An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, August 8, 2022
Music: Current count 38474  rated (+44), 77  unrated (+2).
Still pretty down and out, but I forced myself to compile a Speaking of Which, rushed out without any editing Sunday evening (with a couple minor edits today, and a bit more on Taiwan, where my natural predeliction for sanity may have been too optimistic -- after all, I didn't think Putin would invade Ukraine in March, and couldn't imagine continuing the war this long, despite having a pretty good understanding of US provocations).
Nothing much to add to the music below. Pain and ennui may have contributed to the dearth of A-list albums. I had a tough time coming up with things to listen to, and didn't have a lot of patience with those I found. Toward the end of the week, I was desperate enough to start picking items off Chuck Eddy's 2008 list. Of the B+(***) albums, the one I came closest to picking was Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 (much better than the 65/6 at AOTY). Another one that might benefit from extra time is Moten/López/Cleaver. The Expert Witness group seems to really like Amanda Shires, but I didn't hear it.
I'll review Trio Xolo next week, but with nothing else to show for this week, I'm putting the cover stage right. I played it three times before the cutoff without making up my mind, then three more times after. It doesn't drop until Aug. 19, so no need to rush it. Most of what's in the queue doesn't come out until later.
I'll try to catch up on some neglected correspondence later this week. Wish I could say I'm feeling better, but at least I'm coping better.
New records reviewed this week:
49 Winchester: Fortune Favors the Bold (2022, New West): Alt-country band from Virginia, fourth album since 2014. Got twang, will take it all the way to the county line. B [sp]
Omar Apollo: Ivory (2022, Warner): Singer-songwriter from Indiana, parents Mexican, actual name Omar Apolonio Velasco, first album after a couple EPs. Draws on r&b, voice can edge into falsetto, drops in the occasional song in Spanish. B+(**) [sp]
Lee Bains + the Glory Fires: Old-Time Folks (2022, Don Giovanni): Southern rock band, out of Birmingham, fourth album since 2012. Song titles include "Outlaws," "Gentleman," "Rednecks," "Caligula," and "God's A-Working, Man." B+(**) [sp]
Axel Boman: Luz (2022, Studio Barnhus): Swedish electronica producer, singles from 2008, two albums before this year's pair of releases (with Quest for Fire). A couple vocals, valid enough. B+(**) [sp]
Axel Boman: Quest for Fire (2022, Studio Barnhus): More, released same day, separate digital albums, but if you want vinyl, they come packaged as a 3-LP set. I'd give this one a slight edge, both on beats and reduced vocals. B+(***) [sp]
Breath of Air: Breath of Air (2019-20 , Burning Ambulance): Trio of Brandon Ross (guitar), Charles Burnham (violin), and Warren Benbow (drums). Ross only has three albums as a leader, but a lot of side credits going back to Archie Shepp in 1975, including the group Harriet Tubman. B+(***) [bc]
Alan Broadbent Trio: Like Minds (2021 , Savant): Pianist from New Zealand, many abums since 1978, Discogs credits 13 to his Trio, currently with Harvie S (bass) and Billy Mintz (drums). One original, a mix of standards and bop classics. [sp]
Kevin Cerovich: Aging Millennial (2022, CVJ): Trombonist, from Overland Park, Kansas, seems to be his first album (after a stretch in the Airmen of Note). Credits also include drums, vocals, keyboard, bass, guitar, percussion, and programming, as he seems to do it all. I rather like the trombone, but not much else. B [cd]
Dan Clucas/Kyle Motl/Nathan Hubbard: Daydream and Halting (2021 , FMR): Clucas plays cornet, violin, and moxeńo (a wind instrument from Bolivia, looks like a bamboo flute), and is backed by bass and drums. B+(***) [cd]
Caleb Wheeler Curtis: Heat Map (2021 , Imani): Alto/tenor saxophonist, from Michigan, fifth album since 2018, group gets front-cover recognition: Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Strong showing. B+(***) [cd]
Lucky Daye: Candydrip (2022, Keep Cool/RCA): R&B singer-songwriter David Brown, from New Orleans, second album. Nice vibe. B+(***) [sp]
Vladislav Delay: Isoviha (2022, Planet Mu): Finnish electronic musician Sasu Ripatti, who's used several other names (Luomo is one I recognize) going back at least to 1999. This one tripped and fell into some kind of industrial meatgrinder. B [sp]
Duke Deuce: Crunkstar (2022, Quality Control/Motown): Memphis rapper Patavious Isom, third album, an early single called "Crunk Ain't Dead." B+(*)
DJ Black Low: Monate WA Piano EP (2022, Black Low Music, EP): Young South African Amapiano DJ Sam Austin Radebe, album Uwami was picked up last year by Awesome Tapes From Africa. Then this "EP" (6 songs, 33:43) showed up on streaming services with no press, no explanation. Feels sketchy, unrushed. No piano that I can discern. B+(**) [sp]
Doechii: She/Her/Black B*tch (2022, Top Dawg Entertainment/Capitol, EP): Rapper Jaylah Hickman, from Tampa, fourth EP (five tracks, 13:02). B+(**) [sp]
Domi & JD Beck: Not Tight (2022, Apeshit/Blue Note): Self-described as "the internet's most hyped jazz duo": "DOMi" is French "saxophone prodigy" Domitille Degalle, Beck is a "sheep investigator" from Texas. No credits, but I'm hearing keyboards and percussion, fey vocals (more his than hers), and guest spots from Herbie Hancock, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Anderson Paak, Thundercat, Mac DeMarco, Busta Rhymes, and Snoop Dogg. Jazz quotient is about as irreal as their professed interest in quantum physics. B- [sp]
Coco Em: Kilumi (2022, InFiné): Nairobi, Kenya DJ, mixes basic but catchy beats behind guest vocals. Short: 7 songs, 30:19. B+(*) [sp]
Gas: Der Lange Marsch (2021, Kompakt): German ambient techno producer Wolfgang Voigt, released four albums under this alias 1996-2000, three more since 2017. "The Long March" -- mostly uphill. B+(*) [sp]
Ghais Guevara: May Ur Melanin Shield U From Ragnarok (2020, self-released, EP): Philadelphia rapper, virtually no press available on him, but this seems to be the first of several releases. Short and fast (10 songs, 25:36). B+(**) [sp]
Ghais Guevara: There Will Be No Super-Slave (2022, self-released): First full-length album (15 songs, 44:23). Politics a bit more obscure here, but I'm more bothered by the artier turn in the music. B+(*) [sp]
Ghais Guevara: Black Bolshevik (2021, self-released, EP): Eight songs (22:39): "been a rough year, fuck everything else, just prep for the revolution." B+(**) [sp]
Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 (2022, Columbia): Scottish DJ Adam Richard Wiles, called his 2007 debut I Created Disco, released Vol. 1 of this in 2017 -- all of his albums seem to be big hits, so he's rolling in money. He spent some of that on big name guests here (Dua Lipa/Young Thug, Charlie Puth/Shenseea, Justin Timberlake/Halsey/Pharrell Williams, Jorja Smith/Lil Durk, etc.). My choice cut is "New to You," with Normani/Tinashe/Offset riding a cheesy recycled disco riff. B+(***) [sp]
Shawneci Icecold Quartet: Coldtrane (2021, Underground 45): Young pianist who does hip-hop on the side, fell in with some well-known avant-jazz folks: Daniel Carter (reeds), Michael Bisio (bass), and Whit Dickey (drums). Nobody's pushed too hard. Short (34:44). B+(**) [cd]
José Lencastre: Inner Voices (2020-21 , Burning Ambulance): Portuguese saxophonist (alto/tenor), albums since 2017, some very good. This is solo, but mostly tracking two horns (or electronics?), so tends to sound like a small sax choir. B+(*) [bc]
Allison Miller/Carmen Staaf: Nearness (2021 , Sunnyside): Drums and piano duo, second album together. B+(**) [sp]
Moderat: More D4ta (2022, Monkeytown): German electronica supergroup, combining members from Modeselektor and Apparat. Fourth album, following II and III. B+(**) [sp]
John Moreland: Birds in the Ceiling (2022, Thirty Tigers): Country singer-songwriter, bounced around as a child but grew up in Tulsa. Albums since 2008. This one seems rather laid back. B+(*) [sp]
Fred Moten/Brandon Lopez/Gerald Cleaver: Moten/López/Cleaver (2020 , Reading Group): Poet, cultural critic, author of books like In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (2003) and The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, speaks here backed by bass and drums. Seems to be his first album. B+(***) [bc]
Nancy Mounir: Nozhet El Nofous (2022, Simsara): Egyptian singer, plays violin and other instruments, first album, sounds rather antiquated. B [sp]
Nakama: New World (2021 , Nakama): Norwegian collective/label, half-dozen albums as a group since 2015, more for individuals (especially bassist-composer Christian Meaas Svendsen) and other side projects. Quintet: two sax/clarinet players (Klaus Ellerhusen Holm and Andreas Rřysum), piano (Ayumi Tanaka), bass (Svendsen), and drums (Andreas Wildhagen). B+(**) [bc]
Rico Nasty: Las Ruinas (2022, Sugar Trap/Atlantic): Rapper Maria-Cecilia Kelly, second album or eighth mixtape (sources differ). B+(**) [sp]
Maggie Rogers: Surrender (2022, Capitol): Singer-songwriter from Maryland, graduate of Harvard Divinity School, second album, 2019 debut charted 2, so this is getting a lot of attention. Starts off solid enough. B+(*)
The Sadies: Colder Streams (2022, Yep Roc): Canadian alt-country band, debut 1998, backed Neko Case and collaborated with Jon Langford, founder Dallas Good died in February (evidently after this was recorded). I don't hear much country in this one. B
Serengeti: Kaleidoscope III (2022, Audio Recon): Chicago rapper David Cohn, very prolific since 2003. I've found three versions of this: a 5-track EP on Spotify, and both 9- and 12-track versions on Bandcamp, with similar but different titles (the latter seems to be available on CD or vinyl, which appeals to my sense that physical objects are the real thing). Stories interesting enough, but flows so easily it seems a bit slight. B+(**) [bc]
Amanda Shires: Take It Like a Man (2022, ATO): Country singer-songwriter, fiddle player, seventh album since 2005. Some striking songs, some bogged down in strings. B+(**) [sp]
Sinkane: Cartoons of the Night Vol. 1: Live 2019 (2019 , City Slang): Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab, born in London, parents from Sudan, moved to US when he was 5, tenth album since 2007. B- [bc]
Miró Henry Sobrer: Two of Swords (2022, Patois): Trombonist, first album, "a rhythmically harged homage to Catalonian artists," in two "acts," mostly narrated by Francesca Sobrer, with other vocals, but most appealing is the trombone. B+(**) [cd]
Whatever the Weather: Whatever the Weather (2022, Ghostly International): British electronica producer Loraine James, three albums under her own name, tries her hand at ambient here: never an exciting move. B [sp]
Jack White: Entering Heaven Alive (2022, Third Man): Former White Stripe, fifth solo album, second this year, no better than the previous. B- [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Kabaka International Guitar Band: Kabaka International Guitar Band (1977 , Palenque): Nigerian Igbo highlife group, led by G. Kabaka Opara, Discogs lists 13 albums 1977-89. Text says this was recorded in the mid 80s, but the four songs all appear on a 1977 album. B+(***) [bc]
The Chap: Mega Breakfast (2008, Lo/Ghostly International): British experimental pop band, 7 albums 2001-12, two since then (2015, 2019). Has a jerky insouciance that might prove interesting if you're into that sort of thing. B+(**) [sp]
New Bloods: The Secret Life (2008, Kill Rock Stars): Art-punk band from Portland, three women, violin-bass-drums, all sing some, none notably. Eleven songs count as an album, even if they only add up to 23:36. Comes close but slips a bit toward the end. B+(***) [bc]
Ashlee Simpson: Bittersweet World (2008, Geffen): Short-lived pop star, younger sister of Jessica Simpson, released three albums 2004-08, first two platinum, got dropped when this one fell short, has done some acting since, and a 2018 EP with husband Evan Ross (Ashlee + Evan). B+(**) [sp]
Joris Teepe Quintet: For Adults Only (1998 , Postcards): Dutch bassist, debut 1995, recorded this in New York at Smalls Jazz Club, features two saxophonists he had been working with (Don Braden and Chris Potter), David Hazeltine (piano), and Bruce Cox (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 7, 2022
Speaking of Which
After the Kansas referendum on abortion rights, I figured I should post something this week. I've felt all along that the amendment would be defeated in a fair election, while also recognizing that nothing in the wording or scheduling of this issue was meant to be fair. Some of my reasoning is explained below. Of course, even the margin won't alter the will of the anti-abortion forces to come up with some other way to strip Kansans of their rights. The next big battle will be in November, when Kansas elects a new governor: the Republican legislature will continue to pass outlandish bills, but if Democrat Laura Kelly wins they'll have to override her veto. (Republicans currently hold a "veto-proof" majority, but just barely, so we'll also be closely watching minor shifts there.)
Underreported below is the Ukraine War, which continues to grind on, with Ukraine making minor progress in the South toward Kherson, and Russia trying to expand its Donbas enclaves. The war itself has mostly degenerated to long-distance shelling. (Most alarming: Rocket attacks at Zaporizhzhia power plant raise fears of 'nuclear catastrophe'.) Meanwhile, no reported interest on any side for cease fire and talks (other than allowing one ship of grain to leave Odesa).
In late-breaking news, [08-07] Senate approves Inflation Reduction Act, clinching long-delayed health and climate bill, with concessions to Manchin and Sinema, including Republicans block cap on insulin costs for millions of patients (vote was 57-43 in favor of the cap, but in our great democracy that wasn't enough). Vox has an explainer. Also Rebecca Leber: The Senate just passed one of the biggest bills to fight climate change, ever.
Spencer Ackerman: [08-01] First Impressions on the Execution of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Author calls his blog "Forever Wars," of which this is another mark in the forever timeline. Like many other markers, this could be used as a pivot point to exiting the process which generates future terrorists faster than it can wipe them out. Related:
David Badash: [08-06] Rick Scott tells CPAC Democrats' policies are 'evil,' the 'militant left' is the 'enemy' and the 'greatest danger we've ever faced': I've been reading Heather Cox Richardson's history of the Republican Party, To Make Men Free, which recounts Republican claims that Democrats were set on destroying the country going back to the 1870s. (Evidently, the red baiting started immediately after the 1871 Paris Commune, although the Federalists made similar complaints about the Jacobins in the 1790s.) With the New Deal in the 1930s, when it was the Democrats who saved America from the greatest economic collapse in American history, Republican hysteria only became more strident. That Republicans like Scott are dialing their madness up even more now just shows that even they recognize that they have no solutions for our increasingly perilous problems. Of course, Scott was just warming up the crowd for the main event. See Bob Brigham: [08-07] Trump at CPAC: 108 minutes in speech filled with 'unapologetic fascism'.
Peter Baker: [08-04] U.S. Offer to Swap Russian Arms Dealer for Griner Highlights Uncomfortable Choices: The arms dealer is Viktor Bout, arrested in and extradited from Thailand on charges that could just as easily be levied against hundreds of American arms merchants, but the US is one of the very few nations with the means and will to pursue such cases. Brittany Griner, at least, was in Russia when she committed her "crime" -- one which, until recently, the US would have prosecuted her for, though she's enough of a celebrity she would likely have gotten off lightly in our vastly unequal system of justice. (Jeffrey St Clair, link below, notes that "Griner's 9.5-year sentence is actualy 6 months less than John Sinclair got for possession of 2 joints in Michigan in 1971.) In Russia, however, her celebrity may be working against her: while her incarceration isn't winning Putin any "hearts and minds," it does remind us he still wields considerable power. Still, I didn't flag this piece because I want to weigh the relative merits of injustice here and there, or the delicate balance of incentives involved in prisoner swaps. I just want to remind you that the world would be simpler and fairer if we had an international law and protocol that allowed political prisoners to go into exile if they find willing host countries. Both Bout and Griner would easily qualify, without all the messiness of negotiations. And the US wouldn't embarrass itself trying to extradite Julian Assange. PS: Some background history: Here are some prisoner swaps that freed Americans.
Nina Burleigh: [07-31] Right-Wing Extremists Are Making Fiction Come True: "Can Democrats craft a winning message off a smorgasbord of misogynist madness?"
Kevin Carey: [08-03] Why Is America Fractured? Blame College, a New Book Argues. Review of Will Bunch: After the Ivory Tower Falls. I recall Bunch writing a good book about how bad Ronald Reagan was: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009).
Amy Cheng: [08-05] Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, the first state to do so post-Roe; Amber Phillips/Tom Hamburger: [08-06] Abortion law in Indiana leads to fallout for state, politics; Ellen Francis: [08-06] 'Not her body, not her choice': Indiana lawmakers on abortion ban: One thing the Kansas vote didn't do was to dissuade Indiana Republicans from passing the first post-Dobbs abortion ban law. For a summary, see Amanda Marcotte: [08-05] Republicans learn the lesson of Kansas: Indiana takes repulsive abortion debate behind closed doors.
Fabiola Cineas: [08-05] Why the Justice Department made a move in the police killing of Breonna Taylor. It may not be possible to prosecute cops for going on a wanton killing spree, but that doesn't excuse them from filing false and misleading paperwork.
David Gelles: [08-05] How Republicans Are 'Weaponizing' Public Office Against Climate Action: "A Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases." Sometimes "evil" is not hyperbole.
Tareq S Hajjaj/Yumna Patel: [08-05] 10 Palestinians, one child, killed in Israeli attack on Gaza. Israel decided they could assassinate one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad. The rest were collateral damage. Islamic Jihad "retaliated" with some rockets (which didn't hit anyone), so expect Israel to escalate its slaughter. For updates: [08-06] Gaza's only power plant shuts down as Israeli airstrikes continue; and [08-07] Gaza death toll climbs to 43 amid ceasefire reports.
Steph Herold: [08-03] Hollywood's Role in Stigmatizing Abortion. Good article as far as it goes, but it misses one key point, which is that abortions don't work as stories: typically, a woman has a few bad days fretting over the decision, then makes it, does it, and gets on with her life. A rare example where you saw exactly that was in Prime Suspect, where it took up no more than 5 minutes in a season about something else. However, had that happened in the movie Juno, that would have been the end of the story -- instead, it turned into this really ridiculous fairy tale of a young-but-actually-loving couple generously giving their baby away to a rich-but-likable older couple. It's easy to think of movies that helped people get past traditional bigotry, racism and homophobia, but that's because they could build relatable stories around them. Those stories are a big part of why the right so hates Hollywood. But abortion isn't that kind of story, so it's always been easiest just to ignore it.
Fred Kaplan: [08-02] Nancy Pelosi Just Lit a Match at the Dynamite Factory. On the House Speaker's much publicized trip to Taiwan, occurring as it does as the Biden administration has been talking up China as a potential enemy while bankrolling a major war in Ukraine. Also:
Ezra Klein: [08-07] I Didn't Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message: A dive into some media theorists (especially Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman), finding they were onto something. Klein covers the same territory in his interview with Sean Illing [07-26] How We Communicate Will Decide Whether Democracy Lives or Dies. Illing interviews book authors for Vox, but having co-written a book (The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion, with Zac Gershberg), he contrived for Margaret Sullivan to interview him: [07-31] Free speech is essential for democracy. Could it also be democracy's downfall?.
