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Monday, August 16, 2021

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36036 [36001] rated (+35), 218 [220] unrated (-2).

Looks like a decent week, but count is off from recent weeks, especially given how much of what follows is old music. Had a couple days last week where I essentially gave up and just listened to oldies. Got a bit of a lift mid-week when Robert Christgau published his August Consumer Guide -- I'm linking to the time-locked website version, where everyone can at least get a list of records reviewed (there's a link there to the And It Don't Stop newsletter, where the text is paywalled). Five records below from this month's batch. Others I had previously checked out [my grades in brackets]:

  • Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (Darkroom/Interscope) [A-]
  • Robert Finley: Sharecropper's Son (Easy Eye Sound) [B+(***)]
  • The Goon Sax: Mirror II (Matador) [B+(**)]
  • Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (Heavenly Sweetness) [A]
  • Los Lobos: Native Sons (New West) [B+(*)]
  • Mach-Hommy: Pray for Haiti (Griselda) [B+(***)]
  • Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (Invada, EP) [B+(***)]

That leaves two albums unheard: Mach-Hommy's HBO (Haitian Body Odor), and Star Feminine Band. I replayed Mach-Hommy's Pray for Haiti, but left my grade unchanged. (Needless to say, all this was before Haiti was wracked by another earthquake, soon followed by a tropical storm.)

I cheated a bit in building a playlist for the Ace Directions in Music compilation (substituted a Miles Davis take of a Wayne Shorter song for the latter's own Super Nova version). The swap almost certainly didn't hurt the album, but not having the booklet, I'm missing the compiler's explanation for his choices, not least why he talks about the emergence of "electric jazz" instead of "fusion." Either way, it wasn't much of a "new age of jazz" -- which isn't to say that no new and interesting things were happening then, just that they are poorly represented in this compilation.

This week's "old music" continued my scan through the list of albums Christgau graded but I hadn't. My fault I went so deep into 1960s Manfred Mann -- just a personal itch I had to scratch. On the other hand, I barely touched Sparrow -- surprised to find so much on Napster. Next up: Youssou N'Dour, but most of what I missed is pretty hard to find.

Seems like I've been neglecting my new promo queue, but only 5 records there have been released (3 just this week). August is always a lax month, which is part of the reason I've been slipping.

I should probably write something on Afghanistan, but I don't see much urgency at the moment. (E.g., this relatively sane Aug. 13 article still thinks "a possible Taliban capture of Kabul itself could be a matter of months, perhaps even weeks.") I, too, didn't expect the Taliban to take over so quickly and completely. After all, the Soviet-backed regime held out three years after the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the 1990s Taliban never quite consolidated control before the US intervened. That suggests several things, of which the least well documented in the possibility that today's Taliban may be much more skillful politically than the old one was. The most striking thing about the current sweep is that most towns have been taken over without fighting, and we haven't seen anything like the massacres that occurred in the 1990s when the Taliban conquered cities like Herat. This suggests that the Taliban have much more popular support (or at least tolerance) than we have been led to believe. It also underscores how ready the mercenary army stood up by the US and NATO were to switch sides. That means that any effort by the US to re-impose order will have to start from scratch. Given that degree of failure after 20 years, that should be a sobering thought.

Needless to say, a lot of neocon idiots are piling on Biden for "losing Afghanistan." That makes for seductive rhetoric, but there's no reality to it. The venture was doomed from the start, both because we didn't care about (let alone understand) the Afghans, and because we didn't understand (let alone care about) ourselves.

New records reviewed this week:

Emily Duff: Razor Blade Smile (2021, Mr. Mudshow Music): Singer-songwriter from New York, fourth album since 2017, surprised to find she doesn't have a Wikipedia page, also that producer Eric Ambel has both a personal one and a separate discography page (as well as the expected pages for his groups, the Yayhoos and the Del-Lords). A-

Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: Conversations (2019 [2021], Spicerack): Bass duets, Jordan's first album as leader but he has side credits back to 1997, notably with René Marie. Fabian is from Sweden, grew up in Germany, studied at Berklee, wound up in New York, has several albums. B+(**) [cd]

Nas: King's Disease II (2021, Mass Appeal): Thirteenth studio album, sequel to his 2020 album. Nothing especially striking, but steady as it goes. After all, "We been doing gangsta shit for a long time." B+(*)

Pearring Sound: Socially Distanced Duos (2020 [2021], self-released): Alto saxophonist Jeff Pearring, has a previous album from 2016, recorded these duos with a notable list of musicians: "these shared musical moments tell the story of the complex state of being brought about by the numerous events of 2020." B+(***) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Simigwa (1975 [2018], Mr. Bongo): Highlife musician from Ghana, reissue of what seems to be his first album, although the eclectic mix of styles -- not lest a substantial shot of funk and a nod toward hip-hop -- strikes me as postmodern. B+(***)

Directions in Music: 1969 to 1973: Miles Davis, His Musicians and the Birth of a New Age of Jazz (1969-73 [2021], BGP): Surveys the turn to fusion, for which Miles Davis broke up his famous 1964-69 Quintet, then cycled through most of the roster here, breaking artistic ground while filling arenas. His followers did less on both counts -- aside from Keith Jarrett, who reverted to acoustic piano and achieved stardom on his own terms. While the others sold a fair number of records, their "new age" quickly lost interest. Two vocals make you wonder why they're here, not that either is without interest. B+(**)

Amy Rigby: A One Way Ticket to My Life (1987-97 [2019], Southern Domestic): Nineteen demos, the best a trial run for her brilliant debut album, the rest engaging and enticing but not quite as sharp as her songwriting became over the following decades. B+(***) [bc]

Joseph Spence: Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing (1965 [2021], Smithsonian/Folkways): One of the few major artists from the Bahamas (1910-84), folk singer, guitarist, his 1958 Folkways recordings the standard this offers an encore to. Off-kilter, redeemed by gospel spirit. A-

Old music:

Emily Duff: Maybe in the Morning (2017, Mod Prom): New York singer-songwriter, preferred genre rockabilly, first album, appeals immediately. B+(***) [bc]

Emily Duff: Hallelujah Hello (2019, Mr. Mudshow Music): A bit more drama, a lot more religion, which cuts back on the rockabilly spirit. "I'm going down, like my mother did, in a puff of smoke and alcohol." B+(**) [bc]

Manfred Mann: The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (1964, HMV): Brit Invasion group, had a few big hits, starting with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La," neither present on the UK version of this debut album. (As with other BI groups, the UK and US albums were different, and the UK version is the one I'm finding.) Led by South African keyboardist Manfred Lubovitz, who took exile in 1961, and used Manne (for jazz drummer Shelly) as his stage name -- the label shortened it, leading to a long series of Mann puns. Five original songs by singer Paul Jones, three with Mann. The nine covers were mostly blues, starting with "Smokestack Lightning" and ending with "Bring It to Jerome." B+(*)

Manfred Mann: Mann Made (1965, HMV): UK/US releases match, but Canadian slipped a single in. Nothing very appealing here. C+

Manfred Mann: Mann Made Hits (1964-66 [1966], HMV): "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" still sounds great, "Sha La La" sounds like a silly sequel, "Pretty Flamingo" I'm not so sure about, three more top-ten UK singles (including the lesser of two Dylans) are long forgotten, the others just weirdly scattered, as the band started to fall apart. B

Manfred Mann: The Best of Manfred Mann: The Definitive Collection (1963-66 [1992], EMI): With 25 cuts plus a bit of "Group Interview," more than anyone really needs from their early hit-making period. B

Manfred Mann: As Is (1966, Fontana): New label, Paul Jones and Mike Vickers departed, Michael D'Abo and Klaus Voormann arrived, ten originals with drummer Mike Hugg's name on most of them, covers of Johnny Mercer ("Autumn Leaves") and Bob Dylan ("Just Like a Woman"). By the way, HMV answered with the 4-cut EP As Was, credited to Manfred Mann With Paul Jones. B

Manfred Mann: Chapter Two: The Best of the Fontana Years (1966-69 [1994], Fontana/Chronicles): I haven't found a Chapter One, which presumably would be populated with for their EMI-controlled 1964-66 hits (and misses). With Mike D'Abo singing, their second period dropped their blues roots, smoothed out their rough edges, but rarely offered hit material -- the Dylan-penned "Mighty Quinn" appears here, but not much more of interest. B-

Manfred Mann: Hit Mann! The Essential Singles 1963-1969 (1963-69 [2008], Raven): Finally, a generous compilation (28 songs) that bridges the group's two "chapters," the early one on EMI with Paul Jones and the later one on Fontana with Mike D'Abo. The split is about right (19-to-9), all the memorable singles are present, and they get "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" out of the way first. Beyond that, they even present with a recognizable sound, which is rarely clear from the albums. Not an especially important group, but this finally gets them right. B+(**)

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Glorified Magnified (1972, Polydor): The keyboardist's fourth venture featured guitarist-singer Mick Rogers as his significant other. Their eponymous 1972 debut, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, picked out catchy tunes and gave them a great deal of resonance. The tunes fall short on this second album, except for the Dylan cover. B+(*)

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Get Your Rocks Off (1973, Polydor): Third album, released in UK at Messin', re-ordered with John Prine's "Pretty Good" replacing "Black and Blue" (from the Australian group Chain, supposedly thinking that Americans might find a song about slavery "unsuitable"). The UK title song was written by former bandmate Mike Hugg, the American one by Dylan, and the closing cover by Dr. John. B+(**)

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Messin' (1973 [1998], Cohesion): Reissue of the originally ordered UK album, plus two bonus tracks: "Pretty Good" (from the US Get Your Rocks Off release), and a single edit of "Cloudy Eyes." B+(**)

Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited: Mr. Music (1985, Earthworks): The chimurenga giant of Zimbabwe, his music (like his country) splitting the distance between Congo and South Africa. Five songs, 36:38. B+(***)

Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): Folk singer, second album, first of a series through 1978 on Philo -- I recommend her 1992 compilation, Things We Said Today: The Best of Mary McCaslin, which taps this album for five songs, and doesn't grab all the good ones. A-

Mary McCaslin: Prairie in the Sky (1975, Philo): Continues to play up the western in "country and," including a memorable take on "Ghost Riders in the Sky." B+(***)

Mary McCaslin: Old Friends (1977, Philo): Original title song plus nine covers, most cut against her grain, exceptional nonetheless, gently hooked by banjo and voice. A-

Mary McCaslin: Broken Promises (1994, Philo): After a decade in the business, she seems to have given up, only to stage this minor comeback after her 1992 best-of re-introduced her. Fewer covers, so fewer hooks. B+(**)

Mary McCaslin: Better Late Than Never (2006, Mary McCaslin Music): One more record, audibly older, couldn't be simpler, which works for me just fine. B+(***)

The Mekons: F.U.N. '90 (1990, A&M, EP): Six tracks, 28:30, reportedly covers, more obviously loops in samples, with some kind of electronica background. B+(*)

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: Collector's Item: All Their Greatest Hits (1972-75 [1976], Philadelphia International): Now remembered, much to the nominal leader's chagrin, as Teddy Pendergrass' original group. They recorded four albums before Pendergrass left, and this first-generation best-of picks their four R&B chart toppers, three more top-tens, and one extra album cut ("Be for Real"). This is great every time "Wake Up Everybody" comes around, but then I start to nitpick. I have two later, longer best-ofs at B+. Concentration helps, but still has limits. B+(***)

