An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, January 23, 2023
Music: Current count 39462  rated (+48), 42  unrated (+6: 14 new, 28 old).
Very little to add about this week's music. I was struggling to think of things to look up early in the week, so I wound up searching down the EOY aggregate file for highest-rated unheard records, sometimes singling out genres (country probably got the most attention). The highest-ranked records I still haven't heard yet:
The frequency of unheard items picks up significantly after 300: The Callous Daoboys (303); Knucks (309); Obongjayar (315); Rammstein (317); Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn (318); Undeath (320); Afghan Whigs (324); The Big Moon (327); Naima Bock (328); Demi Lovato (332); Paolo Nutini (335); Static Dress (340); Big Joanie (344); Porcupine Tree (357); Warmduscher (364); Willow (365); Utada Hikaru (380); Horse Lords (381); The Orielles (389); Slipknot (396); Tedeschi Trucks Band (398); Wild Pink (400); Anxious (403); Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler (404); Goat (409); Ho99o9 (410); King Hannah (412); King Stingray (413); Natalia Lafourcade (414); Kali Malone (415); Rob Mazurek (417); Meshuggah (419); Muse (422); Caitlin Rose (426); Bruce Springsteen (430); And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (434); Blackpink (436); Built to Spill (439); Coheed and Cambria (441); Grace Cummings (442); Brian Ennels & Infinity Knives (447); Aoife Nessa Frances (448); Marina Herlop (450); Ithaca (453); The Lounge Society (458); Angeline Morrison (460); Pillow Queens (462); Pixies (463); The Soft Pink Truth (467); Witch Fever (471); Wizkid (472); Backxwash (476); The Black Angels (481); Black Star (482); Broken Bells (484); Alex Cameron (485); Christine and the Queens (489); Jake Xerxes Fussell (492); Future (493); Robyn Hitchcock (496).
I'll probably knock a few more of those off next week (so far: They Hate Change, Knucks). I expect to freeze the 2022 file after next week -- I may as well plan now on closing the week/month on January 31 instead of 30. After that, I'll cut back on the 2022 tracking files, although I'll continue to add late entries to the year 2022 lists, including the jazz and non-jazz best-of lists. Looking forward, I haven't started 2023 tracking and metacritic files. Hoping to focus more on other projects going forward, but I'm reluctant to make promises or resolutions.
I posted a pretty substantial Speaking of Which yesterday. The deeper I get into the Ryan Cooper book, the more impressed I am. Before getting into it, I read most of Denise Low's slim Jigsaw Puzzling: Essays in a Time of Pestilence. We've been doing jigsaw puzzles much earlier than the pandemic. Laura usually wanted to do a puzzle when she had a few days off. I had a pair of Springbok puzzle caddies, so was well-prepared to indulge her. One special memory was from 1991: we were working on one while watching coverage of the Soviet coup against Gorbachev, while a hurricane was blowing outside (we were in Boston). Since she retired, we've had a puzzle going continuously. Low, by the way, was once poet laureate of Kansas, although she's since moved to northern California.
New records reviewed this week:
Courtney Marie Andrews: Loose Future (2022, Fat Possum): Country singer-songwriter from Phoenix, ninth album since 2013, has a light touch. B+(**) [sp]
Kelsea Ballerini: Subject to Change (2022, Black River): Pop singer-songwriter, working out of Nashville, but almost all of her songs have multiple co-writers and kitchen sink production -- nothing distinctively country about that, even when you get a title like "Love Is a Cowboy" or "You're Drunk, Go Home." B+(*) [sp]
Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (2022 , Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, from New York, fourth album since 2012, this one co-produced by Terri Lyne Carrington, who aims for crossover not by compromise but by turning up the heat. Opens and closes with sirens and Angela Davis. Guest vocals from Dianne Reeves and Georgia Anne Muldrow, and spoken word by Sonia Sanchez and Wayne Shorter, but the sax speaks loudest and clearest. A- [cd] [01-27]
The Cactus Blossoms: One Day (2022, Walkie Talkie): Country band from Minnesota, fifth album since 2011. Principally singer-songwriters Jack Torey and Page Burkum. B [sp]
Bill Callahan: YTILAER (2022, Drag City): Singer-songwriter from Maryland, recorded as Smog 1990-2007, tenth album under his own name, seems to be regarded as a big deal but I've never warmed to his deadpan vocals and minimal guitar. Title this time is a mirror image of REALITY -- I won't try to reproduce that affectation here, but much of the press has indulged him. First third of the album drags as usual, but he almost gets interesting after that. B+(*) [sp]
Loyle Carner: Hugo (2022, EMI); British rapper, stage name a play on his last name (Coyle-Larner), third album. B+(**) [sp]
Paul Cauthen: Country Coming Down (2022, Thirty Tigers/Velvet Rose): Country singer-songwriter from East Texas, started in group Sons of Fathers, third album (counting his debut My Gospel). Has a voice you'll be able to recognize again, with more grit and humor than his résumé suggests. B+(*) [sp]
Chat Pile: God's Country (2022, The Flenser): Noise rock/sludge metal band from Oklahoma, named after the toxic waste left around lead-zinc mines. First album. Rates for chops and attitude, and is all the more amusing at the low volume that makes it tolerable to me. And yeah, in case you're wondering, God's country is indeed a toxic dump. B+(*) [sp]
Brent Cobb: And Now, Let's Turn to Page . . . (2022, Ol' Buddy): Country singer, fifth album since 2006, turns to the hymn book here, opening with an easy-going "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," and continuing to pick out old chestnuts that remind me of the comforts of church without the histrionic crap that drove me away. B+(**) [sp]
Luke Combs: Growin' Up (2022, Columbia Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from North Carolina, third album, all number ones, includes a duet with Miranda Lambert. B+(*) [sp]
Rosalie Cunningham: Two Piece Puzzle (2022, Machine Elf): British singer-songwriter, second album after previous group Purson. B [sp]
Lucrecia Dalt: ¡Ay! (2022, RVNG Intl): Colombian singer-songwriter, studied as a civil engineer, based in Berlin, albums since 2005 (initially as Lucrecia), previously unfamiliar to me, and hard to pigeonhole: the beats Latin but subtler, the electronics layered acoustically, the vocals foreign, the pacing and tension unique. A- [sp]
Sarah Davachi: Two Sisters (2022, Late Music): Canadian electroacoustic musician, based in Los Angeles, couple dozen albums since 2013. Plays organ, synthesizer, bells here, with extra strings, voices, and (one cut near the end) trombone, mostly to ambient effect. B+(*) [sp]
Richard Dawson: The Ruby Chord (2022, Domino): British singer-songwriter, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, albums since 2005, draws on (or deconstructs) folk music. Voice reminds me a bit of Robert Wyatt, and music is comparably off-kilter, but that's as far as the similarity goes. B- [sp]
Drake: Honestly, Nevermind (2022, OVO Sound/Republic): Canadian rapper Aubrey Drake Graham, seventh album since 2011, all seven have topped both rap and pop charts, despite that aside from his debut, he albums get very little critical respect. Still, this one slides by painlessly enough. B+(*) [sp]
Drake & 21 Savage: Her Loss (2022, OVO Sound/Republic): Duo with Atlanta rapper Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph. B [sp]
Brent Faiyaz: Wasteland (2022, Lost Kids): R&B singer Christopher Wood, from Maryland, second album. B+(*) [sp]
First Aid Kit: Palomino (2022, Columbia): Swedish folk-pop duo, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, fifth album since 2010. More pop these days. B+(*) [sp]
Gabriels: Angels & Queens Part 1 (2022, Atlas Artists/Parlophone): Soul group from California, featuring vocalist Jacob Lusk with producers Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian, first album (or first half of one, Part 1 (7 songs) coming in at 27:29, with a Part 2 promised for March, 2023. B+(**) [sp]
Ghost: Impera (2022, Loma Vista): Swedish rock band, fifth album since 2010, close enough to attract a metal following but I don't particularly feel it -- so this is relatively listenable, but loses interest midway (e.g., "Watcher in the Sky"). B- [sp]
Gilla Band: Most Normal (2022, Rough Trade): Irish band, changed name from Girl Band for this third album. Scattered stabs at punk, hardcore, noise. B [sp]
Keiji Haino: My Lord Music, I Most Humbly Beg Your Indulgence in the Hope That You Will Do Me the Honour of Permitting This Seed Called Keiji Haino to Be Planted Within You (2019 , Purple Tap/Black Editions): Japanese experimental musician, b. 1952, has close to 100 albums, mostly plays guitar and sings, but choice of instrument here is hurdy gurdy, with a lot of drone resonance. B+(*) [sp]
Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding: Alive at the Village Vanguard (2022 , Palmetto): Piano and vocal duo, the latter perversely insisting on lower case, and not bothering with the bass she first made her name with. She scats a lot, but finds her voice on "Girl Talk." B+(***) [cd]
Hot Chip: Freakout/Release (2022, Domino): British synthpop band, eighth album since 2004. B+(*) [sp]
Jeremy Ivey: Invisible Pictures (2022, Anti-): Nashville singer-songwriter, plays guitar, started in Buffalo Clover, married the singer (Margo Price), third solo album (counting one co-credited to the Extraterrestrials). B [sp]
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges: Texas Sun (2020, Dead Oceans, EP): Houston psych rock band, mostly instrumental, got a gig opening for retro-soul singer Bridges in 2018, leading to this EP (and another in 2022), which really should be filed under the singer's name. Four songs, 20:58. B+(**) [sp]
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges: Texas Moon (2022, Dead Oceans, EP): A second EP, five songs (22:37). Focus shifts slightly to the band, who are chill. B+(*) [sp]
Lambchop: The Bible (2022, Merge/City Slang): Nashville indie band, albums since 1990, Kurt Wagner sings. Slow and ponderous, as usual. B [sp]
Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver (2022, New West): Not taking any chances here: the twelve songs are famous, iconic even, and the various artists are not just stars but well practiced in tributes, with Willie Nelson getting a second helping ("Fast Train to Georgia") after sharing the title song with Lucinda Williams. One I didn't recall but I'm glad I heard it here: "Ain't No God in Mexico." Steve Earle picked that one. A- [sp]
The Mars Volta: The Mars Volta (2022, Clouds Hill): Prog rock band from El Paso, seventh album since 2003, seems fairly normal. B [sp]
Carson McHone: Still Life (2022, Merge): Austin-based singer-songwriter, third album, close to country but enough? B+(*) [sp]
Tyler Mitchell Octet: Sun Ra's Journey (2021 , Cellar): Young bassist, his credentials assured by giving a featuring spot to Marshall Allen. B+(***) [cd]
Nas: King's Disease III (2022, Mass Appeal): Rapper Nasir Jones, dropped Illmatic 28 years ago and never let up, although he's return to his 2020 title for a third time. B+(***) [sp]
Kim Petras: Slut Pop (2022, Republic, EP): German pop singer-songwriter, based in Los Angeles, trans, has a lot of singles, as far back as 2008 but especially since 2017, with a couple picked up before this super-trashy, super-smutty 7-track, 15:51 EDM teaser. I, too, "want to see how big it gets." A- [sp]
Aaron Raitiere: Single Wide Dreamer (2022, Dinner Time): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, based in Nashville, first album, has written songs for a dozen name singers -- Anderson East, Miranda Lambert, Natalie Hemby, and Ashley Monroe return the favor with cameo and production credits here. B+(***) [sp]
Jim Snidero: Far Far Away (2022 , Savant): Alto saxophonist, from DC area, studied at UNT, moved to New York in 1981, more than two dozen albums since 1984 (more side credits). Very solid outing, with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel getting a "featuring" credit on the cover, and an impeccable rhythm section of Orrin Evans (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). B+(***) [cd] [02-03]
Stormzy: This Is What I Mean (2022, Def Jam): British rapper Michael Omari, third album, not much beat. B [sp]
Vieux Farka Touré & Khruangbin: Ali (2022, Dead Oceans): Guitarist-singer-songwriter from Mali, following his famous father's footsteps, tenth (or 12th) album since 2007, joined here by a Houston psych rock trio that has been diversifying of late (e.g., two EPs with Leon Bridges). They are near invisible here, probably for the better. B+(***) [sp]
Phil Venable: Bassworks, Vol. 1 (2022, Soul City Sounds): Solo bass, three pieces (38:35), captivating within those limits. B+(*) [bc]
The Wonder Years: The Hum Goes On Forever (2022, Hopeless): Emo band from Pennsylvania, Dan Campbell the singer, seventh album since 2007. Probably has some merit, but I lose interest when they get pumped up. B [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Miles Davis: Miles Davis With Tadd Dameron Revisited: Live 1949 at the Royal Roost NYC & in Paris at Festival Internationale De Jazz (1949 , Ezz-Thetics): Six tracks from a tentet led by pianist Dameron at the Royal Roost, plus nine tracks by a co-led quintet a Paris festival, with James Moody (tenor sax), Barney Spieler (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums). Sound reminds me of Bird's Royal Roost dates, although this group is less focused and more slippery. Davis gets some good runs in Paris, especially on "Rifftide." B+(***) [bc]
Miles Davis Quintet: 2nd Session 1956 Revisited (1956 , Ezz-Thetics): When Davis signed with Columbia, he still owed Prestige four albums, which the Quintet -- John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums) -- knocked out in two sessions, one on May 11, the other on October 26, 1956. The albums were slowly released, up to mid-1961, to capitalize on Columbia's publicity. This singles out the latter session, most of which was released on the first two albums (Cookin' and Relaxin'), plus one track from the other two (Workin' and Steamin'), plus a take of "'Round Midnight" (the title of their Columbia debut). A- [bc]
Dave Bartholomew: The Big Beat of Dave Bartholomew: 20 of His Milestone Productions 1949-1960 (1949-60 (2002), Capitol): Eight of them credited to Bartholomew, three more to Smiley Lewis, the others oddly misdirected. B+(**) [sp]
Doc Cheatham: Hey Doc! [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1975 , Black and Blue): Trumpet player, born in Nashville but remembered for New Orleans. I first noticed him on a 1993 album called The Eighty-Seven Years of Doc Cheatham, which is to say shamefully late, although so he still had another career highlight left: 1997's Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton. He spent most of his career tucked away in big bands (Wilbur De Paris, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Cab Calloway, Claude Hopkins, Perez Prado, and Benny Goodman). He started headlining around 1973, shortly before this session with Sammy Price (piano), alto sax, trombone, bass, and drums (J.C. Heard). No credit on vocals. B+(**) [sp]
Jan Garbarek Quartet: Afric Pepperbird (1970 , ECM): Norwegian saxophonist, mostly tenor but also credited bass sax, clarinet, flute, and percussion. Not quite his first album, but this begins his long association with ECM. Quartet names on cover: Terje Rypdal (guitar, bugle), Arild Andersen (bass, thumb piano, xylophone), and Jon Christensen (percussion). The sax is rougher on these early recordings, especially here. That's not a complaint. B+(***) [sp]
Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson/Terje Rypdal/Arild Andersen/Jon Christensen: Sart (1971, ECM): Norwegian group, all students of George Russell, near the start of major careers. Garbarek plays tenor sax, bass sax, and flute, and wrote four (of six) pieces. The others play piano, guitar, bass, and drums, with Andersen and Rypdal writing one piece each. B+(***) [sp]
Jan Garbarek/Arild Andersen/Edward Vesala: Triptykon (1972 , ECM): Soprano/tenor/bass saxophone-bass-drums trio. Still on edge. B+(***) [sp]
Jan Garbarek: Places (1977 , ECM): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano/alto), quartet with John Taylor (piano/organ), Bill Connors (guitar), and Jack DeJohnettte (drums). Four long-ish pieces, ranges from atmospheric to towering, a master of tone, the guitar filling in eloquently. A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 22, 2023
Speaking of Which
Plenty below. No need to pad it out with an introduction. I do want to note that so far I'm very impressed with Ryan Cooper's book, How Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Questions in Politics.
House Republicans: Expect this to be the main story for the next year or two, as Republicans use their five-seat margin in the House to repeatedly remind us why they should never again be trusted with any power whatsoever in Washington. This week's stories:
And beyond the House, Republicans don't get any brighter (or saner, let alone more civil):
Li Zhou: [01-19] Introducing the new, even Trumpier class of Senate Republicans: Markwayne Mullin (OK), Ted Budd (NC), Katie Britt (AL), J.D. Vance (OH), Eric Schmidt (MO).
William Astore: [01-15] Imperial Dominance Disguised as Democratic Deterrence: Reading the Pentagon's latest NDS (National Defense Strategy) paper, which identifies five threats, prioritized: 1. China; 2. Russia; 3. the War on Terror; 4. North Korea and Iran; 5. climate change -- and proposes that the only way to deal with these problems is to spend more money on arms and bases straddling the world. Astore goes on to list seven things "you'll never see mentioned in this NDS":
For more, see:
Dean Baker: [01-21] Biden has earned a solid 'A' halfway through his term. A bit of boosterism from an economist who's normally quite critical, but compared to whom? Baker argues that Biden managed to wring more positive legislation out of Congress than any president since LBJ, with a razor-thin margin in Congress (unlike Clinton or Obama in their first two years, which brought us NAFTA and ACA/Dodd-Frank). He doesn't dwell much on the executive orders, which reversed much (though by no means all) of the damage Trump wrought. He also doesn't have anything to say about Biden's foreign policy, which allows many newspapers to pair his piece with Meaghan Mobbs: Joe Biden deserves a 'D' for his administration's foreign policy. I don't know her political affiliation, but she's a West Point grad, former Army captain, and well established in the pro-military think tank racket. She blames Biden for getting out of Afghanistan (that alone should bump the grade to 'B'), and more generally for not being militant enough everywhere: "President Joe Biden and his administration speak harshly against our adversaries while failing to follow through with the necessary hard actions." I'm critical too, but for opposite reasons. Biden has pretty much everywhere focused on rebuilding military alliances -- which he saw Trump as undermining -- while failing to mitigate tensions and pursue diplomatic breakthroughs, including some that were obviously there for the taking. I'm uncertain how much to grade him down for those shortcomings -- and sure, there have been some of those on the domestic side as well, but the foreign policy ones are more glaring because he supposedly has more autonomy there -- but on a curve that goes back at least to Reagan, he looks pretty good.
