Q and A

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Tom Hull.

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October 31, 2022

[Q] I came across your extremely impressive (exhaustive!) website and blog while beginning my annual search for new Christmas/holiday jazz, which -- this year -- is unusually bereft of new releases. I realize it's still a bit early, but labels obviously must know what's upcoming for the fourth-quarter.

Do you have any insight or suggestions? Or am I correct, and 2022 is indeed an unexpectedly thin year? -- Derrick Bang [2022-10-05]

[A] Strange question for me, as I'm on record approximately 100% of the time the subject has come up as declaring that I hate/despise/can't stand Christmas music. I've probably graded 100 of the things, as I try to review everything concrete publicists send me (downloads are a different story), but most of the reviews start with such a declaration, and the grades drive home the point.

That said, I haven't received any Christmas music promos so far this year, which is probably the first year in the last 20. Perhaps that means that publicists are wising up to me, or perhaps it's a side-effect of the decline of promo budgets, or perhaps you're right. My first thought was to check Discogs, but they don't offer Christmas music as a genre or style. So I tried searching for "christmas music," then narrowed the search by decade and year. Just eyeballing a table of numbers, it looks like there's been a fairly steady decline from 1029 in 2014 to 860 in 2020. That continues to 737 in 2021 and 229 in 2022, but I suspect those numbers (especially 2022) reflect the delay in adding entries to the system. I consult Discogs often for new jazz releases, and a 2-3 month delay isn't uncommon. From 2000 to 2014, the lowest year is 940 (2012), and the max is 1273 (2003), with the average about 1100. I didn't table up the 1990s, but the average is comparable to the 2000s (1148 vs. 1130).

I can think of a half-dozen reasons for this long-term decline -- if, indeed, that's what it is, as I can also think of reasons the statistics might be skewed (e.g., maybe Discogs editors are becoming less vigilant?). I'll leave that to you, because I really don't care.

[Q] I listened to Keith Jarrett's Sun Bear Concerts (1978, ECM) recently and liked it very much. Couldn't find it in your grade list. Have you listened to it? Would you like to? -- Siddhartha Kanungo, CA [2022-08-14]

[A] I was aware of it when released, but I've never been that much into Jarrett's solo piano albums, and it seemed prohibitive at the time (I remembered long, but 10-LP is really over the top; I see it's now out in 6-CD, totaling 6:37:46). I did buy the 2-LP version of The Köln Concert, but never got into it until I bought a CD and was able to hear it straight through (66:07), at which point I was impressed enough to give it an A-. There are at least 20 solo Jarrett titles out, maybe more like 30. I've listened to a bunch of them, including 1971's Facing You. Aside from Köln, they're all various shades of B+: he's a really great pianist, even when I don't feel like listening to piano, which almost always happens before they're over.

There's probably some early Jarrett I'd like to catch up with, but I would deprioritize anything solo, and I don't think I could keep it together long enough to do justice to Sunbear. I'm starting to realize that my patience and inquisitiveness has limits, and this is probably one of them.

[Q] Comment on Speaking of Which: re: US as a spent force

Peter Zeihan's new book, The End of the World Is Just Beginning, makes the point that the US is no longer willing/able to maintain globalization like it has since WWII e.g. keeping shipping lanes mostly trouble free. While North America can be more self-sufficient, this may [be] devastating for other countries, especially in the context of de-population. -- Robert Gable, Menlo Park, CA [2022-07-25]

[A] I noticed Zeihan's book, but didn't look very closely at it. He has a previous book with several red flags in the title -- The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder (2014) -- and he runs a consulting firm, so he's not just in the business of diagnosing problems but also of peddling solutions. To describe the U.S. as an "accidental superpower" requires that one ignore a lot of evidence to the contrary (Stephen Wertheim: Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy is a recent example, although there are many more, including the Kolko books). Even before Pearl Harbor, there were prominent Americans angling to get into WWII and come out on top. Of course, it wasn't as easy as they imagined, but as long as the U.S. was willing to pay for alliances, most other countries were happy to follow.

Trump, with his insistence that NATO pay not just its own way but tribute, threatened to end that game, but America's will as well as its means has long been in decline, at least as far back as Nixon-Kissinger's gambits to prop up Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan as proxy powers (in short order, I might add, losing control of each; in Trump's day, the first two are tails wagging the dog, the others flaunting their independence and flirting with China).

Zeihan's new book is his fourth, following and recapitulating The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America (2017) and Disunited Nations: The Scramble for Power in an Ungoverned World (2020). The argument seems to be that with global order collapsing (because the U.S. can't sustain it, and no one else can step up) trade will decline and self-sufficiency and -defense will become more critical, which should be advantageous for Americans, if not for the rest of the world. And, of course, in the turbulence such changes create, it helps to have a global strategist to consult.

I can see some value in this analysis -- I think it's more accurate to start from the impossibility of world governance than to see world order as a contest for would-be superpowers -- but I also suspect there's quite a bit of bullshit, and an ulterior motive I don't much like. No doubt the devil's in the details. For instance, clearing shipping lanes isn't a big deal, unless you also want to use that power to limit a supposed enemy like Russia (or China), in which case it turns into something both difficult and dangerous. I have no idea where the line about "de-population" comes from, or why it matters, but it's the sort of thing a "global strategist" might drop into a PowerPoint slide.

By the way, the "shale revolution" of the 2nd book subtitle refers to how shale oil and gas allowed the U.S. to reach "energy independence" in recent years. The idea that once established that will remain the case is plainly ridiculous. At most, it buys you a stretch of time in which to replace oil and gas with renewable energy sources, so that as reserves are exhausted you won't need to find more.