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Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32778 [32759] rated (+19), 242 [241] unrated (+1).

Late again, but short as weeks go, given that last week's Music Week didn't appear until Thursday, February 13. My excuse then was that I was in the middle of a series on Duke Ellington's Chronological Classics (up to 1940, anyway). I decided not to bother with the 1940-1953 releases, figuring they're redundant to in-print albums on RCA and Columbia (and maybe Capitol?), but I've continued to trawl through Napster's offerings, using "ellington" as my titles search. That netted a few albums by other doing Ellington songs -- including titles by Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Zoot Sims, and Sarah Vaughan, below. I haven't hit the end of that list yet, so I'll keep plugging, and see what else catched my fancy. I briefly considered doing more individual albums from The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books, which I bought long ago and gave an A- to without subdividing, but I haven't followed up on that. (If I recall correctly, the best volume is the Harold Arlen, possibly followed by Irving Berlin or Cole Porter; the weakest may well be the Ellington, which is surprising given how much I like the later Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur -- a 2-CD sampler from a larger box I haven't heard, but which I believe is on Napster.)

All this old music digging has kept me off from new music, with only a few of my queue offerings this week. Robert Christgau sent his Consumer Guide out to subscribers last week, and included two new 2020 releases among his picks (Eminem and Drive-By Truckers) among his late-breaking 2019 picks (catching up with his Dean's List). Normally I'd jump on them, but this hasn't been a normal week.

Christgau followed that up with another list, Ten Movies I Love. I can't argue, not least because I've only seen four of those movies, and don't even recall hearing of most of the rest. [PS: Make that five: I've seen, but forgot the title of, Make Way for Tomorrow] I doubt I could even construct such a list, but I'd hate to leave out:

  • Babette's Feast -- Gabriel Axel (1988)
  • Before Sunrise -- Richard Linklater (1995)
  • Hairspray -- John Waters (1988)
  • High Hopes -- Mike Leigh (1989)
  • Johnny Dangerously -- Amy Heckerling (1984)
  • Made in Heaven -- Alan Rudolph (1987)
  • Moonstruck -- Norman Jewison (1987)
  • The Mosquito Coast -- Peter Weir (1986)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- Ethan & Joel Cohen (2000)
  • Ordinary People -- Robert Redford (1980)
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo -- Woody Allen (1985)
  • The Remains of the Day -- James Ivory (1993)
  • Stars and Bars -- Pat O'Connor (1988)
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown -- Pedro Almodovar (1988)

First of all, I'm surprised to find these so concentrated in time: 1985-1995 accounts for all but two, one from 1980, the other 2000. The obvious explanation is that I watched a lot more movies then than any time before or since. I hardly ever watched movies before, aside from minor binges, but started renting tapes after my first wife died, and watched even more when I dated and moved in with Laura. My movie watching has tailed off in recent years, but not as dramatically as the omission of post-2000 movies in the list above suggests. Perhaps I was just more impressionable in that first decade. I did a quick search through the notebook, and found a lot of good movies, but the only ones that tempted me to add to the list were: Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000); The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand, 2003); De-Lovely (Irwin Winkler, 2004); Letters From Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006); The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2007); The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009, in Swedish); and Boyhood (2014).

A second point is that these are mostly small movies. (Three were nominated for Oscars, and one won.) A glance through the Oscar list and other lists at { IMDB, TimeOut, MSN } suggest some better-known epics that I like (in many cases a lot), in chronological order (while generally avoiding repeating directors from above):

Modern Times (1936); Grand Illusion (1937); His Girl Friday (1940); Sullivan's Travels (1941); Casablanca (1942); The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957); Dr. Strangelove (1964); Blazing Saddles (1964); Ship of Fools (1965); Once Upon a Time in the West (1968); Z (1969); The Godfather (1972); Cries and Whispers (1973); The Godfather II (1974); Chinatown (1974); Nashville (1975); Atlantic City (1981); The Last Emperor (1987); Do the Right Thing (1989); Unforgiven (1992); Pulp Fiction (1994); The Shawshank Redemption (1994); L.A. Confidential (1997); Shakespeare in Love (1998); Moulin Rouge! (2001); Brokeback Mountain (2005); Slumdog Millionaire (2008), La La Land (2016). Most frequently listed movies that I haven't seen (or don't recall) date from before 1960, including a fair number of "foreign" films. Too bad I didn't maintain a list, like I did for albums.


Contributing to this week's delay, I cooked a rather fancy dinner Monday night. I made a couple stabs at Hungarian cuisine last fall, and had a few more recipes I wanted to try. My cookbook was Silvena Johan Lauta's The Food & Cooking of Hungary, but it didn't offer any promising vegetable side dishes, so I slipped a Greek fave into the menu:

  • Rabbit Goulash Stew
  • Venison Meatballs
  • Hungarian Dumplings
  • Green Bean Ragout
  • Transylvanian Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Somloi Trifle

Not sure I got the first three quite right. The meatballs were quite delicious, but could have used more sauce. I had a lot of trouble cutting up the rabbit, which made everything come out late. The one piece I had was a little tough and dry, but others disagreed. The mushrooms (stuffed with ricotta, bacon, and herbs) perhaps should have been cooked longer. Still, all came out pretty tasty.

The dessert wasn't in the cookbook, but showed up repeatedly when I was attempting to survey Hungarian recipes online -- along with a fancy multi-layer cake called a dobos torte. I wound up consulting several web recipes, mostly following this one, but taking a few liberties along the way (e.g., after my caramelized syrup burned, I went with a much safer non-caramel recipe; I missed the liquor store, so substituted amaretto for rum; I substuted apricot for strawberry jam, as all other recipes specified). The dessert is a pretty complicated affair: first make three sponge cakes (one plain, one with walnuts, a third with cocoa); make a light syrup with liquor (in my case, amaretto), and brush it over the cakes; make a "gruel" out of milk, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla (more like a pudding -- other recipes use a pastry cream); build a stack of the three cakes, each one topped with a shmear of apricot jam, raisins (soaked in syrup), walnuts, and "gruel"; sprinkle cocoa on top and chill for 12 hours. Make a chocolate sauce, with liquor (amaretto again). Whip cream. To serve, scoop out chunks of cake, top with chocolate, then with whipped cream. Before I was done, I doubted I'd ever do it again, but it turned out to be remarkably delicious.


A few links I had meant to include in Sunday's Weekend Roundup, but somehow didn't get to:

  • Kos: Sanders wins New Hampshire by being the least-weak of a suddenly weak field. This was a "hot take" after New Hampshire, but since then I'm less persuaded of Bernie Sanders' "weakness." Sanders now seems to be ahead in Nevada, possibly ahead in South Carolina, indeed close to leading pretty much everywhere (FiveThirtyEight still likes Biden in Alabama). I've also seen polls that show his favorability ratings are high enough to give him a reasonable expectation of gaining vote share as other candidates drop out (much as Trump did in 2016, though Bernie's are higher than Trump's were, at least up to the 2016 convention, maybe even the election). Also, this article makes some really dumb points, such as:

    No white male has ever gotten 63 million votes in a presidential election. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both hit 65 million. When our nominees look like our base, we perform better.

    That doesn't prove anything, least of all its "looks like" conclusion. (Sure, it would disprove the opposite assertion, that you have to run a white male in order to win, but that's not the point here.) I remember when Clinton promised a cabinet that "looks like America," but all they looked like to me was a bunch of well-heeled lawyers. He throws out other meaningless facts, like Bloomberg was "major of a city that is larger than 38 states" [each of; the 9 least populous states + DC have more people combined than NYC], and he invents a ridiculous euphemism for dollars, as in "he spent another 3.5 million electability units on advertising in black newspapers."

  • Joel Kotkin: You think Trump's a danger to democracy? Get a load of Bloomberg. Side note more relevant to the Kos article above: to win his third term as mayor of New York, Bloomberg spent $174 per vote; to match that running for president, he'll have to pony up $12 billion.

  • Alexander Rubinstein/Max Blumenthal: Woke wonk Elizabeth Warren's foreign policy team is stacked with pro-war swamp creatures.

I should also note that a Guardian article I linked to about Bill Gates buying a £500 million superyacht has been pulled, due to "a fundamental error in facts reported." Evidently, Gates hasn't bought any such boat.


New records reviewed this week:

The Coachella Valley Trio: Mid Century Modern (2019 [2020], DMAC): Guitarist Doug MacDonald, backed by bass and drums, with Big Black on djembe for 6/11 tracks. Four MacDonald originals, the rest easy flowing jazz standards. B+(*)

Lara Driscoll: Woven Dreams (2019 [2020], Firm Roots Music): Pianist, from Chicago, trio with Paul Rushka on bass and Dave Laing on drums. Not much to say on this, other than that she always seems spot on. B+(***) [03-06]

Lara Driscoll: Woven Dreams (2019 [2020], Firm Roots Music): Pianist, from Chicago, trio with Paul Rushka on bass and Dave Laing on drums. Not much to say on this, other than that she always seems spot on. B+(***) [03-06]

Kuzu [Dave Rempis/Tashi Dorji/Tyler Damon]: Purple Dark Opal (2019 [2020], Aerophonic): Avant sax-guitar-drums trio, did a couple albums last year including one that I belatedly got behind (Hiljaisus) and one (Lift to Drag) I missed. Maybe slow on this one too, but for now: B+(***) [cd]

Purna Loka Ensemble: Metaraga (2018-19 [2020], Origin): Indian string quartet based in Lawrence, KS, where violinist Purnaprajna Bangere teaches mathematics and music. With second violin, bass, and tabla, with a guest spot for clarinet, rooted in classical Indian music, but not stuck there. B+(**) [cd]

Old music:

Duke Ellington: The Best of Early Ellington (1926-31 [1996], Decca): Twenty songs from Decca's 3-CD Early Ellington: The Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings of Duke Ellington 1926-1931, which appeared a couple years earlier and is worth owning complete (my grade: A+). Two caveats here: I've long deemed the Bluebirds from the same period to have better sound, not that I have any complaints here (and they're way better than the Okehs and the Classics archives); and I miss some of the covers on the box. Still, these are the essential songs from the first great Ellington era, and they're as perfect as music gets. A+

Duke Ellington: The Centennial Collection (1927-41 [2004], Bluebird): BMG released five volumes under this title, the others Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Fats Waller -- all recorded for Bluebird before 1945, so these work as single-disc primers, each packaged with a DVD I have no reckoning of. Don't have dates, but initial recordings range as above, though most of these pieces are live shots, possibly tied to the DVD. Some great music here, but I don't find this to be particularly useful. B+(**)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Great Paris Concert (1963 [1973], Atlantic, 2CD): Three concerts, actually, nicely organized for its original 2-LP release (total 87:35), so much so it might serve as a suitable introductory overview for neophytes -- even includes a full suite, and one vocal track to remind you Ellington never had a knack for hiring singers. Even more freakish is Cat Anderson's stratospheric trumpet -- one of many wonders. A-

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's My People (1963 [1964], Contact): A short-lived Broadway musical, "conceived, written and staged by Duke Ellington," orchestra conducted by Jimmy Jones (but "under the personal supervision of Billy Strayhorn"), headlined by Joya Sherrill. Ellington tended to get stilted in projects that aimed beyond the music (e.g., his later "sacred music" concerts), but this one moves right along, and his black history points are well taken. B+(**)

Duke Ellington/Ella Fitzgerald/Oscar Peterson: The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World (1967 [1990], Pablo, 3CD): The CD reissue added the principle artist's names above the title, a banner missing from the original 1975 4-LP box, although their primacy was made clear by centering their portraits, surrounded by an outer ring with Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, T-Bone Walker, and eight current members of Ellington's Orchestra. This was one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic productions, actually two shows, one in March at Carnegie Hall, the other in July at the Hollywood Bowl, varying from his usual all-star jam formula mostly in Ellington's dominance: 21 cuts, including 5 with Fitzgerald (of her 9). I'm on the fence here: Peterson's intro and the jams are fun, the Ellington set is above par, and Fitzgerald has a spark here that is never really captured in their studio albums. Still, doesn't really merit the hyperbole. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: In Sweden 1973 (1973 [1999], Caprice): Late, the fabulous orchestra starting to fall apart (no Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson), so local reinforcements are welcome: Rolf Ericson (trumpet), Åke Persson (trombone), Nils Lindberg, and featured singer Alice Babs. B+(**)

Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books (1956-64 [1993], 16CD): One of Norman Granz's more successful "get rich slow" projects was having Ella sing every song in "the great American songbook" -- I suspect that phrase came later, and were you to look it up, the most succinct definition would be: "songs Ella Fitzgerald sang." They were released on many LPs, eventually collected in this box, as well as released on separately available CD sets. I bought the box, gave it an A- (my standard at the time for multi-disc boxes was weakest link), but didn't break it down further. Maybe it's time to do that.

Ella Fitzgerald: Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (1956-57 [1991], Verve, 3CD): Key thing here is the band: Ellington and His Orchestra. They got co-credit on the origial 1957 4-LP set, before "songbook" became a single word and a Fitzgerald trademark. She is, of course, miles ahead of any singer Ellington ever hired, adding import and sass to lyrics that often just an afterthought -- but that may be because the band never really needed them. Two real solid CDs here, although I like some of their later live recordings even better. Third disc bogs down a lot, and not just the alternate takes and chatter. B+(**)

Ella Fitzgerald: The Very Best of the Duke Ellington Song Book (1956-57 [2007], Verve): Second attempt at reducing the original 4-LP (3-CD) set to a single CD, following 1995's Day Dream: The Best of the Duke Ellington Songbook (B+, long ago), the "very" justified by reduction (12 tracks, 56:09, vs. 17 tracks, 70:08) and by picking more obvious titles: only 5 tracks appear on both, and you can easily guess them if I give you the adds here: "Sophisticated Lady," "Satin Doll," "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," "Prelude to a Kiss," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Caravan," and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Should be foolproof, but you can hardly hear the band through the ballads, and while the singer is artful enough, you just know she'd rather bust loose and scat. B+(***)

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Duke's Place (1965 [1966], Verve): Studio date in Hollywood with Ellington and His Orchestra, ten songs, only two repeated from the 1956-57 sessions. Divided into a "Pretty, Lovely, Tender, Hold Me Close Side" and a "Finger-Snapping, Head Shaking, Toe-Tapping, Go-For-Yourself Side" -- the latter is more fun, but still not as much as a live set like Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur (1966). B+(**)

Nina Simone: Nina Simone Sings Duke Ellington (1961 [1962], Colpix): Simone's arrangements, produced by Stu Phillips, backed by the Malcolm Dodds Singers, no credits for the band (but Simone no doubt holds court on piano). The obscurities don't stick with you, but the mainstays are tastefully done (especially "Satin Doll"). B+(*)

Zoot Sims: Passion Flower: Zoot Sims Plays Duke Ellington (1979-80 [1997], Pablo/OJC): Tenor saxophonist, sources list him only as leader but this sounds like him, in front of a big band with stars like JJ Johnson, Frank Wess, and Jimmy Rowles, arranged and conducted by Benny Carter. B+(**)

Sarah Vaughan: How Long Has This Been Going On? (1978, Pablo): Despite her remarkable voice and exquisite control of nuance, she rarely makes albums I like. But Norman Granz grabbed her when he launched Pablo, and teamed her up with his default band: Oscar Peterson (piano), Joe Pass (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Cover inserts a spurious "between" between the title and artists -- the singer first in only slightly larger type. Still likes them slow, but the band's light touch saves the day. B+(***)

Sarah Vaughan: Duke Ellington: Song Book One (1979 [1980], Pablo): Billy Byers' strings are suspect here, but the rest of the band -- with Waymon Reed on trumpet, JJ Johnson on trombone, Frank Foster and Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Bucky Pizzarelli or Joe Pass on guitar, Jimmy Rowles or Mike Wofford on piano -- is impeccable. B+(***)

Sarah Vaughan; Duke Ellington: Song Book Two (1979 [1980], Pablo): Same group, same sessions, eleven more songs, most excellent, only a tad less impressive. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Joyce Grant: Surrounded by Blue (Craftedair/Blujazz)
  • JC Hopkins Biggish Band: New York Moment (Twee-Jazz) [04-05]
  • Chanda Rule + Sweet Emma Band: Hold On (Blujazz/PAO)
  • Paul Shaw Quintet: Moment of Clarity (Summit) [03-27]

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Weekend Roundup

New Hampshire finally voted last week. Bernie Sanders won, although not by the margin I had hoped for -- 25.58% to 24.27% for Pete Buttigieg, 19.69% for Klobuchar, with significant drops for Elizabeth Warren (9.19%) and Joe Biden (8.34%). Sanders did, however, get more young voters than everyone else combined. As I note in the German Lopez note below, the Buttigieg/Klobuchar bubble seems to have less to do with anything attractive about their platforms than with the irrational fears of many Democrats (including some older ones who are philosophically aligned left, but grew up in a world where red-baiting was always effective) that Sanders would wind up losing to Trump. How they figure Buttigieg or Klobuchar might fare better is something I don't care to speculate on. Neither has the familiarity or national organization they'll need in coming weeks, and their repeated (misinformed and disingenuous) attacks on Medicare for All in recent months, while effective for raising donations and establishing themselves as niche candidates, makes them improbable (as well as damn unsatisfactory) party unifiers.

