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Monday, March 30, 2020

Music Week

March archive (done).

Music: Current count 33007 [32971] rated (+36), 219 [212] unrated (+7).

Not an exceptional week, but as expected, rated count topped 33000. Unless things change, that's more a measure of time than anything else. I'd reckon my average haul per week is about 30, so I chalk up another thousand every 30-35 weeks, roughly 7-8 months. Looking back, I crossed 32000 the week of September 2, 2019, so I must be averaging a bit more. This week got off to a slow start, but picked up speed when I delved into Pharoah Sanders' back catalog. Didn't find anything there I had missed as good as Tauhid (1966), Village of the Pharoahs (1973), Africa (1987), Welcome to Love (A+ in 1990), or Crescent With Love (1992).

Spent some time last week adding recent reviews to my Jazz Guide draft files. Got up to December, so I should finish that task this week. Page counts up to 835 (20th Century, 335k words) and 1855 (21st, 857k words). I'm also collecting non-jazz capsules (827k words, but works out to 1928 pages with a less dense font). The guides are sorted by artist, so that can get tedious. The non-jazz capsules are just collected in order published, so that's easier.

You can download the guides here and here. They are in LibreWriter ODT format. LibreOffice is free software, with a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation editor, and other programs -- presumably everything that's in Microsoft Office. You can download and install it on Linux, Microsoft, and Apple computers, at no charge. You can import most file formats (including Microsoft Word), and can use it to generate PDF and HTML files. You can probably open an ODT file in Microsoft Word (post-2010 releases).

I doubt if these are very useful, other than that they consolidate widely scattered reviews by artist, in some kind of order (by recording date for 20th, release date by 21st). It would be an insane amount of work to turn these into a useful guides: the most obvious step would be to move the biographies to the artist heads, even though that may reduce most record "reviews" to mere grades. I'm thinking now that it may be best to copy them to a website (perhaps using Mediawiki?). Presumably, the current editing is a necessary step in that direction (although it also feels like a time sink).

March had five Mondays, so more records than usual this month: 186. The monthly archive is here.

New records reviewed this week:

Lakecia Benjamin: Pursuance: The Coltranes (2020, Ropeadope): Alto saxophonist, from New York, third album, bassist Reggie Workman co-produces. No credit details for the "over 40 jazz heavyweights" employed here, but Jazzmeia Horn, Brandee Younger, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Dee Dee Bridgewater sing (or scat), and the Last Poets narrate, with mentor Gary Bartz opening and Greg Osby closing. De trop, but pans out here and there. B+(*)

Jerry Bergonzi: Nearly Blue (2019 [2020], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, many records since 1984, recorded this in Italy with Renato Chicco (organ) and Andrea Michelutti (drums). Three originals, seven standards. His best records have been his most straightforward, and this is no exception. A-

Andy Bianco: NYC Stories (2020, Next Level): Guitarist, based in New York, couple previous albums, cover singles out Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax) and George Burton (piano) for "featuring." B+(*)

Vito Dieterle: Anemone (2018 [2020], Ride Symbol): Tenor saxophonist, based in New York, first album (shares release date with a second, recorded later, mainstream affair with organ (Ben Paterson), guitar (Kris Kaiser), and drums (Aaron Seeber). One original (the title song), with two Billy Strayhorn songs always catching my ear. B+(***)

Vito Dieterle/Joel Forrester: Status Sphere (2019 [2020], Ride Symbol): Duets, tenor sax and piano, five songs by the pianist, seven by Thelonious Monk. B+(**) [cd]

Amina Figarova Edition 113: Persistence (2018 [2020], AmFi): Azerbaijani pianist, clasically trained in Baku, based in New York. More than a dozen albums, this one distinguished by Rez Abbasi on guitar, but also dotted with flute, EWI, and guest vocals. B [cd] [04-10]

Monika Herzig: Eternal Dance (2019 [2020], Savant): German pianist, previous album called Sheroes, credits "Monika Herzig's Sheroes" on the cover, including Jamie Baum (flute), Reut Regev (trombone), Lakecia Benjamin (alto sax), Leni Stern (guitar), and Akua Dixon (cello), others on bass, drums, and percussion. Five originals, one each from Regev and Stern, covers of Queen, Bowie/Eno, and "Motherless Child." B+(*) [cd]

Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia (2020, Warner): English pop star, parents Albanians from Kosovo, second album, multiple co-writers and producers everywhere, eleven tight songs (only one over 3:41), mixes the hardest dance grooves up front, peaking with "Physical" (as in "let's get"). A-

Harold Mabern: Mabern Plays Mabern (2018 [2020], Smoke Sessions): Pianist from Memphis, moved to New York in 1959 and landed a gig with "Sweets" Edison. He cut his first album in 1968, and this looks to be his last, from a three day stand that previously yielded Iron Man: Live at Smoke, before dying in September 2019. The latter was a quartet, with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), John Webber (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). This set, with two covers, five Mabern originals, and one by Alexander, adds Vincent Herring (alto sax) and Steve Davis (vibes), making it a little busy. B+(**)

Christian McBride: The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons (2013 [2020], Mack Avenue): Mainstream bassist, has been working on this since 1998, when he first performed it, his icons Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King Jr., a decade later adding Barack Obama with "Apotheosis: November 4th, 2008." With big band, choir, narrators reciting inspirational words -- although Obama's conciliatory inaugural address elicits more sadness than anything else today. Several monologues break into song. By far the best is least political, most cultural victory, "Rumble in the Jungle." B+(**)

Thollem McDonas/William Parker/Nels Cline: Gowanus Sessions II (2012 [2020], ESP-Disk): Piano/bass/guitar, the cover listing only the former's first name (as usual), the others' surnames. Leftovers from their 2012 album, two LP-sized jams (18:42/18:49). Cline doesn't do much other than add color here. B+(**)

Ar˙an Ortiz With Andrew Cyrille and Mauricio Herrera: Inside Rhythmic Falls (2019 [2020], Intakt): Cuban pianist, based in New York, the others drums and percussion (the latter is also Cuban), all three also credited with voice -- mostly on the opener. B+(**)

Painted Faces: Tales From the Skinny Apartment (2017 [2019], ESP-Disk): Florida "weirdo" David Drucker, moved to New York in 2011, has more than a dozen albums starting in 2009, announces his intentions here with "Chicks That Are Into Beefheart (and Jandek)." I checked this out because it's on a label that's into adventurous avant-jazz releases, but with their "only the artist decides" aesthetic, they're susceptible to weirdos of all stripes, and have trouble sorting them out. Guitar and reverb, lo-fi noise, aleatory vocals, not devoid of interest but more work than I care to exert. B-

Vanderlei Pereira and Blindfold Test: Vision for Rhythm (2020, Jazzheads): Brazilian drummer, long based in New York, Discogs lists 15 albums since 1986 he's played on, but this may be his first as a leader. Shifting rhythms and textures. B+(*) [cd] [05-22]

Radical Empathy Trio: Reality and Other Imaginary Places (2017 [2019], ESP-Disk): Thollem McDonas (keyboards), Nels Cline (guitars), and Michael Wimberly (drums). Two tracks conceived as LP sides (18:30 and 18:31). B+(*) [bc]

Dave Sewelson: More Music for a Free World (2018 [2020], Mahakala Music): Baritone saxophonist, first album the precursor this is more of, but I've been aware of him for a while, in groups like Microscopic Septet, Fast 'N' Bulbous, and William Parker's big bands. Quartet with Steve Swell (trombone), Parker (bass), and Marvin Bugalu Smith (drums). Two long improv pieces, a shorter one to close. A-

SFJazz Collective: Live: SFJazz Center 2019: 50th Anniversary: Miles Davis In a Silent Way and Sly & the Family Stone Stand! (2019 [2020], SFJazz): Group started in 2004 with Joshua Redman as artistic director, Gil Goldstein arranging and composing, and Bobby Hutcherson eminent, but they were gone by 2007, as the evolving group has turned into a premier repertory jazz ensemble -- as evidence by this program, the two 1969 albums intercut. Martin Luther McCoy sings Sly's parts. Ensemble is down to a septet, all recognized names, with Warren Wolf keeping the vibes prominent, and guitarist Adam Rogers visiting from New York. Nice concept for a concert. B+(**)

Shabaka and the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here by History (2015 [2020], Impulse!): British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, born in London, grew up in his parents' native Barbados, a prominent member of two of England's most successful jazz outfits (Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming), second album with this group, recorded in Johannesburg with South African musicians. Expands on pan-African roots with spirit of Coltrane and Sanders. A-

Kandace Springs: The Women Who Raised Me (2020, Blue Note): Standards singer, jazz/soul crossover, third album, has an intriguing voice, styles this as a tribute to a dozen iconic women singers ranging from Billie Holiday to Norah Jones (the one who shows for a duet). Backed by Steve Cardenas, Scott Colley, and Clarence Penn, with various featured guests (notably two Chris Potter cuts). Has some moments, but turned me off toward the end. B

Ohad Talmor: Long Form (2015 [2020], Intakt): French saxophonist, grew up in Geneva, based in New York, not much under his own name but he met Lee Konitz in 1989, and has frequently toured and recorded with him. Sextet, with Shane Endsley (trumpet), Miles Okazaki (guitar), Jacob Sacks (piano), bass, and drums. B+(***)

Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud (2020, Merge): Katie Crutchfield, from Alabama, fifth album since 2012, doesn't rock much, and I'm too slow on the uptake to figure out the rest. Still, after several plays, gets me in the end. A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Antoinette Konan: Antoinette Konan (1986 [2019], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Singer-songwriter from C˘te D'Ivoire, first album, arranged by Bamba Moussa Yang. B+(*) [bc]

New Improvised Music From Buenos Aires (2012-17 [2019], ESP-Disk): Various artists, only a few I've heard of (Pablo Ledesma, Paula Shocron), fourteen tracks, compiled by Jason Weiss. Interesting stuff, my favorite a piece by avant-sax trio CinÚtica, "Improvisation 0681." B+(***) [bc]

Charlie Parker: The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection (1944-48 [2020], Craft, 4LP): I don't have the slightest interest in the packaging: four 10-inch LPs (6-8 songs each), packed in a box with a booklet I haven't seen. The music is essentially the same as I first head on 1976's 2-LP Bird/The Savoy Recordings (Master Takes) (later on a single 1985 CD, which unlike this is organized chronologically by session), and has been repackaged numerous times since. I must have a half-dozen copies of everything here, and at various times have graded it anywhere from B to A-, varying by how crummy the sound was, whether any vocal tracks were included, and how bad a mood I was in. I'm not going back to systematize those grades, but figured a quick streaming pass would give me a temperature check. The music originally appeared on 78s. The 10-inch LPs this is modeled on appeared as New Sounds in Modern Music (1950-52), followed by 12-inch LPs like Charlie Parker Memorial (1955). I recognize almost everything, noting that Parker (like Monk) tends to reuse his pet ideas, also that the singles format compresses many pieces to the point of claustrophobia, the hour-plus wearing me thin and sore. I'd never buy this packaging, but shouldn't dock it: perhaps it helps to break it up into 15-20 minute chunks. B+(**)

Pharoah Sanders: Live in Paris 1975 (1975 [2020], Transversales Disque): Tenor saxophonist, a decade into his career, he has plenty of material to work with. Quartet with Danny Mixon (piano/organ), Calvin Hill (bass), and Greg Bandy (drums) -- the sung finale a cosmic hoedown. B+(**)

Old music:

John Coltrane Featuring Pharoah Sanders: Live in Seattle (1964 [1994], Impulse!, 2CD): His famous Quartet plus a second tenor sax (Sanders) and Donald Garrett (bass clarinet), often muddying the waters. First released in 1971 as a 2-LP (72:36), expanded here (same six tracks, but now 132:44). B+(*)

Harold Mabern: Iron Man: Live at Smoke (2018, Smoke Sessions, 2CD): Pianist, pretty good shape for 81, quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), John Webber (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). One to remember him by, even if he's frequently upstaged by Alexander, who hasn't sounded this vigorous in ages. A-

Charlie Parker: In Sweden 1950: The Complete Recordings (1950 [2002], Storyville): Live shot, based on three shows, with a pick up band, notably Rolf Ericson on trumpet. LP (10 tracks) originally appeared on Sonet in 1959. Storyville reissued it in 1973, and Spotlite came up with a more complete 2-LP in 1973, matching these 14 tracks. Storyville's 14-track version bears the label's 50th Anniversary sticker, suggesting 2002, but the Bandcamp date is 2020. (Definitive also reissued all 14 tracks in 2002.) Sound is so-so, but give Parker some breathing room, and he eventually he'll do something with it. B+(**) [bc]

Pharoah Sanders: Deaf Dumb Blind (Summun Bukmun Umyun) 1970, Impulse!): Two sidelong pieces, draws on Arabic for the title, Africa for the rhythms, and the cosmos for shimmering aura. With Woody Shaw (trumpet), Gary Bartz (alto sax), Lonnie Liston Smith (piano), and pretty much everyone adding to the percussion. B+(***)

Pharoah Sanders: Thembi (1970-71 [1971], Impulse!): A mixed bag, with with some sax close to and some beyond the pain threshold, exotic flutes and fifes, and various other diversions. Title cut is wonderful, but nothing else works out nearly as well. B+(*)

Pharoah Sanders: Black Unity (1971, Impulse!): One 37:21 piece, originally split over 2 LP sides, mostly groove and jive, with a few rough spots. B+(**)

Pharoah Sanders: Live at the East (1971 [1972], Impulse!): Starts strong with a 21:43 "Healing Song," ends in typical fashion, drags in the middle. B+(*)

Pharoah Sanders: Love in Us All (1972-73 [1974], Impulse!): Two extended pieces, "Love Is Everywhere" and "To John" (which no doubt means Coltrane). With James Branch adding to the flute, Joe Bonner on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, lots of percussion. B+(**)

Pharoah Sanders: Love Will Find a Way (1978, Arista): First of two albums he did with Norman Connors on Arista. It's not a very fruitful pairing, with chintzy strings and Phyllis Hyman vocals. Occasionally the saxophone peeks through. B

Pharoah Sanders: Save Our Children (1998, Verve): Second Verve album, last chance he had to show off on a major label, and he does indeed offer a neat encapsulation of his worldview -- exotic percussion from Trilok Gurtu and Zakir Hussain, funk keyboard by Bernie Worrell, electronic mix by Bill Laswell. Doesn't short change the saxophone but keeps it bound up. B+(*)

Pharoah Sanders/Graham Haynes: With a Heartbeat (2003, Evolver): His discography thins out after 2000, with this the last (or latest?) album listing his name first, although he's popped up in guest slots at least through 2014. Not especially strong here, but Haynes (cornet/electronics) and Bill Laswell (producer, bass, keyboards, flute, arrangements) have turned out a fitting extended treatment of Sanders' long-established cosmic vibe. B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Harrison Argatoff: Toronto Streets Tour (self-released -19)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Nearly Blue (Savant)
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio: Catch Me If You Can (Capri) [07-17]
  • Monika Herzig: Eternal Dance (Savant)
  • Samo Salamon/Igor Matkovic/Kristijan Krajncan: Common Flow (Sazas)
  • Samo Salamon/Igor Matkovic/Kristijan Krajncan: Rare Ebb (Sazas)
  • Diane Schuur: Running on Faith (Jazzheads) [05-08]
  • The TNEK Jazz Quintet: Plays the Music of Sam Jones (TNEK Jazz)
  • Sophie Tassignon: Mysteries Unfold (RareNoise) [04-24]
  • Lou Volpe: Before & After (Jazz Guitar) [04-01]

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Weekend Roundup

News this week is pretty much all coronavirus. Most striking number below is Anthony Fauci's projection that coronavirus will kill more than 100,000 Americans, and that millions will be infected. The US now has more confirmed cases than any other nation -- even China, despite a head start and nearly four times as many people (see How the US stacks up to other countries in confirmed coronavirus cases; note the graphs, which plot spread over time; also note how little testing has actually been carried out in the US).

Or, if you're more concerned about money than people, the number of new unemployment filings last week broke the previous record, by a factor of five. We're now seeing projections that unemployment will shoot to 20%, and that this quarter's GDP will drop by more than 10%. For comparison, the total drop in the 2008 "Great Recession" over two quarters was 4.3%. Congress passed a $2 trillion "stimulus" bill late last week. I'd call it more of a stopgap. I'm especially struck by how eager Republicans are to break the bank when one of their own is president, compared to how chintzy and vindictive they are when a Democrat is in the White House. Much like Republicans managed to undermine Obama's $700 billion stimulus bill in 2009, Democrats worked hard to make this bill more fair to workers and the newly unemployed than Trump initially wanted.

Ran through this rather quickly, without many comments. You can look up the technical stuff yourself (here's the Vox index; American Prospect has a relatively good political-oriented series, including David Dayen's "COVID-19 Daily" briefs). Occasionally I note speculation on what happens "after" -- still, I find this impossible given that I don't have any real idea how far this falls apart, or when (if ever) a "new normal" stabilizes. I've seen pieces comparing coronavirus to global warming, but don't find them to be very credible (yet). Also, not much below on politics. Nothing in the last week (or month) has convinced me that Biden is the right person to take on Trump, yet it feels unseemly to try to convince his Democratic supporters of that at this particular moment. It seems significant that this poll shows only 24% of Biden supporters to be very enthusiastic, vs. 53% of Trump supporters. (His 24% not only compares poorly to Trump, but to Hillary Clinton's lame 32% four years ago.)

Some scattered links this week:

Monday, March 23, 2020

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32971 [32935] rated (+36), 212 [216] unrated (-4).

I did a bit of website work last week. Robert Christgau told me that he's working on a piece on his wife Carola Dibbell's novel, The Only Ones, which is set in a post-pandemic dystopia, something more immediately imaginable this week than a month or two ago. Her website got wrecked when my server bit the dust last year, and I've been slow to rebuild it, so he wanted me to do some work on that: in particular, to restore the Notices page, with its collection of links to reviews and interviews. I did that, and fiddled with the menus a bit. He also sent me Carola's 1998 B-52s piece, and I scrounged up a previously missing 2003 Gaby Kerpel review.

A bigger chunk of work was taking a twitter thread Carola wrote in September 2019 about her cancer treatment, and formatting it as a plain old web page. This still needs some work. I haven't yet figured out how to do the video links. The images are handled a bit better, but still not right. With one exception, I'm using the ones cached by Twitter, but they're in various sizes, given somewhat uniform treatment by transformations and windowing in the CSS code. The thing that would help the most would be to vertically center the clipping rectangle over the image, instead of positioning it from the top. That's more/less what Twitter is doing, but don't quite see how.

I did set it up so you can click on an image and see the original, although that may not be obvious. I'll try to do some more work on this in the next week or two. One thing worth checking out is the Bibliography, particularly if you can find and submit any of the currently missing pieces. My plan is to move the archive from Christgau's website to Carola's, probably duplicating their joint pieces.

Three 2019 releases in this week's A- haul: two (Jeb Bishop, Wojtek Mazolewski) didn't appear on any 2019 lists, so I'm including them on my 2020 list; the other (Ben Webster in Denmark) was one that I knew about and looked for, but it's only recently become accessible via Storyville Records' Bandcamp page. Also found the first volume to the Hank Jones set I reviewed last week, and a few more items of interest. Storyville is a Danish label which has specialized in picking up archival recordings of American stars, especially on tour in their environs. Also a fair number of releases by Scandinavian artists. I'm looking forward to exploring the label further.

I will flag a slight caveat on Irreversible Entanglements: I'm not fully satisfied with my understanding of the record, but I usually limit Bandcamp releases to two plays, after which I go with my best guess. I also gave an A- to their eponymous first album, and a B+(**) to their EP. On the other hand, I've never given Moor Mother (vocalist Camae Ayewa) better than a B+(**) for her hip-hop albums. I like the jazz group quite a bit, but she's still something of a mystery to me.

Still another week before I have to close out March Streamnotes. Assuming a normal week, the rated count should clear 33,000.

PS: Just heard that pianist Mike Longo, 83, is a casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic -- see Nate Chinen's obituary. I have four of his albums in my database, notably [B+(***)] Step On It, a 2013 trio with Bob Cranshaw and Lewis Nash.

New records reviewed this week:

Daniel Bingert: Berit in Space (2019 [2020], Moserobie): Swedish bassist, father is saxophonist Hector Bingert (originally from Uruguay, where Daniel lived as a child), first album, composed, arranged, conducted, and produced but doesn't play: Torbj÷rn Zetterberg plays bass, with Per Texas Johansson and Jonas Kullhammar the saxophonists, Karl Olandersson on trumpet, Charlie Malmberg on piano, and Moussa Fadera on drums. Elegantly composed pieces, nothing too harsh. B+(***)

Jeb Bishop Flex Quartet: Re-Collect (2015 [2019], Not Two): Trombonist, originally from North Carolina, made his mark in Chicago (especially in the early Vandermark Five), where this was recorded. Quartet with Russ Johnson (trumpet), Jason Roebke (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums). What you look for in a pianoless quartet: two freewheeling horns, the main distinction here that the trombone gives as good as it gets. A-

Jeb Bishop/Jaap Blonk/Weasel Walter/Damon Smith: JeJaWeDa: Pioneer Works Vol. 1 (2019, Balance Point Acoustics): Trombone, voice/electronics, drums, bass. Much noise, Blonk's appetite for chaos seems boundless, and the other have fun -- more than the listener, I'm sure. B+(*) [bc]

CP Unit: One Foot on the Ground Smoking Mirror Shakedown (2018 [2020], Ramp Local): Led by alto saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos, who also contributes electronics, backed by electric guitar (Sam Lisabeth), electric bass (Henry Frazer), and drums/more electronics (Jason Nazary). Fourth group album, short at 4 tracks, 32:29, gets a bit overheated toward the end. B+(***)

Aaron Diehl: The Vagabond (2020, Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Columbus, Ohio, fifth album, a solid, thoughtful trio with bass and drums. B+(*)

Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Earth (2018 [2020], Whaling City Sound): Plays soprano sax and recorder here. Quintet dates from 2013, fourth album, with members contributing songs: Matt Vashlishan (wind synth), Bobby Avey (piano), Tony Marino (electric bass), Alex Ritz (drums/kanjira), while Liebman ties this to a series of previous albums with other groups: Water (1997), Air (2006), and Fire (2016). B+(*)

Fire! Orchestra: Actions (2018 [2020], Rune Grammofon): Free jazz orchestra, grew from Mats Gustafsson's Fire! trio, picking up a wide swath of mostly Scandinavian avant-jazzers. This is a single 40:01 piece by Krzysztof Penderecki, recorded live at a festival in Krakow. B+(**)

Elliot Galvin: Live in Paris at Fondation Louis Vuitton (2018 [2020], Edition): British pianist, a "young Django Bates" if you like, has appeared on albums recently with Laura Jurd and Binker Golding, goes solo for this one, a bit commandeering. B+(*)

Naama Gheber: Dearly Beloved (2019 [2020], Cellar Music): Standards singer, born in Israel, based in New York, first album, backed by Ray Gallon's piano trio plus Steve Nelson, whose vibraphone gently washes over the nicely done classics. B+(**) [cd] [04-10]

The Good Ones: Rwanda, You Should Be Loved (2019, Anti-): Group from Rwanda, led by singer-guitarist Adrien Kazigira, with Janvier Havugimana and Javan Mahoro adding background vocals and percussion. B+(*)

Alex Goodman: Impressions in Blue and Red (2019 [2020], Outside In Music, 2CD): Guitarist, from Canada, based in New York City, sixth album since 2007. Two discs, two quartets with the same lineups (alto sax, bass, drums) but different musicians. B+(***)

The Haden Triplets: The Family Songbook (2020, Trimeter): The late bassist Charlie Haden's daughters (Petra, Rachel, Tanya), second group album (Tanya has by far the most substantial solo career). Old songs, tight harmony, guitar. B+(**)

Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott: Manchester Calling (2020, Virgin EMI): The singer-songwriter star behind my favorite 1990s group, the Beautiful South, and the group's alternate singer (1994-2000). Fourth duo album, occasional blasts of the old songcraft, nothing that's really sunk in given the short time I've allocated -- a far cry the the hundreds of spins I gave Welcome to the Beautiful South (1990) and 0898 Beautiful South (1992). Then comes "A Good Day Is Hard to Find" and I wonder if I've given it short shrift. B+(**)

Lisa Hilton: Chalkboard Destiny (2019, Ruby Slippers): Pianist, from California, two dozen albums since 1997. Quartet with JD Allen (tenor sax), Luques Curtis (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Not her first album with Allen, who is an asset here, though not as strong as on his own albums. B+(**)

Idle Hands: Solid Moments (2019 [2020], Posi-Tone): Label artists, assembled by producer Marc Free into a house supergroup: Will Bernard (guitar), Behn Gillece (vibes), Sam Dillon (tenor sax), Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass), Donald Edwards (drums). Lively mainstream mix. B+(*)

Irreversible Entanglements: Who Sent You? (2019 [2020], International Anthem): Voice and texts by Camae Ayewa, better known as Moor Mother, backed here by a free jazz quartet -- sax (Keir Neuringer) and trumpet (Aquilles Navarro), bass (Luke Stewart) and drums (Tcheser Holmes), with extra percussion from all. A- [bc]

Landgren & Lundgren: Kristallen (2018 [2020], ACT Music): Swedish duo, Nils & Jan, trombone/vocals and piano, active since 1984 and 1993, respectively. Nils' vocals are nothing special, but occasionally touching (e.g., "The Nearness of You"), even though I'd rather hear his trombone. Jan is in both cases a sensitive accompanist. B+(**)

Thomas Marriott: Trumpet Ship (2016 [2020], Origin): Trumpet player, from Seattle, twelfth album, quartet with Orrin Evans (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), and Mark Whitfield Jr. (drums). Title song from Sonny Simmons, most others originals. B+(*) [cd]

Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: When Angels Fall (2019, WMQ/Agora Muzyka): Polish bassist, at least ten albums since 2008, released an impressive Polka album in 2014, turns here to his country's premier jazz composer, Krzysztof Komeda (1931-69). Quintet with trumpet, tenor sax, piano, and drums. Some remarkable passages here, surprise shifts, maybe a bit much drama. A-

Roscoe Mitchell With Ostravska Banda: Performing Distant Radio Transmission Also Nonaah Trio, Cutouts for Woodwind Quintet and 8.8.88 (2019 [2020], Wide Hive): As the Art Ensemble of Chicago founder and mainstay turns 80 this year, his work is being adapted for various classical ensembles, with his participation. I wish it worked better. B+(*) [03-27]

Shunzo Ohno: Runner (2019 [2020], Pulsebeats): Japanese trumpet player, eighteenth album since 1975, first I've heard, although he has moved in circles I may have crossed, such as his work with Gil Evans. Not seeing any string credits, but his "symphonic vision" is much in evidence. Short (29:45). B [cd] [04-03]

Charles Pillow Ensemble: Chamber Jazz (2019 [2020], Summit): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute and other woodwinds (including oboe and English horn here), often found leading or in big bands. This is billed as a nonet but I count a few extras, even before getting to the strings. Extravagantly lush, gets on my nerves. B

Jure Pukl: Broken Circles (2019 [2020], Whirlwind): Slovenian saxophonist (soprano, tenor, bass clarinet), half-dozen albums since 2010. Quintet with guitar (Charles Altura), vibes (Joel Ross), bass (Matt Brewer) and drums/kalimba (Kweku Sumbry). B+(**)

Tim Shaghoian: Gentle Beacons (2019 [2020], Origin): Tenor saxophonist from California, first album, all originals, nice, highly textural postbop with guitar, piano, bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

16-17: Phantom Limb (1995-2018 [2020], Trost): Hardcore noise group, sax-bass-guitar-drums, recorded in Switzerland in 1995, vocals dubbed in recently in San Francisco, mixed and mastered by saxophonist Alex Buess (also credited with electronics), and palmed off as metal (on an avant-jazz label). B

Duke Ellington: Uppsala 1971 (1971 [2019], Storyville): Vault tape, a concert in Sweden, with his great 1960s orchestra starting to give way (Johnny Hodges died in 1970, and the only name left from his legendary brass section is Cootie Williams, with Cat Anderson most irreplaceable). Paul Gonsalves gets a nice feature spot, there's a long (and rather messy) "Tone Parallel to Harlem," a "Medley" with vocalists, followed by Money Johnson growling his way through "Hello Dolly." B+(**)

Hank Jones: In Copenhagen: Live at Jazzhus Sklukefter 1983 (1983 [2018], Storyville): Previously unreleased piano-bass-drums trio date from Copenhagen, with Mads Vinding on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. They stretch out on a nice set of standards, including one from Bud Powell and two from Charlie Parker. B+(***) [bc]

Ben Webster: Ben Webster's First Concert in Denmark (1965 [2019], Storyville): Tenor sax great, visited Copenhagen in 1965 and liked it enough to move there. Opens with a bit of solo piano -- Webster's first instrument, and he still pounds out a respectable beat. Then quartet, with Kenny Drew (who had moved to Denmark some years earlier), Niels-Henning ěrsted Pederson (bass), and Alex Riel (drums). His standard fare, from "Pennies From Heaven" to "Cottontail," and as gorgeous as it gets. A- [bc]

Old music:

Jeb Bishop: 98 Duets (1998, Wobbly Rail): Trombonist, based in Chicago, a key member in Vandermark 5. No idea what the title signifies, as I count only 12 duets with 6 partners: Josh Abrams, Hamid Drake, Mats Gustafsson, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Wadada Leo Smith, and Ken Vandermark. No big surprise that this is all fairly marginal. B+(*)

Jeb Bishop Trio: 2009 (2009, Better Animal): Trombone trio, with bass (Jason Roebke) and drums (Frank Rosaly). B+(***)

Jeb Bishop: Three Valentines & Goodbye (2016 [2017], 1980): Solo trombone with "later processing." Gets a little harsh. B [bc]

Dexter Gordon: Atlanta Georgia May 5, 1981 (1981 [2003], Storyville): Tenor sax great, emerged in the 1940s, moved to Europe in 1962, back to US in 1976, recordings thin out quickly after 1980, with his death in 1986, so this live set is rather late. Quartet with Kirk Lightsey (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), and Eddie Gladden (drums). B+(***) [bc]

Archie Shepp/Don Cherry/J.C. Moses/John Tchicai/Don Moore: Archie Shepp & the New York Contemporary Five (1963 [2004], Storyville): Recorded live in Copenhagen four days after the set initially released on Sonet and later on Delmark (2010), with several of the same songs -- this one initially appearing in 1972. Two saxes (Shepp on tenor and Tchicai on alto), cornet, bass, and drums. A-

Archie Shepp/Lars Gullin Quintet: The House I Live In (1963 [1980], SteepleChase): A radio shot from Jazz Club Montmartre in Copenhagen, with the tenor saxophonist early in his career, the baritonist late, Tete Montoliu on piano, Niels-Henning ěrsted Pedersen on bass, and Alex Riel on drums. Four tracks, 9:20 to 19:00, standards, Shepp blowing hard but harder to place the usually swinging Gullin. B+(***)

Ben Webster: At Montmartre 1965-1966 (1965-66 [2003], Storyville): Two quartet sets, NHěP (who else?) on bass for both, Kenny Drew and Alex Riel on the longer (9 songs, 50:51) January 1965 set, Atli Bj°rn and Rune Carlsson on 3-song, 22:52 appendix. Common songbook gems, nicely but unexceptionally done. B+(**) [bc]

Ben Webster: In Norway (1970 [2013], Storyville): Live at PUB Trondheim, with a presumably local piano trio -- Tore Sandnaes, Bj°rn Alterhaug, Kjell Johansen. Emphasis on ballads, as gorgeous as ever, plus tamer than usual takes on his Elliigton classics, "C Jam Blues" and "Cottontail." B+(**) [bc]

Ben Webster: Live at Stampen Stockholm 1969-1973 (1969-73 [2004], Storyville): Tracks from three sets (2-3 each), all backed with piano-bass-drums (Red Mitchell from 1971, Teddy Wilson and Ed Thigpen in 1973), most with trumpet (Arne Ryskog or Roffe Ericson). Webster died six months after the last session. My impression has long been that he faded a few years before, but he gets quality help here, especially on a 12:43 "Satin Doll." Note that they shuffled the 1971 set to the end, so it ends with the sax up front. B+(***) [bc]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Vito Dieterle: Anemone (Ride Symbol)
  • Vito Dieterle/Joel Forrester: Status Sphere (Ride Symbol)
  • Amina Figarova: Persistence (AmFi)
  • GrÚgoire Maret/Romain Collin/Bill Frisell: Americana (ACT Music) [04-24]
  • Vanderlei Pereira and Blindfold Test: Vision for Rhythm (Jazzheads) [05-22]

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Weekend Roundup

I usually start gathering links with Matthew Yglesias's page at Vox. For a while I was putting his links up front -- back when he was writing a regular "most important stories of the week" feature -- but later I moved him back into alphabetical order. This week he wrote quite a bit, and I commented there with a few things I might have saved for an introduction, so decided to list him first.

One subject I didn't get to is business bailouts. Probably premature for that anyhow, although the option to postpone debt and rent payments, bankruptcy and foreclosure, is something that will be needed soon. Also, bridging loans, with various restrictions -- just enough to keep dormant businesses viable when/if the time comes to re-open them. I should also note that while I'm skeptical/hostile to short-term stimulus proposals, I do think it would be a good idea to start moving on longer-term efforts, like Green New Deal. One big problem with the 2009 stimulus package was the failure to include any infrastructure projects that weren't "shovel ready." (Reed Hundt's book, A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions makes this point.) We need a lot of infrastructure work going forward, and that needs to be factored into any recovery plan.

There's going to be an attempt to stampede Congress to pass all sorts of business bailouts, because that's the way the whole system is designed to work. You and I are lucky if we have representatives who even remotely care about us (given where I live, I'm especially unlucky in that regard), but business interests have scads of lobbyists looking for profit angles, and lots of politicians already in their pockets.

As this plays out, we would do well to recall what happened in 2008-09: we heard a deafening cry for help from the big banks, which unquestioningly had to be bailed out to keep the economy from collapsing. They indeed got what they wanted -- a $700 billion slush fund and much more through the Fed's back door -- and survived, quickly returning to profitability, even as the rest of the economy continued collapsing. And once the banks were safe, only the most marginal efforts were made to help anyone else. (The auto industry bailout was a comparatively paltry effort, saddled with stringent requirements the banks never had to face.)

I was sympathetic to the bank bailouts at the time, but dismayed by the failure to protect more of the economy, especially the workers who wound up bearing the brunt of the recession. Only later on did I see an alternative approach that should have been obvious: let the businesses fail, but protect the workers and other people at the bottom. Business would bounce back, and the change of ownership would ultimately be a healthy thing. That sort of turnover may be even more beneficial this time: when/if the economy recovers, it is almost certain to be changed significantly from the one before the crash, reflecting changed views of what matters and how we want to live. We may, for instance, find that we still need airlines, but not as many. The cruise ship industry is probably finished, and would that be such a bad thing? A much larger potential collapse is in fossil fuels: even before the crash, demand for coal was falling, as were oil prices, and both will fall further as recession lowers demand. Given how they contribute to climate change, I don't see any reason to encourage their rebound. (In fact, this would be a good time for a stiff carbon tax.) On the other hand, we may decide that we need to have health care systems for all, including some excess capacity even before the next crisis. The list, no doubt, goes on and on.

While it's easy to jot down what you'd like to see happen, it's much harder to even guess about how this crisis will play out in the minds and attitudes of people around the world. Will we learn and adapt, or flail about, trying to force the new world into our old minds? I can't help but wonder whether the panic over Covid-19 hasn't been preconditioned by the (mostly denied) fear of global warming. A large political segment seemed determined to ignore or even denounce the science of climate change, only to find themselves desperate for scientific direction when faced with the pandemic: there is something immediate and personal about the latter that climate change never triggered. (I'm reminded of the adage about there being no atheists in foxholes. It seems there are no science-deniers in emergency rooms.) The 2008 financial collapse, like previous recessions, could be written off to bad business practices and even to periodic cycles, but this one is a direct assault on one's worldview. No one can predict where that kind of psychic shock may lead.

Meanwhile, I've been plodding through Adam Gopnik's A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism. I picked it up in the library, thought it might be interesting to read an unapologetic defense of liberalism. I grew up believing in what Louis Hartz called "the liberal tradition in America," only to find that self-proclaimed liberals in the 1960s had turned into pretty unsavory characters -- especially in their rabid anti-communism, most immediately evident in their support for near-genocidal war against the Vietnamese. At the time, there wasn't much of a conservative threat (Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination in 1964 but lost in a landslide), so I came to view "cold war" liberalism as the main enemy of fairness, decency, and justice in American politics. I read books like Kenneth Minogue's The Liberal Mind and Robert Paul Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism (but no longer remember the specific critiques), and I delved further into Marxist critiques (not really of liberalism, but of its handmaiden, capitalism), and came to identify with the New Left (which was openly contemptuous of the Sino-Soviet orbit of Communist regimes, but more focused on our own world, especially of America's world-straddling hegemony).

But I stopped reading Marxist analyses after I left college, and while my practical political impulses never changed much, I've found myself growing sympathetic to liberal reformers over time, notably of Keynes in economics. Ever since I was a teenager, I've had a soft spot for utopian imagination, and I've often returned to that over the years, at least as teleology. But I lost whatever desire I might have had for revolution, and as I've aged have become increasingly willing to settle for liberal reformism, even in tiny. So I thought I might be open to Gopnik's formulation. Unfortunately, all he has to offer is a weird mixture of dashed hopes and anti-left vitriol. Regardless of whatever ideals liberals think they hold dear, their main function in politics today (and basically over the last 50-100 years) seems to be to castigate anyone who still believes that the liberty secured by a few in the great bourgeois revolutions of the past should be extended to everyone (i.e., the left).

I probably should have read David Sessions' review, The emptiness of Adam Gopnik's liberalism, before I wasted my time. Especially:

We might not have expected much more from Gopnik, but A Thousand Small Sanities' aimless joyride of free-associated clichÚs and its stubborn refusal to look at reality may indicate more broadly how little the American establishment has learned since the turn of the century. The climate crisis, more than anything, has highlighted the inadequacy of the liberal orthodoxy's self-congratulatory moderation and celebration of glacial incrementalism. It poses, in stark terms, the need for dramatic action and the inescapability of confronting the powerful interests behind the deadly carbon economy. The rapid degradation of the planet has made radicalism rational and incrementalism a kind of civilizational death drive. In this context, Gopnik's blissful ignorance reads not as comical but as deeply sinister.

The Democratic Party split in 1968 over the Vietnam War, with many of the hawks winding up as neoconservatives (a mostly Republican clan which still exerts powerful influence over today's Democratic hawks, especially the Clintons). Democrats are further split between middle class professionals and the working class base, with most successful Democrats (including Obama and the Clintons) gaining among the former while thanklessly banking the dwindling votes of the latter. In 2016 and 2020, those splits became clearer, with the left (dovish, mostly working class) rallying behind Bernie Sanders and the "moderates" (or merely cautious liberals, including hawks and/or professionals) ultimately flocking to Joe Biden.

Gopnik is an atavism in this split world, railing against a left that no longer exists in favor of an idealized center that is unable to accomplish anything (not least because their anti-left instinct keeps it from building a broad base, and because they are always willing to sell their reforms short). The key chapter in Gopnik's book is "Why the Left Hates Liberalism," but it should really be called "Why Liberals Hate the Left," where you could just as easily substitute "Masses" or "People" for "Left." But then it's hard to explain that without giving the impression that liberals are simply self-satisfied snobs -- dilettantes who imagine liking the idea of more people enjoying their comforts, but who hardly ever lift a finger to help them.

Some scattered links this week:

Monday, March 16, 2020

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32935 [32897] rated (+38), 216 [223] unrated (-7).

Nothing much to say here. We're in a self-imposed lockdown, perhaps related to pandemic fears but with overtones of disappointment and maybe disgust at the world around us. Being "retired," and not uncomfortable, that's a luxury we can afford.

One technical matter I should note is that I've decided to add to the 2020 tracking file and associated lists records released in 2019 that I never noted in the 2019 tracking file. This mostly affects the 2020 metacritic file, which I've been building up to reflect favorable reviews as compiled by various sources -- the first big chunk came from December 2019 releases that Dave Sumner mentioned in his The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: January 2020.

I've always allowed for previous-year records to appear in current lists, especially for items that I received promos of after January 1, or sometimes for records that I simply had no cognizance of until after the calendar rolled over. The first example like that this year was Franšois Carrier's Wide, released in Dec. 2019. I decided a fair test for this would be whether the record appeared in my music tracking list, since that incorporated everything that showed up in any tracked EOY list for 2019 (5170 records in the tracking file; 4912 in the EOY aggregate files). Since I only decided on this course last week, there may be a few records caught in the lurch.

Most of the carryover records were released in late 2019, but technically I'm allowing any unlisted 2019 records to appear in the 2020 lists. That includes the Schlippenbach-Narvesen Duo record below, which I certainly knew existed (but couldn't previously find) but somehow escaped my 2019 lists. (Also Duke Ellington's Uppsala 1971, which we'll deal with next week.) On the other hand, Muriel Grossmann's Reverence, out Dec. 15, 2019, had appeared on a couple of minor 2019 lists, so remains there, despite my "discovery" of it among Sumner's picks. So it's all a bit arbitrary, but is at least a system. (Occurs to me that I could go back into the 2019 list and pull out release dates after Thanksgiving -- Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll cutoff -- and include them in both lists. Need to think on that, but that might be the right thing to do.)

Under old music, I did take a flyer on some one Swamp Dogg records, since nearly all of them appear to have cropped up on Napster and/or the artist's Bandcamp. I didn't exactly get done, though I did get a bit exhausted. I'm still a big fan of his 1996 compilation, Best of 25 Years: F*** the Bomb, Stop the Drugs, as well as his 1970 debut, Total Destruction to Your Mind (which, if I recall correctly, didn't even figure in the comp).

Looked for but didn't find the Vol. 1 to go with the Hank Jones vault issue. Was pleased to find a Bandcamp page for an earlier Schlippenbach-Nardesen Duo release, but it only had two "bonus" tracks on it, not enough for a review. They did sound pretty good.

New records reviewed this week:

Steve Beresford & John Butcher: Old Paradise Airs (2019 [2020], Iluso): Avant-jazz duo, Butcher plays soprano and tenor sax, Beresford is credited with piano, objects, electronics -- not his usual kit, but after 40+ years as a gadfly I'm still not sure what is. B+(*) [bc]

Raoul Bj÷rkenheim: Solar Winds (2019 [2020], Long Song): Guitarist, born in Los Angeles but mother is Finnish and he grew up there, breaking in with drummer Edward Vesala before starting his fusion group, Krakatau, in 1988, and later, Scorch Trio. Quartet with violin (Emanuele Parrini), bass, and drums, playing six Coltrane tunes and two originals. Exciting to start, wears a bit toward the end. B+(***)

Cornershop: England Is a Garden (2020, Ample Play): British group, Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, formed in 1991, fused Punjabi influences with electropop, released brilliant albums in 1997 and 2002, to which everything else more or less compares. This sounds much like them, reviving a sound we've been missing. A-

Day Dream: Originals (2019 [2020], Corner Store Jazz): Piano-bass-drums trio: Steve Rudolph, Drew Gress, Phil Haynes. Rudolph wrote four pieces, the others (much better known musicians) three each. Thoughtful, nicely balanced. B+(**) [03-27]

John DiMartino: Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Pianist, tends to look back at the tradition, as he does here, re-examining the usual book of Strayhorn classics. Eric Alexander (tenor sax) is in good form, and the rhythm section -- Boris Kozlov (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) -- are impeccable. Raul Midˇn sings "Lush Life." B+(**) [cd] [04-10]

Liberty Ellman: Last Desert (2019 [2020], Pi): Guitar player, was a reputation as a producer, leads a sextet of label regulars -- Steve Lehman (alto sax), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jose Davila (tuba), Stephan Crump (bass), Damion Reid (drums). Clever postbop, surfaces slipping easily past one another. B+(***) [cd] [03-27]

Fat Tony & Taydex: Wake Up (2020, Carpark, EP): Houston rapper Anthony Jude Obi, father an engineer from Nigeria, has a handful of albums, depending on where you divide the short ones -- e.g., this one has nine tracks, 22:03. Don't know anything about the beat guy, but he earns his keep. B+(***)

Harrison▓: Trout in Swimwear (2019 [2020], self-released): Toronto-based quartet, pronounced "Harrison Squared," the group name from Harrison Argatoff (tenor sax) and Harry Vetro (drums), with Mike Murley (tenor sax) and Steve Wallace (bass). Edgy postbop. B+(***) [cdr]

Kirk Knuffke: Brightness: Live in Amsterdam (2020, Royal Potato Family): Trumpet player, straddles avant and mainstream, prolific since 2009, leads a trio with Mark Helias (bass) and Bill Goodwin (drums). B+(*)

Urs Leimgruber/Andreas Willers/Alvin Curran/Fabrizio Spera: Rome-ing (2018 [2019], Leo): Swiss saxophonist (soprano and tenor), thirty-some albums since 1983, backed here with guitar, piano, and drums, from a live date in Rome. Four parts, 68:50, joint improv. B+(**)

Hayoung Lyou: Metamorphosis (2019 [2020], Endectomorph Music): Pianist, born in Korea, studied in Boston, based in New York, first album, quintet with two saxophones (Jasper Dutz on alto and Jacob Shulman on tenor), bass, and drums. Wonni Jung sings one song, similar to but less appealing than the slippery saxes. B+(***) [04-17]

Megan Thee Stallion: Suga (2020, 300 Entertainment, EP): Rapper Megan Pete, quickly follows last year's debug mixtape with a nine-cut, 24:33 EP. A-

Stephen Riley: Oleo (2018 [2019], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, from North Carolina, steady stream of albums since 2005. Quartet with Joe Magnarelli (trumpet), Jay Anderson (bass), and Adam Nussbaum (drums), mostly playing Sonny Rollins songs (4, with "On Green Dolphin Street" and 4 more from Ellington, Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Gigi Gryce). B+(***)

Caroline Rose: Superstar (2020, New West): Real name, singer-songwriter from Long Island, fourth album, first two country-ish (Napster lists her as "rockabilly revival"), since moved into pop, but title is a stretch. B

Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble: The New Immigrant Experience: Music Inspired by Conversations With Dreamers (2019 [2020], Tapestry, 2CD): Brazilian saxophonist, teaches in Massachusetts, just listed as composer and conductor here, with a full big band at his disposal. He's taken on ambitious projects of late -- The Awakening Orchestra, The Reunion Project -- and this is one of the most sweeping. B+(*) [03-20]

Carl Saunders: Jazz Trumpet (2019 [2020], Summit): Trumpet player, originally from Indianapolis, moved to Los Angeles, played with Stan Kenton, starting a long career of playing in big bands (Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Gerald Wilson, Clare Fischer), straddling a couple decades in Las Vegas. Quartet, backed by piano (Josh Nelson), bass (Chuck Berghofer), and drums (Joe Labarbera), about half originals, the rest bop-friendly standards. Good showcase for a fine trumpet voice. B+(***) [cd]

Schapiro 17: New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60 (2019 [2020], Summit, 2CD): Big band, Jon Schapiro arranged and conducted, and wrote six pieces to go with five from Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and one from pianist Roberta Piket. Doesn't much remind me of the album, but something mysteriously infectious about it. B+(***) [04-03]

Alexander von Schlippenbach/Dag Magnus Narvesen Duo: Liminal Field (2018 [2019], Not Two): Piano-drums duo, second album together, the Norwegian drummer has impressed repeatedly since 2007. Still less remarkable than the pianist, who "morphs Monk" and more. A- [bc]

Paul Shaw Quintet: Moment of Clarity (2019 [2020], Summit): Drummer, from New Jersey, played in Air Force bands, first albums as leader, wrote all seven pieces, somehow wrangled what I'd call an all-star band: Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Brad Shepik (guitar), Gary Versace (piano), Drew Gress (bass). B+(***) [cd] [03-27]

Shopping: All or Nothing (2020, FatCat): British post-punk trio, Rachel Aggs sings and plays guitar, fourth album, all good, this short (10 songs, 30:54) one especially reminding me of Gang of Four. A-

Jay Som: Anak Ko (2020, Polyvinyl): Singer-songwriter Melina Mae Duterte, from California, parents Filipino. Fourth album since 2016. Has a quiet, subtle charm. B+(**)

Moses Sumney: Grae: Part 1 (2020, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from San Bernardino, CA; parents from Ghana, where he moved at age 10, before returning to study at UCLA. Second album, or first half of it (a Part 2 is promised for May). Has opened for Dirty Projectors, and if you imagine them trying to do soul, you might find yourself in his vicinity. B

Swamp Dogg: Sorry You Couldn't Make It (2020, Joyful Noise): Jerry Williams, started out as an Atlantic r&b producer, released a brilliant debut as Swamp Dogg in 1970, and has been fading in and out ever since, his best moments the ones farthest out. Plays it safe here with a round of soulful blues, but lured John Prine in to cameo on two nostalgic ones, which are daring enough. B+(**)

Torres: Silver Tongue (2020, Merge): Singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott, fourth album since 2013, also writes poetry and short stories, and has a fondness for Broadway theatre. That develops into a density I've never found easy to parse. Not without its appeal, though. B+(*)

Oded Tzur: Here Be Dragons (2019 [2020], ECM): Israeli tenor saxophonist, based in New York, not his first album although this is touted as his "ECM debut." Backed by piano (Nitai Hershkovits), bass (Petros Klampanis), and drums (Johnathan Blake). Originals, ending with a cover ("Can't Help Falling in Love"). Nice balance, piano makes the strongest impression. B+(**)

The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Air Power! (2019 [2020], self-released): Big band, 18 musicians plus Technical Sgt. Paige Wroble singing a couple songs, opens with standards before they bury the originals in the middle. Especially fond of high brass notes and sharp blasts of massed horns, perhaps trying to add a bit of irony to the title. B- [cd]

U.S. Girls: Heavy Light (2020, 4AD): Singer-songwriter Meghan Remy, from Chicago, married a Canadian musician and moved to Toronto in 2010. Seventh album. Read a review that refers to her as "a sound collagist and pop music obsessive," and I can hear more of that than I care to credit. Lots of scattered talk, and occasional heavy riffs. Not unimpressive, but I can't say as I like any of it. B-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Hank Jones Trio: Live at Jazzhus Slukefter Vol. 2 (1983 [2020], Storyville): The day after Vol. 1, released in 2019, with Jones on piano, Mads Vinding on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. Standards, the pianist's touch as deft as ever. B+(***)

Arthur Russell: Iowa Dream (1974-85 [2019], Audika): Born 1951 in Iowa, died 1992 in New York, age 40, AIDS, at the time little known, mostly as a disco producer and occasional cellist with a couple of obscure records. Soul Jazz Records tried to make a case for him with their 2003 comp, The World of Arthur Russell, and his archives have since yielded a few more albums. This starts off with demos for Paul Nelson at Mercury, trying on the singer-songwriter mode of the time. Undistinguished, until he starts throwing us some curves, like the talkie "Barefoot in New York" (not that they always come close to the plate). B+(*)

Old music:

Marc Benham: Fats Food: Autour De Fats Waller (2016, FrÚmeaux & AssociÚs): French pianist, first album, solo, mostly Waller pieces, sneaking in four originals. B+(*)

Martin Creed: Thoughts Lined Up (2016, Telephone): Scottish conceptual artist, won the Turner Prize in 2001, third albums since 2012, some more recent singles. Twenty-four short songs, all over the map, some interesting enough to justify Christgau's recent CG discovery, others . . . well, they'd take more work than I feel up to at the moment. B+(***)

Swamp Dogg: 13 Prime Weiners, Everything on It: The Best of Swamp Dogg (1970-76 [2013], Essential Media Group): Originally compiled in 1982 (on War Bride). Six songs from his 1970 debut, Total Destruction to Your Mind, leaving six more good ones, plus seven slightly later songs from Gag a Maggot (1973) and/or Greatest Hits (1976, nothing from the debut). His 1995 Best of 25 Years is a broader overview, but this covers a period when he was erratic but could be intensely soulful (as well as funny). A-

Swamp Dogg: You Ain't Never Too Old to Boogie (1976 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally recorded by Vee-Jay and released on DJM in 1976. Sound is rather shoddy, but with organ and horns doesn't need much finesse. Songs are crude, too, from "It's a Bitch" to his epitaph-to-date, "I Had a Ball (I Did It All)." B+(**)

Swamp Dogg: Don't Give Up on Me: The Lost Country Album (1976 [2013], Essential Music Group): No info on when this was recorded, why it was "lost," or who found it. The "digitally remastered" CD is available at retailers, and it's on most streaming platforms, but hasn't been entered into the discographies at Discogs, Musicbrainz, or AMG. I did find them on The Excellent Sides of Swamp Dogg Vol. 5 (2007), attributed to "unreleased country album 'The Mercury Record'," following You Ain't Never Too Old to Boogie (1976), but couldn't find a Vol. 6 to pin the date down. Nine songs, runs 31 minutes, the title from Solomon Burke, no obvious country covers or production, but one song (evidently an original) is "He Don't Like Country Music (And He Hates Little Kids)." B+(*)

Swamp Dogg: Finally Caught Up With Myself (1977 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally released by Musicor in the label's last days (only 4 more albums in the 2500 series, the last A Piece of the Rock by Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes Starring Sir Monty Rock III. This one was attributed to Swamp Dogg & the Riders of the New Funk. Dabbles with funk and disco and winds up just a bit smoother than before. Among the puzzles: "Understanding California Women" (which he doesn't). B+(*)

Swamp Dogg: An Opportunity . . . Not a Bargain!!! (1977 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally on Wizzard Ltd., recycles eight (of nine) songs from You Ain't Never Too Old to Boogie (1976), adding two new ones: "Shafts Mama" (a funny spin-off) and "Let's Do It Again" (and again and again). B+(***)

Swamp Dogg: Swamp Dogg (1981 [2013], Essential Music Group): Released on Wizard in 1981 and/or ALA in 1982. Five cuts, 34:39, most stretched out with disco grooves -- I keep expecting "Salty Dog" to morph into "YMCA." B

Swamp Dogg: Resurrection (2007 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally on SDEG Records. Jump forward and he gets political, starting with "In a Time of War Who Wins" and asking "What kind of fool were we to let them crown an idiot king?" More on race too, including the 12:05 title song, a rant I don't feel like enduring again, even if I can respect the anger. B

Grade (or other) changes:

Gerald Beckett: Mood (2019 [2020], Pear Orchard): [cd]: erroneously listed label as Summit: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Naama Gheber: Dearly Beloved (Cellar Music) [04-10]
  • Thomas Marriott: Trumpet Ship (Origin) [03-20]
  • Tim Shaghoian: Gentle Beacons (Origin) [03-20]

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Weekend Roundup

News this week was totally dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. A good overview is Dylan Matthews: 9 charts that explain the coronavirus pandemic. (For more, see: A coronavirus reading guide for the perplexed, the anxious, and the obsessive.) This has produced a lot of political and economic turmoil, most obviously (or at least best reported) in the United States. The Trump administration, which has worked so hard over the last three years at proving how incompetent, corrupt, and politically blinded government can be, has come off as insensitive, uncaring, and bumbling -- especially the president and his inner tier of henchmen. The one concern they do seem to have is how the disease effects the economy -- especially as the economy has long seemed to be the silver lining in their own political fortunes. The most obvious effects have been the cancellation of nearly all public gatherings (including the NCAA "March Madness" tournaments and the NBA season) and major (mostly but not all self-imposed) reductions in travel. That, in itself, is a big chunk taken out of the economy, with ripple effects to follow. I expect this will extend to a psychology averse to spending, which will persist for months or years.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has continued to mop up Democratic primaries, winning Mississippi, Missouri, Michigan, Idaho, and probably even Washington last week. (Bernie Sanders did win in North Dakota.) More states will vote soon, but unless Biden stumbles catastrophically there is no chance Sanders can catch up. There is a debate between Sanders and Biden tonight. It should clearly favor Sanders, but I doubt it will have any effect. We seem to be primed for disaster, and willing to settle for just barely less.

Some scattered links this week:

Monday, March 9, 2020

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32897 [32856] rated (+41), 223 [244] unrated (-21).

Close to a year ago, an old friend approached me about creating a game that hopefully would help torpedo Joe Biden's presidential run, mostly by exposing and publicizing many of the dastardly deeds he has been party to. My friend offered to put some money up, and I got him in contact with a game designer and offered to help on tech questions, but I wasn't very enthusiastic about the project. Not sure what exactly my feelings were: on the one hand, I figured Biden would fall apart as a viable candidate without any push from me; on the other hand, I had a vague sense of wanting to stay aloof from the fray, so while I was pretty certain that Sanders was my favorite, I've tried not to judge any of the other candidates harshly, figuring the best thing was to let the campaign play out. That other hand seems to be playing out now, and I'm finding it rather depressing.

Michigan votes tomorrow. In 2016 Clinton was heavily favored there, but Sanders pulled out an upset victory, which helped keep his campaign credible through the rest of the primaries. Sanders had taken over the polling lead there in early February, and has steadily built up his share ever since (from 23.8% to 31.6%), but in the last few days Biden has opened up a huge lead, currently polling 54.8% (from a low of 17.0% on Feb. 24, just 14 days ago). And that's just the average: one poll has him leading 65% to 24%.

Nationwide polling, which had Sanders in first place from Feb. 11 (22.0% to 21.6% for Biden, 13.5% for Warren, 12.7% for Bloomberg, 9.0% for Buttigieg, 3.7% for Klobuchar) through March 3 (29.0% to 18.1%) has now flipped all the way to 51.6% for Biden to 33.5% for Sanders. That's pushed FiveThirtyEight's Democratic Primary odds for Biden up to 99 in 100, effectively declaring Biden the inevitable winner. But isn't this all very peculiar? It's remarkable that Sanders increased his polling share while he was on top, and has continued to increase them even as Biden shot past him. Biden hasn't gained any ground from Sanders. He's merely swept up everyone else.

Still, you have to wonder, how much do people really know (or for that matter care) about Biden? As Vice President, he rarely (if ever) had an opportunity to voice his own opinion on anything. His Senate career is public record, but little publicized and mostly forgotten. His plagiarism scandal is ancient history. And while Republicans are going to make hay out of his family's efforts to make money off his career, his fellow Democrats did little to air the issue. Indeed, in the last two weeks the only Democrats who had to face much criticism were Sanders and Bloomberg. When he did face some scrutiny, back in Iowa and New Hampshire, he took a beating.

I doubt my friend's game would have shifted public opinion, but you have to wonder about how uninformed his new supporters are, and whether knowing more would have made any difference. It feels like they were stampeded by their fear of Trump into making a decision they're likely to regret. I'm feeling the regret now, big time. For more personal reasons, I've been pretty bummed out for a while now, which has only gotten worse considering this wave. I started working on yesterday's Weekend Roundup post on Thursday, and it was a hard, cruel slog. All year I've been viewing this election through my "four eras" model, where the Reagan-to-Trump era is held to be ending, replaced by a dramatically new era. A defining characteristic of political eras is that opposition parties tend to think like the dominant ones. Clinton and Obama were remarkable politicians, but they inevitably danced to the Republicans' tune. I didn't require that the new era be ushered in by a leader as different as Sanders, but I did think that the one candidate least able to make the transition was Biden, as he was the most thoroughly ingrained with Reagan-era thinking. Biden's nomination means that my big idea has turned from hopeful to tragic. Here we had this tremendous opportunity to turn things around, and squandered it by nominating the one candidate least able to make the break -- even assuming he beats Trump to get the chance.

If Biden continues to win like this, I'm tempted so say I'm done with politics. I'll vote for Biden against Trump in November, and I'll vote for local Democrats (unless Vern Miller runs again, which is pretty unlikely). But I don't see what else I have to offer. I may go back to the drawing board and write some long-term (which is to say utopian) political essays. But political analysis for the foreseeable future is going to turn on questions of mass delusion -- not just last week's Biden surge, but similarly irrational turns like the one that elected Trump in 2016. (Hint: in both cases, the surge occurs at the same time the candidate is largely hidden, the decisive negative focus pointed elsewhere, and the media unclear on how it's being played.)

Quite a few records this week, with close to half of them coming from my promo queue, which I cut in half. Such attention was overdue, but I was also having trouble figuring out which records to look up on Napster and Bandcamp, so in some ways this was just easier. Not as many finds this week as last, but three A- records is a pretty average week.

Was delighted to get some promos from the Polish label Fundacja Sluchaj, then disappointed that they turned out to be rather marginal. I also received a copy of Georg Graewe/Ernst Reijseger/Gerry Hemingway: Concertgebouw Brugge 2014, which I had previously graded B+(**) based on their Bandcamp stream. I reviewed 15 of their records in 2019 -- the only A- was AgustÝ Fernandez: One Night at the Joan Mirˇ Foundation, with Awatair: Awatair Plays Coltrane, Brad Barrett: Cowboy Transfiguration, and Franšois Carrier: Nirguna at B+(***). A- records from previous years: Barry Guy: Barry Guy @ 70 (2018), and Evan Parker/RGG: Live @ Alchemia (2017).

Shouldn't be so hard to identify new records worth streaming now that I have my 2020 metacritic file up and running. I'm tracking all but the metal grade lists (80+) on AOTY and Metacritic (but looking less often at the latter, as it takes more work). I'm also factoring in a few other review sources (including All About Jazz, Downbeat, and Free Jazz Collective) and lists (like Phil Overeem's latest), and I've started to look at Bandcamp's guides. The latter got me to thinking about 2019 releases that only got noticed after January 1. In recent years I've been very hard-assed about filing them in their calendar years, but if I do that I lose track of them. Besides, EOY lists (including Jazz Critics Poll) are almost always slightly out of sync with the calendar. I finally decided the rule should be: any late 2019 record that didn't get any points in the 2019 EOY Aggregate will be counted as new in the 2020 list. Of course, that means I have to go back to a few reviews that I initially skipped, so things are a bit inconsistent at the moment.

New records reviewed this week:

Bad Bunny: YHLQMDLG (2020, Rimas): Puerto Rican reggaeton rapper Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, third album (counting last year's one with J Balvin), acronym stands for "Yo hago lo que me da la gana" ("I do what I want"). B+(**)

Gerald Beckett: Mood (2019 [2020], Summit): Flute player, half-dozen albums since 2004, wrote four (of nine) pieces here, covers other postbop jazz musicians (Barron, Mabern, Marsalis, Chestnut, Ron Carter) to take out his own mainstream turf. B [cd]

Boogat: El Gato Y Los Rumberos (2020, Ray-On, EP): Daniel Russo Garrido, born in Montreal, parents from Mexico (and Paraguay?), dozen albums since 2004, sings and raps in Spanish (and French?). Title cut jumps, but slips elsewhere. Five songs, 20:22. B

Benjamin Boone With the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy (2019 [2020], Origin): Saxophonist, teaches in Fresno, CA; has two very good records with poet Philip Levine. Got a Fulbright Scholar ticket to Ghana, where he put this ambitious group together. Strikes me as excessive on many counts, which makes it hard to hear the trad fusion concepts. B [cd] [03-20]

Caribou: Suddenly (2020, Merge): Dan Snaith, from Canada, started in laptronica, more electropop now, fifth album as Caribou (other names he's used are Manitoba and Daphni). B+(**)

Franšois Carrier/Tomek Gadecki/Marcik Bozek/Michel Lambert: Wide (2018 [2019], FMR): Alto sax/drums duo, one of my favorites, goes to Poland, picks up a second saxophonist (Gadecki, on tenor) and a bassist (Bozek, who also plays French horn). The result is a freewheeling riot, a bit too much for me, although when I can pick Carrier out, he sounds as sharp as ever. B+(***) [cd]

Brandy Clark: Your Life Is a Record (2020, Warner): Country singer-songwriter, third album, more or less as good as the first two. Picks up a surprise duet partner (Randy Newman) on her most political song ("Bigger Boat"). A-

Jeremy Cunningham: The Weather Up There (2020, Northern Spy): Drummer, based in Chicago, originally from Cincinnati, second album, in a number of projects, ranging from a duo with Dave Rempis to crossover efforts. This starts with his quartet -- Josh Johnson (alto sax/bass clarinet), Jeff Parker (guitar), and Matt Ulery (bass, although Paul Bryan takes over for 4 songs here) -- then adds guests, including his Chicago Drum Choir (with Makaya McCraven and Mike Reed), Jamie Branch (trumpet), Ben LaMar Gay (vocals/electronics), Dustin Laurenzi (tenor sax), and Tomeka Reid (cello). B+(**)

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats: Unlocked (2020, Loma Vista, EP): Florida rapper, four albums since 2013, produced by Kenneth Blume III, tied into a 24-minute short film. Eight tracks, 17:52. B+(*)

Davido: A Good Time (2019, RCA): David Adedeji Adeleke, born in Atlanta but parents are Nigerian, his father a prince and a billionaire business magnate (his company is called Pacific Holdings Limited). He grew up in Nigeria, attending elite schools in Lagos, college in the US, then after his interest turned to music he moved to London. Closer to neo-soul than to afrobeat, but his mix of beats and production glitz serves him well. B+(***)

Sarah Elgeti Quartet With Friends: Dawn Comes Quietly (2019 [2020], Gateway Music): Danish tenor saxophonist, also plays flute and bass clarinet, several previous albums. Writes lyrics as well as music, sung here by Sidsel Storm. One title is "A Lot of People -- A Lot of Sad Stories." Most in Danish, I presume, but sad, sure. B [cd]

Vincent Glanzmann/Gerry Hemingway: Composition O (2017 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Two percussionists, some electronics, voice, harmonica; joint composition, runs 36:33 in 6 parts. Limited palette, but consistently interesting. B+(***) [cd]

Joyce Grant: Surrounded by Blue (2019 [2020], Craftedair/Blujazz): Standards singer, but three (of eight) songs are by pianist Douglas McKeehan, and the others aren't all that standard ("My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Help"). B [cd]

Wolfgang Haffner: Kind of Tango (2019 [2020], ACT Music): German drummer, several dozen albums since 1989, this billed as the third entry in a "Kind of . . ." trilogy. Three Astor Piazzolla tunes are more than kind of, but the band's originals are less. With guitar (Ulf Wakenius), accordion, piano, vibes, and bass/cello (Lars Danielson). B

JC Hopkins Biggish Band: New York Moment (2019 [2020], Twee-Jazz): Pianist, third album with this group, has done some producing on the side. Band is big enough (about ten pieces), not counting five vocalists that lean toward cabaret. Odd song out here is the one cover (and one instrumental), a super-hot take of Mingus' "Better Git It in Your Soul." B+(**) [cd] [04-05]

Christopher Icasiano: Provinces (2018 [2020], Origin): Filipino-American percussionist from Seattle suburbs, not sure if he was born in US or immigrated, but works some Filipino field recordings into this debut solo effort (after a couple records with/as Bad Luck), along with synthesizer and shells. Too ambient too much of the time, but has some moments. B [cd]

Charles Lloyd: 8: Kindred Spirits (Live From the Lobero) (2018 [2020], Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist, quintet -- Julian Lage (guitar), Gerald Clayton (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), Eric Harland (drums) -- celebrating his 80th birthday. Available in a deluxe box with 3-LP, 2-CD, DVD, and 96-page hardcover book, but all I've heard is a 4-track, 59:47 stream. Doesn't strike me as something special, although his sax is still a source of delight. B+(**)

Paul Lytton/Nate Wooley: Known/Unknown (2018 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Drums-trumpet duo, Lytton from the late 1960s a key figure in the European avant-garde, mostly in groups led by others (e.g., Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Alexander von Schlippenbach, later on Ken Vandermark). Wooley is 27 years younger, attracted to those same leaders, prolific since 2005. Three cuts, 77:09, both add some minor electronics, with not much obviously happening for long stretches. Ends with a nice stretch. B+(*) [cd]

Denise Mangiardi: Brown Book (2019 [2020], Alice's Loft Music): Singer-songwriter, based in London although she started in New York and studied at Berklee, has composed classical works ("3 full-scale orchestral works as well as many chamber pieces"). Added words to a Monk piece, wrote the rest, employing well known jazz musicians (Mark Soskin on piano, saxophonists are Tony Dagradi, Dave O'Higgins, and Jerry Bergonzi), with strings by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. B+(**) [cd]

Joe McPhee/John Edwards/Klaus Kugel: A Night in Alchemia (2018 [2020], Not Two): Leader credited with trumpet and saxophones, backed by bass and drums, a live set from Krakow, Poland. The sort of powerhouse performance he always seems capable of. A-

Pat Metheny: From This Place (2020, Nonesuch): Jazz guitarist, gained a popular following with his fusion work (RIP Lyle Mays) although he's often ventured elsewhere. This is rather expansive, with groove and texture, even the Hollywood Studio Symphony. B+(*)

Nutria: Meeting in Progress (2019 [2020], Ears & Eyes): Byron Asher, originally from Maryland, based in New Orleans, plays tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. With his large Scrontch Music group, released a well-regarded album last year. This group is a trio with bass (Trey Boudreaux) and drums (Shawn Myers). They keep it tighter, more intimate. B+(***) [cd]

Agnes Obel: Myopia (2019 [2020], Blue Note): Danish singer-songwriter, fourth album, wouldn't put much weight on that it's on a jazz label, or that it's also distributed by Deutsche Grammophon. She plays keyboards, augmented by violin and cello. Has a haunting ambience to it. B+(**)

Kassa Overall: I Think I'm Good (2020, Brownswood): Jazz drummer, from Seattle, based in Brooklyn, also plays hip-hop, which seems closer to the mark here until you notice that most of the "feat." entries are for jazz musicians (Joel Ross, Theo Croker, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Parks, Vijay Iyer -- on a tribute to Geri Allen). B+(*)

Keith Oxman: Two Cigarettes in the Dark (2018 [2020], Capri): Denver-based tenor saxophonist, sixth album since 1995, joined here by Houston Person (tenor sax) on six (of ten) cuts, backed by piano (Jeff Jenkins), bass, and drums. Three Oxman originals, one from Jenkins. Annette Murrell sings two songs. Mainstream with a lot of terrific-sounding sax. B+(***) [03-20]

Jonah Parzen-Johnson: Imagine Giving Up (2020, We Jazz): Baritone saxophonist, based on Brooklyn, half-dozen albums since 2012. This one appears to be solo (and not for the first time), playing over electronic rhythm tracks. B+(**)

Gloria Reuben & Marty Ashby: For All We Know (2018 [2020], MCG Jazz): Canadian standards singer, better known as an actress (mostly TV, but was in the movie Lincoln), also wrote a memoir. May be her first album. Ashby is a guitarist, and arranged these songs, mostly taking them slow and steady. B+(**) [cd]

Reverso [Frank Woeste/Vincent Courtois/Ryan Keberle]: The Melodic Line (2019 [2020], Out Note): Chamber jazz: piano, cello, trombone. As with the group's 2018 debut (Suite Ravel), they draw inspiration from modern classical composers (in this case Les Six, a group including Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc). B+(*) [cd]

Suzanna Ross: Is Bewitched* . . . *Not Bothered, Not Bewildered (2019 [2020], self-released): Standards singer, first album. Title song is the theme to the Elizabeth Montgomery TV show (1964-72), not the Rodgers & Hart classic, so you can't complain the title wasn't explicit enough. Other picks are less obscure, aside from two in French. Pianist Gregory Toroian produced and arranged, and is backed by bass and drums. B [cd] [03-20]

Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band: Hold On (2018 [2020], Blujazz/PAO): Jazz singer, rooted in gospel and soul, added lyrics to several trad songs (7/9 credited to Trad, the other "I'll Fly Away" and "Come Sunday"). Has some blues spunk, and horns. B+(**) [cd]

The Secret Sisters: Saturn Return (2020, New West): Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers, from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, fourth album since 2010. Nice harmonies, inspirational closer. B+(*)

Sestetto Internazionale: Live in Munich 2019 (2019 [2020], Fundacja Sluchaj): Italian group name, but only one Italian in line up: Gianni Mimmo (soprano sax). The others are Alison Blunt (violin, British, born in Kenya), Achim Kaufmann (piano, German), Veli Kujala (quartet tone accordion, Finnish), Ignaz Schick (turntables/sampler, German), and Harri Sj÷str÷m (soprano and sopranino sax, Finnish). Has its chamber jazz air, but broken up, especially with the electronics adding surprising percussion. B+(***) [cd]

Sl°tface: Sorry for the Late Reply (2020, Nettwerk): Norwegian punk/pop group, Haley Shea sings, co-writes with guitarist Tor-Arne Vikingstad, originally called Slutface (new spelling keeps old pronunciation). Second album. Could be prophetic. B+(***)

Curt Sydnor: Deep End Shallow (2019 [2020], Out of Your Head): Keyboard player, based in Richmond [VA], Google lists him as "progressive rock," his own self-description as "a different kind of jazz" is more credible but hardly more inspiring. Come to think of it, I can imagine his rave-ups filling the dead space in a Yes album, but they'd disrupt the chill. B- [cdr] [03-20]

The Third Mind: The Third Mind (2020, Yep Roc): Legend has it that Teo Macero's formula for producing Miles Davis albums was "gather great musicians in a studio, pick a key and a groove and then record everything live over several days." Then edit and shape those improvs into compositions. Dave Alvin decided to try working like that, with Victor Krummenacher (bass), David ImmerglŘck (guitar/keybs), Michael Jerome (drums), and "special guest" Jesse Sykes (guitar). The latter provides a vocal, as do most of the others, on most of the songs, lest you think they've done a jazz record. Still, great to hear Alvin's distinctive guitar stretch out. And as songs go, those are pretty good, too. A-

Waclaw Zimpel: Massive Oscillations (2020, Ongehoord): Polish clarinetist, varied catalog since 2008. Mostly electronics here, rendering the title literal, toned down for the last piece, which adds guest bass and voice. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Brent Jensen: The Sound of a Dry Martini: Remembering Paul Desmond (2001 [2020], Origin): Alto saxophonist, reissue of his first album, recorded live at the Bakery in North Hollywood, quartet with guitar (Jamie Findlay), bass, and drums. Three Desmond songs (including a terrific "Take Five"), seven more standards. Nice way to start a career. B+(**)

New Stories: Speakin' Out (1999 [2020], Origin): Seattle-based piano-bass-drums trio, with Marc Seales, Doug Miller, and John Bishop; recorded four albums 1994-2001 (counting one headlined by Lynn Bush). Bonus here is tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, who guests on five (of nine) tracks, and blows everyone away. B+(***) [cd]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Daniel Bingert: Berit in Space (Moserobie) [03-13]
  • Roscoe Mitchell With Ostravska Banda: Performing Distant Radio Transmission Also Nonaah Trio, Cutouts for Woodwind Quintet and 8.8.88 (Wide Hive) [03-27]

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Weekend Roundup

The Democratic presidential primary took a dramatic turn over the last ten days. The relevant event sequence:

  1. Joe Biden became the immediate favorite when he announced his run for president. His polls held relatively solid well into last fall, when he started to lose ground in the intensely contested bellwether states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
  2. About the same time, Bernie Sanders caught up and passed Elizabeth Warren in the polls, becoming the main challenger to Biden, and more generally to the Democratic Party establishment.
  3. As Biden began to fail, billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg entered the race, as did Deval Patrick. The latter had no traction, but Steyer spent $100 million to make a splash in Nevada and South Carolina, and Bloomberg $500 million on Super Tuesday states. All that advertising money didn't help them much as candidates (Steyer finished 5th in Nevada and 3rd in South Carolina; Bloomberg's sole Super Tuesday win was in American Samoa, where Tulsi Gabbard finished second), but they defined issues that ultimately helped Biden.
  4. Sanders won the popular vote in Iowa, increased his margin in New Hampshire, and won a very solid margin in Nevada. Meanwhile, Biden had faltered badly in Iowa (4th place in first-round voting, 14.9%) and in New Hampshire (5th place, 8.4%). Sanders pulled ahead of Biden in national polls for the first time, and was widely considered to be the front-runner in the race.
  5. With the "threat" of Sanders firmly established, and Bloomberg pretty severely hobbled in his first debate performance, panic ensued among mainstream Democrats. They lashed out frantically at Sanders, but cooler heads realized that Biden was their most viable alternative, and they organized a raft of endorsements and money to inject into his struggling campaign. He had always polled better in South Carolina than any other "early state" -- and his most effective "moderate" opponents (Buttigieg, Klobuchar) had never had any organization or appeal there, so it's not like they had any other options.
  6. Following an endorsement by Rep. Jim Clyburn, Biden bounced back with a very strong showing in South Carolina -- not as high as he had polled for most of 2019, but stronger than most of us expected.
  7. Biden's South Carolina win became a signal for Democratic Party regulars to unite behind him, against Sanders (and Warren, who helped split the progressive vote). Steyer, Steyer, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar ended their campaigns, the latter two endorsing Biden.
  8. Biden won big on Super Tuesday, winning 10 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) vs. 4 for Sanders (California, Colorado, Utah, Vermont). See breakdown below.
  9. After Super Tuesday, Bloomberg withdrew and endorsed Biden. He also promised to keep his campaign organizations active, redirected at supporting Biden, so in effect he's running a huge pro-Biden PAC. [PS: This opens him to charges like: Fox's Ingraham Angle labels Michael Bloomberg a "puppet master".]
  10. Warren also withdrew, without making an endorsement. She has, however, spent most of the week bad-mouthing Sanders supporters for their alleged misbehavior toward her campaign.

I imagine someone will eventually emerge claiming to be the genius behind Biden's transformation, but it's possible there's no conspiracy here. It's not that I can't identify actors or linkages -- you can be pretty certain that when David Brooks wrote his "never Bernie" column or when James Carville crawled out from under his rock to declare that nominating Bernie would be insanity that there were people (and money) behind the scenes pushing them forward. To my mind, the most suspicious sign was Harry Reid's endorsement of Biden only after the Nevada caucus, where he might have had an effect similar to Jim Clyburn's in South Carolina. Sanders' big Nevada win both drove his enemies together and set up expectations that made Biden's South Carolina win look even more impressive.

One lesson from this is that Sanders' appeal is limited, mostly to people who understand his key issues -- a trait he shares with Warren, although until now, one could imagine him not being so limited by it. Also, that he is not immune from media attacks, which have accelerated to new heights recently, and that seems to have scared many people into looking for a safer choice. Why Biden should be that choice isn't very clear, other than that he's the only one unlikely to get shafted by the people who've run the Democratic Party into the ground since the 1970s. Even people who substantively agree with Sanders, and who respect and admire him, have non unreasonable fears that the money people behind the party will do anything to undermine him (a faction that Bloomberg gave an explicit face to), even if that results in Trump winning a second term.

There are a lot of Democrats who only have one real concern in 2020: who can beat Trump? Biden has never seemed like a very solid answer to that question, but if you can't have someone progressive, at least he seems less limited than Bloomberg, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar. He has a long record of going along with whatever the party wanted -- be it wars, free trade deals, favors to the big banks -- without ever picking up the scent of ideology. He represents continuity with the Clintons and Obama, but wasn't necessarily culpable for their failures. He can still feign an emotional attachment to the working class, even though in the end he always winds up siding with the moneyed interests. He comes off as a cipher you can project your hopes onto. He is, for instance, the favorite candidate both of blacks and of culturally conservative whites (the kind most likely to be racists). The South has a lot of both, and that's where he cleaned up on Super Tuesday.

The weak link in Biden's campaign is Biden himself. He's 77, looks fit for that age, but it's easy to find clips where his mind wanders and his mouth goes elsewhere. He failed miserably in the first two contests this year, where voters have a year or more to check the candidates out up close. On the other hand, he won several states on Super Tuesday where he never appeared, and didn't have much if any campaign presence. He has a long record with a lot of dubious votes and speeches, and he'll get a lot of flack over that record. It is far from certain that he can withstand the intense scrutiny that a presidential campaign will entail. Sanders is unlikely to go beyond Biden's political record, but expect the Republicans to be ruthless not just at picking apart Biden's weaknesses but on inventing things from whole cloth. His mental agility, such as it is, will be tested severely.

Sanders will continue to contest the nomination. As Yglesias points out (see below), next month's primaries present some rough challenges for Sanders, and he is playing catch up now, in a process which is biased (if not necessarily rigged) against him. He has gained one big thing from Super Tuesday: he now has a single opponent to define himself against. He needs to do three things viz. Biden: he needs to emphasize the moderation of his views and ingratiate himself with the main current of the Democratic Party (which, issue-wise, is now well to the left of Biden's record, although it's important to make those positions less threatening and more intuitively reasonable); he needs to expose Biden's dangerous incompetency, and the risks the Party is taking in entrusting him with the nomination; and he needs to convince voters that he can be much more effective than Biden at standing up to Trump.

That may be a tall order, but I for one am already convinced on all three counts. The challenge will be in making those points resonate with less informed voters, and in effectively dodging the flak that the media will hurl at him, based on prejudices that are already ingrained.

When I started thinking about what to say this week, I came up with three possible scenarios for Elizabeth Warren. She's since taken one of those off the table, so I won't belabor it, but simply note that had she stayed in the race, she would have needed to do two things. The most obvious one is to attack Biden's personal competency (while respecting, if not necessarily agreeing with, "moderate" positions). The other is that she would need to catapult herself to the front of Bernie's movement, usurping his positions but arguing that she would be more effective at implementing them. The hope would be that after the near-death experience of Super Tuesday, Bernie's supporters may be more open to her taking charge, especially if she proves herself the more effective opponent to Biden. She could even wind up making Bernie her VP. Of course, this would have been difficult to pull off, and she wouldn't have much time, especially for the period when she is dividing the progressive vote. But she was pretty effective at knocking Bloomberg off his chariot, and she could go after Biden more directly than 78-year-old Bernie.

Her other choices were to quite the race (as she's done) and pitch herself to be VP either under Bernie or Biden. She could conceivably be very effective in that role. The problem with going with Bernie is that it's an uphill fight. The question with the latter is whether Biden thinks he needs her that much (after all, many Biden backers hate her as much as they fear and loathe Sanders). The plus side is that it would end the primary process almost immediately, limiting the risk that Bernie might expose Biden's ineptitude. Besides, VPs are historically insignificant (but given Biden's age and problems and Warren's vigor, she could take advantage of the role).

Note that Bernie Sanders says he will drop out if Biden gets plurality coming into Dem convention. He's argued that Biden should do much the same thing if Sanders is leading going into the convention, but with his reserve of unelected second-round delegates, Biden hasn't agreed. This anticipates a graceful exit if his campaign can't rebound in the couple months remaining. I can't blame Bernie if Democrats prefer to go with Biden and his long record of indifference and failure. Greg Magarian commented in Facebook on the article:

Bernie Sanders promises to make the nomination of Joe Biden painless if the moderate is leading come July. He says Elizabeth Warren deserves time and space to decide her own path forward. He won't run on a unity ticket with Biden because two old white guys is at least one too many.

If you've been swallowing, or parroting, the tired narrative that Sanders is nothing but a crazy, misogynistic ideologue who constantly trashes the party and only cares about himself, I respectfully suggest that you listen to what the man says -- all of it, not just the pieces that fit your ingrained narrative. He's an exceptionally decent politician, with plenty of flaws, who's in this to help people.

Elsewhere in my Facebook feed are a bunch of diatribes against Sanders, some complaining about his "arrogance" (for running in the first place?), many more explicitly aimed at his supporters, accusing us of all sorts of vile behavior. I try not to take this personally, but after repeated slanders it's hard not to feel some solidarity with the victims. Sure, maybe some people say some things that are ill-advised. I'll even admit that I can say some disrespectful and even hurtful things about politicians I seriously disagree with, but I usually try to focus on issues and rarely project my critiques onto ordinary people who merely happen to favor someone I don't. The most famous recent case of a campaign generalizing about its opponent's followers was Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables," and that proved to be bad politics as well as a gross generalization. She was, of course, talking about Trump supporters, who by definition are at least willing to tolerate one of the most hateful, corrupt, and dishonest campaigns in US history, but even so, calling people names just turns them off and estranges them further. I'm sick and tired of being called names by partisans of Democratic candidates who themselves have little to offer and not enough self-consciousness to recognize their own past failures.

Of course, in addition to the name-calling every now and then you have to fend off some plain old faulty logic. For example:

If money is everything in politics, why is Biden, who has recently spent so little compared to other candidates, doing so well? Well, you can say it's all those "elites" and secret oligarchs, but I don't buy it (no pun intended).

Start with a faulty premise (money isn't everything in politics) and pile on other misleading and spurious claims. Biden started with name recognition, credibility, and long-standing political links -- things that even with incredible amounts of spending Bloomberg and Steyer were unable to buy in such a short time, things that even more legitimate politicians like Klobuchar and Buttigieg were unable to compete with. So when the election pivoted to becoming a race to stop Sanders, the choice who benefited most was the obvious one, Biden. On the other hand, do you really think that Biden, who can barely put together two coherent sentences in a row, was brilliant enough to pull this off? You don't have to be very conspiracy-oriented to suspect that there are "elites" and oligarchs lurking in the background, pulling on the various strings that orchestrated this turnaround. After all, we live in a world where these sorts of things happen all the time. And that doesn't necessarily mean they have Biden in their pocket, but he is the beneficiary of their machinations, and if he does get elected, he will very likely wind up paying for their favors.

The Super Tuesday breakdown by state (delegates in parens, vote if 5% or more):

  • Alabama: Biden 63.3% (44), Sanders 16.5% (8), Bloomberg 11.7%, Warren 5.7%.
  • Arkansas: Biden 40.5% (17), Sanders 22.4% (9), Bloomberg 16.7% (5), Warren 10.0%.
  • California: Sanders 33.7% (186), Biden 26.4% (148), Bloomberg (13.6% (15), Warren 12.7% (5), Buttigieg (5.6%).
  • Colorado: Sanders 36.1% (20), Biden 23.6% (10), Bloomberg 20.5% (9), Warren 17.3% (1).
  • Maine: Biden 34.1% (11), Sanders 32.9% (9), Warren 15.7% (4), Bloomberg 12.0%.
  • Massachusetts: Biden 33.6% (37), Sanders 26.7% (29), Warren 21.4% (25), Bloomberg 11.8%.
  • Minnesota: Biden 38.6% (38), Sanders 29.9% (27), Warren 15.4% (10), Bloomberg 8.3%, Klobuchar 5.6%.
  • North Carolina: Biden 43.0% (67), Sanders 24.1% (37), Bloomberg 13.0% (4), Warren 10.5% (2).
  • Oklahoma: Biden 38.7% (21), Sanders 25.4% (13), Bloomberg 13.9% (2), Warren 13.4% (1).
  • Tennessee: Biden 41.7% (33), Sanders 25.0% (19), Bloomberg 15.5% (10), Warren 10.4% (1).
  • Texas: Biden 34.5% (111), Sanders 30.0% (102), Bloomberg 14.4% (10), Warren 11.4% (5).
  • Utah: Sanders 34.6% (12), Biden 17.4% (2), Bloomberg 16.7% (2), Warren 15.5%, Buttigieg 9.8%.
  • Vermont: Sanders 50.8% (11), Biden 22.0% (5), Warren 12.6%, Bloomberg 9.4%.
  • Virginia: Biden 53.2% (66), Sanders 23.1% (31), Warren 10.7% (2), Bloomberg 9.8%.

Some scattered links this week:

Monday, March 2, 2020

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32856 [32823] rated (+33), 244 [245] unrated (-1).

[PS: Made some changes below, fixing a bad typo, and noting that Buttigieg (as well as Klobuchar) has endorsed Biden. Beto O'Rourke has also endorsed Biden.]

Might as well sweep up some loose ends missed from yesterday's Weekend Roundup, starting with Amy Klobuchar drops out of the 2020 presidential race. I didn't expect this until after Super Tuesday, where she still had a chance to win her home state, Minnesota. Instead, she's headed to Dallas to endorse Joe Biden. She may figure this "bold move" puts her in good stead to become Biden's VP pick, but I doubt there's a deal: the nomination is still pretty far off, so Biden needs to reserve his options, and she's really not that important.

When I started writing about Dylan Matthews' If anti-Bernie Democrats were serious, they'd unite around Joe Biden right now, it was still just a piece of armchair quarterbacking. I figured all the candidates had already sunk so many resources into Super Tuesday -- just three days after South Carolina, and tomorrow as I write -- that the sensible thing for all to do would be to let that play out. That Steyer, who had focused hard on South Carolina, saw his third-place finish as the end there wasn't a big surprise, but Buttigieg and Klobuchar never had a prayer in South Carolina, and could easily have waved away their inevitable failures there. (Buttigieg finished a respectable fourth there, with 8.25%, ahead of Warren's 7.06%. Admittedly, Klobuchar's 6th place 3.15% was a pretty poor showing.)

The main, and perhaps the only, reason candidates drop out of the presidential race is the money dries up. Steyer had his own money, so we can fairly assume he made his own decision. But Buttigieg and Klobuchar were dependent on donors, and big donors at that, so they were finished as soon as their donors' calculations drifted elsewhere. Indeed, both coupled their withdrawals with endorsements of Biden -- even though Buttigieg's donors seemed closer to Bloomberg, who having sunk a lot of money into Super Tuesday is still in the race. Still, part of the calculation here is recognition that Bloomberg has failed to establish himself as anywhere near as effective a candidate as Biden -- a pretty low bar. Assuming the polls are correct that Biden beats Bloomberg everywhere, you'll hear a lot next week about how Bloomberg split the "moderate" vote, putting pressure on him to drop out soon. After all, Bloomberg got into the race for fear that Biden would stumble. He was right that Biden did, but himself proved to be even more hapless.

In some circles, you'll also hear complaints about Warren splitting the progressive vote. (E.g., Sarah Jones: The most progressive thing Warren can do is leave the race.) It's certainly the case that if she can't win Massachusetts (and/or her native state of Oklahoma) it's hard to imagine where else she could win. While in theory she could still be a compromise pick at a deadlocked convention, I doubt that having lost everywhere is going to persuade delegates whose prime concern is nominating a candidate who can beat Trump. Still, I have to respect that she's not caving in on the eve of the big election -- even if all that shows is that her donors aren't as fickle as the ones who decided that Biden's 49% in South Carolina -- a state he's polled over 60% in most of last year -- makes him a juggernaut. And, frankly, her spirited evisceration of Bloomberg earns respect, even from those of us who prefer Sanders. Bloomberg may be trying to buy votes from the "moderate lane" but he's really just a "Never Trump" Republican, and his nomination would be the end of the Democratic Party as a source of hope for the vast majority of Americans.

We'll know more in a couple days. By the end of the week, the race may be down to just Sanders and Biden, to be decided over the next few months in large battleground states from New York to Illinois. Those split only slightly in favor of Clinton in 2016, with Clinton winning in party strongholds (like NYC and Chicago) and Sanders everywhere else. Sanders is better organized this year. Clinton and Biden have various tradeoffs, which don't necessarily favor one or the other.

I didn't write much about coronavirus yesterday, but we should stress one key point: while many health issues are non-contagious, and therefore even systemic failure only has piecemeal effects, this sort of contagious pandemic affects not just the individuals who get sick, but also the public that interacts with them. Therefore, this puts exceptional emphasis on public health. The US, where illness is most often seen as little more than an opportunity for business to exploit, is especially ill-prepared for this -- and would be even if the people who in charge of the public response weren't ridiculously incompetent, especially at the Trump-Pence level. (Nonetheless, I did feel it was premature to point out pieces like this one: Ryu Spaeth: The coronavirus is Trump's worst nightmare.

The virus has exposed another pretty major systemic weakness, starting with the stock market crash last week. For more on this, see Charlie Warzel: Coronavirus will test our new way of life. As Warzel explains, the search for extreme economic efficiency has left most businesses with fragile supply lines, so local disruptions quickly hit other locations, or even become global shortages.

I expected to find more pieces on the prevalence of "irritable mental gestures" at this year's CPAC, but most must have already vanished in the blogroll scrolls. Here's one I missed, touching on themes I did notice: Osita Nwanevu: At CPAC, the socialists are coming to get you.

Back to music, an exceptional number of A- records this week, all (but one) in the "new music" domain. Three came from my queue (Kenny Barron, Al Gold, TorbjÍrn Zetterberg). One was a leftover from December 2019 that only showed up in Dave Sumner's January edition of The best jazz on Bandcamp. There is quite a bit of back catalog by Muriel Grossmann, so I should probably search further, but it's also possible that Llorenš Barcelˇ's organ is what made the difference this time. Guitarist Ross Hammond was known to me, but looks like he has a bunch of records I've also missed.

Of the others, the late rapper Mac Miller's swansong is the biggest surprise, and the only record here that's been widely praised. (Well, further down the list there's Grimes, and further still Destroyer, 070 Shake, J Hus, and Beatrice Dillon.) The Evan Parker/Paul Lytton duo is the third straight A- from Intakt -- but the Tim Berne Snakeoil, despite the return of Marc Ducret from his best-ever period, didn't quite make it four straight. I suppose I should have resisted Waco Brothers' retreads, but couldn't. Stuck in my brain ever since: "$ Bill the Cowboy." [PS: Only after my initial draft did I figure out that these are reissues instead of remakes.]

I did an update to Robert Christgau's website last week, then didn't get around to making a public announcement (beyond the one on the website itself), or even my promised update to the "tech" mailing list. Added to the website are all the pieces from And It Don't Stop subscription newsletter. We had always planned on adding them sooner or later, but it proved difficult to nail down just when (even after I went ahead and did it). As subscribers know, some content there is restricted to those who pay for it ($5 per month), and some is free. I believe you can subscribe to just get the free stuff, but haven't tested that. The restricted material is primarily the new Consumer Guides, as they demand by far the most work to research and write, so it was felt that they should be withheld for a fairly long period, so subscribers get a sense of exclusivity for their money. The number they came up with is eight months, so I locked that in to the Consumer Guide columns. It was also (eventually) decided to embargo the free material for one month, but that happened after my update, so what got through is already unlocked. In the future, I'll apply the one-month lock on free articles, but not on Xgau Sez, because it's easiest (for now) just to plug it into the pre-existing unlocked framework.

A couple more technical details. I added an And It Don't Stop menu selection under "Writings," which leads you to a directory where most of the free articles reside (exceptions are Xgau Sez, 2019 Dean's List, and Consumer Guides (currently stubs, which will unlock when the time comes). I added a feature to the directory index code to pick up descriptions (copied from the article subheds) and add them to the listing, which should make it easier to identify articles. It also adds a HMTL "meta description" declaration, which may help Google (and others) with their indexing. The same format could be used for adding "meta keywords" declarations, but I'm not doing that yet. The changed code is commonly used throughout the site, so one could go back through the thousand-plus articles and use it to add descriptions and/or keywords -- a daunting but not impossible task. (One reason I did it here was that Christgau had already written text that I could use for the purpose.)

I've also added And It Don't Stop entries to the Bibliography, which gives you a serial index by date. Long ago I had planned to eventually replace these flat files with database queries, which would be more flexible for searching by date, publication, maybe even subject or keywords. Never did that, and didn't even bother imposing the five-year chunk rule to what used to be "2010-2014" (but now is "2010-" and continuing to grow). We would be better off if we did all of the indexing from the database, but I keep dragging my feet on the project, so it remains conceptual.

I haven't added the new consumer guide entries to the database yet. It appears as though they, too, have to be timelocked, so anything I did now wouldn't be visible to you for another 4-5 months. The obvious way to do this is to modify the SQL code to pull out the "ent_date" table entry, then write some PHP code to drop the review and grade on entries less than eight months old. I'd have to track down all of the places where this code exists (probably 10-20), standardize the tables, and pass them through a filter to enforce the timelock. Not hard, but I haven't yet finished converting all of the database code to work with PHP 7, so that needs to be done at the same time.

One thing I'd like to do at the same time is to grab a list of newsletter subscribers and use it to validate users, so subscribers can see the latest reviews on the website as well as via And It Don't Stop. Substack doesn't seem to have any useful API for this, so I'd have to hack something less dynamic. Not impossible, but a fair bit of learning curve (e.g., it would require use of cookies, something I've avoided so far).

It bothers me that I've made so little progress on this project. The last few weeks have been especially depressing, extending several months of lethargy. I keep thinking that once I finish the weekly posts, I'll get to doing some real work. Will see what happens tomorrow.

New records reviewed this week:

070 Shake: Modus Vivendi (2020, GOOD Music/Def Jam): Hip-hop singer-songwriter Danielle Balbuena, from New Jersey, first album (after a mixtape and an EP). B+(**)

Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band: Just Like Moby Dick (2020, Paradise of Bachelors): Singer-songwriter from the western fringe of country, born in Wichita, grew up in Lubbock (title of his 1979 album, probably his best), has a reputation as a visual artist as well as over a dozen albums. B+(***)

Kenny Barron/Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake: Without Deception (2019 [2020], Dare2): Piano-bass-drums trio, on Holland's label, crediting him as producer. Credits favor Barron 4-2, with covers of Ellington, Monk, Mulgrew Miller, and Sumi Tonooka -- pianists all (Miller was Barron's partner for The Art of Piano Duo: Live, and Tonooka was one of his assistants at Rutgers, and a brilliant pianist in her own right). One of those rare piano trios where everything seems just right. A- [cd] [03-06]

Antoine Berjeaut: Moving Cities (2017 [2019], I See Colors): French trumpet player, third album, cover proclaims "produced by Makaya McCraven." The drummer also share composition credits, and many sources give him top-line co-credit, merited far beyond his beats. B+(**)

Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Fantastic Mrs. 10 (2019 [2020], Intakt): Alto saxophonist, debut in 1979, released four albums on ECM with this group -- Oscar Noriega (clarinets), Matt Mitchell (piano), Ches Smith (drums), replacing Ryan Ferreira with Marc Ducret at guitar (Ducret played with Berne on many 1991-2007 albums). A bit too much clutter for my taste, but a lot of talent, with a few amazing stretches. B+(***)

Calle Loiza Jazz Project: There Will Never Be Another You (2019 [2020], self-released): Latin jazz group, from Puerto Rico, reunites a quartet first formed in 1990 -- listed first is either pianist Mark Monts de Oca or drummer Jimmy Rivera -- with ample reinforcements. B+(**) [cd]

Chicago Farmer: Flyover Country (2020, Chicago Farmer): Folksinger-songwriter Cody Dieckhoff, grew up in the small farming community of Delavan, Illinois, wound up unassimilated in Chicago, covers Hank Williams (an eery "Ramblin Man"), cites John Prine as his model. Seventh album, including a live one from 2018 that Christgau recommended and I was unable to find. Takes pride in dirty uniforms, disparages $13 beer, invokes the Mississippi Delta. A-

Destroyer: Have We Met (2020, Merge): Vancouver BC band, principally singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, twelfth album since 1996, who also lurks in the background of New Pornographers. Some nice touches here and elsewhere, but ultimately never enough to make me care. B+(*)

Beatrice Dillon: Workaround (2017-19 [2020], Pan): British electronica, mostly beats ("a hypnotic series of polymetric permutations at a fixed 1150bpm tempo"). B+(**)

Yelena Eckemoff: Nocturnal Animals (2018 [2020], L&H Production, 2CD): Russian pianist, got a good education in classical music before moving to US in 1991, where her interests eventually turned to jazz (especially from 2009 forward). Recorded this one in Oslo with all-stars Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen and Thomas Str°nen on drums. B+(**) [cd]

Nick Finzer: Cast of Characters (2019 [2020], Outside In Music): Trombonist, from Rochester, based in New York (although he seems to have a connection to UNT), several albums, this a sleek postbop sextet with Lucas Pino (reeds), guitar, piano, bass, and drums. B+(*)

Al Gold: Al Gold's Paradise (2019 [2020], self-released): Bluesman from New Jersey, plays guitar and mandolin, sings, writes his own songs. Don't know much about him other than that he organizes block parties and jams. Sounds old and gritty enough for the blues, even with his light touch. Roped some jazz musicians into his project, including Dave Stryker and Jared Gold. A- [03-06]

Grimes: Miss Anthropocene (2020, 4AD): Canadian pop singer-songwriter Claire Boucher, born in Vancouver, studied in Montreal, fifth studio album since 2010. Hard to get a firm handle on this, as it gets hard and even a bit noisy toward the end, but is likely to grow on you. B+(***)

Muriel Grossmann: Reverence (2019, RR Gems): Saxophonist (soprano/alto/tenor), born in Paris, grew up in Austria, based in Ibiza (Spain), eleventh album since 2007. Quintet with guitar, organ, bass, and drums: long, sinewy groove pieces with cosmic dust, reminiscent of Coltrane at his (or her) most spiritual (do I detect a bit of uncredited harp?). A- [bc]

Ross Hammond/Oliver Lake/Mike Pride: Our Place on the Wheel (2020, Prescott): Guitarist, more than two dozen albums since 2008 -- I've heard less than a third, my favorite 2013's Cathedrals. Credited with steel guitar here, he plays a low key, almost ambient, blues, with alto sax shading and harmonizing, and percussion accents. A-

The Heliocentrics: Infinity of Now (2020, Madlib Invazion): London jazz-funk collective, core members Malcolm Catto (drums), Jake Ferguson (bass), and Jack Yglesias (keybs); original inspiration was Sun Ra, but they've adapted to key guests (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius, Melvin Van Peebles) and mostly recorded on world/funk labels (Madlib's sole credit here is executive producer). I have my doubts about the vocals, but the instrumental pieces are pretty impressive, especially the closer, "People Wake Up." B+(***)

J Hus: Big Conspiracy (2020, Black Butter): British rapper Momodou Lamin Jallow, mother a Fula from Gambia, second album. B+(**)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: The Music of Wayne Shorter (2015 [2020], Blue Engine, 2CD): Big band, working their way through ten Shorter compositions, arranged by nine band members (Sherman Irby doubled up), with guest solos by Shorter himself. The latter stand out, but the band is uncharacteristically out of sorts. B-

Dawda Jobarteh: I Met Her by the River (2018, Stern's Africa): Singer-songwriter from Gambia, based in Copenhagen, plays kora, opens with an instrumental. B

Mike McGinniss/Elias Bailey/Vinnie Sperrazza: Time Is Thicker (2020, Open Stream Music): Clarinet/bass/drums, five joint originals, four covers, ending with a sprightly "Just One of Those Things." B+(**) [cd]

Mac Miller: Circles (2018 [2020], Warner): Rapper Malcolm McCormick, from Pittsburgh, overdosed a month after his fifth album dropped, was working on this at the time, finished off by Jon Brion. Started out as some kind of redneck rapper, sung more later, dulling his image, but nothing prepared me for these relaxed, easy going grooves. He never made it as a soul man, but somehow turned into a pretty attractive ghost. A-

John Moreland: LP5 (2020, Old Omens): Country singer-songwriter, born in Texas, based in Tulsa, fifth album with just his own name (after two with the Black Gold Band, one with the Dust Bowl Souls). I liked the last two a lot, but this seems a bit understated, or maybe (judging from the title) uninspired. B+(**)

Tami Neilson: Chicka Boom! (2020, Outside): Born in Canada, moved to New Zealand in 2007, singer-songwriter on the rockabilly side of country, fifth album, third with a bang in the title. Ten short songs, 27:51. Half rock hard, half aim for deep. B+(**)

Never Weather: Blissonance (2019 [2020], Ridgeway): Drummer Dillon Vado, grew up in San Jose, played in Rata-Tet and Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, first album for this quintet, maybe for Vado as leader. With sax (Aaron Wolf), trumpet (Josh D. Reed), bass (Tyler Harlow), and guitar (Justin Rock). Defines blissonance as "when an otherwise blissful experience in nature is disrupted by the recognition that one is having an adverse impact on that place they are ejoying by being there." In other words, postmodern irony. B+(*)

Evan Parker/Paul Lytton: Collective Calls (Revisited) (Jubilee) (2019 [2020], Intakt): Duo, tenor sax and drums, title refers back to their 1972 duo, Collective Calls (Urban) (Two Microphones). Nothing jarring here, just remarkable interaction cultivated over half a century. A-

Dan Rosenboom: Absurd in the Anthropocene (2020, Gearbox): California trumpet player, born in Berkeley, teaches in Pasadena, ranges from avant to fusion to soundtrack work, signed to a London label he tries his hand at their crossover funk and damn near nails it. B+(**)

Torbj÷rn Zetterberg & Den Stora Fragan: Are You Happy (2019 [2020], Moserobie): Swedish bassist, lots of side credits since 2005, fourth album leading this group: originally a sextet -- trumpet (Susana Silva Santos), trombone (Mats ┼lekint), sax (Jonas Kullhammar), clarinet (Alberto Pinton), drums (Jon Fńlt) -- plus organ and more drums on two cuts. A- [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Terry Allen + Panhandle Mystery Band: Pedal Steel + Four Corners (1985-93 [2019], Paradise of Bachelors, 3CD): First piece fills a 35:32 side. The latter collects four slightly shorter works (25:46-28:57). Spoken word, interesting (albeit long-winded) stories, music ambient with the occasional Texas twist. B+(*)

Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972-1991) (1972-91 [2019], Analog Africa): Even before war tore the country apart near the end of this period, one of Africa's poorer and more mistreated countries, which doesn't make for a particularly vibrant music scene. Twelve tracks, most similar to Ethiopian with a lot of organ and a bit of Arabic influence, three from what's probably the nation's most famous band (Dur-Dur Band), two each from Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi, Bakaka Band, and Ilfin Band. Still, a most agreeable dance groove.

The John Tchicai Quartet: Live at the Stone (2007 [2020], Minus Zero): Danish tenor saxophonist, part of New York Art Quartet back in 1964, died in 2012. Returned to New York for this date, his pick up band: Garrison Fewell (guitar), Adam Lane (bass), Vijay Anderson (drums), with Steve Dalachinsky reading a poem. B+(*)

Waco Brothers: Resist! (1995-2005 [2020], Bloodshot): Mekon Jon Langford's Chicago bar band, motto "hard times call for hard country," twenty-five years since their debut. You'd think the times would help write a new batch of songs, but they decided to pick some old ones, sounding harder than ever. Lots to resist these days, but not them. A-

Old music:

Evan Parker/AgustÝ Fernßndez: The Voice Is One (2009 [2012], Not Two): Tenor sax and piano, recorded in Barcelona, often dazzling. [4/6 tracks] B+(***)

Evan Parker & Joe McPhee: What/If/They Both Could Fly (2012 [2013], Rune Grammofon): Duo set from Konsberg Jazzfestival, Parker on tenor sax, McPhee starts on pocket trumpet but also plays soprano sax (in what sounds like an homage to Parker). Title lists the three pieces, total 39:13. Two giants, cautiously circling each other. B+(***)

Waco Brothers: Waco Express: Live and Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern Chicago (2008, Bloodshot): As befits a great bar band, a hot live sampler. B+(***)

Waco Brothers & Paul Burch: The Great Chicago Fire (2012, Bloodshot): Burch is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter with more than a dozen albums since 1996. Title cut is hot enough, rest not their sharpest. Ends with a raved-up Dylan cover. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Franšois Carrier/Tomek Gadecki/Marcik Bozek/Michel Lambert: Wide (FMR)
  • Day Dream: Originals (Corner Store Jazz) [03-27]
  • Alex Goodman: Impressions in Blue and Red (Outside In Music, 2CD) [03-13]
  • Hayoung Lyou: Metamorphosis (Endectomorph Music) [04-17]
  • Shunzo Ohno: Runner (Pulsebeats) [04-03]
  • Carl Saunders: Jazz Trumpet (Summit)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Joe Biden gets his first primary win in South Carolina, winning by a larger margin than polls had indicated. With 99.91% reporting, Biden had 48.45%, Bernie Sanders 19.91%, Tom Steyer 11.34%, Pete Buttigieg 8.24%, Elizabeth Warren 7.06%, Amy Klobuchar 3.15%, and Tuli Gabbard 1.28%. He will have three days to enjoy the win before Super Tuesday next week.

Before the election, Nate Silver posited three possible Super Tuesday projections estimates based on how well Biden does in South Carolina. According to the "Biden wins big" scenario, Biden is expected to win Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas next week, with Klobuchar favored in Minnesota, and Sanders ahead in California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Utah, Maine, and Vermont. Bloomberg will be on the ballot then, but Silver doesn't expect him to win any states. His best bets seem to be in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Virginia (with 28-25% share of delegates). That would leave Sanders with 39% of committed delegates, Biden 29%, Bloomberg 13%, Warren 10%, Buttigieg 6%, Klobuchar 3%. Sanders best upset prospects are in Virginia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas (where he's led several polls; see NBC News polls: Sanders has the edge in Texas, is tied with Biden in North Carolina).

Following his big win in Nevada, a bunch of Bernie Sanders pieces, including a lot of hysteria from Democratic Party elites and "Never Trumpers," and a little more on the race:

  • Zack Beauchamp:

    • Pete Buttigieg drops out of the presidential race. Given how little time there is between South Carolina's primary and "Super Tuesday," and how much of an outlier South Carolina is compared to other Democratic primaries, I'm surprised that anyone would fold up their campaign between the two, but we now have two candidates (Steyer and Buttigieg) doing just that. Given that Steyer was self-funded, you can be pretty sure that his decision was his own. It makes some sense: in the rich egomaniac lane, he was certain to get crowded out by the even richer Michael Bloomberg, so at least he's exiting on a plateau. Buttigieg, however, came into the race as one of the poorest and least promising of candidates, and he's actually had a pretty remarkable run. He may have never had the money or oganization to run a national campaign, and his prospects weren't great, but he would certainly do better on Super Tuesday than he did in South Carolina, so why not give it a few more days? I have no doubt that the answer was that his donors pulled the plug, hoping to move his votes to Biden or Bloomberg in a frantic effort to stop Sanders. I never shared " the level of contempt directed toward Buttigieg from Sanders supporters," but I do think he hurt himself and his future credibility by going so far out of his way to badmouth Sanders. I think he could have tried to bridge the gap between business and its many victims, in a way which would help reduce the social toll while still growing a healthy economy. He could, in short, have made himself seem concerned and committed, as well as cautious and pragmatic, but he didn't. Rather, he let himself be a spokesperson for a bunch of rich assholes who discarded him as soon as he became inconvenient. As Molly Ivans put it, "lie down with dogs, get up with fleas." [PS: I finally got around to reading Masha Gessen: The queer opposition to Pete Buttigieg, explained, and found I couldn't care less. Her conclusion, that "he is profoundly, essentially conservative," explains why his gayness turned out to be so boring.]

    • What David Brooks gets wrong about Bernie Sanders: "The New York Times columnist is a perfect exemplar of the baseless centrist freakout about Sanders's supposed authoritarianism." Brooks' column is titled No, not Sanders, not ever, where the guy who got rich voicing conservative attacks on liberals declares "I'll cast my lot with democratic liberalism," which for him means anyone but Sanders. Beauchamp answers by quoting a Jedediah Britton-Purdy tweet:

      The Sanders campaign is an effort to make real the principles of personal dignity, autonomy, free association, plurality, & self-development that liberalism prizes. To say the opposite sells criminally short both liberalism and Sanders.

  • Jamelle Bouie: The case for Bernie Sanders: "Despite his age, he promises a true break from the past." Part of a series, with: Michelle Goldberg on Elizabeth Warren; Ross Douthat on Joe Biden; Frank Bruni on Pete Buttigieg; David Leonhardt on Amy Klobuchar; and David Brooks shilling for Mike Bloomberg. Bouie also wrote: The Trumpian liberalism of Michael Bloomberg: "He may be running as the anti-Trump, but when it comes to the politics of racial control, there is a resemblance."

  • Zak Cheney-Rice: Fear powered Joe Biden's South Carolina victory.

    Rather, it suggests another calculation at work. There's a yawning chasm between black people's recognition that we deserve better from the political order and our belief that elected officials will deliver it. More likely than not, Biden didn't win South Carolina because he built the best case for himself. He won because black people have seen what it looks like when he fails them. Saturday was not a glowing endorsement of his candidacy. If anything, it was a concession to a politics of fear.

  • Thomas L Friedman: Dems, you can defeat Trump in a landslide: The idiot-savant of the New York Times argues for a "national unity" ticket, combining Sanders and Bloomberg, with cabinet-level positions for everyone from Mitt Romney (Commerce Secretary) and William McRaven (Defense Secretary) to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (UN Ambassador). Once again, Friedman shows off his boundless faith in the benevolence of the rich and famous. I wonder if he realizes that the track record for pairing antagonists on the presidential ticket has a pretty checkered record: especially Lincoln-Johnson and Harrison-Tyler, where death elevated unpopular vice-presidents who were politically opposite to their mandate, but I can think of other Friedmanesque dream tickets that could have gone as badly (e.g., Jefferson-Burr, Jackson-Calhoun).

  • Masha Gessen: What Bernie Sanders should have said about socialism and totalitarianism in Cuba: Actually, I don't have any problem with what Sanders said, except that I might have been more impolitic in pointing out that Castro started with one of the most corrupt and savagely inequal nations in Latin America -- a state can can be traced to its last-in-the-hemisphere abolition of slavery and to colonialism by American economic interests -- and struggled heroically to fashion one of the most egalitarian ones, despite constant hostility from the US, including the imposition of crippling blockades and sanctions. I'd also point out that America's hostility had nothing to do with concern for the civil or human rights of the Cuban people, and everything to do with spite engendered by Castro's expropriation of American business property and the threat international companies felt from the existence of the revolutionary government. I'd also point out that anti-communism in America has always been dictated by business interests, and has been especially effective at undermining unions and the left inside as well as beyond US borders. It also bugs me when emigres from the Soviet bloc have so completely internalized cold war propaganda that they continue to use it reflexively to promote militarist, anti-left, and anti-democratic political agendas.

  • Sarah Jones: Who's afraid of Bernie Sanders?

    To deny Sanders victory if he conjures up a plurality rather than a clear majority is to make Sanders's evaluation of the party its epitaph. Democrats would confirm to the public that the party isn't working for anyone who isn't well-educated and well-off -- and that they don't really want to change. They would damage not only their credibility but the lives of the nation's poor, for whom another Trump term would be catastrophic.

  • Akela Lacy: Bloomberg has hired the vice chairs of the Texas and California Democratic parties.

  • Branko Marcetic: Joe Biden has a long history of giving Republicans what they want: "For Republicans, Joe Biden has long been the ideal negotiating partner -- because he's so willing to cave in on most anything Republicans want." A excerpt from the author's forthcoming book, Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.

  • Dylan Matthews: If anti-Bernie Democrats were serious, they'd unite around Joe Biden right now. This is basically a taunt, but ego aside (and sure, that's a big aside) Bloomberg got into the race because he doubted Biden's up to the task. Biden's first win doesn't prove otherwise, but his comeback does seem to reflect a belated recognition that the other "center lane" candidates no longer look promising -- as Jonathan Chait argues: Joe Biden now the only Democrat who can stop Bernie Sanders. Also: Heading into Super Tuesday, Biden gets big funding boost, although "big" here is still way short of what Sanders is raising, let alone how much Bloomberg is spending. [PS: Buttigieg dropping out looks like his donors pulled the rug out from under him to move votes to Biden. By the way, the ducks are lining up: Wasserman Schultz endorses Joe Biden for president.]

  • Media Matters:

  • Ella Nilsen: Bernie Sanders posts a record $46.5 million February fundraising haul.

  • Alex Pareene: The selling of the Democratic primary. [PS: Pareene tweet: "my no-irony take is that Biden would've won in 2016 but he's incoherent now and it would be deeply irresponsible to nominate him."]

  • Steve Phillips: Bernie Sanders can beat Trump. Here's the math.

  • Charles P Pierce: The biggest challenge for the Sanders campaign is its own premature triumphalism. Sample bloviage:

    Bernie Sanders has surrounded himself with people so utterly pure in their own opinion of themselves that they object to compromises that they themselves made. . . . Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. He is an independent who quadrennially cosplays as a Democrat because he wants to run for president. For this, he should be eternally grateful that a) nobody makes the point that at least Ralph Nader had the stones to be an independent and run as an independent; and b) that he is running now and not back in the days when there really was a Democratic establishment that would have been able to crush him like a bug. . . . It turns out that many of the Bernie stans can be more insufferable in victory than they were in defeat. I say this in all love and Christian fellowship: Bernie Sanders and his more fervent followers and the many sanctimonious ratfckers who run his campaign can fck right off.

    It's hard to tell where the various smear campaigns against Sanders supporters start and end (if indeed they have any limits at all). I'm not involved in the campaign, and I doubt I know anyone who is, but it's hard not to feel personally insulted by such blanket slanders. Makes me feel like one of Hillary Clinton's deplorables, which I guess we were even before she took aim at Trump's minions.

    Admittedly, I'm less bothered when Pierce applies his vocabulary to something like What a day it's been for the paranoid little terrarium that is the modern conservative mind, or Trump's coronavirus press conference was the apotheosis of 40 years of Republican philosophy.

  • Leonard Pitts: Sanders' most rabid fans on the left no improvement over Trump's on the right. Pitts is nationally syndicated, and the Wichita Eagle runs his weekly column as its sole token liberal alternative to Cal Thomas, Marc Thiessen, and a host of other reactionary cranks. This is the most disappointing column I've ever read from him, as he casts even wider shade on Sanders' supporters than Pierce did (while also reminding us that Sanders is not a real Democrat). A self-appointed moderate, Pitts likes to assume that left and right are symmetrical, so he asserts that "Sanders could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters" -- Trump has actually made that boast about his supporters, many of whom are into guns and violence. But more basically, you don't get to the left without developing the critical and moral faculties to question the use and abuse of power and wealth, and that makes it impossible to blindly follow anyone -- for examples of Der FŘhrerprinzip, look to the right.

  • Andrew Prokop: Tom Steyer drops out of the presidential race: "It turns out Democratic voters were not seeking their own billionaire to save them from Trump." One might argue that they were waiting for a richer, more obnoxious billionaire. The jury's still out on Bloomberg, but Steyer's campaign casts doubts on how easily one rich guy can buy a primary.

  • Robert Reich: Bernie Sanders' plans may be expensive but inaction would cost much more.

  • David Roberts: America's crisis of trust and the one candidate who gets it. He identifies a core problem: "how to break out of the doom loop and get on a trajectory of better governance and rising trust." His one candidate is Warren, "on the right track, substantively," but "on the wrong track, politically."

  • Alex Shephard: Bernie Sanders is winning his war on cable news. My primal fear is that the so-called liberal media, much more than the hapless DNC, is going to go all-out to sabotage Sanders' candidacy. For example:

    There's little love for Bernie Sanders on the television news circuit. After his landslide win in Saturday's Nevada caucuses, MSNBC host Chris Matthews compared the victory to Nazi Germany's successful invasion of France in 1940. Also on MSNBC, James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, deemed it a big win for Vladimir Putin. On CBS, former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel fretted that Democrats were making a suicidal choice in going for Sanders. Donna Brazile, the former Democratic National Committee chair turned Fox News contributor, and Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton administration press secretary and current CNN contributor, were irked by a Sanders tweet that read: "I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us." . . . Trump has a cable news channel in his pocket -- Sanders does not. His campaign has responded by building a media infrastructure that could withstand attacks from mainstream networks. So far, it's worked wonders.

  • Andrew Sullivan: Is Bernie the American version of Jeremy Corbyn? Gulp.

  • Paul Waldman: Why Bernie Sanders drives so many people out of their minds.

For whatever it's worth, my take on the presidential election is that as long as it remains a referendum on Trump and his Republican cohort, any at-all-reasonable Democratic candidate (which includes Sanders and Biden but maybe not Bloomberg) will beat Trump. He is, after all, very unpopular, both as a person and even more so for his issues and policies. The only way Trump wins is if he can make the campaign be about his opponent (as he did in 2016), and find in that opponent flaws that he can exploit to make "persuadable" swing-votes fear that opponent more than they are disgusted with him. This will be harder for him to do this time around, because he has his own track record to defend, and unless you're very rich and/or very bigoted, he hasn't done much for you.

On the other hand, all Democratic candidates have tics and flaws that a savvy campaigner can exploit. We can debate endlessly on which "flaws" are most vulnerable and which are most easily defensible. My own theory is that "red baiting," which we've seen a huge burst of this past week (and not just at CPAC or on Fox, where the approach is so feverish it's likely to be extended against Bloomberg), is a spent force, but one Republicans won't be able to resist. On the other hand, Sanders is relatively secure against the charges of corruption and warmongering that were so effective against Hillary Clinton, and could easily be recycled against Biden.

On the other hand, I do have some sympathy for "down ballot" candidates for Congress who worry that having a ticket led by a candidate with such sharply defined views as Sanders has will hurt their chances in swing districts. At some point, Sanders needs to pivot to acknowledge and affirm the diversity of opinions within the Democratic Party. A model here might be Ronald Reagan's "11th commandment" (never speak ill of a fellow Republican). That didn't stop Reagan from orchestrating a conservative takeover of the party, but it make it possible for the few surviving liberals in the party to continue, and it made it possible for Republicans to win seats that hard-line conservatives couldn't.

A Sanders nomination would be the most radical shift in the Democratic Party since 1896, when populist William Jennings Bryan got the nod to succeed arch-conservative Grover Cleveland. Bryan lost that election badly, and lost two of the next three, partly as a result of Democratic Party sabotage, partly because Theodore Roosevelt outflanked him with a more modern progressivism. My generation is more likely to recall George McGovern's epic loss in 1972, also occasioned by deep splits within the Party bosses, but McGovern and 1968 nominee Hubert Humphrey had very similar backgrounds and programs -- their big divide was over the Vietnam War. Nixon did a very effective job of getting McGovern portrayed as a far-out radical, while covering up his own negatives (at least until after the election -- he wound up resigning in disgrace).

Trump will certainly try to do the same to Sanders (or for that matter to any other Democrat), and Republicans have been remarkably successful at manipulating media and motivating their voters, so one has to much to worry about. Indeed, I've been fretting a lot this past week, and will continue to do so until the election is over.

Some scattered links this week:

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