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Sunday, March 17, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31275 [31246] rated (+29), 251 [252] unrated (-1).

Rated count down, probably by a lot mid-week, but I spent a lot of time on the computer hacking out Book Roundup then Weekend Roundup, and made up ground late. I checked and found that this was the third week in the last two months with exactly 29 records. Would have been more except that this has been another banner A-list week.

Two came out of my jazz queue -- David Berkman, not out until April 5, and Tomeka Reid/Filippo Monico -- and they qualify as news. Three were tipped off by Phil Overeem (Little Simz, Dave, and Robert Forster -- although the first two took a revisit before I became convinced). One (Todd Snider) was written up by Robert Christgau (along with Leyla McCalls's Capitalist Blues and Our Native Daughters' Songs of Our Native Daughters, both A- here in previous weeks). I was tipped off to the final one (Matt Brewer) by a Chris Monsen tweet. Various other sources led me to lower-rated records, but somehow the best tips keep coming from friends.

I've put off my office/computer reorganization, but should buckle down and get it done this week (tomorrow I hope, after I get this post up and get some fresh light to work with. Still some things unclear about how it's all going to get put back together.

Getting some decent weather after several rough months. (The "bomb cyclone" was kind of a dud here, although it lived up to its billing a hundred miles north of here, even more so between there and Denver.) Maybe I'll take some time and work on the yard and/or my nephew's house. Also still stuck with a lot of stress over myriad health issues -- but generally looks like a lazy week coming up.


New records reviewed this week:

2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League (2019, Gamebread/Def Jam): Rapper Tauheed Epps, from Georgia, checkered career but his five albums have sold well, charting no lower than 4. Songs about dealing drugs and playing college basketball and playing taxes, all rooted in real life. B+(**)

4WD [Nils Landgren/Michael Wollny/Lars Danielsson/Wolfgang Haffner]: 4 Wheel Drive (2018 [2019], ACT): I go back and forth on how to parse the cover, but label's website credits this to the trombonist and dismisses "4WD" -- possibly just a graphic? Piano-bass-drums for the others, with Landgren singing a pop repertoire including Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, and Sting -- all gag-worthy. B-

Abhi the Nomad: Marbled (2018, Tommy Boy): Rapper, know very little about him other than that he moved around a lot (including India, Hong Kong, Beijing, Fiji Islands), winding up in California, then Austin. Easy flow, promising but tails off a bit. B+(***)

Allison Au Quartet: Wander Wonder (2018 [2019], self-released): Canadian alto saxophonist, won a Juno award, third quartet album, backed by piano-bass-drums, sometimes electric. B+(**)

The David Berkman Sextet: Six of One (2018 [2019], Palmetto): Pianist, made a big impression back in the 1990s but hasn't been very prolific lately. Nominally a "three-woodwind sextet (plus guests)" but skimpy on actual credits beyond solos, for which I count four "woodwind" players: Dayna Stephens, Billy Drewes, Adam Kolker, and Tim Armacost. Complexly layered, elegant, often quite lovely. A- [cd]

Matt Brewer: Ganymede (2018 [2019], Criss Cross): Bassist, from Oklahoma City, moved to New York in 2001, third album, 30-40 side credits. Trio with Mark Shim (tenor sax) and Damon Reid (drums). Wrote 4 (of 10) pieces, one by Shim, covers mostly from modern jazz musicians. A remarkably solid setting for all. A-

Chai: Punk (2019, Burger): Japanese girl band, J-pop or dance punk, second album, first was called Pink. Closer to bubblegum than to punk, but the latter introduces just enough noise and chaos into the mix to keep earworms from forming. B+(*)

The Coathangers: The Devil You Know (2019, Suicide Squeeze): Punkish girl group from Atlanta, a going concern since 2007, started to make me wonder whether they're going soft, but "F the NRA" allayed those fears, and the next song ("Memories") is even better. B+(***)

Theon Cross: Fyah (2017-18 [2019], Gearbox): British tuba player, first album although he's been on several well-regarded albums of late (notably Sons of Kemet); group here (6 of 8 cuts) includes Nubya Garcia (tenor sax) and Moses Boyd (drums), keeps up a pretty steady beat with a lot of bottom. B+(*)

Dave: Psychodrama (2019, Neighbourhood): British rapper David Orobosa Omoregie, born in London, parents Nigerian, first album after two EPs and a bunch of singles. Concept heavy, working his way through psych sessions, finding his way and gaining confidence and comfort, although not without some psychodrama. A-

Joey DeFrancesco: In the Key of the Universe (2019, Mack Avenue): Organ player, like his father but better known, probably the best known practitioner of the instrument these days, with a lot of records since 1989. Also plays other keyboards, and trumpet on two tracks. Still, this doesn't sound like his usual soul jazz grind, especially when saxophonist Troy Roberts makes way for Pharoah Sanders on three cuts in the middle (Roberts plays bass on two of them). With Billy Hart on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion. I'm a bit lost here, but it's great to hear Sanders in any context, even here. B+(**)

Carolyun Fitzhugh: Living in Peace (2018 [2019], Iyouwe): Jazz singer, from Chicago, write about half of her songs, has a previous album. Does duets with Freddy Cole and Nancy Assis, draws on some name players, including Amina Figarova (piano), Rudy Royston (drums), Rez Abbasi (guitar), and Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax). B [cd]

Robert Forster: Inferno (2019, Tapete): Australlian singer-songwriter, formerly in the Go-Betweens, had several solo albums in the 1990s, regrouped the band, then was left to resume his solo career when Grant McLennan died. Forster never seemed to have McLennan's knack for indelible melodies, but his songs are intelligent and humane, and he sticks with them until they work -- at least if listeners meet him midway. A-

Girlpool: What Chaos Is Imaginary (2019, Anti-): Alt/indie group, principally Cleo Tucker (guitar) and Harmony Tividad (bass), both vocals, plus (at least) a drummer. Third album, melts together. B

Larry Grenadier: The Gleaners (2016 [2019], ECM): Bassist, at least 80 side credits since 1988 (Brad Mehldau Trio, also Charles Lloyd, Paul Motian, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner), Discogs has him on the headline of 18 albums, but first-listed only once before. He can't duck this one: it's solo, which is a pretty limited framework for a bassist -- even a very good one. B+(*)

Vijay Iyer/Craig Taborn: The Transitory Poems (2018 [2019], ECM): Piano duets, two of the leading jazz pianists of their generation (b. 1970-71), everything jointly credited except for a bit at the end by Geri Allen. Live at Liszt Academy, Budapest. I'm not finding this quite as engaging as Taborn's recent duets with Kris Davis, but there is a lot to chew on here. B+(**)

Julian Lage: Love Hurts (2018 [2019], Mack Avenue): One of the most popular young jazz guitarist around, at 31 presents an album cover of burnt matches. raising the questino of whether he's burnt out. Actually, I'd say this is the most pleasing album he's done, a trio with Jorge Roeder and David King, one original (simply called "Lullaby"); covers from Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Giuffre, and Keith Jarrett; and best of all, two late '50s slices of pop opera, the title cut and Roy Orbison's "Crying." B+(***)

Little Simz: Grey Area (2019, Age 101): British rapper Simbi Ajikawo, born in London, parents from Nigeria, third album. A-

Nivhek: After Its Own Death/Walking in a Spiral Towards the House (2019, Yellow Electric): New project from Liz Harris, of Grouper. The longer first piece is built mostly from voice, but dissolves into ambience -- more attractively on the second piece. B+(*)

Tomeka Reid/Filippo Monico: The Mouser (2018 [2019], Relative Pitch): Cello and drums duet, latter also credited with "objects." Reid is based in Chicago, has co-headlined albums with various notables there, including Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, and Dave Rempis, plus has a very good Quartet album. Monico is from Italy, has been around longer but rarely in the limelight. This has its moments of scrachy minimalism, but they hold together remarkably well. A- [cd]

Sigrid: Sucker Punch (2019, Island): Norwegian pop star Sigrid Solbakk Raabe, first album after two EPs, mostly dance beats, which help although her voice doesn't slip when she slows it down. B+(**)

Todd Snider: Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 (2019, Aimless): After several outings with his rock band Hard Working Americans, back to folk mode, guitar and harmonica more minimal than ever (although he's got a couple of name guests in the background), puts his words out front, and he's pretty pissed. Title refers to the recording studio, originally a shack used by John R. Cash. A-

Carol Sudhalter Quartet: Live at Saint Peter's Church (2018 [2019], Alfa Projects): Baritone saxophonist, also plays flute, cut a record in 1985, more regularly 1997-2011. Quartet here backed by piano-bass-drums, mostly plays early bop standards -- one original blues, a Jobim, a very nice "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You." Needless to say, I prefer the bari. B+(**) [cd]

Paul Tynan: Quartet (2016 [2019], Origin): Trumpet player, recent records have been co-credited to Aaron Lington and their Bicoastal Collective. Backed with piano-bass-drums, this puts the focus on his trumpet, which shines. B+(*) [cd]

Claudia Villela: Encantada Live (2018 [2019], Taina Music): Brazilian singer, born and raised in Rio De Janeiro but based in Santa Cruz, California since the mid-1980s. I don't get much from her voice, but was impressed by the rhythm in "Cumeno Com Cuentro." B+(*) [cd]

Sheck Wes: Mudboy (2018, Cactus Jack/GOOD/Interscope): Rapper Khadimou Rassoul Cheikh Fall, born in New York, parents Senegalese, spent much of his childhood in Milwaukee before returning to new York. First album. B+(***)

Nate Wooley: Columbia Icefield (2017 [2019], Northern Spy): Prolific avant-trumpet player, adds electronics here, backed by Mary Halvorson (guitar), Susan Alcorn (pedal steel), and Ryan Sawyer (drums/voice). Three longish (13:50-20:04) pieces, inspired by one of Canada's more famous (for now) glaciers. Like the icefield, moves slow, and melts fast. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

James Booker: Vol. 1: At Onkel Pö's Carnegie Hall, Hamburg 1976 (1976 [2019], Jazzline): New Orleans piano master, knew classical as well as the home town favorites. Cut his first single in 1954 (age 14), but didn't get an album released until Junco Partner in 1976, his breakthrough which led to several tours of Europe, including this set, before his death in 1983 (age 43). Solo, sings along, earns his reputation, but doesn't add much to it. B+(**)

Kid Creole & the Coconuts: Live in Paris 1985 (1985 [2019], Rainman): Probably my favorite pop group of the early 1980s -- I gave their five 1980-85 records { A-, A+, A, A-, A- }, but only two comparable albums since then -- but no live album until 1990, so this concert tape (originally released as a DVD in 2006) is ideally placed, with 16 great songs. Still, the live sound does them no favoes, and the payoff of extra energy only arrives at the end ("Endicott"). B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Laura Antonioli: The Constant Passage of Time (Origin): April 12
  • Chord Four: California Avant Garde (self-released): May 3
  • Levon Mikaelian Trio: Untainted (self-released): March 26
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Nate Wooley: Strings 3 (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Nate Wooley/Matthew Shipp: Strings 4 (Leo)

Saturday, March 16, 2019


Weekend Roundup

Stories that caught folks' interest this week included an airplane that aims to crash, mass slaughter of Muslims in New Zealand, and the revelation that some rich people got caught trying to cheat their way into getting their kids enrolled by elite colleges (as opposed to the proper way, which is to give the colleges extra money). On the latter, I'd like to quote Elias Vlanton (on Facebook):

Missing the Forest for the Trees: A few rich people bribed their kids into elite colleges. So what? The real scandal is an educational system that favors rich students over poorer ones (regardless of color) from the first day of pre-K through crossing the graduation stage, diploma in hand. If every bribing parent is jailed, the real injustice of social inequality will remain. Ending it is the real task.

The post was accompanied by a photo of some of Elias's students, who look markedly different from the students caught up in this scandal. This seems to be one of the few crimes in America with a means test limiting it to the pretty rich. Actually, I feel a little sorry for the parents and children caught up in this fraud -- not so much for being victimized (although they were) as for the horrible pressures they put upon themselves to succeed in a world that is so rigorously rigged by the extreme inequality they nominally benefit from. I got a taste of their world when I transferred to Washington University back in 1973. That was the first time I met student who had spent years prepping for SATs that would assure entrance to one of the nation's top pre-med schools. It was also where I knew students who tried (and sometimes managed) to hire others to write papers and to take graduate school tests -- so I suppose you could say that was my first encounter with the criminal rich. I always thought it was kind of pathetic, but it really just reflects the desperation of a pseudo-meritocracy. And true as that was then, I'm sure it's much more desperate and vicious today.

One more thing I want to mention here: I saw a meme on Facebook forwarded by one of my right-wing relatives. It read:

YESTERDAY IN THE PHILIPPINES A CHURCH WAS BOMBED BY MUSLIM TERRORISTS KILLING 30 CHRISTIANS. NO MEDIA COVERAGE.

I suppose the intent was to complain about news coverage of the mass shooting in New Zealand, where a "white nationalist" slaughtered 50 Muslims, implying that the "fake news" media is playing favorites again, acting like Muslim lives are more valuable than Christian lives. I thought I should at least check that claim out. Google offered no evidence of such an attack, at least yesterday. However, I did find that two bombs had been set off on January 27, 2019, at a Catholic Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, in the Philippines, killing 20 people. There's a pretty detailed Wikipedia page on the attack, so that could be the event the meme author is referring to. I've also found an article in the New York Times, although the emphasis there is more on the growth of ISIS within the long-running Islamic separatist revolt -- which started immediately after he US occupied the Philippines in 1898, and has flared up repeatedly ever since, most recently in response to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (one of Trump's favorite strongmen). (Also another article in CNN.) The context stripped from the meme doesn't excuse the atrocity, but it does help explain American media's limited interest. I have several links on the New Zealand shooting below, and they too reflect our rather parochial interest in the subject. Although pretty much everyone deplores the loss of life in all terrorist atrocities, the New Zealand one hit closer to home (for reasons that will be obvious below -- see, e.g., Patrick Strickland).


Some scattered links this week:

Friday, March 15, 2019


Book Roundup

I've fallen way behind here. The last Book Roundup appeared way back on April 21, 2018, eight months after the previous one on August 18, 2017 (full list and archive is here, but it's one long file). The way this works is I pick 40 books per post, and write a few words on each, mostly based on descriptions and comments at Amazon, plus whatever else I happen to know or find. (Given the long delays, I've actually read thirteen books from this batch,[1] and bought several more.) I've been known to do multiple posts in quick succession when I catch up from far behind, and will likely follow this one up with another (or two or maybe three) in pretty quick order.

In addition to the chosen 40, I list many more books in uncommented lists, either under selected books where they seem to be related, or at the end. I've included related book lists all along, especially when I would find a cluster of related titles and didn't find reason to comment on them individually. More recently I started appending a generic list of books without comment, and since they're easy, I've turned them into a time-saving measure (which also makes the list more comprehensive). Again, due to the long lead time here, you'll find more below than ever before.

In the past, I've added extra lists of paperback reissues of books I've previously noted -- especially books I had since read and wanted to write more about. None of them this time, but perhaps in the future. As far as domain, the chose books are primarily on politics, history, and the social sciences (especially economics), although I'll make an exception here and there, whatever strikes my fancy. My main reason for doing this is to familiarize myself with what people are writing about issues I care about.

[1]: Read: Gregg Carlstrom: How Long Will Israel Survive?; John Dower: The Violent American Century; Ben Fountain: Beautiful Country Burn Again; Thomas Frank: Rendezvous With Oblivion; Robert Gerwarth: The Vanquished; Masha Gessen: The Future Is History; David Satter: The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep; Jill Lepore: These Truths; Kevin Peraino: A Force So Swift; Michael Ruhlman: Grocery; Quinn Slobodan: Globalists; Sarah Smarsh: Heartland; Timothy Snyder: The Road to Unfreedom. Waiting on the shelf: Tom Engelhardt: A Nation Unmade by War; Steve Fraser: Class Matters; Michael Tomasky: If We Can Keep It.


Alan I Abramowitz: The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump (2018, Yale University Press): One of several recent books that try to make sense of recent changes in partisan alignment, especially as right and left have become more stuck with their limited party options. This one focuses on "an unprecedented alignment of many different divides: racial and ethnic, religious, ideological, and geographic." OK, with Trump, mostly racial. Other recent books:

  • Avidit Acharya/Matthew Blackwell/Maya Sen: Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics (2018, Princeton University Press).
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (2018, Liveright).
  • Morris P Fiorina: Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting, and Political Stalemate (paperback, 2017, Hoover Institution Press).
  • Bernard L Fraga: The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity, and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America (paperback, 2018, Cambridge University Press).
  • Francis Fukuyama: Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
  • Matt Grossman/David A Hopkins: Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats (paperback, 2016, Oxford University Press).
  • Asad Haider: Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump (paperback, 2018, Verso).
  • Marc Hetherington/Jonathan Weiler: Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide (2018, Houghton Mifflin).
  • David A Hopkins: Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press).
  • Daniel J Hopkins: The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized (paperback, 2018, University of Chicago Press).
  • Ashley Jardina: White Identity Politics (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
  • Donald R Kinder/Nathan P Kalmoe: Neither Liberal nor Conservative: Ideological Innocence in the American Public (paperback, 2017, University of Chicago Press).
  • Steve Kornacki: The Red and the Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism (2018, Ecco Books).
  • Amanda Marcotte: Troll Nation: How the Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set on Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself (2018, Hot Books).
  • Michele F Margolis: From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity (paperback, 2018, University of Chicago Press).
  • Lilliana Mason: Uncivil Agreeement: How Politics Became Our Identity (paperback, 2018, University of Chicago Press).
  • David Neiwert: Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (2017, Verso).
  • Benjamin L Page/Martin Gilens: Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It? (2017, University of Chicago Press).
  • Greg Sargent: An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics (2018, Custom House).
  • Kay Lehman Schlozman/Henry E Brady/Sidney Verba; Unequal and Unrepresented: Political Inequality and the People's Voice in the New Gilded Age (2018, Princeton University Press).
  • Bill Schneider: Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable (2018, Simon & Schuster).
  • John Sides/Michael Tesler/Lynn Vavreck: Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America (2018, Princeton University Press).
  • Salena Zito/Brad Todd: The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics (2018, Crown).

Andrew J Bacevich: Twilight of the American Century (2018, University of Notre Dame Press): A collection of essays since 9/11/2001, 480 pages. He's a conservative anti-war, anti-intervention, soldier-turned-scholar, has written a bunch of books in the meantime, including: The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005); The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008); Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010); Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013); and America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016). Entitled to a lot of "I told you so's."

Becky Bond/Zack Exley: Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything (paperback, 2016, Chelsea Green): A primer for grass roots political change, written by two "digital iconoclasts" who have worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Title probably a nod to Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. There are actually quite a few activist primers out recently, such as:

  • Andrew Boyd, ed: Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution (paperback, 2016, OR Books).
  • Adrienne Maree Brown: Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (paperback, 2017, AK Press).
  • Charlene A Carruthers: Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements (2018, Beacon Press).
  • Mark Engler/Paul Engler: This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century (2016, Nation Books).
  • Laura Grattan: Populism's Power: Radical Grassroots Democracy in America (paperback, 2016, Oxford University Press).
  • Sarah Jaffe: Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt (2016, Nation Books).
  • LA Kauffman: Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism (paperback, 2017, Verso Books).
  • LA Kauffman: How to Read a Protest: The Art of Organizing and Resistance (2018, University of California Press).
  • George Lakey: How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning (2018, paperback, Melville House).
  • Amanda Litman: Don't Just March, Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself (paperback, 2017, Atria Books).
  • Jane F McAlevey: No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (2016, Oxford University Press).
  • Sroja Popovic: Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World (paperback, 2015, Spiegal & Grau).
  • Jonathan Matthew Smucker: Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals (paperback, 2017, AK Press).
  • Micah White: The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution (paperback, 2016, Knopf Canada).

Bryan Caplan: The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money (2018, Princeton University Press): As a high school dropout, I should sympathize with the argument that our education system is inefficient and ineffective, that much of what is taught there is of little value, and that people can learn essential life skills otherwise. And that should be even more true now than it was when I was in school, as the system since then has evolved into more of a credentials mill than a source for widespread knowledge development. Elements of Caplan's critique are certainly correct, but his proposal -- spend less on general education and more on vocational training -- misses some key points. In particular, in an increasingly complex technological civilization people need more knowledge just to function as responsible citizens. Just as important, they need to be able to reason independently, and to continue to learn for the rest of their lives. I managed to do that, for the most part in spite of my formal education, but rather than throwing everyone else into the deep end to see who swims, wouldn't more people be better off if we changed the educational system to help people learn and develop -- rather than just train people for the jobs we think we need now?

Gregg Carlstrom: How Long Will Israel Survive? The Threat From Within (2017, Oxford University Press): A decade ago, Richard Ben Cramer wrote what I thought the best single book on the intractable problem of the Zionist State's continuing domination over the Palestinian people in Greater Israel. His simple thesis was that Jewish Israel was divided into a half-dozen very distinct tribes that were being held together by their common enemy: the people they displaced in settling Israel. Thus, they had to keep feeding the conflict, lest they lose themselves as a people. That's what they've done since then, ever more intransigently, to the point where it's rotting the nation from within. We got our first really good picture of how pervasive this is in Max Blumenthal's 2013 book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (not that close readers couldn't recognize the problem much earlier, even before the 1948 War of Independence). Carlstrom adds a few more years onto Blumenthal's story. Not pretty, although I suspect that had he waited a year or two into the Trump era, where the US has totally given up any pretense of independence, the story would be even grimmer.

Elizabeth Catte: What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia (paperback, 2018, Belt Publishing): Examines the history of Appalachia (especially West Virginia) and various stereotypes that have been popularized, especially by J.D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis (2016), a book that journalists discovered looking for explanations of why Trump was so successful there.

Amy Chua: Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations (2018, Penguin Press): Stresses the role of group identity in elections both in the US and abroad. Chua has in the past been especially sensitive (maybe a bit chauvinistic too) to how the Chinese diaspora rose to economic prominence and political antipathy all around southeast Asia -- cf. World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability -- so I imagine she builds on that here, a much broader (though not necessarily deeper) foundation than our recent carping about identity politics.

Tom Engelhardt: A Nation Unmade by War (paperback, 2018, Haymarket): Another collection of essays from the author's TomDispatch website, where he and a few dozen regular contributors have meticulously chronicled the frustrations and failures of the post-9/11 "global war on terror" -- a vain and desperate defense of the worldwide empire American neocons claimed as its triumph over communism. Actually, that empire had always been based on more than a little self-delusion, and its costs and contradictions had already become evident when one of Engelhardt's writers, Chalmers Johnson, wrote The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004). Engelhardt follows up, recounting the attendant chaos and confusion. Also, by other Engelhardt writers:

  • John Dower: The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books).
  • John Feffer: Splinterlands: A Novel (paperback, 2016, Haymarket Books): a novel.
  • John Feffer: Frostlands: Book Two of the Splinterlands Series (paperbck, 2018, Haymarket Books).
  • Greg Grandin: The End of Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (2019, Metropolitan Books).
  • Alfred W McCoy: In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books).
  • Nomi Prins: Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World (2018, Nation Books).
  • Daniel A Sjursen: Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge (2015, ForeEdge).
  • Rebecca Solnit: Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books).
  • Nick Turse: Next Time They'll Come to Count the Dead: War and Surival in South Sudan (paperback, 2016, Haymarket Books).

Ronan Farrow: War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (2018, WW Norton): Based on interviews with Secretaries of State from Henry Kissinger to Rex Tillerson, this reports on the decline of the US State Department. There is certainly an interesting book to be written on this, but it needs to be paired with the increasing power of military and intelligence sectors, and how both reflect a shift as Washington politicians have lost faith in international institutions and law, preferring to act unilaterally (at most giving lip service to an ad hoc "coalition of the willing"). In the "sole superpower" view of neocons like John Bolton, diplomacy is disparaged not just as ineffective but as an admission of weakness. The curious thing is that there is absolutely no evidence that the US acting on its own is anyway near as effective as diplomacy. Such a book would also note that the shift to the now dominant neocon view has mostly been driven by a blind, unthinking "alliance" with Israel, such that the more Israel defies international law and censure, the more isolated, bitter, and ineffective the US becomes.

Ben Fountain: Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution (2018, Ecco Books): Author of a well-regarded novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, sees America has stuck in some sort of eighty-year cycle, leading to crises -- the first two were the Civil War and the Great Depression -- requiring major upheavals to put the nation back on track. Much of the book is election reporting, which sounds like old (and much too rehashed) news, but none of the books I've seen so far really makes sense of 2016's nonsense, so maybe we should give continuously referring back to history a chance. One thing that's a pretty safe bet is that Fountain's not going to argue that Trump is the answer to the present crisis, unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt. Still, even as Fountain writes about 2016 and the bad feelings evident there from all sides, his real subject is the coming crisis -- 2020, maybe even 2024, surely not much further out. But even there, don't expect history to repeat itself. Buchanan and Hoover were procrastinators, not least because they didn't see any way out of their dilemmas, but Trump is a man of action, corroding and breaking everything he touches. It's only a matter of time before his damage can no longer be shrugged away as fake news.

Thomas Frank: Rendezvous With Oblivion: Reports From a Sinking Society (2018, Metropolitan Books): Collection of scattered essays, which makes this seem less coherent than Frank's recent string of books -- Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016), Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012), The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation (2008) -- although the net effect does much to prove how prescient The Wrecking Crew's analysis was.

Steve Fraser: Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion (2018, Yale University Press): The story of how the subject of class has repeatedly been expunged from American history and consciousness, taking a half-dozen case moments from the Mayflower to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech as examples. Fraser wrote about this same subject more broadly in The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015), noting that with Occupy Wall Street the pendulum was suddenly flipping back.

Robert Gerwarth: The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End (2016; paperback, 2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux): On November 11, 1918, Germany surrendered, signing an armistice ending the war they launched in 1914 by invading Belgium and France. For Western Europe (and America), that ended what was then called the Great War, but by then the Russian Tsar had been overthrown, replaced by a revolutionary Soviet, and multi-ethnic empires in Austria-Hungary and Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) had also collapsed. For several years after, war, revolution, and reaction continued in Eastern Europe, at least up to 1923 when the Communists consolidated power in Russia and a nationalist government in Turkey had driven both foreign and native Greeks from Asia Minor. In the longer term, the Treaty of Versailles, dictated by the victorious imperialist powers of Britain and France, was widely viewed as unjust, an insult that festered and grew into a second, even more deadly World War. Another recent book that covers this territory is Prit Buttar: The Splintered Empires: The Eastern Front 1917-21 (2017; paperback, 2018, Osprey), the fourth volume in Buttar's history of the Eastern front, following: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (2014; paperback, 2016, Osprey); Germany Ascendant: The Eastern Front 1915 (2015; paperback, 2017, Osprey); and Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17 (2016; paperback, 2017, Osprey).

Masha Gessen: The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (2017; paperback, 2018, Riverhead): Chronicles the failure of Russia to develop a liberal democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of Soviet Communism, by tracking a small number of individuals -- mostly intellectuals, descendents of Soviet-era elite families who tended to become liberal opponents of Yeltsin and Putin. Tends to view the willingness to submit to an authoritarian state as rooted in psychology rather than as the sort of ideological belief system Timothy Snyder claims. Other books by Gessen and/or on Putin and Russia:

  • Masha Gessen: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012; paperback, 2013, Riverhead).
  • Masha Gessen: Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot (paperback, 2014, Riverhead).
  • Masha Gessen: Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region (2016, Schocken).

  • Masha Gessen: Never Remember: Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia (2018, Columbia Global Reports).
  • Stephen F Cohen: War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate (paperback, 2019, Hot Books).
  • Mark Galeotti: We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong (paperback, 2019, Penguin Random House).
  • Nina Krushcheva/Jeffrey Tayler: In Putin's Footsteps: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia's Eleven Time Zones (2019, St Martin's Press).
  • Michael McFaul: From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin's Russia (2018, Houghton Mifflin).
  • Arkady Ostrovsky: The Invention of Russia: The Rise of Putin and the Age of Fake News (2016; paperback, 2017, Penguin Books).
  • Peter Pomerantsev: Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (paperback, 2015, PublicAffairs).
  • David Satter: The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin (2016; paperback, 2017, Yale University Press).
  • Angela Stent: Putin's World: Russia Against the West and With the Rest (2019, Twelve).
  • Shaun Walker: The Long Hangover: Putin's New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past (2018, Oxford University Press).
  • Tony Wood: Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War (2018, Verso).
  • Mikhail Zygar: All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (2016; paperback, 2017, PublicAffairs).

Steven M Gillon: Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism (2018, Basic Books): Officially, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, chaired by governor Otto Kerner (D-IL), a group appointed by President Lyndon Johnson following riots in Newark and Detroit. They took a fairly hard look at racism and poverty, and recommended bold new programs to end both. You'd think that was the right in line with Johnson's "Great Society" agenda, but Johnson rejected the report, and Nixon built his campaign -- especially in his 1972 bid to pick up Wallace voters -- on race baiting. Gillon regards the failure to follow up on the report as a failing of liberalism, but what really damaged Johnson and Humphrey was their leading role in the Vietnam War, followed by the crippling loss to Nixon, and later to Reagan.

Anand Giridharadas: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World (2018, Knopf): As more and more of the world's wealth sinks into the clutches of the very rich, a few of them are stepping up with offers of philanthropic aid, offering to somehow turn the world they're sucking dry into a better place -- without, of course, undermining their exalted place in it. Related:

  • David Callahan: The Givers: Money, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age (2017, Knopf; paperback, 2018, Vintage Books).
  • Daniel Raventós/Julie Wark: Against Charity (paperback, 2018, Counterpunch).
  • Rob Reich: Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better (2018, Princeton University Press).

Jeff Goodell: The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World (2017; paperback, 2018, Back Bay Books): Makes sense: Earth climate warms, ice melts, flows into sea, which rises, flooding coastlines, where many of the world's largest cities are. Goodell has written several books related to climate change, like Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (2007), and How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010). Every Roundup the shelves of climate change books grows ever more imposing:

  • Jeffrey Bennett: A Global Warming Primer: Answering Your Questions About the Science, the Consequences, and the Solutions (paperback, 2016, Big Kid Science).
  • Peter Brannen: The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions (2017; paperback, 2018, Ecco).
  • Ashley Dawson: Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (2017, Verso).
  • Barbara Finamore: Will China Save the Planet? (paperback, 2018, Polity).
  • Joshua S Goldstein/Staffan A Qvist: A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow (2019, PublicAffairs).
  • Hal Harvey: Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy (paperback, 2018, Island Press).
  • Paul Hawken, ed: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (paperback, 2017, Penguin Books).
  • Robert Henson: The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change (2nd edition, paperback, 2019, American Meteorological Society).
  • Albert C Hine/Don P Chambers/Tonya D Clayton/Mark R Hafen/Gary T Mitchum: Sea Level Rise in Florida: Science, Impacts, and Options (2016, University Press of Florida).
  • Dhar Jamail: The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (2019, New Press).
  • Lucy Jones: The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them) (2018, Doubleday).
  • Thomas E Lovejoy/Lee Hannah, eds: Biodiversity and Climate Change: Transforming the Biosphere (paperback, 2019, Yale University Press).
  • Michael E Mann/Lee R Kump: Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change: The Visual Guide to the Findings of the IPCC (2nd edition, paperback, 2015, DK).
  • Michael E Mann/Tom Toles: The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (paperback, 2018, Columbia University Press).
  • Todd Miller: Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security (paperback, 2017, City Lights).
  • Robert Muir-Wood: The Cure for Catastrophe: How We Can Stop Manufacturing Natural Disasters (2016, Basic Books).
  • Dustin Mulvaney: Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice (paperback, 2019, University of California Press).
  • Jeff Nesbit: This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America (2018, Thomas Dunne Books).
  • Orrin H Pilkey/Linda Pilkey-Jarvis/Keith C Pilkey: Retreat From a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change (2016; paperback, 2017, Columbia University Press).
  • Kim Stanley Robinson: New York 2140 (2017; paperback, 2018, Orbit): a novel, sure, but illustrates Goodell's point, exactly.
  • Mary Robinson: Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future (2018, Bloomsbury).
  • Joseph Romm: Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know (2nd edition, paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).
  • Elizabeth Rush: Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore (2018, Milkweed Editions).
  • Roy Scranton: We're Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change (paperback, 2018, Soho Press).
  • Mark C Serreze: Brave New Arctic: The Untold Story of the Melting Arctic (2018, Princeton University Press).
  • Varun Sivaram: Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet (2018, MIT Press).
  • Jeffrey St Clair/Joshua Frank: The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (paperback, 2018, Counterpunch).

  • Peter Wadhams: A Farewell to Ice: A Report From the Arctic (2016, Allen Lane; paperback, 2017, Oxford University Press).
  • Joel Wainwright/Geoff Mann: Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (2018, Verso).
  • David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019, Tim Duggan Books).

Chris Hedges: America: The Farewell Tour (2018, Simon & Schuster): Author has become increasingly gloomy about the state of the nation -- one might trace this through such books as American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007), Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of the Spectacle (2009), The Death of the Liberal Class (2010), The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress, and Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015), winding up with this combination of high moral outrage and down-and-out journalism. Seems to mostly be reissued columns, which makes for a relatively scattershot book.

Michael Isikoff/David Corn: Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (2018, Twelve): With the Mueller investigation not even done rounding up even the usual suspects, this is probably just a quickie trying to sum up what little is known about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. What is pretty clear is that Russia-backed hackers weighed in forcefully for Donald Trump, although it seems like sheer scapegoatism to credit the Russians with more influence than the Kochs and Mercers and other quasi-independent Trump backers. I'd be especially surprised if they have any "inside story" on why Putin would wager such a risky bet. Most of the speculation I've seen seems to be little more than projection. Isikoff and Corn wrote a decent book on the Iraq War (Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War), which recommends this over most competing books, like:

  • Seth Abramson: Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018, Simon & Schuster).
  • Luke Harding: Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win (paperback, 2017, Vintage Books).
  • Seth Hettena: Trump/Russia: A Definitive History (2018, Melville House).
  • Greg Miller: The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy (2018, Custom House).
  • Malcolm Nance: The Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election (paperback, 2016, Skyhorse).
  • Malcoln Nance: The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin's Spies Are Winning Control of America and Dismantling the West (2018, Hachette).
  • Greg Olear: Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia (paperback, 2018, Four Sticks Press).
  • Roger Stone: The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Donald Trump Really Won (paperback, 2019, Skyhorse).
  • Craig Unger: House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia (2018, Dutton.
  • Clint Watts: Messing With the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News (2018, Harper).

Kathleen Hall Jamieson: Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President: What We Don't, Can't, and Do Know (2018, Oxford University Press): A subject sure to be much written about, especially as the Mueller investigation sorts through and eventually discloses (or leaks) its evidence, but for now this is probably the most comprehensive, detailed analysis we have of what Russian hackers did in 2016 and what the effect was (see Jane Mayer's article in The New Yorker). Jamieson has written/contributed to a bunch of books analyzing elections, going back to Everything You Think You Know About Politics . . . and Why You're Wrong (2000, Basic Books).

Jill Lepore: These Truths: A History of the United States (2018, WW Norton): House historian for The New Yorker, her less popular early work includes The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity (1998), and New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan (2005), which prepared her well to write a book about the use and abuse of history by the Tea Party Movement (The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History). This is, as advertised, a single-volume history of American political life and ideals, at once huge (960 pp) and schematic, with an eye for telling details (many I never knew).

Daniel J Levitin: Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era (paperback, 2017, Dutton): Interesting case example of what happens when Donald Trump gets elected president. Levitin is a neuroscientist who's written books like The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, and A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics: A Neuroscientist on How to Make Sense of a Complex World (which in a saner world would just be a basic update of Darrell Huff's 1954 classic How to Lie With Statistics). So he started with a recognition that human brains are fighting a losing battle against complexity, "information overload," and the flood of calculated misinformation, then panics when he sees where the nonsense he had tried to reason with has gotten us. This new title is actually just a revision of his Field Guide, where circumstances actually seem to call for a fresh review. I expect more books along these lines will appear. For now, I also note:

  • Julian Baggini: A Short History of Truth: Consolations for a Post-Truth World (2017, Quercus).
  • Bruce Bartlett: The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts From Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks (paperback, 2017, Ten Speed Press).
  • Matthew D'Ancona: Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back (paperback, 2017, Ebury Press).
  • Brooke Gladstone: The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time (paperback, 2017, Workman).
  • Michiko Kakutani: The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump (2018, Tim Duggan Books).
  • Hector Macdonald: Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality (2018, Little Brown).
  • Lee McIntyre: Post-Truth (paperback, 2018, MIT Press).
  • Cailin O'Connor/James Owen Weatherall: The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread (2018, Yale University Press).
  • Sophia Rosenfeld: Democracy and Truth: A Short History (2018, University of Pennsylvania Press).
  • Ryan Skinnell, ed: Faking the News: What Rhetoric Can Teach Us About Donald J Trump (paperback, 2018, Societas).

Michael Lewis: The Fifth Risk (2018, WW Norton): Journalist, has written a stack of very readable books, nominally on finance and business but mostly about interesting people. This one goes into three government bureaucracies -- the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce -- and finds people who for years now have been doing useful, important work there, and takes a look at what Trump and his minions are doing to those people and all that work. Mostly they are shredding data, and purging the departments of the workers with the expertise to collect and analyze that data. It seems that facts and data have become troublesome for profit seekers in industries that have Trump's ear. This is refreshing compared to the reporters who get all the muck they can rake from twitter feeds, the Washington gossip mill, and playing "gotcha" watching talk shows. Sure, those things are symptomatic of the rot in Washington, but the real stink you're going to have a hard time escaping will be coming from out-of-the-way places, like Lewis' chosen departments.

John Meacham: The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels (2018, Random House): Biographer, has written books on Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and GHW Bush, takes a sweeping look at American history, specifically the struggles for expanding rights and greater economic opportunity -- a legacy that we (as opposed to certain conservatives) take pride in when we think of American history (as opposed to numerous other threads that we increasingly find shameful).

Yascha Mounk: The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It (2018, Harvard University Press): The election of Donald Trump has produced a tidal wave of books on how the ignorant masses are rising up to turn to fascism against liberal democracy, as if the effete corruption of the Clintons actually represented the latter. To the extent that Trump gives off the stink of authoritarianism, such books may be warranted, but the bigger problem is how the center-left parties have turned their backs on their natural supporters. Not sure what Mounk's proposal is, but the way to save democracy is to make it pay off. More books along these lines:

  • Yascha Mounk: The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State (2017, Harvard University Press).
  • Madeleine Albright: Fascism: A Warning (2018, Harper).
  • Wendy Brown/Peter S Gordon/Max Pensky: Authoritarianism: Three Inquiries in Critical Theory (paperback, 2018, University of Chicago Press).
  • William Davies: Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason (2019, WW Norton).
  • Barry Eichengreen: The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era (2018, Oxford University Press).
  • Erica Frantz: Authoritarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).
  • William S Galston: Anti Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy (2018, Yale University Press).
  • Henry A Giroux: American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (paperback, 2018, City Lights).
  • Benjamin Carter Hett: The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic (2018, Henry Holt).
  • John B Judis: The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt Against Globalization (paperback, 2018, Columbia Global Reports).
  • Brian Klaas: The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy (2017, Hot Books).
  • Steven Levitsky/Daniel Ziblatt: How Democracies Die (2018, Crown).
  • David Neiwert: Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (2017, Verso).
  • Pippa Norris/Ronald Ingelhart: Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).
  • David Runciman: How Democracy Ends (2018, Basic Books).
  • Timothy Snyder: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century (paperback, 2017, Tim Duggan Books).
  • Cass R. Sunstein: Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America (paperback, 2018, Dey Street Books).

Lawrence O'Donnell: Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics (2017, Penguin Press): Broadcast journalist, something I assume moves him to the shallow end of the pool, but this is not a bad time to take another look at the 1968 election: like 2016, a time when a very unpopular and untrustworthy Republican managed to eke out a victory because many people trusted the establishment Democrat even less, most of all because the latter was associated with the longest and bleakest war(s) in American history.

Kevin Peraino: A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949 (2017, Crown; paperback, 2018, Broadway Books): Chronicles a single turning-point year as Mao's revolutionary forces swept through the major cities of eastern China, while Chiang Kai-Shek's nationalists retreated to Taiwan, and Madame Chiang -- a major figure in her own right -- was frustrated in her lobbying efforts in New York and Washington. Some more context would have been useful -- fortunately I had previously read James Bradley's The China Mirage: The hidden History of American Disaster in Asia, which laid out the romantic relationship between missionary-minded Americans and the Soong family (most notably Mme. Chiang). Still, I don't know much about Mao's gains up to 1949, or American thinking on China until the blame game of "who lost China?" took over, after the fact. Some more recent historical books on China:

  • Richard Bernstein: China 1945: Mao's Revolution and America's Fateful Choice (2014, Knopf; paperback, 2015, Vintage).
  • Wang Hui: China's Twentieth Century: Revolution, Retreat and the Road to Equality (paperback, 2016, Verso).
  • Daniel Kurtz-Phelan: The China Mission: George Marshall's Unfinished War, 1945-1947 (2018, WW Norton).
  • Rana Mitter: Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945 (2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; paperback, 2014, Mariner).
  • Stephen R Platt: Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War (2012, Knopf; paperback, 2012, Vintage).
  • Stephen R Platt: Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age (2018, Knopf)
  • David J Silbey: The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China: A History (2012; paperback, 2013, Hill and Wang).
  • Helen Zia: Last Boat out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao's Revolution (2019, Ballantine Books).

Michael Ruhlman: Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America (2017, Henry N Abrams): Food writer, first noticed (by me at least) for his memoirs on studying to become a chef -- The Making of a Chef (1997) and The Soul of a Chef (2000) although I also have his tip books The Elements of Cooking (2007) and Ratio (2009) but only one of his cookbooks -- Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing (2005) -- rarely if ever used (although it sure seems like a good idea). This is a history of grocery stores, bound to be interesting -- as one reviewer put it, "a lot of memoir, a smattering of rants, endless lists."

Quinn Slobodan: Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (2018, Harvard University Press): A history of neoliberal thinkers starting with Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, their roots in the old Hapsburg Empire, their Geneva School in the 1920s-30s, moving in to the Mount Pelerin Society up to the World Trade Organization. Focus is mostly on Europeans, with some political support from the US right but neither author nor subject seems to have much respect for American economists like Milton Friedman. One thing that is striking is that while the degree of overt racism varied, all were concerned with replacing crumbling colonial regimes with private ownership, in effect ensuring that imperialism would survive by privatizing it.

Sarah Smarsh: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (2018, Scribner): Author "was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side." Grew up on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita (also in Wichita), and seems to have kicked the fates of her mother and grandmother, while still remembering enough to write movingly about people like herself.

Timothy Snyder: The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018, Tim Duggan Books): Historian, has written a couple of major books on the especially bloody and cruel war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for eastern Europe. I've long been bothered by his tendency to treat Hitler and Stalin as political equivalents, a sloppiness broad enough to let him slip Putin into the same mold. His key here is the obscure Vladimir Ilyin, offered here as the architect of a "politics of eternity" which binds Putin to the totalitarians of yore. Snyder does his best to chronicle Putin's offenses against liberal democracy, up to and including his shadow war with Ukraine, but his focus on ideology (and demonizing Putin) slights other possible factors, like the economy. Despite the subtitle, Europe and America are scarcely mentioned.

Jason Stanley: How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (2018, Random House): Philosophy professor at Yale, previously wrote How Propaganda Works (2015). Focuses on actual politics in the US here, which means you can count him among the minority who believe that certain common political ideas and strategies fit the F-word framework. One obvious point makes it into his subtitle: the rallying of a self-considered nationalist core into a political movement defined in opposition to all sorts of others that diverge from the model. Republican propaganda has increasingly been build around that focus from Nixon to Reagan to Bush to Trump. The second obvious point is the willingness of the fascist leaders to run roughshod over democratic processes, to reduce law to a tool of power, and to use violence as a means for asserting their power. The Republicans aren't yet as vicious and brutal as fascists under Musolini and Hitler, but they lean that way, and their followers respond emotionally (if rarely phsyically) to their taunts.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life (2018, Random House): Fourth in a series of books that seek to approximate a logic of how the world works -- Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan started off by looking at statistics and its exceptions. One point here is that the world is run by determined minorities imposing their will. Other points: "For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing"; "Ethical rules aren't universal"; "Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find)." The title -- a phrase I've always found suspicious -- is also given unconventional examination: "Never trust anyone who doesn't have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them." Maybe, but I also don't trust people who want you to put more of your skin in their game. They're looking to make you pay for their mistakes.

Sandy Tolan: Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land (2015, Bloomsbury USA): Author of one of the best books ever on the Israel/Palestine conflict -- The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East (2007) -- returns with another very specific, concrete story of Palestinian and Israeli musicians transcending the conflict through "the power of music," but also "determination and vision."

Michael Tomasky: If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How It Might Be Saed (2019, Liveright): Political analyst, writes for Daily Beat and New York Review of Books, a resolute centrist adrift in a world where the center hasn't held. Starts with a "chronology of polarization" that almost exactly matches the four era division I've been threatening to write about. His command of history is strong, even if I'd nitpick a bit. Ends with a "fourteen-point agenda to reduce polarization" that strikes me as mostly crap, some specific ("reduce college to three years and make year four a service year"), some vague ("vastly expand civics education"). And like most centrists, he's much more bothered by the left than the right ("insist on a left that doesn't contribute to the fracture"). I probably need to read this, but I'm not likely to be happy with it.

Lawrence Tribe/Joshua Matz: To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment (2018, Basic Books): For some people, it's impossible to think of the colossal mistake American voters made in November 2016 without thinking of rectifying it through given constitutional means: impeachment -- a feeling which goes deeper with each scandal or other embarrassment (i.e., almost daily). The rest of us don't deny the requisite "high crimes and misdemeanors" the constitution calls for, but recognize that impeachment has been a purely political matter since it was first contemplated as a way to get rid of the almost universally loathed John Tyler. Tyler dodged impeachment; Andrew Johnson was impeached but not removed from office; Richard Nixon wound up resigning before the House voted. Bill Clinton was impeached in the most cynical of all such affairs, but Republicans in the Senate never had a prayer of mustering the two-thirds majority. As long as Republicans hold power in Congress Trump is safe, not least because Trump has done very little that offends them. Still, if you want to read about impeachment (or the 25th amendment, which allows the cabinet to stage a political coup with mere consent of Congress), there are plenty of books to choose from. Tribe is probably first choice because of his long practice writing about the Supreme Court -- most recently Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution (paperback, 2015, Picador). Also recent:

  • Jeffrey A Engel/Jon Meacham/Timothy Naftali/Peter Baker: Impeachment: An American History (2018, Modern Library).
  • Alan Dershowitz: The Case Against Impeaching Trump (2018, Hot Books).
  • Elizabeth Holtzman: The Case for Impeaching Trump (2019, Hot Books).
  • Allan J Lichtman: The Case for Impeachment (2017; paperback, 2018, Dey Street Books).
  • Barbara A Radnofsky: A Citizen's Guide to Impeachment (paperback, 2017, Melville House).
  • Cass R Sunstein: Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide (paperback, 2017, Harvard University Press).

Siva Vaidhyanathan: Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy (2018, Oxford University Press): Author of an eye-opening book on Google -- The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) (2011), with previous books on Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Proprety and How It Threatens Creativity (2003), and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System (2004). Not a technophobe or luddite, but casts a wary on the business manipulations of your formerly private life. Some other recent books on web society:

  • Ken Auletta: Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else) (2018, Penguin Press).
  • Yochai Benkler/Robert Faris/Hal Roberts: Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics (paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).
  • James Bridle: New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (2018, Verso).
  • Talina Bucher: If . . . Then: Algorithmic Power and Politics (paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).
  • Virginia Eubanks: Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2018, St Martin's Press).
  • Franklin Foer: World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech (2017; paperback, 2018, Penguin Press).
  • Donna Freitas: The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost (2017, Oxford University Press).
  • Scott Galloway: The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (2017; paperback, 2018, Portfolio).
  • Tarleton Gillespie: Custodians of the Internet: Platform, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media (2018, Yale University Press).
  • Alexander Halavais: Search Engine Society (2nd edition, paperback, 2017, Polity).
  • Matthew Hindman: The Internet Trap: How the Digital Economy Builds Monopolies and Undermines Democracy (2018, Princeton University Press).
  • Tera Karppi: Disconnect: Facebook's Affective Bonds (paperback, 2018, University of Minnesota Press).
  • Jaron Lanier: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018, Henry Holt).
  • Roger McNamee: Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe (2019, Penguin Press).
  • Martin Moore: Democracy Hacked: How Technology Is Destabilising Global Politics (2018, Oneworld).
  • Safiya Umdia Noble: Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (paperback, 2018, NYU Press).
  • Corey Pein: Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey Into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley (2018, Metropolitan Books).
  • Bruce Schneier: Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-connected World (2018, WW Norton).
  • PW Singer/Emerson T Brooking: Like War: The Weaponization of Social Media (2018, Eamon Dolan).
  • Jamie Suskind: Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech (2018, Oxford University Press).
  • Zeynep Tufekci: Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragiity of Networked Protest (2017; paperback, 2018, Yale University Press).
  • Tim Wu: The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (paperback, 2018, Columbia Global Reports).

Sean Wilentz: No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding (2018, Harvard University Press): Wide-ranging American historian -- his masterpiece is The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, but he's also written (much less reliably) The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008 (2008). Here he expands on a theme that Jill Lepore emphasizes in These Truths: A History of the United States: that many of the founders of the American Republic were conscious of the problem of slavery, especially as it contradicted their revolutionary appeals to liberty and equality.

Bob Woodward: Fear: Trump in the White House (2018, Simon & Schuster): I suppose every time I do one of these I should pick out a recent Trump book and hang a list under it. This one is probably the best-selling, with its usual load of insider dirt. Some others:

  • Amanda Carpenter: Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us (2018, Broadside Books).
  • Stormy Daniels: Full Disclosure (2018, St Martin's Press).
  • Justin A Frank: Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (2018, Avery).
  • Major Garrett: Mr. Trump's Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams, and Occasional Blackouts of an Extraordinary Presidency (2018, All Points Books).
  • Marvin Kalb: Enemy of the People: Trump's War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and the Threat to American Democracy (2018, Brookings Institution Press).
  • Laurence Leamer: Mar-A-Lago: Inside the Gaes of Power at Donald Trump's Presidential Palace (2019, Flatiron).
  • Omarosa Manigault Newman: Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House (2018, Gallery Books).
  • John Nichols: Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America (paperback, 2017, Nation Books).
  • Bill Press: Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Donald Trump (and One to Keep Him) (2018, Thomas Dunne Books).
  • April Ryan: Under Fire: Reporting From the Front Lines of the Trump White House (2018, Rowman & Littlefield).
  • Cliff Sims: Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House (2019, Thomas Dunne Books).
  • Sean Spicer: The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President (2018, Regnery).
  • GB Trudeau: #SAD!: Doonesbury in the Time of Trump (paperback, 2018, Andrews McMeel).
  • Rick Wilson: Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever (2018, Free Press).

Robert Wuthnow: The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America (2018, Princeton University Press): I get why farmers and small town dwellers find the federal government distant and aloof, but what makes them think they're so different from other people in America? Part of this is that they're more invested in a cult of self-sufficiency: they feed themselves, fend for themselves, and don't see why others shouldn't do so as well. Such views have made them easy pickings for the cynical political manipulators on the right, but they are probably justified in their suspicion that the changes in what Hillary Clinton calls "the more dynamic parts of the nation" is at the root of their relative decline. Wuthnow previously wrote Small Town America: Finding Community, Shaping the Future (paperback, 2016, Princeton University Press).


Also noted:

Anne Applebaum: Red Famin: Stalin's War on Ukraine (2018, Doubleday).

Michael Beschloss: Presidents of War: The Epic Story, From 1807 to Modern Times (2018, Crown).

Max Boot: The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right (2018, Liveright).

Preet Bharara: Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law (2019, Alfred A Knopf).

Timothy Caulfield: Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: How the Famous Sell Us Elixirs of Health, Beauty & Happiness (2015; paperback, 2016, Beacon Press).

Amy Chozick: Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling (2018, Harper).

Chris Christie: Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics (2019, Hachette).

James R Clapper: Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence (2018, Viking).

Mike Davis: Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx's Lost Theory (2018, Verso).

Michael Eric Dyson: What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America (2018, St Martin's Press).

Daniel Ellsberg: The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017, Bloomsbury).

Norman G Finkelstein: Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom (2018, University of California Press).

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Leadership: In Turbulent Times (2018, Simon & Schuster).

Alan Greenspan/Adrian Wooldridge: Capitalism in America: A History (2018, Penguin Press).

David Harvey: Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason (2017, Oxford University Press).

Seymour M Hersh: Reporter: A Memoir (2018, Knopf).

Eric Holt-Giménez: A Foodie's Gide to Capitalism (paperback, 2017, Monthly Review Press).

Robert Kagan: The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World (2018, Knopf).

Robert D Kaplan: Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World (2018, Random House).

Naomi Klein: The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists (paperback, 2018, Haymarket Books).

Stephen Kotkin: Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 (2017; paperback, 2018, Penguin Press).

Andrew G McCabe: The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump (2019, St Martin's Press).

Ralph Nader: To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn't Too Late to Reverse Course (2018, Seven Stories Press).

Catherine Nixey: The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World (2018, Houghton Mifflin).

Michelle Obama: Becoming (2018, Crown).

David Quammen: The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life (2018, self-published).

Alissa Quart: Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America (2018, Ecco).

Ben Rhodes: The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House (2018, Random House).

Dani Rodrik: Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy (2017, Princeton University Press).

Helena Rosenblatt: The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century (2018, Princeton University Press).

Arundhati Roy/John Cusack: Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: Essays and Conversations (paperback, 2016, Haymarket Books).

Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here (2018, Thomas Dunne Books).

Neil Sheehan/Hedrick Smith/EW Kenworthy/Fox Butterfield/James L Greenfield: The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War (paperback, 2017, Racehorse Publishing).

Robert Skidelsky: Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics (2018, Yale University Press).

Neil deGrasse Tyson/Avis Lang: Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military (2018, WW Norton).

Yanis Varoufakis: Adults in the Room: My Battle With the European and American Deep Establishment (2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux).

Alex Von Tunzelmann: Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower's Campaign for Peace (2016; paperback, 2017, Harper).

Vicky Ward: Kushner, Inc. Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (2019, St Martin's Press).

Thomas Weber: Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi (2017, Basic Books).

Gordon S Wood: Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (2017; paperback, 2018, Penguin Books).

Lawrence Wright: God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State (2018, Knopf).

Monday, March 11, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31246 [31207] rated (+39), 252 [257] unrated (-5).

Surprised the rated count is so high, as the week went by in a daze -- often literally, as the latest correction for my failing eyesight disorts my rectangular view of the world into a slightly tilted trapezoid. I feel lucky not to have fallen down, but have had numerous mishaps where I reach for something (say, an elevator button) and miss. Not sure whether I should go back and complain, or count my blessings that details have gotten a lot sharper. Still, one bummer is that the eyes and/or glasses have contributed to a reading slump.

Also, I had a moment of terror mid-week, when my computer screen went black. Problem seems to be a relatively new LG monitor lost power, but I haven't fully checked that out. I swapped in an older Samsung monitor, which worked, but isn't quite a sharp. I went out and bought a new HP 25-inch monitor, but don't have it plugged in yet. I've had a plan for some time now to rearrange my work area, so this disruption complicated things -- and in my dazed mental state slowed me down even further. I keep letting little things get in the way. For instance, I decided that it would be better to cut a hole in the side of the desk to route wires through, then couldn't find my hole saws. After spending a couple days looking everywhere, I broke down and bought a new set -- but haven't gotten around to using them yet. I seriously intend to do so after I get this posted.

One thing the new arrangement will let me do is use two computers again. I'll use the second computer for some much procrastinated website development. One thing I need to do for the Christgau and other websites is convert the character set from ISO-8859-1 (Latin-1) to UTF-8. It's hard to work with two different character sets on the same computer. And I don't want to commit myself to changing everything over at once, so this seems like a sensible migration path. I have everything I need to do this now. Still not looking forward to painful crawling around the floor to get it all hooked up. More details on the tech advisory mail list as I get it all working.

As for this week's music, I worked my way down to the bottom of Phil Overeem's end-of-February 2019 list, leaving four records unheard: three I couldn't find (DKV/Joe McPhee, All the Young Droogs, and the Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet) plus the Bob Mould record I have yet to look for). Meanwhile, Overeem has moved on with a March list I haven't gotten to (although two records there -- by James Brandon Lewis and Rosie Flores -- are listed below, having gotten to them on my own).

This week's regrades were Robert Christgau's EW picks this week. I had played them previously, liked the music, didn't get much out of the words, so I thought they merited an extra listen. Like the music even more, still didn't get much out of the words (Malibu Ken is reportedly funny, which I usually get even if I don't get it all; I'd say Serengeti is funnier). Also caught up with Christgau's previous week alt-rap picks, which I liked a bit less. Maybe too avant, the exact opposite of the old school People Under the Stairs, easily my favorite hip-hop album this week.

Only B+(***) record below I might have cut short is the Branford Marsalis, which sounds a lot like his good ones -- easily his best since 2012's Four MFs Playin' Tunes, which was more pointedly titled. Old music by Chick Corea and Stanley Turrentine was suggested by Napster -- evidently a couple of those are new digital reissues.

Trying my hand at stuffed peppers (with lamb, currants, pine nuts, and feta cheese), a dish I've never done before. It never seemed suitably fancy for a main course, yet too big for a side dish, especially in a typical feast with so many sides no one would want a whole pepper. On the other hand, might be perfect for a single-dish dinner for two.


New records reviewed this week:

Bali Baby: Resurrection (2018, Twin, EP): Atlanta rapper, out lesbian, released a short album I liked a lot (Baylor Swift, 8 cuts, 27:11) earlier in 2018, follows that up with an even shorter one (9 cuts, 19:33), still choppy but more cryptic. B+(**)

Bali Baby: Bubbles Bali (2019, Billmania Media): Her choppy beats and skimpy tunes are some sort of punk analog, but with 12 cuts running 33:09 I think we can call this a full album. Still cryptic, but a couple songs caught my ear. B+(**)

Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center (2019, Dead Oceans): Tuneful, somewhat catchy Joint venture between singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. B+(*)

Randy Brecker & NDR Bigband: Rocks (2017 [2019], Piloo): Trumpet player, actually a pretty great one, although he was overshadowed by his brother in their Brothers Band, where they made a bunch of popular but lousy records together. He's made some stink on his own, too, and this half qualifies, but breaks through here and there. Guest saxophonists David Sanborn and Ada Rovatti help. B [cd]

Czarface/Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface (2019, Silver Age): The former a "supergroup" formed in 2013 when Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck joined 7L & Esoteric, producing a series of comic book-themed albums -- the best last year's Czarface Meets Metal Face with MF Doom. This title seems inevitable, but Ghostface can't help but be serious. B+(**)

Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle (2019, International Anthem): Chicago singer-songwriter, plays clarinet, all other instruments on this debut album (limited edition cassette). Seems to qualify as "spiritual jazz," not something I can particularly relate to. B+(*) [bc]

Dreezy: Big Dreez (2019, Interscope): Chicago rapper Seandrea Sledge, dropped an album in 2016, this considered a mixtape, the difference unclear to me. B+(**)

FAVX: Welfare (2018, Miel de Moscas/Burger, EP): Postpunk group, from Madrid, Spain, six songs (in English), 19:22: can't tell much beyond loud, brash, hooky. B+(**) [bc]

Michael Foster/Katherine Young/Michael Zerang: Bind the Hand(s) That Feed (2018, Relative Pitch): Saxophonist (soprano/tenor), based in Brooklyn, Discogs lists 14 albums since 2013, all but one with co-credits, but he's escaped my attention before. Young plans bassoon and electronics, mostly the latter here, and Zerang is a drummer. Not much unless you listen closely, and even then you wonder why bother? B+(*)

Guillermo Gregorio & Brandon Lopez: 12 Episodes (2017 [2019], Relative Pitch): Clarinet player (alto sax elsewhere), born in Argentina, past 70, based in Chicago, home of the young bassist, who rounds out these abstract duets. B+(**) [cd]

Hama: Houmeissa (2019, Sahel Sounds): Mouhamadou Moussa, from Niger, plays keyboards or builds his music on a laptop (as seems to be the case here). Result is closer to electronica than to Saharan blues or rock. Some vocals, but mostly just for shading. B+(*)

Izumi Kimura/Barry Guy/Gerry Hemingway: Illuminated Silence (2018 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Japanese pianist, based in Ireland, has a previous album (subtitled Piano Music From Japan and Ireland), draws some major names for this trio here. B+(**) [bc]

Brian Krock: Liddle (2018 [2019], Outside In Music): Alto saxophonist (also clarinet and bass clarinet here), first album under his own name after last year's Big Heart Machine big band. Five or six musicians, with Matt Mitchel (piano) and Olli Hirvonen (guitar). Slippery postbop, hard to pin down. B+(**) [cd]

Lapis Trio: The Travelers (2017 [2019], Shifting Paradigm): Chicago group, principally guitarist Casey Nielson, also Dan Thatcher (bass) and Tim Mulvenna (drums). Light, attractive postbop groove. B+(*) [cd]

James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto (2018 [2019], Relative Pitch): Tenor saxophonist, chops so impressive he got a major label contract out of the gate, made two great albums for them before parting ways -- perhaps they figured he was too far out, but he's only gotten farther out since (especially in the poet-led ensemble Heroes Are Gang Leaders). Quintet here with Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Anthony Pirog (guitar), Luke Stewart (bass), and Warren Trae Crudup III (drums), for some kind of rocking freebop. A- [dl]

David Liebman/Jeff Coffin/Victor Wooten/Chester Thompson/Chris Walters/James DaSilva: On the Corner Live! The Music of Miles Davis (2015 [2019], Ear Up): Saxophonist Coffin was the actual leader here, but artist names listed as "featuring," and Liebman -- who played with Davis on the 1972 album honored here -- does the introductions. The others play electric bass, drums, keyboards, and guitar, so the only trumpet is on the cover. B+(**)

Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (2018 [2019], Okeh): Saxophonist -- figure tenor plus a token bit of soprano -- with Joey Calderazzo (piano), Eric Revis (bass), and Justin Faulkner (drums). Two songs each for Calderazzo and Revis, one for the leader, covers of Andrew Hill and Keith Jarrett. Nothing surprising, but a very solid return to form. B+(***)

Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session (2018 [2019], Third Man): Major guitarist from the famed Tuareg hamlet of Agadez in Niger, deep into the Saharan Desert. I've been impressed by his work before, but wonder sometimes how much one needs. Still, hard to fault this live set recorded on tour in Detroit. In fact, it may be the one to recommend first. A-

Jessica Pavone: In the Action (2018 [2019], Relative Pitch): Plays viola, associated mostly with Mary Halvorson, solo here, also credited with effects -- explains the patch of electronic static late on. Not an instrument I enjoy, but she holds my attention, mostly on edge. B+(**) [cd]

People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, the P (2019, Piecelock 70): Los Angeles hip-hop duo, Christopher Portugal (Thes One) and Michael Turner (Double K), formed in 1997, decided to call it quits with this final album. First I've heard of them, but I feel right at home. After all, their beats would have been recognized as old style even when they started. And while they're not as old as I am, their maturity sounds earned. A-

Powder: Powder in Space (DJ Mix) (2019, Beats in Space): Japanese DJ/producer Moko Shibata, remixing various artists (including one of his own cuts, no one else I particularly recognize). Mostly nice beats with minor variations. B+(**)

Psymun: All Killer No Filler (2018, self-released, EP): Minneapolis DJ Simon Christenson, three albums and various shorter releases, this one 5 tracks, 21:04, "just the latest things I've been working on." High point a bit of rap with Chester Watson. B+(*) [bc]

Idris Rahman/Leon Brichard/Tom Skinner: Wildflower (2017, self-released): Sax, bass, and drums, the first two also in the group Ill Considered, the change of drummers making this a bit more conventional. Rahman also plays flute, both on the opener and its reprise at the end. Notes cite spiritual jazz, including Yusef Lateef. B+(**)

Alfredo Rodriguez/Pedrito Martinez: Duologue (2019, Mack Avenue): Cuban expats, piano and percussion, a duo but both sing so they're mostly accompanists. Not great singers, but you don't miss not having a full band. B+(***)

Rüfüs Du Sol: Solace (2018, Reprise): Australian alt-dance group, I figure them as electropop rather than electronica, similar to Chromeo but less amusing. B+(*)

Catherine Russell: Alone Together (2019, Dot Time): Got a late start with her first album at 50. This makes 7 since 2006, standards, musical director guitarist Matt Munisteri, Mark Shane on piano, a good retro horn sextion on 7/11 tracks (Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, Evan Arntzen). Fine, but not as striking as her recent albums. B+(**)

Dua Saleh: Nur (2019, Against Giants, EP): From Sudan, rapper based in St. Paul, Minnesota, 5 cut (21:06) EP produced by Psymun, a Minneapolis beatmaker with ten or so releases since 2012. Sounds promising, then slips from consciousness. B+(**)

The Specials: Encore (2019, Island): British ska band, founded 1977, heyday 1980-81, split up in 1984, had a brief reunion in 1993, then a stretch that produced four albums 1996-2001. In 2007 they regrouped for some concerts, and have played off and on ever since, but hadn't recorded an album until this one. Not bad, as these things go. Deluxe Edition adds a live disc I didn't bother with. B+(*)

Lyn Stanley: London Calling: A Toast to Julie London (2018 [2019], A.T. Music): Standards singer, from Tacoma, sixth album since 2013, does a fair approximation of London doing classic songbook material you've heard dozens (or hundreds) of times before. B+(*) [cd]

Tallawit Timbouctou: Hali Diallo (2011 [2018], Sahel Sounds): Traditional Saharan group from northern Mali, Aghaly Ag Amoumine sings and plays tehardine, accompanied by a second tehardin (bass) and calabash (percussion). Recommended if you think the better known Saharan bands are just a little too polished. This is pretty raw. B+(***) [bc]

David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith: Sun of Goldfinger (2015-18 [2019], ECM): Guitarist, recorded a couple of albums for ECM 1985-87, more on obscure labels until his return in 2007. In the meantime started producing Berne (alto sax), who followed him to ECM with his Snake Oil group, including drummer Smith. Three 22-24 minute pieces, two by the trio, the middle one an expanded group with piano (Craig Taborn), guitars, and strings (Scorchio Quartet) thickening the atmosphere. The final cut is called "Soften the Blow," but it only gets harder and more furious. B+(***)

Typical Sisters: Hungry Ghost (2017 [2019], Outside In Music): Guitar-bass-drums trio: Gregory Uhlmann, Clark Sommers, and Matt Carroll. Title seems to reference insatiable consumerism, but the message is more like chill out. B+(**) [cd]

Trevor Watts/Stephen Grew: Let It Be: Live in Liverpool (2018 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Duo alto/soprano sax and piano, the former one of the founders of the British avant-garde, the latter's discography kicking off in 2014. Lively, but a bit arch. B+(*) [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Travailler, C'est Trop Dur: The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent ([2018], Swallow, 2CD): Vincent (1882-1970) was a subsistence farmer who wrote a few Cajun songs. Harry Oster recorded him in 1953, offering three in his 1957 A Sampler of Louisiana Folksongs. Somehow Vincent became the honoree of 2018's Festivals Acadiens et Créoles. No dates on these 20 recordings, which include a couple with Vincent but also feature recent artists (Steve Riley, Zachary Richard, etc.). B+(*)

Old music:

Chick Corea: The Complete "Is" Sessions (1969 [2002], Blue Note, 2CD): Expands his 1969 album Is with alternate takes, from a period when the pianist was close to the avant fringe -- there is a fair aount of that here, especially with Bennie Maupin (tenor sax), but Hubert Laws (flute) has other ideas, with Woody Shaw (trumpet) in the middle. Rhythm section was young and fast on their way to becoming major players: Dave Holland (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). B+(**)

Chick Corea: The Song of Singing (1970 [1989], Blue Note): Piano trio, with Dave Holland (bass) and Barry Altschul (drums), from a period when the same group plus Anthony Braxton were recording as Circle, and Corea and Holland were playing with Miles Davis. B+(***)

Chick Corea: Verve Jazz Masters 3 (1972-78 [1993], Verve): Early CD-era compilation of a critical period in the pianist's career, when he moved from his early postbop and avant interests to grab a piece of the fusion jackpot and lay claim to his Spanish roots. Mostly electric keyboards, scattered horns and/or strings, a couple of vocals (Gayle Moran). Works as a lively cross-section, although he winds up much less interesting than he started. B+(*)

Joe McPhee & Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Bricktop (2015 [2016], Trost): Avant tenor sax/bass duo. B+(**) [bc]

Stanley Turrentine: Comin' Your Way (1961 [1987], Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist, at home in soul jazz, later on a marvelous ballad player. Just getting started here, a quintet with brother Tommy Turrentine on trumpet, Horace Parlan on piano, plus bass and drums. B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Aesop Rock and Tobacco: Malibu Ken (2019, Rhymesayers): [r]: [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
  • Serengeti: Dennis 6e (2018, People): [r]: [was B+(**)] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dan McCarthy: Epoch (Origin)
  • Paul Tynan: Quartet (Origin)
  • Claudia Villela: Encantada Live (Taina Music): April 12

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Weekend Roundup

No introduction, other than to note that I hadn't planned on including anything on the Ilhan Omar controversy, mostly because I still haven't bothered to track down what she said and/or apologized for. I'm pretty careful to make sure that nothing I say that's critical of Israel can be misconstrued as anti-semitic, but that canard is used so often (and so indiscriminately) by Israel's hasbarists that it feels like a waste of time to even credit the complaints.

One more note is that I expected to find more on the record-setting 2018 trade deficit, but all I came up with was the Paul Krugman post below, where the main point is that Trump is stupid, specifically on trade and tariffs but actually on pretty much everything. Krugman's explanation that trade deficits reflect a savings shortfall doesn't really tell me much. As best I can understand it, deficits are a means by which wealth transfers from consumers to the rich -- primarily the foreign rich, but much of that money comes back to domestic rich for investments and sales of inflated assets. I remember some years ago William Greider proposed a blanket, across-the-board tax on imports aimed at restoring a trade balance -- evidently such a thing is OK under WTO rules, and it would get around the balloon problem Krugman refers to -- but I've never heard about it since. Strikes me as a good idea (although I'm not sure how it would interact with exchange rates).

Also thought a bit about writing an op-ed on Trump and Korea. Specifically, I wanted to pose a rhetorical question to Trump, to ask him why he lets people like John Bolton undermine his chances for forging a signature world peace deal, and securing a legacy as something other than, well, you know, a demagogue and a crook.


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, March 4, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31207 [31174] rated (+33), 257 [252] unrated (+5).

Lots of good records this week, mostly early 2019 releases that I checked out after Phil Overeem posted his Best Rekkids of '19 - End of Febru-weary Edition, with "30 pretty damn decent releases." I had previously heard N:

  1. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty (Sunnyside -18) [B+(*)]
  2. Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions (Flat Langston's Arkeyes) [A]
  3. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet (Resonance -3CD) [A-]
  4. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature (ESP-Disk) [B+(***)]
  5. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE (Rimas Entertainment -18) [B+(*)]

I sampled 11 more below, coming up with 5 A-, 3 B+(***), 1 B+(**), 1 B-, 1 C. I looked up but didn't find 4 more (DKV, All the Young Droogs, M'dou Moctar, and the Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet -- a 2018 release I've looked for several times) -- basically only got down to 14, but Michael Tatum recommended Our Native Daughters, so I prioritized that, as well as the jazz releases (Ward, Ill Considered).

The DKV (Ken Vandermark sax trio with Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake) is a 6-CD box on the Catalytic Bandcamp, but they only have 3 tracks available -- far short of anything I can review in good conscience. Until they stopped providing full albums a little over a year ago, I tried to review everything they released (missing only a few monster sets), but gave up after that, finishing 2018 with 8 unreviewed Ken Vandermark titles in my music tracking file (plus various of his cohort, including Overeem's favorite, Joe McPhee) -- certainly one reason why my 2018 Best Jazz list came up shorter than recent years.

I also took a fairly deep dive into Ill Considered, a British jazz quartet (sax, bass, drums, extra percussion), made possible by their Bandcamp page -- only skipped An Ill Considered Christmas (see Phil Freeman's review). Rhythmically, they remind me of Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, but rawer, with a lot more sax appeal.

Missing from this week's A-list is James Brandon Lewis' An Unruly Manifesto. I was all ready to write it up based on a download when an actual CD showed up in a package from Relative Pitch, but when that happened I decided I wanted to listen some more. When I stopped writing Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, I stopped requesting review copies. But only some publicists stopped sending records, so I kept writing up what I got, filling in obvious holes by streaming. For the last 3-4 years, the one US label I most regretted not getting service from (and not being able to find on a streaming service) was Relative Pitch. (Well, Tzadik was competition, after they pulled their releases from Rhapsody.) So this package was the week's most pleasant surprise. Will get to them soon (with Lewis first).

I decided I was done with the EOY Aggregate mid-week, but today I figured I'd add in the albums I graded but hadn't shown up in any other list. I got tired of that pretty quickly -- last one I added was Chrome Hill's The Explorer (Clean Feed) -- so decided not to hold this post up for closure. The late adds to the file moved it back a bit toward the consensus of aggregators like Acclaimed Music; e.g., Pusha T reclaimed 4th from Cardi B, and in the biggest shift, Low rose to 8 over Noname and Parquet Courts. Also, the Arctic Monkeys (which I dislike even more than Double Negative) is back to up a tie at 16 (with Kali Uchis).

Expect an XgauSez later tonight. I keep postponing my website redesign work, mostly because everything sucks here. But I did decide that one thing I need to do is to move my computer back to the old desk, making it possible to use a second (presently inaccessible) computer for development work. To that end, I ordered another UPS, which is here waiting to be plugged in, ready for the move. (Has been for a week, but any day now.) When I get going, I'll explain why this matters to my "tech advisory" mail list. If you'd like to join in on that discussion (or just lurk), let me know and I'll sign you up. I expect to have plenty of questions, and could use the help.


New records reviewed this week:

Aesop Rock and Tobacco: Malibu Ken (2019, Rhymesayers): The former, rapper Ian Bavitz, debut in 1997, a dozen solo albums plus various collaborations. The latter, electronic musician Tom Fec, has a handful of albums since 2008 plus plays in psychedelic rock band Black Moth Super Rainbow. B+(**)

Atomic: Pet Variations (2018 [2019], Odin): Mostly Norwegian jazz quintet founded in 2001, weren't stars then but are now: Fredrik Ljungkvist (sax/clarinet), Magnus Broo (trumpet), Håvard Wiik (piano), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums, replaced by Hans Hulbaekmo c. 2015). Strong avant group, especially in the two 2004-08 albums with School Days (a Ken Vandermark quartet with same bassist and drummer). Vandermark also had a Giuffre-inspired trio with Wiik and Flaten, called Free Fall. Through all of this, Wiik often struck me as someone who'd rather be doing Third Stream fusion, and he seems to have gotten his way this time. His title piece draws on a bit of Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds," and the covers include Varese and Messaien, as well as Lacy, Bley, Giuffre, Schlippenbach, and Garbarek. Sometimes the horns remind you of the hoary old days, but mostly they tow the line. B+(**) [cd]

Marcia Ball: Shine Bright (2018, Alligator): Piano-playing blues singer from Texas and Louisiana, started with Soulful Dress on Rounder in 1984, one of her best. She always has preferred the upbeat numbers, and still does. B+(*)

Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium (2019, IOT): South African rapper, second album, had a bit on Black Panther: The Album. Music here has an advanced industrial air, sheets of sound stretched around a steely pulse. A-

R.L. Boyce: Rattlesnake Boogie (2018, Waxploitation): Mississippi Hill country bluesman, protege of R.L. Burnside, waited until he was 52 to release a record, has several now. Takes a while to get on track, but he's rolling and tumbling by the end. B+(*)

Robert Ellis: Texas Piano Man (2019, New West): Singer-songwriter from Texas, fifth album since 2009, seems like he should have more country feel than he does. B

Rosie Flores: Simple Case of the Blues (2019, The Last Music Company): Country singer, fond of rockabilly, 1987 eponymous debut was one of the year's best, has recorded fairly regularly but this comes after a 7-year break, a return to basics. B+(**)

Fidel Fourneyron: ¿Que Vola? (2019, No Format): French trombonist, second album, leads a septet with three Cuban percussionists. B+(***)

Mimi Fox: This Bird Still Flies (1985-2018 [2019], Origin): Guitarist, a dozen or so albums since 1987, solo here except one duet with a second guitarist, one cut pulled from the vault, five originals, two Beatles songs -- usually unjazzable but deconstructing the guitar parts seems appropriate, and they give you an anchor, as does "America the Beautiful." B+(*) [cd]

Ill Considered: Ill Considered (2017, Ill Considered Music): British group, saxophonist Idris Rahman backed by bass (Leon Richard), drums (Emre Ramazanoglu), more percussion (Yahael Camara-Onono). Opens with a bass pulse, adding intertwining rhythm tracks that could stand on their own, topped with soaring, searing sax riffing. Could just be a great formula, or could be the makings of a genre. A [bc]

Ill Considered: Live at the Crypt (2017, Ill Considered Music): Satin Singh takes over the percussion slot, and Vincent De Boer is listed as a fifth member, but for "ink and brushes" -- cover art, I presume. Starts cautiously, runs long (83:05), tries to vary the concept without much success, percussion isn't up to snuff, yet there are more than a few stretches where saxophonist Idris Rahman blows me away. B+(***) [bc]

Ill Considered: Ill Considered 3 (2018, Ill Considered Music): Back in the studio, working more from compositions -- whereas their masterful debut was reportedly improvised in less than two hours -- drummer Emre Ramazanoglu has gotten the rhythm back, while Idris Rahman's sax grows more and more expansive. Relatively short album (35:37), timed for vinyl. A- [bc]

Ill Considered: Live at Total Refreshment Centre (2018, Ill Considered Music): Some confusion about the date here. Little they haven't done before, but they continue to impress. B+(***) [bc]

Ill Considered: Live in Camden Town (2018, Ill Considered Music): Two jams, 40:45 total, featuring the addition of guitarist Steve Ashmore, adding some heft, not particularly what a band built on nimble rhythm needs. B+(**)

Ill Considered: Live in Nantes (2018, Ill Considered Music): Down to their core trio here -- Idris Rahman (sax), Leon Brichard (bass), and Emre Ramazanoglu (drums). Another long, strong, exciting set, perhaps the best of the year's three live albums, but differentiations are getting minor. B+(***)

Ill Considered: Ill Considered 5 (2018 [2019], Ill Considered Music): No 4 that I'm aware of, that slot filled by three live albums (also a Christmas album) between 3 and 5, with a 6 coming out the same day. Back to quartet here, with Satin Singh on percussion -- not that he makes much impact. B+(***) [bc]

Ill Considered: Ill Considered 6 (2018 [2019], Ill Considered Music): Steve Ashmore returns as "special guest" on guitar, sharper than on his previous outing, while tenor saxophonist Idris Rahman doubles up on bass clarinet. The two albums are short enough they could have been squeezed onto a single CD, but I prefer this one on its own -- even ending with a touch of metal. A- [bc]

Kel Assouf: Black Tenere (2019, Glitterbeat): Saharan rock band, founded in Brussels by Nigerien guitarist Anana Harouna, with Tunisian keyboardist Sofyann Ben Youssef (also dba Ammar 808). Not a lot of variation in this style, but this one sounds like the master take. A-

Rebecca Kilgore/Bernd Lhotzky: This and That (2017, Arbors): Standards singer, started in trad jazz bands in the 1980s, has been a regular on the label's retro-swing projects. Backed here by the German pianist, who's main group is called Echoes of Swing. B+(*)

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri (2019, OutHere): Ngoni master from Mali, harder and more powerful than the usual run of desert blues -- possibly his association with Youssou N'Dour has rubbed off, projecting some star power. Getting hard to differentiate after several strong albums, but I see no reason to stop here. A-

Doug MacDonald Quartet: Organisms (2018 [2019], self-released): Guitarist, has been prolific lately, here with Carey Frank (organ), Bob Sheppard (tenor sax), and Ben Scholz (drums). More standards than originals (7-3), nice soul jazz groove, some fine saxophone. B+(**) [cd]

Pat Martino: Formidable (2017, High Note): Guitarist, played mostly in soul jazz combos from 1963 into the late 1970s before an aneurism left him unable to play. He slowly recovered, producing regular albums from 1996 on. In his comfort zone here, with Pat Bianchi on organ, Adam Niewood (tenor sax), Alex Norris (trumpet), and Carmen Intorre (drums). B+(*)

Marilyn Mazur: Marilyn Mazur's Shamania (2017 [2019], RareNoise): Percussionist, born in New York, moved to Denmark at 6 and has stayed there, long and varied discography since 1986. She leads a mostly Scandinavian group here, best known is saxophonist Lotte Anker, but the vocals (Josefine Cronholm backed by everyone else) are more central, some riding oblique beats, more wrapped into fetching semipop chorales. B+(**) [cdr]

Joe McPhee/John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee (2019, Trost): Avant sax duo, alto and tenor (this time), one from US, other from UK, both go way back, both have done solo albums, not sure if they've ever played together although McPhee has spent a lot of time in Europe and for most of it has averaged close to ten records per year. Obviously of specialized interest, but they fill in nicely and flesh each other out. B+(***) [bc]

Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters (2019, Smithsonian Folkways): Four black folkies with banjos -- Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalls from Carolina Chocolate Drops, Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell -- torn between their instinct to preserve old slave hollers and minstrel tunes and to update them to reconstruct a history they obscure as much as belong to. CD comes with a thick booklet to help you keep score. Still, even without the history much of this is gripping. A-

Kassa Overall: Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz (2018 [2019], self-released): Has a solid rep as a jazz drummer, but has also released albums with rapper Kool A.D., tries to go both ways here, but doesn't really succeed at either. Guest shots range from trumpet players Theo Croker and Roy Hargrove to avant-gadfly Arto Lindsay. B+(**) [bc]

RGG/Verneri Pohjola/Samuel Blaser: City of Gardens (2017 [2018], Fundacja Sluchaj): Polish piano trio, originally an abbreviation of the artist surnames -- Przemyslaw Raminiak, Maciej Garbowski, Krzysztof Gradziuk -- until Lukasz Ojdana took over the piano slot in 2013. Recent albums had them backing Evan Parker and Trevor Watts. Here they get top billing with trumpet and trombone. Midway through they're more interesting on their own, but eventually the horns rise to the challenge. B+(**) [bc]

Ustad Saami: God Is Not a Terrorist (2019, Glitterbeat): From Karachi, 75 so may have just landed there after the British cleaved the subcontinent into two warring factions, "one of Pakistan's most revered and iconic classical singers," traces his roots to the 13th century. Not sure what the instrument is here, but sounds like a cross between organ and bagpipes, plus some percussion. I can imagine someone finding this hypnotic, but unbearable is what I'm feeling. C

Nick Sanders Trio: Playtime 2050 (2017-18 [2019], Sunnyside): Pianist, from New Orleans, based in New York, third album, trio with Henry Fraser (bass) and Connor Baker (drums). B+(**) [cd]

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade: Stomping Off From Greenwood (2017 [2019], Greenleaf Music): Alto saxophonist, from Chicago, group with two guitars (Matt Gold and Dave Miller), electric bass (Matt Ulery), and drums (Quin Kirchner). Can't even call this fusion, as it avoids both rock and jazz. B-

Anna Webber: Clockwise (2017 [2019], Pi): Tenor saxophonist, also plays various flutes, handful of albums since 2010, composes tricky pieces for septet, with Jeremy Viner also on tenor sax (alt. clarinet), Jacob Garchik on trombone, Matt Mitchell on piano, plus cello, bass, and drums. Took me a while to come around on this, and it's still too slippery to be sure. B+(***) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Sir Shina Peters & His International Stars: Sewele (1986 [2019], Strut): Nigerian juju star, started in 1980 with his big breakthrough in 1989, tailing off a bit after 2000. Four tracks, 40:05. A bit erratic, but hard to resist anything that sounds this much like early King Sunny Adé. A-

Old music:

Atomic: There's a Hole in the Mountain (2012 [2013], Jazzland): Original lineup after twelve years, the last album before drummer Paal Nilssen-Love left. But the more important transition is that pianist Håvard Wiik has become the main composer, 4-2 over saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, tipping the scales away from raw energy toward greater sophistication -- not necessarily a good thing. B+(*)

Rosie Flores: Girl of the Century (2009, Bloodshot): Not sure how I missed this: a rockabilly singer I've long liked, moved to a label I usually check even unknowns out on, cover art by Jon Langford, backed by his Pine Valley Cosmonauts band. Good covers of good songs, plus not-so-good songs only partly redeemed. B+(*)

Rebecca Kilgore/The Harry Allen Quartet: Live at Feinstein's at Loews Regency: Celebrating "Lady Day" and "Prez" (2011, Arbors): Seems like something of a mismatch, but they know their history, and have built careers out of their love of classic swing. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The David Berkman Sextet: Six of One (Palmetto): April 5
  • Chat Noir: Hyperuranion (RareNoise): cdr, March 29
  • Carolyun Fitzhugh: Living in Peace (Iyouwe): March 15
  • Michael Foster/Katherine Young/Michael Zerang: Bind the Hand(s) That Feed (Relative Pitch)
  • Guillermo Gregorio & Brandon Lopez: 12 Episodes (Relative Pitch)
  • Brian Krock: Liddle (Outside In Music): April 26
  • Lapis Trio: The Travelers (Shifting Paradigm)
  • James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto (Relative Pitch)
  • Sean Noonan: Tan Man's Hat (RareNoise): cdr, March 29
  • Jessica Pavone: In the Action (Relative Pitch)
  • Tomeka Reid/Filippo Monico: The Mouser (Relative Pitch)
  • Typical Sisters: Hungry Ghost (Outside In Music): March 22

Saturday, March 2, 2019


Weekend Roundup

Three fairly major stories dominated the news this past week: Trump walking away from his summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un without even making a serious proposal or showing any interest in long-range peace; Michael Cohen's congressional testimony, where he made a case that his own crimes were directed by Trump; and Trump's "free-form" speech at CPAC's annual convention. We'll take these in order, then conclude with the leftovers, including some stories that are actually bigger and more ominous than the headline grabbers: a dangerous border skirmish between nuclear powers India and Pakistan, US escalation against Venezuela, the impending indictment of Israeli PM Netanyahu, the usual gamut of Washington scandals, and some hopeful legislation that Democrats are introducing (and campaigning on).

Some links on Korea and the summit failure:

Some links on Cohen and this week in the "witchhunt":

Monday, February 25, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31174 [31145] rated (+29), 252 [249] unrated (+3).

So-so week, rated count actually a good deal more than I expected, given all the distractions. Since I went to weekly review dumps, I guess that means that the last Monday of the month is the closing date for the archive Streamnotes (February 2019) -- posted at the same time as this Music Week. February's record total of 123 (91 new) is quite a bit less than January's 201 (153 new).

Still listening more to 2018 than 2019 records (15-4 below), even a couple hitherto unnoticed 2017 releases. Should probably write a longer intro, but not feeling it at the moment.


New records reviewed this week:

Jakob Anderskov: Mysteries (2017 [2018], ILK): Danish pianist, more than a dozen albums since 2006, this the first I've heard, a trio with Adam Pultz Melbye (bass) and Anders Vestergaard (drums), recorded live at The Loft in Köln. B+(**)

Julian Argüelles: Tonadas (2017 [2018], Edition): English saxophonist (tenor/soprano), first album 1990, this a quartet -- Ivo Neame (piano), Sam Lasserson (bass), James Maddren (drums) -- draws on Spanish for its titles (starting with "Tunes"), and doesn't skimp on the Latin tinge. B+(**)

Rafiq Bhatia: Breaking English (2018, Anti-): Guitarist, born in North Carolina, of Indian descent via East Africa, second album, also plays in the experimental rock band Son Lux, and has side credits with David Virelles and Heems. Instrumental album, classified experimental, has some interesting twists and turns. B+(**)

Carsie Blanton: Buck Up (2019, So Ferocious): Singer-songwriter from Virginia, ran off at 16 to Oregon, then decided to turn pro and moved to Philadelphia but wound up in New Orleans. Never heard of her before, but sixth album since 2005 -- catchy, quotable, clever, sometimes cute, but bucks up when the going gets tough. A-

Martin Blume/Wilbert De Joode/John Butcher: Low Yellow (2016 [2018], Jazzwerkstatt): Drums, bass, tenor sax, respectively, recorded live in Slovenia. B+(**)

Dinosaur: Wonder Trail (2018, Edition): British quartet, second album, Laura Jurd (trumpet) the leader, with Elliot Gavin (synth), Conor Chaplin (electric bass), and Corrie Dick (drums). I like the trumpet but the vocal pieces have scant jazz interest. B

Endangered Blood: Don't Freak Out (2018, Skirl): New York quartet, originally came together to play in a benefit for Andrew D'Angelo. Their eponymous first album listed the names in alphabetical order, so I filed it under drummer Jim Black -- followed by Trevor Dunn on bass, with two saxophonists -- Chris Speed on tenor and Oscar Noriega on alto. (D'Angelo recovered, and Speed and Black still play in a band with him called Human Feel.) A-

Hot 8 Brass Band: On the Spot (2017, Tru Thoughts): New Orleans brass band, first album 2005, currently nine strong with three trumpets, three trombones, tuba (leader Bennie "Big Peter" Pete), sax, and bass drum. Probably shouldn't bother with only 4/11 tracks available but hot and funky out of the gate, with little evidence that they'll ever wear down. [4/11 cuts, 25:58.] B+(**) [bc]

Hot 8 Brass Band: Take Cover (2019, Tru Thoughts, EP): Five cut, 21:04 EP, giving covers like "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Give Me the Night" the same overpowering, overwrought treatment. B+(*) [bc]

Ohmme: Parts (2018, Joyful Noise): Chicago duo, Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, both started as pianists but have come to prefer guitar for its noise potential, and probably play everything else (aside from Matt Carroll on drums), as well as sing in and out of tight harmony. B+(**)

On the Levee Jazz Band: Swinging New Orleans Jazz (2018, Big Al): New Orleans trad jazz outfit led by drummer Hal Smith, logo adds "A Tribute to Kid Ory," takes its name from a club owned by Ory. Clint Baker is front and center on trombone, Ben Polcer trumpet, Joe Goldberg clarinet, plus piano-guitar-bass. Fourteen songs, all "good ol' good 'uns" as Satch liked to say. I'm sure I've heard them all before, but not better, at least not lately. A- [bc]

Pilgrims [John Wolf Brennan/Tony Majdalani/Marco Jencarelli]: Oriental Orbit (2017, Leo): Names on the spine, group name above them on the cover. Each is credited with many instruments, but the main categories are piano, percussion, and guitar, with vocals by Brennan (3 tracks) and Majdalani (6). Expansive jazz on a global scale. B+(*)

Chris Potter: Circuits (2019, Edition): Postbop tenor saxophonist, possibly the most acclaimed of his generation, discography to my ear is hit and miss but at any time he's capable of ripping off a jaw-dropping solo. With James Francies (keyboards) and Eric Harland (drums), plus Linley Marthe (electric bass) on 4/9 tracks. Band does him no favors here. Sometimes he comes close to salvaging in spite of them, but they're hard to shake or ignore. B-

RAM: RAM 7: August 1791 (2018, Willibelle): Haitian group, more or less, the date a reminder of the start of the revolution against French rule and slavery. Big groove record, doesn't sustain much interest. B

Dave Rempis/Brandon Lopez/Ryan Packard: The Early Bird Gets (2018 [2019], Aerophonic): Avant sax-bass-drums trio, the latter also credited with electronics, the saxophones plural but not specified but I'd say mostly tenor. I'd also say tour de force. A- [cd]

Valee: GOOD Job, You Found Me (2018, GOOD Music, EP): Chicago rapper Valee Taylor, had a half-dozen mixtapes before getting a label deal which has thus far only produced this 6-cut, 14:30 EP, just short verbal stabs riding on minimal beats. B+(**)

Kate Vargas: For the Wolfish & Wandering (2018, self-released): Singer-songwriter based in New York, DIY but not particularly country/folk, interesting voice, possibly songs too. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Gboyega Adelaja: Colourful Environment (1979 [2018], Odion Livingstone): Nigerian, I'm guessing, Afrobeat at least, with ties to Shina Williams and Tony Allen. Short album (7 cuts, 30:28). B+(**)

African Scream Contest 2 (1970s [2018], Analog Africa): More crate digging in Benin by Samy Ben Redjeb, "a new treasure trove of Vodoun-inspired Afrobeat heavy funk crossover greatness," dates uncertain but more likely earlier than later, groups even less famous. B+(***) [bc]

Dur Dur of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2, & Previously Unreleased Tracks (1986-87 [2018], Analog Africa, 2CD): From Mogadishu, capitol of one of the poorest countries in Africa, even before George Bush (take your pick, but HW was the first to send in troops), Osama Bin Laden, and a series of Ethiopian tyrants eviscerated much of the country. Organ-centric grooves, rocksteady guitar, several singers. B+(***)

Orhestre Abass: De Bassari Togo (1972 [2018], Analog Africa, EP): Group from Togo, a sliver of a country between Ghana and Benin, although the tapes showed up in Accra, Ghana, and the band leader, one Malam Issa Abass, is long gone (killed with a grenade in 1993). Organ funk, primal soul jazz. Six tracks, 21:35. B+(***)

Old music:

African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds From Benin & Togo 70s (1970s [2008], Analog Africa): From West Africa, two slim contries sandwiched between Ghana and Nigeria. Mostly good groove groups, two I've heard of, but the scream winner here is Roger Damawuzan, who does a pretty fair JB. A-

Carsie Blanton: Ain't So Green (2005, self-released): Debut at age 20, just a cute voice and a whisp of guitar, love songs because that's what most songs are, but asks some basic questions, like "what are we earning/what will it cost," elsewhere concluding "'cause if it don't cost nothing, it ain't for me." B+(***)

Carsie Blanton: Idiot Heart (2012, self-released): Third album, opens with a band, but gets quieter after a bit and starts to fade into the background. B+(*)

Carsie Blanton: Not Old, Not New (2014, So Ferocious): Jazz standards album, opens with Ellington then Porter, picks Julia Lee's "Don't Come Too Soon" for something a bit off-color. I'm not seeing any credits, but sounds like a standard piano trio with guest spots for sax and vibes. Only original is the 0:45 title sketch. B+(**)

Carsie Blanton: So Ferocious (2016, So Ferocious): Seems like a mixed bag, but a couple songs stand out: "The Animal I Am," "Fat and Happy." B+(*)

Andrew D'Angelo Trio: Skadra Degis (2007 [2008], Skirl): Alto saxophonist, raised in Seattle, moved to New York in 1986, also worked in Boston with Either/Orchestra, not much under his own name other than two Trio albums, this the first. With Jim Black (drums) and Trevor Dunn (bass). Strong group, sometimes a bit harsh but can't fault the energy. B+(***) [bc]

Andrew D'Angelo Trio: Norman (2015, self-released): Same trio, the leader playing bass clarinte as well as alto sax. Incendiary but rough in spots, Jim Black's drumming continues to amaze. B+(***) [bc]

Endangered Blood: Work Your Magic (2012 [2013], Skirl): Second of three albums for this quartet, the two saxophonists (Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega) switching to clarinet (bass for Noriega) on occasion. B+(***)

Kitchen Orchestra/Alexander Von Schlippenbach: Kitchen Orchestra With Alexander Von Schlippenbach (2013, Whats Cooking): Large Norwegian group, dates back to 2005, I found them while looking up Dag Magnus Narvesen (drums) and don't especially recognize anyone else -- 16 credits here including the guest conductor/pianist (also composer and arranger of the closing pieces by Dolphy and Monk). This seems to be the group's sole album, although their website lists events with various guests (in 2018: Eve Risser, Marilyn Crispell, Per Zanussi). B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Atomic: Pet Variations (Odin)
  • Lyn Stanley: London Calling: A Toast to Julie London (A.T. Music)
  • Carol Sudhalter Quartet: Live at Saint Peter's Church (Alfa Projects)
  • Assif Tsahar/William Parker/Hamid Drake: In Between the Tumbling a Stillness (Hopscotch) [A-]

Sunday, February 24, 2019


Weekend Roundup

When I started this exercise, I reassured myself that I would just go through the motions, collecting a few notes that I may wish to refer back to after the 2020 election. While I've written very little on it, I've thought a lot more about my four-era synopsis of American history, and I'm more convinced than ever that the fourth -- the one that started in 1980 with Ronald Reagan -- ends definitively with Donald Trump in 2020. I doubt I'll ever manage to write that book, but it's coming together pretty clearly in my mind. I'll resist the temptation to explain how and why. But I will offer a couple of comments on how this affects the Democratic presidential field. For starters, it is very important that the Democrats nominate someone who is not closely tied to Reagan-era Democratic politics, which means the Clintons, Obama, and Joe Biden. Those politicians based their success on their ability to work with Reagan-era constraint and tropes, and those have become liabilities.

It's time for a break, which could mean an older candidate with clear history of resisting Clinton-Obama compromises (like Bernie Sanders) or a younger candidate who's simply less compromised. Second point is that Republicans have become so monolithically tied to Trump, while Trump has become so polarizing, that no amount of "moderation" is likely to gain votes in the "middle" of the electorate. On the other hand, these days "moderation" is likely to be seen as lack of principles and/or character. In this primary season I don't see any reason not to go with whichever Democrat who comes up with the best platform. Still, there is one trait I might prefer over a better platform, which is dedication to advancing the whole party, and not just one candidate or faction.

I don't intend to spend much time or space on candidates, but I did note Bernie Sanders' joining the race below, a piece on his foreign policy stance (which has more to do with the shortcomings of other Democrats), as well as a couple of policy initiatives from Elizabeth Warren -- who's been working hard to establish her edge there. I've been running into a lot of incoherent spite and resentment against Sanders, both before and since his announcement, often from otherwise principled leftists, especially directed against hypothetical "purists" who disdain other "progressives" as not good enough. I'm far enough to the left that no one's ever good enough, but you make do with what you can get. I sympathize with Steve M.'s tweet:

Everyone, pro and anti Bernie: Just grow the fuck up. He's in the race. Vote for him, don't vote for him, let the process play out, then fight like hell to enact whoever wins the nomination. STOP DOING 2016 BATTLE REENACTMENTS.

Of course, if Hillary throws her hat in, all bets are off.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias:

  • Jamelle Bouie: Sanders has an advantage, and it's not about economics: "He has put forward a foreign policy vision that pits democratic peoples everywhere against illiberalism at home and abroad." I wish he was better still -- Laura blew up about some comments he made the other day on Venezuela, but he's not as kneejerk reflexive as most Democrats, or as gullible when someone pitches a war as humanitarian -- but he's closer to having a framework for thinking about America's imperial posture than almost anyone with a chance to do something about it. By far the biggest risk Democrats are running is the chance they may (as Hillary was) be tarred as the war party.

  • Ted Galen Carpenter: How NATO pushed the US Into the Libya fiasco: I think this was pretty obvious at the time, although once the US intervened, as it did, the war quickly became something all sides could blame on America -- particularly as the US had a long history that had only grown more intense under Bush and Obama of absent-minded intervention in Islamic nations. Obama later said that he regretted not the intervention per se but not planning better for the aftermath -- an indication of lack of desire or interest, not that Bush's occupation of Iraq turned out any better. (Of course, the fiasco in Iraq was also excused as poorly planned, but no one doubted the interest and excitement of the Bremer period as Americans tried to refashion Iraq in the image of, well, Texas.) One point that could be better explained is that Europe (especially France and Italy) had long-standing commercial ties to Libya, which America's anti-Qaddafi tantrums (at once high-handed, capricious, arbitrary, and indifferent to consequences) had repeatedly undermined. After NATO fell in line behind the US in Afghanistan and (for the most part) Iraq, Europeans felt America owed them something, and that turned out to be Libya. That all these cases proved disappointing should prove that NATO itself was never the right vehicle for dealing with world or regional problems.

  • Ben Freeman: US foreign policy is for sale: "Washington think tanks receive millions of dollars from authoritarian governments to shape foreign policy in their favor." Not just authoritarian governments, although you could argue that the most obvious exception, Israel, qualifies. For that matter it seems likely that many other nations (democracies as well as dictatorships) are every bit as active in buying American foreign policy favors -- so much so that singling out the "authoritarians" is just a rhetorical ploy. Original link to TomDispatch. By the way, in the latter, Tom Engelhardt quotes from Stephen Walt's new book, The Hell of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy:

    [T]he contemporary foreign policy community has been characterized less by competence and accountability and more by a set of pathologies that have undermined its ability to set realistic goals and pursue them effectively. To put it in the bluntest terms, instead of being a disciplined body of professionals constrained by a well-informed public and forced by necessity to set priorities and hold themselves accountable, today's foreign policy elite is a dysfunctional caste of privileged insiders who are frequently disdainful of alternative perspectives and insulated both professionally and personally from the consequences of the policies they promote.

    Although "good intentions" often fail, Walt is being overly generous in accepting them at face value. Up to WWII, US foreign policy was almost exclusively dictated by private interests -- mostly traders and financiers, with an auxiliary of missionaries. WWII convinced American leaders that they had a calling to lead and manage the world, so they came up with a great myth of "good intentions," although those were soon shattered as they embraced slogans like "better dead than red."

  • Greg Grandin: How the failure of our foreign wars fueled nativist fanaticism: "For nearly two centuries, US politicians have channeled extremism outward. But the frontier is gone, the empire is faltering, and the chickens are coming home to roost." Adapted from Grandin's new book, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border in the Mind of America.

    Had the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq not gone so wrong, perhaps George W. Bush might have been able to contain the growing racism within his party's rank and file[1] by channeling it into his Middle East crusade, the way Ronald Reagan broke up the most militant nativist vigilantes in the 1980s by focusing their attention on Central America. For nearly two centuries, from Andrew Jackson forward, the country's political leaders enjoyed the benefit of being able to throw its restless and angry citizens -- of the kind who had begun mustering on the border in the year before 9/11 -- outward, into campaigns against Mexicans, Native Americans, Filipinos, and Nicaraguans, among other enemies.

    But the occupations did go wrong. Bush and his neoconservative advisers had launched what has now become the most costly war in the nation's history, on the heels of pushing through one of the largest tax cuts in the nation's history. They were following the precedent set by Reagan, who in the 1980s slashed taxes even as he increased the military budget until deficits went sky-high. Yet the news coming in from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere began to suggest that Bush had created an epic disaster. Politicians and policy intellectuals began to debate what is and isn't torture and to insist that, whatever "enhanced interrogation" was, the United States had a right to do it. Photographs from Abu Ghraib prison showing US personnel cheerfully taunting and torturing Iraqis circulated widely, followed by reports of other forms of cruelty inflicted on prisoners by US troops. Many people were coming to realize that the war was not just illegal in its conception but deceptive in its justification, immoral in its execution, and corrupt in its administration.

    Every president from Reagan onward has raised the ethical stakes, insisting that what they called "internationalism" -- be it murderous wars in impoverished Third World countries or corporate trade treaties -- was a moral necessity. But the disillusionment generated by Bush's war on terrorism, the velocity with which events revealed the whole operation to be a sham, was extraordinary -- as was the dissonance. The war, especially that portion of it allegedly intended to bring democracy to Iraq, was said to mark a new era of national purpose. And yet a coordinated campaign of deceit, carried out with the complicity of reporters working for the country's most respected news sources, had to be waged to ensure public support. The toppling of Saddam Hussein was predicted to be a "cakewalk," and US soldiers, according to Vice President Dick Cheney, would "be greeted as liberators." But Cheney still insisted that he needed to put in place a global network of secret torture sites in order to win the War on Terror.

    As thousands died and billions went missing, the vanities behind not just the war but the entire post-Cold War expansionist project came to a crashing end. . . .

    War revanchism usually takes place after conflicts end -- the Ku Klux Klan after World War I, for example, or the radicalization of white supremacism after Vietnam.[2] Now, though, it took shape while the war was still going on.[3] And border paramilitarism began to pull in not only soldiers who had returned from the war but the veterans of older conflicts.

    Notes: [1] Of course, "channeling" racism wasn't something Bush II worried about, after Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I had built their winning presidential campaigns by cultivating it. It was by then part of the Republican brand. [2] What about the Red Scares following both World Wars? Even wars that were definitely won seem to have left a hunger for more, starting with the search for scapegoats. [3] Or should we say, the war abroad dragged on even after most Americans lost interest in or commitment to it?

  • Alex Isenstadt: Trump rolls out massive corporate-style campaign structure for 2020.

  • Sarah Kliff: Elizabeth Warren's universal child care plan, extended: More evidence that Warren is running away from the pack in producing serious thinking about and proposals for policy. For another, see: German Lopez: Elizabeth Warren's ambitious plan to fight the opioid epidemic, explained.

  • Natasha Korecki: 'Sustain and ongoing' disinformation assault targets Dem presidential candidates: "A coordinated barrage of social media attacks suggests the involvement of foreign state actors." I bet not just those scary foreign state names but PACs and slush funds all over the world, any outfit with a cross to bear or an interest to push.

  • Anna North: The Trump administration is finalizing plans to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

  • John Pilger: The war on Venezuela is built on lies. Also related: Timothy M Gill: Why is the Venezuelan government rejecting US food supplies?

    We can surely debate the cruelty of Maduro's domestic policies and his inability and unwillingness to seriously combat the economic crisis, perhaps in an effort to benefit his cronies. Yet, Maduro is not incorrect about the U.S.'s disingenuous behavior.

    At the same time that the U.S. is portraying itself as a literary protagonist with its supplies situated on the Colombia-Venezuela border, its policies are intensifying hardships for Venezuelan citizens. If it truly wanted to help Venezuelans, it could work through international and multilateral institutions to send aid to Venezuela, push for dialogue, and take some options off the table, namely military intervention.

    Above all, the U.S. is currently damaging the Venezuelan economy with its sanctions, and its supplies on the border will do very little to solve the crisis writ large. If sanctions haven't felled governments in Iran or Syria, to name just two examples, it doesn't seem likely that they will fall the Maduro government any time soon. They'll only perpetuate suffering and ultimately generate acrimony towards the country.

    The US has put this kind of pressure on nations before, imposing huge popular hardships as punishment for the government's failure to surrender to American interests. Crippling sanctions failed to break North Korea and Cuba. Iraq held out until the US invaded, then resisted until American troops withdrew. Syria descended into a brutal civil war. The US is on a path of goading Maduro into becoming the sort of brutal dictator that Assad became. One might cite Nicaragua as the exception, where the Sandinista regime relinquished power to US cronies, for what little good it did them.

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • Stephanie Savell: US counterterrorism missions across the planet: "Now in 80 countries, it couldn't be more global." See the map.

  • Tim Shorrock: Why are Democrats trying to torpedo the Korea peace talks? That's a good question. You'd think that Democrats would realize by now that the conflicts created and exacerbated by America's global military posture undermine both our own security and any prospects for achieving any of their domestic political goals.

    "Democrats should support diplomacy, and remember the most important president in this process is Moon Jae-in, not Donald Trump," Martin said. "Moon's persistent leadership toward reconciliation and diplomacy with North Korea represents the fervent desire of the Korean and Korean-American people for peace. Members of Congress from both parties should understand that and support it, skepticism about Trump and Kim notwithstanding."

  • Amanda Sperber: Inside the secretive US air campaign in Somalia: "Since Trump took office, figuring out whom the US is killing and why has become nearly impossible."

  • Emily Stewart:

  • Matt Taibbi:

    • Thomas Friedman is right: Pie doesn't grow on trees. Taibbi is the reigning champ of parsing Friedman's blabber, but instead of translating his pie metaphors into English, Taibbi is so overwhelmed by the moment he just transcribes them into page-straddling German nouns. The Friedman piece in question: Is America becoming a four-party state? I would start by sketching this out as a 2x2 chart, labeling the vertical columns Republicans and Democrats. The top row for leaders of both parties who think that all you need is growth (which mostly means pandering to big business); the bottom row for the resentful masses who feel they haven't been getting their fair share of all that growth. I imagine this less as four squares than as a capital-A. The top row is narrowed, the partisan differences marginal, while the bottom row diverges as to who to blame. Friedman pines for the good old days when all elites of both parties had to do was compete with each other to better serve the rich, when no one on either side stooped to pandering to the masses.

    • Bernie enters the 2020 race with defiant anti-Trump rhetoric.

    • Does Washington know the difference between dissent and disinformation?

  • Margaret Talbot: Revisiting the American Nazi supporters of "A Night at the Garden": A seven-minute documentary film nominated for an Oscar, based on a 1939 pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, and its relevance today.

  • Jeffrey Toobin: Roger Stone's and Jerome Corsi's time in the barrel: "Why the mismatched operatives matter to Trump -- and to the Mueller investigation."

  • Alex Ward:

  • Sean Wilentz: Presumed Guilty: A book review of Ken Starr: Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation, a reminder of the days when so-called Independent Investigators really knew how to run a witch hunt. Perhaps the new piece of information here is the extreme contempt that Starr and his minions, including Brett Kavanaugh, held for Hillary Clinton.

  • Li Zhou: The House will vote Tuesday on blocking Trump's national emergency.

Monday, February 18, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31145 [31103] rated (+42), 249 [251] unrated (-2).

Still killing time fiddling with the Pazz & Jop ballots and my EOY Aggregate list. As I'm only selectively adding P&J voters' ballots to the count, I've been perturbing the standings a bit, nudging Cardi B (which I like more) into 4th over Pusha T and Low (which I don't like, although it's far from their worst) down to 10th, under Noname and Parquet Courts (which I do like). Reminds me of something I used to do in my late teens, when I could create my own book lists by mixing real bestseller with other books I was drawn to, including a lot of titles from Pantheon, Grove Press, and Monthly Review Books. The EOY Aggregate remains more rooted in reality, but factoring in my own grades and lists from favored critics and fellow travelers does add a (useful, I think) bias to the thing.

Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists have evened out a bit, 63-58, with one late-discovered A- in each this week. Also found my first 2019 non-jazz A-, against 12 jazz A/A- records (although Leyla McCalla's Capitalist Blues could be called non-jazz, and two more of that dozen feature spoken-word poetry).

I pulled a couple old unrated CDs off the shelf this week, now in "old music" below. I should note that French blues collection is part of a series. I also own The Prewar Vocal Jazz Story (1923-45, released 1996), which is in my database as a full A. I gave it a spin last week, and it would be hard to improve on. Had I spent more time with The Prewar Blues Story, I might have concluded it's every bit as authoritative. There are more volumes in the series, all long out of print, but likely to be worthwhile if you stumble upon one. Booklets are pretty good.

After Christgau's Expert Witness, I spent some more time with Alex Chilton reissues -- although I was actually primed with last week's review of Big Star's Live at Lafayette's Music Room. I had reviewed Ocean Club '77 back when it came out, but gave it another shot, and a better grade.

Last week I started replacing my rated albums lists with my review notes. Working methodology is to collect the list in a scratch file and retain it in the notebook, while only swapping the reviews in for the blog post. Still a bit awkward for me, but I trust more timely reviews in smaller than monthly chunks will be more useful.


New records rated this week:

Asleep at the Wheel: New Routes (2018, Bismeaux): Ray Benson's fiddle band from West Virginia, moved west to Austin back in the 1970s and discovered Western Swing -- my favorites of their records have been Bob Wills tributes (Ride With Bob in 1999, Still the King in 2015), although 2009's Willie and the Wheel (filed under Nelson) was even better. Trying to stand on their own here, with Katie Shore writing more songs than Benton (2.5-1.5), but they're still better off with Guy Clark and Johnny Cash ("Big River"). B+(*)

Bad Bunny: X 100RPE (2018, Rimas Entertainment): Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, Latin trap singer from Puerto Rico, not far removed from reggaeton, all rhythm, choppy words included. B+(*)

J Balvin: Vibras (2018, Universal Latin): Colombian, full name José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, tagged as reggaeton, a little more rockish beat than cumbia, fifth album, groove with some bounce. B+(**)

Blueprint: Two-Headed Monster (2018, Weightless): Rapper/producer Albert Shepard, from Columbus, Ohio, got noticed for his Rhymesayers debut (1988 in 2005) but ignored for a steady stream of self-released albums since 2003. Guest shots here include Slug, Mr Lif, and Aceyalone. "Good Guys Get Ignored"? That's a shame. A-

Moses Boyd Exodus: Displaced Diaspora (2018, Exodus): Drummer, born in London, straddles jazz and electronica, best known as half of Binker and Moses, first album on his own or in this group -- if that's what this is: I count 17 credits, including three vocalists, four bata drummers (who also sing some), Binker Golding on tenor sax, Nubya Garcia on bass clarinet, synth and guitar in the middle, and tuba in lieu of bass. Opens and closes with African chants, strong pieces. B+(***)

BTS: Love Yourself: Tear (2018, Big Hit): South Korean boy band, one of the world's biggest K-pop bands, easily the best-selling one in the US. Big pop production, nothing very exotic other than the language, but nothing I've latched onto either. B

Mariah Carey: Caution (2018, Epic): Big pop star, or r&b diva, at least in the 1990s following her nine-platinum debut, although the two records I sampled -- the debut and a 1998 compilation of her #1's -- never tempted me to dig deeper. This is her 15th studio album, and while sales are a tiny fraction of her peak, this reached 5 on the charts, and seems to have gotten more critical respect than ever. Don't know why, but not so bad.. B

Hayes Carll: What It Is (2019, Dualtone): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, sixth album since 2002, Trouble in Mind (2008) his best, but this is pretty close, rocks a little harder, worries about "Times Like These," honors "Jesus and Elvis." A-

Cypress Hill: Elephants on Acid (2018, BMG): Pioneering Latino American hip hop group, first album 1991, only their second since 2004. Throws you a curve at first, then settles into something solid, with an impact. B+(**)

Michael Dease: Reaching Out (2017 [2018], Posi-Tone): Trombonist, eighth album since 2005, covers include Steve Turre and Conrad Herwig, "Live and Let Die" and Babyface. With Walt Weiskopf on alto/tenor sax, Ralph Bowen on tenor (8/11 tracks), piano, bass, drums, labelmate Behn Gillece on vibraphone (3 cuts). Trombone leads are fine, sax solos too, but the harmony gets mushy. B

Michael Dease: Bonafide (2018, Posi-Tone): Trombone choir (leader, Marshall Gilkes, Conrad Herwig, plus Gina Benalcazar on bass trombone), plus tenor sax (Sam Dillon) and rhythm (David Hazeltine, Todd Coolman, EJ Srickland). B+(**)

Michael Dessen Trio: Somewhere in the Upstream (2016 [2018], Clean Feed): Trombonist, fourth trio album, with Christopher Tordini on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. One title, split into eight parts. B+(***) [sp]

Jose Dias: After Silence Vol. 1 (2017 [2019], Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, first album, solo, improvised aside from excerpts from Man Ray dating from the 1920s. B+(**)

Erin Rae: Putting on Airs (2018, Single Lock): Folkie singer-songwriter, dropped last name McKaskle, first solo album, two previous albums as Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles. B+(*)

Kinky Friedman: Circus of Life (2018, Echo Hill): Self-billed "Texas Jewboy," used all the irony he could muster to cut a good record in 1973, coasted a lot since then, but at 74 heard Willie Nelson whispering in his ear to write more songs, so he did. Bring up politics and you'll find he's turned into a crank, but he's pretty mellow here. B+(*)

Joshua Hedley: Mr. Jukebox (2018, Third Man): Country singer-songwriter, from Florida, plays fiddle and guitar, first album, trad sound, often leading with the violin. Songs remind me of a number of better ones. B

Muncie Girls: Fixed Ideals (2018, Buzz): British post-punk band, second album, group name a Sylvia Plath reference, vocalist-bassist Lande Hekt and two blokes. Upbeat, almost cheery. B+(**)

Murs: A Strange Journey Into the Unimaginable (2018, Strange Music): Rapper Nicholas Carter, from Los Angeles, moniker stands for Making Underground Raw Shit, 25 albums since 1997. B+(***)

Thiago Nassif: Três (2015 [2018], Foom): Brazilian, third album, sings, plays guitar, bass, synth, with scattered guests, notably Arto Lindsay, who produced here, while Nassif co-produced Lindsay's 2017 album Cuidado Madame. Picks up where Lindsay's badly bent postpunk tropicalia leaves off. A-

Larry Ochs/Nels Cline/Gerald Cleaver: What Is to Be Done (2016 [2019], Clean Feed): Credit order from front cover, although label reverses the order. Sax-guitar-drums trio, more tenor than soprano, all joint improv, two 20-minute pieces, one 6:04. Starts with a strong sax lead. Ends with equally strong guitar. In between is murkier. B+(**)

Carly Pearce: Every Little Thing (2017, Big Machine): Country singer from Kentucky, first album, shares 8 writing credits (out of 13 songs). Generic writing-by-committee is topped by overkill production. B-

Rich Pellegrin: Down (2014 [2019], OA2): Pianist, third album on label, all original pieces, most quintet (trumpet, tenor sax, bass, drums), final piece uses the Mizzou New Music Ensemble (flute, clarinet, strings, percussion). B [cd]

Scott Robinson: Tenormore (2018 [2019], Arbors Jazz): Saxophonist, plays every one ever invented, settles on tenor here but gets uncommon range, starting with soprano notes. Quartet with Helen Sung (piano/organ), Martin Wind (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums), guest flute on one track, half originals, half classics, exceptionally gorgeous. A- [cd]

Shad: A Short Story About War (2018, Secret City): Canadian rapper Shadrach Kabango, born in Kenya, parents refugees from Rwanda, sixth album since 2005. Probably pretty smart, but the music got a little heavy for me. B+(*) [bc]

Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature (2018 [2019], ESP-Disk): Piano trio with Michael Bisio (bass) and Taylor Baker (drums). B+(***)

Jorja Smith: Lost & Found (2018, FAMM): British r&b singer, father Jamaican, first album, nice flow. B+(**)

Ricardo Toscano: Quartet (2018, Clean Feed): Cover seems straightforward to parse although Discogs, following the label, adds an implicit "Feat." to the three names below the title line: João Pedro Coelho (piano), Romeu Tristão (double bass), João Lopes Pereira (drums). Leader plays alto sax, debut album. B+(**)

Jeff Tweedy: Warm (2018, dBpm): Alt-country singer-songwriter, led Uncle Tuppelo 1987-94, Wilco through 2016, followed by a solo album of remakes and now this one of new songs. I doubt he's done with the band, but wanted something a bit more intimate and easy-going, and he's got that here. B+(**)

Jack White: Boarding House Reach (2018, Third Man): Former White Stripes auteur/impressario, fronted the Raconteurs, then he Dead Weather. Started in bare bones rock and roll, created a label specializing in Americana, revived Loretta Lynn's career. Third solo album, sounds like he's trying his hand at hip-hop, except this isn't hip and doesn't hop. B-

Kelly Willis: Back Being Blue (2018, Premium): Country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, considered neotrad, first album in 1990, last two duets with husband Bruce Robison, so this is her first solo since 2007. Nice sound, but in one awkward moment she refers to Cassius Clay, who chose the name everyone uses even before she was born. B+(*)

Luke Winslow-King: Blue Mesa (2018, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter from Michigan, based in New Orleans, dropped his last name (Balzuweit), filed under blues which may be technically right but he's more wistful than downtrodden. But he makes something of that. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Big Star: Live on WLIR (1974 [2018], Omnivore): Before the break up, a radio shot recorded in New York, reprising 9 of 12 songs from Radio City, 4 from #1 Record, 2 more. Two more cuts: "Motel Blues," and an awkward bit of interview wedged into the middle of the disc where it's uninteresting the first time and unwanted thereafter. This seems to be the same set released by Rukodisc in 1992 as Live. B+(**)

Alex Chilton: From Memphis to New Orleans (1985-89 [2019], Bar/None): Pop anti-star from Memphis, had a number one hit as a teenager, led a legendary pop-rock band in the early 1970s, recorded erratically as a solo act from 1978 until his death in 2000. Mostly this draws from EPs just before and after his 1986 move from Memphis to New Orleans, about half covers. I don't think this makes as good a case for his genius as 19 Years, the Rhino compilation which leans a bit earlier (including 5 Big Star tracks, plus 5 tracks that reappear here). A-

Fred Hersch Trio: Heartsongs (1989 [2018], Sunnyside): Early piano trio -- Hersch's first records appeared in 1984 -- with Michael Formanek on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. Half originals (including one from the bassist), two by Wayne Shorter, one each Gershwin, Monk, and Ornette Coleman. B+(**)

King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller (2018, BMG, 2CD): An obscure but first-rate Nashville songwriter until 1964-65, when a string of novelty hits -- "Dang Me," "Chug-a-Lug," "Do-Wacka-Do," most importantly "King of the Road" -- made him a star, landed him a TV show, and ruined the rest of his career, leaving him dead at 56 in 1992. Could be some of these pieces are old ("Old Friends" is one), and they've cut in bits of banter from Miller himself. I recognize, even love, nearly all of the songs, but the performances are hodge-podge, all over the place. B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

1930s Jazz: The Singers (1930-38 [1987], Columbia): Early 17-track CD era compilation of "Columbia Jazz Masterpieces," from the label's legacy catalogs, a time when only Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday were treated with full CDs (7 for Armstrong and 9 Holliday -- others like Ethel Waters and Mildred Bailey had to wait, while Bing Crosby and Fats Waller (and others omitted here) did most of their work on other labels. B+(**) [cd]

1930s Jazz: The Small Combos (1930-39 [1987], Columbia): Remembered as the decade when big bands roamed the earth and dominated the dancehalls, most of these groups are still called Orchestra, and I don't think any are less than sextets. Also avoids big name groups, although Jones-Smith Inc. was early Basie, and Henry Allen, Sidney Bechet, Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Stuff Smith, Wingy Manone, John Kirby, and others are worth knowing more about. And they do swing. B+(***)

1940s Jazz: The Singers (1940-49 [1987], Columbia): Sixteen fairly classic tracks, starting with Maxine Sullivan easing up to "St. Louis Blues" and ending with Sarah Vaughan torching "Summertime," some cuts closer to r&b, and Slim Gaillard's aptly described by his band name, the Flat Foot Floogie Boys. With Billie Holiday before she left for Decca (where Armstrong and Crosby were recording, so they drop out here). B+(***) [cd]

Best of Blues Records Presents: The Prewar Blues Story [La Grande Époque du Blues 1926-1943] (1926-43 [1994], Best of Blues, 2CD): Bought this used at least 15 years ago, and it's long languished on my unrated list. First disc is just less than half from the 1920s, while the second picks up in 1935 and isn't totally "prewar" even given America's delayed entry -- there's Doc Clayton's "Pearl Harbor Blues," Louis Jordan's "Ration Blues," and Josh White observing Jim Crow wasn't any different in the Army. Not essential as a primer -- I have a half-dozen comparable surveys in my database -- but nothing to complain about, and a few pleasant surprises. French title is on the jewel case, English on the slipcover. A- [cd]

Alex Chilton: Bach's Bottom (1975 [1993], Razor & Tie, EP): Recorded in Memphis, appeared in 1981 in Germany, 10 songs, 29:42, reissue grew to 15 cuts, but the Napster version (credited Razor & Tie, but 1975) I'm working off is down to 8 songs plus 3 alternate takes, 34:02. Any way you slice it, bits of genius thrown out with the garbage, often hard to distinguish. B+(*)

Alex Chilton: Like Flies on Sherbert (1979 [1996], Last Call): Originally 11 cuts released on Peabody, Napster's 15-cut selection corresponds to this French reissue, except they got the cover wrong. More crap, less genius, or maybe it just doesn't seem to repay sorting? B


Grade (or other) changes:

Alex Chilton: Ocean Club '77 (1977 [2015], Norton): Working solo, covering favored pop songs as well as "The Letter" and his non-hits from big Star. [was: B+(**)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Randy Brecker & NDR Bigband: Rocks (Piloo): February 22
  • Doug MacDonald Quartet: Organisms (self-released)
  • Nick Sanders Trio: Playtime 2050 (Sunnyside): March 15
  • Urbanity: Urbanity (Alfi) **

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