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes Featuring Teddy Pendergrass: Blue Notes & Ballads (1972-75 [1998], Epic/Legacy): In the intervening years, Harold Melvin became a footnote to Teddy Pendergrass, whose name is on the masthead for marketing reasons -- were it simply focus, why includes two Sharon Paige leads? And why include three songs already on Collector's Item? Aside from that the filler runs a little thin. B+(*)

The Mighty Clouds of Joy: It's Time (1974, ABC/Dunhill): Gospel group, formed in Los Angeles in 1959, recorded for Peacock from 1963-72, made their commercial move here, produced by Dave Crawford and recorded in Philadelphia. Crawford wrote 8 (of 9) songs, with occasional allusion to but scant mention of God. B+(***) [yt]

The Mighty Clouds of Joy: The Best of the Mighty Clouds of Joy Volume 2 [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (2005-10 [2016], Motown Gospel): Discogs has no entry for a Volume 1, which could have usefully covered their 1974-77 secular albums on ABC, or their earlier (1963-72 on Peacock) or later (1980-83 on Myrrh) gospel periods. Nor do they have source info for these 10 songs, but they are clearly live, and all appear on three 2005-10 EMI albums (In the House of the Lord: Live in Houston; Movin'; and At the Revival). By then, only Joe Ligon (d. 2016) remained from the original group. B

[Mighty] Sparrow: King of the World (1984, B's): Slinger Francisco, born in Grenada but moved to Trinidad when he was one, started performing as Little Sparrow and before long became Mighty Sparrow. The four poorly annotated volumes on Ice mark him as the greatest of all calypsonians: I recommend them all, as well as the early First Flight (1957-59), and don't doubt that much of what they missed is still worthwhile. But before those compilations started appearing in 1993, this (the 53rd album in his Discogs list) was the first one Christgau reviewed (while recommending two others even higher, More Sparrow More!! and Hot and Sweet -- the cover is so familiar I must have once had a copy, but didn't get it into my database. "Soca Man" shows he can do the beat without letting it define him. The wordier cuts are where he shines. A-

Mighty Sparrow: More Sparrow More!! (1969, Ra): I'm not prepared for a deep dive here, but couldn't resist the opportunity to play this one, namechecked in the Christgau review of King of the World. I'm also not inclined to cross check the titles here against the Ice compilations, but if I haven't heard "Sparrow Dead" and "60 Million Frenchmen" before I got cheated. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard "Martin Luther King" before ("segregation must be destroyed"), so I got cheated anyway. Fine print: "Acc. by Conrad Little and his Big Band." A-

Mighty Sparrow: Hot and Sweet (1974, Warner Bros.): Starts off with another version of "Dead Sparrow," so there may well be many, but this one is, if anything, even livelier. Keeps coming, too. A-

Nas: God's Son (2002, Columbia): Rapper Nasir Jones, father a blues/jazz guitarist known as Olu Dara, made a big splash with his 1994 debut Illmatic. Sixth studio album. Don't think he's right about "I Can," but the album looks up from there. B+(**)

Nas: Untitled (2008, Def Jam): Ninth studio album, looks like it could be eponymous but seems like the more descriptive non-title has stuck -- evidently the original idea was to go with the most overused word here, but cooler heads prevailed. "Black President" dates this precisely, but too much else hasn't aged at all. While I'd quibble, "Fried Chicken" is mouth-watering. A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sheila Jordan: Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (Capri) [09-27]

Friday, August 13, 2021

Speaking of Which

Wasn't going to write anything this week, but I got ticked off by Twitter today, and couldn't fit the depths of my outrage into a measly 280 chars.

Matt Taibbi: The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama: I've only read the "excerpt from today's subscriber-only post" -- not a great look for a guy who's accusing other people of selling out -- and probably wouldn't have gone that far had I not been irritated by seeing him plug the piece seven straight times in his Twitter feed, to his 542.7K followers (of which I am, with increasing regret, one). (I don't think I've ever tweeted about one of my posts more than once, not wanting to impose on my modest but growing 542 followers.) And I still probably wouldn't have mentioned it except for this line:

Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time -- he fooled us all. . . . He sold us out, and it's time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America.

So, six months after Donald Trump left office, after four years of presiding over the most corrupt, mendacious, inept, and cruel administration in American history, Obama is the one remembered as "a common swindler" and "one of the great political liars of all time"? These statements defy history and logic by a mind-boggling degree. But they depend not just on overlooking most of what Trump did in the last four years, but also on blaming Obama for the rest of Trump's malign legacy.

Look, I've been pretty critical of Obama not just in retrospect but from the early days of his presidential campaign. You can read what I wrote in two large compilations of my notebook blog for the years 2009-2012 and 2013-2016 -- with bits on the campaign in the 2001-2009 volume, as well as an accounting of the Trump years 2017-2020 (these files are in Open Office format, a free word processor program, but you should also be able to import then into Microsoft Word, if that's the tool you prefer or are stuck with; they are pretty long). In assembling those files, I was a bit surprised at how critical I was of Obama (and how early), because I don't remember bearing him any ill will -- indeed, I had no qualms voting for him over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, nor did I have any doubt when he ran against the war-monger John McCain in 2008 or the vulture capitalist Mitt Romney in 2012, so I think I can claim a fair and reasoned appreciation of him.

Early on I criticized him for his lack of critical insight and vision. Later on I faulted him for not recognizing Republicans for the lethal madness they had embraced, and for not doing enough to build up a Democratic Party capable of defending against them. At all times, he remained a staunch and naive believer in American dreams and fantasies. That may have contributed to the "hopeless cynical mess that is modern America," but wasn't it Trump who made fun of Obama for ending every speech with "God bless America"? Sure, Obama's platitudes failed to solve America's problems, but America didn't have to respond with his antithesis.

In the long run, Obama's legacy comes down to two things. He will be remembered for running a relatively competent and legal administration, at least compared to Republicans fore and aft. And we'll lament the opportunity costs, eight years desperately in need of solutions that never came, and that ended in vicious recoil. If Biden seems radical today, it's because so many years of inaction and folly have made sensible policies that much more urgent now.

Still, even though Biden's agenda and tactics today are rooted in a sharp critique of Obama's agenda and tactics, no one makes a big deal out of that. Obama, Clinton, and for that matter Carter, are respected but obsolete former Democrats, carrying on with their lives while they still have them. Carter, perhaps because he grew up in a more public-minded era, or maybe just because he got rich before he got into politics, has had a very honorable post-presidential career, while the others come off looking like grifters, even though their actual tenure in office was respectably free of corruption. Even Taibbi gives them a bullshit out ("getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American"; most Americans, including many of us whose roots in this country go back centuries, have nothing resembling that birthright). I'm inclined to be less generous: I hate the tendency to equate "American dream" with becoming rich and famous, and have serious doubts about the moral virtue of such a quest.

Still, why single Obama out for approbation that should apply to his entire class? If for hypocrisy, why assume that Democrats should eschew the material riches Republicans are expected to aspire to? Just because Obama's Democratic Party had a modicum of respect for workers, a whit of care for the poor, and a modest aspiration to opening up opportunities, doesn't contradict the warm support they habitually doled out to business. (It's the zero-sum Republicans who believe they're getting ahead by hurting others.) Obama may have been the last politician in America to truly believe in trickle-down: the silly notion that when you help the rich (e.g., by bailing out bankers), you're helping everyone. In one way Obama was exemplary: his failures are directly attributable to his faulty convictions.

Still, Taibbi's dumbest mistake is in using Obama to excuse Donald Trump. There's no excuse for that. Only shame.

Reminder: if you haven't already, go to HBO Max to see Betrayal at Attica. Brilliant film, featuring interviews with the indomitable Elizabeth Fink, and testimony from the resilient Frank Smith. I'm proud to have known both of them. And by the way, if you think "black lives matter" and "blue lives matter" are antithetical, you weren't in the courtyard at Attica that day, or in the courts thereafter.

Also, just found Amy Rigby's song released on Jan. 19, 2021, remembering Four Years of U. Webpage proclaims "We made it! (except for those who didn't)." Let me dedicate this to Diane Wahto, who once bravely proclaimed "we survived one George Bush; we can survive another." She did, but didn't make it through four years of Trump. Also to Kal Tillem, who didn't quite make it through the second Bush.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 356001 [35949] rated (+52), 220 [212] unrated (+8).

I've had a miserable week. I suppose that's reflected in the high rated count, inasmuch as I didn't feel up to doing anything else. (Well, I did hack out a Speaking of Which, which as far as I can tell elicited zero interest, not even a "like" on Twitter, so did it really happen?) Woke up this morning with blurry eyes. I can barely see to type this.

Note that the number of rated records inched over the 36,000 line. Actually came up one short Sunday night, but Monday morning I moved a couple albums up to get it over with.

Midweek I was having a terrible time trying to figure out what to listen to next. Chris Monsen came to the rescue, with his 50 fave new music releases a bit past 2021s midway point. About a third were records I hadn't heard, so I scrambled to catch up. My unheard list is down to 2 now: William Parker's 10-CD Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World, and Anthony Braxton's 13-CD Quintet (Standards) 2020. Both are probably brilliant. Parker's 8-CD Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 is a full A, as is Braxton's 4-CD 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003, with his previous 4-CD 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 rated just a shade lower. Still, way too much music to try to digest streaming.

Two more albums from Monsen's list show up below in "limited sampling": a category for records that are only partially available online, not enough to grade but roughly sorted as prospects. Good chance the new Punkt. Vrt. Plastik album (a piano trio with Kaja Draksler) is as good as its predecessor. Intakt's Bandcamp only offers a cut or two, and only about half of their albums this year are on Napster -- three of those on my A-list (Aki Takase, Irène Schweizer, Silke Eberhard).

I also gave three of Monsen's "music of the spheres" picks another spin. (The fourth, James Brandon Lewis' Jesup Wagon, is already high on my A-list.) But I didn't find much reason to change my grades. I also checked out some of Eva Mendoza's earlier records, since Monsen regards her as the selling point to Parker's Mayan Space Station. My top-four (see list above) are: East Axis, Sons of Kemet, Lewis, and Barry Altschul, unless you count Anthony Joseph.

Before diving into Monsen's list, I returned to my checklist of records Robert Christgau has graded that I haven't heard. When I found Taj Mahal's Maestro available, I started digging deeper. There was some question whether I should bother with the early best-ofs, given that they've since been supplanted by more comprehensive ones. The first was a Christgau A-, and the second evinced some evolution in thinking about his canon, but in both I wound up referring to the 2000 The Best of Taj Mahal. In the end, I decided to substitute its cover scan for the other two. Manhattans came next, then (if/when I continue) Manfred Mann.

Couple quasi-political notes (maybe including them here will spare us another Speaking of Which):

My wife was pretty upset by Barack Obama's 60th birthday bash. As I noted in a comment to her Facebook rant, Obama now ranks 12th on Wikipedia's List of presidents of the United States by net worth, behind Bill Clinton (9th) and just ahead of GW Bush (13th). Those are certainly the top three in terms of cashing in on their "public service," more a sign of the times than of their personal greed. Bush started well ahead of the other two, but his business career was almost as inept as his presidency, with most of his wealth coming from his share as front man for the Texas Rangers, which was actually owned by much richer Texans. Clinton and Obama started out poor, but worked their way through elite colleges through a combination of obsequieousness and talent. As politicians they excelled at raising money, and in office they excelled at delivering wealth and power to their patrons. It's natural that they should aspire to belong to the class they had served so diligently. Still, Obama's extravagant party looks like one of those classic nouveau riche foibles, a case of excessive display to show the world he's arrived. Also to show that anyone who still thinks he's a community organizer (let alone a Mau-Mau) is dead wrong. But even if he is the living embodiment of "the American dream," he is a mere exception, not disproving the rule but reminding us how difficult it is for anyone less willing to prostrate themselves to the people who run the country, the ones a previous Democratic president dubbed "the malefactors of great wealth." (Note that FDR is down to number 10 on the Wikipedia list, just below Clinton.)

I should probably write something about Michele L Norris: Germany faced its horrible past. Can we do the same? I suspect the answer is no, and I'm not sure it's worth the trouble. I haven't read anything on Germany's de-Nazification process comparable to John Dower's book on postwar Japan, Embracing Defeat, but my impression is that the Germans simply didn't want to speak of their Nazi past, until the 1960s when you started seeing a bit of introspection (e.g., in the plays of Rolf Hochhuth and Peter Weiss). And really, it doesn't matter if you simply forget the past, and move on, trying to live better in the present. Israel's obsession with never forgetting the Holocaust hasn't done it, or anyone else, much good. Indeed, the persistence of the past has kept Israelis (and their morror-image Palestinians) locked in perpetual struggle over past wrongs, continuously added to). What we do need to do is stop lying about the past, and stop looking for a romanticized version of the past that justifies present inequality.

Approaching the end of Steve Benen's The Impostors: How Repubicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics. Next chapter is called "It's Like These Guys Take Pride in Being Ignorant." Indeed. Good book. Of course, he can't resist using Trump for examples, but all of his "post-policy" complaints are shown to have deeper roots and broader support in the Republican party. I still don't think "post-policy" has the right tone to it. Closer to the mark would be "nihilist."

New records reviewed this week:

Joshua Abrams/Chad Taylor: Mind Maintenance (2021, Drag City): Most sources are already taking the album title as group name, but as the actual artist names on the covers, I think I'm parsing this right. Abrams (normally a bassist) plays guimbri, while Taylor (drummer) plays mbira, I doubt for the first time. Minimalist patterns with a slight tonal shift. B+(***)

Altin Gün: Yol (2021, ATO): Dutch band, founded by bassist Jasper Verhulst, draws on Turkish folk music -- singers are Erdinc Ecevit Yildiz and Merve Dasdemir -- with funk rhythms and psychedelic overtones. Third album. Nice beat, despite foreign language, doesn't feel all that exotic. B+(**)

Miguel Ângelo Quarteto: Dança Dos Desastrados (2021, self-released): Portuguese bassist, several albums, group includes João Guimarães (alto sax), Joaquim Rodrigues (piano), and Marcos Cavaleiro (drums). B+(**) [bc]

Bleachers: Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night (2021, RCA): Jack Antonoff's group, third album since 2014, albums have sold well but he's probably better known as a songwriter and/or producer for Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Lana Del Rey. Obviously has some skills, but for some reason they work better when employed by someone interesting. B+(*)

Dr. Mike Bogle: Let There Be Light (2021, MBP/Groove): Plays keyboards and trombone, UNT graduate, managed the One O'Clock Lab Band for a few years, got a Grammy nomination in 1992 for arranging. Unclear on his discography, but seems to have two previous Trio albums, at least. Not exactly pop jazz, but I get the feeling he'd settle for that. B [cd]

Wayne Coniglio & Scott Whitfield: Faster Friends (2021, Summit): Two trombonists, backed by piano-bass-drums, with some guest spots. Relationship goes back to Whitfield's Jazz Orchestra East (2004-05), and includes a 2014 album together. Three Coniglio tunes, bunch of standards. B [cd]

Jack Cooper/Jeff Tobias: Tributaries (2021, Astral Spirits): No info available, unfortunate given that Discogs lists 10 Jack Coopers, but doesn't have this album. I have Jack Cooper (7) in my database, but this one appears to be the unnumbered Jack Cooper: based in England, has one previous album under his own name, plus several groups, like Modern Nature (5 albums, saxophonist Tobias in the group) and Ultimate Painting (5 more albums, a duo with James Hoare). Cooper's instrument seems to be guitar, picking out patterns with the sax trailing along. Might be more interesting if I wasn't also trying to figure out all this, but marginal in any case. B [dl]

Dominican Jazz Project: Desde Lejos (2020-21 [2021], Summit): Started with pianist Stephen Anderson toured the Dominican Republic in 2014, hooking up with local musicians like Guillo Carias (clavietta) and Guy Frómeta (drums), and others. They released an album in 2016, and followed up here in a Covid paste-up project. Sandy Gabriel distinguishes himself on sax. I could do without the vocal. B+(*) [cd]

Falkner Evans: Invisible Words (2021, CAP): Pianist, originally from Tulsa, moved to New York in 1985, debut 2001. Solo, dedicated to his late wife, a suicide last may. Measured, methodical, more than a little poignant. B+(**) [cd] [08-13]

Orrin Evans: The Magic of Now (2021, Smoke Sessions): Pianist, debut 1995, quartet with Immanuel Wilkins (tenor sax), Vicente Archer (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums). Wilkins impresses again. B+(***)

Fire!: Defeat (2019-20 [2021], Rune Grammofon): Norwegian group, since 2009, occasionally expanding to Orchestra weight, but most often a trio -- Mats Gustafsson (flute/baritone sax), Johan Berthling (electric bass), and Andreas Werlin (drums) -- here adding Goran Kajfes (trumpet) and Mats Ålekint (trombone/sousaphone). Starts with flute, which at least contains Gustafsson's tendencies to excess, although he later switches to bari and sticks mostly within the groove, letting the other horns provide the highlights. A-

Michael Foster/Ben Bennett: Contractions (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits): Saxophone and drums duo. Discogs lists 16 albums by Foster since 2013, 6 of those with Bennett, all but one of the rest collaborations with multiple credits. A bit of squawk-and-bash, but interesting for such. [On the other hand, hit reject on last track.] B+(**) [dl]

Frode Gjerstad Trio + 1: Forgotten City (2018 [2020], PNL): Norwegian alto saxophonist, first appeared in Detail c. 1983, 20+ trio albums, twice that is other configurations. The "+ 1" here is a second bassist, Øyvind Storesund, along with regulars Jon Rune Strøm and Paal Nilssen-Love (although Storesund has played in the trio before). Leader also plays clarinet and alto flute, further softening the edge. B+(*) [bc]

Devin Gray: Melt All the Guns (2019 [2021], Rataplan): Drummer, composed five pieces (19:17), with Ralph Alessi (trumpet) and Angelica Sanchez (piano) listed on slug line after title. B+(**) [bc]

Koma Saxo: Live (2019 [2021], We Jazz): Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, formed this three-saxophone (Otis Sandsjö, Jonas Kullhammar, Mikko Innanen) group for his Koma Saxo album, kept the group name. With Christian Lillinger (drums). Develops a circus-like atmosphere. B+(***)

Marthe Lea Band: Asura (2020 [2021], Motvind): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, also credited with flute, piano, guitar, voice, udu, percussion. Group adds clarinet, violin, bass, and drums. Leans hard on violin-signified folk music, builds playfully, but I'm more interested when the sax breaks out. B+(*)

Lean Left: Medemer (2018 [2020], PNL): Group formed in 2008 as The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, and they've met up regularly since then -- this is their sixth album. The former are Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor, guitarists in the Dutch post-punk group The Ex. The latter, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (from The Thing) and Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark, recorded their first duo album in 2002 (Dual Pleasure), with many more since. I haven't heard much by Vandermark over the last few years. (He's been as prolific as ever, but his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp only offers bits of albums.) But he sounds great here, pushed on by the guitar ferment, and a terrific drummer. A- [bc]

Michael Mantler: Coda: Orchestra Suites (2019-20 [2021], ECM): Trumpet player, from Vienna, best known for his work with Carla Bley when he was her second husband. Has always had a hankering to go long and orchestral, which he indulges here -- not something I've enjoyed in the past, but this sails along enjoyably. B+(**)

Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane: Ihubo Labomdabu (2021, Unlocked Keys): South African jazz pianist, has a handful of albums since 2016. Seems to be solo, straight and thoughtful, although the cover depicts a full band. B+(*)

Calle Neumann/Ketil Gutvik/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: New Dance (2020 [2021], PNL): Alto sax, guitar, bass, drums. Live concert set. Neumann has been around, with one record going back to 1972, side credits with Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen, and their mentor George Russell. This group was convened to celebrate the 5-CD box set release of The Quintet: Events 1998-1999, a group with Neumann, Gutvik, and Nilssen-Love. B+(***) [bc]

Caroline Parke: Pause and Pine (2021, self-released): Canadian cowgirl, lives on a ranch in Alberta, second album, knows a thing or two about raising cattle, growing wheat, running a farm house, and Marty Robbins. B+(*)

Part Chimp: Drool (2021, Wrong Speed): English noise rock/sludge metal group, formed in 2000, not a niche I'm interested in but the sheets of sound cloak a beat so lumbering that they're tolerable on structure alone. B [bc]

Riders Against the Storm: Flowers for the Living (2021, Divide and Conjure): Husband-and-wife hip-hop duo, Chaka and Qi, releases back to 2010 (with a 2014-19 gap). Short album, 8 tracks, 29:31. Bits of global funk and old school bounce that has me thinking Sugarhill Gang. B+(***) [bc]

Aksel Rønning Trio: ART (2019 [2021], Øra Fonogram): Norwegian saxophonist, backed by bass and drums, first album, not the guy who plays drums in Rønnings Jazzmaskin. Straight ahead, like his tone and balance. B+(***)

Claire Rousay: A Softer Focus (2021, American Dream): From San Antonio, electronic music, "field recordings for a modern world." Discogs credits her with 18 albums in just a couple years (from 2019). Ambient, perhaps something, hard to tell. B

Tine Surel Lange: Works for Listening 1-10 (2021, Sofa Music): Norwegian composer, debut album (CV lists various "works" going back to 2013), "a series of spatial electro-acoustic works . . . made in 5th order ambisonics." B+(**) [bc]

Arne Torvik Trio: Northwestern Songs (2019 [2021], Losen): Norwegian pianist, has a previous album from 2016, drops down to trio here with bass and drums. B+(**)

Young Pilgrims: We're Young Pilgrims (2021, Stoney Lane): From Birmingham (UK), "young brass band brimming with jazz-rock energy," unmoored from trad jazz formula, not that they've found much to replace it. B- [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Roy Brooks: Understanding (1970 [2021], Reel-to-Real, 2CD): Drummer (1938-2005), from Detroit, not a lot as leader but quite a few side credits -- starting in 1960 with Blue Mitchell, Sonny Red, Horace Silver, and Buddy Tate. Previously unreleased live date from Baltimore with Woody Shaw (trumpet), Carlos Garnett (tenor sax), Harold Mabern (piano), and Cecil McBee (bass). Five cuts stretch out past 20 minutes each, one to 32:25, and most are blistering. Or, as McBee puts it, "the music was trying to express the excitement of arriving at social justice." B+(***)

Carl Magnus Neumann/Christian Reim Quartet: Molde International Jazz Festival 1976 (1976 [2021], Jazzaggression): Norwegian group, leaders play alto sax and piano, backed with bass (Bjørn Kjellemyr) and drums (Ole Jacob Hansen). Back cover abbreviates the leader names for space, but they're obscure enough. Reim wrote five (of six) songs, the other "The Man I Love." B+(***)

Christian Reim Sextet: Mona Lisa (1973 [2021], Jazzaggression): Norwegian pianist, b. 1945, not much discography, but this live recording of a "post-bop extravaganza in 6 parts" is expertly paced, with lots of punch: two saxophones (Carl Magnus Neumann and Knut Riisnaes), trumpet (Ditlef Eckhoff), bass, and drums. A-

The Rough Guide to the Roots of Jazz (1918-30 [2021], World Music Network): Twenty-six songs, offers a fairly comprehensive survey of jazz in the 1920s, including most of the big names, and a number of classic songs.

