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Monday, December 15, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24186 [24146] rated (+40), 509 [521] unrated (-12).

Pretty well sandbagged at the moment. I got a very late start on my bit posting the ballots for Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (at NPR again this year -- at least the top of the charts and Davis' year-end summary essay). I've been bedeviled by computer problems, and they've wiped out my ability to play Rhapsody in my office. I've spent a lot of time trying to debug that, and won't bore you with details now, but I believe Rhapsody is culpable both for a glaring strategic error -- why adopt proprietary Adobe software when HTML 5 eliminates most of its previous utility, and Firefox's developers would rather implement the HTML spec than try to figure out how to contain Flash's bugs? -- as well as a detection bug (i.e., they think Flash isn't available when it is). Anyhow, screws me over big time -- although I did manage to get through Leonard Cohen's Live in Dublin on my Chromebook.

Much of what's listed below appeared in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes, so shouldn't be new. I had missed a lot of tweets at that time, and haven't fully caught up. Last couple days, without Rhapsody, I decided to slog through my Xmas music queue -- much of which dates from 2009. I'm not going to bother to tweet on them -- they aren't timely, and they aren't much good. I'll probably run them as a separate post later this week, then archive them with the next RS column. Looking at the database there are a few items I haven't found yet, but really who cares how bad Anita Baker's Christmas Fantasy is, let alone Putumayo Presents Christmas Around the World? My main motivation has been to get them out of the queue and packed away safely out of sight. Oddly enough, I did find one good record in the batch, but its only holidays concession is to start out with "Chanukah, O Chanukah." On the other hand, I can say that the albums aren't as dreadful as I had feared.

One other note: I mentioned some average times for adding new records to my year-end lists after having to cast some ballot. Following the deadline for the Jazz Critics Poll, it took me less than a day to find another A-list record, and little more than a week to find one that would have cracked my top ten. Both figures are less than half of previous medians. Of course, if you want the real Dudu Pukwana, the record to seek out is In the Townships (1973). The new Duduvudu is a little messier, a little more in-your-face, but I don't mind that at all.

Need to get back to work.

New records rated this week:

  • Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica (2014, Def Jam): rapper from Mississippi, has underground mores, big time songcraft, exquisite flow, ideas, cares [r]: A-
  • Juan Pablo Carletti/Tony Malaby/Christopher Hoffman: Niño/Brujo (2013 [2014], NoBusiness): drums, tenor sax, cello, Carletti writing, Malaby selling [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Leonard Cohen: Live in Dublin (2013 [2014], Columbia, 3CD): if you loved "Live in London" as much as I did, you'll dig this too, but have to pay more [r]: A-
  • J Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014, RCA): beats quasi-underground, stories real enough, too much N but his free association sparkles [r]: B+(***)
  • Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy (2014, Midheaven, EP): celebrity kid Greta Kline tries for some spit and polish after 40 "albums" in five years [bc]: B+(*)
  • De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva: The Detour Fish: Live in Ljubljana (2014, Clean Feed): piano trio + trumpet, a nice pairing on easy side of free jazz [cd]: B+(**)
  • Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (2009 [2014], Edgetone): remembering the late great South African saxophonist, pumping up township jive [cd]: A
  • Justin Townes Earle: Single Mothers (2014, Vagrant): countryish singer/songwriter, comes up with half a concept, the other half for a sequel [r]: B+(**)
  • Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons (2014, Tommy Boy): always a story teller, a problem for me because I need to see the printed word, so I go on beats [r]: B+(***)
  • Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (2009 [2014], NoBusiness, EP): solo bass, EP-length for 10-inch vinyl, not every day a bass solo ends too soon [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Half Japanese: Overjoyed (2014, Joyful Noise): been making irritable albums with a few greatest-hits-worthy gems embedded, and do it again [r]: B+(***)
  • Maggie Herron: Good Thing (2014, self-released): standards singer from Hawaii, plays piano, fares best with classics and with two songs in French [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers (2014, Merge): singer-songwriter from NC does a fair Dylan impression, except I didn't note lyrics [r]: B+(*)
  • How to Dress Well: What Is This Heart? (2014, Domino): mostly sings falsetto, often over synth strings, an effect some consider soulful [r]: B
  • Sam Hunt: Montevalo (2014, MCA Nashville): Nashville rookie sounds like he's trying to sneak into the party behind Luke Bryan, but not shameless enough [r]: B
  • Paul Jones: Short History (2014, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • K Michelle: Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? (2014, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Loscil: Sea Island (2014, Kranky): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Blue (2014, Hot Cup): note-for-note "Kind of Blue" copy, adds nothing, subtracts nothing, is nothing? [dl]: B
  • Rod Picott: Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail (2014, Welding Rod): welder turned singer/songwriter, breaks up, lives on wheels, not really mobile [r]: B+(***)
  • Diane Roblin: Reconnect (2014, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Joanne Tatham: Out of My Dreams (2014, Cafe Pacific): [cd]: B
  • The Vamps: Meet the Vamps (2014, Island): Brit boy group, built on time-tested commercial riffs, from Paul Simon to Bruno Mars and back [r]: B+(**)
  • Colin Webster/Andrew Lisle/Alex Ward: Red Kite (2014, Raw Tonk): sax-drums-guitar trio, keys off the guitar which can drive the others to fury [bc]: B+(**)
  • Zanussi 5: Live in Coimbra (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): Norwegian quintet, bassist-led with three saxes, propulsive grooves set up sax wails and rumbles [cd]: A-

Christmas clearance sale:

  • Eddie Allen: Jazzy Brass for the Holidays (2009, DBCD): [cd]B-
  • Chris Bauer: In a Yuletide Groove: Harmonica Jazz for the Holidays (2011, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Alexis Cole: The Greatest Gift: Songs of the Season (2009, Motéma): [cd]: C+
  • Nathan Eklund: Craft Christmas (2011 [2012], OA2): [cd]: B-
  • Tobias Gebb Presents Trio West: Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2 (2009, Yummy House): [cd]: B
  • Milt Hinton/Ralph Sutton/Gus Johnson/Jim Galloway: The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986 [2014], Sackville/Delmark): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Hot Club of San Francisco: Hot Club Cool Yule (2009, Azica): [cd]: B-
  • Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: Christmas Time Is Here (2012, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Elisabeth Lohninger Band: Christmas in July (2011, JazzSick): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Celebrations (2010, MEII Enterprises): [cd]: A-
  • Ellis Marsalis: A New Orleans Christmas Carol (2011, ELM): [cd]: B-
  • Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship: Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (2012, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Donna Singer with the Doug Richards Trio: Kiss Me Beneath the Mistletoe (2012, Emerald Baby): [cd]: B
  • The United States Air Force Band: Cool Yule (2009, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Ezra Weiss: Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical (2009, Northwest Childrens Theater and School): [cd]: B

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

  • Julian Bahula: Spirit of Malombo: Malombo Jazz, Jabula and Jazz Africa 1966-1984 (1966-84 [2014], Strut, 2CD): 2CD career reconstruction makes case for and sense of South African bandleader [r]: B+(**)
  • Francis Bebey: Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984 (1982-84 [2014], Born Bad): from Cameroon highlife pioneer, more electronics pushing envelope even further out [r]: B+(**)
  • Disco: A Fine Selection of Independent Disco, Modern Soul and Boogie 1978-82 (1978-82 [2014], Soul Jazz, 2CD): a 2CD crate dive, digging up obscure 12-inchers only a DJ could love [r]: B+(*)
  • Gipsy Rhumba: The Original Rhythm of Gipsy Rhumba in Spain 1965-1974 (Soul Jazz): Spanish flamenco artists discover the Afro-Cuban dance groove, and make it sound like flamenco [r]: B+(**)
  • Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day [Willie's Stash, Vol. 1] ([2014], Legacy): scattershot sampler re-peddles memories, slights his pianist [r]: B
  • Verckys et l'Orchestre Vévé: Congolese Funk, Abrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 (1969-78 [2014], Analog Africa): actually a second tier soukous band, in top form [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Bette Midler: It's the Girls! (2014, East/West): [r]: [was: B] B+(**)
  • Rod Picott: Welding Burns (2011, Welding Rod): [cd]: [was: B+(***)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fiorenzo Bodrato: Travelling Without Moving (CMC)
  • Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (Edgetone)
  • Sax Gordon: In the Wee Small Hours (Delmark)
  • Michael Snow & Thollem McDonas: Two Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Edgetone)
  • Subtle Lip Can: Reflective Drime (Drip Audio): December 16
  • George Van Eps: Once in Awhile (1946-49, Delmark)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Daily Log

So much hassle to post a personal note these days I might as well just keep it in the notebook. (No idea who else reads this, but at least it's available.)

Cooked dinner tonight for Marry Harren, Russ and Zhanna. Close enough to Hannukah for lattkes, served with store-bought sour cream and homemade apple sauce. I salted a piece of red trout (looked much better than the salmon in the store). Also made Ottolenghi's chopped liver. (I looked at Ottolenghi's lattke recipe but decided to go with something more basic: six baking potatoes, two onions, three eggs (plus three egg whites I had left over from elsewhere), salt, pepper. Also made a cucumber salad with vinegar, sour cream, a bit of sugar. Also served some herring bits in wine sauce. For dessert, made rice kugel. One of the variants was to add raisins soaked in rum. Don't seem to have any rum, but I did manage to soak some golden raisins in amaretto. One of those dinners where I miss most of the conversation because I'm still cooking. Had half-again as many lattkes left over as were eaten. Hard to see how anything could have been improved on. Frying -- started with three pans then cut down to two -- was as straightforward and clean as ever.

The dinner was a nice diversion from the rest of the day. I was up late last night trying to debug the Rhapsody problem. Rhapsody has a new website design, based on using Flash as the streaming transport. Adobe has stopped supporting Flash on Linux, deadending at release 11, but has moved on to release 16 on Windows and Apple. When Rhapsody doesn't see the Flash it wants it directs you to Adobe's website to "get Flash" -- for Linux that offers you release 11. Following Adobe's instructions didn't initially work -- I had to enable some new source respositories for non-free software. Firefox, meanwhile, had decided that Flash 11 has security flaws so it automatically disables it. Meanwhile, Ubuntu has come up with a version 13 of Flash that fixes those security holes, but isn't accepted by Rhapsody.

Some time ago, I build a computer and had Windows Vista installed on it, and I used it mostly for watching DVDs and listening to music. It crapped out over a year ago, following one of Microsoft's automatic updates, and has been dormant since. I thought about replacing it with a newer machine, but in the meantime tried to see how far I could go with a spare Linux machine. That meant loading a bunch of proprietary audio/video drivers, but until this week's Rhapsody update things had worked out nicely. That in turn pretty much eliminated any desire I had to ever own another Microsoft machine. But Rhapsody has been a big part of my music writing, and now I'm stuck. Moreover, it's probably a stupid coding error on Rhapsody's part, rather than their choice to use Flash (although I certainly disapprove of that) or Adobe's planned obsolescence or Ubuntu's (or Firefox's) inability to manage the plugin.

I did verify today that my Chromebook can still stream music from Rhapsody through the new web interface. I've seen claims that Chrome has Flash built-in so if you get the one, you automatically get the other covered. Last night I tried installing Chrome (also Chromium, a free source repackaging of Chrome) on my Ubuntu music machine, but had no luck with Rhapsody. Digging deeper into the issue I see lots of squabbles. The old Netscape plugin interface is called NPAPI, and it makes it easy for plugins to crash the browser. Adobe, which as far as I can tell has historically been the chief caues of all those crashes, doesn't like NPAPI. They want to use PPAPI, which provides a sandbox mechanism to prevent crashes, so they decided to throw their weight around and discontinue NPAPI plugins (e.g., Firefox). Firefox, on the other hand, regards PPAPI as a waste of time. They have what they regard as a better solution to Flash crashes, which is to implement all the things you used to have to use Flash for as built-in features of HTML 5. Adobe doesn't like that because if their customers started writing proper HTML 5 code they wouldn't need Flash. So why does Rhapsody need Flash? Seems super-dumb.

Meanwhile, I'm having other problems with my flagship computer. Currently, the window manager is wedged, so it's impossible to restore a window that has been minimized. I've seen it get in that state once before. Rebooting will fix it, but I have tons of work open that I'd have to reconstruct. Alternatively, I have work in minimized windows that I can't get to. I figure I'll bite the bullet later tonight. Shouldn't be any risk, but the Ubuntu software on this machine is already way out of date, and the upgrade path will be treacherous -- so that looms as the larger problem.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (December 2014)

Pick up text here.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24146 [24105] rated (+41), 521 [518] unrated (+3).

Thinking about year-end lists, which has meant a mad rush to sample as much reputable but unheard music as possible. That in turn has led to the huge number of new A- records pictured to the right. Unfortunately, virtually none of them come off of the upper reaches of published lists -- the sole exception is Kate Tempest's Everybody Down, briefly in the top-20 of my metacritic aggregate file but totally unknown outside of the UK and currently tied for 44th. My other list-based find is Call Super's Suzi Ecto, a techno album that topped the list at Juno Plus but has yet to appear on a second list. Even the two records that I had previously panned but this week regraded just above the A-/B+ line, Withered Hand's New Gods and Young Thug/Bloody Jay's Black Portland, have fewer points in my aggregate (2 and 1 respectively) -- this after looming large in Odyshape's Mid-Year Report (Withered Hand won; Black Portland, which Christgau has dubbed "the rap album of the year," came in 8th on points, tied with Miranda Lambert's Platinum).

I'll also point out that my own favorite album this year, Lily Allen's Sheezus (which finished 4th in Odyshape) is also stuck with a single aggregate point (The Telegraph ranked it 47). As I proceed, I fold all the new records into my jazz and non-jazz year-end lists -- the former currently lists 62 A/A- albums, the latter 61. There are 95 lists in the current aggregate file, but very few even touch on much less specialize in jazz -- although it's worth noting that my jazz favorite, Steve Lehman's Mise en Abime, is currently leading the jazz subset by a nice margin (7-to-4 for BadBadNotGood). In previous years, I used to be able to find many jazz critics' lists at JJA, but they don't seem to be doing that today. (Also slowing me down is that Large Hearted Boy has stopped posting his invaluable list index.) Nor have I seen the results from Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (which I've collated in past years and presumably will again this year). Looks like I'll have to start scouring the blogs. (I did just add Tim Niland's ballot, and have just found one from Lyn Horton.)

One thing that should be clear is that the top totals are no guarantee of quality. I've heard the top 19 records, so I'll list them here with my grade in brackets (and points in braces):

  1. {88} The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian) [***]
  2. {76} FKA Twigs: LP1 (Young Turks) [B]
  3. {73} St Vincent: St Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic) [***]
  4. {63} Caribou: Our Love (Merge) [**]
  5. {57} Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol) [B-]
  6. {55} Future Islands: Singles (4AD) [*]
  7. {53} Sun Kil Moon: Benji (Caldo Verde) [***]
  8. {52} Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (Jagjaguwar) [B-]
  9. {51} Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  10. {50} Aphex Twin: Syro (Warp) [A-]
  11. {50} El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal) [**]
  12. {49} Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots (Parlophone) [*]
  13. {48} Flying Lotus: You're Dead (Warp) [**]
  14. {47} Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (Captured Tracks) [B]
  15. {47} Swans: To Be Kind (Young God, 2CD) [B]
  16. {42} Jack White: Lazaretto (Third Man) [B-]
  17. {39} Todd Terje: It's Album Time (Olsen) [A-]
  18. {38} Perfume Genius: Too Bright (Matador) [B]
  19. {37} Real Estate: Atlas (Domino) [**]

That works out to 2 A-, 4 ***, 3 **, 3 *, 4 B, 3 B-; which is to say that quality on the list is little better than random. Of course you probably disagree with some (or many) of my judgments here. (Michael Tatum, who correlates with me better than most, had Jack White at A- and Todd Terje at C+.) But odds are that if you have heard 300+ albums this year -- my non-jazz count is currently 322; my jazz count is 563 -- and weren't so sectarian you'd dismiss most of these records a priori you'd come up with a similar range. And the pattern would most likely repeat on down the list, albeit with diminishing returns as the records become ever more obscure (and things like jazz, country, world, and metal creep in).

The list of records I've heard breaks at 20-21 with Ty Segall and Taylor Swift -- neither on Rhapsody, and then there's another gap at 24-25 for Royal Blood and Goat (records I haven't bothered to look up). From there on down to about 150 I've heard about half, and my share thins out past there. Conversely, about one third (20) of my 61 A/A- non-jazz albums have no points so far. Eleven more have 1 point, so that covers the median. (I haven't figured my own list in yet, nor that of many similar-minded critics.) My list sorted by aggregate score:

  1. {50} Aphex Twin: Syro (Warp)
  2. {39} Todd Terje: It's Album Time (Olsen)
  3. {35} Spoon: They Want My Soul (Anti-)
  4. {22} Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark)
  5. {19} Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (Columbia)
  6. {19} Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada)
  7. {18} Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?)
  8. {14} Ought: More Than Any Other Day (Constellation)
  9. {11} Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville)
  10. {8} Pharrell Williams: Girl (Columbia)
  11. {6} The Delines: Colfax (El Cortez)
  12. {6} Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (Sugar Hill/Welk)
  13. {5} Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: High Life (Warp)
  14. {5} Thurston Moore: The Best Day (Matador)
  15. {4} Allo Darlin': We Came From the Same Place (Slumberland)
  16. {4} Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (Legacy)
  17. {4} Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (Slate Creek)
  18. {3} Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (Island)
  19. {3} Call Super: Suzi Ecto (Houndstooth)
  20. {3} The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams (Razor & Tie/Washington Square)
  21. {3} Old 97's: Most Messed Up (ATO)
  22. {3} Wussy: Attica! (Shake It)
  23. {2} The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (Suicide Squeeze)
  24. {2} Rodney Crowell: Tarpaper Sky (New West)
  25. {2} Fumaça Preta: Fumaça Preta (Soundway)
  26. {2} Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love (In the Black)
  27. {2} Grieves: Winter & the Wolves (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  28. {2} Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (Strut)
  29. {2} The New Mendicants: Into the Lime (Ashmont)
  30. {2} Withered Hand: New Gods (Slumberland)
  31. {1} Lily Allen: Sheezus (Warner Brothers/Regal)
  32. {1} Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc)
  33. {1} Big Ups: Eighteen Hours of Static (Tough Love/Dead Labour)
  34. {1} Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop)
  35. {1} Chumped: Teenage Retirement (Anchorless)
  36. {1} Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty (Warner Brothers)
  37. {1} John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (New West)
  38. {1} Ricardo Lemvo/Makina Loca: La Rumba Soyo (Cumbancha)
  39. {1} Shakira: Shakira (RCA)
  40. {1} Statik Selektah: What Goes Around (Duck Down Music)
  41. {1} Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (self-released)

Missing completely are records by: Big KRIT, Company Freak, Deena, Dub Thompson, Golem, The Green Seed, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Homeboy Sandman, Kool AD, Jon Langford, Amy LaVere, Mursday, Parkay Quarts (Content Nausea) Jenny Scheinman, Doug Seegers, Serengeti, The Strypes, Supreme Cuts, Jonah Tolchin, and Leo Welch. Notably, 6 of those 20 are rap records. I've noted previously the relative paucity of (especially US) rap records in a year that is really not lacking for good ones, so won't dwell on that here -- you can, after all, look it up.

The number of EOY lists are likely to nearly double next week, but I don't see a lot of trends in the data. The top five have been very stable (once St. Vincent overcame a shaky start). I don't put a lot of weight on differences in rank -- most lists are graded 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2-20, and 1 for everything else -- so nothing much changes with lists that include all of the top five (which is to say most of them). I'm personally much more interested in what shows up on the margins (again, see that Call Super album): that's why I count everything and don't weigh it much.

You can compare this with the top-ten-only aggregates at places like Metacritic if you want to focus on rank. The big gainers there are Run the Jewels (11-to-4), Taylor Swift (21-to-8), and La Roux (42-to-18), and those will definitely do better at P&J than in my aggregate. (The largest loser is probably Sun Kil Moon, dropping 7-to-12.)

I should be running December's first Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is pretty huge. Two things I wanted to do won't happen this time: one is to clear my queue of Xmas music (didn't happen because I can't stand the stuff); the other is to look at the "deluxe editions" that dominate major label reissues, using Rhapsody to program out the core albums so I just listen to the ephemera. I was originally thinking I'd like to sort through the Led Zeppelin reissues, but there are many more like that. Maybe next time, closer to Xmas. Or maybe next year.

One final announcement is that I'd like to invite you to take a look at Carola Dibbell's new website. It's more focused on her forthcoming novel, The Only Ones, than on her superb music writing, but there are links back to her "corner" of Robert Christgau's website. Right now it's sort of a three-headed hybrid, but in the not-too-distant future I hope to integrate it better stylistically. Let me also note that my wife has read the novel and thinks it's really terrific. Plenty of places you can order a copy. (I haven't read it, but I haven't read any novel since Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake -- had to since he practically wrote it for me.)

New records rated this week:

  • Lotte Anker/Jakob Riis: Squid Police (2014, Konvoy): a duo, but the latter's minimalist electronic tableaux don't leave the sax much to do [r]: B+(*)
  • Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha (2009 [2014], NoBusiness): violin-bass duet, seems like a narrow idea but little short of magnificent here [cd]: A-
  • Beyoncé (2013, Columbia): finally on Rhapsody a year late, the anticipation diminished, leaving fairly prosaic love songs, better than her norm [r]: B+(**)
  • Bishop Nehru/MF Doom: NehruvianDOOM (2014, Lex): young rapper starts to find his way, aided by a producer who likes to invent his own worlds [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Burrell/Steve Swell: Turning Point (2013 [2014], NoBusiness): another inspired duet, a legendary piano master's sound filled out with rich trombone [cd]: A-
  • Busdriver: Perfect Hair (2014, Big Dada): once-idiosyncratic hip-hop takes several bizarre turns, flinging guests off cliffs as various jokes miss [r]: C
  • Call Super: Suzi Ecto (2014, Houndstooth): techno from Berlin, a hint of industrial with a gentle woosh, barely substantial, endlessly playable [r]: A-
  • The Cookers: Time and Time Again (2014, Motéma): all-star septet likes it hot: better Billy Harper dishing out grits than the trumpet harmony [r]: B+(**)
  • The Core Trio With Matthew Shipp (2014, self-released): Houston-based free sax trio adds the perfect pianist to wind them up and round out the sound [r]: A-
  • Toumani Diabaté/Sidiki Diabaté: Toumani & Sidiki (2014, World Circuit): Mali father-son kora masters play it safe, stress how pretty they can play [r]: B+(**)
  • Emperor X: The Orlando Sentinel (2014, self-released): smart singer/songwriter with electronics minor goes to Europe, writes strange Sarkozy songs [r]: B+(***)
  • Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Black Is Back: 40th Anniversary Project (2014, Katalyst): Kahil El'Zabar's 40th anniversary bash w/his best horns, Ernest Dawkins/Corey Wilkes [r]: B+(***)
  • Orrin Evans: Liberation Blues (2014, Smoke Sessions): pretty good hard bop group on the upside, then come the ballads, then the singer [r]: B+(**)
  • Fire! Orchestra: Enter (2014, Rune Grammofon): whole new dimension in de trop, Marian Wallentin's texts, 29 credits, and can they ever bring the noise [r]: B+(**)
  • Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics (2014, RCA): which don't mean any of that Verdi/Wagner shit -- more like "I Will Survive" [r]: B+(***)
  • Friends & Neighbors: Hymn for a Hungry Nation (2012-13 [2014], Clean Feed): Swedish postbop group named for Ornette; piano lush, horns shiny, bit edgy [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gazelle Twin: Unflesh (2014, Last Gang): Elizabeth Bernholz fills her electronica with industrial klang and mordant vocals, chilly, creepy even [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Greene: Beautiful Life (2014, Mack Avenue): grieving Sandy Hook father plays soothing sax, indulges a children's choir and too many guests [r]: B+(*)
  • Hail Mary Mallon: Bestiary (2014, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic try to infect the upper crust with underground beats and snappy rhymes [r]: B+(***)
  • Russ Johnson: Still Out to Lunch! (2014, Yellowbird): trumpeter, Roy Nathanson, and Myra Melford salute Eric Dolphy's 50-year-old masterpiece [r]: B+(**)
  • Kool A.D.: Word O.K. (2014, self-released): follow up to "Not OK," reportedly the outtakes to this one, more proof of how a slacker never misses a trick [bc]: A-
  • Let's Wrestle: Let's Wrestle (2014, Fortuna Pop): British group, has an ear for pop hooks for tends toward twee, comes up shy a title and a couple deeper songs [r]: B+(*)
  • Tony Malaby's Tubacello: Scorpion Eater (2014, Clean Feed): interesting idea to replace bass with cello and tuba, but only works when the sax flies [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nick Mulvey: First Mind (2014, Fiction/Harvest): English singer-songwriter, ethnomusicologist with jazz background feed into subtler details [r]: B+(*)
  • Perfume Genius: Too Bright (2014, Turnstile): third album, trends toward mopey, melodramatic ballads with an air of lushness for comfort [r]: B
  • Roil [Chris Abrahams/Mike Majkowski/James Waples]: Raft of the Meadows (2013-14 [2014], NoBusiness): piano trio led by Chris Abrahams, an impressive figure I missed -- Australian, favors group names [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Slackk: Palm Tree Fire (2014, Local Action): British electronica, grime or garage or house or something like that, neither here nor there [r]: B
  • Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock: Whispering of the Stars (2014, Spartacus): tenor sax-piano duets, mostly ballads ranging from lovely to gorgeous [r]: B+(***)
  • Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (2014, Big Dada): London-born "performance poet" channels class and war through Wu-Tang Clan and Samuel Beckett [r]: A
  • Tinashe: Aquarius (2014, RCA): neo-soul singer from Kentucky via LA, gets a boost when a rapper drops in, or when they just pick up the beat [r]: B+(**)
  • Ton Trio II: On and On (2013 [2014], Singlespeed Music): basic alto sax-bass-drums trio, led by Aram Shelton, who always gets a terrific sound [r]: B+(***)
  • Us Free [Bill McHenry/Henry Grimes/Andrew Cyrille]: Fish Stories (2006 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): sax trio with vets who keep it interesting, far from easy [r]: B+(***)
  • The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: The Music of Bob Brookmeyer (2014, Planet Arts): the former Jones-Lewis group at big band strength with Jim McNeely plays Bob Brookmeyer [r]: B+(*)
  • Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (2012 [2014], Clean Feed): sax-guitar/bass-drums trio, builds tone on its groove, no postbop, post-Velvets maybe [cd]: A
  • David Virelles: Mbokó (2013 [2014], ECM): Cuban pianist composes sacred music for biankomeko abakua -- key is "sacred," which means slow it down [dl]: B+(**)
  • Wildest Dreams (2014, Smalltown Supersound): throwback to '60s psychedelic rock, with the instrumental passages much more impressive than the vocals [r]: B+(**)
  • Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow (2014, Warner Brothers): a family reunion after seven years, their best times behind them, but mature to worry on [r]: B+(***)
  • Neil Young: Storytone (2014, Reprise): have orchestra, will croon, but deluxe ed. disc of solo demos improves on the standard product [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975 [2014], NoBusiness, 2CD): avant trumpet in the NY lofts, with Daniel Carter and Oliver Lake blasting away [cd]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Live at the Loft (2005 [2009], ILK Music): Danish saxophonist graples with an impressive young rhythm duo [r]: B+(***)
  • Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Floating Islands (2008 [2009], ILK Music): . . . and all three move on to bigger and bolder things [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Withered Hand: New Gods (2014, Slumberland): [r]: [was B+(**)] A-
  • Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (2014, self-released): [r]: [was B-] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha (2009, NoBusiness)
  • Peter Brötzmann/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Soul Food Available (Clean Feed)
  • Dave Burrell/Steve Swell: Turning Point (NoBusiness)
  • Juan Pablo Carletti/Tony Malaby/Christopher Hoffman: Niño/Brujo (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975, NoBusiness, 2CD)
  • De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva: The Detour Fish: Live in Ljubljana (Clean Feed)
  • Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Tony Malaby's Tubacello: Scorpion Eater (Clean Feed)
  • Roil [Chris Abrahams/Mike Majkowski/James Waples]: Raft of the Meadows (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Zanussi 5: Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed)

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Weekend Roundup

I've been meaning on writing something about justice, the lack of it, or the insane perversion of it within the US, but I wanted to start off with a quote and can't find the book. In fact, I can't find most of the things I look for these days: the place is a total mess, and getting oppressively so. Don't even know where to start sorting it out. So I figured I'd skip the links post today, then found a couple already tucked away in the draft file. So it seems like I can't even follow a plan on not doing something any more.

Another thing I've been thinking about is coming up with a more systematic piece on "the four wars of 2014" -- Israel/Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine -- and how they are mutually reinforcing, mostly due to delusions prevalent in Washington these days (some examples of which follow).

Anyhow, shorter and more scattered than I'd like, but more than I expected.

  • Thomas Frank: Ann Coulter and David Brooks play a sneaky, unserious class card: As I understand Brooks' post-Ferguson spin (hat tip here to No More Mister Nice Blog), nobody (on the right, anyway) is a racist any more, but good conservatives do practice something he calls "classism" -- i.e., they do look down on lazy people whose lack of responsibility and work ethic have resulted in their being poor and miserable. That, of course, is a spin on reality. The fact is that conservatives encourage their followers to believe such things, and some poor whites are flattered, ignorant, and gullible enough to do so. Frank then tries to link this up with some of Coulter's nonsense, quoting her:

    Liberals thrive on the attractions of snobbery. Only when you appreciate the powerful driving force of snobbery in the liberals' worldview do all their preposterous counterintuitive arguments make sense. They promote immoral destructive behavior because they are snobs, they embrace criminals because they are snobs, they oppose tax cuts because they are snobs, they adore the environment because they are snobs.

    Now, I remember practically the very day in 7th grade when my classmates discovered the word "snob" and it spread like a virus as an all-purpose epithet to shame anyone you had any sort of complaint about. It works, of course, because the only mutually agreeable relationships are based on equality, and it did tend to level the field -- although one soon came to suspect that the ones who led the charge had the most to hide. (And if that suggests that Coulter never really grew out of 7th grade, well, the foo shits.) The fact is, I never knew any real snobs until I went to an expensive private college -- and even that was muted because, after all, I was one of them. Still, nothing in Coulter's paragraph makes any sense. There are lots of things that snobs think and do differently from the rest of us, but none of them made Coulter's list. Frank tries to join the two quotes around "embracing criminals," but that's overwhelmed by the negatives: Brooks seems to be thinking that it's OK to generalize from criminals to class they frequent, while Coulter is generalizing from criminals to the snobs (i.e., liberals) who "embrace" them. And once you criminalize someone, you can never punish them too much.

    When Democrats finally get over the impulse to deny and prevaricate and blame others, and instead ask where they themselves went wrong, one place they might begin is their beloved issue of free trade. Take NAFTA, the granddaddy of all trade agreements, whose twentieth anniversary we celebrated this year: There has never been a more obviously class-based piece of legislation. It was supported with uncanny unanimity by members of the commentariat and the professional class, and, indeed, it has worked well for such people. For members of the working class, however, it has been precisely the disaster their organizations predicted.

    The deal crushed enthusiasm for the Democratic Party among the working-class voters who were then considered part of the Democratic base and contributed to the Democrats' loss of the House of Representatives in 1994, a disaster from which, the economist Jeff Faux wrote in 2006, "the Democratic Party still has not recovered." And, indeed, from which the party seemingly has no desire to recover. Just the other day, President Obama announced that he is fired up and ready to go . . . with the Republicans in Congress on the Trans Pacific Partnership, even though much of his own party is opposed to it.

    Democrats who sign up for our master class on classism might also look back over their response to the financial crisis, during which they bailed out their BFFs on Wall Street and let everyone else go to hell. Or the many favors they failed to do for their former BFFs in organized labor. Or their lack of interest in getting a public option included in health-care reform.

  • Simon Maloy: "A fan of blowing things up": Why new DefSec nominee Ashton Carter was ready to restart Korean War: Not a huge surprise that Obama's pick to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is a hawk more committed to the military than to democracy, but it's hard to imagine a more vivid example of his myopia than his cavalier attitude toward bombing North Korea. If there's anything one should have learned from studying wars throughout history it's that you never can predict all the consequences. Still, Carter thinks the US can blow up a working nuclear reactor without causing it to malfunction, melt down, explode, and spread toxic radiation. He also thinks that North Korea wouldn't retaliate for such an attack, even though their main defense against US attack for more than 60 years has been the deterrence of their artillery pointed at Seoul. And in any case he thinks that the many thousands of Koreans who would die from that test of will are a small price compared to the risk that North Korea might eventually possess nuclear weapons and long-range missiles (which, by the way, they now do, and like most nations with such arms do nothing with). In other words, Carter is not just the wrong person to become Secretary of Defense; he probably ought to be packed away to a mental ward somewhere. (It goes without saying that he's already been endorsed by Lindsay Graham and Donald Rumsfeld.) Another example of how Obama's "changing the way we think about war"?

  • Ron Paul: Reckless Congress 'Declares War' on Russia: On H. Res. 758: "16 pages of war propaganda that should have made even neocons blush." Only 10 representatives voted against it (5 Democrats and 5 Republicans).

    These are the kinds of resolutions I have always watched closely in Congress, as what are billed as "harmless" statements of opinion often lead to sanctions and war. I remember in 1998 arguing strongly against the Iraq Liberation Act because, as I said at the time, I knew it would lead to war. I did not oppose the Act because I was an admirer of Saddam Hussein -- just as now I am not an admirer of Putin or any foreign political leader -- but rather because I knew then that another war against Iraq would not solve the problems and would probably make things worse. We all know what happened next.

  • Nathan Thrall: Rage in Jerusalem: Useful background about Jerusalem, the center of the ad hoc violence that threatens a "third intifada," how the expanded-and-annexed city's 30% Palestinian minority has been isolated and estranged by the political system.

    Palestinians in general feel disconnected from their political leaders, but the sense of abandonment is particularly acute in Jerusalem, where the PA is strictly forbidden from acting and to which Ramallah, like most of the Arab world, devotes many lofty words but very few deeds. When he assented to the five-year interim arrangements for Palestinian self-governance in the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat agreed to exclude Jerusalem from the areas that would be governed pro tempore by the PA. Local leaders, notably the late Faisal Husseini, refused to agree to this, which is one reason Yitzhak Rabin, who resolutely opposed dividing Jerusalem when he was prime minister and said he would rather abandon peace than give up a united capital, chose to bypass Husseini and instead pursued secret negotiations in Oslo with Arafat's emissaries.

    Palestinians in Jerusalem have been bereft of political leaders since Husseini's death in 2001. All four of Jerusalem's representatives in the Palestinian parliament -- all of them members of Hamas, elected in 2006 -- have been deported. Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, monitors 'political subversion,' which includes lawful opposition to the Israeli occupation. Since all Palestinian political parties oppose the occupation, they and their activities have, in effect, been criminalised. Even innocuous Palestinian institutions such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce have been shut down. Years of Israeli suppression of Palestinian political activity have ensured that when violence erupts in Jerusalem, there is no legitimate leadership to quell it; and spontaneous, unorganised protests and attacks are far more difficult for the security forces to thwart and contain.

  • More Israel links:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Adam Shatz: West End Boy: Reviews two books on the rise of Islamophobia in Europe, specifically focusing on Anders Breivik's 2011 bombing and killing spree in Norway.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Jazz Poll Ballots

I voted in a couple jazz polls today. (Does Jazz Times know who I am? Do they care?) I submitted the following to Francis Davis for NPR's Jazz Critics Poll this year:

Your choices for this year's ten best New Releases (albums released between last Thanksgiving and this, give or take) listed in descending order one-through-ten.

  1. Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi)
  2. Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (Tzadik)
  3. Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (Hopscotch, 2CD)
  4. Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (Clean Feed)
  5. Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (Accurate)
  6. Ivo Perelman: The Other Edge (Leo)
  7. Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Cimmerian Crossroads (Edgetone)
  8. Kris Davis Trio: Waiting for You to Grow (Clean Feed)
  9. Craig Handy: Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (Okeh)
  10. Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings: 1-4 (Constant Sorrow, 4CD)
Your top-three Reissues or Historical albums, again in descending order:

  1. Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975, NoBusiness, 2CD)
  2. Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78, Strut, 2CD)
  3. The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978, Sackville/Delmark)

Your choice for the year's best Vocal album:

  • Barbara Morrison: I Love You, Yes I Do (Savant)

Your choice for the year's best Debut album:

  • Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (Clean Feed)

Your choice for the year's best Latin jazz album:

  • none

I think I voted for Ivo Perelman under Latin jazz last year. He's from Brazil, ergo Latin, but plays free jazz, so not what you'd recognize as Latin jazz. I also have a few A-list players from Spain and Portugal (Ridrigo Amado, Luis Lopes) I'd be happy to plug. Not sure why I don't find more Latin jazz, other than that very little finds its way to me. I have several A-list Latin pop records (Shakira, Ricardo Lemvo, Fumaça Preta).

I should also note that I've been counting Jenny Scheinman's The Littlest Prisoner as a non-jazz album (where it's currently number two on my list). Obviously would have made the top-ten here had I gone that way.

Not sure when the results will be posted, but I'll be hosting the ballots again this year, so I'll probably know more before it happens.

Some preliminary stats: 60 new A-list albums, 124 new B+(***) [HM], 368 other albums for total of 552; 10 old A-list, 5 old B+(***) [HM], 11 other for total of 26. Didn't find many late-graded 2013 albums: 23 (3 new + 1 old A-list).

In 2012 (at roughly this time), I had 556 new jazz records (similar, but with 80 ungraded in queue, vs. 15 now), and 36 old records (plus 2 undgraded), so the falloff this year is less than I expected. (Not sure about 2013, as I don't seem to have the data readily available.)

I also have a request from Sergio Piccarilli to vote in El Intruso's "8th Creative Music Critics Poll 2014." I've voted in it before, but procrastinated last year and missed the deadline date (January 5th this year).

It will be a pleasure for us to know your opinion about your favorites in these categories (no more than three choices in each category)

  • Musician of the year: Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Ivo Perelman
  • Newcomer Musician: Ben Flocks, James Brandon Lewis
  • Group of the year: Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Angles 9
  • Newcomer group: Velkro
  • Album of the year: Steve Lehman: Mise en Abime (Pi); Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (Hopscotch); Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (Accurate)
  • Composer: John Zorn, Adam Lane, Allen Lowe
  • Drums: Gerry Hemingway, Tom Rainey, John Hollenbeck
  • Acoustic Bass: William Parker, Adam Lane
  • Electric Bass:
  • Guitar: Luis Lopes, Raoul Bjorkenheim, Anders Nilsson
  • Piano: Irene Schweizer, Matthew Shipp, Kris Davis
  • Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Brian Charrette, Jamie Saft
  • Tenor Saxophone: Ken Vandermark, Ivo Perelman, Jonas Kulhammar
  • Alto Saxophone: Francois Carrier, Steve Lehman, Oliver Lake
  • Baritone Saxophone: Scott Robinson, Brian Landrus
  • Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome, Liudas Mockunas
  • Trumpet/Cornet: Wadada Leo Smith, Dave Douglas, Ralph Alessi
  • Clarinet/bass clarinet: Rudi Mahall, Andy Biskin
  • Trombone: Roswell Rudd, Steve Swell, Samuel Blaser
  • Flute: Juhani Aaltonen
  • Violin/Viola: Jason Kao Hwang, Jenny Scheinman, Regina Carter
  • Cello: Fred Lonberg-Holm
  • Vibraphone: Matthias Stahl, Jason Adasiewicz
  • Electronics: Kieran Hebden
  • Other Instruments: Richard Galliano (accordion), Cooper-Moore (diddley-bow)
  • Female Vocals: Barbara Morrison, Marlene VerPlanck, Catherine Russell
  • Male Vocals: Freddy Cole
  • Best Live Band: ICP Orchestra
  • Record Label: Clean Feed, NoBusiness, Pi

Names were mostly plucked off this year's top album list, with a few reminders from last year and a few more names from memory -- certainly doesn't constitute any serious, deep thinking: pretty sure everyone mentioned deserves mentioning, but many of those unmentioned don't deserve the slight. Several slots could have gone much deeper: drums, bass, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, trumpet. I dropped my number two and four albums somewhat arbitrarily.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Daily Log

Matt Rice asked:

So, Xgau gave Sunny Sweeney's 2011 album a HM in the latest EW, but he hasn't reviewed the new one yet. Could he be planning to review it alongside Miranda?

I replied:

No inside info here, but I don't think Bob *plans* on reviewing HMs -- otherwise he'd come up with a lot more. They just sort of fall out of his search for A-list albums. Sweeney's new album is almost exactly as good as her 2011 album (although I'd give it a small edge for "Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass"). The new one, "Provoked," came out on Aug. 5, so if he thought it was worth covering -- factor in that it got much less hype than the 2011 album, and that the 2011 one only wound up with one star -- he could have worked it into a column headed by Angaleena Presley, whose album came out on Oct. 14. (The one bit of inside info I do have is that he's been sitting on the Sweeney squib for more than two years, waiting for a place to use it.) The more interesting question is why he didn't include Lambert along with Presley? Without inside info you never know what omissions mean. For instance, the one I wonder about is the 2nd Parkay Quarts EP, which I like better than the covered one. It came out so close to the review date he may not have processed it yet, but who knows?

Actually, to divulge some more inside info, the first record Bob offered to play when I visited him in April was Old 97's (Most Messed Up), and after I said I've heard it, the next one he offered was Lambert's. I doubt he would have offered it had he not already liked it. To date he hasn't run either Old 97's or Lambert or several other albums he is known to like (e.g., Withered Hand and Wussy, which finished 1-2 in Odyshape's mid-year critics poll -- a group much closer to his taste than I am; he's also mentioned Kool AD and Azealia Banks as possible top-ten records).

Monday, December 01, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24105 [24067] rated (+38), 518 [519] unrated (-0).

My 2014 jazz stocks are dwindling: the pending list is down to 12 records, including two of last week's Clean Feeds. (The package was, by the way, a little light, with only four of eight new titles. Hope they split the shipment rather than start to cut me off.) Beyond that, there's no one I recognize: many singers, at least one flute record. (I've been putting off dealing with 2015 titles -- I have 10 of them, and a few of them are more promising.) I'll square away my jazz ballot sometime in the next few days.

I continue to revise the current jazz and non-jazz lists -- currently I have 58 A-list records on the jazz side, 56 on the other. (By the way, I still need to rewrite the intros and factor the late 2013 releases into those lists. Also need to work on the 2% lists.) I've been looking at available EOY lists, and I've started to count them up. The legend is here, and the new records count is here. Almost 40 lists counted to date, most of the early ones coming from UK/Europe (main resources for me: Acclaimed Music Groups, Ilxor; still waiting for Large Hearted Boy; also see the tabulations at AOTY).

Previous metacritic files have included review grades as well as EOY lists, so I get some idea of how the year is shaping up well ahead of list season. This year I just started the file this past week, and the only data in it are EOY lists, so it started out really skewed when five of the first six lists were from UK mags and record stores (the latter often go 100 deep, since they have that more to sell; the mags usually draw the line around 50, which is about where most serious fans draw the line between A- and B+). The first time I noticed from those lists was the near complete shutout of US rap/r&b albums. For comparison, in 2013 US rap/r&b finished (and I'll throw in the usually higher Pazz & Jop finish in brackets):

  1. Kanye West: Yeezus [1]
  2. Chance the Rapper: Acid Jazz [5]
  3. Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady [8]
  4. Danny Brown: Old [27]
  5. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris [42]
  6. El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels [22]
  7. Drake: Nothing Was the Same [18]
  8. Pusha T: My Name Is My Name [30]
  9. Beyoncé: Beyoncé [4]
  10. ASAP Rocky: Long.Live.ASAP [123]
  11. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 [58]
  12. DJ Rashad: Double Cup [73]
  13. Charles Bradley: Victim of Love [131]
  14. Valerie June: Pushin'; Against a Stone [61]

Also finishing P&J top 100:

  1. Ka: The Night's Gambit [69]
  2. Ghostface Killah/Adrian Younge: Twelve Reasons to Die [91]
  3. The Uncluded: Hokey Fright [75]

That strikes me as a pretty typical year, and while it's helped by a few big names (Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Drake, Beyonce, Eminem) it includes a fair number of names you probably hadn't heard of before the year started (Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, etc.). The shutout of the first few lists has opened up a crack, but still this is looking like the year critics forgot about black music. Currently all I see:

  1. Flying Lotus: You're Dead
  2. Neneh Cherry: Blank Project
  3. El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2
  4. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib: Piñata
  5. Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty
  6. La Roux: Trouble in Paradise
  7. Pharrell Williams: Girl

That's less than half as many records, and some of those are pretty marginal. (Cherry grew up in England and Scandinavia, is on a Norwegian record label, and isn't really hip-hop.) Nor do I see much in the wings. Christgau predicts that Black Portland will "finish P&J" (i.e., top 40), but that record has only one mention so far (31 on Rolling Stone's list). Nor have any of Christgau's other A-list hip-hop records this year garnered even a single mention (Atmosphere, Jason Derulo, Homeboy Sandman, Roots -- I could also add Babyface/Toni Braxton, Iggy Azalea [not US but not FKA Twigs either], Kool A.D., and with one mention Azealia Banks). From my list, aside from Pharrell only Statik Selektah has one mention, while Mursday, Green Seed, Grieves, and Serengeti are shut out. I dug up yet another list, XXL's 25 best from mid-year, and it, too, fared very poorly: only 3 (of 25) records there had been mentioned (at least when I checked; may be one or two more now).

So just because Kanye West sat this year out doesn't mean the records aren't there. What's lacking is the recognition. I suppose one reason that bugs me more than usual is news like Ferguson and the elections. Still, when I shared my early findings with Christgau, he wrote back: "And in case you didn't know, the sites you aggregate are generally speaking black-music clueless, stupidly anti-pop, heedlessly prog, and fatally faddish. . . . PJ will be better." Sure, because it is even more US-biased than my early list returns have been UK/Europe-biased, and because it still polls a lot of newspaper critics (who generally have to write about popular music once in a while, or at least be flexible enough to do so -- something not required of bloggers). But looking at the data, I have no reason to overestimate the smarts and taste of the lists: after all, the current top-10 includes four B/B- records by my counting (FKA Twigs, Beck, Sharon Van Etten, Mac DeMarco), and three more not enough better to actually recommend (Caribou, Damon Albarn, Future Islands).

By the way, I didn't get around to tweeting on the Young Thug records -- for one thing, don't have much to say -- but I have warmed somewhat on Black Portland.

New records rated this week:

  • Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots (2014, Parlophone): threatening to turn into an old geezer, tries to make the best of it by singing like Robert Wyatt [r]: B+(*)
  • Fatima Al Qadiri: Asiatisch (2014, Hyperdub): Kuwaiti jet setter, leery of how orientalism works, rolls her own Chinese caricatures [r]: B+(**)
  • Aurelio: Lándini (2014, Real World): surname Martinez, from Honduras, plays paranda or garifuna, looser and lighter than salsa [r]: B+(***)
  • Iggy Azalea: Reclassified (2014, Def Jam): 5-cut EP padded to LP-length with 7 recycles from her debut, the catchy ones if you still need them [r]: B+(**)
  • Beck: Morning Phase (2014, Capitol): no longer a "loser" or a "soul vulture"; now just pretty and soft and flat, nearly featureless [r]: B-
  • Caribou: Our Love (2014, Merge): utilitarian electronica, whatever works to frame and fashion his pleasant and forgettable pop songs [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Church: The Outsiders (2014, Capitol Nashville): still one of Nashville's better singer-songwriters, except when working with Casey Beathard [r]: B+(*)
  • Ron Di Salvio: Songs for Jazz Legends (2006 [2014], Blujazz): "Mingustino," "Bud's Blossom," "Mulligan's Stew," like that, for '50s-style vocal quartet [cd]: B
  • Far East Movement: KTown Riot (2014, Interscope, EP): 5-cut EP, featuring monster funk grooves and guest rappers not quite up to them [r]: B+(*)
  • Fucked Up: Glass Boys (2014, Matador): post-hardcore vocal snarl, but the turbulent music is subtler with a sense of popcraft [r]: B+(**)
  • Johnny Griffith: Dance With the Lady (2014, GB): name reminds you of Johnny Griffin, and so does his sax; hard bop quintet with Jeremy Pelt [cd]: B+(*)
  • David Guetta: Listen (2014, Atlantic): hit producer trades quality for quantity, finds he strikes out more often than not; we find that annoying [r]: B
  • Grünen [Achim Kaufmann/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger]: Pith & Twig (2012-13 [2014], Clean Feed): German avant-piano trio, led by Achim Kaufmann but bass and drums play a fully equal role, lots of flex [cd]: B+(***)
  • Hookworms: The Hum (2014, Weird World): Brit drone band with catchy melodies and pop hooks, would be even more impressive with less organ on top [r]: B+(***)
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes (2014, ATO): surprised to see this worthy New Orleans folkie pop up on so many UK EOY lists [r]: B+(**)
  • Jonas Kullhammar: Gentlemen (2014, Moserobie): Swedish saxophonist plays extra nice with Bernt Rosengren joining in, sort of like Sonny and Hawk [cd]: A-
  • Michel Lambert: Journal des Épisodes II (1992-2014 [2014], Jazz From Rant): 97 fragments from a journal, most piano trio, some strings, nicely interleaved [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nikki Lane: All or Nothin' (2014, New West): alt-country singer, short of voice, makes up with songs looking for right time to do wrong thing [r]: B+(*)
  • Luis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio: The Line (2014, Clean Feed): electric guitarist, plays the feedback as much as the guitar, w/bass-drums from Grunen [cd]: A-
  • Brian Lynch and Emmet Cohen: Questioned Answer (2012 [2014], Hollistic Musicworks): trumpet-piano quartet (Boris Kozlov, Billy Hart), more in common than they think [r]: B+(**)
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel: Driftwood (2013 [2014], ECM): guitar trio turns down the heat, busts up the groove, as if looking for his inner Ralph Towner [dl]: B+(*)
  • Naomi Punk: Television Man (2014, Captured Tracks): math rock trio, loud, a little stilted, but isn't spasticky just an awkward stage of youth? [r]: B
  • Old Crow Medicine Show: Remedy (2014, ATO): Virginia band, grew up on grunge but found they could play fiddle and banjo faster and louder [r]: B+(**)
  • Old Style Sextet (2014, Blujazz): Illinois music profs, young enough to think trad jazz was invented in the 1960s, mostly by Art Blakey [cd]: B+(*)
  • Parker Abbott Trio: The Wayfinders (2012-13 [2014], self-released): Toronto keybs by Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott (plus drummer), somewhat more than pop jazz [cd]: B
  • Peaking Lights: Cosmic Logic (2014, Weird World): husband-wife duo make lo-fi synth pop, neither here nor there but not without plain appeal [r]: B+(***)
  • Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Episodes IV-VI (2014, OA2): pianist-led hard bop quintet with some postbop tricks, horns shine, surprises scarce [r]: B+(*)
  • Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Memories (2014, ECM): French clarinetist, has drawn on Euro-folk in the past and wanders east here [dl]: B+(***)
  • Brandon Seabrook: Sylphid Vitalizers (2014, New Atlantis): banjo/guitar shredder wreaks havoc solo, give or take Dr. Vitalizer's drum programming [r]: B+(*)
  • Sleaford Mods: Chubbed Up (2013-14 [2014], Ipecac): odds and sods from bitter, angry, sarcastic, not exactly cynical Brit neo-punk duo [r]: B+(***)
  • Sam Smith: In the Lonely Hour (2014, Capitol): young Brit has doo-wop vocal chops, but torturing songs doesn't make them soulful [r]: B-
  • The Soundcarriers: Entropicalia (2014, Ghost Box): Brit group, more prog/psych than anything else, no feel for the jungle, but garish and fun [r]: B+(**)
  • Sunny Sweeney: Provoked (2014, Aunt Daddy): Nashville striver with a chip: "here's to the working class, everyone else can kiss my ass" [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Turner Quartet: Lathe of Heaven (2013 [2014], ECM): saxophonist gains strength, but the two-horn quartet format could use a hotter trumpet [dl]: B+(**)
  • Marcin Wasilewski Trio w/Joakim Milder: Spark of Life (2014, ECM): renowned Polish piano trio (Kurkiewicz! Miskiewicz!) adds sax appeal [dl]: A-
  • Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders/The Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra: A Beautiful Friendship (2014, Summit): semi-stars join the latter's big band [r]: B
  • Young Thug & DJ Swamp Izzo: I Came From Nothing (2011, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 2 (2011, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 3 (2012, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Young Thug/Rich Homie Quan/Birdman: Birdman Presents Rich Gang: The Tour Pt. 1 (2014, Cash Money): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Hamburg '72 (1972 [2014], ECM): recaptured bootleg honors the late greats, shows off a minor sax genius [dl]: A-
  • Salsa de la Bahia: A Collection of SF Area Salsa and Latin Jazz: Vol. 2, Hoy Y Ayer (1983-2013 [2014], Patois, 2CD): not where I'd go looking for boogaloo, but makes a case for respecting the SF Latin scene [cd]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Friends & Neighbors: Hymn for a Hungry Nation (Clean Feed)
  • Grünen [Achim Kaufmann/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger]: Pith & Twig (Clean Feed)
  • Justin Kauflin: Dedication (Qwest/Jazz Village): January 13
  • Luis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio: The Line (Clean Feed)
  • Vance Thompson's Five Plus Six: Such Sweet Thunder (Shade Street): January 6
  • Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (Clean Feed)

Daily Log

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Iggy Azalea: Reclassified (2014, Def Jam): [needed to sort out what's new from what's reissued here. in effect, you get a new 5-cut EP + a 7-cut "greatest hits," which may or may not be a good deal.] B+(**) [rhapsody]
  • Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 1 & 2 (2011 [2014], Music Unlimited): [wound up splitting Rhapsody's compilation into the two constituent mixtapes, and reviewing them separately. lost "Intro" from "1"; "2" was somewhat reordered. both were graded as below.] B+(*) [rhapsody]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Daily Log

Didn't really come up with any Weekend Roundup today. Was distracted during the day working on Carola Dibbell's new website. Then made dinner. But mostly the links weren't coming -- not that I couldn't come up with yet another Israel section. One thing that's slowing me down is that my Firefox browser periodically crashes (as it did today -- I was able to "restore session" today, but a crash earlier in the week left me having to repopulate all my tabs by hand).

Started collecting these tweets during the week. Not enough here for a post.

Memorable tweets:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24067 [24030] rated (+37), 519 [527] unrated (-8).

The high rated count comes from hustling for last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. More generally, I'm trying to sort out year-end lists -- the working files are here for jazz and non-jazz. By some quirk of fate, both lists currently have 55 A-list albums. I think in past years I've had a fair amount more records in the jazz column, but I'm getting less and less jazz these days. For instance, Tim Niland, whose blog a few years back ran very parallel to mine, posted his Jazz Critics Poll ballot today, and his top-ten includes four records I haven't heard (John Zorn, Audio One, Lean Left, and Brandon Seabrook), and two more I didn't receive (Chicago Underground Duo, Raoul Björkenheim).

I haven't seen much else in the way of year-end lists, although they should start appearing any day now (indeed: Mojo: Beck, War on Drugs, Sleaford Mods, Jack White, St. Vincent, Steve Gunn; Q: War on Drugs, Alt-J, Damon Albarn, Manic Street Preachers, Beck, St. Vincent; American Songwriter: Sturgill Simpson, War on Drugs, Strand of Oaks, Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams, Hurray for the Riff Raff, St. Vincent at 21). Still don't have a plan on how to do a year-end list metacritic file, but thinking about it.

Did some resorting on the year-end lists, resulting in a couple of grade promotions. I'm not able to find time to play many of my favorite records after rating, but Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and Jenny Scheinman have been exceptions.

New records rated this week:

  • Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra: Pulsion (2014, Ubiquity): misnomers all around, closer to electric Miles Davis than anything else, maybe denser [r]: B+(***)
  • Eric Bibb: Blues People (2014, Stony Plain): soft-spoken blues archaeologist spreads his net wide, comes up with mixed bag (maybe the guests?) [r]: B+(*)
  • Big Freedia: Just Be Free (2014, Queen Diva): New Orleans bounce artist, bangs his rap rhymes so hard they double for beats [r]: B+(*)
  • Chumped: Teenage Retirement (2014, Anchorless): punkish group fronted by Anika Pyle, cuts through the gloom, give this a fresh face [r]: A-
  • Dee Daniels: Intimate Conversations (2012 [2014], Origin): standards singer takes it slow, gets little mileage out of a star-studded backing band [cd]: B-
  • Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita (2014, Polyvinyl): polymorphuously perverse noise-pop band thinks of Madonna; for once their twists aren't so ridiculous [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Denhoff/Ulrich Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (2014, Sporeprint, 2CD): for campanula (a tricked-up cello), bass, and drums [cd]: B+(***)
  • Paul Dietrich Quintet: We Always Get There (2013 [2014], Blujazz): Chicago trumpeter plays conventional postbop, with tenor sax, piano, Bjork cover [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ani DiFranco: Allergic to Water (2014, Righteous Babe): staying happy in New Orleans, music not lazy or indifferent, but no tilting at windmills either [r]: B+(*)
  • Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (2013 [2014], Whaling City Sound): Dave Liebman's new quintet, with second reedist (Matt Vashlishan), Bobby Avey on piano, adventurous postbop [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bryan Ferry: Avonmore (2014, BMG): title plays off Ferry's last triumph, but that was 1982; you can't go home, just dream wistfully about it [r]: B+(*)
  • David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Where the Light Fails (2013 [2014], Origin, 2CD): bassist-led piano trio, plus guitarist Larry Koonse enough to mix it up [cd]: B+(**)
  • Danny Green Trio: After the Calm (2014, OA2): postbop piano trio, works on that Latin tinge thing, finds it often enough [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lefteris Kordis: "Oh Raven, If You Only Had Brains . . .": Songs for Aesop's Fables (2010 [2012], Inner Circle Music): Aesop's fables scored whimsically, narrated, way too often divafied [cd]: B
  • Kronomorfic [David Borgo & Paul Pellegrin]: Entangled (2013 [2014], OA2): long suite, engaging postbop, septet/octet/more led by David Borgo (sax) and Paul Pellegrin (drums) [cd]: B+(*)
  • Little Dragon: Nabuma Rubberband (2014, Republic): bland Swedish electropop fronted by exotically named but also bland singer (Yukimi Nagano) [cd]: B
  • Low Society: You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (2014, Icehouse): nor can you shut up a Janis Joplin wannabe, not one so armed with '60s blues licks [r]: B+(*)
  • Thurston Moore: The Best Day (2014, Matador): thinner and lighter than your average Sonic Youth album, better for the austere/luxurious guitar [r]: A-
  • Naked Wolf (2014, El Negocito): Dutch group, instrumental passages show jazz prowess but vocals move this into rock, at least skronk [r]: B+(*)
  • The New Basement Tapes: Lost on the River (2014, Island): T-Bone's friends add music to Dylan lyrics, the last gasp of a Woody Guthrie wannabe [r]: B+(*)
  • Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (2014, self-released): more art of the soprano, helped by drums and good humor ("Good Golly Miss Mali") [cd]: A-
  • Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered: Compositions of Bill Evans (2013 [2014], Origin): Bill Evans arranged for an almost-big band, lush with lots of lovely detail [cd]: B+(**)
  • Pink Floyd: The Endless River (2014, Rhino): absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially since the samples revive much of the band's heyday [r]: B+(*)
  • Plymouth: Plymouth (2014, Rare Noise): Jamie Saft project so the organ runs roughshod over avant guitars (Joe Morris, Mary Halvorson), not your old soul jazz [r]: B+(*)
  • Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (2014, Joyful Noise): third round with the Chicago rapper's fictional mentor, pretty much the same story as last time [r]: A-
  • Noura Mint Seymali: Tzenni (2014, Glitterbeat): griot nobility from Mauritania, conjures up a trance groove for Paris as well as Timbuktu [r]: B+(**)
  • Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (2014, Summit): mainstream postbop, but Swartz's trumpet shines bright, and the rhythm swings some [cd]: B+(**)
  • Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Nax (2013 [2014], Creative Sources): duets, scratchy avant trumpet and inscrutable double bass [cd]: B+(*)
  • Temples: Sun Structures (2014, Fat Possum): Brit psychedelia, flashback to '60s guitar drone around great clarity with King Crimson flashes [r]: B+(*)
  • TV on the Radio: Seeds (2014, Harvest): fifth album, full of arena-scale grandeur but avoiding pomposity, a good sign but not enough to care [r]: B
  • Piet Verbist/Zygomatik: Cattitude (2014, Origin): Belgian bassist leads quintet w/two saxes -- the baritone is strategic -- and electric keyb [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jessie Ware: Tough Love (2014, Interscope): Brit pop singer masquerading as a soft soul sister; good enough at that, but still looking for a hit [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Peter Brötzmann/Sonny Sharrock: Whatthefuckdoyouwant (1987 [2014], Trost): you're in the wrong house if you expect them to turn it down or make nice [r]: B+(**)
  • Illinois Jacquet/Leo Parker: Toronto 1947 (1947 [2013], Uptown): who says honking r&b sax is incompatible with the breakthroughs of bebop? [r]: B+(***)
  • Howard McGhee: West Coast 1945-1947 (1945-47 [2013], Uptown): weird scenes from the birth pangs of bebop, with Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss, Hampton Hawes [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Club Ska '67 (1967 [1980], Mango): 1980 Mango LP catches up on reggae's backstory, one key year anyway [dl]: A-

Grade changes:

  • The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014, Suicide Squeeze): [was: B+(**)] A-
  • Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (2014, Accurate): [was: A-] A
  • Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (2014, Masterworks): [was: A-] A

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Akua Dixon: Akua Dixon (Akua's Music): January 13
  • Red Garland Trio: Swingin' on the Korner (1977, Elemental Music, 2CD): January 20
  • Johnny Griffith: Dance With the Lady (GB)
  • Manu Katché: Live in Concert (ACT): January 15
  • Jonas Kullhammar: Gentlemen (Moserobie)
  • Wolff & Clark Expedition: Expedition 2 (Random Act): advance, February 24

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekend Roundup

This week's notable links follow, especially on Israel, where this summer's Gaza war and the coming elections, on top of nearly twenty years of Likud rule (minus two years for Ehud Barak, 1998-2000) and far-right demagoguery have left a great many Israelis more racist and bloodthirsty than ever. When I talk to people about Israel, they usually throw their hands up in the air, but this is important -- not least because the US is becoming increasingly Israelized, as you can see from Obama's latest escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and as is portended by the Confederate/Tea Party revolt -- the lynchings the latter dream about are now real in Israel.

  • Michael Konczal: Frenzied Financialization:

    The financialization revolution over the past thirty-five years has moved us toward greater inequality in three distinct ways. The first involves moving a larger share of the total national wealth into the hands of the financial sector. The second involves concentrating on activities that are of questionable value, or even detrimental to the economy as a whole. And finally, finance has increased inequality by convincing corporate executives and asset managers that corporations must be judged not by the quality of their products and workforce but by one thing only: immediate income paid to shareholders. [ . . . ]

    But the most important change will be intellectual: we must come to understand our economy not as simply a vehicle for capital owners, but rather as the creation of all of us, a common endeavor that creates space for innovation, risk taking, and a stronger workforce. This change will be difficult, as we will have to alter how we approach the economy as a whole. Our wealth and companies can't just be strip-mined for a small sliver of capital holders; we'll need to bring the corporation back to the public realm. But without it, we will remain trapped inside an economy that only works for a select few.

  • Bill McKibben: Congress is about to sabotage Obama's historic climate deal: Slams Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) for voting in favor of the Keystone/XL pipeline, despite praising Obama for his "climate deal with China." But that's just an example.

    By now it should be clear that giving in to the Republicans does not "pave the way" for future compromises -- that's the Lucy-with-the-football lesson that President Obama has spent his entire term in office learning. Much more fundamentally, though, the problem is this: you can't cut carbon without, you know, cutting carbon.

    The president's accord with China doesn't actually do anything except set a target. To meet that target you have to do things. If you don't do things -- if you keep approving pipelines and coal mines and fracking wells -- then you won't meet the target.

    For the moment, Keystone is the best example of this principle. So far we've stopped it for three years, and in the process pushed companies to pull $17 billion in investment out of the tar sands. That money would have built projects that would have dumped the carbon equivalent of 700 new coal-fired power plants into the atmosphere. We've done something real -- something that will actually help, say, Delaware which has a, you know, coastline.

  • Israel links: There's been a steady stream of reports of communal violence between Israelis (especially West Bank and Jerusalem settlers) and Palestinians, which might seem to be symmetrical except for the Israeli state, which holds a practical monopoly on violence and directs it at Palestinians. The number of incidents of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis (an errant car here, a stabbing there, five killed in a Jewish synagogue) has triggered speculation that a third Intifada is in the works. Like the first two, all a third will prove is how intransigent and unengaging Israeli politics has become -- an old story where pent-up frustration gets the best of caution, even knowing that Israel will take every provocation as an excuse for ever greater violence. However, what is different this time is the degree that Israeli civilians have taken the lead in attacking Palestinians, both violently and economically through their campaign to rid Jewish businesses of Palestinian workers. This is happening partly due to the unchecked racism in Israeli political discourse, and to the loss of restraint in Israel's legal system. So the question this time isn't whether there will be an intifada but why there is already a pogrom -- a state-backed civilian riot against a hated ethnic minority.

    • Kate: Israeli government plans 185 miles of new Jewish settler roads in the West Bank: That's just one of dozens of press reports: Israel to approve 200 units in Jerusalem settlement; Palestinian shot dead by Israeli forces in al-Arrub; Palestinian worker shot dead in Israel; Body of Palestinian man found with signs of torture; Soldier stabbed in Tel Aviv dies; Palestinian suspect shot; Israeli forces open live fire at Palestinians during clashes [in Bethlehem]; 58 Palestinians kidnapped in various Arab towns; Israeli settlers torch mosque in Ramallah-area village; Israeli settlers accost Palestinian officers near Nablus; Gun-toting settlers attack female students near Bethlehem; Jews threaten to kill head teacher for having Arab workers at school. Also a link about the Rasmea Odeh case which shows that Israeli injustice is practiced even in Chicago.
    • Kate: Hate attacks in Jerusalem and Israel include one by settler girls: Also: Palestinian woman run over by Israeli near Shu'fat; 2 Israelis stabbed in fight with Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Child seriously injured during interrogation in Jerusalem; Vandals deface car of Acre imam who called for tolerance after J'lem attack. It was also the 20th anniversary of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 56 worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron -- often cited as the pivotal event that wrecked the Oslo Peace Process. Goldstein died during the attack, and has been treated as a martyr: "At his funeral, Goldstein was eulogized as a hero, with one speaker, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, declaring that even 1 million Arabs 'are not worth a Jewish fingernail,' while attendees shouted, 'We are all Goldsteins!' and 'Arabs out of Israel!' Following the slaughter, Goldstein was also lauded by Rabbi Dov Lior, who was and continues to be the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and one of the most influential figures in the religious Zionism movement, who called Goldstein, 'holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.'" And many more reports along these lines.
    • Annie Robbins: Kahanists attack school after synagogue killings: In Hebron, where the martyred murderer Goldstein is buried, so I figure the "provocation" was merely convenient. Nor was that the only case of settler violence reported here: "And speaking of stories that the mainstream is not covering, Yusuf Hasan al-Ramouni, 32, a Palestinian husband, father, son, and brother was lynched Sunday in a bus in Mount Scopus, which adjoins Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem." Robbins also has videos of Israeli forces spraying "skunk spray" in Palestinian neighborhoods.
    • Gideon Levy: In Israel, only Jewish blood shocks anyone: In Israel, five Israelis killed in a Jerusalem synagogue is a world-class outrage, but 2200 Palestinians killed in Gaza is a statistic. "But this is a society that sanctifies its dead to the point of death-worship, that wears thin the stories of the victims' lives and deaths, whether it be in a synagogue attack or a Nepal avalanche. It's a society preoccupied with endless commemorations in the land of monuments, services and anniversary ceremonies; a society that demands shock and condemnation after every attack, when it blames the entire world."
    • Philip Weiss: Netanyahu's 'battle for Jerusalem' can't end well for any of us: When some horrible act of violence occurs, the instinct of most political leaders is to call for calm, but Netanyahu's speech following the killing of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue was, as Weiss puts it, "blood curdling."
    • Jeff Halper: Israel sows despair and senseless violence: "And the 'Zionist answer' to the downward cycle of senseless violence in which Jerusalem finds itself: house demolitions, mass arrests, revoking the 'residency' of native-born Jerusalemites, closing Palestinian neighborhoods with concrete blocks, arming Israeli Jewish vigilantes and cheap shots at the last person who believes in a two-state solution, Abu Mazen. Everything, that is, except an end to occupation and a just political solution. This is what happens when a powerful country forgoes any effort to address the grievances of a people under its control and descends into raw oppression."
    • Isabel Kershner: Israeli Cabinet Approves Nationality Bill: Could use more detail here, but the legislation appears to be aimed at stripping rights away from "Arab citizens of Israel," including citizenship in some cases. Intriguing sentence: "In what appeared to be a political deal, Mr. Netanyahu promised government support for the hard-line versions of the bill in a first reading in Parliament this week on the condition that the law would be moderated before any final approval."
    • William Saletan: Hate Thy Neighbor: Subtitle: "How Israel teaches its citizens all the wrong lessons." For instance, there's the policy of demolishing the homes of the families of already-killed "terrorists": "In other words, the logic of the policy is that it punishes people who don't commit acts of terror. Terrorists want to die, so they aren't deterred. Israel targets their loved ones, who would suffer more acutely, in the hope that this "price" will intimidate the would-be perpetrator. That is the logic of hostage taking, and of terrorism."
    • Michael Wilner: Cornered but unbound by nuclear pact, Israel reconsiders military action against Iran: So the sabre-rattling resumes, just as the US and Iran are putting the finishing touches on a deal promising to return Iran to the good graces of the NPT, certified as a state that is not developing nuclear weapons. Of course, Netanyahu wants to torpedo that deal (and is probably expecting the Republican congress to do his dirty work for him -- after all, they were elected precisely for their inability to think independently). He also no doubt wants to bring up the spectre of Iran any time the US suggests he negotiate peace with the Palestinians. But wasn't it just a few months ago when he admitted that his last round of sabre-rattling was nothing more than a scam to hustle the dumb Americans, and that Israel never had any intention of attacking Iran in the first place?

    I also want to single out Richard Silverstein: Terror Rules Jerusalem: He points out that the "heinous synagogue terror attack by Palestinians in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Hof" took place on grounds of the former Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, "where the Irgun murdered 100 Palestinians as part of the pre-war (1948) violence that eventually led to the Nakba," adding "It's horrible to think that this single place could be the site of two such tragedies." He doesn't mention that the ratio of dead is close to the historical norm for matched sets of Israeli and Palestinian massacres. He then quotes Jerry Haber:

    In the next few days, after the IDF and the settlers will have taken their vengeance, under the Orwellian cover of "deterrence," life will go on. The settlers who commit price-tag attacks will be condemned for a day, then understood, then arrested, maybe, convicted maybe, and pardoned, probably. The soldiers and police will do whatever they want with impunity, B'tselem cameras or not. Land will be expropriated, freedoms eliminated, the matrix of control and, most of all, the routine will continue until the next time, when Jews die, and the clueless Israelis hold everybody and everything but themselves responsible.

    Silverstein then moves on to the death of Yusuf Al-Ramuni, who was found hung in an egged bus he drove. The Israelis promptly declared the death a suicide, although there is evidence that he was lynched.

    Further, in the media rush to cover the horrific attack on the Har Nof synagogue, let's not forget that this incident preceded it. Terror always has a context. Do not forget that no matter how heinous an event, something equally heinous preceded and incited it.

    While the world justifiably gasps at an attack on a Jewish house of worship, let's remember that Palestinians see their own mosques and cemeteries torched and desecrated by settler price taggers. They see hundreds of heavily armed Israeli Police defiling the sacred precinct of Haram Al Sharif. Does anyone believe that a Muslim is not as horrified by this encroachment as a Jew is by an assault on praying Jews?

    It takes two, and Palestinian rage derives from Israeli provocation. Certainly, the settlers who murder Palestinians believe the converse. So why not credit Palestinian rage as much as Israeli? [ . . . ]

    Examine once again Bibi's response to the Kafr Kana police murder. He dispensed with rote regret altogether. He launched into barely controlled rage at Palestinian protests against this cold-blooded murder and warned they would be "dealt with" severely if they didn't learn to behave themselves.

    Bibi doesn't mind the current level of civil unrest. It plays into his hand for upcoming elections, and this is literally all he cares about. Israelis flock to the strong man, even if he's utterly unable to stifle Palestinian terror. The problem will be that Bibi will win an election, but have no more idea how to quell the rebellion after the election than he does now.

    Silverstein thinks a Third Intifada is already here, "but unlike the earlier Intifades, this one is a mutual affair in which Jewish terror (whether official and State-sponsored or vigilante-based) responds to Palestinian terror (or vice versa)." Actually, he forgets the overwhelming preponderance of Israeli violence in both previous Intifadas -- a term which gives Palestinians more strategic credit than they deserve. (In fact, I've long argued that the second Intifada should have been named for Shaul Moffaz, the man who started it, and looking back Pogrom might have been more accurate; looking forward it certainly will be.)

    You might also read Silverstein's later post, In Race for Next Shin Bet Chief, May Worst Man Win. In the US we're so used to voting for "lesser evils" that the "may worst man win" notion is not just alien, it's downright terrifying. Ever since the German CP really did let the worst man win, we've been popular frontists -- partly because the world has never been so vile, nor the hope for revolution so sweet, to let the world crash so dismally. (The right, on the other hand, with its distorted vision and messianic fervor, has often done just that.) On the other hand, Silverstein has become so pessimistic about Israel that the only chance he sees is complete breakdown. It's a scary argument.

  • Also, the US war machine is heating up: If Republicans want to pick a fight over the arbitrary, unilateral abuse of presidential power, they're welcome to start here:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Paul Krugman: The Structure of Obamacare: This is fairly basic, but still above most heads, so worth explaining:

    It's important to be clear what this does NOT mean -- it doesn't mean that there is a huge hidden burden on the public. For the most part, people buying health insurance would have bought it anyway. Under single-payer, they would have stopped doing that, and paid taxes instead; under the ACA, they continue to pay premiums but don't pay the extra taxes. There's no secret extra cost.

    So, why was Obamacare set up this way? It's mainly about politics, but nothing that should shock you. Partly it was about getting buy-in from the insurance industry; a switch to single payer would have destroyed a powerful industry, and realistically that wasn't going to happen. Partly it was about leaving most people unaffected: employment-based coverage, which was the great bulk of private insurance, remained pretty much as it was. This made sense: even if single-payer would have been better than what people already had, it would have been very hard to sell them on such a big change. And yes, avoiding a huge increase in on-budget spending was a consideration, but not central.

    The main point was to make the plan incremental, supplementing the existing structure rather than creating massive changes. And all of this was completely upfront; I know I wrote about it many times.

    Most single-payer advocates will counter that the health insurance industry deserved to be destroyed. Of course, I agree, and would like to go further in nationalizing health care -- the insurance industry isn't the only sector that rips the public off, even if it is unique in how little value it adds to the system. However, if the obstacle to single-payer is the political power of the health insurance industry, it would be worthwhile looking at reforms to ACA that would knock that industry down a notch or two. The "public option," which was a key part of the original act, was one: this would weaken the industry in two ways: by drawing customers away, and by reducing profit margins through tougher competition.

    I suspect the main source of opposition to the ACA is the kneejerk belief common on the right that prefers policy made by profit-seeking private companies over the public-servants of government bureaucracies. It's hard to see why anyone should believe that, but sometimes business doesn't cut its own throat, and sometimes government does.

    Krugman writes more about ACA and partisan blinders here:

    The mind reels. How is it possible for anyone who has been following politics and, presumably, policy for the past six years not to know that Obamacare is, in all important respects, identical to Romneycare? It has the same three key provisions -- nondiscrimination by insurers, a mandate for individuals, and subsidies to make the mandate workable. It was developed by the same people. I and many others have frequently referred to ObamaRomneycare.

    Well, I've know for years that many political pundits don't think that understanding policy is part of their job. But this is still extreme. And I'm sorry to go after an individual here -- but for God's sake, don't you have to know something about the actual content of a policy you critique?

    And what's actually going on here is worse than ignorance. It's pretty clear that we're watching a rule of thumb according to which if Republicans are against a proposal, that means it must be leftist and extreme, and the burden on the White House is to find a way to make the GOP happy. Needless to say, this rewards obstructionism -- there is literally nothing Obama can do to convince some (many) pundits that he's making a good faith effort, because they don't pay any attention to what he does, only to the Republican reaction.

  • Nancy Le Tourneau: Understanding the Threat of a Confederate Insurgency: Starts with a long quote from Doug Muder's Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party, which makes the point that the first war the US lost was the Civil War -- not in 1865, when the Confederate Army was disbanded, but by 1877, when Reconstruction ended with the restoration of the Confederate aristocracy, setting the stage for Jim Crow and all that. If I understand LeTourneau correctly, she's arguing that the explosion of neo-Confederates is a last-ditch reaction against change -- something more likely to be a sporadic nuisance than a gathering wave. Nonetheless, the ability of the right to resist and even roll back reform is a repeated theme in American history, and we're seeing way too much of it now.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (November 2014)

Pick up text here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24030 [23996] rated (+34), 527 [531] unrated (-4).

Rated count topped 24,000 this week. It passed 23,000 the week of March 24, 2014, a bit less than eight months ago. That probably means June-July, 2015 for 25,000, although I wouldn't be surprised if I started to slow down. New records are down at least a hundred this year.

Francis Davis has arranged with NPR to keep his Jazz Critics Poll going for another year. Ballots have been sent out, and I have one. Even though I've listened to close to 500 new jazz albums this year, I have virtually no idea who the leading candidates are this year, let alone who will win. I barely even have a sense of who I might vote for, and that's after I went to the trouble to split out my 2014-in-progress file into two more presentable year-end lists: one for Jazz and another for Non-Jazz. Each picks up (at least initially) the text and cover scan from Rhapsody Streamnotes. As I was doing this, the first thing that occurred to me was my haphazard insertions into the list throughout the year are far from adding up to a sort. Before I declare anything even tentatively official -- the Jazz Critics Poll deadline is December 7 -- I expect to do a lot of resorting.

I still need to do quite a bit of work on the files. I'll probably reorganize them to reflect Davis' revised rules on reissue/historical. (I've moved a couple records over, but not all of them.) I also need to go back and dig up December (or post-Thanksgiving) 2013 releases, since they weren't available early enough for last year's premature ballots). Then there is the "prospect" list in the notes: technically, any record I'm aware of existing that I think might have a 2% (or greater) chance of panning out into an A-list release. This involves looking at the prospect file and various other resources.

Much more unpacking than usual this week, but nothing I'm especially looking forward to. (It occurs to me that David Friesen must be one of the best-regarded jazz musicians I've never listened to an album by, and now I got a double. Only four more names strike me as familiar, and they're not all that memorable.)

By the way, the Fred McDowell album popped up as a new digital dump, but I cited the older CD. I found the Ross Johnson set when I was looking for something newer (though probably still old) by him, and got curious.

The draft file for Rhapsody Streamnotes has about 80 records in it now. I expect I'll post it later this week, then probably do two in December as the 2014 year-end lists appear. (I will say that the two leading candidates there are St. Vincent and War on Drugs, and while neither made my A-list, neither is totally undeserving either.)

New records rated this week:

  • Omer Avital: New Song (2014, Motéma): bassist's generic Middle Eastern grooves plus horns (Avishai Cohen, Joel Frahm), as if that's all it takes [r]: B+(*)
  • Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (2014, Prospect Park): young rapper lives fast, offers her take on her corner of the human condition [r]: B+(***)
  • Batida: Dois (2014, Soundway): Angolan-Portuguese DJ project, with post-African beats, electronica blips, international hip-hop raps and samples [r]: B+(**)
  • Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (2014, High Note): not really a blues guy but he knows from "sad young men," and saxophonist Harry Allen helps [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chick Corea Trio: Trilogy (2010-12 [2014], Concord, 3CD): 3 discs of piano trio from 3 years of touring, a fine pianist when his head's not fused or lost [r]: B+(***)
  • Tara Davidson: Duets (2014, Addo): alto/soprano saxophonist cycles through various duet partners -- piano, guitar, bass, other saxophonits [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ex Cops: Daggers (2014, Downtown): feigned punk, but Amalie Bruun offers more pop aura than expected [r]: B+(*)
  • Marianne Faithfull: Give My Love to London (2014, Easy Sound): recruits an odd assortment of songwriters, but none measure up to Hoagy Carmichael [r]: B+(*)
  • Ananda Gari: T-Duality (2013 [2014], Auand): Italian drummer gets his name of a merely average Tim Berne-Rez Abbasi-Michael Formanek album [r]: B+(**)
  • Darius Jones: The Oversoul Manual (2014, AUM Fidelity): puts down his sax to conduct a quartet of operatic female voices through some bs mythology [r]: B-
  • Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (2013 [2014], Origin): Seattle trumpet player moving up in the world -- at least getting a world-class rhythm section [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tony Monaco: Furry Slippers (2014, Summit): Hammond B-3 groove merchant adds guitarist Fareed Haque, but settles for ballads in the end [cd]: B
  • Parquet Courts: Parkay Quarts: Content Nausea (2014, What's Your Rupture?): another throwaway EP, but their post-Velvets drone isn't wasted on shlock; it thrives there [r]: A-
  • Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (2014, Summit): saxophonist as solid as ever, but Richardson's trumpet should turn some ears [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ryan Shultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (2013 [2014], Origin): bass trumpet adds a note of gravity (and distinction) to a fusion-inclined group [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (2014, Pi): drummer-led piano trio with Corey Smythe and Christopher Tordini, mostly ambles aleatorically [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lyn Stanley: Potions: From the 50's (2014, A.T. Music): from the 1950s, including "Love Potion #9" but tending toward pre-rock, somehow missing ole black magic [cd]: B+(**)
  • Aki Takase/Alexander von Schlippenbach: So Long, Eric!: Homage to Eric Dolphy (2014, Intakt): German avant big band, led by two pianists, recalls nine Dolphy tunes [r]: B+(***)
  • T.I.: Paperwork (2014, Grand Hustle): enough with the gangsta shit, especially when all it takes to sell out is to hire Pharrell for some wack hooks [r]: B+(**)
  • Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (2014, Audiophile): octogenarian songbird sings standards, both big band and small swing impeccable [cd]: A-
  • Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (2014, Inner Circle Music): piano trio helped by guests -- Noah Preminger looms large, but the singer is stuck with "Julia" [cd]: B
  • Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (2013 [2014], Steeplechase): smart pianist, covers the greats (Monk & Silver are the standouts), writes originals that fit [cd]: B+(***)

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

  • Hailu Mergia and the Walias: Tche Belew (1977 [2014], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Ethiopian keyboardist spins enchanting, slightly cocktail-ish grooves, charming [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Ross Johnson: Make It Stop: The Most of Ross Johnson (1979-2006 [2008], Goner): Alex Chilton sideman's collected jokes, pranks, rockabilly primitivism [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred McDowell: Amazing Grace (1966 [1994], Shout!/Testament): blues primitive goes to church, finds Hunter's Chapel Singers, puts his guitar at their service [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s, Time-Life): [was B+(**)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Malonie Carre: Forever (self-released)
  • Ron Di Salvio: Songs for Jazz Legends (Blujazz)
  • David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Where the Light Fails (Origin, 2CD): November 17
  • Polly Gibbons: Many Faces of Love (Resonance, CD+DVD): February 3
  • Danny Green Trio: After the Calm (OA2): November 17
  • Maggie Herron: Good Thing (self-released)
  • Anthony Jefferson: But Beautiful (self-released)
  • Paul Jones: Short History (Blujazz)
  • Collette Michaan: Incarnate/Encarna (self-released): December 2
  • Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered: Compositions of Bill Evans (Origin): November 17
  • Old Style Sextet (Blujazz)
  • Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Episodes IV-VI (OA2): November 17
  • Sonya Perkins: Dream a Little Dream (self-released)
  • Diane Roblin: Reconnect (self-released)
  • Joanne Tatham: Out of My Dreams (Cafe Pacific): December 2
  • Piet Verbist/Zygomatik: Cattitude (Origin): November 17

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Daily Log

Laura wrote a draft "letter to the editor":

A recent letter seems to think that Hamas seized power in Gaza and this gives Israel has the right to kill Palestinians in Gaza. Regardless of the repressive and violent nature of Hamas, this idea is false. In 2006 the Palestinians, encouraged by the US, held an election. This is under occupation, don't forget. Hamas got the most votes, not because people wanted to kill Israelis, but because they were rejecting Fatah, which had shown itself to be corrupt and ineffective in opposing Israel's occupation. Israel and the US decided this was not to their liking, so they instigated Fatah's violent attempt to take over in Gaza in 2007.But Hamas defeated this coup attempt and remained in power, so a displeased Israel, which already controlled the borders, airspace and seacoast of Gaza, instituted an even more draconian system by blockading Gaza. This is collective punishment pure and simple, and civilized people should not support that.

She asked me to fact-check her assertions, so I wrote back:

The facts as I know them (do with them what you will):

In 1947 the UN proposed dividing Palestine into two separate countries, one Jewish (Israel), the other Arab (Palestine). One of three disconnected Palestinian territories was the Gaza Strip. By 1949, when Israel signed an armistice with Egypt, the Gaza Strip had been reduced in size by about half, and its population more than doubled with refugees from Israeli territory. Egypt administered Gaza until 1967, when Israel invaded and placed Gaza under military law (occupation). In 1993, Israel signed the Oslo Accords, and as stage one gave limited administration of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA), led at the time by Fatah chairman Yasser Arafat. Fatah was a secular party -- it included both Christians and Muslims -- and had long been the dominant political faction within the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). After Arafat died in 2004, a presidential election was held in 2005 and won by Arafat's deputy, Mahmoud Abbas. When legislative elections were held in 2006, Fatah was challenged by Hamas -- a social welfare group founded in 1987, aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas had originally bee supported by Israel as an alternative to Fatah, but after the PA was established Hamas became more militant and Israel started to target Hamas leaders. leading to a cycle of terrorism, especially in the years 2001-03 when Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister of Israel and destroyed any chance that the "peace process" would result in separate Israeli and Palestinian states. The end of the "peace process," the death of Arafat, and the widespread perception that Abbas and other Fatah leaders were corrupt resulted in a victory for Hamas in the 2006 legislative elections. However, Israel and Bush rejected the results of a clearly democratic election, and conspired with Fatah officials to seize power in a coup. Their effort was successful in the West Bank, but was rebuffed by Hamas in Gaza. Israel, which continued to control the borders to Gaza (as they had since 1967) then locked those borders down in an attempt to "put Gaza on a diet" -- to starve Hamas into submission. Hamas, in turn, has tried various strategies to work around Israel's blockade, ranging from digging tunnels to smuggle goods from Egypt to firing small rockets over Israel's border wall to declaring truces (the Arabic term is "hudna"), which are invariably terminated by Israeli shelling or bombing. Israel has in turn at various times loosened or tightened the blockade, and has launched four large-scale punitive wars against Gaza (in 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2014) -- the latest killed over 2000 Palestinians -- and numerous smaller-scale attacks. The 2014 war was largely occasioned by an agreement between Fatah and Hamas to reunify the PA government (under Fatah leadership but with Hamas participation). If Israel had any desire to negotiate fair peace terms they would welcome a unified leadership of the two major factions within Palestinian politics; indeed, they would have recognized whatever leadership Palestinians democratically chose to represent them. Clearly, Israel's current leaders have no desire for peace, nor do they have any respect for US-led peace efforts.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Daily Log

Dinner menu for the Alice Powell memorial "Jerusalem" dinner, based on Jerusalem, by Yotam Oggolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Invited about 12 people.


  • Roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs (p. 26): substitute mejdol dates for figs.
  • Chermoula eggplant with bulgur & yogurt (p. 59)
  • Butternut squash & tahini spread (p. 69)
  • Parsley & barley salad (p. 81)
  • Roasted chicken with clementines & arak (p. 179): serves 4, so double recipe
  • Chopped liver (p. 186)
  • Lamb meatballs with barberries, yogurt & herbs (p. 199)
  • Marinated sweet & sour fish (238): Gretchen to fix, so not in below.
  • Mutabbaq (p. 262)
  • Poached pears in white wine & cardamom (p. 267): scale up by 1.5, so you have 1/2 pear per person
  • Cardamom rice pudding with pistachios & rose water (p. 270): maybe Gretchen will do this?
  • Yogurt with cucumber (p. 299)
  • Harissa (p. 301)

Also made a half-recipe of pita bread (8 pieces), using 1/2 cup of whole wheat flower. Forgot to serve the yogurt with cucumber. Rannfrid made Turkish coffee to go with dessert. People generally avoided the chicken -- I shouldn't have scaled the recipe up, not just because I had more than half left over but because the quantity piled up so many pieces didn't brown (they were fully cooked and the uncrisp skin was still flavorful). The pita was the first to go, and the meatballs got plucked out of the sauce. I forgot to use the saffron with the pears, so they didn't have the brilliant yellow look of the picture. (I bought six bartlett pears, figuring I'd scale the recipe up so each person would get one-half pear, then I bought three bosc pears, and decided to use them instead, so the serving size was 1/4 pear.) Someone took some pictures, but I don't have them.

Shopping list:

  • chicken, 2 whole or 16 chicken thighs (skin on, bone in)
  • chicken livers, 14 oz
  • lamb, ground, 1.5 lb
  • chile,red, 4
  • chives, chopped, 1 tbsp
  • cilantro, 0.33 oz + 2 tbsp + part of 3 tbsp
  • clementines, 8
  • cucumbers, mini, 2
  • dill, part of 3 tbsp
  • eggplants, 2 medium
  • fennel, 4 medium bulbs
  • garlic, 12 cloves
  • mint, fresh, 0.33 oz + 2 tbsp + part of 3 tbsp
  • olives, green, pitted, 0.33 c
  • onion, 2 large (3 c) + 2 medium
  • onion, red, 1 small
  • parsley, flat-leaf, 3.67 oz + garnish
  • pepper, red bell, 1
  • scallions, 22
  • shallots, 1.5 lb
  • squash, butternut, 1 large (2.5 lb)
  • sweet potatoes, 4 small (2.25 lb)
  • tarragon, part of 3 tbsp
  • tomato, paste, 1.5 tsp
  • almonds, sliced, 1/3 c
  • dates, mejdol
  • figs, dried, 5 oz
  • pears, firm, 6
  • pistacchios, unsalted
  • raisins, golden, 0.33 c
  • butter, unsalted, 2/3 c
  • cheese, feta, 5 oz
  • cheese, goat's milk, 14 oz
  • cheese, ricotta, 2 c
  • creme fraiche
  • eggs, 5
  • yogurt, greek, 4 c
  • barley, pearl, 1/4 c
  • bulghur, fine, 1 c
  • filo pastry, 14 sheets
  • arak (or pernod or ouzo), 13 tbsp
  • wine, 3.75 c + 2 tbsp
  • wine, dessert, 4 tbsp
  • date syrup, 1.5 tsp
  • duck or goose fat, 6.5 tbsp
  • lemon juice, 18.75 tbsp
  • lemon, preserved peel, 2 tbsp
  • olive oil, 0.67 c + 23 tbsp
  • orange juice, 6 tbsp
  • stock, chicken, 2 c
  • sugar, 2 tsp
  • sugar, superfine, 2.625 c + 1.5 tbsp
  • sugar, brown, 6 tbsp
  • tahini, light paste, 5 tbsp
  • vinegar, balsalmic, 3 tbsp
  • allspice, ground, 1.25 tsp
  • barberries, 6 tbsp
  • bay leaves, 2
  • caraway, seeds, 0.5 tsp
  • cardamom, pods, 22
  • chile, flakes, 1 tsp
  • cinnamon, ground, 1.75 tsp
  • coriander, ground, 2 tsp
  • coriander, seeds, 1 tsp
  • cumin, seeds, 0.5 tsp
  • cumin, ground, 2.25 tsp
  • fennel, seeds, 5 tbsp
  • mint, dried, 1 tbsp
  • mustard, grain, 4 tbsp
  • paprika, sweet, 1 tsp
  • pepper, black, 0.5 tsp (always freshly ground)
  • pepper, cayenne, pinch
  • pepper, white, 0.25 tsp
  • saffron, threads, 0.75 tsp
  • salt, 2 tsp (usually sea salt)
  • sesame seeds, black and/or white, 1 tsp
  • thyme, leaves, 2 tbsp + 2 sprigs
  • za'atar, 1 tsp

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Random Thoughts on World War I

I attended a talk given by Gretchen Eick on World War I, which got me to thinking. Much of what I heard there was familiar to me, although one point that wasn't was the extent of British efforts to mold public opinion in the US in favor of entering the war. So what I'm doing below isn't trying to recapitulate Eick so much as marshall what little I do know about the war.

  1. It was called the Great War at the time, which suits it more than being demoted to a mere preview of WWII. I'll go with that name here.

  2. For one thing, the first world war was probably the Seven Years' War of 1756-63, fought principally between Great Britain, France, and Spain for colonial possessions on several continents, although it also involved Sweden, Prussia, Austria, Russia, Portugal, and others, and included anticolonial elements (in America it is remembered as the French and Indian War, and it was a close precursor of the War for Independence in 1776 -- much as WWII catalyzed the War for Independence in Vietnam).

  3. For another, the phrase "Great War" provides a flavor of the time. The war was the logical (if not necessary) culmination of the two great themes of the previous century-plus: the rise of nation states (greatly accelerated by the unification of Germany and Italy), and Europe's imperial domination of the rest of the world. Most of the states that fought the war had through their empires achieved unprecedented levels of greatness -- Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were declining exceptions, their fears and envy proving the point.

  4. Arno Mayer coined the term "The Thirty-Years War of the 20th Century" to bind the two world wars into a single, more coherent entity -- one that both binds the two major wars together and helps to sweep up numerous related conflicts between the bookends (e.g., the Russian Civil War, the Greek-Turkish War, Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, Japan's grab of Manchuria). The seeds of the later war were planted in the settlement of the first: not so much because Germany was treated harshly, although that was part of the problem, as because the war failed to convince both sides of the folly and futility of empire.

  5. The Great War was greeted by an outpouring of mass patriotic fervor, something unprecedented and, as the grim realities of 20th century warfare set in, never again repeated. Both sides expected a quick and favorable, even painless, result, as they had become accustomed to in their military encounters with Africans and Asians. Europe's subjugation of Asia-Africa had swollen heads with racism, matching their embrace of national identity.

  6. David Fromkin, in Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?, blames Germany for starting the war. There is little reason to believe that Austria-Hungary would have declared war on Serbia without Germany's backing, so that decision rested more in Berlin than in Vienna. The Junker aristocracy that controlled Germany's military argued that war with Russia was inevitable, and that Germany should attack now rather than wait for Russia to modernize and grow more powerful.

  7. One reason Germany was so confident was the War of 1870, when a Prussian-led North German Confederation easily defeated France, seizing Alsace-Lorraine as booty and in the process unifying Germany into a single modern nation-state. Since then Germany grabbed a handful of territories in Africa and islands in the Pacific, but all the prime colonies had been grabbed by other powers, so further German expansion would have to come at the expense of others. To that end, Germany built up a navy to rival Britain's, but the most obvious target (and clearest rival) was Russia, with its long land border snug up against Germany.

  8. Russia expanded steadily from 1550 up to its losing war with Japan in 1905, fighting the Mongols to the east and south, moving down the Volga into Ukraine, accreting bits of territory through numerous wars with the Poles and Turks, racing across Siberia to the Pacific (and briefly onto Alaska), and in the 19th century pushing south through the Kazakhs and Uzbeks until their "Great Game" with Britain stalled. Even beyond their own borders, they cultivated fellow Slavs in the Balkans and fellow Christians in the Caucasus and used both as a wedge, ultimately hoping to pry the Ottomans from Istanbul.

  9. Germany, in turn, sought to thwart Russia by using its largely dependent ally, Austria-Hungary, to dominate the southern Slavs and by forging an economic and military alliance with the Ottomans. The "young Turks" who took over the Ottoman Empire saw the war as a way to start to reverse two centuries of decline as the various powers of Europe had picked away one bit of territory after another while forcing the Ottomans into "capitulations" -- carve-outs of sovereignty that allowed foreign powers special roles within the Empire (as when the French became "protectors" of the Maronites of Lebanon.

  10. The Ottoman Empire reached its peak size in 1683 when Austria repelled the Ottoman army at the Battle of Vienna, although the Empire had started to weaken earlier. This trend accelerated after 1800, as nationalism spread and Russia (in the Balkans) and Britain (in Greece) fomented "national liberation movements" to tear the Ottoman Empire apart. In the decade before the Great War there were two Balkan Wars which cost the Ottomans much of their remaining European territory. During the war the Russians tried to use Armenians and the British tried to use Arabs to fragment the Ottomans. After the war, Britain goaded Greece into attacking Turkey: the idea was to expand Greece to include Greek communities in Asia Minor, but it backfired and caused those communities to be exiled. The net effect of all the "national liberation movements" was to create a militant Turkish nationalism where none had existed before. Turkish nationalism soon manifested itself was in genocidal attacks on Armenians.

  11. France, of course, was eager to fight Germany to undo the stain of their loss to Prussia in 1870, and to regain the lost province of Alsace-Lorraine. They could have avoided the war by breaking their alliance with Russia.

  12. Great Britain nominally entered the war in defense of Belgian neutrality, which had been violated when Germany sent troops through Belgium to attack France. Again, Britain could have backed out of its alliance with France, or better still inveighed on France to back out on Russia, limiting the war to a probable stalemate in Eastern Europe, but they didn't. They were eager to reassert themselves as the world's dominant navy, and as the Versailles Treaty showed, they expected to gain most of Germany's territories in Africa and a large chunk of the Ottoman Empire.

  13. One theory the Great War disproved on day one was that Britain could maintain peace in Europe by shifting alliances to neutralize whichever continental power appeared strongest. Britain had followed that theory for several centuries, and it repeatedly failed, resulting in wars between Britain and Spain, then France, then Germany, and I suppose you could add the Cold War against the Soviet Union. (The balance of powers theory is still championed by Henry Kissinger, whose track record is no better.)

  14. The Great War quickly developed a reputation for mass slaughter, widely thought to be a case of new technology overwhelming old tactics. Indeed, the twenty-five years before the Great War had seen some of the most dramatic advances of technology ever recorded -- especially, widespread use of electricity and oil power, the latter so efficient it could power aircraft. But it could not have been the case that the destructive potential of that technology was not understood. Much of the firepower had, after all, been tested in colonial assaults in Africa and Asia -- for instance, at the 1898 "Battle of Omdurman," where the British killed or wounded 23,000 in a single day while losing only 47 of their own soldiers. The difference was that with both sides similarly equipped, the expected massacre turned into a mutual bloodbath -- at Somme in 1916 over one million people were killed or wounded, which testifies not only to the deadliness of the technology but to the unprecedented ability of all sides to raise and deploy armies. Of course, that too was not so new or surprising, as the Napoleonic Wars of the 1810s and the US Civil War in the 1860s show.

  15. The first use of poison gas was in the Great War, by Germany against Russia. France, Britain, and the United States also used poison gas. It was terrifying but not especially effective -- it hardly merits being called a "weapon of mass destruction" in the age of atomic bombs (or for that matter AC-130 gunships) -- and countermeasures were effective, so it was never again deployed against enemies capable of responding in kind. Which isn't to say it was never again used: the British used it in Iraq in 1920 (in case you ever wondered where Saddam Hussein got the idea).

  16. The overwhelming majority of deaths due to military action during the Great War were soldiers. By far the largest block of non-soldiers were Armenians killed in Turkey -- if you leave them out the ratio of soldiers to civilians goes from four to ten times. (Civilian deaths due to malnutrition and disease were much higher but still less than half as many as soldiers killed in war. In most past wars the opposite is true.) Most battles were fought away from cities, and aerial bombardment was limited by small and inefficient planes -- a problem solved in WWII.

  17. On the other hand, the idea that one could blame the masses for the acts of national leaders, or more nefariously that one could undermine leaders' resolve by inflicting hardships on the masses, was in the air, and had, of course, been tested in Africa and Asia. The most explicit effort was the British blockade of Germany, meant to starve the German people. (Churchill was reported disappointed that the war ended before starvation became widespread.) Again, such practices weren't innovated in WWII so much as perfected.

  18. Nor was genocide invented in the Great War, although it was vastly scaled up. European colonization had the effect of killing off huge numbers of natives, especially in the Americas, from the very beginning (1492), and those numbers sometimes added up to the extermination of whole tribes. Argentina and Tasmania were totally depopulated. Within what became the United States native population was reduced by close to 90%. (Sven Lindqvist covers some of this in his book, "Exterminate All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide.) Only some of this was intentional, but incidental slaughter in the 18th and 19th centuries led to directed slaughter in the 20th. The first widescale instance was directed by Germany against the Herero in Southwest Africa. During the Great War the Ottoman Empire oversaw a widespread effort to annihilate Armenians (with estimates up to 1.5 million killed). In WWII, Germany went after the Jews (over 6 million killed).

  19. The United States, which at the time was the world's largest economic power, entered the Great War in 1917, although it had been supplying arms, supplies, and financing preferentially to Britain since the start of the war, often in violation of its own "neutrality" laws. We tend now to think of the war as a dress rehearsal for WWII, which profoundly changed the character of the republic, but nearly all the elements of the change first appeared in the Great War. Before the war, the US eschewed any sort of foreign entanglements in war-prone Europe. (The Monroe Doctrine, which later came to be seen as declaring a zone of American hegemony, was originally just a threat to warn Europe to stay clear of the Americas and mind its own business.) Americans also realized that standing armies poised a threat to democracy, so the US barely had one. (Entering the Great War, the US had fewer troops in uniform than Bulgaria did.) After WWII all that changed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23996 [23966] rated (+30), 531 [540] unrated (-9).

Thought the odds I might cross the 24000 rated level this week were pretty good, but despite a fairly productive week I fell a bit short. Next week for sure. Probably not tonight. Most likely tomorrow. Just a number, and in some ways a rather low one. I recall talking to John Rockwell back in the 1970s when he had twenty-some thousand LPs in his collection. If he only had the pedestrian habit of keeping lists and jotting down grades, he could have well over 100,000 by now. I only started doing this as an aide de memoire in the 1990s, when I had about 3000 LPs and less than a thousand CDs. However, as so often happens when you start to measure something, it takes on a life of its own. I doubt Cap Anson had any clue that he had 3000 hits, nor that Sam Crawford realized he retired just short (2961). Al Kaline was conscious enough of his stats that he hung on to get 3007 hits, but I remember him saying that had he realized that 400 home runs would have put him into one of those exclusive clubs, he would have hit more. (He wound up with 399.)

Didn't get any new records this past week -- the three listed below came today, and two of those have 2015 release dates. I've had to open 2015 files, not that there is anything interesting in them yet. The 2014 metafile is currently up to 2615 records (807 rated or owned). I worked a little on it last week, mostly trying to fill in some missing jazz records -- that led me to Smoke Sessions, a generally good mainstream label (if that's your bag).

The Jinx Lennon records are on Bandcamp. Liam Smith is a fan, and he turned Robert Christgau onto them, resulting in last week's Expert Witness. I (more or less) agree, although I'll add that I didn't find Lennon's outrage either comforting or cathartic. I just find so much of what's happening today to be sad and pathetic -- not least because it wouldn't take much intelligence, sensitivity, and good will to come up with very different outcomes.

I didn't tweet about the Jinx Lennon albums, mostly because my own longer write-ups aren't very coherent. Ideally, I'd take another run at the writing (if not the albums) before Rhapsody Streamnotes posts (probably next week rather than this, although I currently have 56 reviews in the draft file).

New records rated this week:

  • Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (2014, Whaling City Sound): alto saxophonist with mainstream quartet leaning bebop, plays fast, brilliant sound, jumps right out [cd]: A-
  • Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (2012 [2014], self-released): Toronto group, alto sax-piano-bass-drums, moody postbop with spoken word [cd]: B+(**)
  • Otis Brown III: The Thought of You (2014, Blue Note): drummer, would like to break out if not cross over, but gets comflicting advice/help [r]: B
  • Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (2014, Blujazz): bassist-crooner, the guitar-bass-drums groove more swing than funk, nice sax too [cd]: B+(*)
  • Farmers by Nature: Love and Ghosts (2011 [2014], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): piano trio -- Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, Craig Taborn -- my how Taborn has grown! [r]: A-
  • Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (2013 [2014], Soupir Editions): along with Pianoman and Violaman, a nice little chamber jazz trio, actually too nice [cd]: B
  • Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (2013 [2014], Origin): trumpet quartet, elegant, spacious with knots of tension, poised for the trumpet to break through [cd]: B+(**)
  • Vincent Herring: Uptown Shuffle (2014, Smoke Sessions): alto saxophonist, leading a very mainstream quartet (Chestnut, Farnsworth), runs a little hot [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (2014, Creative Nation Music): Stravinsky for jazz quintet, the classical lurch modern and campy, the guitar sweet [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (2014, Creative Nation Music): Messiaen for jazz quintet, focus cello but interesting when chaos breaks [cd]: B+(**)
  • Will Holshouser/Matt Munister/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (2014, Aviary): accordion-guitar-tuba for folkish, semipop jazz [cd]: B+(**)
  • Javon Jackson: Expression (2014, Smoke Sessions): tenor saxophonist goes back to basics with a straightforward quartet, notably Orrin Evans on piano [r]: B+(*)
  • Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (2014, New for Now Music): guitar jazz that doesn't break out of the Montgomery mode, always a comfort zone [cd]: B+(*)
  • Harold Mabern: Right on Time (2014, Smoke Sessions): veteran postbop pianist, never quite lost his Memphis roots, plays a trio with Webber/Farnsworth [r]: B+(*)
  • Michael Mantler: The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update (2013 [2014], ECM): scores from JCOA's 1960s heyday, but outsourced to cost-effective pros [dl]: B
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (2014, Troubadour Jass): trombonist leads piano-bass-drums through genteel, sombre, charming standards [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ross Martin/Max Johnson/Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (2014, Not Two): guitar-bass-drums, didn't know the guitarist, and still don't [r]: B
  • Bette Midler: It's the Girls! (2014, East/West): girl group repertoire, great songs done respectably, but didn't she used to be a bit subversive? [r]: B
  • Miho Nobuzane: Simple Words: Jazz Loves Brazil (2014, self-released): Japanese pianist, picks up a Brazilian band in Brooklyn, get the vibe right [cd]: B+(*)
  • O'Death: Out of Hands We Go (2014, Northern Spy): Brooklyn alt-rock band with a bit of Irish, mostly filtered through folkies like Dock Boggs [r]: B+(***)
  • Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (2012 [2014], Origin): drummer-led sax quartet, ten Monk tunes, one never tires of hearing them [cd]: B+(*)
  • Doug Seegers: Going Down to the River (2014, Rounder): honky tonker, fell through cracks of Nashville, discovered by a Swedish tourist [r]: A-
  • The Spin Quartet: In Circles (2013 [2014], Origin): postbop, trumpet-tenor sax-bass-drums, all names you don't know with own albums but stronger together [cd]: B+(**)
  • Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait (2014, Def Jam, EP): west coast rapper with some mixtapes, got a label now but only a seven-song, 23:30 EP budget [r]: B+(*)
  • Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (2012 [2014], Nine Winds): Lisa Mezzacappa (bass) and Vijay Anderson (drums) stir up four horn leads [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ernie Watts Quartet: A Simple Truth (2013 [2014], Flying Dolphin): tenor saxophonist, always recognizable, and still able to sprint through "Bebop" [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Jinx Lennon: Live at the Spirit Store (2000, Septic Tiger): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Jinx Lennon: 30 Beacons of Light for a Land Full of Spite, Thugs, Drug Slugs and Energy Vampires (2002, Septic Tiger): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Jinx Lennon: Know Your Station Gouger Nation!!! (2006, Septic Tiger): [bc]: A-
  • Jinx Lennon: Trauma Themes Idiot Times (2009, Septic Tiger): [r]: A-
  • Jinx Lennon: National Cancer Strategy (2010, Septic Tiger): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Bette Midler: Live at Last (1977, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ballister: Worse for the Wear (Aerophonic): January 6
  • Michel Lambert: Journal des Épisodes II (Jazz From Rant): November 18
  • Nate Wooley/Dave Rempis/Pascal Niggenkemper/Chris Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic): January 6

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Weekend Update

Thought I'd do a quickie on post-election links but I've been so bummed and lethargic this week it's taken until Sunday anyway. Not just the elections, either, nor the news that the Supreme Court will practice its ideological activism on insurance subsidies for people unfortunate enough to live in states that couldn't (actually, wouldn't) get their act together under the ACA.

The takeaway from the election seems to be that voter suppression and nearly infinite money works for Republicans. The 4% "skew" toward the Democrats that Nate Silver found in the polls seems to be people who intended to vote but at the last minute either didn't or couldn't. That was enough to tilt about 5-6 senate races. But also Democrats didn't do a good job of articulating issues -- it's noteworthy that progressive issues won pretty much across the board when they weren't attached to candidates who could be linked to Obama. To pick on one example: Mark Pryor's campaign consisted of a vacuous slogan ("Put Arkansas First") and ads warning that Tom Cotton wanted to kill off Medicare and Social Security. That's not inaccurate, and would have won if voters really took Cotton to be that much of a threat, but many voters concluded that the risk wasn't that great. On the other hand, Cotton's ads did nothing more than equate Pryor with Obama. I can't tell you why that mattered, or why that worked, but it did.

  • Ryan Cooper: What Democrats get wrong about inequality: Lots of things.

    There are various complex models for this, but the general explanation is fairly intuitive: Modern economies are built on a mass market. But if the great majority of people don't have much (or any) disposable income, then there is no mass market, and it's harder to start a business relying on any kind of mass sales. And with weak consumer spending, existing businesses have little reason to invest in growth, and instead disgorge their profits to shareholders, exacerbating the trend. In the end, you get a hollowed-out, bifurcated economy, where low-grade goods are sold to the broke masses on razor-thin margins, while incomprehensible sums slosh around weird luxury markets.

    There's more to it than this. The breakdown of capital controls makes it easy to reinvest profits abroad, where there is more potential for middle-class growth. (I first noticed this in the early 1990s, when Greenspan lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy, and virtually all of that cheap money went abroad -- mostly, it seemed, into currency speculation, resulting in busts in East Asia, Mexico, and elsewhere. Conversely, foreign investors buy up assets in the US -- there was a tremendous boom in this during the 1980s, and while less commented on the trend continues.)

    By the way, I accidentally clicked on a link in Cooper's article and it led to a fascinating article by J.W. Mason, Disgorge the Cash:

    If you read the business press, you're used to these kinds of stories. A company whose mission is making something gets bought out or bullied into becoming a company whose mission is making payments to shareholders. Apple is only an especially dramatic example. But the familiarity of this kind of story is a sign of a different relationship between corporations and the financial system from what prevailed a generation ago.

    Prior to the 1980s, share repurchases were tightly limited by law, and a firm that borrowed in order to pay higher dividends would have been regarded as engaging in a kind of fraud. Shareholders were entitled to their dividends and nothing more -- neither a share in any exceptional profits, nor a say in the management of the firm. In the view of Owen Young, the long-serving chairman of General Electric in the early 20th century, "the stockholders are confined to a maximum return equivalent to a risk premium. The remaining profit stays in the enterprise, is paid out in higher wages, or is passed on to the customer."

    This, of course, has all changed since the 1980s, and it's worth underscoring that changes in law, and therefore political policy, were necessary to enable it. Much more of interest here -- I like the line on the post-WWII corporation: "Whether the managerial firm was the 'soulful corporation' of Galbraith or the soul-crushing monopoly capital of Baran and Sweezy, it was run according to its own growth imperatives, not to maximize returns to shareholders." Then there's this:

    Keynes's call for the "euthanasia of the rentier" toward the end of The General Theory is typically taken as a playful provocation. But as Jim Crotty has argued, this idea was one of Keynes's main preoccupations in his political writings in the 1920s. In his 1926 essay "The End of Laissez Faire," he observed that "one of the most interesting and unnoticed developments of recent decades has been the tendency of big enterprise to socialize itself." As shareholders' role in the enterprise diminishes, "the general stability and reputation of the institution are more considered by the management than the maximum of profit for the shareholders." With enough time, the corporations may evolve into quasi-public institutions like universities, "bodies whose criterion of action within their own field is solely the public good as they understand it." Veblen, observing the same developments but with a less sunny disposition, imagined that the managers of productive enterprises would eventually tire of "sabotage" by the notional owners and organize to overthrow them, seizing control of production as a "Soviet of engineers."

    Of course, that never happened, but maybe it should have -- the "euthanasia of the rentier" if not necessarily the "Soviet of engineers."

  • Kathleen Geier: Inequality, the Flavor of the Month: From June, but linked to post-election to remind us how little mileage the Democrats gained from the great issue of our time.

    Truth be told, it was never clear how serious Obama ever was about fighting inequality. Though his big inequality speech marked a step forward, as many of us noted at the time, it also contained serious omissions. The economist Max Sawicky observed that much of that speech didn't actually concern inequality. Rather, it was about social mobility, which is something entirely different.

    Writer Anat Shenker-Osorio pointed out that perhaps the most glaring omission of all in Obama's inequality speech was a simple one: a villain. To hear Obama and the Democrats tell it, inequality is something that just happened. An awful lot of sentences in Obama's speech used passive voice constructions -- phrases like "the deck is stacked," "taxes were slashed," and so on. His speech failed to craft any compelling narrative about exactly who did what to whom. Inequality remained an abstract concept.

    The timidity of Obama's rhetoric -- a faintness of heart that extends to many other Dems -- stands in sharp contrast to the talking points of many Republicans. Right-wing populists consistently point the finger at a rogues' gallery of liberal elitists, government bureaucrats, and the like. In the past, not only did economically progressive presidents vilify the plutocratic enemies of the American people, but they went about it with a certain gusto. Theodore Roosevelt issued thundering denunciations against "malefactors of great wealth." In his "I welcome their hatred" speech, FDR attacked as "tyrants" the "employers and politicians and publishers" who opposed the pro-labor policies of the New Deal.

    But today's Democratic Party is a different animal. By default, Democrats are the party of working Americans, and sometimes they do pass legislation that helps the majority. But they are also deeply corrupted by their own corporate ties. The Democrats' anti-equality agenda is a case in point. The party supports some admirable policies targeted at helping low-income Americans -- like raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and universal pre-K. But party leaders are far more ambivalent about policies that challenge the one percent and the power of capital -- stricter financial regulations, cracking down on CEO pay, a return to confiscatory income tax rates, fair trade, and intellectual property reform. Unless we rein in the wealth and power of the one percent, inequality will continue to spiral out of control.

  • Paul Krugman: The Uses of Ridicule: Case example is billionaire hedge fund operator Paul Singer, who has discovered proof that hyperinflation is actually happening:

    Meanwhile, a quick hit. Matt O'Brien has a lot of fun with Paul Singer, a billionaire inflation truther who is sure that the books are cooked because of what he can see with his own eyes:

    . . . check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real estate prices, as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading edge of hyperinflation could look like

    Hyperinflation in the Hamptons; hard to beat that for comedy, although Matt adds value with the Billionaires Price Index.

    Actually, I noticed this long ago (so long it certainly doesn't suggest Weimar- or Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation). When workers' wages rise, we worry about inflation, assuming those rises will be factored into future prices (because, heaven forbid, they can't possibly come out of profits). On the other hand, when asset prices rise, we assume they're finding their true value, even though the 2008 collapse of the housing bubble shows us that there is no such thing. That all seems awfully convenient for asset holders (and damn unfortunate for wage earners). But doesn't basic economic theory tell us that prices reflect the balance of supply and demand? When demand goes up relative to supply, prices rise -- and how is that different from inflation? We happen to live in a world where the rich is getting so much richer so fast that there simply isn't enough rich-folk-goods (Hamptons real estate, high-end art) to go around, so of course they bid up, and therefore inflate, the prices. That's really all there is to the bubble in Hamptons real estate. And the corrollary to that is that a lot of very rich people currently own assets that aren't really worth anything like they think: there is a substantial real transfer of wealth going on from the 99% to the 1%, but also this asset inflation bubble. If, say, there was a serious effort to rein in the super rich -- increasing income (and capital gains) taxes up toward 70%, regulating hedge funds and other rentiers out of business -- that asset bubble would collapse.

    Krugman makes other good points, but the best come from this golden oldie by Molly Ivins (from 1995, on Rush Limbaugh, but how little has changed?).

    Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger in our emotional lives -- your dad wallops you, but he's too big to hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of young white men without much education and very little future. This economy no longer has a place for them. The corporations have moved their jobs to Singapore. Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and aiming their anger in the wrong direction.

    In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you couldn't talk politics with a conservative without his getting all red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver with indignation -- just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now we're seeing the same kind of anger again.

  • Martin Longman: Waning Power for Blacks and Democrats: No coincidence that 2014 was the first election without the Voting Rights Act to protect black voters in the Old South. The Republicans have put a lot of effort into eradicating white Democratic office holders in the South, no matter how little ideological difference they present. The effect is reduce visible Democratic office holders to the black minority, reinforcing the Republican brand as the White People's Party. Whether they've done this because they are racists or just because it's a winning strategy, the effect is to prolong racism in the South and elsewhere. Assuming Landrieu is toast, the only Democratic senator in the old confederate states are in outliers Virginia and Florida, and neither is easy.

    There's no point in sugar-coating this. In the Deep South, the Democratic Party is now the non-white party, and minority politicians don't have the white partners they need to exercise any but the most local political power. While the problem is less severe in the border states, it has clearly made advances there. You can look at pretty much the whole Scots-Irish migration from the Virginias to Oklahoma and see that the Democrats were trounced last Tuesday. They badly lost Senate elections in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and they actually lost two Senate elections each in South Carolina and Oklahoma. Their seat in Virginia was only (just barely) saved by the DC suburbs in the northeastern part of the state.

    Longman also has a detailed piece on the House elections, The Midterm Results Were Not Completely Preordained, if you're still interested. If not, you might consider this paragraph -- one recipe for an exceptionally low turnout is the media message that these elections didn't matter:

    Regardless, you can say that your models predicted a big night for the Republicans all you want, but I still blame the media. I blame the media for creating the first federal election season in my lifetime in which the elections weren't the top story for the last two months of the campaign. By focusing so heavily on other stories, like ISIS and the Ebola virus, the media smothered the Democratic message.

  • Wendy R Weiser: How Much of a Difference Did New Voting Restrictions Make in Yesterday's Close Races?: The 2014 election was the first one run without the protections of the Voting Rights Act. It was also the first midterm election run under a spate of new voter suppression laws ushered in by Republicans after 2010 to keep turnout low. Weiser cites close election cases in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Florida, with various studies showing 2-3% drops due to new laws. "Under Florida's law, the harshest in the country, one in three African-American men is essentially permanently disenfranchised." Weiser also points out that while the Texas governorship was decided by more than "the 600,000 registered voters in Texas who could not vote this year because they lack IDs the state will accept" those citizens' inability to vote has an effect up and down the ticket, and indeed makes it that much harder for Democrats to run candidates. One thing that's rarely commented upon is that voter restriction laws not only prevent some people from exercising their voting rights, they intimidate many more from even trying.

    For more, see Brad Friedman: The Results Were Skewed Toward Republicans, which cites Wieser but goes much further, as well as casting a jaundiced eye at Nate Silver's conclusion that the polls were skewed.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Q&A: James K Galbraith on the Myth of Petpetual Growth, How Language Shapes Economic Thought, and More: An interview with Galbraith, whose new book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth is next on my reading list. Galbraith seems to doubt Ryan Cooper's argument that we need to counter inequality to increase growth. I've long agreed with Cooper (and Stiglitz, but not Krugman) that inequality is depressing demand at least in the US, but Galbraith seems to be arguing that growth is being hampered by more than just inequality -- e.g., that technology has something to do with it. One thing I'm pretty sure of is that technological advances have done much to blunt the political impact of inequality -- in effect, big TVs and smart cell phones make us less bitter about the rich getting richer. The new book is certain to be interesting. I've said many times that Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too is the best political book of the last decade.

  • Mike Konczal/Bryce Covert: The Real Solution to Wealth Equality: "Instead of just giving people more purchasing power, we should be taking basic needs off the market altogether." Social Security does this. So would universal healthcare and free education. Konczal and Covert have expanded this into a regular column in The Nation. All of these are worth reading:

  • Peter Van Buren: What Could Possibly Go Right? Iraq War 3.0, he calls it. Ignoring 1.0, I'm reminded more of Marx's quip about the Bonapartes: history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce -- although for all concerned it'll look more like tragedy all over again: it's only from an insensitive distance that one can sit back and revel in how ridiculous everyone involved is.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Got up this morning. The sky was clear, the air crisp, a really lovely day. People went to work. Some drove by. Others walked their dogs. The mail came. It all seems like a normal day. The ramifications of yesterday's elections will take some time to manifest themselves. It occurs to me that maybe I shouldn't fret so much. I'm 64. By the time the Republicans destroy Obamacare I'll be 65 and eligible for Medicare. By the time they kill off Medicare, I'll be dead. And otherwise I'm relatively immune to the scourges of Republican rule: I don't need decent or affordable schools, I'm unlikely to be harrassed by police or criminals (and the odds of a self-righteous gun nut striking me aren't much higher than the odds of being struck by lightning or mowed down by a tornado). I'm out of the job market, but (for now at least) don't need welfare either. And I don't have children, so while I wish good things for generations to come I don't have much skin in that game. If other Americans don't care what happens to them, why should I?

What happened? Nate Silver's postmortem claims The Polls Were Skewed Toward Democrats. I wish he had phrased this differently: the takeaway is likely to be that the pollsters were biased, something Republicans are always whining about (although Democrats usually suspect the opposite). Other reasons are possible: late shifts, volatile voter turnout levels. Pollsters try to limit their samples to "likely voters" but that can be hard to guess ahead of the fact. I don't have much data on turnout so far, but accepting the premise that people who don't vote are generally more liberal than people who do -- there's quite a bit of evidence for that -- a Democratic vote shortfall suggests a lower-than-expected turnout.[1] One turnout figure I have is Sedgwick County in KS (Wichita), where turnout was 51.5% -- actually a bit less than in 2010, despite much more competitive races this year. I suspect a variation on the so-called Bradley Effect (where people tell pollsters something that sounds better than the truth): I suspect more people told pollsters they would vote than actually did.

Silver's data shows that Republican Senate candidates did better than their weighted poll averages in 26 (of 34) races (he leaves KS off the list; Orman ran as an independent, but everyone treated him as a Democrat, especially since the Democratic nominee dropped out and wasn't on the ballot); Republican Gubernatorial candidates did better in 28 (of 35) races. Had the polls been right, the Democrats would have won two Senate seats (North Carolina, Alaska) and four governorships (Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland) they lost, but they would have lost Connecticut. Had the Democrats run two points better than their polls, they would have saved or picked up three Senate seats (Colorado, Georgia, Iowa) and three governships (Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin). That would have turned into a decent night.

Still, polling wasn't the reason Republicans won. I hadn't taken it that seriously, but the main reason's been staring me in the face every time I visited Talking Points Memo: in their "PollTracker" Obama has had a steady job approval rating of 42.9%, ten points below is 52.9% disapproval. That number hasn't budged in months, and it's hard to imagine what Obama could do to move it. He can't legislate anything without help from Congress, and that's something the Republicans won't permit. He could, like Harry Truman when faced a Republian-controlled Congress in 1948, go out on the campaign trail and attack his "do-nothing Congress," but that's not his style (and anyway, he's not up for election). Nor does he really have much to talk about: the economy is recovering but it's not doing most people much good (nor did he do it much good); he has positive stories on issues ranging from domestic oil surpluses to reducing the national debt, but who cares?; he's managed to get back into Iraq and involved in Syria without having a clue where that's going; then there's the panic on Ebola, where the message is a boring we're doing what needs to be done. The quiet competency and subtle nudges he's always aimed for don't move anyone.

The rest of TPM's widget doesn't look so bad for Democrats: their unfavorable rating is 8 point higher than their favorable (46-38), but the Republicans are 20 points unfavorable (50-30). One troubling point is that even though Republicans are less liked and more loathed voters still give them a +2.4% (45.7% to 43.3%) edge in the generic congressional ballot (plus, in the House, they have more incumbents due mostly to gerrymandering). One reason I dismissed the top line is that some people, like me, disapprove of Obama but wouldn't think of defecting to the Republicans over it. (My main gripe is Obama's handling of what I call the Four Wars of 2014 -- Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and Ukraine.) But evidently there aren't many of us. On the other hand, in race after race Republicans figure all they have to do is to identify the Democrat (or in Kansas, independent Greg Orman) with Obama and voters will snap. I expected most people to see through something that transparent, but for various reasons (including but not limited to racism) lots of people are ready to blame Obama for whatever bugs them, no matter what. And a big chunk of the $3.6 billion spent on the campaign went into driving that one point home.

Matt Yglesias explained what's been happening in a post on Mitch McConnell's reëlection:

In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren't even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell's counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama's popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition:

"Reporters underestimate how powerful the calendar is," says Jim Manley, the former communications director for Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader. "Say you want to break a filibuster. On Monday, you file cloture on a motion to proceed for a vote on Wednesday. Assuming you get it, your opponents are allowed 30 hours of debate post-cloture on the motion to proceed. That takes you to Friday, and doesn't cover amendments. The following Monday you file cloture on the bill itself, vote Wednesday, then 30 more hours of debate, and suddenly two weeks have gone by, for something that's not even controversial." All of this has slowed Senate business to a crawl.

"We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," McConnell says. "Because we thought -- correctly, I think -- that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan' tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there's a broad agreement that that's the way forward."

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It's been ugly. But in most voters' mind, the ugliness has attached to Obama and, by extension, Democrats.

Anyone who's paid much attention is aware of Republican obstruction and hostage taking -- some approving and some aghast -- but many don't notice until it's too late, and it's easy for them to blame Obama, especially with the right-wing media attacking Obama for pretty much everything they can imagine. The one exception that reflects back on Republicans seems to be shutting down the government, but folks rarely notice when the safety net is shredded until they fall through and go splat. Similarly, who notices when jobs (e.g., judges and ambassadors) go unfilled as long as they don't affect you personally. But the idea isn't just to obstruct Obama, it's to make life so difficult that the Democrats don't even try to do new things -- and that has the effect of making Obama and the Democrats look ineffective, like they aren't even trying.

What McConnell and the Republicans have done isn't unprecedented -- indeed they did much the same thing to Clinton -- except in frequency and persistence: there's never been anything quite like that before. The Senate, in particular, has many arcane rules ripe for abuse, and only limited by conscience -- something rarely seen among a group who increasingly favor incompetent and unrepresentative government. Like most schemes, the only way around it is to cut through it, exposing the ill intent and holding all sides to a higher standard of public interest. One might expect the mainstream media to do just that, but their sense of even-handedness blinds them to asymmetric behavior. Nor does it help that the media are held by large corporations, not the public trust (an idea increasingly regarded as quaint).

I'm not interested in speculating on what Obama can or cannot, should or should not do during the last two years of his term. I will say that the Democratic Party needs a spokesman independent of the White House, and that they need to rebuild the party from the roots up, much like the Republicans did in the early 1990s. Obama blew his opportunity to get much done when he lost Congress in 2010, much as Clinton did in 1994. That plus eight much-worse-than-wasted years with GW Bush has left us with an increasing roll of problems, little wherewithal to solve them, and it seems even less imagination. Until the latter opens up, we're stuck in this hopeless game, where nothing is possible because nothing viable can be imagined. In this, I'd say the Democrats are as blind as the Republicans, albeit somewhat less cynical.

It's worth noting that nearly all of the actual issues on the various ballots were won by progressives, including a higher minimum wage in Arkansas, more thorough gun control checks in Washington, guaranteed sick leave in several states, and decriminalization of marijuana. (A medical marijuana initiative in Florida lost when it fell just short of a 60% supermajority requirement, after Sheldon Adelson spent millions against it.) Perhaps more Democrats should have run on issues, instead of shying away from them. It's been observed that the election results will most likely end medicare expansion in Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, but that's due to Republican gains, not to referenda on the issue. Indeed, it's doubtful most voters in those states realize what they've done. All they think they've done is to have thwarted Obama and his nefarious plots.

[1] Indeed, the first turnout numbers show Preliminary Turnout Numbers Are Way Down From 2010 and 2012, the overall percentage voting dropping from 40.9% in 2010 to 36.6% in 2014. (The presidential elections Obama won in 2008 and 2012 drew 56.8% and 53.6% respectively.) Turnout varied from 59.3% in Maine to 28.5% in Texas; Kansas was 42.8%. Although the bottom of the barrel was solid red (Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma), some Democratic-leaning states had low turnouts (New York: 30.2%; California: 34.8%). I think there are at least two factors here: there is an underlying variation by state (e.g., Minnesota, which ranked 5th this year, is usually near the top, while Texas is almost always at the bottom), which are then tweaked somewhat by having competitive races.

There is also a map which compares 2014 to 2010. States with higher turnout in 2014 are: Nebraska (+7.6), Louisiana, Wisconsin, Maine, Arkansas, Alaska, New Hampshire (+3.1). Kansas was +1.1, a pretty small gain compared to campaign spending (through the roof). Colorado was +1.8, Kentucky +1.8, North Carolina +1.5, Florida +1.4.

Also, Ed Kilgore reports (What the Hell Happened to the Democratic Vote):

Comparing yesterday's exit polls to those of 2012, the first thing that jumps out at you is a big shift in age demographics: under-30 voters dropped from 19 percent of the electorate in 2012 to 13 percent in 2014, while over-65 voters climbed from 16 percent in 2012 to 22 percent in 2014. That's quite close to the age demographics of 2010.

[2] By the way, here's a report on Kansas: How the Kansas Democratic Party Drove Itself to Near Extinction (Pt 1): I can't really vouch for this -- I know some people who are active in the party, but I'm not one of them -- but certainly the lack of organization, offices, and candidate support is a big problem here. The Democrat who ran for an empty Senate seat against Jerry Moran did so with a total budget of about $23,000 (vs. about $5 million, if memory serves). This makes me wonder whether the Democratic gubernatorial ticket this year would have been stronger with Jill Docking on top and Davis slotted for Lieutenant Governor. For one thing, Docking wouldn't have been characterized as a "Lawrence liberal" (she's from Wichita), nor would she have been subject to those lurid "strip club" ads. Women have a good track record in KS politics: the last two Democratic governors were women, and before that two previous Democratic governors were named Docking (Jill married into a rather famous family, as by the way did Kathleen Sebelius). Also see Pt. 2.

Daily Log

I sent this letter to Harold Dean's Democracy for America:

I've made this point repeatedly in my blog, but in the wake of yesterday's election fiasco, let's make sure you hear it: the biggest political mistake Obama made was to get rid of Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic Party. It's time to bring Dean back and rebuild the party from the bottom up, across all fifty states. Also to provide a party spokesman who can speak up for the party rank-and-file -- the people who voted for Clinton and Obama and were forgotten as soon as inauguration day came around.

I'm from Kansas, and we worked very hard this year to throw off the Republican yoke. After all, we know better than most how bad it can get. In 2006, with help from Dean, we elected a Democratic governor and two (of four) US Representatives. Then Obama wrote Kansas off in 2008.

Billmon did one of his multipart tweet things. I thought I'd try to straighten it out (to see if it makes any sense):

  1. You already know next few days will see MSM reading last rites for Dems & predicting 1000 year GOP Reich. So some perspective is needed.
  2. I'm definitely not the right guy to be looking for silver linings, especially for Democratic Party, which is essentially useless.
  3. But only interesting thing about 2014 election (2 me) was what it showed about continuing decline of GOP's white conservative voting base.
  4. Haven't seen final numbers, but looks like electorate was considerably whiter & RW than 2012, but less than 2010. About what you'd expect.
  5. Results probably also about what you'd expect: GOP year, magnified by strong Red State lean of 2014 Senate class. But lots of narrow wins.
  6. Year this reminds of most (ironically) is 1986, when Dems retook Senate by beating bunch of GOPers elected in 1980 Reagan wave.
  7. Also lots of relatively tight races in 1986 -- but most of them tilted to the Dems at the end, like they fell to the GOP this year.
  8. Much excitement among Dems after '86 victories, much talk party was emerging from shadow of Reagan & 1984 landslide. Rising hopes for '88.
  9. But '88 Senate cycle was basically a wash: Dems +1 seat. And as GOP fully mobilized ITS presidential majority, Dukakis lost. False dawn.
  10. As @ed_kilgore pointed out, effective tomorrow a new cycle begins. And GOP faces even worse fundamentals in 2016 than Dems did in 1988.
  11. GOP will be defending 24 seats in 2016 -- many of them in the 2010 wave. Dems will defend only 10 -- in a presidential year.
  12. But if tonight's vote demos are correct, 2010 was as good as it gets for GOP -- and probably better than it will get again for long time.
  13. Viewed in long-term context of declining U.S. white majority, this year looks very different than MSM braying about tonight's GOP wins.
  14. GOP & its billionaires (party's real base) moved heaven & earth, spent gazillions, rolled and/or coopted Tea Party candidates . . .
  15. . . . suppressed black votes whenever/wherever they could -- basically threw the kitchen sink at the Dems.
  16. Koch brothers essentially retooled their entire political/financial machine to fight this year's elections.
  17. A huge, all-out effort -- in order to win a handful of key Senate & gubernatorial races by narrow margins & a 3-4 seat Senate majority.
  18. In an on-off year election in which all the normal cyclical political factors (2nd term off year) were pulling in GOP's favor.
  19. Why does any of this matter? It's not like the stakes are that high for the billionaire class. The Dems aren't exactly the Red Army.
  20. But a whole bunch of the class warriors among the 1% apparently seem to think that putting/keeping GOP in power is a vital interest.
  21. Big chunk of plutocracy is either so fanatical and/or so scared of losing control it refuses 2 tolerate even Dems weak tea liberalism.
  22. Like I said, don't really understand desperate quality of fear/hatred that plutocratic RWers have of/towards the Dems. Seems silly.
  23. But real lesson of 2014 is that for GOP & Koch clones the battle is getting harder, & the victories more expensive & tougher to come by.

Best subsequent tweet:

Unfortunately, trend towards majority-dumb population also shows no signs of slowing.

Kathleen Geier tweet:

This summer, the Dems made a calculated decision to shut up about economic inequality. How'd that work out for them? [link]

Monday, November 03, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23966 [23933] rated (+33), 540 [543] unrated (-3).

Week didn't start until Wednesday, when I posted last Music Week, so the rate count rate was exceptionally high -- 30 is a very solid 7-day week, ridiculous for a 5-day week. Played a lot of new stuff on Rhapsody, including a couple records I had acquainted myself with on the road. While the top-rated records all got multiple spins, I didn't dawdle on the clear misses (other than Dan Weiss favorite Ex Hex).

I've especially been missing the recommendations of Jason Gubbels, so was glad to see his Third Quarter 2014 Wrap-Up -- really just a cribsheet. He tabs five records as "pretty great": Run the Jewels, Angaleena Presley, Leonard Cohen, Spider Bags, and Aphex Twin. I had three of those, but "ran the jewels" way too fast a week back to get any real feel for the record, not that I didn't like what I heard [**]. I gave Spider Bags another play: I probably have it too low [*], but not so much so that I felt compelled to regrade it. I only know about half of the "pretty goods" (including Elio Villafranca and Changari below), but only have Orlando Julius' Jaiyede Afro at A-. No major disagreements below that, although the "pretty meh" Bill Frisell was well received by my friends on the Cape (I wound up at [***]), and I dislike Jason Moran's All Rise more than my grade [*] suggests.

Thought I noticed a blip in B+(**) grades this week, so I went to the year-in-progress file to check. I assumed B+ grades would be evenly distributed, but there is a small bell curve in the middle: 168-185-162. Actually, that bump was much more pronounced last year: 222-318-262. And now that I think about it last year's distribution makes more sense: there should be fewer higher-rated records than lower, but my actual lower-rated counts are progressively attenuated as we get ever deeper into records I don't consider prospects. Consider this sequence, comparing this year's count-per-grade to last year's: [A-] 68.7%, [***] 75.6%, [**] 58.1%, [*] 61.8%, [B] 52.9%, [B-] 76.9%. The way I read this, I'm listening to less crap this year -- probably because I don't have the metacritic file to make me conscious of lousy records other people like.

By the way, adding up all these numbers shows I only have 64.2% as many records in the 2014 (738) file as in 2013 (1149 and still growing until I freeze it end of December). It seems unlikely I'll ever make that deficit up (although 1000 is probably a 50-50 proposition).

Get out and vote tomorrow. It's the only day of the year when you get to act like you live in a democracy, even though your choices aren't likely to amount to much and the powers-that-be have done all they could to rig the results. Also the day you can blame your fellow citizens for their foolish choices, as opposed to every other day when the problem is more likely to be the corruption of the system.

New records rated this week:

  • Allo Darlin': We Came From the Same Place (2014, Slumberland): I don't follow lyrics well enough to be sure these are as deep as they might be [r]: A-
  • Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek (2014, Interscope): Italian-Americans bonding over their roots: great songs with shlocky arrangements [r]: B+(*)
  • Maggie Björklund: Shaken (2014, Bloodshot): singer-songwriter from Denmark to LA, given to open spaces and melancholy with steel guitar shimmer [r]: B
  • Chingari [Ranjit Barot/U Shrinivas/Etienne Mbappé]: Bombay Makossa (2014, Abstract Logix): two Indians (mandolin, drums) and a bassist from Cameroon fusion with fusion jazz then sing about it [r]: B+(*)
  • Gary Clark, Jr.: Live (2014, Warner Brothers, 2CD): major Texas blues hopeful returns to his strong suit after that awful debut LP, then stretches too long [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Dundas: Oslo Odyssey (2014, BLM, 2CD): LA pianist goes to Norway, picks up a band with a saxophonist suited to his pace, a bass great too [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: High Life (2014, Warp): rough-edged guitar replaces synth for the riffwork, like Fripp minus the Frippertronics [r]: A-
  • Ex Hex: Rips (2014, Merge): Mary Timony leads a tight pop-punk trio, no vocal presence, second hand riffs, but they're close to irresistible [r]: B+(***)
  • Flying Lotus: You're Dead (2014, Warp): and you've gone to hell with a soundtrack that taunts you with talent then slams the door, repeatedly [r]: B+(**)
  • Fumaça Preta: Fumaça Preta (2014, Soundway): Dutch band led by Portuguese-Venezuelan drummer is rooted in garage rock but sports exotic psychedelia and more [r]: A-
  • Benjamin Herman: Trouble (2013 [2014], Dox): polishing up standards, stretched and strained by Daniel von Piekartz's sentimental piano and vocals [r]: B+(*)
  • EG Kight: A New Day (2014, Blue South): blueswoman from Georgia via Chicago stays close to classic form, which keeps her consistent [r]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock & Roll Time (2014, Vanguard): at 79 has turned full circle back to Memphis; appreciates the guest help but doesn't need it [r]: B+(**)
  • Logic: Under Pressure (2014, Def Jam): young rapper makes debut after four mixtapes, avoids guests, does a fair job justifying his name [r]: B+(**)
  • Jemeel Moondoc/Connie Crothers: Two (2012, Relative Pitch): alto sax-piano duets, free but far from rough partly because they don't aim for speed [r]: B+(*)
  • The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers (2014, Matador): much viable talent, many pop hooks, often a bit bruised which isn't the problem; caring is [r]: B+(*)
  • Karen O: Crush Songs (2006-10 [2014], Cult, EP): Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer goes lo-fi (more like demo quality and EP-length), crude but not without interest [r]: B+(*)
  • Tineke Postma/Greg Osby: Sonic Halo (2013 [2014], Challenge): two alto saxes play like one (only better), spur Matt Mitchell to try to steal the show [r]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Previte: Terminals (2014, Cantaloupe): five pieces match SO Percussion with a guest; Greg Osby brings jazz, Nels Cline something beyond [r]: B+(*)
  • Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon: Perpetual Motion: A Celebration of Moondog (2013 [2014], Jazz Village): saxophonists toast Moondog, but they also drag a choir in, so texts matter? [r]: B+(*)
  • Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (2008-12 [2014], Fresh Sound): Josh Nelson plays piano in bassist-led trio, loves the lush harmonies until they're squishy [cd]: B+(**)
  • Elio Villafranca and His Jazz Syncopators: Caribbean Tinge: Live From Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2011-12 [2014], Motéme): Cuban pianist does two shows uptown, toning down that tinge [r]: B+(*)
  • Ezra Weiss Sextet: Before You Know It: Live in Portland (2013 [2014], Roark): live in home town Portland, the gritty horns warm up the joint, a gorgeous ballad closes [cd]: A-
  • Luke Winslow-King: Everlasting Arms (2014, Bloodshot): overeducated eclectic singer-songwriter can't quite figure out what to do in New Orleans [r]: B
  • Yelle: Complètement Fou (2014, Kemosabe): French electronica leaning toward dance-pop, not crazy at all let alone crazy enough [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s [2014], Time-Life): at 44(?) he drowns his mid-life crisis, threatening to kick your ass but doesn't [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Paul Dietrich Quintet: We Always Get There (Blujazz)
  • Aaron Goldberg: The Now (Sunnyside)
  • Tony Monaco: Furry Slippers (Summit)

   Mar 2001