Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Monday, July 24, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28462 [28428] rated (+34), 364 [364] unrated (+0).

Very little new jazz in the queue, so I spent most of the week looking elsewhere -- including some old music by Taj Mahal and the late Larry Coryell following their latest albums. Seems like I'm increasingly diverging from Robert Christgau, although for once I like the Peter Perrett album more than he did (but Jay-Z less). He has yet to review my other A- records this week (Alison Krauss and Waxahatchee, though I'll be surprised if he doesn't like the latter). Only three records this week came from CDs.

On the Jazz Guides project, I managed to get 73% of the way through my Vocals 2000- file, bringing the 21st Century guide to 911 pages (vs. 746 for 20th Century). That's up 84 pages in one week. Some quick envelope math based on the remaining Jazz 2000- file suggests I'll wind up with about 1450 pages about three weeks into September. With some stragglers, probably best to nudge those figures out/up a bit: probably 750 + 1500 pages shortly after October 1. Assuming, of course, I keep at it reasonably hard, as I did last week.

I should publish Streamnotes on Friday or Saturday, before the usual Weekend Roundup and Music Week posts on Sunday and Monday (the last two days of July). Currently 121 records (94 new + 4 recent comps) in the draft file.

I filled out a ballot for the 82nd Annual DownBeat Readers Poll. So should you. Tried to spend as little time as possible here. Came up with this:

  • Hall of Fame: George Russell
  • Jazz Artist: Wadada Leo Smith
  • Jazz Group: Mostly Other People Do the Killing
  • Big Band: Satoko Fujii Orchestra
  • Jazz Album (since 2016-06-01): Houston Person & Ron Carter, Chemistry (HighNote -16)
  • Historical Album (since 2016-06-01): Don Cherry/John Tchicai/Irene Schweizer/Leonn Francioli/Pierre Favre, Musical Monsters (Intakt -16)
  • Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith
  • Trombone: Steve Swell
  • Soprano Saxophone: Jane Ira Bloom
  • Alto Saxophone: François Carrier
  • Tenor Saxophone: Houston Person
  • Baritone Saxophone: Ken Vandermark
  • Clarinet: Michael Moore
  • Flute: Nicole Mitchell
  • Piano: Matthew Shipp
  • Keyboard: Craig Taborn
  • Organ: Gary Versace
  • Guitar: Mary Halvorson
  • Bass: William Parker
  • Electric Bass: Steve Swallow
  • Violin: Jenny Scheinman
  • Drums: Andrew Cyrille
  • Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz
  • Percussion: Hamid Drake
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Erik Friedlander (cello)
  • Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole
  • Female Vocalist: Catherine Russell
  • Composer: Carla Bley
  • Arranger: Steven Bernstein
  • Record Label: Intakt
  • Blues Artist or Group: Taj Mahal
  • Blues Album (since 6/1/2016): David Bromberg Band, The Blues, the Whole Blues and Nothing but the Blues (Red House)
  • Beyond Artist or Group: Parquet Courts
  • Beyond Album (since 6/1/2016): A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic/Sony)

That took about an hour, as compared to the 8-10 hours I usually spend on the Critics Ballot. I did look at my 2017 crib sheet about midway through, which encouraged me to be more consistent. I had also looked at Tim Niland's ballot, although I only wound up agreeing on 5-6 picks (for one thing, unlike Tim I didn't do any write-ins). The one thing that took some extra time was that I copied down the Album of the Year nominees, checked my grades, and added things I wasn't aware of to my 2017 music tracking file. I found that I haven't heard 40 of the nominated new jazz albums (of 126, so 31.7%). My grade breakdown was A: 1, A-: 12, ***: 17, **: 25, *: 19, B: 6, B-: 6.

I also copied down the nominated "historical albums": I've heard 9/43 (20.9%), which is probably better than in recent years (although the new album share is probably worse). I didn't bother with blues albums -- indeed, my pick there wasn't even an A- record. "Beyond" is a concept I don't find meaningful, even trying to pictures it from the magazine's jazz/blues perspective.

Recommended links:

New records rated this week:

  • 21 Savage: Issa Album (2017, Slaughter Gang/Epic): [r]: B+(n*)
  • Ryan Adams: Prisoner (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Big Boi: Boomiverse (2017, Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Benjamin Booker: Witness (2017, ATO): [r]: B+(***)
  • Larry Coryell's 11th House: Seven Secrets (2016 [2017], Savoy Jazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (2017, Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Haim: Something to Tell You (2017, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Arve Henriksen: Towards Language (2016 [2017], Rune Grammofon): [r]: B
  • J Hus: Common Sense (2017, Black Butter/Epic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jay-Z: 4:44 (2017, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jonwayne: Rap Album Two (2017, The Order Label): [r]: B+(***)
  • Alison Krauss: Windy City (2017, Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (2017, BlueLand): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nikki Lane: Highway Queen (2017, New West): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (2017, Afrasia Productions): [r]: B
  • Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo': TajMo (2017, Concord): [r]: B
  • Mura Masa: Mura Masa (2017, Polydor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Spoek Mathambo: Mzansi Beat Code (2017, TEKA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ozomatli: Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica (2017, Cleopatra): [r]: B+(*)
  • Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (2017, Domino): [r]: A-
  • Troy Roberts: Tales & Tones (2017, Inner Circle): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mavis Staples: I'll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration (2014 [2017], Blackbird Production Partners, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Stryker: Strykin' Ahead (2016 [2017], Strikezone): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (2017, Merge): [r]: A-
  • Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (2017, Starboy/RCA): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell (1968 [1969], Vanguard): [r]: B
  • Larry Coryell: Introducing the Eleventh House With Larry Coryell (1972 [1974], Vanguard): [r]: B+(*)
  • Larry Coryell: The Restful Mind (1974 [1975], Vanguard): [r]: B+(***)
  • Taj Mahal: Taj Mahal (1968, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Taj Mahal: The Natch'l Blues (1968, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Taj Mahal: Happy Just to Be Like I Am (1971, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rising Sons: Rising Suns Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder (1965-66 [1992], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Paul Jones: Clean (Outside In Music): August 4
  • Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (Creative Sources)
  • Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (Euphorium, 2CD)
  • Reggie Young: Forever Young (Whaling City Sound)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I'm having a lot of trouble with websites making demands: that I pay them money, or sign up for things, or other demands I don't have the patience to parse. I understand that internet media businesses have a tough time making ends meet, and I'm not unsympathetic, but I'm not rich, and I'm not in the business of reporting on media, and I really hate where this is going: a world where information is locked up behind a handful of companies, where people have to decide something is worth paying for before they can find out whether it's worth anything at all. In such a world many people will only be able to read things that they value because they agree with, and most people will never read anything because the practical value of most information is vanishingly small. This is a hideous prospect promising a world that only grows more and more dysfunctional. Allowing paywalls to be bypassed by agreeing to look at tons of advertising only makes the information more untrustworthy and unappealing. Advertising may not be the root of all evil in America, but it's certainly contributed, especially by raising consumer manipulation to the level of a science.

I should probably compile a list of websites I'm boycotting -- or, effectively, that are boycotting me -- but I find the practice too annoying to obsess over. Looks like I should add the Washington Post to the list -- clicked on several pieces and all I get now are subscription screens. (The ad there started "I see you like great journalism" but the WP has rarely met that mark; e.g., see The Washington Post's War on Disability Programs Continues, and ask yourself: why should anyone pay these people money?) I'm especially annoyed at The Nation blocking me out, and have decided to stop linking to their articles. (We actually subscribe to the print edition of The Nation, which as I understand it entitles us to "full digital access" but I've never set that up before -- indeed, never had to.) I've started to avoid The New York Times and The New Yorker -- again, we pay them money for print editions, but they have "free article" counters, and I'd hate to waste my quota by looking at something stupid by David Brooks. We actually pay for quite a bit of print media, and my wife subscribes to digital things I don't even know about (and probably wouldn't be happy about if I did know). Still, we don't read so much or so widely because we find it entertaining or necessary for business. We do it because we're trying to be concerned, responsible citizens. And it sure looks like the goal of business in America is to make citizenship cost-prohibitive.

I'll add that I don't have paywalls, advertisements, or even any form of begware on my websites. I'm not paid for what I write, nor do I make any money off the occasional music discs I'm sent. I do this for free, and find that at least a few people find my analysis and information to be useful and worthwhile -- I guess that's my reward (that plus satisfaction in my craft). I even spend some money to make this possible, but I do feel the need to limit my losses. In this current media environment, that may mean limiting the sources I consult.

PS: Add Foreign Policy to that list, demanding about $90/year under the unsavory slogan, "Today, truth comes at a cost." The link I was following came from WarInContext: Trump assigns White House team to target Iran nuclear deal, sidelining State Department. This probably complements several links on Iran below.

Scattered links:

  • Binta Baxter: How the Student Loan Industry Is Helping Trump Destroy American Democracy: Also, how Trump's helping the student loan industry.

  • Cristina Cabrera: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Have Raked in $212 Million Since 2016.

  • Daniel José Camacho: Hillary Clinton is more unpopular than Donald Trump. Let that sink in: At least before the election, she polled better than Trump. You'd think she'd do even better after six months of Trump's non-stop scandals, but many recent polls show she'd still lose, and the Democrats have yet to register tangible gains by targeting Trump -- despite Trump's own favorability polling sinking into "worst ever" territory. Still, I'd take these polls with a grain of salt. Clinton's own favorability ratings have taken a hit partly because people who voted for her -- mostly people who would never have voted for Trump -- are still pissed at her for losing. As for the Democrats, they've yet to move on from her -- something that probably won't happen until the 2018 campaigns get seriously under way. Meanwhile, for all the scandal in Washington, there hasn't been a lot of evident everyday damage that most people can blame directly on Trump (immigrants are the exception here). Those things will compound over the next year -- something Democrats need to position themselves for.

  • Jonathan Cohn: Only 32 House Democrats Voted Against Reauthorizing Trump's Deportation Machine: Note, however, 9 Republicans also voted no.

  • Thomas Frank: The media's war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can't it see that? Wait, there's a "media war on Trump"? How can you tell? Didn't mainstream media gave Trump ten times as much coverage in 2016 as they did anyone else? The New York Times gave him an interview sandbox just last week. Sure, it made him look stupid, but doesn't that just play into his appeal? One might argue that Steven Colbert and Seth Myers are waging something like a war on Trump, but they're also catering to large niche market of people who can't stand Trump (and who have insomnia, possibly related). But mainstream media -- the so-called objective reporters -- are fatally compromised by corporate direction and an eye towards entertainment, and both of those factors have played into Trump while leaving the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party largely unexamined. One could imagine a responsible media going after Trump's administration, examining in depth the conflicts of interest, the money trails, the intense lobbying both of business fronts and other interests like the NRA and AIPAC -- and they needn't be partisan (all the better if they catch a few corrupt Democrats along the way). But that's not going to happen as long as the media is owned by a handful of humongous conglomerates. On the other hand, Trump's own war on the "fake news" media does seem to be working, if not to deter them from serious reporting, to reinforce the tendency of his believers to disregard anything critical they may come up with.

  • Glenn Greenwald/Ryan Grim: US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel:

    The Criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as "the Palestine Exception" to free speech.

    But now, a group of 43 senators -- 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats -- wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country's decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

    Also see: Philip Weiss: Critics of US 'Israel Anti-Boycott Act' say even requests for information could expose citizens to penalties. For an example of a similar state bill, see Heike Schotten/Elsa Auerbach: National movement to silence BDS disguises itself in MA legislature as 'No Hate in Bay State' act.

    As this is happening, there are dozens of articles on the unfolding human catastrophe in Gaza; e.g. Gaza on Verge of Collapse as Israel Sends 2.2 Million People "Back to Middle Ages" in Electricity Crisis. There is also renewed violence in the West Bank; see: Jason Ditz: Six Killed, Hundreds Wounded as Violence Rages Across West Bank; Sheren Khalel: Three settlers stabbed to death and three Palestinians shot dead in turmoil over security measures at al-Aqsa mosque compound; also always useful to check out Kate's latest press compilation.

  • Benjamin Hart: Obamacare and the Limits of Propaganda:

    But now, Republicans control every lever of the federal government, and any illusion that replacing Obamacare would be simple has been well and truly shattered. Instead, the relentless news coverage around health care has finally revealed Republicans' philosophy on the issue: nothing more than knee-jerk opposition to the previous president combined with an overwhelming desire to cut taxes for wealthy Americans.

    And by thus far rejecting any reasonable fixes to the law, the GOP has inadvertently helped drag the American public to the left. A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans now believe that government has a responsibility to ensure health care for its citizens, the highest number in a decade. That includes 52 percent of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000, up from 31 percent a year ago.

    Propaganda works best when the enemy it conjures is hazy and easily caricatured; it works less well when everyday reality intrudes. Americans have now gotten a taste of what citizens in other industrialized nations have long become accustomed to, and they don't want less of it. They want more.

  • John Judis: The Conflict Tearing Apart British Politics: An Interview With David Goodhart: Judis' interviews have generally been interesting, but this one gets pretty stupid. Goodhart's distinction between Somewheres and Anywheres isn't ridiculous -- certainly they're more neutral terms than Provincials and Cosmopolitans, but that's pretty much what they boil down to. On the other hand, the way he maps British partisan politics onto his concepts is scattered and arbitrary, obviously intent primarily on marginalizing Jeremy Corbyn, who he clearly detests on all levels:

    Jeremy Corbyn probably represents the view of about five percent of the British people, but a lot of naïve people don't remember the 1970s and the 1980s and the thing called the Soviet Union. They live in this ahistorical world. Even older people who are not so naïve and realize that Jeremy Corbyn was not to their taste in almost every respect nonetheless planned to vote for him as a protest against Brexit on the assumption that he was not going to be prime minister. The things that pushed him up, gave him twelve points more than were expected, were the very high turnout of the blob youth left, the hard core Remainers, and enough of the blue collar voters coming back to Labour on anti-austerity grounds. . . .

    I think the traditional Labour coalition has blown apart, but on a one-off basis Jeremy Corbyn has managed to stitch it back together sufficiently to give him the uplift of ten percent in the vote. By going helter skelter for the educated or semi-educated youth vote and playing on the soft left ideology that so many kids come out of the university with, combined with this bribe to abolish student tuition fees, he is shoring up for his own political ends, the middle class welfare state. So he has this huge uplift of the student vote and enough of the blue-collar vote, but it's a one-off and I think Labour is still on the road to oblivion as a party.

    I don't know anything more about Goodhart -- e.g., I have no idea why he should be considered some sort of expert on UK politics -- but he seems like a prime example of neoliberalism, especially in his disdain for "the middle class welfare state" and his painting anything government might do to help out any but the poorest of citizens as a "bribe" -- and needless to say the poor who still do get some paltry dole will also face a substantial helping of shame. The left's counter to this is to establish a set of rights which raise everyone up.

    Goldhart's view of Labour as a declining, obsolescent political force seems to be stuck in the "end of history" fantasies prevalent in the US/UK after the collapse of Communism. Until the fall, the ruling capitalists in the West at least had a healthy fear of worker revolution, and therefore sought to make society and economy more palatable. After the collapse, they lost that fear, and went on a binge of greed that still hasn't subsided, even though they seemed to trip up severely with the 2008 meltdown. Meanwhile, the left tried to rethink and regroup. A recent, interesting piece on this is: Tim Barker: The Bleak Left. I haven't finished it, and have my own ideas which gradually formed as I was trying to write about post-capitalism in the late 1990s. One of the first things I did was to jettison Marx, reinterpreting his revolutionary impulses not as early-proletarian but as late-bourgeois. Paraphrasing Benjamin on Baudellaire, I saw him (and later Marxists) as "secret agents, of the bourgeoisie's discontent with its own rule." That brought me back to equality as the foundation seed both of liberal politics and any just society. No way to properly unpack this here, but given recent trends toward extreme inequality (thanks mostly to neoliberalism, although inherited money also has much to do with it, especially on the US right) it isn't at all surprising that the left would reform to countervail, and that it would draw both on liberal and on socialist traditions to do so.

  • Sam Knight: Trump's Environmental Protection Pick Is BP's Former Lawyer -- and May Preside Over Cases Involving BP.

  • Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real, powerful set of ideas. Centrist Democrats are getting touchy about being called "neoliberal" -- even in The Nation I've seen Danny Goldberg (link, if you can read it, here) insist that the left stop using the term. He doesn't offer an alternative, but the first one that pops into my mind is "corporate stooges" -- "neoliberal" at least suggests some degree of coherence and integrity. Konczal tries to sketch out how that ideology developed historically, going back to Charles Peters' 1983 "A Neoliberal's Manifesto." Since then, adherents have preferred to call themselves New Democrats (or New Labour in Britain), while British critics have tended to use neoliberal for macroeconomic policies that promoted free flow of capital and trade while forcing governments to adopt austerity, with no linkages to other issues (thus, for instance, one could be neoliberal on economic policy, neoconservative on war, and either liberal or conservative on social issues). However, at present neoliberalism is a cleavage line that splits Democrats -- even if Clinton had to compromise on trade and college tuition to secure the 2016 nomination. Indeed, neoliberal only became an epithet as it became clear that its promises of widespread prosperity turned out to be not just hollow but fraudulent.

  • Richard Lardner: Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Deal on Sweeping Russia Sanctions Bill: Proves two things: (1) nothing brings a nation together like a shared enemy, even a phony one; and (2) the Democrats have still not made a serious review of America's habit of imperial power projection, even though it objectively hurts both their base and their political message. A crude way to understand the latter point is that the only times Republicans join with Democrats is when they intuit that doing so hurts (and helps disillusion) the Democratic Party base. Democrats wouldn't have to go full isolationist to turn the corner on the neocon fetish with single-power projection that has dominated US policy since the mid-1990s. (The Iraq regime change vote marked their ascendancy, again keyed to take advantage of an enemy Democrats wouldn't doubt.) Democrats could, for instance, revert to their early beliefs in international law and institutions -- a belief that led to the UN, an organization the neocons have managed to totally marginalize (except when they can use it). That reminds me of a third point: this bill again testifies to the singular anomaly of US subservience to Israel. You'd think at the very least that Democrats would defend Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, but their allegiance to Israel trumps party loyalty.

    One should note that while Congress is limiting Trump's power to reduce international tensions by curtailing sanctions, that same body is evidently giving Trump a free hand to start any war that strikes his fancy. See (if you can): John Nichols: Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for Endless War.

  • Dylan Matthews: President Trump's essentially unlimited pardon power, explained: Reports are that Trump has already started discussing using his pardon powers to obstruct the Russia investigation. Can he do that? Yes. Would that be grounds for impeachment? Probably. Will the Republican congress act on that? Nope. Also, where early reports merely stated that Trump was asking about his pardon powers, now he seems to have gotten the answer he wants: Cristina Cabrera: Trump Asserts His 'Complete Power' to Pardon. On the other hand, Laurence Tribe argues No, Trump can't pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.

  • Caitlin MacNeal: Spicey's Greatest Hits: Trump spokesman Sean Spicer resigned this week, after Anthony Scaramucci was appointed as White House Communications Director. Link has videos of some of Spicer's more famous gaffes, but his root problem was the material he had to work with, and the so-called journalists who cover the presidency and can't seem to dig deeper than press briefings and Trump's twitter feed. Scaramucci is a hedge fund guy, which makes you wonder what he's doing slumming in the White House staff. His first job, of course, was to clean up his own twitter history: Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree.

  • Tom McKay: Trump Nominates Sam Clovis, a Dude Who Is Not a Scientist, to be Department of Agriculture's Top Scientist: But he did work as host of a right-wing talk show back in Iowa.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Trump rejects his poll numbers as fake news -- but even his voters are starting to notice the scam.

  • John Quiggin: Can we get to 350ppm? Yes we can: A relatively optimistic forecast on climate change, based largely on recent technological trends like much cheaper solar power, but noting various risks, and assuming "the absence of political disasters such as a long-running Trump presidency." Links to a contrasting, downright apocalyptic view, not specifically linked to Trump: David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth.

  • Lisa Rein: Interior Dept. ordered Glacier park chief, other climate expert pulled from Zuckerberg tour

  • Sam Sacks: Trump Kicks Off Voter Fraud Commission With Innuendo That States Are Hiding Something. Kris Kobach's voter suppression racket is one of the most disgusting of Trump's programs. Still, it's rather a shock to see Trump so personally involved with it.

  • Matt Taibbi: What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians? Kind of like Americans are war-crazed fanatics whose hatred of Russia is less ideological than genetic?

    For journalists like me who have backgrounds either working or living in Russia, the new Red Scare has been an ongoing freakout. A lot of veteran Russia reporters who may have disagreed with each other over other issues in the past now find themselves in like-minded bewilderment over the increasingly aggressive rhetoric.

    Many of us were early Putin critics who now find ourselves in the awkward position of having to try to argue Americans off the ledge, or at least off the path to war, when it comes to dealing with the Putin regime.

    There's a lot of history that's being glossed over in the rush to restore Russia to an archenemy role.

    For one, long before the DNC hack, we meddled in their elections. This was especially annoying to Russians because we were ostensibly teaching them the virtues of democracy at the time.

    The case in point was Boris Yeltsin's 1966 campaign, where "three American advisers [were] sent to help the pickling autocrat Yeltsin devise campaign strategy." Yeltsin then created the corrupt oligarchy we like to blame on Putin.

    Evidently, one of the rarest skills in the world is the ability to imagine how other people view us.

  • Trevor Timm: ICE agents are getting out of control. And they are only getting worse: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (not sure why the article refers to them as "Ice" rather than "ICE"). They've had the legal authority, for some time, so all Trump had to do to crank them up was "take the shackles off" ("eerily echoing the CIA's comments post-9/11 that they would 'take the gloves off' in response to the terrorist attack"). Of course, Trump is doing more: "stripping away due process protections for arrested immigrants via executive order, the US justice department has even attempted to cut off legal representation for some immigrants."

  • Robin Wright: Is the Nuclear Deal With Iran Slipping Away? Also on Iran: Trita Parsi: War with Iran is back on the table -- thanks to Trump. By the way, Parsi, who wrote the definitive book on why Israel decided to pump Iran up as "an existential threat" (Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States) has a new book Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: the Obamacare repeal push died, then came back; John McCain has brain cancer; Donald Trump said some things; House Republicans released a budget plan. Other Yglesias pieces: Trump's new communications director used to call him an anti-American hack politician (not any more: see Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree); Trumpcare still isn't dead; A new interview reveals Trump's ignorance to be surprisingly wide-ranging; The latest Trump interview once again reveals total disregard for the rule of law; Trump is mad Democrats didn't work with him on health care, but he never tried. Also, here's a Yglesias tweet:

    Look, just because Sessions hasn't actually been convicted of a crime is no reason we can't start seizing his property now.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28428 [28390] rated (+38), 364 [361] unrated (+3).

Sad to note that Joe Fields, still active at 88, died last week. Since the 1960s, when he started out with Prestige Records, he has been responsible for an extraordinary number of great mainstream jazz records. He founded a series of labels -- Cobblestone, Muse, Onyx, High Note, and Savant, running the latter two with his son Barney since 1996. Along the way he cultivated many artist careers -- perhaps most notably, Houston Person started with him at Prestige and followed him through Muse and High Note. If Fields had a signature, it was picking up artists discarded from major labels and giving them second (or third) careers.

Pending queue only has six albums in it, including the four that arrived last week. I only reviewed three records from CD last week (two came up A- after I played them a dozen or more times -- the other A- got three spins on Napster). Still, a pretty high rated count, so not much else got that kind of attention -- and the six EPs went especially fast.

As promised, I got into the download queue last week: 10 albums, mostly from ECM, none as good as Craig Taborn's Daylight Ghosts last week. I probably have another dozen saved up, and could dig up more if I went through my mail (although some may have expired). A few of the items below came from mid-year lists by Phil Overeem and Matt Rice (linked to last week). Others came from thumbing through the August DownBeat.

The latter has their 65th Annual Critics Poll results, which I voted in and annotated my ballot back in April. Especially pleased to see Don Cherry and Herbie Nichols added to their Hall of Fame (along with George Gershwin and Eubie Blake -- no complaints there either; the latter three came from their Veterans Committee). The category winners -- minus a few I care less about; RS = Rising Star; in parens: first number is my 1-2-3 pick (if winner on my ballot), otherwise my pick and finish (if on list); ergo: (1) means my pick won:

  • Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith (1); RS: Taylor Ho Bynum (1).
  • Trombone: Steve Turre (8 Roswell Rudd); RS: Marshall Gilkes (9 Joe Fiedler).
  • Soprano Saxophone: Jane Ira Bloom (8 Sam Newsome); RS: Christine Jensen (16 Mike Ellis).
  • Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa (François Carrier); RS: Matana Roberts (13 Dave Rempis).
  • Tenor Saxophone: Charles Lloyd (14 David Murray); RS: Noah Preminger (5 Ellery Eskelin).
  • Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan (4 Hamiet Bluiett); RS: Dave Rempis (5 Gebhard Ullmann).
  • Clarinet: Anat Cohen (5 Ben Goldberg); RS: Oscar Noriega (19 Avram Fefer).
  • Piano: Kenny Barron (Irène Schweizer); RS: Kris Davis (1).
  • Guitar: Mary Halvorson (2; 8 Marc Ribot); RS: Gilad Hekselman (Samo Salamon).
  • Bass: Christian McBride (6 William Parker); RS: Eric Revis (7 Ingebrigt Håker Flaten).
  • Violin: Regina Carter (8 Jason Kao Hwang); RS: Sara Caswell (10 Szilard Mezei).
  • Drums: Jack De Johnette (Gerry Hemingway); RS: Jeff Ballard (20 Paal Nilssen-Love).

Looking back, several of my picks were just whims. I probably should have voted for Bloom over Newsome, and I can't fault De Johnette (cf. this week's record -- drumming is amazing there, something I can't imagine anyone else matching) or Revis, or begrudging any recognition of Barron. Rempis started on alto, but I think his tenor sax is his main instrument now -- still, I don't think of him on baritone at all, so that came as a surprise. Two of my picks were write-ins (Schweizer and Salamon -- both serious ballot omissions), so of course they didn't finish. Smith and Halvorson also won other categories, so they were featured in articles.

Preminger was well down my list at tenor sax (a long list), but he's put together a fine series of relatively mainstream albums (two A-, one ***, two **), so I shouldn't be surprised that he's getting some recognition. I also credit Mahanthappa with six A- (or in one case A) albums, so he's a pretty reasonable pick (albeit in a real competitive category: Carrier has 10 A- records, Anthony Braxton 19, Steve Lehman 5 + 3 in Fieldwork + 1 with Mahanthappa [the A], not that I counted before voting).

Continuing to make progress on compiling my jazz reviews into two guides: a haphazard retro-survey of the 20th century, and a somewhat more systematic guide to post-2000 (21st century) jazz. I started by collecting the reviews from their various column sources into a huge text file. Since then I've been scanning through my database files, adding dates and instruments where I had them, pulling out whatever reviews I had, and adding any other rated but unreviewed records. It took many weeks to work through Jazz '80s-'90s (1516 artists). Since then, I picked up three much shorter files: Latin Jazz (147), Pop Jazz (249), and Avant-Garde (156).

The pop jazz list was rather depressing, as it is far from comprehensive: in fact, mostly concentrated in the early Jazz CG days (2004-06) after which it became clear that I wasn't likely to review those records favorably. It would probably be easier to cut them out than it would be to cover them anywhere near as comprehensively as I cover mainstream and avant jazz. One saving grace was that it lowered the grade curve, although probably not significantly.

The "avant-garde" list was more interesting, but again is far from comprehensive. The definition I tended to follow was AMG's genre classification, which itself stradled minimalism, experimental rock, and modern (or, a term I prefer, post-classical) composition, but only rarely avant-jazz. I tried to take an interest in such music back in the 1970s, so one thing I noticed was that several dozen LPs I vaguely recall never got into the database (e.g., I probably had five or so albums by Karlheinz Stockhausen, but none were listed). On the other hand, the "shopping list" included quite a few albums from Kyle Gann's 1998-99 Consumer Guides -- most by people I hadn't heard of otherwise.

The compilation files are now up to 746 pages (20th century, 288k words) and 827 pages (21st century, 403k words). There are a few odds and ends that I've been including but were tucked away in odd database files (e.g., Astor Piazzolla in "latin," John Fahey in "folk"), but basically the 20th century compilation is about as large as it's going to get. Page sizes are different, but that probably makes it about 25% of the size of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings -- a human impossibility to match. On the other hand, the 21st century book will continue to grow, perhaps considerably. The Jazz (2000-) file will add 2248 artists, and Vocals (2000-) has another 484 artists.

Back in April I estimated that I might have the compilation done sometime from August to October. Looks like the most I can do in a day is about 150 artists, so I'm looking at another 20 days actual work time -- for various reasons I've had trouble spending more than 4 days/week on this, so let's figure another 5 weeks. Labor Day? Maybe. Not sure what happens then, but I'll try to convert it to some distributable format. Still needs a massive amount of editing to be publishable. Don't know when/if that will ever happen.

New records rated this week:

  • John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Sebastien Ammann: Color Wheel (2015 [2017], Skirl): [cd]: A-
  • Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (2017, International Anthem): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charly Bliss: Guppy (2017, Barsuk): [r]: B+(**)
  • Avishai Cohen: Cross My Palm With Silver (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jack DeJohnette/Larry Grenadier/John Meddeski/John Scofield: Hudson (2017, Motéma): [r]: A-
  • Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Golden Pelicans: S/T (2014, Total Punk, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Golden Pelicans: Oldest Ride Longest Line (2015, Total Punk, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood (2017, Goner, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Giovanni Guidi: Ida Lupino (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Benedikt Jahnel Trio: The Invariant (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Sean Jones: Live From Jazz at the Bistro (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Aaron Parks/Ben Street/Billy Hart: Find the Way (2015 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Nicki Parrott: Dear Blossom: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie (2017, Arbors): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nicki Parrott: Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook (2016 [2017], Venus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is the Dream (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Karriem Riggins: Headnod Suite (2017, Stones Throw): [r]: B+(**)
  • Louis Sclavis: Asian Fields Variations (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Diaspora (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sex Mob: Cultural Capital (2016, Rex): [r]: B+(**)
  • ShitKid: ShitKid (2016, PNKSLM, EP): [bc]: B-
  • ShitKid: EP 2 (2017, PNKSLM, EP): [bc]: B
  • ShitKid: Fish (2017, PNKSLM): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Rotem Sivan: Antidote (2017, Alma): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bria Skonberg: With a Twist (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: December Avenue (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (2016 [2017], Capri): [cd]: A-
  • Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur): [cd]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Miracle Steps: Music From the Fourth World 1983-2017 (1983-2017 [2017], Optimo): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Allen Ravenstine + Albert Dennis: >Terminal Drive (1975 [2017], Smog Veil, EP): [dl]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Kisaragi (Libra)
  • Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (Origin)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (Sunnyside)
  • Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (BlueLand): July 28

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Might as well go back to my original title, since this week I have more comments (albeit fewer than usual links), and "Week Links" never was a very good title. Browser limits are still keeping me from seeing as much as I used to, but now that I've figured out how to work around a couple serious bugs in Chromium I'm getting more done. Mostly rounded these up on Saturday -- good thing since I chewed up most of Sunday cooking a small dinner-for-two (a cut-back version of jambalaya) and doing some tree trimming (much too hot here to do that).

Getting very close to the end of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. First half is a campaign journal where it turns out he was as delighted meeting us as we were finding him. Second is a policy manual which doesn't venture as far as I would but strikes me as a well-reasoned merger of the viable and the practical. I really don't get people who see him as too idealistic, or as too compromised. One thing that's missing is any real treatment of foreign policy. Some ambitious Democrat needs to stake out a radical shift there, returning to the belief in international law that Wilson and Roosevelt advocated, while paring back America's penchant for military and/or clandestine intervention. But while he touches most other bases, I do believe that Bernie is correct that inequality is the central political issue of our times, and the more we do on that, the better most other things will become.

Scattered links:

  • Dean Baker: Obamacare is only 'exploding' in red states: Most of the problems with ACA private insurance exchanges are concentrated in states with Republican governors/legislatures, who were also culpable for failing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions of poorer Americans without health care insurance. "Where Republican governors have sought to sabotage the program, they have largely succeeded. Where Democratic governors have tried to make the ACA work, they too have largely succeeded." That Trump thinks ACA is a disaster says more about the bubble he gets his information from.

  • Dean Baker: How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on Windows? Gates' personal fortune is estimated at $70 billion, and the copyright is at the root of that, followed by various patents and business practices that led to Microsoft's conviction for violating antitrust laws -- the last major antitrust case any administration in Washington bothered to prosecute. As so-called intellectual property goes, copyright is a minor problem, as long as we're talking about works of art -- the latest extended terms are way too long, and we would be better off with a program to buy up older copyrights and move work into the public domain. Copyright of software code has rarely proved a problem: what killed Novell's efforts to produce a compatible DOS wasn't copyright: Microsoft's illegal/predatory business practices protected their monopoly. The real alternative is free software, which has been very successful even without public funding -- fairly modest investments there would pay huge dividends to the public. Baker also talks about patents, which are a much more daunting problem, even beyond their obvious costs. ("The clearest case is prescription drugs where we will spend over $440 billion this year for drugs that would likely sell for less than $80 billion in a free market.") Patents allow owners to stake out broad claims and sue others for infringement even when the latter developed innovations completely independently. Patents made more sense when they protected capital investments for manufacturing, but that's never the case for software patents -- they exist purely to line corporate pockets by harassing potential competition (including from free software).

  • Cristina Cabrera: Poll: Majority of Republicans Now Say Colleges Are Bad for America: The poll question is are colleges and universities having a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country." In 2015, 37% of Republicans thought that; today 58%. Before 2015, the Republican figures were relatively stable (56% favorable in 2010, 54% in 2015), and Democrats have become slightly more favorable, 65% in 2010, 72% today. The shift in Republican views coincided with the realization that the Republican presidential primaries would turn into contests between dumb and dumber, where candidates competed to show how little they understood the modern world and how everything worked (or, increasingly often, didn't work). As I recall, the first to stake out an anti-college position was Rick Santorum, and at the time I found his position shocking. For starters, it ignores the fact that we completely depend on science and advanced technology for nearly every aspect of our way of life -- what happens to us when we stop educating smart people to develop and maintain that technology? Nor is it just technology: the right's prejudices have a tough time surviving any form of open debate -- which is why conservatives have increasingly retreated into their own private institutions. Still, this is anomalous: colleges have always been institutions of, by, and for the elites, dominated by old money while occasionally opening the doors to exceptionally talented outsiders -- especially ones eager to join the system (Clinton and Obama are obvious examples, ones that have left an especially bitter taste for Republicans). And while the post-WWII expansion opened those doors wider for middle class Americans, if anything the trend has reversed lately, as prohibitive pricing is making college more elitist again. Still, this shows an increasingly common form of disconnect between Republican elites and masses: the latter are driven mostly by pushing their hot buttons, and all they have to do is get people so worked up they won't realize the incoherency of anti-elite and anti-diversity positions, or the fact that the rich still have their legacy privileges, so will be the last to be deprived of higher education's blessings.

  • Jason Ditz: House Approves $696 Billion Military Spending Bill: Includes $75 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is subject to change if Trump approves more "surges." Of all Trump's budget changes, more Defense spending struck me as the easiest to pass, because the War Lobby extends beyond Republicans and well into the Democratic Party. More Ditz pieces: House NDAA Amendments Would Limit US Participation in Yemen War; Trump Wants Authority to Build New Bases in Iraq, Syria.

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Trump's election commission has been a disaster. It's going exactly as planned.

    As Kobach put it to Ari Berman last month, his whole master plan for world dominion was so simple: to create in Kansas -- where he is running for governor and has been secretary of state for a number of years -- a template for programmatic vote suppression nationwide. If he created "the absolute best legal framework," other states and the federal government would follow. Somehow, though, Trump's "election integrity" commission turned into one of the most colossal cockups in an administration already overflowing with them.

  • Marc Lynch: Three big lessons of the Qatar crisis.

  • Reza Marashi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Is Violating the Iran Deal

  • Josh Marshall: A Theory of the Case [07-08]:

    During the election I frequently referenced one of my favorite quotes and insights from the insight, which came from Slate's Will Saletan: "The GOP is a failed state. Donald Trump is its warlord." To me this clever turn of phrase captures at a quite deep level why Trump was able to take over the GOP. The key though is that once Trump secured the Republican nomination, once he became the Republican and Hillary Clinton the Democrat, all the forces of asymmetric partisan polarization kicked into place and ensured that essentially all self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning independents fell into line and supported Trump. . . .

    Trump embodies what I've come to think of as a "dominationist" politics which profoundly resonates with the base of the GOP and has an expanding resonance across the party. Party leaders made the judgment that since they couldn't defeat Trump they should join him, hoping he would deliver on a policy agenda favoring money and using public policy to center risk on individuals. That hope has been entirely confirmed.

  • Jack O'Donnell: Trump put family first when I worked for him. It was disastrous.

  • Julianne Schultz: The world we have bequeathed to our children feels darker than the one I knew

  • Tim Shorrock: Kushner and Bannon Team Up to Privatize the War in Afghanistan: Also Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg, who stand to make most of the money in the deal.

  • Tierney Sneed: Insurers Torch New Cruz Provision in TrumpCare: 'Simply Unworkable': The Cruz amendment that was supposed to save McConnell's Obamacare repeal/replace bill would allow insurance companies to offer lower-priced plans that don't meet minimal federal guidelines for health insurance. Of course, what makes such plans cheaper is that they don't adequately insure the people who buy them.

  • Timothy Snyder: Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism: A historian stuck in Eastern Europe's "Bloodlands" between Hitler and Stalin tries to drive a wedge between conservatives and Trump:

    In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of politics: a new right to replace an old one.

    Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. . . .

    The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of drastic change that conservatives opposed.

    Pace Snyder, I'm not inclined to equate Trump with Hitler, but I'm also unwilling to credit "conservatives" with the moral or intellectual conscience or coherence to oppose either. The one constant in the whole history of conservatism is the belief that some people should rule over others, and more often than not they're willing to discard any principles they may previously have found convenient to accomplish their goal. You see that in how willingly pretty much the whole right, and not just in Germany and Italy, admired Hitler and Mussolini. Trump, too, captured the right by offering the one thing it most wished for: victory. But there is a difference: Hitler had his own agenda, one rooted in the smoldering resentments of the Great War and the collapse of Germany's Empire. Trump's notion of America the Great may not be much different, but his ideas and plans are strictly derivative, a parroted, almost cartoonish distillation of recent conservative propaganda -- a bundle of clichés and incoherent rage, selected purely because that's what seems to work. No doubt some Trump supporters, especially among the "alt-right" white nationalists, can dress this up darkly. One thing we can be sure of is that we won't be saved by conservatives.

  • Jeff Stein: The Kodiak Kickback: the quiet payoff for an Alaska senator in the Senate health bill: Looks like the fix is in for "moderate" Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski:

    Buried in Senate Republicans' new health care bill is a provision to throw about $1 billion at states where premiums run 75 percent higher than the national average.

    Curiously, there's just one state that meets this seemingly arbitrary designation: Alaska. . . .

    Republicans' health care bill will cost Alaska Medicaid recipients about $3 billion. In exchange, they're trying to buy off Murkowski with far less in funding for the Obamacare exchanges. We'll know soon if it worked.

  • Jonathan Swan: Scoop: Bannon pushes tax hike for wealthy: Technically, Bannon fills the same role as Karl Rove, but I've never seen anyone refer to him as "Trump's Brain," even though Trump clearly needs one. Rove was a political strategist in the conventional sense, a role that became more prominent under Bush than under Clinton or Obama because it was clearer that Bush needed one. So does Trump, but whereas Rove had a pretty good sense of public opinion even if only to manipulate it, Bannon seems to pull his ideas straight out of his arse. Besides, Trump's subcontracted every policy issue to his straight conservative fellow travelers, leaving Bannon isolated. So that Bannon wants something doesn't clearly mean a thing. Still, higher taxes on the superrich would be a popular (and for that matter populist) move, but don't stand a chance in a Republican Congress almost exclusively dedicated to the opposite. Besides, as this piece makes clear, Trump has others -- Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin are prominent names here -- pulling in the other direction. Biggest non-surprise in the article: "They're becoming far less wedded to revenue neutrality."

  • Matt Taibbi: Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again: Much interesting background on the Magnitsky thing, which goes a long way to explaining why Putin remains so suspicious and ominous even if you reject the neocons' "new cold war" aspirations. I personally think the Trump Jr. meeting/emails are "no big deal" but also suspect that the Trumps would love to get in on Putin's corruption scams.

  • Jonathan Taplin: Can the Tech Giants Be Stopped? WSJ story, but you can read more of it in the link I provided. E.g.:

    The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked.

    The numbers cited for internet ad revenue are much larger than I expected, and seem to be almost exclusively concentrated in a handful of companies. Meanwhile, we need a new and different model, both for content creation and for internet services. What we have now is little more than a siphon for draining our money and concentrating it in the hands of a few vultures. I suppose WSJ thinks they're fighting this with their paywall, but they're just adding to the problem.

  • Kenneth P Vogel/Rachel Shorey: Trump's Re-Election Campaign Doubles Its spending on Legal Fees: So does this mean the campaign is at this stage mostly a slush fund to defray Trump's legal costs? Too bad Clinton couldn't run in 2000 when he needed something like to handle that sordid impeachment affair. As it was, he had to go bankrupt, then recoup his losses making post-presidential speeches.

  • Melissa Batchelor Warnke: Democrats are doubling down on the same vanilla centrism that helped give us President Trump.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: Senate Republicans released a new health bill; Donald Trump Jr. has a problem; Christopher Wray is set to be the next FBI director; the CBO scored Trump's budget. Yglesias previously covered the same stories in greater depth: The revised health bill cuts taxes less without doing anything to boost coverage; I don't believe Donald Trump Jr., and neither should you; and CBO: Trump plan won't balance the budget even with his fake revenue-neutral tax reform.

  • Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals [No More Mister Nice Blog]: Attempts to counter an op-ed from John Podhoretz (link in article) called "Hillary's White House would be no different from Trump's," which argues:

    Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors hovering around the White House, which is identical to President Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel guests filling his personal coffers.

    Podhoretz has one valid point here: that Clinton was going to have a hard time separating herself and her administration from the taint of corruption surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Nor can we really credit much her promises to do so, given how Trump has found it impossible to fulfill his own promises to isolate himself from his business interests. Even so, with Clinton the thicket of corruption complaints would be mostly laughable, blown up by the hysterical "right-wing noise machine," whereas Trump's numerous conflicts of interest alrealdy seem to try the patience of mainstream journalists who'd rather play "gotcha" with Russia. As for everything else, what Trump has actually managed to do -- even discounting things that Clinton might also have done, like escalating the wars in Syria and Afghanistan -- has actually been pretty astonishing. Trump has signed dozens of executive orders reversing hard-won gains from Obama. He's signalled that the US government won't be enforcing its civil rights laws anymore. He's reversed some key openness protections for the Internet. He's launched a monstrous commission on "voting fraud" that's already having the effect of reducing voter registration. He's raising money for a "re-election campaign" four years off, and using that money to pay his legal bills. His Supreme Court pick is already paying dividends for the extreme right. He may not have a lot of legislative accomplishments yet, but he's perilously close on a measure to repeal Obamacare that will cost more than 20 million Americans their health insurance, while making health care more expensive and less accessible for pretty much everyone. That measure would be a tax bonanza for the very rich, and Republicans are working on more of those.

    The article also posits that a Clinton win would also have tipped the Senate to the Democrats. Perhaps, but I'd shift the focus a bit: a Democratic win in the Senate (and even more so one in the House) would have tipped the presidential election to Clinton. Perhaps she should have run on that, instead of trying to appeal to suposedly moderate suburban Republicans to split their ballots and let Clinton save us from that ogre Trump. Turns out Republicans are too shameless to care -- anything to get their tax breaks and patronage favors and to grind workers and their spouses and children to dust.

    Still, one lesson Democrats should draw is to never again nominate anyone so easily viewed as compromised and corrupt.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28390 [28359] rated (+31), 361 [366] unrated (-5).

Not much to say here. The Pending list is down to five albums, including this week's three arrivals. The new Free Radicals album spent several days in the CD changer, finally replaced by some golden oldies -- Swamp Dogg's "We Need a Revolution" emerged as the perfect soundtrack for reading Bernie Sanders Our Revolution. I was delighted enough by the new Free Radicals album I went back and checked out their five previous albums. Houston band with many hangers-on, similar to Boston's Club D'Elf though less into world music and more into hip-hop.

Aside from Free Radicals, only three more records were reviewed from CD (or CDR), including Chris Pasin's Xmas album, release date October 6. So I spent most of the week scrounging around on Napster, checking out various pop albums including Amber Coffman and Bleachers -- recommended last Friday in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. Having given Lorde's Melodrama an A-, and Dirty Projectors a C (fairly generous I thought), I've rarely found an EW more out of sync with my ears. Nor did other well-regarded recent albums turn out to be very appealing. I even slogged through The Bob's Burgers Music Album, recommended high in Matt Rice's Mid-Year Top 30 (five more albums I haven't heard on that list, though I'm not in a big hurry to get to At the Drive-In).

One thing I looked for was William Parker's Quartets album (reviewed here by Tim Niland). I didn't find it, but did notice several Parker albums I hadn't heard, especially on the Italian Splasc(H) label, which led me to the albums by Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake, Daniel Carter, Albert Beger, and Willem Breuker. I gave up on the latter when two Penguin Guide ***(*) records didn't pan out.

Finally, I broke down and started playing some of the downloads I had picked up over the year, including very well regarded albums by Craig Taborn and Harriet Tubman (number two on Chris Monsen's 2017 Favorites list, and number three for Phil Overeem). I still have a couple dozen on the computer, and probably more untapped in my mail files, so I should keep plugging away at this. Playing the new Tomasz Stanko as I write this. Should also see what else (aside from the Mat Maneri) Clean Feed didn't send me.

I'll also note my surprise that both Overeem and Rice are big fans of Zeal & Ardor's Devil Is Fine (number 1 and 2, respectively). Christgau liked the album back in April, and even I gave the record a B+(***) in May, noting: "fuses black field hollers (or chain gang chants) with black metal (and a little xylophone) -- a fairly amusing rather than overbearing combination." Also, I should issue a correction: Overeem lists (at 12) Dalava: The Book of Transfigurations, which last month I incorrectly identified as "self-released." The label is Songlines.

New records rated this week:

  • Bleachers: Gone Now (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Brother Ali: All the Beauty in This Whole Life (2017, Rhymesayers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Amber Coffman: City of No Reply (2017, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chano Dominguez: Over the Rainbow (2012 [2017], Sunnyside): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Free Radicals: Outside the Comfort Zone (2017, Free Rads): [cd]: A-
  • Future Islands: The Far Field (2017, 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
  • (Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (2017, Domino): [r]: B
  • Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (2017, Mute): [r]: B+(*)
  • Vitor Gonçalves: Vitor Gonçalves Quartet (2017, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marika Hackman: I'm Not Your Man (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dusan Jevtovic: No Answer (2016 [2017], Moonjune): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mat Maneri/Evan Parker/Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (2014 [2017], Clean Feed): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Chris Pasin and Friends: Baby It's Cold Outside (2016 [2017], Planet Arts): [cd]: B
  • Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Harriet Tubman: Araminta (2013 [2017], Sunnyside): [dl]: A-
  • Glenn Zaleski: Fellowship (2014 [2017], Sunnyside): [dl]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Battle Hymns (2017, Quasi Band): [dl]: B+(**)
  • The Bob's Burgers Music Album (2010-16 [2017], Sub Pop, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Albert Beger's 5: Listening (2004, Earsay): [r]: B+(**)
  • Albert Beger/Gerry Hemingway: There's Nothing Better to Do (2011 [2012], OutNow): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Willem Breuker Kollektief: In Holland (1981, BV Haast): [r]: B
  • Willem Breuker Kollektief: To Remain (1983-89 [1989], BV Haast): [r]: B-
  • Daniel Carter/Toby Kasavan/Mark Hennen/William Parker: Feels Like It (2000 [2007], BDE-BDOP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 1 (2005, Earsay): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 2 (2005, Earsay): [r]: B+(**)
  • Free Radicals: The Rising Tide Sinks All (1998, RWE): [r]: A-
  • Free Radicals: Our Lady of Sunny Delights (2000, Rastaman Work Ethic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Free Radicals: Aerial Bombardment (2004, Rastaman Work Ethic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Free Radicals: The Freedom Fence (2012, Free Radicals): [r]: B+(**)
  • Free Radicals: Freedom of Movement (2015, Free Radicals): [r]: B+(***)
  • William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Spontaneous (2002 [2003], Splasc(H)): [r]: B+(*)
  • William Parker Bass Quartet Featuring Charles Gayle: Requiem (2004 [2006], Splasc(H)): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp Trio: The Trio Plays Ware (2003 [2004], Splasc(H)): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Stryker: Strykin' Ahead (Strikezone): September 1
  • Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (Capri): August 17
  • Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Week Links

Not much to show this week. One problem is that I'm still cramped in terms of what I can search out. Another is that I wasted most of Sunday on a plumbing task instead of putting the time in here. And I must admit that said plumbing task -- installing a new kitchen faucet -- left me embarrassed and exhausted: I figured it might take an hour, but it chewed up more like six (pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong -- from the shutoff valves not working to the supply hoses not being long enough to the drain plumbing not fitting back together again properly) and it involved physical contortions that I'm going to be feeling for at least a week. Moreover, I'm not even sure I like the fancy "touchless" feature, so it's beginning to look like a bad shopping decision -- which may be even more embarrassing.

Normally I feel good upon completing a house project (and, indeed, everything seems to be working properly here, except my shoulders and hips). So maybe more general depression is taking its toll. No doubt many of the links below contributed, although there is an evident shift from stories about the horrors Trump and the Republicans are scheming to thoughts about how best to resist them, and how to build an effective, comprehensible alternate vision.

  • Candice Bernd: How the Koch-Backed Effort to Privatize the Veterans Health Administration Jeopardizes Everyone's Health Care Future

  • Brian Beutler: Bernie Sanders and the Progressive Left's Selfless Defense of Obamacare:

    It is easy enough to divide liberals between those who think Obamacare was an unlovely half-measure that nevertheless improved on the pre-Obamacare status quo and those who think it was a remarkable achievement on its own (though there is considerable overlap between these two factions). It is nearly impossible to find liberals or leftists of any influence who would sit out the fight over Trumpcare, or join the fight to repeal Obamacare, in order to make things worse in the short term (more than 20 million Americans would lose health insurance) for the better in the long run (single payer). In other words, the left isn't making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    The same cannot be said of conservatives, who define themselves largely by the things they oppose. It is not a coincidence that Republicans failed to develop and build support for an Obamacare alternative over all the years they railed against it. . . . Once again, the left is prioritizing the public interest over expediting its defining ideological priorities, and once again the right is doing just the opposite.

    As the Ryan and McConnell bills have shown, Republicans cannot define a replacement for Obamacare without (a) pointing out many of the concrete achievements of the ACA, and (b) showing people how much they have to lose by repeal/replace.

  • Jamelle Bouie: The white nationalist roots of Donald Trump's Warsaw speech; also on the same speech: Walter Shapiro: Donald Trump's warning about 'western civilisation' evokes holy war.

  • Elizabeth Douglass: Towns sell their public water systems -- and come to regret it.

  • Tom Engelhardt: Aiding and Abetting the Tweeter-in-Chief. TomDispatch also published Danny Sjursen: Fighting the War You Know (Even if It Won't Work), about Trump's "support" for his generals in Afghanistan.

  • Henry Farrell: Trump's plan to work with Putin on cybersecurity makes no sense. Here's why.

  • Henry Grabar: St Louis Gave Workers a Wage Hike. Missouri Republicans Are Taking It Away:

    Republican-run states forcing Democrat-run cities to not raise the minimum wage is a story we've seen before, of course. Alabama thwarted Birmingham's efforts in February of last year; Ohio stopped Cleveland in December. More than a dozen other states have passed pre-emptive pre-emptions, abolishing municipal wage laws before any cities or counties consider them. GOP politicians usually say minimum wage ordinances won't actually help workers, but they also defend the pre-emptions in principle, because they preserve a "uniform regulatory environment."

  • Dilip Hiro: Trump and Saudi Arabia Against the World.

  • Christopher Ketcham: The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth:

    The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn't appear to bother us. We hear the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion, in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street, in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct.

    One reason American politicians of both parties stress growth so much is that it's the magic elixir that turns pro-business policies into something we can pretend is good for everyone (you know, "trickle down" and all that). Without growth, the only way anyone can improve their lot is at the expense of someone else. But haven't we already been running this experiment for the last forty years, since growth rates in the former "first world" dropped in the 1970s, triggering a feeding frenzy among the rich as they sought to hold their profits up at the expense of workers and customers?

  • Mike Konczal: What the stock market's rise under Trump should teach Democrats: Quotes Kevin Phillips describing the Democrats as "history's second-most enthusiastic capitalist party." Lots of folks expected the stock market to do better under Hillary Clinton, but it's actually boomed under Trump, fattening up with the promise of deregulation boosting profits and tax cuts keeping them safe from the government. Turns out that being "second-most" doesn't get you much support from the capitalists even if historically you've run much stronger growth, and defining yourself as a "responsible steward" of the economy doesn't satisfy anyone.

    This approach hit two serious walls in 2016. The first was that people weren't happy with the economy. Nearly three-fourths of people said the country was on the wrong track, with similar numbers describing the economy as rigged. Median household incomes in 2016 had finally inched back to 2007 levels. This lead to a year of awkward juxtapositions, with "America is Already Great" headlines running next to reports on how much life expectancy is falling for white workers. Democrats attacked Trump as a poor steward, someone too unstable and chaotic to run the economy as it was. But that message doesn't motivate voters when they believe the economy isn't working for them.

  • Shawn Richman: How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power: Book review of the essay collection, Against Labor: How US Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism.

  • Joseph Stiglitz: Tell Donald Trump: the Paris climate deal is very good for America; also: Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the US into a rogue state.

  • Matt Taibbi: North Korea Isn't the Only Rogue Nuclear State.

  • Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st Century:

    Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West -- not necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in a way that helps consolidate the insiders' position. The result is a situation in which the political establishment's once unassailable authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born. The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the product of this gap.

    For too long, the political establishment in the West saw no threat on the horizon to its political monopoly. Just as with asset markets, in which price stability begets instability by encouraging excessive risk-taking, so, too, in Western politics the insiders took absurd risks, convinced that outsiders were never a real threat.

    One example . . . was building a system of world trade and credit that depended on the booming United States trade deficit to stabilize global aggregate demand. It is a measure of the sheer hubris of the Western establishment that it portrayed these steps as "riskless."

    I don't really understand how Varoufakis' notion of a new New Deal works. Rather, it looks to me like the outsiders he notes, from Trump to Macron, offer no alternative whatsoever to neoliberal orthodoxy. Meanwhile, when a real challenger, like Varoufakis' party in Greece, does manage to win an election they still get beat down.

  • George Yancy/Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union: An interview with Chomsky, part of "The Stone" series.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: Trump went to the G20; North Korea tested a missile that could theoretically reach Alaska; CNN and Trump continued their feud; Ted Cruz floated an idea to resurrect Obamacare repeal; the top federal ethics official resigned. Also: Bernie Sanders is the Democrats' real 2020 frontrunner.

One thing I meant to touch on was the term "neoliberalism": my wife got worked up over something Josh Marshall said about that, but as far as I can tell it was only a tweet. I did find this piece from [2016-04-27]: Corey Robin: When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism before Clinton. One thing I learned here was that Charles Peters re-invented the term in the 1970s to describe a faction of pro-business, anti-union, anti-communist, but socially liberal Democrats, which would parallel the evolution of neo-conservatism (pretty much the same cocktail with more emphasis on projecting American military might, and fewer scruples about the company they kept). I had read Peters' Washington Monthly in its infancy and had always admired Peters, so I was a bit taken aback (although I will note that Peters' preference for employee ownership of business over unions is one I share, just not one I espouse in anti-union terms). My own acquaintance with the term "neoliberal" dates from the 1990s, when I associated it with what was then called "the Washington consensus" -- the chief dogma of the IMF and World Bank. As such, it appeared to be defined in terms of US foreign policy: it was basically the carrot as opposed to the neocon stick, although neoconservatives would often adopt it whenever they wanted to present a prettier face (and actually in the IMF's austerity conditions, the veiled threat was often quite palpable).

Until recently, about the only place I ran across "neoliberal" was from left-oriented British critics. I don't have time to try to unpack this here, but outside of the US it's common to regard conservatives as relics and guardians of aristocratic privilege, liberals as individualists who advanced through bourgeois revolts, and the left as more-or-less democratic socialists who tend to favor limiting individual freedom when it conflicts with public good. What distinguishes neoliberals from liberals is that their focus has shifted from the rights of individuals to the demands of capital.

In the US, we've tended to merge our ideas of individual rights and public good, a point reinforced by a history where virtually everything we cherish (as opposed to various things like slavery and ethnic cleansing that fill us with shame) comes from this liberal-left synthesis. On the other hand, there is a small but well-heeled and politically influential faction among Democrats that repeatedly sacrifices the public good for the desires of capital, and "neoliberal" would seem to distinguish them both from people-oriented liberals and from the public-minded left. Certainly not a very elegant term, but until we come up with something better it serves that purpose. Not clear to me whether "neoliberal" as I'm using it here dates back to Charles Peters, but certainly Bill Clinton is an example, as is Andrew Cuomo, and indeed the idea is tempting to any Democrat who depends on high-ticket fundraisers.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Dead Center

Mark Penn/Andrew Stein: Back to the Center, Democrats: Penn was Hillary Clinton's "senior adviser" for her 2008 campaign, which he did more than anyone to destruct and disgrace. Stein was Manhattan Borough president back in the 1990s. Neither figure has any import even among the Clinton faction of the Democratic Party, so it may be unnecessary even to bother with their half-hearted efforts to herd the Democratic Party back toward the "center" -- there must be others who are other who can articulate such views more coherently, but their raw instincts are little different. The one thing they all have in common is a visceral hatred for the left, although in particulars it could take any form that seems convenient. For Penn and Stein, this is built on selective memory:

The path back to power for the Democratic Party today, as it was in the 1990s, is unquestionably to move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left, whose policies and ideas have weakened the party.

In the early 1990s, the Democrats relied on identity politics, promoted equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity and looked to find a government solution for every problem. After years of leftward drift by the Democrats culminated in Republican control of the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton moved the party back to the center in 1995 by supporting a balanced budget, welfare reform, a crime bill that called for providing 100,000 new police officers and a step-by-step approach to broadening health care. Mr. Clinton won a resounding re-election victory in 1996 and Democrats were back.

In 1996 Clinton's "resounding re-election" came with 49.2% of the vote, leaving Gingrich and the Republicans in complete control of Congress -- "back" only if your entire conception of the Party was Clinton himself. The only bills Clinton was able to pass during his second term were ones the Republicans calculated would hurt and disillusion the Democratic Party base -- "welfare reform," repeal of Glass-Steagall, a capital gains tax cut, a bill which declared "regime change" in Iraq to be US policy. But in wasn't "leftward drift" that cost the Democrats control of Congress in 1994: it was Clinton's "triangulation" (his efforts to win over business support by attacking the party base, especially unions), as exemplified in his decision to prioritize NAFTA over health care, and to forsake traditional Democratic health care proposals in favor of a system that catered an increasingly predatory health care industry.

Still, if Clinton's second term was such a golden age for the Democratic Party, how come they lost two elections to Bush, with the Republicans maintaining control of Congress up to 2006 -- when wild-eyed Howard Dean took control of the DNC? And while Obama won decisively in 2008 with his promise of change (and less soundly in 2012 running on "no change"), it's quite a stretch to blame Hillary Clinton's epic collapse in 2016 on the party's "leftward drift." While Republicans have made huge gains since 2010, you have to ask whether this was abetted by fear of the Democratic left or disgust over the corruption and ineptness of Democratic centrists. One hint: Trump's nickname for Clinton was "Crooked Hillary."

Penn and Stein are not just deluded about history, they've come up with some peculiar ideas about what a "winning strategy" for the Democrats might entail. For instance, they think Democrats can win back the working class through a combination of Trumpian prejudices and "moderate" trade and immigration policies:

Central to the Democrats' diminishment has been their loss of support among working-class voters, who feel abandoned by the party's shift away from moderate positions on trade and immigration, from backing police and tough anti-crime measures, from trying to restore manufacturing jobs. . . .

On trade, Democrats should recognize that they can no longer simultaneously try to be the free-trade party and speak for the working class. They need to support fair trade and oppose manufacturing plants' moving jobs overseas, by imposing new taxes on such transfers while allowing repatriation of foreign profits.

Penn and Stein never mention Clinton's signature NAFTA treaty, which was a direct attack on the working class, and the cause of a massive wave of Mexican emigration -- the other major source of immigrants (poor ones, anyway) has been US wars and US-sponsored dictators around the world. The single most important reason Democrats lost so much of the working class was their failure to protect and support unions -- they were just too busy chasing business donors. Republicans took advantage of that lapse by playing to white prejudices -- their only option, because they don't have any economic answers (but neither do the "centrist" Democrats, despite empty cant like "fair trade").

The reason this op-ed has generated any interest at all is that it raises a real question, obscures another, and is stupid enough it begs you to argue the opposite.

The real question actually has three parts: is the assumption that American politics is laid out on a left-right axis true; if so, is it true that the center has shifted right in recent years; and if so, can the Democrats gain voter share by moving right to recapture that center? "Centrism" depends on all three being true, but there are many problems with each. Many people don't think in terms of left-right (e.g., they consider other terms like integrity, or they focus on non-economic issues). The statistical center has moved different directions on different issues. And both parties obfuscate (rather than change) unpopular positions. But also 30-50% of eligible voters don't vote, so they defy categorization. If you're on the left, you probably think that's because mainstream Democrats haven't given many people credible reasons to vote. That's unproven, but one data point is that Sanders has consistently polled better against Trump than Clinton did. That argues against Penn and Stein.

The obscured question is whether actual Democrats have done better when they moved to the center. Clinton's 1992 campaign was distinctly populist, and Obama seemed to embrace progressive liberalism in 2008. Both moved sharply center/right after those elections, and both lost Congress after two years. Even though both were re-elected, neither regained Congress, and neither managed to get a successor elected. Both oversaw periods with reasonable economic growth which accrued almost exclusively to the very rich, resulting in greater inequality. Both saw (and contributed to) the decline of the public sector, and the deterioration of the safety net -- as a result, average Americans (by definition, the "center" of the electorate) saw their relative welfare decline, their risks increase, and their children's futures diminish. You might argue that median welfare declined less under Clinton and Obama than it did under the Bushes, but in absolute terms the only upward indicator "centrist" Democrats can point to is the personal wealth of the dealmakers at the top. As the quotes above make clear, Penn and Stein do their best to obfuscate this legacy.

The opposite argument -- that Democrats are more likely to win when they move left -- actually has quite a bit of historical support. Both Clinton (in 1992) and Obama (in 2008) ran successful campaigns that promised much more than they delivered or even attempted when they entered office. The Democrats' best election of the last 25 years was in 2006 (actually before the recession in 2008), when the DNC was run by Howard Dean, the self-described champion "of the democratic wing of the Democratic Party." And again, all available evidence shows that Sanders would have fared better than Clinton against Trump.

Would be "centrists" have trouble grasping this because they fail to understand how the current political dynamic destroys any ground the "centrists" try to claim. This is because the two parties are very different in goals and methods. The Republicans were taken over by a faction which relentlessly and insatiably pushes everything to the right, in large part by never conceding anything important to the other side. This doesn't preclude compromise deals, but they always exact a high price from the Democratic Party base, and as such lead those voters to become disenchanted with the Party leadership. They can do this because their policies are compatible with the beliefs of their donors -- to increase corporate power over everyday life, making the rich richer, and punishing whoever stands in their way.

One could imagine a similar dynamic on the left, but as politicians became ever more dependent on donors there has never been a comparable funding option for the left. Instead, what's happened is that "centrist" Democrats have filled the breech, banking the votes of the base while cutting deals with their favored donors -- sometimes incredibly bad deals, like NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. In this dynamic, rich donors naturally pressure Democrats to settle with Republicans, yet in the end they wind up backing the Republicans because they can't resist the promise of getting more and more power and wealth. So in this dynamic, the "centrists" screw themselves two ways: they betray their base voters, and they never really get the business support they bargained for. And after repeated failures, it starts to get obvious that they really have nothing to offer. (Hence Penn and Stein wind up pushing "fair trade" and "trying to restore manufacturing jobs.")

There are a few more angles to all of this -- e.g., Democrats hurt themselves enormously when they jump into foreign wars -- but this is the basic dynamic. Penn and Stein don't begin to understand it. For another view on the piece, and some background on who these jokers are, see: Alex Pareene: Mark Penn's Bad Column Also Makes No Goddamn Sense.

Nicholas Lemann offers a sympathetic portrait of the Clintons in his New York Review of Books piece, What Happened to Clintonism? (mostly behind their paywall), based on four recent books: Daryl A Carter: Brother Bill: President Clinton and the Politics of Race and Class; Michael Tomasky: Bill Clinton; William H Chafe: Hillary and Bill: The Clintons and the Politics of the Personal; and Joe Conason: Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton. He does manage to make Clinton seem less sinister than he appears now. To some extent the "political winds" in the early 1990s were blowing in a way that favored someone like Clinton (or Gore), so to some extent he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. (This is not the same thing as popularity within the party. I remain convinced that Jesse Jackson would have won most primaries in 1992 had he run, but I doubt he would have won, and the Party kingmakers were desperate for someone who could win.) And after twelve years of Reagan and Bush, Clinton's centrism still had an aura of plausibility: indeed, if he had a free hand he might have expanded and strengthened the safety net, rolling back the decline of the middle class, while still pursuing his pro-business initiatives. The Republicans deserve much credit (or blame) for wrecking his dream programs, but he shares blame for echoing and legitimizing their concerns and compromising with their schemes.

Conason's book covers the post-presidential years, mostly Clinton's unique combination of vanity and altruism embodied in his Foundation, probably without examining too closely how much money stuck to his fingers on its way from Davos-class donors to the world's needy. It isn't surprising that someone who worked so hard to help his wealthy benefactors make even more should aspire to be one with them, but such upward mobility has neither sharpened his political instincts nor his human empathies -- which in 2016 turned into a liability for Hillary, whose own political ambitions made his philanthropy look more like some kind of political slush fund. Had the Clintons just quietly receded into their newfound wealth few people would have cared much, but having grown wealthy from being president and making their supporters billions of dollars, running again just made them look greedy, and pretending they were running for us just added the insult of hypocrisy.

That Hillary Clinton ultimately lost the election to Donald Trump, and largely because she was the one perceived to be "crooked," is much more than ironic. Given Trump's history and personality, it should have been easy to depict him as greedy and egotistical -- a man who had spent every waking moment of the last fifty years pursuing fame and fortune, one who could hardly be expected to change his stripes the moment he nominally became a public servant. Even looking back it's not clear why Clinton's campaign failed to drive that point home -- it's not so much that they didn't try as didn't manage to be convincing. And while there are many possible reasons for this, the big one was that they spent so much of the campaign being defensive, reeling from the constant barrage of email and foundation scandals.

On the other hand, the Republicans seem to have figured out a very effective way to drive home their "crooked Hillary" meme: social media. Probably the most convincing (and disturbing) piece I've read to date on the campaign is Sue Halpern's How He Used Facebook to Win. The important thing about social media advertising is the degree to which ads can be targeted, so that Trump's people could deliver very precise messages meant to push different user buttons. This, of course, builds on a strategy Republicans have depended on for years now: cultivating single-user voters and stoking their fears to rally them against the Democrats. (Crime comes and goes, but guns and abortion have been especially reliable issues.) There is, of course, a risk in doing this too publicly: it generates a backlash. But highly targeted social media advertising limits unintended visibility, while providing a multiplier effect as fans forward their favored memes to their friends and followers. Here's a sample from the article:

In the early phase of the primaries, Parscale launched Trump's digital operation by buying $2 million in Facebook ads -- his entire budget at the time. He then uploaded all known Trump supporters into the Facebook advertising platform and, using a Facebook tool called Custom Audiences from Customer Lists, matched actual supporters with their virtual doppelgangers and then, using another Facebook tool, parsed them by race, ethnicity, gender, location, and other identities and affinities. From there he used Facebook's Lookalike Audiences tool to find people with interests and qualities similar to those of his original cohort and developed ads based on those characteristics, which he tested using Facebook's Brand Lift surveys. He was just getting started. Eventually, Parscale's shop was reportedly spending $70 million a month on digital advertising, most of it on Facebook. (Facebook and other online venues also netted Trump at least $250 million in donations.)

While it may not have created individual messages for every voter, the Trump campaign used Facebook's vast reach, relatively low cost, and rapid turnaround to test tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of different campaign ads. According to Issie Lapowsky of Wired, speaking with Gary Coby, director of advertising at the Republican National Committee and a member of Trump's digital team:

On any given day . . . the campaign was running 40,000 to 50,000 variants of its ads, testing how they performed in different formats, with subtitles and without, and static versus video, among other small differences. On the day of the third presidential debate in October, the team ran 175,000 variations. Coby calls this approach "A/B testing on steroids."

And this was just Facebook. The campaign also placed ads on other social media, including Twitter and Snapchat, and ran sponsored content on Politico. According to one estimate by a campaign insider, the Trump team spent "in the high eight figures just on persuasion." . . .

There were other digital innovations as well. On election day, for example, the Trump campaign bought all the ad space on YouTube and ran a series of five thirty-second videos, each hosted by a different Trump surrogate representing a particular segment of the Trump base. We "learned that putting Mr. Trump on persuasion ads was a bad idea," Cambridge Analytica's Oczkowski said in April at a meeting of the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising in Melbourne, Australia. Instead, there was Ivanka Trump, representing mothers and business women; Willie Robertson, the star of the television show Duck Dynasty, to appeal to southerners and hunters; Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke, representing law and order and diversity (he is African-American); the former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell to appeal to veterans and their families; and Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, a tough, aggressive guy's guy.

"There was no targeting," Oczkowski explained. "Every single American who [went] to YouTube that day [saw these ads]." And, he continued, once viewers watched one of the thirty-second videos to the end, they landed on a screen with a polling place locator. "We had tens of millions of people view the videos and hundreds of thousands of people use the 'find your polling place' locator. When you're talking about winning by thousands of votes, this stuff matters," Oczkowski said.

Parscale's strategy of using Facebook's "dark posts" also turned out to matter, enabling the Trump campaign to attack Clinton with targeted negative ads that flew below the public radar.

Nor was Trump's digital advertising limited to pushing buttons to get potential supporters to come out and vote for him. It was also directed at undermining Hillary Clinton's support by turning potential voters for her off:

"We have three major voter suppression operations under way," a senior campaign official told Bloomberg's Green and Issenberg. One targeted idealistic white liberals -- primarily Bernie Sanders's supporters; another was aimed at young women -- hence the procession of women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed by the candidate herself; and a third went after African-Americans in urban centers where Democrats traditionally have had high voter turnout. One dark post featured a South Park-like animation narrated by Hillary Clinton, using her 1996 remarks about President Bill Clinton's anti-crime initiative in which she called certain young black men "super predators" who had to be brought "to heel."

"We've modeled this," the unnamed senior campaign official told Green and Issenberg. "It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out." And it did. Democratic turnout in battleground states was weak, which was crucial to Trump's victory. Tallying it up three days after the election, David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, noted:

In Detroit, Mrs. Clinton received roughly 70,000 votes fewer than Mr. Obama did in 2012; she lost Michigan by just 12,000 votes. In Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, she received roughly 40,000 votes fewer than Mr. Obama did, and she lost the state by just 27,000. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, turnout in majority African-American precincts was down 11 percent from four years ago.

Some of these approaches had been worked by Obama's campaign in 2008 and 2012, especially in terms of micro-targeted get-out-the-vote efforts. But there's an essential asymmetry between Republican and Democratic agendas and strategies: Democrats at least try to present a coherent program that offers tangible benefits to voters (even though they, especially recently, have a poor track record of delivering on their promises, nearly every popular benefit ever dates back to Democrats). Republicans, on the other hand, favor intrinsically unpopular policies of increasing the power and wealth of a tiny coterie of elites, so they have few options other than to dissemble and misdirect -- indeed, what seems to work best for them is driving voters into blind rage. The article quotes Laura Quinn, explaining: "Trump didn't have a lot of 'Here is my agenda, here is my narrative, I have to persuade people of it,' . . . The Trump world was more like, 'Let's say a lot of different things, they don't even necessarily need to be coherent, and observe, through the wonderful new platforms that allow you to observe how people respond and observe what works, and whatever squirrel everyone chases, that's going to become out narrative, our agenda, our message.'"

It's tempting to blame all this -- literally the undermining of democracy by special interests spreading unchecked misinformation -- on social media. Indeed, the business model of paying for social media through advertising is quickly becoming as annoying and as distorting as the same model has long been in broadcast media. (Print advertising is somewhat less so because it's easier to pass over -- for that same reason, it is often more informative and less manipulative.) I have an even lower view of advertising, not just because that industry has been the source of such all pervasive techniques as message framing, focus groups, polling, targeting, but because the whole industry is built on the notion that truth is maleable to whatever special interests want it to be. As more and more money is put into the process of manipulating public opinion, actual policies become afterthoughts, not something we agree on because we want or need them, but perks for the political parties most skilled at provoking or stroking our psyches.

Hillary Clinton was unable to defend us from these machinations, partly because her naive faith in the establishment, garnered by living so many years in its bubble, didn't prepare her for such a dirty campaign, and partly because she was so complicit in so many failures of that establishment that she wound up bearing more than her share of the blame -- she even managed to make Donald Trump look like an outsider, an insurgent, a vanquisher (all ridiculous views if you give them a bit of thought). The silver lining in the election is that it frees us from the notion that all is fine and nothing has to change. Had she won, we'd still be struggling with that notion, and the Republicans would still look like a possible way out -- even though they have nothing to offer but worse. Finally, the Democrats can cast off the worst of their legacy (Mark Penn and Andrew Stein, for starters). The center is no longer an option: it's too late, and offers too little.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28359 [28324] rated (+35), 366 [368] unrated (-2).

Most of the week's new finds made it into the June Streamnotes post which came out on Friday -- the best new one is yet another good one from François Carrier. The Streamnotes post included a 30-album wild-ass guess at what a mid-year critics poll list might look like, with my grades for the 27 albums I had checked out. I've since added the 3 I had missed, so the top-30 grade curve looks like this:

  1. A-: Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, The XX, Syd, Run the Jewels, Khalid, Joey Bada$$
  2. B+(***): Migos, Spoon, Chris Stapleton, Paramore, Jens Lekman
  3. B+(**): Future, Vince Staples, SZA, Japandroids, Cloud Nothings
  4. 8+(*): Sampha, Drake, Thundercat, Jay Som, Mount Eerie, Slowdive, Laura Marling, Stormzy
  5. B: Arca
  6. B-: Father John Misty, Perfume Genius, Magnetic Fields
  7. C: Dirty Projectors

That's still pretty left-shifted from normal, but note I decided to include Jens Lekman and Magnetic Fields (both Christgau picks) instead of artists with more supporting data such as Ryan Adams, Julie Byrne, Alex G, and/or Harry Styles. I'll also concede that I can imagine other people liking most of the bottom half of the list more than I do (well, Perfume Genius and Dirty Projectors seem pretty hard to like).

I got a couple of reprieves from my computer problems. The website ISP found a bit of free disk space, but at 95% used it could go away fast, and the company has become impossible to communicate with. I got around my local browser problem by switching to Chromium, which has held up fairly well, although I haven't put anyway near the load on it I used to do with Firefox. I still need to save everything off, do a fresh operating system load, and put it all back together again, but it's tempting to keep muddling by for a while until I face up to all that. It would be good, for instance, to update the Christgau website before I break my local copy. It would be even better if I could migrate the website to HTML5 and UTF-8 when it comes back. Presumably there are tools that help with that sort of thing, but I haven't searched them out yet. We've also talked a bit about making it more phone-friendly or even converting it to some kind of phone ap, but that's another learning curve. Anyone who has advice or suggestions about this, please get in touch through normal channels.

Tried turning on the old Dell laptop today, but it came up with an ominous message about the "disk drive failing" that suggests it's soon to be a goner. It's running Ubuntu 10.04, so it's even further behind than my main machine. For most practical purposes I replaced it with a Chromebook a few years ago, but I never got into the habit of using cloud storage, so I really just use it for web surfing. I suppose a new real laptop is in order.

Meanwhile, about the only thing I've actually been enjoying has been cooking. The hardest thing has been lining up guests so I get an excuse to stretch a little -- I still haven't done the big Korean bash I planned out 3-4 months ago. I did cook Indian for my sister's birthday, but that's about all. On the other hand, I've been picking up small packages of meat and scattered vegetables that I can cook for the two of us. Today I turned a pound of hamburger into picadillo -- sort of a Cuban sloppy joe mix -- served with pan-fried potatoes and fried egg (a "caballo").

Lately I've found myself going back to Chinese recipes, some I haven't made in years. On Sunday I made a version of sweet & sour pork and some fried rice. I made lettuce wraps with a chicken and pine nut filling and fried cellophane noodles. I found some frozen pork chops and turned them into pork & pickle soup (the "pickle" is Szechuan preserved vegetable -- mustard stem), adding some dried mushrooms. Another time I made braised pork ribs with fermented black beans. Then there was the "hoisin-exploded" chicken. I have a pretty good pantry of Chinese odds and ends, so I can usually turn a package of meat or fish and whatever vegetables are handy into a remarkably tasty meal. The hard part is keeping fresh scallions and ginger on hand.

My mother was the master of always having a pantry (and two freezers) stocked with anything she might need should, say, a relative show up in need of a full meal and maybe a pie or cake. After she died, I made three typical cakes, knowing that all the ingredients would be on hand. We grew up on stories of Aunt Hester receiving guests at 3AM with full meals prepared on her wood-fired stove. I don't think Mom ever had to do that, but she was prepared.

New records rated this week:

  • Algiers: The Underside of Power (2017, Matador): [r]: B-
  • Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S: Plucky Strum: Departure (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Erik Bogaerts/Hendrik Lasure/Pit Dahm: Bogaerts & Lasure + Dahm (2016, self-released): [bc]: B-
  • Burial: Subtemple/Beachfires (2017, Hyperdub, EP): [r]: B
  • Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness (2017, Ba Da Bing): [r]: B+(**)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Oneness (2015 [2017], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • Playboi Carti (2017, AWGE/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Cashmere Cat: 9 (2017, Mad Love/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (2017, Domino): [r]: C
  • Silke Eberhard Trio: The Being Inn (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Emperor X: Oversleepers International (2017, Tiny Engines): [r]: B+(***)
  • Noga Erez: Off the Radar (2017, City Slang): [r]: B
  • The Feelies: In Between (2017, Bar/None): [r]: B+(**)
  • Forest Swords: Compassion (2017, Ninja Tune): [r]: B-
  • Llop: J.Imp (2017, El Negocito): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lorde: Melodrama (2017, Lava/Republic): [r]: A-
  • Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B-
  • Oddisee: The Iceberg (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: A-
  • Aruán Ortiz: Cubanism: Piano Solo (2016 [2017], Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone (2016 [2017], 482 Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Smino: Blkswn (2017, Zero Fatigue/Downtown): [r]: B+(**)
  • Songhoy Blues: Résistance (2017, Fat Possum): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sorority Noise: You're Not as ___ as You Think (2017, Triple Crown): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (2017, Def Jam): [r]: B+(**)
  • SZA: Ctrl (2017, Top Dawg/RCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/William Parker: Toxic: This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (2015 [2017], ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Emperor X: Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform (2004, Discos Mariscos): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wallace Roney: According to Mr. Roney (1988-91 [1997], 32 Jazz, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wallace Roney: No Job Too Big or Too Small (1987-93 [1999], Savoy Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Wallace Roney: Mistérios (1994, Warner Brothers): [r]: B-
  • Wallace Roney: No Room for Argument (2000, Stretch): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Oneness (FMR)
  • Free Radicals: Outside the Comfort Zone (Free Rads): September 23
  • Dusan Jevtovic: No Answer (Moonjune)
  • Chris Pasin and Friends: Baby It's Cold Outside (Planet Arts): October 6
  • Talinka: Talinka (Moonjune)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Week Links

Last week I contemplated suspending Weekend Roundup. Partly I was having grave computer problems that made surfing the web ever more painful, and partly I was just disgusted with all the insane things Trump and the Republicans are doing. Since then I tried Google's Chromium browser and it's working better (although not perfectly, and without NoScript I'm seeing a lot of annoying JavaScript I never had to deal with before).

So I figured I'd compromise by just jotting down a few links without comments, although sometimes I couldn't help myself. Also because shit's happening so fast, I figured I should jot down a date for each linked page (when I remembered to do so). Then I wrote an introduction.

Meanwhile, I slogged through Noam Chomsky's essay collection, Who Rules the World? I didn't learn a lot I didn't already know, but I started out in a bad mood about America's many wars, so I didn't mind Chomsky being even harsher than I would be. Still, I wanted something lighter next, and settled for Bernie Sanders' post-campaign book. Only about 100 pages into it -- still pre-Iowa, when he was a very longshot, yet still no more improbable than the mess we wound up with. I talked to a friend last week who was still complaining about "Bernie or bust" -- people who held out for something more while most of us were willing to settle for much less (damn near nothing).

Five months in, I think we can draw some clear conclusions about Donald Trump as President. One is that he's a lot more ignorant about everything a national political leader does (or should do) than pretty much anyone imagined -- including those of us who have long feared what we thought would be the worst. One manifestation of this is that he has no clue how to get anything done, and his ideas about what to do rarely rise above his sociopathic prejudices.

The second, which was easier to predict from his campaign, is that his shameless disregard for truth is orders of magnitude beyond anything Washington -- a notorious haven for dissemblers -- has ever encountered. The media literally have no idea where to begin, because there are no fixed points to navigate by.

The third is that Trump has belied every intimation he made on the campaign trail that he might break with Republican Party orthodoxy and forge a new direction: nationalist, for sure, but giving government a more humane role at home and a less aggressive one at home. This not only didn't happen; as many of us suspected, it never had a chance. Trump's trifecta of ignorance, incompetence, and dishonesty (for lack of a better word -- mendacious implies he's somewhat clever, and even bullshit suggests a hidden agenda) has left his administration in the malevolent hands of Republican apparatchiks and their billionaire masters.

His only authentic (in the sense of things he personally decided) moves so far have been hiring relatives and touring his personal properties -- things he's been doing for decades. And when he's not indulging his oversized ego, he's doing what he's always tried to do: make money. He's not responsible for creating Washington's ubiquitous culture of graft, but he exemplifies it, especially by making sure he's getting his cut.

Still, since Mitch McConnell unveiled his hitherto secret health care bill (the BRCA, like the breast cancer gene -- it seems immune to adding a "Care" suffix because it clearly doesn't), Trump's own personal garishness has taken a back seat (despite eruptions like the Mika Brzezinski flap) to his adopted party's crusade not just to coddle and elevate the rich but also to demean and hurt the poor (and anyone else they can organize their disdain against). This should have been clear years ago, but centrist Democrats and the bought-and-aid-for media have perpetuated the myth that they can work with moderate counterparts among the Republicans. But while Clinton and Obama never pointed to the obvious, Trump inadvertently made the point when he complained of not having a chance to get a single Democratic vote for his "repeal-and-replace Obamacare" bill. At least this answers the thought experiment: how bad does a bill have to be to not get a single sell-out Democrat?

Still, Republicans are using their thin Congressional margins, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, and anything that can be done through executive orders (or not done by turning a blind eye to enforcement on matters like civil rights, environment, and antitrust), to push its anti-popular (and frequently downright unpopular) agenda through. Just this last week, Trump's travel ban order got a reprieve from the Supreme Court, and the House passed two anti-immigrant bills (certain to fall short of the 60 votes the Senate used to require, but McConnell may still get creative there).

It's hard to say whether Trump's chaos (for lack of a better word, although I was tempted by "insanity") is making their efforts easier or harder. Matthew Yglesias sums this up in Why Donald Trump can't make deals in Washington:

It seems paradoxical that you could combine the party discipline needed to push controversial and unpopular legislation through on a party line vote with total disengagement on the part of the party's top leader. But the Trump administration seems to feature just the right mix of chaos and conventionality to make it work. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus are very conventional Republicans with deep ties to the congressional party. That seems to be good enough to ensure that Trump will take his cues from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell regardless of his personal instincts. Trump triumphed over the GOP's leadership during the 2016 primary, but he has largely surrendered to them on policy questions.

The result is that deals get done -- or not -- by the party's congressional leadership. The ability to legislate hinges on Ryan and McConnell being able to agree among themselves. Trump serves as an ineffectual figurehead, talking tough but not really being able to engage with the policy details enough to properly negotiate an unprecedented rollback of the welfare state.

Here's another writer who understands that no matter how personally noxious Donald Trump may be, his administration is doing pretty exactly what any Republican administration would be doing given the same powers: Alex Pareene: This Is Normal:

What most of the worst people in Donald Trump's administration have in common is that they are Republicans. This simple fact is obscured sometimes by the many ways in which Trump is genuinely an aberration from the political norm -- like his practice of naked nepotism rather than laundering the perpetuation of class advantage through a "meritocratic" process -- and by the fact that many of the most vocal online spokespeople for "the resistance" ignore the recent history of the Republican Party in favor of a Trump-centric theory of How Fucked Up Everything Is.

But it is necessary for liberals, leftists, and Democrats to actually be clear on the fact that the Republican Party is responsible for Trump. The Democrats' longterm failure to make a compelling and all-encompassing case against conservatism and the GOP as institutions, rather than making specific cases against specific Republican politicians, is one of the reasons the party is currently in the political wilderness. . . .

Next time you boggle at the sight of the president's unqualified son-in-law flying to Iraq to get briefed by generals on the facts on the ground, remember that George W. Bush sent a business school chum to privatize Iraq's economy and a 24-year-old with no relevant experience to reopen the Iraqi stock market.

The worst members of Trump's cabinet -- Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos -- are Republicans. Their analogues in any possible alternate Republican presidency would've been basically identical in how they carried out their work. Jeb Bush would've signed the AHCA. Marco Rubio would've sold arms to Saudi Arabia. John Kasich would've abided the theft of a Supreme Court seat and selected a justice just as conservative as Neil Gorsuch, if not Gorsuch himself.

None of those men would've lobbed crude personal insults at cable show hosts. They wouldn't have been as cartoonishly, personally corrupt in their business dealings (though scores of their appointees would have been). But even the most consequential way in which Trump differs from a hypothetical alternate Republican president, his blatant obstruction of the investigation into whether or not he is somehow compromised by or in league with the Russian government, has almost no real-world consequences, compared to his (bog-standard Republican) international and domestic policy agendas. When Mitch McConnell's underhanded legislative maneuvering is included in a list of ways in which Trump is normalizing authoritarianism, you give the president far too much credit and the Republican Party far too little.

Meanwhile, here are links (mostly without comments) to some stories I noticed:

Note: It was impossible for me to follow various links that loooked interesting due to aggressive gatekeeping. This included Business Insider, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal. Also annoying: The Guardian, The Nation. I subscribe to The Nation, so should be able to work around that, but the new browser doesn't have the right account info.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Streamnotes (June 2017)

Ran up against the end of the month again, although this month has more records than any since February, when I finally started running out of interest in 2016 EOY lists. This month's resurgence is probably related to having looked through a couple dozen mid-year lists -- they've become almost as automatic in the music press as EOY lists. Lot of records below I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. On the other hand, those lists are no guarantee of merit. Back on June 12, I published my wild-ass guess how the top-20 of list aggregate might look. Here's a slightly revised top-30 with some recent releases and a few longer-shots (my grades in brackets):

  1. Kendrick Lamar: Damn (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) [A-]
  2. Sampha: Process (Young Turks) [*]
  3. Lorde: Melodrama (Lava/Republic) [A-]
  4. The XX: I See You (Young Turks) [A-]
  5. Drake: More Life (Young Money/Cash Money) [*]
  6. Syd: Fin (Columbia) [A-]
  7. Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
  8. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3 (Run the Jewels) [A-]
  9. Migos: Culture (QC/YRN/300) [***]
  10. Thundercat: Drunk (Brainfeeder) [*]
  11. Spoon: Hot Thoughts (Matador) [***]
  12. Future: Hndrxx (Epic/A1/Freebandz) [**]
  13. Jay Som: Everybody Works (Polyvinyl) [*]
  14. Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (PW Elverum & Sun) [*]
  15. Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)
  16. Khalid: American Teen (Right Hand/RCA) [A-]
  17. Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville) [***]
  18. SZA: Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA) [**]
  19. Perfume Genius: No Shape (Matador) [B-]
  20. Slowdive: Slowdive (Dead Oceans) [*]
  21. Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (Domino)
  22. Paramore: After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen) [***]
  23. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian) [***]
  24. Laura Marling: Semper Femina (More Alarming) [*]
  25. Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti-) [**]
  26. Arca: Arca (XL) [B]
  27. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound (Carpark) [**]
  28. Joey Bada$$: All Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Pro Era/Cinematic) [A-]
  29. Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayer (Merky) [*]
  30. The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch) [B-]

I'll probably get to the three unrated albums shortly. Lorde has only made five MY lists (vs. 13 for The XX and 15 for Drake) but she's currently number two at Album of the Year, with a 92/27 just behind Kendrick Lamar's 92/28. Took me a long time to get to A- but I finally did (much longer than it took me with Lamar). Drake has more/better lists than XX but I think we have a hip-hop selection bias (unlike the norm for EOY lists) -- plus I've heard the album and can't quite see what people like so much about it. Vince Staples is currently number 4 at AOTY (88/18), and SZA is at 11 (85/10) -- SZA has done better on lists so far, but had a two-week head start.

Of course, most of the good records I found don't show up on those MY lists. For country, I got some tips from Saving Country Music (Jason Eady, John Moreland, Colter Wall -- not that I wasn't already on Moreland). Christgau has reviewed Chuck Berry, Steve Earle, Oumou Sangaré, and Starlito (and written about without reviewing Omar Souleyman), but not my other two rap picks (Joey Bada$$ and Oddisee) or the electropop (Sylvan Esso, Charli XCX). Three of five jazz albums came from my queue, but I had to go to Napster for Jimmy Greene and to Bandcamp for Joshua Abrams. I was so delighted with the latter I played all of his Eremites on Bandcamp (but didn't find any more Ari Brown sax).

Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on May 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (9774 records).

Recent Releases

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Simultonality (2014-15 [2017], Eremite): Chicago bassist, appeared in avant-garde circles around 2002 but at this time highly patterned, repetetively rhythmic music, close in spirit to minimalism but subtly more complex. Abrams himself is also credited with guimbri, small harp, and bells, and is joined by Lisa Alvarado (harmonium, Leslie, percussion), Ben Boye (chromatic electric autoharp, piano, Wurlitzer), Emmett Kelly (electric guitar), and two percussionists (Michael Avery and Frank Rosaly) -- plus a real nice closing track tenor sax spot (Ari Brown). A- [bc]

Ambrose Akinmusire: A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): Trumpet player, born and raised in Oakland, now 35 -- as one reviewer noted, the same age as Coltrane when he recorded his own Live at the Village Vanguard in 1961. Highly regarded: he topped DownBeat's Critics Poll for Best Trumpet last year, following his third studio album, which placed 3rd in 2014's Jazz Critics Poll. (Say, didn't Coltrane have a couple dozen albums by 1961?) Quartet, with Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Justin Brown (drums). (Coltrane's Quartet members weren't any more famous at the time, and extra Eric Dolphy had only cut his first albums the year before.) I've never been much impressed, at least until I heard "Trumpet Sketch (milky pete)," the intense trumpet-drum parlay that closes the first disc. Still, took a long time to warm up to that point, and the second disc only comes close to reprising it on the last track. This leaves me with two thoughts: first, this could have benefited from a lot of editing, and second, this group isn't able to sustain their few moments of excitement over a set or a side. B+(*)

Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers (2017, Blue Note, EP): Drummer from Nigeria, best known for his work with Fela Kuti. Can't recall him ever playing on a jazz record before, but also can't imagine any reason he wouldn't admire the principal inventor of hard bop, especially as Blakey himself developed a fascination with African drumming. Four tracks, 24:34, including Blakey's own "The Drum Thunder Suite." Septet based in Paris, the horns a bit light and flighty, the rhythm more skittish than hard. B+(**)

Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (2017, Pro Era/Cinematic): Brooklyn rapper Jo-Vaughn Scott, second studio album after three mixtapes. Despite his fondness for dollar signs, this finds him thinking hard about injustice in the nation, and while the "three K's" isn't deep, I don't mind him dropping a little kitsch into the dialectic. Nor an occasional obscenity, like "fuck Trump." A-

Ignacio Berroa Trio: Straight Ahead From Havana (2017, Codes Drum Music): Drummer, from Cuba, left in 1980, joined Dizzy Gillespie in 1981 until his death. First album, Codes (2006) was superb, but I haven't heard anything since. This is a piano trio featuring Martin Bejerano with Josh Allen on bass, playing Cuban tunes recalled from Berroa's childhood in a very straightforward bop style, a little extra percussion on a couple tracks, and a Ruben Blades vocal on one. B+(**) [cd]

Chuck Berry: Chuck (1991-2014 [2017], Dualtone): Legend, content to rest on his laurels since Rock It in 1979, then announced this album on his 90th birthday, but didn't live long enough to see its release. Eight originals, two fair approximations. Of the originals, two are obvious glosses on classics ("Lady B. Goode," "Jamaica Moon") but "Wonderful Woman" veers just far enough from "Back in the USA" to seem like a new hit. A couple others offer off-handed surprises, and nowhere does he struggle to top himself like on his '70s albums. A-

Steve Bilodeau: The Sun Through the Rain (2017, self-released): Guitarist, from Boston, has a half-dozen previous albums (all on Bandcamp). This is a trio, with Richard Garcia on sax and Dor Herskovitz on drums. Neither free nor fusion, a more complex form of ambience, dense and rather dark. B+(*) [cd]

Scott H. Biram: The Bad Testament (2017, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter from Texas, country drawl with a harder edge, started out in 1998 as The Dirty Old One Man Band, fourth album got picked up by Bloodshot in 2005, and this is his fifth since (ninth overall). Seems incapable of putting together an album without rough patches or gratuitous offense, but sometimes just that works best -- as on the gospel singalong or the closing blues instrumental. B+(**)

Mary J Blige: Strength of a Woman (2017, Capitol): I've never had a good ear or much patience for this r&b star, but she hit it big in 1992, and while she hasn't gone platinum since 2007 that's more the industry's fault: she projects great strength and perseverance, even when wielding the "survivor" cliché, and she hasn't let up one iota here. Of course, I'm tempted to say she oversings and overpowers everything, but that's just how she rolls. B+(***)

Blondie: Pollinator (2017, BMG): A New York group I loved in the 1970s, up to and including their oft-maligned 1980 album Autoamerican. Their big hiatus was between 1982-99, but I didn't notice their last two albums (2011, 2014). This one makes a strong, distinctive pop impression, but leaves me wondering what they really have to say. B

Erik Bogaerts/Hendrik Lasure/Pit Dahm: Bogaerts & Lasure + Dahm (2016, self-released): Sax, piano, and drums, although the latter is so quiet I've already forgotten it, leaving a rather chamber-ish piano-sax dialogue. Bogaerts is from Antwerp, Belgium. B- [bc]

The Brother Brothers: Tugboats E.P. (2017, self-released, EP): Country/folk group from Brooklyn, brothers are Adam and David Moss. Six tracks, 18:43, harmonies can be Everly, main instruments are fiddle and cello, the one cut where they drop them for something accordion-like is a must to avoid. B-

Burial: Subtemple/Beachfires (2017, Hyperdub, EP): William Bevan, British dubstep producer, released two albums 2006-07, the latter to much acclaim, but since then has only dribbled out EPs or singles -- this one skimpier than most, the two songs total 17:13. Rather glum and obscure, makes one wonder why we should bother. B

Burning Ghosts: Reclamation (2017, Tzadik): LA-based jazz-metal fusion quartet, second album: Daniel Rosenboom (trumpet), Jake Vossler (guitar), Richard Giddens (bass), Aaron McLendon (drums). Trumpet player is terrific -- he's building a very interesting career, mostly behind group aliases but his Astral Transference and Seven Dreams is worth searching for. The metal offers some solid crunch but not a lot of flash. B+(***) [cdr]

Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness (2017, Ba Da Bing): Singer-songwriter from Buffalo, second album, rather short (9 songs, 32:37). Plays guitar and sings, so a folkie by default, dressed up with an aura of strings. Doesn't seems like much, especially given a first instinct to compare her to Joni Mitchell, but grows on you. B+(**)

Gerald Cannon: Combinations (2017, Woodneck): Mainstream bassist, one previous album in 2003, numerous side credits back to 1995, has trouble working all his friends in so they're rotated with a few cuts each: alto saxophonists Gary Bartz, Sherman Irby, and Steve Slagle; trumpeters Duane Eubanks and Jeremy Pelt; pianists Rick Germanson and Kenny Barron. Willie Jones III gets most of the drum work, but Will Calhoun gets one cut, and guitarist Rick Malone gets three. Five originals, six covers. B+(**) [cd]

Regina Carter: Ella: Accentuate the Positive (2017, Okeh/Masterworks): Violinist, ten albums since 1995, won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2006. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald's birth, but it's hard to see an organic connection to Carter's work -- I suspect it was the label's idea (like when they directed her cousin to Billie Holiday), and with its ready-made songbook seemed easy. Two vocals (Miche Braden and Carla Cook, spread wide), the rest instrumentals featuring the leader backed with guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums. B+(*)

Playboi Carti: Playboi Carti (2017, AWGE/Interscope): Atlanta rapper Jordan Terrell Carter, previously dba $ir Cartier, first mixtape. Rhythmically resembles Young Thug, but hasn't really found message or meaning yet. B+(*)

Chastity Belt: I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (2017, Hardly Art): Indie band, four women from Walla Walla, Washington, so post-punk they're almost lackadaisical, which is not because they're boring, let alone happy. B+(*)

Chicano Batman: Freedom Is Free (2017, ATO): Los Angeles band, third album, mostly in Spanish, started out sounding erratically dissonant, or maybe just out of tune, then started to cohere somewhat -- even got interesting on one song I could follow ("The Taker City"). B-

Gerald Clayton: Tributary Tales (2017, Motéma): Pianist, son of bassist John Clayton, fourth album. Group includes three saxes (Logan Richardson, Ben Wendel, Dayna Stephens), bass, and drums. The saxes provide some attractive big band harmonics, but this doesn't generate much lift or propulsion. B

Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis (2016 [2017], Pi): Alto saxophonist, thirty-some albums since 1985, has broken new ground several times and this is probably another -- I've played it many times, never really making up my mind as it keeps shifting in unexpected directions. Large group with a chamber jazz air -- only has percussion on 5/9 tracks, never significant, although there are many sources of rhythm -- three reeds, trumpet, violin, piano, bass, with Jen Shyu's voice shadowing. A- [cd]

Bill Cunliffe: BACHanalia (2013-16 [2017], Metre): Pianist, has a dozen or so records since 1993 (e.g., Bill Plays Bud, Bill in Brazil, A Paul Simon Songbook), has worked in big bands, and has written five books. This was recorded over three sessions, some with big band. Two (of eight) titles credit JS Bach, one more CPE Bach, but nothing here triggers my Bach reflex -- nor does the Prokofiev, but I only recognized the Cole Porter when the singer took over, so none of this strikes me as very clear (or inspiring). Featuring credits for singer Denise Donatelli and trumpeter Terell Stafford, who also gets a shout-out from the leader. B- [cd]

Dálava: The Book of Transfigurations (2016 [2017], Songlines): New York guitarist Aram Bajakian, of Armenian heritage but I'm not finding much biography, nor credits here. He has a previous Dálava album (2014): Moravian folk songs, sung by his wife Julia Ulehla, transcribed by her great-grandfather over a century ago. Figure this for more: while the vocals harken back to an age that aspired to opera, the guitar is decidedly new. B+(*) [bc]

Roger Davidson Trio With Hendrik Meurkens: Oração Para Amanhã/Prayer for Tomorrow (2016 [2017], Soundbrush): Pianist, based in New York but fell hard for Brazilian music long ago, something he has in common with the German vibraphonist/harmonica player. With Eduardo Bello on bass, Antonio Santos on drums, for fast sambas with boppish touches. B+(**) [cd]

Rick Davies: Thugtet (2015 [2017], Emlyn): Trombonist, originally from Albuquerque, played Latin jazz for many years in New York, recorded this three weeks before his death in December 2015. Billed as "an energetic meld of danceable Latin with jazz and a good taste of funk," features Alex Stewart (tenor sax) and Ray Vega (trumpet) as guests, doubling up on the congas. B+(**) [cd]

Joey DeFrancesco and the People: Project Freedom (2017, Mack Avenue): Names his band but the publicist doesn't bother to list credits. Some sleuthing suggests the leader plays his usual organ plus some trumpet, along with Troy Roberts (tenor/soprano sax), Jason Brown (drums), and Dan Wilson (probably guitar). Starts with a whiff of "Imagine," and includes titles like "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "A Change Is Gonna Come," and "Stand Up" -- probably some originals too. B+(*)

The Deslondes: Hurry Home (2017, New West): New Orleans group, generically Americana, draws on country rock with Cajun flavors including a guy who doubles on fiddle/pedal steel. B

Dalton Domino: Corners (2017, Lightning Rod): Singer-songwriter, alt-country division, has some grit in his voice and in his songs. Last few songs do tend to blur together. B+(**)

Drake: More Life: A Playlist by October Firm (2017, Young Money/Cash Money): Canadian rapper, destined to be a big deal in 2010 but he's never really delivered, even though he's been rather prolific. Probably his most critically acclaimed album since Thank Me Later, but it's packaged as a throwaway and that's pretty much what he delivers. I'm sure there are other rappers who are as regularly upstaged by guests and samples, but I can't recall their names. B+(*)

Jason Eady: Jason Eady (2017, Old Guitar): Country singer-songwriter, born in Mississippi but seems to be associated with Texas, with a half-dozen albums since 2005 on obscure labels. Picks his way through unassuming songs, easy and graceful, most with stories to tell. A-

Justin Townes Earle: Kids in the Street (2017, New West): Singer-songwriter, drawl much weaker than his father's which shades him away from country toward folk, and personality seems less commanding as well. Nice record, though. B+(**)

Steve Earle & the Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw (2017, Warner Brothers): There's nothing glamorous about those outlaw songs, but the roots grow thick, not least with the fiddle. A-

Silke Eberhard Trio: The Being Inn (2016 [2017], Intakt): Plays alto sax and bass clarinet (here), based in Berlin, has done tributes to Dolphy, Coleman, and Mingus; credited with writing everything here, although I hear echoes of Ornette. Trio with Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lubke (drums). A- [cd]

Eliane Elias: Dance of Time (2017, Concord): Brazilian pianist, early albums from 1985 on were instrumental but at some point she started to sing -- most winningly on 1998's Eliane Elias Sings Jobim -- and lately it's turned into her shtick, light and charming. B+(*)

The Four Bags: Waltz (2017, NCM East): With no drums, I suppose you could characterize this as chamber jazz, just not very formal or polite. Trombone (Brian Drye), accordion (Jacob Garchik), clarinet (Mike McGinnis), and guitar (Sean Moran) -- all leaders on their own (Garchik primarily on trombone), each contributing pieces here (plus three takes of "Valse des As" by G. Jacques). B+(*) [cd]

Art Fristoe Trio: Double Down (2017, Merry Lane, 2CD): Piano trio, seems to be pianist Fristoe's debut, a double, with Tim Ruiz on bass and Richard Cholakian or Daleton Lee on drums. Six originals, mostly on the second disc, plus eleven covers, opening with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and closing with "Speak Low." For some reason he decides to sing "Blackbird," and it's not pretty. B [cd]

Future: Future (2017, Epic/A1/Freebandz): Rapper Nayvadius Cash, fifth studio album since 2012 (he also has a dozen mixtapes and 62 singles). Stretches himself thin over 17 tracks, 62:47, and still wasn't done. B+(**)

Future: Hndrxx (Epic/A1/Freebandz): And, dropping a week after Future, his Sixth studio album. Most critics, including Christgau, regard this as the better half. It does start stronger, but once he settles into his slack groove it's hard for me to discern any difference. B+(**)

Gabriel Garzón-Montano: Jardin (2017, Stones Throw): Brooklyn-born, father French, mother Colombian. Album has a soul vibe but can slow down to just airy. B

Gato Libre: Neko (2016 [2017], Libra): Trio, seventh album since 2004, led by trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, with Yasuko Kaneko on trombone and Satoko Fujii on accordion -- sort of a miniature/avant brass band, the accordion adding a folkish flair. Some lovely passages, especially toward the end, but it rarely jumps out at you. B+(**) [cd]

Kate Gentile: Mannequins (2016 [2017], Skirl): Drummer, also plays vibes, from Buffalo, based in New York since 2011. First album, quartet with Jeremy Viner (clarinet/tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano/electronics), and Adam Hopkins (bass). All original material by Gentile, interesting mix of rhythmic vamps and free jazz, both good for the pianist. Runs long: 72 minutes. B+(***) [cd]

Terry Gibbs: 92 Years Young: Jammin' at the Gibbs House (2016 [2017], Whaling City Sound): Vibraphonist, born 1924, cut his first record in 1949 (or 1951), led an outfit he called the Dream Band circa 1959 (his son, drummer Gerry Gibbs, present here, has his own Dream Band). First record since 2006, cut in his living room with John Campbell on piano and Mike Gurrola on bass, mostly swing and early bop standards, and indeed they are delightful. B+(***) [cd]

The Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming Big (2016 [2017], Goldfox): Big band, 18 pieces when the guitar's present, Gold composed and arranged but doesn't play, more than half of the New York musicians are recognizable from their own careers. Certainly has some exciting passages, especially when the trombones come out. B+(*) [cd]

Alex Goodman: Second Act (2017, Lyte): Guitarist, from Canada, first album nominated for a JUNO as "Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year" -- probably doesn't mean pop jazz -- at least this isn't -- but fancy, intricate, thoughtful postbop, impressive but not especially interesting. Band here includes sas/EWI (Matt Marantz), keyboards, bass, drums, vocal credits I never quite noticed in two plays, fluffed out to 75 minutes. B [cd]

The Great Harry Hillman: Tilt (2017, Cuneiform): Swiss group, from Luzern: Nils Fischer (reeds), David Koch (guitar/efx), Samuel Huwyler (bass), Dominik Mahnig (drums). Namesake was a sprinter who won three gold medals in the 1904 Olympics. Hard to pigeonhole this -- hype sheet compares them to postrock bands like Radian and Tortoise, throwing in a little Mary Halvorson, which may be the idea, but the actuality is less settled, or predictable. B+(**) [cdr]

Jimmy Greene: Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 (2017, Mack Avenue): Tenor saxophonist, based in Sandy Hook, CT, where his 6-year-old daughter was among those murdered in the infamous school shooting there. He bounced back with his 2014 album Beautiful Life and won a Grammy, but I prefer this edgier album, full of probing, searching saxophone. Two piano trios split the backing (Renee Rosnes/John Patitucci/Jeff "Tain" Watts vs. Kevin Hays/Ben Williams/Otis Brown III), and two songs get guest vocals. A-

Halsey: Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (2017, Astralwerks): Young pop singer from New Jersey, Ashley Frangipane, second album after her debut, Badlands, went platinum (and made my A-list). This isn't as immediately appealing, perhaps because the fated lovers saga seems contrived, borrowed, or just too much trouble. Still has a knack, though. B+(**)

Louis Hayes: Serenade for Horace (2017, Blue Note): Drummer, was still in his teens in 1956 when he joined the Horace Silver Quintet -- for the next decade one of the greatest of all hard bop groups. Hayes moved on to Cannonball Adderley in 1959, and Oscar Peterson in 1965-67 and 1971, and led his own groups from 1972 on, sometimes sharing billing with Junior Cook or Woody Shaw. David Bryant plays piano, Josh Evans trumpet, Abraham Burton tenor sax, Steven Nelson vibes, Dezron Douglas bass. Silver's tunes still sound terrific, especially when Burton takes charge (he even salvages the Gregory Porter vocal), with the vibes accenting the swing. B+(***)

Wade Hayes: Old Country Song (2017, Conabor): Country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, first two records (1995-96) went gold, next two charted, fifth was self-released nine years later, and since then he's had a close call to cancer. Neotrad, not especially inspired, but I rather like "I Don't Understand" ("all I know about love"). Also "Going Where the Lonely Go." B

The Heliocentrics: A World of Masks (2017, Soundway): London jazz-funk group "based around" drummer/producer Malcolm Catto, name derived from Sun Ra, have done especially notable work in their surprising collaborations (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius, Melvin Van Peebles). Dense world fusion, front-loaded with vocals (Barbora Patkova, from Slovakia). B+(***)

Joseph Huber: The Suffering Stage (2017, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Milwaukee, played banjo in .357 String Band, considered folk or country but rocks pretty hard for the former. Bandcamp has two bonus tracks. B+(***)

Innocent When You Dream: Dirt in the Ground (2017, self-released): Canadian group, evidently led by Aaron Shragge, credited with "dragon mouth trumpet/shakuhachi," joined by tenor sax (Jonathan Lindhorst), guitar (Ryan Butler), bass (Dan Fortin), drums (Nico Dann), and on most tracks pedal steel (Joe Grass). Not quite pop, but they maintain a groove and soar a little. B+(*) [cd]

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (2017, Southeastern): Alabama boy, one of the songwriters in the Drive-By Truckers, left ten years ago for a solo career still yoked to a band name. Christgau likes his last four albums more (sometimes a lot more) than I do, which probably means I should pay more heed to the lyrics and worry less about the unexceptional music -- here nothing I would chalk up as "Nashville sound" even given that as Nashville pursues the arenas they've been rocking harder than ever. But Isbell doesn't rock hard, nor does he play up his roots, and while a couple songs are clear and poignant, others pass right by. B+(**)

Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (2017, Anti-): Canadian garage punk duo/group, third record, five years after their second. Brash and loud, works for them. B+(**)

The Jesus and Mary Chain: Damage and Joy (2017, ADA/Warner): Scottish noise-pop band, principally brothers Jim and William Reid, a big deal in 1985-94, broke up after their 1998 album flopped, reunited for lack of anything better to do in 2007 but didn't rush into the studio: this is their first album in 19 years. Easily a return to form, one I thoroughly enjoyed without being much impressed (well, until "Get On Home" came on). B+(**)

J.I.D: The Never Story (2017, Dreamville/Interscope): Atlanta rapper Destin Route, signed to J Cole's label, first album after an EP, trips lightly through ten producers, who don't treat him quite as well. B+(***)

Kano: Made in the Manor (2016, Parlophone): British rapper, file under grime, fifth album since 2005, snagged a Mercury nomination and made some UK EOY lists last year, tied for 211 in my EOY aggregate so I noticed it but failed to check it out (note that I graded 9/17 records at that level, 5 of them A-). B+(***)

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Find the Common, Shine a Light (2017, Greenleaf Music): Trombonist, fifth album with this group -- Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Jorge Roeder (bass), Eric Doob (drums) -- with former guest singer Camila Meza (also plays guitar) moving into center stage. Beatles ("Fool on the Hill") and Dylan ("The Times They Are A-Changin'") covers are surprisingly striking, the original material more mixed. B+(**) [cd]

Zara Larsson: So Good (2017, Epic/TEN): Swedish pop singer, still a teenager first album a hit in Scandinavia, this second an international breakout. In English, primed for the world market, danceable but not as hot, say, as Robyn. Not unthoughtful either. Still, how come the lyric I noticed was "you can be the next female president"? Then the refrain went "make that money girl" -- as if that's the ticket. B+(**)

Llop: J.Imp (2017, El Negocito): Quartet, Belgian (I think): Erik Bogaerts (sax), Benjamin Sauzereau (guitar), Jens Bouttery (drums, electronics), Brice Soniano (bass). Mostly improv, surprisingly ambient, pleasant even. B+(*) [cd]

Lord Echo: Harmonies (2017, Soundway): From New Zealand, aliases Mike August and Mike Fabulous, bills himself as "underground super-producer." Sounds more soul than anything but not as retro as Mayer Hawthorne, but you might triangulate that with disco and nu and rocksteady and find something fresh. A-

Lorde: Melodrama (2017, Lava/Republic): Pop star from New Zealand, cut her first album in her teens, released this second album to much acclaim at 20. Co-writes most of her songs with Jack Antonoff, avoids the big producer-centric glitz most pop artists aim for, even has a way of talking her way into them that recalls Lily Allen. Not as fucking brilliant, but already pretty damn sharp. A-

Low Cut Connie: "Dirty Pictures" (Part 1) (2017, Contender): Philadelphia alt/indie band named for a memorable waitress, fourth album, led by Adam Weiner, who has lately shifted focus from guitar to piano, gaining a raucous honky-tonk sound. The piano is more central than ever here, but that only helps when they keep it upbeat, not when maturity turns to flab. B

Alex Maguire/Nikolas Skordas Duo: Ships and Shepherds (2016 [2017], Slam, 2CD): Pianist Maguire has been around, playing in Hatfield and the North, Elton Dean's Newsense, Pip Pyle's Bash, Sean Bergin and M.O.B., a couple albums with Michael Moore. This seems to be the debut for Skordas, who plays tenor/soprano sax, gaida (bagpipe), tarogato, flutes, bells, and whistles. He doesn't exactly put his best foot forward by starting with the bagpipe, a harshness that recurs as part of their volatile chemistry. B [cd]

Brian McCarthy Nonet: The Better Angels of Our Nature (2016 [2017], Truth Revolution): Alto/soprano saxophonist, second album. Nonet arrays trumpet, trombone, four saxes, and piano-bass-drums for rich and varied textures, occasionally dipping into Civil War-vintage tunes -- the title draws on Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address. B+(***) [cd]

John McLean/Clark Sommers Band: Parts Unknown (2017, Origin): Guitar and bass, both have other albums as leaders. Front cover also mentions Joe Locke (vibes) and Xavier Breaker (drums). By turns, slick, slinky, and frothy. B- [cd]

Tift Merritt: Stitch of the World (2017, Yep Roc): Singer-songwriter, usually taken for country but that doesn't seem necessary here. B+(*)

Molly Miller Trio: The Shabby Road Recordings (2017, self-released): Guitar-bass-drums trio, young enough to consider Jackson Browne and Tom Waits tunes standards, plus some more trad fare (even beyond Smokey Robinson). Ten songs, 29:22. B [cd]

Charnett Moffett: Music From Our Soul (2017, Motéma): Bassist, more than a dozen albums since 1987, many side credits (only 7 listed on his Wikipedia page but AMG's credits table runs 290 lines). Group here includes Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Stanley Jordan (guitar), and rotates between three drummers (Jeff "Tain" Watts, Mike Clark, Victor Lewis). The big three do what you'd expect, with Sanders all sharp edges, Jordan polished grooves, and Chestnut richly florid vamps. Could have used more Sanders, but he sounds great when he gets the chance. B+(***)

Thurston Moore: Rock N Roll Consciousness (2017, Caroline): Sonic Youth guitarist, side projects date back to circa 1995 but were usually experimental and minor until the band broke up. This seems in between, only five songs, two over 10 minutes (total 42:51), the words coming late and reluctantly. B+(*)

John Moreland: Big Bad Luv (2017, 4AD): Country singer-songwriter, born in Texas, moved around a lot including a spell in Kentucky but counts Tulsa as his home. Title was a throw-away line in the upbeat closer but his non-Nashville label must have dug it. Fine collection of songs, some fast, some slow, he does it all. A-

Gurf Morlix: The Soul & the Heal (2017, Rootball): Singer-songwriter, played with and produced Lucinda Williams, cut his first album in 2000 and is up to ten here. Pretty good songs rooted in Austin's view of the country. B+(**)

Kyle Motl: Solo Contrabass (2016 [2017], self-released): Bassist, top two associations are with Abbey Rader and Peter Kuhn, so avant and not so famous; also has a duo album with Adam Tinkle and two group albums led by Drew Ceccato. Solo bass albums tend to be more about drawing sounds out of their instrument than music, but this does both. B+(**) [cd]

The Mountain Goats: Goths (2017, Merge): John Darneille's group front, in business since 1991, sixteenth album. Name drops various groups he grew up listening to, while remaining truthful to his own unique songcraft. B+(***)

MUNA: About U (2017, RCA): Los Angeles guitar band, three women, genre said to be "dark pop," got a rave review in The Nation but two plays slipped by me without leaving a lasting impression, other than certainly, not bad. B+(*)

Amina Claudine Myers: Sama Rou: Songs From My Soul (2016, Amina C): Pianist-organ player-vocalist, originally from Arkansas, steeped in church music, moved to Chicago and joined AACM, then on to New York. First two albums focused in Marion Brown and Bessie Smith, a range she's stradled ever since -- at least up to 2000, when the discography fizzles out. This is solo and seems to be new, released after she turned 74. Most striking on the back half's spirituals. B+(*)

Quinsin Nachoff/Mark Helias/Dan Weiss: Quinsin Nachoff's Ethereal Trio (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): Tenor saxophonist, several albums since 2006, this sax-bass-drums trio by far his best. Original pieces, mostly mid-tempo, nothing fancy or frantic, but it holds together superbly. A- [cd]

The Necks: Unfold (2017, Ideologic Organ): Exceptionally long-running Australian piano trio -- Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), Lloyd Swanton (bass) -- with 22 albums going back to 1989. This was designed for 2-LP with four side-long pieces 15:35-21:47. Less jazz than shimmering, resplendent ambient, nicely pitched for a label handled by Editions Mego. B+(***)

Vadim Neselovskyi Trio: Get Up and Go (2017, Blujazz): Ukrainian pianist, based in New York but teaches at Berklee in Boston. Third album, a tightly melodic piano trio with some vocal shadowing I neither like nor mind. B+(**) [cd]

Ed Neumeister & His NeuHat Ensemble: Wake Up Call (2014 [2017], MeisteroMusic): Trombonist, a veteran of many big bands from the 1980s, with several albums as leader. This is a big band thing, with Dick Oatts and Rich Perry in the reeds, Steve Cardenas on guitar, John Hollenbeck on percussion -- more than half of the players are names I recognize. B+(*) [cd]

The New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (2017, Zak Publishing): Saxophone quartet: Diron Holloway (soprano/alto plus clarinet), James Lockhart (alto), Jason Hainsworth (tenor), Melton Mustafa (baritone). Their journey proceeds back through time, starting with a Bobby Watson piece, then "Night in Tunisia" and "'Round Midnight" through a Gershwin medley and "These Foolish Things" and on to Scott Joplin and "Amazing Grace" -- crowd pleasers that let them show off their clever layering. B+(*) [cd]

Larry Newcomb Quartet With Bucky Pizzarelli: Living Tribute (2016 [2017], Essential Messenger): Guitarist, got a PhD from University of Florida in 1998, CV and "musical influences" mostly rock but he comes off more as a soul/swing guy here, or maybe that's just his new mentor Pizzarelli. Quartet includes Eric Olsen on piano. Starts with standards, then moves into originals, which continue the vibe. Two nice vocals toward the end, by Leigh Jonaitis. B+(*) [cd]

North Mississippi Allstars: Prayer for Peace (2017, Legacy): Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, sons of Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, formed this band in 1996 although Luther also plays for Black Crowes. Southern rock with more nostalgia for Martin Luther King than for Dixie, dipping more than a few times into old blues -- I actually had "Stealin'" in my head before I heard this delightful version. B+(***)

Oddisee: The Iceberg (2017, Mello Music Group): Amir Mohamed el Khalife, rapper born in Maryland, based in DC, father from Sudan, prolific since 2005 (Wikipedia counts 11 studio albums, 10 mixtapes). Beats acoustic, band rocks, even swings a little, the raps fast and impressively level-headed. A-

Zephaniah OHora & the 18 Wheelers: This Highway (2017, MRI): Country singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, uses a lot of old-fashioned pedal steel but lacks that old-time twang in his voice, which gives his oft-effortless crooning a peculiar air. And when he goes for a cover, he comes up with "Something Stupid." B+(**)

Aruán Ortiz: Cubanism: Piano Solo (2016 [2017], Intakt): Pianist, b. 1973 in Cuba, based in Brooklyn, half-dozen albums since 2005. Last year's trio Hidden Voices was especially well regarded, and this solo effort is every bit as thoughtful. Original pieces, oblique references to Afro-Cuban, nothing too obvious. B+(**) [cd]

Jeff Parker: Slight Freedom (2013-14 [2016], Eremite): Jazz guitarist from Chicago, plays in avant groups but also in post-rock Tortoise. Solo guitar with effects and sampler -- the latter adds some beat, which makes this attractive without a lot of virtuosity. B+(**)

Perfume Genius: No Shape (2017, Matador): Stage name for Mike Hadreas, has several albums that strike me as fey and arty -- this one even more so. B-

Errol Rackipov Group: Distant Dreams (2015 [2017], OA2): Plays vibraphone and marimba, studied at Berklee and Miami, second album -- had a song on a Jazziz sampler in 1997 but only source I've found on the album gives its date as 2015. Group has two saxophones, piano, bass, and drums -- very energetic with the mallets. B+(*) [cd]

Rag'n'Bone Man: Human (2017, Columbia): British singer-songwriter Rory Charles Graham, first album, title single works the cliché that the definition of being human is fucking up. He has an impressive voice that I can't peg in any genre -- it belies any possible claim to blues or gospel, reminding me more than anything of a Marine Corps drill sergeant, an effect only enhanced by the backup singers. It's the sort of record that sounds impressive first, but you grow tired of quickly. B-

Mason Razavi: Quartet Plus, Volume 2 (2016 [2017], OA2): Guitarist, based in San Francisco area, has a couple previous albums. Quartet adds piano/keyboards, acoustic/electric bass, and drums, the "plus" expanding into a smallish big band (three reeds, one each trumpet/trombone) for the second half, most obvious (if not best) on the sole cover, "Caravan." B [cd]

Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone (2016 [2017], 482 Music): Chicago drummer, has done a heroic job of absorbing and furthering the avant-jazz tradition of his city, usually attributing his work to two groups rather than appearing on the masthead alone. Of course, he's not alone: the credits are structured as a two-sax quartet (Greg Ward and Tim Haldenam), with Jason Roebke on bass, but two more horns spread out the sound: Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Ben Lamar Gay on cornet. Reed refers to this as "my dream-like reflections" and that's the weak spot, when it gets too dreamy. But things wake up with Marvin Tate's spoken word rants and ravings -- I sneered at first, then found them interesting, and ultimately decided they were an intrinsic part of the album's musicality. B+(***) [cd]

Jeremy Rose: Within & Without (2016 [2017], Earshift Music): From Australia, plays alto sax and bass clarinet, has at least three albums. Plays off here against Kurt Rosenwinkel's guitar, backed by piano-bass-drums. B+(*) [cd]

Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Guitarist from Slovenia, has consistently produced interesting records. Wrote eight pieces named for colors, and brought this sextet for Jazz Festival Ljubljana, with "two of my favorite drummers" (Roberto Dani and Christian Lillinger), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Achille Succi (bass clarinet), and Julian Arguelles (tenor and soprano sax). The horns contrast well, the sharper sax piercing the airier bass clarinet, most impressively when they crank it up. A- [cd]

Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya (2017, No Format): Wassoulou singer from Bamako, the capitol of Mali. She's recorded super albums since 1991's Moussolou. While Christgau detects a loss of "engagement" here, I find myself enjoying it just fine. A-

Scenes: Destinations (2016-17 [2017], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio -- John Stowell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop -- have a number of albums together. Stowell is an intricate stylist, and gets helpful but unimposing support. B+(*) [cd]

Shinyribs: I Got Your Medicine (2016 [2017], Mustard Lid): Country-soul, swamp-funk band from Austin, originally just Kevin Russell (vocals, guitar, ukulele, mandolin) but nowadays they got horns and backing singers which lets them swing a little. Sample verse: "he once was a verb, now just a noun." On the other hand, great cover of "A Certain Girl." Also recommended: "I Don't Give a Sh*t." B+(*)

Sleaford Mods: English Tapas (2017, Rough Trade): British duo -- rapper Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn -- with their postpunk beats and working class screeds. Been around long enough they're starting to get automatic, and been successful enough you start to wonder if they're losing their edge. They are, somewhat, but still can catch a riff and/or a rant often enough to remind you how unique they are. B+(***)

Slowdive: Slowdive (2017, Dead Oceans): British shoegaze/dream pop group led by singers Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, released three albums 1991-95, broke up, regrouped and after 22 years came up with their fourth album -- like Jesus and Mary Chain, except not so famous (or good). Short on fuzz, but enough shimmer to drown in. B+(*)

Smino: Blkswn (2017, Zero Fatigue/Downtown): Rapper from St. Louis, Christopher Smith, debut album after a couple EPs. Small voice, small beats, likes to sing, which occasionally threatens to get catchy but more often is just oddly appealing. B+(**)

Jay Som: Everybody Works (2017, Polyvinyl): Alias for Melina Duterte, born in Oakland, parents Filipino. Sort of a DIY pop thing, a novel, interesting voice. B+(*)

Omar Souleyman: To Syria, With Love (2017, Mad Decent): Syrian wedding singer, a style known as dabke, currently based in Turkey, was introduced to the United States in 2006 via the first of four Sublime Frequencies comps, and has since become an international star. Hard to choose between his last three albums, but this is the hottest, heaviest, most frenetic albums I've heard this year, so it stands out clearly from everything else. A-

Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (2017, Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, maybe "alt" but he's so died-in-wool I wouldn't dare quibble. Solid bunch of songs, mostly down-and-out, but that's realism these days. B+(***)

Starlito & Don Trip: Step Brothers Three (2017, Grind Hard): Two rappers from Tennessee, Nashville and Memphis, released their first Step Brothers in 2011. Midtempo beats, rhymes unroll methodically, everything so loose you're surprised to find it holding together. Christgau tweeted "best hip-hop album of a year that should damn well be generating better ones." Took me three plays and I'm still not convinced, but desperate times are upon us. A-

John Stein/Dave Zinno: Wood and Strings (2016 [2017], Whaling City Sound): Guitar and bass duets, mostly standards (4 Stein pieces, 1 Zinno, 9 others, with Sam Rivers the outlier). Very intimate, the bass resonant, the guitar light as a feather. B+(***) [cd]

Dayna Stephens: Gratitude (2017, Contagious Music): Tenor saxophonist. Eighth album as leader, although it seems like I run into him more often in others' side credits. Quintet is likely better known: Brad Mehldau (piano), Julian Lage (guitar), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Marvelous tone, on the upbeat pieces anyway -- when they slow down the guitar tends to get in the way. B+(**)

Becca Stevens: Regina (2017, GroundUp): Singer-songwriter, fourth album, has some jazz cred but I'm not particularly hearing that here, and "Mercury" is flat-out pop. Guest spots for Laura Mvula, Jacob Collier, and David Crosby. Two covers, one from Stevie Wonder (botched). B-

Matthew Stevens: Preverbal (2017, Ropeadope): Guitarist, from Toronto, studied at Berklee, based in New York, second album, a trio backed with bass (Vicente Archer) and drums (Eric Doob). Too uncertain for fusion. Last track goes verbal, feat. Esperanza Spalding. B

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Way Out West (2017, Superlatone): A long-time bluegrass stalwart, leans here toward the Western end of C&W, which sounds fine at first but somehow gets lost in the tumbleweeds. B

Sylvan Esso: What Now (2017, Loma Vista): Electropop duo from North Carolina, singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn. Second album. Terrific. A-

SZA: Ctrl (2017, Top Dawg/RCA): Neo soul singer Solana Rowe, first album after two mixtapes and an EP, an instant hit although not so obvious to me -- certainly likable, with guests like Travis Scott and Lamar Kendrick checking in to mix it up. B+(**)

Tamikrest: Kidal (2017, Glitterbeat): Tuareg band from in/around Kidal in northeast Mali, on their fifth album here. A remarkably calming record, in stark contrast to the rhythmically similar (but fancier) Omar Souleyman or even other Saharan groups (e.g., Mariem Hassan's). I count that as a plus, but a limited one. B+(**)

Dylan Taylor: One in Mind (2015-16 [2017], Blujazz): Plays bass and cello, second album, wrote 3/10 songs here, fewer than his more famous sideman, the late guitarist Larry Coryell (5), who provides the sweet tooth here. Also with drummer Mike Clark. B+(*) [cd]

Thundercat: Drunk (2017, Brainfeeder): Stephen Bruner, mostly plays bass guitar, started more as a producer, has dozens of side-credits including Flying Lotus and Kendric Lamar, but three albums in has evolved into some kind of soul man, just very hard one to pin down. Runs through 23 tracks in 51:24. B+(*)

Thurst: Cut to the Chafe (2017, self-released): Los Angeles post-punk band, two siblings, Kory and Jessie Seal -- he does most of the vocals and she drums -- plus a bass player. Rough, but I suppose that's the point. B+(**) [bc]

Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony (2017, Blue Note): New Orleans trombonist, albums date from 2002 but he took off when Verve picked him up in 2010. Also credited here with vocals and another dozen instruments, backed by another dozen musicians and a choir. Basically soft soul, with delusions of grandeur. I moved him into my pop jazz file a while back, but he's not even that anymore. B-

Urbanity: Urban Soul (2017, Alfi): Australian duo, Phil Turcio (keyboards) and Albert Dadon (guitars, aka Albare). Genial, pleasant groove music. B [cd]

The Vampires: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (2016 [2017], Earshift Music): Hard for me to see Loueke as making for an especially momentous meeting, although he does what he usually does here, adding some sinewy, sweet guitar and (eventually) vocals. The group is a two-horn quartet, Jeremy Rose (alto/tenor sax, bass clarinet) and Nick Garrett (trumpet), plus bass and either of two drummers. The strike me as typical rock fans who moved on to jazz because it's more demanding, and don't want to hear about fusion. B+(*) [cd]

Carlos Vega: Bird's Up (2016 [2017], Origin): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Miami, teaches in Tallahassee, recorded this in Chicago. Second album, both with "Bird" in the title. Impressive on a straight charge, although I find the various change ups (including a guest vocal) a bit muddled. B+(*) [cd]

Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/William Parker: Toxic: This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (2015 [2017], ESP-Disk): Polish alto saxophonist (also bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, flute), with piano and bass legends; Walerian's third album for the label, each with a group name that I've slid into the title (not that it makes much sense this time). Five long pieces, 79:11. Leader strikes me as more tentative here than on the previous albums, but Shipp and Parker think of lots of ways to amuse themselves. B+(**)

Colter Wall: Colter Wall (2017, Young Mary's): Young (21) singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan, first album, has a deep voice which sounds much older, especially on slow ones (i.e., most of the time). Has some DJ patter in the middle, something about flipping the record over, which makes him out to be a much bigger deal than he is. Then the second half makes me think maybe he should be. A-

Charlie Watts/The Danish Radio Big Band: Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band (2010 [2017], Impulse): Drummer for the Rolling Stones, has released eleven albums on his own since 1986, mostly jazz. Gerald Presencer arranged the pieces, opening with "Elvin Suite" and including two Stones pieces ("You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Paint It Black") -- both highlights, especially for Per Gade's guitar. B+(**)

Shea Welsh: Arrival (2017, Blujazz): Guitarist. based in Los Angeles. Seems to be his first album. Groups vary, including two vocalists, and dropping down to solo guitar on "Both Sides Now" and "Moonlight in Vermont." B- [cd]

Wire: Silver/Lead (2017, Pink Flag): England's first postpunk group, timed this album release for the 40th anniversary of their "first proper Wire gig" -- their label-defining debut Pink Flag came out later in 1977. Trademark sound, but they don't push it very hard. B+(*)

Jaime Wyatt: Felony Blues (2017, Forty Below, EP): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. I see more comparisons of her to Linda Ronstadt than to country singers, but more still buy into her outlaw thing. Probably the big voice and big production. Seven cuts, but only one less than 4:00 so they add up to 29:57. B+(*)

Charli XCX: Number 1 Angel (2017, Asylum): British pop singer Charlotte Aitchison considers this a mixtape though why is unclear to me. Same for the characterization as "avant-pop" -- possibly looking for something that conveys how beyond ordinary it is. A-

Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls (2017, 300/Atlantic): Rapper Jeffrey Williams, first studio album after scads of mixtapes, so he's settling into the more modest release pace of a major label star -- gets him more guests, but not necessarily better songs. Takes a while to get going, but his comic voice and rapid fire vocal rhythm finally wins out. Still hard for me to tell if there's anything special here. B+(***)

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

American Epic: The Soundtrack ([2017], Columbia/Third Man/Legacy): Tied into a three-part PBS program on the early recording history of American music, which the labels plan on expanding to a whole cottage industry, this being the most select, most succinct product: 15 songs [14 on Napster, dropping "Jole Blon"], all stone cold classics, skewed toward an oft-overlooked diversity (not just blues and country but Latin, Cajun, Hawaiian, and Native American -- but no jazz), expertly remastered. Too short, especially compared to the voluminous treasure troves Harry Smith and Allen Lowe have compiled, and I don't yet have an opinion on the series' 5-CD box set. But extraordinary. Maybe America was indeed once great. A-

Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Turiyasangitananda [World Spirituality Classics 1] (1982-95 [2017], Luaka Bop): Title can be parsed variously, often with her name (larger print) in the middle, and I've seen the label's series moniker placed first, but I've generally preferred to bracket it last. She was pianist Alice McLeod, from Detroit, before she married John Coltrane, recorded a dozen or so jazz albums on her own, dove into Indian religion and adopted the Sanskrit Turiyasangitananda (sometimes just Turiya Alice Coltrane). These tracks come from a series of recording she made for Avatar Book Institute, originally produced in small quantities for members of her ashram. She plays organ, synthesizer, and harp, backed with strings, percussion, and many singers. Oddly, I'd say surprisingly, uplifting. B+(**)

Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (2007 [2017], Resonance): Two major tenor saxophonists, Liebman also playing soprano, Lovano working in alto clarinet and Scottish flute, backed by Phil Markowitz (piano), Ron McClure (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). Liebman has released a number of Coltrane tributes over the years, including a blast through Ascension, so this seems to be his thing. B+(***) [cd]

Hayes McMullan: Everyday Seem Like Murder Here (1967-68 [2017], Light in the Attic): Delta bluesman, born and lived in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Played with Charley Patton in the 1920s but never recorded until these sessions, which in turn weren't released until now. Just guitar and voice, a fair amount of talking, nothing here that really distinguishes McMullan from better-known contemporaries like Skip James (also born in 1902) or Furry Lewis (b. 1893), but nice to hear something new this old. B+(***)

The Rolling Stones: Some Girls: Live in Texas '78 (1978 [2017], Eagle Rock): DVD released in 2011, packaged with a CD which only recently became available on its own. You may recall 1978 was the year when they got past their aging anxieties and released Some Girls, their best album since 1972's Exile on Main Street (still true). The key there was Keith inserting some country twang, but live they turn the new songs into long vamps -- best is "Miss You" but they can wear thin, and "Far Away Eyes" just gets cornier -- and they push out the old songs, though not two Chuck Berry covers. B+(**)

The Rolling Stones: Totally Stripped: Paris (1995 [2017], Eagle Rock): Their 1995 Stripped album was based on studio sessions in Tokyo and Lisbon plus live "small venue" performances in Amsterdam, Paris, and London. This year they've rounded up all of that for a variety of product configurations -- Discogs lists 14 and that doesn't include this one, which seems to be a carve-out of the Paris concert. The 1995 album sounded remarkable, but the completeness here adds both weakness and redundancy. No doubt they do, however, put on one helluva show. B+(**)

The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues (1920s-30s [2017], World Music Network): As with the Jug Band Blues compilation below, this strong compilation of white country blues includes a handful of fairly well known pieces and a lot of background context, perfect for beginners, sufficient for most (although certainly not the last you need to hear from Jimmie Rodgers or Charlie Poole). A-

The Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues (1920s-30s [2017], World Music Network): I should track down these dates -- always a problem with this label, but at least it's possible with old blues, unlike much world music -- but this does a nice job of rounding up a coherent style, highlighted by outfits like the Memphis Sheiks, Cannon's Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band, and various bigger names backed by Jug Bands (Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Jimmie Rodgers). A-

Umoja: 707 (2017, Awesome Tapes From Africa, EP): Group is South African, led by Alec Khaoli, but adopted a Swahili (East African) word for its name, signifying "unity." They cut a half-dozen records from 1982-91, including this little post-disco EP, four cuts, 18:01 (dropping two remixes from the original LP). Pick hit: "Money Money (Bananas)." B+(**)

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Thunder of the Gods (1966-71 [2017], Modern Harmonic): Previously unreleased, three cuts, dates uncertain but the tapes were found among others that establish this range (1966's Strange Strings, 1971's Universe in Blue). Big band, but most of the time they're switching off to strings or percussion, so horns are minimal and swing is non-existent. B-

Old Music

Joshua Abrams: Natural Information (2010-12 [2014], Eremite): Bassist, made his initial impact on the Chicago avant scene but sometime around here moves off in another direction that emphasizes repetitive rhythms and exotic instruments -- his other credits here include bells, dulcimer, guimbri, kora, harmonium, sampler, synthesizer, and that catchall percussion. Others on the original six-track 2010 LP play drums and sometimes guitar. Two later tracks with a larger group added to CD reissue. Rougher and more intense than his latest album, which moves this album name into the credit slot. A- [bc]

Joshua Abrams: Represencing (2011 [2014], Eremite): Follow-up to Natural Information, although the later extra tracks there mess up my sort order. This, too, originally came out on vinyl (2012 vs. 2011), and the later CD adds a 24:46 live bonus. Recorded at home, with widely varying lineups for scattered effects -- the usual crew, plus several Chicago notables show up for a track each: Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Tomeka Reid, Jason Stein, Chad Taylor, Michael Zerang. B+(**) [bc]

Joshua Abrams: Magnetoception (2013 [2015], Eremite): Alternates between beat pieces, which remain fascinating, and ambient ones, less so even if that's the idea. Abrams plays bass, celeste, clarinet, guimbri, small harp, and bells, and gets major help from Hamid Drake on tabla and various drums; also Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker on guitar, Ben Boye on autoharp, and Lisa Alvarado on harmonium. B+(***)

Amina Claudine Myers: Salutes Bessie Smith (1980, Leo): Pianist, originally from Arkansas, moved to Chicago and joined AACM, then on to New York. Second album after a set based on Marion Brown's piano music. Also plays organ and sings here, backed with bass (Cecil McBee) and drums (Jimmy Lovelace), starting with four Bessie Smith songs, then ending with two more expansive originals (the second side of the original LP). A-

Amina Claudine Myers Trio: The Circle of Time (1983 [1984], Black Saint): Piano trio with Don Pate (electric and double bass) and Thurman Barker (percussion). She also plays organ and harmonica, and sings on half the pieces. Her avant moves on piano wax and wane between striking and tentative, but her organ-vocal centerpiece ("Do You Wanna Be Saved?") will make a believer out of you. B+(***)

Amina Claudine Myers Trio: Women in (E)Motion (1988 [1993], Tradition & Moderne): With Jerome Harris on electric bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums. Two Bessie Smith songs ("Wasted Life Blues" swings especially hard), one from Robert Thurman, four originals. B+(**)

Steve Pistorius & the Mahogany Hall Stompers: 'Taint No Sin (1989 [1991], GHB): Trad jazz pianist, many side credits but only a handful of albums under his own name. He picks out two Walter Donaldson songs here including the opener (in parens: "To Dance Around in Your Bones"), and fills them out with tunes by both Armstrongs, Morton, Redman, Bocage, and a few others. Terrific five-piece band, with Scott Black (cornet), Chris Tyle (drums), Jacques Gauthe (clarinet/alto sax), and John Gill (bass sax, banjo), arrangements credited to the band. Also does a fine job of singing five songs -- better than the four vocals the band claimed. A-

Wallace Roney: According to Mr. Roney (1988-91 [1997], 32 Jazz): Rolls up two (of seven) albums for Muse, his second (Intuition) and fifth (Seth Air), omitting a CD bonus track from the former but adding two extras. The former uses two saxophonists -- Kenny Garrett (alto) and Gary Thomas (tenor) -- on 5/6 tracks each (4 on both, 1 each) with Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter, and Cindy Blackman. The latter dropped down to a classic hard bop quintet, with brother Antoine Roney on sax, plus Jacky Terrasson, Peter Washington, and Eric Allen. The former strikes me as a shade livelier, but he's sharp on both, just not all that innovative. B+(**)

Wallace Roney: No Job Too Big or Too Small (1987-93 [1999], Savoy Jazz): Selections from five of Roney's first seven albums, all originally on Muse. Mostly hard bop quintets, mostly hard-charging affairs, his bread and butter. B+(***)

Wallace Roney: Mistérios (1994, Warner Brothers): First post-Muse album, with producer Matt Pierson looking for something sexier than the usual hard bop grind, featuring the leader's imposing trumpet on slow burn, backed by extra Latin percussion and a muffled orchestra with seven strings and five "flutes and recorders" -- deep in the background murk. Sax helps on four cuts, mostly Antoine but Ravi Coltrane takes the last turn. B-

Wallace Roney: No Room for Argument (2000, Stretch): Postbop trumpeter, moved to Chick Corea's label here, which may explain why he's doubled up on keyboards (Geri Allen and Adam Holzman) for a rhythm section willing to slip in some funk. Saxophonist Antoine Roney is solid as ever. B+(*)

Additional Consumer News:

Previous grades on artists in the old music section.

  • Joshua Abrams: Cipher (2003, Delmark): B
  • Amina Claudine Myers: Jumping in the Sugarbowl (1984, Minor Music): B+
  • Wallace Roney: Obsession (1990 [1991], Muse): B
  • Wallace Roney: Village (1996. Warner Brothers): B
  • Wallace Roney: Prototype (2004, High Note): B+
  • Wallace Roney: Mystikal (2005, High Note): B+(**)
  • Wallace Roney: Jazz (2007, High Note): B+(**)
  • Wallace Roney: If Only for One Night (2009 [2010], High Note): B+(*)
  • Wallace Roney: Home (2010 [2012], High Note): B+(*)
  • Wallace Roney: Understanding (2013, High Note): B+(**)


Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at

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