Old music:

Billy Bang: Outline No. 12 (1982 [1983], Celluloid): Conduction by Butch Morris, three pieces by the leader, with three violinists (Bang, Jason Hwang, Joseph Hailes), four reed players (Frank Lowe, Charles Tyler, Henri Warner, David Murray), vibes, bass, two percussionists. [Reissued 2017 by Bill Laswell.] B+(**) [bc]

Brown Sugar: I'm in Love With a Dreadlocks: Brown Sugar and the Birth of Lovers Rock 1977-80 (1977-80 [2018], Soul Jazz): British reggae vocal group, three women. Caron Wheeler had a brief fling at fame in the early 1990s (both solo and in Soul II Soul), as did Kofi (Carol Simms), although less memorably. B

Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal Anthology: Volume 1 (1968-71 [1977], Columbia): First generation best-of, selected so perfectly the same ten songs reappear in order to open 2000's canonical 17-track The Best of Taj Mahal (the one you should start with), with nine early on 2005's 2-CD The Essential Taj Mahal. Most of these were inspired covers, his theme lifted from Goffin & King and made his own: "Come with me . . . and take a giant step outside your mind." They didn't release the expected Volume 2. Not that they didn't have more songs to work with, but they never wanted to give up these ten. A

Taj Mahal: Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff (1972, Columbia): First side is lives, which is cheap for the artist but doesn't offer the listener much. Second side offers four new songs, most marvelously "Cakewalk Into Town." B+(*)

Taj Mahal: Ooh So Good 'N Blues (1973, Columbia): Blues revivalist Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr., five years into a long career. A few obscurities, at least one of his own making, but he also takes songs you know ("Frankie and Albert," "Dust My Broom," "Built for Comfort") and throws them for weird curves. A-

Taj Mahal: The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 (1969-73 [2021], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Previously unreleased. One disc of trivial from his earliest and most fertile period, often living up to the billing. The big song where is "You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff." A second live disc from Royal Albert Hall in 1970. B+(***)

Taj Mahal: The Best of Taj Mahal (1968-74 [1981], Columbia): Second-generation best-of, swaps out four "must have" songs for four others -- good ones, with "Cakewalk Into Town" and "Chevrolet" top tier. "Volume 1" appears on the label, but not on the cover. Later reissued in "Collector's Choice" packaging. Still, The Best of Taj Mahal you want is the 2000 CD. A-

Taj Mahal: An Evening of Acoustic Music (1993 [1994], Tradition & Moderne): Live radio shot from Radio Bremen, mostly solo guitar and voice, with Howard Johnson (tuba/penny whistle) dropping in for the last five tracks. B+(***)

Taj Mahal: Best of the Private Years (1993-97 [2000], Private Music): Mahal became one of Peter Baumann's "artist re-development" projects, recording five albums for the label, only the middle three represented here. Leans toward eclectic covers, which sound good less for his added value than for starting out great. B+(*)

Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band: Shoutin' in Key: Live (1998 [2000], Hannibal): Band took its name from the 1996 Phantom Blues album. Opens with 6:19 of instrumental "Honky Tonk," before the singer enters with his usual far-ranging blues repertoire. B+(*)

Taj Mahal: Maestro (2008, Heads Up): He reccorded steadily from 1969-78, mostly for Columbia, briefly for Warners, starting in gentle country blues and picking up bits from the rest of the African diaspora, then struggled to find a label in the 1980s before picking up again in the 1990s, less consistently. He rebounds here, mostly because he's found his blues mojo again -- but he's picked up a lot of tricks and tics along the way. A-

Manhattans: Greatest Hits (1973-80 [1980], Columbia): R&B vocal group from New Jersey, had some hits during their 1973-86 run at Columbia, but most before this mid-term best-of appeared (with two new songs projected as hits, one eventually charted). B+(**)

Manhattans: Kiss and Say Goodbye: The Best of the Manhattans (1973-85 [1995], Columbia/Legacy): Long-running vocal group, founded in 1962, continued at least through 2008, lot of minor hits (45 charted) but only a couple big ones (the title song here, and "Shining Star"). This picks 19 songs from 11 albums, which is probably more than enough, but the mid-tempo or slower love songs (losing it as often as not) flow so effortlessly there's no need to quibble. B+(***)

Ava Mendoza: Shadow Stories (2010, Resipiscent): Guitarist, from Brooklyn, first album, solo, four originals, six covers, drawing on blues, folk, and country, relatively straight, although elsewhere she gets fairly deep into the noise weeds. B+(*) [bc]

Ava Mendoza/Dominique Leone/Nick Tamburro: Unnatural Ways (2015, New Atlantis): Guitarist, from Brooklyn, featured on William Parker's new Mayan Space Station, has an underground reputation that previously escaped me. With keyboards and drums. Vocals head back to rock, but her guitar isn't that tethered. B+(*)

Ava Mendoza's Unnatural Ways: The Paranoia Party (2019, Sleeping Giant Glossolalia): Guitar trio, with Tim Dahl (bass) and Sam Ospovat (drums). With vocals, closer in spirit and tone to noise rock, although the timing wanders and the landscape is stocked with absurdities. I can imagine being impressed, but I just find it painful. B- [bc]

Ava Mendoza/Vijay Anderson/Stephen Gauci: Studio Sessions Vol. 4 (2019, Gaucimusic, EP): Guitar, drums, tenor sax -- the common denominator in this series, yielding top billing to the other lead instrumentalist. 6 tracks, 19:26. B+(**) [bc]

Pulnoc: Pulnoc (1990 [1991], Globus International): First official album, released after the collapse of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. The Velvets influence is strong, rhythm as much as anything else, with more adventurous guitar. Michaela Nemcova sings, less deadpan than Nico. Don't know about what, but seems perfectly at home. A [dl]

Riders Against the Storm: Riders Against the Storm (2013, self-released, EP): Self-titled EP, seemed like the place to look back for background, but had I started at the bottom of the list I would have found Speak the Truth, a full-length album billed as "a culmination of the past four years of RAS' journey through life, love, struggle, and music." First revelation here was that they seemed to start less in hip-hop than in cosmic mantras. Then they busted some rhymes on "Ghetto People." Five songs, 18:16. B+(*) [bc]

Riders Against the Storm: Speak the Truth (2010, self-released): Abbreviated RAS, first album, seems likely that more than just Chaka and Qi and the feat. guests are involved here. Twelve songs, three skits, most old school hip-hop, although the closing "Energy" is a dance anthem. B+(**) [bc]

Virunga: Feet on Fire (1991, Stern's Africa): Samba Mapangala, born 1955 in Congo, one of the main musicians to introduce soukous to Kenya and Tanzania, named his band after a volcano. He sings and wrote 6 (of 7) songs here, but his name doesn't appear on the masthead. Not a masterpiece, but the scent is redolent of East Africa's Guitar Paradise. B+(***)

Further Sampling:

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

Mark Feldman: Sounding Point (2020 [2021], Intakt): Violin solo, some overdubs. [bc: 2/8]

Fred Frith/Ikue Mori: A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall (2015 [2021], Intakt): Guitarist, credits "various toys and objects," and laptop electronics. [bc: 4/15] +

Alexander Hawkins: Togetherness Music: For Sixteen Musicians (2020 [2021], Intakt): British pianist, feat. Evan Parker + Riot Ensemble. [bc: 2/6]: +

Christopher Hoffman: Asp Nimbus (2020 [2021], Out of Your Head): Cello, with Bryan Carrott on vibes, plus bass and drums. [bc: 3/8]: +

Punkt. Vrt. Plastik [Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger]: Somit (2020 [2021], Intakt): Second album by piano-bass-drums trio, assumes title of first as group name. [bc: 2/13] ++

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Eivind Aarset 4tet: Phantasmagoria, or a Different Kind of Journey (Jazzland) [09-24]
  • Satoko Fujii: Piano Music (Libra) [09-17]
  • Kazemade George: I Insist (Greenleaf Music) [10-22]
  • Jared Hall: Seen on the Scene (Origin) [08-20]
  • Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: Conversations (Spicerack)
  • L.A. Cowboy: The Big Pitch (Reconcile) [08-15]
  • Lady Millea: I Don't Mind Missing You (Reconcile) [08-15]
  • Steve Million: What I Meant to Say (Origin) [08-20]
  • David Sanford Big Band Featuring Hugh Ragin: A Prayer for Lester Bowie (Greenleaf Music) [09-24]
  • Jim Snidero: Strings (2001, Savant) [09-10]

Friday, August 6, 2021

Speaking of Which

I've been reading Steve Benen's The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics, because it seemed likely to establish one of my own themes of late: that Trump is a mere reflection of the longer term moral and intellectual rot of the Republican Party. Of course, he couldn't resist illustrating this theme with Trump examples -- no one else has ever merged so succinctly thoughts that are fact-free, reason-free, careless, and mean-spirited. But Trump became the leader of the Republicans not because he paved the way, but he followed their Geist so flamboyantly. (Sorry for the German, but the usual translation of "spirit" doesn't quite do the concept justice; also it loses the sense of personification, the common root of "ghost," although in this case "zombie" would be more to the point. English speakers more often see the derivative Zeitgeist, the "spirit of the times," although the Republican Geist doesn't belong to the times so much as it attempts to defeat them.)

The thing that Benen doesn't make clear enough is that while the Republicans have been evil for quite some time -- from Goldwater they learned that extremism in defense of the rich is no vice; from Nixon they learned that winning justifies all manner of lying, stealing, and cheating; from Reagan they learned to live in a dream world of their own vanities; from the Bushes they learned that war is the ultimate form of self-glorification -- they didn't become shameless about it until the loss to Obama blew their minds. That was when Fox metamorphosed from being dutiful apologists for Republican politics and became raging agitators, spewing whatever rhetoric they could use to leverage their followers emotions, with no consideration for where that rhetoric might lead. They orchestrated an insurrection, and branded and sold it as the Tea Party. Having plunged the nation into an endless, hopeless series of wars, and having wrecked the economy on a bubble of deceit and fraud, they were voted out, and miraculously freed of responsibility for the disasters they had created.

