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Monday, December 28, 2015

Music Week


Music: Current count 26017 [25987] rated (+30), 396 [394] unrated (+2).

Ratings down a bit due to the holidays -- I cooked traditional family fare for my sister and nephew on Xmas Eve, then next day drove out to a nearby farm for dinner with a cousin and his wife's family -- and also due to the Pazz & Jop ballot deadline. After kicking some things around, I filed the following ballot a day early:

Albums:

  1. Lyrics Born: Real People (Mobile Home) 16
  2. Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (Intakt) 14
  3. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound) 12
  4. Blackalicious: Imani, Vol. 1 (OGM) 10
  5. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game) 10
  6. Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch) 8
  7. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music) 8
  8. Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerrilla Funk, 2CD) 8
  9. Henry Threadgill Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi, 2CD) 8
  10. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce) 6

Songs:

  1. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, "All Tomorrow's Parties" (from Epicenter, Clean Feed)
  2. Tuxedo, "Do It" (from Tuxedo, Stones Throw)
  3. Ezra Furman, "Ordinary Life" (from Perpetual Motion People, Bella Union)
  4. Lindstrøm & Grace Hall, "Home Tonight" (Feedility)
  5. Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman, "Get a Dog" (from Lice, Stones Throw)
  6. Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta" (from To Pimp a Butterfly, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
  7. Ashley Monroe, "Dixie" (from The Blade, Warner Music)
  8. Death Team, "Fucking Bitches in the Hood" (no label)
  9. Gwenno, "Chwyldro" (from Y Dydd Olaf, Heavenly)
  10. Jason Derulo, "Want to Want Me" (from Everything Is 4, Warner Bros)

I'm reasonably satisfied with the albums list, although you might note that the Threadgill album is higher (6 vs. 9) on my official 2015-in-progress list than several non-jazz albums on the ballot, and four more jazz albums are on the list ahead of Heems:

  1. Schlippenbach Trio: Features (Intakt)
  2. Mike Reed's People Places & Things: A New Kind of Dance (482 Music)
  3. Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (Multiphonics Music)
  4. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (Clean Feed)

I don't like the idea that Pazz & Jop should be the non-jazz (actually, rock/rap-only) forum it effectively is, but I've already touted the jazz records above in the Jazz Critics Poll, but at the moment felt like spreading the action around a bit. (Actually, I doubt that I'll be the only person voting for Schweizer/Bennink or Threadgill in Pazz & Jop, and might not have been the only one for Reed and Lightcap, although I will be surprised if any of the others clear a vote.) I've been keeping separate Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists for several years now, but I don't think I've ever skewed the scales before. This may just be a temporary aberration, but it also has something to do with the way I've been working, which keeps me from really falling in love with practically any of the records I've been recommending.

At this point, I still only have two full-A records for 2015 (whereas Christgau has 9 plus 1 A+, not counting anything he has in reserve, and Tatum has 7 plus 3 A+, not counting Courtney Barnett [number 4 on his P&J ballot]). I did manage to play six of my ballot picks this week, but didn't move any of them up from A- to A -- most years I move 4-5 up, so I can't say if this is the records or me. (I also rechecked 4 albums I had filed in the B+ range, all records that Christgau had A-listed, and did move three up to A-, which helps even out the Jazz/Non-Jazz lists -- currently 71 to 59. The straggler was Jamie XX's In Colour, certainly a fine album but not enough so to get me to do all the associated paperwork.)

I also replayed the consensus record of the year, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, but never gave it all the time it seems to demand. And while I flagged it as a very solid A- the first time I streamed it, it's never cohered enough to move on up. No chance it won't win Pazz & Jop -- it's way ahead (577-381-320-285) in my EOY List Aggregate, and no other record has any late momentum like D'Angelo's Black Messiah last year, or any identifiable demographic advantage -- so it felt like it would be a wasted vote. So I nudged Heems above it: not sure it's the better album, but it might be, and is the more interesting choice. Among other things, it makes for two Asian-American rappers on my list. (For what it's worth, Heems will do better in P&J than it has in my EOY List Aggregate: its support is almost exclusively concentrated among Christgau's Expert Witnesses, who amount to a block of 20-30 voters. The effect should be about midway between Wussy and Withered Hand in 2014, where Wussy rose from 66 to 24, and Withered Hand from 100 to 92, but note that I'm working with final metafile tallies for 2014, which already include a lot of individual ballots from the Expert Witness poll. Currently I only have a few of them -- and haven't counted any points for Christgau, Tatum, or myself -- so Heems at 142 is probably a bit better than Withered Hand was at the same stage. I predict it will get 15-20 P&J votes and end up in the 50-70 range. Last year Wussy got 29 and Withered Hand got 8.)

On the other hand, I have no confidence in my songs list. I almost didn't bother, but wanted to tout Chris Lightcap's Velvet Underground cover -- especially since I skipped over his album. It then occurred to me that I could pick songs from other albums that missed the cut -- Lamar, of course, plus Furman, Gwenno, Monroe, and especially Tuxedo (the year's most memorable single). I looked a couple friends' lists, and watched 10-15 videos (more than I've done all year), picking out songs that seemed good enough. I wound up with two non-album singles that Dan Weiss likes, and one choice cut from an album that otherwise I don't much care for (Jason Derulo's). Also the standout track from one of the few EPs I graded A-.

Certainly a decent list, but one that I'm sure could have been improved had I spent a few more days checking things out, especially if I considered cuts from my top-ten albums ("Free People" would easily have made the list, and very likely "Flag Shopping"). I sort of get the appeal of "best songs" lists on two levels: I grew up in an era when we first heard music on AM radio (KLEO was my station) and bought 45s, so it seems perfectly natural to me to segue "Wild Thing," say, into "Woolly Bully." Until 1965 I didn't even have a record player that could play LPs, and I doubt that I bought twenty of them through the end of the decade. On the other hand, by the early 1970s we came to think of LP sides as integral works of art, meant to be consumed whole, and from 1970 up to about 1977 I doubt I bought a single 45 -- good chance the record that broke that streak was "God Save the Queen."

I also approve, at least in principle, of the idea of programming your own playlists, something that home computers made accessible to the masses. However, I've never gotten the hang of the technology, not so much because I find it incomprehensible as because it doesn't suit the way I work. Even streaming, I rarely bother with anything but album-length chunks, because that still makes sense to me as the unit to write about -- and for today, at least, I mostly listen to write. I can imagine at some point turning back inward and starting to reduce my collection to its rare finest moments, but that's mostly to eliminate clutter. (At some point I suspect all collections decay into clutter.) Nor am I sure that constant exposure to brilliance would be such a good thing. I suspect I'd get too used to it.

The other thing that bothers me about "best songs" is how much they are tied to videos. I hated MTV when it started to exercise its tyranny over popular music in the 1980s. My initial complaint was how it added an extraneous and expensive obstacle for music to reach the public. Moreover, it worked to select popular music by how photogenic the musicians were. Of course, since then music videos have been democratized (and amateurized) with the usual mixed bag of results. My research this year consisted of nothing more than watching Youtube videos, which were equally divided between nonsensical collages and Bollywood-worthy dance numbers. (Conceiving singles as studio product, I didn't bother with the third great class: live performance documents.) So inadvertently I bought into the notion that it's not a song unless it comes packaged in a video.


