An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Blog Entries [10 - 19]
Monday, October 24, 2022
Music: Current count 38918  rated (+38), 43  unrated (+2: 15 new, 28 old).
I spent a lot of time working on my Book Roundup post, which got rushed out late Saturday. I suppose it wouldn't tip my hand severely if I linked to my Books: Next Draft file, which is where I've been organizing the column. The "Main" and "Secondary" sections should be empty after each post. "Draft" contains entries I've written a bit about: I may be planning to return and write more, or they simply didn't make the cut, but they may show up in a future "Main" section. Similarly, "Noted" missed the "Secondary" cut, but could be expanded into "Main" section entries later (or grouped under other "Main" section entries).
That left me Sunday to scratch together a Speaking of Which. Considering the late start and limited time, and the fact that I posted before midnight, I feel like I came up with quite a bit. I wrote half of the introduction to start, then finished it at the end. As we get closer to the election, I feel more like spelling out the obvious.
I have very little to add on the music, except that I found out about Mary McCaslin's death last week, which sent me back to pick up the ones I missed. The others are here. I played Swift and Jepsen today, in that order, while trying to write, so I wasn't hanging on every word (not that I ever am, but they got three plays each). Swift is higher on the list, and more likely to go up than down (unlike Jepsen, which tails off a bit toward the end -- maybe because I wound up listening to the longer version).
One more thing here, and it's important (at least to me): if you've voted in Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll in the past, and you would like to help out with my organization of this year's poll, send me an email to express your interest. I want to set up a mailing list, and need some people to test it out on before I send out the actual ballot invitations (around mid-November, with a mid-December deadline). I'll also explain some of the mechanics of how the poll works, and how I see using the website as a voter reference (e.g., I'd like to add a FAQ). I'd welcome comments and questions, but I'm not asking a lot: mostly just tolerate getting some test email. Also, as per recent years, if you want to nominate a voter, or nominate yourself, please let me know.
Need to get this up and out of the way early, so I can get on with cooking birthday dinner. Going with some favorite comfort foods this year, not least because I expect that will reduce wear and tear.
New records reviewed this week:
Claudia Acuña: Duo (2022, Ropeadope): Singer from Chile, based in New York since 1995, presents nine songs, featuring jazz notables like Kenny Barron, Christian McBride, Fred Hersch, Regina Carter, and Russell Malone. Remarkable singer, working in her native Spanish. I find her a bit too operatic, but one can't help being impressed. B+(*) [cd]
The Airport 77s: We Realize You Have a Choice (2022, Jem): Indie band from Maryland's DC suburbs, guitar-bass-drums with a bit of keyb, longer follow-up to their 2021 (8 songs, 25:56) debut. Chunky rhythms, some hooks, closer to rockabilly than to punk. B+(*) [sp]
Akusmi: Fleeting Future (2022, Tonal Union): French producer Pascal Bideau, first album under this alias, plays alto sax, flute, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, percussion, with a group that also includes saxophonist Ruth Velten, plus trombone and drums -- sort of a jazz band playing dance music riffs. B+(**) [sp]
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Hi-Life Jazz (2022, Agogo): Saxophonist from Ghana, bandleader since 1973, his debut album defined a genre, Simigwa, but his roots are in high-life, which he's messed with enough to be called "the godfather of hiplife." I'm not seeing credits or dates, but this seems to be new (he is 75 this year), and not better for the postmodern effects. B [sp]
Bibio: Bib10 (2022, Warp): Electronica producer Stephen Wilkinson, from England, tenth album since 2005, has a similar number of EPs. B+(*) [sp]
Burial: Streetlands (2022, Hyperdub, EP): William Bevan, electronica producer since 2005, niche ambient. He mostly releases EPs: this 3-track job runs long enough at 34:27 but the concept is so small we might as well label it accordingly. B [bc]
Tommy Crane: We're All Improvisers Now (2020-21 , Whirlwind): Montreal/New York-based drummer, has a couple albums, also plays keyboards and synth bass here, augmented by occasional guests: saxophonists Charlotte Greve, Logan Richardson, and Chris Speed get one track each, guitarist Simon Angell three, electric bassist Jordan Brooks six, French horn (Pietro Amato) two. Lives up to its billing as "tranquil yet propulsive," but not to its title. B+(*) [sp]
Criolo: Sobre Viver (2022, Oloko): Brazilian singer-songwriter Kleber Cavalcante Gomes, raps some, eighth album since 2006. B+(**) [sp]
Jens Düppe: Ego_D (2022, Enja/Yellowbird): German drummer, has a few albums since 2004, also plays piano (like a drum), possibly everything else here, including some (but not all) of the spoken word, which starts with "the beat." B+(***) [sp]
Open Mike Eagle: Component System With the Auto Reverse (2022, Auto Reverse): Chicago rapper, born with the name Michael Eagle, eighth album since 2010, reportedly a revue of his whole oeuvre, hard for me to ascertain even though I'm something of a fan. I just enjoy the ride. A- [sp]
Flohio: Out of Heart (2022, AWAL): London rapper Funmi Ohiosumah, billed as her debut album (although Discogs lists another, from 2020). B+(**) [sp]
Darryl Harper: Chamber Made (2022, Stricker Street): Clarinet player, has been around a while, although there is little on him in sources like Discogs (at least that I can find; he's cut a number of albums as The Onus). This starts with a "Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet" written by Ryan Truesdell. The album is filled out with pieces written by others (Stevie Wonder is the only one that qualifies as a cover), further exercising the "chamber jazz" idea. B+(*) [cd] [10-28]
Hickeys: Fragile Structure (2022, self-released): Spanish rock group, four women, sing in English (I think), a little darker and harder than indie pop. B+(**) [sp]
Jason Kao Hwang/J.A. Deane [Dino Duo]: Uncharted Faith (2021 , Tone Science Music/Blue Coast Music): Violin/electronics duo, started with violin solos which Deane (aka Dino) added to remotely while suffering from throat cancer, dying before release. I wasn't familiar with Deane, but Discogs credits him with a dozen albums (1986-2011). B+(**) [sp]
Dieter Ilg: Dedication (2020 , ACT): German bassist, more than two dozen albums since 1989, at least if you count group efforts, especially with Marc Copland and Charlie Mariano. Solo bass, twelve original pieces, although he cites inspirations on three: Bach, Beethoven, and Nat Adderley. Solo bass albums have inevitable limits, but this one remained engaging and interesting, even while I was working on other stuff. B+(**) [sp]
Dieter Ilg: Ravel (2021 , ACT): He has been leaning toward classical composers lately, with volumes on Bach and Beethoven. This trio -- Rainer Böhm (piano) and Patrice Héral (drums) plays eleven pieces by Maurice Ravel, a name but not music I know, but evidently able to craft fetching melodies. B+(*) [sp]
Carly Rae Jepsen: The Loneliest Time (2022, Interscope): Canadian pop singer, sixth album, light and catchy, works with a bunch of producers and gets something out of all of them. Weak spot is Rufus Wainwright's help on the title track. A- [sp]
Keith Kirchoff/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble: Christian Wolff: Exercises and Explorations (2013 , Spoonhunt): Wolff is an avant-classical composer (b. 1934 in France; his parents were German book publishers Kurt and Helen Wolff, who fled Nazi Germany and wound up in New York, where they helped found Pantheon Books). Wolff's was associated with John Cage and Merce Cunningham in the 1950s. His later work often had political references, like the piece dedicated to Marxist economist Harry Braverman. He doesn't play here, so I moved his headline name to the title and credited the work to the musicians, who play piano, bass, and drums (in the Vortex, a London jazz club). B+(***) [sp]
Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: Spirit to All (2022, Wirlwind): Polish bassist, mostly works through this Quintet -- tenor sax (Marek Pospiezalski), trumpet (Oskar Torok), piano (Joana Duda), and drums (Oba Janicki) -- which over 10+ years has earned the right to go by the initials WMQ. I rarely mention composers because everyone does that these days, but what's outstanding here isn't the individual performances (note-perfect as they are), but the flow and texture. A- [sp]
Louis Moutin/Jowee Omicil/François Moutin: M.O.M. (2022, Laborie Jazz): The French brothers play drums and bass, usually in groups like Moutin Réunion Quartet or Moutin Factory Quintet. Trio here, with Omicil -- born in Montreal of Haitian descent, studied at Berklee, divides his time between Miami and Paris -- playing sax and clarinet, most impressively. B+(***) [cd] [10-25]
Carlos Niño & Friends: Extra Presence (2019 , International Anthem): Percussionist, based in Los Angeles, also does electronics, released an album in 2020 called Actual Presence, which is expanded and remixed here from 10 to 18 tracks. Opens jazzy with Devin Daniels on alto sax, but later pieces shade into ambience. B+(*) [sp]
Christopher Parker & the Band of Guardian Angels: Soul Food (2019 , Mahakala Music): Pianist, from Little Rock, but recorded this group in Brooklyn, with Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Daniel Carter (winds), William Parker (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums), and wife Kelley Hurt (vocals). I could do without the vocals, but the band lives up to its reputation. B+(**) [sp]
John Patitucci Trio: Live in Italy (2022, Three Faces): Bassist, website lists 17 albums since 1988, skipping over a long list of side-credits, including long stints with Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. He did a previous Trio album in 2009, with Joe Lovano (tenor sax) and Brian Blade (drums). This one has Chris Potter ably taking over the saxophone spot. B+(**) [sp]
Photay With Carlos Niño: An Offering (2021 , International Anthem): Electronica producer Evan Shornstein, has several albums and EPs since 2014, self-released this collaboration with percussionist Niño in 2021, has an ambient feel with a lot of shimmer. B [sp]
Charlie Puth: Charlie (2022, Atlantic): American pop singer-songwriter, third album. Catchy enough it seems like there must be a boy band in his past, but not really a surprise there isn't. B+(**)
Kristjan Randalu/New Wind Jazz Orchestra: Sisu (2021 , Whirlwind): Pianist from Estonia, albums since 2002. The 11-piece Orchestra is directed by Wolf Kerschek, with a couple of famous guests (Ingrid Jensen, Ben Monder) added for one track each. B
The Daniel Rotem Quartet: Wise One: Celebrating the Music of John Coltrane: Live at Bluewhale (2020 , self-released): Saxophonist from Israel, based in Los Angeles, looks like his fourth album since 2018. With Billy Childs (piano), Darek Oles (bass), and Christian Euman (drums). Coltrane songs (one trad., "Song of the Underground Railroad"). B+(**) [sp]
Harvie S & Roni Ben-Hur With Sylvia Cuenca: Wondering (2022, Dot Time): Bass, guitar, and drums. The guitarist suggests a cross between Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery, the former's precision and he latter's effortless groove. The leaders have done this before with another drummer, but this one deserves more than afterthought billing. B+(***) [cd]
The Angelica Sanchez Trio: Sparkle Beings (2022, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Arizona, debut 2003, this a trio with Michael Formanek (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Jason Stein/Damon Smith/Adam Shead: Volumes & Surfaces (2021 , Balance Point Acoustics): Bass clarinet player, based in Chicago since 2005, has had a string of superb albums. Backed by bass and drums. B+(**) [sp]
Taylor Swift: Midnights (2022, Republic): Tenth album, I'm listening to the 13-track, 44:02 "Standard Edition," but two longer versions are available. Serious people are studying this like the pop event of the year (at least, post-Beyoncé, who got a similar treatment). I've heard all of her albums, and mostly liked them, but I couldn't recall a single song on Rob Sheffield's top-50 ranking (not that I would do any better with a Beyoncé list). But I can say that this seems real fine as background while I'm trying to write, and when I stop a minute to tune in, it just gets better. But I can't begin to tell you how good this really is, or how it stacks up against any of her other good albums. A- [sp]
Bilana Voutchkova/Susana Santos Silva: Bagra (2021 , Relative Pitch): Bulgarian violinist, 10+ albums since 2013, duets with the even more prolific Portuguese trumpet player. Both also credited with "objects," which include something flute-like. Free improv, often too subliminal for my ears. B [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (2010 , Enja/Yellowbird): Group founded in 1987 by Roy Nathanson (sax) and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), with Bill Ware (vibes), Sam Bardfield (violin), Brad Jones (bass), and EJ Rodriguez (drums), recording regularly through 1998, less often since (most recently 2017). Group here adds guests Marc Ribot (guitar, 1-6), and spots three vocalists: Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, and Susi Hyldgaard (but not on "Reunited," which sounds odd enough to be Nathanson and Fowlkes). Reissue adds two tracks. B+(**) [bc]
Mal Waldron: Searching in Grenoble: The 1978 Solo Piano Concert (1978 , Tompkins Square): Pianist, was long remembered as Billie Holiday's last accompanist, but did brilliant work throughout a long career (1956-2002). B+(***) [sp]
Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): Folk singer-songwriter, born in Indianapolis but raised in California, where she developed a fondness for western ballads. Second album, the first to get much notice. While I missed it at the time, I recognize half of the songs from her 1992 The Best of Mary McCaslin: Things We Said Today, and the other half could fit just as well. A- [sp]
Mary McCaslin: A Life and Time (1981, Flying Fish): Last album of her 1973-81 prime period, only to be followed by a couple of distant additions (1994, 2006). Voice is prime, songs (only three originals, plus one by husband Jim Ringer) are pretty good, too. B+(***)
Jowee Omicil: Let's Do This (2006, Jowee Juise): First album, just has "Jowee" on the cover, with a picture of the artist with soprano sax pointed to the heavens. Also also plays clarinet and alto sax, with Darren Barrett on trumpet, and a groove-oriented rhythm section. B [sp]
Jowee Omicil: Let's Bash (2017, Jazz Village): Fourth album, doubles down on the funk concept, adds some narration, and at times waxes elegant. B+(*) [sp]
Jim Ringer: Waitin' for the Hard Times to Go (1972, Folk-Legacy): Folk singer-songwriter from Arkansas (1936-92), married Mary McCaslin, released six albums 1972-81, including one duo album with McCaslin (The Bramble & the Rose). This was his first, mild-mannered and easy-going, and smart enough to sneak in a John Prine cover. B+(*) [bc]
Jim Ringer: The Band of Jesse James: Best of Jim Ringer (1973-81 , Rounder): Nothing here from Ringer's first album, but all the rest are sampled liberally, with Mary McCaslin two duets from The Bramble & the Rose sorted to the end. McCaslin wrote the liner notes, a few years after Ringer's death. B+(*) [sp]
Rocket From the Tombs: The Day the Earth Met the . . . Rocket From the Tombs (1975 , Smog Veil): Legendary Cleveland punk rock band, nothing released during their 1974-75 lifetime: singer David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner moved on to Pere Ubu (Laughner died young, leaving "Life Stinks!"), while a couple others wound up in Dead Boys (long-forgotten, but for a while they were the more famous group). These live tapes surfaced in 2002, just before Thomas organized a revival of the band. The high points are songs I know from Pere Ubu, which quickly developed into a more nuanced band. Still, this sounds pretty remarkable. A- [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 23, 2022
Speaking of Which
In this month's Q&A column, Robert Christgau was asked a dumb political question ("Were you always a pablum-puking liberal or did you have to be brainwashed?"), and took the occasion to comment on the November election:
Substitute Wichita for Queens, and note that I'm eight years younger -- which still adds up to 72 this week -- and the first two (or with minor edits three) sentences also describe me fairly well. I endorse the rest of the paragraph as well, although as always I have minor quibbles. I've been a careful observers of party politics since the 1960s, but never been an activist, or even a donor. (My wife has made the occasional contribution, and continues to pay for it with volumes of spam.) This year, we have yard signs for Laura Kelly, Chris Mann, and Lacey Cruse, but that's it.
While it's true that "never since World War II has democracy been in so much peril," the word "peril" implies that the real damage has yet to happen. The biggest threat to democracy in America is the influence of money, and that battle is so far gone Democrats hardly ever even talk about it any more. (Democrats dropped the ball when they found that Obama and the Clintons could raise even more money than the Republicans, but their riches didn't trickle down to the rank and file candidates, and came at the cost of policies that made the rich even richer while screwing everyone else.) And campaign donations, which candidates are obliged to spend most of their time pursuing, is just the tip of the money iceberg: the real advantage money has is in lobbying (the number of registered lobbyists is over 11,000, roughly 20 for each member of Congress). Then there is major media, which is divided between propaganda organs like Fox and "balanced" sources, which are also owned by the very rich. Again, the game has been so far lost that hardly anyone talks about it.
The only "threats" that do raise eyebrows are the Republican scams to gerrymander districts and suppress voting, but those, too, are mostly locked into place, and protected by a court system that has been overwhelmingly captured by Republican Party operatives. As for the courts, each week I cite articles by Ian Millhiser. The lifetime appointment of judges was one of several severe limits on democracy enshrined in the Constitution -- another is the hugely malapportioned Senate -- which have long been open to abuse, and lately targeted by Republicans. Still, Republicans are so rigid in their contempt for democracy, and relentless in their assault on it, that it's hard to keep up with them. The only real solution is to revolt in such numbers that all their tricks prove insufficient.
It's gotten to be a cliché to say that this election is the most important in our lives. A better word for it might be desperate, as what we are struggling against isn't just what Republicans might do in the next 2 years, but the cumulative weight of what they've taken away from us over the last 40+. The 6-3 Republican domination of the Supreme Court goes back to GHW Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas, who until GW Bush's nomination of Roberts and Alito was limited to an ominous and often bizarre minority of 2 (with Scalia, nominated by Reagan). Legislation that hurt unions and helped the rich goes back even further. That cumulative weight is ever harder to stop let alone reverse. And it also chews up time.
If Republicans win the House and/or the Senate this year, the immediate effect will be to derail any possibility of Democrats passing laws to protect and aid Americans. The resulting rancor will be unpleasant, and the inaction will hurt the most vulnerable -- which thanks to the Supreme Court and Republican mastery of most state legislatures now includes many more women, who are being denied access to reproductive care (one problem that a democratic majority in Congress could easily repair). But aside from its immediate effects, giving Republicans any measure of power to disrupt Congress will cost us opportunity, for a minimum of two years, to deal with problems that are festering while we do nothing. The most obvious is climate change, which would have been much easier to deal with 20-30 years ago, when the threat was clear to anyone willing to look at the evidence. But there is much more that we need to do sooner rather than later. Education, in particular, is always time sensitive.
I wish I could be more optimistic about Biden finding a path out of war, as the current path is potentially even worse than climate change. Every week I try to remind you all that the only way out of the Ukraine war is through negotiation, and that negotiation there shouldn't stop with the disputed territories but extend to a fundamental reëvaluation of how powerful countries behave beyond their own borders.
I spent all last week working on yesterday's Book Roundup, which touches on at least some of these issues. So I didn't get a start here until this morning. There is certainly a lot more I could have written about, but this will have to do for now.
AP: [10-20] Military suicides drop as leaders push new programs: No mention of exiting the war in Afghanistan. Strange no one thought of that as having any bearing, what with the "personal issues, including finances and marital stress."
David Atkins: [10-21] Republicans Cannot and Will Not Reduce Gasoline Prices: Gas prices is one of their big talking points, along with inflation more generally, and that old standby "crime." It really amazes me that Republicans think people are so gullible they'll think that Republicans can solve any of these "problems," but then there's little in their spiel that does not regard a massive suspension of disbelief. But at least it's possible to believe that most Republicans do want to see less crime (not that that's what they mean by the term, and not at the expense of their gun fetishism). Same for inflation, as long as you define the term the way they do: as escalating wages, not commodity prices. But Republicans are joined at the hip to the oil industry, and the only thing they want to see is more profits, and the only easy way to get them is through higher prices.
I don't want to get caught in the weeds of individual races, but here are some more general election pieces:
Jonathan Chait: [10-21] How Vaccine Skeptics Took Over the Republican Party: "A case study in the party's dysfunction." Always carping about something, in the early days of the pandemic, as the severity of Covid-19 was so great that hospitals were being overwhelmed, the knee-jerk response was to insist that businesses should decide for themselves what precautions (with the market in its usual role as judge and jury), but most held out hope that future vaccines would render the question moot. Then they started shifting to promoting quack treatments. And when the vaccines finally did become available, they trumpeted individual choice and allowed for "religious" exemptions. I can see a case for allowing people to decide whether or not to get vaccinated, but I've never understood why anti-vaxxers would campaign for others not to get vaccinated. Certainly self-interest argues otherwise. So what it seems to come down to is that certain people (Republicans, mostly) just like to spout off and make sure everyone hear them. And in doing so, they've tapped into the conspiratorial mindset that runs through the Republican Party, enough so to intimidate more sensible members of their cohort. Of course, to the rest of us, that just makes them look stupid, vain, arrogant, and malign -- traits they'd happily wear as a badge of honor. This is the same dynamic that has worked for the "stop the steal" campaign. Hard to say which proposition is more ridiculous, but both are thriving in the mental sewers of the Republican Party.