Benen's formulation isn't quite right. Repubicans didn't "quit governing." They were fired, but since they weren't held accountable for the many things they had done wrong, the lesson that they learned was that they could get away with anything -- all it would take is the sort of confident bluster Trump excelled in. Yet to say they "seized American politics" gives them too much credit for deliberate plotting. They crippled political discourse, reducing it to their level of trash talk and gutter sniping. Their relentless attack media, combined with the deference showed by the mainstream media, gave them a huge advantage. They were also helped by Democrats playing into their hands.

Benen's favorite term for today's Republicans is "post-policy." Like "post-truth," it takes a glaring failure and refashions it as a clever novelty. But there's nothing new here: all "post-" means is we take no responsibility for failures, be they bad policies or mistruths. For Republicans, the key to unaccountability is their core belief: that government is incapable of doing things that help most citizens. You can trace that back to Reagan's joke ("The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help"), although the idea is older -- cf. Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand, among other cult favorites. Once you buy into that joke, the only reason you need for electing Republicans is to deny Democrats the opportunity to prove you wrong. On the other hand, when Republicans botch governance, they're simply proving themselves right. Trump did that so completely he ranks in their minds as "the greatest president of all time."

This is my second draft note on Benen's book. I started a few days ago just wanting to comment on one little quote:

In the days leading up to [Trump's] inauguration, the president-elect boasted, "We're going to have insurance for everybody. "He added that Americans "can expect to have great health care. . . . Much less expensive and much better."

The president-elect even went so far as to establish specific benchmarks: universal coverage, "much lower deductibles," and a simpler and less expensive system in which all Americans are "beautifully covered."

Trump's oft-promised replacement plan never materialized, which suggests either that he was never serious about coming up with one, or that he belatedly discovered "health care is hard" (didn't look it up, but I think that's an actual quote from him, followed by "who knew?"). Unlikely the latter, as there's no evidence that he could discern good from bad policies, unless one was labeled by party: Democratic policies are guaranteed to be "bad," because even if they work as defined, that would make Democrats look good, and that would be bad. On the other hand, Republican policies are always good, because they supplant bad Democratic policies, and even if they fail no one will blame Republicans, because, you know, government never works anyway.

But what I wanted to point out was that Trump could have offered a health care plan to replace ACA that would have met his pie-in-the-sky policy goals: a single-payer "Medicare-for-All" scheme. Sure, a lot of well-heeled business forces would have been upset, but if Republicans rallied to his plan, it could have been passed (even attracting some Democrat votes). Admittedly, it wouldn't exactly be the plan Bernie Sanders has been campaigning for. Once Republicans accepted the key concept of universal coverage, and the necessity of limiting some of the greediest, most predatory companies anywhere, they could still do much to tailor the program to their prejudices. Bill Clinton described the "end of welfare as we know it" deal he made with Newt Gingrich as "a good welfare bill wrapped in a sack of shit." One thing Republicans can still be trusted to deliver is a sack of shit.

A Republican version of single-payer would keep open a role for private insurance companies, but they would be selling supplemental policies, like they currently do for people who have Medicare. The universal health care policy would just cover the basics, including vaccinations, regular check ups, emergency room visits, a standard menu of surgeries, and the risk of catastrophic care -- just enough to keep the system viable, and save patients from bankruptcy. These services could be riddled with co-payments and deductibles, for which you could either have to buy supplemental insurance, or find providers willing to waive fees. In other words, the system would be stratified by class, with the well-to-do having lots of options, others less so. Private insurance would be cheaper, because the insurance companies are protected against serious risks, and could offer lots of choices. Also, political control of the system could be delegated to the states (or multi-state compacts), which would avoid the "federal takeover" charge.

There are lots of ways the system could be made more efficient. One big one would be to phase out patent monopolies, which would make the supply chain and pharmaceuticals much more competitive. One that appeals especially to Republicans would be to end (or at least cap) malpractice awards. (Supposedly this risk drives a lot of "defensive medicine" waste, but it's certainly true that malpractice insurance takes a but chunk of doctor income, and hospitals and drug companies have huge exposure.) The big question will be how to rearrange current health care spending to support such a system, but with modest cost savings it could be done without raising more net taxes -- a key requirement for Republicans.

Of course, Republicans won't propose anything like this. The greed of the health care system hurts all other businesses, but Republicans are committed to defending every existing profit-seeking scheme, no matter how dubious or dangerous. They believe in self-responsibility, which means everyone should take what they can, with the winners free to enjoy their spoils. They don't care that health care is a classic market failure, even given its cancerous growth, as it's expanded from negligible to over 20% of GDP. And, as noted above, they believe that government intervention would only cause more harm, even though no other alternative is up to the task. But also, Republicans don't care whether working people have health care, so they have no motivation to do anything to help people.

Every now and then, someone tries to point out that we'd be in even worse shape if Republicans had elected someone competent, instead of an incompetent moron like Trump. That underestimates the real damage that was done by four years of Republican rule, mostly by the minions given free range to implement their neuroses and fantasies. But it also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Trump's role in all of this. He was the front man, the media magnet. When people paid him so much the attention, they overlooked everyone around him. He had built-in deniability: after all, he was a moron. No one even tried to reason with him. He attracted an intense and impervious personal cult. When he won in 2016, I figured Republican regular would flock to him, if for no reason other than that he was their winner, and winning was the only thing that Republicans really cared about. And that's exactly what happened, but even now, as a loser-in-denial, he remains a powerful symbol for his party. He remains their leader, because he is them, and vice versa. They're all morons. They're all assholes. And they're proud of it. They think anyone who isn't with them isn't a real American, and they hate your guts.

If you could reason with them, they'd be able to see the advantages of backing a "radical" proposal like single-payer. But you can't, and they won't figure it out on their own. That's what makes this a good example of how limited they are.

A few recent articles I noticed:

Jonathan Chait: Tucker Carlson Has Seen the Future, and It Is Fascist: "Orban's Hungary is the road map for American authoritarianism." Only the headline writer uses the F-word here, but that's a bit of a trend regarding Viktor Orban's Hungary -- Chait prefers "authoritarian" but also offers "kleptocracy." It's probably easier to call fascist the leader of a country with a history of fascism, but there isn't much political daylight between Orban and Trump (or Carlson). But the disturbing thing about Orban as a model isn't his reactionary view but the way he's rejiggered Hungary's political system to ensure his party will rule even when the voters turn against him. His innovations read like a road map for the Republican Party, which studies and envies him. For more, see Zack Beauchamp: Why it matters that Tucker Carlson is broadcasting from Hungary this week.

Thomas Frank: US liberals' hysteria outlives Trump. We should be so lucky, and not just because Frank's tombstone for Trump seems premature. While it may be peculiar that it took a clod as outrageous as Trump to finally "induce such fear and loathing among the nation's highly educated elite" when a long string of precursors should have tripped warning signs, I say better late than never. The lack of "hysteria" in response to Reagan and the Bushes was no shortage of provocation, but it's not just frogs and lobsters who realize too late that they're being cooked. (One can't quite say the same about Nixon. While some of his crimes took a while to be uncovered, and some have never been given the scrutiny they deserved, the media did a better job of paying attention at the time, probably because so many people were marching in the streets in protest -- a big part, uncredited by Frank, of the "downpour of denunciation" that has dogged Trump.) I just found this piece, and don't have time to give it the fine-toothed reading it deserves, but I will offer a couple notes. No doubt there have always been liberal intellectual snobs -- Thomas Jefferson qualifies, and he owned slaves; while his pen pal John Adams didn't, you'd be pressed to find a contemporary with a lower opinion of the unwashed masses -- the line Frank draws between the elite opponents of William Jennings Bryan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Trump blurs what really matters: Trump is feared and loathed not because he's a populist (which, as Frank knows as well as anyone, he isn't even remotely), but because he represents a monstrous threat, not to their elitism but to the very foundation of principles they hold dear: liberal democracy, and the belief that America's exceptional wealth and success is based on principles of freedom, fairness, and justice for all. Frank's heroes have always been populists, so he's extra-sensitive to intimations of snobbery from elites he's never trusted. And so he has little trouble finding dubious examples of "hysteria" that have thrown up at Trump, such as the Russia "scandals," the "attack on norms," the lectures on the "authoritarian" threats to democracy itself. I've been critical on that front as well, not out of any desire to give Trump a fair break, but because I doubt the efficacy of those charges. In particular, I don't think the two impeachments did any good, and I don't see the January 6 investigation as leading to anything worthwhile. On the other hand, I don't know how to convey to people just how disastrous the 40-year Reagan-Bush-Trump era has been. So I'm inclined to cut people who are basically on my side a little slack. They don't have to reason correctly, as long as they get to the right answer. [PS: h/t to Matt Taibbi for the link, even though he did it for the wrong reasons, to make the wrong point.]

Gregg Herkin: Five myths about the atomic bomb: Well, let's list them:

  1. The bomb ended the war.
  2. The bomb saved half a million lives.
  3. The only alternative to the bomb was an invasion of Japan.
  4. The Japanese were warned before the bomb was dropped.
  5. The bomb was timed to gain a diplomatic advantage over Russia and proved a "master card" in early Cold War politics.

The first four are adequately explained in the text. Most importantly, Herken emphasizes the fear in Japan of the Soviet Union's entry into the war. Japanese leadership had realized that they had lost the war well before August, 1945, and had actually approached Russia over possible surrender terms, which was one reason Stalin advanced the schedule for entering the war. (Another reason may have been the impending use of nuclear weapons, which Stalin was vaguely informed of by Truman in Potsdam, and knew more of through espionage.) The fifth point comes from Gar Alperovitz's 1965 book Atomic Diplomacy. I read the book shortly after it came out, and thought it had merit, but I've had doubts since. There certainly were factions within the American military and foreign policy apparatus that saw Russia and Communism as postwar rivals, and did what they could to pivot to confrontation, but they didn't become dominant until 1947-48, with the Berlin airlift, and more so in 1950, with the "fall" of China and the opening of the Korean War. I'd go so far as to count Leslie Groves, the general in charge of the Manhattan Project, as one of those factions. And there was a broader consensus that the US should become the dominant world power after the war, which would inevitably (not necessarily consciously) lead to conflict with the Soviet Union. George Kennan, who became the architect of the "containment policy," was one of them. On the other hand, Truman had not bought into any kind of containment policy, at least by Potsdam, where he lobbied Stalin to enter the war against Japan. For one thing, I doubt Truman (or anyone, except maybe Groves) had any real understanding about the power of nuclear weapons. Truman didn't even know about the Manhattan Project until FDR died and he became president. A lot of factors converged to create the Cold War, and no one was smart enough to figure them out ahead of time (not even Kennan, who thought he was). Meanwhile, for all its moral conceit, it was the United States (alone) who committed the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That should humble us. But it hasn't.

Michael Kazin: The Revolution That Wasn't: "Do we give the activist groups of the 1960s more credit than they deserve?" Well, yes and no, it all depends. As I've said many times, the fundamental arguments advanced by the New Left won broad acceptance and came to permeate American culture, but they didn't get organized into effective political power, which allowed the right to make gains, especially in the 1980s. There are lots of reasons for this. Arguably, we were too critical of establishment liberals, and too naive about the growing conservative movement. We were too indifferent to unions, and they -- especially after the Cold War purge of communist-sympathizers -- had become too reactionary. Or maybe it was just the corruptibility of a political system where both parties work full time to court donors. This is a review of a new book by David Talbot and Margaret Talbot: By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution, which naturally focuses overmuch on marginal groups that were attracted by the idea of countering violence with violence. Such groups burned out fast, with little to show for their wasted lives.

Ian Millhiser: Georgia Republicans didn't waste any time in using their new voter suppression law. This lays out the mechanics of how the law could work. The first step is to challenge the election board in Atlanta, in hopes of replacing it with a state-appointed supervisor (i.e., a Republican), who could disqualify challenged voters (e.g., Democrats). Georgia is close enough that it wouldn't take a lot of cheating to tip the state back to the Republicans. If there is any saving grace in this, it's that this particular method will be hard to hide, and will raise a storm of protest. I generally think that voter suppression attempts are likely to backfire, as they motivate the targets to work that much harder to vote. Still, the Republicans are waging a full court press all across the country to steal elections. For more on who's behind all this, see Jane Mayer: The Big Money Behind the Big Lie: "Donald Trump's attacks on democracy are being promoted by rich and powerful conservative groups that are determined to win at all costs." Also: Richard L Hasen: Trump Is Planning a Much More Respectable Coup Next Time.

Kim Phillips-Fein: The Liberals Who Weakened Trust in Government: "How public interest groups inadvertently aided the right's ascendency." Review of Paul Sabin: Public Citizens: The Attack on Big Government and the Remaking of American Liberalism. Focuses on "public interest groups" in the 1970s (especially consumers and environmentalists), who often found liberal governments in league with corporations, undermining popular faith in government as an agent for the people. How much this ultimately helped conservatives as they rose to political power in 1980 is hard to say. A major problem for Democrats was that as unions started to lose power, they gave up on trying to represent the broad working class and came to be viewed as just another special interest, leaving them to compete with other public and private interest groups. What is true is that Democrats undercut themselves with a series of fiascos (like Vietnam), and wound up turning to business to make up for waning union support. The result was long-term loss of credibility, not that they didn't try to blame that, too, on Ralph Nader.

Aaron Rupar: Why Newsmax is failing: Interview with Jason Campbell. Viewership of the "Trumpier-than-Fox" channel is down more than 50 percent from January (average 300,000 to 114,000).

Alex Shephard: The Media Is Too Clueless and Sensationalistic to Properly Explain Breakthrough Covid: Or, well, really, anything else. Maybe they're right that most people don't want to understand, but it's not like they give them a chance. The same basic complaint is aired in Kate Aronoff: Why Mainstream Media Struggles to Explain the Infrastructure Plan's Climate Spending.

David Wallace-Wells: 'We Could Have Prevented This': "The scientist Eric Topol on the Delta variant and its dangerous impact." According to the New York Times, new cases peaked on Jan. 8 at 259,616 (all figures 7-day averages), then declined more or less steadily to 10,608 on July 5), before increasing again to 96,036 on Aug. 4 (+131% 14-day change). There has, however, been a considerable drop in mortality (although deaths are up 65% over the last 14-days, still below any point after the initial spike in 2020). Key line here: "the age skew of the disease and the age skew of vaccine penetration, taken together, mean that the country as a whole has probably had at least 90 percent of its collective mortality risk eliminated through vaccines." Lots more info here. [Oh, by the way, in headlines that need no further comment: Matt Stieb: GOP Representative Suing Nancy Pelosi Over House Mask Mandate Gets COVID.]

Monday, August 2, 2021

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35949 [35900] rated (+49), 212 [210] unrated (+2).

Only one A-list album by closing time Thursday -- The Locals Play the Music of Anthony Braxton, which had me hooked less than a minute in -- but Phil Overeem came to the rescue. Three of this week's A-list albums came from his list (although I may have gotten to Dave before reading his list), as well as several high HMs.

Dan Weiss opened an "open grade" thread on Friday's Billie Eilish album. I never bother with articles on "most anticipated albums," but it's fair to say Eilish's would have topped most critics' lists. I gave it two plays, looked at a Tom Breihan review in Stereogum, and played all the videos there. Unusual move for me, something I last did for Taylor Swift last year, and before that -- well, can't remember. Videos didn't help, and the album struck me as slack and uneven, although a few songs registered nonetheless. My initial grade was B+(***), as I noted there. I played it a couple more times since, and also replayed Eilish's first album -- a high A- that wound up my number one non-jazz album of 2019. Part of my thinking was that perhaps I should bump it up to A, which would make it easier to give the new one an A-. What happened was the old one didn't get any better -- indeed, my reservations about the new one would have been as valid there -- and the new one has, if anything, more compelling songs.

Most of Weiss' commenters liked the album a lot, and Weiss seemed to like it more as the thread unwound. I ended my comment with "Moving on to Dave now." Which I did, and got there a bit faster (as I did for his 2019 album, Psychodrama). Los Lobos and Prince were also Friday releases.

The old music section is background for recent albums, with John Hiatt continued from last week, plus Brad Mehldau, Freddie Redd, and Jaleel Shaw. Redd died earlier this year, and the only things I had by him were two brilliant releases from 1960. I've heard all of Mehldau's early Warners releases, but had missed his earlier FSNTs. And although it seems like I've run into Shaw a lot, I didn't have any of his own albums in my ratings database.

The other piece of "old music" is the Pulnoc. Joe Yanosik, in his A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe, reports that Pulnoc's Live at P.S. 122 will finally get an official release in 2022. I recall having a cassette of Robert Christgau's top-rated album of 1989, but didn't get it into my database, so I begged a CDR copy, and didn't feel like waiting until real product appeared. I figured I'd have to go without a cover scan, but found this YouTube artwork, and synthesized my own fake cover from it. Not as great as remembered, but it was quite an eye-opener at the time.

Mike Hull's film, Betrayal at Attica, is streaming now at HBO Max. Here's a link (not sure if it's the best one). [PS: Here's the official movie website, and the archive. Mike talks about the making of the film with Jason Bailey on their Fun City Cinema podcast (seems to be locked up on Patreon, but you can find the audio here -- no idea why, but I had to restart it and scroll forward every 5 minutes or so, 42:02 in all).

New records reviewed this week:

BaianaSystem: OXEAXEEXU (2021, Maquina De Louco): Brazilian group, founded in Bahia in 2019, group name a nod to Bahian guitar and Jamaica sound systems. Elements of rock, rap, dub. B+(***)

Dave: We're All Alone in This Together (2021, Neighbourhood): British rapper David Omoregie, born in Brixton, parents Nigerian, second album. His stardom leaves him alone but constantly connected to the binds of race and class, the common condition that informs his brilliant title. A-

Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (2021, Interscope): Second album, still a teenager (though I'm not sure she ever was), produced by her brother Finneas O'Connell, reducing her budget to slack DIY beats. Nothing here grabs he like her debut, but lots of things hint at her appeal, not to say genius, even if her charms are decidedly cerebral. B+(***)

Alvin Fielder/David Drove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith: The Very Cup of Trembling (2016 [2021], Astral Spirits): Drummer (1935-2019), from Mississippi, moved to Chicago, played with Sun Ra, charter AACM member, returned to Mississippi but continued to play in groups with Joel Futterman and/or Kidd Jordan. Others play trombone, tenor/baritone sax, and bass. B+(***) [dl] [08-13]

Graham Haynes vs Submerged: Echolocation (2020 [2021], Burning Ambulance): Cornet player, son of drummer Roy Haynes, scattered albums since 1989, here with electronics by Kurt Gluck -- a Brooklyn DJ, with albums going back to a Bill Laswell collaboration in 2004. The combination recalls Nils Petter Molvaer's jazztronica, but the beats have more industrial and hip-hop overtones. A- [bc]

Alan Jackson: Where Have You Gone (2021, EMI Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, called his 1987 debut New Traditional, exemplified that genre through twenty more albums. Six years since his previous album is by far the longest gap in his discography. Long (82:52), mostly originals, covers from Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. "I got my boots/ I got my hat/ I'm bringing country back." B+(***)

Alexey Kruglov/Carolyn Hume/Paul May/Oleg Yudanov: Last Train From Narvskaya (2019 [2021], Leo): Russian alto saxophonist, several dozen albums since 2002, surprise I've heard virtually nothing by him before. Quartet with piano, drums, percussion. B+(*)

Joachim Kühn: Touch the Light (2021, ACT): German pianist, many albums since 1969, takes it easy with a solo one, 13 widely scattered songs, each nice and simple. Most touching for me was "Redemption Song." B+(***)

Jeff Lederer/Sunwatcher: Eightfold Path (2020 [2021], Little(i)Music): Tenor saxophonist, reunited the quartet from his 2011 album Sunwatcher: Jamie Saft (organ/piano), Steve Swallow (bass), Matt Wilson (drums). Impressive outside player, sometimes a little unsteady. B+(**) [09-03]

Gianni Lenoci: A Few Steps Beyond (2019 [2021], Amirani): Italian pianist, died at 56 in 2019, this his "very last concert - live at Talos Festival 2019." Solo, two pieces each by Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman. B+(*)

Les Filles De Illighadad: At Pioneer Works (2021, Sahel Sounds): Touareg group named for their home town in remote central Niger, third album. Saharan groove and chant, strong and clear but not all that exceptional. B+(**) [bc]

Lord Huron: Long Lost (2021, Republic): Indie band from Los Angeles, principally Ben Schneider, fourth album since 2012. Slouching toward ambiance. B

Los Lobos: Native Sons (2021, New West): Band introduced itself in 1978 as Del Este de Los Angeles, came up with one new song this time, contextualized with a dozen covers drawing on other Los Angeles bands, from Buffalo Springfield and the Beach Boys to War and the Blasters, including a couple of their Hispanic specialties. B+(*)

L'Rain: Fatigue (2021, Mexican Summer): Taja Cheek, "experimentalist and multi-instrumentalist," from Brooklyn, second album. B+(*) [bc]

Charlie Marie: Ramble On (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter, moved from Rhode Island to Nashville to focus on "classic country." First album, after a couple of EPs. B+(**)

Brad Mehldau/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: Variations on a Melancholy Theme (2013 [2021], Nonesuch): Piece was commissioned in 2011, and performed in 2013, but not clear whether this is that or something else. Then, as now, Orpheus is a going concern at Carnegie Hall, a small classical orchestra -- I haven't found a credits list, but count 27 heads in a (probably recent) photo. B

Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Ding Dong. You're Dead. (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio, with Ellen Brekken on bass (wrote 2 of 7 songs) and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums; seventh group album since 2011. B+(***)

Kassa Overall: Shades of Flu 2: In These Odd Times (2021, Flu Note): Remixes of 14 jazz pieces, ranging from Ahmad Jamal to Kris Davis, by the drummer-sometime-rapper, with various guests spliced in. Takes a while to start to kick in, not sure it ever really does. B [bc]

Ivo Perelman/Gordon Grdina/Hamin Honari: The Purity of Desire (2020 [2021], Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, trio with oud and percussion (mostly tombak and daf). B+(***)