I've also been invited to participate in El Intruso's 8th Creative Music Critics Poll. I think it's based in Argentina, and the focus is avant-jazz. About half of the 40+ critics are Americans I recognize. Instructions call for no more than three answers in each category. Most of those categories are instruments, which raises all sorts of awkward problems -- it's hard enough to rank albums, but I don't really believe in ranking people, so the names I jotted down below are just ones I thought could use some extra recognition. Also note that the instruments themselves weren't created equal: I could reel off the names of twenty tenor saxophonists (and fifteen altoists) before I could get to a third soprano or baritone. Also, while there are quite a few good acoustic bassists who also play electric, I hardly ever recognize them as such. Final point is I spent less than half an hour doing this, mostly by looking back over last year's notes file. Anyhow, this is what I sent in:

  • Musician of the year: Allen Lowe
  • Newcomer Musician: Tomeka Reid, Gard Nilssen, Katie Thiroux
  • Group of the year: Old Time Musketry, The Kandinsky Effect, The Resonance Ensemble
  • Newcomer group: Free Nelson Mandoomjazz
  • Album of the year: Irene Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (Intakt)
  • Composer: Mike Reed
  • Drums: Milford Graves, Gerry Hemingway, Michael Zerang
  • Acoustic Bass: William Parker, Chris Lightcap, Ken Filiano
  • Electric Bass: Nate McBride
  • Guitar: Liberty Ellman, Samo Salamon, Mary Halvorson
  • Piano: Irene Schweizer, Marilyn Crispell, Michael McNeill
  • Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Gary Versace
  • Tenor Saxophone: Dave Rempis, Rich Halley, Rodrigo Amado
  • Alto Saxophone: Francois Carrier, Rent Romus, John O'Gallagher
  • Baritone Saxophone: Ken Vandermark
  • Soprano Saxophone: Evan Parker
  • Trumpet/Cornet: Taylor Ho Bynum, Amir ElSaffar, Kirk Knuffke
  • Clarinet/bass clarinet: Michael Moore, Mort Weiss, Josh Sinton
  • Trombone: Steve Swell, Joe Fiedler
  • Flute: Nicole Mitchell
  • Violin/Viola: Jason Kao Hwang
  • Cello: Erik Friedlander, Fred Lonberg-Holm
  • Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz, Joe Locke
  • Electronics: Thomas Stronen
  • Others instruments: Cooper-Moore
  • Female Vocals: Sheila Jordan, Katie Bull
  • Male Vocals: Freddy Cole
  • Best Live Band: Mostly Other People Do the Killing
  • Record Label: Clean Feed, Intakt, Pi

It would, I think, be more interesting if they did more of a record poll, especially if the ballots could extend beyond a top ten.


Probably the first week ever where everything in the newly rated list came from streaming. I did play several records in the new jazz queue but didn't get around to writing them up. My first impression is that Allen Lowe's In the Diaspora of the Diaspora would have easily added up to an A- had he packed them into a box, but releasing them individually is making me do more work. Steve Swell's Hommage à Bartok is also certainly an A-, but he begged me to write "more than your usual" and nothing slows me down like that.

Also spent a lot of time adding to the EOY List Aggregate files, but have no time left to write about them. Maybe next week, or when Pazz & Jop comes out (January 13). As of this moment I have 318 lists compiled, referencing 3126 albums. Still working on it, but I have a pretty good idea how it all sorts out (Kendrick Lamar, Sufjan Stevens, Courtney Barnett, Jamie XX, Father John Misty, Tame Impala, Grimes, Julia Holter, Bjork, Sleater-Kinney, Vince Staples, Kamasi Washington, Joanna Newsom, Oneohtrix Point Never; 4-5-6 are pretty close but fairly stable; 9-12 are even closer and more volatile; 14 is gaining, but has too much ground to make up to bump 13; the rest of the top-20 are Kurt Vile, Carly Jepsen, Blur, Drake, Alabama Shakes, Viet Cong, and they're still likely to change).


New records rated this week:

  • Scott Amendola: Fade to Orange (2014 [2015], Sazi): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lotte Anker: What River Is This (2012 [2014], ILK Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Style (2015, Matador): [r]: B
  • Brian Charette/Will Bernard/Rudy Royston: Alphabet City (2014 [2015], Posi-Tone): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chick Corea & Béla Fleck: Two (2015, Concord, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Stanley Cowell: Juneteenth (2014 [2015], Vision Fugitive): [r]: B+(*)
  • Crack Ignaz: Kirsch (2015, Melting Pot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Adrian Cunningham: Ain't That Right! The Music of Neal Hefti (2015, Arbors): [r]: B+(**)
  • Downtown Boys: Full Communism (2015, Don Giovanni): [r]: A-
  • The Greg Foat Group: The Dancers at the Edge of Time (2015, Jazzman): [r]: B+(*)
  • Future: 56 Nights (2015, Freebandz, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Have Moicy 2: The Hoodoo Bash (2015, Red Newt): [r]: A-
  • Wayne Horvitz: Some Places Are Forever Afternoon (2015, Songlines): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jenny Hval: Apocalypse, Girl (2015, Sacred Bones): [r]: B+(*)
  • I Love Makonnen: I Love Makonnen 2 (2015, OVO Sound, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Internet: Ego Death (2015, Odd Future/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Becky Kilgore/Nicki Parrott: Two Songbirds of a Feather (2015, Arbors): [r]: B+(***)
  • Julian Lage: World's Fair (2014 [2015], Modern Lore): [r]: B+(*)
  • !Mayday!: Future/Vintage (2015, Strange Music): [r]: A-
  • Mika: No Place in Heaven (2015, Casablanca): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pusha T: King Push Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015, Def Jam): [r]: B+(***)
  • Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen: Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 (2015, Lil' Buddy Toons): [r]: B+(***)
  • Todd Rundgren/Emil Nikolaisen/Hans-Peter Lindstrøm: Runddans (2015, Smalltown Supersound): [r]: B-
  • John Scofield: Past Present (2015, Impulse!): [r]: B+(***)
  • Christian Scott: Stretch Music (2015, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sophie: Product (2013-15 [2015], Numbers, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool (2015, Dirty Hit/RCA): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Kenny Knight: Crossroads (1980 [2015], Paradise of Bachelors): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sherwood at the Controls, Volume 1: 1979-1984 (1979-84 [2015], On-U Sound): [r]: B+(**)


Grade changes:

  • Leonard Cohen: Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour (2012-13 [2015], Columbia): [r]: [was B+(***)]: A-
  • Future: DS2 (2015, Epic): [r]: [was B+(***)]: A-
  • Grimes: Art Angels (2015, 4AD): [r]: [was B+(**)]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ross Hammond and Sameer Gupta: Upward (Prescott): advance, March
  • Mike Sopko/Simon Lott: The Golden Measure (self-released): advance, March 25

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25987 [25944] rated (+43), 394 [381] unrated (+13).

The Tenth Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Village Voice, then after the Voice tanked kept going first at Rhapsody and now at NPR, appeared today. In 2009 Voice Music Editor Rob Harvilla asked me to compile and host all of the critic ballots, and I've continued doing so through all of the subsequent gyrations. Deadline for the ballots was last Sunday, and Davis forwarded them to me on Tuesday or Wednesday, but I putzed around and didn't start on them until Saturday. That wiped out my weekend and, well, today, and I still have work to do. Among other things, I figured out a system for double checking the collated ballots against Francis' tabulations. When I first got all of the data plugged in, my diff-checker spit out 480 lines of discrepancies -- roughly 120 of about 650 albums that received votes. Since then, one of the main things I've been doing has been to whittle down that discrepancy list. As I write this, I have it down to five more records that I have to check. It's fair to say that about half of those have been errors in Francis' original tabulation, and half were problems I introduced during data entry.

A second category of changes has to do with a sort of canonic representation of artist/title/label names. Francis doesn't like spurious group names attached to artist names so, say, The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet becomes Gabriel Alegria, Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance is Steve Coleman, and Satoko Fujii Tobira is just Satoko Fujii. He also doesn't like slashes for multiple artists -- says they mean either/or -- so two artists use & and three or more use dashes, even when the album itself uses slashes (although more likely they just use space). Part of the reason is no doubt practical: when 147 meticulous critics and supposedly literate writers jot down lists, the sheer quantity of variations they come up with is mind-boggling. Still, several of these canonicalizations are arguable, and some are far from clear. At some point in the ballot collating process I get to comparing the data hacked according to his rules with a similar set of data I've been accumulating (with different rules) all year long. Unfortunately, that point is still in the future -- probably when I get around to feeding a fair amount of ballot data into my own EOY List Aggregate file (which, by the way, has significantly less jazz data now than it has in recent years, mostly because so few jazz critics have been using the JJA website to post their lists/ballots). Still, if I had some magical way to filter out the non-majority-jazz lists, my data would have reasonably well anticipated the JCP results. (Kamasi Washington and Matana Roberts would have lost most, but far from all, of their support, and Colin Stetson would have lost everything -- curiously enough Stetson's is my favorite of those three.) The main blip I see is that Jack DeJohnette ran much better in JCP, while Vijay Iyer (and JD Allen) ran a bit better in my sparser data. (I haven't weighed my own grades into my data yet, so that isn't a factor.)

There are two main pages at NPR to look at:

  • The 2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, where Francis Davis presents a list of the top sixty finishers, with paragraph write-ups on the top ten finishers. (Davis voted for six of the ten -- Rudresh Mahanthappa, Maria Schneider, Jack DeJohnette, Vijay Iyer, Henry Threadgill, and Mary Halvorson -- and had one more (Steve Coleman) in his HM list (leaving Kamasi Washington, Charles Lloyd, and Chris Lightcap -- only Washington gets much of a critique).

  • Close Enough for Jazz: How the 2015 NPR Jazz Critics Poll Was Fit to Be Tied: Francis Davis' annual essay on the poll -- the title refers to the effective tie between Mahanthappa and Schneider (same point total, but Mahanthappa on four more ballots -- still the official tie-breaker in my own tabulation) -- plus Davis' own ballot including an Honorable Mention list.

Much more data is available at my site, including complete totals for all five categories (new, reissue/historical, vocal, debut, Latin jazz) and complete ballots for all of the 147 participating critics. This site isn't built on a full-fledged database, but the data is internally tabled up in such a way that one need only write a little more software to organize it like, say, the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop section: one would need a script to list out all of the critics who voted for any given album, and another to fetch the ballot for any single critic -- plus a lot of extra links in each file, and some CSS to present those links. I actually wrote the second script in a couple hours last year, so critics could link to their own ballots (mine is here) without confusing the issue by picking up other critics' ballots. Unfortunately, I only think about writing things like this when I'm up to my ears facing an annual deadline, stuck with more pressing things to do.

I don't have time to comment on the results, other than to make the obvious point that I'm not much of a fan of either of the winning records (although it's been quite some time since I played either; I have them at low- and middle-B+ grades). I've liked Mahanthappa's work much more in the past, but don't get (or find interesting) his postbop take on Charlie Parker (my issue is definitely not that I find the record too bebop-y). And while I enjoyed Schneider's new album more than her previous much-hyped work, her ornate expressionism has scant appeal for me. I'm not real disappointed to see these two records doing so well: I figure they're just different strokes for different folks, especially ones grounded in classical but open to the greater vitality of postmodern jazz. (I, on the other hand, have always detested classical music, and look to jazz that builds on the rowdy subversion I first found in rock and roll.)

The next two finishers don't do much for me either. For Jack DeJohnette, the problem is (most likely) purely business. Since ECM stopped servicing me with actual product, I've had to make do with time-limited download links I often don't get to in time, and I missed the DeJohnette link -- and didn't get a second chance, despite several requests. So I simply haven't heard a record that looks great on paper and has a terrific reputation. Then there's the matter of Kamasi Washington: again I didn't get a copy -- a real practical problem for something that fills up three CDs -- again despite a further request. However, I was able to hear it on Rhapsody, and recently gave it a second complete spin. I do like him as a saxophonist, and the '70s-throwback-vibe that Davis complains about is one of my favorite jazz era-niches, but I don't get off on the electro-flavored choral goop that fills most of the first two discs. (Complicit in all of this is Steve Ellson, aka Flying Lotus, whose own work leaves me cold.)

In the end, I only had two of the top 10 albums on my A-list (with this week's bonanza 71 albums deep -- Threadgill and Lightcap were also on my ballot). Add one more for 11-20 (Ryan Truesdell), a clump of five in 21-30 (Mike Reed, Matthew Shipp, Amir ElSaffar, Liberty Ellman, Nicole Mitchell). Three for 31-40 (Irène Schweizer, MOPDtK, Barry Altschul). Two in 41-50 (Noah Preminger, Tomeka Reid). Four more for 51-60 (Erik Friedlander, James Brandon Lewis, Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, Joe Lovano). It thins out further from there, mostly because the number of records I haven't heard grows. For instance, only six more from 61-100 (Ochion Jewell, Milford Graves, Alex von Schlippenbach, William Parker, Satoko Fujii, Michael Blake -- Steve Swell's record just came in the mail). Only seven from 101-200 (Josh Berman, Charles McPherson, Nate Wooley, Ray Anderson, Tomas Fujiwara, Rich Halley, Chico Freeman).

No doubt I'll find more good records by sniffing around the ballots -- actually, more so than by looking at the totals. While working on the ballots, I spent my time streaming items I found there, and indeed came up with two A- records this week (Ray Anderson and Tomeka Reid; the Bobby Bradford/John Carter archival release was already in my CD queue, as were voteless discs by François Carrier and and Andrew Jamieson; Daniel Rosenboom also got no votes, but was recommended in another EOY list somewhere; same for Max Richter, which I gather is classical music, but it sure fooled me).


New records rated this week:

  • Ray Anderson's Organic Quartet: Being the Point (2015, Intuition): [r]: A-
  • Blanck Mass: Dumb Flesh (2015, Sacred Bones): [r]: B+(***)
  • Samuel Blaser: Spring Rain (2014-15 [2015], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cam: Welcome to Cam Country (2015, Arista Nashville, EP): [r]: B
  • Cam: Untamed (2015, Arista Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • François Carrier/Steve Beresford/John Edwards/Michel Lambert: Outgoing (2014 [2015], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • Container: LP (2015, Spectrum Spools): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dungen: Allas Sak (2015, Mexican Summer): [r]: B
  • Duane Eubanks Quintet: Things of That Particular Nature (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nils Frahm: Solo (2015, Erased Tapes): [r]: B+(**)
  • Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: Wisdom, Laughter and Lines (Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Hébert: Rambling Confessions (2011 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
  • Andrew Jamieson: Heard the Voice (2015, Edgetone): [cd]: A-
  • Jlin: Dark Energy (2015, Planet Mu): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kanaku y El Tigre: Quema Quema Quema (2015, Strut/Tigers Milk): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kelela: Hallucinogen (2015, Warp/Cherry Coffee, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kneebody + Daedelus: Keedelus (2015, Brainfeeder): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jeffrey Lewis: Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams (2014, self-released): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Lifted: 1 (2015, PAN): [r]: B+(***)
  • Amy London/Darmon Meader/Dylan Pramuk/Holli Ross: Royal Bopsters Project (2015, Motéma): [r]: B
  • Lionel Loueke: Gaia (2015, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Møster!: When You Cut Into the Present (2015, Hubro): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Necks: Vertigo (2015, Northern Spy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Neon Indian: Vega Intl. Night School (2015, Mom + Pop Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Simultaneous Windows (2015, Edgetone): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Larry Novak: Invitation (2014 [2015], Delmark): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Nu Band: The Cosmological Constant (2014 [2015], Not Two): [r]: B+(**)
  • Evan Parker/Peter Jacquemyn: Marsyas Suite (2012 [2015], El Negocito): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet: Brooklyn (2015, Three Faces): [r]: B
  • Bucky Pizzarelli: Renaissance: A Journey From Classical to Jazz (2015, Arbors): [r]: B
  • Tomeka Reid: Tomeka Reid Quartet (2015, Thirsty Ear): [r]: A-
  • RJD2/STS: STS X RJD2 (2015, RJ's Electrical Connections): [r]: B+(***)
  • Daniel Rosenboom: Astral Transference & Seven Dreams (2014 [2015], Orenda, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Alejandro Sanz: Sirope (2015, Universal): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dexter Story: Wondem (2015, Soundway): [r]: B+(*)
  • They Might Be Giants: Glean (2015, Idlewild): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Thing: Shake (2015, Thing): [r]: B+(***)
  • Samba Touré: Gandadiko (2015, Glitterbeat): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kenny Werner: The Melody (2014 [2015], Pirouet): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barrence Whitfield & the Savages: Under the Savage Sky (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nate Wooley/Ken Vandermark: East by Northwest (2013 [2015], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(**)

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

  • Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet: No U Turn: Live in Pasadena 1975 (1975 [2015], Dark Tree): [cd]: A-
  • Billie Holiday: Banned From New York City: Live 1948-1957 (1948-57 [2015], Uptown, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sun Ra and His Arkestra: To Those of Earth . . . and Other Worlds (1956-83 [2015], Strut, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • They Might Be Giants: Long Tall Weekend (1999, Idlewild): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel: This Could Be That (Bacalao): January 15
  • Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Krakow Nights (Not Two)
  • Mary Foster Conklin: Photographs (MockTurtle Music): February 2
  • Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Azui Infinito (Greenleaf Music): March 4
  • Aly Keïta/Jan Galega Brönnimann/Lucas Niggli: Kalo-Yele (Intakt): advance, January
  • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Where a Cigarette Is Smoked by Ten Men (Constant Sorrow)
  • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: We Will Gather When We GAther (Constant Sorrow)
  • Allen Lowe/Matthew Shipp/Kevin Ray/Jake Millett: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Ballad for Albert (Constant Sorrow)
  • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Man With Guitar: Where's Robert Johnson? (Constant Sorrow)
  • Aruán Ortiz Trio: Hidden Voices (Intakt): advance, January
  • Matthew Shipp: Matthew Shipp Plays the Music of Allen Lowe (Constant Sorrow)
  • Steve Swell: Kanreki: Reflection & Renewal (Not Two, 2CD)
  • Steve Swell's Kende Dreams: Hommage à Bartok (Silkheart)
  • Steve Swell: The Loneliness of the Long Distasnce Improviser (Swell)
  • Lew Tabackin Trio: Soundscapes (self-released): February 5

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (December 2015)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

From a letter I wrote today:

One thing I want to mention is that I thoroughly butchered that book I mentioned. The author is David Fromkin (not Dworkin), and the title is "A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East." It was written in 1989, so there are other books since then that cover the same ground, but it's been republished several times since then.

I don't think anyone has written a really good book on the way European imperialism picked at the carcass of the Ottoman Empire over the long 19th century -- roughly from 1798 (Napoleon's invasion of Egypt; cf. Juan Cole's "Napoleon's Egypt") and 1804 (the Serbian Revolt; cf. Misha Glenny's "The Balkans") up through the Balkan Wars (1912-13), the Great War and the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) -- and the Turks' often-futile efforts at modernization (and even more fateful, the occasional efforts the Ottomans made at alliances with various European powers) during that period. Actually, would need to go one step further to encompass Ataturk's reforms, which is when the modernization finally took root. The difficulty has been that Western authors are congenitally insensitive to the self-interested hypocrisies of the West and disrespectful to those not so indoctrinated -- I think this is what Said tried to critique as Orientalism, although I gather he didn't do a very good job of it. After all, for every Lawrence or Bell who understood something, there were scads of bureaucrats fated to abuse any legitimate insights. This is, of course, a problem that persists in America today.

By the way, speaking of books, I would like to plug Gilles Kepel's "Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam." Written (or rather translated into English) in 2000, Kepel traces both the deobandi and salafist strains of jihadism, and finds those movements nearing exhaustion by 2000. He later described the 2001 attack as something of a "hail Mary pass" -- unfortunately, George Bush, for his own perverse reasons, intercepted it and ran it into the wrong end zone.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25944 [25911] rated (+33), 381 [383] unrated (-2).

Didn't bother with a Weekend Roundup yesterday. I figure there will be plenty of opportunities in the future, and had something better -- at least more constructive -- to do. When we lived in Boston, we used to be regularly invited to Hannukah parties, which aside from anecdotes that were more historical than religious was mostly an excuse to pig out on latkes -- fried potato pancakes. Since then I've learned to fry up my own latkes, and we throw a nice little dinner party every year sometime around the holiday, and last night was this year's occasion.

The latkes are pretty straightforward, although my recipe has strayed from the one I reference in Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food. What I did last night was:

  1. Peeled and soaked five russet potatoes.
  2. Peeled and chopped two yellow onions. Put them in a large bowl.
  3. Added five eggs, some salt and pepper to the onions.
  4. Dried the potatoes and ran them through the coarse shred food processor disc, then chopped them up further with the blade. Folded the potatoes into the bowl, and added a little more pepper.
  5. Fired up two frying pans. Added vegetable oil (safflower) a little less than 1/4 inch deep. I have a large salad spoon which is about right to scoop up about 3 tbs. of potato-onion-egg mixture. I could put four scoops in a frying pan at a time, flattening them into four pancakes. When they're good and brown around the edges, flip them over. When done I put them on a platter lined with paper towels. I meant to keep them in a warming oven but ultimately didn't bother.
  6. Repeat until done.

I suspect you can get away with four (instead of five) eggs (Roden's recipe calls for one, and makes onions optional). The mix did get to be a little soupy toward the end. I don't use any flour to bindn the latkes together (matzo meal is traditional; potato starch is gluten-free and probably better), but the extra egg works fine. In past dinners I served the latkes hot out of the pan, which is nice for the guests but means the dinner is done before the cook can sit down. Also, I like to make some side dishes, which start out on the table and tend to get eaten while the guests are waiting for latkes.

Latkes are traditionally served with sour cream and applesauce. I bought sour cream and served it in several dishes. I made applesauce, improvising on Roden's recipe:

  1. Bought two Braeburn and two Red Delicious apples. Quartered, peeled, and cored them. Put them in a sauce pan, with one tsp. water and the juice from one small lemon. Covered and steamed them until they could be broken up easily.
  2. Crushed them with a potato masher. Added 2 tbs. light brown sugar, and a generous 1/2 tsp. of that really nice Vietnamese Cinnamon I get from Penzey's.

My favorite way to eat latkes is with sour cream and a slice of cured salmon. For the latter, I bought a pound of Scottish salmon cut from the tail. Following Roden's recipe, I packed the salmon with 1.5 tbs. kosher salt in a freezer bag, and stored it in the refrigerator for 12 hours (actually, a little longer). Take it from the bag, rinse it off, and test it for saltiness. If it's too salty, you can soak it in cold water for as long as it takes. Slice and serve.

That's all it really takes, but over the years I've added some side dishes. I usually serve some herring -- alas, from the Nathan's jars, as it's been a long time since I've been able to buy matjes or schmaltz herring locally -- and chopped liver (I used to use Roden's recipe, but now prefer Ottolenghi's Jerusalem). For yesterday's menu I got carried away and added some vegetable salads/spreads:

  • I had an eggplant and red bell pepper left over and some very ripe homegrown tomatoes someone had given me, so tried a variation on the Odessa Eggplant Caviar recipe in Anya Von Bremzen's Russian cookbook, Please to the Table. Main difference was that I roasted the onion and garlic along with everything else.
  • Von Bremzen also had a Mushroom Caviar recipe I was intrigued by, and I found a package of "wild mushrooms" on sale, to which I added some baby portabellas. I could have passed the result off as chopped liver.
  • I made Von Bremzen's marvelous potato salad, with smoked salmon, olives, capers, chopped red onion, dill, and vinaigrette.

  • I also had a couple of cucumbers that needed to be used, and most of a package of plain yogurt, so mixed up Von Bremzen's version of cacik -- yogurt with garlic, mint, and a little olive oil.
  • I figured the spreads, especially the chopped liver, needed something more substantial to top than the latkes, so halved Roden's recipe and baked a loaf of rye bread.

Most of the spreads were made the night before -- the eggplant, etc. were roasted the night before that -- so the actual cooking on Sunday was fairly light, and actually relaxing in that I let it displace everything else I usually do -- Weekend Roundup, a day and a half of rating records. Rated count this week is still quite respectable, and you'll find a very wide range of interesting music listed below. I also reduced the 2015 jazz queue to virtually nothing (just that cassette; even nabbed four Xmas albums below, only one even marginally recommended), although incoming mail has since added a few stragglers -- a critic's work is never done.

Most of the non-jazz records below were found on EOY lists, although few of them panned out. However, the best stuff continues to come from trusted critics: two string band obscurities recommended by Robert Christgau (Have Moicy 2 continues to elude me), a drag queen thing Lucas Fagen likes, a mixtape Jason Gubbels praised in Spin. I toyed with picking on Peter Gabriel over the Youssou N'Dour concert, but in the end decided I'd rather be grateful. The Sharrock reissue is an upgrade from my original B+. I can't argue that the new album is any better (although I do prefer the new cover), but I played it many times while cooking, enough to appreciate some of the nuances in the drums and sax. Or maybe I just appreciate getting a physical copy? That doesn't happen often with reissues.


I got delayed in posting this as I was trying to bring the EOY aggregate files up to date -- even thinking I'd comment on them a bit. I currently have 162 lists counted (see legend). You can look at the current state of the New Music and Old Music lists. I will briefly note that the top three albums (Kendrick Lamar, Sufjan Stevens, Courtney Barnett) seem secure and unlikely to change. The next three are very close together (Jamie XX, Tame Impala, Father John Misty). After Julia Holter, three albums have nudged their way into the top ten (Björk, Grimes, Vince Staples), displacing Kamasi Washington and Sleater Kinney (I think Björk was previously 10th).

In the next ten, the top gainers are Oneohtrix Point Never (16), Blue (17), and Carly Jepsen (18) -- up from 22, 30, and 20 last week. Very few new jazz lists this week, so the top jazz records have dropped relative to everyone else. Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll results are due to be published Dec. 21, so I'll be able to add more then. The total number of new albums so far is 1986. The Old Music list is much sparser, only 171 deep at present, with a tie between Legacy's Miles Davis and Bob Dylan Bootleg Series entries.

One note I might as well mention here. This was originally written a few days ago as a comment to a Facebook post by a Witness bemoaning that he had looked through three EOY lists (Rolling Stone, Spin, and Paste) and hadn't seen any mention of Ezra Furman, Heems, or Paris. However, for some reason (maybe tardiness) the comment bounced, so I thought I'd make it public here:

Main reason I'm replying is to point that that Ezra Furman has done respectably well on many UK lists (4: Rough Trade; 5: God Is in the TV; 25: Guardian, Resident Music; 30: Q; 31: Mojo; 43: Uncut; 47: Louder Than War; unranked: Line of Best Fit); on the other hand, I only count two US lists (24: Loud & Quiet; 34: LA Music Blog). Heems only has one general list (63: PopMatters; actually, I also counted him on Phil Overeem's list), although he shows up on a couple of hip-hop sidelists (AMG, Quietus). Paris hasn't appeared on any list anywhere (i.e., less than the 1804 records I've counted so far). Paris is one of 9 Christgau A-list albums on no lists so far (Bottle Rockets, Leonard Cohen, Amy LaVere, Nellie McKay, Ragpicker String Band, Slutever, Tinariwen, Have Moicy 2 -- or 12 if we ignore Overeem's sole mention of John Kruth, Paranoid Style, and Mark Rubin).

One more bit of news is that I've actually frozen the December Rhapsody Streamnotes file. I'll try to get it indexed and posted tomorrow -- the way things have been going, probably late evening.


New records rated this week:

  • Alaska Thunderfuck: Anus (2015, Sidecar): [r]: A-
  • Asylum Street Spankers: The Last Laugh (2014, Yellow Dog): [r]: A-
  • Erykah Badu: But You Caint Use My Phone (2015, Control Freaq): [r]: A-
  • Ann Hampton Callaway: The Hope of Christmas (2015, MCG Jazz): [cd]: B-
  • Chaise Lounge: A Very Chaise Lounge Christmas (2015, Modern Songbook): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Childbirth: Women's Rights (2015, Suicide Squeeze): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Claudettes: No Hotel (2015, Yellow Dog): [r]: B
  • Ghostface Killah/Adrian Younge: Twelve Reasons to Die II (2015, Linear Labs): [r]: B+(**)
  • Clark Gibson + Orchestra: Bird With Strings: The Lost Arrangements (2015, BluJazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Girl Band: Holding Hands With Jamie (2015, Rough Trade): [r]: B+(**)
  • Holychild: The Shape of Brat Pop to Come (2015, Glassnote): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Big Band Holidays (2012-14 [2015], Blue Engine): [cd]: C-
  • Elle King: Love Stuff (2015, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Doug MacDonald: Solo Plus (2014 [2015], BluJazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Melanie Martinez: Cry Baby (2015, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Danny Mixon: Pass It On (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gunnar Mossblad & Cross Currents: R.S.V.P. (2015, Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Nightingales: Mind Over Matter (2015, Louder Than War): [r]: B+(*)
  • Eric Olsen ReVision Quartet: Sea Changes (2014 [2015], BluJazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra: Joyful Jazz (2015, MCG Jazz): [cd]: C
  • Rabit: Communion (2015, Tri Angle): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Ragpicker String Band: The Ragpicker String Band (2015, Yellow Dog): [r]: A-
  • Rocket From the Tombs: Black Record (2015, Fire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ben Stapp & the Zozimos: Myrrha's Red Book: Act 1 (2014 [2015], Evolver): [cd]: B
  • Pat Thomas: Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band (2015, Strut): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Dan Trudell Trio: Dan Trudell Plays the Piano (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Waco Brothers: Cabaret Showtime (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(**)
  • Fetty Wap: Fetty Wap (2015, RGF 300/Atlantic): [r]: B-
  • X__X: Albert Ayler's Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto (Smog Veil, EP): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile De Dakar: Fatteliku: Live in Athens (1987 [2015], Real World): [r]: A-
  • Ork Records: New York, New York (1975-79 [2015], Numero Group, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages (1991 [2015], MOD Technologies): [cd]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet: No U Turn: Live in Pasadena 1975 (Dark Tree)
  • Cécile & Jean-Luc Cappozzo: Soul Eyes (Fou)
  • François Carrier/Steve Beresford/John Edwards/Michel Lambert: Outgoing (FMR)
  • Robin Eubanks Mass Line Big Band: More Than Meets the Ear (ArtistShare)
  • Jean-Marc Foussat & Jean-Luc Petit: . . . D'Où Vient La Lumière! (Fou)
  • Bob Gluck/Billy Hart/Eddie Henderson/Christopher Dean Sullivan: Infinite Spirit (FMR): February 1
  • Gutbucket: Dance (Gut)
  • Andrew Jamieson: Heard the Voice (Edgetone)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Simultaneous Windows (Edgetone)
  • Larry Novak: Invitation (Delmark)
  • John Raymond: John Raymond & Real Feels (Shifting Paradigm)
  • Deborah Schulman: My Heart's in the Wind (Summit): January 12

Monday, December 07, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25911 [25871] rated (+40), 383 [388] unrated (-5).

Running a day late here: internet went down ("for maintenance," says Cox) last night, which not only prevent posting, it also threw a wrench into my writing. But also various distractions kept cropping up, not least the fact that there's always something new to be added to the EOY Aggregate File.


Another big week, despite some down time, or perhaps I mean diverted time. The deadline for the Jazz Critics Poll was Sunday, so the most urgent thing I had to do was to straighten out a very unruly list of sixty-plus poorly sorted A- new jazz albums. Almost as badly sorted were my shelves, so while I replayed a few better-remembered candidates. Ultimately I came up with something I'm reasonably pleased with, but I don't have much confidence that the same list would have resulted from extensive A:B comparison rounds.

It helped, somewhat perversely, to start toting up some EOY jazz lists, especially those at JJA. The net effect there was to reassure me that I couldn't do worse. This has less to do with the ordinariness of the leaders -- Maria Schneider's The Thompson Fields, Vijay Iyer's Break Stuff, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, Steve Coleman's Synovial Joints, as well as Kamasi Washington's crossover hit The Epic, all more-or-less B+ records -- than with the rather frequent inclusion of more mediocre postbop fare.

I've managed to whittle my ungraded 2015 new jazz queue down to 10 titles (plus the non-jazz Kansas album): 4 of those arrived last week, 3 are Xmas titles, 1 is a cassette I no longer have the means to play. Even though the ballot is in, there will be more discoveries, probably sooner rather than later. I just discovered this week that AUM Fidelity -- a label I used to have such good relations with that now I regard their lack of service as proof of my inability to keep going -- has just released old music by David S. Ware (Birth of a Being from 1977) and not-so-old music by William Parker (Great Spirit from 2007). At least I found those two on Rhapsody -- their other Parker set, the 3-CD box of For Those Who Are Still (recorded 2011-13) doesn't seem to be on Rhapsody.

I found out about the AUM Fidelity releases from Tim Niland's EOY list. He also voted for new records I haven't heard by Paul Dunmall/Tony Bianco, The Thing, John Zorn, plus a Sonny Rollins oldie. I rated 5 of his 7 other picks A-, so there's a good chance the ones I haven't heard would rate well. In past years it usually takes 1-3 days before I find another A- record, and 1-3 weeks before I find a record that would have bumped the 10th pick on my ballot off the list. That hasn't happened yet, but it's just a matter of time.


Anyhow, here's my Jazz Critics Poll ballot:

10 best new releases:

  1. Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (Intakt)
  2. Henry Threadgill Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi, 2CD)
  3. Schlippenbach Trio: Features (Intakt)
  4. Mike Reed's People Places & Things: A New Kind of Dance (482 Music)
  5. Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (Multiphonics Music)
  6. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (Clean Feed)
  7. Charles McPherson: The Journey (Capri)
  8. Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (Pine Eagle)
  9. Rodrigo Amado: This Is Our Language (Not Two)
  10. Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Is a Jazz Reality Show (SMS Jazz)

3 best reissues or historical albums:

  1. Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet (1974, Delmark/Sackville)
  2. Wild Bill Davison: The Jazz Giants (1968, Delmark/Sackville)
  3. Willem Breuker Kollektief: Angoulême 18 Mai 1980 (Fou, 2CD)

Best vocal album:

  1. William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Great Spirit (AUM Fidelity)

Best debut album:

  1. Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (Clean Feed)

Best Latin jazz album:

  1. Harry Allen's All-Star Brazilian Band: Flying Over Rio (Arbors)

I didn't have any A-list vocalist albums, but the William Parker album is all songs with vocals, and Leena Conquest is terrific there. The Ernest Dawkins album also has some vocals, and there may be a couple more marginal cases (Rent Romus, Mort Weiss). HM vocal albums are not rare but tend to be eccentric:

  • Tony Adamo: Tony Adamo & the New York Crew (Urban Zone)
  • Sarah Buechi: Shadow Garden (Intakt)
  • The Katie Bull Group Project: All Hot Bodies Radiate (Ashokan Indie)
  • Michael Dees: The Dream I Dreamed (Jazzed Media)
  • Oleg Frish: Duets With My American Idols (Time Out Media)
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Avant Age Garde I AMs of the Gal Luxury (Flat Langton's Arkeyes)
  • Nancy Lane: Let Me Love You (self-released)
  • Tiny People Having a Meeting (Fast Speaking Music)
  • Bradley Williams: Investigation (21st Century Entertainment, 2CD)
  • Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words (Cafe Pacific)

I have the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble rated slightly above Gard Nilssen, but I figured the latter was more in spirit with "debut album" -- a new performer as opposed to a new ad hoc group of veterans. I don't do a good job of keeping track of debuts, although Introducing Katie Thiroux is at least one more on the A-list.

I expect Kamasi Washington to easily win the debut category. I've been impressed by his work elsewhere (Phil Ranelin, Gerald Wilson), but didn't get enough out of streaming The Epic to dig further. (I made a second pass after I wrote the above. No doubt Washington can bust a solo, but I don't enjoy the choral settings, even though not all were annoying. Also, the third disc starts real strong, including an amusing take on "Cherokee." He's clearly capable of more consistently elevated albums, but unless you put a lot of weight on the grand gesture this isn't one.)

I almost picked Ivo Perelman's Callas for the "Latin jazz" album, before I recalled Allen's superior album. Band is Brazilian, and he's been working this vein for years. I've come up so lean in this category before that I've picked other Perelman albums -- he is Brazilian but plays avant-jazz. Indeed, I usually have a handful of Spanish and Portuguese players I could fall back on, but always seem to have trouble coming up with conventional clave-base picks. The HM list does have two such picks:

  • The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: 10 (Zoho)
  • Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Cuba: The Conversation Continues (Motema Music, 2CD)

There's a lot of classic Latin jazz that I really like, so I'm always a bit surprised that so few new records measure up. Makes it look like I'm prejudiced against the stuff, but realistically, how much new hard bop or soul jazz measures up either? I'm not an avant purist, but it tends to dominate my list because it still offers surprises even if the bleeding edge doesn't move much.


Nine A- records this week, but only releases this year, only five new records, four picked up via Rhapsody. Could be that the agitprop of Desaparecidos or the Bob Wills tribute just hit personal soft spots -- I'm certainly a sucker for the latter. The Chemical Brothers' best-of has been on my search list for some time. It comes in two versions, so I wound up grading it twice, but using only the 2-CD version cover. Part of the George Lewis grade is sheer pleasant surprise: I've only heard a handful of solo trombone records, usually avant but limited by the instrument. The Getz and Ware reissues are every bit as good, but I came up with quibbles. The problem with The Steamer is that every other album by the Getz's coast quartet is better -- 1955's West Coast Jazz especially. As for Ware, I was a bit exhausted by the session's unrelenting fierceness.

I was steered toward Sons of Kemet by comments comparing it favorably to Kamasi Washington's The Epic. Needless to say, I agree, but I'd also say the same about the group's 2013 album, Burn. Among the high HMs, the ones that came closest were the Fall and the Resonance Ensemble: in both cases I settled for the lower grade rather than give them an extra spin to see if they'd get better.

Overlap was one of three good records I picked up from the Catalytic Sound Bandcamp site. The two others are high HMs and might have been higher had I not compared them against memories of previous similar projects. Still more there I haven't gotten to -- especially several multi-disc projects.

Good chance I'll post a Rhapsody Streamnotes column before the coming week is out. Draft currently showing 120 records.


New records rated this week:

  • Harry Allen: Something for Jobim (2015, Stunt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stephen Anderson/360° Jazz Initiative: Distracted Society (2015, Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Asleep at the Wheel: Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (2015, Bismeaux): [r]: A-
  • June Bisantz: It's Always You: June Bisantz Sings Chet Baker Vol. 2 (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy: Out of the Blue (2014 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Bomba Estéreo: Amanecer (2015, Sony Music Latin): [r]: B+(***)
  • Breakfast in Fur: Flyaway Garden (2015, Bar/None): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Chemical Brothers: Born in the Echoes (2015, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tom Collier: Across the Bridge (2015, Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Desaparecidos: Payola (2015, Saddle Creek): [r]: A-
  • Drake/Future: What a Time to Be Alive (2015, Cash Money): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe Ely: Panhandle Rambler (2015, Rack 'Em): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Fall: Sub-Lingual Tablet (2015, Cherry Red): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lorraine Feather: Flirting With Disaster (Jazzed Media): [r]: B
  • Föllakzoid: III (2015, Sacred Bones): [r]: B+(**)
  • Erik Friedlander: Oscalypso: Tribute to Oscar Pettiford (2015, Skipstone): [cd]: A-
  • GLOSS: Demo (2015, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Avant Age Garde I AMs of the Gal Luxury (2015, Flat Langton's Arkeyes): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Kammerflimmer Kollektief: Désarroi (2015, Staubgold): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ernie Krivda: Requiem for a Jazz Lady (2014 [2015], Capri): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mundell Lowe/Lloyd Wells/Jim Ferguson: Poor Butterfly (2015, Two Helpins' of Collards): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tobias Meinhart: Natural Perception (2015, Enja/Yellowbird): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Cuba: The Conversation Continues (2014 [2015], Motema Music, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oneohtrix Point Never: Garden of Delete (2015, Warp): [r]: B+(**)
  • William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Great Spirit (2007 [2015], AUM Fidelity): [r]: A-
  • Parquet Courts: Monastic Living (2015, Rough Trade, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Fred Randolph: Song Without Singing (2015, Creative Spirit): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Resonance Ensemble: Double Arc (2013 [2015], Not Two): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Charles Rumback: In the New Year (2015, Ears & Eyes): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Richard Sears Trio: Skyline (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Sons of Kemet: Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do (2015, Naim Jazz): [r]: A-
  • Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line: Wake (2015, Blue Pig Music): [r]: B
  • Curt Sydnor: Materials and Their Destiny (2015, Ears & Eyes): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tin/Bag: The Stars Would Be Different (2013 [2015], Epigraph, EP): [bc]: B
  • Tiny People Having a Meeting (2015, Fast Speaking Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Titus Andronicus: The Most Lamentable Tragedy (2015, Merge): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love: The Lions Have Eaten One of the Guards (2013 [2015], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(***)

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

  • The Stan Getz Quartet: The Steamer (1956 [2015], Classic Standard): [r]: B+(***)
  • George Lewis: The George Lewis Solo Trombone Album (1976 [2015], Delmark/Sackville): [cd]: A-
  • David S. Ware/Apogee: Birth of a Being (1977 [2015], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Chemical Brothers: Brotherhood (1995-2008 [2008], Virgin): [r]: A-
  • The Chemical Brothers: Brotherhood + Electronic Battle Weapons (1995-2008 [2008], Virgin, 2CD): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bill Frisell: When You Wish Upon a Star (Okeh): advance, January 29
  • Clark Gibson + Orchestra: Bird With Strings: The Lost Arrangements (BluJazz)
  • Doug MacDonald: Solo Plus (BluJazz)
  • Eric Olsen ReVision Quartet: Sea Changes (BluJazz)
  • Ben Stapp & the Zozimos: Myrrha's Red Book: Act II (Evolver)

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Very busy with other stuff today, so these are abbreviated -- mostly links to pieces I happened to have left open, and scattered comments when I had something quick to say.


  • Eoin Higgins: The double standard for white and Muslim shooters: I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the week's mass shootings, but the San Bernadino case took a weird turn when it was discovered that the two shooters were Muslim.

  • Rhania Khalek: US cops trained to use lethal Israeli tactics: "Officers from 15 US police agencies recently traveled to the Middle East for lessons from their Israeli counterparts." You may recall how on 9/11 Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu were crowing about how Israel could help the US with its newfound terrorism problem. Hell, I'm old enough to remember when David Ben Gurion offered to help Charles DeGaulle with its little problem in Algeria. DeGaulle rejected that offer, fearing that Ben Gurion wanted to turn France into another Israel. On the other hand, the neocons who dominated the Bush administration (and who still exercise some strange magic over Obama) envy Israel, which is one reason they organize these junkets for American cops to learn how to use "advanced Israeli technology" like "skunk spray" and rubber bullets. However, this is happening at a time when Israel's own law enforcement groups have gone on a rampage of summary executions, where they've killed more than 100 Palestinians since October 1. Also happening at a time when police killings of (mostly black) Americans are subject to ever more scrutiny and outrage.

  • Ed Kilgore: Extremist Republican Rhetoric and the Planned Parenthood Attack: Given the current state of rhetoric on abortion even by such supposedly respectable as Republican presidential candidates, it's not surprising when anti-abortion violence occurs -- if anything the surprise is that it's as rare as it is (although living in Wichita, where much violence and one of the most notorious murders occurred, it pains me to write that line).

    Conservative opinion-leaders should, however, be held accountable for two persistent strains of extremist rhetoric that provide a theoretical basis for violence against abortion providers specifically and enemies of "traditional values" generally.

    The first is the comparison of legalized abortion to the great injustices of world history, including slavery and the Holocaust. The first analogy helps anti-choicers think of themselves as champions of a new civil-rights movement while facilitating a characterization of Roe v. Wade as a temporary and disreputable constitutional precedent like Dred Scott. The second follows from the right-to-life movement's logic of regarding abortion as homicide and treats the millions of legal abortions that have been performed in the U.S. since 1973 as analogous to the Nazi extermination of Jews and other "undesirables." [ . . . ]

    And virtually every Republican presidential candidate has supported the mendacious campaign to accuse Planned Parenthood of "barbaric" practices involving illegal late-term abortions and "baby part sales."

    But there's a second element of contemporary extremist rhetoric from conservatives that brings them much closer to incitement of violence: the claim that the Second Amendment encompasses a right to revolution against "tyrannical" government.

    Kilgore quotes from Messrs. Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, and Rubio, who are merely the most egregious demagogues.

  • Martin Longman: What's in a Lie?:

    In The New Republic, Jeet Heer says that it is much less accurate to call Donald Trump a "liar" than it is to simply refer to him as "a bullshit artist." [ . . . ]

    A liar is fully aware of what is true and what is not true. They know whether or not they paid the electricity bill, for example, so when they tell you that they have no idea why the power is out, that's a lie.

    A bullshitter, by contrast, doesn't even care what is true. They're not so much lying to deceive as to create an impression. Maybe they want you to be afraid. Maybe they want you to think that they are smarter or more well-informed than they really are.

    It's a useful distinction to make, I think, although I also think people who engage in a lot of bullshit probably lie their heads off, too. [ . . . ]

    That's a lot of academic language that basically says that stupid and gullible people are easy to fool. I think we knew that.

    But the real key is that, although there is never any shortage of credulous people, they need to be lied to first before they are led astray. If you don't exploit their cognitive weaknesses and you lead them toward the truth, they aren't so misinformed. By constantly bullshitting them, you're making them less informed and probably more cynical, too.

    Few books have been more influential on my thinking than one I read when it came out in 1969, Charles Weingarten and Neil Postman: Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The main argument there was that the main goal of teaching should be to equip students with a finely-tuned "bullshit detector," so they would learn to recognize whenever they were being conned with bullshit. It was clear to me then that the actual schools I had attended were much more preoccupied with spreading bullshit than with subverting it, but then authorities had long viewed schools as factories for turning out loyal citizen-followers. Didn't really work with me -- some bullshit was much too obvious to miss.

  • Tierney Sneed: At Jewish Summit, Trump Says He's a Good Negotiator Like 'You Folks':

    Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition 2016 candidate forum, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump repeatedly returned to a riff about being a good negotiator like "you folks." He also said the attendees wouldn't support him because "I don't want your money."

    Early in his remarks, he bragged about how little money he spent on his campaign thus far, adding, "I think you, as business people, will feel good about this and respect it."

    I suppose you could argue that these old-fashioned Jewish caricatures weren't anti-semitic because he was so obviously enthralled with those traits -- maybe the awkwardness was just that he wasn't used to buttering up an audience so obscenely? And rest assured that the ADL won't be bothered because he reminded them that "you know I am the best thing that could ever happen to Israel." Still, I find it all pretty creepy. For another view, here's Philip Weiss.

  • Gary Younge: Bombing Hasn't Worked. Bombing Won't Work. And Yet, We Will Bomb: I should link to something like this every week. This one is specifically addressed to the UK, recently deliberating on whether to join the bombing party in Syria, perhaps out of nostalgia for the old Triple Entente -- their alliance with France and Russia which trapped them in the Great War of 1914, although this time Germany will also be on their side, and they won't have to wait for the United States to pick up the slack. Wouldn't you think that someone would have noticed this reunion of the world's faded imperialist powers, resolved as they are to once again attack (or as they might prefer to put it, "rescue") an impoverished but less than properly subservient third world country -- even to have been a bit embarrassed by the fact? One can't help but be reminded that Britain and France have still not come to grips with the much deserved collapse of their worldwide empires. Actually, Younge gets some of this:

    Which brings us neatly to the second point: The West's desire to intervene in the name of civilization and Enlightenment values betrays a stunning lack of self-awareness. The military and philosophical force with which it makes its case for moral superiority, and then contradicts it, is staggering.

    Unfortunately, his first point was not just that bombing never works -- he doesn't recall the Blitz, which mainly consolidated British public opinion against the Nazis in a way that concern for the Poles never could have -- but he questioned their seriousness, taunting them to send ground troops instead. The problem there is that while sufficient ground troops might be able to advance against ISIS, we know from the failures of the French and British colonial projects in the Middle East (and, well, everywhere) as well as the more recent US occupation of Iraq that a renewed ground invasion will also fail. (If you think Russia might make the difference, cf. Afghanistan.) Younge admits that:

    ISIS isn't limited to a handful of states in the Middle East, places like Syria, Iraq, and Libya; instead, it's a multinational phenomenon. Many of those who terrorized Paris came from Belgium and France. The West can't bomb everywhere. And wherever it does bomb, it kills and injures large numbers of civilians. These civilian casualties, in their turn, stoke resentment and outrage, not least in the Muslim communities from which jihadis draw their recruits. Since 9/11, the West's military interventions have created far more terrorists than they have killed, and have generally made things worse, not better.

