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Monday, June 5, 2023


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40338 [40292] rated (+46), 16 [38] unrated (-22: 16 new, 0 old).

I published a Speaking of Which Sunday evening. I collected a few links early, but didn't touch it for most of Friday and Saturday -- cooked a little dinner -- so it came up short (45 links, 2846 words, the shortest since Dec. 27 last year). Rated count should be down too, but I cheated, massively. It's a one-shot deal, and I'm happy it's done.

Ever since I've been blogging reviews, I've started each post off with a slug line, noting how many records I've rated (week and total), plus how many I had sitting around unrated. In the early days, I bought a lot more than I could listen to quickly, and then I started getting promos, including some I had little interest in, so the number combined those. In March, 2003, I rated 13 albums, bringing me to a total of 8080, but also added 78 unrated albums, which put me at 899. The unrated count continued to grow over the next couple years, hitting an all-time high of 1157 in July, 2004, before I finally started whittling away at it. By the end of 2008 I got it down to 757, but it shot up as high as 886 in 2011 and 882 in 2012, before finally dropping below 600 (Dec. 2012), 500 (Dec. 2014), 400 (Mar. 2015), 300 (Aug. 2018), 200 (Oct. 2021), and 100 (June 2022).

I finally got it down to 27 a couple months ago, and it's been stuck at that level since then. Aside from a couple boxes that I never found time for, the remaining albums were proving very hard to locate. Last week I dug through a neglected shelf of loose, unpackaged promos, and found four of them. On closer inspection, only one of the four was even worth cataloguing (a Campbell Bros. advance that turned out to be pretty good). The other three (two label samplers and a 14-minute live single that was probably never released as a product) I just commented out of the database. After that, and looking in some more desperate places to no avail, I decided to wipe the slate. Henceforth, unrated albums will only be items in the current demo queue (or new purchases).

A few things from the list that I either found or could stream show up in Old Music below. Everything else is noted in the Unrated Closeout section below. In some cases I went ahead and ascribed grades (pretty conservatively, I think): some were based on memories, some from sampling similar material, and a couple were minimal estimates based on general familiarity. In other cases, I was too unsure to bother. If/when I do manage to find and play any of those items, I'll revisit the grades, or add them as ordinary old music discoveries.

Probably meaningless to anyone else, but feels like a weight lifted.

Been having trouble thinking of new things to play. The Music Tracking file has grown to 881 items, of which I've rated (or have unrated) 414. I'm pretty sure that's behind last year's pace -- if you figure four months (forget January, which is catchup for 2022), we're a third of the way through. I won't be surprised if I slack off as the year progresses. Depends on how the non-music writing comes along.

I did manage to wrap up the May, 2023 Streamnotes file. Quite a bit of good music in it.


New records reviewed this week:

Christian Artmann: The Middle of Life (2021-22 [2023], Sunnyside): Flute player from Germany, studied at Berklee, Princeton, and Harvard Law, based near San Francisco, fourth album, backed with piano (Laszlo Gardony), bass, and drums, with vocals (Elena McEntire) on three tracks. B [cd] [06-02]

BC Camplight: The Last Rotation of Earth (2023, Bella Union): Alias for Brian Christinzio, sixth album since 2006. B [sp]

Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: The Gennett Suite (2023, Patois, 2CD): Indiana-based big band, led by Mark Buselli (trumpet) and Brent Wallarab (trombone), with the latter handling most of the composer-arranger duties. Ninth album since 2002, starts with pieces from the Gennett early jazz label, punches them up, and builds some more. Comes with a hardcover booklet, which explains the history, including King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Hoagy Carmichael, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. B+(***) [cd]

André Carvalho: Lost in Translation Vol. II (2022 [2023], Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist, with André Matos (guitar) and José Soares (sax). Quiet, bordering on atmospheric. B+(*) [bc]

Clark: Sus Dog (2023, Throttle): British electronica producer Chris Clark, thirteenth album since 2001. B [sp]

Mario Costa/Cuong Vu/Benoît Delbecq/Bruno Chevillon: Chromosome (2022 [2023], Clean Feed): Portuguese drummer, leads a quartet with trumpet, piano, and bass. B+(*) [bc]

Depeche Mode: Memento Mori (2023, Columbia/Mute): Big UK synthpop band in the 1980s, have released a new album every 3-4 years since (up to 2017, so this one comes after a six year break), all 15 albums charting top-ten in UK (as did 8 in US) -- although this is the first I've bothered with since 1993. This one got exceptional reviews, but it's hard to discern what the fuss is about, or to imagine what my inattention missed. B- [sp]

Dropkick Murphys: Okemah Rising (2023, Dummy Luck Music): "Celtic punk" band from Boston, dozen albums since 1998, recorded this one in Tulsa. B+(*) [sp]

Bob Dylan: Shadow Kingdom (2021 [2023], Legacy): Soundtrack to a film of Dylan and a coterie of masked musicians in a studio, playing mostly 1960s-vintage songs, few hits but most recognizable enough, ending in a sly instrumental. I was struck by the furious way Dylan ripped into his songs on the solo side of Before the Flood. Well, this is the opposite of that: fond, light-hearted, scarcely nostalgic. B+(***) [sp]

Kari Faux: Real B*tches Don't Die! (2023, Drink Sum Wtr): Rapper Kari Rose Johnson, third studio album plus several mixtapes. B+(*) [sp]

Debby Friday: Good Luck (2023, Sub Pop): From Nigeria, raised in Montreal, moved on to Vancouver, then Toronto. First album, no agreement on genre (electronic, hip-hop, industrial). Only one this reminds me of is Patti Smith, but digging for music roots, substitute Cabaret Voltaire for MC5. A- [sp]

Ladytron: Time's Arrow (2023, Cooking Vinyl): English electropop group, seventh album since 2001. Helen Marnie the lead singer, backed by synthesizers and some guitar. B+(*) [sp]

SG Lewis: AudioLust & HigherLove (2023, PMR/EMI): Initials for Samuel George, British electropop/disco producer, second album, with singles going back to 2015. Structured as two LPs, fits onto a single 62-minute CD. Not a lot of vocal presence, but I'm just as happy with the vamps. B+(***) [sp]

The Mark Lomax Trio: Tapestry (2022 [2023], CFG Multimedia): Drummer, should be esteemed as one of the world's best but remains little known, offers "a four-movement tone poem inspired by four pieces in Johnson's Tapestry series." (Johnson?) The Trio includes the even more unjustly unknown Edwin Bayard (tenor sax) and an unidentified bassist (Tim Hullett?). A- [os]

M83: Fantasy (2023, Mute/Virgin): French synthpop band, principally Anthony Gonzalez, ninth album since 2001. B [sp]

Brian McCarthy Nonet: After|Life (2022 [2023], Truth Revolution): Alto/soprano saxophonist, has a couple previous albums. Group includes trumpet, trombone, three more saxophones, with piano, bass, drums. Some fine solo work, less distinctive ensemble. B+(**) [cd]

Noshir Mody: A Love Song (2023, self-released): Indian guitarist, based in New York, half-dozen albums since 2000. Short album (32:42), nice flow, flugelhorn solo (Benjamin Hankle), ends with a vocal (Kate Victor). B+(*) [cd]

Nourished by Time: Erotic Probiotic 2 (2023, Scenic Route): Marcus Brown, from Baltimore, debut album (after a 7-inch called Erotic Probiotic). Mixed bag of soul moves. B [sp]

Orbital: Optical Delusion (2023, London): Electronic music duo, from England, brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll, tenth album since 1991. B+(*) [sp]

Overmono: Good Lies (2023, XL): British electronica duo, brothers Ed and Tom Russell (aka Tessela and Truss/MPIA3). First album, after a dozen or more EPs and DJ mixes since 2017, although each has work back to 2011 under their aliases. B+(*) [sp]

Pere Ubu: Trouble on Big Beat Street (2023, Cherry Red): Punk progenitor from Cleveland, group named for Alfred Jarry's definitively pompous and callous pataphysician, first EP in 1975, David Thomas (now 70) the distinctive singer and weirdo. Sound and wit still sharp, but could be more tuneful. B+(**) [sp]

Rozi Plain: Prize (2023, Memphis Industries): Actual surname Leyden, English singer-songwriter, half-dozen albums since 2008. B+(*) [sp]

The Selva: Camarăo-Girafa (2021 [2023], Clean Feed): Portuguese trio: Ricard Jacinto (cello, electronics, harmonium); Gonçalo Almeida (bass, electronics), and Nuno Morăo (drums). Third album. B+(**) [bc]

MF Tomlinson: We Are Still Wild Horses (2023, Prah): Initials for Michael Francis, singer-songwriter, second album, title track runs long (21:01, after a three-track, 19:47 first side). Vocals seem slight, but develops some muscle tone toward the end. B+(*) [sp]

Juanma Trujillo: Contour (2021 [2023], Clean Feed): Guitarist from Venezuela, based in New York, fourth album, has some juice, backed here by Kenneth Jimenez (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). B+(**) [bc]

Dara Starr Tucker: Dara Starr Tucker (2023, Green Hill Productions): Jazz singer-songwriter, originally from Tulsa, fifth album since 2009. Covers are most striking ("September Song," "Just a Closer Walk With Thee"). B+(**) [cd]

Tanya Tucker: Sweet Western Sound (2023, Fantasy): Country singer, seems like she's been around forever but she started very young, so she's barely 65. Western airs, ending with a song called "When the Rodeo Is Over (Where Does the Cowboy Go?)" -- not one of the three she co-wrote. B+(**) [sp]

Yves Tumor: Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) (2023, Warp): Sean Lee Bowie, originally from Knoxville, moved to California at 20, fifth album (at least under this alias). I filed him under electronic, but that's not (or no longer) right. B+(**) [sp]

Water From Your Eyes: Everyone's Crushed (2023, Matador): New York duo, Nate Amos and Rachel Brown, specify pronouns but not instruments, several albums since 2017. B+(**) [sp]

Young Nudy: Gumbo (2023, RCA): Atlanta rapper Quantavious Tavario Thomas, fourth studio album after a mess of Slimeball mixtapes. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • None.

Old music:

The Campbell Brothers: Can You Feel It? (2005, Ropeadope): Steel guitar-playing gospel group, early records titles on Arhoolie were often plays on Sacred Steel (1997-2001). Jazz-funk-fusion label Ropeadope picked them up for this one album, where they deliver not just what you'd hope for but a good deal more: instrumental covers of classics with a steel guitar twist, plus some raise-the-rafters vocals for timely breaks. A- [cdr]

The Campbell Brothers Featuring Katie Jackson: Pass Me Not [Sacred Steel Guitars - Vol. 2] (1997, Arhoolie): First album for brothers Charles (pedal steel guitar; also primary arranger, and for that matter pastor of Rochester's House of God, Keith Dominion), Darick (lap steel guitar), Phillip (electric guitar/bass), and Carlton (drums), with Jackson singing, perhaps a bit much. B+(**) [sp]

Cesaria Evora: Distino Di Belita (1990, Lusafrica): Cape Verde's most famous pop singer (1941-2011), nicknamed Barefoot Diva, also Cise and Queen of Morna. Early album, draws on fado and I'd add a light touch of Weill, with a more lilting rhythm. B+(**) [r]

Cesaria Evora: Miss Perfumado (1992, Lusafrica): One of the Cape Verdean star's more famous albums, strikes me as steady, which is not an improvement. B+(*) [r]

Forever, for Always, for Luther: Volume II (2006, Rendezvous): Sequel to a 2004 subtitled A Tribute to Luther Vandross (GRP), leads off again with Kirk Whalum, followed by a comparable (but different) roster of smooth jazz luminaries (e.g., Norman Brown for Paul Jackson Jr., Najee for Mindi Abair), including vocals from Maysa, Patti Austin, and Will Downing. [Have promo cdr.] B [sp]

The Swimmers: Fighting Trees (2007, Mad Dragon): Indie rock group from Philadelphia, first of two albums, leans toward jangle pop, has some appeal. B [sp]


Unrated Closeout

Back when I bought lots of CDs, I added them to the database with grade 'U' -- unrated, waiting my attention. At one point the Unrated list topped 1100 albums. I've gradually whittled it down over the years to less than 30, which roughly speaking divide into two categories: records I can't find, and records I can locate but don't feel like listening to (some of these are big box sets that would take up major time). For my own sanity, I've decided to clean out the category here. Some I found and reviewed above. Some I've gone ahead and assigned grades to (based on my memory, not especially trustworthy here, but sometimes supplemented by sampling). Some of these I may find later and review as makes sense. Unless noted otherwise, I just commented out my 'U' grade and added a note-to-myself. ("Dropped from database" means I decided I shouldn't even track it as an album.)


Absolut Null Punkt: Absolut Null Punkt (2003 [2004], Important): Japanese band (1984-87), reformed in 2003. Album (almost certainly a CDR) not listed in Discogs, could possibly be Live in Japan. Dropped from database.

Derek Bailey/Pat Metheny/Gregg Bendian/Paul Wertico: The Sign of 4 (1996 [1997], Knitting Factory, 3CD): Improv clash of two guitarists and two drummers. Had CD, and remember having trouble with it. Penguin Guide 4-star, but others hated it. Fair grade: B

Berkeley Guitar 2006 (2006, Tompkins Square): Effectively a sampler; found CDR but dropped from database.

Big Stick: Drag Racing Underground (1989, Albertine): As best I recall, a noise rock band with a drag racing fetish. Discogs doesn't list, but AMG has this as a 23-track CD. Later compilation Some of the Best of Big Stick has some overlap. I have it at B+(**), so this is probably some kind of: B+

Boston Horns: Shibuya Gumbo (2008, Boston Horns): Funk-jazz group, seven albums 2001-11. No recall.

Brazil Today! Volume 2 ([1984], Polygram): Classic selection (16 tracks) of MPB, dates not provided. Label should be Philips. Not sure whether this or another album (not in database) was my introduction to Brazilian music.

Césaria Evora: Nova Sintra (1990 [1998], West Wind Latina): Cape Verdean singer, have four other albums rated (two at A-). This appears to be a reissue of Distino Di Belita, reviewed above, making this redundant (but since I have a copy somewhere under the other title, I'll count it twice). Grade: B+(**)

Funkatronic: Live at Discover Festival Burlington, VT (2002, self-released, EP): Three-song promo (length 14:28), found CDR, not in Discogs, band doesn't appear to have released anything else, so no harm dropping from database.

Rory Gallagher: Big Guns: The Very Best of Rory Gallagher (1970-90 [2005], Capo, 2CD): Irish rocker (1948-95), probably deserves a best-of, but I've never played any of his 14 records.

Iscathamiya: Zulu Worker Choirs in South Africa (1986, Heritage): Compilation recommended by Christgau, related to the mbube made famous by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but tougher (or so I hear). Fairly safe guess: B+

Flaco Jimenez: El Sonido de San Antonio (1980, Arhoolie): Tex-Mex legend, tons of stuff in print but not this. Probably ex-LP: B+

JSL Records 20th Anniversary Sampler (1988-2006 [2008], JSL): Label sampler, found CDR but dropped from database.

Hazard/Fennesz/Biosphere: Light (2001 [2004], Touch, EP): Turns out I had this listed twice, once under various artists (each has his own section) and once as listed. The latter was graded: B

Mind Over Matter Music Over Mind: Matador (2004, Soundz Impossible): Not in Discogs, but aka MOM2, with Bobby Hill and Thomas Stanley. Probably got this because Stanley is a friend of a friend, and could kick myself for losing it. Bassist Luke Stewart played in a later iteration of group (Chris Downing was on this record). No idea.

Astor Piazzolla: Themes Originaux (1982, Jonathan): Probably ex-LP. Some early albums sound uncomfortably classical. I think this is one, but cannot be sure, and I'm reluctant to guess.

Astor Piazzolla: Tristezas de un Doble A (1987, Rounder): Could be LP or CD. Again, hard to guess. I have nine Piazzolla albums graded in database.

Leslie Pintchik: Live in Concert (2010, Pintch Hard, DVD+CD): Jazz pianist, probably got waylaid (and for that matter ignored) due to DVD packaging. Six other albums in database are various levels of B+, so most likely this is also some kind of: B+

Richard Pryor: . . . And It's Deep, Too! The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings (1968-92 [2000], Rhino, 9CD): Christgau graded this A+. I don't doubt that he was a genius, but I rarely listen to comedy albums, and don't feel like spending 9-10 hours -- even if I could bag extra credit by breaking out the original albums. But I do know where it is, and figure this is a lazy, minimal grade: B+

Elba Ramalho: Personalidade ([1987], Verve): Brazilian star, many records, this a sampler, only one in my database.

Hank Snow: The Singing Ranger, Vol. 4 (1969-84 [1994], Bear Family, 9CD): Country star from Canada. I was a big fan, and grabbed this big box when I could, but never got through it all. Maybe some day. The five Bear Family boxes (the first is called The Yodelling Ranger) total 39 CDs. This is the only one I have.

Spire: Live in Geneva Cathedral/Saint Pierre (2004 [2005], Touch, 2CD): Ambient/minimalist concert, pieces by seven artists, the most famous being Henryk Górecki and Fennesz, the first disc heavy on the organ.

Alan Stivell: Zoom 70/95 (1970-95, [1997], Dreyfus, 2CD): Legendary Celtic harpist from Breton in France. One other item in my database at B+. Almost certainly have CD somewhere. I don't have a lot of patience for this music, but minimal grade is: B

Mel Tormé: The Mel Torme Collection (1944-85 [1996], Rhino, 4CD): Career-spanning box set of one of the more important jazz singers of the 1950s. I feel negligent for not getting to this. Little chance that this is not some kind of: B+

Neil Young: Archives Vol. 1 (1963-1972) (1963-72 [2009], Reprise, 10CD): Another big box I never made it through. (Bought it when Borders was going out of business, and not sure I even tried.) Safe guess: B+


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Vicente Archer: Short Stories (Cellar) [06-09]
  • Michael Bisio/Timothy Hill: Inside Voice/Outside Voice (Origin) [06-16]
  • Jeremy Dutton: Anyonen Is Better Than Here (self-released) [06-16]
  • Noah Haidu: Standards (Sunnyside) [06-23]
  • Kevin Harris & the Solution: Jazz Gumbo (Blujazz) [05-01]
  • Keigo Hirakawa: Pixel (Origin) [06-16]
  • Illegal Crowns: Unclosing (Out of Your Heads) [06-02]
  • Stephen Jones & Ben Haugland: Road to No-Where (OA2) [06-16]
  • Gordon Lee Quartet: How Can It Be? (PJCE) [06-16]
  • Dara Starr Tucker: Dara Starr Tucker (Green Hill Productions) [06-03]
  • Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott: East West Trumpet Summit: Coast to Coast (Origin) [06-16]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 4, 2023


Speaking of Which

Abbreviated this week, as I basically lost Friday and Saturday to a cooking project. Anyhow, enough for a placeholder. The non-story of the week is the debt deal. (Glad that's over.) The story that really looms large is the insurance industry debacle. Also note the problems in Kosovo, which should remind us that temporary hacks don't last where long-term stable solutions are needed.


Top story threads:

Trump, DeSantis, and other Republican sociopaths:

  • Kate Aronoff: [05-30] Ron DeSantis threatens to "Make America Florida": "The GOP hopeful's climate denial papers over a horrifying reality in his home state." I've been to Florida a couple times, and it's a nice enough place to visit (in March, anyway). But is this really a workable sales pitch? Even if you ignore the considerable damage he's already inflicted on Florida, which is really more to the point. A while back, Aronoff wrote: [2022-10-12] Florida and the insurance industry weren't build to withstand a flooded world.

  • Devlin Barrett/Josh Dawsey/Carol D Leonnig: [05-31] Prosecutors have recording of Trump discussing sensitive Iran document: "could undercut key defense claims that Trump declassified or didn't know about the documents."

  • Ben Brasch/Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff: [06-01] Candidate charged with shooting at Democrats' homes after election loss. Solomon Pena (R-NM), lost state House seat nearly 2-to-1, blamed fraud, hired two more guys to help him with shootings.

  • Fabiola Cineas: [06-02] Florida has launched an "unparalleled" assault on higher education: "Ron DeSantis is threatening academic freedom everywhere." Illustration here is a sign that gets to the point: "Support real education, not DeSantis indoctrination."

  • Margaret Hartmann: [05-30] It turns out 'Trump Bucks' aren't actually legal tender.

  • Ed Kilgore: [06-01] 2024 presidential candidates side with far right on debt deal: No responsibilities, no consequences.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-29] The contradiction at the heart of DeSantis 2024: On the one hand, he wants to be seen as more electable than Trump; on the other, he also wants to be seen as doing everything Trump would do and then some, suggesting he intends to be more extreme. But that's only a contradiction if you assume that everything balances off the center -- a view that only centrists have these days, I suppose because they insist on being wrong about everything. DeSantis embraces both sides of this equation not because he's a centrist but because he's a cynic. In the Republican primaries, he'll run not as the saner Trump but as the more effective model: the guy who delivers things that Trump can only promise. If he's nominated, he'll pivot back to the middle, not because he's changed one iota but because the gullible media wants any excuse to cozy up to a Republican. If he's elected, he'll pull the same kind of stunts he's been doing all along in Florida, which will come as a complete surprise to all the centrists who rushed to support him. It's not a bad plan, and if he wasn't such a jerkwad (or at least could fake it) it might work, but there are lots of possible pitfalls. The first is that Trump's base don't want a subtler, more efficient strongman. They want one who acts up, who gets in their supposed enemies' faces and heads.

  • Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: [06-01] After harassment, Arizona county official won't run for reelection: The unfortunately named Maricopa County Supervisor, Bill Gates.

  • Li Zhou: [06-01] Mike Pence is a man without a constituency: That's not really fair. Pence has a constituency, just a very small one. It's wonks who liked Trump's policies but were ultimately taken aback by his personality. Billmon referred to the GW Bush years as the Cheney Administration, because the personnel and all the policies seemed to emanate from the VP. (Curiously, Cheney lost most of his influence in Bush's second term, especially after he lost Scooter Libby to indictment.) Same thing with the Trump years, except that Trump claimed all the glory. But even though Pence was central to policy direction, most people realize that any Republican flunky would have done the same, and most could have presented the same pious supplication.

Biden, Democrats, and the end of the debt crisis: For the record, I'm not unhappy with Biden's debt ceiling deal. He gave McCarthy a little victory and a bit of respect, which he probably didn't need to do, but it didn't cost much. And what Biden gained was to kill the issue until 2025, or longer if Democrats recover and win Congress. Anything else would be litigated endlessly, and while he'd probably win, that would have made the Supreme Court look a bit less fanatical than they are. It might have been different had he been able to rally the media to his viewpoint, but he's not that kind of guy. I wish Democrats could do better, but there's not much evidence of them even trying.

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [06-02] Diplomacy Watch: A peace summit without Russia.

  • Andrew Bacevich: [06-01] The compulsion to intervene: "Why Washington underwrites violence in Ukraine.

  • Dave DeCamp: [06-01] SpaceX lands Pentagon contract for Starlink terminals for Ukraine: Add Elon Musk to the list of war profiteers.

  • John Feffer: [05-31] How Russia's war in Ukraine threatens the planet.

  • Anatol Lieven/George Beebe: [05-31] Prigozhin erupts: Has a Russian succession struggle begun? No reason to get excited here. "And if the choice of a successor to Putin really becomes that between President Prigozhin and President Patrushev, would either of these be an improvement on Putin himself?"

  • Suzanne Loftus: Kazakhstan's view of Ukraine is complicated because it, too, is complicated.

  • Neil MacFarquhar/Milana Mazaeva: [06-03] In Russian schools, it's recite your ABC's and 'Love your army': "The curriculum for young Russians is increasingly emphasizing patriotism and the heroism of Moscow's army, while demonizing the West as 'gangsters.' One school features a 'sniper'-themed math class." This just poisons the future.

  • Nicole Narea: The potential fallout from drone attacks in Moscow.

  • Timothy Noah: [05-08] Putin can't afford to lose in Ukraine -- but he can't afford to win, either: When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, it represented 10.5 percent of the global economy; by April 2022, Russia's share had shrunk to 3.5 percent, and GDP has shrunk by a quarter since 2013. Capitalism doesn't seem like much of a blessing.

  • Jordan Michael Smith: [06-02] How Russia got the Ukraine War wrong: Review of two recent books on the war: Owen Matthews: Overreach: The Inside Story of Putin's War Against Ukraine, and Serhii Plokhy: The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History. I've read Plokhy's 2021 The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, which was pre-invasion but well into the 2014 division. No doubt he knows the history, but I have wonder how much inside scoop Matthews -- a British journalist based in Moscow in the late 1990s, and later in Istanbul -- actually has.

    Matthews offers three reasons behind Putin's decision to go to war. The first, that "Western influence was growing too powerful in a country vital to Russian influence," needs a lot more elaboration. It seems likely that Biden's administration took much more concern with Ukraine than Trump's had done, and that promise of support emboldened Zelensky to ditch the Minsk II accord and further threaten Russian separatists in Donbas. Why Putin should see Ukraine as a vital interest is deeply embedded in the history Plokhy explains, seeing it as a threat, and believing Russia could solve that threat with aggression, is a more complex problem.

    Matthew's second reason seems justified: Putin's belief that Russia could withstand sanctions has largely been vindicated, but like most conflict issues, it has a second side. It is just as possible that the US overestimated the sanctions threat. The third reason -- that the US was weakened by its clumsy retreat from Afghanistan -- makes the least sense. If anything, the US was more eager to confront Russia once it was no longer stuck in Afghanistan. If Putin thought otherwise, he was being foolish -- although it is just the sort of thing American hawks would say.

    I suspect much more research is needed to fill in the details, which is where the devil dwells. One pull quote deserves reiteration here: "A wounded Russia might be even more prone to extremism, paranoia, and aggression than it was before the war."

The rest of the world:

  • Ellen Ioanes: [05-30] Uganda's extreme anti-LGBTQ legislation, explained. Three other African states have similar laws (Kenya, Zambia, Ghana). But there is an argument that the driving force behind such laws is "American evangelicals through their local actors."

  • Marc Martorell Junyent: [06-01] Is the new Taliban reign less extreme than it was in 2001? Hassan Abbas has a new book on this, The Return of the Taliban: Afghanistan After the Americans Left, arguing that the question is open, but continued exclusion isn't helping.

  • Anatol Lieven: [06-02] Ethnic conflict in Kosovo: Cutting the Gordian Knot: This is yet another diplomatic failure, exacerbated by foreign powers picking sides in a local ethnic dispute. One might even argue that NATO's intervention in Kosovo was every bit as egregious as Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Other stories:

Christopher Flavelle/Jack Healy: [06-01] Arizona limits construction around Phoenix as its water supply dwindles.

Matthew Duss: [06-01] The bad thing Henry Kissinger did that you don't even know about: "the practice of turning vast global contacts into wealth has been horrible for American democracy." After leaving government, Kissinger set up shop and encouraged rich people to give him money. What he did for all that money was often unclear (and still is). But he turned GW Bush's invite to oversee a commission on 9/11 because he feared that taking the post would expose his business to public scrutiny. He wasn't the first person to do that sort of thing, and many more have followed in his footsteps.

Victoria Guida: [05-29] Historic gains: Low-income workers scored in the Covid economy. Something else for Republicans to try to destroy.

Umair Irfan:

  • [05-30] A big El Nińo is looming. Here's what it means for our weather. "How warm water in the Pacific shapes storms, droughts, and record heat around the world."

  • [06-02] Climate change is already making parts of America uninsurable: "We're steadily marching toward an uninsurable future." This is probably the biggest story of the week, and maybe the year. Two key problems with private insurance: the risk models haven't kept pace with increasing risks; and once you fix the risk models, the upshot is that few people can afford insurance. And if you can't insure property, how can you finance it? If we had understood this 20-30 years ago, maybe we could have done a realistic cost-benefit analysis on carbon reduction, but having ignored the real risks all this time, it's too late to catch up. I'm convinced that the solution will be for the federal government to provide insurance, either by backstopping the private companies or by offering some degree of insurance directly. If the latter seems hard to imagine, consider such current programs as flood insurance, crop insurance, FEMA disaster funding, and and too-big-to-fail banks. This will be a big political issue in the not-so-distant future, and needs to be thought about sooner rather than later.

Sarah Jones:

  • [05-30] The revolt of the other mothers: "Moms for Liberty learned motherhood is a potent force. So too have their opponents."

  • [05-30] A generation moves on: On a Washington Post feature about "Christina and Aaron Beall, parents who have abandoned the Christian homeschool movement." They themselves were home schooled, brought up to "discipline" their children as they had been "disciplined" (which is to say, beaten). As with all case studies, no way to tell how representative their stories are. Jones has a similar (though she suspects less extreme) background, which helps. By the way, I've kept Jones' [04-08] piece open, as it's one of the best I've seen all year: Children are not property. I find the notion that they are property, which is consistent with recent right-wing programming, horrifying. Even worse, I suppose, is the notion that your children should be their property too.

  • [05-29] The fantasies of Josh Hawley: "The senator's new book, Manhood, is an exercise in cowardice." I've cited several rejoinders to this book in recent weeks, less because we need to tear it down than because its its author is often taken as a serious Republican thinker-activist yet the book is such an easy target. By the way, on Facebook Greg Magarian noted: "Masculinity? That's a complicated idea, but I've never encountered any idea of manhood that looks like Josh Hawley."

Glenn Kessler: [05-16] And the president most to blame for the national debt problem is . . . Author cites one fairly arbitrary study to pin the blame on Lyndon Johnson, on the theory that "entitlements" like Medicare and Medicaid are the culprit, and ranks Nixon second for similar reasons, despite later admitting that "social programs, in fact, can provide more benefits than costs in the long run." Curiously, no mention here of the impact of war and defense spending on the balance sheet -- not even Johnson's (and Nixon's) largely unfunded Vietnam War, which was the source of most budget imbalances at the time.

Whizzy Kim: [05-26] What was Succession actually trying to tell us? The HBO series has been a rare unflattering portrait of the very rich, and the many ways their wealth warps their perceptions and actions. For its first three seasons, it managed to be watchable despite a total absence of sympathetic characters, but it finally got good in the fourth season, when Logan Roy's death raised the stakes. Kim also wrote [05-29] Succession ends exactly how it needed to. I'd say they did what they could after painting themselves into a corner. To say Tom Wambsgans came out the winner overlooks how totally hollow his new position will be. But I don't like Lukas Matsson's odds any better. He came out as a phony and bully way out of his league. Except that everyone involved comes out with unimaginable piles of money, conjured from rarefied bullshit. This is no way to run a world.

Ian Millhiser: [06-01] The Supreme Court deals another blow to labor unions.

Andrew Perez: [06-03] Right-wing dark money funded Kansas's failed anti-abortion campaign.

Jeffrey St Clair: [06-02] Roaming Charges: The shame of the game. Not happy with the debt deal: "The Democrats asked for nothing and got less. The Far Right demanded all they could think of, got it and now wants more."

Peter Turchin: [06-02] America is headed toward collapse: From the author's new book, End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration. Section here is a very sketchy outline of two previous crises -- the Civil War and the Great Depression -- with similarities to the current period highlighted. Turchin has several previous books. His War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, is summarized as follows:

Turchin argues that the key to the formation of an empire is a society's capacity for collective action. He demonstrates that high levels of cooperation are found where people have to band together to fight off a common enemy, and that this kind of cooperation led to the formation of the Roman and Russian empires, and the United States. But as empires grow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, conflict replaces cooperation, and dissolution inevitably follows.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 29, 2023


Music Week

May archive (final).

Music: Current count 40292 [40245] rated (+47), 38 [42] unrated (-4: 11 new, 27 old).

I wrote another substantial (4963 words, 100 links) Speaking of Which yesterday. Two more pieces I would have included had I seen them:

I had a fairly productive week listening to new records, although I often struggled coming up with albums to play next. Only two clear A- records this week, and I apologize in advance for not even trying to write a serious note on Arlo Parks. I did play the record three times, and I liked her 2021 album Collapsed Into Sunbeams as much. About it, I wrote:

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

Of the high B+ albums, the ones that came closest were those by Avalon Emerson and Asher Gamedze.

I've done the indexing on the May archive, but haven't added the introductions yet. The haul for May is 212 albums.


New records reviewed this week:

Bas Jan: Baby U Know (2022, Lost Map): British band, "experimental post-punk," four women, Serafina Steet the main lyricist, all four credited with vocals (which are often spoken, sometimes didactic). Second album plus a remix and a bunch of EPs. B+(***) [sp]

Patrick Brennan Sonic Openings: Tilting Curvaceous (2021 [2023], Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, from Detroit, debut 1999, has a couple albums as/with Sonic Openings Under Pressure. This iteration has Brian Groder (trumpet), Rod Williams (piano), Hilliard Greene (bass), and Michael T.A. Thompson (drums). B+(**) [bc]

Brandy Clark: Brandy Clark (2023, Warner): Country singer-songwriter, made her reputation as a songwriter well before her 2013 debut. Fourth album, another solid bunch of songs, although the final ballad drags a bit much. B+(***) [sp]

Luke Combs: Gettin' Old (2023, River House Artists): Country singer-songwriter, called his third album Growin' Up, so probably figured this title comes next, but at 33 he ain't seen nuthin' yet. What he does have is a classic country voice, and more songs than he knows what to do with. They're not all his, either, as evinced by Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car." B+(*) [sp]

Rodney Crowell: The Chicago Sessions (2023, New West): Country singer, emerged as a thoughtful songwriter with his 1978 debut, seems like his albums have only gotten easier over the years. This was recorded in Jeff Tweedy's Chicago studio, and came so easy they didn't even bother thinking up a title for it. B+(**) [sp]

Fatoumata Diawara: London Ko (2023, Wagram Music): Singer-songwriter, born in Côte D'Ivoire, parents from Mali, fifth album since 2011, also has an acting career. B+(*) [sp]

Eluvium: (Whirring Marvels In) Consensus Reality (2023, Temporary Residence): Ambient electronica producer Matthew Cooper, originally from Tennessee, based in Portland, Oregon. More than a dozen records under this alias since 2003. Occasional frills suggest he'd like this to be taken seriously as classical music. I don't care about that, but they do give it a bit of character. B+(*) [sp]

Avalon Emerson: & the Charm (2023, Another Dove): Electronica DJ/producer, from San Francisco, moved on to Berlin, has a DJ-Kicks and bunches of EPs and remixes -- nothing I've heard, but reportedly makes this LP debut a changeup. B+(***) [sp]

Fred Again/Brian Eno: Secret Life (2023, Text): Fred Gibson, English DJ/electronica producer, has three volumes of Actual Life that are quite listenable, teams up with the godfather of ambient and dissolves into his black hole. Closes with a muffled but touching cover of "Come On Home." B [sp]

Fruit Bats: A River Running to Your Heart (2023, Merge): Indie band from Chicago, principally Eric D. Johnson, debut 2001, have a couple albums I've liked -- The Ruminant Band (2009), Tripper (2011) -- carry on with yet another tuneful, pleasing album. B+(*) [sp]

Asher Gamedze: Turbulence and Pulse (2020-21 [2023], International Anthem/Mushroom Hour): South African drummer, debut 2020. With Robin Fassie (trumpet), Buddy Wells (tenor sax, and Thembinoski Mavimbela (bass), plus some voice and guest spots -- enough to detract from an otherwise fine album. B+(***) [sp]

Devin Gray: Most Definitely (2023, Rataplan): Drummer, has a couple dozen credits since 2005, half on the top line, but this is his first solo. Runs long (over 71 minutes). B+(**) [cdr] [06-09]

Gordon Grdina/Mat Maneri/Christian Lillinger: Live at the Armoury (2023, Clean Feed): Guitar and oud player from Vancouver, where this trio with viola and drums was recorded. No recording date given, but trio first met in 2018. B+(*) [bc]

Wolfgang Haffner: Silent World (2022 [2023], ACT): German drummer, dozens of albums since 1989, many more side-credits. Core group of trumpet, keyboards, and bass, plus a dozen guest spots, for a rich and varied but rather gentle and quite lovely texture. B+(***) [sp]

Gerrit Hatcher: Solo Five (2021 [2023], Kettle Hole): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, has produced quite a lot since 2017, but this is my first acquaintance. Solo, reportedly his fifth solo album. Comes out strong, playing up the struggle that the instrument embodies, then closes after 33:05. B+(***) [cd]

James Holden: Imagine This Is a High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities (2023, Border Community): British electronica producer, fifth album since 2006. Lot of shimmer and space. B+(*) [sp]

François Houle Genera Sextet: In Memoriam (2022 [2023], Clean Feed): Canadian clarinetist, from Quebec, several dozen albums since 1992, dedicates this one to his friend Ken Pickering (1952-2018), who organized concerts in Vancouver. Sextet with Marco von Orelli (cornet/trumpet), Samuel Blaser (trombone), Benoît Delbecq (piano), Michael Bates (bass), and Harris Eisenstadt (drums). B+(**) [bc]

Wesley Joseph: Glow (2023, Secretly Canadian, EP): UK rapper/producer, released a short debut album in 2021 (26:06), goes even shorter here (8 songs, 23:36). B [sp]

Kaytraminé [Aminé/Kaytranada]: Kaytraminé (2023, Venice Music): Two fairly well established solo artists mash their handles together, the former a rapper since 2015, the latter also known as a producer. Plenty of flow, plus some big name guests. B+(***) [sp]

Kesha: Gag Order (2023, Kemosabe): Pop singer, last name Sebert, fifth studio album since 2010, first four charted top 10. Too early to tell with this one, which strikes me as a mixed bag, a bit too slow to take off. B+(*) [sp]

Elle King: Come Get Your Wife (2023, RCA): Singer-songwriter from from Los Angeles or New York, daughter of comedian Rob Schneider, took her mother's name, started as an actress in 1999, recorded an EP in 2012, followed by an album in 2015, with this her third, and most country, right down to the trailer cliché. B+(**) [sp]

Russ Lossing: Alternate Side Parking Music (2019 [2023], Aqua Piazza): Pianist, from Ohio, based in New York, close to thirty albums since 1990, gives a fair amount of space to electronic keyboards. Quartet with Adam Kolker (tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet), Matt Pavolka (bass), and Dayeon Seok (drums). This was reportedly composed while sitting in his car, waiting for parking spaces to open up -- an experience which, improbably enough, seems to have put him into a whimsical mood. B+(***) [cd] [07-07]

Sei Miguel Unit Core: Road Music (2016-21 [2023], Clean Feed): Pocket trumpet player, scattered pieces with Fala Mariam (alto trombone), Bruno Silva (electric guitar), and Pedro Castello Lopes (triangle, clave, pandeiro, kalengo -- one track each). B [bc]

Sei Miguel: The Original Drum (2015-21 [2023], Clean Feed): Four more scattered tracks, with various lineups -- aside from the leader's pocket trumpet, the only other constant is Fala Mariam's alto trombone. Third track includes more horns, including Rodrigo Amado on tenor sax, but it's no more beguiling than the final piece, with minimal trumpet and trombone winding over a basic drum track. B+(*) [bc]

Dominic Miller: Vagabond (2021 [2023], ECM): Guitarist, born in Argentina to Irish mother and American father, moved to London to study. Eighteen albums since 1984, numerous side-credits, especially with Sting. With piano/keyboards, bass, and drums. B+(*) [sp]

Graham Nash: Now (2023, BMG): Singer-songwriter from England, now 81, with Allan Clarke founded the Hollies in 1962, had a bunch of hit singles like "Bus Stop" in 1966, left to join David Crosby (Byrds) and Steve Stills (Buffalo Springfield) in one of the first supergroups (one that got better when Neil Young joined, and got worse when he left). Seventh solo album since 1971 -- none reputable enough that I bothered checking them out (his 1971 debut peaked at 15 on the US charts, followed by a 34 in 1974, and a 93 in 2016). Pleased to note that there are passable echoes of the Hollies. Just not very many. B- [sp]

Kassa Overall: Animals (2023, Warp): Drummer, has some jazz cred but his own records lean toward hip-hop, as this one does in scattered, sometimes interesting but rarely compelling ways. B+(*) [sp]

Afonso Pais/Tomás Marques: The Inner Colours of Bogin's Outline (2022 [2023], Clean Feed): Guitar and alto sax duo, Portuguese, the guitarist released a debut album in 2004. Five improvised pieces. B [sp]

Arlo Parks: My Soft Machine (2023, Transgressive): British neo-soul singer, parents Nigerian and French-Chadian, second album. A- [sp]

Iggy Pop: Every Loser (2023, Gold Tooth/Atlantic): Punk progenitor, Last name Oserberg, first band the Stooges, did his best work 1976-77 for David Bowie, has only once gone more than four years between records (six years to 2009). Still can rock, and still has a distinctive voice. B+(*) [sp]

Raye: My 21st Century Blues (2023, Human Re Sources): British pop singer-songwriter Rachel Keen, first album after several EPs and a mini, a substantial UK hit (2), less so in US (58). B+(**) [sp]

Whitney Rose: Rosie (2023, MCG): Singer-songwriter, from Prince Edward Island up in Canada, country since she moved to Austin. Fifth studio album since 2012 (plus an EP Christgau praised while skipping the rest). Nice set of songs, both minding pain and escaping from it. B+(***) [sp]

Brandon Seabrook: Brutalovechamp (2022 [2023], Pyroclastic): Guitarist, also plays mandolin and banjo, usually adds a little noise to the mix, but shows off as a composer here, with an eight-piece group, including cello, electronics, and a fair amount of arty voice. B+(**) [cd]

Lauritz Skeidsvoll & Isach Skeidsvoll Duo: Chanting Moon, Dancing Sun: Live at Molde International Jazz Festival (2020 [2023], Clean Feed): Norwegian saxophone and piano duo, brothers, have some side-credits, but this could count as a debut. B+(**) [bc]

Henry Threadgill Ensemble: The Other One (2022 [2023], Pi): Leader just composes and conducts here, directing a 12-piece group through three long movements (60:36) of a piece called "Of Valence." This setting fits into the jazz as advanced classical music model, a scaled up version of chamber jazz. The group includes three saxophones/clarinets, two bassoons, no brass (other than Jose Davila's tuba), piano (David Virelles), and strings (violin, viola, two cellos), but no bass or drums. Not a style I'm easily impressed with, nor one I'm every likely to get excited about, but within those limits, this is interesting all the way through, surprising even. A- [cd]

Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (2023, Wild Honey, EP): Garage punk group, principally Damiano Negrisoli, fourth EP, covers one DEVO song, writes a couple more in a similar vein, basically a medley split into six songs, 12:59. B+(*) [sp]

Brandee Younger: Brand New Life (2023, Impulse): Harp player, several previous albums, makes a crossover move here, with production by Makaya McCraven (plus 9th Wonder on one track), plus she sings a couple songs, in a soft r&b groove. Four songs co-written by Dorothy Ashby, who was the definitive jazz harpist before Younger came along. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Galcher Lustwerk: 100% Galcher (2013 [2022], Ghostly International): DJ/producer Chris Sherron, first "promomix" -- all original pieces, basic beat tracks with scant adornment. B+(**) [sp]

Tolerance: Anonym (1979 [2023], Mesh-Key): First of two albums by Japanese keyboardist Junko Tange, with guitar by Masami Yoshikawa adding a metallic klang. B+(**) [sp]

Tolerance: Divin (1981 [2023], Mesh-Key): Second (and last) album. More focus on beats and groove, less extraneous noise, which strikes me as a good tradeoff. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Bas Jan: Yes I Jan (2018, Lost Map): First album, with original (and soon to be ex-) members Sarah Anderson and Jenny Moore backing Serafina Steer's songs, adding more vocal harmony, and often a lift to the music. At their best, they remind me of a short-lived, 1990s vocal group, the Shams. B+(***) [sp]

Bas Jan: Yes We Jan (2018, Lost Map): Remix of Yes I Jan, originally offered as a bonus, then sold separately. Mostly useless, although Gameshow Outpatient's "Dream of You" remix finds a way to fit its subject. B [sp]

Noah Howard: At Judson Hall (1966 [1968], ESP-Disk): Alto saxophonist (1943-2010), second of two early albums for this label, went on to record a couple dozen more but remained obscure. Sextet with Dave Burrell (piano), others less famous on trumpet, cello, bass, and percussion. B+(**) [sp]

Tuli Kupferberg: No Deposit No Return (1967, ESP-Disk): Beat poet (1923-2010), not an important one but part of the New York pacifist-anarchist scene, best known as a founder of the Fugs (with Ed Sanders). I remember him fondly for two short Grove Press books: 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft, and 1001 Ways to Live Without Working. He recorded two albums under his own name, one in 1989 called Tuli and Friends that is MIA from my collection, and this "album of popular poetry." Well, not that popular. B+(*) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Phil Haynes/Drew Gress/David Liebman: Coda(s): No Fast Food III (Corner Store Jazz) [06-15]
  • Ryan Meagher: AftEarth (Atroefy) [05-19]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 28, 2023


Speaking of Which

I started collecting this on Thursday, and was pretty much done on Saturday before the "debt ceiling deal" broke. Most of the links there are to now-forgettable, soon-forgotten thinking, which I sympathized at the time, but the thing I like best about the deal is that it kills the issue until well after the 2024 election, whereas the unorthodox fixes would be litigated that long, even if they're ultimately found valid. In the meantime, the Republican House is going to cut more spending and encumber it with more stupid rules than Biden agreed to this round. The only response to that is to kick their asses in 2024, and any cause they give you should be used back against them.


Top story threads:

Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor announced he's running for president, which got enough ughs and moans to temporarily bump Trump off the top spot here.

Trump and other Republicans:

The debt ceiling: Latest reports are that Biden and McCarthy came to some sort of deal, which still needs to be passed before the latest June 5 disaster date projection (see: Li Zhou/Dylan Matthews: [05-28] Biden and McCarthy's budget deal to lift the debt ceiling, explained). Nihilist Republicans will still try to trash the deal (e.g., see: Furious Freedom Caucus vows to scuttle debt deal), so it will need Democratic votes to pass Congress. Left Democrats will also be unhappy that Biden went back on his initial position and caved in negotiations with terrorists. But most Democrats are solidly pro-business, and will line up behind any deal to save capitalism -- even one that hurts many of their voters. Most of the links below are pre-deal (check dates).

Ukraine War: There is a report that first steps in counteroffensive have begun. Ukraine has been advertising its "spring offensive" all winter, while pleading for more and more weapons, and waiting their arrival.

  • Connor Echols: [05-26] Diplomacy watch: Denmark offers to hold Ukraine peace talks in July: That sounds kinda squishy, but expectations are high that Ukraine will launch a "spring offensive" soon, and they're unlikely to consider any form of talks until they first give war a chance -- after all, that is the point and the promise of all those tanks and planes they've been lobbying so hard for. Echols also wrote: [05-22] The West must prepare for Putin to use nukes in Ukraine. Interview with Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, whose prediction that Russia will use nukes seems intended on pushing them along. But how exactly does one prepare for such an attack? It's not like fallout shelters are a practical project at this time. The only real defense is negotiating a winding down of the war. Anything else is just fucking insane. Robert Wright: also writes about Ryan: [05-26] Why the chances of nuclear war grew this week.

  • Julian E Barnes: [05-26] Russian public appears to be souring on war casualties, analysis shows: I'd be inclined to file this under propaganda, not least because no one's reporting solid casualty figures. But sure, you can't totally hide these costs, so it makes sense that ordinary Russians would start to question the mission -- as happened with the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Just how that public perception can turn into policy is hard to imagine. Gorbachev gave his generals enough rope to hang themselves, then pulled the plug. Putin, on the other hand, is much more invested this time.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [05-24] Why Masha Gessen resigned from the PEN America board: An interview.

  • Eli Clifton: [05-24] Dedollarization is here, like it or not: The effective shift may have more to do with the US-China conflict, but Ukraine sanctions are convincing more and more nations not to trust the US. Few people talk about this, but the debt ceiling nonsense is further undermining world trust in the dollar. Clifton also wrote: [05-26] Jamie Raskin and Rachel Maddow, brought to you by Peter Thiel and Lockheed Martin.

  • David Cortright/Alexander Finiarel: [05-25] Russians' support for the war may be softer than you think. I've always suspected there was little public support for war, which is why Putin moved so decisively to quash dissent. Still, there is no evidence that Putin's grasp on power is precarious.

  • Daniel L Davis: [05-21] F-16s won't fundamentally alter the course of Ukraine War.

  • Gregory Foster: [05-26] How war is destroying Ukraine's environment.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [05-21] How Ukraine is trying to woo the Global South -- and why it's so hard: Ukraine has massive support from the US and Europe, but the rest of the world is a much tougher sell.

  • Fred Kaplan: [05-16] How the Russia-Ukraine war has changed Europe: Mostly on Germany, where Kaplan spent a month recently. Russia burned a lot of bridges when they invaded Ukraine, and this has pushed Europe back into a closer alliance with America. The link title suggested a broader topic: "The ripple effects from the Ukraine War are becoming clear now." That could have been a more interesting story. Kaplan also wrote: [05-20] The alarming reality of a coming nuclear arms race.

  • Michael Klare: [05-18] The G-3 and the post-Ukraine world: The Ukraine War dominated the latest G-7 confab, with all seven powers -- effectively the US and its six dwarfs -- firmly in the pro-Ukraine/anti-Russia camp. But it's impossible for such a group to mediate regional conflicts when they're busy fighting them. Back in the day, the US and USSR could quickly agree to impose a ceasefire on their clients (as they did in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars), yet no one today can do that -- even Klare's hypothetical G-2 of the US and China, or G-3 adding India (the world's most populous country; as Klare notes, the three of them would represent 40% of all people on the planet). Getting those three nations to work together for world peace will be much harder than lining up the G-7 to ratify Washington's wishes, but might actually work. This complements a piece by Juan Cole: [05-16] China and the Axis of the Sanctioned, occasioned by China taking the lead in reconciling Saudi Arabia and Iran.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-24] Will the Ukraine War become a 'frozen conflict'? By "frozen conflict" he seems to mean something like Korea, where fighting has halted but neither side admits defeat or can reconcile with the other. Apparently, this is an idea being circulated in Washington (see Nahal Toosi: [05-18] Ukraine could join ranks of 'frozen' conflicts, US official say). But that's no solution. The main thing that's allowed the Korean War "freeze" to persist is how isolated North Korea is from the rest of the world. Russia is a much larger country, with a much more complex set of trading partners and relationships, including a large portion of the world not currently on board with America's sanctions regime.

  • Anatol Lieven: [05-25] Ukraine attacks in Russia should be an alarm bell for Washington: Supposedly the US disapproves of such attacks, but that doesn't seem to be limiting the supply of weapons that could be used to attack beyond the Russian border. This is doubly dangerous as long as the US seems to be leaning against peace talks.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [05-23] What does the fall of Bakhmut in Ukraine really mean? Interview with Anatol Lieven and George Beebe.

Around the world:


Other stories:

Dean Baker: [05-22] Should Jamie Dimon get a government salary? Points out that Dimon got $34.5 million last year as CEO of JP Morgan, and stands to get much more in coming years, despite much evidence of mismanagement. On the other hand, the head of FDIC makes $181 thousand, and the head of the Fed makes $190 thousand. I'm not really sure how the suggestion that bank heads should be put on civil service salaries would work, but it seems unlikely it would undermine the competency of management, and it might make the banks a bit less predatory. Then there's inequality: "We have let the right rig the market to generate the extremes of inequality we see. While government tax and transfer policy to reduce inequality is desirable, it is best not to structure the market to create so much inequality in the first place."

Zachary D Carter: [03-16] On Silicon Valley Bank, and finance as a public good: This is old as news goes, but worth the effort. One current thought is to wonder how many similar banks would have failed had the feds defaulted on the debt. I also like this line: "Nobody ever just came out and said it, but the basic attitude from the bill's Democratic supporters seemed to be that it was unfair to harp on Democrats doing something corrupt and stupid when Republicans were corrupt and stupid as a matter of principle."

Coral Davenport: [05-28] You've never heard of him, but he's remaking the pollution fight: "Richard Revesz is changing the way the government calculates the cost and benefits of regulation, with far-reaching implications for climate change."

David Dayen: [05-25] A liberalism that builds power: "The goals of domestic supply chains, good jobs, carbon reduction, and public input are inseparable." Related:

David French: [05-28] The right is all wrong about masculinity: Occasioned by Josh Hawley's silly new book, but no need to dwell there when the inanity is everywhere: "But conservative catastrophism is only one part of the equation. The other is meanspirited pettiness. Traditional masculinity says that people should meet a challenge with a level head and firm convictions. Right-wing culture says that everything is an emergency, and is to be combated with relentless trolling and hyperbolic insults."

Luke Goldstein: [05-24] How Washington bargained away rural America: How farm bills get made, usually a bipartisan grand bargain ensuring food (SNAP) for the poor and profits for agribusiness.

DD Guttenplan/John Nichols: [05-26] Biden must remake his candidacy: I doubt I'll bother with many of the articles I'm sure we'll be seeing as various Democrats debate strategy going into 2024. But the point these left-Democrats make about Biden's lousy polling numbers is valid. It means that he can't run a campaign based on his personal charisma while ignoring the needs of his party, as Clinton did in 1996, and as Obama did in 2012. To win, he needs a Democratic Party sweep, giving him sufficient margins in Congress to actually get things done. You'd think Republicans are making such a campaign easy, but the media landscape remain treacherous, and Democrats have little practice settling on a winning message.

Benji Jones: [05-23] Why the new Colorado River agreement is a big deal -- even if you don't live out West.

Peter Kafka: [05-23] Do Americans really want "unbiased" news? "CNN and the Messenger both say they're chasing the middle." Well, bias is inevitable, and just because its 'centrist" variation is often incoherent doesn't except it from the rule. You can, of course, muddy up the situation by providing countervailing points of view, but as a practical matter that rarely works. In theory, you could clarify the situation by taking an unflinchingly critical view of everything, but in today's political arena, that would get you tagged as "left-biased" because the right is almost always not just wrong but lying their asses off.

Ian Millhiser:

Timothy Noah: [05-26] Why workers will be treated better in the future. Researchers have noticed that in many cases higher wages pay for themselves, but it usually takes pressure to get companies to move in that direction. So much of what Noah predicts is based on the notion that political power will shift toward workers. It's clear enough what needs to happen, but harder to see how it happens. But the great suppression of wages can clearly be dated to the rise of Reagan Republicans in the 1980s.

McKenna Oxenden: [05-27] An 11-year-old boy called 911. Police then shot him.

Aja Romano: [05-24] Puritanism took over online fandom -- and then came for the rest of the internet: "Puriteens, anti-fans, and the culture war's most bonkers battleground." After reading Kurt Andersen's Fantasyland, I should have been prepared for this piece, but my basic reaction is to imagine that no one, even the author, could have anticipated how much more blurred the line between fantasy and reality could become in a mere six years. Less clear is how ominous all this fantasy is.

The temptation to inhabit imaginary worlds probably goes back to the oral folklore preserved as myths, and certainly encompasses the whole history of literature (usually explicitly labeled fiction). In recent years, three inventions have intensified this: television has immersed us in fiction, making it both easier to consume and more much vivid; gaming has added an interactive dimension; and the internet (social media) has made it trivially easy for people to react and expound upon the stories. As long as people recognize the line between fact and fiction, and as long as they maintain respect and decorum in their posts, it's hard to see much harm. But there have always been gray areas, especially where fantasy is presented as fact, even more so when it's driven by malign politics. Still, the problem here is less the art than the politics. As long as you can keep them straight, I don't see much problem. (For instance, we watch a lot of shows where cops are extraordinarily insightful and smart, have integrity and character, are profoundly committed to justice, and rarely if ever make gross mistakes -- traits uncommon among real cops.)

One thing that made this article difficult is the terminology. In particular, I had to go to Fanlore to find a definition of shipping: it is contracted from relationship, and used for promoting or derogating hypothetical relationships between fictional characters. This all seems to be tied to an increase in anti-sex attitudes -- no doubt this is amplified by the internet, but really? -- including an obsession with pedophilia and trafficking. Supposedly this has been made worse by the FOSTA-SESTA act, which originally sounded unobjectionable but its loudest advocates can turn it into cruel repression.

Jim Rutenberg/Michael S Schmidt/Jeremy W Peters: [05-27] Missteps and miscalculations: Inside Fox's legal and business debacle: "Fox's handling of the defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems, which settled for $787.5 million, left many unanswered questions."

Lily Sánchez/Nathan J Robinson: [05-18] Robert F Kennedy Jr is a lying crank posing as a progressive alternative to Biden. Also:

Richard Sandomir: [05-27] Stanley Engerman, revisionist scholar of slavery, dies at 87: Engerman co-wrote, with Robert W Fogel, the 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of Negro Slavery, which significantly changed our understanding of how slavery function within American capitalism. Fogel & Engerman were among the first prominent historians to base their work on extensive data analysis, as opposed to the standard practice of collecting stories from primary and secondary sources.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-26] The Clintons and the rich women: No "roaming charges" this week, sad to say, so St Clair dusted off an oldie from his book, An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (a compilation of short essays published in 2022). This one explores the lobbying effort (and the money behind it) that secured Marc Rich a pardon in 2000. One surprise name that pops up here is Jack Quinn.

Maureen Tkacik: [05-23] Quackonomics: "Medical Properties Trust spent billions buying community hospitals in bewildering deals that made private equity rich and working-class towns reel."

Nick Turse: [05-23] Blood on his hands: "Survivors of Kissinger's secret war in Cambodia reveal unreported mass killings." More occasioned by his 100th birthday:

  • Ben Burgis: [05-27] Henry Kissinger is a disgusting war criminal. And the rot goes deeper than him.

  • Greg Grandin: [05-15] Henry Kissinger, war criminal -- still at large at 100: "We now know a great about the crimes he committed while in office, . . . But we know little about his four decades with Kissinger Associates." Grandin has a 2015 book on Kissinger: Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman. In that book, I found this quote, based on Seymour Hersh's 1983 Kissinger book, The Price of Power:

    Hersh gave us the defining portrait of Kissinger as a preening paranoid, tacking between ruthlessness and sycophancy to advance his career, cursing his fate and letting fly the B-52s. Small in his vanities and shabby in his motives, Kissinger, in Hersh's hands, is nonetheless Shakespearean because the pettiness gets played out on a world stage with epic consequences.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [05-27] Henry Kissinger is 100, but his legacy is still shaping how US foreign policy works. I've never tried to figure out how much US foreign policy in the pivotal 1969-75 period was Kissinger as opposed to Nixon. My guess was that Kissinger added intellectual filigree to Nixon's baser impulses, but Kissinger was callous enough to suit Nixon's needs. As for his later freelance efforts, I knew few specifics, so I'm most likely to chalk them up as ordinary graft. With all the criminality -- in some ways, Kissinger's most damaging legacy isn't what he did but that he made such things seem normal, expected even, for those who followed -- it's easy to overlook one of Nixon's most important moves, which was to end the Bretton-Woods system, during which the US was responsible for maintaining a stable capitalist world market. After, it was each nation for itself, which ultimately turned into the US (and the few "allies" it intimidated) against the world.

  • Fred Kaplan: [05-27] Henry Kissinger's bloody legacy: "The dark side of Kissinger's tradecraft left a deep stain on vast quarters of the globe -- and on America's own reputation."

  • Jerelle Kraus: [05-27] Henry Kissinger: A war criminal who has not once faced the bar of justice.

  • Bhaskar Sunkara/Jonah Walters: [05-27] Henry Kissinger turns 100 this week. He should be ashamed to be seen in public: The picture, from 2011, shows him with a rather giddy-looking Hillary Clinton.

You can also watch a piece from the Mehdi Hasan Show on Kissinger. You might also take a look at this chart of life expectancy in Cambodia, which falls off a cliff during the years Kissinger was in power (1969-77). Some commenters want to make a distinction between bombing deaths (150-500K) and the genocide unleashed by the Khmer Rouge (1.5-3M), but the the former destabilized the studiously neutral Sihanouk regime, allowing the Khmer Rouge to seize power.

Kayla M Williams: [05-28] Who should we honor on Memorial Day? The article argues that many veterans are unfairly not counted among the war dead heroes because they were felled by longer, slower maladies that only started in war, such as exposure to toxic chemicals (Agent Orange in Vietnam, burn pits in Iraq) or PTSD (the suicide rate among veterans if if anything even higher than the battlefield death rate). I have no quarrel with that argument, but my initial gut reaction to the title is that we shouldn't limit honor to war dead or even to veterans.

When I was young, the focus of Memorial Day was Fluty Cemetery down in Arkansas: either we went there, or my mother arranged for flowers to be placed there by relatives. Some served, but none of the people I knew of under the headstones were killed in war. But they worked the hardscrabble Ozark soil, and built homes and families, eventually leading to me (and, well, many others). As far as I know, they were all honorable people, and deserved remembrance. Of course, those who did die in war deserve remembrance as well, but less for their lives (however valiant) than for their waste, which we should be reminded of lest we blunder into even more wasteful wars.

Li Zhou: [05-23] Montana's TikTok ban -- and the legal challenge of it -- explained. My preferred solution is to ban all companies from collecting personal data, much less passing it on to others. If that impacts their business models, maybe that's a good thing.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 22, 2023


Music Week

Expanded blog post, May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40245 [40204] rated (+41), 42 [42] unrated (+0: 14 new, 28 old).

Worn out after writing yesterday's Speaking of Which. Actually, worn out before I rushed that out, only to catch the last quarter of Heat-Celtics, with the B-teams nursing a 30-point blowout. Looking back, the no-comment Irfan (weather) piece could have been followed by pages. And the Burleigh piece reminds us that billionaires aren't just harmless eccentrics -- as does the whole section on Trump, I guess.

It looks like the center-right won in Greece, after Syriza caved under pressure from the Eurozone masters. For background on Greece, see James Galbraith's The Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe (2016). One should note that the big difference between debt in Greece and in the US has nothing to do with quantity. It's simply that Greece's debt is tied to the Euro, a currency they can't control, making them vulnerable to the nasty whims of foreign bankers.

Nothing much to add to the music below, which is short on jazz, especially up top -- but I have more catching up elsewhere. Ware was a late promotion, one I'm still a bit iffy about. Oladokun was brought forward from next week. Brubeck got a chance when I saw I was about to go another week with no Old Music. Skyzoo could have made the A-list on sound alone, but I was less satisfied with the story concept -- something I rarely notice, so perhaps that should have been a positive.

I've started working on a website overhaul, but don't have much to show for it yet. The idea is to create a parallel structure I can copy old content into. Hopefully it will be better organized, less ramschackle. But mainly it's meant to give me a fresh start on the book projects (discarding the old attempts).

I also have some small home projects to get to, before it gets too hot -- which is sometimes the case already.


New records reviewed this week:

Nia Archives: Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall (2023, Island, EP): British electropop (drum and bass?) producer, has several EPs. Six tracks, 17:04. B+(*) [sp]

Artemis: In Real Time (2023, Blue Note): All female supergroup -- Alexa Tarentino (alto/soprano sax, flute), Nicole Glover (tenor sax), Renee Rosnes (piano/keyboards), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Noriko Ueda (bass), Allison Miller (drums) -- down one (Anat Cohen) plus guest vocals (Cécile McLorin Salvant) on their second album, with Rosnes the lead (but not only) arranger. Still lots of talent, but such fancy postbop is wasted on me. B+(*) [sp]

Daniel Caesar: Never Enough (2023, Republic): Canadian soul singer-songwriter Ashton Simmonds, third album. Soft and slinky. B+(*) [sp]

Lewis Capaldi: Broken by Desire to Be Heavenly Sent (2023, Captiol): Scottish pop phenom, second album, first was a big hit in UK and a minor one in US. Most likely this will do as well or better. I sort of get the appeal, but find it overblown, again. B+(*) [sp]

Sylvie Courvoisier & Cory Smythe: The Rite of Spring/Spectre D'Un Songe (2021 [2023], Pyroclastic): Two pianists, playing two pieces from Stravinsky's "Le sacre du printemps" (34:29), plus Courvoisier's second title piece (29:16). B+(**) [cd]

Defprez: It's Always a Time Like This (2023, Closed Sessions, EP): Chicago hip-hop crew -- Crashprez, Defcee, Knowsthetime -- has a 2021 album, return with this 10-track, 23:46 mini. B+(**) [sp]

Orhan Demir: Solo Guitar: Freedom in Jazz (2019, Hittite): B. 1954 in Istanbul, Turkey; moved to Canada in 1977, where he picked up the guitar. This is solo, the first of three volumes (so far). It remains consistently interesting for more than an hour. B+(***) [cd]

Orhan Demir: Solo Guitar: Freedom in Jazz Vol. 2 (2020, Hittite): Not exactly more of the same -- a bit more delicate -- but close. B+(**) [cd]

Orhan Demir: Solo Guitar: Freedom in Jazz Vol. 3 (2022 [2023], Hittite): Wraps up this series in fine fashion. B+(***) [cd]

Joe Farnsworth: In What Direction Are You Headed? (2022 [2023], Smoke Sessions): Much in demand mainstream drummer, dozen-plus albums since 1998, close to 200 side-credits since 1992, most often with Eric Alexander. Quintet with Immanuel Wilkins (alto sax), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Julius Rodriguez (piano), and Robert Hurst (bass). Wilkins continues to impress. B+(*) [sp]

Satoko Fujii: Torrent: Piano Solo (2022 [2023], Libra): Japanese avant-pianist, many albums, this her ninth solo and fifth in the last six years. Starts out strong, as expected, then meanders a bit much, through six original pieces, a couple quite long. B+(**) [cd] [06-02]

Alison Goldfrapp: The Love Invention (2023, Skint/BMG): English singer-songwriter, the vocal half of the synthpop duo Goldfrapp (with Will Gregory) since 2000, first solo album. B+(***) [sp]

Kara Jackson: Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? (2023, September): Poet, singer-songwriter, plays guitar, keeps it folkishly simple. B+(*) [sp]

Faten Kanaan: Afterpoem (2023, Fire): Brooklyn-based electronica producer, uses analog synthesizers, fifth album, draws on baroque as well as minimalism. B+(*) [sp]

Yazmin Lacey: Voice Notes (2023, On Your Own/Believe): British soul singer, first album after a 2017 EP and several singles. Light touch, the opposite of gospel-inspired oversinging. B+(**) [sp]

Lankum: False Lankum (2023, Rough Trade): Irish folk group with postmodernist overtones (like drone), originally recorded as Lynched (2014), third album since they changed their name. B+(**) [sp]

Joëlle Léandre/Craig Taborn/Mat Maneri: hEARoes (2022 [2023], RogueArt): Bass, piano, and viola, a 39:15 improv piece in seven parts, the piano most impressive but picks its spots. B+(***) [cd]

Max Light: Henceforth (2022 [2023], SteepleChase): American guitarist, studied in Boston and New York, second album (plus side credits with Jason Palmer, Noah Preminger, and Kevin Sun). This is a nice postbop quartet with Preminger (tenor sax), Kim Cass (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). B+(**) [cd] [06-16]

Logic: College Park (2023, Three Oh One/BMG): Rapper Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, eighth album since 2014, first six charted 1-4. Runs long (67:25), with a series of skits on the road to a gig in DC. B+(*) [sp]

Alex LoRe & Weirdear: Evening Will Find Itself (2021 [2023], Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, looks like his fourth album (debut 2014), quartet with Glenn Zaleski (piano), Desmond White (bass), and Allan Mednard (drums). B+(**) [cdr]

Joe Lovano Trio Tapestry [Marilyn Crispell/Carmen Castaldi]: Our Daily Bread (2022 [2023], ECM): Tenor saxophonist, also credited with tarogato and gongs, third group album with piano and drums. Fairly quiet, solemn even. B+(*) [sp]

Matt Muntz: Phantom Islands (2023, Orenda): New York bassist, also plays bagpipes (primorski meh, "a traditional bagpipe from the Croatian coast"), debut album after a half-dozen side credits. Original pieces based on folk melodies. Group with tenor sax (Xavier Del Castillo), oboe, clarinets, guitar, and drums. Pretty tedious, even without the annoying bagpipes. B- [sp]

Navy Blue: Ways of Knowing (2023, Def Jam): Rapper Sage Elsesser, ten EPs 2015-19, seventh studio album since 2020, this his major label debut, has also done production for MIKE and Mach-Hommy. Underground, beats ambling seductively, words knowing. Featured spot for Kelly Moonstone a highlight. A- [sp]

Joy Oladokun: Proof of Life (2023, Amigo/Verve Forecast/Republic): Singer-songwriter, born in Arizona, parents from Nigeria, fourth album, follow up to the highly recommended In Defense of My Own Happiness. Another batch of superb songs, which fit comfortably between guests ranging from Chris Stapleton to Maxo Kream. A- [sp]

Bill Orcutt: Jump on It (2023, Palilalia): Guitarist, started out in a hardcore band called Harry Pussy, as a solo artist settled into what's called American primitivism (looking back to John Fahey), idiosyncratic improvisations based on folk guitar. B+(*) [sp]

Paramore: This Is Why (2023, Atlantic): Indie pop group from Tennessee, Hayley Williams the singer and only constant member since 2004, although founding drummer Zac Farro returned in 2017. Sixth studio album. B+(*) [sp]

Princess Nokia: I Love You but This Is Goodbye (2023, Arista, EP): New York rapper Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, adds a short and sharp break up EP (seven song, 18:04) to her four albums catalog. B+(**) [sp]

Rae Sremmurd: Sremm 4 Life (2023, Eardruma/Interscope): Two brothers from Tupelo, Mississippi, surname Brown, go as Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee, 2015 debut a breakout hit, fourth album. B+(*) [sp]

Rough Image: Rough Image (2023, WV Sorcerer): Instrumental rock group from northeast China (Changchun). Long pieces with tight grooves and industrial klang and exotica, occasionally a bit of chatter. B+(***) [bc]

SBTRKT: The Rat Road (2023, Save Yourself): British electronica producer Aaron Jerome, third album under this alias after one under his own name. B [sp]

Skyzoo & the Other Guys: The Mind of a Saint (2023, First Generation Rich): New York rapper, dozen-plus albums since 2006, ties this one to the FX series Snowfall, about the 1980s crack epidemic in Los Angeles -- the central character there was a young drug dealer named Franklin Saint, who is given center stage here. The Other Guys are a DC-based crew with a half dozen albums since 2014. B+(***) [sp]

Sunny War: Anarchist Gospel (2023, New West): Nashville-based singer-songwriter, plays guitar drawing on country blues and punk (she started with a band called the Anus Kings). Seventh album since 2015. Don't know whether the gospel overtones are new or just part of her shtick. B+(***) [sp]

Ramana Vieira: Tudo De Mim (All of Me) (2023, self-released): Traditional fado singer, plays piano, born in California of Portuguese parents, sixth album since 2000. B+(*) [cd]

Jessie Ware: That! Feels Good! (2023, PMR/EMI): British singer-songwriter, several albums, goes hard disco for this one, proclaiming "pleasure is a right." A little glitzy, Sometimes I'm reminded of Chic, then find myself missing the signature bass lines. But most songs are pure pleasure. A- [sp]

Wednesday: Rat Saw God (2023, Dead Oceans): Rock band from Asheville, North Carolina, with singer Karly Hartzman. Fifth album since 2018. Defaults to a fairly standard Velvets-style alt/indie base, but they can bring considerable noise on top, not always welcome. B+(*) [sp]

Gaia Wilmer Large Ensemble: Folia: The Music of Egberto Gismonti (2023, Sunnyside): Brazilian alto saxophonist, has a previous octet album, raised an 18-piece big band for this project, plus three guests, including the 75-year-old composer on piano for two tracks. (My own experience with Gismonti doesn't extend much beyond his work with Charlie Haden and Jan Garbarek, where he mostly played guitar.) B+(**) [sp]

Billy Woods & Kenny Segal: Maps (2023, Backwoodz Studioz): New York rapper, half of Armand Hammer, albums since 2003, father was a Marxist writer who moved the family to Zimbabwe for the revolution. Second album with LA-based producer Segal. I've been nibbling around his albums for a while without finding one compelling, but figure I might as well bite here. A- [sp]

Jacob Young/Mats Eilertsen/Audun Kleive: Eventually (2021 [2023], ECM): Norwegian guitarist, dozen-plus albums since 1995, this his fourth on ECM, backed by bass and drums. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ruth Anderson/Annea Lockwood: Tęte-Ŕ-Tęte (1974-2020 [2023], Ergot): Electronic music pioneer (1928-2019), founder and director of Hunter College's Electronic Music Studio 1968-79. In 1973, Lockwood fell in love with Anderson, and lived and worked together for five decades. This memorial collects two previously unreleased Anderson pieces: one a subtle drone piece from 1983 (17:12), the other pasted together from intimate conversations from 1974 (18:36), then concludes with Lockwood's later elegy, "For Ruth." B+(*) [sp]

Bill Evans: Treasures: Solo, Trio & Orchestral Recordings From Denmark (1965-1969) (1965-69 [2023], Elemental, 2CD): The trio recordings are typically brilliant, same for the slightly less compelling solo set, but then there's the "Orchestral Suite," played by the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra and the Danish Radio Big Band, featuring Palle Mikkelborg, burying several Evans tunes in lush. B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Park Avenue South (2002 [2003], Telarc): Live album at a Starbucks in Manhattan, this edition of the pianist's Quartet with Bobby Militello (alto sax/flute), Michael Moore (bass), and Randy Jones (drums). Starts with a terrific piano intro to "On the Sunny Side of the Street," before Militello swings into action. And, of course, "Take Five" is as great as ever, but who expected the drum solo to nail it? A- [yt]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Nanny Assis: Rovanio: The Music of Nanny Assis (In + Out) [06-23]
  • Javon Jackson: With Peter Bradley: Soundtrack and Original Score (Solid Jackson) [06-16]
  • Clifford Jordan: Drink Plenty Water (1974, Harvest Song) [06-01]
  • Brian McCarthy Nonet: After Life (Truth Revolution) [05-26]
  • Noshir Mody: A Love Song (self-released) [05-26]
  • Edward Simon: Femininas: Songs of Latin American Women (ArtistShare) * [06-08]
  • Henry Threadgill Ensemble: The Other One (Pi) [05-26]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 22, 2023


Speaking of Which

Let this be done. I'd rather go watch the basketball game -- well, practically anything -- than keep digging up more articles I have to comment on. Especially ones that suggest that Biden's is not going to do the right thing and tell the Republicans where to stuff their extortion demands.


Top story threads:

Trump: He didn't do much new this week, but he's still the cutting edge of Republican dystopia, so might as well hang onto the top slot here.

  • Ed Burmila: [05-21] How Trump left Washington even swampier: "The battle for power and influence in the nation's capital is more shameless, desperate, and embarrassing than ever."

  • Michael Tomasky: [05-18] Donald Trump against America: "He loves an America of his twisted imagination. He hates -- and fears -- the America that actually exists. And if he gets back to the White House . . . look out." I would have skipped over the diatribe on Trump's call for "peace without delay" in Ukraine, and I wouldn't have interpreted "reevaluating NATO's purpose" as "giving Putin a free hand in what the Russian dictator calls the 'near abroad.'" Trump had similar sentiments when he became president in 2017, but failed to do anything constructive about them, and would likely find the State/Defense/CIA blob equally inpenetrable in 2025. His real threat is elsewhere, as Tomasky goes on to demonstrate: in 2016 he sold a vision that he could "make America great again," and declared America "great" as soon as he got elected -- not that many people noticed much change. But like a bad movie sequel, this time he's out for redemption and revenge. There are people who will relish just that, but a majority? Even outside of the America he's written off, the one he's sworn to destroy, that's going to be a tall order.

  • Michael Tomasky: [05-19] Did Donald Trump seriously sell pardons? The question is being raised in a complaint against Rudy Giuliani, along with much more. For that, see Prem Thakker: [05-16] Rudy Giuliani is a raging alcoholic and sexual predator, says new lawsuit.

Republicans:

Economy and Debt:

  • Jen Kirby: [05-19] What a debt default could mean for America's superpower status: Interview with Marcus Noland, mostly about the demand for US Treasuries and dollars abroad. One side effect could be that it becomes harder to enforce US sanctions against target nations. Given that sanctions rarely work, that doesn't strike me as much of a problem, but there are people with a lot of money at stake, and long-term this gives other nations incentive to cut the US out of their banking systems.

  • Paul Krugman:

    • [05-19] Death, Napoleon and debt: Just the fundamentals. Anyone who claims that governments should pay off their debts like individual have to is profoundly stupid, or (more likely) trying to snow you. Individuals age and die, so their creditors need to get repaid before they lose out. But governments go on and on, usually with growing economy and taxes, so all they have to do is service the debt, which is easy (especially if it is denominated in currency you control).

    • [05-18] Will the US economy pull off a 'soft landing'? His definition is unemployment under 4% and inflation under 3%. Over the last few months inflation has come down a lot while unemployment has increased little, so this convergence seems plausible. However, if the Fed holds to its 2% inflation target, and insists on achieving it through high interest rates and induced recession, this would get bumpier.

    • [05-16] How Biden blew it on the debt ceiling. This was written a few days ago, when Biden and McCarthy were meeting, and signals appeared that some sort of deal was imminent. As of the moment [05-21] that prospect appears to have been quashed by the Republicans, who are greedy and/or malicious.

  • Jason Linkins: [05-20] The Beltway media is spreading debt limit misinformation: "The political press bears a share of the blame for the fact we are once again on the precipice of default."

  • Branko Marcetic: [05-19] The debt ceiling crisis is laying bare the lies both parties tell their voters.

  • Jeff Stein: [05-14] 7 doomsday scenarios if the US crashes through the debt ceiling: stocks crash; a sudden recession; federal workers in limbo; Social Security and Medicare miss payments; US borrowing costs soar; economic problems spread worldwide; the dollar drops, along with US prestige. As one commenter puts it: "These outcomes read like a GOP Wish List. If they can make things bad enough people would welcome a strongman dictator, particularly a fascist like 45 who will blame it all on minorities, immigrants, gays, Democrats, nasty Women, etc., etc." Still, this is one problem that Trump actually could solve in a day, inasmuch as all it would take is for Republicans in Congress to pass a bill that raises the debt limit (as they did repeatedly for Trump). Stein's piece was recycled from an earlier one. He's been covering this issue with little insight into either the politics or economics. A recent piece is [05-20] GOP rejects White House compromise to limit spending as talks stall, partly because debt-conscious Republicans want even higher defense spending.

  • Dean Baker: [05-21] Quick note on the debt burden and the burden of patent and copyright monopolies.

Immigration:

Ukraine War: Russia claims to have taken Bakhmut after a nine-month siege. Ukraine denies this, but are pushing forces to encircle city. Meanwhile, Ukraine hasn't quite gotten around to its much-ballyhooed spring offensive, but has started to test Russian lines on southern front.

World:


Other stories:

Nina Burleigh: [05-16] Who is Leonard Leo's mysterious dark money king? "America needs to know who Barre Seid is, what kind of country he wants, and just how massive an impact his $1.6 billion gift can have on our political discourse."

Steve Early/Suzanne Gordon: [05-20] Corporate politicians are privatizing the VA, the crown jewel of socialized medicine: Phillip Longman wrote a book back in 2007 touting Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours. The basic reason was that not just insurance but actual care was fully socialized (directly run by the government). There were still a couple obvious problems: one is that while veterans were numerous and evenly distributed following WWII, the number of people eligible for VA care has steadily declined; the other is that care is concentrated in large centers, so for many veterans isn't easily accessible. Horror stories about access has led to various efforts for the VA to pay for profit-seeking care, which in turn jacks up costs while reducing quality. And needless to say, the privatization lobbies are all over this, and up to no good.

Connor Echols: [05-16] The War on Terror led to over 4.5 million deaths: That works out to a bit more than 1,000 revenge deaths for every American killed on 9/11. If you factor in American soldiers lost in those wars, the kill ratio drops to a bit more than 400-to-1. Occupying powers from the Romans to the Nazis made a point of threatening kill ratios of 10- or even 100-to-1 to deter rebellion -- a range that Israel has pretty consistently maintained. Of course, you can reduce the ratio further by including contractor deaths (8,000), suicides by veterans (30,000), and deaths of various allies (both local and foreign), but that hardly offers any comfort. (Some of these numbers come from Brown University's Costs of War page.)

Lee Harris: [05-17] Rahm Emmanuel's gas pipeline: "The Biden administration is promoting a new liquefied natural gas complex on the Pacific Coast, with expanded subsidies from the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act." "West Coast" means Alaska. We counted ourselves lucky that Biden didn't give Emmanuel a post, but the only real difference is that now he's explicitly working for the oil and gas industry. Article quotes Lukas Ross: "Rahm Emmanuel did more than any single individual to sabotage Barack Obama's climate agenda at a time when there were congressional majorities."

Patrick Iber: [05-15] When Milton Friedman met Pinochet: "Chicago economists had free rein in Chile. The country is still recovering." Review of Sebastian Edwards: The Chile Project: The Story of the Chicago Boys and the Downfall of Neoliberalism.

Umair Irfan: [05-17] It's not just climate disasters. "Normal" weather is getting weirder, too.

Whizy Kim: [05-19] The billionaire's guide to self-help: "It's a phenomenon of our age that entrepreneurs are celebrities at all."

Eric Levitz: [05-19] The return of the emerging Democratic majority? The 2002 book of that name, by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, fell flat, but new research suggests that young voters (Gen Z/Millennials) have continued to break for Democrats, and are becoming more dependable voters.

Ian Millhiser:

Mark Paul: [05-16] Economists hate rent control. Here's why they're wrong. In my own experience, I've always felt landlords enjoyed a huge power advantage every time a lease was up, as well as all the rest of the time. So I've long felt that some sort of countervaling power was needed. Rent control would help, but as this article admits, that's only goes so far.

Joshua Raff: [05-20] John Durham's vacuous report: A fitting end to Bill Barr's ugly legacy: Barr appointed Durham as an independent counsel to dig into the origins of the 2016 FBI investigation of allegations that the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Russians. After four years, Durham submitted a report, which Attorney General Merrick Garland released "unexpurgated, unredacted and without comment or commentary." As someone who never put any stock into that thing called Russiagate, and who is whatever the polar opposite of shocked is at the suggestion that the FBI might have been swayed by politics, I have no interest in the fine points here (if, indeed, there are any). But I'll add a couple more links (without elevating it to a section):

Becca Rothfeld: [05-18] How to be a man? Josh Hawley has the (incoherent) answers. Well, he has a book called Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, which the reviewer notes is "the latest in a long line of guides," citing others by Jack Donovan, Jordan Peterson, Robert Bly, and Harvey Mansfeld. Insights? "Men do not 'blame someone or something else,' such as 'society,' or 'the system,' but men do, apparently, blame 'Epicurean liberalism' for almost everything that ails them." And: "A man is a rugged individualist who figures things out for himself, but he also relies on how-to guides to teach him how to exist."

Dylan Scott: [05-19] Hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing Medicaid every month: "Medicaid's 'Great Unwinding' is even worse than experts expected."

Avi Selk/Herb Scribner: [05-16] Musk says George Soros 'hates humanity,' compares him to Jewish supervillain. I know nothing about Magneto, but the admission that the villain "drew inspiration from Zionist leaders Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Meir Kahane" is troubling on multiple levels. But what is clear is that Musk views his political antipathy to Soros as clearly tied to Soros's identity as a Jew. Why Musk thinks that Soros "hates humanity" and "wants to erode the very fabric of civilization" isn't specified.

Also on Musk:

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-19] Roaming Charges: Living With the Unacceptable: Starts with a classic Dwight MacDonald quote: "The Ford Foundation is a large body of money completely surrounded by people who want some." Sure, it's part of a fund appeal, but it doesn't hit you over the head.

Li Zhou: [05-17] How Democrats pulled off a big upset in Florida: Jacksonville ("the most populous Republican-led city in the country") elected Donna Deegan mayor.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 15, 2023


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40204 [40158] rated (+46), 42 [44] unrated (-2: 14 new, 28 old).

Nice selection across the board this week. The three new albums all have recommended antecedents: Brötzmann-Drake is their second Moroccan album, following The Catch of a Ghost with Maâlem Moukhtar Gania (a more famous Ganaoua master than Bekkas); Buck 65 follows up on last year's King of Drums with a consistency that's defined its own take on old school; Dave Rempis and Elisabeth Harnik collaborated on an earlier album, Astragaloi (2022, with Michael Zerang).

Same could be said for the reissue/vault finds: Thomas Anderson has a number of fine albums, the most comparable her being 2012's The Moon in Transit: Four-Track Demos, 1996-2009. Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens have another live album from the same tour, 1988's Paris-Soweto. While I can't point to a comparable Pharoah Sanders live album, he has notable earlier albums (like 1967's Tauhid) and even better later albums (1988's Africa, 1990's Welcome to Love, and 1992's Crescent With Love).

Of the high B+ albums, I should note two long (2-CD) sets that cut short, despite the sense that multiple plays might lift the grades a notch: Fire! Orchestra's Echoes, and Matt Mitchell's Oblong Aplomb. I suppose I could say the same thing about Withered Hand, which was impressive enough to grade higher, but didn't have enough personal appeal to make me want to. Robert Christgau gave the record a full A -- he's consistently much more taken with this artist than I am. Christgau also gave full A's to Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, and to Boygenius -- the latter's The Record I dismissed as a B first time through, although pretty much everyone else loves it.

Noticed that I hadn't done the indexing for the April Streamnotes, so I knocked that out.


I posted a fairly substantial Speaking of Which yesterday evening. The growing right-wing adulation of murderers is especially troubling. Just ten years ago conservatives would take pains to distance themselves from such acts, but no more.

I'm into the last 50 pages of Kurt Andersen's Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire. The book was published in 2017, after Trump took office but before much of his term had played out. I just finished chapters on anti-vaxxers (including RFK Jr.) and "Gun Crazy": both could have been massive expanded to bring them up to the present.


New records reviewed this week:

William Bell: One Day Closer to Home (2023, Wilbe): Soul man, originally from Memphis, signed to Stax in 1961, moved to Atlanta in 1970, had his biggest hit in 1976 ("Tryin' to Love Two"). Should be 83 now, doesn't sound (or look) like it: he still goes to parties, and still sings a classic ballad. B+(**) [sp]

Big Joanie: Back Home (2022, Kill Rock Stars): Postpunk trio, three second-generation British women, cite the Ronettes as their model, but "filtered through '80s DIY and Riot Grrrl with a sprinkling of dashikis" (and, notably, no Spector). Second album. Seems solid, then starts to catch you up. B+(***) [sp]

Peter Brötzmann/Majid Bekkas/Hamid Drake: Catching Ghosts (2022 [2023], ACT): A founder of the German avant-garde, here 81, still strong on tenor sax and clarinet, but takes a back seat here to Moroccan Gnaoua adept Bekkas, who chant-sings and plays guembri, with Drake's drums offering perfect support. This live set recalls another superb 2019 album, The Catch of a Ghost, with Gnaouan master Maâlem Moukhtar Gania joining Brötzmann and Drake -- itself a reprisal of work they did as far back as 1996. A- [sp]

Buck 65: 14 KT Gold (2023, self-released, EP): Halifax rapper, teasing us with 5 tracks (10:59) of extra scraps from his Super Dope album sessions. Among other lines: "where do you run when no one is chasing you?" B+(**) [bc]

Buck 65: Super Dope (2023, self-released): This grabbed me from the first scratches -- having started way back in 1986, he's sounding pretty old school -- beyond which numerous clever lines shoot across the horizon. A- [bc]

Mark Dresser: Times of Change (2019-22 [2023], Pyroclastic): Bassist, came to prominence in Anthony Braxton's Quartet (1986-97), has several dozen albums as leader and many more side-credits. This one is solo, using a number of gadgets and tricks that expand the instrument's sonic range. B+(***) [cd]

EABS Meets Jaubi: In Search of a Better Tomorrow (2023, Astigmatic): Polish group, acronym for Electro-Acoustic Beat Sessions, six albums since 2016 including tributes to Krzysztof Komeda and Sun Ra, mash up here with a Lahore-based Pakistani group, although both have previous albums on this Polish label, and EABS keyboardist Latamik (Marek Pedziwiatr) appeared on Jaubi's excellent Nafs at Peace. B+(***) [sp]

Fire! Orchestra: Echoes (2022 [2023], Rune Grammofon, 2CD): Scandinavian group started as a trio in 2009 (Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werlin), expanded to orchestra size in 2013, and has continued to sprawl, reaching 43 members on this 2-hour epic. Four vocalists appear on one track each (of 14 total). B+(***) [sp]

Champian Fulton: Meet Me at Birdland (2022 [2023], Champian): Standards singer, plays piano, from Oklahoma, based in New York, 16th album since 2007, a live set backed by Hide Tanaka (bass) and Fukushi Tainaka (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Hamish Hawk: Angel Numbers (2023, Post Electric): Scottish singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2014, catchy enough but he does lay it on thick. B [sp]

Durand Jones: Wait Til I Get Over (2023, Dead Oceans): Soul singer, has three albums as Durand Jones & the Indications, just his name on the cover here. Way over-orchestrated for my taste, but has moments that really promise something. B+(*) [sp]

Tyler Keith & the Apostles: Hell to Pay (2023, Black & Wyatt): Memphis garage rock group, back in 2001 Keith called his group the Preachers Kids. B+(**) [sp]

Kid Koala: Creatures of the Late Afternoon (2023, Envision): Canadian DJ/electronica producer Eric San, albums from 1996, including group projects Bullfrog and Deltron 3030. A bit jumbled, with an ongoing robot-hotel shtick. B+(**) [sp]

Kiko El Crazy: Pila'e Teteo (2023, Rimas): Dominican toaster Jose Alberto Peralta, second album, style known as dembow, not far removed from reggaeton. B+(**) [sp]

Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Tony Buck: Eternal Triangle (2019 [2022], I Dischi Di Angelica): Japanese electric trumpet player (1948-2019), probably best known from Peter Brötzmann's Die Like a Dog quartet, with electric bass/electronics and drums. B+(*) [bc]

The Adam Larson Trio: With Love, From New York (2022 [2023], Outside In Music): Tenor saxophonist, eighth album, third in his series of With Love, From albums: this one with Obed Calvaire (bass) and Matt Clohesy (drums). Nice lively set. B+(**) [sp]

The Adam Larson Trio: With Love, From Kansas City (2021 [2022], Outside In Music): Second of his traveling trio albums, after With Love, From Chicago. This one picks up locals Ben Leifer (bass) and John Kizilarmut (drums), performing six originals and Charlie Parker's "Chi Chi." B+(**) [sp]

Jinx Lennon: Walk Lightly When the Jug Is Full (2023, Septic Tiger): Formally, an Irish folk singer-songwriter, but rough enough around the edges for punk. B+(**) [sp]

Johan Lindström/Norrbotten Big Band: Johan Lindström & Norrbotten Big Band (2020 [2023], Moserobie): Swedish big band, has 25 albums since 1989, most featuring guest leaders, like the guitarist, who was "composer in residence" in 2020 -- the only date given, although this was conducted by Joakim Milder, who took over as artistic director in 2023. B+(**) [cd]

Baaba Maal: Being (2023, Marathon Artists): Singer from Senegal, his 1989 US debut (Djam Leeli, with Mansour Seck) was one of the era's most fetching releases. This dials it up, then back down again. B+(**) [sp]

Matt Mitchell: Oblong Aplomb (2022 [2023], Out of Your Head, 2CD): Pianist, two sets of percussion duos, "Oblong" with Kate Gentile (drums), "Aplomb" with Ches Smith (vibes and gongs as well as drums). Both make a strong case. B+(***) [cd]

The National: First Two Pages of Frankenstein (2023, 4AD): Mild-mannered band from Cincinnati, singer-songwriter is Matt Berninger, 9th album, very pleasant. B+(**) [sp]

Naya Bazz [Rez Abbasi/Josh Feinberg]: Charm (2021-22 [2023], Whirlwind): Artist names on cover, small print above group name and title. Abbasi is a Pakistani guitarist who grew up in California. Feinberg is a New Yorker who plays classical Hindustani sitar. They are backed by Jennifer Vincent (cello) and Satoshi Takeishi (drums). B+(**) [cd]

Parannoul: After the Magic (2023, Top Shelf): South Korean, has also released albums as Laststar and Mydreamfever, considered shoegaze/emo, which is to say shrouded in a deep guitar haze. B [sp]

Jeremy Pelt: The Art of Intimacy, Vol. 2: His Muse (2023, HighNote): Mainstream trumpet player, steady stream of albums since 2002, his Vol. 1 came out in 2020, a trio with bass and drums. Different players for this quintet -- Victor Gould (piano), Buster Williams (bass), Billy Hart (drums), Chico Pinheiro (guitar) -- plus occasional and unnecessary strings. B+(*) [sp]

Dave Rempis/Elisabeth Harnik/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Tim Daisy: Earscratcher (2022 [2023], Aerophonic): Alto sax, piano, cello/electronics, and drums/percussion. Group was put together to focus on Harnik, who plays outstanding free jazz here, wrapped in complex layers of sound. A- [dl]

Rudy Royston Flatbed Buggy: Day (2022 [2023], Greenleaf Music): Drummer, several albums as leader plus many more side-credits, released one in 2018 called Flatbed Buggy, and returns with that group here: John Ellis (bass clarinet), Hank Roberts (cello), Gary Versace (accordion), and Joe Martin (bass). Has a soft chamber jazz feel, centered on the cello. B+(*) [cd]

Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble: Home Is Here (2022 [2023], Tapestry): Tenor saxophonist, from Brazil, teaches in Massachusetts, eighth album since 2007, two with "Suite" in title, this the third with his nineteen-piece big band, eight of whom are listed as "featured." Latin (Brazilian, at least) touches, sophisticated arranging, solo spots, even a bit of voice (but not too much). B+(**) [cd]

Sexmob: The Hard Way (2023, Corbett vs. Dempsey): Quartet -- Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet), Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone sax, guitar), Tony Scherr (bass, guitar), and Kenny Wolleson (drums) -- goes way back (mostly 1998-2005, occasional records since), here with producer Scotty Hard (beats, synth bass) and scattered guests (John Medeski, Vijay Iyer, DJ Olive). B+(***) [sp]

Alan Sondheim: Galut: Ballads of Wadi-Sabi (2023, ESP-Disk): Wikipedia page describes him as "a poet, critic, musician, artist, and theorist of cyberspace," then talks mostly about the latter: his online writing community, codework concept, aesthetics of virtual environments, his place among postmodernist philosophers. In music, he recorded a couple albums for ESP-Disk in 1967-68, resuming around 2005, especially with his partner Azure Carter (credited here with vocals and anything songlike). Runs long (76 minutes) given a lot of meandering, some with Edward Schneider (alto sax) and/or Rachel Rosenkrantz (bass). Sondheim's own credit is "various instruments." B+(**) [cd]

Star Feminine Band: In Paris (2022, Born Bad): Group of seven girls from Natitingou, in Benin, ages 10-17 (at least when their 2020 debut appeared), sing in French and at least four native languages (Waama, Peul, Bariba, Ditamari). B+(**) [sp]

Ken Vandermark & Hamid Drake: Eternal River (2021 [2023], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Tenor sax and drums duo, their first together although they've played in larger groups. Program consists of two medleys of Don Cherry pieces. B+(***) [bc]

Withered Hand: How to Love (2023, Reveal): Dan Willson, singer-songwriter qua band from Edinburgh, two previous albums from 2009 and 2014. As I understand the back story, he's a recovering Jehovah's Witness, still seeking to find redemption in love, the subject of these deadly serious but strangely gorgeous songs. I'm impressed, but also doubt I'll want to hear this again. B+(***) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Thomas Anderson: The Debris Field: Lo-Fi Flotsam and Ragged Recriminations, 2000-2021 (2000-21 [2023], Out There): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, been throwing out his homemade records since 1989, the barrel scrapings often more compelling than his first-run albums. A- [sp]

William Bell: Never Like This Before: The Complete 'Blue' Stax Singles 1961-1968 (1961-68 [2022], Kent Soul): Soul singer, from Memphis, last name Yarborough, recorded for Stax 1961-74 but hits were infrequent and modest -- his 1961 debut, "You Don't Miss Your Water," may be his best remembered song. Not great, but he was pretty consistent. B+(**) [sp]

William Bell: The Man in the Street: The Complete 'Yellow' Stax Solo Singles 1968-1974 (1968-74 [2023], Kent Soul): A bit less consistent, following the times. B+(**) [sp]

Ornette Coleman: Genius of Genius: The Contemporary Albums (1958-59 [2022], Craft, 2CD): Coleman's first two albums, Something Else!!!! and Tomorrow Is the Question!, repackaged deluxe vinyl but also on CD and digital. Approached after hearing the later Atlantics (The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, etc.) they seemed less than earthshaking (despite the titles and all the exclamation marks), which is to say not quite what you'd instantly recognize as Ornette! Don Cherry is on both, but the former even has a piano (Walter Norris), with long-forgotten Don Payne on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. The second drops the piano, divided bass between Percy Heath (?) and Red Mitchell (??), and has Shelly Manne on drums. B+(***) [sp]

Dredd Foole and the Din: Songs in Heat 1982 (1982 [2023], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Dan Ireton, guitar and vocals, leading a postpunk/noise group that included Roger Miller (Mission of Burma) on organ and guitar, plus a third guitarist (Clint Conley), prepared bass (Martin Swope), and drums (Peter Prescott). Looks like only two of these tracks were released at the time. They are joined by extra tracks from two sessions (one studio, one live), including covers of "Sister Ray" and "Final Solution." More volumes are coming. B+(*) [bc]

Buddy Guy & Junior Wells: Live From Chicago Blues Festival 1964 (1964 [2022], Good Time): Chicago blues duo, guitar and harmonica, destined to become big stars but their debut albums were 1966-68, and their breakthrough was 1972. A bit on the murky side, which is almost an aesthetic. B+(***) [r]

Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens: Music Inferno: The Indestructible Beat Tour 1988-89 (1988-89 [2023], Umsakazo): Breakout stars from the 1986 compilation The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, followed by superb albums by each and together -- his groan gains most from the collaboration, and a justly revered live album from Paris. This was scraped together from several stops in Britain at the time, and is as catchy and moving as you'd expect. A- [sp]

Evan Parker/X-Jazz Ensemble: A Schist Story (2012 [2022], JACC): A single 46:04 piece, recorded "as final result of a full week artistic residency at Schist Villages," in Portugal. Parker is credited with "conduction and saxophone," among 18 musicians, including Luis Vicente (trumpet), Rodrigo Amado (sax), and Luis Lopes (guitar), with cello, viola, and harp. B+(*) [bc]

Oscar Peterson: On a Clear Day: The Oscar Peterson Trio - Live in Zurich, 1971 (1971 [2022], Mack Avenue): Pianist, plus Niels-Henning Řrsted Pedersen (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums), with a previously unreleased live set. Sparkling as ever, but didn't retain much on one quick play. B+(**) [sp]

Abbey Rader/Davey Williams: In One Is All (1999 [2023], Abray): Drummer, part of the 1970s loft scene in New York, moved to Europe but returned in 1989. Williams (1952-2019) was a guitarist, released thirty-some albums from 1977 on, often with LaDonna Smith, Andrea Centazzo, and/or Gunter Christmann. One previous duo with Rader dates from this year. This is a single 52:32 track. B+(**) [bc]

Pharoah Sanders Quartet: Live at Fabrik: Hamburg 1980 (1980 [2023], Jazzline): Tenor saxophonist, followed Coltrane into the avant-garde, establishing himself in a series of 1966-73 Impulse records. He struggled businesswise after that, with a half-dozen albums on Theresa disappearing from print, before returning with several masterpieces in the 1990s, remaining a revered figure up to his death in 2022. But he could still tour, and sounds terrific here on four originals (including "The Creator Has a Master Plan") and a standard, backed by John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), and Idris Muhammad (drums). A- [sp]

Old music:

Star Feminine Band: Star Feminine Band (2020, Born Bad): From Benin, seven girls age 10-17, first album, recorded at Musée Régional De Natitingou and marketed out of France. Both a bit cruder and a bit more charming than their later In Paris. B+(**) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Christian Artmann: The Middle of Life (Sunnyside) [06-02]
  • Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: The Gennett Suite (Patois) [06-09]
  • Orhan Demir: Freedom in Jazz (Hittite) [2019]
  • Orhan Demir: Freedom in Jazz Vol. 2 (Hittite) [2020]
  • Orhan Demir: Freedom in Jazz Vol. 3 (Hittite) [2023]
  • Gerrit Hatcher: Solo Five (Kettle Hole) [05-12]
  • Johan Lindström/Norrbotten Big Band: Johan Lindström & Norrbotten Big Band (Moserobie) [05-12]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 14, 2023


Speaking of Which

Enough for now. Started early but with little enthusiasm, more links and fewer comments, as the Trump articles piled up. While it was gratifying to see Trump lose in court, he came out of the week looking more indomitable than ever.

One article to single out below is the long one by Nathan J Robinson and Noam Chomsky. Sure, it's old news, but it's the root of so much that is happening today (not least in Ukraine). Chomsky has been collecting this book for decades now, but Robinson helps a lot, advancing it beyond the usual dry contempt.


Top story threads:

Trump: On Tuesday, a jury found Trump guilty of sexual assault and defamation of E. Jean Carroll, and fined Trump $5 million. On Wednesday evening, CNN allowed Trump to flip the story, by hosting a "town hall" limited to his rabid followers, where among numerous other blatant lies, he doubled down, defaming Carroll again. Seems like a dubious legal strategy, but masterful politically.

Republicans:

The economy and its politics (including the debt ceiling): I'm seeing a lot of articles recently about how Biden is going to blink and give into McCarthy's extortion demands.

Courts:

Immigration:

  • Ellen Ioanes: [05-14] Title 42 is over. Immigration policy is still broken..

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-14] Immigration is still fueling Trump's political future: No doubt. It's also an issue that Democrats are having a very hard time coming up with a coherent policy on. Republicans are divided between moguls who want cheap labor and bigots who want zero immigration (except, perhaps, when Trump needs his next trophy wife, or someone like Rupert Murdoch wants to buy a television station). They, at least, can compromise on a program that lets the rich enter discreetly, that lets workers in through back channels to keep them powerless, and that displays maximum cruelty to everyone else. Democrats have it much harder: they are torn between loud advocates of even more immigration, even louder pleas for accepting refugees from every godforsaken corner of the world (many fleeing US-backed regimes, and many more from US-condemned ones), while most rank-and-file Democrats don't care much one way or another, but are willing to go along with the pro-immigrant forces because the anti-immigrants are so often racist and xenophobic. I suspect most Democrats would be happy with a reasoned compromise*, but Republicans like having a broken system they can campaign against without ever having to fix, so there's no one to compromise with. And in a world governed by sound bites, the demagogue always come off as strong and clear while the sophisticate looks muddled and middling.

  • Nicole Narea: [05-11] The seismic consequences of ending Title 42.

  • Tori Otten: [05-11] House Republicans pass immigration bill that would completely destroy asylum process.

*For a compromise, how about this? Clean up the undocumented backlog by allowing citizenship or subsidized return. Impose quotas to cut back on new immigration rates, at least for a few years. Figure out a way to distribute refugees elsewhere, subsidizing alternate destinations. (Everybody deserves to live somewhere safe and healthy, but that doesn't have to be the US.) And stop producing so many refugees (war, economic, climate) -- this may require more foreign aid (and not the military kind). And do real enforcement against illegal immigrants, including thorough checks on employment. But also get due process working.

Environment:

Artificial intelligence and other computations: Vox has a whole section on The rise of artificial intelligence, explained, and a few other articles have popped up. I've barely poked around in all this material, partly because I have my own ideas about what AI can and/or should do -- I had a fairly serious interest in the subject back in the 1980s, but haven't kept up with it -- and partly because I'm dubious about how it might affect me. (Although, as someone with serious writers block, this title caught my eye: If you're not using ChatGPT for your writing, you're probably making a mistake.

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [05-12] Diplomacy Watch: China's top diplomat earns mixed reception in Europe.

  • Anatol Lieven/Jake Werner: [05-12] Yes, the US can work with China for peace in Ukraine.

  • Eve Ottenberg: [05-12] Beltway mediocrities bumble toward Armageddon.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [05-11] Trump tells CNN town hall: 'I want everyone to stop dying' in Ukraine. He actually has some points here, including the point about how calling Putin a war criminal only makes it harder to get to a deal. His brags that Putin wouldn't have invaded if Trump was president, and that if he were president, he'd end the war within 24 hours, seem pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself: would Putin have been more likely to invade knowing that he had a indifferent US president who wouldn't fight back, or because he feared he was being pushed into a corner by Biden's much more militant backing of an increasingly hardline Zelinsky? I find the latter much more plausible, but the conventional wisdom would argue that strengthening support for Ukraine should have deterred a Putin attack. Sure didn't work out that way.

  • Robert Wright: [05-12] The ultimate Blob blind spot: A recent Foreign Affairs has a batch of five pieces by foreign policy experts in the global south, casting into relief how Americans fail to see how others sees them. That leads to a lecture on the lack of "cognitive empathy" as a key defect among Blob thinkers. That's true enough, but I think there's a simpler and easier solution, which is to check your hubris and to admit that most things beyond your borders are beyond your control.

World:


Other stories:

Andrew Cockburn: [05-07] Getting the defense budget right: A (real) grand total, over $1.4 trillion: Significantly more than the already obscenely high $842 billion Department of Defense appropriation.

Ben Ehrenreich: [05-10] How climate change has shaped life on earth for millenia: Review of Peter Frankopan: The Earth Transformed: An Untold Story, which attempts to reframe all of human (and for that matter geologic) history in terms of climate change -- that being something we've lately noticed matters.

David A Farenthold/Tiff Fehr: [05-14] How to raise $89 million in small donations, and make it disappear: "A group of conservative operatives using sophisticated robocalls raised millions of dollars from donors using pro-police and pro-veteran messages. But instead of using the money to promote issues and candidates, an analysis by The New York Times shows, nearly all the money went to pay the firms making the calls and the operatives themselves, highlighting a flaw in the regulation of political nonprofits." Not to mention a flaw in the enforcement of consumer fraud laws.

Ed Kilgore: [05-08] Democrats shouldn't freak out over one really bad poll.

Erin Kissane: Blue skies over Mastodon: General piece on Twitter-alternatives, which in turn lead to Mike Masnick: Six Months In: Thoughts on the Current Post-Twitter Diaspora Options. Just FYI. Neither piece has convinced me to sign up for either, although it's fairly clear that my Twitter following is in decline (followers 591, but views on latest Music Week notice down to 227).

Eric Levitz: [05-11] Do the 'Woke' betray the left's true principles? A review of Susan Neiman's book, Left Is Not Woke. I'm all for emphasizing the primacy of the left-right axis, but I don't see much practical value in opposing that to woke. On the other hand, Levitz's take on "toxic forms of identity politics" are well taken. I recall from my own political evolution how I started out with a deep antipathy to rationalism, but changed my mind when I discovered that reason could lead to the right answers I had intuited, but put them on a much firmer basis.

David Owen: [04-24] The great electrician shortage: "Going green will depend on blue-collar workers. Can we train enough of them before time runs out?" Plumbers, too. I've spent months trying to get a plumber to fix a floor drain, which no one seems to want to touch. I'm tempted to rent a jackhammer and deal with it myself, but then again, I'm also a bit scared to.

Andrew Prokop: [05-12] The potential indictment of Hunter Biden, explained. If you care, some parameters. Worst case is that he's a fuck up who got sloppy on his taxes. Trump would say that makes him smart. The gun form is supposedly the clearest violation, but how often is that seriously investigated?

Nathan J Robinson:

Aja Romano: [05-12] Why the Vallow-Daybell murders are among the bleakest in true crime memory: I normally skip right over mundane crime stories, but the author is right, that this one is profoundly unsettling, not just for what a couple of very crazy people did but for the broader cultural roots of where their thoughts came from. By the way, Rexburg, Idaho, rings a bell: it was once described as the most Republican town in America.

Dylan Scott: [05-10] 3 things you should know about the end of the Covid public health emergency: "A hidden experiment in universal health care is about to end."

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-12] Roaming Charges: Neely Don't Surf: Starts off with the murder of Jordan Neely in a NYC subway car by Daniel Penny, who "loved surfing." He then links to a Clash song: "Charlie Don't Surf".

A society that systematically victimizes people tends to reflexively blame its victims for their own misfortune: poverty, hunger, chronic illness, homelessness, mental distress and, as we're witnessing once again with the case of Jordan Neely, even their own deaths.

Traditionally, this role has fallen to the New York Times and when it came to the murder on the F train they sprang into action. . . .

Penny is described as easy going, a people person, an unstressed former Marine who loved surfing. Yes, he too was jobless, but unlike Neely, he had aspirations. He wanted to become a bartender in Manhattan and a good citizen in the city he loved.

When the Times turns to Neely, we are treated to sketches in urban pathology -- the portrait a troubled black youth, who has been in decline since high school. His life is reduced to his rap sheet, his arrests, his confinements to the psych ward. . . . Neely is depicted as ranting, homeless, troubled, erratic, violent, mentally ill and ready to die. It's almost as if we're meant to believe that Neely's murder was a case of "suicide by vigilante." He was, the story implies, almost asking for someone to kill him.

After protests, NYC prosecutors finally announced that they will charge Penny "with Manslaughter in the Second Degree, which is classified as a Class C Non-Violent Felony, where first-time offenders often receive a non-incarceratory sentence, usually of probation."

Matt Taibbi, et al: [05-10] Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex: The top 50 organizations to know: Taibbi wrote the introduction, which ginned up the title, while others wrote the profiles that follow. The organizations include a broad mix of non-profits with a few companies and government sections thrown in. They give you a good idea of who's monitoring the internet to identify misinformation. They may do a lot of complaining, but few have any actual ability to censor, which makes this one of the more tenuous X-industrial complex coinages.

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Monday, May 8, 2023


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40158 [40117] rated (+41), 44 [48] unrated (-4: 16 new, 28 old).

Two side projects are relevant here. Last week, I pointed out that Rick Mitchell had interviewed me and Geoffrey Himes for his JJA Buzz podcast. The topic was About Jazz Polls. I was pretty nervous about something I've never done before, but some kind souls have assured me it came out ok (a couple better than that). I figured the least I could do was collect my preliminary notes, which are here.

In the meantime, I filled out my DownBeat Critics Poll ballot (all 49 sections), and collected my notes and ruminations here. DownBeat doesn't publish individual voter ballots, so without this cross reference you'll never know how little my single ballot counts for. I will note that I spent more time this year than I've done in a while, but still far less work than I put into the first polls I was invited for.

One consequence of the DownBeat exercise is that I went on a blues kick this week. They had nominated 33 blues albums from April 2022 through March 2023, and I had heard 7 of them (21.2%, which without checking I'd guess is slightly more than usual). I checked out another 16 of them this week, which gets to 69.6%. I found two A- records there (which is two more than I had, so it wipes out my ballot), and two B+(***). Unclear whether I'll search out more, as returns have been diminishing.

I also checked out the Shirley Scott Queen Talk album, which, figuring it belongs with her other queen-sized set, I scooped out of next week's stash to include here.

On Allen Lowe, auteur of this week's two best albums (well, except for Queen Talk), see Phil Overeem's interview, I Will Not Stop Til They Bury Me. Phil also recommended Lowe's book Letter to Esperanza, so I ordered a copy.

For what it's worth, I cobbled another Speaking of Which together over my abbreviated weekend. The week will mostly be remembered for two incidents of mass murder in Texas, only one of which involved guns, and proof that you don't need to gun to murder some one on a New York City subway. (Probably an eye-opener for Trump, who always assumed he'd need a gun when he fulfilled his destiny of shooting someone down on Fifth Avenue.)

Of course, the insult added to this week's injuries is the insistence of Abbott and Cruz in Texas that guns aren't the problem, but mental illness is, and their resolve to budget more money to fix that problem. The one thing you can be sure of is that neither will lift a finger to spend a penny more on mental health. It's not just that they're cruel bastards who don't care a whit for crazy people (even the ones who they depend on for votes). Deep down, they probably understand that more crazy people with guns just helps sell more guns to people crazy enough to buy them.

I no doubt could have written more, but took Saturday off to cook a nice dinner.


New records reviewed this week:

Alaska & Steel Tipped Dove: The Structural Dynamics of Flow (2023, Fused Arrow): Latter is Joseph Fusaro, a beats producer in New York. The former appears to be rapper Tim Baker, also of New York, connected through Atoms Family. Short album (11 tracks, 31:15), underground vibe. "You want to change the world/raise a kid that's not an asshole." B+(**) [sp]

Richard X Bennett & Matt Parker: Parker Plays X (2021 [2023], BYNK): Pianist and saxophonist, names that are hard to search, but I'm still flummoxed that I can't find either on Discogs (in my database, this is my third Bennett album, while I have three more under Parker, so these guys shouldn't be obscure -- ok, he's Matt Parker (4), but only one album listed). Bennett compositions, some designed specifically for Parker, backed by bass and drums, not avant but a bit out there. B+(***) [cd] [05-13]

Tim Berne/Hank Roberts/Aurora Nealand: Oceans And (2022 [2023], Intakt): Alto saxophonist, goes way back, here with cello and accordion/bass clarinet/voice. Chamber jazz? B [sp]

Eric Bibb: Ridin' (2023, Stony Plain): Blues singer-songwriter, cut a couple albums 1972-83, picked up the pace from 1997 on. One of his stronger albums. B+(***) [sp]

David Binney: Tomorrow's Journey (2022, Ghost Note): Alto saxophonist, early records from 1990, picked up the pace after 2001. Postbop guy, impressive chops, gets a little fancy for my taste. Group includes trumpet, trombone, two pianists (Luca Mendoza also on organ), two bassists, drums, and Kenny Wollesen (bowed vibes/percussion). B+(*) [sp]

Rory Block: Ain't Nobody Worried: Celebrating Great Women of Song (2022, Stony Plain): Country blues singer, plays guitar, first album in 1967 was a duet with Stefan Grossman. Career picked up with signing to Rounder in 1981. Since joining Stony Plain in 2008, she's released a series of tributes -- six volumes in her "Mentor Series" (from Son House to Bukka White), and three now in "Power Women of the Blues" (first was Bessie Smith). This one picks eleven scattered pop hits from the 1960s into the early 1970s ("My Guy," "I'll Take You There," "You've Got a Friend"). B+(**) [sp]

Blue Moon Marquee: Scream, Holler & Howl (2021 [2022], Ilda): Blues group, fourth album since 2014, principally A.W. Cardinal (vocals, guitar) and Jasmine Colette (vocals, bass), with a half-dozen guests including Duke Robillard. B+(*) [sp]

Joe Bonamassa: Tales of Time (2023, J&R Adventures): Blues guitarist-singer, thirty-some albums since 2000, more live than studio. This is one of the live ones. Heavy handed, not a great voice, reminds me of why arena rock sucks. B- [sp]

Theo Croker: Live in Paris (2021 [2022], Masterworks, EP): Trumpeter, from Florida, has some funk crossover angles but the best thing I've heard from him in a Miles Davis tribute. Three tracks, 18:56. B+(*) [sp]

Cydnee With a C: Confessions of a Fangirl (2023, Bread & Butter, EP): From Los Angeles, light and bubbly pop though maybe more to the lyrics. Six songs, 13:42. B+(*) [sp]

Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Spirit Gatherer: Tribute to Don Cherry (2022 [2023], Spiritmuse): Percussionist-led trio, goes way back but currently Corey Wilkes (trumpet) and Alex Harding (baritone sax), joined by featured guests here Dwight Trible (voice) and David Ornette Cherry (piano/melodica/douss'n gouni) -- the latter was Cherry's eldest son. Covers often evoking what came to be called "spiritual jazz," from Cherry, Coleman, Coltrane, Monk, and Sanders. I'd prefer fewer vocals. B+(*) [sp]

Ruthie Foster: Healing Time (2022, Blue Corn Music): Blues/folk singer-songwriter from Texas, comes from a family of gospel singers, ninth album since 1997. Strong vocals and decent sentiments. B [sp]

Ice Spice: Like . . ? (2023, 10K Projects/Capitol, EP): Bronx rapper Isis Gaston, six-song, 13:08 EP following a raft of singles, expanded to 16:01 with a second mix of "Princess Diana" (with Nicki Minaj). B+(*) [sp]

Jeremiah Johnson: Hi-Fi Drive By (2022, Ruf): From St. Louis, plays guitar, sings, probably writes, eighth album since 2003, slotted as blues these days but drop the horns and backing singers and he could've passed for rockabilly. Starts with a vintage car some ("'68 Coupe Deville"). Unfortunately, that's the high point. B [sp]

Sass Jordan: Bitches Blues (2022, Stony Plain): British-born (1962) blues/rock singer, name Sarah, moved to Montreal when she was three, tenth album since 1988. Has some depth and grit. B+(*) [sp]

Aynsley Lister: Along for the Ride (2022, Straight Talkin'): British blues singer-songwriter, from Manchester, dozen-plus albums since 1996, doesn't strike me as all that bluesy. B [sp]

London Brew: London Brew (2020 [2023], Concord, 2CD): British jazz group assembled by guitarist Martin Terefe many top London players, including Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings (saxes), Theon Cross (tuba), and Tom Skinner (drums), aiming for an update of Bitches Brew on its 50th anniversary. B+(***) [sp]

Allen Lowe and the Constant Sorrow Orchestra: America: The Rough Cut (2014-22 [2023], ESP-Disk): Saxophonist, a trade he's plied erratically (but sometimes voluminously) since 1988, while writing some of the deepest and broadest surveys of American music. His erudition gives him plenty of references for sprinkling about ("gospel formulations," "pre-blues ruminations," "Hank Williams-directed honky tonk," "Heavy Metal," "anti-tribute to Earl Hines," "hail Jelly Roll Morton," "old-time hillbilly rag," "my own statement on the fallibility of free jazz"), while adding "a personal appeal for a MacArthur." No doubt he deserves one, not least because the reward is meant not just to honor past work but to subsidize further. Nonetheless, I enjoy this record much less than I admire it. Blame that, if you will, on too much metal in the too much guitar. Ends with a stray piece from 2014 which kicks up the horns (Roswell Rudd and Ray Anderson on trombone, Randy Sandke on trumpet, Darius Jones on alto sax) without feeling one bit out of place. A- [cd]

Allen Lowe and the Constant Sorrow Orchestra: In the Dark (2022 [2023], ESP-Disk, 3CD): Lowe's been complaining a lot lately about the state of avant-jazz composition, and seems to think he's found the solution here. I don't begin to understand it technically. It just sounds like he's overcome the modernist impulse and just decided to mix it all together. To that end, he's recruited previously trad players like Ken Peplowski and Lisa Parott, as well as esteemed musicologist Lewis Porter, plus many others I've barely heard of if at all. Casual listening just washes over me, but he's bothered to break this up into 31 pieces, most with historical referents if not baggage. A- [cd]

Taj Mahal: Savoy (2023, Stony Plain): Eclectic roots bluesman Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, started in 1965 in a group with Ry Cooder called Rising Sons, reunited last year in a Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee tribute. Goes back even earlier here, reminiscing about Chick Webb in the Savoy Ballroom (some years before he was born in 1942). He sticks to top shelf songs here, risking comparison to Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Rushing -- even on the sureshot Maria Muldaur duet, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." B+(**) [sp]

Denman Maroney/Scott Walton/Denis Fournier: O KOΣMOΣ META (2021 [2022], RogueArt): Piano-bass-drums trio, recorded in France, which may explain the credit of "piano" instead of the "hyperpiano" Maroney invented way back when -- presumably it's not something easy to schlep around, although he still gets sounds beyond the expected. B+(***) [cd]

Luiz Millan: Brazilian Match (2022 [2023], Jazz Station): Brazilian singer-songwriter, plays piano (though maybe not here; Michel Freidenson has most of the credits, as well as arranger and conductor), fifth album since 2011, many guest credits, especially for vocals. Mostly sambas, some very nice (the female voices), some a bit too lilting and/or swimmy for my taste. B+(**) [cd]

Mud Morganfield: Portrait (2022, Delmark): Father McKinley Morganfield, legendary as Muddy Waters, grew up with his mother as Larry Williams, only took up the family trade in 2008, well after his father's death. (Same for his younger brother, now known as Big Bill Morganfield, who cut his first -- and probably best -- album in 1999.) Still, Mud's vocal likeness is uncanny. He also claims eight (of 14) writing credits (one for his father, and one for John Lee Williamson, aka Sonny Boy I). A- [sp]

Van Morrison: Moving on Skiffle (2023, Exile/Virgin, 2CD): You know him, but you may have avoided as his libertarianism morphed into right-wing crankdom. You might note that he's the right age to have gotten turned on by the skiffle movement before he discovered rock and roll and invented Celtic soul. You might even recall that's recorded with skiffle icons like Lonnie Donegan. But while there's probably some intersection here, the 23 covers here are more often old country and blues standards, and few rise even to today's diminished expectations. B [sp]

John Primer: Teardrops for Magic Slim: Live at Rosa's Lounge (2022 [2023], Blues House): Blues guitarist-singer, born in Mississippi, grew up in Chicago, has recorded steadily since 1991. Live set, all covers, most familiar (two from Elmore James), down pat. B+(***) [sp]

Bruno Rĺberg: Solo Bass: Look Inside (2022 [2023], Orbis Music): Swedish bassist, debut 1976, about 15 albums and 25 side credits. Solo, relatively quiet and short (37:49), touches on pieces by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and the Gershwins. B+(*) [cd] [05-19]

Angela Strehli: Ace of Blues (2022, Antone's/New West): Originally from Lubbock, moved to Austin and worked as stage manager at Antone's. There she released an album in 1987, and was part of the trio Dreams Come True in 1990. Since then she's recorded occasionally (including an album as The Blues Broads with Tracy Nelson and two others), while running a blues club in Marin County, California. Now 77, this is her first since 2005, twelve golden oldies united by guitar and voice that stands up to the originals, even when eclipsing them is impossible. A- [sp]

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Nobody's Fool (2022, Keeping the Blues Alive): British singer-songwriter, identifies as blues, plays guitar, tenth album since 2009. [sp]

Billy Valentine: Billy Valentine and the Universal Truth (2020-22 [2023], Acid Jazz/Flying Dutchman): Blues/jazz/soul singer, recorded as half of the Valentine Brothers 1977-87, made a comeback in 2017 with a collection called Brit Eyed Soul (Beatles to Clash). Relaunches Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman label here, with a set of soul covers (Mayfield to Prince), with a couple nods to the label's old catalog (Gil Scott-Heron, Leon Thomas). B+(***) [sp]

Ally Venable: Real Gone (2023, Ruf): Young blues-rock singer-songwriter from Texas, plays a mean guitar, will kick your ass. B+(*) [sp]

Joe Louis Walker: Weight of the World (2023, Forty Below): Blues singer-songwriter, has recorded quite a bit since 1986's Cold Is the Night. B [sp]

Doug Wamble: Blues in the Present Tense (2022, Halcyonic): Singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2003, this showed up on a blues list, but has a reputation as a jazz guitarist, and adds to that here, backed by Eric Revis (bass) and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), with Prometheus Jenkins on saxophone (which gets the band much more excited than Wamble's vocals do). B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ray Charles: Live in Stockholm 1972 (1972 [2022], Tangerine): Credit continues in small print: "his Orchestra and The Raelettes." (Just eight songs, with intros and applause 38:37, half classic, if that's what you're looking for. B+(*) [sp]

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis With Shirley Scott: Cookin' With Jaws and the Queen: The Legendary Prestige Cookbook Albums (1958 [2023], Craft): Reissues label, main business is putting old sides onto shiny new vinyl, but they also show up on streaming sources. This boxes up four albums, all recorded in 1958 but they spaced out the releases. Jerome Richardson's flute is prominent early, present to the end. Scott's organ gains both groove and subtlety over time. The tenor saxophonist is bluesy and soulful, as fits the material. [Individual notes under Old Music] B+(**) [sp]

Shirley Scott: Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank (1972 [2023], Reel to Real): Organ player, probably best known for her work/marriage with Stanley Turrentine, leads a very hot trio here with George Coleman (tenor sax) and Bobby Durham (drums), recorded live at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore. Trio covers three LP sides (73:13), then singer Ernie Andrews joins for the final side (24:58), and he's no less inspired. A- [sp]

Old music:

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: The Eddie "Lockjaw" Cookbook (1958, Prestige): With Shirley Scott (organ) and Jerome Richardson (flute), who take up a lot of space. B [sp]

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: The Eddie "Lockjaw" Cookbook Vol. 2 (1958 [1959], Prestige): "Featuring Shirley Scott & Jerome Richardson." But the tenor sax leads, more like it. B+(**) [sp]

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis With Shirley Scott: The Eddie "Lockjaw" Cookbook, Volume 3 (1958 [1961], Prestige): Finally beginning to appreciate Jerome Richardson's flute, in doses limited enough they dropped him from cover credit. B+(**) [sp]

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis With Shirley Scott: Smokin' (1958 [1963], Prestige): Possibly the best of the bunch, or maybe just the bluesiest. B+(***) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Devin Gray: Most Definitely (Rataplan) [06-09]
  • Joëlle Léandre/Craig Taborn/Mat Maneri: hEARoes (RogueArt) [05-07]
  • Matt Mitchell: Oblong Aplomb (Out of Your Head) [04-14]

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Sunday, May 7, 2023


Speaking of Which

Got a late start, and really not feeling it this week. Seems like plenty of links, but not a lot of commentary.


Top story threads:

Trump: I got some flak for not taking the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit seriously enough last week, and wound up dropping a couple parenthetical remarks. The case will presumably be wrapped up and given to the jury early next week, so we'll see. One thing I missed was that while Trump cannot be prosecuted for rape (statute of limitations), he can be sued for assault, so this is not just a defamation case. Also, his own deposition makes him look guilty as hell. I'm particularly bothered by the "she's not my type" defense. In order for that to be a thing, he has to have a pretty large population to choose from, and do so with extreme shallowness. (Ok, maybe Trump does have a type, but think about what that says about him.)

Republicans:

More Fox fallout:

Courts:

Slow civil war: Section name derives from Jeff Sharlet's book (see below). Mostly assorted right-wing wackos taking pot shots at whoever, but it doesn't seem to be random circumstance.

Economy:

Ukraine War: Jeffrey St Clair (see below) offers a long quote from an El Pais interview with Lula da Silva, where the key point is: "This war should never have started. It started because there is no longer any capacity for dialogue among world leaders." He didn't single out the US in this regard -- the country he condemned was Russia, which "has no right to invade Ukraine" -- but by focusing on the question of how to prevent wars from starting, the US is most clearly negligent. The US has lost its capacity to act as an advocate for peace because US foreign policy has been captured by the merchants and architects of war.

World:

  • Connor Echols: [05-03] NATO foray into Asia risks driving China and Russia closer together: So, NATO's opening a "liaison office" in Tokyo -- something they've also done in Ukraine, Georgia, Kuwait, and Moldova. As I've noted many times, the prime mission of NATO over the last 10-20 years has been to promote arms sales (mostly US but also European), often by provoking threats. The war in Ukraine would seem to validate their prophecies -- and indeed has been a boon for arms sales, with more to come in Sweden and Finland. A similar US sales pitch has been racking up big sales in Taiwan, so it's not so surprising that European arms makers want a piece of the action, and NATO gives them a calling card. While China is less likely to be bullied into a war, the risks are even greater.

  • Ben Freeman: [05-01] 'Acceptable' versus 'unacceptable' foreign meddling in US affairs: "It all seems to depend on whether the offending nation is an ally or adversary." And (talk about elephants in the room) not even a word here about Israel.

  • Frank Giustra: [05-03] De-dollarization: Not a matter of it, but when. The US has been able to run trade deficits for fifty years because the world has uses for dollars beyond buying American-made goods. (One, of course, is buying American assets, including companies.) But when the US levies sanctions, it motivates others to find alternatives to the dollar, to make themselves less dependent on the US. This has been tempting for a long time, but war with Russia and efforts to intimidate China are quickening the pace.

  • Daniel Larison: [05-05] US military driving and exacerbating violence in Somalia: "Americans have been intervening there for decades. Isn't it past time to ask whether we are the problem?"

  • Blaise Malley: [05-02] In Washington, China is a four-letter word and the excuse for everything: "Lawmakers have introduced nearly 275 measures this session, while bureaucrats are busy using the CCP to justify ballooning budgets."

  • Kiyoshi Sugawa: [05-02] Should Japan defend Taiwan?: Biden says the US will defend Taiwan. It is rare, at least since WWII, for the US to enter into a war without enlisting support of its nominal allies, so this prospect is something every US ally should think long and hard about. Still, it's striking how easily the US has recruited former occupiers into its "coalition of the willing": for Iraq, not only the the UK sign up, but so did Mongolia. Japan occupied Taiwan from 1895-1945, a time that few there remember fondly.


Other stories:

William Hartung/Ben Freeman: [05-06] This is not your grandparents' military industrial complex: "Arsenals of influence, the consolidation of contractors, the blob -- all would make Eisenhower blink with unrecognition."

Ellen Ioanes: [05-06] Serbia's populist president pledges "disarmament" after mass shootings: File this under "it can't happen here." Note that Serbia is tied for the third-highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world (39.1 firearms per 100 residents; US rate is 117.5), but mass shootings are "quite rare" (vs. more than 1 per day in the US). In the two events, a 13-year-old boy killed nine people at a Belgrade-area elementary school, and a day later a 20-year-old killed eight people and wounded 14.

Umair Irfan: [05-01] Smaller, cheaper, safer: The next generation of nuclear power, explained. Still, those terms are only relative, and the old generation of nuclear power plants, which are nearing the end of their planned lifetimes, have set a pretty low bar. I can imagine a scenario where nuclear complements other non-carbon sources of energy, but first you have to solve two problems that are more political than technical: figure out what to do with the waste, and end the linkages between nuclear power and bombs, by disposing of the latter. Of course, you'll still have economic questions: how cost-effective nuclear power is compared to alternatives that are still compatible with climate goals. Even then, perhaps on some level nuclear power is still just too creepy.

Benjamin Keys: [05-07] Your homeowners' insurance bill is the canary in the climate coal mine. As climate disasters mount, their cost is going to be average out over everyone, with the result that insurance will become increasingly unaffordable. For most people, this will happen before actual disasters happen, which will make it hard to see and understand. But in the long run, I think this will fundamentally change the way government has to work.

Tyler Koteskey: [05-04] 'Mission Accomplished' was a massive fail -- but it was just the beginning.

Keren Landman: [05-05] What the ending of the WHO's Covid emergency does (and doesn't) change: "For Americans, the coming [May 11] end of the US public health emergency will have much bigger impacts."

Bruce E Levine: [05-05] Once radical critiques of psychiatry are now mainstream, so what remains taboo?.

Eric Levitz: [05-03] The Biden administration just declared the death of neoliberalism.

Nicole Narea/Li Zhou: [05-05] How New York City failed Jordan Neely: A black, unhoused person, choked to death on a New York subway, by "a white 24-year-old former Marine," who hasn't been named, much less arrested. Also:

Elizabeth Nelson: [05-02] The Ed Sheeran lawsuit is a threat to Western civilization. Really.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-05] Roaming Charges: How White Men Fight.

Emily Stewart: [05-04] What the lottery sells -- and who pays. I know a guy who signs his emails with: "lottery (n.): a tax on stupidity." My reaction was that it's more like a tax on hopelessness, or maybe just on hope, for the set of people who realize they'll never have a chance to make qualitatively more than they have, but are willing to give up a little to gain a rare chance of change. Still, I'm not one of them. I've never bought a ticket or a scratch card of whatever form they take -- even before I got taken to task for using the "if I won the lottery" rhetorical foil (my cousin pointed out that if I did, I'd never be able to tell who my real friends are, which she insisted would be a worse problem than the supposed gain). Still, I'm glad that the state runs the racket, instead of leaving it to organized crime. Same is true for all other forms of gambling. Beware all efforts to privatize them.

Aric Toler/Robin Stein/Glenn Thrush/Riley Mellen/Ishaan Jhaveri: [05-06] War, Weapons and Conspiracy Theories: Inside Airman Teixeira's Online World: "A review of more than 9,500 messages obtained by The New York Times offers important clues about the mind-set of a young airman implicated in a vast leak of government secrets."

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