January 2019 Notebook
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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Weekend Roundup

The shutdown, or as David Frum put it, "the President's hostage attempt," goes on, revulsing and alienating government workers and the public on top of the revulsion and alienation they first felt when he took office and started to self-destruct the government. (The exception, or so we're told, is the ICE border agent union, which relishes the idea of moving from the backwaters of law enforcement to the closest thing we've ever had to Hitler's SS.) As I've noted before, the first and foremost job of every Chief Executive is to keep things working. In many regards Trump had already broken the organizations he was responsible for running before he shuttered offices and halted paychecks (e.g., see the story below on EPA prosecutions). His new cudgel is blunter, and dumber.

The first thing that popped into my mind when Trump insisted on shutting down the government is that this is why we don't negotiate with terrorists. Except I couldn't use that, because I believe that we should negotiate with terrorists, with hostage-takers, with all manner of brutes and bullies. I'd even be willing to quote Winston Churchill, something about "jaw-jaw" being better than "war-war." But Trump sees this as a test of power, to be resolved by bending Congressional Democrats into submission. The reason terrorists have such a poor reputation for negotiating is that, like Trump, they're insatiable. Republicans have played this budget chokehold card many times since 1995, always coming back for more, so what Trump is doing is completely in character. The difference this time is that Democrats didn't win a major election just to let Trump trod all over them. They were voted in to resist Republican tyranny, and this is their first serious test.


One thing I feel I need to decide this week (or, let's say, by the end of January, at latest) is whether I'm going to try to write my unsolicited advice book for Democrats in 2020. Say it takes three months to write, two to get edited and published, that gets us to July, by which time we'll probably have a dozen Democrats running for President. (I'm counting four right now: Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro, and Tulsi Gabbard; Wikipedia lists more I wasn't aware of, plus an announcement pending from Kamala Harris tomorrow.) But that's just a measure of how soon what Matt Taibbi likes to call "the stupid season" will be upon us. I have no interest in handicapping the race, or even mentioning candidates by name. I'm more interested in historical context, positioning, and what I suppose we could call campaign ethics: how candidates should treat each other, the issues, the media, the voters, and Republicans. And note that the book is only directed toward Democrats who are actually concerned enough to get involved in actual campaigns. Even there, it won't be a "how to" book. I don't really know anything about running a campaign. It's more why we need candidates in the first place, and what those candidates should say.

Some rough ideas for the book:

  • I'm thinking about starting off with a compare/contrast between Donald Trump and George Washington. They are, by far, the richest Americans ever to have won office, and otherwise couldn't be more unalike (unless I have to deal with GW's ownership of slaves, which suggests some similar views on race). The clearest difference is how we relate to money, and how we expect politicians with money to serve.

  • I'd probably follow this up with brief compare/contrasts between Trump and selected other presidents. I might find various presidents that offer useful contrasts on things like integrity, diligence, intelligence, care, a sense of responsibility, a command of details, tolerance of corruption. I doubt I'd find any president Trump might compare favorably to, but it might be helpful to make the effort.

  • Then I want to talk about political eras. Aside from Washington/Adams, there are four major ones, each dominated by a party, each with only two exceptions as president:

    1. From 1800-1860, Jefferson through Buchanan, interrupted only by two Whig generals (and their VPs, since both died in office, Harrison especially hastily).
    2. From 1860-1932, Lincoln through Hoover, interrupted only by two two-term Democrats (Cleveland and Wilson).
    3. From 1932-1980, Roosevelt through Carter, interrupted only by two two-term Republicans (Eisenhower and Nixon/Ford).
    4. From 1980-2020, Reagan through Trump, interrupted only by two two-term Democrats (Clinton and Obama).

    There's quite a bit of interesting material I can draw from those periods. Each starts with a legendary figure, and ends with a one-term disaster. (I suppose you could say that about Washington/Adams as well, but that's a rather short descent for an era.) In each, the exceptions substantially resemble the dominant party. But the Reagan-to-Trump era does reflect an anomaly: each of the first three eras started with a shift to a broader and more egalitarian democracy, whereas Reagan was opposite. Each era had a mid-period nudge in the same direction (Jackson/Van Buren, Roosevelt, Kennedy/Johnson, but also GW Bush). Of course, the anti-democratic tilt of Reagan-to-Trump needs some extra analysis, both to show how it could run against the long arc of American history and why after 1988 it was never able to post commanding majorities (as occurred in previous eras).

  • I then posit that in 2020 the goal is not just to defeat Trump but to win big enough to launch a new (and overdue) era. This will be the big jump, but I think if Democrats aim big, they can win big -- and it will take nothing less to make the necessary changes. This is possible because Republicans, both with and without Trump, have boxed themselves into a corner where all of their beliefs and commitments only serve to further hurt the vast majority of Americans. It will be tough because Republicans still have a stranglehold on a large segment of the public. But this spell can be broken if Democrats look beyond the conciliatory tactics and marginal goals that marked the campaigns of Obama and the Clintons.