Portico Quartet: Terrain (2021, Gondwana): English "modern instrumental music" group, dozen albums since 2006, originally distinguished by use of the Chinese hang, which now plays a minor role, behind the sax and keyboards that are Jack Wyllie's domain. B+(*)

Freddie Redd: Reminiscing (2013 [2021], Bleebop): Pianist, died in March at 92, didn't record a lot, but shared a 1955 piano album with Hampton Hawes, peaked with two A-list albums on Blue Note in 1960 (Music From "The Connection" and Shades of Redd), and wound up with a pair of 2015-16 albums on Steeplechase I haven't heard. This is a bit earlier, with Brad Linde (tenor sax), Michael Formanek (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums). Feels engagingly retro, reminding me more of Teddy Wilson than of the beboppers of Redd's generation. Or maybe with nothing else to prove, they're just having fun. B+(***) [bc]

Jaleel Shaw: Echoes (2021, self-released): Alto saxophonist, from Philadelphia, studied at Berklee, debut 2005. Lockdown exercises, most short pattern pieces, nice. B+(**)

Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Reels (2019 [2021], Burning Ambulance): Piano/drums duo, long-time collaborators. B+(***) [bc]

Gary Smulyan/Ronnie Cuber: Tough Baritones (2021, SteepleChase): Two veteran baritone saxophonists, backed by piano (Gary Versace), bass (Jay Anderson), and drums (Jason Tiemann). Tough isn't the word that comes to mind. Steeped in bebop, they still swing. B+(***)

The Spirit of the Beehive: Entertainment, Death (2021, Saddle Creek): Psych rock group from Philadelphia, band name from a 1973 Spanish film directed by Victor Erice (El Espiritu de la Colmena). Fourth album since 2021. I'm usually instantly turned off by this kind of pretentious pastiche, with bits of tune snipped apart and scattered like confetti. This one was amusing enough it took a while. B

Trak Trak: Sur Sur (2020, Ciclismo): Argentinian singer-songwriter Romina Schenone and a band that looks suspiciously German, play intense dance music that draws on cumbia and reggaeton. A vigorous workout, very catchy. A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Guillermo Gregorio/Damon Smith/Jerome Bryerton: Room of the Present (2007-08 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): Clarinet player from Argentina but long based in Chicago, started around 1963, still active. Backed with bass and drums. B+(*) [bc]

The J Ann C Trio: At Tan-Tar-A (1966 [2021], Modern Harmonic/Sundazed): Covers band, recorded this album at a resort in the Ozarks. Ann Delrene sings and plays electric bass, with Jerry Dugan (drums) and Carl Russell (guitar). Two Hank Williams songs anchor the LP sides, each followed by an instrumental, then four scattered surprises, ranging from "Hey Bo Diddley" to "Moon River" and (less successfully) "Girl From Ipanema" to "If I Had a Hammer." B+(***)

Prince: Welcome 2 America (2010 [2021], NPG/Legacy): Another posthumous album, recorded during the artist's "Welcome 2 America" tour. Album was recorded in Spring before 20Ten was released in July. The latter album picked up material as far back as 2006, and wasn't followed up until 2014. Not prime material, with the one non-Prince song (Dave Pirner's "Stand Up and B Strong") the one that grabbed my attention. B+(*)

Pat Thomas: The Locals Play the Music of Anthony Braxton (2006 [2021], Discus Music): British avant-pianist, took six pieces and sharpened the angles, giving them a more playful beat than we had any right to expect. With clarinet (Alex Ward), electric guitar (Evan Thomas), electric bass (Dominic Lash), and drums (Darren Hasson-Davis). Album could be attributed to The Locals, but group doesn't seem to have anything beyond this album. A- [bc]

Old music:

John Hiatt: Y'All Caught?: The Ones That Got Away 1979-1985 (1979-85 [1989], Geffen): Best-of limited to five MCA and Geffen albums, two I have at A- (Slug Line and Riding With the King), three well below that, compiled after he finally started selling some on A&M. B+(***)

John Hiatt: Perfectly Good Guitar (1993, A&M): Comes down hard on anyone who disrespects their guitar. Even if they do nothing special with it. B+(*)

John Hiatt: The Best of John Hiatt [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1983-93 [2003], A&M): Twelve songs, one predates his 1987-93 tenure with A&M, four from Bring the Family. Probably better than any of the constituent albums, but not by much. B+(*)

John Hiatt: Crossing Muddy Waters (2000, Vanguard): More of a folk label, so he accommodates by hiring a couple of bluegrass musicians -- Davey Faragher (bass guitar/tambourine) and David Immerglück (slide & 12 string guitar/mandolin) -- and ditching the drummer. Got him a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. B+(**)

John Hiatt: The Tiki Bar Is Open (2001, Vanguard): Second album for label, back to his (somewhat weird) normal. Enjoy the long instrumental outro on "Farther Stars." B+(***)

John Hiatt & the Goners: Beneath This Gruff Exterior (2003, New West): Long-time Nashville denizen lands on Nashville's premier alt-country label. Seems inevitable. First step was to give his Sonny Landreth-led band a name. And no problems with the occasional dip into rockabilly. As for the songwriting: "I do my best thinking/ sitting on my ass." B+(***)

John Hiatt: Master of Disaster (2005, New West): Produced by Jim Dickinson with his band, North Mississippi Allstars, helping out, plotting a return to the blues. B+(**)

John Hiatt: Mystic Pinball (2012, New West): Hits some kind of sweet spot: at 39, his highest charting album ever, but at this late date almost certainly not his best-selling. Pretty much his average album, flawless enough no one can complain, or get excited. B+(**)

Brad Mehldau/Mario Rossy/Perico Sambeat/Jordi Rossy: New York-Barcelona Crossing (1993 [1997], Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano/bass/alto sax/drums, recorded in Barcelona a couple years before Introducing Brad Mehldau, but released later. Mostly standards, with one original each by Sambeat and Mario Rossy. B+(**)

Brad Mehldau/Mario Rossy/Perico Sambeat/Jordi Rossy: New York-Barcelona Crossing: Volumen 2 (1993 [1998], Fresh Sound New Talent): Seven more pieces from the same date, all standards. B+(**)

Mehldau & Rossy Trio: When I Fall in Love (1993 [1994], Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano trio, Brad Mehldau with brothers Mario and Jordi Rossy (bass and drums). Starts with a fairly dazzling "Anthropoogy." Looks like the first Mehldau album released. B+(**)

Pulnoc: Live at P.S. 122 (1989, bootleg): Czech rock group, certifiable Velvet Underground fans, released a good album on Arista in 1991, a few more in Europe -- for full details, see Joe Yanosik's A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe. A bit earlier, Robert Christgau flagged this bootleg tape as his top album of 1989. Someone gave me a cassette, but it never showed up in my database. Reports are this will finally be released on 2-CD next year, but life's short, so I figured I should go ahead and mention it now. A- [cdr]

Freddie Redd/Hampton Hawes: Piano East/Piano West (1952-55 [1985], Prestige/OJC): Two pianists, packaged together: starts with a 1952 Hawes quartet session (8 tracks, 21:20), with Larry Bunker on vibes, then tacks on Redd's 1955 debut trio (4 tracks, 20:07). Not an inspired match, but it moves the fast, boppish pieces up front, then relaxes a bit. B+(*)

Freddy Redd Trio: San Francisco Suite: For Jazz Trio (1957 (1990), Riverside/OJC): Starts with the 13:36 title suite, in five movements. Winds up a half-dozen pieces (three original, three standards). B+(**)

Freddie Redd: Redd's Blues (1961 [2002], Blue Note): With Benny Bailey (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), and Tina Brooks (tenor sax). Session sat on the shelf until 1999, when it came out in Japan. B+(*)

Freddie Redd: Music for You (2014 [2025], SteepleChase): First album since 1991, but still spry at 87, in a trio with Jay Anderson and Billy Drummond, playing one of his songs and a batch of standards. Nothing spectacular, but nice. B+(**)

Freddie Redd: With Due Respect (2014-15 [2016], SteepleChase): This looks to be his last album, his trio from the previous album plus some horns: John Mosca (trombone), Chris Byars (alto sax/flute), and Stefano Doglioni (bass clarinet). Give Byars a lot of credit here. B+(***)

Jaleel Shaw: Perspective (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist, first album. Originals, one by guitarist Lage Lund, plus a nod to Coltrane. With Lund, Robert Glasper (piano), Vicente Archer (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums), plus Mark Turner (tenor sax) on two tracks. B+(***)

Jaleel Shaw: Optimism (2007 [2008], Changu): Second album; Glasper, Lund, and Blake return, Joe Martin on bass and more guest spots. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lyle Mays: Eberhard (self-released) [08-27]
  • Trineice Robinson: All or Nothing (4RM Music Productions) [08-06]
  • Kevin Sun: <3 Bird (Endectomorph Music) [08-29]

Friday, July 30, 2021

Speaking of Which

I finished reading Michael Lewis's book, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, where he follows a circle of public health officials and researchers who figured out what was happening with Covid-19 early enough they could come up with a plan for fighting it before it got out of hand, then failed to implement that plan -- because, well, that part isn't so clear. Partly, the people who mucked up the response weren't nearly as interesting as the brilliant weirdos he found. Partly, the institutional biases run much deeper than he has patience for.

You get a hint of this when he talks about the "swine flu fiasco" of 1976, when the CDC's mass vaccination program had to be halted due to side-effects, while the flu itself petered out into something far short of the threatened pandemic. That's when the tables turned and the CDC was taken over by political appointees, and, well, you can see where that went. Lewis's previous book, The Fifth Risk, was effectively a bravo defense of public servants who work in (and sometimes in spite of) government bureaucracy, but this book feels more like The Empire Strikes Back, with the Empire as faceless and sinister as ever, and the heroes regrouping in the shadows of the private sector. Well, at least one hero, Charity Dean, who resigned from her post near the top of California's public health office to raise venture capital for a startup competing for scarce public health dollars. The last few pages read like her prospectus. (Although, it should be noted, that much of what Lewis has to say about private companies during the pandemic, including most hospitals and the big testing labs, is pretty damning. He does cite some companies that stepped up to the challenge civic-mindedly, but they were mostly exceptions.)

So I came away feeling I've read the wrong book on the pandemic. There will in due course be dozens or hundreds of them, and I don't been any great urgency. I can do a preliminary sort next time I do a Book Roundup. Meanwhile, I have a couple of books on Trump and the Republicans that may help me gauge what is and isn't understood about the current political climate: Steve Benen's The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics, and Adam Serwer's The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America. I'm starting with Benen, because I'm more deeply disturbed by the Republican Party than I am by Trump himself, and not just by the former's slavish devotion to the latter. (By the way, Serwer's book starts with a great truth: "Many people woke up on November 9, 2016, feeling like their country hated them.")

While reading the Lewis book, I came up with simple formulation that goes far toward explaining the central truth of US politics:

  1. Republicans have decided that the only thing that matters is who controls the levers of power. Therefore, every issue matters only insofar as it can help or hurt you in the pursuit of power. They are more likely to describe this in terms of fear than greed.

  2. Republicans view the world as a zero-sum game, where you can only win at someone else's expense, and no one else can improve their stakes except to your detriment. This makes them desperate and paranoid.

Maybe the points should be reversed, or merged into one. Everything Republicans say or do fits into this mold, which is why everything they say or do is wrong, and ultimately damaging. A reasonable person may think of natural disasters, especially the pandemic, as events that transcend political party, where smart people of good will can devise solutions that reduce harm and possibly even benefit nearly all people. That's how Democrats think, but it's not how Republicans think -- and our political system makes it harder to make things than to break them (indeed, you can view it as a special case of entropy).

This is not to say that there is no substance to conservative values. Republicans have been pretty flexible about their principles, but they've also locked themselves into some positions that are unpopular now and likely to hurt them even more in the future. And I don't just mean that they've aligned themselves with losing interests, like war and coal. Suspecting enemy preferences, they've turned against most civil servants, especially teachers, and their subject matter, including education in general and science in particular. Benen seems to focus on the party's "post-policy" shallowness, but other keys to their inability to govern include their contempt for knowledge and skill, their willingness to indulge predatory businesses, and their utter indifference to the fate of most Americans, including much of what they call their "base."

No idea how often I'll do this, but a few things came to my attention recently, prompting these notes.

I'm not trying to cover everything here, or even very much. I don't have any interest in the January 6 hearings -- I'm not even reading those reports. I don't care a whit about the Olympics, although I will note that it seems like once every four years we suddenly warm up to the great diversity of the American people. I care more about the infrastructure bill (or two), but not in sweating the details. While I've read a fair amount about Covid-19 recently, I'm not up to trying to sort it out here -- other than to say that the map looks significantly worse.

Paul Campos: The Truman Show: "How the 33rd president finagled his way to a post-White House fortune -- and created a damaging precedent." This caught my eye because Wikipedia has a List of presidents of the United States by net worth, which I consulted when I was thinking about writing a book on political eras. One contrast I wanted to make was between Donald Trump, supposedly the richest US president ever, and the previous list-topper, George Washington (now number two on the list, after everything was converted into recent dollar values). Despite their great wealth -- relative to their peers, Washington may have ranked even higher than Trump -- the two could hardly have been more different: Washington famously tried to appear disinterested (avoiding any suspicion that his wealth was a consideration for his actions), while Trump was the exact opposite. I noted then that Harry Truman was dead last on the list. The list has changed since the last time I looked at it: Trump was added at the top, as was Biden a bit below median (in 25th, between Eisenhower and Ford); recent presidents have climbed fast up the list (Clinton to 9, Obama 12, GW Bush 13); and the nine sub-millionaires were sorted by years (which left Truman last). Even if you accept Campos' valuations, Truman would only rise about 15 spots. And if you look at the various pleas and ploys Truman employed, it's interesting that he looked more to the public for graft than to "the malefactors of great wealth," which is where more savvy politicians like Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton turned, much more lucratively. While the absolute ranking on the list doesn't seem to matter much, it would be interesting to see wealth broken out in three columns: at inauguration time; when departing the White House; and peak before death (or now). One thing that's notable here is that presidents who died in office skew way down the list.

Jonathan Chait: Leftists and Liberals Are Still Fighting Over the Cold War. The occasion for this seems to be the protests in Cuba and Florida, which the latter claim to be aligned. The US left is expected to condemn Cuba, Venezuela, and other outposts of the "illiberal left," which has largely been forced by US sanctions to retrench into a repressive, defensive crouch. This is reminiscent of the posture of many liberal intellectuals during the Cold War era. This position was wrong then, and wrong now, but persists because it continues to sucker people of good will into bad politics. (I'm inclined to count Joe Biden and his foreign policy team in that group, although I know people who wouldn't give them the benefit of doubt.) It's bad politics because it doesn't help most of your fellow Americans, and because it doesn't help the foreign people you're trying to sympathize with either. There's nothing wrong with wishing other people brighter futures. Indeed, every time I see a news article about an election between left and right parties in another country, I root for the left -- even if I don't fully approve, because fairer and more just societies can only come from the left, and I believe that politicians who identify with the people are more likely to help them (in the long run, even if not soon). But best wishes is all I can muster, because I know that I have no say in how other countries are governed. (Hell, I hardly have any say in how my own is run.) People who want to do more are overreaching, probably out of some deep-seated hubris. I'm not saying that you shouldn't speak out when you see injustices elsewhere, but nations should accept other nations as they are -- at least as long as they don't pose existential threats to other nations (as the US has done a few dozen times in my lifetime, so we're more in need of correction than most countries).

To understand why this attitude hurts most Americans, it helps to recall the most basic principles behind the Cold War. At the end of WWII, the European colonial system was bankrupt, and the US was the only viable capitalist power. The threat was that people all around the world, including in the broken states of Europe, might rise up (either democratically or through revolution) and take popular control of their own nations. The idea was to replace colonial power with corporate dominance in a system linked together by American financial and military might. The Soviet reaction was passive-aggressive: most often they retreated, but they fought back on occasion, enough that they could be characterized as a threat to democracy and freedom (even if most American client regimes had neither). But this wasn't just a struggle to extend the viability of imperialism (by cutting a few local elites in on a share of the loot). As capitalists gained power around the world, they gained political power at home. Starting with the "red scare," they purged unions of their most dedicated and principled leaders. The tamed unions could then be used to undermine the left in "allied" countries, but more importantly they became ever more impotent, until they in turn could be broken. The Cold War was as much a war against the working class at home as it was abroad. Throughout this period, a number of liberal politicians and intellectuals regularly sided with the Cold Warriors. For a long while doing so was obligatory to avoid the "red" smear.

The irony is that as communist regimes reformed, especially around 1990, the last holdouts were the nations the US imposed the strictest and most debilitating sanctions on: Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, China. Some became liberal democracies with mixed economies, some fell into chaos or got snatched up by functionaries-turned-kleptocrats. China and Vietnam reformed their economies without surrendering party control. I was thinking no one predicted this, but it turns out that David Ben-Gurion predicted as much back in the 1950s. By then he was trying to align Israel with America, and his reputation as a socialist was in tatters, but he seems to have understood that equality and democracy were always at the heart of the left. Indeed, that's what the left struggles for even today, with (or without) the help of self-identified liberals. One thing is clear: the demonstrations in Cuba and in Florida are different and opposed things. If you do wish to help the Cuban people determine their own future, you should oppose the "sympathy" protests in Florida, which are meant to rally Americans into attacking and visiting great harm on Cuba. And you should support efforts to normalize US-Cuban relations.

Alex Dalton: The Former Harvard Law Dean Who Wants Government to Save the News Business: Martha Minow, the book is Saving the News: Why the Constitutino Calls for Government Action to Preserve Freedom of Speech. We're a million miles away from entertaining such notions, but good to see that someone is articulating them, especially on the basis of constitutional rights, including the chartering of government to "form a more perfect union" and "promote the general welfare." As I recall, Thomas Jefferson once argued for pubic support of higher education not because we needed skilled workers (although nowadays we do) but because education makes for better citizens (something we seem to be in even more desperate shortage of). Republicans will be up in arms, because they see news and education as domains for thought control (which is why they finance their own). Capitalists will worry that government support will reduce their ability to profit from their news monopolies. And any time government gets involved, people will gripe about how their taxes are being spent -- whether to promote socialism or practice racism, everyone will be offended until no one is satisfied. Still, we desperately need fair and objective news, freely available to everyone. Why can't we figure out how to do that?

German Lopez: The opioid epidemic isn't unsolvable: The death count due to opioid overdoses shot up significantly last year, so much so that it became (actually remained) a major factor in declining life expectancy. Yet this is one public health crisis I have little interest in. Part of that may be that the victims are discrete (unlike the pandemic, where they infect others). But it's also because the way "experts" define the problem is so misleading. What we really have is a pain problem. Opioids are in many cases the simplest, most effective solution to pain, but only if they are administered with much more care than our profit-seeking health care system is capable of. Lopez is smart and knowledgeable, but look how he frames the "solutions":

  1. Restricting the drug supply
  2. More and better addiction treatment
  3. Harm reduction
  4. Address root causes

In other words, start with prohibition, then give lip service to a few other mantras that will be forgotten almost immediately. The obvious problem with the first is that it's already being done quite seriously, and it hasn't worked. On the one hand, people with serious pain are hard-pressed to work the system to get relief. On the other hand, the black market has grown to take advantage of the shortfall, often with faulty product as well as no useful support or service. The other points are increasingly hard, expensive, and/or nebulous. Moreover, the right, despite occasional libertarian pretensions, is fond of prohibition -- it furthers the police state they hold so dear -- they haven't the slightest interest or desire in the other three (i.e., they don't like care, they don't care about risk reduction, and they reject any charge that the system might be at fault). But the system is broken -- so deep you're never going to be able to isolate opioid overdoses as something that can be fixed without overhauling the whole system. That's basically why I have so little patience for people who single out this problem. Give us a health care system that serves everybody, one that treats pain in all its complexity, because we as a people care about each and every one of us. Even so, you're not going to make pain vanish. The best you can hope for is that more people will be able to live with it, because it will be viewed within the context of life, not just as some racket to make money off of.

Kerry Howley: Call Me a Traitor: "Daniel Hale exposed the machinery of America's clandestine warfare. Why did no one seem to care?" Long story, lots about drone warfare. For an update, see Josh Gerstein: Leaker of drone secrets gets 45 months in prison. Howley previously wrote 'The World's Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread': all about Reality Winter.

Ed Kilgore: Democrats Can't Out-Organize a Gerrymander -- or Outflank Joe Manchin: Argues that Democrats "have to play the cards dealt to them by the system as it currently exists." With razor-thin majorities, that means you can't get lots of things done that are needed. That shouldn't mean giving up. If anything, it means it's all the more important to focus on popular measures and show that you're trying. And make it clear that it's the Republicans who are blocking the government help that the people want and need. Take that into the 2022 election, and use that message to elect many more Democrats. Sure, the cards are stacked against Democrats, but they should have a popular program, especially versus the Republican legacy of doom. By the way, although it never hurts to point out how the Republicans are trying to rig elections, I'm not sure that reducing the number of voters works against Democrats. It mostly gets rid of a lot of low-information, low-commitment voters, who as 2020 showed are as likely to fall for crackpot theories as not. The idea that low turnout favors Republicans became cemented in 2010, when it was possible to explain Democratic losses by voter indifference after the Democrats achieved very little with pretty large majorities. But the 2010 dropoff from 2008 was almost exactly the same as the 2006 dropoff from 2004, except it cut the opposite way.

Paola Rosa-Aquino: New CDC Data Shows the Pandemic Crushed U.S. Life Expectancy. Note that the drop exceeds what can be directly blamed on the pandemic -- although demographic studies suggest that "excess deaths" were up some 50% more than the official Covid-19 body count. Next article I looked at after this one was Zak Cheney-Rice: The GOP's 2024 Strategy Has a High Body Count.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Music Week

July archive (final).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

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

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

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

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

Old music:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade (or other) changes:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Monday, July 19, 2021

Music Week

July archive (in progress).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old music:

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

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

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

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

Grade (or other) changes:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

Friday, July 16, 2021

Speaking of Which

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

Matthew Yglesias:

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

Steve M reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 12, 2021

Music Week

July archive (in progress).

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

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

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

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

A few more mid-year lists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

New records reviewed this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

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

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

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

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

Old music:

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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

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