April 2018 Notebook
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Monday, April 30, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29628 [29604] rated (+24), 372 [362] unrated (+10).

Not a huge rated count, but wrapping up April's Streamnotes I made a special effort to check out my best prospects, and after I hit my post deadline I kept working in that vein. The result is way more than the usual crop of A- records. Probably would have picked up Kira Kira's Bright Force but didn't get it written up in time, so I have to give it another spin. [Pictured right, to be listed next week, but make of that what you will.]

My most important tip source this week was Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary (48) -- his first in a rough couple of years, but a complete return to form. Also helpful was Phil Overeem's My Favorite Records of 2018, a Third the Way Out, and Chris Monsen's 2018: favorites, which expanded from 10 to 18 records last week. Less useful was that I added the top 100 AOTY Highest Rated Albums of 2018 to my meta-list. That introduced me to a few records that showed up elsewhere (like Dream Wife), but I aside from the Nashville women (Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Sarah Shook) I haven't explored this list much. (Couldn't find Saba; Janelle Monáe, Willie Nelson, and five others only showed up after my trawl.)

I was pleased to see Overeem post a link to Streamnotes for the Expert Witness group at Facebook, not least because it generated a lot more discussion than my own Facebook posts. A couple points here:

  • The "deluxe edition" reissue of Sonny Rollins' Way Out West came out as double vinyl, a limited edition, already sold out. I gave the record a full A, basically because none of the new material (mostly alternate takes) slacked off from the original album, and while there's a little patter, it doesn't detract either. Still, I can't recommend you run out and buy it. I'm not an audiophile, so couldn't comment on the sound if I wanted to, which I don't. But at this point I consider vinyl a nuissance (I still have 300+ albums, but almost never play one, and I've been slow getting to the new ones I sometimes receive). But even so, there are a bunch of '50s Rollins albums you really should have in addition to Way Out West -- especially Work Time and Saxophone Colossus.

  • I was only vaguely aware of The Ex before their compilation Singles, Period: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990 appeared in 2005 (see my RG review), but I made a big dive after they put their work up on Bandcamp (see, e.g., my Streamnotes reviews). You can find a grade list here. Also noteworthy are a whole side series of matches between Terrie Ex (né Hessels) and jazz notables, starting (as far as I can tell) with Han Bennink in 2001 and peaking (so far) with Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo in 2010. Lots to explore here. Early on the Ex had a sort of parallel to the Mekons: both were politically-oriented post-punk bands, and Jon Langford shows up on some early Ex albums. The third group in this constellation is Zu, from Italy, but they've been much less prolific. Their high point was Radiale (2004) with Ken Vandermark's funkiest free jazz group, Spaceways Inc. -- my first Jazz Consumer Guide Pick Hit. My interest in them diminished after they moved into metal, but their early work is interesting, and they (especially bassist Massimo Pupillo) sometimes show up in the same jazz circles.


I didn't bother with the White House Correspondents' Dinner when I was collecting yesterday's Weekend Roundup, but did take a look at Michelle Wolf's keynote sketch later on. Not as funny or as cutting as I would have liked -- she didn't have much flow, mostly knocking the jokes off like reading from a laundry list -- but the current administration (most of all its Leader) are so thin-skinned that glancing blows provoked howls of rage. I've always thought this was a bizarre ritual -- it's not like crime beat reporters host events with murderers and rapists to gently needle one another -- but the only time I ever paid much attention to it was Stephen Colbert's bravura 2006 performance. For a general review, see Emily Stewart: The Michelle Wolf White House Correspondents' Dinner controversy, explained, but for deeper issues look up Matt Taibbi: Michelle Wolf Slays Useless White House Correspondents' Dinner. For what it's worth, I think Trump's right not to attend, though I'm pretty sure it's not for the right reasons.


New records rated this week:

  • Erlend Olderskog Albertsen: Rodssal Neen Glassdor (2018, Dugnad Rec): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Berry: Everything, Compromised (2018, Joyful Noise): [r]: B-
  • The Breeders: All Nerve (2018, 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Seraphic Light (2017 [2018], AUM Fidelity): [cd]: A-
  • Chloe x Halle: The Kids Are Alright (2018, Parkwood/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • District Five: Decoy (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Dream Wife: Dream Wife (2018, Lucky Number): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frode Gjerstad Trio + Steve Swell: Bop Stop (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Go! Team: Semi-Circle (2018, Memphis Industries): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything's Fine (2018, Mello Music Group): [r]: A-
  • The Heat Death: The Glenn Miller Sessions (2018, Clean Feed, 3CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories (2018, Dare2, 2CD): [cdr]: A-
  • Nick Millevoi's Desertion Trio With Jamie Saft: Midtown Tilt (2017 [2018], Shhpuma): [r]: B
  • Ashley Monroe: Sparrow (2018, Warner Nashville): [r]: B-
  • Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour (2018, MCA Nashville): [r]: B
  • Orquesta Akokán: Orquesta Akokán (2018, Daptone): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Years (2018, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sly & Robbie Meet Nils Petter Molvaer Feat Eivind Aarset and Vladislav Delay: Nordub (2016 [2018], Okeh): [r]: A-
  • Alexander Von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 50 Years (2016 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar (2018, Ninja Tune): [r]: A-

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

  • Martin Küchen & Landaeus Trio: Vinyl (2013-14 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: A-
  • Neil Young: Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live (1973 [2018], Reprise): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity 2002 (2002 [2003], Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 40 Years (2006 [2009], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tiffany Austin: Unbroken (Con Alma): June 1
  • Andrea Brachfeld: If Not Now, When? (Jazzheads): May 18
  • Dan Cavanaugh/Dave Hagedorn: 20 Years (UT Arlington)
  • Dead Composers Club [Noah Preminger/Rob Garcia]: Chopin Project (Connection Works)
  • Ron Di Salvio/Bart Plateau: The Puglia Suite (Blujazz)
  • Adrean Farrugia/Joel Frahm: Blues Dharma (GB)
  • Maria Grand: Magdalena (Biophilia): May 11: empty package, no CD
  • Danny Green Trio Plus Strings: One Day It Will (OA2)
  • Bill Hart Band: Live at Red Clay Theatre (Blujazz)
  • Deanne Matley: Because I Loved (self-released): May 11
  • Solon McDade: Murals (self-released)
  • MJO Brothers Present: Hip Devotions (Blujazz)
  • Nuance Crusaders: Reflections (Blujazz)
  • Marije van Dijk: The Stereography Project (Hert)
  • Vin Venezia: Fifth and Adams (Blujazz)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Big story of the week is the optimistic meet up between Korea's two leaders, or at least it would be if we actually knew the story. Most American foreign policy pundits have been working overtime to diminish our hopes, and Trump's glib sunniness (with ominous "we'll see" asides) isn't very reassuring. Fred Kaplan tries to sort this out (see What Is Denuclearization Anyway?:

As has been clear from the moment the subject came up, one obstacle to a successful summit is that both leaders are going into it with conflicting premises. Kim thinks Trump is caving to the reality of a North Korean nuclear arsenal; Trump thinks Kim is caving to the pressure of U.S. sanctions and threats. Both are probably right to some degree, but it's hard to see how the talks can produce a lasting peace if each man thinks that he has the upper hand at the outset and that, therefore, any deal must be struck on his terms.

Trump seems glued to this delusion. On Sunday, after watching MSNBC's Chuck Todd question whether Trump had received anything in return after handing Kim "the huge gift" of agreeing to meet with him in the first place, Trump tweeted: "Wow, we haven't given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!"

Trump was referring to news reports of a speech that Kim had given the day before. But an official record of the speech, delivered at a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea, reveals that Kim agreed to no such thing.

Rather, Kim said that no further tests of nuclear weapons or medium-to-long-range ballistic missiles "are necessary" (italics added), given that North Korea has "successfully concluded" the process of building a nuclear arsenal. And because of this completion, Kim went on, "the overall situation is rapidly changing in favor of the Korean revolution" -- i.e., in favor of North Korea's triumph.

This is very different from a conciliatory gesture to stop testing. As for closing his nuclear test site, it appears that the site was slated for a shutdown already, having been gutted by the spate of recent weapons tests.

Finally, contrary to the early news reports about the speech, Kim said nothing in the speech about denuclearization. In fact, he described his nuclear arsenal as "a powerful treasured sword for defending peace."

Kaplan also notes that Kim has little reason to trust US pledges on denuclearization: both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi shut down their nuclear programs to appease the US and got toppled anyway. Iran did the same, and while they haven't been overthrown Trump and Pompeo are now saying they will scotch the deal while encouraging Israel and Saudi Arabia to attack Iranians in Syria and supposed proxies in Syria and Yemen. He didn't mention the agreement Jimmy Carter negotiated with North Korea in the 1990s, which Clinton and Bush reneged on, leading North Korea to resume its since-completed work on nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, it's just possible this time that Trump and co. will be pushed out of the driver's seat on negotiations. South Korea has the power to make its own deal, and the US would find it impossible to keep troops in South Korea without permission. South Korea could also blow a huge hole in the US sanctions regime, and those are the two main issues for North Korea -- probably enough to get the North to mothball (but not totally dismantle) its rockets and nuclear warheads, to open up trade and normalize diplomatic relations. Given how gloomy the "military option" is -- a point I'm sure Mattis and DOD have made many times -- that may not even be such a bitter pill for Trump.

America's ability to dictate to its allies has been slipping for decades, but Trump's "America first" agenda accelerates the decline. For instance, one reason South Korea has long been a willing client was that the US was willing to run large trade deficits to help build up the South Korean economy. Trump, before he got so excited with his "fire & fury" and "little Rocket Man" tweets, started by pulling the US out of TPP, criticizing bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, and demanding the South (and everyone from NATO to Japan) to pick up more of their own defense tabs. All these signs point out that the US is becoming a less reliable and cost-effective ally, and as such will continue to lose influence.

More links on Korea:


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest stories of the week, explained: Kim Jong Un crossed the DMZ; Bill Cosby is guilty; Ronny Jackson will not be VA secretary; Mike Pompeo was confirmed as secretary of state. Other Yglesias posts:

  • Peter Beinart: American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza -- and the Truth. Also: Eric Levitz: Natalie Portman and the Crisis of Liberal Zionism.

  • Walker Bragman/Michael Sainato: The Democratic Party is paying millions for Hillary Clinton's email list, FEC documents show.

  • Masha Gessen: What James Comey and Donald Trump Have in Common: Title forces a point that isn't really born out in the article. True enough, both have a single-minded focus -- Comey on truth and Trump on loyalty -- to which they sacrifice any shred of human compassion.

    Part of Comey's zeal is prosecutorial: he headed an agency that loves to punish people for the coverup rather than the crime. For Comey, this is principle rather than method. As a U.S. attorney, he writes, he made sure that Martha Stewart went to jail -- not, he stresses, because she engaged in insider trading of a kind that would have warranted but a warning, but because she lied about it. As the F.B.I. director, he hoped that his agents would catch Hillary Clinton in a lie about her e-mail servers. By this time, investigators had concluded that the use of Clinton's private server had caused no damage, but Comey makes it clear that his primary concern and objective was to catch the former Secretary of State in a lie. The pursuit of the prosecutable lie has been a cornerstone of F.B.I. strategy, especially in its post-2001 incarnation as an anti-terrorism agency, and Comey wastes no time reflecting on its tenuous relationship to actual crime, or actual justice.

  • Jonathan Greenberg: Trump lied to me about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400. Here are the tapes. One of Trump's earliest scams: his campaign to get his name on the Forbes 400 list, including a guest appearance by Trump's "personal lawyer" Roy Cohn (you surely didn't think that Michael Cohen was the sleaziest lawyer in Trump's stable?). For more on Cohn, see: Frank Rich: The Original Donald Trump:

    For years it's been a parlor game for Americans to wonder how history might have turned out if someone had stopped Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot JFK. One might be tempted -- just as fruitlessly -- to speculate on what might have happened if more of New York's elites had intervened back then, nonviolently, to block or seriously challenge Trump's path to power. They had plenty of provocation and opportunities to do so. Trump practiced bigotry on a grand scale, was a world-class liar, and ripped off customers, investors, and the city itself. Yet for many among New York's upper register, there was no horror he could commit that would merit his excommunication. As with Cohn before him, the more outrageously and reprehensibly Trump behaved, the more the top rungs of society were titillated by him. They could cop out of any moral judgments or actions by rationalizing him as an entertaining con man: a cheesy, cynical, dumbed-down Gatsby who fit the city's tacky 1980s Gilded Age much as F. Scott Fitzgerald's more romantic prototype had the soigné Jazz Age of the 1920s. And so most of those who might have stopped Trump gawked like the rest of us as he scrambled up the city's ladder, grabbing anything that wasn't nailed down.

  • Mike Konczal: Actually, Guns Do Kill People: "The research is now clear: Right-to-carry laws increase the rate of violent crime."

  • Paul Krugman: We Don't Need No Education: Trying to explain the wave of teacher strikes in Red States, he focuses on money:

    So what happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts. Usually these tax cuts are sold with the promise that lower taxes will provide a huge boost to the state economy.

    This promise is, however, never -- and I mean never -- fulfilled; the right's continuing belief in the magical payoff from tax cuts represents the triumph of ideology over overwhelming negative evidence.

    What tax cuts do, instead, is sharply reduce revenue, wreaking havoc with state finances. For a great majority of states are required by law to balance their budgets. This means that when tax receipts plunge, the conservatives running many states can't do what Trump and his allies in Congress are doing at the federal level -- simply let the budget deficit balloon. Instead, they have to cut spending.

    And given the centrality of education to state and local budgets, that puts schoolteachers in the cross hairs.

    How, after all, can governments save money on education? They can reduce the number of teachers, but that means larger class sizes, which will outrage parents. They can and have cut programs for students with special needs, but cruelty aside, that can only save a bit of money at the margin. The same is true of cost-saving measures like neglecting school maintenance and scrimping on school supplies to the point that many teachers end up supplementing inadequate school budgets out of their own pockets.

    That's all true enough, and probably most of the story, but leaves out some particularly nasty partisan calculations. Republicans have long viewed teachers' unions as a political liability, and as such have wanted to hurt them. Indeed, much of their fondness for charter schools (and vouchers for private schools) is rooted in union-busting. More recently, some Republicans (Rick Santorum was an early adopter) have started to question the value of education at all -- pointing out that liberal arts education tends toward liberal politics, playing into a tradition of anti-intellectualism that was history when Richard Hofstadter wrote about it fifty years ago, yet seems to reinvent every time elites need to find political suckers. At the same time, elite (and later public) colleges have shifted from scholarships -- which helped smart-but-poor students like Clinton and Obama find comfortable homes in the ruling class -- to debt, trying to preserve elite jobs for the scions of the upper class.

    When mass education first became a popular idea among elites, back in the mid-19th century, it was seen as a way to socialize immigrants, to fold them into American society and its growing economy, but it also represented opportunity and upward mobility and justice. We no longer live in a world which looks forward to its future. Rather, the rich are entrenching themselves in fortresses (both literally and figuratively), hoping to blight out everyone else.

  • Nomi Prins: The Return of the Great Meltdown? Wrote one of the better books about the 2008 crash (It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street), but looking at Trump's recent Fed appointees and the Republican effort to unwind Dodd-Frank, she's anticipating a rerun in her new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World. Also on TomDispatch, Todd Miller: An Unsustainable World Managed With an Iron Fist, on the militarization of the border with Mexico. Miller, too, has a book: Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security.

  • Alex Ross: How American Racism Influenced Hitler: Takes off from James Q. Whitman's recent book, Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. What could be made clearer is that there were two American models (not unrelated but distinct in our minds) for Hitler: the "Jim Crow" laws which codified a racial hierarchy, which South Africa adapted for Apartheid and could easily be adapted to discriminate against Jews; and "Manifest Destiny," the umbrella for driving Native Americans off their lands and into tiny, impoverished reservations, while killing off enough to constitute a cumulative genocide. As Ian Kershaw describes Hitler:

    His two abiding obsessions were violent anti-Semitism and Lebensraum. As early as 1921, he spoke of confining Jews to concentration camps, and in 1923 he contemplated -- and, for the moment, rejected -- the idea of killing the entire Jewish population. The Holocaust was the result of a hideous syllogism: if Germany were to expand into the East, where millions of Jews lived, those Jews would have to vanish, because Germans could not coexist with them.

    I have often thought that Hitler's quotes about how America dealt with its native population should be pursued at great length. Ross cites two books that do this: Carroll Kakel's The American West and the Nazi East: A Comparative and Interpretive Perspective (2011, Palgrave Macmillan), and Edward B. Westermann's Hitler's Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars: Comparing Genocide and Conquest (2016, University of Oklahoma Press).

    America's knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death struck Hitler as an example to be emulated. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion. The Volga would be "our Mississippi," he said. "Europe -- and not America -- will be the land of unlimited possibilities." Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine would be populated by pioneer farmer-soldier families. Autobahns would cut through fields of grain. The present occupants of those lands -- tens of millions of them -- would be starved to death. At the same time, and with no sense of contradiction, the Nazis partook of a long-standing German romanticization of Native Americans. One of Goebbels's less propitious schemes was to confer honorary Aryan status on Native American tribes, in the hope that they would rise up against their oppressors.

    Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler's regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy -- an "everybody does it" justification for Nazi policies.

  • Micah Zenko: America's First Reality TV War: "The Trump administration's latest missile strikes in Syria were never going to accomplish anything. But the show must go on."

  • Neri Zilber: Israel and Iran's escalating shadow war in Syria, explained: Not really explained, in that the author fails to emphasize that Israel is the one provoking further escalations. Also, there is no real chance of this developing into a conventional ground war. Sure, both sides have missiles that can reach the other, but Israel has a distinct advantage there: nuclear warheads. There's no reason to doubt that Iran has any reason for stationing military forces in Syria other than for supporting the Assad regime, which Israel has never regarded as a serious threat (at least since 1979, when Israel signed a separate peace deal with Egypt, precluding any future alliance). Israel, on the other hand, has periodically bombed Syria even before the Civil War gave them cover. They regard Iranian troops as an unacceptable provocation because they might inconvenience Israeli air strikes. And also, quite significantly, because Israel recognizes it can take advantage of American prejudices against Iran to push its alliance militarily. For evidence this is working, see Carol Morello: Pompeo says U.S. is with Israel in fight against Iran. Pompeo is also anxious for the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, which is up for renewal on May 12. Among other preposterous things, he claims that North Korea won't be bothered if the US breaks its word on a similar deal. In the past, North Koreans have often pointed to Libya, which agreed to dismantle its nuclear program only to have the US bomb the country and kill its leader, leaving chaos in its wake, so there only seem to be two possible explanations for Pompeo's indifference: either he has totally unreasonable expectations about North Korea's willingness to disarm themselves, or he's looking to undermine any possible Korea deal. Given his neocon credentials, one suspects the latter. Meanwhile, the purpose of the Israel trip (with side trips to Riyadh and Amman) seems to be to stoke anti-Iran feeling before Trump drops out of the Iran deal.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Streamnotes (April 2018)

Pick up text here.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Daily Log

I finally got around to bitching at Kohler over the Barossa Touchless faucet I bought and installed last July. Form info:

  • Is your question about a product that is already installed? Yes
  • Serial Number: 1PR78035-SD-VS-AB
  • Product Type: Faucet
  • Model Number: R78035-SD-VS
  • Color/Finish: Vibrant Stainless Finish
  • Place of Purchase: Retail
  • Date of Installation: July 2017
  • Job Function: Consumer/Homeowner

PS [August 18, 2018]: I finally returned to this form, and finished the comment:

Last year I thought it would be nice to get a fancy new kitchen faucet, so I went to the store and picked up your top-of-the-line Barossa Touchless faucet. It's wound up being the worst home "improvement" purchase I've ever made. The "touchless" feature never worked as expected. The sensitivity was hard to predict, with it sometimes turning on when you didn't want it to -- even when you were nowhere near it. The timeout often shut it down while I was trying to wash something. After a few months, I gave up on the feature and tried to turn it off. That wasn't the end of its misbehavior: sometimes when I'd turn it on, I'd get a trickle, other times a torrent, and on occasion it changed volumes without touching it. The side handle has never been easy to adjust to the right volume/temperature. The only thing that kept me from ripping it out and taking it back was how difficult it was to install. To be fair, that's mostly because you have to get under the sink and behind a very large garbage disposal to get to it (although there were other problems, including one hose not long enough). I tried removing the batteries, but without them (even with touchless turned off) nothing worked. I don't particularly expect you to do anything about this, but didn't want to let my suffering go without complaint. (I know it's late. I started to write you a few months ago, but lost the form in a computer crash.) A truly horrible product, and a wretched personal experience.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29604 [29570] rated (+34), 362 [365] unrated (-3).

Made a decent sized dent in the new jazz queue, especially over the weekend when I found it easier to just pull something out than try to figure out what to look up on Napster. I did, however, chase down a few recommendations from Chris Monsen, Phil Overeem, and Robert Christgau. Though not on his list yet, I think it was Monsen on Facebook who mentioned that the Ex have a new record out. Someone wondered who they were, so I pointed out I had rated 24 of their records (7 A-). Probably inappropriate for me to rate the new one as high as I did on a single Bandcamp play, but the grade was pretty clear by midway, and only got better from there out. For more, see Bandcamp Daily's A Guide to (Nearly) Four Decades of Dutch Punks The Ex).

The Ex came out of a Expert Witness discussion on the best records of 2018 (so far). One name that popped up frequently and is both on Monsen's and Overeem's lists is JPEGMAFIA's Veteran. Hip-hop, very (as they say) experimental. I didn't get into it at all, but I had a somewhat easier time with his earlier Black Ben Carson. Also from that thread, Jeffrey Lewis' Works by Tuli Kupferberg. In some ways I think the older "A Loot-Beg Bootleg" sounds better -- just Lewis and two women who sometimes sing, versus the mass singalong on the new album -- but I've had a soft spot for Kupferberg, and even if he weren't dead he'd never be able to frame his work in better light.

I continue to have problems with Christgau's picks. I don't think there's been one I've said "yeah!" to since Shopping's The Official Body (2/23), although I liked Laurie Anderson's Landfall more than he did, and already had Amy Rigby's The Old Guys at A-. Some I reviewed respectably earlier but haven't replayed: Taylor Childers' Purgatory, Alvvays' Antisocialites, Yo La Tengo's There's a Riot Going On, and Rapsody's Laila's Wisdom. But few have been as disappointing as Jinx Lennon's Grow a Pair. And while I wasn't much impressed with Superchunk's What a Time to Be Alive, it tops Monsen's list. I also noted that Milo Miles raved about Mast's Thelonious Sphere Monk last week. And Overeem wrote a rave review of Tracey Thorn's Record. He also likes the Lewis Kupferberg album, plus two of my recent favorites: John Prine's The Tree of Forgiveness and Sons of Kemet's Your Queen Is a Reptile.

Of the B+(***) records below, one that stands out is William Parker's Lake of Light. It's a quartet of aquaphones, so sounds like harps and percussion under water -- a bit too weird for me, but maybe not for you.

The Armstrongs are just some mop up after last week's not especially recommended Pops Is Tops box. The Nightclubs would make a nice time capsule entry as it tracks the evolution of Armstrong's 1950s All Stars, although there are better examples of live Armstrong from the era, including all four CDs in The California Concerts. Ambassador Satch strays from his usual live show, as if he worried that Europeans were still expecting ODJB dixieland, so he decided to show them how it's really done. Probably the best "Tiger Rag" ever.

April ends next Monday, so it would seem a good idea to wrap up a Streamnotes post by Friday/Saturday. Despite my distractions earlier this month, the draft file currently holds 90 records (14 A- or A) so it's shaping up as a pretty solid month.

I want to note that I received a couple dozen personal letters over recent weeks, and I was touched and comforted by those who wrote -- some with fond memories, other from people I've never met but who clearly appreciate my work and care. I have yet to respond to any of those letters, for which I apologize. Sometime sooner or later I hope to, but for now I want all of you to know how thankful I am for your friendship and concern.


