Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Speaking of Which

As usual, this is assembled piecewise as I find the pieces, kind of like an Easter egg hunt. As such, the bits accumulate somewhat randomly, although given the present political situation some topics inevitably recur.

PS [02-20]: I added a comment on the Washington Post Ukraine editorial.

Top story threads:

Top stories for the week:

DeSantis and Trump: For a primer on these two asshole clowns, consider how they interact: [02-18] Inside the collapse of the Trump-DeSantis 'alliance of convenience'.

Other Republicans:

Flying Objects: It's open season, although it's gotten so silly that even Biden wants 'sharper rules' on unknown aerial objects.

  • Ellen Nakashima/Shane Harris/Jason Samenow: [02-14] US tracked China spy balloon from launch on Hainan Island along unusual path: This report says the balloon "may have been diverted on an errant path caused by atypical weather conditions." It also suggests that, given the balloon was tracked from its launch on Hainan (a large island in the South China Sea) that the panic that ensued once the balloon was seen by civilians in Montana was unwarranted. Biden could have simply announced that we knew about the balloon, had tracked it since its launch, and considered it harmless.

  • Chas Danner: [02-18] Did an F-22 Blow Up an Illinois Club's Hobby Balloon? Perhaps the doubt is because when a $150 million F-22 shoots a $472,000 AIM-9X Sidewinder at a $100 "pico" balloon there isn't much debris left to analyze.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [02-13] Why the balloon and UFO affairs are a Sputnik moment: "As all these objects fall, a new space race is rising." The problem starts with the phrase "Sputnik moment": the original event was turned into fodder to fuel an arms race that resolve nothing; do the same thing here and you'll get the same stupid results (or worse).

  • Fred Kaplan: [02-15] The Very Serious Lessons We Should Learn From the Balloon Fiasco: Starts by citing the Nakashima post (above), then adds that both China and the US blew this incident up into something ridiculous, with their instinctive claims of innocence, macho posturing, and faux rage. The net effect was to add fuel to a conflict that neither side really wants. Not that there aren't factions in the US stupidly spoiling for a fight (most conspicuously among Congressional Republicans, not that Democrats, some, following Obama's "pivot to Asia," aren't also encouraging).

Hot Rails to Hell: Mostly on the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Also see Jeffrey St Clair's latest "Roaming Charges" (below) for a pretty detailed summary.

Ukraine War: The war is approaching its first anniversary, with a minor Russian offensive near Bakhmut, and not much more news to report, other than a lot of posturing about how both sides are resolved to fight on indefinitely, regardless of the costs.

  • Blaise Malley: [02-17] Diplomacy Watch: Is the Biden team laying the groundwork for talks? They still seem to be under the delusion that pre-negotiation posturing will make a real difference when the only thing that will work is finding a mutually tolerable agreement -- one that all that posturing, with the suggestion of bending the enemy to your will, only makes less likely.

  • Luke Cooper: [01-30] Ukraine's Neoliberal War Mobilization: "Low taxes, privatization, and pared-back labor protections could undermine Ukraine's fight against Russian aggression." One fact that's rarely been mentioned is that Ukraine's economic performance since independence has been worse than Russia's. That's a big part of the reason it can make sense that some parts of Ukraine -- especially ones where Russian is the first language -- might prefer reunification with Moscow to continued rule from Kiev. Since the war started, Zelensky has been pulled toward the US and Europe, mostly by his insatiable demand for weapons, but nothing comes with no strings attached. He may be hoping that after spending so much, the west will help Ukraine rebuild, but in Washington the redevelopment choices are neoliberal and even worse.

  • Francesca Ebel/Mary Ilyushina: [02-13] Russians abandon wartime Russia in historic exodus. "Initial data shows that at least 500,000, and perhaps nearly 1 million, have left in the year since the invasion began."

  • Nicholas Kristof: [02-18] Biden Should Give Ukraine What It Needs to Win: Some rather huge hidden assumptions here, starting with the notion that the war can be won, that Ukraine can win it, that there is a finite recipe of weapons (and other aid, although Zelensky mostly just wants to talk about weapons) that can do the trick, and that Biden has it within his power to deliver them. Also that winning would be a good thing.

  • Anatol Lieven: [02-14] Austria should buck the West and welcome Russia to key security meeting.

  • Anton Troianovski/Valerie Hopkins: [02-19] One Year Into War, Putin Is Crafting the Russia He Craves: I don't know whether that's an accurate headline, but the images and descriptions of the propaganda barrage Russia is mounting to bolster support for the war are unsettling. It's hard to tell how effective this is, but the idea that defeating Russia in Ukraine will cause Putin's house of cards to crumble is far from certain. It's just as likely that, having been brought up on such propaganda, Putin's successors will be even more gung ho than he is.

  • Erin Banco/Sarah Anne Aarup/Anastasiia Carrier: [02-18] Inside the stunning gnrowth of Russia's Wagner Group: The obvious question this raises is how does Wagner compare with the mercenary outfits the US uses, like Blackstone?

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [02-16] The Sy Hersh effect: killing the messenger, ignoring the message. Remember: means, opportunity, motive. Hersh may not have every detail right, but can you spin a more plausible story? The main argument against the US having blown up the pipeline is that it would have been a really stupid thing to do (if you ever get caught). Again, I may spend too much time watching crime fiction, but the maxim at work here is: "criminals do stupid stuff." Ergo, stupidity is not a defense. It's practically a necessity.

  • Timothy Snyder: [01-23] Why the world needs Ukrainian victory: The author, an historian of the conflicts in 20th century eastern Europe, the study of which has left him with an outsized hatred of Russia (although at least he never was a Nazi symp; he started out as a protégé of Tony Judt, who was perhaps overly excited by the emergence of democratic movements following the Cold War). I can't imagine what a "Ukrainian victory" might look like, but I'd be happy to see Russian troops pushed back to pre-2014 borders (probably what he has in mind), or even to the separatist borders before last March. Still, the cost of doing so has already been huge, and will only get worse, so one has to doubt the value is of protracting the war, especially given the stalemate of the last six or so months.

    Perhaps I might agree that "the world needs a Russian defeat," but hasn't that already happened? And hasn't history taught us that defeats (and for that matter "victories") are often poor predictors of future peace? Perhaps "an utterly defeated people" (to cite a phrase Israelis have used to describe the goal of their plot against the Palestinians) isn't the best answer? Still, Snyder is not just claiming that defeating Russia will be a good thing in itself. He's arguing that Ukrainian victory will save and redeem European civilization. And without having the slightest wish to defend Putin, he's wrong on nearly every point. Quotes are from his piece (answers to "why does the world need a Ukrainian victory?"), followed by my brief notes:

    1. "To halt atrocity. Russia's occupation is genocidal." Not true. Brutal? Impossible to justify? Sure.
    2. "To preserve the international legal order." There is no such thing. Maybe there should be, but there are too many counterexamples, including the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
    3. "To end an era of empire." Does this presume that the US, UK, etc., will dismantle their empires (remember that the US has over 800 military bases abroad) if Russia fails in Ukraine? How does one cause the other? I don't doubt that some Russians harbor nostalgia for lost empire, and I don't approve, but fighting to defend fellow Russians who accidentally found themselves on the wrong side of an arbitrary border from threats they regarded as existential (one might say "genocidal," but let's not), is rather limited compared to, say, the European partition of Africa.
    4. "To defend the peace project of the European Union." Ukraine is not part of the EU, so this seems out of bounds. The notion that Russia is really fighting "against the larger idea that European states can peacefully cooperate" is specious.
    5. "To give the rule of law a chance in Russia." Russia has no shortage of "rule of law," nor is this likely to change regardless of the outcome of the war. It is true that states at war tend to become more repressive and less free (as Americans should know, from our own experience), but what helps is ending the war, not whether it is counted as a victory or defeat.
    6. "To weaken the prestige of tyrants." We're so gullible that we need a war for this? "Fascism is about force, and is discredited by defeat." Us so-called "premature antifascists" think fascism is discredited by its acts. Are you suggesting that fascism would be vindicated by victory?
    7. "To remind us that democracy is the better system." This assumes that Russia isn't a democracy, which is the stock propaganda line, but by most measures it's not much different from Ukraine: both have elections and multiple parties, with both significantly corrupted by oligarchs. Ukraine has been more volatile, partly because US and EU interests have lobbied more there. But unless the war is settled by some kind of referendum, there is no reason to think that its outcome will be determined by differences in political system. [*]
    8. "To lift the threat of major war in Europe." The only reason the threat exists in the first place is the exclusion of Russia from Europe, which is defined by NATO and the EU. Defeating Russia in Ukraine may make Russians meeker, or may make them more bitter and vengeful. Only cooperation lifts the threat.
    9. "To lift the threat of major war in Asia." He means "a Chinese invasion of Taiwan." This would take a long explanation, but in short that doesn't follow.
    10. "To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons." More faulty reasoning. He plays fast and loose here, drawing a conclusion from "if Ukraine loses," whereas supposedly he's arguing for "Ukrainian victory," as if there is no middle ground.
    11. "To reduce the risk of nuclear war." Partly derived from previous, but also depends on a tautology: a Ukraine victory only happens if Russia accepts defeat without resorting to nuclear arms, hence the risk removal is defined into the proposition. Real problem is that the proposition is the risk. Perhaps reasonable people might conclude that if the use of nuclear weapons is worse than accepting defeat, possessing nuclear weapons has no value. But are we dealing with reasonable people, on either side? And if, perchance, the taboo against using nuclear weapons is broken, the long-term risk of nuclear war elsewhere will most likely increase.
    12. "To head off future resource wars." There is no reason to think that frustrating this kind of war in one place will dissuade others from trying it elsewhere. More often than not, the failure of one war just encourages warriors to try harder next time.
    13. "To guarantee food supplies and prevent future starvation." Another case of overgeneralization. Ukraine may be a powerhouse granary, but pales compared to the threats posed by climate change.
    14. "To accelerate the shift from fossil fuels." To some extent the war has already done this, but it is tangential to the outcome, and in any case is something that should be decided on its own merits, rather than as a side-effect of war gaming.
    15. "To affirm the value of freedom." So why not end with something totally vacuous? Seems par for the course.

    [*] When comparing democracies, you might want to consider Julia Conley: [02-17] Due to Wars and Climate Destruction, US Ranks Worse Than Peers on 'Impunity' Index: "A democratic system of government is insufficient to fend off impunity." If you're unfamiliar with the concept: "Impunity is the growing instinct of choice in the global order. It represents a dangerous world view that laws and norms are for suckers." As best I can tell, Russia ranks worse than China, which ranks worse than the US, which is somewhere close to the median on a list of 160 countries.

  • Washington Post Editorial Board: [02-18] How to break the stalemate in Ukraine: On reading the title, my first thought was the way must be to press harder for a ceasefire and a sensible settlement, since that's the only way the war can possibly end. But no, they insist that "the West's overarching goal must be ensuring that the Russian tyrant gains nothing by his aggression. To allow an outcome that rewards the Kremlin in any way would be a moral travesty." As opposed to their alternative, which prolongs and intensifies the destruction and slaughter. They then go into a long shopping list of weapons systems they want to send Ukraine. And they insist the US should throw caution to the wind: "But a principal lesson from the past year is that the risk of escalation is overblown."

    Nuclear weapons? "As for the Russian autocrat, he has nothing left to escalate with other than manpower and nuclear weapons. If the West adequately arms Ukraine, he cannot win with the former and is very unlikely to resort to the latter, which would alienate his most important ally, China. A tactical strike by Russia would be one of history's greatest acts of self-immolation, cementing Russia's pariah status for decades." The logic here is hard to fathom, especially given that nuclear deterrence depends on the mutual understanding of logic and nothing more. If the West doesn't respect Russia's nuclear threat, and no longer shows that respect by limiting its military response, why shouldn't Russia follow through on its threat? If Russia is rational enough not to use nuclear weapons, why isn't it rational enough to negotiate? After all, it will only be "self-immolation" if the US decides to retalliate massively -- a separate decision which should make the US even more of a world pariah than Russia. After all, wouldn't a US strategic nuclear attack on Russia also be self-immolation?

    Thus far, both Biden and Putin have been sane enough not to paint themselves into a corner where they have to follow through on the dismal logic of their war strategists. Still, they have to endure insanity like this editorial.

Other stories:

Peter Beinart: [02-19] You Can't Save Democracy in a Jewish State. Of course, it's only ever been a slogan. From 1949-67, Palestinians within the Green line were able to vote, but subject to martial law, and Palestinians who fled the atrocities (like the mass murder at Deir Yassin) were denied re-entry as their homes and land was confiscated. After 1967, martial law was relieved, but reinstated in the occupied territories, where Palestinians were denied even the vote. As settlements encroached on Palestinian lands, a two-tier system of (in)justice was implemented. Now the right-wing wants to be able to strip citizenship and force into exile those few Palestinians who still have it, and they want to prevent the courts from reviewing whatever they do. Yet still zionists liked to brag that Israel was "the only democracy" in the region. Given that "democracy" is one of those slogans the US is supposedly fighting for in Ukraine and elsewhere, you'd think the loss of it in Israel might matter, but to the folks to direct US foreign policy, it doesn't.

Ryan Cooper: [02-17] Elon Musk Shows How Oligarchy Poisons the Speech Commons: "Free speech is not when one rich guy gets to shout 1,000 times louder than anyone else." And not just any rich guy: the one who now owns the platform had Twitter tweak its algorithms to promote Musk's own tweets. By the way, the least free speech in America is still advertising, where the volume is simply scaled by money, and the motives are always suspect, and often downright fraudulent. For an example, see: Christian Downie/Robert Brulle [02-19] Research Finds Big Oil's Trade Group Allies Outspent Clean Energy by a Whopping 27x.

David Dayen: [02-03] Amazon's Endgame: "The company is transitioning to become an unavoidable gatekeeper in all commerce." It's really hard to get a handle on how many angles a company like Amazon is playing to get control over virtually all consumer spending. ("The real danger from Amazon is that is invisibly takes a cut from everybody: consumers, businesses, even governments.") The other thing that's hard to get a grip on is that while this works mostly due to proximate monopoly power, it's based on network effects and efficiencies of scale that are impossible to compete with, so traditional antimonopoly remedies (divestments, standing up competitors) won't work. What might help would be to treat those parts of the business as natural monopolies and strictly regulate them. Or one could create public utilities to compete with them while eliminating many of the most onerous aspects of the business (like the capture and sale of personal data). Of course, a regulatory regime that would expose Amazon's side-dealing would help make alternatives more competitive.

Huntger DeRensis: [02-15] How a Super Bowl whitewash of Tillman cover-up was a helpful reminder. I've long felt that the only reasons people join the military are delusion and desperation. NFL star Tillman wasn't desperate. There is some evidence that his delusions were lifting before he was killed by other American soldiers, but that fact itself should disabuse one of some of the most common delusions, including the notion that the military serves the nation in any substantive way, and that joining it is somehow heroic. much of what I know about Tillman specifically comes from Jon Krakauer's book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, who takes the whole macho/hero thing very seriously.

Lauren Fadiman: [02-13] How a For-Profit Healthcare System Generates Mistrust of Medicine. I haven't been looking for support on such an obvious point, but did stumble across this:

Steve Fraser: [02-16] The Spectre of "Woke Communism". Explains that DeSantis's rant about "woke corporations" isn't a particularly novel idea: irate right-wingers have a long history of conflating "Bankers and Bolsheviks." Also at TomDispatch:

  • Andrew Bacevich: [02-12] Tanks for Nuttin': Or "Giving Whataboutism a Chance." Tipped me off to the silly Snyder piece above. As for "whataboutism": "When the Russian president embarked on his war in 2022, he had no idea what he was getting into, any more than George W. Bush did in 2003." Also: "Classifying Russia as a de facto enemy of the civilized world has effectively diminished the urgency of examining out own culture and values."

  • Julia Gledhill/William D Hartung: [02-14] Merger Mania in the Military-Industrial Complex: Hartung is a long-term critic of Defense spending, with several books on the subject, going back to And Weapons for All (1994), and How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy? A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration (2003). So I'm a bit surprised that in looking at the latest scandals, they don't mention the wave of defense contractor mergers in the 1990s (like Boeing-Douglas and Lockheed-Martin). Those were supposedly guided by the Defense Department on the theory that post-Cold War they wanted to reduce the number of competitors for a shrinking pie. (Given the infamous "revolving door" take that assertion with a grain of salt.) Of course, thanks to the CIA's backing of Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan, and the neocon plot to "garrison the world," the pie actually expanded, and the megacorporations spawned by the mergers became even more politically influential than ever -- leading to this latest round of mergers.

    While it made sense during WWII to temporarily convert industry to war production by guaranteeing high, low-risk profits (contracts were typically "cost + 10%"), it was foolish to build a permanent arms industry on that basis, specifically because it created a huge independent political force lobbying for more war. The result is that US foreign policy is now largely subordinate to the continued profit of the arms manufacturers. Absent this corrupt influence, a sensible foreign policy would focus on the need for peace, fairness, and cooperation between all nations, instead of splitting the world into permanent conflict zones. One example is the Abraham Accords, where Israel and its former Arab enemies puy aside their differences so that both can freely buy American arms to use against their own people. Another is the expansion of NATO with its vilification of Russia, eventually prodding Putin into creating the current Ukraine bonanza. And then there's the militarization of what are basically trade disputes with China. The latter hasn't blown up like Russia, but if/when it does the consequences could be far worse.

    Also relevant here is Stephen F Eisenman: [02-17] The Insecure Superpower.

Amy Goldstein/Mary Jordan/Kevin Sullivan: [02-19] Former president opts for home hospice care for final days: Jimmy Carter, 98. I've listed him among the short list of era-ending one-term presidents, along with Buchanan, Hoover, and Trump (a slightly looser definition of era might also pick up John Adams, and maybe even John Quincy Adams). Of those, Carter most resembled Hoover: an extremely talented technocrat who faced bad times and made them worse through dumb choices. When I look back now, the thing I'm most struck by is how many of his choices anticipated turns toward disaster that we now associate mostly with his successor, Ronald Reagan. He appointed Paul Volcker, who crashed and burned the economy to smash unions and slay inflation. He kicked off the fashion for deregulation. He exacerbated the Cold War with his Olympics shenanigans, and more seriously by arming jihadis in Afghanistan. He misplayed Iran, leaving a conflict that festers to this day. He paved the way for the neoliberal turn in the Democratic Party, a dead weight that still exercises undue influence.

On the other hand, give him credit for actually doing something constructive about Israel (even if he mostly rationalized it as countering Soviet influence in Egypt). He negotiated the Begin-Sadat accord that guaranteed that Israel would never again have to face a united front of Arab enemies. Less known is how he backed Israel down from intervening in Lebanon in 1978. Four years later, Reagan gave Begin the green light, leading to a 17-year occupation that failed in every respect, leaving Hezbollah as the dominant power. Carter has often been maligned for being critical of Israel (especially for his 2006 book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, which is worth scanning through, even though the reality now is worse than apartheid), but he was a truer friend to Israel in 1978-79 than any of his more popularly obsequious successors.

Also give Carter credit for a remarkable post-presidency, a record of public service unique in American history, one that worked on many levels, ranging from the mudane (Habitat for Humanity) to high diplomacy. (His mission to North Korea, which Clinton's people subsequently bungled, could well have nipped that conflict in the bud.) I had hopes that Clinton and/or Obama might have followed suit, but they opted instead to hobnob with the rich and grow their fortunes (with the bad faith effectively killing Hillary Clinton's political ambitions). At root, that's because Carter was a fundamentally different kind of person -- one rarely seen in American politics. As one recent piece put it, The un-celebrity president: Shunning riches, living modestly in Georgia.

Laurie Hertzel: [02-15] Is owning a lot of books a mark of middle-class smugness? This popped up in the wasteland of bits that is my morning newspaper, and rubbed me bad enough I decided to save the link. Smug? Sounds like someone is insecure.

Ian Millhiser:

Ashley Parker/Justine McDaniel: [02-17] From Freddie Gray to Tyre Nichols, early police claims often misleading: "Misleading" is putting it mildly.

Andrew Prokop:

  • [02-19] Can the Republican establishment finally stop Trump this time? As someone who regards the "Republican establishment" as even more malevolent than Trump, this is not a contest that interests me, but you're welcome to consider it. Sure, based on the four years when Trump was president, you could counter that Trump = the Republican establishment (for policy, admin, and judges) + a media-obsessed dose of crazy and extra risk of volatility, and that combination of risk probably makes him worse. But don't lose sight of how bad the other blokes are (or their handlers and donors).

  • [02-18] A juicy new legal filing reveals who really controls Fox News: "As Trump spread his stolen election lies, Fox was terrified of alienating its own audience, emails and texts show." This comes from Fox internal email collected by the Dominion Voting vs. Fox lawsuit. Also: Erik Wemple: [02-17] Fox News is worse than you thought; and Matt Ford: [02-18] The Fox News Text Messages Prove the Hosts All Know They're Craven Liars; and Ben Beckett: [02-18] Fox News Knew Donald Trump's Election Fraud Claims Were False. They Broadcast Them Anyway. Texts uncovered in the Dominion Voting lawsuit against Fox.

  • [02-15] The rise of the Trump-Russia revisionists: Latest summary of the latest analyses of the public reporting of Trump-Russia entanglement, if you still give a whit. I've said my bit many times over. For this one, note the chart comparing pre-2016 election search interest in "Trump Russia" with the alleged Clinton scandals (email, foundation, wikileaks). Even if Trump was maligned unfairly, the effect was much less than the insinuation of scandal re Clinton -- something both the FBI and mainstream media should be ashamed of (and not just because it tipped the election to Trump, a more disastrous outcome than the mainstream media, despite all their hyperventilation on Russia, prepared us for). The other thing that should be noted is that if reporters had a realistic concept of how political actors work, they could have dismissed 80% of the bullshit out of hand, instead of breathlessly repeating it for amusement.

Nathan J Robinson: [02-16] The Apocalyptic Delusions of the Silicon Valley Elite: Interview with Douglas Rushkoff on "how the super-rich plan to escape the world after they've destroyed it." Rushkoff is what you'd call a social critic, with a dozen-plus nonfiction books (plus some novels) since 1994, most related to tech. His latest is germane here: Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. By the way, I've picked up a copy of Robinson's new book Responding to the Right. You can read an overview here.

Jeffrey St Clair: [02-17] Roaming Charges: Train in Vain: Leads off with a lengthy report on the East Palestine, Ohio train disaster -- probably the best piece to read on the subject. Also includes significant sections on the Seymour Hersh pipeline piece, which he doesn't accept at face value but also doesn't reject out of hand ("the lack of any follow-up reporting from the New York Times or Washington Post, to either confirm or discredit Hersh's story, is one of the more shameful episodes in a dismal couple of decades for American journalism"). And some pertinent comments on the art of shooting things down, as well as more statistics and details about prisoning America. One stat I basically knew is that we're running more than one mass shooting per day in 2023. One I didn't realize is that there have been over 1,000 train derailments (basically, 3 per day) for many year running. Also includes a link to L7, about assholes and their wars.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39593 [39555] rated (+38), 42 [48] unrated (-6: 14 new, 28 old).

Rated count is high enough, but since I decided not to keep a tracking file (like I've done for many years, including 2022 with 5046 albums) I've been blissfully unaware of new non-jazz releases. On the other hand, there is a long list previously unheard music in my Penguin Guide 4-star list, and that suffices for now.

The latest plan is to suck up the recent music reviews into the book drafts, then empty them out into a redesigned website, so I figure anything that helps patch up old gaps is probably worthwhile. On the other hand, I've given up on trying to stay current. Maybe I'm still enough of a jazz critic to play catch up later on, but that'll depend on what else I manage to get going.

This week it's all been catch up. I finally added my Oct. 22 Book Roundup blurbs to my Book Notes compendium (beware: count is now 6145 books, 340k words, a file that should be broken up and stuffed into a database). I've also finally done the indexing for the December and January Streamnotes files, including the Music Weeks roll ups.

I'm still planning on doing the frozen snapshot of the 2022 list by the end of February, although I haven't actually added anything to the list this week (or last, as best I recall).

Incoming mail has been relatively high the last few weeks, so the drop to zero this week probably means little.

I wrote a fairly long Speaking of Which yesterday. One thing I didn't go into is that Democrats could start to divide over foreign policy, where Biden has resurrected the Blob. Left democrats have generally tolerated this, probably because Biden has been more accommodating on domestic policy, and because he handled the Afghanistan debacle with aplomb, but there are lots of obvious pitfalls, including some potential disasters, that could ultimately split the Democratic Party, not unlike Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War. I don't see anyone -- even Sanders or Warren -- taking these risks seriously, let alone trying to steer foreign policy back onto a saner course. On the other hand, there is a pretty obvious platform that someone could challenge Biden on -- although the chances of winning in 2024 are miniscule, the odds of being right in the long run are much greater.

As noted, I ordered a couple of books from the very prolific Nathan J. Robinson, whose Current Affairs is by far the most useful of the explicitly socialist websites I've seen. (I regularly consult Jacobin and Counterpunch, but find much less there that I feel like forwarding -- Jeffrey St Clair's "Roaming Charges" is an exception, mostly for its breadth of coverage but also because I don't mind a little snark.)

I'm midway through Timothy Shenk's Realigners, which is to say I finished the profile on W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) and am deep inside the one on Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) -- neither of whom realigned anything, but got tossed back and forth trying to find a political party they could identify with. That was, of course, much harder for Du Bois, who I grew up more familiar with.

Lippmann has always been an enigma to me, as I've never understood why so many people accorded him such great respect and authority. From what I've read, I don't see that changing. I turned hard against Cold War Liberals during the Vietnam War, and while he wasn't much of a presence then, he seems to have been one of their prototypes and heroes. One thing I didn't know was that he coined the phrase "the great society," then wound up writing a book called The Good Society.

Next up is the horrible Phyllis Schlafly, although the chapter I'm more worried about is the one on Barack Obama, whose idea of realignment seems to have been to line up Wall Street and Silicon Valley behind the Democrats, and take the rest of us for a ride where the superrich pull away from everyone else.

New records reviewed this week:

Satoko Fujii/Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (2022 [2023], Ayler): Piano and guitar duo, both free, frisky, and potentially explosive. B+(***) [cd]

Jo Lawry: Acrobats (2022 [2023], Whirlwind): Standards singer from Australia, based in New York. Several albums since 2008. The secret to this one is minimal (but expert) backing, on bass (Linda May Han Oh) and drums (Allison Miller), which lets her scat and skip over the wit, especially of Cole Porter ("You're the Top") and Frank Loesser. Another standout is "Takes Two to Tango." A- [cd]

Dave Liebman: Live at Smalls (2022 [2023], Cellar Music): Soprano/tenor saxophonist, long list of albums since 1973, plays in fast and relatively avant company here, with Peter Evans (trumpet), Leo Genovese (piano), John Hébert (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). B+(***) [cd]

Delfeayo Marsalis Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Uptown on Mardi Gras Day (2022 [2023], Troubadour Jass): Trombonist, fourth son and third musician sired by pianist Ellis Marsalis, celebrates his native New Orleans with a big band party album, adding three originals to the standard fare, with several vocalists in the crowd. B+(***) [cd]

Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (2022 [2023], Yes): "A meditation on the life and legacy of James Reese Europe" (1881-1919), a composer and bandleader born in Mobile, moved to Washington, DC when he was 10, and on to New York in 1904, where he organized his first bands. He went on to lead a military band in WWII, touring widely and recording several songs in France. When he returned to America, he played Carnegie Hall with a 125-piece orchestra. Moran stitched this together from Europe's compositions, three W.C. Handy blues in Europe's repertoire, a couple originals, and bits of Albert Ayler and Pauline Oliveros, played by a tentet with four brass, three reeds, piano, bass, and drums. A- [bc]

Eldad Tarmu: Tarmu Jazz Quartet (2022 [2023], Queen of Bohemia): Vibraphonist, born in Los Angeles, parents were Israeli, hype sheet credits this as his tenth album (going back to 1998, as far as I can tell). With alto sax (Adam Hutcheson), bass, and drums. Sax is impressive, and the vibes are nicely interlaced. B+(**) [cd] [03-01]

Rachel Therrien Latin Jazz Project: Mi Hogar (2022 [2023], Outside In Music): Canadian trumpet player, from Montreal, fifth album since 2011, wrote three songs, covers include Coltrane and Gillespie ("Con Alma"), with a variable cast that always includes plenty of percussion. B+(**) [cd] [02-13]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:


Old music:

Ray Brown: The Best of the Concord Years (1973-93 [2002], Concord, 2CD): Bassist (1926-2002), probably held a record for most album appearances (according to a Penguin Guide count; the current leader is almost certainly Ron Carter). He was in Oscar Peterson's trio (1951-65), which was effectively Norman Granz's house band, and recorded extensively in the Poll Winners (with Barney Kessel and Shelly Manne). He was a natural for Concord, where he led his piano trios, and helped out everywhere (piano trios, mostly with Gene Harris and Jeff Hamilton or Mickey Roker, account for 14 of 25 tracks here). B+(**) [r]

Chick Corea: Rendezvous in New York (2001 [2003], Stretch, 2CD): Also released on SACD, so the regular CDs were some kind of afterthought. Opens with three Bobby McFerrin duets, then scattered combos recapitulating much of his career: a trio with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes; his Bud Powell band with Terence Blanchard and Joshua Redman; a duet with Gary Burton; his Akoustic band with John Patitucci and Dave Weckl, Origin, a duet with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, a New Trio with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard, and a Quartet with Michael Brecker. I tend to favor the horn groups, and could do without McFerrin, but the piano is superb throughout. B+(**) [r]

The Sonny Criss Orchestra: Sonny's Dream (Birth of the New Cool) (1968, Prestige): Alto saxophonist (1927-77), born in Memphis but moved to Los Angeles when he was 15, was a fiery bebop player, recording for Prestige 1966-72. This tentet, with three brass (Conte Candoli on trumpet, plus trombone and tuba), four saxophones (including Teddy Edwards on tenor), and Tommy Flanagan on piano, is exceptional, notably for then-unknown Horace Tapscott as arranger-conductor. B+(***) [yt]

Meredith D'Ambrosio: It's Your Dance (1985, Sunnyside): Jazz singer, plays piano (on 6/14 songs here, with Harold Danko on the others), writes some (4/14 here, counting her lyrics to "Giant Steps"). Fourth album, starting from 1980, also with Kevin Eubanks on guitar, very nicely done. B+(***) [r]

Lars Danielsson Quartet: Poems (1991, Dragon): Swedish bassist, debut 1986, quartet with David Liebman (soprano sax, composer of three tracks to go with the leader's five), Bobo Stenson (piano), and Jon Christensen (drums). I've never been a big fan of Liebman's soprano, but the pacing here is so expert he can do no wrong. A- [r]

Stefano D'Anna Trio: Leapin' In (1991 [1992], Splasc(H)): Italian saxophonist, mostly plays tenor, b. 1959, possibly his first record, a trio with Enzo Pietropaoli (bass) and Fabrizio Sferra (drums). Strong sax runs, probably worth a closer look. B+(***) [r]

Stefano D'Anna Quartet: Carousel (1998, Splasc(H)): Originals, with guitar (Fabio Zeppetella), bass (Pietro Ciancaglini), and drums (Roberto Gatto). Another strong outing. B+(***) [r]

Stefano D'Anna: Runa (2003 [2004], Splasc(H)): Another saxophone trio, this one with Pietro Ciancaglini (bass) and Mimmo Cafiero (drums). A bit sweeter than the debut, but every bit as solid, maybe even better. B+(***) [r]

Carlo Actis Dato: Ankara Twist (1989 [1990], Splasc(H)): Italian clarinet and saxophone (tenor/baritone) player, debut 1985, this is the first of a series of albums that keyed their titles to an exotic city (Delhi Mambo, which I haven't found yet, is the Penguin Guide favorite). Quartet with saxophonist Piero Ponzo (alto, baritone, clarinet, flute), Enrico Fazio (bass), and Fiorenzo Sordini (drums). I'm a bit thrown by the vocal bits, which play almost like skits, but the quirky instrumentals are much fun. B+(***) [r]

Carlo Actis Dato Quartet: Bagdad Boogie (1992, Splasc(H)): Same Quartet, several members credited with "voices, noises." B+(**) [r]

Carlo Actis Dato Quartet: Blue Cairo (1995 [1996], Splasc(H)): Same quartet, less vocal interference (although they sampled some street voices on a side trip to Nepal), but also a bit less persuasive rhythm. B+(**) [r]

Carlo Actis Dato Quartet: Istanbul Rap (2002 [2003], YVP): Same quartet, cover image brandishing a bass clarinet and a fez, album opens with a lively mambo, and rarely lets up. A-

Wolfgang Dauner/Charlie Mariano/Dino Saluzzi: Pas De Trois (1989, Mood): German pianist (1935-2020), early on played in fusion groups like United Jazz + Rock Ensemble. This is a trio with alto sax and bandoneon. B+(**) [r]

Danny D'Imperio: Blues for Philly Joe (1991 [1992], V.S.O.P.): Drummer, started in 1970 with the Glenn Miller ghost band, moved on to other big bands (Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, subbed for Buddy Rich). First album as leader, appears to be a tribute to bebop drummer Philly Joe Jones, pieces from that era including the title song penned by Sonny Rollins. Mostly sextet with trumpet (Greg Gisbert), saxes (Gary Pribek and Ralph Lalama), piano (Hod O'Brien), and bass, plus guitar on two tracks. Bebop dynamics with attention to harmonic layering. A- [sp]

Danny D'Imperio: Hip to It (1992 [1993], V.S.O.P.): Pretty much the same group -- Andy Fusco takes over at alto sax, and guitarist Steve Brown plays more, and arranges six of the bebop-era pieces. Still, feels more like a big band outing. B+(**) [sp]

Johnny Dodds: The Chronological Johnny Dodds 1927 (1927 [1991], Classics): Clarinet player from New Orleans, started with Kid Ory (1911-16), moved to Chicago 1920, playing in King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, and Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers. His second volume in this French archival series, includes groups he led, a duo with Tiny Parham, and other groups led by Jasper Taylor, Jimmy Bertrand, and Jimmy Blythe (including State Street Ramblers and Dixie-Land Thumpers). This intersects with a couple equally recommended compilations: Blue Clarinet Stomp (RCA Bluebird) and Johnny Dodds and Jimmy Blythe (Timeless). A- [r]

Arne Domnérus Quartet: Sugar Fingers (1993, Phontastic): Swedish alto saxophonist (1924-2008), also played clarinet, a major figure from his 1949 debut. Quartet with Jan Lundgren (piano), Sture Åkerberg (bass), and Johan Löfcrantz (drums), plus Lars Erstrand on vibes (tracks 8-12). B+(***) [sp]

Kenny Drew Jr.: Third Phase (1989, Jazz City): Pianist (1958-2014), as was his namesake father, seems to have lived his whole life in the US, while his father moved to Paris in 1961, then on to Copenhagen three years later. Impressive command here, playing standards, backed by Buster Williams (bass) and Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Dutch Swing College Band: Live in 1960 (1960 [1988], Philips): Traditional Dixieland jazz band founded in 1945 by Peter Schilperoort (clarinet/sax), who led the band (aside from a 1950s sabbatical) until his death in 1990, with the band continuing to the present. They have a lot of albums, with this being one of two singled out by Penguin Guide. B+(***) [sp]

Billy Eckstine: Everything I Have Is Yours: The MGM Years (1947-58 [1994], Verve, 2CD): Jazz singer and pop crooner, led a big band in the 1940s which was an important bebop incubator, where he shared vocal duties with Sarah Vaughan. That big band appears four cuts in with "Mr. B's Blues," leaving one to wonder why so much of the rest of the set consists of string-backed ballads. The early ones are rather starchy, and his voice is one that must have seemed more impressive in the early 1950s but has aged like opera. Still, give him some jazz to work with, and he may surprise you. B+(**) [r]

Marty Ehrlich: Pliant Plaint (1987 [1988], Enja): Alto saxophonist, also plays clarinets and flutes, originally from St. Paul, studied at New England Conservatory, moved to New York in 1978. Early album, a quartet with Stan Strickland (soprano/tenor sax, flute), Anthony Cox (bass), and Robert Previte (drums). B+(**) [r]

Marty Ehrlich: New York Child (1995 [1996], Enja): Quintet, with tenor saxophonist Stan Strickland complementing the leader), and first-rate backing from Michael Cain (piano), Michael Formanek (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Roy Eldridge & Vic Dickenson: With Eddie Locke and His Friends Feat. Budd Johnson, Tommy Flanagan, Major Holley: Recorded in Concert at St. Peter's Church, NYC, May 20, 1978 (1978 [1995], Storyville): I hate having to parse title and credits like this, as I could have sliced it up many ways. Note that "Roy Eldridge & Vic Dickenson" is the only fragment that appears on the spine, though whether that's artist credit, title, or both is up for grabs. Everything else is on the front cover. Back cover reveals that drummer Locke is the leader, and it would literally make more sense to credit this to Eddie Locke and His Friends, given that the whole band ("his friends") got listed sooner or later, but why title an album for its stars then not credit it to them? Vintage (rather than retro) swing, but you knew that. You may have even known that Johnson would be the real star. B+(**) [r]

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Three Guys From Chikago (1981, Moers Music): Chicago percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, first album, introduces a trio that with various personnel have released 16 albums through 2019. With two saxophonists, Henry Huff (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet) and Edward Wilkerson (alto, tenor, baritone, flute), both also credited with "small instruments." Horns strike me as harsh and unsteady at first, but group gets steadily better, especially on the closer ("Brother Malcolm"). B+(**) [yt]

Bill Evans: The Brilliant (1980 [1990], Timeless): Piano trio, with Marc Johnson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums), from a week at Keystone Corner in San Francisco, less than a month before the pianist died at 51. While he suffered from multiple ailments, in the wake of drug abuse, this particular trio was one of his best, and much of what he recorded in 1980 merits this title. The full stand was later released as The Last Waltz (8-CD, in 2000) and Consecration: Part 2 (8-CD, in 2002), but non-obsessives should be happy with this fine sampler. Timeless went on to release two further volumes under Consecration, which was also the title of an 8-CD box on Alfa Jazz. A- [r]

John Fedchock: New York Big Band (1992 [1995], Reservoir): Trombonist, learned his big band craft with Woody Herman and others, leading to this debut. One thing about staging a big band in New York is that it's easy to find lots of solo talent. Five original pieces, six covers, most easily recognized would be "Caravan" but for "Flintstoned." B+(***) [sp]

Maynard Ferguson: Birdland Dream Band (1956 [1957], Vik): Big band conducted by Canadian trumpet player Maynard Ferguson (whose name doesn't appear on the cover, but shows up on Volume 2), who had moved to the US in 1948 and played in Stan Kenton's Innovations Orchestra 1950-53, followed by a stint playing on Paramount soundtracks. Morris Levy organized this 15-piece band to play at his Birdland club in New York. Ferguson's high notes towered above a brass section that included trombonists Eddie Bert and Jimmy Cleveland; the saxophonists were Al Cohn, Budd Johnson, Herb Geller, and Ernie Wilkins; and the rhythm section: Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Jimmy Campbell. B+(***) [r]

Maynard Ferguson: Birdland Dream Band: Volume 2 (1956 [1957], Vik): Twelve more tracks from later in September, personnel varying a bit but the essentials are in place: Al Cohn and Budd Johnson in the sax section, and the leader's stratospheric trumpet. [Both volumes later collected by Fresh Sound as Maynard Ferguson and His Birdland Dream Band.] B+(**) [r]

Dave Liebman: Drum Ode (1974 [1975], ECM): Early record, plays soprano sax, tenor sax, and alto flute, blows free over fusion (electric guitar-piano-bass) and/or worldbeat (drummers Bob Moses and Jeff Williams, Barry Altschul and Steve Sattan just credited with percussion, plus a mix of tablas, bongos, and congas) or sometimes fills in. One vocal by Eleana Steinberg is neither here nor there. A- [sp]

David Liebman/Richard Beirach: Double Edge (1985 [1987], Storyville): Sax and piano duo, better known as Dave and Richie, no idea how many records they recorded together but the first was in 1975 and they go up to 2018. B+(**) [sp]

Dave Liebman Group: Miles Away (1994 [1995], Owl): Before his own records, Liebman spent a couple years in Miles Davis's early-1970s fusion group: something he looks back on here, with five Davis songs in play, also tunes penned by Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul ("In a Silent Way"), Charles Mingus, and a couple others. He plays soprano sax here, with Phil Markowitz on keyboards, Vic Juris (guitar), Tony Marino (bass), and Jamey Haddad (drums). B+(**) [r]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:


Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Speaking of Which

Started Friday, but various things distracted me along the way, and this feels exceptionally jumbled at the moment. For what it's worth, I started with the Jonathan Chait pieces, and only decided to include the bit on the Turkey/Syria earthquake very late. Also appearing late was the Thomas Friedman Biden-to-Israel column. You'd have to look back at past weeks to get the context.

Top story threads:

Biden's State-of-the-Union Address: I never watch speeches like this (or like anything, actually), but I've seen bits since, and for once the coverage helped. The Sanders quotes in the Kilgore piece are especially jaw-dropping.

  • Bill Scher: [02-08] Biden Concedes Nothing in His State of the Union Address: "A deft, defiant Democratic president outfoxes the Republicans in front of the nation and smartly stresses antitrust and consumer rights." Scher contrasts this with Clinton in 1995 and Obama in 2011, who proposed spending cuts to placate new Republican majorities in the House. Part of the reason may be that the Republicans' narrow win has been widely spun as a failure, so Biden feels less need to triangulate. But also Democrats are sick and tired of the imperious demands of the right, and have resolved to fight back, not least because they have started to have confidence in their own plans, rather than thinking all they have to do is offer something slightly more palatable than what the nihilist Republicans are demanding.

  • Jonathan Chait: [02-10] Joe Biden Is a Mediocre Liberal: "But he's proved to be a successful president anyway." This is kind of a silly article, but at least is less pretentious than another one that I can imagine: that someone slipped Biden a book on the New Deal, and he decided to adopt FDR's penchant for just trying things, going whichever direction seemed to work best. Of course, his options have been limited, given lack of majority support in Congress. The fault there is in thinking that he's acting according to some plan. Nothing in his history suggests anything but opportunism, but that's left him flexible enough to adapt to the times.

  • David Dayen: [02-10] The Twilight of the Deficit Hawks: "Democrats have stopped being the willing partner in a great conspiracy to slash social insurance." Looks at a deficit hawk group called Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, where the board is amply stacked with has-been Democrats who've long been willing pawns in schemes to cut social welfare. "The problem for Republicans is that they have always wanted Democrats as willing partners, in no small part because then they could try to pin the blame on Democrats. In terms of actual principles, of course, the GOP doesn't care about deficits; under every Republican president for the last 40 years, it has happily supported giant deficit-busting tax cuts. Democratic rejection of deficit politics leaves Republicans politically exposed."

  • Ed Kilgore: [02-08] Sarah Huckabee Sanders Showed That the GOP Is Truly Not 'Normal'. The quotes from Sanders' rebuttal speech are so disconnected from reality it's hard to decipher them as anything but a catechism: words repeated from memory as a testimony to a faith that is way beyond experience or perception. She says "the dividing line in America is no longer between left and right. The choice is between normal or crazy." She came down clearly on the side of crazy.

  • Paul Krugman: [02-09] War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, Democrats Are Radicals: "Delivering the Republican response, Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the United States is divided between two parties, one of which is mainly focused on bread-and-butter issues that matter to regular people, while the other is obsessed with waging culture war. This is also true. But she got her parties mixed up."

  • Frank Bruni: [02-07] Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Queen of Having It Both Ways.

  • Paul Waldman/Greg Sargent: [02-08] Sarah Huckabee Sanders's strange "woke" rant reveals a big GOP problem: Republicans like to rant about "woke," but how many people have any idea what it means? (I mean, other than bad people? Ones true patriots should fear and loathe?)

  • Eric Levitz: [02-08] The GOP's Heckles Were a Gift to Biden's Reelection Campaign.

  • Harold Meyerson: [02-08] Biden Forges a New Democratic Paradigm: "The president repudiates the neoliberal ideologies of the past and puts the party on solid economic and political ground."

  • Timothy Noah: [02-09] And Now, the Republicans Are the Party of Defending Businesses That Rip People Off: "Biden was right to talk about junk fees in his SOTU. And Republicans are playing into his hand." Nor is it just junk fees. Once Republicans disposed of the idea of there even being such a thing as a public interest, they opened the door to all kinds of profit-seeking, even fraud. Their push to deregulation basically encourages companies to take all sorts of profitable liberties. And their efforts to cripple enforcement, not least by the IRS, appear designed to promote financial crime even in cases they're not able to explicitly legitimize.

  • Paul Waldman: [02-10] Sorry, Republicans, no one should trust your word on Social Security. Democrats have long accused Republicans of wanting to kill Social Security and Medicare, and they've always been able to produce evidence to support their case, but somehow the charge has rarely had much impact. The charges don't stick because most people doubt that Republicans would be so foolish as to dismantle such popular programs. But while there are cranks who want nothing less, serious Republican efforts aim to merely knick, cripple, and ultimately eviscerate the program. And often, as with Bush's 2005 privatization ploy, they are hyped as plans not to kill but to save the programs. That one failed not just because it was unpopular but because there was no way to make it work. But many other ploys have slipped into law: higher eligibility ages, reduced cost-of-living adjustments, increased co-payments on Medicare -- each designed to make the program less appealing, and therefore less popular. And no less ominous are the scams like Medicare Advantage, which add cost to the program, making it less efficient, and presumably untenable in the long run. What Democrats finally seem to be wising up to is that to protect Social Security and Medicare, they need to improve the benefits -- and watch Republicans squirm to resist, instead of just issuing denials and carrying on as usual.

    By the way, one thing that helps Republican denials of intent to destroy Social Security and Medicare is their ability to get the "liberal press" to editorialize on their behalf. See Dean Baker: [02-05] The Washington Post Wants to Cut Social Security and Medicare (Yeah, What Else Is New?).

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [02-07] Biden speeds through Ukraine, China in soaring State of the Union: "Just 200 words out of a 7300-word speech devoted to a war consuming our attention -- and $113 billion in resources -- for the last year." What's the opposite of "wag the dog"? Arthur Vandenberg's prescription was that in order to sell a massive military outlay, you first have to scare the hell out of the people. But for Washington today, it's so reflexive you scarcely have to mention it.

The Republican House: And elsewhere, basically anywhere they are given license to plunder and a voice to spew their nonsense.

Trump and DeSantis: We might as well combine their latest stunts and blunders, as the differences rarely matter.

Death to Flying Things: That was the nickname of a 19th century infielder, Bob Ferguson (1845-94), supposedly for his skill at catching pop ups and line drives, but before long Joe Biden will be laying claim to it. [PS: And then Biden and Justin Trudeau ordered a third object shot down over Canadian airspace.]

Ukraine War: Both sides appear to be planning offensives, confident enough they can ignore the dire need for ceasefire and a negotiated settlement. Meanwhile, big story was Seymour Hersh's article on the NordStream pipeline sabotage. Beyond the White House issuing the expected denial, I haven't seen much commentary, particularly from the Europeans most directly affected.

  • Connor Echols: [02-10] Diplomacy Watch: Lavrov shores up support for Russia in Africa.

  • Luke Cooper: [01-30] Ukraine's Neoliberal War Mobilization: "You can't fight wars with neoliberal economics," but austerity programs have led to fracturing and war elsewhere (e.g., Yugoslavia). While Ukraine is fighting for its independence from Russia, it is increasingly indebted to the US and Europe, whose future generosity is by no means assured: in fact, the economic regimes long pushed by the US and Germany have more often led to stagnation and impoverishment.

  • Dave DeCamp: [02-09] GOP Resolution to End Support for Ukraine War: Actually, it's just Matt Gaetz and ten of his cohort, so no one but Kevin McCarthy is likely to get bent out of shape over this threat. They call it "The Ukraine Fatigue Resolution," which should make for amusing op-ads. Blaise Malley [02-09] also has the story: Gaetz introduces 'Ukraine Fatigue' resolution.

  • Chris Hedges: [01-29] Ukraine: The War That Went Wrong. I'm merely noting this, not having read much by him recently. While his railing against US imperial hubris is well-founded, it's not clear to me that his detailed understanding of Ukraine is. I also glanced at Hedges' [02-05] Woke Imperialism, which reveals him to be a strange bedfellow in the anti-woke pile on. I'd say that the ability to recognize and the desire to oppose one form of discrimination (racial) would make one more likely to identify and oppose others (even class).

  • Seymour Hersh: [02-08] How America Took Out the Nord Stream Pipeline. Detective stories have drummed into us the critical trinity of means, opportunity, and motive. People were quick to point the finger at Russia, but they could have produced the same effect by closing the valve, without the enormous future cost of repairs, so that never made any sense. Ukraine probably had the most motive, but means? Only the US checks all three boxes (especially with Norway's collusion), but you'd think exposure would be awfully embarrassing, especially in Germany. Jeffrey St Clair addresses this in this week's "Roaming Charges" (link below).

  • Anatol Lieven: [02-10] Crimea Is a Powder Keg. I've been saying all along that there needs to be an honest referendum on where the people of Crimea want to align (with Russia or Ukraine). Same for other contested oblasts, although refugees complicate things, especially in areas which have seen the most intense fighting. (There are also border issues: do you hold a referendum over all of Donetsk, or just the portion -- either now or before the 2022 invasion -- controlled by Russia?) I've also been saying that Ukraine would be better off without the breakaway territories. That doesn't sit easily with those who want to inflict the maximum defeat on Russia, but haven't they been indulged enough already? Lieven's review of Crimean history just underscores my position.

  • Eve Ottenberg: [02-10] The Leopard's Tale: US Weapons Makers on a Marketing Spree.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [02-10] Pentagon wants to revive top secret commando program in Ukraine. Much unexplained here, including the word "restart." It's hard to see how US control of missile targeting intelligence falls short of US direction of Ukrainian forces.

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [02-05] Ending the Cesspool in Pharmaceuticals by Taking Away Patent Monopolies, and [02-07] The NYT Tells Us that Drugs Are Cheap, Government-Granted Monopolies Make Them Expensive. Baker has been almost alone in flogging this horse, but it's an important point, and even more important than he seems to recognize. The problem with patents isn't just that they grant companies legal power to fleece the public. (One's tempted to say "tax," given the word's arbitrary overtones.) They also reflect a worldview where all wealth derives from property, as they create new classes of property the wealthy can exploit. But they also have the exact opposite effect of what their proponents claim: they stifle innovation, by hacking up public knowledge and assigning exclusive control to companies motivated by mere profit-seeking. The elect claim them, then exclude others from developing them further. In a patent-free world, anyone could take an idea, develop it, making it public for others to develop further, as the knowledge developed would be gratis everywhere. Perhaps nowhere do we see the corrosive effects of patents than in world trade talks, where rich countries insist others submit to their market discipline and pay tribute to their arbitrary property grants. Pharmaceuticals are simply one of the most morally hazardous products: patents give companies the power to demand: "your money or your life." The Covid-19 pandemic shows how short-sighted this is.

Jonathan Chait:

  • [02-06] Michael Lind, Case Study in the Perils of Discourse-Poisoning: "How an intellectual talks himself into believing the GOP is the left-wing party." What occasioned this was a piece by Lind called The Power-Mad Utopians, which argues "America needs a broad popular front to stop the revolution from above that is transforming the country." Chait summarizes Lind's complaints about what he calls "the 'Green Project' (support for clean energy), the 'Quota Project' (affirmative action), and the 'Androgyny Project' (transgender rights)." Chait points out that while there are factions on the left pushing such arguments, the actual policies Democrats push fall far short. And he wonders why Lind seems to have abandoned his earlier focus on class to embrace culture war reaction. Those of us who have followed Lind know that he occasionally has solid insights -- he pointed out that libertarianism has indeed been tried, as what we now call feudalism; his 2004 book on Bush, Made in Texas, was one of the period's sharpest critiques, building as it did on his disillusionment with neoconservatism -- he has also on occasion proved remarkably stupid (as in his 1999 book, Vietnam: The Necessary War). For what it's worth, I think there is some value in critiquing utopian tendencies on the left (as on the right). But I'd say that the way to do that is to elect sensible Democrats who focus on real problems and how to mitigate or even solve them, as opposed to naysayers and outrage merchants who have nothing to offer but force and collateral damage. And I have to point out that sometimes Lind's cleverness gets the better of him (e.g., what can "The Trump presidency was the Thermidorian Reaction to the radical Bush revolution" possibly mean?).

  • [02-09] Columbia Journalism Review Had a Different Russiagate Story -- and Spiked It: Chait complains that Jeff Gerth's CJR essay "worked backward from the conclusion that Trump had been vindicated and used a parallel to the media's coverage of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. . . . Proceeding from the premise that Trump had been smeared by the press, Gerth attacked the media's coverage of the issue." He then impugns CJR's motives by citing "a very different Russia story" they "commissioned, and killed": one that looked into The Nation's "pro-Russian stance" (attributed largely to editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and her late husband, Stephen F. Cohen). I'll leave it to you to sort out the conflict in Chait's mind.

    But I will note that I've always been sympathetic to Cohen's opposition to efforts to gin up a new cold war against Russia, which was always central to his critique of the "Russiagate" hysteria. True, I thought he sometimes tried too hard to sympathize with Putin, who I've long regarded as a very repellant political figure -- my worries about regenerating cold war hysteria have more to do with the damage such attitudes cause to American domestic and foreign policy, not least the risk of prodding Russia into war, as has now happened. (While I blame Putin for intervening in Ukraine both in 2014 and invading in 2022, I seriously doubt that would have happened absent the long drum-roll of American arms propagandists.)

    What bothered me about Russiagate was never the truth or falsity of the charges -- a mixed record, as far as I can tell -- but the subtexts: the desire to reconstruct Russia as an enemy worthy of massive defense budgets (as noted above), and the lame excuse it provided for Hillary Clinton's 2016 political loss, to which we may now add the effective submission of the Democratic Party to the anti-Russia hawks (and in most cases to the anti-China hawks).

    On the other hand, I should note that I turned off the Russiagate hysteria almost as soon as it got cranked up. There was never any shortage of legitimate reasons to despise Trump, and even he soon got boring, as focus on his personal outrageousness distracted from the many horrible things his administration did (and the even worse things they clearly wanted to do). Perhaps if journalism was my profession, I might have felt more like Matt Taibbi (or maybe not, as he's always compensated for his independence with a veneer of both-sidesism). But on balance I'd say the media has been far more solicitous of and generous to Trump, and much less critical, than is objectively merited.

Thomas L Friedman: [02-12] In 46 Words, Biden Sends a Clear Message to Israel: I doubt the statement is either as clear or as weighty as Friedman thinks, but let's start with it:

The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.

This misses two key points to focus in on the narrow point of the value of having an independent judiciary (which is arguably the least democratic part of US government). The first is that the real genius of American democracy is that it trends toward equal rights for all people (imperfectly, fitfully, but each expansion is ultimately one that we are proud of). On the other hand, Israeli democracy is built on the systematic exclusion of a large class of people, who are denied political rights within Israel and human rights in general. And this has gone on for 75 years, with the full blessing of the "independent judiciary" Friedman and Biden are so concerned over.

Bob Hennelly: [02-08] "Cover-up": Workers "know the truth" about the derailment disaster -- why are they being ignored? In Ohio, a train with 150 cars (20 carrying "hazardous materials") derailed and caught fire.

John Herrman: [01-30] The Junkification of Amazon: "Why does it feel like the company is making itself worse?" It is. And it's not alone. It's tempting to attribute this to monopoly leverage, but it's working at smaller granularity with greater speed than ever before. Google is another example: they started out offering a fast, relatively high quality search engine. Now they're basically sucking you into a maze of insider deals of marginal utility. Amazon started out as a place where you could buy discounted books your local retailer couldn't bother stocking. Now it's, well, some kind of insidious racket.

Ed Kilgore: [02-12] What Would 2024 Look Like for Democrats If Biden Retired? Not a subject that particularly interests me, but since his SOTU address helped unify all factions of the Democratic Party behind his presidency, I suppose one could offer a few observations. Clearly, his age will be an issue. Health past 80 is always a worry, but also he's always been prone to gaffes, and from here on they'll all be attributed to his age. He's never been an especially persuasive speaker, but it would be nice if Democrats had one for that role. On the other hand, administrations are team efforts, and a charismatic leader is hardly needed to micromanage. The key question won't be who can run government better, but who can win in 2024.

Biden has one big advantage in that regard. He has proven willing to work with the democratic wing of the Party, but he is still acceptable to the neoliberals who, like the Gold Democrats of 1896 and the Democratic Hawks of 1972 would rather throw the election than see their party move toward the left. You no doubt recall that when Sanders took the lead in 2020, Bloomberg put $500 million into the primaries, making an ass of himself but stampeding Democrats away from Sanders and Warren to . . . well, Biden was their sensible compromise choice, one that despite his many weaknesses kept the party united enough to defeat Trump. If he can do that again (or whoever the Trump-wannabe du jour is), I'll be happy.

Of course, Democrats should be developing a deep bench of potential leaders. Republicans are able to do that because they are all interchangeable ciphers with agendas set by their donors. Democrats have a tougher time, because the money people who ran the Clinton-Obama period did such a poor job of delivering gains to the party base that the people revolted (Sanders was a catalyst, and by no means the only one, but he proved that small donations could compete with the PACs). Consequently, there is a great deal of unresolved distrust among Democrats, which tends to get papered over with the more pervasive fear of Republicans.

Kilgore is mostly responding to a piece by Michelle Goldberg: [02-06] Biden's a Great President. He Should Not Run Again.

David Lat/Zachary B Shemtob: [02-12] Trump's Supreme Court Picks Are Not Quite What You Think. Marginal distinctions, but they know better than anyone that they never have to answer to his sorry ass again. It's possible that what kept Scalia and Thomas so tightly bound to right-wing lobbies is keeping their kin on the payroll.

Louisa Loveluck: [02-10] In earthquake-battered Syria, a desperate wait for help that never came. The worst-hit part of Syria is in territory that isn't under control of the government in Damascus, and while the US and others have pumped arms into the area, it's not really stable enough for outside aide to get in, either. Nothing constructive can happen in a war zone. People need to realize that's a good reason to settle conflicts, even if not optimally. Also note that even in Turkey, which is much more stable, politics still gets in the way: see Jenna Krajeski: [02-09 Turkey's earthquake response is as political as the conditions that increased the devastation. [PS: Death toll from the 7.8 earthquake has topped 33,000.]

Stephen Prager: [02-09] Republicans Are Starting to Discuss Which Groups to Cast Out of Democratic Society. Sounds like something they'd do, but most of the article is still on voter suppression, which is not a surefire method (not least because it stinks).

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [02-06] AI Is About to Bring Us Into a Very Creepy New World: "The ability to defraud and deceive is about to massively escalate." I think that trust is going to become extremely important in future politics, and that it's going to be impossible to achieve in a world that puts the profit motive above all else.

  • [02-11] I Have Now Destroyed All of the Right-Wing Arguments at Once: Robinson has a new book out, Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments. I probably know all of this already, but ordered a copy for future reference. Also ordered his 2018 essay collection, The Current Affairs Rules for Life: On Social Justice & Its Critics, which covers similar ground, calling out a number of right-wing intellectuals. I skipped over his Why You Should Be a Socialist, initially because Amazon didn't offer a paperback (they were too busy pushing Audible and Kindle). Turns out there is a paperback, for a couple bucks less than the hardcover, but I don't see much practical value in calling yourself a socialist, and I see lots of worthwhile things that can be done short of the label (although not short of getting called names by Republicans and other fascists).

    Robinson notes that right-wingers have their own primers on how to argue their talking points, like Gregg Jackson's Conservative Comebacks to Liberal Lies (2006), and Larry Schweikart's 48 Liberal Lies About American History (2008). Looking at the latter list, roughly one-third are certainly true (like "The Reagan Tax Cuts Caused Massive Deficits and the National Debt"), one-third are worded vaguely enough to be debatable (like "The Early Colonies Were Intolerant and Racist" -- well, they did execute women for witchcraft, and they did practice race-based slavery, but there were occasional exceptions), and one-third are things no liberal has seriously argued (like "John F. Kennedy Was Killed by LBJ and a Secret Team to Prevent Him from Getting Us Out of Vietnam").

Walter Shapiro: [02-09] The Democrats Lost the House by Just 6,675 Votes. What Went Wrong? Some case studies, if you want details.

Jeffrey St Clair: [02-10] Roaming Charges: Killing in the Name Of . . . : "The US is home to less than 5 percent of the world's population, but holds 20 percent of the planet's prisoners." Also: "Through the first week of February, police in the US had killed at least 133 people -- a 20% increase over the same period last year." Further notes on ICE border jails, and an in-depth review of the Seymour Hersh article and reservations.

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Monday, February 6, 2023

Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39555 [39534] rated (+21), 48 [39] unrated (+9: 20 new, 28 old).

Took a break after the excesses of last week and last month. I spent two days on a fried chicken dinner, during which I only played old favorites. Finally, over the weekend (while writing Speaking of Which), I finally dug up my unplayed Penguin Guide 4-star list, and started up in the 'C' section. (I'm deleting as I knock items off.)

Lots of items from that list aren't on streaming (probably most of them). I've also generally skipped over compilations from familiar artists, especially material I've heard elsewhere (e.g., a lot of Louis Armstrong). And sometimes I've had to make adjustments, like with Eddie Condon's The Town Hall Concerts, where 2-CD sets have recently (hard to tell how recently) been broken up into pieces for download/streaming. (For example, The Town Hall Concerts Five and Six are the first half of the previous Vol. 3. Also, the Condon twofers on Collectables have been split up, with one piece of one of them reduced to EP-length). When I get into an artist like Condon, it's tempting to go deeper, but for now I've mostly restrained myself -- I did substitute the Timeless 1928-1931 for the similar Classics set, and added the 3.5-star In Japan.

Once again, I've neglected my paperwork, including the indexing for recent Streamnotes files. I also haven't frozen the 2022 list. (Started to, then noticed that I didn't freeze 2021 until February 28, so I might keep that consistent this year.) I think I added one set to the EOY Aggregate (from Christian Iszchak, although I should also add the latest from Phil Overeem).

The 12th Annual Expert Witness Poll Results have been turned into a web page. The Expert Witness Facebook group boasts 371 members, but only 43 voted. Would be nice to have the individual ballots collected (and I don't mean in a Google spreadsheet, like PJRP uses). I included the ones I found in my EOY Aggregate (looks like I got 19 of them, plus a few more that I tracked from independent lists, like: Sidney Carpenter-Wilson), Chuck Eddy, Christian Iszchak Brad Luen, Chris Monsen, and no doubt others.

We had a small disaster at the Robert Christgau website, when a software change made by the ISP broke the database access code. They fixed the problem fairly quickly, but it shows that I need to upgrade the code to play nice with PHP 8 (since not breaking websites seems to be beyond the ken of the PHP developers). I've been thinking more lately about a revision of the now-22-year-old website code, and may finally have some time to work on it. We've long needed to migrate to the UTF-8 codeset, and to make everything HTML5 proper (about half of the pages are). There is also a lot of dead PHP 5 code to be cleaned out (PHP 7 broke it, especially the database code). Also need to fix the viewport for cell phones, and that probably means redoing the navigation menus, and replacing the table layout code with divs and spans and more CSS.

Functionality-wise, the main thing I'd like to do is to put all the page metadata into the database (I'm ok with leaving the page text in flat files), so the 2001 Voice-centric directory structure is, if not gone, purely atavistic. This would help make browsing more flexible. I'd also like to add a category/keyword system, which again would add many more dimensions for browsing. Plus I need to do a better job of documenting everything, so the next poor sod who has to maintain the site has some clue as to how it works. None of these things, at least codewise, are very difficult, but there's a ton of data to run through the wringer. That's probably what's been daunting me for years now.

I've also started to think about rebuilding my website. The idea here is to create a new directory structure alongside the old "ocston" framework, then start moving content into it. The new structure would also be build mostly out of flat files, but would have a database to index the files, and possibly manage some structured content (like album grades and/or book blurbs). I've collected lots of content in LibreWriter files, but that hasn't made it any more accessible. So maybe the best solution is to bust it up again? As I want to eventually organize some of this writing in book form, a flexible website configuration might be a useful path forward.

I have an email list for discussing my website plans. If you're interested in the gritty technical details, let me know and I'll sign you up. Traffic on the list has been very light, but would pick up if I ever got my ass in gear.

New records reviewed this week:

Kwesi Arthur: Son of Jacob (2022, Ground Up Chale): Rapper-singer from Ghana, first album, musical flow. B+(**) [sp]

Skip Grasso: Becoming (2022 [2023], Barking Coda Music): Guitarist, has a previous group album. This is a quartet with Anthony Powell (keyboards), Harvie S (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). All original pieces, pleasant enough. B [cd]

The Dave Stryker Trio: Prime (2022 [2023], Strikezone): Guitarist, trio with Jared Gold (organ) and McClenty Hunter (drums). Creatures of habit, starting off each year with a new album of tasty groove. B+(***) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:


Old music:

Terri Lyne Carrington/Adam Rogers/Jimmy Haslip/Greg Osby: Structure (2003 [2004], ACT): Drums, guitar, bass, alto sax. Everyone brought songs, plus they cover one by Joni Mitchell ("Ethiopia," which Carrington sings). B+(***) [sp]

Betty Carter: Look What I Got! (1988, Verve): Jazz singer (1929-98), started in ill-fitting big bands -- Lionel Hampton reportedly fired her seven times -- kicked around various labels before she finally took charge of her own (Bet-Car), which after 1976 was distributed by Verve, giving her the autonomy she demanded and the exposure she craved. She won a Grammy for this one, although it strikes me as a bit of a muddle -- despite an interesting "The Man I Love," highlighted by Don Braden's sax. B+(*) [sp]

Ron Carter/Jim Hall: Telephone (1984 [1985], Concord): Bass and guitar duo, did a previous album (Alone Together) in 1973, as well as Alive at Village West in 1982. This one was also recorded live. B+(*) [sp]

Soesja Citroen: Soesja Citroen Sings Thelonious Monk (1983 [1994], Timeless): Dutch jazz singer, early album, backed by trio or larger groups up to octet led by pianist Cees Slinger. Various lyricists, mostly Citroen (5/8 tracks). B+(**) [sp]

Soesja Citroen: Songs for Lovers and Losers (1996, Challenge): Smaller but still significant credits on the cover for Louis van Dijk (piano) and Hein Van de Geyn (bass), then "special guest" Ack van Rooyen (flugelhorn on three tracks). Standards, most common, some special. B+(**) [sp]

The Johnny Coles Quartet: New Morning (1982 [1983], Criss Cross): Trumpet player (1926-97), mostly remembered for his one album on Blue Note (Little Johnny C, from 1963), only led a few more dates, plus several dozen side credits (notably with Gil Evans and Charles Mingus). Quartet with Horace Parlan (piano), Reggie Johnson (bass), and Billy Hart (drums), playing three originals, three covers (Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Charles Davis). B+(***) [sp]

George Colligan: Agent 99 (1999 [2001], SteepleChase): Pianist, debut 1999 (title: The Newcomer), trio with Doug Weiss (bass) and Darren Beckett (drums). Two originals, various jazz tunes and standards (including a Jobim). B+(**) [sp]

Eddie Condon: 1928-1931 (1928-31 [1995], Timeless): Swing guitarist (1905-73), played banjo on these 22 early tracks, starting with two from Miff Mole's Molers, followed by eight for Condon-led groups (a quartet with Frank Teschemacher and Gene Krupa, two sextets called the Footwarmers and Eddie's Hot Shots, both with Mezz Mezzrow and Jack Teagarden, with Condon sometimes singing), and the rest with the Mound City Blue Blowers (led by vocalist Red McKenzie, with various lineups at times including Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and/or Muggsy Spanier). Condon's networking skills, which crossed racial lines, defined his later career: numerous jam sessions, including the 1944-45 Town Hall Concerts (radio shots which Jazzology eventually released in eleven multi-CD volumes), and many more recordings from his New York City jazz club. B+(**) [r]

