music of Wayne Shorter (2015 [2020], Blue Engine, 2CD): Big band, working their way through ten Shorter compositions, arranged by nine band members (Sherman Irby doubled up), with guest solos by Shorter himself. The latter stand out, but the band is uncharacteristically out of sorts. B-

Dawda Jobarteh: I Met Her by the River (2018, Stern's Africa): Singer-songwriter from Gambia, based in Copenhagen, plays kora, opens with an instrumental. B

Mike McGinniss/Elias Bailey/Vinnie Sperrazza: Time Is Thicker (2020, Open Stream Music): Clarinet/bass/drums, five joint originals, four covers, ending with a sprightly "Just One of Those Things." B+(**) [cd]

Mac Miller: Circles (2018 [2020], Warner): Rapper Malcolm McCormick, from Pittsburgh, overdosed a month after his fifth album dropped, was working on this at the time, finished off by Jon Brion. Started out as some kind of redneck rapper, sung more later, dulling his image, but nothing prepared me for these relaxed, easy going grooves. He never made it as a soul man, but somehow turned into a pretty attractive ghost. A-

John Moreland: LP5 (2020, Old Omens): Country singer-songwriter, born in Texas, based in Tulsa, fifth album with just his own name (after two with the Black Gold Band, one with the Dust Bowl Souls). I liked the last two a lot, but this seems a bit understated, or maybe (judging from the title) uninspired. B+(**)

Tami Neilson: Chicka Boom! (2020, Outside): Born in Canada, moved to New Zealand in 2007, singer-songwriter on the rockabilly side of country, fifth album, third with a bang in the title. Ten short songs, 27:51. Half rock hard, half aim for deep. B+(**)

Never Weather: Blissonance (2019 [2020], Ridgeway): Drummer Dillon Vado, grew up in San Jose, played in Rata-Tet and Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, first album for this quintet, maybe for Vado as leader. With sax (Aaron Wolf), trumpet (Josh D. Reed), bass (Tyler Harlow), and guitar (Justin Rock). Defines blissonance as "when an otherwise blissful experience in nature is disrupted by the recognition that one is having an adverse impact on that place they are ejoying by being there." In other words, postmodern irony. B+(*)

Evan Parker/Paul Lytton: Collective Calls (Revisited) (Jubilee) (2019 [2020], Intakt): Duo, tenor sax and drums, title refers back to their 1972 duo, Collective Calls (Urban) (Two Microphones). Nothing jarring here, just remarkable interaction cultivated over half a century. A-

Dan Rosenboom: Absurd in the Anthropocene (2020, Gearbox): California trumpet player, born in Berkeley, teaches in Pasadena, ranges from avant to fusion to soundtrack work, signed to a London label he tries his hand at their crossover funk and damn near nails it. B+(**)

Torbjörn Zetterberg & Den Stora Fragan: Are You Happy (2019 [2020], Moserobie): Swedish bassist, lots of side credits since 2005, fourth album leading this group: originally a sextet -- trumpet (Susana Silva Santos), trombone (Mats Ålekint), sax (Jonas Kullhammar), clarinet (Alberto Pinton), drums (Jon Fält) -- plus organ and more drums on two cuts. A- [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Terry Allen + Panhandle Mystery Band: Pedal Steel + Four Corners (1985-93 [2019], Paradise of Bachelors, 3CD): First piece fills a 35:32 side. The latter collects four slightly shorter works (25:46-28:57). Spoken word, interesting (albeit long-winded) stories, music ambient with the occasional Texas twist. B+(*)

Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972-1991) (1972-91 [2019], Analog Africa): Even before war tore the country apart near the end of this period, one of Africa's poorer and more mistreated countries, which doesn't make for a particularly vibrant music scene. Twelve tracks, most similar to Ethiopian with a lot of organ and a bit of Arabic influence, three from what's probably the nation's most famous band (Dur-Dur Band), two each from Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi, Bakaka Band, and Ilfin Band. Still, a most agreeable dance groove.

The John Tchicai Quartet: Live at the Stone (2007 [2020], Minus Zero): Danish tenor saxophonist, part of New York Art Quartet back in 1964, died in 2012. Returned to New York for this date, his pick up band: Garrison Fewell (guitar), Adam Lane (bass), Vijay Anderson (drums), with Steve Dalachinsky reading a poem. B+(*)

Waco Brothers: Resist! (1995-2005 [2020], Bloodshot): Mekon Jon Langford's Chicago bar band, motto "hard times call for hard country," twenty-five years since their debut. You'd think the times would help write a new batch of songs, but they decided to pick some old ones, sounding harder than ever. Lots to resist these days, but not them. A-

Old music:

Evan Parker/Agustí Fernández: The Voice Is One (2009 [2012], Not Two): Tenor sax and piano, recorded in Barcelona, often dazzling. [4/6 tracks] B+(***)

Evan Parker & Joe McPhee: What/If/They Both Could Fly (2012 [2013], Rune Grammofon): Duo set from Konsberg Jazzfestival, Parker on tenor sax, McPhee starts on pocket trumpet but also plays soprano sax (in what sounds like an homage to Parker). Title lists the three pieces, total 39:13. Two giants, cautiously circling each other. B+(***)

Waco Brothers: Waco Express: Live and Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern Chicago (2008, Bloodshot): As befits a great bar band, a hot live sampler. B+(***)

Waco Brothers & Paul Burch: The Great Chicago Fire (2012, Bloodshot): Burch is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter with more than a dozen albums since 1996. Title cut is hot enough, rest not their sharpest. Ends with a raved-up Dylan cover. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • François Carrier/Tomek Gadecki/Marcik Bozek/Michel Lambert: Wide (FMR)
  • Day Dream: Originals (Corner Store Jazz) [03-27]
  • Alex Goodman: Impressions in Blue and Red (Outside In Music, 2CD) [03-13]
  • Hayoung Lyou: Metamorphosis (Endectomorph Music) [04-17]
  • Shunzo Ohno: Runner (Pulsebeats) [04-03]
  • Carl Saunders: Jazz Trumpet (Summit)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Joe Biden gets his first primary win in South Carolina, winning by a larger margin than polls had indicated. With 99.91% reporting, Biden had 48.45%, Bernie Sanders 19.91%, Tom Steyer 11.34%, Pete Buttigieg 8.24%, Elizabeth Warren 7.06%, Amy Klobuchar 3.15%, and Tuli Gabbard 1.28%. He will have three days to enjoy the win before Super Tuesday next week.

Before the election, Nate Silver posited three possible Super Tuesday projections estimates based on how well Biden does in South Carolina. According to the "Biden wins big" scenario, Biden is expected to win Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas next week, with Klobuchar favored in Minnesota, and Sanders ahead in California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Utah, Maine, and Vermont. Bloomberg will be on the ballot then, but Silver doesn't expect him to win any states. His best bets seem to be in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Virginia (with 28-25% share of delegates). That would leave Sanders with 39% of committed delegates, Biden 29%, Bloomberg 13%, Warren 10%, Buttigieg 6%, Klobuchar 3%. Sanders best upset prospects are in Virginia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas (where he's led several polls; see NBC News polls: Sanders has the edge in Texas, is tied with Biden in North Carolina).

Following his big win in Nevada, a bunch of Bernie Sanders pieces, including a lot of hysteria from Democratic Party elites and "Never Trumpers," and a little more on the race:

  • Zack Beauchamp:

    • Pete Buttigieg drops out of the presidential race. Given how little time there is between South Carolina's primary and "Super Tuesday," and how much of an outlier South Carolina is compared to other Democratic primaries, I'm surprised that anyone would fold up their campaign between the two, but we now have two candidates (Steyer and Buttigieg) doing just that. Given that Steyer was self-funded, you can be pretty sure that his decision was his own. It makes some sense: in the rich egomaniac lane, he was certain to get crowded out by the even richer Michael Bloomberg, so at least he's exiting on a plateau. Buttigieg, however, came into the race as one of the poorest and least promising of candidates, and he's actually had a pretty remarkable run. He may have never had the money or oganization to run a national campaign, and his prospects weren't great, but he would certainly do better on Super Tuesday than he did in South Carolina, so why not give it a few more days? I have no doubt that the answer was that his donors pulled the plug, hoping to move his votes to Biden or Bloomberg in a frantic effort to stop Sanders. I never shared " the level of contempt directed toward Buttigieg from Sanders supporters," but I do think he hurt himself and his future credibility by going so far out of his way to badmouth Sanders. I think he could have tried to bridge the gap between business and its many victims, in a way which would help reduce the social toll while still growing a healthy economy. He could, in short, have made himself seem concerned and committed, as well as cautious and pragmatic, but he didn't. Rather, he let himself be a spokesperson for a bunch of rich assholes who discarded him as soon as he became inconvenient. As Molly Ivans put it, "lie down with dogs, get up with fleas." [PS: I finally got around to reading Masha Gessen: The queer opposition to Pete Buttigieg, explained, and found I couldn't care less. Her conclusion, that "he is profoundly, essentially conservative," explains why his gayness turned out to be so boring.]

    • What David Brooks gets wrong about Bernie Sanders: "The New York Times columnist is a perfect exemplar of the baseless centrist freakout about Sanders's supposed authoritarianism." Brooks' column is titled No, not Sanders, not ever, where the guy who got rich voicing conservative attacks on liberals declares "I'll cast my lot with democratic liberalism," which for him means anyone but Sanders. Beauchamp answers by quoting a Jedediah Britton-Purdy tweet:

      The Sanders campaign is an effort to make real the principles of personal dignity, autonomy, free association, plurality, & self-development that liberalism prizes. To say the opposite sells criminally short both liberalism and Sanders.

  • Jamelle Bouie: The case for Bernie Sanders: "Despite his age, he promises a true break from the past." Part of a series, with: Michelle Goldberg on Elizabeth Warren; Ross Douthat on Joe Biden; Frank Bruni on Pete Buttigieg; David Leonhardt on Amy Klobuchar; and David Brooks shilling for Mike Bloomberg. Bouie also wrote: The Trumpian liberalism of Michael Bloomberg: "He may be running as the anti-Trump, but when it comes to the politics of racial control, there is a resemblance."

  • Zak Cheney-Rice: Fear powered Joe Biden's South Carolina victory.

    Rather, it suggests another calculation at work. There's a yawning chasm between black people's recognition that we deserve better from the political order and our belief that elected officials will deliver it. More likely than not, Biden didn't win South Carolina because he built the best case for himself. He won because black people have seen what it looks like when he fails them. Saturday was not a glowing endorsement of his candidacy. If anything, it was a concession to a politics of fear.

  • Thomas L Friedman: Dems, you can defeat Trump in a landslide: The idiot-savant of the New York Times argues for a "national unity" ticket, combining Sanders and Bloomberg, with cabinet-level positions for everyone from Mitt Romney (Commerce Secretary) and William McRaven (Defense Secretary) to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (UN Ambassador). Once again, Friedman shows off his boundless faith in the benevolence of the rich and famous. I wonder if he realizes that the track record for pairing antagonists on the presidential ticket has a pretty checkered record: especially Lincoln-Johnson and Harrison-Tyler, where death elevated unpopular vice-presidents who were politically opposite to their mandate, but I can think of other Friedmanesque dream tickets that could have gone as badly (e.g., Jefferson-Burr, Jackson-Calhoun).

  • Masha Gessen: What Bernie Sanders should have said about socialism and totalitarianism in Cuba: Actually, I don't have any problem with what Sanders said, except that I might have been more impolitic in pointing out that Castro started with one of the most corrupt and savagely inequal nations in Latin America -- a state can can be traced to its last-in-the-hemisphere abolition of slavery and to colonialism by American economic interests -- and struggled heroically to fashion one of the most egalitarian ones, despite constant hostility from the US, including the imposition of crippling blockades and sanctions. I'd also point out that America's hostility had nothing to do with concern for the civil or human rights of the Cuban people, and everything to do with spite engendered by Castro's expropriation of American business property and the threat international companies felt from the existence of the revolutionary government. I'd also point out that anti-communism in America has always been dictated by business interests, and has been especially effective at undermining unions and the left inside as well as beyond US borders. It also bugs me when emigres from the Soviet bloc have so completely internalized cold war propaganda that they continue to use it reflexively to promote militarist, anti-left, and anti-democratic political agendas.

  • Sarah Jones: Who's afraid of Bernie Sanders?

    To deny Sanders victory if he conjures up a plurality rather than a clear majority is to make Sanders's evaluation of the party its epitaph. Democrats would confirm to the public that the party isn't working for anyone who isn't well-educated and well-off -- and that they don't really want to change. They would damage not only their credibility but the lives of the nation's poor, for whom another Trump term would be catastrophic.

  • Akela Lacy: Bloomberg has hired the vice chairs of the Texas and California Democratic parties.

  • Branko Marcetic: Joe Biden has a long history of giving Republicans what they want: "For Republicans, Joe Biden has long been the ideal negotiating partner -- because he's so willing to cave in on most anything Republicans want." A excerpt from the author's forthcoming book, Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.

  • Dylan Matthews: If anti-Bernie Democrats were serious, they'd unite around Joe Biden right now. This is basically a taunt, but ego aside (and sure, that's a big aside) Bloomberg got into the race because he doubted Biden's up to the task. Biden's first win doesn't prove otherwise, but his comeback does seem to reflect a belated recognition that the other "center lane" candidates no longer look promising -- as Jonathan Chait argues: Joe Biden now the only Democrat who can stop Bernie Sanders. Also: Heading into Super Tuesday, Biden gets big funding boost, although "big" here is still way short of what Sanders is raising, let alone how much Bloomberg is spending. [PS: Buttigieg dropping out looks like his donors pulled the rug out from under him to move votes to Biden. By the way, the ducks are lining up: Wasserman Schultz endorses Joe Biden for president.]

  • Media Matters:

  • Ella Nilsen: Bernie Sanders posts a record $46.5 million February fundraising haul.

  • Alex Pareene: The selling of the Democratic primary. [PS: Pareene tweet: "my no-irony take is that Biden would've won in 2016 but he's incoherent now and it would be deeply irresponsible to nominate him."]

  • Steve Phillips: Bernie Sanders can beat Trump. Here's the math.

  • Charles P Pierce: The biggest challenge for the Sanders campaign is its own premature triumphalism. Sample bloviage:

    Bernie Sanders has surrounded himself with people so utterly pure in their own opinion of themselves that they object to compromises that they themselves made. . . . Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. He is an independent who quadrennially cosplays as a Democrat because he wants to run for president. For this, he should be eternally grateful that a) nobody makes the point that at least Ralph Nader had the stones to be an independent and run as an independent; and b) that he is running now and not back in the days when there really was a Democratic establishment that would have been able to crush him like a bug. . . . It turns out that many of the Bernie stans can be more insufferable in victory than they were in defeat. I say this in all love and Christian fellowship: Bernie Sanders and his more fervent followers and the many sanctimonious ratfckers who run his campaign can fck right off.

    It's hard to tell where the various smear campaigns against Sanders supporters start and end (if indeed they have any limits at all). I'm not involved in the campaign, and I doubt I know anyone who is, but it's hard not to feel personally insulted by such blanket slanders. Makes me feel like one of Hillary Clinton's deplorables, which I guess we were even before she took aim at Trump's minions.

    Admittedly, I'm less bothered when Pierce applies his vocabulary to something like What a day it's been for the paranoid little terrarium that is the modern conservative mind, or Trump's coronavirus press conference was the apotheosis of 40 years of Republican philosophy.

  • Leonard Pitts: Sanders' most rabid fans on the left no improvement over Trump's on the right. Pitts is nationally syndicated, and the Wichita Eagle runs his weekly column as its sole token liberal alternative to Cal Thomas, Marc Thiessen, and a host of other reactionary cranks. This is the most disappointing column I've ever read from him, as he casts even wider shade on Sanders' supporters than Pierce did (while also reminding us that Sanders is not a real Democrat). A self-appointed moderate, Pitts likes to assume that left and right are symmetrical, so he asserts that "Sanders could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters" -- Trump has actually made that boast about his supporters, many of whom are into guns and violence. But more basically, you don't get to the left without developing the critical and moral faculties to question the use and abuse of power and wealth, and that makes it impossible to blindly follow anyone -- for examples of Der Führerprinzip, look to the right.

  • Andrew Prokop: Tom Steyer drops out of the presidential race: "It turns out Democratic voters were not seeking their own billionaire to save them from Trump." One might argue that they were waiting for a richer, more obnoxious billionaire. The jury's still out on Bloomberg, but Steyer's campaign casts doubts on how easily one rich guy can buy a primary.

  • Robert Reich: Bernie Sanders' plans may be expensive but inaction would cost much more.

  • David Roberts: America's crisis of trust and the one candidate who gets it. He identifies a core problem: "how to break out of the doom loop and get on a trajectory of better governance and rising trust." His one candidate is Warren, "on the right track, substantively," but "on the wrong track, politically."

  • Alex Shephard: Bernie Sanders is winning his war on cable news. My primal fear is that the so-called liberal media, much more than the hapless DNC, is going to go all-out to sabotage Sanders' candidacy. For example:

    There's little love for Bernie Sanders on the television news circuit. After his landslide win in Saturday's Nevada caucuses, MSNBC host Chris Matthews compared the victory to Nazi Germany's successful invasion of France in 1940. Also on MSNBC, James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, deemed it a big win for Vladimir Putin. On CBS, former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel fretted that Democrats were making a suicidal choice in going for Sanders. Donna Brazile, the former Democratic National Committee chair turned Fox News contributor, and Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton administration press secretary and current CNN contributor, were irked by a Sanders tweet that read: "I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us." . . . Trump has a cable news channel in his pocket -- Sanders does not. His campaign has responded by building a media infrastructure that could withstand attacks from mainstream networks. So far, it's worked wonders.

  • Andrew Sullivan: Is Bernie the American version of Jeremy Corbyn? Gulp.

  • Paul Waldman: Why Bernie Sanders drives so many people out of their minds.

For whatever it's worth, my take on the presidential election is that as long as it remains a referendum on Trump and his Republican cohort, any at-all-reasonable Democratic candidate (which includes Sanders and Biden but maybe not Bloomberg) will beat Trump. He is, after all, very unpopular, both as a person and even more so for his issues and policies. The only way Trump wins is if he can make the campaign be about his opponent (as he did in 2016), and find in that opponent flaws that he can exploit to make "persuadable" swing-votes fear that opponent more than they are disgusted with him. This will be harder for him to do this time around, because he has his own track record to defend, and unless you're very rich and/or very bigoted, he hasn't done much for you.

On the other hand, all Democratic candidates have tics and flaws that a savvy campaigner can exploit. We can debate endlessly on which "flaws" are most vulnerable and which are most easily defensible. My own theory is that "red baiting," which we've seen a huge burst of this past week (and not just at CPAC or on Fox, where the approach is so feverish it's likely to be extended against Bloomberg), is a spent force, but one Republicans won't be able to resist. On the other hand, Sanders is relatively secure against the charges of corruption and warmongering that were so effective against Hillary Clinton, and could easily be recycled against Biden.

On the other hand, I do have some sympathy for "down ballot" candidates for Congress who worry that having a ticket led by a candidate with such sharply defined views as Sanders has will hurt their chances in swing districts. At some point, Sanders needs to pivot to acknowledge and affirm the diversity of opinions within the Democratic Party. A model here might be Ronald Reagan's "11th commandment" (never speak ill of a fellow Republican). That didn't stop Reagan from orchestrating a conservative takeover of the party, but it make it possible for the few surviving liberals in the party to continue, and it made it possible for Republicans to win seats that hard-line conservatives couldn't.

A Sanders nomination would be the most radical shift in the Democratic Party since 1896, when populist William Jennings Bryan got the nod to succeed arch-conservative Grover Cleveland. Bryan lost that election badly, and lost two of the next three, partly as a result of Democratic Party sabotage, partly because Theodore Roosevelt outflanked him with a more modern progressivism. My generation is more likely to recall George McGovern's epic loss in 1972, also occasioned by deep splits within the Party bosses, but McGovern and 1968 nominee Hubert Humphrey had very similar backgrounds and programs -- their big divide was over the Vietnam War. Nixon did a very effective job of getting McGovern portrayed as a far-out radical, while covering up his own negatives (at least until after the election -- he wound up resigning in disgrace).

Trump will certainly try to do the same to Sanders (or for that matter to any other Democrat), and Republicans have been remarkably successful at manipulating media and motivating their voters, so one has to much to worry about. Indeed, I've been fretting a lot this past week, and will continue to do so until the election is over.

Some scattered links this week:

Monday, February 24, 2020

Music Week

February archive (finished).

Music: Current count 32823 [32778] rated (+45), 245 [242] unrated (+3).

Moving into 2020, starting with my most mechanical tasks. The usual ones are the Year 2020 file, with rated records plus my physical CD queues, and Music Tracking 2020, with additional records I've heard of. The latter is longer than in previous years at this time, because I've created a Metacritic Aggregate file. The latter will eventually morph into an EOY Aggregate, much like 2019.

Last year I started adding in points for 80+ reviews as collated by AOTY. I've made a couple of adjustments this year: the grades are marked by '*' (instead of '+'), and I've added A:i/j to most lines, where i = the average critic score, and j = the number of reviews. While this information is useful in itself, it also helps me locate new reviews/grade changes. AOTY tracks 50+ publications, although several don't have any entries thus far this year. I've included all except for several metal magazines (Metal Hammer, Metal Injection, Metal Sucks), basically because the odds of finding anything of interest to me there are approximately nil. (Nonetheless, 18 metal albums have crept into the list, as many other publications cover at least some metal. I haven't ventured beyond AOTY yet, other than to add my grades and those of Robert Christgau (counted as before: A = 5, A- = 4, down to * = 1).

I had done something like this several years ago, but stopped as it got to be too much work, but resumed last year. Using AOTY helped simplify the work, compared to looking at each publication myself. But given that AOTY has a fairly narrow rock bias, I also factored in a few other sources, especially for jazz (Downbeat, All About Jazz, Free Jazz Collective). I expect I'll get around to doing that sooner or later. Even as it stands, I have a fairly coherent view of what's new in 2020. A few of those records appear in the list below, and I'll check out more in coming weeks. I'm not fully committed to keeping this up, but mechanical tasks like this have been my default fallback lately.

Still, the two best new releases this week didn't clearly emerge from AOTY lists. Rather, they appeared in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide (subscriber only). By the way, I have all of the free content from And It Don't Stop ready to post on Christgau's website, but have been hung up by indecision about whether we should force people to go to the subscription newsletter to find the pieces. We've decided that the Consumer Guides will be impounded for eight months, and that's demotivated me from adding the reviews to the CG database. I'd like to come up with some kind of scheme where subscribers get a cookie which would allow them to see embargoed entries in the database, but that will require some new code, and I don't have a scheme yet to validate the subscriber list.

Maybe I'll do some work on this and other website projects this week. Finally opening some time up.

This is the last Monday of February, so time to wrap up the Streamnotes: February 2020 archive. Review count is short compared to most months (106), because I extended January, and last Monday falls relatively early this month. More significant statistic is that I only got to 31 new releases (27 of new music), only 2 of which hit A-. That could be one of the lowest totals ever. On the other hand, a lot of old jazz this month, especially from Duke Ellington. I spread out from there, starting with artists who covered Ellington (and Billy Strayhorn) songs, band alumni (like Cat Anderson and Paul Gonsalves), and followed related links (like Fresh Sound reissues). Now that my rush to hear as many 2019 releases as possible is over, it's nice to spread out a bit.

Following up from yesterday's Weekend Roudup, 100% reporting (see Vox's tallies) hasn't changed much. Amy Klobuchar clung onto her 5th place in both raw votes totals, but slipped to 6th in the top-line County Convention Delegates totals. Next stop is the South Carolina primary this Saturday (February 29). Biden has led all year -- 46.4% to 12.0% for Sanders back on May 29 -- but the race tightened a couple weeks ago (25.0% to 18.4%), with the most recent polls showing Biden winning by 1%, 4%, or 15%. The bigger contest will be on March 3 ("Super Tuesday") in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. Bloomberg will be on the ballot then, and has been heavily advertising in those states.

Here's an article that argues back against the electability assertions of "moderate" Democrats: Ibram X Kendi: When will moderates learn their lesson?

New records reviewed this week:

Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Life Goes On (2019 [2020], ECM): Piano/sax/electric bass trio, together 25 years, Bley the composer, past 80 now, her ear for melodies undiminished. Tasteful chamber jazz. B+(***)

Moses Boyd: Dark Matter (2020, Exodus): British drummer, best known for his jazz duo Binker Moses (with saxophonist Binker Golding), taps into electronica and grime as well as jazz. First solo album (or second if you count Moses Boyd Exodus). Range of material here, often not pitched as jazz, but sometimes the drummer can't help himself. B+(**)

Frank Colón: Latin Lounge (2019 [2020], Technoprimal Music): Percussionist, born in DC, grew up in Puerto Rico, moved back to DC for college, and wound up in New York. Has a couple albums, dozens of side credits. Pleasing groove music, more substantial than the title suggests. Vocal bits don't help, but are few and widely scattered. B+(**)

Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling (2020, ATO): Rock group out of Alabama and living in the real world, which they are none too happy about, but make a lot more sense than their blinkered and deranged forebears. A-

John Ellis and Andy Bragen: The Ice Siren (2016 [2020], Parade Light): Commissioned piece, originally performed in 2009. Ellis plays tenor sax and clarinets. Bragen wrote the libretto -- yes, this is some kind of opera ("epic narrative song cycle"), sung by Miles Griffith and Gretchen Parlato, with guitar, tuba, percussion, and strings. Not so bad when you pay close attention, but . . . B [03-20]

Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By (2020, Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath): Detroit rapper Marshall Mathers, eleventh studio album, realizes people are no longer interested in what he has to say, complains about that, but also writes his most striking original yarns in some time. Borrows his unifying concept from Alfred Hitchcock, who is sampled periodically, in a typically brilliant production with Dr. Dre. Runs 64:22 and seems longer, in no small part because it's so densely packed. A-

Georgia: Seeking Thrills (2020, Domino): British, surname Barnes, father co-founded electropop group Leftfield, started as a drummer, added synthesizers, second album. Reminds me of Madonna, but the genius part hasn't kicked in yet. B+(***)

Gilfema: Three (2019 [2020], Sounderscore): Guitarist from Benin Lionel Loueke, sings some, backed by Europeans on bass (Massimo Biolcati) and drums (Ferenc Nemeth). Third album together, idiosyncratic groove with a light touch. B+(*) [04-03]

Holy Fuck: Deleter (2020, Last Gang): Electropop band from Toronto, fifth album since 2005. With a lot of guitar in the mix, they're sounding a lot like New Order these days (but the genius part hasn't kicked in yet). B+(***)

Kesha: High Road (2020, Kemosabe): Pop singer-songwriter Kesha Sebert, fourth studio album, has some edge. B+(*)

Les Amazones D'Afrique: Amazones Power (2020, RealWorld): West African all-female supergroup, second album, after some shuffling the featured singers: Mamani Keïta, Rokie Koné, and Niariu. B+(**)

Valery Ponomarev Big Band: Live! Our Father Who Art Blakey: The Centennial (2019 [2020], Summit): Trumpet player, from Russia, moved to US in 1973, played with Art Blakey in the late 1970s. Big band, live tribute, songs from the Blakey (Silver, Shorter, Golson, "Caravan"). B

RJ & the Assignment: Hybrid Harmony (2019 [2020], self-released): Reginald Johnson, from Chicago, based in Las Vegas, plays keyboards, fourth album, quotes Monk for inspiration: "I say, play your own way. Don't play what the public wants." But he's not pushing any boundaries with his groove and vocals (four singer credits here). B [cd]

Gil Scott-Heron: We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven (2010-19 [2020], XL): Started in 1970 speaking over jazz/funk beats, a decade before rap was recognized as such, fading away after 1982, with a 1994 album, then 2010's I'm New Here, remixed in 2011 by Jamie XX as We're New Here. I found both of those albums overly cryptic, and haven't given him much thought since his 2011 death. Now comes another remix, with Chicago drummer McCraven sharpening up the funk and adding depth to the blues. B+(**)

Mark Segger Sextet: Lift Off (2019 [2020], 18th Note): Toronto-based "avant-chamber-jazz group formed in 2008," not sure this isn't their first record, and short at that: 8 tracks, 28:54. The three horns (Jim Lewis on trumpet, Heather Saumer trombone, Peter Lutek reeds) trashes the chamber-jazz concept, as if the drummer wasn't enough. But his fractured time is free and fertile, and he has musicians who make good use of it. B+(***)

Sergi Sirvent Octopussy Cats: Flax-Golden Tales (2017 [2019], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish pianist, impressed me early on but I lost track when the promos stopped coming. Octet, starts with a slow, lovely "Body and Soul," moves on to Shorter, Coltrane, Evans, Henderson, and Ellington, all richly textured. B+(**)

Dave Soldier: Zajal (2019 [2020], Mulatta): Plays guitar and keyboards here, violin and electronics elsewhere, seems closer to classical than to jazz although perhaps better thought of as a cosmopolitan eclectic (one recent project involved an orchestra of elephants). He composed these pieces, adding lyrics in Arabic, Hebrew, Romance, and Farsi from Andalusia before the dark ages of the Spanish Inquisition. B+(*) [cd]

Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (2020, Interscope): Australian group, Kevin Parker the main guy, often touted as psychedelic (no idea what that means), fourth studio album, has beat, texture, atmosphere. For a while I thought I could hear what others must be hearing. Then I found I didn't care. B+(*)

The Westerlies: Wherein Lies the Good (2018 [2020], Westerlies): New York-based brass quartet, two each trumpets and trombones, all originally from Seattle, first appeared on an album with Wayne Horvitz, have another album I haven't heard. Beyond the 14:37 title piece (by Robin Holcomb), many short bits, some trad, some filtered through the Golden Gate Quartet or Charles Ives. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Rashied Ali Quintet: First Time Out: Live at Slugs 1967 (1967 [2020], Survival): Drummer, from Philadelhpia, originally Robert Patterson, joined John Coltrane in 1965, becoming the driving force for Coltrane's final avant phase. Ali didn't start releasing his own records until 1973, so this early tape is something of a find. With Dewey Johnson (trumpet), Ramon Morris (tenor sax), Stanley Cowell (piano), and Reggie Johnson (bass). Two long pieces, second has a strong section. [The 2-LP edition has extra tracks, not heard. Label also has a 2-LP Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions, by Ali and Frank Lowe from 1972, but the digital only has two tracks, 29:26; I gave the 1999 Knitting Factory reissue of Duo Exchange an A-.] B+(*)

Duke Ellington: The Washingtonians (1924-26 [2019], Squatty Roo): Ellington's first band name, used briefly after he moved to New York from DC, abandoned when they settled into the Cotton Club in 1927. Fourteen very early tracks, an early ragtime influence, some backing corny singers. Would rate higher but for the surface wear ("Parlour Social Stomp" is one where the music wins out). B

Bryan Ferry: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1974 (1974 [2020], BMG): Two albums in, the Roxy Music vocalist took a sidestep and released two albums of wry and ironic rock and roll covers (with one original, the Roxy-ish "Another Time, Another Place") that either one loathed or loved. I was in the latter camp, and counted one of his later shows among my all-time favorites. This concert was earlier, in between the two releases: 9 songs from his debut, 4 from the second, one more ("A Really Good Time" -- another Roxy Music song, unreleased at the time). Loses a bit of detail from the albums, and not enough presence to make up the deficit. B+(**)

John Vanore: Primary Colors (1984-85 [2020], Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, played with Woody Herman in the 1980s, recently released a tribute to Oliver Nelson. This material is old, from impromptu sessions scattered over a year or more, with Ron Thomas on keyboards, an elemental postbop palette. B+(**) [cd]

Old music:

