Sunday, September 3. 2017
At some point I need to write about the book I just finished, Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster). I didn't bother with this when it came out in hardcover last year, but I noticed the paperback about the time Gen. Kelly replaced Reince Priebus, which got me to wondering what is was people see in flag officers that makes them seem to be uniquely capable functionaries. This mindset seems to be especially widespread on the right, though perhaps by default as their more fundamental belief is that all other bureaucrats are incapable of doing anything worthwhile, or perhaps they mean just up to no good. Still, liberals have grown increasingly fond of brass, and politicians of all stripes trip all over themselves in prostrating themselves to America's sainted heroes.
Unfortunately, while Brooks sometimes gets caught up in such idolatry, she never offers much elucidation. The closest she comes is to point out that the military has increasingly tended to take over functions that previously belonged to the State Department because the military has so much more money to work with. Even that gets very little analysis beyond the "day everything changed" 9/11 cliché. But the disturbing thing about 9/11 wasn't what changed then but what had changed sometime earlier. The objective facts of 9/11 meant we should at least have considered the option of responding to crimes through law enforcement (FBI and Interpol, maybe drawing on "intelligence" from CIA and NSA) as opposed to declaring war and sending the military to invade distant countries. Clearly, Brooks' title described something real: in the mindsets of the Bush administration, and evidently with the Clintons before, and possibly much further back, the default worldview of America's politicians had become militarized. So how, and why, had that happened? Brooks doesn't tell us.
Well, she does provide a couple of hints, starting with a critique of "metaphorical wars" -- basically, political campaigns that attempted to recruit the sort of public unity and support, including self-sacrifice, that WWII had achieved: the "war on poverty" and "war on drugs" perhaps the most famous examples, with cancer, crime, AIDS, and terror getting various degrees of attention. Even going back to the 1950s, something as basic and benign as building interstate highways could only make it through Congress if rationalized as national defense. Brooks provides other examples where people (businesses and non-profits as well as politicians) tried selling us things by invoking the military -- e.g., we were told that obesity is bad because it reduces the recruitment pool of possible soldiers. What she doesn't seem to notice is that every one of these conceptualizations failed, often because they were laughably stupid, more so because they were inappropriate and misguided, and I suspect ultimately because, regardless of what you might think WWII proved, war never really accomplishes its original goals nor redeems its initial reasoning.
I've tried to formulate this before, and Brooks has only, albeit inadvertently, increase my conviction. The first thing to understand about war is that you lose the moment it begins. Arguably, you may cause the other side to lose more than you do, but the misfortune of others never compensates for your own losses, especially what the experience of war does to your own psyche. The second thing is that war isn't "an extension of politics by other means" but the abject failure of politics to resolve potential conflicts short of war.
Brooks spends much of her book delving into anthropology, trying to convince herself that war is a constant, inevitable feature of humanity, even though she'd like to subject it to a system of law to manage it better, to limit some of the atrocities that seem to mess up so many wars. Her big innovation here is to push the idea that war/peace represent a continuum with many intermediate "gray" areas as opposed to the dichotomy or negation we are used to thinking in terms of. Here's a sample quote (pp. 353-354):
Thus she inches up to the edge of a chasm, then plunges in. Why isn't it obvious that "if we take these principles seriously" we wouldn't be doing any "targeted killings"? All you have to do is to reverse the case examples to see that the problem is the idea of targeted killing, not the likelihood of "arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse." In larger terms, the problem isn't that war is very probably compounded by all manner of mistake and abuse, but that war is practiced at all. After all, what is war but an elaborate moral charade meant to justify all sorts of slaughter and havoc? -- things that are sensibly prohibited under law in the domain of peace. And isn't Brooks' campaign to map out gray areas just a ruse for allowing war (and the military) to seep into civil society, spoiling peace?
One odd thing here is that while Brooks seems to be a big fan of international laws which prohibit many common practices of war and which promote broad notions of human rights, she doesn't seem to grasp that the intention behind those laws is to outlaw war. Moreover, that very point is obvious to the conservatives, nationalists, and militarists who instinctively reject such international law -- and at least in the former case, any notion of human rights based on equality. Way back in 1945 when the UN was founded, it was at least an aspirational goal of the liberals who then ran the US government to prevent future wars by establishing a mutually acceptable creed of equal rights for nations and for people within nations. Obviously, the real nations of the time had some work to do to achieve those aspirations, but at least they pretty much all recognized the need to avoid a repeat (or escalation) of the just-concluding world war. And they understood that by putting their best ideals forward, they could inspire one another to do better. However, since that date, many Americans, including virtual all working politicians, have discarded those ideals and instead embraced the US military -- its power to terrify and cower the rest of the world -- as the root of their security, and therefore their sense of justice.
I'm not really sure why that happened, but certainly the seeds were all present before the end of the Korean War (1953). Part of it was that many Americans found WWII to be exhilarating, the source both of community and prosperity. Part was the hatchet job done on the working class by the Red Scare and the Cold War. (Conveniently, many American workers were temporarily shielded by anti-communist unions, but we all know how that eventually turned out.) Part was the way we fought the Cold War, especially by embracing right-wing dictators against their own people. One thing America's emerging militarism cannot be blamed on was actual wartime successes by the US military: Korea was a bloody stalemate; Vietnam an unequivocal loss; Iraq an expensive, tainted and temporary technical win; Afghanistan not even that. Sure, the Soviet Union folded, but the nations we struggled hardest against have proven the most resistant to our hegemony -- notably including Russia. All the while, the US has sunk to the bottom of the list of "rich nations" in every measure of widespread prosperity -- something we should blame on extravagant military budgets and the right-wing political factions which benefit from continuous hostility and war.
It's probably unfair to blame all of this on Brooks and the liberal hawks of her generation -- the lawyers and policy wonks who felt so much shame over inaction in Rwanda and who counted Bosnia and Kosovo as big successes for a military juggernaut they idealized and came to love (Brooks actually marrying a Green Beret). It is especially sad that Brooks fell for this con, given that her mother (Barbara Ehrenreich) is one of the most incisive social and political critics of our time -- one who, among many other things, wrote her own insightful anthropology of war, the 1997 book Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War. The difference was that Ehrenreich strove to raise myths and primeval emotions to a level of consciousness, where we could rationally encounter them and consciously change. Brooks does the opposite, starting with reason and remythologizing it, turning war from a conscious option back into a quasi-religious belief.
Well, that's the gist of what I wanted to say. Someone should write a big book on how and why American political figures lost their faith and interest in international cooperation, law, justice, and peace. When I searched for "america turns against international law" the first piece that came up was from 2015: Alfred W McCoy: You Must Follow International Law (Unless You're American). It's not as if no one notices American contempt for international law, but it's so ensconced it's hardly even an issue for politicians here. At most it's a nuissance, an inconsequential way other people have of insulting us. The serious question of how this attitude limits our options in dealing with the world never seems to come up.
So I guess the best thing about Brooks' book is the title. Too bad she didn't write a better book on its subject.
Some scattered links this week:
The big breaking story as I was writing all of this is that North Korea has tested some sort of hydrogen-booster nuclear warhead, one reportedly small enough that it can be delivered by one of their recently tested ICBMs. This has resulted in a lot of typically unguarded and occasionally insane threats from Trump and company: e.g., Trump: North Korea Is a 'Rogue Nation' for Conducting a 'Major Nuclear Test'; After Reported H-Bomb Test, Trump Mulls Attacking North Korea; Trump: Maybe we'll end all trade with countries that trade with North Korea; Mnuchin Says He Will 'Draft a Sanctions Package' Against North Korea; Mattis: US Will Meet 'Any Threat' With 'Massive Military Response'; Trump Says He'll Meet With 'Military Leaders' to Discuss North Korea. Also note that Trump has lately become increasingly hostile to China and Russia, the most obvious diplomatic channels to Pyongyang -- e.g., US Plans More South China Sea Patrols to 'Challenge China'; Jim Mattis, in Ukraine, Says U.S. Is Thinking of Sending Weapons; US Seizes Russian Diplomatic Posts in San Francisco, Washington, New York; Russia to 'Respond Harshly' to Latest US Measures; Putin Warns US-North Korea Standoff Risks Starting Large-Scale Conflict. When asked whether he intends to attack North Korea, Trump's response was "we'll see." I've written enough about this I shouldn't have to rehash the risks and follies of US policy. Indeed, most knowledgeable people in Washington -- a group that excludes the president -- seem to grasp the basic issues, but their minds are stuck in the rut that sees the military as the only answer to every problem. So, I guess, we'll see.
Wednesday, August 30. 2017
I suppose I should make a big deal out of the fact that the rated count since I started writing this Streamnotes column in late 2007 has now topped 10,000 records. But that's only a thousand per year, 85 or so per month, less than 3 per day. The metric measures time more than anything else. And even if the records were all new at the time, my sample of what's been added to the world's pile of recorded music during this time is well under 2%, probably under 1% -- so I've lost way more ground than I've gained.
Back in 2007, I did a little work for Rhapsody, and one of the perks was a free subscription. I figured I should take notes on what I heard there, hence the column. Well, it didn't even become a column until sometime later -- the notes originally appeared in my Notebook, until I realized I was checking out enough stuff to post something regularly. At the time I was doing Jazz Consumer Guide, Jazz Prospecting, and Recycled Goods, but RG was erratic after I stopped posting at Static Multimedia, and JCG ended after 2009 -- although I continued to get jazz promos, the rate has gradually declined (currently a bit less than half the 2009 level). In January 2014 I decided to consolidate everything under the Streamnotes umbrella -- even actual CDs (about half of the jazz below (25/51 of new jazz, but adding in the old jazz changes the share to 26/87, or 29.8%). The share of non-jazz that is streamed is, like most months, 100%.
So it's fair to say that streaming has not only changed my life as a reviewer, it's the main reason I've been able to hang on. I dropped "Rhapsody" from the title when they rebranded as Napster -- an early digital music purveyor that I never used and never felt any nostalgia for -- but they remain my main source, followed by Bandcamp (not bothering with records that only have a few cuts available), then by download links provided by publicists. I've never mastered the more arcane methods of downloading, so when I run into a wall I tend to back out. And it's been a long time since I bothered to pitch or beg a release -- only one I recall in the last couple years was a letter to the since-departed Joe Fields that got me two top-rated 2016 releases: Houston Person's Chemistry and JD Allen's Americana. (If Steven Joerg is reading, the new William Parker Quartets is at the very top of my wish list -- it's also at the top of Chris Monsen's favorites list, which also notes a new JD Allen release, Radio Flyer).
So, in a sense, this column is running on fumes. This month's 119 records is down from 136 in July and 149 in June, although it's slightly above the previous three-month lull: 111-115-114. And it is August -- never a pleasant month here in Wichita, although pace global warming we've gone all month without a single 100F day, and we've had enough rain to keep the grass green (most years it's brown). Still, always glad when August is over.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (10029 records).
Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (2017, Eclectus): Standards singer (not the actress), one original here, from Dallas, third album since 2012. Nice voice and phrasing, stays away from overly familiar songs, nice sax touches. B+(**) [cd]
Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (2017, Cahara): Singer-songwriter, plays keyboards, seven albums since 2005, bills herself as smooth jazz but I recognize this as art-disco, the dance beat on the soft side and occasionally nodding toward MPB. Pleasant surprise. B+(**) [cd]
Barry Altschul 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (2016 , Not Two): American drummer, a free jazz legend since his early 1970s records with Dave Holland, later with Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet, dropped from sight in the 1990s until 2010 when he appeared on saxophonist Jon Irabagon's Foxy, the first of a bunch of collaborations under one name or another (third as 3Dom Factor, with Joe Fonda on bass). Mostly notable for Irabagon's no holds barred sax, although the bass-and-drums duets are super too. A-
Arcade Fire: Everything Now (2017, Columbia): Alt/indie group from Montreal, fifth album since 2004, hugely popular and critically esteemed -- third album, The Suburbs, seemed to be a lock on album of the year polls until Kanye West spoiled their party. I'm not a huge fan but haven't found much cause to fault their albums. I might quibble about this being too ornate, but after five or six plays nearly every song has clicked. Still, probably won't play it again until EOY, but I have little doubt I'll enjoy it then. A-
Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (2017, Summit): Flutist, from Beaumont, TX, studied at UNT, moved on to San Francisco. Sixth album, long personnel list but typical groups have 5-6 musicians, the standout alto saxophonist Ruben Salcido. Nine covers, several (Piazzolla, Pascoal, Tjader) bringing the Latin tinge, others mainstream jazz (Davis, Mulligan, Ellis Marsalis), with a long "Out of This World" to close. B+(*) [cd]
Tim Berne's Snakeoil: Incidentals (2014 , ECM): Alto saxophonist, influenced by Julius Hemphill, which shows up strongest here in his harmonics with Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet). Group name comes from their 2012 Snakeoil, with Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Matt Mitchell (piano/electronics), and Ches Smith (drums, vibes, percussion). Dense and turbulent, has some marvelous moments as well as puzzling ones. B+(***) [dl]
Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of the Emerging Species (2015 , Shhpuma): Swiss-Portuguese quartet: Marco von Orelli (trumpet), Sheldon Suter (prepared drums), Luis Lopes (guitar), and Travassos (electronics). One 43:02 piece, plumbs sonic depth but rarely rises to demand your attention. B
Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (2017, Outline, 2CD): Soprano saxophonist. Group: Dawn Clement (piano), Mark Helias (bass), Bobby Previte (drums), plus Deborah Rush reading Dickinson poetry on the second disc only. I'm inclined to favor the music-only disc, but while I rarely register the words, somehow the music on the second disc seems even more vibrant. B+(***) [cd]
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All You Zombies Dig the Luminosity (2016-17 , Avant Groidd): Group assembled by noted rock critic Greg Tate back in 2001, more of a jazz group then but with more lyrics their 13th album is exceptionally jazzy funk. Steven Bernstein (trumpet) and Avram Fefer (alto sax) are probably the best known musicians, but the core is guitars (4), bass, keys, violin, and drums -- not counting Tate, creditd with guitar, bass, and "beats & loops." B+(***)
Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro: Rosa Dos Ventos (2017, Anzic): The clarinetist joins a Brazilian choro group -- Dudu Maia (bandolim), Douglas Lora (7-string guitar), Alexandre Lora (pandeiro, hand pan, percussion). Clarinet tends to blend in with the strings. B
Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos (2017, Anzic): More Brazilian, a duo with Cohen on clarinet and Gonçalves playing 7-string guitar, on a set of "things" from Brazilian saxophonist Santos. The clarinet is somewhat delicate here, but still stands out framed against spare guitar. B+(**)
Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life (2017, Interscope): Fifth album since 2010, started as a young pop ingenue but shifted last time into a winning slowcore groove which works even better here, especially when she plaintively demands "the fucking truth" -- helps that she doesn't evince any of the genre's depressiveness, and employs the occasional rapper. Tails off a bit at the end, but only after a trio of songs that I take to be patriotic in the best sense -- about caring for each other. A-
Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (2017, Virgin): Mary Beth Patterson, "fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas," singer in the so-so indie band Gossip, went solo with an EP I liked in 2011. This is her first full-length solo effort, produced by Jennifer Decliveo as exceptionally straight and clear, perhaps even a bit simplistic, major league pop. B+(***)
Miles Donahue: The Bug (2015 , Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, b. 1944, didn't record until around 1992, also plays trumpet and flugelhorn here, keyboards elsewhere. Even when he switches off you get strong saxophone from Jerry Bergonzi, guitar by Mike Stern on three tracks, piano (Tim Ray), bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (2017, Sub Pop): Radical punk band from Providence, formed by a tuba player and singer Victoria Ruiz. Third album, pounding beat, loud scream and indecipherable screed, probably smart but I like it best when topped with a little saxophone. B+(**)
The Fall: New Facts Emerge (2017, Cherry Red): Mark E. Smith's pioneering post-punk group, dating back to 1979, still featuring their trademark crunch and growl. While I'm a fan of the growl, the signature-sounding closing instrumental piece is this album's saving grace. B+(*)
Filthy Friends: Invitation (2017, Kill Rock Stars): Portland supergroup, only ones I'm familiar with are singer Corrin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), guitarist Peter Buck (REM), and bassist Krist Novolselic (Nirvana). First album, after group appeared on the politically themed Battle Hymns benefit album. Seems like a better-than-average hard rock group here, nothing more. B+(*)
Floating Points: Reflections - Mojave Desert (2017, Luaka Bop): British, someone with the memorable but not very original name Sam Shepherd, has a previous album and beaucoup short pieces, plays keyboards but works with larger groups. The dominant sound for much of this is guitar, reminding me of Pink Floyd spaced out under a vast nightsky. B+(*)
Billy Flynn: Lonesome Highway (2017, Delmark): Chicago blues guitarist-singer, originally from Wisconsin, seventh album since 1992, whips up impressive groove but somehow it all feels rote. B
Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet: The Pythiad (2016 , Origin Classical): Soprano saxophonist, with a string quartet plus bass and singer Cheryl Wilson -- a combination I don't care for on many levels, one where the classical underpinnings make it hard to hear any jazz. B- [cd]
Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (2016 , Origin): Pianist, started in the mid-1970s and has had a long and remarkable career, joined here by three young musicians I've never heard of -- Nathan Bellott (alto sax), Dean Torrey (bass), and David Frazier (drums) -- on four pieces ranging from 11:08 to 17:40. I'm especially struck by Bellott and, of course, the pianist. B+(**) [cd]
Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (2017, self-released): Percussionist, teaches ethnomusicology in Vermont, credits here include tanbou bèlè, congas, tupan; seems to be his first album although I've found a side-credit on a 1992 album by Kotoja -- a California-based Nigerian-American group. Sextet adds clarinet, trumpet, piano, bass, and drums, plus a singer shows up on one track that sounds rather Brazilian. B+(*) [cd]
Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders (2017, Cooking Vinyl): Gypsy punk band from New York with roots back in Ukraine, first emerged in 1998 and has some very notable records. This one scores high marks for energy and sometimes adds insight and humor. B+(**)
Laurel Halo: Dust (2017, Hyperdub): Born in Ann Arbor, based in Berlin, third album, disjointed electronica with (presumably her own) vocals. B+(*)
Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (2017, New West): Singer-songwriter Ed Hamell has been cranking out DIY folk tunes with punk intensity since 1989, includes a song here mostly about Trump ("The More You Know"), one about the fear even white folk have about getting shot by cops, and best of all an Australian "Mouthy B"'s critique of America (some choice lines: "I don't think your government cares about its people," "what's with all the flags? I've never seen such insecurity in all my life," "along with freedom 'heroes' is the most overused word in your national vocabulary"), as well as four "Froggy" songs. Cover shows a burning city behind a blasphemous Lady Liberty. Title song is about life coming with many hooks. A-
Hamell on Trial: Big Mouth Strikes Again: Hamell Live (2017, New West): Seems to be download only, with a code provided with the new studio album, but streams separately. Some redundancy (including another "Mouthy B"), some songs from earlier albums (like "The Happiest Man in the World"), some patter including a story about three grandmas coming up to him and asking whether he has any edgier material. He tries to satisfy them, even to the point of explaining "that's how you wave a towell." A-
Hard Working Americans: We're All in This Together (2017, Melvin): Todd Snider's hard working alt-rock band, with a few other guys I don't recognize from bands I've barely heard of (Widespread Panic, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Great American Taxi). Title cut actually works as a live band intro after their hardest guitar rave, followed by a souped up "Is This Thing Working?" and ending with a Chuck Berry anthem -- a fine encore. B+(***)
H. Hawkline: I Romanticize (2017, Heavenly): Welsh singer-songwriter Huw Gwynfryn Evans. Fourth album, has a high voice and a light, jangly feel that gradually grows on you. B
Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: Crooked Calypso (2017, Virgin EMI): Main singer-songwriter behind the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, probably my favorite bands in the waning days of the 20th century. Third album with Abbott, their most problematical one, with flashes that bring back fond memories but he's packed it with way too much pomp. Deluxe edition adds four long songs (25:26), changing little B+(*)
Fred Hersch: Open Book (2016-17 , Palmetto): Solo piano. Three originals plus pieces from Monk, Jobim, Benny Golson, and Billy Joel. He reached a new plateau with 2014's Floating, and continues at that level, thoughtful, serene, touch as deft as ever. B+(***) [cd]
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can (2017, Bordello/Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, called the band on his first (1976) record the Cowboy Twinkies, didn't strike me as very important until his 2010 album A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), but has topped that good one three times since. A-
Jon Irabagon/John Hegre/Nils Are Drønen: Axis (2013 , Rune Grammofon): Saxophone-guitar-drums trio, the latter two Norwegian. Two pieces, 17:43 and 18:56, focus on stress, eventually breaking free. B+(*)
Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017, ECM): Pianist, very highly regarded, used to lead a group called Fieldwork with Steve Lehman on alto sax and Tyshawn Sorey on drums -- they had three superb albums 2002-08 -- and essentially doubles that group here, adding Mark Shim (tenor sax), Graham Haynes (cornet/flugelhorn/electronics), and Stephan Crump (bass). I'm not sure the extra weight helps, but Lehman remains especially striking, as is the dense piano scaffolding. B+(***) [dl]
Max Johnson: In the West (2014 , Clean Feed): Young bassist, b. 1990, fifth album, with Susan Alcorn (peddle steel), Kris Davis (piano), and Mike Pride (drums) -- the pianist making by far the biggest impression. B+(*)
Paul Jones: Clean (2017, Outside In Music): Tenor saxophonist, has at least one previous album. Postbop, all original pieces, core group a quintet with Alex LeRe on alto sax and Glenn Zaleski on piano, plus various extras including the SNAP Saxophone Quartet (5/14 tracks), the Righteous Girls (flute/piano, same 5), guest clarinet/oboe (same 5), cello (4 others), and bassoon (9). B [cd]
Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (2011 , Hatology): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano), has a couple previous records. MVP here is guitarist Joe Morris, invariably the one you wind up focusing on. With Giacomo Merega (electric bass) and Jason Nazary (drums & electronics). A- [cd]
LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst: Metamorphosis (2016 , Clean Feed): Mostly Portuguese avant trio with Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Gonçalo Almeida (bass/keys), and Greg Smith (drums), the latter two dabbling in electronics. Their guest, who also appeared on their 2015 album, plays clarinet and bass clarinet -- Chris Speed was their guest back in 2013. Wound tight, makes me think it's the bassist's album, but the horns get the best breaks. B+(*)
Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (2016 , Whaling City Sound): Drummer-led piano trio, with Kevin Harris on piano and Dave Zinno on bass. Zinno wrote two songs, one each for the others, plus pieces from Chick Corea, Richard Rodgers, and "unknown" -- "Down By the Riverside" is a highlight. B+(**) [cd]
Lean Left: I Forgot to Breathe (2015 , Trost): Fifth album, the first subtitled The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo -- the former being Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) and Andy Moor, with Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Ken Vandermark on reeds. B+(**)
The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (2017, Ad Astrum): Nearly a big band -- 13 pieces, plus an extra guitar on a couple cuts, and singers, based in Chicago, founded by bassist Hannah Fidler and trumpeter Matt Riggen, citing the "activist tradition of such jazz composers as Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and Charlie Haden." Not quite, of course, and the lyrics never grab me. B+(*) [cd]
Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin' Thru (2016 , Blue Note): Not exactly new -- this Quartet lineup dates back to Rabo De Nube, recorded in 2007: Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), Eric Harland (drums). His tenor sax is as lucid as ever, and Moran is an impressive accompanist. Flute feature has Indian airs and what sounds like guitar -- presumably bass. B+(***)
Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface (2017, Loma Vista): Indie rock group from Atlanta, fifth album since 2006, all serious and a bit heavy-handed. B
Rob Mazurek: Chants and Borders (2016 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player from Chicago, credited here with cornet, modular synth, sampler, and piano, with a group in Brazil that expands beyond Mazurek's São Paulo Underground group: Guilherme Granado (keyboards, synthesizer, sampler, electronics), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca, flute, soprano sax, electronics), Philip Somervell (piano, prepared piano), Mauricio Takara (drums). B+(**)
Rob Mazurek: Rome (2014 , Clean Feed): Solo, credits read: cornet, piano, prepared piano, electronics. Recorded in Rome, which inspires some titles but probably has little to do with the music. Tends toward atmospheric but doesn't intend to stay there. B+(*)
Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (2017, Roc Nation): Chicago rapper, name shortened from Mensah, first studio album after a couple of well-regarded EPs/mixtapes. This rubbed me wrong from the start -- a boast about striking it rich while keeping one's integrity -- but the teenage sex yarns aren't so bad, not that I don't get he's some kind of cad. Still no interest in the drugs or suicide. B-
Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature (2015 , ECM): Composer, has worked in music, dance, theatre and film since the 1960s, with a dozen records for ECM since 1981's Dolmen Music, mostly in their postclassical New Series. She sings here, often with others, against a fairly minimalist backdrop. B+(*) [dl]
Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (2017, Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, from Massachusetts, has at least one previous record. Quartet with piano, electric bass, and drums (Steve Langone). Wrote three originals (of 12 songs), covers ranging from Horace Silver to Michael Jackson. Fairly mainstream, but rich tone and easy swing. B+(***) [cd]
Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch): First album of new songs since 2008's Harps and Angels, not that he hasn't been busy during the Obama era: Discogs shows him with two Songbook volumes, two live albums, and five soundtracks -- by now, not just his meal ticket but his toolchest. The first three songs, with their historical-philosophical concerns, are so detailed it takes little effort to imagine the videos. The rest of the album, aside from the story of Sonny Boy the First, is unsentimental filler, and probably better for that. Christgau proclamed this an "album of the year contender" -- something I don't hear at all, but I massively underestimated Harps and Angels, doubting it for much the same offhandedness. A-
Pale Horse: Badlands (2015 , 5049): Clarinet player Jeremiah Cymerman, group name taken from the previous album by this "apocalyptic chamber ensemble" with Christopher Hoffman on cello and Brian Chase on drums. Two LP-length tracks, total 34:02. Cites as inspiration "the work of composers Scelsi & Ligeti, the novels of Cormac McCarthy, the films of Wim Wenders and the hypnotic beauty of Swans." More modest than any of those, but more pleasing than his early raw noise. B+(*) [bc]
Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (2015 , Creative Sources): German pianist, real name seems to be Oliver Schwerdt -- has a previous trio album with Axel Dörner and Christian Lillinger and a couple albums as Schwerdt. This is solo, short (31:46), named for two of the three pieces (the other is the 2:21 "Farewell"). Impressive, more for the rumble he generates than for the runs. B+(***) [cd]
Richard Pinhas/Barry Cleveland: Mu (2016, Cuneiform): Pinhas is a French guitarist, formed the "electronic rock" band Heldon in the 1970s, has also recorded as Schizo and Schizotrope, and has twenty-some records under his own name, three with Merzbow. Cleveland is another guitarist ("new age and experimental ambient"), and Michael Manring (bass, elbow bass) and Celso Alberti (drums, electronic drums, percussion) are also "featuring" on the cover, if not the spine. B+(**) [dl]
John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (2017, Concord): Marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 encounter between the crooner and Brazil's most famous songwriter (who played piano and guitar and contributed some backing vocals) -- not a very good album for either, with Claus Ogerman's arrangements part of the problem. Pizzarelli's catalog includes titles like Dear Mr. Sinatra and Bossa Nova, so I don't doubt his dedication. He takes some liberties with the arrangements, turning two pairs of songs into medleys and interposing bits of other songs. Daniel Jobim adds his voice, Helvio Alves and Duduka Da Fonseca manage the rhythm, and someone they don't mention plays some nice sax. B-
Platform: Flux Reflux (2017, Clean Feed): French clarinet player Xavier Charles, discography goes back to 1996, second album under this name, with Katrine Schiøtt (cello), Jan Martin Gismervik (drums), and Jonas Cambien (keyboards). All improvised, the focus more on deep sound than on flow. B
Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group: Three Minutes to Four (2017, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist Scarff has been a member of Aardvark Jazz Orchestra since 1993, and leads the group Natraj, which plays Indian classical music. Pianist Porter has played with AJO on several occasions, and has shown up on a couple Allen Lowe projects, but is probably better known as an author and educator. With John Funkhouse (bass) and Bertram Lehmann (drums). Can't say I hear the "east-meets-west jazz, where Indian raga merges with western classical" -- reminds me more of someone like Charlie Mariano, with a real sharp rhythm section. B+(***)
Dave Potter: You Already Know (2017, Summit): Drummer, first album, has a few side credits with Jason Marsalis (vibes), Miguel Alvarado (saxes), and Will Goble (bass), all present here. Mostly originals, one tune each by Marsalis and Alvarado, five covers, mostly jazz sources (Monk, Shorter, Golson, Watson). Cut in several sessions, using three bassists, three pianists, two trumpeters, but never more than quintets. Swings, bops, swings some more. B+(**) [cd]
Eric Revis: Sing Me Some Cry (2016 , Clean Feed): Bassist, played for Betty Carter and Branford Marsalis but has tended to be more avant on his own albums. Quartet here with Ken Vandermark (tenor sax/clarinet), Kris Davis (piano), and Chad Taylor (drums) -- an explosive combination, most often moderated by the bassist but extraordinary when he cranks them up. A-
Roots Magic: Last Kind Words (2016 , Clean Feed): Italian group, second album: Alberto Popolla (clarinet, bass clarinet), Errico De Fabritiis (alto/baritone sax), Gianfranco Tedeschi (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums), plus guests on organ/piano (4 tracks), cello (2), and dub effects (1). Plumbs a deep blues base drawing on Charlie Patton and similarly influenced jazz musicians like Julius Hemphill and Marion Brown, tuned up to a fine fury. A-
Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma: Songs for the Hangman's Daughter (2017, Rubinchik): Folk singer-songwriter, plays a range of instruments, born in Stillwater, OK, but "Texas-reared, and now living in New Orleans" -- clearly not one to shy away from audience prejudices. He sings about being bipolar ("it's a wonder I've yet to land in prison"), shows his regional colors when he decries "the war of northern aggression," claims to have mastered barbecue with kosher beef, covers "a fun old Bad Livers tune" (a band he was in). B+(**) [bc]
Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (2015 , Euphorium, 2CD): German pianist, also records as Elan Pauer, goes long here with two substantial servings of solo piano, dense and crunchy, much like the Pauer record above. B+(***) [cd]
Matthew Shipp: Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zürich (2016 , Hatology): Solo piano, recorded live at the Swiss festival, all originals except for "Tenderly." His usual impressive range from deep rumble through long lines to delicate touch. B+(***)
Skyzoo: Peddler Themes (2017, First Generation Rich/Empire, EP): Rapper Gregory Taylor, from Brooklyn, seven LPs, scads of mixtapes, third EP, eight solid tracks (30:36). B+(**)
Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (2016 , Pi): Drummer, sometime pianist -- he played a big chunk of his 2007 2CD album That/Not -- I've even seen him lately on trombone, but here just drums. I mention this because this strikes me as very much a piano album (Corey Smythe), the percussion and bass (Chris Tordini) often all but vanishing. Sometimes the piano, too. I'd prefer something more in-your-face, and there's some of that here too. A- [cd]
Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (2016 , Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, has a fairly short list of albums under his own name since 1997, but has a pretty long list of side credits. This format, with Chris Tordini on bass and Dave King on drums, pushes him out front, and he doesn't bother with the clarinet, so you get a consistent sound which grows in authority and panache. A- [cd]
Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (2017, Delmark): From Chicago, plays bass clarinet, quartet adds Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, contrabass clarinet), Joshua Abrams (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- terrific group, with Jackson complementing the leader's airy sound. Three originals, covers from Bird and Monk, two from Lennie Tristano and another from Warne Marsh, plus one called "Roused About" that I assume honors Charlie. A- [cd]
Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (2017, Six Degrees): Guitarist-singer from Mali, father was Ali Farka Touré, pioneer of Saharan/desert blues, a tradition he carries on and extends, mostly by rocking harder. B+(***)
Triocity [Charles Pillow/Jeff Campbell/Rich Thompson]: I Believe in You (2016 , Origin): Reeds-bass-drums trio, Pillow credited with alto sax, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- last is certainly not least. He only has a couple previous albums, but appears in quite a few notable big bands (John Fedchock, Alan Ferber, David Liebman, Pete McGuinness, Bob Mintzer, Ted Nash, Maria Schneider, and others). Songbook and jazz standards (Monk, Parker, Davis), closing with "Cherokee" -- always a thrill. B+(**) [cd]
Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (2017, Odd Future/Columbia): Los Angeles rapper Tyler Okonma, started out in Odd Future collective, never seemed like he was quite ready but gets a major label deal here. Has managed to smooth off the rough edges, but that doesn't leave him with much. B
Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Escalator (2016 , Not Two): Tenor sax/clarinet trio, drums and bass respectively, recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow. I'm afraid I find the clarinet annoyingly squeaky, but Vandermark is a tower of power in this context, and remarkably adept. B+(***) [bc]
Raphael Vanoli: Bibrax (2017, Shhpuma): Guitarist, based in Amsterdam, first record, solo. Metallic tones, patiently experimental. B+(*)
John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (2016 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, leads a big band (16 pieces, only 2 saxes and 2 trombones, but 5 trumpets and 2 French horns) through a splashy set of Nelson pieces, with sharp solos and a certain postbop swing. B+(**) [cd]
Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (2016 , Palmetto): Subtitle: "Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg." Snatches of Sandburg poetry as well, read by various members of the band and extras, as well as vocals (and guitar) by Dawn Thompson. With Ron Miles (cornet), Jeff Lederer (reeds), Martin Wind (bass), and Wilson on drums. Too many words for my taste, but sometimes remarkable music. B+(*) [cd]
Reggie Young: Forever Young (2017, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, first album but not so young, born in 1936, started out playing rockabilly in Memphis, part of the Bill Black Combo (led by Elvis Presley's first bass player, opened for the Beatles on their 1964 US tour). Best known for session work, including "Down in the Boondocks" (Billy Joe Royal), "The Letter" (Box Tops), Dusty in Memphis (Springfield), "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis), and "I Can Help" (Billy Swan). Nice relaxed groove album with keyboards, bass, drums, and sometimes a little cello. B+(*) [cd]
Bobby Zankel & the Wonderful Sound 6: Celebrating William Parker @ 65 (2017, Not Two): Alto saxophonist, a couple years older than the famous bassist -- on board here, an event in Philadelphia, along with Steve Swell (trombone), Diane Monroe (violin), Dave Burrell (piano), and Muhammad Ali (drums). Old-fashioned avant joust, something the bassist has presided over many times. B+(**)
Omri Ziegele: Where's Africa: Going South (2016 , Intakt): Credit could be parsed several ways, including mention of Yves Theiler (keyboards, reed organ, melodica, vocals) and Dario Sisera (percussion, drums). Where's Africa is the name of a 2005 album -- a duo with pianist Irène Schweizer -- and was also used in the credit of a 2010 trio (with Schweizer and Makaya Ntshoko). Ziegele is Swiss, plays alto sax, Uzbek flute, and is credited with vocals. Not sure who sings (weirdly) and who raps (impressively), affectations which annoyed me at first as they interfered with the wonderful Township Jive-inflected groove. A- [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Albert Ayler Quartet: European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (1964 , Hatology): Two sessions from the tenor saxophonist's banner year, a quartet -- Don Cherry (cornet), Gary Peacock (bass), Sunny Murray (drums) -- that toured Europe in the latter months of the year. Six tracks from Hilversum, three more from Copenhagen -- The Hilversum Sessions first appeared in 1980, The Copenhagen Tapes (also including a Club Montmartre date) in 2002. Strikes me as a bit hit-and-miss, which isn't quite the same as saying his avant-garde's become old hat. B+(**)
Albert Ayler Quartet: Copenhagen Live 1964 (1964 , Hatology): This is the Club Montmartre set previously released on The Copenhagen Tapes, minus the three radio shots moved into European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 -- these releases are evidently part of an Ayler Estate effort to bring some order to the various long-circulating Ayler bootlegs. Same quartet. Same chaos. B+(**)
Albert Ayler: Stockholm, Berlin 1966 (1966 , Hatology): Two dates, a week apart, same group: Donald Ayler (trumpet), Michel Sampson (violin), William Folwell (bass), Beaver Harris (drums). Tightly layered, especially with the violin, around a skeleton of gospel and circus music. B+(***)
Paul McCandless With the Paul Winter Consort: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (1970-2010 , Living Music): Playing oboe mostly, some English horn (soprano sax and bass clarinet elsewhere, notably with Oregon from 1980 on), McCandless joined soprano saxophonist Winter's group for three 1969-72 albums, with several reunions from 1986 to 2010. Together they sound like medievalists trying to pass for new age, and the occasional vocals hardly qualify as either. C+ [cd]
John Prine: September 78 (1978 , Oh Boy): Recorded Sept. 23, 1978 in Chicago, after his four justly famous Atlantics and first of three mostly forgotten Asylums (Bruised Orange). Originally released on numbered orange vinyl for Record Store Day 2015, now available for the masses. I first saw him a decade later when he was reduced by playing solo, which he carried off easily on wit, but this band, with organ and flashy guitar, hems him in, although they rock impressively on his lesser known songs (one appeared later on 1980's Storm Windows, two only show up here, including one tantalizingly close to Chuck Berry). B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live From Banlieus Bleues (2004, Trugroid): Cover reads Live 01 at Banlieus Bleues but website gives this title. This closes out the group's most intensive period, following six releases (7-CD) in three years. Personnel list omits credits, but aside from leader Greg Tate the names I don't need to look up are Vijay Iyer (keybs), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Matana Roberts (alto sax), and Mazz Swift (violin) -- figure most of the 16 for guitar and vocals, plus bass and drums. Slippery groove, not a lot of vocals but they can swing either atmospheric or funky. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: If You Can't Dazzle Them With Your Brilliance, Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth (2004 , Trugroid, 2CD): Another live set, from performances in Spain, France, and New York. Unable to find a credits list, but the first concerts immediately follow Not April in Paris. "A Night in Tunisia" gives you something you can calibrate from, or try, as the multipart pieces run on and on. No idea what "blisluth" means. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006, Trugroid, 2CD): Personnel list runs to 37 names: 4 guitarists, 5 drummers, and 10 vocalists (counting "rhymes" and "recitation/oratory"), the goal "23rd century R&B," the grooves stretched and pliable. Like most of their records, especially the long ones, there are patches of brilliance and long stretches of enjoyable groove. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Chopped and Screwed: Volume 2 (2007, Trugroid): Remixes, the title referring to a technique DJ Screw developed in Houston in the 1990s based on slowing the beat down -- something I don't know enough about to judge how it was applied here. No evidence of a Volume 1. Personnel listed as Greg Tate, Jarid Michael Nickerson, and Mazz Wright, although horns are audible, as is some spoken word (rap?). B
Jeremiah Cymerman: Purification/Dissolution (2011-12 , 5049): Clarinetist, fifth album since 2007, solo but also credited with amplifiers, synths, and electronics, which push this into the domain of avant-noise. Bit harsh for me. B [bc]
Jeremiah Cymerman/Christopher Hoffman/Brian Chase: Pale Horse (2013 , 5049): Clarinet/cello/drums, two cuts at 21:45 and 16:26. Less of a noise album, but dense and mysterious, not anything you'd take for chamber jazz. B+(*) [bc]
Jeremiah Cymerman/Evan Parker/Nate Wooley: World of Objects (2013 , 5049): The clarinetist returns to noise world through his "digital post-production." Saxophonist Parker is still unmistakable, especially on soprano, while trumpet player Wooley remains a journeyman. Not uninteresting, but my tolerance for this sort of thing is limited. B- [bc]
Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (1999 , Nonesuch): Solo guitar, sometimes banjo, mostly originals but five covers offer framework -- two old country songs, two showbiz standards, a piece from John McLaughlin. Nothing exciting, but picks carefully. B+(*)
George Garzone: Moodiology (1998 , NYC): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Boston, a legendary educator and mentor to many dozens of famous saxophonists, has most often recorded as the Fringe, a sax trio as ragged as its name. With Fringe rhythm section here -- John Lockwood on bass and Bob Gullotti on drums -- plus Douglas Yates (alto sax/bass clarinet), Claire Daly (baritone sax), Kenny Werner (piano), and Mike Mainieri (vibes). Exceptional chops, but the other horns sometimes add a sour note, and some of his cover ideas don't work out so well. B+(**)
George Garzone: The Fringe in New York (2000, NYC): The Fringe albums date back to 1978, and this is the only one with the star saxophonist's name on the cover, hence the credit. Mike Mainieri joins on vibes, which can tilt the group into something merely pretty -- especially when Garzone gives up his fierce tenor for pretty soprano. B+(**)
George Garzone: Among Friends (2009, Stunt): Especially pianist Steve Kuhn, who often takes over the album, also Anders Christensen (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). The leader's tenor sax is especially eloquent on the ballads. B+(***)
Jon Irabagon/Andrew Neff/Danny Fox/Scott Ritchie/Alex Wyatt: Here Be Dragons (2009 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor sax/alto sax/piano/bass/drums, with Chris Cash (programming) a guest on one cut. Opens with the saxes neatly in sync, but the leader is hard to contain. B+(*)
Noah Kaplan Quartet: Descendants (2008 , Hatology): Same group as on the new album. Guitarist Joe Morris is the main draw, with the leader playing more soprano sax, and taking the tenor slower. B+(**)
Joe Morris Trio: Antennae (1997, AUM Fidelity): Avant guitarist, discography starts around 1990. With Nate McBride on bass and Jerome Deupree on drums, loose yet jagged. B+(**)
Joe Morris/Mat Maneri: Soul Search (2000, AUM Fidelity): Guitar and viola duets, both electric, neither overpowering, closer in effect to Maneri's bent avant-classicism than to the guitarist's usual idiosyncrasies. B+(*)
Joe Morris: Singularity (2000 , AUM Fidelity): As the title suggests, a solo album, with Morris playing steel string acoustic guitar instead of his usual electric -- adds more texture while better exhibiting his speed and dexterity. B+(**)
Joe Morris Bass Quartet: High Definition (2007 , Hatology): No fear, just one bassist -- Morris, better known at guitar but has many recordings on double bass. Two horns: Alan Chase (alto, soprano, and baritone sax) and Tyler Ho Bynum on cornet, with Luther Gray on drums. Tails off a wee bit at the end, but most of the way the horns spin gloriously, while the leader's longtime drummer keeps the rhythm surprising. A-
Joe Morris: Mess Hall (2011 , Hatology): Guitarist, emphasis on electric here, backed by Jerome Deupree on drums and (less obviously) Steve Lantner on keyboards. Five pieces from 9:01 to 11:52, dense and gnarly. B+(**)
Randy Newman: Live (1971, Reprise): Recorded at the Bitter End in New York, just singer-songwriter and his piano, after only two studio albums -- notably his likely best-ever 12 Songs (4 songs from there, 5 from his debut, 2 destined for Sail Away, 1 eventually reworked for 1977's Little Criminals, 2 more). B
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003, Nonesuch): Reconstructed demos, just the songwriter pounding on his piano and barking out his lyrics -- except to songs you already know -- well, songs I know. Strikes me as long on history and "Political Science" (a title as well as a theme). "Rednecks" catches ever deeper in my craw, perhaps because he sings it with such gusto. He does "God's Song" the same way, and that's fine by me. B+(*)
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 (2016, Nonesuch): Released five years after Vol. 2, itself eight years following Vol. 1, he's obviously in no hurry. He opens with two of his most famous/notorious songs, "Short People" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come," although he winds up picking a couple songs I don't recall (one with a surprisingly generous refrain: "it's just amazing how fair people can be"). Also one song I've been thinking about a lot as Trump and Pruitt lay waste to the environment: "Burn On," about the time the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Just piano and vocal, scaling "I Love L.A." back to human size, especially touching on "Guilty." B+(***)
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook (2003-16 , Nonesuch, 3CD): This box rolls up the three Songbook volumes, plus four extra songs at the end, including the caustic Bush-era "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" and the presumably satiric Obama-era "I'm Dreaming" ("of a white president") with lines like: "he won't be the brightest/but he'll be the whitest/and I'll vote for that." B+(**)
Flip Phillips: Swing Is the Thing (1999 , Verve): Tenor saxophonist, original name Joseph Edward Flipelli, born 1915 in Brooklyn, came up in big bands including the Benny Goodman and Woody Herman outfits and was a Jazz at the Philharmonic regular. Died in 2001, so this was his last album: with Benny Green (piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Christian McBride (bass), Kenny Washington (drums), and guest spots for Joe Lovano and James Carter -- they bump up the energy level, but the leader's light tone swings everything else. B+(**)
Flip Phillips: Celebrates His 80th Birthday at the March of Jazz 1995 (1995 , Arbors): Big party, as befits an eminent swing-to-bop saxophonist, surrounded here by near contemporaries and younger retro players -- eighteen names in the "combined personnel," including fellow saxophonists Scott Hamilton, Phil Woods, and Bob Wilber, plus Buddy DeFranco on clarinet, Randy Sandke on trumpet; three each pianists, guitarists, and bassists; two drummers. Gives the party a JATP flavor, especially closing with "Perdido." B+(***)
John Pizzarelli: Let There Be Love (2000, Telarc): Guitarist, working on becoming a standards crooner, with band going soft to keep from overwhelming his voice -- Ray Kennedy on piano, brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Tony Tedesco's credit is "brushes on book." Some guests (including father Bucky Pizzarelli) show up late but don't make much of an impression. B
John Prine: Prime Prine: The Best of John Prine (1971-75 , Atlantic): Twelve songs from four albums worth owning on their own, released as soon as Prine left (was cut?) for Asylum. Christgau panned this: "Not as rewarding cut for cut as John Prine or Sweet Revenge, not as interesting conceptually as Diamonds in the Rough or Common Sense. Good songs, useless album." I wouldn't have bothered but I owned the album way back when -- probably bought it after I got my first taste on personal favorite Common Sense but before I wised up and grabbed the others. Superseded by the first disc of Rhino's Great Days, but somehow this is the one that stayed in print. So if you don't know any better: A-
John Prine: Pink Cadillac (1979, Asylum): Sixth album, second for Asylum, recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Studio by sons Knox and Jerry Phillips, with only five Prine originals -- Billy Lee Riley joins to duet on his song, and others include Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War With You," "Baby Let's Play House," and "Ubangi Stomp." I'm not sure that any of the rockabilly moves work -- for one thing the sound leaves much to be desired -- but the Tillman cover shows that he can always fall back on country tradition, and "Down by the Side of the Road" is top-shelf. B
John Prine: Storm Windows (1980, Asylum): Midway in a series of five albums between the four Atlantics and his two brilliant 1991-95 albums (The Missing Years and Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings), a solid album I might have taken for more had I been paying attention at the time. Only two covers, and his originals are much more appealing -- a couple I know from elsewhere (probably Great Days), others that couldn't be by anyone else. A-
John Prine: John Prine Live (1988, Oh Boy): Double LP, later a single CD, with 19 songs, recorded at five spots but the only dates provided are song copyrights -- all but two 1971-79 (1981, 1986). Mostly solo, acoustic guitar and vocals, which fits my memory of the period -- I didn't pick up a lot of the patter but did recognize "the happy enchilada song" bit. Steve Goodman joins in for one song, and Bonnie Raitt takes the lead on "Angel From Montgomery." B+(*)
Schweizer Holz Trio [Hans Koch/Urs Leimgruber/Omri Ziegele]: Love Letters to the President (2008, Intakt): Swiss wood, as in woodwinds: bass clarinet/soprano sax, soprano/tenor sax, alto sax/voice. With no rhythm to move them along, the horns are erratic, prickly, and sometimes a bit warbly. B+(*)
Matthew Shipp: Duos With Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (1997-98 , Hatology): Alternates tracks from two of Shipp's Duo albums, Thesis with guitarist Morris (6/13 tracks), and Gravitational Systems with violinist Maneri (5/10). Neither were personal favorites, but the mix helps focus on the remarkable pianist. B+(*)
Chris Speed: Yeah No (1997, Songlines): The tenor saxophonist's first album, a title he later recycled as a group name. He also plays some clarinet, with Cuong Vu on trumpet, Skuli Sverrisson on bass, and Jim Black on drums. The two-horn freeplay starts in high gear, downshifts later. B+(**)
Chris Speed: Deviantics (1998, Songlines): Same group, with trumpeter Vu doing much of the slicing and dicing. B+(**)
Chris Speed: Emit (2000, Songlines): Same quartet, the leader playing some clarinet as well as tenor sax, drummer Jim Black also credited with melodica. Trumpet player Cuong Vu continues to claim the high ground. B+(***)
Chris Speed/Chris Cheek/Stéphane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil (2006 , ESP Disk): I've been known to confuse the two Chrises: they were born a year apart, both mostly play tenor sax, have less than a dozen headline albums (starting in 1997-98) but play on many more. Cheek plays tenor and soprano here, Speed clarinet, Leibovici bass. Very minimal, soft harmonies with a little fuzz, no beat. A second disc, Jugendstil II, was released in 2010 with Lee Konitz replacing Speed. B
Chris Speed/Zeno De Rossi: Ruins (2011-13 , Skirl): Duets. De Rossi is an Italian drummer -- not much under his name but he's recorded in a couple dozen groups, especially with Franco D'Andrea but the groups also include Full Metal Klezmer and Meshuge Klezmer Band. Speed plays some of his most powerful tenor sax in this stripped down framework. A-
Chris Speed: Really OK (2013 , Skirl): Tenor saxophone trio with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums), same as his later Platinum on Tap, pushing him to the forefront to show off his chops. Seven originals, plus pieces from Coltrane and Coleman and "All of Me." B+(***)
Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: The Silence Behind Each Cry: Suite for Urs Voerkel (2001 , Intakt): Alto saxophonist, born in Israel, studied in Boston and London, settled in Zürich. Group here is a nonet, named for a "workplace" (Google translates as "cheap farmer") in Zürich. Voerkel was a Swiss pianist (1949-99), honored but evidently uninvolved in this project, a four-part suite built around poems by Robert Creeley (sung operatically, presumably by Ziegele). B+(*)
Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: Edges & Friends (2004 , Intakt): Octet, just two horns (Ziegele on alto and Jürg Wickihalder on soprano sax), with piano, cello, two each bass and drums. Eight pieces, again structured around poetry -- Robert Creeley, Dylan Thomas, Ziegele himself. The band can impress -- especially pianist Gabriela Friedli -- but I could do without the poetry. B
Omri Ziegele's Where's Africa Trio: Can Walk on Sand (2009 , Intakt): Expands the Swiss alto saxophonist's duo with pianist Irène Schweizer from their 2005 Where's Africa, adding South African drummer Makaya Ntshoko, with Jürg Wickihalder adding his soprano sax to three cuts. Abdullah Ibrahim is a shared passion. B+(***)
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, August 28. 2017
Music: Current count 28590  rated (+27), 374  unrated (-4).
August weekly rating totals: 18, 30, 25, 27, for a total of 100, down a bit given that typical months top 120. Streamnotes draft file currently has 111 reviews, so maybe the rated counts have missed a few things. I'll post Streamnotes by the end of the month, Thursday at latest. Maybe I'll find something more by then, but I currently have 14 new A- records. That's actually a bit above average -- e.g., see my 2016 list, which shows 142 new A/A- records last year (average month just under 12). My 2017 list currently shows 88 A- (no A) records so far, so I'm averaging 11/month. The split is currently 49 jazz, 39 non-jazz. In recent years, as far back as I've noticed, jazz runs up a big edge early then non-jazz catches up when I start looking at EOY lists. Last year's split wound up 74 jazz, 67 non-jazz.
Guitarist John Abercrombie died last week. You can find my grade list here. As I recall, I had Timeless on LP back shortly after it appeared. I was rather underwhelmed at the time, but came to appreciate him over the last 10-15 years, often when he made appearances on other folks' records. Could be I still have The Third Quartet underrated. It garnered a crown in the last edition of the Penguin Guide. When I initially panned it, ECM's publicist wrote me to ask if I was feeling OK. As it happened, I wasn't -- it was shortly after a very traumatic event. I eventually went back to the album, gave it another chance, and found much more there. Died at age 72.
One piece of news last week was that the Village Voice announced they would cease publication of its print edition, which had been distributed for free since 1998. The paper was founded in 1955, and had become famous enough that I bought a subscription when I was living in Wichita in 1968 or 1969. (Somewhat before I also had a subscription to the New York Free Press; no Wikipedia and very little Google on that -- did it only exist in 1968?) I mostly read politics and theater reviews then, but several years later, after I started reviewing records for the Voice, I was able to find Robert Christgau's 1969 articles stashed away in my parents' attic. I doubt I read the Voice regularly while I was at college in St. Louis, but after I dropped out, I started reading a lot of rock crit. wrote a little, and wrote to Christgau in 1975. He wrote back and asked me to write a review of a new Bachman-Turner Overdrive album (see my archive). I moved to New York City a couple years later and got to know him pretty well, but never developed much of a relationship with the Voice except through him. I stopped writing for the Voice in 1979, moved to New Jersey to write software, and on to Massachusetts, back to NJ, and finally returned to Kansas in 1999. In 2004 Christgau asked me to write a Jazz Consumer Guide for the Voice, which continued past 2006 (when Christgau was fired) until Rob Harvilla left in 2011.
The Voice continues online, and since Peter Barbey bought the paper from New Times (the company responsible for the mass firings of 2005-06) they've started to bring back some of the writers who made the paper so distinctive. It's been over a decade since I've even seen a print copy, but still this seems like another end-of-era moment. To mark this, the following are a couple links to articles with reminiscences by several writers/editors:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 27. 2017
The big story, one I have nothing on below, is probably what Hurricane Harvey is doing to Texas as I write -- and as I look at the forecast map, will keep doing through Wednesday. I watched one woman on Fox News going on about how this disaster will finally give Trump the chance to appear presidential and gain back some of his lost support. I noted how the governor of Texas was thanking the federal government for their support. Evidently this won't be the week when Republicans go around quoting Ronald Reagan on how the scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." In point of fact, the party that wants to reduce government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub doesn't have a very good record in responding to natural disasters (or, really, any kind of disaster -- cf. 9/11 as well as Katrina).
This week's scattered links:
For background on the Confederate monuments issue, Paul Woodward points us to a 2001 book review by James M McPherson: Southern Comfort, which makes it crystal clear that the Confederate states seceded to buttress and defend (and ultimately to promote) their system of race-based slavery. That's shown well in the quote Woodward plucked out. That much has been clear to me for a long time, but I was struck by the timeliness (or timelessness) of the following:
Of course, having grown up in the '50s and '60s when Senate filibusters were almost exclusively used to frustrate majority-supported civil rights bills, it's always been clear to me that "states rights" was never more than an opportunistic ruse. More recently, it's become clear that Republicans will exalt the use of any jurisdiction they happen to hold power over -- the most obvious example is how they have taken to using their state legislative powers to overturn city and county statutes they dislike (Missouri vs. St. Louis is a leading case-in-point). Most recently, we see Trump and Sessions attempting to impose broad federal powers on "sanctuary cities" -- ostensibly to force them to help enforce federal anti-immigration law, which come to think of it isn't far removed from the 1850s Fugitive Slave Law.
Monday, August 21. 2017
Music: Current count 28563  rated (+25), 378  unrated (+0).
First, I want to single out a link from yesterday's Weekend Roundup that I added late, barely scanned, and didn't much comment on: Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won. I see now that I got it way out of my usual alphabetical-by-author order, but that's not worth correcting. It's a book review. The book is Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. It's primarily about an economist who Charles Koch knows well even if you or I didn't: James McGill Buchanan. I've bought a copy of the book, and intend to read it soon. (I figured I'd read the new paperback of Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and How the Military Became Everything first, in honor [horror?] of Trump's new Chief of Staff, John Kelly.) Anyhow, if I hadn't been so rushed, I would have singled out this quote:
This is all stuff I had figured out, so the only surprise is the extent to which it was designed, and I suppose the frankness with which it was articulated as a strategy to subvert democracy and impose despotism. My own discovery started with the observation that while rich people strongly favor Republicans and poor people strongly favor Democrats in every state all across the nation, richer states tend toward Democrats (the exceptions are Alaska and Utah) while relatively poor states go Republican. The latter happens because people in those states have learned better than o expect help from their elected government, because governments long controlled by reactionaries have long disabused them of their hopes and faith in democracy.
People in richer states have more faith in government, because public institutions there serve them better, not least because a more efficient, more supportive state helps build the economy. (The Republican capture of Wisconsin is offering a real time example of turning a rich state into a poor one.) Of course, Republicans didn't need Buchanan's theorizing to understand that the first step in turning a popular program into one seen as worthless was rendering it incompetent: Richard Nixon provided a classic example of this when he put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Still, no one ever came out and said that's what Nixon and Rumsfeld were up to and why. They simply set up a situation which later Republicans could exploit by arguing that the OEO was a waste of money, that government never could have alleviated poverty in the first place. What Buchanan, and McLean's book, give us is the smoking gun: they show how disaster was planned, and why a few extraordinarily greedy people made it happen.
They also remind us that this is a program to subvert democracy and install despotism in its place. Once you grasp this struggle in those terms, you can see clearly how critical stealth and deception have been to their program, and start to see through them.
I've read a couple of pieces on Afghanistan in anticipation of Trump's big speech tonight. General themes: many antiwar quotes from his campaign, bits on how the hawks are delighted to have gotten rid of Bannon, and pretty much universal agreement that he's going to double down on the war and make things worse rather than better. The only twist I've heard of is a plan to coerce whoever's in charge of Pakistan this week to do its dirty work else face the wrath of America supporting India to bring Pakistan to heel -- as if nuclear brinksmanship in Korea wasn't bad enough.
Nothing really to quote yet. Meanwhile, here's Matt Taibbi misunderestimating Trump again: Why Trump Can't Quit the Alt-Right. Taibbi talks about how Trump's "secret technique" worked so well during the campaign: "He continually keeps his enemies off-balance by alternately playing the menace and the raving buffoon" -- then notes that the buffoon bit doesn't work so well for an actual president. I expect that Trump will stick to the teleprompter tonight, and therefore look semi-coherent, which in some quarters will pass as "presidential" given that he's doing what so many other presidents before him have done: blundering into a wider, deeper, and even dumber war.
Not much to say about music this week. Rated count is down a bit as I missed a day-plus cooking. Following my citation of Tim Niland's blog last week I checked out several Clean Feed and Hatology releases. Roots Magic makes two A- records I didn't get from Clean Feed (along with Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry, last week). I spent a lot of time on the Beth Ditto record that Robert Christgau likes -- I previously gave Waxahatchee's Out in the Storm an A-, Ivy Tripp B+(**), Paramore B+(***), and Valerie June B+(**), so we're fairly close this week. By the way, it wasn't really Ditto's solo debut: she released a quality EP in 2011, which I thought an A- at the time (and you all know how I tend to downgrade EPs).
The old music mostly came from trying to look for 2000 releases I had missed, although I poked around a bit more, not really finding anything very important. The 2000-03 period predates my Jazz Consumer Guide column, and therefore is the least well covered period as I try to collect my Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century: A Consumer Guide.
Jason Stein's album cover appeared, without mention, in last week's Music Week: I graded the record A- after I close my listings, but before I finished writing the post. Same thing this week with the new Chris Speed Trio album, Platinum on Tap.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 20. 2017
Tina Fey got flack for this skit on Thursday's Saturday Night Live news special, where she advised people to skip Nazi/White Supremacist counter-protests and express their frustration by eating cake instead. I followed her advice and made a pan of extra-rich brownies, but I had an occasion to honor: Frank Smith was passing through Kansas, returning home after an AFSCME conference in DC, where he also found time for a demonstration outside the White House. I fixed a little vegetarian (not vegan) dinner in his honor: a leek-goat cheese quiche, three Ottolenghi salads -- spinach with dates, onions, toasted pitas and almonds; roast eggplant with tahini sauce; sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pecans -- and the brownies. I was so exhausted afterwards I went to bed early and slept eleven hours. It wasn't so much the work as general world-weariness. I remember a sense of unease back in 2001 when a friend chirped "we survived one George Bush; we can survive another." Well, lots of folks didn't survive that second one, and hardly anyone came out better from the ordeal. And as you get older, you start to wonder whether you're ever going to see a better world. Still, cake tastes good. Brownies with 6 oz. premium unsweetened chocolate even better.
[PS: Also see Tom Carson: The Brilliance of Tina Fey's Cake Satire, Explained.]
Meanwhile, I offer these links and comments because I don't really feel up to working on anything more creative or constructive.
The usual scattered links:
I wrote a bit recently about how my parents voted for George Wallace in 1968 (not a post, probably in the notebook): they had soured on the Vietnam War (after the next-door neighbor kid was killed there, and my brother and I turned hard against the war), intensely distrusted Dick Nixon, and had no particular fondness for Hubert Humphrey. They weren't particularly racist -- my father still resented the South from the Civil War (his grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln Hull, his father Robert Lincoln), and my mother hailed from an all-white Republican stronghold in Arkansas (her grandfather fought for the union before moving from Ohio to the Ozarks) but they weren't very sensitive about race either, and Wallace's "little guy" message appealed to them. I grew up with Republican leanings, but the war pushed me away from conventional politics. In 1968 I was very enthusiastic about Gene McCarthy's primary challenge to LBJ, and continued to support him through the convention. So I was trying to remember who I preferred in the 1968 election -- certainly not Nixon or Wallace, and while I probably wound up hoping Humphrey would win, I never thought of myself as supporting him. The most likely answer to my question died last week: Dick Gregory. I had long enjoyed his stand-up comedy, and when he ventured into politics in 1967-68, I bought and read his book Write Me In. I was too young to vote in 1968, but certainly would have written him in. He would have made a better "first black president" than the one we wound up having. I never noticed him much after 1968, but according to his Wikipedia page he remain active politically. And I'm sure he could still be funny (when he wasn't dead serious, and sometimes when he was). Here's an obituary.
I also see that Jerry Lewis has died. I was a huge fan, starting about as far back as I can remember. By that time Lewis had already split from Dean Martin (who I later loved for other reasons). I can't say as I ever noticed him much after his 1968-69 talk show (aside from The King of Comedy in 1982), but he was the funniest person in the world for the first decade I was conscious of.
Monday, August 14. 2017
Music: Current count 28538  rated (+30), 378  unrated (+3).
Average week, although more old music than usual as I followed a recent Burnt Sugar album into their back catalog (still missing 2011's All Ya Needs That Negrocity), then also picked up old records from avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris -- I found some new Ken Vandermark albums on his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp, although better still was a 2008 album Morris album with Vandermark. Unfortunately, a lot of the new Catalytic Sound albums don't come with any music, but I found several on Napster.
Another of the new Vandermark albums is under Eric Revis' name -- like his last several, a good one. It's the first album on Portugal's Clean Feed label I've reviewed since they stopped sending me CDs -- I hope they don't take the grade as positive reinforcement. I probably have download codes for more, but haven't chased them down yet. I did pick up new albums on ECM by Vijay Iyer, Tim Berne, and Gary Peacock. I spent quite a bit of time with the Iyer, and basically timed out in trying to determine whether it's an A-, so I guess it isn't. Still, the Fieldwork-times-two band dazzles here and there, and the mix is more interesting than his last couple ECM albums. Will get to the others sooner or later.
The Hamell Live album seems to be some sort of download-only bonus to the new studio album, but I figured I'd treat it as a separate release as that's how it appears on Napster. Figured it would slack off a bit, but I like it as much (if not more).
I'm a little confused about how the numbers add up, since I graded 5 CDs while only unwrapping 3 new ones, yet wound up with +3 unrated instead of -2. I've double-checked and haven't found the discrepancy.
No progress on the Jazz Guides this past week. I have started on collecting Robert Christgau's Expert Witness pieces at Noisey for a website update, probably by the end of the month. I've probably lost some of the corrections readers sent in. If you sent one in and haven't heard back from me, assume that I did and resubmit it.
I should also note that I've added @BirdIsTheWorm to my twitter feed. He probably tweets too much (13.1K tweets vs. 1815 for me, but he has 3588 followers to my 271), but I figured maybe he'd point me toward some things that I was missing, as in his latest The Round-up: What went unseen. Actually, I've seen 2 (of 5) of those new records -- both B+(*) -- but hadn't heard of the others (just added to my Music Tracking file). I also recommend following @TimothyNiland. At this moment, the front page of his Music and More blog has seven substantial album reviews on it: three of records I've heard [A-, B+(***), B+(*)], the others I will want to check out soon. (Playing Shipp as I write.)
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 13. 2017
Laura came downstairs yesterday playing Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist -- a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.
Brief scattered links this week:
I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4). We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50, which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list -- only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.
I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:
My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent history-qua-travelogue).
Thursday, August 10. 2017
This is only the second Book Roundup I've done this year -- the last one was back on April 26, with the second most recent, on August 21, 2016, dating from almost a year ago. Limiting myself to 40 blurbs per post, I should be able to do one of these every other month (six times a year), but it's hard to get into the right research mode. Still, when I do, I tend to overshoot, coming up with two or more posts in rapid succession (five is my current record). Right now I only have 18 leftover blurbs in the scratch file, but I expect it won't be hard to round them up to a second post.
I suppose one thing that helps thin them out is that I recently started adding a section listing books without blurbs -- gives me a way I can note the existence of something without having to take the time to write much. I don't count those books under my 40 limit. On occasion I've also noted paperback reprints of previously noted books, and there are some of those below. The Thomas Frank and Jane Mayer books were written before the 2016 election, but they turned out to be the year's most prophetic books (note that both paperbacks have post-election I-told-you-so afterwords).
Most recently I've been reading Hacker and Pierson, a book that's been sitting on my shelves a fair while. Its paean to "the mixed economy" could be sharper, but its review of the political forces that stripped us of past keys to prosperity is reasonably thorough. I would add that the more you forget about how things work, and the more you adopt ideas that are just plain wrong, the deeper you enter into what the late Jane Jacobs recognized as "the coming dark age."
Going through this list, some books that I either already have or am particularly likely to pick up are Andrew Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East, Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman: Kingdom of Olives and Ash, Michael J Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics, Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning, Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains, Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand. I'll also note that my wife is currently listening to China Miéville: October. One thing I've learned from this book so far is that the Bolsheviks came out on top because they were the only party willing to walk away from the disastrous World War.
Tariq Ali: The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism War Empire Love Revolution (2017, Verso Books): One expects that the centenary of the Russian Revolution will produce the usual spate of new books, so this is nominally one of them. But for a good while now we've known that in his last couple years Lenin was unhappy about the drift of his revolution, so it's never been quite fair to blame him for the whole dead weight of the Stalinist system. Not sure whether Ali can freshen him up in any useful way, but it's worth noting that the hopes that many people held for the workers' paradise weren't wrong, even if they were somewhat misplaced. Forthcoming [Sept. 19]: Slavoj Zizek: Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through (2017, Verso Books).
Jon Bakija/Lane Kenworthy/Peter Lindert/Jeff Madrick: How Big Should Our Government Be? (paperback, 2016, University of California Press): Looks like each author gets separate chapters around the question. The only one I'm familiar with is Madrick, who wrote The Case for Big Government (2008), so you know where he's going. Right-wingers have argued for shrinking federal government back to an arbitrarily small percent of GDP, a level not seen since Calvin Coolidge, although few of them are on record in favor of shrinking the federal government's most cancerous tumor, the Department of Defense, proportionately. Even so, they've shown no allowance for the ways the world has changed since the 1920s, such as the much greater complexity of the marketplace, the need for a much more skilled and knowledgeable workforce, the need for modern transportation and communication networks, the impacts of larger population and production on the environment, and many other things -- even if (like me) you think the growth of the "defense" and "security" sectors (i.e., war and repression) is largely bogus. I would go further and argue that public takeover of dysfunctional markets like health care would be a good idea, as well as some way to subsidize creative development of products that can be freely mass-produced (like software and many forms of art). I don't see how you can map any of these needs to a fixed size, so size itself isn't a very good measure.
John Berger: Portraits: John Berger on Artists (2015, Verso Books): Art critic and novelist, died earlier this year at 90, his early books Art and Revolution (1969), The Moment of Cubism (1969), Ways of Seeing (1972), and About Looking (1980) had a huge effect of me personally. This is a collection of 74 pieces on more/less famous artists, starting with the Chauvet Cave Painters but quickly jumping to Bosch (6) and Michelangelo (11), and ending with ten names born post-1950 (most, sad to say, unknown to me). The sort of book you're bound to learn a lot from. Tom Overton edited this, and also: Landscapes: John Berger on Art (2016, Verso Books). Also recent: John Berger: Confabulations (paperback, 2016, Penguin Books); Lapwing & Fox: Conversations Between John Berger and John Christine (2016, Objectif).
Heather Boushey/J Bradford DeLong/Marshall Steinbaum, eds: After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality (2017, Harvard University Press): Large (688 pp) collection of essays on Thomas Piketty's pathbreaking book Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the myriad problems associated with increasing inequality.
Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman, eds: Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (paperback, 2017, Harper Perennial): Connecting with Breaking the Silence, a number of well known writers (mostly novelists) took a tour of Israel and its Occupied Territories, and chronicled what they found as they bear "witness to the human cost of the occupation."
Frans de Waal: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016, WW Norton): Interesting question, most likely one the biologist/primatologist has much fun poking holes in. More or less related: Jennifer Ackerman: The Genius of Birds (2016, Penguin); Jonathan Balcombe: What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux); Charles Foster: Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide (2016, Metropolitan Books); Sy Montgomery: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness (paperback, 2016, Avila); Virginia Morell: Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2014, Broadway Books); Carl Salina: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2015, Picador).
Bill Emmott: The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World's Most Successful Political Idea (2017, Economist Books): British, editor of The Economist, same basic shtick as Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Blames Moscow, Beijing, but also Washington, and locates "the west" as much in Tokyo and Seoul as in Europe, the idea being the promise of neoliberalism (if not necessarily the reality): "It relies on the operation and staunch defense of several principles, first among them relative equality of income and opportunity as well as openness . . . An open society is thus one of porous borders rather than of walls, friendly to free trade agreements as opposed to protectionist tariffs, outward-looking rather than nationalist." Perhaps the idea wouldn't be fairing so poorly if the practice did a better job of delivering the promised broad-based wealth. The recent Brexit vote provides a detailed map of who wins and loses from open borders.
Niall Ferguson: Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist (2015, Penguin Press): Hagiography, based on access to private papers, the first installment of a "magisterial two-volume biography," written by a pseudo-scholar with politics and morals flexible enough for the task. Anyone else would subtitle the second volume War Criminal, even if the time frame had to extend beyond 1976. But my guess is that Ferguson is thinking of The Realist, a suitable philosophical refuge for idealists once their hands get bloody. Myself, I'm more inclined to call this period The Bullshit Artist, then look for something even more scatological to follow.
Peter Fleming: The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself (paperback, 2015, Pluto Press): Argues that "neoliberal society uses the ritual of work (and the threat of its denial) to maintain the late capitalist class order," despite all sorts of technological and cultural changes that could reduce the class-definitional role of work toward the sidelines. In the US you might want to substitute "jobs" for "work," and I-don't-know for "neoliberal society" -- the corporate-political system? Also wrote Resisting Work: The Corporatization of Life and Its Discontents (paperback, 2015, Temple University Press).
James Forman Jr: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux): How many black politicians got wrapped up in the post-1970 "war on crime" and its attendant mass incarceration. Forman worked six years as a public defender, a stark contrast to other jobs on his resume, like Supreme Court clerk and Yale Law School professor.
Thomas L Friedman: Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Anyone who can get away with as many clichés and as much cant as Friedman must truly feel blessed. However, the very facts and trends that makes him so optimistic signify little more than mental rot to me. For more, see Matt Taibbi's review.
Kelly Fritsch/Clare O'Connor/AK Thompson, eds: Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle (paperback, 2015, AK Press): Recalling Raymond Williams' Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), the activist-editors and forty-some contributors attempt to map contemporary movements by their jargon, terminology, language. Probably a worthy undertaking, interesting to me because I opened a file recently under the same rubric, but not to explore language so much as to offer a framework for hanging short topical essays on. Williams' book goes deeper into history and etymology -- he was, after all, primarily a literary critic. Best case this one does too. Worst case it tries to codify some form of "political correctness" -- to pick a term that postdates Williams' work.
Bruce Cannon Gibney: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (2017, Hachette): Author is a venture capitalist, a guy who made a fortune mostly betting on high-tech start ups, so it's rather ripe for him to blame a whole generation for the short-sighted squandering of the unprecedented wealth many Americans enjoyed after the Great Depression and WWII. He berates "a generation whose reckless self-indulgence degraded the foundations of American prosperity . . . [who] ruthlessly enriched themselves as the expense of future generations . . . turned American dynamism into stagnation, inequality, and bipartisan fiasco." That all happened, and I think it is fair to say that the Boomer generation, which grew up with postwar prosperity and its focus on individual freedom was further removed from the previous generation than is generally the case, but those effects the author describes as sociopathic were just one political strain in a broad spectrum, that of the resurgent right-wing and its promotion of often predatory greed. Perhaps the author has some other political agenda, but offhand this looks like he's representative of the rarefied class that captured the nation's wealth then blamed the less fortunate for their "entitlements." Just who are the real sociopaths here?
Joshua Green: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (2017, Penguin): Campaign reporting, focusing on Bannon -- presumably the Devil in the title, although it's since become clear that he picked a very leaky and unstable vessel for his machinations. I have no idea what Bannon's been able to accomplish since moving into the White House. During the campaign he provided Trump with a gloss of fascist aesthetics and a whiff of ideological coherence distinct from the usual run of conservative nostrums -- that probably contributed to Trump's win, but was far less significant than Hillary's failures, the lock-step support of the Koch/Republican machines, and the amazing gullibility of so much media and so many people. On the other hand, one might cast Trump as the Devil, and explore why Bannon would invest all his hare-brained ideological fantasies in such a shoddy salesman. I suppose because doing so made him famous, and in America fame is merchantable (and money is everything).
Chris Hedges: Unspeakable: Talks With David Talbot About the Most Forbidden Topics in America (2016, Hot Books): Conversations, evidently the publisher has a series of these. Hedges was a divinity student who left the church and became a prize-winning war journalist, then the more he saw the more he moved to the left. Among his books: American Fascists, written back in 2007.
Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet): Presented as a "companion" to his 2015 book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. Starts with an "A-to-Z" of key economic terms, nothing that "economic vocabulary is defined by today's victors -- the rentier financial class," and working to unmask their spin. Follows up with several scattered essays, like "The 22 Most Pervasive Economic Myths of Our Time," "Economics as Fraud," and "Methodology Is Ideology, and Dictates Policy." He was one of the first to recognize the real estate bubble of the 2000's and predict its bust -- a now obvious point that all but a few conventional economists missed.
Frederic Jameson: An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army (paperback, 2016, Verso): Marxist literary critic and political theorist -- I must have a copy of his 1971 Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories in Literature somewhere upstairs -- takes a shot at sketching out his utopia in the lead essay here, followed by nine responses edited by Slavoj Zizek (only other author I recognize is novelist Kim Stanley Robinson). I haven't read any of his later books, most recently (all Verso): Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality (2016); The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms (2015); The Antinomies of Realism (2013, Verso); Representing 'Capital': A Reading of Volume One (2011); The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of Spirit (2010); Valences of the Dialectic (2009).
Matthew Karp: This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (2016, Harvard University Press): When I think of southerners running US foreign policy, I think of James Byrne's decisive role in launching the Cold War, and later Lyndon Johnson plotting a coup in Brazil as well as "Americanizing" the civil war in Vietnam. But this goes back to the first half of the nineteenth century, before the South tried to secede from the union, a period when prominent southerners agitated to expand American power south and west, and thereby to buttress and advance their system of slavery. I suppose you can start with the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, as well as the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, but there were other schemes that didn't come to fruition, notably the desire to annex Cuba as a "slave state."
Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016; paperback, 2017, Nation Books): I've long thought that the "definitive" history was Winthrop Jordan's monumental White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, which won the National Book Award for 1968, but that book was focused more on the early development of Anglo-American racism. Those ideas have since been recapitulated (sometimes with mutations) in many ways up to the present day -- the key to Kendi's own National Book Award winning tome. Many reviewers describe this book as "painful" -- often citing the skewering of otherwise admirable abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison for adopting racial stereotypes (the book consists of five parts built around individuals: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis). I don't know whether the author adopts a fatalist position on the racist ideas, but I believe that their persistence has everything to do with increasing inequality, much as the origins of those ideas had everything to do with exploiting negro labor. As Kendi argues: "Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America."
Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): Describes Trump as "a logical extension of the worst and most dangerous trends of the past half-century" -- trends Klein has made a career of writing about; e.g., No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).
James Kwak: Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality (2017, Pantheon): A primer on how "Economics 101" is wrapped up in political biases which promote inequality, passing it off as the genius of markets. Another book along the same lines: Joe Earle/Cahal Moran/Zach Ward-Perkins: The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts (paperback, 2016, Machester University Press); also Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet).
Guy Laron: The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (2017, Yale University Press): Fifty years later, has the advantage of recently declassified documents. "The Six-Day War effectively sowed the seeds for the downfall of Arab nationalism, the growth of Islamic extremism, and the animosity between Jews and Palestinians." The latter started much earlier, but the war led to a massive increase in the number of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, and started the great land grab known as the Settler Movement -- so, yes, it did much to poison relations. I don't know if Laron discloses anything new about the run up to the war -- 90% of the book is on the events before the war itself -- but it seems pretty clear to me that Ben-Gurion regarded the 1950 armistices as temporary stays while Israel gathered strength to launch new offensives to grab the various territories they've long coveted. Their military success changed the nation's psychology, as they stopped paying heed to world law and opinion, and set out on their own arrogant path, trusting only in their own brute force and cunning.
Chris Lehmann: The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (2016, Melville House): A book on how often throughout America's history Christianity has upheld and celebrated economic iniquity -- "the pursuit of profit, as well as the inescapability of economic inequality."
Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): British political writer, has covered both Washington and New Delhi for Financial Times. No relation to Henry Luce, but you get the feeling he'd like to occupy a similar perch, but where Henry proclaimed "the American century," Edward bemoans its eclipse, lamenting both the decline of western power in the world and the erosion of Democratic norms in the west. At first blush, this all has a whiff of "white man's burden" to it. Not sure if that's fair, but one should note that the assault on liberal democracy in America and elsewhere comes almost exclusively from entrenched elites whose "populist" pitch is purely cynical.
Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (2017, Viking): This traces the Koch political machine back to the ideas of an Nobel prize-winning economist, James McGill Buchanan (1919-2013), a president of the Mont Pelerin Society, distinguished senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and professor at George Mason U. -- although the reality has more to do with the Kochs' money than with Buchanan's ideas (which included the book Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism). Should be an interesting book (in my queue, anyway).
Viet Tranh Nguyen: Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016, Harvard University Press): Vietnamese novelist, moved to US at age 4, won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, writes about how most or all sides remember the war and aftermath he grew up in.
Thomas M Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017, Oxford University Press): My own impression is that we don't lack for expertise, but as inequality increases so does the temptation for experts to hire themselves out to private interests, which in turn makes people more suspicious of experts. The author seems more inclined to blame the internet for 'foster[ing] a cult of ignorance" -- but that strikes me as a secondary effect.
PJ O'Rourke: How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016 (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): Famed right-wing humorist, not that he was ever very funny -- if you ever bother to scan through conservative editorial cartoons you'll get a sense of how low the bar is -- but do you really want to bother with lines like this: "America is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking stool?"
Ilan Pappé: Ten Myths About Israel (paperback, 2017, Verso Books): Only ten? Some are big ones, long since debunked, like that Palestine was "a land without people" (therefore perfect for "a people without land"), that Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947-49 did so voluntarily, and that Israel had no choice but to start the 1967 war. I don't have the full list, but they evidently extend to Israel's rationalizations for its periodic assaults on Gaza and the question of why people who have repeatedly sabotaged the "two state solution" still insist it's the only one possible. Pappé has written many important books on Israel and the Palestinians, especially The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007), and more recently The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014).
Keith Payne: The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die (2017, Viking): Textbooks on inequality invariably start with lists or charts of numbers -- after all, the most straightforward thing you can do with money is count it. However, the problem with inequality has never just been who gets (deservedly or not) what. Every bit as important is how it makes us think and behave toward each other. Several books have explored these ways -- e.g., how inequality worsens health care outcomes, even beyond the correlation between inequal societies and crappy health care systems -- although this promises to delve deeper into experimental psychology.
Charles Peters: We Do Our Part: Toward a Fairer and More Equal America (2017, Random House): Founder and long-time editor of The Washington Monthly, a journal I've long admired both for its heart-felt liberal bearings and its shrewd analysis of what government can and cannot do. And while he would like to point us toward "fairer and more equal," the trajectory he's recognized since 1970 has been pointed the other way. (Although I've lately discovered that he coined the term "neo-liberal" and seems to have a dark side -- especially an antipathy to unions, which for many years were the most effective and practical advocates for "a fairer and more equal America.")
Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017, Chelsea Green): The doughnut image depicts "a sweet spot of human prosperity" -- where economics should aim for widespread human satisfaction, as opposed to the 20th-century (and earlier) obsession with scarcity and growth. The seven ways are better captured by their subtitles: from GDP to the Doughnut; from self-contained market to embedded economy; from rational economic man to social adaptable humans; from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity; from 'growth will even it up again' to distributive by design; from 'growth will clean it up again' to regenerative by design; from growth addicted to growth agnostic. The last few years have seen a rash of books complaining about how economic theory is shot through with false and damaging assumptions, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to build a new understanding around more contemporary goals.
TR Reid: A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System (2017, Penguin Press): Author of a very good international survey of health care systems, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009), tries to work the same magic by comparing tax codes around the world. While he's probably correct that the US tax code (plus the huge state-by-state variations and wrinkles for other taxing authorities) is "a fine mess," and that other nations have come up with "tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and easy on the taxpayer," the whole issue seems much less important. It is, however, something that Republicans obsess on, as with most things usually with an eye toward making it much worse.
Walter Scheidel: The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality From the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017, Princeton University Press): A rather depressing argument: he argues that inequality has been the default state of civilization ever since agriculture started producing surpluses that predatory elites could seize. The exceptional periods of leveling only seem to occur due to wars and other disasters. One might still hope that reason might come to our rescue, but empiricists are unconvinced.
Gershon Shafir: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World's Most Intractable Conflict (2017, University of California Press): Fiftieth anniversary of 1967, when Israel dismantled its internal military occupation and seized new territory from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, allowing them to bring back military occupation on an even larger scale. Author has written a number of books on the conflict, going back as far as Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflit 1882-1914.
Thomas M Shapiro: Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future (2017, Basic Books): We certainly need more books that come up with vivid examples of how inequality poisons social and political and economic relationships, which is what this title promises. Focuses on race, which follows up from the author's previous The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. One thing that should be obvious is that you can't achieve racial equality in an era of increasing wealth/income inequality.
Steven Slowan/Philip Fernbach: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (2017, Riverhead): "Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works." (For the record, I can answer both of those, although never having read about pens -- unless Henry Petroski's book on pencils ventured there -- I'd have to offer a guess there, based on other principles I understand.) But the basic idea is sound. I'm not sure what the authors draw from this, but I'd say that one important thing is that as we become ever more dependent on advanced technology, it becomes ever more important that we develop social relations that increase trust. This in turn implies several changes: we need to cultivate more widespread expertise; we need to make that information more open; and we need to shift incentives for experts toward openness and generosity and away from selfishness and exploitation. I should also add that this has generally been the direction over the last couple centuries, hand in hand with technological advancement. But all this is increasingly at risk because various business and political interests find it more profitable to appropriate and monetize "knowledge" -- for a sketch of the possible outcomes here, see Peter Frase's Four Futures.
Wolfgang Streeck: How Will Capitalism End? (2016, Verso): Depicts a world of "declining growth, oligarchic rule, a shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption, and international anarchy," adding up to instability, probably collapse, certainly a need for profound change. Contradictions of capitalism has been a staple of Marxist thought for 150 years now, so even if the author doesn't come up with an answer to his question, he has plenty of theory to build on. Streeck also wrote Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2nd edition, paperback, 2017, Verso).
Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (2017, Metropolitan Books): Hard to think about the conflict without considering how to end it, especially if you're an American, since we've long assumed that our mission on Earth is to oversee some sort of agreement. Thrall has been following the conflict closely for some time now, and writes up what he's figured out: that the only way it ends is if some greater power wills it. The title has a certain irony in that the Israelis, following the British before them, have often said that violence is the only language the Palestinians understand. But as students of the conflict should know by now, the only times Israel has compromised or backed down have been when they been confronted with substantial force: as when Eisenhower prodded them to leave Sinai in 1956, when Carter brokered their 1979 peace with Egypt, when Rabin ended the Intifada by recognizing the PLO, or when Barak withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000. Since then no progress towards resolution has been made because no one with the power to influence Israel has had the will to do so -- although Israel's frantic reactions against BDS campaigns shows their fear of such pressure. On the other hand, one should note that force itself has its limits: Palestinians have compromised on many things, but some Israeli demands -- ones that violate norms for equal human rights -- are always bound to generate resistance. What makes the conflict so intractable now is that Israel has so much relative power that they're making impossible demands. So while Thrall would like to be even-handed and apply external force to both sides, it's Israel that needs to move its stance to something mutually tolerable. The other big questions are who would or could apply this force, and why. Up to 2000, the US occasionally acted, realizing that its regional and world interests transcended its affection for Israel, but those days have passed, replaced by token, toothless gestures, if any at all. It's hard to see that changing -- not just because Israel has so much practice manipulating US politics but because America has largely adopted Israeli norms of inequality and faith in brute power.
Bassem Youssef: Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring (2017, Dey Street Books): Egyptian, dubbed "the Jon Stewart of the Arabic World," had a popular television show during the brief period when that was possible -- the brief, unpopular period of democracy sandwiched between the even less popular (but who's counting?) Mubarak and Sisi dictatorships.
Other recent books also noted:
Gilad Atzmon: Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto (paperback, 2017, Interlink)
Nir Baram: A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank (paperback, 2017, Text)
Mark Bowden: Hue 1968: A Turning Point in the American War in Vietnam (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press)
Noam Chomsky: Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): interviews by CJ Polychroniou.
Joan Didion: South and West: From a Notebook (2017, Knopf)
Richard Falk: Palestine's Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (paperback, 2017, Pluto Press)
Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (2017, Twelve)
Henry A Giroux: America at War With Itself (paperback, 2016, City Lights Press)
Al Gore: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (paperback, 2017, Rodale Books)
Jeremy R Hammond: Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (paperback, 2016, Worldview)
Yaakov Katz/Amir Bohbot: The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (2017, St Martin's Press)
China Miéville: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (2017, Verso)
Vijay Prashad: The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (paperback, 2016, University of California Press)
David Roediger: Class, Race, and Marxism (2017, Verso Books)
Alice Rothchild: Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2017, Just World Books)
Raja Shehadeh: Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine (2017, New Press)
Peter Temin: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy (2017, MIT Press)
Also, some previously mentioned books new in paperback:
Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016; paperback, 2017, Random House): A self-styled conservative, but a useful critic of militarism in post-Vietnam America (see 2005's The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War). As the Cold War wound down, the military pivoted to focus on the Middle East, most dramatically with the 1990-91 Gulf War, which turned into a 12-year containment project aimed at Iraq, and boosted by 9/11 backlash into a massive war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more clandestine operations from Libya to Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan.
David Daley: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy (2016; paperback, 2017, Liveright): More nuts-and-bolts on how the right-wing -- the financiers of the Koch Bros. dark money networks -- has plotted its takeover of American democracy, especially by targeting and capturing state legislatures.
Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016; paperback, 2017, Picador): Shows how the Democratic Party, especially since the arrival of Bill Clinton in 1992, has triangulated its way into the good graces of bicoastal urban elites more often than not at the expense of the party's old base -- people they could continue to take advantage of because the Republicans have left them nowhere else to go. This was damning and embarrassing when it came out last summer, and after white working class voters flocked to elect Trump over Hillary people started pointing to this book as prescient. Paperback includes an afterword where the author gets to "I told you so." Real question is whether the Democratic Party moving forward can learn from its mistakes. A good place to start is here.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster): Argues that ever since Madison and Hamilton crafted a strong federalist constitution, America has benefited from a strong activist government, one that regulated commerce to limit market failures, that made major investments in infrastructure, and eventually built a modern safety net -- lessons that too many Americans have forgotten as narrow-minded business interests have sought to capture government for their own greedy ends.
Jane Mayer: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionairse Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016; paperback, 2017, Anchor): To assess the disaster of the 2016 elections, it is not only important to look at the shortcomings of the Democrats -- start with Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal before you move on to Jonathan Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- but also at what made the Republicans so effective, mostly a huge clandestine political machine only marginally connected to the RNC and/or the Trump Campaign, largely funded by the Koch Bros. and their fellow travelers. This is the best book on the latter, and the paperback as an "I told you so" afterword. Still, Mayer's excavation of these misanthropes has only barely begun.
Monday, August 7. 2017
Music: Current count 28508  rated (+18), 375  unrated (+10).
Basically took a break for the latter half of the week (Wednesday to Saturday). Main reason: Korean dinner. For this stretch, I mostly played CDs from one of my travel cases: Lilly Allen, Beautiful South, Bobby Bland, Manu Chao, Dance Floor Divas, Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins, English Beat, Franco, Girl Group Greats, Mighty Sparrow, Roger Miller, Van Morrison, Nigeria 70, Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Wilson Pickett, Shirelles, Phil Spector, Velvet Underground, Mary Wells, Hank Williams. That, plus the work, kept me in a pretty good mood.
Before that, I was probably off to a typical week. The Tyshawn Sorey album took a bit of time, and I think I probably played the Elan Pauer (the only other CD in the list below) 3-4 times. Evidently Pauer is an alias for Oliver Schwerdt -- he also sent me a 2-CD under that name, one of a fair number of things in a suddenly resurgent queue (seems to be split evenly between September-October releases and things already out). For a long stretch the queue had been so depleted I stopped paying much attention to it, but I got more records in the mail last week than in any week for many months.
I spent Sunday playing Randy Newman. Robert Christgau proclaimed his new Dark Matter an "album of the year contender" on Friday. I still don't hear anything like that, but gave it five plays before parking it in the bottom half of my 2017 A-List -- didn't want to underrate it as badly as I had Harps and Angels, but I still doubt I'll wind up liking it as much. I had heard "Putin" on a late night show, and it seemed pretty awful at the time. It's funnier here with orchestra and "the Putin girls" chorus. But the opener (whence the title, but not its title) is an awkward, incoherent mess, and "Brothers" is just a bummer until it breaks into a celebration of Celia Cruz. Good song about the original Sonny Boy Williamson, and "She Chose Me" works for him.
I also went back through the Songbooks -- I had given Vol. 2 a B+(**), but missed Vol. 1 and Vol. 3, and wound up replaying the whole 3-CD "box" to pick up the songs Bob mentioned that were left off Vol. 3: "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" as timely as it was in 2008 (the death of one of those Supreme Court Italians proving inconsequential), but I'm not hip enough to his irony to stomach his 2012 "I'm Dreaming [of a white president]" ("he won't be the brightest/ but he'll be the whitest/ and I'll vote for that"). The box does offer a really terrific "A Wedding in Cherokee County."
I bumped up the grade of Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life from where I had it last Monday. Among other things, it offers a sharper political commentary than Newman does. We need more people demanding "the fucking truth." And while she's right that "critics can be mean sometimes" I'm not feeling that now.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 6. 2017
I took a break from the politics and music this past week to cook a dinner served Saturday. I started my "birthday dinner" tradition back in the mid-1990s, where I would take a national cuisine and try to make as many varied dishes as I could muster. I suppose the original idea was just to show off: the first two dinners were Chinese, which I largely figured out in the early 1980s while living in New Jersey. Then I moved on to Indian -- another old interest although I didn't get to be really good at it until the birthday dinners started up -- and then Turkish. Later on I started using the dinners as research projects as I attempted to figure out other cuisines: Spanish, Thai, Moroccan, Lebanese, Japanese, Iranian, Italian, Greek, Brazilian, Cuban, Russian.
I've long felt like Korean would be worth trying. I've dabbled a bit, mostly from working from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook. My first Korean food came from a restaurant in Cambridge (MA): small nuggets of intensely flavored beef. A decade later, I had a friend in Boston who several times fixed huge feasts of homemade Korean food. One of the first times I tried cooking at a relative's home, we bought beef short ribs and I marinated and grilled them. But I never got out of the rut of habitually ordering bulgogi when I got the chance. A couple years back I bought a copy of Young Jin Song's The Food and Cooking of Korea, but until recently it languished on the shelf.
A few months ago I decided to give it a go. I planned out a menu, and knowing I'd need some lead time I went ahead and made a batch of classic kimchi. I did some shopping to figure out what could be found, but we couldn't schedule the dinner I had hoped for, and I wound up making a "practice run" with what I had bought -- a pretty substantial dinner in its own right. I finally got a chance to go all out this week. I started shopping on Wednesday, and made the first batch of kimchi that night. More shopping Thursday, plus an emergency run on Friday. Cooked some things on Friday, and finished up on Saturday, producing the spread (not very artfully laid out) photographed below:
In addition to the Song cookbook mentioned above, I bought two more Korean cookbooks: Deuki Hong/Matt Rodbard, Koreatown: A Cookbook, and Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking. I ordered the latter after finding several promising recipes on the author's website. I built up a long shopping list with a tentative menu (16 dishes), noting what I already had and what I would need. Then I added various things as I looked through the books, trying to expand my options or just to get a sense of what's available. For example, I never found perilla leaves, bellflower root, or dried file fish (although I did something labeled "filetfish"); I found but didn't buy fresh burdock and dried fernbrake.
I started my shopping at Thai Binh, the largest Vietnamese grocery in town. They cover Chinese and Thai pretty well, with a smallish specifically Korean section where I had previously bought chili paste (gochujang), bean paste (doenjang), coarse chili powder (gochugaru), and coarse sea salt. They have a substantial produce section (although no water chestnuts this time) and a tremendous variety of frozen fish so I figured they'd be my best shot. Then I stopped at Dillons to get the beef, pork ribs, and some more conventional vegetables. Still, I came up short in several respects, so I googled for Korean groceries and found two more: Grace Korean-Japanese Market and Kimson Asian Food Market. I went to them on Thursday, and that evening went to Sprouts and Dillons. I didn't actually have much on the list by that time, other than English mustard, which I finally found at Dillons (Rock/Central).
Grace was small but had a couple things I hadn't picked up before. They also have a small cafe area which seemed pretty inactive. I picked up a couple "homemade" batches of seaweed and shrimp salads, but didn't particularly like either. Kimson only had about a third as much space as Thai Binh but was packed so they had almost as much stuff, including some things I had never seen locally (like frozen sea urchin for sushi). I wound up having to go out again on Friday -- Thai Binh and Dillons -- as I couldn't find the short-grain (sushi) rice I was sure I had plenty of.
Notes on the menu: Most Korean food is very hot (spicy, but aside from chilis, garlic, and ginger there are virtually no spices). The heat comes from chili powder, chili paste, or (much less often) chili oil or fresh peppers. I can barely tolerate hot peppers, so in all of the following recipes I either cut them way back or completely out (though I usually kept the garlic and sugar which are probably included just to draw out the heat). I thought about serving a hot sauce on the side, but doubted any of my guests especially wanted it. (The kimchis were still pretty hot in my book.) Also, virtually every Korean dish is topped with sesame seeds, which I also omitted (although I offered black sesame seeds on the side).
I'm reconstructing this from memory, so I may not even have the right cookbook for several recipes that appeared on multiple books. I did what seems like more than the usual mount of fiddling, not just to adjust the heat and avoid sesame seeds. I did quite a bit of fiddling with various sauces to get an appealing mix of tastes. And aside from the dessert it pretty much all worked. Interesting that the dishes with the highest-percentage leftovers were the kimchi (although the rice, which is usually the least popular choice, was most nearly wiped out).
I scratched a half-dozen possible dishes at various points in the afternoon. I had bought groceries to make: zucchini namul, buckwheat noodles, braised bean curd. I could have done a chives namul. I had more bok choy which I could have fixed with the bean paste. I had cucumbers which could have been used several different ways (but I didn't have time to do proper pickles). I could have made the extra jellyfish into its own dish (similar to the squid). I also had dried anchovies that could be given the squid treatment. I bought red and green bell peppers and can't remember what they were for. I have a piece of barbecued eel in the freezer. I could have taken some of the rice, dressed it with sugar and vinegar, and made sushi, topped with wasabi, broiled eel, and sweetened soy. (Would have been better than the dessert I served.)
There's a lot more Korean food I could have made -- something to try out later. I wanted to have lots of little things (Koreans call them banchan) rather than a big main course. That's why I didn't consider doing a soup or a combo rice dish like bibimbap. In fact, I didn't want to serve plain rice, even though that's the foundation virtually all Korean meals are built upon. I also figured I should stay away from obvious Japanese imports like sushi, teriyaki, and tempura (all common in Korea). I figured the bulgogi was essential, and what sold me on the pork ribs was the possibility of sticking it in the oven and forgetting about it. Similarly, the seafood salad could be made early and out of the way, and having those three dishes really didn't leave much room for chicken or fish. One thing I was tempted by but figured was too tricky and/or marginally weird was the raw blue crabs -- Thai Binh stocks them, and they basically get kimchi'ed for a couple days before serving, so they wouldn't have presented a logistical problem.
Figuring out the logistics is a big part of these large-scale dinners. In fact, this one was relatively easy, the first critical task figuring out what I could (and could not) obtain, and where to shop for it. The kimchis had relatively long lead times (pickles were already out of the question), so that determined when I had to start. I've done meals so complicated that I've mapped them out using charts, but this one wasn't that mind-boggling. After I made the kimchis, on Friday I cooked the seafood, roasted the sweet potatoes, steamed the spinach and eggplant, cooked the plain rice, made the squid, and marinated the meat. Hardest thing there (by far) was picking out the crab meat. I got up a little after noon on Saturday and started working through the little dishes -- the braises sometimes took an hour or more, but I could plate them when they were done. While the braises were going on I julienned the vegetables and dressed the salad, then put it back in the refrigerator. I usually get desserts out of the way early, but this one could be cooked anytime, and there was very little prep to it. The final push could hardly have been simpler: put the ribs in the oven, fix the fried rice, then finish the steak. And I could wait until the guests arrived to do the latter.
So, a pretty memorable dinner. Learned a lot while doing it. The guests seemed pretty pleased. The dog tried crawling into the dishwasher to help with the prewash. I won't try to get into the dinner discussion and all that, which for me was probably the highlight of the evening. Had some leftover ribs and sweet potatoes for dinner this evening. Have some people coming over Monday to help clean out the leftovers -- and maybe I'll cook some of the scratched dishes then. Hopefully Trump won't start bombing Korea by then. I was born during the Korean War. I'd hate to suffer through a second one.
Thursday, August 3. 2017
Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no one."
Let me also note this trip down memory lane: Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis. I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington U.
Monday, July 31. 2017
Music: Current count 28490  rated (+28), 365  unrated (+1).
Most of the following made its way into July Streamnotes, so not much news to report. Just seven albums in the August draft file so far: Arcade Fire, Hal Galper, Paul Jones, Manchester Orchestra, Vic Mensa, Vieux Farka Touré, Reggie Young. I think I gave Arcade Fire five (maybe six) plays. The others on Napster got one each.
Three of those came out last week. Checking AOTY, they scored: Manchester Orchestra (78/11), Arcade Fire (71/23), Vic Mensa (65/5). I'm surprised Arcade Fire has been reviewed so poorly (although it has 100 scores from NME and The Independent). They're a group I've generally admired but never felt much affection for: while I've graded their previous albums pretty high (B+ for 2004's Funeral; A- for Neon Bible, The Suburbs, and Reflektor), none of those albums scored especially high on my EOY lists (27, 27, 29). I expect this one will wind up lower (it's at 28 now, but we're only about half done -- big question is whether I ever play it again). But critics have generally liked their albums more than I have; e.g., AOTY scores for their four albums are: 95/15, 84/20, 89/33, 78/40; higher still were their Pazz & Jop finishes: 6, 5, 3, 14. Presumably this one won't fare so well, but I can't tell you why. Maybe in this day and age critics want something mopey? (Like Mount Eerie? Or Manchester Orchestra?)
On the other hand, the low critical scores for Vic Mensa's The Autobiography correlate with my disappointment, not that we necessarily agree as to why. Christgau liked his mixtapes, and there was at least something happening in There's Alot Going On. Not that there's nothing I like in Mensa's record; just a lot I don't. That contrasts, say, to Tyler the Creator's new Flower Boy, which was a total blank after one spin. I reckon that's an improvement given how offensive his early albums were. Got to it after the cutoff, so it's not in the list below -- nor is Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life, which I played a lot and like but wound up hedging. "God Bless America -- and All the Beautiful Women in It" may be the kindest patriotic anthem of the year, followed by "When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing" and "Beautiful People Beautiful Problems."
Milo Miles wrout about the remarkable Carl Craig album. Robert Christgau reviewed the Perceptionists and Oddissee (an earlier A- for me) at Noisey. Akmee and Alexander Hawkins are on Chris Monsen's 2017 Favorites list. Ergo, Led Bib, and several others were downloads I've been sitting on for a long time -- Roscoe Mitchell a more recent download. The Eddie Palmieri and Vieux Farka Touré albums are unlikely to disappoint their fans -- high HMs that might make the A- grade if I spent more time with them.
Finished adding the post-2000 vocalists to the Jazz Guide (currently 968 + 747 pages). Stalled when I got into post-2000 instrumentalists (currently 6% done). When I scrolled back to the top, I realized I needed to make some edits in the front matter -- in particular I changed the grade scale so that A or A+ is 10, A- 9, B+ 8-6, B 5, B- 4, C+ 3, C 2, C- or worse 1. I think this maps closer to my actual practice, where A/A+ grades have become extremely rare, as have sub-C grades. I asked several friends about this mapping and pretty much all of them wanted more spread on top (A- = 8) with adjustments shifting some higher grades up to 9 or 10, but I really needed something I could apply more mechanically. I also didn't mind cutting my artists and publicists a bit of slack here, while readers still have a useful curve: 10 is still pretty rare (especially post-2000), and 9 isn't very common (around 10% of the total, which is about what you'd expect in a decile system).
While editing I noticed that I started this project last August, so I've been working on it a full year, during which time I've done very little of the editing that will be needed if this ever sees the light of day, and nothing at all on several other possible book projects. Feels Sisyphean, even as time seems to be running out.
Already looks like it's going to be another good week for another Midweek Roundup. Last week I described Trump as having broke out of his cage and gone on a joyride -- evidence included promoting Anthony Scaramucci, purging Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, and two of the most embarrassing and disgusting speeches in a career with little else -- but today the joyride ended in a crash as Scaramucci got fired. Now we're going to have to suffer through stories about how Marine General John Kelly restored order and discipline to the White House, as they buckle down on the great cause of "tax reform" -- a more efficient, and less damaging, way to feather the pockets of the very rich than repealing the ACA.
On the other hand, I may be pressed for time for a Sunday Weekend Roundup, as I have a dinner scheduled for Saturday. I've been planning for some time on doing a birthday-sized Korean menu, and will finally get the chance. (I started the classic cabbage kimchi months ago.) Perfect cuisine for a "birthday feast" with all the banchan -- small side dishes, kind of like tapas but they pretty much all get the same treatment. Art Protin told me I should do a full dinner report every few months, so I'll try to follow through on that.
I am trying harder to cook occasional small dinners for just us, and they've often been superb. Last week I made my first-ever lasagna, with sausage and lamb (recipe called for beef and veal, but I didn't find the latter and decided not to make a deep search). I was a bit disappointed in it (certainly compared to the pastitsio I made a while back), but the leftovers are good enough to eat cold, along with a little horiatiki salad.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 30. 2017
I shot most of my war back on Thursday's , and have had limited time since then. But still I couldn't ignore these items:
Some scattered links:
Friday, July 28. 2017
The summer here in Wichita hasn't been exceptionally hot, but it's been hot enough to be stultifying. I haven't enjoyed it, and find damn near everything else depressing, but kept my nose to the grind wheel and came up with a perfectly average month: 136 records, 108 (or 112) more or less new, the old stuff purely opportunistic as I came across various interesting tangents.
I cut the month off a couple days early rather than collide with my usual Sunday/Monday blog schedule. Kept hoping to find something new, and finally did after I thought I'd finished the column: The Perceptionists: Resolution.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on June 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (9910 records).
21 Savage: Issa Album (2017, Slaughter Gang/Epic): Rapper Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, from Atlanta, first studio album although he had an EP I liked last year (Savage Mode). I like the easy beats and delivery here. However, doesn't it seem a bit lazy to make every line rhyme by ending it with the N-word? B+(*)
John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming (2016 , ECM): British guitarist, on ECM since 1974, backed here by pianist Marc Copland (wrote two songs), Drew Gress (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). B+(*) [dl]
Ryan Adams: Prisoner (2017, Blue Note): Prolific singer-songwriter, seemed promising when he first appeared in 2000 but quickly grew tiresome. I still can't find anything much to care about, but as a formal piece of guitar-driven songcraft this sounds pretty good. B+(*)
Akmee: Neptun (2016 , Nakama): Norwegian group: Erik Kimestad Pedersen (trumpet), Kjetil Jerve (piano), Erlend Albertsen (bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums). Four songs, two by the pianist, one each bassist and drummer. Slow to develop, but powerful or eloquent when they do. B+(***)
Algiers: The Underside of Power (2017, Matador): Postpunk band from Atlanta, second album, moves both toward metal and experimental, a mix that I sometimes get a charge out of but more often find annoying. Produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead. Thom Jurek: "Algiers ultimately turn doomsday on its head unexpectedly." B-
Sebastien Ammann: Color Wheel (2016 , Skirl): Pianist, born in Switzerland, based in New York since 2008, second album, both quartets, this one distinguished by alto saxophonist Michaël Attias, whose runs keep slipping out of the grooves. A- [cd]
Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S: Plucky Strum: Departure (2017, Whaling City Sound): Guitar and bass duets, second album together -- first filed under the bassist, but cover shows Bailey in the driver seat this time. Originals from each, one together, covers from Steve Stills and Joni Mitchell. B+(*) [cd]
Big Boi: Boomiverse (2017, Epic): Like Jay-Z, another big-time rapper into real estate. Still, I prefer his boisterous, big-time pop. B+(***)
Bleachers: Gone Now (2017, RCA): Indie pop band, principally Jack Antonoff, who collaborated extensively on Lorde's Melodrama. I prefer Lorde's voice for pop, but this isn't bad, especially on relationship songs. But I did get tripped up by the closer. B+(*)
Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (2016 , ECM): German vocalist, fifteen albums since 1992, more art song than swing, often given an angelic air by his high-pitched voice. Leads a band that indulges him lavishly: Ben Monder (guitar), Shai Maestro (piano), Chris Tordini (bass), and John Hollenback (drums). B+(*) [dl]
Benjamin Booker: Witness (2017, ATO): Singer-songwriter born in Virginia, grew up in Florida, given name Benjamin Evans, adopted name suggests a gnarled bluesman but his eponymous first album didn't really fit that hole, and this one doesn't even aim for it. Garage rock seems to be the new consensus, but I see he's cited "Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex as influences." More a way of triangulating what he's aiming for, a target he sometimes hits. B+(***)
Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (2017, International Anthem): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, seems to be her first album, mostly quartet with Tomeka Reid (cello), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums), plus some "cameos" -- notably too many cornets. I get hung up on a piece called "The Storm" -- otherwise impressive, an especially strong turn by the drummer. Choice cut: "Theme Nothing." B+(**)
Brother Ali: All the Beauty in This Whole Life (2017, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Minneapolis rapper Jason Newman, converted to Islam at age 15, sixth album: as thoughtful, good natured, well intentioned as ever. B+(**)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Oneness (2015 , FMR): Leader plays alto sax and Chinese oboe, accompanied by drums and acoustic bass guitar. Parts are a bit harsher than I'd like, but I love Carrier's deep, searching runs, and this is another good setting for them. A- [cd]
Cashmere Cat: 9 (2017, Mad Love/Interscope): Norwegian DJ/turntablist, Magnus August Halberg, first album after three EPs. Draws on an impressive roster of vocalists -- Kehlani, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Ty Dolla Sign, Selena Gomez, Jhené Aiko, and more -- while minimizing their differences. B+(*)
Charly Bliss: Guppy (2017, Barsuk): Guitar band from Brooklyn, singer-guitarist Eva Hendricks give them some pop appeal while guitarist-vocalist Spencer Fox thickens the din (something I've seen dubbed "bubble-grunge"). B+(**)
Amber Coffman: City of No Reply (2017, Columbia): Former Dirty Projectors singer, absent from this year's album although Dave Longstreet co-wrote and produced here. I find the group's fancy twists and filigree damn near unbearable, but this album is relatively free of annoyance -- just conventional stuff, mostly synth strings, nicely tucked into the background, where they frame her attractive voice. B+(**)
Avishai Cohen: Cross My Palm With Silver (2016 , ECM): Israeli trumpet player, unrelated to the bassist but brother of Anat Cohen, second ECM album, quartet with piano (Yonathan Avishai), bass (Barak Mori), and drums (Nasheet Waits). Tends to submerge under Manfred Eicher's aesthetic, which is probably the point, but the trumpet has a nice brassy air. B+(**) [dl]
Larry Coryell's 11th House: Seven Secrets (2016 , Savoy Jazz): Reunion of the guitarist's best known fusion groups, with several albums (and later archival material) spanning 1972-76. Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Alphonse Mouzon (drums/keyboards) return from the original group -- Mouzon died soon after this was recorded, and Coryell died before its release. Also adds second guitarist Julian Coryell and Mike Lee on bass. Heavy grooves, blistering trumpet, nice they got this chance to feel young again. B+(*)
Carl Craig: Versus (2017, InFiné): Pioneering electronica producer from Detroit, his 1997 album More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art a personal favorite, but I can't say as I've followed him closely since. He provides electronics and production for his tracks here, but the bulk of the sound comes from a 22-piece orchestra, arranged by Francesco Tristano to bring forth the drama, suggesting classical music but when have they ever enjoyed such danceable beats before? A- [bc]
Richard Dawson: Peasant (2017, Weird World): Singer-songwriter from Newcastle, UK; started as a folkie, winds up all over the map, with folkish harmonies and music that isn't afraid of getting dissonant. His own voice reminds me of Robert Wyatt, although I'm less inclined to forgive his idiosyncrasies and lapses, partly because it grates so much more. B
Jack DeJohnette/Larry Grenadier/John Meddeski/John Scofield: Hudson (Motéma): Cover only offers last names, although all are pretty recognizable. Hype credits this to "jazz supergroup Hudson." Names appear alphabetical, the opposite of the way I would list the credits by instrument, with guitarist Scofield up front. Indeed he is, and probably playing better than he has in two decades, but I'm tempted to chalk that up to the drummer, especially remarkable on the 10:56 title piece. Also note that nearly half of the pieces are late-1960s rock hits -- two Dylans, Hendrix, Robertson, Mitchell -- and while they're the things you notice, they're not the ones that stick with you. A-
Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (2017, Domino): Formerly an indie rock band given to fancy arrangements and off-kilter rhythms, now just Dave Longstreth and extra studio musicians, notably co-producer Tyondai Braxton. I hated their/his last two albums, ones which turned them into much more than a cult band, and didn't expect anything better here. Didn't find it either: just intricately layered churchy/soulish vocals with no discernible sense of time. C
Chano Dominguez: Over the Rainbow (2012 , Sunnyside): Spanish pianist, has twenty-some records since 1980, including a couple with Martirio, one with Paquito D'Rivera, one called Flamenco Sketches. Solo, probably not the one to start with. B+(*) [dl]
Emperor X: Oversleepers International (2017, Tiny Engines): Chad Matheny, American but based in Berlin, had a thing for odd electronic music but came up with a surprising set of songs in 2011 (Western Teleport), and almost repeats that feat here -- except that I lose track somewhere after "Schopenhauer in Berlin" until the closing 11:11 minimalist instrumental. B+(***)
Noga Erez: Off the Radar (2017, City Slang): Electropop artist from Israel, works/writes with producer Ori Rousso, first album, titles in English but I'm less clear about the lyrics. Not a lot of pop appeal, closer but still not as gloomy as trip-hop.. B
Ergo: As Subtle as Tomorrow (2013 , Cuneiform): Trombonist Brett Sroka, leading a trio with Sam Harris (keyboards) and Shawn Baltazar (drums), fourth album together, where Harris produces the most unexpected sounds -- prepared piano is one of his options -- but the trombone pulls it back together. B+(***) [dl]
Kevin Eubanks: East/West Timeline (2017, Mack Avenue): Guitarist, discography starts in 1983, couple dozen albums although only one entered my database. Looks like two sessions, the first half with Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Orrin Evans (piano), Dave Holland (bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums); the second with Bill Pierce (tenor sax), Rene Camacho (bass), Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums), and Mino Cinelu (percussion). Nice either way. B+(*)
The Feelies: In Between (2017, Bar/None): NJ jangle pop band, invented their genre in 1980 and broke up as soon as they released their greatest album, 1991's Time for a Witness. As with so many bands, they ran out of better options and regrouped -- in 2006, with an album in 2011, and now this second one. No new ideas here, and for a while I thought they were slowed by age, but the reprise of the title cut is something I could dig much longer than its 9:23. B+(**)
Forest Swords: Compassion (2017, Ninja Tune): English electronica producer Matthew Barnes, second album, leaves me feeling pretty empty. B-
Free Radicals: Outside the Comfort Zone (2017, Free Rads): Houston group, "a horn-driven instrumental dance band with a commitment to peace and justice" -- I recognized the group name from chemistry, but sure, politics works too. Took no more than five seconds for me to realize they were right up my alley. Turns out they've been around for a couple decades, recording The Rising Tide Sinks All in 1998 and five albums since. Nine-piece group, three saxes, three brass (including sousaphone), guitar, bass, drums, but 15 more "guests" joined in these sessions, including two elder vibraphonists whose credits include Benny Goodman and Sun Ra (author of their one cover). For a first approximation, imagine a cross between anarchist collectives like Club D'Elf and the Tribe and a New Orleans brass band. Not without its messy moments, but surely a SFFR. A- [cd]
Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (2016 , ECM): Guitar and bass duets, recorded live at the Village Vanguard, very low key. Three originals (one by both, two Frisell), five covers, "Wildwood Flower" recalling Frisell's Americana, an effect deepened by the title tune. Other covers: Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Fats Domino, "Goldfinger." B+(**) [dl]
Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Kisaragi (2015-16 , Libra): Piano and trumpet duets, at least that's what the cover says, but I'm not hearing much of that -- a lot of submerged electronic sound, interesting here and there but never really seems to break the surface. B+(*) [cd]
Future Islands: The Far Field (2017, 4AD): Synthpop band from Baltimore, fifth album since 2008, their second title from poet Theodore Roethke -- an effect that I suppose recalls bands like the Cure. This one is more than a little catchy, but beyond that hard for me to say. B+(*)
(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (2017, Domino): Birth name is Alexander Giannascoli, from Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, self-recorded lo-fi albums from 2010 on, finally getting picked up by Domino for 2015's Beach Music. This has some nice, even some noisy, stretches. B
Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (2017, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Hungary, has recorded steadily since the early 1980s. Solo, mostly standards, avoids the obvious. B+(*) [cd]
Golden Pelicans: S/T (2014, Total Punk, EP): Punk band from Orlando, had a live cassette and a couple singles before this 12-inch vinyl, 7 short cuts, 14:25, title as given on their Bandcamp though I'd be tempted just to use the band name. Classic punk, right at you. B+(***)
Golden Pelicans: Oldest Ride Longest Line (2015, Total Punk, EP): Longer (9 cuts, 17:39), if anything faster. Needless to say, I can't parse a single line of lyrics, but for some reason that bothers me more here (maybe because one oft-repeated word sounds like "faggot," but turns out the song title is "Maggots"). B+(**)
Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood (2017, Goner, EP): Punk purism evolving into something they call "thug rock" -- the songs stretching out over two minutes on average (9 cuts, 20:59), so long they count this as an LP. Other advances include a label I've heard of and color on the cover. Still intense. B+(***)
Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (2017, Mute): English electropop duo, singer Alison Goldfrapp and synth player Will Gregory. Seventh album since 2000. B+(*)
Vitor Gonçalves: Vitor Gonçalves Quartet (2017, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Brazil, based in New York. First album, with Todd Neufeld (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Dan Weiss (percussion). B+(*)
Giovanni Guidi: Ida Lupino (2015 , ECM): Italian pianist, handful of records since 2006, two previous trios on ECM, this a bassless quartet: Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Louis Sclavis (clarinet), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Most satisfying when the trombone gets the upper hand. B+(*) [dl]
Marika Hackman: I'm Not Your Man (2017, Sub Pop): English singer-songwriter, father Finnish, second album after four EPs starting in 2013. Probably started as a DIY folkie but moved into on into non-glitzy pop. B+(**)
Haim: Something to Tell You (2017, Polydor): Three sisters, surname Haim, from Los Angeles. Second album: loud, catchy popular rock. B+(**)
Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017, Fly Eye/Columbia): Scottish DJ/producer (given name Adam Richard Wiles), called his first album I Created Disco (he was born in 1984). Ten cuts (37:40), each featuring 1-3 well-known names (e.g., "Heatstroke" features Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, and Ariana Grande). Hottest track just has one voice: Nicki Minaj. B+(*)
Joel Harrison: Stump (2013 , Cuneiform): Guitarist, has a dozen or so albums since 1996, "focus here is kon his playing and not his writing and arranging," which gets him out of a postbop quagmire I've never warmed to. Provides more details on his gear than song credits ("a mixture of Luther Vandross, Buddy Miller, George Russell, a traditional spiritual, Paul Motion, Leonard Cohen"). Backed with bass, drums, and (6/11 cuts) organ/keyboards. B+(***) [dl]
Alexander Hawkins: Unit[e] (2016-17 , self-released, 2CD): British pianist, plays in Convergence Quaret, Decoy, and other projects. First set is an explosive sextet, with Shabaka Hutchings (bass clarinet/tenor sax), Dylan Bates (violin), Otto Fischer (guitar), bass, and drums. Second set swaps drummers and replaces Hutchings, doubling the group size, adding trumpets, reeds/flutes, cello, and live electronics. B+(**) [bc]
Arve Henriksen: Towards Language (2016 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian trumpet player, nine albums since 2001, backdrop mostly guitar and electronics -- he contributes to the latter along with Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, and adds his voice (plus Anna Maria Friman on one track), aiming for something ethereal. B
J Hus: Common Sense (2017, Black Butter/Epic): British rapper, Momodou Jallow, born in London of Gambian descent, first album after a mixtape and several singles. Disjointed, off-kilter beats -- any hype about Afrobeat is strictly in the ear of someone else -- vocal range pretty narrow but keeps at it and ultimately catches on. B+(**)
Benedikt Jahnel Trio: The Invariant (2016 , ECM): German pianist, originally appeared in a group called Cyminology (after vocalist Cymin Samawatie). With Antonio Miguel on bass and Owen Howard on drums. Original pieces. B+(**) [dl]
Jay-Z: 4:44 (2017, Roc Nation): Big star, rapsabout what matters most (to him, anyway): his asset portfolio. Better, I suppose, than slinging dope, where he made his first fortune. Slippery beats, legendary flow, marred by the occasional operatic sample. B+(**)
Dusan Jevtovic: No Answer (2016 , Moonjune): Serbian guitarist, has at least two previous albums, this one a fusion trio with Vasil Hadzimanov on keyboards and Asaf Sarkis on drums. Strong on the upbeat, impressive for a while. B+(*) [cd]
Sean Jones: Live From Jazz at the Bistro (2017, Mack Avenue): Trumpet player, quartet includes Orrin Evans (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums), plus a couple guests join in on several cuts. B+(*)
Jonwayne: Rap Album Two (2017, The Order Label): Rapper from La Habra, CA; real name Jonathan Wayne. Follows up on 2013's Rap Album One, but he has three more albums, a half-dozen mixtapes. Runs a skit making fun of not looking like a rapper, and if the cover doesn't cinch that, the skit does. B+(***)
Alison Krauss: Windy City (2017, Capitol): Started out as a bluegrass fiddler, crediting her band on most of her albums, but she's always sung, remarkably on these ten covers. She may look like a lost mannequin on the cover, but there's nothing stiff or fake here. Especially choice cuts: "Gentle on My Mind," "Poison Love," "You Don't Know Me." A-
Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy's Demo (2017, Three Quartet, EP): From Compton, Steven Thomas Lacy-Moya, still a teenager but joined the Internet for their third album (Ego Death), spins off a six-song 13:33 "song-series" here. B
Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (2017, BlueLand): Baritone saxophonist, has a half-dozen albums but regards this big band + strings affair as some kind of breakthrough. Liner notes: "It's a culmination of everything I've listened to and loved over the years." Then he produces a long list of examples, including Stravinsky, Mulligan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, J Dilla, and Hermeto Pascoal. He could have stopped after the first two: this opens with a four-part "Jeru Concerto." I vaccilate between hating it and finding myself swept up in the vast absurdity of the enterprise. B+(**) [cd]
Nikki Lane: Highway Queen (2017, New West): Alt-country singer-songwriter, originally from South Carolina, based in Nashville but doesn't really belong there. B+(**)
Led Bib: The Good Egg (2013 , Cuneiform): British group, drummer Mark Holub seems to be the leader, with two alto saxophonists (Pete Grogan and Chris Williams), keyboards (Toby McLaren), and double bass (Linan Donin). Eight albums since 2005; this one, a four-cut 33:58 live vinyl/download only, came out the same day as The People in Your Neighborhood, and has been languishing in my download queue for quite a while. Some remarkable stretches here, and for once they don't wear out their welcome. B+(***) [dl]
Led Bib: The People in Your Neighborhood (2013 , Cuneiform): Studio album, eleven tracks, 71:31, more range but maybe too much as they wander more, but still a powerhouse. B+(**) [dl]
Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini (2016, Transgressive): British group, from Norwich, principally Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton -- "multi-instrumentalists" although keyboards dominate and drums appear only after you start wondering why there aren't any. They harmonize in little girl voices, often taking on little girl personas. Group name derives from a joke about the comma placement, obscured and made more menacing by omission. B
Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (2017, Afrasia Productions): Jazz singer, more than a dozen albums since 1986, has one of those widely admired voices, deep and resonant, but frames it with pretty ordinary arrangements in a hornless band. B
Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo': TajMo (2017, Concord): Two bluesmen who always seemed comfortable in their retro form, a genre that Taj (Henry Saint Clair Fredericks) invented as early as 1968, although, now 75, he hasn't recorded much since 2000. Only nine years younger, Keb' (Kevin Moore) didn't record until 1994 -- he never struck me as that notable, but he's picked up three Grammy Awards and been nominated for many more. Best thing here is a relaxed, understated "Diving Duck Blues," just a duet (better, I think, than the version on Taj's debut album). However, they lose that charm when the big band chimes in, no matter how agreeable the fancy band groove gets. B
Mat Maneri/Evan Parker/Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (2014 , Clean Feed): Viola/saxophone/piano trio, a viable chamber jazz configuration except that Parker is hard to hem in or pin down, and he provides most of the interest here. B+(*) [cdr]
Mura Masa: Mura Masa (2017, Polydor): British DJ Alex Crossan, from Guernsey, took his alias from Japanese swordsmith Muramasa Sengo. First album, draws on a wide range of singers and rappers (Damon Albarn, Nao, Héloise Letissier, A$AP Rocky) for an eclectic mix, unfied by the dance beats. B+(*)
Spoek Mathambo: Mzansi Beat Code (2017, TEKA): South African rapper, probably more accurately rooted in electro or kwaito as the beats and chants matter more than the words here. B
Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (2017, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, cut eight albums 2003-10 as J. Tillman, played on one Fleet Foxes album, now has three albums under this moniker. Title cut is anything but, and the somber sobriety gets stifling, even when he's self-conscious, as when "Mara taunts me" saying "just what we all need/Another white guy in 2017/Who takes himself so goddamn seriously." I looked that lyric up after I heard "He's a national treasure now," and wasn't sure whether he was talking about Jesus or Trump -- turns out himself, for once not the worst-case scenario. The music does grow on you. I could imagine someone loving this -- just not me. B-
Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2015 , ECM, 2CD): Chicags saxophonist, joined AACM in 1965 and co-founded Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1967. Recorded this for AACM's 50th anniversary. Half nonet -- Hugh Ragin (trumpet), James Fei (reeds), Tyshawn Sorey (trombone/piano/drums), Craig Taborn (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass), three more percussionists (Kikanju Baku, Tani Tabbal, William Winant) -- and half duo and trio subsets, which leave much open space, although not without interest or occasional surprise. B+(***)
Mokoomba: Luyando (2017, OutHere): Band from Zimbabwe, third album, translates from Tonga as "mother's love." As expected, splits the distance between Congolese soukous and South African jive, including a piece of mbube. B
The Moonlandingz: Interplanetary Class Classics (2017, Transgressive): Side project for two members of Fat White Family plus Rebecca Taylor and Sean Lennon, hard to pin down but neo-psychedelia is the genre I most often find. Dense, fast, and loud, not a mix I'm very fond of. B
Sam Newsome: Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Soprano (2017, Some New Music): Saxophonist, played tenor early on but since 2005 has focused on soprano. His innovation here is various ways to coax unusual sounds from the horn by "pareparations" -- change to the reed, obstacles that modify the airflow, and/or dangling chimes from the horn. He tries hard to make music with this setup, but it is by nature limited. B+(*)
Oxbow: Thin Black Duke (2017, Hydra Head): Underground (noise/experimental) rock group from San Francisco, dates back to 1988, principally Eugene Robinson (vocals, lyrics) and Niko Wenner (guitar, keybs, music), plus bass and drums, first album titled Fuckfest. Haven't heard the early ones but Robinson's anguished wail reflects back to the blues, set off by the hard rock Sturm und Drang. B+(*)
Ozomatli: Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica (2017, Cleopatra): Los Angeles band, released eponymous debut in 1998, obviously closer to Mexico than to Jamaica, which contributes occasional rhythms without being recognizable as such. Mostly in Spanish, not that "Besame Mucho" or "La Bamba" need translations any more than "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Come and Get Your Love" -- anyway, their selling point is the treatment, not the songs. B+(*)
The Ed Palermo Big Band: Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2014, Cuneiform, 2CD): Alto saxophonist, formed his big band in 1977, cut their first record in 1982, came up with the idea of arranging Frank Zappa tunes for big band in the 1990s and this is at least his third Zappa album. First disc anyway -- reminds me that I've never liked Zappa, although he's probably not the only one here to blame. Second is mostly Palermo originals, which aren't much better. C
Eddie Palmieri: Sabiduria/Wisdom (2012 , Ropeadope): Pianist, parents moved from Puerto Rico to the Bronx where he was born in 1938. Has 43 albums since 1962. Ten-piece group, eight more "special guests" (Donald Harrison, Obed Calvaire, Ronnie Cuber, Joe Locke, etc.). Rhythmically intense, bewilderingly complex. Choice cut: "The Uprising." B+(***)
Aaron Parks/Ben Street/Billy Hart: Find the Way (2015 , ECM): Pianist, originally from Seattle, cut a record for Blue Note in 2008, two now for ECM plus a couple on Stunt. Has a lot of mainstream side-credits, starting with Terence Blanchard. Trio here, all originals except the title cut, flows nicely but doesn't really draw me in. B+(*) [dl]
Nicki Parrott: Dear Blossom: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie (2017, Arbors): Bassist-singer, from Australia, mostly standards with retro swing. While early on she sang with offhanded charm, she's become more confident and polished, doing fine by this songbook. Backed by piano-vibes-drums, with guest spots for Warren Vaché on cornet and Engelbert Wrobel on clarinet and tenor sax. B+(*)
Nicki Parrott: Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook (2016 , Venus): With John Di Martino (piano), Frank Vignola (guitar), sister Lisa Parrott (baritone sax/bass clarinet), and some drums/percussion I can't find a credit for. Better songs, but not all of them work. B+(**)
Chris Pasin and Friends: Baby It's Cold Outside (2016 , Planet Arts): Trumpet player, based in New York, studied at New England Conservatory, dropped out of jazz for a stretch but returned in 2009 with something he recorded in 1987. Second album I've heard, cut last June, aside from the title mostly Xmas songs, pretty much the last thing I was in the mood for on a Fourth of July morning -- but I suppose we can take some comfort that seasons come and go. Nice trumpet, and a few vocals from Patricia Dalton Fennell. B [cd]
The Perceptionists: Resolution (2017, Mello Music Group): Alt-hip-hop group from Boston, cut Black Dialogue, a terrific album, in 2005, plus a mixtape and a live album around that time, and nothing since then until now, although Jeffrey Haynes has had a notable career as Mr. Lif, as has Jared Bridgeman (aka Akrobatik). Not sure what happened to third member DJ Fakts One, but only two faces on this cover. Smart politics, the beats more jumbled as befits our more chaotic era. A-
Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (2017, Domino): British singer-songwriter, fronted a memorable band called the Only Ones 1976-82, recorded a solo album in 1994 as the One, and finally came out with this album under his own name. Opener recalls "Sweet Jane" but is pretty great on its own. Then you start to recognize the old band, just older, slower, wearier, more desperate. Aren't we all? A-
Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is the Dream (2016 , ECM): Tenor saxophonist, always works in some soprano, adds clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, mbira and sampler here, in a quartet with David Virelles (piano/celeste), Joe Martin (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums). Mostly settles into soft moods here, but occasionally busts a solo like you know he can do. B+(*)
Karriem Riggins: Headnod Suite (2017, Stones Throw): From Detroit, now based in Los Angeles, made his first impact as a jazz drummer, then as a hip-hop producer. This splits the difference, leaning toward hip-hop instrumentals, but with 29 cuts, only two over 3 minutes, it plays more like a scrapbook of ideas. B+(**)
Troy Roberts: Tales & Tones (2017, Inner Circle): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Perth, Australia, half-dozen albums since 2006. Quartet with piano (Silvano Monasterios), bass (Robert Hurst), and drums (Jeff "Tain" Watts). Lively group, interesting detour on "Take the 'A' Train." B+(**)
Louis Sclavis: Asian Fields Variations (2016 , ECM): French clarinetist, long discography since the early 1980s, trio here with Dominique Pifarély (violin) and Vinent Curtois (cello) -- both names in large print on the cover below the title. Chamber jazz, but it doesn't always go down smoothly, and is more interesting when it doesn't. [NB: download order shuffled from actual release.] B+(*) [dl]
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Trumpet player from New Orleans, expanded his name for a 2012 album and evidently still uses it. First album of a promised trilogy, "speaking to a litany of issues": "Slavery in America via the Prison Industrial Complex, Food Insecurity, Xenophobia, Immigration, Climate Change, Sexual Orientation, Gender Equality, Fascism and the return of the Demagogue." No fixed band, but the various keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and exotic percussion add up to a derivative of Miles Davis funk, with two cuts featuring Elena Pinderhughes' flute. B+(**)
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Diaspora (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Second installment in his trilogy, credits the leader with many things in addition to his trumpet, including "sonic architecture," and doubles down early on Elena Pinderhughes' flute, adding a Sarah Elizabeth Charles vocal to close. B+(**)
Sex Mob: Cultural Capital (2016, Rex): Long-running quartet, released five albums 1998-2003, since then just one more every 3-4 years, making this their ninth. They've often done covers/spoofs in the past (e.g., Sex Mob Does Bond), but everything here was written by Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet, alto horn), with old hands Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone sax, guitar), Tony Scherr (acoustic/electric bass, guitar), and Kenny Wollesen (drums/percussion). Plenty clever tricks, but no great jokes. B+(**)
ShitKid: ShitKid (2016, PNKSLM, EP): Swedish singer-songwriter Åsa Söderqvist. Eight cuts, 17:40, three with excrement in the title, but the single is "Oh Please Be a Cocky Cool Kid." Not clear whether the distortion is an aesthetic ploy or just sloppy recording. [Same title and cover previously released as 3-song, 7:23 single.] B- [bc]
ShitKid: EP 2 (2017, PNKSLM, EP): Not quite maturity, but she's learning, using the distortion more artfully, picking up bits of melody that recall girl groups or the NY Dolls doing girl groups although they're still pretty amateurish. Four songs, 10:52. B [bc]
ShitKid: Fish (2017, PNKSLM): Nine-cut, 28:15 "LP" -- repeats two songs from EP 2, including the obvious single "Sugar Town." Fans may be disappointed that the distortion abates, but that sounds like progress to me. Only a matter of time before she picks another moniker. B+(*) [bc]
Rotem Sivan: Antidote (2017, Alma): Israeli guitarist, based in New York, leads a trio with Haggai Cohen Milo (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums). Nice tone and momentum. B+(**)
Bria Skonberg: With a Twist (2017, Okeh): Canadian, based in New York, sings and plays trumpet, fifth album, mostly novelties swung hard in Gil Goldstein arrangements. Lots of studio musicians sashaying in and out. Not as much trumpet as I'd like, but she's sassy and fun. B+(*)
Songhoy Blues: Résistance (2017, Fat Possum): Guitar band from Mali, second US album, not sure if they have any from their days in Bamako, but they've moved on from covering Ali Farka Touré. Indeed, if you buy the line that Touré plays blues like John Lee Hooker, they resemble a Southern rock band, although they occasionally slip up. B+(**)
Sorority Noise: You're Not as ____ as You Think (2017, Triple Crown): Guitar band from Hartford, CT; third album, rather short, running 10 songs in 29:38 as they turn their anxieties into excruciating pain and sometimes resolve, or something like that. B+(**)
Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: December Avenue (2016 , ECM): Polish trumpet player, 75, discography starts around 1970 with his first ECM album in 1975 and many more from 1995 on. Quartet with David Virelles (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Supportive, although the trumpet is eloquent, and sometimes the pianist breaks out. B+(**) [dl]
Mavis Staples: I'll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration (2014 , Blackbird Production Partners, 2CD): A Chicago concert for her 75th birthday celebration, chock full of guest stars who take most of the leads. Some names: Gregg Allman, Eric Church, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, Buddy Miller, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Tweedy. (There also seems to be a 1-CD version that omits the less famous, like Joan Osborne, Otis Clay, Ryan Bingham, and Grace Potter.) They're in full raise-the-rafters mode when they mass, especially toward the end when they follow up the inevitable "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with Talking Heads' "Slippery People," the title cut, and everyone piling onto the finale, where the stage buckles under "The Weight." B+(**)
Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (2017, Def Jam): Young (23) rapper from Long Beach, second album plus two EPs Christgau prefers over his debut. This one's as sketchy as the EPs and not much longer (36:04). For me (three plays) the words never emerged from the beats, which were fine but not exceptional. B+(***)
Dave Stryker: Strykin' Ahead (2016 , Strikezone): Guitarist, did a lot of his early work on SteepleChase (from 1991), often teaming up with saxophonist Steve Slagle, but goes his own way here: with Steve Nelson (vibes), Jared Gold (organ), and McGlenty Hunter (drums). Hints at soul jazz but settles for a smoother, more sparkling, groove. B+(*) [cd]
Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (2016 , ECM): Pianist, from Minneapolis, was a big part of James Carter's 1990s Quartet. This is another quartet, although Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) is here more for color and shading, never threatening to run away with so much as a song. Also with Chris Lightcap on bass and Dave King on drums, both (like the leader) dabbling in electronics. A- [dl]
Talinka: Talinka (2016 , Moonjune): Principally singer-actress Tali Atzmon, produced by husband Gilad Atzmon, who also plays bass clarinet, soprano sax, and accordion, along with viola/violin, bass, and drums. Folkish, rooted in deepest, darkest Europe, a haunting vibe developed over the last few Orient House Ensemble albums. B+(***) [cd]
Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (2016 , Capri): Bassist-singer, second album, more emphasis on the vocals this time (including some scat). One original, standards ranging from Ellington to Loesser to Leiber & Stoller ("Some Cats Know"), backed by piano and drums with Ken Peplowski (tenor sax/clarinet) on half the cuts, Roger Neumann (tenor/soprano sax) on two of those. Just bass and voice on "Willow Weep for Me" -- one of the finest versions ever. A- [cd]
Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart (2016 , ECM): Guitarist, plays classical and 12-string on this solo outing, the title cut the only standard, all else original. He's been doing this sort of thing since the early 1970s. This strikes me as having a little more bite than has been his norm. B+(**) [dl]
Harriet Tubman: Araminta (2013 , Sunnyside): Band consisting of Brandon Ross (guitar), Melvin Gibbs (bass guitar), and J.T. Lewis (drums), released two albums 1998-2000, a third in 2011, and now this fourth, where they are joined by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Named for the famous abolitionist, born into slavery in 1822 as Araminta Ross, and lately picked to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Smith is especially striking here, expanding and building upon the band's dense industrial-funk fusion. A- [dl]
Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (2017, Merge): Fourth band album for Katie Crutchfield, joined here by twin sister Alison Crutchfield -- the pair previously fronted P.S. Eliot, then split with Alison recording as Swearin' before her solo album early this year. The hard anthems up front start as din but 3-4 songs in I start to follow, and even discern a bit of Alabama drawl. A-
Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur): Avant composer, previously used electronics, wrote these pieces for piano and recruited Sebastiaan Oosthout to play them on a Fazioli 212 grand. Minimalist, mostly repetitive figures lapsing into more meditative passages. B+(**) [cd]
Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (2017, Starboy/RCA): Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, from Lagos, Nigeria, b. 1990, third album, first on a major label, genres listed as "Afrobeat, Afropop, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop" -- probably best known for a featured spot with Drake. Of those, the reggae/dancehall is most conspicuous, both on the opening and closing tracks. B+(**)
Glenn Zaleski: My Ideal (2014 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Massachusetts, based in New York, started with a 2010 duo with his saxophonist brother Mark. This is a trio with Dezron Douglas (bass) and Craig Weinrib (drums), plus one track with Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax. B+(*) [dl]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Battle Hymns (2017, Quasi Band): Various Portland-based artists, few I've heard of but Janet Weiss fills in more often than not on drums, Sam Coomes is nearly as common on bass, Corrin Tucker has a group called Filthy Friends, and Carrie Brownstein appears as MEDS. Released soon after the election, "pay what you want" with the proceeds split between Planned Parenthood, ACLU, and 350.org. Indie rock that's still indie. Mixed bag of songs, with "Love in the Time of Resistance" my favorite. B+(***)
The Bob's Burgers Music Album (2010-16 , Domino, 2CD): From the animated sitcom. Pretty sure I've seen a couple episodes (out of 129 in 7 seasons), but not recent enough to contextualize any of the 112 tracks that fill up 1:56:13. In fact, I wouldn't have bothered if Matt Rice hadn't recommended it so highly, and he probably knows all that context. What I can say is that most songs are just sketches -- a few amusingly familiar -- and most are about food. Still, they play to me like light operetta, even if rock-based. Also lots of dialogue. B+(*)
Miracle Steps (Music From the Fourth World 1983-2017) (1983-2017 , Optimo Music): Jon Hassell, whose 1980 album with Brian Eno coined the "Fourth World" meme, contributes a piece, along with 13 others I don't recognize. At the time earth was conventionally carved into three worlds, so the implication is that this music is rather distant from all three. Here we get a surfeit of mallets and hazy reeds/flutes, so Larry Chernicoff's bent saxophone is a welcome surprise -- not that the usual stuff doesn't grow on you. B+(***) [bc]
Allen Ravenstine + Albert Dennis: >Terminal Drive (1975 , Smog Veil, EP): Pere Ubu trivia, supposedly the entire original 15:39 version of the piece which appeared in shorter form in the 1996 Datapanik in the Year Zero box. Ravenstine, a keyboard player, joined the group in 1975, and worked with them through 1989. Dennis plays string bass here. Strikes me as much ado about damn little. B
Albert Beger's 5: Listening (2004, Earsay): Israeli saxophonist, plays tenor on five tracks, alto on the other two, sparring with Yoni Silver (bass clarinet/alto sax/organ), backed with guitar, bass, and drums. Dedicated to the late Steve Lacy. Sometimes settles into a groove, more often fights its way out. B+(**)
Albert Beger/Gerry Hemingway: There's Nothing Better to Do (2011 , OutNow): Sax-drums duo, Beger playing tenor and soprano. Only really comes together when both push each other hard. [3/6 cuts] B+(*) [bc]
Willem Breuker Kollektief: In Holland (1981, BV Haast): Dutch avant group, dates back to 1974, ten pieces here, the leader playing three saxophones and two clarinets. Sometimes they veer too close to classical for my taste, more often they make rousing circus music, and occasionally throw in a tango, but you never doubt they're having a blast. B
Willem Breuker Kollektief: To Remain (1983-89 , BV Haast): Mostly recorded in 1989, including the 12-part title suite, with a few earlier tracks stuck on at the end. Continues their avant mix of classical and circus music, at times turning downright cartoonish -- especially when they quote familiar tunes. All in good fun, I'm sure. B-
Daniel Carter/Toby Kasavan/Mark Hennen/William Parker: Feels Like It (2000 , BDE-BDOP): Kasavan and Hennen both play piano/keyboards; Carter alto sax, flute, and trumpet, and Parker, of course, bass. Nothing on this album in Discogs, but thanks to Rick Lopez' magnificent Parker sessionography we know that Kasavan played with Parker once before (in 1977), while Hennen appears many times, from Jemeel Moondoc's Ensemble Muntu in 1973 all the way to 2008. Two long pieces, strong early as long as Carter can carry it. B+(*)
Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell (1968 , Vanguard): The guitarist's first album, after his band Free Spirits' 1967 debut and a "featuring" credit under Chico Hamilton. First side seems aimed at some kind of psychedelic/Hendrix thing with vocals (not very good). Second side is jazzier, especially when Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison move in. B
Larry Coryell: Introducing the Eleventh House With Larry Coryell (1972 , Vanguard): The guitarist's most famous band started here, five years after Coryell's debut, and continued through 1976. With Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Mandel (keybs), Danny Trifan (bass), and Alphonse Mouzon (drums). Compared to the 2016 reunion, the guitar is more central, the groove more fluid, and Brecker has yet to discover "skunk funk." B+(*)
Larry Coryell: The Restful Mind (1974 , Vanguard): Featuring Ralph Towner (guitar), Collin Walcott (tablas/congas), and Glen Moore (bass); i.e., three-quarters of Oregon with the soft reeds replaced by more guitar power. Actually, pretty impressive when they turn that power on. B+(***)
Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 1 (2005, Earsay): Tempted to file this under Beger -- Israeli tenor saxophonist, also plays alto flute, b. 1959, album cut on his home turf, name centered on the cover, and of course his brash free runs dominate the sound -- but the spine and all other sources favor the drummer. Beger starts tentative but soon finds his voice, and charges hard until they close out with some kind of chant. B+(***)
Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 2 (2005 , Earsay): More from the same sessions [but just 2/4 cuts on Napster]. "Funky Lacy" lives up to its title. B+(**)
Emperor X: Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform (2004, Discos Mariscos): Second album, seems to have been reissued by Bar/None in 2012 after they released Western Teleport in 2011. There's much more on his Bandcamp page, but this at least has the form of a song album, albeit with more blips and more bits where he just sits on a riff, but they're interesting in their own right. B+(**)
Free Radicals: The Rising Tide Sinks All (1998, RWE): The title presumably a play on "a rising tide lifts all boats" -- a phrase John F. Kennedy made famous when he argued for reducing the marginal income tax rate on the rich nearly two decades before Arthur Laffer's napkin, probably his second most disastrous legacy (after his decision to dig deeper into Vietnam, rather than get the hell out). Several titles are political, but the one that best captures the vibrant music is "Circus of Life." And when a vocal appears on the third track, it's some kind of Muslim prayer sung over hip hop tabla beats. A-
Free Radicals: Our Lady of Sunny Delights (2000, Rastaman Work Ethic): Second album, the core group augmented by close to fifty musicians, working through 31 pieces ranging from 9 seconds to 5:56, with fewer vocals but much exuberance -- even a song about the "Irrational" kind. B+(**)
Free Radicals: Aerial Bombardment (2004, Rastaman Work Ethic): Fifty musicians, 32 tracks, opens with a nod toward reggae but the occasional vocals take a turn toward hip-hop, with the instrumentals favoring beat pieces over their usual horns. B+(**)
Free Radicals: The Freedom Fence (2012, Free Radicals): Back after eight years, "an epic collaboration of 48 musicians to create a highly danceable funk, klezmer, dub, ska, jazz, hip hop, and salsa-soaked satire of borders, apartheid, and gentrification" -- I can't attest to all of that as I've only heard 10/23 tracks, but they still add up to 33:59, and they cover a lot of ground. B+(**)
Free Radicals: Freedom of Movement (2015, Free Radicals): Here Houston's radical collective reins in their usual eclecticism to work with "Houston's renowned breakdancing collective Havikoro." The funk beats are relentless, but the politics rarely advances beyond the song titles. B+(***)
Lisbon Improvisation Players: Motion (2002 , Clean Feed): Second of three albums by this "group" -- first album was all-Portuguese, but only player on all three is saxophonist Rodrigo Amado (tenor/baritone here), with Acácio Salero on drums and two visiting Americans: Steve Adams (soprano/tenor sax) and Ken Filiano (bass). B+(*)
Taj Mahal: Taj Mahal (1968, Columbia): Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr., born in Harlem 1942, grew up in Massachusetts; father a West Indian jazz arranger and piano player, mother sang in the church choir. Father was killed in an industrial act when Henry was 11, and his mother married the nephew of bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, pointing him toward guitar blues. In 1964 he formed a band with Ry Cooder before they both moved on to solo careers (Cooder plays rhythm guitar here). Eight blues standards done up as classic blues rock -- an impressive debut he then spread out from. B+(***)
Taj Mahal: Natch'l Blues (1968, Columbia): The debut proved he could play straight, hard, electric blues, but here is where he starts to sound distinctive, especially on his arrangement of "Corinna." He wrote five originals too, reducing the covers to four including a couple of soul efforts (William Bell and Homer Banks, but they suggest and fall short of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett). B+(***)
Taj Mahal: Happy Just to Be Like I Am (1971, Columbia): More scattered, as he's starting to work in some things from his father's homeland in the West Indies, replete with Andy Narell's steel drums. Probably the most interesting thing here. On the other hand, his takes on such old fare as "Stealin'" and "Oh Susanna" come off a little hard. B+(**)
William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Spontaneous (2002 , Splasc(H)): The bassist's big band, never the most disciplined of units but well stocked with free-thinkers (e.g., trumpets: Lewis Barnes, Matt Lavelle, Roy Campbell), in full improv fury, live at CBGB's in New York. Two half-hour pieces, "Spontaneous Flowers" (Ayler) and "Spontaneous Mingus." B+(*)
William Parker Bass Quartet Featuring Charles Gayle: Requiem (2004 , Splasc(H)): The four bassists -- Parker plus Henry Grimes, Alan Silva, and Sirone -- set the tone and limit the momentum, with Gayle occasionally joining in on alto sax for a bit of spit and polish. B+(**)
Rising Sons: Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder (1965-66 , Columbia/Legacy): First band for the future roots stars, the 17-year-old Cooder recognizable vocally because he wasn't ready yet, although I can't complain about his bottleneck guitar. The 23-year-old Taj's voice is more obvious (even before he dubbed the final three tracks in 1992), and the vocals I can't place probably belong to Jesse Lee Kincaid -- he seems to have been the de facto leader of the group. Rounding out the band were Gary Marker (bass) and Ed Cassidy (drums, later replaced by Kevin Kelley). Terry Melcher produced an album, but it was shelved until being recast here, probably because their mixed bag country-rock needed a clearer voice to be recognized (like Gram Parsons, or Glenn Frey). Not that there isn't a decent blues EP here somewhere. B
Matthew Shipp Trio: The Trio Plays Ware (2003 , Splasc(H)): With William Parker (bass) and Guillermo E. Brown (drums), not just any piano trio but David S. Ware's legendary quartet minus the saxophonist. Lacks the rough edges Ware couldn't help but add, and some of the emotional force as well, while revealing how centered the melodies were. B+(***)
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade: