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Monday, July 26, 2021


Music Week

July archive (final).

Music: Current count 35900 [35855] rated (+45), 210 [212] unrated (-2).

Did my cutoff Sunday evening, while I was in the middle of looking at older, missed John Hiatt albums, so while tempted to move the rest forward to keep them together, expect them next week. One thing I did notice after the review was that one of the more memorable songs on the new one appeared on an old album. Good chance of more recycled songs, which may contribute to the relative high quality here. When I've noticed, Hiatt's New West albums have been pretty good. I gave an A- to his Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012, and to Terms of My Surrender (2014), as well as the new one.

I mentioned below seeing Hiatt in his native habitat, but maybe I should expand on that story. Shortly after I started writing for the Village Voice, Robert Christgau send me Hiatt's first two albums. He wound up grading them B, but he must have suspected that I might get into them and write something interesting. Didn't happen, at least not in time, but eventually they clicked for me: a solid A- for Hangin' Around the Observatory, and an A for Overcoats (on my all-time list; for a review see my Terminal Zone spotlight reviews -- there's also a review there of Hirth From Earth, another B+ oddity Christgau sent me, which led to me reviewing Hirth Martinez's second album).

I was back in Wichita at the time, having retreated from St. Louis after I got sick and lost my job. One of my closest St. Louis friends had moved to Washington, D.C., and wanted me to join his commune. I agreed. He flew to Wichita, and we drove back to D.C., with stops in St. Louis and Indianapolis, where another St. Louis friend -- one of my major music mentors -- had returned after graduating college. He knew I liked Hiatt, and found him performing in a suburban bar, so we checked him out. He was solo, playing guitar and some keyboard, songs from the two albums I by then knew inside and out. The albums had band arrangements, but the songs were even more striking in their stark immediacy.

D.C. turned out to be a bust. I got sick again, returned to Wichita, floundered a while, eventually got a job, saved some money, and (after an exploratory trip) decided to move to New York. Don Malcolm and I published Terminal Zone in the interrim, but I was disappointed in the lack of interest we received in New York. It was a rude introduction to the vagaries of commerce, and I didn't handle it well -- may be one reason why I still regard making money as a piss poor excuse to do anything. (Malcolm went on to publish a second TZ, and maybe a third, without me.) I wrote a few reviews for the Voice, but never got around to Hiatt. John Piccarella, a freelancer I most admired, pitched a Hiatt piece, but he got stuck with Hiatt's first mediocre album, Warming Up to the Ice Age (kind of like I got stuck with a wobbly BTO album for my debut). After that, I lost interest, and didn't bother with his well-received A&M albums. But he's still around, and holding up better than most.

One cluster of new records this week is a bunch of Astral Spirits downloads. I get a lot more download links and offers than I follow up on, but there were a couple there I felt I should try to listen to, and wound up downloading the whole stack.

The East Axis promotion comes after receiving a CD. I had a pretty good idea that's where it would wind up after reviewing it off Napster (you can also hear it complete on Bandcamp). The Bill Evans and Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller 2-CD sets were most likely helped by having physical packages, which allowed me to spread out my attention (as well as to see the booklets, although my eyes don't encourage close study). I don't consciously favor CDs over downloads or streams, but sometimes it works out that way.

I'm likely to have a short "Speaking of Which" later this week. Got a couple things I want to get off my chest. I'm half way through the Michael Lewis Premonition book. I'm not the least bit inclined to rehabilitate the legacy of GW Bush, but at least he allowed at least some public servants to do their job. Meanwhile, Laura is playing the audible of Michael Wolff's Landslide. It's a "fish starts to rot at the head" story, with everyone close to Trump increasingly implicated. I've seen scattered speculation about how much worse shape we'd be in if we had a Trumpian leader who was actually competent, but I wonder if incompetence isn't something that endears Trump to his followers.


New records reviewed this week:

[Ahmed]: Nights on Saturn (Communication) (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits): Tribute to bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik (1927-93), born Jonathan Tim Jr. in Brooklyn, recorded some of the first American jazz albums to look to Africa and the Middle East, starting with Jazz Sahara in 1958. British quartet: Pat Thomas (piano), Joel Grip (bass), Antonin Gerbal (drums), Seymour Wright (alto sax). One 41:47 piece, taken from a 1961 album, plus an 8:25 "sample" (the bit you can hear on Bandcamp). Much edgier than the original, which captures the spirit. A- [dl]

Michaël Attias/Simon Nabatov: Brooklyn Mischiefs (2014 [2021], Leo): Alto sax and piano, recorded in Brooklyn, four joint pieces plus a Herbie Nichols medley. B+(**)

Mandy Barnett: Every Star Above (2019 [2021], BMG): Standards singer, strong voice, slotted as country because she started out in a Patsy Cline revival, intends this as a tribute to Billie Holiday and her penultimate Lady in Satin album, selecting 10 (of 12) songs, set to similar maudlin strings. Picking on Holiday's worst album lowers the bar enough Barnett can clear it, but it's hard to see why. At least she doesn't try on Holiday's tone or phrasing -- impossible on a good day, or even on her death bed. B

Olie Brice/Binker Golding/Henry Kaiser/N.O. Moore/Eddie Prévost: The Secret Handshake With Danger: Vol. One (2020 [2021], 577): Recorded in London, British bassist, saxophone star, two guitars, drums. B+(*)

Eric Church: Heart (2021, EMI Nashville): The first of three short albums, released separately a few days apart, one "available exclusively to members of Church's official fan group, the Church Choir", although I've seen art work that combines them into a single product: Heart & Soul (24 songs, 85:47). This one is 9 songs, 31:24. Solid start toward a pretty good album. B+(**)

Eric Church: Soul (2021, EMI Nashville): Third album, skipping the unavailable &, 9 more songs, 31:21. Well, maybe not so good? B+(*)

Clairo: Sling (2021, Fader/Republic): Singer-songwriter Claire Cottrill, second album, rather reserved. B+(*)

Harold Danko: Spring Garden (2019 [2021], SteepleChase): Pianist, 30+ albums since 1974, early side-credits include Chet Baker and Lee Konitz. Original compositions, with Rich Perry (tenor sax), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Joel Frahm: The Bright Side (2021, Anzic): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from Wisconsin, based in New York, albums since 1999, but mostly side-credits. Trio with bass (Dan Loomis) and drums (Ernesto Cervini). B+(**)

Frisque Concordance: Distinct Machinery (2017-18 [2021], Random Acoustics, 2CD): Free jazz group, recorded one previous album in 1992. Common to both are Georg Graewe (piano) and John Butcher (tenor/soprano sax), joined here by Wilbert de Joode (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums). First disc is studio, second live, both recorded in Vienna. The pianist, in particular, is full of surprises. A-

Rob Frye: Exoplanet (2021, Astral Spirits): Plays woodwinds and synthesizer, third album, also plays in various groups like the Bitchin Bajas. With Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, more synths and electronics, more drums, violin on three tracks, voice on two. Engaging groove with occasional spaciness. B+(***) [dl]

Rhiannon Giddens With Francesco Turrisi: They're Calling Me Home (2021, Nonesuch): Former Carolina Chocolate Drops singer, plays violin and banjo, went on her own in 2015, moved to Ireland, formed a partnership there with Italian multi-instrumentalist Turrisi, second album together. The old songs are the most striking, especially "O Death." A couple in Italian are possibly older, but resonate less. B+(***)

Mats Gustafsson/Joachim Nordwall: Shadows of Tomorrow/The Brain Produces Electric Waves (2019-20 [2021], Astral Spirits, EP): Actually, 7-inch single, with radio-friendly lengths of 3:50 and 3:46, not that you should expect to hear them broadcast. Both Swedish, Nordwall seems to be some kind of electro-acoustical sound producer. They did an album together in 2017 where the saxophonist was credited simply with "blowing stuff." He's toned that down to heavy breathing here. Not bad, but much to it. B [dl]

John Hiatt With the Jerry Douglas Band: Leftover Feelings (2021, New West): Singer-songwriter from Indianapolis -- I remember seeing him play solo in a bar there -- settled in Nashville, with 24 albums since 1974. Douglas is a bluegrass guy, and his band swings gently, getting by without a drummer. The unrushed atmosphere suits Hiatt, whose voice has moderated without losing its distinctness. Also, the songs are full of memorable images and turns of phrase. [PS: Didn't check, but found at least one leftover song: "All the Lilacs in Ohio," from The Tiki Bar Is Open -- best song there, and one of the better ones here.] A-

Dylan Hicks: Accidental Birds (2021, Soft Launch): Singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, literate enough he's turned out a couple novels. First few songs are captivating enough, but I found myself paying less attention as the record continued, pleasantly. B+(**)

Rocco John Iacovone/Phil Sirois/Tom Cabrera: Synchronics (2021, Unseen Rain): Sax-bass-drums trio, the leader playing tenor, alto, soprano, and bass clarinet. Another slow-developing pandemic project. B+(**)

Jaubi: Nafs at Peace (2021, Astigmatic): Pakistani instrumental quartet, exploring "eastern mysticism and the spiritual self [Nafs]." Starts calmly, not unlike Orüj Güvenç's Ocean of Remembrance, but doesn't stay in that groove as they move from Lahore to Oslo and pick up a couple of ringers, notably on towering saxophone. A- [bc]

Khrysis: The Hour of Khrysis (2021, Jamla): Hip-hop producer Christopher Tyson, from North Carolina, half of the Away Team, raps some here. B+(**)

Angélique Kidjo: Mother Nature (2021, Decca): Singer from Benin, based in France, 17th album since 1981, one of the most recognized African singers in the US, but I can't say as I've ever been much impressed. She's got beats, languages, beaucoup help -- 9 (of 13) songs here have featured guests. Did manage to jot one bit of lyric down: "feel the music/it's never dull." B

Lost Girls: Menneskekollektivet (2021, Smalltown Supersound): Norwegian duo, Jenny Hval voice and lyrics spoken over guitar-tinged electronica by Hval and Håvard Holden. Five tracks, two run to 12:10 and 15:30, consciousness rising out of mesmerizing depths. A-

Roscoe Mitchell/Mike Reed: The Ritual and the Dance (2015 [2021], Astral Spirits): Reeds and drums, the latter also credited with electronics. One 36:43 improv, plus a 16:08 "sample." Intense free jazz, but can be a bit shrill. B+(***)

Liudas Mockunas/Arfvydad Kaziauskas: Purvs (2020 [2021], Jersika, 2LP): Saxophone duo, both playing a wide range, from sopranino to bass, and something called "keyless overtone." One disc is called "The Bog Sessions," the other "Live at the Peat Amphitheater." None of the LP sides runs less than 22:53, and I'm intimidated by the sheer weight of the vinyl. As for the music, the patterns and interaction are interesting when you can pay them close attention, but don't do much as background. B+(**) [lp]

The Modern Jazz Trio With Jerry Bergonzi: Straight Gonz (2021, AMM): MJT is described as a "Nordic supergroup," but I can't find any other albums under that group name. The members are Carl Winther (piano), Johnny Åman (bass), and Anders Mogensen (bass), and they have played with tenor saxophonist Bergonzi before -- one source says this is their sixth album together, and I can account for three, going back to 2013. B+(**)

Aaron Novik: Grounded (2020 [2021], Astral Spirits): Clarinet player (including bass and contrabass clarinets), "minimal effects," composed and recorded this during lockdown last year, much closer to minimalism than to jazz. B+(**) [dl]

William Parker: Painter's Winter (2020 [2021], AUM Fidelity): Title a reference back to the bassist's 2000 album Painter's Spring, reconvening the same trio: Daniel Carter (trumpet, alto/tenor sax, clarinet, flute) and Hamid Drake (drums). Carter pokes around the edges, rarely taking charge, which is fine given how strong the bass lines are. A-

William Parker: Mayan Space Station (2020 [2021], AUM Fidelity): Another trio, unlike anything in Parker's enormous catalog, as it features a guitarist (Ava Mendoza), with Gerald Cleaver on drums. Mendoza has a fair number of albums since 2013, including a similar trio led by William Hooker. Mendoza is impressive, someone I should look into further, but the fusion moves don't quite seem right here. [PS: Parker does have an earlier g-b-d trio with Raoul Björkenheim and Hamid Drake, DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2 (2008), but it's less of a fusion move.] B+(***)

Powers/Rollin Duo: Strange Fortune (2021, Astral Spirits): Jen Powers (hammered dulcimer/autoharp) and Matthew J. Rolin (12-string guitar/chimes), half-dozen albums together since 2018. B+(*) [dl]

Andrew Renfroe: Run in the Storm (2021, self-released): Guitarist, based in New York, officially his debut album after a 2020 EP (Dark Grey). Postbop, with alto sax (Braxton Cook), keyboards, bass, drums, "plus special guest Marquis Hill" (trumpet). B+(**) [cd] [08-27]

Chris Schlarb/Chad Taylor: Time No Changes (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits/Big Ego): Guitarist, also plays keyboards, owns a studio and label in California, has a half-dozen albums I've usually filed as rock, in a duo here with the jazz drummer (and mbira player). B+(*) [dl]

Alex Sipiagin: Upstream (2020 [2021], Posi-Tone): Russian trumpet player, moved to US in 1990, regular albums since 1998. Quartet with piano (Art Hirahara), bass (Boris Kozlov), and drums (Rudy Royston). Five pieces by the leader, two by Kozlov, one by Hirahara, one by Wayne Shorter. B+(*)

Wadada Leo Smith/Douglas R. Ewart/Mike Reed: Sun Beans of Shimmering Light (2015 [2021], Astral Spirits): Trumpet, reeds (sopranino sax, bassoon, flute), and drums. Trumpet stands out early on. B+(***) [dl]

Emma-Jean Thackray: Yellow (2021, Movementt/Warp): British trumpet player, "multi-instrumentalist" (no music credits here), after at least three EPs, this is billed as her debut album, "draws glowing lines between '70s jazz fusion, PFunk, the cosmic invocations of Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane." True enough, but less remarkable than you'd hope. B

Chris Williams/Patrick Shiroishi: Sans Soleil (2021, Astral Spirits): Trumpet and sax duo, both playing a wide range of family instruments and other objects, bouncing scattered sounds off each other. The former has a couple records as Chris Ryan Williams, as opposed to the Australian Chris Williams who plays trupet and didgeridoo, and most likely others -- Discogs lists him as "Chris Williams (84). Shiroishi has a long list of marginal-looking albums going back to 2013. B+(*)

Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 7: João Donato (2021, Jazz Is Dead, EP): First three volumes listed Younge first, next three Muhammad, now back to Younge. They've been picking out a mix of jazz-funk oldsters and Brazilians to feature, and while these could be remixes they've all been made with living musicians: Donato is a pianist who started in the bossa nova era and is now 86, with a couple dozen albums under his name, and at least as many side-credits. Flirts with LP-length (9 tracks, 26:44). B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony (2006-07 [2021], Resonance, 2CD): Trumpet and piano duo, two live shows a little more than a year apart. The artists seem a little young for this sort of archival dig -- Hargrove first appeared in 1988, and quickly became the trumpet star of the 1990s; Miller started in 1984 with Art Blakey, and while his own records were less popular, he spent the 1990s in Kenny Garrett's band, Hargrove's main rival for "next big thing" -- but both died young (49 for Hargrove, 57 for Miller), leaving their estates to pick through the remains. Aside from Blakey, Miller apprenticed with Woody Shaw and Betty Carter -- the latter an especially demanding leader. He always reminded me of McCoy Tyner (he even looked like Tyner), with flashes of Oscar Peterson to show off, making him an ideal accompanist, as well as someone who could spell the leader with a dazzling piano solo. Includes a big booklet, but it's mostly tributes from younger musicians who grew up in awe of these two. A- [cd]

Rare.wavs Vol. 1 ([2021], Foreign Family Collective): American electronica label, founded by Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight of Odesza. Fifteen pieces by other artists, no dates -- I'm taking their word for obscurity, although Kasbo, Jai Wolf, Ford, Robotaki, possibly others have albums on the label (all that I've found since 2017). Nice variety, rare vocals don't hurt. B+(**)

Shem Tupe/Justo Osala/Enos Okola: Guitar Music of Western Kenya: 45s From the Archive of Shem Tupe (1960s-70s [2021], Mississippi): Nine tracks, six with Tupe (aka Shem Tube, five list him first), eight with Osala (three first), six with Okola (none first), so at least one on each cut. The trio also recorded as Abana Ba Nasery. Falls short of Guitar Paradise of East Africa, but in its simpler way fills the same need. B+(***) [bc]

Vernacular: The Little Bird (2003 [2021], Astral Spirits): Cleveland group, somewhere in the seam between jazz, blues, and agitprop, with Lawrence Daniel Caswell (bass and vocals), R.A. Washington (trumpet/percussion), and Chris Kulcsar (drums/guitar). Caswell's slightly better-known band was This Moment in Black History, which had one of the all-time great titles: It Takes a Nation of Assholes to Hold Us Back. Liner notes by Amiri Baraka. Ends with a 17:43 live jam with Black Ox Orkestar (not on the original release), which moves boldly into free jazz territory. B+(***) [dl]

Old music:

Ahmed Abdul-Malik: East Meets West (1959 [1960], RCA Victor): Second album (after Jazz Sahara), plays oud as well as bass, a mix of exotics and hard bop stars -- in Japan the album was credited to Lee Morgan and Benny Golson. Still, this date belongs to the oud, darabeka, kanoon, and violin. B+(*)

Ahmed Abdul-Malik: The Music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik (1961, New Jazz): Bass and oud, less of an indulgence in middle easern music than the previous albums although the influence was still here, more tightly interwoven than before. With trumpet (Tommy Turrentine), tenor sax (Eric Dixon), clarinet, cello, and a young drummer named Andrew Cyrille. B+(***)

John Hiatt: Bring the Family (1987, A&M): Eighth album, his first to chart, although my impression that this was his breakthrough hit is dashed by seeing it peaked at 107 -- four later albums (1993, 1995, 2012, 2014) edged into the top-50, peaking at 39 with Mystic Pinball. Band here had Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass guitar), and Jim Keltner (drums) -- they also recorded an album as Little Village. B+(*)

John Hiatt: The Eclipse Sessions (2017 [2018], New West): Recorded in Nashville "in August 2017 as the solar eclipse travelled across the U.S.," although I count more songs (6-5) recorded in October. B+(**)

Biz Markie: I Need a Haircut (1991, Cold Chillin'): Rapper Marcel Hall, dead this year at 57, debut 1988, this was his third album, banned from the market by a federal judge for using an uncleared sample -- the judge was so prejudiced against him that he also referred Markie for criminal prosecution. What ticked plaintiff Gilbert O'Sullivan off was hearing that Markie's use of the sample is "humorous" -- more an affront to his self-conception than than a lost chance to cash in on Markie's added-value. (Of course, race had nothing to do with anything.) The immediate effect of the suit was explained in Markie's next title, All Samples Cleared. The long term effect was to reduce the use of samples, one way hip-hop expanded on popular culture. (Ample sample budgets is one advantage artists like Eminem and Kanye West have enjoyed.) B+(***) [yt]

Biz Markie: Biz's Baddest Beats: The Best of Biz Markie (1987-94 [1994], Cold Chillin'): Leans heavily on his first album, filled out with singles, so "best" is subject to interpretation, but it doesn't skimp on the human beatbox, the old school boasts, not to mention the boogers and doo doo that were his trademark. B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

East Axis [Matthew Shipp/Allen Lowe/Gerald Cleaver/Kevin Ray]: Cool With That (2020 [2021], ESP-Disk): Piano, alto sax, drums, bass. Joint improv, artist order some approximation of fame, though Lowe is the commanding presence here. Cleaver defines "free jazz" as "many contexts and frames of reference held at once." You feel them in the space these artists maneuver through so deftly. [was: A-] A [cd]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Wayne Coniglio & Scott Whitfield: Faster Friends (Summit)
  • Dominican Jazz Project: Desde Lejos (Summit)

Monday, July 19, 2021


Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35855 [35803] rated (+52), 212 [212] unrated (+0).

Lots of records below. Single biggest source of inspiration (by a large margin) was Phil Overeem's latest mid-year list. I think when the list came out there were 33 albums on it I hadn't heard. Down to 10 now, although at Phil's acquisition rate I may still be down 30. Played what I hadn't heard from Robert Christgau's July Consumer Guide, and revisited Sa-Roc (well, also Aesop Rock, but no change there). For what little it's worth, I still consider Sons of Kemet's Black to the Future to be a full-A album, and if that isn't all the Shabaka Hutchings you can handle, he plays his ass off on Anthony Joseph's The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives -- this year's other full-A album. (Well, there's also the Mingus at Carnegie Hall deluxe reissue, which is exactly what I was reminded of when the other saxophonists on Joseph's album weigh in.)

The two Femenine recordings wound up with the same grade, but I think I slightly prefer the more ambient Sub Rosa version. I had them grouped together for a while, but alphabetical-by-artist order insisted. The Sub Rosa looks to be attributed directly to Eastman, but some time ago I decided to attribute classical music to the performer, not the (usually headline) composer (unless the composer is directly involved (as is often the case with recent works). I didn't manage to find Eastman's 1974 original, which would have been filed under his name.

The extra image at the bottom is a down payment on next week's haul, and presented as a puzzle/teaser. I often find an A- record between when I cut off the old week and manage to get a post up, and it's tempting to move them up rather than hold them back. Last week I could have done the same with this week's Arlo Parks record.

We finished streaming Line of Duty (Series 6) and Bosch (Season 7). I was a bit disappointed in the way both wrapped up, but they held our interest until then. Still have a fair number of Murdoch Mysteries and Midsomer Murders to go.

Only thing I've cooked in the last week was a shrimp improv, designed mostly to use up aging ingredients. Started with a shallot, garlic, red bell pepper, preserved lemon peel, shrimp, green olives, capers, parsley, and gluten-free rotini, with various spices (paprika, cumin, thyme, salt & pepper) and butter and lemon juice. I was thinking of Shrimp Bittman, but not actually looking at the recipe.

I need to go to the grocery store today or tomorrow, so I may get more ambitious. Hopes to entertain have been dashed the last several weeks, as various close friends have broken limbs, and we've had personal crises as well.

I have made some progress on making the house safer for cripples: a new bathtub rail (anchored on tile), two new front porch rails, carpet strips on the stairs to the second floor, more grab bars and handles. Should be getting one last railing unit this week. As always, Max Stewart's help was invaluable.

Locked out of the Wichita Eagle website today, and no way to get service on Sunday. It costs a fortune to read their crappy paper, and I'm about done with it.

I'm nearly done with Tom Segev's big biography A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion. After 816 pages, on top of 608 for Jack E Davis' The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, I'm hoping for something a bit easier next. Michael Lewis' The Premonition: A Pandemic Story seems likely to fit that bill. Lewis' previous The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy remains one of the best exposés of the Trump years (even if it was written relatively early in Trump's term, and makes little direct reference to him). Patiently waiting on the shelf are more obviously political books I probably understand well enough already, like Adam Serwer's The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America, and Steve Benen's The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics -- and shook it to death, or maybe we should invoke the line about drowning it in the bathtub? Make no mistake: when Grover Norquist talked about government, he meant democracy.

Here's another link for the trailer to Mike Hull's documentary Betrayal at Attica, which will be streaming at HBO Max starting August 1.

Very disappointed in the near total lack of feedback or even interest shown in last week's Speaking of Which. Probably the last one, at least for a while. Did make a bit of progress writing on memoir this weekend.

Thanks to Joe Yanosik for sending me a copy of his book, A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe. Thin but large format, lots of pictures, lots of records I had never heard of. Glad to see that Pulnoc's legendary Live at P.S. 122 is finally going to be available. I've long had a bootleg cassette of it, but without a cassette player I never got it into my database. (I also had a prejudice against bootlegs for not being genuine products, but the mixtape era messed that up.)