Biden is still better positioned to recover in later primaries, but did himself much harm in Iowa and New Hampshire. In particular, he lost favor with the "anybody but Trump (except Sanders)" party faction, and his support among Afro-Americans was never any deeper than a cautious wager. Biden has slipped behind Sanders in national polls, lost his big lead in Nevada, and may even lose his "firewall" state of South Carolina (see FiveThirtyEight, which also forecasts Sanders to lead in most "Super Tuesday" contests, including: California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, and Tennessee -- in fact, the only state Biden is still favored in is Alabama). FiveThirtyEight still projects Biden to finish second, but they already have Michael Bloomberg in a close third, with Buttigieg a distant fourth, Warren with vanishingly slim chances in fifth, and Klobuchar even further behind. That assumes they all keep running, which almost certainly won't happen.

[PS: Closing this now to get it up and out of the way. I've been running into frustrating dead ends seems like everywhere.]


Some scattered links this week:

Thursday, February 13, 2020


Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32759 [32712] rated (+47), 241 [230] unrated (+11).

Shortly after closing my last Music Week, I looked at the featured jazz records on Napster and noticed two volumes from Duke Ellington's Private Collection series. These appeared on Saja in 10 CDs from 1987-89, and I had picked up a few when I found them used. I figured I should play the ones I had missed, and that got me looking at Napster's Ellingtons. I had probably heard more records by Ellington than any other artist, but that still left a fair number unheard -- especially among the 44 Chronological Classics volumes. As most of the latter were available, I started working my way through the list, especially the stretch from 1931-39, which Ellington's American labels have failed to keep in print. That took me past my usual Monday deadline. I decided then to hold back until I hit 1940, because I planned on writing a general introduction to the series followed by notes and grades on each individual volume (as I had with Private Collection.

Chronlogical Classics goes on to 1953, but I figured they were less critical. That's not a judgment on the music, but because nearly all of them were in print and graded elsewhere: see, especially, the magnificent Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band, which covers 1940-42, The Indispensible Duke Ellington and the Small Groups (1940-46), and the slightly lesser Black, Brown and Beige (1944-1946). I picked up a few more titles along the way, plus a couple of records by others which showed up in the Ellington title search.

There are more I haven't gotten to. The big live chunks left are the Carnegie Hall Concerts from 1943-48 and The Treasury Shows from 1945-46 (25 volumes). There is also a fair amount of live Ellington floating around, especially from the 1960s -- Pablo picked up some of those, but we're still seeing occasional concerts pop up on European labels. I won't venture to say how much of this anyone actually needs, but aside from some redundancy, the A and A+ records listed above are really choice records. Nothing (other than the Armstrong-Ellington Summit, which matches a previous A graded package) in this week's many finds matches them, although the 1928-30 Chronological Classics overlap with some of my previous picks (especially the 3-CD Early Ellington on Decca), 1938 Vol. 3 has some of the small group recording from The Great Ellington Units, and Up in Duke's Workshop sounds like a first draft of Latin American Suite. On the other hand, I ran through the Chronological Classics very fast (almost always just one play), and aside from the usual caveats about surface noise and sequencing they all sounded pretty great to me.

Quite a bit of unpacking this week-plus, which came as a surprise to me after a few lean weeks. I've let the 2020 releases pile up while working on 2019, and barely touched them this week. But the Ellington orgy did break me out of the rut of searching around for 2019 stragglers. Also went the whole week without touching the 2019 EOY Aggregate. So I guess I'm moving on. Still expect to pick up a few more Ellington titles next week (playing The Great Paris Concert right now, and it's sounding pretty great, indeed). My new year resolution is to take 2020 easier. So far that's mostly involved starting each day off with a piece of classic old jazz. I had, in fact, been playing Early Ellington in the week before this kicked off, along with Ben Webster's Cottontail, an ASV best-of named for his 1935 hit with Ellington.


A final personal note: I just heard today that my cousin Chloe McCandlis died, at 94. She and her husband Paul moved from Arkansas to Snohomish, WA before I was born, so I probably only saw her a half-dozen times over the years. I don't remember the family's first trip to Washington, but we returned for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, which was the high point of my life well past that point. I visited again, on my own, in 1984, and it totally changed my view of my family -- for one thing, despite the distance, she probably knew my mother better than any of my closer relatives (or maybe she was just more open about it). I saw her a couple years ago. Despite numerous physical ailments, she was in a very expansive mood, with lots of stories about long ago. She no doubt knew many more, and I could kick myself for not making more of an effort to keep close. That memory is lost now. The inspiration remains.


New records reviewed this week:

Carol Albert: Stronger Now (2019 [2020], Cahara): Pianist, sings some, ranges from luxe piano to easy listening pap. B-

Lila Ammons: Genealogy (2019 [2020], Lila Ammons Music): Jazz singer, granddaughter of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, niece of saxophonist Gene Ammons. Songs here are mostly by jazz composers (Silver, Monk, Ellington. B+(**) [cd]

Ellen Edwards: A New York Session (2019 [2020], Stonefire Music, EP): Singer-songwriter from Alabama, has a couple previous CDs, this one just five tracks, 20:20. Jazz band, best known are Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Jason Miles (B3, vibes, and synthesizers), none remarkable. B- [cd] [02-22]

Delfeayo Marsalis Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Jazz Party (2019 [2020], Troubadour Jass): The trombone player in the New Orlean family's band, tenth album since 1992, second with this big band, where everything's a jazz party. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ronnie Lane: Just for a Moment: The Best of Ronnie Lane (1973-97 [2019], UMC): Started out in Small Faces, solo career never as famous as his bandmates although One for the Road (1976) was one of my favorite albums ever. This sampler was culled from a completist 6-CD box and favors breadth over depth, finding some gems but most seem minor compared to the two songs from his masterpiece. B+(***)

Old music:

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington: The Great Summit: The Master Takes (1961 [2000], Roulette): I've long owned the 1990 CD of The Complete Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington Sessions, so never bothered with this package: a new title with the same 17 cuts. Ellington plays piano, and wrote (or co-wrote) all the songs, Armstrong plays trumpet and sings, and brought the band: Trummy Young (trumpet), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Mort Herbert (bass), Danny Barcelona (drums) -- Bigard played with Ellington before joining Armstrong's All-Stars, and really stands out here. Armstrong amazes with his ability to slide his voice around such sophisticated melodies. A

Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn: Great Times! Piano Duets (1950 [1989], Riverside/OJC): The original eight tracks (25:30), with two pianos and bass, were released as a 10-inch LP in 1950. The CD adds two more tracks with Strayhorn switching to celesta, and two trio cuts with Ellington, Oscar Pettiford (cello), and Jo Jones (drums). B+(*)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: A Drum Is a Woman (1956 [1957], Columbia): Billy Strayhorn co-wrote this attempted opera, where the book doesn't fit the music, and the music doesn't fit all that neatly together either. B-

Duke Ellington: At the Alhambra: Recorded in Paris, 1958 (1958 [2002], Pablo): After Noran Granz sold his Verve label interests to megacorp Universal, he started Pablo in 1973, recruiting many of his old favorites, starting with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. His third released was one of Ellington's last, Duke's Big 4. Later Pablo picked up several live tapes, including this one. This is basically the band he took to Newport in 1956, starting with "Take the 'A' Train," running through a medley of oldies, sliding into "Jeep's Blues," and widing up with an only slightly less rousing "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Featuring Paul Gonsalves (1962 [1991], Fantasy/OJC): Gonsalves, from Massachusetts, parents Cape Verdean, played tenor sax in the Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie big bands before replacing Ben Webster in Ellington's orchestra in 1950. He emerged as a star with his astonishing 27-chorus solo in 1956 at Newport, and remained with the band until he died in 1974, a few days before Ellington's death. This was a free-wheeling blowing session, eight group standards starting with "C-Jam Blues," not necessarily designed to feature tenor sax but in the free-for-all Gonsalves often winds up on top. Sat in the vaults until 1985, when someone realized it filled a niche -- or just wanted a reminder of how hard Ellington could swing. A-

Duke Ellington: The Duke: The Essential Collection: 1927-1962 (1927-62 [2000], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): Released as a tall box in 1999 on the occasional of his centennial, with the more accurate title The Columbia Years, given more sensible packaging here. The discs break up into three discontinuous stretches: 1927-40, 1947-52, and 1956-62. Ellington always kept several labels going, although RCA seemed to get the best eras -- the best takes from 1927-30 (although the Deccas are nearly as good, the Okehs sampled here and available on a 2-CD set, The Okeh Ellington, coming in third); The Blanton-Webster Band of 1939-42 and the "small groups" of the same period; late masterpieces like The Far East Suite (1966) and And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967) -- but Columbia's two stretches in the 1950s includes a few supreme records: Uptown (1947-52), At Newport (1956), Blues in Orbit (1958-59). Columbia also seems to have control of much of Ellington's neglected 1930s work, but has kept them out of print (except for European bootlegs, Mosaic's 11-CD 2010 box, and rare samples on Columbia anthologies like this one). The main value here is a first disc that starts to show off this long-neglected oeuvre. The later discs are full of gems, but a same size RCA compilation would blow them all away. A-

Duke Ellington: In the Uncommon Market (1963 [1986], Pablo): From one of the band's European tours, scant details on where or when. The band tracks have some terrific moments, especially Paul Gonsalves in "E.S.P." Ends wtih some rather funky piano trio. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: Soul Call (1966 [1999], Verve): A live set from Juan-Les-Pins in France, originally released in 1967 (5 tracks, 37:50), expanded to 14 tracks (74:44) for the Verve Master Edition reissue. The original album, still up front, picked out the new music, with two 12-14-minute pieces ("La Plus Belle Africaine" and "Skip Deep"). The extras recycle the songbook. B+(**)

Duke Ellington/Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler: The Duke at Tanglewood (1966, RCA Victor Red Seal): In the late 1940s, Ellington started writing longer works ("suites"), and started to gain acclaim as America's greatest composer, as jazz started to be touted as "America's classical music." So it was inevitable that some classical music orchestra would invite Ellington to sit in on a program of his tunes fleshed out with strings and tympani. And you could probably have guessed it would be the Pops, their live concert appearing on RCA's classical music imprint. I'm surprised it works so well, but in retrospect that, too, seems inevitable. B+(**)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Popular Duke Ellington (1966 [1967], RCA Victor): Ten old songs (1927-1944), most recorded hundreds (or even thousands) of times (I think I once decided that "Mood Indigo" was the most covered popular song ever), plus one ("The Twitch" that seems to have originated here. One generally frowns on re-recording your old hits, but the march of technology and the evolution of the band make this an exception. A-

Duke Ellington: Solos, Duets and Trios (1932-67 [1990], RCA Bluebird): Isolated solos both early and late, but most come from the 1940s, centering on a batch of 1940 duets with ill-fated bassist Ray Blanton (9 takes of 4 songs). Duke's a pretty good stride pianist, but this is a mixed bag. Still, the Blanton tracks are pretty amazing. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Berlin '65/Paris '67 (1965-67 [1997], Pablo): Previously unreleased concert performances, released as part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series. Several marvelous pieces from The Far East Suite, as well as old standards. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: 1969 All-Star White House Tribute to Duke Ellington (1969 [2002], Blue Note): Sixteen names on the cover, but Ellington was not only the subject here; he was listed first among the contributors. My contempt for Richard Nixon is almost boundless, but he played a little piano, and must have been overjoyed to be able to sit down and tinkle the ivories alongside the Duke. The occasion was Ellington's 70th birthday, and Nixon's gift was a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The West Wing party rolled on to 3 AM, the long list of names contributing (although I don't have song-by-song credits) -- a few Ellington alumni like Clark Terry and Louis Bellson (but not the Orchestra), plus stars like Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, JJ Johnson, Hank Jones, Jim Hall, and Joe Williams. B+(***)

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's 70th Birthday Concert (1969 [1995], Blue Note, 2CD): Actually two concerts from a tour in the UK, about seven months after his 70th birthday (Nov. 25-26 vs. Apr. 29), originally released in 1970 by Solid State in the US and United Artists elsewhere. Still loving you madly. B+(***)

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Up in Duke's Workshop (1969-72 [1990], Pablo/OJC): Nine tracks from nine dates, with groups ranging from 5 to 12 musicians, first released by Pablo in 1979. No titles I recognize here, but the melodies remind me of his last wave of great albums. Wild Bill Davis on organ is a special treat. A-

Duke Ellington: Duke's Big 4 (1973 [1974], Pablo): One of his last albums, the first actually released by Norman Granz's Pablo (which later picked up a fair amount of archive material). Quartet with Joe Pass (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Kind of lightweight, but Pass always liked it airy. B+(**)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection (1956-72 [1989], Saja, 10CD): Previously unreleased tapes from the family vault, some live, most studio, released by LMR or its successor Saja 1987-89, and later reissued by Kaz. I picked up several of the Saja discs back in the day, graded them as follows, and jumped at the opportunity to hear more on Napster:

  • Volume One: Studio Sessions, Chicago, 1956 (1956 [1987], Saja): A-
  • Volume Three: Studio Sessions, New York (1962 [1988], Saja): B+
  • Volume Four: Studio Sessions, New ork, 1963 (1963 [1988], Saja): B+
  • Volume Five: The Suites, New York, 1968 & 1970 (1968-70 [1988], Saja): A-
  • Volume Nine: Studio Sessions, New York, 1968 (1968 [1989], Saja): B+

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Two: Dance Concerts, California, 1958 (1958 [1987], Saja): Ellington responded to the eclipse of the big band era by trying his hand at fancier things (suites and such), but still played the occasional dance hall, trotting out his hits, and they're having a good time here. Ozzie Bailey sings a couple, and they're just fine. A-

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Six: Dance Dates, California, 1958 (1958 [1989], Saja): The brassy dance numbers from the start don't seem like anything special, but they get a lot more interesting at/after the break, when they slow it down (e.g., "Mood Indigo"). B+(***)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Seven: Studio Sessions, 1957 & 1962 (1957-62 [1989], Saja): The big band is in fine form here, especially on their classics, most notably a rousing new "Cottontail." B+(***)

Duke Ellington: The Private Collection, Volume Eight: Studio Sessions, 1957, 1965, 1966, 1967, San Francisco, Chicago, New York (1957-67 [1989], Saja): B+(**)

Duke Ellington: The Chronological Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1924-1953, Classics): A French label which has been picking off American jazz titles as they clear Europe's 50-year copyright law -- although they slowed down after 2000, and haven't released anything since 2008. They've usually digitized well-worn copies, so the sound often leaves much to be desired. Napster lists some of these titles as Reborn Records, using modified artwork. One presumes they've undergone further noise reduction, but I can't say definitively. For Ellington, these start with 1924-1927 and extend to 1953 (44 CDs). I've previously heard and rated:

  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1937 (1937, Classics) B+
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1937, Vol. 2 (1937, Classics) A-

I hoped to catch up everything to 1940, but couldn't find 1924-1927 (Classics 539), 1935-1936 (659), 1938-1939 (747), or 1939 Vol. 2 (780). I tried to get by with a single play per CD, which made it hard to make fine distinctions -- not that there were many to make. Most critics consider 1927-1930 and 1940-1942 to be golden periods, and they're certainly peaks, but there are no slough periods. The main complaints I had were surface noise and the arbitrariness of the chronological sequencing, with small groups and backup jobs for vocal groups thrown into the mix. From 1940 on, the Classics series is less useful, as Ellington's studio recordings have been kept reliably in print by RCA (in two 3-CD sets) and later labels. Perhaps I'll check out those compilations later, but for now 1940 seemed like a good cut-off point.

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1927-1928 (1927-28 [1990], Classics): This is where Ellington hits his stride, coining such classics as "East St. Louis Toodoe-Oo" and "Jubilee Stomp." The only downsides are redundancy and surface noise -- endemic to this whole series. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1928 (1928 [1990], Classics): With Johnny Hodges, he's really developing a consistent sound, despite billing various groups, like Lonnie Johnson's Harlem Footwarmers. Obviously, the big one here is "The Mooche," with four takes. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1928-1929 (1928-29 [1990], Classics): A prime period, with Bubber Miley on trumpet and Barney Bigard or Johnny Hodges on clarinet, everything bright and cheery, from "Tiger Rag" to "Flaming Youth" to "Diga Diga Doo," even "Rent Party Blues." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1929 (1929 [1991], Classics): A hot band starting to swing, still on their jungle thing, the one disturbing thing is "A Nite at the Cotton Club," where the announcer insists on calling him "Dukey." B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1929-1930 (1929-30 [1991], Classics): Sixth volume, starts with "Jungle Jamboree," with three later songs attributed to The Jungle Band, nine more to Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra. Dancefloor singles, close to 3:00 each, many terrific, sound so-so. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930 (1930 [1991], Classics): While Bubber Miley defined Ellington's 1927-29 band, he is hardly missed here, with Cootie Williams taking over on trumpet, and the saxophones and trombones gaining stature. Some remakes of classics (especially "The Mooche"), everything first rate. A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930, Volume 2 (1930 [1991], Classics): A big year for Ellington, recording as the Jungle Band, the Harlem Footwarmers, and Mills' Ten Black Berries as well as under his own name. Mostly upbeat stompers, including three takes of "Ring Dem Bells," but also a gorgeous little piece initially called "Dreamy Blues" -- you know it as "Mood Indigo." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1930-1931 (1930-31 [1991], Classics): Another good run but more than the usual redundancy, with three takes of "Rockin' in Rhythm," more "Creole Rhapsody" and "Mood Indigo," and forgettable vocals by Billy Sith, Sid Garry, Chick Bullock, and others I've already forgotten. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1931-1932 (1931-32 [1991], Classics): Starts with the band backing Earl Jackson on "Is That Religion?" -- then resets the mood with two helpings of "Creole Rapsody." Three-minute singles predominate, but you also get two 7-minute medleys of signature pieces, and a first release of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1932-1933 (1932-33 1992], Classics): Leans more toward vocal pieces, with Adelaide Hall, the Mills Brothers' "Diga Diga Doo" a hit, Ray Mitchell's vocal on "Star" very touching, Ethel Waters as fine as you'd expect. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1933 (1933 [1992], Classics): Two takes of "Sophisticated Lady," which first appeared the year before, plus a lot of upbeat fare, including a rousing "Ain't Misbehavin'." Also an interview snippet, apparently from a UK tour. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1933-1935 (1933-35 [1992], Classics): Most famous new song here is "Solitude"; least may be "Rude Interlude" -- in the previous interview he mentiond wanting to write a "Rude" song after someone misheard his recent his as "Rude Indigo." More vocals than usual: Louis Bacon (2), Ivie Anderson (3), Mae West. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1936-1937 (1936-37 [1992], Classics): Starts with Ivie Anderson singing. Ben Webster joins on a couple of dates. The big band swings, but the Barney Bigard small group, (7-pieces, with Ellington on piano) is even hotter. Two cuts are piano solos, and the mix of "Mood Indigo and Solitude" is especially delectable. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 (1938 [1993], Classics): More than half of the 23 cuts come from "small groups" led by Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams, or Johnny Hodges ("Jeep's Blues"). Hodges get the vocal version of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart", but the band's instrumental is even better. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 Vol. 2 (1938 [1993], Classics): Again, half "small groups" (Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges), the rest by His Famous Orchestra, half with vocals, most often Ivie Anderson, bringing the superb instrumentals back to earth. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1938 Vol. 3 (1938 [1993], Classics): Ellington recorded more in 1938 than any year since 1930 (probably to date), at least if you count the Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges small groups (10 of 22 cuts here). Hodges is superb here, especially on his own cuts ("The Jeep Is Jumpin'," "Hodge Podge," "Wanderlust"). A-

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1939 (1939 [1994], Classics): Another very productive year, this covering March to June, with superb small groups led by Bigard and Hodges and a date backing a vocal group, the Quintones, on a couple of novelty numbers. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1939-1940 (1939-40 [1993], Classics): From October to February, only seven tracks with His Famous Orchestra, most of the rest small groups led by Barney Bigard and Cootie Williams, plus a bit of solo piano and two duets with new bassist Jimmy Blanton. Ben Webster rejoins in February, kicking off Ellington's most legendary band. B+(***)

Vienna Art Orchestra: Duke Ellington's Sound of Love, Vol. 2: Live at Porgy & Bess, Vienna (2003, EmArcy): Big band, founded by Mathias Rüegg in 1977, originally to play his own postmodernist compositions, but over the years they've delved into a wide range of jazz and classical composers, adding their own distinctively avant touches. Their previous Ellington volume came out in 2000. Highpoint here is a "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue" that's messier than the Newport version but every bit as exciting (although no one dares go after Cat Anderson's high notes). A-

Ben Webster: Plays Duke Ellington (1967-71 [2002], Storyville): Tenor saxophonist, played with Bennie Moten in 1932, moved to New York and played occasionally with Ellington from 1935, becoming a regular 1940-43, and he kept some of his major pieces in his songbook (especially "Cottontail"). This isn't a tribute, but was stitched together from several sessions, mostly fast jams but also a gorgeous "Satin Doll," and closes with a strong blues vocal (not sure who). A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Kenny Barron/Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake: Without Deception (Dare2) [03-06]
  • Gerald Beckett: Mood (Summit)
  • Benjamin Boone With the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy (Origin) [03-20]
  • Calle Loiza Jazz Project: There Will Never Be Another You (self-released)
  • The Coachella Valley Trio: Mid Century Modern (DMAC)
  • Sarah Elgeti Quartet With Friends: Dawn Comes Quietly (Gateway Music) [02-21]
  • Nick Finzer: Cast of Characters (Outside In Music) [02-28]
  • Al Gold: Al Gold's Paradise (self-released) [03-06]
  • Christopher Icasiano: Provinces (Origin) [02-21]
  • Brent Jensen: The Sound of a Dry Martini: Remembering Paul Desmond (2002, Origin) [02-21]
  • Mike McGinniss/Elias Bailey/Vinnie Sperrazza: Time Is Thicker (Open Stream Music)
  • New Stories: Speakin' Out (2019 [2020], Origin) [02-21]
  • Gloria Reuben & Marty Ashby: For All We Know (MCG Jazz) [02-14]
  • Reverso [Frank Woeste/Vincent Courtois/Ryan Keberle]: The Melodic Line (Out Note) [02-14]
  • RJ & the Assignment: Hybrid Harmony (self-released)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Air Power! (self-released)
  • Torbjörn Zetterberg & Den Stora Fragan: Are You Happy (Moserobie)

Sunday, February 9, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Skipped a week because I was working on music stuff, so this week's links go back further than usual, but much of the previous week was absorbed in speculation about Iowa and Trump's impeachment trial, which became obsolete the moment the votes were counted (or are finally counted; see Riley Beggin: Final Iowa caucuses results expected just before New Hampshire begins voting). Trump was, of course, not convicted, the vote 48-52, with Mitt Romney the only Senator to break party ranks. This, and his own holier-than-thou explanation, occasioned pieces heaping undeserved praise or wrath on Romney, none of which mentioned the most obvious point: Trump's following among Republicans is significantly weaker in Utah than in any other state, probably because Utah is uniquely insulated from the fears he preys upon.

The Iowa caucuses were a huge embarrassment for the Democratic Party's professional elites, who came up with novel ways to avoid reporting unpleasant news (that Sanders won the popular vote), and reminded us that Republicans aren't the only party willing to use tricks (in this case "State Delegate Equivalents") to steal an election (allowing Buttigieg to claim a Trumpian victory, although even there, with still incomplete results, the margin is a razor thin 564-562; Sanders led the first-found popular vote 24.75% to 21.29%, followed by Warren 18.44%, Biden 14.95%, Klobuchar 12.73%, Yang 5.00%, Steyer 1.75%, Gabbard 0.19%, Bloomberg 0.12%, Bennet 0.09%, Patrick 0.03%, Delaney 0.01% [10 votes]). Lots of articles this week dredging up old standy complaints about Iowa's premier spot in presidential campaigns, including generic complaints about caucuses, and even more about Iowa.

New Hampshire will vote on Tuesday. Recent polling: Anya van Wagtendonk: Sanders leads in New Hampshire, but half of voters remain uncommitted -- subhed amends that to 30%. Buttigieg seems to be in 2nd place now (21%, behind 28% for Sanders), followed by Biden (11%), Warren (9%), Gabbard (6%), Klobuchar (5%), Yang and Steyer (3%), with Bloomberg (not on ballot) at 2%. The Democrats had another debate last week, resulting in the usual winners-and-losers pieces, none of which caught my eye below. (If you really want one, try Vox, which had Klobuchar a winner and Biden a loser.)

Meanwhile, Trump gave his State of the Union address, on the even of his "acquittal." It read (link below) more like his campaign stump speech, at least the one he'd give if he didn't wander off script, and Republicans in the audience tried to turn the event into a campaign rally, even at one point chanting "four more years" (but at least I haven't seen any reports of "lock her up"), and the fact that half of the audience were Democrats kept the chemistry down (and added a few boos and a couple of walkouts). Of course, the content got lost in the dramatics, especially Trump's refusal to shake Nancy Pelosi's hand on entering, and her ripping up his speech afterwards. It all led pundits and partisans to offer sermons on civility, but Trump had been absolutely vicious toward Pelosi ever since she got behind impeachment. But what the exchange reminded me most of was a story about Casey Stengel, where he artfully dodged an interview after a loss by making obscene gestures the media couldn't broadcast. By ripping up Trump's speech, Pelosi signaled there was nothing but lies and contempt there, more succinctly than any of the official party responders could possibly do.

Some Republican flaks claim that last week was one of Trump's best ever, and they can point to a trivial uptick in Trump's approval rating (43.8% at 538). It's clear now that the Senate's non-trial didn't move anyone, but while it was tedious and overwrought as it happened, it will be remembered differently. Democrats will remember it as a valiant attempt to do something about a president has repeatedly abused his office and violated his oath to support the Constitution and the laws of the land, which was thwarted not by facts or reason but by cynical partisan solidarity, making clear that the Republican members of Congress are fully complicit in Trump's crimes. That's something they can campaign on this fall.

Trump celebrated his "acquittal" with a series of extremely boorish public appearances (some noted below). I've gotten to where it's hard for Trump to shock me, but his is the most disgusting performance I've ever seen by a public figure. I've long maintained that Trump himself isn't nearly as dangerous or despicable as the orthodox Republicans he surrounds himself with, but I may have to revise my view. I've long believed that the swing vote in the 2020 election will turn on those Americans who don't particularly object to Trump's policies but decide that his personal behavior is too embarrassing to tolerate further. This week has provided plenty for them to think about.

The only issue below I tried to group links under was the Kushner "deal of the century," partly because they separate out easily enough. Trump issues, Democrat issues, they're all over the place.


Some scattered links this week:


PS: I've never been much impressed by Amanda Marcotte, but her visceral rejection of Trump seems to be leading her to deeper truths. She has a recent book, Troll Nation: How the Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set on Ratf*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself, which is about as pointed a title as the subject deserves. From the blurb:

Trump was the inevitable result of American conservatism's degradation into an ideology of blind resentment. For years now, the purpose of right wing media, particularly Fox News, has not been to argue for traditional conservative ideals, such as small government or even family values, so much as to stoke bitterness and paranoia in its audience. . . . Conservative pundits, politicians, and activists have abandoned any hope of winning the argument through reasoned discourse, and instead have adopted a series of bad faith claims, conspiracy theories, and culture war hysterics. Decades of these antics created a conservative voting base that was ready to elect a mindless bully like Donald Trump.

I also want to quote an Amazon comment on the book by a Joseph Caferro, which gives us a peek into the Trump troll mindset:

Why [really] do Trump and his followers troll? And the answer is not hatred.

It's a tactic to destabilize the tenuous parasitic leftist coalitions that are built on a dizzying array of incompatible grievances against imagined enemy institutions. These enemies of leftists include most of the most stable, successful institutions that make civilization possible: religion, capitalism, meritocratic education and commerce, strong national defense, controlled borders, and solvent government spending. The incessant attacks on these institutions by the left are largely encouraged by the DC establishment and most state and local governments, and the result has been failure of safety, solvency, competence, and sanity. Leftism causes parasitic failure across the board. To defend leftist policies on merit is impossible, so the left decided the primary tactic for persuasion should be defamation, intimidation, and even criminal extortion, persecution, and assault. So the right has had enough, and has decided, symbolized by and led by Trump, to assail the leftist establishment with criticism, skepticism, insults, and challenges to their authority and power at all levels. Like in any street fight, you can't win if you aren't willing to use the tactics your enemy is willing to use. So the right trolls, because the left smears. As long as the left smears and commits crimes to further their agenda, the right will troll and be willing to stop those crimes with equal or greater force. That is why the right trolls. Not because of your imagined telepathic detection of deep seated Nazi hatred, but because your leadership are a bunch of parasitic communist thugs who aspire to totalitarian tyrannical rule, and deserve trolling.

I quote this because it's a lot more coherent than what you usually get from this quarter, but still, there's a lot wrong here, starting with a gross misapprehension of what the left is concerned with, and more fundamentally with failure to understand that the bedrock of "stable, successful institutions" is a widely shared sense of justice. It's true that our notions of justice used to be rooted in religion, but that splintered long ago. Some of us gave up the religion we were born into precisely because it no longer seemed to satisfy our sense of justice, and because we found it manipulated by charlatans for special interests. Caferro's list of "successful institutions" turns out to be less coherent than he imagines. Meritocracy sounds good, but more often than not is just a ruse for rationalizing inequality. The last three are arbitrarily grafted into the others: the rationale behind a strong police state is to protect its rulers from the effects of its misrule. "Leftism causes parasitic failure across the board" is a crude way of restating Hayek's Road to Serfdom thesis, which could be used to explain the economic failures of the Soviet Union, but Hayek and his followers have always expected the same doom to befall western social democracy, which has never happened. Where Caferro's argument goes off the rails is his bit about how "the left are largely encouraged by the DC establishment and most state and local governments" and his later reference to "the leftist establishment" -- there is no such thing, as should be clear from the shit fit old guard Democrats are having over the prospect of Sanders winning the Democratic Party nomination.

Then there's the question of tactics. Caferro argues that Trump supporters have to troll because that's the way leftists fight them, but that's neither supported by fact nor by logic. The left offers much more substantial arguments than the name-calling Caferro hates, but it's worth noting that the name-calling would hurt less if it didn't smack of truth. Trump is a racist, a sexist, a liar, a crook, and an all-around asshole. One can document those assertions with hundreds or possibly thousands of pages of examples, but sometimes the shorthand is all you need. Whether he's also a fascist depends on some extra historical knowledge that may not be widely agreed on, but most leftists define fascists as people who want to kill them, so that's a relevant (if not universal) framework.

But just because your opponent fights one way doesn't mean you have to fight the same. Strong occupying armies are most often countered not by equivalent armies but by guerrilla warfare. One might argue that they are morally equivalent, in that both seek to kill the other, and that is often the downfall of the guerrillas. So the other major example is non-violent resistance, such as the movements led by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the US. I'd submit that Trump trolls have chosen their tactics not because the left has but because they're more suited to taste, needs, and morals (which approve of lies and distortions to sway people, and violence to suppress them, all in support of an authoritarian social and economic order which benefits people they identify with).

Friday, January 31, 2020


Music Week

January archive (done).

Music: Current count 32712 [32640] rated (+72), 230 [228] unrated (+2).

Whereas last week I closed my count on Sunday as usual but didn't post Music Week until Thursday, this week I'm even later, and this time I used to the extra days to squeeze more records in. For the record, the count was +34 Sunday evening, when I would normally cut over. The reason for the extra days this week is that I usually save away a frozen copy of my yearly list on or near the end of January, and I thought it would make more sense to align that date with the end of January Streamnotes. Last year I decided to publish my reviews in my Music Week posts, out each Monday, and align the monthly Streamnotes archives with Music Week posts, cutting off each month on its final Monday. However, this year the final Monday left five days in the month, which is normally 20-25 records -- enough of a discrepancy to make me want to include them before freeze date.