Conor Echols: [10-21] Diplomacy Watch: Could Lula be a force for peace in Ukraine? Probably not unless/until he gets elected, but Brazil is a big country, and someone needs to cajole both the US/Europe and Russia into negotiation. From what I gather, the general feeling in the Global South is that the Ukraine war is an internecine squabble within the Global North that has become a major headache for the rest of the world -- driving up prices of food and fuel, forcing nations to take sides, etc. -- and so perhaps Brazil and Mexico (where AMLO has made his own proposals) could combine with other more/less neutral countries (South Africa, India, perhaps China) to form an effective lobby for peace. They could, for instance, threaten to sanction all belligerents. That would raise some eyebrows.
Jonathan Guyer: [10-21] The secret history of America's tactical nukes. A lot of thought has gone into the idea that if you could scale nuclear bombs down enough, it would blur the difference between escalating to nuclear weapons, weakening inhibitions against their use. Some of those "thinkers" were Russian, but most were American.
Ellen Ioanes: [10-20] Why Liz Truss was UK prime minister for only six weeks: This makes me jealous for a political system that doesn't restrict change to fixed terms, although the UK system is still deeply flawed: allowing even a completely hapless Parliament five years before having to call new elections has created a peculiar dynamic: the dominant party (in this case the Tories) has incentives for infighting and self-destruction with no immediate risks. Meanwhile, new Prime Ministers are selected in a very limited partisan process which the overwhelming majority of UK citizens have no say in. If the US had such a system, it would be easy to imagine Trump (and maybe even GW Bush and/or Bill Clinton) getting purged mid-term, especially if their replacements weren't limited to even less popular VPs (Pence maybe, Cheney for sure). On the other hand, in the American system, embattled Presidents can fight back and actually strengthen their control (as both Trump and Clinton did after impeachment). By the way, after much speculation, Boris Johnson Drops Bid to Return as UK Prime Minister.
Jay Caspian Kang: [10-21] What would a nation of sports gamblers look like? I don't like gambling of any sort, but the more sports gambling becomes legit -- our Democratic governor's big "bipartisan" deal this year was to legalize it -- the more irritated I get. It's not so much that I worry about the integrity of professional sports (which have been ruined by money already), but that on a personal level, I've never been able to see why people would throw money away to prove that they aren't really that smart. (As compared to pure games of luck, sports betting lures in people who think themselves experts, but the odds are balanced so they still lose more often than not.) By the way, what really bothered me about the Kansas legalization wasn't that it allowed people to legally lose money that many were illegally losing before, but that the revenues are being earmarked to lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals west of State Line Blvd., in yet another massive giveaway to whichever billionaires own them now (last I knew the Chiefs belonged to HL Hunt, and the Royals to one of the Wal-Mart heirs.)
More pieces on legal issues:
Indigo Olivier: [10-20] "Cannibal Capitalism" Is Eroding Society's Basic Structures: Interview with Nancy Fraser, author of Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System Is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet -- and What We Can Do About It. The best example I can think of capitalist cannibalism is private equity; see Jason Linkins: [10-15] The Industry Devouring the American Dream.
Areeba Shah: [10-19] Legal experts mock failed Durham probe: No other prosecutor "has ever posted such a dismal record": "One legal analyst noted Durham got 'two acquittals at trial in a system where the feds win 95% of their cases." Also: Ankush Khardori: [10-18] John Durham Almost Makes Ken Starr Look Good.
Alex Shephard: [10-20] The Spectacular Failure of Right-Wing Social Media Platforms: It's really just network effects: whoever gets in first with a service that appeals to virtually everyone gets a lock on the business, and can exploit that by collecting and selling data. There are a lot of right-wing jerks in America, but not enough to build their own niche ecosystem -- especially given that the insular echo chamber they crave is already available on mainstream platforms.
Jeffrey St Clair: [10-21] Roaming Charges: Vincent, Duck! Soup!
Emily Stewart: [10-20] How airlines squeeze you for every penny. Deregulation promised cheaper tickets, and that worked for a while. But in a grossly unequal society, with limited supply and far-from-perfect information, they created a game for predatory companies.
Bob Woodward: [10-23] The Trump Tapes: 20 interviews that show why he is in unparalleled danger. "I have decided to take the unusual step of releasing [tapes of my 20 interviews with Trump]. I was struck by how Trump pounded in my ears in a way the printed page cannot capture." The interviews cover many topics, but Woodward concludes: "I believe the tapes show that Trump's greatest failure was his handling of the coronavirus." Early interviews reveal how incapable he was of comprehending the problem, and how he resisted attempt to nudge him into a responsible position. Less clear is how he got worse over time. After he recovered from his case, he intuited how to play the pandemic politically, while the nation as a whole suffered its darkest days. Even today, most Republicans are following his lead, and working to dismantle any possibility of public health officials responding to future crises.
Saturday, October 22, 2022
Last Book Roundup was on May 1, the second of a burst of two. This one should have a follow up relatively soon, although this one was so difficult to pull together that it's hard to imagine when the next one will be ready. This is not for lack of books I know about: my draft file has nearly 300 books noted (at least before adding the short note section below, but those are in theory still eligible for a longer write up). My rule of thumb is to publish a post when I get 40 books for the top section, but a smaller number might make more sense, especially given my tendency to tack on supplementary lists. We have a lot of Russia and China this time: Abelow, Brands, Gaeotti, Hoffman, Short. A special case of sublists is when I list previous books by authors (Levine, Lopez, Mead, Moyn, Scialabba; I don't count Chomsky here because I'm only listing new books by him and co-author Prashad).
Two sublists are things I haven't done before: Under Short, I give you a select list of other books on Putin, as well as a much more indiscriminate one of books I hadn't noted before. In theory, you could look them up, but that would be a pain. It would be nice to break the big file up into topical ones, and try to sort out the potentially useful titles from the rest, including some way to flag right-wing nonsense (to varying extents: Brands, Concha, Hegseth/Goodwin, Jones, Mandelbaum, Mead, as well as a number of sublist selections).
I also sorted the Leibovich sublist into two sets: one of books which (like Leibovich) offer useful reporting on Trump (especially in his last months in office), and a second one of self-serving memoirs, mostly of Trump associates. Normally, I would have lifted one of those items to the head of the list, but none seem worthy. On the other hand, a couple books that could have been developed as longer items got stuck on sublists (under Milbank, Corn is a book that I'm actually reading). I also left Shrecker under Bunch, as the two books seemed complementary. On the other hand, I did wind up breaking Haberman out of its original perch under Leibovich. And I wound up writing an entry for Hoffman's old (2011) book as an anchor for Khodorkovsky's new one. Hoffman's book is also relevant to the Short (Putin) list, but stands a bit apart.
As I've explained repeatedly, this is basically a research exercise, meant to gain a sense of the state of knowledge and understanding of the world, reflected in book form. With few exceptions, the descriptions are based on blurbs, samples, and sometimes reviews, mostly from digging through Amazon (as unpleasant as that often is). The only books below that I've read much from are: DeLong, Leibovich, Corn, and Smil. I've ordered copies of: Cooper, Levine, Milbank, Moyn. I've also read other books from: Bunch, Chemerinsky, Chomsky, Fischer, Hochschild, Hoffman, McKibben, Draper, Purdy, Gessen, Satter, Tomasky, and further down: Berry, Heinberg, Meier, and Rushkoff.
Benjamin Abelow: How the West Brought War to Ukraine: Understanding How US and NATO Policies Led to Crisis, War, and the Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe (paperback, Siland Press): A short (88 pp) summary, valid as far as it goes, but unlikely to shed much light on why the "provocations" led to such an egregious response from Putin. I would argue that although the US wanted to expand NATO to grow its arms market, and found that the easiest way to sell expansion was to fan old and new fears of Russian power, they never had the slightest desire to actually go to war with Russia, and it's strange that Putin could ever think so. On the other hand, while traditional economic ties and Russia's imperial legacy suggest why Russians like Putin think of Ukraine should be a subservient satellite, those attachments don't justify invasion and destruction, with its attendant risk to Russia's world standing. Several blurb writers, like Noam Chomsky, praise Abelow's telling of one part of the story that is widely ignored in the US, but there are other stories that need to be integrated. For more general books on Russian history, see Galeotti below. For books specifically on Putin, see Short. Here are a few more books on the Ukraine-Russia War, a few written since the 2022 invasion, a few more going back to 2014:
Walt Bogdanich/Michael Forsythe: When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World's Most Powerful Consulting Firm (2022, Doubleday): Major consulting firm, their services are available anywhere a company wants to squeeze a little extra profit from their business, or rationalize and cover up their own misdeeds. A blurb from Joseph Stiglitz reads: "Every page made my blood boil as I read about McKinsey's flawed reasoning and vast profits made from ethically dubious work for governments, polluting companies and big pharma." Somewhere in my readings, I remember a piece of advice given to would-be managers: if they really want to scare their employees, just threaten them with bringing McKinsey in.
Kevin Boyle: The Shattering: America in the 1960s (2021, WW Norton): A "lively" history of the decade, expanding the decade a few years on either side, by a historian whose previous books were on civil rights and labor. I'm not sure how well this lives up to its title, a catchphrase that denotes some catastrophe that befell America, whereas I would argue that we started to find a new unity and vision that was then squelched and perverted by the political reaction of the 1970s (Nixon) and 1980s (Reagan), leaving Democrats too traumatized to even attempt to recover. I have no idea whether this book continues to ostracize the left movements of the extended 1960s, or hopes to find a way to move forward by sifting through the rubble.
Hal Brands/Michael Beckley: Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict With China (2022, WW Norton): The authors, professors and senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute, start from a belief common among American foreign policy mandarins: "The Sino-American contest is driven by clashing geopolitical interests and a stark ideological dispute over whether authoritarianism or democracy will dominate the 21st century." That's dangerous nonsense on several levels: neither country depends on propagating its political system abroad: the US likes to talk about democracy, but is more interested in business, demanding that its "allies" open themselves to global profiteering, and pay up monopoly rents. Conflicts with the US happen when countries decline to submit to American dictates on how they do business. China is the big one, because it's the largest economy, it has the most foreign trade, and it follows a go-along-to-get-along philosophy, making it easier to deal with than the US often is. But also note that US foreign policy is largely (and increasingly, or so it seems) defined by the marketing of US arms: "allies" are countries (democratic or not) that buy US arms, "enemies" are countries that buy from someone else like Russia and China (or build their own and try to compete, like Russia and China). The "danger" comes in mostly because arms races are destabilizing, regardless of who promotes them. Also note that within this mindset, other commodities can be viewed as security issues, including chips, oil, even food. Recent (and a few forthcoming) books on China (many more in previous reports):
Will Bunch: After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics -- and How to Fix It (2022, William Morrow): Ever since WWII college has been sold as the ticket to success. Early on, we made an effort to promote opportunity by keeping the costs low, but as inequality increased, and the unions which protected blue collar workers were undermined, the powers that be realized that the penalties for not getting a higher education were such that they could charge more for access to privilege. One goal was to stifle political dissent (aka free thinking). Another was to restore the advantages of the wealthy. Of course, they couldn't fully revert to the elitism of the pre-WWII university system, but by shifting costs to students and suckering them into increasingly deep debt, they effectively closed the doors of the class system while maintaining a hint of openness. Granted, poor but truly exceptional students could still rise through the gauntlet but by then they were likely to be properly acculturated -- Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are good examples of this. Related:
Erwin Chemerinsky: Worse Than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism (2022, Yale University Press): Author has a number of books on The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (2011), as well as the more positive We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century (2018). So you can guess what he thinks of the legal theory Antonin Scalia popularized as Originalism. My own take is that it's awfully convenient to have a theory that says the law should mean whatever you think the original authors must have intended. Of course, it's bullshit, but not uncommon among conservatives, who love to claim long pedigrees for whatever their current prejudices dictate. A second problem is how Originalism fights the notion that constitutional law should be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions.
Noam Chomsky/Vijay Prashad: The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (2022, New Press). Based on conversations, although the former's knowledge and understanding of American power is encyclopedic, and seemingly on instant recall. Prashad wrote one of the broader (and deeper) histories of the modern world: The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World. Related:
Joe Concha: Come On, Man! The Truth About Joe Biden's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Presidency (2022, Broadside Books): Starts by railing about "open borders, record inflation, and skyrocketing crime." In what universe are those even things? "The withdrawal from Afghanistan left thirteen U.S. service members dead and hundreds of Americans stranded as Afghans fell from airplanes." The entry of the U.S. into Afghanistan (remember GW Bush?) left 2,426 American soldiers dead, and millions of Afghans displaced (or worse). Biden ended that, not on the best terms imaginable, but given the cards he was dealt. "Though Biden may seem like a doddering idiot, stumbling from one mistake to the next, his blunders always hew closely to progressive dreams for American policy." Like making sure all Americans have food to eat, and health care that doesn't bankrupt them? No: "Dreams like saving the planet by attacking Elon Musk and strengthening the middle class by making gas prices higher than Hunter Biden in a motel room."
Ryan Cooper: How Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Questions in Politics (2022, St Martin's Press): Good idea for a book, but I was thinking more literally: a compendium of dumb questions (like the title one), each followed by a smart answer. Rather, Part I at least is a discourse in the history of economics, with something called "neo-propertarianism" singled out for especially harsh rebuke. He seems to mean neo-liberalism, but without any noble intents or rationales, which brings it back to old-fashioned capitalism, another term he'd rather duck. I've only seen the TOC for Part II, which offers more topical chapters: labor, healthcare, "the social climate," inequality, "a new collective American freedom," and finally "How to Argue with Propertarians."
J Bradford DeLong: Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century (2022, Basic Books): An economist teaching at UC Berkeley, the author has published a modest blog as long as I can remember, generally echoing and reinforcing the liberal views of Paul Krugman, all the while working on this "magnum opus" on the biggest question of our time, which is what's changed during our time. His 20th century is a long one, from 1870 to 2010, his starting date reflecting an American (as opposed to a British) bias: the industrial revolution may date back a bit earlier in England, but it really takes off after the US Civil War. The end date seems arbitrary, but the decade since doesn't (yet) have a lot to show for itself. We've seen extraordinary technological advances in this period, for the first time generating material wealth way beyond population growth. DeLong pegs the break at 1870: before then new technology was converted into population growth, but not per capita wealth, and the endpoint following the debacle of neoliberalism in the 2008 recession. He doesn't insist that the end point is terminal, but does note that the progress of the long century has repeatedly been interrupted by backsliding into war and recession, obstacles largely triggered by reactionary politics -- something we have yet to overcome, and a mental problem that may be getting even worse.
Gary Dorrien: American Democratic Socialism: History, Politics, Religion, and Theory (2021, Yale University Press): Big book (752 pp), includes chapters on the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, also on later figures who extolled socialism without a party framework, and winds up with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but the first couple chapters start with the Christian formulation of a "social gospel" and with Jewish Universalism. Dorrien has written 18 books, six with Theology in the title, and one subtitled Political and Religious Roots of European Socialism. It's good to be reminded of this history, and that the impulse behind social justice has always acted as a counterweight to the more touted focus on individualism.
David Hackett Fischer: African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals (2022, Simon & Schuster): Notable historian, one I first encountered in his Historians' Fallacies (1970), although his main work was Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989), which meticulously traced cultural threads from England to America. Here he tries something similar, only with the much more deliberately obscured connections from Africa through people brought to America as slaves. It's remarkable that he's come up with so much material (960 pp). Also on early American history:
Francis Fukuyama: Liberalism and Its Discontents (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux). Intends a defense of "classical liberalism," which he traces back to late 17th century arguments "for the limitation of the powers of government through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction." To do that, he has to rescue his preferred doctrine from later "neoliberalism," but also from conventional "left-of-center" political interests: those who recognize that the more complex the world becomes, the more we need reasonable government regulation that limits the tendency of the rich and powerful to prey on the poor and weak. That doesn't leave him with much more than abstract principles to stand on, making it hard to convince people such hyper-individualism is in their interest.
Mark Galeotti: A Short History of Russia: How the World's Largest Country Invented Itself, From the Pagans to Putin (2022, paperback, Hanover Square Press): One thing that's become painfully obvious in the last six months is that the Americans who direct or report on foreign policy understand very little about Russia in general and Putin in particular. They also seem to be blind to America's own contribution to the rewarming of the Cold War (see my Abelow comment above; I suppose I should reiterate my standard disclaimer here: nothing the US has done with Ukraine or NATO justifies Putin's invasion, and nothing Putin has done or can do will rectify the errors the US has committed). I don't know whether Galeotti is a good or bad observer of Russia, but in 2019 he published a short book called We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong, and the chapters there cover a lot of sensible ground. This book here boils Russian history, including Putin, probably up to the eve of the invasion, down to 240 pp, which probably isn't enough but is certainly more than most Americans know. He also has a book coming out in November on Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine, which was mostly written before the invasion but at least deals with it. There are a couple other competing histories of Russia, as well as more specialized tracts:
Maggie Haberman: Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America (2022, Penguin): New York Times reporter assigned to Trump starting with his campaign, pictures a younger Trump on the cover because she goes back further to merge her reporting and observations with a background character study. As such, this appears to be one of the more definitive tomes in a ridiculously large shelf of writings on Trump. Coming so late may seem to diminish its immediate usefulness, but as one of the more comprehensive studies, its utility may grow, especially once we have the luxury of regarding Trump in hindsight. (I originally listed this with similar books under Leibovich below, but decided it merited its own note.)
Oona A Hathaway/Scott J Shapiro: The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2017; paperback, 2018, Simon & Schuster): A history of the 1928 Paris Peace Pact, which is isn't exactly recalled today as having "remade the world," and for that matter is hardly remembered at all (even as, using the name better known in the US, the Kellogg-Briand Pact). The book puts it in a much broader context, after a Part I on "Old World Order," in the first half of Part II ("Transformation") before it gets blown up by WWII, winding up with Part III ("New World Order"), where the first three chapters merit some pondering: "The End of Conquest," "War No Longer Makes Sense," and "Why Is There Still so Much Conflict?"
Peter Hegseth/David Goodwin: Battle for the Amerian Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation (2022, Broadside Books): Fox News host, reduces his co-author to a "with" credit, but Goodwin is the one with experience in what they call "classical Christian education," where they "assigned the classics, inspired love of God and country, and raised future citizens that changed the world." Much as they seek to brainwash children to follow their political prejudices, they fear their enemies are doing the same, and winning: "Today, after 16,000 hours of K-12 indoctrination, our kids come out of government schools hating America. They roll their eyes at religion and disdain our history." It's possible that public education has become more liberal, but in my day public schools were well stocked with teachers dedicated to installing conservative identities in pupils. My own radicalism was not taught to me but found on my own after I became aware of the hypocrisy and worse of the established powers. The authors might counter than even in the 1950s education was gripped by liberal ideals -- most dangerously with the notion that learning was good for its own sake -- which introduced the possibility of doubt. (They do, after all, declaim a "century of miseducation.") I was taught that America's wars were just and advanced freedom (most notably those against monarchy, slavery, and Nazism), which raised the question what the US was trying to do in Vietnam. I was taught that the founding principle of the Declaration of Independence was that "all men are created equal," yet even then it was a major struggle to secure basic civil rights for all. Despite occasional school prayers (and the rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance), I don't remember God being a major part of school, but I got plenty of that in church (which, finally, also backfired). What makes this book worrying is that it seems to be a blueprint for the right-wing political movement to impose ever more draconian and dim-witted restraints on what it is permissible to discuss in school: in effect, turning them into indoctrination camps like we were taught Communists ran. I'm concerned that these schemes will turn future generations into brainless automatons at a time when we more than ever need people skilled in critical thought, but that effect will be mitigated by rebellion. Perhaps even more so, I see this kind of schooling as a cruel punishment of children who are anxious to learn and find their way in the world, but are still awfully naive and gullible.