New records reviewed this week:

Snoh Aalegra: Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies (2021, ARTium/Roc Nation): R&B singer Shahrzad Fooladi, born in Sweden, parents Persian, third album. B+(*)

Arooj Aftab: Vulture Prince (2021, New Amsterdam): Pakistani vocalist, studied at Berklee, based in New York since 2009, third album, rather atmospheric. B+(*)

Alder Ego: III (2021, We Jazz): Title of Finnish drummer Joonas Leppänen's debut album (2017), adopted as quartet name for II and III. With trumpet (Tomi Nikku), tenor sax (Jamo Tikka), and bass (Nathan Francis). B+(**) [bc]

The Armed: Ultrapop (2021, Sargent House): Detroit "anonymous hardcore punk collective," formed 2009, fourth album. Has all the murk of metal, but I've managed to keep the volume in check, which makes for tolerable anti-ambient chaos. Utility for that (if any) remains unclear. B

Body Meπa: The Work Is Slow (2020 [2021], Hausu Mountain): Band name may finally force me to convert to UTF-8. After it happens, I may feel thankful, but right now the irritation factor is through the roof. How do you pronounce it? Or is part of the point that you shouldn't even try? I've seen it transliterated as "Mena" or "Metta" or "Meta" (which is what Bandcamp uses for their ASCII-limited domain name), but not (yet) the obvious "Mepa." No vocals, two guitars (Grey McMurray and Sasha Frere-Jones), bass (Melvin Gibbs), drums (Greg Fox) -- note famous rock critic in the mix (although SFJ has voted, very idiosyncratically, in the Jazz Critics Poll). Bandcamp tags suggest they think of this as rock-not-jazz, but after shopping around I filed it under jazz anyway (tagged "ambient fusion"): instrumental, some improv, suggests free even if not committed, I can think of a dozen-plus similar jazz guitar vibes -- mostly more adventurous and/or harsher/noisier, but that doesn't necessarily mean more coherent or listenable, even if the jazz-phobic don't make the connection. A-

Cedric Burnside: I Be Trying (2021, Single Lock): Memphis blues singer/guitarist, son of R.L. Burnside, ninth album since 2006. B+(**)

Matt Caflisch: Runaway (2020, Fat Oak): Minneapolis singer-songwriter, grew up in Eau Claire, first album after playing around 32 years. B+(*)

Jonas Cambien Trio: Nature Hath Painted the Body (2021, Clean Feed): Belgian pianist (also organ on 2 tracks and soprano sax on 1), based in Oslo, with saxophonist André Roligheten (soprano, tenor, bass clarinet) and Andreas Wildhagen (drums). Title is from an Izaak Walton quote, the line ending with "of the fish with whitish, blackish, brownish spots." B+(**)

Pedro Carneiro & Pedro Melo Alves: Bad Company (2021, Clean Feed): Portueguese duo, marimba ("with quarter tone extension") and drums ("prepared"). B+(*) [bc]

Contour: Love Suite (2021, Good Question, EP): Vocalist, electronica producer, from South Carolina, sketches out a trip-hoppy alt-r&b, in eight brief tracks (19:01). B+(*) [bc]

Simão Costa: Beat With Out Byte (2021, Cipsela): Portuguese pianist, has at least one previous album, solo here, subtitle "(Un)Learning Machine." Starts too soft for me to hear, ends loud and percussive, making a strong impression. B+(**) [cd]

Desertion Trio: Numbers Maker (2019 [2021], Cuneiform): Guitarist Nick Millevoi, albums since 2011, recorded Desertion with a sextet in 2016, cuts the dead weight here, keeping Johnny DeBlase on electric bass and switching to Jason Nazary on drums. B+(***) [dl]

Ensemble O/Aum Grand Ensemble: Julius Eastman: Femenine (2020 [2021], Sub Rosa): Most sources credit the composer (1940-90) for this version of his 1974 minimalism-and-more piece (71:13), with the group names relegated to the back cover. Together, they add up to 12 pieces plus voice, recorded in Brussels. B+(***)

Danilo Gallo Dark Dry Tears: A View Through a Slot (2021, Clean Feed): Italian bassist, third group album, allegedly recorded in Nuuk, Grønland on February 30, 2077. Two saxophonists (Francesco Bigoni and Masimiliano Milesi), Jim Black on drums. B+(**) [bc]

Garbage: No Gods No Masters (2021, Infectious Music, 2CD): Seventh album since 1995, one every 4-7 years since 2001. Home base for drummer/producer Butch Vig, fronted by Shirley Manson. Starts strong and true: "The men who rule the world/ have made a fucking mess." "Deluxe Edition" adds a second disc, starting with their impressive 2017 "No Horses" single, ending with the best song here ("Time Will Destroy Everything"), with some pleasing covers for filler. A-

Justin Gerstin: Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena (2020 [2021], Zabap Music): Percussionist, studied around the world, based in Vermont, fourth album, 12 songs, "recorded in a time of Covid by each musician at home," no one appearing on more than 6, but unified by the drums. Wanda Houston's initial array of sound bite quotes on "American History" is a highlight. B+(***) [cd]

Rocio Giménez López/Luciana Bass/Fermin Suarez/Rosina Scampino: Reunion En La Granja (2019 [2021], Discos ICM): Argentinian quartet: piano, guitar, bass, drums. Mostly Ornette Coleman pieces, with one by Paul Motian, and a bit of Ayler paired with "Lonely Woman." B+(***) [bc]

The Goon Sax: Mirror II (2021, Matador): Australian group, third album, nominally a trio (Louis Forster, James Harrison, Riley Jones), all sing and play multiple instruments, with Ross Walker producing and sometimes programming. The Go-Betweens are in their heritage (genetically for Forster), and I invariably like their most derivative/evocative work, but some of their fancier tics throw me. B+(**)

Tee Grizzley: Built for Whatever (2021, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic): Detroit rapper Terry Wallace, third album. A bit gangsta for my taste, but beats and raps plenty sharp. B+(***)

Grofo: Grofo (2020 [2021], Clean Feed): Portuguese quartet, led by Bernardo Tinoco (tenor sax), with João Almeida (trupet), João Fragoso (bass), and João Sousa (drums), 2-3 songs each. B+(**)

Rocco John Iacovone/Tom Cabrera: Out of the Maelstrom (2020 [2021], Unseen Rain): Sax-and-drums duo, socially distanced, like many lockdown recordings, built up through the Internet. Rocco plays alto, tenor, soprano, and bass clarinet, and isn't in a hurry, what with the drums coming later. B+(**)

Iceage: Seek Shelter (2021, Mexican Summer): Danish post-punk band, first EP 2009, fifth album. All original tracks, but feels like some kind of throwback, at least as long as it felt like anything at all. B

Instant Composers Pool & Nieuw Amsterdams Peil: De Hondemepper (2018 [2020], ICP): Dutch groups: the former better known as ICP Orchestra, carrying on after the death (2017) of long-time leader Misha Mengelberg (Guus Janssen, a remarkable pianist in his own right, fills in); the latter a sextet with violin, cello, mandolin/panflute, bassoon, piano, and percussion. Mostly Mengelberg circus pieces, two conductions led by Tristan Honsinger, and old touchstones: pieces by Monk and Nichols. A- [bc]

John Kruth: Love Letters From the Lazaretto (2020 [2021], self-released): Folk singer-songwriter, first album Banshee Mandolin in 1992, moved into world music (especially in TriBeCaStan), has written books on Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Roy Orbison, and Townes Van Zandt. Solo effort here, plays everything. B+(***)

Low Cut Connie: Tough Cookies: The Best of the Quarantine Broadcasts (2020 [2021], Contender): Adam Weiner (piano/vocals) and Will Donnelly (guitar), from Philadelphia, streamed themselves playing covers twice weekly during the lockdown. They picked 23 from more than 500. I liked their first three albums a lot, then found my interest flagging. I'm sure glad I don't have to slog through the lot, but this sampler is short enough to be manageable, and weird enough to be interesting. B+(***)

Lukah: Whe the Black Hand Touches You (2020 [2021], Raw Materials): Memphis rapper, second album, very little info on him, dispute over label and release date. B+(**)

Róisín Murphy: Crooked Machine (2021, Skint): Irish electropop singer-songwriter, started in 1990s in trip hop duo Moloko, five studio albums since 2005, this counts as a remix of 2020's Róisin Machine. B+(*)

Arlo Parks: Collapsed Into Sunbeams (2021, Transgressive): Semi-pop singer-songwriter from London, given name Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, ancestors from Nigeria, Chad, and France, first album after two EPs. I, for one, find "Hope" remarkably reassuring, and less for the lyrics than for the music, something few others have been able to do (Stevie Wonder, I guess). I wouldn't have held it for the sixth single, but it probablly wouldn't have been my first pick either. A-

Pom Pom Squad: Death of a Cheerleader (2021, City Slang): Brooklyn indie band, founded by singer-songwriter Mia Berrin, first album after a couple EPs. Curious covers: "Crimson & Clover," "This Couldn't Happen." B+(**)

J. Peter Schwalm: Aufbruch (2021, RareNoise): Keyboards/electronics, duo with Markus Reuter (electronics/guitar), latter's name below the title. Dark, gloomy ambiance. Sophie Tassignon credited with vocals on two tracks. B+(*) [cdr]

Skee Mask: Pool (2021, Ilian Tape): German DJ/producer Bryan Müller, singles since 2014, third album. Long, available digital and 3-LP but would fit comfortably on 2-CD (18 tracks, 103:14). Love the stutter rhyths with odd embellishments, the slower ones only a bit less. A-

Luís Vicente Trio: Chanting in the Name Of (2021, Clean Feed): Portuguese trumpet player, heard a lot from him since 2013. Trio with bass (Gonçalo Almeida) and drums (Pedro Melo Alves), keeps him front and center. B+(**) [bc]

Wau Wau Collectif: Yaral Sa Doom (2018 [2021], Sahel Sounds): I guess you could call these field recordings, made by Swedish "music archeologist and leftfield musician" Karl Jonas Winqvist, then doctored in Sweden, with bits from 20 musicians here and there. B [bc]

Wild Up: Julius Eastman Vol. 1: Femenine (2021, New Amsterdam): Led by cellist Seth Parker Woods, handful of albums since 2014, I count 17 musicians plus voice, with less electronics and more horns than the Ensemble O/Aum Grand Ensemble version. More dramatic, not necessarily better. B+(***)

Sarah Wilson: Kaleidoscope (2012 [2021], Brass Tonic): Trumpet player, also sings on less than half of these songs, based in Oakland, third album, sextet with Charles Burnham (violin), Myra Melford (piano), Matt Wilson (drums), guitar, and bass. B+(**) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Hasaan Ibn Ali: Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album (1965 [2021], Omnivore): Pianist William Henry Langford Jr., from Philadelphia (1931-80), remembered (if at all) for an album released in 1965 under the drummer's name, The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan. Turns out that he recorded a second album for Atlantic, but it was shelved after Ibn Ali was imprisoned for drugs, and the master tapes were lost in a warehouse fire in 1978. A copy was discovered in 2017, so here it is: quartet with Odean Pope (his first session) on tenor sax, Art Davis (bass), and Kalil Madi (drums). Seven original pieces, plus three alternate takes. Pope is especially impressive, the bassist holds things together, and the pianist cuts against the grain, keeping it interesting. Feels like something that could have been released a decade later in Europe and taken as a sign that jazz still has the spark of life. A-

Don Cherry: The Summer House Sessions (1968 [2021], Blank Forms Editions): Trumpet player, part of Ornette Coleman's legendary quartet, moved to Sweden, recorded this with two groups he had been working with, plus Turkish drummer Bulent Ates. Plays pocket trumpet here, with Tommy Koverhult and Bernt Rosengren on tenor sax, all three also playing flute. B+(*)

Don Cherry's New Researches: Organic Music Theatre: Festival De Jazz De Chateauvallon 1972 (1972 [2021], Blank Forms Editions): Featuring Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos. Cherry plays piano, harmonium, tanpura, and sings, over exotic percussion with with Doudou Goulrand on soprano/alto sax. B+(*)

Alice Coltrane: Live at the Berkeley Community Theater 1972 (1972 [2019], BCT): Detroit pianist Alice McLeod, played with Terry Pollard as a duo and in Terry Gibbs' quartet, met John Coltrane then and married him in 1965. Her spiritual focus sharpened after his death: "By 1972, she abandoned her secular life, and moved to California, where she established the Vedantic Center in 1975," and later the Shanti Anantam Ashram, and wound up only releasing cassettes to her followers. This is transitional, four long space jams. She plays harp, organ, and piano, wedged between the Charlie Haden-Ben Riley rhythm section and three South Asian musicians playing sarod, tabla, and tambura/percussion. The most recognizable pieces are "A Love Supreme" and "My Favorite Things." B+(**) [yt]

Alice Coltrane: Kirtan: Turiya Sings (1981 [2021], Impulse!): "Functional music," meant as an aid to meditation, originally recorded to be distributed exclusively at her ashram during a period where she gave up commercial recording, but not music. The title change (the 1982 cassette was just Turiya Sings) reflects a reframing of the music, stripping it down to just voice and Wurlitzer organ. Not the sort of thing I'm inclined to like, but I take comfort in its becalming aura nonetheless. B+(***)

Eyedea: Thirty Nine Lines (2001 [2021], Crushkill): Minneapolis rapper Micheal Larsen (1981-2020), with DJ Abilities (Eyedea & Abilities) released three 2001-09 albums on Rhymesayers. Thirteen freestyle raps, reminiscent of early Atmosphere. B+(**) [bc]

Indaba Is ([2021], Brownswood): Eight tracks (64:39) by various South African musicians, none I recognize. Also don't quite recognize the township jazz this is supposedly an update on, although I'm familiar with most of the musicians name-checked in the notes. B+(*)

Alan Lomax's American Patchwork (1978-83 [2021], Mississippi): Field recordings -- "miners, moonshiners, and Primitive Baptists in Kentucky; flat-footers, string bands, and Piedmont blues in North Carolina; Cajun cowboys, fiddlers, and zydeco stompers in French-speaking Louisiana; and fife-and-drum ensembles, gospel quartets, former railroad track-liners, levee-camp muleskinners, and players on the pre-war blues circuit in Mississippi -- from Lomax's last tour of the American South, selected from some 350 hours of tapes. B+(***)

Nermin Niazi and Feisal Mosleh: Disco Se Aagay (1984 [2021], Discostan): Disco in Urdu, a "rediscovered synth-pop masterpiece," featuring the 14-year-old singer and her 19-year-old brother, recorded by a label in Birmingham [UK]. Pretty much what it's cracked up to be. B+(**) [bc]

Scott Reeves Quintet: The Alchemist (2005 [2021], Origin): Trombonist, debut 1998, likes big bands, found this little gem on the shelf. Leader plays alto valve trombone, alto flugelhorn, and electronics, with guitar (Russ Spiegel), keyboards (Mike Holober), bass, and drums. B+(**) [cd]

Screamers: Demo Hollywood 1977 (1977 [2021], Super Viaduct, EP): First-wave LA punk band, early demos, five songs (15:31). Never released an album, although there is a 2-CD compilation of demos and live shots (In a Better World, released in 2001), which includes a couple of these songs. Despite the name, much less rage, and more sonic range, than I associate with LA punk. B+(**)

Wallahi Le Zein! ([2021], Mississippi): Compilation "drawing from the deep well of Mauritanian classical music," relased on 2-CD in 2010, and reissued in other formats here. No idea how old the original recordings are. The surface noise on Mohammed Guitar's opener suggests they go way back, but that goes away on later tracks. Long, and strong, on Saharan guitar riffs. B+(***)

Old music:

Alice Coltrane: A Monastic Trio (1967-68 [1998], Impulse!): First album, a year after her famous second husband's death. She plays piano and harp, with Jimmy Garrison on bass and Ben Riley or Rashied Ali on drums. CD opens with Pharoah Sanders on three tracks (only one on the original album), and they leave you wanting more. More impressed with her piano than her harp. B+(**)

Alice Coltrane: Ptah the El Daoud (1970, Impulse!): Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson, on tenor sax and alto flute, with Ron Carter (bass) and Ben Riley (drums). Needless to say, the saxophonists are most impressive. B+(***)

Alice Coltrane: Journey in Satchidananda (1970 [1971], Impulse!): Harp and piano, with Pharoah Sanders on soprano sax, Cecil McBee on bass (Charlie Haden on one track), Rashied Ali on drums, some tambura and oud. B+(**)

Nirvana: Sliver: The Best From the Box (1985-94 [2005], DGC): I thought they were terribly overrated when Nevermind took off, then with only one more album released Kurt Cobain killed himself, achieving an exalted sainthood that Hank Williams, Charlie Parker, and Jimi Hendrix at least put more work into (as did the more directly comparable Jim Morrison). I don't deny that they had some talent: I enjoyed the rumage through the trash they released as Incesticide, and the least intense of one of the posthumous live albums (MTV Unplugged in New York). The "box" here is 2004's With the Lights Out, its three 70+-minute CDs reduced here to one clocking in at 74:34. Credit them with hooks I still recognize on demos so crude demos they have a certain charm, not that I want to ever hear them again. And often a level of intensity I never want to feel again. B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

Sa-Roc: The Sharecropper's Daughter (2020, Rhymesayers): Rapper Assata Perkins, originally from DC, studied at Howard, based in Atlanta, father sharecropped tobacco in Virginia. Races through 15 songs, sharp and urgent. Features include Saul Williams and Black Thought. [was: B+(**)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Simão Costa: Beat With Out Byte (Cipsela) [05-20]
  • Dr. Mike Bogle: Let There Be Light (MBP/Groove) [07-01]
  • East Axis [Matthew Shipp/Allen Lowe/Gerald Cleaver/Kevin Ray]: Cool With That (ESP-Disk)
  • Bob Gorry/Pete Brunelli/Peter Riccio: GoBruCcio (NHIC) [09-01]
  • Mushroom: Songs of Dissent: Live at the Make Out Room 8/9/19 (Alchemikal Artz) [09-10]
  • Mankwe Ndosi and Body MemOri: Felt/Not Said (ESP-Disk) [08-13]
  • Joe Yanosik: A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe: book

Friday, July 16, 2021


Speaking of Which

Last week, I jotted down these tweets for possible use here:

Matthew Yglesias:

I completely believe that the rise in murders has something to do with Floyd and the Floyd aftermath, but the apparent surge in unruly passenger behavior suggests to me a broader kind of social breakdown of which the shootings are just one manifestation.

Steve M reply:

The message of Trumpism is that being an obnoxious asshole is not only fun but virtuous. It's also the message of the right-wing media and GOP shitposters like Ted Cruz and JD Vance.

One tends to automatically assume that something like the uptick in violent crime rates over the past year-plus has more to do with deeper socio-economic shifts, like the desperation many people felt as the pandemic struck and the economy collapsed. I'm not aware of any detailed factor analysis on the increase, so I don't have much to go on other than speculation (which, sure, tends to reinforce one's predilections). One obvious point is that the proliferation of guns, as Republicans sought to politicize them after Obama's win in 2008, and Trump took to even more extravagant levels, has only added to the problem. But I think Yglesias is right about "a broader kind of social breakdown," and also that SM is right that a major part of this breakdown has been the loss of trust and good will that has resulted from Trump's extremely divisive politicization of everything. How extreme Trump's effect on his own people has been was born out when his mob stormed the Capitol building: you couldn't ask for a clearer demonstration of how a sizable slice of the public has lost all respect for the principles and institutions of America and/or democracy. Yet this was just one of hundreds of examples of how Trump and the Republicans put their greed and their naked power interests above the law, and simple decency.

Moreover, the example they set not only encouraged lawlessness in their people, it also tarnished the institutions they legitimately exercised power over, and discredited their positions. I don't know of any incidence of politically motivated crime on the left, but there were isolated instances of looting and vandalism in cities the police had abused and in some cases abandoned -- something not likely to happen where police and courts are viewed as legitimate, fair, and protective.

Like most things, trust is easier broken than repaired. It is especially difficult to restore when the leadership of a major political party is still working hard to tear it down, something Republicans and their propagandists are still very frantically engaged in. One might pray for a convocation of people of good will, but as long as one party believes "being an obnoxious asshole is not only fun but virtuous," the only hope is to vote that party out of existence. Republicans are irredeemable.


Shannon Brownlee/Jeanne Lenzer: The FDA Is Broken: Case in point is the FDA approval of an insanely expensive drug to treat Alzheimers, where even the company's own test evidence shows its "failure to improve symptoms" and "also packs some nasty side effects" -- "three times as likely to suffer brain swelling and hemorrhages as patients given placebo." The approval was granted despite "ten of 11 members of the FDA's advisory committee of outside experts voted against approving the drug (the eleventh abstained)."

David Cohen: Trump on Jan. 6 insurrection: 'These were great people': "The former president described the participants as loving and patriotic, and said Democrats could be blamed for any violence." This is so perverse you have to wonder what the clinical term is for delusion where everything is its opposite. Note that one of those "loving and patriotic" people has since been elevated to coup martyr: See Josh Kovensky: The Deeply Racist Dimensions to Ashli Babbitt's Martyrdom.

Several books are coming out (if not already, then soon enough to leak to the news) on the last year of the Trump presidency, especially the election-to-inauguration period. The books:

  • Michael C Bender: "Frankly, We Did Win This Election": The Inside Story of How Trump Lost (July 13, Twelve).
  • Michael Wolff: Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency (July 13, Henry Holt).
  • Carol Leonnig/Philip Rucker: I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trump's Catastrophic Final Year (July 20, Penguin Press).

Some stories:

Dan Diamond/Hannah Knowles/Tyler Pager: Vaccine hesitancy morphs into hostility, as opposition to shots hardens. Also: Fenit Nirappil: The delta variant is ravaging this Missouri city. Many residents are still wary of vaccines. I don't blame people for being wary, but so-called "conservatives" need to suck it up and show some concern for their fellow Americans. The number of Covid-19 cases in the US declined as vaccines became readily available, but the numbers have started to rise again: cases are +121% over the last 14 days, hospitalized +26%, deaths +9%. Deaths are almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. And cases are way up worldwide, especially in countries which haven't had the first chance to get vaccines (as we have). Also:

By the way, I should also note the appearance of several books on the pandemic, especially on the Trump administration's botched handling of the crisis:

  • Michael Lewis: The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (May 4, WW Norton). Note quote from one of "my characters": "Trump was a comorbidity." Which is to say he was very much a part of the problem, but not its sole cause.
  • Lawrence Wright: The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid (June 8, Knopf).
  • Andy Slavitt: Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the US Coronavirus Response (June 15, St Martin's Press).
  • Yasmeen Abutaleb/Damian Paletta: Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic That Changed History (June 29, Harper).

PS: Just after posting, saw this tweet from UAMS Health:

Tate Ezzi & his pregnant wife, both unvaccinated & hospitalized, got COVID-19 along w/ 4 of their kids. His wife - placed on a ventilator. "We lost the baby. I want other people to know my story so maybe they will think twice about not getting vaccinated." [link]

Amy Gardner: A Texas man was arrested on charges that he voted in the 2020 Democratic primary while on parole. He could face as much as 20 years in prison. This is a pretty grotesque story, starting with the fact that in 20 states this wouldn't even be a crime, much less one punishable with a draconian sentence (the "minimum prison term" of 2 years is almost as horrific as the maximum). Also that the publicity-seeking Texas AG filed the charges in a neighboring county to avoid getting a Houston jury. Not mentioned is the fact that Texas recently passed a law that allows felons to avoid checks when they purchase guns. I can see a case for not allowing people in jail to vote -- mostly having to do with residency, although no reason for that to preclude state and federal ballots -- but don't you actually want people on parole to do things ordinary citizens do? Most of the things parolees are restricted from are behaviors that risk further crime, such as drugs or guns. But what's the risk of recidivism in voting? This is pure discrimination. If anyone is culpable, it's the state and its AG.

Garphil Julien: Assassination of Haitian Leader Highlights Nation's Monopoly-Dominated Economy: It's been hard to get a handle on this event, implemented by Colombian mercenaries and two Haitian-Americans ("translators," they say). The island nation's history of poverty and political violence is generally known, but the staggering inequality gets less press:

In Haiti, the wealthiest one percent controls almost half of the country's wealth. Just over 600 families control 345 corporations. Groups of elite families have monopolistic control of broad swaths of industries through conglomerate structures. Three major banks -- Unibank, Sogebank, and BNC -- control 83 percent of Haiti's banking assets and 75 percent of its loan portfolio. An astounding 70 percent of the loans are in the hands of a mere 10 percent of borrowers. . . . The lack of competition in many industries means inputs in upstream and downstream markets for products are not priced competitively. It also hinders efficiency and productivity in the value chain. In Haiti, monopoly is a major deterrent to development because it creates barriers to entry and sustains anticompetitive practices. Many of these companies benefit from low import duties, import monopolies, tax write-offs, and the awarding of government contracts and state loans.