On the other hand, I didn't get as much done in my extra days [of January] as I hoped. In fact, the only way I'll get anything up dated Jan. 31 is through the miracle of backdating. (I'm writing this on Feb. 1, and doubt I'll get done tonight, either. [I finally did the freeze Feb. 5, posting well after midnight, so Feb. 6.]) One thing that got in the way was my decision to rustle up a rather ambitious Friday dinner. I thought of this initially as my mother's birthday, but rather than fixing any of her specialties, I decided to slightly rework the last birthday dinner I fixed for her. Only later did I realize this was the 20th anniversary of that dinner. After she died in June, we drove to Dodge City, where I made the same dinner for my father's cousin, Zula Mae Reed. She was one of the first people to introduce me to Chinese food. Ever since I figured out how to make my own, I had wanted to cook Chinese or her.

After making the occasional stir-fry mess in New York, I moved to New Jersey, threw my wok away, bought some good aluminum core, stainless steel pans, and started studying Barbara Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, and got pretty good at it. I later branched out to practically everything else. But lately I've steered away from Chinese for large dinners -- most dishes require a final stir-fry, which is chaotic and leaves a huge mess (I call this the "fire drill," a term which probably has racist origins but seems perfectly descriptive in this case, even if everything is perfectly executed). When I make Chinese these days, it's often for just the two of us. I did just that a week ago, and felt that I was losing my touch, so that made me all the more resolved to prove I could still do it.

My menu last night:

  • Fried chicken Szechuan style: cubed chicken breast, deep-fried, stir-fried with spicy aromatics and a soy-based sauce.
  • Stir-fried scallops with orange peel: velveted scallops, water chesnuts, orange peel, in a soy-based sauce, garnished with deep-fried spinach strands.
  • Dry-fried beef: thin strips, marinated and deep-fried, then stir-fried with carrots and green bell pepper strips and a dark soy sauce.
  • Dry-seared green beans: deep-fried, with stir-fried with pork, dried shrimp, Szechuan and Tientsin vegetables, soy, and scallions.
  • Dry-fried Chinese eggplant nuggets: stir-fried with aromatics, and a chile-brown sugar-balsamic vinegar sauce.
  • Shrimp, leek & pine nut fried rice: rice, with velveted shrimp, sauteed leeks, fried egg, and pine nuts.

Huge amount of prep work here, including initial cooking in the deep fryer (green beans, spinach, beef, chicken), in water (shrimp, scallops), or in the sauté pan (leeks, eggs), soaking, cutting/chopping, arranging aromatics on plates for each dish, mixing sauces for each dish (in two cases with a separate cornstarch slurry to thicken), and garnishes. Once everything was prepped, I did the final stir-fry two dishes at a time, in rapid succession. Some minor problems along the way, and one or two dishes didn't turn out quite perfect, but the dishes are so flavorful no one else seemed disappointed.

For dessert, I thought I'd try the "fusion east-west" recipes in Tropp's China Moon Cookbook: I did the chocolate-walnut tart and ginger ice cream. The tart was overdone (could be that I used too large a pan, making the crust and filling too thin), which made it hard to get out of the nominally non-stick pan, and probably made it a bit chewier than it was supposed to be. Neither turned out to be a problem with the ice cream on top. Bumped the recipe by 50%, which turned out to be the upper limit of the machine and a bit more than I could put into my chosen container, but it was all gone before the guests left.


Robert Christgau published his Dean's List 2019 on January 26, with 76 records, 14 released in 2018 or earlier (back to 2015, including my 2018 favorite, The Ex: 27 Passports). A half-dozen titles hadn't been reviewed yet in his Consumer Guide -- the biggest surprise Kalie Shorr's Open Book. I gave it a low B+ in December, resisting the glitzy Nashville production, but gave it another shot, and the songs started poking through. It's one of several re-grades below -- mostly records I admired first time but liked a little more on review. I replayed a few more I didn't budge, including Purple Mountains, The Paranoid Style, Danny Brown, and Slowthai -- all solid B+(***), as I originally thought. I played everything else I had missed (except couldn't find the Seeds soundtrack), but haven't gone down the list to biggest disconnects (like 100 Gecs).

I don't mean to nitpick, but thought it might be helpful to list my non-jazz A-list picks that Christgau hasn't yet reviewed or listed (skipping records, like Hayes Carll: What It Is and Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell, that Christgau gave B+ or stars to):

  1. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterioum (IOT)
  2. Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session (Third Man)
  3. Control Top: Covert Contracts (Get Better)
  4. MexStep: Resistir (Third Root -18
  5. Mavis Staples: We Get By (Anti-)
  6. Dave: Psychodrama (Neighbourhood
  7. Weldon Henson: Texas Made Honky Tonk (Hillbilly Renegade)
  8. People Under the Stars: Sincerely, the P (Piecelock 70)
  9. Chris Knight: Almost Daylight (Drifters Church)
  10. Kelsey Waldon: White Noise/White Lines (Oh Boy)
  11. L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: Complicate Your Life With Violence (Mello Music Group)
  12. Allison Moorer: Blood (Autotelic)
  13. Willie Nelson: Ride Me Back Home (Legacy)
  14. Nilüfer Yanya: Miss Universe (ATO)
  15. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (Keel Cool/RCA)
  16. Queen Key: Eat My Pussy (Again) (Machine Entertainment Group)
  17. The Chemical Brothers: No Geography (Virgin EMI)
  18. Caterina Barbieri: Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego)
  19. Czarface: The Odd Czar Against Us (Silver Age)
  20. Murs: The Iliad is Dead and the Odyssey Is Over (Jamla/Empire)
  21. Hieroglyphic Being: Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism (On the Corner)
  22. YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy (Atlantic)
  23. Sault: 5 (Forever Living Originals)
  24. Sault: 7 (Forever Living Originals)
  25. The Campfire Flies: Sparks Like Little Stars (OverPop Music)
  26. Boy Harsher: Careful (Nude Club)
  27. Apollo Brown: Sincerely, Detroit (Mello Music Group)
  28. Pet Shop Boys: Inner Sanctum (X2)
  29. Lee Scratch Perry: Heavy Rain (On-U Sound)
  30. Sarathy Korwar: More Arriving (The Leaf Label)
  31. Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Trapline (Fontana North)
  32. Caroline Spence: Mint Condition (Rounder)
  33. Ani DiFranco: No Walls: Mixtape (Righteous Babe)
  34. Peter Perrett: Humanworld (Domino)
  35. Oompa: Cleo (OompOutLoud)
  36. Add-2: Jim Crow: The Musical (Add-2 Productions)
  37. Omar Souleyman: Shlon (Mad Decent/Because)
  38. Special Request: Offworld (Houndstooth)
  39. Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance (Columbia/Legacy)
  40. Beans on Toast: The Inevitable Train Wreck (Beans on Toast Music)

I'm surprised this list ran so long (40 of 77 records, so 52%). One thing Christgau laments on his list is a hip-hop shortfall, but I count 13 here (including Blakrok, MexStep and Dave, but not Yanya, Korwar or Sault). Also 6 country, some political folkies, some electronica, and various world outposts. By the way, recent adds and promotions made the non-jazz A-list longer than the jazz one (77-to-75).


The extra listening time brought my number of reviewed 2019 releases to 1224. This compares to 1075 at freeze time last year, 1145 in 2017, 1075 in 2016, 1110 in 2015, 1173 in 2014, 1149 in 2013, 1068 in 2012, 1334 in 2011, and 1236 in 2010. (Going further back: 2009: 1050, 2008: 907, 2007: 1135, 2006: 1089, 2005: 871, 2004: 941, 2003: 525. No data for earlier years, as 2003 was when I started writing -- and getting promos -- again.) About 75% of this year's records were streamed or downloaded, which is probably a record high, but likely to be topped each coming year. I've been expecting the review total to decline each year since my 2011 peak. The only significance I attribute to the bump this year is that I haven't felt up to doing much else. I expect it to drop next year, perhaps significantly -- either if I get into writing long-contemplated but slow-starting non-music projects, or if my health declines.

Meanwhile, the main thing that slowed this post down wasn't a desire to cram in more records. It was the time it took to reach a break point in my EOY Aggregate. I wound up counting 689 lists, of which 174 were considered major (generally, 20+ ranked records, scored 1-5 points), vs. minor lists (top-tens, scored 1-3 points, or unranked lists), with some discretion exercised. Aside from the lists, this includes grade points from Robert Christgau, Michael Tatum, and myself (1-5 points), which admittedly gives the totals a slight bias. I also included a lot of Jazz Critics Poll individual ballots, which contributed significantly to the two jazz albums that cracked the top 40 (plus ten more in the top 100). On the other hand, with no Pazz & Jop poll this year, I wasn't able to cherry-pick individual ballots there. Two more systematic biases should be noted: I skipped nearly all metal lists this year, and I skipped most of the international press lists that Acclaimed Music Forums does such a good job of compiling. Both omissions were mostly the result of priorities as I was trying to catch up while recuperating from surgery, and I never got back to them. I may find some reason to fiddle further, but at this point the smart thing would be to leave well enough alone.

Here's the top 40, with points up front and my grades in brackets.

  1. [447] Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell (Polydor/Interscope) [A-]
  2. [380] Billy Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? (Darkroom/Interscope) [A-]
  3. [334] Tyler, the Creator: Igor (Columbia) [**]
  4. [319] FKA Twigs: Magdalene (Young Turks) [B]
  5. [278] Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (Ghosteen/Bad Seeds) [B]
  6. [275] Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising (Sub Pop) [B-]
  7. [274] Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains (Drag City) [***]
  8. [269] Lizzo: Cuz I Love You (Nice Life/Atlantic) [A-]
  9. [265] Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  10. [259] Angel Olsen: All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  11. [235] Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (Columbia) [**]
  12. [226] Big Thief: U.F.O.F. (4AD) [A-]
  13. [224] Little Simz: Grey Area (Age 101) [A-]
  14. [206] Solange: When I Get Home (Saint/Columbia) [*]
  15. [181] Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel (Partisan) [***]
  16. [178] Brittany Howard: Jaime (ATO) [B]
  17. [173] Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (Keep Cool/RCA) [A-]
  18. [166] Big Thief: Two Hands (4AD) [**]
  19. [166] Ariana Grande: Thank U Next (Republic) [**]
  20. [160] Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy! (Jagjaguwar) [A-]
  21. [148] Black Midi: Schlagenheim (Rough Trade) [**]
  22. [141] Dave: Psychodrama (Neighbourhood) [A-]
  23. [141] Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Polydor) [*]
  24. [130] Jenny Lewis: On the Line (Warner Bros.) [*]
  25. [130] Slowthai: Nothing Great About Britain (Method) [***]
  26. [129] Danny Brown: Uknowhatimsayin¿ (Warp) [***]
  27. [125] Bon Iver: i,i (Jagjaguwar) [B]
  28. [117] Aldous Harding: Designer (4AD) [B]
  29. [116] Taylor Swift: Lover (Republic) [A-]
  30. [112] Julia Jacklin: Crushing (Polyvinyl) [B]
  31. [111] The Highwomen: The Highwomen (Elektra) [B]
  32. [111] The National: I Am Easy to Find (4AD) [**]
  33. [110] Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars (Columbia) [B-]
  34. [109] Kris Davis: Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic) [***]
  35. [107] Denzel Curry: Zuu (Loma Vista) [**]
  36. [105] Thom Yorke: Anima (XL) [B-]
  37. [103] Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans) [*]
  38. [103] Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation) [***]
  39. [101] Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated (604/School Boy/Interscope) [***]
  40. [100] Rapsody: Eve (Roc Nation) [***]

Every aggregate list (either of lists or of individuals) has its peculiar selection and weighting biases. I'm having trouble finding more, but the big ones are Album of the Year and Metacritic. I can't do any analysis at this time, but my impression is that for a long time, the lists were dominated by alt/indie rock with occasional celebrity-crossover hip-hop breakthroughs (e.g., Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar). Last few years alt/indie has waned, and pure pop albums have done better, as well as some artier things I often have trouble fathoming (Nick Cave and Weyes Blood are prime examples this year). One result is that there are more albums on the list I like these days, certainly compared to 6-10 years ago (when I started compiling these EOY lists). Still, not a lot of critically popular hip-hop this year (only Tyler, the Creator in the top 10 this year, although it was a huge year for British hip-hop, with Little Simz, Dave, Slowthai, and others just down the list).


New records reviewed this week:

Snoh Aalegra: Ugh, Those Feels Again (2019, Artrium): Soul singer, born in Sweden, parents Iranian, original name Shahrzad Fooladi, based in Los Angeles, first album Feels, so title is a play on that. B+(**)

Add-2: Jim Crow: The Musical (2019, Add-2 Productions): Chicago rapper Andre DiJuan Daniels, mixtapes since 2005 including four volumes of Tale of Two's City, and the album Prey for the Poor. Title suggests two dimensions of distance -- history viewed on stage, past from present, others from self -- but Jim Crow persists as a mental trap, not least because it's periodically reinforced by events. A-

Altin Gün: Gece (2019, ATO): "Anatolian rock" band, founded in Amsterdam by bassist Jasper Verhulst, with Merve Dasdemir (vocals) and Erdic Yildiz Ecevit (vocals, saz, keys) for Turkish roots. Ranges between groove and spots for "a very soulful language." As usual, any psychedelia is in the mind of the beholder. B+(**)

Daymé Arocena: Sonocardiogram (2019, Brownswood): Cuban singer, based in London, fourth album, has a bit of a diva complex, though I could see getting into that. B

BaianaSystem: O Futuro Não Demora (2019, Máquina De Louco): Brazilian group, from Salvador in Bahia. Forró roots with electronic beats, postmodern imports, even a bit of Manu Chao. B+(***)

BCUC: The Healing (2019, Buda Musique): South African group, from Soweto, acronym stands for Bantu Continua Ubuntu Consciousness, the polyglot name a hint of international eclecticism. But still sounds more like Afrobeat, with two of three pieces running long (19:18, 16:23), and not just the one Femi Kuti guests on. Saul Williams appears on the 3:54 closer. B+(**)

BCUC: Emakhosini (2018, Buda Musique): Earlier record, same basic idea, no guests. B+(*)

Benny Benack III: A Lot of Livin' to Do (2019 [2020], LA Reserve): Trumpet player, sings, second album, wrote four songs but mostly depends on standards, big name in the band is bassist Christian McBride, has two guest spots for female singers. B+(**) [01-24]

Daniel Bernardes & Drumming GP: Liturgy of the Birds: In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen (2018 [2019], Clean Feed): Pianist, from Portugal, leads a trio augmented by a percussion quartet. All original compositions, their pedigree as "explorations of Olivier Messiaen's compositional techniques" something I'll have to take at face value. B+(**)

Big K.R.I.T.: K.R.I.T. Iz Here (2019, Multi Alumni): Mississippi rapper Justin Lewis Scott, fourth album, long list of mixtapes. Came out late and hardly anyone noticed. B+(**)

Jim Black Trio: Reckon (2019 [2020], Intakt): Drummer, fourth album since 2011 with this particular trio: Elias Stemseder (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). Helps to focus on the drummer here, frantically tying together the many remarkable tangents. A-

Black Alien: Abaixo De Zero: Hello Hell (2019, Extrapunk Extrafunk): Brazilian singer/rapper, Gustavo de Almeida Ribeiro, started in a duo with Speed 1993-2001. Nine cuts, 26:49. B+(*)

Zach Brock/Matt Ulery/Jon Deitemyer: Wonderment (2018 [2019], Woolgathering): Violin-bass-drums trio. B+(**)

Brockhampton: Ginger (2019, Question Everything/RCA): Hip-hop "boy band" collective, formed in Texas but moved to California, best-known member releases solo albums as Kevin Abstract. B+(**)

Apollo Brown: Sincerely, Detroit (2019, Mello Music Group): Erik Vincent Stephens, grew up in Grand Rapids, moved to Detroit in 2003, hip-hop producer, a dozen albums sharing credit with various rappers, six more under his own name. Here it feels like he's working with the whole city, at least what's left of it. Not optimism -- "we knew from the start that things fall apart" -- but hard-earned survival. A-

Charly Bliss: Supermoon (2019, Barsuk, EP): Listed by Napster as Charly Bliss 2019 EP, but this title appears on Bandcamp and elsewhere. Five songs, 15:52, smart pop. B+(**)

Gary Clark Jr.: This Land (2019, Warner Brothers): The most hyped bluesman of his generation, certainly at the moment he first arrived. Never impressed me, but maybe I was wrong to slot him in blues -- a music he can play credibly (cf. "Dirty Dish Blues" here) but is just one facet of his fairly eclectic rock repertoire. He's just as likely to signal Funkadelic or the Miracles, but never what you'd call inspired, even when he pumps up the volume. B

Luke Combs: What You See Is What You Get (2019, River House/Columbia Nashville): Country singer from North Carolina, second album, big voice, heavy guitar, likes beer and dogs, less sure about love, considers himself one of the "Blue Collar Boys." B+(**)