    Yet Younge adds this snark: "If ISIS represents a true threat against humanity, as is claimed, then we should do the heavy lifting of mobilizing humanity to fight it." I suppose he would admit that mobilizing "the willing" (as Bush did against Iraq) doesn't quite add up to "humanity," but why taunt people to do the impossible if they're just going to cheap out and do the expedient anyway? All the "humanity" that the combined forces of ISIS and the US have managed to mobilize is a handful of sad European states nostalgic for the golden days when they thought they ruled the world.

    OK, I should find better links to make this point each week.


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

  • Barbara Ehrenreich: Dead, White and Blue: "The Great Die-Off of America's Blue Collar Whites." This story has been kicking around for a while, and Ehrenreich covers the basics. But to me the story has less to do with what's killing people younger than how it upsets the customary expectations that science and the ever-more-expensive health care industry will make everyone live longer. It turns out that how those benefits are distributed matters, and is subject to politics as well as economics. It also may mean that such progress itself is tainted: that businesses searching for more profits aren't necessarily searching for more effective health care. And by the way, singling out whites hides (or reveals) some other truths: notably that the things that are killing more whites now are things that have been depressing the life expectancy of blacks for many years. One way to put that is that we're leveling down, not up.

  • Paul Krugman: Challenging the Oligarchy: Review of Robert B Reich's new book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (Knopf). He spends a lot of time talking about Reich's 1991 book The Work of Nations, which I read at the time (well, a couple years later, in paperback), thought insane (his thesis that we didn't need to care about declining low-skill jobs because everyone was going to move upscale as they learned the arts of symbol manipulation), but found one brilliant (and scary) insight (the withdrawal of the rich from mainstream society and into their own gated communities and clubs -- not that the real rich hadn't done that forever). Krugman takes great pains to demolish the insane part before moving on to the new book and the messier question of what to do about inequality.

    Krugman also has a couple of brief notes about the abuse of history: The Farce Is Strong in This One, and Avars, Arabs, and History. Krugman various dubious lines about the fall of the Roman Empire and a couple books he's read on the expansion of Arab influence after 700. I can recommend Timothy Parsons' The Rule of Empires, which dovetails nicely with what Krugman has learned -- the first two cases are the Romans in Britain and the Arabs in Spain, both how they came and why they failed. Parsons piles on eight other case studies and a postscript about the US in Iraq, showing how empires always fail.

  • Michael Massing: Reimagining Journalism: The Story of the One Percent: The first of two parts on the rich and how they are covered (or not) by an often subservient press.

  • Rick Perlstein: The Secret to Trump's Ratings. Much here, but let me single out this story about bullshit detection (some got it, most don't):

    I've covered three Republican conventions. Watching The Apprentice was by far the hardest reporting job I've ever endured. If you watched it, you'd probably agree. But political junkies aren't the type of people who watched it. Let me tell you a story. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my parents dragged my entire family to a performance of Donny Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was awful -- and again, if you watched it, you'd probably agree. When the curtain fell, every last person in the audience leaped to their feet in a standing ovation, except me and my three siblings. We sophisticates, we looked at each other, incredulous, glued to our seats.

  • Andrea Thompson/Brian Kahn: What Passing a Key CO2 Mark Means to Climate Scientists: The mark, as measured at the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, is 400 parts per million. As I recall, Bill McKibben named his organization 350 because that was the highest limit he felt the world could stand. I think it's safe to say that global warming is no longer a treat. This is one of those numbers we've been warned about for decades. It's here now, a fact.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Daily Log

In response to Martin Longman: What's in a Lie?, I wrote a letter:

Reading your "What's in a Lie?" piece I was reminded of a book by Charles Weingarten & Neil Postman called "Teaching as a Subversive Activity," which argues that the main thing students should learn in grade school is to develop a sensitive "bullshit detector." The book was published in 1969. It's almost unimaginable today that anyone could even propose a curriculum based on questioning authority, even though the amount of bullshit needing detection has if anything increased.

Of course, a big part of the reason is that education is exclusively viewed as credentialism these days. Jane Jacobs, in "Dark Ages Ahead," identified this as one of the leading indicators of a coming dark age, whereas back in the 1960s a fair number of us thought of knowledge as something to pursue for its own sake. Lots of things made that change, including the ever-increasing price of education and the corresponding restriction of opportunities outside of the degree system -- the two are, of course, intimately linked. Also, all that bullshit.


Letter I wrote to Facebook in response to a question which posited which one list to check, Spin or Rolling Stone?

I would have thought Spin, but then I figured out a way to run a test on the data, comparing both lists to my grades. Turns out Rolling Stone is closer to my taste. There were 17 records on both lists, so each had 33 unique records. (My data has 34 for RS, so there's a bug there, but ignore that for now.) I rated 17 of Spin's 33, for an average grade of 1.5882; I rated 22 of Stone's 34, grading them 1.9545. Spin had 1 A- (Mbongwana Star) and 2 B/worse (Colleen Green, Mount Eerie). RS had 4 A- (Boz Scaggs, Ashley Monroe, D'Angelo, Songhoy Blues) and 3 B/B- (Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Florence). I thought Spin might have more rap/r&b, but the broke exactly the same: 6 common, 5 unique to each (not counting Kamasi Washington on the RS list). The main difference is that Spin has more alt-rock and metal, RS has more roots rock and country. Electronica broke 3-1 for Spin; world 3-1 for RS. RS usually gets slagged for its commitment to geriatric rock, and there was some of that (Dylan, Richards, Taylor, Scaggs; I'll stop short of Madonna). RS also has the "Hamilton" soundtrack -- only list so far to pick that. Still, the bigger problem is that all lists basically suck. Interesting that the grade average for the 17 records on both lists is 1.5294, which is worse than the Spin-only grade. The value of the lists is to see if you can spot interesting anomalies, not boring trends.

Complex Music EOY List:

    01. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
    02. Future, DS2
    03. Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife
    04. Adele, 25
    05. Justin Bieber, Purpose
    06. Big Sean, Dark Sky Paradise
    07. A$AP Rocky, At.Long.Last.A$AP
    08. Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
    09. Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late
    10. The Internet, Ego Death
    11. Lupe Fiasco, Tetsuo and Youth
    12. Kehlani, You Should Be Here
    13. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, Surf
    14. The Game, Documentary 2
    15. Jamie xx, In Colour
    16. Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show
    17. Skrillex and Diplo, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü
    18. Earl Sweatshirt, I Don't Like Sh*t, I Don't Go Outside
    19. Hudson Mohawke, Lantern
    20. Tame Impala, Currents
    21. Mac Miller, GO:OD AM
    22. Shamir, Ratchet
    23. The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The Madness
    24. Tinashe, Amethyst
    25. Ty Dolla $ign, Free TC
    26. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
    27. Towkio, .Wav Theory
    28. Grimes, Art Angels
    29. Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color
    30. FKA twigs, M3LL155X EP
    31. Vince Staples, Summertime '06
    32. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell
    33. Future, 56 Nights
    34. JME, Integrity
    35. Diddy, MMM
    36. Travi$ Scott, Rodeo
    37. Bjork, Vulnicura
    38. Kelela, Hallucinogen EP
    39. Fifth Harmony, Reflection
    40. Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap
    41. Carly Rae Jepsen, E*MO*TION
    42. Beach House, Depression Cherry
    43. Bryson Tiller, Trapsoul
    44. Neon Indian, VEGA INTL. Night School
    45. Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
    46. Wale, The Album About Nothing
    47. Dr. Dre, Compton
    48. Brodinski, Brava
    49. Meek Mill, Dreams Worth More Than Money
    50. Drake and Future, What a Time to Be Alive


Nov 2015 Jan 2016