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Monday, January 31, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, January archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 44 albums, 4 A-list, plus 14 high B+; should be wrapping up the old year, and plunging into the new one. Doing neither with much enthusiasm.

Music: Current count 37201 [37117] rated (+44), 132 [140] unrated (-8).

As I tweeted early last week, I got a big boost in my search for 2021 albums from Jason Gross's long Ye Wei Blog EOY lists. I also noticed a Brazilian artist/title I was previously unaware of that broke into the top 50 of the Expert Witnesses Poll (the Facebook post is here, but I've compiled a more succinct albums list (with my grades, also Christgau's, as they are most influential in this poll). I later found that Rod Taylor's Brazil Beat includes detailed reviews of several dozen recent Brazilian albums, including many he prefers to my pick. I've checked out a half-dozen or so, and nothing else struck me as favorably as Delta Estácio Blues, but what do I know? (For starters, one thing I don't know is Portuguese.)

Robert Christgau published his 2021 Dean's List last week. Most years he tips his hand by listing 3-5 unreviewed albums, but this year the only one was Doja Cat's Planet Her -- I had it at B+(*), so should give it another chance (same for his number 3 pick, Spilligion from 2020). I held off on posting his list and essay to his website, and still have a little more work to do before I can.

January 2022 Streamnotes is closed (link up top), but once again I haven't gotten my indexing done. I also haven't frozen my 2021 file, as I usually do around this time. Still, I might as well go ahead and post this much. Looks like this is going to be a difficult week.

Observed my late mother's birthday today by cooking one of her signature comfort food dishes: fried round steak in mushroom gravy. Small pleasures.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Black Pistol Fire: Look Alive (2021, Black Hill): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Solemn Brigham: South Street Sinner (2021, Mello Music): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Brother Moves On: Tolika Mtoliki (2021, Matsuli Music): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Cheekface: Emphatically No (2021, New Professor Music): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Chris Conde: Engulfed in the Marvelous Decay (2021, Fake Four): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Andrew Cyrille/William Parker/Enrico Rava: 2 Blues for Cecil (2021 [2022], TUM): [cd]: A-
  • Danger Dan: Das Ist Alles Von Der Kunstfreiheit Gedekt (2021, Antilopen Geldwäsche): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jamael Dean: Primordial Waters (2021, Stones Throw): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Kari Faux: Lowkey Superstar (2021, Don Giovanni): [bc]: B+(*)
  • FKA Twigs: Caprisongs (2022, Young/Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ghost of Vroom: 1 (2021, Mod Y Vi): [sp]: A-
  • Lande Hekt: Going to Hell (2021, Get Better): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lande Hekt: Gigantic Disappointment (2019, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Kiefer: When There's Love Around (2021, Stones Throw): [r]: B
  • Boris Kozlov: First Things First (2020 [2022], Posi-Tone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Alessandra Leão: Acesa (2021, self-released): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Carol Liebowitz/Adam Lane/Andrew Drury: Blue Shift (2019 [2022], Line Art): [cd]: B+(**) [03-04]
  • Roberto Magris: Match Point (2018 [2021], JMood): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Pete Malinverni: On the Town: Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein (2021 [2022], Planet Arts): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Aimee Mann: Queens of the Summer Hotel (2021, SuperEgo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Juçara Marçal: Delta Estácio Blues (2021, QTV Selo/Mais Um): [r]: A-
  • Modern Love (2021, BBE): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Oz Noy/Ugonna Okegwo/Ray Marchica: Riverside (2020 [2022], Outside In Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The OGJB Quartet: Ode to O (2019 [2022], TUM): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Emile Parisien: Louise (2021 [2022], ACT): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Pony: TV Baby (2021, Take This to Heart): [bc]: B
  • Masha Qrella: Woanders (2021, Staatsakt): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Raw Poetic Featuring Damu the Fudgemunk: Big Tiny Planet (2021, Redefinition, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Samo Salamon/Cene Resnik/Jaka Berger: Takt Ars Sessions: Vol. 1 (2021, Samo): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Samo Salamon/Cene Resnik/Jaka Berger: Takt Ars Sessions: Vol. 2 (2021, Samo): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Doug Scarborough: The Color of Angels (2021 [2022], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Maria Sena: De Primeira (2021, Alá Comunicação E Cultura): [r]: B+(***)
  • Piet Verbist: Secret Exit to Another Dimension (2020 [2022], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Viagra Boys: Welfare Jazz (2021, Year0001): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ghalia Volt: One Woman Band (2021, Ruf): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kanye West: Donda (2021, GOOD Music/Def Jam, 2CD): [r]: C+
  • Joyce Wrice: Overgrown (2021, Joyce Wrice Music): [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan: Volume 3 (1970-85 [2021], BBE, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • George Otsuka Quintet: Loving You George (1975 [2021], Wewantsounds): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Pink Floyd: Live at Knebworth 1990 (1990 [2021], Pink Floyd): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Shintaro Quintet: Evolution (1984 [2021], BBE): [bc]: B+(**)
  • The Thing [Mats Gustafsson/Joe McPhee/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilseen-Love]: She Knows . . . (2001 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou Dahomey: The 1st Album (1973 [2011], Analog Africa): [r]: A-
  • Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou: The Vodoun Effect: Funk & Sato From Benin's Obscure Labels 1972-1975 (1972-75 [2008], Analog Africa): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou: Volume Two: Echos Hypnotiques: From the Vaults of Albarika Store 1969-1979 (1969-79 [2009], Analog Africa): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou: The Skeletal Essences of Afro Funk 1969-1980 (1969-80 [2013], Analog Africa): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Martin Wind/New York Bass Quartet: Air (Laika) [02-25]

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

NATO Pushes Its Logic (and Luck?)

[An earlier version of this appeared in Speaking of Which on Jan. 23, 2022, plus a couple paragraphs from the next day's Music Week.]

Anatol Lieven's recent articles[1] point out that the escalating tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine could be negotiated away simply enough: by agreeing that Ukraine should remain neutral, with no prospect of membership in NATO (similar to the 1955 agreement where Austria was recognized as neutral in the Cold War division of Europe), and by implementing a 2015 agreement to provide some degree of autonomy for the Russian-aided separatist region of Donbass. Both of these seem like painless deals for the US, and offer Putin a degree of face-saving political cover. That matters mostly because Russia overreacted to the 2014 "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine by supporting separatist groups, and got away with it clean in Crimea, less successfully in Donbass. I don't quite understand why this is a big deal for Putin, but backing down is never easy. On the other hand, the US is the one that's seriously overstretched and deluded in this conflict.

NATO should have been phased out after the fall of the Soviet Union, but instead sought to perpetuate itself through expansion, eventually resurrecting the Russian hostility it was meant to defend against. The key question no one is asking is whether Ukraine (or any other state) is safer in or independent of NATO. During the 1950s, Austria and Finland chose to stay out of NATO, and their neutrality was respected by the Soviet Union. Most Eastern European countries signed up for NATO not because they feared Russia but because NATO was presented to them as a stepping stone to entry in the European Union. That was mostly an economic problem for Russia, as historic trading partners looked away from Russia and toward Western Europe. But as NATO expanded, the US became more negative and more militant toward Russia -- especially in the use of sanctions targeting not just the state but prominent individuals. Most ominously, the US has developed a false sense of security as they've tightened the noose around a Russia that is seemingly incapable of responding in kind.

It's worth remembering why NATO was created in the first place. The "Allies" (principally the US and the Soviet Union) had defeated Nazi Germany in WWII, with American and Russian armies meeting in and dividing Germany, both intent on pacifying Europe and favoring their own interests. But occupation of Europe was expensive and potentially alienating. Under NATO, the US effectively took command of all of the military resources of western Europe, assuring that as they were rebuilt they would remain subservient to US foreign policy. But to make NATO attractive, the US had to posit an external threat. The "spectre of communism" sufficed, what with Russian armies still occupying central and eastern Europe, and labor movements in the west (especially in Italy and France) still feeling solidarity with the Soviets. The Soviet Union responded by organizing the Warsaw Pact and locking down the "Iron Curtain," although Yugoslavia and Albania, ruled by indigenous anti-Nazi resistance movements, resisted control from Moscow.

The resulting "Cold War" served US business interests in several important ways. First, "red scares" in the US and elsewhere helped suppress and in some cases break labor movements. Second, it became clear after WWII that Britain and France could no longer afford their colonial empires -- especially with their militaries circumscribed by NATO -- plus there was the risk that continued colonial rule would fuel independence movements led by communists, much as communists had led anti-fascist resistance movements during (and even before) WWII. The result was that by 1960 nearly all European colonies had been handed over to pliable local oligarchies, bound to the US and their former masters through business interests and arms deals. There were, variations along the way: the US encouraged Britain and France to fight against independence movements led by communists, especially in Malaya and Vietnam. On the other hand, independent action, like Britan and France in the 1956 Suez War, was forbidden.

One can debate whether NATO in 1949 was a good or bad idea -- I'd argue that it was profoundly bad, both for Americans and for everyone else -- but the more pertinent question is why NATO didn't close up shop when the Warsaw Pact disbanded and the Soviet Union split up. Aside from losing their pet enemy, by then decolonialization was complete, the whole world (except for a handful of "rogue states" -- ones that the US bore long-standing grudges against but that, unlike China, were small enough to dismiss) was integrated into the neoliberal order, and Europe itself had lost all interest in militarism and empire, its many nation states melting into the EU. Nothing NATO did after 1991 had to be done by NATO -- the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1990 had been organized under the UN, with broad support, and that could just as well have been the model for subsequent NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and/or Libya (if supportable cases had been made; with NATO the US was the only decider, so could get away with flimsier excuses and callous acts that ultimately made matters worse; NATO managed to stay out of Iraq, as Germany, France, and Turkey refused to cooperate, but that didn't stop Bush from proclaiming his "Coalition of the Willing"). And, in due course, NATO has managed to push Russia around enough to create the enemy it needs to justify itself. That's a consequence that was totally unnecessary, yet today threatens the world, as anti-Putin propaganda channels Cold War propaganda into a kind of brain freeze that affects many Democrats as much as it does Republicans (who at least profit from selling arms, fomenting hate, and smashing the working class).

For an example of that "brain freeze," see Alexander Vindman/Dominic Cruz Bustillos: The Day After Russia Attacks: What War in Ukraine Would Look Like -- and How America Should Respond. The most telling line here is the summary dismissal of Lieven's arguments: "Presuming that diplomacy fails, there are three scenarios that could play out." All of the imagined scenarios start with more-or-less-limited Russian advances into Ukrainian territory (much of which isn't currently controlled by the Kiev regime). Some other references in the piece: "Kremlin's network of malign influence"; "marshal a unified response to Russian aggression"; "if Russian military action is a given"; "impose additional costs on Russian invaders and contribute to deterrence when paired with other actions"; "avoiding a one-on-one military confrontation with Russia while punishing Russia for creating this harsh new reality." By the latter, they mean that Ukrainians should bear the pain of America's demonization and isolation of Russia, which the US can continue at no risk to its own interests. Isn't is rather late to still believe that American intentions are always benign? Let alone that events always break favorably for the US?

Americans have been feeding off their own propaganda since the early days of the Cold War (or maybe since the Monroe Doctrine, but the quantity and quality took a huge leap in the 1950s, and became increasingly deranged through Nixon and Reagan and Clinton and Bush, to the point where US foreign policy gyrates between schizophrenia and dementia. Obama was a believer who still tried to rationalize fringe cases, leading to half-hearted openings to Cuba and Iran, but never questioning something as sacrosanct as NATO, so he wound up promoting conflict with Russia and China. Trump was a cynic, but even when he dissed NATO, his only aim was graft, so he effectively changed nothing, other than to expose "US interests" as self-serving. This needs to change, but Biden's team is reflexively locked into the mythology, and the left has deprioritized foreign affairs given the need to advance domestic goals and oppose Republicans. But also note that the ability of the US to dictate craziness to its "allies" has long been diminishing, and could collapse. It's one thing to blackball inconsequential countries like North Korea and Cuba; quite another to bite off one as large and connected as China, where sanctions may push nations to isolate the US instead. Russia is dangerous because no one knows the limits of possible US bullying, least of all Washington.

Moreover, it's not coincidental that as NATO is putting the screws to Russia, the US is "pivoting" its military stance to face China. The current demonization of Russia and China is every bit as manufactured as the Cold War was, and predictably falls into the same rhetoric and logic. Why it's happening is rather harder to understand, given that China and (especially) Russia are governed by the same sort of repressive oligarchs that the US has been happy to do business with all along. It's possible that it's no more than a scam by the politically influential arms industry to sell more arms. That was pretty clearly the point of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, where nations were led to believe that if they joined NATO (and bought new weapons systems) they'd get a chance to join the EU. And that, in turn, has created a cycle of aggressive pettiness that seems to be coming to a head.

Another point that should be made is that Putin (and Xi) are far from political geniuses. The US (and not just Trump) is leaving them a lot of moral high ground they aren't showing much consideration for. Part of this is that they misjudged Trump as someone they could deal with, oligarch to oligarch. Worse was Putin's election meddling, which served mostly to make Democrats more irrationally anti-Russian. The obvious thing would be to offer serious arms limitation talks, while trying to shift international conflict resolution back to the UN (which Russia and China would have to buy into, and which the US could still veto, but responsibility for failures there would be clearer). I could go on and on, especially if we allowed for some positive attitude adjustment on both sides. China doesn't need to treat the Uighurs as brutally as it does, and doesn't need to keep pressure on Taiwan. Russia doesn't need to help its clients repress democracy movements, or to annex bits of neighboring territory. The US doesn't need Ukraine in NATO or the EU. All sides need to cut back on the cyberwarfare. Russia did a good thing last week in arresting the REvil hacker group, but they're not getting any credit because the US propaganda machine only ratchets toward war. All three could benefit from a change of heart that prioritizes peace, openness, and mutual respect and support over zero-sum antagonism.

[1]: Anatol Lieven articles referred to above:

There is also a recent interview with Lieven. While he's being quite reasonable, he doesn't seem to appreciate that NATO's very existence, with or without Ukraine, is geared toward provoking ever greater disharmony with Russia, nudging us ever closer to war. Even well short of war, bad things happen, like Russia's efforts to influence US elections, and recent US political efforts from both Republicans and Democrats to punish Russia for supposed transgressions. Also see Blinken's response to Russia NATO demand is frankly disturbing. I think it's clear by now that both sides have painted themselves into corners from which reasonable compromises will seem like politically crippling signs of weakness.

Daily Log

Brad Luen posted his Expert Witness poll results (grades from Christgau and myself):

1. Olivia Rodrigo: Sour (253 points/19 votes/highest points given 20) [A/A-]
2. No-No Boy: 1975 [A-/A-]
3. Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (151/14/26) [A/A-]
4. Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone (151/14/26) [A-/A-]
5. Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (107/11/16) [A-/A-]
6. Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (88/8/16) [A-/A]
7. Kalie Shorr: I Got Here by Accident (73/5/30) [A/A-]
8. Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (73/7/16) [B+/A]
9. Peter Stampfel: Peter Stampfel's 20th Century in 100 Songs (72/4/30) [-/**]
10. Illuminati Hotties: Let Me Do One More (67/7/16) [A/A-]
11. Courtney Barnett: Things Take Time, Take Time (66/7/14) [A-/A-]
12. Sleater-Kinney: Path of Wellness (62/8/15) [A/*]
13. Tune-Yards: sketchy. (60/6/13) [A/B]
14. James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds (60/9/10) [A-/A-]
15. Low Cut Connie: Tough Cookies: Best of the Quarantine Broadcasts [A/***]
16. Self Esteem: Prioritise Pleasure (56/3/30) [-/**]
17. Gift of Gab: Finding Inspiration Somehow (55/5/15) [A-/A]
18. Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams (52/7/10) [-/A-]
19. James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (50/5/15) [-/A]
20. Remi Wolf: Juno (46/5/10) [-/***]
21. Tinashe: 333 (45/4/16) [-/***]
22. Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: (Exit) Knarr (45/4/20) [-/A-]
23. Parquet Courts: Sympathy for Life (45/6/14) [A-/***]
24. Squid: Bright Green Field (42/4/17) [-/**]
25. Allison Russell: Outside Child (40/3/15) [-/A-]
26. Various Artists: Sacred Soul of North Carolina (40/3/30) [A/A-]
27. Japanese Breakfast: Jubilee (39/6/10) [-/***]
28. Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby (38/3/16) [A-/**]
29. Genesis Owusu: Smiling with No Teeth (37/4/12) [-/***]
30. Carsie Blanton: Love & Rage (36/4/10) [A-/A-]
31. Mariá Grand: Reciprocity (35/2/20) [-/***]
32. Body Meπa: The Work Is Slow (35/3/15) [A/A-]
33. Valerie June: The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers (35/3/20) [-/*]
34. McKinley Dixon: For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her (35/4/12) [*/***]
35. Hayes Carll: You Get It All (35/4/13) [A-/A-]
36. Liz Phair: Soberish (34/4/10) [A-/***]
37. Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (33/3/15) [-/***]
38. Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take (30/3/10) [-/*]
39. Neil Young/Crazy Horse: Barn (30/5/10) [A/A-]
40. William Parker: Mayan Space Station (29/3/13) [-/***]
41. Amyl & the Sniffers: Comfort to Me (28/2/15) [-/A-]
42. Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime (28/3/10) [***/A-]
43. Juçara Marçal: Delta Estácio Blues (27/2/20) [-/A-]
44=. Nathan Bell: Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn't Happen Here) (27/3/12) [A/A]
44=. Mariá Portugal: Erosão (27/3/12) [-/**]
46=. Aeon Station: Observatory (25/2/15) [-/**]
46=. Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders: Promises (25/2/15) [-/**]
48. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Carnage (25/2/20) [-/B]
49. Mickey Guyton: Remember Her Name (25/3/10) [A-/***]
50. Youssou Ndour & Super Étoile de Dakar: Mbalax (24/2/14) [-/A-]

Also receiving two votes:

Lucy Dacus Home Video 22 2 17 [A-/**]
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber Angels Over Oakanda 20 2 10 [A/A-]
Girl in Red If I Could Make It Go Quiet 20 2 10 [A-/***]
R.A.P. Ferreira Bob's Son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the Garden Level Cafe of the Scallops Hotel 20 2 10 [A-/***]
Wau Wau Collectif Yaral Sa Doom 20 2 10 [**/B]
Adele 30 20 2 15 [-/B-]
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan Plastic Wave 20 2 15 [-/A-]
Maria Muldaur & Tuba Skinny Let's Get Happy Together 17 2 10 [-/A-]
Lil Nas X Montero 17 2 12 [***/*]
Aimee Mann Queens of the Summer Hotel 16 2 10 [-/-]
Jazmine Sullivan Heaux Tales 16 2 10 [-/*]
Morgan Wade Reckless 15 2 10 [A/***]
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Raise the Roof 15 2 10 [-/*]
The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band Both Ways 15 2 10 [A/-]
Khaira Arby Live New York 14 2 9 [A-/A-]
Lana Del Rey Chemtrails Over the Country Club 12 2 7 [A-/**]
Mach-Hommy Pray for Haiti 10 2 5 [A-/***]

Albums receiving one vote:

75 Dollar Bill Live Ateliers Claus [-/-] #?
Anansy Cissé Anoura [A-/***]
Arca KICK ii [-/-]
Ashley Monroe Rosegold [-/B]
Ashnikko Demidevil [-/**]
Babes Wodumo Crown [-/-]
Baby Queen The Yearbook [-/***]
Bachelor Doomin' Sun [-/-]
BaianaSystem OxeAxeExu [***/***]
Bee DeeJay On the Map [-/-] #?
Black Country, New Road For the First Time [-/**]
Black Dresses Forever in Your Heart [-/-]
Bo Burnham Inside [-/-]
Brockhampton Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine [-/**]
Cave of Swimmers Aurora [-/-]
Chai Wink [A-/**]
Charles Mingus Live at Carnegie Hall (Deluxe Edition) [-/A]
Cheekface Emphatically No [-/-]
Chubby and the Gang The Mutt's Nuts [-/**]
Conway the Machine La Maquina [-/-]
Dawn Richard Second Line [-/***]
Deerhoof Actually, You Can [-/-]
Destroy Boys Open Mouth, Open Heart [-/-] #?
Dinosaur Jr. Sweep It into Space [-/-]
Ducks, Ltd. Modern Fiction [-/**]
East Axis Cool with That [-/A]
Elvis Costello & the Attractions Spanish Model [-/**]
Emily Duff Razor Blade Smile [A-/A-]
Faye Webster I Know I'm Funny Haha [-/*]
Fire in Little Africa Fire in Little Africa [-/***]
Foo Fighters Medicine at Midnight [-/-]
For Those I Love For Those I Love [-/***]
Halsey If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power [-/***]
Idles Crawler [-/***]
Igor Levit On DSCH [-/-]
Irreversible Entanglements Open the Gates [-/A-]
Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall The Marfa Tapes [-/***]
Jadsa Olho de Vidro [-/-]
James Brandon Lewis Quartet Code of Being [-/A-]
Jeff Rosenstock Ska Dream [-/*]
John Hiatt Leftover Feelings [-/A-]
Julian Baker Little Oblivions [-/*]
Jupiter & Okwess Na Kazonga [-/***]
Kacey Musgraves Star-Crossed [-/**]
Kiwi Jr. Cooler Retruns [-/***]
L'Rain Fatigue [-/*]
Lana Del Rey Blue Bannisters [-/***]
Leo Nocentelli Another Side [-/*]
Les filles de Illighadad At Pioneer Works [-/**]
Lil Baby & Lil Durk The Voice of the Heroes [-/-]
Lindsey Buckingham Lindsey Buckingham [-/*]
Lori McKenna Christmas Is Right Here [A/***]
Los Lobos Native Sons [***/*]
Low Hey What [-/C]
Magdalena Bay Mercurial World [-/A]
Malcom Jiyane Tree-O Undali [-/A-]
Mereba AZEB EP [A-/***]
Marina Sena De Primeira [-/A-]
MC Carol Borogodó [-/-] #?
Miguel Zenón Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman [-/A-]
Miguel Zenón & Perdomo El Arte del Bolero [-/***]
Modest Mouse The Golden Casket [-/**]
Mon Laferte Seis [-/A-]
Navy Blue Song of Sage: Post Panic! [-/A-]
Neil Young/Crazy Horse Way Down in the Rust Bucket [A-/**]
Oliver Nayoka Aja Wele-Wele [-/-] #?
PinkPantheress To Hell with It [-/**]
Pom Pom Squad Death of a Cheerleader [B+/**]
Prof Alex Bradford Feel Like Running for the Lord [-/-]
Public Service Broadcasting Bright Magic [-/-]
Quivers Golden Doubt [-/-]
R.A.P. Ferreira The Light Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures [-/***]
Richard Dawson & Circle Henki [-/-]
Rosali No Medium [-/-]
Serengeti Have a Summer [-/B]
Serpentwithfeet Deacon [-/*]
Sho Madjozi Limpopo Champions League [A-/A-]
Slant 1X [-/-]
Sleaford Mods Spare Ribs [***/***]
Steve Earle J.T. [-/A-]
Steve Swell Soul Travelers with Leena Conquest Astonishments [-/A]
Taylor Swift Red (Taylor's Version) [-/***]
The Bitchin' Bajas Switched-On Ra [-/***]
The Catafalque Vadak [-/-]
The Ebony Hillbillies Barefoot and Flying [-/***]
The Front Bottoms In Sickness & In Flames [A/**]
The Halluci Nation One More Staurday Night [-/***]
The Hold Steady Open Door Policy [B+/**]
The Mountain Goats Dark in Here [-/A-]
The Plastic People of the Universe Apokalyptickej pták [A-/A-]
The Plastic People of the Universe Magické noci 1997 [-/***]
The Source . . . But Swinging Doesn't Bend Them Down [-/***]
The War on Drugs I Don't Live Here Anymore [-/B]
The Weather Station Ignorance [-/**]
Thomas Anderson Ladies and Germs [A-/A-]
Todd Snider First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder [B+/A-]
Toe Doku-en-Kai [-/-] #?
Undo K from Hot G.A.S. Get a Star [-/-]
Unscientific Italians Unscientific Italians Play the Music of Bill Frisell [-/A-]
UV-TV Always Something [-/-]
Various Artists Sounds of Pamoja [-/-]
Various Artists What Goes On: The Songs of Lou Reed [A/A-]
Viagra Boys Welfare Jazz [-/-]
Vijay Iyer Uneasy [-/***]
We Are the Union Ordinary Life [-/*]
Wild Up Julius Eastman, Volume 1--Femenine [-/***]
Yola Stand by Myself [-/B]

Monday, January 24, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, January archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 37 albums, 9 A-list, struggling to find 2021 releases I haven't heard but still want to, so I've strayed a bit; also wrote a note on a key, little-appreciated point about NATO.

Music: Current count 37154 [37117] rated (+37), 140 [137] unrated (+3).

I wrote quite a bit about political matters in yesterday's Speaking of Which. One point I want to emphasize because this isn't a commonly stated point: NATO was never about defending Europe from Russian aggressiveness. It was a tool for imposing American control over Western Europe without the risk and expense of maintaining an occupation force. The main effect was to force Europe to turn its colonies over to local oligarchs, opening them up for American (and ultimately other globalized) business interests. The "spectre of communism" was more worrisome in the "third world," but was necessary to sell NATO, and it helped conservative business interests control their labor problems and left-leaning publics.

The current demonization of Russia and China is every bit as manufactured as the Cold War was, and predictably falls into the same rhetoric and logic. Why it's happening is rather harder to understand, given that China and (especially) Russia are governed by the same sort of repressive oligarchs that the US has been happy to do business with all along. It's possible that it's no more than a scam by the politically influential arms industry to sell more arms. That was pretty clearly the point of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, where nations were led to believe that if they joined NATO (and bought new weapons systems) they'd get a chance to join the EU. And that, in turn, has created a cycle of aggressive pettiness that seems to be coming to a head.

Another point that I didn't get into is that Putin (and Xi) are far from political geniuses. The US (and not just Trump) is leaving them a lot of moral high ground they aren't showing much consideration for. Part of this is that they misjudged Trump as someone they could deal with, oligarch to oligarch. Worse was Putin's election meddling, which served mostly to make Democrats more irrationally anti-Russian. The obvious thing would be to offer serious arms limitation talks, while trying to shift international conflict resolution back to the UN (which Russia and China would have to buy into, and which the US could still veto, but responsibility for failures there would be clearer). I could go on and on, especially if we allowed for some positive attitude adjustment on both sides. China doesn't need to treat the Uighurs as brutally as it does, and doesn't need to keep pressure on Taiwan. Russia doesn't need to help its clients repress democracy movements, or to annex bits of neighboring territory. The US doesn't need Ukraine in NATO or the EU. All sides need to cut back on the cyberwarfare. Russia did a good thing last week in arresting the REvil hacker group, but they're not getting any credit because the US propaganda machine only ratchets toward war. All three could benefit from a change of heart that prioritizes peace, openness, and mutual support over zero-sum antagonism.


Nothing much to say about this week's music. I've slowed down on the EOY list aggregate, but I'll probably continue a bit until the end of the month. I'm having a hard time finding things to play, which led to two strategies this week: I spent a bunch of time on the Ezz-Thetics Bandcamp page, including playing some things I had heard in earlier editions (like the Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman Blue Notes); and I went back to my list of unheard Christgau-graded albums, particularly as some I hadn't been able to find on Napster show up on Spotify (or sometimes YouTube).

Calendar shows one more Monday in January, so we'll wrap up the month, then -- effectively the year as well. Maybe I'll have some numbers to talk about then.

Note that I've added a couple of old Carola Dibbell pieces to her website, on Jeanne Moreau and Moe Tucker. Robert Christgau's latest Xgau Sez is also publicly available.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Alice Phoebe Lou: Glow (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Alice Phoebe Lou: Child's Play (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Scott Burns/John Wojciechowski/Geof Bradfield: Tenor Time (2022, Afar Music): [cd]: B+(*) [01-21]
  • Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire: Fresh Pickles (2021 [2022], self-released): [cd]: B+(***) [02-04]
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet With Wynton Marsalis: The Democracy! Suite (2020 [2021], Blue Engine): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Killers: Pressure Machine (2021, Island): [r]: B+(*)
  • Man on Man: Man on Man (2021, Polyvinyl): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Joe McPhee: Route 84 Quarantine Blues (2020 [2021], Corbett vs. Dempsey): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Matt Olson: Open Spaces (2021 [2022], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hank Roberts Sextet: Science of Love (2021, Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rostam: Changephobia (2021, Matsor Projects): [r]: B+(*)
  • Anna B Savage: A Commmon Turn (2021, City Slang): [r]: B
  • Elvie Shane: Backslider (2021, Wheelhouse): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ayanda Sikade: Umakhulu (2021, Afrosynth): [bc]: A-
  • Ken Vandermark: The Field Within a Line (2020 [2021], Corbett vs. Dempsey): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Vario 34-3: Free Improvised Music (2018 [2021], Corbett vs. Dempsey): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Villagers: Fever Dreams (2021, Domino): [r]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Albert Ayler: La Cave Live Cleveland 1966 Revisited (1966 [2022], Ezz-Thetics, 2CD): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Paul Bley: Touching & Blood Revisited (1965-66 [2021], Ezz-thetics): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Marion Brown: Why Not? Porto Novo! Revisited (1966-67 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: A-
  • Don Cherry: Complete Communion & Symphony for Improvisers Revisited (1965-66 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: New York Is Now & Love Call Revisited (1968 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: A-
  • Instant Composers Pool: Incipient ICP (1966-71) (1966-71 [2021], Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2CD): [bc]: A-
  • The New York Contemporary Five: Copenhagen 1963 Revisited (1963 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: A-
  • The New York Contemporary Five: Consequences Revisited (1963-64 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Akira Sakata/Takeo Moriyama: Mitochondria (1986 [2022], Trost): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • The Robert Cray Band: Shame + a Sin (1993, Mercury): [r]: B
  • The Robert Cray Band: Heavy Picks: The Robert Cray Collection (1980-97 [1999], Mercury): [r]: B
  • Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society: Nasty (1981, Moers Music): [yt]: A-
  • Jaojoby: Malagasy (2004, Discorama): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Inala (1985 [1986], Shanachie): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Lifter Puller [LFTR-PLLR]: Soft Rock (1996-2000 [2002], The Self Starter Foundation, 2CD): [yt]: A-
  • Los Guanches: The Corpse Went Dancing Rumba (1996, Corason): [[sp]: A-
  • Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque: Volume 2 (1973-76 [2011], Syllart): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together/Attica/Les Moutins de Panurge (1973 [1974], Opus One): [yt]: A-
  • Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated (1986 [1990], Hat Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frederic Rzewski: North American Ballads & Squares (1991, Hat Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frederic Rzewski: De Profundis (1993 [1994], Hat Art): [r]:


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

  • Darius Jones: Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) (2019 [2021], Northern Spy): [bc]: -


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Pete Malinverni: On the Town: Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein (Planet Arts)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Walking on Blue Eggshells in Billville (Edgetone -21)
  • Noertker's Moxie: More Fun in Billville (Edgetone -21)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Pantomime in Billville (Edgetone -21)]
  • Samo Salamon: Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar (Samo, 2CD)

 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Speaking of Which

Blog post.

I thought maybe I should do one of these columns last week. I had several pieces piled up in open tabs, but couldn't get started. Back when I started doing this things, I aimed for Fridays, but didn't get started this week until Friday afternoon, and then it just started sprawling. I will say that one incentive has been the cascade of reports on how Biden and the Congressional Democrats are losing the faith of the American people, and how Republicans are poised to make major gains in 2022. (I won't bother looking up the link, as I haven't actually read the piece, but Henry Olsen has something on how Republicans are gaining "majority party" status.) I think this is all bullshit, but it wouldn't hurt Democrats to be a bit paranoid, as the consequences of failure in 2022 and (especially) 2024 are dire. Meanwhile, here's what I did come up with.

One open tab I didn't write about below, but don't want to lose, is William Horne's Twitter thread on the Jan. 6 anniversary.

Here's the latest coronavirus map: looks like new cases have peaked, although the 14-day change is still up 11%, and hospitalized and deaths (which lag new cases) are up 30% and 44% respectively, the latter to 2,162 per day (864,182) total, which is higher than the September 2021 peak, a bit less than April 2020. The map is pretty uniform everywhere (except Maine). The unvaccinated death rate is back up to 20x the vaccinated rate.


Jedediah Britton-Purdy: The Republican Party Is Succeeding Because We Are Not a True Democracy: I came to this piece after writing most of the below, and could have filed it under any of several entries, but the point is worth underlining (and alphabetic order by author helps, too). For one example: "Trump could have tied Biden and forced the election into the House of Representatives by flipping just 43,000 votes in three states," which would have disqualified 7 million Biden voters for living in the wrong states. That's just one of many undemocratic advantages the party of wealth and privilege enjoys, so it shouldn't be surprising how harshly they've turned against democracy: their very success depends on upending or preventing it. Conclusion: "The way to save democracy is to make it more real." Article includes links to a number of articles collectively titled The Uncomfortable Lessons of Jan. 6. In particular, see Rebecca Solnit: Why Republicans Keep Falling for Trump's Lies.

Neel Dhanesha: Texas went big on oil. Earthquakes followed. "Thousands of earthquakes are shaking Texas. What the frack is going on?" Well, it's wastewater injection. The wastewater is pumped up with oil, especially from mature wells where much of the oil has already been pumped out. This isn't exactly caused by fracking, but fracking is used to increase yields in old wells, so they tend to go hand in hand. (Fracking is also used to break up shale to extract gas, and that's more problematical, in large part because the fracking compounds are more toxic, and more likely to leak into the water supply.) I wasn't aware of Texas having this problem, but it's no surprise. Oklahoma has experienced thousands of earthquakes, up to around 5.5, in the last decade, and we've had a few dozens in south-central Kansas (or maybe hundreds, depends on where you draw the line -- I get USGS reports on everything over 4.0, but there are many more closer to 3.0).

Jacob S Hacker: What does Jan. 6 say about American democracy -- and the prospects for war? Reviews two books: Mark Bowden/Matthew Teague: The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It (Atlantic Monthly Press), and Barbara P. Walter: How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them (Viking). The former is detailed reporting which provides the broader (and critical) context behind the January 6 riot/insurrection. In focusing on the storming of the Capitol, we run the risk of turning that singular, inept, bumbling event into camouflage for the far more ominous Trump team schemes to steal the election via "legal" means, through the courts (which have been systematically packed with Republican loyalists) and ultimately by simply rejecting the certified electors from selected states (e.g., ones with gerrymandered Republican control of state offices). Trump's attempt to steal the election was always a multi-pronged effort, of which the mob was just one tool, a rather desperately employed one. (I've seen Peter Diamond grouching that the mob was counterproductive, disrupting the "real plan" of getting Pence and the Senate Republican majority to reject the electoral votes.) But one should bear in mind that the Republican assault on democracy has always been a multi-pronged affair, and has mostly been achieved through legally-sanctified means -- gerrymanders and voting restrictions get the most press, but the initial and paramount affront to democracy has been the overwhelming of politics by money (which Democrats of means, like Obama and the Clintons, even more blatantly Bloomberg, have contributed to).

Another danger of overly focusing on the riot/insurrection is that it suggests the Trump mob will turn increasingly violent if they don't get their way, plunging the nation into some kind of civil war. The Walter book provides a survey of civil wars around the world, like Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their much-touted How Democracies Die. I'm more tempted to order Walters' book, because I'm more interested in general patterns than in the details of which Trump flunkies came up with which harebrained excuses to rationalize a 7-million-vote deficit, but I also have reservations (which is why I didn't bother with Levitsky/Ziblatt or several similar tomes -- I did read Timothy Snyder's The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, which was time wasted enough). It's not that I don't see value in comparative histories, but they slight the differences unique in our situation, while often falling back on prejudices. No surprise that most of these examples are steeped in German and East European examples, allowing the authors to be uncritical of what passes for democracy in America. We flatter ourselves as the world's oldest democracy, which leads one to think of decrepitude, but it's more accurate to say that democracy was an ideal that was embraced early but never fulfilled -- in large part because real democracy has always had domestic enemies. Looking afar for ominous examples abroad tends to overlook obvious ones at home. It also misses how often new threats to democracy focus on past fractures.

One chapter in Waters' book that seems especially relevant is "The Dark Consequences of Losing Status." That seems to describe the Trump mob, even if there is little objective support for their fears. The fears, of course, exist because they're drummed into people by the Fox propaganda machine, which is the only way to motivate people to follow such a counterproductive agenda.

A few more civil war/eclipse of democracy links:

  • Zack Beauchamp: The intellectual right's war on America's institutions: This piece is old enough (11/19/2021) I must have cited it before, but I found it in an open tab, and it fits here. No evidence here that Chris Rufo and Patrick Deneen are very smart intellectuals, or that the Trump fan club cares about what their so-called intellectuals think, but those who are campaigning for a civil war shouldn't have any trouble lining up with guys who want to tear America down and start all over again. And why shouldn't they, if they really believe "the entire edifice of the American state has become a tool for repressing conservatives." I've long found it tiresome when liberals like Obama spout pious clichés about American virtue, but that seemed like part of the cost of doing retail politics. So I was shocked when I heard Trump mocking Obama for closing his speeches with "God bless America," and getting cheers for doing so.
  • Thomas B Edsall: How to Tell When Your Country Is Past the Point of No Return: Long on poli-sci studies about things like "nonlinear feedback dynamics of asymmetric political polarization," but the bottom line is that R's and D's are polarized to different degrees and in different ways, which in the case of R's (but not D's) has mostly driven them over the deep end. I think it's significant that when the Trump mob turned out to violently overthrow the 2020 election results, they weren't met by a corresponding D (or even antifa) mob. They were met by police (and eventually national guard), whom D's trusted to uphold the rule of law.
  • Michelle Goldberg: Are We Really Facing a Second Civil War? Writes about the Walter book, also Stephen Marche's more speculative The Next Civil War: Dispatches From the American Future. While Goldberg plays down the likelihood, she notes that "it's no secret that many on the right are both fantasizing about and planning civil war."

Jeff Hauser/Max Moran: What Biden's Message Should Be. I flagged this because I'm interested in messaging for the upcoming elections. I don't necessarily agree with everything here -- e.g., I doubt that political prosecutions against Facebook and Boeing would help much -- but I do think it's important to impress on people how much they have to lose if Republicans win. By the way, this is a little wonky, but is good messaging: Nathan Newman: How Dems Saved the Economy.

Michael Hudson: When Debts Become Unpayable, They Should Be Forgiven. Interview with the economist, pointing out that debt jubilees have been common throughout history. "Every economy that has interest-bearing debt has to restructure at some point, or else all of the economy will end up being owned by just a teeny group of people at the top, like you had in Rome." Or here and now. There's always been an element of pretense to debt. The rich get to pretend their money is working, protected by the promise of repayment which leaves them richer than ever, enjoying power over their debtors. Debtors, in turn, get to actually do something with money they don't own, but have to sacrifice to pay it back, and grovel along the way. As debt is a power relation, bankruptcy exacts a political as well as a financial reckoning.

Fred Kaplan: The End of the Afghanistan War Was Even Worse Than Anyone Realized: This summarizes a longer piece by Steve Coll/Adam Entous: The Secret History of the US Diplomatic Failure in Afghanistan, which I imagine will shortly turn into a book, following Coll's Directorate 5: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2018), and, much earlier but essential background, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden (2004). I don't feel like writing about this in any depth, but the following quote from Kaplan sums up the war fairly well:

Duplicity reigned in this war from the very beginning. President George W. Bush and his crew thought the war was over when the anti-Taliban rebels conquered Kabul and a Western-chosen president, Hamid Karzai, was installed, thus allowing U.S. troops to thin out and invade Iraq. In fact, the Taliban, who had never left, resumed the fight. Under President Barack Obama, when the U.S. effort escalated and switched to a strategy of nation-building, the generals sent rosy-eyed assessments from the front, claiming progress and promising more, knowing that they were at the very least exaggerating. (Obama eventually caught on, drew down the troops, and switched to a less ambitious strategy.) Trump wanted to get out of Afghanistan; his negotiator tried to maneuver the Taliban into a deal that gave a win to all parties, but he was the one maneuvered. Biden's team thought -- or pretended to think (it's unclear which) -- that a semblance of victory could be pried from abject defeat. All of these players were dishonest, with their allies, their adversaries, and, most damagingly, themselves.

The line "pretended to think" belies a persistent problem which Obama suffered from even more than Biden: the belief that projecting confidence influences reality toward desired ends. Ron Suskind's book on Obama's handling of the recession was called Confidence Men, based on their belief that the recession could simply be wished away. Such magical thinking is even more prevalent among America's defense and foreign policy mandarins. For all his blunders, Biden at least deserves credit for breaking the cycle of self-delusion. It is sad and pathetic that his approval ratings started to crumble when the US departed Afghanistan. Leaving was the best thing he's done, and we should all applaud his resolution in doing that.

Ed Kilgore: Biden Didn't Have the power or Luck to Become FDR or LBJ: True on both counts. The Congressional margins in 1933 and 1965 are in the article (as are notes about recalcitrant Southern Democrats, but also Progressive Republicans who supported FDR and LBJ programs. In order for any significant legislative program to pass, the opposition party has to collapse, and that hasn't happened (yet). A big part of the problem is the persistence of Republicans in voting their party line regardless of how severely disgraced its candidates are. Kilgore also wrote a piece which tries to explain this: Never Mind the Facts. Trump Fans Feel Like a Majority. I get the sensation, but can't help but feel it's illusory. You're not seeing Democrats out marching in the streets or tearing their hair out on Facebook, because those aren't arenas where we need to be fighting right now.

Ezra Klein: Steve Bannon Is Onto Something: Better title, provided by Paul Woodward, is: To protect democracy, Democrats have to win more elections. Klein's mostly talking about the need to recruit Democrats to run for small, unglamorous offices, because that's where the roots of political movements lie. At least that's what Republicans got real good at back in the 1990s, leading Jim Hightower to publish a book called If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They'd Have Given Us Candidates. While they may still have an advantage, the gap's closed some in recent years, and the quality of Republican candidates is often ridiculous. This led me to another Klein article on political strategy: David Shor Is Telling Democrats What They Don't Want to Hear. I don't see Shor as much of an oracle, but he's pointing out things like: "Senate Democrats could win 51 percent of the two-party vote in the next two elections and end up with only 43 seats in the Senate." The obvious conclusion there is that Democrats have to win big, and they especially have to learn to win in Red States. Given where Republicans stand, it shouldn't be hard to craft a winning program. Selling it is another story. Shor's opinion is that trimming the left would help, and that's an opinion widely shared among Democratic Party functionaries, even among some nominally left-leaning, but the left also offer things that former New Democrats fail miserably at, like ideas and integrity.

Chris Lehman: How the Fed Supercharged Inequality: Review of Christopher Leonard's book, The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy, which "follows the unintended consequences of quantitative easing." I'm not following this perfectly, but I'm not surprised that trying to pump up the economy by pushing vast sums of money out through the banks would result in numerous asset bubbles, since that's what you get when people with too much money try to park it in investments bought from other people with too much money. One might contrast this with offering to replace consumer debt, including school and home, with long-term 0% loans, which would significantly reduce debt overhang, increased spending, and (probably) reduce asset bubbles. Just an idea, and one that could be further tuned.

Eric Levitz: Give Manchin What He Wants Already: Sure, why the hell not? He's proven he can block anything he doesn't want. I think it's good to have passed the "bipartisan" infrastructure bill (which wasn't very bipartisan at all in the House). Unless you have some runaround to get Murkowski or Collins to cross the line, Manchin is the only game in town, so take what you can get. And run for more in 2022. And if, heaven forbid, you lose in 2022, at least you'll have however much this is in the bank. Manchin's wrong about a lot of things here, starting with inflation and the deficit. But you're not going to convince him of that. And before long he's not going to matter.

Anatol Lieven: Did this week's US-NATO-Russia meetings push us closer to war? Also recently wrote: Don't kick the can: two key US proposals for upcoming Russia talks, and: Ukrainian neutrality: a 'golden bridge' out of the current geopolitical trap. All three articles point out that the seemingly escalating tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine could be negotiated away simply enough: by agreeing that Ukraine should remain neutral, with no prospect of membership in NATO (similar to the 1955 agreement where Austria was recognized as neutral in the Cold War division of Europe), and by implementing a 2015 agreement to provide some degree of autonomy for the Russian-aided separatist Donbass region. Both of these seem like painless deals for the US, and offer Putin with a degree of face-saving political cover. That matters mostly because Russia overreacted to the 2014 "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine by supporting separatist groups, and got away with it in Crimea, much less successfully in Donbass. I don't quite understand why this is a big deal for Putin, but backing down is never easy. On the other hand, the US is the one that's seriously overstretched and deluded in this conflict. NATO should have been phased out after the fall of the Soviet Union, but instead sought to perpetuate itself through expansion, eventually provoking the hostility it was meant to defend against. The key question is whether Ukraine (or any other state) is safer in or independent of NATO. During the 1950s, Austria and Finland chose to stay out of NATO, and their neutrality was respected by the Soviet Union. Most Eastern European countries signed up for NATO not because they feared Russia but because NATO was presented to them as a stepping stone to entry in the European Union. The problem is that as NATO expanded, the US became more negative and more militant toward Russia -- especially in the use of sanctions targeting not just the state but prominent individuals. Why is harder to explain as anything other than self-delusion: we lie to ourselves about our foreign policy aims and desires.

It's worth remembering why NATO was created in the first place. The "Allies" (principally the US and the Soviet Union) had defeated Nazi Germany in WWII, with American and Russian armies meeting in and dividing Germany, both intent on pacifying Europe and favoring their own interests. But occupation of Europe was expensive and potentially alienating. Under NATO, the US effectively took command of all of the military resources of western Europe, assuring that as they were rebuilt they would remain subservient to US foreign policy. But to make NATO attractive, the US had to posit an external threat. The "spectre of communism" sufficed, what with Russian armies still occupying central and eastern Europe, and labor movements in the west (especially in Italy and France) still feeling solidarity with the Soviets. The Soviet Union responded by organizing the Warsaw Pact and locking down the "Iron Curtain," although Yugoslavia and Albania, ruled by indigenous anti-Nazi resistance movements, resisted control from Moscow.

The resulting "Cold War" served US business interests in several important ways. First, "red scares" in the US and elsewhere helped suppress and in some cases break labor movements. Second, it became clear after WWII that Britain and France could no longer afford their colonial empires -- especially with their militaries circumscribed by NATO -- plus there was the risk that continued colonial rule would fuel independence movements led by communists, much as communists had led anti-fascist resistance movements during (and even before) WWII. The result was that by 1960 nearly all European colonies had been handed over to pliable local oligarchies, bound to the US through business interests and arms deals. (There were, of course, variations along the way: the US encouraged Britain and France to fight against independence movements led by communists, especially in Malaya and Vietnam.)

One can debate whether NATO in 1949 was a good or bad idea -- I'd argue that it was profoundly bad, both for Americans and for everyone else -- but the more pertinent question is why NATO didn't close up shop when the Warsaw Pact disbanded and the Soviet Union split up. Aside from losing their pet enemy, by then decolonialism was complete, the whole world (except for a handful of "rogue states" -- ones that the US bore long-standing grudges against but that, unlike China, were small enough to ignore) was integrated into the neoliberal order, and Europe itself had lost all interest in militarism and empire, its many nation states melting into the EU. Nothing NATO did after 1991 had to be done by NATO -- the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1990 had been organized under the UN, with broad support, and that could just as well have been the model for subsequent NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and/or Libya (if supportable cases had been made; with NATO the US was the only decider, so could get away with flimsier excuses and callous acts that ultimately made matters worse; NATO managed to stay out of Iraq, as Germany, France, and Turkey refused to cooperate, but that didn't stop Bush from proclaiming his "Coalition of the Willing"). And, in due course, NATO has managed to push Russia around enough to create the enemy it needs to justify itself. That's a consequence that was totally unnecessary, yet today threatens the world, as anti-Putin propaganda merges with Cold War propaganda into a kind of brain freeze that affects many Democrats as much as it does Republicans (who at least profit from selling arms, fomenting hate, and smashing the working class).

For an example of that "brain freeze," see Alexander Vindman/Dominic Cruz Bustillos: The Day After Russia Attacks: What War in Ukraine Would Look Like -- and How America Should Respond. The most telling line here is the summary dismissal of Lieven's arguments: "Presuming that diplomacy fails, there are three scenarios that could play out." All of the imagined scenarios start with more-or-less-limited Russian advances into Ukrainian territory (much of which isn't currently controlled by the Kiev regime). Some other references in the piece: "Kremlin's network of malign influence"; "marshal a unified response to Russian aggression"; "if Russian military action is a given"; "impose additional costs on Russian invaders and contribute to deterrence when paired with other actions"; "avoiding a one-on-one military confrontation with Russia while punishing Russia for creating this harsh new reality." By the latter, they mean that Ukrainians should bear the pain of America's demonization and isolation of Russia, which the US can continue at no risk to its own interests. Isn't is rather late to still believe that American intentions are always benign? Let alone that events always break favorably for the US?

Americans have been feeding off their own propaganda since the early days of the Cold War (or maybe since the Monroe Doctrine, but the quantity and quality took a huge leap in the 1950s, and became increasingly deranged through Nixon and Reagan and Clinton and Bush, to the point where US foreign policy gyrates between schizophrenia and dementia. (Obama was a believer who still tried to rationalize fringe cases, leading to half-hearted openings to Cuba and Iran, but never questioning something as sacrosanct as NATO, so he wound up promoting conflict with Russia and China. Trump was a cynic, but his only real interest was in graft, so he effectively changed nothing, other than to make "US interests" look even more selfish and cynical.) This needs to change, but Biden's team is reflexively locked into the mythology, and the left has deprioritized foreign affairs given the need to advance domestic goals and oppose Republicans. But also note that the ability of the US to dictate craziness to its "allies" has long been diminishing, and could collapse. It's one thing to blackball inconsequential countries like North Korea and Cuba; quite another to bite off one as large and connected as China, where sanctions may push nations to isolate the US instead. Russia is dangerous because no one knows the limits of possible US bullying, least of all Washington.

By the way, Lieven also wrote: America must stay away from Kazakhstan's troubles. He probably has the same article somewhere on Belarus, and I wouldn't be surprised to find one forthcoming on Turkmenistan, maybe even Moldova -- countries that Americans have no understanding of and negligible interests in, but plenty of conceited opinions about -- a conceit peculiar to people who think they rule the world, but who don't. Some other pieces on Russia/Ukraine (including one more by Lieven that appeared after I wrote the section above):

Jane Mayer: Is Ginni Thomas a threat to the Supreme Court? That's Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, who has long worked for right-wing think tanks and lobbying firms (currently one called Liberty Consulting). That not only provides her with untoward influence on the Court, it is an obvious vector for bribery and influence peddling. I've long thought that Thomas could and should be impeached for this relationship, but there's never been a political consensus behind doing so. (As I recall, Antonin Scalia had a similarly compromising spouse, and his son became a prominent member of the Bush and Trump administrations.)

Ian Millhiser: The Supreme Court can't get its story straight on vaccines: "The Court is barely even pretending to be engaged in legal reasoning." The Supreme Court overturned the Biden administration's OSHA rule requiring vaccination or testing for workers in covered businesses, but allowed another rule on health care workers. As a subhed put it: "The Court is fabricating legal doctrines that appear in neither statute nor Constitution." In other words, they're making this shit up as they go along, responding to a political agenda that that is rooted in nothing but their own presumed powers. When Trump packed the court, I thought it was premature to talk about rebalancing schemes. In order to be politically possible, people first have to be convinced that the current Court is out of control. That's what these rulings provide evidence of.

Millhiser also wrote: It was a great day in the Supreme Court for anyone who wants to bribe a lawmaker.

Rani Molla: A new era for the American worker: "American workers have power. That won't last forever." But it could last longer if Democrats got behind it. To some extent, they did: the first Covid-19 stimulus bill, which Trump was so desperate for he largely let Democrats craft it, was probably the most pro-worker legislation in this century (or well back into the last). The disease itself gave some workers leverage. Partial enactment of the $15 minimum wage also helped. But most important was the reluctance of workers to settle for the lowest paying jobs offered. That left many businesses moaning about labor shortages, but it also incentivized them to do what markets are supposed to do: adjust prices so supply can meet demand.

David Sirota: Voting Rights Alone Will Not Save the Democrats: One thing that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on is that Democrats do better when the American voting public expands, while Republicans gain when the voting public contracts. That much is clearly expressed in myriad state bills Republicans have passed since 2020, and in the federal bill Democrats failed to pass last week. I doubt that's true. For one thing, increasing the voting share means that you get more ill-informed and even marginally interested voters, who are more likely to vote based on style than substance. We had an exceptionally high turnout in 2020, yet Democrats lost ground from 2018, and won the presidency by about half the expected margin, despite running against the most embarrassing fuckup imaginable. The key for Democratic wins is the same as it ever was: getting your people to come out en masse, which takes a combination of two fundamentals: making them fear the consequences of loss, and giving them some positive hope to vote for. Saving democracy offers something on both sides of that equation, but it would mean more if you can show that democracy is good for most people. Republicans are doing their part by showing that their corruption of democracy is pretty awful.

Michael Wines: Census Memo Cites 'Unprecedented' Meddling by Trump Administration: A fairly minor story, but another example of how obsessively thorough Republicans are when it comes to tilting the political playing field.


I saw this "Media Bias Chart" in a Facebook post. I don't know anything about its provenance, but it seems roughly plausible as far as it goes. (One common objection is that their center is farther to the right than they represent. Another is that what's blithely grouped together as "opinion pieces" divides between based on a deeper factual understanding of the world, common on the left, and opinions based on rank fallacies, so often found on the right. Even with so much effort at balancing, note that the right dips much further on the "News Value and Reliability" axis.)

I mention it mostly because I want to quote/preserve a comment by Peter Feldstein:

An early version of this chart had Natural News on the furthest left! Good they corrected that. That one mistake was highly influential on my understanding of right-wing media strategy five years back -- it hasn't changed -- which is to astroturf continually as "left" in order to woo political unsophisticates (if I may) traditionally claimed by the left on one of their favourite issues; in this case, natural foods. In each case (anti-feminism, taxation, belief in civil liberties, even reflexive anti-Americanism!), the message is, "Blame the (Democratic, (Liberal, Labour, etc.) establishment." Then offer a smorgasbord of other right-wing things to believe in.

I'm convinced this is why, as George Monbiot put it recently (and I've been observing for many years), "in the countercultural movements where my sympathies lie, people are dropping like flies." He means that hippies are turning into right-wing true believers. He goes on, "there has been an almost perfect language swap. Parties that once belonged on the left talk about security and stability while those on the right talk of liberation and revolt." Only those on the right aren't sincere about it, while those on the left are bound to dominant parties using the language of security and stability.

I've largely concluded that all sorts of countercultural interests -- like animal rights, dietary regimes like veganism, psychedelics, and various "spiritual" leanings -- have no bearing on the left-right axis, and trying to throw them into the mix just muddies the matter. There is no reason why people who believe in peace, justice, and equality should give up meat, just as there is no reason that people who relish hamburgers should fear the left. Right-wing propagandists, of course, try to have it both ways. I could add vaccination-phobia to the list: a lot of anti-vaxxers lean left politically, but it is the right that has sought to politicize the issue, further endangering public health.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Daily Log

Sent this off to Hillside Medical Office:

[redacted]

Monday, January 17, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, January archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 49 albums, 8 A-list, perhaps country music can be saved, but you have to look awful hard to find it; still, that's true of most musics: obscurity doesn't buy you anything, but lots of things leave you obscure.

Music: Current count 37117 [37068] rated (+49), 137 [133] unrated (+4).

First thing I should note here is the passing of Elsie Lee Pyeatt. At 88, she was my oldest living cousin -- a status she was fifth to hold, so perhaps one should stop keeping track -- the second child of Ted Brown (1902-81), who was in turn the second child (eldest son) of my mother's parents (Ben Brown, 1868-1936, and Mary Lou Lakey, 1877-1946, who both died before I was born; Elsie Lee was the last person with any direct memory of Ben Brown). My mother's family grew up on a farm near the long-defunct town of Vidette, Arkansas (east of Henderson, east of Mountain Home). After Ben died, Ted bought out his siblings and took over the family farm. The rest of the family scattered, some to Oklahoma and Kansas, some as far as Washington and California. Ted's other children left for Washington, with Max coming back to Kansas in 1956, but Elsie Lee stayed close to home.

When I was young, we visited Ted (and Hester) and Elsie Lee (and Pete Pyeatt) about once a year. Ted lived on a farm, in a stone house he had built, with a wood stove that Hester cooked masterfully on. Elsie Lee and Pete lived on a farm about 4 miles west (although the backroads route my father invariably took made it seem much farther), in a log cabin which had been encased in concrete -- the original interior walls were about 2 feet thick -- with extra rooms slapped on most sides. We would usually spend a week, split between the two houses. Elsie Lee and Pete were married in 1956, so I always remember them together in that house, with three little girls, and eventually a son. They were the people I felt closest to there.

I spent several decades running away from my family, then gradually started reacquainting myself. After moving back to Kansas in 1999, I started visiting Arkansas regularly, usually once a year. Pete had died, and Elsie Lee was living alone back in her old farmhouse -- she had spent much of the intervening years living in Mountain Home, close to her work, but kept her farm, and Ted's until its upkeep became too much. The farm remains in the family, but she left it over a decade ago: she lived with daughter Brenda in the Fayetteville area for a while, then moved back to Mountain Home, and spent her last years in a small house next to Rhonda, another daughter, with her other children also in or near Mountain Home. Last time I saw her was a stop off on a drive back from the East Coast, 3-4 years ago. I haven't been anywhere since. Elsie Lee has been in poor health for some time, and suffered from a bit of dimentia, so talking to her became increasingly difficult. But the family did a good job of keeping touch, and I greatly appreciate their efforts.

Since getting the news, I've been in some kind of depressed daze -- not unlike after Devoe Brown's death 18 months ago. At least I got a chance to talk to Devoe regularly in his waning days, when he worked harder to cheer me up than I did for him. More to this I don't want to talk about. Unless something changes for the better (and the other direction seems much more likely), I can see myself pulling back and fading away.

One special source of aggravation this week is Hewlett-Packard. Sometimes I think I should put a boycott page up to identify companies that I consider to be especially egregious. I bought a HP 9015 OfficeJet printer a few months back, largely based on the widespread view that the HP had particularly good Linux support. It doesn't. I'm unable to scan using Xsane (which recognizes the scanner and does test scans, but craps out during data transfer; SimpleScan works, barely). Then there's the proprietary ink problem. Their whole engineering operation seems to be built around locking you into their proprietary ink scam. I signed up for their subscription program (6 months free), and they sent me replacement ink, then also bumped the monthly price up 33%, while limiting the carryover allowance to 3 months. However, I ran out of initial cyan and magenta ink (despite printing approx. zero pages in color), and that locked the machine (despite having quite a bit of black left). For the last two weeks, I've been too upset to figure out how to change the cartridges (no obvious hints either on the machine or the cartridges). I bought my first HP printer c. 1981. I'll never buy anything else from them. (Myriad minor annoyances not noted above. Some of this is probably due to me not being hip to the new ap-based wireless world, but when I can't figure something techy out, I doubt it's all my fault.)

Meanwhile, I did manage to slog through a fair number of records this week. I got some tips from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. (I previously had Carly Pearce at A-; Kasai Allstars, Morgan Wade, Baiana System, McKinley Dixon, and Ka at ***.) I also spent a lot of time going through Saving Country Music's 2021 Essential Albums list, which yielded most of this week's A- records. By the way, previously reviewed A- records listed there: James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds; Hayes Carll: You Get It All; Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone; Sierra Ferrell: A Long Time Coming; John R. Miller: Depreciated; Margo Cilker: Pohorylle; Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough.

Added some EOY lists. I added a bunch of individual ballots from Jazz Critics Poll, which increased the pro-jazz skew of my EOY Aggregate: Floating Points bumped Little Simz from the number one spot; James Brandon Lewis rose to number nine; Sons of Kemet (15), Vijay Iyer (23), Henry Threadgill (34), Ches Smith (36), Charles Lloyd (38), William Parker's Mayan Space Station (44), and Wadada Leo Smith's Chicago Symphonies (47) cracked the top 50 (with Anna Webber next at 51). I expect most of those to settle down a bit if/as I keep adding non-jazz lists, but Floating Points seems to be pulling away. I'm not a big fan, but it seems to have hit a chord for the times, and I don't disapprove. (I do disapprove of Low's Hey What, in 6th place with grade C.) Also note that a jazz record is currently the highest ranked among those I haven't heard yet: William Parker's 10-CD box, Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World. (I got a sampler but wasn't blown away by it, not that I don't love almost everything Parker does; by the way, see Britt Robson's A Guide to William Parker, also my own dated but still useful William Parker, Matthew Shipp & Friends: A Consumer Guide.) Alternatively, I've tended to ignore metal-only lists this year (even more than usual), so suspect an anti-metal skew. (The only other unheard albums down to 160 are: Every Time I Die; Gojira; Deafheaven; Mastodon; Converge. After that you get into perennial disappointments like James Blake and the Killers.) Among other lists, the long one at Aquarium Drunkard sent me off on some interesting searches.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Aeon Station: Observatory (2021, Sub Pop): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Alfa Mist: Bring Backs (2021, Anti-): [r]: B+(*)
  • Riddy Arman: Riddy Arman (2021, La Honda): [r]: B+(***)
  • Blackberry Smoke: You Hear Georgia (2021, 3 Legged): [r]: B+(*)
  • Garrett T. Capps: I Love San Antone (2021, Vinyl Ranch): [r]: B+(***)
  • Melissa Carper: Daddy's Country Gold (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Anansy Cissé: Anoura (2021, Riverboat): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kiely Connell: Camulet Queen (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jesse Daniel: Beyond These Walls (2021, Die True): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Dove: Hopeless Romantic (2021, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Hope Dunbar: Sweetheartland (2021, self-released): [r]:B+(***)
  • Hope Dunbar: You Let the Light In (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vincent Neil Emerson: Vincent Neil Emerson (2021, La Honda): [r]: A-
  • John Escreet/Pera Krstajic/Anthony Fung: Cresta (2022, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Flatland Cavalry: Welcome to Countryland (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Béla Fleck: My Bluegrass Heart (2021, Renew, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Linda Fredriksson: Juniper (2021, We Jazz): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Wesley Godwin: How the Mighty Fall (self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Hébert: Sounds of Love (2013 [2022], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tom Jones: Surrounded by Time (2021, S-Curve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Koreless: Agor (2021, Young): [r]: B
  • Mac Leaphart: Music City Joke (2021, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Rob Leines: Blood, Sweat, and Beers (2021, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • John McLaughlin: Liberation Time (2021, Abstract Logix): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mike and the Moonpies: One to Grow On (2021, Prairie Rose): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nation of Language: A Way Forward (2021, PIAS): [r]: B+(**)
  • NTsKI: Orca (2021, Orange Milk/EM): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Poppy: Flux (2021, Sumerian): [r]: B+(***)
  • Connie Smith: The Cry of the Heart (2021, Fat Possum): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Steel Woods: All of Your Stones (2021, Thirty Tigers): [r]:B
  • Billy Strings: Renewal (2021, Rounder): [r]: B+(**)
  • Aaron Lee Tasjan: Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! (2021, New West): [r]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • The Beaters: Harari (1975 [2021], Matsuli Music): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Chuck Berry: Live From Blueberry Hill (2005-06 [2021], Dualtone): [sp]: A-
  • Chuck Berry: Toronto Rock 'N' Roll Revival 1969 (1969 [2021], Sunset Blvd.): [r]: B+(***)
  • Essiebons Special 1973-1984: Ghana Music Power House (1973-84 [2021], Analog Africa): [bc]: A-
  • Harari: Rufaro/Happiness (1976 [2021], Matsuli Music): [bc]: B+(**)
  • I'll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico (2011, Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Khan Jamal: Infinity (1982 [2021], Jazz Room): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Leo Nocentelli: Another Side (1971 [2021], Light in the Attic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tom Prehn Kvartet: Centrifuga (1964, Centrifuga): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth-Pop, Boogie & House (1982-1992) (1982-92 [2021], Soundway): [r]: B+(**)
  • Star Lovers: Boafo Ne Nyame (1987 [2021], Hot Casa): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Velvet Underground: A Documentary Film by Todd Haynes (1954-70 [2021], Polydor, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • Precious Bryant: Feel Me Good (2002, Terminus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Precious Bryant: The Truth (2004, Terminus): [r]: A-
  • Precious Bryant: My Name Is Precious (2005, Music Maker Relief Foundation): [r]: B+(***)
  • Anansy Cissé: Mali Overdrive (2014, Riverboat): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hope Dunbar: Three Black Crows (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Vincent Neil Emerson: Fried Chicken & Evil Women (2019, La Honda): [r]: A-
  • Booker Ervin: Structurally Sound (1966 [2001], Blue Note): [r]: A-
  • Booker Ervin: The In Between (1968, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)


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

  • The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band: Both Ways (self-released): [bc]: ++


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Scott Burns/John Wojciechowski/Geof Bradfield: Tenor Time (Afar Music) [01-21]
  • Eugenie Jones: Players (Open Mic) [03-11]
  • Oz Noy/Ugonna Okegwo/Ray Marchica: Riverside (Outside In Music) [01-22]
  • Mathis Picard: Live at the Museum (Outside In Music) [01-28]

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Daily Log

My Facebook post on Elsie Lee Pyeatt:

I'm deeply saddened to report that my dear cousin, Elsie Lee Pyeatt, passed away yesterday morning, at 88. My mother was one of eight children born to Ben and Mary Brown, who had a farm near Mountain Home in Arkansas, between 1900 and 1913. All but Ted moved away by 1940, as did two of his three children. Elsie Lee was the one that stayed, remaining the solid link to our ancestral past, not least the great warmth and generosity that the Browns all over America. When I was growing up, my parents made regular pilgrimages to Arkansas to visit my mother's many loved ones, most memorably Ted and Elsie Lee. I've tried to follow suit over the last 20 years, but fell down the last couple. I will miss her dearly, but am thankful that she's left several generations of family that continue her guardianship of our legacy. Here's an obituary.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Daily Log

Allen Lowe posted this to Facebook:

I have a question for those of you out there who are much more alert than I. I've been generally perusing some jazz top ten lists at the end of the year, and truthfully most of them read like the top 10 free jazz/Progressive Jazz/out there Jazz. Now this is all well and good as far as it goes, because many of these lists include the work of the group I am in. But something is troubling in its absence. Where is the main stream? Where are the bebop bands? Where are the revivalists? Where are the old time players? Something is out of whack, out of balance, out of something. Are these bands covered? Are these musicians part of a different cult of personality? If what I am seeing is accurate I don't like it one bit, even if in some ways I benefit from it. Are all jazz journalists that isolated? It's a big old world out there.

I posted this comment:

Couple points: Free jazz is still very marginal. Very few people listen to it, so there's very little money in it, therefore little motivation to write about it, or to promote it. However, it's been around 50-60 years now, so it's lost its shock value, and been incorporated into the language. But musicians gravitate toward it, for ideas that sound fresh and unexpected, and critics are likely to pick up on the old/new dynamics. Assuming, of course, that they get to hear it -- which in some ways is what polls actually measure. The last few years have seen something of a critical sweet spot developing around a cluster of adequately-promoted, free-influenced musicians (some legends like Smith and Threadgill, some younger like Iyer, Lehman, and Lewis) whose work is both adventurous and accessible. You might argue that this represents a divergence between critics and the public (at least the small part that is interested in jazz at all). I prefer to think that there is a lot of good music that would be more popular if more people could hear it.

I also posted this:

I have less of an answer to the other part of your question. I'm a fan of early and retro jazz (I had Jazz CG pick hits from Warren Vache and Randy Sandke, A-listed a couple albums on Stomp Off, and more on Arbors; I listen to everything I can find by Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton), but don't run across a lot of it these days, and -- as is the case with all long-established genres -- it's rare to find something that stands out enough to stick it into a short list (a top ten is about .013 of what I've listened to this year). It might help to find more specialists for the Jazz Critics Poll. This year we only had one critic who mostly picked New Orleans trad albums. I listened to a couple, and wasn't blown away, but that's just one data point.

Another comment I wrote on Facebook:

My mother's oldest sister, Aunt Lola, was born in 1900, the first of eight ending with my mother in 1913, so I've always had their lives for perspective. Their parents died before I was born (in 1950, another historical baseline of note), but my father's father was born in 1895, early enough to get drafted and shipped to Europe for the Great War. He made it back to western Kansas to raise a family in the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. He died in 1965, and Lola died in 1968. I remember them, and their farms, very well, which made me all the more conscious of what changed over the first half of the 20th century. On the other hand, all that perspective didn't prepare me well for the Vietnam War, which went against everything I had been led to believe was right. Yes, most of us survived such calamities, but rarely without being affected by them, and not necessarily for the better.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, January archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 36 albums, 4 A-list, still sorting through the rest of 2021, but starting to move on to 2022, and back to other unfinished business.

Music: Current count 37068 [37032] rated (+36), 133 [128] unrated (+5).

I published a batch of questions and answers on Sunday: on keeping track of grades, on playing vinyl, and political tactics. The latter is something I've been thinking about, but have less and less confidence of convincing anyone. Nonetheless, I've started to think about a Speaking of Which later in the week. I'd also like to do a Book Roundup post before long. I still have a long ways to go with The Dawn of Everything, but quite a bit of new stuff has come out since my latest (April 18, 2021).

Over the weekend, I tweeted a link to a Dessa single I found about Janet Yellen. Probably the best song about a major economist since Loudon Wainwright's Paul Krugman.

I continue to be perplexed as to why all this searching through EOY lists isn't generating more 2021 A- records. Thus far I've found one, vs. 14 new 2020 A- records in January 2021. This week's only new A- is the first 2022 release. Late in the week, I was having so much trouble deciding on which recent release to listen to next I reverted to my old idea of listening to unheard Christgau A-list records. I knew of a couple that I hadn't been able to find on Napster but were on Spotify -- that number is small, but it was one reason for signing up. The other main reason is that Spotify has an application that runs on Linux, whereas I've had to use Napster's web interface. The latter is both a terrible resource hog and is prone to hangs -- problems I haven't encountered on Spotify.

On the other hand, I'm finding it harder to browse for things on Spotify, and I haven't tried to put any playlists together. I assembled the Platters compilation playlist rather easily on Napster. I have a couple of other (shorter and earlier) Platters compilations I'm quite happy with -- The Very Best of the Platters (1955-60 [1991], Mercury), and The Best of the Platters [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1955-61 [1999], Mercury) -- but this particular one was the one that Christgau eventually settled on. The remaining question is whether the 2-CD The Magic Touch: An Anthology might be the better pick.

I considered doing the same thing with ChangesOneBowie, but didn't take it on until I saw a bunch of tributes on Bowie's birthday. I eventually found the extra single, then noticed that Spotify had the whole album (albeit with later remasters). So I gave it a whirl, knew everything, and appreciated the context. As I noted in the review, I had all the original vinyl LPs (but no longer), and bought the extended CD ChangesBowie early when it came out. It seems a little odd to go to the trouble of reviewing obsolete configurations, but in this case, with resurgent interest in vinyl, the original best-of got reissued (in 2016).

The Charles Brackeen record was suggested by Chris Monsen on news of the saxophonist's death. I'm not a big fan of his other Silkheart albums -- the one time he got a real chance as a leader, although he's been more impressive as a sideman.

El Intruso published their 14th Annual International Critics Poll results. I was one of 71 critics who voted in the poll. My ballot, which was pretty much off the top of my head (with occasional glances at my 2021 list), is second down here. A little less than half of the voters also participated in our Jazz Critics Poll. The El Intruso poll skews more avant than JCP, which is obvious with the results (especially for the instrument slots). More interesting to me is that it draws a lot more on non-American critics.

Still dragging my feet on indexing recent Streamnotes monthlies -- I think I'm down two at present. It's been hard keeping up.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Gregg Belisle-Chi: Koi: Performing the Music of Tim Berne (2020 [2021], Relative Pitch): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Brokaw: Puritan (2021, 12XU): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Sharel Cassity/Rajiv Halim/Greg Ward: Altoizm (2021, Afar Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Coral: Coral Island (2021, Run On, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Dessa: Ides (2021, Doomtree, EP): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Dltzk: Frailty (2021, Deadair): [r]: B
  • Derrick Gardner and the Big Dig! Band: Still I Rise (2020, Impact Jazz): [sp]: B+(**)
  • Myriam Gendron: Ma Délire: Songs of Love, Lost & Found (2021, Feeding Tube): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pasquale Grasso: Pasquale Plays Duke (2021, Sony Masterworks): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fred Hersch: Breath by Breath (2021 [2022], Palmetto): [cd]: A-
  • Sven-Åke Johansson/Niklas Fite/Joel Grip: Swinging at Topsi's (2020 [2021], Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Christof Kurzmann/Sofia Jernberg/Joe Williamson/Mats Brandlmayr: Disquiet (2018 [2021], Trost): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Joëlle Léandre/Pauline Oliveros/George Lewis: Play as You Go (2014 [2021], Trost): [bc]: B+(**)
  • João Lencastre's Communion: Unlimited Dreams (2021, Clean Feed): [bc]: B+(**)
  • L.U.M.E. [Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble]: Las Californias (2021, Clean Feed): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Tony Malaby's Sabino: The Cave of Winds (2021 [2022], Pyroclastic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Michael Mayo: Bones (2021, Artistry Music/Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Charnett Moffett: New Love (2019 [2021], Motéma): [r]: B
  • Perila: How Much Time It Is Between You and Me? (2021, Smalltown Soupersound): [r]: B
  • John Pizzarelli: Better Days Ahead: Solo Guitar Takes on Pat Metheny (2021, Ghostlight): [r]: B
  • Mike Pride: I Hate Work (2021, RareNoise): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Reds, Pinks & Purples: Uncommon Weather (2021, Slumberland): [r]: B+(*)
  • Alex Riel/Bo Stief/Carsten Dahl: Our Songs (2021, Storyville): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rite of Trio: Free Development of Delirium (2021, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ritual Habitual: Pagan Chant (2021, Clean Feed): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Diego Rivera: Indigenous (2019 [2021], Posi-Tone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Rumback: Seven Bridges (2021, Astral Spirits): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Dave Stryker: As We Are (2021 [2022], Strikezone): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums: Wabi Sabi (2021, Sowie Sound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carlos "Zingaro"/Pedro Carneiro: Elogio Das Sombras (2012 [2021], Clean Feed): [bc]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Berlin 1959 (1959 [2021], Storyville, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)

Old music:

  • The Allman Brothers Band: One Way Out: Live at the Beacon Theatre (2003 [2004], Sanctuary/Peach, 2CD): [sp]: B+(***)
  • David Bowie: ChangesOneBowie (1969-76 [1976], RCA): [sp]: A
  • David Bowie: ChangesNowBowie (1996 [2020], Parlophone): [sp]: B
  • Charles Brackeen Quartet: Attainment (1987 [1988], Silkheart): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Chicago Farmer: Quarter Past Tonight (2018, Chicago Farmer, 2CD): [sp]: A-
  • The Platters: Enchanted: The Best of the Planters (1956-67 [1998], Rhino): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Black Lives: From Generation to Generation (Jammin' Colors, 2CD) [03-25]
  • Nathan Borton: Each Step (OA2) [01-21]
  • Andrew Boudreau: Neon (Fresh Sound New Talent) [02-28]
  • Julieta Eugenio: Jump (Greenleaf Music) [03-04]
  • Stephen Martin: High Plains (OA2) [01-21]
  • Matt Olson: Open Spaces (OA2) [01-21]
  • Doug Scarborough: The Color of Angels (Origin) [01-21]
  • Ben Thomas Tango Project: Eternal Aporia (Origin) [01-21]
  • Piet Verbist: Secret Exit to Another Dimension (Origin) [01-21]

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Daily Log

Writing fragment dropped from Q&A:

It helps to remind oneself of basic principles: right and left are defined by opposite stances on hierarchical power and order. The right believes that certain people deserving -- whether by birth, wealth, or some other "merit" -- of privileges over others, and that accepts and defends order based on hierarchy -- either current or some romanticized past they hope to restore. The left opposes the abuses that inevitably result from concentrations of wealth and power, and proposes equality as an alternative. That makes sense, as most people will accept a system of equal rights, but hardly anyone will long submit to the domination of others. That doesn't bother the right, because they're willing to use force to subdue others, especially their critics on the left. On the other hand, the left aims to lessen conflict, by curtailing states and acts widely seen to be unjust. Sure, on occasion you can provoke a leftist into some sort of unseemly, uncharacteristic response. Real people often fail to live up to their ideals. But tactics that come natural to the right, including violence and deceit, are not normal, and are not respected or condoned, on the left.

After I got your letter, I wrote to friends in Seattle and Portland to see if they could collaborate your stories, and they could (or would) not. Another friend in Berkeley did come with an instance of trying to get someone fired for some breach of political etiquette, but that was the only other example I found, and it seemed to be some kind of turf dispute between left-aligned interest groups; i.e., not a dispute over left-right principles. Two-party politics in America cannot generally be reduced to ideological differences, but as business interests have gotten more aggressive since the 1970s, and managed to shift an enormous portion of the nation's wealth to the very rich, the Republican Party has become their champion, pushing many of those who lost out into the not-very-welcoming arms of the Democrats. (One big reason the rich made out so well from 1980-2020 is that many Democrats preferred to compete with Republicans in their service to the rich. In many ways they did so more effectively, but Republicans won with their right-wing world-view, which celebrated the rich while lining up supporters whose prejudices and fears seem to give them a stake in the hierarchy.

Their political position should be untenable in a democracy, yet Republicans have been remarkably successful since 1980, especially in their ability to win elections even while losing their popular vote. Their manipulation of news and public opinion has been relentless, even as their grasp on reality has diminished. One specialty has been to paint a vast left-wing conspiracy secretly conniving to strip and enslave real Americans of their freedom and/or way of life. They offer bold assertions, but little proof. To take one big example, how would universal free health care hurt rank-and-file (or for that matter very rich) Republicans? Free college education? Better public transportation? Cleaner water and air? Sure, the left would increase taxes on the rich, but they wouldn't deny services to them or anyone else, because their aim isn't domination but equality.

Yet in their desperation to discredit the left, Republicans have seized upon a number of trumped-up threats to the fragile egos of their followers. A few years back the main focus was on "politically correct speech," where some people were disparaged for using language some felt to be offensive and hurtful. Such complaints of victimhood mostly served to increase the volume of hateful speech on the right. This has since escalated into cries bemoaning "cancel culture," without the slightest bit of concern when the right's the one doing the canceling -- as has been the case in the war against "critical race theory" (basically, anything that makes whites feel uncomfortable about their own racism). I've seen so little substance to these charges that I'm inclined to discount them like all the other right-wing myths and lies.

This doesn't mean that I can dismiss every possible charge of wrong doing or inappropriate behavior on the left. Two scenarios strike me as possible:

  1. In places where leftists gain appreciable political power, it is always possible some may abuse that power. The old saw is that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Still, the remedy for that isn't returning power to the right. It's holding leftists accountable to their ideals and their constituents.
  2. In places where leftists have no power and no legitimate chance of improving their standing, it is possible that they will turn to desperate measures, including violence (given that their situation will largely be dictated by real and/or threatened violence by the right). The remedy for that is to keep political activities legitimate and free, raising the hope that persuasion might eventually succeed.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Music Week

Expanded blog post, January archive (in progress).

Tweet: Music Week: 21 albums, 1 A-list, just a half week where hardly anything seemed to click.

Music: Current count 37032 [37011] rated (+21), 128 [126] unrated (+2).

I kept last week's Music Week open until Friday, December 31, so today's report covers a mere three days. The rated count for the two weeks combined is a prodigious 89 -- nothing to sniff at. However, I am surprised that two weeks at this stage would result in only three A- new music releases (well, also three A- new releases of old music, all 1960s British jazz from last week. I've been doing some mop up: I've chopped an initial list of records that I hadn't heard from the upper ranks of Jazz Critics Poll in half (leaving 16 of the top 187 unheard, mostly items I've looked for but haven't found complete copies of); I've also knocked a few of the higher-rated previously-unheards from my EOY aggregate (I've heard the top 91, balking at Deafheaven, Every Time I Die, Gojira, and Mastodon -- smells like metal); I checked out a bunch of EPs from Dan Weiss' list (on Facebook); I checked out a couple late adds to Phil Overeem's latest list. Perhaps I've been in a bad mood, or just exhausted, but the only new A-list record of this week was one I hadn't heard of until I spotted it on Dave Everall's PJPRP top-ten. I've added a bunch of PJPRP lists, following my custom of only counting names I recognize for whatever reason.

The EOY Aggregate has been pretty stable this year, with: Little Simz, Floating Points, Olivia Rodrigo, Tyler the Creator, Dry Cleaning, Japanese Breakfast, Billie Eilish, Low, Turnstile, Arlo Parks, Lucy Dacus, Jazmine Sullivan, Weather Station, Mdou Moctar, Adele, Sons of Kemet, Wolf Alice, Lil Nas X, Nick Cave, Snail Mail (down to 20). The top jazz record is James Brandon Lewis at 22: at least that's the one that gives you a barometer of the jazz bias in my lists (he has a few crossover votes, probably more than usual, but he's still very strongly identified as jazz; on the other hand, Floating Points and Sons of Kemet are about equally likely to show up on jazz and non-jazz lists). I'm not done fiddling with the EOY Aggregate, but I suspect I've already learned most of what I will.

The Old Music Aggregate has been taken over by jazz reissues, with this year's John Coltrane opening up a 2-to-1 margin over Hasaan Ibn Ali's Lost Atlantic Album. Structurally, there is little chance of anything else happening, although the effect seems greater this year, probably because I haven't been looking for reissue/compilation/archival lists.

Various other things I was tempted to write about but don't have in me at the moment:

  • One nice thing about the Jazz Critics Poll was that I got a small surge of new followers, edging just above 500.
  • I should note that I've gone back and replayed a few records lately, ones others like a lot and I liked enough to wonder if I should have given them more of a chance. I've raised the grades of a couple earlier this year, but Little Simz, Mach-Hommy, Maria Grand (and probably others I've already forgotten) didn't budge last week.
  • I got a question about RSS feeds. I have one, but don't know how well it works, mostly because I've never seen a RSS reader that does what I expect it to do. I was able to set up Thunderbird to read my feed (also the one for Robert Christgau).
  • I've seen a lot of folk complain about the movie Don't Look Up, and most of them are wildly off base. Still, the worst is the Wikipedia line: "The comet is an allegory for climate change and the film is a satire of government and media indifference to the climate crisis." The comet is a real thing, very unlikely, but one did hit Earth 65 million years ago, which did cause most species at the time to die, so it's something people have thought about, and crunched some numbers on, and the science and math are very clear. Climate change is different in lots of significant details: it moves slower and less dramatically, but it's locked in as a certainty; economic interests promoting it are more mundane, yet are harder to imagine changing; technical solutions are far more complex and probably harder (not that deflecting a comet is as easy as they'd have you think). But I doubt the point here is the crisis: it's the corrupt politics that fucks everything up. Back in 1979 there was a movie called Meteor with the same set up, but one big difference: even in the peak of the Cold War it was conceivable that the US and USSR could team up against a common threat, because both had a fundamental commitment to reason and to humanity. Nothing like that is possible in the world of Don't Look Up, so we're doomed.
  • I've been sitting on an article by Michael Hiltzik, Farewell to 2021, the stupidest year in American history. Needless to say he's wrong a lot, and not just about "Britain in 1938 under Neville Chamberlain." The year before Roosevelt became president in 1933 was monumentally stupid, as were all the preludes to era-defining political changes: to Lincoln in 1861, to Jefferson in 1801, even to Reagan in 1981, and how can any observer already forget Trump's last year? If 2021 seems stupid beyond that league, it's only because the media are stuck propagating Trumpist-Republican lies and bullshit.
  • I have a couple questions to answer. One is tricky because it starts from a major misperception from which it draws an even worse conclusion. Kind of like the Hiltik article.

Still, I woke up today in more pain than in weeks, and struggled all through this. I'm spent. Sorry I don't have more good new music to share, but perhaps you should look back here and here. Lots of good new music in 2021. Despite the last week or two, I'm sure I haven't run out.


New records reviewed this week:

  • Charlie Ballantine: Reflections/Introspection: The Music of Thelonious Monk (2021, Green Mind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bitchin Bajas: Switched On Ra (2021, Drag City): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lindsey Buckingham: Lindsey Buckingham (2021, Buckingham): [sp]: B+(*)
  • Eris Drew: Quivering in Time (2021, T4T LUV NRG): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ducks Ltd.: Modern Fiction (2021, Carpark, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kurt Elling: SuperBlue (2021, Edition): [r]: B
  • Ezra Furman: Sex Education: Songs From Season 3 (2021, Bella Union, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Ezra Furman: Sex Education Original Soundtrack (2020, Bella Union): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Slava Ganelin/Alexey Kruglov/Oleg Yudanov: Access Point (2017 [2021], Losen): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Glacier: Shiloh: Lost for Words (2021, PLZ Make It Ruins): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlotte Greve: Sediments We Move (2021, New Amsterdam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kaytranada: Intimidated (2021, RCA, EP): [sp}: B+(*)
  • Lily Konigsberg: Lily We Need to Talk Now (2021, Wharf Cat): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kate McGarry + Keith Ganz Ensemble: What to Wear in the Dark (2021, Resilience): [r]: B+(**)
  • Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Étoile De Dakar: Mbalax (2021, Universal Music Africa): [sp]: A-
  • Helado Negro: Far In (2021, 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Orquestra Afro-Brasileira: 80 Anos (2021, Day Dreamer): [sp]: B+(***)
  • Rainbow Girls: Rolling Dumpster Fire (2021, self-released, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Isaiah Rashad: The House Is Burning (2021, Top Dawg Entertainment/Warner): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine: A Beginner's Mind (2021, Asthmatic Kitty): [r]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

  • Black Unity Trio: Al-Fatihah (1968 [2021], Salaam/Gotta Groove): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Lily Konigsberg: The Best of Lily Konigsberg Right Now (2017-21 [2021], Wharf Cat): [bc]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Andrew Cyrille/William Parker/Enrico Rava: 2 Blues for Cecil (TUM) [01-22]
  • The OGJB Quartet: Ode to O (TUM) [01-22]


Dec 2021