Adam Hochschild: American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis (2022, Mariner Books): Historian, has written several books about the emergence of conscience as dissent from imperialism, starting with King Leopold's Ghost about the depradation of the Congo, backtracking to the anti-slavery movement (Bury the Chains), then forward to dissent against World War I (To End All Wars). This moves to America and picks up toward the end of the "war to make the world safe for democracy," with its "lynchings, censorship, and the sadistic, sometimes fatal abuse of conscientious objectors in military prisons," through the first great Red Scare, the collapse of the American left, and the closing of immigration.
David E Hoffman: The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia (2002; paperback, 2011, Public Affairs): This book is rather dated now, but written two years after Putin's rise to power, it provides a portrait of the oligarchy he was given by Yeltsin's corrupt mismanagement of the transition from state control to "shock treatment" markets. The scheme adopted for distributing assets let those most able to raise quick crash -- often the same crooks who ran Russia's black markets -- to grab immense fortunes dirt cheap. Part one profiles six: Alexander Smolensky, Yuri Luzhkov, Anatoly Chubais, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky. After the many disasters that befell Russia in the 1990s, Putin had his hands full. His first move was to rally the military to take back Chechnya (which had effectively broken away in what's now called the First Chechen War). That gave him some popular support, but to consolidate power he needed to bring the oligarchs under control, which started with the prosecution of Khodorkovsky. I was reminded of this when I came across the following book. We should beware that some of Putin's loudest critics are oligarchs who fell out of favor (cf. Bill Browder). Of course, there are other oligarchs who saved their empires by remaining loyal to Putin.
Alex Jones: The Great Reset: And the War for the World (2022, Skyhorse): TV crackpot, in the news recently for losing a libel case filed by the families of victims in a school shooting he claimed was fake news. Joe Rogan says "he's the most misunderstood guy on the planet." Roger Stone says he's "the most maligned patriot in the country." Tucker Carlson says "maybe Alex Jones is onto something." The best Donald Trump can come up with is Jones's "reputation is amazing."
Mark Leibovich: Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washigton and the Price of Submission (2022, Penguin Press): Journalist, has written profiles of the rich and famous in technology and football, as well as in Washington, which he depicted as a den of thieves in his book This Town (2013: "There are no Democrats and Republicans anymore in the nation's capital, just millionaires"). The rich have often demanded subservience, but few more so than Donald Trump. Leibovich chronicles the flattery and groveling of Republicans desperate to curry favor with Trump. I recall an early cabinet meeting where they went around the table, where everyone had to praise and thank Trump -- none more so than "chief of staff" Reince Priebus, who ultimately offered a blurb for this book: "It's a hundred times worse than you've been hearing." More recent (and some forthcoming) books on Trump:
We also have more memoirs from the Trump administration and fellow travelers. None of these appears to merit its own section head:
Bruce E Levine: Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person's Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian -- Strategies, Tools, and Models (paperback, 2018, AK Press): "The capacity to comply with abusive authority is humanity's fatal flaw." Although this talks of tools and models for resistance, the intro focuses on why anti-authoritarians should be valued in the first place. As it is, much social effort has been directed at breaking such people, sometimes going to the point of declaring them mentally ill. Much of this resonates with my own life, where anti-authoritarianism was an unknown but defining trait of my teenage years. Strange to see someone writing about it now, but then authoritarians have never left us, and in some respects are making a comeback. Levine also wrote:
Barry Lopez: Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World: Essays (2022, Random House). Nature writer (1945-2020), bibliography is about half fiction, though titles there tend to read like Desert Notes: Reflections in the Eye of a Raven, Crow and Weasel, and Lessons From the Wolverine. One title here is "Our Frail Planet in Cold, Clear View." Introduction by Rebecca Solnit. Selected nonfiction:
William MacAskill: What We Owe Each Other (2022, Basic Books): Oxford philosophy professor, cofounded the Centre for Effective Altruism ("which has raised over $1 billion for charities"), based on his working concept about how we should be living our lives. He's gotten a lot of press in the last couple months, which makes one naturally skeptical, although I am at least impressed that one of his rave reviews comes from Rutger Bregman, whose Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World is itself a powerful argument that we can make the world much better through practical steps. Still seem a stretch that, as one Amazon reviewer put it, "people might look back in millions of years and say this was the most important book ever written." Related:
Michael Mandelbaum: The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: Weak Power, Great Power, Superpower, Hyperpower (2022, Oxford University Press): Implies the hits just keep on coming, but his time divisions -- Weak 1765-1865, Great 1865-1945, Super 1945-1990, and Hyper 1990-2015 -- suggest he's not so sure about the Trump effect (probably too early for him to weigh in on Biden), and that's the least of his problems. During the so-called "weak" period, Americans successfully fought two wars of independence against Britain -- that was Madison's view of the War of 1812, and while the war results were mixed, it finally ended Britain's attempts to control American shipping -- and an expansionist war against Mexico, as well as minor scraps with Barbary pirates and the opening of the China trade, and it ended with a Civil War where the Union became the technically most advanced fighting force in the world. American power was always base on economic power, which exceeded Britain's by the end of the 19th century. With WWII the US economy reached 50% of worldwide GDP, and in its fight against Germany and Japan, the US built a network of bases that straddled the globe, less concerned with empire -- which the war had proven was no longer a viable principle for ordering the world -- than with protecting a vast expansion of corporate business interests. Still, it's sheer hubris to call American power in that period "super," and even more so "hyper." US economic power started to slip after its WWII apogee. By 1990, Europe had achieved parity with the US, and Japan was richer per capita, and China was starting its rapid rise. The Soviet Union collapsed less because the US outbid it in the arms race than because Eastern Europe wanted to join in the bounty of Western Europe. Since then, the US has not only become an ever-smaller slice of the world economy, its enormous arms advantages have proven to be useless and often counterproductive, although that doesn't seem to have sunk into the blinkered brains of the people who work the "hyperpower" grift. The Table of Contents doesn't seem too bad here, so this is probably a decent recounting of the history, but looking over his past book list, he strikes me as a hack or an idiot, and possibly both. QED: in 2011, he was co-author of That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, with Thomas Friedman (who is definitely both).
Bill McKibben: The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened (2022, Henry Holt): Seems like he's been writing the same book over and over since his critical book on climate change, The End of Nature (1989). I guess it was the one that convinced me some years later when I read it on a midsummer trip to Florida, although I never stopped hating the much-too-sharp "end of nature" dividing line, and always suspected him of being a sanctimonious scold. The twist here is that it's structured as a memoir, so we should get a glimpse of his class and educational background (Harvard), but at 240 pp I wouldn't expect much detail on the devolution of the American Dream. As for "graying," he's ten years younger than me, so he missed out on the 1950s, the decade when we really enjoyed burning cheap gasoline.
Walter Russell Mead: The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People (2022, Knopf): Big (672 pp) tract on the "special relationship" between Israel and the United States, and its supposed benefits for the Jewish people, with pretensions of "demolish[ing] the myths that both pro-Zionists and anti-Zionists have fostered over the years" -- always in favor of the prevailing security doctrines. Blurbs are all from reliable supporters of Israel, most firmly ensconced on the right. As Dan Senor puts it a bit too revealingly, "Walter shows that US support for Israel is ingrained in American political culture and critical to America's strategy for world order." I can imagine architects of American world order not binding themselves so helplessly to Israel, but none since James Baker (or maybe Dwight Eisenhower) have so much as entertained the thought. This book is intended to make it even harder to break the common bonds of colonialism and occupation. Mead has also written:
Dana Milbank: The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party (2022, Doubleday): Washington Post columnist, but (hopefully) not just recycling his recent columns, as the promise here is to offer some historical context, showing that today's Republicans are linear descendents of at least several decades of past Republicans, with Newt Gingrich a key transitional figure on the way to today's gallery of crazy. (I would have started with Nixon and Reagan, although I can see arguments for older and less successful figures, like Goldwater and McCarthy.) The mainstream press seems to be the last haven of reporters desperately trying to find rare voices of reason among Republicans. On the other hand, consider how similar is the title of Thomas Frank's 2008 book: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation. Related:
Samuel Moyn: Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Author has a background of writing about human rights, which gives this book a peculiar frame of mind, asking whether war can be made humane (I'd say certainly not) as opposed to a different question, whether a war can have an effect which is on balance humanitarian (I'm doubtful but it's harder to be certain, because it's conditioned on an unknowable future). Americans have argue in favor of both, and especially since the end of the Cold War those arguments have come to dominate debate over whether to go to war: at least public debate, where advocates of war like to dress their motives (most often revenge or intimidation) with higher-minded arguments. Also by Moyn:
David Pepper: Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines (paperback, 2021, St Helena Press): Lawyer, has written several novels (political thrillers), examines how Republicans have taken over statehouses and used them as political forums for suppressing votes, gerrymandering, pushing their culture war agendas, and tripping over each other in competition to shower business interests with special favors. I would expect something on ALEC here: the Republican organization that crafts model laws for state legislature, leading to the systematic sweep of bad ideas across every state Republicans have seized power in. (A prime example of their work is the "stand your ground" laws promoting gun violence.)
Jedediah Purdy: Two Cheers for Politics: Why Democracy Is Flawed, Frightening -- and Our Best Hope (2022, Basic Books): Serious thinker, was touted as a homeschooled genius from West Virginia in 1999 when his first book appeared (For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today -- as I recall, he was anti-irony), but even then had graduated from Harvard and would go on to Yale Law School, a post as an Appeals Court clerk, a fellow at the New America Foundation, then on to teaching law at Duke. Six books later, he sensibly writes: "Politics is not optional, even though we may wish it were." The basic reason is that if you don't stop them, people who seek to take over and use government for their own private interests will enjoy a free run to loot and pillage. On the other hand, people rarely perceive public interests clearly, due to flaws in the system and in the people who campaign in it. Seems likely to me that the 23 years since he first wrote have pushed him to the left, even if he remains a stick-in-the-mud.
George Scialabba: How to Be Depressed (2020, University of Pennsylvania Press). Author made his reputation as a social critic with freelance book reviews, eventually collected in several volumes. This is sort of a memoir: a collection he's kept of notes from various psychiatrists who have attempted to treat his depression over the years (he was 72 when this came out), which as Barbara Ehrenreich points out, winds up being "a devastating critique of psychiatry." His other books:
Matthias Schmelzer/Andrea Vetter/Aaron Vansintjan: The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism (2022, Verso). Argues that "economic growth isn't working, and it cannot be made to work." Needs to be more specific. It's a common liberal convenience to see growth as the solution that benefits all, therefore saving us from having to tackle inequality. Of course, in a resource-limited world, growth cannot be infinite, which makes the inequality problem all the more pressing. As growth is so tightly bound up with capitalism, many sketches of a more equitable degrowth society go by "postcapitalism," a word this title points at.
Peter Shinkle: Uniting America: How FDR and Henry Stimson Brought Democrats and Republicans Together to Win World War II (2022, St Martin's Press): I generally accept the argument that Franklin Roosevelt thought American involvement in WWII was inevitable, and that he rather relished the leading the nation in that fight. That's likely why he chose to run for an unprecedented third term. True, he ran as an anti-war candidate in 1940, but so had Wilson in 1916. While Wilson quickly changed course in 1917, leaving a lot of ill-feeling even after winning the war, Roosevelt was patient, waiting for right moment, which was served up by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, followed immediately by declarations of war by Japan and Germany. Anti-war sentiment on both the right and left evaporated almost immediately. This book suggests another reason for such unity in entering the war: in 1940, Roosevelt laid the groundwork by inviting prominent Republicans to take over the War Department (Henry Stimson, Secretary of State under Hoover) and the Navy (Frank Knox, 1936 VP nominee). A chart early in the book shows that many more Republicans were given strategic positions even before Pearl Harbor. The bipartisan alliance survived the war, and even in the hyper-polarized present both parties can be counted on to line up behind wars like Afghanistan and Ukraine. (Iraq had a few dissenting Democrats, but every one of the 2004 presidential hopefuls rallied to the cause. The only 2008 exception was Obama, who closed ranks with the hawks after becoming president, and who kept one Republican Secretary of Defense, then later replaced him with another.) I have serious reservations against calling WWII "the good war" -- it was horrible any way you slice it, ultimately turning the US as genocidal as its opponents, leaving the "losers" destroyed and the "winners" insufferably conceited and soulless -- but FDR made it look so easy few appreciate what a remarkable job he did in running it. No later US president has come remotely close.
Philip Short: Putin (2022, Henry Holt): Weighing in at 864 pp, this is billed as "the first comprehensive, fully up-to-date biography of Vladimir Putin," but its July release means it's missing an all-important chapter on the decision to invade Ukraine in March and the still on-going war, with Putin challenged as never before by international sanctions, internal dissent, and military frustration. Author has previously published biographies of François Mitterand, Pol Pot, and Mao, as well as a book from 1982 called The Dragon and the Bear: Inside China & Russia Today. I've cited numerous books on Putin the past, most notably:
Some recent ones I had missed:
Daniel Sjursen: A True History of the United States: Indigenous Genocide, Racialized Slavery, Hyper-Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism (paperback, 2021, Steerforth Press/Truth to Power): Author spent 18 years in US Army, taught history at West Point, retired a Major (long using that rank as part of his byline). I don't much like it when an author claims their book to be a true story, but in Sjursen's world of antiwar conservatism everything must be cut-and-dry. In any case, he has a lot of myth and rationalization to cut through, and does so in a sensible 688 pp. Seems like I've read a bunch of this online, and while truth may be elusive, he's rarely wrong.
Vaclav Smil: How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We're Going (2022, Viking): Bill Gates' favorite author, a Czech-born Canadian scientist with several dozen books, mostly relating to energy policy. The title tempted me to pick this up -- after all, good policy must be rooted in "how the world really works" -- but learned little I didn't already know, and found his imagination overly constrained by fossil fuels. (Perhaps this should have been expected, given that one of his titles from as recent as 2015 is Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century.) He has lots of books, but I'll only note a couple recent ones:
Michael Tomasky: The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity (2022, Doubleday): Political writer, edits Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, has a couple books, including one in 1996 announcing that the left is dead (Left for Dead), and one in 2019 that tried to salvage the center (If We Can Keep It), seems to have rediscovered the progressive sympathies he always claimed to have -- probably because the title has been presented as an ovearching concept for Biden's Build Back Better agenda. He has some suggestions, like critiquing economics that put self-interest over public needs, and recognizing that such traditional American ideals as freedom and democracy need to be grounded in a sense of shared equality, which has been all but killed by the neoliberal consensus.
Gaia Vince: Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World (2022, Flatiron Books): For the last 30-40 years, we have been divided into two camps: one recognized that people were changing the atmosphere in ways that would affect global climate, with far-ranging risks but couched in assurances that we could save ourselves through more/less easy reforms; the other denied that climate change this was happening, or denied that it would make much real difference, or trusted in God and/or capitalism to swiftly correct any problems that did occur. Perhaps we need a third approach, which admits we've failed to prevent climate change but takes seriously how to deal with the myriad problems it causes. One such problem is that as climate changes, some parts of the world will become uninhabitable, and others will become unsuitable for current uses. This will push many people to leave their current homes, and seek new abodes, and often new occupations. That's what this book is about: noting, for instance, that in 2018 1.2 million people in the US were displaced by extreme conditions, up to 1.7 million in 2020, as the US "averages a billion dollar disaster every eighteen days." Other parts of the world are in even more peril. ("In India alone, close to a billion people will be at risk.") There are other reasons why people move away from their homes, and that's been happening for some while, but it would be surprising if it didn't accelerate in coming years. How well we handle this change will say much about us as people, and about our future.
Brian T Watson: Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We'll Face (paperback, 2019, Anvilside Press): I could imagine writing a book like this, which starts with a long laundry list of systemic problems (Capitalism, Technology, Webworld, Politics, Media, Education, Human Nature, The Environment, Human Population, Transportation, Miscellaneous Forces) then winds up showing how any (let alone all) of them are unlikely to be solved (that chapter is called "Possible Reforms and Their Likelihood"). I'd shuffle the deck a bit -- in the 1990s, when I started thinking along these lines, I started with resources and environment, but back then I at least had some faith in reason to see a way through technical obstacles, but that idea has taken a beating ever since. So I see no more reason to be optimistic than the author, not that I would deny that the very act of looking into the abyss implies a certain unreasoned hope. Missing here is recognition of the unknown: e.g., no mention of pandemic a mere year before Covid-19 hit. While climate was most likely mentioned under Environment or Population, it's at least as much a headline as "Webworld." Another big topic is war: both as a cause of destruction and as a likely consequence, in both its conventional and annihilationist modes. Bibliography is just a list of mostly familiar books relevant to each chapter.
Additional books, with very brief (or in most cases no) comments. There is no count limit here per post (although I kept a lot of books back for lack of time to consider them; current count = 232). It's possible I will write a further entry on these at a later date.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (2020; paperback, 2021, WW Norton): Previous subtitle: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. List of "protagonists" runs from Idi Amin to Donald J Trump.
Wendell Berry: The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice (paperback, 2022, Shoemaker).
Alan S Blinder: A Monetary and Fiscal History of the United States, 1961-2021 (2022, Princeton University Press).
Cori Bush: The Forerunner: A story of Pain and Perseverance in America (2022, Knopf): US Representative (D-MO).
Jelani Cobb/David Remnick, eds: The Matter of Black Lives: Writing From the New Yorker (2021, Ecco): 848 pp.
Ted Cruz: Justice Corrupted: How the Left Weaponized Our Legal System (2022, Regnery): The only "weaponizing" going on is on the right. If Cruz were more perceptive, he'd be a happy man.
Mike Davis: Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class (1986; 1999; 2018, paperback, 2018): His first book, reprinted with similar covers along with: City of Quartz (1990), Ecology of Fear (1998), Late Victorian Holocausts (2001), Planet of Slums (2006), Buda's Wagon (2007), and The Monster Enters: Covid-19, the Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism (2020, a revision of his 2005 book The Monster at Our Door).
Ludo De Witte: The Assassination of Lumumba (2001; paperback, 2022, Verso).
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion (2021, Beacon Press).
Russ Feingold/Peter Prindiville: The Constitution in Jeopardy: An Unprecedented Effort to Rewrite Our Fundamental Law and What We Can Do About It (2022, Public Affairs): Former US Senator (D-WI).
Phil Gramm/Robert Ekelund/John Early: The Myth of American Inequality: How Government Biases Policy Debate (2022, Rowman & Littlefield): Former US Senator [R-TX], a prime architect not just of increasing inequality but specifically of the 2008 financial meltdown.
Max Hastings: The Abyss: Nuclear Crisis Cuba 1962 (2022, Harper): "Author of twenty-eight books, most about conflict."
Richard Heinberg: Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival (paperback, 2021, New Society).
Will Hurd: American Reboot: An Idealist's Guide to Getting Big Things Done (2022, Simon & Schuster): Former US Congressman (R-TX) and CIA officer.
Andrew Kirtzman: Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America's Mayor (2022, Simon & Schuster).
Henry Kissinger: Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy (2022, Penguin). Sections on: Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Le Kuan Yew, and Margaret Thatcher.
Arthur B Laffer/Brian Domitrovic/Jeanne Cairns: Taxes Have Consequences: An Income Tax History of the United States (2022, Post Hill Press): Supply-side guru, argues that economies boom when cutting marginal taxes, lag when taxes goes up. Almost always wrong.
Andrew Meier: Morgenthau: Power, Privilege, and the Rise of an American Dynasty (2022, Random House): 1072 pp.
Scott Nations: A History of the United States in Five Crashes: Stock Market Meltdowns That Defined a Nation (2017; paperback, 2018, William Morrow): 1907, 1929, 1987, 2008, 2010 (the "flash crash").
Benjamin Netanyahu: Bibi: My Story (2022, Threshold Editions): Former Prime Minister of Israel. Note far-right publisher.
Michael Ratner: Moving the Bar: My Life as a Radical Lawyer (paperback, 2021, OR Books). Worked for Center for Constitutional Rights and National Lawyers Guild. Died 2016.
Douglas Rushkoff: Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires (2022, WW Norton): The most obvious are Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, with their rocket ship companies promising literal escape from Earth, but the mentality in the tech world is more widespread.