Jamael Dean: Black Space Tapes (2019, Stones Throw): Young pianist (20), born in Bakersfield, father a "soul jazz" drummer, grew up in Los Angeles, currently enrolled at New School in New York, first album. Six cuts, revolving cast, seems rather scattered, with bits of hip-hop fusion and acid jazz, but none quite predictable. B+(*)

Dreamville: Revenge of the Dreamers III (2019, Dreamville): Various artists, but sources credit this to the label, and I've seen it filed under star J. Cole. I initially guessed this had something to do with the so-called Dreamers, but I can't find any evidence of a political theme. Rather, this celebrates a found community, brought together by creativity and commerce. B+(*)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution: Won't Put No Flag Out (2019, Budapest Music Center): German tenor saxophonist, first album as leader 2007, second album with this trio -- Théo Ceccaldi (viola, violin) and Jim Hart (vibes, percussion). "Over the Rainbow" is an odd cover choice, marking a shift to chamber jazz. B+(**)

Dori Freeman: Every Single Star (2019, Blue Hens Music): Folksinger-songwriter from Virginia, fourth album, reminds me of Iris DeMent -- sure, a kinder, gentler version. B+(***)

Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Remember Me, My Dear (2014 [2019], ECM New Series): British male vocal quartet, named after an Elizabethan miniaturist painter, focused on medievel and renaissance music from 1980, later entering into several collaborations, notably with Swedish saxophonist Garbarek on 1994's Officium. Evidently disbanded in 2014 after this farewell concert in Bellinzona, Switzerland. I loved the sax so much on the debut that I wound up liking the voices, but the lower the ratio, the less patient I become. B+(*)

Halsey: Manic (2020, Capitol): Pop singer-songwriter Ashley Frangipane, third album. Two plays, has some edge, some hooks, not sure whether she's interesting or mostly a flake. B+(***)

Tim Heidecker: Another Year in Hell: Collected Songs From 2018 (2018 [2019], Jagjaguwar, EP): Comedian, writer, director, actor, musician -- I can't say as he was on my radar until he released a collection of songs about Donald Trump in 2017 (Too Dumb for Suicide). Sample lyric: "I'm down in the basement making signs out of love . . . and I hope I find a like minded girl tonight at the trump rally." Six cuts, 18:38. B

Hieroglyphic Being: Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism (2019, On the Corner): Jamal Moss, from Chicago but associated more with Detroit techno, has close to fifty albums since 2008, most on his own Mathematics label, but I only seem to notice him when some other label picks him up (e.g., Soul Jazz). Vinyl-sized at 5 songs, 34:25, opens with old-fashioned synths, adds a couple of saxophones to the 12:12 closer ("Timbuktu 2"), a very choice cut. A-

Jenny Hval: The Practice of God (2019, Sacred Bones): Norwegian singer-songwriter, studied in Australia before returning to Norway. Went all goth on her last album (Blood Bitch), but turns here to avant-electronics producer Lasse Marhaug, and the beats help a lot. B+(***)

Bobby J From Rockaway: Summer Classics (2019, Make Noise): White rapper from Queens, first record, old-style beats and boasts, even has a song called "Blue Eyed Soul," but gets production help from Kwamé, Statik Selektah, and others, and a guest shot from Kilah Priest, and has some fun. B+(**)

JackBoys and Travis Scott: JackBoys (2019, Cactus Jack/Epic, EP): Houston collective centered on Scott's Cactus Jack label, seven-cut "compilation" (21:23), with Scott featured on 3-4 tracks, Don Tolliver taking lead on one, Sheck Wes and Young Thug also appearing. Trap rap minus hard edges, as far as I can figure. B+(*)

Jealous of the Birds: Wisdom Teeth (2019, Atlantic, EP): Naomi Hamilton, Irish singer-songwriter, released an album in 2015, two EPs since, this the second, 5 substantial songs, 18:40. B+(**)

Cody Jinks: After the Fire (2019, Late August): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, self-released six albums before signing to Rounder for two that finally cracked the country charts. Classic sound, old-time virtues, an eye for detail, a bit of jazz at the end. B+(***)

Cody Jinks: The Wanting (2019, Late August): Released just a week after After the Fire, a gimmick that promised two consecutive number ones, but Wikipedia shows both albums topped at 2, as did his previous best, Lifers. Pretty much the same album, but a couple of songs strike me as a tad overweight -- maybe he's just leaning in too hard. B+(**)

Oumar Konaté: I Love You Inna (2018 [2019], Clermont Music): From Mali, fifth album, good-enough singer but really impressive on electric guitar, backed by electric bass and drums in a configuration that would have turned Jimi Hendrix's head. A-

Arto Lindsay/Joe McPhee/Ken Vandermark/Phil Sudderberg: Largest Afternoon (2019 [2020], Corbett vs. Dempsey): OK, some guys got together in Chicago, and rolled the tape. The saxophonists do this sort of thing all the time, so this is fairly typical for them. Lindsay sticks to guitar here, and everything seems to be improv, so don't expect his usual crypto-Brazilian no wave, but he turns in a respectable performance, cutting against the grain. B+(**) [bc]

Fred Lonberg-Holm/Joe McPhee: No Time Left for Sadness (2019 [2020], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Cello and tenor sax duets, the former also on electronics. Three pieces, increasing length, driven mostly by the cello although this winds up being a strong performance for McPhee. B+(**) [bc]

John McLaughlin/Shankar Mahadevan/Zakir Hussain: Is That So? (2020, Abstract Logix): The guitarist's love affair with Indian music dates back at least to his 1976 Shakti, which percussionist Hussain played on. Not sure when vocalist Mahadevan entered the picture, but he was touring with McLaughlin in 2013 when "the idea for this album appeared in my mind." He dominates this album: I'm duly impressed by his remarkable voice, but have limited use for his style of opera. B+(**)/p>

Microwave: Death Is a Warm Blanket (2019, Pure Noise): Post-hardcore band from Atlanta, third album. Reminds me a bit of Husker Du, not a band I've bothered playing in decades. Also liked them a bit more when they opened up, a reaction Husker Du fans may not share. B+(*)

Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Smells Funny (2019, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian jazz-rock trio, leader's full name Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen (guitar), with Ellen Brekken (bass) and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad (drums). Raw power, impressive guitar chops. B+(**)

Allison Moorer: Blood (2019, Autotelic): Country singer-songwriter from Alabama, sister of Shelby Lynne, has had two famous songwriter-husbands. Tenth album, title tied to a memoir: the headline event in her life was in 1986 when her father shot and killed her mother, then killed himself. Not sure any songs can do full justice to the event, but these cut deep and move you. A-

Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock (2019, Merge): Main guy in Hüsker Dü, an important 1980s band I've lost my interest in, went solo in 1989 and has cranked out a dozen albums since, to no special distinction. Still, this attaches more hooks to his signature din, and occasionally takes a break to find his voice, maybe even a melody (e.g., title cut). B+(**)

The Murder Capital: When I Have Fears (2019, Human Season): Irish post-punk group, first album. Laura suggested "Pogues meet New Order," but doesn't really deliver either distinction. The double guitars sprawl where punk chops, and the vocals sound more like Nick Cave. B+(*)

Murs: The Iliad Is Dead and the Odyssey Is Over (2019, Jamla/Empire): Rapper Nick Carter, albums since 2003 and still underground, produced by 9th Wonder and the Soul Council. Barely noticed when it came out, this is one of his best. A-

Aaron Novik: The Fallow Curve of the Planospheres (2019, Avant LaGuardia): Clarinet player, bills himself as coposer first, and that's clearly the focus here. Album is conceived of as a compilation of five "suites of music," each an EP (although I've found no evidence of them having been previously released), each with a different band and locale. B+(*)

Otoboke Beaver: Itekoma Hits (2019, Damnably): Japanese punk rock group, four women, singer-songwriter Accorinrin, records since 2011, not sure how much of this 14-song, 26:26 LP is new -- 5 songs from a 2016 EP, one new recording of an older song. Ultimately too chaotic, harsh, noisy for my taste, but for a moment I was pretty impressed. B+(**)

Jeff Parker: Suite for Max Brown (2020, International Anthem): Chicago guitarist, has appeared in avant-jazz groups (Chicago Underground Trio), also in experimental post-rock outfits (Tortoise, Isotope 217), his own work widely scattered, as is this. Title cut is pretty seductive, with trumpet and alto sax over slinky rhythm. B+(**) [bc]

The Pernice Brothers: Spread the Feeling (2019, Ashmont): Alt/indie band, Joe Pernice is the singer-songwriter, brother Bob also plays guitar, eighth album since 1998. B+(*) [bc]

Post Malone: Hollywood's Bleeding (2019, Republic): Rapper-singer Austin Richard Post, from Syracuse, third album, seems to be quite popular. Aims for a big, arena sound. I find it a bit claustrophobic, even though the pummeling offers occasional pleasures. B

Emily Scott Robinson: Traveling Mercies (2019, Tone Tree Music): Folksinger-songwriter from North Carolina, lives in an RV she's put more than a quarter million miles on, took a short break from her touring to record this debut album. Character songs, probably fiction -- I doubt she's really a "white hot country mess," but that's her best shot for a hit. B+(***)

Kurt Rosenwinkel Bandit 65: Searching the Continuum (2019, Heartcore): Guitarist, from Philadelphia, based in Switzerland, debut 1996, bills his band -- a trio with Tim Motzer (guitar) and Gintas Janusonis (drums), both also electronics -- as a "post-jazz sonic trio." I omitted "mesmerizing," an intent they only occasionally achieve. B+(***)

Serengeti: Music From the Graphic Novel Kenny Vs the Dark Web (2019, Burnco, EP): Chicago rapper David Cohn, has a lot of mixtapes, many featuring a character named Kenny Dennis, who reappears here (more or less -- this feels more like scattered outtakes than anything thematic, even though the graphic novel supposedly is). 7 tracks, 18:17. B+(**)

Shed: Oderbruch (2019, Ostgut Ton): German DJ/producer, fifth album since 2008, really like his upbeat pieces, don't dislike the more atmospheric ones. B+(***)

Ed Sheeran: No. 6 Collaborations Project (2019, Atlantic): English singer-songwriter, fourth album, pretty big star over there, one I've generally found amiably listenable. Harder to judge this one given that each cut has one or more guests, most rappers and/or r&b singers. B+(**)

Skyzoo & Pete Rock: Retropolitan (2019, Mello Music Group): Rapper Gregory Skyler Taylor (8 albums and 14 mixtapes since 2004), first with producer Peter Phillips. B+(**)

Sly Horizon: The Anatomy of Light (2018 [2019], Iluso): Trio: Rick Parker (trombone), Alvaro Domene (guitar), and Jeremy Carlstedt (drums), everyone also credited with electronics, which generates most of the dark ambience. B+(*) [bc]

Son Volt: Union (2019, Transmit Sound): Alt-country band, Jay Farrar's second after Uncle Tupelo, ninth album since 1995. Has picked up some politics, even setting a Joe Hill speech to music. B+(*)

The Steel Woods: Old News (2019, Woods Music): Southern rock traditionalists, based in Nashville, Wes Bayliss and Jason "Rowdy" Cope the principals, second album, comes on strong, leaves me cold. Docked a notch for making Merle Haggard sound like a bitter old jerk. B-

Harry Styles: Fine Line (2019, Columbia): English, former boy group star from One Direction, second solo album. Seems pointless even when he comes up with something catchy -- actually, the catchier, the more annoying it gets. C+

Sunn O))): Life Metal (2019, Southern Lord): Drone metal band, eighth album since 2000. Emphasis on drone, with more fuzz than metal. I don't seriously dislike it, but seems slight, and I don't get the appeal. B-

Leo Svirsky: River Without Banks (2019, Unseen Worlds): American composer, based in the Netherlands, fifth album since 2011. Mostly piano, rolls on and on. B+(**)

Veronica Swift: Confessions (2019, Mack Avenue): Jazz singer, started young with an album at age 9 (Veronica's House of Jazz) with Richie Cole, Hod O'Brien (her father), and Stephanie Nakasian (her mother) -- O'Brien, who died in 2016, played piano an all-time favorite album, Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer (with Sheila Jordan). Standards, backed by Benny Green Trio on three cuts, Emmet Cohen's on the rest. Dazzling vocal chops. B+(**)

Rebecca Trescher: Where We Go (2019, Enja/Yellowbird): German clarinet player, third album, leads a tentet, replete with harp, vibes, lots of flutes, and scat voice -- none of which manage to spoil the impressive arranging. B+(**)

Dwight Trible: Mothership (2019, Gearbox): Jazz singer, based in Los Angeles, half-dozen albums since 2001, starts with a piece by LA jazz legend Horace Tapscott, covers some more usual suspects, wrote three. B+(*)

Amber Weekes: Pure Imagination (2019 [2020], Amber Inn Productions): Standards singer, second album, very fond of Oscar Brown Jr., starts delightful (especially "It's All Right With Me"), less so on the ballads, least of all a duet with Mon David. B+(*) [cd]

Kanye West: Jesus Is King (2019, GOOD Music/Def Jam): Could be he was punking Trump, who clearly got off on proximity to such celebrity and feigned obeissance, but hard to see how he figured to pull off the same trick with G-d, unless his anarchism harbors a closeted atheist. Nothing here convinces me that he believes in G-d, much less that I should. He takes the hollow trimmings of Christianity and turns them into a chaotic mess, without even offering a wink that he might be aiming for satire, which leaves us with some form of mental illness. Still has production chops and can rap, and there's one bit of good news: it's only 27:04 long. B-

Wilco: Ode to Joy (2019, dBpm): Jeff Tweedy's band, in a particularly middling mood, doesn't seem like much, but can't complain about the comfort factor. B+(*)

Will of the People [Haftor Medbøe]: Will of the People (2019, Copperfly): Norwegian guitarist, based in Edinburgh, several albums since 2005, first for this trio with Pete Furniss (bass clarinet and electronics) and Tom Bancroft (drums). B+(**)

Wire: Mind Hive (2020, Pink Flag): Forty years after they raised the art-bar for punk, they've broadened their music without fundamentally changing it. This one almost seems like a return to basics. B+(***)

Brandee Younger: Soul Awakening (2019, self-released): Harp player, from Long Island, pulled this early tape off the shelf: producer Dezron Douglas (bass) and the drummer (usually EJ Strickland) craft a matrix that envelops the harp while letting it sparkle. Plus guests: Niia sings one track, the rest have horns, the standout among many fine performances Ravi Coltrane. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Julie Coker: A Life in the Limelight: Lagos Disco & Itsekiri Highlife 1976-1981 (1976-81 [2019], Kalita): Gained initial fame as Miss Western Nigeria 1957, moved into TV and radio, produced two albums fileted here (7 songs, 30:55). Nothing major here. B+(*)

Professor Longhair: Live on the Queen Mary (1975 [2019], Harvest): New Orleans piano legend Roy Byrd, started recording in 1949 but had few albums before his death in 1980, after which his reputation was secured in numerous live tapes and a stellar 2-CD Rhino retrospective. This one appeared early, in 1978, probably because it was "presented by Paul and Linda McCartney." Seems a bit redundant at this stage, but if I heard it first, I might well have been blown away. B+(***)

Jim Sullivan: U.F.O. (1969 [2019], Light in the Attic): Singer-songwriter, guitarist, recorded two albums before mysteriously disappearing in 1975. Not easily classifiable, but not interesting or weird enough to matter. B

Jim Sullivan: Jim Sullivan (1972 [2019], Light in the Attic): Second album, a second introduction, dropping the fake strings and letting the music flow, with a country accent and a few horns. B+(*)

This Is Toolroom 2019 (Edits) (2019, Toolroom): English electronica label, founded by Mark Knight in 2004, purveyors of something called tech house, which in my book could pass for techno or house. This was number two on the Ye Wei Blog EOY list: presumably the full-length (20 tracks, 129:10) version as opposed to the (Edits), which is the only version I could find online (same 20 reduced by half to 69:36). Various artists, Knight's the only name I recognize, with beats so similar they could come from the same shop. Still, grows on you. B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

75 Dollar Bill: I Was Real (2019, Thin Wrist): Guitar-drums duo, Che Chen and Rick Brown, the former studied Mauritanian music with Jheich Ould Chighaly, perhaps why their most obvious connection seems to be with Saharan blues-rock, but they work with all sorts of guitar patterns. No vocals, none needed. [was B+(***)] A-

Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs (2019, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter born in Wales, moved as a child to Perth, Australia, offers what Christgau calls "a catalogue of assholes" -- males, "boys will be boys," etc. -- although I'm also struck by the allergies and bearers of infectious diseases. [was B+(***)] A-

Craig Finn: I Need a New War (2019, Partisan): Fourth solo album, after fronting groups Lifter-Puller and the Hold Steady (a continuing venture with its own album this year). Has a distinctive voice, writes serious songs about interesting people. Initially taken aback by the title here refers to U.S. Grant, who would think such a thing, and still prefer the band effort, but this one is growing on me. [was: B+(***)] A-

Kalie Shorr: Open Book (2019, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Maine, based in Nashville. Songs have some country in them and are often brash and pointed. Production bigger than she needs, but she rocks harder than any Nashville ingenue since Miranda Lambert. [was: B+(*)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Mark Segger Sextet: Lift Off (18th Note) [02-07]

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Not much on the impeachment trial below. I remember watching Senate hearings on Watergate, but haven't followed anything in Congress that closely since -- even the Iraq War votes (note plural), or a series of Supreme Court votes (starting with Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas) even though they were much more consequential. The Democrats would like to see this impeachment as a grave, solemn affair, but it doesn't differ from the Clinton impeachment enough to sway me. Of course, if given the chance, I'd vote to convict -- fact of the matter is I would have voted to convict Clinton as well -- but the 2020 election remains the prize, and this is just a distraction. If Republicans decide to throw Trump under the bus, they'd still have the colorless, soulless Mike Pence in the White House, still have their Senate majority, and still have all those judges they've confirmed during the last three years. On the other hand, the 2020 elections offer the hope of starting to reverse the tragic effects of electing those Republicans in recent years. I know I've eschewed reporting on horserace political stories, but I'd much rather be reading Bernie Sanders surges into lead in new CNN poll and Polls show Bernie Sanders surging at just the right time and Getting Bernie over the top than anything on the impeachment trial travesty or how sad our wretched democracy has become.


Some scattered links this week:

Thursday, January 23, 2020


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32640 [32614] rated (+26), 228 [229] unrated (-1).

Three days late with this, but the cutoff was late Sunday night, so this is still an honest week's listening report. While I was not honoring my self-imposed schedule, I did continue to listen, so my scratch file for next week includes an additional 21 records -- a pace which will probably top 40 next week. Maybe more: it's tempting to run late next week so I can close January near the end of the month (instead of final Monday, the 27th this year). I usually do my freeze exercise the end of January: that being my signal to stop monitoring EOY lists and move on to the new year.

Actually, you'll find my first 2020 A- record below, as well as a few more 2020 releases. Most of the CDs in my promo queue are still future releases, so I'm noting release dates in cases that aren't out yet. I noticed on Facebook Phil Freeman noting that he already has over 100 promo records in his 2020 spreadsheet. I have a quarter of that, but might not be so far behind if I downloaded all the links that cross my mail. Thus far I've done none, but I am pleased to be getting mail from Astral Spirits now.

I've added quite a bit of jazz to my EOY Aggregate, including the NPR Jazz Critics Poll totals for new albums and reissues, plus about two-thirds of the critic ballots -- my first pass rule was to only list critics I had listed in previous years. This has pushed Kris Davis' poll-winning Diatom Ribbons to 33rd overall, the top-rated jazz album. I re-played the record when the poll dropped, but didn't feel like raising my initial B+(***) grade. I have maybe a dozen more records I feel like I should retry -- mostly Christgau picks that I liked but didn't spend much time with on first pass, like: Danny Brown, Stella Donnelly, The National, The Paranoid Style, Purple Mountains, Rapsody. Not much elsewhere has me wondering. Indeed, while my tracking file shows that there are literally thousands of unheard records that someone likes, I'm having a lot of trouble identifying ones that seem promising for me.

I also added in the totals from something called Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll. This is a fan poll which has existed for twenty-some years, but got more attention this year with Village Voice having abandoned their signature poll. I got an invite to join a while back, but never voted. I did, however, go through the ballots, and picked out fifty or so names I recognized -- mostly folks I had counted ballots from in past years. In the past I've been inclined to use P&J as an endpoint, testing how well my own lists anticipated the results, and in the process finding various biases of the critics polled. Still, nothing like what we see with this self-selected fan community. Purple Mountains won in a landslide, as both hip-hop and pop votes were pretty depressed. On the other hand, certain Christgau favorites did surprisingly well (e.g., The Paranoid Style at 17, 75 Dollar Bill at 8).


New records reviewed this week:

Harry Allen/Mike Renzi: Rhode Island Is Famous for You (2019, GAC): Tenor sax and piano, non-headliners on bass and drums. Mostly standard fare, tending toward gorgeous. B+(***)

Beans on Toast: Cushty (2017, Xtra Mile): English folk singer Jay McAllister, has dropped an album on December 1 (his birthday) every year since 2009, same cover design, titles differ. More songs about politics than not, some too obvious, and some too hyperbolic ("we talking end of days, proper apocalyptic shit"). B+(**)

Beans on Toast: A Bird in the Hand (2018, Beans on Toast Music): Don't care for the lecture on "Bamboo Toothbrush," even as modest as it is, but something exceptionally beguiling to this batch of music. B+(***)

Beans on Toast: The Inevitable Train Wreck (2019, Beans on Toast Music): English folksinger-songwriter Jay McAllister doubles down on the politics. I could quibble on details, but his heart and head are in the right place, and we're fortunate to have him. The refrain about "leave it in the ground" is catchy enough for a demonstration mob (although I wouldn't go so far as his dis on cows). He also doubles down on the music: he's added keyboards to his guitar in the past, but he's got a full band this time. Rocks a little, concluding that "life goes on and on and on." A-

Pip Blom: Boat (2019, Heavenly): Dutch jangle pop band, same name as the singer-guitarist-songwriter -- will file them under her, but does sound like a group. B+(***)

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Entity (2019 [2020], Libra): Thirteen-piece big band, short some brass from standard big bands, and no piano, the leader content to compose and conduct. All name players -- not so hard to do in New York. Impressive when your draw in close, otherwise can slip on by. B+(***) [cd] [02-14]

Gordon Grdina/Matt Mitchell/Jim Black: Gordon Grdina's Nomad Trio (2019 [2020], Skirl): Guitarist from Vancouver, also plays oud, has a substantial body of work since 2006. Trio here with piano and drums. The piano impresses with sharp angles, fading back for the guitar, which never really takes charge. B+(**) [cd]

Scott Hamilton Quartet: Danish Ballads . . . & More (2019, Stunt): Tenor saxophonist, did a similar album of Swedish Ballads in 2013, recorded this in Copenhagen, with Jan Lundgren on piano and locals on bass and drums. Songbook appears to be mostly Danish, with Oscar Pettiford's Montmartre Blues close enough. A-

Scott Hamilton: Jazz at the Club: Live From Sociëtat De Witte (2018 [2019], O.A.P.): Since his record deal with Concord ran out a decade ago, the tenor saxophonist has wandered the world, picking up sympathetic bands (almost all quartets), and letting the tapes roll. Standard fare, he usually sounds terrific, and the combos rarely disappoint. This one is from The Hague in Netherlands, with Francesca Tandoi on piano and singing two tracks. B+(***)

Scott Hamilton: Street of Dreams (2019, Blau): Another tenor sax quartet, don't know when or where it was recorded, but label is Spanish (one Hamilton has seven albums on), with Dena DeRose on piano, Ignasi González on bass, and Jo Krause on drums. Ballads may be a bit pinched, but the faster ones swing hard. B+(***)

Irreversible Entanglements: Homeless/Global (2019, International Anthem, EP): Phiadelphia group, released a fine debut LP in 2017, released this 23:38 track in advance of a second album. MC/poet Camae Ayewa enters after 7:35 of roiling freebop -- trumpet, sax, bass, drums (Luke Stewart the only name I recognize). B+(**) [bc]

Aly Keïta/Jan Galega Brönnimann/Lucas Niggli: Kalan Teban 2019 [2020], Intakt): Balafon player from Côte D'Ivoire, trio with reeds and drums -- two Swiss musicians who were born in Cameroon and have known each other since childhood. Their previous Kalo-Yele was my favorite album of 2016. This is comparably delightful, notably when Brönnimann takes charge. A-

Peter Lemer Quintet: Son of Local Colour (2018 [2019], ESP-Disk): British pianist, recorded an album in 1968 called Local Colour, not much since but decided to get the band back together for a 50th anniversary reunion, and got 4/5ths of the way: John Surman (baritone/soprano sax), Tony Reeves (bass), and John Hiseman (drums), with Alan Skidmore (tenor sax) filling in for the ailing Nisar Ahmad Khan. They reprised all the old songs (assuming "City" + "Enahenado" = "Ciudad Enahenado"). B+(**)

Andrew Munsey: High Tide (2019, Birdwatcher): Drummer, from Califoria, seems to be his first album, although he's appeared on close to a dozen, notably ones by his quintet here: Steph Richards (trumpet/flugelhorn), Ochion Jewell (tenor sax/kalimba), Amino Belyamani (piano/rhodes), and Sam Minaie (double bass). B+(**)

Rex Orange County: Pony (2019, RCA): English singer-songwriter Alexander O'Connor, 21, debut album after a pair of self-released downloadables. Clever guy, has some pop smarts. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Twentieth Century Mixtapes: Groiddest Schnizzits: Volume One (2001-17 [2019], Trugroid/Avantgroidd): Founded in 1999 by Greg Tate and Jared Michael Nickerson, released their first album in 2000, 15 more through 2017, from which they've assembled three CDs of mixes -- I found Volume Two shortly after release date, but One and Three eluded me. Tate (I assume) is responsible for the creative titling, and both for networking in dozens of New York musicians, reworking black music traditions rooted in funk and free jazz, Butch Morris providing the key "conduction" concept. Still, lot of vocals here. B+(***)

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Twentieth Century Mixtapes: Groiddest Schnizzits: Volume Three (1999-2017 [2019], Trugroid/Avantgroidd): The thing about these "mixtapes" is that rather than separate their remarkable body of work into its various facets, or breaking it up into eras, highlighting each major one on its own disc, they mix them all together. All three are spread over two decades, each picks pretty much the same music, and they're all somewhat biased toward soul vocals -- not what I would pick, although I imagine a single disc would be possible that would eventually grow on me. B+(***)

Miles Davis: The Lost Quintet (1969 [2019], Sleepy Night): Bootleg, live date from November 9 in Rotterdam, touted as Davis's "third great quintet," "lost" because it wasn't showcased in a studio album, but not really that obscure: second quintet saxophonist Wayne Shorter is still on hand, backed by a then young but not legendary rhythm section: Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette -- all of whom were on hand for Bitches Brew (recorded 1969, released 1970). Morever, they formed the quintet on the 4-CD 2013 box Live in Europe 1969, which included a November 5 date in Stockholm and another two days later in Berlin. Four pieces -- two from Bitches Brew, the others also in the box set -- stretched to 58:11. The thing that struck me about the Live 1969 recordings is how seriously Davis and Shorter considered plunging into the avant-garde, and this recording is even more raggedly free. But with John McLaughlin, Davis was also on a parallel track toward fusion, and that soon won out, with Shorter and Corea soon leaving for their own inferior fusion ventures. Sound is so-so here, but the rhythm section is really smoking. B+(***)

Smokey Haangala: Aunka Ma Kwacha (1976 [2019], Séance Center): Zambian singer-songwriter, played keyboards, also wrote poetry and journalism, died at 38 in 1988. B+(*)

ICP Tentet: Tetterettet (1977 [2019], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg's Instant Composer's Pool, later better known as ICP Orchestra. Full of grand gestures and sly jokes, or in some cases gross ones, as they take stereotypical circus music and transform it into extraordinary free jazz. A- [bc]

Sun Ra Arkestra: Live in Kalisz 1986 (1986 [2019], Languidity): Relatively late (Ra died in 1993, albums thin out from 1990), live in a small city in central Poland, released on a Polish label named for another Sun Ra album. Always terrific when they break out the interplanetary boogie, somewhat hit and miss, but their 13:24 "Mack the Knife" is a real treat. A- [bc]

Laurie Spiegel: Unseen Worlds (1991 [2019], Unseen Worlds): A pioneer in electronic music, started with analog sythesizers in 1969, worked at Bell Labs 1973-79 writing composition software, founded New York University's Computer Music Studio. First record was The Expanding Universe (1980). Not many more, but this one was taken as the name of this label. The pieces, organized as "Thesis," "Antithesis," and "Synthesis," with grand gestures that I assume derive from classical music aesthetics, plus some piano to settle things down. A-

June Tyson: Saturnian Queen of the Sun Ra Arkestra (1968-92 [2019], Modern Harmonic/Sundazed): Singer, worked with Sun Ra over 25 years, until her death in 1992. No dates on these pieces, so the range could be narrower, and no credits, although the Arkestra was pretty stable for much of this period. Vocals were always an iffy thing with the Arkestra, mostly space chants, conveniently collected here. B+(**)

Hank Williams: The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings (1949 [2019], BMG, 2CD): Radio shots, eight 15-minute shows (including patter but trimmed of advertising, about 12 minutes each), each opening with "Happy Rovin' Cowboy" and signing off with "Sally Goodin'" -- in between, expect at least one classic, some breaks and filler, and the obligatory hymn. Remarkable sound, extraordinary voice, could be edited down to an even more remarkable single CD. [Probably identical to the 1993 Polygram 2-CD release of Health & Happiness Shows.] A-

Old music:

Harry Allen Quartet: London Date (2015 [2016], Trio): Retro-swing tenor saxophonist, with a local London rhythm section (Andrea Pozza, Simon Woolf, Steve Brown) playing standards. Most impressive on the fast ones, but "Our Love Is Here to Stay" is taken deliciously slow. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • John Ellis and Andy Bragen: The Ice Siren (Parade Light) [03-20]
  • Gilfema: Three (Sounderscore) [04-03]

Sunday, January 19, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Last week's 6-candidate mini-debate reminded us that the Iowa Caucuses are fast approaching: February 3. It will be the first opportunity any Americans have to vote for candidates, the remnants of a field that has been reduced by half mostly through the whims of donors and the media. Unfortunately, the Americans voting will be Iowans. I was reminded of this by John Kerry, campaigning these days for Joe Biden. Kerry scored a surprise win in Iowa in 2004, kicking off an ill-fated campaign that resulted in a second term for GW Bush and Dick Cheney. As I recall, a lot of weight then was put on the idea of "electability," with many of Kerry's supporters figuring that Kerry's military record would sway voters against Bush. They miscalculated then, yet they're still in position to choose our fates.

I've been rather sanguine about the Democratic nominating process so far, but closing in on the start of actual voting, everyone is starting to get on my nerves. Even Sanders, who has by far the best analyses and positions, and the most steadfast character, but who I fear the media will never respect much less accept, and who will be hounded repeatedly with mistruths and misunderstandings. (The articles below that explicitly call out CNN will give you pretty glaring examples of what I mean.) Even Warren seems to have decided that the way to gain (or save) votes from Sanders is by resorting to half-truths and innuendo. I discuss one example below, but the whole pre-debate dust-up reflects very poorly on her, not least because it was done in ways that leave scars over trivial issues. Meanwhile Biden seems to be getting a free pass as he's blundering along.

I haven't been bothered much by the so-called moderates' plans, because no matter who wins it's effectively the right-most half of the party in Congress that will be passing laws and setting policy. But it does bother me that they've spent so much time trashing Medicare for All. In don't have a problem advocating half-measures to ameliorate the present system here and there, and figure that as a practical matter that's how reform will have to happen, but even the most reticent Democrat should realize that single-payer would be a better solution, and is a necessary goal. They really should acknowledge that, even if they doubt its practicality. But instead they're attacking it on grounds of costs and/or choice, which is simply ignorant.

I'm also rather sick of the "electability" issue, not least because I'm convinced that no one really understands the matter, because it's unprovable (except too late), and because it invites strong opinions based on nothing more than gut instincts. Still, I write about it several places below. Clearly, I have my own opinions on the matter, but can offer no more proof for them than you can for yours. I only wish to add here that one more thing I believe is that the election will turn not on whether the Democrats nominate one candidate or another but on whether Americans are so sick and tired of Trump they'll vote for any Democrat to spare themselves. And in that case, why not pick the better Democrat?


Some scattered links this week:

  • Damian Carrington: Ocean temperatures hit record high as rate of heating accelerates. Also wrote: Who do record ocean temperatures matter?

  • Jonathan Chait:

  • Aida Chávez: Bernie Sanders's lonely 2017 battle to stop Iran sanctions and save the nuclear deal.

  • Timothy Egan: Trump's evil is contagious: "The president has shown us exactly what happens when good people do nothing."

  • Lisa Friedman/Claire O'Neill: Who controls Trump's environmental policy?: "Among 20 of the most powerful people in government environment jobs, most have ties to the fossil fuel industry or have fought against the regulations they are now supposed to enforce." Names, faces, resumes. E.g., David Dunlap, Deputy head of science policy at EPA, former chemicals expert for Koch Industries, earlier VP of the Chlorine Institute (representing producers and distributors); currently oversees EPA's pollution and toxic chemical research.

  • Dan Froomkin:, in a series called Press Watch:

  • Masha Gessen: The willful ambiguity of Putin's latest power grab.

  • Anand Giridharadas: Why do Trump supporters support Trump? Book review of Michael Lind: The New Class War: Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite. A fairly critical one, as the reviewer thinks Lind is a bit gullible when he attributes economic fears to Trump voters.

  • Maya Goodfellow: Yes, the UK media's coverage of Meghan Markle really is racist. We just finished streaming this season of The Crown, which reaffirmed our understanding that the British monarchy is a preposterous institution inhabited by ridiculous people. The series reached the 25-year mark in Elizabeth II's reign, finding her lamenting the steady decline of the nation and the decay of its imperial pretensions, to which we could only add that the next 25 (actually 40 now) years would be even worse for British pretensions of grandeur. Few things interest me less than the bickerings of the Windsors, or surprise me less than that the few who still cling to monarchist fantasies would resort to racism when pushed into a corner. Indeed, back in the 1990s when I worked for a while in England, I was repeatedly struck by the casual racism of white Brits (even those quick to frown on American racism).

  • Amy Goodman: Phyllis Bennis on Dem debate: Support for combat troop withdrawal is not enough to stop endless wars. Bennis noted:

    You know, I think one of the things that was important to see last night was that all of the Democratic candidates, including the right wing of the group, as well as the progressives, as well as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were vying with each other essentially to see who could be more critical of the Iraq War. They all have said that at various points, but last night it was very overt that this was a critical point of unity for these candidates. Now, whether that says much about the prospects for the Democratic Party is not so clear, but I thought that was an important advance, that there's a recognition of where the entire base of half this country is, which is strongly against wars.

  • David Graeber: The center blows itself up: Care and spite in the 'Brexit election'.

  • Sean Illing: "Flood the zone with shit": How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy: "The impeachment trial probably won't change any minds. Here's why." Not his usual interview piece (although he cites interviews along the way). Makes many important points; for example:

    As Joshua Green, who wrote a biography of Bannon, explained, Bannon's lesson from the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s was that to shape the narrative, a story had to move beyond the right-wing echo chamber and into the mainstream media. That's exactly what happened with the now-debunked Uranium One story that dogged Clinton from the beginning of her campaign -- a story Bannon fed to the Times, knowing that the supposedly liberal paper would run with it because that's what mainstream media news organizations do.

    In this case, Bannon flooded the zone with a ridiculous story not necessarily to persuade the public that it was true (although surely plenty of people bought into it) but to create a cloud of corruption around Clinton. And the mainstream press, merely by reporting a story the way it always has, helped create that cloud.

    You see this dynamic at work daily on cable news. Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway lies. She lies a lot. Yet CNN and MSNBC have shown zero hesitation in giving her a platform to lie because they see their job as giving government officials -- even ones who lie -- a platform.

    Even if CNN or MSNBC debunk Conway's lies, the damage will be done. Fox and right-wing media will amplify her and other falsehoods; armies on social media, bot and real, will, too (@realDonaldTrump will no doubt chime in). The mainstream press will be a step behind in debunking -- and even the act of debunking will serve to amplify the lies.

  • Umair Irfan: Australia's weird weather is getting even weirder.

  • Malaika Jabali: Joe Biden is still the frontrunner but he doesn't have to be. "Biden is surviving on the myth that he's the most electable Democrat. He's not."

  • Louis Jacobson: The Democratic debates' biggest (electoral) losers, by the numbers. Elizabeth Warren usually makes well-reasoned arguments to advance carefully thought-out plans, but I found her debate point on the superior electability of women (or maybe just Amy Klobuchar and herself) to be remarkably specious and disingenuous. She said:

    I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people's winning record. So, can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women, Amy and me.

    She went on to add that she was "the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years." The time limit was especially critical there, as Bernie Sanders defeated an incumbent Republican to win his House seat in November 1990 -- 30 years ago, if you do some rounding up. The time limit also excluded Joe Biden from comparison, as his first Senate win (defeating Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs), was in 1972, 48 years ago. One could also point out that Warren's win over "Republican incumbent" Scott Brown in 2012 wasn't really an upset: Brown had freakishly won a low turnout special election[1] in 2010 in a heavily Democratic state -- the only one that had rejected Reagan in 1984, one that hadn't elected a Republican to the Senate since Edward Brooke (1967-79) -- which made him easy pickings in 2012.

    PolitiFact ruled that Warren's quoted statement was true, but the only way they got to 10 was by counting three "ran and lost for president" elections -- two for Biden (1988 and 2008), one for Sanders (2016). Sanders had 6 of the other 7 losses, all from early in his career, the House race in 1988 (against Peter Smith, who he beat in 1990). The other loss was Pete Buttigieg's first race, in 2010 for Indiana state treasurer, against a Republican incumbent in a solidly Republican state. One could say lots of things about this data set, but Warren's interpretation is very peculiar and self-serving -- so much so I was reminded of the classic sociology text, How to Lie With Statistics.

    If you know anything about statistics, it's that sample size and boundary conditions are critical. Comparing two women against four men (one who's never run before, the other much younger so he's only managed three races, two of them for mayor) isn't much of a sample. The 30-years limit reduces it even more, excluding a period when Biden and Sanders were undefeated. That's a lot of tinkering just to make a point which is beside the point anyway. When I go back to Warren's quote, the first thing that strikes me is that the premise is unproven ("the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people's winning record") and frankly suspect. I can think of dozens of counterexamples even within narrowly constrained contexts, but that just distracts from the larger problem: that running for president is vastly different from running for Senator or Mayor. (Biden's experience running for VP may count for something here, but not much.) Moreover, running against Trump poses unique challenges, just because he's so very different (as a campaigner, at least) from the Republicans these candidates have faced and (more often than not) beat in the past. In fact, the only data point we have viz. Trump is the 2016 presidential election, which showed that Hillary Clinton could not beat him (at least in 2016 -- and please spare me the popular vote numbers). Indeed, based on history, we cannot know what it takes to beat Donald Trump, but if you wish to pursue that inquiry, all you can really do is construct some metric of how similar each of the candidates is to Clinton. Even there, the most obvious points are likely to be misleading: Clinton is a woman, and had a long career as a Washington insider cozy to business interests (like, well, I hardly need to attach names here). On the other hand, Trump today isn't the same as Trump in 2016. Still, there is some data on this question, not perfect, but better than the mental gymnastics Warren is offering: X-vs-Trump polls, which pretty consistently show Biden and/or Sanders as the strongest head-to-head anti-Trump candidates. Maybe they could falter under the intense heat of a Trump assault. Maybe some other candidate, once they become better known, could do as well. But at least that polling is based on real, relevant data -- a far cry from Warren's ridiculous debate argument.

    [1]: Brown got 51.9% of 2,229,039 votes in 2010; in 2012, with Obama at the head of the ticket, Warren got 53.7% of 3,154,394 votes, so turnout in the special election was only 70.6% of what it was in the regular election. Aside from the turnout difference, Obama/Biden carried Massachusetts in 2012 with 60.7%, leading Warren by 7 points -- one could say she coasted in on their coattails. Warren did raise her margin in 2018, to 60.4%, a bit better than Clinton's 60.0% in 2016.

  • Sarah Jones:

  • Ed Kilgore: No Senator is less popular in their own state than Susan Collins: Yeah, but when she loses in 2020, she'll never have to go there again. She can hang her shingle out as a lobbyist and start collecting the delayed gratuities she is owed for selling out her constituents and what few morals she ever seemed to profess.

  • Catherine Kim: New evidence shows a Nunes aide in close conversation with Parnas.

  • Jen Kirby: Trump signed a "phase one" trade deal with China. Here's what's in it -- and what's not.

  • Ezra Klein: The case for Elizabeth Warren: Second in Vox's slow release of "best-case" arguments for presidential candidates, following Matthew Yglesias on Bernie Sanders.

  • Eric Levitz:

    • Joe Biden's agreeable, terrific, very good, not at all bad week.

      But, by all appearances, the fact that Biden is no longer capable of speaking in proper English sentences will be no impediment to his political success -- in the Democratic primary, anyway.

    • Bernie isn't trying to start a class war. The rich are trying to finish one.

    • Trump tax cuts gave $18 billion bonus to big banks in 2019.

    • Bernie Sanders' foreign policy is too evidence-based for the Beltway's taste.

      The fundamental cause of all this rabid irrationality is simple: America's foreign-policy consensus is forged by domestic political pressures, not the dictates of reason. Saudi Arabia's oil reserves may no longer be indispensable to the U.S. economy, but its patronage remains indispensable to many a D.C. foreign-policy professional. Israel may no longer be a fledgling nation-state in need of subsidization, but it still commands the reflexive sympathy of a significant segment of the U.S. electorate. Terrorism may not actually be a top-tier threat to Americans' public safety, but terrorist attacks generate more media coverage than fatal car accidents or deaths from air pollution, and thus, are a greater political liability than other sources of mass death. And the Pentagon may have spent much of the past two decades destabilizing the Middle East and green-lighting spectacularly exorbitant and ill-conceived weapons systems, but the military remains one of America's only trusted institutions, and its contracts supply a broad cross section of capital with easy profits, and a broad cross section of American workers with steady jobs.

    • 5 takeaways from the Democratic debate in Iowa:"

      1. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren's friendship has seen better days.
      2. In hindsight, Joe Biden probably shouldn't have voted for the Iraq War.
      3. Tom Steyer wants you to know that he will put his children's future above "marginal improvements for working people." [This, by the way, is an unfair and misleading dig at Steyer for opposing USMCA. Given that Steyer is famous as a billionaire, you might think "his children's future" has something to with the estate tax, but (like Sanders) he is rejecting USMCA for its failure to make any positive step toward limiting climate change.]
      4. Amy Klobuchar made one-half of a very good point. [But only as part of "an argument against tuition-free public college."]
      5. Iowans' fetishization of politeness (and/or, the Democratic field's political cowardice) is a huge gift to Biden.
  • Ian Millhiser:

  • Jim Naureckas/Julie Hollar: The big loser in the Iowa debate? CNN's reputation.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Lev Parnas spins wild tales of Trumpian corruption -- and we know most of them are true.

  • Daniel Politi: Trump targets Michelle Obama's signature school nutrition guidelines on her birthday.

  • Andrew Prokop: Lev Parnas's dramatic new claims about Trump and Ukraine, explained.

  • Matthew Rozsa: One-term presidents: Will Donald Trump end up on this ignominious list? Various things I'd qibble with, starting with "the list starts out well" -- I'd agree that John Adams and John Quincy Adams were great Americans with mostly distinguished service careers, but the former's Alien and Sedition Acts were one of the most serious assaults ever on democracy, and his lame duck period was such a disgrace that Trump will be hard-pressed to top -- and his decision to omit one-termers who didn't run for a second, like the lamentable John Buchanan. But this dovetails nicely with one of my pet theories: that American history can be divided into eras, each starting with a major two-term president (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and, sad to say, Reagan) and each ending with a one-term disaster (Adams, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter, Trump?). I can't go into detail here, but will note that each of these eras ended in profound partisan divides, based on real (or imagined) crises in faith in hitherto prevailing orthodoxies. That's certainly the case today. The Reagan-to-Trump era is anomalous in its drive to ever greater levels of inequality, corruption, and injustice, which have found their apotheosis in Trump.

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • William Saletan: Trump is a remorseless advocate of crimes against humanity.

  • Jon Schwarz: Key architect of 2003 Iraq War is now a key architect of Trump Iran policy: Remember David Wurmser? He was a major author of the 1996 neocon bible A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (which advocated "pre-emptive strikes against Iran and Syria"), author of the 1999 book Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, worked for VP Dick Cheney, helped "stovepipe" intelligence in the build-up to the Iraq War. After Bush, he cooled his heels in the employ of right-wing think tanks, then landed a Trump administration job thanks to John Bolton.

  • Dylan Scott: The Netherlands has universal health insurance -- and it's all private: Sure, you can make that work. Their system is much like Obamacare, with an individual mandate and "a strongly regulated market," so "more than 99 percent" are covered, insurance companies have few options to rip off their customers. Also "almost every hospital is a nonprofit," and subject to government-imposed cost constraints. None of this proves that the Dutch system is better than other systems with single-payer insurance, but that it would be an improvement over America's insane system. TR Reid wrote an eye-opening book on health care systems around the world, showing there are lots of workable systems with various wrinkles: The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009). I don't recall much from Netherlands there, but he did especially focus on Taiwan and Switzerland, because they were relative late-adopters, and their systems were implemented by right-of-center governments. The Swiss system basically kept everything private, but imposed strict profit limits. Until then, Switzerland had the second highest health care costs in the world (after the US, which it had tracked closely). Afterwards, Swiss costs held flat -- still the second most expensive, but trailing the US by a growing gap. So, sure, the Swiss came up with a better system than they had (or we have now), but one that's still much more expensive, with slightly worse results, than countries like France and Japan, which seem to have found a better balance between cost and care. [PS: For another data point, see Melissa Healy: US health system costs four times more to run than Canada's single-payer system.]

  • Tamsin Shaw: William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of our Time. You know, the eminent Nazi jurist and political theoretician.

  • Emily Shugerman: Trump just hired Jeffrey Epstein's lawyers: Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr -- I'm not even sure Epstein was the low point of either legal career (even if we don't count Trump yet). Many more articles point this out. One that seems to actually be onto something is: Laura Ingraham praises Trump for putting together a legal team straight from "one of our legal panels".

  • Andrew Sullivan: Is there a way to acknowledge America's progress? He makes a fairly substantial list of things that do mark progress (certainly compared to when I was growing up), yet, as he's very aware, there's Trump, his cabal of Republicans, and the moneyed forces that feed and feast on his and their corruption. If those who oppose such trends tend to overstate the peril of the moment, it's because we see future peril so very clearly. Still, I reckon those who can't (or won't) see anything troublesome at all will find the hyperbole disconcerting, and I don't know what to do about that, beyond trying to remain calm and reasoned. This piece is followed by "But can they beat Trump?": where Sullivan tries to weigh the Democratic field purely on electability consideration. He's most withering on Warren, and most sympathetic to Biden, but gives Sanders the edge in the end. His list of positives is worth reading:

    I have to say he's grown on me as a potential Trump-beater. He seems more in command of facts than Biden, more commanding in general than Buttigieg or Klobuchar, and far warmer than Elizabeth Warren. He's a broken clock, but the message he has already stuck with for decades might be finding its moment. There's something clarifying about having someone with a consistent perspective on inequality take on a president who has only exacerbated it. He could expose, in a gruff Brooklyn accent, the phony populism, and naked elitism of Trump. He could appeal to the working-class voters the Democrats have lost. He could sincerely point out how Trump has given massive sums of public money to the banks, leaving crumbs for the middle class. And people might believe him.

    On the other hand, he argues that "the oppo research the GOP throws at him could be brutal," and gives examples that impress me very little. Most of them are sheer red-baiting, and I have to wonder how effective that ploy still is. Sure, many liberals of my generation and earlier find this very scary, but well after the Cold War such charges have lost much of their tangible fear -- even those liberals who still hate Russia must realize that the problem there now is oligarchs like Trump, not Bolshevik revolutionaries. Sure, Trump attacking Bernie is going to be nasty and brutish, but I expect it will be less effective than Trump attacking Biden as a crooked throwback to the Washington swamp of the Clintons and Obama -- charges that Bernie is uniquely safe from. There's also a third piece here, "Of royalty, choice, and duty," about you-know-what.

  • Chance Swaim/Jonathan Shorman: Kansas energy company abandons plans for $2.2 billion coal power plant. This is a pretty big victory for envrionment-conscious Kansans, but the irony is that it comes at a point when virtually all political obstacles against been overcome. In the end, the company decided that coal-fired electricity is simply a bad investment. Kansans have followed this story for more than a decade, at least since Gov. Kathleen Sebelius halted development on the plant expansion. After she left to join Obama's cabinet, her successor reversed course, and Gov. Sam Brownback was a big booster, but Obama's EPA became an obstacle. Under Trump, all the political stars have aligned to promote coal, but the economics have shifted so much that coal use is declining all across the nation. Despite frantic efforts by the Kochs and Trump, wind power has become a major source of electricity in Kansas (fossil fuels account for less than half of Kansas electricity -- nuclear also helps out there). And thanks to Obama's support for fracking, natural gas has also become cheaper relative to coal. So it looks like we've lucked out, and been spared from the worst effects of having so corrupt a political system in Topeka and Washington. For that matter, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. has lucked out too, being saved from such a bad investment.