  • At some point this segues into a lesson on the need for unity and tolerance of diversity within the Democratic Party. I'll probably bring up Reagan's "11th commandment," which served Reagan well but has since been lost on recent Tea Partiers and RINO-bashers (although the post-election fawning over Trump suggests that Republicans will come around to backing anything that wins for them).

  • I'll probably wind up with a brief survey of issues, which will stress flexibility and feedback within a broad set of principles. I can imagine later doing a whole book on this, but this would just offer a taste.

Book doesn't need to be more than 300 pages, and could be as short as half that. It is important to get it out quickly to have any real impact. I would consider working with a co-author, especially someone who could carry on to do much of the promotion -- something I'm very unlikely to be much good at.

While I can imagine that this could be worth doing, I can also think of various reasons not to bother. The obvious one is that I haven't been feeling well, having a good deal of back pain, and having a trouble with my eyes -- things that have taken a toll from my normal workload over the last few months. I also seem to be having more difficulties coming up with satisfactory writing. I spent a lot of time yesterday trying to write up a response to a particularly annoying Facebook rant, and never did come up with anything I felt like sharing. I am especially bothered by self-destructive arguments I see both on the left and the right of the Democratic Party spectrum, and this sometimes tempts me to throw up my hands and leave you all to your fates. On the other hand, sometimes this tempts me to think that all the help you need is a little clarity that I fancy I can provide.

Just knocked this much off the top of my head, in two sets of a couple hours each, so this is very rough. Next step will be to try to flesh out a bit more outline, maybe 3-5 times the length, with a lot of bullet points. That would be the goal for the next 7-10 days. If I manage that, I'll circulate it to a few friends, then make a decision whether to proceed. The alternative project at this point is probably a memoir, which is something that can take however much time it takes (or however much I have left).

Comments welcome, and much appreciated.


Meanwhile, some scattered links this week:

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Marianne Cowan Pyeatt posted this on Facebook:

For many, many years there were so many things going on behind the scenes and all we got was propoganda. We didn't know that govt in DC had been overtaken by socialists and that the exucation system was being used to indoctrinate socialism. Given that the MSM is completely and utterly a tool of the left, Social media is the only platform left to many people. I'm sorry if you are tired of political posts. But, we Are literally talking about losing the identity and values of our nation to a group that has quietly manipulated us for decades. Maybe a political post had never changed your mind, but, you can't say that you are only hearing one side these days.

I replied:

You know, back in 1966, I dropped out of high school in Wichita, KS, in part because I disliked the schools force-feeding me their political and cultural dogmas. I started reading on my own, looking for things that helped make sense of the world around me -- at the time, the big issues were the Vietnam War and racial turmoil. Within two years, still a teen in Wichita, I embraced socialism. Fifty years later, having worked for a living while still reading vast amounts of history and economics, my views have moderated somewhat, but I still believe that the only way to secure personal freedom and high living standards for everyone is through social democracy. That's been a lonely view -- at least until Bernie Sanders showed that the label is no longer poison and the ideas have genuine popular appeal. Still, you can't be talking about real socialists (like me) because we don't secretly control anything. Mass media in America is owned and controlled by the rich, which includes a smattering of social liberals among a majority of staunch conservatives. It's the latter who have endowed and directed secretive societies that have endeavoured to infiltrate public institutions and to dominate public discourse -- some of the more notorious examples are the Federalist Society's certification of right-wing judges and ALEC's lobbying of state legislatures. Forerunners of these groups have been ranting about socialists since the 1890s, a tactic which really took off with the McCarthy "red scare" of 1947-54. As your post shows, some people continue to be taken in by this paranoid fear of subversives -- probably in part because they rightly feel that they have been losing their freedom to today's ascendant "robber barons" (most other people have the same feeling, but lack the conceit to blame their woes on an imaginary left). But we socialists are not your enemy. We offer the only viable path out of the ever-tightening noose of a short-sighted, self-interested, out-of-control plutocracy.

Marianne is the wife of a second cousin in Mountain Home, Arkansas. She is normally a fine person, the mother of three lovely (now mostly grown) children. Her husband is a government worker -- a county health inspector -- and she's done office work (I've never delved into the details). But somewhere along the line she got active in Republican politics, and convinced her husband to follow suit. I don't know for sure, but I rather figured that her mother had much to do with her politics. I never met the mother (now deceased), but she was German, and according to stories I've heard complained bitterly about how ordinary Germans like herself were mistreated after losing the war, blamed for the war, etc. Not sure why she immigrated to the US, but it seemed to have liberated her from the "collective shame" that was customary in Germany in the 1950s, allowing her "inner Nazi" to come out. (Not that any of the stories tried to depict her as a neo-Nazi, but, you know, that's something I'm rather quick to sniff out -- in part, I suppose, because I've known Germans who were not.)

My cousin (her mother-in-law) is a solid anti-war Democrat, and I recall a lot of political strife in the family over the Iraq War. Our great-great-grandfather was a Union officer in the Civil War, after which he moved to that Ozark niche in Arkansas -- a patch of two (and a half) counties that was solidly Republican ever since, even when the rest of the state was 95% Democrat. He held office as a Republican, and the family was pretty solidly Republican when my mother was growing up, but my cousin's father (my uncle Ted) switched to the Democrats with FDR. He was a deeply compassionate man, touched by the poverty of the Great Depression, and legendary for his efforts to help neighbors down on their luck -- a sense of ethics that has been passed down, although it has met a stone barrier in Marianne.

I also wanted to comment on Allen Lowe's post:

to me Bernie's biggest problem is a lot of his supporters; not all of you, I mean, some of my best friends . . .

The problem with a lot of these people is that anyone who doesn't go with Bernie, advocate for Bernie, report on Bernie, endorse Bernie, or do Bernie with everything, is a sellout. That's really the view of a certain core of his followers. And I gotta admit, it means I will never support Bernie, because if he wins I gotta listen to these nuts for another bunch of years. And I do think Bernie has done a lot of good for the party, and we owe him a lot.

Now remain calm, as I said, you are not ALL like that. But enough of you are to make me wanna turn heel and run away (or run train outta the station, whatever the hell that means).

I wrote back (after tons of other comments):

Going back to the original post, it sounds like you're pretty desperate to find a reason to slam Sanders. The closest analogy I can come up with is that a person might like a band's music but decide not to go to one of their concerts because you don't like the people who show up there. The difference is that at the concert you're all there together, but after an election neither you nor any other voter has real access to a candidate. It's a different kind of participation. But more importantly, you don't seem to understand how "selling out" works. If Sanders wins, you're not stuck with four more years of Sanders supporters accusing you of selling out. Half of them will be accusing Sanders of selling out, and the other half will either shut up or lamely defend him. Your fear is only realized if Sanders loses and some other highly compromised candidate wins instead, leaving his supporters nothing to do but backbite people who "knew better" but failed to support him. Of course, supporters of every other candidate tend to do the same thing. If Sanders seems to have more of them, it's because more people see him as making a difference that matters. If you weren't so committed to opposing him, you might appreciate that more.

One thing I noted in the comments was Terri Hinte complaining that Sanders had voted against the Magnitsky Act ("he and Rand Paul, birds of a feather?"). I wasn't aware of that, but count it as one more reason in his favor. The United States government should not be arbitrarily judging and punishing foreign individuals because someone decides that their business runs counter to America's supposed interests. Maybe there should be an international tribune that can do that, according to some kind of consensus international law, but this is just one of a number of cases where the US has arrogated itself to be sole judge-and-jury over the rest of the world.

Allen responded:

oh come on, Tom, that's not how it works; he lost the last campaign, and it pretty much neutralized his crazies; they were quiet until the latest election. And this ain't a concert, so it's a bad comparison. He wins, and like the tsuris the Dems are having now with the progressive caucus, his people feel empowered, and they are all over us like white on Condoleezza Rice. There are many other politicians with just as many or more followers; he doesn't have a plurality on people who think he's making that difference (though I think he has made a crucial difference, btw). But I do see his followers or their types as already attaching themselves to the "we are the only pure ones" bandwagon, so it may just be too late. I know and like a lot of these people, and can work with them, but about every day I encounter one of 'em popping up on a thread. They remind me of nothing so much as the student radicals I know in the '60s who used to stand up at every meeting and shout "we gotta burn it all down." They were always right and everyone else was a sellout. And there are enough of them now to start a fire.

My first possible reply went like this:

Not much to actually respond to here. Sure, I know people who are too "purist" to vote for any Democrat, but I wouldn't call them "crazies" -- they're not violent, and they can be counted on to demonstrate for good causes. All the Sanders supporters I know -- and I stood three hours in a caucus line that voted 3-to-1 for Sanders -- are reasonable people. After 2016, they were the ones people who organized the run for Mike Pompeo's House seat, and they came closer to winning than any Democrat had since Dan Glickman last won in 1992 -- with zilch support from the national Party, which was putting all its effort into a losing contest in Georgia. What tsuris? There's a legitimate debate within the Party as to whether Democrats would be more successful if they moved toward the left. I can see both sides there, but suspect that left policies (if implemented) would be more effective -- and one thing Democrats sorely need are tangible results.

I didn't post that. Tried a second attempt, and got so frustrated I commented it out of the notebook.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Music Week

Music: current count 30949 [30913] rated (+36), 263 [260] unrated (+3).