William Shatner/Joshua Brandon: Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder (2022, Atria Books).
Sheldon Whitehouse/Jennifer Mueller: The Scheme: How the Right Wing Used Dark Money to Capture the Supreme Court (2022, The New Press).
Richard D Wolff: The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself (paperback, 2020, Democracy at Work).
Julian E Zelizer, ed: The Presidency of Donald J Trump: A First Historical Assessment (paperback, 2022, Princeton University Press): Historian, similar books on Bush and Obama.
Monday, October 17, 2022
Music: Current count 38880  rated (+33), 41  unrated (+3: 13 new, 28 old).
Spent a fair chunk of time last week working on my construction project (something I should have been able to do in 2 days, finished, but given my decrepit and disorganized state took 7 days, scattered over 12, with no finish. The notebook has a gruesome blow-by-blow recounting, but no pictures.) Still need to clean up the space, and start using it. No interest or constructive suggestions on my Facebook post about magazines and jigsaw puzzles, so the magazines at least will be put in next week's recycle bin. I do much appreciate Clifford Ocheltree's note of sympathy.
I also reposted some AI-transformed photographs of my sister done by her son, Ram Lama Hull. You can also check out his artwork (beware that when I typed his name into Google, I was offered a chance to change my "parental controls") on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook. It looks like his website has lapsed, so we need to work on that.
By the way, although most of my Facebook posts are public, my only reason for having an account there is to follow family and old personal friends. I almost never publicize my writing there, so I tend to ignore friend requests of people I don't know personally (although I've let a few "virtual friends" through based on personal email interactions). I gather it's possible to follow someone on Facebook without getting approval as "friends," so that would seem to be an option if you have some peculiar interest in what I do there.
I always announce new writing on Twitter, and occasionally make other posts there, so suggest you follow me there. I appreciate your interest there. Latest writing, by the way, was yesterday's Speaking of Which. Didn't start it until Sunday noon, and still came up with a decent-sized post.
I heard from Chris Monsen a few days ago that Frode Gjerstad is taking down his Bandcamp account, so made a mad rush to listen to a few things I had missed. All good records, many live sets posted in 2019, but none I spent enough time with to get to really like, and many more I didn't get to at all. No links, as indeed they are gone now.
Robert Christgau published his October Consumer Guide last week. Nothing there I hadn't already heard, although I had two full-A albums at much lower grades (Amanda Shires: **; Harry Styles: B). I also left the A- Beths at ***, the same grade I went with for Christgau's B+ Ezra Furman and Rhett Miller. (For whatever it's worth, I also had the A- Styles at B, and the ** Styles at C+.) But I had A- grades for A-listed Gogol Bordello, Sudan Archives, and Loudon Wainwright III (and also for *** Charli XCX), and various shades of B+ for everything else (though never exactly the same).
After that, I was scrounging, which always slows me down and bums me out. I'm thinking now that I'll stop the tracking files after this year, and settle into a life of playing old stuff (of which I still have thousands of CDs). Still, it's hard to go cold turkey. One thing that will keep me going this year is that I'll be running this year's edition of the Jazz Critics Poll that Francis Davis started up at the Village Voice back in 2006. I should be able to send ballot requests out mid-November, with a probable deadline of December 11. If anyone has thoughts on this project, please contact me directly by email. I doubt there will be many changes from last year. The tools for tabulating the ballots work very well, but there is a lot of work getting people to vote and writing things up.
I expect next week will be another slack one, as I need to spend more time on housekeeping issues, including some cooking. I also need to figure out my way around a new Chromebook. If it works out, I won't be so tied down to my desk.
Odds are finally better than 50-50 that I will manage a Book Roundup this week. I have enough material, but just need to sort and prioritize it.
New records reviewed this week:
The 1975: Being Funny in a Foreign Language (2022, Dirty Hit): English alt/indie band, fifth album since 2013, got a critical rep early which I never quite heard, but this has a sunny appeal that only comes when you craft something catchy. B+(***) [sp]
Ahanes: Petrichor (2021 , Clean Feed): Three Greek jazz musicians -- Nicky Kokkoli (sax), Giannis Arapis (guitar), and Alex Zethson (keyboard) -- ventured to Stockholm for a winter festival, picked up three locals for this sextet: Mats Åleklint (trombone), Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass), and Nils Agnas (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Alvvays: Blue Rev (2022, Polyvinyl): Canadian indie pop group, Molly Rankin sings and plays guitar, third album, nice, upbeat appeal. B+(**) [sp]
Anat Cohen: Quartetinho (2021 , Anzic): Israeli clarinet player, based in New York, has long been drawn to Brazilian music, delivered mostly by Vitor Gonçalves (piano, accordion, Fender Rhodes) here, the quartet fleshed out by Tal Mashiach (bass, guitar) and James Shipp (vibraphone, percussion, glockenspiel, analog synth). B+(**) [sp]
Whit Dickey Quartet: Root Perspectives (2022, Tao Forms): Drummer, worked with pianist Matthew Shipp from the early 1990s, both in and out of the David S. Ware Quartet. Produces yet another variation of that here, with Tony Malaby on tenor sax and Brandon Lopez on bass. Kicks off loud, and rarely lets up, but Malaby doesn't sound quite right: like he's straining to channel Ware. B+(**) [cd] [10-21]
Charlotte Dos Santos: Morfo (2022, Because Music): Pop singer, born in Oslo, father Brazilian, mother Norwegian, studied as a jazz singer at Berklee, based in Berlin, first album after a 2017 EP. B+(***) [sp]
Eliane Elias: Quietude (2022, Candid): Brazilian pianist-singer, back in São Paulo immersed in dreamy samba. B+(**) [sp]
Brian Eno: Forever and Ever No More (2022, Verve): Cover squeezes all the spaces out from the all-caps title -- a conceit I decided not to humor after finding that my first attempt at typing the title came out wrong. One of his few albums lately to offer lyrics, but the music is drearily ambient, probably to fit the gloom of the words, but vice versa is also possible. B+(*) [sp]
Amina Figarova: Joy (2022, AmFi): Pianist, born in Baku (now Azerbaijan), trained in classical music, moved to Rotterdam in 1988, then studied at Berklee and switched to jazz. Dozen-plus albums since 1993. Husband Bart Platteau plays flute, in a band that includes trumpet (Alez Pope Morris) and saxophone (Wayne Escoffery), with a vocal guest spot. B+(*) [cd]
Paolo Fresu/Dino Rubino/Daniele Di Bonaventura/Marco Bardoscia: Ferlinghetti (2022, Tuk Music): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, originally from Sardinia, many albums since 1985, this is soundtrack music for a documentary about famed beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. With piano, bandoneon, and bass. B+(***) [sp]
Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: N.K-Pop (2022, EMI): Formerly of the Beautiful South, he the main writer/singer (first noticed in the Housemartins), but she added another dimension, and still helps. It's been some time since they were as good as they used to be, but stick around long enough and they'll pay off. B+(***) [sp]
Loraine James: Building Something Beautiful for Me (2022, Phantom Limb): British electronica producer, aka Whatever the Weather, fashioned this as an homage to the music of Julius Eastman, who's receiving renewed interest well after his short and troubled life (1940-90). There's a compositional sophistication here that rarely shows up in electronica, but also a layer of electronic glitz that the chamber groups that have been reviving Eastman lately haven't imagined. Makes me wonder what she might do with Harry Partch. A- [sp]
Ted Kooshian: Hubub! (2022, Summit): Pianist, sometimes plays electric, leads a quintet with trumpet (John Bailey), tenor sax (Jeff Lederer), bass, and drums, with occasional guests, including a vocal (Jim Mola). Originals (aside from "Somewhere"), bright and sunny. B+(**) [cd]
Tove Lo: Dirt Femme (2022, Pretty Swede): Swedish pop singer, original name Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, fifth album since 2014. Has a reputation for dark and dirty, but this is pretty snappy. "Love can forget a lot/ it's why we go on at all." A- [sp]
M.I.A.: Mata (2022, Island): London-born Mathangi Arulpragasam, parents from Sri Lanka, burst on the scene with a Diplo-produced mixtape in 2004, then major albums in 2005-07. Sixth album, all short titles, album a trim 33:02. Not sure about the words or meanings, but the beats are clearly something I've been craving lately. A-
Margaux Oswald: Dysphotic Zone (2021 , Clean Feed): Pianist, born in Geneva, based in Copenhagen, first solo album after a couple co-credits, short (2 pieces, 32:50). Leans heavy into the instrument. B+(*) [sp]
Kerry Politzer: In a Heartbeat (2022, P.Ice): Pianist, teaches in Portland, half-dozen albums since 2000, original compositions here, quintet with trumpet (Thomas Barber), sax/flute (Joe Mains, bass, and drums (husband George Colligan, a major pianist in his own right). B+(**) [cd] [10-21]
Marek Pospieszalski Quartet: Dürer's Mother (2019 , Clean Feed): Polish tenor saxophonist, has several albums and side projects, quartet here with piano (Elias Stemseder), bass, and drums. Original pieces inspired by "composers, from Schubert to Britten to Lachenmann." B+(***) [sp]
Susan Reed: Thousands of Ways (2021 , OA2): Violinist, also sings (3 songs here?), has a couple books and several albums (some oriented to children), is grooming her daughters for a string band. All originals, backed by guitar, bass (David Friesen), and drums. B+(***) [cd] [10-21]
Eve Risser/Red Desert Orchestra: Eurythmia (2021 , Clean Feed): French pianist, albums since 2008, one from 2016 leading a White Desert Orchestra. Afro-European fusion, group includes five horn players, electric guitar and bass, plus a Mali component with balafon and djembe. B+(***) [sp]
Oliver Sim: Hideous Bastard (2022, Young/XL): Bassist-vocalist from the XX, first solo album. B+(*) [sp]
Günter Baby Sommer & Raymond MacDonald: Sounds, Songs & Other Noises (2016-19 , Clean Feed): Drums and sax (alto/soprano) duo, the latter from Glasgow. Seems like I should be more familiar with him, but most of his albums are improv duos, including a previous one with Sommer. B+(**) [sp]
Sun Ra Arkestra Directed by Marshall Allen: Living Sky (2022, Omni Sound): Sun Ra died in 1993, so you could count this as a ghost band, but his long-time alto saxophonist is no ghost, still carrying the flame at age 98. The big band is bigger than ever (20 pieces, including a string quartet). Mostly extended vamp pieces, background music that swings gently and/or roils, highlighted by a scratchy alto sax -- presumably Allen, just enough to rough up the edges. A- [sp]
Bernardo Tinoco & Tom Maciel: NoMad Nenúfar (2022, Clean Feed): Saxophonist (alto/tenor), also credited with duduk and flute, has a previous album leading the group Garfo. Duo with Maciel playing piano, synths, and drum machine, although they add a live drummer (João Pereira) for three (of 5) tracks. B+(*) [sp]
Steve Turre: Generations (2022, Smoke Sessions): Trombonist, also plays shells, leads a quintet with a trumpet player named Wallace Roney Jr. -- son of the famed trumpet player who died at 59 in 2020, and also of the late pianist Geri Allen (who passed in 2017) -- and a drummer named Orion Turre (the leader's son, also via cellist Akua Dixon). Also a long list of "special guests." B+(**) [sp]
Bobby Watson: Back Home in Kansas City (2022, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, grew up in Kansas City, joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, recorded several masterpieces in the 1990s (mostly on the Italian RED label), returned as Director of Jazz Studies at UMKC in 2000, retiring 20 years later. Leads a quintet here not far removed from Blakey's, with Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), and Victor Jones (drums), with a guest spot for singer Carmen Lundy. B+(*) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Sun Ra Arkestra/Salah Ragab/The Cairo Jazz Band: The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt (1983 , Strut): "First ever official reissue," unfortunately the Bandcamp page doesn't do much to clarify who's playing what when. The earlier Praxis (1983) release does attribute the first album side to Sun Ra, with drummer Ragab's quintet playing the middle track on the B-side, sandwiched between two longer Cairo Jazz Band tracks (also led by Ragab). Impressive as the Arkestra is, the Egyptians more than hold up their end. B+(***) [sp]
Detail [Johnny Dyani/Frode Gjerstad/John Stevens]: Backwards and Forwards: First Detail (1982 , Impetus): Avant-jazz trio (bass, alto sax, drums), first record together (and Gjerstad's first ever), group continued at least to Last Detail in 1996 (with Kent Carter after Dyani died in 1986). Also note that while the cover bills this as "First Detail," the 2015 Rune Grammofon album First Detail was recorded nine days earlier, and "First Detail" returned as a song on their Last Detail album. B+(**) [bc]
Detail [Frode Gjerstad/Johnny Dyani/John Stevens] + Paul Rutherford/Barry Guy: A Concert: Detail + (1983 , Circulasione Totale): Cover lists last names, and not in the order given above, which inserts Rutherford/Guy after Gjerstad (who, by the way, plays soprano and tenor sax instead of his usual alto). B+(***) [bc]
Detail/Bobby Bradford: In Time Was (1986 , Circulasione Totale): Live recording from Bracknell Jazz Festival, with Johnny Dyani on bass, a few months before he died, plus Frode Gjerstad (sax) and John Stevens (drums), plus Bradford on cornet, who is the star here. B+(***) [bc]
Detail/Billy Bang: Detail + Billy Bang (1989 , Circulasione Totale): After Johnny Dyani died in 1986, Kent Carter took over bass in the trio with Frode Gjerstad (tenor sax) and John Stevens (drums). This adds violinist Billy Bang for a 49:41 improv. B+(***) [bc]
Frode Gjerstad Trio: Remember to Forget (1997 , Circulasione Totale): Norwegian alto saxophonist, started with the group Detail in 1982, has by now a large discography of his own, and more side credits. Recorded this at Cafe String, Stavanger, when William Parker and Hamid Drake were visiting. B+(***) [bc]
Frode Gjerstad Trio: Mothers & Fathers & (2005 , Circulasione Totale): Part of a large stash of live tapes Gjerstad put up on Bandcamp. Gjerstad plays alto-, bass-sax, and clarinet, with Jon Rune Strøm on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. B+(***) [bc]
Frode Gjerstad/Louis Moholo-Moholo: MIR-13 (2013 , Circulasione Totale): Sax and drums duo, live shot from a club in Oslo (MIR). B+(*) [bc]
Frode Gjerstad Trio With Steve Swell: At Constellation (2014 , Circulasione Totale): Leader credited with "reeds," backed by Jon Rune Strøm (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), from an appearance in Chicago, with the trombonist chiming in. B+(***) [bc]
Archie Shepp/Attica Blues Big Band: Paris: Live at the Palais Des Glaces (1979 , Blue Marge): Circa 1970, there was a brief period when avant-jazz met black nationalism and tried to merge into a semi-popular community music. Shepp exemplified the concept, especially with his 1969 Kwanza and 1972 Attica Blues. The latter inspired this big band, with Ray Copeland directing and several vocalists. B+(***) [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:
Sunday, October 16, 2022
Speaking of Which
Should be a short week for me. I didn't get started on this until Sunday around noon. Just figured I'd do the usual on Ukraine, and probably had to mention the January 6 committee hearing (which for once I actually saw some of, plus getting the late-night recaps).
Still avoiding election/campaign pieces. You shouldn't need my reporting to know that if you want to preserve any semblance of fairness, decency, progress, and prosperity in America you have to keep Republicans from power, which means you have to vote Democrats in. I restrained myself from including "peace" in that list, because this hasn't been a good week for extolling Democratic yearnings for peace. But I have much more hope for peace under Democrats than I do with Republicans, not just because the worst warmongers (a list that starts with Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton) are Republicans, but because contempt for justice and making a fetish of wealth and power are strategies that beg for violent resistance.
I will note that I'm getting annoyed at the late-night bashing of Herschel Walker, which has become so severe it risks raising a sympathy backlash. The subtext may well be that Republicans have no personal standards for candidates, given that all Republicans are expected to follow the same set of marching orders, a bill that any Republican can fill. But Walker is hardly the only example they can find to pick on, and it's starting to look bad. Meanwhile, Rafael Warnock is a world-class candidate, and nobody notices him. Kind of like the 2016 presidential race. (Not that I'm a Hillary Clinton fan, but jeez, look at what she was running against, and how little it mattered to 98% of Republicans.)
Connor Echols: [10-14] Diplomacy Watch: Gulf states join Turkey in push for Ukraine peace talks: Again, this is the only Ukraine War story that really matters: the war can only end in some sort of agreement, and its indefinite continuation spells disaster for all sides and interested parties, and hardships for everyone else.
More on Ukraine and Russia:
Kate Aronoff: [10-12] Florida and the Insurance Industry Weren't Built to Withstand a Flooded World.
Michael Bluhm: [10-14] Why OPEC's cuts shouldn't have been a surprise -- and may not hurt as much as you think: Interview with Samantha Gross, from Brookings Institution.
Heather Brandon-Smith: [10-14] The Iraq war authorization turns 20. Given how much Congress likes to tack "sunset clauses" onto bills to force them to be periodically renewed, the absence of an expiration on this blank check for reckless warmaking is scandalous. Still, some hope that Congress might repeal it (20+ years too late). Also see: 20 years after Iraq War vote, Barbara Lee is fighting to end the War on Terror.
Lee Harris: [09-28] Industrial Policy Without Industrial Unions: "Democrats' new industrial manufacturing plan leaves unions behind, fumbling a moment of relative leverage for organized labor." If the point of having an industrial policy is to keep key industries in the country, why not give the workers in those industries the power to defend them? I'd go a step further and give those workers an ownership stake -- and not just in "key" industries (aren't they all worth protecting?).
Drew Harwell: [10-15] Co-founder of Trump's media company details Truth Social's bitter infighting.
Ben Jacobs: [10-14] What the January 6 hearings accomplished: "Further implanting the attack on the Capitol in the public memory might be the committee's most vital function."
Andrew Jeong: [10-15] Alaska cancels snow crab season for first time after population collapses.
Stephen Kinzer: [10-12] The most important lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis: "which is that opponents in a game of nuclear chicken should talk and deal, not bluster and threaten." Kinzer makes a point here about the importance of the negotiations being kept secret, which is true to some extent: it kept other parties (like Castro) from mucking up the works, but it was also largely predicated on making Kennedy appear to be the tough guy, while Krushchev looked like the patsy (and paid for it with his career several years later). A secret deal between Biden and Putin would certainly be welcome here (even if it slighted Zelensky), but a public deal that could be viewed as fair to all sides would be better still.
Izzie Ramirez: [10-10] The real source of Puerto Rico's woes: "A broken governance structure, climate disasters, and the legacy of a colonialist past have combined for a perfect storm."
Nikki McCann Ramirez: [10-16] Trump Berates American Jews for Not Having Enough Gratitude Towards Him.
Marcus Stanley: [10-12] Biden's 'schizophrenic' National Security Strategy: "The White House says we need international cooperation, but still wants to decide who's in or out of the global club." The Biden administration just released its "long-awaited" National Security Strategy document, "the first such document since 2017." It represents the desire to reset American foreign policy after the weirdness Trump introduced (talk about "schizophrenic"), but shows that the supposedly more sensible thinkers in power now are still mired in Cold War oppositions between us-and-them and in the hubris of post-Cold War "sole world hyperpower" moment, despite the inestimable decay of American economic and military power, and moral influence, that the last 20+ years has brought. "The NSS at least reflects some awareness of the dangers of global divisions and the need for cooperation. But the challenge of moving from this awareness to a real shift in direction remains."
More reflections on the NSS, and more generally US foreign policy (aside from Ukraine above):
Margaret Sullivan: [10-12] If Trump Runs Again, Do Not Cover Him the Same Way: A Journalist's Manifesto.
I saw this quote from William Shatner (originally in Variety?), and cribbed from a screen grab:
Monday, October 10, 2022
Music: Current count 38847  rated (+43), 38  unrated (-5: 10 new, 28 old).
This will be real short, because I got other things I need to do this afternoon, and the less I leave hanging over my head the better. I went crazy writing another Speaking of Which yesterday, and I think it's better -- at least in the sense of giving you things to think about -- than anything I can do in my present mental state.