Baker also wrote:
Irin Carmon: [01-20] What the Supreme Court Left Out of Its Dobbs-Leak Report: After Roberts' huffing and puffing when the leak occurred, the report didn't find the culprit, suggesting that the real answer was one that Roberts didn't want to hear.
Chas Danner: [01-22] 10 Dead in Lunar New Year Shooting in California: What We Know. Third mass shooting in California so far this year, 33rd nationwide (that's about 1.5 per day).
Lawrence B Glickman: [01-21] The Real Origins of the "Democrat Party" Troll.
Jonathan Guyer: [01-20] Israel's new right-wing government is even more extreme than protests would have you think: "It's also not a huge departure from previous ones."
Margaret Hartmann: [01-20] Did a $1 Million Fine Teach Trump a Lesson About 'Frivolous' Lawsuits? Remember the one he filed in March "accusing Hillary Clinton, former FBI director James Comey, the Democratic National Committee, and many others of orchestrating 'a malicious conspiracy'"? Well, it's not only been thrown out. Trump and his attorneys have been sanctioned for filing it. And one day later, Trump prudently dropped another "similarly dubious lawsuit": see Samaa Khullar: [01-20] Trump rushes to withdraw frivolous lawsuit against NY AG after a stark warning from judge. Speaking of frivolous lawsuits by thin-skinned billionaires meant to stifle criticism, see Jordan Uhl: [01-20] A Texas Billionaire Is Suing to Stop Free Speech Against Billionaires.
More Trump trivia:
Jeet Heer: [01-17] Why Biden and Trump Are Both Trapped in Secret-Document Scandals: "The real problem is the national security state's love of classification." Also:
Heather Souvaine Horn: [01-19] Davos Still Sucks: "How can the World Economic Forum earnestly pretend to address global crises while being funded by the corporations that fuel these crises?" I skipped over a bunch of articles on Davos, as none seemed to convey the true story. This one merely sums it up briefly. Also includes a picture which shows their logo, which reads "Committed to improving the state of the world." One article I skipped was about a high-five between attendees (of course they are) Kirsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. They proved their commitment by repeatedly torpedoing Democratic bills over the last two years. But most likely what they're actually doing in Davos is prospecting for their post-Senate payouts.
Jill Lepore: [01-09] What the January 6th Report Is Missing: "The investigative committee singles out Trump for his role in the Capitol attack. As prosecution, the report is thorough. But as historical explanation it's a mess." Point taken, but the report's antecedents are hardly better. Part of the blame may be that to get the cooperation of Cheney and Kinzinger the Committee spared any Republican who wasn't directly tied to Trump. Beyond that, one thing the Committee didn't want to do was to offer any sort of mitigating circumstances, which is what a history of Republican voting schemes would have provided. Sure, Trump was not the only one, but he went farther than anyone else ever, so it's not such a surprise that he got singled out.
Blaise Malley: [01-20] Diplomacy Watch: White House signals that retaking Crimea is in the cards: "Officials say it has been US policy all along." One thing that all sides have managed to do is to hold fast to their maximalist demands without suggesting that they might be willing to settle for anything less. That makes some sense as a public stand, but it makes negotiation, and therefore any chance of ending the war, hopeless. I suppose it's possible that somewhere there's a secret channel where some kind of compromise can be negotiated, but the harder the public proclamations, the less credible that is. Key quote here is: "the Biden administration does not think that Ukraine can take Crimea militarily . . . but, officials said, their assessment now is that Russia needs to believe that Crimea is at risk." The fuller quote suggests that the US is angling toward eventual negotiations, which is to say they recognize that no military solution is possible, but in trying to psych out Russia, aren't they also building up false hopes for Zelensky? The recent rush to give Ukraine tanks seems to promise a spring offensive to drive Russia back toward the pre-2014 borders. But Russia's big tank advantage back in March soon turned into a liability. Is there any reason to think Ukraine can better defend their tanks?
More on Ukraine:
Ian Millhiser: [01-22] The coming legal showdown over abortion pills.
Madeleine Ngo: [01-19] The US just hit the debt limit. What happens now?
Kelsey Piper: [01-18] Operation Warp Speed was a huge success. So why is the US turning away from it? Rather than simply proclaiming Operation Warp Speed as "one of the biggest accomplishments of the Trump administration," perhaps a little critical distance is in order. It was Congress that put up the money, and the federal bureaucracy that implemented the program -- both subject to the usual corruption and political wiles, which were hardly unmitigated blessings. At best, Trump -- and, let's face it, he was rarely at best -- was a cheerleader. In the end, he was ambivalent about taking credit, because the anti-vax culture war cut deep into his base, leaving its leaders to catch up (something Ron DeSantis has done far more energetically than Trump). The problem isn't that "Democrats are loath to admit Trump did anything right" -- they just don't see any mileage when Trump himself is reluctant to take credit.
There are legitimate questions one could ask: Did this need to cost so much (e.g., elevating drug company moguls to billionaires). Why wasn't it more effective? Why wasn't it better distributed beyond the US? How can you speed up the process even more? Unfortunately, the Republican political thrust isn't how to do a better job, but how to avoid even being this effective ever again?
Luke Savage: [01-21] If America Had Fair Laws, 60 Million Workers Would Join a Union Tomorrow.
Dylan Scott: [01-20] When hospitals merge, patients suffer. Study is in the UK, but the profit motive amplifies the effect in the US.
More on health care:
Jeffrey St Clair: [01-20] Roaming Charges: The Specter of Equity and Other Evils.
George Tyler: [01-20] Ron DeSantis symbolizes that it's Richard Nixon's Republican Party now. Although, in a sign of the times, he admits that "in contrast to Nixon, DeSantis' cruel streak is already evident to voters." It took a while to realize that Nixon's malice wasn't just opportunism -- and many people continue to be shocked at Republican cruelty, even as evidenced by someone as sociopathic as Trump. I'm old enough to still regard Nixon as the most loathsome creature in American political history. In his calculated efforts to out-Trump Trump, DeSantis is aiming for Nixonian notoriety.
Dan Zak: [01-11] The boring journey of Matt Yglesias: "The Washington ur-blogger's slightly contrarian, mildly annoying, somewhat influential, very lucrative path toward the political center." During his time at Vox, Yglesias was the first person I checked every week, and most often provided the structure for my own blog posts. I had followed him as he maneuvered the blogosphere, but his paywall at Substack was one step too many. Still, by then I was beginning to have doubts. He got entered in, and won, a poll for "neoliberal shill of the year," and took unseemly pride in the fact. He never was as bad as most of the people friends on the left castigate as neoliberals, but he did seem to get up on a few ideas I found obnoxious, like "congestion pricing." (Even if you wanted to, how would that work? And what does it say about our values?) Then he wrote a big book called One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, which looked and smelled like a bid for the Thomas Friedman market. Nowadays, the only time I read him is when one of his Bloomberg columns gets syndicated in my local paper. Few are memorable, but he has enough command of his subject he's not useless. And while he seems politically more centrist than ever, the bigger problem may be that he's just not very deep. Consider this:
I wouldn't call those "key issues of the 21st century" -- they fall far short of war, inequality, labor rights, a very distorted system of justice, climate, sustainability, etc. Even his strong pro-immigration stance is based on his romanticism around growth.
Context is notice that "Virginia's Madison County School Board approved banning 21 books from its high school library." The list includes four books by Toni Morrison, three by Stephen King (including 11/22/63), and The Handmaid's Tale.
I could offer myself as another example: I instinctively hated (and in some cases refused to read) required literature, and sought out pretty much everything that was banned or condemned. And yes, see how I turned out. My brother followed suit, and got kicked out of school for turning in a poetry notebook which opened with "Howl." Both of us were sent to see a shrink (who, by the way, thought the whole affair was hilarious).
Monday, January 16, 2023
Music: Current count 39414  rated (+61), 36  unrated (-6: 8 new, 28 old).
Still decompressing from the pressures of releasing the Francis Davis Jazz Poll as well as numerous other stresses I've probably complained about too much already, so I don't have much to say this week. One way of destressing has been to do rote work: the biggest chunk of which was adding all of the jazz critics ballots into my EOY aggregate file (including ones we didn't receive from other sources like Free Jazz Collective). One result of this is that jazz albums have risen to an unnatural prominence in my overall standings (top 30, numbered by overall rank, points in braces, my grade in brackets):
These rankings will probably sink back if/when I add more non-jazz lists (if memory serves, the top jazz album usually winds up somewhere 20-35), but the value of spending much more time on this is receding. I've always maintained that the purpose of the list is to scout out records of possible interest to me, hence there have always been genres that I have sought out (I have 1161 jazz albums listed, of 4062 total) and others that I have avoided -- nonetheless, I counted 219 metal albums, but I've only heard 4; the country and hip-hop lists are actually shorter, but I've heard much more (64 of 138 country, 97 of 212 hip-hop).
Reviewing the ballots, I discovered three errors I had made in compiling, so I was glad to get them compiled. I've also heard from several critics who didn't get invited and (rightly) thought they should have: apologies to Karl Ackermann and Bill Milkowski. If/when we do this again -- and I'm pleased to report that Francis sounds more optimistic than I am -- we should make a serious effort to review and expand the voter rolls well in advance of the November crunch.
One thing I belatedly realized from this chart is that I never received physical CDs of Halvorson's Nonesuch albums nor of Sorey's Mesmerism. I reviewed them from streams as soon as they dropped, but was perplexed at not being able to find them when I racked up all of my 2022 A/A-/B+(***) jazz CDs. I rechecked several top jazz albums during the Poll, but only Wilkins got a grade bump. Although I've heard all 30 albums above, only 12 came as CDs.
One person I want to single out from the Jazz Poll's In Memoriam list is John Swenson. I remember him from when he was reviewing records for Rolling Stone in the mid-1970s. He went on to edit Stone's jazz and blues record guides, and moved on to New Orleans, where he wrote New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (post-Katrina). I bumped into him once, and was surprised and flattered that he seemed to be as pleased to meet me as I was to find him. As I recall, we were both pub rock fans at the time, so our later independent paths into jazz may have common roots. He joins John Morthland and Ed Ward in my personal pantheon of recently departed colleagues.
More old music this week, mostly from the Penguin Guide 4-star unheard list. Most get a single play and snap judgment, so I wouldn't be surprised if my grades wind up being low (even for Brubeck's Jazz Impressions of Japan). New records come from various sources, including Jazz Poll ballots, last week's Christgau Consumer Guide, and Jason Gross's Ye Wei Blog list. Plus I finally dipped into my 2023 promo queue.
I finished Fred Kaplan's 1959: The Year Everything Changed. The chapter on Margaret Sanger and the birth control pill is worth the price of the book, but so are another half-dozen chapters, not least those on three revolutions in jazz that hit that year: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (with due credit for George Russell), Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come. (Charles Mingus and Cecil Taylor get mentioned in passing, but not the former's fabulous Mingus Ah Um.) I turned nine that year, and scarcely noticed anything highlighted (mostly political events, including the space race), but Kaplan shows how the 1960s were locked and loaded, ready to burst forth, as they did for me -- many established so quickly that they looked to me like the natural world yet were still so new and divergent they shocked my parents and their generation's cultural guardians. Some overlap with Louis Menand's The Free World, which is more careful in laying out early post-WWII changes than looking for a specific pivot point.
Last, I wrote yet another Speaking of Which last night, and made a brief pass at touching it up today. The biggest change was that I looked up links for most of the statements I made in the introduction. I probably should do that sort of thing more often, but it's hard to keep up that much focus on something that gets forgotten so quickly.
New records reviewed this week:
Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Sixth Decade From Paris to Paris: Live at Sons D'Hiver (2020 , RogueArt, 2CD): Quintet formed in 1966, the best known group to emerge from the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music), from their inception dedicated to transcending jazz and performing "great black music." The original group stuck together more than 30 years, until the deaths of Lester Bowie (1999), Malachi Favors (2004), and Joseph Jarman (2019). That left Roscoe Mitchell (sax) and Famoudou Don Moye (percussion), who keep the faith with a long list of guests: I count 18 here, where the vocalists (Moor Mother, Roco Córdova, Erina Newkirk) are most prominent, and the percussionists most numerous. I don't love all the vocals, but there's much to celebrate here. A- [cd] [01-20]
Asake: Mr. Money With the Vibe (2022, 'YBNL Nation/Empire): Nigerian singer-songwriter Ahmed Ololade, first album (after an EP). Draws on hip-hop more than Afrobeat, but gets a nice flow either way. B+(***) [sp]
John Bailey: Time Bandits (2022 , Freedom Road): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, only has a couple albums but has been around a long time. Mainstream quartet here with George Cables (piano), Scott Colley (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**) [01-23]
Lucian Ban: Ways of Disappearing (2021 , Sunnyside): Romanian pianist, moved to New York in 1999, dozen-plus albums since 2002, this one solo. Originals plus one piece each by Annette Peacock and Carla Bley. B+(**) [sp]
Barcelona Art Orchestra: Ragtime Stories (2021 , UnderPool): Large (17-piece) group, conducted by pianists Néstor Giménez and Llis Vidal, with Lluc Casares (clarinet/tenor sax) and Joan Vidal (drums) also composing and arranging. May have some swing or earlier references, but is slick and fully postmodern. B+(***) [sp]
Bliss Quintet: Dramaqueen (2022, Jazzland): Norwegian quintet, first album, no credits on Bandcamp page, and I don't recognize any names on the cover, but figure trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums. B+(*) [sp]
Madison Cunningham: Revealer (2022, Verve Forecast): Singer-songwriter from California, fourth album. B+(**) [sp]
Czarface: Czarmageddon (2022, Silver Age): Hip-hop group, with Inspectah Deck (of Wu-Tang) joining the duo 7L & Esoteric. Twelfth album since 2013. Trademark cartoon cover, lots of turntable squeaks, beats sometimes leaning toward punk. B+(***) [sp]
Falkner Evans: Through the Lines (2022 , CAP): Pianist, originally from Tulsa, moved to New York in 1985, seventh album since 2001, his second solo outing. Measured and thoughtful. B+(**) [cd] [01-20]
Mimi Fox Organ Trio: One for Wes (2022 , Origin): Guitarist, albums as far back as 1987, trio here with Brian Ho (organ) and Lorca Hart (drums). She comes from a generation of American guitarists who were almost all under Wes Montgomery's spell, so the dedication isn't a surprise, but the music -- no Montgomery tunes, six originals (only dedication there is the probable typo, "For Django, Avec Amor"), covers of Bobby Timmons and Lennon-McCartney -- points elsewhere. B+(*) [cd] [01-20]
Fred Frith/Susana Santos Silva: Laying Demons to Rest (2021 , RogueArt): Guitar and trumpet duo, one 41:57 piece, seems abstract at first but grows on you. B+(***) [cd] [01-20]
Hard Rubber Orchestra: Iguana (2022, Redshift): Large Canadian group, founded in 1990 and directed by John Korsrud, based in Vancouver, only a handful of albums. This one credits 21 musicians (including five drummers plus a percussionist), includes' three Korsrud compositions but he's not among the credits. B+(*) [sp]
Sly Johnson: 55.4 (2022, BBE): French singer, first name Sylvère, fourth album, "blends soul and hip-hop" (I'd say funk). Includes a slow, evocative "What's Going On." B+(**) [sp]
Linqua Franqa: Bellringer (2022, Ernest Jennings): From Athens, Georgia, "linguist by day, lunatic lady rapper by night." A little unsteady, but gets political toward the end, asking the labor solidarity "which side are you on?." B+(**) [bc]
Lyrics Born: Vision Board (2022, Mobile Home): Rapper Tom Shimura, boasts he's "The Best Rapper in the World," and while that song doesn't make the case, I can't think of anyone who can pump up a beat like him, then match the clever string of words he flows in and around. He secures guests for six (of nine) songs, yet they all join together. Short (29:34). A- [sp]
Joanna Mattrey/Gabby Fluke-Mogul: Oracle (2022, Relative Pitch): Violin duo (Mattrey's credit: viola, stroh violin), a sound I find intrinsically treacherous. Still, if you can get past that reaction, you get a lot of tricky interaction, including a bit of joust, which is actually a bit less jarring than a free sax squawk. B+(**) [sp]
Fergus McCreadie: Forest Floor (2022, Edition): Scottish pianist, second album, trio with bass (David Bowden) and drums (Stephen Henderson). Impressive speed, retains his touch when he slows down. B+(**) [sp]
Joe McPhee & Tomeka Reid: Let Our Rejoicing Rise (2021 , Corbett vs. Dempsey): Opens with a McPhee speech on Juneteenth and "Nation Time," leading into a tenor sax and cello duo, a bit on the solemn side. B+(**) [bc]
Montparnasse Musique: Archeology (2022, Real World): Duo, Algerian-French producer Nadjib Ben Bella, and South African DJ Aero Manyelo, the latter's hip-hop (or kwaito or gqom) with a dash of mbube wrapped up in electronic glitz. A- [sp]
Simon Moullier: Isla (2022 , self-released): Vibraphone player, second album, quartet with piano (Lex Korten), bass, and drums. Nice easy flow. B+(**) [cd] [02-17]
Native Sound System: Nativeworld (2022, Native): Not a group, evidently a British radio show (DJs Sholzstilltippin and Addy Edgal), tied to a Nigerian magazine, so this might be more of a various artists compilation. B+(*) [sp]
Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile De Dakar: Special Fin D'Année 2022 (2022, self-released, EP): Four tracks, 20:41. Not essential, but the last track would fit nicely in one of his typically brilliant albums. B+(**) [sp]
Maggie Nicols: Are You Ready? (2021 , Otoroku): Scottish free jazz singer, plays piano, original name Margaret Nicolson, first albums 1982. This one is divided into two sets: "Songs" (39:46) and "Whatever Arises" (39:25). [r]
Oort Smog: Smeared Pulse Transfers (2017 , Sweatband, EP): Los Angeles duo, Patrick Shiroishi (sax) and Mark Kimbrell (drums). Billed as prog rock, or experimental, or brutal prog -- anything but jazz, but even they admit Coltrane-Ali is the source of the duo format. I'd venture no wave, but they're probably too young to have even heard of it. Ten punk-length pieces (19:46), not that they feel abbreviated, or distinct. B+(*) [sp]
Oort Smog: Every Motherfucker Is Your Brother (2022, AKP): Slightly longer at 28:59, but only one song, so you can call it anything from a single to an album. Long form means they can take a while warming up before breaking out. B+(**) [sp]
PinkPantheress: Take Me Home (2022, Warner Music, EP): Gemma Walker, British pop singer, got a lot of attention for her To Hell With It mini-album. Three more songs, 7:40, starting off with the previously released single "Boy's a Liar." Pretty good, but very slight. Not sure if she'll ever produce a real album -- her 10-track debut only ran 18:36 -- but it's hard to focus on these micro-doses. B+(*) [sp]
Pongo: Sakidila (2022, Virgin): Angolan singer, Engrácia Domingues, based in Lisbon, first album after a single and an EP. The typical Portuguese lilt lurks in the background, but the beats are so insistent you barely notice it. A- [sp]
Simona Premazzi: Wave in Gravity: Solo Piano (2021 , PRE): Italian pianist, based in New York, fourth album since 2006. Solo, as advertised. Half originals, half standards, including a Monk. All engaging. B+(**) [cd] [02-17]
Scrunchies: Feral Coast (2022, Dirtnap): Punk duo from Minneapois, Laura Larson (guitar) and Danielle Cusack (drums), second album after several previous group alignments (including Buzzcunts, a Buzzcocks cover band). B+(***) [bc]
Elliott Sharp/Eric Mingus: Songs From a Rogue State (2022, Zoar): Guitarist, many albums since 1978, many straying from jazz. Mingus sings, plays some bass. Leans toward blues, or Beefheart, but both harsher and wilder. B+(*) [sp]
Kalia Vandever: Regrowth (2022, New Amsterdam): Trombone player, based in Brooklyn, second album, original pieces, some guest alto sax (Immanuel Wilkins), but mostly built around piano and/or guitar. B+(***) [sp]
Skip Walker: Tina's Contemplation: A Reflection on the Genius of Tina Brooks (2022, Skip Walker Music): Brooks was a short-lived tenor saxophonist (1932-74) who recorded four mostly brilliant albums for Blue Note 1958-61. Walker is a drummer, tackling and contemplating Brooks' songbook with piano (Travis Shook) and bass (Essiet Okon Essiet). Very nice record, but I'm missing the saxophone. B+(***) [sp]
Yelawolf/Shooter Jennings: Sometimes Y (2022, Slumerican): Michael Atha, started out as a white rapper from Alabama, teams up with the son of Waylon Jennings to make a fairly slick but hard-hitting rock album. B [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Ashbury Stabbins Duo: Fire Without Bricks (1976 , Corbett vs. Dempsey): Duo, Larry Stabbins (tenor/soprano sax) and Roy Ashbury (drums), originally released in 1977. Struggles to be heard, interesting when it is. B+(*) [bc]
Pedro Lima: Recordar É Viver: Antologia Vol. 1 (1981-87 , Bongo Joe): Singer from São Tome, an island off the west coast of Equatorial Africa, controlled by Portugal until 1975. Lima (1944-2019) recorded regularly in the 1980s-1990s, the source of this compilation (which includes unreleased tracks). Strong influence here of Congolese rhumba and soukous, especially in the guitar. B+(***) [sp]
Mainstream Funk: Funk, Soul, Spiritual Jazz 1971-75 (1971-75 , WeWantSounds): A sampler from Bob Shad's 1964-76 label Mainstream Records, which started as a mostly jazz label -- their first releases were reissues from the Commodore and Time labels. Many of the musicians here were better known for jazz (Sarah Vaughan, who opens with a cover of "Inner City Blues"; Blue Mitchell, Johnny Coles, Buddy Terry), and most of the other cuts are longer on vamps than on vocals. B+(**) [bc]
Freddy Roland Y Su Orquesta De Moda: Freddy Roland Y Su Orquesta De Moda (1968 , Vampisoul): Saxophonist, Ángel Pablo Bagni Stella, from Argentina (1932-2004), played with Pérez Prado, wound up in Peru (home of his wife, a cumbia singer known as Veronikha). Bandcamp page has no credits or dates, but this matches a 1968 LP, which Discogs has as Vol. II. No doubt someone could assemble a quality retrospective (perhaps even one of those 4-CD Proper Boxes), but this slice of time is pretty wonderful. A- [bc]
Abash [Tommy Skotte/Anders Ekholm/Nils Danell]: Abash (1993, Dragon): Swedish trio, first of three albums through 2000, my inclination in parsing the cover is to credit the names and leave Abash as the title, but later albums follow the group name, and that's how I initially filed them. Besides, Ekholm (tenor sax) is the central figure, having written six songs, vs. one each' for bassist Skotte and drummer Danell). B+(***) [r]
Albert Ayler: Nuits De La Fondation Maeght 1970 (1970 , Water): Tenor saxophonist, the defining force of the 1960s avant-garde, his death in November 1970 slamming the door on an era (especially coming after Coltrane's death in 1967). His last albums on Impulse were poorly regarded, but these final live sets have been widely bootlegged, and given the 4-CD box set treatment by Elemental Music in 2022 (Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings, which finished 3rd in the Jazz Critics Poll, but only fragments are available to stream). This edition is a good sampler, superseding the two Shandar LPs with a single 73:55 CD. Quartet, with Call Cobbs (piano), Steve Tintweiss (bass), and Allen Blairman (drums), with a Mary Maria vocal at the end. A- [sp]
Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra: Kyanos (2001 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, albums since 1991, group a septet from his 1994 album Further, with trumpets (Per Jørgensen and Arve Henriksen), sax (Morten Halle), cello, bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Tony Bevan/Paul Rogers/Steve Noble: Bigshots (1991 , Incus): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano), second album, a trio with bass and drums. B+(*) [bc]
Tony Bevan/Alexander Frangenheim/Steve Noble: Twisters (1995 , Scatter): A second trio, Bevan playing soprano and bass saxophone, with bass and percussion. B+(*) [bc]
Michiel Borstlap: The Sextet Live! (1995, Challenge, 2CD): Dutch pianist, first album, has a fairly stellar front line with trumpet (Eric Vloeimans), alto/c-melody sax (Benjamin Herman), and tenor/soprano sax (Yuri Honing), plus bass and drums. Plenty of energy, especially on trumpet. B+(**) [r]
Anthony Braxton: In the Tradition (1974 , Steeplechase): Often identified as Volume 1 these days, but I don't see any edition in Discogs, starting with the original five-track LP release in 1974, that makes that explicit. One of the lowest-rated albums in all of the Penguin Guide, but one can only speculate over the pique. Maybe the stinky sound of the contrabass clarinet, which all but buries "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," but on "Ornithology" it merely slows Braxton down to human speed. The Copenhagen rhythm section is pretty great, with pianist Tete Montoliu getting a lot of solo space, backed by NHØP (bass) and Tootie Heath (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Anthony Braxton: In the Tradition: Volume 2 (1974 , Steeplechase): A second set of tunes from the same session, this first appeared in 1976, and picked up a seventh piece for CD reissue. Similar mix of tunes, including more Marsh and Parker, plus a long "Body and Soul." B+(**) [sp]
Anthony Braxton: Five Compositions (Quartet) 1986 (1986, Black Saint): Numbers 88, 101, 122, 124, and 131, recorded in Milan with David Rosenboom (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Anthony Braxton: Ninetet (Yoshi's) 1997 Vol. 1 (1997 , Leo, 2CD): Two compositions, 207 and 208, one 73:09, the other 74:00, performed by a group with six saxophonists plus guitar (Kevin O'Neil), bass (Joe Fonda), and percussion (Kevin Norton). B+(***) [r]
Bob Brookmeyer New Art Orchestra: New Works/Celebration (1997 , Challenge): Valve trombonist (1929-2011), started playing piano in big bands, first album (1954) was a quartet, but he was always well-regarded as an arranger, and formed this big band here (eventually recording six albums through 2011). B+(**) [sp]
Reuben Brown Trio: Ice Scape (1994 , SteepleChase): Pianist, very little about him online, aside from a couple appearances in the 1970s, and two albums on SteepleChase. This one gets help from Rufus Reid (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Reuben Brown: Blue and Brown (1994 , SteepleChase): A second album, this one solo. B+(**) [sp]
Dave Brubeck: Octet (1948-49 , Fantasy/OJC): Some of the pianist's earliest recordings, first appearing in 1950 as Old Sounds From San Francisco (two EPs, then a 10-inch LP, and finally as Octet on a 12-inch LP in 1956). Group included Dick Collins (trumpet), Bob Collins (trombone), David Van Kriedt (tenor sax), Paul Desmond (alto sax), William O. Smith (clarinet & baritone sax), Jack Weeks (bass), and Cal Tjader (drums). Some slick moves, not that all of them work. B+(**) [r]
Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at the College of the Pacific (1953 , Fantasy/OJC): Early quartet featuring Paul Desmond (alto sax), with Ron Crotty (bass) and Joe Dodge (drums), shortly after the highly recommended Jazz at Oberlin, and shortly before the more famous Jazz Goes to College. B+(***) [r]
The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck Time (1954 , Columbia): Two originals plus six standards, from "Jeepers Creepers" to "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" The first of many Brubeck albums with "time" in the title, but this one doesn't seem to have anything to do with the unorthodox time signatures he made much of from 1959 (Time Out) forward. B+(***) [r]
The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A. (1956-57 , Columbia): The first of several Jazz Impressions albums, must have seemed like an easy take for a group that made its bread and butter touring college campuses. The cover is a map with the song titles, like "Ode to a Cowboy," along the borders and coasts. B+(***) [sp]
The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia (1958, Columbia): On one of those State Department "good will" tours, they crossed Northern Europe to Poland, then down to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and on to India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Afghanistan ("one of the most fascinating countries we visited," where they were "awakened by the weirdest sound I ever heard"). A bit more exotic, but hasn't found the handle yet. B+(**) [sp]
The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of Japan (1964, Columbia): The pianist studied with Darius Milhaud, who advised him to travel the world and keep his ears open. Brubeck did, even if the Japanese affects here are somewhat stock (gongs and such). Upbeat songs like "Toki's Theme" really jump out, and Paul Desmond is even more sublime than usual. A- [sp]
The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of New York (1964 , Columbia): Four songs with "Broadway" in the title, others with "Washington Square" and "Central Park," but also a "Bossa Nova" and a "Rumba." B+(***) [sp]
Gary Burton/Keith Jarrett: Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett (1969-70 , Atlantic): The vibraphonist was two years older than Jarrett, but got a quick jump with New Vibe Man in Town at 18 in 1961, and had something of a fusion rep, although that was not his only spin. The pianist released his first two albums in 1968, after playing with Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, and added a short stint with Miles Davis before this album came out. Jarrett plays electric piano and soprano sax here, the group filled out with guitar (Sam Brown), bass (Steve Swallow), and drums. B [sp]
Stoney Edwards: Mississippi You're on My Mind (1975, Capitol): Black country singer, recorded six albums for Capitol 1971-76, newly reissued (at least digital) -- I've looked for this for ages, but until now only found the 20-track Razor & Tie The Best of Stoney Edwards: Poor Folks Stick Together, still the better deal. One song name-checks Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell. He draws more on the latter. A- [sp]
Jackie McLean & Tina Brooks: Street Singer (1960 , Blue Note): Brooks is a tenor saxophonist, had a hot streak recording four albums 1959-61 for Blue Note, dropped from sight, and died at 42 in 1974. This session, recorded with McLean on alto sax, and a rhythm section of Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Art Taylor, was shelved until it came out in Japan in 1980, and finally in the US in 2000. No idea why they sat on this, other than that McLean was in the midst of his own hot streak, from New Soil to Let Freedom Ring to One Step Beyond and Destination: Out -- maybe a classic joust didn't seem far out enough? Also note that only Brooks' True Blue was released at the time. A- [sp]
Lucinda Williams: Little Honey (2008, Lost Highway): Only album in my database I hadn't heard, so I figured why not? Voice going but not yet gone. Songs substantial by any standards but maybe not hers. Identifies rock and roll, and has the guitars to prove it. B+(***) [sp]
Grade (or other) changes:
PinkPantheress: To Hell With It (2021, Parlophone, EP): British pop singer, barely 20, first short mixtape (10 songs, 18:36), vocals feathery light, enough so that this got tagged as "atmospheric drum & bass," but pay close attention and get to the point. Hint for me was a turn of phrase I hadn't heard since Lily Allen. [was: B+(**)] A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 15, 2023
Speaking of Which
Still feeling indifferent about continuing this column, but hadn't gotten into anything else at the moment, so had some time to fiddle. Then, of course, it got late, and I had to cut it short.
Lots missing below, including the six-year-old child who shot his school teacher, and another story here in Wichita where a toddler shot a mother. A wee bit, but not much, on the Biden classified documents snipe hunt, which reads like a comedy of errors, and is mostly significant for allowing Republicans to run around screaming bloody murder -- a thought that never occurred to them when Trump was hoarding top secrets, in part because they were so busy painting him as a victim of the politically woke FBI. Meanwhile, Democrats are scrambling to point out how different the cases are (although at least one writer has observed that the Biden case is is "really like Hillary's"). Few people have stressed the obvious: that way too many government documents are classified, which both makes them easy to lose and encourages their users to get sloppy.
As much as I'd enjoy Trump being sent to prison, it's hard to get excited about the legal jeopardy he seems to be in. Classified documents are basically bullshit. I wouldn't put whistleblowers like Reality Winner and Edward Snowden in jail, nor do I care much about people who sold secrets to Russia or China or Israel (many of whom, unlike whistleblowers, eventually get repatriated anyway). I don't see how Trump can complain about the Mar-a-Lago raid, given how much the FBI found, but he's probably right that if they prosecute him, it's mostly political. And, let's face it, the Feds have prosecuted lots of people for politics, most much more worthy of sympathy than Trump is.
The Georgia phone call is another mostly bullshit case. At what point does imploring someone to commit a crime become criminal? It depends a lot on who you are, and who you're talking to, which is why such cases do occasionally do get prosecuted when some Muslim is entrapped by an undercover FBI operative. I also don't care about the defamation suit brought by a woman who alleges Trump raped her. Defamation suits are almost all bullshit moves brought by people with too much money and too many lawyers -- the sort of move that Trump actually specializes in. (James Zirin has a 2019 book on this: Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits.)
Trump already dodged one bullet this year in avoiding getting indicted for the massive fraud at The Trump Organization, letting his CFO take the fall. It'll cost him some money, but the fine strikes me as pretty light, something he can easily afford. Maybe Trump's tax returns will catch up with him, but again that will probably just be a big fine (and not enough to satisfy Eddie Murphy's proposition in Trading Places: "the best way to hurt rich people is to turn them into poor people").
As for seditious conspiracy, that's most often another bullshit charge, usually directed against powerless people who never were real threats. (The first time I ran across the charge was in 1989, when Robert Mueller prosecuted members of the Ohio 7, most still serving long jail terms. My friend Elizabeth Fink was a defense lawyer, and got Patricia Levasseur acquitted.) I'm willing to consider that Trump is the rare case where there's actually some substance that should be redressed -- if what he did wasn't technically illegal, it's only because Congress couldn't imagine how far he would go -- but I don't expect it to happen. Justice in America may be some kind of ideal, but it's rarely practiced, no matter how people like to sound sanctimonious about it.
Of course, if Trump does somehow manage to get prosecuted and convicted and jailed, I won't mind. He seems to have a unique knack for screwing up and letting crises get out of hand. He also seems to have insanely poor choice in lawyers (although he has yet to embrace the cliché of representing himself).
House Republicans: Now that a Speaker is elected, and rules have been passed, House Republicans can get down to implementing their warped agenda. That leads to stories like these:
Ezra Klein: [01-15] Three Reasons the Republican Party Keeps Coming Apart at the Seams:
The Republican Party has long consisted of two factions in an uneasy equilibrium: plutocrats, who may think of themselves as libertarian but are only concerned with freedom for the rich to increase their power and wealth; and culture warriors, who see America at great risk of moral collapse unless they can impose their values on everyone else. As long as the latter let the former slide, which may entail embracing wealth as a virtue, the two sides can work together, defined primarily by their shared enemy (the secular left).
Two more pieces on Republicans beyond the House:
Andrew Koppelman: [01-12] Forced Labor: Why the Thirteenth Amendment Protects Abortion Rights: "Roe v. Wade was built on a less-than-compelling Constitutional argument. But the right to choose is solidly grounded in the amendment that abolished slavery."
Rebecca Leber: [01-11] The gas stove regulation uproar, explained. I grew up with a gas stove, and have been a partisan all my life. I've rented places with electric stoves, and hated them. When I rebuilt our kitchen, the first thing on my shopping list was a big, fancy gas stove. (I bought a 36-inch Capital with six full-power burners, and a very expensive range hood which was a bear to vent outside. At the time, I saw a bunch of arguments that electric was better for baking, so I bought an electric wall oven as well, which I use more often than the gas oven, but each has its advantages, and it's nice to have both.) I didn't panic when this news came out, but was curious about the evidence -- not really answered here (but I guess I'm running my exhaust fan more regularly). Also:
Matt McManus: [01-11] Why Conservatism Can Never Be "Populist". Review, based on Paul Elliott Johnson's I the People: The Rhetoric of Conservative Populism in the United States. As Johnson points out, it is "important to stop waxing nostalgic about conservatism's reasonable past."
Blaise Malley: [01-13] Diplomacy Watch: Are European countries diverging on Ukraine aid? "As Poland preps to send tanks, Italy delays its latest package of weapons and financial assistance to Kyiv." Once again, little here. For more:
Ian Millhiser: [01-10] The legal loophole that could arm mass shooters with makeshift automatic rifles.
Nicole Narea: [01-12] Why a special counsel is looking into Biden's classified documents: "Any time classified materials go to a place they're not supposed to go, there is almost always an inquiry into how they got to that place." And what never happens is any investigation of why we have so much classified shit in the first place. I wouldn't be surprised to find that 80% of it all is pure bullshit: not stuff the government is trying to hide from the public, but the habitual use of secrecy markers and clearance levels to establish rank and privilege in the security bureaucracy (where the main privilege is excluding others from questioning your authority). The sheer ubiquity of classified markings ensures that documents will get lost or stolen, resulting in periodic hysteria and vendettas. That someone as sloppy as Trump seems inevitable. As for the special counsel, Garland probably just wanted to duck the inevitable questions about equivalency, even if it should be obvious that President Biden needs a level of access that ex-President Trump doesn't.
Alan Rappeport/Jim Tankersley/Jeanna Smialek: [01-13] The U.S. May Finally Breach the Debt Ceiling. Here's Why That Would Be Very Bad. I'm not sure how bad it really would be, but I am sure it would be stupid and totally unnecessary, a crisis contrived by a Republican Party that has no concern for anything other than their own political power.
Nathan J Robinson: [01-12] There Are No Good Royals: "If a member of Britain's degenerate ruling family doesn't like attention, he should go away and do something useful with his life." But where's the evidence that he could even imagine doing "something useful." He can't even grasp the concept of going away. I have no interest in doing so, so I can't fault Robinson for saving us the dirty work of reading Prince Harry's book, but I'd be inclined to dissect it somewhat differently. For instance, instead of dwelling on Harry's boast of long-distance murder in Afghanistan, I'd wonder what made him want to be a soldier in the first place. It's not a common choice for rich folk who have lots of other options -- especially in a third-rate power whose foreign policy consists of nothing but supplication to American power (perhaps his marriage to an American is another dimension of servility?). It takes a degree of priggishness that is hard to imagine outside of the British royal cocoon.
Robinson makes clear that the book is a considered, ghostwritten PR ploy, and notes how briskly it has sold, but what does that tell us? Clearly, the context is the "vicious coverage [of the royal family] in the British tabloid press," but are they looking for sympathy, or just playing the role of fools who regularly justify our instinct to bring them down with ridicule?
Bill Scher: [01-11] Democrats Need an Immigration Strategy Before They Turn on Each Other: Title seems obvious enough, and the problem is true enough: there is a vocal faction which supports everyone's right to immigrate any time they see fit, which makes it hard to settle on any approach that limits immigration, especially for refugees. Republicans have their own divide on immigration: the larger faction is nativist and exclusionary, but there's also a business-oriented faction that likes the idea of importing cheap foreign labor, kept powerless by special work permits. My own take has long been that the top priority should be in clearing up the backlog of undocumented immigrants (especially from the 1990s, when NAFTA dislocated Mexican workers and farmers, and the process was largely tolerated). To do that, I'd be willing to accept lower numbers of legal immigrants (as well as more enforcement against new illegals, although we've already spent tons of money on that). (I'm not personally bothered by higher numbers, but it looks to me like promoting more immigration is a losing political issue, and distracts from the more important one of providing better public service for the people who are here now.) But, as I said, it's hard to get any sort of consensus among Democrats, and Republicans would rather just campaign on being hard and mean and, in most cases, cruel. Still, one thing I was struck by in this article is this:
The obvious point here is that Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are problems caused largely by US foreign policy, and which could be fixed by changing policy to help those economies rather than hinder them. It always seem ironic that people should seek to immigrate to the very countries that are responsible for their local plights, yet there is a certain logic to it. Perhaps those who get so upset when refugees arive should think a bit more about how to prevent such calamities from happening, instead of simply thinking they can beat every problem to death.
Jeffrey St Clair: [01-13] Roaming Charges: Woke Me When It's Over.
Brett Wilkins: [01-11] New study blows up myth that Russian bots swayed 2016 election for Trump. "Blows up" is a bit strong: the study is limited to Twitter, which was probably less significant than Facebook (not that a study there wouldn't correlate, but there are differences in how the two platforms are used); and it basically quantifies the limits of how much influence Russian bots could have had (not much, as they were mostly viewed by small numbers of pro-Trump Republicans). In any case, the bots were only one small part of the broader "Russiagate" story, which always had a political charge behind it, but one may say the same about many detractors. I always minimized the claims that Russia sabotaged Hillary Clinton, for three reasons: from the start, the story was floated to shift blame from Clinton for losing to Trump, when there were many other reasons to be critical of her campaign; given the massive investment of the Republican propaganda machine (including Fox and their ilk), it's hard to imagine how Russia could further tip the scales; and the whole campaign was clearly intended to inflame anti-Russian sentiment by playing up Cold War themes, and this played into militarist plans to challenge Russia's borders and temperament (the Ukraine War being a self-fulfilling prophecy of such hawks, a cult that counted Clinton as a charter member). On the other hand, anyone (like Matt Taibbi) who has claimed that Russiagate is the biggest journalistic fraud of recent history has either a very selective memory or a strange political agenda. Such people see this report as vindication on everything, because to them it's all one vast conspiracy.
Monday, January 9, 2023
Music: Current count 39353  rated (+23), 42  unrated (+3: 14 new, 28 old).
In early November, Francis Davis decided that he couldn't afford the time needed to run a 17th annual edition of his Jazz Critics Poll. He asked me to take over, as I had done most of the grunt work last year, and had helped out for many years before that. I agreed, figuring I'd spent a lot of time this year tracking music, even aggregating ratings, plus I had been procrastinating on other projects, so why not finish out the year doing a good turn? I organized a mailing list, and sent ballots out around November 13, with a December 12 deadline. I wound up collecting and compiling 151 ballots: down a bit from 2021's 156, but still a good showing. I worked out a deal with Arts Fuse to publish the results, and started to prepare them for publication.
Then I got Covid. While I was never very sick, it created a lot of stress as we tried to keep my wife from getting infected. Also producing a lot of stress was the terminal spiral of our dog Sadie, nearly 15, inherited 8 years ago with Liz Fink died (and as such, sort of a sacred trust). I totally missed our original delivery date, and didn't make any serious progress until New Year's. I finally pulled most of it together on Wednesday, and sent the pieces in Thursday. They were published Friday afternoon, about the same time we had a vet visit to put the dog down.
The archive index page is: The 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll: 2022. This includes links for the articles published at Arts Fuse:
The two pieces by me were originally conceived of as four, but Bill Marx wanted to combine the tables with the essays. Francis's essay came in after I had handed all of my pieces in. He had seen all of my stuff by then.
The archive page also includes links for complete results (the Arts Fuse list stops at 50 new releases, and 20 reissues/historical), and for all of the individual voter ballots:
I suppose I'll have more to say about the Poll, its results, and the process behind it, but at this point the combination of exhaustion and frustration probably makes that unwise. As I point out in one (or both) of the essays, the most important point for the poll is the data it generates, so please dig into that. You're bound to learn some things.
My listening of late has been very skewed. One thing that has frustrated me immensely, and is wholly my own fault, is that my system for filing CDs has completely broken down, to where I can't find anything. I should have spent the last several weeks rechecking the year's highest rated albums, but have failed in that almost completely. I wound up streaming the top three finishers, leaving Mary Halvorson's Amaryllis and Cécile McLorin Salvant's Ghost Song at my original B+(***) -- although Salvant's Kurt Weil cover is pretty great -- but I did bump up the grade for Immanuel Wilkins's The 7th Hand considerably. Below that, I could neither stream nor find my copy of Tyshawn Sorey's Mesmerism, another B+(***) first time around. I only had two of the top ten finishers made my A-list, and only three of the next ten (ok, four more from 21-30, three from 31-40, and two from 41-50).
Still, I emerged from this experience with more respect than ever for my fellow voters. I suspect that Francis was a bit reluctant to hand his baby over, because he regarded me as some kind of fringe critic. I found myself caring very little about the standings, as long as the ballots showed considerable thought, which they did.
So, instead of catching up with new jazz (as I did a lot of in November and especially December), I played old records, especially a lot of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Lester Young. Then last week, I pulled up a list of unheard Penguin Guide 4-star albums, and thought I'd knock off a few. Hence, the reviews below are almost all modern but not recent jazz. No idea why I first landed on an Italian clarinetist, but I worked back from him, then returned to the top of the list.
I should mention that despite being so out of it, I did manage a Speaking of Which news revue yesterday. I also added three books to the Recent Reading roll, after several weeks of neglect.
Matt Taibbi did some brilliant work early in his career -- like his designation of presidential campaign coverage as "the stupid season," and his Wimblehack rankings of America's worst political journalists (note that Karen Tumulty has defended her title numerous times, not that I'm sure she's still the worst). But his Twitter feed has become little short of obnoxious, so I was thinking of dropping him -- but I figured the book looked like it had a sound premise, so maybe I should give him that chance. It is, indeed, a pretty good book, even if a little too both-sidesy. And sure, he goes a bit off the deep end on Russiagate, but that's more in his conclusions than in the reporting. And although Rachel Maddow (who I find seriously annoying) splits the cover, in the book she's relegated to an appendix.
Lepore's The Name of War is more about how Prince Philip's War (1675-76) has been remembered than what actually happened, which borders on genocide. Kaplan's 1959 makes a case for that year as one of pivotal change in America. So far, it's pretty convincing. A big concern of my memoir is how much America has changed, especially in the first twenty years of my life (the 1950s and 1960s). By the way, Kaplan is a Jazz Critics Poll voter, and he has a very detailed chapter on Kind of Blue in the book.
New records reviewed this week:
75 Dollar Bill: Social Music at Troost Vol. 3: (Other) People's Music (2015-17 , self-released): Guitar and drums duo, Che Chen and Rick Brown, debut 2014, have added others especially to the live albums they've been releasing on Bandcamp since the lockdown, including sax, vocals, and bass to some of these pieces, as well as "bar patrons, friends, neighbors." This is a set of covers, ranging from Harry Partch and Pauline Oliveros to Yoko Ono to Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton. Phil Overeem's record of the year. A- [dl]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Chet Baker Trio: Live in Paris: The Radio France Recordings 1983-1984 (1983-84 , Elemental Music, 2CD): Collects two sets of radio shots, with Baker playing trumpet and singing, backed by piano (Michel Graillier) and bass (Dominique Lemerle or Riccardo Del Fra). B+(*) [sp]
Arcana: The Last Wave (1995 , DIW): Avant-fusion trio, recorded two albums, this first one with Derek Bailey (guitar), Bill Laswell (bass), and Tony Williams (drums), with Laswell producing. B+(***) [sp]
Derek Bailey: Drop Me Off at 96th (1986-87 , Scatter): British avant-guitarist, revered by the Penguin Guide but barely sampled by me, solo from two live sessions. My favorite bit is one where Bailey talks about his record company catalog, as his scattered guitar licks take a back seat. B+(**) [bc]
Chet Baker: The Best Thing for You (1977 , A&M): Don Sebesky produced this session, which doesn't look to have been released until shortly after Baker's death in 1988. The first side is standards, with Paul Desmond (alto sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums). Second side is a 17:03 Sebesky piece with a bunch of extras. Both sides impress, even Sebesky's kitchen sink treatment. A- [sp]
Chet Baker Quartet Featuring Phil Markowitz: Live at Nick's (1978 , Criss Cross): Trumpet and vocal (including some scat), from a live set in London, with Markowitz on piano, Scott Lee on bass, and Jeff Brillinger on drums. Reissue adds two pieces, expanding from 44:53 to 68:37. B+(***) [r]
Chet Baker Quintet Featuring Warne Marsh: Blues for a Reason (1984 , Criss Cross): No vocals, just trumpet and tenor sax, backed with piano (Hod O'Brien), bass (Cecil McBee), and drums (Eddie Gladden). Marsh makes a huge difference here, cutting corners and slashing around curves, but Baker, too, gets the idea. A- [r]
Chet Baker Trio Featuring Philip Catherine: Chet's Choice (1985 , Criss Cross): Trumpet/vocal with guitar and bass (mostly Jean-Louis Rassinfosse), the CD adding three tracks. Catherine provides a bit of groove, keeping it all running smoothly. A- [r]
Bernt Rosengren: Notes From Underground (1973 , EMI Svenska): Swedish tenor saxophonist, also plays flute and piano, played early on with George Russell, Krzysztof Komeda, and Don Cherry. The occasional vocal tracks have a Middle Eastern sound, and Okay Temiz helps the the percussion (and Bengt Berger plays tabla). The horns can get intense. B+(***) [sp]
Bernt Rosengren: Stockholm Dues (1965 , Columbia): The Swedish tenor saxophonist's first album, at least as a leader, reissued in a "Swedish Jazz Masters" series with three extra tracks. With trumpet (Lalle Svensson), piano, bass, and drums, plus vocals on a couple tracks. B+(**) [sp]
Jimmy Rowles and George Mraz: Music's the Only Thing That's on My Mind (1976 , Progressive): Piano and bass duets, with Rowles singing three songs. B+(**) [sp]
Jimmy Rowles: Shade and Light [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 , Black & Blue): Piano trio with George Duvivier (bass) and Oliver Jackson (drums), recorded in Paris. B+(***) [sp]
Terje Rypdal: Lux Aeterna (2000 , ECM): Norwegian guitarist, early on was one of many Norwegians influenced by George Russell, recorded with ECM since 1971. This is a large-scale suite in five movements, featuring Bergen Chamber Ensemble conducted by Kjell Seim, with organ and many strings, way too thick, also a vocal section. Only Palle Mikkelborg's trumpet stands out. B- [sp]
Terje Rypdal: After the Rain (1976, ECM): Essentially a solo album, with the guitarist dubbing in keyboards, soprano sax, flute, and bells. Guitar tone cries and shimmers. B [sp]
Randy Sandke and the New York Allstars: The Rediscovered Louis and Bix (1999 , Nagel Heyer): Trumpet player (also cornet here), not exclusively a trad jazz guy but is such a Beiderbecke fan that he named his son Bix, and Armstrong is hardly an afterthought. One side for each, drawing on obscure compositions. George Avakian produced ("presents"), and the Allstars are aptly named (as well as a nod to Armstrong: featured on the cover are Kenny Davern, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Hyman, and Ken Peplowski, with many more in the fine print. A- [sp]
Louis Sclavis/Dominique Pifarély/Marc Ducret/Bruno Chevillon: Acoustic Quartet (1993 , ECM): French clarinetist, many albums since 1981, Discogs co-credits with with the violinist, and indeed only their names are above the title, and Pifarély wrote three tracks to Sclavis' four, but the other names (on guitar and bass) are in the same oversized type as the leaders. B+(***) [sp]
Louis Sclavis Sextet: Les Violences de Rameau (1995-96 , ECM): Play soprano sax as well as his usual clarinets, in a group with trombone (Yves Robert), violin (Dominique Pifarély), keyboards, bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Louis Sclavis Sextet: Ellington on the Air (1991-92 , Ouch!): An earlier Sextet album, originally issued on IDA, with the same group as above. This one is built around Ellington pieces (including Bubber Miley and Juan Tizol). B+(***) [sp]
Louis Sclavis Quintet: L'Affrontement Des Prétendants (2000 , ECM): Clarinet and soprano sax, joined up front by Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet, backed by cello (Vincent Curtois), bass (Bruno Chevillon), and drums (François Merville). B+(***) [sp]
Bud Shank: The Doctor Is In (1991 , Candid): Alto saxophonist, originally from Ohio, studied in North Carolina, moved to California and played with Short Rogers, Charlie Barnet, and Stan Kenton. A cool jazz icon in the 1950s, recorded regularly but seems like he caught a second wind in the early 1990s. Quartet with Mike Wofford (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass), and Sherman Ferguson (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Tommy Smith: Spartacus (2000 , Spartacus): Scottish tenor saxophonist, had a run of flashy records on Blue Note (1989-94) and Linn (1995-2000) before settling into his own label here. Quartet, featuring credit for pianist Kenny Barron, with James Genus (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). Leans toward ballads. B+(**) [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi: Around Small Fairy Tales (1998, Soul Note): Italian clarinet and alto saxophone player, albums since 1978, throw in the kitchen sink here, in the form of Orchestra Da Camera Di Nembro Enea Salmeggia, with oboe, harp, vibes, and at least a dozen string instruments. B+(**) [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: In Cerca Di Cibo (1999 , ECM): Clarinet (piccolo/alto/bass) and accordion duets. B+(**) [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi: Dedalo (2001 , Enja): Leads off with alto sax here, later switching to his clarinets, backed by the WDR Big Band, in an exceptionally festive mood. Also named on the cover: Markus Stockhausen (trumpet), Fulvio Maras (percussion, and Tom Rainey (drums). The opener "Hercab" is funky enough they reprise it live at the end. A- [sp]
Gianluigi Trovesi Ottetto: Fugace (2002 , ECM): The leader, composer of all but two fragments (from trad. and W.C. Handy), plays alto sax and clarinet, the octet rounded out with trumpet, trombone, cello, two bassists, drums, and percussion (Fluvio Maras), with several of those also credited with electronics. B+(***) [sp]
Grade (or other) changes:
Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand (2022, Blue Note): Alto saxophonist, major debut in 2020, second album, quartet with Micah Thomas (piano), Daryl Johns (bass), and Kweku Sumbry (drums), plus guest spots. Even more ambitious: "hour-long suite comprised of seven movements that strive to bring the quartet closer to complete vesselhood." Impressive chops, but also structure and flow. Once again I underrated him. [was: B+(*)] A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 8, 2023
Speaking of Which
After hustling to get the 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll posted on Friday, including my essay at Arts Fuse, I was pretty uncertain as to what to do next. Making matters worse was that same day the dog we inherited from the late Elizabeth Fink breathed her last. I was, at the time, figuring it'd be at least a week before I'd bother with a Music Week, much less a Speaking of Which, column. But lacking any other inspiration, I sat down and started collecting this. I had very little news exposure over the last month, first coming down with a fairly mild but disconcerting case of Covid, then finding our internet connection increasingly flaky. The latter was finally cured by a new cable modem, so as I started collecting this, I was pleased to find the system as solid and even faster than ever.
Of course, even without my usual news sources, I was aware of the comedy/horror show in the US House, mostly through the late night shows, which emphasized the comedy side. Still, I didn't see any lasting value in citing articles while the votes were going on. Now, of course, we can not only look back on the debacle, we can look forward to the dysfunctional future.
Eric Alterman: [01-06] George Santos a Liar? Small-Time When Compared to His Fellow Republicans.
Bernard Avishai: [01-07] Netanyahu's government takes a turn toward theocracy. Religious parties have often been part of ruling coalitions, but they've never been so prominent before, or as demanding. One obvious flashpoint is Itamar Ben Gvir, who's often run afoul of Israeli law, yet now is in charge of (selectively) enforcing it. More on Israel:
Jonathan Chait: [01-04] 'Reactionary Centrism,' the Left's Hot New Insult for Liberals: "New jargon just dropped." I'm not much for jargon, let alone insults, but the definition offered here is a recognizable type: "someone who says they're politically neutral, but who usually punches left while sympathizing with the right." The first clause is pretty exactly how self-proclaimed centrists describe themselves. But centrism seems to extend to people who are not politically neutral -- who align with a major political party, which since the GOP purge mostly means Democrats these days -- but who recognize and try to balance multiple interests. If such people are honest, they should be arguing equally with both sides in favor of the other. In practice, though, a lot of them seem to relish fighting with the left, while letting all but the extreme right-wingers off the hook.
Hence there is a need to qualify centrist with some adjective other than fair or honest: reactionary might do the trick, but one should beware that it has two meanings. The root meaning is someone who reacts adversely (perhaps even violently) to change. That may apply to many centrists, especially those who worry that any change or challenge might rock the boat, leading to an even more vicious right-wing backlash. The other meaning, which is why the word is problematic, refers to that backlash itself.
Reactionaries are generally distinguished from conservatives because where the latter merely want to preserve their system and privileges, reactionaries want to radically change the system to restore their own expected privileges. On the left, we often refer to reactionaries as fascists, since that's the more vivid example. Chait is concerned, because he feels vulnerable as a centrist (albeit a Democratic one). I'd be inclined to cut him some slack, but the whole article seems like an excuse to kick the left for impolitic terminology, rather slight grounds that kind of make the point he's arguing against.
It seems to me that we would be better off trying to figure out real, viable solutions to problems, than simply mapping out who is left or right of whom. Not every left solution is ideal, but there are many to choose from, which isn't something you can say about a right that has drifted so far into its fantasies that centrists need to wake up and recognize that they're actually well left of center, and need to treat their comrades with more respect.
Neel Dhanesha: [01-06] California's deadly floods won't break the megadrought: "Atmospheric rivers are dumping rain on California. That's not a good thing." I'm pretty sure that the first time I ever heard "atmospheric river" was in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, which was "science fiction" two years ago. For more:
Connor Echols: [01-06] Diplomacy Watch: Russia takes aim at Western resolve: Aside from Russia announcing a 3-day ceasefire around the Orthodox Christmas -- a ploy that Ukraines were quick to dismiss -- very little to report here, devolving into the propaganda trope about "Western resolve." Little reason to fear there: American foreign policy seems largely under the thumb of the weapons cartel, who are having the time of their lives, feeding a voracious war without American casualties. While Ukraine still has dreams of regaining ground, Russia's war has largely become one of attrition, which despite inflicting real damage only intensifies Ukrainian resolve. (The German Battle of Britain is an example, although the hardship here may well be a bit worse.) More:
Thomas Geoghegan: [01-06] The Constitutional Case for Disarming the Debt Ceiling: "The Framers would have never tolerated debt-limit brinksmanship. It's time to put this terrible idea on trial. Related:
Luke Goldstein: [01-06] FTC Ban on Noncompetes Sets Up Huge Legal Fight. Having had my own bitter experience with a noncompete dictate, I'm very happy to see this rule. In my case it was a rare requirement only demanded of top management, and we were presumably compensated for our loss of freedom (though I'd argue I wasn't). It still left a great deal of bitterness, which probably capped any possibility I had of further advancement. Still, that's not what this is about. Rather, companies have since started demanding noncompete restrictions on even bottom-rung employees. Had that been in effect in my day, most of my job changes would have been prohibited. No surprise that groups like the Chamber of Commerce are up in arms over this rule. Employers are still nostalgic for the days when they had complete power over their workers.
Melissa Gira Grant: [01-03] Welcome to Ron DeSantis's 2024 Campaign Against "Wokes": One of the most important planks of Trump's 2016 campaign was the revolt he led against "political correctness." It worked because pretty much no one likes having their speech corrected, especially the object isn't a notorious slur and the substitute is awkward and tortured ("differently abled" is one I've been hit with). (Bill Maher, who may be a jerk but isn't a right-winger, made political incorrectness his calling card.) However, I'm not sure that attacking "wokes" (or even the more abstract "wokeness") is going to be such a winning strategy. The difference is that it's one thing to say that you have the right to be a bigot and to hold opinions many of us deem ignorant, and another to say that if you're not a bigot, and take offense at bigots, you're evil, and need to be throttled -- which is basically DeSantis's position. DeSantis doesn't stop at hitting liberal columnists for their "wokeness"; he's gone after big corporations that simply don't see the profit in racism.
Ellen Ioanes: [01-07] North Korea's nuclear escalation, explained: The author seems more puzzled, but the right-wing turn in South Korea -- after the attempted thaw was largely sabotaged by Trump lieutenants like Bolton -- and also by the Biden administration's indifference to the issue. Despite occasional bouts of panic, North Korea's nuclear arsenal has never been, and will never be, a serious threat to the US (not that it couldn't annihilate South Korea and cause a lot of damage to Japan). From a military standpoint, nuclear weapons have never been worth a hill of beans, as the US has repeatedly found out in the series of military blunders that actually started in Korea. What is dangerous is trying to keep North Korea bottled up, when its leader have been trying so frantically for decades now to signal that they just want to be respected and treated decently.
Ben Jacobs: [01-07] How Kevin McCarthy (finally) became speaker of the House: "McCarthy was able to sway several far-right members of his party by agreeing to extraordinary concessions that will rewrite the politics of the House." Of course, there was never a chance that he wouldn't cave in to the far right, because he's not fundamentally opposed to them. While it was fun watching Republicans make fools of themselves, McCarthy's own demeanor during the ordeal suggests he was in on the scheme, which allowed him to shift effective power to the nihilists -- at this point, even "far right" doesn't do them justice, and "MAGA" isn't quite fair to Trump (not that he deserves any better) -- and also blame, when it all blows up. Jacobs has been covering this story in real time, so his older pieces are already dated: e.g., [01-03] Kevin McCarthy's once-in-a-century House speakership failure.
David Cay Johnston: [12-31] Trump's Taxes Are the Best Case Yet for Putting Him in Prison. Author also wrote [12-27] Trump's Brazen Tax Cheating Revealed.
Whizy Kim: [01-04] The ultrarich are getting cozy in America's tax havens at everyone else's expense. One serious problem that hardly anyone talks about is how having multiple state and local tax jurisdictions creates intense competition to carve out tax loopholes, which are now so widespread and so lucrative that they drive many business decisions. Every carve-out is ultimately compensated by taxpayers with less leverage, either in higher taxes or in reduced services. I don't know how you could go about doing this, but a single national taxation system, when they distributes money down to state and local governments (which, if they have nothing better to spend it on, could ultimately rebate it to citizens), would wring the incentive for this out of the system, and in doing so would end much of the system's inherent corruption. As I recall, Nixon made a start back around 1970 with his "revenue sharing" program. It's strange that no one talks about this, even though a lot of federal money is routinely transferred to states and on down the line.
Ezra Klein: [01-08] The Dystopia We Fear Is Keeping Us From the Utopia We Deserve. Features a book of "reactionary futurism" by J Storrs Hall, Where Is My Flying Car?. The argument is that we got sidetracked in trying to conserve energy (or at least utilize it more efficiently), when we should have been figuring out how to create much more, enough to enable the wonders of a set of formerly futurist inventions like the flying car.
Robert Kuttner: [01-03] Who Will Talk Jay Powell off the Ledge? "He has committed the Fed to an interest rate course that will create a needless recession, and he refuses to admit that inflation is subsiding on its own." Again, Biden made a bad mistake appointing this Republican to a second term (much as Obama did with Bernanke, and Clinton with Greenspan). For what it's worth, I'm not terribly upset that he raised interest rates up off the floor: that's helped cool down house prices, and perhaps most important, it's slowed down speculative gambling on futures, which now seems to have been the main thing driving oil prices up. When several left-of-center economists were lobbying for Powell to get that second term, they pointed to his changed views. I can't tell you now what they thought he was thinking, but he seems to have clung to the hoariest of old views: that the only proof that inflation is declining is that unemployment is rising.
Charles P Pierce: [01-04] Given the Choice Between Free Money or Sicker Residents, Republicans Chose Sickness: "Their refusal to expand Medicaid is making it impossible for rural hospitals to stay in business." His examples are elsewhere, but this is particularly a problem here in Kansas -- where a significant majority want Medicaid expansion, but the Republicans they foolishly elect think it's smart politics to discredit Obamacare by turning away people who would benefit from it. Pierce, by the way, kicks out 2-3 useful posts every day.
Andrew Prokop: [11-02] Will 2023 be the year Donald Trump is indicted? I suspect, the less it matters, the more likely it becomes. Also on Trump:
Nathan J Robinson: [12-06] Let ChatGPT Convert You to Socialism. I got interested in AI back in the 1980s, but haven't followed it since. One idea I had back then was to write a program that could crank out weekly letters to my mother. I would feed it a couple bullet points if I had any actual news, and it would mix them in with semi-random swatches of boilerplate. I was quite certain that she would be delighted, and none the wiser. That sort of thing is probably much closer to reality today, but will more likely be used by spammers trying to defraud you. On the other hand, I can imagine smarter programs that read your mail for you, sort out the dangerous and the merely crappy. Still, any arms race is likely to ultimately blow up. The best solution is to refashion the world to make predatory behavior less likely.
I haven't rekindled my interest in AI, so I know very little about where it's gone and how it's being used (other than my impression of badly). My nephew is pretty seriously into AI image generation: he's a graphic artist, and wants to see if he can use it to generate his style of art more efficiently. Robinson has done some of that too, but has focused more on ChatGPT, which he reports on here.
Jeffrey St Clair: [01-06] Roaming Charges: No Speaker, No Cry. "There are 100 members of the 'Progressive Caucus,' who capitulated within seconds to nearly every demand Pelosi made, and 40 members of the Freedom Caucus who don't mind waterboarding their own leader in public to get their way & ditching him if they don't." Also: "The problem is McCarthy himself is endorsed by Trump and the neo-fascist Marjorie Taylor-Greene, along with Freedom Caucus hardliners Jim Jordan and Louis Gohmert. In the face of a MAGA raid on the Capitol, McCarthy still voted to overturn the 2020 elections and boasted: 'I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it.'"
Eric Topol: [01-08] The coronavirus is speaking. It's saying it's not done with us.
New York Times: [01-08] Live Updates: Brazilian Authorities Clear Government Offices of Rioters, Official Says: Right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro lost his re-election bid a couple months ago, so now as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has taken office, Bolsonaro's mob has decided to throw their own January 6 riot. For more, see Ellen Ioanes: [01-08] Bolsonaro supporters storm Brazil's seat of power.
Saturday, December 31, 2022
Music: Current count 39330  rated (+55), 39  unrated (+0: 11 new, 28 old).
I've been known to extend the last Music Week of December to the end of the month, because the transition from year to year is such a natural breaking point, and I don't want to cheat 2022. Still, lots of things contributed to this delay, including an illness that didn't lay me up so much as it sapped my will to do anything, and a still persistent problem with internet connection that has made it hard to stream and to research. The main casualty in this has been the Jazz Critics Poll, which should have been published last week, but is now delayed . . . hopefully no later than next week. I still have much to write for it, so I won't dawdle further here.
Note that other website updates are minimal: I haven't done anything to wrap up the monthly Streamnotes; I'm a couple entries behind in the Recent Reading; and who knows what else I've left broken. One thing I can leave you with is a PJRP ballot, which I basically scraped from my 2022 list without further thought:
More details in the EOY lists for Jazz (73 A-list) and Non-Jazz (80 A-list). My tracking file shows 1524 records rated this year (out of 4619 listed). You might also find the EOY Aggregate interesting.
New records reviewed this week:
$ilkmoney: I Don't Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don't Feel Like It Anymore (2022, DB$B): Rapper from Virginia, fourth album, this title only slightly longer than the others. B+(**) [sp]
Taru Alexander: Echoes of the Masters (2022, Sunnyside): Drummer, father a saxophonist, started early, playing with Reggie Workman at 13. First album, cover surrounds his picture with a name cloud of various sizes, of which I can make out Billy Higgins and Roland Alexander near the top, elsewhere Tony Williams, Mulgrew Miller, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, and largest of all, Freddie Hubbard. Actual group here has Antoine Roney (tenor sax), James Hurt (piano), and Rashaan Carter (bass), with Hanka G. singing one track. B+(***) [sp]
Jake Blount: The New Faith (2022, Smithsonian Folkways): Black (ok, biracial) folk singer-sonwriter from DC, digs deep for his roots, then uses them to sing about the future, a bleak one, though perhaps not as bleak as it would be without a heritage that has survive plenty. B+(**) [sp]
Zach Bryan: American Heartbreak (2022, Warner, 2CD): Country singer-songwriter, born in Okinawa to a Navy family, did eight years in the Navy himself, but was still just 26 when this third album was released, and it's a whopper, with 34 songs running 121:00. B+(**) [sp]
Call Super: Swallow Me (2022, Can You Feel the Sun, EP): British electronica producer, Joseph Richmond-Seaton, three albums, more EPs and singles since 2011. This is basically a single: two tracks, 16:16. One of my favorite beat purveyors, but fairly minor. B+(**) [sp]
Sabrina Carpenter: Emails I Can't Send (2022, Island): Singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania, started as an actor at age 12, fifth album by age 23. B+(***) [sp]
Melissa Carper: Ramblin' Soul (2022, Mae Music): Country singer-songwriter, plays banjo and upright bass, started out with a family band, has two self-released albums on her own, plus two more with Rebecca Patek (one as Buffalo Gals Band). B+(**) [sp]
The Casual Dots: Sanguine Truth (2022, Ixor Stix): Second album, after an eponymous 2004 debut on Kill Rock Stars. DC alt-rock trio, froonted by singer-guitarist Kathi Wilcox. B+(**) [sp]
Marc Copland Quartet: Someday (2022, InnerVoice Jazz): Pianist, 40-plus albums since 1988, a quartet with Robin Verheyen (tenor/soprano sax; also wrote 2 songs to Copland's 3), Drew Gress (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums). Near-perfect balance. A- [sp]
Jon Cowherd Trio: Pride and Joy (2022, Le Coq): Pianist, originally from Kentucky, has a couple albums under his own name, several dozen side credits. Trio here with John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). One oddity is the Vol. 2 in the lower right corner -- as best I can tell, Vol. 1 was a Patitucci album called Trio with Vinnie Colaiuta and Bill Cunliffe. Another oddity is that this opens with two of three tracks (of eight total) with Chris Potter (tenor sax) and Alex Acuña (percussion). B+(*) [sp]
Dandy Dandie: Hypnos & Morphée (2019 , Yolk Music): Side-project composed and arranged by French saxophonist Alban Darche (one track by trumpet player Geoffroy Tamisier), built around texts from Poe, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Roethke, and others, sung by Chloë Cailleton. With piano by Nathalie Darche, but no drums or anything else, has an art song feel, but I like the sax. B+(*) [sp]
Harold Danko: Rite Notes (2021 , SteepleChase): Pianist, thirty-plus albums since 1979, takes this one solo. B+(*) [sp]
Daphni: Cherry (2022, Jiaolong): Canadian electronica producer Dan Snaith, recorded a couple albums as Manitoba (2001-03) before switching to Caribou (2005, 5 albums through 2020) and adding Daphni as an alias (2012, 4th album). B+(***) [sp]
Eli Degibri: Henri and Rachel (2021 , Degibri): Israeli saxophonist (tenor/soprano), studied in Boston and moved to New York before returning in 2011, eighth album since 2003, dedicated to his parents. B+(***) [sp]
Hamid Drake: Dedications: Black Cross Solo Sessions 6 (2020 , Corbett vs. Dempsey): Drummer, originally from Louisiana but moved to Chicago as a child, playing especially with Fred Anderson, and later with William Parker. Solo, nine pieces, each dedicated to free jazz notables, not least the drummers. B+(**) [bc]
Dai Fujikura/Jan Bang: The Bow Maker (2022, Punkt): Japanese composer of "contemporary classical music," based in UK, teams here with the Norwegian composer-producer, who tends to straddle jazz and electronica. Atmospheric, a bit dark at times. B+(*) [sp]
Runhild Gammelsæter & Lasse Marhaug: Higgs Boson (2022, Ideologic Organ): Norwegian voice/electronics duo, she has a PhD in cell physiology and is on the board of a biotech company, but has a background singing in metal bands. He has a rep as a noise artist: I first encountered him in Vandermark groups, but more often these days I see him credited with album art. Second album together, after 2014's Quantum Entanglement. B+(*) [sp]
Julia Hülsmann Quartet: The Next Door (2022, ECM): German pianist, several albums since 2000, fourth Quartet album, with Uli Kempendorff (tenor sax), bass, and drums. Nice, even tone, with a lot of movement beneath the surface. B+(***) [sp]
Shawneci Icecold/Fred Lonberg-Holm: Sepphoris (2022, Underground45): Pianist from Rhode Island, has a hip-hop sideline as well as several free jazz albums, mostly plays harmonium here, with Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics. Runs 29:57. B+(**) [cd]
Shawneci Icecold/Shuishan Yu: Flowing Water: Music for Guqin & Harpsichord (2022, Underground45): Another duet set, the guqin an ancient Chinese string instrument, plucked fits in nicely with the harpsichord. B+(**) [cd]
Jazzanova: Strata Records: The Sound of Detroit (2022, BBE): German production collective, started in 1995, only a few proper albums but lots of remixes. This one honors a small Detroit label which released nine albums 1974-75, by artists little-remembered, a cocktail of jazzy pop that the producers are tempted to add some fizz to. Sean Haefeli claims most of the vocals, unfortunately. B [sp]
Kassmasse: Bahil | Weg (2022, Meedo): Ethiopian, sings/raps in Amharic, with a catchy beat and agreeable musicality. B+(***)
Lady Aicha & Pisco Crane's Original Fulu Miziki Band of Kinshasa: N'djila Wa Mudjimo (2022, Nyege Nyege Tapes): This seems to be the same group that released a highly recommended EP earlier this year (Ngbaka EP), but at greater length here, not least in the headline credit. Like Congotronics, they salvage and engineer instruments from junk, not just drums but that's what makes this work. A- [sp]
Little Simz: No Thank You (2022, Age 101/Awal/Forever Living Originals): Late album drop from UK rapper Simbi Ajikawo, her fifth, after 2021's Sometimes I Might Be Introvert swept many of the year's best album lists. Major musical contribution here by Dean Josiah Cover (of Sault), with Cleo Sol (also of Sault) backing vocals, but still sharpest when the raps cut through to the front. A- [sp]
Igor Lumpert's Innertextures: I Am the Spirit of the Earth (2021 , Clean Feed): Slovene tenor saxophonist, based in New York since 2000, favored group name dates from a 2004 album title. B+(**) [sp]
João Madeira/Wagner Ramos: Meristema (2022, 4darecord): Portuguese duo, bass and drums, fairly minimal but sustains my interest for 71:11. B+(***) [cd]
Joe Magnarelli: New York Osaka Junction (2022, SteepleChase): Mainstream trumpet player, early albums (1998-2006) on Criss Cross, recent ones (since 2018) here. Osaka connection is organ player Akiko Tsuruga, joined with Gary Smulyan (baritone sax) and Rudy Royston (drums). As hopped up as a big band. B+(*) [sp]
Majamisty Trio: Wind Rose (2021 , Majamisty): Serbian piano-bass-drums trio (Maja Alvanovic, Ervin Malina, Lav Kovac), fourth album, cover notes two featured guests: Aneta George (vocals), and Ulrich Drechsler (clarinet). B+(*) [sp]
Dado Moroni/Jesper Lundgaard/Lee Pearson: There Is No Greater Love (2016 , Storyville): Italian pianist, many albums since 1980, this a trio with a Danish bassist and an American drummer. Flashy swing-oriented piano, gets down on "C Jam Blues." B+(***) [sp]
Odesza: The Last Goodbye (2022, Foreign Family/Ninja Tune): Electropop duo from Washington state, Harrison Mills (Catacombkid) and Clayton Knight (BeachesBeaches), fourth album since 2012. Guest vocals include Juliana Barwick, Bettye LaVette, and Låpsley. B+(**) [sp]
Sadistik x Kno: Bring Me Back When the World Is Cured (2022, self-released): Seattle rapper Cody Foster, half-dozen albums since 2008, helped here by Atlanta producer Ryan Wisler, a founder of CunninLynguists. B+(***) [sp]
Sault: 11 (2022, Forever Living Originals): British collective, anonymous when they first appeared in 2019, their first albums striking me as the second coming of Chic, but we now know that's just one of various masks. We also have a couple identities: producer Inflo (Dean Josiah Cover, who's worked with Little Simz), and vocalist Cleo Sol (who has three of her own albums). This kicks off a batch of five new digital-only albums that dropped on November 1. Strikes me as trivial on its own. Most reviewers glommed them together, then threw up their hands. B+(*) [sp]
Sault: AIIR (2022, Forever Living Originals): Title seems to refer back to their April, 2002 Air, which, as I noted at the time, with its strings and choral vocals "lost me." Same elements here, not worth making fine distinctions over, although this has five new titles, is shorter (25:27 vs. 45:06 for the seven-piece Air). B [sp]
Sault: Earth (2022, Forever Living Originals): African drums, scattered raps, bits of tasty guitar, other effects which may or may not work. B+(*) [sp]
Sault: Today & Tomorrow (2022, Forever Living Originals): A venture into retro rock, some say punk, but nowhere near that immediate, which is probably just as well. B+(*) [sp]
Sault: Untitled (God) (2022, Forever Living Originals): One more, a long one (21 songs, 73:08), "God" appears in several titles and more lyrics, but "We Are Gods" strikes me as suspicious. I'm reminded here how often thinking of God turns the mind to mush, but the last two songs make me wonder whether mush is the point ("God in Disguise," "Life We Rent but Love Is Free"). Possibly the best album of the series, but more likely the worst. B [sp]
Frank Paul Schubert/Kazuhisa Uchihashi/Klaus Kugel: Black Holes Are Hard to Find (2021 , Nemu): German saxophonist (alto/soprano), albums since 2005, in a trio with guitar/electronics and drums. B+(***) [cd]
Maya Shenfeld: In Free Fall (2022, Thrill Jockey): Israeli composer, originally studied classical guitar, but moved to Berlin and got into electronics. First album, stately pieces that drift between ambient and drone. B+(*) [sp]
Sowal Diabi: De Kaboul à Bamako (2022, Accords Croisés): An international project, named for Persian and Bambara words for "question" and "answer," with two singers -- Mamani Keita of Mali and Sogol Mirzael of Kurdish Turkey -- plus Iranian violinist Aïda Nosrat and various French musicians. Both ends of the imaginary journey have been damaged by war and terror, but if Mali is the answer, the answer must be music. A- [sp]
Special Interest: Endure (2022, Rough Trade): Third album from a New Orleans no-wave dance-punk group, a' contradiction they flaunt but don't necessarily resolve. B+(*) [sp]
SZA: SOS (2022, Top Dawg/RCA): R&B singer Solána Rowe, second album, both critical and commercial successes, not that they do much for me. B+(**) [sp]
Ricardo Toscano Trio: Chasing Contradictions (2021 , Clean Feed): Portuguese alto saxophonist, several albums, this a basic trio with Romeu Tristão (bass) and João Pereira (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Wako: Ut Av Det Nye (2022, Øra Fonogram): Norwegian quartet, led by pianist Kjetil Mulelid and saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen, with Bárður Reinert Poulsen on bass and Simon Olderskog Albertsen on drums. Sixth album since 2015. B+(**) [sp]
Weyes Blood: And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow (2022, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Natalie Mering, fifth album, but only the second to see much chart presence. Much pomp and splendour, with a little more beat this time. B [sp]
Jason Yeager: Unstuck in Time: The Kurt Vonnegut Suite (2022, Sunnyside): Pianist, several albums, starts from anecdotes showing the comic novelist, born 100 years ago, to have been a jazz fan, indeed a wannabe jazz pianist, and presents him with some music, which may or may not have tickled his funny bone. B+(**) [cd]
Per Zanussi & Vestnorsk Jazzensemble: Li (and the Infinite Game) (2022, Clean Feed): Norwegian bassist, several albums since 2004, his Zanussi 5 Live in Coimbra (2014) impressed me. Working with a large (11 by my count) group here. B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Pyramids: AOMAWA: The 1970s Recordings (1973-76 , Strut, 4CD): Saxophonist Bruce Baker, originally from Chicago, better known since 2012 as Idris Ackamoor, founded this Afrocentric, Sun Ra-influenced group in Antioch, Ohio, in the early 1970s as part of Cecil Taylor's Black Music Ensemble. A- [bc]
Buddy Tate & White Label: Tate's Delight (1982 , Storyville): One of the famed Texas Tenors, came up in the Basie band, has a local Danish quintet for support, playing upbeat songs they all should know, including "Jumpin' at Woodside" and "Lester Leaps In." B+(***) [bc]
Roland Alexander: Pleasure Bent (1961 , New Jazz): Tenor saxophonist (1935-2006), from Boston, first album, Discogs only credits him with one more (a live quintet in 1978), came to my attention only when his drummer son released a good hard bop album (although now I recognize a few notable side credits, like Eddie Gale's Black Rhythm Happening (1969). This is remembered as a hard bop lineup, with Marcus Belgrave (trumpet) and Ronnie Mathews (piano), but is more mainstream, the sax tone softer, with a bit of swing. B+(**) [r]
Willi Carlisle: Too Nice to Mean Much (2016, self-released, EP): Arkansas tunesmith, first album, or most of one (six songs, 25:56), got some clever words, banjo too. B+(***) [sp]
Willi Carlisle: To Tell You the Truth (2018, self-released): Twelve songs this time, four credited to Traditional. Seems to be aiming for something darker, more primitivist. B+(**) [sp]
Billy Harper Quintet: Destiny Is Yours (1989 , SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, from Texas, 1975 album Black Saint inspired the name for one of the era's most important labels. With Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Francesca Tanksley (piano), Clarence Seay (bass), and Newman Baker (drums) -- with a new bass player, this group went on to record three volumes of Live on Tour in the Far East (Vol. 2 is especially spectacular). B+(**) [sp]
Ronnie Mathews With Freddie Hubbard: Doin' the Thang! (1963 , Prestige): Pianist (1935-2008), mostly shows up in side credits, starting in 1961 with albums led by Roland Alexander and Bill Hardman. This was his first album as leader, with four originals plus Ellington and Davis covers, with Hubbard on trumpet, Charles Davis on baritone sax, Eddie Kahn on bass, and Albert Heath on drums, shortly before Matthews appeared on Hubbard's Breaking Point. B+(**)
Ronnie Mathews/Roland Alexander/Freddie Hubbard (1961-63 , Prestige): CD reissue combines two LPs, both with Mathews on piano: one with Hubbard on trumpet (Hubbard gets the small cover print, although he's much the bigger name), and another led by tenor saxophonist Alexander, with Marcus Belgrave on trumpet. B+(**) [r]
Grade (or other) changes:
Willi Carlisle: Peculiar, Missouri (2022, Free Dirt): Folksinger from the Ozarks, earned his credentials the new-fashioned way, with a BA in Writing and Performance Studies and a MFA in Poetry, plus two self-released albums before moving up to a label with a name. [was B+(***)] A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
Speaking of Which
Long time, many delays, most significant of which was coming down with Covid a week ago. It followed a couple days of socializing, something I'm clearly ill-practiced at. The wife of a cousin died the previous week. I missed the funeral, but went out to the farm to see some of the family, who had all been at the funeral. Then, next day, I fixed our usual latke holiday dinner, for a rather tightly packed crowd of nine. Two days later I tested positive. I've had all three booster shots, and got a 5-day run of paxlovid. As illnesses go, I've suffered worse, but in this politically charged time, this one feels both sad and infuriating. And there have been many compounding hardships, from record cold that broke an appliance to a dog sadly on her last legs. Plus fear of infecting my wife, which so far hasn't happened, and as such remains a constant struggle.
Still, the main side-effect has been a huge sense of disinterest in everything I've been doing, or wanting to do. The most immediate victim is the Francis Davis Jazz Poll, which won't come out on time, because I haven't gotten it together. My usual Music Week post is also delayed, perhaps indefinitely. (Certainly no guarantee it will appear tomorrow.) For some reason, this post framework has been easier to get back into than anything involving music. It started just jotting down links, and most of the ones I grabbed early are still pretty bare (and I'm unlikely to return to them). But over several days, a few comments started to form. Still, I figure this is still mostly an exercise to file away bookmarks, in case I ever feel like revisiting the history.
Beware that Covid-19 cases have been rising steadily since new cases dropped under 37,000 on Oct. 30, to 70,425 (+90%) on Dec. 22 (numbers around Christmas bounce due to reporting fluctuations).
Ben Armbruster: [12-16] Diplomacy Watch: Is the Overton window of the Ukraine war's end game shifting? Also: Connor Echols: [12-23] Diplomacy Watch: Sketching the uncomfortable path to peace. Both titles sound more optimistic than there seems to be evidence for.
Dean Baker: [12-16] We Don't Need Government-Granted Patent Monopolies to Finance Drug Development: Quite frankly, they do much more harm than good.
Doug Bandow: [12-21] Ending the Syrian war, getting US troops out, and lifting sanctions: "The status quo is doing more harm than good. Let's admit failure before more people are hurt and put in harm's way." I would have been quite happy had Assad been driven into exile, or even strung up, but that didn't happen, despite the efforts of at least a dozen other countries to intervene. Realism suggests the need to reach some sort of deal where the US offers to normalize relations (including removing troops and ending sanctions), provide humanitarian aid, and use its influence to dissuade its "allies" from attacking and/or trying to subvert the Assad regime (Turkey being the most immediate threat, but Israel regularly bombs Syria), in exchange for agreement not to punish dissidents and to allow political prisoners to go into exile. Note, however, that the US has never negotiated such a deal, as it always seemed politically expedient to perpetuate "cold war" hostilities, and in the end the US never cared that much about the people it supposedly entered the conflict to help -- most were left to their own devices, then begrundingly allowed to immigrate if they made it that far.
Dave Barry: [12-25] Dave Barry's 2022 Year in Review: Getting old here, and there. Old enough I can remember a time when he was genuinely funny. Probably because less seemed to be at stake then.
Matthew Cooper: [12-22] Charlie Peters, Washington Monthly Founder and Mentor to Leading Journalists, Turns 96: Peter founded Washington Monthly in 1969. I started subscribing shortly after that. For a while, I suppose I could have followed two different political paths: one into reform-minded Democratic Party politics, which was influenced significantly by reading the policy-wonky articles in Washington Monthly, and the other into more radical left movements. Peters was a guru of the former path, but I probably stopped reading him before the McGovern loss crushed my faith in elections. But while the new left offered a convincing critique of liberal capitalism, I never found a practical politics there. I stopped subscribing to Washington Monthly after a few years, so I didn't notice when Peters was one of the first to expound a new notion of neoliberalism. I've never been clear how much his adoption of the term has in common with the "New Democrats" who made neoliberalism a dirty word. The last thing I read by him was a lament on how his native West Virginia abandoned the Democratic fold.
Shirin Ghaffary: [12-16] Elon Musk's Twitter journalist purge has begun.
Melvin Goodman: [12-23] How the New York Times Mythologizes US-Israeli Relations. Something they're not alone in, but have been at the forefront of, at least since . . . well, the earliest examples in this article are from the 1950s.
Margaret Hartmann: [12-16] 7 Great Things About Trump's Incredibly Dumb NFT Announcement: You know the bar's low when the article starts with: "NFTs are the least harmful thing Trump could have announced." Other Trump trivia pieces (see Prokop below for the Jan. 6 criminal referrals, and Narea for his taxes):
Ben Jacobs: [12-23] Did George Santos lie about everything? And how incompetent was the media in failing to figure him out before the election? Same for whoever was supposed to do "oppo research" for the Democrats. Too little, too late, but the New York Times has more: [12-23] George Santos's Early Life: Odd Jobs, Bad Debts and Lawsuits. On the other hand, while journalists aren't much good at discovering, they are pretty adept at piling on: Joe Perticone: [12-23] George Santos's Problems Are Just Getting Started.
Ed Kilgore: [12-14] Democrats Came Shockingly Close to Keeping the House: Going into the election, my working assumption was that Democrats would win the popular vote for the House, but could lose control due mostly to gerrymanders. But it appears now that Republicans actually won the popular vote (50.6% to 47.8%, a margin of 2.8%) while winning the House by somewhat less (222-213, a margin of 2.0%). I don't know what this means, but one effect of gerrymandering is to suppress turnout by making elections less competitive ("safe" seats were often won by 70% or more), but also slanting competitive seats toward Republicans may have boosted R turnout more than D.
Siobhan McDonough: [12-22] Why are American lives getting shorter? "US life expectancy got worse during Covid-19, and then kept getting worse."
Brian Murphy: [11-09] Ernie Lazar, who quietly amassed huge FBI archive, dies at 77: Late tip here from Rick Perlstein, a beneficiary of his research.
Nicole Narea: [12-21] Trump's tax returns are about to become public. What happens now?
New Republic: The Scoundrels, Ghouls, and Crooks of 2022.
Andrew Prokop: [12-19] The January 6 committee's case against Trump.
Dylan Scott: [12-15] Ron DeSantis's vaccine "investigation" is all about beating Trump.
Dan Secatore: [12-19] What I Learned Curating Presidential Theater for Obama: "A former Obama advance man on how the hollow pageantry of political stagecraft legitimizes bad policy and distracts us from more substantive political discussions."
Stephen M Walt: [12-13] The United States Couldn't Stop Being Stop Being Stupid if It Wanted To. The "realist" blames liberals, for thinking that the rights and liberties we expect at home should be available to everyone else, but what kind of liberalism is one that extends its values at gun point? Granted, Americans like to talk about liberal values when they go to war, but that's only because it sounds better than admitting to crass imperialist aims.
Brett Wilkins: [12-20] UN Experts Decry Record Year of Israeli Violence in Occupied West Bank: "Israel's deplorable record in the occupied West Bank will likely deteriorate further in 2023."
Also, a golden oldie: Rick Perlstein: [2021-10-26] A Short History of Conservative Trolling.
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Music: Current count 39275  rated (+72), 36  unrated (+4: 8 new, 28 old).
The rated count, and the reviews below, cover 9-10 days, which partly explains the big numbers. But even at the normal 7-day mark I was close to 50, a total that pops up mostly when I go off into deep dives of mostly-familiar old music (often with short run times), like my recent specials on Jerry Lee Lewis (58) and Loretta Lynn (63). This week was nowhere near that easy, but I was locked into a zone counting jazz critics' ballots, and they were generating long lists of things to check out.
The official deadline was end-of-business Monday, but on Tuesday I compiled a list of invited critics who hadn't voted and sent off last-ditch reminders. That produced another half-dozen ballots, bringing the total to 150. That leaves me four short of last year. I'm a bit disappointed, but it's still a respectable turnout, enough to maintain our boast of having the broadest, most comprehensive poll anywhere.
I still have a ton of work to do, starting with adding notes to explain various artifacts of the poll. The biggest problem this year was how many voters wanted to combine votes for two albums in one line, especially where labels released two albums by one artist at the same time: Mary Halvorson, Amaryllis and Belladonna (May 13, on Nonesuch; complicating this, they were released as separate albums on CD and digital, but were packaged together on vinyl); and Ahmad Jamal, Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964 and 1965-1966 (Dec. 2, on Jazz Detective/Elemental).
This week's haul means that I've currently heard and rated 843 jazz albums this year (out of 1443 in my tracking file, a file which now includes 185 albums that got votes in the Jazz Critics Poll that I haven't yet heard, even as I'm shouldering the day-to-day work.
To answer a question I just got, the poll will again be published by Arts Fuse, some time between Christmas and New Years, and will be known as the 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll, in honor of its founder and guiding spirit, who I'm pleased to say is still keeping a keen eye on things.
I did manage to kick out a belated Speaking of Which on Tuesday. Buried therein is the germ of an idea on how to solve a large share of America's political problems.
I didn't get around to writing about the plan to shift the Democratic presidential primaries away from Iowa and New Hampshire and focus on South Carolina, but I recall floating an idea quite a while back to restructure primaries: run them in five Super Tuesday rounds, starting with the 10 smallest states (plus D.C.), then the next 10, etc. The bottom 10 states have too many Dakotas, but are still pretty diverse. You could even do more than 10 for the first round, so you can pick up traditional early states like Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada. A couple new ideas could help here: the Democratic Party could run the primaries privately, mostly using mail votes (based on state registration records), so you wouldn't have to get a lot of state laws passed; the Party would be responsible for providing a neutral forum for debates, pamphlets, and get-out-the-vote efforts, in effect centralizing a lot of the fundraising tasks, and making campaigning much less prohibitively expensive; eligibility would be limited from round to round based on results..
New records reviewed this week:
Alex Acuña: Gifts (2021 , Le Coq): Drummer, originally from Peru, moved to Puerto Rico in 1967 and on to Las Vegas in 1974. Played in Weather Report 1975-78, many side-credits since along with a few albums he led. Peruvian saxophonist Lorenzo Ferrero stands out among a fine Latin jazz ensemble. B+(**) [sp]
Adeem the Artist: White Trash Revelry (2022, self-released): Country singer-songwriter Adem Bingham, originally a "seventh-generation Carolinian," considered the ministry before a songwriting bug and other concerns led to a very good debut album called Cast-Iron Pansexual. Here a deep dive into his "white trash" roots generates an even better sequel. A- [sp]
[Ahmed]: Ahad/Wahid (2022, A Cheeseboard Production, EP): Two songs, 11:04, a free jazz quartet with Pat Thomas (piano), Antonin Gerbal (drums), Joel Grip (bass), and Seymour Wright (alto sax). They had a good album out in 2021. This could fit into another. B+(*) [bc]
Zoh Amba: O, Sun (2021 , Tzadik): Young tenor saxophonist, from Tennessee, first album of many released in 2022 -- I count six in my tracking file -- making her enough of a big deal that she got an in-depth profile in the New York Times. Quartet with Micah Thomas (piano), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Joey Baron (drums), with producer John Zorn joining for one track (alto sax, on "Holy Din"). Some hot streaks, but mostly this is toned down nicely. A- [dl]
JoVia Armstrong & Eunoia Society: The Antidote Suite (2022, Black Earth Music): First album, has a fair number of side-credits (percussion and vocals) going back to Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble in 2002. Composes and plays "hybrid cajon kit" here. Group also features Leslie DeShazor (violin), plus various guests including Mitchell (flute), Jeff Parker (guitar), Yaw Agyeman (vocals), and Teh'Ray Hale (rapper). B+(**) [bc]
Balance: Conjure (2020 , Two Rooms): Saxophonist Marcus Elliot and pianist Michael Malis, with drums (Gerald Cleaver) on two tracks, and spoken vocals (Chace Morris) on two more. B+(**) [bc]
Barcelona Clarinet Players: Fantasías Barcelónicas: A Tribute to Paquito D'Rivera (2021 , Sunnyside): Spanish (or Catallan?) quartet: two clarinets, basset horn, and bass clarinet, with the Cuban object of their affection sitting in on four (of eleven) tracks. B+(*) [sp]
Basher: Doubles (2021 , Sinking City): New Orleans group led by tenor saxophonist Byron Asher, who has several group albums, with Aurora Nealand on alto sax, Daniel Meinecke (synthesizers), and two drummers. A potent mix of avant riffing with swarming rhythm, not that it always works. B+(*) [bc]
Battle Trance: Green of Winter (2022, New Amsterdam): Saxophone quartet, third studio album, all tenors, led by composer Travis Laplante, with Patrick Breiner, Matthew Nelson, and Jeremy Viner. B+(*) [sp]
The Baylor Project: The Evening: Live at Apparatus (2022, Be a Light): Singer Jean Baylor, husband-drummer Marcus Baylor, a band with Terry Brewer on keyboards, Yasuhi Nakamura on bass, and a horn section (trumpet, trombone, tenor/soprano sax). B+(**) [sp]
Karl Berger/Kirk Knuffke: Heart Is a Melody (2022, Stunt): The cornet player could claim this, but much respect to the 87-year-old German who plays vibes, piano, Rhodes, and Melodica. Also to the smaller-print names on the cover: Jay Anderson (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Ran Blake: Looking Glass (2015 , A-Side): Pianist, about 80 when he recorded this, one of many solo albums. Thoughtful and unpredictable as ever. B+(***) [sp]
Blue Lines Trio: Chance and Change (2022, Casco): Dutch group, debut album 2014, with compositions by Michiel Scheen (piano) and Raoul van der Weide (bass, crackle box, sound objects), plus George Hadow on drums. Most impressive when they pick up the pace and break free. B+(***) [bc]
Blue Moods: Myth & Wisdom (2021 , Posi-Tone): The label's house band -- Diego Rivera (tenor sax), Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass), and Joe Strasser (drums), with Dave Kikoski on piano for 3 (of 10) tracks -- kick off the Mingus centenary year with ten favorites. B+(**) [sp]
Surya Botofasina: Everyone's Children (2022, Spiritmuse): Keyboard player, based in New York, a follower of Alice Coltrane, bills this debut as "spiritual avant-garde music," though it ticks most of the boxes for ambient, then starts to build something more grandiose, which eventually turns into just long. B+(*) [bc]
Staffan Bråsjö: Stratosfär (2020 , self-released): Swedish pianist (also plays organ here, and conducts choir elsewhere), seems to be his first album, although he has side-credits, including the group Into the Wild. Trio with Josefin Runsteen (mostly violin) and Vilhelm Bromander (bass). With the notes citing Bach and Beethoven, this could pass as classical chamber music, but must be jazz because I find it very likable. B+(***) [bc]
Anna Butterss: Activities (2022, Colorfield): Bassist, both electric and acoustic, originally from Australia but based in Los Angeles, appears on Jeff Parker's Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy, produces a similar, subtle, shifting groove album here, dubbing in guitar, keyboards, percussion, and flute, along with bits of vocal. Josh Johnson plays sax on two tracks, and there are spot drums/percussion credits. B+(***) [sp]
Frank Carlberg Trio: Reflections 1952 (2021 , 577): Finnish pianist, based in New York, couple dozen albums since 1992. Trio with John Hébert (bass) and Francisco Mela (drums), with a couple vocal spots. The date was a turning point for Thelonious Monk, with reflections on his music, but nothing as simple as a cover. B+(***) [bc]
François Carrier/Alexander von Schlippenbach/John Edwards/Michel Lambert: Unwalled (2022, Fundacja Sluchaj): Alto sax, piano, bass, drums. It seems like Quebec natives Carrier and Lambert have spent much of the last two decades wandering around Europe in search of inspiring piano and bass partners. They finally hit the jackpot in Berlin. A- [dl]
Chicago Soul Jazz Collective Meets Dee Alexander: On the Way to Be Free (2022, JMarq): First group album, so it's hard to picture them without the singer, who is a major asset. B+(*) [sp]
Trish Clowes: A View With a Room (2021 , Greenleaf Music): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano), six albums on Basho before this one, a quartet with Ross Stanley (keyboards), guitar, and drums. Nicely appointed postbop. B+(**) [sp]
Theo Croker Quartet: Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic XII: Sketches of Miles (2021 , ACT): American trumpet player, albums since 2007, quartet -- Danny Grissett (piano), Joshua Ginsburg (bass), and Gregory Hutchinson (drums) -- backed by Berliner Philharmonic conducted by Magnus Lindgren, in a long, surefire program that draws on Miles Davis. B+(**) [sp]
Espen Eriksen Trio Featuring Andy Sheppard: In the Mountains (2022, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian pianist, Trio with Lars Tormod Jenset (bass) and Andreas Bye (drums) has eight albums, this the second joined by the saxophonist (3/7 tracks). Piano is solid on its own, but the sax is special. B+(***) [sp]
Extended: Without Notice (2020 , self-released): New Orleans-based piano trio -- Oscar Rossignoli, Matt Booth, Brad Webb -- all three write songs. Released an album, Harbinger in 2019, that I misread and took the title to be the group name. (Fixing that is going to be a pain.) Meanwhile, another smart set. B+(**) [bc]
Ezra Collective: Where I'm Meant to Be (2022, Partisan): British jazz quintet, led by drummer Femi Koleoso, with Ife Ogunjobi (trumpet), James Mollison (tenor sax), Joe Armon-Jones (keyboards), and TJ Koleoso (bass). Second album, mostly a groove I find very attractive, various guest spots including vocal features (Sampa the Great, Kojey Radical, Emeli Sandé, Nao). B+(**) [sp]
Fazer: Plex (2022, City Slang): German quintet, with trumpet (Matthias Lindermayr), guitar (Paul Brändle), bass, and two drummers. Some sort of post-rock fusion vibe, but the trumpet has some moves, and it's never overly pat. B+(**) [sp]
Anthony Ferrara: Cold Faded (2022, SteepleChase): Young tenor saxophonist, based in New York, second album, gets a veteran rhythm section: Gary Versace (piano), Jay Andersen (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Free Form Funky Freqs: Hymn of the 3rd Galaxy (2020-21 , Ropeadope): Funk-fusion all-star jam: G. Calvin Weston (drums), Vernon Reid (guitar), and Jamaaladeen Tacuma (bass). Third album, after ones in 2008 and 2013. Could be freer (or for that matter, funkier), but lots of pyrotechnic guitar. B+(*) [bc]
Charlie Gabriel: Eighty Nine (2022, Sub Pop): Longtime clarinet/tenor sax player with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, steps out front with an album named for his age, perhaps not a debut, but should be. A banner proclaims "Preservation Hall Presents," and with Ben Jaffe producing the band backs up his old songs, but nothing that screams "trad jazz." He sings a couple, but not as eloquent as his sax. B+(***) [sp]
Marshall Gilkes: Cyclic Journey (2022, Alternate Side): Trombonist, sixth album since 2008, a nine-part suite with a fairly large (12-piece) group: a wide range of brass, but no reeds. This has a lovely sound, but triggers my anti-classical reflex. B+(*) [sp]
Onno Govaert + Martina Verhoeven/Dirk Serries: Twofold (2021 , A New Wave of Jazz, 2CD): Dutch drummer, albums since 2008, offers two substantial duo discs, one with piano (45:38), the other with guitar (42:10). B+(***) [bc]
Pasquale Grasso: Be-Bop! (2022, Sony Masterworks): Italian guitarist, seventh album since 2015, most solo but this one adds bass (Ari Roland) and drums (Keith Balla), playing one original, one Monk, seven songs by Charlie Parker and/or Dizzy Gillespie, plus "I'm in a Mess," which Gillespie recorded in 1951, and Samara Joy sings. B+(**) [sp]
Craig Harris: Managing the Mask (2021 , Aquastra): Trombonist, also credited with didgeridoo and vocals (three tracks), started with Sun Ra (1976-80), recorded a couple of notable albums for Soul Note in the 1980s, hasn't released a lot more but his 2005 Souls Within the Veil was masterful. B+(**) [sp]
Ulf Ivarsson/Bill Laswell: Nammu (2022, Ropeadope): Two bassists, one Swedish, the other American, have similar careers on the fringes of jazz and pop, leads a group here with Thomas Backman (baritone/alto sax, bass clarinet), organ, and drums. Better for its heavy grooves than ambient affectations. B+(**) [sp]
Keefe Jackson/Jim Baker/Julian Kirshner: Routines (2019 , Kettle Hole): Saxophonist from Arkansas, in Chicago since 2001, Discogs lists 12 albums and twice that many groups. Plays tenor and sopranino here, with piano/synthesizer and drums. Very hit and miss: great in spots, then hits a tone I can't stand. B [bc]
Ant Law & Alex Hitchcock: Same Moon in the Same World (2020-21 , Outside In Music): British, guitar and saxophone, both have previous albums, recorded this during lockdown with various guests -- exact credits are hard to come by. B+(**) [sp]
Janel Leppin: Ensemble Volcanic Ash (2022, Cuneiform): Cellist, also plays keyboards, sixth album since 2011, married to guitarist Anthony Pirog (probably a subject for further research), who amps up the string contingent here (cello, harp, and Luke Stewart on bass). They're joined by two saxophonists (Sarah Hughes on alto, Brian Settles on tenor), with Larry Ferguson on drums. B+(***) [dl]
Joyce Moreno: Brasileiras Canções (2022, Biscoito Fino): Brazilian singer, started in late 1960s, just used her first name until 2009. B+(**) [sp]
Paal Nilssen-Love Circus: Pairs of Three (2021 , PNL): Norwegian drummer, many projects including The Thing. New group here: a sextet with trumpet (Thomas Johansson), alto sax (Signe Emmelulth), accordion, guitar, and bass, plus South African singer Juliana Venter -- who may color background, or free associate (at one point sampling "Strawberry Fields Forever" then sliding into "we are the victims of the Deep State"), or just lay out. Much going on here. B+(***) [bc]
Jeff Parker ETA IVtet: Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy (2019-21 , Eremite): Guitarist, I still associate him with Chicago but he's moved on to Los Angeles, worked in avant-jazz and post-rock groups and produced a wide range of albums under his own name. Four tracks here from three dates, ranging 18:00-23:37, are ambient vibe pieces with some meat on their bones, from a quartet with Josh Johnson (alto sax & pedals), Anna Butterss (bass), and Jay Bellerose (drums). A- [dl]
Pillbox Patti: Florida (2022, Monument): Florida native Nicolette Hayford, has been kicking around Nashville a decade or so, accumulating songs about the hard life, admitting youth is past and barely notice, leaving her cohort "a little fucked up, but we're still breathing." Debut album, a short one (8 songs, 29:15). B+(**) [sp]
Ishmael Reed: The Hands of Grace (2022, Reading Group): Famous novelist and poet -- I read The Freelance Pallbearers shortly after it came out in 1967 but lost track after The Last Days of Louisiana Red (1974) -- crossed over to jazz when Kip Hanrahan produced his Conjure albums, then released a collection of his piano in 2003. More piano here, mostly solo but some accompanied by flute, guitar, violin, and/or voice (Tennessee Reed). Nothing great, but catches your interest. B+(**) [bc]
Revelators Sound System: Revelators (2022, 37d03d): Jazz side project of MC Taylor (Hiss Golden Messenger) and Cameron Ralston (The Spacebomb House Band). B+(*) [sp]
Stephen Riley: My Romance (2021 , SteepleChase): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, steady run of albums since 2007, this one a trio with Brian Charette (organ) and Billy Drummond (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Trio D'ÉTÉ: Turning Point (2018 , 5Passion): Cuban pianist, long based in Florida, many albums since 1985. This is a trio with Matthew Brewer (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), playing seven original Rubalcaba pieces. B+(***) [sp]
Rich Ruth: I Survived, It's Over (2022, Third Man): Given name Michael Ruth, based in Nashville, plays guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion. Second album, billed as ambient but a little loud for that, even before the saxophones (3 + flute) kick in. B [sp]
James Singleton: Malabar (2022, Sinking City): Bassist, from New Orleans, has been around a while but doesn't have much as leader. This is boundary-pushing postbop, with' two saxophones (Rex Gregory and Brad Walker), guitar, drums, and vibes/percussion (Mike Dillon). B+(**) [sp]
Gary Smulyan: Tadd's All, Folks (2021 , SteepleChase): Baritone saxophonist, twenty-some albums since 1997, plays Tadd Dameron songs here, backed by piano (Pete Malinverni), bass (David Wong), and drums (Matt Wilson), sharing the spotlight with vocalist Anaïs Reno. B+(**) [sp]
SWR Big Band/Magnus Lindgren/John Beasley: Bird Lives (2021, ACT): German big band, founded 1951 in Stuttgart attached to public radio station SWR, Discogs lists 50+ albums since 1998, nearly all vehicles for guest stars. Both Lindgren, a Swedish saxophonist, and Beasley, an American pianist, are into big band arranging, and they've lined up a long list of stars -- e.g., Chris Potter and Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Charles McPherson and Miguel Zenón on alto -- to plow through Charlie Parker's songbook. This has some big moments, but perhaps a bit too much formaldehyde? B+(*) [sp]
Jamaaladeen Tacuma/Mary Halvorson: Strings & Things (2014 , Jam-All Productions): Bass and guitar duo, plus some electronics, recorded on the sly during a tour in Japan. Typical of her guitar style in a friendly context. Seven tracks, 28:52. B+(**) [bc]
Thollem: Obstacle Illusion (2021 , Astral Spirits): Pianist, last name McDonas, three dozen albums since 2004, four pieces here, each between 18:13 and 18:45. No credits for other musicians, but second piece sounds like a mix of organ and electronics. B+(*) [bc]
Micah Thomas: Piano Solo (2022, LP345): Young pianist, impressive in several recent side-credits, has chops and ideas. B+(**) [sp]
Pat Thomas & XT [Seymour Wright/Paul Abbott]: Akisakila/Attitudes of Preparation (Mountains, Oceans, Trees) (2018 , Edition Gamut): British pianist plays tribute to Cecil Taylor by arranging his 1973 piece, with drums and sax, like the original with Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons. As with the original, the thrash is pretty intense. Finishes with an interview with Cecil Taylor, which Thomas vamps around with. Discogs gives Will Holder a co-credit, for wrapping the album up in small type I can't read. B+(***) [bc]
Tess Tyler: Fractals [Vol. 1] (2022, Manners McDade): Composer, from Bristol, first album (although there's a Vol. 2 out the same day -- the volume numbers aren't on the covers, but referred to on Bandcamp). No credits, but a video shows her playing piano with electronics and a drummer. A- [bc]
Tess Tyler x Spindle Ensemble: Fractals [Vol. 2] (2022, Manners McDade): Five songs from Vol. 1 performed with the composer on piano, accompanied by a Bristol-based string quartet, intended to offer another view into the compositions. All aspects are reduced, including length (30:21). B+(*) [bc]
Johannes Wallmann: Precarious Towers (2021 , Shifting Paradigm): German pianist, fourth album, postbop quintet with Sharel Cassity (alto sax), Mitch Shiner (vibes), bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Yellowjackets: Parallel Motion (2022, Mack Avenue): Fairly popular jazz fusion group, debut 1981, keyboard player Russell Ferrante the only original member, but saxophonist Bob Mintzer joined in 1990, and keeps the group respectable, even when they offer little else of interest. B [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Don Ayler: In Florence 1981 (1981 , Railroad Town Music): Trumpet player, brother of saxophonist Albert Ayler, played in many of his brother's 1960s bands, quit after Albert died in 1970, and didn't play until the late 1970s. This live septet is the only thing recorded under his name: originally released on three LPs. It's basically six 15:41-17:27 pieces (107:02, including an extra spoken bit), performed by a mostly obscure septet -- only name I recognize is bassist Richard Willimams (he did a stretch with Sun Ra), but saxophonists Frank Doblekar and Abdul Rahim Mustafa (Donald Strickland) are honorary Aylers, and the guitar and piano can emerge from the cracks. Nice to hear them keep the faith. A- [sp]
Donald Byrd: Live: Cookin' With Blue Note at Montreux (1973 , Blue Note): Trumpet player (1932-2013), from Detroit, started in hard bop c. 1956, was a mainstay of the Blue Note label from 1959, when it entered a golden age, through its late-1960s decline, his experiments in fusion and funk, all the way to 1976. Group here represents his electric funk period, with Larry Mizell's synthesizers, electric piano (Kevin Toney), guitar (Barney Perry), and bass (Henry Franklin), drums and congas, two saxophones, and a second trumpeter (Fonce Mizell, who worked at Motown). B+(*) [sp]
Jean-Charles Capon/Philippe Maté/Lawrence "Butch" Morris/Serge Rahoerson (1977, Souffle Continu -21): French cellist (1936-2011), swung both ways in groups like Bach Modern Quintet and Baroque Jazz Trio, in a quartet here with tenor sax, trumpet, and drums. B+(***) [bc]
Ellery Eskelin/Gerry Hemingway: From the Archives: Live at the Stone in NYC, 2010 (2010 , Auricle): Tenor sax and drums duo, a couple years after they recorded a similar duo called Inbetween Spaces. Three improv pieces totalling 59:53. A bit tentative, but impressive when they get going. B+(***) [bc]
Ronnie Foster: Two Headed Freap (1972 , Blue Note): Organ player, from Buffalo, first album of five released 1972-75 by Blue Note, had two 1978-79 Columbias, not much since until his Reboot (Blue Note) this year, which may have motivated a luxury vinyl reissue. Funk grooves with Gene Bertoncini (guitar), George Duvivier (bass), and Jimmy Johnson (drums), plus a little extra glitz on harp and vibes. B+(*) [sp]
ICP Orchestra: 30 Yr Jubileum 1997: Day 1 (1997 , ICP): From a "three-day festival/jubileum/party in 1997 to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of ICP." The lineup evolved over time, but this one is especially memorable: Misha Mengelberg (piano), Han Bennink (drums), Thomas Heberer (trumpet), Wolter Wierbos (trombone), Michael Moore (alto sax/clarinet), Ab Baars (clarinet/tenor sax), Ernst Reijseger and Tristan Honsinger (cello), and Ernst Glerum (bass). Add guests Steve Lacy (soprano sax) and Roswell Rudd (trombone), and of course they're playing Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk. Four tracks, 31:19. B+(***) [bc]
ICP Orchestra: 30 Yr Jubileum 1997: Day 2 (1997 , ICP): A much longer set (114:28), opening with three songs by guest Cor Fuhler (piano/organ/keyolin), with Louis Moholo (drums) and Roswell Rudd (trombone) also sitting in. After that, it's a kaleidoscope of Mengelberg pieces (with a Moholo co-credit). A- [bc]
ICP Orchestra: 30 Yr Jubileum 1997: Day 3 (1997 , ICP): A third set, runs 52:15, with Roswell Rudd guesting again, playing Mengelberg pieces plus a Herbie Nichols at the end. B+(***) [bc]
Ahmad Jamal: Live in Paris (1971 , Transversales Disques): Newly uncovered "lost tapes" from a live performance, three fairly long piano trio pieces (39:44), with Jamil Nasser (bass) and Frank Gant (drums). These are "excerpts from the full performance," but they are superb throughout. A- [bc]
Jack McDuff: Live at Parnell's (1982 , Soul Bank Music): Organ player Eugene McDuffy, recorded a ton 1960-65 for Prestige, several albums 1969-70 for Blue Note, and had a bit of a revival in the 1990s with Concord. This was from a period when he recorded little, selected from a week in Seattle, released on 3-LP (comes to 118:28). There is some dispute over who else is playing, but the sax and guitar are both rougher and more stronger than I'd expect. B+(**) [sp]
Brother Jack McDuff: Moon Rappin' (1969 , Blue Note): One of four albums the organ player released on Blue Note 1969-70, reissued this year in the label's Classic Vinyl Series. With uncredited guitar, bass, drums, and tenor sax/flute (somewhere). Still, the organ is what matters. B+(**) [sp]
Thelonious Monk: Celebrating 75 Years of His First Recordings Revisited (1947-52 , Ezz-Thetics): "23 Remastered Thelonious Monk Titles From The Blue Note Recordings." A selection from the recordings Blue Note has long hawked as The Genius of Modern Music, as well as in various compilations (The Very Best is a personal favorite, but this is half-again as long: 71:42). Revolutionary in its day, repertoire now. B+(***) [bc]
Thelonious Monk Quartet: Live Five Spot 1958 Revisited (1958 , Ezz-Thetics): More cherry-picking among the newly copyright-free classics. This is the same music Riverside picked for two LPs: Thelonious in Action and Misterioso, remastered with minor edits to fit a single CD. Johnny Griffin plays tenor sax, with Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. Robert Christgau cites a Griffin solo on Misterioso as life-changing, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which, but note that the other album was the one where he got a "featuring" credit. [NB: Lonehill Jazz has its own competing Complete Live at the Five Spot 1958, including additional non-album material on 2-CD. This album is basically the first disc plus one cut from the second.] A- [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Speaking of Which
I opened this during a brief lull on Friday, adding a bit here and there, but by Sunday evening I was so swamped with my collation of the 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll that it became clear that I wouldn't be able to find time to post until after Monday's deadline.l That's pushed it back two days, and will push Music Week back another, to Wednesday (at the earliest). In making a final round, I haven't limited myself to Sunday's articles, but I am trying to keep it light and manageable.
Zack Beauchamp: [12-09] The bizarre far-right coup attempt in Germany, explained by an expert: Interview with Peter Neumann. Also:
Melissa del Bosque: [12-11] Arizona governor builds border wall of shipping crates in final days of office.
Jessica Corbett: [12-10] Kari Lake files suit to reverse her loss in race for Arizona governor: I've occasionally wondered who is the Trumpiest governor in America -- Ron DeSantis is certainly the most prominent, although Kristi Noem pops into mind -- but to be truly Trumpy, you have to lose an election and refuse to let it go. Lake is the only one other than Trump with the ego to do that, although one suspects that even she is only following the Leader.
Tim Craig: [12-10] As bitcoin plummets, Miami vows to hold onto its crypto dreams: Paul Krugman linked to this and tweeted: "Republicans have long insisted that governments shouldn't try to pick winners. So I guess they've decided to pick losers instead." He continued: "Crypto has always been a combination of technobabble and libertarian derp. But the sheer scope of the scam continues to amaze. The fact that there's still an FTX arena is the cherry on top."
Connor Echols: [12-09] Diplomacy Watch: NATO infighting continues as Putin signals long war: "Western policy on Ukraine is hitting a snag as Turkey and Hungary flex their new-found geopolitical muscles." Little here beyond the hostage swap of Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout.
More on Ukraine:
Rhoda Feng: [12-07] The Gamification of Everything Is No Fun: Review of Adrian Hon: You've Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us.
William Hartung: [12-09] New spending bill squanders billions on dysfunctional weapons programs: "The increase alone [$80 billion] from last year is more than what some of the world's biggest countries spend on their own defense budgets." This year's bill allocates $858 billion. More on this:
Shirin Ghaffary: [12-09] What the Twitter files don't tell us: "The documents are ammo for conservatives, even if they lack crucial context." Elon Musk selected Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss to orchestrate these leaks, figuring they'd give them the political spin he wanted. Also on this:
Margaret Hartmann: [12-08] Donald Trump Cost Lara Trump Her Fox News Gig: "Nepotism giveth, and nepotism taketh away."
Eric Herschtal: [12-08] How the Right Turned "Freedom" Into a Dog Whistle: "A new book traces the long history of cloakroom racism in the language of resistance to an overbearing federal government." Review of Jefferson Cowie: Freedom's Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power.
Ellen Ioanes: [12-10] Iran's months-long protest movement, explained. Also:
Ed Kilgore: [12-13] Is DeSantis More Electable Than Trump?: This is not a question Democrats should fret over. Better or worse? Perhaps, but best to prepare against the union of their two sets of views, which is often worse than any divergences you might be able to discover. (And note that Trump's deviances from Republican orthodoxy are like subatomic particles: tiny, unstable, and very short-lived.) No real need to go down this rabbit hole, but:
Keren Landman: [12-06] The US has never recorded this many positive flu tests in one week: "And health care systems are getting crushed . . . again."
Rebecca Leber: [12-10] The weird Republican turn against corporate social responsibility: "Companies say they want to acknowledge environmental impacts. Republicans are mad about that." It used to be easy to think that Republicans are simply shills for big business, and that they'll reflexively support anything that adds to corporate bottom lines. The reality is more complex and more nuanced than that -- much more than I can unpack here, but whatever the political and ideological underpinning may be, for all practical purposes it just seems like Republicans really want a world that is even more dystopian than the one they've already created.
Eric Levitz: [12-08] Climate Hawks Should Have Given Joe Manchin His Pipeline: Because Manchin's "permitting reform" bill would have made it easier not just to build his pet pipeline but to install more wind power and transmission lines, which are currently bogged down in the permit process.
Neal Meyer/Simon Grassmann: [12-12] The Case for Proportional Representation. This is a "response" to another piece, by Benjamin Studebaker: [06-16] Proportional Representation Is a Terrible Idea That the Left Should Not Embrace. From a practical standpoint, I'm not sure exactly that they are proposing (or opposing), but I had a related idea a couple weeks back, and this gives me a chance to jot it down. My idea wasn't to divide the number of representatives up proportionately, but to keep districts (including states) and award weighted votes to the top two (or possibly more than two, subject to some minimum threshold) representatives. With a two-party system, each district would have two representatives: one Republican, one Democrat, with their voting weight set by the election split (rounded up for the winner, down for second place). The Senate could also be organized this way, with or without factoring the state population in. (Obviously, factoring it in would eliminate one big problem with the Senate.) I'm not sure what you'd do about executives (other than reduce their power). Think about it: this would solve a lot of problems, starting with gerrymandering; it would give more people a stake in representative government (living in Kansas, I can testify that at present "my" representatives are totally fucking useless); it would also reduce the incentive people have to invest in campaigns, given that most districts can only be swayed by a few percentage points. What this has to do with "left" political strategy is beyond me, but a more functional democracy seems likely to be a good thing.
Françoise Mouly: [12-02] Remembering the artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, a trailblazing funny woman: Dead, at age 74.
Nathan J Robinson: [12-12] Why We Need Book Reviews: "Books are where the knowledge is. A flourishing democracy depends on a culture that care about and talks about books." Amen to that. Given that my own reading capacity is so starkly limited, I find that it also helps to have a map to books I (mostly) haven't read.
Paul Rosenberg: [12-10] How the New York Times helped Republicans win the House: "The Gray Lady told America that rising crime and worsening inflation were driven by Democrats. None of it was true." Among other things, quotes Dean Baker: "In short, the media decided that we had a terrible economy, and they were not going to let the data get in the way."
Storer H Rowley: [12-05] Biden Faces Netanyahu and Israel's Most Right-Wing Government. One imagines that Democrats including Biden should take offense at the rampant racism and the callous contempt for human rights and peace, but they've tolerated (and for all practical purposes endorsed) such behavior in increasing amounts for decades. It's hard to see why that changes now, although we are seeing more articles like Uriel Abulof: [11-25] "Have I Just Met the Jewish Hitler?"
Barbara Slavin: [12-10] When will the US learn that sanctions don't solve its problems? "Harsh economic penalties rarely, if ever, work to change a targeted regime's behavior; so why do we still use them?" Could have filed this under Ukraine, but it's a much more general problem. In Russia's case, sanctions -- even if ineffective -- may be justifiable as a way to do something in response to invasion short of escalating the war. One might also imagine scenarios where the threat of sanctions might work to deter undesired behavior, but that's only likely to work if you're threatening to take away something a country depends on: South Africa is the poster case, and Israel might work the same way (at least that's the hope of the BDS movement). And relieving sanctions can be useful as a diplomatic bargaining chip, but only if you're willing to bargain and withdraw the sanctions: Iran and North Korea should be success examples here, but aren't, because ultimately preferred to nurse their grudges over allowing other nations any degree of normal freedom.
Jeffrey St Clair: [12-09] Roaming Charges: The Mask of Order.
Emily Stewart: [12-13] FTX's implosion and SBF's arrest, explained. This has become much bigger news than I care to go into. One wonders, for instance, if the decision to prosecute Brinkman-Fried isn't an attempt to whitewash the rest of the crypto racket, much like Bernie Madoff became the fall guy for a much larger and deeper financial scandal. But, what the hell:
Li Zhou: [12-06] Raphael Warnock is officially Democrats' 51st senator. Here's why that matters. On the other hand, days later the other shoe dropped: Christian Paz: [12-09] How Kyrsten Sinema's decision to leave the Democratic Party will change the Senate. She's registering as an Independent, and says she won't caucus with the Republicans, so that probably means that for organizational purposes Democrats will retain a 51-49 advantage, but now dependent on three independents (also Angus King and Bernie Sanders). More on these stories: