Blog Entries [0 - 9]

Sunday, August 9, 2020


Weekend Roundup

One thing I've noticed here but don't have the time or patience to try to unpack is that a significant share of the articles below look ahead to after the November election -- usually assuming that Trump will be defeated, some allowing for the possibility that Trump will cheat massively and produce a disputed result. This was bound to happen sooner or later, but this soon is a bit surprising. Maybe it's because the whole year is something we can't wait to get over with?

Some of the future articles imagine a chance for the Republican Party to reform itself after the Trump debacle, but I don't see that happening any time soon -- in large part thanks to the speed with which the Party recovered after the 2008 debacle. In many ways, Democrats will find it harder to function after winning than Republicans will -- especially if their victory isn't deep enough to capture both houses of Congress, allowing Republicans to obstruct their efforts, and Fox to blame those losses on the Democrats.

Finally, some pieces start to look at where the economy is headed -- not so much after the pandemic but along with it. Had I tried to speculate on that 4-6 months ago, I no doubt would have come up with little more than reassertions of what I had long been thinking. Now I'm less certain than ever.

Biden's date for announcing his VP pick is August 10. Good to get this posted before then.


Some scattered links this week:

Zeeshan Aleem: Trump falsely claims coronavirus is "disappearing" and Russia isn't meddling in the 2020 election: "Trump's surprise news conference held at his private club was packed with false claims about America's crises."

Michael Arria: Biden personally intervened to get the word 'occupation' removed from the Democratic Party platform: I don't discount the significance of one's views on Israel-Palestine as a test of political principles, but as a practical matter in a contest between Biden and Trump, and more generally between the parties, dropping it from the platform, and inserting some pablum, doesn't bother me. Biden isn't stuck in Sheldon Adelson's pocket, and he's not going to owe anything to the fundamentalist Christian apocalypse-mongers backing Trump. After the election, he'll have options based on future events, which he may or may not respond to constructively. But at this point, Israel has gone so far down its racist-militarist apartheid path that it's hard to see the US having any real influence (as if it ever has). Elsewhere, it's more important that the US disengage from its own occupations and interventions. Dismantling systemic racism and militarism at home would also help, perhaps more than anything else. Israel has chosen to follow its own rogue path, but that choice has always been easier with the US as a model. Take that away, and maybe Israel will start to realize the folly of its path. In the long run, all nations have to change of their own accord -- even the ones the US is so obsessed with bending to its will, like North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Russia, and China.

Joshua A Barocas/Jennifer E Lacy: The pandemic is an extraordinary opportunity to reform US education: "We should allow kids to take a gap year and waive standardized testing before it's too late."

If anything, there is a sense that many in the Trump administration and its allies across the country want public education to fail. For example, Kansas City Metropolitan charter and private schools received between $19.9 million and $55.9 million from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), program whereas Kansas City Public Schools received nothing.

Isaac Chotiner: Why Stuart Stevens wants to defeat Donald Trump: Interview with Stevens, who worked in the GW Bush presidential campaigns and was Mitt Romney's top strategist in 2012. More recently, he wrote It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump, and is an adviser to the Lincoln Project. Still a lot of delusions here for past Republicans, especially Romney. Also a strong belief that the president's number one job is opposing Putin. For another interview with Stevens, see David Corn: The Republican Party is racist and soulless. Just ask this veteran GOP strategist.

Patrick Cockburn:

Chas Danner: Yes, Trump actually did want to be added to Mount Rushmore: "A White House aide reportedly looked into the process for adding another president's face to the monument." Filed under "Delusions of grandeur."

Wade Davis: The unraveling of America: "Anthropologist Wade Davis on how Covid-19 signals the end of the American era."

Jason Ditz: Superhawk Elliott Abrams named Special Envoy on Iran: Most recently, he's been Special Envoy for Venezuela, a job he's made a total mess of. Disasters are nothing new for Abrams. Ever since he got out of jail for his role in Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal, he's using his foreign policy clout to make things worse -- especially his tenure as GW Bush's top dog on Israel-Palestine. More on Abrams:

Tom Engelhardt: The unexpected past, the unknown future: It could have been different: Nostalgia for the bad old days, just following 9/11, when the Bushies thought all they had to do to rule the world was "to take the gloves off." Engelhardt resisted that idea from its inception, and if he's ever been wrong, it was to underestimate how bad it might get.

Amy Gardner/Josh Dawsey: As Trump leans into attacks on mail voting, GOP officials confront signs of Republican turnout crisis: It's real hard to anticipate how turnout is going to break, but this is one part of the question. This was the first of several articles linked to in As Trump attacks mail voting, GOP officials confront signs of Republican turnout crisis. Another is Pema Levy: Democracy depends on the postal service more than ever. Republicans won't help fix it. Some more pieces on Trump, voting, and mail:

Shirin Ghaffary:

Susan B Glasser: "Mr President, what are your priorities?" is not a tough question: "Trump is running for reëlection, but, unlike four years ago, he can't even say why." Reduced to red hat slogans, he wants to keep America as great as it became the moment he was elected and inaugurated in 2017, which by definition will cover four more years. Why can't people grasp that? I mean, aside from the fact that none of the people are Donald J Trump?

Trump's vapid answer is more than a reflection of a political-messaging dilemma -- it's a sign of decline, both in terms of the President's ability to respond cogently to a simple query and as a warning for American democracy, given that such a large segment of the electorate apparently finds it acceptable to support a leader whose only campaign selling point is himself. Is Trump's inability to come up with something to say about the next four years a reflection of the fact that even he thinks he is going to lose? Perhaps, but it's also a measure of how far Trump has descended into full "l'état, c'est moi"-ism. Running for reëlection without offering even a hint of a program is a sure indicator of at least aspirational authoritarianism.

John F Harris: Donald Trump has the sole authority to blow up the world. It is madness to let him keep it. Madness to give any president solo authority, much less one who seems incapable of understanding what nuclear weapons can do, yet who seems fascinated with finding out. Thought about filing this under Hiroshima (below), but decided this is a current issue, not history. One thing that keeps is current is how completely Trump has dismantled arms limitation treaties with Russia. Also how he's approved the plan to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding America's nuclear arsenal. I sometimes wonder what else Trump can do to destroy the country before leaving office, and this is high on the list.

Kaleem Hawa: Present absences: Review of Rashid Khalidi's new book, The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017, selecting the Balfour Declaration as his arbitrary starting point, no doubt cognizant that the "war" isn't over at a mere century.

Jacob Heilbrunn: Why the United States invaded Iraq: Review of Robert Draper's new book, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq. Seems like there should be more here on Afghanistan, but for Bush, Cheney, et al., war with Iraq was predetermined, and if anything Afghanistan just slowed them down a bit. One thing here I previously missed was the 1998 "Rumsfeld Commission," where Congress gave "Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other hawks . . . a high-profile platform" to fantasize about and play up the Iraqi threat. Draper also "presents the former CIA director George Tenet in a particularly unflattering light, suggesting that he made up for his frustrations with Bill Clinton by excess ("slam dunk") enthusiasm for GW Bush.

If Draper expertly dissects the ferocious turf battles that took place within the administration over the war, he does not really seek to set it in a wider context other than to note rather benignly that "the story I aim to tell is very much a human narrative of patriotic men and women who, in the wake of a nightmare, pursued that most elusive of dreams: finding peace through war." But there was more to it than that. Thanks to Donald Trump's bungling, Bush may be benefiting from a wave of nostalgia for his presidency. But he was criminally culpable in his naïveté and incuriosity about the costs and consequences of war. At the same time, Cheney and Rumsfeld were inveterate schemers whose cynicism about going to war was exceeded only by their ineptitude in conducting it.

Sean Illing:

Alex Isenstadt: Trump antagonizes GOP megadonor Adelson in heated phone call.

Derrick Johnson: Voter suppression is back, 55 years after the Voting Rights Act.

Fred Kaplan:

  • Trump's latest move at the Pentagon is brazenly unlawful: Giving Anthony Tata the job of Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (you remember, the job in 2003 filled by "dumbest fucking person on earth" Douglas Feith), without getting Senate approval..

  • Trump's troop tantrum: "There's no strategy behind the decision to withdraw US troops from Germany. It's about the president's anger and ego."

Roge Karma: How cities can tackle violent crime without relying on police: Interview with Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence.

Isabel Kershner/Pam Belluck: When Covid subsided, Israel reopened its schools. It didn't go well.

Ezra Klein: How inequality is changing the Republican Party -- and breaking American politics. Review of Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Economic Inequality. I read the book recently, and recommend it. More on this book:

Hiroki Kobayashi: The elusive horror of Hiroshima: It's the 75th anniversary of our rude awakening to the atomic age. This refers back to John Hersey's early reporting of the bomb's devastation -- you can read Hersey's classic report here. I previously wrote about Hiroshima and Nagasaki on their 70th anniversary: Thinking about the unthinkable. I also wrote an earlier piece in the August 6, 2005 notebook. Some more on Hiroshima:

Zack Kopplin: How Mike Pompeo built a blood-for-oil pipeline: "The State Department, a conservative-connected shell company, and a key Kurdish crime family team up to siphon Syrian oil for US investors."

Josh Kovensky: NRA looted its Foundation to cover cash hemorrhage, DC AG alleges.

Michael Krimmage/Matthew Rojansky: The problem with Putinology: "We need a new kind of writing about Russia." Primarily a review of Catherine Belton's Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, which exemplifies the "old kind of writing," which trades in paranoia over Russia's evil designs to cripple and dominate the West -- easy enough to sell in America given the legacy and continuing hegemony of Cold War propaganda. The authors counter some of this, but don't go very far -- they certainly don't want to be dismissed as pro-Putin. It's easy for us to be critical of Putin, but we forget what a disaster Russia faced in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin. With the old regime discredited, Yeltsin turned state-owned enterprises over to a set of underworld figures who emerged as more-or-less criminal oligarchs. Putin's principal task was the bring the oligarchs back from anarchy, which he did in classic Mafia manner by becoming capo di tutti capi. He wrapped his move by playing up nationalism, but he's more often been a limit against the ultra-nationalist opposition, which really does want to restore Russia's imperial greatness by recovering the periphery lost in 1991. He's also embraced the usual center-right power bases, like the church and the military. And he hasn't always respected the tenets of liberal democracy, but that's partly because they've never really taken root in Russia, and also because the left has never been able to form a credible opposition to Putin (remnants of the Communist Party are so wrapped up in nostalgia that they often wind up to Putin's right). Of course, America doesn't really care about Putin strong-arming his opponents -- even the tiny slice devoted to America's vision of neoliberalism. Rather, they cannot abide Russia doing business with countries on America's shit list, like Syria, Iran, and Venezuela. The fact is that Russia has few opportunities to form bonds abroad, and standing up to American bullying is still a popular stance in Russia. This situation only gets worse as American foreign policy gets ever more self-centered and myopic -- a trend that Trump has added a few new twists to but has been the rule since GW Bush decided to lead his Global War on Terror. The art to diplomacy is the ability to see what's important to the other side, and compromises which deliver more than half a loaf to both sides. Simply demanding that the other side bow over and submit has never worked very well (or for very long), and is even more ridiculous given America's declining stature with the rest of the world. A positive step here would be to start showing some respect for Putin, which doesn't necessarily mean glossing over his crimes, just putting them in context.

Anita Kumar: 'She is absolutely our No. 1 draft pick': GOP pines for Rice as Biden VP. Hoping not to do a VP cluster this week, but must reiterate that Rice would be a really poor choice. PS: Mine is not the only such opinion:

Daniel Larison: The Jakarta method: How the US used mass murder to beat Communism: Review of Vincent Bevins' book, The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World. Aside from the brutal wars in Korea and Vietnam, and I suppose in Afghanistan and Iraq, I've long felt that Indonesia's anti-communist purge in 1965-66 was the single most reprehensible event in American foreign policy.

David Leonhardt: The unique US failure to control the virus: "Slowing the coronavirus has been especially difficult for the United States because of its tradition of prioritizing individualism and missteps by the Trump administration." Also of prioritizing business over all other aspects of human life.

Nancy LeTourneau:

  • Trump's latest attack on Biden: Photoshops and cheap shots.

  • David Brooks wants a nicer, more competent form of Trumpism. I for one don't care what Brooks thinks, but I will jump off from this Brooks quote:

    Bannon and Trump got the emotions right. They understood that Republican voters were no longer motivated by a sense of hope and opportunity; they were motivated by a sense of menace, resentment and fear. At base, many Republicans felt they were being purged from their own country -- by the educated elite, by multiculturalism, by militant secularism. . . . It would have been interesting if Trump had governed as a big-government populist. But he tossed Bannon out and handed power to Jared Kushner and a bunch of old men locked in the Reagan paradigm. We got bigotry, incompetence and tax cuts for the wealthy.

    Of course, Trump to offer Republican populists, beyond his own emotions as someone as hated and degraded by those elites as was his base -- yet that never came off as sympathy, only as more rage. As for the post-Trump Party, Brooks suggests building on these "core assumptions":

    1. Everything is not okay. The free market is not working well.
    2. Economic libertarianism is not the answer. Free markets alone won't solve our problems.
    3. The working class is the heart of the Republican Party.
    4. China changes everything.
    5. The managerial class betrays America.

    When I read that list, the answer is pretty simple: put workers in charge of US companies. Worker-owned companies aren't going to ship jobs overseas. Worker-owned companies aren't going to strip assets for short-term gain. Workers who own companies will support their communities, and their nation. And when workers own companies, the managerial class will work for them. Nothing else satisfies these concerns as simply and elegantly. Well, aside from China: not sure that anyone understands what that point means.

Eric Levitz: David Shor's unified theory of American politics. He's obviously a very smart guy who's been paid by Democrats to think about how to win elections for the last decade, and he's come up with insights that are uncomfortable to everyone. One thing that occurred to me in his bit on the Obama-to-Trump voters is that while he's probably right that race was the determining factor, one should consider the different ways the two candidates affected thinking on race. Obama was very conciliatory, which encouraged white voters to credit themselves for rising above the race question. Trump, on the other hand, gave white voters reason to feel good about themselves even if they were racist, which it turns out many still were. But Trump's also allowed super-racists to thrive, and maybe that's starting to make the fence-sitters a bit nervous. All through the interview, Shor is very critical of people who develop any consistent sort of ideology, which includes most Democratic politicians, their campaign staffs, and their donors (even rich ones). His advice: "you should talk about popular issues, and not talk about unpopular ones." And do the research to tell one from the other, rather than just following your instinct. Here's an interesting quote:

So I think people underestimate Democrats' openness to left-wing policies that won't cost them elections. And there are a lot of radical, left-wing policies that are genuinely very popular. Codetermination is popular. A job guarantee is popular. Large minimum-wage increases are popular and could literally end market poverty.

All these things will engender opposition from capital. But if you focus on the popular things, and manage to build positive earned media around those things, then you can convince Democrats to do them. So we should be asking ourselves, "What is the maximally radical thing that can get past Joe Manchin." And that's like a really depressing optimization problem. And it's one that most leftists don't even want to approach, but they should. There's a wide spectrum of possibilities for what could happen the next time Democrats take power, and if we don't come in with clear thinking and realistic demands, we could end up getting rolled.

Amanda Marcotte: Right-wing conspiracy theorists get (even more) unhinged as Trump's chances fade: "With QAnon on the rise, Alex Jones tells his fans to 'kill' progressives: Trump Nation is going full cuckoo."

Terrence McCoy: Last year's Amazon fires stirred international outrage. This year's dry season has started out worse.

Alexa Mikhail/Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/Joel Jacobs: After hundreds of covid-19 deaths in state-run veterans homes, lawmakers press VA to adhere to science. I should mention again that my cousin was one of the victims in a VA facility in Oklahoma.

Nicole Narea: Trump's latest plan to use the census for political gain, explained. As they note, "more than a third of all US coronavirus cases occurred in July."

Michael T Osterholm/Neel Kashkari: Here's how to crush the virus until vaccines arrive: "To save lives, and save the economy, we need another lockdown."

JC Pan: The pandemic benefit seems so great because actual wages are insanely low.

Kim Phillips-Fein: Rethinking the solution to New York's fiscal crisis.

Wendell Potter: The health care scare: "I sold Americans a lie about Canadian medicine. Now we're paying the price."

David Roberts: How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly.

Aaron Rupar:

John Quiggin: The end of interest: This is interesting:

Amid all the strange, alarming and exciting things that have happened lately, the fact that real long-term (30-year) interest rates have fallen below zero has been largely overlooked. Yet this is the end of capitalism, at least as it has traditionally been understood. Interest is the pure form of return to capital, excluding any return to monopoly power, corporate control, managerial skills or compensation for risk.

If there is no real return to capital, then then there is no capitalism. In case it isn't obvious, I'll make the point in subsequent posts that there is no reason to expect the system that replaces capitalism (I'll call it plutocracy for the moment) to be an improvement.

I have two thoughts based on this. The first is a corollary, that if capitalism is dead, the free market will no longer be able to rebuild the economy. Therefore, government must step in, providing planning and finance (and possibly even direction) for new ventures. The nations of East Asia (most dramatically China) have been able to grow above market rates thanks to central economic planning, in contrast to the relatively anemic growth in the West, especially if you discount the excess wealth generated by monopolies, corporate predation, and asset inflation (which is what happens when the rich have more money than things to spend it on). The Green New Deal is certainly one way the government could force feed the economy, and thereby prop it up, but probably isn't in itself all that will be needed. Which leads to the second point, which is that we need to come up with a better alternative than plutocracy. Indeed, we're far enough into plutocracy now that it's more properly seen as a problem, not a solution. But if Quiggin wants to scare people, sure, feel free to point out where that road heads.

William K Rashbaum/Benjamin Weiser: DA is investigating Trump and his company over fraud, filing suggests.

Jeffrey D Sachs: America's unholy crusade against China: Reaction to Mike Pompeo's big China speech -- "inflammatory anti-China rhetoric could become even more apocalyptic in the coming weeks, if only to fire up the Republican base ahead of the election" -- not sure why he focuses so much on evangelicals:

According to Pompeo, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CPC) harbor a "decades-long desire for global hegemony." This is ironic. Only one country -- the US -- has a defense strategy calling for it to be the "preeminent military power in the world," with "favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere." China's defense white paper, by contrast, states that "China will never follow the beaten track of big powers in seeking hegemony," and that, "As economic globalization, the information society, and cultural diversification develop in an increasingly multi-polar world, peace, development, and win-win cooperation remain the irreversible trends of the times."

More on China (for pieces on TikTok, see Shirin Ghaffery above):

  • Doug Bandow: Let's face it, China is its own worst enemy: "Much like Trump, Xi's grand ambitions are checked by his inability to make friends." Bandow is a libertarian (Cato Institute) critic of American foreign policy, so so he avoids most of the usual Washington clichés. Still, he comes up with a long list of ways Xi's instincts to fight back and bully at every slight has hurt China's business relations.

Claudia Sahm: Economics is a disgrace.

Dylan Scott:

Steven Shepard: Kobach and Clay go down: Takeaways from a big primary night: Primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, and Tennessee. In Kansas Republican Senate primary, Roger Marshall beat Kris Kobach 39.41% to 25.68%, with Bob Hamilton at 18.34% and Wichita Eagle-endorsed David Lindstrom in 4th with 6.33%. Kobach barely won the governor primary in 2018 then lost, so he's increasingly viewed as a loser as well as a lunatic. Lacy Clay (D-MO), who's always struck me as a pretty progressive Congressman, lost to Cori Bush, who promises to be even better. Another incumbent, Steve Watkins (R-KS), recently indicted, lost his primary. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) faced a well-financed opponent she had barely won over in 2018, and won 66.27% to 33.73%. The biggest piece of election news was Missouri voting in favor of Medicaid expansion. Article doesn't have any "takeaways" from Tennessee (which voted later), where Trump-endorsed Bill Hagerty appears to have won the Republican Senate nomination. Related:

Alex Shephard:

Richard Silverstein: Israel bombed Beirut:

A confidential highly-informed Israeli source has told me that Israel caused the massive explosion at the Beirut port earlier today which killed over 100 and injured thousands. The bombing also virtually leveled the port itself and caused massive damage throughout the city.

Israel targeted a Hezbollah weapons depot at the port and planned to destroy it with an explosive device. Tragically, Israeli intelligence did not perform due diligence on their target. Thus they did not know (or if they did know, they didn't care) that there were 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a next door warehouse. The explosion at the arms depot ignited the next door warehouse, causing the catastrophe that resulted. More on Beirut:

Silverstein followed this initial report with Ex-CIA analyst confirms Beirut blast initiated by "military munitions," Lebanese President to examine role of "external actors"; and Senior Israeli opposition leader: Hezbollah arms cache caused Beirut explosion. I should note that I haven't seen any corroboration of Silverstein's reports elsewhere. Israel has publicly denied its involvement, although they've frequently attacked alleged Hezbollah supplies and forces in Syria, waged a brutal war against Lebanon in 2006, and invaded Lebanon in 1982, not leaving until 2000. They still occupy a small patch of Lebanon, a major bone of contention with Hezbollah. Mainstream media sources have focused on the large store of ammonium nitrate, which came from an abandoned Russian ship, while claiming that the initial fire which ignited the larger explosion had something to do with fireworks. As the articles below note, Lebanon has been struggling for some time, and there is a lot of pent-up resentment against the long-ruling cliques. There were popular demonstrations against the government over a year ago, and they have flared up again.

Jeffrey Toobin: It really is time to get rid of the filibuster.

Lucian K Truscott IV: Let's remember that long with everything else, Donald Trump's a total pig. Pic here of a much younger Trump with his old buddy, Jeffrey Epstein.

Chris Walker: Students suspended for taking pictures of crowds in Georgia school's reopening: This is the "cancel culture" I remember from the 1950s. PS: 9 people test positive for coronavirus at Georgia school that went viral for crowded photo.

Sean Wilentz: What Tom Cotton gets so wrong about slavery and the constitution: It was the Arkansas Republican Senator to called slavery "a necessary evil upon which the union was built" -- not the founders he cites. See Bryan Armen Graham: Tom Cotton calls slavery 'necessary evil' in attack on New York Times' 1619 Project. Note that Cotton is not only asserting his own views, he's trying to suppress the views of others: specifically, historians who have attempted to document the long and disgraceful history of slavery and racism in the United States.

Matthew Yglesias:

Li Zhou/Ella Nilsen: Why Republicans are dragging their feet on more stimulus. Now that the stock market has recovered, and the rich are richer than ever, their job is done. Sure, they still would like to get lawsuit immunity for businesses. But fuck everyone else. Note: The first group of pieces date from earlier in the week, before Trump punted with his executive orders. I've put them first, then reports on the executive orders and the reaction in a second block.

Then on Saturday, Trump broke off negotiations and signed his orders. They are a purely political ploy: a way to claim he's doing something without delivering much of anything. They are a "free lunch," as in "there's no such thing as a free lunch":

Tuesday, August 4, 2020


Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33729 [33697] rated (+32), 223 [220] unrated (+3).

After a month-plus of regularly hitting 40+ records per week, my energy and/or patience flagged last week. I started most days with something from the travel cases, or Tougher Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music (long out of sight, found it on a top shelf up stairs, along with Fats Waller's If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It box. Didn't unpack until Monday, and spent the rest of the day muddling through metacritic lists. After that, didn't feel like writing anything, so put that off a day. Still don't, but will try to touch a few bases.

As I noted in the intro to Weekend Roundup, my cousin Duan Stiner caught Covid-19 and died last week, three days shy of 93. He had been living in a VA facility northeast of Tulsa for two years. Although "locked down" in March, the disease got in and decimated the population. Last time I visited was shortly after he moved there. I can't say as I was particularly pleased with the place, but his daughters were upbeat, and visited him virtually every day (until March). It was a sad end to a long life of hard work and good humor. I've been missing him for a while already.

Duan was just one of several older relatives who have faced a lot of hardship this year. Another cousin, Chloe McCandlis, died in February. Others are ill or struggling, and even those who are getting by are finding 2020 to be an especially difficult year to be old in. I haven't traveled since my trip to see Duan in Oklahoma, and I'm not likely to for the foreseeable future, so I'm feeling especially helpless and useless these days.

A friend here in Wichita, Don Bass, also died, and we just heard that another is in the hospital.


In music, I should mention that Sean Tyla (73) died. He was the leader of the seminal pub rock band Ducks Deluxe, which recorded two albums 1974-75. Both records were personal favorites, with the second (Taxi to the Terminal Zone) the namesake for the short-lived magazine Don Malcolm and I published in 1977. Worth noting that I much preferred the UK version of their eponymous debut: there were two jazzy pieces that made much more sense in context than moved to weaken the second side of RCA's US release. They exemplified everything I loved in rock & roll. For the moment, I harbored the idea that the past of rock & roll might be its future. Of course, a couple years later the future did arrive, and it was something else.

When Ducks Deluxe broke up, Tyla carried on as the Tyla Gang, while other band members joined the Motors and the Rumour (Graham Parker's backup band, but they also recorded without Parker). I enjoyed his first title (Yachtless), but nothing else he did made much of an impression.

Best source for new records this week has been Bandcamp Daily, but I also tried picking off some of the higher ranking metacritic titles (link above). Also scanned Phil Overeem's July list, slimmed down and slightly annotated. The grade change came after receiving a CD, which certainly helped.

One question in the queue. Feel free to ask more.


New records reviewed this week:

The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form (2020, Dirty Hit): British group, fourth album since 2013, eponymous debut opened at number one on UK charts, other three albums also cracked top five in US. Starts with soft electronics framing a Greta Thunberg message ("Either we prevent a 1.5 degree of warming, or we don't/ Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, or we don't/ Either we choose to go on as a civilization, or we don't"), then the band breaks out like the Clash ("Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"). Of course, they aren't the Clash, so the remaining 73 minutes is filled with their usual postmodern pop, though not without occasional interest. B+(***)

Arca: @@@@@ (2020, XL): I ignored this when it came, out, seeing it flagged as a "single." Indeed, a single track, but 62 minutes, as jumbled at a typical album. B+(*)

Armand Hammer: Shrines (2020, Backwoodz Studioz): New York hip-hop duo, rapper Billy Woods and producer Elucid, fourth album. Pretty sharp. B+(***) [bc]

The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers (2020, Carpark): Alt/indie band from New Zealand, second album, harmony voices led by Elizabeth Stokes, guitar-bass-drums. B+(*)

Boldy James & the Alchemist: The Price of Tea in China (2020, ALC/Boldy James): Rapper James Jones III, born in Atlanta, grew up in Detroit, second album, both with Daniel Maman co-writing and producing. B+(***)

Lisa Cameron/Tom Carter/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Tau Ceti (2019 [2020], Astral Spirits): Last names only on cover, no instrument credits, but figure drums-guitar-bass, split between an "acoustic side," which feels like treading water, and an "electric side," which raises the ante. B+(*) [bc]

Crazy Doberman: Illusory Expansion (2019 [2020], Astral Spirits): Collective improv group, has recorded extensively since 2017 (or, as Doberman, 2014). This, which lists 16 musicians, is the first on a label I've heard of. Mix of industrial ambient and free jazz. B+(*) [bc]

Falkner Evans: Marbles (2019 [2020], CAP): Pianist, based in New York, handful of albums since 2001, aims big here with a sextet -- Michael Blake and Ted Nash (saxes), Ron Horton (trumpet), bass, and drums -- plus vibes (Steve Nelson) on three cuts. All originals, elegant postbop. B+(**) [cd]

John Fedchock NY Sextet: Into the Shadows (2019 [2020], Summit): Trombonist, probably best known for his big bands, scales down nicely, with Scott Wendholt (trumpet) and Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax), plus piano-bass-drums. B+(**) [cd]

Sue Anne Gershenzon: You Must Believe in Spring (2020, self-released): Standards singer, seems to be her first album, support includes Joel Frahm (tenor sax) and Ryan Keberle (trombone), a pianist-arranger hard on my eyes (Glafkos Kontemeniotis?), and occasional strings. Nice take on title track. B [cd]

Kate NV: Room for the Moon (2020, RVNG Intl): Russian singer-songwriter, Ekaterina Shilonosova, from Kazan, singer in the postpunk band Glintshake, third solo album. Electronics and voice, "conjured from unlived memories of 70s and 80s Russian and Japanese pop music and film." Pretty delightful combination. A-

Keys & Screws [Thomas Borgmann/Jan Roder/Willi Kellers]: Some More Jazz (2017 [2020], NoBusiness): Sax-bass-drums trio, leader playing tenor and soprano, also "toy-melodica." Nice, edgy free jazz, backing smartly away from the abyss. A- [cdr]

David Krakauer & Kathleeen Tagg: Breath & Hammer (2020, Table Pounding): Clarinet player (also bass clarinet), klezmer specialist (1995 debut was Klezmer Madness), duets with piano, although pieces are built up in layers to form a "piano orchestra." B+(**) [bc]

Lianne La Havas: Lianne La Havas (2020, Nonesuch): British singer-songwriter, third album, Matthew Hales shares most writing credits, the only cover song from Radiohead. B+(*)

Jessy Lanza: All the Time (2020, Hyperdub): Canadian electropop singer-songwriter, third album. B+(*)

Mako Sica/Hamid Drake: Balancing Tear (2020, Astral Spirits): Chicago group, dates from 2008 with Przemyslaw Krys Drazek (trumpet, guitar), Brent Fuscaldo (voice, electric bass, classical guitar, harmonica, percussion), and Chaetan Newell (keyboards, cello, viola, drums, ukulele, upright bass), plus the guest drummer. Group has rock roots, but vocals are atrophied, and they more properly belong in some kind of post-rock orbit. B+(*) [bc]

Protomartyr: Ultimate Success Today (2020, Domino): Detroit band, Joe Casey the singer, backed with guitar-bass-drums, plus the occasional guest -- two names that jump out at me are Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), avant-jazz guys. Fifth album, always solid. B+(**)

Jason Robinson & Eric Hofbauer: Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late: Duo Music of Ken Aldcroft (2018 [2020], Accretions): Aldcroft was a Toronto guitarist, died at 46 in 2016, left a pretty scattered legacy, ranging from AIMToronto to his Hat & Beard duo. I don't see a direct connection to the two Americans playing these duets -- tenor sax and guitar -- but they have a disjointed, somewhat Monkian aspect. B+(**) [cd]

Christian Rønn/Aram Shelton: Multiring (2018 [2020], Astral Spirits): Danish keyboard player, doesn't really seem to be a jazz guy -- 6 years studying church organ, with sides in electronic music, ambient drone, microtonal composition, and soundtracks -- provides an engaging counterpoint for the latter's alto sax. B+(**) [bc]

Benny Rubin Jr. Quartet: Know Say or See (2019 [2020], Benny Jr. Music): Saxophonist (tenor/alto), from Flint, MI; second album, quartet with piano-bass-drums, hard bop with harder leads. B+(***) [cdr]

Andy Shauf: The Neon Skyline (2020, Anti-): Canadian singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2006. B+(**)

Sparks: A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020, BMG): Brothers Ron and Russell Mael, new wave pop band from Los Angeles, released their debut as Halfnelson in 1971, their best title in 1973 (A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing), then got picked up by Island for three albums. I was briefly infatuated with them, but quickly grew annoyed and held a long-term grudge as they've cranked out new albums every few years. This is their highest US chart since 1974's Propaganda. Still annoying. C+

Paul Weller: On Sunset (2020, Polydor): Singer-songwriter from England, led the Jam (1976-82) and the Style Council (1983-89), went solo with an eponymous album in 1992, 14 more studio albums since then -- all 15 charted in UK (debut peaked at 8, one 5, one 4, rest either 1 or 2), only one cracked the US charts (Sonik Kicks at 166 in 2012). B

Kamaal Williams: Wu Hen (2020, Black Focus): British keyboardist, second studio album under his own name, also has a DJ-Kicks mixtape, and several records as Henry Wu, something this title plays on. Saxophonist Quinn Mason lifts this out of its pop jazz groove, but without him it keeps sliding back. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Doug Hammond/David Durrah/Charles Burnham: Reflections in the Sea of Nurnen (1975 [2020], Tribe): Drummer, sings some, first album, original cover listed eight musicians, Hammond and Durrah (keyboards) first, Burnham (violin) well down the list. B

Nkem Njoku & Ozzobia Brothers: Ozobia Special (1980s [2020], BBE): Igbo highlife, presumably from Nigeria, seems to be only album, leader sings, no one named Ozzobia (or Ozobia) in the credits. Draws on Ghanian highlife, touted as a classic album, not as slick as Lagos juju, but catchy as can be. A- [bc]

Shirley Scott: One for Me (1974 [2020], Arc): Organ player (1934-2002), known as "Queen of the Organ," 45 LPs starting with Great Scott! in 1958, slowed down after leaving Impulse! in 1967 and divorced Stanley Turrentine in 1971, recording this for Strata East. With Harold Vick (tenor sax, in fine form) and Billy Higgins (drums). B+(***) [bc]

Sleaford Mods: All That Glue (2013-20 [2020], Rough Trade): British duo, James Williamson and Andrew Fearn, spoken word over punkish strum and drums, got noticed for their working class rage, their biggest hit last year's Eton Alive. They cash in here with a compilation of odds and sods ("a collection of songs spanning the last seven years of the bands career"). Unsure of dates, but most that I can pin down were 2013-15 singles. Good to hear them angry again. B+(***)

Luiz Carlos Vinhas: O Som Psicodélico De L.C.V. (1968 [2020], Mad About): Brazilian pianist, made his mark in bossa nova from 1963, takes a stab at psychedelica here. B+(*) [bc]

Old music:

Kate NV: Binasu (2017, Orange Milk): First album, shows considerable pop sense. B+(***)

Kate NV: For (2018, RVNG Intl): Half of album title, which like all ten songs is two 3-letter words, the second all caps in English, the first presumably Russian. Symmetry is the concept. The pieces are all instrumental, pretty minimal, and work as such. B+(*)

Annie Ross: Sings a Handful of Songs (1963, Everest): Singer was British, had joined Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks for their vocalese trio 1956-62, was back in London when she recorded this splashy set of standards with Johnny Spence & His Orchestra. B

Annie Ross & Pony Poindexter: Recorded at the Tenth German Jazz Festival in Frankfurt (1966, SABA): Credit (or title) continues: "With the Berlin All Stars Feat. Carmell Jones and Leo Wright." Poindexter plays alto/soprano sax and sings, Jones trumpet, Wright alto sax and flute, and the others (piano-guitar-bass-drums) are less stellar. Opens with Poindexter leading a Louis Jordan song, closes with Ross doing "Twisted." B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet: Believe, Believe (2018 [2020], Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, group name from the title of a 2008 album, although the group is unchanged, and everyone writes: Rodrigo Amado (tenor sax), Aaron Gonzalez (bass), and Stefan Gonzalez (drums). Gets a little rough in spots, but the guitar is remarkable, and I always like Amado. [was: B+(***)] A- [cd]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rez Abbasi: Django-shift (Whirlwind) [08-28]
  • Tom Guarna: Spirit Science (Destiny) [09-18]
  • Bob James: Once Upon a Time: The Lost 1965 New York Studio Sessions (1965, Resonance) [08-29]
  • Eva Kess: Sternschnuppen: Falling Stars (Neuklang) [08-28]
  • Roberto Magris: Suite! (JMood) [08-17]
  • Raphaël Pannier Quartet: Faune (French Paradox) [08-21]
  • Maria Schneider: Data Lords (ArtistShare, 2CD)
  • Horace Tapscott With the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra: Ancestral Echoes: The Covina Sessions, 1976 (Dark Tree)
  • Matt Wilson Quartet: Hug! (Palmetto) [08-28]

Sunday, August 2, 2020


Weekend Roundup

My oldest surviving cousin, Duan Stiner, died on Sunday, due to Covid-19. He was days away from his 93rd birthday. He had been living in a VA center near Tulsa, Oklahoma. The center was locked down in March. He hasn't been able to leave, and our relatives haven't been able to visit, since then. Nonetheless, Covid-19 got into the facility, causing at least 58 cases and 10 deaths (figures I got before Duan died). Duan joined the Army in 1945, spent some time occupying Japan, then got called back for the Korean War in 1950. He never talked much about his Army days (unlike his older brother, Harold, who was an MP and was present for the war crimes trials on Tokyo; Harold died in 2015). Duan was a butcher, first in a grocery store, then he owned his own meat business. When I was young, my parents used to buy a side of beef at a time from him. I think he was the first person I personally knew to die of the disease, although I've written about dozens of more famous people in these pages.

I also found out that Don Bass (77) died last week, but don't know the cause (so he may have been the first). I ran into him often, especially at Peace Center events. He was a talented artist, and always a welcome sight.

More newsworthy individual deaths below. For numbers of the less famous, see At least 151,000 people have died from coronavirus in the US. Worldometer has the US death count at 158,365. (Those links may be volatile.)

Minor formatting change here, as I've eliminated the outer layer of bullets.


Some scattered links this week:

Dean Baker:

  • An economic survival package, not a stimulus package. I could have buried this among the other "stimulus" articles (see Li Zhou), but they're tied to actual negotiations, whereas this is more along the lines of what should be done. Krugman described the downturn as more of an induced coma than a typical recession, a distinction that is lost on people who have one-track minds (like everyone in business). Until the virus is contained and normalized (cured would be nice, but I'm imagining a somewhat more delicate and treacherous equilibrium), talk of restoring growth really misses the point, which is survival -- difficult enough in any case.

  • More thoughts on the post-pandemic economy: GDP is headed down, but are we worse off for that?

    If we do let obsessions with government deficits and debt curtail spending, then we can expect to see a long and harsh recession. . . . And, we also have to recognize that when we have a serious problem of unemployment, the failure to run large deficits is incredibly damaging to the country. Millions of workers will needlessly suffer, as will their families. And the failure is increased when it means not spending in areas that will have long-term benefits for the country, like child care and slowing global warming. It is tragic that deficit hawks are able to do so much harm to our children under the guise of saving our children.

Peter Baker: More than just a tweet: Trump's campaign to undercut democracy.

Jake Bittle: The right's increasingly unhinged fight against Black Lives Matter: "As the movement's popularity surges, the conservative media insists that it is hell-bent on destroying the American way of life."

Charles M Blow: Trump's nakedly political pandemic pivot.

Alleen Brown: Trump's pick to manage public lands has four-decade history of "overt racism" toward native people: Meet William Perry Pendley.

Alexander Burns: Trump attacks an election he is at risk of losing: "Mr Trump has become a heckler in his own government, failing to marshal leaders in Washington to form a robust response to the health and economic crises. Instead, he is raising doubts about holding the election on time."

Katelyn Burns: The NYPD unit that snatched a protester off the street has been accosting people for years.

Alexia Fernández Campbell: A small federal agency focused on preventing industrial disasters is on life support. Trump wants it gone: "The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is without enough voting members, and its investigations are stuck in limbo."

Matthew Cappucci/Mustafa Salim: Baghdad soars to 125 blistering degrees, its highest temperature on record. Also record-high temperatures elsewhere in the Middle East.

Steve Coll: Is the Postal Service being manipulated to help Trump get reëlected?

Summer Concepcion: Cotton's office denies he believes slavery was a 'necessary evil' after backlash over remark: Maybe if he wasn't such a reactionary racist, he wouldn't be so often misunderstood? Still, it's hard to be any kind of conservative in America without having lots of racist skeletons in your closet. Maybe that's why so many conservatives move them to the front porch, and celebrate them.

James Downie: Republicans' pandemic blunders keep piling higher.

Katherine Eban: How Jared Kushner's secret testing plan "went poof into thin air": "This spring, a team working under the president's son-in-law produced a plan for aggressive, coordinated national COVID-19 response that could have brought the pandemic under control. So why did the White House spike it in favor of a shambolic 50-state-response?" Or, as David Atkins commented on this piece: Trump and Kushner should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Alex Emmons: Democrats unveil draft foreign policy platform with promises to end "forever wars" and "regime change": however, blanket support for Israel makes it harder to achieve those goals.

Richard Fausset/Rick Rojas: John Lewis, a man of 'unbreakable perseverance,' is laid to rest: I'm afraid I found all the pomp surrounding the death and funeral of John Lewis a bit disconcerting. Such events only come about when someone has a political legacy they want to build up -- usually around a president, most recently/similarly someone like John McCain. I don't actually have much of an opinion about Lewis, but he does provide a reminded that the fight for civil rights isn't over, and the struggle for equality still has a long ways to go. Still, it was a big deal, all the more conspicuous because of the times (e.g., see the picture of Obama delivering a eulogy to a more-than-half-empty church). More related to the funeral:

John Feffer: The no-trust world. The first point George Brockway made in his brilliant The End of Economic Man (1991) was that nothing works in modern society without trust. Indeed, it's impossible to get anything done when you constantly have to scan 360 degrees for potential threats. (E.g., imagine trying to do simple reconstruction projects in war-torn Iraq.) Of course, it's even harder to defend against an invisible virus, especially where you can't trust people around you to follow recommended practices. Karen Greenberg's article below pairs well with this one: a big part of the reason we an trust no one is that powerful people, like but not exclusively Trump, are rarely held accountable for their acts, let alone their accidents.

Conor Friedersdorf: Forging a right-left coalition may be the only way to end the War on Drugs. Link to Atlantic article therein, but I'm up against my article limit. Quote sets up a 1991 debate between black liberal Charlie Rangel and white reactionary William F Buckley Jr, quoting Rangel in favor of escalating the war on drugs:

In fact, Rangel clarified, if somebody wants to sell drugs to a child, they should fear "that they will be arrested and go to jail for the rest of their natural life. That's what I'm talking about when I say fear." Then he suggested that America should tap the generals who won the Gulf War to intensify the War on Drugs. "What we're missing: to find a take-charge general like Norman Schwarzkopf, like Colin Powell, to coordinate some type of strategy so that America, who has never run away from a battle, will not be running away from this battle," he said. "Let's win this war against drugs the same way we won it in the Middle East."

That Gulf War "victory" doesn't look so great now, though the War on Drugs may have fared even worse. Neither failed for lack of tough guys like Schwarzkopf. Both were severely tarnished by the arrogance and racism that was baked into their execution, and were utterly ruined by the contempt and carelessness the enforcers had for the people they impacted. Here's another quote:

Had the drug war ended back in the early 1990s, younger Millennials would have been spared a policy that empowered gangs, fueled bloody wars for drug territory in American cities, ravaged Latin America, enriched narco cartels, propelled the AIDS epidemic, triggered police militarization, and contributed more than any other policy to racial disparities in national and local incarceration.

Also note that while Buckley and other libertarians have criticized the War on Drugs, they've never spent any political capital doing so. The one issue conservatives are serious about is privileging the rich, and that makes them comfortable with repression as a tool to protect the established order. So while it's possible that the left might pick up a few right-wing votes to decriminalize drugs, I don't expect them to be much help.

Masha Gessen: Why America feels like a post-Soviet state.

Shirin Ghaffary: The TikTok-Trump drama, explained.

Karen Greenberg: Can the pandemic bring accountability back to this country?

Glenn Greenwald: The US-supported coup in Bolivia continues to produce repression and tyranny, while revealing how US media propaganda works.

Daniel A Hanley: Another Trump legacy: Spreading price discrimination on the Internet: "Consumers are already feeling the pain of the president reversing net neutrality." Two prominent offenders mentioned here are Cox, which we use, and AT&T, which has made a big push to break into Cox's cable monopoly here.

Shane Harris: DHS compiled 'intelligence reports' on journalists who published leaked documents.

Doug Henwood: We have no choice but to be radical.