New records rated this week:

  • Chris Byars: New York City Jazz (2016 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy/Michael Thieke/Ken Vandermark: Triptych (2016 [2017], Relay): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy: Music for Lying Still (2017, Relay, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble: Animation (2017 [2018], Relay): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Ex: 27 Passports (2018, Ex): [bc]: A
  • Johan Graden: Olägenheter (2017 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tim Heidecker: Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker's Trump Songs (2017, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B
  • Lauren Henderson: Ármame (2016 [2018], Brontosaurus): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Monika Herzig: Sheroes (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Il Sogno: Birthday (2015 [2017], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jon Irabagon Quartet: Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (2016-17 [2018], Irabbagast): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roger Kellaway Trio: New Jazz Standards Vol. 3 (2017 [2018], Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair!!! (2018, Septic Tiger): [r]: B+(*)
  • James Brandon Lewis/Chad Taylor: Radiant Imprints (2018, OFF): [r]: A-
  • Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) (2018, Don Giovanni): [r]: A-
  • Dave Liebman/John Stowell: Petite Fleur: The Music of Sidney Bechet (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Maguire Twins: Seeking Higher Ground (2017 [2018], Three Tree): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Todd Marcus: On These Streets (A Baltimore Story) (2017 [2018], Stricker Street): [cd]: B
  • Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere (2018, Warner Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • Diane Moser: Birdsongs (2017 [2018], Planet Arts): [cd]: B
  • Michael Moss/Accidental Orchestra: Helix (2016 [2018], 4th Stream): [cd]: B+(**)
  • William Parker: Lake of Light: Compositions for AquaSonics (2017 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Rempis/Daisy Duo & Guests: Dodecahedron (2017 [2018], Aerophonic, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rogue Star (2017 [2018], Edgetone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Derek Senn: Avuncular (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Spectral [Dave Rempis/Darren Johnston/Larry Ochs]: Empty Castles (2017 [2018], Aerophonic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Frank Wagner: Frank Wagner's Floating Holiday (2016 [2018], MEII): [cd]: B
  • Dan Weiss: Starebaby (2018, Pi): [cd]: B
  • Håvard Wiik Trio: This Is Not a Waltz (2016 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(***)

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

  • Louis Armstrong: The Nightclubs (1950-58 [2018], Dot Time): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Louis Armstrong: Satchmo Serenades (1949-53 [2000], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Louis Armstrong: Ambassador Satch (1955 [2000], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis and the Good Book (1958 [2001], Verve): [r]: B
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong and His Friends (1970, Flying Dutchman): [r]: B+(*)
  • JPEGMAFIA: Black Ben Carson (2016, Trashfuck): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams: "A Loot-Beg Bootleg" (2014 [2016], self-released): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (Whaling City Sound): April 27
  • Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band: Tramontana (self-released): April 20
  • Kristo Rodzevski: The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore (self-released): May 25

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Another week where I ran out of time before I ran out of links. Indeed, one I couldn't get to is Chris Bertram: Is there too much immigration? I also noticed that John Quiggin has been publishing chapters to his forthcoming book Economics in Two Lessons on Crooked Timber.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week, explained: Michael Cohen had some fun in court; A baby went to the Senate floor (Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth's); Democrats got some good news in Senate polling; Mike Pompeo took a secret trip to North Korea. Other Yglesias posts:

    • There's no good alternative to building more homes in expensive cities.

    • Trump tweets: "The crime rate in California is high enough." California is a safer-than-average state. Trump thinks more immigrants, more crime, but opposite is true.

    • 11 House Republicans call for prosecutions of Clinton, Comey, Lynch, and others: The most charitable explanation is that the call is just meant "to try to muddy the waters in the media," but I should note that in some countries (e.g., Brazil and Russia) prosecuting political enemies has moved beyond the drawing board. I'm sure we could come up with a matching list of Bush cronies who Obama neglected to prosecute (although his DOJ did go after John Edwards). Still, prosecuting prosecutors for failing to prosecute cases that no reasonable person would view as winnable (n.b., the Edwards and Menendez cases failed), is pretty extreme.

    • James Comey isn't the hero we deserve. But he's the hero we need. The gist of Yglesias' argument is here:

      But to react to Comey's charges against Trump with a comprehensive assessment of his entire career is to miss the point. James Comey is a critical figure of our time not because of any particular decision, right or wrong, that he made during his tenure in government. He's important because he exemplifies values -- most of all, the pursuit of institutional independence and autonomy -- whose presence among career officials safeguards the United States against the threat of systemic corruption.

      The greatest safeguard we have against the dangers of Trump's highly personalized style of leadership and frequently expressed desire to reshape all institutions to serve his personal goal is that officials and bureaucrats have the power to say no. Comey, whatever else he did, said no to his boss and was fired for his trouble. America needs more government officials who are willing to take that stand. In many ways, Comey is not the hero the United States deserves. But in a critical moment, he may be the hero we need.

      Still, further down in the article Yglesias gives a pretty chilling account about Comey's prosecutorial mindset and institutional loyalties. Comey, for instance, holds up his prosecution of Martha Stewart (for "covering up a crime she didn't commit") as exemplary: "the Comey view is that true justice is treating Martha Stewart just as shabbily as the cops would treat anyone else." Also:

      Comey's handling of the 2016 campaign was essentially in the tradition of FBI directors acting on behalf of their agency's institutional goals. Knowing that the Obama administration was reluctant to fight publicly with the FBI over the matter while congressional Republicans were relatively eager, he slanted his decision-making on both the Russia and email investigations toward the interests of the GOP. As Adam Serwer writes, "the FBI is petrified of criticism from its conservative detractors, and is relatively indifferent to its liberal critics." And over the course of 2016, it showed -- when Mitch McConnell wanted Comey to keep quiet about Trump and Russia, he did. When Trump-friendly elements among the rank and file wanted him to speak up about Anthony Weiner's laptop, he did.

      On Comey, also see: Matt Taibbi: James Comey, the Would-Be J. Edgar Hoover. On the FBI's use of its own power to cover its own ass, see: Alice Speri: The FBI's race problems are getting worse. The prosecution of Terry Albury is proof. By the way, shouldn't the Espionage Act be reserved for disclosing secrets to foreign governments? Albury's "crime" was leaking documents to the press (i.e., the American people).

    • Richard Cohen's privilege, explained: Long-time Washington Post columnist, known for courageously standing up against "too much diversity" and complaints about the "privilege" enjoyed by white males like himself. I find much talk about "privilege" annoying myself, but then I don't sit on his perch ("and because the demographic of put-upon older white men does, in fact, exert disproportionate influence over American social and economic institutions, there continues to be a well-compensated and not very taxing job for him into his late 70s"). Yglesias provides some back story, but doesn't mention that Alex Pareene featured Cohen in his annual "hack lists" at Salon (tried to find a link but got blocked by Salon's "ad blocker" blocker -- probably why I stopped reading them, although I had less reason to when their better writers left).

    • Richard Clarinda and Michelle Bowman, Trump's new Fed appointees, explained: "Two boring, competent, well-qualified, industry-friendly picks."

    • Donald Trump's corruption means he'll never be a "normal" commander in chief: Mostly about Syria, more generally the Middle East, where Trump has numerous business entanglements. "We don't know who's paying Trump -- or whom he listens to."

    • Comey interview: "I thought David Petraeus should have been prosecuted".

  • Zack Beauchamp: Syria exposes the core feature of Trump's foreign policy: contradiction: Many aspects of Trump's foreign policy are mired in contradiction (or at least incoherence), but it seems unfair to single out Syria as a Trump problem. Ever since the civil war there started it has been a multifaceted affair. Since US foreign policy has long been driven by kneejerk reactions, even under the much more rational Obama the US found itself opposing both Assad and his prime opponents in ISIS, leading to a policy which can only be described as nihilism. What Trump added to this fever swamp of contradictions was sympathy for pro-Assad Russia and antipathy for pro-Assad Iran. Meanwhile, America's two main allies in the region (Israel and Turkey) have each doubled down on their own schizophrenic involvements.

  • Amy Chozick: 'They Were Never Going to Let Me Be President': Excerpt from Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, yet another journalist's campaign chronicle, a reminder of how pathetic her obsession turned out to be. Not clear who "they" were in the title, other than the American people, but had she really understood that truth, why did she run in the first place? Why, given the inevitability of defeat, did she keep us from nominating a candidate who actually could have defeated Donald Trump? I doubt that Chozick has any such answers. Instead, we find her apologizing for getting caught up in such distractions as parsing John Podesta's hacked emails instead of seeing the broader context, not least that the email dump was timed to take attention away from the leak of Trump bragging about assaulting women ("grab them by the pussy").

  • Robert Fisk: The search for truth in the rubble of Douma -- and one doctor's doubts over the chemical attack; also Patrick Cockburn: We Should be Sceptical of Those Who Claim to Know the Events in Syria: Of course, Trump jumped at the opportunity to bomb Syria before anyone really verified that reports of a chemical weapons attack were true. That is, after all, how American presidents prove their manhood.

  • Steve Fraser: Teaching America a Lesson: About the national effort to forget that class was ever a concept rooted in reality. From Fraser's new book, Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion (Yale University Press). Also at TomDispatch: Tom Engelhardt: A Tale of American Hubris.

  • Zachary Fryer-Biggs: Rudy Giuliani is Trump's new lawyer. His history with Comey could spell trouble.

  • William Greider: American Hubris, or, How Globalization Brought Us Donald Trump: Unpack this a bit: "It was 'free trade' mania, pushed by both major political parties, that destroyed working-class prosperity and laid the groundwork for his triumph." Unpack that some more, why don't you? What made "free trade" such a problem was decline in union power, especially due to a politically rigged union-free zone in the US South, combined with decreasing domestic investments in infrastructure and education (also politically engineered), plus growing pressure on the rich to seek new sources of wealth abroad. To blame all of that on "free trade" confuses mechanism with cause. Trump benefited not from free trade so much as from that confusion. More importantly, Democratic politicians suffered because it looked like they had sold out their base to rich donors. (As, indeed, they had.) Note that The Nation has another piece this week with the same pitch line: Michael Massing: How Martin Luther Paved the Way for Donald Trump. It's as if they wanted to make the leap from tragedy to farce in a single issue. In an infinite universe, I guess you'll eventually find that everything leads to Donald Trump. That's a lot of inevitability for a guy who only got 46.1% of the vote.

  • Umair Irfan/Eliza Barclay: 7 things we've learned about Earth since the last Earth Day: i.e., in the last year.

  • Jen Kirby: Mike Pompeo reportedly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: This is less interesting than the bilateral talks between North and South Korea, which actually seem to be getting somewhere, but does indicate that the planned summit between Trump and Kim may actually come to pass. Past efforts to bridge differences between the US and DPRK have generally been sabotaged by mid-level US staff -- one recalls the frantic efforts of Sandy Berger and others to derail Jimmy Carter's mid-1990s agreement. One might expect a neocon like Pompeo to throw a few monkey wrenches into the efforts, and indeed he may still, but it's also clear that Mattis and the DOD have no appetite for launching a war against North Korea, so maybe it's not such a bad idea to negotiate a little. Also see: Robin Wright: With Pompeo to Pyongyang, the U.S. Launches Diplomacy with North Korea.

    Wright also wrote: The Hypocrisy of Trump's "Mission Accomplished" Boast About Syria. Actually, Trump is establishing a track record of acting tough and making flamboyant and reckless threats then pulling his punches. It's sort of the opposite of Theodore Roosevelt's maxim to "speak softly and carry a big stick" -- only sort of, because he has expanded the murderous drone program, encourage Saudi Arabia to escalate their bombing of Yemen, sent more troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, so it's clear that he has no respect for world peace or human life. Moreover, his pugnacious stance is making the world more dangerous in many ways, not least by the contempt he projects on the rest of the world (and on a good many Americans).

  • Noah Kulwin: The Internet Apologizes . . . Picture shows a weeping cat, with a couple of tweets from "The Internet": "We're sorry. We didn't mean to destroy privacy. And democracy. Our bad."

    Why, over the past year, has Silicon Valley begun to regret the foundational elements of its own success? The obvious answer is November 8, 2016. For all that he represented a contravention of its lofty ideals, Donald Trump was elected, in no small part, by the internet itself. Twitter served as his unprecedented direct-mail-style megaphone, Google helped pro-Trump forces target users most susceptible to crass Islamophobia, the digital clubhouses of Reddit and 4chan served as breeding grounds for the alt-right, and Facebook became the weapon of choice for Russian trolls and data-scrapers like Cambridge Analytica. Instead of producing a techno-utopia, the internet suddenly seemed as much a threat to its creator class as it had previously been their herald.

    Fifth years ago I wouldn't have had a moment's hesitation as to the problem here: capitalism. That may seem like a quaint, old-fashioned analysis -- even I would be more inclined these days to speak of market failures and distortions -- but it's basically true and was totally predictable from the onset. For instance, the very first time I heard of WWW it was in the context of a question: how can we make money off of this? Sure, people may have had trouble imagining how pervasive, how all-consuming, it would be. And it may not have been obvious how few companies would wind up monopolizing such a huge slice of traffic. But from the start, every business plan imagined monopoly rents -- Microsoft's picked up their favored term ("vig") from the Mafia -- at the end of the rainbow. As practically everyone realized, the key to the fortune would be what economists called "network effects" -- hence every serious contender started off by offering something for free, figuring on hooking you first, eating you later. Had we been smarter, we might have placed some roadblocks in their way: antitrust, privacy regulations, free software, publicly funded alternatives. But that wasn't the American Way, especially in the post-Cold War glow of capitalist triumphalism. One great irony here is that while right-wingers like to complain about popularly elected government "picking winners and losers" in free markets, the reality is that the not-so-free markets are deciding who wins our supposedly free elections.

    After the intro, the article moves on to "How It Went Wrong, in 15 Steps," through the words of 14 "Architects" -- a mix of techies and businessfolk. The 15 steps:

    1. Start With Hippie Good Intentions . . .
    2. Then mix in capitalism on steroids.
    3. The arrival of Wall Streeters didn't help . . .
    4. . . . And we paid a high price for keeping it free.
    5. Everything was designed to be really, really addictive.
    6. At first it worked -- almost too well.
    7. No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable . . .
    8. . . . Even as social networks became dangerous and toxic.
    9. . . . And even as they invaded our privacy.
    10. Then came 2016. [Donald Trump and Brexit]
    11. Employees are starting to revolt.
    12. To fix it, we'll need a new business model . . .
    13. . . . And some tough regulation.
    14. Maybe nothing will change.
    15. . . . Unless, at the very least, some new people are in charge.

    Useful, although one could imagine alternative ways of threading the analysis. Step 12, for instance, says "we'll need a new business model," then offers: "Maybe by trying something radical and new -- like charging users for goods and services." New? That's the way thousands of exclusive newsletters aimed at business already work. What makes them viable is a small audience willing to pay a high premium for information. You could switch to this model overnight by simply banning advertising. The obvious major effect is that it would cause a major collapse in utility and usage. There would be a lot of other problems as well -- more than I can possibly list here. Still, true that you need a new business model. But perhaps we should consider ones that aren't predicated on capitalist greed and a vastly inequal society?

    The article also includes a useful list of "Things That Ruined the Internet":

    • Cookies (1994)
    • The Farmville vulnerability (2007) [a Facebook design flaw that made possible the Cambridge Analytica hack]
    • Algorithmic sorting (2006) ["it keeps users walled off in their own personalized loops"]
    • The "like" button (2009)
    • Pull-to-refresh (2009)
    • Pop-up ads (1996)

    I would have started the list with JavaScript, which lets website designers take over your computer and control your experience. It is the technological layer enabling everything else on the list (except cookies).

    Speaking of alternate business models, Kulwin also did an interview with Katherine Maher about "Wikipedia's nonprofit structure and what incentive-based media models lack": 'There Is No Public Internet, and We Are the Closest Thing to It'.

  • David Leonhardt: A Time for Big Economic Ideas: For the last forty years, the Republican "small government" mantra has sought to convince us that we can't do things that help raise everyone's standard of living, indeed that we can't afford even to do things that government has done since the 1930s. On the other hand, they've pushed the line that markets rigged so the rich get richer is the best we can hope for. And they've been so successful that even Leonhardt, trying to reverse the argument, doesn't come close to really thinking big. One of my favorite books back fifty years ago was Paul Goodman's Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals. A while back I opened up a book draft file with that as a subtitle. Haven't done much on it yet, but not for lack of big ideas.

  • German Lopez: The Senate's top Democrat just came out for ending federal marijuana prohibition: Chuck Shumer, who has a bill to that effect (as does Cory Booker). Lopez also wrote: John Boehner just came out for marijuana reform. Most Republicans agree. Being a Republican, Boehner did more than accede to public opinion. He figured out a way to get paid for doing so. I'm reminded of gambling, which when I was growing up was regarded as one of the worst sources of moral rot anywhere. However, as it became the fount of several Republican-leaning fortunes, the guardians of our moral virtue learned to embrace it. Indeed, lotteries have become a major source of tax revenues in many states (especially here in Kansas).

  • Andrew Prokop: Andrew McCabe's criminal referral, explained: This may give second thoughts to some of the people who ponied up a half-million bucks to help McCabe sue for his pension and other possible damages from his politically motivated firing. Still, this doesn't seem like much of a criminal case. The charge is that "McCabe lacked candor about his role in leaks about a Clinton investigation." The leak was one designed to correct a report that he wasn't being tough enough on Clinton. Clearly, whatever McCabe was, he wasn't a partisan Democratic mole in the FBI. On the other hand, his new friends probably figure that any lawsuit that forces the government to expose documents is bound to turn up something embarrassing for Trump and Sessions.

    Prokop also wrote: The DNC just sued Russia and the Trump campaign for 2016 election meddling. Hard to see what the value of this suit is, as it is critically dependent on on-going (and far from complete) investigations to establish linkage between the various parties. Moreover, I have two fairly large reservations. One is that I don't generally approve of using US courts to sue over foreign jurisdictions, especially cases highly tainted with prejudice. (The 9/11 lawsuits are an example.) The other is that I see this as a time-and-money sink for the Democrats, at a time when they have more important things to focus on: winning elections in 2018 and 2020. For more on the lawsuit, see: Glenn Greenwald/Trevor Timm: The DNC's lawsuit against WikiLeaks poses a serious threat to press freedom:

    The DNC's suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit -- that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it "willfully and intentionally disclosed" the DNC's communications (paragraph 183) -- would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of "economic espionage" (paragraph 170):

    This is effectively the same point Trump tried to make during his 2016 campaign when he argued that libel laws should be passed which would allow aggrieved parties like himself to sue for damages. Indeed, throughout his career Trump has been plagued by leaks and hacks (i.e., journalism). You'd think that the DNC would appreciate that we need more free press, not less. Makes it look like they (still) prefer to work in the dark.

  • Brian Resnick: Trump's next NASA administrator is a Republican congressman with no background in science: Jim Bridenstine, of Oklahoma, once ran the Air and Space Museum in Tulsa. Hope he realizes that unlike many government agencies, when/if he causes NASA to crash and burn it will be televised.

  • Emily Stewart: Nobody knows who was behind half of the divisive ads on Facebook ahead of the 2016 election: Half were linked to "suspicious groups"; one-sixth of those were linked to Russia.

  • Beyond Alt: The Extremely Reactionary, Burn-It-Down-Radical, Newfangled Far Right: A smorgasbord, written by a dozen or more writers with links to even more material. Certainly much more info than I ever wanted to know about the so-called alt-right. One aside mentions a symmetrical "alt-left," but notes that alt-leftists hate being called that. Right. We're leftists.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Roundup

It's been eight months since my last Book Roundup -- a major lapse on my part. I started working on this a few months back, then lost track again. At this point I suspect I'm far enough behind that I'll need two more columns just to catch up, but at this point I'm only 15 books into the next one, so don't expect them to come out bang-bang-bang like previous catch-ups. One thing that will slow down the pace a bit is that I've started to simply note the existence of additional books following the forty I've written something on. Usually this is because I don't have anything non-obvious to say. Often, it's just that the book is worth knowing about, but unlikely to be worth reading. Some I may return to eventually, should I change my mind.

Given my delays, I've actually managed to read several of these books: Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity, David Frum: Trumpocracy, Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal, and Sean Wilentz: The Politicians & the Egalitarians. I'm also about 400 pages into Steve Coll: Directorate S, and I've bought copies but haven't yet gotten to Jennifer M Silva: Coming Up Short, Amy Siskind: The List. I can't really say that any of these books are "must read," but I have learned things from each.

My main complaint about the Coll book is that by focusing on the CIA, ISI, and NDS (the Afghan counterpart) he's very rapidly skipped over the most ill-fated US decisions, like the conviction that the US can simply dictate Pakistan's behavior, and the blanket rejection of any possible Taliban role. But he also only barely touches on the CIA's continued support of their Afghan warlord clients even after the Karzai government was formed. I'm currently up to 2009, with McChrystal still in charge of the surging military, and Holbrooke still among the living (if not among the functional) -- two things I know will change soon.


Kurt Andersen: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire (2017, Random House): Big picture history of America, strikes me as like one of those creative writing assignments meant to let your imagination run wild -- probably helps that the author has a couple of novels to his credit. Still, shouldn't be hard to fill up 480 pp. with stories of America's tenuous love/hate relationship to reality. Nor has the election and regime of Donald Trump given us reason to doubt that we're living in a Fantasyland. And clearly Trump was on the author's mind -- probably the reason Alec Baldwin hired him as co-author of their cash-in book, You Can't Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody).

Benjamin R Barber: Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming (2017, Yale University Press): Political and cultural theorist, wrote a book I was impressed by back in 1971, Superman and Common Men: Freedom, Anarchy and the Revolution, and a couple dozen books since then: two that intrigued me but always seemed a bit too flip were Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World (1996) and Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (2007). Turned his eye toward cities with his 2013 book, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, to which this is a sequel, focusing on the relative energy efficiency of cities. Sad to read that he died, about a month after this book came out.

Ronen Bergman: Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations (2018, Random House): Big (756 pp) book by the Yedioth Ahronoth military analyst. I doubt there are many secrets here -- Israel has a long history of bragging about its secret agency exploits -- but the scale of the killings may come as a surprise. Some time ago, I spent time looking at a database of prominent Palestinians, and the sheer number of them killed by Israel was pretty eye-opening.

Max Boot: The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (2018, Liveright): Another attempt to find a scapegoat for the American failure in Vietnam, in this case arguing that if only American leaders had followed the advice of CIA operative Lansdale everything would have worked out for the better. This is an appalling argument in lots of ways. For one thing, Lansdale did have an outsized influence on the decision to cancel elections and stick by Diem's corrupt and vicious regime. Beyond that, Lansdale's successors were always going to view the war as a test of American resolve and power, and they were always going to be contemptuous of the Vietnamese and profoundly uninterested in their welfare. The real tragedy of the war in Vietnam was the failure of America's class of strategic thinkers to learn some humility and restraint following their imperial overreach, as is evidenced by repeated failures in numerous more recent wars.

Paul Butler: Chokehold: Policing Black Men (2017, New Press). One of several recent books on how the criminal justice system is stacked against black men, written by a former federal prosecutor who's been there and done that. Previously wrote Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice (2009). Also see: Angela J Davis, ed: Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (2017, Random House); Jordan T Camp/Christina Heatherton, eds: Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (paperback, 2016, Verso Books).

Ta-Nehisi Coates: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (2017, One World): A collection of essays, some new, including "Fear of a Black President," "The Case for Reparations," and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration" -- important work. Still, I never quite got the feeling that "we were in power" during Obama's two terms, even the first two years when Democrats had large majorities in Congress but let Max Baucus decide life and death issues; meanwhile Robert Gates was Secretary of Defense and Ben Bernanke chaired the Fed.

Steve Coll: Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2018, Penguin Press): Coll's second book about America's misadventure in Afghanistan (and schizophrenic alliance with Pakistan), bringing the story started in Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004) up to date. Of course, the post-9/11 US invasion and still ongoing occupation of Afghanistan hasn't exactly been a secret, but presumably this focuses more on the CIA role there rather than chronicling the ham-fisted DOD and their NATO proxies. No doubt an important book, but I expect it leaves much uncovered.

Peter Cozzens: The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West (2016, Knopf; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): Covers every front over a 30 year stretch, 1861-1891, during which white Americans fought numerous wars, brokered treaties (and often broke them), ultimately herding Native Americans into a few barren reservations and closing the frontier. Author worked for the State Department, and has written a number of military histories of the Civil War.

Larry Derfner: No Country for Jewish Liberals (2017, Just World Books): A Jewish journalist from Los Angeles, typically liberal, moved to Israel and surveys the intolerant, closed, often vicious society he encounters. I've maintained for some time now that constant war even more than greed and corruption (both plenty in evidence) has been responsible for so many Americans abandoning their liberal traditions. Same thing applies to Israel, even more so given the relative intensity of their militarism (a universal draft, for Jews anyway) and their incessant cult of victimhood.

EJ Dionne Jr/Norman J Ornstein/Thomas E Mann: One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported (2017, St Martin's Press): Quickie from three authors who've made careers explaining, as Dionne put it in his 1992 book, Why Americans Hate Politics -- the others are best known for their 2012 dissection of Congress, It's Even Worse Than It Looks. Dionne seems to be the unshakable optimist -- another of his titles is They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era -- but these days I find the assumption that there will still be "one nation after Trump" to be ungrounded.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (2018, Twelve): Seems to be a sequel to her 2009 book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, her critical instincts sharpened by another decade of getting older (78) and more acquainted with mortality. I've been expecting her to write a major book on the high cost of being poor in America -- a subject she's written several essays about recently. Hope she gets to that. I might also wish she'd explore the inner madness of the Trump voter, but she anticipated all that in her 1989 book Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class.

Jesse Eisinger: The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives (2017, Simon & Schuster): Investigates the fact that none of the bank executives responsible for the 2008 meltdown and ensuing recession were ever charged with crimes (although eventually a number of substantial fines were paid by newly profitable companies the public had bailed out, most often leaving their management in place). Nor is it just bankers who seem to be able to get away with whatever. Blames timid prosecutors, but to make sense of it all you'd have to work through the lax regulation companies are subjected to, and the widespread respect civil servants seem to have for money and well-heeled executives.

Neil Faulkner: A People's History of the Russian Revolution (paperback, 2017, Pluto Press): One-hundred years later, emphasizes the revolutionary parts of the Russian Revolution, the parts that tore down one of the most corrupt and decadent aristocracies in Europe and tried to build a broad-based alternative -- before violence and paranoia took its toll. In today's post-Soviet era we're inclined to see the revolution and its aftermath as continuous tragedy, which is only true if you forget the injustices of the world it swept away.

Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump (2017, William Morrow): Argues that Trump is not technically insane, but raises many pertinent questions about whether America as a whole. The opening section on truths Americans reject and myths they embrace is a garden variety liberal list, but this gets more interesting when he goes on to root our understanding of psychology in Darwin rather than Freud. Tricky terrain: I think easy psychological labels are misleading, yet don't doubt that deeply seated mental processes are serving us poorly when we think about politics these days.

David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (2018, Harper): Former Bush speechwriter, has of late argued that Republicans should pay more heed to the needs of their base voters and less to their moneyed elites, which makes him sympathetic with the popular impulse of Trump's campaign and critical of the reality of his administration. Useful mostly for detailing the myriad ways Trump is bound up in corruption, and unflinching in its criticism of other Republicans for condoning and enabling his treachery. Would be more trenchant if only he realized that corruption is the coin of the Republican realm -- not just a side-effect of a political philosophy dedicated to making the rich richer but a way of keeping score.

David Goodhart: The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (2017, Hurst): British editor of Prospect magazine, wrote a previous book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration, takes the Brexit vote and Trump's win as signposts for a right-wing revolt he deems to be populist. I regard those wins as flukes: possible only because serious economic interests were lucky enough to find themselves with enemies that could be blamed for all the evils of neoliberalism. Most elections don't break quite like that -- e.g., the post-Brexit UK elections.

Linda Gordon: The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition (2017, Liveright): The original KKK was formed in the 1970s to restore white supremacy in the South through the use of terror. Its work was largely done by the 1890s with the adoption of Jim Crow laws across the South and into parts of the North. In the 1910s Woodrow Wilson extended Jim Crow to the federal government, and the movie Birth of a Nation romanticized the old KKK, leading to a resurgence that grew beyond the South. This is the history of the latter movement, how it grew and why it crumbled (not that remnants haven't survived to the present day).

David Cay Johnston: It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America (2018, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, has written several books on how the economic system is rigged for the rich, and has also written a couple of books about one such rich person in particular: Donald Trump. Therefore, he started well ahead of the learning curve when Trump became president. Hopefully he goes deeper as a result. Probably a good companion to Amy Siskind: The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year.

Gilles Kepel: Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (2017, Princeton University Press): French political scientist and Arab expert, wrote Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2000 in French where the subtitle was Expansion et Déclin de l"Islamisme; 2002 in English with an afterward on how 9/11 seemed like a desperate ploy to reverse the decline -- thanks mostly to GW Bush it worked), with a steady stream of books since then. This covers recent terror attacks in France and their socioeconomic context. Also new is a thin book by the other famous French jihad expert, Olivier Roy: Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State (2017, Oxford University Press).

Sheelah Kolhatkar: Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (2017, Random House): About Stephen A Cohen and SAC Capital, although the former was never indicted for his hedge fund's insider dealing.

Robert Kuttner: Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (2018, WW Norton): Could have filed this with the warnings against right-wing populism, but this goes deeper, seeing the global expansion of capitalism since the 1970s, and especially the tendency of those same capitalists to game supposedly democratic systems, at the root of the crisis. The problem has less to do with authoritarian wannabes and their fans than with corporate managers and financiers seeking to exempt business from any form of public restraint. The results may still bear some formal resemblance to democracy, but not the kind where most people can force the system to treat them fairly. When you think of it that way, the question becomes "has democracy survived global capitalism"? One could answer "no."

Brandy Lee: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (2017, Thomas Dunne Books): The "consensus view of two dozen psychiatrists and psychologists [is] that Trump is dangerously mentally ill and that he presents a clear and present danger to the nation and our own mental health." Sounds about right, but then I recall having long ago become a fan of Thomas Szasz's work, particularly his The Myth of Mental Illness, and I myself have been diagnosed as mentally ill by various shrinks, both credentialed and not. Indeed, I doubt it would be hard to sketch out unflattering psychological portraits of anyone who's become president since 1900 (I'm hedging a bit on McKinley but Teddy Roosevelt was mad as a hatter, and half of his successors are comparably easy pickings). Indeed, there's little reason to expect that people we elect to the nation's highest (and presumably most coveted) office should be even close to "normal." On the other hand, Trump is certainly an outlier, especially in his lack of understanding how government works, perhaps even more importantly in his lack of concern for how his acts affect people. Psychologists have compiled a thick book of diagnoses for traits like that (e.g., see "sociopath"), but much of that behavior can also be explained by looking at his class background -- how he inherited and then played with his wealth, parlaying it for fame in his peculiarly own ego-gratifying terms. Moreover, psychoanalyzing him misses the fact that he rules through other people, who while having their own fair share of foibles have aligned thermselves with Trump more for political and/or ideological reasons -- and that, I think, is where we should focus our critiques. (Not, mind you, that I doubt Trump's stark-raving bonkers.)

Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (2017, Harper Collins). Short essay rushed out following the Trump election. Argues that liberals need to seek the moral high ground by focusing on universal rights and values instead of what he sees as their recent indulgence in cultivating "identity groups." "Identity politics" is a term much bandied about, near-meaningless with ominous overtones, probably because the right has been rather successful at fragmenting people into tribes and motivating them to vote to thwart the plans of rival tribes. On the other hand, literally everyone votes because of some identity they've developed -- which need not be ethnic or racial or religious, but could just as well be class or even a sense of the positive value of diversity. Liberalism would be an identity too, except that liberals have been running away from the label for 30-40 years now, which has only encouraged conservatives to pile on. Lilla at least is trying to reassert some universal values.

Angela Nagle: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump the Alt-Right (paperback, 2017, Zero Books): Short (156 pp) survey of "culture war" rants on the internet, mostly from the "alt-right" but takes a few jabs at supposed lefties for balance. Argues that there's way too much of this stuff, and (I think) that we'd be better off with more taste and mutual respect (as long as that doesn't seem like some sort of radical leftist stance).

Rachel Pearson: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine (2017, WW Norton): By "front lines" she means the leaky bottom of the safety net, where patients can get diagnosed but are left untreated because they too indigent or not indigent enough.

Kim Phillips-Fein: Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics (2017, Metropolitan Books): In 1975 New York City risked bankruptcy, and one famous newspaper headline read: "Ford to City: Drop Dead." Banker Felix Rohatyn intervened, staving off the crisis but forcing the city to adopt various changes, including ending its practice of free college. Phillips-Fein previously wrote an important book on the rise of the right in America: Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement From the New Deal to Reagan (2009), and sees this as yet another chapter in that rise -- all the more notable today as austerity is the right's standard answer to public debt.

Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018, Viking): Author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, continues expanding his case for optimism at a time when contrary evidence is so overwhelming it threatens to bury us. I think he has a point -- indeed, a number of them -- but one shouldn't fail to notice that anti-Enlightenment, anti-Progressive thinking has grabbed considerable political power (at least in the US), so much so that most Americans regard war as a permanent condition, and many see no problem with inequality hardening into oligarchy.

Robert B Reich: The Common Good (2018, Knopf): For better or worse, a true liberal. His most famous book, The Work of Nations (1991), was built around one of the worst ideas of our time -- one which, I might add, was the reason Bill Clinton hired him as Secretary of Labor -- and also offered one of the sharpest observations of how life was changing due to increasing inequality. The latter: how the rich were separating and isolating themselves from everyone else, most obviously by moving into gated communities and even more rarefied spaces (like Trump Tower and Mar-A-Lago). The former: his idea how Americans could survive the ongoing process of financial globalization, including the decline of manufacturing industries, by retraining workers to become what he called "symbolic manipulators." In point of fact, it was never possible for more than a tiny sliver of American workers to become "symbol manipulators," it was a convenient rationalization for neoliberals like Clinton to embrace globalization and growing inequality. One might argue that ever since Reich left Clinton's cabinet, he has been trying to do penance for his role there. He's written another dozen books, trying to defend key liberal ideas and save capitalism in the process. This at least is on a key idea that has taken a beating from conservatives: the idea that there is "a common good" as opposed to numerous individual goods that markets allow competition for. He also notes that the common good is built from "virtuous cycles that reinforce and build" as opposed to "vicious cycles that undermine it." We have been stuck in the latter for decades now, and it's cumulatively taking a huge toll. So this is an important concept, even if I don't particularly trust the messenger.

Richard Rothstein: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017, Liveright): Going back as far as the 1920s, argues that what we think of as de facto segregation has been significantly shaped by law and public policy, even after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 supposedly put an end to all that.

Jennifer M Silva: Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty (paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press): Short book based on one-hundred interviews with young working class adults in Massachusetts and Virginia, finding their opportunities limited and fleeting as the right-wing attack on unions and the welfare state has focused more on kicking the ladder out for future generations than on wrecking the lives of their elders. Silva also did interviews for Robert D Putnam's Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

Amy Siskind: The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year (2018, Bloomsbury): "A national spokesperson, writer and expert on helping women and girls advance and succeed" -- a noble career, no doubt, derailed by her decision to compile weekly blog posts on all the unprecedentedly strange things Trump and his minions have done as they were reported. Early on she came up with 6-9 items per week, but over time that list grew to as many as 150, a quantity that not only means much is slipping through the cracks even in our 24/7 news obsession, but which has overloaded and numbed our sense of outrage and even our ability to analyze. This compiles a year of those reports, a mere 528 pages. Good chance this will endure as an essential sourcebook for the year.

Ali Soufan: Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State (2017, WW Norton): Former FBI agent, famed for his expert interrogation of terror suspects -- he's the subject of a chapter in Lawrence Wright's The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State, and author of the book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda (2011).

Cass R Sunstein: #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (2017, Princeton University Press): Occasionally interesting MOR Democratic theorist, takes his shot here at trashing the internet for propagating self-selected, self-confirming nonsense that divides people into hostile camps incapable of empathy with or understanding of anyone but themselves. This, of course, has been pretty much the high-brow critique of media since Gutenberg, the main point that it detracts from people blindly following whatever experts are sanctified by whoever has the power to do that sort of thing. I suppose there's some truth this time around, but I'd look at the vested interests using social media for their propaganda (ok, they call it advertising) before concluding that "the media is the message."

Charles J Sykes: How the Right Lost Its Mind (2017, St Martin's Press): Former "longtime host of the #1 conservative talk-radio show in Wisconsin," now "a regular contributor to MSNBC," features a Trump-like hat on the cover and evidently focuses on how conservatives wound up flocking to Trump. Sounds like he's failed to make the necessary distinction between why the Right lost its mind and things the Right did after having lost its mind. The former would be an interesting book, although it actually isn't so mysterious: the only real political principle behind conservatism is the defense of wealth and privilege, and that's intrinsically a hard sell in a real democracy, so the Right has to hide their soul behind a lot of incidental sales pitches. The latter is just sad and pathetic, like so much recent American history.

Heather Ann Thompson: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (2016, Pantheon; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): A major history of the 1971 Attica prison uprising, its brutal suppression, and the decades-long legal fight that followed. When this happened my philosophy 101 professor at Wichita State was so disturbed he ditched his lesson plan to talk about what happened. Later I became friends with a lawyer who put most of her career into this case, the extraordinary Elizabeth Fink, so it feels like I've tracked this story all my life. The enduring lesson is how much contempt and disdain people in power have for the people they condemn as criminals, and how that hatred and fear can lead them to do things as bad or worse.

Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History (2017, Dey Street Books): NBC News correspondent assigned to cover Trump's campaign, where she evidently fact-checked, challenged, and generally made herself a nuisance, while visiting 40 states and filing 3800 live television reports. Sounds like it must have been much worse than "craziest" implies.

Richard White: The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (2017, Oxford University Press): A new volume in The Oxford History of the United States, originally planned by C. Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter back in the 1950s, with the first volumes appearing in 1982 (Robert Middlekauff on 1763-1789) and 1988 (James M. McPherson on the Civil War), and David M. Kennedy (whose 1929-1945 volume came out in 1999) taking over after Woodward's death. Each of the eleven period volumes (plus a 12th on US foreign relations) is close to 1000 pages, and the few I've looked at (3 remain unpublished) are remarkably imposing tomes.

Sean Wilentz: The Politicians & the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (paperback, 2017, WW Norton): A major historian, though much more reliable on The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln than on The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2000, offers a book of scattered essays, mostly book reviews. Useful for reminding ourselves how prevalent the egalitarian impulse is in American history, and how often pragmatic politicians fall short of even their own professed ideals.

Lawrence Wright: The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State (2016; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): Author of one of the best general histories of Al-Qaeda and 9/11, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006), updates the story with scattered pieces -- mostly profiles of more or less related individuals although nothing like a comprehensive update of the ensuing history.


Other recent books also noted without comment:

Alec Baldwin/Kurt Andersen: You Can't Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody) (2017, Penguin Press).

Krystal Ball: Reversing the Apocalypse: Hijacking the Democratic Party to Save the World (2017, Pelican Media).

Hillary Rodham Clinton: What Happened (2017, Simon & Schuster).

James Comey: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018, Flatiron).

Melinda Cooper: Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism (2017, Zone Books).

Corey R Lewandowski/David N Bossie: Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency (2017, Center Street).

Keith Olbermann: Trump Is F*cking Crazy (This Is Not a Joke) (2017, Blue Rider Press).

Leo Panitch/Sam Gindin: The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (paperback, 2013, Verso Books).

Yanis Varoufakis: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism (paperback, 2017, The Bodley Head).

Michael Wolff: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018, Henry Holt).

John Ziegelman/Andrew Coe: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression (2016; paperback, 2017, Harper).

Monday, April 16, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29570 [29549] rated (+21), 365 [371] unrated (-6).

Looks like rated count tanked, but four of the albums listed below are 2-CD, one 3-CD, and one is 4-CD. Granted, I didn't give the multiple sets (aside from Ivo Perelman) extra spins. My two new A- records got at least four plays. The only question I had about the other -- a 2-CD reissue of the first half of Anthony Braxton's 4-CD Willisau (Quartet) 1991 -- was whether it would rise to a full A, but I noted a couple of off spots, and figured my original A- grade would hold (albeit a high one). On the other hand, I carved out three separate grades for original albums collected in Louis Armstrong's Pops Is Tops: The Complete Verve Studio Albums and More. Finally an Armstrong box you don't need, although to the extend you can isolate the leader's vocals and occasional trumpet from Russ Garcia's orchestra, you might beg to differ. The album with Oscar Peterson isn't so great either. If you want to hear Satch singing show tunes, try challenging him, as Ella Fitzgerald did: see Ella and Louis and, even better, Ella and Louis Again.

The Arild Andersen album took a while because it never quite hit me as strong as Live at Belleville, his first album with tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith. The John Prine album was even more marginal. Touted as his first album of original songs since 2005's Fair and Square, one might have hoped that Trump raised up his political hackles like Bush did, but he chose to sing about something less depressing: death -- or at least it's less depressing given his spin on the afterlife. He looks bad, and sounds worse, but bears a message of forgiveness for damn near everyone. Feels a lot like You Want It Darker, which is about as much a decline from I'm Your Man as this is from The Missing Years. Folks get old and decrepit, and maybe you should appreciate them a little before they die.

Two near misses. After seven volumes of The Art of Perelman-Shipp last year, I was feeling a little fatigue in facing three more duo CDs. I played the third disc enough to be impressed, but was glad I didn't have to sort them all separately. I was even more impressed by George Coleman on the Brian Charette disc. He's showing remarkable vigor for an 82-year-old, but was somewhat better served on 2016's A Master Speaks. The other B+(***) this week is a bass duo recovered from 1994 -- a rather self-limiting format, but really doesn't sound like a bass duo at all. More like an interesting but oblique soundtrack.

Unpacking was very skimpy last week, but I folded Monday's mail in so it looks closer to normal below. Still, didn't factor those into the unrated count, so we're a bit out of sync. I have quite a bit of backlog.


One significant addition to the website is that I've resurrected a set of pages on my late sister's Sacred Space project, from 2002. I had these pages tucked into a corner of my website before they got trashed by my ISP. I was able to salvage the text files, but had to scrounge through my stuff to locate a CD-ROM with the images. At this point I've done little more than update the HTML. I still need to annotate the images (I'll need help for that; even more help would be to find better images, as many of these are awful fuzzy), add image links to the portal pages, and add links from the Checklist to the portal pages. I probably need to transpose most of the images, and make thumbnails so they can be presented more sensibly (instead of just by name).

I could also use some more historical details. The project was originally displayed at Wichita State University, and has had at least one other presentation, but has mostly been in storage. It was officially directed by Diane Thomas Lincoln (who died in 2012), but I recall Kathy talking about the portal concept much earlier, and I've always regarded her as the driving force behind the project. WSU had agreed to re-present the project this summer -- something Kathy was very much looking forward to.


New records rated this week:

  • Arild Andersen: In-House Science (2016 [2018], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Jakob Bro: Returnings (2016 [2018], ECM): [r]: B
  • Brian Charette/George Coleman: Groovin' With Big G (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin: Ninety-Nine Years (2017 [2018], Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gerry Hemingway/Samuel Blaser: Oostum (2015 [2017], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • The Doug MacDonald Quintet/The Roger Neumann Quintet: Two Quintets: Live Upstairs at Vitello's (2017 [2018], Blujazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Erin McDougald: Outside the Soirée (2018, Miles High): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Michael Morreale: MilesSong: The Music of Miles Davis (2016 [2018], Summit, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Meg Okura/Sam Newsome/Jean-Michel Pilc: NPO Trio Live at the Stone (2016 [2018], Chant): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Meg Okura & the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Ima Ima (2018, Chant): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Oneness (2017 [2018], Leo, 3CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness (2018, Oh Boy): [r]: A-
  • Jim Snidero & Jeremy Pelt: Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley (2017 [2018], Savant): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Spin Cycle [Scott Neumann/Tom Christensen]: Assorted Colors (2017 [2018], Sound Footing): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Louis Armstrong: Pops Is Tops: The Complete Verve Studio Albums and More (1957 [2018], Verve, 4CD): [r]: B
  • Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Willisau) 1991 Studio (1991 [2018], Hatology, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: After the Fall (1998 [2018], ECM, 2CD): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Kirk Lightsey/Harold Danko, Shorter by Two: The Music of Wayne Shorter Played on Two Pianos (1983 [2017], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barre Phillips/Motoharu Yoshizawa: Oh My, Those Boys! (1994 [2018], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Under the Stars (1957 [1958], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Louis Armstrong: I've Got the World on a String (1957 [1960], Verve): [r]: B
  • Louis Armstrong/Oscar Peterson: Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson (1957, Verve): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Yelena Eckemoff: Desert (L&H Production): May 4
  • Dave Gisler Trio: Rabbits on the Run (Intakt): May 20
  • Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe (Palmetto): May 11
  • Angelika Niescier Trio: The Berlin Concert (Intakt): May 20
  • Henry Threadgill: Double Up Plays Double Up Plus (Pi): May 18
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg: Dirt . . . and More Dirt (Pi): May 18
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The Jazz Heritage Series 2018 Radio Broadcasts (self-released)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Best of the Jazz Heritage Series Volume 1 (self-released)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Weekend Roundup

John Bolton started work as Trump's new National Security Adviser on Monday. On Friday, Trump ordered a massive missile attack on Syria. Those who warned about Bolton, like Fred Kaplan, have been vindicated very quickly. Presumably, what took Trump and Bolton so long was lining up British and French contributions to the fusillade, to make this look less like the act of a single madman and more like the continuation of a millennium of Crusader and Imperialist attacks on Syria. For a news report on the strike, long on rhetoric and short on damage assessment, see Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neft, Ben Hubbard: U.S., Britain and France Strike Syria Over Suspected Chemical Weapons Attack. Two significant points here: (1) the targets were narrowly selected to represent Syria's alleged chemical weapons capability (which raises the question of why, if the US knew of these facilities before, it didn't insist on inspections under Syria's Russia-brokered agreement to give up its chemical weapons -- more rigorous inspections could have kept the alleged chemical attacks from ever happening, as well as saving Syria from "retaliatory" strikes); (2) the US and its cronies consider this round of strikes to be complete (Trump even used the phrase "Mission Accomplished" to describe them).

I suppose the good news here is that while Russia is unhappy about the strikes, Trump and Bolton (and "Mad Dog") have limited themselves to a level of aggression unlikely to trigger World War III. On the other hand, what Trump did was embrace one of the hoariest clichés of American politics: the notion that US presidents prove their mettle by unleashing punitive bombing strikes on nations incapable of defense or response. The first example I can recall was Reagan's bombing of Libya in 1986, although there were previous examples of White House tantrums, like Wilson sending Pershing's army into Mexico to chase down Pancho Villa in 1916-17. After Reagan, GHW Bush launched grudge wars against Panama and Iraq, but the art (and hubris) of bombing on a whim was more fully developed and exploited by Bill Clinton, especially in Iraq. Clinton got so much political mileage out of it that GW Bush bombed Iraq his first week in office, just to show that he could.

Still, what makes it a cliché is not just that other presidents have done it. People who play presidents on TV and in the movies do it also, if anything even more often and reflexively. I first noticed this in The West Wing -- I didn't watch much TV during its 1999-2006 run, but it seems like nearly every episode I did catch saw its otherwise reasonable President Bartlett ordering the bombing of someone or other. Just last week President Kirkman of Designated Survivor unleashed a rashly emotional attack on a fictional country based on even shoddier intelligence than Trump's. A couple weeks ago in Homeland the US bombed Syria against President Elizabeth Keane's orders, simply because her Chief of Staff thought it would provide some useful PR spin. When all of pop culture calls out for blood, not to mention advisers like Bolton, it's impossible to imagine someone like Donald Trump might get in their way.

The usual problem with clichés is that they're lazy, requiring little or no thought or ingenuity. Politicians are even more prone to clichés than writers, because they rarely run any risk saying whatever they're most expected to. Some people thought that Trump, with his brusque disregard for "political correctness," might be different, but they sadly overestimated his capacity for any form of critical thought. On the other hand, Washington is chock full of foreign policy mandarins trapped in the same web of clichés, even as it's long been evident that their plots and prescriptions don't come close to working. And nowhere have knee-jerk reactions been more obvious than with Syria, where America's effort to fight some and promote other anti-Assad forces is effectively nihilist. Rational people recoil from situations where there is no solution. Trump, on the other hand, takes charge.

Some more links on the fire this time in Syria:


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: House Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress; Mr. Zuckerberg went to Washington; The FBI raised Michael Cohen's office (doesn't he mean "raided"?); James Comey started promoting his book. The latter point mentions what I would have picked as a key story: the pardon for Scooter Libby -- one of the dozen or so most obnoxious things Trump has personally done so far. Perhaps even bigger is the latest Trump assault on Syria. While the missile launch occurred after Yglesias was done for the week, the PR pitch lurked over the entire week. Other Yglesias posts this week:

  • Tara Golshan: Trump is calling backsies on exiting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: Significantly, he's being lobbied by Republicans, especially from agricultural states.

  • Umair Irfan: Scott Pruitt's actions at the EPA have triggered a half-dozen investigations. Also note that Pruitt's penchant for corruption preceded his move to Washington. See: Sharon Lerner: Why Did the EPA's Scott Pruitt Suppress a Report on Corruption in Oklahoma?

  • Mark Kalin: List-Making as Resistance: Chronicling a Year of Damage Under Trump: Interview with Amy Siskind, author of The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year. Where most journalists have tried to make their living off Trump's Twitter feed, Siskind prefers to chronicle what's actually been happening. Doubt she's got it all -- the book is a mere 528 pages -- but it should be a good start. For an excerpt, see Amy Siskind: Yes, We Are Like Frogs in Boiling Water With Trump as President.

  • Carolyn Kormann: Ryan Zinke's Great American Fire Sale.

  • Paul Krugman: What's the Matter With Trumpland? Mostly true as far as he goes, but the key point isn't the liberal platitude that the most successful areas are those with the most educational opportunities and cultural attraction for educated workers (including immigrants). It's that declining areas have been making political choices that make their prospects even worse.

    That new Austin et al. paper makes the case for a national policy of aiding lagging regions. But we already have programs that would aid these regions -- but which they won't accept. Many of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the great bulk of the bill -- and would create jobs in the process -- are also among America's poorest.

    Or consider how some states, like Kansas and Oklahoma -- both of which were relatively affluent in the 1970s, but have now fallen far behind -- have gone in for radical tax cuts, and ended up savaging their education systems. External forces have put them in a hole, but they're digging it deeper.

    And when it comes to national politics, let's face it: Trumpland is in effect voting for its own impoverishment. New Deal programs and public investment played a significant role in the great postwar convergence; conservative efforts to downsize government will hurt people all across America, but it will disproportionately hurt the very regions that put the G.O.P. in power.

    I doubt it's disproportionate. After all, wealthier "blue states" have much more to lose, but it's certainly the case that nothing Trump and the Republicans will actually do will help to even out regional economic differences. Actually, we've been through this debate before. In the 1930s southern Democrats saw the New Deal as a way out of their impoverishment, but from about 1938 on most of the leading southern Democrats broke with Roosevelt, fearing that too much equality would upset their racial order, even if (perhaps even because) it raised living standards. Of course, they didn't reject all federal spending in their districts. They became the most ardent of cold warriors. (On the New Deal, see Ira Katznelson: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. As for the cold warriors and their money train, James Byrne, John Stennis, and Carl Vinson were major figures.)

    Krugman also wrote Unicorns of the Intellectual Right, to remind us about the "intellectual decadence" and "moral decline" of right-leaning economists:

    In macroeconomics, what began in the 60s and 70s as a usefully challenging critique of Keynesian views went all wrong in the 80s, because the anti-Keynesians refused to reconsider their views when their own models failed the reality test while Keynesian models, with some modification, performed pretty well. By the time the Great Recession struck, the right-leaning side of the profession had entered a Dark Age, having retrogressed to the point where famous economists trotted out 30s-era fallacies as deep insights.

    But even among conservative economists who didn't go down that rabbit hole, there has been a moral collapse -- a willingness to put political loyalty over professional standards. We saw that most recently in the way leading conservative economists raced to endorse ludicrous claims for the efficacy of the Trump tax cuts, then tried to climb down without admitting what they had done. We saw it in the false claims that Obama had presided over a massive expansion of government programs and refusal to admit that he hadn't, the warnings that Fed policy would cause huge inflation followed by refusal to admit having been wrong, and on and on.

  • German Lopez: Trump is already trying to call off his attorney general's war on marijuana.

  • Alex Ward: Mike Pompeo, your likely new -- and Trump-friendly -- secretary of state: When Pompeo first ran for Congress, I had him pegged as a straight Koch plant with a quasi-libertarian economic focus, which I actually found preferable to his predecessor (Christian Fascist and Boeing flack Todd Tiahrt). However, his resume included a West Point education, and he soon emerged as a hardline neocon militarist. What brought him to Trump's attention was his demagogic flogging of Hillary Clinton and the Benghazi!!! pseudo-scandal. I can't imagine Trump nominating anyone who isn't "Trump-friendly," so I wouldn't get too agitated about that. Right now the problem with Pompeo isn't that he's simpatico with Trump; it's that his nomination shows that Trump is buying into Pompeo's neocon worldview -- although I'd also worry that Pompeo's tenure at CIA has made him even more contemptuous of law and diplomacy than he was before. Also see: Ryan Grim: Mike Pompeo Could Go Down if Senate Democrats Decide to Fight.

  • Jennifer Williams: Trump just pardoned Scooter Libby: If you recall the case (way back in 2007), you'll recall that Libby was the only one convicted by a special prosecutor investigation into the politically motivated unmasking of a CIA agent -- an act that Libby doesn't seem to have been involved in, but Libby's perjury and obstruction prevented those actually guilty from ever being charged. At the time, GW Bush commuted Libby's three-year prison sentence, evidently afraid that if he didn't, Libby would switch sides and rat out other Bush operatives. Libby wound up paying a fine and spending two years on probation, but that's well in the past right now, so the pardon at this point barely affects Libby's life. So it's hard to read this as anything other than a blanket promise to his underlings that even if they do get caught up in his scandals and convicted, as long as they don't implicate Trump the president will protect them. It is, in other words, a very deliberate and public way of undermining the Mueller investigation. I'm not sure if it violates US law on obstruction of justice, but UK law has a term that surely applies: perverting the course of justice. For more, see: Dylan Scott: Democrats are kind of freaking out about Trump's Scooter Libby pardon and what it means.

    By the way, I'm not sure that the two are linked, but Libby was Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, and Cheney never had the same sort of influence over the Bush Administration after Libby left. Of course, the other explanation is that Cheney's dominance early on had backfired, especially after the 2006 election debacle. Cheney also lost a key ally when Donald Rumsfeld got sacked, and was further embarrassed as his approval ratings sank under 20%.

  • Gary Younge: Trump and Brexit Are Symptoms of the Same Failure to Reckon With Racism: Having lived both in UK and US, Younge seems the failure to deal with racism as leading not just to dysfunction but to dementia, with Brexit and Trump just two flagrant examples.

    The argument about which country is, at present, the most dysfunctional is of course futile, since the answer would render neither any less dysfunctional. Britain set itself an unnecessary question, only then to deliver the wrong answer. Those who led us out of the European Union had no more plans for what leaving would mean than a dog chasing a car has to drive it. Not only do we not know what we want; we have no idea how to get it, even if we did.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29549 [29517] rated (+32), 371 [367] unrated (+4).

Fairly normal week in terms of overall rated count, but above average in A-list records. That's basically because I finally got a chance to pay some attention to some leads (e.g., Phil Overeem convinced me to listen to the Sonny Rollins reissue, and reminded me to take another look for No Age). Note that the Nik Bärtsch Ronin album doesn't drop until May 6. When I was trying to close March Streamnotes I was rather desperate to find a couple more A-list albums, and the Bärtsch download seemed like a prospect -- but I couldn't find time to dig it up. A few years ago I tried holding back reviews of albums I got to ahead of release date, but found that nobody much cared, so I gave up on the extra complication.

Miles Davis/John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sons of Kemet, and a few lesser items appeared on the album ballots for Downbeat's Critics Poll. I cast a ballot last week, while collecting usual notes. As it happens, I was feeling pretty miserable at the time, so after I got through the new/old album questions, I pretty much coasted, in most cases voting for whoever I voted for the previous year. Even more so, the sections in the notes where I list "first pass" picks from their offered ballot went unchecked and unchanged. On the other hand, it doesn't look like whoever at Downbeat put this year's ballot together put a lot of work into revision either.

I'm not a big fan of trying to rank musicians, so I'm not bothered by my reduced diligence this year. (I have less objection to sorting them out into broad tiers, like the ones I've noted for their Hall of Fame nominees.) The one category I did give some serious thought to was Hall of Fame, where I voted for: Roswell Rudd (5), George Russell (3), and Anthony Braxton (2). I've voted for Russell every year since I started receiving invitations, and if you don't know why, take that as your homework assignment. I've voted for Braxton off-and-on, and would say that he's the most deserving living musician who hasn't been voted in yet (now that Lee Konitz finally got the nod). This year is the 50th anniversary of his first albums, Three Compositions of New Jazz and For Alto, and while those aren't personal favorites, I have him down for 20 A/A- albums, and that's just the tip of a very massive iceberg.

As for Rudd, he died last year, and one thing I've noticed in past critics polls is how they tend to flock to whoever was the most famous musician who died in the past year. (Indeed, I think Konitz finished 2nd or 3rd to just-dead guys a half dozen times or more.) Rudd's long been a personal favorite -- I count 10 A+/A/A- records under his name, and he's played on close to ten more filed under other names -- so I figured I should join in on this expected wave. Problem is, Downbeat didn't list his name on their ballot, and winning on write-ins is probably impossible.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the Baseball Hall of Fame back in the 1990s, and much of what I learned applies here too. The key questions you have to ask is how large a set of candidates from the past you wish to honor, and how many comparable newcomers appear each year. The Rock and Roll HOF grows at a rate of 5-or-6 per year (down from 10/year when founded in 1986), which is probably too much -- aside from the question of whether they're picking the best ones, which judging from the 11 2017-18 inductees I'd say they aren't (the most credible picks are Tupac Shakur and Nina Simone, not that I would have picked either. On the other hand, Downbeat's HOF grows at a rate of 2/year: one picked by the Critics Poll, the other by their Readers Poll. While the DBHOF started earlier (1952) and has recently added a few extras through a Veterans Committee, the current total is still just 150. That strikes me as both too few and falling well behind the rate at which new jazz musicians of that calibre are appearing. I explain this more in the notes file.

Of course, one problem is that few of the DB critics are into avant-jazz. (Just one bit of proof there: Christian McBride regularly wins as best bassist, while William Parker regularly languishes down in the 7-10 spots.) Still, once in a blue moon someone on the cutting edge manages to get recognized there. One of the first died last week: pianist Cecil Taylor, 89. I'm afraid I'm not a huge fan, but he has done some amazing work. I saw him once, and left early, figuring he'd keep recycling stuff I've already heart for the rest of his second set. Still, I wasn't upset or disappointed. And I've heard a bunch of albums by him that I seriously recommend. From my database, all A- or above:

  • Jazz Advance (1956 [1991], Blue Note)
  • Love for Sale (1959, Blue Note)
  • The World of Cecil Taylor (1960, Candid) [A]
  • Air (1960, Candid)
  • Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come (1962 [1997], Revenant 2CD)
  • Silent Tongues (1974, Arista/Freedom)
  • One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye (1978 [1980], Hat Art 2CD)
  • The Eighth (1981 [2006], Hatology)
  • Olu Iwa (1986, Soul Note)
  • The Feel Trio: Looking (Berlin Version) (1989 [1990], FMP)
  • The Feel Trio: Celebrated Blazons (1990 [1993], FMP)
  • The Willisau Concert (2000 [2002], Intakt)

That a dozen records, out of forty I've heard, out of two or three times that many he released. I'm not sure you really need that many, but then I'm "not a big fan" -- those who are never seem to be able to get enough. The Penguin Guide, for instance, credits Taylor with more 4-star albums than any other jazz artist (including Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and the even more prolific Anthony Braxton). Unlikely he'll ever be matched -- though it wouldn't hurt to look into some of his successors, especially Irène Schweizer and Satoko Fujii.


New records rated this week:

  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Awase (2017 [2018], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Nat Birchall: Cosmic Language (2018, Jazzman): [r]: B+(***)
  • Martin Blume/Tobias Delius/Achim Kaufmann/Dieter Manderscheid: Frames & Terrains (2016 [2018], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine: The Poetry of Jazz (2012-14 [2018], Origin): [cd]: A-
  • Anat Cohen/Fred Hersch: Live in Healdsburg (2016 [2018], Anzic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lucy Dacus: Historian (2018, Matador): [r]: B+(*)
  • Victor Gould: Earthlings (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary Halvorson: Code Girl (2016 [2018], Firehouse 12, 2CD): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Modern Mal: The Misanthrope Family Album (2017, Mal): [r]: B+(*)
  • Patricia Nicholson/William Parker: Hope Cries for Justice (2017 [2018], Centering): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Danielle Nicole: Cry No More (2018, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • No Age: Snares Like a Haircut (2018, Drag City): [r]: A-
  • Peripheral Vision: More Songs About Error and Shame (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Roberta Piket: West Coast Trio (2017 [2018], 13th Note): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chris Platt Trio: Sky Glow (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Marvin Pontiac: The Asylum Tapes (2017, Strange and Beautiful): [r]: A-
  • Noah Preminger: Genuinity (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra: Without a Trace (2015-17 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Jay Rodriguez: Your Sound: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (2018, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alex Sipiagin: Moments Captured (2016 [2017], Criss Cross): [r]: B
  • Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile (2018, Impulse!): [r]: A-
  • Superorganism: Superorganism (2018, Domino): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Surman: Invisible Threads (2017 [2018], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited (2018, Passin' Thru): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition (2018, Southern Domestic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Pablo Ziegler Trio: Jazz Tango (2017, Zoho): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Derek Bailey & Company: Klinker (2000 [2018], Confront, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Final Tour [The Bootleg Series Vol. 6] (1960 [2018], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): [r]: A-
  • Wynton Marsalis Septet: United We Swing: Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas (2003-07 [2018], Blue Engine): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Sonny Rollins: Way Out West [Deluxe Edition] (1957 [2018], Craft): [r]: A
  • We Out Here (2018, Brownswood): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:

  • Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Seraphic Light (AUM Fidelity): May 18
  • Detroit Bop Quintet: Two Birds (TQM): April 20
  • Robert Diack: Lost Villages (self-released): April 13
  • District Five: Decoy (Intakt): April 27
  • Mary Halvorson: Code Girl (Firehouse 12, 2CD)
  • Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories (Dare2): advance, May 11
  • Kira Kira: Bright Force (Libra): April 27
  • Lello Molinari: Lello's Italian Job Volume 2 (Fata Morgana Music): May 1
  • Reggie Quinerly: Words to Love (Redefinition Music): April 20
  • Samo Salamon/Tony Malaby/Roberto Dani: Traveling Moving Breathing (Clean Feed)
  • Rob Schwimmer: Heart of Hearing (Sunken Heights Music): June 1
  • Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs (Sunnyside): April 20
  • Hans Teuber & Jeff Johnson: Deuce (Origin): April 20
  • Alexander Von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 50 Years (Intakt): April 20
  • Woodwired: In the Loop (Uta)
  • WorldService Project: Serve (Rare Noise): advance, April 27

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Meant to write an intro, but ran out of time. So let's cut to the chase.


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, April 02, 2018

No Music Week

No real point doing a "Music Week" post this week. I spent pretty much all of the week playing old favorites from the travel cases, so the rated count for the week was a mere +2. I also haven't catalogued the week's incoming mail -- not that there's much to report. So I'll roll those into next week's post, which should be back to normal.

I was preoccupied last week with my sister Kathy's memorial, on Saturday afternoon, and a family-and-friends get-together on Sunday. I tried to do what I could to help out, which mostly meant cooking a lot of food. For the reception following the service, I baked six cakes (sweet potato bundt with a glaze; oatmeal stout with a broiled topping; applesauce with raisins and walnuts in a loaf pan; and three 9x13 sheet cakes: fall spice, carrot, and chocolate) plus two pans of brownies.

For a savory snack alternative, I fixed Barbara Tropp's Chinese Crudités. I filled up three half-sheet baking pans with piles of vegetables cut into bite-sized chunks, some steamed (cauliflower, brussels sprouts), most blanched (asparagus, baby corn, broccoli, carrots, green beans, snap peas, zucchini) or raw (green/red/yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumber). I bought a bag of brussels sprouts, way more than I needed, so I roasted half of them and added them to the tray. The vegetables could be dipped in four Chinese sauces: a rather spicy sesame, a very garlicky peanut, dijon mustard, and sweet and sour.

We also made a Moroccan fruit salad (apples, nectarines, pears, pineapple, banana, mejdol dates, macerated in orange juice and honey), a similar berry salad (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), and vanilla cream.

For the Sunday get-together, I ordered barbecue meats from Hog Wild and made four large side dishes: baked beans topped with bacon; a Russian potato salad with smoked salmon, olives, capers, and dill; a sweet and sour cole slaw (nothing creamy), and mast va khiar (a Persian cucumber-yogurt with scallions, golden raising, black walnuts, and mint). I figured there'd be enough leftover dessert, and there was (barely). Several people helped with the cooking, especially Josi Hull on Friday and Mike, Morgan and Kirsten Saturday night.

Even before the cooking, much of the week was spent shopping and reconnoitering. I bought some very large bowls and baking sheets, and more cake pans than I actually used. Also things like tongs for serving and various containers for moving food around. I dumped a lot of tasks onto Josi, like picking up plates and plasticware and ice. The church people helped as well, especially with coffee and tea.

Ram planned out the memorial service ("celebration of life), and wrote and printed up the notes. He also set up a website with a selection of Kathy's writings, a (very partial) gallery of artwork, and a form for submitting "memories and reflections," promising to compile the latter into book form. (I started to collect some notes on my website as well.) The service was, well, unlike any I had ever attended.

Kathy joined the UU Church shortly after she moved back to Wichita, following a few months when she stayed with me in New Jersey. As children, we attended Disciples of Christ churches -- they were evangelical but not fundamentalist, preferring the New Testament (especially the Gospels) to the Old. As a young teen, I got very involved in the church, but a few years later I turned against it and the rest of the family lost interest, if not in religion at least in church-going. I flipped over into an extreme rationalism, but to the extent I ever bothered to try to understand it, Kathy flopped the other direction. Like me, she went through a period of examining all of the world's religions, but where I wound up rejecting them all, she found ways to synthesize them.

The one religion she felt the closest affinity to was Wicca, and she discovered that there was a sizable faction of Wiccans at the First UU Church in Wichita (sometimes, I gather, at odds with the other main faction, Humanists). Kathy joined First UU in 1991 (actually after she had started leading moon dances) and was very active off and on. I knew a little bit about Unitarians because I went through a phase where I looked into the history of early Protestant sects, especially Puritans, and I've read some modern feminist essays on medieval witchcraft, but I've never spent any time on Wicca, even having an expert in the family. So the rituals, chants, and song about the Goddess that opened and closed the service were lost on me. One of the songs, I think, was from a book Kathy wrote/compiled.

In between were a couple dozen tributes/memoirs by various people Kathy had touched. My brother Steve recalled the first time he saw Kathy, through a hospital window. My nephew Mike remembered Kathy as the first person to reveal that unorthodox opinions and unconventional lifestyles were even possible. (Kathy had an unofficial gay marriage ceremony when Mike was a teen, but the relationship didn't last long. She had a shorter still heterosexual marriage much earlier, but the father of her son was a casual acquaintance I never met, who played no role in Ram's life.) My cousin Ken Brown recounted how close our families were.

When Kathy got pregnant, she came to stay with us in New Jersey. After a few months, I got a job in Massachusetts, and we decided Kathy should return to Wichita. When she got here, she moved in with two other pregnant women, Cassandra and Lydia, and the three had baby boys within days of each other, the six (and eventually a few more) forming an extended family even long after they moved apart. Cassandra, Lydia, and a third woman I didn't know spoke about this unique relationship, and the third woman sang a Lakota funeral song -- a remarkable moment.

Many more people spoke about Kathy's full moon dances and other spiritual/community efforts. One colleague from the WSU art department spoke, as did several former students. One student Kathy effectively adopted was Matt Walston, who's become a notable artist in his own right. Kathy and Matt had talked about death, and one wish Kathy had was that Matt make a "death mask" from her face. (Matt had some experience at making masks, like this one.) Matt made molds and distributed several papier maché masks, while his wife, Carrie Armstrong, gave emotional testimony. Laura talked about how much she was amazed by Kathy's art. Only one speaker wandered off subject, ending the session on a bit of an off note.

There was some discussion of the "Sacred Spaces" project, which Kathy had been a driving force behind c. 2002. It's long been in storage, but WSU had agreed to exhibit it this summer, and Kathy had been talking to Mike about shooting a film around it. Several people vowed to make sure that still happens. I used to have a gallery of photos from the exhibit up on my site, but they got wiped out in a spat with the ISP. I just found the original CDR, so I'll make an effort to get them restored soon.

One thing we screwed up was not making any sort of announcements at the end of the service. Matt had set up a room with some of Kathy's art and a plaster death mask people could paint on, but most people weren't aware of that. It also took a while to set up my food, so many people took off before they got a chance to enjoy -- and I missed a number of people I wanted to talk to. Nonetheless, about 85-90% of the food was eaten. My estimate is that we had about 160 people present (the chapel holds 125, so the others had to sit on folding chairs in the foyer, and it looked like 30-40 people there).

The Sunday get-together was anticlimactic. Some people didn't know about it and had travel plans to get away. I figured it would drag on well past the advertised 1 PM start, so we didn't make much of an effort to get there early, and it turned out that most of the people who came had left by the time we got there. (I had sent the food ahead, so nobody missed us that bad.) We got there at 3:30, and stayed until 6 or so. I got back in time to cobble together a Weekend Roundup last night. But not early enough to do a Music Week today. Next time. Also, sometime this week I'll try to fill out a Downbeat Critics Poll ballot (assuming it's not too late yet -- I didn't even consider working on it when I got the ballot request).

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I was prepared to skip this weekly exercise completely: I spent most of the last week preparing for my sister's funeral (or "celebration of life" as the official title went) and related social gatherings. But with the last such event ended this afternoon, and with various guests taking their leave, I found myself wanting to do something "normal." Not that much of what follows can be considered "normal" in any other regard. I recently read Allen Frances' Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump, which fell rather short of its titular ambition. Although there are occasional references to commonplace psychology, he mostly focuses on ubiquity and persistence of "delusional thinking" -- mostly defined as failure to recognize a long list of liberal political creeds. I don't have much quarrel with his platform planks, but I'm more suspicious of economic/class factors than psychological ones. Where I think insight into psychology might be helpful is in trying to model human behavior given the complexity of the world and our various limits in apprehending it. It's certainly credible that psychological traits that were advantageous in primitive societies malfunction in our changing world, but how does that work? And what sort of adjustments would work better?


Some scattered links this week:


Mar 2018 May 2018