  • Matt Taibbi: CNN's debate performance was villainous and shameful: "The 24-hour network combines a naked political hit with a cynical ploy for ratings."

  • Peter Wade:

  • Alex Ward:

  • Libby Watson: Let them fight!: "A great nation deserves a raucous and argumentative primary, not a fake demonstration of unity." Choice line here: "If Warren saw this as a way to innocuously smarm her way to the top . . ."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Joe Biden skates by again. Notes that none of the other candidates are really attacking Biden, who remains the front-runner:

    This pattern of behavior raises, to me, a real worry about a potential Biden presidency. Not that his talk of a post-election Republican Party "epiphany" is unrealistic -- every candidate in the field is offering unrealistic plans for change -- but that he has a taste for signing on to bad bargains. There's potential for a critique of Biden that isn't just about nitpicking the past or arguing about how ambitious Democrats should be in their legislative proposals, but about whether Biden would adequately hold the line when going toe-to-toe with congressional Republicans.

  • Karen Zraick: Jet crash in Iran has eerie historical parallel: You mean in 1988, when the US "accidentally" shot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290 people? Doesn't excuse this time, nor does this time excuse that time. Both were unintended consequences of deliberate decisions to engage in supposedly limited hostilities. They reflect the fact that the people who made those decisions are unable to foresee where their acts will take them and/or simply do not care. And while it's difficult to weigh relative culpability, the fact that the US alone sent its forces half-way around the world to screw up must count for something. For more examples, see Ron DePasquale: Civilian planes shot down: A grim history.

Monday, January 13, 2020


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32614 [32575] rated (+39), 229 [230] unrated (+0).

I've finally heard that NPR's Jazz Critics Poll will be published tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 10 AM. I've been given advance URLs for the poll results and for the accompanying essay by Francis Davis.

No time to write much more. December Streamnotes still not indexed. EOY Aggregate still a work in progress. My own EOY lists for Jazz and Non-Jazz still growing. Did play a couple of 2020 releases last week. Going back and forth between the 2020 and 2019 tracking files reminds me of the cartoon depictions of the decrepit old man representing the old year giving way to the new year baby. Every year we get older, but 2019 hurt more than most.


New records reviewed this week:

Franck Amsallem: Gotham Goodbye (2018 [2019], Jazz & People): French pianist, born in Algeria in 1961, grew up in Nice, moved to New York in 1986, back to France in 2001. Has a dozen albums since 1990, this a lush postbop quartet with Irving Acao most impressive on tenor sax. B+(***)

John Bailey: Can You Imagine? (2019 [2020], Freedom Road): Trumpet player, wrote something he calls "President Gillespie Suite," but doesn't provide any words to advance his cause. Only real drawback I see is that he's dead, but late in life he filled admirers with the sort of awe presidents once enjoyed (well, at least before Nixon). Bailey gets some nice trumpet in here, but pretty regularly gets smoked by his saxophonist, Stacy Dillard. B+(**) [cd] [01-20]

Lea Bertucci: Resonant Field (2017 [2019], NNA Tapes): Composer/sound artist, based in New York, main instrument is alto sax, but more important here is a large grain silo which frames everything in echo and resonance. B+(*)

Black to Comm: Seven Horses for Seven Kings (2019, Thrill Jockey): Marc Richter, based in Hamburg, Germany, close to a dozen albums since 2006, one namechecking Coldplay, Elvis & John Cage (2011). Leftfield electronica: dense, harsh, menacing. B

Boy Harsher: Careful (2019, Nude Club): Electropop duo, beats reminiscent of the new wave 1980s (OMD, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire) but more claustrophobic, something they're calling darkwave. Haven't deciphered many words, but the beat goes on and on and on. A-

Bremer/McCoy: Utopia (2019, Luaka Bop): Danish duo, Jonathan Bremer plays bass, Morten McCoy piano, fourth album together. Easy listening: pretty, soothing, nothing more. B

Diabel Cissokho: Rhythm of the Griot (2019, Kafou Music): Kora master from Senegal, "part of the great line of Cissokho griots," fifth album. I find it a bit awkward. B+(**)

Theo Croker: Star People Nation (2019, Sony Masterworks): Trumpet player, born in Florida, spent seven years in China before landing in Los Angeles. Second album was In the Tradition for Arbors, but since 2014 he's moved toward hip-hop fusion, with mixed results. Rarely a plus when someone sings. B

Czarface: The Odd Czar Against Us (2019, Silver Age): Wu-Tang rapper Inspectah Deck, with the self-sufficient duo 7L & Esoteric, eighth album together since 2013, on their own again after meet-ups with MF Doom and Ghostface Killah. Mad comic cover art, songs that are dynamic and funny, often built on killer riffs. A-

Czarface: A Double Dose of Danger (2019, Silver Age, EP): Bears the group credit, but just a 10-cut, 28:26 instrumental album that fell through the cracks, released just after the group's Ghostface session. B+(*)

Jeff Davis: The Fastness (2019, Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, based in New York, originally from Colorado, formerly married to pianist Kris Davis. Sixth album since 2010, With tenor/soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby, reminding me of his scene-stealing form on the early Kris Davis Quartet records, plus Russ Lossing (keyboards), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), and Eivind Opsvik (bass). B+(***)

Bertrand Denzler/Dominic Lash: Pivot (2019, Spoonhunt): Tenor sax and bass duo. One 31:21 piece, not much to it, drone-like. B- [bc]

Mr Eazi: Life Is Eazi, Vol. 2: Lagos to London (2018, Banku Music): Nigerian singer, at least born there, but started in Ghana, titling his previous one Life Is Eazi, Vol. 1: Accra to Lagos. Beats bounce more like reggae than highlife, slips up once in a while, but much of this is very attractive. B+(***)

Ekiti Sound: Abeg No Vex (2019, Crammed Discs): Nigerian producer Leke Awayinka, first album, raps some over electro-beats. Lots of ideas here, most work, some don't. B+(**)

Go: Organic Orchestra & Brooklyn Raga Massive: Ragmala: A Garland of Ragas (2018 [2019], Meta): Big project, "composed and improvisationally conducted" by percussionist Adam Rudolph, who concludes: "This album feels like the culmination of everything I've been reaching for throughout my career." Massive indeed, with forty musicians credited. B+(***)

Laurence Hobgood: Tesseterra (2019, Ubuntu Music): Pianist, from North Carolina, musical director for Kurt Elling, several albums since 2000. Piano trio plus string quartet ETHEL, some tricky covers ("Wichita Lineman," "Blackbird," Ravel, Debussy, Sting), doesn't seem promising but somehow works. B+(**)

Christopher Hollyday & Telepathy: Dialogue (2019 [2020], Jazzbeat Productions): Alto saxophonist, from Connecticut, recorded four albums 1989-93 then took a long break after his label folded. Returns here with a spry hard bop quintet. B+(**) [cd] [01-17]

Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien (2019, Merge): British electropop group, formed by producers with the idea of fusing elements from 1990s drum & bass with 1980s Afrobeat. They then recruited London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ghanaian guitarist Alfred Bannerman, and various horns and percussionists. Third album, true to formula. B+(**)

Michael Janisch: Worlds Collide (2019, Whirlwind): Bassist, from Wisconsin, studied in Boston, moved to New York, then to London. Large postbop group with trumpet (Jason Palmer), two saxes (George Crowley and John O'Gallagher), guitar (Rez Abbasi), keyboards (John Escreet), and two drummers, the leader playing electric as well as acoustic bass. Up for fusion, but fancier. B+(**)

Lauren Jenkins: No Saint (2019, Big Machine): Country singer-songwriter, from Texas, first album (after an EP), knows her tropes, has a voice and sounds plenty authentic. B+(**)

Henry Kaiser/Anthony Pirog/Jeff Sipe/Tracy Silverman/Andy West: Five Times Surprise (2018 [2019], Cuneiform): Two guitarists, six-string electric violin, drums, six-string bass. B+(**) [dl]

Egil Kalman & Fredrik Rasten: Weaving a Fabric of Winds (2019, Shhpuma): Swedish bassist, plays modular synthesizer here, in two long duets with the guitarist, based in Oslo and Berlin. Guitar slowly picks, against subtle background shading. B

Sarathy Korwar: More Arriving (2019, The Leaf Label): Drummer, born in US, grew up in India, based in London but recorded some of this in Mumbai. In London he fits in with an expansive jazz scene, but this sounds more like hip-hop, especially with an array of rappers from India, but also note some fine sax leads, and lots of exotic percussion. A-

Kim Lenz: Slowly Speeding (2019, Blue Star): Rockabilly singer, recorded four albums as Kim Lenz & the (or Her) Jaguars. Slows it down here, but keeps the grit and the smoldering heat. B+(**)

Christian Lillinger: Open Form for Society (2018 [2019], Plaist Music): German drummer, has appeared -- rarely first but often with his name on the banner -- in quite a few albums since 2009, and pulls much of his circle together tight: three pianists, two mallet players, two bass players, cello, and scattered electronics. Many rough edges, emphasis on percussion, although the piano leads are striking. B+(***)

Brian Lynch Big Band: The Omni-American Book Club: My Journey Through Literature in Music (2019, Hollistic MusicWorks): Trumpet player from Wisconsin, started out as a mainstream guy, playing hard bop with Horace Silver and Art Blakey, got a taste for big bands with Toshiko Akiyoshi, and most importantly for Latin music with Eddie Palmieri, turning into a specialist. All that is evident here. Sure, there are tics that turn me off, but he invariably bounces back with something wondrous. Less evident from the music is his reading list, which pairs two authors for each of nine songs -- some examples: David Levering Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois, Ned Sublette and Eric Hobsbawm, Naomi Klein and Mike Davis, Amiri Baraka and A.B. Spellman. A-

Brad Mehldau: Finding Gabriel (2017-18 [2019], Nonesuch): Pianist, has mostly done trios since 1993, opts for the kitchen sink this time, with scattered horns and strings, blustery swells of sound, and voices on most songs. It escapes being awful -- indeed, has its moments, especially the saxophones (2 cuts). B

Microtub: Chronic Shift (2018 [2019], Bohemian Drips): "A trio of tuba players focusing on microtonality": fourth release, with Robin Hayward, Martin Taxt, and Peder Simonsen. Two pieces, barely tops 30 minutes. While the ambience is pleasing enough, it's unlikely you'd identify this as tuba music, let alone three instruments. B

J. Pavone String Ensemble: Brick and Mortar (2019, Birdwatcher): Jessica Pavone, plays viola here, violin elsewhere; studied with Anthony Braxton, teaming up with Mary Halvorson on several projects. Ensemble here has two violins and two violas, a fairly narrow range, with harsh tones that rattle my nerves. B

The Regrettes: How Do You Love? (2019, Warner Brothers): Los Angeles garage pop band, led by Lydia Night, second album, brash and catchy. B+(***)

Mark Ronson: Late Night Feelings (2019, RCA): Pop producer, I guess, born in England, raised in New York, also lives in Los Angeles. Records feature guest singers: Miley Cyrus and Angel Olsen the most famous, Yebba and Lykke Li get the most work. The stars are the most distinctive, which means they seem the most out of place. B+(*)

Gary Smulyan & Ralph Moore Quintet: Bird's Eye Encounter! (2018 [2019], Fresh Sound): Two saxophonists, baritone and tenor, recorded live in Basel, Switzerland, backed by Olivier Hutman (piano), Stephan Kurmann (bass), and Bernd Reiter (drums). Moore was one of my favorite mainstream saxmen in the 1990s, but seems to have vanished after 1996. He's less distinctive here than Smulyan, as they romp through a nice set of hard bop covers. B+(**)

Jim Snidero: Project-K (2019 [2020], Savant): Alto saxophonist, seems to have passed through a portal and found himself in a Dave Douglas project. Aside from the trumpeter, the band includes Orrin Evans (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums), and Do Yeon Kim (gayaguem, a Korean zither). Feels fractured, or quirky, with some potential upside. B+(***) [cd] [01-24]

Earl Sweatshirt: Feet of Clay (2019, Tan Cressida/Warner, EP): Odd Future rapper, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, born in Chicago, based in Los Angeles, father a South African poet and political activist. Short (7 songs, 15:26), cryptic. Rhythm swims upstream. Maybe life's like that? B+(*)

Tuba Skinny: Some Kind-a-Shake (2018 [2019], self-released): New Orleans trad jazz band, members started busking around 2005, cut their eponymous debut in 2009, and have released an album most years since. Todd Burdick's sousaphone looms large. Several vocals. B+(***)

William Tyler: Goes West (2019, Merge): Guitarist, considered folk (not unlike John Fahey) although not clear to me that his primitivism runs very deep. Maybe because, given the choice, he so often opts for lush. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Endless Boogie: Vol. I, II (2005 [2019], No Quarter, 2CD): Rock jam band from Brooklyn, name from a John Lee Hooker album, formed eight years before they committed to wax two 3-song LPs (second side of each is a single 25-minute piece). Vocals here and there, but are secondary to the two-guitar grind, which is muscular enough to hold up for 25-minute runs. A-

Martial Solal: And His Orchestra: 1956-1962 (1956-62 [2019], Fresh Sound): French pianist, emerged as a major figure in the early 1950s, presented here in large groups from nine to eighteen pieces. Some of France's top players, plus US refugees like Lucky Thompson and Kenny Clarke, but the piano is what you focus on. B+(**)

Horace Tapscott With the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra: Flight 17 (1978 [2019], Nimbus/Outernational): First record from the pianist's Los Angeles community organizing project, originally listing him as "conductor." Brilliant in spots, the piano (of course), also the drums. [Played 2014 reissue from Nimbus West bandcamp.] B+(***) [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Delfeayo Marsalis Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Jazz Party (Troubadour Jass) [02-07]
  • John Vanore: Primary Colors (Acoustical Concepts) [02-07]

Saturday, January 12, 2019


Weekend Roundup

As actual voting is just around the corner, I've started to stray from my no-campaign pledge. Part of this is that my wife has gotten much more involved, and is regularly reporting social media posts that rile her up. She's strong for Bernie, and I've yet to find any reason to argue with her. Several pieces below argue that only X can beat Trump. For the record, I don't believe that is true. I think any of the "big four" can win -- not that there won't be momentary scares along the way. Trump has some obvious assets that he didn't have in 2016: complete support of the Republican political machine, which has been remarkably effective at getting slim majorities to vote against their interests and sanity; so much money he'll be tempted to steal most of it; and even more intense love from his base. On the other hand, he has a track record this time, and he's never registered an instant where his approval rating has topped 44%. Plus I have this suspicion that one strong force that drives elections is fear of embarrassment. Thanks to the Hillary Clinton's unique path to the nomination, that worked for Trump in 2016, but no one on the Democratic side of the aisle is remotely as embarrassing as Trump -- well, Michael Bloomberg, maybe. He's the only "major" candidate I can see Trump beating. Indeed, if he somehow manages to buy the Democratic nomination, I could see myself voting for a third party candidate. I'm not saying he would be worse than Trump, but a Democratic Party under him would never be able to right the wrongs of the last 40+ years.

One indication of the current political atmosphere is that Trump's "wag the dog" attack on Iran didn't budge public opinion in the least (except, perhaps, in favor of Bernie among the Democrats). Trump walked back his war-with-Iran threat, no doubt realizing that the US military had no desire to invade and occupy Iran, and possibly seeing that the random slaughter of scattered air attacks would merely expose him further as a careless monster. Still, he did nothing to resolve the conflict, and won't as long as his Saudi and Israeli foreign policy directors insist on hostile relations. He sorely needs a consigliere, like James Baker was to Bush Sr., someone who could follow up on his tantrums and turn them into deals (that could have been made well before). All he really needs to do to open up Iran and North Korea is to let the sanctions go first, to establish some good will, and let those countries be sucked into normalcy with mutually beneficial trade. Most other foreign policy conflicts could be solved without much more effort. And he has one advantage that no Democrat will: he won't have a psycho like Donald Trump constantly attacking him from the right, arguing that every concession he makes is a sign of weakness. The only deal he's delivered so far (USMCA) is a fair test case. It sailed through without serious objection because the only person deranged enough to derail it kept his mouth shut.

More links on Iran, war, and foreign policy:


Some scattered links this week:

-- next