If inequality in Haiti seems more extreme than in the US, that is less due to the rarefied atmosphere at the top than the failure (so far) of the American right to destroy the safety net that limits poverty and protects most Americans from the most extreme forms of economic predation. Julien offers a telling example in Haiti's failure to build a robust electric grid -- a problem the rich work around by owning their own private diesel-fueled generators, and a problem that the private sector doesn't recognize because possible consumers don't have enough money to make investment in a grid profitable. Julien suggests that Biden's recent anti-monopoly moves could help here, but sounds to me like they need something more, like Green New Deal.

By the way, least surprising article of the week: Alex Horton: US military once trained Colombians implicated in Haiti assassination plot, Pentagon says. All right, maybe "Pentagon denies" would have been less surprising.

Michael Kranish: How Tucker Carlson became the voice of White grievance. I don't have much to add to this piece, other than to note that when I see Carlson (in clips, as I've never watched his show) I'm often struck by the dumbstruck absence of expression on his face, like a robot slowly searching memory banks for some politically right response. After some background, here's a sample:

But on many nights, it is Carlson's White grievance that dominates the show.

He has questioned whether Floyd's death was caused by a police officer and says Black Lives Matter is "poison" for the country. He has promoted a claim, embraced by white nationalists, that "the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate [with] more obedient voters from the Third World."

He has accused Boston University Professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, of promoting racism. He called a top military leader a "pig" for saying he wanted to understand the role racism played in the Capitol attack. And he has said Black people and their White supporters are on a mission to spread "race hate," devoting many of his segments over the past year to bashing the ideas behind critical race theory.

Steve M comments on the article here, and followed that up with another piece, How Not to Profile Tucker Carlson. Another piece, starting with a photo that illustrates my point above: David Badash: Tucker Carlson: 'I've never met a white supremacist in my entire life.'

Eugene Robinson: It's time for progressives and conservatives to put the Cuba canards aside: No need for the "both sides do it" posturing. I've found it impossible to find anything credible on the demonstrations in Cuba or their "suppression," basically because the US media is totally in hock to the cold war propagandists, and they're not just hobbled with "canards" but have lost all credibility. And sure, some people on the left have long been reflexively defensive of Cuba, which doesn't help their credibility. While we might not be able to establish what is happening now, who is doing what, and what might ensue, there are a few basic things we should all be able to agree on: from "liberation" in 1898 to revolution in 1958, the US exploited Cuba as a colony through its corrupt and authoritarian political class, consigning most Cubans to deep poverty; that is what the Cuban people revolted against; US opposition to the revolution implicitly asserts American desire to return to colonial exploitation; the people who left Cuba to escape the revolution are not representative of the Cuban people, and have no stake in the future of Cuba (unless and until they return, a right that refugees generally have); as bad as economic exploitation was, the US-enforced blockade has done even more harm, and is arguably the source of continued impoverishment and repression in Cuba. We've seen, time and again, the folly of trying to topple unfriendly states by strangling the people. Robinson understands at least that much: "Trying to starve the Cuban regime into submission hasn't worked. Flooding it with freedom just might." Moreover, it would be good for Americans to give up on the conceit that we should dictate how other nations are governed, and acknowledge that (like us) people everywhere just want to be able to manage their own affairs, in whatever way they find works best. Also see:

Jason Samenow: Death Valley soars to 130 degrees, matching Earth's highest temperature in at least 90 years; also Death Valley had planet's hottest 24 hours on record amid punishing heat wave. There is debate whether this is the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth (an old reading of 134°F in 1913 is considered suspect), but it is awful hot, and not at all out of line with 120+ highs we've seen recently in cities like Baghdad and Phoenix. More heat:

Luke Savage: The Billionaire Space Race Is the Ultimate Symbol of Capitalist Decadence: That's one way of putting it. I was more interested in the curious phenomenon where insanely rich people get to pursue fanciful projects which no government or rational business would touch. The main examples in the past were big buildings. One wonders whether the human spirit is lifted by extravagances like Versailles, the Taj Mahal, Hearst Castle, or for that matter the Pyramids. It does appear that Bezos, Musk, and Branson are doing things that couldn't pass political or financial muster, things that they can only do because they are super-rich. Is this such a bad thing? I'm not sure, but there sure is a lot of hubris at stake. And it's more than a little troubling to watch them renting their toys with their fellows. Not that I have any desire to democratize their joy rides to the edge of space.

By the way, it should be noted that these ventures are structured as profit-seeking companies (even if much of their short-term value is to shelter profits made elsewhere). Given how thin the market is for $28 million thrills, it seems likely that their longer game is to promote and capture public spending on space, which has little to do with the glamour they seek, and (like "defense spending" ultimately depends on graft. PS: Also see this interview with Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher: Why Space Tourism Will Fall Flat.

Mark Schmitt: The American Left is a Historical Success Story: Only thing that surprises me here is that by focusing on the last 20 years -- part of that story is the growth of left/center think tanks has generated the ideas and personnel behind Biden's turn to the left -- this leaves out a lot of history. Indeed, it's hard to think of anything worth celebrating in American history that didn't start out with a small faction of the left. My own prime example is the New Left of 1965-75, which won popular support for the most important causes of the era: civil rights, peace, women, consumers, and the environment. One can fault the New Left on two major points: unions (considered Old Left, and divided on our issues), and electoral politics. The New Left started with an intrinsic distrust in political power (not least by the liberal elites of the Democratic Party), and never built up a political base able to consolidate, preserve, and build on the gains of that decade -- a weakness which allowed right-wing reaction to grab power, even if they were hard-pressed to reverse the winning principles of the New Left. (Not that they aren't still trying.)

Emily Stewart: America's monopoly problem stretches far beyond Big Tech. I always found it amusing when right-wing think tanks came up with schemes to employ the genius of the free market to solve all manner of problems -- "cap and trade" and "Obamacare" are two examples, famous as Democrats decided they could work with such market ideas, instantly abandoned by Republicans -- while their corporate and financial masters worked tirelessly to subvert the thing that makes markets work: competition. But monopolies and cartels are everywhere, so much so that it's virtually impossible for would-be entrepreneurs to raise money unless they can potentially corner the market. Competition has become something else the private sector is unable to do.

Tech companies get a lot of the antitrust notice these days because they're finding new and more ominous ways of exploiting monopoly power -- most often through network effects. Their high valuation signals that financiers think their potential monopoly profits are extremely high, and they can in turn use that to mop up potential competitors and niche products that could independently develop into threats. Another part of the attention is the worry that the old antitrust laws are not up to the task of protecting competitive markets.

Matt Taibbi: Our Endless Dinner With Robin DiAngelo: Scathing putdown of her new book, Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, which he describes as self-plagiarism of her 2018 book White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (itself the target of a savage Taibbi takedown). Sample: "DiAngelo is monetizing white guilt on a grand scale, and there's an extraordinary irony in the fact that she's got a home-field advantage in this game over someone like, say, Ibram Kendi, because she's more accessible to people like herself, the same phenomenon she decries. Normally I'd salute the capitalist ingenuity. Unfortunately, like Donald Trump, DiAngelo is both too dim-witted and too terrific an entrepreneur to stop herself from upselling a truly psychotic movement into existence." I don't know whether this is a fair description, nor do I much care. We all know nice, well-meaning people with notions and instincts that are rooted in racism, but it rarely seems worth the effort to correct them -- it even seems a bit presumptuous and prejudicial. Isn't it better to build on those nice, well-meaning instincts? I don't wish to belittle the harm caused by racism throughout American history, nor to deny that the past persists into the present, but I also don't see it as the root of all evil. Racism was invented as a rationalization for one group of people to dominate another, but it's not the only one, especially as inequality has increased despite the 1965 passage of civil rights laws meant to end (or at least to reduce) it.

Monday, July 12, 2021


Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35803 [35760] rated (+43), 212 [212] unrated (-0).

I listened to a lot of new non-jazz this past week. I checked off all the unheard records from last week's Dan Weiss list (12/24), and most of the unheard albums on Expert Witness lists by Christian Iszchak and Sidney Carpenter-Wilson. Also picked up a couple records from Phil Overeem's list, although I'm still about 30 down.

All but two records in my (jazz) demo queue are future releases (4 coming out on 7/16, 3 in August, 3 in September). The one I've been remiss on is a 2-LP by Liudas Mockunas and Arfvydad Kaziauskas -- the only vinyl in the queue. I play so little vinyl these days it just seems like too much bother (but I'll try to get to it this week). One of the demos I did play last week was Mario Pavone's last session. I thought I should also include his new Clean Feed album, recorded about a month before, and that got me into belatedly looking at their 2021 releases. Also took a look at my Downloads directory, which is where I found C81.

Quite a few B+(***) albums this week (14). There must be a couple in there that could rate higher, but most did get two plays. The ones I'm most tempted to revisit are by Erez Noga and Sylvie Courvoisier, although Rempis and Tyler are also possibles. (Marina and Navy Blue started out in that group, then got bumped with an extra play.) I wouldn't rule out the 10 B+(**) records either.

A few more mid-year lists:

I haven't looked very hard this week. The Quietus list is not only exceptionally long, but includes a lot of electronica, and even a bit of jazz (thanks to Peter Margasak).

One last music-crit note is that I set up a page for Joe Yanosik's book, A Consumer Guide to THE PLASTIC PEOPLE OF THE UNIVERSE. I'm not selling it, but the page has several links to get you there. I haven't seen the book yet, but understand they're on the way. I've had a guests section for some time, originally set up to host some of Michael Tatum's writings when he didn't have other outlets, so I was pleased to make space for Yanosik when he started writing his own deep-dive consumer guides. (Unfortunately, he didn't offer me any content this time.)


My nephew Mike Hull's documentary on the 1971 Attica Prison revolt, Nelson Rockefeller's murderous response, and the decades-long legal battles to expose what happened and why, will be released on HBO Max in August. Here's the trailer (scraped from Mike's Facebook post):

Expect more publicity in the coming weeks. Mike has been working on this film for eight years now, starting with his efforts to digitize Elizabeth Fink's archives on the various legal cases, a major part of her life for 30+ years. Mike has made the archive available here. (Much of this is also available in the Elizabeth Fink papers, 1971-2015 via Duke University.) An earlier film trailer is here.

For personal background, I wrote a bit about Liz Fink after she died in 2015.

I also want to link to the Buffalo News obituary on Frederic J. Fleron Jr., 83, UB professor emeritus, expert on Russia, especially the line "he took part in Vietnam War protests and the Attica Brothers legal defense." Our connection was not through the latter, but because he married my cousin, Lou Jean, who was every bit as involved -- and who is still active in political causes in Buffalo. Several of the pivotal decisions of my life turned on experiences with "Fritz" (and Lou Jean): I dropped out of high school right after they visited; they talked me into going to my draft physical, reassuring me that I could still refuse induction if I passed (I didn't); when I decided to try going to college, my reward was a trip to visit them in Buffalo -- my first college experience was sitting in on Fritz's poli-sci class, although my much deeper lesson from that week was greatly expanding my taste in food and music. Another line in the obit: "He enjoyed cooking, recipe planning and finding new restaurants." I don't recall him cooking, but he may well have taken it up (at least after divorcing Lou Jean, who was and is an outstanding cook, my greatest inspiration), but few people enjoyed fine food more than he did. Among my acquaintances Liz Fink was one of those few. And I might note that Mike Hull is pretty accomplished in that regard, as well.


New records reviewed this week:

Backxwash: I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses (2021, Ugly Hag): Born and raised in Zambia, based in Montreal, Ashanti Mutinta, raps, sings some, third album, has some metal moves. B+(*)

Bfb Da Packman: Fat Niggas Need Love Too (2021, The Lunch Crew): Heavyweight rapper, raised in Flint, based in Houston. Cracks some jokes, slings some raunch. B+(**)

Brockhampton: Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine (2021, Question Everything/RCA): Wikipedia calls them a "hip hop boy band." Kevin Abstract also has a solo presence, and probably the rest will follow: Matt Champion, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, Joba, Bearface, Jabari Manwa. Several mixtapes before their major label debut in 2018. Second album since. Rap and sing, expertly both, but I pay more attention to the rap lyrics. B+(**)

Burial: Chemz/Dolphin (2021, Hyperdub, EP): British dubstep producer William Bevan, has a couple albums but mostly works on shorter releases, with these two tunes on the long side, at 21:33. First is upbeat, fun. Second is down, ambient, not so much fun. B+(*) [bc]

Cloud Nothings: The Shadow I Remember (2021, Carpark): Indie rock band from Cleveland, Dylan Baldi the singer-songwriter, seventh album (skipping a couple self-released pandemic projects). Above-average for the genre, not that I feel like listening anymore. B+(**)

Alex Collins/Ryan Berg/Karl Latham: Together (2020-21 [2021], Dropzonejazz): Piano-bass-drums trio, seems to be the pianist's first (with a couple side-credits back to 2015). Six standards, counting one by Wayne Shorter. Drummer produced. B+(**) [cd]

Sylvie Courvoisier/Ned Rothenberg/Julian Sartorius: Lockdown (2020 [2021], Clean Feed): Swiss pianist, with reeds (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, shakuhachi) and drums. Nice mix of sharp edges and gentle tones. B+(***) [bc]

McKinley Dixon: For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her (2021, Spacebomb): Rapper, based in Virginia, third album. B+(***)

East Axis [Matthew Shipp/Allen Lowe/Gerald Cleaver/Kevin Ray]: Cool With That (2020 [2021], ESP-Disk): Piano, alto sax, drums, bass. Joint improv, artist order some approximation of fame, though Lowe is the commanding presence here. Cleaver defines "free jazz" as "many contexts and frames of reference held at once." You feel them in the space these artist so deftly maneuver through. A-

Noga Erez: Kids (2021, City Slang): Israeli electropop singer-producer, second album, plays keyboards and percussion. Dry voice, subtle beats, grows on you. B+(***)

The Flatlanders: Treasure of Love (2021, Rack 'Em): Lubbock, Texas band back in 1972, recorded an album that didn't get much notice until 1990, after their solo careers took off: Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock. Regrouped in 2002 when those solo careers were flagging, and they've gone back to the well a couple times since (2004, 2009). Not a great sign that the covers connect first. Ely sounds especially great, Gilmore less so. B+(***)

The Front Bottoms: In Sickness & in Flames (2020, Fueled by Ramen): New Jersey indie group/duo, Brian Sella (guitar/vocals) and Mat Uychich (drums), seventh album since 2008. Hooked for pop. B+(**)

Danny L Harle: Harlecore (2021, Mad Decent): London-based electronica producer, first album after singles going back to 2013, most on PC Music. Lavishly, extravagantly upbeat, almost comically so -- the sort of thing I sometimes relish, yet I'm not quite convinced I should, here anyway. B+(**)

Hearth: Melt (2020 [2021], Clean Feed): Quartet: Mette Rasmussen (alto sax), Ada Rave (tenor sax/clarinet), Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Kaja Draksler (piano). The pianist isn't notable for keeping time of pushing things along, so this tends to scatter (and splat). B+(*) [bc]

Hiatus Kaiyote: Mood Valiant (2021, Brainfeeder): Australian group, third album, edges into neo soul with singer Nai Palm (Naomi Saalfield). B+(*)

Mikko Innanen/Stefan Pasborg/Cedric Piromalli: This Is It (2020 [2021], Clean Feed): Finnish saxophonist (sopranino, alto, baritone), backed by drums and Hammond organ. The organ isn't close to soul jazz models, but provides enough lift to let the saxophonist strut his stuff.. A- [bc]

Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (2021, Heavenly Sweetness): Poet, novelist (The African Origins of UFOs, Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon), singer-songwriter, born in Trinidad in 1966, moved to UK in 1989, eighth album since 2007. Six pieces stretch out, the pointed poems have much to say ("how long do you have to live in a place before you can call it home?"), and the band, which starts jazzy but swings and powers up like Mingus, needs room to breathe. Credits list four saxophonists. Together they're formidable, but the monster solos I'd guess to be the work of Shabaka Hutchings. A

Jupiter & Okwess: Na Kozonga (2020 [2021], Everloving): Congolese band, led by Jupiter Bokondji (vocals/percussion), sextet with two guitars, bass, lots of percussion. B+(***)

Kiwi Jr.: Cooler Returns (2021, Sub Pop): Indie rock group from Toronto, g-b-d plus Jeremy Gaudet vocals, second album, has a new wave pop humor appeal (reminds me of the Rezillos, or maybe the Adverts, but they'd probably prefer the Ramones). B+(***)

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio: I Told You So (2021, Colemine): Organ player, third album, with Jimmy James (guitar) and Grant Schroff (drums). Soul jazz, rather retro when it was invented 60 years ago, so neatly buttoned down you'd almost think that's their concept. B+(*)

Luís Lopes/Lisbon Berlin Quartet: Sinister Hypnotization (2018 [2021], Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, electric, impressive discography since 2007, with Rodrigo Pinheiro (fender rhodes), Berlin represented by Robert Landfermann (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums). Rough wired, ruggedly free. B+(***) [bc]

Marina: Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land (2021, Atlantic): Singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis, from Wales (Welsh mother, Greek father), four previous albums as Marina and the Diamonds, first with her name shortened. Her consciousness is more deeply personal, and more militantly feminist. A-

MIKE: Disco! (2021, 10k): Rapper Mike Bonema, born in New Jersey, lived in London from 10-15, back to Philadelphia then New York, ninth album/mixtape since 2015. B+(**)

Bob Mintzer & WDR Big Band Cologne: Soundscapes (2019 [2021], MCG Jazz): Saxophonist-led big band, a long term interest, dating back to his 1975-77 stretch with Buddy Rich. B+(**) [cd]

Navy Blue: Song of Sage: Post Panic! (2020, Freedom Sounds): Brooklyn rapper Sage Elsesser, professional skateboarder, fashion model, visual artist, second album. Speaks over nondescript synths, conscious, at one point explains, "this is therapeutic." A-

Navy Blue: Ádà Irin (2020, Freedom Sounds): Earlier album, short (11 songs, 31:13). Music and lyrics more cryptic, but he's onto something. B+(*)

Nervous Dater: Call in the Mess (2021, Counter Intuitive): Brooklyn "punk trio" (although I count six credits; first-listed Rachel Lightner: guitar, vocals, saxohphone), second album. B+(**)

Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (2020, Invada, EP): Quickie follow-up to last year's eponymous album, record of the year in some quarters, came out in December to little notice. Four songs, 16:51. Good but not brilliant ones. B+(***)

Mario Pavone/Dialect Trio + 1: Blue Vertical (2021, Out of Your Head): Bassist, died on May 15 this year, recorded this last album on March 25-26, with his Dialect Trio (pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey) plus trumpet player Dave Ballou. B+(***) [cd]

Mario Pavone/The Tampa Quartet: Isabella (2021, Clean Feed): Recorded less than a month earlier, also dedicated to the bassist's late granddaughter Isabella Pavone, a quartet with his son Michael Pavone (guitar), Mike DiRubbo (alto sax), and Michael Sarin (drums). B+(***) [bc]

Liz Phair: Soberish (2021, Chrysalis): Released her masterpiece in 1993, slacked off, last album Funstyle, 11 years ago, marginal but underappreciated. Little change here: "I don't live in a world that appreciates me." None of us do. B+(***)

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Sud Des Alpes (2019 [2021], Aerophonic): Eighth group album since 2007, Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis (alto/tenor), with bass (Ingebrigt Håker Flaten) and two drummers (Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly). B+(***) [dl]

Dawn Richard: Second Line (2021, Merge): From Louisiana, left for Baltimore after Katrina, went through all sorts of gimmicks to get her career started, including a reality TV show that landed her a spot in Diddy's girl group Danity Kane. On her own for a decade now, aims for electrofunk here and hits the mark more often than not, as artificial satisfies as often as authentic. B+(***)

Sleater-Kinney: Path of Wellness (2021, Mom + Pop): Riot grrrl band from the Olympia, Washington scene, based in Portland, tenth album since 1995, first since 1996 without drummer Janet Weiss. I've dutifully listened to all of their albums, bought some, never really liked them (mostly due to the shrieking voices), never quite dismissed them, always thought Weiss was a great drummer. None of that really applies here: the voices have mellowed, the drums too, and while most of this is anodyne, there's nothing to rail against. In fact, I rather like "Bring Mercy." B+(*)

Slide Attack: Road Trip (2020 [2021], SACD): Two trombonists, Howard Levy and Alan Goidel, backed by piano-bass-drums. Inspired, of course, by J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. B+(*) [cd]

Space Quartet: Directions (2019 [2021], Clean Feed): Rafael Toral (electronics), Hugo Antunes (bass), Nuno Morão (drums), Nuno Torres (sax/electronics). First two were on a previous Space Quartet album, with Toral the leader (although everything here is jointly credited). B+(**) [bc]

Tele Novella: Merlynn Belle (2021, Kill Rock Stars): Lockhart, Texas-based "indie-psych band," principally singer-guitarist Natalie Ribbons and bassist Jason Chronis, second album. B+(***)

TØRSÖ: Home Wrecked (2021, self-released, EP): Bay Area hardcore group, three songs, 5:05. Short, intense. B [bc]

Tyler, the Creator: Call Me if You Get Lost (2021, Columbia): Los Angeles rapper Tyler Okonma, started in the Odd Future collective, sixth studio album since 2011. I didn't care for his early work, but he keeps growing. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Diane Delin: Chicago Standard Time (1991 [2021], BluJazz): Violinist, from Chicago, five albums 1997-2006, this short one (5 songs, 28:13) dates back earlier. Quartet, "featuring" Jodie Christian (piano), with bass and drums. One original, nice covers including "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." B+(*) [cd]

Bill Evans: Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings (1969 [2021], Elemental Music, 2CD): This adds to a substantial number of recent releases, mostly on Resonance, of the pianist from this period, mostly live but also some studio recordings made in Europe, like this one. The trio with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell is one of his most striking, with the bass solos almost as interesting as the piano. This ends with a couple cuts with Metropole Orkest strings that I'd probably have cut, but they, too, are lovely. A- [cd]

He's Bad! 11 Bands Decimate the Beats of Bo Diddley ([2021], Slovenly): "Ten years in the making," which suggested this project started around 2010. Eleven bands I've never heard of (ok, except for Rocket 808), True Sons of Thunder claiming two tracks with "Bad Trip pt. 1" and "Bad Trip pt. 2." Probably metal bands, didn't even recognize this as Diddley until I cranked the volume down and heard "Mona." B

The Trojan Story (1961-71 [2021], Trojan, 3CD): British record label, founded in 1968, became a major player in reggae music although they were eclipsed by Island in the 1970s. The first of several releases of this title came out in 1971, and it's not clear that anything here was recorded later. Opens with Lord Tanamo calypso "Invitation to Jamaica," which sounds earlier than 1961, but that seems to be when he started. Sanctuary acquired the catalog in 2001, and I've listened to a lot of their reissues, so I know that it wouldn't be hard to assemble a 3-CD box that rivals Island's canon-defining Tougher Than Tough, but this only rises to that level on the shared songs. Nonethless, much of the rest is interesting. B+(**)

Old music:

C81 (1981, NME/Rough Trade): Sampler, promoted by NME and released on cassette tape, the original running 24 tracks (79:39), mostly post-punk/new wave bands. Some groups on the way up, some down, some just hanging around. B+(*) [dl]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Diane Delin: Chicago Standard Time (BluJazz)
  • Justin Gerstin: Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena (Zabap Music) [07-01]
  • Dave Miller Trio: The Mask-erade Is Over (Summit) [07-16]
  • Sarah Wilson: Kaleidoscope (Brass Tonic) [07-16]

Friday, July 9, 2021


Speaking of Which

No need for an introduction this week. The point here is not to try to cover anything. Just to note a few things, often as springboards for pet peeve rants (err, insightful comments).


David Atkins: Conservatives Have No Plan to Win the Culture War. They Intend to Rule Anyway. This spins off Tanner Greer's "excellent essay" ( Culture Wars Are Long Wars), admitting that serious writings from the right are few and far between, then punching enough holes in the thesis to make you wonder why he's worth the bother. The key line in Greer's essay is in bold: "Culture wars are fought for the hearts of the unborn." This reminds me of Paul Feyerabend's Against Method: scientific revolutions occur not when older scientists realize that there are better answers than the ones they had learned, but when they retire and die and younger scientists come along. Greer's complaint is that conservatives today have given up on forging ideas to appeal to future generations, and as such their current culture war salvos, leaning so heavily on authoritarian force, have lost appeal to younger generations. He contrasts this to Hayek, whose ideas written up in the 1940s finally became influential in the 1980s. It's not a very good example: Hayek (and his apostle Milton Friedman) never had any broad-based following beyond the ultra-rich libertarian right, which became politically powerful in the 1980s by camouflaging their agenda to exploit the backlash against the egalitarian and anti-war political movement of the 1960s (which really did pervade the culture of the period -- which is part of the reason those ideas persist despite the right's political efforts; the other part is that the right's agenda has repeatedly failed). Greer advises: "Values must be forged. Utopias must be imagined. Ideas must be tailored for mass intellectual appeal." But the right has given up appealing to the intellect. Their appeal is strictly emotional, requiring believers to ignore reality as well as reason. But if it weren't, it would be even less effective: the central idea of conservatism is that hierarchies are natural, normal, and necessary, which has always been a tough sell, especially as the people at the bottom feel the dead weight and desperation of those on top. Americans got rid of one oppressive hierarchy in 1776, another in 1865. The political movements of the 1930s and 1960s took aim at various hierarchies, which is why conservatives hate them so much. But they have nothing else to offer, so of course they've reduced themselves to pure hate.

By the way, Atkins has been writing a number of political essays that aren't exactly deep but try to look beyond the immediate fracas. See:

  • The Senate and Supreme Court Are Broken. Stop Trying to Save Them and Fix Them Instead. But can you fix them? Democrats need to win election by such large landslides the intrinsic anti-democratic inequities are overwhelmed.
  • If GOP Leaders Are Innocent, Why Sabotage the Insurrection Commission? Reasonable rhetorical question, but I suspect the answer is more prosaic: (a) the whole thing was embarrassing, but (b) the essence of Trumpism is to never apologize for anything you fucked up (which in Trump's case is just about everything).
  • Bipartisan Gestures on Infrastructure Won't Save Us from a Climate Apocalypse: Not least, because we're already there. Sure, there are still things that one can do to prevent even greater disasters, but disaster management is the more pressing need, and one that is proving inadequate pretty much everywhere. Bipartisan bills are supposed to be superior because everyone has a stake in making them work, but politicians like them because they spread the blame around. But since Gingrich took over in 1994, Republicans have only consented to bipartisan bills when (a) it would split the Democratic lawmakers from the party base (e.g., NAFTA), or (b) Republicans needed a bailout but couldn't pass one due to their own right-wing opposition (e.g., the bank bailout of 2008, and the first pandemic bailout of 2020). Bipartisanship is big right now because the balance of power margins are so narrow, but politically Democrats should pass what they can with whatever margins they can muster, or make Republican obstruction the campaign issue of 2022/2024. To make the latter point, it helps to give Republicans a chance to do the right thing, even if you expect them to fail. On climate, see: Chris Saltmarsh: Climate Change Disaster Isn't a Future Threat -- It's Already Here.

Will Bunch: Live free and die: Inside the bizarre political philosophy of America's unvaccinated. Last fall, when my doctor asked me whether I was going to get vaccinated when it became possible, I remembered an old quip: "always take drugs when they are new, while they still work." Implicit here is the fact that many drugs, even after they've been approved by the FDA, turned out to not work so well and/or have side-effects that ultimately caused them to be withdrawn (e.g., Vioxx). Some degree of wariness is reasonable, especially given that the pharmaceutical biz is one of the most rapaciously profit-driven in a nation full of greed and plunder. On the other hand, such stories about vaccines are far and few between. When I was growing up, the great fear was polio, and I remember getting both Sabine and Salk vaccines, as well as vaccine for the ancient (and now eradicated) scourge of smallpox. In recent years, I've gotten flu shots every years, and since they've become available, I've never had an adverse reaction, nor have I gotten flu. I didn't bother looking at technical details at the time, but it looks like the mRNA technology is intrinsically safer than many methods of vaccine design. And while the FDA didn't spend as much time as usual testing the vaccines, the real world application of them has been massive, and closely monitored, bearing out their advertisements for safety and efficacy. If the decision on whether to get vaccinated or now was strictly personal, I don't see any reasonable grounds for avoiding the shot. On the other hand, given the transmissibility and severity of the virus, the fact that most people around the world haven't had access to the vaccines, and the permeability of the world's borders, the decision really goes beyond deciding personal risks: your failure to get vaccinated increases the risks of other people becoming ill, of possibly dying, and of further spreading the virus, allowing it to further mutate. I'd argue that all this adds up to not just a personal but a social, indeed a national responsibility to get vaccinated. So it's fair to say that those who do refuse to do so are: (a) cowards, (b) hate Americans (if not necessarily such totems of Americanism as flags and guns), and (c) do not care whether the economy chokes on their toxic fear and ignorance. Of course, the article also suggests that they are (d) stupid and (e) have vile politics.

By the way, the odious Marc Thiessen has another op-ed arguing Give Trump credit for the vaccines, based on the dubious proposition that Trump's followers would rush to get vaccinated if it was seen as affirming rather than rejecting their hero. It's true that Trump was president while the vaccines were being developed, and that the federal government put a lot of money into vaccine development and committed a lot of money to buying those vaccines. There is no chance that any other president would have done less, but that wouldn't have stopped Trump from claiming credit -- if only he wanted it, something he has wavered on, especially after he recovered from his own bout with Covid-19, and significantly increased his denials of the danger of the illness (despite growing numbers, which peaked while he was preoccupied with plotting his insurrection). Even now, if Trump wants credit for the vaccines, he doesn't need Democrats (or Thiessen) to give it to him. He can claim it on his own. The simplest way would be to demand proof of vaccination to attend his rallies, with those lacking it being offered vaccination on the spot. He won't do that, because he's a coward, and they won't agree to it, because he's not their real leader: he's just a blowhard fool who makes them feel better about themselves, and superior to all the other Americans they so hate.

Jelani Cobb: Derek Chauvin's Trial and George Floyd's City. I don't have much to say about this, but this is a valuable piece of coverage. I'm not someone who thinks justice should be measured by the prison terms given to offenders. Indeed, I'd say that it's impossible to say now whether the 25 year sentence given to Chauvin is too much or too little, but that has more to do with our inability to foresee the future than any intrinsic notion of justice. What we can say is that Chauvin was convicted on overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence, and that his sentence isn't out of line with common practice. I'll also note that the article isn't just about Chauvin and Floyd, as they cannot be isolated from the larger political context. There is, for instance, a story about "a trumpeter named Keyon Harrold" -- not the way I would have phrased it, as he's well known to me as a brilliant musician -- which is both trivial and profound. I recall that after Obama was elected president, a lot of liberals thought the occasion was self-congratulatory proof that the American people had finally overcome their racist past. What happened next was that the racists doubled down, and Republican political opportunists took advantage of their energy. It may not be the case that more Americans are racist now than in 2008, but the political discourse is much more racially charged. Convicting Chauvin puts a little bit of a damper on that, but is also an outlier event that doesn't go far toward settling the much deeper problem of excessive police violence.

Jen Kirby: Can Biden do anything to stop ransomware attacks? With the Internet offering instant global communication, he'll need a lot of international cooperation, which means dialing back the tensions and animosities that undergird America's imperial belligerence. But we need a deeper moral shift: we need to make crime less attractive and less appealing, which will only happen if the "rules-based order" is viewed as fundamentally just and secure. It's easy to see why Russia is at the center of the ransomware crisis: when Communists converted to Capitalism, they kept their view of the latter as a criminal racket where greed trumps all other concerns. Russia today is often viewed as a mafia state, with Putin as a mob boss. On the other hand, it was not Putin but Yelstin (America's favorite) who turned Russia's resources over to crime bosses, and set up the environment Putin has struggled to manage, to sanitize, to legitimize. But America is also a criminal-minded oligarchy -- most blatantly under Trump, but his removal from the presidency has yet to change fundamental power relationships, especially in business and in the "security services." The US is at least as committed to cyberwarfare as Russia, China, or any other state you could mention (even Israel), and as such is a fertile source of cybercriminals. Americans culture has long embraced the pursuit of wealth and power, while blurring the lines between criminality and "legitimate" means, and that has only increased as the US right, with its faith in unregulated capitalism and its penchant to use force, both at home and abroad, to protect the privileges of the rich. I date the cultural shift to two Vietnam War artifacts: the TV series It Takes a Thief (1968-70), and more dramatically to the 1967 movie The Dirty Dozen. Both argued that criminals were better suited to government missions, most likely an admission that the government had itself crossed the line. By the time of The Sopranos (1999-2007), the mobsters justified their criminal acts as soldiers and/or businessmen. The show may have been meant to expose such conceits, but it perpetrated them nonetheless. Nowadays it's hard to find a police procedural that doesn't turn on quasi-legal hacking. Culture reflects and confirms broader, possibly less coherent social views. I don't blame these works for the sea change in public morality. I see deeper sources, especially in war -- which inevitably becomes more desperate and brutal the longer it lasts and the more fruitless it has obviously become -- and in the post-WWII embrace of capitalism as a crusade to be imposed on the post-colonial world. Also in the inequality and injustice that political support for oligarchy has fostered.

I recognize that changes in public morality occur slowly and fitfully, but the problem of ransomware illustrates the need, and possibly points the way. We live in an increasingly complex world, which more than ever depends on conscientious engineering and management of technology. It's hard to get that is a system that depends on profit-seeking businesses and self-serving bureaucracies hiding behind "national security" codes. We need to reduce the profit incentives behind crime, and we need to open up technology and insist on its public utility. There are ways to do this, but I can't go into all of that here. But I do want to mention the absurdity of America's conventional "anti-terrorism" mentality. For example, Tyler Cowen wrote:

What about military drone attacks on ransomware terrorists? It might be an option if they are in a relatively weak country, but that hardly is likely with Russia. . . Putin seems happy to see the U.S. squirm, and the government has not been able to rein in many of his other misdeeds. . . . Ultimately, the primary long-run solution is for businesses to pay for more secure systems. . . . Health care providers and insurers might have to become a bit more like the CIA. None of this will stop ransomware attacks. But it likely will cause them to decline.

Cowen's world-view is a dead end. Do we really want hospitals to be run as covertly and unaccountably as the CIA? Do we want hospitals to be as expensive to run as the CIA is? It's hard to tell what value (if any) the CIA produces, but the most likely net answer is: not much. (Tim Weiner's big history of the CIA is called Legacy of Ashes.) The essential key to a functioning economy is trust, an insight as old as the Golden Rule. Without it, we reasonably become paranoid, and the quest for security overwhelms every other aspect of our lives. Cowen's argument is that as individuals we have to protect ourselves against attacks on trust, because he cannot conceive of doing so as a society. Isn't that carrying individualism a bit too far? Won't doing so end with Hobbes' "war of all against all"?

Paul Krugman: What Underlies the G.O.P. Commitment to Ignorance?, and Only the Incompetent Need Apply: The former was occasioned by Tucker Carson's attack on Gen. Mark Milley ("He's not just a pig, he's stupid") for saying that it's important "for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read." As Krugman points out, "Closed-mindedness and ignorance have become core conservative values." He could have added that's because it's the only way to protect the rotten heart of conservatism. The latter piece came from reading Nightmare Scenario, by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, on Trump's mishandling of the pandemic, but he couldn't help working Stephen Moore into the narrative. Krugman has long recognized that Moore is among the stupidest people to ever claim to be an economist, but he claims to have been unaware of "the special destructive role played by Moore."

By the way, Krugman also wrote an interesting piece on Trump's tariffs and their lingering effects on supply chains: The Trumpian Roots of the Chip Crisis. Back when this was happening, I tried to argue that tariffs only make sense when combined with some kind of central planning -- you protect the industries you want to develop -- but America is allergic to state direction, and open to all sorts of corrupt lobbying, so all Trump wound up doing was shoring up failing industries that were no longer competitive. Krugman's take is the mirror image: that tariffs introduced uncertainty that made the private sector less likely to invest in new capacity, leading to our current "booming with bottlenecks" economy.

German Lopez: How political polarization broke America's vaccine campaign: This is something that's going to have to be researched much more systematically, but my impression is that Republican denialism has gone through several stages. The first was built around the belief that nothing (certainly not a microscopic virus) should get in the way of businesses making money. But that's not how the pro-business faction lines up popular support in the GOP. They line it up by scaring and taunting the base, by denying the existence of real threats and by playing up the spectre of phony ones. Denialism at that point took the form of denying that young, healthy people would get seriously ill, so why force them to take precautions. By any objective measure, that's turned out to be bullshit, which would have been easy enough to admit once vaccines became available. From that point, the pro-business crowd should have lined up behind everybody getting vaccinated so business could return to normal. But by then, they had already ceded so much ground to the crazies that they had lost control. And, of course, it didn't help that the Democrats all lined up dutifully behind the vaccination regime, because that just confirms their paranoia to the right-wing base. And at this point it's hopeless to think that Republican "leaders" could turn their "followers" around. Republican politicians have learned to fear their base, so they can't be seen as attacking them. Same for Trump. He can't stand up because he's never led anything. He's never been anything but a reflection of the Fox-deranged base, which makes him their stooge, nothing more.

It's probably true that there will always be stupid people, but the genius of the Republican Party is that they've convinced so many stupid people that they deserve to rule the world. Trump's uniqueness is that he actually got the audition. Needless to say, it didn't go well.

Gary Peller: I've Been a Critical Race Theorist for 30 Years.Our Opponents Are Just Proving Our Point for Us. "It makes sense that the depictions of CRT by its opponents bear so little resemblance to our actual work and ideas. Like the invocation of Willie Horton in the 1980s and affirmative action after that, the point of those who seek to ban what they call 'CRT' is not to contest our vision of racial justice, or to debate our social critique. It is instead to tap into a dependable reservoir of racial anxiety among whites." Many more issues appeared on the efforts of the right to ban CRT (e.g., Kimberlé Crenshaw: The panic over critical race theory is an attempt to whitewash U.S. history), but it's refreshing to read one that actually explains the theory itself.

Mandy Smithberger/William Hartung: What Price "Defense"? There's another exception to what I said above about bipartisanship: defense spending, currently approaching $1.3 trillion per year, even with operations in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down. Also at TomDispatch: Andrew Bacevich: So It Goes, from his book After the Apocalypse: America's Role in a World Transformed. Daniel Larison summed up the book: Bacevich: Get out of NATO, shut down combatant commands. (While looking for this, I also saw this 2013 op-ed by Bacevich: Time for the United States to Leave NATO.)

Jennifer Taub: How to Understand the Trump Tax Indictment. This is a pretty good explanation of what's happened so far, with a side glance to the broader world of tax evasion. Conclusion: "For Trump, the worst is yet to come." Gossip for junkies: Alex Henderson: A former federal prosecutor thinks Ivanka may be the next person who gets indicted in Trump Org case.

Rebecca Traister: Biden's Big Left Gamble: They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Biden certainly qualifies as old, and his 50+ year career in politics offers nothing to suggest that he's likely to break with the dominant neoliberal model that made Obama and the Clintons so much a part of the Reagan-Trump era yet, well, times have changed, illusions that Democrats have doggedly held have disappeared, and people have started to realize that time is running out. I've argued that anyone who takes current problems seriously must look to the left for answers, and we're seeing some of that. But it also seems to be true that he's looking back to the New Deal. He's not that old, but the America he grew up in was radically transformed by Franklin Roosevelt, and much was lost (for all but the rich) as parts of the New Deal were ripped apart (sometimes with Biden's help). "Biden's team insists that he alone is the engine behind his administration's progressivism, that he has not changed, that he has always been this person." That will eventually prove to be a limit, but to start out it's his strength. Latest update: Joan McCarter: Biden signs sweeping anti-trust executive order to make life fairer for American workers, consumers.

John Washington: The Human Cost of 10 Years of Conflict in Syria: When the "Arab Spring" swept into Syria the government of Bashar Al-Assad was broadly unpopular, but each faction had their own mutually exclusive reasons, and many had more to fear from the others than from Assad. A sensible solution would have been to hold elections and let parliamentary factions trade off with one another. But Syria had been subject to a series of coups and dictatorships, which finally stablilized under the Assad family, and they built a political and military machine that didn't trust their people -- in part because the leadership drew heavily from the minority Alawite population, and in part due to hostile neighbors (especially Israel, but also Turkey and Iraq, plus complications from their long-standing intervention in Lebanon). So Assad did what Syrian governments had done in the past: attacked dissenters militarily. And adjacent nations did what they had often wanted to do: pick factions and subsidize war. The conflict has long reminded me of the Spanish Civil War, where a local struggle was exacerbated by some foreign interests and hampered by others (often through indifference). The last decade hasn't made Assad seem any more legitimate, but it's hard to see any scenario that could dislodge him, so the quickest path to peace would be to accept his continued rule, and try to negotiate non-vindictive and non-discriminatory terms in exchange for aid in rebuilding. But we should be clear that as bad as Assad has behaved during the war, the far greater offense was the (sometimes clandestine) intervention of other countries in the war. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah (in Lebanon) supported Assad, so presumably continue to have some influence. (Russia, in particular, was able to get Syria to decommission its chemical weapons, not that the US gave them much credit.) Iraq had split interests, with Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis (primarily through ISIS, which straddled the border) had their own interventions. The Saudis, UAE, and possibly other Persian Gulf states backed Islamist factions separate from ISIS. Israel and Turkey used the war as cover for their own perverse interventions (Israel against Iran/Hezbollah, Turkey against the Kurds). And the US, well, mostly fought against everyone, including itself, marking itself as schizophrenic and nihilist, even while spouting the usual liberal democracy propaganda.

Monday, July 5, 2021


Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35760 [35715] rated (+45), 212 [205] unrated (+7).

Back in my software engineering days, someone came up with the notion of "train-leaves-the-station" release scheduling, where you pick a date (as opposed to a set of needed functionality) and release whatever you have done by the date. That way you get regular releases, even if you rarely get done what needs to be done. On the other hand, content-driven releases invariably took too long.

Releasing Music Week every Monday is a "train-leaves-the station" affair. Whatever's in by a cutoff date goes out, regardless of whether it fits together, or is obviously incomplete. Moreover, if I don't feel like writing an introduction, I don't have to. The fact is, I have nothing much to say this week. But I do have 45 records below, so that will have to do.

I should note that the Helen Merrill dive was the result of a question about Clifford Brown, the Grace Jones another question, and the Rolling Stones revisit followed a Robert Christgau Big Lookback. I'm also a bit worried that I haven't listened to the Mingus enough for the whole thing to merit that A grade, but the the second set sure does, and the Don Pullen piece added to the second disc sets the jams up perfectly.

By all means, please ask more questions.


I did collect a few more links to mid-year lists:

As I've noted, the only thing I'm doing with these lists is a quick scan and check to make sure the albums are in the Music Tracking file.

Let me also jot down the list Dan Weiss posted in Facebook, with my grades (where I have them) in brackets. His list wasn't numbered, but isn't in any typical unranked order):

  1. Jeff Rosenstock, Ska Dream [*]
  2. Olivia Rodrigo, Sour [A-]
  3. Kiwi Jr., Cooler Returns []
  4. Mach-Hommy, Pray for Haiti [***]
  5. Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales [*]
  6. Palberta, Palberta5000 [*]
  7. Navy Blue, Songs of Sage: Post Panic! []
  8. Danny L Harle, Harlecore []
  9. Bfb da Packman, Fat N*ggas Need Love Too []
  10. Cloud Nothings, The Shadow I Remember []
  11. Ashnikko, Demidevil [**]
  12. Billy Nomates, Emergency Telephone [EP] []
  13. Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg [A-]
  14. Girl in Red, If I Could Make It Go Quiet [***]
  15. Sleaford Mods, Spare Ribs [***]
  16. No-No Boy, 1975 [A-]
  17. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist, Haram [**]
  18. Liz Phair, Soberish []
  19. Madlib and Four Tet, Sound Ancestors [*]
  20. MARINA, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land []
  21. Tyler, The Creator, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST []
  22. Nervous Dater, Call in the Mess []
  23. TØRSÖ, Home Wrecked [EP] []
  24. Burial, Chemz/Dolphin [EP] []

He also has a much longer singles list, which I won't bother with. The only one I recognize there is Olivia Rodrigo's "Brutal," although I'm sure I've heard more. Singles don't stick to my brain like they used to.

By the way, here's the best meme I've seen on Facebook in a fair while: Climate Change: A Timeline. Even better than the Crowson cartoon I posted on July 4. Had to fish the latter out of my Facebook photo file as it's no longer in my feed. Mostly food pics there, some pretty memorable. But the jambalaya I made last week was pretty awful.


New records reviewed this week:

Gary Allan: Ruthless (2021, EMI Nashville): Country singer, from California, last name Herzberg, tenth album since 1996, most gold, first since 2013, co-wrote one song. Has a nice, even flow. B+(*)

Keshav Batish: Binaries in Cycle (2021, Woven Strands): Drummer, comes from a line of musicians in India, studying at UC Santa Cruz, first album, quartet with alto sax (Shey Sethov), piano (Lucas Hahn), and bass (Aron Caceres). Five originals, distinctive covers of Monk and Ornette Coleman. B+(**) [cd] [07-10]

Lucy Dacus: Home Video (2021, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Virginia, third album (not counting supergroup Boygenius). Cranks up the guitar, and the voice is clear. B+(**)

Doja Cat: Planet Her (2021, Kemosabe/RCA): Amala Diamini, from Los Angeles, third album, trap beats, sings more than raps, doesn't have the voice for it, but has vision and style, which makes her something more than a conceptualist. Raised my hopes, then dashed them. [Thumbs down: "Ain't Shit."] B+(*)

Elkka: Euphoric Melodies (2021, Technicolour, EP): House producer Emma Kirby, second EP (5 songs, 28:04). B+(**)

Chrissie Hynde: Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan (2021, BMG): Pretenders leader since 1980, third solo project since 2014. Nine Dylan songs, none what you'd call signature pieces, done up fairly simply, mostly her voice and guitar. B+(**)

Loraine James: Reflection (2021, Hyperdub): London-based electronica producer, third album. Rough edges, broken glass, squibs of trip-hoppy vocals. B+(*)

Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange (2021, Rounder): Singer-songwriter from Tennessee, second album, member of folk supergroup Our Native Daughters, leads off with the anthem "Black Myself." That's the best thing here. No problems with the change-up ballad that follows, but she never changed back. B+(*)

LSDXOXO: Dedicated 2 Disrespect (2021, XL, EP): Raushan Glasgow, from Philadelphia, DJ/producer, has two albums. Four tracks, 16:19, hard beats, trivial lyrics (e.g., "I'm a sick bitch/ I like freak sex"). B+(**)

The Mark Masters Ensemble: Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster (2019 [2021], Capri): Originally a trumpet player, Masters is a big band arranger/leader with more than a dozen records going back to 1984. Art Baron is a trombonist who played in Ellington's final orchestra and later with Mercer Ellington. Jimmy Blanton and Ben Webster were stars in Ellington's 1940-42 orchestra, Blanton's arrival in 1939 and death in 1942 defining one of Ellington's most legendary periods. Seven Ellington songs, three by Billy Strayhorn, and Juan Tizol's "Perdido." Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet. B+(***) [cd]

Bob Mintzer & WDR Big Band Cologne: Soundscapes (2019 [2021], MCG Jazz): Saxophonist-led big band, a long term interest, dating back to his 1975-77 stretch with Buddy Rich. B+(**) [cd]

Modest Mouse: The Golden Casket (2021, Epic): Indie band based in Portland, had a run from 1996-2009 with 6 Christgau A- records (4 by me), only their second album since. Dense, complex, may deserve more attention than I feel like giving it. B+(**)

The Mountain Goats: Dark in Here (2021, Merge): It's getting harder and harder for me to get a grip on mainstream rock records -- I'm not retaining the words, the melodies all sink into sameness, nothing stands out. I should probably give up on trying to review them. But this does seem special, even if I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe the brightness of his voice against the dark of recent history? A-

Laura Mvula: Pink Noise (2021, Atlantic): Birmingham, UK, singer-songwriter, third album, gets slotted as neo-soul but this is closer to crunchy (if not especially memorable) electropop. B+(*)

Marius Neset: A New Dawn (2021, ACT Music): Norwegian alto saxophonist, based in Copenhagen, albums since 2008. Solo. B+(*)

Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: Hope (2020 [2021], Northern Spy): Guitarist, sings here, fifth group album with Shahzad Ismaily (bass/keyboards) and Ches Smith (drums). Leads with anti-Trump politics. Ends with heroic guitar. B+(***)

Sault: Nine (2021, Forever Living Originals): British mystery group ("pseudonymous"), black-identified, first album in 2019 titled 5, second later that year 7. Their next two albums, both Untitled, became the surprise soundtrack to last summer, when fear of pandemic was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protests. I preferred the first batch, probably because the debt to Chic was more obvious, but they continue to be intriguing as they evolve. I'm still unsure of this one. B+(***)

Slayyyter: Troubled Paradise (2021, Fader Label): Hyperpop singer-songwriter Catherine Slater, from Kirkwood in the St. Louis suburbs, first album after a 2019 mixtape. What's hyper is mostly the drums, while the porn quotient is toned down (or maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention, which I'd count as the same thing). B+(*)

Tune-Yards: Sketchy (2021, 4AD): Merrill Garbus, fifth album. Christgau A-listed the first four, but didn't rush to judgment here. I've never gotten her/them, so I figured no harm in waiting before I check this off my list. I don't mind the chaos, but can't tell what (if anything) it's covering up. And still don't care. B

Faye Webster: I Know I'm Funny Haha (2021, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter, based in Atlanta, fourth album. Not as funny as she thinks, but pleasant in its own low-key way. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Can: Live in Stuttgart 1975 (1975 [2021], Mute, 2CD): German experimental rock group, first album 1969, used vocalists early but had no vocals at this point, becoming increasingly ambient, a quartet with Michael Karoli (guitar), Irmin Schmidt (keybs), Holger Czukay (bass), and Jaki Leibezeit (drums). Five numbered pieces here, three for 70:09 on the first disc, 2 for 19:56 on the second. Fairly impressive, in their own limited way. B+(***) [bc]

Miles Davis: Mercy, Miles! Live at Vienne (1991 [2021], Rhino, 2CD): Recorded a couple months before the trumpet giant died in September, in France, where he was soon to become "a Knight of their Legion of Honour." With Kenny Garrett on sax, funk keyboards, bass, drums. Eight songs (77:28, two each by Prince and Marcus Miller, only one with Davis' name on it. B+(*)

Arne Domnérus Quartet: Dompan at the Savoy (1990 [2021], Phontastic): Swedish saxophonist (1924-2008), Wikipedia credits him with 44 albums as leader, many more on the side. He plays alto and clarinet here. Cover credits "featuring Ulf Johansson" (piano/trombone), and lists Sture Åkerberg (bass) and Aage Tangaard (drums). Open with an original, then follow with eleven swing-era standards. B+(**)

Charles Mingus: Mingus at Carnegie Hall [Deluxe Edition] (1974 [2021], Atlantic, 2CD): The bassist had floundered a bit in the late 1960s, but by 1974 he had rebounded with a superb quartet which would out-live him by a decade, led by George Adams (tenor sax) and Don Pullen (piano), with his long-time drummer Dannie Richmond. They went on to record his last great albums (Changes One and Changes Two) later in 1974, but for this concert he added Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax) to make a quintet, and also Jon Faddis (trumpet). They played a set together, then returned with extra saxophonists (Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Handy, Charles McPherson) to blast through two 22-24 minute Ellington jams ("Perdido" and "C-Jam Blues"). The latter were released as an LP (and later CD), one of my favorite examples of what a great bandleader Mingus could be. The Deluxe Edition restores the whole concert, starting with three long Mingus pieces plus one by Pullen. The restored parts are pretty good, with Pullen the essential star player. But the jams still blow the socks off everyone. A

Old music:

Can: Landed (1975, Virgin): German rock group, debut 1969, sixth album. Some vocals on first five songs, leading into the 13:21 "Unfinished" instrumental, not quite spacey because it never really takes off. B+(**)

Grace Jones: Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions (1980-85 [1998], Island, 2CD): From Jamaica, came to New York and worked mostly as a model. Recorded three albums for Island in the 1970s, but got little notice until her fourth, Warm Leatherette, in 1980, with Sly & Robbie creating a dub/new wave dance synthesis. This offers 6/8 cuts from Warm Leatherette ("Bullshit" is a major loss), 8/9 from Nightclubbing, 5/7 from Living My Life, the title single from Slave to the Rhythm, and 5 non-album songs, many in long/dub versions ("She's Lost Control" has one of each, totaling 17:00). B+(***)

Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm (1985, ZTT/Island): Trevor Horn takes over as producer. Structured as "a biography," with bits of narration and interview between songs, which themselves are stuffed to the gills without totally giving up the pretense that they are still danceable. But it isn't. B-

Helen Merrill: Helen Merrill (1954 [1955], Emarcy): Jazz singer Jelena Ana Milcetic, born in New York of Croatian parents. This was her first album, arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones, sometimes reissued to highlight the contribution of trumpet player Clifford Brown, who gave her the same superb support he provided Sarah Vaughan and Diana Jams (all in 1955). Seven standards, seems unremarkable at first but they grow on you, fast. A-

Helen Merrill: Helen Merrill With Strings (1955 [1956], Emarcy): Second album, cover proclaims "a new sound in jazz," "orchestra arranged and conducted by Richard Haymen," but she also has a legit jazz combo led by Hank Jones with Barry Galbraith on guitar, Milt Hinton (bass), and Sol Gubin (drums). Strings in the 1950s were usually the kiss of death, but these are fairly tasteful, as is the combo. Songs like "Anything Goes" are taken awful slow, but Merrill's vocal control is marvelous. B+(***)

Helen Merrill: Dream of You (1956 [1958], Emarcy): Gil Evans produced, using a varying cast of 5-8 musicians over three sessions. He had started as an arranger for Claude Thornhill, and gained a measure of fame for the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions, but became much more famous for his later work with Davis, and his 1957 debut as a leader (Gil Evans & Ten). I'm not sure these arrangements deserve their reputation, but they are smart and unobtrusive, and the singer shines. B+(**)

Helen Merrill: Helen Merrill With Clifford Brown and Gil Evans (1954-56 [1990], Emarcy): CD reissue highlights her most famous early collaborators, combining her Quincy Jones-produced debut with Clifford Brown (all 7 songs, in order) and 8 (of 12) songs from her Gil Evans-produced fourth album, Dream of You. B+(***)

Helen Merrill: Merrill at Midnight (1957, Emarcy): With Hal Mooney and His Orchestra for some fairly anodyne string arrangements. Also credits a small combo with Marian McPartland or Buddy Weed on piano, and Romeo Penque on oboe. B

Helen Merrill: You've Got a Date With the Blues (1959 [1989], Verve): Five (of eleven) songs with "Blue[s]" in the title, two titles in French. Slow-to-mid-tempo, light touch, nicely done. B+(**)

Helen Merrill: American Country Songs (1959, Atco): Twelve songs, four by the ever-reliable Hank Williams, a couple others that hold up as standards, others a bit of a reach. Strings on eight hamper the singer's jazz instincts. B

Helen Merrill/Dick Katz: The Feeling Is Mutual (1965 [1989], Emarcy): Pianist Katz arranged, group includes Thad Jones (cornet), Jim Hall (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), and Pete LaRoca or Arnie Wise (drums). Standards. She's always good, but Jones and Hall add something special here. B+(***) [yt]

Helen Merrill/Teddy Wilson: Helen Sings, Teddy Swings! (1970, Catalyst): Initially released in Japan, not sure when recorded but the pianist performed into the 1980s (he died at 73 in 1986). Not the best sound for the singer, but the piano sparkles on old standards. B+(**) [yt]

The Rolling Stones: Rewind (1971-1984) (1971-84 [1984], Rolling Stones): Since I was relistening to Dirty Work, I thought I'd try to reconstruct this rare Christgau-approved compilation, with 13 songs from 9 albums -- 3 (or 4) worth owning whole, 3 (or 4) I'd advise skipping. I suspect one could find more good songs in the latter, which might make this more useful, but probably not better. Or they could have shifted the years to omit Exile and pick up Dirty Work, but licensing doesn't work like that. A-

The Rolling Stones: Sucking in the Seventies (1973-79 [1981], Rolling Stones/Virgin): Compilation album, skips past the justly legendary 1971-72 albums to pick up in 1973, with three songs from their big 1978 comeback album, Some Girls -- except that one is an edit, another live, and they throw in a B-side not on the album. They also raid the Emotional Rescue sessions for an unreleased piece. The obscurities cut both ways: not the best the period could offer, but also not totally redundant. I was unable to construct a play list, but found most of the songs in the wrong order on YouTube, and filled in the holes so I can say I've heard it all, but not as presented. That's one caveat. No doubt there should be more. B+(**) [yt]

The Rolling Stones: Some Girls [Deluxe Edition] (1978 [2011], Universal Republic, 2CD): Like Christgau, I skipped the original album, which I know intimately and rate among their 1970s works higher than Sticky Fingers if not quite Exile on Main Street. Most "Deluxe Edition" filler is redundant -- most often live versions and/or alternate takes -- but the 12 songs here are new (ok, a couple are covers), effectively an entire lost Rolling Stones album. Admittedly, it's a pretty minor one, falling way short of the conceits of an outfit billing itself as The World's Greatest Rock Band. But a little modesty does them good, and reminds you that it wasn't spectacle that put them on top: it was sound. A-

The Roots: Organix (1993, Remedy): Philadelphia hip-hop group, first album, runs over an hour, principally rapper Tariq Trotter (Black Thought) and drummer Ahmir Thompson (Questlove), live band has some jazzy overtones, no samples or turntables. Old school, and proud of it. B+(***) [yt]

The Roots: From the Ground Up (1994, Geffen, EP): Six songs, 32:50, four previewing their second album (Do You Want More?!!!??!). B+(**)

The Roots: Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995, DGC): Second album, first on a major label. Like the sound, but didn't catch much. B+(**)

The Roots: Dilla Joints (2010, self-released): Not a lot of info with this. Presumably at least a reference to Detroit producer James Yancey (better known as J Dilla), who died in 2006. One suggestion is that the band is playing Dilla's "greatest hits" without the electronics. Hard to say. B

Charlie Shavers: Charlie Shavers and the Blues Singers 1938-1939 (1938-39 [1995], Timeless): Trumpet player (1917-71), started with Chu Berry, group list on Discogs is encyclopedic (Georgie Auld, Buster Bailey, Mildred Bailey, Charlie Barnet, Paul Baron, Count Basie, Sidney Bechet, several dozen more). He's not the headliner here, just the common denominator, and sometimes he gets overshadowed by the clarinet players (Buster Bailey and, especially, Bechet). Singers are Trixie Smith, Leola [Coot Grant] & Kid Wesley Wilson, Lether McGraw, Rosetta Howard, and Alberta Hunter. One cut where Shavers does get to strut his stuff is called "Toot It, Brother Armstrong." Shavers isn't much remembered these days, but he used to do a bit where he replicated the styles of a half-dozen great trumpet players, starting with Pops. He wasn't one of them, but he could sure fake it. B+(***)

Charlie Shavers: The Last Sessions [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1970 [1999], Black & Blue): February 7-8, 18 months before the trumpet player died. Three previously unreleased tracks, almost double the length of the 1970 Live! album co-led by saxophonist Budd Johnson, with J.M. Monestier (piano), Roland Lobligeois (bass), and Oliver Jackson (drums). Shavers also sings three songs. B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

The Rolling Stones: Dirty Work (1986, Virgin): Played this while I was working on posting Robert Christgau's recycled review article. I never believed that the Stones were done after Exile -- well, certainly not after Some Girls -- but did pay less attention over the years. And yes, with its hard and rough angularity, this is a good one. Best song "Back to Zero," and I've always liked "Harlem Shuffle." [was: B+] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Marc Cary: Life Lessons (Sessionheads United) [09-17]
  • Tom Cohen: My Take (Versa Music) [08-20]
  • Bill Evans: Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherands Recordings (Resonance, 2CD) [06-18]
  • Falkner Evans: Invisible Words (CAP) [08-13]
  • Jeff Lederer: Sunwatcher (Little(i)Music) [09-03]
  • Aakash Mittal: Nocturne (self-released) [09-10]
  • Mario Pavone: Blue Vertical (Out of Your Head) [06-18]
  • Scott Reeves Quintet: The Alchemist (Origin) [07-16]
  • J. Peter Schwalm: Aufbruch (RareNoise): [cdr] [07-16]

Friday, July 2, 2021


Speaking of Which

Belatedly looked around, and found a few pieces. No doubt there are many more of interest. One thing I didn't get around to is Steve M.'s piece on election strategy: Rachel Bitecofer's approach might not be good for winning elections, but it would be good for America. This references a Salon interview with Bitecofer, who wants to move from forecasting elections to influencing them. To that end, she's launched Strike PAC, which is creating advertisements that go after the whole Republican Party (not just the Trump crazies). As M puts it, "Democrats need to do more messaging that says simply: We're good. The other party is bad -- and, in this moment especially, One reason to vote for us is that out opponents are crazy and dangerous. (They are, and yet for years they've gotten away with saying that Democrats are crazy and dangerous.)"

I think it's fair to say that I've been pushing this line for a long time -- well before Trump jumped to the head of the line. I don't wish to understate how awful conservatives like Bush/Cheney, Gingrich, Reagan, and for that matter Nixon and Goldwater have been, but something fundamental changed in 2009. Bush/Rove at least had enough self-consciousness to know that they'd have to sugar-coat the right-wing agenda they were implementing to make it more palatable. However, the Bush years were a total disaster, leading to a complete repudiation in the 2006-2008 elections.

Sensible Republican politicians might have learned something from the debacle, but they lost control of the party to, for lack of a better term, the mob (or Tea Party, as they billed themselves, and were soon promoted by donors like the Kochs). The mob was defined and driven by right-wing celebrity media, especially on Fox. They had been cynically manipulated, their fears stoked, for years, and Obama -- who anyone with the slightest grasp on reality could see was a fairly toothless reformer -- was all it took to trigger them into full-blown paranoia. Donald Trump was every bit as credulous, giving him an unshakable (if incomprehensible) bond with his base. As he won, the Party fell into line. After all, he stood for everything they claimed to believe, and won despite doing nothing to sanitize his views or his persona. He never backed down in public, never apologized, never pretended to go along with the hated "elites."

But what did he do with all his power, his charisma, his strength and stamina? Only what mainstream Republican operatives wanted him to do. He cut taxes on the rich, he slashed regulations on business, he appointed judges from the approved list, he weakened workers, he made government more corrupt, he made the world a more cruel and distressing place. And he totally wasted four years that could have been used to address numerous pressing problems. Any other Republican would have done the same, because the same greed, short-sightedness, bigotry, and viciousness have been baked into the GOP agenda for decades -- as was the same careless incompetence at running government and making it and the economy work for all Americans. They even saw that as a feature, not a bug. In their view, there is no public interest, only private ones, so they see government as useful only inasmuch as they can sell the spoils. And they reject equality, even as an unattainable ideal. The core principle of conservatism is support for hierarchy that privileges some people over others.

Take Trump out of that equation, and nothing changes. Indeed, they would happily dispense with him if they could find someone else they can win with. Winning is what really matters to them, and they'll win any way they can. They don't necessarily prefer that people be stupid, but if it helps them win -- and let's face it, so few people benefit from their program that their biggest political obstacle is getting large numbers to vote against their own interest -- they'll push it for all they can.

Fact is, Republicans have done a pretty amazing job at getting people to fear Democrats for purely imaginary reasons, while Democrats have struggled with making people see that it's the Republicans who are set on stealing away what's left of their way of life. Democrats need to do better, especially as the Republicans are working so diligently to rig elections against them. In this context, it is essential that people see the Republicans for what they are.

I will say, though, that in contrast to what these articles suggest, there is at least one positive argument Democrats can run on: ask voters to "give Joe a chance," which given Republican obstructionism can only happen if we elect more Democrats to Congress and in the States.


Gillian Brockell: Historians just ranked the presidents. Trump wasn't last. Well, not by much, and probably because his legacy will take some time to settle out, especially among those accustomed to peering deep into the past. This poll has been run a number of times, and the one thing that the historians are most clear about is that they view the end of slavery as the most important achievement in US history, and the Civil War as its greatest tragedy. The worst presidents in the poll are Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson: the first two supported slavery against rising opposition, setting the table for secession and Civil War, while the third was a vile racist who did much to cripple Reconstruction, allowing the Slave Power to rise again and trample on the new rights of the formerly enslaved. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln, the president between Buchanan and Johnson who reunited the nation and ended slavery, is ranked first (ahead of George Washington and the Roosevelts). Trump's legacy has yet to turn into a bloodbath and 100 years of further oppression, but that's not for want of trying. I'm tempted to argue that Trump, within the context of his times, is more racist than the trio that trailed him. Some support for that comes from a factor analysis of the rating system. Historians are asked to evaluate presidents on 10 criteria, and Trump did come out dead last in two: moral authority and administrative skills. That's certainly right, even with Richard Nixon and G.W. Bush in the mix.

Peter S Canelos: Why the 'Trump Court' Won't Be Like Trump: Author wrote a book about the Supreme Court justice esteemed by both Neil Gorsuch and Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America's Judicial Hero. Reminds one that despite the political expediency Antonin Scalia often evinced, the judges approved by the Federalist Society and rubber-stamped by Trump and Bush prefer to find their roots in legal texts, whereas Trump never looked beyond Fox for his kneejerk jingoism.

Zak Cheney-Rice: The Right's New Reason to Panic About 'Critical Race Theory' Is Centuries Old: Psychologists call this "projection": the belief that other people, if given the chance, would behave as badly as one's own people have done in the past. Or perhaps it signifies tacit guilt, the understanding that past crimes have gone unpunished, that some reckoning is due. You might recall the panic exhibited in the late 1960s by the White Power Structure (which probably doesn't include you but certainly did J Edgar Hoover) when Stokely Carmichael started talking about "Black Power" and the Black Panthers started carrying guns in public -- neither illegal, nor unprecedented if you substituted "White" for "Black." Right-wing panic over "Critical Race Theory" draws on such old fears: that Blacks (and "woke" Whites who were easily suckered by their complaints) will rise up and do unto innocent Whites what their ancestors had done to Blacks for hundreds of years. The picture here shows a couple children holding signs which read "I Am Not an Oppressor." That's clearly true, but what about the white men standing behind them, including the cop? Probably not them either, but in this picture at least, it isn't "CRT" that's "Creating Race Tension": it's those who are still trying to deny that systematic racism has hurt many people not just in the past but still today.

Matt Ford: The Empire State Strikes Back: Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. has been investigating the Trump Organization for some time now, and came out with the first indictment, not of Trump or his family but of CFO Allan Weisselberg, who is charged with grand larceny for a tax fraud scheme. This strikes me as small potatoes, but much will depend on whether there will be further charges. Trump has been plagued by underlings who think they should be able to live large like the boss, but never come close to having the means. (At least three Cabinet Secretaries had to resign due to expenses scandals.) All this is traceable to the culture of corruption around Trump, but he's somehow been immune to the criminal behavior of his little helpers (and not just those he was able to pardon). Also see Andrew Prokop: The indictment of the Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg, explained. Meanwhile: Trump seeks to use indictments as a political rallying cry as he tries to survive latest legal threat.

Constance Grady: It's incredibly hard to get a rape conviction. Bill Cosby's release makes it feel pointless. I wasn't planning on even mentioning the Cosby case this week, but this title caught my eye. I don't know the specifics, and don't know the applicable law. (If you care for that level of detail, see Ian Millhiser: The court decision freeing Bill Cosby, explained as best we can.) Just personally, I don't believe that the failure to punish bad people for their actions is a social and political disaster, even though it doesn't help with the important perception that we need a fundamental sense of justice. Take, for instance, two other names also prominent in this post: Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Trump. By the way, note that the Pennsylvania District Attorney who poisoned the well in the Cosby case later was a defense attorney for Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Benjamin Hart: It Is Mind-Bogglingly Hot in the Pacific Northwest Right Now. Last week I reported record high temperatures in and around Russia. This week it's Washington and Oregon, extending well into British Columbia, all of which set all-time heat records this week (Portland hit 116, with at least 63 deaths; Lytton, BC, set an all-time high for Canada when it hit 121, then burned to the ground). For a bigger picture, see David Wallace-Wells: How to Live in a Climate 'Permanent Emergency'.

Daniel Hill: Inside Gun-Surrendering Criminal Mark McCloskey's Very Sad St. Louis Rally: Rebecca Solnit suggested this deserves a Pulitzer Prize for best lead-line in an article: "Noted local criminal Mark McCloskey played host to a barbecue/political rally on Sunday afternoon, drawing tens of admirers to the sweltering parking lot of a closed outlet mall in St. Louis County to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the time he pulled a gun on a crowd of people who otherwise would never have noticed or cared he existed." Hill hardly misses a beat for the rest of the article. E.g.: "Initially, fellow criminal and proponent of armed coups Michael Flynn was scheduled to speak, but he was subbed out for North Carolina Congressman and notably dumb guy Madison Cawthorn, who also did not show up. But the show must go on, as they say, and so we were instead primarily treated to the emcee abilities of former radio host Jamie Allman, who lost his longtime job back in 2018 after taking to Twitter to pontificate about ramming a hot poker up a teenager's ass." I generally think it's unwise to treat your enemies as blithering idiots, but sometimes they are.

Carla K Johnson/Mike Strobbe: Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated. Just saying. Numbers cited are 150 of 18,000 deaths in May, or 0.8%; 1,200 of 107,000 hospitalizations, or 1.1%. New cases are still declining nationally, but are rising in Nevada, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming.

Sarah Jones: The Hell Donald Rumsfeld Built: "Iraq will be Rumsfeld's legacy, with all the lies, all of the torture, all of the killing. While many hands bear responsibility for such loss, two belonged to Rumsfeld, who had Saddam Hussein in his sights for years before 9/11 gave him the excuse he wanted to attack Iraq. Rumsfeld lived out the rest of his days with impunity. His victims weren't so lucky." One can't deny that Rumsfeld was lucky: he stumbled from one disaster to the next, always falling upward. Iraq was so bad you forget how his deliberate incompetence helped wreck the "war on poverty" under Nixon (as Nixon himself was losing his own war in Southeast Asia). Rumsfeld managed to keep enough distance from Nixon to stay out of jail, which led to a key job in Ford's White House (as Dick Cheney's man-servant) and his first stint as Secretary of Defense, and his longer term in the Defense Department's shadow cabinet. Before he was called back to mis-manage his own wars, his main project was the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which had something to do with hardware but was mostly a cult belief system: the one that led security mandarins like himself to think they could win wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The only things they ever "won" were budget battles. Without the think tank hubris of the "vulcans" (see James Mann's The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, and Fred Kaplan's Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power), the Global War on Terror and the ambition to obliterate the "Axis of Evil" wouldn't have been thought, much less acted on. The only saving grace for Rumsfeld is that he seems to have wanted to leave Iraq as soon as it was "liberated," leaving the Iraqis to sort out the disaster, under the threat that the US could resume bombing any time they did anything that offended us. But with all that oil, Bush couldn't resist the temptation to occupy Iraq and rebuild it in the familiar image of Texas. Still, Rumsfeld hardly protested. He starred in daily press conferences, peppering us with pseudo-profundities like "known unknowns" and "bodyguard of lies," and how "stuff happens" when you "go with the army you got," while admirers like Midge Dichter swooned. His starmaking turn soon faded in the shadows of the ruins, but he blundered on, until Bush finally fired him, picking a replacement who was better at containing disasters than creating them. Also see Phyllis Bennis: War Criminal Found Dead at 88; also Ben Burgis: Donald Rumsfeld, Rot in Hell; also Charles P Pierce: You Go to Hell With the Alibis You Have.

Ed Kilgore: Bipartisan Voting-Rights Legislation May Simply Be Impossible: Sen. Joe Manchin clings to the hope, but no Republican supports him, and every voting rule change at the state level has been strictly partisan. If you want proof of the Republican shift on voting, look at the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was extended unanimously in 2006, but gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. A fix would be simple -- extend federal review of state voting law changes to all states, not just those named in 1965 -- but only one Senate Republican (Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, who was last elected as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary) is interested in doing so. What's made voting rules such a partisan matter is the growing realization that the Republican Party benefits from the undemocratic skew built into the Constitution (e.g., the Senate and the Electoral College -- the latter has voted 4 times for presidents who failed to get a plurality of the vote, and all 4 were Republicans), gerrymandering, and voter suppression laws. Since the 2020 election, most Republican-controlled states have passed laws to further restrict the vote, and every one of those laws have been passed on party-line votes. (There are no Republican versions of Joe Manchin, who think the rules should be agreed to by both sides.) By the way, the Trump-packed Supreme Court just reminded us it's solidly on the Republican team. See: Matt Ford: The Supreme Court Gives a Green Light to Voter Suppression.

Mike Konczal/JW Mason: How to Have a Roaring 2020s (Without Wild Inflation): Reminds us of the sustained economic boom during and after WWII, when massive public spending (initially on the war, then on the GI Act, then on more war) pumped up an economy that worked for everyone. Infrastructure overhaul, improved social services, and rising wages could do the same thing in the coming decade, provided we can shake the malaise of bankers and their economists, like Arthur Burns in the 1970s threatening to "take the punch bowl away when the party gets going," and the even harsher scolds that followed. Of course, by the time Alan Greenspan came around, he had to keep spiking drinks to keep the rich going, but that's just evidence of how successful the attack on wages and equality had become. Related here: Daniel Alpert: Americans Don't Want to Return to Low Wage Jobs. But Republicans are willing to starve them into submission.

Mark Mazzetti/Adam Goldman: They Seemed Like Democratic Activists. They Were Secretly Conservative Spies. The FBI has a lot of experience with infiltrating agents into political groups it deemed subversive. That might not have been so bad if all they did was to observe and report, but they were most often recognized for being provocateurs, attempting to provoke crimes. Indeed, I suspect that most of the domestic "terror plots" the FBI has "prevented" were ones they proposed in the first place. Politics is following suit, especially as the right becomes more desperate -- and while almost all of the current examples are from the right (in history these go back to Nixon's "dirty tricks" with Roger Stone, who Trump pardoned), it's possible the left could respond in kind. The result will likely be that no one on either side believes reports of misbehavior by their side. That won't "make us more divided," but it will make it harder to reconcile those divisions, as the "common ground" of facts becomes ever more tenuous.

Ian Millhiser: 3 winners and 3 losers from the just-completed Supreme Court term: "The biggest loser was democracy." Other "losers": Samuel Alito ("the Court's most reliable partisan," as evinced by his 8-1 loss on Obama), and unions. Winners: student-athletes, the "shadow docket," and the Republican Party (underscoring that first point about democracy). I thought it was too early before the 2020 election to talk about remedies for the right-wing takeover of the courts, as the only way to really explain the need is to point to actual cases where Republican jurists are making up partisan law on the fly. This term has given us some of those cases, even if for now they're mostly obscured in legal jargon. (Read the article for an explanation of "shadow docket." My takeaway is that it makes it easier for right-wing jurists to make arbitrary political decisions without having to fully consider the consequences.) What will really bring these decisions into the light is if Democrats start to win landslides, only to have the courts try to thwart the will of the people -- something Republicans are already well positioned to do.

To illustrate further, Millhiser also wrote SCOTUS just made Citizens United even worse, and The Supreme Court leaves the Voting Rights Act alive -- but only barely.

Joshua Partlow/Darryl Fears/Jim Morrison/Jon Swaine/Caroline Anders: Before condo collapse, rising seas long pressured Miami coastal properties. Not to say that this particular disaster was caused by anything but greed and incompetence, but with rising seas the entire coast is at risk. I always thought that politicians who claim to represent the interests of the rich should worry more about climate change, since the rich own most of that precious oceanfront property, and have the most to lose. Of course, as with any disaster, the not-so-rich suffered first and worst here.

Adam Serwer: The Cruel Logic of the Republican Party, Before and After Trump. Serwer has been the most reliable columnist at The Atlantic covering the Trump years, and he's written a new book about them: The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America. (I ordered a copy, just arrived.) Why is clear from the first sentence here: "Donald Trump has claimed credit for any number of things he benefited from but did not create, and the Republican Party's reigning ideology is one of them: a politics of cruelty and exclusion that strategically exploits vulnerable Americans by portraying them as an existential threat, against whom acts of barbarism and disenfranchisement become not only justified but worthy of celebration." That's all you really need to know to understand why Trump became the party's leader: no one else has ever exemplified this commitment to cruelty so authentically and shamelessly. Trump, like his followers, was formed in the paranoid frenzy of Fox News, but unlike them he was a billionaire, and we assume that billionaires are the only people free enough to pursue their true beliefs. But if Trump's beliefs were the same as his followers, so he promised to empower them in a way no other American politician had ever done. There's been much talk about whether Trumpism will survive Trump, but Trump was just the reflection of a fundamental rot in the Republican Party. It's been there for a while, so the question isn't whether it will continue in the future. The only question is whether some other politician can pick up the mantle and convince the base to be its leader.

Timothy Snyder: The War on History Is a War on Democracy: A little bit about the recent spate of laws trying to outlaw the teaching of Critical Race Theory, set within the context of the anti-democratic history Snyder knows most about: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, although even he can't ignore that it's really about whether we recognize and admit the long history of racism in the United States. Of course, those who seek to ban CRT claim they are the real anti-racists. "The fight against racism becomes the search for a language that makes white people feel good."

Michael Wolff: Donald Trump's January 6: Excerpt from Wolff's third "insider" book on the Trump presidency, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency (out July 27). Not much surprising here, which I suppose is a tribute to how consistent Trump has been in his outrageousness. A couple of related articles help put the insurrection into historical context: Rick Perlstein: The Long Authoritarian History of the Capitol Riot ("What Democrats have been slow to understand is that this is an insurgency with parliamentary and paramilitary wings"), and Mychal Denzel Smith: How January 6 Will Be Remembered by Trump's Supporters ("They will forge on with a new Lost Cause").

Monday, June 28, 2021


Music Week

June archive (finished).

Music: Current count 35715 [35664] rated (+51), 205 [211] unrated (-6).

June Streamnotes (link above) wraps up this week. I'll do the indexing later, but a quick fgrep shows 203 albums for the month. I started last week thinking about 1971, which explains old music by Curtis Mayfield, Ike & Tina Turner, and Archie Shepp. I came up shorter in A- records this week, but a couple of those Shepp albums could merit further listening. I haven't been able to follow Hat's Ezz-thetics series, but noticed that they have a new Blase and Yasmina Revisited reissue. I should also note that I decided to go with reissues of the individual BYG albums, not the twofers that later appeared on Affinity.

The Joe Newman reissue got me to take a look at his back catalog, which in turn led me to two of my favorite 1950s tenor saxophonists: Illinois Jacquet and Budd Johnson. Nothing I found there blew me away, but I did enjoy every minute of the search. Johnson's Let's Swing remains one of the all-time great tenor sax albums. Newman's 1955-56 albums, The Count's Men and I Feel Like a New Man, are highly recommended, and there is a lot of primo Jacquet to choose from.

Listened to more new music last week, but non-jazz forays were few and far between. Main find was an EP that didn't show up in any of my 2020 lists, but its videos have gotten a lot of notice. See this one to get the key song, "Rät," in real time, then look at this one for the annotation. I got the tip from Phil Overeem, who also recommended Ashnikko, another young woman who knows a lot about the world. I shouldn't be surprised, but following politics I'm constantly bombarded with staggering levels of stupidity.

Many thanks to Dave Everall for posting Music Week notices on Facebook's Expert Witness thread -- something I've never gotten the hang of. Last week's post elicited a few comments, mostly about Elton John in the 1980s. I wrote about the documentary series 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything and its Univeral-delimited soundtrack album last week. The series was based on David Hepworth's book, Never a Dull Moment: 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded, so Clifford Ocheltree posted a link to a 283-song Spotify playlist based on the book. I asked for opinions on the book, but only after doing a bit of due diligence. I quoted one line I found in the book: "I was born in 1950. For a music fan, that's the winning ticket in the lottery of life." Several readers took offense at that line.

Of course, it resonated for me because I was born in 1950. But also because I've thought quite a bit about the effect of age at time. For instance, I was significantly different in 1957, 1964, 1971, and 1978, which were four pivotal years in the history of rock. My first memories of popular music date from around 1957, but they don't include emerging rock stars like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly. What I remember from the late 1950s are novelties, including my longstanding love for "16 Tons" (Tennessee Ernie Ford) and "Mack the Knife (Bobby Darin) -- versions that neither older nor younger critics would still prefer. I eventually filled in the gaps, but older critics like Robert Christgau (b. 1942) and Greil Marcus (b. 1945) experienced the birth of rock and roll in real time -- like I did the Beatles and the British Invasion as a teenager in 1964. By the time I became aware of Presley, he was a mediocre actor whose career was interrupted by the Army, so he meant little to me (whereas he meant the world to my elders, especially to Marcus). I know all the songs now, but have little sense of how the chronology played out. On the other hand, I lived through everything from 1964 on, fully conscious of who broke new ground and what followed up.

I suppose it's possible that I imposed that 7-year cycle on the available music, as opposed to it fortunately synching up with my life. I don't see anything comparable looking back to 1950, 1943, 1936, 1929 (although the crash did end the "roaring '20s"). Going forward there's some evidence for 1985 (Michaelangelo Matos wrote a recent book on 1984 as a pivotal year in music) and 1992 (grunge and gangsta take over), but what's groundbreaking about 1999, 2006, 2013, 2020? Maybe the music, like me, is getting old? Maybe as old people we just don't notice the changes? What is certain is that we don't live them the same way.

It's also possible that change is changing. Kurt Andersen, in his book Evil Geniuses, argues that the decadal changes in fashion and design which made it easy to date artifacts from the 20th century have largely vanished in the 21st. My 2006 car doesn't look far removed from 2021 models, unlike the differences between my father's series of cars (1932, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1979, 1987 -- that '73 Maverick was a real lemon). Progress was dramatic in the 20th century, but it's harder to discern in the 21st: technological changes are more esoteric and harder to grasp, and often turn out to be mixed blessings (e.g., climate). But also blame politics for increasing inequality, which makes affluence harder to come by and hope for.

Aside from music, I've long been conscious of the peculiar blessings and handicaps of my age. Nearly all of my cousins are older than me, some a mere two years younger than my father, so they offer a sample group of birth dates from 1925-50, and the second-cousins start up in 1949. What I concluded was that the ones born in the late 1930s were most fortunate: they didn't remember the Depression, were too young for WWII and Korea, and too old for Vietnam; they came of age during the postwar boom, included the first in our family to go to college, many started businesses and prospered, and retired with a fair degree of comfort (several touring the country in RVs, which is sort of a generational calling card). They all lived much longer than their parents, and were generally better off. On the other hand, most are dead now, or getting pretty old, so younger generations do have that advantage.

Long ago it occurred to me that there never before was a generation gap as large as the one between my cohort and our parents. The obvious point at the time is that we grew up in a time of sudden affluence and expanding horizons, whereas they grew up during the Great Depression and had to surive World War. But as I thought more about it, I realized that a lot of things started shifting between the end of the war in 1945 and the stalemate in Korea in 1952. The very week I was born, China entered Korea and drove American forces back from the border. Americans didn't realize that they had switched sides, ceasing to be liberators and turning into the backstop of western imperialism. The decline wasn't instantly obvious. We grew up thinking we were on top of the world, and became increasingly cross when the world had other ideas. I recently saw an Elizabeth Warren meme that dated the war on the middle class to "thirty years ago," but there were earlier stages: fifty years ago domestic oil production peaked, and the US started running trade deficits. A sensible choice then would have been to tax oil (like Europe was doing), but we pretended nothing was happening (after all, domestic and foreign oil were controlled by the same international corporations). In the 1970s, capitalists (increasingly financiers) plotted to take over the government and get rid of all the countervailing power/public interest "nonsense" -- with slower growth the only way they could maintain profits was to take more -- and in 1980, they managed to get Ronald Reagan elected.

It's been all down hill from there, so of course people growing up now view the world much differently than we did.


Rapper Timothy Parker died last week, at 49. He called himself Gift of Gab, started with the group Blackalicious. I wrote about them for Rolling Stone. I thought his 2018 EP Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again! was terrific.

Two more major musicians died last week: Jon Hassell (84), played trumpet over "fourth world" electronica; and Frederic Rzewski (83), pianist/composer.

I will have answers to some questions later in the week. [PS: Link here.] Also the indexing on Streamnotes. Don't know about Speaking of Which, but it's hard not to find things to write about these days.


New records reviewed this week:

Rebecca Angel: Just the Two of Us (2021, Timeless Grooves): Standards singer, first album, wrote the last two songs here, producer/keyboardist Jason Miles wrote one. Covers include Jobim, Marley, Satie, "For What It's Worth." Single is "Just the Two of Us." B+(*) [cd]

Ashnikko: Demidevil (2021, Parlophone, EP): Singer/rapper Ashton Nicole Casey, from North Carolina, "her parents exposed her to country music and Slipknot" but the music that turned her on was M.I.A., went to high school in Latvia, moved to London at 18. Mixtape (25:24) after three EPs. Cartoonish, until she explains her boredom. B+(**)

Steven Bernstein: Community Music (2020 [2021], Royal Potato Family, EP): Trumpet player, played in the Lounge Lizards and Sex Mob, got the gig for musical director for Robert Altman's Kansas City, which led to his big band, Millennial Territory Orchestra. Haven't heard much from him since MTO Plays Sly in 2011, so I jumped on this 4-song, 18:57 EP. Turns out it's a teaser for four forthcoming albums, recorded over four days in 2020, with MTO and Bernstein's Hot 9. Catherine Russell's vocal is a highlight, but I like "Black Bottom Stomp" even more. B+(***)

Dopolarians: The Bond (2021, Mahakala): Free jazz group, originally from Arkansas (Chad Fowler on alto sax and Christopher Parker on piano), picked up a singer in Memphis (Kelley Hurt) and wound up in New Orleans, adding Marc Franklin (trumpet) and ringers William Parker and Brian Blade for this record. Hurt enters in a relatively quiet spot around the 7-minute mark, intonating with the band rather than singing over it (which makes her a minor presence here). That first piece runs 21:15, and the second is longer (30:22), ending with a shorter one (9:42). B+(***)

Robert Finley: Sharecropper's Son (2021, Easy Eye Sound): Bluesman from Louisiana, born in 1954, released his first album at 62, this is his third. Powerful voice. B+(***)

Fire in Little Africa (2021, Motown): More than 60 Oklahoma hip-hop artists -- too many to be a collective, but they can still get together for a cover photo -- reflect on the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which I believe is still the only instance where people used airplanes to fire-bomb an American neighborhood. Still, don't look here for a history lesson. But beware that history isn't even past yet. B+(***)

Sean Michael Giddings: Red Willow (2021, Origin): Pianist, from Kansas City, studied at UNT, based in Austin, seems to be his first album. All originals, piano trio with Sam Pankey (bass) and Daniel Dufour (drums), with "orchestral programming on four cuts. B+(*)

Pedro Giraudo Tango Quartet: Impulso Tanguero (2021, Tiger Turn): Bassist from Argentina, based in New York since 1996, has eight previous albums (back to 2000). Quartet with Nick Danielson (violin), Rodolfo Zanetti (bandoneon), and Ahmed Alom (piano). Tango, of course, lush, but a bit stilted, which I blame on the connection to classical music. B

Ben Goldberg: Everything Happens to Me (2018 [2021], BAG Productions): Clarinetist, steady stream of records since 1991, recruited some superb musicians for this effort: Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael formanek (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). B+(***) [cdr]

John Hart: Checkmate (2019 [2021], SteepleChase): Guitarist, 70 this year, shares the spotlight here with Gary Smulyan (baritone sax), a nice mix of tones, also with bass (David Wong) and drums (Andy Weston). B+(**)

Kevin Hays/Ben Street/Billy Hart: All Things Are (2021, Smoke Sessions): Piano trio, occasion was the drummer's 80th birthday, Hays and Street have albums going back to the 1990s. B+(*)

David Helbock: The New Cool (2020 [2021], ACT): Austrian pianist, albums since 2006, this a trio with Sebastian Studnitzky (trumpet) ad Arne Jansen (guitar). Four Helbock originals, one by Studnitzky, seven covers ranging from Chopin to Cyndi Lauper. B+(*)

Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview on Phenomenal Nature (2021, Ba Da Bing): Singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, second studio album, short (7 songs, 31:44) -- fairly minimal, both in music and words (more spoken than sung). Rather appealing. B+(**)

Julian Lage: Squint (2021, Blue Note): Guitarist, albums since 2009. Trio with bass (Jorge Roeder) and drums (Dave King). Typically nice record, not have much more to say. B+(**)

Lorraina Marro: Love Is for All Time (2021, self-released): Standards singer, from Los Angeles, third album since 2004, "was honored as a Los Angeles 'Jazz Living Legend.'" Risks comparison to Streisand on "People," and pulls it off. Does a couple songs in Spanish. Touts "a team of some of L.A.'s finest musicians. One I've heard of, but haven't heard much from lately, is tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard. B+(**) [cd] [07-15]

Jason Nazary: Spring Collection (2020 [2021], We Jazz): Drummer, alto electronics, first album under his own name but has appeared in various groups going back to Little Women in 2007. Solo, plus guest spots in 5 (of 9) songs. The electronics are disconcerting at first, but eventually this finds a bit of groove. B+(**) [cd]

Pluto Juice: Pluto Juice (2019 [2021], Contagious Music): Fusion project, led by saxophonist Dayna Stephens (mostly EWI here) and Anthony Fung (drums), with Andrew Marzotto (guitar) and Rich Brown (electric bass). B+(*) [cd] [07-16]

Samo Salamon/Hasse Poulsen: String Dancers (2020 [2021], Sazas): Acoustic guitar duets, former plays 12-string as well as 6-string. Former is well known here, a consistently inventive player. B+(**) [cd] [09-01]

Penelope Scott: Public Void (2020, Tesla's Pigeon, EP): Twenty-year-old singer-songwriter, DIY electronics, song "Rät" has over a million YouTube views, a story of nerd love and disillusionment ("I bit the apple 'cause I trusted you, it tastes like Thomas Malthus, you proposal is immodest and insane . . . you promised you would be Tesla, but you're just another Edison"). Initially released as a 6-cut download, then reissued a month later with a 7th song (total 26:06). A-

Senyawa: Alkisah (2021, Burning Ambulance): Indonesian doom metal duo, Wukir Suryadi (custom instruments) and Rully Shabara (vocals). Industrial klang, slightly exotic, not unbearable. [PS: Duo had a previous album, Sujud, on Sublime Frequencies, that I liked more.] B [bc]

Chris Speed: Light Line (2018 [2021], Intakt): Solo clarinet, a departure from his usual tenor sax but the lighter horn maneuvers better, a big help here. B+(**)

Natsuki Tamura: Koki Solo (2020 [2021], Libra): Trumpet player, turns 70 this year, wife Satoko Fujii celebrated 70 by releasing a new album every month, but he's less prolific, at least on his own. Biggest surprise here is how he mixes it up, with piano, wok, and voice credits. Piano forced me to check the credits: he's not as fast as she is, but works in a similar vein. B+(**) [cd] [07-09]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Hamiet Bluiett: Bearer of the Holy Flame (1983 [2021], Strut): Baritone saxophonist (1940-2018), also plays clarinet and alto flute, live set that originally appeared on Black Fire in 1994. With John Hicks (piano), Fred Hopkins (bass), Marvin Smith (drums), and Chief Bey (percussion). Terrific, both the big rhythmic romp that is Bluiett's calling card, and Hicks' marvelous piano. A-

ICP Orchestra: Plays Herbie Nichols in Nijmegen 7 May 1984 (1984 [2020], ICP): Dutch group, 12 pieces here, led by Misha Mengelberg (piano) and Han Bennink (drums), with four reeds (including Steve Lacy on soprano sax) and four brass (including tuba), viola, and cello. Mengelberg and/or Lacy have explored Nichols' work on numerous occasions. B+(***) [bc]

Joe Newman: Joe Newman at the Atlantic (1977 [2021], Phontastic): One of the lesser-known swing trumpet players, started with Lionel Hampton in 1941, spent 13 years with Count Basie, played with Illinois Jacquet and others. Two 1955-56 albums are favorites. This was recorded in Sweden, with clarinetist Ove Lind's quintet, featuring Lars Erstrand (vibes). B+(***)

Cecil Taylor Ensemble: Göttingen (1990 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj, 2CD): Lineup similar to the Workshop Ensemble that recorded Legba Crossing in 1988, as part of the pianist's massive Berlin showcase: 13 musicians here, 15 then, 10 in common. Two sets, totals 138:34. Noisy, chaotic, difficult to listen to, but long stretches are also quite marvelous. B+(***) [bc]

Cecil Taylor Quintet: Lifting the Bandstand (1998 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): Recorded at Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland, with his regular drummer Paul Lovens, Tristan Honsinger on cello, and two local musicians: Harri Sjöström (soprano sax) and Teppo Hauta-Aho (bass). Slow start, but by mid-point the musicians are finding ways to make sense of the chaos, and even more. A-

Barney Wilen Quartet: Barney and Tete Grenoble '88 (1988 [2020], Elemental Music): Tenor sax quartet, cover extends the credit to "feat. Tete Montoliu," the blind Spanish pianist, and Discogs also credits Riccardo Del Fra (bass) and Aaron Scott (drums), although I don't see their names on the cover. One Wilen-Montoliu credit, two Charlie Parkers, more standards (at least in France). [NB: Napster omits the two medleys, 13:40 + 12:57, so hedged on 7/9 tracks.] B+(**)

Old music:

Illinois Jacquet: Swing's the Thing (1957, Verve): Real first name: Jean-Baptiste. Born in Louisiana, grew up in Houston, so he's usually counted among the "Texas tenors" -- robust blues/swing saxophonists like Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate. Started out with Lionel Hampton's big band, and is most famous for his "Flying Home" solo -- widely considered to be one of the first eruptions of rock and roll. All-star sextet -- Roy Eldridge, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Jones, Ray Brown, Jo Jones -- divided into a slow side and one that kicks up heels (for a while). Still, no complaints about Jacquet's ballad style. B+(**)

Illinois Jacquet: Bottoms Up: Illinois Jacquet on Prestige! (1968, Prestige): Quartet with Barry Harris, Ben Tucker, and Alan Dawson. Title cut is a monster blues wail. Settles down after that, with a nice ballad to close. B+(***)

Illinois Jacquet: The Comeback (1971 [1991], Black Lion): Originally released 1971 as Genius at Work!, but picked up the title song (the only Jacquet original) for the CD, and went with that. Recorded in London with Milt Buckner on organ and Tony Crombie on drums. Opens with Basie, a ballad ("Easy Living"), and "C Jam Blues." Closes with a blues called "I Wanna Blow Now," where he mostly sings. [5/6 tracks] B+(**)

Illinois Jacquet: Bottoms Up [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1974 [1997], Black & Blue): Recorded in Paris, the CD fleshed out with alternate takes. Quartet with Milt Buckner (organ on 7 tracks, piano 5), Roland Lobligeois (bass), and Jo Jones (drums). Mostly easy-going blues. B+(**)

Illinois Jacquet: God Bless My Solo [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 [2001], Black & Blue): Another Paris tour, with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and J.C. Heard (drums). B+(***)

Budd Johnson: The Chronological Budd Johnson 1944-1952 (1944-52 [2003], Classics): Tenor saxophonist, one of the all-time swing greats, though rarely recognized as he was most often buried in big bands or working for other leaders (e.g., Earl Hines). Indeed, his name only leads the artist credits in 6 (of 23) tracks here, the others belonging to Clyde Hart, Al Killian, J.C. Heard, Dickie Wells, Leslie Scott, and Johnny King. Varied material, from big band to r&b, including a number of vocals (King is most impressive), but often the saxophone reigns supreme. B+(***)

Budd Johnson: French Cookin' (1963, Argo): Mostly French titles (exception is Johnson's own "I Can Live With the Blues"). His quartet (with Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Ossie Johnson) is beyond reproach, but the extra guitar/marimba/percussion can be disconcerting. B+(**)

Budd Johnson With Joe Newman: Off the Wall (1964 [1965], Argo): Tenor sax and trumpet, with piano (Al Dailey Jr.), bass (George Duvivier or Richard Davis), and drums (Grady Tate). Title cut is irresistible. B+(***)

Curtis Mayfield: Curtis/Live! (1971, Curtom): Live double, 12 songs and 4 "raps" (lame spoken intros) picks up pieces from his Impressions catalog, while adding some of his solo album. Light touch, perhaps a bit thin, lots of congas, but great songs. B+(***)

Jason Moran: The Armory Concert (2016, Yes): Pianist, recorded for Blue Note 1999-2014, quickly establishing himself as one of the top jazz pianists of his generation. After leaving Blue Note, he started his own label, but he's gotten little publicity (at least none my way), and it's been hard to follow him. This is solo piano. B+(*)

Joe Newman With Frank Foster: Good 'n' Groovy (1961, Prestige Swingville): Trumpet and tenor sax, both Basie veterans, backed by a Tommy Flanagan piano trio, playing four Newman pieces, plus "Lil' Darlin'" and "Just Squeeze Me." B+(**)

Joe Newman: I Love My Woman [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1979 [2000], Black & Blue): The label usually waited until artists came to Paris, but they picked up this live set from London, with the trumpet player (and sometime singer) leading a quartet with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). B+(***)

Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man (1971, Flying Dutchman): Spoken-word artist, mostly sings here, music by pianist Brian Jackson, second album, leads off with his most famous piece: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" -- perhaps the song of the year, heavily featured in a recent documentary claiming the 21st century was being invented in 1971. Nothing else matches it, or is even in the proto-rap mode. More striking now is the jazzy vibe, with Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, and Pretty Purdie in the band. B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Life at the Donaueschingen Music Festival (1967, SABA): Tenor saxophonist, first appeared in the New York Contemporary Five (based in Denmark with John Tchicai and Don Cherry), followed closely in the footsteps of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane -- first album under his own name was Four for Trane. This live set -- with Grachan Moncur and Roswell Rudd on trombone, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Beaver Harris on drums -- consists of a single 43:45 piece, "One for the Trane." B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Blasé (1969, BYG): Live in Paris, with vocalist Jeanne Lee, Lester Bowie (trumpet) on the opener, Dave Burrell (piano) on all but the closer, plus bass (Malachi Favors) and drums (Philly Joe Jones). Good spotlight for the remarkable Lee, and Shepp's perhaps surprising skill at shadowing a siger. B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Yasmina, a Black Woman (1969, BYG): Recorded in Paris, title cut is the 20:00 first side with an expanded band. Second side has "Body and Soul" and a piece by Grachan Moncur, with a quartet (plus Hank Mobley on the Moncur piece). B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Poem for Malcolm (1969, BYG): Two sidelong pieces with different bands, a bit of voice (Shepp) on the title cut. The other is rather more interesting, especially for Grachan Moncur III's trombone. B+(**)

Archie Shepp: Live at the Panafrican Festival (1969 [1971], BYG): Live in Algiers, two pieces, with Algerian and Tuareg musicians adding to the carnival atmosphere, Clifford Thornton (cornet) on both, Grachan Moncur III (trombone) on the first, piano-bass-drums on the second, with Ted Joans poetry read by Don Lee and Joans. B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Things Have Got to Change (1971, Impulse!): Tenor saxophonist, leaned avant in the 1960s, got political after 1968 and started making social music, radicalized by black power as well as avant-jazz. First side is the sprawling "Money Blues," co-written by Beaver Harris, Joe Lee Wilson shouting. Second is a short piano piece, "Dr. King, the Peaceful Warrior," then the 16:13 title cut, with Leroy Jenkins on violin. Messy. B+(*)

Ike & Tina [Turner]: 'Nuff Said (1971, United Artists): Surname omitted on cover, as title explains. Everything else seems a bit abbreviated. B+(*)

Barney Wilen: Jazz Sur Seine (1958 [2000], Gitanes Jazz): French tenor saxophonist, if Americans recognize the name it's probably for the record he made with Miles Davis, but he's been consistently terrific from the mid-1950s up to his death in 1996 (e.g., New York Romance, from 1994). He gets a lift here from a trio of Americans -- with Milt Jackson on piano, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke -- but remains the star. Originally released by Philips in 1959, several editions since, but I thought I'd credit Verve for their generally excellent Gitanes Jazz series. A-


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.

  • Milford Graves/Jason Moran: Live at Big Ears (2018-20 [2021], Yes): [bc]: +
  • Jason Moran: Bangs (2016 [2017], Yes): [bc]: +
  • Jason Moran: Mass {Howl, Eon} (2017, Yes): [bc]: +
  • Jason Moran and the Bandwagon: Looks of a Lot (2017 [2018], Yes): [bc]: +
  • Jason Moran: Music for Joan Jonas (2017 [2018], Yes): [bc]: ++
  • Jason Moran: The Sound Will Tell You (2021, Yes): [bc]: +


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alex Collins/Ryan Berg/Karl Latham: Together (Dropzonejazz)
  • Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony (2006-07, Resonance, 2CD) [07-17]
  • Bob Mintzer & WDR Big Band Cologne: Soundscapes (MCG Jazz)

Friday, June 25, 2021


Speaking of Which

Blog link.

In Tuesday's Music Week, I noted that I didn't have anything written for a links/comments post this week. But Wednesday's local newspaper was so depressing that I figured I should at least take a quick look around. A quick synopsis of news items from the Wichita Eagle (sorry, no links; the paper comes as download images):

  • Started with a page one piece on how Wichita and Sedgwick County agreed to merge their parks and recreation departments, to facilitate public-private ventures. That might be a theoretically defensible idea, but any time you hear "public" and "private" together, the public is getting fleeced by private interests. (Last week, there was an article on how Wichita paid $10 million for a Topgolf facility, while Oklahoma City got the same private investment for nothing.) There is something to be said for decentralizing and depoliticizing decision-making, especially about the arts, but the likely net effect will be that no new public projects will be undertaken, leaving us with only those options investors think they can make money from.

  • The Police Chief reported on "a busy weekend": nine people were shot, including an AR-15 attack on a police officer. They're joining a federal "crackdown" program, aimed at arresting more suspicious people. The jails are already full, but the Police Chief says that's not his problem.

  • The last grocery store in "Wichita's historically African-American neighborhood" is closing, adding to the city's "food deserts."

  • A privately owned zoo-plus-water-park (Tanganyika Wildlife Park) was closed when people who used the pool came down with diarrhea (later identified as shigella). Lawsuits ensue.

  • DC bridge collapses, injuring several. Photos and video. Then there was the Condo collapse near Miami.

  • "U.S. seizes Iranian news sites for unknown reasons." A second version of the article "alleges disinformation." They also blocked the sites of Palestine Today (linked to Hamas) and El-Masirah (linked to Houthi "rebels" in Yemen).

  • The paper reprinted a Bloomberg editorial calling for the federal gasoline tax to be replaced by a VMT (vehicle miles traveled tax), which is just wrong on so many levels. This is related to the Republican push for "use taxes" to fund infrastructure projects -- anything to avoid taxing the rich, although given that VMT also works as a subsidy for gas guzzlers and a penalty for electric cars, you can guess which business interests are involved.

  • "Australia's runaway mouse plague forces mass evacuation from prison." I started with local pieces, and didn't plan on going this far afield, but couldn't resist the title.

  • "A record buyout is just start as wealthy flee US tax hike." Something the wealthy are uniquely positioned to do, but doesn't selling out depend on finding greater fools to buy up? And aren't such fools equally rich?

  • Finally, I saw a piece on the Aston Martin Valkyrie, a cutting edge sports car that can accelerate 0-60 in 2.6 seconds, and sells for $3.5 million. There was a day when I was enchanted by high-end sports cars, but they were never this inaccessible or useless. (Cue the Buzzcocks: "Fast Cars.") I'm not sure which is worse: that they would build such a thing, or that some people are so filthy rich there's a market for it. (Admittedly, compared to the latest in boats and planes, or thanks to Bezos and Mus, space ships, it may still be viewed as a cheap trifle.)

There was also the usual bad political news, as Republican senators filibustered the voting rights bill, and the Supreme Court handed down various rulings, including a particularly nasty (6-3) one against unions (see Ian Millhiser's articles, below). Also severe drought news from the western US, and record-setting heat waves from Finland across Russia and into Washington/Oregon. But what's more depressing about the items listed above is how far we seem to be from making the mental adjustments to live in our very complex and possibly fragile world.


Bret Bachman: DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state. Title doesn't do a very good job of clarifying what the fuck is going on here, but you have to be in a rather peculiar frame of mind both to see what the problem is that the bill is trying to rectify, and how the bill is supposed to actually achieve its purpose. You have to understand that Republicans believe that any young person who doesn't share their beliefs has somehow been indoctrinated with left-wing anti-American propaganda, and that college professors are among the chief conduits of this evil scheme. But what leads them to such a conclusion is their own belief in the efficacy of propaganda, because that's how conservative ideology has become so deeply, irrationally maintained. And if you look closer, you'll discover that what really unnerves them about professors (and knowledgeable people in general) is that they encourage people to research issues and think for themselves. A telling phrase in this article is the characterization of Florida universities as "socialism factories."

Debbie Downer: : Trump wanted his Justice Department to stop 'SNL' from teasing him. For four year, about the only saving grace from the day-to-day news was to watch sharp and sometimes brutal takedowns of Trump and his mob night after night on late TV -- the icing on the cake, until the pandemic hit, was the live audiences cheering every jeer. It's not necessary, or even the point, but it's nice to know that they got under Trump's thin skin. His reaction was typically authoritarian, a fancy 14-letter word for asshole, and it's totally in character for a guy who campaigned in 2016 for a law which would allow rich folk to sue anyone who offends them. I never heard any more about that after the election, but the idea is true to his heart, brain, and pocketbook.

Kansas City Star Editorial Board: Swamp 101: Joe Manchin asks billionaire donors to get Roy Blunt to do their bidding. Manchin was trying to push the January 6 Commission bill past a Republican filibuster, having already tied his shoelaces together by keeping the filibuster in force. That seems to matter to Manchin a lot because he thinks it would show bipartisan legislation is possible without ending the filibuster rule. Still, it's revelatory that he thinks a few donors could sway Blunt on a matter of partisan survival. Blunt isn't as far gone as his junior Senator Josh Hawley, but he's been reliably in lock step with McConnell all the way.

For what it's worth, Manchin doesn't bother me much. David A Graham (Joe Manchin was never a mystery) sums him up nicely: "It's always been pretty obvious who he is: a middle-of-the-road guy with good electoral instincts, decent intentions, and bad ideas." Democrats need politicians like him, especially in areas where Republicans tend to win. It's not so much that they counterbalance the left, as that they represent people the left can still talk to, and share values with. On the other hand, they do seem stuck in a lot of obsolete mental ruts. Manchin's plea for a bipartisan voting rights act failed because Republicans don't have any qualms about pursuing blatantly partisan advantage. A few years ago, Manchin tried to organize a bipartisan agreement for a very modest level of gun control, and again he failed as he found all Republicans in lock step with the NRA. His continuing support for the filibuster may be little more than an instinct not to rock the boat too hard, but sooner or later he'll have to realize that it's preventing him from accomplishing anything he or his precious "centrists" want. Even more than liberal/left Democrats need politicians like Manchin to reach out into Red States, he and they need more progressive Democrats to get their own modest interests represented. Because the Republicans for damn sure aren't going to help them at all.

Sarah Jones: It looks like Buffalo will have a socialist mayor: India Walton, who defeated incumbent mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary. Ever since my cousin moved to Buffalo around 1970, it's been one of my favorite travel destinations, and she's become such a booster that I've never come away with a bad impression of the city -- well, maybe that one Spring Break when it snowed every day -- although it has a reputation as a city in long decline. (I do remember the iron-red sunsets from 1971, but the plants that caused them are long gone.) So this feels personal in a way that, for instance, Milwaukee isn't. Haven't checked with my cousin yet, but good chance she knows, and supports, Walton.

Paul Krugman: Why won't Republicans rebuild America? After beating around the bush, he finally concludes: "The modern GOP just won't do public programs unless they offer vast opportunities for profiteering." The Reagan mantra was "greed was good," but even that was framed in such a way as to suggest that it would be good for more than just the greedy. Krugman cites the Bush-Rove Medicare D law, which required beneficiaries to buy private insurance for prescriptions, promising that the magic of competition would keep costs down, but it's mostly led to shady formulary manipulations meant to offload costs and increase profits, so now it's a prime example of how government creates markets for predatory companies. Infrastructure was one of Trump's most popular campaign planks, but all his Republican staff could come up with were private sector carve outs, because they've fully bought into the Reagan-era mantras about magic markets, incapable government, and the denial that there even a public interest.

Krugman also wrote Yellen's new alliance against leprechauns, about the proposal Biden pushed at the Group of 7 summit (and found a welcoming audience) to limit how companies use their international footprints to evade paying taxes. Back when I first read about such ideas in a 2019 book by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, they seemed unspeakable -- not just while Trump was president, but it was hard to imagine Obama or Clinton promoting them either. Indeed, the driving force behind globalization had much less to do with market efficiencies (which in a truly free and open market should net benefit customers) than with flipping the power dynamics between companies and states. Krugman's example is Apple, which conspicuously uses Ireland as a tax and asset haven (whence the titular leprechauns).

Damian Paletta/Yasmeen Abutaleb: Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from covid-19: Adapted from the authors' book, Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic That Changed History. Several points here: one is that Trump was very ill, and his recovery depended on experimental medicines applied massively, under extraordinary intense medical care; another is that he didn't learn anything from the experience. I'd revise that: after surviving, his ego exploded, making him extraordinarily arrogant and dismissive. He gave no credit to how exceptional his care war, claiming all credit for his willpower and genes. When I first heard of his illness, I felt a pang of sympathy, but quite frankly we'd all be better off had he died. The rest of his campaign was built on his personal triumph over the disease. His message was to not let the pandemic tell us how to live, and his fans were moved by his ersatz bravery, even as more and more of them succumbed. Even today, he's the poster boy for those who refuse the vaccine. We're still a long way from herd immunity, and the main reason for that is he survived the virus. Of course, the book covers much more, as he and his administration failed every step of the way.

Among the related links, note Timothy Bella: Coronavirus outbreak killed two at Fla. office, official says. A vaccinated person was spared. Stories like this should have an effect, but won't. I'm getting increasingly upset with unvaccinated Americans. (Of course, elsewhere in the world few people have the opportunity to be vaccinated, but increasingly in the US it is only people who are selfishly ignorant who haven't availed themselves of their privilege.) In particular, I don't see how anyone can claim any understanding of patriotism and refuse to get vaccinated. I'm close to the least jingoistic person in the world on that score, but isn't the one thing that all patriots claim is their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the community? By the way, see Marion Renault: Being vaccinated isn't a private matter. It's everyone's business.

Assal Rad: Iran's presidential election demonstrates the limits of US pressure campaign. Iran just held elections to choose a new president. As has been widely reported, most "moderate candidates," including logical successors to President Hassan Rouhani, were denied a chance to run, leaving the field open for "right-wing" Ebrahim Raisi to win easily. I put these camps in quotes, because they're little more than relative tendencies within the permissible Iranian political spectrum, which is ultimately controlled by Ayatollah Khamenei. One might think that Rouhani would have been easier for Americans to deal with, and the JCPOA "nuclear deal" that Obama negotiated and Trump tore up seems to be evidence of that, but the fact is that American security wonks (and more importantly, their Israeli masters) hate both camps, and don't want to see anything reduce the level of antagonism between the Iran and the US (and Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose separate hatred for Iran is what binds then to the US). (Indeed, there is evidence that anti-Iran hawks prefer Raisi; see Ryan Costello: US hawks push hardline presidential candidate in Iran.) I've seen arguments that Supreme Leader Khamanei (81) is grooming Raisi as his successor (although Muhammad Sahimi, in The who's who of Iranian players behind the new president, see Raisi as a facilitator to allowing Khamenei to be succeeded by his son, Mojtaba Khamenei). That all suggests that re-opening the JCPOA negotiations is secondary to domestic political considerations -- no matter how central they may seem to the Biden administration. Indeed, Khamanei has always been calling the shots, and that's the one thing the election won't change. But isn't the US the real variable in this equation? Rad's point is that sanctions don't work to force countries like Iran to behave as the US wants, but relieving sanctions is something to negotiate over. The problem with the JCPOA treaty was that soon after it was signed, the US came up with a bunch of new sanctions to impose on Iran, making sure that the rapprochement wouldn't develop into anything more. Under Trump, there was no chance of peaceful coexistence. Under Biden there is a slim one, but his people are going to have to break out of the moribund mindset that has routinely failed since 2001 (or 1989, or 1948).

Also see: Trita Parsi: What to take away from new Iranian president's debut; and Gary Sick: What the election of Ebrahim Raisi tells us about the future of Iran.

Alexander Sammon: The Supreme Court is closer to a 9-0 corporatist supermajority than a 3-3-3 split: "No amount of regrouping can obviate the need for Supreme Court reform." Although I'd caution that it's impossible to reform the Supreme Court until you can build a strong political consensus on what needs to be reformed. That means that Democrats have to start winning landslide elections, which doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon (with or without voting tweaks, which despite all the rhetoric about saving or destroying democracy is all current legislative efforts will do). The 6-3 conservative/liberal split over "culture war" issues is the one that gets the most publicity, but this week's judgments have split variously. One common denominator: "The Roberts Court, including its 'liberals,' has been an outstanding ally of corporate power."

David Sirota makes the same point: Today's Supreme Court isn't moderate. It's pro-corporate and anti-worker. For last week's Supreme Court decisions, see Ian Millhiser:

Walter Shapiro: Why are Democrats acting like the sky is falling? "The Biden administration has already accomplished a lot -- and the party is in a better position than many on the left claim." I don't like everything they've done, especially in the foreign policy realm, but I am pleased with a lot of things, and pleasantly surprised on some. Biden certainly compares favorably to Obama at this point in his presidency, and has had to work without large Democratic majorities in Congress (like Obama had, and blew). I don't even mind this piece of news: Biden claims bipartisan win with deal on infrastructure. Sure, it's only half a loaf (well, more like a third), and even at that it's not a done deal. And sure, Republicans (and even now, only a handful) are only agreeing because they realize that infrastructure is overwhelmingly popular, and they figure this will give them a better campaign story than their usual die-hard obstruction. But I'd be happy to see this much get through and turned into work, and I'd also be happy to campaign in 2022 on the need for more infrastructure investment, and on the taxes to properly support it. On the other hand, I don't see a case for fretting about the left. That's where the ideas that are making Biden look good come from, and that's the energy base. We need to be smart about politics, as well as principled.

On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to check the fine print: e.g., Kate Aronoff: The bipartisan infrastructure bil is a gift to Wall Street, at the planet's expense.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021


Music Week

June archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35664 [35610] rated (+54), 211 [214] unrated (-3).

Ran a day late in posting this. The cutoff was on schedule, late Sunday evening, but I got distracted by the busy work noted below.

More mid-year best albums lists (including country and hip-hop specialists, and one short jazz list):

If I had to construct a jazz list at the moment, it would be something like (scraped from my Year 2021 list):

  1. Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (Impulse!)
  2. James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
  3. Magnet Animals: Fake Dudes (RareNoise)
  4. Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine (Not Two)
  5. Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die Live (International Anthem)
  6. Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Joshua Abrams/Tim Daisy/Tyler Damon: The Covid Tapes: Solos, Duos, & Trios (Aerophonic, 2CD)
  7. Ivo Perelman Trio: Garden of Jewels (Tao Forms)
  8. Aki Takase/Christian Weber/Michael Griener: Auge (Intakt)
  9. Wadada Leo Smith: Sacred Ceremonies (TUM, 3CD)
  10. Irène Schweizer/Hamid Drake: Celebration (Intakt)

If we were running a Jazz Critics Poll at the moment, only my top two are likely to wind up top ten, with outside shots for Jaimie Branch, Wadada Leo Smith, and maybe one of the Intakt pianists (neither has placed high before, but the label gets attention). Other big names you might see: Miguel Zenón (A-), Vijay Iyer (***), Charles Lloyd (***), Thumbscrew (***), Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders (**), although my guesses are increasingly suspect as you go down my list. Is Joe Lovano (with or without Dave Douglas) a cause célèbre any more? Does the other 3-CD Wadada Leo Smith box overcome its solo trumpet limits? Has anyone actually heard the 10-CD William Parker box? I haven't, although I did finally check out the sampler (below). I'm not seeing much else I haven't heard yet that strikes me as likely contenders. But I should take a look through here: several things that interest me (at least) on just the first page.

I've added the records mentioned to my tracking file (haven't tracked down all the labels and dates yet), so it now has more unrated (442) than rated (328) records. I haven't tried to compile the lists, and haven't gotten very far in checking them out, although a few albums I noticed there made it into this week's list.

We recently watched 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, an 8-episode Apple TV+ documentary series made by Asif Kapadia in England, based on David Hepworth's book Never a Dull Moment: 1971 the Year That Rock Exploded (see: Rotten Tomatoes, no Wikipedia?; reviews in Guardian, Under the Radar, and a rather pissy piece in the New York Times). Reviews inevitably focus on who got included or left out, and whether 1971 was really more important than 1970 or 1972 (or 1967 or 1977), but I don't want to get mired in that (although one should note that they not only featured albums released in 1971, but also singles that were recorded in 1971 but didn't appear on albums until 1972 (like Exile on Main Street and Ziggy Stardust). [PS: I did review the soundtrack tie-in product after my cutoff, but decided to slip it in here. And yes, I did comment on what was and wasn't included.] I will say that there was some remarkable footage. For me, it was most interesting to recheck my memories and nostalgia. In my case, 1971 was something of a low point in my interest in music, which had been waning during several years of self-imposed confinement, and was rekindled once I went to college in St. Louis in 1972, although I was very much aware of key events, like Nixon's escalation in Vietnam, Kent State, and Attica. And while I didn't notice much music in real time in 1971, I made up for it in the next several years, as I found that music was the common denominator of the society I was struggling to enter. Hence, there was very little in the series that I didn't know, or at least catch up on over the next few years (which makes it not 50 years old to me, but 45+).

As this is 50 years after 1971, we're constantly running into anniversary reminders. (The one I'm most looking forward to is the release on HBO Max of my nephew Mike's documentary, Betrayal at Attica; see notices in Realscreen and C21 Media.) The most pedestrian of these tie-ins is the appearance of "best of 1971" album lists, like this one (the first I saw) at Yardbarker: Albums turning 50 in 2021 that everyone should listen to. These are 1971 releases. My grades are in brackets.

  1. Janis Joplin: Pearl [A-]
  2. Carole King: Tapestry [A-]
  3. The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers [A]
  4. Paul & Linda McCartney: Ram [B-]
  5. Marvin Gaye: What's Going On [A-]
  6. Carpenters: Carpenters [C]
  7. Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story [A]
  8. Funkadelic: Maggot Brain [B+]
  9. The Who: Who's Next [A+]
  10. The Bee Gees: Trafalgar [C-]
  11. Dolly Parton: Coat of Many Colors [A-]
  12. Billy Joel: Cold Spring Harbor [B]
  13. Elton John: Madman Across the Water [B-]
  14. MC5: High Time [B+(***)]
  15. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV [A]
  16. Sly and the Family Stone: There's a Riot Goin' On [A]
  17. Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson [B+(**)]
  18. David Bowie: Hunky Dory [A]
  19. John Prine: John Prine [A]
  20. John Lennon: Imagine [A+]

When I jotted that list down, I didn't have grades for 5 albums, so I scrambled to listen to them. Four were sensible decisions to have ignored, at least in an era where one actually had to buy albums. Reviews below.

Spin also has a better (and more obscurantist) 1971 list, 50 albums deep, so it catches some important titles missing from above, as well as dropping in more ordinary albums and a few genuine obscurities. Ones from their list I'd rate A- or better:

  1. The Stylistics: The Stylistics [A-]
  2. Curtis Mayfield: Roots [A-]
  3. Al Green: Gets Next to You [A]
  4. The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin: The Inner Mounting Flame [A]
  5. Joni Mitchell: Blue [A-]

I thought I might add a list of A-list albums they missed, then decided I should try my hand at compiling a fairly comprehensive annual list, like I've been compiling since 2002. That project got a little out of hand. It wasn't too hard to scan through my database for "1971" and pick out the actual releases, but most of my jazz records are listed by recording (as opposed to release) date, and I wanted to limit the list to actual (preferably US) releases that calendar year, so I had to do a lot of error checking. I also decided to go with original (preferably US) labels, whereas the database mostly had reissues. In some cases, I thought I should add notes contrasting the original releases with the reissues I actually listened to -- but I kept the database grades. I also decided to flag the jazz albums (J).

As I was error-checking, I added a section called "unheard records of some note." Obviously, there are thousands of 1971 releases that I haven't heard, so getting onto this list is pretty arbitrary. (Discogs has something like 120,000 1971 releases, but expect a lot of redundant entries for trivial differences, as well as tons of reissues from previous years. I started looking at the 12,000 jazz releases, and got about 25% into it.) While I was doing all this, I listened to a few 1971 albums I had missed, so I kept shuffling albums around.

A few quick observations:

  • The A/A+ lists are much longer than in recent years. Partly that's because those grades demand that records "stand the test of time," but also it's because these are records I've lived most of my life with.
  • On the other hand, the A- list is shorter, which reflects the fact that fewer albums were released back then. But also the share of jazz records is much smaller than in recent years (12/46, vs. about 50% in recent years). Other grade slots are similarly reduced.
  • The B+ category reflects albums graded before I started using the 1-3 star subdivisions. I've placed these after B+(*), but realistically they should be evenly distributed among the B+ grades.
  • The sharp fall off below B is, as it is today, the result of not bothering with records I didn't expect to like. It may also reflect the fact that I wasn't regularly keeping track of grades before 2000, so a number of records that I did listen to way back when never got graded.
  • I've kept the division between New Music and Reissues/Compilations/Vault Music, even though I don't have much to show for 1971. I've also loosened up the time requirements I've been using lately (10 years for vault music), especially where the artist has passed (Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane).

In theory, I could do this for other years, but looks like a lot of work. My guess is that 1970 would have a larger A-list, especially up top. Probably 1972 too. I started buying significant quantities of albums around 1974, so everything picks up from there, to about 1980. From then, the lists would slacken off, then pick up again around 1986, and more so when I started buying CDs. I started buying a lot of jazz and oldies c. 1995, and everything exploded when I started reviewing oldies in 2003 and jazz in 2004, and again when I started streaming around 2010. That finally made it cheap to listen to crap, and I've done plenty.

Jazz took a dive around 1970, aside from the fusion fad, which very few musicians showed any real skill at (Miles Davis, for sure, but not Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter, who still passed as pretty big successes). Jazz started to rebound in the US in the 1990s, but as art had been saved by small labels in Europe and Japan, and in any case it remains a music of small niches (definitely plural), despite being enormously creative. The thing about 1967-72 was that a lot of the innovation in those years was genuinely popular: we listened to the same records, and they were a common bond. I grew up in that environment, but by the time we published Terminal Zone we were starting to plot the fragmentation. Like the real universe, it's never gotten smaller, nor easier.

One more week before we wrap June Streamnotes. It's a 5-week month, so the monthly file is likely to be a big one (currently 162 records). Don't know whether I'll do a Friday news/opinion post. Scratch file for that is currently bare. Got virtually no reaction last week.

Got both of the porch rail projects done, thanks largely to Max Stewart, who always seems to be able to bail me out when I get in over my head. I spent what seemed like a lot of money (including a $50 shipping charge), and I'll never do business with them (Simplified Building) again. The hardware fit very loosely and/or awkwardly to the tubing, which was heavy but unattractive. The "self-tapping" screws weren't up to the job. Their instructions were wrong several places, resulting in drilling some holes too big, others too small. First thing I ever bought off an ad in Facebook, and may be the last.

I have one more rail piece on order from Amazon (item had a very long lead time). Assuming it fits right, it should be much easier to install. Also bought some small grab bars to locate by the doors, so you can hold on with one hand while opening the heavy screen doors. They came late today, so I still have to install them, but they should be easy.

Lots more making life difficult, but occasionally we make a bit of progress.


New records reviewed this week:

Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language Quartet: Let the Free Be Men (2017 [2021], Trost): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, group name refers not to Ornette Coleman but to a This Is Our Language recorded by this same quartet in 2012: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet/alto sax), Kent Kessler (bass), and Chris Corsano (drums). Joint credits, vigorous if a little on the rough side. A- [cd]

Armand Hammer & the Alchemist: Haram (2021, Backwoodz Studioz): Hip-hop duo, Billy Woods and Euclid, sixth album since 2013, team up with producer Alan Marman (ex-Cypress Hill). "Haram" means forbidden in Arabic, and pigs figure prominently, especially on the cover. B+(**)

Bicep: Isles (2021, Ninja Tune): Electronica duo from Belfast, Northern Ireland: Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar. Second album. "A potent blend of euphoria and melancholy that captures the very essence of rave perfectly." B+(**)

Abraham Burton/Lucian Ban: Black Salt: Live at the Baroque Hall (2018 [2021], Sunnyside): Tenor sax and piano duo. Burton was one of the brightest saxophonists to emerge in the 1990s, but has nothing as leader since 1995 -- although his side credits picked up after 2010, including two albums with the pianist. Strikes me as a bit cluttered, partly because the shift from alto to tenor slows him down. B+(**)

Brian Charette: Power From the Air (2020 [2021], SteepleChase): Organ player, leads a sextet with a range of horns -- flute (Itai Kriss), alto sax (Mike DiRubbo), tenor sax (Kenny Brooks), bass clarinet (Karel Ruzicka) -- and drums. Postbop, but swings some, DiRubbo stands out among the horns. B+(*)

J. Cole: The Off-Season (2021, Dreamville/Roc Nation): Rapper Jermaine Cole, sixth studio album. B+(*)

Czarface/MF Doom: Super What? (2020 [2021], Silver Age, EP): Hip-hop supergroup (7L, Esoteric, Inspectah Deck) teams up with rapper Daniel Dumile for a short album (10 tracks, 26:44), a follow up to their 2018 Czarface Meets Metal Face. Originally slated for April 2020, held back due to lockdown, finally appearing after Doom's death in October. A-

Dan Dean: Fanfare for the Common Man (2017-18 [2021], Origin Classical): Aaron Copland's title piece runs 3:34, but to these ears it's indistinguishable from surrounding pieces by Elgar, Bach, Debussy, Holst, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Khachaturian, and lots more Bach, rendered in a cappella (but surely multitracked) bippity scat, with a bit of whistle. Some famous titles here, but I hated classical music so much as a child I would plug up my ears or mute the TV, and I've never felt the slightest loss. My bad, perhaps, but not as bad as the "teachers" who thought that nothing else was worth listening to. B- [cd]

John Dikeman/Hamid Drake: Live in Chicago (2018 [2020], Doek Raw): Saxophonist, born in America but based in the Netherlands, returns to Chicago for a 37:12 improv with local drummer. B+(*) [bc]

Silke Eberhard Trio: Being the Up and Down (2020 [2021], Intakt): German alto saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet, leads the larger group Potsa Lotsa, trio with Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lübke (drums), whose names also appear on the cover. A-

Michael Formanek: Imperfect Measures (2017 [2021], Intakt): Bassist, another member of Tim Berne's 1990s group, dozen or so albums under his own name. This one is solo, pretty good for such. B+(**)

Garage A Trois: Calm Down Cologne (2019 [2021], Royal Potato Family): Acid jazz group, sixth album since 2003, first since 2011, now slimmed down to a trio as saxophonist Skerik doubles up on keyboards -- other long-term members are Charlie Hunter (guitar) and Stanton Moore (drums). B+(*)

Doug Lofstrom: Music for Strings (2018-19 [2021], Origin Classical): From Chicago, bassist, "has been composing prolifically since the 1970s," has a previous album on this label, but not much else I'm aware of. This was performed by Russian Strings Orchestra, conducted by Misha Rachlevsky. The sort of thing I couldn't stand as a child, and can barely tolerate now. B- [cd]

Mach-Hommy: Pray for Haiti (2021, Griselda): Rapper Ramar Begon, from Newark, Discogs credits him with 14 albums since 2016, but most were self-released, and Wikipedia never heard of him. B+(***)

Tobias Meinhart: The Painter (2021, Sunnyside): German saxophonist (tenor/soprano, alto flute), half-dozen albums since 2015, this with piano/bass/drums, guest guitar (Charles Altura) on two tracks, trumpet (Ingrid Jensen) on two others. B+(**)

William Parker: Trencadis: A Selection From Migration Into and Out of the Tone World (2019-20 [2021], Centering): Bassist, has released massive works before -- e.g., the 8-CD Wood Flute Songs in 2013 -- but this year's 10-CD box is unusual both for its size and the short time involved. I received a promo sampler in January, but didn't bother as it didn't look like product, as I resigned myself to missing his magnum opus. However, this sampler does now seem to have an independent existence, at least as a digital album. No idea who plays or sings (most songs have vocals), and I continue to have doubts and frustrations about the utility. B+(**)

Jeremy Pelt: Griot: This Is Important! (2020 [2021], HighNote): Mainstream trumpet player, albums since 2002, impressed me first with his chops, but has rarely made compelling ablums out of them. Ties in with a book of interviews with jazz musicians from Bertha Hope to Ambrose Akinmusire, full title Jeremy Pelt Presents: Griot: Examining the Lives of Jazz's Great Storytellers, Vol. 1. Half-dozen original pieces, a couple more with ongoing commentary, and snippets of interviews. With keyboards (Victor Gould), vibes (Chien Chien Lu), harp (Brandee Younger), bass, drums, percussion. B+(*)

Ivo Perelman/Nate Wooley: Polarity (2020 [2021], Burning Ambulance): Tenor sax and trumpet duo, at least the fifth album they've done together but the first duo. Probably because the tone limits wear on you, no matter how creative they sound at first. B+(*) [bc]

Tom Rainey Obbligato: Untucked in Hannover (2018 [2021], Intakt): Drummer, I first noticed him with Tim Berne in the late 1990s, has a half-dozen albums, including Obbligato (2014), a quintet mostly reunited here: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Drew Gress (bass), with Jacob Sacks (piano, replacing Kris Davis). B+(**)

Skyzoo: All the Brilliant Things (2021, Mello Music Group): Brooklyn rapper Gregory Taylor, tenth album since 2006, underground vibe, not as distinctive as his two 2020 efforts. B+(**)

Will St Peter/Steven Heffner/Steve Barnes: Honestly (2020 [2021], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in Dallas, studied at UNT, first album. Three St. Peter originals, covers ranging from Mancini to Ornette Coleman. B+(*) [cd]

The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The 2021 Jazz Heritage Series (2021, self-released): Taxpayer-supported culture, probably the least offensive thing the USAF does, but still an annual event I hold no hope for and am regularly repaid with varying levels of distress. Not that they can't play, but they have nothing much to say. Does provide a paying gig for a couple of ringers each year: Peter Bernstein and Chris Potter this time. B- [cd]

Jennifer Wharton's Bonegasm: Not a Novelty (2020 [2021], Sunnyside): Bass trombonist, second album, group a trombone quartet (John Fedchock, Nate Mayland, Alan Ferber) with piano/bass/drums, and guest spots for Samuel Torres (2) and Kurt Elling (1). B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything (1971 [2021], Island): Does "That" make any sense here? Subtitle feels like an anagram where you can shift words around endlessly without settling on a satisfactory result. No doubt the music was changing, as was the world, but subject and object are harder to grasp. Maybe it was dialectical? The documentary series runs eight episodes, about 6 hours, and contained enough music for a 4-CD box, so a single CD is bound to disappoint. As a synopsis, sure isn't bad, especially starting with "Imagine" and "What's Going On." But David Bowie, who probably gets more screen time than anyone, and "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," which is heavily featured as the year's most striking song, are missing here, as are Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell, and Sly & the Family Stone. On the other hand, there are songs and artists here that I don't recall in the videos (like Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, Edwin Starr's "Ball of Confusion," and the Temptations' "Just My Imagination"). I'm not inclined to complain about any of those last four -- even the piece from the otherwise lame Surf's Up (although John Martyn and Nick Drake do seem a little parochial, even in England). No doubt licensing has something to do with it, even though Universal, which owns Island, owns damn near everything. Makes me wonder if Sony can do an answer record (which should get us Bowie, Scott-Heron, and Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"). A-

Gary Bartz NTU Troop: Live in Bremen 1975 (1975 [2021], Moosicus, 2CD): Alto saxophonist, played with Dolphy, Mingus, Roach, and Blakey in the 1960s, with Miles Davis in 1971, left to form this band in 1971, with an uncompromising mix of avant postbop, black power, and crossover funk. This is close to the end of their run, down to a quartet with keyboards (Charles Mims), electric bass (Curtis Robertson), and drums (Howard King). B+(***)

Tim Berne/Chris Speed/Reid Anderson/Dave King: Broken Shadows (2018 [2021], Intakt): Alto and tenor sax from Berne's breakthrough groups from the 1990s, plus Bad Plus bass and drums. First released by vinyl-only Newvelle in 2019, so technically a reissue, predating Jazzclub Ferrara's live Tower Tapes #2, credited to Broken Shadows, perhaps the best set in their Covid lockdown dump. Impressive group, but slips and slides a bit much. B+(***)

Julius Hemphill: The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony (1977-2007 [2021], New World, 7CD): Box set with 40-page booklet, which may answer some of my questions. Alto saxophonist, major avant-garde figure from 1972 (Dogon A.D.) to his death in 1995, and in some ways beyond. He was the defining force behind World Saxophone Quartet, at least early on, and developed another saxophone choir in the 1990s (see Five Chord Stud), as well as a big band. He continued composing after he was no longer able to play (c. 1990), and periodically ghost bands appear in his name. I don't have date details here, but the stretch 12 years beyond his death is hard to fathom. The only thing he didn't play on was the Disk 4 "Chamber Music," and most of that (37:16) was a quintet he conducted (all horns, two brass/three reeds; the rest is 7:02 by pianist Ursula Oppens, and 19:15 by Daedalus String Quartet). The title is a group he played with c. 1977 (mostly a quartet with Baikida Carroll, Jehri Riley, and Philip Wilson; later with Carroll, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette), and the other groups (various Quartet lineups and the duo with cellist Abdul Wadud) weren't much later. There's a fair amount of squawk early on, and the chamber music isn't that interesting, but this really picks up on the fifth disc (Roi Boyé Solo and Text), particularly the "Unfiltered Dreams" with K Curtis Lyle's poetry set to solo saxophone (e.g., "Nobody Tells Me What to Do"), and the later live groups are both bracing and sophisticated. Not all great, but rises to that level time and again. A-

Old music:

Bee Gees: Trafalgar (1971, Atco): British group, three Gibb brothers, born on Isle of Man, grew up in Manchester, formed a skiffle group there, took a detour to Australia, releasing Bee Gees' 1st in 1967, the first of four albums (through Odessa) that peaked 4-16 in the UK, 7-20 in the US, 8-13 in Australia. I didn't notice them until their disco revival in 1975, but they scored their first number one US single here with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." Nothing else here is remotely decent. C-

Anne Briggs: Anne Briggs (1971, Topic): English folk singer, first album (after an EP in 1963), followed almost immediately by The Time Has Come, and very little else. I was surprised to find the latter in my database as a full-A album (English/Celtic folk is really not my thing, but the reissue was a pick hit in my May 2007 Recycled Goods). Much a cappella, remarkable in its own way. B+(***)

James Brown: Super Bad (1970 [1971], King): He signed to Polydor in 1971, which took over distribution of his King catalog, so this "live" album and the two-months later Sho Is Funky Down Here got reissued by Polydor within the year. Title hit is so great they stretch it to three parts (9:16), and "Giving Out of Juice" runs a bit longer. Four other songs run 3:05-39 (basically, singles with dubbed audience), including covers of "Let It Be Me" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." B+(***)

James Brown: Hot Pants (1971, Polydor): Hot single, more funk vamps, about par for a period when everything he touched was golden. [CD reissue adds the 19:09 complete take of "Escape-ism," excerpted on the original.] A-

James Brown: There It Is (1972, Polydor): More classic funk grooves, pausing for public service sermons about "King Heroin." A-

James Brown: Get on the Good Foot (1972, Polydor): Only album I can recall which features an advertisement for itself in any form, let alone running 5:54 to start off Side 2. Great songs you've heard before and/or will hear again, and other stuff. B+(*)

Carlton and the Shoes: Love Me Forever (1978, Studio One): Jamaican vocal group, also known as the Manning Brothers: lead singer Carlton, Donald, and Linford -- the latter two were also in the Abyssinians. First album (of three). B+(**) [yt]

Carpenters: Carpenters (1971, A&M): Brother-sister duo, hugely popular, albums 2-5 from 1970-75 went platinum (as did, 7X, The Singles: 1969-1973), declined thereafter, with Richard's drug problems and Karen's anorexia (fatal in 1983) tarnishing their story book wholesomeness. This was their third album, anchored by their most famous single ("Rainy Days and Mondays"), second side with a fairly decent "Superstar," the rest fleshed out with string and choral arrangements that make Mantovani sound like Mozart. C

Grin: Grin (1971, Spindizzy): Nils Lofgren, got his start playing guitar and keyboards with Neil Young, led this band 1971-73 before going solo, and winding up as a hired hand for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. I was introduced to this band through best-ofs, which emphasize Lofgren, so I recognize a few songs, but others have yet to sink in. Later reissues add "featuring Nils Lofgren" to the cover/title. B+(**)

Grin [Nils Lofgren]: 1 + 1 (1971, Spindizzy): Lofgren's name on top, but in smaller type, as if they're having trouble figuring out who this is. Good songs, but they (he?) don't have a trademark sound, nor do they hint at the future Americana mold, and the orchestral swell on the finale leaves me cold. B+(***)

Grin: All Out (1972, Spindizzy): Third album, went with the group name, and seem happier for it. This holds up better, but again the "best-of" songs get there first. A-

Billy Joel: Cold Spring Harbor (1971 [1983], Columbia): Piano-playing singer-songwriter, first album, barely dented the charts (158, 95 UK, 44 Japan), two years before Piano Man got him some notice. Artie Ripp produced, and reportedly butchered the original mix, leading to a split and a long contract dispute. Ripp remixed the album in 1983, cutting it from 33:07 to 29:53, correcting the pitch, and dubbing in more band. That seems to be the mix I listened to, which is spare but inoffensive. He seems to have a knack for writing show tunes, but not much context for staging them. B

Elton John: Elton John (1970, Uni): Piano-playing pop star, second album (but first released in US), scored a hit with "Your Song" but little else. B-

Elton John: Madman Across the Water (1971, Uni): Two singles here, "Tiny Dancer" and "Levon," where the definition of an Elton John single is a melody fetching enough they can survive the dead weight of Bernie Taupin's lyrics. B-

Elton John: Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973, MCA): Helps to pick up the pace, as he did on Honky Château, and again (less consistently) here, especially with "Crocodile Rock." I suppose his "Texan Love Song" has a whiff of irony, but he doesn't impress with his redneck yahoo act. B

Elton John: Caribou (1974, MCA): Recorded quick, then dressed up by the producer while he was on tour. Singles: "The Bitch Is Back," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." Fatigue sets in, if not him, then me. B

Elton John: Elton John's Greatest Hits Volume II (1971-76 [1977], MCA): Ten songs on the original North American version: two from albums out before his first Greatest Hits, four from later albums (two from Rock of the Westies, his best album, and one from Blue Moves, possibly his worst), plus four non-album singles, including covers of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Pinball Wizard" and a duet with Kiki Dee ("Don't Go Breaking My Heart"). The covers seem celebrate his status as a celebrity, but don't do anything interesting. B+(**)

Elton John: Elton John's Greatest Hits Volume III 1979-1987 (1979-87 [1987], Geffen): After Blue Moves (1976), I paid him no attention -- the only later album in my database was his 2010 duo with Leon Russell (The Union, a B; Christgau gave up after Jump Up! in 1982, aside from this best-of and a 1992 "dud"). However, his singles discography shows 11 top-20 records in this period, and 11 more through 20002 (more on the Adult Contemporary chart), so I thought this might be worth checking out. Only two songs I recognized here, and only one was close to great -- "Sad Songs (Say So Much)." The rest are uninspired formula (at best). B

Curtis Mayfield: Curtis (1970, Curtom): Joined a group that became the Impressions as a teenager in 1956. Left them to go solo with this album in 1970. I've been playing his career-spanning 2-CD Anthology a lot lately, and the two most brilliant pieces here are there, but the rest of his music finds a unique groove and persona, and I don't see any point quibbling about details. A-

Curtis Mayfield: Roots (1971, Curtom): Maybe you could nitpick some of the arrangements, but his voice and rhythms are so supple they wash right over them. Fewer songs I recognize from Anthology, but the flow is unique, powerful, sweeping. [PS: CD adds 4 alternate takes, underscoring great songs.] A-

MC5: High Time (1971, Atlantic): Michigan rock band formed in 1964, cited nowadays as "proto-punk," third and final album (despite partial reunions in 1992, after vocalist Rob Tyner died, and in 2003-10, until bassist Michael Davis died). Eight songs, extra horns on the last. B+(***) [yt]

MC5: Babes in Arms (1966-71 [1983], ROIR): Wayne Kramer compiled this from "rare out-takes, mixes, remixes, uncensored and experimental works in progress, and rehearsal tapes," for cassette release in 1983. Yet somehow this strikes me as more satisfying than any of their studio albums: some of their signature songs, loosely done but expertly paced, gets stronger and stronger. A- [bc]

Helen Reddy: Helen Reddy (1971, Capitol): Pop singer from Australia, had some hits in the 1970s, especially on the Adult Contemporary chart. Second album, one short of her breakthrough hit ("I Am Woman"). She wrote 1.5 songs, smartly picked covers from John Lennon, Donovan, Carole King, Leon Russell, and Randy Newman, but my favorite is "Tulsa Turnaround." Nice voice, decent arrangements, even the strings. B+(***)

Helen Reddy: Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits (1971-75 [1975], Capitol): Ten songs, picked for chart position (9 top-2 AC, the other was the oldest, peaking at 12), so nothing from her 1971 eponymous album. There are more "definitive" compilations, but the CD reissue, with (And More) tacked onto the title, just took her to 1979 (and down to 60 on the pop chart, 41 AC). Reminds me we stopped caring about pop charts as the 1970s progressed, and never gave Adult Contemporary a second thought. Arrangements can be a bit much, but I rather like her. B+(**)

The Stylistics: The Stylistics (1971, Avco): Vocal group from Philadelphia, featuring Russell Thompkins Jr.'s falsetto and Thom Bell's production. First album, a tour de force. A-

The Stylistics: The Best of the Stylistics (1971-74 [1975], Avco): I should probably sample the four intervening albums, which charted 14-66 (R&B 3-8) and got panned by Christgau (B+, C+, missed the 3rd, C), but I'm impatient. Ten songs, four from the debut, seems like it should have grabbed me faster -- like the first album did, but right now I'd rather move on. B+(***)

Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep Mountain High (1966 [1969], A&M): Originally released on producer Phil Spector's label in the UK, but the Ike-less title cut stiffed (peaked at 88 in the US, vs. 3 in the UK), delaying US release. I've long regarded it as genius, but Ike's "I Idolize You" [originally from 1960?] has a lot more grit and soul. As the album alternates six productions by each, it risks schizophrenia, but both halves are so intense they modulate each other, albeit strangely. A-

Ike & Tina Turner and the Ikettes: Come Together (1970, Liberty): After opening for the Rolling Stones, they make a (partial) move toward the rock market, adding four rock covers to eight Ike songs. Tina comes close to owning the latter, but really burns on the originals. A-

Ike & Tina Turner: What You Hear Is What You Get: Live at Carnegie Hall (1971, United Artists): Live double, but not that long (59:26), notable for the preponderance of covers -- only two Ike credits, one shared with Tina, the other a mere 0:30 of "Ike's Tune" -- with "Proud Mary" featured and Otis Redding for the closer (or encore). B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language Quartet: Let the Free Be Men (Trost)
  • The Mark Masters Ensemble: Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster (Capri) [06-18]
  • -- next