Sean Illing: "It's ideologue meets grifter": How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible. Interview with David Rohde, who wrote a long New Yorker profile of Barr.

Roge Karma: We train police to be warriors -- and then send them out to be social workers. A breakdown of training time (840 total hours) here shows that 20% goes for "firearm skills, self-defense, and use of force." A breakdown of actual time spent by police shows that only a tiny fraction of time is spent dealing with violent time, and that's mostly taken up by things like interviewing witnesses. Given that a large percentage of police are former military, this training bias is probably even more warped -- and given how many former military suffer from PTSD, the bias could be even more dangerous.

Annie Karni/Katie Rogers: Like father, like son: President Trump lets others mourn: "Whether he is dealing with the loss of a family member or the deaths of nearly 150,000 Americans in a surging pandemic, President Trump almost never displays empathy in public. He learned it from his father."

Ankush Khardori: There's never been a better time to be a white-collar criminal: "Thanks to the Trump administration's signature mix of incompetence and corruption, America is knee-deep in fraud and corporate malfeasance."

Bonnie Kristian: Trump's reasoning is bad, but withdrawing troops from Germany is a good idea.

Paul Krugman:

  • The nightmare on Pennsylvania avenue: "Trump is the kind of boss who can't do the job -- and won't go away.

  • The cult of selfishness is killing America: "The right has made irresponsible behavior a key principle."

  • Why can't Trump's America be like Italy? "On the coronavirus, the 'sick man of Europe' puts us to shame." The "sick man of Europe" quip was commonly applied to the Ottoman Empire in its last century, as European powers were chipping away at its borders and demanding "capitulations" to give them extraterritorial rights within the Empire. I've never heard it used to refer to anyone else. Italy is often derided for its unstable governments and unequal economy, but Greece and Portugal are more often viewed as the bottom of the barrel. If there is a "sick man of Europe" these days, it must be Donald Trump, who's personally much more rooted in Europe than in America.

  • What you don't know can't hurt Trump: "Slow the testing down," he said, and it's happening."

  • Republicans keep flunking microbe economics: "Getting other people sick isn't an 'individual choice.'" Henry Farrell has a comment at Crooked Timber, more focused on economists than Republicans. My own theory is that most economists do everything possible to view everything through their own prism, which is single-mindedly focused on increasing growth. The problem with the pandemic is that it's causing a lot of people to consider other factors, like health and safety, and that messes with the economists' heads. It also messes with Republicans, who basically agree with the economists but tweak their measurements to only really consider the effects of policy on making the rich richer.

Michelle Ye Hee Lee/Jacob Bogage: Postal Service backlog sparks worries that ballot deliveries could be delayed in November.

Jill Lepore: How the Simulmatics Corporation invented the future: Mostly on the data-driven 1960 presidential election.

Nancy LeTourneau:

  • How white supremacists are using protests to fuel racial tensions. It's widely felt, especially among Trump's campaign advisers, that playing up the protests, and especially provoking violence in/around them, will produce a backlash that will benefit Trump and his ilk.

  • Trump's eight potentially impeachable offenses in six months: If we've learned anything about impeachment under Trump, it's that it isn't a very useful process. The two-thirds supermajority rule makes it impossible to convict in the Senate, and the simple majority rule in the House makes it too each to impeach. Maybe that could work if the complaint wasn't political, but everything's political these days, so nothing works. As this list here indicates, it's easy to come up with a list of essentially political charges, and it's also fruitless. What might have worked better was if Congress had reserved to itself the right to overrule executive actions by simple majority, but somehow we've gotten into the ridiculous where Trump can simply veto Congressional resolutions (like ones limiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, or military interventions in Syria). That puts us back at needing a two-thirds supermajority, which is well nigh impossible. On the other hand, the thing I find most disturbing about this list isn't its pointlessness. It's that a lot of these things aren't very good charges. Indeed, number four ("abuse of power in foreign affairs") insists on policies that Trump is right not to have followed ("willingness to ignore China's treatment of the Uighurs in exchange for help with farmers during trade negotiations" and "totally ignored Russia placing bounties on the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan").

Martin Longman: The key to a real Democratic landslide: Better rural performance: I'm sympathetic to this position, partly because with all the factors stacked against them Democrats have to win landslides to be effective -- Obama's margins clearly weren't sufficient, and the popular pluralities of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton didn't even score as wins -- but also because I believe that Republicans are doing a terrible job of serving rural and small-town voters, and Democrats could do a lot better, so why not try harder. Kansas has long thought of itself as a rural state, but the percentage has been declining steadily, at least since my father moved to Wichita in the 1940s. According to the first measure I found, the rural percentage in 2018 was 31.5%, but I doubt the farm percentage is even 10%. (There are 58,500 farms in Kansas. If 4 people lived on each, that would come to 8%. The nationwide farm population is 2%.)

Carlos Lozada: Trump tried to shut him down, but Robert Mueller was his own worst enemy. Review of Jeffrey Toobin's new book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump.

Eric Lutz:

Nick Martin: It was insane to restart sports in America.

William Marx: Far-right groups now pose the greatest terrorist threat in the US and Europe. Links to: Jihadist plots used to be US and Europe's biggest terrorist threat. Now it's the far right. And that's just freelance terror, not the kind practiced by "law enforcement" organizations.

Ian Milhiser:

Bennett Minton: The lies our textbooks told my generation of Virginians about slavery.

Max Moran: The 277 policies for which Biden need not ask permission: "As president, Joe Biden could take action on hundreds of policies without having to go through Congress. The Biden-Sanders unity task force provides a map."

Sara Morrison/Rebecca Heilweil: How Trump and his son helped make a Covid-19 conspiracy theorist go viral in a matter of hours.

Nicole Narea:

Ella Nilsen:

  • The slow-motion 2020 election disaster states are scrambling to prevent, explained.

  • Joe Biden will announce his running mate soon. Here's who's on the list. Not something I spend much time thinking about, although I still think Elizabeth Warren is a cut above the rest on two major counts: she's a fearless campaigner, and while that isn't especially reassuring in a presidential candidate, it's a quality that stacks up especially well against Trump and Pence; and she simply knows a lot more about policy than anyone else. She's also likely to be a shrewd judge of personnel, if she gets the chance. The last two Republican gave their VPs (Cheney and Pence) decisive impact on staffing, but Clinton and Obama worked through their own personal staffs (who often gave them limited bad choices). Beyond Warren, Gretchen Whitmer would be a sensible pick, helping in a key state where she's currently very popular. I don't see any advantage in picking a black woman: Biden has very solid black support, but he also has substantial support from whites who might take exception to a black VP, so why run that risk. Only one I have any specific objection to is Susan Rice, who was a consistent hawk under Obama and a leading player in all of his foreign policy mistakes. The idea that her selection would allow Biden to focus on domestic policy while she runs foreign is one of the worst advanced here. Still, there isn't much reason to think that anyone else on the list would be much better than Rice on foreign policy issues -- they've just had less opportunity to discredit themselves.

Osita Nwanevu: The 2020 election doesn't really matter to Republicans.

Helaine Olen: The CFPB once defended consumers. Thanks to Trump, it now helps companies prey on them instead.

Vijay Prashad/Alejandro Bejarano: 'We will coup whoever we want': Elon Musk and the overthrow of democracy in Bolivia.

Laurence Ralph: Countries with levels of police brutality comparable to that in the US are called 'police states': That's the title in the link from Attention to the Unseen; better than "To protect and serve: Global lessons in police reform." There's a chart here of "Number of people killed by the police" per ten million residents, and the US is only in second place, barely above Iraq and just below Democratic Republic of the Congo, but no other country is close (only Luxembourg is more than 5% of the US rate, and Luxembourg is so small that its 16.9 rate works out to be 1 unfortunate person).

Catherine Rampell: Trump knows he's going to lose. He's already salting the earth behind him. Part of her evidence is Fed nominee Judy Shelton. Rampell wrote more about her here: Yes, Trump's latest Fed pick is that bad. Here's why.

Diane Ravitch: How Trump politicized schools reopening, regardless of safety.

Katie Rogers/Maggie Haberman: Kayleigh McEnany heckles the press. Is that all?

Theodore Schleifer: Tech billionaire Peter Thiel is searching for new political allies. He's found one in Kansas: Thiel's spent almost $1 million on Kris Kobach's Senate primary race. The only other candidate Thiel has supported so far this year is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). More on Kansas and/or elections:

Dylan Scott: Herman Cain, 2012 presidential contender, dies after contracting Covid-19: He was 74, a former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, one of the most prominent black Republicans, a major Trump surrogate. He attended Trump's Tulsa rally, signed his liability waiver, and was diagnosed a week later. More on Cain:

Robert J Shapiro: Trump is wrong again: US manufacturing is not recovering.

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Demon seed.

Matt Taibbi: Kansas should go f--- itself: Review of Thomas Frank's new book, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism. I have the book, and expect to read it soon -- maybe then I'll be able to figure out the confusion from Taibbi's review. I've read most of Frank's books, from What's the Matter With Kansas? (which has left a bad taste, mostly because it seems mostly to have been read and taken to heart by culture war conservatives, who have taken it as a dare to hold Republicans responsible for their promises) through Listen, Liberal (which perhaps could be blamed for exposing the Clintons as liars and frauds, although there's little evidence that the people who took that insight and voted for Trump got it from reading a book). Taibbi also cites a recent review by Jeff Madrick: Why the working class votes against its economic interests, which could be of Frank's work, but actually refers to Robert B Reich: The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, and Zephyr Teachout: Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom From Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money.

Adam Taylor: Trump ordered federal forces to quell Portland protests. But the chaos ended as soon as they left.

Alexander S Vindman: Coming forward ended my career. I still believe doing what's right matters.

Alex Ward: 5 real steps the US could take to help Uighurs in China: The first one that's missing is: why? It's certainly not because the US has any sympathy with or concern for Muslims in the far west of China, even as part of a more general commitment to human rights. To demonstrate the latter, one would have to make a show of supporting the Palestinians against Israeli occupation. One suspects the US of bad faith, because the US has rarely shown anything but bad faith on human rights. Otherwise, the US would support international institutions that tackle human rights issues, like the ICC. The US can't even be bothered to support the WHO. And the "real steps" listed here are straight from the Cold War toolkit being retargeted at China, for reasons only known to Trump and Pompeo. For more on them, see the comment under Robin Wright, below.

Robin Wright: Why Trump will never win his new cold war with China. Couple things here. First, the notion that the US "won" the Cold War with Russia is flat-out wrong, and misguided too. I've compared it to a wrestling match where one fighter has a heart attack, then the other pounces on top to claim the win. The people under the Soviet Union's thumb simply gave up their system of government, and really didn't get much from the West for their trouble. (Russia was so ravaged under Yeltsin that average life expectancy dropped 10 years in less time than that. Putin's popularity is to no small extent based on arresting that decline.) One striking aspect is that countries the US had totally ignored, like Albania and Mongolia, fell without so much as a funny glance from the US. The ones that didn't fall were the ones the US fought wars with (Korea, Vietnam), blockaded (Cuba), and China (both, but somewhat different), so there's no evidence that the Cold War's most aggressive tools achieved anything, other than to make the US look like a public menace. China might also have fallen, but the ruling party held on and imposed top-down reforms that radically grew the Chinese economy -- much faster and more equitably than any capitalist regime had achieved. Second thing is that while the Soviet Union saw itself as leading a worldwide workers revolution, China is just concerned with China. Their investments abroad promote their businesses, mostly at home. While they like the idea of garnering good will, they don't pose any threat to the regimes they do business with. As such, there's no demand for a global capitalist alliance to limit their power, let alone to tell them how to run their own damn country. On the other hand, the US is always telling its "allies" and clients how to run their countries and how to mistreat their people -- start by looking up Washington Consensus for examples. Article explains some of the ways China has outmaneuvered typical Cold War tactics like sanctions. It doesn't even dignify the neocons' unipolar military fantasies with a rebuttal, but well before his death in 2010, Chalmers Johnson wrote about how China could easily disable America's advanced weapons systems by "launching a dumptruck full of gravel into space" (destroying every satellite). The fact is that America's military can't win in Aghanistan, let alone take on a vastly more sophisticated foe like China. The only question here is how stupid Trump and Pompeo really are. More on China:

Matthew Yglesias:

  • Thursday's historically bad economic growth numbers, explained. Subhed tries to reassure us -- "It's not as bad as it looks" -- but that vastly understates how bad the chart looks. Real GDP dropped about 5% in Q1, most of which occurred before the lockdown. The Q2 GDP drop, which picked up part of the original lockdown, the slow reopening, but not much of the further backpedaling as cases rose to a second peak, is a staggering 33%. That's "not just the worst on record, but the worst on record by a large margin." This suggests to me that, given that the drop in employment is only half that much, we're seeing a huge drop in productivity in addition to lost jobs. Offhand, that makes intuitive sense, given the number of people working from home, the overhead of masks and sanitation, and the pretty severe dip in demand. But Yglesias focuses more on how the numbers are cooked up. That leads him to the hypothesis that in Q3 "we're probably going to see a historically amazing growth number when expressed as an annualized rate," and that "Trump will doubly brag that it's the best economy ever, but of course it won't be, any more than Q2 was the worst economy." Still, one shouldn't soft-peddle the notion that this is the worst economy ever. The only reason it hasn't been as painful as the Great Depression is that Congress (mostly thanks to Democrats) moved quickly to shore up incomes (and the Fed moved even faster to bail out banks and stockholders). Take that away (as many Republicans want to do) and it won't be long before we feel just how bad this economy is. More on this economy:

  • The real stakes in the David Shor saga.

Li Zhou: Senate Republicans have a new stimulus bill. Here's what's in it. Author also wrote, with Ella Nilsen: Senate Republicans' dramatically smaller unemployment insurance proposal, explained, and Millions of people will see a sharp drop in their unemployment benefits because Congress failed to act..

Monday, July 27, 2020


Music Week

July archive (done).

Music: Current count 33697 [33650] rated (+47), 220 [224] unrated (-4).

I usually figure 30 records per week is a solid effort. This month I've averaged 40, which is largely attributable to streaming a lot of old jazz records: specifically, Freddy Cole (died this month), Hampton Hawes (got a question on him, Jackie McLean (ran across a complete album I hadn't heard on YouTube, and I always love listening to him), and Sam Rivers (took a look after his latest archival album just missed, and found a lot more than I expected). Of course, never leaving the house helped with the count. I think I made two grocery runs in July, and took my wife to the doctor once. Occasionally, especially after a grocery run, I try to cook something, but not often. Tried making gluten-free raisin bread today. Looks perfect, but I'm pretty sure it would taste better with wheat.

This ends a 4-week month. The link above gets you to the roll up, with 169 records. I revisited the Jessie Ware album and bumped its grade up. It's always sounded like an A- two-thirds of the way through, but took me a while to overcome my reservations over the end. Appears as a re-grade here, but just an edit in the monthly file.

Did play some records from the promo queue this week, including the last of the batch from NoBusiness. Looks like I still have 17 left in the queue, including 2 September releases and 1 October. (Also one more NoBusiness release. Really need to tidy up the mess on my desk.) Also made a late push to check off highly-rated albums in my metacritic file. Top ones I haven't heard yet are: Lianne Le Havas (22); 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form (34); Protomartyr: Ultimate Success Today (48); Paul Weller: On Sunset (51); and The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers (58); and lots more from 70 down (about half from 70-150, more after that).

I spent a lot of time with Taylor Swift's Folklore (four spins, plus some videos, plus I read a half-dozen pieces, mostly in places like Vox which don't normally review records. I liked the record fine, but wasn't blown away by anything on it. Same for the Texas girl group who decided Chicks wasn't the more offensive half of their name. For what it's worth, I always found both parts at least partly ironic, and they've lost some of that with the name change. (On the other hand, Lady Antebellum was never not offensive.) I spent a lot less time with Gaslighter, probably because I didn't sense that it had much potential to get better (as Ware did, and Swift might do).

Vocalese singer Annie Ross died last week, at 89. I'm not a big fan of her records, either with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks or not, but I've only sampled them lightly. I did think she was terrific in Robert Altman's The Player, basically playing herself. Another semi-famous musician who died last week was Peter Green (73), widely touted as the founder of Fleetwood Mac, despite the group being named for two other members (their first album was sometimes known as Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac). I have two Green albums in my database: In the Skies (1979), and a compilation, Man of the World: The Anthology 1968-1988, both B+. For an appreciation, see Milo Miles: The Terrifying and Lyrical Greatness of Peter Green. Greil Marcus also has some things to say about Green and Fleetwood Mac.

I answered a couple of questions last week. Please ask more.


New records reviewed this week:

Blaer: Yellow (2019 [2020], Ronin Rhythm): Swiss quintet, pianist Maja Nydegger composed everything, with two saxophonists (Nils Fischer also on bass clarinet), bass, and drums, with Nik Bärtsch as co-producer. Third album. After a couple of atmospheric cuts, starts to tighten down the rhythm, and build on that. B+(**)

Adam Caine Quartet: Transmissions (2018 [2020], NoBusiness): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, several albums since 2005, including a duo with Robert Dick in 2019. Quartet adds a second guitar (Bob Lanzetti), acoustic bass (Adam Lane), and drums (Billy Mintz), with alto sax (Nick Lyons) on one track. Starts easy, turns into something intense, fades away. A- [cd]

François Carrier/Masayo Koketsu/Daisuke Fuwa/Takashi Itani: Japan Suite (2019 [2020], NoBusiness): Alto saxophonist, from Montreal, picks up a local band in Japan: alto sax, bass, drums. Has its impressive moments, but runs long (78:14). B+(***) [cd]

The Chicks: Gaslighter (2020, Columbia): Formerly the Dixie Chicks, changed their name in June just before their first album since 2006, when they were defying the backlash for disrespecting fellow Texan GW Bush. Leader Natalie Maines, multi-instrumentalist sisters Martie and Emily Erwin (now Maguire and Strayer). Co-produced by Jack Antonoff, who nudges them closer to pop than country. B+(***)

Gerald Clayton: Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard (2020, Blue Note): Pianist, son of bassist John Clayton, nephew of saxophonist Jeff Clayton, has led several albums since 2009. This is a quintet with two saxes (Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III), bass (Joe Sanders), and drums (Marcus Gilmore). B+(**)

Dena DeRose: Ode to the Road (2020, High Note): Jazz singer, plays piano, dozen albums since 1998. Ten tracks, six with scene-stealing guest stars -- two each for Sheila Jordan (vocals), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), and Houston Person (tenor sax) -- the others with just piano trio (Martin Wind and Matt Wilson). B+(***)

Robert Dick & Adam Caine: The Damn Think (2017 [2019], Chant): Flute and guitar duo. Dick impressed me back in the 1990s, in large part due to his fondness for bass flute, and Caine has a good new quartet album out. Intimate exchange, mixed results. B+(*) [bc]

Gregory Dudzienski Quartet: Beautiful Moments (2019 [2020], OA2): Tenor saxophonist, based in Chicago, has a previous album. Mainstream, nice tone, some swing, backed by piano (Chris White), bass, and drums. All originals. B+(*) [cd]

Extra Soul Perception: New Tangents in Kampala, London & Nairobi Vol. 1 (2019 [2020], Extra Soul Perception, EP): Ad hoc collective, five tracks (16:17), recorded in Nairobi, attributed to various artists. B+(*)

Asher Gamedze: Dialectic Soul (2020, On the Corner): South African drummer, opens with strong sax (Buddy Wells) and trumpet (Robin Fassie-Kock), for the 18:55 "State of Emergence Suite." Slows down then, with Nono Nkoane singing. And don't forget the township jive thing. B+(**)

Ricardo Grilli: 1962 (2020, Tone Rogue): Guitarist, based in New York, third album, previous one was 1954, not clear to me what the dates signify (Grilli was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1985). Postbop quintet with Mark Turner (tenor sax), Kevin Hays (piano), Joe Martin (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). B+(**)

Bartosz Hadala Group: Three Short Stories (2020, Zecernia): Pianist, born in Poland, moved to New York in 2003, on to Toronto in 2010. Fourth album, group with two saxes, electric guitar and bass, accordion, and drums -- listed as "feat." on the cover are Michael Manring (bass guitar) and João Frade (accordion). B+(**) [cd]

Jon Hassell: Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two) (2020, Ndeya): "Fourth world" music pioneer, plays trumpet, keyboards, electronics, following up his previous Pentimento volume, Listening to Pictures. B+(***)

Jarv Is: Beyond the Pale (2020, Rough Trade): Jarvis Cocker, former Pulp front man (1983-2001), fourth solo album, cover reads "JARV IS . . ." but title is somewhere else. Seven songs, co-written with Serafina Steer and (usually) others, all neatly hooked. A-

KA: Descendants of Cain (2020, Iron Works): Rapper Kaseem Ryan, a firefighter from Brooklyn, fifth album at 47. B+(***)

Quin Kirchner: The Shadows and the Light (2019 [2020], Astral Spirits): Chicago drummer, second album. Lineups vary: starts solo, then quartet (Greg Ward on alto sax), septet, trio (Nate Lepine on tenor sax and flute), five tracks expand to septet. Mixed bag, the fancy parts impressive but a bit too slippery. B+(***) [bc]

Jeremy Levy Jazz Orchestra: The Planets: Reimagined (2019 [2020], OA2): Trobonist, has played in the Brian Setzer and Tim Davies big bands, co-led Budman/Levy Orchestra. Arranger and conductor here, running a big band through Gustav Holst's "Planets," a famous piece I never bothered with and have no more desire for. B- [cd]

Lupe Fiasco/Kaelin Ellis: House (2020, 1st & 15, EP): Rapper Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, 7 albums 2006-18, returns with a 5 track, 22:28 EP, with Ellis co-writer and co-producer. Easy gait, with a grin. B+(*)

Lori McKenna: The Balladeer (2020, CN): Singer-songwriter from Massachusetts, doesn't have the twang for country but does have the songs. Not sure this is an exceptional batch, but even her average fare has few rivals. A-

Pink Siifu & Yungmorpheus: Bag Talk (2019, Field-Left): LA-based rapper Livingston Matthews, has a previous album, reportedly more underground. So is this, but more focused on the police ("proceeds go directly to the Anti Police-Terror Project in Oakland). B+(**)

Pink Siifu: Negro (2020, Field-Left): Grim, bleeding into noise, effects, aural graffiti -- Discogs styles include "power violence," which doesn't seem to mean anything in particular, but promises a rough ride. B

Corey Smythe: Accelerate Every Voice (2018 [2020], Pyroclastic): Pianist, has a growing reputation (including a Grammy), and a fondness for arch voices that is amplified more than accelerated here. He uses five voices here, the more the worse. Plays some decent piano when they finally shut up. B- [cd]

Soft Machine: Live at the Baked Potato (2019 [2020], Moonjune): Guitarist John Etheridge remains from the original group, formed in 1966, which put Canterbury and prog onto the rock map. Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen left very quickly, and Robert Wyatt followed in 1971. While Etheridge can claim continuity, during the 1970s Hugh Hopper, Karl Jenkins, and Elton Dean seemed more like leaders -- the latter's avant sax shifting the group into a jazz orbit (cf. the live Grides, from 1970-71, released after Dean died in 2006). From 1978, the band was succeeded by various soft-named iterations: Soft Heap, Soft Head, Soft Ware, Soft Mountain, Soft Works, Soft Bounds, finally Soft Machine Legacy. Etheridge reclaimed the name in 2015, brought back Roy Babbington (bass) and John Marshall (drums) from the 1970s, and added Theo Travis (sax, flute, keyboards), for a slightly better than average fusion band. B+(*) [cd]

Leni Stern: 4 (2020, LSR): German guitarist, fusion mostly, born as Magdalena Thora, married Mike Stern, 20+ albums since 1986. Sings some, also plays n'goni here, backed by Leo Genovese (keybs), Mamadou Ba (bass), and Alloune Faye (percussion). The latter give this an African vibe, which Stern can play with or against. Vocals not a plus. B-

Tim Stine Trio: Fresh Demons (2018 [2020], Astral Spirits): Chicago guitarist, several albums since 2015, this one with Anton Hatwich (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums). B+(**)

Taylor Swift: Folklore (2020, Republic): Eighth studio album, recorded simply with Aaron Dessner (The National) and/or Jack Antonoff co-writing and/or producing. Still, far from DIY: full credits include occasional strings and horns, and a Justin Vernon vocal, but you mostly just hear keyboards and drums -- little flash to an album with sixteen long, pleasant, intricate songs. Judging from download counts and reviews, she's caught the spirit of the times. B+(***)

Marcin Wasilewski Trio/Joe Lovano: Arctic Riff (2019 [2020], ECM): Polish piano trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Micha Miskiewicz, got a measure of fame supporting Tomasz Stanko but has an impressive run of albums on their own. Joined by the tenor saxophonist, who wrote a song, shares credits on five, with two Carla Bley covers. Very chill. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Just Coolin' (1959 [2020], Blue Note): Previously unreleased, classic lineup with Lee Morgan (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano), and Jymie Merritt (bass). Terrific group, one one of their best days, always a delight to hear Morgan. B+(***)

Abraham Burton: Live at Visiones, NYC 1993 (1993 [2020], self-released, EP): Alto saxophonist, shortly before he recorded two of the best albums of the 1990s -- still his only ones as a leader, although he contiues with side credits. One 23:52 track, released by pianist Marc Cary, with Billy Johnson on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. Outstanding lead, pretty good piano solo, wonder why there isn't more. B+(***) [bc]

Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers: Get in Union (1959-66 [2020], Global Jukebox): Folk/gospel singer (1902-84), recorded by Alan Lomax. Expands on a 2014 compilation on Tompkins Square, which itself had 26 unreleased tracks. B+(**)

Owl Xounds Exploding Galaxy: The Coalescence (2007 [2020], ESP-Disk): Brooklyn-based group, ran 2004-08, led by Adam Kinney (drums) and Gene Janas (electric upright bass), here also Shayna Dulberger (bass) ad Mario Rechtern (sax). Outtakes -- three cuts, 29:16, but plenty intense -- from session producing Splintered Visions, itself not releaed until 2011. B+(***) [cdr]

Old music:

Sam Rivers: A New Conception (1966 [1967], Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano and flute), third album, quartet with Hal Galper (piano), bass and drums. Standards, sounds new even if not very avant. Plays a lot of remarkable flute. B+(***)

Sam Rivers: Streams: Recorded in Performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1973, Impulse!): Trio, with Cecil McBee (bass) ad Norman Connors (drums). One long piece (arbitrarily split on the LP), divided into sections for tenor sax (18:42), flute (13:13), piano (7:31), and soprano sax (9:18). B+(**)

Sam Rivers: Trio Live (1973 [1998], Impulse!): Originally released 1978 as The Live Trio Sessions, the first set ("Hues of Melanin") reordered, moving the piano part up front, then tenor sax, then the long soprano sax, flute, and vocal sections. With Cecil McBee and Barry Altschul. Ends with "Suite for Molde," from the Norwegian jazz festival, with Arild Andersen taking over at bass. It, too, is split between a flute section and the final tenor sax section. Listening to the former makes you wonder if he wasn't the greatest jazz flautist ever. Listening to the latter makes you wonder why he ever played anything else. A-

Sam Rivers: Hues (1971-73 [1975], Impulse!): Scraps from four live performanes, including two tracks from Molde. Cover pictures him with a flute, but only two lute tracks here, plus two piano, two soprano sax, four tenor sax -- in other words, they pieced together a typical trio concert, using three bass-drums pairs. B+(**)

Sam Rivers: Crystals (1974, Impulse!): Big band album, not conventional but 6 brass (including Joe Daley on tuba and euphonium), five reeds (with everyone doubling on flute), bass, drums, extra percussion, but no piano or guitar. Doesn't seem like it's going to work at first, but then it does. B+(**)

Sam Rivers: The Quest (1976, RED): Trio with Dave Holland (bass) and Barry Altschul (drums). Rivers cycles through his instruments, impressive on each, but I can't help but think he'd get more from his rhythm sectio if he played more tenor sax. B+(**)

Sam Rivers: Paragon (1977, Fluid): Trio with Dave Holland (bass/cello) and Barry Altschul (drums). Rotates through his four instruments on the first four tracks, then recapitulates them all on the 12:15 title cut. B+(***)

Sam Rivers: Waves (1978 [1979], Tomato): Quartet with Joe Daley (tuba), Dave Holland (bass/cello), and Thurman Barker (drums). Starts on piano. Rivers cycles around his instruments, impressive on each. B+(***)

Sam Rivers: Contrasts (1979 [1980], ECM): Plays flute, soprano and tenor sax, backed by trombone (George Lewis), bass (Dave Holland), and drums (Thurman Barker). Somewhat buttoned down, so it takes a while to sink in, and fully appreciate the trombone. A-

Sam Rivers Quartet: Crosscurrent: Live at Jazz Unité (1981 [1982], Blue Marge): Recorded live in Paris, with Jerry Byrd (guitar), Rael Wesley Grant (electric bass), and Steve Ellington (drums). Rivers makes his usual round of instruments, with the soprano sax meshing especially well with the guitars. A-

Sam Rivers/Noël Akchote/Tony Hymas/Paul Rogers/Jacques Thollot: Configuration (1996, Nato): Guitar, piano, bass, drums, with Rivers alternating between tenor sax, soprano sax, and flute. B+(**)

Sam Rivers: Concept (1995-96 [1997], RivBea): Nine tracks recorded over five sessions, most with Doug Matthews (bass or bass clarinet) and Anthony Cole (drums, but also plays tenor sax). B+(**)

Sam Rivers & Alexander von Schlippenbach: Tangens (1997 [1998], FMP): Duets, tenor/soprano sax/flute and piano. B+(***)

Sam Rivers/Doug Matthews/Anthony Cole/Jonathan Powell/David Manson: Fluid Motion (2002, Isospin Labs): Soprano/tenor sax, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone: only Rivers well known, but feels like a band album, more mainstream with everyone pitching in. B+(***)

Sam Rivers: Celebration (2003 [2004], Posi-Tone): Live shot from Jazz Bakery, trio with Doug Matthews and Anthony Cole, close in spirit to his 1970s albums, with the leader playing piano and flute as well as tenor and soprano sax -- and mixing things up, drummer Cole also plays tenor sax and piano, while bassist Matthews goes electric, also playing bass violin and bass clarinet. B+(**)

Sam Rivers/Adam Rudolph/Harris Eisenstadt: Vista (2003 [2004], Meta): Starts off on flute, also plays tenor and soprano sax, with two percussionists, Rudolph using hand drums. B+(***)

Sam Rivers/Ben Street/Kresten Osgood + Bryan Carrott: Purple Violets (2004 [2005], Stunt): Trio plus vibes. B+(**)


Grade (or other) changes:

Jessie Ware: What's Your Pleasure? (2020, Interscope): British dance-pop diva, fourth album, starts retro-disco, ends up more new wave, the cool taking a while to carry the day. [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Duotrio: In the Bright and Deep (Blujazz)
  • Kenny Kotwitz & the LA Jazz Quintet: When Lights Are Low (PMRecords) [08-01]
  • Paulette McWilliams: A Woman's Story (Blujazz)
  • Jose Rizo's Mongorama: Mariposas Cantan (Saungu) [09-16]

Sunday, July 26, 2020


Weekend Roundup

A good headline to sum up the week comes from Philip Rucker: Trump's week of retreat: The president reverses course as the coronavirus surges out of control. Rucker lists various things that Trump had to backpeddle on -- wearing masks, opening schools, packing his convention hall in Jacksonville, insisting Congress cut payroll taxes. You know, things that any reasonable adviser could have predicted weeks or months ago. Turns out the will doesn't always triumph over reality. And speaking of reality: Coronavirus updates: US deaths top 1,000 for fourth consecutive day. Also: Rebecca Rainey: New unemployment claims rose last week to 1.4M, ending months of declines.

Here's a meme which pretty succinctly sums up where the President's head is at these days. No idea where it originated, but Sue Katz posted it on Facebook, and Laura Tillem forwarded it.

Here's a tweet, attributed to Richard Feynman:

Schrödinger's Douchebag:

A guy who says offensive things and decides whether he was joking based on the reaction of people around him.

Or in Trump's case, since he isn't much good at judging reactions of people around him, based on subsequent polling, or less formally on how Fox's talking heads decide to spin it.


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, July 20, 2020


Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33650 [33607] rated (+43), 224 [225] unrated (-1).

Seems like the summer is passing very fast. Probably a reflection of how little I get done most days. About all I can claim for this past week is:

Did nothing whatsoever on my other writing projects. and nothing on website projects. Didn't shop, or cook much, or deal with any of the few house projects I'm still contemplating. Managed just one phone call.

Have one question in the queue, a pretty general one about Europe. Ask more.

When I was writing about Hawes, it occurred to me that the one album I hadn't been able to find on Napster might be on YouTube, and indeed it was. After playing it, I did a search for whole albums on YouTube. First one I found that caught my attention was Fat Jazz by Jackie McLean, and that turned me loose on a McLean dig. Every record sounded real good, but I shut them down after one play each, with just enough reservation to keep them off the A-list. Further listening would very likely promote one or more, but the full grade list suggests better places to start.

Had some technical problems with the NoBusiness CDs, although the problem could be in my CD player. It had trouble recognizing several CDs, and got stuck on one. Wound up going to Bandcamp for a second spin of Carrier.

Michael Tatum mentioned he's planning on writing something about records from Christgau's 1985 Dean's List. I was thinking that was a year when I paid relatively little attention to new music, but not much there I didn't have rated. One was Jimmy G. and the Tackheads: Federation of Tackheads, although I'm pretty sure I did have the LP at some point. Same for Harold Budd & Brian Eno's The Pearl, and Steven Van Zandt's Sun City. Maybe I wasn't as out of it as I thought. I moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts end of 1984, so it became easier to find better record stores. Also got a nice raise with the move.


New records reviewed this week:

Riz Ahmed: The Long Goodbye (2020, Mongrel): British rapper, Pakistani parents, also known as Riz MC, one half of Swet Shop Boys, even better known as an actor (e.g., HBO's The Night Of). Second album, short (14 cuts, 26:58), a Clash critic described it as "a tightly packed, lightning-quick swing at the racism of British society." B+(*)

Conrad Bauer/Matthias Bauer/Dag Magnus Narvesen: The Gift (2018 [2020], NoBusiness): German trombonist, actual name Konrad, better known as Conny, a major figure in the German avant-garde since 1973 (especially in Zentralquartett). With bass and drums. B+(**) [cdr]

Bombay Bicycle Club: Everything Else Has Gone Wrong (2020, Island): British indie band, fifth album since 2009. B

Car Seat Headrest: Making a Door Less Open (2020, Matador): Will Toledo started with eight lo-fi download releases (2010-13) before being picked up by Matador and given a budget, at which point he became a semi-popular blip. I was less impressed, so when this didn't get much reaction, I didn't bother. Turns out it's pretty sharp. A-

Dramarama: Color TV (2020, Pasadena): New wave band from New Jersey in the 1980s, recorded two good 1985-87 albums, a couple more before hanging it up in 1994. Regrouped for another in 2005, and now this one. Singer-songwriter John Easdale is constant. B+(*)

Agustí Fernández/Liudas Mockunas: Improdimensions (2019 [2020], NoBusiness): Duo, piano and reeds (contrabass clarinet, tenor and soprano sax). B+(***) [cdr]

David Guetta/Morten: New Rave (2020, Parlophone, EP): French DJ, seven albums since 2002, a series of compilations called Fuck Me I'm Famous, more than 100 singles, EPs, and production credits. Collaborator is Dieser Morten, but that's about all I know. Dense, catchy, 4 cuts, 12:20. B+(**)

Horse Lords: The Common Task (2020, Northern Spy): Fusion group from Baltimore, sax-guitar-bass-drums with most also into electronics. Fourth album, draws on Appalachia and Africa, arcane tunings, polyrhythms. Can build riff pieces, and run them into the ground. B+(*)

Jockstrap: Wicked City (2020, Warp, EP): London duo: Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye. Second EP, five cuts, 20:45. Glitch pop, very scattershot, something I'd normally hate but too ridiculous for that. B

Camden Joy: Updated Just Now (2020, self-released, EP): Singer-songwriter Tom Adelman, has written six books, mostly fictionalized rock crit -- I'm pretty sure I read his The Last Rock Star Book or Liz Phair: A Rant (1998), although I can't recall any details. First record (at least under this alias), seven songs, 24:50, rough and sloppy folk-rock. B+(**)

Okkyung Lee: Yeo-Neun (2020, Shelter Press): Korean cellist, moved to US in 1993, based in New York, mostly plays in jazz contexts although this could be classical chamber music, with hints of Korean trad. With harp (Maeve Gilchrist), bass (Eivind Opsvik), and piano (Jacob Sacks). B+(**)

Luka Productions & Kandiafa: Music From Saharan WhatsApp 06 (2020, Sahel Sounds, EP): Sixth installment in the label's fast-disappearing monthly EP series, a duo with Luka Guindo (vocals, synth, percussion) and Abdoulaye "Kandiafa" Kone (ngoni). Four songs, 17:51. Fairly minimal but quite pleasant. B+(**) [bc]

Brad Mehldau: Suite: April 2020 (2020, Nonesuch): Solo piano, of the historical moment, "some experiences and feelings that are both new and common to many of us." Twelve parts follow his day from "Waking Up" through "The Day Moves By" to "Lullaby." Three covers follow, from Neil Young, Billy Joel, and Jerome Kern ("Look for the Silver Lining"). I'm rarely satisfied with solo piano, and when I am it's usually a pianist like James P. Johnson or Earl Hines who suffices as a whole rhythm section. But there's always a exception, and this one works especially well for right now. A-

Quinsin Nachoff: Pivotal Arc (2018 [2020], Whirlwind): Saxophonist, last two albums especially impressive, wrote this long series for strings -- specifically Molinari String Quartet, and solo violinist Nathalie Bonin. Does get immeasurably better on the title track, when the saxophone finally enters. B+(*) [08-07]

No Age: Goons Be Gone (2020, Drag City): Noise pop duo from Los Angeles, formed 2005, released a consistent stream of fine albums. Not sure why this one has fared so poorly with critics. Maybe a bit sludgy, but has their basic sound down pat. B+(**)

Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau/Christian McBride/Brian Blade: Round Again (2019 [2020], Nonesuch): Big name quartet -- tenor sax, piano, bass, drums -- joining the label's two main stars with two more prominent leaders, but also reuniting the quartet from Redman's third album, MoodSwing (1994). All contribute songs (Redman 3, Mehldau 2, 1 each for the others), Mehldau has some fine solos, Redman more. Ends a bit soft, but reminds us that the '90s can still hold their own. B+(***)

Rose City Band: Summerlong (2020, Thrill Jockey): Portland group (of course), originally a side project for Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo), evidently on his move from San Francisco. Second album, has a rep for psychedelia but this is pretty mellow, a bit like the Eagles but with less sunshine and ego. B+(*)

The Streets: None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive (2020, Island): UK rapper Mike Skinner, six albums 2002-11, various projects before returning to his calling. Starts slow, ends strong. B+(**)

Threadbare [Jason Stein/Ben Cruz/Emerson Hunton]: Silver Dollar (2019 [2020], NoBusiness): Bass clarinte, guitar, drums. Cruz and Hunton did the composing (4-3, plus 1 joint), but Stein continues his impressive run of albums. A- [cd]

Etuk Ubong: Africa Today (2019 [2020], Night Dreamer): Nigerian trumpet player, also sings, played with Femi Kuti, hailed by Seun Kuti, develops a strong Afrobeat groove. B+(**)

Summer Walker: Life on Earth (2020, LVRN/Interscope, EP): R&B singer-songwriter, from Atlanta, well-regarded album last year, followed it up with this 5-track, 16:25 EP. B

Larry Willis: I Fall in Love Too Easily (2019 [2020], High Note): Recording date not stated, but billed as "The Final Session at Rudy Van Gelder's." Van Gelder died in 2016, but several more records were recorded in his famous studio, at least through 2018. On the other hand, Willis died in 2019. Quintet with Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Joe Ford (alto sax), Blake Meister (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums). The horns have some moments, but the most touching ones are when they drop out, leaving the piano. B+(**)

Wire: 10:20 (2010-20 [2020], Pink Flag): Outtakes, four from the sessions that produced Red Barked Tree (2010), four from Mind Hive (2020). B+(*)

Yaeji: What We Drew (2020, XL): Kathy Yaeji Lee, born in New York, parents Korean, lived in Atlanta, Japan, and Korea before returning to Brooklyn. Produces electronica, sings, first album after two EPs, title includes a string of Hangul I'm ignoring. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Vincent Chancey/Wilber Morris/Warren Smith: The Spell: The Vincent Chancey Trio Live 1987 (1987 [2020], NoBusiness): French horn player, one of few, played for Sun Ra, shows up in a fair number of big bands and brass ensembles (e.g., Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, rarely as leader -- as exampled here, the instrument doesn't have much oomph. With bass and percussion. B+(*) [cdr]

DUX Orchestra: Duck Walks Dog (With Mixed Results) (1994 [2020], NoBusiness): Septet led by two baritone saxophonists (Dave Sewelson and Mats Gustafsson), with Will Connell Jr. (alto clarinet), guitar, piano, bass, and drums. Kicks up a bit of a ruckus. B+(**) [cdr]

Sam Rivers Trio: Ricochet [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 3] (1978 [2020], NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist (1923-2011), got a fairly late start, recording his brilliant debut Fuschia Swing Song at age 41, but worked into his mid-80s. His archives have been notable so far, with this, a trio with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, no exception. Does include a fairly substantial amount of Rivers on piano and flute. B+(***) [cd]

Old music:

Artists United Against Apartheid: Sun City (1985, Manhattan): Organized by Little Steven (Van Zandt) around a single supporting the international boycott of South African resort Sun City -- lyrics don't go much beyond "I'm not going to play Sun City," but the mass of singers and musicians, especially the drums, carry it. Original album offered two versions, plus extra pieces by Peter Gabriel/Shankar, Keith LeBlanc, Gil Scott-Heron/Melle Mel/Duke Bootee, Miles Davis, and Bono, and eventually got expanded further in a "Deluxe Edition." The boycott did much to make people around the world aware of apartheid, leading to its end by 1994. A-

Harold Budd/Brian Eno: The Pearl (1984, Editions EG): Budd was a minimalist composer from California, drifted toward ambient, recording one of Eno's first batch of ambient albums (1980). Measured and relaxed. Might have seemed like something more at the time. B+(**)

Jimmy G. and the Tackheads: The Federation of Tackheads (1985, Capitol): One-shot Parliament-Funkadelic spinoff led by Jimmy Giles (George Clinton's younger brother), who plays bass, programs drums, and is the lead of many vocalists. Pedro Bell cover art. A-

Hampton Hawes: The Green Leaves of Summer (1964, Contemporary): Trio, with Monk Montgomery (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). One original blues, seven scattered standards, "St. Thomas" a hit. B+(**) [yt]

Jackie McLean: Strange Blues (1957 [1967], Prestige): Alto saxophonist, scraps from two sessions, one a quartet with Mal Waldron (piano), the other with a rhythm section I don't recognize plus Webster Young (trumpet) and Ray Draper (tuba). B+(**)

Jackie McLean: Fat Jazz (1957 [1958], Jubilee): Sextet, with Webster Young (trumpet), Ray Draper (tuba), Gil Coggins (piano), bass, and drums, with Young and Draper originals. B+(**)

Jackie McLean: Vertigo (1959-63 [2000], Blue Note): Expands on a 1981 album which had picked up scraps, one a Walter Davis tune from 1959, five from 1963 session with Herbie Hancock and Donald Byrd, and adds five more tracks from a shelved album from 1962 with Sonny Clark and Kenny Dorham. The pieces fit together seamlessly, all respectable hard bop. B+(***)

Jackie McLean Quartet: Tune Up (1966 [1993], SteepleChase): Live shot from Baltimore, with LaMont Johnson (piano), Scotty Holt (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums). Sound strikes me as a bit off, but when he unloads on "Jack's Tune" I see no point in quibbling. B+(**)

Jackie McLean feat. Dexter Gordon: Vol. 2: The Source (1973 [1987], SteepleChase): Live at Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, two stellar saxophonists, alto and tenor, with Kenny Drew, NHØP, and Alex Riel. A 1976 US release, on Inner City, was just The Source, but is the same as the shorter 1974 LP release. The summit did produce two LPs, but the first was The Meeting: Vol. 1, so it makes more sense to bring Vol. to the front. Or better still, look for Montmartre Summit 1973, which gives you both on 2-CD. B+(***)

Jackie McLean/Dexter Gordon: Montmartre Summit 1973 (1973 [1991], SteepleChase, 2CD): Combines Vol. 1: The Meeting with Vol. 2: The Source in a handy single package. B+(***)

Jackie McLean: A Ghetto Lullaby (1973 [1991], SteepleChase): Live in Copenhagen, scene of 1972's exceptional Live at Montmartre, with Kenny Drew (piano) and Alex Riel (drums) returning, and taking over the bass slot: Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson. B+(***)

Jackie McLean & the Cosmic Brotherhood: New York Calling (1974 [1987], SteepleChase): Sextet, one of his son René McLean's first appearances (alto/soprano sax), with Billy Skinner (trumpet), Billy Gault (piano), bass, and drums. B+(***)

Jackie McLean With The Great Jazz Trio: New Wine in Old Bottles (1978, East Wind): Hank Jones formed GJT in 1976 and recorded a lot with it (22 albums 1976-84, 17 more 1988-2010, with various lineups but originally and here with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. B+(***) [yt]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Max Bessesen: Trouble (Ropeadope) [09-04]
  • John Hollenbeck: Songs You Like a Lot (Flexatonic) [08-14]
  • Simon Moullier: Spirit Song (Outside In Music) [10-09]
  • Lawrence Sieberth Quartet: An Evening in Paris (Musik Blöc [09-24]
  • Ike Sturm/Jesse Lewis: Endless Field (Biophilia)
  • Tropos: Axioms // 75 AB (Biophilia)

Sunday, July 19, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Featured headline this week: Griff Witte/Ben Guarino: It's not only coronavirus cases that are rising. Now covid deaths are, too. When I posted last week's headline, Florida shatters single-day infection record with 15,300 new cases, denialists responded that it wasn't a problem, because the death rate hadn't risen. That wasn't very clever. Bad as the disease is, it does take a week or two to kill, and that sort of lag time has followed the infection curve from the very start. Moreover, infections continue to rise: see Hannah Knowles/Derek Hawkins/Jacqueline Dupree: Coronavirus updates: Halfway through the year, the pandemic's only intensifying in many states.