Rated count remains healthy despite my various disabilities. The breakdown shifted rather dramatically toward "recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries" -- probably because I finally added a few rather deep compilation-oriented lists to my EOY Aggregate and its Old Music companion, including the complete Jazz Critics Poll: Reissues/Historical list. Some other late-breaking polls I picked up:

The James Brown compilation topped the Ye Wei list, and could have rated higher had I spent more time with it. The FOLC is one of those retro-rock things Phil Overeem especially loves. I was vaguely aware that a lot of Sun Ra had been reissued last year, so when my first two picks turned out to be especially good, I tried out a bunch more. Trying to figure out the lay of the land, I jotted down a list of 85 more Sun Ra albums on Napster that I haven't heard. I should return to them at some point.

There is a new XgauSez over on Robert Christgau's website, as well as the 2018 Dean's List. I wanted to get the reviews caught up, but in the end decided just to post the list. Still don't feel up to starting the planned site redesign, and probably shouldn't risk it until I do.

I gather there is a Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll in the works, so that will probably wrap up my EOY list madness. Christgau held back his point assignments for the poll, although I wouldn't expect them to post ballots this year after they failed last year. Christgau will be writing some kind of piece for the poll. For the first time in 15+ years I didn't get an invite, so I find myself losing interest. Much more info can be mined from my own EOY Aggregate anyway.


New records rated this week:

  • Art Brut: Wham! Bang! Pow! Let's Rock Out (2018, Alcopop!): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Binney: Here & Now (2018, Mythology): [r]: B-
  • Itamar Borochov: Blue Nights (2018 [2019], Laborie Jazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Peter Brotzmann & Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros (2011 [2018], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Chuck Deardorf: Perception (2017-18 [2019], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Delines: The Imperial (2019, El Cortez): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bryan Ferry and His Orchestra: Bitter-Sweet (2018, BMG): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Fiedler: Open Sesame (2018 [2019], Multiphonics Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Miho Hazama: Dancer in Nowhere (2018 [2019], Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Janczarski & McCraven Quintet: Liberator (2016 [2018], ForTune): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Brandon Lopez: Quoniam Facta Sum Vilis (2018, Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Loretta Lynn: Wouldn't It Be Great (2006-17 [2018], Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Quinsin Nachoff's Flux: Path of Totality (2016-17 [2019], Whirlwind, 2CD): [cd]: A-
  • May Okita: Art of Life (2018 [2019], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ernie Watts Quartet: Home Light (2018, Flying Dolphin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Zeal and Ardor: Stranger Fruit (2018, MVKA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Denny Zeitlin/Buster Williams/Matt Wilson: Wishing on the Moon (2009 [2018], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Gordon Beck Quartet: When Sunny Gets Blue (1966-68 [2018], Another Planet): [r]: B+(*)
  • James Brown & the Famous Flames: The Federal & King Singles As and Bs 1956-61 (1956-61 [2018], Acrobat, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Feeling Kréyol: Las Palé (1988, Strut, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!! And Rights!! ([2018], FOLC): [bc]: A-
  • Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth-Boogie in 1980s South Africa (Soundway): [r]: B+(**)
  • Guy Lafitte: His Tenor Sax & Orchestra 1954-1959 (1954-59 [2018], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(***)
  • Guy Lafitte: Quartet & Sextet Sessions 1956-1962 (1956-62 [2018], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave McKenna: In Madison (1991 [2018], Arbors): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Prine: Live in Asheville '86 (1986 [2016], Oh Boy): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Sun Ra With Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold: Judson Hall, New York, Dec. 31, 1964 (1964 [2018], Enterplanetary Koncepts): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Sun Ra: Astro Black (1972 [2018], Modern Harmonic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sun Ra: The Cymbals/Symbols Sessions: New York City 1973 (1973 [2018], Modern Harmonic, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Discipline 99 (Out Beyond the Kingdom Of) (1974 [2018], Enterplanetary Koncepts): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Sun Ra: Of Abstract Dreams (1974-75 [2018], Strut): [r]: A-
  • Sun Ra and His Arkestra: Taking a Chance on Chances (1977 [2018], Enterplanetary Koncepts): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sun Ra: God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be (1979 [2018], Cosmic Myth): [r]: A-
  • Sun Ra: Sun Ra Plays Gershwin (1951-89 [2018], Enterplanetary Koncepts): [r]: B
  • Jesse Sharps Quintet & P.A.P.A.: Sharps and Flats (2004 [2018], Nimbus West/Outernational Sounds): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra: We Travel the Space Ways (1960 [2012], Enterplanetary Koncepts): [r]: B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Joshua Redman/Ron Miles/Scott Colley/Brian Blade: Still Dreaming (2017 [2018], Nonesuch): [r]: [was B+(**)] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Moppa Elliott: Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band (Hot Cup, 2CD): February 14
  • Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors & Barry Altschul: Around Again (TUM)
  • Alexander Hawkins: Iron Into Wind: Piano Solo (Intakt)
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions (Flat Langston's Arkeyes)
  • Human Feel [Chris Speed/Andrew D'Angelo/Kurt Rosenwinkel/Jim Black]: Gold (Intakt)
  • Greg Murphy Trio: Bright Idea (Whaling City Sound)
  • Tom Rainey Trio With Mary Halvorson and Ingrid Laubrock: Combobulated (Intakt)
  • Dave Rudolph Quintet: Resonance (self-released)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Rosa Parks: Pure Love: An Oratorio of Seven Songs (TUM): February 15
  • Ernie Watts Quartet: Home Light (Flying Dolphin)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Weekend Roundup

For many years now, I've identified two major political problems in America. The most obvious one is the nation's habit and obsession with projection of military power as its leverage in dealing with other nations. As US economic power has waned, and as America shed its liberal ideals, it's become easier for others to challenge its supremacy. In turn, American power has hardened around its military and covert networks, placing the nation on a permanent war footing. This near-constant state of war, since 1945 but even more blatantly since 2001, has led to numerous social maladies, like domestic gun violence and the xenophobia leading to the current "border crisis."

The other big problem is increasing inequality. The statistics, which started in the 1970s but really took off in the "greed is good" 1980s, are clear and boring, but the consequences are numerous, both subtle and pernicious. It would take a long book to map out most of the ways the selfish pursuit and accumulation of riches has warped business, politics, and society. One small example is that when GW Bush arbitrarily commanded the world to follow his War on Terror lead ("you're either with us or against us"), he was assuming that as US President he was entitled to the same arbitrary powers (and lack of accountability) corporate CEOs enjoyed.

I used to wonder how Reagan was able to affect such a huge change in America despite relatively sparse legislative accomplishments -- mostly his big tax cut. The answer is that as president he could send signals to corporate and financial leaders that government would not interfere with their more aggressive pursuit of power and profit. Reagan's signals have been reiterated by every Republican president since, with ever less concern for scruples or ethics or even the slightest concern for consequences. All Trump has done has been to carry this logic to its absurdist extreme: his greed is shameless, even when it crosses into criminality.

Still, what the government lockout, now entering its fourth week, shows, is that we may need to formulate a third mega-ailment: we seem to have lost our commitment to basic competency. We should have seen this coming when politicians (mostly Republicans) decided that politics trumps all other considerations, so they could dispute (or ignore) any science or expertise or so-called facts they found inconvenient. (Is it ironical that the same people who decry "political correctness" when it impinges on their use of offensive rhetoric are so committed to imposing their political regimen on all discussions of what we once thought of as reality?)

A couple things about competency. One is that it's rarely noticed, except in the breech. You expect competency, even when you're engaging with someone whose qualifications you can properly judge -- a doctor, say, or a computer technician, or a mechanic. You also expect a degree of professional ethical standards. Trust depends on those things, and no matter how many time you're reminded caveat emptor, virtually everything you do in everyday life is built on trust. We can all point to examples of people who violated your trust, but until recently such people were in the minority. Now we have Donald Trump. And sure, lots of us distrusted him from the start of his campaign. He was, after all, vainglorious, corrupt, a habitual liar, totally lacking in empathy, his head full of mean-spirited rubbish.

On the other hand, even I am shocked at how incapable Trump has been at understanding the most basic rudiments of his job. There's nothing particularly wrong with him having policy views, or even an agenda, but the most basic requirement of his job is that he keep the government working, according to the constitution and the laws as established per that constitution -- you know, the one he had to swear to protect and follow when he took his oath of office. There have been shutdowns in the past -- basically ever since Newt Gingrich decided the threat would be a clever way to extort some policy concessions from Bill Clinton -- but this is the first one that was imposed by a president.

His reason? Well, obviously he's made a political calculation, where he thinks he can either bully the Democrats into giving him something they really hate ($5.7 billion so he can brag about how he's delivering that "big, beautiful wall" he campaigned on) and thereby restore his "art of the deal" mojo from the tarnish of losing the 2018 "midterms" so badly, or rouse the American people (his base, anyway) into blaming the Democrats for all the damage the shutdown causes. Either way, he feels that his second-term election in 2020 depends on this defense of political principle. Besides, he hates the federal government anyway -- possibly excepting the military and a few other groups currently exempt from the shutdown -- mostly because he's bought into the credo that "politics is everything, and everything is politics" (which makes most of the Democrat-leaning government enemy territory).

On the other hand, all he's really shown is that he's unfit to hold office, because he's forgotten that his main job is to keep the United States government working: implementing and enforcing the laws of the land, per the constitution. One might argue that using his office for such a political ploy is as significant a violation of his trust as anything else he's done. Indeed, one might argue that it is something he should be impeached for (although that would require a political consensus that has yet to form -- not that he isn't losing popularity during this charade).


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, January 07, 2019

Music Week

Music: current count 30913 [30874] rated (+39), 260 [251] unrated (+9).

The 13th Annual Jazz Critics Poll results were published by NPR early Saturday morning, with two pieces by Francis Davis:

  • The 2018 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll: Top 50 new albums (blurbs by various authors on top ten), five additional blurbs on "Solitary No. 1s" (records that only received one vote, a 1st place, including one I wrote on The Music of Anders Garstedt), and one blurb and top ten (or less) standings for the other categories: Reissues/Historical, Debuts, Latin, Vocals.
  • Wayne Shorter Travels the Spaceways, with Davis's own year summary plus his own annotated ballot.

As has been the case since 2009, I tabulated all of the ballots and formatted them and complete totals here. Since I posted all that, I've had to update the files a few times. Most troubling were cases where I counted votes for the wrong record by an artist (one of the Esperanza Spalding votes should have been for her 2017 album; two of the Mingus votes should have gone to Live in Montreux 1975. Other problems were routine typos, but all (so far) have been easy to fix.

Bigger problem is that I never got copied on Richard Scheinin's ballot, so it didn't get counted. Still unresolved what to do about that, but I took the trouble to dig his top-25 list out of his Twitter feed and added it into my EOY Aggregate. I've also added the entire new and historical album lists, but thus far I haven't dipped into the individual ballots. I've started to pick up individual ballots from All About Jazz writers (only a few of whom voted in JCP), and before long I'll take a look at the JJA member lists (which I wasn't able to find until today). I'm also doing some mop-up on rock/pop lists, but I'm starting to skip lists of little/no interest (chiefly metal). Don't know how long I'll keep this up, as the EOY list season is basically done, and the 223 lists I currently have logged give a pretty fair picture, at least in rock/pop, hip-hop, and (somewhat less) electronica.

While most of the records below are 2018 releases I've noted on lists and am belatedly checking out, two of the new A- albums are 2019 releases (and another by Quinsin Nachoff will show up in next week's report). I'm also treating Eric Dolphy's Musical Prophet as a 2019 release: physical CDs don't hit the market until Jan. 26, although a digital release came out Nov. 23, and enough critics heard and voted for it to finish 3rd in JCP -- alas, not me, not that it would have cracked my ballot (even if I didn't follow my recent rule of only voting for historical records I have physical copies of).

So the only new A- this week from the 2018 lists turns out to be Spiritualized, which at 49 was the highest-rated album I hadn't heard yet. I once loved their 1997 album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, but last time I checkec them out the record got a B-. Wound up playing the new one three times. Next few EOY Aggregate records I haven't heard don't seem more promising: Julia Holter, Iceage, Kurt Vile, Deafheaven, Anna Calvi, Cat Power, Drake, Troye Sivan, Ghost, Lump, MGMT, Daughters, Florence + the Machine, Jorja Smith, Elvis Costello, First Aid Kit. I'll probably play a few of those before end of January.

Among the top 50 JCP albums, I've managed to hear 47. The exceptions are numbers 50 (Elio Villafranca), 48 (Noah Preminger/Frank Carlberg), and 1 (Wayne Shorter). None of those are available on Napster or Bandcamp, nor do I recall any download offers. Shorter's Emanon is a 3-CD live set with a hard-cover graphic novel costing $53.82 on CD and $156.38 on vinyl. Not sure how well this was serviced -- I don't even get email from Blue Note these days, which hasn't been a problem given that everything else they release is available on Napster, and since they decided to bet on hip-hop fusion they haven't released much that's worth hearing. (This year: two ***, from Rosanne Cash and Charles Lloyd/Lucinda Williams; two **, from Kenny Barron and Dave McMurray; five *: Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Nels Cline, GoGo Penguin, José James; five B or worse.)

On the other hand, I've only heard 5 of the top-ten historical, with Dolphy's Musical Prophet the only physical (too late). Francis Davis remarked to me that the new albums list seemed to be governed by "more is better": 3-CD Shorter (and Sorey); 2-CDs from Akinmusire, Coleman, Halvorson, Salvant, Washington, plus separates that could have been joined by Threadgill and Thumbscrew (we counted the former separately, but merged the latter), plus 6-CD monsters from Okazaki and Kimbrough -- all in the top-20. But the real home of gigantism is the historical list, where the top 8 were all 2-CD or more, topped by the 21-CD The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles and the 11-CD Sextet Parker 1993. (I had naively assumed that the latter was just a repackaging of Braxton's brilliant Charlie Parker Project 1993, so didn't bother investigating further, but the full digital is available on Bandcamp. I should take a close look at the site and see what else is accessible.

I've been tempted to revisit several albums after seeing how they placed in various lists. The only one with a regrade so far is Tierra Whack's 15-minute EP Whack World. When Christgau placed it in his top-10, I thought it might overcome my prejudice against EPs. Even without the video, it feels remarkably full. I also gave Mitski's Be the Cowboy (last week's Christgau A-, number 2 in my EOY Aggregate) another chance, but didn't for a moment feel like moving my grade above B. I'm usually a sucker for a well-crafted pop album, but there are several this year that do precious little for me (Robyn, Ariana Grande; I like Sophie a bit more, but a recent retry didn't help it). Right now re-listening to Joshua Redman's Still Dreaming (number 2 for Francis Davis), which will probably get a small bump.

Just finished reading Suzy Hansen's Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, which winds up with a thoroughly damning critique of US foreign policy, not least because it pains her so much to admit to it all. But the cinch for her seems to have been returning to the US (Brooklyn, Mississippi) and seeing first-hand how the imperialist bile rots the nation from the inside. At a more detail level, she illustrates without coming to any real conclusions the ambivalences she feels about Kemal and Erdogan and their respective cults with their peculiar ways of both dovetailing with and rebelling against American hegemony.


New records rated this week:

  • 6lack: East Atlanta Love Letter (2018, LoveRenaissance/Interscope): [r]: B+(***)
  • Christopher Ali Solidarity Quartet: To Those Who Walked Before Us (2018, Jazz Och Solidaritet): [r]: B+(**)
  • Atmosphere: Mi Vida Local (2018, Rhymesayers Entertainment): [r]: B+(**)
  • Baco Exu Do Blues: Bluesman (2018, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Blue Standard: A Good Thing (2018 [2019], Big Time): [cd]: B
  • Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine: The Poetry of Jazz: Volume Two (2012-18 [2019], Origin): [cd]: A-
  • Sheldon Brown Group: Blood of the Air (2018, Edgetone): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Coathangers: Live (2018, Suicide Squeeze): [r]: B+(**)
  • CupcakKe: Eden (2018, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kris Davis/Matt Mitchell/Aruán Ortiz/Matthew Shipp: New American Songbooks: Volume 2 (2018, Sound American): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Dos Santos: Logos (2018, International Anthem): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dave Douglas Quintet: Brazen Heart: Live at Jazz Standard: Saturday (2015 [2018], Greenleaf Music, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fire!: The Hands (2018, Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Hecker: Konoyo (2018, Kranky): [r]: B
  • Carlos Henriquez: Dizzy Con Clave: Live From Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (2018, RodBros Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Here's to Us: Animals, Wild and Tame (2018, Hoob Jazz): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rolf Kühn: Yellow + Blue (2018, Edel/MPS): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jon Lundbom Big Five Chord: Harder on the Outside (2018 [2019], Hot Cup): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mad Crush: Mad Crush (2018, Upon This Rock, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Adrianne Lenker: Abysskiss (2018, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jack Mouse Group: Intimate Adversary (2017 [2019], Tall Grass): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Grant Peeples & the Peeples Republik: Settling Scores Vol. II (2018, Gatorbone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rae Sremmurd: SR3MM (2018, Ear Drummer/Interscope, 3CD): [r]: B
  • Rejoicer: Energy Dreams (2018, ,Stones Throw): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Jay Rock: Redemption (2018, Top Dawg/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jeff Rosenstock: Post- (2018, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(*)
  • Greg Saunier/Mary Halvorson/Ron Miles: New American Songbooks Volume 1 (2017, Sound American): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Boz Scaggs: Out of the Blues (2018, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
  • Serengeti: Dennis 6e (2018, People): [r]: B+(**)
  • Spiritualized: And Nothing Hurt (2018, Fat Possum): [r]: A-
  • Stephan Thelen: Fractal Guitar (2015-18 [2019], Moonjune): [cd]: A-
  • Martin Wind: Light Blue (2017 [2018], Laika): [r]: B-

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

  • Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (1963 [2019], Resonance, 3CD)
  • Svein Finnerud Trio: Plastic Sun (1970 [2018], Odin): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Chicago Farmer: Midwest Side Stories (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Dolphy: In Europe Vol. 1 (1961 [1990], Prestige/OJC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Dolphy: In Europe, Vol. 2 (1961 [2006], Prestige/OJC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Dolphy: In Europe/Volume 3 (1961 [1990], Prestige/OJC): [r]; B+(***)
  • Eric Dolphy: Conversations (1963, FM/Vee Jay): [r]: B+(***)
  • Eric Dolphy: Iron Man (1963 [1990], West Wind): [r]: B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Tierra Whack: Whack World (2018, self-released, EP): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ran Blake/Clare Ritter: Eclipse Orange (Zoning): February 15
  • Itamar Borochov: Blue Nights (Laborie Jazz): February 1
  • Samantha Boshnack's Seismic Belt: Live in Santa Monica (Orenda): March 15
  • Sheldon Brown Group: Blood of the Air (Edgetone)
  • Chuck Deardorf: Perception (Origin): January 18
  • Joe Fiedler: Open Sesame (Multiphonics Music): February 25.
  • Miho Hazama: Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside): February 8
  • Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Crosswinds (Intakt): January 18
  • Michael Kocour: East of the Sun (OA2): January 18
  • Dave Meder: Passage (Outside In Music): February 8
  • Quinsin Nachoff's Flux: Path of Totality (Whirlwind): February 8
  • May Okita: Art of Life (Origin): January 18
  • Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte: You Don't Know the Life (RareNoise): cdr, January 25
  • Wing Walker Orchestra: Hazel (Ears & Eyes): February 15


Names I had to add death dates for (*names I was aware of): Misha Alperin, Charles Aznavour, Robert Barry, Eddie Campbell, Eddie Clearwater, Vic Damone, Nathan Davis, Sonny Fortune, *Aretha Franklin, *Roy Hargrove, Fred Hess, Algia Mae Hinton, Morgana King, Denise LaSalle, Lazy Lester, Didier Lockwood, Kasse Mady [Diabaté], Geoffrey Oryema, Perry Robinson, Philip Tabane, Marlene VerPlanck, Bill Watrous, Tad Weed, Tony Joe White, Wesla Whitfield, *Nancy Wilson.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Weekend Roundup

Another pretty awful week, followed by a few hours grabbing a few links in case I ever want to look back and see what was happening, other than my own misery.

One point I've been wanting to make is that over quite some number of presidential administrations, I've noticed a pattern. At first, presidents are overwhelmed and wary of screwing up, so they tend to defer to their staff, in many ways becoming prisoners of whoever they happened to install -- usually the choice of their staff plus the party's unelected Washington insiders. However, presidential staff are usually careful to flatter their boss, faking fealty, and over time all that deference (even if insincere) bolsters the ego of whoever's president. Meanwhile the president gets comfortable, even a bit cocky about his accomplishments, so starts to impose his opinions and instincts. There are often further stages, and two-term presidents tend to go to seed six years in (Eisenhower and Reagan are obvious examples; Nixon didn't get that far; Clinton, Bush II, and Obama were sidelines with enemy-controlled Congresses). But we've clearly made the transition from Trump being the front man to actually being in charge, running an administration and party that is increasingly deferential to his every whim. And while most of us thought Trump was pretty nuts to start with, he used to stay comfortably within the Republican Party playbook. But increasingly, his chaos and madness are becoming uniquely his own. Sure, he still has to walk back an occasional notion, like his decision to withdraw ground troops from Syria. He may even find he has to give up on his budget extortion ploy (aka, the shutdown).

Lots of bad things are likely to come from this, but one can hope that two recent trends will only take firmer and broader root. The first is the understanding that what's wrong with Trump and what's wrong with the Republican Party are the same things, all the way down to their shared contempt for democracy and the people. The second, an outgrowth of the first, is that the Democratic Party is changing rapidly from a party that opportunistically tries to pass itself off as a "kinder, gentler version" of conservative/neoliberal orthodoxy to one that is serious about solving the real problems of war and powerlessness and inequality that have hurt the vast majority of American voters so grievously since Reagan.

I didn't write much about these themes below, but there's plenty of evidence to back them up.


Some scattered links this week:

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Daily Log

Noted in my twitter feed yesterday, a quote from Donald J. Trump in 2013: "A shutdown falls on the President's lack of leadership. He can't even control his party and get people together in a room. A shutdown means the president is weak."

Possible 50-word piece for NPR:

Joakim Milder/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Mathias Landraeus/Filip Augustson/Fredrik Rundkvist: The Music of Anders Garstedt (Moserobie)

Swedish trumpeter Garstedt left a scant legacy when he died at age 31, but 18 years later five [former] bandmates revive his music brilliantly. The two saxophonists (Milder and [Fredrik] Ljungkvist bob and weave, while pianist [Mathias] Landraeus anchors a free-ranging rhythm section: tricky postbop as coherent as classic swing.

Added this in the cover letter (much more than 50 words):

You have several obvious options here. Cover only gives the last names, so you can save space by dropping the first names, but then you have to add them to the review. If you leave them in the credit, scratch the bracketed [Fredrik] and [Mathias] in the text. My normal practice in cases like this (and I mostly write super-terse reviews) is to spell them out up front, but you may want to budget your space differently. You can also save space by dropping the bassist (Auguston) and drummer (Rundkvist). They are much less recognized than the first three. You could drop Landraeus, in which case you could get rid of the parenthetical, since "two saxophonists" matches the two remaining names names are saxophonists (Ljunkvist also plays some clarinet, but I already skipped over that.) You could even reduce the credit to Joakim Milder. Ljungkvist is better known in US, but Milder is a couple years older and may have a better connection to Garstedt (really hard to tell).

I dropped [former] when trimming words, but it might help clarify. I originally had "vibrant" instead of "coherent" and don't have much of a preference. Maybe "as classic swing" should be changed to "as any classic"? Thought about adding "wax and wane" after "bob and weave," but didn't think I had the space.

Previously wrote:

Two tenor saxes (latter also credited with soprano and clarinet), plus piano-bass-drums. The composer was Swedish, played trumpet, died in 2000 at age 31, didn't leave any records under his own name, not many side credits either (one each with Fredrik Norén and Christian Falk). The musicians claim ties to him, and bring his music brilliantly to life.


Dec 2018