I spent the entire week feeling especially down about my music writing, so I'm surprised that I wound up with as many records as I did. I got to most of them while working on "Speaking," so can't claim I was paying close attention. Chances are a couple of the high B+ records deserve better. I'll leave it to others to sort that out -- Christian Iszchak is already on the case.
Unpacking is incomplete, so the drop in unrated is temporary. I'll catch up later.
Got some cooking and carpentry to do today. Weather should be pretty nice.
New records reviewed this week:
Al-Qasar: Who Are We? (2022, Glitterbeat): Moroccan vocalist Jaouad El Garouge fronts this Paris-based, mostly French group playing mostly Arabic instruments, with Thomas Attar Bellier the composers and electric saz/guitar player, and guest spots including Lee Ranaldo and Jello Biafra. B+(***) [sp]
Zoh Amba: Bhakti (2022, Mahakala Music): Young tenor saxophonist from Tennessee, started this year with albums on Tzadik and 577 that I haven't heard but have heard much about. She got a feature in the New York Times recently, so she's the very definition of a rising star. Three long and noisy pieces here (60:08), easy to hear what the excitement is about, with a superb rhythm section: Micah Thomas (piano), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and Matt Hollenberg (guitar). B+(***) [sp]
Oren Ambarchi: Shebang (2022, Drag City): Australian guitarist, started as a drummer, close to 60 albums since 1998. Basically a jangle rhythm piece (nominally four parts, 35:00), with guests adding minor coloring and Joe Talia on drums. B+(***) [sp]
The Bad Plus: The Bad Plus (2021 , Edition): Established as a piano-bass-drums trio in 2000, after bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson had released several very strong albums, while drummer Dave King had developed a style that satisfied both jazz and rock fans without wholly belonging to one or the other. They were remarkably successful as jazz groups go, most famous for their occasional covers of rock songs (initially Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), filling an ecological niche that E.S.T. proved popular in Europe, but which no other American group came close to. When Iverson left in 2017, Anderson and King tapped Orrin Evans to fill the piano chair, but Evans left in 2021 to return to his own substantial, multi-faceted career. Here they take a different tack, reintroducing themselves as a pianoless quartet, with Chris Speed (tenor sax) and Ben Monder (guitar) -- well-established names in their own right, though a little too buttoned down -- playing eight songs, with Anderson and King writing four each. B+(**) [sp]
Benjamin Tod: Songs I Swore I'd Never Sing (2022, Anti-Corp): Country singer-songwriter, last name Flippo, third solo album, also has a group called Lost Dog Street Band. Original songs, but passed by for other projects, presented here as guitar-and-voice demos. B+(*) [sp]
Björk: Fossora (2022, One Little Independent): Iceland's superstar, albums since 1993, first track got me thinking about how charming her quirky rhythms can be. Much of the rest reminded me how cloying her operatic/art song side can be. Well, not quite, as it almost works this time, and that hasn't always been the case. B [sp]
Owen Broder: Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1 (2021 , Outside In Music): Saxophonist, one previous album plus appearances with Anat Cohen and in Cowboys and Frenchmen, mostly plays alto here, plus a bit of baritone on a piece Gerry Mulligan wrote for an album with Johnny Hodges. I wasn't much impressed by his exploration of Appalachian roots music, but this I find thoroughly delightful. I don't even feel the desire to refer back to the classics. A- [cdr] [10-14]
Dan Cavanagh and James Miley With John Hollenbeck: Another Life (2019-21 , S/N Alliance): Two pianists, three compositions each (plus two standards and an improvisation), both also play synthesizers, plus drums. Remarkably sparkling, especially on the Jerome Kern/Radiohead opener. B+(**) [cdr] [10-21] *
Tyler Childers: Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? (2022, Hickman Holler/RCA, 3CD): Country singer-songwriter, from Kentucky, has an impressive string of albums, often touching on religious themes. This one offers eight more songs on religion, some gospel and some more tentative (does God allow hunting on "His grounds"?), rendered three times each on discs labeled "Hallelujah," "Jubilee," and "Joyful Noise." The first two aren't much different, with "Jubilee" perhaps a bit brighter and clearer. The third doesn't strike me as joyful at all: darker and denser, stiff keyboard rhythm and little refrain, disturbing but I doubt I'd give it a second thought if it came to me as electronica. Not that religion doesn't disturb me when I think about it, but like Kant I usually assume it's a benign tonic for the masses (unlike Kant I don't think we really need one). B+(*) [sp]
Death Cab for Cutie: Asphalt Meadows (2022, Atlantic): Indie rock band from Washington state, debut 1997, 14th album, easy enough, but easily forgotten. B [sp]
James Devane: Beauty Is Useless (2022, Umeboshi): Electronica producer, second solo album (first was 2008), has four more in the duo En. Beats with a little extra fuzz -- wouldn't want anyone thinking this is too pretty. B+(*) [bc]
Dodie: Hot Mess (2022, Doddleoddle, EP): English singer-songwriter Dorothy Clark, mostly EPs since 2016 plus one album in 2021. Four tracks, 12:36. B [sp]
Dr. John: Things Happen That Way (2017 , Rounder): New Orleans pianist Mac Rebennack, had a few days as a pop star in the late 1960s, after which he returned to roots and they saw him through to his death in 2019. This is revealed as his final studio album, amid controversy over post-production. A batch of mostly-country covers, unclear how much piano he plays, but on this material his voice is his calling card. Reminds me a bit of Louis Armstrong's last records, when he couldn't play trumpet, and his voice had withered, but he could still get by on charisma. B+(*) [sp]
John Fullbright: The Liar (2022, Blue Dirt/Thirty Tigers): Country singer-songwriter, born in/near Woody Guthrie's home town in Oklahoma, debuted at the Folk Festival there, moved on to the Turnpike Troubadours. Fourth solo album. Mixed bag of songs. When he turns to God he can get real creepy ("Stars"), but when he focuses on human foibles he can be insightful and amusing ("Social Skills"). B+(**) [sp]
Freddie Gibbs: $oul $old $eparately (2022, Warner/ESGN): Rapper Fredrick Tipton, albums since 2013. Do British rappers incorporate pound signs into their titles, or is that a peculiarly American fetish? The album itself is nowhere near that shallow. B+(***) [sp]
Gunna: DS4EVER (2022, YSL/300 Entertainment): Rapper Sergio Giavanni Kitchens, from Georgia, associated with Young Thug (e.g., Slime Language 2), third album. B+(**) [sp]
Hellbound Glory: The Immortal Hellbound Glory: Nobody Knows You (2022, Black Country): Country rock band, principally Leroy Virgil, founded the band in Reno, Nevada, their first album called Scumbag Country (2008). Title refers to a 1920s song that never seems to go out of style. B+(*) [sp]
Dylan Hicks & Small Screens: Airport Sparrows (2022, Soft Launch): Singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, occasional albums since 1996, has written a couple novels. B+(**) [sp]
Ka: Languish Arts (2022, Iron Works, EP): New York rapper Kaseem Ryan, day job as a firefighter captain, named his label for first album title (2008). Came up with two short download-only albums this year, each 10 tracks, this one 28:23. Low-key, easy roll, underground. B+(***) [yt]
Ka: Woeful Studies (2022, Iron Works, EP): Ten more tracks, 26:27. B+(**) [yt]
Pablo Lanouguere Quintet: Altar (2022, Piano Piano): Bassist, from Buenos Aires, based in New York, at least one previous album, leads a string-dominated quintet with violin (Meg Okura), guitar (Federico Diaz), piano (Emilio Teubal), and drums, with bandoneon on two tracks and vocals on two more. And yes, I hear tango. B+(**) [cd] [10-14]
Ari Lennox: Age/Sex/Location (2022, Dreamville/Interscope): R&B singer Courtney Salter, from DC, second album. B+(**) [sp]
Maddie & Tae: Through the Madness (2022, Mercury Nashville, EP): Country vocal duo, last names Font (née Marlow) and Kerr (née Dye), two albums, several EPs, this one retroactively dubbed Vol. 1, but not on the packaging. Eight songs, 27:04. B+(*) [sp]
Maddie & Tae: Through the Madness Vol. 2 (2022, Mercury Nashville, EP): No guests this time, but it picks up a bit on the closer ("Spring Cleaning"). Eight more songs, 25:23. B+(*) [sp]
Midlake: For the Sake of Bethel Woods (2022, ATO): Folk-rock band, four albums 2004-13, this is their fifth. B [sp]
Rhett Miller: The Misfit (2022, ATO): Singer-songwriter for Old 97's, with a long-running string of solo albums on the side: this is the eighth since 2002, all but an eponymous 2009 effort with definite article titles (The Believer, The Dreamer, The Messenger, etc.). Allows him to pursue his more personal idiosyncrasies. B+(***) [sp]
Momma: Household Name (2022, Lucky Number): Indie band from Los Angeles, Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten, third album after an EP. Nice enough. B+(*) [sp]
Off!: Free LSD (2022, Fat Possum): Hardcore band, I liked their 2010 compilation The First Four EPs quite a lot, returns after an 8-year gap with two (of 4) original members (vocalist Keith Morris and guitarist Dimitri Coats) and their longest album ever (20 songs, 38:23). B+(**) [sp]
J.S. Ondara: Spanish Villager No: 3 (2022, Verve Forecast): Folk singer-songwriter, actual name Moses Mauti Junior, born and raised in Kenya before moving to Minneapolis. B+(*) [sp]
Beth Orton: Weather Alive (2022, Partisan): English singer-songwriter, debut album 1993, six-year gap before this one ties her longest previous gap. B+(**) [sp]
The Paranoyds: Talk Talk Talk (2022, Third Man): Like Momma, another Los Angeles indie band with a couple albums. Their fuzz sounds much better to start, but it wears off. B+(*) [sp]
Jussi Reijonen: Three Seconds [Kolme Toista] (2021 , Challenge): Finnish guitarist, also plays oud, has lived in the Middle East, Tanzania, and the US. Second album, international cast. B+(**) [cd] [10-14]
Iara Rennó: Oríkì (2022, Dobra Discos): Brazilian, started in DonaZica (2003-05), fifth album since 2008, sings and produces, but starts with an instrumental. B+(**) [sp]
Jeremy Rose & the Earshift Orchestra: Disruption! The Voice of the Drums (2022, Earshift Music): Tenor saxophonist, also bass clarinet, from Australia, started in a "world-roots jazz group" called the Vampires (four albums 2012-19). This features drummers Simon Barker and Chloe Kim, who share writing credits. B+(**) [cd] [10-14]
Collin Sherman: Organism Made Luminous (2022, Ex-Tol/Blujazz): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, bills this as "experimental electro-acoustic jazz, ambient, drone, noise." Not sure where he gets the latter categories, though the heavy synths, guitar, and drum programming -- all credited to himself -- suggest a fusion base, without quite feeling bound to it. Discogs lists only one previous album, but his Bandcamp page offers more (and describes this as his 14th release). B+(***) [cd]
Collin Sherman: Suitable Benchmarks of Reform (2022, Ex-Tol): His 13th release, should file it above the more recent album, but got to it second, and should probably work my way further back. Again, he plays everything, including clarinets and oboe as well as the rhythm section (the drums programmed), but that's just background to riff his alto sax against. The loss in group spontaneity pales under his prowess. B+(***) [bc]
Shygirl: Nymph (2022, Because Music): Blane Muise, from England, more singer than rapper, first album after a couple EPs. B+(*) [sp]
Thick: Happy Now (2022, Epitaph): New York punk girl band, second album after a bunch of EPs. B+(**) [sp]
Valerie June: Under Cover (2022, Fantasy, EP): Last name Hockett, five albums since 2006, this 8-song, 28:28 effort cast as an EP, doesn't register as soul or country, so gets slotted as Americana. Covers, scattered from Nick Drake to Nick Cave, only "Imagine" overly familiar. B [sp]
Hannah White: About Time (2022, Paper Blue): English singer-songwriter, evidently there's a "UK Americana" niche she fits in, second album. Slow, touching, doesn't flinch from tragedy or hardships. B+(***) [sp]
Billy Woods: Church (2022, Backwoodz Studioz): Rapper, born in DC, parents were academics, spent the 1980s in Zimbabwe, returned in 1989 and started making music in the late 1990s. Messiah Musik produced. Dense, both in beats and words, and most likely ideas. Some day I should put more time and effort. B+(***) [sp]
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Cool It Down (2022, Secretly Canadian): Indie rock group, Karen Orzolek singer, released four albums 2003-13, returns with their fifth. B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
William Parker: Universal Tonality (2002 , Centering/AUM Fidelity, 2CD): From 1994-2006, Parker recorded a number of albums with his big band, the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. This isn't credited as such, but the 17 musicians here overlap considerably, but this seems more star-laden (two violinists: Billy Bang and Jason Kao Hwang), with vocalist Loreena Conquest featured, reminding us: "Hope is relentless/ it never dies." A [cd]
Old 97's: Hitchhike to Rhome (1994, Big Iron): Country-rock band from Dallas, Rhett Miller was (or still is, as of 2020) the main singer-songwriter, for a strong, lively set, with a Merle Haggard cover. B+(**) [sp]
Old 97's: Wreck Your Life (1995, Bloodshot): Here they move to what at the time was becoming the best alt-country label anywhere. B+(***) [sp]
Old 97's: Hit by a Train: The Best of Old 97's (1994-2001 , Rhino): I wasn't aware of this until Robert Christgau asked me to post his liner notes. Rhino had become a Warner subsidiary, so had access to the group's Elektra albums, a finite set seeing as how the band had moved on to New West, so this leans on Fight Songs and Satellite Rides (their best albums), but starts off with four early songs. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 9, 2022
Speaking of Which
I thought the war in Ukraine took a nasty turn a week ago, but it got even nastier this week, and seems only likely to get worse next week. (The latest is that Russia has resumed taking pot-shots at Kyiv, even though it's nowhere near the front lines.)
Connor Echols: [10-07] Diplomacy Watch: Calls for negotiations grow as Russia threatens nuclear use. Still very little constructive response from Russia, Ukraine, or the latter's sponsors.
Julian E Barnes/Adam Goldman/Adam Entous/Michael Schwirtz: [10-05] US Believes Ukrainians Were Behind an Assassination in Russia: This was the car bomb that killed Daria Dugina in a Moscow suburb, an attack believed to have targeted her father, Aleksandr Dugin, a pro-Putin ideologue who sees Russia as increasingly embattled by a decadent West, and is very hawkish on the war in Ukraine. The US has denied any advance knowledge of the attack, and the disclosure suggests that the US wants some distance from its client's "special operations." If Ukraine is organizing terrorism within Russia, this suggests they may also be responsible for other unconventional attacks, like the sabotage of the Nordstream gas lines and the Crimea bridge. Robert Wright commented: [10-07] Moscow murder mystery solved.
Musk's tweet has been dismissed as a total surrender to Russia, but the first point isn't that at all. It is the only solution that would allow either side to back down with what passes for dignity. It won't be easy to get both sides to agree on fair -- especially as that's something neither side particularly wants -- but no matter how the war grinds on, it will be necessary. There's no need to treat Crimea as a separate issue, since the only difference in its annexation was the timing. I'd expect Russia to win in Crimea, and we should accept that, but a new vote would make that easier. The other two issues may have been listed to sweeten the deal for Russia, but water can be dealt with later (if would be a moot point if Zaporizhzhia votes to joint Russia, and wouldn't be a proper obligation if it doesn't). The real question the fourth point tries to address is how do we keep this war from restarting? If neutrality means that Russia is never going again going to attack or extort Ukraine, fine, but it didn't stop Russia from subversion in 2014, arming separatists since then, and invasion this year. Arguably, NATO membership would have inhibited Russia from such imperious aggression, sparing us from this war. In any case, postwar Ukraine (minus any parts ceded to Russia) is pretty clearly intent on aligning with the EU and NATO, even if it is not technically a member of NATO. After the war, the US and Russia need to come to some kind of agreement that reduces the hostility and risks of war. Before the war, I imagined that a general disarmament could have led to the dismantling of NATO, but Putin has made it hard to trust Russia's peaceful intentions. Of course, Musk has no standing to tell us what to do. But when he's right, give him credit. The only way out of this nightmare is to do what's right.
Fred Kaplan has a comment on the Musk tweet: [10-04] Elon Musk Stole My Old Plan for Peace in Ukraine. Too Bad It Doesn't Make Sense Anymore. I've often cited Kaplan in the past, and generally respect his erudition on all defense matters -- even when he is much more in league with them than I am (which, needless to say, is not at all). But he's basically saying that it's too late for a deal that concedes anything to Putin, or leaves him in a tenable position to remain president of Russia. I don't begin to understand such thinking. Even if Ukraine can claw back every inch of territory Russia occupies, there is still a need for some kind of agreement that normalizes the border and other relations. And however much one might wish Putin to get sacked by his Kremlin comrades, there is no known mechanism for doing so, and his successors will be people with a similar view of Russia's interests -- the only plus is that they may not have the stain of Putin's folly on them personally. And in the broader picture, there needs to be some sort of rapprochement between the US, Europe, and Russia (and probably China, India, and others) that assures all that Russia will not repeat its invasion of Ukraine, yet allows Russia to function otherwise as a normal nation. All these things say there has to be negotiation, reaching some sort of compromise, one that is not to onerous to any party. I don't see why that should not be possible, unless you start from the assumption that it's not. Granted, the actual terms Musk proposed are a bit dated, but the need for something along those lines remains.
Kaplan, who has written a whole book on the subject (The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War) has also written a highly speculative essay war-gaming a possible US response to Russian use of a tactical nuclear weapon: [10-07] Why the US Might Not Use a Nuke, Even if Russia Does. Even if it is technically possible -- and the US military has a long history of overestimating their capabilities -- it isn't very convincing, as it leaves Russia with only two further options: surrender or annihilate America. If the former was so unpalatable as to allow for the use of a "tactical" nuclear weapon, what's to stop Putin from taking the next logical step? A sudden recovery of sanity?
Jonathan Chait: [10-06] Illiberal Chic Deserves to Die on the Battlefield of Putin's Failed War: "Authoritarianism doesn't make your country smart or strong." Kind of a strange take because we live in a sea so full of anti-Putin propaganda that it's hard to identify people who think he's smart let alone cool.
Julia Davis: [10-09] Team Putin Wakes Up: We Never Should've Laughed at Ukraine: I'm not inclined to credit this article much as a significant sample, but this does suggest the range of thoughts that must be going through the heads of people close to the Kremlin. The fears of defeat are especially vivid (and ridiculous), meant to rally the troops, but to me they just underscore the need to negotiate on the basis of respect for what's right.
Masha Gessen: [10-05] Putin's draft order has inspired a Russian exodus. Stories like this make for good propaganda, and therefore are suspect, but the draft order itself smells of desperation, and the verifiable exodus is just one measure of the problem. Putin may be able to suppress overt dissent, but getting people willing to kill and die for his cause is much harder. Sure, Russians fought valiantly and steadfastly in WWII, but their record in Afghanistan and Chechnya hasn't been very impressive. The US gave up on the draft not due to resistance -- though there was quite a bit of that -- but because drafted soldiers lacked the skills and discipline the army needed, and sometimes turned on their officers. Putin should be wary.
Jonathan Guyer: [10-07] Just how worried should you be about nuclear war? Biden says very. As the article notes, "Diplomacy is the only way out."
Mary Ilyushina/Natalia Abbakumova: [10-08] Kremlin, shifting blame for war failures, axes military commanders: Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, much touted for his successes in Chechnya and Syria, was ousted as "overall operational commander" after seven weeks. Several other generals are being rotated out.
Anatol Lieven: [10-03] No blob, we are not 'already fighting' World War III: "These Washington foreign policy elites are recklessly suggesting that Russia is a universal threat that requires absolute victory over evil." We need to radically dial down our fears about what Putin is trying to do in Ukraine, and elsewhere around the periphery of Russia. Not only do those fears cause us to misunderstand Putin, they suggest to other countries (above all, to China) that we do not respect their own interests and integrity.
Casey Michel: [10-04] Alexei Navalny Has a Crimea Problem: Turns out the much-hyped liberal critic of Putinism doesn't favor returning Crimea to Ukraine. Which makes it pretty hard to imagine a regime change scenario in Russia that will satisfy the maximalists in Kyiv and Washington.
Nicole Narea: [10-08] The Crimea-Kerch bridge explosion is a devastating blow to Putin and Russian morale. The article is pretty cagey about what caused the explosion, but comes with a pretty graphic picture. One suggestion is that it was caused by a truck bomb driven from the Russian side. The bridge established a very tangible link between Russia and Crimea, so has been an obvious target since the war started. For another picture, see: Chas Danner: [10-08] Ukraine Bombs Russia's Bridge to Crimea.
William Saletan: [10-05] Fox News: Putin Propaganda Primetime: "Here are the top 20 anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia claims and arguments that Fox views are hearing." The most telling one is "19. Ukraine is an arm of the Democratic party." There may be aspects to Putin that right-wingers at Fox admire, but what really gets them ginned up is hatred for Biden and the Democrats. And while they're quite happy to promote Republican wars ("12. Ukraine is just like Iraq" is understood as justifying both invasions, not as equating their futility), the real danger of their arguments isn't that they'll give aide and comfort to the Russian enemy but that they will lead Americans to decide that the Democrats are the pro-war party. If you look at this piece in a mirror, it certainly suggests that Saletan is all in on Ukrainian propaganda in favor of Zelensky's maximum aims, regardless of the considerable risks. Meanwhile, Democrats hear Fox and Trump spouting their Putinisms and figure that validates a war that costs and risks much, to validate a global posture that ultimately hurts us as much as it does the world.
J Peter Scoblic: [10-05] The Russian nuclear threat, explained: Author has written a book on nuclear strategy (U.S. vs. Them: Conservatism in the Age of Nuclear Terror), but still doesn't offer much that makes sense. Sure, both the U.S. and Russia can obliterate the other, a threat that should make each eschew any existential threat to the other, which effectively makes them useless. Still, a lot of thought has gone into possible ways of using nukes as "tactical" weapons, but it's hard to see how that might work: the targets are too small and too scattered, and the fallout is self-defeating. Not mentioned here is Richard Nixon's "madman theory," but that's always been predicated on the other side being sane enough to back down. If Putin (or Biden) is sane enough to back off, why isn't some less destructive (and less humiliating) solution possible?
Jim Sleeper: [10-08] Putin really could fall -- but will that help the West as much as we think? This is a good question, which the article doesn't do much to answer. But we should prepare ourselves for the near certainty that if Putin is replaced as president of Russia, he'll be replaced with someone with the same basic interests and attitudes.
A few brief items on other subjects:
Matthew Cappucci/Samantha Schmidt: [10-09] Julia strikes Nicaragua as hurricane with 'life-threatening' flooding.
Zachary D Carter:  A Dose of Rational Optimism: A review of J Bradford DeLong's book, Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century. I'm flagging this piece because: (a) I've been reading the book for a couple weeks now (it's pretty long, 624 pp); and (b) I've read and greatly admired Carter's comparable but somewhat more narrowly scoped The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes. I've only barely gotten into the part of the book that Carter likes least (the "neoliberal" era that ended the 30-year post-WWII boom, a school DeLong initially identified with until it proved untenable). In the early part, DeLong's scheme to reduce economic progress to simple numbers is ingenious, as is his framework of explaining economic thinking as a yin-yang contest of Hayek and Polanyi (although this tends to slight Keynes, who had a clearer idea both of utopia and of the dismal science).
Chas Danner: [10-09] Has Another Iranian Revolution Begun? "An unprecedented uprising is underway, with no end in sight." The demonstrations after the murder of Mahsa Amini by Iran's "morality police" struck me as analogous to the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted after George Floyd was killed by police in 2020. As with BLM, the subtext go back further, at least as far as the 1979 revolution, which few people aimed at establishing a theocracy: opposition to the Shah was nearly universal, but in the end was commandeered by Ayatollah Khomeini and turned into a different kind of prison. On the other hand, through its numerous bad faith acts from 1953 to the present, the US has lost any credibility to help the people of Iran deal with their just grievances against their government. As soon as Biden and other started celebrating the demonstrations, the government was able to blame them on the US, and ratcheted up repression in the name of self-defense. Lots of Americans would like to think they could offer helpful advice, but they cannot. The only advice I have is to restore JCPOA, end the sanctions, and work to lessen border tensions and complaints about "Iran-supported proxy groups" elsewhere. The less embattled Iran feels, and the less threatened by the US, the more open they are likely to be to internal reforms.
More on Iran:
Connor Echols: [10-05] 'We impose these things and then that's it': McGovern tears into US sanctions policy: Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) complains that Congress never reviews "whether U.S. sanctions are really having their intended effect." If they did, I have no doubt that the answer would be they do not. I didn't particularly object to the post-invasion sanctions against Russia, because they were a relatively safe way to react to an extreme provocation, but I didn't expect they'd have much effect, and there is little evidence that they have. On the other hand, sanctions against Russia before the invasion only served to provoke further hostility, and the same can be said about US sanctions pretty much everywhere. The policy is a dead end, not just because it fails to elicit the desired behavior, but because it arrogates to Americans the claim to be the judge and jury of the rest of the world.
Matt Ford: [10-06] Trump's Defamation Lawsuit Against CNN May Be Ridiculous, but It's Not Doomed. When Trump ran in 2016 he wanted to change the laws to allow thin-skinned rich blowhards like himself to sue anyone who criticized them. He failed to change the law, but did something else, potentially worse: he changed the judges.
Jeff Goodell: [10-06] Hurricane Ian Is Florida's 'Oh Shit' Climate Moment.
Penelope Green: [10-06] Meredith Tax, Feminist Author, Historian and Activist, Dies at 80.
Jonathan Guyer: [10-07] OPEC was always going to mess with oil prices. Was Biden's team naive? Several points here. First is that if Republicans weren't making hay complaining about gas prices, Biden wouldn't have any reason to work the issue. In general, higher gas prices help persuade people to switch to alternative or at least more efficient energy sources, which would be better for the climate, and ultimately for all of us. Republicans have no alternatives that would lower prices: their own wars and political vendettas (e.g., against Iran and Venezuela) have pushed up prices (and profits), while their offers to "drill, baby, drill" aren't even wanted by the industry. Second is that Saudi Arabia is an embarrassing ally, if indeed you can call them an ally at all. (They buy American arms, and used them in wars which bring the US into disrepute. Israel, by the way, is no better. Both have severe human rights problems, and are poor representatives of the democracy he claims to champion -- both in their countries and in their obvious preference for Republicans in Washington.) So yeah, Biden's trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia does appear to have been a mistake, especially as he seems to have let them veto an important American interest in distancing Iran from Russia.
Adam Hochschild: [10-06] The Crushing of American Socialism: Excerpt from his new book, American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis.
Ed Kilgore: [10-04] The Supreme Court Is Back and Ready to Do More Damage. For more specifics:
Eric Levitz: [10-06] The Fed Might Just Break the Global Economy: Interview with Adam Tooze. One thing Tooze notes is that the belief that inflation should be fought by high interest rates isn't based on much more than the 1979-82 Volcker model, and that many of the dynamics at play there aren't in play now. (The Volcker recession combined with Reagan to crush a labor movement that in the 1970s still had enough clout to keep up with inflation. While the unions are starting to regain some traction now, they have nowhere near enough strength to keep up with, much less drive, an inflationary spiral.)
There is, by the way, more interesting stuff on the economy than I can do justice to. For example:
Sophia A McClennen: [10-08] Stop obsessing over election polls -- the less attention voters and the media give them, the better. Good advice. I think at one point people took pains to get polls as accurate as possible, and worried when they missed the mark, but lately everyone's got a polling theory, and they're all over the place. They make for lazy news, and feed a neverending supply of stories meant to terrify one side or the other. The only risk I see is that they may make you think it doesn't matter if you vote, but if you're going to vote anyway, why make your life miserable by paying them any attention? You don't need billions of dollars of advertising to understand what this election is about. If you want public servants in Washington to try to understand problems and make constructive efforts to help most Americans, vote Democratic. If all you want to do is vent your spleen about how crooked the world is but don't care if it gets even worse, the Republicans are the party for you. Even if you don't think the Democrats will deliver for you, you should consider voting for them as a way to shut the Republicans up. It may not have worked on Trump, but Floridians can save us a lot of agita by putting Marco Rubio and Ron DeSantis out to pasture. Sure, some Democrats are better than others, and some Republicans are worse than the rest, but those distinctions have been rendered marginal. Stick to the basics and you should be OK.
PS: I didn't want to say anything about any candidates, least of all Herschel Walker, but Republican loyalty to him despite everything is so strong it makes my party loyalty point: see Alex Shephard: [10-05] Of Course Republicans Are Sticking With Herschel Walker. And, OK, I should probably mention:
Nancy McLean: [10-05] The War for Democracy in America Will Be Lost -- or Won -- in the States: Review of Jacob M Grumbach: Laboritories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics.
Timothy Noah: [10-06] You Won't Believe How Crazy CEO Pay Has Gotten Now. Since 1978, CEO pay "has outperformed by stock market by 37 percent."
Olivia Nuzzi: [10-06] Maggie Haberman on How She Covers Trump Without Losing Her Mind: Interview with the New York Times reporter, whose big new book, Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, goes back further than her own reporting (which goes back further than most, although St Clair chides her below for not giving Wayne Barrett enough credit). I've long gotten the impression that she was pretty superficial, but from interviews recently, the task of putting her observations into book form seems to have led to the realization that Trump really is nothing but a shallow, venal jerk. (Or perhaps in writing a book she's finally out from under the thumb of the New York Times's both-sides-balancers?)
More on Haberman's book:
Toluse Olorunnipa/Yasmeen Abutaleb: [10-06] Biden to pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession: There he goes, doing something popular again. When will the American people learn that they can't actually have things that they think they want? As with student loan debt, Biden only reached for the low fruit -- see CT Jones: [10-07] President Biden's Weed Pardons Leave Thousands of People Behind -- but in picking a fight with the Republicans, it makes sense to stick with the simplest and most defensible reforms.
Andrew Prokop: [10-07] Why Hunter Biden's legal troubles are back in the news: Once again, the FBI helps the Republicans with a timely leak.
Nathan J Robinson:
Michelle R Smith/Richard Lardner: [10-07] Michael Flynn's ReAwaken roadshow recruits 'Army of God': Long article, shows how Flynn has capitalized on Trump's rallies to create his own revival circus, including photos of Eric Trump and Roger Stone at his rallies. If Trump doesn't run for president in 2024, Flynn will, as the truest of all true believers.
Amy Davidson Sorkin: [10-03] Has the C.I.A. done more harm than good? "In the agency's seventh-five years of existence, a lack of accountability has sustained dysfunction, ineptitude, and lawlessness." Of course, this barely scratches the surface, but the further you look, the worse the picture gets. Back in 2007, I read Tim Weiner's 702-page history of the CIA, which amply justified his title: Legacy of Ashes. No reason to think they've gotten any better since.
Jeffrey St Clair: [10-07] Roaming Charges: Up in Smoke, Down in Mirrors.
Alexander Stille: [10-04] Why Fascism Isn't Italy's Biggest Problem: "The American press has overhyped Giorgia Meloni's fascist ties -- and underhyped what a wreck the country has become under a series of populist 'saviors.'" Stille wrote an important book on Berlusconi (The Sack of Rome), so is familiar with the right-wing coalitions long dominated by Berlusconi (who has become a minor partner to Meloni). He argues that Meloni's rise is due to her move toward the center, but that her right-wing partners only promise more of the same failing policies.
James D Zirin: [10-06] Great Britain's Conservatives Are Screwing Up the Economy: "Prime Minister Liz Truss and her chancellor of the exchequer are to blame. It could be a preview of what happens if Republicans take over in the U.S."
Just found this piece from 2015, so not fair to include above, but worth keeping a record of: Rick Perlstein: [2015-09-30] Donald Trump and the "F-Word": "An unsettling symbiosis between man and mob." Of course, the question is only interesting if you already know a fair amount about fascism. If you don't know anything, or only know that "fascist" is something bad, it's more useful to ask whether Trump is something else that does mean something to you, like liar or bigot or asshole or, if your vocabulary goes a bit farther, narcissist. But if you do know about the dynamics of how Mussolini and Hitler came to power, and not just what they did with that power, it's an interesting question. Actually, it's two questions: whether a politician like Trump (or Francisco Franco, or Huey Long, or Juan Peron, or Silvio Berlusconi, or Vladimir Putin) is a fascist leader type (an Il Duce or Der Führer), and (more interesting) whether a mass group of people are inclined to follow a fascist leader (like any so identified). Actual fascism depends on the confluence of a leader, a mass of followers, and historical and economic factors. The puzzle comes in figuring out how those factors interact. And it matters because actual fascism is a very destructive process, even unto itself. Just look at what happened to and because of the models (Hitler, Mussolini).
Of course, the valuable thing about this point isn't the verdict. It's that understanding fascism provides a lens for analyzing much of the everyday noise Trump emits.
Monday, October 3, 2022
Music: Current count 38804  rated (+36), 43  unrated (-1: 15 new, 28 old).
Made very little progress on my promised books post last week, but wrote another Speaking of Which yesterday, mostly because the war in Ukraine took a couple of nasty turns. Zelensky and his more hawkish backers seem convinced that as long as the arms spigot remain open full bore they can drive Russia from pre-2014 Ukrainian territory and hand Putin a complete defeat, the humiliation of which should drive his top Kremlin lackeys to sweep him from office. Putin, in turn, has called up reinforcements, and (again) threatened to use nuclear weapons: the message there is that Russia cannot be defeated, at least as imagined by his enemies. I believe that he is correct, even if he is not as insane as many of his opponents claim. (If I am right, his sanity may never be forced to a test. However, I do question the sanity of those who think the West can afford to prolong the war indefinitely.) Still, all the more reason to negotiate a ceasefire and start to resolve the remaining issues. Beware that anyone not talking in those terms is totally full of shit.
I don't subscribe to The Atlantic -- well, actually, my wife doesn't; I don't subscribe to anything, but she does and I get a free ride sometimes -- but if I did it would probably prove a rich source of references for Speaking of Which, both for insights and bad examples. In the latter category is a James Kirchick piece that Paul Woodward cited, provocatively titled How the anti-war camp went intellectually bankrupt. I know I shouldn't feel defensive when the author's lead example of "the anti-war camp" is Ron Paul, but he fails even to deal with that case honestly or accurately. There is, in fact, a long history of "Russophobic bloodlust" in the interstices of American foreign policy -- that was precisely the point of backing the mujahideen in Afghanistan -- and while "the last dead Ukrainian" has the brevity of a snappy talking point, it's hardly "specious": it is the logical endpoint of all proxy wars (of which this is one, even if that's not the only thing this war is). I suppose I should expect pieces like this: every war starts off with slanders against its critics. Not only does this pave the way for escalation, it lays a foundation for excuses after a war turns disastrous ("who would have thought?").
By the way, I looked up Kirchick, who Google describes as "a conservative or neoconservative." One recent article I found by him was The Sanctification of George Soros. Consider this line in the sixth paragraph: "Soros, in case you couldn't tell, happens to be Jewish, a fact that has absolutely nothing to do with his ideas about criminal justice reform, or with Rubio's opposition to them." I can't say for sure about Rubio, but I think it's pretty certain that most of the right-wingers who depict Soros as an ultrarich puppet master behind the left's nefarious schemes not only know that he is Jewish but fully understand the resonance of 150 years of antisemitic propaganda. That's precisely why they single him out.
I finally did the indexing for September Streamnotes, adding in the month's Music Week intros. I found myself hating that bit of busy work more than ever, spending the whole time thinking about how I don't want to keep doing this. I suppose I'll hang on until the end of 2022, but that's likely to be it.
Birthday coming up toward the end of October, which has me thinking about my annual dinner ritual. Even modest dinner efforts have been prohibitively painful, so it's tempting to call it quits there, too. But as I think about it, one possible approach would be to recruit some help to largely take over, and a fallback would be to do one that is so simplified I can still do it myself. (The latter involves chicken and dumplings.)
Not a lot of records this week, but a high percentage of them are very good. As usual, Phil Overeem's latest list helped.
New records reviewed this week:
Horace Andy: Midnight Scorchers (2022, On-U Sound): Journeyman reggae singer, perhaps best known for his 1972 hit "Skylarking," nicely summed up by his 1970-76 comp Feel Good All Over, may have hit a peak with 1977's In the Light, but never let up, so he has dozens of later albums I haven't heard. The one I have heard was this year's much-touted "comeback" (after a 3-year gap) Midnight Rocker. Nice record, but this one turns up the heat considerably, earning its title. B+(***) [sp]
Kenny Beats: Louie (2022, XL): Producer Kenneth Blume III, first album under his name only -- he has at least four more co-credited to rappers, and is producer for many more. B+(*) [sp]
Kristin Berardi: The Light & the Dark (2019 , Earshift Music): Australian jazz singer, writes her own songs, albums since 2006. This one recorded in New York, with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Miro Sprague on piano, plus bass and drums, and a couple guest spots. B+(*) [cd] [10-14]
Crow Billiken: If I Don't Have Red I Use Blue (2022, self-released, EP): Rapper R.A.P. Ferreira delivers a short country blues album (6 songs, 21:37). "Alvin Youngblood Hart, Skippy James, Robert Petway, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Leroy Stewart Sr all contributed compositionally." B+(*) [bc]
Bitchin Bajas: Bajascillators (2022, Drag City): Cooper Crain, nominally a solo side project, but he has close to twice as many albums here (11 since 2010) as with his psychedelic drone group Cave (6 since 2008). It probably helps that these are conceptually simpler: four pieces ranging between 9:42 and 14:30, most attractive groove patterns drawn out. B+(**) [sp]
Alina Bzhezhinska & HipHarpCollective: Reflections (2022, BBE): Harpist, born in Ukraine, based in London, has at least one previous record, Bandcamp credits this to AlinaHipHarp. Credits unclear, but there is some sax (Tony Kofi), trumpet (Jay Phelps), bass, percussion, vocals (rap), and violin/viola (Ying Xue). B+(*) [sp]
Corey Christiansen: Standards (2022, self-released): Guitarist, from Utah, from 2000-07 worked as "senior editor ad guitar clinician" for Mel Bay Publications, and released his first album and books there. Since then he released six albums on Origin, and now this crowdfunded trio with Ben Williams (bass) and Carl Allen (drums). B+(**) [sp]
DJ Marz Y Los Flying Turntables/DJ Jester the Filipino Fist: Made in USA (2022, self-released): Mixtape, the DJs based in Texas (Austin and/or San Antonio), almost zero chance the samples got cleared. Looks like three cuts/one side each, the same title covering everything. The sort of thing that's only as good as it's funny. B+(**) [bc]
John Escreet: Seismic Shift (2022, Whirlwind): English pianist, eighth album since 2008, trio with Eric Revis (bass) and Damion Reid (drums), original pieces, kicks it up a notch (or two). B+(***) [cd] [10-07]
Fox Green: Holy Souls (2022, self-released): Mild-mannered rock band from Little Rock, probably wouldn't have given them a second listen but for knowing the guitarist. But the extra listens helped, especially once the Howlin' Wolf tribute caught my ear, and each song on the second side came into focus. A- [sp]
Gogol Bordello: Solidaritine (2022, Cooking Vinyl): Gypsy-punk band from New York, led by Ukrainian singer-songwriter Eugene Hütz, the only continuous member since their 1999 debut, although Russian violinist Sergey Ryabtsev comes close. I'm not catching every word, but the raw energy and rustic rage makes a fine soundtrack for writing my thoughts on the Ukraine War. A- [sp]
Keith Jarrett: Bordeaux Concert (2016 , ECM): The best-selling pianist in jazz history has recorded nothing since his 2018 stroke, but his label has kept him current by releasing older tapes each year. This is the third solo set from his 2016 tour of Europe (following Munich 2016 and Budapest Concert). With over two dozen solo albums, I've given up on comparing them, so any grade is just a momentary impression. He is, of course, a great pianist, but he's also slowed down a bit. B+(**) [sp]
Laura Jurd: The Big Friendly Album (2021 , Big Friendly): British trumpet player, best known for her band Dinosaur, has a couple albums on her own. Group here extends the brass with euphonium and tuba, plus guitar (Alex Haines), bass, and drums, with Jurd playing some piano, plus several guest spots (strings, soprano sax, and Frode Haltli's accordion on five tracks. Has a playful feel, almost circusy. B+(**) [sp]
Nikki Lane: Denim & Diamonds (2022, New West): Country singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2011. B+(**) [sp]
Yosef Gutman Levitt: Upside Down Mountain (2022, self-released): Bassist from South Africa, based in Jerusalem, plays acoustic bass guitar, doc sometimes omits "Levitt" from his name. Has a few albums, this one with Omri More (piano) and Ofri Nehemya (drums). Nice ambiance to it. B+(**) [cd]
Marxist Love Disco Ensemble: MLDE (2022, Mr Bongo): Italian group, seeks to resurrect the cheesy Euro-disco of the mid-1970s (they cite Patrick Juvet as an inspiration -- a name I recall, but not well enough to include when I constructed my original grade list), or maybe to mock it, or perhaps just to embue it with political meaning, although the titles suggest their politics were formed around the same historical moment. B+(**) [sp]
Bennie Maupin/Adam Rudolph: Symphonic Tone Poem for Brother Yusef (2022, Strut): For Yusef Lateef, who had a significant import for both musicians, including a long association with Rudolph. Just a duo here, with Maupin playing various reeds and flutes, and Rudolph keyboards and a long list of percussion. Set up as five movements, the middle drags a bit as if trying to find its way out of something dark and foreboding -- which it eventually does. A- [sp]
Ashley McBryde: Presents: Lindeville (2022, Warner Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, "presents" a concept album based in a fictional town named for Dennis Linde (1943-2006 -- been a while since I've thought of him), with guest artists playing various roles, taking over most of the songs, for better or worse. B+(***) [sp]
Marc Mommaas: The Impressionist (2021 , Sunnyside): Dutch saxophonist (tenor/soprano), based in New York, sixth album since 2003 on label. Quartet with Gary Versace (piano), Nate Radley (guitar), and Jay Anderson (bass). B+(**) [sp]
The Ogún Meji Duo: Freedom Suite (2021 , CFG Multimedia): Columbus-based duo of Eddie Bayard (sax) and Mark Lomax II (drums), have a long-term partnership not limited to the seven albums they're released under this name. This takes off from Sonny Rollins' 1958 album. Hard to say how closely this adheres, as Rollins has never had a drummer who can solo like Lomax, and Bayard is one of the few saxophonists up to the task. A- [os]
The Red Microphone: A Bleeding in Black Leather (2022, ESP-Disk): Group formed in 2010, with John Pietaro reading Bertolt Brecht to avant-sax (Ras Moshe and Rocco John Iacovone), bass (Laurie Towers), and percussion (Pietaro), reconvened here with some extras (mostly guitar), with Pietaro reading his own poetry (also published in book form). Several stories stand out, including a history of bebop and one on a New York neighborhood that turns tragic. "Punk Jazz" earns its title. Ivan Julian produced. A- [cdr]
Todd Snider: Live: Return of the Storyteller (2021 , Aimless, 2CD): This one is easy. I doubt I'll ever like it as much as his 2011 Live: The Storyteller -- I recognize fewer of the songs (as much as I like his recent albums, I don't know them nearly as well as the ones from East Nashville Skyline through The Devil You Know), and the stories seem more random. But I enjoy them nonetheless, and most of all the pacing, which I doubt anyone else can match. A- [sp]
SonnyJim & the Purist: White Girl Wasted (2022, Daupe, EP): British rapper, Sonny Sathi, has released a lot of material since 2008, mostly co-credits, this one with Lawrence Lord, who also has a long list of credits. Includes a piece featuring MF Doom & Jay Electronica. A quick play (8 tracks, 20:41). B+(*) [sp]
Sunny Sweeney: Married Alone (2022, Aunt Daddy): Country singer-songwriter, has a great voice and solid-plus songs. B+(***) [sp]
Andrés Vial: When Is Ancient? (2020 , Chromatic Audio): Pianist, from Montreal, third album, trio with Martin Heslop (bass) and Tommy Crane (drums), names on the cover but parsed below the title. Original pieces, nice, engaging. B+(**) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Biluka Y Los Canibales: Leaf-Playing in Quito, 1960-1965 (1960-65 , Honest Jon's): Brazilain Dilson de Souza, traveled to Ecuador, where he learned to play a picked ficus leaf. No idea what that should sound like, unless it's the flute over the jaunty organ grind and percussion. B+(**) [sp]
Lionel Hampton Orchestra: 1958: The Mess Is Here Revisited (1958 , Ezz-Thetics): Started as Louis Armstrong's drummer, but soon switched to the vibraphone, which he established as a jazz instrument. His late-1930s studio sessions introduced Dizzy Gillespie and bebop, and his 1940s big band (with Illinois Jacquet) deserves at least an assist for inventing rock and roll. He continued recording well into the 1990s. This is a big band he put together in Germany, with power horns, dazzling vibes, a strong blues vocal from Cornelius James, ending with an upbeat "Hamp's Boogie Woogie." B+(***) [bc]
Andrew Hill: Point of Departure to Compulsion!!!!! Revisited (1965 , Ezz-Thetics): Two of the pianist's Blue Note albums squeezed onto a single CD. Point of Departure has long been counted as a high point, with saxophonists Eric Dolphy ad Joe Henderson, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Richard Davis (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). The later album may have been picked to fit -- a tight squeeze at 79:47, helped by using a couple alternate takes -- but is another essential album, with John Gilmore (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), bass, drums, percussion (including African thumb piano). I'm not a big fan of the label's reissuing of albums that are already widely available, but I can't quarrel with the music. A- [bc]
Luciano Luciani Y Sus Mulatos: Mulata, Vamos A La Salsa (1970 , Vampisoul): Alto saxophonist from Italy, moved to Peru and put this band together, with Benny del Solar and Kiko Fuentes on vocals, and lots of percussion, combining his interest in cumbias and Nuyorican salsa. First album, after a couple singles, released another in 1975 but is hard to find. B+(***) [bc]
Archie Shepp: Fire Music to Mama Too Tight Revisited (1965-66 [2022, Ezz-Thetics): Tenor saxophonist, made his initial mark 1963-64 in Denmark with New York Contemporary Five, followed by a wave of explosive albums on Impulse! -- starting with Four for Coltrane and Fire Music, and continuing to 1973. This collects two albums on one CD, starting with Fire Music -- a sextet with Marion Brown (alto ax), Ted Curson (trumpet), trombone, bass, and drums -- and tacking on Mama Too Tight, an octet several albums down the road. I suspect the latter was picked because it's short enough to fit (78:28 total). The roster looks impressive on paper -- Perry Robinson (clarinet), Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Roswell Rudd and Grachan Moncur III (trombones), Howard Johnson (tuba), Charlie Haden (bass), and Beaver Harris (drums) -- but it doesn't quite cohere. B+(**) [bc]
Horace Tapscott Quintet: The Quintet (1969 , Mr Bongo): Piano great, the central figure in the Los Angeles jazz scene, recorded this for Flying Dutchman to follow his debut A Giant Is Awakened, but somehow it didn't get released. With Arthur Blythe (alto sax), Everett Brown Jr. (drums), and two bassists (David Bryant and Walter Savage Jr.). B+(***) [sp]
Amina Baraka/The Red Microphone: Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (2017, ESP-Disk): Née Sylvia Robinson, mother and grandfather were union organizers, she was a founder of the Newark Art Society in 1963, before she married writer Amiri Baraka in 1966. She is a poet in her own right, and here ventures into spoken word over avant-jazz. The group was organized by percussionist John Pietaro, with two saxophonists (Ras Moshe Burnett and Rocco Jon Iacovone), and bass guitar (Laurie Towers). "The Things I Love" is easy to love, but she doesn't flinch from harsher fare, like "The Fascist," which gives the band reason to drill down. A- [sp]
Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now (1975 , ESP-Disk): Bassist from Chicago, died young (1935-80), best known in Sun Ra Arkestra, recorded this one album as leader, untitled at first, named for its lead song in a 2002 reissue. With three saxophones (alto and soprano, plus flute), trombone, and congas (no one I've ever heard of), but the bass leads are most intriguing. B+(**) [sp]
Matt Lavelle & Reggie Sylvester: Retrograde (2018, ESP-Disk): Duo with drums, Lavelle playing trumpet, flugelhorn, and alto clarinet. B+(***) [bc]
The Ogún Meji Duo: For Those Who Have Gone, but Still Remain (2018, CFG Multimedia): Sax and drums duo, Edwin Bayard and Mark Lomax II. Not much info beyond "pay homage to artistic Ancestors," of which Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, and Charlie Cook (?) are named in titles, the other piece called "Each Passing Moment." Short (34:48) but dense. B+(***) [sp]
The Red Microphone: And I Became of the Dark (2020 , ESP-Disk): The group from the Amina Baraka album, formed a decade earlier to support a Brecht reading, but this seems to be the first album they did on their own, with percussionist John Pietaro providing words ("provocative, political poetry") and vocals, and Dave Ross joining on guitar. First track, "Revenge of the Atom Spies," is fast enough you can say he's singing. B+(***) [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 2, 2022
Speaking of Which
The top story this week is the War in Ukraine. Russia held its long-threatened referendum on whether the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine wanted to be annexed by Russia, and lo and behold, they did, by implausibly large margins. The next step will be for Russia to accept the votes and annex the territories. (They already did this with Crimea in 2014, so the new territories are Luhansk, plus parts of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.) This matters because it presumably makes a Russian retreat from any of those territories harder for Russia to accept, and also because it means that Russia will characterize attacks on its troops in Ukraine as acts of war against Russia's homeland.
Thus far, Ukraine has refrained from launching attacks over the recognized Russian border (although they have attacked some spots in Crimea), and the US has been reluctant to give Ukraine weapons that would make it easier to launch such attacks. Ukraine and its allies will not accept the referenda or annexation, nor are they likely to change their battle plans. On the other hand, Russia has explicitly threatened significant (but unspecified) escalation if its territory is attacked, and it's easy to imagine scenarios escalating to nuclear weapons.
So the upshot is that it's become more urgent than ever to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the war. At the same time, hawks on both sides see recent events as vindicating their positions, making them even less willing to negotiate. (Hawks always see talk as a sign of weakness, and insist that the other side will crumple when allowed no other option, even though there's no evidence of the world working that way.) Western moderates may also be inclined to dig in their heels against Russia -- even if, as many do, they see Russia's aggressiveness as a sign of weakness, they remain in thrall to their desire to punish Putin for his transgression.
I understand and sympathize with the sentiment, but caution that justice is always hard to achieve, especially given that superior power is impossible between nations. I believe that Putin's war is rooted in the rot of his nationalist, chauvinist, oligarchic, and authoritarian political beliefs, and I pray that Russia will free itself from his grip. But I recognize that as something that no one outside Russia can affect, or has any business trying. It is sheer arrogance -- madness, really -- to think otherwise. As such, we need to prepare ourselves for some way to live and do business with a postwar Putin-led Russia. That means we have to advance a settlement that can be seen as fair and just.
I remain convinced that the key to this is allowing people in the disputed regions to vote to decide their own future. The referenda last week were illegitimate because Russia did not seek agreement with Ukraine to accept the results. I don't have time (let alone any responsibility) to sketch out how I think such elections should work, but they obviously start with a ceasefire. One wrinkle I would like to see is a second round, 5-10 years later, which would give residents of the territories a chance to rethink their vote (and would motivate the initial winners to rebuild and prosper).
I wrote most of what I have to say in my 23 Theses. Both sides have hardened their positions since then, but the solutions are unchanged -- just more desperately needed than ever.
Other pieces on Ukraine:
Anatol Lieven: [09-30] Putin annexations mean US-Russian talks more critical than ever.
Isaac Arnsdorf: [10-01] CPAC backpedals on pro-Russia tweet as some US conservatives back Putin: This isn't much of a story, because there's little chance that the "irritable mental gestures" of the right will come together into any sort of coherent challenge to Biden's foreign policy, with its reassertion of world hegemony. But the more Republicans seem to be aligned with Putin, the more even left-of-center Democrats rally behind Biden, compromising their own peace credentials.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-01] China and India remain neutral, even on Russia annexation.
Luke Harding/Isobel Koshiw: [09-30] Ukraine applies for Nato membership after Russia annexes territory. Another gesture only meant to provoke Russia and make negotiation less likely.
Susan B Glasser: [09-29] What if we're already fighting the third world war with Russia? This is a good example of rationalizing why "now's not the right time" to negotiate with Putin, empathizing how he "is not one to walk away from a fight or back down while losing -- escalation is his game, and by now he's very, very practiced at it." After acknowledging that we're engaged in nuclear brinksmanship, she reaches for a favorite warmonger's cliché: "Will Washington stay the course?"
Leonie Kijewski: [10-01] Russia retreats from Lyman a day after Putin's annexation. A victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but I wasn't aware of the "key strategic city" ("important railway junction") until now: it is in the far north of Donetsk Oblast, had a prewar population of 20,469 (13.8% Russian), was captured by Russia on May 27.
Matt Stieb: [09-30] Putin Decries US 'Satanism' in Bizarre Speech Annexing Parts of Ukraine.
Robert Wright: [09-30] Putin beyond the brink. "Yet many American elites -- politicians, journalists, even "think" tankers -- have been reacting to this war as if it were a football game or some other purely zero-sum contest. They've celebrated Ukrainian gains on the battlefield with no ambivalence, blissfully unaware that dramatic Ukrainian military success was always bound to encourage Kremlin risk taking, raising the chances of regional or even nuclear war."
Other pieces worth noting:
Muizz Akhtar: [09-29] Climate change has come for the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter: "China's catastrophic summer shows its climate adaptation plans still have a long way to go." Also its climate change diplomacy, as most of China's problems are caused by emissions elsewhere -- much as most of America's, most of Europe's, and most of the rest of the world's.
Jonathan Chait: [09-29] Republican House Majority Will Try to Melt Down Global Economy: "Democrats need to sabotageproof the government while they still can." I imagine one could write a broader article on Republican plots and schemes, but this one only deal with one: the debt ceiling. It used to be an automatic extension, but since the 1990s Republicans have used it repeatedly to sabotage government and try to extort concessions. And while it's difficult to do things now that couldn't be undone by a Republican House, ending the debt ceiling renewal requirement is one thing that should have been done long ago.
Nate Cohn: [09-30] Gerrymandering Isn't Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect.
Margaret Hartmann: [09-30] Bonkers Revelations From Maggie Haberman's Trump Book, Ranked. She lists 18 of them, from the mundane to the ridiculous to things that aren't even remotely news, none of which will make even the most ill-tempered critic's Very Short Introduction to the Trump presidency.
Sean Illing: [09-25] Do we ask too much of parents? Interview with Nate Hilger, author of The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis. Well, we ask too much of children, then blame the parents for failing, even when schools are far short of adequate. While the demands have grown as the world has become more complex and more difficult to understand, much of the anxiety comes from the vastly unequal economy, and the conservative politics that insists on failure being a personal fault. (Of course, we now also have to deal with an even more reactionary politics, that seeks to capture schools and turn them into right-wing indoctrination centers, even if that means not teaching the skills necessary to function in our synthetic world.)
Ellen Ioanes: [09-26] The rise of Giorgia Meloni, Italy's new far-right prime minister, explained. More on Meloni:
Sarah Jaffe: [09-23] The Country That Could Not Mourn: "The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how hard it is for Americans to grieve." Review of a book edited by Rhae Lynn Barnes, Keri Leigh Merritt, and Yohuru Williams: After Life: A Collective History of Loss and Redemption in Pandemic America.
Ed Kilgore: [09-29] Do Republicans Really Want to Punish Women for Having Abortions? Well, they have no qualms about punishing women who even think about having an abortion. When Trump read the room and suggested that women seeking abortions should be jailed, that was the only faux pas of the 2016 campaign he actually had to walk back, because he hadn't understood the public posture, but he certainly tapped into the vein of hatred underlying it. Trump was never one to miss a chance to be cruel. (As Kilgore explains: "But sometimes referring to abortion as 'murder' while calling the person who chooses to have an abortion blameless strikes hammerheaded men like Mastriano and Trump as nonsensical.")
Branko Marcetic: [10-01] Journalist Katie Halper Has Been Fired for Calling Israel an Apartheid State. She was fired from The Hill's political morning program. Calling Israel an "apartheid state" is an approximation, but not far from the mark. One difference is that South Africa still depended on cheap, underclass workers, where Israel has largely freed themselves on dependency (and therefore concern for) Palestinian workers. By the way, every time you read "illegal annexation" think back to Israel's annexations of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were every bit as illegal. Another example is Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, but that was reversed by foreign power.
Ruth Marcus: [09-30] You thought the Supreme Court's last term was bad? Brace yourself.
Julian Mark: [09-28] Teen sought in Amber Alert dies in shootout after running toward deputies: Further proof, as if we needed it, that police aren't very sharp or dependable when it comes to split-second thinking with guns in their hands. Needless to say, zero chance that anyone will be charged, damn little that anyone will be disciplined.
Nicole Narea: [09-30] Ken Paxton keeps running. Will his legal issues ever catch up? He's the worst state Attorney General in the country, at least until/unless Kris Kobach wins in Kansas. Also:
Andre Pagliarini: [09-29] Capitalism Triumphed in the Cold War, but Not by Making People Better Off: A review of Fritz Bartel's book, The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism. Looks to me more like the old switcheroo: Just as the Soviet Bloc was warming to the idea of getting in on the broad-based growth that Europe and America enjoyed from postwar to the 1970s, the West fell sway to the "greed is good" prophets and financiers cannibalized the productive economy, while imposing austerity on those who couldn't afford it. By the time the Soviet Union fell, oligarchs were all the rage, and those with the inside track seized it, to the detriment of nearly all of their people.
Nathan J Robinson: [09-26] Biden Declared the Pandemic Over. I Immediately Got COVID. The numbers have gotten slightly better since a recent peak on July 17 (130,035 new cases, on Oct. 1 down to 46,783), but deaths are still at 405 (that's 147,825 per year; I'm having trouble finding comparative data for other infectious diseases, but that's still close to 3 times the highest numbers I've seen for flu + pneumonia, which is probably the runner up). The ratio of deaths to hospitalized in ICU is 11.8%, and deaths to hospitalized is 1.4%. That's probably a long-term downward trend, but the ratio of hospitalized to cases still looks pretty high (60.2%), so it's likely that there are many more unreported cases. (Test positivity is 9.1%, which is another sign of unreported cases.) That still looks like a pandemic to me, even if it's nowhere near dire enough to force the sort of lockdowns we had in early 2020. Unfortunately, many survivors have decided that they were never at risk, and Republicans have been moving to make sure that public health officials can never interfere with business again.
Dylan Scott: [09-30] Republican states keep refusing to expand Medicaid -- until you ask their voters: "Medicaid expansion is 6-for-6 with voters on ballot initiatives. South Dakota could make it seven in a row." I have zero doubt that Kansas voters would approve expansion if given a choice. Even with a Republican supermajority in Topeka, they've only been able to stop expansion through parliamentary tricks. The political decision to spite Obamacare is especially hard on rural doctors and hospitals.
Jeffrey St Clair: [09-30] Roaming Charges: Shelter From the Surge. If you want to read about Hurricane Ian, start with the intro here, then continue to the notes on fossil fuels and climate change and insurance premiums, and a note you're unlikely to read elsewhere on how "Nigeria was hit with its worst flooding in decades with more than 300 deaths and more than half a million people displaced."
Lauren Sue: [10-02] Marjorie Taylor Greene accuses Democrats of violence and wanting to make Republicans 'disappear': When people are this gullible, it's tempting to mess with them. But realistically, all Democrats want to do to Republicans is give them free health care and education, jobs that pay decently and come with union rights, infrastructure that works, and a full panoply of human rights. Many Republicans, on the other hand, actually do . . . well, psychologists call this kind of thinking "projection."
Jay Swanson: [09-29] The Left Needs to Take Back the Constitution: Review's the new book by Joseph Fishkin and William E Forbath: The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy, which argues "the Constitution is best understood as a document calling for the unashamed struggle for equality." I've read a number of books along these lines, starting with Staughton Lynd's Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (1968) and Gordon S Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), and more recently Ganesh Sitaraman's The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution (2017) and Erwin Chemerinsy's We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution in the Twenty-First Century (2018). You can slice that loaf many ways, but there's much to chew on if you're so inclined -- and these interpretations are at least as sensible, and much more useful, than what's passed off as "originalism" these days.
Jake Whitney: [09-26] Shattering the 'Myth of War': Review of Chris Hedges' new book, The Greatest Evil Is War. Evidently, he wrote this after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, which he condemns, as he does Bush's invasion of Iraq, and much more. There is also an excerpt, in which Hedges writes: "The true costs of war are hidden from the public because the reality is too horrific to accept."
That's enough for now. I had maybe 5-8 links from early in the week, and wrote the first half of the intro on Saturday, so that committed me to doing something to post on Sunday -- instead of a bunch of other things I'd rather be doing. Obviously, there's much more going on. Hurricane Ian is still a big story: death toll is at 58 (or 76 or 88), "second-largest catastrophe loss event on record" in the US, Hurricane Ian may leave behind a trail of environmental hazards, and I've seen very little on whatever it did in the Carolinas. This is the first week in many where I haven't bothered with the Trump legal stuff (a mere 5 mentions otherwise). Nothing yet on the election in Brazil. And I'm continuing my blackout on the November elections. More time for all that later.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Music: Current count 38768  rated (+51), 44  unrated (-0: 16 new, 28 old).
I want to keep this brief. I haven't wrapped up the September archive file (link above) yet. I also haven't caught up with last week's releases in the metacritic file. Plenty of time for that sort of thing later.
I wrote up another big Speaking of Which yesterday. I picked up a couple links as far back as last Tuesday, but didn't write much of anything until Saturday. In between, I worked some on a future Book Roundup post, which I had hopes for last week but couldn't pull together in time. For what little it's worth, I developed a new scratch file to work in until I get enough material for a real post. No problem sharing the link, but I don't know how useful it will be (for you, although the jury is still out on how well it works for me).
I got some tips for this week's music from Chuck Eddy's Best Albums of 2022 So Far list, including an A- rapper I had never heard of. Christian Iszchak published a similar list. I spent less time with it, because I was already much more in tune with it -- I have 32 of 50 albums at A- or higher, 9 more at B+(***), only 1 as low as B, the last unrated belatedly added to today's list.
The Britney Spears dive was occasioned by a question to last week's Xgau Sez.
Pharoah Sanders died last week. I don't have much to say at this point, but my grade list is here. While there are good albums early and late -- in between was a struggle for most jazz musicians -- my favorite is 1990's Welcome to Love, which I've long regarded as the most gorgeous saxophone record ever recorded. Here are some obituaries: Andy Cush (Pitchfork); Andrew Flanagan/Nate Chinen (NPR); Jon Parles (New York Times).
Three more death to note way too briefly: Hillary Mantel (one of my wife's favorite writers); Anton Fier (drummer for Golden Palominos and other groups); Richard Cobeen (a music teacher and friend of friends). Also note that Dorothy Billings' memorial is this week.
Got a new dishwasher installed this week. I was surprised at how painful the whole process was: how hard it was to compare shopping information, how difficult to deal with dealers, how messy the whole delivery and installation process got. I'm not happy either with my choice or with the install (although not really the fault of the guy who did it). I've installed my own before, but decided to save myself some pain. If I ever do feel better, maybe I'll pull it out and redo it right, but for now it works ok. I used to pride myself as a smart shopper, but I'm on an extended losing streak.
Upgraded one computer to Ubuntu 22.04 last week with no issues, then finally did my main writing computer last night. Big problems. They lost my Firefox data (history, bookmarks, passwords, settings). Also broke my web server. Both problems are fixed now, but it took quite a bit of digging, config file editing, and shell programming to get it fixed. One reason I'm rushing to get this out.
New records reviewed this week:
Ingrid Andress: Good Person (2022, Warner Music Nashville/Atlantic): Country singer-songwriter, grew up in Colorado, studied at Berklee, second album. B+(*) [sp]
Linda Ayupuka: God Created Everything (2022, Mais Um Discos): Singer from Ghana, first album, "the future of fra fra music." Voices over beats, of varying intensity. B+(**) [sp]
Sasha Berliner: Onyx (2022, self-released): Vibraphonist, second album, backed by James Francies (keyboards), Burniss Travis (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums), with guests Jaleel Shaw (alto sax), Julius Rodriguez (synths), and Thana Alexa (vocals). B+(**) [bc]
The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field (2022, Carpark): Indie pop band from New Zealand, Elizabeth Stokes the singer and rhythm guitarist, Jonathan Pearce the lead guitarist. Third album, jumps out fast. B+(***) [sp]
Bobby Broom: Keyed Up (2021 , Steele): Guitarist, debut album 1981, does a pretty fair Wes Montgomery impression. Quartet with piano/organ (Justin Dillard), bass (Dennis Carroll), and drums (co-producer Kobie Watkins). Makes it look easy. B+(**) [cd]
Butcher Brown: Butcher Brown Presents Triple Trey (2022, Concord Jazz): Jazz quintet from Richmond, Virginia; albums since 2013 veer between punk and funk with a Fela tribute on the side, but mostly this one, featuring MC and multi-instrumentalist Tennishu, goes for hip-hop. B+(*) [sp]
Cäthe: Chill Out Punk (2022, Träum Weiter!): German singer-songwriter, last nameSieland, fourth studio album since 2011. Light electropop, or perhaps deeper if I could decipher more than the occasional word, but definitely a chill album, and no, not punk. B+(***) [sp]
Cave In: Heavy Pendulum (2022, Relapse): Metalcore band from Massachusetts, debut 1998, a couple of their early releases wound up in my database but I never heard them until this showed up as the highest rated unheard album this year (tied for 150 on my list). Only their 7th studio album: they had a hiatus between their 2005 and 2011 releases, and didn't follow the latter up until 2019. Gruff vocals, more tolerable than the usual metal thrash, but awful long. B-
Raven Chacon/Tatsuya Nakatini/Carlos Santistevan: Inhale/Exhale (2020 , Other Minds): Trio from New Mexico: guitar, percussion, bass, with electronics, live improvs on two side-long pieces (39:10 total). B+(*) [sp]
The Comet Is Coming: Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (2022, Impulse!): British fusion group, third or fourth album since 2016, with King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings) on tenor sax, Danalogue (Dan Leavers) on keyboards, and Betamax (Maxwell Hallett) on drums. B+(**) [sp]
Deca: Smoking Gun (2022, Coalmine): New York rapper Matthew Kenney, 10th album since 2004, delivery reminds me of Buck 65, beats too, guest spots for Blu and Homeboy Sandman. A- [sp]
Jeff Denson/Romain Pilon/Brian Blade: Finding Light (2022, Ridgeway): Bassist, albums since 2012, divided songwriting with guitarist Pilon 6-4, with Blade on drums. Tends toward ambient. B+(*) [cd]
DJ Travella: Mr Mixondo (2022, Nyege Nyege Tapes): Nineteen-year-old singeli producer from Tanzania: hip-hop beats, but faster. B+(*)
Djo: Joe Keery (2022, Awal): Joe Keery, better known as an actor (Stranger Things, since 2016), started in the band Post Animal, second solo album. B [sp]
Edoheart: Pandemonium (2022, Edoheart, EP): Esohe Arhebamen, from Nigeria, family moved to Detroit when she was seven, alias honors the Edo people of Nigeria, has studied the butoh dance of Japan, choreographed, published books of poetry, and released close to 10 albums and EPs. This one runs five tracks, 17:24, a star burst of ideas. B+(**) [sp]
El Khat: Albat Alawi Op. 99 (2022, Glitterbeat): Tel Aviv group, varied backgrounds (Iraq, Poland, Morocco, Yemen), named for a social drug common in Yemen, which "provides a feeling that promotes community and relaxation." B+(*) [sp]
Emperor X: The Lakes of Zones B and C (2022, Dreams of Field): Singer-songwriter Chad Metheny, originally from Florida, based in Berlin, debut 1998 but I didn't notice him until 2011's Western Teleport. I've been impressed with most of his work, but don't seem to be latching onto much here, even though the song titles are interesting, and the music is forthright. B+(**) [sp]
Alex G: God Save the Animals (2022, Domino): Singer-songwriter Alex Giannascoli, fourth album on this indie label after as many self-released efforts, going back to 2010. B
Noah Garabedian: Consider the Stars Beneath Us (2022, Outside In Music): Bassist, has a previous record or two, wrote everything here, played by Dayna Sephens (tenor/soprano sax), Carmen Staaf (piano), and Jimy Macbride (drums), with producer Samuel Adams credited for "effects, programming, additional recording, Moog Minitaur, Juno JU-06A." B+(***) [cd]
Connie Han: Secrets of Inanna (2022, Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Los Angeles, fourth album, trio with John Patitucci (bass) and Bill Wysaske (drums), plus spots for Rich Perry (tenor sax) and Katisse Buckingham (flute/piccolo). B+(*) [sp]
Jasper Høiby/Planet B: What It Means to Be Human (2021 , Edition): Danish bassist, several albums, this is second of a promised four albums, starting with 2020's excellent Planet B, same trio with Josh Arcoleo (sax) and Marc Michel (drums). The bass is the pulse of life, the sax an adventure, the drums play off that. Includes spoken word texts from Grace Lee Boggs, Ruby Sales, and Jane Goodall. A- [sp]
Jon Irabagon: Rising Sun (2021 , Irabbagast): Tenor saxophonist, Filipino roots, first noticed in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, won a Monk Prize (which got him a record on Concord, where he had to make nice and delivered a pretty good one anyway). Hit and miss in his solo work. Composed this (only cover is "Bebop") during an extended family roadtrip through the upper mountain states, and recorded it with a stellar quartet -- Matt Mitchell, Chris Lightcap, and Dan Weiss -- with guest spots for Miles Okazaki (guitar) and Adam O'Farrill (trumpet). B+(***) [bc]
Samara Joy: Linger Awhile (2022, Verve): Jazz singer, grew up in the Bronx, second album, still 22. Credits hard to come by, but guitarist Pasquale Grasso is featured on three songs, backed by Ben Paterson (piano), David Wong (bass), and Kenny Washington (drums). Mix of standards and jazz tunes she's written vocalese lyrics to. B+(**) [sp]
Julian Lage: View With a Room (2022, Blue Note): Guitarist, I count nine albums on mid-to-major labels, including his 2009 debut. Trio returns with Jorge Roeder (bass) and Dave King (drums), plus second guitarist Bill Frisell. B+(**) [sp]
Ingrid Laubrock/Tom Rainey: Counterfeit Mars (2021 , Relative Pitch): Saxophone (tenor/soprano) and drums duo, something they've done a lot of since the pandemic locked them down. B+(***) [bc]
Urs Leimgruber/Christy Doran/Bobby Burri/Fredy Studer: OM 50 (2022, Intakt): Avant-fusion band (soprano sax, guitar, bass, drums), founded 50 years ago, released 5 albums 1975-80 -- their 2006 A Retrospective is a good sampler -- got back together for a live album in 2010, another in 2020, then this shortly before the drummer died. Too many spots where they lay back, but most are rewarded with outstanding returns. B+(***) [sp]
James Brandon Lewis Quartet: MSM Molecular Systematic Music Live (2021 , Intakt, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, swept last year's Jazz Critics Poll with his Red Lily Quintet album Jesup Wagon, building on a streak of superb albums going back to 2014 (Divine Travels, on Okeh). This live set expands on his 2020 Quartet album Molecular -- with Aruán Ortiz (piano), Brad Jones (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums) -- reprising 9 (of 11) songs, stretch to 89:48. B+(***) [sp]
Charles Lloyd: Trios: Ocean (2020 , Blue Note): Second of three trio albums, following Trios: Chapel earlier this year, with a box set scheduled for November 18 collecting all three. This one has the tenor saxophonist backed by piano (Gerald Clayton) and drums (Anthony Wilson), with Lloyd also playing a fair amount of flute. B+(**) [sp]
Marilyn Mazur's Shamania: Rerooting (2022, Clap Your Hands): Percussionist, born in US but family moved to Denmark when she was six, albums since 1984, including Shamania in 2019. Josefine Cronholm and Sissel Vera Petterson sing -- latter also plays alto sax, with Lotte Anker on tenor sax, plus trumpet, trombone, keyboards, electric bass, and two more percussionists. B+(**) [cd]
Makaya McCraven: In These Times (2022, International Anthem): Chicago-based second-generation drummer, mother a Hungarian folk singer (he includes one of her songs here), albums since 2012 including some crossover potential -- this one is distributed by XL in Europe, and Nonesuch in the US. Long credits list, which doesn't qualify as a big band but provides even more textural and rhythmic options. Unfortunately, that's basically all he has, but it makes for a swell ride, as long as it lasts. B+(**) [sp]
Cario Mombelli: Lullaby for Planet Earth (2021 , Clap Your Hands): From South Africa, plays electric bass, voice credit threw me as there's not much of that. Has a record with Charlie Mariano from 1990. Otherwise, discography picks up in 2014. This was recorded in Basel with Wolfgang Muthspiel on guitar and Jorge Rossy on drums and vibraphone. Atmospherics, light and airy. B+(***) [cd]
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 14: Henry Franklin (2022, Jazz Is Dead): The producers continue their tongue-in-cheek series featuring (mostly) forgotten figures of the decade jazz came closest to dying: the 1970s. Franklin is a bassist who released three obscure albums in the 1970s (the first two on Black Jazz), then struggled to find an outlet until 2000. Eight tracks with 7-9 musicians each, total 31:06. B+(*) [sp]
No Age: People Helping People (2022, Drag City): Indie rock duo, Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt, have an impressive string of albums since 2007. This one flies a bit under the radar. B+(**) [sp]
Oriental Brothers International Band: Oku Ngwo Di Ochi (2022, Palenque): Nigerian highlife band, founded in 1973, working under various names, sometimes featuring vocalist Dr. Sir Warrior or guitarist Godwin "Kabaka" Opara, neither of whom are still around for this new recordings (their first in 20 years). But the current crew, including band leader Ferdinand Dansatch Opara, have earned the right to keep this marvelous band name going. A- [bc]
Chris Pitsiokis: Art of the Alto (2022, Relative Pitch): Alto saxophonist, has produced quite a bit since 2012, including his group CP Unit. This one is solo, second time he's done that. First impression is that this is as good/bad/unlistenable as Anthony Braxton's For Alto. But ultimately it's a bit more varied, which helps. B+(*) [bc]
Shawn Purcell: 180 (2022, Origin): Guitarist, from Pittsburgh, based in DC region, spent eight years in Airmen of Note, teaches at George Mason. Basically an organ trio, with Pat Bianchi and Jason Tiemann, plus trombone on one track, vocals (Darden Purcell) on three. B [cd]
Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau/Christian McBride/Brian Blade: Long Gone (2022, Nonesuch): Supergroup (tenor sax, piano, bass, drums), all four established themselves as leaders in the 1990s, came together for the well-regarded 2020 album Round Again. B+(***) [sp]
Sampa the Great: As Above, So Below (2022, Loma Vista): Rapper Sampa Tembo, from Zambia, raised in Botswana, based in Australia after she turned 20. Second album (after two mixtapes). B+(**) [sp]
Rina Sawayama: Hold the Girl (2022, Dirty Hit): Pop singer, born in Japan, moved to London at age five, got a degree at Cambridge in political science, has worked as a model and actress. Twenty singles, but this is just her second album. I didn't like her earlier work, possibly sounded too metal, but this at best sounds like '90s Madonna, and there's something to even the most overwrought ballads. B+(**) [sp]
Suede: Autofiction (2022, BMG): Britpop group, first four albums (1993-99) were big hits in UK, three later albums (2013-18) returned to top ten there. For most of this time, they were known as London Suede in the US, but that seems not a problem this time. Music seems framed for the arena: big and heavy. B [sp]
Two Shell: Home (2022, Mainframe Audio, EP): British electronica duo, from London, eight releases since 2019, mostly EPs, which is how this one is billed, but at 5 tracks, 33:03 it could be an album. But it seems to slip by awful fast. B+(*) [sp]
Will Vinson: Tripwire (2021 , Whirlwind): British alto saxophonist, based in New York, dozen-plus albums since 2004, this a trio with Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), plus guest Melissa Aldana (tenor sax) on two tracks. B+(***) [sp]
Katharina Weber: In Marta's Garden: Piano Solo (2022, Intakt): Swiss pianist, has a 2001 duo credit, a previous 2008 solo album, more albums since. B+(*) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Suzi Analogue: Infinite Zonez (2016-19 , Disciples): Hip-hop/electronica producer, compiled this from four Zonez volumes. B+(*) [sp]
John Ondolo: Hypnotic Guitar of John Ondolo (1961-68 , Mississippi): Tanzanian singer-songwriter, frequented the Kenyan scene in Nairobi, played guitar, a member of Vijana Jazz Band. This collects early singles. Feels primitive, but is still very beguiling. A- [bc]
Celestine Ukwu and His Philosophers National: No Condition Is Permanent (1971-74 , Mississippi): Nigerian (Igbo) highlife singer (1940-77) and bandleader, recorded a half-dozen albums with this group (1971-76). Five tracks (32:57), selected from singles and albums. Loses a bit when they slow it down, but the closer ("Tomorrow Is So Uncertain") is especially lovely. B+(***) [bc]
The Dils: Class War (1977-80 , Bacchus Archives): Los Angeles punk band, released two singles in 1977 ("I Hate the Rich"/"You're Not Blank" and "Class War"/"Mr. Big"), and three more songs in 1980, with a 10-track live album appearing in 1990, all combined here. Two members went on to the country-rock Rank and File. The singles are notably political, and they display some embryonic tunecraft. B+(*) [sp]
Highlights From the Mercury Blues 'n' Rhythm Story (1945-55 , Mercury/Chronicles): Single-CD sampler from the 8-CD box, 20 tracks. Cuts way back on the redundancy with only one song per artist, but plenty to go around. I suspect I could pick an alternate I'd like even more, but this does the job. A-
Nova Twins: Nova Twins EP (2016, Robotunes): British funk-metal duo, Amy Love and Georgia South, 5-song debut (15:03), start out closer to hip-hop but with heavier bass lines. I recommend their two subsequent full-length albums, but this should get you going. A- [sp]
Britney Spears: . . . Baby One More Time (1998 , Jive): Teen pop princess, cast in The Mickey Mouse Club at 11, signed a record deal at 15, released this debut album at 17, looking pert and wholesome on the cover, last time you could say that. Sold 25 million copies: her most ever, although the next one came close (20 million). Front-loaded. The ballad "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart" seemed like a fall, but turned out to be catchy enough. B+(**)
Britney Spears: Britney (2001, Jive): Third album, another big seller (10 million), seems to have found her sound here, compressed with a staccato beat. B+(***)
Britney Spears: Circus (2008, Jive): Sixth album, after In the Zone (B) and Blackout (high B+), which this outsold 4 million to 3.1. Her ballad is a bust, but the dance beats are tight, even if there's little to distinguish the songs. B+(*)
Britney Spears: The Essential Britney Spears (1998-2012 , RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Seven albums in -- Britney Jean came out later and contributed nothing here -- so less to choose two discs (33 songs) from than the single disc (14 songs) Greatest Hits from 2004. But as she grew out of teendom, she got dirtier, and her beats got denser, so while she never came up with a particularly interesting pop persona, her records got better even as the individual songs grew less memorable. Her early phase end 9 songs in with "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." The rest is consistenty enjoyable, although I could say the same for 2011's Femme Fatale (4 songs here), or for that matter 2016's Glory (her last album before her neuroses and conservatorship put her out of commission). A-
Britney Spears: Britney Jean (2013, RCA): Still charting high (although topping out at 4 was her lowest ever), but the raw sales have collapsed (as was happening throughout the industry). She describes this as her most personal album, and indeed has a piece of all the songwriting credits, but also a lot of help. B
Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Neptune Power Federation: Le Demon De L'Amour (2022, Cruz Del Sur): Australian fuzz metal band since 2012, singer Lauren Friedman (aka Screaming Loz Sutch), have a drummer who goes by Mr Styx. - [yt]
Grade (or other) changes:
Britney Spears: Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (1998-2004 , Jive/Zomba): Premature: compiled after four albums, baited with two new singles: the title cut (a Bobby Brown cover) is sharper than all but a couple of her own hits, which oddly seems to diminish them. [was: B] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: