An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Music: Current count 41078  rated (+31), 32  unrated (+1).
I spent most of last week thinking about, shopping for, and finally cooking up this year's birthday dinner. I've made it to 73, which is +3 from my grandfather, and -4 from my father, so it's starting to weigh heavy on my mind. Dinner was served on Friday, as several guests had schedule conflicts for Wednesday. Menu was Spanish:
I also opened up a couple cans and jars: octopus, sardines, artichoke hearts. I had bought much more for possible tapas, but ran out of time to get them prepared, or in some cases simply organized. I mixed up a batch of sangria to drink, and had my traditional coconut cake for dessert, with vanilla ice cream. (I know, reminds you of the "white cake" in Tarrantino's Django Unchained. Sometimes we can't help being who we are.)
I meant to write up notes, and will after this post. They should show up in a future notebook entry (which I've already stubbed out, so the link will work, and eventually get you the information). Facebook entry, including a plate pic, is here. A "memory" entry, with a recycled picture of last year's cake, is here. The actual cake was even uglier, and not just because it was less blindingly white. No complaints, except for the guy who was so phobic about seafood he didn't eat anything until the cake was served.
Saturday, I woke up with my vision for how the so-called Israel-Hamas War ends, so I quickly wrote it up as the "First Introduction" to my Speaking of Which. I'm reluctant to call it a proposal, because it is not remotely close to people genuinely concerned with justice for all wanted or hoped for. (I know, for sure, that my wife hates it, and nearly all of my research into the conflict owes to her passionate interest.) And I suppose my plea for someone else to pick up these ideas and run with them is partly due to my reluctance to sign my name to it.
I have, ever since my late teens, devoted myself to conjuring up utopian solutions to practical problems. Because, well, I've never pretended to be an activist. I'm just a thinker, so why constrain myself to things that other people consider possible? But I've also developed a good deal of pessimism, and that creeps in whenever I consider what's possible, as engineers must.
Instantly, when I heard the news of Oct. 7, I understood that Israel's leaders would want to destroy everything and to kill everyone in Gaza, leaving at most an escape hatch through Egypt. I knew that America's leaders would back them to the hilt, as they've long given up any capacity for independent thought, and they're every bit as committed to force as the Israelis. And I expected Israelis to take advantage of this to step up their attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and elsewhere. And all of that has happened, just as expected. Hence, my first reaction was to warn that this would be nothing less than genocide.
That, too, has been born out, though the point of using the word was to make people conscious of the full danger (and I was far from the only one to raise this alarm). I also intuited how things would play out over time. I can't really explain this, but through all my reading, and a fair number of conversations, I've developed this really complex psychological model of most of the people involved. I intuited that a great many Palestinians would stick in Gaza, even daring Israel to kill them. I doubted that Egypt would have welcomed them anyway, or could have dealt with them (as Israel imagined they could).
I also suspected that a great many Israelis, even ones who have clearly demonstrated their racism and militarism, would grow weary of the killing, and embarrassed by their own inhumanity. (One book I kept thinking back to was Richard Rhodes' Masters of Death, where he explained that the Nazis, who are our archetypal example of cold-blooded killers, designed their death camp processes out of concern that killing Jews in the field was traumatizing German soldiers. While Nazis made no secret of their hatred for Jews, the enormity of the Holocaust was only possible through stealth, under cover of war.) As the killing continued, as the rubble grew, some sense of need to limit the war would grow, and Israel's leaders, even as blinded as they are, will eventually need some escape from their own handiwork.
What's become more and more clear is that Israel can't hide their slaughter in Gaza. The world can, and will, see it, and will not react kindly to the people responsible. And sure, Hamas will get some share of the blame -- they were uniquely responsible for one day, out of more than three weeks now -- but the fact that the slaughter continues, that it has turned into genocide, is solely the dictate of Netanyahu and his mob, not that you should spare those who have aided, abetted, propagandized, and even championed the massacre (which from where I stand mostly look like Americans).
My "vision" is just a way to clean up a particularly sore part of a larger, deeper, and still potentially deadly mess. There are lots of things that should happen afterwards. But what makes it practical now is that the people who are immediately responsible don't have to change character. All they have to do is back off, and let others tend to the wounds. Is that really too much to ask?
Apologies to those of you who just want the latest music dope, but you must know how to scroll past my rants by now. I had damn near nothing, other than the Clifford Ocheltree picks down in the Old Music section, before I started writing Speaking of Which on Saturday. But I worked through a steady stream of records once I started writing, so with the extra day came up with a semi-normal week. Among the high B+, National and Angelica Sanchez tempted me to replays, but they didn't quite manage to move the needle.
This coming week, I will put up a website for the 18th Annual Francis Davis Critics Poll, and I will start communicating with a few possible voters, trying to gauge interest and identify others who should vote with us. The voters from last year are listed here. They will all be invited back, but please let me know if there are any others you read and find useful. I'd like to see more international critics, although those are particularly hard for me to judge. I'm also tempted to slip in a few more jazz-knowledgeable rock critics -- where I figure the minimal qualification is listen to 200+ jazz albums per year (used to be expensive, but easy enough with streaming) and write about at least 5-10 (or more if you, like me, write real short). I'd welcome suggestions from publicists and musicians, but probably not for yourself or each other. (Not an absolute rule, as we've had the odd exception from time to time.)
I'm also toying with the idea of forming an advisory board, if you really want to get deep into the weeds. There's a fair chance I won't be doing this beyond this year, so this might be a chance to eventually step up.
End of October, so I still need to do the indexing on the archive file. It's also time to reorganize my 2023 list into separate jazz and non-jazz lists. I've already started expanding my tracking file so I'll be ready to look up jazz albums when ballots start to flow in. And I will probably set up my usual EOY aggregate files, as they build on the tracking file, and have long been one of my favorite wastes of time.
New records reviewed this week:
Affinity Trio [Eric Jacobson/Pamela York/Clay Schaub]: Hindsight (2022 , Origin): Trumpet, piano, bass; all three write pieces, joined by covers from Cedar Walton (title piece), Charlie Parker (two), "Tin Tin Deo," and "The End of a Love Affair." B+(***) [cd]
Constantine Alexander: Firetet (2023, self-released): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, from Chicago, parents Greek, first album (at least first I can find), basically a hard bop quintet, in which the trumpet stands out. B+(**) [cd]
Bark: Loud (2023, Dial Back Sound): Husband-wife duo, Tim Lee (bass iv guitar) and Susan Bauer Lee (drums), a subset of the Tim Lee 3, both write and sing, several albums, get some help here. B+(**) [bc]
Corook: Serious Person (Part 2) (2023, Atlantic, EP): Singer-songwriter Corinne Savage, apologies for misspelling their name in previous reviews (identity "queer and non-binary," per Wikipedia). Five songs, 14:20. Second sounds like the Moldy Peaches merged into a single person. First and fourth trace the growth of "a pretty cool person." A- [sp]
Paul Dunmall/Olie Brice: The Laughing Stone (2021 , Confront): Duo, saxophone (tenor, alto, clarinet, flute, tenor again) and bass. Nicely balanced. B+(***) [bc]
The Front Bottoms: You Are Who You Hang Out With (2023, Fueled by Ramen): Hooky indie rock band from New Jersey, formed in 2007 by Brian Sella (guitar/vocals) and Mathew Uychich (drums) with various "touring members" coming and going. Eighth album. B+(*) [sp]
Grrrl Gang: Spunky! (2023, Big Romantic): Punkish pop trio from Indonesia, the only female singer Angeeta Sentana, third album, sung in English. Short (10 songs, 24:53), or you could say snappy. B+(*) [sp]
Darius Jones: Fluxkit Vancouver (Its Suite but Sacred) (2022 , We Jazz): Alto saxophonist, established his credentials as an Ayler heir in 2009, had a tendency to go overboard, but keeps that in control here, working with four Vancouver-based strings -- Jesse and Josh Zubot on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, James Meger on bass -- with Gerald Cleaver on drums. Preferred typography for the title is "fLuXkit," and they're doing something unreproducible to "its" -- just some of the many things I don't quite get here, but I can dig the long bass solo just fine, and even more so what comes out of it. A- [sp]
Sunny Kim/Vardan Ovsepian/Ben Monder: Liminal Silence (2023, Earshift Music): South Korean vocalist, debut 2004 (or 2012), appeared on a 2008 Roswell Rudd album which I wasn't wild about. Here backed with piano and guitar. Slow, arch, music has some points, but I find this sort of classical diva thing hard to take. C+ [cd] [11-10]
Frank Kohl: Pacific (2022 , OA2): Guitarist, Discogs has very little but a couple side-credits from 1969, and picture is not at odds with that. I have one previous album in my database. This is solo, not as fancy as the guitarists name-checked in the hype sheet, but really hit the spot on a cold and miserable Sunday morning. B+(***) [cd]
Sofia Kourtesis: Madres (2023, Ninja Tune): DJ/producer from Peru, based in Berlin, first album but active since 2014 (maybe 2001). B+(**) [sp]
Chien Chien Lu: Built in System: Live in New York (2023, Giant Step Arts): Vibraphonist, from Taiwan, has a previous (self-released) album, quartet here with Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Richie Goods (bass), and Allan Mednard (drums). Very nice. B+(***) [sp]
Vic Mensa: Victor (2023, Roc Nation): Chicago rapper Victor Kwesi Mensah, father from Ghana, officially his second studio album, has a bunch of EPs (one in 2010, rest from 2016). Much of this seems pretty sharp, but too many odd moments that flow sideways, if at all. B+(*) [sp]
The National: Laugh Track (2023, 4AD): Indie band led by singer-songwriter Matt Berninger, with most of the music from brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, with two more brothers (Scott and Bryan Devendorf) on bass and drums. Tenth album, second this year. A very steady group I can't quite put my finger on. B+(***) [sp]
No-No Boy: Empire Electric (2023, Smithsonian Folkways): Julian Saporiti, singer-songwriter from Nashville, parents Vietnamese, Ph.D in American Studies, based in Portland, alias taken from a 1957 novel about a Japanese-American going home to Seattle after two years in an internment camp. Previous albums 1942 and 1975, both remarkable. His music is subtle and nuanced -- even more so than the otherwise similar Sufjan Stevens -- so the stories are critical, and for now a bit beyond my grasp. B+(***) [sp]
Alogte Oho & His Sounds of Joy: O Yinne! (2023, Philophon): Frafra gospel group from northern Ghana, the leader flanked by a chorus of two women and backed by an old-fashioned highlife band, the gospel in another language, but the joy is universal. B+(***) [sp]
Graham Parker & the Goldtops: Last Chance to Learn the Twist (2023, Big Stir): British pub rock breakout star in 1976, first two records were really great, but my interest waned after 1979's Squeezing Out Sparks (another good one), with a 2-CD comp on Rhino (1993) confirming he had lost it from 1980 on. But he never stopped, with only two breaks of more than three years (1996-2001, 2018-or-2019-2023). I rather doubt that I missed much, but he's in good voice and surprisingly light on his feet here. B+(**) [sp]
Ratboys: The Window (2023, Topshelf): Indie band from Chicago, fifth album since 2015, principally Julia Steiner (vocals/guitar) and Dave Sagan (guitar). B+(***) [sp]
Mike Reed: The Separatist Party (2023, We Jazz/Astral Spirits): Drummer, born in Germany but long based on Chicago, with a remarkable series of albums since 2006. Marvin Tate's spoken word is arresting, and the music -- Ben LaMar Gay (cornet), Rob Frye (tenor sax/flute), Coper Crain (guitar), Dan Quinlivan (synth) -- loops sinuously, sometimes gravely. A- [sp]
The Rolling Stones: Hackney Diamonds (2023, Polydor): British group, big in the 1960s, still big in the 1970s, even now they can still cut a fine blues riff, and the singer has lost little of his commanding presence. Still, they're so used to playing arenas that they've recreated that sound in the studio, perhaps because they don't trust the new songs to sell themselves. They don't. But sound is the bigger problem. What you get from them in the arena is spectacle -- plus rehashes of once-great songs. But with their arena-in-the-studio shtick, all you really get is loud. B [sp]
The Angelica Sanchez Nonet: Nighttime Creatures (2021 , Pyroclastic): Pianist, from Phoenix, more than a dozen albums since 2003, many with free jazz saxophonists like Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin, Paul Dunmall, Ivo Perelman. Large group here, with an interesting mix of unconventional reeds (Michaël Attias, Ben Goldberg, Chris Speed), brass (Thomas Heberer, Kenny Warren), guitar (Omar Tamez), bass (John Hébert), and drums (Sam Ospovat). B+(***) [cd]
Joe Santa Maria: Echo Deep (2023, Orenda): Alto saxophonist, plays four weights here plus flutes, clarinet, and keyboards; based in Los Angeles, several previous albums. Fusion riffs, with guitar, brass and strings. B- [cd] [11-03]
Slow Pulp: Yard (2023, Anti-): Indie band from Madison, added singer Emily Massey and moved to Chicago, second album. B+(**) [sp]
Steep Canyon Rangers: Morning Shift (2023, Yep Roc): Bluegrass group from North Carolina, debut 2001, have backed banjo-picking comedian Steve Martin on three albums. B+(*) [sp]
Dan Tyminski: God Fearing Heathen (2023, 8 Track Entertainment): Bluegrass singer-songwriter, plays guitar in Alison Krauss's band, did an album in 1985, had a bit part in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, has a couple more albums. Finishes strong with a song about Occam's Razor and an ode to Jimmy Martin. A- [sp]
Pabllo Vittar: Noitada (2023, Sony Music): Brazilian drag queen Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva, reportedly the most popular one in the world. Fifth album, nine songs (plus a 0:39 "Intro"), clocks in short at 21:55. Dance pop, beats choppy like hip-hop but rather oblique, six co-credits. B+(**) [sp]
Pabllo Vittar: After (2023, Sony Music): Remix album, repeating nine titles from Noitada and adding one, most tracks significantly longer (total 36:51), with featured guests. B+(*) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Big Bill Broonzy: Big Bill's Blues (1937-41 , Epic): First-draft compilation, not of the blues songster's early work (for that, see Yazoo's The Young Big Bill Broonzy and/or Do That Guitar Rag) but moving along. Robert Santelli pegged this at 61 in his top-100 blues album list -- behind the Legacy CD Good Time Tonight (1930-40 , years overlap, but no duplicate songs, with some of his most famous appearing here). Title repeats a 1958 album, and has been used for other compilations. A- [sp]
Big Bill Broonzy/Washboard Sam: Big Bill Broonzy With Washboard Sam (1953 , Chess): First LP attributed to either, though Broonzy (Lee Bradley) has many records from 1927 on, and Sam (Robert Brown) played regularly at least back to 1932, crossing paths often enough I've seen reference to them as "half-brothers" (both have disputed birth dates and locales). Not one of Broonzy's more elegant efforts, but keeps digging down, getting that much harder. A- [sp]
The Golden Era of Rock & Roll 1954-1963 (1954-63 , Hip-O, 3CD): A sequel to the label's essential The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll 1946-1954, this kicks off with "Rock Around the Clock" and "Gee," hits its stride with "Maybellene" and "Ain't That a Shame" and "Tutti Frutti" and "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" and "Peggy Sue," winding up with "Duke of Earl" and "He's So Fine" and "Surfin' U.S.A." So, a good 80% is totally obvious, and the rest is welcome in context, including a couple originals I know better for covers ("Stranded in the Jungle" and "Susie Q"). A [cd]
Alogte Oho & His Sounds of Joy: Mam Yinne Wa (2019, Philophon): Their debut album, a trio of gospel singers from the far north of Ghana, discovered by German producer Max Weissenfeldt, rooted in highlife, and exuberantly joyful. B+(***) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: