Blog Entries [0 - 9]

Monday, June 7, 2021


Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35564 [35522] rated (+42), 217 [208] unrated (+9).

Saddened to hear that Frederic J. Fleron, Jr., died last week. Odd that I haven't found an obituary yet -- I did find one for his mother, Esther, from 1998, but it always seemed like fame was his due. He came into my life as Fritz, when he married my cousin, Lou Jean, and was a huge influence until they divorced. He got a Ph.D. in political science at Indiana, and taught at Kentucky and SUNY Buffalo. His specialty was Soviet Studies, and has his name on several academic books, but seemed to slow down with tenure. He came from a ritzy family, and struck me as a boisterous bon vivant, as well as a serious intellectual. He broadened my horizons, and inspired me to persevere through a very tough period in my life (not that my cousin didn't have even greater influence).

I became reacquainted with him sometime after 2000. I was visiting my cousin. He recognized me in a Buffalo record store, and came up and started talking. I remember him as being into old blues, which now included a fair sampling of folk and country. He occasionally sent me mixtapes. I didn't reciprocate, because I've never done that sort of thing, but I did return occasional tips and reviews. I follow him and their daughter Ingeri on Facebook, which is where I learned of his death. He was quite a character, and will be remembered and missed.

[PS: Here's an obituary for Fred Fleron.]


I made a minor change to the Christgau website recently: I was fixing a security issue with the "Google Search" widget, and decided it would be better to target a new tab for the search results, since going to them would lose the website's navigation menus.

A bit later, I thought I should have that same functionality on my website. Turns out I had implemented it some time back, but it was only showing up on some pages. It shows up on more now, although the historic sprawl has left some pages with older framing. Reminds me that a redesign is in order, but unlikely any time soon.

Redesigning the Christgau website is a higher priority -- one that I've made very little progress towards. I did catch up the Consumer Guide database last week (still not public; probably later this week, but the new stuff is embargoed, anyway; may wait until his June CG comes out).

I started this week off by noticing a Randy Sandke reissue in Napster's featured jazz list. Turns out that a lot of Nagel Heyer releases are now available, so I took a dive, which shortly led me to saxophonist Harry Allen. Nagel Heyer is a German label which released a fair amount of retro-swing in the 1990s and afters. One problem with their discography is that they have a bad habit of reissuing old records under new titles, often changing the artist credits as well. I ran across several such cases below, finally noting it on the Butch Miles release(s).

Harry Allen is one of my favorite saxophonists, so his dive went further. He developed a big following in Japan in the 1990s, with BMG releasing 3-4 records per year there -- only a few appeared in the US on RCA. I've long been frustrated by inability to find those titles, but Slider reissued the Japanese BMG/Novus records in 2007, and they're now on Napster (and probably other streaming sources).

Still, half of this week's A-list records are new music. Having listened to very little new non-jazz over the last couple months, it was easy to pick promising candidates off lists presented on the Expert Witness Facebook Group (one from Sidney Carpenter-Wilson proved most useful: his only A-list album I didn't check out was Black Midi, and the others scored *** or better, while a couple items from his B-list beat the odds). [PS: Gave Black Midi a B: "started better, ended worse."]

I'll follow up on more tips next week, including the latest from Phil Overeem, plus whatever Christgau comes up with. (Meanwhile, enjoying Awesome Tapes From Africa at the moment, especially DJ Black Low.)

Unpacking up this week, after a recent drought, so suddenly I'm behind on new jazz. Still not much there (other than Dave Rempis' The Covid Tapes) I'm really looking forward to. When I do bother to check sources, it seems like I'm getting very few of the top-tier albums (i.e., by artists I'll check out because everyone else will). I didn't have to look beyond Napster's featured list to find Tony Allen, Jaimie Branch, Dave Holland, and Sons of Kemet -- only two of those I knew were coming.

Managed some minor home projects, including a couple bathroom items (faucet aerator, grab bar mounted on tile) that had vexed me for a long time. Trying to figure out what to do about a faulty air conditioner this week -- troubleshoot, repair or replace? I'm already bothered by the heat, and it hasn't hit 90F yet (although it will by Wednesday).

Approaching the end of Jack E. Davis' The Gulf, where he gets into the chemical pollution allowed by the right-wing political regimes in the region, especially in Texas and Louisiana. This after the environmental destruction in Florida, which was mostly the work of developers. One might hope that some of this has been reversed, but for four years Trump gave clear signals to pollute all you want, and the impact of that takes time to accumulate. How much we will pay for the folly of letting his corrupt regime take power is still unfathomable. (Of course, it's not just the Gulf. Look at Turkey this week.)

Part of the reason is that it's hard to see where real change might come from. While the right-wing gets ever uglier, we're still beset by people (especially in the media) willing to patronize them. Especially ugly this week is Netanyahu's panic over the agreement to make someone else (Naftali Bennett, if that matters) prime minister of Israel. Looks like the intent there is to show Trump what a real coup looks like. (See: Shin Bet chief warns against Netanyahu incitement to political violence.) And speaking of ugly, consider this: Younger brother of Michael Flynn takes command of US Army Pacific.


New records reviewed this week:

Harry Allen/Mike Karn: Milo's Illinois (2021, GAC): Pandemic project, tenor sax and bass duo, mostly standards. Allen is one of the premier retro-swing players, and sounds typically fine, but the bassist doesn't give him much to swing. Karn, by the way, started out as a tenor saxophonist (one album on Criss Cross) before switching to bass. B+(**)

Tony Allen: There Is No End (2020 [2021], Blue Note): Nigerian drummer, started with Fela Kuti, died in 2020. No recording date given, no idea what state this album was in when he died, but as presented features a dozen rappers, most names I recognize (Sampa the Great, Koreatown Oddity, Jeremiah Jae, Danny Brown, Marlowe, Skepta). Most striking cut is "Cosmosis," with Skepta and Ben Okri (Nigerian poet/novelist, won the 1991 Booker Prize). B+(**)

Aly & AJ: A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun (2021, Aly & AJ Music): Electropop duo, sisters Alyson and Amanda Michalka, released three albums 2005-07, this their fourth. B+(*)

Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die Live (2021, International Anthem): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, has two Fly or Die albums (2017, 2019), a side project called Anteloper. She recorded this one in Switzerland, January 2020, with cello (Lester St. Louis), bass (Jason Ajemian), and drums (Chad Taylor), all credited with vocals (mostly on the "anti-Tr*mp" "Prayer for Amerikkka," sung by Ben Lamar Gay in 2019). Has crossover reach like 1970s Miles Davis, replacing the fusion with even more intense and complex rhythm. A-

The Chills: Scatterbrain (2021, Fire): New Zealand singer-songwriter Martin Phillips, formed this band in 1980, reformed it in 1984, 1994, and 1999, the second iteration producing their best albums -- a best-of from this period was called Heavenly Pop Hits. Little change in their basic sound, but the songs take a bit longer to kick in. B+(***)

Dave Holland: Another Land (2020 [2021], Edition): English bassist, straddled Miles Davis and Anthony Braxton in the early 1970s, filled in much postbop territory since then. Plays bass guitar as well as acoustic here, with Kevin Eubanks (guitar) and Obed Calvaire (drums), an echo of his g-b-d trio from 1975-96 (Gateway, with John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette). B+(**)

Jack Ingram/Miranda Lambert/Jon Randall: The Marfa Tapes (2021, RCA Nashville): Lambert you know. Ingram and Randall I don't know, although the former has ten albums since 1995, while the latter has three (his first also appeared in 1995), and more production efforts. Country pros do campfire sing-alongs, against the dry, West Texas sky -- Marfa is near Big Bend, and has been losing population since 1930. B+(***)

Gabor Lesko: Earthway (2021, Creativity's Paradise Music): Guitarist, from Italy, has at least one previous record. With various bassists and drummers, bits of sax (Eric Marienthal) and vocals (Guido Block). B [cd]

The Linda Lindas: The Linda Lindas (2020, self-released, EP): LA girl group, "half Asian and half Latinx, two sisters, a cousin, and their close friend" -- a formula that has me thinking Beach Boys, but now. Billed as punk, fits the form -- four songs, 9:32 -- but at this point settles for catchy little songs. On the other hand, three more/less later singles -- "Claudia Kishi," "Vote!," and "Racist, Sexist Boy" -- up the punk quotient several levels. I doubt we'll have to wait long for a compilation. B+(***)

L'Orange & Namir Blade: Imaginary Everything (2021, Mello Music Group): Producer and rapper/lyricist, Blade, from Nashville, released his debut album last year, so some further research is in order. L'Orange has a real knack for putting tracks together, but he also picks interesting collaborators. A-

Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime (2021, Matador): Tuareg guitar god, from Niger, sixth studio album since 2008, first on a rock label, resulting is some amusing hype: this album supposedly evolves from ZZ Top/Black Sabbath to Van Halen/Black Flag/Black Uhuru. I hear none of that, but fine with me if you want to try Ravi Shankar reaching for Jimi Hendrix's sky. Still, not just guitar. He/they sing in Tamasheq, "with poetic meditations on love, religion, women's rights, inequality, and Western Africa's exploitation at the hands of colonial powers." A-

Maria Muldaur With Tuba Skinny: Let's Get Happy Together (2021, Stony Plain): Trad jazz band from New Orleans, Todd Burdick plays the tuba, but Shaye Cohn (cornet) usually gets first mention, backed by trombone, banjo, clarinet, two guitars, and washboard. They have close to a dozen albums since 2009, usually with Erika Lewis singing. Muldaur, who started in Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, is perfectly at home here. A-

Olivia Rodrigo: Sour (2021, Geffen): Teenage (18) pop singer-songwriter from Temecula, California; great-grandfather from Philippines. Started taking acting and singing classes at age 6, got a film role at 12, a Disney+ series at 16, and is beginning to sound like a grizzled veteran -- even more so on the expertly paced ballads than on the opening anthem, "Brutal." A-

Paul Silbergleit: The Hidden Standard (2018 [2021], BluJazz): Guitarist, four albums in his store (but none on Discogs), also some books on guitar, including Play Like Joe Pass. I'm all for expanding the standards repertoire, but "Eleanor Rigby" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" aren't hidden standards -- they're failed ones. With trumpet, sax, piano trio, and Latin percussion on "Danny Boy" -- another bad idea that doesn't work. B- [cd]

Ches Smith/We All Break: Path of Seven Colors (2015-20 [2021], Pyroclastic, 2CD): Percussionist, half-dozen albums since 2006, many more side credits. He released his Vodou project We All Break in 2017, and follows that up here with two discs: one earlier quartet (2015), the other recent octet (2020), packaged in a small box with two substantial booklets. Matt Mitchell (piano) and Miguel Zenón (alto sax) turn in stellar performances. Beyond that, lots of fractured percussion and some voices. The quartet gets the balance better. The octet is best when they fly away from the chants. [Hype sheet says there's a movie, but I haven't found it.] A- [cd]

Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (2021, Impulse!): British jazz group, led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, fourth album, second on major label, first was a major crossover success, and this currently ranks 6th at AOTY with an 87 over 23 reviews -- compare to Vijay Iyer with 6 reviews for a measure of how much attention they've garnered. With Theon Cross on tuba and two percussionists, they put out a lot of rhythm, without simplifying. Nor is it the guest rappers and singers they showcase, although their words have serious impact. Starts with George Floyd, and threatens to burn, before they sweep you away. A

Old music:

The Harry Allen-Keith Ingham Quintet: Are You Having Any Fun? A Celebration of the Music of Sammy Fain (1994, Audiophile): Ingham's an English trad jazz pianist, teamed up with tenor saxophonist Allen for several early-1990s albums. B+(**)

Harry Allen: Tenors Anyone? (1996 [1997], BMG Novus): Tenor saxophonist, a retro-swing player, reprises the greats here, with "Flying Home," "The Peacocks," "Four Brothers," and a lot of Lester Young. One original: "Cool Man Chu." Backed by John Pizzarelli's trio (with Ray Kennedy on piano and Martin Pizzarelli on bass, but no drummer), sounding much like his father on guitar. A-

Harry Allen: Here's to Zoot (1997, BMG Novus): Young enough that his models were less Hawkins and Young than the generation that came up after WWII, which included Zoot Sims. No songs by Sims here: just standards they had in common, backed by a rhythm section that knew how to swing: Dave McKenna, Michael Moore, Jake Hanna. B+(***)

Harry Allen/Randy Sandke: Turnstile: Music of the Trumpet Kings (1997 [2007], Nagel Heyer): Tenor sax and trumpet, backed by the RIAS Big Band Berlin. This looks very much like a reissue a 1997 album, The Music of the Trumpet Kings, credited to "Harry Allen and Randy Sandke Meet the RIAS Big Band Berlin," so much so that I'll ignore the one source that has the music recorded in 1998. I don't have song credits either, but it starts with "I Love Louis" and ends with tunes by Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. Not wild about the big band, but the soloists get their licks in. B

Harry Allen: Day Dream (1998, BMG Novus): Quartet with Tommy Flanagan (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums). Seems like his ideal rhythm section, especially on ballads, where his more trad outfits have trouble slowing down. A-

Harry Allen: When I Grow Too Old to Dream (1999 [2000], BMG Novus): Standards, backed by guitar (Herb Ellis), bass (Ray Brown), and drums (Jeff Hamilton). Typically solid effort, with some amusing song choices, but I find my attention flagging, only to be snapped back by some brilliant run. B+(***)

Harry Allen: Once Upon a Summertime (1999, BMG Novus): A nod toward Brazil, with drummer Duduka Da Fonseca most valuable, the band rounded out with Joe Cohn (guitar), Larry Goldings (piano), and Dennis Irwin (bass), with Maucha Adnet singing a couple. Impressive. B+(***)

Harry Allen: Cole Porter Songbook (2001, BMG Novus): At some point, I should note that Allen quickly became very popular in Japan, where his BMG Novus releases were released. They could turn him loose on any slice of tradition, as with these famous pieces, backed with piano (Benny Green), guitar (Russell Malone), and bass (Peter Washington). This is often lovely, but shouldn't the songs be jumping out more? B+(***)

Harry Allen: Dreamer (2001, BMG Novus): Yet another Brazilian project, this one arranged by Dori Caymmi (guitar, vocals), with Gary Meek (clarinets), Bill Cantos (keybs), bass, drums, and strings, with Kevyn Lettau singing two songs. Don't they now strings are almost never a good idea? B

Harry Allen: I Can See Forever (2002, BMG Novus): More Brazilian waves for the Japanese market, with Guilherme Monteiro and Jay Berliner on guitar, and Sumiko Fukatsu on flute. B+(*)

Harry Allen: I Love Mancini (2002, BMG Novus): Not as surefire as Cole Porter, but the saxophonist is as happy swooning as swinging. Kenny Werner plays piano and synth, and arranged, which here includes bass and percussion, but also vibes, harp, and strings. The latter, clichéd as ever, are the problem, but "Moon River" is so sappy even they can't sink it. B

Harry Allen: The Harry Allen Quartet (2003, self-released): Recorded in New York, with a rough draft for the group he co-led with guitarist Joe Cohn through 2008. With bass (Joel Forbes) and drums (Chuck Riggs). One original, eleven covers, including three by Cohn's father, saxophonist Al Cohn. He seems in exceptional spirits here, pleased that his guitarist is in such fine fettle. A-

Harry Allen/Joe Cohn: The Harry Allen & Joe Cohn Quartet (2005, self-released): Leaders play tenor sax and guitar, backed with bass and drums. Quartet recorded a half-dozen albums 2004-09, including two notable collections of show tunes (Guys and Dolls and South Pacific). B+(**)

Harry Allen/Rossano Sportiello: Conversations: The Johnny Burke Songbook (2011, GAC): After listening to so many quartet albums with occasional extras, this basic tenor sax/piano duo is a revolution. The Italian pianist came to America idolizing not just the swing classics but the retro-swing players who carried on, logging significant time in the studio with both Scott Hamilton and Allen. Here all he has to do is set up Burke's songs, and Allen knocks them out of the park. A-

Harry Allen: Love Songs Only! (1993-2001 [2013], Nagel Heyer): Not in Discogs; all I've found is a song list and partial credits, which leads me to think these came from multiple live shows in the mid-1990s: three each pianists/bassists/drummers, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, and omits two vocalists and at least one big band. Cover and concept similar to Love Songs Live! (released by Nagel Heyer in 2000, but culled from 1993-96, so I'll use those dates), but none of the same songs. A very mixed bag, mostly useless but has some redeeming moments. [PS: I extended the recording dates after I heard what's probably the same version of "Straighten Up and Fly Right" on Allan and Allen, below.] B

Alan Barnes/Harry Allen: Barnestorming (2006 [2007], Woodville): English saxophonist (alto/baritone), with his quartet in London, joined by the tenor saxophonist. Leaders wrote two songs each, the title romp Allen's. B+(**)

Butch Miles and Friends: Cookin' (1995, Nagel Heyer): Drummer, actual name Charles J. Thorton Jr., first records appeared in 1978 with Scott Hamilton and Bucky Pizzarelli (latter credited to Butch & Bucky). Friends here are: Randy Sandke (trumpet), Harry Allen (tenor sax), Howard Alden (guitar), Frank Tate (bass), and Terrie Richards Alden (vocals) -- she enters on the fifth song; I didn't count how many more, but I like her. B+(***)

Butch Miles and Howard Alden: Soulmates (1994 [2002], Nagel Heyer): Reissue of Cookin', with new title and recording date moved up a year. Question is whether to give it the same grade, or dock it a bunch. B+(***)

New York Allstars: The Bix Beiderbecke Era (1993, Nagel Heyer): Octet led by trumpet player Randy Sandke, playing 78 minutes of jazz tunes from the 1920s in the Musikhalle in Hamburg. Leon Bismark Beiderbecke was an early cornet player from Iowa, recorded 1924-30 before his early death at 28. Sandke was such a fan he named his son Bix. Band isn't as famous as advertised, but some names you should recognize: Dan Barrett (trombone), Scott Robinson (sax), Ken Peplowski (clarinet), and Marty Grosz (guitar, sings one, which he introduces in German). B+(**)

The New York Allstars: We Love You, Louis! (1995 [1996], Nagel Heyer): Led by Randy Sandke, an octet with tuba and a second trumpet (Byron Stripling, who sings a couple), where only Kenny Davern has much credentials as a star. Like the Beiderbecke tribute, live in Hamburg, with lots of tunes you know, done with great respect and care. B+(*)

Randy Sandke: Randy Sandke Meets Bix Beiderbecke (1993 [2002], Nagel Heyer): Reissue of The Bix Bederbecke Era, plus three songs (not sure how they managed that). B+(**)

Randy Sandke and the Buck Clayton Legacy: All the Cats Join In (1993 [1994], Nagel Heyer): Clayton and Harry Edison were Count Basie's trumpet players, later noted for his jam sessions. Sandke plays trumpet and leads an octet with Harry Allen, Danny Moss, and Anti Sarpila on reeds, through a batch of Basie standards, recorded live at Birdland Jazzclub in Hamburg. With a smaller band, they generate Basie-level power, at least with the saxes. B+(***)

Randy Sandke and the New York Allstars: The Re-Discovered Louis and Bix (1999 [2000], Nagel Heyer): Cover adds "George Avakian presents" and "Lost musical treasures of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke," and names featured allstars Kenny Davern, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Hyman, and Ken Peplowski -- the actual credits list is far deeper, with many substitutions between the two sessions. Wish I had a booklet with the details, but both sets are quite remarkable. A-

Vladimir Shafranov Meets Harry Allen With Hans Backenroth/Bengt Stark: Dear Old Stockholm (2016, Venus): Russian pianist, moved to Finland in 1974 and took up jazz. Recorded in Stockholm, with tenor sax, bass, and drums -- could easily be filed under Allen. Usual standards, including a Jobim and a Monk (ok, "Round Midnight"), for the insatiable Japanese market. B+(**)

Shaolin Afronauts: Flight of the Ancients (2011, Freestyle): Australian group, draws on Afrobeat and Sun Ra, first album (of 4 through 2014). Band led by bassist Ross McHenry, with trumpet, two saxophones, three guitars, lots of percussion, no vocals. Horns large at first, but over time the rhythm intensifies and carries the day. A-

Shaolin Afronauts: Quest Under Capricorn (2012, Freestyle): Second album, considerable personnel churn. B+(**)

Rossano Sportiello/Matthias Seuffert: Swingin' Duo by the Lago (2005-06 [2008], Styx): Piano/sax duo (tenor/clarinet), at least for 7 tracks, before Harry Allen joins in for 3 more, with Anthony Howe on drums. Winds up with three earlier tracks from Seuffert's quartet, with guitar-bass-drums, but no piano. No real complaints about Seuffert, but the temperature picks up when Allen enters with "Lester Leaps In," and his "Chelsea Bridge" is beyond gorgeous. B+(*)

Allan Vaché and Harry Allen: Allan and Allen (2001 [2002], Nagel Heyer): Clarinet and tenor sax, the former the brother of cornetist Warren Vaché Jr., their father a bassist who played with Eddie Condon and Doc Cheatham and led his own Dixieland bands. Vaché called his group the Big Four, with Eddie Higgins (piano), Phil Flanigan (bass), and Eddie Metz Jr. (drums), and the saxophonist has rarely found himself in more congenial company. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Duck Baker: Confabulations (1994-2017, ESP-Disk) [06-25]
  • Keshav Batish: Binaries in Cycle (Woven Strands) [07-10]
  • Michael Bisio/Kirk Knuffke/Fred Lonberg-Holm: The Art Spirit (ESP-Disk) [06-25]
  • Dan Dean: Fanfare for the Common Man (Origin Classical) [06-18]
  • Sean Michael Giddings: Red Willow (Origin) [06-18]
  • Doug Lofstrom: Music for Strings (Origin Classical) [06-18]
  • Jason Nazary: Spring Collection (We Jazz) [06-25]
  • Larry Ochs-Donald Robinson Duo: A Civil Right (ESP-Disk) [06-25]
  • Pluto Juice: Pluto Juice (Contagious Music) [07-16]
  • Will St Peter/Steven Heffner/Steve Barnes: Honestly (Origin) [06-18]
  • Marta Warelis/Frank Rosaly/Aaron Lumley/John Dikeman: Sunday at De Ruimte (Doek RAW)

Monday, May 31, 2021


Music Week

May archive (finished).

Music: Current count 35522 [35475] rated (+47), 208 [214] unrated (-6).

Mostly old music again, continuing down the unheard Christgau list from Sir Douglas Quintet/Doug Sahm to Butch Thompson. As I'm mostly stopping for Christgau A-listers, my own grades are skewed considerably above the usual curve. I'm 71% through the file, so I'm a couple weeks from ending my first pass (and I skipped bunches of things I didn't feel like at the time). One problem I run into a lot is compilations that are no longer in print. In most cases, I can match them with song lists picked up from other compilations, so that's what I'm doing. If I'm missing 1-3 songs, I can usually pick them up on YouTube, not that the experience is the same. YouTube has been a valuable fallback, but also a nuisance, especially when it automatically segues to something else. I almost never play something twice there, which may be why Dook of the Beatniks stalled out for me.

May archive is finished, but I haven't done the requisite indexing, or unpacked the usual Music Week comments. I'll get to them later in the week. Beginning to feel like taking some time to see what else is new, but it's easier to keep ticking off a list. Another one that might be worth exploring is this one by Brazil Beat.

While working on Peter Stampfel albums this week, I found this interview, and thought it may be of interest, both on the new box and damn near everything that came before it. Among many items of interest is a discussion of Allen Lowe's latest (and greatest) project, Turn Me Loose White Man (30 CDs, plus notes on every song -- when I bought my copy, I only got one book, but the second volume came in the mail last week, so new buyers should be the whole package; link here).

Robert Christgau wrote a review of Eric Weisbard's Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music. I like the idea of a book about books, so ordered a copy. Back in my teens, I developed a technique for speed-reading American history books: just read the footnotes, which is where academic historians consign their own opinions, and the bibliography (especially if it is annotated). I learned a helluva lot that way. (Of course, I also had the benefit of Robert Wine's 8th grade Amerian history course -- by far the best grade school teacher I ever had. Much later, I came up with a game: go to bookstore, pick up E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy and go to a random page, check whether you knew the item. I always did, and a good 80% of the items I recalled learning in Wine's class. Of course, that also says something about Hirsch.) The footnotes give you perspective, some insight into how the author thinks, and also a quick sense of what others understand about the subject. Even more useful was pouring over John A. Garraty's Historical Viewpoints, a large book of interviews with prominent American historians. (Later came out in two paperback volumes -- long out of print and damn hard to find.) Hoping Weisbard's book will provide a similar map.


Took Friday off and cooked a nice Greek dinner. Looked like this: clockwise from top right: pastisio (mac and cheese on top of ground lamb, eggplant, and tomatoes), horiatiki (chopped salad), baked lemon fish with potatoes, saganaki (fried cheese), and sweetbreads. Had walnut cake for dessert, soaked in a honey syrup.

I wrote a postscript to my Damage Assessment piece on the latest atrocities in Gaza, with my latest thinking on how to reverse and repair the tragedy of Israel's moral descent. (Occurs to me that it's been a while since I last heard the IDF described as the world's most moral military -- no, they haven't stopped lying, but no longer consider that something to boast about.) I thought I should clarify my thoughts on political strategy, lest the proposal be misconstrued as urging simple capitulation to Israel. (I wasn't able to make the link jump directly to the PS, so you'll need to scroll down.)

Seeing a lot of flag-waving soldier fetishism in the paper, on Facebook, and elsewhere today, including a lot of "ultimate sacrifice for our freedom." I can think of a lot of dead people to mourn, and a lot of family members who were in the military, but not many who died there, and not many who made a big deal out of it. My grandfather went to Europe in the Great War, and came back with medals, but hardly ever talked about it. All four of his sons served, and Bob got shot in WWII and was semi-disabled. My father was in San Francisco waiting to get shipped out when the war ended. They sent him back home to build airplanes -- something he was better at. He thought his time in the Army was the dumbest thing he ever did. My mother's siblings were mostly too young for WWI and too old for WWII, but one brother got in each, as did a few of their children. All survived, but Uncle Allen was killed in a car accident soon after. One second cousin was killed in Vietnam, but under suspicious circumstances: official story is his gun accidentally discharged while he was in a tank, but the alternate story where he was fragged. I've known other people who were killed or maimed in Vietnam -- all were terrible wastes. Uncle James did a tour in Vietnam, but he was an aircraft mechanic and never got off the base. Over the last two decades, some younger relatives (as far as I know, all from Arkansas or Oklahoma) signed up. Always struck me as a waste, but I'm not aware of anything really bad happening to them.

I can think of many people who contributed to our freedom and well being, in many ways, but soldiering wasn't one of them. Maybe you can make a case that the Civil War -- my mother's great-grandfather and two of his sons fought in that one, for Ohio, only moving to Arkansas after the war -- and WWII were worth the fight, but neither followed up with the sort of reconstruction needed to establish freedom and justice for all, which is one reason why wars with noble slogans -- like "the war to end all wars" and "the war to make the world safe for democracy" -- only led to more wars. Another reason is that with holidays like Memorial Day we pretend they were something they weren't.


New records reviewed this week:

Fail Better!: The Fall (2017 [2021], JACC): Free jazz quintet: Luis Vicente (trumpet), Albert Cirera (soprano/tenor sax), Marcelo Dos Reis (guitar), José Miguel Pereira (bass), Marco Franco (drums/flute). Third album. B+(***) [cd]

Doug MacDonald: Live in Hawaii (2019 [2021], DMAC Music): Guitarist, albums since 1981, quaret with vibraphonist Noel Okimoto especially prominent. B+(*) [cd]

Keith Oxman/Frank Morelli: The Ox-Mo Incident (2019 [2021], Capri): Tenor saxophone and bassoon, Denver-based, Oxman has nine albums, mainstream, while Morelli's previous discography is classical. Quintet with piano (John Jenkins), bass, and drums; two Oxman originals, rest divided between show tunes and classical pieces (Brahms, Puccini, Rachmaninoff, two from Borodin). B+(**) [cd]

Wadada Leo Smith: Trumpet (2016 [2021], TUM, 3CD): Released for the AACM trumpet player's 80th birthday year, this adds significantly to his seven previous solo trumpet albums. Solo trumpet is rare: few trumpet players even bother, and no one else has anywhere near that many. The first impression explains why: the tone is narrow, the dynamics slow, it's impossible to generate rhythm or much harmony, leaving you with sharp slashes and smears. Yet as I played and re-played these discs, I started to be entertained. Nice booklet with extensive notes, exploring the deep history that informs this music. B+(***) [cd]

Wadada Leo Smith: Sacred Ceremonies (2015-16 [2021], TUM, 3CD): When I first saw these 3-CD sets, I thought compilations, but improvisers just create something new. One disc here is a trio with Bill Laswell (electric bass) and Milford Graves (drums). The other two are duos. The box is dedicated to Graves, who died last year, but his duo disc is the highlight, one of the best things he ever did. Laswell's duo is less interesting: he's a guy who works with an extraordinary range of people, and never overshadows them. The booklet, superb as usual, is especially good for its bios of Laswell and Graves. A- [cd]

Butch Thompson & Southside Aces With Charlie Devore: How Long Blues (2019 [2020], Southside Aces): Minneapolis trad jazz group, several albums since 2005 (although this is the first in Discogs), "jazz legend" pianist also from those parts. Starts as a septet, with vocalist Devore entering for the second song. B+(*)

João Valinho/Luis Vicente/Marcelo dos Reis/Salvoandrea Lucifora: Light Machina (2020 [2021], Multikulti Project): Drums, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar -- order unclear, as all of the material is joint improv. Especially nice outing for the trombonist, previously unknown to me. B+(***) [cd]

Marta Warelis/Carlos "Zingaro"/Helena Espvall/Marcelo dos Reis: Turqoise Dream (2019 [2021], JACC): I guess you could call this "chamber jazz": piano, violin, cello, guitar. The Polish pianist has a couple recent records out -- not sure which one should count as her first. "Zingaro" has been around for ages, and dominates when he plays, slashing through the prickliness. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Blue Muse ([2019], Music Maker Foundation): Twenty-one various artist tracks from the outfit that released Hanging Tree Guitars last year. No documentation, but looks like the label has 40+ albums, many full albums by the artists listed here, so effectively this is a label sampler. Could lead to a long research project, but something to be said for the variety. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

The Nagel Heyer Allstars: Uptown Lowdown: A Jazz Salute to the Big Apple: Live at the 1999 JVC Festival New York (1999 [2000], Nagel Heyer): Filed this under Randy Sandke, who arranged and directed, and shares the trumpet spot with Warren Vaché. Other Allstars: Allen Vaché, Ken Peplowski, Joe Temperley, and Scott Robinson (reeds); Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Eric Reed (or Mark Shane, piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Rodney Whitaker (bass), and Joe Ascione (drums). Starts with "The Harlem Medley," and returns to Ellington for the closer. B+(***)

Doug Sahm With the Sir Douglas Quintet: Rough Edges (1969 [1973], Mercury): With Sahm moving on, Mercury scraped together this set of Quintet leftovers. Turns out leftovers is what they do best. B+(***)

Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975 (1968-75 [1990], Mercury): CD era best-of, 22 tracks vs. 12 for Takoma's 1980 Best of, where the last 4 tracks were missing from The Complete Mercury Recordings -- two from Atlantic albums, two more that are among the album's best. A-

Doug Sahm: Hell of a Spell (1979 [1980], Takoma): After Chrysalis bought John Fahey's Takoma label, they scrounged around for artists, and found Sahm available. The label requested a batch of blues, so Sahm dedicated this to Guitar Slim, and capped eight originals with a powerful turn on "The Things That I Used to Do." B+(***)

Doug Sahm: Juke Box Music (1989, Antone's): He recorded for Sonet in Sweden after Takoma, and lived in Canada for a spell, but here he is back in Austin, with 15 short songs, only three bearing his byline. Rhythm and blues, mostly obscure, ample horns. B+(**)

Doug Sahm: The Last Real Texas Blues Band (1988-94 [1994], Antone's): Live at Antone's Nightclub in Austin, six tracks left over from 1988, eight more presumably more recent, nearly all blues covers. B+(*)

Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of Sir Douglas Quintet (1965-66 [1966], Tribe): Rock band from San Antonio, led by Doug Sahm with Augie Meyers, had a breakthrough hit in 1965 with "She's a Mover," their signature a loud, pumping organ with a Tex-Mex accent. First album ("best of" could have been "rest of"), closest thing to a second hit was "The Rains Came" (31) with "Mendocino" (27) in the future. B+(**)

Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of Sir Douglas Quintet . . . Plus! (1965-67 [2000], Westside): Adds nine tracks, singles on Tribe and other period pieces. Napster attributes this to Edsel, release date 1980, but Discogs doesn't confirm, so I went with an edition that matches what Napster offers -- partly because the title makes the point. Edsel does have a 2-CD compilation, The Crazy Cajun Recordings, that includes everything here plus much more. The extras are about as scattered as everything else. B+(**)

Sir Douglas Quintet +2: Honkey Blues (1968, Smash): Feels like they're aiming for a soul record, but as the title indicates, they have doubts. The "+2" are extra horns. Seven tracks (28:53). B

Sir Douglas Quintet: Mendocino (1969, Smash): Title cut their second biggest hit (and last of 3 to crack the top 40). They also reclaim "She's About a Mover" here. B+(**)

Sir Douglas Quintet: Together After Five (1970, Smash): Seems like he's -- all songs by Doug Sahm, except for a Dylan bit in a medley -- hit his metier, steady as it goes, no hits but everything sounds distantly related. B+(**)

Sir Douglas Quintet: 1+1+1=4 (1970, Philips): All five band members are named on the cover, but Doug Sahm is the only one on every track, and he only wrote 5 (or 6, of 11), the band ranging from 4 to 10 musicians, so sometimes you get a big band feel. While that's a little strange, it's not so bad. B+(*)

Sir Douglas Quintet: The Return of Doug Saldaña (1971, Philips): The band is back together -- at least Sahm, Meyer, and drummer John Perez, with Ricky Morales taking over on sax, and auditions for bass -- still feels more like a solo singer-songwriter album, but loose and comfortable. Signature song: "Me and My Destiny." A-

Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet (1968-71 [1980], Takoma): Napster has this as All Time Best: The Takoma Recordings, released 2015 by a label called All Time Best, but aside from order this matches the Takoma best-of. Not inconceivable these were re-recorded, but the simplest explanation is that they were licensed from Mercury (Smash or Phillips). Sahm had moved on (or been pushed out) by 1973, and recorded a couple albums around 1980 for Takoma (after it was bought by Chrysalis). Oddly, Mercury didn't produce its own compilation until the CD era in 1990 (22 tracks vs. the 12 here, definitive until the last two, which sound like the psychedelics just kicked in). A-

Percy Sledge: The Very Best of Percy Sledge (1966-94 [1998], Rhino): Soul singer from Alabama. I long thought of him as a one-hit wonder, for his magnificent "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1966), but he cracked the top 20 three more times to 1968, and left enough stellar material for a best-of compilation, like this one: part of a CD series that normally stops at 16 tracks, but adds an alternate take here. I didn't snap this one up because I was perfectly satisfied with The Ultimate Collection ([1987], Atlantic), which has more songs and sticks to his 1966-69 heyday. One plus here: "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road." A-

Spinners: Spinners (1973, Atlantic): Vocal group, started near Detroit, recorded an album for Motown, but didn't take off until they moved to Atlantic and producer Thom Bell with this, their third album. I totally missed them at the time, and probably didn't put enough time into the best-of I bought much later on. Five songs charted here, but only "I'll Be There" sounds like a hit from the git-go. Still, three plays in even an oddity like "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You" was clicking. A-

Spinners: Mighty Love (1974, Atlantic): Fewer hits, although "I'm Coming Home" and "Mighty Love" suffice. B+(**)

Spinners: New and Improved (1974, Atlantic): Not clear to me that either is true. Dionne Warwick joins for a single. B+(*)

Spinners: Pick of the Litter (1975, Atlantic): Another short record (8 songs, 33:49), slow-to-mid-tempo, some chart songs, everything pretty enticing but nothing quite strikes me as a hit. B+(***)

Spinners: Happiness Is Being With the Spinners (1976, Atlantic): Fifth (and final) gold record with Atlantic, although they carried on, releasing nine more up to 1984. One of their biggest hits ("The Rubberband Man"), nothing else especially memorable. B+(*)

Spinners: The Best of Spinners (1972-76 [1978], Atlantic): Ten tracks, all chart singles, not necessarily the biggest and/or the best hits. A-

Peter Stampfel: Dook of the Beatniks (1999 [2010], Piety Street Files & Archaic): One of only two albums Christgau filed under the auteur's solo name. Hard to get a handle here, especially as YouTube blended into something else, but he's older than me, and I can recall my fascination with the beats, whih we must have shared. B+(***) [yt]

Peter + Zoë Stampfel: Ass in the Air (2010, Jolly Olga): With his daughter, I think, although fact-checking isn't easy. Nor do I have time to figure out what's new and what's old (the latter certainly include "Drink American," "Bad Boy," and "Dook of the Beatniks"). I can't call these duets. At most she's a backup singer, and not just because no one can match his voice. I'm sure songs like "White Man's World" and "Song of Man" are meant ironic, but can't say I enjoyed them. B+(**)

Steel Pulse: Reggae Greats (1978-80 [1984], Mango): Reggae band from Birmingham, England; recorded three albums for Island 1978-80, the basis for this LP series (other single artist volumes: Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jacob Miller, Pablo Moses, Lee Perry, Sly & Robbie, Third World, Toots & the Maytals, The Wailers), although the group went on to record for Elektra (1982-85) and MCA (1988-97). Five cuts from Handsworth Revolution, two each from the others, plus a stray single. B+(***)

Gary Stewart: Greatest Hits (1975-81 [1981], RCA): Country singer-songwriter, grew up in Florida, burst on the scene with singles from his debut Out of Hand -- "Drinkin' Thing," "Out of Hand," "She's Acting Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles" -- by far, his best album ever. He was one of the first country artists I got enthusiastic about. (I wrote a rave review of his 1976 album Steppin' Out, then let people talk me into thinking it wasn't that good.) This pulls nine songs from five 1975-78 albums, then tacks on a new single, which later/longer compilations unfortunately didn't bother with -- I constructed my play list from 1997's 20-cut The Essential Gary Stewart, then checked the missing "Let's Forget That We're Married" on YouTube. A-

Gary Stewart: The Essential Gary Stewart (1974-82 [1997], RCA): Twenty tracks, ends with the title cut from his 1982 duo album with Dean Dillon, Brotherly Love. This was part of an impressive series of CD reissues, and Stewart easily fills the bill. Stewart also appeared in the slightly shorter RCA Country Legends (2004). After mergers, Sony's Legacy reused the title here for a 2-CD 2015 compilation. Also that my favorite remains 1991's Gary's Greatest, on Hightone after they licensed Stewart's RCA catalog. I'm also a fan of his MCA demos, released as You're Not the Woman You Used to Be in 1975 to cash in on his RCA hits, and some of his later Hightone records -- for which, see 2002's The Best of the Hightone Years. A-

Gary Stewart: Live at Billy Bob's Texas (2003, Smith Music Group): At 59, his wife of 43 years -- long time for a guy who made his living from cheating songs -- died of pneumonia, and a month later he shot himself dead, leaving this as his last album. Song list is a de facto best-of. A-

Super Mama Djombo: Super Mama Djombo (1979 [2003], Cobiana): Band from Guinea-Bissau, a small former colony of Portugal, which is to say it was a port for exporting slaves. The group was formed in the mid-1970s, released several albums from 1978-83. This is considered a compilation, but seems to come from a single 1980 session. Hard to get a real feel for, but mostly quite upbeat. B+(***)

Systema Solar: Systema Solar (2009 [2010], Chusma): Colombian group, first album (two more through 2017). Raw, exuberant, the turntablism less important than the percussion, but not by much. A-

Howard Tate: Howard Tate (1967 [1969], Verve): Soul singer from Georgia, worked with Jerry Ragavoy, who produced three albums 1967-72, then he basically vanished until Rediscovered in 2003. His first was Get It While You Can, in 1967. This is a reissue, with two extra songs, all impressive, but risks confusion with his 1972 eponymous album. My recommendation is the 1995 CD reissue, with more top-notch material: Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions. A-

Howard Tate: Howard Tate's Reaction (1970, Turntable): Second album, produced by Johnny Nash and Lloyd Price, on the latter's label (aka Lloyd Price's Turntable). Uneven, although the singer's leaps and flourishes are impressive. B+(**)

Howard Tate: Howard Tate (1972, Atlantic): Back with Jerry Ragavoy, who produced and wrote most of the songs. Powerful voice, likes to take it over the top. A-

Hound Dog Taylor & the House Rockers: Beware of the Dog! (1974 [1976], Alligator): Blues guitarist-singer, from Mississippi via Chicago, named Theodore Roosevelt Taylor, became a full-time musician in 1957 but didn't get a recording contract until 1971, Recorded two studio albums for Alligator, and had this live one, recorded over several sets in Chicago and Cleveland, in the works before he died in December 1975, age 60. A-

Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers: Genuine Houserocking Music (1971-73 [1982], Alligator): Previously unreleased scraps from what we'll have to call his prime period (because it yielded his only two studio albums). Cheap guitars, cracked amplifiers, "couldn't play shit, but sure made it sound good!" Indeed, it does, especially fast and loose. Not sure why these are considered inferior to the album picks. Maybe too many Elmore James licks? Sounds to me like a feature. B+(***)

Johnnie Taylor: Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits (1968-75 [1977], Fantasy): Rhythm and blues singer, from Arkansas, replaced Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers in 1957, signed with Stax in 1966, charted most of his singles there but only one broke top-10 ("Who's Making Love"). Stax folded in 1975, so this ends there, missing his only number one ("Disco Lady" in 1976). Christgau described Taylor as "everything you could ask for a soul singer except great." That's not wrong, but he deserves credit for hitting the mark so consistently. A-

Irma Thomas: Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans: The Irma Thomas Collection (1961-66 [1996], Razor & Tie): From New Orleans, recorded for Ron as a teenager in the late 1950s, then for Minit and Imperial during this prime period, and kept working into the 1980s. No big hits, but songs like "It's Raining," "Ruler of My Heart," and "Time Is on My Side" are indelibly etched in my brain. [NB: I found 22 (of 23) songs on The Irma Thomas Collection 1961-1966 (Capitol Catalog), which doesn't show up on Discogs.] A-

Butch Thompson: Butch Thompson Plays Jelly Roll Morton Solos (1968 [1996], Biograph): Ragtime/trad jazz pianist from Minnesota, recorded two LPs of Morton solos in 1968. This matches the second, Vol. 2, but the smaller print on the cover now reads: "Classic New Orleans Jazz Vol. 3 From the Rare Center Series." Not sure what else appeared in the series (first two volumes were by George Lewis and Jim Robinson) -- I can only speculate that they went with Vol. 2 here because it has more famous songs. B+(***)

Butch Thompson: Thompson Plays Joplin (1997 [1998], Daring): Solo piano, ten Joplin pieces plus three others (Arthur Marshall and Louis Chauvin, both of whom wrote with Joplin). As expertly paced and finely tuned as any ragtime set I can recall. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Paul Silbergleit: The Hidden Standard (BluJazz) [05-23]

Monday, May 24, 2021


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35475 [35420] rated (+55), 214 [216] unrated (-2).

While I was fretting about yesterday's Israel/Palestine post, I kept powering through the unheard Christgau A-list (Nirvana to Johnny Shines this week), accumulating a substantial Old Music section. In between, I played some new jazz from my demo queue. The most tedious part occurred when I was looking for a compilation that wasn't on Napster. Sometimes I could synthesize one (or at least come damn close) by selecting tracks from other albums. This underscored for me what a mess trying to review compilations is. Several times I punted, when I couldn't find enough, but I decided I was close enough for Del Shannon.

Sometimes I'd find a searched-for album (like Agwaya) elsewhere, which led me to an extended alternative. Some compilations (like the Johnny Paycheck Greatest Hits) had to be reconstructed from later compilations. Some I looked for frustrated me. One on the list I didn't bother trying was the Rolling Stones' Rewind (1971-1984). Undoubtedly an A-, but already had many of those.

I've had less luck with YouTube lately. There must be some method for creating a playlist to sequence of song/videos approximating an album, but I don't know how to do it. I'll also note that I've seen a couple albums now on Spotify that aren't on Napster. My problems with streaming on Napster have largely abated -- I'm not convinced they won't reappear, as nothing's really changed -- so I find myself wondering whether it might be time to pick a different resource. Any expert opinions appreciated.

Starting with Sir Douglas Quintet this week. One more Monday in May, so it might be good to push to the end of the list this week, then take a fresh look at 2021 music in June. Following Christgau's May Consumer Guide, people on Facebook have been praising No-No Boy, so I did finally give his new record a spin, and liked it enough to go back to his debut, which is approximately as good. The concentration camp pieces remind me to recommend Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire, a 1998 record by Anthony Brown's Asian American Jazz Orchestra.

Surprise appearance in Facebook's "People You May Know": Mike Pompeo. One "mutual friend," a childhood neighbor I've seen once in 50 years, but thought it would be cool to add him to my limited set of "Facebook friends." By the way, my original intent in joining Facebook was to follow some family members who adopted it as their primary means of communication. Since then, I've only added people I know personally, plus a few I've corresponded with. I regularly get "friend requests" from musicians, and ignore them: nothing personal, but I don't want to see the feed clogged up with music stuff.

I infrequently post on Facebook, and when I do it's mostly what John Chacona called "food porn" (something he's better at it than I am). My posts are usually public, so you can check them out if you're interested. I do announce all of my posts on Twitter, so encourage you to follow. Looks like I have 445 followers, and 2,442 tweets. Not a lot as stats go, but I try to make them worthwhile.

At the author's request, I removed the contents to Joe Yanosik's Consumer Guide to Franco. Joe is reorganized the material as a book and/or CD, and I guess he thinks his sales prospects will improve by scarcity. I have my doubts, but it's his work, and he can do with it what he wants. At some point I may have more information. (I do know he's working on a guide book to Plastic People of the Universe -- here's a Facebook link, I think).

I set up a guests section on my website quite a while back, to publish some of Michael Tatum's writings, and I've used for a couple others, but it's never been a going concern, or even something I've promoted. But I do have that ability, and can even do a bit more. I lease a dedicated server, and can set up web sites if you have something that seems worth doing (or I can set up sub-domains under hullworks.net). I don't come close to breaking even on this, but I'm pleased to help out a few friends, and to have the flexibility for my own projects.


New records reviewed this week:

Alchemy Sound Project: Afrika Love (2018 [2021], ARC): Postbop group, third album, seems to have two tiers where each core member wrote a song -- Sumi Tonooka (piano), Salim Washington (tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet, oboe), Erica Lindsay (tenor sax, clarinet, alto flute), David Arend (bass), and Samantha Boshnack (trumpet) -- rounding out with trombone (Michael Ventoso) and drums (Chad Taylor). B+(**) [cd]

Rossano Baldini: Humanbeing (2020 [2021], RareNoise): Italian pianist, also electronics, couple previous albums, does a lot of soundtrack work. Solo here except for some cello (Carmin Iuvone). Six tight rhythm pieces, short (28:07). B+(**) [cdr] [05-28]

Andre Ferreri Quintetto: Numero Uno (2021, Laser): Guitarist, born in New York, based in North Carolina, claims several albums (but I'm not sure about the 1995 nature sounds that are the only things I find on Discogs). With sax, bass, drums, and piano (three names, one each day of the sessions), plus trumpet (1 track). Nice postbop groove. B+(**) [cd] [05-31]

Nnenna Freelon: Time Traveler (2018-20 [2021], Origin): Jazz singer, started in church, dozen or so albums since 1992, reprises singers like Dionne Warwick and Roberta Flack here. B+(*) [cd]

Greg Germann: Tales of Time (2020 [2021], Origin): Drummer, based in New York, evidently well established for work on Broadway and in films. Not wild about the vocals (Chelsea Forgenie), but he hires two stars -- Luis Perdomo (piano) and Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) -- and gets his money's worth. B+(**) [cd]

Thomas Heberer/Joe Fonda/Joe Hertenstein: Remedy (2020 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): German trumpet player, albums since 1988, trio with bass and drums. Engaging free jazz, the bassist a standout. B+(***) [bc]

Brent Jensen: More Sounds of a Dry Martini (2020 [2021], Origin): Alto saxophonist, recorded a Paul Desmond tribute in 2001, and decided to add another volume here. With guitar (Jamie Findlay), bass, and drums, plus piano on two tracks. Three Desmond songs, one Brubeck, several standards, including an especially nice "These Foolish Things." B+(***) [cd]

Shawn Maxwell: Expectation & Experience (2021, Jazzline): Pandemic project, alto/soprano saxophonist, also plays clarinet, wrote these compositions and hit up 30 musicians to record their bits remotely. B+(**) [cd]

No-No Boy: 1975 (2021, Smithsonian Folkways): Julian Saporiti, Vietnamese-American born in Nashville, based in Portland, second album, steeped in Asian-American history, group named for John Okada's 1957 novel ("perceived as disloyal to the US but not fully Japanese"), title for the year Saigon fell. A-

Almog Sharvit: Get Up or Cry (2019 [2021], Unit): Israeli bassist, based in New York, first album, a short one (6 songs, 26:50). Starts off with a kind of mariachi hoedown, with Brandon Seabrook's banjo and Adam O'Farrill's trumpet. The other pieces are less fun, especially the ones with vocals. B+(*) [cd] [05-28]

Vasco Trilla: Unmoved Mover (2020 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): Spanish drummer, Discogs credits him with 40 albums since 2013, mostly duos and small groups where everyone is named. Solo here, credited with timpani and gong. B [bc]

Uassyn: Zacharya (2019 [2021], JazzThing): Young Swiss avant-sax trio (Tapiwa Svosve, Silvan Jeger, Vincent Glanzmann), second album, recorded in Zürich. Fairly short (32:01), but intense. B+(***) [cd]

Carlos Vega: Art of the Messenger (2017 [2021], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, from Florida, third album, all his own material, with Victor Garcia (trumpet), piano, bass, and drums -- an original take on Art Blakey (his two previous albums were titled Bird's Ticket and Bird's Up). B+(**) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Alex Chilton: A Man Called Destruction (1995 [2020], Omnivore): New wave Memphis rocker, big hit early with the Box Stops, followed by legendary cult band Big Star, followed by a very checkered solo career, ending with his death in 2010 (at 59). Half originals (counting one based on a Chopin funeral march), half obscure covers, this album (originally on Ardent) was as checkered as any. Reissue adds seven more tracks. B+(**)

Alex Chilton and Hi Rhythm Section: Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street (1999 [2021], Omnivore): Backed by a local band (albeit, as Al Green's rhythm section, a famous one), opening for Rufus and Carla Thomas, so he doesn't bother trying to flog his own catalog. Just ten rock and soul standards that neither is known for but all know. B+(*)

Old music:

Nirvana: Hormoaning (1992, DGC, EP): Six-songs, 18:47, released in Japan and Australia only. Four covers, two b-sides to Nevermind singles, four back for the 1992 Incesticide compilation (counting the different take of "Aneurism"). I thought they were ridiculously overrated, but liked the trash they collected in Incesticide, and this is of a piece with that. B+(**) [yt]

No-No Boy: 1942 (2018, No-No Boy): First album, title recalls the concentration camps the US built to lock up 130,000 Japanese-Americans for the duration of WWII. That racism seems like he foundation of the American experience, with Vietnam -- both the war and the exile and resettlement built on it. A-

NRBQ: NRBQ (1969, Columbia): Stands for New Rhythm and Blues Quintet (later Quartet), first album, Terry Adams (piano) the constant over a 50+ year run, with Steve Ferguson (guitar) also contributing original songs, mixed with covers ranging from Eddie Cochran and Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee to Sun Ra and Carla Bley. Shows their good taste, not the same thing as genius. B+(**)

NRBQ: NRBQ at Yankee Stadium (1978, Mercury): Sixth album, including one with Carl Perkins -- I'm not yet ready to check them all out, but this has a bit of a rep. Adams and/or bassist Joseph Spampinato wrote the originals, plus two for guitarist Al Anderson. Still, none as good as the covers ("Get Rhythm," "Shake, Rattle and Roll"). B+(*)

NRBQ: Kick Me Hard (1979, Rounder/Red Rooster): Aside from the Quartet, a couple horns help out. More songs about buildings and food, not to mention "Wacky Tobacky." B+(*)

Orchestra Makassy: Agwaya (1982, Virgin): East African group, formed in Kampala in 1975 with Zairean and Ugandan musicians, moved to Tanzania to flee Idi Amin, and later to Kenya, disbanding in 1982, leaving this one album. Soukous influence, gently sweetened. A-

Orchestra Makassy: Legends of East Africa: The Original Recordings (1982 [2004], ARC Music): Reissue of Agwaya, plus three extra songs (two previously unreleased), presumably from the same period. ("Ubaya Wa Nini," "Muungano," "Mume Wangu"). A-

Ray Parker Jr.: The Other Woman (1982, Arista): Soul singer, cut two albums (1978-79) as Raydio, two more as Ray Parker Jr. & Raydio (1980-81), then this solo, followed later the same year by Greatest Hits, which with its catchy "Ghostbusters" bonus seemed like the obvious choice. Light touch, funky bass, leads with a hit, trails off toward the end. B+(***)

Parliament: Gloryhallastoopid (Or Pin the Tale on the Funky) (1979, Casablanca): Suspecting a decline, or maybe just a feeling that their extended funk jams were becoming too mechanical, the only one of George Clinton's marquee group's nine 1970-80 I didn't buy. Should have skipped Trombipulation instead, but no real surprise here, other than that you can still grin your way through a whole heep of stoopid. B+(**)

Parliament: Greatest Hits: P. Funk, Uncut Funk, the Bomb (1974-79 [1984], Casablanca): First-generation best-of, ten songs from a group that lost nothing when their 2-CD Tear the Roof Off came out in 1993 (and still had me complaining about omissions). Title songs from their first two Casablancas, only three songs from their two peak 1976 efforts, four more of their later vamp pieces. With their many spinoffs, they defined the 1970s for me. Not exactly my choice cuts, but a solid grounding for those of you who missed them. A

Parliament: The Best of Parliament [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1974-80 [2000], Mercury): Budget series, limited to 11 cuts, but picking long-ish ones adds up to 67:30. Eight dupes from 1984's Greatest Hits, dropping "Do That Stuff" and "Theme From the Black Hole," adding "Dr. Funkenstein," "Agony of Defeet," and "Testify" (the 1974 album remake of Clinton's 1967 doo-wop hit), while discarding chronological order. I'd rate it a very slight improvement, but "Do That Stuff" is not one I would have sacrificed. A

Party of One: Dead Violet Shannon (2000, Murder of All Music): Minneapolis guitar-bass-drums trio, singer-songwriter named Eric Fifteen, first album. Sketchy, lo-fi, but something here. B+(**) [bc]

Party of One: Caught the Blast (2000-01 [2003], Fat Cat): Second album, new bassist Terrica Kleinknecht sings some, adding an important new dimension to Eric Fifteen's deadpan "oral propaganda." A- [bc]

Party of One: Streetside Surprise (2014, Go Johnny Go): A third album for Eric Fifteen's group, a decade after their second. New band, quartet this time, with bassist Joe Holland returning from the first album. B+(**)

Pavement: Slay Tracks: 1933-1969 (1989, Treble Kicker, EP): Five songs, 14:02, the most important alt/indie band of the 1990s makes its debut, with the nu-punk "You're Killing Me," the psyhedelic folk "Box Elder," and three more less coherent stabs at guitar noise. No idea what the dates signify. Reissued in 1993 as the first 5 (of 23) songs on Westing (by Muskeet and Sextant). A-

Pavement: Demolition Plot J-7 (1989 [1990], Drag City, EP): Second EP, six tracks, 11:52, also in Westing. B/W cover, monochromatic noise, doubt there's anything brilliant buried here, but hard to tell. B+(*)

Pavement: Perfect Sound Forever (1989 [1990], Drag City, EP): Seven songs, 11:52, originally on 10-inch vinyl. B+(**)

Pavement: Terror Twilight (1999, Matador): Fifth (and final) album, after two EPs I haven't heard (Pacific Trim and Shady Lane), closing out their decade before Stephen Malkmus launched his now-longer solo career. Malkmus is such an odd vocalist that good Pavement albums seem like uncanny miracles. Took me three plays to concede that this is another of them. A-

Johnny Paycheck: Johnny Paycheck's Greatest Hits (1972-74 [1974], Epic): Country singer Donald Eugene Lytle (1938-2003), recorded for Little Darlin' in the late 1960s -- I liked CMF's 1996 The Real Mr. Heartache: The Little Darlin' Years -- before signing with Billy Sherrill at Epic in 1972. This seems a little premature, as his only number one hit didn't come until 1977, but this reduces five albums, adding two non-album singles (one a duet with Jody Miller). "She's All I Got" was the closest thing to a hit here. It's pretty good, but not the only song here George Jones sang better. B-

Johnny Paycheck: Greatest Hits, Volume 2 (1975-78 [1978], Epic): His breakthrough came in 1978 with his David Allen Coe-penned hit, "Take This Job and Shove It." He moves into his "outlaw" phase here, which puts some swagger into his voice, and must have been fun until he got busted in the 1980s. B+(**)

Johnny Paycheck: 16 Biggest Hits (1971-79 [1999], Epic): Doesn't quite go to the end (1982) of his Epic period, but a good, solid selection of his 1970s singles, slanted toward his "outlaw" years, since that's where the better songs lie. B+(***)

Johnny Paycheck: Mr. Hag Told My Story (1981, Epic): In 1980, Paycheck recorded Double Trouble with George Jones, mostly playing old rock songs for yucks: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Tutti Frutti," especially "Along Came Jones") and the single, "When You're Ugly Like Us (You Just Naturally Got to Be Cool)." The introductions here are just short of brown-nosing, but the songs aren't predictable, and the band is Merle & the Strangers. B+(**)

Pearl Jam: Ten (1991, Epic): In the early 1990s I found myself turning to jazz, to old blues and country, to anything but rock and rap, which fell under the spell of grunge and gangsta. The former was dominated by a rash of Seattle bands, of which this one was ostensibly number two (after Nirvana and, maybe, Soundgarden). First album. I still don't get the grunge concept here, or much of anything else. B

Pearl Jam: Yield (1998, Epic): Fifth studio album, the second (after Vitalogy -- the only one I got suckered into buying) Christgau A-listed. This is a bit better, or at least less monotonous. That leaves three more Christgau * or ** albums I won't trouble myself with, as well as scores of live albums he didn't touch. B+(*)

Teddy Pendergrass: TP (1980, Philadelphia International): Former lead singer with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (1970-75), went solo in 1977 and reeled off five platinum albums before a 1982 car crash left him paralyzed from the chest down. This was the fourth, long on ballads and schmaltz. B+(**)

Teddy Pendergrass: Greatest Hits (1977-80 [1984], Philadelphia International): Nine cuts from the five platinum albums, for my money superseded by the 15-song 1998 Greatest Hits on The Right Stuff (8 repeats). I tend to favor his upbeat songs, but they he slips in some sheer seduction like "Close the Door." A-

Teddy Pendergrass: The Essential Teddy Pendergrass (1972-84 [2007], Philadelphia International/Legacy, 2CD): Picks up some early cuts with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and touches his first Asylum album. Lots of good material, but I find fatigue setting in. B+(***)

Esther Phillips: Esther Phillips Sings (1966, Atlantic): R&B singer Esther Mae Jones, joined Johnny Otis' Rhythm and Blues Caravan at age 14, scoring several hits early on. Second of five 1965-70 albums for Atlantic, with Oliver Nelson, Ray Ellis & Jimmy Wisner arranging the big band and strings. Fine singer, not much else to recommend. B

Esther Phillips: Burnin': Live at Freddie Jett's Pied Piper, L.A. (1970, Atlantic): Large (10 piece) band, arranged and produced by saxophonist King Curtis. B+(**)

Esther Phillips: Conessin' the Blues (1966-70 [1976], Atlantic): Good selection of blues material from the late 1960s, first side with big bands stocked with jazz musicians like Sonny Criss, Teddy Edwards, and Herb Ellis. Second side small groups, but in all cases her voice is gripping. A-

Esther Phillips: Black-Eyed Blues (1973, Kudu): She left Atlantic in 1970 for Kudu, which was Creed Taylor's soul division (although their roster included a lot of soul-oriented jazz musicians, like Grant Green, Lonnie Smith, and Grover Washington). Third Kudu album. Six songs (33:53), title from Chris Stainton and Joe Cocker, others range from Ellington to Withers. Pee Wee Ellis arranged the horns, and Bob James the strings. A-

Esther Phillips: The Essential Esther Phillips: The Kudu Years (1971-77 [2018], Legacy, 2CD): Note the qualifier, as this skips the first 20 years of her career, as well as the last 7, before she died in 1984 (at 48). This picks 33 songs from 7 albums -- by reputation uneven ones, but she's such a consistently powerful singer they flow like one, and the bands are well stocked with jazz talent. A-

Esther Phillips: Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song): 1984/New York City (1984 [2007], Jazzwerkstatt): Studio album, recorded March 6, five months before her death on August 7. Originally released by Muse in 1986 as A Way to Say Goodbye, reissued 1999 in Germany by ITM under the new title, which this label expands on. B+(*)

Charlie Rich: The Legendary Sun Classics (1958-62 [2010], Charly): Country singer, became a big star in the 1970s, by which time his early stint with Sam Phillips at least looked good on the résumé. Like most of the label's output, these tracks have been reissued many times, most completely in Bear Family's 3-CD box, The Sun Years, 1958-62. This 14-cut sampler looked like as good a place as any to start. B+(*)

Charlie Rich: The Fabulous Charlie Rich (1970, Epic): After Sun, RCA, and Smash, Rich signed with Epic in 1968 and settled into a pleasant countrypolitan groove. Sporting silver hair at 37, he's smooth and steady, picking good songs that hold up even to Billy Sherrill's strings and chorus. B+(***)

Charlie Rich: The Best of Charlie Rich (1968-72 [1972], Epic): Seems premature after only three Epic albums, only one charting (peak 44). Indeed, I have to hedge here, given that I could only find 8 (of 10) songs on subsequent Epic compilations I consulted: Greatest Hits (1976), American Originals (1989), Super Hits (1995), Feel Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich (1997, 2CD), 16 Biggest Hits (1999), Love Songs (2000), The Essential Charlie Rich (2007, 2CD) -- the latter, going back to 1959 and forward to 1991, is the one I recommend. B+(***)

Charlie Rich: Pictures and Paintings (1992, Sire): Rich died in 1995 (at 62), leaving this final album, produced by Peter Guralnick, nicely playing up Rich's jazzy side. B+(***)

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth: All Souled Out (1991, Elektra, EP): I like this genre: "Golden age hip hop." Producer and rapper, six tracks (including two mixes of "Good Life"), 29:09. Nice bounce to this. B+(***)

Max Romeo: Open the Iron Gate (1975 [1978], United Artists): Evidently a reordered, retitled reissue of his 1975 Jamaican album Revelation Time, which means it predates his Island-released 1976 album War Ina Babylon. B+(**)

Diana Ross: Diana (1980, Motown): I love the Supremes as much as anyone, but haven't followed her solo career (just one short best-of in my database, a high B+). So I'm gobsmacked that she recorded this closet Chic album -- all eight songs written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers. A-

Del Shannon: Greatest Hits (1961-70 [1990], Rhino): Rock/pop star from the unjustly ignored early 1960s, hit number one with his debut single ("Runaway"), went top 20 3 more times (7 in UK), up through 1964 ("Keep Searchin'"). There are dozens of best-ofs with the same dozen-plus songs, plus varying hard-to-find filler. Christgau likes Music Club's 16-cut This Is . . . Del Shannon, but I gave up 3 songs short. I liked him enough at the time I'm surprised I didn't pick this up, from Rhino's pre-Warners golden age, but again I'm 3 short of 20 cuts (only 1 shy of 14 on on the cassette). B+(***)

Del Shannon: This Is . . . Del Shannon (1961-66 [1997], Music Club): Sixteen cuts, different picks toward the end, doesn't make much difference, not even the slightly better hits/also-rans/filler ratio. [13/16] B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

Johnny Shines: Johnny Shines (1970 [1991], Hightone): Christgau: "the most vigorous surviving practitioner of acoustic Delta blues." He was reviewing an eponymous album recorded 1968 and given a US release on Blue Horizon in 1972. Seemed like this might be the one, but per Discogs this was recorded in 1970 and released by Advent in 1974. Christgau's album seems to be more properly titled Blues Masters Vol. 7, with a "The Complete Series" sticker on the cover (Vol. 1 was by Magic Sam). Also turns out I had this one, slightly misfiled, in the database already, so this is a regrade. [was: B] B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fail Better!: The Fall (JACC)
  • Jonathan Karrant/Joshua White: Shadows Fall (self-released)
  • Lorraina Marro: Love Is for All Time (self-released) [07-15]
  • Keith Oxman/Frank Morelli: The Ox-Mo Incident (Capri)
  • Slide Attack: Road Trip (SACD) [06-04]
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Sacred Ceremonies (TUM, 3CD)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Trumpet (TUM, 3CD)
  • João Valinho/Luis Vicente/Marcelo dos Reis/Salvoandrea Lucifora: Light Machina (Multikulti Project)
  • Marta Warelis/Carlos "Zingaro"/Helena Espvall/Marcelo dos Reis: Turqoise Dream (JACC)

Sunday, May 23, 2021


Damage Assessment

Note: Postscript added May 30, 2021.

More Israel/Palestine links (things I would have included Monday had I been more on the ball). Since then, a ceasefire was finally announced, leaving immense damage in Gaza, and Israel free to continue the policies that led to demonstrations in the first place:

I didn't collect any pieces from Mondoweiss. If I did, I'd probably wind up with dozens.

I keep thinking of more arguments against the Levitz article on why we bother talking about Israel/Palestine. Aside from the ones I mentioned above, another is that I suspect that we more than anyone understand the perils of living in a successful (i.e., dominant and unchecked) settler colonial society. We just don't know that we know yet.

We also know that success has limits -- in particular, that megalomaniacs never stop until they are checked. The US could step up and provide a sanity check on Israel, rather than wait until it is too late, and both countries pay an inevitable price for such hubris.


Here's a brief outline of what I see as a peace framework, without a lot of detail or explanation. I've spent a lot of time on the history of the conflict, both because it's important and interesting, but we don't need to go very deep into that. What you do need to understand is the following:

  1. Israel is a segregated colonial settler project. Such projects can succeed when the settlers dominate demographically (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina -- all well above 80%), but fail when they don't (South Africa and Algeria around 20%, many lesser examples). Israel is in between (about 30% Jewish before 1949, rising to 70% with expulsions and immigration, now about 50% counting occupied territories), but has been able to dominate through force, and arguably still depends on force.

  2. Israel's political leaders, and by inference most Jewish Israelis, don't want peace. The difference between the elites and the masses is that the former are very arrogant about their power, while the latter are driven by fear. The former don't want peace because they believe they can continue their power indefinitely. The latter allow them to continue because they are terrified of losing control.

  3. The only form of peace possible is what Israel's leaders are willing to permit. No internal nor external power can force Israel's leaders to do what they are unwilling to do.

  4. The Palestinians don't have the power to force Israel to do anything, but they are able to deny Israel victory or legitimacy.

  5. Israel and Palestine are tiny compared to the world around them. Foreign powers cannot dictate terms, but should have the resources to be able to influence them. Although world powers have often claimed to want to promote peace, their efforts have consistently been frustrated by ambivalence in Europe and (especially) America. On the other hand, the costs of failing to find a solution keep accumulating.[1]

[1] This is the only controversial statement in the list. The far right sees Israel as a model for how to dominate their own domestic minorities. The neocons want America to project power globally like Israel does in its region. I believe I can come up with a long and detailed argument why they're wrong, but wish to have to do so here.

Two States vs. One State

The "two state" idea was presented by the Peel Commission in 1936, and has dominated thought about solutions ever since. David Ben-Gurion embraced it at the time, without ever accepting any fixed borders. He campaigned hard for the 1947 UN Partition Resolution, seeing it as a way to secure international legitimacy for the founding of Israel, but from the start he plotted to expand Israel's borders -- as they did in the 1948-49 and 1967 wars.

"One state" has always been understood as a normal, democratic state, which represents and serves all of the people who reside under it. This notion as always been anathema to Israel, which has always conceived itself as a Jewish State, where non-Jews are subordinated if they are tolerated at all. While Israel has been willing to discuss two-state solutions, they have always rejected "one state" out of hand. Indeed, if you look at their two-state proposals, they have never allowed for a normal, democratic Palestinian state.

However, the minimal solution for peace is for both Israelis and Palestinians are citizens in normal, democratic state. This could be one state, two, or more. Israel, and only Israel, needs to decide on this. The obvious reason for splitting off a Palestinian state would be to remove non-Jews from Israel (at the cost of losing the land they live on). Aside from the land, the one point Israel would have to give on is that the ceded state would be normal: independent, with full sovereignty, and no encumbrances.

Borders

If Israel decides to carve off a Palestinian state, Israel will be largely free to determine the borders. The Palestinian state has to be normal, with democratic elections organized by the UN. The state must be free to interact with the world, as normal states do. The obvious candidate for separation is Gaza, which is also the most straightforward to implement, as it is contiguous, with an external border and seafront.

If Israel decides to cede additional territory from the West Bank, the only additional requirement is that all such territories allow for connecting transportation without Israeli checkpoints. Some provision should also be made for joint administration of resources best shared, like air space, radio frequencies, and water.

This does not cover resolution of boundary disputes with external countries, like Syria and Lebanon. I'm thinking that Israel should return Bekaa Farms to Lebanon, as this would resolve a major dispute between Israel and Hizbullah. At this point, the best solution for the Golan Heights might be for Israel to pay Syria for the land, as part of a broader international project to reconstruct Syria after its horrific civil war.

For what follows, we will assume that Israel has designated and ceded some territory to a Palestinian state. The exact borders do not matter.

International Support

Why would Israel agree to any of this? In the long run, everyone would be better off for the conflict to end and normal life resume, but the political elite in Israel were selected for war and dominance, so they're unlikely to change on their own. The question is how sorely they will resist international pressure (and incentives) for peace. That hasn't really been tested, because the world community is itself divided, with the US unclear whether they're green-lighting or simply rubber-stamping Israeli policy.

Nothing much happens until the US, Europe, and other countries come together to leverage their influence toward peace. This can be done with sticks and/or carrots. The latter is mostly money. Gaza is especially in need of repair. Israel is one of the world's richer nations, but it still depends on $4 billion plus of aid from the US. So let's start by pooling all of the money into a development bank, which Israel and Palestine can draw on. This bank would be run by an international oversight board, which can impose conditions on how the money is spent, and can police for corruption.

The "stick" side of the equation is to allow nations to implement tariffs and sanctions on Israel and/or Palestine as penalties for abnormal behavior, such as violations of human rights. Israel's current discrimination against residents of its occupied territories, or even against Israel's own non-Jewish citizens, could be deemed as cause for sanctions.

Aid through the development bank would be subject to some kind of "consent decree," which would contractually bind the recipient to various terms, for a limited number of years (maybe 10-20). This is where one might set expectations for personal freedoms. This is also where one might restrict arms imports, and provide some sort of import oversight.

Terrorism Insurance

The development fund can be used to fund an insurance scheme to pay out damages caused by acts of terror (either state or non-state). If, say, someone in Gaza shot a missile into Israel, the damage would be assessed, and compensation (drawn from Palestinian funds) paid to the victim. The IDF would not be allowed to "defend itself" by bombing Gaza. If that happened anyway, again the damage would be assessed and compensation (drawn from Israeli funds) would be awarded.

Reserves can be adjusted to payouts, so as terror wanes, aid will flow faster. Same principle can be applied within states for things like excess police violence or "domestic" terrorism, but that would be harder to manage.

Exile

There should be a right to go into exile, especially for evident political prisoners. (This is a right that should be universal, but this would be a good place to start.) One might wish to exempt those charged with terrorism or espionage, but the former could be prosecuted in the ICC. One worries that this could incentivize Israel to arrest Palestinians in hope that would prod them into exile. That could count as a crime of repression punishable by sanctions.

Refugees

Sovereign nations have a right to restrict their own borders. Israel is not required to readmit refugees. (For that matter, Palestine isn't either.) Existing refugees should be compensated and resettled, phasing out the registry in a reasonable time frame.

Amnesty

Amnesty would be granted for all past offenses against international law. Moving forward, new offenses would be referred to the ICC.

Conclusion

Back in 2000, the Oslo Peace Process foundered on three big issues: borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. This framework gives into Israel all three points. The only thing asked in return is that Israel treat its subjects fairly and equally, and refrain from attacking other countries. I'd like to see Israel pay more -- for refugees, for Syria, for Lebanon, for Gaza -- and restricted more, but it's hard to impose restrictions on a country convinced of its righteousness. Whether Palestinians are ready to agree to respect this agreement peaceably isn't clear, but I'd wager they are, and that they'll do a better job of limiting their own ranks than Israel could ever hope to.

I recall some Israeli saying that the point is to show Palestinians that "they are an utterly defeated people." This should suffice. But they are people nonetheless, and deserve respect as such. That's what this framework also promises.

If the US and other nations can't get behind this framework, we are truly lost.


I got to this point last night, then started having second thoughts, doubting I should even bother posting. Am I really just saying that the solution to the intractable conflict is: forget the history, and start treating everyone better? That's about it. Sure, there are some financial incentives to better behavior. That approach can be used more widely: any time you can turn a sectarian conflict into a money issue, it becomes much easier to solve. There's also a moral part, even if I'm not leaning heavily on it. All nations should realize that peace with social and economic justice is very desirable, and should be willing to spend to help it happen, but they should also set an example. Arms races have never been an effective guarantor of peace. (If they had been, why would the US have been constantly engaged in wars since 1940? Why would Britain from the 1700s up to around 1970, when they withdrew from the Middle East?) I keep flashing back to A.J. Muste: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."

We might as well admit that both sides have compelling historical stories, establishing that they have been victimized, and should be treated better. But the relative merits of one story vs. another would only matter if there was a superior court one could appeal to, that could render judgment and enforce its findings. But there is no such institution. Rather, there are "facts on the ground," which must be accepted as the starting point for any possible future. The only fact I insist on rejecting is the subordination of non-Jews to Jews in present Israel. That must be rejected, because that -- not the various stories about past wrongs and reasons -- is the reason the conflict persists. One cannot change past injustices, but one can reject injustice moving forward. My belief is that this framework starts to do that, and the more progress on this effort, the more successful it will become.

I think it's fair to say that there are Israelis who would welcome this framework, but they're currently a small minority. I doubt that a majority will come over until it becomes clear that Europe and the US make it clear that Israel will be regarded as an illegitimate state unless it shows a genuine interest in resolving the conflict -- which means, quite simply, ensuring that Palestinians have security and equal rights.

A slightly higher percentage of Palestinians may be amenable to this framework, as their political thinking has evolved from nationalism to an internationalist appeal for human rights. But there, too, a majority has been conditioned to think in zero-sum nationalist terms, and there exists a militant minority willing to fight for their goals -- even as they have proven unattainable. One should expect that segments of both sides will resort to violence to derail any move toward peace, but they will be increasingly marginalized as normal life returns. The framework needs to police these violent splinter groups, and also to compensate for their misdeeds -- which I suspect will become increasingly infrequent over time. (Needless to say, organized military groups, including Hamas and the IDF, need special attention, but given their greater discipline may be less of a problem.)

One last thought here is that resistance to the framework will not be limited to militant, irredentist factions of Israelis and Palestinians. It will be led by "conservative" groups in the US and Europe, which are committed to maintaining force as the means for securing the continued rule of their oligarchies. That's a subject for a whole book, but look around you: it's no coincidence that the biggest warmongers are the same people who seek to smash unions, untax the rich, build the police state, exacerbate racial and ethnic tensions, shackle women, etc.


PS [2021-05-30]: Thinking about this piece, it occurrs to me that I should say a few things about political tactics. The framework I proposed above is what I see as the likely end-result of good faith negotiations, which are currently impossible. The main reason they are impossible is that Israel has no interest in or desire for peace, and no other party is able to apply pressure to convince Israel otherwise.

The political strategy behind selling this framework needs to be segmented by audience. In the US and Europe, people need to understand that the conflict reflects poorly on our commitment to international law and human rights. The conflict may have complex historical causes, but what sustains it is Israel's use of violence and discrimination in managing the occupation (and the extension of the occupation back into pre-1967 borders, where Palestinians are supposed to be citizens of Israel). The US and Europe can impress these views on Israel by by supporting the BDS movement, initially at ad hoc levels. I don't generally approve of sanctions (a tool the US often abuses, and which rarely proves effective), but in this case even modest sanctions may convey the message, as long as the goals are modest and framed within basic tenets of peace and human rights.

In Israel, the strategy is to emphasize that the framework provides a way out of the cycle of violence and discrimination which perpetuates the conflict, and a normalization of relations with the external world. Moreover, the significant decisions over borders and demography are left to Israel, which alone can decide one-state vs. two-states.

With the Palestinians, there is an existing divide between those who are primarily concerned with individual rights, including peace, and those who have nationalistic ambitions, so the direction should be to shift toward the former -- either for practical reasons (Israel will not allow a powerful Palestinian state, and may not permit any at all) or for philosophical understanding.

In all cases, one should minimize the importance of issues that are unlikely -- examples include Jerusalem's "holy places" and the "right of return." (I am pleased to see Peter Beinart's recent piece defending the right of Palestinian exiles to return to Israel, but I doubt that it will persuade many Israelis, and don't want to allow the issue to hold any resolution hostage.) Similarly, in the US it is pointless to argue one-vs.-two states, as that's only something Israel can decide. (Zack Beauchamp's recent In defense of the two-state solution is an example of what not to do, although his "ditch the peace process" and "rethink what an acceptable two-state solution could look like" sections have some merit.)

One more point: I've thought of one more wrinkle that could make the framework more attractive to Israel (and somewhat, but not prohibitively, more onerous to Palestinians: Egypt and/or Jordan could be given a role in securing and governing any new Palestinian enclaves split off from Israel. As I see it, the enclaves would be self-governing (especially given that neither Egypt nor Jordan currently qualify as democracies), but would be considered mandates (to use the suspect League of Nations term) for a period of, say, 10-20 years (after which an election could decide independence or incorporation). The mandatory powers could intervene for security (but Israel could not), would provide an initial legal framework (including money), and would conduct foreign policy for the mandates. One reason Israel might find this attractive is that the enclaves could not represent themselves as a Palestinian state (which they view as an implicit rival for the land they occupy).

This isn't a plank I would prefer -- Egypt and Jordan have previously overseen Palestinian territories, and their records are pretty shabby -- but I don't think it would be a deal-wrecker. One thing that might sweeten the deal would be to allow Palestinian authorities to bypass Egypt and Jordan and negotiate directly with Israel. That may not seem realistic at present, but would give Palestinians an option to leverage, and a measure of autonomy which (by definition) doesn't threaten Israel.

One should always be clear that both peoples are entitled to rights which don't trample on others, and be open to new proposals coming from either side. One should be careful not to conflate the conflict with other issues, like the rise of Jihadism, the American "war on terror," or the Saudi paranoia with Iran. One should be careful not to offer even the slightest whiff of anti-semitism, or for that matter of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim or anti-Christian prejudice. I've found it useful to never describe myself as pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, although people who unabashedly do take sides can still come together behind a framework like the one I've presented.

On the other hand, I don't see any value in understating Israel's responsibility for the conflict and its seeming intractability. There is no peace because Israel wants to and has been able to violently impose a fundamentally unjust order over the land it controls. One may fault various Palestinians for not having been smarter politically at various junctures, but they've never had the power to decide, and as such have never been responsible for the conflict. (One tends to forget Britain's role in this, which was substantial -- cf. Tom Segev's book, One Palestine, Complete.)

Also, while I condemn all violence on all sides, I think it's wrong to treat both sides as equally (or even comparably) guilty. Nor is it a simple matter of counting and weighing explosives. Injustice may not excuse violence, but it does cause it, and the only real way to end it is to remove the provocation. Also, from a more practical standpoint, peace needs the participation of formerly violent actors, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad (as Israelis who remember the terrorist roots of Begin and Shamir must realize). Maybe you can police a last few recalcitrant fanatics, but widely popular groups like Hamas need to be courted, so condemning them (easy as it seems) isn't very helpful.

Monday, May 17, 2021


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35420 [35378] rated (+42), 216 [220] unrated (-4).

Robert Christgau published his Consumer Guide: May, 2021 last week. It included reviews of five albums I had previously weighed in on (his grades in bold, mine in brackets):

  • Carsie Blanton: Love and Rage (So Ferocious) A- [A-]
  • Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club (Polydor/Interscope) A- [B+(**)]
  • Milo: So the Flies Don't Come (2015, Ruby Yacht) A- [B+(**)]
  • Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (Aimless) B+ [A-]
  • Spillage Village: Spilligion (2020, Dreamville/Sincethe80s/Interscope) A [B+(*)]

Only one of these I've replayed is the Milo, which I could have nudged up a notch, but didn't have to. Spilligion got a lot of favorable press late last year, but I only gave it a single play. I checked out records by Khaira Arby and Milo below. I'm feeling a bit iffy about Arby, which strikes me as a bit raw. If I had the time, I might wind up preferring her 2015 album Gossip (unreviewed by Christgau) over the new Live in New York 2010. But I moved on.

Otherwise, I spent more time with my project of checking out old Christgau-graded but unheard-by-me albums -- a list I've been updating as I go along. I did run into a snag on Sunday, when Napster dropped into a deep funk, interrupting the music stream every few seconds, making it nearly impossible to listen to. I finally rebooted, in case background processes were hogging the computer, but with nothing else running it got worse than ever. I've complained. If the problem isn't fixed soon, I should look into other streaming services. Or give up. I can't say as I'm enjoying this very much.


We went to Rubena Bradley's funeral on Saturday. Nice service, warm remembrances. I made some cookies for the reception after (dark chocolate chip, macadamia and white chocolate chip, pecan and salted caramel chip, molasses spice with orange zest). They were pretty good, but upstaged by a tres leches cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

I just heard that Bob Erdos died back in 2017. He ran one of my favorite record labels, Stomp Off, and produced most of their 400+ albums. Stomp Off was a niche label, specializing in the obscure genre I like to call "real jazz." When I was writing Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, I tried chasing him down, and eventually got a single promo album: Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Thumpin' and Bumpin' [review link]. (John Gill also sent me some of his records on Stomp Off. See [here for my review of Yerba Buena Stompers: The Yama-Yama Man.) A quick check shows 86 Stomp Off records in my database, 15 A-listed.

Another important label founder, Chicago-based Delmark's Bob Koester (another obit), died last week. Running the same database check, I have 249 Delmark records in my database, 41 A-listed. Probably helped that I got service on their jazz titles -- a mix of AACM/avant and trad jazz -- until recently. They also released a lot of blues (Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues and Magic Sam's West Side Soul put them on the map).

Bassist-composer Mario Pavone died last week. He played with Paul Bley's 1968-72 trio, with Bill Dixon and Anthony Braxton briefly, with Thomas Chapin throughout his shortened career, and has released a couple dozen albums as leader -- my favorites are Dancer's Tales (1996), Deez to Blues (2005), and Arc Trio (2013), with another half-dozen real close, and other highly-regarded albums I haven't heard (including 2 4-star Penguin Guide). Outstanding bassist, but also an exceptionally noteworthy composer.


I'm not following the news very well, but did notice this headline du jour: Man arrested in wife's murder now accused of voting for Trump in her name. As James Thompson noted on Facebook: "Why does every case of voter fraud I hear about concern a Republican committing the fraud?"

Also noticed some pieces about Israel's latest psychotic breakdown. Start with the first two here:

If you want more depth, look to Mondoweiss and Tikun Olam. Early reports in the mainstream US press were almost comically biased with tortured false equivalencies, but as the destruction has accumulated, Israel's deliberation has become harder to ignore, let alone deny. I'm particularly struck by references to "mowing the grass": I wonder how much grass there is in Israel, let alone Gaza; I wonder if the phrase wasn't tuned to appeal to Americans, as it implies something that is both routine and aesthetically pleasing; I wonder whether they realize that the main effect of mowing grass is to stimulate growth. The only thing Israel's periodic assaults on Gaza guarantees is that they'll feel the need to do it again in the not-so-distant future.

I've spent some time thinking over whether I should try to write another big piece on Israel. I spent a lot of time researching the subject in the early 2000s. In particular, I thought a lot about how to construct a mutually satisfactory solution. (From 2005, see: A New Peace Plan for Resolving the Israel Conflict.) The situation has changed considerably since then. As I noted above, from the Peel Commission in 1936 through the Bush Roadmap of 2003 (and its ever-fainter echoes, the Mitchell diplomacy of 2010-11, and the Kerry parameters of 2016), most thinking about solutions was based on Partition, with or without Transfer. Israel has occasionally voiced support for such schemes, but never committed to borders, and never been satisfied with the non-Jewish presence within their control, so no permanent "solution" has been possible. I'd argue that this has been consistent with their original colonial project, and has been legitimized because world powers (notably the UK and US) are used to thinking in such terms, but that argument isn't very helpful.

The only way out of this trap is to refocus not on states but on people, as individuals, deserving the full complement of what we now tend to call Human Rights. If everyone has the same rights wherever they live, states and their boundaries are arbitrary and irrelevant (not in the short term, but increasingly over time). As an engineer, I have some pet ideas about how to make this work. But what I've learned from experience is that nobody likes my ideas on this -- I'd say because they're all stuck in the injustices of the past, and would rather stay there. (One of the first books I read on the subject caught this idea in its title: Righteous Victims, by Benny Morris, in 1999, just before he made his hard-right political turn.)

So for now I'm sitting on my ideas, venturing no more than the tease above. I will say that neither Israel nor the Palestinians will embrace my proposals, so to have any chance they'd have to be adopted by a wide swath of world opinion, especially in the US and Europe. Several of the pieces above suggest that opinion is shifting, not just on Israel's own motives and actions but on the US "blank check" which has only led to greater racism and militarism in Israel. But also, as the piece on Andrew Yang shows, that there is still a long ways to go.

I have been working a bit on editing the Trump book. Got up to my big November 12, 2016 election entry, which took a lot of work, not because I regretted anything but because it's so damn long. Next up is the "Election Roundup" on November 19, although if you follow the link, scroll up to "Golden Oldies (5)" on November 16, which quotes various things I wrote from 2006. You may recall that was one of those years Israel tried to "mow the grass," first in the West Bank, then Gaza, then most dramatically in Lebanon. This is still a good paragraph:

The irony in all this is that the neocons got snookered worse than anyone in thinking of Israel as the model the American military should aspire to. The fact is that Israel hasn't had anything resembling a clean military victory since 1967. The War of Attrition with Egypt was exactly that. 1973 was a draw perceived as a psychological defeat. Lebanon was a bloody, pointless mess from the very start, dragged out to 18 years only to give Hezbollah training. The counter-intifadas were like trying to fight roaches by pummelling them with garbage.

Beginning to have doubts that editing the Trump blogs will work as a book. There must be a simpler, clearer way to say what needs to be said. As fascinating as watching a trainwreck might be, in the end the pile of rubble is what matters.


Going through my questions, I have three that I've been sitting on, though one is more of a suggestion than a question, and the other two are asking for or second-guessing grades. (Of course, Buck 65 is great, but I have no idea how anyone ranks over a decade. Of course, Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels is an A+. Of course, if you collect three good albums into a 2-CD package, the product is still a good one -- but why should I bother grading every configuration? I could have spent 3-4 days going over every configuration of Gladys Knight's Motowns, but they'd all wind up pretty much the same. (But in her case, the shorter Millennium Collection strikes me as the better value.)

Use this form to ask me something.


New records reviewed this week:

Aaron Germain: Bell Projections (2015-20 [2021], Aaron Germain Music): Electric bassist, grew up in Massachusetts, moved to San Francisco area in 2000, also plays guitars here, with various musicians, recorded over five years. Paul McCandless plays oboe on two cuts, Nestor Torres is one of several flute players, mostly percussionists beyond that. B+(*) [cd] [05-14]

Maria Grand: Reciprocity (2020 [2021], Biophilia): Swiss tenor saxophonist, based in New York, third album, sings some, trio with bass (Kanoa Mendenhall) and drums (Savannah Harris). Again impressed by her sax, less engaged by the vocals (some by Harris). B+(***) [cdr]

Jeannine Otis: Into My Heart (2021, Adrielle Music/Monpolyhouse): Singer, writes some, originally from Detroit, seems to have a checkered career with an album in 1980, some singles (as Jahneen) in the 1980s. Mix of originals and standards here. B+(**) [cd]

Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue: Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (2019-20 [2021], Pi): Born in Peoria, Illinois; parents from Taiwan and East Timor; studied classical music, ballet, theater, and opera; sixth album since 2002, group name from her 2009 album. Early favorite for Jazz Critics Poll Vocal Album, as a significant number of critics seem to like (or at least be impressed by) this sort of disjointed art song. I can't stand it, myself, but will admit that when I did force myself to listen closely, it offered a few alluring details and admirable sentiments. C+ [cd]

Amber Weekes: 'Round Midnight Re-Imagined (2021, Amber Inn Productions): Standards singer, several albums. Nothing very surprising in her reimaginings, although her take on the oft-recorded Monk ballad is touching enough. Hits more touchstones from "Hazel's Lips" and "Summer Samba" to "More Than You Know." Lots of strings. B+(*) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Khaira Arby: Live in New York 2010 (2010 [2021], Clermont Music): Singer from Timbuktu in Mali (1959-2018), touted as the first Malian woman to start a musical career under her own name (1992). Credited with two albums (at least internationally), the first coincident with her 2010-11 tour of the US and Canada, whence this set from Bard College. Tremendous energy here. A-

Aaron Neville: Tell It Like It Is: The Sansu Years (1968-75 [2020], HHO): New Orleans singer, best known for his group (The Neville Brothers), with various solo ventures: singles for Minit 1960-63 ("Over You"), a second batch for Sansu (studio name, records appeared on various labels), a solo career from 1986 on. This is the latest repackaging of the Allen Toussaint-produced Sansu period, 19 songs, only the title cut a big hit (although it's hard to see why "Hercules" wasn't). Mixed bag, one cut I could do without is his tortured reading of "Yesterday." B+(***)

Old music:

Khaira Arby: Tchini Tchini (2012, Clermont Music, EP): Three tracks, 16:11. Fewer rough spots than on the album(s), lasts long enough to get a good groove going. B+(***)

Khaira Arby: Gossip (2015, Clermont Music): Second album released in US, reportedly her fifth overall. Strong voice, supple guitar, traditional instruments in cross-cultural splendor. Strikes me as impressive as anything I've heard her do, but I'm at a loss to make fine distinctions. B+(***)

Z.Z. Hill: The Complete Hill Records Collection/UA Recordings 1972-1975 (1972-75 [1996], Capitol, 2CD): Three LPs rolled into 2CD. Early albums seem to have an edge, but he's pretty consistent. Nice packaging on this series (I bought quite a few of them when they were new). B+(*)

Z.Z. Hill: This Time They Told the Truth: The Columbia Years (1978-79 [1998], Columbia/Legacy): Two years, two albums -- Let's Make a Deal (1978) and The Mark of Z.Z. (1979) -- reduced to 12 tracks, but still the most minor of way stops. The only salvageable cuts go in different directions: "Tell It Like It Is" lets his voice shine, while "Let's Have a Party" is a pure funk rhythm track. Everywhere else: strings. B

Z.Z. Hill: Z.Z. Hill (1981, Malaco): Mississippi label, opened a recording studio in 1967, but only started releasing records around 1976, billing itself as "The Last Soul Company" and picking up artists cut loose by majors as r&b evolved into new forms. Hill was one of the most important, releasing six albums up to his death in 1984 (age 48, a heart attack from a blood clot that could be traced back to a car crash). This was his debut, sounding like he was finally in his comfort zone. B+(**)

Z.Z. Hill: Down Home (1982, Malaco): Second album here, even more comfortable but he picks up better songs, and knocks most right all out of the park. No reason to prefer this over Greatest Hits, which recycles the top three. A-

Z.Z. HIll: The Rhythm & the Blues (1982, Malaco): Christgau complains about a drop in song quality, but hard for me to be that picky. Two more Greatest Hits songs, and "Wang Dang Doodle" is a shot in the arm. B+(**)

Z.Z. Hill: I'm a Blues Man (1983, Malaco): Do I detect a little more grit in his voice? He's never been bluesier, but isn't soul his calling card? Four songs made it to Greatest Hits, but they're not the ones I recall instantly. B+(***)

Z.Z. Hill: Bluesmaster (1984, Malaco): Fifth Malaco album, last before his death. Two more Greatest Hits, but the delights don't stop there. "You're Ruining My Bad Reputation" and "Why Don't You Spend the Night" are better than anything on the previous album. A-

Z.Z. Hill: In Memoriam 1935-1984 (1981-84 [1985], Malaco): Hill was banged up in a car crash in February 1984. Two months later, he died of a heart attack, caused by a blood clot formed after the accident. He was 48. Malaco threw this first draft of history together, ten songs, pulling songs from his middle three albums and adding a couple non-album singles, then a year later came out with a slightly better-programmed Greatest Hits, only repeating "Down Home Blues" and "Someone Else Is Steppin' In." A-

Alberta Hunter: The Glory of Alberta Hunter (1982, Columbia): Blues singer, born 1895 in Memphis, recorded extensively in the 1920s, retired in the 1950s, had a second career in nursing, started singing again after she was put out to pasture. Made a big comeback at 85 with 1980's Amtrak Blues, followed by this album -- more great American soundbook than blues, especially the risqué material she's famous for. B+(**) [yt]

The Jive Five: Here We Are! (1982, Ambient Sound): Doo-wop group from Brooklyn, had their only real hit in 1961 ("My True Story"), survived the deaths of Jerome Hanna (1962) and Norman Johnson (1970), led by Eugene Pitt until 2006. This is the first of two albums they recorded in the 1980s (front cover notes "Featuring Eugene Pitt"). There are few things I love more than doo-wop, so it's nice to see it carry on, but this didn't sweep me away. B+(**)

The Jive Five: Their Greatest Hits (1961-63 [1990], Collectables): Fourteen songs, "My True Story" the only top-ten (or sixty) hit, as far as I can tell all from Belltone -- they recorded for United Artists from 1964-66, with a minor hit ("I'm a Happy Man," 26 in 1965), and Musicor in 1967, but none of that here. The ballads are fine, but the uptempo pieces jump out. B+(**)

Joy of Cooking: Castles (1972, Capitol): Berkeley group, led by singers Toni Brown (piano) and Terry Garthwaite (guitar), released three albums 1971-72. Eponymous debut was a landmark, second album a letdown (relatively speaking), then I missed this one (aside from the songs picked up on the American Originals CD, packed in my traveling case and played recently). A-

Joy of Cooking: Back to Your Heart (1968-72 [2006], Njoy, 2CD): One disc of studio outtakes. Other disc a live Berkeley concert, climaxing with an 11:02 "Brownsville/Mockingbird" and 9:08 of "Laugh, Don't Laugh." B+(**)

Mory Kanté: Sabou (2004, Riverboat): Guinean griot, became lead singer in Rail Band after Salif Keita left, shortly moving on to his own solo career. B+(***)

Gladys Knight and the Pips: Greatest Hits (1967-70 [1970], Soul): A Motown group from 1966-1973, they started recording around 1958, and continued with Buddha, Columbia, and MCA up to 1988. This starts with three remade pre-Motown singles, which tend to be omitted in later Motown comps, probably because they have several more years of hits to work with. B+(**)

Gladys Knight & the Pips: The Definitive Collection (1967-73 [2008], Motown): Motown never released a Greatest Hits Vol. 2. By 1973, they were issuing their Anthology series (2-LP, 23 tracks, expanded to 40 for the 1986 2-CD). Knight & the Pips have been represented in all the label's reissue series, like the 22-cut The Ultimate Collection (1998), the 11-song The Millennium Collection (2000), and this more recent 18-track edition. I'd like to say this one is the right-sized, but it might be a bit long. B+(***)

Gladys Knight & the Pips: Claudine (1974, Buddah): Cover explains: "The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" and adds "Score Written and Performed by Curtis Mayfield," with some versions also noting stars James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll. Rather slight, with just six songs and an instrumental running 30:18. B+(***)

Milo: A Toothpaste Suburb (2014, Hellfyre Club): Rapper Rory Ferreira used this name before switching recently to R.A.P. Ferreira. First album, after a 2011 mixtape. Liquid beats, "Buck 65's Knee." B+(**)

Milo: Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! (2017, Ruby Yacht): Kenny Segal produced, as on 2016's So the Flies Don't Comme, but fewer (and less famous) guest shots, focuses more on the star. Hard to write about him, but dozens of rhymes catch my ear, which is all it takes for the ditzy beats to work. A-

My Bloody Valentine: Isn't Anything (1988, Relativity): Band from Dublin, reportedly more or less invented "shoegaze," a style where a band plays monotonous guitar riffs while staring passively at their shoes. I can think of examples I like, but not the two (of four) Christgau A-listed albums from this band I bought back in the day (the EP Glider and second LP Loveless). This was their first studio album (per Wikipedia, after two "mini albums" and a live one, on little-known labels). Not totally tuneless, nor totally uninteresting as noise, but no regrets at cutting them short. B [yt]

My Bloody Valentine: Tremolo (1991, Sire): Teaser for their much-anticipated album Loveless, 4 tracks, 18:36. Fucking useless. C+

My Bloody Valentine: MBV (2013, MBV): Band signed with Island in 1992, but never released anything, and officially broke up in 1997. They regrouped to tour in 2008, and eventually hacked up this third album. Title stylized m v b. B-

The Naysayer: Deathwhisker (2000, Carrot Top): Singer-songwriter Anna Padgett, first album, with co-founder Cynthia Nelson (drums) and Tara Jane O'Neill (guitar). Understated country-ish. B+(*)

The Naysayer: Pure Beauty (2002 [2003], Carrot Top, EP): Five songs, brighter and funnier than the album, 15:16. B+(***)

Aaron Neville: Make Me Strong (1968-75 [1986], Charly): First repackaging of the Sansu singles, 14 songs, nothing cringeworthy, hits often enough to show off his voice and Toussaint's songcraft. Long out of print. [I cribbed 13/14 songs from the HHO compilation, so should hedge a bit.] B+(***)

Aaron Neville: The Classic Aaron Neville: My Greatest Gift (1966-75 [1990], Rounder): Christgau describes this as an "improved version of Charly's Make Me Strong," but is it? Released in the CD era, it retreats from 14 cuts to 12, repeating 7 obvious ones, adding 5 pretty good others. B+(***)

Aaron Neville: Hercules (1961-75 [1993], Charly): Twenty-cut CD, trims Neville's Sansu selection back to 10 songs, making way for 10 early Minit sides, starting with "Over You." It's possible to find more completist reissues, like Charly's 2011 2-CD, 47-track Hercules: The Minit & Sansu Sessions: 1960-1977, But this gets you what you need, including another very choice cut: "Let's Live." A-

Aaron Neville: Orchid in the Storm (1985, Passport, EP): Six 1950s songs, 19:42, most doo-wop classics, taken slow to show off his high, quavering voice, with a splash of tenor sax (David "Fathead" Newman) on "Pledging My Love." 19:42. B+(***)

Aaron Neville: Nature Boy: The Standards Album (2003, Verve): Jazz label, jazz combo -- including Anthony Wilson (guitar) and Ron Carter (bass) -- plus a few horn spots (Roy Hargrove, Michael Brecker, Ray Anderson), with Linda Ronstadt joining for "The Very Thought of You." I suppose he always sounded mannered, but he never reminded me of José James before (although historically, that would have to be reversed). B+(*)

Aaron Neville: Bring It on Home . . . The Soul Classics (2006, Burgundy): Annoyed at first that Discogs doesn't have any credits, but the closest thing to an obscurity here is "Ain't No Sunshine" (Bill Withers), and that was close to inevitable. B+(**)

New Order: Republic (1993, Qwest): New wave guitar band, produced some of the heaviest disco music of the 1980s, and eventually got popular. Sixth studio album, the only one I missed, perhaps suspecting their run was coming to a close. Indeed, it was eight years before their seventh appeared. Still, this has a slightly lighter texture, as if the grooves are coming more naturally. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Andre Ferreri Quintetto: Numero Uno (Laser) [05-31]
  • Doug MacDonald: Live in Hawaii (DMAC Music)
  • Uassyn: Zacharya (JazzThing)

Monday, May 10, 2021


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35378 [35336] rated (+42), 220 [220] unrated (+0).

Mostly old music again, continuing down my list of albums graded by Christgau but unheard (at least in that specific release) by me. Started with Sam Baker, whose earlier (somewhat better) albums were reviewed last week. At this late date, the records tend to get a single play (unless something seems like it might be worth clarifying). I also occasionally check out lesser graded albums that catch my fancy (e.g., Lester Bangs, Handsome Boy Modelling School)), and delve deeper into some catalogs. I'm not done with Z.Z. Hill, although I'm pretty sure that the essential album is Malaco's 1986 Greatest Hits.

I've resorted my 2021 pending list to keep the records in release order. I'm trying to review things that are out, and hold back on future releases (3 well into June). Would probably be more helpful to sort the box I keep them in, but that's harder to do. Only six records in the queue that are out now but I haven't gotten to.

Very sad this week to hear that Ed Ward died. (For obituaries, see: New York Times; NPR; Rolling Stone; Austin American-Statesman. Ward was one of the main rock critics I read in the mid-1970s, leading to my own brief fling at freelance rock crit. I never met him, but we corresponded a bit, and I remember him as being very open and supportive. I learned a lot from his section in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. In recent years, he returned to Austin, and published two volumes of rock history, up to 1977.

Two more deaths need to be noted here. Lloyd Price (88) was a major r&b and pop star in the 1950s. His early Specialty hits are worth owning (e.g., Lawdy!), but his 1956-60 pop hits (see Greatest Hits: The Original ABC-Paramount Recordings) are the ones I remember from my youth. In the 1960s he moved into business, and seems to have been quite successful there, too.

Curtis Fuller (86) also died. He was one of the most prolific trombonists of the hard bop era, most notably with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1961-66), but he led a couple dozen album, and played on many more, with a great many of the luminaries of the era. I recognized dozens of albums on his credits list, but when I went to compile an A-list I was surprised not to find many (9, 3 of those with Blakey; others with Sonny Clark, John Coltrane, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Blue Mitchell, Ernie Wilkins; surprised by how many records on the list I've heard of but haven't heard).

I'll also note that our friend Ruby Bradley's obituary belatedly appeared in the Wichita Eagle, albeit with her name misspelled. Service on Saturday, May 15. Hopefully the Eagle will correct their error. Much the same write up is also at Cochran Mortuary.

Saturday night was the first time in over a year when we had a guest over for dinner. I fixed paella valenciana (see picture), with chicken wings, kielbasa, Chinese sausage, shrimp, and lobster tail. To complement it, I made some tapas/salads (cw in picture): white beans, mushrooms in garlic sauce, cabbage and green bell pepper slaw, tuna-egg-tomato salad, roasted pepper salad. Had strawberry shortcake, key lime pie, and whipped cream on both for dessert. Food was as good as I expected, but the big surprise was getting it all done exactly on time.

I hadn't really planned the tapas part out. I thumbed through Penelope Casas' Tapas book for ideas, and noted the mushrooms and peppers recipes. For the beans and tuna recipes, I simply raided the pantry, glad to use up old cans. I bought the cabbage for my regular slaw recipe, but this was close enough I thought I'd try it. One thing I thought about making was deviled eggs stuffed with salmon, but I made them for lunch today.

I've spent months shopping for a new inkjet printer. Finally ordered a HP OfficeJet 9015e, and tried to set it up over the weekend. Horrible experience, even punting the decision on whether to sign up for their 8-month "free ink" program. They tape over the USB socket to plug the unit into a computer, as the setup can only be run with the printer connected through wi-fi to the Internet. I wound up having to download an app to my phone, then use the phone to set up the wi-fi and update the printer software. Now HP has their spyware installed directly in my office. But from that point, my Linux machines automagically picked up the printer configuration (while not noticing that the old printer had disappeared). I can also print from the phone, and the app knows about paper sizes and ink levels and such. The ink cartridges all have printed circuit cards to ensure I can't use third-party ink. You may wonder where anti-vaxxers get their conspiracy theories, but dealing with companies like HP helps explain today's paranoia.

PS on album covers. I substituted the Cucumbers' Fake Doom Years for their eponymous EP. The actual EP cover is in the top left quadrant of the compilation cover. It's also rated A-. I also didn't bother grabbing a copy of the Handsome Family's Down in the Valley. It's a long out-of-print Irish-only compilation, drawing from three albums reviewed above it. I only bothered because it was on the Christgau A-list, and was only able to do so by stringing a songlist together.


New records reviewed this week:

Carsie Blanton: Love & Rage (2021, So Ferocious): Singer-songwriter, based in New Orleans, albums since 2005, breakthrough was her 2019 album Buck Up. Eleven more first rate songs. Easy enough: to stay off her "Shit List," just "Be Good." A-

Enzo Carniel and Filippo Vignato as Silent Room: Aria (2021, Menace): French pianist, Italian trombonist, both have several previous albums. Duo first played together in tribute to avant-trombone legend Albert Mangelsdorf, but they're also into Brian Eno's ambient synths, and find a pleasing synthesis herein. B+(***) [cd]

Marianne Faithfull With Warren Ellis: She Walks in Beauty (2021, BMG): The Bad Seeds violinist used his soundtrack expertise to craft the music. Faithfull reads poetry: Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Thomas Hood and Lord Tennyson. I haven't read them in 50+ years, and doubt I ever will again, but there's no denying their brilliance. B+(**)

Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio: Moon on the Lake (2020 [2021], Libra): A rare conventional piano trio, although bassist Takashi Sugawa doubles on cello, with Ittesu Takamura on drums. Some spectacular passages, as you'd expect. B+(***) [cd]

Flow Trio With Joe McPhee: Winter Garden (2020 [2021], ESP-Disk): Tenor/soprano saxophonist Louie Belogenis, released an album in 2007 called The Flow, leading to several Flow Trio albums, with Joe Morris (bass) and Charles Downs (drums). This adds a second tenor sax, an old master making the rounds. Morris is better known as a guitarist, but plays some exceptional bass here. A- [cd]

Noah Haidu/Buster Williams/Billy Hart: Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (2020 [2021], An Die Musik): Piano trio, the pianist born in 1972, when Jarrett was 27 and conquering the world, joined on bass and drums by players of Jarrett's generation (actually, a couple years senior). All three wrote songs (5 in total), compared to one by Jarrett, plus several standards. B+(**) [cd]

Madre Vaca: The Elements (2020 [2021], Madre Vaca): Collective, based in Jacksonville, fourth album as a group but their label lists 13 albums, including ones by various members. Website lists 16 musicians, but just a quartet here: Jarrett Carter (guitar), Thomas Milovac (bass), Jonah Pierre (piano), and Benjamin Shorstein (drums), with one original piece from each (you can guess the titles). B+(*) [cd] [06-12]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Cucumbers: The Desk Drawer Tapes (1988-2005 [2021], Life Force): Twelve songs, recorded over the years and stuffed into a drawer. Not top drawer material, but distinct in form and spirit. B+(**)

Ojoyo: Plays Safrojazz (1996 [2021], Sunnyside): South African saxophonist Morris Goldberg, moved to New York before the fall of apartheid, where he played with Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and many others. Leads various musicians here -- one group has Chris Botti on trumpet, another Diego Urcola. The township jive vamps are fun, but neither here nor there. B+(**) [cd] [05-28]

Steve Tintweiss and the Purple Why: Markstown (1968 [2021}, Inky Dot Media): Bassist, mostly played in the 1960s on albums by ESP-Disk artists, from Albert Ayler to Patty Waters and Frank Wright. This is billed as "authentic sixties ny city avant-garde free jazz," from two dates (St. Mark's Church, The Town Hall). Compositions by the leader, quintet plus vocals, only name that jumps out at me is Mark Whitecage (tenor sax/flute). Album does feature his bass, and he impresses. B+(***) [cd]

Old music:

Sam Baker: Say Grace (2013, self-released): Strings return, used tastefully, framing literary songs that don't give up anything easily. Okay, "Ditch" does, but I'm having trouble here. B+(***)

Sam Baker: Land of Doubt (2017, self-released): More trouble following his songs, less interest in trying again. Not that I doubt I'm missing something. B+(*)

Sam Baker: Horses and Stars (2019, self-released): Live, solo with guitar and harmonica, recorded in Buffalo, ten songs from his first three albums, one each from the other two. I recognize many, but the arrangements are so spare he can only hook you with words, which is hard to do. B+(*)

Lester Bangs and the Delinquents: Jook Savages on the Brazos (1981, Live Wire): I knew him as a rock critic, corresponded a bit, but he left Creem before I could write anything for him. I met him my first night in New York, where he tried to make it as a rocker, but rarely ran into him, and never saw him perform. I bought (and kept) his single, "Let It Blurt," but never saw or heard this album -- the only one he released before his overdose (inadvertent, friends assure me) in 1982. Not as consistent as one would like, but several songs stand out, as does enough of the guitar. A- [yt]

Ronnie Barron: Blues Delicacies, Vol. 1 (1979 [1981], Vivid Sound): Ronald Barrosse (1943-97), from New Orleans, grew up in the local piano tradition along with Professor Longhair and Dr. John. Sideman with Paul Butterfield and other blues outfits, recorded his first album as Reverend Ether (1971). Discogs lists 6 releases of this album under 4 titles, the hopes expressed by Vol. 1 unrequited. Distinctive voice, familiar songs. B+(***) [yt]

Roy Brown: Hard Times (1967-68 [1973], Bluesway): His 1947 single, "Good Rockin' Tonight," is remembered as one of the first great rock and roll songs, but his King compilation (1947-57, out of print on Rhino) flounders, and his Complete Imperial Recordings (1956-58) isn't much better. This seems to be his first proper album, recorded a decade after he "retired," and released half a decade later. The big blues riffs and soul horns really lift him up, and his voice does the rest. A- [yt]

Shirley Brown: Woman to Woman (1974, Truth): Soul singer, usual church upbringing, first album, title song her first (and only) hit single, voice drew comparisons to Aretha Franklin. Recorded two more albums for Stax (1974, 1979), then resurfaced on Malaco in 1989. B+(**)

T Bone Burnett: Trap Door (1982, Warner Brothers, EP): Eventually better known as a producer, since O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), the guy every movie producer seeking roots music turned to. After his 1980 debut on Takoma, he signed to Warners, and released this 5-track, 22:08 EP before his 1983 Proof Through the Night. B+(**)

T Bone Burnett: T Bone Burnett (1986, Dot): Fourth album, new label, MCA's revived country imprint. So he goes a bit more country, but just a bit. B+(**)

Joe Cocker: Joe Cocker's Greatest Hits (1969-76 [1977], A&M): The history of interpretive rock singers starts with Elvis Presley and ends with Joe Cocker, and doesn't include much in between. Granted, the practice persists in country and pop, but even there the stars usually claim a piece of the action. Like Elvis, Cocker got by on voice and arrangement, but didn't get nearly as far. I was a big fan of his Leon Russell-organized Mad Dogs & Englishmen, but unlike Elvis he never had that many hits, even here. B+(***)

Johnny Copeland: Fuel Presents an Introduction to Johnny Copeland (1961-67 [2006], Fuel 2000): Blues guitarist-singer, born in Louisiana, moved to Houston, started recording singles in 1956. This collects 16 tracks from small labels (All Boy, Golden Eagle, Paradise, maybe others). Only one song intersects with Kent's It's Me: Classic Texas Soul 1965-72. B+(**)

Johnny Copeland: Copeland Special (1981, Rounder): First proper album, has all the chops you need for flashy blues. Also picked up a lot of horns, including three legendary avant-saxophonists (George Adams, Arthur Blythe, and Byard Lancaster), not that you'd recognize them in the mix. B+(***) [yt]

The Cucumbers: The Cucumbers (1983, Fake Doom, EP): Four songs, 10:46, "My Boyfriend" should have been a hit. Included in The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986), which is also: A-

The Cucumbers: Total Vegitility (1999, Home Office): Jangle pop band/duo from New Jersey, Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes, peaked in 1994 with Where We Sleep Tonight. Their jangle is sharpened, but not the songs. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Water Babies (1967-68 [1976], Columbia): After his second great quintet folded in 1968, Davis recruited young musicians and invented what came to be called fusion: a style that arguably ruined jazz in the 1970s, although his own records were often glorious exceptions. When Davis went on hiatus in 1975, his record company dredged up this transitional filler, with one side of classic quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams), and one one side of his next step, with Hancock and Chick Corea on electric piano, and Dave Holland on bass. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Circle in the Round (1955-70 [1979], Columbia, 2CD): More hiatus product: the first side three cuts from 1955, 1958, and 1961 (all great bands); from 1967, the 26:15 title piece, with Joe Beck sitting in on guitar; the 1968 quintet plus George Benson; and finally, from 1970, a much expanded band (Shorter and Bennie Maupin on reeds, three famous keyboard wizards, electric bass, sitar, two drummers, plus Airto Moreira on percussion) vamping on David Crosby's "Guinnevere" for 18:06. B+(**)

Miles Davis: The Man With the Horn (1980-81 [1981], Columbia): Married actress Cicely Tyson, kicked cocaine, and returned from hiatus. Jazz-funk, recorded with various lineups, but mostly Bill Evans (tenor sax), guitar, electric bass, drums, percussion. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Star People (1982-83 [1983], Columbia): Teo Macero's last production, pieced together from five studio and live dates over seven months. With Bill Evans on sax, Mike Stern (and in 1983 John Scofield) on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass (except for the last-recorded track), Al Foster drums, and Mino Cinelu perussion -- a fast, funky groove album elevated by the trumpet (not that it lasts). B+(***)

Kimya Dawson: Hidden Vagenda (2004, K): Antifolk singer-songwriter, started as the more mature half of the Moldy Peaches, went on to the more successful solo career, although both of those comparisons are strictly relative. There's a nursery rhyme simplicity to these tunes, a playfulness that rarely comes around. A-

Hakim: Talakik (2002, Mondo Melodia): Egyptian shaabi singer, nicknamed the Lion of Egypt, albums since 1991 (only 2 since 2007). B+(***)

Handsome Boy Modeling School: White People (2004, Atlantic): Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, both had independent solo careers, joined up for So . . . How's Your Girl?, one of 1999's best-regarded albums, regrouped five years later for a second (and so far last) album. Lots of guests (maybe too many), lots of skits (better than average). B+(***)

The Handsome Family: Odessa (1994, Carrot Top): Husband-and-wife duo, Brett and Rennie Sparks, plus a drummer and maybe others. He writes music, she does the lyrics, he does almost all of the singing -- she quavers punk, while his deadpan voice is clear as a bell, and no more engaging. First album. I missed one later on, but like them enough to go back to the beginning. Enough guitar drone to separate them from the folkies. Too much sarcasm for country (although they try in "Water Into Wine"). Here's another lyric: "How can you say there's only one way up/when you know there's a million ways down/ Some folks are falling, others trying to get up/ I'm the one who's staggering around." Had anyone noticed, this could have been deemed prophetic. Nowadays, of course it is. A-

The Handsome Family: Milk and Scissors (1996, Carrot Top): Second album. Settling into a groove, with fewer rough edges. B+(**)

The Handsome Family: Through the Trees (1997, Carrot Top): Third album, slipped by easily enough. B+(**)

The Handsome Family: Down in the Valley (1994-97 [1999], Independent): Irish-only release, picks songs from the first three albums, slighting the first (2 tracks, vs. 6 and 5 for the later ones). Debut is more interesting in its own right, not least because it has a rock edge the later albums lack, but the later selection kicks out lots of memorable lines. Not sure if they really picked the best songs, or the extra plays paid off. Note that their 2000 Live at Schuba's Tavern covers the same era songs, if anything more entertainingly. Rennie may avoid singing, but she doesn't shy away from the microphone between songs. A-

The Handsome Family: Twilight (2001, Carrot Top): Bland voice and simple melodies, doesn't seem like much, but I often enough find myself hanging on the words, grim as they may be. B+(***)

The Handsome Family: Smothered and Covered (1993-2001 [2003], Handsome Family Music): Demos and outtakes, covers from "Banks of the Ohio" and "Knoxville Girl" to "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and "Far Away Eyes," short instrumentals of Brett Sparks playing cello and Rennie playing prepared piano. Sound's a little weak. B+(**)

The Handsome Family: Singing Bones (2003, Carrot Top): Revisits an old folk song, "Dry Bones," best known from Bascom Lamar Lunsford, binding the murder songs, the more pervasive air of death, even to the end of the world -- twice, once in fire, again in ice. B+(***)

Ted Hawkins: Watch Your Step (1982, Rounder): Bluesman, born in Mississippi, drifted around the country, in and out of jails and asylums, wound up busking in Los Angeles. turned to music on hearing Sam Cooke, and he picked up the voice and style. First album, not clear when he recorded it. The liner notes speak of a DJ ("Johnny Jr.") discovering him in 1971, leading to demos, but it's likely these were re-recorded. B+(***)

Ted Hawkins: Happy Hour (1986, Rounder): A second album, also produced by Bruce Bromberg. Between records, he spent 18 months on a child molestation charge, which he subsequently denied. Title song is sad enough it belongs in Nashville. Or maybe it came from there? It's one of two non-originals, the other "Gypsy Woman." B+(**)

Henry Cow: Legend (1973, Virgin): Experimental British group, thought of themselves as rock but without vocals came closer to jazz. First album, aka Henry Cow and The Henry Cow Legend (all three titles appeared in 1973). Fred Frith (guitar), Tim Hodgkinson (keyboards), Geoff Leigh (reeds), John Greaves (bass), and Chris Cutler (drums), with most credited with additional instruments -- also voice toward the end. B+(**)

Henry Cow: Western Culture (1978 [1979], Broadcast): Fifth studio album, three founders remain (Frith, Hodgkinson, Cutler), plus Annemarie Roelofs (trombone, violin) and Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, oboe, soprano sax, recorder), with Hodgkinson writing the first side ("History & Prospects"), and Cooper the second ("Day by Day"). Also a couple guest spots, including Irène Schweizer (piano). B+(***)

Z.Z. Hill: The Brand New Z.Z. Hill (1971, Mankind): R&B singer-songwriter from Texas, recorded for Kent in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, ended up his career in the 1980s with Malaco, where classic soul music was repackaged as blues. This starts with a 3-act "Blues at the Opera," where the connected by spoken word that's hard to follow. The second half songs are perfectly solid. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Nnenna Freelon: Time Traveler (Origin) [05-21]
  • Greg Germann: Tales of Time (Origin) [05-21]
  • Brent Jensen: More Sounds of a Dry Martini (Origin) [05-21]
  • Matt Niess & the Capitol Bones: The Beat Goes On (Summit)
  • Ches Smith/We All Break: Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic) [06-11]
  • Carlos Vega: Art of the Messenger (Origin) [05-21]

Monday, May 3, 2021


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35336 [35287] rated (+49), 220 [220] unrated (+0).

The music part is easy enough to introduce. Early in the week, I pulled enough new music from the demo queue to keep the backlog count even. I tried to grab things that were already available, but I went ahead with Simon Moullier (out June 11) after I inadvertently slapped it on. The other future release is the new James Brandon Lewis, coming out later this week. I couldn't wait.

I did a little work last week adding jazz records to my tracking file, so that suggested some of the new non-CD records, and leaves me more for the future. First time I did that this year, but the list currently has 109 unheard records (almost all jazz), in addition to the 226 records I have rated (or have in my queue). Still far from exhaustive. (I've only made it about 50% of the way through Discogs 2021 jazz list, and have only picked out records that struck me as interesting.)

More old music again. I lost track of where I was with my file of albums that Christgau has graded but I haven't heard, so started again at the top, with Asleep at the Wheel and Asylum Street Spankers. I like the former's more recent Bob Wills tributes (Ride With Bob and Still the King), also the Spankers' The Last Laugh, but had heard little of their earlier work. I also had totally missed Sam Baker. Still working on him.

Before that I took a dive into Jorge Ben, who Christgau hasn't reviewed (except for Gil E Jorge). I had listened to a fair amount of Gilberto Gil recently, which led to the Ben recommendation. I had two unrated Ben albums in my database: Tropical and Samba Nova, both on Mango in 1976, but I couldn't find the LPs. I did find the former on YouTube, but not the latter -- a comp from 1970-74 albums, but I couldn't find enough of them to assemble a songlist, so I wound up dropping it from my unrated list.

While researching the Ben albums, I was surprised to find Wikipedia citing my grades for albums I had never heard before. Turns out the grades came from a notebook entry, where I had squirreled away a multi-part "Jorge Ben Projeto" that Rodney Taylor had posted on the now-defunct MSN Expert Witness forum. Taylor covers everything there, but it turns out he later revised and greatly expanded his piece, available on his Brazil Beat blog. Someone should alert Wikipedia and get them to credit the grades properly. They definitely shouldn't drop them, nor should they substitute (or even include) my new grades, which are little more than guesses from someone who knows very little about Brazilian music, who doesn't speak or follow the language, and who has rarely heard these records more than once or twice.

For resources on Brazilian music, I should also mention Cam Patterson's Brazil Project, which also dates from MSN EW days (2011), and I've long hosted in my "guests" space. Knowing a little bit more now than I did then, I should revisit the piece and check out some of his recommendations.

Still not finding much new non-jazz that appeals to me, but I'm not looking very hard. Just notice Phil Overeem's Most Euphonious Fruit of First Quarter, 2021, so I have work to do catching up, but will note that his 3 and 5 picks are new jazz: James Brandon Lewis's Jesup Wagon and Miguel Zenon's Law Years, which rank pretty high on my 2021 list.

Christgau wrote a nice, ungraded review of Peter Stampfel's 20th Century in 100 Songs. I slogged through the Bandcamp a while back, and gave it a B+(**). Chances are that in CD-sized chunks, with the nice packaging and extensive documentation, it might rate better -- although I may have already cut him some slack.


Bought a new printer, and I'm already hugely annoyed at HP for insisting that it be connected to the Internet and not to my computer for set up. Supposedly I get eight months of "free ink," but looks like I have to sign up for a subscription to get that. We hardly ever print anything, so this involves a lot of speculation. Trying to clean up and reorganize as I go on, so that's another excuse to take it slow.

Made trivial progress on memoir last week, a bit more on collecting the blog posts into a Trump era book. I need to be very selective with the latter, to compress 2800 pages into something like 300. I find I'm doing a lot of rewriting as I proceed -- not that I need to change my arguments so much as I'm seeing easy ways to squeeze sentences into more compact form. At least, until I ran into the RNC in July, 2016 post, which includes a long intro that is too kind to Trump. At the time, I stressed that Trump was no worse than his rivals. I haven't changed my mind -- thank God we don't four years led by Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich for comparison -- but didn't stress enough how low that bar was.

Sometimes I miss writing about politics, but I sure don't miss the pressure on Sundays. I'm pretty happy with Biden so far. Two things: he recognizes that real answers come from the left these days; and he recalls that Obama's bipartisan outreach fell into a trap, and that Republicans cannot be trusted. Those are big things, and they're not things you would have predicted from him, either based on his 2020 campaign or on his 50-year track record of dealing with the devil. I could rag on him over foreign policy, but it looks like he's taking a circuitous route to progress on Iran and North Korea, and the hot air on China and Russia seems to be just that.

No doubt if I dug deeper, I'd find things to get upset over, but I'm too old to sweat that many details. Jeffrey St. Clair is still trying, but even he is losing much of his vitriol. ("One hundred days of platitudes" is something we should be alarmed by?)

I should write up answers to whatever questions I have pending. I don't have many. Some are mere suggestions, which I may follow up on and maybe even report. Also, questions about specific album grades aren't very interesting. However, if there is something you're curious about, or just want to prod me into expanding on something, now would be a good time to use the form.


New records reviewed this week:

Lina Allemano Four: Vegetables (2020 [2021], Lumo): Canadian trumpet player, divides her time between Toronto and Berlin, seventh quartet album with various lineups, here: Brodie West (alto sax), Andrew Downing (bass), Nick Fraser (drums). Opener is "Onions," reminds me a bit of the Beach Boys song but free jazz. B+(**) [bc]

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Made Out of Sound (2020 [2021], Palilalia): Drums and guitar duo, former has been prolific since 2002, often working with guitarists (including several previous albums with Orcutt). Some debate whether this is jazz -- Orcutt has more of a noise/rock profile, but that doesn't seem to limit the drummer. B+(**) [bc]

David Friesen & Bob Ravenscroft: Passage (2015-20 [2021], Origin): Bassist, Discogs credits him with 65 albums since 1976, in a duo with the pianist -- his much thinner discography goes back to 1982, mostly devotional music for Music Serving the Word Ministries. Short, interesting pieces, nicely turned out. B+(**) [cd]

Vincent Herring: Preaching to the Choir (2021, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, hard bopper these days but he started farther out in left field. Quartet with Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums). Hype talks about him getting Covid, which led to rheumatoid arthritis, which made it hard to play, but doesn't pin down the date when this was recorded. He does sound pretty sharp, so hoping this documents his recovery. B+(***)

James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): Tenor saxophonist, always impressive, means to pay homage to George Washington Carver (1864-1943), but see the booklet for that. A blindfold test puts him closer to David S. Ware, aside for the change-of-pace closer ("Chemurgy"), my favorite piece here. With Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass/gibri), and Chad Taylor (drums/mbira). A- [cd] [05-07]

Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble: Now (2020 [2021], International Anthem): Credited with "samples & electronics," also "lyrics & compositions," with a half-dozen other vocalists, backed by Angel Bat Dawid (clarinet), Ben LaMar Gay (cornet/melodica), Dana Hall (drums), and Arif Smith (percussion). I'm not getting a lot out of the vocals, but the closer, "The Body Is Electric," offers an inspiring groove. B+(**)

Simon Moullier Trio: Countdown (2020 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): French vibraphonist, second album, scattered standards ("Hot House," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Nature Boy," two Monks). Trio with Luca Alemanno (bass) and Jongkuk Kim (drums). B+(**) [cd] [06-11]

Natural Information Society With Evan Parker: Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (2019 [2021], Aguirre/Eremite): Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams, plays guimbri in this group, which dates back to his 2014 album Natural Information. Group also includes Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Lisa Alvarado (harmonium), and Mikel Patrick Avery (drums). Recorded live at Café Oto in London, with Parker sitting in on soprano sax. One long groove piece with a lot of Parker's signature circular breathing. B+(***)

Evan Parker Quartet: All Knavery and Collusion (2019 [2021], Cadillac): Tenor sax, backed by Alexander Hawkins (piano), John Edwards (bass), and Paul Lytton (drums). Passes rather uneventfully. B+(*)

Nicki Parrott: If You Could Read My Mind (2021, Arbors): Bassist from Australia, has developed into a fine standards singer. Nudges the songbook into the 1970s, with "Jolene," "Lean on Me," "Every Breath You Take." Good as she is, the sweet spot here is any time tenor saxophonist Harry Allen butts in. B+(**)

Rich Pellegrin: Solitude: Solo Improvisations (2019 [2021], OA2): Pianist, based in Seattle although he teaches in Florida and has written "extensively" on jazz. Fourth album, solo, XXV numbered improvisations. Nice. B+(**)

Ruben Reinaldo & Kely Garcia: Acuarel (2019 [2020], Free Code): Guitar duo, probably Spanish, only album I can find by either, cover can be parsed to read credits either way, but spine is as listed. Hard to say much about this pleasant and engaging record. B+(***) [cd]

Jeff Rosenstock: Ska Dream (2021, Polyvinyl): Former leader of the Arrogant Sons of Bitches (1995-2004) and Bomb the Music Industry (2004-14), fifth solo album since 2015. The earlier groups classified themselves as ska-punk, and this album is conceived of as a ska re-recording of his 2020 album No Dream. I suppose it helps, but not a lot. B+(*)

Greg Skaff: Polaris (2020 [2021], Smoke Sessions): Mainstream guitarist, only his sixth album since 1996, a trio the cover notes as "featuring Ron Carter & Albert 'Tootie' Heath," who played together in the 1960s backing Wes Montgomery. B

Alexa Tarantino: Firefly (2021, Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, also plays soprano, flute, and clarinet, from Connecticut, fourth album since 2015, with Behn Gillece (vibes), Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Koslov (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Henry Franklin: The Skipper (1972 [2021], Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Bassist, first album, with trumpet (Oscar Brasheer), tenor sax (Charles Owens), guitar, electric piano, and drums. Franklin wrote 4 (of 6) tracks. Adventurous postbop, has some passages that could be taken as spiritual. B+(***)

Henry Franklin: The Skipper at Home (1974, Black Jazz); Second album, more horns, with trombonist Al Hall Jr. contributing 3 (of 6) songs. Seemed like a step up until "Soft Spirit" went too soft. B+(*)

Chester Thompson: Powerhouse (1971 [2021], Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Organ player, first album, nothing more until 2012, having spent the intervening years playing keyboards in Tower of Power and Santana. Soul jazz moves, with sax (Rudolph Johnson), trombone (Al Hall), and drums. B+(*)

Old music:

Asleep at the Wheel: Comin' Right at Ya (1973, United Artists): Founded in West Virginia by Ray Benson and Reuben Gosfield (aka Lucky Oceans), they soon moved to Berkeley (well, East Oakland), crossing bluegrass with hippiedom, then decided they could have it all. Drummer LeRoy Preston's originals fit comfortably with country standards that probably seemed less obvious at the time, and Chris O'Connell's vocals balance nicely against Benson's. A-

Asleep at the Wheel: Asleep at the Wheel (1974, Columbia): Label dropped them, they moved to Austin, and wound up in a Nashville studio. LeRoy Preston only penned three originals, so they doubled down on Bob Wills, and stretched a bit with Count Basie and Louis Jordan, picking "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" as their lead single. B+(**)

Asleep at the Wheel: Texas Gold (1975, Capitol): Third album, third label, finally sold some records. Identifying more with Texas. B+(**)

Asleep at the Wheel: Wheelin' and Dealin' (1976, Capitol): Down to two LeRoy Preston originals, they're becoming a covers band: "Route 66," "Miles and Miles of Texas," "Blues for Dixie," "They Raided the Place." B+(*)

Asleep at the Wheel: The Wheel (1977, Capitol): Big change here is original songwriting, reducing the cover count to one, a "traditional" instrumental they arranged. And for once the originals aren't just nice filler but could have been obscure gems ("A Dollar Short and a Day Late," "My Baby Thinks She's a Train," "Am I High?"). B+(***)

Asleep at the Wheel: Collision Course (1978, Capitol): This year the writers came up near-empty: Benson (1), Preston (1). They go back to the well for more Louis Jordan and Count Basie. Also Randy Newman. B

Asleep at the Wheel: Western Standard Time (1988, Columbia): Christgau stopped reviewing them after 1979's Served Live (C+). I didn't start until their first Bob Wills tribute in 1993, which doesn't come close to their 1999 Ride With Bob or their 2015 Still the King -- both fortified with a long list of guests. Among their 1980s albums, this set of obvious covers seemed promising: Three from Bob Wills, a "Hot Rod Lincoln" to match Commander Cody's, a Willie Nelson guest spot on the opener, and Ernest Tubb to close. B+(*)

The Asylum Street Spankers: Spanker Madness (2000, Spanks-a-Lot): Acoustic blues-roots band from Austin, active 1994-2011, four lead vocalists but foremost is Christina Marrs, who wrote the five songs she leads. Mostly drug songs, although one after running the gamut winds up preferring beer. A-

Asylum Street Spankers: Mercurial (2004, Yellow Dog): Looks like all covers (well, one credited to Wammo), from "Tight Like That" and "Digga Digga Doo" to the B-52s and Beastie Boys. B+(***)

The Asylum Street Spankers: What? And Give Up Show Biz? (2008, Yellow Dog, 2CD): Live double, recapitulates most of the albums above with lots of extra patter. A good argument for catching them live, but I'm not sure how often I'd want to replay it. B+(***)

Au Pairs: Sense and Sensuality (1982, Kamera): British post-punk band, seemed promising but this second album turned out to be their last. B

Average White Band: AWB (1974, Atlantic): Hailing from Scotland, a modest but somewhat above-average approximation of a soul group, with several voices intertwined, and an instrumental for their hit single. Second album, their commercial breakthrough. Nothing here feels like disco or funk, which is where the 1970s went without them. They fell off the charts after 1979, broke up in 1982, regrouped 1989. B+(**)

Eric B. & Rakim: Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em (1990, MCA): Turntablist Eric Barrier and rapper Rakim (William Griffin Jr.), recorded four famous hip-hop albums in the 1987-92 golden age, this the third. The flow is steady, the rhymes part of the rhythm. B+(***)

Sam Baker: Mercy (2003 [2004], Blue Lime Stone): Austin-based singer-songwriter, folkie division, first album at age 50. Eighteen years earlier was riding a train when a bomb exploded, killing seven including three sitting with Baker. He suffered numerous injuries, including brain damage, blown-in eardrums, and possibly what sounds like a speech defect here. He has a song about it here, plus others with one-word titles. He rounded up a six-piece band here with pedal steel and violin, and picked up some guests, but it sounds pretty basic, the 8:08 title cut especially lovely. A-

Sam Baker: Pretty World (2006 [2007], Blue Lime Stone): Thoughtful singer-songwriter, but weaves bits of other songs into his tapestry. Title song gets a well-deserved reprisal. A-

Sam Baker: Cotton (2009, Music Road): I'm not seeing the familiar band credits from previous albums. The album is quieter, although piano grounds most of it, and a female singer helps out. Baker's voice has smoothed out into a rather offhanded John Prine. B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Samba Esquema Novo (1963, Philips): Major Brazilian artist, Jorge Duilio Lima Menezes, adopted Jorge Ben as his stage name, then extended it to Jorge Ben Jor in the 1980s. First album, a hit, tapping into the popular samba mainstream, which would define him even as he moved on. B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Sacundin Ben Samba (1964, Philips): Third album. B+(**)

Jorge Ben: Big Ben (1965, Philips): Fourth album, ends his early period on Philips, the label he would return to in 1969. B+(*)

Jorge Ben: O Bidú: Silêncio No Brooklin (1967, Artistas Unidos): Regarded as his samba-rock fusion breakthrough, I can hear both sides but have trouble reconciling them, especially as he seems to be reaching for something they'd soon be calling tropicalía, or psychedelic to foreign ears. B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Jorge Ben (1969, Philips): Backed by Trio Mocoto, with some strings to slick down the rough edges, flowing as naturally as samba but with so much more going on. A-

Jorge Ben: Negro É Lindo (1971, Philips): "Black and beautiful." More recognizable as a samba album, even when inscrutable. [YouTube version looks to be scrambled, with all the songs but in the wrong order.] B+(***) [yt]

Jorge Ben: A Tábua De Esmeralda (1974, Philips): Seems to be going singer-songwriter here, not that I can really tell (aside from the Jesus paean "Brother"). B+(***)

Jorge Ben: Solta O Pavão (1975, Philips): "Unleash the peacock," referring "to the outward expression of inner beauty." Samba flow, but more urgent and complex. Seems to be entering a peak period. A-

Jorge Ben: África Brasil (1976, Polygram): Dense rhythm, much going on, but flows easily enough, some kind of masterpiece. A- [yt]

Jorge Ben: Tropical (1976, Mango): His regular label is Philips, a major in Brazil, but this one was picked up by Island, hoping it might piggyback on their success introducing reggae to the American market. Hard to peg this, but veers toward salsa (and misses). B [yt]

Jorge Ben: Alô Alô, Como Vai? (1980, Som Livre): Rod Taylor admits that Ben declined after África Brasil, but argues that his "Som Livre period" continued to produce worthwhile music -- his comparison is to the Rolling Stones post-Exile. I'm not specialist enough to know or care, but this is agreeably upbeat most of the way through. B+(**)

Jorge Ben: Dádiva (1983, Som Livre): Same here, feels live, note that the high point is a medley of oldies. B+(**)

Gilberto Gil: Refavela (1977, Philips): Opens with the very slippery title tune, and matches it later on, but not so reliably. B+(***)

Charles Tolliver Music Inc: Live in Tokyo (1973 [1974], Strata-East): Trumpet player, used "Music Inc" as his group name on his 1969 debut (The Ringer), and kept that through the 1970s, although the only constant in his quartets was pianist Stanley Cowell (co-founder of Strata-East Records). With Clint Houston (bass) and Clifford Barbar (drums). Three originals, one by Cowell, and "'Round Midnight." B+(**) [yt]


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Mandatory Reality (2017 [2021], Eremite): [1/4, 23:39/81:39] +

Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Ding Dong. You're Dead. (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio. [2/7] +


Grade (or other) changes:

Gilberto Gil/Jorge Ben: Gil E Jorge (1975 [1992], Verve): Two stars meet up, or collide. Alternate (original?) title: Ogum, Xangô. I bought the CD long ago, found it bewildering, and only gradually acclimated myself to radical fringe artists like Tom Zé, who took advantage of these liberties. Most striking now: how neither singer-guitarist backs down or shies away. [was: B] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alchemy Sound Project: Afrika Love (ARC) [05-14]
  • Flow Trio With Joe McPhee: Winter Garden (ESP-Disk)
  • Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio: Moon on the Lake (Libra) [05-07]
  • Noah Haidu/Buster Williams/Billy Hart: Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (An Die Musik) [05-08]
  • Liudas Mockunas/Arfvydad Kaziauskas: Purvs (Jersika -2LP)
  • Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Joshua Abrams/Tim Daisy/Tyler Damon: The Covid Tapes: Solos, Duos, & Trios (Aerophonic, 2CD) [06-15]
  • Almog Sharvit: Get Up or Cry (Unit) [05-28]
  • Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue: Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (Pi)

Monday, April 26, 2021


Music Week

April archive (final).

Music: Current count 35287 [35256] rated (+31), 220 [214] unrated (+6).

Rough week. I was shocked and saddened to see an obituary for my cousin Don Hull. His father, Bob (Robert Lincoln Hull Jr.), was two years younger than my father, but got married a year before, and Don was 13 months older than me. Dad often said that his job growing up was to keep Bob out of trouble. Bob was the free spirit of the family, and probably figured his job was to add some spice to Dad's life. Bob got drafted and sent to Italy, where a bullet ended his war. He was part disabled, and could only work sit-down jobs. He found one driving a bus, and did that until he retired. I remember them living in a house my grandparents bought in 1942, but in the late-1950s he bought a new house in a development a couple miles southwest of us, other side of the river. We went there often, and Don (their only child) was by far my closest Hull cousin. One time, I ran away from home and spent a week or two there. We saw a lot of the Hull family until 1965, when my grandfather died. Shortly after, Uncle George died, and Bob and Lucille got divorced. I saw a lot of Bob and his second wife, Nellie, after that, but lost track of Don.

I ran into him again after I moved back to Wichita in 1999. He married, had four grown children, and a few grandchildren. He lived in El Dorado, but had a job in East Wichita, as manager of the body shop at Rusty Eck Ford. I felt instantly at ease with him, like we had a deeper connection than I recalled -- most likely, part of that was how much he reminded me of his father. (Bob and Nellie retired and moved into a trailer outside of Las Vegas. I visited them five or six times there, and they were our witnesses when Laura and I got married.) We socialized some. He fixed up some dents, and helped us buy a car. We had Don and his wife Karen, his mother Lucille, and her second husband, Glen, over for a particularly memorable dinner. Bob and Nellie had died the year before, and Lucille and Glen died a year or two later. Lately, I've mostly seen him at funerals -- most recently at Uncle James's. Always comforting to know that he was there. I wasn't aware that he was ill.

Day before seeing the obituary, I thought about calling him, hoping to compare notes on early family memories -- another opportunity I've blown. I went to the funeral on Saturday. I estimated there were about 100 people at the funeral, and close to 40 at the cemetery. Don was one of those guys who got along with everyone. Still, it was a different slice of Wichita than I'm used to. Most obviously, I doubt as many as 10 people wore masks. The minister was a close personal friend of the family, so the event had a personal familiarity that many funerals lack. Only person I knew there was Karen, but I got a chance to meet their grown children, some spouses, and some or all of the grandchildren. We talked about keeping in touch, but I don't know whether we'll see more of them. Three live in Wichita (the other in Arizona), and the youngest son is living in Bob & Lucille's old house on Euclid. Perhaps if they want to know more of the family.

I'm working on a memoir, which includes some memories and stories of the Hull family. My grandfather looked into this long ago. His grandfather, Abraham Hull, had homesteaded in western Kansas in 1868, near where my father and his siblings were born 1919-31. His grandfather was named Thomas Hull -- the only namesake I can find, although my father never mentioned him. Evidently, he joined the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and fled to Pennsylvania to avoid getting hung by the British. Maybe I was fated to be a troublemaker?

While in this rut, here is an obituary for our friend Rubena Bradley. She died, at 91, a few weeks ago, but her family has been moving slowly toward some sort of funeral/remembrance (in May, I think). She was a remarkable woman, and we were fortunate to know her. An interesting piece, not least for the curious omission of information on Mr. Bradley.


Didn't listen to much new music this week, allowing the pending queue to expand to 17 albums. Part of my lack of urgency is that more than half (11/17) of those aren't scheduled for release until May. Meanwhile, I've been combing through my list of records that Robert Christgau graded A- but I hadn't heard. This week's slice runs from E-H, although I skipped a few, some because I couldn't find them, some because I didn't fancy them at the moment). The list I'm working off has 2550 lines (326 A- grades, 31 A, 4 A+ -- the latter are comedy albums, something I've never got in the habit of listening to, even though I have the Richard Pryor box on the shelf), and it's certainly not complete, so will take a fair while to process. I'll probably tire at some point, but at the moment it's easier and more fun than trying to figure out what's new and worth the trouble.

Saw a comment on Facebook last week claiming that Jorge Ben's 1970s albums constituted one of the most impressive runs of any recording artist anywhere. I had a couple of his LPs back in the 1970s, but don't recall being very impressed, and they're currently ungraded in my database. The only one Christgau reviewed was Gil E Jorge (1975), which he had at A- and I have at B. It's the sort of record I should revisit (as I did this week to previous B grades for Etoile De Dakar and Woody Guthrie).

Thought I had froze this Sunday night, but as I was writing the intro above, played a few more records, and figured they'd be better here than held back until next week. (Especially the early Hamell on Trial records, which I couldn't find when I initially looked for them -- also had that problem with Rant & Roll.) One thing I didn't get to was doing the indexing for the April, 2021 Streamnotes compendium. I'll wrap that up later this week.

We didn't watch any of the Oscars last night. Thanks to streaming, we wound up seeing more nominated movies this year (6 of 8 nominated for best picture, missing The Father and giving up on Sound of Metal), but nothing especially great there. I would normally be delighted to see human-scaled small films come to the forefront, but that's because they're usually much better.

Finished reading Russell Cobb's The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America's Weirdest State. I learned a few things there, but I would have preferred a better organized history, as opposed to the loosely stitched mosaic of standalone articles.


New records reviewed this week:

Focusyear Band 2021: Bosque (2021, Neuklang): "International ensemble from Basel presents a multi-faceted album," the most prominent facet vocalist Tatjana Nova, although I prefer it when the horns do the talking. A student ensemble, this year produced by Wolfgang Muthspiel. B+(*) [cd] [04-29]

Binker Golding/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Moon Day (2020 [2021], Byrd Out): British tenor/soprano saxophonist, best known for his duo Binker & Moses, appears here with a veteran free jazz bass-drums combo. Long (73:18), strong work. B+(***)

Nortonk: Nortonk (2020 [2021], Biophilia): New York freebop quartet, none over 26: Thomas Killackey (trumpet), Gideon Forbes (alto sax), Stephen Pale (bass), Steven Cramer (drums). Short (32:39), but retains your interest. B+(**) [cdr]

Irène Schweizer/Hamid Drake: Celebration (2019 [2021], Intakt): Swiss pianist, will turn 80 this year, ranks as one of the all-time greats, her specialty duos with drummers. This is something less than her duos with Han Bennink or Pierre Favre, but is still very impressive. A-

Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (2021, Aimless): I never read those "most anticipated albums" pieces, but if I had to write one, this would lead. Given that, this feels a bit slight, but I can't complain about the tributes to dead homies -- he's always been a "reality-based" bard, and that's to be expected after 2020. I will complain a bit about the "agnostic" shtick: if you can't believe, why not let it go? I reckon his answer is "hope and wonder," but why presuppose a cause beyond oneself? Main innovation here is in the rhythm, where he breaks from folk tradition, probably for good. A-

Old music:

Earth, Wind & Fire: Open Our Eyes (1974, Columbia): Soul group, founded by Maurice White in Chicago in 1969, fifth album, first four panned by Christgau before he called this one "a fucking tour de force." I wouldn't go that far, but it's their best seller to date, an agreeable funk album with sophisticated vocals. B+(***)

The English Beat: I Just Can't Stop It (1980, IRS): Ska revival group from Birmingham, known as the Beat in the UK, but disambiguation was needed for the US market. First album, of three before their 1983 break up. Since 2016, both singers (Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger) have recorded with their own Beat groups. I still prefer the later albums, but this is nearly there. A-

Etoile 2000: Dakar Sound Volume 1 (1980-81 [1993], Dakar Sound): Etoile De Dakar spinoff, as the band, especially founding singer-songwriter El Hadji Faye, revolt against the Youssou N'Dour's takeover. They recorded three cassettes, and this picks out six songs, most pointedly one called "Boubou N'Gary." Rougher, nothing to hold against them. [Christgau reviewed this as Etoile 2000; 4/6 tracks] B+(***) [yt]

Etoile De Dakar: Volume 3: Lay Suma Lay (1981 [1996], Sterns): Senegalese band, formed in 1978 and broke up in 1981, best known for young singer Youssou N'Dour but exceptional all around. This series of compilations ran to four volumes 1993-98, then a fifth later (2009?), but the 2-CD Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981 is probably the one you want -- or you could scrimp with the 1-CD The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour and Etoile De Dakar, which only goes to 1982. Still, there's very little here that falls below their highlights. A-

Etoile De Dakar: Volume 5: Maléo (1981 [2009], Sterns): Seems to be an afterthought, appearing a decade after Volume 4, but matches an undated cassette, itself titled Maléo: Vol. 5. Two (of six) songs appear at the end of Once Upon a Time in Senegal. El Hadji Faye's "Nataludie" is the most exciting thing here, but everything else comes close. B+(***)

Eurythmics: Greatest Hits (1982-90 [1991], Arista): Electropop duo, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, released six albums during this period (one earlier, one more in 1999 after breaking up, with Lennox going on to a steady solo career, and Stewart focusing on soundtrack shlock). Seems like there should be enough high spots for a compilation, but the one song I love, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," is the outlier -- the later singles are just straighter and harder, although I rather like "Missionary Man" (maybe because I agree with the message). [NB: I pieced together the 18-cut "international version" CD; the "vinyl version" drops back to 14 tracks, as does the US CD, with 4 songs in alternate versions.] B+(**)

Mose Se 'Fan Fan': Belle Epoque (1970-82 [1994], RetroAfric): Congolese guitarist Mose Se Sengo (1945-2019), started with Franco's TPOK Jazz, led the band Somo Somo. A soukous pioneer, back cover describes this relatively leisurely music as "Lingala rumba." B+(***)

Mose Fan Fan/Somo Somo/Ngobila: Hello Hello (1995, Sterns): Slashes separate typographic shifts, which presumably mean something, but for me mostly raise questions. Somo Somo is Fan Fan's long-running band, but Ngobila? Six slices of fairly classic soukous. A-

Fellow Travellers: Things and Time (1993, OKra): "World's only country/dub band," recorded three albums 1990-93, this the third, with Jeb Loy Nichols country (originally from Wyoming but based in Wales), Martin Harrison dub, and Nichols' wife Loraine Morley vocal help. B+(***)

Fine Young Cannibals: Fine Young Cannibals (1985, IRS): British ska group, formed after the English Beat broke up by Andy Cox (guitar) and David Steele (bass), with singer Roland Gift -- also an actor, most memorably in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). B+(**)

Fine Young Cannibals: The Finest: The Rare and the Remixed (1985-89 [1996], MCA): Group produced a superior second album, The Raw and the Cooked, then hung it up, This picks 5 songs each, a single from a soundtrack, and three previously unreleased tracks. Not sure this improves on the second album, but it suffices. A-

A Flock of Seagulls: A Flock of Seagulls (1982, Jive): New wave pop band, first of four albums through 1985, allegedly silly, catchy enough. No reason to favor this over their 1987 The Best of a Flock of Seagulls. B+(**)

Tennessee Ernie Ford: Sixteen Tons (1949-56 [1995], Capitol): Artwork looks like this could be the original LP his big hit was on, but there was no such thing. I loved the single as a child, several decades before I heard Merle Travis's original, so Ford's version is the one indelibly etched in my mind. He parlayed his hit into a TV career, wasting his exceptional voice on hymns. From 1949 to his death in 1991, he recorded tons of records, but smart compilers look for filler among his early singles, especially ones with "boogie" in the title. This has 4 (of 12), plus one I hadn't heard before, "Milk 'Em in the Mornin' Blues." B+(**)

Gilberto Gil: Louvaçao (1967, Phillips): Brazilian star, Discogs credits him with 72 albums since 1967. This was his debut. Hard to tell, but hints of where he was going next, along with some strings and ballads that depend on words I can't follow. B+(**)

Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Frevo Rasgado] (1968 [1998], Universal): Second album, differentiated from other eponymous albums by its first song title, widely regarded as one of his best, although I've only heard a couple, and have no sense of his career arc. First thing I'm struck by here is how radical a break he makes from the MPB norms of samba and bossa nova. Backed by Os Mutantes, famous in their own right. The shock of the weird wears off to reveal uncanny melodies and flights of fancy. CD extends the surprise with 4 bonus tracks. A-

Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Cérebro Eletrônico] (1969, Phillips): Third album. Lead song dominated by organ, but later tracks are guitar-driven. B+(***) [yt]

Gilberto Gil: Expresso 2222 (1972 [1993], Philips): Arrested by the military junta in 1969, freed on condition that he leave Brazil. He cut this on returning to Bahia, which seems to be the funky corner of Brazil. B+(**)

Grandaddy: Just Like the Fambly Cat (2006, V2): Alt/indie band from Modesto, California, principally Jason Lytle, recorded four albums 1997-2006, a fifth in 2017. B+(***)

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message (1982, Deep Beats): First album by one of the first rap groups. The singles go back a couple years, and I recommend Rhino's 1994 Message From Beat Street for the extra range, backed up with Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: More of the Best. Still, only three songs here made the best-of, and "She's Fresh" is as good as any of them. Most editions of this add "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," a mash-up I probably hated at the time but like just fine now. I was pretty slow on the uptake here. A-

Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin': The Asch Recordings, Vol. 3 (1944-49 [1998], Smithsonian/Folkways): Folk singer, from Oklahoma, recorded some 300 songs for Moses Asch in New York, a fair sampling organized into four CDs. This one is long on union songs: not only does he see unions as the foundation of freedom, he reminds us that Hitler's against them. A-

Hamell on Trial: Big as Life (1995, Mercury): First record appeared in 1989, but this is the earliest I've found, first (or two) on a label anyone has heard of. B+(*) [bc]

Hamell on Trial: The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword (1997, Mercury): Second Mercury record. Seems to be on his best behavior, although he cranks it up a bit toward the end. B+(**) [bc]

Hamell on Trial: Choochtown (1999, Such-a-Punch): Ed Hamell, debut album 1989, fifteen since. This is number five, the first Christgau reviewed (after two HMs). His "one-man punk band" shtick strikes me as still rooted in folk, just louder, his stories darker, more nuanced, and more literate. [2019 reissue on New West adds nine alternate takes, reiterating the album's best songs.] B+(***)

Hamell on Trial: Ed's Not Dead -- Hamell Comes Alive (2000, Such-a-Punch): Selected from a tour where Hamell was opening for Ani DiFranco, then self-released after an auto accident laid him up for nine months. Hamell's live strategy is simple: play faster and harder. B+(***)

Hamell on Trial: Tough Love (2003, Righteous Babe): First of three records for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. More resources, but doesn't quite know what to do with them. B+(**) [bc]

Hamell on Trial: Yap (2003, Such-a-Punch): I was looking for Rant & Roll, to no avail, but this popped up as Dec. 2020, so I figured I should check it out. Turns out it's old: spoken word, hardly any music, done on the side while he was working on Tough Love for Righteous Babe. Stories, like the memoir of Rupert Smiley ("ideas man"), a cop who sells Amway, a bit of "Star-Spangled Banner" for "the great and true patriots," a eulogy for a friend named Glover. B+(**)

Hamell on Trial: Rant & Roll [Live From Edinburgh: The Terrorism of Everyday Life (2007 [2008], Righteous Babe): Cover reads Rant & Roll, but Bandcamp lists it as The Terrorism of Everyday Life. Discogs shows this with a different cover, where Live From Edinburgh gets the larger type. As Christgau noted, this is "basically a comedy album," where about half is stand up, sometimes with guitar riffs, leading into songs, mostly from previous albums. Possible you won't return to this often, but that's not because his rants need only be heard once. More because they demand attention, but his music also refuses to fade into the background. A- [bc]


Grade (or other) changes:

Etoile De Dakar: Volume 2: Thiapathioly (1980 [1994], Sterns): Not sure what turned me off this when I filed my CD -- perhaps the polyrythmic perversity, which is the band's calling card. At times it can interfere with the groove, making this a bit rougher than the other volumes, but the effect is pretty amazing when it works. Covers notes "featuring Youssou N'Dour & El Hadji Faye," as did Volume 3. Volume 4 and 5 add Mar Seck, but Volume 1 only features N'Dour. [was: B] B+(***)

Woody Guthrie: Muleskinner Blues: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 (1944 [1997], Smithsonian/Folkways): With the canonical classics pooled in Vol. 1, and the political fare saved until Vol. 3, this is the folkiest set of the Moe Asch recordings. Makes it less interesting, since performance was never his forte. [was: B] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gabor Lesko: Earthway (Creativity's Paradise Music) [05-14]
  • Madre Vaca: The Elements (Madre Vaca) [06-12]
  • Shawn Maxwell: Expectation & Experience (Jazzline) [05-21]
  • Ojoyo: Plays Safrojazz (1996, Sunnyside) [05-28]
  • Jeannine Otis: Into My Heart (Adrielle Music/Monpolyhouse)
  • Ruben Reinaldo & Kely Garcia: Acuarel (Free Code)
  • Steve Tintweiss and the Purple Why: Markstown (Inky Dot Media)
  • Amber Weekes: 'Round Midnight Re-Imagined (Amber Inn Productions) [05-01]

Monday, April 19, 2021


Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35256 [35216] rated (+40), 214 [211] unrated (+3).

Thought I'd sample some records from Chuck Eddy's 150 Best Albums of 1992/'93, but I didn't get very far. He does have two of my A records in his top ten (David Murray: Shakill's Warrior, and Justin Warfield: My Trip to Planet 9), and another dozen-plus albums I like further down the list, but nothing I played came close to A-. I gave up three cuts into Caifanes' rock en español El Silencio, not feeling like even trying to write something on it.

But also my mind moved on to another idea: why not try to stream Christgau A-list albums that I had missed? One of those was on Eddy's list: Uz Jsme Doma's Hollywood. I vaguely remembered assembling a crib sheet like that. When I had trouble finding it, I constructed another one (although my method wasn't flawless). Looking for A/A+ records mostly gave me comps I had different versions of. For instance, Christgau reviewed three different but overlapping compilations of Lee Dorsey's 1960s singles, all graded A. I had the 1985 Holy Cow! The Best of Lee Dorsey on LP, and the 1997 Wheelin' and Dealin': The Definitive Collection on CD, so didn't see much need to pick up Music Club's shorter/cheaper 2001 package -- or review it now given how long it's been out of print. But as an afterthought, I did construct an equivalent playlist, and gave it a couple spins just to see how it fit together. Pretty good, of course.

I've built playlists to match unavailable albums a few times. While there's always a risk of picking out the wrong version, I've found it to be useful -- especially for assembling original albums from later, more expansive box sets. The other thing I tend to do is to drop bonus cuts from stream albums, to get back to the original excuses. Christgau recently commented that it's hard to go back and do retrospectives of pre-CG years (1960s) because so many reissues add extraneous material. If streaming works for you, it's actually pretty easy. It also has the advantage of establishing a stable baseline, which later reissues can preserve or deviate from.

I got an invite to vote in DownBeat's Critics Poll. I worked through the ballots today, trying to put as little thought into it as possible. When I was first invited, I wound up spending a couple days turning over each question. I became increasingly frustrated, then annoyed. To speed things up, last year I wound up leaning heavily on my previous year's picks. I raced through the thing today, complete in less than four hours. Here are my notes. Maybe I'll do some research on it later. But one thing I've noticed in recent years is that my own votes have next to zero effect. One indication of how out of step I am with the critical consensus is that I gave A/A- grades to only 8 of their 97 album of the year nominees. Conversely, they only nominated 8 of my 84 A-list albums from my 2020 Best Jazz file. OK, they (wrongly, I think) offset the year by three months, so the lists don't exactly line up. On the other hand, they nominated zero of my 8 (so far) 2021 A- jazz releases. (I'm most surprised they missed Miguel Zenón's Law Years. I haven't figured out how any 2021 releases they nominated, but the answer must be not many. On the other hand, they nominated a Sons of Kemet album, Black to the Future I hadn't heard of, probably because it doesn't drop until May 14.)

Everyday life has been slightly better this week. We got our taxes figured and filed. I got a new batch of prescriptions from my obscure Medicare D provider. Snow is forecast for tonight, but I doubt we'll have to shovel anything to get to Laura's hair appointment tomorrow. Still too many struggles, but at least I won't have to post anything else until next week.


New records reviewed this week:

Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine (2021, Not Two): Drummer-led free jazz trio, Altschul played on several major albums in the 1970s, never really went away but rarely appeared as leader until he put this group -- with Jon Irabagon (saxes) and Joe Fonda (bass) -- together in 2013. (Irabagon had sought him out for an album in 2010, Foxy, and Fonda was in his FAB Trio with Billy Bang.) Irabagon has been erratic lately, but in the right company he still has tremendous chops -- and this is that, as they show even when he lays out. A-

Avishai Cohen: Two Roses (2020 [2021], Naive): Israeli bassist, based in New York since 1992, couple dozen albums since 1998. Co-credit to Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Alexander Hanson) is earned, but my rule of thumb is to omit extra credits below the title. Mostly originals, but arranges Arab folk songs and standards like "Nature Boy." Also sings, too much. B

Damata: What's Damata (2021, Dugnad): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio (Torstein Slåen, Karl Erik Horndalsveen, Ola Øverby), first album, tempted to describe it as ambient but that's just a starting place. B+(***) [cd]

Scott DuBois: Summer Water (2021, Sunnyside): Guitarist, sixth album since 2008, consistently impressive. This, however, is solo. Has its moments, but also limits. B+(**)

Jared Feinman: Love Is an Obstacle (2021, West of Philly): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, plays piano, first album, title song appeared as a single in 2018. Offers "four clusters of love songs for the lovelorn and murder ballads in time for Valentine's Day in the midst of a global pandemic." A bit overwrought, reminds me of some long-forgotten 1970s songsters (i.e., not quite Billy Joel, let alone Elton John). B+(*) [cdr]

Vijay Iyer: Uneasy (2019 [2021], ECM): Pianist, has a new trio, with Linda May Han Oh (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). B+(***)

Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Keshin (2020 [2021], Libra): Trumpet-piano duets, the former getting top billing, probably because for once he's louder and more demanding. B+(**) [cd]

Three-Layer Cake: Stove Top (2020 [2021], RareNoise): Trio: Brandon Seabrook (guitar, banjo, tapes), Mike Pride (drums, glockenspiel, bells, organ), Mike Watt (bass). Percussion is most striking. B+(***) [cdr] [05-28]

Michael Waldrop: Time Frames (2019-20 [2021], Origin): Plays marimba and vibraphone here, drums elsewhere. Mostly percussion, including djembe, bongos, and congas. B+(***) [cd]

Rodney Whitaker: OutroSpection: The Music of Gregg Hill (2020 [2021], Origin): Bassist, leads a piano trio with occasional horns -- trombonist Michael Dease only plays on two tracks, but I looked up both times -- and vocals (Rockelle Whitaker 4 times). Hill Hill is a Michigan composer, a mentor to the bassist, who released a previous collection of Hill compositions in 2019. B+(*) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 1 (2007 [2020], Stony Plain): Blues supergroup, names on the cover: Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson. (The elder Dickinson died in 2009; the younger ones are better known as the North Mississippi Allstars.) B+(**)

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 2 (2007 [2021], Stony Plain): More from the same session. More obvious songs, but that's not a bad thing. B+(**)

Old music:

Black Uhuru: Chill Out (1982, Mango): Major reggae group, with singers Duckie Simpson, Michael Rose, and Puma Jones, and Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare for riddim. This one was sandwiched between their two masterpieces (Red and Anthem), along with poorly-regarded dub and live albums. A bit chill, as advertised. B+(**)

Blake Babies: Innocence and Experience (1986-91 [1993], Mammoth): Alt/indie trio, named for the poet (via Allen Ginsberg): Julia Hatfield, John Strohm, Freda Boner. Odds and sods collection, assembled after breaking up after their most sucessful album. This picks up quite a bit midway, with "Sanctify" (repeated from Sunburn), and finishes strong, especially with the live Neil Young song. A-

Boogie Down Productions: Sex and Violence (1992, Jive): Fifth and last album, rapper KRS-One continuing under his own name, but this "group" had really been him since 1987, when DJ Scott La Rock was murdered. He's got this rhythm down where he's always coming at you, punching hard and punching often, which he can do because he never overcomplicates things, even when he admits complication. A-

The Books: The Lemon of Pink (2003, Tomlab): Duo -- Nick Zammuto (guitar/vocals) and Paul De Jong (cello) -- make extensive use of sound and speech samples, producing a disjointed effect. B+(*)

The Books: Lost and Safe (2005, Tomlab): Third album, duo both credited simply with "music, mastering, mixing, recording." Pays off in more flow, sometimes even tunes, with less pastiche. B+(***) [yt]

The Books: Thought for Food (2002, Tomlab): First album, played it out of sequence. Introduces their musique concrète approach, with the prominent cello smoothing off the rough edges. B+(***) [yt]

The Bottle Rockets: 24 Hours a Day (1997, Atlantic): Country-rock band from Missouri, founded in 1992 and a going concern up to 2018, with Brian Henneman (guitar/vocals) and Mark Ortmann (drums) in for the long haul. Third album. B+(***)

Cybotron: Enter (1983, Fantasy): Electropop group, founded by Detroit techno pioneers Juan Atkins and Richard "3070" Davis (both electronics and vocals), with John "Jon-5" Housely (guitar). Group is inspired by Parliament/Funkadelic and Kraftwerk, but only has the chops for the latter. [Album reissued as Clear in 1990, and as Enter with unheard bonus cuts in 2003, both Fantasy.] B+(*)

The dB's: Stands for Decibels (1981, Albion): Jangle pop group, although they might prefer Big Star, with three members who went on to notable solo careers (Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby). First album. B+(**) [yt]

The DeBarges: The DeBarges (1981, Gordy): Motown vocal group, siblings (four on cover, five in credits), first album, group name later shortened to DeBarge, with Eldra eventually going solo. Light funk, even lighter harmonies. B+(**)

DeBarge: All This Love (1982, Gordy): Second album, slimmed down group name, gaining chops both instrumental and vocal. Change of pace ballad ("Life Begins With You") works too. B+(***)

DeBarge: Rhythm of the Night (1985, Motown): Fourth album, their third gold record and chart high at 19. Cover shows the five siblings in separated boxes, with El's much larger, anticipating their break up? Six new songs padded out with three recycled from earlier projects. Title song is a choice cut. B+(*)

El DeBarge: El DeBarge (1986, Gordy): First solo album from the family's star, although the remaining brothers (no Bunny, either) went on to release Bad Boys (1987), and to regroup (with Bunny but not Eldra) as The DeBarge Family for the gospel Back on Track (1991). Pleasant enough, but not much here. B+(*)

El DeBarge: Gemini (1989, Motown): Second solo album, more focus on rhythm, stiffer eats: one step forward, one (or two) back. B

The Del-Lords: Get Tough: The Best of the Del-Lords (1984-90 [1999], Restless): Old-fashioned rock & roll band from New York, 3-5 songs each from 4 albums plus 3 previously unreleased tracks (including covers of Johnny Cash and Dr. John) for a solid 73:08. Establishes their populist cred with a straight rock rendition of Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand These Times and Live?" The other high point, also from their debut, is a song about working one's aggressions out by playing the drums. B+(***)

Descendents: Milo Goes to College (1982, New Alliance): Los Angeles punk band, formed 1977 with drummer Bill Stevenson, adding singer Milo Aukerman in 1979. This was their debut, 15 tracks in 22:20. [Later reissued with Bonus Fat as Two Things at Once.] B+(***)

Descendents: Bonus Fat (1980-81 [1985], New Alliance, EP): Combines the 5-track "FAT" E.P. (1981) with a single and a spare cut from a label comp, adding up to 8 tracks, a mere 10:22. B+(**)

Descendents: Somery (1981-87 [1991], SST): Compiles 28 songs from Fat EP and four albums plus odds and sods, total time 53:12. B+(***)

Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can (1970, Polydor): New Orleans singer, producer Allen Toussaint does the writing (aside from a cover of Joe South's "Games People Play"). Dorsey's best known for 1960s singles like "Ya Ya" and "Working in a Coal Mine," but only cut two albums in the 1970s, and no more before he died in 1986. This doesn't blow you away like 1960s comps like Holy Cow! and Wheelin' and Dealin', but it's funky and grows on you. A-

Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can . . . and Then Some (1970 [1993], Polydor): Reorders his 1970 album, omitting one track (why?), adding five singles and four previously unreleased tracks. Probably the better deal, not least thanks to his spin on the extra covers. A-

Lee Dorsey: Night People (1978, ABC): Second 1970s album, turned out to be his last. Again depends on Allen Toussaint for songs and production. "Babe" suggests he's listened to Al Green during his time off. A-

Lee Dorsey: Working in a Coal Mine: The Very Best of Lee Dorsey (1961-78 [2001], Music Club): Christgau was very fond of this UK label, reviewing 32 of their cheap, short (16 cuts max), poorly documented oldie anthologies (counting the Merle Haggard set he misjudged and withdrew). Hard to find now, but I was able to peace a songlist together to get the effect: mostly 1960s singles, with a couple 1970s tracks slipped in. I doubt the latter recommend this over Wheelin' and Dealin', but they don't hurt, either. A

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: James Monroe H.S. Presents Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington (1979, Elektra): Founded by half-brothers Stony Jr. and Thomas Browder, the latter better known as August Darnell, even better as Kid Creole. With singer Cory Daye and percussionists Mickey Sevilla and "Sugar Coated" Andy Hernandez, their eponymous debut in 1976 looked retro but invented a whole new synthesis of mambo, swing and disco. I totally loved that album, rejected its sequel (Meets King Penett), and missed this one altogether. B+(***)

Freestyle Fellowship: Inner City Griots (1993, 4th & B'way): Los Angeles hip-hop collective, released two 1991-93 albums, two more since (2001, 2011), all four principals (Aceyalone, Myka 9, Peace, and Self Jupiter) went on to solo careers -- the only one I've followed is Aceyalone. All over the place. B+(**)

Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons/Clifford Jordan/Don Cherry: It Is Revealed (1963, Zounds): Flute/alto sax/tenor sax/trumpet, with Fred Lyman (fluegelhorn), two bassists, and the drummer dropped from the cover credit. B+(**) [yt]

Midi, Maxi & Efti: Midi, Maxi & Efti (1991, Columbia): One-shot Swedish trio, twin sisters Midi and Maxi Berhanu from Ethiopia and Efti Tehlehaianot from Eritrea, all born in 1976 and arrived in Sweden in 1985. Opens with "Ragga Steady," which sounds more Indian than Jamaican to me, but world beats turn crystaline in the Swedish pop machine. B+(***) [yt]

Sonny Simmons: Burning Spirits (1970 [2003], Contemporary): Original 1971 2-LP credited to Huey Simmons (his given name). Plays tenor sax as well as alto and English horn, six tracks (79:01), with violin (Michael White) on five, trumpet (Barbara Donald) on four of those, piano on just two, plus bass and drums. B+(**)

Sonny Simmons: American Jungle (1995 [1997], Qwest/Warner Brothers): The alto saxophonist hit a rough patch after 1971 (divorce, homelessness, no new records). He survived by busking in San Francisco, eventually worked his way into the clubs, and cut records from 1990, eventually landing two albums with a major label. This is the second (after Ancient Ritual), a quartet with Travis Shook (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), and Cindy Blackman (drums). Four originals plus "My Favorite Things." Hard to imagine what more the label could have hoped for. A-

Sonny Simmons Quintet: Mixolydis (2001 [2002], Marge): Back cover credits Quintet, front names Simmons in large type, smaller type for "with": Eddie Henderson (trumpet), John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**)

Sonny Simmons Trio: Live in Paris (2001 [2002], Arhoolie, 2CD): With Jacques Avenel (bass) and George Brown (drums). Long, has some dull spots (and I don't mean the bass solos), but also some genuine hot streaks. [Missing 1 track, 14:00] B+(**)

Uz Jsme Doma: Hollywood (1993 [1996], Skoda): Czech group, founded 1985, influences list starts with the Residents and the Damned and goes on to add Pere Ubu and Uriah Heep, emerged from the underground in 1990, Discogs credits them with 17 albums through 2020 but this is the one most noticed. With intense acoustic strum, sudden time shifts, and touch-of-opera vocals, this could be some kind of masterpiece. Just one I'm not inclined to appreciate. B+(**)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • DeBarge: In a Special Way (1983, Gordy): [r]: [was: B+] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Enzo Carniel/Filippo Vignato Silent Room: Aria (Menace)
  • Focusyear Band 2021: Bosque (Jazzcampus) [04-29]
  • Aaron Germain: Bell Projections (Aaron Germain Music) [05-14]
  • Ben Goldberg: Everything Happens to Me (BAG Productions) * [06-18]
  • Maria Grand: Reciprocity (Biophilia) [05-14]
  • James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms) [05-07]
  • Simon Moullier Trio: Countdown (Fresh Sound New Talent) [06-11]
  • Quartet Nortonk: Quartet Nortonk (Biophilia)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The 2021 Jazz Heritage Series (self-released)

Sunday, April 18, 2021


Book Roundup

I had quite a few tabs left open when I posted my April 4 Book Roundup. I wanted to tidy them up, so I kept writing and searching and writing some more. I also had a bunch of old blurbs left over -- some going back a couple years -- that I wanted to get rid of, so in short order I wound up with enough for another Book Roundup.

In putting this together, I found a bunch of books that I should have listed under my previous Josh Rogin (China-US rivalry) and Ned and Constance Sublette (slavery) entries, so added them as PS lists to the previous column (link above). The new China list is even longer than my original, and somewhat more varied, but doesn't generally go very far back into Chinese history. (Saving that for a future entry.)

Only book here I've even started to read is Russell Cobb's on Oklahoma. Seems like I'm falling ever farther behind, but at least this exercise moves some unknown-unknowns into known-unknowns.


Götz Aly: Europe Against the Jews: 1880-1945 (2020, Metropolitan Books): Not just the Nazis, but the broader historical context of anti-semitism in which the Nazis rose to power, found strategic allies as they expanded their power over Europe, and committed their genocide.

Michael Barone: How America's Political Parties Change (And How They Don't) (2019, Encounter Books): Long-time co-author of The Almanac of American Politics (25 editions since 1971) brings his considerable expertise to the question of whether Trump's 2016 election signaled a realignment of parties. Answer seems to be not much, but note: Barone appears to be solidly ensconced on the right end of the political spectrum.

David A Bell: Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Historical sketches of revolutionary leaders, most of whom let their charisma go to their heads, turning into despots: Pasquale Paoli, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint Louverture, and Simon Bolivar. (Washington was the exception, in that he twice walked away from power that was his for the taking.)

Jason Bisnoff: Fake Politics: How Corporate and Government Groups Create and Maintain a Monopoly on Truth (2019, Skyhorse). On how corporations and right-wing lobbyists fund protests to make it look like their special interests are clamored for by "grassroots" movements. Some cases covered here: "the tea party, oil industry, big tobacco, big data, and news media."

Mark Bittman: Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, From Sustainable to Suicidal (2021, Houghton Mifflin): As a cookbook author, he's tended toward the encyclopedia while trying to remain accessible -- e.g., How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (1998). Here he's looking for something deeper: a global history of food, merged with a political tract about what we should be growing and eating now.

Russell Cobb: The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America's Weirdest State (2020, Bison Books). I spent a fair amount of time in Oklahoma when I was growing up, and two things struck me as especially weird: one is that every small town we stopped at had a Civil War cannon in the town square, even though Oklahoma wasn't part of the Confederacy, and didn't become a state until 1908; the other is that most of the people we knew there had stronger Southern accents than the people we knew from Arkansas. In the early 1800s Oklahoma was a dumping ground for Indians forced off their lands in the South. From the 1870s the US government started carving off chunks for settlers, nearly all of whom came from the South -- most whites who claimed the state for Dixie. By the 1920s Oklahoma had become reliably racist and Democratic, evolving in the 1970s to Republican. I've found that it shares a number of traits with New Hampshire, like collecting a lot of state revenues from badly maintained toll roads. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and Oklahoma has enough to fill a book -- perhaps this one. Also on Oklahoma:

  • Abandoned Atlas Foundation: Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State (paperback, 2021, America Through Time).
  • Sam Anderson: Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City . . . Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dreaming of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis (2018; paperback, 2019, Crown).
  • Landry Brewer: Cold War Oklahoma (paperback, 2019, The History Press).
  • Regina Daniel: Abandoned Picher, Oklahoma: The Most Toxic Town in America (paperback, 2019, America Through Time).
  • David Grann: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (2017, Doubleday; paperback, 2018, Simon & Schuster).
  • Eddie Jackson: Oklalusa: The Story of the Black State Movement in Oklahoma (paperback, 2020, independent).
  • Randy Krehbiel: Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre (2019, University of Oklahoma Press).
  • David L Payne: Tulsa's Black Wall Street: The Story of Greenwood (paperback, 2018, independent).

Jonathan Cohn: The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage (2021, St Martin's Press): Major history of the passage of Obama's Affordable Care Act, its troubled implementation and aftermath as Republicans sought to repeal or at least sabotage the law. Cohn wrote one of the more important books on health care before ACA: Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- and the People Who Pay the Price (2007). He recapitulates that story in the first part, then reviews its passage and subsequent Republican attempts to repeal or at least sabotage. Although ACA made a bad situation a bit less worse, it also missed the point, which is that you can't get to universal coverage while requiring people to buy private insurance, and you can't manage the health care system sensibly while leaving it in the hands of profit-seeking intermediaries.

Mike Davis/Jon Wiener: Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties (2020, Verso): Both authors have long histories of writing book about radical politics -- Wiener is best known for his work on John Lennon, but he also wrote Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Seven; Davis has a long bibliography, including two previous books on Los Angeles: City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990), and Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1998). This covers the whole range of political upheaval in the 1960s, but much of it will be about racism and the civil rights struggle.

Abdul El-Sayed/Micah Johnson: Medicare for All: A Citizen's Guide (2021, Oxford University Press). The solution isn't going away, because the problem isn't going away. Sure, it's possible to improve Obamacare, but that's mostly by throwing money at it, as the system is designed to preserve the profits of a parasitic and unnecessary middle layer in every transaction. Still, that's not the worst problem with private insurance. More important is a guarantee that everyone is covered, and that everyone is taken care of equally. Consistency pays for itself in efficiency, and those savings can be converted to better care: more comprehensive, and more robust. More recent books on health care:

  • Timothy Faust: Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next (paperback, 2019, Melville House).
  • Catherine Lutz/Andrea Mazzarino: War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (paperback, 2019, NYU Press).

Robert Gellately: Hitler's True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis (2020, Oxford University Press): Seems like a fair question, but I doubt there's an easy or clear answer. It's not clear how many Germans supported how much of Hitler's program, or when, or why. I'm reminded of the characterization of conservative political thought as nothing but "irritable mental gestures." I suspect that the racism and anti-semitism that were central to Nazi ideology were taken as little else, until Hitler raised and legitimized them. More important were resentment over the Great War loss and reparations, which turned to pride as Hitler's renascent militarism seemed to cower the formerly victorious France and Britain. The result was that most Germans were fiercely loyal to Hitler until the end of the war, after which they discarded their Nazi heritage as quickly as possible. On the other hand, I suspect that Gellately will try to pin everything on ideology. After all, that was his tack in his previous book, Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. Stalin's purges showed him to be pragmatic and cynical, with no consistent ideology. Other recent books on Nazi Germany, especially its origins and control:

  • Rüdiger Barth/Hauke Friederichs: The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic: The Rise of the Third Reich (2020, Pegasus Books).
  • Richard J Evans: The Hitler Conspiracies: The Protocols, The Stab in the Back, The Reichstag Fire, Rudolf Hess, the Escape From the Bunker (2020, Oxford University Press).
  • Peter Fritzsche: Hitler's First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich (2020, Basic Books).
  • Carl Müller Frøland: Understanding Nazi Ideology: The Genesis and Impact of a Political Faith (paperback, 2020, McFarland).
  • Benjamin Carter Hett: The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic (2018; paperback, 2019, St Martin's Griffin).
  • Benjamin Carter Hett: The Nazi Menace: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and the Road to War (2020, Henry Holt).
  • Florian Huber: Promise Me You'll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall of Ordinary Germans, 1945 (2019, Allen Lane). Reports that at the end of the war, thousands of German committed suicide rather than face defeat (most famously Hitler himself).
  • Peter Ross Range: The Unfathomable Ascent: How Hitler Came to Power (2020, Little Brown).
  • Volker Ullrich: Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939 (2016, Knopf; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): Biography, 1008 pp.
  • Volker Ullrich: Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945 (2020, Knopf): More biography, 848 pp.

Jamal Greene: How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession With Rights Is Tearing America Apart (2021, Houghton Mifflin): Law professor, perhaps explaining his desire to nitpick, especially to object when judges decide "rights" trump conflicting interests. I'm reluctant to go along, seeing as how much progress over the last century has come from expanding the realm of personal rights. On the other hand, as the judiciary has been stocked with right-wing cadres, we're seeing novel claims of "rights" used for reactionary purposes (e.g., political spending is "free speech," and regulations are being stripped where they're in conflict with "religious choice").

Robert Harms: Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa (2019, Basic Books): Covers three decades from 1870 as western explorers (and exploiters) finally penetrated the Congo basin and East Africa, lands they had traded with through coastal intermediaries for centuries (not that the slave trade didn't have ramifications far inland). This was "the scramble for Africa," the period when European powers competed to fill in the maps of Africa with their colonial colors, while collecting ivory, rubber, and whatever else of value they could cart off.

Gregory B Jaczko: Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (2019, Simon & Schuster): Political memoir of the one-time (2009-12) head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a time that includes the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Jaczko was one of the very few critics of nuclear power to ever get inside this "watchdog" agency -- his appointment was pushed by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) with the express agenda of opposing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository. He has since gone on to found "a clean energy development company," so it's fair to say that his rogue-ness has always been consistent with his incentives. That doesn't necessarily make him wrong, and he does offer a contrast to the much longer history of NRC chairs and members with long-standing interests in the nuclear power industry.

Adam Jentleson: Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy (2021, Liveright): They like to call it "the world's greatest deliberative body," but the main purpose of all that deliberation was to stall any sort of changes, but especially progressive reforms. The Senate has always been skewed against popular control, more check than balance, and that undemocratic bias has been locked in: in today's 50-50 Senate, Democrats represent 41 million more people than Republicans, but have the same number of votes. A big part of this is the filibuster, hence it looms large in this book, but there's more if you scratch deeper.

Marc C Johnson: Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party (paperback, 2021, OUP): The election was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan took the presidency from Jimmy Carter, and the Republicans gained control of the Senate, in large part by purging well-known liberal Democrats Frank Church (ID), George McGovern (SD), John Culver (IA), and Birch Bayh (IN).

Tony Keddie: Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels (2020, University of California Press): "Jesus loves borders, guns, unborn babies, and economic prosperity and hates homosexuality, taxes, welfare, and universal healthcare." Keddie, a historian of the early Christian period, cares to argue those "outrageous misreadings." I'm sure he's right, but care less, having long ago rejected a far more benign understanding of Christianity.

Charles R Kesler: Crisis of the Two Constitutions: The Rise, Decline, & Recovery of American Greatness (2021, Encounter Books): Editor of Claremont Review of Books, seems to be regarded as an actual thinker among pro-Trump conservatives. I read an interview with him, and gleaned no insights into his thinking, other than a muddle of dislikes and vague fears. He's even more evasive on the providing any substance for his sub-title: When was America great? Why isn't it now? How can it be great in the future? Or, simply, what the fuck does "great" mean in regard to nations?

Patrick Kingsley: The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis (2017, Liveright): British, writes for The Guardian. Details various stories of refugees struggling to flee dangers in Africa and the Middle East to reach asylum in Europe.

Elizabeth Kolbert: Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021, Crown): Geologic time is divided into epochs, with the recent ice ages dubbed the Pleistocene. The relatively short sliver of time since their retreat was simply "The Recent," but as we become aware of the extraordinary changes wrought by human beings, a new name has been gaining currency: Anthropocene. New Yorker writer Kolbert has written a number of essays on this, compiled into two important books: Field Notes From a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. More essays, this time chronicling efforts to undo the thoughtless attack on nature through better thinking.

Bruce Levine: Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice (2021, Simon & Schuster): Abolitionist, politician, a leader of the "radical Republicans" and their push for "a second American revolution," advanced through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and the short-lived reconstruction of the defeated slave regime. Due for a revival as we finally shake those last Confederate cobwebs from our collective consciousness.

Benjamin Lorr: The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket (2020, Avery): Based on hundreds of interviews over five years into every facet of the product chain that winds up filling grocery store shelves, which is to say most of what we eat every day.

Rachel Maddow/Michael Yarvitz: Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-Up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House (2020, Crown): When Richard Nixon insisted "I am not a crook," he may well have been thinking of Spiro Agnew, his vice-president, figuring all things are relative. He did, at least, dispose of Agnew before handing in his own resignation -- a small favor, but a real one. Perhaps with Trump as president, now is a good time to be reminded of past instances of unsavory greed in or near the White House. However, I find it hard to see how the MSNBC broadcaster would have had time or inclination to write on a story so far from her established interests, so I wouldn't be surprise if this is really Yarvitz's book, with Maddow using her fame and notoreity to help peddle it.

Heather McGhee: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021, One World): Attempts some kind of cost-benefit analysis of racism, which can be difficult because many of the costs are second- or third-degree effects. E.g., wouldn't we have a higher minimum wage, more public benefits, better health care, etc., if government activity that helps people equally wasn't disparaged by racists. Chapter 2 is called "Racism Drained the Pool." It starts with a discussion of infrastructure, which has been neglected because racism divides us, limiting public interest. McGhee travels around the country, sniffing out concrete examples. Fundamentally sound point.

Wesley Morgan: The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan's Pech Valley (2021, Random House): "Military affairs reporter," evidently knows which side his bread is buttered on, but can't quite sugar coat everything. Typical blurb: "captures the heroism, fear, and exultation of combat while laying out a damning portrait of military leaders who rushed into battle against an enemy they didn't understand and ultimately couldn't beat." Book covers 2002-17, with author first visiting Pech/Kunar in 2010. Despite all evidence to the contrary, embedded journalists cling to the belief that US troops mean well, and that they are somehow allaying an even worse fate. But they are the catastrophe.

Gary Saul Morson/Morton Schapiro: Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us (2021, Princeton University Press). Authors are literary scholars, which may be why they love to pick up a good cliché. On page 23, they write: "Fundamentalists are hedgehogs." They believe that literature teaches us to be foxes, even though novels are full of tragic hedgehogs. Isaiah Berlin's parable is famous enough it scarcely needs footnoting, but I wonder whether the authors haven't fallen into their own trap in siding with the foxes. Their argument turns on defining fundamentalism, which turns out to be a one-size-fits-all reduction of all sorts of disagreeable beliefs, ultimately defined by little more than the stubborn certainty with which they are held. I don't disagree that dialogue is preferable, but wonder whether insisting on it isn't another fundamentalism, one denying any core principles. As I've found that the denial of principles is itself one, I doubt their house of cards will stand. Authors also wrote:

  • Gary Saul Morson/Morton Schapiro: Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn From the Humanities (2017; paperback, 2018, Princeton University Press).

John Mueller: The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency (2021, Cambridge University Press): I've been waiting for a book to back up this title, but I'd probably start with the balance sheet: it's impossible to win at war, or even anticipate the costs and consequences; even when you have something that looks like victory, it's likely to turn into a trap. As military operations, the US in Afghanistan and Iraq easily seized territory and set up compliant governments, but were unable to sustain control, settling into quagmires. History is full of examples, but focus on history risks obscuring how the equations have changed since the decline of colonial empires. Up through WWII, aggressive politicians could imagine gains from conquest, but with more and more people demanding independence and autonomy, the world has, in Jonathan Schell's phrase, become unconquerable. That should result in nations cutting back on their military expenses, and as that happens, there is ever less need for military defense. Early in the 20th century, there were diplomatic efforts to outlaw war and to promote disarmament. One would have expected such efforts to resume after the conflagration of WWII, but the US sought a different kind of world dominance, and to that end disguised its War Department as Defense, projecting power through a worldwide network of bases and "mutual defense pacts." True, the Soviet Union reciprocated, giving the US a "threat" to defend against, but when that "threat" ended, the US became if anything even more aggressive. Mueller argues that the US has systematically exaggerated threats ever since 1945. This has enabled a huge bureaucracy to accumulate an enormous arsenal to fend off imaginary threats -- something that would have been mere waste had it not buttressed an arrogant foreign policy which has itself provoked resistance and led to self-debilitating wars. He goes on to argue that "a policy of complacency and appeasement likely would have worked better." If the word "appeasement" sticks in your craw, it's because we've been indoctrinated for 75 years to think that the cause of WWII was not Hitler's madness (conditioned by centuries of European imperialism, and by the punitive sanctions placed on Germany after WWI) but Neville Chamberlain's "appeasement" to Hitler's pre-war demand for a slice of Czechoslovakia. Mueller could have picked less inflammatory words, but his point is apt. Most post-WWII conflicts could have been managed better with diplomacy and the promise of trade and development, and more safely without the peril of arms and annihilation. What I'd like to see is the US unwind its imperial posture through negotiations with the rest of the world. No nation really benefits from nuclear weapons, foreign bases, or cyberwarfare, so why not agree to eliminate them? And given that the US is far and away the world's greatest threat, why would other countries not agree to follow suit? If that seems like a dream, it's actually one that's more than 100 years old -- only the technology has changed, but the advent of machine guns, poison gas, and aerial bombing was already terrifying enough. But isn't the first step toward realizing that dream recognizing the stupidity of war?

Serhii Plokhy: Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missle Crisis (2021, WW Norton). Author teaches Ukrainian history at Harvard, so don't expect him to be a Krushchev fan, but he's had the luxury of sifting through recently opened Soviet archives, which offer a broader perspective than the usual American take on the 1962 crisis -- usually presented as hagiography, a tribute to John F Kennedy's steely resolve and cool reason. It seems more likely that all three leaders (also Fidel Castro) had their blind spots, misapprehensions, and rash tempers, which contributed to the peril as well as its resolution.

Serhii Plokhy: The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (paperback, 2015, Basic Books): I've likened the end of the Soviet Union to a wrestling match where one fighter collapses with a heart attack, and the other seizes the opportunity to pounce on his disabled opponent and claim victory. That isn't Plokhy's metaphor, but he cites a "victory" speech by GWH Bush the day after Gorbachev resigned that illustrates it perfectly. Plokhii attributes the end mostly to the growing independence movements (especially in Ukraine and Russia, which was Boris Yeltsin's power base), having little to do with US pressure (which if anything was paralyzed by fear and misunderstanding).

Varshini Prakash/Guido Girgenti, eds: Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can (paperback, 2020, Simon & Schuster). Sixteen essays on various aspects and arguments, written before the 2020 election. Biden campaigned in the primaries against GND, but offers a subset in his big infrastructure bill and his newfound climate focus, along with jobs support -- the New Deal part of GND. As long as you combine more sustainable energy policy with economic support to minimize the effects of dislocations, it doesn't matter what you call it. Some recent Green New Deal (and climate-related) books:

  • Max Ajl: A People's Green New Deal (paperback, 2021, Pluto Press). [05-20]
  • Kate Aronoff: Over Heated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet -- and How We Fight Back (2021, Bold Type Books). [04-20]
  • Noam Chomsky/Robert Pollin: Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal (paperback, 2020, Verso).
  • Stan Cox: The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (paperback, 2020, City Lights).
  • Ronnie Cummins: Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food, and a Green New Deal (paperback, 2020, Chelsea Green).
  • Robert C Hockett: Financing the Green New Deal: A Plan of Action and Renewal (paperback, 2020, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Ayana Elizabeth Johnson/Katharine K Wilkinson, eds: All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis (2020, One World).
  • Michael E Mann: The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet (2021, PublicAffairs).
  • Marc Morano: Green Fraud: Why the Green New Deal Is Even Worse Than You Think (2021, Regnery): Previously wrote The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change. Attacks "this Marxist plan masquerading as environmental policy," arguing that it's really "about controlling every aspect of American lives and implementing broad, socialist policies."

Dennis C Rasmussen: Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders (2021, Princeton University Press): We tend to blindly celebrate the wisdom of the American Republic's founders, but this points out most of them soon had misgivings. This focuses on Washington (rued "the rise of partisanship"), Hamilton ("felt that the federal government was too weak"), Adams ("believed the people lacked civic virtue"), and Jefferson (bemoaned "sectional divisions laid bare by the spread of slavery"). Also discusses the exception to the rule: James Madison.

Eric Rauchway: Why the New Deal Matters (2021, Yale University Press): Historian, previously wrote the even briefer The Great Depression & the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction (160 pp vs 232 here), as well as more detailed monographs on the same period. One thing that seems strange in retrospect was how little we were taught about Franklin Roosevelt during my childhood (1955-67), especially compared to the way Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (especially) Lincoln were lionized after less epochal presidencies. (Republicans have since given Reagan the same treatment, to somewhat lesser effect).

Touré F Reed: Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism (paperback, 2020, Verso): Not obvious to me what "race reductionism" means -- perhaps the single-minded focus on one factor (in this case, race) to the exclusion of all others. "Reed argues that Afro-Americans' quest for freedom has been most successful when a common-good, rather than identity-group, strategy has determined tactics and alliances." If that's all the point is, sure.

Lawrence Rosenthal: Empire of Resentment: Populism's Toxic Embrace of Nationalism (2020, New Press): Missed this in last autumn's survey of Trump books, possibly because it aspires to greater generalities. Like fellow Kansan Thomas Frank, I've never accepted the notion that Trump had any connection to populism, but if you do buy the link, the real question is why did "populists" choose to align themselves with conservatives, whose real agenda is simply the preservation of a hierarchy defined principally by wealth. Conservatives have long tried to broaden their base by capturing nationalist and religious fancies, so if "populists" accept the rightful rule of the rich, of course they're going to pick up the extra baggage -- which in America is laced with racism and gun fetishism.

Guy Smith: Guns and Control: A Nonpartisan Guide to Understanding Mass Public Shootings, Gun Accidents, Crime, Public Carry, Suicides, Defensive Use, and More (2020, Skyhorse). Founder, Gun Facts Project ("We are neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. We are pro-math and anti-BS"). Despite this "nonpartisan" angle, note that the NRA has been especially vigilant about preventing any statistical survey and analysis of gun incidents. By the way, an Amazon search for "gun control" yields many more pro-gun books than anti-, starting with two books by Stephen P Halbrook crying over Gun Control in the Third Reich and Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, John R Lott Jr's many books, like the clearly unsound More Guns Less Crime -- a rationale that can only be justified by excluding overwhelming evidence. Also: Stalked and Defenseless: How Gun Control Helped My Stalker Murder My Husband in Front of Me. Some recent, less obviously ridiculous books on guns:

  • Carol Anderson: The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America (2021, Bloomsbury). [06-01]
  • William Briggs: How America Got Its Guns: A History of the Gun Violence Crisis (paperback, 2017, University of New Mexico Press).
  • Donald J Campbell: America's Gun Wars: A Cultural History of Gun Control in the United States (2019, Praeger).
  • Tom Frame: Gun Control: What Australia Got Right (and Wrong) (paperback, 2019, University of New South Wales Press).
  • Ioan Grillo: Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels (2021, Bloomsbury).
  • Dennis A Henigan: "Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People": And Other Myths About Guns and Gun Control (paperback, 2016, Beacon Press).
  • Matthew J Lacombe: Firepower: How the NRA Turned Gun Owners Into a Political Force (2021, Princeton University Press).
  • Chris Murphy: The Violence Inside Us: A Brief History of an Ongoing American Tragedy (2020, Random House): US Senator (D-CT).
  • Frank Smyth: The NRA: The Unauthorized History (2020, Flatiron Books).
  • Robert J Spitzer: Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights (2015; paperback, 2017, Oxford University Press).
  • Igor Volsky: Guns Down: How to Defeat the NRA and Build a Safer Future With Fewer Guns (2019, New Press).

Daniel Susskind: A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond (2020, Metropolitan Books): Oxford economist, sees the future and thinks, hey, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm sympathetic to that point of view, but understand that to make it work you have to have a public support network that eases the transitions, and that provides support for people unable to make them. I've had two careers that were pretty much ended by technology shifts, which to some extent I nudged forward. I always figured that the more of my work that could be automated, the more I could do new things -- and that's pretty much how it worked out, although not necessarily to my profit. So I think this will be an increasingly important subject. At least, unless we get wiped out by stupid shit in the meantime. Related, which leads to post-scarcity economics and postcapitalism:

  • Aaron Bastani: Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto (paperback, 2020, Verso).
  • Aaron Benanav: Automation and the Future of Work (2020, Verso).
  • Manu Saadia: Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek (2016, Pipertext).
  • Rick Webb: The Economics of Star Trek: The Proto-Post-Scarcity Economy (revised edition, paperback, 2019, independent).

Frederick Taylor: 1939: A People's History of the Coming of the Second World War (2020, WW Norton): This starts with September 1938, as Hitler starts to make aggressive moves east, and follows the diplomacy until it becomes purely military. Also on the War:

  • Judy Batalion: The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos (2021, William Morrow).
  • Tim Bouverie: Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War (2019, Tim Duggan Books).
  • Paul Dickson: The Rise of the GI Army, 1940-1941: The Forgotten Story of How America Forged a Powerful Army Before Pearl Harbor (2020, Atlantic Monthly Press).
  • Richard B Frank: Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War: July 1937-May 1942 (2020; paperback, 2021, WW Norton).
  • John Gooch: Mussolini's War: Fascist Italy From Triumph to Collapse: 1935-1943 (2020, Pegasus Books).
  • Gershom Gorenberg: War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies, and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis From the Middle East (2021, PublicAffairs).
  • Erik Larson: The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (2020, Crown).
  • Sean McMeekin: Stalin's War: A New History of World War II (2021, Basic Books): 864 pp.
  • Takuma Melber: Pearl Harbor: Japan's Attack and America's Entry Into World War II (2020, Polity).
  • Roger Moorhouse: Poland 1939: The Outbreak of World War II (2020, Basic Books).
  • Andrew Nagorski: 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War (2019, Simon & Schuster).
  • Adrian Phillips: Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler: Neville Chamberlain, Sir Horace Wilson, & Britain's Plight of Appeasement: 1937-1939 (2019, Pegasus).

Larry Tye: Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy (2020, Houghton Mifflin): Big (608 pp) biography of the Wisconsin Republican Senator, whose name is synonymous with red baiting. His fall, after extending his slanders to the Army, was so precipitous that McCarthyism is remembered as an abomination, even by those following in his footsteps -- e.g., Donald Trump, whose early mentor was McCarthy's own counsel, Roy Cohn.

Clive Thompson: Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World (2019, Penguin Press): A fairly breezy survey of the art and history of software engineering, from ENIAC to (or past) Facebook. Having made a decent living at this for over 20 years, this is comfortable turf for me, the more nuts and bolts the better.

Dietrich Vollrath: Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success (2020, University of Chicago Press): Argues "our current slowdown is, in fact, a sign of our widespread economic success. Our powerful economy has already supplied so much of the necessary stuff of modern life, brought us so much comfort, security, and luxury, that we have turned to new forms of production and consumption that increase our well-being but do not contribute to growth in GDP." This argument may not be so unconventional, as it is suggested by Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth, who shows that reduced growth after 1970 is connected to a shift in consumption factors, and James Galbraith: The End of Normal. This focuses on America, but when I first read the title I thought first of Japan: economists have complained about slack growth there since 1990, but the standard of living seems stable. This makes me wonder if the left shouldn't focus more on safety net and risk issues, as opposed to wage increases (unions and minimum wage). Longer term, this is good news, as infinite growth was never going to happen anyway. Also that political strategies based on shared growth aren't going to work. In fact, I believe businessfolk realized this around 1970, when growth rates started to drop significantly. From that point, the only way they could satisfy their own growth expectations was to take more from the rest of us, which is what they've been doing for 50 years now.

Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965 (2020, WW Norton): In 1924, Congress passed a law restricting immigration by imposing national quotas, which discriminated against recent waves of immigrants from south-and-eastern Europe (as well as previously restricted Africa and Asia). In 1965, the quota system was repealed, allowing immigration to expand with demand. More focus on how immigration got opened up than how it got shut down, including bits on the author's parents.


Other recent books of interest, barely noted (I may write more on some of these later):

Scott Anderson: The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War -- A Tragedy in Three Acts (2020, Doubleday).

Nicholas Aschoff: The New Prophets of Capital (paperback, 2015, Verso): Critiques of Sheryl Sandberg, John Mackey, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill & Melinda Gates.

Joel Bakan: The New Corporation: How "Good" Corporations Are Bad for Democracy (paperback, 2020, Knopf): Effectively an update to Bakan's 2005 book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.

Charles M Blow: The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto (2021, Harper).

Lynne Cheney: The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation (2020, Viking).

Marie Favereau: The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (2021, Belknap Press).

Steve Fraser: Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History (paperback, 2019, Verso).

Timothy Frye: Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia (2021, Princeton University Press).

Eddie S Glaude Jr: Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own (2020, Crown).

Glenn Greenwald: Securing Democracy: My Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro's Brazil (2021, Haymarket Books).

Eliza Griswold: Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America (2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2019, Picador Books): Won Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Peter Guralnick: Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing (2020, Little Brown).

Tom Holland: Dominion: How the Christian Rvolution Remade the World (2019; paperback, 2021, Basic Books).

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (2020, PublicAffairs).

John B Judis: The Socialist Awakening: What's Different Now About the Left (paperback, 2020, Columbia Global Reports).

Fred Kaplan: The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War (2020, Simon & Schuster).

Robert D Kaplan: The Good American: The Epic Life of Bob Gersony, the US Government's Greatest Humanitarian (2021, Random House).

Alexander Keyssar: Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? (2020, Harvard University Press).

Susan W Kieffer: The Dynamics of Disaster (2013; paperback, 2014, WW Norton).

Ümit Kurt: The Armenians of Aintab: The Economics of Genocide in an Ottoman Province (2021, Harvard University Press).

Victoria Law: "Prisons Make Us Safer": And 20 Other Myths About Mass Incarceration

Edward N Luttwak: Coup D'État: A Practial Handbook (1968; revised, paperback, 2016, Harvard University Press).

Charlton D McIlwain: Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, From the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter (2019, ).

Alexander Mikaberidze: The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History (2020, Oxford University Press): 960 pp.

Thant Myint-U: The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century (2019; paperback, 2021, WW Norton).

Tom Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017; paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).

Susan Page: Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power (2021, Twelve).

Jeremy D Popkin: A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution (2019, Basic Books).

Eric A Posner/E Glen Weyl: Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society (2018, Princeton University Press).

Michael Provence: The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press).

Thomas E Ricks: First Principles: What America's Founders Learned From the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country (2020, Harper).

Ritchie Robertson: The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790 (2021, Harper): Big (1008 pp).

Martin Sandbu: The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All (2020, Princeton University Press).

James Shapiro: Shakespeare in a Divided Ameria: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).

David O Stewart: George Washington: The Political Rise of America's Founding Father (2021, Dutton).

Cass R Sunstein: This Is Not Normal: The Politics of Everyday Expectations (2021, Yale University Press): Essay collection.

Hadas Thier: A People's Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics (paperback, 2020, Haymarket Books).

Karen Tumulty: The Triumph of Nancy Reagan (2021, Simon & Schuster): 672 pp.

-- next