Jonathan Martin: [08-07] Liz Cheney Is Ready to Lose. But She's Not Ready to Quit. I'm ready for her to lose, too, but I wouldn't be surprised if she survives: people in Wyoming don't like to be told what to do, even by morons like Trump. And while I don't mind giving her credit for her work on the January 6 Committee, we should be clear that if she managed to survive and recast the Republican Party in her image, it wouldn't be one iota better than the degenerate party she declaims. Also: Liz Cheney's Latest Fans: Democratic Donors: What a waste!
Jane Mayer: [08-06] State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy: Ohio, for example.
Casey Michel: [08-04] The Kleptocrat Who Bankrolled Rudy Giuliani's Dive for Dirt on Biden: Dmitro Firtash.
Ian Millhiser: [08-02] The uncomfortable problem with Roe v. Wade. A fairly deep and useful background piece on Roe v. Wade and its recent overturn, touching on questions of due process and enumerated vs. unenumerated rights. Much of this will be familiar to readers of Millhiser's Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.
Viet Thanh Nguyen: [07-22] Asking "What About . . . ?" Is Essential to Achieving Justice: "Selective empathy prevents us from making connections." War in Ukraine is most obviously on his mind, but he offers examples going back to the 1864 Sand Creek massacre (which reminded me of a crusade in medieval Europe, where the order was to kill everyone, leaving it to God to sort the innocent from the guilty). From Vietnam, he notes that Lt. William Calley was convicted of murder at My Lai, but "a considerable portion of the American people sympathized more with the American murderer . . . than with the Vietnamese dead." With this in mind, feel free to read Masha Gessen: [08-01] The Prosecution of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine, where Ukrainians have identified 25,000 cases so far, but I'd wager none of them involve victims of Ukrainian firepower, even among their own people. Sure, one might argue that none of these crimes would have occurred had Russia not invaded, so Putin bears a unique responsibility there, but it also seems clear that Ukraine and its suppliers and cheerleaders haven't put a lot of effort into negotiating an end to this war. And once again, Americans are especially conspicuous among the self-sanctifiers.
Alex Pareene: [07-11] The Never-Ending War on the Woke: "Or what the Democratic center has failed to learn over the past three decades." Or what it's learned all too well: that the more threatening Republicans seem, the better they can deliver on their own value-proposition, which is to keep the left down, so "centrist" Democrats can deliver greater profits to the rich donors they cultivate. Pareene starts with the example of 1994, where at least some of Clinton's strategists cheered on the Gingrich revolution as a way to neutralize the "dead wood" Democrats who had dominated Congress as far back as any of them could remember. Having demolished the Party (and especially its labor base), liberal Democrats had little choice but to rally behind Clinton in 1996, and a second term that sowed seeds for the disastrous Bush terms to follow. Obama's 2014 debacle followed suit, not least because he stocked his administration with Clintonian "centrists." And now Biden is widely expected to blow 2022 as badly. But I'd submit that things are different this time. The only constant is that the "centrist" hacks are still working to prevent change, but who's listening to them any more? How can anyone seriously believe that Democrats would do better if only they were more racist? (E.g., see Eric Alterman: [08-05] It's Not Wokeism That Threatens Our Democracy.)
John J Pitney Jr: [08-05] Democrats Are Running as Opposition Party: "This year, the Supreme Court and Trump have made it possible for Democrats to run as a check on Republican extremism."
Nathan J Robinson:
Kevin Roose: [08-06] Don't Expect Alex Jones's Comeuppance to Stop Lies: The trial went against Jones, ordering him to pay $45 million to parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. I'm not much in favor of defamation lawsuits, but Jones crossed a lot of lines, and did so knowingly and maliciously, so some kind of comeuppance is in order. "But, even if Mr. Jones's career is ruined, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty will live on -- strengthened, in some ways, by the knowledge of exactly how far you can push a lie before consequences kick in."
Richard Silverstein: [08-05] Aipac Pumps $30-Million into Democratic Primaries to Defeat Israel Critics. Israel not only interferes with US elections more than Russia, they don't even try to hide it.
Sarah Smarsh: [08-03] Why the Defense of Abortion in Kansas Is So Powerful. Author grew up here, and wrote a powerful memoir that was especially conscious of the hardships and dim prospects endured by teenage mothers (Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth). More pieces on the Kansas vote:
Jeffrey St Clair: [08-05] Roaming Charges: The Mad-Eyed Lady of Pac Heights. I've been recommending his columns regularly, figuring his insights make up for his occasional lapses of taste and decorum. But his opening screed on Pelosi and Taiwan goes way beyond my own criticisms, and I never care for his regular potshots at Bernie Sanders (even if one also hits Rand Paul). So, fine, skip the first half, and read about Brianna Grier. Also the one about the Oklahoma Board of Education.
Amy B Wang: [08-03] Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs: This tells us two things: one is that Johnson doesn't have the vaguest idea how Medicare and Social Security work, so he has no idea how hard it is to replace them with any other even remotely acceptable scheme; the other is that he wants to kill them, but for now he'll settle for being able to hold them ransom every year so they can extort concessions, like Republicans currently do with the debt limit. If people understood what he was asking for, public support would be less than 5% (although it could still be a majority of the people who donate to his campaign, especially if weighted by how much). Which raises another question: Michelle Cottle: [08-07] Why Is Ron Johnson Still Competitive Despite, You Know, Everything?
Li Zhou/Natalie Jennings: [08-03] 4 winners and 1 loser from the Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, and Michigan primaries: I don't think I've commented on any primary elections before this week, and I don't have much to say here. The only races I'm seriously interested in are ones that pit D vs. R, and it doesn't much matter to me which D or which R. So while I would have preferred Andy Levin and Lucas Kunce to have won their primaries, I'll happily take the less promising Democrats who won, and mildly dissent from the notion of "Loser: Progressives." As for "Winner: Democratic meddling in GOP races," I think that's dubious tactically, but it matters little to me whether Peter Meijer or his Trump-backed challenger won. I'm also dubious about how big a trend that is, or whether cross-voting D's had much effect. I know Democratic-leaners here in KS who register R so they can vote in contested and more consequential primaries, but I've never heard of one voting for the more toxic candidate (e.g., Kris Kobach). In any case, the numbers are so vanishingly small it's hard to see them ever having any effect. Perhaps when it comes to donors, it's more of a thing, but no more likely to work. Amy Davidson Sorkin: [08-03] A Bad Democratic Bet in the GOP Primaries talks mostly about Peter Meijer's primary loss, but if he really wanted Democrats to support him, shouldn't he have switched parties? And short of that, why should we care? And if this really is a thing, is there any reason not to think that Republican donors aren't doing the same thing to Democrats?
Monday, August 1, 2022
Music: Current count 38430  rated (+47), 75  unrated (-2).
Nothing much to say this week, except I'm still here, and functional at a fairly minimal level.
Recommended music links:
New records reviewed this week:
Beabadoobee: Beatopia (2022, Dirty Hit): British pop singer-songwriter, Beatrice Laus, originally from the Philippines, second album. B+(***) [sp]
Beyoncé: Renaissance (2022, Parkwood/Columbia): Last name Knowles, started out in the group Destiny's Child -- no need to note that any more. She is probably the biggest pop star in America, at least since her 2013 eponymous album, although she's less familiar to me than any contender I can think of (unless Mariah Carey or Katy Perry count?). I thought her first 3-4 albums were crap, and even when she got better, I doubt I've played any of them more than 3-4 times. I'm tempted to attribute the improvement to hiring better people. She employs a lot of them here, recycling riffs from disco and house, and burying herself deep in the mix. Much of it is remarkable, but elusive, and when I do recognize something, I remember it better. B+(***)
Jane Ira Bloom/Mark Helias: Some Kind of Tomorrow (2020 , Radio Legs): Pandemic lockdown project, soprano sax and bass duets. B+(**) [sp]
Jane Ira Bloom: Picturing the Invisible: Focus 1 (2022, self-released): Soprano saxophonist, duets with Allison Miller (drums), Miya Misaoka (koto), and Mark Helias (bass), "inspired by the science photography of legendary NYC photographer Berenice Abbott," recorded by Ulrike Schwarz of Anderson Audio. Digital only, can't find any label claim. B+(***) [sp]
Steve Cardenas/Ben Allison/Ted Nash: Healing Power: The Music of Carla Bley (2021 , Sunnyside): Guitar, bass, reeds. Bley has been covered more extensively than any other composer of her generation, but I still can't pick her tunes out, and don't get what makes her stand out. Still, very nice pieces. B+(***) [sp]
Do'a: Higher Grounds (2022, Outside In Music, EP): Jazz singer, plays guitar and piano, grew up in Albania, of "German/Italian/Iranian" ancestry, recorded this eclectic short album (7 songs, 26:11) with a mostly Latin band working remotely. "I Fall in Love Too Easily" is a touchstone. B+(*) [cd]
Steven Feifke: The Role of the Rhythm Section (2022, La Reserve): Pianist, based in New York, has a previous big band album, this one an upbeat trio with Dan Chmielinski (bass) and Bryan Carter (drums). B+(*) [sp]
William Flynn: Seaside (2019 , OA2): Guitarist, apparently his first album, is Director of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University (no, I don't know him, pathetic as that seems), wrote this during a month-long winter retreat in Seaside, Florida, and recorded it in Kansas City with piano-bass-drums, voice on two tracks. B+(**) [cd]
Ronnie Foster: Reboot (2022, Blue Note): Organ player, had a run of albums on Blue Note 1972-75, a couple more for Columbia (to 1979), side work with George Benson and Stevie Wonder, returns with his first album in 36 years. Covers include Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," and a vocal on "Hey Good Lookin' Woman." B+(*) [sp]
J-Hope: Jack in the Box (2022, HYBE): South Korean rapper Jung Ho-seok, first studio album after a 2018 mixtape, but much better known as a member of BTS. Part English, part Korean -- the latter means nothing to be, but the beats feel agreeably cartoonish. B+(*)
Sheila Jordan: Live at Mezzrow (2021 , Cellar Live): She makes it sound like she started as a groupie chasing after Charlie Parker, but she was singing in Detroit before the move to New York, and she studied with Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus before she married Duke Jordan. But aside from a song for George Russell and a 1962 album for Blue Note, she didn't start recording regularly until she was 36, with Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer. After that, she didn't slow down until her 80s, and did this live set at 92, intimately backed by piano (Alan Broadbent) and bass (Harvie S) -- both have long been devoted to her. Her voice no longer stops you in your tracks, and her timing is no longer perfect, but she still scats and ad-libs, so you hang on every word. B+(***) [sp]
Geoffrey Keezer & Friends: Playdate (2021-22 , MarKeez): Pianist, albums since 1988, played in Art Blakey's final 1990 band (post-Marsalis, but with Brian Lynch, Steve Davis, Javon Jackson, and Essiet Essiet). Friends here include Ron Blake (tenor/soprano sax), Shedrick Mitchell (organ), Richie Goods (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums), as well as guest spots, including too many strings. B+(*) [cd] [08-12]
Stan Killian: Brooklyn Calling (2021 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, from Texas, based in New York, third album, quartet with Paul Bollenback (guitar), bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Gerard Lebik/John Edwards/Paul Lovens: Lepomis Gibbosus (2015 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Tenor saxophonist, from Poland, Discogs lists 10 albums since 2010, in a trio with bass and drums. Impressive together, but slips into too many doldrums. B+(*) [bc]
Lizzo: Special (2022, Atlantic/Nice Life): R&B singer Melissa Jefferson, fourth album, breakthrough was her third, so this seems more like a second: starts strong, drags a bit. B+(**)
Mabel: About Last Night . . . (2022, Polydor): Last name McVey, middle name Alabama-Pearl, father is English music producer Cameron McVey, mother is Neneh Cherry, 2019 debut album was called High Expectations. Second album, cover photo sports blonde hair and lighter skin, but I suppose it could be her. Beats similar to her mother's best albums, none of the songs hook like "Buffalo Stance." B+(**) [sp]
Francisco Mela/Shinya Lin: Motions Vol. 1 (2021 , 577): Cuban drummer, has been leaning toward free jazz in recent records, in a duo with the New York-based prepared pianist, who cites John Cage and Cecil Taylor as influences. B+(***) [bc]
Meridian Odyssey: Earthshine (2021 , Origin): Seattle sextet, second album, recorded this in Alaska (where guitarist Martin Budde hails from). Drummer Xavier Lecouturier produced, most of the group contribute songs, including Santosh Sharma (tenor sax), Noah Halpern (trumpet), Dylan Hayes (piano), and Noah Feldman (bass). Natty postbop. B+(*) [cd]
Flo Milli: You Still Here, Ho? (2022, RCA): Rapper Tamia Monique Carter, from Mobile, first studio album after a 2020 mixtape (Ho, Why Is You Here?). B+(**)
Tobin Mueller: Prestidigitation (2022, self-released): Keyboard player, several albums since 2005, also plays rock but this doesn't sound like fusion. More like big band, but the credits don't bear that out. Paul Nelson plays guitar, and Woody Mankowski sings "America," which I found touching at first, then cloying. B- [cd]
Nina Nastasia: Riderless Horse (2022, Temporary Residence): Folkie singer-songwriter, from Los Angeles, seventh album since 2000, first since 2010. Just guitar and voice, but rings true enough. B+(*) [sp]
Sinéad O'Brien: Time Bend and Break the Bower (2022, Chess Club): Irish spoken word poet, music has a dark, atmospheric allure. B+(***) [sp]
Peaness: World Full of Worry (2022, Totally Snick): Three women, guitar-bass-drums indie pop band from Chester, England, second album (but billed as their debut). B+(**) [sp]
Phelimuncasi: Ama Gogela (2022, Nyege Nyege Tapes): Gqom trio from Durban, South Africa. Beats are hard and dense, and vocals blend in (not that I could understand them anyway, although I gather there is a political dimension). A- [sp]
Carol Sloane: Live at Birdland (2019 , Club 44): Jazz singer, debut 1962, recorded regularly up to 2010, was 82 when she recorded this set of standards, backed by Mike Renzi (piano, d. 2021), Jay Leonhart (bass), and Scott Hamilton (tenor sax). B+(***) [sp]
Spinifex: Beats the Plague (2021, Trytone): Sextet based in the Netherlands, with saxophonists Tobias Klein and John Dikeman, trumpet (Bart Maris), guitar (Jasper Stadhouders), bass (Gonçalo Almeida), and drums (Philipp Moser), with albums as far back as 2005. They claim an interest in fusion, more punk than funk, but it mostly manifests as noise. More interesting is when they cut loose and play free. B+(**) [cd]
Jamie T: The Theory of Whatever (2022, Polydor): British singer-songwriter, last name Treays, fifth album since 2007, other albums have charted top-ten in UK and nowhere else. Has some talent, but nothing makes me want to figure out what or how. B [sp]
Xiomara Torres: La Voz Del Mar (2022, Patois): Colombian singer, working with Bay Area vibraphonist Dan Neville and others, mostly exploring Afro-Colombian tunes from the Cali region. Odd song out is "Let It Be." B+(*) [cd]
Chucho Valdés & Paquito D'Rivera Reunion Sextet: I Missed You Too! (2022, Sunnyside): Cuban jazz stars, piano and alto sax/clarinet, played together in Irakere up to 1980, when D'Rivera left for the U.S., while Valdés continued to lead the band until 2005, establishing an international reputation. This was recorded in Miami, with Cuban expats Diego Urcola (trumpet) and Dafnis Prieto (drums), plus bass and extra percussion. B+(**) [sp]
Luis Vicente/Seppe Gebruers/Onno Govaert: Room With No Name (2019 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Portuguese trumpet player, backed by piano ("unprepared") and drums. B+(*) [bc]
Joshua Ray Walker: See You Next Time (2021, State Fair): Dallas-based country singer-songwriter, third album. B+(**) [sp]
Water Damage: Repeater (2022, 12XU): Austin group, two bassists, three drummers, bowed guitar and synthesizer, no vocals, three pieces that grind on (7:13) and on (12:03) and on (22:18). A- [sp]
Walt Weiskopf European Quartet: Diamonds and Other Jewels (2022, AMM): Big-toned tenor saxophonist, part of a generation of more/less mainstream players who emerged in the 1990s, has never sounded better than with this quartet, formed in 2016 with Carl Winther (piano) and Anders Mogensen (drums), adding Andreas Lang (bass) in 2019. A- [cd] [08-19]
Working Men's Club: Fear Fear (2022, Heavenly): Electropop band from Sheffield, UK, metallic sound reminds one of new wave bands like New Order, but they never quite take off. Second album, much like the first. B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Phelimuncasi: 2013-2019 (2013-19 , Nyege Nyege Tapes): Early gqom singles, variously produced by DJ Scoturn, DJ MP3, or Menzi, politically aligned left, not that I can tell you why. B+(***) [sp]
Clark Terry Big Bad Band: Live in Holland 1979 (1979 , Storyville): Trumpet player, apprenticed in big bands (Count Basie, Duke Ellington), appeared on some classic bebop albums, his occasional vocals earned him the nickname Mumbles, lived to be 94. Conventional 17-piece group, but few names I recognize. B+(*) [sp]
Bo Van De Graaf: Eccentric Music for Audio Hunters (2002-16 , Icdisc): Dutch saxophonist, plays in the big band I Compani, also responsible for Bo's Art Trio and Bo's Da Bomb. If I'm reading the notes correctly, this was collected from scattered live performances, with compositions for: 25 car horns; 25 wind instruments & piano; 2 hurdy-gurdies & accordion; violin & 15 female voices; "campfiresong"; "the freejazz karaoke." I rarely like odd concept pieces, and the car horns is no exception. But it does end on a nice note. B [cd]
George Coleman/Tete Montoliu: Dynamic Duo (1977 , Timeless): Tenor sax and piano duo. B+(*) [sp]
George Coleman: Amsterdam After Dark (1978 , Timeless): Tenor sax quartet with piano (Hilton Ruiz), bass (Sam Jones), and drums (Billy Higgins). B+(**) [sp]
Ingrid Laubrock: Who Is It? (1998, Candid): German saxophonist, first album, based in London at the time. Quintet with Kim Burton (keyboards/accordion), Ife Tolentino (guitar), bass, and percussion. Closes with a vocal on a Brazilian tune. B+(**) [sp]
Ingrid Laubrock: Some Times (2001, Candid): Second album, plays soprano/alto/tenor sax and sings (a song), with Julian Siegel (alto/tenor sax and bass clarinet), trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass, and drums. B+(***) [sp]
Ingrid Laubrock With Liam Noble & Tom Rainey: Sleepthief (2007 , Intakt): Trio recorded in London -- sax, piano, drums -- a year before Laubrock moved to New York. B+(***) [sp]
Lizzo: Lizzobangers (2009-13 , Virgin): First album, released 2013, then picked up and reshuffled for a major label. Started out as a rapper here, which adds some snap. B+(**)
Lizzo: Coconut Oil (2016, Nice Life/Atlantic, EP): Between albums 2 and 3, six songs, 19:28. B+(**)
Slickaphonics: Wow Bag (1982, Enja): Jazz-funk group, first of five 1982-88 albums, I filed them under Ray Anderson's name (trombone, lead vocals) but most of the songs were written by Allan Jaffe (guitar) and/or Mark Helias (bass). With Steve Elson (tenor sax) and Jim Payne (drums). Rhythm is trickier than other funk bands, but vocals are weaker. Anderson's later Alligatory Band returned to this concept, while his relationship with Helias became BassDrumBone. B+(**) [sp]
Slickaphonics: Modern Life (1984, Enja): Second album, writing credits pretty evenly spread out except for new saxophonist Daniel Wilensky. B+(*) [sp]
Bob Stewart: Then & Now (1995-96 , Postcards): Tuba player, started with Arthur Blythe in 1977, chances are if you heard a tuba in a non-trad jazz album between then and about 2010, it was either Stewart or Howard Johnson. Wide range of material here, three originals, covers of Jelly Roll Morton and Ornette Coleman, a standard ("You Don't Know What Love Is"), two songs each by guests Carlos Ward (alto sax) and Taj Mahal (guitar and vocals). Some bits seem a bit off, but the tuba ties it all together. B+(***) [sp]
Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 31, 2022
Speaking of Which
Mostly just noting things this week, although I couldn't help but make the occasional comment.