Eddie Condon: The Town Hall Concerts Five and Six (1944, Jazzology): The first half (two of four concerts) excerpted from Volume Two of the Jazzology series. Concert Five was a tribute to Fats Waller, who had died six months earlier, with James P. Johnson on piano and Pee Wee Russell on clarinet. The sixth concert is joined by Willie "The Lion" Smith" and Hot Lips Page. Some spectacular music, but also lots of talk, not least about war bonds. B+(***) [sp]

Eddie Condon's All-Stars: Jam Session Coast-to-Coast (1954, Columbia, EP): Four tracks, 23:16, although most editions in Discogs add on another six tracks (24:12) by Rampart Street Paraders (a totally different band, with George Van Eps instead of Condon on guitar). The All-Stars include Wild Bill Davison (cornet), Edmond Hall (clarinet), Gene Schroeder (piano), Walter Page (bass), and Cliff Leeman (drums), plus Dick Cary (trumpet and piano) on two tracks. Opens with "Beale Street Blues," ends with the 10:40 "Jam Session Blues/Ole Miss." B+(***) [r]

Eddie Condon: Bixieland (1955, Columbia): Full subhed: "in which Eddie Condon and his All-Stars jam on a few of Bix Beiderbecke's favorites." With Pete Pesci or Wild Bull Davison (as he's credited here) on trumpet, Edmond Hall on clarinet, and other lesser stars, spiffing up that old-time sound. A- [r]

Eddie Condon: Eddie Condon's Treasury of Jazz (1956, Columbia): Cover notes: "Eleven musical portraits of Eddie's friends in the jazz world." Another batch of what Louis Armstrong (who wrote one song here) used to call the "good ol' good 'uns." Names dropped: Fats Waller, Lee Wiley, Turk Murphy, Duke Ellington, Armstrong, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Bix Beiderbecke, Red McKenzie, Benny Goodman, The Chicago Rhythm Kings. B+(***) [r]

Eddie Condon: Bixieland/Treasury of Jazz (1955-56 [2003], Collectables): Nice twofer rated **** in Penguin Guide, digitally reverts to its constituent albums, no doubt a bargain if you can find it. I'm only hedging because I haven't. B+(***) [r]

Eddie Condon: In Japan (1964 [2002], Chiaroscuro): Trad jazz guitarist takes his act on the road, introducing his stars through featured songs: Dick Cary (piano/alto horn), Pee Wee Russell (clarinet), Buck Clayton (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Bud Freeman (tenor sax), and eventually Jimmy Rushing sings a few. The 1977 LP picked 11 songs, which the CD reissue expands to 15. B+(***) [sp]

Johnny Costa: Classic Costa (1990-91 [1991], Chiaroscuro): Pianist (1922-96), original name Costanza, recorded a couple albums in the mid-1950s, more in the 1990s, but spent most of his career as music director for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. This is solo, 18 standards, distinguished for his speed, dexterity, and (when he slows it down) touch. Ends with an interesting memoir. B+(***) [sp]

Fred Hersch/Jay Clayton: Beautiful Love (1994 [2017], Sunnyside): Piano and voice duo, standards, the singer very precise, with considerable nuance; the pianist equally precise, doesn't overstep his role. Reissue prominently marked as "remastered." B+(**) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Anthony Branker & Imagine: What Place Can Be for Us? A Suite in Ten Movements (Origin) [02-17]
  • Satoko Fujii/Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler) [02-09]
  • Brad Goode: The Unknown (Origin) [02-17]
  • Yosef Gutman Levitt/Tal Yahalom: Tsuf Harim (Soul Song) [03-03]
  • Manzanita Quintet: Osmosis (Origin) [02-17]
  • Delfeayo Marsalis Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Uptown on Mardi Gras Day (Troubadour Jass) [02-03]
  • Mason Razavi: Six-String Standards (OA2) [02-17]
  • Triogram: Triogram (Circle Theory Media) [04-07]
  • Dan Trudell: Fishin' Again: A Tribute to Clyde Stubblefield & Dr. Lonnie Smith (OA2) [02-17]
  • Alex Weiss: Most Don't Have Enough (Ears & Eyes) [02-24]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Speaking of Which

One of the big stories this week was the saga of a Chinese weather balloon that at 60,000 feet got caught up in the jet stream and drifted across Alaska and western Canada, dipping into Montana and cutting a path through North Carolina and into the Atlantic. There, having completed its spy mission (if that's what it was), Biden ordered it blown up -- an act of pure spite and bloody-mindedness. Reports say he didn't act earlier because he was worried about debris landing on Americans, but odds of that happening in eastern Montana were pretty slim. Rather, he gave Republicans and the press three days to play up their China loathing -- fueled in part by Blinken canceling a visit to Peking in protest -- then jumped to the head of the line.

As you may recall, this incident comes about a week after Air Force General Mike Minihan predicted war with China in 2025, a prospect he (and therefore the United States) is currently planning for -- a plan that House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul heartily endorses. With so much sabre-rattling in the background, you'd think that Biden would work harder at smoothing over the tensions, but having been taunted into action, he scarcely had the resolve to resist.

Some further reading:

Top story threads:

Sometimes it's hard to find the right lead-in piece for what you know will be a cluster of links.

Debt Limit: Stealing a page from 2011, Kevin McCarthy (or whoever's pulling his strings) is willing to crash and burn the economy just to watch Biden squirm. So far, Biden's not falling for it:

  • Paul Krugman: [02-02] Republicans and Debt: Blackmailers Without a Cause.

  • Eric Levitz: [02-02] The GOP Can't Remember Why It Took the Debt Ceiling Hostage.

  • Li Zhou: [02-01] The lessons of the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, explained by the negotiators who were there: "Democrats and Republicans took different, sometimes contradictory, lessons from the last standoff." Democrats realized that Republicans couldn't be trusted, and didn't care how much damage they'd do, confident that the media would blame Obama. Republicans thought they had won a victory, not so much in imposing their will as in turning the discussion in their favor, by making debt and spending seem like bigger problems than the sluggish economy they were helping to stall. Pretty much the same calculation this time, except that in the meantime Trump's tax cuts blew a hole in the budget, and Biden is less inclined to give debt reduction the oxygen it needs to derail every other issue he has campaigned for.

    As it happens, right after linking to this piece, I read this from Ryan Cooper's How Are You Going to Pay for That?, where he minces fewer words on the 2011 doomsday negotiations:

    All told, this gruesome incident was a world-historical episode of moronic policy incompetence. It's as if your house were on fire, and the mayor and the fire department were arguing furiously about which grade of gasoline should be sprayed on the blaze.

    Cooper's book is very good, but I don't care for his coinage of the term "propertarianism" as a substitute for terms commonly used on the new left ("neoliberalism") and old left ("capitalism"). All of these terms refer to the notion of putting property rights ahead of human needs, but the problem is not so much property itself as a particular form of property: capital (as opposed to personal property, which means something you have exclusive use of, but not necessarily that produces income or rent). Neoliberalism is slightly different: an ideology aligned with capital, but couched in the idea of individual freedom, with contempt for notions of labor and society. Also note that neoliberalism was another neologism, designed at cross purposes: its advocates wanted to lay claim to tenets of classical liberalism, yet dispose of elements like New Deal support for unions (same tactic used by New Democrats and New Labour).

Trump: I'm sorry to inform you that as the only declared candidate so far for president in 2024, he's back in the news, and already stimulating horserace coverage for primaries that supposedly face him off with this year's favorite media goon, Ron DeSantis.

Other Toxic Republicans:

Ukraine War (Continued):

  • Blaise Malley: [02-03] Diplomacy Watch: Second thoughts on Ukraine retaking Crimea? Very little to report here. Elsewhere, there is a story that Biden Offered Putin 20% of Ukraine to End War, but all sides deny that (no one wants to look reasonable).

  • Helene Cooper/Eric Schmitt/Thomas Gibbons-Neff: [02-02] Soaring Death Toll Gives Grim Insight Into Russian Tactics. "The number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine is approaching 200,000, a stark symbol of just how badly President Vladimir V. Putin's invasion has gone, according to American and other Western officials." These figures are clearly wild guesses, exaggerated for propaganda purposes. I referred back to these number after reading much smaller figures cited by Jeffrey St Clair below. The difference is that to St Clair, the numbers (which focused more on civilians) demanded a ceasefire and negotiated settlement; here they're just another excuse for further punishing Russia, even when suggesting that Ukrainian losses are comparable.

  • Bruno Marcetic: [02-03] Diplomatic Cables Prove Top US Officials Knew They Were Crossing Russia's Red Lines on NATO Expansion. Of course, one could argue that the "red lines" were stupid. One could also argue that the US was daring Russia to do something stupid. The one thing that's inarguable is what Putin finally did was profoundly stupid.

Israel: As the Palestinian Authority, despite its legendary corruption, has found it impossible to do business with the new fascist government, Biden sent Secretary of State Blinken to kiss the ring, to reassure Netanyahu that nothing he can do will shake American fealty to the Zionist regime. Meanwhile, efforts in the US and UK are heating up to police any discussion of Israel's crimes. One of the few sources still reporting on Israel is Mondoweiss.

Other Stories:

Kate Aronoff: [02-03] The Biden Administration Has Been Very Good for Big Oil: "Despite climate legislation passed by Democrats last year, oil companies are securing loads of drilling deals and posting huge profits."

Rachel DuBose: [01-31] What can the world learn from China's "zero-Covid" lockdown?

Constance Grady: [02-03] The mounting, undeniable Me Too backlash: This has less to do with the ebbing of the "Me Too" moment a few years back than with the long reaction against the women's liberation movement in the 1970s, which has scored some recent purely political wins recently, like overturning Roe v. Wade. Hence, re-reading Susan Faludi's 1991 book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. I will note that while this reaction is inflicting real damage, it is not especially popular. So perhaps instead of relitigating points that have sense become common sense and embedded in popular culture, we should look at the political anomaly that has given such power to, well, Republicans -- one can add adjectives to reinforce one's sense of disgust, but doing so suggests that there are other, more decent Republicans, and there's little to no practical evidence of that.

Ezra Klein: [02-05] The Story Construction Tells About America's Economy Is Disturbing: Declining productivity, ever since the 1970s.

Paul Krugman: [01-30] Will Americans Even Notice an Improving Economy? That's a good question. Part of the problem is statistics: few people are aware of them, and fewer still have any idea how they relate to their own lives. (Statistics are the only way to make sense of massive amounts of data, but we'd prefer anecdotes we can relate to. But also there is the problem of gauging the significance of variations that are smaller than we normally perceive. This is a big problem with climate change: each degree warmer is a really big deal, but every day we experience temperature swings 10-20 times as great.) Part of the problem is the political bubbles we all live in: as far as I'm concerned, the Bush and Trump economies were disasters, even if the nature varied from time to time; Republicans, with far greater experience at denying reality, thought those times were peachy keen, only to be devastated by Obama and Biden (despite much higher top line statistics). But one other source of confusion is that under both parties, fortune favors the already rich. This is especially true with the Fed, which supposedly tries to manage employment and inflation, but actually implements its policy decisions to giving rich people (via bankers) more or less money at any given point. So it's quite possible that the economy is going gangbusters, but none of it is trickling down to you. Conversely, the vacuuming up, whether through inflation or taxes, is something everyone feels personally, which makes it relatively easy to exploit politically.

Eric Levitz: [02-03] The Fed Can Stop Choking the Economy Now: But they keep missing Powell's target figures for unemployment (er, reducing inflation).

Megan McArdle: [01-29] The $400K conundrum: Why America's urban rich don't feel that way: Refers back to the Todd Henderson case, the guy who in 2010 claimed that it's hard to get by on a meager $450,000 per year. I wrote a bit about this back then. The thing that struck me about Henderson's budget was that most of the money went for things that a decent modern social democracy would provide for most people: health insurance, schooling, retirement. Of course, for his extra money, he's also getting exclusivity: private instead of public schools. And maybe his children need the extra leg up his high income provides. McArdle refers to such people as "broke 2-percenter" -- so close to the 1-percent, yet they keep coming up just short.

Louis Menand: [01-30] When Americans Lost Faith in the News. "The press wasn't silenced in the Trump years. The press was discredited, at least among Trump supporters, and that worked just as well. It was censorship by other means." Menand tries to sketch out the origins of public distrust in the press. Those origins weren't in the 1950s, when journalists were all too happy to shill for the CIA, but the more "bad news" -- riots and anti-war protests -- they reported, the more suspect they became. Nixon may not have coined the phrase "fake news," but as so often in arts Trump perfected, Nixon was the originator, his practice of shooting the messenger only ending when the messengers shot back. Menand wades through various books, finally Margaret Sullivan's "memoir slash manifesto" Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life.

Ian Millhiser:

Eve Ottenberg: [02-03] Egalitarian Paradise Lost: David Graeber and the Pirates of Madagascar. Review of the late anarchist anthropologist's second posthumous book, Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia.

Eric Reinhart: [02-05] Doctors Aren't Burned Out From Overwork. We're Demoralized by Our Health System. It's a big slide from the heyday of the AMA, when doctors organized as a business racket, to today, when doctors are talking about the need for unions.

Dylan Scott:

Jeffrey St Clair: [02-03] Roaming Charges: See No Evil: "There have been at least 52 people killed by police in the US since the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols on January 7th. In 2021, there were 1055 people killed by police in the US. In the same year, 31 people were killed by police in all of Europe. . . . Most of the people killed by police in 2022 were killed by officers responding to mental health calls, traffic violations, disturbances, other *non-violent* issues and situations where no crime was alleged." Examples follow. Behind a paywall, St Clair also wrote: [01-29] The Murder of Tyre Nichols and the Death of Police Reform.

Zeynep Tufecki: [02-03] An Even Deadlier Pandemic Could Soon Be Here: Actually, H5N1 avian flu is already here. It just hasn't broken out as a pandemic in humans yet. In 2005, Mike Davis took the threat seriously enough to write a book: The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. We should have learned from our Covid-19 experience how better to face such threats, but a powerful bloc of nihilists (aka Republicans) drew the opposite lessons, and are working hard to make sure public health officials never again have the tools to protect public health. Note that David Quammen, who has followed these threats for decades and recently wrote Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus, wrote a piece about this back on [2022-10-31]: A Dolphin, a Porpoise and Two Men Got Bird Flu. That's a Warning to the Rest of Us.

David Wallace-Wells:

  • [02-02] Why Are So Many Americans Dying Right Now? Covid, but that only explains about half of "excess deaths" since April 2022. The author, by the way, has written extensively about the pandemic: e.g., [01-04] 9 Pandemic Narratives We're Getting Wrong (although it's not always clear what he's debunking, let alone whether he's right -- my takeaway from the Operation Warp Speed narrative is that the economic incentives that motivated Pfizer and Moderna aren't very trustworthy, and probably aren't the best approach in the long run), and [2022-12-01] China Has an Extraordinary Covid-19 Dilemma (China is often viewed through strange political blinders; I'm not sure this piece is immune, but it's far from the worst).

  • [01-25] Britain's Cautionary Tale of Self-Destruction: Starts off talking about the death toll from Covid-19, then noting how the entire post-Brexit economy and political system are ailing. For instance, economists were asked whether the slowdown in productivity was unprecedented. They did manage to find a worse case, but that was 250 years ago. Then there's: "Liz Truss failed to survive longer as head of government than the shelf life of a head of lettuce." Part of this problem was touched on by Eshe Nelson [01-09]: Britain's Economic Health Is Withering With Sick Workers on the Sidelines. Also: Ellen Ioanes: [02-04] The labor strikes in Britain are years in the making: "Austerity, Brexit, wage stagnation and a cost of living crisis have pushed British workers to the brink."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Music Week

January archive (finished).

Music: Current count 39534 [39462] rated (+72), 39 [42] unrated (-3: 11 new, 28 old).

I gave myself an extra day this week, figuring that it would be nice to end the month on the end of the month, especially given that January is the effective end of the previous year, the obvious point to declare 2022 wrapped up, and to look ahead to 2023. I figured it would make a good cut-off point for my 2022 Music Tracking File, EOY Aggregate (with its poor cousin for Reissues/Historical). It would also provide a freeze point for my Music 2022 list (saving a snapshot for the moment while I continue to add late finds, up to the end of 2023). As it turns out, I've fallen far short of what I hoped to get done. But I've been desperate to make some sort of break, so this is it.

Needing some time to write this brief intro, I did my cutoff make at 6PM. I may sneak some more material in by the time I post this, but these stats are accurate at cutoff time: new releases reviewed 1652 (all 2022, including reissues/historical, plus 12/2021 releases, plus earlier 2021 not in previous tracking files); limited sampling: 4 (a possibly useful idea that I didn't pursue very hard). That may be an all-time record but I don't feel like spending the time to be sure. (A quick count of list item lines shows 1638 this year; previous high for frozen files was 1624 in 2020, followed by 1440 in 2021, 1334 in 2011, 1236 in 2010, 1222 in 2019, 1173 in 2014, 1147 in 2017, 1135 in 2007. Some caveats with these numbers I don't want to go into here.) Tracking file lists 5392 albums total. EOY Aggregate file lists 4520 new albums + 508 reissues/historical.

My EOY file for Jazz shows 74 new A/A- albums (+1 carried over), and 25 old music A/A- albums. For Non-Jazz, the numbers are 96 new (+ 6 carried over), 11 reissues/historical (+ 1 carried over). That's certainly the longest non-jazz A-list ever. You may recall that the non-jazz list was longer when I first compiled the file -- usually, jazz is longer to start, because I follow it more closely -- but the lists evened up while I was compiling Francis Davis Jazz Poll ballots. This week, all the new A- records are non-jazz (mostly African and/or hip-hop), but that's only about a third of the margin.

The EOY Aggregate is now up to 565 lists (this file includes links to most of them, although for some you need to pass through intermediaries), including lots of individual top-tens (everyone from the Francis Davis Jazz Poll, a fair number of ballots from PJRP (Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll) and EW (Expert Witness) polls, other jazz critics I could find, occasional lists like most of the Rolling Stone staff lists. I've included all but metal-exclusivists from the Album of the Year lists, most of the extra lists compiled by Metacritic, and a bunch of lists from Acclaimed Music Forums (incomplete, as I ran out of time midway through rechecking them).

The following are some EOY lists that have influenced my recent listening:

I voted in the PJRP and EW polls. Statistics professor Brad Luen published some centricity/eccentricity data, which rated me the 3rd most eccentric of EW's 43 voters. I probably would have been spared notice (he only listed the top 5) had I not kicked Big Thief off my ballot in favor of William Parker's Universal Tonality -- my top historical release of the year, for which there was no separate category in this poll. The reason I dropped Big Thief is that, while I liked it a lot when I reviewed it, I didn't buy it, and never heard it again since. That's true of a lot of records (including Beyoncé's, which I did buy but still haven't replayed), but I felt that for one certain to finish that high, I should be more sure of myself.

A stray comment in the thread complained that "like half the people didn't even put [Beyoncé] on their ballot." Luen replied: "It did great among FB voters but was soft among non-FB voters (who trend old/grumpy/hetero)." (Luen collected ballots from Facebook and Substack comments as well as direct email.) Having published several ballots already, I took the easy route and emailed my ballot in, thus adding to the demographic Luen identified.

For the record, my albums ballot was (the bracket figure is how many other people voted for the album, and their points):

  1. The Regrettes: Further Joy (Warner) 16 [23/2]
  2. Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1: The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism (Pi) 15 [8/1]
  3. William Parker: Universal Tonality (2002, Centering/AUM Fidelity) 13 [-]
  4. Gonora Sounds: Hard Times Never Kill (The Vital Record) 11 [10/1*]
  5. Dave Rempis/Avreeayl Ra Duo: Bennu (Aerophonic) 10 [-]
  6. Omri Ziegele Where's Africa: That Hat (Intakt) 8 [-]
  7. Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul: Topical Dancer (Beewee/Because Music) 7 [15/2]
  8. Saba: Few Good Things (Saba Pivot) 7 [7/1]
  9. Bob Vylan: Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life (Ghost Theatre) 7 [21/3]
  10. Nilufer Yanya: Painless (ATO) 6 [55/5]

*Totals for Gonora Sounds not given, so I'm making the most reasonable guess.

Only one of my four jazz albums got another vote (8/1), but all six of my non-jazz picks got other votes (123/13). I'm not sure how the eccentricity figure is calculated, but this doesn't strike me as extremely eccentric. (By the two more eccentric scores were by voters who each voted for nine albums no one else voted for, and voted for the same tenth album, which no one else voted for.) What is odd, in this crowd at least, is that none of my ten albums appeared on Christgau's Dean's List (his top 86 albums for the year, although close to a quarter of them came out in 2021 or earlier). On the other hand, 42 + 4 (carry overs) of his albums appeared on my A-list, so the split at the top is hard to explain.

There is much more running through my head that I could write, not least thoughts triggered by Christgau's year-end essay, and by especially the first of two pieces he reprinted on Tom Verlaine, who died at 73 over the weekend. One part of the reason I moved to New York City in 1977 was Christgau's sense of excitement over the new, still-unrecorded bands centered around CBGB's. I never saw Television, but I was witness to Christgau's first spin of Marquee Moon, which knowing the band as he did, he instantly thrilled to while I was trying to puzzle out not just the music but his reaction. I hadn't given any thought to how I might write a memoir of those years -- I've been focusing more on much earlier periods -- but there's a fair amount to delve into there.

In rushing to get this out, I'm leaving the usual bookkeeping unsettled. I'll have to catch up with that later. (Looks like I never did December, either.) It's also possible I won't declare 2022 over quite yet, but I'm definitely taking a break, especially from deadlines.

My mother was born 110 years ago today, in 2013, the youngest of ten children, the eldest born in 1900. Her parents had died before I was born, but my father's parents were born in 1894/1895, and I knew them fairly well before my grandfather died in 1964. Through them I can reach quite a ways back into history. They've made me sensitive to how much change the last few generations have lived through, and thereby how poorly the ideas and ideals they grew up with fare in today's world. (I may seem old and grump to Luen, but believe me, I know much older and grumpier.)

My mother died in 2000, three months after my father (who was ten years younger, but went first). I made Chinese food for my mother's last birthday. Since then I've often made a special dinner to commemorate her birthday: either Chinese, or the old fare of Arkansas (where fried chicken was the dish you served guests). I couldn't do that this year given the crunch of closing out this post. But that's my next project: Thursday, a belated dinner party, and a much needed break from several months of hacking my way through the year's recorded music. I don't see myself as ever approaching this year's stats again. Regardless of whether I set a personal record this year, what I am most certain of is that there's never been a year before 2022 where I've not heard more music. And that's only going to increase -- at least as long as the electricity stays on.

New records reviewed this week:

Ab-Soul: Herbert (2022, Top Dawg): Rapper Herbert Stevens IV, from Los Angeles, fifth album since 2011. Started out smart and sensitive, but has added a lot of bombast and bullshit. B [sp]

Archers of Loaf: Reason in Decline (2022, Merge): Important alt-rock band in the 1990s, broke up in 2000, main guy Eric Bachmann moving on to record albums under his own name and under the group/alias Crooked Fingers. Band regrouped in 2011, but didn't record a new album until this one. B+(*) [sp]

Authentically Plastic: Raw Space (2022, Hakuna Kulala): A DJ/producer based in Kampala, Uganda, name unknown ("dubbed 'Demon of the Nile' by conservative Ugandan media & politicians," so maybe for good reason), first album. Tracks lead with drums, which may lead to slight tweaks but hold pretty steady. B+(**) [sp]

Avantdale Bowling Club: Trees (2022, Years Gone By): New Zealand-based rapper Tom Scott, second album, sees this as a jazz project. Band may lean that way (including horns, sitar, and tabla), but this is driven by words, and insight ("rat race is nothing but a race to the grave"). B+(***) [sp]

Backxwash: His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering (2022, Ugly Hag): Zambian rapper, based in Canada, fourth album. She likes heavy beats and harsh sounds, which smack of metal, without falling into doldrums. B+(**) [sp]

Batida: Neon Colonialismo (2022, Crammed Discs): DJ/producer Pedro Coquenão, born in Angola, raised in Lisbon, eighth album since 2009, working name synonymous with a style of electronic dance music in Lisbon, also a Brazilian cocktail. B+(**) [sp]

Ecko Bazz: Mmaso (2022, Hakuna Kulala): Uganda rapper, based in Kampala (which is becoming an important recording center), first album, with help from an international array of beat masters (Debmaster, Slikback, DJ Die Soon). B+(**) [sp]

Bruno Berle: No Reino Dos Afetos (2022, Far Out): Brazilian singer-songwriter, first album. Like more than a little fringe music, it stradles too easy and too weird. B+(**) [sp]

Blackpink: Born Pink (2022, YG Entertainment): K-pop girl group, second album, albeit a short one (8 songs, 24:34), a mix of electropop, hip-hop, plus the occasional change of pace. I'm not wild about the latter, though these aren't bad. Still hard to relate to K-pop, at least removed form the dance videos, which are slick and catchy. B+(***) [sp]

The Bobby Lees: Bellevue (2022, Ipecac): Rock group founded in Woodstock in 2018, Sam Quartin is singer-guitarist, third or fourth album. Harder than most rock I like, but tighter, and while I can't vouch for the lyrics, this has enough edge and snarl to make me think there must be more to it. A- [sp]

Bodysync: Radio Active (2022, self-released): Collaboration between Canadian DJ Ryan Hemsworth and Charlie Yin (Giraffage). B [sp]

Apollo Brown & Philmore Greene: Cost of Living (2022, Mello Music Group): Detroit hip-hop producer Erik Vincent Stephens, several dozen albums since 2007, many featuring guest rappers, like Greene here (two previous albums, his 2018 debut titled Chicago: A Third World City). More hard times, grit, and perseverance, sliding over beats that don't work too hard. A- [sp]

Buruklyn Boyz: East Mpaka London (2022, self-released): Kenyan drill group, basically a clipped form of hip-hop, even more so than the accents suggesting grime. This spareness is their attraction, but also their limit. B+(**) [sp]

Sarah Mary Chadwick: Flipped It (2022, Kill Rock Stars, EP): Singer-songwriter from New Zealand, seems to be based in Australia, album Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby was a Christgau pick I've never quite fathomed. Five songs (18:37). If you didn't get her before, this primitivist set won't help. B [sp]

Che Noir: The Last Remnants (2022, TCF Music Group, EP): Buffalo rapper, sixth album since 2019, second album this year, a short one (9 songs, 24:08). Beats steady, six feat. guests. B+(**) [sp]

Alaide Costa: O Que Meus Calos Dizem Sobre Mim (2022, Tres Selos): Brazilian singer, debut 1959, 83 when this came out. Not in any great hurry. B+(***) [sp]

DJ Lag: Meeting With the King (2022, Ice Drop): South African DJ/producer Lwazi Asanda Gwala, hailed as a Gqom pioneer since his "2016 breakout" (although amapiano, Afrotech, and Afrhouse are also mentioned). First full-length album, if anything too long (79:00). B+(***) [sp]

Focalistic: Ghetto Gospel (2022, 18 Area Holdings): South African rapper, listed as amapiano, soft edge, easy flow, could be deep or shallow, but pleasing enough not knowing. B+(***) [sp]

Mabe Fratti: Se Ve Desde Aquí (2022, Unheard Of Hope): Cellist, also sings, from Guatemala, based in Mexico City, fourth album. B+(**) [sp]

Moktar Gania & Gwana Soul: Gwana Soul (2022, MusjoMusic/Nuits d'Afrique): Gnawa singer from Morocco, member of a famous family of Gnawa musicians (although the shifting names are disorienting: presumably this is the same Maâlem Mokhtar Gania who recorded with Bill Laswell in 2016 and with Peter Brötzmann and Hamid Drake in 2020. B+(***) [sp]

George: Letters to George (2022 [2023], Out of Your Head): Filed under drummer John Hollenbeck, who wrote all the songs except for two covers (a folk song from Cyril Tawney and an eerie -- or perhaps I mean creepy? -- "Bang Bang"), probably voiced by alto/soprano saxophonist Aurora Nealand. With Anna Webber on tenor sax, and Chiquita Magic on keyboards (Isis Giraldo, also credited with voice). Music is agreeably slippery. B+(***) [cd] [01-27]

Hallelujah the Hills: The Music of the Beatles as Channeled in 1958 by the Echo Lake Home for the Potentially Clairvoyant (2022, Hallelujah the Hills): Beatles songs, mostly done as old-timey ballads, an effect meant to signify time travel. Supposedly the liner notes help. B+(*) [bc]

Marina Herlop: Pripyat (2022, Pan): Spanish (or Catallan) composer, third album, sings and plays keyboards and other instruments, with occasional guest spots. B+(*) [sp]

Honey Dijon: Black Girl Magic (2022, Classic): Transgender DJ, originally from Chicago, now based in New York and Berlin, second album (first was The Best of Both Worlds). Dance beats, all tracks have guest features, presumably singers. The house feels a bit like a cage at first, then grows into a world. B+(***) [sp]

Horse Lords: Comradely Objects (2022, RVNG Intl): Postrock band from Baltimore, fifth album since 2012. Gets a lot more interesting on the third track, where they lose the beat and find a saxophone. Nothing else quite at that level, but lots of interesting patterns and variations. B+(***) [sp]

Ryoji Ikeda: Ultratronics (2022, Noton): Japanese visual and sound artist, based in Paris, twenty or so albums since 1995, "focuses on the minutiae of ultrasonics, frequencies and the characteristics of sound in relation with human perception and the mathematical dianoia applied to music, time and space." That sells his beats short. B+(*) [sp]

Gisle Røen Johansen: Kveldsragg (2018 [2022], Jazzaggression): Norwegian saxophonist, also credited with keyboards, first album, backed by guitar, pedal steel (2/3 tracks), electric bass, acoustic bass (Ingebrigt Håker Flaten), and drums (Gard Nilssen), with minor vocals on the second side. Leans spiritual at first, but toward the end the guitar gets heated up, and the sax comes out to play. B+(***) [sp]

KMRU & Aho Ssan: Limen (2022, Subtext): Kenyan sound artist Joseph Kamaru, based in Berlin, ten albums since 2020. First mention I've seen of this collaborator. Three longish pieces, ambient but a bit harsh. B+(*) [sp]

Knucks: Alpha Place (2022, Nodaysoff): British rapper, Ashley Afamefuna Nwachukwu, born in London, first album after a couple EPs and a mixtape. B+(**) [sp]

Pierre Kwenders: José Louis and the Paradox of Love (2022, Arts & Crafts): Congolese singer-rapper, based in Canada, third album. B+(*) [sp]

Anysia Kym: Soliloquy (2022, self-released, EP): Electronica producer with a minor in hip-hop, based in New York, Bandcamp page has several releases. Seven songs, 14:37, guest spots for Semiratruth and MIKE. B+(*) [bc]

Mike LeDonne/Eric Alexander/Jeremy Pelt/Vincent Herring/Kenny Washington/Peter Washington: The Heavy Hitters (2022 [2023], Cellar): Only surprise here is that LeDonne plays piano instead of organ. Mainstream stars (plus guitarist Rale Micic on one track), sound great at first, but not forever. B+(**) [cd]

Leroy [c0ncernn]: Dariacore 3 . . . At Least I Think That's What It's Called? (2022, self-released): This seems to be the work of a Jane Remover, although that could just be another alias, like Dltzk and High Zoey. Bandcamp and Discogs credit this (and its predecessors) to Leroy, but Spotify and others prefer C0ncernn. The cartoon cover is relatively normal, at least compared to the frantic, glitchy mashup of hard beats and stray sounds. I'm rather surprised that I can stand this, perhaps because it maintains an inherent musicality despite the randomness. B+(***) [sp]

Leroy: Dariacore (2021, self-released): Rewind one year (plus one day), so this is the formula, a little less splashy. B+(**) [sp]

Leroy: Dariacore 2: Enter Here, Hell to the Left (2021, self-released): Same shtick, only more of it. B+(**) [sp]

Zack Lober: No Fill3r (2022 [2023], Zennez): Canadian bassist, originally from Montreal, bow based in the Netherlands, fair number of side credits since 2003, this seems to be his first album as leader. With Suzan Veneman (trumpet) and Sun-Mi Hong (drums). B+(*) [cd] [02-24]

Logic: Vinyl Days (2022, Def Jam): Rapper Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, seventh studio album since 2014, all substantial hits (but this one slipped a bit, chart 12 vs. 1-4 for the rest), but this one got scant notice. Maybe the boasts were in vain -- "when you got this much heat, it's hard to chill" -- or maybe it just runs on too long. Seems pretty solid to me, but what does it mean that my favorite track is the one where he reads the phone book? B+(**) [sp]

Doug MacDonald: Big Band Extravaganza (2022 [2023], DMAC Music): Guitarist, been around, has fun with a conventional big band, most prominent name Kim Richmond (alto sax). B [cd] [01-30]

Madalitso Band: Musakayike (2022, Bongo Joe): Duo from Malawi, made their own instruments: a four-string guitar, a kick drum, a one-string slide bass with a bench to sit on. They generate a propulsive groove and engaging vocals, a bit removed from the South African model but on the fringe of that paradigm. A- [sp]

Kali Malone: Living Torch (2022, Portraits GRM): Stockholm-based electronica composer, originally from Denver, has several albums, this a 33:33 piece split for LP. She plays various synthesizers and software instruments, thickly ambient deepened with trombone (Mats Åleklint). B [sp]

Marlowe: Marlowe 3 (2022, Mello Music): Hip-hop duo, rapper Solemn Brigham and producer Austin Hart (L'Orange). Third album since 2018. Speed raps, hard to imaging improving on the flex beats. A- [sp]

Martha: Please Don't Take Me Back (2022, Dirtnap): English alt-rock band from Durham, fourth album, I was quite taken by their second (Blisters in the Pit of My Heart), but this has fewer hooks and more bluster. B+(*) [sp]

The Master Musicians of Jajouka Led by Bachir Attir: Dancing Under the Moon (2022, Glitterbeat, 2CD): Moroccan group of Jbala Sufi trance musicians, split off in 1992 from an earlier group going back to the 1950s. B+(*) [sp]

MC Bin Laden: Invasão Dos Fluxos (2022, Kondzilla): Brazilian rapper, Jefferson Cristian dos Santos de Lima, moniker got my attention, but he identifies as an evangelical Christian. Genre listed as funk mandelão or funk ostenação or maybe baile funk (to pick one I've actually heard of). Spare metallic beats, grows on you. B+(***) [sp]

Metropolitan Jazz Octet: The Bowie Project (2020-22 [2023], Origin): Featuring singer Paul Marinaro, but driving force seems to be producer Jim Gailloreto (tenor sax/soprano sax/flute), who assembled this group, to play and sing David Bowie songs. Sometimes the songs transcend the arrangements and even the voice. Sometimes not. B [cd]

Moonchild Sanelly: Phases (2022, Transgressive): South African (Xhosa) singer-songwriter, Sanelisiwe Twisha, started as a kwaito dancer, calls her music "future ghetto punk," second album, draws on amapiano, dancehall, and hip-hop, but it winds up sounding like like an exceptionally tight slab of ultra-funky pop. A thick slab, too, running 66 minutes, but the physical is broken up into two CDs (or LPs). A- [sp]

Nerves Baddington: Micro (2022, Apt. B Productions): Hip-hop trio from Birmingham, Alabama, debut album 2017 (Dopamine Decoder Ring), released this and Macro on same day. MC Ryan Howell (InkLine), with John McNaughton on bass and Cam Johnson on drums. Dense beats with a metallic zing. B+(***) [sp]

Nerves Baddington: Macro (2022, Apt. B Productions): Released same day, another 45 minutes of dense soundscape. Marginal distinctions would take more time than I can spend, but either album (or both) could rate higher. B+(***) [sp]

Noori & His Dorpa Band: Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass From Sudan's Red Sea Coast (2022, Ostinato): Band from Port Sudan, "a truly ancient community," introducing its own distinct style: beja. However ancient it may be, the string grooves aren't all that far removed from guitar music across the whole breadth of the Sahara. Very nice. Perhaps a bit too nice? B+(***) [sp]

Nord1kone/DJ Mrok: Tower of Babylon (2022, SplitSLAM): Rapper and DJ (credited here with "scratches"), don't know much about either, but note that Chuck D shares executive producer credit, and leads a long list of featured guests, including Gift of Gab. Voice doesn't match Chuck D for gravitas, but no reason not to want another Public Enemy knock-off. A- [sp]

Obongjayar: Some Nights I Dream of Doors (2022, September): Nigerian singer-songwriter, Steven Umoh, based in London, first album after several EPs. B+(**) [sp]

Ozzy Osbourne: Patient Number 9 (2022, Epic): Former Black Sabbath leader, 13th album since he went solo in 1980, first one I've bothered to listen to -- and probably the last, although it's no worse than their 1970s albums: a sign of artistic stasis, maybe even mellowing with age (74). B- [sp]

Oùat: Elastic Bricks (2021 [2022], Umlaut): Trio, based in Berlin, of Simon Sieger (piano), Joel Grip (bass), and Michael Griener (drums); first album, original pieces, mostly by Grip with a couple by Sieger. B+(**) [sp]

Rema: Rave & Roses (2022, Marvin/Jonzing World): Nigerian singer-songwriter, Divine Ikubor, first album after a breakout EP. B+(***) [sp]

Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn: Pigments (2022, Merge): R&B singer from New Orleans, released a 2005 album as Dawn Angeliqué, appeared in the group Danity Kane, went solo in 2013. She tends to recede into Zahn's electronica here. B [sp]

Rizomagic: Voltaje Raizal (2021, Disasters by Choice): Colombian electronica duo, Diego Manrique and Edgar Marún, seems to be their first album. Rhythm vamps, fast and fractured. Short: 7 cuts, 28:43. B+(**) [bc]

Séketxe: Funjada (Kandendue Kaluanda) (2022, Chasing Dreams): Angolan hip-hop crew, related to drill, I don't understand a word, but dig their intensity and fractured beats. Only album I'm aware of, sometimes touted as an EP (8 songs, 30:43). B+(**) [sp]

ShrapKnel: Metal Lung (2022, Backwoodz Studioz): Hip-hop duo, Curly Castro and PremRock (Mark Debuque), started out in Wrecking Crew, second album. Sharp edges turn in on themselves. B+(*) [sp]

Somadina: Heart of the Heavenly Undeniable (2022, self-released): Nigerian, born there but grew up in the Netherlands, first album, billed as an EP (11 songs, 27:33). I've scanned through a dozen articles, and can't identify a label, but I've seen various references to her "shapeshifting identity." Comes out of the gate with a big pop production, then gets more idiosyncratic, opening up space for a slow vamp and a ballad. No connection I can discern to Afrobeat, but there may be one. A- [sp]

Styroform Winos: Styrofoam Winos Play Their Favorite M. Hurley Songs (2022, Sophomore Lounge): Nashville group -- Lou Turner, Trevor Nikgrant, Joe Kenkel, each with a solo album or more -- with a self-titled debut and a second At Home album. Pandemic project, as they picked favorite songs from the whimsical folksinger, and passed them around. I've heard, and enjoyed, almost all of Hurley's albums. Still, the only songs I recognize are from Have Moicy! B+(*)

They Hate Change: Finally, New (2022, Jagjaguwar): Hip-hop duo from Tampa, Vonne Parks and Andre Gainey, who count themselves as anglophiles, so are more into Goldie and Dizzee Rascal than most American rappers. B+(*) [sp]

Pat Thomas: Pat Thomas Plays the Duke (2021 [2022], New Jazz and Improvised Music): British pianist, many albums since 1993, recently noticed tearing into Cecil Taylor, plays his solo arrangements of ten Ellington compositions, from "Prelude to a Kiss" to "C Jam Blues." Few are recognizable, reminding me of the dictum, "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." None do (although the closer hops, maybe even pogoes). B+(*) [bc]

Wau Wau Collectif: Mariage (2022, Sahel Sounds): Senegalese-Swedish group, second album, mostly recorded in Senegal and mixed, with overdubs, in Sweden, by producer Karl Jonas Windqvist. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Terry Allen & the Panhandle Mystery Band: Smokin the Dummy (1980 [2022], Paradise of Bachelors): Born in Wichita, he grew up in Lubbock, Texas; he trained as an architect, got a BFA, distinguished himself as a sculptor and painter, released an album in 1975, and a better one in 1979, Lubbock (On Everything). This sequel disappointed, but decades later you have to admire his energy and form, even if it doesn't stick with you. B+(**) [sp]

Terry Allen & the Panhandle Mystery Band: Bloodlines (1983 [2022], Paradise of Bachelors): Fourth album, worked harder on his songwriting, built more firmly on gospel, but faith gets tested, not least when Jesus carjacks him. B+(***) [sp]

Broadcast: The Maida Vale Sessions (1996-2003 [2022], Warp): English indietronica band, recorded four albums 2000-09, one more after singer Trish Keenan died in 2011. This came from three John Peel and one Evening Session," the album named for the BBC studio. Ends strong. B+(*) [bc]

Disco Reggae Rockers (1973-86 [2022], Soul Jazz): Mostly reggae-ified covers of American disco tunes, mostly avoiding big hits (although "Move On Up" is an ideal starter), and featuring sub-stellar talent (among the more famous: Derrick Harriott, Devon Russell, Pete Campfell, Hortense Ellis). Pretty hit and miss. B [sp]

Iftin Band: Mogadishu's Finest: The Al-Uruba Sessions (1982-87 [2022], Ostinato): Somali band, shortly before Osama Bin Laden baited the US to intervene and destroy the country. B+(***) [sp]

Rise Jamaica! Jamaican Independence Special (1962 [2022], Trojan, 2CD): Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Jamaica's independence, one disc is devoted to "Jamaican Radio Hits of '62," the other to "The Duke's Dubplates '62" (from the archives of Duke Reid). Reggae's golden years were still in the future, although there are hits you'll recognize: "Miss Jamaica", "Forward March," "Midnight Track," "Housewife's Choice," maybe Lord Creator's "Independent Jamaica." The others, perhaps even more so the not-yet-dub side, feel right for the time. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Mon Laferte: Mon Laferte Vol. 1 (2015, Intolerancia): Singer-songwriter from Chile, recorded an album in 2003 as Monserrat Bustamente, moved to Mexico. B+(*) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Leap Day Trio: Live at the Cafe Bohemia (Giant Step Arts) [02-24]
  • Ben Rosenblum Nebula Project: A Thousand Pebbles (One Trick Dog) [02-10]
  • Jim Snidero: Far Far Away (Savant) [02-03]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Speaking of Which

I thought I'd spend this last week of January wrapping up my music review of 2022, and indeed I'm giving myself an extra day, so don't expect Music Week until Tuesday, probably late. But I had a few tabs open, and made the usual rounds, and this is what I came up with.

Maggie Astor: [01-25] G.O.P. State Lawmakers Push a Growing Wave of Anti-Transgender Bills: Subhed describes this as "part of a long-term plan," but I don't see much planning. Rather, it feels like a combination of latching onto any sort of bigotry that still seems credible, and using that to hype up fears that have no basis in reality. I also suspect they've gotten a boost by overly aggressive transgender supporters -- clever of them to latch onto the much more popular LGB bandwagon -- where both sides get blown out of proportion. True, I am surprised at how often I run into trans or non-binary performers in music, but I've never even heard of an actual case the "save women's sports" might apply to.

Jelani Cobb: [01-29] Ron DeSantis Battles the African-American A.P. Course -- and History: "The state's intent seems to be to provide white Floridians, from a young age, with a version of history that they can be comfortable with, regardless of whether it's true." More DeSantis:

Dave DeCamp: [01-29] Air Force General Predicts the US Will Be at War With China in 2025. This is pretty chilling. I don't see it happening, but this sort of planning can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also on China:

Connor Echols: [01-27] Diplomacy Watch: Switzerland weighs break with policy of neutrality. Germany and US agreed to send tanks to Ukraine. Switzerland agreed to allow re-export of Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine. Estonia and Latvia withdrew their Moscow ambassadors. None of these moves offer hope of a ceasefire and negotiated peace. Echols also wrote: [01-26] US weapons makers report 'all-time record orders' since Russian invasion: Just in case you've wondered, cui bono? More on the ongoing war:

  • Hrair Balian: [01-28] Will the war in Ukraine inevitably freeze? "With the conflict more likely than not headed for stalemate, how long can the US maintain support in the absence of negotiations?" Proposes four scenarios that could push the US into suing for peace, but I don't see any of them as more than remotely likely (Russian battlefield gains; nuclear war becomes imminent; China moves against Taiwan; Republicans defund the war to spite Biden). No one around Putin will admit it, but Russia is much more likely to find the war insupportable, if not this year than somewhere down the road. What the US needs to realize is not that the war isn't affordable but that it is hopeless and unnecessary. Still, that realization needs to sit in on both sides before much progress can be made. Meanwhile, both sides desperately try to impress the other with their stubborn determination.

  • Dave DeCamp: [11-25] Lockheed Says It's Ready With F-16s If US and Allies Choose to Send Them to Ukraine. And now that Ukraine is getting US and German tanks, Zelensky has already moved on to requesting F-16s. Cheering him on: [01-28] At the Pentagon, push to send F-16s to Ukraine picks up steam.

  • Charles W Dunne: [01-29] Arab, Israeli positions on Ukraine continue to frustrate US: Turns out America's "closest ally" isn't much help here. Similarly, America's closest Arab allies have business interests more closely aligned with Russia. I wouldn't say that support on Ukraine should be a litmus test of alliance, but non-support should tone down the hyperbole.

  • Jen Kirby:

  • Anatol Lieven:

  • Blaise Malley: [01-27] New senator JD Vance leads GOP effort to put Ukraine aid under a microscope: Given the amount of money the US is putting into Ukraine, and given that the organizations involved have never been very good at accounting, I doubt they'll need much of a microscope' to find evidence of waste and corruption. Of course, had they paid attention to Afghanistan and Iraq, they would have found plenty, but those wars didn't break along partisan lines, and the waste and corruption was easily written off as cost of doing business. That's harder to do once it gets mentioned, which is the point of this notice.

  • Branko Marcetic: [01-29] Ukraine's Postwar Reconstruction Has Big Business Licking Its Lips: Good. Maybe we've finally found a business lobby that can compete with the arms merchants, to at least make the idea of negotiating an end to the war more palatable. After all, if we've learned one thing from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's that it's impossible to rebuild a country while it's still wracked by war.

Eric Foner: [01-23] The Constitution Has a 155-Year-Old Answer to the Debt Ceiling. The 14th Amendment specifies that: "The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned." Republican efforts to force the government to default on its debt are, therefore, illegal under the Constitution. By the way, there is more in the 14th Amendment that Republicans should study up on. Also:

Lawrence B Glickman: [01-21] The Real Origins of the "Democrat Party" Troll. It first sounds like a verbal tic, but you hear it so often, it finally registers as an easy way to identify that the speaker is under the spell of the Republican Party. "Perhaps the answer lies in the face that many critics of the New Deal were also critics of democracy." And perhaps that's why the slur has become ever more common: Republicans have given up on even giving lip service to democracy.

Jonathan Guyer: [01-27] Why violence in Israel and Palestine has spiked in the last 48 hours. Only thing surprising here is that it's not just Israelis on the warpath. More on Israel:

Robert Hunziker: [01-27] Doomsday Clock Jitters and "How to Fix a Broken Planet": The latest update of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' "doomsday clock" was played for laughs on late night shows. There are fundamental problems with it, which you'd expect atomic scientists, of all people, to figure out. The first is that "doomsday" is not very well defined. Even in its original context -- nuclear war -- does it mean total annihation, or would more localized outbreaks suffice? If the latter, did Chernobyl or Fukushima cross that threshold? If not, why not? They are comparable to nuclear bombs: in some ways less destructive, in others worse, but on the same qualitative scale. They do have the advantage of looking like accidents, so are unlikely to cascade like the actual use of nuclear weapons could, or like war between nuclear-armed powers with conventional weapons might. The main reason they advanced the clock to its most alarming level ever is that we're experiencing such a war between NATO and Russia -- albeit, for now, with Ukraine as a buffer. Still, the closer you get to "midnight," the more dubious the scale seems. The unveilers as much as admitted this point by pausing in silence for more than the 90 seconds they allowed us to survive -- looking ridiculous when we were still here. All this proved was that the clock mataphor, with its linear gradations, wasn't the right model for the risk they wanted to represent.

I'd be more inclined to come up with some kind of wave function or probability matrix, which you could then reduce to a single number only at the expense of missing the point. Wouldn't it be nice to come up with some way of calculating how the likelihood of various bad events happening varies as you alter input today? There's no standard method, but we've been doing something like that with climate change models for quite some time now: what's lacking is the ability to get people in policy positions to understand how they work and what they mean. The doomsday clock folks thought they might help by trying to factor climate change into their calculation, but that turned out not to help: the scales and probabilities are fundamentally different, and the disaster-point is very ill-defined (and worse, many definitions would throw the clock on the wrong side of midnight).

By the way, Hunziker's piece is actually a review of a book by Julian Cribb, How to Fix a Broken Planet. It outlines all the usual threats not to the planet itself but to human life and culture on the planet, so it's probably good as far as it goes, until it starts scolding individuals for the failures of states and organization that claim to be acting in our best interests.

Ben Jacobs: [01-28] Trump struggled with identity at his first public campaign stop: "Trump tried to cast himself as both a great Republican leader and the ultimate outsider." He may think he can play it both ways, but to be a serious contender, he has to win back the outsider rail, because his opponents are so vulnerable to that kind of attack. Still, it will demand a lot of credulity from his voters, although he can blame many failures of his administration on Pence and the people Pence installed. More Trump trivia:

Mike Konczal: [01-27] Do We Need a Recession Because Wages Are Too High? 5 Responses Answering No.

Dylan Matthews: [01-26] FairTax, the GOP plan for a 30 percent national sales tax, explained. Not noted here, but worth pondering, is the extent to which Sam Brownback's budget-busting tax "reforms" incorporated FairTax principles: he raised sales taxes, while exempting business income from income taxation. True, nobody got a rebate to soften the blow. And while Kansas sales tax became one of the nation's highest, Kansas income tax was never more than a small fraction of federal, so the biggest beneficiaries still complained a lot.

Ian Millhiser: [01-25] Trump's worst judge is now a dangerous threat to press freedom: "An unhinged case brought by anti-vaxxers will be heard by one of the biggest reactionaries in the federal judiciary."

Sara Morrison: [01-24] Google's bad year is getting worse.

Nicole Narea: [01-27] The brutal, politically motivated attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband, explained.

Nicole Narea/Sean Collins/Ellen Ioanes: [01-28] The fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, explained: "Five Memphis police officers are facing murder charges over Nichols's death." Related:

Tori Otten: [01-27] Marjorie Taylor Greene Says Biden "Abused His Power" by Lowering Gas Prices: "Do Republicans even want lower gas prices or not?" Nothing in their administrative history suggests that they do, which shouldn't be much of a surprise given how skewed donations from oil companies are in their favor. Nor is this just Greene saying something stupid. See: [01-27] House GOP passes bill to curb Biden's use of oil reserve. After ranting nonstop about gas prices, they're upset that Biden released oil from the US Strategic Reserve to reduce prices (and undercut their campaign messaging). A normal person, concerned first and foremost about solving the problem, would have applauded Biden's move. But there's nothing normal about Republicans any more. Even worse are Republican efforts to make sure public health officers can't order lockdowns or mask requirements when the next pandemic hits.

Kim Phillips-Fein: [01-24] The Change We Want: "What does it take to build a political majority?" Review of Timothy Shenk's Realigners: Partisan Hacks, Political Visionaries, and the Struggle to Rule American Democracy. The book appears to be a sweeping history of American politics told through a dozen or so individuals regarded as uniquely influential (Madison and Hamilton lead off; I'm more suspicious of Barack Obama at the end, but not every example need be successful to make a point).

Christopher Reeves: [01-21] Voters told them no, but Kansas Republicans are advancing wild new anti-abortion legislation anyway. Normal people would think that the referendum, where nearly 60% of Kansans voted to protect abortion rights, would have settled the issue, but Republicans aren't normal. They stick to their demented principles and pursue their obsessions with no concern about public opinion, using whatever power than can usurp.

Rebecca Robbins: [01-28] How a Drug Company Made $114 Billion by Gaming the U.S. Patent System.

Nathan Robinson: [01-23] Rush Limbaugh's Toxic Legacy: A review of the late right-wing icon's "new book" -- actually, as the title (Radio's Greatest of All Time) makes way too obvious, a tribute assembled by family of his most outrageous rants (a 500-page "timeless collection of Rush's brilliant words" and "authoritative body of Rush's best work"), larded with photos of Limbaugh hobnobbing with his politician fans, who provide their own tributes. Nor do the paeans end there: "Many of the transcripts printed in the book are from callers who claim that Limbaugh changed their lives in one way or another."

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-27] Roaming Charges: The Ugliest Thing in America. "Mass shootings are an unimpeachable proof of American exceptionalism."

Joseph Stiglitz: [01-10] Milton Friedman Set Us Up for a 21st Century Version of Fascism: "In 2023, market fundamentalism is fostering authoritarianism -- in the United States and abroad."

Michael Stavola: [01-25] Authorities name Wichita man killed in hunting accident when dog stepped on gun.

Asawin Suebsaeng/Patrick Reis: [01-27] Trump's Killing Spree: The Inside Story of His Race to Execute Every Prisoner He Could: "Before 2020, there had been three federal executions in 60 years. Then Trump put 13 people to death in six months."

Gary Younge: [01-23] Heavy Is the Head: "The British Royals in the age of streaming." A review of The Crown, which is an interesting and entertaining, albeit somewhat peculiar, chronicle of the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II, starting with her wedding in 1947, before her coronation in 1952. The recently concluded 5th Season covers 1991-97, ending just after Tony Blair succeeded John Major as Prime Minister, and just before the recently divorced and deposed Princess Diana perished in a Paris car wreck. Showrunner Peter Morgan clearly wants to refocus England's history around a public-service monarchy he sees as deeply interwoven into the fabric of national life (its imperial conceits conveniently ignored after the first two episodes), yet their self-centeredness and irrelevance can help but rise to the surface. By season five they've become such a disgrace that the series is largely given over to Prince Charles' Trust and his vain blatherings about how as King he would make the monarchy relevant again. You can say that he's trying to humanize the monarchy, except that the monarchy doesn't make for very good humans. As Younge notes, "History has already delivered its verdict on those who inherit power and remain unaccountable; The Crown merely illustrates the degree to which the institution doesn't even work for the people who run it."

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39462 [39414] rated (+48), 42 [36] unrated (+6: 14 new, 28 old).

Very little to add about this week's music. I was struggling to think of things to look up early in the week, so I wound up searching down the EOY aggregate file for highest-rated unheard records, sometimes singling out genres (country probably got the most attention). The highest-ranked records I still haven't heard yet:

  1. Ozzy Osbourne: Patient Number 9 (Epic) {22}
  2. Alexisonfire: Otherness (Dine Alone) {20}
  3. They Hate Change: Finally, New (Jagjaguwar) {20}
  4. Rolo Tomassi: Where Myth Becomes Memory (MNRK) {19}
  5. Sorry: Anywhere but Here (Domino) {19}
  6. Bonny Light Horseman: Rolling Golden Holy (37d03d) {18}
  7. Cass McCombs: |Heartmind (Anti-) {18}
  8. Osees: A Foul Form (Castle Face) {18}

The frequency of unheard items picks up significantly after 300: The Callous Daoboys (303); Knucks (309); Obongjayar (315); Rammstein (317); Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn (318); Undeath (320); Afghan Whigs (324); The Big Moon (327); Naima Bock (328); Demi Lovato (332); Paolo Nutini (335); Static Dress (340); Big Joanie (344); Porcupine Tree (357); Warmduscher (364); Willow (365); Utada Hikaru (380); Horse Lords (381); The Orielles (389); Slipknot (396); Tedeschi Trucks Band (398); Wild Pink (400); Anxious (403); Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler (404); Goat (409); Ho99o9 (410); King Hannah (412); King Stingray (413); Natalia Lafourcade (414); Kali Malone (415); Rob Mazurek (417); Meshuggah (419); Muse (422); Caitlin Rose (426); Bruce Springsteen (430); And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (434); Blackpink (436); Built to Spill (439); Coheed and Cambria (441); Grace Cummings (442); Brian Ennels & Infinity Knives (447); Aoife Nessa Frances (448); Marina Herlop (450); Ithaca (453); The Lounge Society (458); Angeline Morrison (460); Pillow Queens (462); Pixies (463); The Soft Pink Truth (467); Witch Fever (471); Wizkid (472); Backxwash (476); The Black Angels (481); Black Star (482); Broken Bells (484); Alex Cameron (485); Christine and the Queens (489); Jake Xerxes Fussell (492); Future (493); Robyn Hitchcock (496).

I'll probably knock a few more of those off next week (so far: They Hate Change, Knucks). I expect to freeze the 2022 file after next week -- I may as well plan now on closing the week/month on January 31 instead of 30. After that, I'll cut back on the 2022 tracking files, although I'll continue to add late entries to the year 2022 lists, including the jazz and non-jazz best-of lists. Looking forward, I haven't started 2023 tracking and metacritic files. Hoping to focus more on other projects going forward, but I'm reluctant to make promises or resolutions.

I posted a pretty substantial Speaking of Which yesterday. The deeper I get into the Ryan Cooper book, the more impressed I am. Before getting into it, I read most of Denise Low's slim Jigsaw Puzzling: Essays in a Time of Pestilence. We've been doing jigsaw puzzles much earlier than the pandemic. Laura usually wanted to do a puzzle when she had a few days off. I had a pair of Springbok puzzle caddies, so was well-prepared to indulge her. One special memory was from 1991: we were working on one while watching coverage of the Soviet coup against Gorbachev, while a hurricane was blowing outside (we were in Boston). Since she retired, we've had a puzzle going continuously. Low, by the way, was once poet laureate of Kansas, although she's since moved to northern California.

New records reviewed this week:

Courtney Marie Andrews: Loose Future (2022, Fat Possum): Country singer-songwriter from Phoenix, ninth album since 2013, has a light touch. B+(**) [sp]

Kelsea Ballerini: Subject to Change (2022, Black River): Pop singer-songwriter, working out of Nashville, but almost all of her songs have multiple co-writers and kitchen sink production -- nothing distinctively country about that, even when you get a title like "Love Is a Cowboy" or "You're Drunk, Go Home." B+(*) [sp]

Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (2022 [2023], Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, from New York, fourth album since 2012, this one co-produced by Terri Lyne Carrington, who aims for crossover not by compromise but by turning up the heat. Opens and closes with sirens and Angela Davis. Guest vocals from Dianne Reeves and Georgia Anne Muldrow, and spoken word by Sonia Sanchez and Wayne Shorter, but the sax speaks loudest and clearest. A- [cd] [01-27]

The Cactus Blossoms: One Day (2022, Walkie Talkie): Country band from Minnesota, fifth album since 2011. Principally singer-songwriters Jack Torey and Page Burkum. B [sp]

Bill Callahan: YTILAER (2022, Drag City): Singer-songwriter from Maryland, recorded as Smog 1990-2007, tenth album under his own name, seems to be regarded as a big deal but I've never warmed to his deadpan vocals and minimal guitar. Title this time is a mirror image of REALITY -- I won't try to reproduce that affectation here, but much of the press has indulged him. First third of the album drags as usual, but he almost gets interesting after that. B+(*) [sp]

Loyle Carner: Hugo (2022, EMI); British rapper, stage name a play on his last name (Coyle-Larner), third album. B+(**) [sp]

Paul Cauthen: Country Coming Down (2022, Thirty Tigers/Velvet Rose): Country singer-songwriter from East Texas, started in group Sons of Fathers, third album (counting his debut My Gospel). Has a voice you'll be able to recognize again, with more grit and humor than his résumé suggests. B+(*) [sp]

Chat Pile: God's Country (2022, The Flenser): Noise rock/sludge metal band from Oklahoma, named after the toxic waste left around lead-zinc mines. First album. Rates for chops and attitude, and is all the more amusing at the low volume that makes it tolerable to me. And yeah, in case you're wondering, God's country is indeed a toxic dump. B+(*) [sp]

Brent Cobb: And Now, Let's Turn to Page . . . (2022, Ol' Buddy): Country singer, fifth album since 2006, turns to the hymn book here, opening with an easy-going "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," and continuing to pick out old chestnuts that remind me of the comforts of church without the histrionic crap that drove me away. B+(**) [sp]

Luke Combs: Growin' Up (2022, Columbia Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from North Carolina, third album, all number ones, includes a duet with Miranda Lambert. B+(*) [sp]

Rosalie Cunningham: Two Piece Puzzle (2022, Machine Elf): British singer-songwriter, second album after previous group Purson. B [sp]

Lucrecia Dalt: ¡Ay! (2022, RVNG Intl): Colombian singer-songwriter, studied as a civil engineer, based in Berlin, albums since 2005 (initially as Lucrecia), previously unfamiliar to me, and hard to pigeonhole: the beats Latin but subtler, the electronics layered acoustically, the vocals foreign, the pacing and tension unique. A- [sp]

Sarah Davachi: Two Sisters (2022, Late Music): Canadian electroacoustic musician, based in Los Angeles, couple dozen albums since 2013. Plays organ, synthesizer, bells here, with extra strings, voices, and (one cut near the end) trombone, mostly to ambient effect. B+(*) [sp]

Richard Dawson: The Ruby Chord (2022, Domino): British singer-songwriter, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, albums since 2005, draws on (or deconstructs) folk music. Voice reminds me a bit of Robert Wyatt, and music is comparably off-kilter, but that's as far as the similarity goes. B- [sp]

Drake: Honestly, Nevermind (2022, OVO Sound/Republic): Canadian rapper Aubrey Drake Graham, seventh album since 2011, all seven have topped both rap and pop charts, despite that aside from his debut, he albums get very little critical respect. Still, this one slides by painlessly enough. B+(*) [sp]

Drake & 21 Savage: Her Loss (2022, OVO Sound/Republic): Duo with Atlanta rapper Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph. B [sp]

Brent Faiyaz: Wasteland (2022, Lost Kids): R&B singer Christopher Wood, from Maryland, second album. B+(*) [sp]

First Aid Kit: Palomino (2022, Columbia): Swedish folk-pop duo, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, fifth album since 2010. More pop these days. B+(*) [sp]

Gabriels: Angels & Queens Part 1 (2022, Atlas Artists/Parlophone): Soul group from California, featuring vocalist Jacob Lusk with producers Ryan Hope and Ari Balouzian, first album (or first half of one, Part 1 (7 songs) coming in at 27:29, with a Part 2 promised for March, 2023. B+(**) [sp]

Ghost: Impera (2022, Loma Vista): Swedish rock band, fifth album since 2010, close enough to attract a metal following but I don't particularly feel it -- so this is relatively listenable, but loses interest midway (e.g., "Watcher in the Sky"). B- [sp]

Gilla Band: Most Normal (2022, Rough Trade): Irish band, changed name from Girl Band for this third album. Scattered stabs at punk, hardcore, noise. B [sp]

Keiji Haino: My Lord Music, I Most Humbly Beg Your Indulgence in the Hope That You Will Do Me the Honour of Permitting This Seed Called Keiji Haino to Be Planted Within You (2019 [2022], Purple Tap/Black Editions): Japanese experimental musician, b. 1952, has close to 100 albums, mostly plays guitar and sings, but choice of instrument here is hurdy gurdy, with a lot of drone resonance. B+(*) [sp]

Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding: Alive at the Village Vanguard (2022 [2023], Palmetto): Piano and vocal duo, the latter perversely insisting on lower case, and not bothering with the bass she first made her name with. She scats a lot, but finds her voice on "Girl Talk." B+(***) [cd]

Hot Chip: Freakout/Release (2022, Domino): British synthpop band, eighth album since 2004. B+(*) [sp]

Jeremy Ivey: Invisible Pictures (2022, Anti-): Nashville singer-songwriter, plays guitar, started in Buffalo Clover, married the singer (Margo Price), third solo album (counting one co-credited to the Extraterrestrials). B [sp]

Khruangbin & Leon Bridges: Texas Sun (2020, Dead Oceans, EP): Houston psych rock band, mostly instrumental, got a gig opening for retro-soul singer Bridges in 2018, leading to this EP (and another in 2022), which really should be filed under the singer's name. Four songs, 20:58. B+(**) [sp]

Khruangbin & Leon Bridges: Texas Moon (2022, Dead Oceans, EP): A second EP, five songs (22:37). Focus shifts slightly to the band, who are chill. B+(*) [sp]

Lambchop: The Bible (2022, Merge/City Slang): Nashville indie band, albums since 1990, Kurt Wagner sings. Slow and ponderous, as usual. B [sp]

Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver (2022, New West): Not taking any chances here: the twelve songs are famous, iconic even, and the various artists are not just stars but well practiced in tributes, with Willie Nelson getting a second helping ("Fast Train to Georgia") after sharing the title song with Lucinda Williams. One I didn't recall but I'm glad I heard it here: "Ain't No God in Mexico." Steve Earle picked that one. A- [sp]

The Mars Volta: The Mars Volta (2022, Clouds Hill): Prog rock band from El Paso, seventh album since 2003, seems fairly normal. B [sp]

Carson McHone: Still Life (2022, Merge): Austin-based singer-songwriter, third album, close to country but enough? B+(*) [sp]

Tyler Mitchell Octet: Sun Ra's Journey (2021 [2022], Cellar): Young bassist, his credentials assured by giving a featuring spot to Marshall Allen. B+(***) [cd]

Nas: King's Disease III (2022, Mass Appeal): Rapper Nasir Jones, dropped Illmatic 28 years ago and never let up, although he's return to his 2020 title for a third time. B+(***) [sp]

Kim Petras: Slut Pop (2022, Republic, EP): German pop singer-songwriter, based in Los Angeles, trans, has a lot of singles, as far back as 2008 but especially since 2017, with a couple picked up before this super-trashy, super-smutty 7-track, 15:51 EDM teaser. I, too, "want to see how big it gets." A- [sp]

Aaron Raitiere: Single Wide Dreamer (2022, Dinner Time): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, based in Nashville, first album, has written songs for a dozen name singers -- Anderson East, Miranda Lambert, Natalie Hemby, and Ashley Monroe return the favor with cameo and production credits here. B+(***) [sp]

Jim Snidero: Far Far Away (2022 [2023], Savant): Alto saxophonist, from DC area, studied at UNT, moved to New York in 1981, more than two dozen albums since 1984 (more side credits). Very solid outing, with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel getting a "featuring" credit on the cover, and an impeccable rhythm section of Orrin Evans (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). B+(***) [cd] [02-03]

Stormzy: This Is What I Mean (2022, Def Jam): British rapper Michael Omari, third album, not much beat. B [sp]

Vieux Farka Touré & Khruangbin: Ali (2022, Dead Oceans): Guitarist-singer-songwriter from Mali, following his famous father's footsteps, tenth (or 12th) album since 2007, joined here by a Houston psych rock trio that has been diversifying of late (e.g., two EPs with Leon Bridges). They are near invisible here, probably for the better. B+(***) [sp]

Phil Venable: Bassworks, Vol. 1 (2022, Soul City Sounds): Solo bass, three pieces (38:35), captivating within those limits. B+(*) [bc]

The Wonder Years: The Hum Goes On Forever (2022, Hopeless): Emo band from Pennsylvania, Dan Campbell the singer, seventh album since 2007. Probably has some merit, but I lose interest when they get pumped up. B [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Miles Davis: Miles Davis With Tadd Dameron Revisited: Live 1949 at the Royal Roost NYC & in Paris at Festival Internationale De Jazz (1949 [2023], Ezz-Thetics): Six tracks from a tentet led by pianist Dameron at the Royal Roost, plus nine tracks by a co-led quintet a Paris festival, with James Moody (tenor sax), Barney Spieler (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums). Sound reminds me of Bird's Royal Roost dates, although this group is less focused and more slippery. Davis gets some good runs in Paris, especially on "Rifftide." B+(***) [bc]

Miles Davis Quintet: 2nd Session 1956 Revisited (1956 [2022], Ezz-Thetics): When Davis signed with Columbia, he still owed Prestige four albums, which the Quintet -- John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums) -- knocked out in two sessions, one on May 11, the other on October 26, 1956. The albums were slowly released, up to mid-1961, to capitalize on Columbia's publicity. This singles out the latter session, most of which was released on the first two albums (Cookin' and Relaxin'), plus one track from the other two (Workin' and Steamin'), plus a take of "'Round Midnight" (the title of their Columbia debut). A- [bc]

Old music:

Dave Bartholomew: The Big Beat of Dave Bartholomew: 20 of His Milestone Productions 1949-1960 (1949-60 (2002), Capitol): Eight of them credited to Bartholomew, three more to Smiley Lewis, the others oddly misdirected. B+(**) [sp]

Doc Cheatham: Hey Doc! [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1975 [1997], Black and Blue): Trumpet player, born in Nashville but remembered for New Orleans. I first noticed him on a 1993 album called The Eighty-Seven Years of Doc Cheatham, which is to say shamefully late, although so he still had another career highlight left: 1997's Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton. He spent most of his career tucked away in big bands (Wilbur De Paris, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Cab Calloway, Claude Hopkins, Perez Prado, and Benny Goodman). He started headlining around 1973, shortly before this session with Sammy Price (piano), alto sax, trombone, bass, and drums (J.C. Heard). No credit on vocals. B+(**) [sp]

Jan Garbarek Quartet: Afric Pepperbird (1970 [1971], ECM): Norwegian saxophonist, mostly tenor but also credited bass sax, clarinet, flute, and percussion. Not quite his first album, but this begins his long association with ECM. Quartet names on cover: Terje Rypdal (guitar, bugle), Arild Andersen (bass, thumb piano, xylophone), and Jon Christensen (percussion). The sax is rougher on these early recordings, especially here. That's not a complaint. B+(***) [sp]

Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson/Terje Rypdal/Arild Andersen/Jon Christensen: Sart (1971, ECM): Norwegian group, all students of George Russell, near the start of major careers. Garbarek plays tenor sax, bass sax, and flute, and wrote four (of six) pieces. The others play piano, guitar, bass, and drums, with Andersen and Rypdal writing one piece each. B+(***) [sp]

Jan Garbarek/Arild Andersen/Edward Vesala: Triptykon (1972 [1973], ECM): Soprano/tenor/bass saxophone-bass-drums trio. Still on edge. B+(***) [sp]

Jan Garbarek: Places (1977 [1978], ECM): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano/alto), quartet with John Taylor (piano/organ), Bill Connors (guitar), and Jack DeJohnettte (drums). Four long-ish pieces, ranges from atmospheric to towering, a master of tone, the guitar filling in eloquently. A- [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Don Aliquo: Growth (Ear Up) [02-17]
  • Skip Grasso: Becoming (Barking Coda Music) [02-01]
  • Jo Lawry: Acrobats (Whirlwind) [02-10]
  • Dave Liebman: Live at Smalls (Cellar Music) [02-03]
  • Doug MacDonald: Big Band Extravaganza (DMAC Music) [01-30]
  • Markus Rutz: Storybook (Jmarq) [02-17]
  • The Dave Stryker Trio: Prime (Strikezone) [02-03]
  • Eldad Tarmu: Tarmu Jazz Quartet (Queen of Bohemia) [03-01]
  • Rachel Therrien Latin Jazz Project: Mi Hogar (Outside In Music) [02-13]
  • Greg Ward's Rogue Parade: Dion's Quest (Sugah Hoof) [02-10]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Speaking of Which

Plenty below. No need to pad it out with an introduction. I do want to note that so far I'm very impressed with Ryan Cooper's book, How Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Questions in Politics.

House Republicans: Expect this to be the main story for the next year or two, as Republicans use their five-seat margin in the House to repeatedly remind us why they should never again be trusted with any power whatsoever in Washington. This week's stories:

  • Robert Kuttner: [01-17] Turning the Debt Ceiling Crisis Against McCarthy's Republicans: "Biden needs to play serious hardball, or he will get rolled." I could cite a dozen pieces on this issue, but it really comes down to a political test of will: a question of whether the Republican faction which McCarthy surrendered to can intimidate Biden and the Democrats into agreeing to the first tranche of insatiable demands. Control of the House gives Republicans a lot of leverage if they really want to cut the budget going forward, but that's not what they're demanding here: they want to undo already passed budgets, and they want to force Biden to do their dirty work for them. Do they have the power to do this? Not really, given that there are workaround solutions (e.g., the platinum coin, "a silly solution to a silly problem"). More importantly, will this brinkmanship help or hurt them politically? Past experience says it will hurt them. So why are they doing it? Mostly because they don't care. They believe they'll never be held responsible for the mischief they wreak.

  • Eric Alterman: [01-20] Deal-Making Republican 'Pragmatists'? Like, Who? The eternal search for the "adult" Republicans who are willing to break from the crazies when nothing sort of disaster looms. (One of the hopeful scenarios in Kuttner, above.)

  • David Dayen: [01-20] McCarthy's 21 Republican Defectors Didn't Get Much: "That's because the party already agreed with them."

  • Pablo Manriquez: [01-10] Here's the First Salvo in House Republicans' War on Transgender People: "They're reversing a rule Democrats passed in 2021 calling for gender-neutral pronouns."

  • Timothy Noah: [01-20] Go Ahead, Republicans, Pass a National Sales Tax. How many people really want to pay a 30% sales tax just so rich people can escape being taxed on income, dividends, capital gains, and estates? True that many people are poor judges of self-interest, but this one will be hard to swallow.

  • Areeba Shan: [01-18] GOP rages at McCarthy over committee as MAGA extremists score key assignments.

  • Peter M Shane: [01-20] Jim Jordan's Reckless New Committee: He's actually calling it the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. It is, of course, the weaponization of congressional investigative authority for purely political ends. "It will start with overheated demands for information. . . . The Biden administration will comply with some requests while resisting others. Republicans will denounce recalcitrance as a coverup. Fox News, for its part, will condemn any lack of transparency as Democratic hypocrisy." Yes, you can write it all up now, not least because we've seen it all before (remember Benghazi!?).

  • Alex Shephard: [01-20] Actually, George Santos Has Been Pretty Good for the Republican Party: "It may not last forever, but the scandal-plagued congressman is helpfully distracting attention from the House's bona fide extremists and their weird ideas."

  • Abby Zimet: [01-21] Mogadishu Redux: Bring in the Malignant Clowns.

And beyond the House, Republicans don't get any brighter (or saner, let alone more civil):

William Astore: [01-15] Imperial Dominance Disguised as Democratic Deterrence: Reading the Pentagon's latest NDS (National Defense Strategy) paper, which identifies five threats, prioritized: 1. China; 2. Russia; 3. the War on Terror; 4. North Korea and Iran; 5. climate change -- and proposes that the only way to deal with these problems is to spend more money on arms and bases straddling the world. Astore goes on to list seven things "you'll never see mentioned in this NDS":

  1. Any suggestion that the Pentagon budget might be reduced. Ever.
  2. Any suggestion that the U.S. military's mission or "footprint" should be downsized in any way at all.
  3. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. and its allies spend far more on their militaries than "pacing challengers" like China or "acute threats" like Russia.
  4. Any acknowledgment that the Pentagon's budget is based not on deterrence but on dominance.
  5. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. military has been far less than dominant despite endless decades of massive military spending that produced lost or stalemated wars from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.
  6. Any suggestion that skilled diplomacy and common security could lead to greater cooperation or decreased tensions.
  7. Any serious talk of peace.

For more, see:

Dean Baker: [01-21] Biden has earned a solid 'A' halfway through his term. A bit of boosterism from an economist who's normally quite critical, but compared to whom? Baker argues that Biden managed to wring more positive legislation out of Congress than any president since LBJ, with a razor-thin margin in Congress (unlike Clinton or Obama in their first two years, which brought us NAFTA and ACA/Dodd-Frank). He doesn't dwell much on the executive orders, which reversed much (though by no means all) of the damage Trump wrought. He also doesn't have anything to say about Biden's foreign policy, which allows many newspapers to pair his piece with Meaghan Mobbs: Joe Biden deserves a 'D' for his administration's foreign policy. I don't know her political affiliation, but she's a West Point grad, former Army captain, and well established in the pro-military think tank racket. She blames Biden for getting out of Afghanistan (that alone should bump the grade to 'B'), and more generally for not being militant enough everywhere: "President Joe Biden and his administration speak harshly against our adversaries while failing to follow through with the necessary hard actions." I'm critical too, but for opposite reasons. Biden has pretty much everywhere focused on rebuilding military alliances -- which he saw Trump as undermining -- while failing to mitigate tensions and pursue diplomatic breakthroughs, including some that were obviously there for the taking. I'm uncertain how much to grade him down for those shortcomings -- and sure, there have been some of those on the domestic side as well, but the foreign policy ones are more glaring because he supposedly has more autonomy there -- but on a curve that goes back at least to Reagan, he looks pretty good.

Baker also wrote:

Irin Carmon: [01-20] What the Supreme Court Left Out of Its Dobbs-Leak Report: After Roberts' huffing and puffing when the leak occurred, the report didn't find the culprit, suggesting that the real answer was one that Roberts didn't want to hear.

Chas Danner: [01-22] 10 Dead in Lunar New Year Shooting in California: What We Know. Third mass shooting in California so far this year, 33rd nationwide (that's about 1.5 per day).

Lawrence B Glickman: [01-21] The Real Origins of the "Democrat Party" Troll.

Jonathan Guyer: [01-20] Israel's new right-wing government is even more extreme than protests would have you think: "It's also not a huge departure from previous ones."

Margaret Hartmann: [01-20] Did a $1 Million Fine Teach Trump a Lesson About 'Frivolous' Lawsuits? Remember the one he filed in March "accusing Hillary Clinton, former FBI director James Comey, the Democratic National Committee, and many others of orchestrating 'a malicious conspiracy'"? Well, it's not only been thrown out. Trump and his attorneys have been sanctioned for filing it. And one day later, Trump prudently dropped another "similarly dubious lawsuit": see Samaa Khullar: [01-20] Trump rushes to withdraw frivolous lawsuit against NY AG after a stark warning from judge. Speaking of frivolous lawsuits by thin-skinned billionaires meant to stifle criticism, see Jordan Uhl: [01-20] A Texas Billionaire Is Suing to Stop Free Speech Against Billionaires.

More Trump trivia:

Jeet Heer: [01-17] Why Biden and Trump Are Both Trapped in Secret-Document Scandals: "The real problem is the national security state's love of classification." Also:

  • Jason Linkins: [01-21] Biden's Document Screwup Is an Ethical Opportunity: "Rather than follow the Beltway's cynical damage-control playbook, the president should put on a master class in how to take responsibility for a mistake." Not that doing so will get noticed with the Republicans and their media idiots demanding blood.

Heather Souvaine Horn: [01-19] Davos Still Sucks: "How can the World Economic Forum earnestly pretend to address global crises while being funded by the corporations that fuel these crises?" I skipped over a bunch of articles on Davos, as none seemed to convey the true story. This one merely sums it up briefly. Also includes a picture which shows their logo, which reads "Committed to improving the state of the world." One article I skipped was about a high-five between attendees (of course they are) Kirsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. They proved their commitment by repeatedly torpedoing Democratic bills over the last two years. But most likely what they're actually doing in Davos is prospecting for their post-Senate payouts.

Jill Lepore: [01-09] What the January 6th Report Is Missing: "The investigative committee singles out Trump for his role in the Capitol attack. As prosecution, the report is thorough. But as historical explanation it's a mess." Point taken, but the report's antecedents are hardly better. Part of the blame may be that to get the cooperation of Cheney and Kinzinger the Committee spared any Republican who wasn't directly tied to Trump. Beyond that, one thing the Committee didn't want to do was to offer any sort of mitigating circumstances, which is what a history of Republican voting schemes would have provided. Sure, Trump was not the only one, but he went farther than anyone else ever, so it's not such a surprise that he got singled out.

Blaise Malley: [01-20] Diplomacy Watch: White House signals that retaking Crimea is in the cards: "Officials say it has been US policy all along." One thing that all sides have managed to do is to hold fast to their maximalist demands without suggesting that they might be willing to settle for anything less. That makes some sense as a public stand, but it makes negotiation, and therefore any chance of ending the war, hopeless. I suppose it's possible that somewhere there's a secret channel where some kind of compromise can be negotiated, but the harder the public proclamations, the less credible that is. Key quote here is: "the Biden administration does not think that Ukraine can take Crimea militarily . . . but, officials said, their assessment now is that Russia needs to believe that Crimea is at risk." The fuller quote suggests that the US is angling toward eventual negotiations, which is to say they recognize that no military solution is possible, but in trying to psych out Russia, aren't they also building up false hopes for Zelensky? The recent rush to give Ukraine tanks seems to promise a spring offensive to drive Russia back toward the pre-2014 borders. But Russia's big tank advantage back in March soon turned into a liability. Is there any reason to think Ukraine can better defend their tanks?

More on Ukraine:

  • Chas Danner: [01-20] Ukraine's Latest Arms Haul: Thanks but No Tanks. Germany is balking at sending tanks, at least unless the US agrees to send some, which hasn't happened yet.

  • Fred Kaplan: [01-21] The Clash Over Whether to Send German Tanks to Ukraine Is a Pretty Big Deal. One point here is that US reluctance to send its M1 Abrams tanks partly technical, as the M1 is a "maintenance nightmare; it runs on jet fuel and sucks up three gallons per mile (not the other way around); a separate, massive supply line would have to be set up, manned, and defended, just for these tanks."

  • Anatol Lieven: [01-19] Six questions Western defense chief never seem to raise but should today. Lieven followed this up with: [01-20] Germans remain adamantly opposed to sending any Leopard tanks to Ukraine. [PS: Later: [01-22] Germany won't object if Poland sends tanks to Ukraine, foreign minister says.]

  • Suzanne Loftus: [01-21] No one will win a protracted war in Ukraine.

  • Trita Parsi: [01-20] No, Weakening Russia Is Not "Costing Peanuts" for the U.S. "Some analysts argue that America is getting a great deal for its money. But there are a lot of strategic costs that don't show up on the balance sheet." The Pentagon is notoriously incompetent at accounting for the money it spends directly, and everyone involved is extremely myopic (often plain blind) to the indirect costs occurred by others. (Economists have since estimated that the total costs of the Iraq War exceed $3 trillion. You may recall that when it was launched, some sales pitches estimated that it would pay for itself.) But I would start by questioning the premise: that degrading Russia's military forces, and embarrassing its political leaders, thus destabilizing the state, is a positive outcome. I'm not talking about who deserves what: that Putin should fail in his invasion is proper and just, but once the war ends, so should the further hostilities with Russia. (The failure of the elder Bush to accept the end of the Gulf War, leaving Saddam Hussein in power, almost guaranteed that the younger Bush would return to "finish the job," and make the situation even worse.) Anyone who doubts that this war is a massive tragedy for all sides has no business anywhere near power.

  • Jordan Michael Smith: [10-17] The Neocons Are Losing. Why Aren't We Happy? This chronicles a factional shift in the Republican Party that unlike the neocons who dominated the GW Bush administration, are less inclined to threaten the world with devastation, and who tend to see American interests as focused within the nation's borders. Still, there is considerable variation among the people profiled here -- few are antiwar where the enemy threatens American business class interests, and some (not least Donald Trump) are so full of bluster they could stumble into a war backwards. To group them together as Jacksonian seems wrong -- although I suppose it allows for the bluster and bigotry, but it strays a bit from the Quincy Institute watchwords of realism and restraint.

Ian Millhiser: [01-22] The coming legal showdown over abortion pills.

Madeleine Ngo: [01-19] The US just hit the debt limit. What happens now?

Kelsey Piper: [01-18] Operation Warp Speed was a huge success. So why is the US turning away from it? Rather than simply proclaiming Operation Warp Speed as "one of the biggest accomplishments of the Trump administration," perhaps a little critical distance is in order. It was Congress that put up the money, and the federal bureaucracy that implemented the program -- both subject to the usual corruption and political wiles, which were hardly unmitigated blessings. At best, Trump -- and, let's face it, he was rarely at best -- was a cheerleader. In the end, he was ambivalent about taking credit, because the anti-vax culture war cut deep into his base, leaving its leaders to catch up (something Ron DeSantis has done far more energetically than Trump). The problem isn't that "Democrats are loath to admit Trump did anything right" -- they just don't see any mileage when Trump himself is reluctant to take credit.

There are legitimate questions one could ask: Did this need to cost so much (e.g., elevating drug company moguls to billionaires). Why wasn't it more effective? Why wasn't it better distributed beyond the US? How can you speed up the process even more? Unfortunately, the Republican political thrust isn't how to do a better job, but how to avoid even being this effective ever again?

Luke Savage: [01-21] If America Had Fair Laws, 60 Million Workers Would Join a Union Tomorrow.

Dylan Scott: [01-20] When hospitals merge, patients suffer. Study is in the UK, but the profit motive amplifies the effect in the US.

More on health care:

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-20] Roaming Charges: The Specter of Equity and Other Evils.

George Tyler: [01-20] Ron DeSantis symbolizes that it's Richard Nixon's Republican Party now. Although, in a sign of the times, he admits that "in contrast to Nixon, DeSantis' cruel streak is already evident to voters." It took a while to realize that Nixon's malice wasn't just opportunism -- and many people continue to be shocked at Republican cruelty, even as evidenced by someone as sociopathic as Trump. I'm old enough to still regard Nixon as the most loathsome creature in American political history. In his calculated efforts to out-Trump Trump, DeSantis is aiming for Nixonian notoriety.

More DeSantis:

Dan Zak: [01-11] The boring journey of Matt Yglesias: "The Washington ur-blogger's slightly contrarian, mildly annoying, somewhat influential, very lucrative path toward the political center." During his time at Vox, Yglesias was the first person I checked every week, and most often provided the structure for my own blog posts. I had followed him as he maneuvered the blogosphere, but his paywall at Substack was one step too many. Still, by then I was beginning to have doubts. He got entered in, and won, a poll for "neoliberal shill of the year," and took unseemly pride in the fact. He never was as bad as most of the people friends on the left castigate as neoliberals, but he did seem to get up on a few ideas I found obnoxious, like "congestion pricing." (Even if you wanted to, how would that work? And what does it say about our values?) Then he wrote a big book called One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, which looked and smelled like a bid for the Thomas Friedman market. Nowadays, the only time I read him is when one of his Bloomberg columns gets syndicated in my local paper. Few are memorable, but he has enough command of his subject he's not useless. And while he seems politically more centrist than ever, the bigger problem may be that he's just not very deep. Consider this:

Perhaps it's instructive to think about two topics that bookend his public life. At age 21, Yglesias was laying out the logician's case for the invasion of Iraq, because how could the most powerful, informed men on Earth be so stupid? In May of this year, Yglesias declared that Bankman-Fried "is for real," because why else would wealthy people risk their money? . . .

This is Matt Yglesias coddling the powerful, his critics would say, and exposing a gullible dilettantism. And yet plenty of people view him as an early, sensible and stalwart voice for incremental progress on key issues of the 21st century, such as marijuana reform and same-sex marriage.

I wouldn't call those "key issues of the 21st century" -- they fall far short of war, inequality, labor rights, a very distorted system of justice, climate, sustainability, etc. Even his strong pro-immigration stance is based on his romanticism around growth.

Memorable tweets:

Connie Schultz:

Word of warning for parents supporting these book bans: As a child, I found a way to read every book someone told me I could not read. You see how I turned out. Think this through.

Context is notice that "Virginia's Madison County School Board approved banning 21 books from its high school library." The list includes four books by Toni Morrison, three by Stephen King (including 11/22/63), and The Handmaid's Tale.

I could offer myself as another example: I instinctively hated (and in some cases refused to read) required literature, and sought out pretty much everything that was banned or condemned. And yes, see how I turned out. My brother followed suit, and got kicked out of school for turning in a poetry notebook which opened with "Howl." Both of us were sent to see a shrink (who, by the way, thought the whole affair was hilarious).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39414 [39353] rated (+61), 36 [42] unrated (-6: 8 new, 28 old).

Still decompressing from the pressures of releasing the Francis Davis Jazz Poll as well as numerous other stresses I've probably complained about too much already, so I don't have much to say this week. One way of destressing has been to do rote work: the biggest chunk of which was adding all of the jazz critics ballots into my EOY aggregate file (including ones we didn't receive from other sources like Free Jazz Collective). One result of this is that jazz albums have risen to an unnatural prominence in my overall standings (top 30, numbered by overall rank, points in braces, my grade in brackets):

  1. Mary Halvorson: Amaryllis (Nonesuch) {146} [***]
  2. Cecile McLorin Salvant: Ghost Song (Nonesuch) {97} [**]
  3. Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand (Blue Note) {90} [A-]
  4. Makaya McCraven: In These Times (International Anthem) {81} [**]
  5. Tyshawn Sorey Trio: Mesmerism (Yeros7 Music) {73} [***]
  6. Myra Melford's Fire and Water Quintet: For the Love of Fire and Water (RogueArt) {64} [***]
  7. Tyshawn Sorey + 1 [With Greg Osby]: The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism (Pi) {64} [A]
  8. Ches Smith: Interpret It Well (Pyroclastic) {54} [**]
  9. JD Allen: Americana Vol. 2 (Savant) [**]
  10. Terri Lyne Carrington: New Standards Vol. 1 (Candid) {52} [**]
  11. Wadada Leo Smith: The Emerald Duets (TUM) {52} [A-]
  12. Mary Halvorson: Belladonna (Nonesuch) {50} [*]
  13. Andrew Cyrille/William Parker/Enrico Rava: 2 Blues for Cecil (TUM) {46} [A-]
  14. Matthew Shipp Trio: World Construct (ESP-Disk) {45} [***]
  15. Charles Lloyd: Trios: Chapel (Blue Note) {44} [B]
  16. Sun Ra Arkestra Directed by Marshall Allen: Living Sky (Omni Sound) {43} [A-]
  17. Moor Mother: Jazz Codes (Anti-) {42} [A-]
  18. Nduduzo Makhathini: In the Spirit of Ntu (Blue Note) {41} [*]
  19. Melissa Aldana: 12 Stars (Blue Note) {39} [***]
  20. David Murray/Brad Jones/Hamid Drake Brave New World Trio: Seriana Promethea (Intakt) {38} [A-]
  21. Patricia Brennan: More Touch (Pyroclastic) {35} [***]
  22. The Comet Is Coming: Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (Impulse!) {35} [**]
  23. Jeff Parker: Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy (Eremite) {35} [A-]
  24. Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau/Christian McBride/Brian Blade: Long Gone (Nonesuch) {35} [***]
  25. Marta Sanchez: SAAM (Spanish American Art Museum) (Whirlwind) {35} [A-]
  26. Binker & Moses: Feeding the Machine (Gearbox) {34} [**]
  27. Samara Joy: Linger Awhile (Verve) {34} [**]
  28. Miguel Zenón: Música De Las Americas (Miel Music) {34} [A-]
  29. David Virelles: Nuna (Pi) {33} [**]
  30. Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double: March (Firehouse 12) {30} [A-]

These rankings will probably sink back if/when I add more non-jazz lists (if memory serves, the top jazz album usually winds up somewhere 20-35), but the value of spending much more time on this is receding. I've always maintained that the purpose of the list is to scout out records of possible interest to me, hence there have always been genres that I have sought out (I have 1161 jazz albums listed, of 4062 total) and others that I have avoided -- nonetheless, I counted 219 metal albums, but I've only heard 4; the country and hip-hop lists are actually shorter, but I've heard much more (64 of 138 country, 97 of 212 hip-hop).

Reviewing the ballots, I discovered three errors I had made in compiling, so I was glad to get them compiled. I've also heard from several critics who didn't get invited and (rightly) thought they should have: apologies to Karl Ackermann and Bill Milkowski. If/when we do this again -- and I'm pleased to report that Francis sounds more optimistic than I am -- we should make a serious effort to review and expand the voter rolls well in advance of the November crunch.

One thing I belatedly realized from this chart is that I never received physical CDs of Halvorson's Nonesuch albums nor of Sorey's Mesmerism. I reviewed them from streams as soon as they dropped, but was perplexed at not being able to find them when I racked up all of my 2022 A/A-/B+(***) jazz CDs. I rechecked several top jazz albums during the Poll, but only Wilkins got a grade bump. Although I've heard all 30 albums above, only 12 came as CDs.

One person I want to single out from the Jazz Poll's In Memoriam list is John Swenson. I remember him from when he was reviewing records for Rolling Stone in the mid-1970s. He went on to edit Stone's jazz and blues record guides, and moved on to New Orleans, where he wrote New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (post-Katrina). I bumped into him once, and was surprised and flattered that he seemed to be as pleased to meet me as I was to find him. As I recall, we were both pub rock fans at the time, so our later independent paths into jazz may have common roots. He joins John Morthland and Ed Ward in my personal pantheon of recently departed colleagues.

More old music this week, mostly from the Penguin Guide 4-star unheard list. Most get a single play and snap judgment, so I wouldn't be surprised if my grades wind up being low (even for Brubeck's Jazz Impressions of Japan). New records come from various sources, including Jazz Poll ballots, last week's Christgau Consumer Guide, and Jason Gross's Ye Wei Blog list. Plus I finally dipped into my 2023 promo queue.

I finished Fred Kaplan's 1959: The Year Everything Changed. The chapter on Margaret Sanger and the birth control pill is worth the price of the book, but so are another half-dozen chapters, not least those on three revolutions in jazz that hit that year: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (with due credit for George Russell), Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come. (Charles Mingus and Cecil Taylor get mentioned in passing, but not the former's fabulous Mingus Ah Um.) I turned nine that year, and scarcely noticed anything highlighted (mostly political events, including the space race), but Kaplan shows how the 1960s were locked and loaded, ready to burst forth, as they did for me -- many established so quickly that they looked to me like the natural world yet were still so new and divergent they shocked my parents and their generation's cultural guardians. Some overlap with Louis Menand's The Free World, which is more careful in laying out early post-WWII changes than looking for a specific pivot point.

Last, I wrote yet another Speaking of Which last night, and made a brief pass at touching it up today. The biggest change was that I looked up links for most of the statements I made in the introduction. I probably should do that sort of thing more often, but it's hard to keep up that much focus on something that gets forgotten so quickly.

New records reviewed this week:

Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Sixth Decade From Paris to Paris: Live at Sons D'Hiver (2020 [2023], RogueArt, 2CD): Quintet formed in 1966, the best known group to emerge from the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music), from their inception dedicated to transcending jazz and performing "great black music." The original group stuck together more than 30 years, until the deaths of Lester Bowie (1999), Malachi Favors (2004), and Joseph Jarman (2019). That left Roscoe Mitchell (sax) and Famoudou Don Moye (percussion), who keep the faith with a long list of guests: I count 18 here, where the vocalists (Moor Mother, Roco Córdova, Erina Newkirk) are most prominent, and the percussionists most numerous. I don't love all the vocals, but there's much to celebrate here. A- [cd] [01-20]

Asake: Mr. Money With the Vibe (2022, 'YBNL Nation/Empire): Nigerian singer-songwriter Ahmed Ololade, first album (after an EP). Draws on hip-hop more than Afrobeat, but gets a nice flow either way. B+(***) [sp]

John Bailey: Time Bandits (2022 [2023], Freedom Road): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, only has a couple albums but has been around a long time. Mainstream quartet here with George Cables (piano), Scott Colley (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**) [01-23]

Lucian Ban: Ways of Disappearing (2021 [2022], Sunnyside): Romanian pianist, moved to New York in 1999, dozen-plus albums since 2002, this one solo. Originals plus one piece each by Annette Peacock and Carla Bley. B+(**) [sp]

Barcelona Art Orchestra: Ragtime Stories (2021 [2022], UnderPool): Large (17-piece) group, conducted by pianists Néstor Giménez and Llis Vidal, with Lluc Casares (clarinet/tenor sax) and Joan Vidal (drums) also composing and arranging. May have some swing or earlier references, but is slick and fully postmodern. B+(***) [sp]

Bliss Quintet: Dramaqueen (2022, Jazzland): Norwegian quintet, first album, no credits on Bandcamp page, and I don't recognize any names on the cover, but figure trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums. B+(*) [sp]

Madison Cunningham: Revealer (2022, Verve Forecast): Singer-songwriter from California, fourth album. B+(**) [sp]

Czarface: Czarmageddon (2022, Silver Age): Hip-hop group, with Inspectah Deck (of Wu-Tang) joining the duo 7L & Esoteric. Twelfth album since 2013. Trademark cartoon cover, lots of turntable squeaks, beats sometimes leaning toward punk. B+(***) [sp]

Falkner Evans: Through the Lines (2022 [2023], CAP): Pianist, originally from Tulsa, moved to New York in 1985, seventh album since 2001, his second solo outing. Measured and thoughtful. B+(**) [cd] [01-20]

Mimi Fox Organ Trio: One for Wes (2022 [2023], Origin): Guitarist, albums as far back as 1987, trio here with Brian Ho (organ) and Lorca Hart (drums). She comes from a generation of American guitarists who were almost all under Wes Montgomery's spell, so the dedication isn't a surprise, but the music -- no Montgomery tunes, six originals (only dedication there is the probable typo, "For Django, Avec Amor"), covers of Bobby Timmons and Lennon-McCartney -- points elsewhere. B+(*) [cd] [01-20]

Fred Frith/Susana Santos Silva: Laying Demons to Rest (2021 [2023], RogueArt): Guitar and trumpet duo, one 41:57 piece, seems abstract at first but grows on you. B+(***) [cd] [01-20]

Hard Rubber Orchestra: Iguana (2022, Redshift): Large Canadian group, founded in 1990 and directed by John Korsrud, based in Vancouver, only a handful of albums. This one credits 21 musicians (including five drummers plus a percussionist), includes' three Korsrud compositions but he's not among the credits. B+(*) [sp]

Sly Johnson: 55.4 (2022, BBE): French singer, first name Sylvère, fourth album, "blends soul and hip-hop" (I'd say funk). Includes a slow, evocative "What's Going On." B+(**) [sp]

Linqua Franqa: Bellringer (2022, Ernest Jennings): From Athens, Georgia, "linguist by day, lunatic lady rapper by night." A little unsteady, but gets political toward the end, asking the labor solidarity "which side are you on?." B+(**) [bc]

Lyrics Born: Vision Board (2022, Mobile Home): Rapper Tom Shimura, boasts he's "The Best Rapper in the World," and while that song doesn't make the case, I can't think of anyone who can pump up a beat like him, then match the clever string of words he flows in and around. He secures guests for six (of nine) songs, yet they all join together. Short (29:34). A- [sp]

Joanna Mattrey/Gabby Fluke-Mogul: Oracle (2022, Relative Pitch): Violin duo (Mattrey's credit: viola, stroh violin), a sound I find intrinsically treacherous. Still, if you can get past that reaction, you get a lot of tricky interaction, including a bit of joust, which is actually a bit less jarring than a free sax squawk. B+(**) [sp]

Fergus McCreadie: Forest Floor (2022, Edition): Scottish pianist, second album, trio with bass (David Bowden) and drums (Stephen Henderson). Impressive speed, retains his touch when he slows down. B+(**) [sp]

Joe McPhee & Tomeka Reid: Let Our Rejoicing Rise (2021 [2022], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Opens with a McPhee speech on Juneteenth and "Nation Time," leading into a tenor sax and cello duo, a bit on the solemn side. B+(**) [bc]

Montparnasse Musique: Archeology (2022, Real World): Duo, Algerian-French producer Nadjib Ben Bella, and South African DJ Aero Manyelo, the latter's hip-hop (or kwaito or gqom) with a dash of mbube wrapped up in electronic glitz. A- [sp]

Simon Moullier: Isla (2022 [2023], self-released): Vibraphone player, second album, quartet with piano (Lex Korten), bass, and drums. Nice easy flow. B+(**) [cd] [02-17]

Native Sound System: Nativeworld (2022, Native): Not a group, evidently a British radio show (DJs Sholzstilltippin and Addy Edgal), tied to a Nigerian magazine, so this might be more of a various artists compilation. B+(*) [sp]

Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile De Dakar: Special Fin D'Année 2022 (2022, self-released, EP): Four tracks, 20:41. Not essential, but the last track would fit nicely in one of his typically brilliant albums. B+(**) [sp]

Maggie Nicols: Are You Ready? (2021 [2022], Otoroku): Scottish free jazz singer, plays piano, original name Margaret Nicolson, first albums 1982. This one is divided into two sets: "Songs" (39:46) and "Whatever Arises" (39:25). [r]

Oort Smog: Smeared Pulse Transfers (2017 [2019], Sweatband, EP): Los Angeles duo, Patrick Shiroishi (sax) and Mark Kimbrell (drums). Billed as prog rock, or experimental, or brutal prog -- anything but jazz, but even they admit Coltrane-Ali is the source of the duo format. I'd venture no wave, but they're probably too young to have even heard of it. Ten punk-length pieces (19:46), not that they feel abbreviated, or distinct. B+(*) [sp]

Oort Smog: Every Motherfucker Is Your Brother (2022, AKP): Slightly longer at 28:59, but only one song, so you can call it anything from a single to an album. Long form means they can take a while warming up before breaking out. B+(**) [sp]

PinkPantheress: Take Me Home (2022, Warner Music, EP): Gemma Walker, British pop singer, got a lot of attention for her To Hell With It mini-album. Three more songs, 7:40, starting off with the previously released single "Boy's a Liar." Pretty good, but very slight. Not sure if she'll ever produce a real album -- her 10-track debut only ran 18:36 -- but it's hard to focus on these micro-doses. B+(*) [sp]

Pongo: Sakidila (2022, Virgin): Angolan singer, Engrácia Domingues, based in Lisbon, first album after a single and an EP. The typical Portuguese lilt lurks in the background, but the beats are so insistent you barely notice it. A- [sp]

Simona Premazzi: Wave in Gravity: Solo Piano (2021 [2023], PRE): Italian pianist, based in New York, fourth album since 2006. Solo, as advertised. Half originals, half standards, including a Monk. All engaging. B+(**) [cd] [02-17]

Scrunchies: Feral Coast (2022, Dirtnap): Punk duo from Minneapois, Laura Larson (guitar) and Danielle Cusack (drums), second album after several previous group alignments (including Buzzcunts, a Buzzcocks cover band). B+(***) [bc]

Elliott Sharp/Eric Mingus: Songs From a Rogue State (2022, Zoar): Guitarist, many albums since 1978, many straying from jazz. Mingus sings, plays some bass. Leans toward blues, or Beefheart, but both harsher and wilder. B+(*) [sp]

Kalia Vandever: Regrowth (2022, New Amsterdam): Trombone player, based in Brooklyn, second album, original pieces, some guest alto sax (Immanuel Wilkins), but mostly built around piano and/or guitar. B+(***) [sp]

Skip Walker: Tina's Contemplation: A Reflection on the Genius of Tina Brooks (2022, Skip Walker Music): Brooks was a short-lived tenor saxophonist (1932-74) who recorded four mostly brilliant albums for Blue Note 1958-61. Walker is a drummer, tackling and contemplating Brooks' songbook with piano (Travis Shook) and bass (Essiet Okon Essiet). Very nice record, but I'm missing the saxophone. B+(***) [sp]

Yelawolf/Shooter Jennings: Sometimes Y (2022, Slumerican): Michael Atha, started out as a white rapper from Alabama, teams up with the son of Waylon Jennings to make a fairly slick but hard-hitting rock album. B [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ashbury Stabbins Duo: Fire Without Bricks (1976 [2021], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Duo, Larry Stabbins (tenor/soprano sax) and Roy Ashbury (drums), originally released in 1977. Struggles to be heard, interesting when it is. B+(*) [bc]

Pedro Lima: Recordar É Viver: Antologia Vol. 1 (1981-87 [2022], Bongo Joe): Singer from São Tome, an island off the west coast of Equatorial Africa, controlled by Portugal until 1975. Lima (1944-2019) recorded regularly in the 1980s-1990s, the source of this compilation (which includes unreleased tracks). Strong influence here of Congolese rhumba and soukous, especially in the guitar. B+(***) [sp]

Mainstream Funk: Funk, Soul, Spiritual Jazz 1971-75 (1971-75 [2022], WeWantSounds): A sampler from Bob Shad's 1964-76 label Mainstream Records, which started as a mostly jazz label -- their first releases were reissues from the Commodore and Time labels. Many of the musicians here were better known for jazz (Sarah Vaughan, who opens with a cover of "Inner City Blues"; Blue Mitchell, Johnny Coles, Buddy Terry), and most of the other cuts are longer on vamps than on vocals. B+(**) [bc]

Freddy Roland Y Su Orquesta De Moda: Freddy Roland Y Su Orquesta De Moda (1968 [2022], Vampisoul): Saxophonist, Ángel Pablo Bagni Stella, from Argentina (1932-2004), played with Pérez Prado, wound up in Peru (home of his wife, a cumbia singer known as Veronikha). Bandcamp page has no credits or dates, but this matches a 1968 LP, which Discogs has as Vol. II. No doubt someone could assemble a quality retrospective (perhaps even one of those 4-CD Proper Boxes), but this slice of time is pretty wonderful. A- [bc]

Old music:

Abash [Tommy Skotte/Anders Ekholm/Nils Danell]: Abash (1993, Dragon): Swedish trio, first of three albums through 2000, my inclination in parsing the cover is to credit the names and leave Abash as the title, but later albums follow the group name, and that's how I initially filed them. Besides, Ekholm (tenor sax) is the central figure, having written six songs, vs. one each' for bassist Skotte and drummer Danell). B+(***) [r]

Albert Ayler: Nuits De La Fondation Maeght 1970 (1970 [2002], Water): Tenor saxophonist, the defining force of the 1960s avant-garde, his death in November 1970 slamming the door on an era (especially coming after Coltrane's death in 1967). His last albums on Impulse were poorly regarded, but these final live sets have been widely bootlegged, and given the 4-CD box set treatment by Elemental Music in 2022 (Revelations: The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings, which finished 3rd in the Jazz Critics Poll, but only fragments are available to stream). This edition is a good sampler, superseding the two Shandar LPs with a single 73:55 CD. Quartet, with Call Cobbs (piano), Steve Tintweiss (bass), and Allen Blairman (drums), with a Mary Maria vocal at the end. A- [sp]

Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra: Kyanos (2001 [2002], ECM): Norwegian pianist, albums since 1991, group a septet from his 1994 album Further, with trumpets (Per Jørgensen and Arve Henriksen), sax (Morten Halle), cello, bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]

Tony Bevan/Paul Rogers/Steve Noble: Bigshots (1991 [1992], Incus): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano), second album, a trio with bass and drums. B+(*) [bc]

Tony Bevan/Alexander Frangenheim/Steve Noble: Twisters (1995 [1996], Scatter): A second trio, Bevan playing soprano and bass saxophone, with bass and percussion. B+(*) [bc]

Michiel Borstlap: The Sextet Live! (1995, Challenge, 2CD): Dutch pianist, first album, has a fairly stellar front line with trumpet (Eric Vloeimans), alto/c-melody sax (Benjamin Herman), and tenor/soprano sax (Yuri Honing), plus bass and drums. Plenty of energy, especially on trumpet. B+(**) [r]

Anthony Braxton: In the Tradition (1974 [1989], Steeplechase): Often identified as Volume 1 these days, but I don't see any edition in Discogs, starting with the original five-track LP release in 1974, that makes that explicit. One of the lowest-rated albums in all of the Penguin Guide, but one can only speculate over the pique. Maybe the stinky sound of the contrabass clarinet, which all but buries "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," but on "Ornithology" it merely slows Braxton down to human speed. The Copenhagen rhythm section is pretty great, with pianist Tete Montoliu getting a lot of solo space, backed by NHØP (bass) and Tootie Heath (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Anthony Braxton: In the Tradition: Volume 2 (1974 [1987], Steeplechase): A second set of tunes from the same session, this first appeared in 1976, and picked up a seventh piece for CD reissue. Similar mix of tunes, including more Marsh and Parker, plus a long "Body and Soul." B+(**) [sp]

Anthony Braxton: Five Compositions (Quartet) 1986 (1986, Black Saint): Numbers 88, 101, 122, 124, and 131, recorded in Milan with David Rosenboom (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Anthony Braxton: Ninetet (Yoshi's) 1997 Vol. 1 (1997 [2002], Leo, 2CD): Two compositions, 207 and 208, one 73:09, the other 74:00, performed by a group with six saxophonists plus guitar (Kevin O'Neil), bass (Joe Fonda), and percussion (Kevin Norton). B+(***) [r]

Bob Brookmeyer New Art Orchestra: New Works/Celebration (1997 [1999], Challenge): Valve trombonist (1929-2011), started playing piano in big bands, first album (1954) was a quartet, but he was always well-regarded as an arranger, and formed this big band here (eventually recording six albums through 2011). B+(**) [sp]

Reuben Brown Trio: Ice Scape (1994 [1997], SteepleChase): Pianist, very little about him online, aside from a couple appearances in the 1970s, and two albums on SteepleChase. This one gets help from Rufus Reid (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Reuben Brown: Blue and Brown (1994 [1998], SteepleChase): A second album, this one solo. B+(**) [sp]

Dave Brubeck: Octet (1948-49 [1991], Fantasy/OJC): Some of the pianist's earliest recordings, first appearing in 1950 as Old Sounds From San Francisco (two EPs, then a 10-inch LP, and finally as Octet on a 12-inch LP in 1956). Group included Dick Collins (trumpet), Bob Collins (trombone), David Van Kriedt (tenor sax), Paul Desmond (alto sax), William O. Smith (clarinet & baritone sax), Jack Weeks (bass), and Cal Tjader (drums). Some slick moves, not that all of them work. B+(**) [r]

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at the College of the Pacific (1953 [1987], Fantasy/OJC): Early quartet featuring Paul Desmond (alto sax), with Ron Crotty (bass) and Joe Dodge (drums), shortly after the highly recommended Jazz at Oberlin, and shortly before the more famous Jazz Goes to College. B+(***) [r]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck Time (1954 [1955], Columbia): Two originals plus six standards, from "Jeepers Creepers" to "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" The first of many Brubeck albums with "time" in the title, but this one doesn't seem to have anything to do with the unorthodox time signatures he made much of from 1959 (Time Out) forward. B+(***) [r]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A. (1956-57 [1957], Columbia): The first of several Jazz Impressions albums, must have seemed like an easy take for a group that made its bread and butter touring college campuses. The cover is a map with the song titles, like "Ode to a Cowboy," along the borders and coasts. B+(***) [sp]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia (1958, Columbia): On one of those State Department "good will" tours, they crossed Northern Europe to Poland, then down to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and on to India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Afghanistan ("one of the most fascinating countries we visited," where they were "awakened by the weirdest sound I ever heard"). A bit more exotic, but hasn't found the handle yet. B+(**) [sp]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of Japan (1964, Columbia): The pianist studied with Darius Milhaud, who advised him to travel the world and keep his ears open. Brubeck did, even if the Japanese affects here are somewhat stock (gongs and such). Upbeat songs like "Toki's Theme" really jump out, and Paul Desmond is even more sublime than usual. A- [sp]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz Impressions of New York (1964 [1965], Columbia): Four songs with "Broadway" in the title, others with "Washington Square" and "Central Park," but also a "Bossa Nova" and a "Rumba." B+(***) [sp]

Gary Burton/Keith Jarrett: Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett (1969-70 [1971], Atlantic): The vibraphonist was two years older than Jarrett, but got a quick jump with New Vibe Man in Town at 18 in 1961, and had something of a fusion rep, although that was not his only spin. The pianist released his first two albums in 1968, after playing with Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, and added a short stint with Miles Davis before this album came out. Jarrett plays electric piano and soprano sax here, the group filled out with guitar (Sam Brown), bass (Steve Swallow), and drums. B [sp]

Stoney Edwards: Mississippi You're on My Mind (1975, Capitol): Black country singer, recorded six albums for Capitol 1971-76, newly reissued (at least digital) -- I've looked for this for ages, but until now only found the 20-track Razor & Tie The Best of Stoney Edwards: Poor Folks Stick Together, still the better deal. One song name-checks Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell. He draws more on the latter. A- [sp]

Jackie McLean & Tina Brooks: Street Singer (1960 [1980], Blue Note): Brooks is a tenor saxophonist, had a hot streak recording four albums 1959-61 for Blue Note, dropped from sight, and died at 42 in 1974. This session, recorded with McLean on alto sax, and a rhythm section of Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Art Taylor, was shelved until it came out in Japan in 1980, and finally in the US in 2000. No idea why they sat on this, other than that McLean was in the midst of his own hot streak, from New Soil to Let Freedom Ring to One Step Beyond and Destination: Out -- maybe a classic joust didn't seem far out enough? Also note that only Brooks' True Blue was released at the time. A- [sp]

Lucinda Williams: Little Honey (2008, Lost Highway): Only album in my database I hadn't heard, so I figured why not? Voice going but not yet gone. Songs substantial by any standards but maybe not hers. Identifies rock and roll, and has the guitars to prove it. B+(***) [sp]

Grade (or other) changes:

PinkPantheress: To Hell With It (2021, Parlophone, EP): British pop singer, barely 20, first short mixtape (10 songs, 18:36), vocals feathery light, enough so that this got tagged as "atmospheric drum & bass," but pay close attention and get to the point. Hint for me was a turn of phrase I hadn't heard since Lily Allen. [was: B+(**)] A- [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • George: Letters to George (Out of Your Head) [01-27]

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