I probably scraped the cartoon on the right from Twitter. It seemed to capture the moment and the person exceptionally well. Not sure who did it. Google shows several Pinterest lists it's on, and various Twitter threads. I didn't care for the meme that attributed Covid-19 deaths to Trump's inaction in and before March -- I figured any politician would have been blind-sided -- but it's harder to excuse him from the second peak (if that's all it is) we're going through now. But that's secondary here, to the all-important stroking of Trump's fragile ego. Of course he's incompetent: Republican orthodoxy demands that government fail whenever called on in an emergency. But why does he have to be so needy? He's an embarrassment, and that's finally, albeit still slowly, sinking in even to the people who hitched their hopes to his dumb luck.

On the other hand, I believe that there is more behind America's abysmal failure to contain the Covid-19 pandemic than just the buffoon in the White House. There's a Lincoln Project widget I've seen on Twitter that provides a running bar graph of total Covid-19 cases in OECD countries. It starts with South Korea as the highest country, then Japan and Italy have their moments, but the USA soon overtakes and buries the rest. Still, the rise of the UK to second place is as steady. For an explanation of this, Pankaj Mishra takes a more unified view of Anglo-America in: Flailing states. Writing for an English audience who hate being left out, Mishra glosses over differences which are evident even in the chart. The UK does still have a functioning, albeit not especially well funded, public health system, which even Boris Johnson showed some appreciation for after they saved his life. Still, every march to the right in America has been felt in the UK. Some samples:

Anglo-America's dingy realities -- deindustrialisation, low-wage work, underemployment, hyper-incarceration and enfeebled or exclusionary health systems -- have long been evident. Nevertheless, the moral, political and material squalor of two of the wealthiest and most powerful societies in history still comes as a shock to some. In a widely circulated essay in the Atlantic, George Packer claimed that 'every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state.' In fact, the state has been AWOL for decades, and the market has been entrusted with the tasks most societies reserve almost exclusively for government: healthcare, pensions, low-income housing, education, social services and incarceration. . . .

The escalating warning signs -- that absolute cultural power provincialises, if not corrupts, by deepening ignorance about both foreign countries and political and economic realities at home -- can no longer be avoided as the US and Britain cope with mass death and the destruction of livelihoods. Covid-19 shattered what John Stuart Mill called 'the deep slumber of a decided opinion,' forcing many to realise that they live in a broken society, with a carefully dismantled state. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung put it in May, unequal and unhealthy societies are 'a good breeding ground for the pandemic.' Profit-maximising individuals and businesses, it turns out, can't be trusted to create a just and efficient healthcare system, or to extend social security to those who need it most. . . .

The pandemic, which has killed 130,000 people in the US, including a disproportionate number of African Americans, has now shown, far more explicitly than Katrina did in 2005 or the financial crisis in 2008, that the Reagan-Thatcher model, which privatised risk and shifted the state's responsibility onto the individual, condemns an unconscionable number of people to premature death or to a desperate struggle for existence. . . .

However, after the most radical upheaval of our times, even the bleakest account of the German-invented social state seems a more useful guide to the world to come than moist-eyed histories of Anglo-America's engines of universal progress. Screeching ideological U-turns have recently taken place in both countries. Adopting a German-style wage-subsidy scheme, and channelling FDR rather than Churchill, Boris Johnson now claims that 'there is such a thing as society' and promises a 'New Deal' for Britain. Biden, abandoning his Obama-lite centrism, has rushed to plagiarise Bernie Sanders's manifesto. In anticipation of his victory in November, the Democratic Party belatedly plans to forge a minimal social state in the US through robust worker-protection laws, expanded government-backed health insurance, if not single-payer healthcare, and colossal investment in public-health jobs and childcare programmes.

Mishra skips around, through quite a few countries for examples, including a bit on how democracy doesn't guarantee anything. What does work is having a government which sees its role to provide for the public welfare of all, and having a society which looks to the government for justice, security, help, and improvement, again for all. Democracy, by giving everyone an equal stake, should lead to healthier, more equal societies, but democracy can be corrupted and conned by privileging money, as we've seen. What the pandemic has done has been to split the world open according to how inequal nations are, with the most inequal ones paying the harshest price. This comes as no surprise to recent critics of inequality, such as Richard Wilkinson/Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. Even mainstream Democrats seem to have some intuitive understanding of this, as evidenced by their relief proposals. On the other hand, people who are totally oblivious to the problem of inequality have been utterly gobsmacked by the pandemic -- none more so than Trump.


Some scattered links this week:

  • David Atkins: Why is Trump sending stormtroopers into Portland?

    In one of the most alarming developments of Trump's presidency, dozens of federal agents in full camouflage seized protesters and threw them into unmarked cars, taking them to locations unknown without specifying a reason for arrest. It appears that at least some of the agents involved belonged to the US Customs and Border Protection (colloquially known as Border Patrol), an organization that obviously has no business whatsoever conducted counterinsurgency tactics against peaceful American protesters in Portland, Oregon. Neither the mayor of Portland nor the governor of Oregon wanted them there; in fact, they specifically requested that they leave.

    Atkins asks why Trump is doing this, and rolls out some theories, saving the "ridiculous" but "also likely closest to the truth" for last:

    But if Fox News were the sum of your reality, you would believe that emergency action needed to be taken before the residents started to erect a Thunderdome and the services of Snake Plissken would be required. You would send in the troops despite the potential cost out of a belief that relieved Americans would be desperately grateful for your embrace of "law and order" (even if it were heavy on the "order" and light on the "law.") You would do whatever it took to bring the situation to heel, and figure the public approval would follow from the new Pax Trumpiana. After all, Fox News declared it must be so.

    Atkins followed this post up with a more speculative one: Trump may use DHS stormtroopers to stop people from voting. I don't see how he can do this, at least on a scale that might sway the election, without generating a huge backlash. More on Portland:

  • Ryan Bort: So long, Jeff Sessions: Trump's former attorney general lost the Republican Senate primary to Tommy Tuberville, who was endorsed by Trump.

  • John Bresnahan/Ally Mutnick: Kansas Republican Rep. Steve Watkins charged with voter fraud. Watkins' father is also being investigated for campaign finance violations.

  • Philip Bump: In a pair of interviews, Trump highlights white victimhood.

  • Megan Cassella: America's hidden economic crisis: Widespread wage cuts.

  • Jane Coaston: The Lincoln Project, the rogue former Republicans trying to take down Trump, explained. More on Lincoln Project:

  • Sean Collins: Rep. John Lewis, civil rights leader and moral center of Congress, has died at 80: "He is remembered as a Freedom Rider, voting rights champion, and the 'conscience of the Congress.'" Also on Lewis:

  • Sumner Concepcion: 5 key takeaways from Trump's lengthy off-the-rails interview on Fox News:

    • Doubling down on his claim of the coronavirus "disappearing" someday
    • Defending the Confederate flag
    • Piling on more attacks against Biden
    • Griping about his inability to hold rallies amid the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Refusing to guarantee he will accept the results of the November election

    The last was the more-or-less new one. But it's worth nothing that he did the same thing in 2016, and he trapped Hillary Clinton into declaring that she would accept the results, and true to her word, she gave up meekly and vanished from sight.

  • Igor Derysh:

    • Trump Victory Committee paid nearly $400,000 to Trump's Washington hotel in second quarter. "Trump's properties have earned well over $20 million in political spending since he took office, per CPR data." I suppose his defense is "that's chump change," but the thought counts.

    • Trump says it's "terrible" to question why Black people are killed by police: "So are white people": He refers to "white people" five times in 20 seconds, per the CBS tweet. Question: "Why are African Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?" Trump's complete answer: "So are white people. So are white people. What a terrible question to ask. So are white people. More white people by the way. More white people." Maybe he could have recovered a bit by adding, "Bottom line, police kill more people of all races than they should. And sure, statistics say they're more likely to kill a black person than a white, but the answer isn't to make them discriminate more carefully based on race. The answers is for them to kill a lot fewer people." Still, when your first thought to a question about discrimination against black is to bring up "white people," you're a racist. QED.

  • Tom Engelhardt: Donald J Trump, or Osama bin Laden's revenge. Starts with a stroll through Trump's sculpture "garden of heroes" (which Masha Gessen wrote up in sufficient detail last week, then considers the fate Osama bin Laden hoped we would have in leading America into "the graveyard of empires" in Afghanistan.

  • David S Fogelsong: With fear and favor: The Russophobia of 'The New York Times': "Disregarding all past experience, journalists, politicians, and foreign policy experts have simply assumed that the claims of Russian bounties for killing American troops are true. They -- and we -- should know better."

  • Matt Ford: The Supreme Court's unconscionable rush to kill a prisoner.

    The federal government ended its 13-year moratorium on executions on Tuesday morning by killing Daniel Lewis Lee at the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana. Lewis is the first in a series of federal prisoners slated to die in the next few days as part of a renewed push by the Trump administration to carry out death sentences at the federal level, even as the practice falls out of favor nationwide.

  • Melissa Gira Grant: The dark obsessions of QAnon are merging with mainstream conservatism: "With Republican candidates and Trump embracing the strange, child trafficking-fixated movement, it can no longer be dismissed as merely a conspiracy theory."

  • Maggie Haberman: Trump replaces Brad Parscale as campaign manager, elevating Bill Stepien. Parscale got a lot of credit for Trump's 2016 win with his Facebook operation, so naturally got promoted to head the whole campaign operation, finding himself in way over his head.

  • Jeff Hauser/Max Moran/Andrea Beaty: Better policy ideas alone won't stop monopolies. Outlines the obstacles antitrust enforcement faces, especially in the courts but also in the bureaucracy. But the conclusion I'd draw from this is that that's why better policy ideas are needed. Why not develop some policies that would prevent monopolies from forming in the first place? Ending patents, promoting open source software and research, giving employees more power on boards and as owners, making it much more difficult to acquire companies (e.g., limiting debt financing of purchase price), allowing bankrupt companies to return under employee management, publicly-sponsored non-profit cooperatives -- those are all things that would help. Certainly way better than waiting for monpolies to form and trying to prosecute the worst offenders.

  • Mara Hvistendahl: Masks off: How the brothers who fueled the reopen protests built a volatile far-right network. On Ben Dorr and brothers Aaron, Chris, and Matthew. When Trump was elected, we saw an outpouring of protests styling themselves as the Resistance. It seems inevitable that when/if Trump loses, the right will organize its own Resistance -- smaller but more menacing, much like the Dorrs here. I expect thay'll make the Tea Party look like a polite afternoon klatch.

  • Tyshia Ingram: The case for unschooling: "Why the hands off alternative to homeschooling might get parents through the Covid-19 pandemic." I was intrigued by this because my own experience with the school system was mostly negative. My impression is that schooling has become even more demanding and oppressive since then, especially with "No Child Left Behind"'s focus on testing. So my initial reaction when schools shut down this Spring was that maybe kids could use a break. On the other hand, to make this work, I don't doubt that children and adolescents need access to and support from people who do have decent educations. My parents weren't much help, but after I dropped out of high school I found my own way. Would certainly be easier today with the Internet. By the way, after I dropped out, I spent a lot of time reading about education. The term "unschooling" comes from John Holt, who was one of the pioneering writers I read back then. Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, was my favorite.

  • Elahe Izadi/Jeremy Barr: Bari Weiss resigns from New York Times, says 'Twitter has become its ultimate editor': I can't say as Weiss was even on my radar, but she was prominently mentioned in the Harper's letter controversy, and evidently decided to exploit that moment of fame by "canceling" herself. She was evidently most famous as the main pro-Zionist voice on their opinion staff, not that the Times' biases there are likely to change in the near future. Some reaction:

    • Henry Olsen: McCarthyism is back. This time, it's woke. The Weiss resignation (and/or Andrew Sullivan's resignation from New York Magazine) stirred up a hornet's nest of outrage among Washington Post opinion writers -- scroll down for links from Matt Bai, Hugh Hewitt, Kathleen Parker, Megan McArdle, and Jennifer Rubin -- but this is about as off the deep end as any. Olsen has no more grasp of McCarthyism than Clarence Thomas did of lynching when he decried having to face unflattering testimony. Although I am glad that McCarthyism is still being viewed as something bad. For a better grounded use of the term, see Peter Beinart: Trumpism is the new McCarthyism. Sullivan's farewell letter, which doubles as promo for his new subscription newsletter, is here.

    • Avi Selk: A New York Times columnist blamed a far-left 'mob' for her woes. But maybe she deserves them. In any case, the talking point will set her up for lucrative ventures further right.

    • Alex Shephard: The self-cancellation of Bari Weiss: "Like much of her writing, the New York Times editor's resignation letter is long on accusation and thin on evidence." As Shephard concludes, her resignation will "make the perfect ending for her next book."

    • Philip Weiss: Bari Weiss leaves the 'NYT' and that's bad for Zionists: "Weiss is such a gifted careerist that even this moment feels like shtik: Bari Weiss playing her own persecutino for the greater glory of Bari Weiss."

  • Jen Kirby: Israel's West Bank annexation plan and why it's stalled, explained by an expert: Interview with Brent E Sasley ("a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and an expert on Israeli politics").

  • Ezra Klein: What a post-Trump Republican Party might look like: Interview with Oren Cass, who was a Romney consultant and author of The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America, on "why conservatives need to challenge free-market economic orthodoxy." He doesn't say much about the Republican party (either the financiers or the rank-and-file), but does offer a bunch of dubious economic ideas. Some such rethinking is in order (although few ideas have fared worse than supply-side focus), but even if Trump loses badly, I don't see many Republicans (either rich or poor) taking the hint to rethink economic policy. Rather, they'll try to pin their loss on media focus on Trump's gaffes, limiting them as much as possible to Covid-19. Most importantly, the real power base behind the GOP -- which is Fox News -- will pivot to attack mode, and try to gin up another Tea Party, as they did in 2009. And once again, they'll do that not for tactical reasons but because they have to fill up 24/7 of air time, and outrage sells, and it doesn't matter to them if their market is a hopeless minority -- just so it's big enough to be profitable.

  • Andy Kroll: The plot against America: The GOP's plan to suppress the vote and sabotage the election.

  • Paul Krugman: Why do the rich have so much power?

  • Nancy LeTourneau: The pandemic is making Republican lawmakers much more vulnerable:

    All of that is happening as the news of a potential landslide in the 2020 election continues to build. There's been a lot of talk about how several incumbent Republican senators are extremely vulnerable in their quest for reelection. But today, the Cook Political Report made some changes to their House ratings -- with 20 seats moving towards the Democrats. . . .

    So when Greg Dworkin's friend suggested that this wasn't so much an election as a countdown, it resonated deeply. The hope that we can turn things around in a few months is palpable. But what will happen over those months is terrifying. The clock is ticking.

    Perhaps the saddest part of all of this is that it begs the question: "Why did it have to get this bad?" I'm sure that future historians will write volumes in an attempt to answer that question. But something is deeply wrong with our democratic republic when it takes a pandemic costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans to get us to wake up and smell the stench emanating from the president and his congressional enablers.

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Mary Trump's book shows how Donald Trump gets away with it: "The problem with a fraud as big as this president is that once you start collaborating with him, it's impossible to get out." I must admit I'm enjoying the reviews of niece Mary Trump's book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, not least because it seems so close and personal, even if the title could apply equally to nearly every silver-spooned baby boomer in the land. Lithwick writes:

    Donald Trump ogled his own niece in a bathing suit and sought to fill one of his books with hit lists of "ugly" women who had rebuffed him; Donald Trump paid someone to take his SATs; Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal appeals court judge, once described her brother as a "clown" with no principles; Donald Trump was a vicious bully even as a child; Freddy Trump -- the author's father -- died alone in a hospital while Donald went to a movie. The details are new, and graphic, yes, but very little about it is surprising: The president is a lifelong liar and cheater, propped up by a father who was as relentless in his need for success as Donald Trump was to earn his approval. . . .

    But as it became clear that Donald had no real business acumen -- as his Atlantic City casinos cratered and his father unlawfully poured secret funds into saving them -- Mary realized that Fred also depended on the glittery tabloid success at which Donald excelled. Fred continued to prop up his son's smoke-and-mirrors empire because, as Mary writes, "Fred had become so invested in the fantasy of Donald's success that he and Donald were inextricably linked. Facing reality would have required acknowledging his own responsibility, which he would never do. He had gone all in, and although any rational person would have folded, Fred was determined to double down." . . .

    And as Mary Trump is quick to observe, the sheer stuck-ness of his enablers means that Trump never, ever learns his lesson. Being cosseted, lied to, defended, and puffed up means that Donald Trump knows that, "no matter what happens, no matter how much damage he leaves in his wake, he will be OK." He fails up, in other words, because everyone around him, psychologically normal beings all, ends up so enmeshed with his delusions that they must do anything necessary to protect them. Trump's superpower isn't great vision or great leadership but rather that he is so tiny. Taking him on for transactional purposes may seem like not that big a deal at first, but the moment you put him in your pocket, you become his slave. It is impossible to escape his orbit without having to admit a spectacular failure in moral and strategic judgment, which almost no one can stomach. Donald Trump's emptiness is simply a mirror of the emptiness of everyone who propped him up.

    More:

  • German Lopez: Florida now has more Covid-19 cases than any other state. Here's what went wrong. "The percentage of positive tests is now nearly 19 percent," which means they're not testing enough (recommended maximum is 5 percent), not too much. More Covid-19 stories:

  • Nick Martin: Ivanka Trump and Lockheed Martin want you to reach for the stars and stop collecting unemployment. Actually, "find something new" isn't a totally stupid idea. It seems likely that the economy will eventually adapt to Covid-19 and look different than the one before the pandemic. As such, those who can shift their trajectories toward emerging careers will benefit both for themselves and for the future society. Extended unemployment compensation and benefits could help. But companies like Lockheed Martin are just trying to scam the program for themselves.

  • Dylan Matthews: Trump reduced fines for nursing homes that put residents at risk. Then Covid-19 happened.

  • Jane Mayer: How Trump is helping tycoons exploit the pandemic: "The secretive titan behind one of America's largest poultry companies, who is also one of the President's top donors, is ruthlessly leveraging the coronavirus crisis -- and his vast fortune -- to strip workers of protections."

  • Sara Morrison:

    • Lawmakers are very upset about this week's massive Twitter breach: Maybe because the folks who got hacked are rich and famous?

    • Everything you need to know about Palantir, the secretive company coming for all your data.

      Palantir is also controversial because its co-founder and board chair, Peter Thiel, is controversial. Thiel, who was one of Facebook's first outside investors and maintains a position on its board of directors, has seen his share of criticism over the years, but the libertarian billionaire really came into the public eye in 2016 when he revealed himself as the money behind Hulk Hogan's privacy lawsuit against Gawker (which would ultimately kill the site) and an early Trump supporter.

      As most of liberal Silicon Valley's big names publicly came out against Trump, Thiel was one of relatively few public figures who supported his candidacy. After speaking at the Republican National Convention, he gave the Trump campaign $1.25 million, and when Trump won the election, New York magazine said he was "poised to become a national villain." Thiel has been rewarded for his support: He was chosen to be a member of the president's transition team; in the early days of the Trump presidency, Politico dubbed Thiel "Donald Trump's 'shadow president' in Silicon Valley"; and Thiel's chief of staff and protégé, Michael Kratsios, served as the White House's chief technology officer from 2017 until this month, when he was named acting undersecretary for research and engineering at the Department of Defense.

      The article notes that "Palantir even sued the US Army in 2016 to force it to consider using its intelligence software after the Army chose to go with its own," and "won the suit, and then it won an $800 million contract."

  • Elie Mystal: The Trump administration is on a capital punishment killing spree: "After 17 years, attorney general Bill Barr has resumed federal executions -- and the conservative on the Supreme Court approve."

  • Terry Nguyen: Boycotts show us what matters to Americans.

  • Tina Nguyen: Trump keeps fighting a Confederate lag battle many supporters have conceded. I thought Nikki Haley made a courageous move in ditching the Confederate flag after a mass shooting in Charlestown while she was governor, but it became merely savvy when literally no one tried to save the flag. As a northerner whose ancestors came to the US well after the Civil War, you'd expect Trump to have even less interest in the Confederacy. But some polling here shows not only that a majority of Americans view the Confederate flag as a racist symbol, there is no significant difference between North and South -- but there is one between Republicans and Democrats.

  • John Nichols: Why the hell is the Supreme Court allowing a new poll tax to disenfranchise Florida voters?

  • Anna North: America's child care problem is an economic problem. Subhed bullet list:

    • More than 41 million workers have kids under 18. Almost all of them lost child care as a result of the pandemic.
    • In normal times, inadequate child care is the equivalent of a 5 percent pay cut for parents. Now it's much worse.
    • By late June, 13 percent of parents had cut back hours or quit their jobs
    • 80 percent of moms say they're handling the majority of homeschooling responsibilities in their families
    • And about 16 percent of parents are taking care of kids alone, without a partner
    • Add to that parents needing and looking for jobs: More than 11 percent of women are unemployed right now
    • Meanwhile, 40 percent of child care programs say they will have to close permanently without outside help
    • More than 250,000 child care workers have lost their jobs
    • When it comes to schools, the news is just as grim: At least 3 of the country's biggest school districts will be partially or fully remote in the fall
    • With fewer options for child care, parents could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime
    • Trump has offered zero solutios to solve the problem

    All originally in bold. Thought that would be too much clutter, but kept one that seemed to stand out.

  • JC Pan: In defense of free stuff during (and after) the pandemic: "The mass expansion of public goods is long past due, so pay people to say home, give them free health care, and stop charging tuition."

  • Alex Pareene: Throw the bums out: "We are in the midst of a world-historic failure of governance. Why isn't anyone in charge acting like they are responsible for it?" Picture is Andrew Cuomo, and his "three-dimensional foam mount repreenting the pandemic's toll on the state." I'm not one inclined to defend Cuomo, but I really doubt a random reshuffling of politicians would do us any good. There may be exceptions, but in damn near all of the country, there's a big difference between Republican and Democratic "bums."

  • Heather Digby Parton: Trump's unhinged Rose Garden campaign rally: His sideshow act is getting truly pathetic: "He can't hold rallies, so he forced the press corps to sit through one. Then he said Joe Biden will ban windows."

  • Kim Phillips-Fein: Rethinking the solution to New York's fiscal crisis.

  • Abraham Ratnet: Trumpism is an aesthetic, not an ideology -- and it will survive Donald Trump. I'm half convinced: ideology involves too much thinking for Trump followers. But at least I can imagine an ideology. I'm finding it much harder to come up with a Trump aesthetic. Sure, there's no great shortage of Trump kitsch, from his Goya pandering to his gold toilets, but is that really an aesthetic? I've long been wary of efforts to ideologize and/or aestheticize politics, not least because the Nazis and Fascists put so much effort into doing just that. (I don't like lumping them, but in this regard one could also include various Communist parties -- with Korea the most comprehensive.) But with Trump's followers, what you mostly get are Trilling's "irritable mental gestures" -- well, sometimes physical gestures as well. All they have is a psychology, and sure, that will survive Trump, not because Trump invented it but because Trump was as mired in it as they are. He never was the leader of a movement. He just caught the spotlight as the guy acting out most flagrantly.

  • David Roberts:

  • Michael Scherer/Josh Dawsey: From 'Sleepy Joe' to a destroyer of the 'American way of life,' Trump's attacks on Biden make a dystopian shift.

  • Jon Schwarz: Political correctness is destroying America! (Just not how you think.) What he means is that the right, and for that matter the center, work at least as hard at patrolling use of language among their followers. You don't have to spend much time watching Fox News to see that everyone in every time slot echo the same talking points, offering the same spin on and definition of events and ideas. The modern term for this is message discipline. The exclusive association of PC with the left goes back to the Leninist Communist Parties, where approved speech was deemed to be correct, and because correct implies fidelity to a higher authority, like nature or reality (or God or Party). The use in recent America has been far more haphazard, mostly as people have sought to avoid and deplore slurs, occasionally resorting to indirect or infelicitous phrases. This is contentious because parties on all sides understand that controlling the language used to define an issue often determines the outcome. But it also becomes pedantic when debates reduce issues to terminology -- itself a common, if unappealing, debate technique. Schwarz provides many examples of Republicans dictating their followers' speech, as well as a few where mainstream Democrats have joined them (e.g., deference to God and Country, to the military and the police). Still, I'm not sure that calling this PC is helpful. For example, insisting that climate change is a hoax is more properly propaganda, its message discipline enforced as dogma. It is in no sense of the word correct.

  • Dylan Scott:

  • Alex Shephard: Donald Trump Jr wages a culture war on the publishing industry: "He evidently believes that he can make more money self-publishing -- especially if he portrays the move as a rebuke of liberal elites." Trump has a new book, to be released during the Republican convention, Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrat's Defense of the Indefensible (sic?).

  • David Sirota: Wall Street is deeply grateful for the Supreme Court's recent little-noticed ruling.

    Chief Justice John Roberts has created the most conservative court in modern history: In just the last few weeks, his court has helped financial firms bilk pension funds, strengthened fossil fuel companies' power to fast-track pipelines, limited the power of regulatory agencies that police Wall Street, and stealthily let Donald Trump hide his tax returns. As a reward for Roberts's continued defense of the wealthy and powerful, much of the national media has obediently depicted him as a great hero of moderation, because he sort of seemed to snub Trump in a handful of other rulings.

  • Roger Sollenberger: Fox News peddled misinformation about the coronavirus 253 times in five days. Well, that's what you get for counting.

  • Emily Stewart: The PPP worked how it was supposed to. That's the problem. "America's plan to save small business in the pandemic was flawed from the start."

  • Matthew Avery Sutton: The truth about Trump's evangelical support: Review of recent books on evangelical Christians: Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation; Sarah Posner: Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump; and Samuel L Perry/Andrew L Whitehead: Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.

  • Derek Thompson: A lot of Americans are about to lose their homes: "The current housing crisis could get messy quickly, but fixing it shouldn't be complicated, if Congress intervenes."

  • Paul Waldman: If you aren't filled with rage at Trump, you aren't paying attention.

    Before the pandemic, Trump was one of the worst presidents in our history. But now he has laid waste to our country, with his unique combination of incompetence and malevolence -- and he's not done yet. Once we finally rid ourselves of him, it will take years to recover. But as we do, we should never for a moment forget what he was and what he did to us. And we should never stop being angry about it.

    Same thing could have been said about Bush in 2008, but Obama chose not to remind people of the wars and recession and environmental and climate degradation and collapsing infrastructure and education and increasing inequality he was to no small extent responsible for. He not only let people forget the perils of electing Republicans, he let them transfer blame to his own party and self, allowing Republicans to stage a resurgence which led to Trump in 2016.

  • Alex Ward:

  • Libby Watson: The Democrats' baffling silence as millions of Americans lose their health insurance: "Five million have lost coverage amid the pandemic -- a number that's expected to triple by year's end. But the party leadership isn't reacting as though it's a crisis."

  • Moira Weigel: The pioneers of the misinformation industry: Book review of Claire Bond Potter: Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy; and Matthew Lysiak: The Drudge Revolution: The Untold Story of How Talk Radio, Fox News, and a Gift Shop Clerk with an Internet Connection Took Down the Mainstream Media. "Potter, a professor at the New School, keeps a (mostly) neutral, academic distance from her subjects, while Lysiak has written a sympathetic biography that moves at the speed of a screenplay."

  • Erik Wemple: Tucker Carlson whitewashes the racism of his show and his former top writer.

  • Erica Werner/Jeff Stein: Trump administration pushing to block new money for testing, tracing and CDC in upcoming coronavirus relief bill. This seems beyond stupid. It's part of negotiations on a follow up to the CARES act, which expires at the end of the month (more on it below). Trump is also insisting on a payroll tax cut, which seems especially dumb given the more pressing needs of the unemployed, and "another round of stimulus checks" (same problem, plus until the virus is contained there won't be much economy to stimulate).

  • Richard D Wolfe: Why government mostly helps people who need it the least . . . even during a crisis. Mostly on the stock market, which the Fed and the Trump administration have struggled mightily to re-inflate after the panic in March, even though an overvalued stock market is useless to fighting the pandemic or even re-opening the economy. Trump thinks it makes him look good, and maybe it does to people who own a lot of stocks. The re-inflated stock market is a big part of the reason the share of wealth owned by billionaires has increased dramatically while virtually everyone else has suffered.

  • Matthew Yglesias:

  • Li Zhou: Congress is running out of time to extend expanded unemployment insurance. Also on CARES:

Monday, July 13, 2020


Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33607 [33567] rated (+40), 225 [212] unrated (+13).

Trumpet player Eddie Gale (78) died last week. He had a spotty recording career, but always came up with something interesting when he appeared. He achieved a measure of fame for his role on Cecil Taylor's 1966 album Unit Structures, then followed that with two excellent albums on Blue Note: Ghetto Music (1968) and Black Rhythm Happening (1969). He had a revival c. 2004 with reissue of his albums on Water and a new one, Afro Fire.

I added a lengthy midyear list by Stephen Thomas Erlewine to my metacritic file (code SE). He added first mentions of 10 new albums (mostly country), plus a bunch of reissues and vault music. He shows some favor there for lavish box sets, and also seems to get good service from Ace, Bear Family, Cherry Red, and Omnivore. I'm so jealous.

Robert Christgau published his July Consumer Guide mid-week. I was originally pleased to see that for four 2020 releases I had previously rated A- got the same grade from him (Chicago Farmer, Bob Dylan, Hinds, Waxahatchie), and that the other new records I had graded lower also got lower grades from him (Terry Allen, Jason Isbell). That also left some things I hadn't heard (or in some cases hadn't heard of), but further digging revealed that I had given the Daniele Luppi/Parquet Courts EP a B+(***) back in January 2018. I played most of the rest, still procrastinatig on the Sonic Youth bootleg (one of way too many for my purposes, although I may reconsider when I get around to formatting Joe Yanosik's Consumer Guide for his corner of my website) and Joe Levy's Uprising 2020 playlist (not my idea of a real thing, although so immediately relevant to the times I expect to listen to it).

I got to the Thiago Nassif and Moor Jewelry A- records after my cut-off, but figured why make you wait, especially given that there are other ways to find my grade. Usually takes me 8-16 hours to catch everything up after my break, so I always listen to a few records during that time. (Four more in the scratch file at present, not counting these two.)

Quite a bit of unpacking below, many from Lithuania. Also got a hard copy of Luis Lopes' Believe, Believe, which I had given a B+(***) to based on streaming. I looked for records by the late bassist Simon H. Fell. Found quite a few, but mostly Bandcamp with most tracks missing, so didn't manage to review much. Took a dive into pianist Hampton Hawes, thanks to a question. I will answer that (and whatever else comes in) later during the week. I've gotten into a rut where I start each day off by playing something classic, then when I settle down in front of the computer, find it easier to dial up something to stream. I'll make a conscious effort to catch up a bit next week.


New records reviewed this week:

Anteloper: Tour Beats Vol. 1 (2020, International Anthem, EP): Duo, Jaimie Branch (trumpet) and Jason Nazary (drums), did an album in 2018 (Kudu), add 4 cuts (22:38) here. Mostly electronics for both of them, although her riffing over the beats is pretty surefire. B+(*)

Arca: Kick I (2020, XL): Venezuelan electronica producer Alejandra Ghersi, born in Caracas, lived in Connecticut for a few years before returning, wound up in Barcelona. Fourth album. Arch, arty, arcane. Doubt it's something I would ever grow to like much, but there's something pretty unique about it. B+(*)

Bananagun: The True Story of Bananagun (2020, Full Time Hobby): Australian group, first album, elements of jangle pop. B+(*)

Beauty Pill: Sorry You're Here (2020, Taffety Punk Theatre Company): Washington DC band, principally Chad Clark, released an EP in 2001 leading up to a 2004 album, then nothing until 2015, and LP/EP releases this year. Mostly electronics, some spoken word or other trip-hoppy vocal shadings, quietly impressive if not quite convincing. Does make me wonder if I underrated their 2015 album. [PS: Not much.] B+(***)

Beauty Pill: Please Advise (2020, Northern Spy, EP): Five songs (22:31), all proper with vocals, electronics give way to guitar. B+(*)

Clint Black: Out of Sane (2020, Blacktop/Thirty Tigers): Country singer-songwriter, 1989 debut a big hit, twelfth album (skipping two Xmas joints). I hadn't heard anything by him since a dreadful 2004 album (his eighth and last top-10 country chart). This one sounds good enough, not that better songs wouldn't help. B+(*)

Clem Snide: Forever Just Beyond (2020, Ramseur): Vehicle for singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay since 1998, not the first band named from William S. Burroughs. Plain-spoken, not sure you can even call it Americana, leans on God (per the title), not sure that qualifies one way or the other, but leaves me out. B+(**)

Jeff Cosgrove/John Medeski/Jeff Lederer: History Gets Ahead of the Story (2018 [2020], Grizzley Music): Drums, organ, and saxophones/flute. Ten songs, all by William Parker -- a bit surprising, given the lack of avant frills. Parker's long struck me as a composer who likes to keep it simple, which is why his tunes hold up in such a different context. B+(***) [cd] [07-17]

Dream Wife: So When You Gonna . . . (2020, Lucky Number): London-based girl group, lead singer Rakel Mjöll originally hailing from Iceland, has a couple cute quirks to her voice, which give way to smart lyrics and occasional philosophical depth, like how uniquely woderful now is, and why her body is hers alone. A-

Baxter Dury: The Night Chancers (2020, Heavenly): English singer-songwriter, son of the late new wave genius Ian Dury, sixth album since 2002, talks his way through most songs, against swank orchestra and chorus. Bears signs of inheritance, raised in an evolved culture, which makes what he does seem inevitable rather than extraordinary. B+(*)

Field Music: Making a New World (2020, Memphis Industries): English band, first album 2005, seventh album, fond of keyboards. B+(*)

Khruangbin: Mordechai (2020, Dead Oceans): Houston group, bass-guitar-drums, all sing but not very much, group name a Thai word for "flying thing" (e.g., airplane), suggested by Laura Lee, whose interest in Asian music led her to learn Thai. Third album, wouldn't call it exotica but they do amble in their own orbit. B+(*)

King Krule: Man Alive! (2020, True Panther Sounds): English singer-songwriter Archy Marshall, fourth album, third as King Krule. Has a rep for drawing on punk and hip-hop, but mostly comes up with Nick Cave dark tones. B

Stephen Malkmus: Groove Denied (2019, Matador): The genius behind Pavement (1992-99), followed that up with seven albums declining credited to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (2001-18), goes completely solo here, playing all instruments and singing (such as he does -- can't say practice makes perfect, but it does help). Can't say as this had any appeal to me when it came out, but has its own unique sloughed off charm. Also, a bit of groove. B+(**)

Stephen T. Malkmus: Traditional Techniques (2020, Matador): Another solo joint, title no less ironic, middle initial a quirk I'd like to suppress in the filing, but probably can't. B+(*)

Moor Jewelry: True Opera (2020, Don Giovanni): Collaboration between lapsed poet Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) and noise producer Mental Jewelry (Steven Montenegro), who did a previous EP called Crime Waves. Ten cuts (25:59), could pass for punk but is much more expansive. A-

Thiago Nassif: Mente (2020, Gearbox): Brazilian singer-songwriter, plays guitar, drums, trumpet, electronics; shares production duties with Arto Lindsay, who helps out as do a couple dozen others, for a mix of tropicalia, no wave, and ever so catchy skronk. A-

Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: Chicago Waves (2018 [2020], International Anthem): Labels in Chicago, musicians from Los Angeles, DJs, play various instruments, have worked together at least since 2007. Improvised set, recorded live. B+(*)

Pearl Jam: Gigaton (2020, Monkeywrench/Republic): Grunge band from Seattle, always figured they were Dave Clark 5 to Nirvana's Beatles, not that I ever liked Nirvana as much as I did DC5. Bought one album Christgau liked (Vitalogy), gave it a B+, never played it again, or anything else by this group. Didn't even list anything by them after 2000 (five albums, chart peaks 5 or better), and only played this after it became the top black line in my metacritic file (Baxter Dury is next, followed by Khruangbin and King Krule). Not bad, nor especially interesting, and by the end I was reminded of how tedious Eddie Vedder's voice is. B

Margo Price: That's How Rumors Get Started (2020, Loma Vista): Country singer, grew up in Illinois, moved to Nashville at 20, waited tables and worked the ropes, releasing a pretty good album in 2016. This makes three, new label, fancier production, rocks harder, soars higher, says less. B+(*)

Tenille Townes: The Lemonade Stand (2020, Columbia Nashville): Canadian country singer-songwriter, from Alberta, last name Nadkrynechny. Third album, first from Nashville. B+(**)

The Weeknd: After Hours (2020, Republic): Canadian r&b singer Abel Tesfaye, had an early star-making mixtape in 2011 (House of Balloons), has developed into a best-selling falsetto crooner -- remarkably consistent, at least until the closer drags its butt. B

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings: All the Good Times Are Past & Gone (2020, Acony): Title often truncated, but the cover bears me out. Folkies, her sixth album since 1996, he's been around the whole time but this seems to be the first with him named, and he does get more leads. Ten tracks, all acoustic covers, two Dylan, two trad., one Prine, "Jackson." B+(**)

X: Alphabetland (2020, Fat Possum): Los Angeles punk band, a big deal in some quarters 1980-82, last charted in 1987, one more album in 1993, have reunited occasionally since 2004, this their first new album in 27 years. Memorable names: DJ Bonebrake (drums), Exene Cervenka (vocals), John Doe (bass, vocals), Billy Zoom (guitar, sax, piano). Eleven short songs, adds up to 27:00. They've done a remarkable job keeping their sound preserved. B+(*)

Yonic South: Wild Cobs (2019, La Tempesta, EP): Postpunk band from "Stanzini, Shitaly" (or Brescia, Italy), first EP (4 songs, 16:27), crisp but they do like to riff. B+(**)

Yonic South: Twix and Dive (2020, La Tempesta, EP): Four more songs (13:40), "from Oasis covers and Anfield soundtracks to psych noise ballads and Techno Viking dedications," ending with a bit of patter extolling "this beautiful arena" -- how can you get more anachronistic than that? B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Nublu Orchestra Conducted by Butch Morris: Live in Bergamo (2008 [2020], Nublu): Band named for a club on Avenue C in New York, goes back further but debuted with eponymous 2007 album, where various musicians would gather and improvise under the direction ("conduction") of Morris. This was the seventh to be released, "Conduction No. 175," in Italy, with ten musicians, out of 199 through June 20, 2011. (Morris died in 2013.) One 34:27 piece, plus three encores (16:18). Not a dull moment. B+(***)

Old music:

Simon H. Fell: The Exploding Flask of Muesli: Electroacoustic & Electronic Works 1994-2002 (1994-2002 [2013], Bruce's Fingers): Not sure how representative this is of the late bassist's work, as most of his work is hard to find. I'm not even sure how much there is -- a "selected discography" on his website lists 90 albums (1985-2015). Interesting moments, but feels like a sideline. B+(*)

Simon H. Fell: Le Bruit De La Musique (2015 [2016], Confront): Solo bass, a single 37:19 piece. B+(*)

Hampton Hawes: Everybody Likes Hampton Hawes: Vol. 3: The Trio (1956 [1990], Contemporary/OJC): Bebop pianist (1928-77) from Los Angeles, father a minister, mother a church pianist, made a big splash with his 1955 Trio album, adding two more in this series, with Red Mitchell (bass) and Chuck Thompson (drums). B+(**)

Hampton Hawes Quartet: All Night Session! Volume 1 (1956 [1991], Contemporary/OJC): The first of three volumes from a November 12, 1956 session, with Jim Hall (guitar), Red Mitchell (bass), and Bruz Freeman (drums). Five pieces, stretches out a bit. B+(***)

Hampton Hawes Quartet: All Night Session! Volume 2 (1956 [1992], Contemporary/OJC): Seven more songs. Lively piano and delicate guitar (Jim Hall). B+(**)

Hampton Hawes Trio: The Séance (1966 [1990], Contemporary/OJC): With Red Mitchell (bass) and Donald Bailey (drums), another smart and lively session. B+(***)

Hampton Hawes: Trio at Montreux (1971 [1976], Jas): With Henry Franklin (bass) and Mike Carvin (drums). B+(**)

Hampton Hawes/Cecil McBee/Roy Haynes: Live at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago: Volume Two (1973 [1989], Enja): Piano, bass, drums. Six songs, three over ten minutes -- none of the entries at Discogs quite match the digital (dated 1998), nor do any credit the vocal (which is just as well forgotten). B+(**)