Louis Anslow: [07-31] Peter Thiel's Candidates Are More Unabomber Than Tech Bro.
Emily Badger/Margot Sanger-Katz/Claire Cain Miller: [07-28] States With Abortion Bans Are Aong the Least Supportive for Mothers and Children. No surprises here.
Dean Baker: [07-29] The Semi-Conductor Bill and the Moderna Billionaires. Unlike Republicans, Democrats at least try to do good things. But they seem incapable of doing them in ways that don't create windfalls for the already-rich. Baker doesn't draw this conclusion, but has examples that point that way (e.g., the "chips" bill).
Zachary D Carter: [07-29] On Economics and Democracy. A good, general lesson about the New Deal, Keynes, and now. He also suggests that Republicans today are no worse than Democrats were in 1931, so if they could just come up with their own FDR, they could conquer all. But he doesn't nominate any candidates.
Rachel M Cohen: [07-27] The big upcoming vote on abortion rights in Kansas, explained. Also Peter Slevin: [07-30] The first post-Roe vote on abortion.
David Dayen: [07-28] Cut Off Private Equity's Money Spigot. "It is genuinely hard to find a more destructive economic force in America today than the private equity industry."
Andrew Desiderio: [07-28] Pelosi and China: The making of a progressive hawk. An oxymoron? Or just a moron? Related: [07-25] US Officials Grow More Concerned About Potential Action by China on Taiwan. These soto voce concerns are exactly what the Biden administration was doing with Russia prior to the invasion. They can be viewed as taunting or goading, daring China to verify their predictions. Seems especially foolish as long as the war with Russia is going on. Haven't the armchair generals learned that two-front wars are something to avoid?
David Friedlander: [07-25] Why Republicans Stopped Talking to the Press.
Lisa Friedman/Jonathan Wiseman: [07-27] Delay as the New Denial: The Latest Republican Tactic to Block Climate Action.
Jonathan Guyer: [07-29] What think tank drama tells us about the US response to Russia's war: Also see Politico's report: Atlantic Council cuts ties to Koch-funded foreign policy initiative. Koch has his fingers in a number of foreign policy initiatives -- the only one I'm familiar with is the Quincy Institute, which is headed by conservative anti-war historian Andrew Bacevich, and has published many articles I have cited over the years -- including Stand Together, and the Stimson Center, which will take over the Koch-financed NAEI (New American Engagement Initiative). NAEI's previous home was the Atlantic Council, which is largely funded by European governments and "is pro-NATO by design." What seems to be happening is that the think tanks are under increasing pressure to line up behind Ukraine and against Russia. Two related notes: Matthew Rojansky ("director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center") was blackballed from possible appointment to Biden's NSC because he wasn't hawkish enough on Russia (see Biden won't bring on board controversial Russia expert); Joseph Cirincione, a leading expert on nuclear proliferation, charging the Quincy Institute with pro-Russian bias (see America's Top Anti-War Think Tank Is Fracturing Over Ukraine). Robert Wright has written a detailed review of Cirincione's charges: Anti-war think tank attacked.
Michael Hudson: [07-29] American Diplomacy as a Tragic Drama.
Dhruv Khullar: [07-25] Living Through India's Next-Level Heat Wave.
Robert Kuttner: [07-29] Another Airline Merger That Would Worsen Inflation: JetBlue buys Spirit Airlines.
Sharon Lerner: [06-30] How Charles Koch purchased the Supreme Court's EPA decision.
Ron Lieber: [07-26] The Case of the $5,000 Springsteen Tickets: Welcome to "dynamic pricing."
Ian Millhiser: [07-25] Gavin Newsom's plan to save the Constitution by trolling the Supreme Court.
Judith Newman: [07-26] The Power of Negative Thinking: Quotes Whitney Goodman: "Positivity lingo lacks nuance, compassion and curiosity."
Rick Perlstein: [07-22] They Want Your Child: "How right-wing school panics seek to repeal modernity and progress." Or, more pointedly: "What they're after is crushing the power of their children -- and all of ours -- to choose their own life: to, in other words, acquire the ability to become free." As Perlstein explains, conservative panics over education are a perennial: he cites instances back to 1923, but could have noted the prohibitions against teaching slaves to read and write. The flip side of this fear that liberals are training students to think for themselves is the belief that good, conservative education can train students who will grow up to respect social hierarchies. (Michael B Katz's The Irony of Early School Reform explains how mid-19th century Massachusetts proponents of mandatory universal education sold their program as a way to "socialize" Irish immigrants.) I've personally found that coercive education is as likely to produce rebellion as obedience, but maybe that's just me. One thing it's not capable of doing is stopping the clock.
Jeremy W Peters: [07-29] Fox News, Once Home to Trump, Now Often Ignores Him: It's been more than 100 days since Fox last interviewed Trump. Given that Fox is the real power in Republican politics, this may mean that Rupert Murdoch has decided to move on. However, Fox was cool on Trump early in the 2016 campaign, so I'm reluctant to read much into this.
Jake Pitre: [07-29] The Internet Doesn't Have to Be This Bad. Review of Jonathan Crary: Scorched Earth: Beyond the Digital Age to a Post-Capitalist World.
Mitchell Plitnick: [07-28] AIPAC declares war on any support of Palestinian human rights.
Alexander Sammon: [07-25] It's Time for Public Pharma: Not the worst idea, but better still would be to end drug patents. Development and testing would be funded through public sources (which could be pooled across nations, as the benefits should be shared by all nations), with funding targeted to medical needs, and all information publicly shared. Approved drugs could then be manufactured competitively, with strict limits on marketing.
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-29] Roaming Charges: Tell Tom Joad the News.
Peter Wade: Trump Sides With Russia Over Brittney Griner.
Robert Wright: A couple pieces from his archive:
Monday, July 25, 2022
Music: Current count 38383  rated (+53), 77  unrated (-1).
Missed last week, so this collects scraps from two weeks, mostly before the day I woke up with crippling hip pain. I'm a bit more functional now, but feel bad enough I'll make this brief.
This is the last Monday of July, so I've opened up a scratch file for August Streamnotes. I haven't done the indexing on the July file (link above). No need delaying this a few hours (or a day or two) just for that.
Robert Christgau's website experienced another resource crunch last week, followed by some kind of server failure. I'm still working on some code that will address one theory of why this has happened (twice now). When I install the "fixes" later this week, it's always possible I could break something, so please refer any problems you find to me.
I've gotten some letters recently encouraging me to write the book, and also asking for help/collaboration on website projects. At present I don't feel up to either, but appreciate the interest and attention.
Sometime during my downtime I played Operator's Manual, a compilation of Buzzcocks singles. Ever since I've been beset by ear worms, especially "Nostalgia for an Age Yet to Come."
New records reviewed this week:
Bedouin/DakhaBrakha: The Bedouin Reworks of DakhaBrakha (2022, Human by Default, EP): Brooklyn-based DJs Rami Abousabe and Tamer Malki, who have a bunch of singles/EPs since 2014, add synth beats to four songs (28:37) from a Ukrainian folk quartet. B+(**) [sp]
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Love for Sale (2021, Columbia/Interscope): Ancient crooner (95) and former pop phenom (35), did an album of standards in 2013, return to formula here, focusing on Cole Porter songs, because, well, they're the top. Usual string arrangements that swing a little but not a lot, two capable voices, no reason to complain, but not much to crow about either. B+(**) [sp]
Cyrus Chestnut: My Father's Hands (2021 , HighNote): Mainstream piano trio, with Peter Washington (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums), aside from a solo "I Must Tell Jesus." Four originals, six covers, "Yesterday" the least valuable. B+(*) [cd]
Mark de Clive-Lowe & Friends: Freedom: Celebrating the Music of Pharoah Sanders (2022, Soul Bank): Keyboard player from New Zealand, albums since 1997. Pays due respect to the music, with Teodross Avery capturing the gravel in the sax, but Dwight Trible struggles with the vocals -- never a great idea. B+(**) [bc]
Elucid: I Told Bessie (2022, Backwoodz Studioz): New York rapper Chaz Hall, probably best known as half of Armand Hammer, has a number of solo albums/mixtapes since 2007. Dedicates this one to his late grandmother. B+(**) [sp]
Yuko Fujiyama/Graham Haynes/Ikue Mori: Quiet Passion (2019 , Intakt): Japanese pianist, probably based in New York, has a short discography going back at least to 1996. With cornet and percussion, some voice. Delivers fair enough on the title. B+(**) [sp]
Vinny Golia/Bernard Santacruz/Cristiano Calcagnile: To Live and Breathe (2017 , Dark Tree): Soprano sax and piccolo -- I have my reservations about the latter, but they're easily forgotten as this masterful performance continues. With bass and drums that captivate even on their own. A- [cd]
David Greenberger & the Waldameer Players: Today! (2022, Pel Pel): Spoken word artist (among other talents), born in Chicago (1954), grew up in Erie, PA, but seems more familiar with Massachusetts these days. Played bass in the band Men & Volts, which connected him with co-producers Sam Kulik, Michael Evans, and Jeff Arnal. Words come from stories told by residents in various senior care homes, and they're often fascinating, even when they wax philosophical ("how is it that we have so much knowledge, and so little wisdom?"; "whatever time is left to you, you have to enjoy it, enjoy every minute"). I've heard a few of these, and they're consistently interesting. If this one is exceptional, it's probably because the music is more than just background. A- [cd]
Tom Harrell: Oak Tree (2020 , HighNote): Postbop trumpet/flugelhorn player, long and steady career since his debut in 1976. Quartet with Luis Perdomo (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Adam Cruz (drums). B+(**) [cd]
Colin James: Open Road (2021, Stony Plain): Canadian blues singer-songwriter, guitarist, dropped last name Munn, debut 1988, I liked his second Little Big Band album (1998), but hadn't heard anything since (a gap of 10 albums). B+(*) [sp]
EG Kight: The Trio Sessions (2021, Blue South): Blues singer-songwriter from Georgia (if you care, white and female, initials for Eugenia Gail), Wikipedia links her to Chicago but doesn't explain why. Debut 1997, I was floored by her third album (Southern Comfort) but rarely noticed later ones. Trio has Kight on acoustic guitar, Ken Wynn on guitar and dobro, Gary Porter on drums. I have mixed feelings about the closer, "Hallelujah." B+(**) [sp]
Travis Laplante: Wild Tapestry (2021 , Out of Your Head): Saxophonist, has a few albums since 2011, also in group Battle Trance. One 30:40 piece, for nine-piece group with flute, trumpet, trombone, guitar, harp, bass, and two percussionists. B+(**) [cd]
Lisbeth Quartett: Release (2021 , Intakt): German saxophonist Charlotte Greve, with Manuel Schmiedel (piano), Marc Muelbauer (bass), and Moritz Baumgärtner (drums). Sixth group album, going back to 2009, they fit very easily together. Greve wrote all but one piece, from the bassist. B+(***) [sp]
Mammoth Penguins: There's No Fight We Can't Both Win (2019, Fika): British indie pop band, led by Emma Kupa (formerly of Standard Fare). Third album. B+(**) [sp]
Tumi Mogorosi: Group Theory: Black Music (2021 , Mushroom Hour Half Hour/New Soil): Drummer, from South Africa, plays in Shabaka & the Ancestors, second album as headliner. I'm often impressed by the music, but don't think the vocals add any value. B [bc]
PJ Morton: Watch the Sun (2022, Morton/Empire): New Orleans-based soul singer, solo debut 2005, also plays keyboards in Maroon 5 (since 2012). Racks up some serious guest power here (Nas, Stevie Wonder, Wale, Jill Scott, El Debarge). Treats them well. B+(**) [sp]
Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity: Elastic Wave (2021 , ECM): Norwegian drummer, runs a couple groups, fourth album with this one, with André Roligheten (reeds) and Petter Eldh (bass). All three contribute pieces. B+(***) [sp]
Matt North: Bullies in the Backyard (2022, self-released): Nashville-based drummer, singer-songwriter, second album (first one, Above Ground Fools, was a good one). B+(***) [sp]
Tyshawn Sorey Trio: Mesmerism (2021 , Pi): Drummer-led trio, with Aaron Diehl (piano) and Matt Brewer (bass). Sorey first appeared in groups led by Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman. His 2007 debut sprawled over two CDs, including a long stretch on piano, which helped cement his reputation as a composer: ten years later he won a MacArthur "genius" grant, and five years since have revealed a dizzying range of moves, including this mild-mannered, unassuming, yet lovely set of covers. B+(***) [bc]
Elias Stemeseder: Piano Solo (2021 , Intakt): Austrian pianist, based in New York, has appeared in groups with Jim Black, Christian Lillinger, Anna Webber, and others, a couple as leader. This is solo, originals except for a trad piece. B+(**) [sp]
Laura Veirs: Found Light (2022, Bella Union): Folkie singer-songwriter from Colorado, majored in geology, based in Portland, debut 1999, married producer Tucker Martine (2000-19), did a vocal trio album with Neko Case and KD Lang. B+(**) [sp]
Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 13: Katalyst (2022, Jazz Is Dead): With 7 songs stretched to 37:55, we'll dispense with the EP designation. The series is usually good enough to make the title ironic, but never great. I've been trying to find a consistent credits parsing, and this is the one that makes the most sense, but looking back I've struggled. The order of the two producers flips back and forth. The number is formatted with or without leading '0's, and many are tempted to credit the featured artist (although JID 001 didn't have just one). Until this one, they all feature still-living artists who made their mark in the 1970s. Katalyst is different: they have one 2020 album, and have mostly worked as the studio band on the other Jazz Is Dead releases. Their specialty is funk-fusion, not far removed from what you might find in a 1970s time capsule. B+(*) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Orchestre Massako: Orchestre Massako (1979-86 , Analog Africa, EP): Orchestra and band from Gabon, recorded a dozen or so albums 1979-87, founded a decade earlier by Jean-Christian Mboumba Mackaya (aka Mack-Joss), directed by the military. Scant info on when these four tracks (25:33) were recorded. B+(*) [bc]
Horace Tapscott Quintet: Legacies of Our Grandchildren (1995 , Dark Tree): French label named for Tapscott's greatest album, but nearly everything he does rises to that standard, as each new discovery of an old tape reaffirms. Saxophonist Michael Session is terrific here, trombonist Thurman Green holds up his end, and the piano is frequently miraculous. Only doubt arises with the vocals on two pieces, but why fault Dwight Trible for being too passionate? A- [cd]
The Trypes: Music for Neighbors (1984 , Pravda): New Jersey band, related to the Feelies, released a 4-track EP in 1984, recorded some other stuff collected here -- a somewhat nebulous concept, given that the Spotify stream has 12 tracks, while the CD reportedly has 16 (including two 2017 reunion tracks), and Bandcamp has more B+(**) [sp]
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Triptych (2003 , Leo): Danish saxophonist (tenor/soprano), debut 1996, backed by piano and drums, recorded in Denmark, the first of at least three records they did together. B+(***) [sp]
Lotte Anker/Sylvie Courvoisier/Ikue Mori: Alien Huddle (2006 , Intakt): Anker plays soprano, alto, and tenor sax, backed by piano and electronics -- latter can get noisy. B+(**) [sp]
Marion Brown: Duets (1970-73 , Arista/Freedom): Alto saxophonist (1935-2010), from Atlanta, recorded a couple free jazz classics in the 1960s. Two sets of duets: the first with Leo Smith (trumpet), with both adding percussion; the other with Elliott Schwartz (piano/synth), where Brown also plays some clarinet and piano. B+(*) [lp]
Eliane Elias: Cross Currents (1987 , Blue Note): Brazilian pianist, studied in New York at Juilliard, debut 1985, has had two famous husbands (Randy Brecker, co-producer here, and later bassist Marc Johnson), in what's mostly a trio session with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). She wrote four originals here, but opens with Bud Powell, and closes with "When You Wish Upon a Star." B+(*) [lp]
Pierre Favre: Window Steps (1995 , ECM): Swiss drummer, debut 1964, as a leader 1970 but more often in duos and small groups. Composed the first four pieces here, the other three by band members: Kenny Wheeler (trumpet/flugelhorn), Roberto Ottaviano (soprano sax), David Darling (cello), and Steve Swallow (bass). B+(*) [sp]
Pierre Favre: Saxophones (2003 , Intakt): With ARTE Quartett (four saxophones) and Michel Godard (tuba/serpent). The horns form a choir, which can swell beyond their usual ambient backdrop. The percussion is more interesting when left alone. B+(*) [sp]
Pierre Favre Ensemble: Le Voyage (2010, Intakt): Large group, ten members, includes a saxophone quartet, an extra clarinet, trombone, guitar, bass guitar, bass, and the leader on drums/percussion. Ends strong. B+(**) [sp]
Pierre Favre: Drums and Dreams (1970-78 , Intakt, 3CD): Reissues three early solo drum/percussion albums. B+(**) [sp]
Gabriela Friedli Trio: Started (2010 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, handful of albums since 2003, cover credit for Daniel Studer (bass) and Dieter Ulrich (drums). B+(**) [sp]
David Greenberger/Glenn Jones/Chris Corsano: An Idea in Everything (2013 , Okraďna/Pel Pel): Twenty-eight brief bits of his usual second-hand spoken word wisdom, which are no more or less remarkable than usual, but Jones' banjo renders them folkier than usual, as does Corsano's harmonica and drums. A- [bc]
Barry Guy/Howard Riley/John Stevens/Trevor Watts: Endgame (1979, Japo): British bassist, founded London Jazz Composers Orchestra in 1970 and led them through dozens of albums. Quartet adds piano, drums (and cornet), and alto/soprano sax. B+(**) [sp]
Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Odyssey (1999 , Intakt): Bassist-led piano trio, Guy wrote five pieces, the other four are jointly credited. B+(***) [sp]
Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Ithaca (2003 , Intakt): Bassist-led piano trio, again, title from a George Vaughan painting. Perhaps too many bass solos, but at best they are mesmerizing. In any case, they spread out the piano explosions, some of Crispell's most dynamic work. A- [sp]
Michael Jaeger Kerouac: Outdoors (2009 , Intakt): Swiss saxophonist, don't know the story behind the group name but this is the second of three 2006-13 albums. Group was originally a quartet with piano (Vincent Membrez), bass (Luca Sisera), and drums (Norbert Pfammatter). This one adds Greg Osby (alto sax on 4/8 tracks), and Philipp Schaufelberger (guitar on 6). B+(**) [sp]
Michael Jaeger Kerouac: Dance Around in Your Bones (2013, Intakt): Third group album, back to original quartet. B+(**) [sp]
The Jazz Singers (1919-94 , Smithsonian, 5CD): Free to choose almost anything over the whole history of recorded jazz (up to release date), this is certain to remind you of dozens of historically significant songs. But in toto, this reminds me of how peripheral vocals have become in jazz. And while one could complain that this slights the later evolution of jazz vocals -- we have, for instance, two songs by Betty Carter, one by Cassandra Wilson, one short one by Jeanne Lee, but no Sheila Jordan, and I could list dozens more -- their inclusion would only remind us that jazz singers have become even more marginal of late. Aside from the occasional jazz musician to have graduated to pop star (like Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan), he only time vocalists were integral was during the swing era, which a few rare individuals (like Ella Fitzgerald) were able to extend beyond its sell-by date. They also count the blues singers (like Bessie Smith) who dominate the first disc, rounded out with some gospel. But adding Marvin Gaye and Al Green is wishful thinking. Organizing by topics is a mixed blessing, as is the final category of "Novelties and Take-Offs." B+(**) [cd]
Hans Koch/Martin Schütz/Marco Käppeli: Accélération (1987 , ECM): Swiss saxophoninst (tenor/soprano), also plays clarinet and bass clarinet; one of his first records, backed with bass/cello and drums. B+(***)
Hans Koch: Uluru (1989, Intakt): Solo album, 18 pieces, opens on soprano sax, then tenor, then bass clarinet (3 pieces), the back to soprano and tenor. Solo albums always strike me as limited, but he keeps it interesting. B+(**) [sp]
Hans Koch/Stephan Wittwer/Martin Schütz/Jacques Demierre/Andreas Marti/Fredy Studer: Chockshut (1991 , Intakt): Sax and bass clarinet, guitar, cello, piano, trombone, drums. Koch wrote 6 (of 10) pieces, Schütz 3, Demierre 1. The guitar adds a rock component that lifts this up and sometimes lets it down. B+(**) [sp]
Oliver Lake/Christian Weber/Dieter Ulrich: For a Little Dancin' (2009 , Intakt): Alto sax, bass, and drums, the latter two the rhythm section visiting stars can look for in Zürich. (Lake returned to do another album with them in 2013, All Decks.) Seems a bit tentative at first, then Lake breaks out, and the other keep pace. B+(***)
Urs Leimgruber/Christy Doran/Bobby Burri/Fredy Studer: OM Willisau (2008 , Intakt): Swiss quartet, as OM cut four 1976-80 albums for Japo (belongs to ECM), then disbanded to regroup here, 30 years later, so it would be fair to attribute this to the group, but the top banner lists the individual artist names, with the group and title in the same small print at the bottom, under an illustration that superimposes letters 'O' and 'M'. Soprano/tenor sax, guitar, bass/electronics, drums. B+(***) [sp]
Les Diaboliques [Irčne Schweizer/Maggie Nicols/Joëlle Léandre]: Splitting Image (1994 , Intakt): Second group album, I filed the first one under first-mentioned vocalist Nicols, still central here, backed by piano and bass. Difficult music, something I have less patience for from a vocalist. B [sp]
Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky/Michael Griener: The Salmon (2005 , Intakt): Alto saxophonist, also plays clarinet, b. 1933, was one of the founders of avant-jazz in East Germany, although he was often hidden in groups, like BBQ, Globe Unity, and especially Zentralquartett. He does, however, stand out in this duo with drummer Griener. A- [sp]
Barbara Thompson: Heavenly Bodies (1986, VeraBra): British saxophonist, in the late 1960s played in pioneering fusion band Colosseum (whose drummer, Jon Hiseman, she married, and who went on to produce and play on most of her albums). Her main group from 1972 to about 2000, when she was diagnosed with Parkinson's, was Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia. This is a side project, with strings and trumpets on several quasi-classical cuts. B+(*) [sp]
Barbara Thompson: Songs From the Center of the Earth (1991, Black Sun): Solo saxophone (soprano, alto, tenor), trad pieces (or based on trad themes?), starts and ends Irish, followed by two from 12th century Europe, others from Wales and Germany and Spain and Greece, and points further (Syria, Brazil, Uruguay, Jamaica, Bahamas). B+(*) [sp]
Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions: Complete (1976 , Knitting Factory, 3CD): The 1970s were a dark age for jazz. Key figures died (founders like Armstrong, Ellington, Hawkins, and Webster, and younger lions like Coltrane, Ayler, and Powell), with many more slipping into obscurity. Major labels floundered and in many cases shut down. Miles Davis was an exception, forging a path into jazz-rock fusion that many followed but few found. In the 1980s, a younger generation of jazz musicians seemed to pick up where the late-1960s tailed off, but had to go to Europe or Japan to find labels. That generation gestated in the lofts of New York, especially in Sam Rivers' Rivbea Studios, where these sessions were recorded over 10 days. The roster reads "all-stars" today, but few were widely remembered from the 1960s (Rivers, Marion Brown, Sunny Murray), plus a few who had made a mark in the early 1970s (Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Jimmy Lyons). A- [cd]
Tommy Womack: I Thought I Was Fine (2021, Schoolkids): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, based in Nashville, started in a band called Government Cheese, solo albums since 1998, surprises with a couple of covers here ("That Lucky Old Sun," "Miss Otis Regrets"). A straight rocker with some stories, including one about a minister buying ice cream, and another about Elvis. [was: B+(***)] A- [sp]
Tom Zé: Língua Brasileira (2022, Sesc): Iconoclastic Brazilian singer-songwriter, started in the late 1960s with the Tropicália movement, slipped into obscurity but Americans discovered him through two 1990-04 Luaka Bop compilations. I've been up and down on him, and it's hard to explain what works and what doesn't. This one, with its slippery melodies and off-kilter beats, ends on an up. [was: B+(**)] A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 24, 2022
Speaking of Which
Started to jot down a few links with even fewer comments more than a week ago, and added some more (with longer comments, but not always) over the weekend.
PS: Added link and notes to Jeffrey St Clair piece below.
Andrew Bacevich: [07-14] Imperial Detritus: After the American Century: Cites, and responds to, Daniel Bessner: Empire Burlesque: What comes after the American Century? Both start with Henry Luce's 1941 coinage of "the American Century," from shortly before the US entered WWII. Luce's essay, rooted in his own peculiar history as a child of missionaries growing up in China, has become emblematic of a major shift in American thinking about the world, as initial fretting over German and Japanese encroachments in Africa and Asia would limit American interests gave way to the realization that by winning WWII (and bankrupting the UK and France) the US could have it all (cf. Stephen Wertheim: Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy). That left the problem of Communist-led national liberation movements, which is what the Cold War was fought against. We can debate how successful it was, and why it wasn't, but 80 years later it's increasingly clear that the U.S. is a spent force, still ominous but incapable of deciding much less imposing its will. Bessner wants to revive the pre-Luce tradition of restraint, citing Washington and JQ Adams as founding "restrainers." (As Wertheim points out, the term "isolationist" was invented as a pejorative for those who still adhered to traditional American norms, which favored "open door" trade over the colonial prerogatives claimed by European imperial powers. "Isolationists" didn't want to hide from the world; they simply wanted to deal with the world on its own terms, not through the barrel of a gun.)
Zack Beauchamp: [07-23] CPAC goes to Israel: Well, Ben Shapiro anyway. "Who is really learning from whom?" The far-right loves Israel's ethnocracy, its cruel repression of the Palestinians, and its quasi-random violence against its neighbors (e.g., [07-21] Israeli Airstrikes Kill Five Syrian Soldiers Near Damascus), and Israelis like American money with no strings attached and veto protection in the UN, but while Israel has picked up some of the artifacts of neoliberalism, no one's in a big hurry to dismantle their welfare state. So it's hard to see someone like Shapiro as doing anything more than stroking their egos. Speaking of which, J.D. Vance took his Ohio Senate campaign to Israel: [07-24] Inside the GOP Freakout Over JD Vance's Senate Campaign.
Bonnie S Benwick: [07-24] Diana Kennedy, cookbook author who promoted Mexican cuisine, dies at 99. I'm not much for Mexican cuisine, but when I decided to buy a serious book on the subject, I picked out Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking.
Matthew Cappucci: [07-22] Why the Dust Bowl was hotter than this heat wave, despite global warming. I've long known that a lot of high temperature records here in Wichita were set in 1936. We've had a couple years in the last 20 that have come close. In 2011, we had 53 days of 100F+. In 2012, we had 36, and in 2000, we had 33. The median since 2000 is 9. We've had 11 through July 23, so we're above average, but not on a record-setting pace. (Forecast is for 100F+ the next 4 days, which will make it 15.) The big difference between now and the 1930s is that so far we've been spared the drought that's struck most points further west -- although most climate models point to a dryer Kansas, which combined with the depletion of the Ogalalla Aquifer could turn western Kansas back into a dust bowl. The article explains "why the Dust Bowl doesn't disprove climate change," lest you be tempted to draw that inference.
David Dayen: [07-18] The Impossible, Inevitable Survival of the Trump Tax Cuts: "How Democrats went from unanimous opposition to an unpopular policy to doing nothing about it in the five years since it became law."
Eleanor Eagan: [07-20] Democrats Need to Fight for a Government That Works: Given that Republicans are always out to cripple government (at least the part that actually works for people), the Democrats' future depends on two things: convincing people that the government can be a blessing, and that Democrats are the only ones who can run government for the benefit of the people. I wouldn't define this, as the author does, strictly on the basis of money appropriated, but that may suffice as a first approximation. Meanwhile, Ryan Cooper: [07-20] Republicans Have Created a Pro-Life Dystopia.
Catie Edmondson: [07-14] Republicans Oppose Measure to Root Out White Supremacy in the Military.
Henry Giroux: [07-22] The Nazification of American Education: Inflammatory title, but then you see the picture of Ron DeSantis and remember, oh yeah, him: indeed, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Then comes a Theodor Adorno quote from 1959: "I consider the survival of National Socialism within democracy to be potentially more menacing than the survival of fascist tendencies against democracy." Of course, DeSantis doesn't call his program "nazification." His term is "patriotic education." He views the schools first and foremost as "propaganda factories" (Giroux's apt term). Second half of the article reviews how Hitler changed education in Nazi Germany. See if you can spot the common threads.
Mark Hannah: [07-18] It's time for a US push to end the war in Ukraine: Well, it's way past time, but the situation is bad and only going to get worse.
Michael Holtz: [07-22] Harvesting Wheat in Drought-Parched Kansas. One caveat here is that Wichita, which is the center of the state's wheat belt, we're actually about +3 inches of rain above normal this year. Still, the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows us "D0 (Abnormally Dry)." There is more severe drought in western Kansas, but without irrigation not much wheat is grown there.
Fred Kaplan: [07-10] Boris Johnson Diminished Britain on the World Stage: "He promised to make the UK great again. Instead, he left it as just another US sidekick." One thing about former empires is how they preserve the conceit that they should still exercise sway over their former dominions, as if the countries they plundered still owe them deference. You see this in places like Iran and Turkey. You see this with France and Russia poking their noses into former colonies. You see this in Japan and Germany, even though they've explicitly renounced empire-building. You saw this in fascist Italy and Germany, even though the empires they aimed to revive were more than a thousand years removed. But no country exceeds Britain for self-delusion. Ever since Churchill, British leaders seem convinced that they haven't lost an empire, just conned the US into doing their heavy lifting.
Meryl Kornfield: [07-22] Rio Grande runs dry in Albuquerque for the first time in 40 years.
Ian Millhiser: [07-21] The Supreme Court just let a Trump judge seize control of ICE, at least for now: "Apparently President Biden isn't in charge of the executive branch anymore." This is very bad.
Sara Morrison: [07-22] Amazon wants to be your doctor now, too: "The e-commerce giant is buying One Medical for $4 billion."
Steven Mufson: [07-12] Republicans threaten Wall Street over climate positions.
Olivia Nuzzi: [07-14] Donald Trump on 2024: 'I've Already Made That Decision': "The only question left in the former president's mind is when he'll announce."
Evan Osnos: [07-18] The Haves and the Have-Yachts.
Fintan O'Toole: [07-08] Boris Johnson has vandalised the political architecture of Britain, Ireland and Europe.
Kasha Patel: [07-12] Second glacier avalanche in a week shows dangers of a warming climate. Meanwhile: [07-13] Temperatures soar to 115 in Europe as heat wave expands. Also: [07-14] Unforgiving heat wave in Texas and Southern Plains to worsen next week.
Yumna Patel: [07-23] Israeli Supreme Court rules citizens can be stripped of status for 'breach of loyalty'.
Dave Philipps: [07-14] With Few Able and Fewer Willing, US Military Can't Find Recruits: "Fighting headwinds from the pandemic, the tight labor market and demographic shifts, the armed forces may fall further short of enlistment quotas this year than they have in decades."
Charles P Pierce: [07-22] The Secret of the Jan. 6 Hearings Is That None of It Changes What the GOP Is Now: "Or what it's been for a very long time now." The hearings often play like a lifeline to sane Republicans, but real Republicans know that everyone coöperating with the Committee and/or expressing reservations about Trump is traitorous RINO scum.
Brian Resnick: [07-12] Why the new James Webb Space Telescope images are such a big deal. Also: Farhad Manjoo: [07-14] The Web Telescope Restored (Some of) My Faith in Humanity.
Ingrid Robeyns: [07-04] How to write a good public philosophy book. Author is working on one provisionally titled Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth.
Bernie Sanders: [07-14] The Great Microchip Corporate Giveaway.
Jonathan Schell: [07-24] A Niagara Falls of Post-9/11 Violence: Reprint, with new introduction by Tom Engelhardt, of a 2014 post, which itself was a posthumous reprint of a piece from Schell's 2003 book, The Unconquerable World. I read the book when it first came out, and found it somewhat wanting: a great (indeed, prophetic) title, but the book itself got lost in arcane discussions of sovereignty, and failed to detail the many reasons the world is unconquerable. Still, the analogy to 1914 is again worth pondering. That war officially started with Austria-Hungary invading Serbia, supposedly in response to the assassination of its Archduke, but the key decision that made the war possible, and that caused it to spread so rapidly across Europe, was the "blank check" Germany incited Austria-Hungary with. So far, Biden has stopped short of acceding to Zelensky's demand for his own "blank check," but he's coming close (see White House Approves 16th Weapons Transfer to Ukraine, Total Security Aid Now Over $8 Billion; meanwhile, the recipient of such largesse is more focused on keeping the arms coming than on ending the war: Zelensky Rejects Any Ceasefire With Russia).
Robert J Shapiro: [07-21] The Case for Bill Clinton's Economic Record: "No, progressives, the former president wasn't some neoliberal corporatist helping the rich. Clinton delivered the strongest economy of the past half century and helped working families." Second bit is mostly true, but by weakening unions (remember NAFTA? Shapiro doesn't) and unraveling the safety net (remember "welfare reform"?) the gains that working families made in the late 1990s were easily wiped out in the Bush recessions. The first bit is bullshit. The whole New Democrat concept was the conceit that they could grow the economy more than Republicans, and in doing so they could make the rich even more so. And they were right: the rich never had it so good as under Clinton. He made them tons of money, and left a legacy -- Greenspan, ending Carter-Glass, tax-exempting internet commerce -- that continued to make them money (especially after the Bush tax cuts let them keep more of it). Neoliberalism may not be the ideal term to describe what Clinton did, but what he did was very much within the broader neoliberal game plan. And the epithet sticks because it reminds us that liberals like Clinton (and Obama) did as much to rig the economy for the rich as their Republican opponents ever did.
Alex Shephard: [07-22] The Right-Wing Media Celebrated Biden's Covid Diagnosis. Also: Abdul El-Sayed: [07-21] Biden's Covid Diagnosis and the GOP's Endless Cynicism. By the way, Covid cases are up 19% over 14 days, (129,136), and deaths are up 38% (444).
Katie Shepherd: [07-14] Texas sues Biden administration for requiring abortions in medical emergencies. I read an op-ed last week about how we should stop talking about the possibility that abortion bans could interfere with women getting treatment for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, assuring us that none of the bans would interfere with life-saving medical care. Biden tried to codify that reassurance in an executive order. So Texas is suing Biden, in a case that will ultimately be decided by the Federalist Society judges. Panic now?
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-22] Roaming Charges: The Sky Is Frying: If you only follow one link here, make it this one. The introduction on global warming is superb (at least until he veers off with "this was the week Joe Manchin performed a late-term abortion on the fetal remains of Biden's already grossly inadequate climate plan"). After he gets to other subjects, note this: "In 2008, before the Citizens United ruling (another Alito opinion), billionaires contributed $31 million to federal political campaigns. In 2020, billionaires contributed $1.2 billion." Can we really claim to have "freedom of speech" when it's impossible to get a word heard over the megaphones of billionaires? PS: I missed this one from the previous week: Roaming Charges: The Screams of the Children Have Been Edited Out. Quite a bit there on the 10-year-old rape victim who had to go out of Ohio to get an abortion. Much more, of course. One item I was struck by was: "The state of Arizona spends only 6% of its welfare budget on helping poor families, and 61% of it on harassing and punishing poor families through Child Protective Services." Arizona also has a law that "requires 'civilian' oversight boards to be composed of 100% police or former police." Then there's this chart on "Life expectancy vs. health expenditure." Caption: "The Genius of the American Health Care System: Spending more to die younger."
Michael Stavola: [09-21] Toddler grabs gun and shoots self in the leg in east Wichita. Also (from 2017): Boy, 5, shoots himself to death, the KC area's 11th such shooting since 2013. Isn't the NRA mantra "if guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns"? Wouldn't that be better?
Matt Stieb: [07-12] John Bolton Admitted on National TV That He Helped Plan Coups. Just none that were even temporarily successful.
Veronica Stracqualursi: [07-22] Newsom signs California gun bill modeled after Texas abortion law: I can't deny that the same idea occurred to me moments after I read about the Texas law, but after a bit of reflection I realized that's a dumb idea. Note that the ACLU is already on the case.
Lena H Sun/Mark Johnson: [07-21] Unvaccinated man in Rockland County, NY, diagnosed with polio: "This is the first US case of polio in nearly a decade." Meanwhile: WHO declares monkeypox a global health emergency as infections soar.
David Weigel: [07-23] On the campaign trail, many Republicans talk of violence. Shortly after adding this, I ran across an ŕ propos meme which said: "Stay away from people who act like a victim in a problem they created."
Tweet from Barbara Res on the late Ivana Trump:
Greg Magarian post on Facebook:
Monday, July 11, 2022
Music: Current count 38330  rated (+48), 78  unrated (+0).
I wrote up a short Speaking of Which, mostly on Friday and Saturday, then on Sunday added a "brain dump" of my latest thinking on the political book I've been thinking about for 20+ years. After I tweeted about it, I got some much appreciated "write that book" feedback, and even a title suggestion (What Is to Be Done, which someone else pointed out was a Tolstoy title -- I'm pretty sure the copyright has run out on it, unless Disney somehow obtained it). Much easier said than done. I'm considering how it might be possible, but I'm pretty pessimistic at the moment. I can plod through routine work like this week's review haul easily enough, but don't seem to have the ability to discipline myself for major projects.
I was also pleased to see one Twitter follower pull a line out to retweet, on the Republican right:
You probably know the story about how the old-line conservatives in Germany appointed Hitler chancellor because they thought they could control him. They couldn't, and Hitler immediately went on a terror spree, in which several of those conservatives were killed. In retrospect, the guy they really wanted wasn't Hitler. It was Trump, a charismatic buffoon who would entertain the riff-raff while he rubber-stamped their agenda. That Trump lacks the verve and cunning to be Hitler may make him less dangerous, but it doesn't make him the better person.
Meanwhile, the other two components of the Nazi takeover are still intact: the rich right-wingers who tried to pick their puppet-leader, and the ordinary folk who so desperately seek a charismatic champion to follow, in vain hope of vanquishing their imagined enemies. The 2024 primary will be an audition for the grim men with the money, but realistically any Republican would carry their water equally well. The real contest will be to see who can stir the most followers, and that's one where Trump will always beat the Romneys and Ryans, and where a real Hitler will beat Trump. The race to the bottom has begun.
By the way, I've started reading Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy, by Suzanne Mettler and Robert C Lieberman. It covers six decades when American politics seemed to be going off the rails (1790s, 1850s, 1890s, 1930s, 1970s, 2010s), and discerns four recurrent threats that appear in many of those crises: political polarization, "who belongs?" (who can or should vote or count), economic inequality, and executive aggrandizement. The time framework has a slightly too pat 40-year periodicity -- although as I noted, the 1990s can be viewed as the revolution that didn't succeed, although it still had repercussions -- and I find the framing of the 1930s troubling (maybe the 1970s also, but the resolution there was clearly for Reagan). As for the threats, some are more like causes, others like consequences, and "executive aggrandizement" is mostly a side effect of complexity (unless it means something else, like war, which is widely, though perhaps wrongly, viewed as a unifying force). So I have reservations, but it is obviously relevant to my book.
I expected the rated count to slip this week, and it did a bit, but recovered when Clifford Ocheltree recommended some blues albums, then pointed out that he got many of his picks from Living Blues annual charts, like this one for 2021. I like classic blues as much as anyone, but I'm not easily impressed by newcomers, so I tend to miss them. Blues is still a category at DownBeat, so I often don't even hear about blues albums until they turn up in their Critics Poll, by which point I find myself having heard only 10-20% of the nominees. I will note that from this particular list, I already had a couple albums listed:
I voted for the Muldaur album in the DownBeat poll. I've also rated 2021 blues albums not on this list (more than I would have expected; I didn't keep stats or the nominee list this year, as I have done some while back):
I've almost completely switched over to Spotify this week from Napster. Main reason is I still get a lot of hangs and interruptions from Napster, plus their new interface makes it no easier to browse than Spotify, and maybe a bit worse (which is pretty bad). I went to Napster six times below, especially for the Neil Young album. More disturbing are reports of Napster getting into crypto, which I regard as a terminal mark of stupidity if not (yet) much worse.
I had to deal with a "denial of service" attack at the Robert Christgau website last week. As a result, most people saw "out of resource" errors for about 12 hours. They exploited a security hole I was aware of but had been slow to fix. I've plugged the most obvious one, but still have more programming to do to clean up the rest. Meanwhile, I'm monitoring the situation, and blocking IP addresses that look malicious. I sent out a more detailed explanation to the tech mail list.
Following up, I took a look at several nagging problems with my own server. It's mostly been a slow and painstaking learning process, with one issue resolved and another I may just continue to live with.
Thought I was making some progress on the unrated count, but that was wiped out by an unusually large mail haul. Still, I've found a few things I've been wondering about, so I'll get to them next week.
New records reviewed this week:
Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit (2022, Light-Years): Italian electronica producer, fifth album since 2017, adds strings, guitar, and vocals to her usual synths. B+(**) [sp]
Sarah Bernstein: Veer Quartet (2022, New Focus): Violinist, leads a string quartet with second violin, viola, and cello. Music not without interest, but I've often found the sound unappealing, and this is a sustained example. B [cd] [09-02]
Burna Boy: Love, Damini (2022, Atlantic): Nigerian singer-songwriter Damini Ogulu, studied in London and Oxford before returning to Lagos. He seems to have kept his UK and US connections, producing a hip-hop fusion that travels effortlessly. First time I heard him was on a Madonna album. This album includes spots for a wide range of guests, from Ed Sheeran to Popcaan, J Balvin to Hus, Blxst and Kehlani. B+(**) [sp]
Tia Carroll: You Gotta Have It (2021, Little Village Foundation): Blues singer, based in California (Bay Area), second album, wrote 3 (of 11) songs. B+(**) [sp]
Columbia Icefield: Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes (2021 , Pyroclastic): Group name from trumpeter Nate Wooley's 2019 album, also with Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), Mary Halvorson (guitar), and Ryan Sawyer (drums), with Wooley doing the electronics that leave long stretches of barren and desolate ambience. Mat Maneri (viola) and Trevor Dunn (electric bass) also play on one track each. B+(**) [cd] [07-29]
Bob Corritore & Friends: Spider in My Stew (2021, SWMAF/VizzTone): Blues harmonica player, based in Chicago, many albums since 2007, usually sharing the bill with someone like John Primer or Tail Dragger, or with various mixes of his Friends -- he uses eight bass players here, five drummers, four keyboard players, a bunch of singers. B+(**) [sp]
Guy Davis: Be Ready When I Call You (2021, M.C.): Country blues singer, shades of Taj Mahal, early albums in 1978 and 1984, a regular stream from 1993 on. Sharpest song here is "Flint River Blues"; sappiest is "Palestine, Oh Palestine," or maybe "I Looked Around," but credit for trying. B+(***) [sp]
Randal Despommier: A Midsummer Odyssey (2021 , Sunnyside): Alto saxophonist, from Louisiana, duo with guitarist Ben Monder (listed as "featuring" on cover), playing nine pieces, as the fine print notes "The Music of Lars Gullin." If you don't know Gullin, you have some catching up to do: a baritone saxophonist, he was one of Sweden's most eminent jazz musicians from the early 1950s to his death in 1976. This is brief (34:06), surprising, and lovely. B+(***) [cd] [07-15]
Sonny Green: Found! One Soul Singer (2020, Little Village Foundation): Soul singer with some grit in his voice, first album at 77, Discogs credits him with ten singles 1969-75. Reminds one of Z.Z. Hill, a bit of Bobby Bland tool, maybe a dash of Wilson Pickett -- which seemed familiar way back when, but these days you take what you can get. B+(***)
Gwenno: Tresor (2022, Heavenly): Singer-songwriter from Wales, last name Saunders, third album, sings in Welsh and Cornish. B+(**) [sp]
Joshua Hedley: Neon Blue (2022, New West): Country singer-songwriter from Florida, plays violin as well as guitar, second album. B+(**) [sp]
Christone Kingfish Ingram: 662 (2021, Alligator): Blues singer-guitarist from Clarksdale, Mississippi, young (b. 1999), second album. Has some chops. B+(*) [sp]
Eva Kess: Inter-Musical Love Letter (2021 , Unit): Bassist, from Berlin, started her career as a ballet dancer in Brazil, has a couple albums. I was impressed by her mostly strings Sternschnuppen, but thrown by this one, where she doubles the band size, adding some horns and vocals (Mirjam Hässig). Easy enough to blame the latter, but now seems more like an excess of ambition, which can too readily lead to opera. B+(*) [cd] [07-22]
Kirk Knuffke Trio: Gravity Without Airs (2022, Tao Forms, 2CD): Cornet player, many albums since 2009, composed 14 pieces here (90:17), backed by Michael Bisio (bass) and Matthew Shipp (piano), who really keep this moving. A-
Joy Lapps: Girl in the Yard (2022, self-released): Steel pans player, based in Toronto, wrote everything here, "first full-length album" (but several more on her website), draws on African as well as Caribbean sources. Upbeat, flashy, ends strong. B+(**) [cd]
Veronica Lewis: You Ain't Unlucky (2021, Blue Heart): Boogie piano-playing blues singer, young (18), from New Orleans, first album, wrote 6 (of 8) songs. She isn't quite right for one of the covers (Louis Jordan's "Is You Is My Baby"), but her piano is fast and furious (including an "Ode to Jerry Lee" that doesn't leave you thinking the wrong Lewis is playing), and she gets a lot of help from the sax (mostly Don Davis). B+(***) [sp]
Yaroslav Likhachev Quartet: Occasional Sketches (2021 , Clean Feed): Russian-born tenor saxophonist, based in Germany, leads a quartet with piano, bass, and drums. B+(***) [bc]
Janiva Magness: Hard to Kill (2022, Fathead): Blues singer-songwriter, from Detroit, grew up in foster homes after both parents committed suicide, cut records in 1991 and 1997 before picking up the pace, including a stretch (2008-12) with Alligator. "Strong as Steel" lives up to its title, but doesn't stay that hard. B [sp]
Metric: Formentera (2022, Metric Music International): Canadian electropop band, debug 2003, principally Emily Haines (vocals, keyboards) and James Shaw (guitar). B+(**) [sp]
John Minnock: Simplicity (2022, Dot Time): Jazz singer, classic crooner voice, writes some lyrics, second album, pianist Mathis Picard writes some of the music, Dave Liebman is featured on soprano sax. More drama than I typically care for, but gets his point across. Closes with "You Don't Know What Love Is." B+(*) [cd]
Moor Mother: Jazz Codes (2022, Anti-): Philadelphia poet Camae Ayewa, fronts the jazz group Irreversible Entanglements, uses this alias for more hip-hop projects, although the genres are pretty fluid for her, as are melodies and beats. Lots of guests here in her expanding universe, making it more complex than art needs to be, but still not as messy as real life. [sp]
Ian Noe: River Fools & Mountain Saints (2022, Thirty Tigers): Country singer-songwriter, from Kentucky, second album. Hooked me with the song that sounded like John Prine, and even though the rest don't quite ring that bell, they're all pretty good. A- [sp]
North Mississippi Allstars: Set Sail (2022, New West): Southern blues-rock band, debut 2000, founded by two sons of Memphis legend Jim Dickinson (Luther and Cody), 13th album. Leans toward funk, but barely registers. B+(*)
Ol' Savannah: They Lie in Wait (2022, Anticapital): Canadian folk group, based in Montreal, albums since 2011. I was skeptical at first, but "Which Side Are You On?" won me over. B+(**) [bc]
Katy J Pearson: Sound of the Morning (2022, Heavenly): UK singer-songwriter, started out as half of Ardyn (two albums 2015-16), second album, produced by Ali Chant (Yard Act) and Dan Carey (Fontaines DC). B+(*) [sp]
John Primer & Bob Corritore: The Gypsy Woman Told Me (2020, SWMAF/VizzTone): Chicago bluesman, born in Mississippi, played behind Junior Wells and Muddy Waters before he moved out front in 1991, and has several dozen albums since. Corritore plays harmonica, third album with Primer, many more albums either listed second or as "Bob Corritore & Friends." First I've heard by him/them, but it sounds classic, hitting the mark every time out. A-
The Duke Robillard Band: They Called It Rhythm & Blues (2022, Stoney Plain): Blues guitarist, sometime singer, co-founder of Roomful of Blues, many albums since 1978, including some where he wanders into jazz. Mostly jump blues songs from the 1940-50s, with 14 guests listed on the front cover. B+(**) [sp]
Curtis Salgado: Damage Control (2021, Alligator): Blues singer, harmonica player, from Everett, Washington, based in Oregon, close to a dozen albums since 1991. Survived liver cancer with a transplant, and came back singing, "the longer that I live, the older I want to get" B+(*) [sp]
Space Quartet: Freedom of Tomorrow (2019-21 , Clean Feed): Fourth album by group led by Rafael Toral, who promises "electronic music with a human touch," aided by alto sax (Nuno Torres), bass (Hugo Antunes), and drums (Nuno Morăo). B+(**) [bc]
Ziv Taubenfeld's Full Sun: Out of the Beast Came Honey (2020 , Clean Feed): Bass clarinetist, from Israel, based in Netherlands, band name from his 2020 album. Sextet with Michael Moore (clarinet/alto sax), Joost Buis (trombone), piano, bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]
Joanne Shaw Taylor: Blues From the Heart: Live (2022, KTBA): British blues-rocker, ninth album since her 2009 debut, also on DVD. Has the guitar. Also has Joe Bonamassa (3 tracks). B+(*) [sp]
There Be Monsters: Rubikon (2021 , Klopotec): Slovenian saxophonist Bostjan Simon, third album for his group, with Mirko Cisilino (trumpet/trombone), Goran Krmmac (tuba), vibes, and drums. B+(*) [bc]
Toro Y Moi: Mahal (2022, Dead Oceans): Chaz Bundick, from South Carolina, a dozen or so albums since 2009, producing a style of electropop called chillwave, although I've also seen this filed as psychedelia. At any rate, not very chill. B [sp]
Viagra Boys: Cave World (2022, Year0001): Swedish post-punk band, fronted by English-singing singer Sebastian Murphy, third album. B+(*)
Wee Willie Walker and the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra: Not in My Lifetime (2021, Blue Dot): Born in Mississippi, grew up in Memphis, moved to Minneapolis in 1959, sang gospel switching to soul, died at 77 in 2019, so title is pretty literal. Cut some singles as far back as 1959, but the albums only start in 2004. B+(***) [sp]
Steve Washington: Just a Matter of Time (2020, JSP): Soul/blues singer, plays drums and organ, first album, features Lucky Peterson (piano), seems like they go back a fair ways. Not much grit, but that works too. B+(**) [sp]
Hank Williams Jr.: Rich White Honky Blues (2022, Easy Eye Sound): Three years old when his namesake father died, who gave him a nickname (Bocephus) after a ventriloquist dummy, like everything else he both embraced and struggled with. He's 45 years older now than his father was when he died, and while he's never been as intensely productive as his father, he's accumulated 56 albums to date. Only one I count as a winner -- Hank Williams and Friends, from 1975, after a near-death experience -- but I haven't listened to that many, especially since he slowed down after 2000 (this is only his sixth this century). (I've probably heard more by Hank III -- evidently the voice skipped a generation.) Title song boasts that he "knows how to play the blues," despite the obvious handicaps, and namechecks a long list of blues masters, although he no more knew Robert Johnson than he did his father. He sounds more like he's been cribbing his blues from ZZ Top, but that's actually pretty satisfying. B+(***) [sp]
Wu-Lu: Loggerhead (2022, Warp): UK singer-songwriter Miles Romans-Hopcraft, first album was electronic/instrumental, but this third album is chock full of vocals, some rapped, some choral, with scattered sounds, a mix of trip-hop and industrial though rarely anything in particular. B+(*) [sp]
Zola Jesus: Arkhon (2022, Sacred Bones): Goth singer-songwriter Nicole Hummel, aka Nika Roza Danilova (grandparents immigrated from Ukraine, and she liked the Slavic name), born in Arizona, grew up in Wisconsin, first album 2009, this her sixth. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Bob Corritore & Friends: Down Home Blues Revue (1995-2012 , SWMAF/VizzTone): Chicago harmonica player, doesn't sing, which he makes up for by rotating his many friends. He has four previous albums designated as such, but many more collaborations. This plumbs his vault for 13 songs with 10 friends, the dupes T-Model Ford and Robert "Bilbo" Walker. B+(**) [sp]
Bob Dowe: Build Me Up (1973-78 , Trojan/Sanctuary): Reggae singer (1946-2006), best known for the Melodians, but released this 1974 album under his own name, a second in 1981, and many singles. Reissue, which matches the first disc of a Doctor Bird 2-CD, adds a dozen bonus tracks, which if anything up the ante (though nothing quite rises to the level of the alternate mix of "Girl I've Got a Date," which you know from the group). B+(**) [sp]
Bob Dowe/The Melodians: Build Me Up/Pre-Meditation (1968-78 , Doctor Bird, 2CD): Heard this twofer reissue split into pieces, but easy enough to sum it up. B+(***) [sp]Madonna: Finally Enough Love (1982-2019 , Warner): A remix best-of, 16 tracks, an advance teaser for the 50 Number Ones (a record, but the fine print notes we're only talking about dance charts) coming out in August. Hard to know how to judge remixes, but compared to You Can Dance or The Immaculate Collection, this shades late, which lets me feel this is a bit less indispensible. B+(***)
The Melodians: Pre-Meditation (1968-78 , Trojan/Sanctuary): Legendary Jamaican vocal group, third album from 1978 (which included a couple cuts from 1968) plus extras, on 2-CD with Bob Dowe's Build Me Up from Doctor Bird but digital is split. B+(***) [sp]
Orchestre Volta-Jazz: Air Volta (1974-77 , Numero Group): Group from Upper Volta, a landlocked French colony in West Africa, between Ghana and Mali, renamed Burkina Faso in 1984. Discogs lists these 9 songs as singles, but only provides a couple of dates. Early cuts Sound like junkyard percussion, but that could just be the recording. A slow one ("Djougou Toro") is especially nice. B+(**) [sp]
Neil Young With Crazy Horse: Toast (2001 , Reprise): Previously unreleased 7-song album, from between Silver and Gold and Are You Passionate?, which are both pretty good if not quite landmark albums. B+(**)
Francis Bebey: Nandola/With Love: Works: 1963-1994 (1963-94 , Original Music): Born in Cameroon 1929, died in Paris 2001, in between distinguished himself not just as a musician but as a poet, novelist, folklorist, and historian. He studied math to start, but an interest in broadcasting took him to Paris and New York before Kwame Nkrumah persuaded him to move to Ghana, newly independent in 1957. He sang, played guitar and flute, drawing on a wide range of African music, but also got into electronics. This ranges widely, nothing that really blows you away, but interesting pieces abound, and the notes (by John Storm Roberts) help. B+(***) [cd]
Sathima Bea Benjamin: Memories and Dreams (1983 , Ekapa/Blackhawk): South African jazz singer, not sure of her race (father from St. Helena; mother "had roots in Mauritius and the Philippines"), but she left South Africa for Europe with future husband Abdullah Ibraham in 1960, after the Sharpeville Massacre, and lived most of the rest of her life in New York -- where this was recorded, with Onaje Allan Gumbs (piano), Buster Williams (bass), Carlos Ward (sax/flute), and on drums either Billy Higgins or Ben Riley. First side is her chronicle of the struggle against apartheid, "Liberation Suite." Second side has four covers, including two Ellington pieces. B+(***) [lp]
Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Audio-Visualscapes (1988, Impulse): Drummer-led quintet, also plays keyboards, same group as above but more electric bass (and probably more flute). Long (74:05), feels muddled. B- [cd]
Paul Rutherford/Derek Bailey/Barry Guy: ISKRA 1903: Chapter One (1970-72 , Emanem, 3CD): Trombone, guitar, bass: three major figures in the British avant-garde, early in their careers (aside from this, Bailey's debut was 1970, Guy's 1972, Rutherford 1975). Originally a 2-LP with 11 Improvisations, the CD reissue adds Offcut 1-3, Extra 1-3, and 38:55 of "On Tour." Abstract and scratchy as you'd expect if you know these remarkable musicians. Rutherford went on to use ISKRA variants for a number of albums, later replacing Bailey with Philipp Wachsmann. B+(***) [cd]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 10, 2022
Speaking of Which
Just a few scattered links this week, then I spent a whole day writing an afterword that tripled the length.
