Blog Entries [10 - 19]

Monday, January 22, 2024


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41696 [41641] rated (+55), 19 [22] unrated (-3).

I wrote a pretty substantial Speaking of Which over the weekend, including more on the ongoing genocide in Gaza, and on why Israel wants to see the rest of the Middle East up in flames, figuring that will force the Americans into the fight, as opposed to their usual role, which is giving Israel arms, money, and advice (which they are freer than ever to ignore, although Netanyahu was more public than usual in slapping Biden down over the two-state fantasy). I've added a couple more links since initial posting (look for the red right-border stripe), and will probably add a few more before (or after) this gets posted.

Also stuff there on Iowa and New Hampshire, as Republicans continue to embrace the criminality their leaders have been promoting at least since Nixon.

I haven't made anything like a transition to knuckling down on the book yet. A big chunk of last week went to adding all of the Jazz Critics Poll ballots to my EOY aggregate. The result was, predictably enough, a massive surge for jazz albums in the overall standings:

  1. Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((World War)) (International Anthem)
  2. James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: For Mahalia With Love (Tao Forms)
  3. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes)
  4. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden (Constellation)
  5. Steve Lehman/Orchestre National de Jazz: Ex Machina (Pi)
  6. Kris Davis: Diatom Ribbons Live at the Village Vanguard (Pyroclastic)
  7. Tyshawn Sorey: Continuing (Pi)
  8. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Dynamic Maximum Tension (Nonesuch)
  9. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  10. Irreversible Entanglements: Protect Your Light (Impulse!)

I expect those standings to slide back down over the next week, although I'm still searching specifically for jazz lists. Since I finished with the ballots, I've already seen one change, where Jaimie Branch pulled back ahead of James Brandon Lewis -- the former has had quite a bit of crossover list support, but only came in 9th in the Poll. Matana Roberts, Lakecia Benjamin, and Irreversible Entanglements also do somewhat better away from the jazz critics.

I haven't added Brad Luen's Expert Witness Poll results in yet, but did manage to pick up some individual ballots. A late expansion of Greg Morton's list led me to Brazilian singer Patricia Bastos this week. I also picked up two more A- titles from the extraordinary Hip Hop Golden Age list. I also happened on some pretty decent electronica while adding Mixmag's 169 albums to the aggregate. And when I got hard up for something to play at the moment, I dipped into the 2024 queue, usually (not always) finding items that are already out.

I'll probably spend some more time wrapping up the EOY aggregate, and checking out some of the albums I'm only now finding out about, but should be winding that down this week. I also have a few things on the Jazz Critics Poll left to wrap up, and some mail I haven't gotten to. I also have a database update to the Robert Christgau website almost ready to go.


New records reviewed this week:

Agust D: D-Day (2023, Big Hit Music): South Korean rapper Min Yoon-gi, also known as Suga, joined K-pop boy band BTS in 2013, Agust D was the name of a mixtape he released in 2016, followed by a second mixtape in 2020 (D-2), and this, his first proper solo album. In Korean, so this waxes and wanes on the beats, which clearly have some money behind them. B+(*) [sp]

Altin Gün: Ask (2023, Glitterbeat): Mostly Turkish psychedelic rock band, based in Amsterdam, fifth album since 2018. B+(*) [sp]

B. Cool-Aid: Leather Blvd. (2023, Lex): Hip-hop duo from Long Beach, producers Ahwlee and Pink Siifu (Livinston Matthews), keeping it cool. B+(*) [sp]

Ballister: Smash and Grab (2022 [2024], Aerophonic): Sixth group outing for saxophonist Dave Rempis's fiercest group, a trio with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello/electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). I'm probably losing all credibility on him. I'm certainly getting used to the rough stuff -- although even here, they set up sublime moments. A- [cd]

Patricia Bastos: Vos Da Taba (2023, self-released): Brazilian singer-songwriter, from Macapá, just north of the Amazon delta, seventh studio album since 2002. Exceptionally delightful. A- [sp]

Big O: In the Company of Others (2023, Vintage Soundz): London-based hip-hop producer, possibly Oliver Moore (Discogs offers the name, but only lists one album and one EP, the latter from 1996; on the other hand, Bandcamp shows no less than 44 releases, but most behind other leaders). Feat. guests everywhere, many with scratches by gman. B+(*) [bc]

Black Milk: Everybody Good? (2023, Mass Appeal): Detroit rapper Curtis Cross, eighth albums ince 2005. B+(*) [sp]

Blonde Redhead: Sit Down for Dinner (2023, Section1): Indie band from New York, tenth album since 1994, fronted by Kazu Makino, with brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace. B+(*) [sp]

Apollo Brown & Planet Asia: Sardines (2023, Mello Music Group): Detroit hip-hop producer Erik Stephens, has dropped an album (or two or three) every year since 2009, this one featuring rapper Jason Green, who's been even more prolific for longer (since 2000) but has previously escaped my attention -- as has everyone else working out of Fresno. B+(***) [sp]

John Butcher/Dominic Lash/Emil Karlsen: Here and How (2022 [2023], Bead): English avant-saxophonist, released half dozen albums in 2023 but this was one of the few I managed to find, a trio with bass and drums. B+(**) [sp]

Rasheed Chappell & the Arcitype: Sugar Bills (2023, Project City Music Group): New Jersey rapper, sixth album since 2011, with producer Janos Fulop. This runs up against my distaste for "gangsta shit" (as HHGA rather circumspectly put it: "traditional hip-hop . . . a great emcee who is in turn with golden -age aesthetics") but this carries that deadly weight better than any album I've heard in years (maybe since Ghostface Killah?). A- [sp]

Gerald Cleaver: 22/23 (2023, Positive Elevation/577): Normally a drummer, produces electronics here, with some voice (both him and Jean Carla Rodea) and sax (Andrew Dahlke). Runs 22 tracks, 169 minutes, on and on, one suspects the excess is the point. [LP selects 6 (of 22) tracks, for 32:26. Probably just a sampler, as if a taste is all you need.] B+(***) [sp]

Declaime and Theory Hazit: Rocketman (2023, SomeOthaShip): Rapper Dudley Perkins, dozen-plus albums since 2001, with producer Thearthur Washington. Deep, out of this world yet very much within it, loses the thread of the music when he declares his belief in God, yet through some miracle keeps you connected anyway. A- [sp]

Mike Flips/Nord1kone/Seize: Life Cycles (2023, SpitSLAM): The MC answered one question by pronouncing his name "nordic-one." Flanked here by two producers, Flips at least from UK. B+(**) [sp]

Anne Foucher & Jean-Marc Foussat: Chair Ça (2022 [2024], Fou): Violin/electronics, and "Synthi AKS, piano, jouets & voix," which I guess explains the sonic range here, but not enough to describe it. B+(***) [cd]

Jean-Marc Foussat/Daunik Lazro: Trente-Cinq Minutes & Vingt-Trois Secondes (2023 [2024], Fou): Title the sum of three constituent pieces, Credits: "méchanisme instinctif et résonnant" and "kaléidophone ténor." File under "drone" or "noise," but more interesting than that implies. B+(***) [cd]

Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio: Jet Black (2023 [2024], Libra): Japanese avant-pianist, well over 100 albums, nice to hear her in a conventional trio setting, this with Takashi Sugawa (bass) and Ittetsu Takamura (drums). B+(***) [cd] [01-24]

Peter Gabriel: I/O (2023, Real World): British singer-songwriter, started in prog rock band Genesis, released a series of eponymous albums 1977-82, this 10th album is first since 2011, but it incorporates earlier work going back to 1995, and comes in two mixes ("Bright Side" and "Dark Side"), each 12 songs and well over an hour. Pleasant enough, but interminable. B+(*) [sp]

Geese: 3D Country (2023, Partisan): Brooklyn-based alt-rock band, second album, dubbed "art punk," compared to outfits like Black Midi, which might seem interesting until the time shifts and odd eruptions turn super-annoying. B- [sp]

Gorillaz: Cracker Island (2023, Parlophone/Warner): Cartoon band, founded 2001 by Damon Albarn, who seems to have been the only regular, aside from illustrator Jamie Hewlett: the other principal musician here is Greg Kurstin, with a bunch of guests dropping in for one song each (Thundercat, Stevie Nicks, Tame Impala, Beck, etc.). Albarn's always had a good sense for hooks, but I grew tired of the mask some time back, and now it all just sounds anonymous (except the title cut is rather catchy). B [sp]

Marina Herlop: Nekkuja (2023, Pan): Spanish singer, songwriter and pianist, fourth album, electroacoustic experiments, short (7 songs, 26:35). B+(*) [sp]

Gregory Alan Isakov: Appaloosa Bones (2023, Dualtone): Singer-songwriter from South Africa, moved to Philadelphia when he was seven, wound up in Boulder, Colorado. Eighth album since 2003. Seems like a thoughtful but not especially engaging guy. B [sp]

Ethan Iverson: Technically Acceptable (2024, Blue Note): Pianist, made a big impression with his early Fresh Sound releases, followed with a rare commercial breakthrough as the Bad Plus, left them in 2017, continues to write a very smart blog. Two bass-drums trios here -- Thomas Morgan/Kush Abadey and Simón Willson/Vinnie Sperrazza -- and a couple of covers (one I love, followed by a vocal I hate), ending with a three-part solo sonata. Appropriately titled. B+(*) [sp]

Ja'king the Divine: Parables of the Sower (2023, Copenhagen Crates): Brooklyn rapper, half-dozen albums since 2021. His fascination with things oriental led to the album title Black Sun Tzu. Here he raps over a particularly sinuous "Caravan." [sp]

Benjamin Koppel/Scott Colley/Brian Blade: Perspective (2023, Cowbell Music): Danish alto saxophonist, 30+ albums since 1998, has worked with this bass-drums combo since 2011. B+(**) [sp]

Benjamin Koppel: White Buses: Passage to Freedom (2023, Cowbell Music): In 1943, as the Nazis were consolidating their occupation of Denmark, some 90% of Danish Jews managed to escape into Sweden, thus avoiding the Holocaust. That much is fairly widely known, but this draws on a lesser-known incident near the end of the war, when the Swedish Red Cross sent white buses to Theresienstadt, where another 425 Danish Jews were held, and affected their liberation. This narrates that story, along with some inspiring music, led by the Danish alto saxophonist. B+(***) [sp]

Talib Kweli & Madlib: Liberation 2 (2023, Luminary): A sequel 16 years later, runs longer (45:51), is even harder to find. With politics that deserve wider airing, but thinned out with more ambient breaks. B+(***) [sc]

Oliver Lake/Mathias Landæus/Kresten Osgood: Spirit (2017 [2023], Sfär): Alto sax, piano, drums. Lake is a bit erratic, but impresses more often than not. B+(**) [bc]

Lalalar: En Kötü Iyi Olur (2023, Bongo Joe): Turkish group, second album. Vibe reminiscent of several Balkan rock groups. B+(***) [sp]

Dave Lombardo: Rites of Percussion (2023, Ipecac): Drummer, born in Cuba but moved to California when he was two. Best known as drummer in the thrash metal band Slayer, but also in Fantômas (based on a French anti-hero, "waging an implacable war against the bourgeois society in which he moves"). I've run across him once before, when he joined DJ Spooky on a 2005 Thirsty Ear album called Drums of Death. Solo here, so more drums of death? B+(**) [sp]

Van Morrison: Accentuate the Positive (2023, Exile/Virgin): Second release of a covers set this year, reminds you that while he used to be a pretty great songwriter, he's still a terrific singer. Advantage here is in the songs, moving from the country-folk roots of Moving on Skiffle to rhythm and blues and rock and roll, although he's loose enough on the concept to include the Mercer-Arlen title song, and to start off with a "You Are My Sunshine" that proves to be a high point. Elsewhere, lots of nits one can pick, but really too much fun for that. B+(**) [sp]

Riley Mulherkar: Riley (2021-22 [2024], Westerlies): Trumpet player, from Seattle, a co-founder of the Westerlies, debut album, with Chris Pattishall (piano) and Rafiq Bhatia both credited with programming and sound design, on a mix of originals and vintage covers ("Stardust," "King Porter Stomp"). B+(***) [cd] [02-16]

Estee Nack: Nacksaw Jim Duggan (2023, Griselda): Another rapper I'd never heard of, Alex Rosario, of Lynn, Mass., but Discogs credits him with 25 albums since 2015, and offers 11 distinct editions of this title (but no CD). Rather fractured, with a long riff on Dominicans in the drug trade. B+(*) [sp]

Ndox Electrique: Tëd ak Mame Coumba Lamba ak Mame Coumba Mbang (2023, Bongo Joe): Traditional n'doëp community vocal group from Cap-Vert in Senegal, remixed by François R. Cambuzat and Gianna Greco (who also produced Ifriqiyya Electrique), who bring the beats, and some heavy machinery. B+(*) [sp]

Noertker's Moxie: In Flitters: 49 Bits From B*ck*tt (2023, Edgetone): Bassist, recordings go back to 2003's Sketches of Catalonia, with a cover reminiscent of Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain (or maybe Billy Jenkins' Scratches of Spain, a superior album [imho]), but then expanded into multi-volume suites for Dali, Miró, and Gaudi. Here the inspiration is Samuel Beckett's Watt, a novel I bought long ago and never managed to read, but evidently of interest to jazzbos (it's the name of Carla Bley's record label). It's put to good use here, with Annelise Zamula (clarinet/flute), Brett Carson (piano), and Jordan Glenn (drums). No idea what's up with the asterisks. B+(***) [cd]

Hery Paz: Jardineros (2021 [2023], 577): Cuban saxophonist (also flute, piano, suona), based in New York, first album, backed by drums (Francisco Mela) and percussion (Román Diaz, also credited for vocals -- basically a spoken narration, in Spanish). B+(**) [sp]

Shaheed & DJ Supreme: The Art of Throwing Darts (2023, Communicating Vessels): Hip-hop duo from Birmingham, second album. Has an old school air, the words (doubled up?) coming so fast and hard they effectively are the rhythm. B+(***) [sp]

Shakti: This Moment (2023, Abstract Logix): Indian supergroup formed by English guitarist John McLaughlin in 1975-77, was revived in 1997 for a series of "Remember Shakti" albums, and now again here, with McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain (tabla) returning, joined by Selvaganesh Vinayakaram (kanjira) and Shankar Mahadevan (vocals) from the 1990s, and Ganesh Rajagopalan (violin). B+(*) [sp]

Louis Siciliano: Ancient Cosmic Truth (2023, Musica Presente, EP): Italian trumpet player, seems to have mostly worked on film music, aims for some kind of Miles Davis fusion here, and is mostly successful, for four songs, 22:42. B+(**) [sp]

Antero Sievert: Dear Bossa (2023, JMI): Spanish pianist, second album, a "pan-Latin musical journey" with Pedrito Martinez (Cuban percussion), Edmar Castaneda (Colombian harp), and Elena Pinderhughes (Bay Area flute), plus bassist Corcoran Holt, and a bit of trumpet I'd like to hear more from. B+(***) [sp]

Guilty Simpson: Escalation (2023, Uncommon): Detroit rapper Byron Dwayne Simpson, debut 2008, came up working with J. Dilla and Madlib, produced here by Uncommon Nasa (Paul Loverro). B+(**) [sp]

Josh Sinton: Couloir & Book of Practitioners Vol. 2: Book W (2023 [2024], Form Is Possibility, 2CD): Solo baritone saxophone, the second a volume of Steve Lacy "etudes" -- Sinton led the Lacy tribute band Ideal Bread -- the first originals that are hard to distinguish from Lacy's models. B+(***) [cd]

Alex Sipiagin Quintet: Mel's Vision (2022 [2023], Criss Cross): Russian trumpet/flugelhorn player, moved to US in 1990, has a steady stream of mainstream jazz albums since 1998. With Chris Potter (tenor sax), David Kikoski (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums). Two Sipiagin originals (including the unexplained title song), one from Potter, a Ukrainian folk song, and four modern jazz covers. Long (9 tracks, 71:18). B+(**) [sp]

Sister Zo: Arcana (2023, All Centre, EP): New York-based electronica artist, has at least one previous EP, this one 4 exquisitely balanced rhythm tracks, 17:38. Remarkably satisfying. A- [sp]

Chucky Smash: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (2023, King of the Beats): J. Samuels, part of a Bronx hip-hop trio called the Legion, which recorded some in the 1990s, with one more album from 2019. B+(*) [sp]

Spectacular Diagnostics: Raw Lessons (2023, Rucksack): Chicago hip-hop producer Robert Krums. Has several previous "Raw" titles (Raw Unknown, Raw Studies). B+(**) [sp]

Marnie Stern: The Comeback Kid (2023, Joyful Noise): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and has a rep for that, fifth album since 2007, but ten years after her fourth. Pop overtones over something dense and mathy. B+(**) [sp]

The Dave Stryker Trio With Bob Mintzer: Groove Street (2023 [2024], Strikezone): Guitarist, has long settled into the organ groove tradition, releasing a new iteration each January. Trio names on cover: Jared Gold (organ) and McClenty Hunter (drums), with the saxophonist joining in, even contributing a couple of songs. B+(**) [cd] [01-24]

Sweeping Promises: Good Living Is Coming for You (2023, Sub Pop): Duo (Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug), met as students in Arkansas, moved to Boston, recorded a pretty good album there, relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, where they recorded this sophomore effort. B+(**) [sp]

Emilio Teubal: Futuro (2021 [2023], Not Yet): Argentinian pianist, based in New York, first album 2009, mostly trio with bass (Pablo Lanouguere) and drums (Chris Michael or Brian Shankar Adler), with a few guests, like Sam Sadigursky (clarinet on three tracks) or Chris Dingman (vibes on three). B+(**) [sp]

V Knuckles & Phoniks: The Next Chapter (2023, Don't Sleep): Boston rapper Rahim Muhammad, from the group N.B.S. [Natural Born Spitters], ten albums 2002-20, first solo album, produced by Phoniks (from Portland, ME). Old school vibe, some nice features. B+(***) [sp]

Yungmorpheus & Real Bad Man: The Chalice & the Blade (2023, Real Bad Man): California hip-hop artist Colby Campbell, a dozen-plus albums since 2016, working here with producer Adam Weissman. B+(**) [sp]

Yungmorpheus: From Whence It Came (2023, Lex): Another one, understated lyrics over minimal beats. B+(*) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Per 'Texas' Johansson: Alla Mina Kompisar (1998 [2023], Moserobie): Swedish reeds player, second album, plays tenor/baritone sax and clarinets here, with Fredrik Ljunkgvist (four saxes), Johan Lindström (pedal steel guitar), Dan Berglund (bass), and Mikel Ulfberg (drums). A- [sp]

Kenneth Kiesler/University of Michigan Opera Theatre: James P. Johnson: De Organizer/The Dreamy Kid (Excerpts) (2006 [2023], Naxos): I'm inclined to file classical music by the performer, with the composer included in the title, but even there the cover makes this difficult, as I wound up flipping the larger type order, and ignoring a long list of smaller-type names. (I did give into the obvious and listed this under Johnson in the Jazz Critics Poll standings, but figured I should be more consistent here.) Johnson (1894-1955) is widely recognized as an outstanding stride pianist, but his ambitions as a composer are less well known. James Dapogny, a superb stride pianist in his own right, arranged these two short operas, the former with lyrics by Langston Hughes, the latter Eugene O'Neill. I've never liked opera, but I can't help but applaud union organizers. B+(*) [sp]

Old music:

Talib Kweli/Madlib: Liberation (2007, Blacksmith Music): Rapper, last name Greene, broke out with Mos Def as Black Star in 1998, with Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal in 2000, released a solo album in 2002. I found this one down after failing to find Liberation 2 (2023) on streaming. This was given away as a freebie for a week, then withdrawn, so is similarly scarce. Short (30:12), but the production is dazzling, and the guy is a thinker: "I went to college, then I left/ That's when I got my education." (Unlike the college dropouts who simply couldn't wait to get rich.) A- [yt]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carlos "Bechegas"/Joao Madeira/Ulrich Mitzlaff: Open in Finder (4DaRecord) [11-13]
  • Mina Cho: "Beat Mirage" (International Gugak Jazz Institute) [02-09]
  • Hands & Tongues: 3 Meta-Dialogues (4DaRecord) [12-08]
  • Richard Nelson/Makrokosmos Orchestra: Dissolve (Adhyâropa) [02-02]
  • Samo Salamon/Vasil Hadzimanov/Ra-Kalam Bob Moses: Dances of Freedom (Samo) [01-15]
  • Matthew Shipp/Steve Swell: Space Cube Jazz (RogueArt) [01-15]
  • Ches Smith: Laugh Ash (Pyroclastic) [02-02]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 21, 2024


Speaking of Which

Lots of stuff below. No need for an introduction here.


Top story threads:

Israel:

Genocide watch, around the world: But mostly in Washington.

Trump, and other Republicans: Trump's sweep of the Iowa caucuses was easily predicted, and seems definitive, but 52% of practically nothing against practically nobody doesn't exactly impress as rock solid -- the glut of endorsements suggest that, at least among Republican officeholders, Trump is more feared than loved. Trump looks good to win New Hampshire next week with a similar near-50% split, but this time with DeSantis way behind a very second-place Haley (Jan. 20 poll averages: Trump 48.9%, Haley 34.2%, DeSantis 5.2%). Then comes South Carolina, where the polling shows: Trump 60.9%, Haley 24.8%, DeSantis 8.9%. I expect Haley and DeSantis to hang in through Super Tuesday -- DeSantis can expect to do about as well in Florida as Haley in South Carolina, which is to say not much -- where the current national polls should be indicative: Trump 66.2%, Haley 12.3%, DeSantis 11.1%. After that it's all over, which should leave Trump plenty of time for courtrooms.

PS: I wrote the above before this [01-21] Ron DeSantis ends presidential campaign, endorses Trump. Given that there are no significant policy differences between Republican candidates, the standard reason for quitting is that your backers pulled their money, which was clearly in the cards. Quitting now and endorsing Trump avoids Tuesday's embarrassment, and gives him a chance to claim a bit of Trump's margin (maybe even the whole margin, if it's slim enough).

Closing tweet by Will Bunch:

It's so tempting to pile on the Ron DeSantis jokes but I keep thinking about the Black voters he had arrested, the kids who had to leave New College, the migrants he tricked onto that plane - all for the sake of the worst campaign in American history. It's actually not that funny.

Biden and/or the Democrats: I haven't seen much comment on this, but the Democrats' decision to cancel Iowa and New Hampshire left the impression this week that only Republicans are running for president in 2024. Biden would certainly have won landslides in both states this time -- after losing both in 2020, only to have his candidacy saved by South Carolina. I suspect that the reason they did this was to deny any prospective challenger a forum to show us how vulnerable Biden might be. As a tactic, I guess it worked -- it's highly unlikely that Biden won't get enough write-in votes in New Hampshire to clear Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson, and even if he doesn't, it's not like he was actually running -- more a case of New Hampshire just being spiteful jerks (which, as a long-time Massachusetts resident, I can tell you isn't a tough sell). Still, it feels like they're sheltering a lame horse, thereby wasting the opportunity to see who really can run. So while a Trump-Biden rematch looks inevitable, both candidates are in such precarious shape, with such strong negatives, that it's hard to believe that both will still be on the ballot in November. With no serious primaries, and leaders ducking debates -- even Haley has got into the act, figuring DeSantis isn't worthy of debate in New Hampshire, even though she's regularly mopped the floor with him so far -- 2024 may turn out to be a vote with no real campaigning. That may sound like a relief, but it's not what you'd call healthy.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [01-19] Diplomacy Watch: Zelensky's lonely calls for 10 point peace plan: He's still making maximalist demands, including "withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory and the prosecution of Russian officials for war crimes."

  • David Rothkopf: [01-19] The GOP is actively supporting Russia's Ukrainian genocide: So, if this guy thinks Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine, why isn't he up in arms against what Israel is doing in Gaza? What Russia is doing is criminal and reprehensible on many levels, but it's not genocide, by any stretch of the imagination. That Russia "openly wishes for the end of the Ukrainian state" isn't even true. They want regime change, to a regime that's friendly to their interests, but if that counted, the US would be guilty of genocide against at least thirty nations since WWII. As for "kidnapped and indoctrinated hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children," I don't know what you'd call that (let alone whether it's true; it's possible they just moved some children out of the war zone, for their safety), but it's not genocide. Putin might even argue that intervention in Ukraine was necessary to protect ethnic Russians from Ukrainian nationalists -- the term he used was "Nazis," which wasn't quite right but is not totally lacking in historical reference -- but while Ukraine may have behaved prejudicially against ethnic Russians, that too had not remotely risen to the level of genocide. To have any usefulness, the term "genocide" has to denote something extraordinary -- as is the case with Israel's demolition of Gaza.

    He is, of course, right that Republicans don't care about Ukrainians. They also don't care about Russians. They don't even care about Americans, or for that matter even their own benighted voters. They just want to win elections, so they can grab power and dole out favors to their sponsors, while punishing their enemies. But for some reason they all seem to love Israel. Maybe because they've set such a role model for how to really smite one's enemies?

Around the world:

  • Ellen Ioanes: [01-14] In Taiwan's high-stakes elections, China is the lower.

  • Joshua Keating: [01-13] Taiwan elects Lai Ching-te, denying China's hopes for reunification.

  • Paul Krugman: [01-18] China's economy is in serious trouble. What's the evidence here? That a 5.2% GDP growth may have been politically fudged? That Chinese are investing 40% of GDP instead of spending it on consumer goods? That they may have a real estate bubble? That the population decline reminds him of Japan in the 1990s (which, he admits, wasn't as big a disaster as predicted, but is Xi smart enough to manage it as well?). Finally, he worries that, "scariest of all, will [Xi] try to distract from domestic difficulties by engaging in military adventurism?" China's actual record on that account isn't half as scary as Biden's, whose "soft landing" on inflation owes no small amount to the primed business of making rockets and bombs, and shipping LNG to supplant Russian gas sales to Europe.


Other stories:

Chris Armstrong: [01-08] What if there were far fewer people? I mention this mostly because I had cited a NY Times piece by Dean Spears, The world's population may peak in your lifetime, but searched in vain for an adequate rejoinder. One could make more points, but this, at least, is a start. It is well known that population growth alarms -- most famously those by Malthus and Ehrlich -- were easily exaggerated into doomsday scenarios that have at least been dodged, even if their logic has never really been refuted. By the way, the "cornucopian" counter-theories have rarely if ever been tested, mostly because no one takes them seriously. (For a recent discussion of Malthus, see J Bradford DeLong's Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century.) Population growth is something we have a lot of experience coping with, but make no mistake, it is a strain that always requires compensatory changes.

As for population decline, that's rarely occurred, and never been a serious problem. Certainly, it's not one that Malthus could imagine, as he was perfectly aware of the standard solution: have more children. Spears' conjecture -- that population will peak in 2085 then decline ("perhaps precipitously") thereafter, is far enough into the future as to be the last thing we should bother with (aside from, you know, the Sun turning super-nova, that is).

David Dayen: [01-18] An unequal tax trade: "The business tax credits in the Wyden-Smith deal are five times as generous as the Child Tax Credit expansion." This on the "bipartisan" bill that seems to be finally working its way through Congress. Also see:

Jackson Diiani: [01-21] Is America like the Soviet Union in 1990? It sometimes feels that way: "America's symptoms of decline are everywhere -- and history tells us what happens if we don't change course." Sure, you can make that case, and find plenty of pictures, like the abandoned diner used here, to illustrate the case. Or you could take the opposite tack, and while noting that there are things that need to be fixed up, those improvements are easily within out means, given a little will to do so.

This article starts with a question: "Who owns the parking meters in Chicago?" The answer is: "Morgan Stanley and the city of Abu Dhabi." A cash-strapped city tried to solve a small problem by turning to the private sector, turning it into a bigger problem. Privatization was the buzz word, sold on the promises of efficiency but expanding the reach of predatory capitalism.

Kevin T Dugan: [01-19] Greed killed Sports Illustrated. Greed kills everything. Related here:

  • Ezra Klein: [01-21] I am going to miss Pitchfork, but that's only half the problem: I land on Pitchfork 3-5 times a week (on average, just a guess), but rarely read anything there, and can't imagine missing it much. Of the list below, Vox is the only one I would miss.

    Sports Illustrated just laid off most of its staff. BuzzFeed News is gone. HuffPost has shrunk. Jezebel was shut down (then partly resurrected). Vice is on life support. Popular Science is done. U.S. News & World Report shuttered its magazine and is basically a college ranking service now. Old Gawker is gone and so too is New Gawker. FiveThirtyEight sold to ABC News and then had its staff and ambitions slashed. Grid News was bought out by The Messenger, which is now reportedly "out of money." Fusion failed. Vox Media -- my former home, where I co-founded Vox.com, and a place I love -- is doing much better than most, but has seen huge layoffs over the past few years.

    News publications are failing too, and while some people are making a good living writing on Substack (including his increasingly vacuous co-founder Matthew Yglesias), most don't make any living at all. As Klein puts it: "A small audience, well monetized, is a perfectly good revenue stream." That's how these people -- at least the more successful ones -- think, with the corollary being: and if you don't cater to a rich-enough audience, you deserve to die. If we cared about democracy, we'd do something to make sure we had a reasonably well-informed and thoughtful citizenry. But "greed is good" went from being a dirty desire to a shameless motto in the Reagan 1980s, and has remained unquestioned even through Democratic administrations (with their nouveaux riches presidents), leaving the rest of us to live in greed's detritus.

  • Benjamin Mullin/Katie Robertson: [01-18] Billionaires wanted to save the news industry. They're losing a fortune. Save? More like "own," which is what they're doing. And as they've lost money they made way too easily elsewhere, like vulture capitalists in other industries, they've started to hollow out these venerable brands, until they're just empty shells, allowing nothing to grow in their place.

Elizabeth Dwoskin: [01-21] Growing Oct. 7 'truther' groups say Hamas massacre was a false flag: No use filing this under the Israel sections up top, as it's solely meant to muddy the waters. There is no reason to doubt that militia groups in Gaza, associated with but not identical to Hamas, planned and executed the attack. Israel has a long history of "false flag" operations, but this bears no resemblance to them. The precise scale and effect of the attack are still not clear, but "unprecedented" is a fair description, and the shock was deeply felt, although it quickly gave way to cunning political maneuvers. Israeli leaders had always responded to even the most trivial of attacks from Gaza with threats of extreme punitive violence, so they immediately realized this as an opportunity to implement genocide -- a consideration that had been cultivated for over a century, but only seriously pursued under the cover of the 1948 war (the Nakba remembered by Palestinians as their Holocaust, but never quite recognized as such by the world). The Israeli government quickly worked to mold world opinion -- at least among critical allies like the US, UK, and Germany -- to go along with Israel's destruction and depopulation of Gaza, which meant elevating the by-then-defeated attack to mythic proportions. Such disingenuity was bound to generate "conspiracy theories" like these. For now, they can be dismissed as nonsense, and/or conflated with other easily discredited theories (not least those belonging to antisemitism). But what they do correctly intuit is that there were deceitful political interests at work from the beginning, leaving us with little reason to trust what we are told.

Richard J Evans: [01-17] What is the history of fascism in the United States? Reviews Bruce Kuklich's Fascism Comes to America: A Century of Obsession in Politics and Culture, which starts in 1922 with fascination and fear of Benito Mussolini and traces the use and abuse of the word ever since, noting that "over the years, the concept gradually lost its coherence."

Caroline Fredrickson: [01-19] Elon Musk's war on the New Deal -- and democracy: "The South African-born mogul is now trying to gut the 89-year-old National Labor Relations Board."

William D Hartung: [01-16] The military-industrial complex is the winner (not you): "Overspending on the Pentagon is stealing our future." A record-high $886 billion Defense appropriation bill, another $100 billion-plus for aid to Ukraine and Israel, much more buried in other departments. By the way, Hartung also has a "Costs of War" paper:

Doug Henwood: These are a couple of older pieces I found in "related" links. I don't especially agree with them, but they cast doubts on theories and approaches that sound nice but haven't been overwhelmingly successful.

Phillip Longman: [01-16] How fighting monopoly can save journalism: "The collapse of the news industry is not an inevitable consequence of technology or market forces. It's the result of policy mistakes over the past 40 years that the Biden administration is already taking measures to fix." I'm pretty skeptical here. Whatever Biden is doing on antitrust enforcement -- after decades of inaction, a bit worse with Republican administrations but still pretty much ineffective with Democrats in charge -- is going to take a long time to be felt. And the argument that "advertising-supported journalism might be the worst way to finance a free press except for all the rest" is worse than defeatist, in that it doesn't even allow the option of treating journalism as a public good, as something we could deliberately cultivate -- instead of just hoping it somehow pans out. The sorry state of journalism today has less to do with constrained competition than with the carnage due to relentless profit-seeking.

Louis Menand: [01-15] Is A.I. the death of I.P.? Well, it should be, and take its own I.P.-ness with it.

Doug Muir: [01-15] The Kosovo War, 25 years later: Things fall apart: Part 3 of a series, that started with [01-08] The Kosovo War, 25 years later and [01-08] The Serbian ascendancy.

Andrew O'Hehir: [01-21] Never mind Hitler: "Late Fascism" is here, and it doesn't need Hugo Boss uniforms: "Fascism has been lurking under the surface of liberal democracy all along -- we just didn't want to see it." Draws on Alberto Toscano's book: Late Fascism: Race, Capitalism and the Politics of Crisis. I'm struck here by the line about how fascism arises "to save capitalism from itself." But it does so by misdirection, never really facing up to the source of its disaffection, leading to its own self-destruction. Such analysis is kids' stuff for Marxists, who start with a fair understanding of the dynamics. Yet it's lost on conventional liberals and conservatives, who assume capitalism is just a force of nature, something they skip over to focus on abstractions (democracy, freedom, etc.).

James North: [01-18] What the media gets wrong about the so-called border crisis: "The mainstream press's dark warnings about a flood of migrants are underpinned by a staggering ignorance about where asylum-seekers are coming from -- and why they're fleeing for their lives."

Rick Perlstein: [01-17] Metaphors journalists live by (Part I): "One of the reasons political journalism is so ill-equipped for this moment in America is because of its stubborn adherence to outdated frames." Framed by a discussion with Jeff Sharlet. Also [01-18] Part II.

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-19] Roaming Charges: It's in the bag. Starts by pointing out the ridiculously low turnout at the Iowa caucuses, which among other things resulted in this: "Amount GOP candidates spent per vote in Iowa: Haley: $1,760; DeSantis: $1,497; Ramaswamy: $487; Trump: $328." Of course, that undervalues the free media publicity given to all, but especially to Trump. Roaming to other topics, here's:

+ According to Jeffrey Epstein's brother, Mark, Epstein "stopped hanging out with Donald Trump when he realized Trump was a crook."

Liz Theoharis: [01-18] Change is coming soon: "The powerful and visionary leadership of young activists is crucial in these times."

Michael Tomasky: The right-wing media takeover is destroying America: "The purchase of The Baltimore Sun is further proof that conservative billionaires understand the power of media control. Why don't their liberal counterparts get it?"

Sandeep Vaheesan: [01-16] Uber and the impoverished public expectations of the 2010s: "A new book shows that Uber was a symbol of a neoliberal philosophy that neglected public funding and regulation in favor of rule by private corporations." The book is by Katie J Wells, Kafui Attoh & Declan Cullen: Disrupting D.C.: The Rise of Uber and the Fall of the City.

Jeff Wise: [01-13] Who will rid us of this cursed plane?: Boeing's "troubled 737 Max," although that's just the most obvious of the problems with Boeing.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 15, 2023


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41641 [41584] rated (+57), 22 [23] unrated (-1).

Seriously long Speaking of Which posted yesterday (5748 words, 135 links). The Joshua Frank piece, Making Gaza Unlivable, is important, as are the additional points I made last week and this. Also consider the Michael Kruse piece on Trump's long assault on the very notion of justice.

It's painfully cold here in Kansas tonight, or at least that's how I'm feeling it. We haven't been out in several days. I still have to take the trash out tonight, and I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. I'm dreading both. [OK, trash went out. And dentist office decided to shut down tomorrow, so I'm off the hook.] Of course, it's worse north of here. I see where Trump is urging his supporters to vote in Iowa even if it kills you. Easy for him to say. But "voting to kill" has been a Republican tradition, at least since right-wing journo Jim Geraghty used it as a book title (2006, about the 2004 election). [PS: Trump won, but no reports yet on the collateral damage.]

I've been trying to clean up some things, especially with the EOY lists. One big thing I did was to scan through the Pazz + Jop Rip-Off Poll ballots, and count a bunch of them (about 110, out of 338?). Most were names I recognized, mostly from having counted them before (90), but another 20 or so just struck me as interesting ballots. This is one way my subjective bias infects the standings, but the only rooting interest I had this year was for Olivia Rodrigo over Boygenius, and in that my selection didn't help at all.

The more substantive biases in the aggregate are that I follow a lot of jazz critics, and also know many critics (or just fans) who follow Robert Christgau. I've also factored Christgau's grades into the point totals, so his more esoteric picks are generously represented in the totals. (As are my grades, as far as they get you.) Since I regard the EOY aggregate as a tool for prospecting unheard albums, those biases are mostly useful in finding other lists with intersecting tastes. Still, our picks don't have a lot of sway in the upper tiers of the aggregate, and many fall well down the list.

I finally factored my Jazz and Non-Jazz lists into the aggregate, although I haven't picked up all the lesser grades yet. And while I've entered the top results from the Jazz Critics Poll, thus far I've entered very few individual ballots. I'll add some, plus whatever other jazz lists I find. After last week's bumper crop of underground hip-hop, pickings have thinned out a bit this week. Saving Country Music's album of the year (Gabe Lee) got an A- this week, but nothing else made the grade. Sara Petite came from Ye Wei Blog, but other albums I checked from there fell short.

Also, note that three A- albums this week were in Old Music, but not very old. The tip for the South African record came from Christgau's January CG. The other two came in the mail well after I gave an A- to Bill Scorzari's The Crosswinds of Kansas (again, following up on a Christgau tip). Having the CDs helped, but only because the albums were so good in the first place.

No idea how much more of this I'll bother with. I usually wait until the end of February to save off a "frozen" annual list, but my rated count this year is already up to 1549, which if not a personal record is pretty close. And I'm itching to move onto other things, so it's tempting to call it a year. Now, if only it'd warm up a bit.


New records reviewed this week:

75 Dollar Bill: Singularity 06: Anchor Dragging Behind (2023, The State51 Conspiracy, EP): Guitarist Che Chen and percussionist Rick Brown, draw more on North Africa than on jazz in their instrumental pieces, of which this is one track, 18:42, pleasantly then intoxicatingly ambient. B+(***) [sp]

Daniel Bachman: When the Roses Come Again (2023, Three Lobed): Guitarist, first albums self-released as Sacred Harp, and under his own name since 2011, started out in the American primitive school but has added a drone dimension. B+(*) [sp]

Black Belt Eagle Scout: The Land, the Water, the Sky (2023, Saddle Creek): Alias for Katherine Paul, a "Swinomish/Iñupiaq singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Portland, Oregon." Sounds like a bon bon dipped in shoegaze. B+(**) [sp]

Blockhead: The Aux (2023, Backwoodz Studioz): New York hip-hop producer Tony Simon, has a couple dozen albums since 2001, more production credits. Fifteen tracks here, features start with Billy Woods, Navy Blue, Quelle Chris, Aesop Rock, Koreatown Oddity, Open Mike Eagle. B+(***) [sp]

Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble: Elegy for Thelonious (2022 [2024], Sunnyside): The leader claims "all compositions and re-compositions," the latter producing titles like "Wrinkle on Trinkle." An impressive piece of work, the orchestrations complex and occasionally striking, the vocal bits unnecessary fluff but fleeting. Feels like a major bid for the high ground in seriously serious music. But while multiple plays didn't increase my irritation, they did leave me uninterested. B+(**) [sp] [03-08]

CASisDEAD: Famous Last Words (2023, XL): British grime rapper, started as Castro Saint, first studio album after a decade of singles, EPs and mixtapes. Some confusion over caps, which I could do without. Attractive groove album. B+(**) [sp]

Cat Clyde: Down Rounder (2023, Second Prize): Canadian singer-songwriter, fifth album since 2017. B+(*) [sp]

CESVR/Fleevus/Febem: Brime! (2020 [2021], Butterz/Beatwise, EP): Title signifies Brazilian Grime, six song, 20:15 EP, various sources show different covers, labels, artist order, but same batch of songs, with only Cesar Pierri (CESVR, co-founder of Beatwise Recordings) seemingly well established. Does sound like UK grime, but in Portuguese, a bit less stiff, much as the concept promises. B+(***) [sp]

CESVR/Fleezus/Febem: Brime! (Deluxe Edition) (2020-23 [2023], Butterz/Beatwise): Tacks on five extra tracks, total 39:15. More, but not much better. B+(***) [sp]

Christine and the Queens: Paranoia, Angels, True Love (2023, Because Music): French singer-songwriter Héloïse Letissier, "assigned female at birth," fourth album since 2014, "the second part of an operatic gesture," the title a nod to Tony Kushner's Angels in America, running 96:49 over 3-LP. B [sp]

The Rob Dixon/Steve Allee Quintet: Standards Deluxe (2023 [2024], self-released): Tenor/soprano saxophone and piano, quintet adds trumpet (Derrick Gardner), bass, and drums. Singer Amanda King joins for first six tracks, getting a feature credit on the cover, as does Gardner, for the back six (five Dixon pieces, but a reprise of the opener "Caravan." That gives us two rather distinct albums: a better-than-average standards showcase (mostly because the songs are so sure-fire), and an upbeat and rather luxe postbop combo set. B+(**) [cd] [02-01]

Jason Eady: Mississippi (2023, Old Guitar): Country singer-songwriter, originally from Mississippi, based in Texas, ten albums since 2005, in a steady, low-key career. B+(**) [sp]

Easy Star All-Stars: Ziggy Stardub (2023, Easy Star): New York-based reggae collective/label, active since 1997. First one I've heard, but title (and cover) should have been a giveaway, as is a back catalog of Dub Side of the Moon, Radiodread, Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band, and Easy Star's Thrillah. So, a slightly amusing covers band? B- [sp]

Mayer Hawthorne: For All Time (2023, P&L): Soul/funk singer-songwriter Andrew Cohen, took his middle name and added the street he grew up on, debut 2009. [sp]

Anna Hillburg: Tired Girls (2023, Speakeasy Studios): Bay Area singer-songwriter, third album, has a nice flow. B+(*) [sp]

Hope D: Clash of the Substance (2023, self-released): Indie band from Australia, or maybe just short for Hope Defteros. First album, rather catchy. B+(**) [sp]

Hozier: Unreal Unearth (2023, Island): Irish singer-songwriter Andrew John Hozier-Byrne, third album since 2014. Seems like a good guy, with grand ambitions both musical and lyrical. Perhaps a little too grand, for my taste. B+(**) [sp]

Mon Laferte: Autopoiética (2023, Universal Music Mexico): Singer-songwriter from Chile, based in Mexico, ninth studio album since 2011. This has some remarkable parts, mixed up in a pastiche that I can't begin to comprehend, but only start to doubt with the terminal dirge. But is that really the end? A- [sp]

David Larsen: The Peplowski Project (2022 [2023], self-released): Saxophonist, from Spokane, several albums since 2019, credits scarce but cover photo shows him with a baritone, and Discogs photo adds a tenor (also note a previous album called The Mulligan Chronicles). Ken Peplowski plays clarinet, and suggested some Al Cohn tunes. B+(**) [sp]

Gabe Lee: Drink the River (2023, Torrez Music Group): Nashville native, parents immigrants from Taiwan, fourth album since 2019. Anyone who doubts the power of the American melting pot is in for an object lesson here. A- [sp]

Jim Legxacy: Homeless N*gga Pop Music (2023, (!)): Debut mixtape, from the London-based rapper/singer/producer. B [sp]

Carin León: Colmillo De Leche (2023, Socios/Oplaai): Mexican singer-songwriter, plays guitar, third studio album since 2019, many more live albums. His style depends on you understanding the words, but even if you don't, he makes it clear that he does. B+(**) [sp]

Nils Lofgren: Mountains (2023, Cattle Track Road): Debut at 20 as leader of Grin, one of the better country-rock outfits of the early 1970s, followed by an acclaimed eponymous solo album in 1975. I rated those highly, but didn't file any more of his solo albums until 2019 -- with no gap more than five years, looks like I skipped 25. Meanwhile, he played with Crazy Horse/Neil Young, and since 1986 with Bruce Springsteen. This sounds promising for a while, then runs low. B [yt]

Machine Girl: Neon White Soundtrack Part 1: The Wicked Heart (2022, self-released): Electronica duo, Matt Stephenson and Sean Kelly, discography starts in 2012, with a debut album in 2014. As Neon White is some kind of video game, the music is designed not for dance but for speedrunning, giving it a cartoonish air, that can be extended indefinitely. This one proved the point by hanging on to 83 minutes, and dropping a notch in the process. B+(**) [sp]

Machine Girl: Neon White Soundtrack Part 2: The Burn That Cures (2022, self-released): Of course, there's more: 33 more tracks, 66 minutes. B+(*) [sp]

Melenas: Ahora (2023, Trouble in Mind): Spanish indie rock band, from Pamplona, third album since 2017, keyboard thick. B+(**) [sp]

Memphis LK: Too Much Fun (2023, Dot Dash, EP): Melbourne, Australia DJ/producer/vocalist Memphis Kelly, Paul Kelly's daughter, several albums and more EPs since 2019. Five tracks, 14:01. Fun, but not too much. B+(**) [sp]

Memphis LK: True Love and Its Consequences (2023, Dot Dash, EP): More fun, or maybe just faster beats. Five songs, 13:16. B+(***) [sp]

Hailu Mergia: Pioneer Works Swing (Live) (2016 [2023], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Ethiopian keyboardist (also plays accordion and melodica), had a couple albums there before moving to America, where he drove a cab before (and probably well after) someone took an interest, reissuing old albums, adding new ones, setting up gigs like this one in Brooklyn. B+(**) [sp]

Moka Only: In and of Itself (2023, Urbnet): Canadian rapper Daniel Denton, based in Vancouver, co-founder of Swollen Members, many albums since 1995. Easy underground beats. B+(***) [sp]

The Mountain Goats: Jenny From Thebes (2023, Merge): Singer-songwriter John Darnielle, been at it a long time, reports are that this is a sequel to his 2002 All Hail West Texas and/or a "soft rock opera." Sounds like another batch of probably smart songs that skitter past too quickly for me to get a handle on, albeit with more ballast than usual in the background. B+(**) [sp]

Nas: Magic 2 (2023, Mass Appeal): Rapper Nasir Jones, prolific since his 1994 Illmatic breakthrough, but seems like he's run dry on titles recently, since Nasir (in 2018) going with three volumes each of King's Disease and Magic. This one is strong, but short (31:54). B+(**) [sp]

Nas: Magic 3 (2023, Mass Appeal): A third volume, following the 2021 EP and in short order after this year's Magic 2. Perhaps wrapping things up, this one runs a healthy 45:43. B+(**) [sp]

The New Pornographers: Continue as a Guest (2023, Merge): Canadian indie group, debut 2000, with the departure of Dan Bejar the songwriting is down to Carl Newman, although singer Neko Case remains. B+(*) [sp]

Nostalgia 77: The Loneliest Flower in the Village (2021 [2023], Jazzman): British jazz producer Benedic Lamdin, has nearly a dozen albums under this alias since 2004, not clear how nostalgic and/or jazzy they are, but this recalls the South Africans who were such a large part of British jazz in the 1970s. B+(**) [sp]

Atle Nymo Trio: Circle Steps (2023, Arc): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, best known for the quintets I.P.A. (6 albums since 2009) and Chrome Hill (4 albums since 2008), also plays bass and contrabass clarinets, trio with bass (Mats Eilertsen) and drums (Michaela Antalová). B+(**) [sp]

Joell Ortiz & L'Orange: Signature (2023, Mello Music): Brooklyn rapper, debut was The Brick: Bodega Chronicles in 2007, had his biggest success with Slaughterhouse. With producer Austin Hart, who usually works with underground rappers, whereas Ortiz is closer to gangsta (but getting out). B+(*) [sp]

Pest Control: Don't Test the Pest (2023, Quality Control HQ): British punk/thrash metal/hardcore group, from Leeds, first album. Tolerable enough. B+(*) [sp]

Sara Petite: The Empress (2023, Forty Below): Country singer-songwriter, from rural Washington via San Diego, seventh album since 2006, promises "the intersection of country twang and roots-rock bang." Delivers too, with an embrace of low-life and high-times. A- [sp]

Pipe: Pipe (2023, Third Uncle): Punk/hardcore band from North Carolina, three albums 1994-97, now a fourth 26 years later. They describe it as "a scorching new album and a lament for affordable living." I put it on, stopped it after 20 seconds to ask whether I wanted to bother with this, then decided against trying to pick something else, and wound up glad I heard it through. B+(**) [sp]

Andy Pratt: Trio (2023 [2024], Thrift Girl): Jazz guitarist, plays standards with some retro swing and Perez Prado to spice up the rhythm, sings some, can't quite cut it as a crooner but tries to slip by with a grin. Name threw me at first, reminding me of a much-hyped singer-songwriter from 1973, still active at least through 2015. B+(*) [cd]

Prince Kaybee: Gemini (2022, self-released): South African house producer, I know very little about him, but this long (15 songs, 76 minutes) set has been identified as his fifth album. B+(**) [sp]

Queens of the Stone Age: In Times New Roman . . . (2023, Matador): Rock band from Seattle, tempted me 25 years ago but proved too hard and too dull to sustain interest. I wouldn't bother now, but as of this writing, they're the top-rated unheard album in my EOY aggregate (71, but in AOTY's more metal-friendly aggregate they only rise to 64; second on my list is Hozier at 94, or 52 at AOTY). Not so heavy after all, but not much good either. B- [sp]

Reneé Rapp: Snow Angel (2023, Interscope): American pop singer-songwriter and actress, first album (not counting a 2022 EP which expanded to 24:48 on a "Deluxe Edition"), songs co-written by guitarist Alexander Glantz, and often others. B [sp]

Jason Rebello/Tim Garland: Life to Life (2022 [2023], Whirlwind): British piano and sax duo, the latter playing tenor, soprano, sopranino, and bass clarinet, both composing (with covers of Chick Corea and trad). B+(**) [sp]

Ishmael Reed/West Coast Blues Caravan of All Stars: Blues Lyrics by Ishmael Reed (2023, Reading Group): Spoken word from the legendary novelist, backed by a band featuring David Murray (tenor sax) and Ronnie Stewart (guitar), with Art Halen (trombone), Gregory "Gman" Simmons (bass), Michael Robinson (keyboard), and Michael Skinner (drums). A- [bc]

Seablite: Lemon Lights (2023, Mt. St. Mtn.): Indie pop band from San Francisco, second album, Wikipedia redirects to "Suaeda," a genus of seepweeds. B+(*) [sp]

Caitlyn Smith: High & Low (2023, Monument): Country singer-songwriter, based in Nashville, third album. B+(*) [sp]

Joe Stamm Band: Wild Man (2023, self-released): Country rock band, from Illinois, fourth album since 2018. B+(*) [sp]

Willie Tea Taylor & the Fellership: The Great Western Hangover (2023, self-released): Alt-country singer-songwriter, from Oakdale, California, which claims to be the "cowboy capital of the world." B+(**) [sp]

Tele Novella: Poet's Tooth (2023, Kill Rock Stars): Texas-based "indie psych" band, principally Natalie Ribbons and Jason Chronis, third album. B+(*) [sp]

Hank Williams IV: Honky Tonk Habit (2023, Lone Star Reserve, EP): Original name Ricky Fitzgerald, his claim to great-grandson status follows the assertion that Lewis Fitzgerald was Hank's illegitimate son (b. 1943, when Hank would have been about 19). So not as clear as Coleman Williams (dba IV), who goes back through his father Shelton Williams (aka Hank III) and Hank Jr., who was three when his already-estranged father died. Still, he does a fair approximation of the voice, and his "Hank Williams Ghost" is an inspired, touching, and pathetic reprisal of "Living Proof." Five songs, 16:39. B+(*) [sp]

Jaime Wyatt: Feel Good (2023, New West): Country singer-songwriter, second album. B [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ary Lobo: Ary Lobo 1958-1966 [Limited Dance Edition No. 19] (1958-66 [2023], Analog Africa): Brazilian singer, from Belém in the northeast (1930-80), this picks up 15 early recordings, more upbeat and salsa-like than the samba and bossa nova that was becoming popular at the time. B+(***) [bc]

Oscar Peterson: Con Alma: Live in Lugano, 1964 (1964 [2023], Mack Avenue): More from the Trio, with Ray Brown (bass) and Ed Thigpen (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Yo! Boombox: Early Independent Hip Holp, Electro and Disco Rap, 1979-83 (1979-83 [2023], Soul Jazz): Only groups here I recognize are Funky Four Plus One More and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, but twelve others cop the same funky beats with the same sea-sawing round of vocals, all in long, 12-inch versions that take 14 songs to 101 minutes. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Native Soul: Teenage Dreams (2021, Awesome Tapes From Africa): South African duo, teens, programming amapiano beats that keep coming at you like game music, twelve pieces, 82 minutes. Christgau added Amapiano to the title, but I'm not seeing any hint of that on the cover scans. A- [sp]

Bill Scorzari: Through These Waves (2016, self-released): Singer-songwriter from New York, turned from law to music after his father ("a preeminent New York Trial Attorney") passed. Second album (but first of three he sent me). Vocals sound like Dylan at first, but give him time and they're soon his own, as are the stories and views. A- [cd]

Bill Scorzari: Now I'm Free (2019, self-released): Third album. Long, songs mostly about relationships, considered and carefully assembled, especially the long "Yes I Can." Took me quite some while, but may be his best. A- [cd]

Bill Scorzari: Just the Same (2015, self-released): First album, last heard. He's got his basic sound, some harmonica, some songs that ramble but don't stick with you. B+(*) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Stix Bones/Bob Beamon: Olimpik Soul (BONE Entertainment) [01-12]
  • Commodore Trio: Communal - EP (self-released, EP) [02-01]
  • Jose Gobbo Trio: Current (self-released) [02-05]
  • Tucker Brothers: Live at Chatterbox (Midwest Crush Music) [02-01]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 14, 2024


Speaking of Which

Quite a bit below. I figure this as a transitional week, mostly cleaning up old stuff (like EOY lists), as I get ready to buckle down and do some serious writing next week. So it helps to do a quick refresher about what's happening these days.

Although pretty much everything you need to know about the wars in Gaza and Ukraine is touched on below, you'll be hard pressed to find much of this elsewhere. The lack of urgency is very hard to square with reports of what's actually happening.

One thing I will note here is that I made a rare tweet plugging someone else's article (Joshua Frank's "Making Gaza Unlivable," my first link under "Israel" this week). I found it very disappointing that a week later the total number of views is a mere 91. (My followers currently number 627. The number of views for my latest Music Week tweet was only 142, which is less than half of what I used to get 4-6 months ago, so one thing being measured here is how many people no longer bother with X.)

Still, it is an important piece, making a point (one I tried to make last week, with fewer concrete details but more historical context) that really must be understood.


Top story threads:

Israel:

The genocide trial:

Elsewhere, the world reacts to the genocide, while the US, UK, and Israel spread the war:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [01-12] Diplomacy Watch: Italy calls for diplomatic effort to end Ukraine war.

  • George Beebe/Anatol Lieven: [01-11] Russia's upper hand puts US-Ukraine at a crossroads.

  • Douglas Busvine: [01-11] Russia finds way around sanctions on battlefield tech.

  • Dave DeCamp: [01-11] Pentagon did not properly track over $1 billion in weapons shipped to Ukraine.

  • Thomas Geoghegan: [01-09] Why does Ukraine aid drive the Trump right nuts? "It's not just because the 45th president has a crush on Putin and hates Zelensky." It's because "the war it really wants to fight is at home -- on our form of government itself." One of my favorite political thinkers, but I don't buy this, on several levels. I didn't object to sending arms to Ukraine to help fend off Russian invasion, although I never bought the notion that either they or we were fighting Russia to defend democracy. Russia and Ukraine were both corrupt oligarchies with thin democratic veneer and diverging economic interests. It was credible that the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine reacted to the 2014 elections by attempting to realign with Russia. The crisis this caused should have been negotiated away, but festered as a civil war for six years before Russia grew desperate enough to invade. Putin deserves most of the blame for this, but Russia had been pressured by NATO expansion, economic sanctions, and sharply increased military support after Biden replaced Trump. The result was a huge boost for the US arms industry -- not just directly in supplies for Ukraine but in increased sales in other NATO countries, Taiwan, and South Korea -- but at enormous costs to the Ukrainian people. The Trumpists care hardly for any of that (and, sure, democracy is one of many things they have no concern for). They simply hate Biden. They associate him with Ukraine, and more than anything else want to see him fail. Much of this is stupid domestic politics -- the Ukraine-Biden axis starts with Trump's scheme to implicate Hunter Biden, while the Democrats' fixation on Trump-Putin starts with the 2016 election interference. What neither side seems to understand is that war only destroys and degenerates. Ukraine shows us that deterrence is as likely to provoke war as to prevent one, and that sanctions mostly just harden resistance.

  • Joshua Yaffa: [01-08] What could tip the balance in the war in Ukraine? "In 2024, the most decisive fight may also be the least visible: Russia and Ukraine will spend the next twelve months in a race to reconstitute and resupply their forces."

Around the world:


Other stories:

Zack Beauchamp: [01-10] How a horny beer calendar sparked a conservative civil war: "It's called 'Calendargate,' and it's raising the question of what -- and whom -- the right-wing war on 'wokeness" is really for."

Luke Goldstein: [01-09] Boeing 737 MAX incident a by-product of its financial mindset: "The door plug that ripped off an Alaska Airlines plane only exists because of cost-cutting production techniques to facilitate cramming more passengers into the cabin."

By the way, this is old (2011), but never more relevant: Thomas Geoghegan: Boeing's threat to American enterprise:

Here is yet another American firm seeking to ruin its reputation for quality. Why? To save $14 an hour!. Seriously: Is that going to help sell the Dreamliner? . . .

At this moment especially, deep in debt, we cannot afford to let another company like Boeing self-destruct. Boeing is not a product of the free market -- it's an extension of the U.S. government. Over the years, our taxpayers have paid to create a Boeing work force with exceptionally high skills. That work force is not just an asset for Boeing -- it's an asset for the country. Why should the country let Boeing take it apart? . . .

Most depressing of all, Boeing's move would send a market signal to those considering a career in engineering or high-skilled manufacturing. It is a message that corporate America has delivered over and over: Don't go to engineering school, don't bother with fancy apprenticeships, don't invest in skills. No rational person wants to take on college or even community college debt to come out and work on the Dreamliner -- which should be the country's finest product -- for a miserable $14 an hour. If a single story in the news can sum up the reasons for America's global decline, it's the decision to build a Dreamliner that will gut the American dream.

Sarah Jones: [01-11] Death panels for women: The abortion ban in Texas. Related:

Dylan Matthews: [01-11] Do we really live in an "age of inequality"?

Harold Meyerson: [01-08] Why and where the working class turned right: "A new book documents the lost (and pro-Democratic) world of Pennsylvania steelworkers and how it became Republican." The book is Rust Belt Union Blues, by Theda Skocpol and Lainey Newman.

Nicole Narea: [01-11] How Iowa accidentally became the start of the presidential rat race: "The history of the Iowa caucuses (and their downfall?), briefly explained."

John Nichols: [12-12] Local news has been destroyed. Here's how we can revive it.

Rick Perlstein: [01-10] First they came for Harvard: "The right's long and all-too-unanswered war on liberal institutions claims a big one."

Lily Sánchez: [01-14] On MLK Day, always remember the radical King.

Michael Schaffer: [12-22] Liberal elites are scared of their employees. Conservative elites are scared of their audience. "It's hard to tell who's more screwed by the new politics of fear."

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins: [01-10] Wendy Brown: A conversation on our "nihilistic" age: Interview with the author of Nihilistic Times: Thinking With Max Weber. Sample (and yes, this is about Trump):

All of these elements -- instrumentalized values, narcissism, a pure will to power uninflected by purpose beyond the self, the irrelevance of truth and facticity, quotidian lying and criminality -- are expressions of nihilistic times. In this condition, values are still hanging around -- they're still in the air, as it were -- but have lost their depth, seriousness, and ability to guide action or create a world in their image. They are reduced to instruments of power, branding, reputation repair, narcissistic and other emotional gratifications -- what we today call "virtue signaling."

This also raises another feature of nihilism, namely the refusal to submit emotionality to reason and a more general condition of disinhibition. . . . So once values become lightweight, as they do in nihilistic times, so does conscience and its restricting force. Conscience no longer inhibits action or speech -- anything goes. Relatedly, hypocrisy is no longer a serious vice, even for public figures.

Finally, nihilism generates boundary breakdowns and hyper-politicizes everything. Today, churches, schools, and private lives are all politicized. What you consume, what you eat, who you stream or follow, how you dress -- all are politically inflected, but in silly rather than substantive ways. "Cancel culture" -- again, on all sides of the political spectrum -- is part of this, as an utterance, a purchase, an appearance, becomes a political event and responding to it a political act! This is politics individualized and trivialized.

Brown traces nihilism back to 19th century existentialists like Nietzsche, which in turn leads her to focus on Weber. Despite an early interest in existentialism, I've never really thought of this being an "age of nihilism." But I have lately referred to Republicans as nihilists. It's hard to discern any consistent core beliefs, but more importantly they seem to have no concern for consequences of their acts and preferred policies. As for nacissism, sure, there's Trump (and a few more billionaires jump to mind). Whether this amounts to "an age" depends on how widely people support (or at least condone) such behavior. The 2024 elections will offer a referendum, and not just on democracy.

Emily Withnall: [01-13] For some young people, a college degree is not worth the debt. I can relate, as someone who forfeited the chance for a degree for economic considerations, but also with a sense of regret. "Economic considerations" are the result of policy decisions, which ultimately are bad both for the people impacted and for the country as a whole.

Li Zhou: [01-08] The Epstein "list," explained.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 7, 2024


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41584 [41531] rated (+53), 23 [21] unrated (+2).

Back on regular schedule after the holiday calendar confusion. The 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll came out quickly on January 2. Article links at ArtsFuse:

The complete results and all 159 ballots are on my Jazz Poll Website.

After the fact, and not as part of the package, I wrote up a little Music Week: Jazz Poll blog piece. I offer a little bit of analysis there, not so much about the winning records but of the process of putting the Poll together. Obviously, I could have written a lot more, but I was frustrated by the lack of analysis tools. [PS: One mistake in that piece was citing Pyroclastic when I meant Tao Forms, for James Brandon Lewis's label. Both are small, artist-owned labels that extend significantly beyond their owner's albums, and in our Poll punch way over weight. Pyroclastic, whose ace publicist is Braithwaite & Katz, has 16 albums by 10 artists in our top-fifties. Tao Forms has 5 top-fifties by 3 artists, with two wins.]

But one bit of data I did manage to include is a list of albums that made my Jazz A-list (80 new and 22 old albums) but didn't show up on any of the voters' ballots: 16 new and 3 old. On the other hand, I calculated that, even after enjoying the advantage of seeing voters' ballots weeks in advance of their publication, and having logged grades for 865 jazz albums this year, I still hadn't heard 34% of the 535 new albums that got votes, or 39.8% of the old.

If/when I get time, I'd like to do some more analysis of the data. And, of course, I'd like to see what other people can do in terms of analyzing the data. At some point I hope to collect some of the mail and discussion based on the Poll. One thing I can point you to now is a Facebook post by Matt Merewitz (the publicist for the winning album), which I also collected notes from in my notebook.

Several people have offered to help, which I much appreciate -- although I haven't had time yet to figure out what help I most need. At this point, the things that would be most useful for me are to take a critical look at the website, especially the early years, and note where information needs to be improved (or in some cases, provided in the first place). Also, send me questions. I started to write a FAQ file, but it's always harder to think of questions than it is to answer them. I'm usually pretty diligent about working off assigned tasks, but I tend to flounder when I have to figure out what to do myself.

One thing I want to do more of is to compare our Poll against others. I haven't added much jazz data to my ever-growing EOY aggregate file, but will try to remedy that next week. In particular, I should then be able to generate a list of albums that appeared on other jazz lists but not on our ballots.

Meanwhile, one poll I want to mention here is one just published this week by the Spanish jazz magazine, El Intruso (which I voted in). Short on albums, with only a top five, and long on categories (instruments, groups, functions -- for them, with no pretense of significance, I just pick a few names off the top of my head, figuring they deserve mention, but of course so do many others). The top six albums (our finish in brackets):

  1. Steve Lehman & Orchestre National De Jazz, Ex Machina (Pi) 43 [3]
  2. Sylvie Courvoisier, Chimaera (Intakt) 40 [19]
  3. Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)) (International Anthem) 30 [9]
  4. James Brandon Lewis/Red Lily Quintet, For Mahalia, With Love (TAO Forms) 27 [1]
  5. Darius Jones, fLuXkit Vancouver (i-t-s suite but sacred) (We Jazz Records/Northern Spy) 23 [15]
  6. Rodrigo Amado The Bridge, Beyond The Margins (Trost) 23 [24]

I often tack my grades onto lists like this one, but the only one here that didn't make my A-list was Jaimie Branch's, after two previous ones that did (perhaps one I should revisit?). Their poll tilts more toward European artists (two in the top six; the same two finished highest among Europeans in our poll, but at 19 and 24). That's no surprise, given that our share of American voters is still up around 80%, where theirs is a bit less than 40% (still a pretty large bloc). They also lean slightly more avant, although I can't say how much of that has to do with nationality as opposed to taste and interest.

Of El Intruso's 62 voters, 31 also voted in our poll; 7 more were invited but didn't respond; leaving 24 not invited (some I knew the names of but hadn't gotten around to vetting, and probably didn't have email for, plus a few more I wasn't even aware of). Given that their ballots and credentials are included in the poll, I should have studied harder.

I mentioned the EOY Aggregate file above. I've been trying to add specialized lists for hip-hop into it, as those records seem to be especially underrepresented in the lists collected by outfits like Album of the Year. By far the most useful list I've found is HHGA's The Best Hip Hop Albums of 2023. That send me looking for more than a dozen albums I was previously unaware of, eight of which I wound up adding to my Non-Jazz A-List just this week (stretching it out to 68 albums, still well short of the 80 on the Jazz A-List.

Although it seems like list-making season should be over now, there are still a lot of lists I haven't gotten to (current total: 238; last year: 565). No chance I will come close to 2022, but I have yet to factor in the Jazz Critics Poll (aggregate and most individual ballots), and while I've picked up some ballots from PJRP on the fly, I haven't yet made a systematic trawl through their feed. I also haven't counted sources like Ye Wei Blog, or Saving Country Music. Nor have I looked through the many international lists at Acclaimed Music Forums. I haven't even glanced at Uncle Fester yet (and may not, given how metal-heavy his lists are).

I'm torn right now because I have a lot of momentum toward wrapping up Music Year 2023, and readying the jazz poll for next year's round. On the other hand, I've resolved to spend the next month making a serious push toward writing the long-simmering political book. It's getting late to have any practical effect in 2024, and plenty of people will tell you that this is the year that will break democracy in America . . . if we don't rally and do lots of things to change people's minds. Those things seem clear enough in my mind to write without getting bogged down in research. So I figure I should give it a month, and see if what I come up with makes my friends think the effort is worth the trouble.

I've been pacing myself with my weekly Speaking of Which posts -- the first under that name dating to June 18, 2021, the latest yesterday (110 of them, with 561,232 words, but there are more similar pieces going back to the early days of the notebook, the political pieces collected into four Last Days book files: 2000-09 (766k words), 2009-2013 (768k), 2013-2017 (675k), 2017-2020 (651k), so I can look back on 3.4 million words. Reducing them to 60k would be a daunting amount of work, but remembering enough basic ideas to rattle off 30k from the top of my head should be easy. From that point, I could use some help checking facts, adding fine points, and tightening up the prose a bit, but there's reason to think that help might not be too hard to come by. Getting the thing started is, and has always been, the problem.

I won't start today, and I may not tomorrow -- it going to snow tonight, and I'm going to make meatloaf tomorrow -- plus I have some fairly urgent housekeeping chores I've been putting off. But sometime in the next week or so I am resolved to set out and start grinding down on it.

One more pretty major correction: in my review of Don Fiorino/Andy Haas: The Accidentals (from Dec. 4, 2023) I wrongly assumed that Jay Dee Daugherty was the same person as the late Bush Tetras and Radio I-Ching drummer Dee Pop. Daugherty, who appeared with Fiorino and Haas at a tribute for Dee Pop (Dimitri Papadopoulos), is very much alive.


New records reviewed this week:

Alfa Mist: Variables (2023, Anti-): British nu jazz producer Alfa Sekitoleko, plays keyboards, fifth album since 2017. B+(*) [sp]

Beneficence & Jazz Spastiks: Summer Night Sessions (2023, Ill Adrenaline): Rapper Rahim Muhammad, from New Jersey, eighth album since 2004, with earlier efforts going back to 1991. First I've heard from him, but he sounds familiar, reminding me of groups like Downtown Science and the Perceptionists. Jazz Spastiks is a group, based in Scotland, of jazz-oriented hip-hop beatmakers, with ten or so albums since 2010. They're terrific here. A [sp]

Mykki Blanco: Postcards From Italia (2023, Transgressive, EP): Michael Quattlebaum, from Orange County, trans (gender, but everything is hard to pin down), started as a poet, then rapper, but sings here, six songs, 15:46. B+(*) [sp]

Cautious Clay: Karpeh (2023, Blue Note): Singer-songwriter Joshua Karpeh, from Cleveland, studied jazz but leaned r&b on here is encouraged to explore those "jazz roots." He plays sax/reeds/flute, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, but gets help from label mates, like Immanuel Wilkins, Julian Lage, Joe Ross, and Ambrose Akinmusire. B+(*) [sp]

Chembo Corniel Quintet: Artistas, Músicos y Poetas (2023, Chemboro): Puerto Rican percussionist, several albums since 2006, second Quintet, with "featuring" names on the front cover: Don Pancho Terry, Andrea Brachfeld, Felipe Luciano, and Ismael East Carlo -- but the quintet consists of Hery Paz (tenor sax/flute), Carlos Cuevas (piano/fender rhodes), Ian Stewart (electric bass), and Joel E. Mateo (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Chino XL & Stu Bangas: God's Carpenter (2023, Brutal Music/1332): Rapper Derek Barbosa, released debut album in 1996, also has an acting career, working here with producer Stuart Hudgins. He's remarkably fast, not least because he has a lot to say, and the beats serve him well. A- [sp]

Czarface: Czartificial Intelligence (2023, Silver Age/Virgin): Hip-hop "supergroup" -- Inspectah Deck, 7L, Esoteric -- twelfth album since 2013, all with comix covers and comic grooves, perpetual adolescence as proof of vitality: "better check your pulse if you don't feel it." A- [sp]

Day Tripper: What a Day to Be Dead (2023, self-released): Atlanta rapper, originally from North Carolina, has several albums, one as far back as 2004 signed "DT & Osama." B+(**) [sp]

Elzhi X Oh No: Heavy Vibrato (2023, Nature Sounds): Rapper Jason Powers, debut with Slum Village 2002, several solo albums since 2008. Oh No is Michael Jackson Woodrow, son of soul singer Otis Jackson and brother of Madlib/Quasimoto. Terrific flow here, lyrics dancing not just on the beats but surrounded by dazzle. A- [sp]

Fatboi Sharif X Steel Tipped Dove: Decay (2023, Backwoodz Studioz): New Jersey rapper, third album, with producer Joseph Fusaro. B- [sp]

Four Elements & Beyond: Clock the Chemistry (2023, Four Elements & Beyond): "Boom bap hip hop crew from New York," second album. B+(***) [sp]

Derrick Gardner & the Jazz Prophets: Pan Africa (2022 [2023], Impact Jazz): Trumpet player, from Chicago, has several albums, brother is trombonist Vincent Gardner (plays here), with Robert Dixon (alto/tenor sax), George Caldwell (piano), Obasi Akoto (bass) and, most importantly, Kweku Sumbry (drums/African percussion). B+(***) [sp]

Sam Gendel: Cookup (2023, Nonesuch): Saxophonist, offers "simultaneous synchronized sonic construction/deconstruction" of r&b/soul hits from 1992-2004, which is to say songs that I've probably heard but am unlikely to recall, especially toned down and flattened out like this. Includes one Meshell Ndegeocello vocal, in case radio needs something to fixate on. B [sp]

Nabihah Iqbal: Dreamer (2023, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer, Pakistani descent, worked with Sophie as a singer, some vocals here, songs even. Second album, captivating. B+(***) [sp]

Kid Abstrakt & Leo Low Pass: Still Dreaming (2023, Melting Pot Music): Los Angeles rapper, parents from Brazil and Nicaragua, a "young emcee with an old soul aims to give you nostalgic vibes and provide jazzy hip hop sounds," which he certainly does. The producer, from Amsterdam, helps out. A- [sp]

King Kashmere X Alecs DeLarge: The Album to End All Alien Abductions (2023, High Focus): British rapper Obiesie Adibuah, aka Iguana Man, or some combination thereof. Debut EP 2002, this a double-LP (24 tracks, 58:43). B+(*) [sp]

Kool Keith & Real Bad Man: Serpent (2023, Real Bad Man): Rapper Keith Thornton, started in 1984 with Ultramagnetic MCs, went solo in 1996 as Dr. Octagon, later as Dr. Dooom, Black Elvis, and most often as Kool Keith, with close to fifty albums so far. His producer here is Adam Weisman, who's grabbed co-credits since 2020 with Boldy James, Pink Siifu, Smoke DZA, and Blu. B+(***) [sp]

Madlib/Meyhem Lauren/DJ Muggs: Champagne for Breakfast (2023, Soul Assassins): Producer Otis Jackson, rappers James Rencher and Lawrence Muggerud, all active more than 20 years, the latter since co-founding Cypress Hill in 1988. B+(***) [sp]

Neak: Die Wurzel (2023, self-released): Chicago rapper, digs deep roots, all the way back to 1619. B+(**) [sp]

Ivan Neville: Touch My Soul (2023, The Funk Garage): From New Orleans, "the greatest place on earth," second generation, son of Aaron Neville, joined his uncles in the Neville Brothers, cut a solo album in 1988, has a few more but this is the first since 2004. Agreeable funk sliding into ballad artistry. B+(**) [sp]

Offset: Set It Off (2023, Motown): Rapper Kiari Kendrell Cephus, from Georgia, started in the group Migos, second solo album. Has a nice, steady flow. B+(*) [sp]

Dolly Parton: Rockstar (2023, Butterfly/Big Machine): For those who still count, album number forty-nine, conceptual payback for getting elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although we can argue whether it establishes her bona fides or makes a mockery of them. Thirty songs, 141:18, although there may be editions with more (or less?), six she had a hand in writing, the rest covers, many I never care to hear again -- some in any form, some in this one, although a few I can't help but find amusing (e.g., the 10:45 "Freebird"). None of which denies that in the most generic sense of the term, she's long been a rockstar. If she wasn't, she couldn't have begun to pull off this monstrosity. B [sp]

Vinnie Paz: All Are Guests in the House of God (2023, Iron Tusk Music): Italian-born Philadelphia rapper Vicenzo Luvineri, started in Jedi Mind Tricks, solo debut EP 1996. B+(**) [sp]

Prins Emanuel: Diagonal Musik II (2023, Music for Dreams): Swedish producer Emanuel Sundin, fourth album. B+(**) [sp]

Purelink: Signs (2023, Peak Oil): Chicago-based electronica trio, very ambient. B+(*) [sp]

Quantic: Dancing While Falling (2023, Play It Again Sam): English soul/funk musician/producer Will Holland, has operated under various aliases since 2001, but since moving to Colombia in 2007 has also released records as Combo Bárbaro, Los Miticos del Ritmo, and Ondatrópica, bringing some of the rhythm back here. B+(***) [sp]

Raw Poetic: Away Back In (2023, Def Pressé): Rapper Jason Moore, from Virginia, several albums since 2014, most (like this one) with Damu the Fudgemunk, one with his uncle, Archie Shepp. B+(**) [sp]

Recognize Ali: Back to Mecca II (2023, Greenfield Music): Ghanaian rapper Nii Ayitey Ajin Adamafio, has quite a few albums/mixtapes since 2014. B+(***) [sp]

Jay Royale: Criminal Discourse (2023, self-released): Baltimore rapper Justin Johnson, part of Umbrella Collective, fourth album since 2015. B+(**) [sp]

Shabazz Palaces: Robed in Rareness (2023, Sub Pop, EP): Hip-hop group from Seattle led by Ishmael Butler, formerly of Digable Planets, albums since 2011. Seven tracks, 24:03. B+(*) [sp]

Kavita Shah: Cape Verdean Blues (2023, Folkalist): Singer, at least per her degree, born in New York, parents Gujarati from Mumbai, majored in Latin American studies at Harvard and jazz voice at Manhattan School of Music (with Sheila Jordan); studied in Ecuador, Peru, China, and Brazil; "trained in styles ranging from opera to gospel to folk music in more than 20 languages." Subject here is Cesária Évora, and once again she is the perfect student. B+(***) [sp]

Jae Skeese: Abolished Uncertainties (2023, Empire): Rapper from Buffalo, fourth album since 2020, tight with Conway the Machine, but this really gets interesting on the later guest shots -- Jillian Haynesworth on "Red Koolaid" over free jazz sax, and "1 of 1" with Kota Savia channeling Digable Planets. Loosens him up too. A- [sp]

Jorja Smith: Falling or Flying (2023, FAMM): British singer-songwriter, father Jamaican, second album. B+(***) [sp]

Cleo Sol: Heaven (2023, Forever Living Originals): British soul singer Cleopatra Nikolic, third solo album. B+(*) [sp]

Cleo Sol: Gold (2023, Forever Living Originals): Fourth album, came out just two weeks after Heaven, and is a slightly more substantial effort (42:03 vs. 32:04), with slightly more Chic (or maybe just Sault?) reverberations. B+(**) [sp]

Stik Figa X The Expert: Ritual (2023, Rucksack): Rapper John Westbrook, originally from Kansas but based in Fort Worth, Discogs style is "conscious," which I take to mean smart and coherent, which he most certainly is. The Expert is Irish hip-hop producer Cian Galvin, who earns his moniker. A- [sp]

AJ Suede & Televangel: Parthian Shots (2023, Fake Four): Rapper from Seattle, debut 2015; Discogs lists several alias for the producer, including Ian Taggart. B+(*) [sp]

Walter Wolfman Washington: Feel So at Home (2022 [2023], Tipitina's Record Club): Blues guitarist-singer from New Orleans, records start in 1981. Last record before he died in December 2022, feints toward easy listening until his guitar finds the right note. B+(*) [sp]

Sam Wilkes: Driving (2023, Wilkes): Bassist, producer, has worked with saxophonist Sam Gendel, plays various instruments and sings some here. B+(*) [sp]

Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 16: Phil Ranelin & Wendell Harrison (2023, Jazz Is Dead): Jazz didn't really die in the 1970s, but while Miles Davis and the fusioneers were filling arenas, and most of the real stuff went underground (mostly to be sustained on European labels), there were others struggling to maintain a populist connection, even if the business didn't validate them. The idea here is for the producers to seek out long-forgotten jazz-funk heroes and revive them with fresh grooves. The guests here were main guys in a protean Detroit group, the Tribe, playing trombone and tenor sax. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Cannonball Adderley Quintet: In Concert: Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, Denmark, April 13, 1961 (1961 [2023], SteepleChase): Hard bop group, with brother Nat Adderley (trumpet), Victor Feldman (piano/vibes), Sam Jones (bass), and Louis Hayes (drums), playing a long set (8 songs, 4 by Feldman to 1 by the leader, 71:59). B+(***) [sp]

Dorothy Ashby: With Strings Attached (1957-1965) (1957-65 [2023], New Land): Jazz harpist (1932-86), probably the only one of note before recent years brought us Edmar Castañeda and Brandee Younger (sure, Alice Coltrane dabbled a bit). This box, which finished 7th in this year's Jazz Critics Poll, remasters her first six LPs on fresh vinyl. I can't speak to the sound quality, but having reviewed all of the albums (see below), I can say that the concept is more intriguing than the realization. B+(*) [r/yt]

Danger Mouse & Jemini: Born Again (2003-04 [2023], Lex): Hip-hop producer Brian Burton and rapper Thomas Smith (also known as Jemini the Gifted One), released an album together as Ghetto Pop Life, then recorded this one, shelved until this release -- meanwhile, Danger Mouse achieved a measure of fame for his Beatles remix, The Gray Album. This really hops. A- [bc]

Evan Parker: NYC 1978 (1978 [2023], Relative Pitch): British avant-saxophonist, first trip to America, six numbered pieces named for the venue (Environ), all solo, four on soprano, two on tenor. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Dorothy Ashby: The Jazz Harpist (1957, Regent): From Detroit (1932-86), started on piano but switched to harp by 1952, was the first jazz musician to establish herself on the instrument. First album, with Frank Wess (flute), Ed Thigpen (drums), and bass (Eddie Jones or Wendell Marshall). Aside from the occasional fancy frill, first thought is this could be guitar, so the real question may be how you feel about flute. B+(**) [yt]

Dorothy Ashby With Frank Wess: Hip Harp (1958, Prestige): Their second harp and flute album, with Herman Wright on bass and Art Taylor on drums, playing three Ashby originals and four standards. Goes a bit soft. B [r]

Dorothy Ashby and Frank Wess: In a Minor Groove (1958, New Jazz): Third album, Roy Haynes takes over drums, two originals to six covers. Very minor. B [r]

Dorothy Ashby: Soft Winds: The Swinging Harp of Dorothy Ashby (1961, Jazzland): Fourth album, only one original ("With Strings Attached," which would be the title of her box), title from a Benny Goodman tune, backed by Terry Pollard (piano and vibes), Herman Wright (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). B [yt]

Dorothy Ashby: Dorothy Ashby (1962, Argo): Fifth album, first with just a trio, her harp with bass (Herman Wright) and drums (John Tooley). In some ways, the focus helps. B+(**) [yt]

Dorothy Ashby: The Jazz Harpist (1957-62 [2012], Fresh Sound, 3CD): A remaster of her first five albums, which leaves it one short of the more recent (and much more expensive) With Strings Attached vinyl box. B+(*) [r/yt]

Dorothy Ashby: The Fantastic Jazz Harp of Dorothy Ashby (1965, Atlantic): The first thing you notice here is a big improvement at bass, with Richard Davis taking over, although Willie Bobo adds some extra percussion. The trombones don't enter until the third track, and return for six (of ten) tracks. B+(*) [yt]

Dorothy Ashby: Afro-Harping (1968, Cadet): With anonymous orchestra, "arranged and conducted by Richard Evans," who also wrote the "featuring" song on the cover, "Soul Vibrations." Evans seems to think that a little more groove will help, and it does, but only so much. B+(*) [sp]

Dorothy Ashby: Dorothy's Harp (1969, Cadet): Richard Evans producing again, also wrote two pieces, as did the harpist, combined with seven covers that are light at best, or maybe the word I want is "treacly"? B- [sp]

Dorothy Ashby: The Rubáiyát of Dorothy Ashby (1969-70 [1970], Cadet): "Original compositions in spired by the words of Omar Khayyam, arranged and conducted by Richard Evans." Ashby plays koto (pictured on the cover) as well as harp, and sings. This is supposed to be a pioneering world jazz album, but Davis keeps it a bit too pat. B [sp]

Danger Mouse & Jemini: Ghetto Pop Life (2003, Lex): Rapper Thomas Smith had an EP in 1995, then this collaboration and its only-recently-released sequel, and that's about it -- while producer Brian Burton keeps recruiting new collaborators. This isn't quite as consistent as the sequel. B+(***) [sp]


Grade (or other) changes:

  • James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: For Mahalia, With Love (2023, Tao Forms, 2CD): [cd]: [was: A-]: A


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bill Anschell: Improbable Solutions (Origin) [01-19]
  • Peter Erskine and the Jam Music Lab All-Stars: Bernstein in Vienna (Origin) [01-19]

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Sunday, January 7, 2024


Speaking of Which

I didn't open this until Friday, when I wrote the introduction to the Israel section. I only got to collecting links on Saturday. Still, quite a bit here. The main reason for the late start was work wrapping up the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll, including this blog post, and a big chunk of time I spent documenting the discussion generated by Matt Merewitz's Facebook post.

I should also note here that after posting last week's Speaking of Which a day early, I went back and added a few more links and notes, marked with a red border stripe, like this paragraph.


Top story threads:

Israel: We speak of Israel's war against Gaza as genocide, because it fits the technical definition, and because genocide was formerly regarded as such an extraordinary crime as would compel other powers to intervene and stop. The classic model was what Nazi Germany did to European Jews during WWII -- the the discriminatory but less lethal period from 1933-39 now recognized as a precursor to genocide. But we've come to recognize other episodes of systematic killing and/or expulsion as other examples of genocide. (Some people like the term "ethnic cleansing" for expulsions, but the term first gained currency as used by Serbs in Bosnia, where it was plainly a euphemism for mass murder. I don't see any distinct value to the term, as the very idea of "cleansing" ethnics points to genocide.)

There can be no doubt that what Israel is doing in Gaza is genocide. (As for the West Bank, there is little difference between what Israelis are doing and what Nazi Germans did taking power in 1933, which doesn't necessarily mean that Kristallnacht, let alone Vernichtung, is coming, but certainly doesn't preclude it.) However, there is no precise word for what Israel is doing. The Germans had precise words to explain what they wanted: Lebensraum, Judenrein, Endlösung: they wanted land to settle, they insisted that no Jews could live there, and they meant this state to be final. What Israeli Nazis (I'd be open to a different term, but we routinely distinguish between Nazis and ordinary Germans, and that's precisely the distinction at work here) want in the West Bank is clearly articulated in the first two German terms (substituting Palestinians for Juden). But in Gaza they're moving straight to Final Solution, which they're willing to pay for even by giving up what has always been their prime directive: settlement (or Lebensraum).

There is a word for what Israel is doing, but it has rarely been used, and never by its practitioners: ecocide. Israel's goal (or to be more precise, the goal of the Israeli Nazis in power) is to make Gaza uninhabitable. If they succeed at that, they won't have to kill every Gazan. The land will be free of Palestinians, and Israel will have reasserted its Iron Wall. This shouldn't be much of a surprise. The catchphrase we've been hearing for decades was "facts on the ground." This was the motto of the post-1967 settlement movement in the West Bank: to establish "facts" that would make it politically impossible to undo. So while Israeli and American diplomats talked, in increasingly ridiculous terms, of "two-state solutions," Israeli policy was making any such thing impossible. And so, today, diplomats and pundits talk of postwar schemes for containing Gazans in their rapidly demolished surroundings, Israel is making life impossible, and irrecoverable.

The closest thing I can think of to an historical analogy is Sherman's efforts to exterminate the bison on the Great Plains. As a result, many Plains Indians starved, but more importantly the survivors realized that they couldn't sustain the way of life they had enjoyed when the buffalo roamed, so they gave up, trudged into the concentration camps the government set up for them as reservations, while settlers turned the vast grazing lands into farms. When Israelis spoke of their desire to turn Palestinians into "an utterly defeated people," I always thought back to the Plains Indians.

I also noted that at some point the US became satisfied with its Lebensraum, and realized that they didn't have to exterminate the last Indians, who in any case had started to adapt to their changed reality. The Final Solution turned out to be liberal democracy -- a stage that Israel is far from realizing, and may never given demographics and psychology. Indeed, any other "solution" would have failed, as Israeli history is repeatedly showing us.

This week's links:

Israel, America, and the search for a larger war in the Middle East:

Israel, genocide, and conscience around the world: Israel is not just fighting Palestinians. They're also, with American help, waging a propaganda war around the world, not just against sympathy for Palestine but against the possibility that people around the world will develop a conscience and try to hold Israel accountable.

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Edward-Isaac Dovere: [01-02] How the Biden campaign hopes to make 2024 less about Biden and more about a contrast with Trump. The worst part of this strategy is the temptation to try to drive a wedge between Trump and supposedly less extreme Republicans (like Nikki Haley?). There is no practical difference. Forget about Trump and Biden for the moment. Democrats do much better in generic polls than when they're represented by Biden, in large part because people understand that Republicans are worse. Campaign on that. The only downside is realizing that Biden is dead weight, dragging the whole ticket down.

  • Noah Lanard: [12-22] How Joe Biden became America's top Israel hawk: "The president once said 'Israel could get into a fistfight with this country and we'd still defend' it. That is now clearer than ever."

  • Ruy Teixeira: [01-03] How did we get stuck with Biden and Trump again? I should read this more carefully, and maybe even read the book he wrote with John B Judis (Where Have All the Democrats Gone? -- on my proverbial bedstand), but I'm suddenly gobsmacked by the bio line: what kind of Democrat cashes checks from the American Enterprise Institute?

  • Michael Tomasky: [01-05] Americans don't care about democracy? Well, Democrats -- make them care: "What Biden needs to tell American voters today -- and every day until the election." Actually, Democrats need to do more than lecture Americans on their civic duty. They need to show the people that democracy serves them, and not the special interests (which most of them spend most of their time pursuing).

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:


Other stories:

AP: [01-05] Boeing still hasn't fixed this problem on Max jets, so it's asking for an exemption to safety rules. Then, a day later, there's this coincidence:

Dave Barry: [01-01] 2023 in review: Or, as the title appeared in my local paper: "2023 was the year that AI and pickleball came for humanity."

Fabiola Cineas: [01-05] The culture war came for Claudine Gay -- and isn't done yet: "Harvard's former president is just one target in the conservative uproar over higher education." Also:

Rachel M Cohen: [12-29] Why treatments for severe mental illness looks radically different for rich and poor people: "And a new way to understand cities' response to tent encampments." Interview with Neil Gong, author of Sons, Daughters, and Sidewalk Psychotics: Mental Illness and Homelessness in Los Angeles.

Sheon Han: [01-05] What we lost when Twitter became X: "As former Twitter employee, I watched Elon Musk undermine one of the Internet's most paradoxical, special places."

Sarah Jones: [01-04] Who gets to be a person? By the way, she's become my favorite columnist of the past year, so let me remind you of a few of her pieces:

Fred Kaplan: [01-05] Nostalgia for Cold War diplomacy is a trap: "Compared with the international problems of today, post-World War II diplomats had it easy." Responds to an article in Foreign Affairs, which given that foreign policy wonkery is a reserve for elites is beyond my budget -- the piece is Philip Zelikow: The atrophy of American statecraft: How to restore capacity for an age of crisis -- I can't fully engage in. I will note one aspect of Cold War diplomacy that I am nostalgic for: mutual fear that even small conflicts could escalate into world war (as, e.g., happened after an assassination in Sarajevo in 1914) led the US and USSR to force ceasefires urgently, as happened with Israel's wars in 1967 and 1973. Since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the US has never shown any urgency in ending conflicts, because that fear of escalation has been lost, and more fundamentally because the US is increasingly in the business of intimidation and escalation, and as such has set the model for other nations -- above all our supposed enemies -- to follow. The irony is that peace has never been more urgent, because the world has become ever more complex, interdependent, and fragile.

Kaplan quite rightly points out that the Cold War diplomats were pretty fallible. I would also add that they enjoyed two big advantages over current diplomats: after WWII, America was very rich, compared to the rest of the (largely devastated) world, so could afford to be generous in its dealings; and the US enjoyed a great deal of good will, largely because the US was not viewed as an aggressor in the World Wars, and had a relatively small and benign imperialist footprint. Both of those advantages dissipated over time -- especially the latter, as American bases, arms, and banks replaced colonial with capitalist exploitation.

Still, the sorry decline of American diplomacy since 1990 isn't a mere function of declining advantages and increasingly complex terrain. A toll is also being taken by arrogance, greed, special interests, domestic political calculations, the persistence of myths (many dressing up plain stupidity), disregard for justice (partly due to increasing inequality in America), and sheer pettiness. One could (and someone should) write a book on these mistakes. It is hard to think of any other area of public policy where so many ostensibly smart people have been so wrong for so long with such disastrous consequences, yet they continue to be celebrated in the annals of elite publications like Foreign Policy. (Need I even mention Henry Kissinger?)

Doug Muir: [01-06] The Kosovo War, 25 years later: First of a promised series of three posts.

Rick Perlstein: [01-03] You are entering the infernal triangle: "Authoritarian Republicans, ineffectual Democrats, and a clueless media." The former is what it is, but we rarely examine it critically, or even honestly. Much of the blame for looking away lies with the latter two, for which the author gives numerous examples. Argues that "all three sides of the triangle must be broken in order to preserve our republic, whichever candidate happens to get the most votes in the 2024 Electoral College."

Nikki McCann Ramirez/Tim Dickinson: [01-05] Longtime NRA chief resigns ahead of corruption trial: Wayne LaPierre.

Clay Risen: [01-06] Arno J. Mayer, unorthodox historian of Europe's crises, dies at 97: "A Jewish refugee from the Nazis, he argued that World War I, World War II and the Holocaust were all part of a "second Thirty Years' War." A little late -- I've cited pieces on the late historian two previous weeks running -- but does a good job of defending his "nuanced" view of the Nazi Judeocide and his disillusionment with Israel, both of special relevance today.

Paul Rosenberg: [01-01] Project Censored top 10 stories: Corporate abuse and environmental harm dominate: "The pattern signals a deeper truth about economics and human survival." Fyi, let's list these:

  1. "Forever chemicals" in rainwater a global threat to human health
  2. Hiring of former CIA employees and ex-Israeli agents "blurs line" between big tech and big brother
  3. Toxic chemicals continue to go unregulated in the United States
  4. Stalkerware could be used to incriminate people violating abortion bans
  5. Certified rainforest carbon offsets mostly "worthless"
  6. Unions won more than 70 percent of their elections in 2022, and their victories are being driven by workers of color
  7. Fossil fuel investors sue governments to block climate regulations
  8. Proximity to oil and gas extraction sites linked to maternal health risks and childhood leukemia
  9. Deadly decade for environmental activists
  10. Corporate profits hit record high as top 0.1% earnings and Wall Street bonuses skyrocket

Dean Spears: The world's population may peak in your lifetime. What happens next? Argues that world population will peak with six decades, then lead to a precipitous depopulation, which is supposed to be some kind of problem -- one in need of "a compassionate, factual and fair conversation about how to respond to depopulation and how to share the burdens of creating each future generation." People who worry about such things worry me.

Emily Stewart: [01-04] You don't need everything you want: "Our expectations around money are all out of whack." Pull quote: "There is nowhere you can look in society that isn't screaming at us to spend, spend, spend."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024


Music Week: Jazz Poll

Arts Fuse published the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll Tuesday. Specifically, two pieces:

The former offers an introduction to the Poll and a brief overview of the year in jazz, followed by a table listing the year's top 50 new jazz releases. The latter introduces tables of the top finishers in four more categories: Reissues/Historical (which Davis likes to call Rara Avis, but let's dispense with that here and just go with Old), Debuts, Latin Jazz, and Vocal Jazz. Both pieces were fairly minimal, at least compared to the long essays of previous years. For instance, in 2022 an ailing Francis Davis wrote My Poll Without Me, and I submitted five pieces, which ArtsFuse reduced to:

Most of the previous years' essays are available on the Jazz Poll website (but they need to be better organized; the index page only lists two early ones, but we have more). It looks like I started hosting ballots in 2009, and developed the programming for my modern system in 2011, but it was much later before Davis finally trusted me to do the counting. Finally, two years ago health crises led him to turn the whole Poll over to me (although he continues to monitor everything, and contribute some writing).

For several years now, I've been considering the possibility that I should radically cut back on my music writing. I have other book projects I've long wanted to pursue, and I felt like I was losing my touch, my patience, and my passion. Still, by October I realized that I once again had failed to quit, so I resolved to run another Poll. And with some lead time for once, I wanted most of all to reverse the decline in votership under my watch. (I know, 156 to 151 wasn't bad, but I felt we could do better.) For the first time ever, I started to make a systematic search for possible voters. I learned some things, which I should write up at some point, but didn't add anywhere near as many names as I had hoped for.

But I did manage to send out over 200 invites on or near Nov. 18, and I tried contacting another 30-40 up to (and in a couple cases even past) the Dec. 15 voting deadline. That last-minute hustle put us over the top, with 159 ballots finally counted. And I'm very proud of those additions -- probably because I've vetted them personally, but the more familiar I become with our veteran voters, the more impressed I became with them, too.

But then, results in hand, I got stuck in trying to write up one of those "state of the union" essays that seemed to be obligatory for polls of such ambition. Fortunately, Davis saved the day by writing his own, allowing me to duck the task. One reason I had so much trouble writing an essay this year is that I had become more fascinated with the voters than with the musicians, who throughout the year we are expected to serve (and to some extent revere). The big questions for me weren't along the lines of who's clever enough to win the next MacArthur, and whether that person will repay the acclamation with the genius promised? I'm more curious about how people searching for jazz -- music that is both pleasurable and intellectually stimulating -- find records and share understanding. In other words, I might as well admit it, people more like me. If you take money out of the equation -- and, let's face it, few arts have done so more completely than jazz -- the only difference between fans and critics is that the latter have crossed the boundary of fanaticism: we search so hard, so deep, and so far that we have started to build up our own information networks.

I wish I had a big pile of statistics on the voters -- not so much the usual demographic crap, which risks being generalized into stupidity, but stuff like how many promos do you get and listen to, how much streaming you do, how much radio you listen to, what the split is between jazz and other music, and what other kinds of music do you like or hate. I also have questions about money, but that's mostly to confirm my suspicion that everyone involved with jazz is giving up some amount of opportunity cost to do so.

This would turn in to a ridiculously long (and no doubt boring) essay if I stopped to explain why each of these considerations matter. But several things have changed in the electorate this year. For one thing, we have more independent bloggers (including a couple who mostly write about pop/rock/etc. but who cover enough jazz to impress me), while we have fewer people writing for the recently-defunct JazzTimes. We also have more non-Americans, including some from Asia and Latin America. One consequence is probably that the linkage between publicists and voters -- I wrote a fairly long and controversial piece about this back in 2021 -- has been weakened. One piece of evidence I noticed is that Blue Note fared very poorly this year -- although it turns out that 2019 was a similarly bad year for them, so it's not exactly q.e.d. Another curious turn is that a self-released album with no publicity that I'm aware of -- I've sunk beneath Blue Note's radar, but I'm generally pretty aware of who's hyping what -- came in second place.

Granted, it's by a previous Poll winner, Jason Moran, but it's an order of magnitude more than any of his other self-released albums have done. As for this year's top winner, James Brandon Lewis, Tao Forms may seem like a tiny label, but its publicity was handled by Fully Altered, one of the most effective independents anywhere. Plus, like Moran's album, it's really, really good -- number four on my ballot. Publicists may help and no publicity may hurt, but in a world where payola has little sway, quality is essential. (I wouldn't say that payola never works on jazz critics, but simply that there's never been enough of it to go around. Mosaic won the Reissues category four out of five years back (2008-12) when they were giving free copies of their expensive boxes to major critics, but hasn't come close as the electorate grew and their promo budget shrank. Legacy won four times with Miles Davis boxes 2007-15, but not since, and not really because they've scraped the bottom of that barrel.)

So where Francis Davis sees the top-tens forming some kind of jazz super-elite, shifting slightly but mostly steady over the years, I wonder whether they aren't just some relatively common center to an increasingly dispersed jazz universe. It's clearly not a random function: to get into the top ten, you first have to be heard, so you have to be someone critics want to hear. And you have to be very good, to stand out from all the other things people hear. But "good" varies a lot by critic, so what matters is how broad a segment of voters your record really appeals to. This year, the magic number to enter the top five is 30-32 votes, which is to say about 20% of the voters. Lewis won with 47 votes, so 29.5%, down a bit from his 33.9% in 2021, but about average for winners since 2013. The lowest voter share was 24.2% in 2018, for Wayne Shorter. Only in 2006-07, when we only had 30 voters, did we have majority winners: Ornette Coleman and Maria Schneider, two exemplars of the emerging postbop order.

This is not to say that many casual jazz fans recognize, or fully appreciate, this new postbop order. But most jazz critics do, and it's part of what makes us who we are -- the sense of a long and continuously evolving form of art. One thing that used to puzzle me about the Poll is that we while we collected ballots from at least half of the critics who voted in JazzTimes's annual poll, our much larger electorate voted significantly farther out than theirs. Normally, you'd expect larger samples to tend toward the median, but the exact opposite happened with us. Even if we had invited the other half, it wouldn't have made any difference. What I suspect now is that their polls -- indeed, virtually all polls from brand-name publications -- are tailored to their business plan, which like most businesses is a supply-side plot to push product.

Our Poll is very different: it mostly represents the demand side, that of ravenous but savvy consumers. That's why it is very important that we list every album that got voted for by anyone. Transparency, and accountability, hallmarks of free markets, features that M.B.A. programs are designed to eradicate. My biggest perk in compiling the Poll is that I get to look at lists as they come in, which inevitably send me scurrying off in search of unheard records.

The New Releases list reached 535 albums this year. As they came in, some 20-30% were records I hadn't heard, or in most cases, heard of. Another 128 records appeared in the Old list, which includes reissues and previously unreleased music recorded more than 10 years ago (2012 or earlier). We also have separate lists for the special categories: Debuts, Latin, and Vocal. Some records only appear in those lists, as they were created in the first place to recognize records that tended to get overlooked in the top-ten lists.

I do a fairly good job of tracking what I've managed to hear in any given year, as you can see from my jazz tracking file. At the moment, I have listened to, at least well enough to rate, 865 jazz albums this year (including reissues). That may seem like a lot, but it still leaves 182 new releases and 51 reissues/historical that got votes in the Poll that I haven't heard (34% and 39.8%). I don't know how many jazz albums others manage to hear, but I'm skeptical that many others are hearing as many, let alone more. (Adding in non-jazz, my total adding is 1458, so I listen to about 60% jazz, 40% non-jazz. More jazz focus is quite possible, but more hours are hard to come by.)

I keep two end-of-year files, one for jazz, the other for non-jazz. The former, at present, lists 80 new jazz albums graded A or A-, followed by 205 new jazz albums rated B+(***), and many more (454) with lesser grades. For quite possibly the first time ever, every one of my top-ten picks got at least one additional vote. The only album that exclusively appeared on my ballot was my vocal pick: Lisa Marie Simmons & Marco Cremaschini, NoteSpeak 12. I suppose this shift could be taken as proof that I've been rigging the electorate with friends and allies, but we're talking about the very margins of the Poll. And some, like Chris Monsen, I've been following for ages. (He was the first person I lobbied Davis to invite, and one of the first Europeans to join us.)

As an exercise, I thought I'd list my A-list jazz albums (out of 80) that didn't get votes in the Poll. Just as I failed to hear 30-40% of the records on their lists, I imagine that few other voters managed to hear many of these. To me, this just proves that the breadth of high-quality jazz far exceeds the grasp of even the most dedicated fans and critics (* indicates that one or more of the artists had one or more other albums that did receive votes):

  1. Mark Feldman/Dave Rempis/Tim Daisy: Sirocco (Aerophonic) *
  2. Ivo Perelman/Ray Anderson/Joe Morris/Reggie Nicholson: Molten Gold (Fundacja Sluchaj) *
  3. Floy Krouchi/James Brandon Lewis/Benjamin Sanz: Cliffs (Off '22) *
  4. Ivo Perelman/Dave Burrell/Bobby Kapp: Trichotomy (Mahakala Music) *
  5. Das Kondensat: Andere Planeten (WhyPlayJazz)
  6. Izumi Kimura/Gerry Hemingway: Kairos (Fundacja Sluchaj) *
  7. Margherita Fava: Tatatu (self-released)
  8. Elijah Shiffer: Star Jelly (self-released)
  9. Kaze & Ikue Mori: Crustal Movement (Libra) *
  10. Daniel Bingert: Ariba (Moserobie)
  11. Andrea Veneziani: The Lighthouse (self-released)
  12. Dave Bayles Trio: Live at the Uptowner (Calligram)
  13. Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet: Precipice (ARC)
  14. Don Fiorino/Andy Haas: Accidentals (Resonant Music)
  15. Chad McCullough: The Charm of Impossibilities (Calligram)
  16. Benjamin Herman: Nostalgia Blitz (Dox)

One thing that happens a lot on the free jazz end of the spectrum is that votes get scattered, especially artists who release a lot of albums. Ivo Perelman received 42.5 points, but they were scattered over six releases, while missing two from my list. Similarly, Satoko Fujii (Kaze above) netted 43.5 points from three albums, Joe McPhee 26.7 from four, Dave Rempis 17 from three, Nate Wooley 15 from three, Paul Dunmall 11.5 from three. Most prolific of all is John Zorn, who got 67.5 points from seven albums. Adding more free jazz partisans to the voter rolls increases this spread of albums, without having much (if any) effect on the top 10, 20, 30, etc.

My list also includes 22 A/A- albums of older jazz, 34 at B+(***), and 41 graded lower. The main thing to note here is that my list almost doubled in length after the ballots started coming in, with many records -- starting with the Roy Hargrove on top -- that I wasn't aware of. That left only a few in my A-list that no one voted for in the Poll:

  1. Alon Nechushtan: For Those Who Cross the Seas (2006, ESP-Disk)
  2. Albert Ayler: Summertime to Spiritual Unity Revisited (1964, Ezz-Thetics)
  3. JuJu: A Message From Mozambique (1972, Strut)

Since I'm down into the Old here, one thing I want to note (well, get off my chest) is that one long-time voter refused to participate because we only allow three picks in the category. He had many more he wanted to mention -- obviously I, and most likely many others, were of that same mind -- but more importantly he felt that allowing 10 new music albums but only 3 old music implied that the new stuff was more important (better) than the old. He obviously believed otherwise, strongly enough to deny us (if I may pull a Trump, let's make that you) his expert opinion.

Unless you can identify the missing critic, his protest was in vain. I pointed out that he could have actually expressed it by voting for 3 old and 0 new albums -- that's been done before, but the opposite is much more common; it's also much more common to only vote for one or two old than it is to vote for less than ten new releases. That's actually one of several arguments I can make that cast doubt on his assertion (not so much about the superiority of old music as the need for more poll slots for it. It also matters that the total number of new records is much greater than the number of reissue/archival records. My tracking file divides them using the same rule we use in the Poll. There I have 210 old music releases, vs. 1257 new music, a ratio of 5.985 to 1 (or almost double the 3.3-to-1 ratio of poll slots).

Also, if you look at the Old results, and compare them to New, you should notice a couple peculiarities. One is that the Old winners get many more votes than the New winners: this year's Coltrane album got votes from 41.5% of the ballots, vs. 29.5% for Lewis in winning New. That's partly a fluke -- after all, we're talking Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor didn't run up nearly that kind of margin in 2022 (Taylor actually won on points, receiving only 38 votes to 44 for runner up Charles Mingus, or 29.1%). But if we look at the decline from third place (22 votes this year) to 10th (8), you've dropped 63.7%. In New this year, the decline is from 30 votes to 24, a much less steep drop of 20.0%. Some of this can be attributed to having fewer slots in Old, but not nearly all of it.

We all should thank Davis for having the vision of putting this Poll together, for relentlessly expanding its focus, and for sustaining it even through the collapse of any institutional support. It contributes significantly to what we know, and can know, about the world of jazz, a world that matters greatly to those of us fortunate enough to tune into it. I am simply thankful that he let me in to help out in whatever small ways I could, especially in these last couple extremely difficult years.

But once the counting is done, the results posted, and the notices given, here I am again, back to basics: deep down, I'm a sociologist, a philosopher, an engineer, and above all a critic. So let's dig through this data and learn something . . . and have some fun doing it.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, December 31, 2023


Music Week

December archive (final).

Music: Current count 41531 [41474] rated (+57), 21 [21] unrated (+0).

This usually comes out on Monday, but since I wanted to end the month and year properly, it's backdated to Sunday, December 31. Actually, most weeks end the night before I post, this six-day week is pretty close to being a seven-day one. The rated count reflects that. I've been burning through EOY lists at a fast clip. Indeed, all December has been a speed blur, averaging more than 50 records per week for five straight weeks.

To help move this post up a day, I also posted Speaking of Which a day early. I threatened to add some late finds in an update today, and indeed have added a few (marked with a red right-border). Still, it's been impossible to write about recent news at much length. On the other hand, virtually everything I wrote about Israel and Gaza since Oct. 7 is still worth a read and thought.

The 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll will be published in ArtsFuse later this week. I expect to send them two short essays tomorrow, one written by Davis, presenting the results. We also have this year's In Memoriam list more or less ready to go. It's sort of traditional, really going back to Robert Christgau's annual Pazz & Jop essays, to try to come up with a detailed analysis that lends an air of coherency and completeness to the year as summed up in a poll. But this has been a very frustrating, and a very puzzling, year, so it's been hard to reach clear, firm conclusions. Maybe a few weeks (or months) down the line, I'll gain enough perspective to venture more than wild guesses.

But at least the website will make all of the totals available, and all of the 159 individual ballots that were submitted and compiled into the poll. One thing I do hope to do in the coming week is to add more explanation and more ways of viewing the data. I'll write more about that in coming days on the website, and in next week's Music Week, and possibly elsewhere. One more thing I hope is that many of the people who contributed to the poll will take a little extra time and spread the word around, and generate some buzz and discussion. Same for the people who so far are merely innocent bystanders, but who appreciate that the poll continues to exist and thrive.

My lists are continually updated. I won't bother linking to them here (ok, here's an index), but they continue to grow the more I learn, and are invaluable tools in that learning.

I haven't done all of my usual bookkeeping, but have at least set up the framework so that the next record I play goes into the January 2024 file.


New records reviewed this week:

Lina Allemano: Canons (2022 [2023], Lumo): Canadian trumpet player, wrote these pieces in canon form for "Trumpet and Creative Chamber Ensembles." Chamber seems to mean no rhythm to speak of, which mostly leaves you with trumpet tones. B+(*) [bc]

Lina Allemano/Uwe Oberg/Matthias Bauer/Rudi Fischerlehner: SOG (2022 [2023], Creative Sources): Recorded in Berlin, which seems to be a second home for the Canadian trumpet player, backed here by piano, bass, and drums. The pianist is a major figure here. B+(***) [bc]

Ray Anderson: Marching On: Solo Trombone (2022, Double Moon): Trombonist, a very busy guy from roughly 1980-2000, rarely heard from since. This is solo, nearly impossible to do well, but he's always been remarkably fast, and he understands as few others do the intrinsic humor of the instrument. B+(**) [sp]

Ray Anderson & Bobby Previte: Double Trouble (2023, Double Moon): Trombone and drums duo, not sure how much they played together, but both recorded for Gramavision and Enja in the '80s and '90s, and both tended to go off the reservation, the drummer toward fusion, the trombonist avant-funk. B+(***) [sp]

Jim Campilongo/Steve Cardenas: New Year (2023, Sunnyside): Guitar duo, former has a reputation for "roots rock," but is pretty demure here. B [sp]

Laura Cantrell: Just Like a Rose: The Anniversary Sessions (2023, Propeller Sound): Nashville-born country singer-songwriter, now based in New York, recorded three promising albums 2000-05, this only her third since, coming nine years after No Way There From Here (her best). More solid songs here, especially "Holding You in My Heart," and a closer about "AWM." A- [sp]

Ken Carson: A Great Chaos (2023, Opium/Interscope): Atlanta rapper, last name Frazier, third album since 2021, three more mixtapes. Trap beats, tight behind that. B+(**) [sp]

The Cash Box Kings: Oscar's Motel (2023, Alligator): Founded in Wisconsin, a "Chicago-style blues band," led by Joe Nosek, with a steady stream of records since 2003 (this is number ten). Reminds me of Elvin Bishop, with less drawl and a bit less grin. B+(**) [sp]

Crosslegged: Another Blue (2023, self-released): Singer-songwriter Keba Robinson, has a previous album. B+(*) [sp]

Alabaster DePlume: Come With Fierce Grace (2023, International Anthem): British saxophonist Angus Fairbairn, spoken word poet who is singing more, eighth album since 2012. B+(**) [sp]

DJ Maphorisa/Tman Xpress: Chukela (2023, New Money Gang): South African amapiano DJ Themba Sekowe, had a breakthrough album in 2019 with Scorpion Kings, with Kabza De Small (featured on the first track here). Don't know anything about Tman Xpress. Billed as an EP, but eight tracks, 48:46. B+(***) [sp]

David Dove/Joe McPhee: Where's the Wine? (2023, C.I.A.): Houston trombonist, plays host to the avant sax/trumpet legend, with some spoken word, possibly (at least as far as the title line goes) just from the audience. Scattered, but some of this is very nice. B+(***) [bc]

Silke Eberhard/Céline Voccia: Wild Knots (2021 [2023], Relative Pitch): Alto sax and piano duo. B+(**) [sp]

The End: Why Do You Mourn (2021-22 [2023], Trost): I filed this free jazz/heavy metal under vocalist Sofia Jernberg, her soprano screech the icing on top of the sax and electronic squall of Mats Gustafsson and Kjetil Møster, steadied by the ponderous rhythms (Anders Hana on baritone and bass guitars, Børge Fjordheim on drums). But that's only the start, with much more weirdness to follow, including texts from Robert Creeley and Moki Cherry, and music from Sudan Archives. B+(**) [bc]

Gunna: A Gift & a Curse (2023, YSL/300 Entertainment): Rapper Sergio Kitchens, from Georgia, released his first mixtape in 2013 as Yung Gunna, followed by several Drip Season mixtapes. Fourth studio album since 2019. B+(***) [sp]

Kevin Hays/Ben Street/Billy Hart: Bridges (2023, Smoke Sessions): Piano/bass/drums trio, Hays has thirty or so albums since 1990, the others are either more- (Hart) or less- (Street) established veterans. B+(**) [sp]

Headie One x K-Trap: Strength to Strength (2023, self-released): UK rapper Irving Adjei ("of Ghanaian origin"), has a half-dozen albums since 2017, with producer Devonte Perkins, first mixtape together. B+(**) [sp]

Eric Hofbauer/The Five Agents: Waking Up! (2023, Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, debut 1998, impressed me early on with The Blueprint Project. This is his second Five Agents project, with Jerry Sabatini (trumpet), Seth Meicht (tenor sax), Tony Leva (bass), and Curt Newton (drums). Four titles concerned with the climate crisis, like "Nostalgia is a Form of Denial AKA the Polycrisis Blues." B+(***) [sp]

Jasper Høiby's 3 Elements: Earthness (2023, Edition): Danish bassist, led the group Phronesis (eight albums 2007-18), has had several other groups -- Fellow Creatures (inspired by Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything) and Planet B. This is a trio with Noah Stoneman (piano) and Luca Caruso (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Hotline TNT: Cartwheel (2023, Third Man): American shoegaze band, mostly a front for William Anderson, formerly of Weed. Second album. B+(*) [sp]

Mick Jenkins: The Patience (2023, BMG): Rapper, born in Alabama but moved to Chicago as a child, released his first mixtape in 2012, album in 2016. B+(**) [sp]

Arthur Kell Speculation Quartet: Live at Lunàtico (2022 [2023], Origin): Bassist, had a series of superb quartet albums 2005-12 but hadn't been heard from since, returns here with a new quartet, with two guitarists (Brad Shepik and Nate Radley) and drums (Allan Mednard). B+(***) [sp]

Karina Kozhevnikova & Krugly Band: Polyphonic Circle (2022 [2023], Leo): Russian jazz singer, second album, Krugly Band is mostly the work of producer Alexey Kruglov, who plays alto sax. Between two Gershwin tunes and two Ornette Colemans, the repertoire focuses on bebop and vocalese, with plenty of spurious scat. I like the sax much more than the vocals, but I'm duly impressed by the singer anyway. B+(**) [bc]

Alexey Kruglov: Synchronization of Time (2022, Leo): Russian alto saxophonist, large discography since 2002, including collaborations with two-thirds of the Ganelin Trio. Narration makes me nervous here, breaking up the occasionally remarkable but more often merely curious soundscape. B [bc]

Lambrini Girls: You're Welcome (2023, Big Scary Monsters, EP): British punk band, from Brighton, six-track EP (16:25), although Discogs says there's a vinyl version with two extra live tracks ("Fuck Myself" and "Big Dick Energy"). B+(***) [sp]

Janel Leppin: The Brink (2023, Shiny Boy Press): Cellist, solo here, holds your attention for eight tracks, 33:13. B+(*) [sp]

Joe Locke: Makram (2021-22 [2023], Circle 9): Vibraphonist, many albums since 1987, starts with a quartet here -- Jim Ridl (piano/keyboards), Lorin Cohen (acoustic and electric bass), Samvel Sarkisyan (drums) -- and adds guests to cuts 2-5, going with oud and riq for the title track, brass for two, and reeds (Tim Garland) for the other. B+(*) [sp]

Lage Lund Quartet: Most Peculiar (2022 [2023], Criss Cross): Norwegian guitarist, based in New York, dozen or so albums since 2006. Quartet with Sullivan Fortner (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Maps: Counter Melodies (2023, Mute): British electronica producer James Chapman, sixth album since 2007, perhaps not as "counter" as he hoped. B+(*) [sp]

MC Yallah: Yallah Beibe (2023, Hakuna Kulala): Ugandan rapper Yallah Gaudencia Mbidde, second album, cranks up the speed and intensity, even borrowing from the metal-fusion that has developed in and around Nyege Nyege Tapes. A- [sp]

Lubomyr Melnyk: The Sacred Thousand (2022 [2023], Jeriska): Ukrainian pianist, lived in Paris in the 1970s, has albums back to 1979, mostly solo or duo piano, holds some kind of world speed record for "sustained speeds of over 19.5 notes per second in each hand." Two recordings of one composition here, 22:26 and 22:45, "dedicated to the heroic Ukrainian soldiers who held out against the enormous Russian army for several weeks in the Azov Steel Plant of Mariupol." Tight rythmic patterns with cross-variations, not super fast but very steady. Minimalism and more. B+(***) [bc]

Roscoe Mitchell Orchestra and Space Trio: At the Fault Zone Festival (2022 [2023], Wide Hive): Reeds player, past 80, best known for Art Ensemble of Chicago. Five pieces here, a varied program opening and closing with his Space Trio (bass sax, plus Scott Robinson on slide sax and vocalist Thomas Buckner), a trio with piano (Sarah Cahill) and violin (Kate Stenberg), and long pieces (12:34 + 28:52) for a full orchestra and chorus. All due respect, but I find the choral work pretty hard to take. C+ [sp]

Paul Mottram: Seven Ages of Man (2023, Ubuntu Music): British composer, classical training, has done a lot of work for BBC series and specials, including the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Has a few albums, with titles like Solo Strings and Minimalism (two of each), but this suite built on top of a Shakespeare quote is exceptional. Front cover notes, rather off to the side from the artist/title block: "Jazz sextet and string orchestra featuring Tim Garland/Jason Rebello" (sax and piano). The strings are pretty conventional, but the sextet can (and often does) rise way above them. A- [sp]

Tisziji Muñoz: Burning Down Hades (2023, Ra Kalam): Guitarist, born in New York, started as a drummer, many records since 1978. Also plays shenai, wood flute, and percussion here, with Yaka Don Pale (bass) and Ra Kalam Bob Moses (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Marius Neset: Geyser: Live at Royal Albert Hall - BBC Proms (2022 [2023], ACT Music): Norwegian saxophonist, based in Copenhagen, regular albums since 2011, was commissioned to write this eight-part piece by BBC Proms, staging it live with the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, and his quintet, with Ivo Neame (piano), Jim Hart (vibes/marimba), bass, and drums. The strings are exceptionally lively, suggesting that the notion that classical music was once meant to be fun may have occasionally been true. The rest of the orchestra adds depth and color, leaving the serious soloing for Neame and Neset, who aim for rapture. A-

Sam Newsome/Dave Liebman: Soprano-Logues (2021 [2023], Some New Music): Soprano sax duets, both started with other saxophones but have largely adopted the straight horn. Newsome's has some preparation. Liebman also credited with wooden flute and voice. B+(*) [sp]

Sam Newsome & Jean-Michel Pilc: Cosmic Unconsciousness Unplugged (2022 [2023], Some New Music): Soprano sax and piano duo, some preparation to the sax, they have previous duo and trio albums together. Nice to hear some familiar standards in the rather austere mix here. B+(**) [bc]

Pangaea: Changing Channels (2023, Hessle Audio): British techno producer Kevin McAuley, singles back to 2007 but only his second album. B+(***) [sp]

Pizza Hotline: Level Select (2022 [2023], We Release Whatever the Fuck We Want): London-based electronica producer Harvey Jones, fourth album under this alias, also does business as El Choop (2 albums, 2016-19). Nine cuts, 47:22, at least for the edition I've listened to (looks like they vary). Beats really hit the spot for me. A- [sp]

Polobi & the Gwo Ka Masters: Abri Cyclonique (2023, Real World): Singer Moïse Polobi, from Gaudeloupe in the former French Caribbean. B+(**) [sp]

Amy Ray: If It All Goes South (2023, Daemon): Singer-songwriter, from Georgia, co-founded Indigo Girls in 1985, seventh solo album since 2001. Mixed bag of songs, but "A Mighty Thing" is a choice cut. B+(**) [sp]

André Roligheten: Marbles (2022 [2023], Odin): Norwegian saxophonist (tenor/soprano/bass plus clarinet), has a couple previous albums (mostly in groups), This a quintet with pedal steel/guitar (Johan Lindström), vibes (Mattias Ståhl), bass (Jon Rune Strøm), and drums (Gard Nilssen). Has a delightfully upbeat, playful air. A- [sp]

Kurt Rosenwinkel: Undercover: Live at the Village Vanguard (2023, Heartcore): Guitarist, originally from Philadelphia, played with Human Feel in the 1990s, own albums start in 1996, now based in Berlin. Quartet with Aaron Parks (piano), Eric Revis (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Scree: Jasmine on a Night in July (2023, Ruination): Brooklyn "experimental" trio: Ryan El-Solh (guitar/keybs), Carmen Rothwell (bass), Jason Burger (drums/kalimba) -- also credits producer Ari Chersky with "loops." Not much risk. B [sp]

Titanic: Vidrio (2023, Unheard of Hope): Duo, based in Mexico City, of Héctor Tosta (as I. La Católica, piano/guitar) and Mabe Fratti (cello/vocals), with help on sax (Jarrett Gilgore) and drums (Gibran Andrade). B+(**) [sp]

Lucinda Williams: Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart (2023, Highway 20): After sounding pretty ragged for several albums, here she struggles to recover from a pretty severe stroke, and comes out sounding remarkably centered. A- [yt]

WILSN: Those Days Are Over (2023, Ivy League): Australian, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Shannon Busch, first album, after a 2019 EP, both voice and arrangements aimed squarely at Aretha Franklin, which isn't quite as ridiculous as you'd think. B+(***) [sp]

Libby York: Dreamland (2021 [2023], OA2): Jazz singer, several albums since 2003. Very low key here, backed minimally by guitar (Randy Napoleon) and bass (Rodney Whitaker), with a bit of drums on three tracks. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Albert Ayler Trio: 1964 Prophecy Revisited (1964 [2023], Ezz-Thetics): Tenor sax trio, with Gary Peacock (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums). First five tracks (40:32), a live set a month before Spiritual Unity was recorded, were first released on ESP-Disk' in 1975. This adds five more tracks (35:58) from the same trio, dates unclear. B+(**) [bc]

Albert Ayler: Summertime to Spiritual Unity Revisited (1964 [2023], Ezz-Thetics): Spiritual Unity, the trio album on ESP-Disk with Gary Peacock (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums), is Ayler's masterpiece, so it's tempting to say just leave it at that. This prepends two tracks from a Danish set that was later released as My Name Is Albert Ayler: a 8:46 "Summertime" and a 12:06 "C.T." Not especially great versions, but I guess they do set you up. A- [bc]

Albert Ayler Quartets 1964: Spirits to Ghosts Revisited (1964 [2023], Ezz-Thetics): Two albums originally released on Debut, quartets with trumpet (Norman Howard or Don Cherry), various bassists, and Sunny Murray (drums), from Feb. 24 and Sept. 14. Spirits is an album I know as Witches & Devils, the title used by Arista/Freedom for their 1975 reissue (my personal introduction to Ayler). It is typical of Ayler's playful gospel-based chaos, and gets a bit of boost in the later album, Ghosts. B+(***) [bc]

Albert Ayler: 1965: Spirits Rejoice & Bells Revisited (1965 [2023], Ezz-Thetics): Sensibly combines two ESP-Disk releases, the live set from Judson Hall (Spirits Rejoice, 32:53) with Charles Tyler (alto sax) and two bassists (Henry Grimes and Gary Peacock), and the half-album Bells (19:50, originally issued as a one-sided LP). B+(***) [bc]

Albert Ayler Quintet: Lost Performances 1966 Revisited (1966 [2023], Ezz-Thetics): "From the Filmproduction in Munich & The Concerts Of Rotterdam & Helsinki." While most of the label's "Revisited" series have been pulled from Bandcamp -- more evidence of how US copyright laws are meant to keep you in the dark -- their project to release every scrap Ayler ever recorded is still on track, probably because these, at least, have been cleared by the Estate of Albert Ayler. Quintet with Don Ayler (trumpet), Michel Samson (violin), William Folwell (bass), and Beaver Harris (drums), from their much-bootlegged European tour. The first three studio tracks from Munich are magnificent. The live shots are a bit more ragged, but convey the excitement, and the uniqueness of the violin. A- [bc]

Albert Ayler: More Lost Performances Revisited (1962-67 [2023], Ezz-Thetics): Three quintet tracks (22:14) from Newport Festival 1967, one 6:24 medley ("Love Cry/Truth Is Marching In/Our Prayer") from the John Coltrane Funeral (1967), and most importantly, a long 1962 Copenhagen piece, 21:27 with the Cecil Taylor Trio (piano extraordinaire, with Jimmy Lyons on alto sax, Sunny Murray on drums). A- [bc]

Miles Davis: Turnaround: Rare Miles From the Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-73 [2023], Columbia/Legacy): One of those Record Store Day specials, easy enough to pull stray cuts from a 6-CD box and press them into blue vinyl. For reference, I have the original album, recorded in three sessions in June-July 1972, as a high B+, but gave the box, which adds sessions up to May 1975, at a generous and probably overwhelmed A-. This kicks off with a subdued outtake from the first session, then adds three slightly later tracks, closing strong with a July 1973 "Big Fun/Holly-wuud." This is all fairly typical of the period, of which we have much to choose from. B+(***) [sp]

Phineas Newborn Jr.: A World of Piano! (1961 [2023], Craft): Memphis pianist (1931-89), father was a blues drummer, brother a jazz guitarist, played with B.B. King, and supported r&b acts recorded at Sun Records, before his debut as a jazz pianist in 1956. This is the first of several records for Contemporary, trios with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones on the first half, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on the second. B+(***) [sp]

Stanley Turrentine: Mr. Natural (1964 [2023], Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist, backed by McCoy Tyner (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums), joined by Lee Morgan (trumpet) on four (of five) tracks, and Ray Barretto (conga) on three. Shelved at the time, finally released in a 1980 closet dump, and finally resurrected in the label's fancy vinyl (Tone Poet) series. B+(**) [sp]

Old music:

André Roligheten: Homegrown (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): Norwegian tenor saxophonist (also soprano, bass clarinet), first album, after side credits back to 2009. With Adrian Loseth Waade (violin), Jon Rune Strøm (bass), and Erik Nylander (drums), playing severn originals and an Ornette Coleman. B+(***) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

None.

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Saturday, December 30, 2023


Speaking of Which

Several things have nudged me toward shifting my usual posting schedule this week. The first is that I usually do Music Week on Monday, but I also like to finish the last Music Week of the calendar year on the 31st, which this year is Sunday. Delaying last Monday's post seemed like too much, but moving this week's up one day makes enough sense. But then, I normally do Speaking of Which on Sunday. I could post both on the same day, but I like separate days, which suggests moving this one up a day, too. Besides, my big job this weekend is to get the Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll ready to go up next week, so it would be nice to get this out of the way.

Besides, not much happens on holiday weekends, although there seems to be no letting up in the unfolding genocide in Gaza. At least Congress and the Supreme Court are safely home with their families (or sugar daddies). Meanwhile, the usual media sources are chock full of lookbacks at 2023, projections for 2024, and occasional (but rare) cross-checking. I can't ever recall feeling less enthusiasm for such fare. Very few made my first pass here.

Of course, if I notice anything that should be added to this week's list, I can always add it later, flagged with the bit of red right border. [PS: Some were added when I posted Music Week, and some more on Jan. 1 -- mostly ones I had open but hadn't gotten to in the rush to post. Also some more on Jan. 4, although the articles themselves are still in bounds.]

Paywalls are the bane of my existence, but this one strikes me as especially pernicious: all of a sudden, I can't read a single article on AlterNet without paying them money? I rarely cite them, unless I'm looking to reinforce a political point I've already made. Paywalls make sense for media that caters to specialized business interests, but are suicidal as political outreach.


Top story threads:

Israel: The genocide, and there's really no other word for it, continues, with the Biden administration, to its eternal shame, deeply complicit.

Israel and America: And Iran, which Israel doesn't care that much about, but finds useful to goad America into reckless conflict.

Trump, and other Republicans: With Maine joining Colorado in banning Trump from Republican primary ballots -- see Maine declares Trump ineligible under disqualification clause -- that story is going to take a while to play out, though I haven't seen anyone yet who thinks the Supreme Court will let the bans stand. The lawyers will deal with that in due course. Meanwhile:

Other stories on Trump and/or other Republicans:

  • Ed Kilgore: [12-30] The real reason MAGA-World is trying to rehabilitate Nixon.

  • Josh Kovensky: [12-26] Dictator on day one: The executive orders that Trump would issue from the start: "Ending birthright citizenship and politicizing the civil service rank high among Trump's planned first acts in office."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [12-29] GOP's biggest losers of 2023: George "it's a witch hunt" Santos. Actually, for a nobody two years ago, he seems to have done pretty well for himself -- even though he only came in fourth in this series, behind Kevin McCarthy, Moms for Liberty, and Lauren Boebert. PS: Last in this five-part series [12-30]: Donald "smells like a butt" Trump and his fellow insurrectionists.

  • Heather Digby Parton: [12-29] Nikki Haley deserves no grace for Civil War gaffe. Refers to her hesitancy to identify slavery as the "cause" of the Civil War. Her actual answer was far worse:

    I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was gonna run. The freedoms and what people could and couldn't do. . . . Government doesn't need to tell you how to live your life. They don't need to tell you what you can and can't do. They don't need to be a part of your life. They need to make sure that you have freedom. We need to have capitalism, we need to have economic freedom, we need to make sure that we do all things so that individuals have the liberties, so that they can have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do or be anything they want to be without government getting in the way.

    Clearly, no Republican actually believes this crap, because they're always trying to use government to force people to "behave themselves" (i.e., to conform to their political dictates). Freedom, for them, is reserved for the capitalists Haley says we "need." Most of us recognize slavery as the total abnegation of freedom, but Haley identifies with capitalists completely, understanding that their freedom is paid for by exploiting others. Perhaps "slavery" is too abstract to be the one-word cause of the Civil War. A more precise answer is "slaveholders." They are the ones who seceded to protect their "peculiar institution" with laws and arms they safely controlled. And when they lost, the first thing Americans did was to abolish slavery. After all, if freedom can't be enjoyed by everyone, it's really just a euphemism for tyranny. But, they stopped short of abolishing other forms of capitalism, allowing tyranny to return, dressed up as "freedom" for the rich.

    Also on the Haley "gaffe":

    I should also note that when I first saw the top headline here, I blanked out "Civil" and just registered "war gaffe." Haley's been making them all along. Kinsley's famous definition is: "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth -- some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say." Of course, it needn't be true. It's just something that the politician thinks but should know better than say in public. Haley's worst gaffe in recent weeks was when she urged Israel to "finish it" in Gaza.

  • Maeve Reston/Hannah Knowles/Meryl Kornfield: [12-30] Led by Trump, GOP candidates take polarizing stances on race and history: It's not like Haley is the only one saying stupid things. It's more like a contest, a race to the bottom, which is ground Trump has clearly staked out.

  • Peter M Shane: [12-26] Trump's laughable claim of immunity.

  • Reis Thebault: [12-31] DeSantis, Haley pledge to pardon Trump if convicted: Angling for leadership of the pro-crime party. Aside for all you pundits arguing that Christie should drop out so the "anti-Trump" GOP can unite behind Haley, please start eating your hats now.

  • Li Zhou: [12-27] House Republicans' humiliating year, explained.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Climate and environment:

Ukraine War:


Other stories:

Ben Armbruster: [12-29] Mainstream media wasn't good for US foreign policy in 2023: "Major themes this year focused on feeding the Ukraine war, hyping the China threat, and avoiding context in Israel-Palestine." Some more general pieces relating to America's incoherent inability to understand the world needs and how to interact with others:

Dean Baker:

Dan Diamond: [12-28] America has a life expectancy crisis. But it's not a political priority.

EJ Dionne Jr: [12-31] Why 2024's vibes are so perplexing: 'Everybody thinks they're losing'. Well, they're right: pretty much all of them are losing. Even the super-rich, who've never looked wealthier on paper, are losing. Democrats need to ditch the campaign to convince people how much better off they are under Biden, and try to make people understand how much worse off they'd be with Republican denialism and dystopia. Crises are coming. Do you want a government that helps people cope, or one that just accelerates the dangers?

On the other hand, this piece is also true (mostly): Jennifer Rubin: [12-31] Get real and read some history. The past was worse. But she's mostly warning against the allure of nostalgia, as in "Make America Great Again." But I rather doubt that nostalgia's a serious concern on the right -- unlike rage and spite.

By the way, when people talk about good things that happened in any given year, they're mostly thinking of technology, whereas bad things tend to be politics and war (the so-called "other means"). Part of this is what you'd call structural. It's easy to see the upside of technology: it's literally designed to obtain that upside, so that much is conscious in mind even before you see it work. And then the marketing folk get involved. If someone can figure out a way to make money off it, there's no stopping them. On the other hand, there usually are trade-offs, and hope and spin do their best to obscure them. You often have no idea what it will cost you, until it already has.

Politics doesn't have to be so relentlessly negative, but our system is modeled on competing special interests, most pursuing zero-sum gains against everyone else, seeking leverage through power, clouded in myth and cliché. You'd think that the disasters that inevitably follow would trigger some rethinking, but special interests mostly they just recoil into ever deeper myths.

Connor Echols: [12-29] The 7 best foreign policy books of 2023: Worth listing:

  • Henry Farrell/Abraham Newman: Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy
  • Steven Simon: Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East
  • Keyu Jin: The New China Playbook: Beyond Socialism and Capitalism
  • Paul Kennedy: Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II
  • Nathan Thrall: A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy
  • Thomas Graham: Getting Russia Right
  • Paul R. Pillar: Beyond the Water's Edge: How Partisanship Corrupts U.S. Foreign Policy

Greg Grandin: [12-27] Arno Mayer has died. He leaves us an unorthodox Marxism. I noted his death last week, complained about the lack of obituaries much less of appreciation, but predicted they would come. This is a very useful review of one great historian by another.

Eric Levitz: [12-29] Are America's cities overpoliced? Podcast debate between Alex Vitale (author of the 2017 book The End of Policing, cited by many who argue to "defund the police," and Adaner Usmani, a Harvard sociology professor who "argues that America is suffering from a crisis of mass incarceration but not one of overpolicing." Levitz's concept is to set up debates on issues that divide folks on the left, but I suspect that there's pretty common agreement here on the core fact, which is that a lot of police work is being done very badly (see St Clair, below, for hundreds of examples).

Raina Lipsitz: [10-13] Why haven't the protest movements of our times succeeded? Review of Vincent Bevins' book: If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution.

Eric Lipton: [12-30] New spin on a revolving door: Pentagon officials turned venture capitalists: "Retired officers and departing defense officials are flocking to investment firms that are pushing the government to provide more money to defense-technology startups."

Brian Merchant: [12-28] The 10 best tech books of 2023: Surprise pick here is Naomi Klein's Doppelganger, with Cory Doctorow's The Internet Con at the bottom of the list:

  1. Naomi Klein, Doppelganger
  2. Malcolm Harris, Palo Alto
  3. Kashmir Hill, Your Face Belongs to Us
  4. Joy Buolamwini, Unmasking AI
  5. Zeke Faux, Number Go Up: first of a cluster on crypto
  6. Rachel O'Dwyer, Tokens
  7. Jacob Silverman/Ben McKenzie, Easy Money
  8. Lee McGuigan, Selling the American People
  9. Taylor Lorenz, Extremely Online
  10. Cory Doctorow, The Internet Con

Andrew Prokop: [12-26] The weird, true story of the most successful third-party presidential candidate in the past century: "Why did Ross Perot do so well in 1992? And could something like that happen again in 2024?"

Nathan J Robinson:

Areeba Shah: [12-30] The worst right-wing influencers of 2023: Pictured and profiled: Nick Fuentes, Alex Jones, Andrew Tate.

Jeffrey St Clair: [12-29] From taser face to the goon squad: The year in police crime. A staple of his most-weekly "Roaming Charges" reports, still the sheer length of this post is striking.


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Monday, December 25, 2023


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41474 [41422] rated (+52), 21 [21] unrated (+0).

The final number of voters in the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll is 159. It took quite a bit of last-minute hustling to reverse what initially looked like a small decline and turn it into a record turnout. Next thing I have to do is to write an essay to introduce that data, and try to make some sense out of it. As usual, I keep stewing on it, leaving me little option but to panic tonight or (more likely, and more panicky) tomorrow. I do have last year's essay, which looks like it might be reusable as a template.

I also have last year's other piece, with tables of past winners and a memoir/history of the Poll. We also usually do an In Memoriam, which I've barely started, but Andrey Henkin's Jazz Passings website already has much more than I need.

I need to get all the writing done by the end of the week, plus clean up some details on the Poll website, so ArtsFuse can publish the results the following week (January 1-5). Results and ballots won't be available there until ArtsFuse is set to go, but the rest of the material is available for anyone who wants to take a peek. I'd appreciate the extra eyes, especially if you catch mistakes or have suggestions to make things clearer or more useful.

I started collecting a few notes on EOY lists, before realizing that I don't have time for such indulgences right now. (Maybe after the 1st?) But here's what I had:

Tim Niland, who (sad to say) shut down his long-running "Music & More" blog mid-last year, posted this 2023 Music Rewind list on Facebook, soon to disappear forever. [PS: more permanent link.]

Some more EOY lists you won't find in AOTY's 2023 Music Year End Lists (which is the main, but not the only, source for my aggregate):

For my lists, I'll just refer you to the index. I'm continuing to update them as I find and hear more. This week's haul is, for once, mostly non-jazz. But I started off the week by exploring Joe Bebco's jazz ballot. Bebco is editor of The Syncopated Times, which is about the only outlet covering trad and swing jazz these days (or "real jazz," as I like to call it). Two of his records hit my A-list, and many more came close.

Despite everything, I managed to scratch out another abbreviated Speaking of Which yesterday. It left me in a very bad mood, especially as I ponder the relationship between the year in jazz and the year in everything else. There is much to be said for listening -- to jazz, of course, or to pretty much any kind of music, which continues to evolve in humane ways that enhance thought, reflection, and/or body movement. One might also note that even if the business seems increasingly perilous, that isn't stopping people from making music and enjoying it.

I'm not sure how I'm going to handle this, but I while I usually end months on the last Monday, I like to extend the last week of December to the end of the month, so the year ends per the calendar. In this case, that means next Sunday (Dec. 31). I didn't want to hold this post back until then, so I'll probably just declare next week over a day early. At any rate, this week isn't end-of-month.


New records reviewed this week:

A.S.O.: A.S.O. (2023, Low Lying): Berlin-based duo, initials (they prefer lc but I don't) for singer Alia Seror-O'Neill, cover photo includes producer Lewie Day (looking askance), first album, easily tagged trip hop, but much more than just another example. A- [sp]

Actress: LXXXVIII (2023, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer Darren Cunningham, tenth album since 2008. B+(**) [sp]

Aluna: Mycelium (2023, Mad Decent): British dance-pop singer-songwriter, recorded a couple albums with producer George Reid as AlunaGeorge, released a good solo album in 2020 (Renaissance), tops that here. A- [sp]

Avelino: God Save the Streets (2023, More Music/OddChild Music): London-based rapper, first album, claims the country from the streets up. B+(**) [sp]

Baby Queen: Quarter Life Crisis (2023, Polydor): Pop singer-songwriter Arabella Latham, from South Africa, headed to London at 18 with 40 demo CDs, took her six years to get a contract and an EP, follows up here with her first proper album, then doubles down with a "Deluxe edition" (9 extra songs, a second disc adding up to 73:20). A- [sp]

David Bandrowski & the Rhumba Defense: French Onion Superman (2021 [2022], self-released): New Orleans banjo player, band includes trumpet (Mark Braud), clarinet (Tom Fischer), trombone (Charlie Halloran), bass, and drums. Covers include "Johnny Too Bad" and "Dippermouth Blues," and sure, they're liable to slip into rhumba at any time, even when it seems least appropriate. B+(**) [sp]

McKendrick Bearden: Bright as the Mines Out (2023, self-released): Singer-songwriter from somewhere South, that doesn't automatically signify country, had a group called Mothers, also a side-credit with Faye Webster, before this debut. B+(*) [sp]

Benny Benack III: Third Time's the Charm (2023, La Reserve/Bandstand Presents): Singing trumpet player, third album, mostly standards, pianist Emmet Cohen is outstanding with several big solos, guitarist Peter Bernstein appears on a few cuts. A highlight is the duet with Bria Skonberg (she's another singing trumpet player) on "In a Mellotone." B+(**) [sp]

Cigar Box Serenaders: Spasm (2022 [2023], self-released): New Orleans jazz primitives, eponymous debut in 2018, all play homemade instruments: from cigar boxes for the banjo, guitar, resonator, and violin; plus a "dresser drawer bass" and "wine box drum set," with Sarah Peterson vocals on three tracks (including a "Don't You Feel My Leg." B+(**) [sp]

Jessi Colter: Edge of Forever (2023, Appalachia): Country singer, was married to Duane Eddy (1961-68) before her more famous union with Waylon Jennings (1969 to his death in 2002). Her debut album came out in 1970, with a second in 1975, but she got much more recognition for 1976's Wanted! The Outlaws, with Willie Nelson headlining. The records spaced out after 1984. This one sees her turning 80, produced by Margo Price, and mixed by her son, Shooter Jennings. B+(**) [sp]

Dan Ex Machina: Ex's Sexts (2023, self-released): As a rock critic, Dan Weiss has such widely varied taste that I keep expecting his records so develop an eclectic (if quirky) syncretism, but here, especially, he falls back on punk, not as a formalist, but maybe just because he has a lot of anger to work out, or maybe his guitar has a mind of its own. Note that Spotify has a 10:26 title song not on Bandcamp. Lyric I noted: "I want to use my fucking power to destroy the more powerful." A- [sp]

Mick Flannery: Goodtime Charlie (2023, Oh Boy): Irish singer-songwriter, eighth album since 2005. B [sp]

Frog & Henry: England & Italy: 2020-2022 (2020-22 [2022], self-released): New Orleans trad group, "string and brass band," six albums since 2017 on their Bandcamp, the second namechecking spots in or near Europe. B+(**) [bc]

The Garden of Joy: Bouncin' Around (2022 [2023], self-released): Another New Orleans trad-jazz (I'm tempted to say folk-jazz) group, promising much in their titles, and mostly delivering. Hunter Burgamy (guitar/banjo/vocals) seems to be the main guy here, with others coming and going. B+(**) [sp]

Hannah Gill: Everybody Loves a Lover (2023, Turtle Bay): Jazz singer, 25, based in New York, first album (unless she recorded something as Hanna Gill and the Hours: Wikipedia has an entry for the group, suggesting she did, but Discogs doesn't list anything). Eleven standards from the 1920s through the 1950s, with a swing band led by Danny Jonokuchi (trumpet), with sax, trombone, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The upbeat pieces are really up. B+(***) [sp]

Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales: Shake the Rum (2023, self-released): New Orleans trombonist, shows up in a number of trad jazz outfits, draws on all around the Caribbean for this ("calypsos, biguines and waltzes"). B+(***) [bc]

Charlie & the Tropicales: Presents for Everyone! (2023, self-released): Charlie, of course, is trombonist Halloran, from New Orleans, well-positioned to catch whatever blows up from the Caribbean. I hate Christmas music, but this promised to be a bit different, with few obvious standards, and calypsos to open and close ("Party for Santa Claus" and "Postcard to Sparrow"). B+(**) [bc]

Jaimee Harris: Boomerang Town (2023, Thirty Tigers): Austin-based singer-songwriter, second album. Slow to slower, gloomy till it doesn't matter any more, which helps. B+(**) [sp]

Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr.: Congo Square Suite (2023, Truth Revolution): Alto saxophonist, born into New Orleans Indian royalty, where his father and namesake was a Big Chief, but this is the first time he's adopted the title (although he did don the regalia for the cover of his 1992 Indian Blues). Serious about the "suite" here, with his quartet giving way to a classical orchestra. Bottom line: the orchestral stuff (most of it) is, ugh, patently classical (if a bit on the grand side); the quartet, when they get a chance to play, is pretty good. B [sp]

Malcolm Holcombe: Bits & Pieces (2023, Singular): Singer-songwriter from North Carolina, plays guitar, 18th album since 1994. B+(***) [sp]

Ice Spice: Like . . ? [Deluxe] (2023, 10K Projects/Capitol, EP): Bronx rapper Isis Naija Gaston, produced a six-song, 13:08 EP under this title back in January, reissued in April with a seventh song, now reissued again, this time packed with eleven songs (including two takes of "Princess Diana"), but still only 22:07. The extra heft helps, giving time to let the clipped beats and words find their own magic. A- [sp]

Wata Igarashi: Agartha (2023, Kompakt): Japanese techo producer, fifth album since 2012. B+(**) [sp]

King Krule: Space Heavy (2023, XL/Matador): English singer-songwriter Archy Marshall, relased one album under that name, four more under this alias. B+(*) [sp]

MJ Lenderman and the Wind: Live and Loose! (2023, Anti-): Singer-songwriter from North Carolina, initials for Mark Jacob, has been slotted country but rocks pretty hard here, but so does that other band he plays in, Wednesday. B+(**) [sp]

Man on Man: Provincetown (2023, Polyvinyl): Roddy Bottum, played keyboards in Faith No More and guitar in Imperial Teen, formed this duo with boyfriend Joey Holman and released an eponymous album in 2021, back with a second album that's pretty explicit. They go for an '80s new wave sound, a bit on the heavy side. B+(***) [sp]

Rainy Miller/Space Afrika: A Grisaille Wedding (2023, Fixed Abode): British singer-songwriter, produces brooding electronica, with occasional breaks and asides. Space Afrika is a Manchester-based duo, and several pieces have featured guests. B [sp]

Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday 2 (2023, Young Money/Republic): Fifth studio album, resurrects the title of her triple-platinum 2010 debut (and her 2012 sequel, and mostly her 2014 follow up). Big-time operation, lots of writers and producers and some no-doubt-pricey samples, the basic digital edition running 22 tracks, 70:14, with four other variations (mostly bonus cuts, but also a 10-track, 32:05 "physical" -- which may solve the overkill problem, but probably doesn't). Still, much more idiosyncratic than expected, not least when she leans into those Trinidadian roots. B+(***) [sp]

The New Wonders: The New Wonders (2023, Turtle Bay): New York-based trad jazz band, led by Mike Davis (cornet/vocals), named for Bix Beiderbecke's favored cornet model, backed by Roy Alexander (clarinet/alto sax), trombone, banjo, piano, bass sax, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

NewJeans: Get Up (2023, ADOR, EP): South Korean girl group, second EP, six songs, 12:10. B+(**) [sp]

Michel Pastre/Louis Mazetier/Guillaume Nouaux: Fine Ideas (2023, Camille Productions): French retro-swing trio: tenor sax, piano, drums. Pastre started out in 1996 with Tuxedo Swing Band and Paris Swing Orchestra, led his own big band on a 2001 album called Diggin' the Count, has a 2015 Charlie Christian Project. The others have similar backgrounds -- Mazetier is probably best known for Paris Washboard. B+(***) [bc]

Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra: Take Me to the Ragtime Dance (2023, Rivermont): Eleven piece "ragtime-era orchestra" directed and conducted by Andrew Greene, couple previous albums. The instrumentals play like light classical music, with occasional circus airs, while the songs -- several celebrating America's entry into WWI -- take musical theatre back into the age of operetta. B [sp]

Maisie Peters: The Good Witch (2023, Gingerbread Man): English singer-songwriter, second album. B+(**) [sp]

Grace Potter: Mother Road (2023, Fantasy): Country-rock singer-songwriter, two early albums as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2002-04), third solo since 2015. Rocks hard, though the change-of-pace works just as well. Message: "you can't keep a good time down." A- [sp]

Priya Ragu: Santhosam (2023, Warner): Born in Switzerland, parents Tamils from Sri Lanka, stage name shortened from Ragupathylingam. First album, story reminds one of MIA, sometimes the music does, too. B+(**) [sp]

Regal86: La Onda: Groove In-Groove Out (2023, self-released): Techno producer from Monterrey (Mexico), Discogs lists three albums (not including this one, or others on his Bandcamp). Earns its reputation as "hardgroove," which while highly repetitive never wears out one's patience. B+(***) [sp]

Logan Richardson: Holy Water (2023, Wax Industry): Alto saxophonist, from Kansas City, sixth album since 2007. B [sp]

Molly Ryan: Sweepin' the Blues Away (2022, Turtle Bay): Jazz singer, mostly swing standards, fourth album since 2008 (including one featuring Dick Hyman, another with Bucky Pizzarelli), Bandcamp page also includes three Dan Levinson albums featuring her. Hard to find credits here, but turns out Levinson is her husband, playing tenor sax and clarinet here, and Rossano Sportiello is the pianist. B+(***) [sp]

Smoking Time Jazz Club: Six Blues, Five Joys & a Stomp (2023, self-released): New Orleans-based trad jazz band, ten or more albums since 2012, nine members, Sarah Peterson the main vocalist, three horns (Charlie Halloran on trombone), lots of banjo. Thirteen songs, twelve from 1926-40 singles, mixed per title. A- [sp]

Soggy Po Boys: It's Good to Laugh Again (2022, self-released): Another trad jazz group, but this one from New Hampshire. Seven pieces (two sessions with different bassists), guitarist Stu Dias the singer. B+(***) [sp]

The Streets: The Darker the Shadow the Brighter the Light (2023, 679/Warner Music UK): English rapper Mike Skinner, appeared in 2002 with a breakout album. Beats are interesting enough, words are awkwardly hit and miss; e.g., "behind every great man, a girl rolls her eyes"; "work is so much more fun than fun"; "outside of the night club I don't know what to do/ inside it's too dark to care." B+(**) [sp]

The Third Mind: The Third Mind/2 (2023, Yep Roc): Best-known member of this "supergroup" is guitarist Dave Alvin, but Jesse Sykes is the singer, and first named, followed in a banner on the cover that I perhaps should have taken as the artist list by Alvin, David Immerglück (guitar), Michael Jerome (drugs), Victor Krummenmacher (bass guitar/harmonium/melotron). B+(***) [sp]

Leon Thomas III: Electric Dusk (2023, Ezmny/Motown): Possible that the III doesn't appear on the album, but I picked it up from a review, I'm old enough to associate the name with a jazz singer (1937-99) old enough to be his grandfather (but I'm pretty sure isn't). First album for this one, but he has a Wikipedia page as an actor and music producer. B+(***) [sp]

Dlala Thukzin: Permanent Music 3 (2023, Dlala): South African dj/producer, "famous for his versatility of blending amapiano, afro tech, and gqom." Solid groove for five tracks, 33:01. B+(***) [sp]

David Toop & Lawrence English: The Shell That Speaks the Sea (2023, Room40): Toop is an English author and curator as much as a musician, his first album New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments with Max Eastley on Brian Eno's Obscure Records (1975), his most famous the compilation Ocean of Sound, a soundtrack for his book of that name. English is an Australian in the same mold. Together, they made a darkly ambient album which never quite engaged my interest. B [sp]

Tuba Skinny: Hot Town (2023, self-released): New Orleans trad jazz band, close to a dozen albums since 2009, got on my radar when Maria Mauldaur recorded Let's Get Happy Together with them (2021). Erika Lewis and Greg Sherman sing here, with Todd Burdick's sousaphone the gravity that holds them together -- also cornet, clarinet, trombone, guitar, banjo, washboard, and bass drum. B+(***) [bc]

Marta Warelis: A Piece of Earth (2021 [2022], Relative Pitch): Polish pianist, has several co-credits with free jazz players, goes solo on this one. No details on how the piano was prepared, but I'm imagining some sort of variable-pitch table saw (aka "timbral possibilities" moving "in constantly interfering waves of energy"). B+(**) [sp]

Westside Gunn: And Then You Pray for Me (2023, Griselda/Empire): Buffalo rapper Alvin Worthy, fifth studio album (plus a lot of mixtapes). Nominally a sequel to Pray for Paris (2020). Super long: 75:17. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Baikida E.J. Carroll: Orange Fish Tears (1974 [2023], Souffle Continu): Trumpet player, played in the Black Artist Group in St. Louis. First album as leader, of only five through 2001, omitting the initials after this one. Also plays flugelhorn and percussion, with Oliver Lake (alto/tenor sax, flutes, percussion), Manuel Villaroel (piano), and Nana Vasconcelos (percussion). Starts very hot, wanders when the piano drops out. B+(***) [bc]

Dick Hyman: One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and the Austin High Gang (1992 [2022], Rivermont): Not the easiest cover to parse, starting up top with "George Avakian Presents," ending "featuring Kenny Davern · Dan Levinson (clarinets)," and also lists the band members, with Hyman's name prefaced by "transcribed and directed by." Adding to the confusion, the back cover credits the first six songs to Dick Hyman and His Frank Teschemacher Celebration Band, the next seven to Kenny Davern and His Windy City Stompers, and the finale to "Dick Hyman-Kenny Hyman and Their Combined Bands." Levinson plays clarinet in Hyman's band, but Hyman plays piano in both -- the only other musician to appear in both bands is Dan Barrett (trombone), but on only two of the former's tracks. Teschemacher (1906-32) started played clarinet and alto sax with his Chicago west-side high school chums, a legendary group including Bud Freeman and Jimmy McPartland. Classic jazz, expertly done. A- [sp]

Old music:

Molly Ryan: Let's Fly Away (2014 [2015], Loup-Garous Productions): Swing-era standards singer, cobbled this together from two sessions, consecutive days but "featuring" pianist Dick Hyman only appears on half the tracks, with Mark Shane on the rest. Other personnel varies, and arrangements are split between Dan Levinson (9) and Dan Barrett (5). B+(**) [sp]

Molly Ryan: Swing for Your Supper! (2013, Loup-Garous Productions): Dan Barrett (trombone) does most of the arrangements here, 13-to-5 over Dan Levinson (clarinet/saxophones). Front cover lists Bucky Pizzarelli as "featuring," but Chris Flory plays most of the guitar (13-to-5, again). She has a fine voice for these songs, and the band -- mostly Arbors Jazz regulars -- is superb, so I'm a bit surprised that this doesn't quite take off. B+(**) [sp]

Dlala Thukzin: Permanent Music (2020, Dlala): South African dance grooves. Cover adds EP, but at 37:53 from six tracks, we'll ignore that. The grooves are compelling enough, but the occasional vocals raise the excitement. A- [sp]

Dlala Thukzin: Permanent Music 2 (2021, Dlala): Beats about the same, voices sparser and toned down a bit. Six tracks, 35:57. B+(***) [sp]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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