Hampton Hawes: Something Special (1976 [1994], Contemporary): Less than a year before his untimely death, another quartet with guitar (Denny Diaz), bass (Leroy Vinnegar), and drums (Al Williams). Excellent piano, especially on tunes like "St. Thomas." B+(***)

William Parker: In Order to Survive (1993 [1995], Black Saint): Bassist, used this album title for a group name later in the 1990s, and again for a 2019 live album, signifying a quintet with Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Rob Brown (alto sax), Cooper-Moore (piano), and a drummer (Denis Charles plays on 3 cuts here, Jackson Krall on the 4th). This particular album also has Grachan Moncur III on trombone. The dazzling opener runs 38:47, with three more pieces bringing the total to 72:03. A-

William Parker/Giorgio Dini: Temporary (2009, Silta): Bass duo, with a short "Intermezzo" with Parker on shakuhachi. B+(*)

Jessie Ware: Glasshouse (2017, Interscope): Third album, skipped it after having been unimpressed by her first two. Opener is overbearing, but "Selfish Love" is a choice cut. Maybe "Sam" too, but as a ballad to her baby it won't break through on the dance floor. B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

Beauty Pill: Beauty Pill Describes Things as They Are (2015, Butterscotch): Panned this, then Maura Johnston put it top-10 and Robert Christgau gave it an A. Sure, something more there, but one still has to dig deeper than I'm ever likely to do. [was: B] B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Conrad Bauer/Matthias Bauer/Dag Magnus Narvesen: The Gift (NoBusiness): cdr (lp only)
  • Adam Caine Quartet: Transmissions (NoBusiness)
  • François Carrier/Masayo Koketsu/Daisuke Fuwa/Takashi Itani: Japan Suite (NoBusiness)
  • Vincent Chancey: The Spell: The Vincent Chancey Trio Live 1987 (NoBusiness) *
  • DUX Orchestra: Duck Walks Dog (With Mixed Results) (1994, NoBusiness): cdr (lp only)
  • Falkner Evans: Marbles (CAP)
  • John Fedchock NY Sextet: Into the Shadows (Summit) [07-17]
  • Agustí Fernández/Liudas Mockunas: Improdimensions (NoBusiness): cdr (lp only)
  • Gato Libre: Kaneko (Libra) [07-10]
  • Sue Anne Gershenzon: You Must Believe in Spring (self-released) [08-01]
  • Keys & Screws [Thomas Borgmann/Jan Roder/Willi Kellers]: Some More Jazz (NoBusiness): cdr (lp only)
  • Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet: Believe, Believe (Clean Feed)
  • Sam Rivers: Richochet [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 3] (1978, NoBusiness)
  • Jason Robinson & Eric Hofbauer: Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late: Duo Music of Ken Aldcroft (Accretions)
  • Benny Rubin Jr. Quartet: Know Say or See (Benny Jr. Music)
  • Threadbare [Jason Stein/Ben Cruz/Emerson Hunton]: Silver Dollar (NoBusiness)

Sunday, July 12, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Today's headline: Florida shatters single-day infection record with 15,300 new cases. I don't generally like linking to video, but here's Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis bragging about how safe Florida is (video seems to be from May 20), and how the alarmists have been disproven.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Zeeshan Aleem: The Goya Foods free speech controversy, explained: "Goya Foods' CEO says his speech is being suppressed by a boycott. It's not." I don't care much one way or the other, but when corporate spokespeople make inflammatory political comments, which is their right if not evidence of good sense, others have a right to get upset and withhold their business. For past examples, look at what right-wing pundits had to say about Nike. While I don't care much, I did include this link because I wanted to add this tweet from Charles M Blow:

    Once more: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CANCEL CULTURE. There is free speech. You can say and do as you pls, and others can choose never to deal this you, your company or your products EVER again. The rich and powerful are just upset that the masses can now organize their dissent.

  • Jay Ambrose: Slavery is not all that America is about: Another right-wing pundit, can't find much about him but he started appearing in the Wichita Eagle recently, sandwiched between Cal Thomas and Marc Thiessen. This piece is especially wretched. It starts:

    The New York Times last year came up with a project to debase America, to say this country is about nothing but slavery, that the institution has determined everything we are, that it instructs us to this day on the maltreatment of Black people. The Revolutionary War was fought to keep it going, and the pretenses of liberty and equality have been just that, pretenses. Slavery even fashioned a capitalism that maintains its evils and built our economy, we learn.

    Black Americans are the real purveyors of the ideas of liberty and equality, not racist whites, we are also instructed in the so-called 1619 Project that started with a bunch of essays in The Times Sunday magazine. . . .

    The really scary thing is The Times has so arranged things that a book of the project's contents will be taught in public high schools. That will help to further dislodge future generations from any understanding of how our values fought slavery instead of bowing to it, that many have understood that slavery and Jim Crow are our vilest faults without saying we have no virtues.

    It is certainly important to recognize our faults but also to acknowledge, as Black American pundit Thomas Sowell has pointed out, that Black Americans were making far more progress on their own initiative before some liberal politicians in the 1960s entered in to do misconceived things for votes and guilt atonement.

    The key word here is "debase": Ambrose thinks the only reason for writing about slavery is to make America look bad. He further surmises that if schoolchildren were exposed to this history, they'd -- well, I'm just guessing here -- grow up with some kind of guilt complex about being American. And why would that be such a bad thing? Well -- another guess, but less of a leap -- they might doubt their conservative leaders about how virtuous America has always been. Maybe 1619 Project tilts a bit too hard the other way, but their view hasn't been given much airing, and it uncovered a lot of forgotten (or ignored) history. The last part of the quote is even more scurrilous. It's true that blacks were making progress before the 1964 Civil Rights Act: that's why the Act was passed, to secure as well as to advance that progress. And if some whites voted for it for "guilt atonement," they often did have much to feel guilty about. But one should also mention that many felt anger about the extremely public violence segregationists used to deny Americans rights we supposedly all cherish. The implication that the Civil Rights Act ended that progress is ludicrous. Progress since then has been erratic and sometimes glacial, but the obstacles have always come from conservatives like Ambrose, who feel my guilt and take no responsibility for their ancestors or, indeed, their racist selves.

    Ambrose's one attempt to argue with the 1619 historiography is his citation of Gordon Wood ("who says there is not a single quote anywhere to be found of a colonist saying the war could save slavery"). Wood is my "go to" historian of the Revolution and the early republic (at least since Richard B. Morris passed), so I respect his criticism of the 1619 Project, but find that he invalidates very little of its historical contribution. See: An interview with historian Gordon Wood on the New York Times' 1619 Project.

  • Dean Baker: Is it impossible to envision a world without patent monopolies? Elisabeth Rosenthal, at the New York Times, thinks not.

    While her points are all well-taken, the amazing part is that she never considers the simplest solution, just don't give the companies patent monopolies in the first place. The story here is the government is paying for most of the research upfront. While it has to pay for it a second time by giving the companies patent monopolies.

    There is no reason that the government can't simply make it a condition of the funding that all research findings are fully open and that any patents will be in the public domain so that any vaccines will be available as a cheap generic from the day it comes on the market. Not only does this ensure that a vaccine will be affordable, it will likely mean more rapid progress since all researchers will be able to immediately learn from the success or failures of other researchers.

    I'd go further and add that even when government does not fund the research, prospective patents are not necessary to encourage research and development and are often counterproductive. Moreover, the efficiencies within any given country from publicly funding research and publishing findings others can freely build upon would be multiplied many times over if adopted everywhere. One more point is that ending patents would significantly change the dynamics of "free trade" pacts, which often are more preoccupied with forcing adherence to an international tribute system to owners of "intellectual property," even at the expense of free trade.

  • Zack Beauchamp: What the police really believe: "Inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing -- and how it justifies racist violence."

  • Jamelle Bouie: Maybe this isn't such a good time to prosecute a culture war

  • Ronald Brownstein: Trump's America is slipping away: "He's trying to assemble a winning coalition with a dwindling number of sympathetic white voters." Nixon, with Kevin Phillips crunching the numbers, figured that if he could add Southern whites and Northern ethnics (mostly Catholics) to the Republican core he'd have a coalition capable of winning for decades. He came up with the basic pitch in 1972, and Reagan clinched the deal in the 1980s before, well, they proved basically incompetent at running the government. Since then they've mastered the mechanics of tilting elections their way, and they've repeatedly doubled down on the demagoguery, recovering quickly from the inevitable setbacks when their record came into focus. Trump is still using the Nixon/Reagan coalition plan. He won in 2016 by hitting it hard, while facing a uniquely compromised opponent running on a lacklustre record of indifference to average Americans. And no, he has no new ideas on coalition-building, even though (as the article points out) the numbers have shifted significantly away from his favor.

  • Kate Conger/Jack Healy/Lucy Tompkins: Churches were eager to reopen. Now they are confronting coronavirus cases.

  • David Dayen: Just one week to stop a calamity. Technically, two weeks until the federal "stimulus" payments expire, but the Senate is adjourned for another week, so no discussion until then.

  • Matt Ford: Fear of a Forever-Trump administration: "There doesn't seem to be much faith in the peaceful transition of power, if the burgeoning canon of postelection pulp horror is any guide." I think we've gotten carried away with projecting Trump's authoritarian tastes and temperament into a threat to end democracy. While Trump himself may be so inclined, and while his personality cult gives him some leeway to act out, I don't see any ideological or institutional support for such a change. What I do see is a Republican Party dedicated to bending the rules, trying to tailor the electorate to its taste and scheming to grab pockets of power that will allow them to survive momentary lapses. I also see many people who are willing to follow any crackpot who flatters them and promises them dominance over myriad threats. Least of all is Trump's personal cult, which while substantial is still a minority taste, and more generally an embarrassment even to his sponsors. If fascism does come to America, they'll pick a more agreeable (and more competent) front man than Trump.

  • Masha Gessen: A theme park of Donald Trump's dreams: Trump's executive order to establish a National Garden of American Heroes. It includes an initial list of people to be represented in stone. It's a peculiar list, with a judicious selection of women (Susan B Anthony, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Dolley Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Betsy Ross, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman) and blacks (Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Robinson, Tubman, Booker T Washington), without any Confederate leaders or ideologues, but the only 20th century president is Ronald Reagan, and the only Supreme Court Justice is Antonin Scalia. As Gessen notes, the only writer is Stowe, and there are no artists or scientists. Also, no Indians (but also no Andrew Jackson or George Armstrong Custer, although Davy Crockett made the list). I'll add that there are no major business figures, and the only inventors are the Wright Brothers. Also, one name I had to look up: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (a governor of Maine). Other relative obscurities are McAuliffe (the much touted teacher-astronaut blown up by NASA) and Audie Murphy (a WWII soldier who capitalized on his Medal of Honor to become a minor Hollywood actor). As Gessen sums up: "a skeletal, heroic history, with a lot of shooting, a lot of flying, and very little government."

  • Brittany Gibson: One billionaire vs. the mail: "A new report details Charles Koch's 50-year war on the US Postal Service."

  • David A Graham: Donald Trump's lost cause.

  • Stanley B Greenberg: The Tea Party's last stand. "The right wing's current pathetic defense of President Trump contrasts sharply with the Tea Party revolt against the election and re-election of President Barack Obama." The Tea Party only worked as an attack vehicle. They never had any program to advance. They simply meant to oppose whatever it was Democrats wanted, starting with recovery from the recession. Even today, Trump appeals to them not for any program but because Trump is the embodiment of their nihilistic worldview. Greenberg writes: "President Trump is trapped by a pandemic and protests that only magnify his insecurity and weak hold on his own party -- and by his need to provoke a Tea Party to make its last stand." But the Tea Party can't save Trump, because they can't turn their intensity into votes. On the other hand, Trump's demise won't be their end. They will find even more to hate in the next wave of Democrats. The open question is whether the media will take them seriously next time around, allowing them to magnify their impact. A big part of the reason they were able to pull that off in 2009 was Obama's efforts to "reach across the aisle" and "heal the divide" -- by their very existence they proved Obama wrong. Better to dismiss them as the whiny dead-enders they are.

  • Glenn Greenwald: How the House Armed Services Committee, in the middle of a pandemic, approved a huge military budget and more war in Afghanistan.

  • Jonathan Guyer: How Biden's foreign-policy team got rich: "Strategic consultants will define Biden's relationship to the world."

  • Jack Healy/Adam Liptak: Landmark Supreme Court ruling affirms Native American rights in Oklahoma.

  • Sean Illing: Is evangelical support for Trump a contradiction?: "A religious historian explains why Trump wasn't a trade-off for American evangelicals." Interview with Kristen Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

    According to Du Mez, evangelical leaders have spent decades using the tools of pop culture -- films, music, television, and the internet -- to grow the movement. The result, she says, is a Christianity that mirrors that culture. Instead of modeling their lives on Christ, evangelicals have made heroes of people like John Wayne and Mel Gibson, people who project a more militant and more nationalist image. In that sense, Trump's strongman shtick is a near-perfect expression of their values.

    That doesn't even sound like values to me, but I've long noted a division among Christians between those who care for and seek to help their neighbors and those who wish to consign them to hell. The prevalence of revenge fantasies in American culture certainly feeds that tendency.

  • Umair Irfan: Why extreme heat is so alarming for the fight against Covid-19. Interesting that the focus here isn't about global warming, even though the impetus is a 120F forecast for Phoenix, which would be a record high (tying the third highest temperature ever in Phoenix, the highest being 122F). On the other hand, Arizona is the worst Covid-19 hotspot in the nation, and probably the world. Remember how Trump was talking about the virus vanishing when it warms up?

  • Jen Kirby:

  • Ezra Klein: Masha Gessen on the frightening fragility of America's political institutions: Interview, based on Gessen's new book Autocracy: Rules for Survival.

  • Bonnie Kristian: The real story about Russian bounties on US troops isn't whether Trump knew about it,

  • Robert Kuttner:

    • Biden's new economic nationalism: Better than you may think: "And some of it seems to have been inspired by Elizabeth Warren." Also:

    • Privatizing our public water supply.

      The House Democrats have made a good start with HR2, the Invest in America Act -- but with one weird exception: A provision slipped into the bill by the water privatization industry and its Congressional allies would create incentives to privatize America's water supply systems, one of the few essential services that are still mostly public thanks to the heroic struggles of our Progressive Era forebears, who worked to assure clean and affordable water via public systems. . . .

      Privatized systems are typically less reliable, far more expensive, and prone to corrupt deal-making. The average community with privatized water paid 59 percent more than those with government supplied water. In New Jersey, which has more private water than most, private systems charged 79 percent more. In Illinois, they charged 95 percent more. Private water corporations have also been implicated in environmental disasters. The French multinational, Veolia, issued a report in 2015 certifying that Flint, Michigan's water system met EPA standards, but neglected to mention high lead concentrations.

  • Dave Lindorff: Why the high dudgeon over alleged Russian bounties for Taliban slaying of US troops: This was my second thought on hearing of the story, but I've been waiting for someone else to quote: "Paying for scalps has a venerable tradition in the US. Ask any Native American." My first thought was that the US did something damn similar when the Russians occupied Afghanistan. Maybe not bounties per sé, but the CIA certainly pressed its client mujahideen to focus on inflicting blood losses on Russia.

  • Martin Longman: The spiraling downward trend of Donald Trump's political life: "My best guess is that for the rest of the campaign, every day is going to be worse for Trump than the last. And that means every day will technically be the worst day of Trump's political life."

  • Annie Lowrey: The pandemic proved that cash payments work: "An extra $600 a week buys freedom from fear."

  • Farhad Manjoo: I've seen a future without cars, and it's amazing. When I was growing up, cars meant everything. Even now, when our car use as atrophied to the point I've only filled it up once since March, I can't imagine doing the things we need to do without one. On the other hand, when I was growing up, I had an aunt who didn't drive, and today I have a nephew who doesn't drive, and both managed to deal with the trade-offs. Before I could drive, I was able to get around most of Wichita on bike. And I've had a couple of stretches without a car: two years at college in St. Louis, and three years living in Manhattan. Manjoo's article actually limits itself to Manhattan, where the cost/benefit ratio of having a car is higher than anywhere else in America, and the externalities of others' cars are even greater. His idea is freshly illustrated, but I'd like to point out that it isn't new: Paul and Percival Goodman wrote it up c. 1950, and included it in Paul Goodman's Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals (1962). Even now, Manjoo concedes: "With a population that is already quite used to getting along without cars, the island is just about the only place in the country where you could even consider calling for the banishment of cars."

  • Dylan Matthews: Congress's Covid-19 rescue plan was bigger than the New Deal. It's about to end.

  • Terrence McCoy: They lost the Civil War and fled to Brazil. Their descendants refuse to take down the Confederate flag. "It's one of history's lesser-known episodes. After the Civil War, thousands of defeated Southerners came to Brazil to self-exile in a country that still practiced slavery." Somehow I missed this story, although I did know about the "loyalists" who left America for Canada during/after the Revolution, "fundamentalist" Mormons to settled in Mexico, and Nazis who made their way to Paraguay and other South American countries. I'd guess some Confederates landed in Cuba as well, given that Cuba was the last place in the America to abolish slavery, and that slaveholders in the 1850s were so anxious to annex it as a slave state.

  • John Merrick: Mike Davis tried to warn us about a virus-induced apocalypse. He did so in a book called The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005). Now he returns with a "substantially expanded edition," The Monster Enters: Covid-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism. By the way, that last bit didn't come from nowhere. That was the subject of his 2001 book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World.

  • Ian Millhiser:

  • Lee Moran: GOP state lawmaker: 'I want to see more people' get coronavirus.

  • Sean Murphy: Health official: Trump rally 'likely' source of virus surge.

  • Ellen Nakashima: Trump confirms cyberattack on Russian trolls to deter them during 2018 midterms.

  • Nicole Narea:

  • Ella Nilsen: How Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders joined forces to craft a bold, progressive agenda.

  • Osita Nwanevu:

  • Ashley Parker/Philip Rucker/Josh Dawsey: Trump the victim: President complains in private about the pandemic hurting him.

    Callers on President Trump in recent weeks have come to expect what several allies and advisers describe as a "woe-is-me" preamble.

    The president rants about the deadly coronavirus destroying "the greatest economy," one he claims to have personally built. He laments the unfair "fake news" media, which he vents never gives him any credit. And he bemoans the "sick, twisted" police officers in Minneapolis, whose killing of an unarmed black man in their custody provoked the nationwide racial justice protests that have confounded the president.

    Gone, say these advisers and confidants, many speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations, are the usual pleasantries and greetings.

    Instead, Trump often launches into a monologue placing himself at the center of the nation's turmoil. The president has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim -- of a deadly pandemic, of a stalled economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him rather than the country.

  • Andrew Prokop: The past 24 hours in Trump legal issues and controversies, explained: "Supreme Court decisions, closed-door testimony, and developments for Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen."

  • Nathan Robinson: Trump's Mount Rushmore speech was a grim preview of his re-election strategy.

  • Jeffrey Sachs: Keynes and the good life. Review of two recent books: Zachary D Carter: The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, and James Crotty: Keynes Against Capitalism: His Economic Case for Liberal Socialism.

  • Dylan Scott: Covid-19 cases are rising, but deaths are falling. What's going on?

  • Alex Shephard: Mary Trump diagnoses the president: "A dark new family history from Donald Trump's niece may be the most intimate psychological portrait of him yet." Her book is Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man. She also happens to be a clinical psychologist, so sure she goes there. After considering the pathetic demise of Trump's older brother (Fred Trump Jr., Mary's father):

    Donald was the one Trump child who lived up to Fred Sr.'s expectations (he would also be the only one Fred Sr. would remember when suffering, late in life, from dementia). While the other Trump children gained little from their extremely wealthy father for most of his life (Maryanne, who became a federal judge, at one point was reduced to begging her mother for spare change), Donald was endlessly rewarded for his mendacity and aggression in the rough-and-tumble world of New York real estate. Fred Sr. showered his son with money, allowing him to create the illusion that he was self-made, a brilliant dealmaker. This phony personal brand would be the foundation of Donald's successful presidential campaign.

    Seems like I've heard that story before: sounds a lot like spree killer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace, although Trump's money saved him from taking such a murderous turn. The review continues:

    But Donald, in Mary's telling, was the most wounded of the Trump children. He was also the most pathetic. He became profoundly needy as a result of childhood neglect but lacked the means of processing his emotions. He got stuck in an endless feedback loop of self-aggrandizement and self-loathing, seeking out sycophants to assure him that he really was great -- even though, deep down, he knew he was unloved and incapable of executing even the most basic tasks.

    This too is a familiar story: the basis of the recurring Seth Meyers features of exclusive access to the tiny voice in the back of Trump's head.

  • David Sirota: Trump's Labor Secretary is reaching cartoonish levels of supervillainry. Eugene Scalia.

  • Bhaskar Sunkara: Stop trying to fight racism with corporate diversity consultants: "Inclusivity seminars and books like White Fragility protect power; they don't challenge it. We're being hustled."

  • Margaret Talbot: The study that debunks most anti-abortion arguments.

  • Jeffrey Toobin: Why the Mueller investigation failed: "President Trump's obstructions of justice were broader than those of Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, and the special counsel's investigation proved it. How come the report didn't say so?" This is a substantial article covering the Mueller investigation and Attorney General William Barr's handling of the report. Presumably it's related to Toobin's new book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump, out August 4.

    According to the Administration, Mueller and his team displayed an unseemly eagerness to uncover crimes that never existed. In fact, the opposite is true. Mueller had an abundance of legitimate targets to investigate, and his failures emerged from an excess of caution, not of zeal. Especially when it came to Trump, Mueller avoided confrontations that he should have welcomed. He never issued a grand-jury subpoena for the President's testimony, and even though his office built a compelling case for Trump's having committed obstruction of justice, Mueller came up with reasons not to say so in his report. In light of this, Trump shouldn't be denouncing Mueller -- he should be thanking him.

  • David Wallace-Wells: America is refusing to learn how to fight the coronavirus.

  • Laura Weiss: How America exports police violence around the world.

  • Philip Weiss:

  • Conor P Williams: To DeVos, the virus is an excuse to strip public money from public schools: "The policy is in line with conservative goals of converting public dollars into private K-12 scholarships." More on DeVos:

  • Robin Wright: Trump's impeachment revenge: Alexander Vindman is bullied into retiring.

  • Matthew Yglesias:


There's also this: A letter on justice and open debate. It appeared in Harper's, and was signed by 152 people, mostly authors, between a third and a half names I readily recognize. Unfortunately, half of those I recognize mostly for their support of American (and often Israeli) military ventures abroad and/or their propensity to attack the left (often including Sanders supporters within the Democratic Party). This adds an air of disingenuity to what otherwise appears to be an innocuous (albeit deliberately vague) defense of free speech. The middle paragraph could offer some clues if you could map the unnamed censorious forces seeking to punish the unnamed actors for their unspecified offenses: although Trump is the only named threat, I wouldn't be surprised to find many more worried by what the left might provoke than by what the right actually does, and some may even fear winding up on the wrong side of justice. Take Yascha Mounk's tweet, for example:

If the crazy attempts to shame and fire people for signing this reasonably anodyne letter don't convince you that our current intellectual atmosphere is deeply unhealthy, then you're more invested in parroting the propagandistic line of the moment than in acknowledging the truth.

Tom Scocca replied:

The use of "shame and fire" here is the whole damn game. Treating them as interchangeable is, in fact, a cynical attack on free discourse.

Osita Nwanevu's piece on "reactionary liberalism" (see above) fits in here, without actually making the connection. Many of the signatories fit that mold, and they're the main reason people like myself have taken exception to the letter. I actually share a wariness about overly harsh and arbitrary punishments.

Also relevant here is Alex Shephard: The problem with Yascha Mounk's Persuasion, which does discuss the Harper's letter.

Persuasion has the feel of a club of no-longer-coddled elites, banded together in an attempt to maintain their status in a rapidly changing world. At this point, it doesn't seem to be about changing minds. It may be dressed up as a new institution for promoting a free society, but so far its cause célèbre is the process by which op-eds are published. Liberalism deserves better.

Monday, July 6, 2020


Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33567 [33526] rated (+41), 212 [211] unrated (+1).

I've been ambivalent about adding mid-year lists to the metacritic file. Last couple years I actually started with those lists, but this year I've been collecting ratings pretty extensively, so the current file should provide you with a fairly accurate account of critical consensus on records so far. More importantly, the method should continue to work week in, week out through the end of the year. Right now, the ratings (with points in braces, and, where available, my grades in brackets):

  1. Run the Jewels: RTJ4 (Jewel Runners/RBC/BMG) {58} [A-]
  2. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Epic) {54} [A-]
  3. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud (Merge) {46} [A-]
  4. Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways (Columbia) {40} [A-]
  5. Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher (Dead Oceans) {38} [**]
  6. Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia (Warner) {34} [A-]
  7. Lucinda Williams: Good Souls Better Angels (Highway 20) {34} [A-]
  8. Haim: Women in Music Pt III (Columbia) {33} [**]
  9. Perfume Genius: Set My Heart on Fire Immediately (Matador) {31} [*]
  10. Caribou: Suddenly (Merge) {30} [**]
  11. Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (Interscope) {28} [*]
  12. Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling (ATO) {27} [A-]
  13. Thundercat: It Is What It Is (Brainfeeder) {27} [B]
  14. Jessie Ware: What's Your Pleasure? (Interscope) {26} [***]
  15. Shabaka and the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here by History (Impulse!) {25} [A-]
  16. Soccer Mommy: Color Theory (Loma Vista) {25} [***]
  17. Yves Tumor: Heaven to a Tortured Mind(Warp) {25} [**]
  18. Charli XCX: How I'm Feeling Now (Asylum) {25} [***]
  19. Moses Sumney: Grae (Jagjaguwar) {23} [B]
  20. Gil Scott-Heron: We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven (XL) {22} [**]
  21. Grimes: Miss Anthropocene (4AD) {22} [***]
  22. Lady Gaga: Chromatica (Interscope) {21} [***]
  23. Pearl Jam: Gigaton (Monkeywrench/Republic) {20} []
  24. Jehnny Beth: To Love Is to Live (Caroline) {19} [*]
  25. Cornershop: England Is a Garden (Ample Play) {19} [A-]
  26. Destroyer: Have We Met (Merge) {19} [*]
  27. Halsey: Manic (Capitol) {19} [***]
  28. Laura Marling: Song for Our Daughter (Chrysalis/Partisan) {19} [**]
  29. Mac Miller: Circles (Warner) {19} [A-]
  30. Rina Sawayama: Sawayama (Dirty Hit) {19} [B-]
  31. US Girls: Heavy Light (4AD) {19} [B-]
  32. Hayley Williams: Petals of Armor (Atlantic) {19} [*]

Well, it's skewed somewhat. Some of the lists I monitor are from friendly sources, and that moves the consensus a bit toward things that are more likely to interest me. Also, I don't skip sources that focus exclusively on metal or classical, though I occasionally pick up samples of each from elsewhere. The idea is less to sample public opinion than it is to sift through it to find things that might be interesting to review. And while this top-32 (despite the numbers, everything from 24-32 are tied). But I also feel entitled to add in some points myself (matching the points for Robert Christgau's grades; all other sources are treated as one point each mention as noted in the legend).

I skewed the results further by adding in mid-year lists scraped from the Expert Witness Facebook group, comments to a July 2 post. I picked up lists from: Steve Alter, Kevin Bozelka, Jeffrey D. Callahan, Joey Daniewicz, Chris Gray, Paul Hayden, Eric Johnson, Tom Lane, Brad Luen, Eric Marcus, Greg Morton, Stan Piccirilli, Harden Smith, John Speranza, Thomas Walker, plus a few bits from others I had already been following (especially Chris Monsen). In compiling these lists, I've omitted records that didn't qualify by my relaxed 2020 standards (which include all December 2019 releases and any other 2019 releases that didn't appear in my 2019 EOY aggregate). Also note that the lists almost always identify records by artist name only, so I had to guess here and there. (Old releases I didn't tally were: Constantinople & Ablaye Cissoko, Kefaya + Elaha Soroor, Jeffrey Lewis & the Voltage, Post Malone, Red Velvet, Matana Roberts, Kalie Shorr.)

All this skewing probably contributed to me grading 10 (of 32) records A-, 6 more B+(***). If you subtract my points, Christgau's, the Expert Witness lists, Monsen, Phil Overeem, and Tim Niland, the list would run: Phoebe Bridgers {33}, Run the Jewels {32}, Fiona Apple/Haim {31}, Perfume Genius/Waxahatchie {30}, Caribou {28}, Bob Dylan/Tame Impala {27}, Thundercat {25}, Dua Lipa {24}, Yves Tumor/Charli XCX {22}, Moses Sumney {21}, Pearl Jam/Soccer Mommy {20}, US Girls/Jessie Ware {19}.

The new records below mostly came from the Expert Witness lists -- expecially from Monsen (6). The other big block is a bunch of records by the late Freddy Cole. I've long recommended two later records -- The Dreamer in Me (2009) and Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (2010) -- so I was especially surprised to find my favorite among the rest was his 1964 debut. Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson are names I know well, but this also made me want to explore saxophonist Sam "The Man" Taylor. He recorded quite a bit, but only has one compilation on Napster, and I passed on it due to lack of discography.

Ennio Morricone (91) has died. He was possibly the most famous soundtrack composer of the last 50-60 years. I've always harbored an active dislike for soundtrack albums, which is probably why I've never delved into his, despite much enjoying his music in the context of the movies. I can recommend his 1987 compilation on Virgin, Film Music, Volume 1.

Another recent death was English bassist Simon H. Fell (61), another musician I've heard very little from. I dutifully listed 12 of his titles, all highly touted by Penguin Guide, in my shopping list/database, but never found a one of them, so I've only heard one more recent album -- SFE (2011, Clean Feed) [B+(***)]. That's not likely to change much. I see that selections from most of his albums are available on Bandcamp, but none complete enough for me to review.

I am toying with the idea of taking notes on fractional albums, since that would seem to offer a way to glimpse much of the work that I find currently inaccessible. I currently use U to designate records that I possess a copy of but haven't graded yet. I'm tempted to add a new U+ for records I've only heard part of but would like to hear more, and U- for records I've heard enough of to doubt any further interest. One reason I haven't done this is that I'm not sure how the programs would deal with the introduction of a new grade. I wouldn't want to count U+ or U- albums as graded, or as ungraded (a number I've been trying to whittle down, without much success lately).

One question in the queue, which I'll probably get to this week. By all means, please ask more.


New records reviewed this week:

6lack: 6pc Hot Ep (2020, Interscope, EP): Atlanta rapper Ricardo Valentine, two albums, came up with this 6 song, 18:48 EP. Starts impressive, drags at the end. B+(*)

Juhani Aaltonen/Jonas Kullhammar/Christian Meaas Svendsen/Ilmari Heikinheimo: The Father, the Sons & the Junnu (2019 [2020], Moserobie): Two tenor saxophonists, the former also playing flute, the latter baritone sax, with bass and drums. Order from spine. Cover interleaves names with title, tagging Kullhammar as father and the much older Aaltonen as Junnu. Two masters. And while I prefer his sax, Aaltonen's flute remains impressive as ever. A- [cd]

Aardvark Jazz Orchestra: Faces of Souls (2015-19 [2020], Leo): Long-running Boston group, first two records (1993-95) under leader Mark Harvey's name, but group seems to date back to 1972 ("48 years"). Harvey started out on trumpet, but plays piano here, and composed everything. This was cobbled together from four sets, so the personnel shifts a bit, but you usually get around 15 musicians, playing dirge-like suites. A group I should explore. B+(*)

Aksak Maboul: Figures (2020, Crammed Discs): Belgian experimental pop group, principally Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis, recorded two 1977-80 albums, released an earlier shelved one in 2014, recently revived for a new album. In the meantime, Hollander runs Crammed Discs, and Kenis produced their Congotronics albums. Long, complex, more Euro than African, may grow on you, but hard for me to pass a snap judgment. B+(**)

James Carney Sextet: Pure Heart (2020, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Syracuse, New York, based in New York City, eighth album since 1993. With Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Oscar Noriega (bass clarinet/alto sax), Ravi Coltrane (tenor/soprano/sopranino saxes), Dezron Douglas (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums). Sophisticated postbop, the rhythm section never finding the beat nor losing it completely, the horns swooping in and out of the chaos. B+(***)

Drakeo the Ruler: Thank You for Using GTL (2020, Stinc Team): Rapper Darrell Caldwell, from Los Angeles, resume starts with "first arrested at the age of 12." Has been in and out of jail ever since, recording several mixtapes when he got out. He was acquitted of murder in 2019, but the charges were refiled as "criminal gang conspiracy," and he was still in jail when he recorded this, using GTL (Global Tel Link)'s ICS (Inmate Calling Service), with JoogSZN producing. Feels claustrophobic, lots of pressure, little hope. B+(**)

Hegge: Feeling (2020, Particular): Norwegian bassist Bjørn Marius Hegge, who wrote all but two songs -- Jonas Kullhammar (tenor sax) and Vigleik Storaas (piano) wrote those; also in the band: Martin Myhre Olsen (alto/soprano sax) and Håkon Mjåset Johansen (drums). Upbeat, playful even. B+(***)

Derrick Hodge: Color of Noize (2020, Blue Note): Bass guitarist, third album (fourth counting R+R=Now), side credits with Terence Blanchard, Robert Glasper, and a few more. B

John Pål Inderberg Trio: Radio Inderberg (2019 [2020], AMP Music): Norwegian baritone saxophonist, albums date from 1995, including a couple with Lee Konitz. Trio with bass (Trygve Waldemar Fiske) and drums (Håkon Mjåset Johansen). Mostly trad pieces, some by group, covers of Konitz, Monk, and Lars Gullin. B+(***)

Edward "Kidd" Jordan/Joel Futterman/William Parker/Hamid Drake: A Tribute to Alvin Fielder: Live at Vision Festival XXIV (2019 [2020], Mahakala Music): Fielder (1935-2019) was a drummer, born in Mississippi, a charter member of AACM, only one record as leader but a fair number, especially with Jordan (tenor sax) and/or Futterman (piano), who are the stars in this 45:03 blow out. Kidd's closing comments are every bit as good. B+(***)

Machine Girl: U-Void Synthesizer (2020, 1818199 DK2): Real name: Matt Stepheson. Seventh album since 2014. Tags: electronic, breakcore, death metal, drum and bass, footwork, hardcore, juke, jungle, punk, thrash metal. More annoying than not, although "Scroll of Sorrow" has some redeeming merit. B-

Nicole Mitchell/Lisa E. Harris: EarthSeed (2017 [2020], FPE): Flute player from Chicago, has recorded a lot since 2011, often overcoming my wariness of her instrument. Lyrics are drawn from Octavia E. Butler's dystopian novels, sung by Harris, an operatic soprano I often find unbearable, and Julian Otis. Not without the occasional patch of musical interest. C-

Noshir Mody: An Idealist's Handbook: Identity, Love and Hope in America 2020 (2020, self-released): Guitarist, originally from Mumbai, based in New York since 1995. Several previous albums, one in the group EthniFusion. Kate Victor sings. B [cd]

Hedvig Mollestad: Ekhidna (2020, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitarist, full name adds Thomassen, six Trio albums since 2011, this just under her name, with new bass and drums, keyboards (not very noticeable), and Susana Santos Silva on trumpet (fiery). The fast ones are as fierce as ever. Two change-of-pace stretches threw me at first. A-

Willie Nelson: First Rose of Spring (2020, Legacy): "Seventhieth solo album" (per Wikipedia), two new originals (co-written with producer Buddy Cannon). All good, nothing great, seems like he's hit a plateau he can sustain until he drops. B+(***)

Pere Ubu: By Order of Mayor Pawlicki: Live in Jarocin (2017 [2020], Cherry Red): Last year's The Long Goodbye was supposedly the end of the road for this band, which started out in 1975 in Ohio, and produced one of my all-time favorite albums -- The Modern Dance (1978). Singer David Thomas keeps the sound together as others have come and gone. One feature here is that they went back to the 1970s for the song list. Great songs, but it's all rather messy. B+(**)

Francis Quinlan: Likewise (2020, Saddle Creek): Singer/songwriter, from New Jersey/Pennsylvania, first solo album, formerly fronted Hop Along. B+(*)

Jorge Roeder: El Suelo Mio (2020, T-Town): Peruvian bassist, based in New York, has side credits with Brad Shepik, Julian Lage, Shai Maestro, and others. First album as leader, solo, 13 pieces in the 2:20-5:05 range. B+(*)

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen: Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 (2020, Lil' Buddy Toons): Two Texans play trad country, lots of fiddle and pedal steel, name dropping Jones and Haggard. Five years after Vol. 1. Typical line: "I got a warm beer and a cold woman/ wish it was the other way around." B+(*)

Claire Rousay: A Heavenly Touch (2020, Already Dead): Based in San Antonio, "a person who performs and records," exploring "queerness, human relationships, and self-perception through the use of physical objects and their potential sounds." Discogs lists 8 albums since 2019, some with jazz connections. Mostly found sounds, road noise, dog barks, booms, a bit of "Tenderly" wafting through the breeze. B

Sault: Untitled (Black Is) (2020, Forever Living Originals): UK group, oft described as "elusive," released two albums in 2019 that reminded me of prime Chic. No such comparisons possible here, although the political moment does occasionally come to the fore. "Don't shoot/ guns down." B+(***) [bc]

Øyvind Skarbø/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Kris Davis/Ole Morten Vågan: Inland Empire (2016 [2020], Clean Feed): Drums, tenor sax/clarinet, piano, bass. Recorded in Norway, everyone contributed pieces and shared credit on the title track. B+(**)

Stephane Spira/Giovanni Mirabassi: Improkofiev (2020, Jazzmax): Soprano sax and piano, quartet with bass (Steve Wood) and drums (Donald Konyomanou), plus flugelhorn on one track. Title is a suite with "excerpts from violin concerto no. 1." Other pieces cover Erik Satie and Carla Bley. B+(**)

Grant Stewart Quartet: Rise and Shine (2019 [2020], Cellar Live): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, young enough his oldies are more likely post-bop than pre-bop. Backed by Tardo Hammer (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Phil Stewart (drums). Includes a vocal (Lucy Yeghiazaryan) for the radio programmers. B+(**)

Jessie Ware: What's Your Pleasure? (2020, Interscope): British dance-pop diva, fourth album, starts retro-disco, ending up more new wave. B+(***)

Bobby Watson: Keepin' It Real (2020, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, from Kansas City, broke in with Art Blakey in the late 1970s, widely acclaimed in the 1980s including a Penguin Guide crown for Love Remains (1986), recorded for Blue Note and Columbia in the 1990s, flirting with fusion (Post-Motown Bop was a good title, but not much of an album). Floundered before landing here, a label which encouraged him to revert to his inner Bird. With Josh Evans or Giveton Gelin (trumpet), Victor Gould (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Victor Jones (drums). Calls the group New Horizon, probably because his head's still stuck in the 1990s. B

Westside Gunn: Flygod Is an Awesome God II (2020, Griselda): Buffalo rapper Alvin Worthy, used FLYGOD as an alias, also title of his 2016 album, also appears on several mixtapes including this one's 2019 predecessor. B+(*)

Hailey Whitters: The Dream (2020, Pigasus): Country singer-songwriter from Iowa, second album, Wikipedia pegs her sales at 300. Started off just guitar and voice, which seemed to be her metier, so I was surprised when the drums kicked in. Plain-spoken, common touch, could amount to something. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Mark Harvey Group: A Rite for All Souls (1971 [2020], Americas Musicworks, 2CD): Trumpet player, based in Boston, best known as the founder of Aardvark Jazz Orchestra ("now in its 48th season"). This group was founded in 1969, ran for a few years, left one 1972 live album before this "long lost recording" came to light. Started "playing hard-bop and jazz-rock," but this is mostly free, with scratchy sax (Peter Bloom), lots of percussion, some spoken word. B+(***) [cd] [07-17]

Old music:

Freddy Cole: "Waiter, Ask the Man to Play the Blues": Freddy Cole Plays & Sings Some Lonely Ballads (1964, Dot): Twelve years younger than his famous brother, Nat "King" Cole, also plays piano, cut his first single in 1952 but no LP until this set, the only one to appear before his brother's death. Close to the mark, a small jazz combo playing cocktail blues, but a path his brother never quite took. With Sam Taylor on tenor sax, Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson in the rhythm section. A-

Freddy Cole: The Cole Nobody Knows (1973, First Shot): Third album (second was On Second Thought), third label, backed with guitar/bass/drums, recycled the title cut from his first album in a closing medley. B

Freddy Cole: One More Love Song (1978, Poker): Backed by an anonymous big band, arranged by Jerry Van Rooyen and Tony Nolte. Nice voice. B

Freddy Cole: I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me (1990 [2004], High Note): But he keeps the distinctions subtle, mostly that he was approaching 60 here, whereas brother Nat died at 45. The voice is damn close, he plays similar piano, in a guitar-bass trio (Ed Zad and Eddie Edwards). His best original ("Fried Potatoes") echoes "Frim Fram Sauce" (but with a little more meat). He works in a short medley and offers a touching tribute, setting up the title song, which he aces. B+(***)

Freddy Cole: This Is the Life (1993 [2003], Savoy Jazz): Originally released on Muse, beginning a long, career-defining relationship that continued on High Note. One plus here is the supporting cast: six musicians plus Cole on piano, most notably Houston Person on tenor sax. Mostly ballads, tends toward smooth, clearly enjoys the title song. B+(**)

Freddy Cole: To the Ends of the Earth (1997, Fantasy): Between the demise of Muse and the founding of High Note, Cole recorded five 1995-98 albums for Fantasy. Produced by Todd Barkan, who employed big band numbers (including help from Cyrus Chestnut on piano) while still making it sound intimate. B+(**)

Freddy Cole: Love Makes the Changes (1998, Fantasy): Todd Barkan produced again, with Cedar Walton helping with piano and arranging, with Eric Alexander and Grover Washington on sax. Four originals, Among the covers, Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" is likely to enter the standards canon. B+(***)

Freddy Cole: Le Grand Freddy: Freddy Cole Sings the Music of Michel Legrand (1994-99 [1999], Fantasy): Eleven songs from the French composer, nine with lyrics by Alan Bergman. Many of the same musicians from earlier Todd Barkan albums, including Cedar Walton and Cyrus Chestnut on piano, and Grover Washington Jr. on tenor sax. B+(**)

Freddy Cole: This Love of Mine (2005, High Note): First album with Joe Fields' new label, which served him well for the rest of his career. Typical songs, strong voice, lets John DiMartino handle the piano and most of the arranging. Eric Alexander and Fathead Newman play tenor sax. B+(***)

Freddy Cole: He Was the King (2016, High Note): Finally, enough distance to record an explicit treat to his brother. Most I recall clearly as Nat "King" Cole hits, but the only Cole credit is to Freddy's title song, previously recorded in 1990, where it leads into "I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me." Harry Allen and Houston Person play tenor sax. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gregory Dudzienski Quartet: Beautiful Moments (OA2) [07-17]
  • Bartosz Hadala Group: Three Short Stories (Zecernia)
  • Jeremy Levy Jazz Orchestra: The Planets: Reimagined (OA2) [07-17]
  • Quinsin Nachoff: Pivotal Arc (Whirlwind) [08-07]
  • Owl Xounds Exploding Galaxy: The Coalescence (ESP-Disk)
  • Soft Machine: Live at the Baked Potato (Moonjune)

-- next