Tuesday, April 26. 2016
It's been about two months since my last roundup of book blurbs (Feb. 24). I started to cherry pick some important political books -- frequently noted writers like Andrew Bacevich, Thomas Frank, Jacob Hacker/Paul Pierson, Adam Hochschild, as well as Matthew Desmond's much touted Evicted -- but I wound up filling out this set of forty with the older entries in my scratch file. Almost have enough left over for a second forty, so that could come later in the week, or next week, or next month -- not clear at the moment.
Julian Assange, ed: The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire (2015, Verso): A big chunk of data from leaked US diplomatic documents in 2010-11, edited, indexed, with notes on context -- I've seen this described as an "executive summary" to an Internet-searchable cache of 2.3 million documents. People went to jail, or were otherwise harassed, to make this information public. Other people should go to jail for what it shows.
Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016, Random House): Vietnam veteran, conservative critic of America's imperial overreach, especially since his important The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War appeared in 2005 in the wake of Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq. That book helped explain why American politicians lost their fear of getting trapped in foreign quagmires. Here he moves from the toxic effects militarism has had on American civil society to the endless chain of disasters US entanglement in the Middle East has caused going back to the 1980s. Very likely another important book.
Yochai Benkler: The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest (2011, Crown Business): Title comes from the free software ethos of Linux (with its happy penguin logo) and Hobbes' politico-philosophical landmark where the unfettered pursuit of self-interest turns into a war of all against all. It shouldn't be hard to show that cooperation is more productive -- indeed, the main thing that companies do is to build a sheltered space where workers can build together, even in a world where competition between companies can be cutthroat. Adam Smith, for instance, imagined an "invisible hand" but what he really demonstrated was the productive advantages of a division of labor. Author previously wrote The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, Yale University Press).
Phyllis Bennis: Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (paperback, 2015, Olive Branch Press): One more in a series of short primers (Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, Ending the Iraq War, Understanding the US-Iran Crisis, Ending the US War in Afghanistan), provides the basics, the history, a firm understanding of international law, and a common sense critique of American imperial hubris. Probably quite useful, but one thing I wonder about is how the idea of ISIS elicits such a knee-jerk reaction from the American psyche: the Syrian Civil War was widely regarded as such a complete mess that US intervention would be foolish, yet as soon as you uttered the words "Islamic State" the US plunged back into war, both in Syria and Iraq, and ISIS has turned into the magic word to justify US bombing in Libya and Yemen. This reaction has proved so instantaneous and unthinking I'm not sure that even Bennis can negate it.
Ari Berman: Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A history of the civil rights movement, especially the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act. The book comes shortly after said Act was gutted by the Roberts Court. Congress should have responded by extending the Act's protections to all states, especially since the Republicans discovered they do better when voter turnout is low and started passing restrictive "voter ID" laws all over the country.
Wendell Berry: Our Only World: Ten Essays (2015, Counterpoint): Kentucky tobacco farmer, poet, essayist, recently passed into his 80s, can be cranky about new technology but has great sensitivity to communal life and the natural world. Recent essay collections have tended to collect older works, so I'm not sure if the essays in this "new collection" are really new. I am sure that the old ones are very much worth your time.
Beth Buczynski: Sharing Is Good: How to Save Money, Time and Resources Through Collaborative Consumption (paperback, 2013, New Society Publishers): One thing I've come to realize is that damn near none of the things I own is in use at any given time, nor does the percentage grow much over days, week, months. I assume that's at least part of what's going on here. (I have a cousin who lives in a retirement community where the houses are tiny but nearly everything imaginable is available in shared buildings -- when I visit, it always strikes me as something of a communist paradise.) So this seems like a reasonable idea for a lower cost, higher value, sustainable future, not that I doubt the devil is in the details. Other books along these lines: Rachel Botsman: What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (2010, Harper Business; paperback, 2011, Collins); Lisa Gansky: The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing (paperback, 2012, Portfolio); Chelsea Rustrum/Gabriel Slempinski/Alexandra Liss: It's a Shareable Life: A Practical Guide on Sharing (paperback, 2014, Shareable Life); Jay Walljasper: All That We Share: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities and Everything Else That Belongs to All of Us (paperback, 2010, New Press); Malcolm Harris/Neal Gorenflo, eds: Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis (paperback, 2012, New Society Publishers).
Horace Campbell: Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya (paperback, 2013, Monthly Review Press): It's pretty clear in hindsight that the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 took a bad situation -- a civil war as Muammar Gaddafi used military force to try to suppress a popular revolt -- and turned it into chaos and who knows what? You'd think this would be cause for reflection, but the intervention came and went too fast to get onto book schedules, and since then little has been published other than the right wing's Benghazi! propaganda, so I thought I'd search out what's available. This book, very critical of NATO, was the first I found. Some others: Alison Pargeter: Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (2012, Yale University Press); Vijay Prashad: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (paperback, 2012, AK Press); Ethan Chorin: Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution (2012, Public Affairs); Maximilian Forte: Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO's War on Libya and Africa (paperback, 2012, Baraka Books); Francis A Boyle: Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade US Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution (paperback, 2013, Clarity Press); Christopher S Chivvis: Toppling Qaddafi: Libya and the Limits of Liberal Intervention (paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press); Hugh Roberts: The Fall of Muammar Gaddafi: NATO's War in Libya (2016, Verso).
Satyajit Das: The Age of Stagnation: Why Perpetual Growth Is Unattainable and the Global Economy Is in Peril (2016, Prometheus Books): Well, it does seem like the economies of the United States and Europe haven't bounced back from the 2008 financial meltdown like they did from previous recessions, and lately we've seen downturns in China and other "developing countries" that had fared so well in the previous decades. Das attributes all of this to the low interest "easy money" policies used to fight the recession and the overall growth of debt (especially public debt). I see this same stagnation, but I'm more inclined to attribute it to deliberate political policies protecting the issuers of all that debt while letting everyone else slide into an ever deeper mire. What makes this even more disagreeable is how neoliberals use debt as a cudgel to argue for austerity. An unspoken alternative would be to liquidate much of that debt, which would go a long ways toward reversing the increasing inequality trend (and all of its vile consequences).
Matthew Desmond: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016, Crown): Stories of tenants and landlords in poor parts of Milwaukee c. 2008-09: the struggle to meet the rent for bad housing in hard times, "a cycle of hurt that all parties -- landlord, tenant, city -- inflict on one another." Seems to be one of the more important books on American poverty in recent years.
Cynthia Enloe/Joni Seager: The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Myths and Truths of the United States (paperback, 2011, Penguin Press): A short (128 pp) book of maps and charts slicing and dicing the US economy and society in various ways. For instance, one map shows military deaths in Iraq by state: Texas (414) is a close second to California (468), and Oklahoma (76) is more than 50% higher than Kansas (47) (per capita would be more revealing, although it would reduce the OK/KS ratio).
Keith P Feldman: A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (2015, University of Minnesota Press): Takes the thesis that the US relationship to Israel belongs more to US domestic than foreign policy, and explores how US racial attitudes influence that policy. I imagine there's something to this, especially in the 1980s when Israel was one of South Africa's last close allies, but I imagine one can find less explicit evidence earlier -- especially as you don't have to go back very far to get past the taboo against explicit racism. Deeper down, both Israel and the US are colonial outposts of colonial outposts of Europe, and heirs of its crusader mythos -- Jews were long considered outsiders to all this, but one can argue that in colonizing Palestine they became "white," approximately even "Christian" (as the recently popular "Judeo-Christian" terminology shows).
Norman G Finkelstein: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza (paperback, 2014, OR Books): Chronicles three major assaults on Gaza since Israel dismantled its settlements in the blockaded territory: codes names Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012), and Protective Edge (2014). Finkelstein examines the logic behind these attacks, concluding they "have been designed to sabotage the possibility of a compromise peace with the Palestinians, even on terms that are favorable to [Israel]." Seems to be a collection of essays, less detailed than the book he wrote on Cast Lead: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.
Ronald P Formisano: Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): Argues that rule by the rich (plutocracy) undermines both the poor and "the middle class" -- which I take to be a way of saying "democracy." Or as Louis Brandeis put it: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; we can't have both." I think inequality is a very important topic not so much because it is unfair and unjust as because it introduces all sorts of twists and distortions into how we relate to each other. Author previously wrote The Tea Party: A Brief History and For the People: American Populist Movements From the Revolution to the 1850s.
Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016, Metropolitan Books): After three notable books on the rise of the right -- What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (2008), and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012) -- Frank takes a hard look at the Democrats who have aided and abetted the far right's stranglehold on politics. Given how the Republicans have gone from bad to worse without totally marginalizing themselves, this may seem to be an untimely subject to bring up, but politics is not just a game where you tote up points and celebrate the winner: it's how we as a democratic society try to cope with real problems, and that process has become perverted to a staggering degree. Frank is not the first writer on the left to notice that "liberal" leaders like Clinton and Obama often give up rather than fight for the people who elected them -- cf. Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010), or for that matter the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Rose George: Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (paperback, 2014, Picador): One of those books on basic, everyday life, and the technology and business that makes it possible. Author previously tried this with another important topic: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (2008).
Stanley B Greenberg: America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation's Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century (2015, Thomas Dunne): Pollster to hegemonic Democrats like Clinton and Gore, consultant to companies like Boeing and Microsoft, and all around hack reassures us that the future is rosy and won't be clouded by a Republican Party which is self-destructing as we speak. He seeks the nation "turning to Democrats to take on the country's growing challenges," continuing "the social transformations that are making the country ever more racially and culturally diverse, younger, a home to immigrants, and the metropolitan centers that foster a rising economic and cultural dynamism."
Dave Grossman/Gloria DeGaetano: Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence (1999; rev ed, paperback, 2014, Harmony): Grossman was a Lt. Col. who had second thoughts and wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995; paperback, 1996, Back Bay Books). I don't think there is a simple relationship between witnessing violence in fictional contexts and killing (or for that matter between watching porn and sex crimes), although I also don't doubt that habituation and desensitization can lead some people to become more dangerous. And I'm particularly suspicious of video games, where the point seems to be not just to kill but to develop an automatic reflex to do so thoughtlessly. But I'd worry more about the morals conveyed by our national celebration of "the troops" and their "heroism" -- by the nearly constant practice of war by the United States over the last 75 years. That the military itself is so gung-ho on games is a bad sign, but probably has less to do with violence today than the proliferation of their other favorite toy: firearms.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016, Simon & Schuster): Once upon a time Ronald Reagan told a joke -- something like "the scariest words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'" -- and some people took it as profound insight and blew it up into a nihilistic war against any and all forms of government activity, especially the kind that tries to actually help people. Hacker & Pierson have written a number of important books -- Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (2005), The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back (2007), Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer, and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010) -- and now this one, where the remind us that public investment has long been a foundation of prosperity here, and why the movement against it makes us poorer.
Adam Hochschild: Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): As Franco turned to Hitler and Mussolini to support his movement in Spain's civil war, many others around the world, including 2800 Americans, rallied to the cause of Spanish democracy, becoming (in the terminology of the post-WWII CIA, "premature antifascists." This tries to tell their story, while picking up a few others like George Orwell. Author has written several notable books about (mostly British) protest movements against war and colonialism, such as King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.
Philip T Hoffman: Why Did Europe Conquer the World? (2015, Princeton University Press): Economist, sees the answer in economics, basically the relatively intense competition between late medieval European states involving nearly continuous war. Their rivalry favored whoever could advance science and technology for destructive purposes, and whoever could solve the financial problems of such military adventures. Along the way, Hoffman rejects various other theories, like those of Jared Diamond (Guns Germs and Steel, which as I recall includes similar economic arguments among others). Evidently doesn't address the obvious next question, which is why Europe made such a mess of the world it conquered. Both rise and fall, after all, are intimately related.
Jessica Hopper: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (paperback, 2015, Featherproof Books): She mostly writes for Pitchfork, which I don't read enough to have any sense of who she is or what she likes. Pitchfork's business model is based on the ideas that bits are cheap and so are writers, so make the latter crank out plenty of the former -- always more than it takes to glaze my eyes over. Her title is provocative, and not just because Ellen Willis and Lillian Roxon are dead, or because others like Ann Powers went straight into books without bothering to gather up their numerous short pieces. Still, the main reason I mention this book is to throw in a plug for Carol Cooper's Pop Culture Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race: Selected Critical Essays (1979-2001), which belies Hopper's title.
Philip K Howard: The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government (2014; paperback, 2015, WW Norton): Lawyer, political theorist, wrote The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America (1994), followed by The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom (2002) and Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law (2009). His big point -- that too many laws and regulatory rules, and lawyers and bureaucrats, has turned into a trap that has all sorts of bad effects, from inhibiting common sense to sapping freedom -- is something that we can all relate to, but still you have to wonder who benefits? For instance, lawsuits have never been the great leveler of theory, but sometimes they do manage to bring corporate abuses to an end. Howard wants to get rid of most lawsuits, which sounds laudable but not if doing so leaves us without recourse to right wrongs. It turns out that Howard is founder and chair of Common Good, a "nonpartisan, nonprofit legal reform coalition" trying to implement his recommendations. He seems to have support from members of both political parties, but most of the names mentioned in his Wikipedia page (which reads like PR) are Republicans (Jeb Bush, Alan Simpson, Mitch Daniels) and mouthpieces like David Brooks. Still, I imagine someone could rewrite Howard's books to arrive at a more progressive result -- although that may involve equalizing access to lawyers and lobbyists before cutting back on the overkill. Howard, by the way, wrote another book that is alarming and self-discrediting on the surface: The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far (2001): nothing then or since suggests that we're suffering from too much fairness.
Ian Kershaw: To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (2015, Penguin): Part of a series called The Penguin History of Europe, joining the two world wars and the turbulent interwar period -- Arno Mayer called this period "the 30 years war of the 20th century." Kershaw has written several big books on the tail end of this period, including Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 (2007) and The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany (2011). On the same time period, Heinrich August Winkler: The Age of Catastrophe: A History of the West 1914-1945 (2015, Yale University Press), even longer (1016 pp).
Peter H Lindert/Jeffrey G Williamson: Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality Since 1780 (2016, Princeton University Press): The authors crunch numbers for a much longer stretch of American history than anyone else has done before, and find two time stretches where inequality rose steeply: from the 1970s to today, as you damn well know by now, and from 1774 to 1860, which actually predates the legendary robber baron period of the late 19th century and the great bubble of the "roaring '20s" -- two periods where the wealth of the very richest was especially conspicuous. Meanwhile there were three periods when the wealthy took serious hits: during the Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression.
Mike Lofgren: The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (2016, Viking): Previously wrote The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2012) -- no idea whether he's someone who can be trusted politically, but in a nutshell that sounds like the story of our times. Leaving aside the Republicans for the moment, one thing that has made Democrats so useless is how readily Clinton in 1993 and Obama in 2009 abandoned a great many of their campaign promises as soon as they had to face with Washington's entrenched bureaucracies -- more or less what Lofgren calls "the deep state." This especially seems to be the case with security and treasury, where new advisory jobs always seem to go to old hands. But I suspect the extraordinary influence of lobbyists and donors -- not technically part of the state, but perhaps promiscuously intertwined with it -- is at least as large. And one can throw in big media (mainstream and otherwise) which are always vigilant to police what politicians can think and say.
Branko Milanovic: Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (2016, Belknap Press): Looks at inequality in a global context, finding that while inequality has been increasing within nations (especially the US), it has been falling among/between nations -- in large part because large developing nations like China and India have been promoting middle class incomes at the same time the US has been destroying them. A follow up to the author's The Haves and the Have-Notes: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010).
Ilan Pappé, ed: Israel and South Africa: The Many Faces of Apartheid (paperback, 2015, Zed Books): Various papers on comparisons and analogies, the upshot is that Israel is becoming every bit the international pariah state South Africa's apartheid regime became. Don't know if the book gets into this, but there are significant differences. Most importantly, Israel has become almost independent of cheap Palestinian labor, whereas South Africa was literally built on cheap labor.
Susan Pedersen: The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (2015, Oxford University Press): A history of the world from 1920-1939 as seen through the League of Nations, the international organization created in the wake of World War I to ensure world peace. It, of course, failed, largely because the great powers were still preoccupied with their imperialist and colonialist rivalries and grudges.
Richard J Perry: Killer Apes, Naked Apes & Just Plain Nasty People: The Misuse and Abuse of Science in Political Discourse (2015, Johns Hopkins University Press): "Delivers a scathing critique of determinism" -- the notion that human behavior is genetically fixed or inherently programmed, particularly for violence. The title reminds me of certain bestsellers from back in the 1960s and 1970s, although I had thought they were pretty well debunked by now.
Serhii Plokhy: The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015, Basic Books): Ukraine has lately become a major flash point in the West's renovated cold war to contain and isolate Putin's Russia, so it's about time someone wrote a history of the nation itself rather than consigning it to a sidebar in the history of Russia. Of course, most of its long history is subsumed under Russia or any of a number of other invading tribes or nations -- early chapters include "The Advent of the Slavs," "Vikings on the Dnieper," "Byzantium North," and "Pax Mongolica" before there is any hint of "The Making of Ukraine."
Robert Pollin: Greening the Global Economy (2015, MIT Press): Leftist economist, I found his book Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (2003) insightful. This short (176 pp) book argues that it is possible to replace fossil fuels with renewables -- indeed, it is happening -- and grow the economy as a result.
Bill Press: Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down (2016, Threshold Editions): It's certainly true that "in many ways President Obama has failed to live up to either his promises or his progressive potential" -- I've often been critical both of his strategic vision and of his tactical choices -- but I (and policy-wise I'm easily to the left of Bernie Sanders) think "remorse" suggests much more disillusionment than nearly any Obama voter feels. (Remorse is more like Lyndon Johnson, who campaigned to save us from the belligerent madness of Barry Goldwater, then promptly plunged us into the Vietnam War.) So I wonder what's up here, not least because I associate the publisher with right-wing cranks (e.g., Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Oliver North).
Ray Raphael: Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past [Tenth Anniversary Edition] (2004; rev ed, paperback, 2014, New Press): Remarkable how many stories people think they know about the American Revolution have been transformed over the ages into myth -- what the author calls "cherished fabrications." Raphael has written many books aimed at broadening and deepening understanding of the period by stripping away those myths, so this is his core text, newly revised. His other books include: A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence (2001, New Press; paperback, 2002, Harper Collins), and including Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (2009, New Press); Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012, Knopf); and Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right (2013, New Press).
Eric Rauchway: The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace (2015, Basic Books): George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are widely regarded as sainted presidents, but in many ways Franklin Roosevelt's many accomplishments are more remarkable -- he's just never had the sort of activist beatification committee that has managed to deface vast swathes of America naming shit for Ronald Reagan. This story deserves to be retold, not least because we are still plagued by goldbuggers -- probably the single dumbest idea still held by any reputable politician in America.
Nicholas Stargardt: The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 (2015, Basic Books): Attempts to create a broad portrait of how the German people viewed and were engaged in the German war against Europe, notably finding that "the Wehrmacht in fact retained the staunch support of the patriotic German populace until the bitter end."
Jim Wallis: America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (2016, Brazos Press): Edits a Christian evangelical magazine called Sojourners tied to a Protestant religious sect he helped found, but has steered away from "Christian conservative" politics, recently writing books that take up political themes: like God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (2005), and Rediscovering Values: On Main Street, Wall Street, and Your Street. Here he tackles the history and legacy of racism, and appeals to end it.
Karine V Walther: Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921 (2015, University of North Carolina Press): Time framework extends from the Greek War of Independence (1821) to the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) -- curiously that period skips over the Barbary Wars (1801-05) when the US first tangled with the Ottoman Empire -- "excavates the deep history of American Islamophobia, showing how negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims shaped US foreign relations from the Early Republic to the end of World War I." I imagine thee is some evidence of that, but I've long been under the opposite impression: that US foreign policy toward the Ottomans was relatively benign, and only became more consequential once the oil industry got involved.
Ellen Willis: The Essential Ellen Willis (paperback, 2014, University of Minnesota Press): A pioneering feminist polemicist who early on wrote some notable rock criticism, since her death in 2006 her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, has done a fine job of collecting her various writings for posterity -- before this general collection there appeared Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (2011), and reissues of Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll and No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (both 2012, all University of Minnesota Press paperbacks). I've never been much of a fan -- partly because she seemed to be too glib about war for a leftist, partly because of a tone I recall in her feminism, like wrapping oneself in a flag -- but I don't doubt that these books are chock full of interesting insights.
Tim Wise: Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America (paperback, 2015, City Lights): It isn't enough for the rich to steal from the poor. They also demand that we praise the rich for their successes, and condemn for poor for their failures. Wise wrote a rather similar book in 2014: Culture of Cruelty: How America's Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future. Before that he mostly wrote about racism, which works much the same way.
Recently I decided that I needn't write a full paragraph of every book worth noting, so I started building a list. Here are a few examples that may (or may not) pique your curiosity:
I used to append a few paperback reissues of books I had previously written about, with additional blurbs, but I've tended to skip that recently. Since I've been collecting at least some, I'll list them here:
Monday, April 25. 2016
Music: Current count 26541  rated (+26), 413  unrated (-5).
Rated count back down. Still probably would have hit thirty had I not spent Thursday cooking dinner from China Moon Cookbook and listen to Prince's The Hits/The B-Sides instead. As you're no doubt aware, Prince died last week -- Papa Wemba too. I hadn't gotten around to looking up Prince's two records last year (turns out they're not on Rhapsody), but his two 2014 albums weren't bad, and I credit him with two A- albums in the previous decade (Musicology in 2004, 3121 in 2006). And, of course, much more earlier. Some links follow.
Expect Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Not a huge amount in the file, but I haven't been all that lazy either. Still, don't feel much like writing tonight, or much of anything else either. Guess that means a lazy evening of TV. What isn't self-explanatory below will be revealed soon enough.
Recommended music links:
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, April 24. 2016
The New York primaries were held last week. Hillary Clinton won a huge win with 58.0% of the vote, giving her 139 delegates to Bernie Sanders 108. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won with his first majority in a primary all year, a big one with 60.4% of the vote vs. 25.1% for John Kasich and 14.5% for that sworn enemy of "New York values" Ted Cruz. Trump got 89 delegates, Kasich 4, and Cruz 0, so this primary went a long ways to putting Trump back on track for a first ballot win at the Republican Convention. Still, it's worth noting that Trump only got 19.5% of the votes cast on Tuesday. Sanders got 28.4%, and Clinton got 39.2% -- together the Democrats got 67.7% of the total vote, a big change from earlier primaries where Republicans generally got more votes than Democrats.
I looked at 538's What Went Down in the New York Primaries, and one thing I checked was the Clinton-Sanders split by congressional district. What I found was that Clinton ran especially well in New York City, and was much stronger in districts represented by Democrats (she won 17 of 18, only losing around Albany). Sanders, on the other hand, won 5 (of 9) districts represented by Republicans, and did better than his state average in the other four (also in Democratic districts in Buffalo and Rochester, plus the 6th in Queens and the 18th in Westchester). What this suggests is that the party machine and its patronage network held firm for Clinton. Of course, one thing that helped the machine was that the primary was closed (way in advance of the vote), so independents, which Sanders has regularly won this year, often by large margins, couldn't vote.
I came out of this feeling pretty down, not so much because I expected a Sanders win -- I did think it might be closer, but knew Clinton had a lot of structural advantages there -- but because it underscored how difficult it's going to be to dislodge the Party's power structure. Sanders could win in Republican areas because he appealed especially to people deprived of power, but the Democrats so controlled New York City that the oligarchy -- especially the nabobs of Wall Street -- owned the Party. And what made matters worse for me was that while this smackdown was going on, I was reading Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, where his big point is that the Democrats ever since Carter had courted educated professionals (following Chris Hedges, he calls them the Liberal Class), often at the expense of the workers and unions who had previously been the most effective supporters of the Democratic Party -- the net effect is that the Democrats are as much in bed with big business as the Republicans, making them preferable only in that they'll try to defend certain liberties and civil rights, and work a bit less hard at destroying the middle class. That explains the sort of marginal differentiation that is supposed to convince us that we need Clinton to save the world from Trump or Cruz, even though there is no reason to think she'll even try to do the things that need to be done to reverse the increase in inequality and the rot in practically everything else. So while the horserace watchers saw New York as the primary that virtually cinched Clinton's nomination, it looked more to me like the end of any hope for change.
Next Tuesday's primaries promise to be more of the same. Clinton is favored in Connecticut (56.2-41.3%, closest poll Clinton +6), Maryland (63.3-33.9%, closest +13), and Pennsylvania (58.9-38.2%, closest +6); I don't see any polling on Delaware and Rhode Island, but I'd expect them to be similar to Maryland and Connecticut (although there is one Delaware poll with Clinton +7, suggesting much closer than Maryland). Trump is also expected to mop up: 45.2-31.7-21.3% in Connecticut (Kasich over Cruz), 40.3-30.6-27.1% in Maryland (Kasich over Cruz), and 41.1-29.4-27.4% in Pennsylvania (Cruz over Kasich -- looks like a second straight brutal week for Cruz).
Looking further ahead, Clinton should keep on winning: 52.7-44.4% in Indiana (May 3), 56.8-41.7% in California (June 7), 51.0-41.4% in New Jersey (also June 7). Trump continues to lead in the Republican races (with Cruz getting a bit closer): 38.1-37.5-22.2% (T-C-K) in Indiana, 41.9-33.5-23.4% (T-C-K) in California, and 50.4-23.4-17.2% (T-K-C) in New Jersey.
Meanwhile I have to share the following image. Just think, with three-hundred million people in America, this is the best we can do?
Back in 1776 there were only four million people in America, yet somehow we managed to find a wide range of capable leaders. Now we find that the only possible surrogate for one Clinton is another, and that the best the opposition party can come up with is their former party pal. Hard to see any significant differences among this crowd, yet both Trump and Clinton have managed to convince most of their followers that the other is the Devil incarnate, and those followers are hysterical as expected. Still, the odds of a comparably jovial post-election photo are pretty high -- especially if Clinton wins and reverts to form, serving the billionaire class.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Monday, April 18. 2016
Music: Current count 26515  rated (+40), 418  unrated (-7).
Big bump in the rated count this week -- first time in well over a month to top 30 and did so by a bunch. Had a replenished jazz queue to work through, and until I got to the Clean Feeds they didn't require a lot of attention. Also noticed on Rhapsody a clutch of new records by artists I recognize as worth checking out (Hayes Carll, The Coathangers, Mayer Hawthorne, Parquet Courts, Sturgill Simpson, plus Kanye West finally appeared). Also had Jason Gubbels' list, and a couple Christgau Expert Witness columns (one on blues and another on alt-rock -- I had already written up Parquet Courts but not Coathangers or the new Tacocat, and my endorsement of Full Communism isn't just political).
Of the eight B+(***) records below, two were Christgau A- records (Tacocat, Kanye West). I gave up on them after two or three plays, without being certain more plays wouldn't help. Same thing for the Sturgill Simpson album, possibly an even better prospect. I'm having similar indecision with the new PJ Harvey, but save that for next week.
I voted in Downbeat's annual critics poll last week. I'm not going to do a separate post on this -- I was exhausted after it took more than 24 hours to I finish the 16 pages of ballots (with 50-some questions), on top of the usual aggravations and frustrations. Still, you can scan through my worksheet if you like. I suppose I should mention that I build each year's worksheet on the last, which helps with consistency (and jogs my increasingly damaged memory) but lets me get by without giving many questions much fresh thought. And this all the more true in categories I don't have any real thoughts -- fresh or received -- on, like Composer, Arranger, or various minor instruments (e.g., I almost never notice electric bass or keyboards, so trying to come up with three names there is even harder than trying to whittle down thirty or more luminaries on acoustic bass or piano).
I will mention that my HOF pick was George Russell. Downbeat's Hall is excessively restrictive and therefore woefully underpopulated, so there is a long list of worthies to pick from (and many more not even on Downbeat's prospect list). (By contrast, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is too large, not that the judges there have picked up all who deserve a slot.) Still, Russell is a giant among the uninducted, but he never has gotten the credit he deserves. For instance, when you think of Latin-Bebop, you recall Dizzy Gillespie (not the writer of "Cubana Be Cubana Bop"). When you think of modal jazz, you come up with Miles Davis and John Coltrane (not the guy who wrote the big book that showed how it is done). When you think of jazz workshops, you get Mingus (not Russell). Most likely you can't think of anyone who pioneered electronics in jazz. Or recall that Russell was the mentor of nearly a dozen important Scandinavian (mostly Norwegian) jazz musicians who started out in the early 1970s. When Russell returned from Norway, got a job at New England Conservatory where he was one of the architects of modern jazz education. The people who vote in Downbeat's Readers Poll are never going to put all that together, but you'd think that jazz critics would know at least this much.
Of course, many do, but they have other concerns, and the competition is stiff. It took Lee Konitz 65 years to get in last year, after finishing in the top three for nearly a decade -- leapfrogged many times recently by guys who finally got voters' attention the year before by dying (2006: Jackie McLean, 2007: Andrew Hill, 2009: Freddie Hubbard, 2011: Abbey Lincoln, 2012: Paul Motian, 2013: Charlie Haden, 2014: Jim Hall; Hank Jones won in 2008 then died in 2010; the only other living musician in this stretch was Muhal Richard Abrams in 2010; Russell died in 2009, got a boost then, but not enough). I have no idea who will win this year, but Paul Bley is probably the top choice among the recently deceased, and Anthony Braxton is the obvious pick among the living (and still very active).
I decided to write two names in, not so much because they were my next picks -- these rank lists are nowhere near that precise -- as hoping that they'll be picked up in future ballots: Mal Waldron and Jimmy Rushing. Waldron (1926-2002) is most famous as Billie Holiday's pianist, but he had a brilliant career as a leader and composer, made a remarkable move from postbop to avant-garde with his later group records like The Git Go and Crowd Scene, but perhaps his best records were duos with Steve Lacy, Marion Brown, and Jackie McLean (Left Alone '86). Rushing (1901-72) was the greatest of the Kansas City blues shouters, starting with Walter Page and Bennie Moten and following Count Basie to New York, where he cut many great albums -- a personal favorite from the year before he died is the out-of-print The You and Me That Used to Be.
This has nothing to do with music, but I should note and lament the passing of Dewane Hixon (1933-2016). He was a cousin, the oldest son of my mother's slightly older sister Edith. They moved from Oklahoma to Modesto, California in 1952, so we didn't see them much -- we drove to California in 1956; Edith, with two other sons (but I think not Dewane) came through Wichita around 1958. Dewane had a job working for an aircraft dealer and came to Wichita once for some training. He had a story about beating a traffic ticket when the cop stopped him and asked to see his pilot's license -- he whipped one out. I don't remember his father, Otis Hixon, who died from something heart-related in 1967, but relatives often said that Dewane reminded them of Otis, particularly as a practical joker. Dewane settled near Phoenix, and Edith moved there. After my mother died in 2000, we drove to Phoenix to see Edith, and spent quite a bit of time with Dewane. Edith died that December, at 89, the last of eight siblings. I went back to Phoenix two more times in the next few years. Always stopped to see Dewane, tell jokes, argue politics, and reminisce. He had a delivery service business, and was still working it last I heard last year. About half my cousins on my mother's side have passed now: all are older than me, the oldest survivor 90. Even stranger to lose that generation than my aunts and uncles before them.
Let me also note that I continue to be learn things from Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal, which I quoted from in yesterday's post. The next few pages after yesterday's quote add to the list of Bill Clinton's "counter-scheduling" practices -- the crime bill, welfare reform, the "grand bargain" he was working on with Newt Gingrich to privatize a big chunk of Social Security. Frank focuses on how these acts reflect a deeper shift in the Democratic Party from a working-class base to one based on well-to-do professionals, one that may be socially liberal but cares little about inequality. Thus far -- I've gotten to be a shamefully slow reader, as well as one who can only focus for a few pages at a time, so I'm only about half-way through a short book -- he hasn't drawn out the political conclusions: e.g., how by undermining traditional Democratic groups Clinton was able to capture the party for his own personal purposes, which include fronting his wife's candidacy. But given what Frank shows, that part is pretty obvious.
In some ways I find Frank's book even more shocking than Jane Mayer's Dark Money. If it was just the Kochs and their ilk that had set out to undermine American democracy, there would be plenty of popular reaction. But when you turn the opposition over to "leaders" like the Clintons, there's no telling what they won't surrender (supposedly to defend you).
Recommended music links:
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, April 17. 2016
Quickly, some scattered links this week:
I want to close with a fairly long quote from Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (pp. 89-91):
One effect of Clinton's NAFTA push was that the unions were unable to muster effective support for Clinton's signature health care bill. Then in 1994 the Republicans gained control of Congress and Clinton never again had to worry about the Democrats pushing some progressive reform through Congress. And by crippling the unions, Clinton was able to consolidate his control of the Democratic Party machine, something which kept Democrats weak in Congress (except for 2006-2010, when Howard Dean was Party Chairman) and set up Hillary's campaigns in 2008 and this year. (Sure, Obama beat Hillary in 2008, but welcomed her people into his team, got rid of Dean, and restored presidential crony control of the Party machinery, making Hillary a shoe-in this year -- at least until the rank-and-file weighed in.)
The bottom line here is that most people's interests should align with the Democrats -- they damn sure don't line up with the Republicans -- yet the Democrats don't get their votes, because party leaders like the Clintons, despite whatever they may promise during a campaign, cannot be trusted to support them.
Friday, April 15. 2016
I started writing this up as a Weekend Roundup bullet item, but decided to let it stand [almost] on its own.
Tom Hayden: I Used to Support Bernie, but Then I Changed My Mind: The famed 1960s New Left radical, a founder of SDS, defendant at the Chicago 8/7 trial, and moderately successful California politician, explains:
I'm surprised to see Sanders depicted as having "all the money in the world," but checking Open Secrets I was even more surprised to see that he has managed to collect $139 million so far -- more than Ted Cruz ($119 million, including $52 million PAC money), still less than Hillary Clinton ($222 million, including $62 million PAC; Sanders has made a big point about not having a dark money PAC). Most of Sanders' money came in February ($42M) and March ($44M), well into the primary season. Until that happened, he was mostly dependent on volunteer efforts. I know, for instance, that he's had an active supporter group here in Wichita for over a year, and they would be pretty surprised to find he's rolling in all that money. They did, however, organize Sanders' second-largest victory margin to date -- although he's since won bigger elsewhere. As primary season unfolded, the money understandably went to critically competitive states. And Clinton, who started with (and still has) much more money, had somehow locked up the Deep South where most Democrats are black -- maybe she had made the investments Hayden charges Sanders with neglecting. (Still, isn't it interesting that a seasoned politician like Hayden sees money as the essential element in securing the loyalties of black and Latino votes? The implication is that those votes are tied to group elites in a way that approximates the old political machines.) And even more than cash, the big advantage that the Clintons brought into this election was a well-oiled patronage machine. The clearest evidence that established patronage matters is Clinton's 469-31 superdelegate lead. (Sanders' contributions have averaged $27-30, which works out to five million-plus donations though there are repeaters -- I know that my wife has donated $27 several times, probably putting her over $100 by now. Beyond her PAC money, Clinton has also gone after small donations, and claims more than one million donors. Sanders has more, "nearly two million donors" (Hillary Clinton Touts One Million Donors, While Bernie Sanders Approaches Two).
I've been somewhat mystified why Clinton enjoys such a large lead over Sanders among black voters. It's certainly not based on a sober examination of positions and issues, and I doubt if it has much to do with personal style. The best I've been able to come up with is that even with growing economic inequality and the decimation of the middle class all across America, most blacks have improved their lot, and see their solidarity with the Democratic Party as having helped them out. This isn't an unreasonable stance, and no doubt if/when Clinton wins she'll owe blacks and Latinos big time -- but she'll also owe bankers and the war industry, and in the end I suspect their investments will pay off better.
If Hayden was just a cog in the Democratic Party machine, I could see his choice: indeed, it would be as unremarkable as it's been for hundreds or thousands of Party hacks all across America. But Hayden was one of the most prominent figures in the New Left in the 1960s. One might argue that choosing Clinton over Sanders shows that he's not really much of a leftist, but more likely, I suspect, he's just proving one of the major critiques of the New Left: that it was run by people who came from privileged backgrounds and saw their role as to advocate for other people who had been denied their good fortune. That's not bad per se, but in practice shifted much of the left's focus from class to minority and identity issues like race (and sex and sexual orientation). They've done good work on all those fronts, but while they were off helping others the right smashed the unions that propped up the middle class and created vast inequality -- so much so that young people in America today have less reason to expect to live out their lives in comfort and freedom (e.g., free of debt) than any past generation for at least a century.
The upshot is that we have a guy who's spent more than fifty years working towards radical political change yet can't recognize it when it's actually happening, just because it's not coming from where he's been expecting it. The irony is that the Old Left that Hayden rejected had made the same mistake, expecting the working classes to rise up even after labor unions had won them middle-class jobs and social security, enough to buy homes (and cars, etc.) and send their kids to college and retire comfortably -- enough luxury they could even afford to look down on the less fortunate. Hayden, like much of the New Left, rebelled against the white working class as much as against the Old Left. I suspect that's because he was never of it, whereas those of us who grew up there were better able to notice when things went sour.
A few other quick links, limited to the elections. Next up is the New York primary, where 538's "projected results" favor Clinton 57.8-39.6%, although I only see one (of eight) April polls where she has that kind of margin -- 10-12% is typical. I don't expect Sanders to win, but wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be much closer. (Friends who watched here -- I didn't, but baked them some cookies -- tell me Sanders had a very good debate last night.) On the Republican side it's Trump-Kasich-Cruz: 52.9-24.4-20.4%. You'd think that Trump's first majority win plus a third-place Cruz finish would turn the post-Wisconsin punditry around, but I doubt it. (Although I see that Josh Marshall is already out front there.) Trump, by the way, is polling well ahead in the April 27 primaries (Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania) -- as is Clinton (although Connecticut is closer, and a couple of Pennsylvania polls show her lead there down to +6 or +7).
By the way, while I was not listening to the debate, I somehow imagined Hillary saying:
Meanwhile, some brief links:
Monday, April 11. 2016
Music: Current count 26475  rated (+29), 425  unrated (+11).
Count up a bit, but that's mostly because I got into a run of listening to the legendary Dutch anarcho-punk group Ex, finding virtually all of their catalog easily accessible on Bandcamp. I discovered this cache when Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Merkuria (or Merkurya) died and I went off looking for his old Éthiopiques volume -- one I had long hoped to listen to. I also recalled that he had done a live album with the Ex (one I thought I had heard, but evidently not), as well as an A- record with Either/Orchestra (Éthiopiques 20: Live in Addis). I've long been interested in Ex, but it hasn't been easy coming across their records. Before this binge, my ratings were:
Perhaps I should also include some jazz-oriented records that guitarist Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) has done:
This preoccupation with the Ex has taken up so much time (and I'm still a few records short of done) that I haven't done anything in recognition of the recent deaths of Merle Haggard and Tony Conrad. The one thought I have on Haggard is that I'll always be grateful to my old friend Harold Karabell for prodding me to look beyond Hag's "Fightin' Side" jingoism. I have 25 of his records graded in my database, which leaves me far short, especially on the early LPs, but that's still quite a few. As for Conrad, I'm looking at his Early Minimalism box still sitting on my unplayed shelf over a decade after a publicist generously sent it to me. Safe to say, he's due.
I also want to note the recent death of a non-musician here, Manfred Menking. Born in Germany (East Prussia) in 1934, he survived bombing in WWII, fled west in advance of the Soviet army in 1944. He studied to become a doctor, was offered a Fulbright scholarship to complete his pediatric residency in Ohio. In 1973 he moved to Wichita, where one of his patients was my nephew. He was devoted to peace, working with Physicians for Social Responsibility and Wichita's Peace and Social Justice Center -- where we met him shortly after moving here in 1999. He was charming, delightful, very kind. It was a pleasure to have known him.
There was an uptick of incoming mail last week. Most importantly the long-awaited package from Portugal arrived -- probably a replacement after I complained last week. Probably just a temporary blip, but with my general slowdown this is the first time in a long time I've felt behind.
I commented on a Tom Carson tweet a couple days ago. Carson responded in an email that Robert Christgau forwarded to me, part of which noted that I don't allow comments on the blog. I've been using a piece of blog software called Serendipity. It has a reasonably nice feature set, but having used it for more than a decade, I'm stuck with an older version (which I've hacked on a bit), and more importantly I've been stuck on a server that isn't up to handling the now large (and somewhat bloated) database. I tried turning comments on for a while, but I didn't get much valuable feedback, partly because people had trouble with the interface. Spambots, on the other hand, seemed to sail through, and the maintenance got to be too much. Then I ran into database performance problems, so I hacked what I called a "faux blog" in parallel to the Serendipity one, and I've been updating both for some time now. I use the latter for links I post, because it's more likely you'll be served the page, but it doesn't have some nice features, like RSS, of comments.
However, because the "faux blog" is just a collection of hand-edited web pages, I can insert comments into those pages. The only thing is that you have to email them to me, and I have to decide it's worth the trouble, and we all have to wait until I update the site (which usually happens when I have something new to post, or sometimes when I've screwed up and need to fix something fast).
So I've added Carson's letter and a rather long-winded response to my Candidate Analogies post. Not sure whether this will become standard ractice or is just a one-shot. I should note that I've bumped into Carson numerous times over the years. Back in the 1970s, he submitted an unassigned review of Brian Eno's Another Green World which Voice music editor Christgau liked enough to consider running alongside the review he had assigned me to write. Carson was one of the organizers of the Christgau 60th birthday Festschrift, Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough, and he edited my piece there (A Rock & Roll Critic Is Something to Be). He also offered invaluable editing advice when I wrote a "mass letter" as the 2004 election approached -- let's see, where is that thing? Oh, here. I've only read him erratically -- a big compilation of his writings would be most welcome, or maybe several as his political writings are matched by his culture critique (he long did a TV column for Esquire) -- and he's usually not only a sharp thinker but has retained a rock critic's ear for hook lines: possibly the most radical thing I've ever read was his conclusion to an essay (which I can't find now) on 1945 pointing out that winning WWII was the worst thing that ever happened to the United States.
I should also mention his novel, Gilligan's Wake -- perhaps the only novel I've read since 2001, partly because I could imagine him writing it just for me -- or more precisely because he presented a vision of 20th century America in myriad dazzling details that I was uniquely prepared to appreciate. Perhaps too much Alger Hiss, and too kind to Bob Dole, but brilliance abounds -- one bit that seems perfect is Mary Ann's self-healing hymen, maintaining her virginity no matter how much she screws around, a knack shared with America, the only country in the world that can fuck you over while remaining as pure and innocent as ever.
I've been struggling to get anything read recently, only finishing Jane Mayer's invaluable Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right a couple days ago. I should write something about the book, which updates and deepens Max Blumenthal's 2009 book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party while paying particular attention to the Kochs and their financial and political networks, but no telling when I'll get around to it. Meanwhile, I came across Carson's review of Daniel Schulman's Koch family bio, Sons of Wichita, so thought I'd pass it along: The Brothers Koch: Family Drama and Disdain for Democracy.
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:
Saturday, April 9. 2016
I wanted to reply to this tweet by Tom Carson, but no way to unpack so much misunderstanding in 144 characters:
First, very obvious point: left and right are never symmetric, let alone mirror images of one another. Granted, the core issue can be viewed as a continuum: people on the left believe that all people are fundamentally decent, that everyone shares equal rights and deserves respect and fairness, while people on the right hold that for civilization to exist and survive society must be organized as a hierarchy, with those favored by great wealth lording over the hapless masses, using whatever force is needed to maintain order. Unpack this a bit and you'll see that left and right are inhabited by fundamentally different kinds of people. So when you say "X is the lefty Y" the main thing you're saying is that X is so profoundly different from Y that analogies can only be superficial.
Even so, the only linkage I can imagine Carson making between Goldwater and Sanders is that he thinks Sanders, if nominated, will lose as badly this year as Goldwater did in 1964. Leaving that for the moment, it's hard to see much similarity -- even in the funhouse mirror of centrist punditry. Most obviously, Goldwater was extremely rigid in his adherence to principles -- most scandalously in his opposition to using the federal government to secure civil rights systematically denied by a dozen-plus state governments -- whereas Sanders has always been flexible and pragmatic (e.g., in supporting Obamacare even though he knew it wasn't the best, or even a very good, solution). And Goldwater was so fanatic in his opposition to Communism he couldn't be trusted not to start a thermonuclear war. Sanders elicits no such fears -- which isn't to deny that neocon warmongers fear him.
As for the Nixon-Clinton mashup, I reckon that the association here is that both are unscrupulous opportunists willing to say and do anything that seems to work to their personal advantage. No doubt that both Clintons have been opportunistic at times, often siding with rich and powerful interests against the very people they depend on for votes. Nothing unusual about that, but you have to question how far left they really are on the left-right line I plotted above. I don't really consider them lefties at all.
Still, for all the times the Clintons have been slagged as liars -- Christopher Hitchens' book on them was titled No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family -- I'm hard pressed to recall specific deceits (aside from the Lewinsky blow jobs, and blaming Arafat for the Camp David failure, the latter a big one), as opposed to grandstanding (like the Sista Souljah slam) or plain old bad policy choices (like NAFTA, or repealing Glass-Steagall). I don't doubt that the Clintons are greedy, ambitious, and vain -- willing to use office to get rich, and to use their wealth to build a political machine to seek further office. Still, the scandals that have dogged their rise have been remarkably hollow.
On the other hand, Nixon holds a unique place in American history, not just for bad policy and malign intentions but for actual crimes against American democracy as well as egregious crimes against world peace -- sure, the later have since become routinized and Nixon didn't invent them all, but the scope of his crimes was breathtaking -- and for a while shocking, although his obsession with winning at all costs and his cynicism at manipulating people's fears has since become baked into the American pie. If Carson wanted to pose a true conundrum, he might have posed a choice between the real right-wingers Goldwater and Nixon. I have no more answer there than I would have had if asked who is the best (in the sense of least awful) of this election's crop of Republican presidential aspirants.
Carson at least is right to place Nixon on the right, avoiding the recent revisionism trying to rehabilitate him as some kind of closet liberal. I suppose the main impetus behind this has been to show how far the right has stooped since Nixon's time, but doing so forgets (and forgives) the fact that the rotten impulses that have permeated today's right owe more to Nixon's craven realpolitik than to Goldwater's so-called principles.
If you do have to make predecessor analogies, you might try casting Trump as Nixon and Cruz as Goldwater. With the latter pair you at least know what you're up against and start organizing against it, although the prospect of itchy trigger fingers is always a threat. But with the Nixon-Trump pair, you don't know shit -- just that it's likely to be pretty nauseating and the sickness they sow is likely to return again as precedent, possibly for even worse.
I suspect that what worries Carson about Sanders has less to do with Goldwater's 1964 loss than McGovern's in 1972, thanks in no small part to Nixon's dirty tricks. McGovern wasn't fundamentally more liberal (let alone lefty) many other Democratic candidates -- Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Walter Mondale in 1984, Michael Dukakis in 1988, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 -- but he lost bad, due I think to a combination of factors. One is that the media has always had it in for anyone who might rock the boat (Roosevelt was the exception, but he came along after the boat had already capsized, and Obama got something of a pass for the same reasons). McGovern also ran afoul of the Democratic Party's patronage-focused elites, especially their hawk faction, and also the rump Wallace voters -- all of whom chose Nixon's dirty tricks over the most decent and honest politician the Democrats ever nominated.
All those losses by self-avowed liberals -- a string that really starts with Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 -- have left centrist pundits with the stunted thought that Americans refuse to lean left. If Sanders is further to the left than McGovern (or anyone else on that loser-laden list) what's to stop the entire establishment banding together to stop him? (Billionaire self-promoter Michael Bloomberg has already vowed to run a spoiler third-party campaign if Sanders is nominated.) That seems like a fair question, but I'm not sure the coincidences it is based on really supports the conclusion. Several things have changed since, say, McGovern won and lost:
These point don't guarantee that Sanders can defeat a full bore Republican assault, but they offer some reasons to think that he might do much better than McGovern did. The similarity to McGovern that I worry more about is Sanders' exceptional integrity and public spirit, which at least in McGovern's case was overwhelmed by Nixon's dark money and dirty tricks. The one thing we can be sure of is that in this year's election the Republicans and their dark money sponsors won't hesitate to go places Nixon only dreamed of. The voters could very well reject such tactics, but the Republicans have had no small measure of success thus far at manipulating people to vote against their own interests and desires.
Hillary Clinton has relied heavily on arguments that she's much more electable than Sanders is. The most common argument here is that she can attract a broader slice of the left-right spectrum, allowing her to pick up moderate/centrist voters Sanders can't reach while keeping the left captive, if only as the lesser evil. There are several problems with this formulation: most people don't fit comfortably, let alone mechanically, on a left-right axis, but bring other factors into play, including several where Clinton may compare poorly against Sanders -- for instance, integrity and credibility. Sanders has stood firm with his principles much more consistently than Clinton, and a good part of the reason for that is that he's much less tainted by association with private interests -- e.g., he's never spoken to Goldman-Sachs, much less for $650K. One thing that's clear from primary results so far is that Sanders has done much better among (presumably centrist) independents than Clinton has.
Indeed, in head-to-head polls Sanders regularly outperforms Clinton against virtually any Republican candidate, suggesting that for whatever reason Sanders is the more electable Democrat. Yet some Clinton supporters, even ones who admit to being closer to Sanders on the issues, persist in their belief that Clinton is more electable. Aside from ideology, the other reason they commonly give is the claim that Clinton has already had to face so many attacks from right-wingers that she has been thoroughly vetted, whereas Sanders has yet to feel the full fury of the Republican hate machine. That may be true but glosses over several things, including that Clinton has more points on which she is compromised, and that she's not exactly unscathed by all those attacks -- her unfavorability polls are exceptionally high.
On the other hand, I think there is one area where Clinton does have a substantial advantage over Sanders, and that is her ability to raise dark money and use it to underwrite the same sort of vicious mudslinging right-wingers can be counted on doing. So when the campaign gets dirty, as it's sure to do, she's arguably in a much better position to fight that kind of fight. Whether that's an argument in her favor is hard to say, but it's certainly a reasonable position -- the counter is that if Sanders could win without PACs and dark money that might help break the grip big money has on the political system, and our democracy would be much better for it.
Still, Clinton wooing big money donors and playing the dark money game won't be enough to make her Nixon, even a hypothetical lefty version. Nor will it make her a right-winger, even though it would indebt her to people who are on right of center, at least in terms of equality. And having done all of that, I wonder how much energy or will she is going to be able to muster to start to reverse the nation's long slide into oligarchy. At some point things get so bad that lesser evils don't cut it. If Sanders' popularity shows anything it's that many Democrats believe we've passed the point where yesterday's palliatives are all it takes.
It's normal for people to reach for historical analogies when trying to understand today's issues, but it can also lock you into illusions and blind you to opportunities. And sometimes produce outright absurdities. My original response to Carson's tweet just touched on one small aspect of this post, which is that real people don't necessarily gravitate toward the middle when faced with real choices:
Monday, April 4. 2016
Music: Current count 26446  rated (+26), 414  unrated (+4).
Rated count up a bit this week, probably because I only spent one day and a couple nights working on my sister's house. Also because I wrapped up a Rhapsody Streamnotes. Still, short of the 30-milestone that constitutes a productive week. On the other hand, seasonal allergies hit with force, and I barely sleepwalked my way through yesterday's abbreviated Weekend Roundup. But at least I had Jason Gubbels' unranked list of 40 recommendations, New Music 2016: First Quarter, to start wading through. Thus far everything I've checked out has been pretty good, although I've mostly left them at B+(***) -- aside from the Margo Price find, the closest of the HMs was the Heliocentrics album, where I talked myself out of an A- by re-reading my review. (An edit of my Willie Nelson review also resulted in downgrading Summertime. The Rihanna upgrade occurred after at least five replays.)
Not much new jazz coming in, and not much good among what does show up. I usually start the day with a CD from the queue, and several days I haven't had anything to follow it up with. Only seven actual CDs in the list below (and, OK, they're better than I remembered: 3 ***, 3 **, 1 *; as I recall, the previous week's CDs left a lot more to be desired, and today's mail doesn't look very promising). One big disappointment is that a month after I got the promo material by email I still haven't received the March package from Clean Feed. Mail is often slow from Portugal, but it would hugely bum me out if they drop me. (Not that I wouldn't look up what I could on Rhapsody.)
I did get an invite to vote in Downbeat's annual Critics Poll today. I've also gotten a record number of personal pleas to vote for them, something I'm pretty good at forgetting instantly. (I mind less when I get past-year lists from publicists because they help me identify things that fell through the cracks -- I don't think I've gotten any of them this year, but have in the past, and they're a regular year-end ritual.) I'll take the time to vote later this week -- I've never managed to plod through the ballot in just one day, so it's a big commitment -- and I'll publish an annotated ballot once I do. Aside from albums, which follow that aggravating April-March annual skew, this year's should be much like last year's ballot. I'd argue that having an extra three months to let the old calendar year (2015 in this case) settle down would be worth more than pretending we're already on top of the first quarter of 2016. (For that matter, the Readers Poll, which skews three months later, could also benefit from a settling-down period.)
Well, one ballot change is that since last year's HOF pick, Lee Konitz, finally won, George Russell will move up as my top pick. A second big annoyance about the poll is the HOF bottleneck. Downbeat has 141 inductees into its Hall of Fame (starting with Louis Armstrong in 1952). Compare this with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which has 312 inductees (749 people) since 1986. Now, you can argue that that's too many, and make a pretty good case by pointing to the 2016 crop (Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and NWA). But fewer than five of the names in the Downbeat HOF (which basically expands at 2 per year, plus they've recently added a Veterans Committee which helps a bit) raise an eyebrow (rockers Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, although I can't begrudge the latter; some others I wouldn't have voted for but can (sort of) understand -- Glenn Miller, Red Rodney, Maynard Ferguson, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny), maybe a "veteran" who seems a bit obscure (Jimmy Blanton, Paul Chambers, Baby Dodds). On the other hand, just working from last year's ballot, the list of non-inductees includes: Han Bennink, Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Jaki Byard, Don Byas, Don Cherry, Jack DeJohnette, Jimmy Giuffre, Benny Golson, Grant Green, Dave Holland, Abdullah Ibrahim, Illinois Jacquet, John McLauglin, Tito Puente, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, Tomasz Stanko, Cedar Walton, Randy Weston, Phil Woods.
And that must mean that the following didn't even qualify for the ballot (and this list could grow much longer): Rashied Ali, Henry "Red" Allen, Mildred Bailey, Billy Bang, Chris Barber, Gato Barbieri, Chu Berry, Carla Bley, Ruby Braff, Cab Calloway, Sid Catlett, June Christy, Buck Clayton, Arnett Cobb, Cozy Cole, Vic Dickenson, Harry "Sweets" Eddison, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan, Bud Freeman, Slim Gaillard, Herb Geller, Lars Gullin, Al Haig, John Hicks, Budd Johnson, Leroy Jenkins, Wynton Kelly, Louis Jordan, Sheila Jordan, Eddie Lang, George Lewis (either/both), Albert Mangelsdorff, Misha Mengelberg, David Murray, Herbie Nichols, Anita O'Day, Evan Parker, William Parker, Houston Person, Louis Prima, Don Pullen, Don Redman, Charlie Rouse, Jimmy Rushing, Luis Russell, Alex von Schlippenbach, Irčne Schweizer, Bud Shank, Sonny Sharrock, Archie Shepp, Stuff Smith, Horace Tapscott, Lucky Thompson, Stanley Turrentine, Mal Waldron, David S. Ware, Barney Wilen, Gerald Wilson. Just saying, a lot of (to use an old Downbeat phrase) talent deserving wider recognition.
RIP: Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri (1934-2016), and Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya (1935-2016).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 3. 2016
Started to work on this, then got so waylaid by allergies my brain froze up. Of course, trying to write about whether Trump is a fascist is a question that begs so much backtracking it's easy to get lost.
Worth noting here that the Wisconsin primary is Tuesday. Cruz has long been favored over Trump and Kasich: the latest 538 poll averages are 44.1-32.1-21.4%, and since it's mostly winner-take-all Trump is likely to fall short of the delegate count to stay on track for a first ballot win -- so expect some pundit talk about Trump stumbling, but Trump is a lock for a big win in New York on April 19, and has a good chance of scoring his first greater than 50% win there (538's poll average is 52.1-24.0-21.8%, with Cruz second and Kasich third).
More interesting is the Democratic primary, which 538 still gives to Clinton, but the poll averages have narrowed to 48.8-48.6%, with Sanders leading in five of the seven most recent polls. At this point I expect Sanders to win there, but it won't be a landslide. 538 is still showing Clinton with a huge lead in New York, 61.0-37.0%, but the last two polls there have Clinton +12 and +10, a far cry from the 71-23% outlier 538 still factors in. Clinton also has big leads in the other April primaries (65.9-30.5% in Pennsylvania, 70.6-27.0% in Maryland); also in California and New Jersey on June 7.
Some scattered links this week:
Wednesday, March 30. 2016
Slowed down this month, but looking at the list I don't think I have much to apologize for: 120 records is the fewest this year, and the elapsed time is the longest between columns in quite some while, but neither by much. Of the 91 new records, 73 are 2016 releases, so 80.2%. I don't think I ever consciously decided to move on, but I ran out of 2015 CDs some time back (OK, I still have a cassette tape I can't play, and that Kansas reunion album), and I've been keeping my dwindling new jazz queue close to empty.
I'm still not doing any serious 2016 prospecting. I do have a m2016 file but it's mostly tracking what I've heard (or unpacked), with only a handful of unheard items added to remind myself to look them up. This is a big cutback from the m2015 file, which I updated every week from AMG and other release sources, then added stragglers from EOY lists (the lines difference is 7250 to 320). In the near future I expect to add Jason Gubbels's first quarter list, and maybe some other more/less trusted sources (I have been listening to almost everything Robert Christgau and Michael Tatum have recommended, aside from the Kanye West mixtape that snuck past me).
The Old Music section continues to be haphazard, with most records picked up as background when I was considering new (or in the case of Larry Young new-old, which featured Nathan Davis) work. I suppose Horace Parlan is an exception: my favorite Parlan album is the 1977 duo he did with Archie Shepp, Goin' Home, and when I noticed it on Rhapsody I had brief hopes that I might find more albums on the Steeplechase label. That didn't really work out, but I did find a couple old Blue Notes I wanted to check out.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from 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 February 25. Past reviews and more information are available here (7920 records).
Raul Agraz: Between Brothers (2013-15 , OA2): Trumpet player, from Venezuela, first album, long list of musicians but recorded over several sessions -- the song-by-song credits average about nine per cut (not counting the extra strings). Latin big band, doesn't strike me as special. B [cd]
Melissa Aldana: Back Home (2015 , Wommusic): Tenor saxophonist, won a Monk prize which got her a record out on Concord, well regarded in 2014 and not without merit. But I prefer this fairly mainstream sax trio, with Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums. Nothing especially fancy, four originals, two pieces each from the band, Kurt Weill's "My Ship." B+(***) [cdr]
Anderson .Paak: Malibu (2016, OBE/Steel Wool/ArtClub/Empire): Brandon Paak Anderson, who previously did business as Breezy Lovejoy, from Oxnard, CA. Second album, sings and raps, the beats skewed out a bit stoned. Seems to have worked as a "marijuana farmer" some while back, then did a stint as homeless, so he can do down and out and get through it somehow. A-
Ehud Asherie: Shuffle Along (2015 , Blue Heron): Pianist, born in Israel but moved to Italy when he was three, then to New York at nine, where he hung around Smalls and took lessons from Frank Hewitt. Career has moved from bop to swing, and takes a further step back here with his "solo piano interpretations from [Eubie] Blake and [Noble] Sissle's 1921 Broadway musical" -- best known for "I'm Just Wild About Harry," given two treatments here. B+(***) [cd]
Audio One: What Thomas Bernhard Saw (2014 , Audiographic): Ten-piece Ken Vandermark group, third album for this project. With all the alumni, I'm tempted to describe this more of a souped-up Vandermark 5 (Dave Rempis and Mars Williams join in on reeds, Jeb Bishop returns on trombone, and Tim Daisy is the drummer) than a big band project per se, The four Vandermark dedications are tightly conceived even though they each expand to 15-20 minutes. Band includes cornet (Josh Berman), another sax (Nick Mazzarella), vibes (Jason Adasiewicz), viola (Jen Paulson), and bass (Nick Maori, both acoustic and electric). A- [bc]
Kenny Barron Trio: Book of Intuition (2015 , Impulse): Pianist, now in his 70s, has many dozens of albums since 1973, also a very distinguished career as an educator. Trio with Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums). B+(**)
Steve Barta: Symphonic Arrangement: Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio (2015 , Steve Barta Music): Cover recalls composer-pianist Claude Bolling's original 1975 album (headlined by flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal). Barta rearranged, giving the leads to Hubert Laws (flute) and Jeffrey Biegel (piano). Not something I care enough to compare versions of, but it passed by pleasantly enough. B [cd]
B.J. the Chicago Kid: In My Mind (2016, Motown): AMG says "Contemporary R&B" -- means Bryan James Sledge sings in a context more or less defined by hip-hop, although the son of church choir directors and the former backup for Stevie Wonder also has much fondness for the sweet ballad. Sprawling album, runs over an hour and could use some editing, but if I listened to it enough to figure out where I might forget why. A-
Michael Blake: Fulfillment (2016, Songlines): Tenor saxophonist (sometimes soprano), from Canada but based in New York, recorded this "conceptual" project -- a suite based on "a tragic immigration incident in Vancouver in 1914, when a Japanese freighter carrying several hundred East Indian immigrants (almost all Sikh) was turned away using exclusionist, racist laws." Recorded with a Vancouver-based group -- JP Carter, Peggy Lee, Chris Gestrin, Ron Samworth, André Lachance, Dylan van der Schyff -- the lyrics may help detail the story but disrupt the flow, which can be quite dramatic without them. B+(*)
Cristina Braga & Brandenburger Symphoniker: Whisper (2015 , Enja): Brazilian harpist with the Orquesta Sinfónica do Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, also sings, backed by Modern Samba Quartet and a German symphony orchestra, with guitarist-vocalist Dado Villa-Lobos as a "special guest." Brazilian pop with serious classical airs, not a direction I'm inclined to favor. B- [cd]
Renato Braz: Saudade (2005-15 , Living Music): Brazilian crooner, plays guitar but isn't credited with writing these songs -- cue in the usual suspects -- but aside from the live "bonus track" at the end they all sound like mopey ballads to me. Recorded over a decade, guest spots for Dori Caymmi and Ivan Lins, various bands including the Paul Winter Consort and the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble. C [cd]
Andy Brown Quartet: Direct Call (2015 , Delmark): Guitarist from Chicago, had a solo album last year, follows it up with piano trio-plus-guitar (no horns), Jeremy Kahn the pianist. Swing lines -- starts with "The Jeep Is Jumpin'" -- keep it nice and unthreatening. B+(*) [cd]
Rich Brown: Abeng (2015 , self-released): Electric bassist, based in Toronto, album has a logo for Canada Council for the Arts but no label ID. Luis Deniz shows impressive range on alto sax, backed by Chris Donnelly or Robi Boros on piano, drums, extra percussion, with phat bass tones everywhere. B+(**) [cd]
Oguz Buyukberber/Tobias Klein: Reverse Camouflage (2015 , TryTone): Clarinet duets, both musicians also switching off to bass or contrabass clarinets. Both are based in the Netherlands, the former born in Turkey, the latter in Germany and better known for ICP Orchestra. Avant, tone can get on your nerves at points. B+(**) [cd]
Rex Cadwallader/Mike Aseta/Arti Dixson/Tiffany Jackson: A Balm in Gilead (2015 , Stanza USA): Piano-bass-drums trio plus soprano diva, intentional culture clash as the trio busts up mostly trad ballads while the singer puts them into a shrill straitjacket. Title song, "Deep River," "This Little Light of Mine," "Motherless Child," "Elijah Rock," "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," couple more, feathered out a bit by five "Trialogue" pieces, where the singer shuts up while the trio does something interesting. I can't stand opera, but get her sense of flow. Not something I enjoy. B- [cd]
Taylor Cook: The Cook Book (2015 , self-released): Saxophone player from British Columbia, based in Toronto, employs some twenty musicians to spice up his schmaltz, not always to good effect. Still, I always enjoy "On the Sunny Side of the Street." B [cd]
Patrick Cornelius: While We're Still Young (2014 , Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist (also soprano and flute), has a handful of records since 2006, this one a rather fancy postbop octet, mostly name players who do a lot of bobbing and weaving. B+(*) [cd]
Cowboys & Frenchmen: Rodeo (2015, Outside In Music): Postbop quintet, led by two saxophonists (Owen Broder and Ethan Helm), with piano, bass, drums, the group named after a short film by David Lynch. B+(*) [cdr]
Tim Daisy: Relucent: Music for Marimba, Radios and Turntables (2016, Relay): Chicago drummer, the last in the Vandermark 5 and a regular in post-V5 groups with Vandermark and/or Dave Rempis. This is solo, a tape collage of soft percussion and ambient sound. Not much, really. B [bc]
Dawes: All Your Favorite Bands (2015, Hub): Well, don't know about you, but all my favorite bands are much better than this Poco wannabe. (What? You don't remember Poco?) B-
Daveed Diggs: Small Things to a Giant (2012 , Deathbomb Arc): Rapper from Oakland, came up in the underground group Clipping; first album on his own, a real tour de force, smart and snappy with rapidfire raps, the speed and dexterity which won him a Grammy for the roles of Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton, but even more impressive as himself. A- [bc]
The Dominican Jazz Project (2015 , Summit): Pianist Stephen Anderson seems to have been the catalyst if not the leader here, connecting with various musicians on visits to the Dominican Republic, like Guillo Carias (clavietta), Sandy Gabriel (tenor/soprano sax), Guy Frömeta (drums), and Carlos Luis (vocals, guitar). A mixed bag with multiple appeals. B+(*) [cd]
Drive-By Truckers: It's Great to Be Alive! (2014 , ATO, 3CD): I put this off on the theory that 3:16:13 of anything is too much to pay attention to streaming -- which didn't keep my ears from perking up for the line that goes, "and all them politicians, they all lyin' sacks of shit" (I was writing about Donald Trump at the moment, although it could just as easily have been Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton). A couple decades worth of songs, redundant if you've followed them, but terrific as background noise, nicely unified by the live sound and occasional patter. On separate discs I imagine the length will only become more tolerable. A-
Florian Egli Weird Beard: Everything Moves (2014 , Intakt): Swiss quartet, has a previous album without the leader-saxophonist's name on the cover. Egli is backed by guitar (Dave Gisler), electric bass, and drums. Most compelling when they put a litle rock muscle into the rhythm, but the first word in the booklet is "Gelassenheit" -- serenity. B+(***) [cdr]
Marty Elkins: Walkin' by the River (2014 , Nagel Heyer): Standards singer, from New Jersey, third album, with guitarist Howard Alden swinging, both piano (Steve Ash) and organ (Joel Diamond), and a stellar turn by Jon-Erik Kelso on trumpet. B+(***) [cd]
Moppa Elliott: Still Up in the Air (2015 , Hot Cup): Solo bass album by the leader-composer behind Mostly Other People Do the Killing, easily the most consistently awesome jazz group of the past decade. The pieces are all called "Sequence" and some number up to fourteen, but not the complete set. B+(**) [cd]
Darren English: Imagine Nation (2014 , Hot Shoe): Trumpet player, first album, leads a hot boppish quartet with Kenny Banks Jr. on piano, sometimes adding Greg Tardy on sax, switching up on two tracks where Carmen Bradford sings standards ("What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Skylark"). Brings two extra trumpets in for the finale, a mad race through "Cherokee." B+(*) [cd]
Piere Favre: DrumSights NOW (2015 , Intakt): Drummer, from Switzerland, will turn 80 next year, old enough to have played with Albert Nicholas in the 1950s but best known (in my household at least) for three superb duo albums with pianist Irčne Schweizer. His own discography has several albums with drum quartets, so I imagine he sees DrumSights as a successor group to his Singing Drums. Joined here by Chris Jaeger, Markus Lauterberg, and Valeria Zangger, the group plays as one -- which makes this seductive album slightly less than the sum of its parts. B+(***) [cdr]
David Fiuczynski: Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian MicroJam (2015 , Rare Noise): Guitarist, nicknamed "The Fuze" as if his music was fusion enough. Has close to ten albums since 2000, including group efforts as Screaming Headless Torsos. Goes for exotica here, including microtonal keyboards, a Chinese oboe and percussion, and three cuts with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Should be interesting, but nothing quite works out right. B [cdr]
Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra: Back Home (2015 , Summit): Composer-arranger-guitarist, from Dominican Republic, teaches at University of Northern Colorado, leads a big band with the usual horns and extra guitar and percussion through a set of originals, concluding with his three-part "Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra." B [cd]
Danny Green Trio: Altered Narratives (2015 , OA2): Pianist, from Southern California, fourth album since 2009, plays postbop with classical touches and a little Latin tinge. Augments his trio here with a string quartet for the middle cuts, expanding the sound so much I initially suspected an orchestra. Not the sort of thing I'm disposed to like much, but his sweep and flow is remarkable and the sensation just overwhelms you. B+(***) [cd]
Jeff Guthery: Black Paintings (2015 , self-released): Drummer, inspired by Goya paintings, backed by several jazz notables -- Kenny Werner, George Garzone, Bruno Rĺberg, David Fiuczynski -- and the East Coast Scoring Orchestra giving it a distinctly euroclassical air, maybe something Nutcracker-ish (at least when Garzone isn't soloing). B- [cd]
Hanami: The Only Way to Float Free (2015 , Ears & Eyes): Chicago quartet, guitarist Andrew Trim wrote all the pieces and effectively leads, flanked by two horns -- Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Mai Sugimoto on alto sax and clarinet. Charles Rumback is the drummer. B+(***) [cdr]
Lafayette Harris Jr.: Hangin' With the Big Boys (2013 , Airmen): Pianist, mainstream guy with a soul and funk background, nearly ten albums since 1993. Opens with two covers, then six originals, one by his alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis, and two more covers. The "big boys" include Houston Person -- tenor sax on five cuts -- Antoine Drye on trumpet, and three vocals by Jazzmeia Horn and/or Noël Simoné Whippler. Nice, relaxed, soulful set -- Person's marvelous solo on "The Very Thought of You" bumped this up a notch. B+(**) [cd]
Julian Hartwell: The Julian Hartwell Project (2015, self-released): Pianist, first album, hype sheet clearly attributes the album to the titular group but I usually go with the name leader. High octane octet: sax, trumpet, trombone, two basses, guitar, drums, a lot of firepower for a high energy postbop set. B+(**) [cd]
Joseph Howell: Time Made to Swing (2015 , Summit): Clarinetist, from California, second album, quartet with accordion (Cory Pesaturo), bass, and drums. Standards, starts with "On the Sunny Side of the Street" then veers into Parker ("Confirmation") and Monk ("Let's Cool One"). High energy, the accordion beefs up the sound, the clarinet races. B+(***) [cd]
The James Hughes/Jimmy Smith Quintet: Ever Up & Onward (2015 , self-released): Hughes (alto/tenor/soprano sax) and Smith (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn) lead a hard bop quintet with Phil Kelly on piano, fifty-some years after the genre's heyday. Still can't call it retro, since it's pretty much the baseline postbop is built on, just without the cleverness that sometimes passes for innovation. B+(*) [cd]
Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (2015 , ECM): Piano-trumpet duo, both major figures, so you'd expect something big. What you get, though, is pretty tepid, with the piano fading into the background as Smith does his slow-solo thing -- similar to his solo albums, perhaps toned down a bit with Manfred Eicher watching. B+(**) [cdr]
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: The Abyssinian Mass (2013 , Blue Engine, 2CD): Featuring Damien Sneed, organist and conductor of Chorale Le Chateau, a red-robed vocal group which judging from the pictures outnumbers the big band by about five-to-one. Marsalis composed the music, drawing liberally on the gospel tradition and smattering the libretto with plagiarism from The Bible, and the Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts III adds some down home preaching. Where I grew up, mass meant something huge and heavy, and I can't say as I've encountered music so massive before. I try not to begrudge Christians their faith, but it can't be a good thing when it's reduced to two-plus hours of gloria in excelsis Deo, or in their down home vernacular, "glory to God in the highest." Comes in oversized packaging with a thick booklet and a DVD, all the better to remind you that in America generous donors are always willing to pay for trivialized amenities -- especially the kind that worship power. C- [cd]
Krakauer's Ancestral Groove: Checkpoint (2015 , Table Pounding): Clarinetist David Krakauer, plays jazz with klezmer roots and branches: the rhythm generating a lot of energy and the clarinet threatening to screech. Band is built around electric guitar (Sheryl Bailey) and bass (Jerome Harris), and employs a sampler, plus a guest spot for Marc Ribot. B+(***) [cd]
Kyle: Smyle (2015, Indie Pop): Yet another singer-rapper from southern California, this one from Ventura. AMG lists this as his only album, then refers to another one (Beautiful Loser) -- maybe has something to do with also/previously calling himself Super Duper. Funny enough some pieces almost qualify as standup. B+(***)
Julian Lage: Arclight (2015 , Mack Avenue): Guitarist, regarded as a Wunderkind, subject of a documentary at age 8, performed on the Grammy Awards at 13, joined the faculty at Stanford at 15. Still in his twenties, has continued to receive critical praise and plaudits although I'm not sure why. This is a trio with Scott Colley and Kenny Wollesen, originals with four covers, all nice stuff. B+(*) [cd]
Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered (2013-16 , Top Dawg Entertainment): Eight tracks, no titles but recording dates, 34:06, presumably outtakes, sketches, throwaway experiments, released online because, well, what the hell? As someone who's never really got either of his widely accalimed studio masterpieces, I'm even more lost here. But nothing here is going to disabuse you of the notion he's a genius, even if it doesn't quite convince me. B+(***)
Tom Lellis: The Flow (2015 , Beamtime): Jazz singer, AMG lists seven albums since 1979, plays keyboards but Dave Kikoski is the primary pianist here, leading a trio plus Jeremy Steig on flute and a long list of guests. Four originals, plus Lellis lyrics to several others -- mostly jazz pianists and his Brazilian heroes. Neither his voice nor his chops impress much as he slips and slides around too tricky melodies. C-
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: I Long to See You (20B-15 , Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist (also plays some flute), became very popular in the mid-1960s and continues to be one of the most highly regarded jazz musicians. Group here features guitarist Bill Frisell and steel guitarist Greg Leisz, along with Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums -- "Shenandoah" is a near-textbook example of Frisell's feel for Americana. Second half includes guest vocals by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones. Feels to me like he's coasting, but he does have entertaining friends. B+(**)
Los Bonsáis: Nordeste (2015, Elefant, EP): Noise-pop duo from Asturias in northwest Spain, soft shoegazey fuzz, attractive but not very substantial, especially as they squeeze ten songs into 14:28. B+(*)
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Magic Happen (2015 , Hot Cup, EP): Guitarist, band includes two saxes -- Jon Irabagon (alto) you know, Balto Exclamationpoint (tenor and his homemade "balto! saxophone") I don't recognize (although previous member Bryan Murray had also been credited with the less emphatic "balto saxophone") -- plus Moppa Elliott (bass) and Dan Monaghan (drums). Basically the same avant brew Lundbom has been mixing up since 2009 -- my pick is still the 2CD Liverevil (2014) -- so what's new this year (aside from the exclamation mark) is a marketing gimmick: the music is to be split up into four 30-minute digital EPs, the first out now, the others in April, June, and September. You can buy them "a la carte" or as part of a subscription, or you can pre-order a "beautifully packaged" 4CD box available September 30, which includes the downloads as they become available. B+(***) [cdr]
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Bring Their 'A' Game (2015 , Hot Cup, EP): The second of this year's four EPs, available April 1 -- for promo purposes I got them both at the same time, popped both into the changer, and can't tell them apart. Would make a fine single album were they so inclined. B+(***) [cdr]
Loretta Lynn: Full Circle (2016, Legacy): Now 83, she hasn't produced albums with any regularity since the 1980s, with her latest comeback the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose (2004). This one was organized by John Carter Cash and Patsy Lynn Reynolds. As with Cash's father, they set Loretta down several years ago to record the old songs, of which this is the first batch. She doesn't have as iconic a voice as Cash, but she's sounding pretty good here. B+(**)
Kirk MacDonald: Symmetry (2013 , Addo): Tenor saxophonist, from Canada, not sure where but he has a dozen albums since 1990, most recorded in Toronto. Hard bop quintet with trumpet (Tom Harrell), piano (Brian Dickinson), bass (Neil Swainson), and drums (Dennis Mackrel). Unexceptional except for the trumpet player, who rewards whatever attention you can muster. B+(*) [cd]
Gabriela Martina: No White Shoes (2015 , self-released): Singer-songwriter, born in Lucerne, Switzerland, studied at Berklee, based in Boston, first album (after an EP). All originals (except "A Night in Tunisia"), backed by guitar-piano-bass-drums with a splash of soprano sax and a dash of extra percussion. B [cd]
Meridian Brothers: Los Suicidas (2015, Soundway, EP): Colombian pseudo-group, principally Eldris Álvarez, here joined by organ player Jaime Llano Gonzalez, who works "foreign rhythms such as foxtrots or waltzes" into more traditional Colombian fare like cumbias, bambucos, and pasillos -- although not without raising the notion that it's all a bit odd. Eight cuts, 29:01. B+(**)
Hendrik Meurkens: Harmonicus Rex (2010 , Height Advantage): Harmonica player, from Germany but mostly plays Latin jazz, originally made his mark playing vibraphone. This is fairly mainstream -- Jimmy Cobb is the drummer, with Dado Moroni on piano, Marcus Panascia on bass, and four spots each for Joe Magnarelli (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Anders Bostrum (alto flute). Nice showcase for his instrument. B+(*) [cd]
Dave Miller: Old Door Phantoms (2015 , Ears & Eyes): Guitarist, first album, fusion thing with Fender bass (Matt Ulery), keyboards (Ben Boye), and drums (Quin Kirchner). The guitar is sometimes snazzy, but more often than not they rely on volume to try to get their point across (whatever it is). B- [cd]
Naked Truth: Avian Thug (2013 , Rare Noise): Fusion quartet, not a "supergroup" but not unknowns either -- Graham Haynes (electrified cornet), Lorenzo Feliciati (electric bass, guitars), Roy Powell (organ, analog synths, prepared piano), and Pat Mastelotto (acoustic & electric drums). Some interesting wrinkles, but doesn't leave me thinking they've broken any ground. B+(*) [cdr]
Willie Nelson: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (2016, Legacy): Generally a fine standards singer, mostly by sticking to basics and shying away from melodrama. Still, he has trouble getting the feel of these songs, his sly stutter far less pleasurable than, say, the broad showboating of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald -- their takes readily come to mind whenever I hear these songs, but I can think of hundreds of versions I prefer, if only because unlike Nelson's they swing. Duets with Cyndi Lauper and Sheryl Crow are low points. B
Angelika Niescier/Florian Weber: NYC Five (2015 , Intakt): Polish alto saxophonist, half-dozen albums since 2002, teamed with the German pianist and a pick up band in New York: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Christopher Tordini (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). Three tunes by each of the leaders, bursting with energy -- especially strong showing by Alessi. B+(***) [cdr]
Kat Parra: Songbook of the Americas (2016, JazzMa): Vocalist, based in San Francisco, fifth album, mostly does Latin standards, this albums mambos and cha-chas, boleros and tangos no exception. Some guests, including Tuck & Patti, help out (if you call their efforts help). B [cd]
Christian Perez: Anima Mundi (2015 , CPM): Guitarist, from Argentina, mixes classical with Latin percussion and bandoneon, decorated by flute or piccolo. B [cd]
Roberta Piket: One for Marian: Celebrating Marian McPartland (2015 , Thirteenth Note): Jazz pianist, early albums (from 1997) on mainstream labels, has more than a dozen. Makes sense she would take McPartland as a hero. She gets ample support here for a lush tribute: Steve Wilson (alto sax, flute), Virginia Mayhew (tenor sax, clarinet), Bill Mobley (trumpet, flugelhorn), Harvie S (bass), Billy Mintz (drums), with Karrin Allyson singing one tune. B+(*) [cdr]
Leslie Pintchik: True North (2015 , Pintch Hard): Pianist, from Brooklyn, has a handful of albums since 2003, mainstream, with the usual touchstones (notably Bill Evans). Trio work is quite nice here, although most of it adds extra percussion from Satoshi Takeishi, so it's trio only in spirit. Also, about half of the tracks add horns -- Steve Wilson (alto/soprano sax), Ron Horton (trumpet/flugelhorn -- and they expand on the spirit. B+(***) [cd]
Alberto Pinton Noi Siamo: Resiliency (2015 , Moserobie): Pinton's a multi-reed player from Venice, credited here with baritone sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. "Noi siamo" is just Italian for "we are." Leads a quartet here with Niklas Barno (trumpet) Torbjorn Zetterberg (bass), and Konrad Agnas (drums), recorded live in Stockholm. A real barnburner. A- [cd]
Richard Poole/Marilyn Crispell/Gary Peacock: In Motion (2014 , Intakt): Piano trio, drummer listed first for no reason I've figured out other than that he usually gets listed last -- in my database I find him so listed behind Patrick Battstone and Coat Cooke, and his discography has a few more examples. Aside from a Peacock standard, everything here is joint-credited, presumably improvised. No complaints about the drummer, but the others are more famous for good reasons, evident here even when they're not especially flashy. B+(***) [cdr]
Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression (2016, Loma Vista): Band pictured and named on the cover, with Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) listed first. Singer comes through loud and clear, but everything else seems unsettled. B+(*)
Pram Trio: Saga Thirteen (2015 , self-released): Piano trio: Jack Bodkin (piano), Mark Godfrey (bass), Eric West (drums). Godfrey and Bodkin split six compositions, total 30:51. the sort of thing that often gets marked EP these days. B+(*) [cd]
Quantic: The Western Transient: A New Constellation (2015, Tru Thoughts): British techno producer Will Holland, has a substantial stack of records. This one is kept at arms length as "Quantic Presents the Western Transient." Discogs lists this as "smooth jazz," which is too prejudicial, but the record doesn't put up much of a fight. B
Quttinirpaaq: Dead September (2015, Rural Isolation Project): Austin, TX noise group, name presumably derives from the Canadian national park, located on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, as far north as you can go in Canada. Third album, sheets of guitar playing "bleeding-noise industrial electronic rock . . . sounds like punk rock thrown violently into a paper shredder with no fucks given." I bailed out four cuts in, so cut it some grade slack. C+
Bonnie Raitt: Dig In Deep (2016, Redwing): Her best in quite some while -- my database nominates 1973's Takin' My Time but I've missed things and reacted badly to Michael Tatum's nominee, 1991's Luck of the Draw. She hasn't aged in the manner of blues singers, but there's nothing urgent here -- she's clear and articulate and has learned to pace herself, making this seem so natural you'd think she's been doing it so well all along. A-
Ratatet: Arctic (2015 , Ridgeway): Bay Area group: Paul Hanson (bassoon), John Gove (trombone), Dillon Vado (vibes), Greg Sankovich (keyboards), Jeff Denson (basses, vocals), Alan Hall (drums), with Hall the leader/composer/arranger. Another postbop variant, the instrumentation setting them apart. B [cd]
Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra: Portraits and Places (2015 , Origin): Big band, leader plays alto flugelhorn but that's rather beside the point. Steve Wilson gets a "featuring" credit on the cover, and there are a handful of names I recognize in the band, like pianist Jim Ridl and vocalist (2 cuts) Sara Serpa. B- [cd]
Logan Richardson: Shift (2013 , Blue Note): Alto saxophonist, born in Kansas City but based in Paris, 2006 debut (aptly named Cerebral Flow) impressed me, but this is only his second album since -- a big label affair with big names in the band, especially Jason Moran (piano) and Pat Metheny (guitar). So much talent cannot be denied, but doesn't fit together all that well either. Cover song from Bruno Mars. B+(*)
Rihanna: Anti (2016, Roc Nation): Mostly crawl along, not a good sign for dance-pop or even bump-and-grind, though often the oblique rhythms suggest something interesting is lurking about, and occasionally I get hooked -- "Love on the Brain" never fails. A-
Alfredo Rodriguez: Tocororo (2015 , Mack Avenue/Qwest): Cuban pianist, based in US since 2009, third album, co-produced by Quincy Jones. Many vocals, some pieces quite beguiling in an almost childish way. B+(**) [cd]
Sidestepper: Supernatural Love (2016, Real World): British producer Richard Blair, learned to love Latin music living in Colombia, and brought back that fondness for a more conventional electronica treatment. B+(*)
Sirius Quartet: Paths Become Lines (2015 , Autentico): String quartet, "blending the precision of classical music and the energy of 'compromvisation,'" appeared on an album with Ivo Perelman I liked, well, more than this. Mostly grates on my ears, though some passages are interesting, and I don't doubt their chops. B+(*) [cd]
Gwen Stefani: This Is What the Truth Feels Like (2016, Interscope): Blonde bombshell singer, a cover favorite of Blender magazine back in the day, which included two 2000-02 albums fronting No Doubt, and two 2004-06 solo albums. A decade later this is her third album, done with four production teams and an average of four writers per song, which for a pop album with hip-hop touches is about par for the course. I can't say much for her old work, but pretty much every song here clicks for me. A-
Zhenya Strigalev: Never Group (2015 , Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, based in London, don't know if he's native. Has a couple previous albums, but this is the first I've heard of him, and I botched the credit/title during unpacking. Core group is a trio with Tim Lefebvre on bass and Eric Harland on drums, and several additional musicians have guest spots. B+(**) [cd]
Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (2015 , Pi): Not a Zooid album (an error I made in unpacking). In fact, Threadgill doesn't play; he's only credited with composition (four pieces, called "Part One" through "Part Four"). The ensemble does double up on piano (Jason Moran and David Virelles), alto sax (Roman Filiu and Curtis MacDonald), and bass substitutes (Christopher Hoffman on cello and Jose Davila on tuba), but only one drummer (Craig Weinrib). Impressive group, way beyond the star pianists. The composer gives them plenty to chew on, and they come up with one surprise after another. A- [cd]
The U.S. Army Blues: Live at Blues Alley (2015 , self-released): Aka The United States Army Band "Pershing's Own," commanded by Col. Thomas Rotondi, Jr. I suppose I should be more generous to America's premier exemplar of state socialism, especially when they do something that doesn't involve killing and mayhem, but the lavish production grates at me as much as the mediocre music. A full blown big band (actually overblown with a fifth trumpet). To turn the late Robert Sherrill's book title around, military music is to music as military justice is to justice. C [cd]
Marcos Varela: San Ygnacio (2012 , Origin): Bassist, from Houston, first album, wrote two (of eleven) pieces, picking up a few more from the veteran band: George Cables (piano) and Billy Hart (drums) are the core, with other rotating in for a few cuts -- Logan Richardson (alto sax), Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Clifton Anderson (trombone). Rowdy, upbeat postbop, caught me at a bad time. B [cd]
Vox Arcana: Caro's Song (2014 , Relay): Chicago trio, sort of an avant chamber group with clarinet (James Falzone) and cello/electronics (Fred Lonberg-Holm) along with Tim Daisy forgoing his drums his recent fascination with marimba and radio sampling. B+(*) [bc]
Wildhoney: Sleep Through It (2015, Deranged): Baltimore shoegaze group, Lauren Shusterich the singer, with two guitarists (Joe Trainor, Marybeth Mareski), bass, and drums. LP length, 10 cuts -- not easily differentiated but they do have a coherent, shimmering sound -- 32:13. B+(*)
Wildhoney: Your Face Sideways (2015, Topshelf, EP): EP came out in October after their debut album in January, stretches six cuts to 25:57, but that's mostly due to the 12:29 "noise drone" at the end. Actually, my first thought was ethereal, but it's really too glossy for that, strangely attractive. First five songs could be one for all I could tell. B+(*)
Jeff Williams: Outlier (2015 , Whirlwind): Drummer, British, has a half dozen albums since 1994. Quintet, with tenor sax (Josh Arcoleo), guitar (Phil Robson), piano/keyboards (Kit Downes), and bass (Sam Lasserson, both double and electric). I hear a lot of mainstream postbop that is expert but uninteresting, but this has some bite and resonance to it without breaking avant ground. B+(***) [cd]
Wussy: Forever Sounds (2016, Shake It): Cincinnati alt/indie band, active since 2005, leader Chuck Cleaver had a notable earlier band called the Ass Ponys but picked up a dimension adding Lisa Walker to the band. This comes off both denser and spacier than their average album, which is reliably meaty -- though I can't say as I'm picking up many lyrics this time. But then I've always been slow getting them. A-
Michiyo Yagi/Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love/Lasse Marhaug: Soul Stream (2013 , PNL): On the drummer's label, but the key player is Yagi on Japanese instruments (an electric 21-string koto and a 17-string bass koto). McPhee adds ballad tones on pocket trumpet, alto and tenor sax, and Marhaug is responsible for electronics and "other objects," while the drummer has a fairly easy day. B+(*) [bc]
Michiyo Yagi/Lasse Marhaug/Paal Nilssen-Love: Angular Mass (2011 , PNL): As above, minus Joe McPhee, which is to say this is like stripping off the human mask and revealing the wires and contraptions underneath, not just raw but murky and inconclusive as well. B [bc]
La Yegros: Magnetismo (2016, Soundway): Mariana Yegros, from Argentina, based in Buenos Aires and France, a foudner of something called "electro cumbia" -- evidently no longer a Colombian exclusive. B+(***)
Youth Worship: LP1 (2015, Self Harm): Alt/indie group from New York, first album, released between two EPs. Songs have a certain snappiness to them, and they bring more than the usual noise to the fore. B+(***)
Tom Zé: Vira Lata Na Via Láctea (2014, self-released): Brazilian singer-songwriter, well into his 70s, came to notice in the US when David Byrne compiled his early work into two volumes in his Brazil Classics series. I never warmed to those volumes, with their disjointed rhythms and strange shape shifting, but I've enjoyed his later (more moderate, I think) work starting with 1998's Com Defeito de Fabricaçao, and this one continues in their vein, catchy despite its improbability. A-
Omri Ziegele Noisy Minority: Wrong Is Right (2015 , Intakt): Alto saxophonist, from Switzerland, sixth album since 2002, his Zürich group Noisy Minority normally a trio with Jan Schlegel (electric bass) and Dieter Ulrich (drums, bugle), joined here by trombonist Ray Anderson -- adds another sonic layer, solo contrast, and (I suspect) some funk to the uneven grooves. A bit of spoken word early on suggests a direction they didn't take. A- [cdr]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Cheryl Bentyne: Lost Love Songs (2003-11 , Summit): Standards singer, best known as part of Manhattan Transfer but has fifteen albums on her own. This one collects songs from three albums that only appeared in Japan: The Lights Still Burn (2003), Moonlight Serenade (2003), Songs of Our Time (2011). Torchy, gorgeous, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" sticks in your head long after the record ends. B+(***) [cd]
Borah Bergman/Peter Brötzmann/Frode Gjerstad: Left (1996 , Not Two): A remarkable avant pianist whose recording career spanned from 1975 nearly to his death in 2012, paired with two avant saxophonists in one of those live matches -- this one from the Molde International Jazz Festival -- that represent a typical day's creation until years later, once he's gone, it gains an air of poignancy. B+(**) [bc]
DJ Katapila: Trotro (2009 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): DJ mixtape from Ghana, beats mostly from modern electronica but hot enough to pass muster in a land reknowned for rhythm, the vocals a bit on the squeaky side, which I suppose could mean they've been jacked up like everything else. B+(***)
William Hooker: Light: The Early Years 1975-1989 (1975-89 , NoBusiness, 4CD): A trawl through the avant drummer's early oeuvre. First disc starts with him solo, a failed soul singer backed only by his own percussion. Then comes two monster pieces with saxophonists: a 26:48 trio with David Murray (1975), and a 19:27 duo with a young and even more visceral David S. Ware. Second disc is more obscure, ending with a 16:07 trio with two saxophonists (Jameel Moondoc and Hasaan Dawkins). Third jumps ahead to 1988, a previously unreleased trio with Roy Campbell on trumpet and Booker T. Williams on tenor sax. Fourth gives you a set with Lewis Barnes (trumpet) and Richard Keene (reeds) and a 16:18 drum solo. All avant, very underground, and while the horns make a lot of noise, there's very little filler -- I think just one cut with bass, no piano or guitar -- so the drums always ring clear. A- [cd]
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra: All My Yesterdays (1966 , Resonance, 2CD): Jones was a veteran bebop trumpet player, elder brother of Hank and Elvin, better known as a composer than for his chops although his early records are remarkable. Lewis was a big band drummer who came to prominence with Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. In 1966 they put together a big band to play regular gigs at New York's Village Vanguard, a band which survived leader deaths in 1986 and 1990. This goes back to the band's first gigs, and it's hard to exaggerate how vibrant they sound. A- [cd]
Meridian Brothers: Devoción (Works 2005-2011) (2005-11 , Staubgold): Nominally a Colombian band, although this collection of early sides seems to be the solo work of Eblis Álvarez. It certainly doesn't sound like a group effort: the music barely supports the idiosyncratic vocals in something more credible as psychedelic than the stuff the Rough Guide folks uncover. Reminds Christgau of Tom Zé, and I can hear that. A-
The Rough Guide to Cumbia [Second Edition] (1975-2012 , World Music Network, 2CD): Successor to the label's 2000 edition, a new batch of (mostly) old songs, the last two dating from 2008-10, most of the others hard to pin down (two also show up in compilations from 1960-76 and 1948-79, so they could be older than I'm sure of). The cumbias have a marvelous bounce, passed effortlessly from band to band. Also includes a "bonus CD": The Rough Guide to Los Corraleros De Majagual, an important cumbia group dating back to 1962. B+(***)
The Rough Guide to Latin Disco (1975-2014 , World Music Network): At least these New York tracks are relatively easy to locate: two-thirds date from the 1975-80 disco heyday, with Joe Bataan and Salsoul Orchestra scoring two tracks each. The others date from 2002 forward. The disco feint has a whiff of sellout to it and never really scaled the heights of disco ecstasy, but not for lack of energy, or chops. B+(*)
The Rough Guide to Merengue Dance (, World Music Network, 2CD): The national style of Dominican music, closer in feel to cumbia than to salsa -- the ubiquitous accordion has something to do with that. The difference getween "merengue" and "merengue dance" seems to be speed, though I can't imagine dancing to any of these barnburners, even before I got old and decrepit. No idea on dates: I decided to just kick back and enjoy this one. Bonus disc is Mambeao by Carlitos Almonte, one of the accordion wizards. Seems to be unavailable separately. A-
The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cumbia (1969-2014 , World Music Network): First few cuts seem to date from the 1970s or a bit earlier but then there's a big jump to recent (although I only tracked about half of the songs down, and even old ones are likely to have recent youtube videos. Never clear what "psychedelic" means, but these are mostly instrumental vamps with extra but not super fancy percussion. B+(***)
The Rough Guide to the Best Arabic Music You've Never Heard (2008-14 , World Music Network): No artist names I recognize (admittedly, not a very high hurdle), but all appear to be relatively recent, and they range fairly widely over the Arabic-speaking world. Still, easier to pick out "you've never heard" than "the best" -- not least because it's hard to find a unifying theme here. B
Larry Young: In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (1964-65 , Resonance, 2CD): Organ player, broke out of the soul jazz groove when he moved to Blue Note in 1965 -- his album Unity (with Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, and Elvin Jones) is a masterpiece, one of those Penguin Guide crown recordings. These lavishly documented, previously unreleased recordings are transitional, most from a quartet led by tenor saxophonist Nathan Davis -- a Kansas City native who moved to Paris in 1963 -- with Shaw, in blistering form, and drummer Billy Brooks. Young keeps those cuts simmering, but you don't wind up with a very good sense of how. Also includes a couple earlier cuts with various French musicians, including one with Young playing piano. B+(***) [cd]
Anderson .Paak: Venice (2014, OBE/Steel Wool): First album for the Afro-Korean-Californian singer/rapper, sorts out his sound on moderately interesting songs, mostly about sex. B+(**)
Nathan Davis: Happy Girl (1965 , MPS): First album, basically the same group -- Woody Shaw (trumpet), Billy Brooks (drums) -- as on Larry Young's In Paris but with Young playing piano (less distinctively) and Jimmy Woode added at bass. Opens with a flute piece ("The Flute in the Blues"). B+(*)
Drive-By Truckers: Gangstabilly (1998, Soul Dump): First album, with Patterson Hood doing most of the writing, Mike Cooley chipping in "Panties in Your Purse," both on guitar and vocals, plus pedal steel, upright bass, and drums, "the most country of any of our albums," although their attitude already cutting against the grain -- on the one hand, the hip-hop allusion of the title, on the other a song called "Demonic Possession" based on a Pat Buchanan speech (perhaps the one Molly Ivins thought "might have sounded better in the original German"). B+(***)
Drive-By Truckers: Alabama Ass Whuppin' (1999 , Second Heaven): Live album, recorded over several dates in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia; repeats five songs from their debut, three from Pizza Deliverance, adds three songs including a wicked tale about "The Avon Lady" and a breakneck cover of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died," also working a little Lynyrd Skynyrd into "Steve McQueen." I had my doubts on the song with too much Jesus (too little sex), but toward the end they aimed for "live and loud" and got there. B+(***)
Drive-By Truckers: Ugly Buildings, Whores, and Politicians: Greatest Hits 1998-2009 (1998-2009 , New West): Not sure that any of these songs qualify as hits, but the seven source albums showed slow, steady progress up the charts, hitting 50 in 2006 and 37 in 2008 (figures topped by three later albums, the highest at 16). Nor is the band so hit-and-miss you need a compilation (I have six of those albums at A-, with Gangstabilly a very near miss). Nor am I sure this improves on any of the six (or for that matter the odds and sods collected as The Fine Print). But the songcraft is very much there. A-
Kendrick Lamar: Overly Dedicated (2010, Top Dawg Entertainment): First mixtape, a year before Section.80 turned enough ears to get him on my radar, but following four mixtapes as K-Dot, an alias he still self-refers to here. Maybe half of this seems generic to the craft, but the other half is so spry and bubbly it bursts the seams. A-
Horace Parlan: Movin' & Groovin' (1960, Blue Note): Pianist, worked with Sonny Stitt and later Charles Mingus in the 1950s, had a terrific run with Blue Note in the early 1960s, starting with this trio -- Sam Jones on bass, Al Harewood on drums. B+(**)
Horace Parlan: Up & Down (1961 , Blue Note): The pianist leads a hard bop quintet here with Booker Ervin (tenor sax), Grant Green (guitar), George Tucker (bass), and Al Harewood (drums). Opens with the guitarist in fine form, but Ervin tends to go with the flow rather than blast out of it, as he would a couple years hence. B+(***)
Bonnie Raitt: Bonnie Raitt (1971, Warner Brothers): Had a show biz father and a pianist mother, raised a Quaker, went to Radcliffe and majored in social relations and African studies, took a semester off, was befriended by a blues promoter, learned to play bottle-neck, and was discovered opening for Fred McDowell. First album, two originals buried in the middle of a mess of blues although she led off with a Stephen Stills song the label might have figured for a single but didn't bother releasing. B+(***)
Bonnie Raitt: Streetlights (1974, Warner Brothers): Fourth album, Jerry Ragavoy producing, no original songs, no blues, wonder whether she/they would have touched John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" had he not also been on WEA at the time (as were her opening songwriters, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor). B
Bonnie Raitt: The Glow (1979, Warner Brothers): Still kicked around from producer to producer, this time landing with Peter Asher -- not much of a roots/blues afficionado. Starts with two Isaac Hayes songs, not a bad move. B
Bonnie Raitt: Green Light (1982, Warner Brothers): I buy that she's having more fun here, mostly due to upbeat rockers -- some suggesting she's been listening to Dave Edmunds. B+(**)
Bonnie Raitt: Nine Lives (1986, Warner Brothers): Her last album for Warners, one that sat on the shelf a couple years before she recut half of it to make it more hit-worthy. Christgau, who cares much more about her than I do, regards it as her worst (runner up: 2002's Silver Lining). I find it perfectly ordinary -- something she's done several times. B-
Bonnie Raitt: Road Tested (1995, Capitol, 2CD): Only two (of nine) of her Warners albums went gold, but her first three albums for Capitol went platinum (2-7x) -- less familiar to me with Longing in Their Hearts not even on Rhapsody -- leading to the profit-taking of this live double, reclaiming large swathes of her early songbook. Strikes me as perfunctory, but does make a whole out of the parts. B+(**)
Bonnie Raitt: The Best of Bonnie Raitt on Capitol 1989-2003 (1989-2003 , Capitol): First three albums went platinum, cashing in on all the hard work the past decade while Warners paired her with one ill-suited producer after another. I'm not a fan of those albums (at least of the two better-regarded ones I've heard), but looking back I have to admit that her Grammy-grabbing MOR move produced some exquisite schmaltz. This collection goes down so easy you scarcely notice it -- beyond the warm feeling it leaves you with. What you do notice are the Road Tested remakes of old blues. A-
The Larry Young Trio: Testifying (1960 , New Jazz/OJC): Organ player, born in Newark, first album, cut when he was still 19. Mostly trio with Thornel Schwartz (guitar) and Jimmie Smith (drums), plus two cuts with Joe Holiday on tenor sax. Two original pieces (plus Holiday's "Exercise for Chihuahuas"), standards and blues, not his breakthrough sound but impressive for the genre. B+(***)
Larry Young: Groove Street (1962 , Prestige/OJC): Third album, 21 now, expands his trio -- Thornel Schwartz on guitar and Jimmie Smith on drums -- with Bill Leslie on tenor sax. Prestige was notorious for quickly cutting slapdash albums and I figure this was one, where the order of the day was "groove." B+(**)
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, March 28. 2016
Music: Current count 26420  rated (+20), 410  unrated (-1).
Another short week, but at least I found a few recommendables this week, thanks, I must admit, to slipstreaming other critics. You can read more substantive reviews of Kendrick Lamar's 2010 mixtape and Anderson Paak's new one (also HM Kyle) by Robert Christgau, of Bonnie Raitt (and BJ the Chicago Kid -- a tip he fed me a couple weeks ago) by Michael Tatum, and Audio One by Tim Niland. Tatum also has an excellent review of Hamilton (a record he likes a lot and I rather admire, although I'll mention that I was blown away by Daveed Diggs' Small Things to a Giant), a Willie Nelson review I don't buy at all (his awkward avoidance of any hint of swing couldn't keep other versions -- I've heard thousands -- from crowding my mind; above all Ella and Louis Again), and a cursory HM for Lyrics Born's Real People, my (and Laura's) favorite album of 2015.
I suppose I need to revisit Rihanna's Anti, which I gave two stars to a couple weeks back, before Tatum's A- and Christgau's A. (I had Erykah Badu's You Caint Use My Phone, A- by Tatum and two stars by Christgau, as an A- back in December. Tatum also reviews Archy Marshall's A New Place 2 Drown, an A- for me in February.) Hopefully by the time I post Rhapsody Streamnotes, no later than the end of the month.
Aside from two advances from the Swiss label Intakt, one of the worst weeks for the new jazz queue ever. One problem is that the queue got down to one record before I added in this week's haul. (Audio One was sampled from Bandcamp, as were the Borah Bergman and Paal Nilssen-Love albums.) Got email from the publicist today that the Vijay Iyer-Wadada Leo Smith album A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke is "out NOW." Not a high water mark in either catalog, but the only ECM record I've been able to play in my CD player for several years now, so I suppose it's worth a mention. Reminds me I have more ECM links to download -- most promising is a new record by Nik Bärtsch.
Thought I'd go back and catch up on the old Bonnie Raitt records I had missed (including three Christgau A-). Her debut was pretty good, but it seemed somewhat less than several contemporary groups she evoked -- e.g., Delaney & Bonnie, Joy of Cooking -- and for that matter the two albums she followed it with (Give It Up and Takin' My Time). I didn't get much out of the others, although with Longing in Their Hearts (1994) still missing I decided to give The Best of the Capitol Years a chance, and it makes a pretty good case for her MOR period.
I'm not sure why I've never cared much for Raitt, given how pivotal my one brief encounter with her had been (this would have been in 1973, or maybe 1972). Carl Boggs was a Poli Sci professor at Washington University, a lefty and a big fan. He came up with the idea of hiring Raitt to do a concert meant to be a benefit for paying down legal bills of one of the guys arrested for burning down the Wash U ROTC building before I got there. I was in a student group called Notes on Everyday Life -- we published a very underground tabloid -- so he used us to get the concert staged on campus. I had little to do with this other than filing the paper work, and almost missed the concert: I hooked up with my first girl the night before (or was it two?) and we only got out of bed to make the show, so I was pretty dazed that night. But I'm pretty sure it was the first concert I ever went to, not that I remember any of it. We went to the the party at Boggs' house afterwards. I saw Raitt there -- in fact, almost smashed into her -- but was far too shy to even say hello. (She was probably the first celebrity I had ever gotten that close to. What I remember was her looking very tired, and short.) That may also have been the first time I smoked pot -- I was very late getting to any of these milestones. When the party pooped out, we wound up getting breakfast with eight or ten others. Then my girlfriend and I went back to her house, to bed. Had these events played out in different order I might have credited Raitt for turning me into a human being. As it was, she was at most a distraction. I only listened to her albums much after the fact.
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Sunday, March 27. 2016
We finally got around to seeing the movie Spotlight (A-) on Wednesday afternoon. When we came out of the theatre in west Wichita, the sky to the west was extremely dark but mostly featureless, and the wind was blowing hard from the south. Looked very ominous, but not like the squall lines and thunderstorms we're used to seeing. Turns out that what we were seeing was smoke from wildfires to our southwest: at the time, about 72,000 acres had burned from the Oklahoma border to near Medicine Lodge, and there were two smaller fires to the northwest in Reno and Harvey counties. The next day the wind turned around to the north, which cleared the smoke from Wichita but expanded the wildfire to more than 400,000 acres (625 square miles). Here's a report on Anderson Creek fire in Oklahoma and Kansas. The fire is still burning as I write this, although reports are that it is no longer expanding.
Winters are typically dry in south-central Kansas, and high winds are common, so this is the prime season for grass fires. (A large chunk of south-central Kansas was subject of a red flag warning back on February 8.) Still, this year has been dryer than normal, and much warmer, which set the stage for what is already the largest wildfire in Kansas history. The area is very sparsely populated, the farms more used to pasture cattle than to grow wheat. No cause has been determined (although we can rule out lightning). I've seen lots of reports about cattle (and deer) but nothing yet about oil wells, which are fairly common in the most heavily fracked (and recently most earthquake-prone) part of the state. (Most wells collect oil in adjacent tanks, so I'd be surprised if a few didn't contribute to the fire.)
I also ran across this report on a 160-acre fire near Salina caused by gun nuts shooting at exploding targets:
You'd think that natural selection would start to limit this kind of stupidity, and evidently it works very slow.
Meanwhile, Governor Brownback declared two counties to be disaster areas. That leaves him 103 counties short, but if he declared disasters everywhere he has caused them he'd have to commit to fixing some of the problems he's caused. That would cost money, and require that someone in power care, so no chance of that.
Bernie Sanders won all three Democratic caucuses on Saturday, by landslides, with 69.8% in Hawaii, 72.7% in Washington, and 81.6% in Alaska. When Kansas voted back on March 5, Sanders' 67.7% share here was his second largest total (after Vermont), but he has since done better in Idaho (78.0%), Utah (79.3%), and yesterday's trio. Next up is Wisconsin on April 5, Wyoming on April 9, and New York on April 19. 538's polling average favors Clinton in Wisconsin 55.6-42.1%, and much more dubious polling has Clinton ahead in New York 67.4-24.3% (only one poll in March, a 71-23% outlier; three previous polls had Clinton +21, going back to September). Nothing on Wyoming, but Sanders has won four (of four) abutting states (Montana and South Dakota haven't voted yet).
If you care about such things, Cruz is heavily favored to win Wisconsin (polling average 42.8-32.2-22.4%, Trump ahead of Kasich), while Trump is ahead in New York (limited polling: 58.8-11.6-2.8%, which would give him his first majority win, but Kasich's share strikes me as way low). The Republicans have already done Wyoming, with Cruz winning.
Not much time for this, but some quick scattered links this week:
Monday, March 21. 2016
Music: Current count 26400  rated (+16), 411  unrated (-0).
Rated count continues to plummet: after averaging 39 in February, March's totals are 24, 21, and now 16. Last week I made up for the shortfall by finding seven A- records, but this week I didn't come up with any (can't remember when the last time that happened was, other than weeks I shut down for travel). Best I can do is six high HMs, with Jeff Williams probably the closest call. Maybe Larry Young's In Paris should get extra credit for its huge booklet?
Main reason for falling short is that I've been out of the house, trying to help my sister fix up our late parents old house so she can move in. That should give me something practical to do over the next several weeks. Nonetheless, the incoming queue has slowed down to the point where I'm still keeping pace. I do have some download links I can tap into, but I don't count them before they hatch, and I haven't felt much energy for dealing with the hassle.
I'll post a Rhapsody Streamnotes some time before the end of the month, even though it's likely to be a short one -- only have 85 capsules at present.
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Monday, March 14. 2016
Music: Current count 26384  rated (+21), 411  unrated (-2).
Rated count dropped further (was 24 last week). Next week will most likely be lower still, at least if I manage to spend any substantial amount of time working on my sister's house. Not sure what happened last week. I suspect both interest and listening time were down as I'm coming off my 2015 wrap up efforts but not paying much attention to 2016. Still, relatively high share of recommended records this week. The Tom Zé was recommended by Christgau the previous week, but it took me a while to find it on Rhapsody. (The other Zé record Christgau liked, Tropicália Lixo Lógico, was an A- back in 2012.) BJ the Chicago Kid and Wussy were tips from Michael Tatum (although Christgau wasted no time certifying Wussy). Threadgill was the most obvious prospect in the incoming queue, aside from vault discoveries from Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and Larry Young (still pending).
Two HMs came close. The Kendrick Lamar dump is mostly up to snuff, maybe even genius, but I kept stumbling on some dull stretches that should have been edited out -- although doing so would have cut the "album" well under 30 minutes. The Danny Green record grew on me despite my usual disinterest in piano trios and dislike for string quartets. I rarely fall for postbop jazz that lush, but it almost became the exception -- indeed, might have had I stuck with it longer.
I'll also note that the Loretta Lynn record is likely to be much enjoyed by fans, although it doesn't really add much. The concept there is to do for her what Rick Rubin did for Johnny Cash in his final years: to capture his voice on a vast songbook that may (or may not) enhance his legacy. That worked mostly because Cash had such a unique voice. Lynn's voice isn't in that rarefied league, although she's sounding remarkably good here, and she's got a lot more production support than Cash had. John Carter Cash co-produced, along with Lynn's daughter, and I hear they have 200+ songs recorded since 2007, so I expect we'll be hearing a lot more from them -- perhaps part of the reason I managed to curb my initial enthusiasm.
Also bothered to listen to five Rough Guide releases -- a couple were Christgau HMs, but the best of the batch was a pick back in 2009 (fun fact: I also have 2001's The Rough Guide to Merengue and Bachata and 2006's The Rough Guide to Merengue at A-). Most I tried to track down the source dates for, with the usual mixed results. The label's compilers usually have good ears, but I've long been irritated by their shoddy documentation -- wouldn't you think that a company that publishes books would take that more seriously? Working off Rhapsody is even more frustrating, as I can only imagine how bad the booklets might be.
John Morthland, one of the finest rock critics to emerge in the golden age of the art, died last week. It came as a complete shock to me, partly because only a couple months ago he sought me out with a Facebook friend request -- I was honored. I met him in the 1970s when I moved to New York. He had recently moved to New York himself from working at Creem in Michigan, along with Lester Bangs and Georgia Christgau. I didn't run into him much, but after he moved to Austin in the mid-1980s Georgia would occasionally mention him, and I wound up corresponding with him a bit. Sometime around 2003 I even managed to drive through Austin, and looked him up and had lunch. He asked if I was still strictly into rock, and I told him that I had mostly moved on, much as he had -- in fact, his The Best of Country Music guide book helped me out a lot (although I grew up close enough to country music it wasn't much of a leap; when it was cut out, I bought a stack of his book and handed them out as presents; one thing I probed him on was doing a website around his book, but he didn't have any interest in going back there). He was a very kind and generous person, an encyclopedic mind which he shared freely. His passing is a real loss.
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