One small note from Twitter, where Marc Masters created a meme from three Kathleen Parker headlines:
Back during WWII, the OSS (the predecessor of the CIA), came up with a term to describe American leftists who warned about the growing threat of Nazi Germany, some of whom were so bothered they volunteered to fight for Spain against Franco and his German and Italian allies. They were called "premature anti-fascists," as if sensible people should hold up and wait until some line-crossing moment when anti-fascism suddenly became fashionable. I always thought that the earlier people recognized problems, the better, but Parker clearly isn't that perceptive. So how come she's a widely syndicated columnist?
Zack Beauchamp: [07-06] How conservatism conquered America -- and corrupted itself: Reviews three books, but the author seems to be working toward a book of his own. The books are: Matthew Rose, A World After Liberalism; Matthew Continetti, The Right; and Tim Miller, Why We Did It. The problem with Rose's illiberal "thinkers" is that hardly anyone on the right understands them, or cares about maintaining ideological continuity between Nazis and today's Republicans. To the extent that people on the right have any ideology, it's closer to the "classic liberalism" of Hayek, Rand and Koch than the völkish romance of Spengler. It's true that the right never had a problem with libertinage-for-us and the-jackboot-for-you. But they didn't become corrupt with Trump. They were corrupt from the start. Trump's only innovation was that he was utterly shameless about it, which came off to his followers as authenticity and candor. The right has always wanted to speak for the freedom to be cruel.
Lindsay M Chervinsky: [07-07] Garland Has to Prosecute Trump for January 6 to Restore Faith in the Justice Department: Problem is it won't work, and more likely will backfire. It will inevitably look political, and Trump is very unlikely to be convicted, so while it may be fun to watch him squirm, it would be a waste of effort. Moreover, even if successful, it's way short of what it would take to "restore faith." Part of the problem is that the obvious charges like seditious conspiracy are bullshit political laws, even if you define them narrowly and document them rigorously. What I would like to see is a Special Prosecutor charged with investigating a wide range of corruption charges, ranging from the scandals that sunk Pruitt and Zinke to the hundreds of millions Jared Kushner got from the Saudis. Even where charges can't be filed, it would open some eyes to get a thorough accounting of the most thoroughly corrupt administration in American history.
Fabiola Cineas: [07-07] What we know about the deadly police shooting of Jayland Walker: "Akron police officers released body camera footage of the killing that raises questions about excessive force." Excessive? Walker was unarmed. Police shot 90 rounds, and hit Walker 60 times.
Ryan Cooper: [07-07] President Biden Is Not Cutting the Mustard: "Young people are abandoning him in droves because he won't fight for their rights and freedo."
Michelle Goldberg: [07-07] The Delightful Implosion of Boris Johnson. She admits to Schadenfreude, but bad as Johnson was, hard to avoid a bit of jealousy that UK Conservatives could put down a dysfunctional leader, while Republicans don't dare touch Trump. The following pieces often return to this theme:
Jonathan Guyer: [07-05] Inside Ukraine's lobbying blitz in Washington: It's inconceivable running a war in Washington without greasing some palms.
Margaret Hartmann: [07-08] Shinzo Abe, Former Prime Miniser of Japan, Is Assassinated. But isn't it kind of strange that 80% of the article are reproductions of tweets from world leaders, as if any of them have anything at all interesting to say? It's hard to convey how exceptional any shooting is in Japan, where there was only one murder-by-gun in all of 2021. More info:
Ellen Ioanes: [07-09] Protests force Sri Lanka's leaders to resign: "Entrenched corruption and a political dynasty may keep them in power, though."
Paul Krugman: [07-08] Wonking Out: Rockets, Feathers and Prices at the Pump: Finally admits that, "yes, market power can worsen inflation." A paper by Mike Konczal and Niko Lusiani seems to have finally convinced him. Krugman also wrote That Was the Stagflation That Was, where he notes that: "The wholesale price of gasoline has fallen about 80 cents a gallon since its peak a month ago. Only a little of this plunge has been passed on to consumers so far." You still believe all of those articles about how greed has nothing to with gas prices?
Ian Millhiser: [07-09] The post-legal Supreme Court: "The highest Court in the most powerful nation in the world appears to have decided that it only needs to follow the law when it feels like it."
Kate Riga: [07-06] Kansas Republicans Scheduled Big Abortion Vote for Low-Turnout Primaries. Will It Backfire? If Republicans thought their amendment would be popular, they wouldn't have scheduled it on a typically low-turnout primary day, and they wouldn't be lying so much about what it means.
Corey Robin: [07-09] The Self-Fulfilling Prophecies of Clarence Thomas: "For decades, Thomas has had a deeply pessimistic view of the country, rooted in his reading of the Fourteenth Amendment. After the Supreme Court's recent opinions, his dystopia is becoming our reality." Robin has written several books on the reactionary right, including a whole one on The Enigma of Clarence Thomas.
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-08] Roaming Charges: Knocked Out and Re-Loaded. Some of the gun violence statistics actually managed to take me aback. One is that "124 people die every day in the US in acts of gun violence." That works out to 45,260 per year, which is about what I knew, but breaking it down per day makes it seem more inexorably relentless. The other is that we've had "320 mass shootings, putting 2022 on track to finish as one of the deadliest years in US history." But that works out to about 2 per day, which may be par, but feels like less than we hear about many days. St Clair also linked to the following:
The possible political book keeps evolving in my mind. Last week I was debating between writing a Speaking of Which and working on an outline. I decided I could do the former then maybe tack the outline on at the end, but didn't get to it. This week, well, I had a bit of time, so did a quick brain dump on my latest thinking. Titles aren't great, but here's what the structure looks like:
I've written outlines of American History in Four Eras several times (e.g., at some length on Jan. 27, 2019, but also on June 10, 2018, June 2, 2019, Jan. 19, 2000, March 9, 2020, May 31, 2020. The original insight was that US history could be broken up into four long eras of partisan dominance, each starting with a major two-term president and each ending with a disastrous one-termer: Jefferson-to-Buchanan, Lincoln-to-Hoover, Roosevelt-to-Carter, and Reagan-to-Trump. (Washington-to-Adams also fits that criteria, except for length.) In each of these, the dominant party's long rule was interrupted by loss to two opponents: in the Jefferson-Buchanan period, Whigs won by running ex-generals (Harrison and Taylor), but they died in office, having little effect; the other eras were interrupted by two-term each (Cleveland and Wilson, Eisenhower and Nixon, Clinton and Obama; note that none were consecutive, unlike Roosevelt-Truman and Reagan-Bush).
Several things are interesting about all this. One is that the exceptions tried to maneuver under and around the hegemony of the dominant party. Eisenhower and Nixon accepted the "big government" New Deal paradigm, although they sought to undermine it at the edges. Clinton and Obama bought into the pro-business, militarist, "end-of-big-government" Reagan mythology, even if they tried to soften its harsh prescriptions. The earlier periods are messier to map, and one might be tempted to split them. Jackson marks a pretty clean break in the first era; McKinley is the right time to divide the second, but Bryan's takeover of the Democratic Party may have been the more important shift, producing progressive movements in both parties, reflected variously by T. Roosevelt and Wilson. The point I want to draw out here is how operating under the hegemony of a dominant party may be practical politics, it doesn't help you prepare for the crisis that occurs when the dominant party fails.
Another thing is that each era starts with a crisis resulting in a massive shift of power -- in terms of Congress, Reagan is anomalous, but by 1980 the presidency had become so powerful that gave him a lot of leeway. The first three of those eras were marked by initial shifts to the left -- Reagan, again, is the exception, and the Reagan era is again anomalous in that it along represented a turn against a broader and more inclusive democracy. We have to ask how that was even possible.
The answer would appear to be that in all eras, as politics returns to normal, people are less engaged, and special interests worm their way in, exploiting a deeply ingrained (even if very unpopular) tendency toward corruption. After all, getting rich has been a common aspiration and a matter of national pride since colonial days. The Grant and Harding administrations were perhaps the most famously corrupt, and while it's easy to blame them on inattentive leaders, they occurred at points when business was finding government favor especially lucrative (railroads and oil, respectively). But the Republican Party has always looked to government as a source of private riches (in 1860, the campaign slogan urged farmers to vote themselves free land, and manufacturers to vote for tariffs). By the time you get to Reagan and the "greed is good" decade, this penchant for corruption was baked into their DNA. Every Republican administration from Nixon on has been wracked by corruption scandals. We'll return to this frequently throughout the book.
The second section follows the Republicans from the freak election of 1946 (which among other things passed Taft-Hartley) on. We can talk a bit about the Goldwater right, but Richard Nixon is the key figure, because he's the one who taught the party to do whatever it takes, no matter how deceitful, unscrupulous, or plain illegal, to win. We'll look at Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority, and how Republicans welded several reactionary factions into a solid base. We'll look at how that base allowed them to recover from defeats when their policies blew up disastrously. And we'll show how those decisions, while allowing them to claim and hang onto considerable power, despite repeated proof of their inability to govern wisely or even competently. Indeed, each time they lose, they bounce back more vicious and insane than ever.
Another thing we need to talk about here is the structure of the Republican Party: particularly, the donor networks, their think tanks and university alliances, the lobbies, allied groups like the NRA, their propaganda organs, and their influence on "mainstream media."
The third section introduces the Republicans' most intractable enemy: reality. Republicans are masters at crafting rhetoric that flatters their supporters and excoriates their imagined enemies (the "radical left"), but their deeply ingrained corruption keeps them from facing their real problems (especially problems they themselves created). In this section, we take a handful of sample subjects, explain briefly how they work, how they eventually break down, and why the Republicans have no solution for them. This chapter could grow into a massive book of its own, so it is important to pick relatively obvious cases. Some possibilities: health care, climate, trade, immigration, civil service, information, education, public welfare, war, justice.
These are all big subjects, so I'm inclined to start with some common threads. First, I'd emphasize how much the world has changed in my lifetime, especially since my grandfather's before me (he was born in 1895). This new world is much more complex, and much harder to understand, especially in its complex interdependency. As a practical matter, we have to delegate large parts of responsibility to experts, and they have to be trustworthy. That's hard in any case, but all the more difficult in a hyper-individualistic society largely driven by the profit motive, with its consequent levels of inequality and injustice.
The individual topics are big and deep, and risk swallowing up our available attention. One approach that may help is to limit analysis to Republican approaches. We don't have to solve health care or climate; just show that Republicans won't, can't, and are only likely to make the situation worse. Chapters two and three should demolish any hope that Republicans might face up to and overcome the problems of the modern world.
The fourth chapter is about and for the Democrats. It starts with some history, a survey of how Democrats have reacted to Republican attacks, probably going back (briefly) to 1946, but mostly we have to deal with the Reagan-Bush-Trump era. That involves spending some time with the New Democrats, to make two important points: one is that their concessions to the Republicans failed politically, both to gain ground in the center and to hold their own base; the other is that they failed to solve major problems, or even to help us understand why such problems matter and persist. Clinton and Obama may have made the world a little better than they found it, but they did not prepare the voters to keep it better, and to keep on working to make it better. Otherwise they would not have lost their Congressional majorities after two years, nor been succeeded by such manifestly incompetent and disastrous presidents as Bush and Trump.
The rest of this chapter is meant to help Democrats campaign more effectively. After all, they are the only alternative to Republicans, who are hopelessly compromised. (Third-party prospects can be easily dismissed.) If we look at real interests, we should be able to show that Republicans favor a vanishingly small minority, which in a democracy should quickly be rendered powerless. We can even point out that Republicans understand this, as they've as much as admitted by their anti-democratic efforts (voter suppression, gerrymandering, unlimited money, etc.; these points may fit just as well in the 2nd chapter). The main way they get away with it is due to their ability to convince voters (who are notoriously ill-informed, and rarely able to grasp complex problems and policies) not to trust Democrats. The only way out of this is for Democrats to show voters that they care about their voters, that they are open and honest and not beholden to special interests. They need to be seen as approachable and sincere. They need to be regarded as fair and just. While this may seem like a high bar, in practice they only need to be seen as clearly better than the Republicans, so by all means point out when Republicans betray public trust, or otherwise attempt to deceive and manipulate voters, such as by appealing to their prejudices.
This chapter is likely to turn into a hodge-podge of political advice, ranging from how to counter stereotypes about Democrats to how to avoid overreacting to problem issues. I won't try to sketch out a list here, but every day I read the paper I run across cases that could be handled better. As critical as I am of businesses, we need them and they need to be profitable, so any policy that hits them needs to be considered carefully. Most policy questions involve tradeoffs, and one needs to be sensitive to all concerned. But "all concerned" needs to include the public, and (even harder to factor in) the future. We need to recognize what we don't (or can't) know, and we need the flexibility to adjust when things don't work out as expected. We need to avoid getting too caught up in our own rhetoric and logic. We need to understand that it's impossible to change things immediately, and that changing things too fast is disruptive and upsetting. On the other hand, that's no excuse for doing nothing.
The fourth chapter will avoid discussions of policy specifics, but it may get into philosophical principles. Democrats need to align themselves more firmly in favor of individual freedom and responsibility, but they also need to be more sensitive to the corrosive effect of power imbalances. Inequality would be less of a problem if it were possible to mitigate the differences in power. Often the easiest way to do this is to create countervailing power forces.
The fifth chapter is reserved for policy matters. I expect that this will eventually be cut from the book, possibly to be spun off into another, but for the time being, it is a place to move policy thoughts out into. I have a lot of policy ideas that I think would be good for Democrats and for the country and the world, but they are outside of the present Overton Window, so they have no value in a book of practical politics. Ending intellectual property and replacing it with a system of public grants and free licenses is a relatively clear example. (Even so, it involves some fairly deep changes in how we think about creativity, incentive, and the public interest.)
The "Introduction" and/or "Afterword" are needed to fit the body of the book into a particular political context. At this point, it's impossible to write this and release it before the November 2022 election, which is likely to significantly alter the landscape.
I've been kicking around ideas for a political book as far back as the late 1990s. I even took some time off then to work on a draft. I had studied philosophy and sociology in college, but made a career out of software engineering. It occurred to me that one could apply engineering discipline to many political issues without succumbing to the hack mechanistic simplifications common to the genre. Perhaps my personal background would help figure out what might and might not work. But I wasn't satisfied with what I came up with, and shelved it. After 9/11/2001, I took a renewed, more urgent interest in politics, and started blogging. I was dead set against the War on Terror from the very start. By 2004, I saw the need for a narrowly-focused polemic Case Against the Republicans, but missed the election window. Still, I kept turning the ideas around my mind, mostly thinking of a longer time frame. I've been fond of utopian writing since my late teens, so I found the title The Way Things Ought to Be very appealing. (Unfortunately, Rush Limbaugh used it, in a 1992 book that turned out to mostly be an insane rant against Anita Hill.) I've long been struck by the extent of change over the last 150 years, and felt that people everywhere had done a poor job of adjusting their thinking to cope with the times. But while bad ideas were everywhere, really dangerous ones were concentrated in the Republican Party, so I tended to vacillate between focus on urgent vs. important matters. While Obama was president, it seemed more important to think long, but when Trump lucked out, an urgent sense of impending doom took over. In early 2020, I again narrowed the focus and opened a file for A Letter to the Democrats, which I started by copying the "four eras" outline. I hoped to close the door on the Reagan-to-Trump era, and open a new one -- sure Biden didn't rise to the standards of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, but history has never been a mechanical cycle. I imagined a short book, with the four eras for historical background, and a second part closer to chapter four above. I had a short window, and blew it. After the election, it took some time for me to think through the second and third chapters, which again return the focus onto the Republican threat. For a while, the third was "The Way the World Works," but while reading Vaclav Smil's similar title it occurred to me that "Breaks" would be better than "Works." Republicans break things.
It's not that I have had writer's block. I have millions of words written in my various notebook/blog files (collected in 4 huge volumes here), but at this stage I have no confidence in my ability to pull an actual book together. Perhaps it's just a psychotic "will to fail"? But I do think this outline makes sense, and there's no shortage of material to flesh it out -- once you get going, the harder thing is to decide where to stop. The target audience would be active Democrats, who by now fear Republicans as much as I do, but are hard-pressed to formulate effective tactics to oppose them. I have no experience in doing so, but can draw on a lifetime of observing Democrats fuck up and sell out short. The 2016 debacle was not because America was too conservative, but because a critical sliver of the public so distrusted Hillary that they were willing to take a chance on Trump. Incredibly stupid that was, but that's why we need smarter critics.
Monday, July 4, 2022
Music: Current count 38282  rated (+55), 78  unrated (-9).
Posted a rather substantial Speaking of Which yesterday. (Added one more link today, after finding a tab I had opened but missed.) After complaining about no Facebook reaction last week, I finally got a like, a comment, and a message from an old Boston friend, so let's dedicate this one to her. I was torn at first between writing one and starting to jot down my latest book thinking. I decided I could do the latter in the end section of the post, but it turns out I never got that far. I had two things I wanted to write about: first was Robert Christgau's Hillary Clinton Lookback; second was further correspondence with Crocodile Chuck, following my last week Q&A. After that it was mostly a matter of filling in the sections on Ukraine, SCOTUS, and the January 6 Committee. As I went through my paces, I found a few more topics to note, and wound up including a couple pages I didn't have much to say about, but felt like bookmarking anyway (e.g., Elizabeth Nelson on Anthony Bourdain, Annie Proulx on swamps).
By the way, I ordered the two Tariq Ali books (on Churchill and Afghanistan). I'm also through the first section of the Millhiser book (Injustices). I was already familiar with a number of the 19th century cases in that section from reading Jack Beatty's Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, but Millhiser's description of the conditions is remarkably good. Millhiser also has a more recent (2021) but shorter (143 pp) book: The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court Is Reshaping America, and has written a lot more since then in Vox. Another promising book on the recent Supreme Court is Adam Cohen's Supreme Inequalilty: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America. (Cohen previously wrote a whole book on the Carrie Buck case, which Millhiser presents in 4-5 pages.)
Another valuable critic of the right-wing takeover of the Court is Erwin Chemerinsky, who has a number of books on the subject. The only one I've read so far fits into a slightly different genre: books that offer close readings of America's founding documents and find them compatible with progressive reform. Chemerinsky's is We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century. A similar book is Danielle S Allen's Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. I recommend them both (Allen's is especially appropriate on this 4th of July), and even more so Ganesh Sitaraman's The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. I'll also note that two of our greatest historians have found progressive kernels in the Constitution: Gordon S Wood, in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, and Eric Foner, in The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. I'm fully aware that every step forward is met with vitriol and retrenchment from self-proclaimed conservatives, and that they have often been successful, but when we look back on our history, the moments we're proudest of, and most inspired by, have always aspired toward more universal justice.
I suppose I should note that I started out as a devout believer in what I saw as American ideals, the consistent application of which led me toward a peculiarly individualized understanding of the left. One early step for me was reading Staughton Lynd's Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (1968). I was so taken by the book that I wrote a defensive letter to Eugene Genovese, who had written a brutal review of Lind's book in The New York Review of Books. Genovese kindly replied, and suggested I read some of his work (which aside from papers at the time was just The Political Economy of Slavery). I did, and that was my introduction to Marxism. I came to understand Genovese's critique, but doubt I ever lost my initial sympathy for Lind -- or for the idea that a better America could draw on the ideals of the Revolution and Reconstruction.
I wrote the above last night, without particularly realizing that today is the 4th of July. We have no holiday plans. I probably won't even bother walking down the block to where the big fireworks show should be visible. I don't mind celebrating the holiday so much -- as I said above, the Declaration of Independence still resonates for me -- but I've come to hate the idea of celebrating by blowing things up.
I don't have much to say about music this week. I'm still trying to track down my long-time unrated list, which is the only reason I bothered with two Christmas albums this week. The top "old music" find this week was an LP I noticed while looking for something else. It turned out to be unrated but not in my unrated list, so finding it was dumb luck. Makes me wonder how many more there are. Otherwise, I've been following tips from more lists than I can keep track of. Some came from mid-year lists, links here.
As we've hit mid-year, I suppose I could offer you a list. The usual full one is here, but to focus a bit, let's omit the jazz (about half of the A-list, more like two-thirds of the overall list), and also omit records Robert Christgau has already reviewed/graded (since you probably know them already). That leaves us with this:
I imagine a couple of those will appear in July's Consumer Guide, but don't dare guess which. Two are items I only wrote up today, too late for this post, so they'll be part of next week's (but I'll give you the album covers anyway).
New records reviewed this week:
Angles: A Muted Reality (2021 , Clean Feed): Octet, led by Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen, who has used the group name for a number of projects, usually qualified by the number of players, from 3-9. Three pieces, 38:26. Takes a while to find the track, but impressive when they do. B+(***) [bc]
Avalanche Kaito: Avalanche Kaito (2022, Glitterbeat): "A Burkinabe urban griot [Kaito Winse] meets a Brussels noise punk duo" [Benjamin Chavel on drums/electronics, Amaud Paquotte bass]. A sign of the times, if not much more than that. B+(*) [bc]
Camille Bertault & David Helbock: Playground (2021 , ACT): French jazz singer, fourth album, wrote three songs here, four more coming from the Austrian pianist, with widely scattered covers (Monk, Scriabine, Gismonti, Björk, "Good Morning Heartache"). B+(**) [sp]
Daniel Carter/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver: Welcome Adventure! Vol. 2 (2019 , 577): Label likes to do these staged 2-volume deals, with Vol. 1 out back in 2020. Carter is credited with saxophones and clarinet; the others you know (piano, bass, drums). B+(**) [dl]
Daniel Carter/Patrick Holmes/Matthew Putnam/Hilliard Greene/Federico Ughi: Telepatica (2018 , 577): Leader plays saxes, clarinet, and trumpet; others: clarinet, piano, bass, drums. B+(*) [dl]
Roxy Coss: Disparate Parts (2022, Outside In Music): Tenor saxophonist, fifth album, backed by guitar (Alex Wintz), piano (Miki Yamanaka), bass and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Amalie Dahl: Dafnie (2022, Sonic Transmissions): Danish saxophonist (alto/baritone, also clarinet), based in Trondheim, first album, group listed as Amalie Dahl's Dafnie, but cover parses as above. Quintet with trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Glenn Dickson: Wider Than the Sky (2021 , Naftule's Dream): Klezmer clarinetist, first album under his own name, after group albums with Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and Naftule's Dream. Solo, accompanied by loops. B+(**) [cd] [07-08]
Signe Emmeluth/Dag Erik Knedal Andersen/Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard: The A-Z of Microwave Cookery (2020 , Astral Spirits): Norwegian sax/bass/piano trio, alto/tenor. Joint improv, loses a bit when they slow down, but not much. B+(***) [bc]
David Francis: Sings Songs of the Twenties (2022, Blujazz, EP): Seattle-based standards singer, opens with "Honeysuckle Rose," touches on "Oh, Lady Be Good" and "Rockin' Chair," finishing seven songs in 19:17, not bad, been done better. B [cd]
GoGo Penguin: Between Two Waves (2022, XXIM, EP): British piano trio (Chris Illingworth, Nick Blacka, Jon Scott), albums since 2012, build off a snappy rhythm. Five songs, 24:41. B+(**) [sp]
Hard Bop Messengers: Live at the Last Hotel (2022, Pacific Coast Jazz): Group from St. Louis led by John Covelli (trombone), with Ben Shafer (sax/flute), Luke Sailor (piano), bass, drums, and lounge lizard singer Matt Krieg. Not as hard bop as you'd expect, but they swing some. B+(*) [sp]
Landaeus Trio: A Crisis of Perception (2019 , Clean Feed): Piano trio led by Mathias Landaeus (also some interesting electronics), with Johnny Aman (bass) and Cornelia Nilsson (drums). Pianist has albums going back to 1996, and Trio has appeared on several albums backing up Martin Küchen. B+(***) [bc]
Magnus Lindgren/Georg Breinschmid: Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic XIII: Celebrating Mingus 100 (2022, ACT): Six Mingus classics, four arranged by Lindgren (baritone sax/bass clarinet, from Sweden), the others by Breinschmid (bass, from Austria), both with 20+ year careers that lean toward big bands. Group is an octet (plus vocalist Camille Bertault on one song), which splits the difference between the big bands that have flocked to Mingus since his death and the quintets that Mingus somehow whipped up into sounding even larger. B+(***) [sp]
Jeremy Manasia Trio: Butcher Block Ballet (2021 , Blujazz): Straightforward piano trio, with Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Charles Ruggiero (drums). B+(*) [cd]
Moskus: Papirfuglen (2020 , Hubro): Norwegian group, albums since 2012, started as a piano (Anja Lauvdal), bass (Fredrik Luh Dietrichson), and drums (Hans Hulbaekmo) trio, but vary their sound more here, adding: synths/cembalo/vocoder, cello/mandolin, jews harp/drum machine/glockenspiel/recorder. B+(**) [bc]
OK:KO: Liesu (2022, We Jazz): Finnish quartet, led by drummer Okko Saastamoinen, with sax (Jarno Tikka), piano, and bass. B+(**) [bc]
Samo Salamon/Arild Andersen/Ra Kalam Bob Moses: Pure and Simple (2021 , Samo): Slovenian guitarist, sends me most of his work, which I'm quite fond of, but rarely this much. The elders on bass and drums are more than inspiring. A- [cd]
Samo Salamon/Sabir Mateen: Joy and Sorrow (2020 , Klopotec): Date given as "a couple years ago." Guitar and tenor sax/clarinet duo. Short (4 tracks, 35:50), some power. B+(***) [bc]
Samo Salamon/Cene Resnik/Urban Kusar: Takt Ars Sessions: Vol. 3 (2022, Samo): Guitar/tenor sax/drums, free improv set, new drummer this time after Jaka Berger on first two volumes. B+(***) [bc]
Linda Sikhakhane: Isambulo (2022, Ropeadope): South African saxophonist (tenor/soprano), studied in New York (Billy Harper was a mentor), based in Norway, third album. His sax has a spiritual (as in Coltrane) vibe to it. Parras and Anna Widauer vocals not so much. B+(**)
Soccer Mommy: Sometimes Forever (2022, Loma Vista): Singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, born in Zürich, grew up in Nashville, third album, starting to lose me. B+(*)
Günter Baby Sommer & the Lucaciu 3: Karawane (2022, Intakt): Venerable German drummer, says here "at the height of his musical career," but he's 78, born in Dresden shortly before the March 1945 fire-bombing that burned much of the city and killed 25,000 (revised estimate, I recall much higher numbers), old enough that he adopted his nickname in honor of Baby Dodds. Still pretty vigorous here. The Lucacius are Antonio (sax), Simon (piano), and Robert (bass), much younger (Antonio was born in 1987), also German (from Plauen). They get better when Sommer lights a fire under them. One highlight is a jive vocal, Sommer again. B+(***) [sp]
Regina Spektor: Home, Before and After (2022, Sire): Singer-songwriter, pianist, born in Moscow, came to US in 1989, and released her first album in 2001. This is number eight. Every song is striking, most lyrics are memorable. A-
The Sun Sawed in 1/2: Before the Fall (2022, self-released, EP): Neo-psychedelic pop outfit from St. Louis, founded 1990 by brothers Ken and Tim Rose, recorded five albums through 2000, one more in 2013, several EPs since 2021. This one is 6 songs, 25:09. B [bc]
Tarbaby Feat. Oliver Lake: Dance of the Evil Toys (2022, Clean Feed): Group a piano trio led by Orrin Evans with Eric Revis (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums), appeared originally in 2009 on a short eponymous album, with three more albums through 2013, including one with alto saxophonist Lake as a guest. This one also adds Josh Lawrence (trumpet) and extra percussion (Dana Murray) on the title track. Evans' vocal on the opener threw me, but Lake gives another strong performance. B+(**) [bc]
TEIP Trio: TEIP Trio (2020 , Sonic Transmissions): Free jazz trio ("with heavy rock elements") from Trondheim, Norway: Jens-Jonas Francis Roberts (clarinet), Arne Bredesen (guitar), Nicolas Leirtrř (baritone guitar). Closer to ambient, but on the creepy side. B+(*) [bc]
Crystal Thomas: Now Dig This! (2021, Dialtone): Blues singer, plays some trombone, old-fashioned enough the album is in mono, band led by Lucky Peterson on organ, with Johnny Moeller on guitar, plus bass and drums. No originals: writing credits include Albert King, Shirley Scott, Jerry Williams Jr., Janis Joplin. B+(***) [sp]
Kobe Van Cauwenberghe: Ghost Trance Septet Plays Anthony Braxton (2021 , El Negocito): Guitarist, also credited with synths and voice, from Belgium (Antwerp), has a couple albums, including Ghost Trance Solos on this same music. Septet here covers a nice range with trumpet/euphonium, tenor sax/bass clarinet, piano, violin, bass, and drums (no names I recall running into). Four pieces, each 22-25 minutes. I've somehow managed to miss all of Braxton's Ghost Trance Music (GTM) recordings, so entered this with no particular expectations. But for tarters, most pieces are pretty bouncy, in that stilted way of old classical music (Bach?), but much less predictable, and much more interesting. B+(***) [dl]
Bugge Wesseltoft: Be Am (2021 , Jazzland): Norwegian pianist, ventured into electronics with his New Conception of Jazz records. This, however, is mostly solo piano (acoustic, but some electric, kalimba, and effects), with tenor sax (Hĺkon Kornstad) on two tracks. B+(*) [sp]
Wild Up: Julius Eastman Vol. 2: Joy Boy (2022, New Amsterdam): Large group base in Los Angeles, lots of strings with twice as many reeds as brass, and voices as needed. Did Femenine for their first volume of Eastman compositions, expect to release seven volumes before they're done. The previously unrecorded title piece is especially interesting. B+(**)
Tom Zé: Língua Brasileira (2022, Sesc): Iconoclastic Brazilian singer-songwriter, started in the late 1960s with the Tropicália movement, slipped into obscurity but Americans discovered him through two 1990-04 Luaka Bop compilations. I've been up and down on him, and find this one even more confusing than most. B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
A Chant About the Beauty of the Moon at Night: Hawaiian Steel Guitar Masters: Lost + Rare Performances 1913-1921 (1913-21 , Magnificent Sounds): Title about covers it. Sound on the thin side, but could be worse given the dates. An interesting curio. B [bc]
Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten/Rolf-Erik Nystrřm: El Sistema (2000 , Sonic Transmissions): Norwegian bass and sax duo, no spec on the saxophone(s), but alto seems to be his first choice. The combination usually favors the saxophonist, but more often than not the bassist is out front. B+(***) [bc]
Malik's Emerging Force Art Trio: Time and Condition (1982 , Moved-by-Sound): Alto saxophonist Maurice Malik King, from St. Louis, first and possibly only album, trio with Zimbabwe Nkenya (bass violin) and Qaiyim Shabazz (congas). B+(***) [bc]
Asha Puthli: The Essential Asha Puthli (1968-80 , Mr. Bongo): Indian singer and actress, early singles with a group called the Surfers (including covers of "Sound of Silence," "Sunny," and "Fever"), appeared on Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction (2 tracks here), at least four albums for CBS in the 1970s (as far as this album goes). Hard to tell much from such scattered examples, but I rather like her disco phase. B+(***) [bc]
Sirone: Artistry (1978 , Moved-by-Sound): Bassist Norris Jones (1940-2009), from Georgia, best known as a member of the Revolutionary Ensemble (with Leroy Jenkins and Jerome Cooper). First of only several albums as leader, with James Newton (flute), Muneer Bernard Fennell (cello), and Don Moye (percussion). B+(*) [bc]
Ray Charles: True to Life (1977, Atlantic): On his return to Atlantic, he tries to turn on the genius, and scores some minor successes. B+(**) [yt]
Jason Paul Curtis: These Christmas Days (2017, self-released): Jazz singer, based in Virginia near DC, fourth album (turns out I got the title wrong of the one I've heard). Mostly originals, half done with a big band called Swing Shift, the other half with a 4-piece combo called Swinglab. B- [cd]
Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Irresistible Forces (1987, MCA/Impulse): Drummer, used this group name for six albums (1981-91), here a sextet including "special guest" Nana Vasconcelos (percussion). The others are Greg Osby (alto/soprano sax), Gary Thomas (tenor sax/flute), Mick Goodrick (guitar), and Lonnie Plaxico (bass). B+(**) [lp]
Johnny Dyani Quartet: Song for Biko (1978 , SteepleChase): Bassist, one of the Blue Notes exiled from South Africa, settled in Denmark, where he found Don Cherry (cornet), joined here by two more South Africans: Dudu Pukwana (alto sax), and Makaya Ntshoko (drums). The titles may look back to Africa, but the music plunges head first into freedom. A- [lp]
Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere (2015, Epic): Prog-rock band out of Topeka, appeared in 1974 with a lousy album featuring an iconic John Brown painting on the cover (part of a mural in the Kansas State Capitol building). Some time later, I wrote a review making fun of them -- I never was very happy with that piece, because it was built on prejudices, but it went over well with my Voice audience -- and never listened to them again -- even after I got this deluxe package, a CD plus a Blue Ray and DVD of a documentary movie about the band (still haven't watched it, and doubt I ever will). I'm only bothering with the CD now because it's on my checklist. It includes spoken word bits, mostly working as intros to the overblown but not always awful music. C+
Steve Lacy: The Door (1988 , Novus): Soprano saxophonist, started in Dixieland, bypassed bebop for the avant-garde, although he often looked back to Monk and Herbie Nichols -- he plays pieces by Monk, George Handy, and Strayhorn/Ellington here, along with three originals. Two duos here, three quintet pieces (with Steve Potts on alto sax and Bobby Few on piano), adding Irčne Aëbi (violin) and a second drummer, Sam Woodyard (in one of his last performances), for the Ellington. B+(***) [lp]
Michael Mantler/Carla Bley: 13 & 3/4 (1975, Watt): German trumpet player, the former Lovella May Borg's second famous musician husband -- she started touring as Carla Borg in the late 1950s, then married Paul Bley and kept the name. She made her mark initially as a composer, with George Russell and Jimmy Giuffre recording her pieces. Her and Mantler founded the New Music Distribution Service, for artist-owned small labels (theirs was Watt, named for the Samuel Beckett novel), and the Jazz Composers Orchestra, which recorded notable albums by a rotating cast of leaders (Roswell Rudd's Numatik Swing Band is a personal favorite), including Bley's big opera (Escalator Over the Hill in 1971). This album gave each artist a side to compose and conduct, with Bley's band big (19), and Mantler's humongous (56). Both pieces are ambitious, but Mantler's stands out, not just for its grandeur but for Bley's exceptional piano solo midway. Probably no surprise that Mantler wound up doing soundtracks. B+(**) [lp]
Motohiro Nakashima: And I Went to Sleep (2004, Lo): Japanese electronica producer, Discogs lists four albums (2004-09), this the first, but Bandcamp has more recent material. Plays guitar, keyboards, picks up some folk influence, keeps a nice flow. B+(*) [cd]
Sun Ra and His Interglactic Solar Arkestra: Soundtrack to the Film Space Is the Place (1972 , Evidence): Sixteen tracks for a 1974 sci-fi film directed by John Coney, and written by Ra and Joshua Smith, recycling the title of the group's 1973 Impulse album (5 tracks, 42:51; 2 titles appear in both, but in different versions). Not much mood music, but some vocals help with story hints, or are amusing in their own right. B+(**) [cd]
The U.S. Army Blues: Swinging in the Holidays (2017, self-released): Feels stupid to be listening to Christmas music in July, but feels stupid in December too, and this band always gets my blood up, even when they don't personally deserve it. C [cd]
Cedar Walton: Spectrum (1968, Prestige): Pianist (1934-2013), played in the Benny Golson-Art Farmer Jazztet 1958-61, then with Art Blakey (1961-64), led his own albums from 1967, also the group Eastern Rebellion. Second album, one trio track with Richard Davis (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums), four more with Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Clifford Jordan (tenor sax). B+(**)
Cedar Walton: The Electric Boogaloo Song (1969, Prestige): Quintet, same horns (Blue Mitchell and Clifford Jordan), different bass and drums (Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker), with Walton opening on electric piano for the title cut. B
Cedar Walton: Spectrum (1968-69 , Prestige): Twofer CD, adds The Electric Boogaloo Song to the original album (69:26 total). B+(*)
Cedar Walton: Soul Cycle (1970, Prestige): With James Moody (tenor sax), Rudy Stevenson (guitar), Reggie Workman (bass), and Tootie Heath (drums), again opening electric some kind of soul jazz gesture, but acquits himself better on acoustic. B+(*)
Cedar Walton Quartet: Third Set (1977 , SteepleChase): Walton did much of his best work with sax quartets, especially the 1976 album Eastern Rebellion with George Coleman, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins. He kept the group name, releasing an Eastern Rebellion 2 in 1977 with Bob Berg taking over at tenor sax, and continued using it into the 1990s with Ralph Moore. This is the quartet with Berg, the third from Montmartre in Copenhagen (Second Set is a favorite). Starts with a Higgins tune, followed by two Walton originals, winding up with two shorter Monk pieces. B+(***)
Cedar Walton: Among Friends (1982 , Evidence): This is a trio, with Buster Williams (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), plus a guest spot for Bobby Hutcherson (vibes). B+(**) [cd]
Cedar Walton Trio: Cedar (1985 , Timeless): Piano trio, five Walton originals plus one each from David Williams (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). B+(***) [sp]
The Phil Woods Quintet: Heaven (1984 , Evidence): Alto saxophonist, also plays some clarinet here, started in the early 1950s as one of "Bird's children," much later was often found in the company of Benny Carter or Lee Konitz. This comes off as a hard bop quintet, with Tom Harrell (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Hal Galper (piano) giving him a run for the money. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Zé: Grande Liquidaçăo (1968 , Mr. Bongo): Brazilian singer-songwriter Antônio José Santana Martins, discovered for Americans by David Byrne, who packed his 1973-75 singles into Brazil Classics 4: The Best of Tom Zé. This was his first album, from when he was close to the Tropicália movement. Even then, this is odd enough to be called psychedelic, not that I have any idea what that means. Album was originally released as Tom Zé, as was his next two. B+(**) [bc]
Tom Zé: Tom Zé (1970 , Mr. Bongo): Second album, has retained its original eponymous title. Cover suggests a simple singer-songwriter, but nothing with this guy goes quite the way you expect. B+(***) [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 3, 2022
Speaking of Which
PS: Added the Demillo paragraph, which I had intended to include in this post.
I tried answering Crocodile Chuck's letter last week, but I focused on the big question of inflation, but skipped past his "We didn't vote for WWIII" line. He wrote back, ominously:
Chuck is a longtime reader and correspondent, an American familiar with my old St. Louis stomping ground, who sensing doom moved across the Pacific -- and not the only one I know who did that. I doubt I'd be identified as an optimist, but this is a bit too paranoid for me. I seriously doubt that there is any cloistered segment of the American deep state that has anything approaching a serious plan to dismantle China or the Russian Federation. And yeah, I believe there is some kind of "deep state," which ensures continuity of American imperial strategy regardless of changes in elected officials. I just don't think they're that smart or competent. They strike me as more like some bundle of conditioned reflexes, which always return to the old mantras of strength, control, dominance, and hegemony. That said, one of their core beliefs is any degradation of supposed enemies is a zero-sum win for America. So they always see prying former Soviet Republic into the American orbit as desirable, regardless of how Russia may react. They'd love to break Xinjiang and Tibet off China, too, but China doesn't seem to be as fragile as Russia, so for that they have to be contented with Taiwan and jockeying over South China Sea islands. Needless to say, such people are dangerous, and given a free hand they could well start WWIII. But, thus far at least, the system has constrained them. Is anything different now?
Well, a couple things are. The Cold War was built around Kennan's notion of containment, where the US never directly threatened the Soviet Union itself, and generally left it a free hand in dealing with recognized satellites. There were some disputes on the margins (Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, later Afghanistan), but both sides kept them to the margins. This worked partly because although Russia sympathized with anti-colonial liberation movement, they didn't control or depend on them; meanwhile, the US was primarily concerned with continuing the western exploitation of the colonial world (replacing the old powers with globalized companies and local cronies), and didn't need to get too greedy. (Indeed, western companies were quite delighted with the business deals China offered them.) But when the Soviet Union disbanded, America's Cold Warrior got even more greedy and arrogant, with Russia in particular getting the short end of the stick. And with every US effort to nibble a bit more on Russia's borders, the American threat to and contempt for Russia grows more existential. The administration is not completely unaware of this, and seems to be trying to draw a fine line between protecting Ukraine and provoking Russia, and the Americans monitoring that line aren't necessarily the most prudent people possible. Many things they've approved have crossed lines Russia has proclaimed. While none of them have yet led to a really catastrophic response (ranging from Russian attacks outside Ukraine -- e.g., Putin ally says Moscow could torpedo Dutch ports: 'Europe is not invincible' -- to nuclear weapons). On the other hand, other NATO countries, and Ukraine itself, seem less circumspect.
Another thing that I find especially disturbing is how conflict with Russia has become ideologized, especially among Democrats, who have become unusually hawkish. The tendency here is to treat Putin as an aggressively anti-democratic force, both within and beyond Russia, which puts a premium on stopping him sooner rather than later. There is some evidence for this -- the 2016 election interference looms especially large for Democrats -- but beyond ethnic Russians and a few allied groups (as in Transnistria and Abkhazia) it's hard to see Russian nationalism having much appeal. But by taking Putinism as ideology, you're imagining much higher stakes than there are, and that's dangerous.
Chuck wrote me again, making four points which I'll try to condense:
The third point is the most contentious one here. It's true that Biden and Blinken wanted to reëstablish the US as a world leader -- their slogan was "America's back" -- after Trump's "America first" agenda damaged relationships with Europe while surrendering large chunks of US foreign policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Defense of Ukraine was one way to do that, especially in Europe (though not so much elsewhere). I'm not totally clear on the facts, but suppose for the sake of argument the US and Zelensky goaded Putin into his invasion of Ukraine, and therefore deserves some share of blame for the war (although it was Putin who took the bait). How has the war blown up in America's face. Sure, it's cost America a lot of money -- both the state in terms of aid, and the private sector in various kinds of losses and inflation -- but why shouldn't Biden consider that a price worth paying for democracy in Ukraine? (Or for greatly increased US arms sales, and all the other dividends that accrue to America's increased stature among its "allies"?) Granted, it's cost other people and nations more, but since when has the US factored that sort of thing into its calculation? Maybe in the long run those costs will catch up and be regretted, but the zero-summers in the war departments think Russia's losing, so musn't the US be winning?
The other points I've made variants of myself, but I saved the last line for separate treatment: "We all would have been better off under Trump [under whom this never would have happened]." What wouldn't have happened? The invasion? Trump applauded Putin when he did it, so hard to see that as a deterrent. Maybe had Trump not promised support to Ukraine, Zelensky would have been more accommodating, and that might have satisfied Putin, but not according to the logic Putin has given for his decision. Then there's the scenario where Trump vacillates, suggesting Putin has a clear hand to invade, but the Deep State then bullies Trump into fighting, at which point Trump tries to show how tough he is, and blows everything up. Trump's entire foreign policy repertoire is a mix of the worst of Nixon ("mad man" theory) and Agnew ("bag man" corruption). You really don't know what you're going to get, but you can be sure it won't be thought out, and no one will have the slightest idea what the consequences will be.
Still, even if Trump had somehow avoided the war, a second term would have left us so much worse off in so many other areas, it's just mind-boggling to contemplate. By the way, I ran across this Trump quote, a response to Fox News asking him what he'd do differently from Biden in Ukraine:
If this isn't a simple endorsement of Biden's "amazing job," the only thing it suggests he'd do differently is to send US planes in to enforce some kind of "no-fly zone" -- something Biden has ruled out, because he realizes it doesn't just risk but amounts to direct war with Russia, with all the attendant risks of further escalation to nuclear war. Trump may have been personally inclined to let Putin roll over Ukraine, but when Putin invaded Trump's whole security team would have goaded him to action, and because he wants to be seen as a tough guy, he would have wussed out and went with the flow, projecting his contradictions ever more incoherently.
More on Ukraine, Russia, and Biden's foreign policy:
The Supreme Court term came to an end last week, with a stunning series of rulings as the Bush-Bush-Trump-appointed 6-3 majority is flexing its muscles. The January 6 Committee is demonstrating in increasing detail how Trump tried to end democracy by fraud and, failing that, by force, but these Court rulings finally prove that the poison was administered earlier, in the form of those three (and hundreds of lesser) Court appointments, even if the killing stretches out over the years. As bad as this year's rulings were, it's almost certain that worse are still to come.
How bad was this term? Mark Joseph Stern explains: [06-30] Why Today Felt Like the Most Hopeless Day of the SCOTUS Term gives us a quick rundown of what the Court ruled:
There is much more worth reading in this piece. For instance, he concedes that Roberts "split the baby" in Biden v. Texas, reversing an egregious lower court ruling that prevent Biden from rescinding Trump's executive order of his "Remain in Mexico" policy. This "looks like a victory for the President. And it is, but only in the sense that five justices took one small step back from the abyss of total judicial lawlessness." He goes on, noting that "texturalism" and "originalism" are guiding ideologies for the right-wing justices only when they can be twisted to support their political prejudices. He concludes:
More on the Supreme Court and its recent rulines, including abortion:
January 6 Committee: The surprise hearing with Cassidy Hutchinson, who was Mark Meadows' Chief of Staff, provided the best view yet into the White House on the day. The title that sums it up most succinctly is Walter Shapiro: [06-28] President Trump Was a Violent Maniac Behind Closed Doors. Other pieces of note:
Jonathan Chait: [07-01] The Democratic Party Needs Better Moderates: "The centrists have lot of complaints but no solution." Isn't that mostly because they're usually carrying water for business interests? I've said many times they have to move left, because that's where the solutions are. But it's not impossible to imagine moderate programs that make tangible progress on major problems but also respect established business interests and/or cultural concerns. There's little doubt that the left would support serious, practical compromises. (Medicare-for-All advocates in Congress all voted for ACA.) There's also a category that should be very popular among moderates, as it's especially strong among independents and laps into both political parties, but strangely gets no attention (at least among the elected, regardless of party): the political influence of money. Won't someone run with that? Chait cites a piece by Jason Zengerle: [06-29] The Vanishing Moderate Democrat, which argues "their positions are popular," but two 1990s presidential wins for Bill Clinton, while losing decades-long control of Congress, doesn't seem like much proof. For another take on Zengerle see: Ryan Cooper: [06-30] 'Moderate' Democrats Are Anything But.
Robert Christgau: [06-29] The Big Lookback: Hillary Clinton. New introduction for a piece published on October 11, 2016, when it still looked like the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president might work out. It didn't, and that's probably the source of the moment's temptation to say "I told you so" (but for many of us it just underscores her failure). I never doubted that we would have been better off had Hillary won (although it's easy now to overlook that given how she most happily ran on her superior Commander-in-Chief cojones, she could have turned truly awful). Much of the piece focuses on excoriating third parties -- Democrats expect to own the left's votes without doing anything to earn them -- combined with a snide dismissal of Bernie Sanders that only comes up short of a vicious attack because he appreciates Sanders campaigning not just against Trump but for Clinton. Like Christgau, I soured on third parties after 2000, but that was less because I saw Gore's loss as a huge step back (which it turned out to be) than because I realized then that the only path to power for the left would be through the Democratic Party, if simply for the reason that's where the voters most interested in joining us are stuck. (That was clearest here in Kansas, where Gore got over 10 times as many votes as Nader [37.2% to 3.4%], despite the DP not raising a finger to help Gore.) Still, I've never felt the slightest temptation to blame anyone on the left for the Democratic Party's failures, especially when you have candidates like Gore, Kerry, and the Clintons veering to the right figuring that's where they'll find more votes (or at least more donor money). I understand the logic that says "lesser evils are still evil," even if I don't think that's a maxim to live by. (I don't doubt for a moment that Gore would have responded to 9/11 by unleashing the War on Terror, and I rather doubt that he would have stopped short of invading Iraq -- remember, he voted for the 1990-91 war on Iraq, supported Clinton's repeated bombing, and had überhawk Joe Lieberman as his VP. I also doubt he would have fared any better at war. On the other hand, he wouldn't have eviscerated FEMA before Katrina, and he wouldn't have appointed Alito or Roberts to the Supreme Court. In between, there's a lot of iffy policies, not least his sometimes principled, sometimes compromised concern about global warming.) More importantly, I know that when the Democrats sell out or go crazy -- which happened a lot under Clinton, and again under Obama -- the tiny fragment of the left that refused to vote for them will be among the first to stand up for what's right. Still, everyone mourns in their own way -- even those of us who foresaw the Supreme Court threat as far back as the Bork nomination.
Ryan Cooper: [07-01] Mitch McConell Once Again Takes Advantage of Democratic Fecklessness: Examples of how the Democrats are hamstrung by Senate rules and maneuvers, which they don't have the numbers to overcome (and in two particular cases don't seem to have any desire to get anything done). Meanwhile, McConnell can hold out offers of very limited bipartisan support for extortionate prices. And in the end, Democrats will get blamed (and in many cases will blame themselves) for such failures.
Dexter Filkins: [06-20] Can Ron DeSantis Displace Donald Trump as the G.O.P.'s Combatant-in-Chief? The Florida governor has gotten a lot of press, much touting him as the Trumpiest of all the contenders who could pick up the Republican torch should Trump himself falter. Sample:
Margaret Hartmann: [07-03] Read the Nastiest Lines From Trump's $75 Burn Book: It's called Our Journey Together, a bunch of pictures with captions evidently written by Trump himself (you can tell because they're stupid and nasty). By the way, Hartmann's The Drama-Lover's Guide to the New Trump Books has been updated [06-29].
Robert Hitt: [06-30] Robocallers Still Have Your Number: "The FCC has implemented new rules, but the decades-old problem requires stronger tactics." This seems like the sort of nuisance problem it should be relatively easy to solve. We get 30+ unwanted phone calls per day on the land line, or presumably unwanted as we don't pick up unrecognized caller ids. Why not automatically kick those calls to a monitoring service, and when a caller's count rises above some modest threshhold, kick off an investigation aimed at shutting them down? Sure, only some of those calls are clearly aimed at fraud, but solicitations for funds are every bit as intrusive, and can feel like harassment. I'd like to see a crackdown on all forms of intrusive advertising, but this is a good place to start (and unlike radio and TV, doesn't require a rethinking of how those industries can be financed). Advertising isn't free speech. Even when it isn't intended fraud, it's much more akin to assault. (Hacking is a similar problem, which isn't taken seriously by the people who could put a stop to it. My server has to fend off hundreds of attacks every day.)
Paul Krugman: Interesting but varied set of pieces here, some in response to books he's been reading:
Daniel Larison: [07-01] Another round of talks fail as the Iran nuclear deal appears to be slipping away: "JCPOA opponents planted political poison pills to prevent reentering the deal and Biden is letting them get away with it." You'd think that restoring JCPOA would be a no-brainer. It was a key diplomatic achievement for Obama. Trump violated it for no good reason. While Obama (wrongly, I think) took pains to provide a smooth continuity in foreign policy when taking over from Bush, there's no reason for Biden to follow suit. (He certainly hasn't with Ukraine and NATO.) Coming to an understanding with Iran would not only solve one problem, it would make America look more capable of reason elsewhere. Besides, with Russian oil off the world market, the easiest fix to drive prices back down would be to let Iran back in. On the other hand, Biden is heading off to Israel and Saudi Arabia, no doubt to supplicate like Trump did. Also see:
Rebecca Leber: [06-27] The biggest myths about gas prices: Six of them, generally useful but I'd quibble with "Myth 2: Oil companies are price-gouging American consumers." Oil companies are always greedy, always price-gouging, at least within the limits of competition (which is still healthier than it is in most industries). If they weren't, they'd lower their margins to cushion the price shocks, but if they can keep their margins as costs increase, their profits go way up, and that's what we're seeing. I also think that it's likely that there is a massive behind-the-scenes lobbying effort to get articles (like this one) to counter the intuitive idea that oil companies are making out like bandits. I've seen dozens of such articles, which given the push from Bernie Sanders and others for a "windfall profits tax" (as was implemented in the 1970s) is something they'd have a serious interest in promoting. By the way, for a broader review of the role of greed in capitalism, see Nathan J Robinson: [06-20] Is Capitalism Built on Greed? (Executive summary: yes.)
Andrew Marantz: [06-27] Does Hungary Offer a Glimpse of Our Authoritarian Future? Viktor Orbán is certainly popular among elements of the US right that are in any way aware of their fellow fascists around the world -- Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson are obvious examples, but the author also mentions J.D. Vance and Rod Dreher as admirers, and Ron DeSantis as someone who could fit the bill. Orbán came to my attention quite a while ago, and what struck me most was how he used the power of a freak landslide election to consolidate long-term control of the nation, including passing an extensive legal framework that could only be undone by a super-majority: the use of such gimmicks to guarantee right-minority control struck me as very Republican -- although viewed as Orbánist it should seem even more un-American. Choice lines:
Elizabeth Nelson: [07-14] Difficult Man: 'Kitchen Confidential' and the Early Days of Anthony Bourdain's Legacy.
Tory Newmyer: [07-03] Bill to grant crypto firms access to Federal Reserve alarms experts: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is in on this graft (along with a Republican from Wyoming; looks like Wyoming already as some sweetheart deals with crypto grifters). I'm not sure what all the ramifications are, but making crypto "too big to fail" sounds like an awful idea, especially given that it's not actually good for anything (legal, anyway).
Andre Pagliarini: [07-01] Live From Brazil: A Clueless Tucker Carlson: "Fox News's chief wingnut has spent all week fawning over authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro and making absurd, ignorant statements about the country." Worth remembering here that Carlson is also infatuated with Hungary's Viktor Orbán: see Viktória Serdült: [02-01] Tucker Carlson Has Become Obsessed With Hungary. Here's What He Doesn't Understand.
Annie Proulx: [06-27] Swamps Can Protect Against Climate Change, if We Only Let Them. "Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we've drained much of this land."
Nathan J Robinson: ]07-01] The Incredibly Disturbing Texas GOP Agenda Is a Vision for a Theocratic Dystopia. Too much here to even start getting into, but make sure to check out the contrasting pictures of car-free downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia, and "fucking Houston." And while most of the planks reduce to variants on complete-lawless-freedom-for-me and prohibition-on-you, sometimes it just gets weird, like "enshrining a right to cryptocurrency in the Texas Bill of Rights." Evidently, someone told them crypto is "a right-wing hypercapitalistic technology built primarily to amplify the wealth of its proponents through a combination of tax avoiance, diminished regulatory oversight and artificially enforced scarcity," and they said, "wow, give me some of that."
Walter Shapiro: [06-27] 1989-2001: America's Long Lost Weekend: "From the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11, we had relative peace and prosperity. It was an opportunity to salve some festering national wounds. We squandered it completely -- and helped give rise to the crises we're dealing with today." One nugget here is that in his speech accepting the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, Al Gore spent all of one sentence talking about climate change -- a problem that Gore understood well enough to write a book about in 1992 (Earth in the Balance), but didn't seriously return to until 2006 (An Inconvenient Truth). Shapiro previously covered this territory in [2019-04-29] The Lasting Disappointment of the Clinton Presidency.
Alex Skopic: [04-20] Winston Churchill, Imperial Monstrosity: Not sure how I missed this before, but Tariq Ali has finally released a book we always knew he was uniquely qualified to write, Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes. Few people realize this, but Churchill was a uniquely malign force in 20th century politics (he actually got his start at the end of the 19th, his first taste of war -- which he relished -- in the Sudan at the most lop-sided massacre European imperialists ever engineered, followed by a tour of the Boer War in South Africa, where he learned to love concentration camps). During WWI he dreamed of starving all of Germany to death, while he was more directly responsible for the disastrous attack on Gallipoli. He was a diehard defender of the British Empire, yet largely responsible for the most tragic decisions of its retreat: the religious division of Ireland, Palestine, and India, creating conflicts that killed millions and more or less persist to this day. He can even claim credit for starting the Cold War (with his "iron curtain" speech -- he did have a knack for rhetoric). And that's just the broad outline. Ali adds more details, including Churchill's role in the Bengal Famine during WWII. Also a discussion of the mythbuilding that kept elevating Churchill from one disaster after another. By the way, Ali has another recent book: The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold, compiled from concurrent writings and wrapped up with a new introduction (probably a well-deserved "I told you so").
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-01] Roaming Charges: Whatd'Ya Expect Us to Do About It? Argues that Democrats, given advance notice of Alito's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, should have spent that time coming up with a coherent response, including executive orders, to fight back, but instead seem to have spent the time formulating fundraising letters. I've seen a lot of similar recriminations, especially against the "gerontocracy." Not entirely fair, but a predisposition to compromise with an opposite side that can never be satisfied does lead to a lot of backpedaling (and frequent falls on one's ass). Much more, of course, including a line suggesting that maybe the intent, which the Court couldn't discern, of the Clean Air Act was in its title. St Clair also reprinted a 2005 column co-written with Alexander Cockburn on the author of Roe v. Wade's demise: Holy Alito!
Jennifer Szalai: [06-29] 'Why We Did It' Is a Dark Ride on the 'Republican Road to Hell': Review of Republican political operator Tim Miller's book, about why Republicans more or less enthusiastically lined up behind Trump after his 2016 election win. Pretty much as I suspected: they were so desperate to win they abandoned all scruples. Reviewer suggests pairing this with another book by a Republican operative, Stuart Stevens: It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump.
By the way, Covid new cases topped 100,000/day on May 17, and have remained at or above that level ever since, making the last six weeks the fourth highest peak period on record. The number of cases had dropped under 30,000 on March 21. Deaths are up 24% over 14 days ago.
Closing tweet, seems to be related to Jeff Bezos: "If the Biden administration is out of touch with Billionaires, imagine how the average American worker feels."