An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, November 3, 2019
Late getting into this, and beset by more problems than I can cope with these days, so no introduction. Nothing fundamentally different. Just lots more of the same old shit.
Some scattered links this week:
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Another batch of 40 brief notes on recently published books -- the third I've published this year, after March 15 and June 1. Actually, a good deal more than 40 books mentioned below, as I've tacked on lists of related books where it seemed appropriate and useful -- in some cases, the list is probably the point. Inclusion in a list doesn't guarantee that I'll never write a book up separately, but usually satisfies my sense of duty.
While the dates above seem to suggest a regular, orderly process, I only managed to do this once in 2018, and twice in 2017 (here and here), so I feel like I'm working my way out of a deep hole. Indeed, I have 55 more-or-less written entries in my scratch file for later, so I could do a fourth one next week, or at least by the end of the year. Oh, and that doesn't count the merely noted titles that follow the top 40 -- 46 more of them in the file, but I'll list some of them to end this post.
Worth noting that I have read (or am working on) the books I have cover art for on the right. Kate Brown's book on Chernobyl is probably the "best read" of the bunch. Just started Poniewozik's Audience of One, and he's scoring points from the very start (unlike, say, Tim Alberta, who wants you to regard John Boehner and Paul Ryan as normal, decent human beings). I checked out Astra Taylor's Democracy May Not Exist but We'll Miss It When It's Gone, but ran out of time before I got deep enough into it to count. I bought a copy of Stanley Greenberg's RIP GOP, but haven't gotten to it yet -- I figure it's next in queue after Poniewozik, but a lot of what I've read recently has been plucked opportunistically from the city library.
It occurs to me that I should probably do a whole piece on music, but these days I never find the time to read up on what's supposed to be my specialty. Still, I have a handful of music books in the draft file, starting with Robert Christgau's Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading, and John Corbett's Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music. I also started a list entry on cookbooks, which could grow into a specialized post -- not least because I do regularly buy and use cookbooks.
Tim Alberta: American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (2019, Harper). It's pretty easy now to see how everything Republicans did from 1968 to 2016 paved the way for electing this crass, bigoted grifter and sham. Nixon laid the foundation with his crass appeals to racists and reactionaries, his Orwellian "peace with honor" (a tactical retreat covered by real and feigned escalation), above all his conviction that winning is the only thing that matters, and that excuses all manner of criminality. Reagan put a sunnier face on an even darker heart. Ditto the Bushes, less artfully. Alberta only picks up this digression in 2008, with the Sarah Palin boomlet, and 2009, with the Tea Party eruption, then goes on to show how Trump won the party over, delivering the one thing they craved most of all: winning. Of course, you know all of that, but Alberta puts you in the rooms as the party brass figures it out and comes to terms with their debasement. Some other recent books on how we got to Trump:
Binyamin Appelbaum: The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society (2019, Little Brown): A history of the growing influence and power of economists from 1969, when economists were kept to the basement of the Federal Reserve, to 2008, when the world transformed by their fundamentalist faith in markets crashed and nearly burned. In between, business and political interests looked to economists for help, and many economists strove to service their masters. One line I noted: "Conservatism was a coalition of the powerful, defending the status quo against threats real and imagined." More recent books on economics:
Kathleen Belew: Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (2018; paperback, 2019, Harvard University Press): Locates the roots of the alt-right/white power movement less in opposition to the civil rights movement than in reaction against the loss of the Vietnam War -- though either way you can see how Richard Nixon's "silent majority"/"Southern strategy" conjured up the seething hatred of this movement, which Trump has only stoked further. More recent books on the racist right-wing fringe:
Marcia Bjornerud: Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World (2018, Princeton University Press): After my first wife died, I went through a period of several years where most of what I read was on geology, ranging from semi-popular books like John McPhee's I-70 quartet (later collected as Annals of the Former World) through some very technical texts on plate tectonics, plus a lot of paleontology and contemporary earth science. I suppose a big part of the attraction came from the vast time frameworks geologists routinely deal with, but I was also much impressed by the logic behind the science: how geologists work and think. Since 9/11, I've denied myself the indulgence of pursuing such pleasant interests. Otherwise this book would jump to the top of my reading list. Some other geology books that caught my eye:
Kate Brown: Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (2019, WW Norton): History of the 1986 nuclear plant explosion at Chernobyl, Ukraine, Soviet Union, but less on the explosion than on the disaster it spread, especially the faulty, fitful efforts to understand (or in some case not) the widespread effects of the radiation it left. Author has written a couple of books leading up to this one, and there's been a spate of recent books on Chernobyl and so forth:
Elizabeth C Economy: The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (2018, Oxford University Press): A history of China since Xi Jinping came to power, bringing a series of reforms distinct enough from Deng Xioping's "second revolution" reforms to merit the title. I'm not really up enough on the subject to judge, but it seems that China has found a very different path to development -- one that Americans are especially ill-prepared to understand. Other recent books on contemporary China:
Richard J Evans: Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History (2019, Oxford University Press): A big (800 pp) biography of a great historian, born in Egypt of 2nd generation British parents, orphaned at 14 in 1931, living in Berlin at the time, fleeing to England when the Nazis came to power, joined the Communist Party, went on to write major histories of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The author is a notable historian in his own right, his writings including three major books on Nazi Germany (The Third Reich Trilogy).
Adam Gopnik: A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism (2019, Basic Books): A staff writer for The New Yorker, seems like he's mostly written about innocuous topics, like art, travel, food, and (mostly) himself, so this foray into political philosophy ("a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition") comes as a bit of a surprise. Or maybe just to me, as his bibliographic note opens with a fairly long list of essays he has published on political figures. The central section of the book consists of three parts: a "manifesto," followed by chapters on "Why the Right Hates Liberalism" and "Why the Left Hates Liberalism" (the longest). If he's honest, the reasons are very different: the right fears any challenge to hierarchical order, while the left sees liberals as too willing to compromise their principles, because in a world of individualism self-interest is ultimately decisive. I recall being very critical of liberalism back in the late 1960s, when it seemed to be hegemonic. I've softened my stance since then: as the right has emerged as the greater threat, liberals offer a respectable stance and critique. Related:
Stanley B Greenberg: RIP GOP: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans (2019, Thomas Dunne Books): Pollster, worked for Clinton and Obama, seems like he's been peddling rosy futures to mainstream liberals for more than two decades now: Middle Class Dreams: Building the New Majority (1995, Crown); The New Majority: Toward a Popular Progressive Politics (ed. with Theda Skocpol, 1997, Yale University Press); The Two Americas: Our Current Political Deadlock and How to Break It (2004, Thomas Dunne Books); It's the Middle Class Stupid! (with James Carville, listed first, and probably to blame for the title, not least the missing comma; 2012, Blue Rider Press); America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation's Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century (2015, Thomas Dunne Books). This one seems more plausible, as it shifts the focus to Republicans with their failing programs and declining demographics.
Victor Davis Hanson: The Case for Trump (2019, Basic Books): The author is supposedly expert on ancient Greek military history, but he's been such a shameless right-wing hack for so long his credentials don't carry much weight any more -- other than perhaps to make him the natural leader of the parade of hacks and hysterics with recent books defending their Fearless Leader, campaigning for him, and (most often) slandering his "enemies":
Reed Hundt: A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions (2019, Rosetta Books): Inside adviser to Clinton (via Gore) in the 1990s, and to Obama from campaign to transition, recounts the personnel and policy decisions made by Obama during his transition and first few months which sharply limited the set of options that could be entertained to halt the collapse of the financial sector and to rebuild an economy that had been decimated by banking risks. One thing that was especially shocking was how little consideration was given to anyone other than Tim Geithner and Larry Summers for roles which ultimately prevented Obama from doing anything but protect the bankers who caused the recession. Hundt's own pet project during this period was setting up a program for infrastructure development, but it was killed by Summers on the assumption that the recession would be so short-lived that only short-term spending was needed. Other memoirs and assessments of the Obama years (skipping the most obvious right-wing rants):
Nancy Isenberg/Andrew Burstein: The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality (2019, Viking): A dual biography of father and son, the second and sixth presidents of the US, each limited to a single, controversial term as they were the exceptions to the Virginia planters who dominated the early democracy, a forum they worked in if never totally approved of. Not sure what the "cult of personality" was -- Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson are mentioned, and they no doubt qualify. Isenberg previuosly wrote White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Burstein has written books on Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Lincoln, and Washington Irving. His most intriguing title was Democracy's Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead (2015; paperback, 2017, University of Virginia Press).
Stuart Jeffries: Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School (2016, Verso): A group biography of the Frankfurt School, an important intersection of German Marxist thinkers who came together around 1923, and remained outside of (and often opposed to) the Soviet circle, ultimately having great influence in the development of the New Left in 1960s Europe and America. The standard book on the subject is Martin Jay: The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute for Social Research 1923-1950 (1973), which appeared when I was deeply immersed in these thinkers. Related:
Eric Kaufmann: Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities (2019, Harry N Abrams): Tempted to file this in the long list of books about how threatened white identity is shaping American and European politics, but this is a much bigger (624 pp), broader, deeper, and presumably more nuanced undertaking. Still, the very subject lies somewhere between unsavory and offensive. The basic truth is that when Europe started its project to conquer and colonize the world, it became inevitable that the conquered peoples would seep back into Europe and eventually change it: domination never lasts.
Naomi Klein: On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019, Simon & Schuster): Bestselling Canadian whose critique of capitalism started with globalization -- No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000) -- and evolved as the neoliberal market engulfed politics -- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) -- and the environment -- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014). Her vision of the Green New Deal is way to fight back, but beneath it all is an ever-sharpening critique of capitalism.
Nicholas Lemann: Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Profiles of "three remarkable individuals who epitomized and helped create their eras": Adolf Berle (of FDR's "brain trust"), Michael Jensen (of Harvard Business School), and Reid Hoffman (a Silicon Valley venture capitalist). Presumably the first two correspond to the Roosevelt and Reagan eras. Harder to figure where that third avatar is dragging us, but as the title suggests, the author is looking not at where we want to go, but where how the era's great profiteers intend to con us.
Christopher Leonard: Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America (2019, Simon & Schuster): Focuses more on the business behind the political forces that Jane Mayer wrote about in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016).
Jill Lepore: This America: The Case for the Nation (2019, Liveright): A short (160 pp) postscript, I would guess, to last year's massive These Truths: A History of the United States, described as an "urgent manifesto on the dilemma of nationalism and the erosion of liberalism in the twenty-first century." Sees American history as a struggle between liberal and illiberal nationalism, and tries to buck up the former at a time when many liberal-minded folks see nationalism as an atavistic regression. Lepore's earlier The Story of America: Essays on Origins (paperback, 2013, Princeton University Press) started with the same problems, exploring them in scattered essays, as historians are prone to do.
Rachel Maddow: Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth (2019, Crown): The MSNBC pundit's obsession with Russia has been aired so thoroughly since the 2016 debacle that this book is likely to rise to the level of self-parody, but somewhere along the line Maddow discovered that Russia is a petro-state, and broadened her aim to include the international oil industry, finding particularly juicy stories in Oklahoma earthquakes.
Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite (2019, Penguin Press): I thought the best previous book on "meritocracy" was Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, which made it clear that "meritocracy" was little more than a deceptive argument for maintaining the class dominance of established elites. Markovits takes the further step of arguing that "meritocracy now ensnares event hose who manage to claw their way to the top, requiring rich adults to work with crushing intensity, exploiting their expensive educations in order to extract a return." Related:
Branko Milanovic: Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World (2019, Belknap Press): Economist, wrote Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, Aims at a big picture, noting capitalism's considerable material benefits as well as its moral failings, trying to weigh such factors. Someone more optimistic might frame this as "post-capitalism," but he sees nothing beyond -- just a long struggle to keep from devouring ourselves.
Alexander Nazaryan: The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington (2019, Hachette Books): Attempts to look past Trump's personality and showmanship, but doesn't get deep enough to see the real effects of his administration. Rather, he offers us a rogues gallery of Trump's cabinet-level deputies, who more often than not turn out to reflect the vanity and avarice of their leader. Curiously, doesn't cover the whole cabinet, with scarcely any mentions at all of State, Defense, Justice, or Homeland Security. It might be interesting to contrast this with John Nichols' Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Giude to the Most Dangerous People in America, written and rushed into print almost as soon as the initial cabinet picks were announced.
Martha C Nussbaum: The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis (2018, Simon & Schuster): Teaches philosophy in a law school, author of twenty-somebooks, won the 2016 Kyoto Prize ("the most presigious award available in fields not eligible for a Nobel" -- she accepted this the day after the Trump election, so it's a starting point), knows her Greeks and checks back with them regularly, also knows some psych and is not above folding in a little empirical research from the social sciences. Key concerns here are fear, disgust, and envy -- feelings which contribute to and exacerbate our struggles with everyday life, not least in politics.
Robert L O'Connell: Revolutionary: George Washington at War (2019, Random House): Looking for something to round out my evaluation of the USA's first president -- my gut tells me he presents a stark and illustrative counterpoint to the latest (or maybe last?) president -- I picked this up and found it fascinating. Far from hagiography, it presents us with a flesh-and-blood figure, molded by the events of war but always with a fine sense of political mission.
Daniel Okrent: The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America (2019, Scribner): Probably spent more time as an editor than anything else, first attracting notice for his baseball fandom, but lately has been writing substantial, sweeping books on history: Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003), Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010), and now this book on the racist and xenophobic movement to pass the 1923 law that radically restricted immigration to the United States. As timely now as those working to resurrect that movement.
George Packer: Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century (2019, Knopf): Major (608 pp) biography of the late diplomat, whose career started with the American War in Vietnam, and ended with his failure to make any headway as Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Along the way, he gained a modicum of fame for brokering the Dayton Accords which ended the war between Serbia and Bosnia. Reviewers have focused on how both author and subject supported the Bush War in Iraq despite knowing better -- for Holbrooke it was a calculated cost of his ambitions to become Secretary of State (had Hillary Clinton won in 2008; with Obama winning, she settled for that position, and wrangled Holbrooke the Afghanistan/Pakistan portfolio). I suppose it's naïveté that lets Packer think Holbrooke's a worthy subject for such a massive effort. In the end, though, Holbrooke is a prime example of the moral and political bankruptcy of "the American era." And Packer's too competent a journalist not to expose that, even if he doesn't want to admit it.
Raj Patel/Jason W Moore: A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (2017; paperback, 2018, University of California Press): A sweeping critique of capitalism, the force that cheapens things, in this case: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. This may slight what strikes me as the main effect of cheapening, which is that it makes things more plentiful. Moore previously wrote Capitalism in the Web of Life (paperback, 2015, Verso), which treats capitalism as a "world-ecology," Patel previously wrote Stuffed and Sarved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (2008), and The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (2010).
James Poniewozik: Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America (2019, Liveright). TV critic for the New York Times, traces Trump's long history of promotion and exposure on the tube, alongside the evolution of television from three major networks to "today's zillion-channel, internet-atomized universe, which sliced and diced them into fractious, alienated subcultures." I've long suspected that too much TV isn't a good thing -- the classic treatment is Neal Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, which I've seen this likened to -- but fragmentation would seem to limit the appeal of someone like Trump. Indeed, it took no effort to ignore him until he ran for president, and the news masters found their love/hate obsession with him. So I suspect there are more levels to this than a mere TV critic can develop, although that may be a good place to start.
Corey Robin: The Enigma of Clarence Thomas (2019, Metropolitan Books): Author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (or, as recently reprinted, to Donald Trump), takes a shot at reconciling contradictions in the far right Supreme Court Justice, from his early embrace of black nationalism to the extreme conservatism he is known for -- another species of "reactionary mind," determined more by what he reacts so virulently to more than anything he believes in.
Brian Rosenwald: Talk Radio's America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States (2019, Harvard University Press): This goes back to 1988, when "desperate for content to save AM radio, top media executives stumbled on a new format that would turn the political world upside down." They may have only been seeking profits, but rage and reaction was quickly recognized as effective conservative propaganda, an easy way to move a mass of voters to support the right-wing agenda. After the Republican debacle in 2008, the dynamic changed, as mass rage wound up leading the politicians, and in Donald Trump ("the kind of pugnacious candidate they had been demanding for decades") they put their own chump in charge.
Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance (2018, Thomas Dunne Books): These days most major election campaigns kick off with a book to introduce the candidate and set the tone for the campaign. But in 2016, Sanders waited until his campaign was over before releasing his, allowing him to open with a memoir, then tack a manifesto on at the end. He called it Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, and it was pretty credible for the genre. This one is reportedly sketchier, but even if he's just recounting his reaction to events, he's likely to give you insights you won't pick up from the usual sources. Elsewhere in the 2020 campaign wave (some are a bit old, more are on the way; some are by non-candidates, but fit the mold; I've written about Elizabeth Warren's book previously):
Isabel Sawhill: The Forgotten Americans: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation (2018, Yale University Press); Economist at the "centrist" Brookings Institute, stresses the importance of "mainstream values, such as family, education, and work." Detractors decry her as left wing nut job . . . the logic of know it all 5th grader and the mind set of a soviet thug." Chapters include "Why Economic Growth Is Not Enough," "The Limits of Redistribution," "A GI Bill for America's Workers," "A Bigger Role for the Private Sector" and "Updating Social Insurance." That all seems pretty modest to me, but "conservatives" can't so much as acknowledge the problem without flying off half-cocked. Makes one wonder why bother to appeal to them anyway.
Tom Segev: A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big (816pp) biography of Israel's first Prime Minister, by one of Israel's most important historians. Few national leaders in our time have more completely defined their nations -- Attaturk comes to mind as the closest comparable figure, although Mao and Castro ruled longer and more forcefully. Even today, it's possible to map most currents in Israeli political life to one facet or another of Ben Gurion complex view of his mission. Other recent books relating to Israel:
JC Sharman: Empires of the Weak: The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order (2019, Princeton University Press): They say "history is written by the victors," and for 500 years we've been reading about how Europe's maritime conquest of the world reflected superior technology (and, less fashionably these days, genes and religion). This thin (216 pp) book tries to flip that argument on its head, asserting that the conquest "is better explained by deference to strong Asian and African polities, disease in the Americas, and maritime supremacy earned by default because local land-oriented polities were largely indifferent to war and trade at sea." Some of these ideas resemble the ones Jared Diamond put forth in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), but both underestimate the amount of greed, bad faith, and knavery involved. The pattern I see most clearly is that European contact always started a corrosion of traditional social, economic, and political ties well before Europeans were able to seize control.
Jake Sherman/Anna Palmer: The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump's America (2019, Crown): Congress beat reporters for Politico report on the two year stretch when Republicans controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress, rehashing the jockeying behind the "repeal and replace" of Obamacare, the massive corporate tax giveaway, the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, and the partial government shutdown.
Matt Taibbi: Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another (2019, OR Books): Journalist, covers elections and other scandals for Rolling Stone, a path paved by Hunter Thompson, so he's all but expected to get a little gonzo. Outside the mainstream hive, he's written some of the sharpest analysis of the media's coverage of elections, starting with Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches From the Dumb Season (2005), but I thought his quickie book on 2016, Insane Clown Posse: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus failed to rise to the absurdity of events he was forced to cover. In some ways, this book looks like a do-over, but rather than stare straight into the sun, he's focusing on the mediaa, and how they got blinded not just by events but by their devil's bargain with the mega-corporations that employ them. Two appendices: "Why Rachel Maddow is on the Cover of This Book," and "An Interview with Noam Chomsky." I guess Sean Hannity's appearance on the cover (on the red side vs. Maddow on the blue) requires no further explanation. Taibbi has long had a habit of burnishing his independence by attacking both parties, or both right and left, even when there's no equivalence.
Astra Taylor: Democracy May Not Exist: But We'll Miss It When It's Gone (2019, Metropolitan Books): Ruminations on a much declaimed and frequently confused political principle, something we're taught to believe in, to pride ourselves in, yet not take too seriously, as it's been much abused by self-interested elites. That those abuses seem to increased, both in frequency and in crassness, in recent years is probably due to increasing inequality. Author also has a documentary film, What Is Democracy?, and another film on Marxian philosophe Slavoj Zizek.
Adam Tooze: Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (2018, Viking): Economic historian, has a couple of major works: Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2007), and The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (2014). This sums up the decade following the 2008 crash. There have been a lot of books about the immediate causes of the crash.
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019, Tim Duggan Books): A general primer on global warming, albeit one that goes beyond presenting what we know to look at, and take seriously, the worst case scenarios scientists imagine -- hence the title -- without blunting the impact by parading the usual list of "what we can do about it" palliatives. Reviews tend toward hyperbole: "the most terrifying book I have ever read," and "the most important book I have ever read." May be a good lead in for yet another list of recent climate books (I started one earlier under Jeff Goodell but they do keep coming):
Brenda Wineapple: The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation (2019, Random House): This is probably number one on the short list of events that could have changed American history had it gone slightly differently. As it was, Andrew Johnson did much to weaken and undo plans to empower freed slaves and reconstruct the south more equitably. Those years he held power made it easier for white southerners to reclaim power and create a racist order that prevailed into the 1960s, with remnants still evident today. Wineapple previously wrote the broader period history, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (2013; paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial). More on impeachment history (expect more on impeachment news soon):
Other recent books noted with little or no comment:
HW Brands: Heirs of the Founders: Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants (2018, Doubleday; paperback, 2019, Anchor Books).
Bill Bryson: The Body: A Guide for Occupants (2019, Doubleday).
Gail Collins: No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History (2019, Little Brown).
Jay Cost: The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy (2018, Basic Books).
Kathleen Day: Broken Bargain: Bankers, Bailouts, and the Struggle to Tame Wall Street (2019, Yale University Press).
Larry Diamond: Ill Winds: Saving Democracy From Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency (2019, Penguin Press).
Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (paperback, 2018, Beacon Press).
Ronan Farrow: Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (2019, Little Brown).
Silvia Federici: Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (paperback, 2018, PM Press).
Aaron Glantz: Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream (2019, Custom House).
Garrett M Graff: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster).
Gerald Horne: The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean (paperback, 2018, Monthly Review Press).
Tom LoBianco: Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House (2019, Dey Street Books).
George Monbiot: Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (paperback, 2018, Verso Books).
Philip Mudd: Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World (2019, Liveright).
Margaret O'Mara: The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America (2019, Penguin Press).
Samantha Power: The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir (2019, Dey Street Books).
Susan Rice: Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For (2019, Simon & Schuster).
Christopher Ryan: Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress (2019, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster).
Tatiana Schlossberg: Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You Have (2019, Grand Central Publishing).
Rebecca Solnit: Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (paperback, 2019, Haymarket Books).
The Washington Post: The Mueller Report (paperback, 2019, Scribner).
Gary Younge: Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives (2016; paperback, 2018, Bold Type Books).
Monday, October 28, 2019
Music: current count 32276  rated (+28), 224  unrated (+0).
Birthday last week, so I lost a day to cooking, most of another to shopping and prep. I usually like to do something new and extraordinary, but had a terrible time settling on a theme and menu this year. Finally, the final decision was made by Laura, in favor of an idea Max Stewart floated: fire up the grill and made burgers. That seemed pretty ordinary to me, but in fact I can't recall ever grilling hamburgers (I've grilled or smoked pretty much everything else). Turned out to be a pretty good idea. I picked up a new cookbook (The Ultimate Burger), and came up with three variations: teriyaki pork burgers with grilled pineapple, salmon burgers with tomato chutney, and good old bacon cheeseburgers. Even took a shot at making some potato buns (although I bought more for backup, mostly brioche and pretzel buns).
For side dishes, I did baked beans, two potato salads, coleslaw, corn and tomato salad, and my standard cucumber-yogurt thing. And for dessert, I stuck with my original choice: Mom's coconut cake, served with vanilla ice cream. Had nine people, and everyone seemed pleased.
October archive (see link above) is wrapped up and indexed. Not much to say about this week's haul, except perhaps that The Daisy Age was the surprise A+ in Robert Christgau's first new Consumer Guide under his And It Don't Stop subscription newsletter, and the only new CD I've bought in 3-4 months (not that I couldn't have assembled the play list from Napster). Back when I was writing Recycled Goods, I tried to get on Ace Records' promo list, but never got so much as a reply. So I was pretty jealous when Bob told me a few years back that they had started sending him records. This looks like the tenth of their records he's reviewed since 2013. (If anyone cares, I'd review every damn one.)
Some of the old music this week were rap records from that vintage (1989-95). Also filled in some EST back catalogue, after reviewing their Live in Gothenburg as an A- last week (which makes it, in my humble estimation, their best record ever).
Best-reviewed albums from the week of 10-25 (according to my metacritic file (4+ counting my grades in brackets, but paren totals don't count my grades): Anna Meredith: FIBS (9); Rex Orange County: Pony (5); Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Colorado (5); Blaenavon: Everything That Makes You Happy (4); Cigarettes After Sex: Cry (4) [***]; Hana Vu: Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway (4). Also note: Kanye West: Jesus Is King (2).
Best-reviewed albums from 10-18: Floating Points: Crush (13); Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 2) (9); Caroline Polachek: Pang (9); Battles: Juice B Crypts (7); Clipping: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (7); Vagabon (7); Patrick Watson: Wave (5); Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (3) [***].
New records I want to track down: The Bad Plus: Activate Infinity; Lakou Mizik: HaitiaNola; Nellie McKay: Bagatelles; Van Morrison: Three Chords & the Truth.
Also out since last week, previously graded: Randy Brecker/Ada Rovatti: Brecker Plays Rovatti: Sacred Bond [**]; Jeff Denson/Romain Pilon/Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds [*]; Laszlo Gardony: La Marseillaise (Sunnyside) [**]; Carmen Sandim: Play Doh (Ropeadope) [*]; Leo Sherman: Tonewheel (Outside In Music) [*]; Esbjorn Svensson Trio: EST Live in Gothenburg (2001, ACT -2CD) [A-].
New records reviewed this week:
Big Thief: Two Hands (2019, 4AD): Adrianne Lenker's group, fourth album, hot on the heels of this year's U.F.O.F., a widely praised breakthrough album. Comparable songs here, somewhat less compelling. B+(**)
The Nat Birchall Quartet: The Storyteller: A Musical Tribute to Yusef Lateef (2019, Jazzman): British tenor saxophonist, main influence is Coltrane, also plays soprano sax and bass clarinet but no flute here (a big part of Lateef's repertoire). With Adam Fairhall or John Ellis on piano, Michael Bardon on bass, and Andy Hay on drums, plus Birchall and Hay add some African percussion. Some originals as well as originals and covers from Lateef's songbook. Still sounds more like Coltrane, but that's nothing to sneeze at. B+(**)
Daniel Carter/Julius Priester/Adam Lane/Reggie Sylvester/David Haney: Live Constructions Volume 2 (2018 , Slam): Leader plays saxophones and trumpet, did Volume 1 with Haney (piano) and Hilliard Greene (bass), returns in a new set, adding trombone (Priester) and drums (Sylvester), with Lane taking over the bass slot. Keeps it rather skeletal. B+(*)
Daniel Carter/Stelios Mihas/Irma Nejando/Federico Ughi: Radical Invisibility (2018 , 577): Saxophonist, best known for his work in William Parker's groups, also credited with trumpet, clarinet, flute, and keyboard. The others play guitar, bass, and drums, recording in New York, all titles joint credits. B+(**) [bc]
Cigarettes After Sex: Cry (2019, Partisan): Mainly Greg Gonzalez, from El Paso, relocated to New York, and recorded this second album in Mallorca and Germany. First album had a Pet Shop Boys vibe. This one is slower and milder, takes longer to seduce you, but comes close. B+(***)
Harry Connick Jr.: True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter (2019, Verve): Singer, backed by a 25-piece orchestra which seems like overkill on the one hand and nothing special on the other. Still, easy to get a kick out of the Porter songbook. B+(*)
Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda: Four (2018 , Long Song): Piano-bass duo, fourth album together, two cuts add Natsuki Tamura on trumpet. B+(***) [11-08]
Binker Golding: Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers (2018 , Gearbox): British tenor saxophonist, half of Binker & Moses, goes for a conventional quartet here with Joe Armon-Jones (piano), Daniel Casimir (bass), and Sam Jones (drums). All originals, most build on riffs, and the larger group pays dividends in swing. A- [cd]
Kim Gordon: No Home Record (2019, Matador): Sonic Youth chanteuse (1983-2009), now 66, first nominal solo album although she had a side project in the 1990s (Free Kitten), several more since, including post-SY albums as Body/Head and Glitterbust. She does a masterful job of capturing Sonic Youth's sound, then folds it back on itself, making it more impenetrable then ever. But didn't she used to be the one who opened it up? B+(***)
Homeboy Sandman: Dusty (2019, Mello Music Group): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, nine albums and nine EPs since 2007, not that there's much distinction between them, as his albums all fit comfortably on vinyl -- this is one of his longer ones, with 15 cuts (34:52). B+(***)
Mute: Mute (2018 , Fresh Sound New Talent): New York-based quartet, name an anagram from plucking random letters from the artists' names: Kevin Sun (C-Melody sax/clarinet), Christian Li (piano), Jeonglim Yang (bass), Dayeon Seok (drums). All four write songs (3-3-2-1). The saxophonist continues to impress, even spread a bit thin over a finely balanced group. A- [cd]
Miles Okazaki: The Sky Below (2019, Pi): Guitarist, most recently heard on his 6-CD Work, where he played solo every tune Thelonious Monk ever wrote. Returns to a quartet format here, with Matt Mitchell (keyboards), Anthony Tidd (electric bass), and Sean Rickman (drums). B+(***) [cd]
Anne Phillips: Live at the Jazz Bakery (2019, Conawago): Singer, recorded an album in 1959, another in 2000, then (I guess) this one, with scattered studio work (she was a backup singer on Leslie Gore's "It's My Party") and advertising jingles. Much too much talk in between songs, but she explains it all if you're interested. Husband Bob Kindred plays sax, Roger Kellaway piano, and Chuck Berghoffer bass. B- [cd]
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (2019, Constellation): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, latterday AACM member, Bandcamp page says she's in Indonesia (but I've also heard New York, and this was recorded in Montreal). I've had problems with the vocals before, but these seem to fit the bill. Band includes two guitarists who switch off to other instruments, bass, drums, occasional vibes, and Steve Swell (counted as a guest) on trombone. B+(***)
Rocket 808: Rocket 808 (2019, 12XU): Austin band, a project of guitarist John Schooley (best known for the Revelators), mostly instrumental rock band, guitar reminds me of Link Wray, but not that special. B [bc]
Michael Jefry Stevens & the Mountain Chamber Jazz Ensemble: The Poet Is in the House (2019, ARC): Avant-pianist, based in Black Mountain, NC, where he rounded up this 14-person group, with everything from strings to voice. A pretty mixed bag, the vocals a particular sore point. B [bc]
Devin Brahja Waldman: Brahja (2019, RR Gems): Saxophonist, also plays other instruments (piano, synthesizer, drums here), has several previous albums. Some version confusion here: Bandcamp offers four tracks (31:30), Discogs for the LP lists eight tracks (46:25), but my CDR from the artist adds a ninth track (total 54:51). Lineups vary, scattered vocals, seductive grooves, bits of exotica, steady saxophone. B+(***) [cdr]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Daisy Age (1989-94 , Ace): A blip in the history of hip-hop, where pop rap took an underground twist, perhaps all the more to distinguish itself from the contemporary vogue for gangsta. I didn't respond at all well to De La Soul at first -- they lead off here, and are credited with a ridiculous acronym for DAISY -- but I've logged A-list albums for nine other artists here (although a couple only with later compilations), and eventually got into some later De La Soul albums. Half of these cuts are well remembered (not that I've pulled the albums out recently). The others fit the flow, which is what a good various artists comp should do. [NB: 2-LP adds 2 cuts: Fu-Schnickens with Shaquille O'Neal: "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock?) (K-Cut's Fat Trac Remix); Leaders of the Old School: "Case of the P.T.A."] A [cd]
Saadet Türköz/Elliott Sharp: Kumuska (2007 , Intakt): Turkish singer, ancestors recently arrived from Central Asia, now based in Switzerland, backed by the American, who gives up his usual guitar for analog synthesizers, bass clarinet, and glissentar. B+(*)
Black Sheep: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (1991, Mercury): Hip-hop duo (Dres and Mista Lawange), from New York but met up in North Carolina, affiliated with Native Tongues ("which included the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul"). First album, a little rough out of the gate but finds its flow. B+(**)
Brand Nubian: Foundation (1998, Arista): Afro-centric hip-hop group from New Rochelle, New York, named like their first hit single in 1989. Fourth album, second best after their 1990 debut. Choice cut: "Probable Cause." B+(***)
Fu-Schnickens: Greatest Hits (1992-95 , Jive): Brooklyn hip-hop trio, cut two albums 1992-94, reduced them to four cuts each and added four odds and ends in this career-capper. Don't know that any of them went any further. Dense, rapid-fire, turntables and a sideline in dancehall toasts. B+(***)
Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Plays Monk (1996, Superstudio Gul; , ACT): Major Swedish piano trio with Dan Berglund (bass) and Magnus Östrum (drums), first album in 1993, so this is fairly early. Monk tunes, nicely done but fancied up a bit, with strings on a couple. B+(**)
Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Winter in Venice (1997, Superstudio Gul; , ACT): Original material, including the four-part "Semblance Suite in Three or Four Movements." B+(*)
Esbjörn Svensson Trio [EST]: From Gagarin's Point of View (1999, ACT): Looks like this was initially released by Superstudio Gul, but picked up fast by the German label, which went on to reissue earlier albums. First appearance of initials on the cover, more background image than logo, and first album where Magnus Öström pushes the rhythm to the fore, which would significantly broaden their popular appeal. B+(**)
Esbjörn Svensson Trio [EST]: Good Morning Susie Soho (2000, ACT): "EST" on spine but spelled out on cover. B+(***)
E.S.T.: Leucocyte (2007 , ACT): Recorded in Australia, not released until shortly after pianist Svensson died in a scuba diving accident. Two long, multi-part pieces (plus a few more), the title tract running 27:37. Everyone doubles on electronics, adding bits of sparkling light to the settings. B+(**)
E.S.T. [Esbjörn Svensson Trio]: 301 (2007 , ACT): Named for the studio in Australia where Leucocyte was recorded, sessions from that same month. My favorite here is the drum roll of "Three Falling Free: Part II." B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 27, 2019
Been distracted, so chalk this up as another week going through the motions, keeping open the option of looking back at this presidential term week-by-week as it unfolded. More time might have given me chance to group links on the same basic stories, as well as to build a bit more structure around everything. Started collecting on Saturday, after which the Baghdadi assassination story broke, John Conyers died, and Trump was greeted with boos and chants of "lock him up" at the World Series.
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, October 21, 2019
Music: current count 32248  rated (+36), 224  unrated (-5).
As of late Sunday. Monday's mail unpacked below but not counted above.
Last couple weeks I've barely been able to scratch out two A- records. In fact, only one of the last six weeks yielded more than three, but I'm up to a nearly unprecedented nine here (E.S.T. a late add). One reason is I did something different last week, in that I jotted down a list of seven "new records I most want to track down." I found all seven, and got four A- records there (Jaimie Branch, Chris Knight, L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae, Kelsey Waldon). Although I must admit that part of the reason I did that was that Knight and Waldon were riding multiple A/A- streaks, and L'Orange/Jae's previous also came in at A-. Nor was Branch much of a surprise. Had I looked further, I would also have flagged Crosscurrents Trio (Dave Holland has his own streak going), and maybe the two new Intakt releases.
Also got a couple pleasant surprises out of the promo queue. My other main source this week was Saving Country Music: I added their top-reviewed albums to my metacritic file, but the winners there were the expected ones from Knight and Waldon. Adds to this and my tracking file help keep me up to date. For instance, I can tell you the best-reviewed new records of the week (10-18): Battles: Juice B Crypts (6); Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 2) (6); Vagabon (6); Clipping: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (5); Floating Points: Crush (4); Caroline Polachek: Pang (4); Patrick Watson: Wave (4). Best-reviewed new records of the previous week (10-11): Big Thief: Two Hands (17); Kim Gordon: No Home Record (12); Elbow: Giants of All Sizes (9); Richard Dawson: 2020 (8).
New records I most want to track down: Homeboy Sandman: Dusty; Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis; Rocket 808.
Also out 10-18, listed below or previously graded: Gebhard Ullmann: MikroPULS [A-]; Michael Formanek: Even Better [***]; Petros Kampanis: Irrationalities [**]; Derel Monteith: Connemara [**]; Chris Speed: Respect for Your Toughness [**]; Chip Stephens/Stenn Wilson: Sadness & Soul [**]; John Yao: How We Do [**]; Rez Abbasi: A Throw of Dice by the Silent Ensemble [*]; Derel Monteith: Quantity of Life [*]; Carrie Wicks: Reverie [*]; Katerina Brown: Mirror [B]; Dan McCarthy: City Abstract [B].
Old records this week were mostly the result of collecting several recent decade-or-two best-of lists. I've started to copy these down, mostly to provide a checklist against my own listening. There weren't many titles I hadn't heard, but I had totally missed Chromatics and Joanna Newsom, so now I know something. You can find the lists with my grades here (original links in the files):
One more week left in October, promises to have more than the usual batch of distractions. Had a "furnace tuneup" last week, which left both the system and us pretty confused, so I need to call them back and get to the bottom of that. Weather itself has been up and down, enough so to remind me that as much as I hate the heat, the cold is actually more painful. Birthday coming up, so I'll take a day or two cooking something. I usually do a broad tasting menu from some exotic cuisine (started with Chinese, then Indian, then Turkish; finally got to French last year), but I'm feeling more like comfort food this year (or maybe I just really want to end it with Mom's coconut cake).
Last two big meals have been Hungarian, so I'm done with that for a while (although I still want to make the dumplings at some point, possibly the rabbit goulash and/or the venison meatballs, and for that matter the somloi trifle and/or the dobos torte -- the two insanely classic Hungarian desserts). Just not this week. Two more big projects are putting together a new computer, and doing a major cleanup/reorganization of the tools in the basement and garage.
Decided to buy the computer parts after my secondary machine temporarily crapped out a week ago. Eventually got it to boot, but it's been so slow I've dragged my feet something awful on website work. But rather than buy something cheap to replace the secondary machine, I figured I should jump whole hog into a new primary unit. Well, "half hog": went with the $200 AMD Ryzen 2700 CPU (8 cores, double the Passmark of my main machine), but much cheaper than the $565 Ryzen 3900 (twice again as fast); 64G of DDR 3000 SDRAM, instead of the 128G maximum; a 1TB M.2 slot SSD; on-board graphics (serious gamers could double the price of their computer here); a mid-range 750W power supply; and a relatively cheap box (because I still want a built-in DVD drive, which the fancy boxes no longer support). Where I did splurge was on a new 32-inch monitor UHD monitor. Should be relatively easy to put it together and load up Xubuntu. One resolution is to only do UTF-8 on the new box, so to get the extra speed, I'll have to convert the websites.
The basement/garage project will be a lot more work, and take a lot more out of my music time. I'm sick and tired of not being able to find tools I know I have. I expect to wind up with an inventory, in some kind of database or spreadsheet, with everything a bit neater. Perhaps success there will lead to a second project, to start to unburden the house of excess stuff, including a few books and CDs. At one point I thought of donating the latter to a library, and never went through with that (and feel less inspired every time they name another building after the Kochs). Open to ideas there.
Haven't done any significant work on my 2020 election book, but keep thinking about it. The book I'm currently reading on George Washington has some relevance, as he has one thing in common with Trump (extraordinary riches) but is otherwise Trump's polar opposite (well, aside from the race thing).
New records reviewed this week:
Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia (2016-19 , Ropeadope): British-Bahraini trumpet player, third album. Long list of credits for this, as it seems to have undergone a lot of "additional recording and overdubs" following the initial 2016 session. B+(**)
Michaela Anne: Desert Dove (2019, Yep Roc): Country singer, moved from Brooklyn to Nashville to break into the business, but recorded this third album in California, which seems like fate. B+(*)
Bonnie Bishop: The Walk (2019, Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from Texas, eponymous debut in 2002, eighth album, can pass for country but reminds me more of Bonnie Raitt. Seven songs, stretched out past 40 minutes. B+(**)
Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (2018 , International Anthem): Trumpet player, from Chicago, second album, also sings, plays synths and percussion. The vocals (including a bit from Ben LaMar Gay) add to the exuberance, but are beside the point, which starts with the excitable groove. A-
Chromatics: Closer to Grey (2019, Italians Do It Better): Electropop band from Portland, OR; fifth album since 2003, first in seven years (not counting the much bruited but unreleased Dear Tommy). Apt title. Docked a bit for reminding me of "Sound of Silence" (sorry about that). B
Crosscurrents Trio [Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter]: Good Hope (2018 , Edition): Bass, tabla, and saxes (mostly tenor), writing credits pretty evenly divided. Potter is always capable of a bravura performance, but is rarely as consistent as here -- a credit to the others, especially Hussain, whose subtle beats entice and disarm the saxophonist like a master snake charmer. A-
Croy & the Boys: Howdy High-Rise (2019, Spaceflight): Singer-guitarist Bad Boy Croy leads a five-piece band including a bassist named Amy Hawthorne, presumably writes the humorous ditties he sings -- assuming you find the humor in laments like "I'm Broke" and "Luxury (Is a Four Letter Word to Me)." B+(**)
Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio/Tim Berne/Mary Halvorson: Even Better (2019, Intakt): Bassist, long list of albums, his collaborators here stellar enough their names appear before and bolder than the title. Interesting mix, but seems to be lacking something. Drums? B+(***)
Bill Frisell: Harmony (2016 , Blue Note): Guitarist, has often dabbled in Americana over his long career, hooks up with vocalist Petra Haden, with Hank Roberts (cello, voice) and Luke Bergman (baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, voice). Recording date not given, but originally performed in November 2016, so will go with that. Some songs are striking: "Hard Times" for its simplicity, "Lush Life just the opposite. Here and there a gemlike bit of guitar catches your ear. B+(*)
Abdullah Ibrahim: Dream Time (2019, Enja): Great South African pianist, 85, playing a solo program of 17 pieces, not his catchiest or most dynamic but touching nonetheless. B+(**)
Gethen Jenkins: Western Gold (2019, 5 Music): A throwback to the Outlaw Country vogue, which is to say he sounds a lot like Waylon Jennings, and doesn't seem to be much smarter. Choice cut: "Basket Case." B+(*)
Georgette Jones: Skin (2019, self-released): First name Tamala, Georgette seems to be the middle, and Jones is inherited from famous father George, though web search makes more of her mother, Tammy Wynette. Worked as a registered nurse before recording her debut album in 2010. B+(**)
Roger Kellaway: The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway (2010 , IPO): Pianist, debuted with A Portrait of Roger Kellaway in 1963, many albums since and still active as he turns 80, although this one has been sitting in the vault a while. Trio with Bruce Froman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass. Seven standards, the piano racing even as they're stretched between 5:02 and 12:12, closes with a sparkling "Caravan." A- [cd] [11-01]
Chris Knight: Almost Daylight (2019, Drifters Church): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, ninth album since 1998 (seven years since his last and best, Little Victories). The band has muscled up, his voice thick and grizzled -- nowhere more than on John Prine's "Mexican Home," their duet close to seamless. A-
L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: Complicate Your Life With Violence (2019, Mello Music Group): Hip-hop producer ("sampledelic North Carolina cubist") and Chicago lyricist ("fracture rap demigod"), second album together (L'Orange has also worked with Mr. Lif, Kool Keith, Stik Figa, and Homeboy Sandman, but his first round with Jae was his best). Dingy film noir dystopia, not sure whether futuristic (as suggested), uncannily perceptive, or just an improved Czarface yarn. A-
Doug MacDonald & the Tarmac Ensemble: Jazz Marathon 4: Live at Hangar 18 (2019, DMAC, 2CD): Guitarist, originally from Philadelphia but long-established on the West Coast. Recorded this in Los Angeles with a nine-piece group featuring Kim Richmond (alto sax, better known as a big band arranger). Mostly standards, "Pennies From Heaven" as delicious as ever. B+(*)
Dan McCarthy: City Abstract (2019, Origin): Vibraphone player, from Canada, quartet with guitar, bass, and drums, none of which add much. Opens with a dedication to Carla Bley, closes with one to Gary Burton. B
Mike & the Moonpies: Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold (2019, Prairie Rose): Austin-based honky tonk band, Mike Harmeier leader, sixth album since 2010, for a change of pace trekked to England to record in the Abbey Road studio backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Nothing fast or hard, but the strings are unobtrusive. Still, seems a bit budget-limited: 8 tracks, 31:36. B+(*)
Joshua Redman & Brooklyn Rider: Sun on Sand (2019, Nonesuch): Tenor sax trio, with Scott Colley and Satoshi Takeishi, and a string quartet, playing a suite composed and arranged by Patrick Zimmerli. Brooklyn Rider has over a dozen albums since 2008, including two volumes of Philip Glass and several with Béla Fleck, but nothing recognizably jazz. Strong pulse through the strings, more modernist than jazz. B+(**)
Reut Regev's R*Time: Keep Winning (2019, Enja): Trombonist, like husband-drummer Igal Foni born in Israel, based in New York. Quartet with Jean-Paul Bourelly (guitar) and Mark Peterson (bass). Strong groove but doesn't lose interest when they break it up. Daughter Liana, age 7, adds a vocal interruption. A-
Chris Speed Trio: Respect for Your Toughness (2018 , Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, plays free but rarely shows any strain (much less screech), with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums) -- all musician names on the front cover, but below the title. B+(***)
Chip Stephens/Stenn Wilson: Sadness & Soul (2018 , Capri): Piano and baritone sax, just the duo, make a point of noting the antiquity of their instruments (1876 and 1946, respectively). Title tune is original, rest are standards, two from Coltrane the most recent, Monk's "'Round Midnight" as vintage as the sax. B+(**) [cd]
Gebhard Ullmann/Hans Lüdemann/Oliver Potratz/Eric Schaefer: MikroPULS (2017 , Intuition): German reeds player, sticks with tenor sax here, supported by piano, bass, and drums. Free jazz, but almost a ballad album, with all four contributing pieces, with a nice flow, intricate, touching even. A- [10-18]
Kelsey Waldon: White Noise/White Lines (2019, Oh Boy): Country singer-songwriter from Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, probably the best voice in recent years, and one of the better songwriters. Third album, all superb; this one on John Prine's label, first new artist there since Todd Snider. A-
Alice Wallace: Into the Blue (2019, Rebelle Road): Southern California-based Americana singer-songwriter, fourth album, big voice, overly dramatic, sometimes reminds me of the Eagles, but she's not that kind of jerk. B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Ernest Hood: Neighborhoods: Memories of Times Past (1975 , Freedom to Spend): One-shot album (although Hood also recorded a single as Hawg Thistlefield and the Hawg Brothers Family Band): zithers, synthesizer, and found sounds. Aims at ambience and nostalgia, but too modern and unsettled to relax and doze off. B
Esbjörn Svensson Trio: E.S.T. Live in Gothenburg (2001 , ACT, 2CD): Swedish piano trio, formed in 1993, ended with the pianist's death in 2008, was very popular in Europe, less so here. Much of their appeal was rhythmic, good examples of that here, but they're remarkably listenable even when they slow it up. A- [cd]
Barney Wilen: Live in Tokyo '91 (1991 , Elemental Music, 2CD): French tenor saxophonist (1937-96), a terrific musician. Very solid live shot, quartet with piano (Olivier Hutman), bass, and drums. B+(***)
Chromatics: Kill for Love (2012, Italians Do It Better): Fourth album, the one that showed up on Uproxx's decade list, and it's easy to hear why: the guitar has some bite to it, and the table-setting cover is Neil Young's "Into the Black" (from Rust Never Sleeps). B+(***) [sc]
Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004, Drag City): Plays harp, sings in a weird child's voice. Christgau gave this, her first album, an A-, then slammed her second (Ys) with a C+, noting "original in one thing, worth doing another." I hear the "original" in this one, but also the likelihood that it will soon wear out its novelty. B+(*)
Joanna Newsom: Ys (2006, Drag City): "Second system complex" that an engineer, having been cautious and successful on a first project, will build on confidence gained and take more risks on a second effort, ultimately failing. Something of that here, with two tracks stretched to 12:08 and 16:53, five total to 55:42. On the other hand, this sold better and made more year-end lists, which can only partly be attributed to momentum. Of course, I can't speak to the "ach Gott!" libretto, although her whimsy is less obvious, ditto her annoying quirks. B
Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (2010, Drag City, 2CD): Third album, sprawls to 124:08, filling 3-LP or 2-CD, with more than two dozen musician/vocalist credits. She remains a distinctive voice and idiosyncratic artist, but this all tends to flow together, not unpleasantly, but not adding up to much. B
Reut Regev: This Is R*Time (2008 , Ropeadope): Trombonist, also plays flugabone (no slide, looks like a bugle swallowed the guts of a French horn), first album, with guitar (David Phelps), drums (Igal Foni), electric or acoustic bass, congas on a couple cuts, bongos on one. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 20, 2019
Half a week here, after my Midweek Roundup came out on Thursday. Still too exhausted to write an intro.