Cat Anderson and His Orchestra: Cat's in the Alley (1958-59 [2011], Fresh Sound): Trumpet player, joined Ellington in 1944, a virtuoso especially reknown for his spectacular high notes. This combines his first two solo albums, Cat on a Hot Tin Horn (a big swing band with long stretches of altissimo trumpet) and Ellingtonia (a septet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax and clarinet, and Ray Nance on violin). B+(***)

The "Cat" Anderson Orchestra: Cat on a Hot Tin Horn (1958, Mercury): In above. B+(***)

Cat Anderson and the Ellington All Stars: Ellingtonia (1959, Wynne): In above, but not as much Ellington as the cover suggests. B+(**)

Cat Anderson: Cat Speaks [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1977 [2003], Black & Blue): Quintet, recorded in Paris, with Sam Woodyard (drums) from Ellingtonia, and locals on tenor sax/clarinet (Gérard Badini), piano (Raymond Fol), and bass (Michel Gaudry), with two uncredited vocals (probably Anderson). When in doubt, safe bet to play some blues. B+(***)

Cat Anderson: Plays WC Handy [The Defnitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 [1997], Black & Blue): More Ellington veterans here (Sam Woodyard, again, and lesser knowns: Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Norris Turney, Booty Wood) weaving a fine texture for these venerable blues stomps. A nice framework for Anderson to show off his chops, especially with the mute. A-

Josephine Baker: Breezin' Along [Art Deco Series] (1926-27 [1995], Columbia/Legacy): Born in 1906 in St. Louis, she kept the name of her second husband, divorced shortly before these early recordings, by which time she had appeared in vaudeville, in Broadway chorus lines and revues, and had made her first appearances in France (sometimes barely clad in a short skirt of bananas). She she became a huge star in France, a citizen, a hero of the anti-Nazi Resistance, and a civil rights crusader. B+(***)

Benny Bailey: In Sweden: 1957-1959 Sessions (1957-59 [2011], Fresh Sound): Trumpet player, from Cleveland, toured with Lionel Hampton and decided to stay in Europe, initially in Sweden where he recorded the four EPs and one LP collected here, later in the Netherlands, where he died in 2005. Mostly locals in the bands, listed on front cover: Arne Domnerus, Ake Person, Gösta Theselius, Joe Harris. B+(**)

Benny Bailey: Grand Slam (1978 [1998], Storyville): Hard bop quintet, recorded back in New York with Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Richard Wyands (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). Keeps hitting harder. B+(***)

Chris Barber's Jazz & Blues Band: Echoes of Ellington (1976 [2008], Timeless, 2CD): British trad jazz trombonist, started in 1954, slowed down when he hit 80, released this in two volumes, then as a 3-LP set in 1978, before it eventually got consolidated on 2-CD. Some stock Ellingtonia, but banjo and guitar are evident, and the leader has a taste for jungle music. B+(**)

Arne Domnérus: Dompan! (2000 [2001], Fresh Sound): Swedish alto saxophonist, also plays clarinet, a major figure since the 1940s. Title continues: recalls three major influences in his musical life . . . Ellington, Strayhorn, Hodges. Quartet, with Jan Lundgren (piano), Tom Warrington (bass), and Paul Kreibach (drums), playing twelve tunes, starting with "The Jeep Is Jumpin'." B+(***)

Duke Ellington: Historically Speaking: The Duke (1956, Bethlehem): Ellington recorded two albums for Bethlehem in 1956. This is the first, twelve tracks (39:26), mostly fast takes on old classics. B+(*)

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington Presents . . . (1956, Bethlehem): More from the same session, less clear what the concept is, the dangling ellipses going nowhere I can discern. Two vocals: Jimmy Grissom on "Everything but You" and Ray Nance on "I Can't Get Started," also a fine spot for his violin. Takes a turn toward the exquisite with "Day Dream." B+(**)

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music (1965 [1966], RCA): Ellington called this "the most important thing I have ever done." I never saw the point, but after the overwrought intro ("In the Beginning God" for 19:36), this has a few moments, not least the tap dance. B+(*)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1950 (1950 [2001], Classics): Starts with Billy Strayhorn Trio -- Ellington on second piano with Wendell Marshall on bass, the cuts now known as Great Times!, with two bits from Wild Bill Davis and His Real Gone Organ (a trio with Johnny Collins on guitar and Jo Jones on drums, one song by Ellington but not clear they belong here). Orchestra appears on second half, with an Al Hibbler vocal on "Build That Railroad," and two longer pieces better sampled on Masterpieces by Ellington. B+(**)

Paul Gonsalves/Harry Carney/Mitchell "Booty" Wood: Stanley Dance Presents the Music of the Great Ellingtonians (1960-61 [2008], Fresh Sound, 2CD): Combines three albums produced by Dance: Harry Carney: The Duke's Men; The Booty Wood Allstars: Hang In There; and Paul Gonsalves/Harold Ashby: Tenor Stuff. The leaders were moonlighting from Ellington's Orchestra (Wood, by far the least famous, played trombone). Only bassist Aaron Bell is on all three. Carney's nonet is the most Ellingtonian, with both Gonsalves and Wood, as well as Ray Nance and Sam Woodyard. Woods' album includes Johnny Hodges (listed as Cue Porter). B+(**)

Al Haig/Jamil Nasser Combo: Expressly Ellington (1978 [1979], Spotlite): Piano/bass leaders, with Art Themen (tenor saxophone) and Tony Mann (drums), keeps it lovely and elegant. B+(***)

Coleman Hawkins and His All-Stars: The Complete Jazztone Recordings 1954 (1954 [2010], Fresh Sound): Twelve pieces -- I have 11 of them on the 1987 Xanadu CD Jazz Tones -- half quartet tracks with Billy Taylor (piano), Milt Hinton (bass), and Jo Jones (drums), the other half add trumpet (Emmett Berry) and trombone (Eddie Bert). Nice set of standards, a bit light. A-

Earl Hines/Jonah Jones/Buddy Tate/Cozy Cole: Back on the Street (1972, Chiaroscuro): Normally I only list the names above the title, and indeed Hines/Jones (piano/trumpet) look to be slightly more equal than the other cover names -- they co-wrote the two originals -- but the others (tenor sax/drums) are comparable stars, and take stellar turns. As do the lesser names left off the cover: John Brown (bass) and, especially, Jerome Darr (guitar) -- the latter's solo on "Pennies From Heaven" stands out, in part because the bass comping behind it is spot on. A-

Jonah Jones: 1936-1945 (1936-45 [1997], Classics): Trumpet player, from Louisville, got his start on a riverboat, played in big bands from 1928 (Horace Henderson) through the 1940s (Stuff Smith, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Cab Calloway). This starts with six tracks backing singer Ray Porter, and includes four tracks from Milt Hinton & His Orchestra as well as two sets of four from Jones-led groups. B+(**)

Jonah Jones: Confessin' [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 [1999], Black & Blue): Recorded in Paris, with Andre Persiani (piano), Major Holley (bass), and JC Heard (drums). Some blues, some Ellington, a "Sheik of Araby." Presumably the vocals are Jones' -- good enough, his trumpet even better. B+(***)

Don Redman and His Orchestra Featuring Coleman Hawkins: At the Swing Cats Ball (1957 [2005], Fresh Sound): Redman played clarinet and alto sax for Fletcher Henderson, left in 1927 to become music director of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and led his own Orchestra from 1931-1940. He remained active until his death in 1964, but has little to show for his post-WWII years. This combines two big band sets that were distributed to broadcasters but not for sale. Melvin Moore sings a couple. Neither retro nor modern, a slick in-between. B+(*)

The World's Greatest Jazz Band of Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart: Plays Duke Ellington (1973 [1999], Jazzology): Later album cover has been rejiggered to further confuse, but this is how the 1976 original and 1999 reissue appeared, and how the band was usually credited during its 1968-78 active period (occasionally resurrected until Lawson died in 1995). A long list of notable musicians passed through the band. At this point they were a nonet, but Billy Butterfield joining on trumpet, Phil Bodner on clarinet, Al Klink on sax, George Masso and Sonny Russo on trombone, John Bunch on piano, and Bobby Rosengarden on drums. Not as flashy as their boast suggests, but a graceful repertoire band, the extra trombone palpable. B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • John DiMartino: Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (Sunnyside) [04-10]
  • Liberty Ellman: Last Desert (Pi) [03-27]
  • Vincent Glanzmann/Gerry Hemingway: Composition O (Fundacja Sluchaj)
  • Georg Graewe/Ernst Reijseger/Gerry Hemingway: Concertgebouw Brugge 2014 (Fundacja Sluchaj)
  • Paul Lytton/Nate Wooley: Known/Unknown (Fundacja Sluchaj)
  • Denise Mangiardi: Brown Book (Alice's Loft Music)
  • Nutria: Meeting in Progress (Ears & Eyes)
  • Keith Oxman: Two Cigarettes in the Dark (Capri) [03-20]
  • Suzanna Ross: Is Bewitched* . . . *Not Bothered, Not Bewildered (self-released) [03-20]
  • Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble: The New Immigrant Experience: Music Inspired by Conversations With Dreamers (Tapestry) [03-20]
  • Schapiro 17: New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60 (Summit, 2CD) [04-03]
  • Sestetto Internazionale: Live in Munich 2019 (Fundacja Sluchaj)
  • Curt Sydnor: Deep End Shallow (Out of Your Head) [03-20]

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Mike Bloomberg had his coming out party at the Nevada Democratic debate, and the response was harsh -- e.g. (including a few extra Bloomberg links):

The Nevada caucuses were held on Saturday. Results came in much faster than in Iowa, but 24 hours later we still only have 87.47% reporting (see Nevada Democratic caucuses: Live results. As with Iowa, there are three sets of results. The first-round votes are: Sanders 34.27%, Biden 17.86%, Buttigieg 15.18%, Warren 12.76%, Klobuchar 9.25%, Steyer 9.12%. Bloomberg wasn't on the ballot, and no write-in votes have been reported, so he's currently 123 votes behind Michael Bennet, and 12 behind John K Delaney. As in Iowa, there's also a "realigned vote", as most "unviable" candidates lose votes to "viable" ones (Bennet drops to 12 votes, but somehow Delaney got a boost to 16): The top six held place, but Sanders gained the most, to 40.73%, vs. Biden 19.69% and Buttigieg 17.14%. But the most commonly reported results were "County Convention Delegates: Sanders 47.08%, Biden 20.94%, Buttigieg 13.63%, Warren 9.71%, Steyer 4.65%, Klobuchar 3.89%. (This week's best humor article: Klobuchar congratulates herself for 'exceeding expectations' as early Nevada results show her in distant 5th.)

Unlike Iowa, it was clear early on who the winner was. Dylan Scott came up with 3 winners and 2 losers from the Nevada caucuses, but the only candidate on the list was Sanders (winner), and two of the other items were clearly Sanders wins (winner: Medicare-for-all; loser: Culinary Union Local 226). Sanders' win was so complete that Vox republished Matthew Yglesias: Mainstream Democrats shouldn't fear Bernie Sanders. Also on Nevada (and Sanders):

The last few days have produced an avalanche of Sanders articles -- hysterical attacks on him, defenses (including some meant to reassure mainstream Democrats, like Yglesias above, and Paul Krugman here -- although not without lamenting that Sanders may have no use for "center-left" wonks like Krugman), promotions, and good old fashioned horse race handicapping, but little I cared to get into.

Some scattered links this week:

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32778 [32759] rated (+19), 242 [241] unrated (+1).

Late again, but short as weeks go, given that last week's Music Week didn't appear until Thursday, February 13. My excuse then was that I was in the middle of a series on Duke Ellington's Chronological Classics (up to 1940, anyway). I decided not to bother with the 1940-1953 releases, figuring they're redundant to in-print albums on RCA and Columbia (and maybe Capitol?), but I've continued to trawl through Napster's offerings, using "ellington" as my titles search. That netted a few albums by other doing Ellington songs -- including titles by Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Zoot Sims, and Sarah Vaughan, below. I haven't hit the end of that list yet, so I'll keep plugging, and see what else catched my fancy. I briefly considered doing more individual albums from The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books, which I bought long ago and gave an A- to without subdividing, but I haven't followed up on that. (If I recall correctly, the best volume is the Harold Arlen, possibly followed by Irving Berlin or Cole Porter; the weakest may well be the Ellington, which is surprising given how much I like the later Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur -- a 2-CD sampler from a larger box I haven't heard, but which I believe is on Napster.)

All this old music digging has kept me off from new music, with only a few of my queue offerings this week. Robert Christgau sent his Consumer Guide out to subscribers last week, and included two new 2020 releases among his picks (Eminem and Drive-By Truckers) among his late-breaking 2019 picks (catching up with his Dean's List). Normally I'd jump on them, but this hasn't been a normal week.

Christgau followed that up with another list, Ten Movies I Love. I can't argue, not least because I've only seen four of those movies, and don't even recall hearing of most of the rest. [PS: Make that five: I've seen, but forgot the title of, Make Way for Tomorrow] I doubt I could even construct such a list, but I'd hate to leave out:

  • Babette's Feast -- Gabriel Axel (1988)
  • Before Sunrise -- Richard Linklater (1995)
  • Hairspray -- John Waters (1988)
  • High Hopes -- Mike Leigh (1989)
  • Johnny Dangerously -- Amy Heckerling (1984)
  • Made in Heaven -- Alan Rudolph (1987)
  • Moonstruck -- Norman Jewison (1987)
  • The Mosquito Coast -- Peter Weir (1986)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- Ethan & Joel Cohen (2000)
  • Ordinary People -- Robert Redford (1980)
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo -- Woody Allen (1985)
  • The Remains of the Day -- James Ivory (1993)
  • Stars and Bars -- Pat O'Connor (1988)
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown -- Pedro Almodovar (1988)

First of all, I'm surprised to find these so concentrated in time: 1985-1995 accounts for all but two, one from 1980, the other 2000. The obvious explanation is that I watched a lot more movies then than any time before or since. I hardly ever watched movies before, aside from minor binges, but started renting tapes after my first wife died, and watched even more when I dated and moved in with Laura. My movie watching has tailed off in recent years, but not as dramatically as the omission of post-2000 movies in the list above suggests. Perhaps I was just more impressionable in that first decade. I did a quick search through the notebook, and found a lot of good movies, but the only ones that tempted me to add to the list were: Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000); The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand, 2003); De-Lovely (Irwin Winkler, 2004); Letters From Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006); The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2007); The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009, in Swedish); and Boyhood (2014).

A second point is that these are mostly small movies. (Three were nominated for Oscars, and one won.) A glance through the Oscar list and other lists at { IMDB, TimeOut, MSN } suggest some better-known epics that I like (in many cases a lot), in chronological order (while generally avoiding repeating directors from above):

Modern Times (1936); Grand Illusion (1937); His Girl Friday (1940); Sullivan's Travels (1941); Casablanca (1942); The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957); Dr. Strangelove (1964); Blazing Saddles (1964); Ship of Fools (1965); Once Upon a Time in the West (1968); Z (1969); The Godfather (1972); Cries and Whispers (1973); The Godfather II (1974); Chinatown (1974); Nashville (1975); Atlantic City (1981); The Last Emperor (1987); Do the Right Thing (1989); Unforgiven (1992); Pulp Fiction (1994); The Shawshank Redemption (1994); L.A. Confidential (1997); Shakespeare in Love (1998); Moulin Rouge! (2001); Brokeback Mountain (2005); Slumdog Millionaire (2008), La La Land (2016). Most frequently listed movies that I haven't seen (or don't recall) date from before 1960, including a fair number of "foreign" films. Too bad I didn't maintain a list, like I did for albums.

Contributing to this week's delay, I cooked a rather fancy dinner Monday night. I made a couple stabs at Hungarian cuisine last fall, and had a few more recipes I wanted to try. My cookbook was Silvena Johan Lauta's The Food & Cooking of Hungary, but it didn't offer any promising vegetable side dishes, so I slipped a Greek fave into the menu:

  • Rabbit Goulash Stew
  • Venison Meatballs
  • Hungarian Dumplings
  • Green Bean Ragout
  • Transylvanian Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Somloi Trifle

Not sure I got the first three quite right. The meatballs were quite delicious, but could have used more sauce. I had a lot of trouble cutting up the rabbit, which made everything come out late. The one piece I had was a little tough and dry, but others disagreed. The mushrooms (stuffed with ricotta, bacon, and herbs) perhaps should have been cooked longer. Still, all came out pretty tasty.

The dessert wasn't in the cookbook, but showed up repeatedly when I was attempting to survey Hungarian recipes online -- along with a fancy multi-layer cake called a dobos torte. I wound up consulting several web recipes, mostly following this one, but taking a few liberties along the way (e.g., after my caramelized syrup burned, I went with a much safer non-caramel recipe; I missed the liquor store, so substituted amaretto for rum; I substuted apricot for strawberry jam, as all other recipes specified [PS: what I actually used was Bonne Maman Mango-Peach Preserves, made in France; picked up accidentally when I was reaching for the apricot]). The dessert is a pretty complicated affair: first make three sponge cakes (one plain, one with walnuts, a third with cocoa); make a light syrup with liquor (in my case, amaretto), and brush it over the cakes; make a "gruel" out of milk, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla (more like a pudding -- other recipes use a pastry cream); build a stack of the three cakes, each one topped with a shmear of jam, raisins (soaked in syrup), walnuts, and "gruel"; sprinkle cocoa on top and chill for 12 hours. Make a chocolate sauce, with liquor (amaretto again). Whip cream. To serve, scoop out chunks of cake, top with chocolate, then with whipped cream. Before I was done, I doubted I'd ever do it again, but it turned out to be remarkably delicious.

A few links I had meant to include in Sunday's Weekend Roundup, but somehow didn't get to:

  • Kos: Sanders wins New Hampshire by being the least-weak of a suddenly weak field. This was a "hot take" after New Hampshire, but since then I'm less persuaded of Bernie Sanders' "weakness." Sanders now seems to be ahead in Nevada, possibly ahead in South Carolina, indeed close to leading pretty much everywhere (FiveThirtyEight still likes Biden in Alabama). I've also seen polls that show his favorability ratings are high enough to give him a reasonable expectation of gaining vote share as other candidates drop out (much as Trump did in 2016, though Bernie's are higher than Trump's were, at least up to the 2016 convention, maybe even the election). Also, this article makes some really dumb points, such as:

    No white male has ever gotten 63 million votes in a presidential election. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both hit 65 million. When our nominees look like our base, we perform better.

    That doesn't prove anything, least of all its "looks like" conclusion. (Sure, it would disprove the opposite assertion, that you have to run a white male in order to win, but that's not the point here.) I remember when Clinton promised a cabinet that "looks like America," but all they looked like to me was a bunch of well-heeled lawyers. He throws out other meaningless facts, like Bloomberg was "major of a city that is larger than 38 states" [each of; the 9 least populous states + DC have more people combined than NYC], and he invents a ridiculous euphemism for dollars, as in "he spent another 3.5 million electability units on advertising in black newspapers."

  • Joel Kotkin: You think Trump's a danger to democracy? Get a load of Bloomberg. Side note more relevant to the Kos article above: to win his third term as mayor of New York, Bloomberg spent $174 per vote; to match that running for president, he'll have to pony up $12 billion.

  • Alexander Rubinstein/Max Blumenthal: Woke wonk Elizabeth Warren's foreign policy team is stacked with pro-war swamp creatures.

I should also note that a Guardian article I linked to about Bill Gates buying a £500 million superyacht has been pulled, due to "a fundamental error in facts reported." Evidently, Gates hasn't bought any such boat.

New records reviewed this week:

The Coachella Valley Trio: Mid Century Modern (2019 [2020], DMAC): Guitarist Doug MacDonald, backed by bass and drums, with Big Black on djembe for 6/11 tracks. Four MacDonald originals, the rest easy flowing jazz standards. B+(*)

Lara Driscoll: Woven Dreams (2019 [2020], Firm Roots Music): Pianist, from Chicago, trio with Paul Rushka on bass and Dave Laing on drums. Not much to say on this, other than that she always seems spot on. B+(***) [03-06]

Lara Driscoll: Woven Dreams (2019 [2020], Firm Roots Music): Pianist, from Chicago, trio with Paul Rushka on bass and Dave Laing on drums. Not much to say on this, other than that she always seems spot on. B+(***) [03-06]

Kuzu [Dave Rempis/Tashi Dorji/Tyler Damon]: Purple Dark Opal (2019 [2020], Aerophonic): Avant sax-guitar-drums trio, did a couple albums last year including one that I belatedly got behind (Hiljaisus) and one (Lift to Drag) I missed. Maybe slow on this one too, but for now: B+(***) [cd]

Purna Loka Ensemble: Metaraga (2018-19 [2020], Origin): Indian string quartet based in Lawrence, KS, where violinist Purnaprajna Bangere teaches mathematics and music. With second violin, bass, and tabla, with a guest spot for clarinet, rooted in classical Indian music, but not stuck there. B+(**) [cd]

Old music:

Duke Ellington: The Best of Early Ellington (1926-31 [1996], Decca): Twenty songs from Decca's 3-CD Early Ellington: The Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings of Duke Ellington 1926-1931, which appeared a couple years earlier and is worth owning complete (my grade: A+). Two caveats here: I've long deemed the Bluebirds from the same period to have better sound, not that I have any complaints here (and they're way better than the Okehs and the Classics archives); and I miss some of the covers on the box. Still, these are the essential songs from the first great Ellington era, and they're as perfect as music gets. A+

Duke Ellington: The Centennial Collection (1927-41 [2004], Bluebird): BMG released five volumes under this title, the others Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Fats Waller -- all recorded for Bluebird before 1945, so these work as single-disc primers, each packaged with a DVD I have no reckoning of. Don't have dates, but initial recordings range as above, though most of these pieces are live shots, possibly tied to the DVD. Some great music here, but I don't find this to be particularly useful. B+(**)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Great Paris Concert (1963 [1973], Atlantic, 2CD): Three concerts, actually, nicely organized for its original 2-LP release (total 87:35), so much so it might serve as a suitable introductory overview for neophytes -- even includes a full suite, and one vocal track to remind you Ellington never had a knack for hiring singers. Even more freakish is Cat Anderson's stratospheric trumpet -- one of many wonders. A-

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's My People (1963 [1964], Contact): A short-lived Broadway musical, "conceived, written and staged by Duke Ellington," orchestra conducted by Jimmy Jones (but "under the personal supervision of Billy Strayhorn"), headlined by Joya Sherrill. Ellington tended to get stilted in projects that aimed beyond the music (e.g., his later "sacred music" concerts), but this one moves right along, and his black history points are well taken. B+(**)

Duke Ellington/Ella Fitzgerald/Oscar Peterson: The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World (1967 [1990], Pablo, 3CD): The CD reissue added the principle artist's names above the title, a banner missing from the original 1975 4-LP box, although their primacy was made clear by centering their portraits, surrounded by an outer ring with Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, T-Bone Walker, and eight current members of Ellington's Orchestra. This was one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic productions, actually two shows, one in March at Carnegie Hall, the other in July at the Hollywood Bowl, varying from his usual all-star jam formula mostly in Ellington's dominance: 21 cuts, including 5 with Fitzgerald (of her 9). I'm on the fence here: Peterson's intro and the jams are fun, the Ellington set is above par, and Fitzgerald has a spark here that is never really captured in their studio albums. Still, doesn't really merit the hyperbole. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: In Sweden 1973 (1973 [1999], Caprice): Late, the fabulous orchestra starting to fall apart (no Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson), so local reinforcements are welcome: Rolf Ericson (trumpet), Åke Persson (trombone), Nils Lindberg, and featured singer Alice Babs. B+(**)

Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books (1956-64 [1993], 16CD): One of Norman Granz's more successful "get rich slow" projects was having Ella sing every song in "the great American songbook" -- I suspect that phrase came later, and were you to look it up, the most succinct definition would be: "songs Ella Fitzgerald sang." They were released on many LPs, eventually collected in this box, as well as released on separately available CD sets. I bought the box, gave it an A- (my standard at the time for multi-disc boxes was weakest link), but didn't break it down further. Maybe it's time to do that.

Ella Fitzgerald: Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (1956-57 [1991], Verve, 3CD): Key thing here is the band: Ellington and His Orchestra. They got co-credit on the origial 1957 4-LP set, before "songbook" became a single word and a Fitzgerald trademark. She is, of course, miles ahead of any singer Ellington ever hired, adding import and sass to lyrics that often just an afterthought -- but that may be because the band never really needed them. Two real solid CDs here, although I like some of their later live recordings even better. Third disc bogs down a lot, and not just the alternate takes and chatter. B+(**)

Ella Fitzgerald: The Very Best of the Duke Ellington Song Book (1956-57 [2007], Verve): Second attempt at reducing the original 4-LP (3-CD) set to a single CD, following 1995's Day Dream: The Best of the Duke Ellington Songbook (B+, long ago), the "very" justified by reduction (12 tracks, 56:09, vs. 17 tracks, 70:08) and by picking more obvious titles: only 5 tracks appear on both, and you can easily guess them if I give you the adds here: "Sophisticated Lady," "Satin Doll," "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," "Prelude to a Kiss," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Caravan," and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Should be foolproof, but you can hardly hear the band through the ballads, and while the singer is artful enough, you just know she'd rather bust loose and scat. B+(***)

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Duke's Place (1965 [1966], Verve): Studio date in Hollywood with Ellington and His Orchestra, ten songs, only two repeated from the 1956-57 sessions. Divided into a "Pretty, Lovely, Tender, Hold Me Close Side" and a "Finger-Snapping, Head Shaking, Toe-Tapping, Go-For-Yourself Side" -- the latter is more fun, but still not as much as a live set like Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur (1966). B+(**)

Nina Simone: Nina Simone Sings Duke Ellington (1961 [1962], Colpix): Simone's arrangements, produced by Stu Phillips, backed by the Malcolm Dodds Singers, no credits for the band (but Simone no doubt holds court on piano). The obscurities don't stick with you, but the mainstays are tastefully done (especially "Satin Doll"). B+(*)

Zoot Sims: Passion Flower: Zoot Sims Plays Duke Ellington (1979-80 [1997], Pablo/OJC): Tenor saxophonist, sources list him only as leader but this sounds like him, in front of a big band with stars like JJ Johnson, Frank Wess, and Jimmy Rowles, arranged and conducted by Benny Carter. B+(**)

Sarah Vaughan: How Long Has This Been Going On? (1978, Pablo): Despite her remarkable voice and exquisite control of nuance, she rarely makes albums I like. But Norman Granz grabbed her when he launched Pablo, and teamed her up with his default band: Oscar Peterson (piano), Joe Pass (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Cover inserts a spurious "between" between the title and artists -- the singer first in only slightly larger type. Still likes them slow, but the band's light touch saves the day. B+(***)

Sarah Vaughan: Duke Ellington: Song Book One (1979 [1980], Pablo): Billy Byers' strings are suspect here, but the rest of the band -- with Waymon Reed on trumpet, JJ Johnson on trombone, Frank Foster and Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Bucky Pizzarelli or Joe Pass on guitar, Jimmy Rowles or Mike Wofford on piano -- is impeccable. B+(***)

Sarah Vaughan; Duke Ellington: Song Book Two (1979 [1980], Pablo): Same group, same sessions, eleven more songs, most excellent, only a tad less impressive. B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Joyce Grant: Surrounded by Blue (Craftedair/Blujazz)
  • JC Hopkins Biggish Band: New York Moment (Twee-Jazz) [04-05]
  • Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band: Hold On (Blujazz/PAO)
  • Paul Shaw Quintet: Moment of Clarity (Summit) [03-27]

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Weekend Roundup

New Hampshire finally voted last week. Bernie Sanders won, although not by the margin I had hoped for -- 25.58% to 24.27% for Pete Buttigieg, 19.69% for Klobuchar, with significant drops for Elizabeth Warren (9.19%) and Joe Biden (8.34%). Sanders did, however, get more young voters than everyone else combined. As I note in the German Lopez note below, the Buttigieg/Klobuchar bubble seems to have less to do with anything attractive about their platforms than with the irrational fears of many Democrats (including some older ones who are philosophically aligned left, but grew up in a world where red-baiting was always effective) that Sanders would wind up losing to Trump. How they figure Buttigieg or Klobuchar might fare better is something I don't care to speculate on. Neither has the familiarity or national organization they'll need in coming weeks, and their repeated (misinformed and disingenuous) attacks on Medicare for All in recent months, while effective for raising donations and establishing themselves as niche candidates, makes them improbable (as well as damn unsatisfactory) party unifiers.

Biden is still better positioned to recover in later primaries, but did himself much harm in Iowa and New Hampshire. In particular, he lost favor with the "anybody but Trump (except Sanders)" party faction, and his support among Afro-Americans was never any deeper than a cautious wager. Biden has slipped behind Sanders in national polls, lost his big lead in Nevada, and may even lose his "firewall" state of South Carolina (see FiveThirtyEight, which also forecasts Sanders to lead in most "Super Tuesday" contests, including: California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, and Tennessee -- in fact, the only state Biden is still favored in is Alabama). FiveThirtyEight still projects Biden to finish second, but they already have Michael Bloomberg in a close third, with Buttigieg a distant fourth, Warren with vanishingly slim chances in fifth, and Klobuchar even further behind. That assumes they all keep running, which almost certainly won't happen.

[PS: Closing this now to get it up and out of the way. I've been running into frustrating dead ends seems like everywhere.]

Some scattered links this week:

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32759 [32712] rated (+47), 241 [230] unrated (+11).

Shortly after closing my last Music Week, I looked at the featured jazz records on Napster and noticed two volumes from Duke Ellington's Private Collection series. These appeared on Saja in 10 CDs from 1987-89, and I had picked up a few when I found them used. I figured I should play the ones I had missed, and that got me looking at Napster's Ellingtons. I had probably heard more records by Ellington than any other artist, but that still left a fair number unheard -- especially among the 44 Chronological Classics volumes. As most of the latter were available, I started working my way through the list, especially the stretch from 1931-39, which Ellington's American labels have failed to keep in print. That took me past my usual Monday deadline. I decided then to hold back until I hit 1940, because I planned on writing a general introduction to the series followed by notes and grades on each individual volume (as I had with Private Collection.

Chronlogical Classics goes on to 1953, but I figured they were less critical. That's not a judgment on the music, but because nearly all of them were in print and graded elsewhere: see, especially, the magnificent Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band, which covers 1940-42, The Indispensible Duke Ellington and the Small Groups (1940-46), and the slightly lesser Black, Brown and Beige (1944-1946). I picked up a few more titles along the way, plus a couple of records by others which showed up in the Ellington title search.

There are more I haven't gotten to. The big live chunks left are the Carnegie Hall Concerts from 1943-48 and The Treasury Shows from 1945-46 (25 volumes). There is also a fair amount of live Ellington floating around, especially from the 1960s -- Pablo picked up some of those, but we're still seeing occasional concerts pop up on European labels. I won't venture to say how much of this anyone actually needs, but aside from some redundancy, the A and A+ records listed above are really choice records. Nothing (other than the Armstrong-Ellington Summit, which matches a previous A graded package) in this week's many finds matches them, although the 1928-30 Chronological Classics overlap with some of my previous picks (especially the 3-CD Early Ellington on Decca), 1938 Vol. 3 has some of the small group recording from The Great Ellington Units, and Up in Duke's Workshop sounds like a first draft of Latin American Suite. On the other hand, I ran through the Chronological Classics very fast (almost always just one play), and aside from the usual caveats about surface noise and sequencing they all sounded pretty great to me.

Quite a bit of unpacking this week-plus, which came as a surprise to me after a few lean weeks. I've let the 2020 releases pile up while working on 2019, and barely touched them this week. But the Ellington orgy did break me out of the rut of searching around for 2019 stragglers. Also went the whole week without touching the 2019 EOY Aggregate. So I guess I'm moving on. Still expect to pick up a few more Ellington titles next week (playing The Great Paris Concert right now, and it's sounding pretty great, indeed). My new year resolution is to take 2020 easier. So far that's mostly involved starting each day off with a piece of classic old jazz. I had, in fact, been playing Early Ellington in the week before this kicked off, along with Ben Webster's Cottontail, an ASV best-of named for his 1935 hit with Ellington.

A final personal note: I just heard today that my cousin Chloe McCandlis died, at 94. She and her husband Paul moved from Arkansas to Snohomish, WA before I was born, so I probably only saw her a half-dozen times over the years. I don't remember the family's first trip to Washington, but we returned for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, which was the high point of my life well past that point. I visited again, on my own, in 1984, and it totally changed my view of my family -- for one thing, despite the distance, she probably knew my mother better than any of my closer relatives (or maybe she was just more open about it). I saw her a couple years ago. Despite numerous physical ailments, she was in a very expansive mood, with lots of stories about long ago. She no doubt knew many more, and I could kick myself for not making more of an effort to keep close. That memory is lost now. The inspiration remains.

New records reviewed this week:

Carol Albert: Stronger Now (2019 [2020], Cahara): Pianist, sings some, ranges from luxe piano to easy listening pap. B-

Lila Ammons: Genealogy (2019 [2020], Lila Ammons Music): Jazz singer, granddaughter of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, niece of saxophonist Gene Ammons. Songs here are mostly by jazz composers (Silver, Monk, Ellington. B+(**) [cd]

Ellen Edwards: A New York Session (2019 [2020], Stonefire Music, EP): Singer-songwriter from Alabama, has a couple previous CDs, this one just five tracks, 20:20. Jazz band, best known are Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Jason Miles (B3, vibes, and synthesizers), none remarkable. B- [cd] [02-22]

Delfeayo Marsalis Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Jazz Party (2019 [2020], Troubadour Jass): The trombone player in the New Orlean family's band, tenth album since 1992, second with this big band, where everything's a jazz party. B+(**)

The Westerlies: Wherein Lies the Good (2018 [2020], Westerlies): New York-based brass quartet, two each trumpets and trombones, all originally from Seattle, first appeared on an album with Wayne Horvitz, have another album I haven't heard. Beyond the 14:37 title piece (by Robin Holcomb), many short bits, some trad, some filtered through the Golden Gate Quartet or Charles Ives. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ronnie Lane: Just for a Moment: The Best of Ronnie Lane (1973-97 [2019], UMC): Started out in Small Faces, solo career never as famous as his bandmates although One for the Road (1976) was one of my favorite albums ever. This sampler was culled from a completist 6-CD box and favors breadth over depth, finding some gems but most seem minor compared to the two songs from his masterpiece. B+(***)

Old music:

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington: The Great Summit: The Master Takes (1961 [2000], Roulette): I've long owned the 1990 CD of The Complete Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington Sessions, so never bothered with this package: a new title with the same 17 cuts. Ellington plays piano, and wrote (or co-wrote) all the songs, Armstrong plays trumpet and sings, and brought the band: Trummy Young (trumpet), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Mort Herbert (bass), Danny Barcelona (drums) -- Bigard played with Ellington before joining Armstrong's All-Stars, and really stands out here. Armstrong amazes with his ability to slide his voice around such sophisticated melodies. A

Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn: Great Times! Piano Duets (1950 [1989], Riverside/OJC): The original eight tracks (25:30), with two pianos and bass, were released as a 10-inch LP in 1950. The CD adds two more tracks with Strayhorn switching to celesta, and two trio cuts with Ellington, Oscar Pettiford (cello), and Jo Jones (drums). B+(*)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: A Drum Is a Woman (1956 [1957], Columbia): Billy Strayhorn co-wrote this attempted opera, where the book doesn't fit the music, and the music doesn't fit all that neatly together either. B-

Duke Ellington: At the Alhambra: Recorded in Paris, 1958 (1958 [2002], Pablo): After Noran Granz sold his Verve label interests to megacorp Universal, he started Pablo in 1973, recruiting many of his old favorites, starting with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. His third released was one of Ellington's last, Duke's Big 4. Later Pablo picked up several live tapes, including this one. This is basically the band he took to Newport in 1956, starting with "Take the 'A' Train," running through a medley of oldies, sliding into "Jeep's Blues," and widing up with an only slightly less rousing "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Featuring Paul Gonsalves (1962 [1991], Fantasy/OJC): Gonsalves, from Massachusetts, parents Cape Verdean, played tenor sax in the Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie big bands before replacing Ben Webster in Ellington's orchestra in 1950. He emerged as a star with his astonishing 27-chorus solo in 1956 at Newport, and remained with the band until he died in 1974, a few days before Ellington's death. This was a free-wheeling blowing session, eight group standards starting with "C-Jam Blues," not necessarily designed to feature tenor sax but in the free-for-all Gonsalves often winds up on top. Sat in the vaults until 1985, when someone realized it filled a niche -- or just wanted a reminder of how hard Ellington could swing. A-

Duke Ellington: The Duke: The Essential Collection: 1927-1962 (1927-62 [2000], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): Released as a tall box in 1999 on the occasional of his centennial, with the more accurate title The Columbia Years, given more sensible packaging here. The discs break up into three discontinuous stretches: 1927-40, 1947-52, and 1956-62. Ellington always kept several labels going, although RCA seemed to get the best eras -- the best takes from 1927-30 (although the Deccas are nearly as good, the Okehs sampled here and available on a 2-CD set, The Okeh Ellington, coming in third); The Blanton-Webster Band of 1939-42 and the "small groups" of the same period; late masterpieces like The Far East Suite (1966) and And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967) -- but Columbia's two stretches in the 1950s includes a few supreme records: Uptown (1947-52), At Newport (1956), Blues in Orbit (1958-59). Columbia also seems to have control of much of Ellington's neglected 1930s work, but has kept them out of print (except for European bootlegs, Mosaic's 11-CD 2010 box, and rare samples on Columbia anthologies like this one). The main value here is a first disc that starts to show off this long-neglected oeuvre. The later discs are full of gems, but a same size RCA compilation would blow them all away. A-

Duke Ellington: In the Uncommon Market (1963 [1986], Pablo): From one of the band's European tours, scant details on where or when. The band tracks have some terrific moments, especially Paul Gonsalves in "E.S.P." Ends wtih some rather funky piano trio. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: Soul Call (1966 [1999], Verve): A live set from Juan-Les-Pins in France, originally released in 1967 (5 tracks, 37:50), expanded to 14 tracks (74:44) for the Verve Master Edition reissue. The original album, still up front, picked out the new music, with two 12-14-minute pieces ("La Plus Belle Africaine" and "Skip Deep"). The extras recycle the songbook. B+(**)

Duke Ellington/Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler: The Duke at Tanglewood (1966, RCA Victor Red Seal): In the late 1940s, Ellington started writing longer works ("suites"), and started to gain acclaim as America's greatest composer, as jazz started to be touted as "America's classical music." So it was inevitable that some classical music orchestra would invite Ellington to sit in on a program of his tunes fleshed out with strings and tympani. And you could probably have guessed it would be the Pops, their live concert appearing on RCA's classical music imprint. I'm surprised it works so well, but in retrospect that, too, seems inevitable. B+(**)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Popular Duke Ellington (1966 [1967], RCA Victor): Ten old songs (1927-1944), most recorded hundreds (or even thousands) of times (I think I once decided that "Mood Indigo" was the most covered popular song ever), plus one ("The Twitch" that seems to have originated here. One generally frowns on re-recording your old hits, but the march of technology and the evolution of the band make this an exception. A-

Duke Ellington: Solos, Duets and Trios (1932-67 [1990], RCA Bluebird): Isolated solos both early and late, but most come from the 1940s, centering on a batch of 1940 duets with ill-fated bassist Ray Blanton (9 takes of 4 songs). Duke's a pretty good stride pianist, but this is a mixed bag. Still, the Blanton tracks are pretty amazing. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Berlin '65/Paris '67 (1965-67 [1997], Pablo): Previously unreleased concert performances, released as part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series. Several marvelous pieces from The Far East Suite, as well as old standards. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: 1969 All-Star White House Tribute to Duke Ellington (1969 [2002], Blue Note): Sixteen names on the cover, but Ellington was not only the subject here; he was listed first among the contributors. My contempt for Richard Nixon is almost boundless, but he played a little piano, and must have been overjoyed to be able to sit down and tinkle the ivories alongside the Duke. The occasion was Ellington's 70th birthday, and Nixon's gift was a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The West Wing party rolled on to 3 AM, the long list of names contributing (although I don't have song-by-song credits) -- a few Ellington alumni like Clark Terry and Louis Bellson (but not the Orchestra), plus stars like Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, JJ Johnson, Hank Jones, Jim Hall, and Joe Williams. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's 70th Birthday Concert (1969 [1995], Blue Note, 2CD): Actually two concerts from a tour in the UK, about seven months after his 70th birthday (Nov. 25-26 vs. Apr. 29), originally released in 1970 by Solid State in the US and United Artists elsewhere. Still loving you madly. B+(***)

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Up in Duke's Workshop (1969-72 [1990], Pablo/OJC): Nine tracks from nine dates, with groups ranging from 5 to 12 musicians, first released by Pablo in 1979. No titles I recognize here, but the melodies remind me of his last wave of great albums. Wild Bill Davis on organ is a special treat. A-

Duke Ellington: Duke's Big 4 (1973 [1974], Pablo): One of his last albums, the first actually released by Norman Granz's Pablo (which later picked up a fair amount of archive material). Quartet with Joe Pass (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Kind of lightweight, but Pass always liked it airy. B+(**)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection (1956-72 [1989], Saja, 10CD): Previously unreleased tapes from the family vault, some live, most studio, released by LMR or its successor Saja 1987-89, and later reissued by Kaz. I picked up several of the Saja discs back in the day, graded them as follows, and jumped at the opportunity to hear more on Napster:

  • Volume One: Studio Sessions, Chicago, 1956 (1956 [1987], Saja): A-
  • Volume Three: Studio Sessions, New York (1962 [1988], Saja): B+
  • Volume Four: Studio Sessions, New ork, 1963 (1963 [1988], Saja): B+
  • Volume Five: The Suites, New York, 1968 & 1970 (1968-70 [1988], Saja): A-
  • Volume Nine: Studio Sessions, New York, 1968 (1968 [1989], Saja): B+

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Two: Dance Concerts, California, 1958 (1958 [1987], Saja): Ellington responded to the eclipse of the big band era by trying his hand at fancier things (suites and such), but still played the occasional dance hall, trotting out his hits, and they're having a good time here. Ozzie Bailey sings a couple, and they're just fine. A-

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Six: Dance Dates, California, 1958 (1958 [1989], Saja): The brassy dance numbers from the start don't seem like anything special, but they get a lot more interesting at/after the break, when they slow it down (e.g., "Mood Indigo"). B+(***)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Seven: Studio Sessions, 1957 & 1962 (1957-62 [1989], Saja): The big band is in fine form here, especially on their classics, most notably a rousing new "Cottontail." B+(***)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Eight: Studio Sessions, 1957, 1965, 1966, 1967, San Francisco, Chicago, New York (1957-67 [1989], Saja): B+(**)

Duke Ellington: The Chronological Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1924-1953, Classics): A French label which has been picking off American jazz titles as they clear Europe's 50-year copyright law -- although they slowed down after 2000, and haven't released anything since 2008. They've usually digitized well-worn copies, so the sound often leaves much to be desired. Napster lists some of these titles as Reborn Records, using modified artwork. One presumes they've undergone further noise reduction, but I can't say definitively. For Ellington, these start with 1924-1927 and extend to 1953 (44 CDs). I've previously heard and rated:

  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1937 (1937, Classics) B+
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1937, Vol. 2 (1937, Classics) A-

I hoped to catch up everything to 1940, but couldn't find 1924-1927 (Classics 539), 1935-1936 (659), 1938-1939 (747), or 1939 Vol. 2 (780). I tried to get by with a single play per CD, which made it hard to make fine distinctions -- not that there were many to make. Most critics consider 1927-1930 and 1940-1942 to be golden periods, and they're certainly peaks, but there are no slough periods. The main complaints I had were surface noise and the arbitrariness of the chronological sequencing, with small groups and backup jobs for vocal groups thrown into the mix. From 1940 on, the Classics series is less useful, as Ellington's studio recordings have been kept reliably in print by RCA (in two 3-CD sets) and later labels. Perhaps I'll check out those compilations later, but for now 1940 seemed like a good cut-off point.

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1927-1928 (1927-28 [1990], Classics): This is where Ellington hits his stride, coining such classics as "East St. Louis Toodoe-Oo" and "Jubilee Stomp." The only downsides are redundancy and surface noise -- endemic to this whole series. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1928 (1928 [1990], Classics): With Johnny Hodges, he's really developing a consistent sound, despite billing various groups, like Lonnie Johnson's Harlem Footwarmers. Obviously, the big one here is "The Mooche," with four takes. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1928-1929 (1928-29 [1990], Classics): A prime period, with Bubber Miley on trumpet and Barney Bigard or Johnny Hodges on clarinet, everything bright and cheery, from "Tiger Rag" to "Flaming Youth" to "Diga Diga Doo," even "Rent Party Blues." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1929 (1929 [1991], Classics): A hot band starting to swing, still on their jungle thing, the one disturbing thing is "A Nite at the Cotton Club," where the announcer insists on calling him "Dukey." B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1929-1930 (1929-30 [1991], Classics): Sixth volume, starts with "Jungle Jamboree," with three later songs attributed to The Jungle Band, nine more to Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra. Dancefloor singles, close to 3:00 each, many terrific, sound so-so. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930 (1930 [1991], Classics): While Bubber Miley defined Ellington's 1927-29 band, he is hardly missed here, with Cootie Williams taking over on trumpet, and the saxophones and trombones gaining stature. Some remakes of classics (especially "The Mooche"), everything first rate. A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930, Volume 2 (1930 [1991], Classics): A big year for Ellington, recording as the Jungle Band, the Harlem Footwarmers, and Mills' Ten Black Berries as well as under his own name. Mostly upbeat stompers, including three takes of "Ring Dem Bells," but also a gorgeous little piece initially called "Dreamy Blues" -- you know it as "Mood Indigo." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930-1931 (1930-31 [1991], Classics): Another good run but more than the usual redundancy, with three takes of "Rockin' in Rhythm," more "Creole Rhapsody" and "Mood Indigo," and forgettable vocals by Billy Sith, Sid Garry, Chick Bullock, and others I've already forgotten. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1931-1932 (1931-32 [1991], Classics): Starts with the band backing Earl Jackson on "Is That Religion?" -- then resets the mood with two helpings of "Creole Rapsody." Three-minute singles predominate, but you also get two 7-minute medleys of signature pieces, and a first release of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1932-1933 (1932-33 1992], Classics): Leans more toward vocal pieces, with Adelaide Hall, the Mills Brothers' "Diga Diga Doo" a hit, Ray Mitchell's vocal on "Star" very touching, Ethel Waters as fine as you'd expect. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1933 (1933 [1992], Classics): Two takes of "Sophisticated Lady," which first appeared the year before, plus a lot of upbeat fare, including a rousing "Ain't Misbehavin'." Also an interview snippet, apparently from a UK tour. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1933-1935 (1933-35 [1992], Classics): Most famous new song here is "Solitude"; least may be "Rude Interlude" -- in the previous interview he mentiond wanting to write a "Rude" song after someone misheard his recent his as "Rude Indigo." More vocals than usual: Louis Bacon (2), Ivie Anderson (3), Mae West. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1936-1937 (1936-37 [1992], Classics): Starts with Ivie Anderson singing. Ben Webster joins on a couple of dates. The big band swings, but the Barney Bigard small group, (7-pieces, with Ellington on piano) is even hotter. Two cuts are piano solos, and the mix of "Mood Indigo and Solitude" is especially delectable. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 (1938 [1993], Classics): More than half of the 23 cuts come from "small groups" led by Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams, or Johnny Hodges ("Jeep's Blues"). Hodges get the vocal version of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart", but the band's instrumental is even better. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 Vol. 2 (1938 [1993], Classics): Again, half "small groups" (Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges), the rest by His Famous Orchestra, half with vocals, most often Ivie Anderson, bringing the superb instrumentals back to earth. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 Vol. 3 (1938 [1993], Classics): Ellington recorded more in 1938 than any year since 1930 (probably to date), at least if you count the Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges small groups (10 of 22 cuts here). Hodges is superb here, especially on his own cuts ("The Jeep Is Jumpin'," "Hodge Podge," "Wanderlust"). A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1939 (1939 [1994], Classics): Another very productive year, this covering March to June, with superb small groups led by Bigard and Hodges and a date backing a vocal group, the Quintones, on a couple of novelty numbers. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1939-1940 (1939-40 [1993], Classics): From October to February, only seven tracks with His Famous Orchestra, most of the rest small groups led by Barney Bigard and Cootie Williams, plus a bit of solo piano and two duets with new bassist Jimmy Blanton. Ben Webster rejoins in February, kicking off Ellington's most legendary band. B+(***)

Vienna Art Orchestra: Duke Ellington's Sound of Love, Vol. 2: Live at Porgy & Bess, Vienna (2003, EmArcy): Big band, founded by Mathias Rüegg in 1977, originally to play his own postmodernist compositions, but over the years they've delved into a wide range of jazz and classical composers, adding their own distinctively avant touches. Their previous Ellington volume came out in 2000. Highpoint here is a "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue" that's messier than the Newport version but every bit as exciting (although no one dares go after Cat Anderson's high notes). A-

Ben Webster: Plays Duke Ellington (1967-71 [2002], Storyville): Tenor saxophonist, played with Bennie Moten in 1932, moved to New York and played occasionally with Ellington from 1935, becoming a regular 1940-43, and he kept some of his major pieces in his songbook (especially "Cottontail"). This isn't a tribute, but was stitched together from several sessions, mostly fast jams but also a gorgeous "Satin Doll," and closes with a strong blues vocal (not sure who). A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Kenny Barron/Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake: Without Deception (Dare2) [03-06]
  • Gerald Beckett: Mood (Summit)
  • Benjamin Boone With the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy (Origin) [03-20]
  • Calle Loiza Jazz Project: There Will Never Be Another You (self-released)
  • The Coachella Valley Trio: Mid Century Modern (DMAC)
  • Sarah Elgeti Quartet With Friends: Dawn Comes Quietly (Gateway Music) [02-21]
  • Nick Finzer: Cast of Characters (Outside In Music) [02-28]
  • Al Gold: Al Gold's Paradise (self-released) [03-06]
  • Christopher Icasiano: Provinces (Origin) [02-21]
  • Brent Jensen: The Sound of a Dry Martini: Remembering Paul Desmond (2002, Origin) [02-21]
  • Mike McGinniss/Elias Bailey/Vinnie Sperrazza: Time Is Thicker (Open Stream Music)
  • New Stories: Speakin' Out (2019 [2020], Origin) [02-21]
  • Gloria Reuben & Marty Ashby: For All We Know (MCG Jazz) [02-14]
  • Reverso [Frank Woeste/Vincent Courtois/Ryan Keberle]: The Melodic Line (Out Note) [02-14]
  • RJ & the Assignment: Hybrid Harmony (self-released)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Air Power! (self-released)
  • Torbjörn Zetterberg & Den Stora Fragan: Are You Happy (Moserobie)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Skipped a week because I was working on music stuff, so this week's links go back further than usual, but much of the previous week was absorbed in speculation about Iowa and Trump's impeachment trial, which became obsolete the moment the votes were counted (or are finally counted; see Riley Beggin: Final Iowa caucuses results expected just before New Hampshire begins voting). Trump was, of course, not convicted, the vote 48-52, with Mitt Romney the only Senator to break party ranks. This, and his own holier-than-thou explanation, occasioned pieces heaping undeserved praise or wrath on Romney, none of which mentioned the most obvious point: Trump's following among Republicans is significantly weaker in Utah than in any other state, probably because Utah is uniquely insulated from the fears he preys upon.

The Iowa caucuses were a huge embarrassment for the Democratic Party's professional elites, who came up with novel ways to avoid reporting unpleasant news (that Sanders won the popular vote), and reminded us that Republicans aren't the only party willing to use tricks (in this case "State Delegate Equivalents") to steal an election (allowing Buttigieg to claim a Trumpian victory, although even there, with still incomplete results, the margin is a razor thin 564-562; Sanders led the first-found popular vote 24.75% to 21.29%, followed by Warren 18.44%, Biden 14.95%, Klobuchar 12.73%, Yang 5.00%, Steyer 1.75%, Gabbard 0.19%, Bloomberg 0.12%, Bennet 0.09%, Patrick 0.03%, Delaney 0.01% [10 votes]). Lots of articles this week dredging up old standy complaints about Iowa's premier spot in presidential campaigns, including generic complaints about caucuses, and even more about Iowa.

New Hampshire will vote on Tuesday. Recent polling: Anya van Wagtendonk: Sanders leads in New Hampshire, but half of voters remain uncommitted -- subhed amends that to 30%. Buttigieg seems to be in 2nd place now (21%, behind 28% for Sanders), followed by Biden (11%), Warren (9%), Gabbard (6%), Klobuchar (5%), Yang and Steyer (3%), with Bloomberg (not on ballot) at 2%. The Democrats had another debate last week, resulting in the usual winners-and-losers pieces, none of which caught my eye below. (If you really want one, try Vox, which had Klobuchar a winner and Biden a loser.)

Meanwhile, Trump gave his State of the Union address, on the even of his "acquittal." It read (link below) more like his campaign stump speech, at least the one he'd give if he didn't wander off script, and Republicans in the audience tried to turn the event into a campaign rally, even at one point chanting "four more years" (but at least I haven't seen any reports of "lock her up"), and the fact that half of the audience were Democrats kept the chemistry down (and added a few boos and a couple of walkouts). Of course, the content got lost in the dramatics, especially Trump's refusal to shake Nancy Pelosi's hand on entering, and her ripping up his speech afterwards. It all led pundits and partisans to offer sermons on civility, but Trump had been absolutely vicious toward Pelosi ever since she got behind impeachment. But what the exchange reminded me most of was a story about Casey Stengel, where he artfully dodged an interview after a loss by making obscene gestures the media couldn't broadcast. By ripping up Trump's speech, Pelosi signaled there was nothing but lies and contempt there, more succinctly than any of the official party responders could possibly do.

Some Republican flaks claim that last week was one of Trump's best ever, and they can point to a trivial uptick in Trump's approval rating (43.8% at 538). It's clear now that the Senate's non-trial didn't move anyone, but while it was tedious and overwrought as it happened, it will be remembered differently. Democrats will remember it as a valiant attempt to do something about a president has repeatedly abused his office and violated his oath to support the Constitution and the laws of the land, which was thwarted not by facts or reason but by cynical partisan solidarity, making clear that the Republican members of Congress are fully complicit in Trump's crimes. That's something they can campaign on this fall.

Trump celebrated his "acquittal" with a series of extremely boorish public appearances (some noted below). I've gotten to where it's hard for Trump to shock me, but his is the most disgusting performance I've ever seen by a public figure. I've long maintained that Trump himself isn't nearly as dangerous or despicable as the orthodox Republicans he surrounds himself with, but I may have to revise my view. I've long believed that the swing vote in the 2020 election will turn on those Americans who don't particularly object to Trump's policies but decide that his personal behavior is too embarrassing to tolerate further. This week has provided plenty for them to think about.

The only issue below I tried to group links under was the Kushner "deal of the century," partly because they separate out easily enough. Trump issues, Democrat issues, they're all over the place.

Some scattered links this week:

PS: I've never been much impressed by Amanda Marcotte, but her visceral rejection of Trump seems to be leading her to deeper truths. She has a recent book, Troll Nation: How the Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set on Ratf*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself, which is about as pointed a title as the subject deserves. From the blurb:

Trump was the inevitable result of American conservatism's degradation into an ideology of blind resentment. For years now, the purpose of right wing media, particularly Fox News, has not been to argue for traditional conservative ideals, such as small government or even family values, so much as to stoke bitterness and paranoia in its audience. . . . Conservative pundits, politicians, and activists have abandoned any hope of winning the argument through reasoned discourse, and instead have adopted a series of bad faith claims, conspiracy theories, and culture war hysterics. Decades of these antics created a conservative voting base that was ready to elect a mindless bully like Donald Trump.

I also want to quote an Amazon comment on the book by a Joseph Caferro, which gives us a peek into the Trump troll mindset:

Why [really] do Trump and his followers troll? And the answer is not hatred.

It's a tactic to destabilize the tenuous parasitic leftist coalitions that are built on a dizzying array of incompatible grievances against imagined enemy institutions. These enemies of leftists include most of the most stable, successful institutions that make civilization possible: religion, capitalism, meritocratic education and commerce, strong national defense, controlled borders, and solvent government spending. The incessant attacks on these institutions by the left are largely encouraged by the DC establishment and most state and local governments, and the result has been failure of safety, solvency, competence, and sanity. Leftism causes parasitic failure across the board. To defend leftist policies on merit is impossible, so the left decided the primary tactic for persuasion should be defamation, intimidation, and even criminal extortion, persecution, and assault. So the right has had enough, and has decided, symbolized by and led by Trump, to assail the leftist establishment with criticism, skepticism, insults, and challenges to their authority and power at all levels. Like in any street fight, you can't win if you aren't willing to use the tactics your enemy is willing to use. So the right trolls, because the left smears. As long as the left smears and commits crimes to further their agenda, the right will troll and be willing to stop those crimes with equal or greater force. That is why the right trolls. Not because of your imagined telepathic detection of deep seated Nazi hatred, but because your leadership are a bunch of parasitic communist thugs who aspire to totalitarian tyrannical rule, and deserve trolling.

I quote this because it's a lot more coherent than what you usually get from this quarter, but still, there's a lot wrong here, starting with a gross misapprehension of what the left is concerned with, and more fundamentally with failure to understand that the bedrock of "stable, successful institutions" is a widely shared sense of justice. It's true that our notions of justice used to be rooted in religion, but that splintered long ago. Some of us gave up the religion we were born into precisely because it no longer seemed to satisfy our sense of justice, and because we found it manipulated by charlatans for special interests. Caferro's list of "successful institutions" turns out to be less coherent than he imagines. Meritocracy sounds good, but more often than not is just a ruse for rationalizing inequality. The last three are arbitrarily grafted into the others: the rationale behind a strong police state is to protect its rulers from the effects of its misrule. "Leftism causes parasitic failure across the board" is a crude way of restating Hayek's Road to Serfdom thesis, which could be used to explain the economic failures of the Soviet Union, but Hayek and his followers have always expected the same doom to befall western social democracy, which has never happened. Where Caferro's argument goes off the rails is his bit about how "the left are largely encouraged by the DC establishment and most state and local governments" and his later reference to "the leftist establishment" -- there is no such thing, as should be clear from the shit fit old guard Democrats are having over the prospect of Sanders winning the Democratic Party nomination.

Then there's the question of tactics. Caferro argues that Trump supporters have to troll because that's the way leftists fight them, but that's neither supported by fact nor by logic. The left offers much more substantial arguments than the name-calling Caferro hates, but it's worth noting that the name-calling would hurt less if it didn't smack of truth. Trump is a racist, a sexist, a liar, a crook, and an all-around asshole. One can document those assertions with hundreds or possibly thousands of pages of examples, but sometimes the shorthand is all you need. Whether he's also a fascist depends on some extra historical knowledge that may not be widely agreed on, but most leftists define fascists as people who want to kill them, so that's a relevant (if not universal) framework.

But just because your opponent fights one way doesn't mean you have to fight the same. Strong occupying armies are most often countered not by equivalent armies but by guerrilla warfare. One might argue that they are morally equivalent, in that both seek to kill the other, and that is often the downfall of the guerrillas. So the other major example is non-violent resistance, such as the movements led by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the US. I'd submit that Trump trolls have chosen their tactics not because the left has but because they're more suited to taste, needs, and morals (which approve of lies and distortions to sway people, and violence to suppress them, all in support of an authoritarian social and economic order which benefits people they identify with).

Friday, January 31, 2020

Music Week

January archive (done).

Music: Current count 32712 [32640] rated (+72), 230 [228] unrated (+2).

Whereas last week I closed my count on Sunday as usual but didn't post Music Week until Thursday, this week I'm even later, and this time I used to the extra days to squeeze more records in. For the record, the count was +34 Sunday evening, when I would normally cut over. The reason for the extra days this week is that I usually save away a frozen copy of my yearly list on or near the end of January, and I thought it would make more sense to align that date with the end of January Streamnotes. Last year I decided to publish my reviews in my Music Week posts, out each Monday, and align the monthly Streamnotes archives with Music Week posts, cutting off each month on its final Monday. However, this year the final Monday left five days in the month, which is normally 20-25 records -- enough of a discrepancy to make me want to include them before freeze date.

On the other hand, I didn't get as much done in my extra days [of January] as I hoped. In fact, the only way I'll get anything up dated Jan. 31 is through the miracle of backdating. (I'm writing this on Feb. 1, and doubt I'll get done tonight, either. [I finally did the freeze Feb. 5, posting well after midnight, so Feb. 6.]) One thing that got in the way was my decision to rustle up a rather ambitious Friday dinner. I thought of this initially as my mother's birthday, but rather than fixing any of her specialties, I decided to slightly rework the last birthday dinner I fixed for her. Only later did I realize this was the 20th anniversary of that dinner. After she died in June, we drove to Dodge City, where I made the same dinner for my father's cousin, Zula Mae Reed. She was one of the first people to introduce me to Chinese food. Ever since I figured out how to make my own, I had wanted to cook Chinese or her.

After making the occasional stir-fry mess in New York, I moved to New Jersey, threw my wok away, bought some good aluminum core, stainless steel pans, and started studying Barbara Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, and got pretty good at it. I later branched out to practically everything else. But lately I've steered away from Chinese for large dinners -- most dishes require a final stir-fry, which is chaotic and leaves a huge mess (I call this the "fire drill," a term which probably has racist origins but seems perfectly descriptive in this case, even if everything is perfectly executed). When I make Chinese these days, it's often for just the two of us. I did just that a week ago, and felt that I was losing my touch, so that made me all the more resolved to prove I could still do it.

My menu last night:

  • Fried chicken Szechuan style: cubed chicken breast, deep-fried, stir-fried with spicy aromatics and a soy-based sauce.
  • Stir-fried scallops with orange peel: velveted scallops, water chesnuts, orange peel, in a soy-based sauce, garnished with deep-fried spinach strands.
  • Dry-fried beef: thin strips, marinated and deep-fried, then stir-fried with carrots and green bell pepper strips and a dark soy sauce.
  • Dry-seared green beans: deep-fried, with stir-fried with pork, dried shrimp, Szechuan and Tientsin vegetables, soy, and scallions.
  • Dry-fried Chinese eggplant nuggets: stir-fried with aromatics, and a chile-brown sugar-balsamic vinegar sauce.
  • Shrimp, leek & pine nut fried rice: rice, with velveted shrimp, sauteed leeks, fried egg, and pine nuts.

Huge amount of prep work here, including initial cooking in the deep fryer (green beans, spinach, beef, chicken), in water (shrimp, scallops), or in the sauté pan (leeks, eggs), soaking, cutting/chopping, arranging aromatics on plates for each dish, mixing sauces for each dish (in two cases with a separate cornstarch slurry to thicken), and garnishes. Once everything was prepped, I did the final stir-fry two dishes at a time, in rapid succession. Some minor problems along the way, and one or two dishes didn't turn out quite perfect, but the dishes are so flavorful no one else seemed disappointed.

For dessert, I thought I'd try the "fusion east-west" recipes in Tropp's China Moon Cookbook: I did the chocolate-walnut tart and ginger ice cream. The tart was overdone (could be that I used too large a pan, making the crust and filling too thin), which made it hard to get out of the nominally non-stick pan, and probably made it a bit chewier than it was supposed to be. Neither turned out to be a problem with the ice cream on top. Bumped the recipe by 50%, which turned out to be the upper limit of the machine and a bit more than I could put into my chosen container, but it was all gone before the guests left.

Robert Christgau published his Dean's List 2019 on January 26, with 76 records, 14 released in 2018 or earlier (back to 2015, including my 2018 favorite, The Ex: 27 Passports). A half-dozen titles hadn't been reviewed yet in his Consumer Guide -- the biggest surprise Kalie Shorr's Open Book. I gave it a low B+ in December, resisting the glitzy Nashville production, but gave it another shot, and the songs started poking through. It's one of several re-grades below -- mostly records I admired first time but liked a little more on review. I replayed a few more I didn't budge, including Purple Mountains, The Paranoid Style, Danny Brown, and Slowthai -- all solid B+(***), as I originally thought. I played everything else I had missed (except couldn't find the Seeds soundtrack), but haven't gone down the list to biggest disconnects (like 100 Gecs).

I don't mean to nitpick, but thought it might be helpful to list my non-jazz A-list picks that Christgau hasn't yet reviewed or listed (skipping records, like Hayes Carll: What It Is and Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell, that Christgau gave B+ or stars to):

  1. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterioum (IOT)
  2. Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session (Third Man)
  3. Control Top: Covert Contracts (Get Better)
  4. MexStep: Resistir (Third Root -18
  5. Mavis Staples: We Get By (Anti-)
  6. Dave: Psychodrama (Neighbourhood
  7. Weldon Henson: Texas Made Honky Tonk (Hillbilly Renegade)
  8. People Under the Stars: Sincerely, the P (Piecelock 70)
  9. Chris Knight: Almost Daylight (Drifters Church)
  10. Kelsey Waldon: White Noise/White Lines (Oh Boy)
  11. L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: Complicate Your Life With Violence (Mello Music Group)
  12. Allison Moorer: Blood (Autotelic)
  13. Willie Nelson: Ride Me Back Home (Legacy)
  14. Nilüfer Yanya: Miss Universe (ATO)
  15. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (Keel Cool/RCA)
  16. Queen Key: Eat My Pussy (Again) (Machine Entertainment Group)
  17. The Chemical Brothers: No Geography (Virgin EMI)
  18. Caterina Barbieri: Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego)
  19. Czarface: The Odd Czar Against Us (Silver Age)
  20. Murs: The Iliad is Dead and the Odyssey Is Over (Jamla/Empire)
  21. Hieroglyphic Being: Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism (On the Corner)
  22. YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy (Atlantic)
  23. Sault: 5 (Forever Living Originals)
  24. Sault: 7 (Forever Living Originals)
  25. The Campfire Flies: Sparks Like Little Stars (OverPop Music)
  26. Boy Harsher: Careful (Nude Club)
  27. Apollo Brown: Sincerely, Detroit (Mello Music Group)
  28. Pet Shop Boys: Inner Sanctum (X2)
  29. Lee Scratch Perry: Heavy Rain (On-U Sound)
  30. Sarathy Korwar: More Arriving (The Leaf Label)
  31. Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Trapline (Fontana North)
  32. Caroline Spence: Mint Condition (Rounder)
  33. Ani DiFranco: No Walls: Mixtape (Righteous Babe)
  34. Peter Perrett: Humanworld (Domino)
  35. Oompa: Cleo (OompOutLoud)
  36. Add-2: Jim Crow: The Musical (Add-2 Productions)
  37. Omar Souleyman: Shlon (Mad Decent/Because)
  38. Special Request: Offworld (Houndstooth)
  39. Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance (Columbia/Legacy)
  40. Beans on Toast: The Inevitable Train Wreck (Beans on Toast Music)

I'm surprised this list ran so long (40 of 77 records, so 52%). One thing Christgau laments on his list is a hip-hop shortfall, but I count 13 here (including Blakrok, MexStep and Dave, but not Yanya, Korwar or Sault). Also 6 country, some political folkies, some electronica, and various world outposts. By the way, recent adds and promotions made the non-jazz A-list longer than the jazz one (77-to-75).

The extra listening time brought my number of reviewed 2019 releases to 1224. This compares to 1075 at freeze time last year, 1145 in 2017, 1075 in 2016, 1110 in 2015, 1173 in 2014, 1149 in 2013, 1068 in 2012, 1334 in 2011, and 1236 in 2010. (Going further back: 2009: 1050, 2008: 907, 2007: 1135, 2006: 1089, 2005: 871, 2004: 941, 2003: 525. No data for earlier years, as 2003 was when I started writing -- and getting promos -- again.) About 75% of this year's records were streamed or downloaded, which is probably a record high, but likely to be topped each coming year. I've been expecting the review total to decline each year since my 2011 peak. The only significance I attribute to the bump this year is that I haven't felt up to doing much else. I expect it to drop next year, perhaps significantly -- either if I get into writing long-contemplated but slow-starting non-music projects, or if my health declines.

Meanwhile, the main thing that slowed this post down wasn't a desire to cram in more records. It was the time it took to reach a break point in my EOY Aggregate. I wound up counting 689 lists, of which 174 were considered major (generally, 20+ ranked records, scored 1-5 points), vs. minor lists (top-tens, scored 1-3 points, or unranked lists), with some discretion exercised. Aside from the lists, this includes grade points from Robert Christgau, Michael Tatum, and myself (1-5 points), which admittedly gives the totals a slight bias. I also included a lot of Jazz Critics Poll individual ballots, which contributed significantly to the two jazz albums that cracked the top 40 (plus ten more in the top 100). On the other hand, with no Pazz & Jop poll this year, I wasn't able to cherry-pick individual ballots there. Two more systematic biases should be noted: I skipped nearly all metal lists this year, and I skipped most of the international press lists that Acclaimed Music Forums does such a good job of compiling. Both omissions were mostly the result of priorities as I was trying to catch up while recuperating from surgery, and I never got back to them. I may find some reason to fiddle further, but at this point the smart thing would be to leave well enough alone.

Here's the top 40, with points up front and my grades in brackets.

  1. [447] Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell (Polydor/Interscope) [A-]
  2. [380] Billy Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? (Darkroom/Interscope) [A-]
  3. [334] Tyler, the Creator: Igor (Columbia) [**]
  4. [319] FKA Twigs: Magdalene (Young Turks) [B]
  5. [278] Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (Ghosteen/Bad Seeds) [B]
  6. [275] Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising (Sub Pop) [B-]
  7. [274] Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains (Drag City) [***]
  8. [269] Lizzo: Cuz I Love You (Nice Life/Atlantic) [A-]
  9. [265] Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  10. [259] Angel Olsen: All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  11. [235] Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (Columbia) [**]
  12. [226] Big Thief: U.F.O.F. (4AD) [A-]
  13. [224] Little Simz: Grey Area (Age 101) [A-]
  14. [206] Solange: When I Get Home (Saint/Columbia) [*]
  15. [181] Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel (Partisan) [***]
  16. [178] Brittany Howard: Jaime (ATO) [B]
  17. [173] Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (Keep Cool/RCA) [A-]
  18. [166] Big Thief: Two Hands (4AD) [**]
  19. [166] Ariana Grande: Thank U Next (Republic) [**]
  20. [160] Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy! (Jagjaguwar) [A-]
  21. [148] Black Midi: Schlagenheim (Rough Trade) [**]
  22. [141] Dave: Psychodrama (Neighbourhood) [A-]
  23. [141] Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Polydor) [*]
  24. [130] Jenny Lewis: On the Line (Warner Bros.) [*]
  25. [130] Slowthai: Nothing Great About Britain (Method) [***]
  26. [129] Danny Brown: Uknowhatimsayin¿ (Warp) [***]
  27. [125] Bon Iver: i,i (Jagjaguwar) [B]
  28. [117] Aldous Harding: Designer (4AD) [B]
  29. [116] Taylor Swift: Lover (Republic) [A-]
  30. [112] Julia Jacklin: Crushing (Polyvinyl) [B]
  31. [111] The Highwomen: The Highwomen (Elektra) [B]
  32. [111] The National: I Am Easy to Find (4AD) [**]
  33. [110] Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars (Columbia) [B-]
  34. [109] Kris Davis: Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic) [***]
  35. [107] Denzel Curry: Zuu (Loma Vista) [**]
  36. [105] Thom Yorke: Anima (XL) [B-]
  37. [103] Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans) [*]
  38. [103] Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation) [***]
  39. [101] Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated (604/School Boy/Interscope) [***]
  40. [100] Rapsody: Eve (Roc Nation) [***]

Every aggregate list (either of lists or of individuals) has its peculiar selection and weighting biases. I'm having trouble finding more, but the big ones are Album of the Year and Metacritic. I can't do any analysis at this time, but my impression is that for a long time, the lists were dominated by alt/indie rock with occasional celebrity-crossover hip-hop breakthroughs (e.g., Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar). Last few years alt/indie has waned, and pure pop albums have done better, as well as some artier things I often have trouble fathoming (Nick Cave and Weyes Blood are prime examples this year). One result is that there are more albums on the list I like these days, certainly compared to 6-10 years ago (when I started compiling these EOY lists). Still, not a lot of critically popular hip-hop this year (only Tyler, the Creator in the top 10 this year, although it was a huge year for British hip-hop, with Little Simz, Dave, Slowthai, and others just down the list).

New records reviewed this week:

Snoh Aalegra: Ugh, Those Feels Again (2019, Artrium): Soul singer, born in Sweden, parents Iranian, original name Shahrzad Fooladi, based in Los Angeles, first album Feels, so title is a play on that. B+(**)

Add-2: Jim Crow: The Musical (2019, Add-2 Productions): Chicago rapper Andre DiJuan Daniels, mixtapes since 2005 including four volumes of Tale of Two's City, and the album Prey for the Poor. Title suggests two dimensions of distance -- history viewed on stage, past from present, others from self -- but Jim Crow persists as a mental trap, not least because it's periodically reinforced by events. A-

Altin Gün: Gece (2019, ATO): "Anatolian rock" band, founded in Amsterdam by bassist Jasper Verhulst, with Merve Dasdemir (vocals) and Erdic Yildiz Ecevit (vocals, saz, keys) for Turkish roots. Ranges between groove and spots for "a very soulful language." As usual, any psychedelia is in the mind of the beholder. B+(**)

Daymé Arocena: Sonocardiogram (2019, Brownswood): Cuban singer, based in London, fourth album, has a bit of a diva complex, though I could see getting into that. B

BaianaSystem: O Futuro Não Demora (2019, Máquina De Louco): Brazilian group, from Salvador in Bahia. Forró roots with electronic beats, postmodern imports, even a bit of Manu Chao. B+(***)

BCUC: The Healing (2019, Buda Musique): South African group, from Soweto, acronym stands for Bantu Continua Ubuntu Consciousness, the polyglot name a hint of international eclecticism. But still sounds more like Afrobeat, with two of three pieces running long (19:18, 16:23), and not just the one Femi Kuti guests on. Saul Williams appears on the 3:54 closer. B+(**)

BCUC: Emakhosini (2018, Buda Musique): Earlier record, same basic idea, no guests. B+(*)

Benny Benack III: A Lot of Livin' to Do (2019 [2020], LA Reserve): Trumpet player, sings, second album, wrote four songs but mostly depends on standards, big name in the band is bassist Christian McBride, has two guest spots for female singers. B+(**) [01-24]

Daniel Bernardes & Drumming GP: Liturgy of the Birds: In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen (2018 [2019], Clean Feed): Pianist, from Portugal, leads a trio augmented by a percussion quartet. All original compositions, their pedigree as "explorations of Olivier Messiaen's compositional techniques" something I'll have to take at face value. B+(**)

Big K.R.I.T.: K.R.I.T. Iz Here (2019, Multi Alumni): Mississippi rapper Justin Lewis Scott, fourth album, long list of mixtapes. Came out late and hardly anyone noticed. B+(**)

Jim Black Trio: Reckon (2019 [2020], Intakt): Drummer, fourth album since 2011 with this particular trio: Elias Stemseder (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). Helps to focus on the drummer here, frantically tying together the many remarkable tangents. A-

Black Alien: Abaixo De Zero: Hello Hell (2019, Extrapunk Extrafunk): Brazilian singer/rapper, Gustavo de Almeida Ribeiro, started in a duo with Speed 1993-2001. Nine cuts, 26:49. B+(*)

Zach Brock/Matt Ulery/Jon Deitemyer: Wonderment (2018 [2019], Woolgathering): Violin-bass-drums trio. B+(**)

Brockhampton: Ginger (2019, Question Everything/RCA): Hip-hop "boy band" collective, formed in Texas but moved to California, best-known member releases solo albums as Kevin Abstract. B+(**)

Apollo Brown: Sincerely, Detroit (2019, Mello Music Group): Erik Vincent Stephens, grew up in Grand Rapids, moved to Detroit in 2003, hip-hop producer, a dozen albums sharing credit with various rappers, six more under his own name. Here it feels like he's working with the whole city, at least what's left of it. Not optimism -- "we knew from the start that things fall apart" -- but hard-earned survival. A-

Charly Bliss: Supermoon (2019, Barsuk, EP): Listed by Napster as Charly Bliss 2019 EP, but this title appears on Bandcamp and elsewhere. Five songs, 15:52, smart pop. B+(**)

Gary Clark Jr.: This Land (2019, Warner Brothers): The most hyped bluesman of his generation, certainly at the moment he first arrived. Never impressed me, but maybe I was wrong to slot him in blues -- a music he can play credibly (cf. "Dirty Dish Blues" here) but is just one facet of his fairly eclectic rock repertoire. He's just as likely to signal Funkadelic or the Miracles, but never what you'd call inspired, even when he pumps up the volume. B

Luke Combs: What You See Is What You Get (2019, River House/Columbia Nashville): Country singer from North Carolina, second album, big voice, heavy guitar, likes beer and dogs, less sure about love, considers himself one of the "Blue Collar Boys." B+(**)

Jamael Dean: Black Space Tapes (2019, Stones Throw): Young pianist (20), born in Bakersfield, father a "soul jazz" drummer, grew up in Los Angeles, currently enrolled at New School in New York, first album. Six cuts, revolving cast, seems rather scattered, with bits of hip-hop fusion and acid jazz, but none quite predictable. B+(*)

Dreamville: Revenge of the Dreamers III (2019, Dreamville): Various artists, but sources credit this to the label, and I've seen it filed under star J. Cole. I initially guessed this had something to do with the so-called Dreamers, but I can't find any evidence of a political theme. Rather, this celebrates a found community, brought together by creativity and commerce. B+(*)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution: Won't Put No Flag Out (2019, Budapest Music Center): German tenor saxophonist, first album as leader 2007, second album with this trio -- Théo Ceccaldi (viola, violin) and Jim Hart (vibes, percussion). "Over the Rainbow" is an odd cover choice, marking a shift to chamber jazz. B+(**)

Dori Freeman: Every Single Star (2019, Blue Hens Music): Folksinger-songwriter from Virginia, fourth album, reminds me of Iris DeMent -- sure, a kinder, gentler version. B+(***)

Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Remember Me, My Dear (2014 [2019], ECM New Series): British male vocal quartet, named after an Elizabethan miniaturist painter, focused on medievel and renaissance music from 1980, later entering into several collaborations, notably with Swedish saxophonist Garbarek on 1994's Officium. Evidently disbanded in 2014 after this farewell concert in Bellinzona, Switzerland. I loved the sax so much on the debut that I wound up liking the voices, but the lower the ratio, the less patient I become. B+(*)

Halsey: Manic (2020, Capitol): Pop singer-songwriter Ashley Frangipane, third album. Two plays, has some edge, some hooks, not sure whether she's interesting or mostly a flake. B+(***)

Tim Heidecker: Another Year in Hell: Collected Songs From 2018 (2018 [2019], Jagjaguwar, EP): Comedian, writer, director, actor, musician -- I can't say as he was on my radar until he released a collection of songs about Donald Trump in 2017 (Too Dumb for Suicide). Sample lyric: "I'm down in the basement making signs out of love . . . and I hope I find a like minded girl tonight at the trump rally." Six cuts, 18:38. B

Hieroglyphic Being: Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism (2019, On the Corner): Jamal Moss, from Chicago but associated more with Detroit techno, has close to fifty albums since 2008, most on his own Mathematics label, but I only seem to notice him when some other label picks him up (e.g., Soul Jazz). Vinyl-sized at 5 songs, 34:25, opens with old-fashioned synths, adds a couple of saxophones to the 12:12 closer ("Timbuktu 2"), a very choice cut. A-

Jenny Hval: The Practice of God (2019, Sacred Bones): Norwegian singer-songwriter, studied in Australia before returning to Norway. Went all goth on her last album (Blood Bitch), but turns here to avant-electronics producer Lasse Marhaug, and the beats help a lot. B+(***)

Bobby J From Rockaway: Summer Classics (2019, Make Noise): White rapper from Queens, first record, old-style beats and boasts, even has a song called "Blue Eyed Soul," but gets production help from Kwamé, Statik Selektah, and others, and a guest shot from Kilah Priest, and has some fun. B+(**)

JackBoys and Travis Scott: JackBoys (2019, Cactus Jack/Epic, EP): Houston collective centered on Scott's Cactus Jack label, seven-cut "compilation" (21:23), with Scott featured on 3-4 tracks, Don Tolliver taking lead on one, Sheck Wes and Young Thug also appearing. Trap rap minus hard edges, as far as I can figure. B+(*)

Jealous of the Birds: Wisdom Teeth (2019, Atlantic, EP): Naomi Hamilton, Irish singer-songwriter, released an album in 2015, two EPs since, this the second, 5 substantial songs, 18:40. B+(**)

Cody Jinks: After the Fire (2019, Late August): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, self-released six albums before signing to Rounder for two that finally cracked the country charts. Classic sound, old-time virtues, an eye for detail, a bit of jazz at the end. B+(***)

Cody Jinks: The Wanting (2019, Late August): Released just a week after After the Fire, a gimmick that promised two consecutive number ones, but Wikipedia shows both albums topped at 2, as did his previous best, Lifers. Pretty much the same album, but a couple of songs strike me as a tad overweight -- maybe he's just leaning in too hard. B+(**)

Oumar Konaté: I Love You Inna (2018 [2019], Clermont Music): From Mali, fifth album, good-enough singer but really impressive on electric guitar, backed by electric bass and drums in a configuration that would have turned Jimi Hendrix's head. A-

Arto Lindsay/Joe McPhee/Ken Vandermark/Phil Sudderberg: Largest Afternoon (2019 [2020], Corbett vs. Dempsey): OK, some guys got together in Chicago, and rolled the tape. The saxophonists do this sort of thing all the time, so this is fairly typical for them. Lindsay sticks to guitar here, and everything seems to be improv, so don't expect his usual crypto-Brazilian no wave, but he turns in a respectable performance, cutting against the grain. B+(**) [bc]

Fred Lonberg-Holm/Joe McPhee: No Time Left for Sadness (2019 [2020], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Cello and tenor sax duets, the former also on electronics. Three pieces, increasing length, driven mostly by the cello although this winds up being a strong performance for McPhee. B+(**) [bc]

John McLaughlin/Shankar Mahadevan/Zakir Hussain: Is That So? (2020, Abstract Logix): The guitarist's love affair with Indian music dates back at least to his 1976 Shakti, which percussionist Hussain played on. Not sure when vocalist Mahadevan entered the picture, but he was touring with McLaughlin in 2013 when "the idea for this album appeared in my mind." He dominates this album: I'm duly impressed by his remarkable voice, but have limited use for his style of opera. B+(**)/p>

Microwave: Death Is a Warm Blanket (2019, Pure Noise): Post-hardcore band from Atlanta, third album. Reminds me a bit of Husker Du, not a band I've bothered playing in decades. Also liked them a bit more when they opened up, a reaction Husker Du fans may not share. B+(*)

Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Smells Funny (2019, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian jazz-rock trio, leader's full name Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen (guitar), with Ellen Brekken (bass) and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad (drums). Raw power, impressive guitar chops. B+(**)

Allison Moorer: Blood (2019, Autotelic): Country singer-songwriter from Alabama, sister of Shelby Lynne, has had two famous songwriter-husbands. Tenth album, title tied to a memoir: the headline event in her life was in 1986 when her father shot and killed her mother, then killed himself. Not sure any songs can do full justice to the event, but these cut deep and move you. A-

Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock (2019, Merge): Main guy in Hüsker Dü, an important 1980s band I've lost my interest in, went solo in 1989 and has cranked out a dozen albums since, to no special distinction. Still, this attaches more hooks to his signature din, and occasionally takes a break to find his voice, maybe even a melody (e.g., title cut). B+(**)

The Murder Capital: When I Have Fears (2019, Human Season): Irish post-punk group, first album. Laura suggested "Pogues meet New Order," but doesn't really deliver either distinction. The double guitars sprawl where punk chops, and the vocals sound more like Nick Cave. B+(*)

Murs: The Iliad Is Dead and the Odyssey Is Over (2019, Jamla/Empire): Rapper Nick Carter, albums since 2003 and still underground, produced by 9th Wonder and the Soul Council. Barely noticed when it came out, this is one of his best. A-

Aaron Novik: The Fallow Curve of the Planospheres (2019, Avant LaGuardia): Clarinet player, bills himself as coposer first, and that's clearly the focus here. Album is conceived of as a compilation of five "suites of music," each an EP (although I've found no evidence of them having been previously released), each with a different band and locale. B+(*)

Otoboke Beaver: Itekoma Hits (2019, Damnably): Japanese punk rock group, four women, singer-songwriter Accorinrin, records since 2011, not sure how much of this 14-song, 26:26 LP is new -- 5 songs from a 2016 EP, one new recording of an older song. Ultimately too chaotic, harsh, noisy for my taste, but for a moment I was pretty impressed. B+(**)

Jeff Parker: Suite for Max Brown (2020, International Anthem): Chicago guitarist, has appeared in avant-jazz groups (Chicago Underground Trio), also in experimental post-rock outfits (Tortoise, Isotope 217), his own work widely scattered, as is this. Title cut is pretty seductive, with trumpet and alto sax over slinky rhythm. B+(**) [bc]

The Pernice Brothers: Spread the Feeling (2019, Ashmont): Alt/indie band, Joe Pernice is the singer-songwriter, brother Bob also plays guitar, eighth album since 1998. B+(*) [bc]

Post Malone: Hollywood's Bleeding (2019, Republic): Rapper-singer Austin Richard Post, from Syracuse, third album, seems to be quite popular. Aims for a big, arena sound. I find it a bit claustrophobic, even though the pummeling offers occasional pleasures. B

Emily Scott Robinson: Traveling Mercies (2019, Tone Tree Music): Folksinger-songwriter from North Carolina, lives in an RV she's put more than a quarter million miles on, took a short break from her touring to record this debut album. Character songs, probably fiction -- I doubt she's really a "white hot country mess," but that's her best shot for a hit. B+(***)

Kurt Rosenwinkel Bandit 65: Searching the Continuum (2019, Heartcore): Guitarist, from Philadelphia, based in Switzerland, debut 1996, bills his band -- a trio with Tim Motzer (guitar) and Gintas Janusonis (drums), both also electronics -- as a "post-jazz sonic trio." I omitted "mesmerizing," an intent they only occasionally achieve. B+(***)

Serengeti: Music From the Graphic Novel Kenny Vs the Dark Web (2019, Burnco, EP): Chicago rapper David Cohn, has a lot of mixtapes, many featuring a character named Kenny Dennis, who reappears here (more or less -- this feels more like scattered outtakes than anything thematic, even though the graphic novel supposedly is). 7 tracks, 18:17. B+(**)

Shed: Oderbruch (2019, Ostgut Ton): German DJ/producer, fifth album since 2008, really like his upbeat pieces, don't dislike the more atmospheric ones. B+(***)

Ed Sheeran: No. 6 Collaborations Project (2019, Atlantic): English singer-songwriter, fourth album, pretty big star over there, one I've generally found amiably listenable. Harder to judge this one given that each cut has one or more guests, most rappers and/or r&b singers. B+(**)

Skyzoo & Pete Rock: Retropolitan (2019, Mello Music Group): Rapper Gregory Skyler Taylor (8 albums and 14 mixtapes since 2004), first with producer Peter Phillips. B+(**)

Sly Horizon: The Anatomy of Light (2018 [2019], Iluso): Trio: Rick Parker (trombone), Alvaro Domene (guitar), and Jeremy Carlstedt (drums), everyone also credited with electronics, which generates most of the dark ambience. B+(*) [bc]

Son Volt: Union (2019, Transmit Sound): Alt-country band, Jay Farrar's second after Uncle Tupelo, ninth album since 1995. Has picked up some politics, even setting a Joe Hill speech to music. B+(*)

The Steel Woods: Old News (2019, Woods Music): Southern rock traditionalists, based in Nashville, Wes Bayliss and Jason "Rowdy" Cope the principals, second album, comes on strong, leaves me cold. Docked a notch for making Merle Haggard sound like a bitter old jerk. B-

Harry Styles: Fine Line (2019, Columbia): English, former boy group star from One Direction, second solo album. Seems pointless even when he comes up with something catchy -- actually, the catchier, the more annoying it gets. C+

Sunn O))): Life Metal (2019, Southern Lord): Drone metal band, eighth album since 2000. Emphasis on drone, with more fuzz than metal. I don't seriously dislike it, but seems slight, and I don't get the appeal. B-

Leo Svirsky: River Without Banks (2019, Unseen Worlds): American composer, based in the Netherlands, fifth album since 2011. Mostly piano, rolls on and on. B+(**)

Veronica Swift: Confessions (2019, Mack Avenue): Jazz singer, started young with an album at age 9 (Veronica's House of Jazz) with Richie Cole, Hod O'Brien (her father), and Stephanie Nakasian (her mother) -- O'Brien, who died in 2016, played piano an all-time favorite album, Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer (with Sheila Jordan). Standards, backed by Benny Green Trio on three cuts, Emmet Cohen's on the rest. Dazzling vocal chops. B+(**)

Rebecca Trescher: Where We Go (2019, Enja/Yellowbird): German clarinet player, third album, leads a tentet, replete with harp, vibes, lots of flutes, and scat voice -- none of which manage to spoil the impressive arranging. B+(**)

Dwight Trible: Mothership (2019, Gearbox): Jazz singer, based in Los Angeles, half-dozen albums since 2001, starts with a piece by LA jazz legend Horace Tapscott, covers some more usual suspects, wrote three. B+(*)

Amber Weekes: Pure Imagination (2019 [2020], Amber Inn Productions): Standards singer, second album, very fond of Oscar Brown Jr., starts delightful (especially "It's All Right With Me"), less so on the ballads, least of all a duet with Mon David. B+(*) [cd]

Kanye West: Jesus Is King (2019, GOOD Music/Def Jam): Could be he was punking Trump, who clearly got off on proximity to such celebrity and feigned obeissance, but hard to see how he figured to pull off the same trick with G-d, unless his anarchism harbors a closeted atheist. Nothing here convinces me that he believes in G-d, much less that I should. He takes the hollow trimmings of Christianity and turns them into a chaotic mess, without even offering a wink that he might be aiming for satire, which leaves us with some form of mental illness. Still has production chops and can rap, and there's one bit of good news: it's only 27:04 long. B-

Wilco: Ode to Joy (2019, dBpm): Jeff Tweedy's band, in a particularly middling mood, doesn't seem like much, but can't complain about the comfort factor. B+(*)

Will of the People [Haftor Medbøe]: Will of the People (2019, Copperfly): Norwegian guitarist, based in Edinburgh, several albums since 2005, first for this trio with Pete Furniss (bass clarinet and electronics) and Tom Bancroft (drums). B+(**)

Wire: Mind Hive (2020, Pink Flag): Forty years after they raised the art-bar for punk, they've broadened their music without fundamentally changing it. This one almost seems like a return to basics. B+(***)

Brandee Younger: Soul Awakening (2019, self-released): Harp player, from Long Island, pulled this early tape off the shelf: producer Dezron Douglas (bass) and the drummer (usually EJ Strickland) craft a matrix that envelops the harp while letting it sparkle. Plus guests: Niia sings one track, the rest have horns, the standout among many fine performances Ravi Coltrane. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Julie Coker: A Life in the Limelight: Lagos Disco & Itsekiri Highlife 1976-1981 (1976-81 [2019], Kalita): Gained initial fame as Miss Western Nigeria 1957, moved into TV and radio, produced two albums fileted here (7 songs, 30:55). Nothing major here. B+(*)

Professor Longhair: Live on the Queen Mary (1975 [2019], Harvest): New Orleans piano legend Roy Byrd, started recording in 1949 but had few albums before his death in 1980, after which his reputation was secured in numerous live tapes and a stellar 2-CD Rhino retrospective. This one appeared early, in 1978, probably because it was "presented by Paul and Linda McCartney." Seems a bit redundant at this stage, but if I heard it first, I might well have been blown away. B+(***)

Jim Sullivan: U.F.O. (1969 [2019], Light in the Attic): Singer-songwriter, guitarist, recorded two albums before mysteriously disappearing in 1975. Not easily classifiable, but not interesting or weird enough to matter. B

Jim Sullivan: Jim Sullivan (1972 [2019], Light in the Attic): Second album, a second introduction, dropping the fake strings and letting the music flow, with a country accent and a few horns. B+(*)

This Is Toolroom 2019 (Edits) (2019, Toolroom): English electronica label, founded by Mark Knight in 2004, purveyors of something called tech house, which in my book could pass for techno or house. This was number two on the Ye Wei Blog EOY list: presumably the full-length (20 tracks, 129:10) version as opposed to the (Edits), which is the only version I could find online (same 20 reduced by half to 69:36). Various artists, Knight's the only name I recognize, with beats so similar they could come from the same shop. Still, grows on you. B+(***)

Grade (or other) changes:

75 Dollar Bill: I Was Real (2019, Thin Wrist): Guitar-drums duo, Che Chen and Rick Brown, the former studied Mauritanian music with Jheich Ould Chighaly, perhaps why their most obvious connection seems to be with Saharan blues-rock, but they work with all sorts of guitar patterns. No vocals, none needed. [was B+(***)] A-

Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs (2019, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter born in Wales, moved as a child to Perth, Australia, offers what Christgau calls "a catalogue of assholes" -- males, "boys will be boys," etc. -- although I'm also struck by the allergies and bearers of infectious diseases. [was B+(***)] A-

Craig Finn: I Need a New War (2019, Partisan): Fourth solo album, after fronting groups Lifter-Puller and the Hold Steady (a continuing venture with its own album this year). Has a distinctive voice, writes serious songs about interesting people. Initially taken aback by the title here refers to U.S. Grant, who would think such a thing, and still prefer the band effort, but this one is growing on me. [was: B+(***)] A-

Kalie Shorr: Open Book (2019, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Maine, based in Nashville. Songs have some country in them and are often brash and pointed. Production bigger than she needs, but she rocks harder than any Nashville ingenue since Miranda Lambert. [was: B+(*)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Mark Segger Sextet: Lift Off (18th Note) [02-07]

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Not much on the impeachment trial below. I remember watching Senate hearings on Watergate, but haven't followed anything in Congress that closely since -- even the Iraq War votes (note plural), or a series of Supreme Court votes (starting with Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas) even though they were much more consequential. The Democrats would like to see this impeachment as a grave, solemn affair, but it doesn't differ from the Clinton impeachment enough to sway me. Of course, if given the chance, I'd vote to convict -- fact of the matter is I would have voted to convict Clinton as well -- but the 2020 election remains the prize, and this is just a distraction. If Republicans decide to throw Trump under the bus, they'd still have the colorless, soulless Mike Pence in the White House, still have their Senate majority, and still have all those judges they've confirmed during the last three years. On the other hand, the 2020 elections offer the hope of starting to reverse the tragic effects of electing those Republicans in recent years. I know I've eschewed reporting on horserace political stories, but I'd much rather be reading Bernie Sanders surges into lead in new CNN poll and Polls show Bernie Sanders surging at just the right time and Getting Bernie over the top than anything on the impeachment trial travesty or how sad our wretched democracy has become.

Some scattered links this week:

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