Some scattered links this week:
Thursday, October 17, 2019
Sometime Wednesday afternoon it occurred to me that I might as well go ahead and round up the first rush of Democratic debate links for the Weekend Roundup. Then I wondered whether I could just dispatch them early, in a Midweek Roundup (something I've done a couple times, but not often). So here's what I rounded up by bedtime. Not many comments, other than to note that the "conventional wisdom" on Syria is not only worse than what Tulsi Gabbard has to say, it's worse than Donald Trump (see, e.g., his dismissal of Lindsey Graham, below).
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, October 14, 2019
Music: current count 32212  rated (+29), 229  unrated (+0).
Cutoff was Sunday evening, after posting Weekend Roundup. Didn't have all of the unpacking done, so unrated count is a bit low. The two A- records came early in the week. Both are available on Bandcamp: Drumming Cellist, Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou. There's a good chance that The Rough Guide to the Roots of Country Music might have hit A- on a second or third play, but not having the booklet, having to spend close to an hour checking dates, and the suspicion that I've heard everything there elsewhere didn't dispose me to be especially generous.
I saw a little bit (maybe 10%) of Ken Burns' Country Music PBS series. Not much there I didn't already know, but thought what I saw was pretty useful -- certainly didn't strike me as distorted and deceptive, like his Jazz series. As far as I can tell, the only product tie-ins are called The Soundtrack, available in both a 2-CD edition and a 5-CD box. I don't like streaming boxes -- actually, I don't have the patience, in large part because it's hard to break them up in to listenable chunks, and there's no booklet to help you keep score -- so I probably won't bother, but the tracklists look impeccable. Probably not as good as Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection (also 5-CD), but better than Columbia Country Classics (from 1990, also 5-CD). Virtually no overlap with Rough Guide, for reasons that hardly need explication.
I read about the Exbats in last week's Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. If the link doesn't seem to work, maybe you should subscribe? I was pleased to find my previous A- picks for Chance the Rapper and Tyler Childers as good or better. Also that he found more than I did in Black Midi, Chuck Cleaver, Rapsody, and Sleater-Kinney. Some folks have asked about XgauSez. It's on a new schedule, fourth Wednesday of each month, and subscribers will get it delivered to their mailboxes.
Continuing to plug things into my tracking and metacritic files, which is helping me keep up to date. For instance, I can tell you the best-reviewed new records of the week (10-11): Big Thief: Two Hands (15); Kim Gordon: No Home Record (12); Elbow: Giants of All Sizes (8). Best-reviewed new records of the previous week (10-04): Angel Olsen: All Mirrors (24) [*]; Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (22); Danny Brown: Uknowhatimsayin¿ (16) [***]; Wilco: Ode to Joy (10); DIIV: Deceiver (9). New records I most want to track down: Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia; Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise; Bill Frisell: Harmony; Abdullah Ibrahim: Dream Time; Chris Knight: Almost Daylight; L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: Complicate Your Life With Violence; Kelsey Waldon: White Noise/White Lines.
Rez Abbasi: A Throw of Dice by the Silent Ensemble (2017 , Whirlwind): Guitarist, from Pakistan, has recorded regularly since 1993. Based this one on an Indian-German silent film from 1929. Quintet with Pawan Benjamin (sax, flute, bansuri), plus bass, drums, and percussion (Rohan Krishnamurthy). B+(*) [cd] [10-19]
Mats Åleklint/Per-Åke Holmlander/Paal Nilssen-Love: Fish & Steel (2018 , PNL): Eponymous group album, but the names are on the cover so I figure they deserve the credit -- especially since the Swedes (trombone and tuba), prolific as they are, rarely get lead billing. B+(***) [bc]
Simone Baron & Arco Belo: The Space Between Disguises (2019, GenreFluid): Pianist, also plays accordion, seems to be her first album. Core trio helped with production, adding strings and percussion, which makes it sound way too chamberish for my taste. B- [cd] [11-08]
Katerina Brown: Mirror (2019, Mellowtone Music): Singer, based in Bay Area, songs include three in her native Russian (with English versions tacked on as "bonus tracks"). With pianist Adam Shulman, other scattered about, with a Kenny Washington duet. B [cd] [10-18]
Cashmere Cat: Princess Catgirl (2019, Mad Love/Interscope, EP): Norwegian DJ Magnus August Hølberg, second album (if 7 songs, 18:34 counts). No ID on the voice (other than a Christina Aguilera sample), which fits the cartoon cover. B+(*)
Drumming Cellist [Kristijan Krajncan]: Abraxas (2019, Sazas): Kristijan Krajncan, from Slovenia, plays cello and dubs in percussion tracks, second album, not quite solo in that he works in a couple guest spots (electronics, harpsichord). The upbeat pieces move smartly, and the occasional change of pace remains of interest. A- [cd]
David Finck: Bassically Jazz (2019, Burton Avenue Music): Bassist, looks like his third album, with many more side credits (website lists 122) since 1988. Centers on the leader's instrument, with weak horns (flute/trombone), piano (Jim Ridl) and vibes (Joe Locke), guitar, drums, vocals (Linda Eder or Alexis Cole) on three cuts. B+(*)
Ras Kass: Soul on Ice 2 (2019, Mello Music Group): Rapper John Austin IV, recorded two albums for Priority 1996-98, third album here reprises his debut title. He remained active in his missing decades, appearing on other albums and releasing a pile of mixtapes. Sounds old school. B+(***)
Krokofant: Q (2019, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion trio -- Tom Hasslan (guitar), Jørgen Mathisen (sax), Axel Skalstad (drums) -- had three numbered albums before this one, which adds bass Ingebrigt Håker Flaten) and vibes (Axel Skalstad). Saxophonist has some avant chops, not much in evidence. B
Remy Le Boeuf: Assembly of Shadows (2019, SoundSpore): Saxophonist, from Santa Cruz, second solo album after several in his brother act. Big band, conducted by Gregory Robbins, no strings in the credits but I was faked out, maybe because the long suite sounds so classical, with no swing and a lot of Anne Webber's flute. I took an instant dislike to it, but on second play have to admit some intricate (and quite lovely) passages (and no strings). B [cdr] [11-01]
Little Brother: May the Lord Watch (2019, Imagine Nation Music/For Members Only/Empire): Hip-hop group from Durham, North Carolina, four albums 2003-10, regrouped as a duo (rappers Phonte [Coleman] and Big Pooh [Thomas Jones]) for this album. Nice flow, solid album. B+(**)
John McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love: Song for the Big Chief (2017 , PNL): Tenor/pocket trumpet and drums duo, something they've done before (e.g., the 7-CD Candy box set), something the drummer has done with lots of saxophonists. All pretty consistent, but this one was recorded just after Sunny Murray died, recalling his 1969 album Big Chief. B+(**) [bc]
Bernie Mora & Tangent: No Agenda (2019, Rhombus): Guitarist, has a couple previous albums with this group name -- only player I recognize is saxophonist Doug Webb. Fusion, comes out roiling, never really loses that, although attention is something else. C+ [cd]
Poncho Sanchez: Trane's Delight (2019, Concord Picante): Congolero, born in Texas, grew up in California, 1980 debut album Salsa Picante. Covers three Coltrane tunes here, the title one of two originals. Some vocals. B
Louis Sclavis: Characters on a Wall (2018 , ECM): French clarinetist, records since 1981, 13th for ECM since 2002. Quartet, opens with piano (Benjamin Moussay). Cover shows a concrete wall, looks like Israel's West Bank partition, although looks small because a human figure has been painted nearly the height of a panel. B+(*)
Mike Stern-Jeff Lorber Fusion: Eleven (2019, Concord): Fusion guitarist and smooth jazz keyboardist, both looking their age (66-67), with Jimmy Haslip co-producing. Not much to it. C+
Tinariwen: Amadjar (2019, Anti-): Touareg group from Mali, steady stream of albums since 2002. Recent albums appear to credit "+10:1," evidently the band's name in Tamasheq. Hard to differentiate among their many albums, but this one seems relatively laid back. B+(**)
Kiki Valera: Vivencias En Clave Cubana (2018 , Origin): Cuban cuatro master, a member of Familia Valera Miranda, "a century-old group and one of the most important purveyors of the Son Cubana." Indeed, sounds impeccably Cuban, with Coco Freeman's vocals, a dash of trumpet, and lots of percussion. B+(***) [10-16]
Rodney Whitaker: All Too Soon: The Music of Duke Ellington (2017 , Origin): Bassist, from Detroit, teaches at Michigan State, ten or so albums since 1996, mainstream affairs, this his first explicit nod to swing. Leads a sextet which covers the bases: trumpet (Brian Lynch), tenor sax (Diego Rivera), trombone (Michael Dease), piano (Richard Roe), and drums (Karriem Riggins), with Rockelle Whitaker vocals on most tracks. Delightful program. B+(***) [10-16]
Barrence Whitfield Soul Savage Arkestra: Songs From the Sun Ra Cosmos (2019, Modern Harmonic): Retro blues-rocker, born in Florida (as Barry White), studied in Boston, long based there, band called Barrence Whitfield & the Savages. Sun Ra's songbook takes him to some strange places, but "Muck Muck" was made for him. B+(**)
Carrie Wicks: Reverie (2019, OA2): Singer-songwriter, based in Seattle, backed by a nice jazz combo, with Brent Jensen on sax (soprano/alto) and Bill Anschell's piano trio. Can't say much on the originals (all co-written, most with Ken Nottingham), but the covers are nice and poised. B+(*) [cd] [10-16]
Young M.A: Herstory in the Making (2019, M.A Music/3D): New York Rapper Katorah Marrero, first album after an EP (Herstory), a couple mixtapes, a hit single ("OOOUUU"). Gender not always clear, especially when she goes on a rant about her "bitches." B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Exbats: E Is 4 Exbats (2016-18 , Burger): Post-punk trio from Arizona, drummer-vocalist Inez McLain, her father Kenny on guitar, plus a bass player. Most songs appeared on previous albums with titles that make me curious. B+(***)
Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou: Anou Malane (1995 , Sahel Sounds): Tuareg guitarist-singer from Niger, recorded this in Benin. Regarded as a classic in the style, so steady you start to wonder if it isn't too easy, but that's only because the balance is so impeccable. A-
The Rough Guide to the Roots of Country Music: Reborn and Remastered (1926-33 , World Music Network): A primer on the oldtime folk music of the white American south, the legacy country music claimed as its roots. Some familiar names, some more obscure. Not able to sort this out compared to similar comps, but this would fill the gap fairly well. Main caveat I have is that the label is notoriously shoddy in its documentation, but I haven't seen whatever accompanies this one. B+(***)
Cecil Taylor: Mysteries: Indent: Antioch College/Yellow Springs, Ohio/March 11, 1973 (1973 , Black Sun): Mysteries seems to be a series of vault recordings by the late avant-pianist. Cover omits "Mysteries," but includes the rest, as above. However, title is usually given as Mysteries: Second Set of Indent. Indent appeared in 1977 on Arista/Freedom, as one of Taylor's first solo records. I didn't care for it at the time, but this second set is pretty spectacular. B+(***)
Cecil Taylor: Mysteries: Untitled (1961-76 , Black Sun): That's the title, plain as day on the cover. One 49:14 solo set (previously unreleased) from the Bösendorfer Festival in November 1976, plus three well-known group tracks from Taylor's side of a 1961 two-artist LP shared with Roswell Rudd. B+(**)
The Exbats: A Guide to the Health Issues Affecting Rescue Hens (2016, Burger): First album, released on cassette tape. Playing these after the compilation (E Is 4 Exbats) gives me a combination of déjà vu and roughly comparable filler. B+(**)
The Exbats: I've Got the Hots for Charlie Watts (2018, Burger): Second album (cassette), as above, but hedged up for the title (and maybe for some of the filler). B+(***)
Rodney Whitaker: Ballads and Blues: The Brooklyn Sessions (1998, Criss Cross): Bassist, first album as leader after more than a decade of side-credits, especially with Roy Hargrove, also Terence Blanchard and Eric Reed. Three pieces by Paul Chambers (also one by George Duvivier) proclaim his roots. With Ron Blake (tenor/soprano sax), Reed (piano), Stefon Harris (vibes), and Carl Allen (drums), plus Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) on two tracks. B+(**)
Barrence Whitfield & the Savages: Soul Flowers of Titan (2018, Bloodshot): I've long thought of him as a blues-rocker, but he owes more to, and sounds more like, 1950s rockers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard than the 1960s bluesmen (or Englishmen) who defined the genre. Doesn't necessarily pick or write great songs, but when he does he can really burn it up. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Trump has gotten a lot of flack this week for his decision allowing Turkey to invade Syria. Turkey's attack is directed not at the Syrian government or ISIS but at the Kurdish militias in norther Syria, which Turkish strong-man Erdogan regards as a potential security threat, as presumingly giving aid and comfort to Turkey's own Kurdish minority. The Kurdish militias had not only opposed the Syrian government, which hardly anyone in America has a kind word for, but also operated as allies or proxies in America's war against ISIS. Hence, the complaints you hear most often are that Trump has abandoned a trusted US ally, and that the invasion is likely to head to a humanitarian disaster -- the emphasis shifting from neocons to their liberal enablers. The only support Trump has found has come from paleocons like Rand Paul who want the US to draw back from foreign wars, but don't much care if the rest of the world destroys itself.
One problem is that Trump (or for that matter Obama) has never had a coherent strategy on Syria, or for that matter anywhere else in the Middle East. A reasonable goal would be to maintain peace among stable governments, biased where possible toward broad-based prosperity with power sharing and respect for human rights. Obama might have agreed with that line at the start of Arab Spring, but he soon found that ran against the main drivers of American Middle East policy: Israel's war stance, the Arabian oil oligarchies, Iranian exiles, arms merchants, and scattered pockets of Christians (except in Palestine) -- forces that had never given more than occasional lip-service to democracy and human rights, and were flat-out opposed to any whiff of socialism.
Obama was able to help nudge Mubarak aside in Egypt, but when the Egyptians elected the wrong leaders, he had second thoughts, and didn't object to the military restoring a friendly dictatorship. Obama had no such influence in Libya and Syria, so when their leaders violently put demonstrations down, some Americans saw an opportunity to overthrow unfriendly regimes through armed conflict. It is fair to say that Obama was ambivalent about this, but he wound up overseeing a bombing campaign that killed Qaddafi in Libya, and he provided less overt support to some of the Syrian opposition forces, and this led to many other parties intervening in Syria, with different and often conflicting agendas.
It's worth stressing that nothing the US has attempted in the Middle East has worked, even within the limited and often incoherent goals that have supposedly guided American policy, let alone advancing the more laudable goals of peace and broad-based prosperity. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the US is incapable of standing up popular government after invasion and civil war. Libya suggests that ignoring a broken country doesn't work any better. But Syria is turning out to be an even more complete disaster, as the ancien regime remains as the only viable government. Assad owes his survival to Russia's staunch support, but also to the US (and the Kurds), who defeated his most potent opposition: ISIS.
What needs to be done now is to implement a cease fire, to halt all foreign efforts to provide military support for anti-Assad forces, to reassert the Assad government over all of Syria, to convince Assad not to take reprisals against disarmed opponents, and to start rebuilding and repatriating exiles. Trump's greenlighting of the Turkish invasion does none of this, and makes any progress that much harder -- not that there is any reason to think that Trump has the skills and temperament to negotiate an end to the conflict, even without this blunder.
The only American politician who begins to have the skills to deal with problems like Syria is Bernie Sanders, because he is the only one to understand that America's interests -- peace, prosperity, cooperation everywhere -- are best served when nations everywhere choose governments that serve the best interests of all of their own peoples (socialism). Everyone else is more/less stuck in ruts which insist on projecting the so-called American values of crony capitalism and militarism, the goal to make the world subservient to the interests of neoliberal capital. In this regard, Trump differs from the pack only in his reluctance to dress up greedy opportunism with high-minded aspirations (e.g., Bush's feminist program for Afghanistan). Trump's freedom from cant could be refreshing, but like all of his exercises in political incorrectness, it mostly serves to reveal what a callous and careless creature he is.
Short of Sanders, it might be best to concede that America is not the solution to the world's woes, that indeed it is a major problem, so much so that in many cases the most helpful thing we could do is to withdraw, including support for other countries' interventions. Syria is an obvious good place to start. On the other hand, replacing American arms and aims with Turkish ones won't help anyone (not even the Turks).
PS: After writing the above, Trump ordered the last US troops out of Syria. That in itself is good news, but everything else is spiraling rapidly out of control. Meanwhile, Syrian Kurds are looking for new allies, and finding Assad (see Jason Ditz: Syrian Kurds, Damascus reach deal in Russia-backed talks).
Some scattered links on this (some of which are just examples of what I've been complaining about):
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, October 7, 2019
Music: current count 32183  rated (+27), 229  unrated (+10).
Slow start on the week, partly because I flushed Monday's listening out in September Streamnotes, and ended this Sunday night. Partly because the Kevin Sun 2-CD album sat in the changer four days while I slowly made up my mind. Sun's album never quite matched his Trio debut, nor is the George Coleman album quite as terrific as his The Master Speaks, but in the end both came close enough. Among the also-rans, Laurie Anderson's spoken word over Tibetan ghost music came closest, and might deserve further attention. Turns out Phil Overeem likes the album a lot (number 9 on his latest list. Also found my two good vault albums there. More to follow next week.
I added those and a few others to my metacritic file. In turn I checked out several of the better-rated albums I hadn't bothered with, but didn't find I enjoyed it much. Most I'm pretty sure of, but artists like Angel Olsen, Bon Iver, and Jessica Pratt just make me wonder if I'm getting too old for this shit. Also in the "don't do it for me" category are fairly ordinary rockers like Cherry Glazerr, Sleater-Kinney, and Girl Band.
Got a lot of mail last week (today's take is listed below but not counted above). I'm noting future release dates as I get them, also when I do reviews. The queue is usually sorted FIFO, as I suspect keeping it sorted by release date would be a big hassle. Upcoming week may be less than usual, as I have some house projects, plus a bit of cooking coming up. Then some medical shit, before Trump takes that away, too.
New records reviewed this week:
Laurie Anderson/Tenzin Choegyal/Jesse Paris Smith: Songs From the Bardo (2019, Smithsonian Folkways): Spoken word and violin, an exploration of impending death, or maybe just The Tibetan Book of the Dead: "bardo" in Tibetan Buddhism is the state of existence between death and rebirth. Choegyal chants, plays various Tibetan instruments, Smith mostly piano, with extras adding cello and percussion. Proceeds too slowly for my taste, but makes me wonder. B+(***)
Ben Bennett/Zach Darrup/Jack Wright: Never (2018, Palliative): Percussion, guitar, and sax, unnamed improv pieces, inventive but pretty harsh. Wright, from Pittsburgh, has been around a while, first album in 1982, Discogs lists 52 albums, I've heard one. Darrup, from Philadelphia, has one previous, a duo with Wright, and Bennett, also from Philadelphia, has several, including at least three with Wright. [3/5 tracks, 37:44/63:25] B+(*) [bc]
Bon Iver: I, I (2019, Jagjaguwar): Justin Vernon, from Wisconsin, discography dates back to 1998 but his platinum breakthrough came with this group name in 2008. Fourth Bon Iver album, title stylized lc, as in math, but harder to figure. Rather quirky music, opaque to me, but possible to imagine there's more to it somewhere. B
Danny Brown: Uknowhatimsayin¿ (2019, Warp): Detroit rapper, underground, fifth album, slung a load of sex rhymes on XXX, but no, I don't really follow what he's saying now. Do dig the beats, and the squeaky voice, and wonder whether a few more spins might make the difference. B+(***)
Cherry Glazerr: Stuffed & Ready (2019, Secretly Canadian): Alt/indie band from Los Angeles, pricipally singer-guitarist Clementine Creevy, with bass and drums. Third album. B
George Coleman: The Quartet (2019, Smoke Sessions): Tenor saxophonist, probably best known as the guy who kept the tenor sax slot warm for Miles Davis between Coltrane and Shorter, but he's recorded a dozen-plus albums under his own name, some really great -- like My Horns of Plenty (1991), and (after a long break) A Master Speaks (2016). Not sure exactly when this one was recorded: most likely shortly before or after his 84th birthday, well before pianist Harold Mabern (83) died in September. The octogenarians are delights, ably supported by John Webber and Joe Farnsworth. A-
The Comet Is Coming: Afterlife (2019, Impulse!): British fusion trio, sax/keybs/drums credited to aliases (King Shabaka, Danalogue, Betamax). Short album (6 tracks, 32:19). B+(*)
Kris Davis: Diatom Ribbons (2018 , Pyroclastic): Avant-pianist, from Canada, debuted in 2003 and quickly established herself as a major figure, especially in groups with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. Here she makes some kind of breakout bid, doubling down at tenor sax (Malaby + JD Allen), spotting two top guitarists (Nels Cline and Marc Ribot), mixing in turntables, electronics, and vocal bits, without making it too easy. B+(***)
Girl Band: The Talkies (2019, Rough Trade): Irish alt/indie post-punk band, no evident females, Dara Kiely the singer, backed with guitar-bass-drums. Second album, four years after their first, bleak and claustrophobic, what passes for their comfort zone. B+(*)
Robert Glasper: Fuck Yo Feelings (2019, Loma Vista): Once and future jazz pianist, promised to bring a shot of hip-hop into the jazz milieu, never impressed me much, but this jam session qua mixtape proves his knack for networking. Long guest list, long album (19 tracks, 71+ minutes), moments come and go. B+(*)
Mika: My Name Is Michael Holbrook (2019, Republic/Virgin EMI): Parents American (Israeli and Lebanese roots), born in Beirut, moved to Paris at 1, then to London at 9, so counts as a British pop star. Title is true, but omits last name Penniman. Fifth album. B+(**)
Simon Nabatov: Readings: Red Cavalry (2018 , Leo): Russian avant-pianist, long based in Germany, based this on Isaac Babel texts, read dramatically by Phil Minton. The music -- with Frank Gratkowski (reeds), Marcus Schmickler (electronics), and Gerry Hemingway (drums) -- is most interesting when it breaks free. B+(*)
Simon Nabatov: Readings: Gileya Revisited (2018 , Leo): Gileya is the Russian Futurist group from the 1920s, better known today for their art (e.g., El Lissitzy) than for their writings, which provide the texts here. Same group as on Red Cavalry, except that Jaap Blonk is the voice here. Tough going, with occasional flashes of brilliance. B+(*)
Angel Olson: All Mirrors (2019, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from St. Louis, based in Asheville, NC; fourth album since 2012, the previous one (My Woman) finishing high in critics polls. Music here built up from strings, some songs strong enough to suggest what all the fuss is about. B+(*)
Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs (2019, Mexican Summer): Singer-songwriter, from San Francisco, plays guitar (although this opens with a piano solo), sometimes slotted as folk, probably for its bare DIY-ness. Short (9 tracks, 27:48), and yes, quiet. B-
Carmen Sandim: Play Doh (2019, Ropeadope): Pianist, from Brazil, based in Colorado, second album, all originals, septet gives her lots of options with three horns, guitar, bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd] [10-25]
Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won't Hold (2019, Mom + Pop): Second album after their 2005-15 hiatus, with two singer-guitarists I've never cared much for, and a terrific drummer (Janet Weiss) who's on this album but has since quit the band. Good news here is by midway I lost track of whatever it was used to irritate me so much (Carrie Brownstein's screech?). Not so good news is by the end I was scarcely paying attention at all. B
Tyshawn Sorey and Marilyn Crispell: The Adornment of Time (2018 , Pi): Drums and piano, more of the former, a single 64:57 piece recorded live. Seems more cut up than that, with a complete stop in the middle making you wonder whether the record is over, and a lot of stretches where nothing much happens, but does close strong. B+(**) [cd]
Kevin Sun: The Sustain of Memory (2019, Endectomorph Music): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1991, based in New York, has degrees from Harvard and New England Conservatory, a blog which serious jazz students will find worth perusing, and a previous Trio album which was by far the most impressive debut of 2018. Expands every which way here, except in song count, where the limit is three long ones (36:27, 29:23, 48:22). Adds Adam O'Farrill on trumpet, pianist Dana Saul -- whose Ceiling in in the running for this year's finest debut -- on tracks one and three, and swaps his Trio bassist and drummer for others on the long finale. I'm slightly less impressed by the sprawl, but he's still on track as a major talent. A- [cd] [11-15]
Tegan and Sara: Hey, I'm Just Like You (2019, Warner Brothers): Twin sisters, last name Quin, from Canada, ninth album since 1999. I thought they found their calling when they went electropop last time, so I'm a bit disappointed they're leading with the guitars this time. Not real disappointed, mind you. B+(**)
Andrés Vial/Dezron Douglas/Eric McPherson: Gang of Three (2019, Chromatic Audio): Piano-bass-drums trio, the pianist from Montreal, did a find Monk album last year, this one even more impressive with all original pieces. B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Fania Goes Psychedelic (1967-71 , Fania): Not clear what (if anything) distinguishes this from boogaloo, but then "psychedelic" never had a substantive definition -- close enough for Ray Barretto to call the lead song "Acid." B+(***)
World Spirituality Classics 2: The Time for Peace Is Now (1970s , Luaka Bop): Cover explains: "These undeniably soulful, passionate, and urgent songs from obscure 45's, dug up from a long dormancy in attics, sheds and crates across the American south, are a subset of seventies-era gospel, focusing not on Jesus or God, but instead on ourselves, and how we exist with each other." B+(***)
Bertrand Denzler Cluster: Y? (1998 , Leo Lab): French tenor saxophonist, couple dozen albums since 1992. Quartet, with Benoît Delbecq on prepared piano, Hélène Labarrière on bass, Norbert Pfammatter on drums. B+(***)
Bertrand Denzler/Norbert Pfammatter: NanoCluster 02/2000 (2000, Leo Lab): Half of the saxophonist's Cluster group, retaining just tenor sax and drums. Ten numbered free improvs, impressive rigor, but sometimes less is less. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: