Blog Entries [140 - 149]

Friday, September 3, 2021

Speaking of Which

Joe Biden completed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan Sunday night, and delivered a forceful address defending the evacuation and reiterating his commitment to end the war. Here are some articles I noticed and felt like commenting on. The Matthew Cooper piece has more on the speech.

David Atkins: Wars Can Be Won. Permanent Occupations Cannot. What he means is that the US military can devastate other military units, effectively allowing them to run roughshod over most other countries. On the other hand, the US is incapable of establishing viable, legitimate governance in lands they have overrun militarily. I'm tempted to point out some possible exceptions, but they don't apply to the US in Afghanistan -- never stood a chance, given the military mindset, and also given that the US has always been comfortable with paying off elites to obtain a shallow level of deference. But when you get down to it, the US (most especially the Republicans) aren't much good at governing their own country, let alone a foreign one, half way around the world, whose people they have nothing but contempt for. The basic principles here were worked out by Jonathan Schell in his 2003 book The Unconquerable World, but the epic failure of western colonialism was clear by the mid-1960s, when the French and British gave up on the last remnants of empire. I do have a quibble with the title: I insist that wars cannot be won, but only lost in varying degrees.

Ben Armbruster: New post-9/11 wars cost estimate: $8 trillion: "The US military role in Afghanistan is over, but the costs will continue to mount as the forever wars rage on" -- much of the future cost will be health care for US veterans. Direct spending for Afghanistan is $2.313 trillion. I don't know of any estimates for total cost to the world, although the article has found that "between 897,000 and 929,000 have been 'directly killed,' so at least considers that way the US military has impacted others.

Joe Cirincione: The dangerous rise of a new stab-in-the-back myth: "The foreign policy elite are focused on defending their reputations and privileges, not in confronting failure in Afghanistan." As noted, there was concerted effort to blame the US military failure in Vietnam on failing popular support -- Andrew Bacevich's 2005 book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War has a fair amount on this. [PS: Useless idiot Marc Thiessen has already jumped on this bandwagon, ending today's column: "Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines didn't fail. Their leaders did."]

Eli Clifton: Top defense firms spend $1B on lobbying during Afghan war, see $2T return. I doubt that includes the cost of the "revolving door" between the military and defense contractors, which is probably as critical a factor as direct lobbying.

Matthew Cooper: After Afghanistan Withdrawal, Biden Lashes Out at Critics. He had the courage of his convictions, stuck to his guns, and led his country out of a fruitless, pointless, and ultimately self-damaging twenty-year war. He should be proud. I'm proud of him (which is something I don't often, if ever, say about US presidents). If the early days of the evacuation looked chaotic, maybe that's because the US military plans to invade countries, but not to exit them. Americans compliment themselves on taking in over 100,000 refugees from Vietnam and Southeast Asia, but the US hardly flew any of them out of the country. Most cast off in boats, and were eventually rescued at sea. Biden flew 115,000 out in two weeks. Biden "ended a war more decisively than any president since Harry Truman accepted the Japanese surrender 76 years ago this week. . . . The president ended this war on his own terms. The University of Delaware grad thought he had more common sense than 'the best and the brightest' who deluded themselves into thinking that one more surge, one more drone assault, and we could stay forever. Joe Biden stood them down and didn't blink. His defiance counts as a victory."

Ross Douthat: Joe Biden's Critics Lost Afghanistan: Not someone I normally read, but Kathleen Geier was struck by how pointed this was as a critique of America's misadventure in Afghanistan, and she's right. No doubt his vitriol was encouraged by the opportunity to heap much of the blame on Obama, and (less justifiably) add "Biden deserves plenty of criticism" while extolling "the Trump administration in its wiser moments" (sorry, I must have blinked). Still, this is about right: "Our botched withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors."

Michelle Goldberg: The Afghanistan War Was Lost Before Biden Ended It. You get the feeling that despite knowing better she still wishes it had all worked out. She attacks Biden for "not clearing bureaucratic obstacles that kept Afghan allies waiting for visas," but exonerates him from the charge of "losing the war." But she could have made a more persuasive case for the deep origins of US failure in Afghanistan.

Jeff Greenfield: The Hidden Message in Joe Biden's Afghanistan Speech: "Biden's caution about the limits of U.S. power could launch a debate that many Americans have wanted for decades." I don't see a general debate breaking out, but admission that the Afghanistan War was a costly failure will certainly raise doubts about similar ventures. We've already seen some of that with Syria and Libya, although US involvement in Africa seems to escape scrutiny. What is needed now is an alternative to US military power projection. One approach would be to offer to scale back the US military, including bases ab road, as part of a deal for arms reductions elsewhere (e.g., in China and Russia).

Ezra Klein: Let's Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem. After noting the prevalence of groupthink in American foreign policy -- and admitting he got suckered into supporting the invasion of Iraq because he trusted that consensus -- he notes: "It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America's defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America's foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them." He also notes: "America's pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. . . . It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led tot he deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis."

Anita Kumar: As Biden ends mission in Afghanistan, a refugee backlash looms at home: I expect the Republican Party to split on welcoming Afghan refugees. On the one hand, Republicans have generally done well with immigrants from countries the US devastated with war and sanctions -- especially Cubans (think Senators Cruz and Rubio), but they've generally done well with any immigrants they could get a super-patriotic rise from. On the other hand, Trump cultivated an anti-muslim backlash which I expect to kick in here. And Trump's nominal (if practically meaningless) opposition to US wars in the Middle East offers an out from the "moral commitments" owed to US collaborators in the region, backed by the group's Christianist and racist prejudices. Xenophobia is a core tenet, and likely to remain a key one among Republicans.

Josh Marshall: Taking Stock of the Great and Cowardly Press Freakout of August 2021:

Three Presidents understood the futility of the mission. Only one had the determination to end it even at the cost of real political damage to himself. . . . But as many have argued this was a reality baked into the futility and failure of the mission itself. There was no pretty exit. That is what kept the US there for two decades. As has been the case for weeks, this is the crux of the 'there had to be a better way' crowd's argument: wanting out of a failed endeavor but unwilling to stomach let alone embrace the reality of that failure and eager to pass that messiness off on someone else.

Sandi Sidhu, et al.: Ten family members, including children, dead after US strike in Kabul. Leaving Afghanistan a little something to remember us for. Also see Dave DeCamp: Victims of US Drone Strike in Kabul Want Answers; e.g.:

The slaughter of the Ahmadi family is not an anomaly for US drone strikes. In 2015, documents leaked by Daniel Hale, who was recently sentenced to 45 months in prison, revealed that during a five-month period between 2012 and 2013, 90 percent of the people killed by US drones were civilians.

Matthew Warshauer: 9/11 wasn't the Pearl Harbor of our generation: "But it was a trap laid by Osama bin Laden only Washington could spring. And it did." Bin Laden may have "declared war" on the United States, but he didn't have any resources to fight a war, and he didn't risk any territory (or many of his own people) in his recklessness. Indeed, that's why when GW Bush decided to respond with war, he had to pick a real country, Afghanistan, as a proxy for the non-state Al-Qaeda, in order to have something the US military could beat. By the way, the big difference between 1941 and 2001 was America. I wouldn't say that the US was innocent in the lead up to WWII, but Roosevelt did wait until Japan and Germany declared war to respond in kind, which is one reason Japanese and Germans acknowledge their responsibility for the war, and tolerated an American occupation force that was nearly as clueless as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, Afghans and Iraqis felt like victims of America's global hubris, even before the 2001-03 invasions.

One last thing I want to add that I've seen hints at but don't have a solid article to point at is that it's quite possible that Biden will fall into the rut of America's previous botched wars and insist on ostracizing and isolating the Taliban, to the detriment of the Afghan people, and to the greater risk to world peace. North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Iran are all examples of America clinging to its grudges, forcing countries to continue to dig in and rally their people to defend against American imperiousness. We're seeing evidence of this as Biden freezes Afghan foreign funds, imposes sanctions on Taliban, and vows to continue drone attacks on ISIS-K targets (see Samuel Moyn: America Is Giving the World a Disturbing New Kind of War; on sanctions: US Wrestles With Taliban Sanctions as Afghan Crisis Looms). It is worth reiterating that Communist nations that the US had never directly fought almost universally reformed themselves along lines favorable to liberal democracy or at least capitalism. The US should give the Taliban a chance for peace and prosperity -- at least stop mucking up any possibility.

Finally, a few links and comments on other stories of note this week. I didn't flag a piece on Covid this week, but you can get the latest stats here. One of the articles I skipped over had a dire prediction that daily deaths could top 1,500 again. On September 2, the daily avg. was 1,521 (+67% over 14 days).

Benji Jones: Fires in the Amazon are out of control. Again. "Hundreds of wildfires have already scorched the rainforest this year, and the worst is likely yet to come." Thought I'd include an apocalyptic climate story that hasn't gotten much press attention.

Ezra Klein: The Way the Senate Melted Down Over Crypto Is Very Revealing: I've never understood cryptocurrency, and I don't understand it much better after reading this article. Part of it is that it's always seemed like something I could ignore. Indeed, for the most part all it seems to be is a self-involved betting game, like fantasy football, or derivatives. The political question is whether the government should consider regulating and/or taxing it, which seems like a fair question, especially if the answer isn't assumed. Some Senators care about that question, but they don't divide along left/right political lines, so that doesn't help much. One thing I really don't understand is why it takes so much compute power -- enough that some people consider it a factor in global warming (a point which will presumably be moot once we get to all non-carbon electricity, but wouldn't that point come sooner if we didn't waste it on things nobody needs?). The other thing that this article touches on is the potential for crypto to transform the internet. The idea here is that crypto can be used to enforce property rights on data (e.g., through NFTs), which in theory could make it easier to pay content producers for their wares. It does this by making data, which can be copied for zero marginal cost, scarce, and therefore expensive. That sounds to me like a terrible idea.

Carlos Lozado: 9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed. Washington Post book review editor, wrote a whole book on 150 books about Trump (What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era), offers a shorter digest of books on 9/11 and the wars that followed. Seems like I could write more on this, and possibly offer some alternatives, but for now here's the list ([x] are ones I've read, loosely graded for insight and utility; I cut back on my reading after 2008, while Lozado's list favors new books):

  • Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004) [A-]
  • Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006) [A-]
  • Peter Bergen: The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden (2021)
  • Richard A Clarke: Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (2004)
  • Jim Dwyer/Kevin Flynn: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (2004)
  • Garrett M Graff: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019)
  • Bob Woodward: Bush at War (2002)
  • Jane Mayer: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (2008) [A-]
  • David Cole, ed: The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable (2009)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture (2014)
  • Robert Draper: To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020)
  • Anthony Shadid: Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2005) [A]
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006) [B+]
  • Dexter Filkins: The Forever War (2008) [B]
  • Craig Whitlock: The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (2021)
  • The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (2007)
  • David Finkel: Thank You for Your Service (2013)
  • The Iraq Study Group Report (2006)
  • Spencer Ackerman: Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (2021)
  • Karen J Greenberg: Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump (2021)
  • The 9/11 Commission Report (2004)

The list of books I've read since 2001 or so is here. The last few years have understandably been preoccupied with Trump and his Klan, but two books I'm surprised not to find here are Andrew Bacevich's America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, and Steven Coll's Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The recent books by Ackerman and Watkins look promising, and Draper's book probably sums up a lot of detail I mostly sussed out in real time on the selling of the Iraq War.

Rick Perlstein: When America Had a Moral Panic Over Inflation. A historian who has written well over 1,000 pages on the 1970s takes a look at one of the decade's signature issues, and some of the many dumb things said about it, and about Paul Volcker, who usually gets credit for slaying the inflation dragon. One thing that's always bothered me is that while inflation is supposedly defined by the cost of goods, the measures used to suppress it are almost always aimed at wages. Another is that the way the Fed uses to "cool off" the economy is by raising interest rates (isn't that some kind of inflation?). I hadn't heard the Robert Solow quote on Volcker's recession, but it strikes me as right: "It's burning down the house to roast the pig."

Janet Reitman: 'I Helped Destroy People': "Terry Albury, an idealistic F.B.I. agent, grew so disillusioned by the war o terror that he was willing to leak classified documents -- and go to prison for doing it." I could have slotted this under the Afghanistan section, but the article is big and important enough to get its own heading. This point is pretty obvious, but should be spelled out: for every foreign war a country fights, there is a mirror war fought at home against one's own people. I suppose this goes back to the Crusades, when soldiers marching toward the Holy Land got some practice sacking Jewish villages along the way. No American war has ever been fought more viciously at home than WWI, with local committees to police anti-war dissidents, incarceration for anti-war leaders like Eugene Debs, censorship, and widespread attacks against German-Americans. In WWII, Japanese-Americans were picked up and carted off to concentration camps. (German and Italian nationals were also interned, but not US citizens of German or Italian descent.) Both World Wars ended in Red Scares, the Second kicking off the Cold War. After 9/11, the war rush was accompanied by pre-emptive attacks against anyone with a peaceful disposition. As the targets of those wars were Muslims, Americans became all the more Islamophobic, with the FBI both following and leading the prejudices. This article has a lot of detail on how and why that happened.

Bill Scher: It's Time to Raise Hell in Texas Over the Insane Abortion Law: I hope I don't have to explain why the law is insane. It seems unlikely to me that the Supreme Court will tolerate the free-for-all of citizen suits in cases where they have no conceivable standing, even if the majority is inclined to reverse Roe v. Wade, so the 5-4 vote against a stay seems very reckless. I said a while back that it was premature to start talking about reforming (or re-packing) the Supreme Court, as I thought it would be impossible to get a consensus until it became clear how deranged the current right-wing Court is. This is one of the rulings that will help build the case that we need a reformed Supreme Court with a majority of Justices respecting constitutional rights and freedoms. By the way, this isn't the only insane law to come out of the Texas Lege (as Molly Ivans put it) recently. They also passed a law to get rid of all gun registration requirements. They also finally passed their anti-voting law. Texas can't turn blue too soon. Also see:

Nick Shay: Hurricane Ida Turned Into a Monster Thanks to a Giant Warm Patch in the Gulf of Mexico: Fairly technical explanation of the "warm eddy" that Ida passed over, leading to extreme intensification. My impression is that most hurricanes that enter the Gulf of Mexico strengthen due to the warm surface waters (which I would expect to be warmer in shallower areas close to land), but I hadn't previously read about warm eddies, where the warm water can be as deep as 500 feet. As we've seen, Ida's damage to Louisiana has been extensive. More surprisingly is the amount of rain it has continued to dump all the way to Philadelphia and New York, which have experienced severe flooding. Also see:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Music Week

August archive (finished).

Music: Current count 36142 [36093] rated (+49), 226 [221] unrated (+5).

A couple weeks ago I wrote a critical comment on an egregiously bad piece by Matt Taibbi (on what he called The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama). Next week, Taibbi wrote a pretty good piece on the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan: We Never Learn. He always cultivated this idea that he could prove his independence by attacking "both sides" -- e.g., in The Great Derangement, he added a chapter attacking "9/11 truthers" as a left-wing analog to the right-wing crazies who gave him so much to write about -- but lately his ravings about mainstream media and centrist Democrats have become increasingly arbitrary and gratuitous, especially given how far off the deep end right-wing media and politicians have plunged. But the fact that many Democrats are wed to the dysfunctional fantasies of the military-security-mercenary complex gives him a chance to put his contrarianism to good use. And now, he's managed to merge his best insights with his worst instincts, in To Stop War, America Needs a Third Party.

Look, I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. We had just moved to Kansas, and it was clear the Democrats didn't have the slightest interest in campaigning in Kansas. When I voted, the thought occurred to me that Nader might even outpoll Gore here. Well, I was wrong. Without trying, Gore got 11 times as many votes as Nader (399,276 to 36,086; although in Douglas County, the Gore/Nader ratio was down to 4). Even so, Gore lost to Bush by 20.8 points, had Gore received all of Nader's votes, the margin would only have dropped to 17.4. I've never blamed Nader for Gore losing, and I get irritated when other people do. Gore ran the campaign he chose to, figuring he would make up more center votes (and cash) than he could possibly lose to a left that New Democrats had nothing but contempt for. Even as the true horror of the Bush administration became evident after 9/11, I've never doubted that Gore would have gone to war as readily as Bush did. (Well, maybe not Iraq, which Bush had a peculiar hard on for, but Afghanistan was the original mistake.) While Nader wasn't especially concerned with foreign affairs, I'm pretty sure that he would have held back, preventing the 20-year debacle that's only now becoming obvious to many people. So, at least in that respect, the divide between Nader and Gore was more important than the difference between Gore and Bush.

Taibbi is right that both parties have deeply invested in the imperial military mindset. In some ways, the failure of Democrats to find any sort of alternative foreign policy is more galling. Republicans' core belief in using military power to cow poorer nations is consistent with their faith in using police and courts to trample poor and dissident people at home. Both intend to fortify and protect privilege classes, and are not tempered by concerns for democracy, freedom, or individual rights. You'd think that Democrats would understand that by now. (They've been slow on the uptake, but Republican efforts to rig elections finally seem to have caught their attention.)

You'd also expect that they'd reflect back on the principles and promise of international institutions, which they worked hard to establish under and after FDR. Yet even now we see Biden acting rashly and unilaterally to order the wanton death of drone strikes while still committed to exiting Afghanistan.

But Taibbi is dead wrong about third parties. What I realized in 2000 was that the people we needed to convince to support a progressive agenda had already committed to one party (the Democratic), in large part because the other (the Republicans) were clearly committed to causing them harm. That fundamental truth has only become more obvious since 2000. The other change is that the neoliberal clique that took over the Democratic Party with Clinton can and has been challenged, both in primaries and through public organization. We've made progress, but still need to make the case to rank-and-file voters, the media, and even the elites -- especially on war, which is hard to do as long as Americans are being deployed in conflicts, with inevitable casualties and hardships, and a tendency to get wrapped up in their putative heroism. It's hard to heal while you're still getting beat up.

It's painful to listen to bystanders and opportunists decry Biden's airlift from Kabul. Many of the loudest complainers shared responsibility for the slow-moving train wreck, so much so that it's rather astounding that they can still feign surprise. Before the 13 soldiers killed in a freak suicide bombing, the US had enjoyed a respite from conflict for over a year -- a result that was only possible thanks to negotiating with the Taliban. The hawks who wish to renege now (the same ones who complain about the present chaos) have no idea how bad the situation could deteriorate if the Taliban decided they'd have to once again fight Americans for their freedom. One can always nitpick, but I'm actually impressed that Biden is handling this as well as he has -- and I'm disgusted with those who think otherwise.

I have very little to add about the recent deaths of Charlie Watts and Lee Perry. I've read much less about the death of Larry Harlow, a major figure in the development of salsa in New York. But I haven't listened to him much myself. My grade list for Perry is here.

A lot of old music this week, as I fell back on the unheard Christgau A-list, going back to the top after I lost my place. Some records there I skipped over during my first pass.

Finished Rana Foroohar's Don't Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech, with mixed feelings I should probably try to articulate at some point. I'm especially bothered by her evident belief that stronger patent laws would increase competition, at least by making it easier for some other company to challenge the FAANG giants. I think that's exactly wrong. I also doubt her assertion that information is the new oil -- the comparison to railroads isn't quite as far off. Oil converted to energy which turned into a huge increase in the amount of work people could do, so it mostly added to the world's wealth. Information may help companies exploit people more efficiently, but it's ultimately more redistributive than not. That's why I expect we'll see diminishing returns from information technology.

On the other hand, I think the case that Foroohar makes about how the big FAANG companies depress innovation is valid. I'd like to see them partially broken up, but I don't think competition is a solution in and of itself. A lot of things that these networking companies do shouldn't be done at all. That can be addressed through a combination of regulating harmful activities, replacing useful ones with open source software, and subsidizing common infrastructure.

Afterwards, I picked up Ed Ward's The History of Rock & Roll: Volume One 1920-1965. As with similar books, a lot of emphasis early on is put on labels and entrepeneurs, which makes an interesting contrast after reading about the FAANG monopolies. But rock & roll is a pretty good example of what capitalism is actually good for.

August had five Mondays and nothing better to do, so this month's Streamnotes compilation is one of the largest ever.

New records reviewed this week:

Iggy Azalea: The End of an Era (2021, Bad Dreams/Empire): Australian rapper Amethyst Amelia Kelly, moved to US at 16 and picked up a local accent, had a big hit with her 2014 debut. Third and "final" album, supposedly a throwback to her "mixtape roots." Having survived my self-destructive impulses, I'm feeling kind of weird liking a song where the refrain is "I love drugs," or another explaining "You need a good girl/ I'm just a good time." I suppose I could blame the beats. A-

Alan Broadbent/London Metropolitan Strings: Broadbent Plays Brubeck (2021, Eden River): Pianist from New Zealand, back story is that he transcriptions of Brubeck Plays Brubeck in 1961, when he was 14, and played through it "as written, without any knowledge of, or feeling for, jazz rhythm." No such excuse now. Harvie S (bass) and Hans Dekker (drums) should help, but the strings drain the rhythm right out. B+(*)

Greg Burk/Ron Seguin/Michel Lambert: Sound Neighbors (2020, Tonos): Pianist, originally from Minnesota, studied at New England Conservatory, currently lives in Rome, albums since 2000. Trio with bass and drums/maikotron (probable source of synth sounds I originally thought might be prepared piano). The others are Canadian, although Seguin is also based in Rome, and has a connection to Lambert through François Carrier. B+(***) [cd]

Greg Burk: Simple Joys (2019 [2021], Tonos): Pianist-led quintet, recorded in Rome (where Burk lives), Italian names, none I recognize -- alto/soprano sax, guitar, bass, drums. Sleek postbop. B+(*) [cd]

Xhosa Cole Quartet: K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us (2021, Stoney Lane): British saxophonist, grew up in Birmingham, debut album, parens not evident on the cover (which has a spurious exclamation mark) but used in the doc. Quartet adds trumpet (Jay Phelps), bass, and drums, with guests Soweto Kinch (sax, 2 cuts) and Reuben James (piano, 3). B+(**) [bc]

Lorraine Feather: My Own Particular Life (2019-21 [2021], Relarion): Jazz singer, as was her mother, her father the famous jazz writer Leonard Feather, her full name also including "Billie" for Holiday and "Lee" for Peggy. Recorded a couple albums in 1978, continued more regularly since 1996. Feather wrote lyrics here, to music by others (mostly Eddie Arkin). B+(*) [cd]

Bob Gorry/Pete Brunelli/Peter Riccio: GoBruCcio (2021, NHIC): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in New Haven (label acronym is for New Haven Improvisers Collective). Seems to be Gorry's first album, but he hosts a jazz program, curates a series with Joe Morris, and has some side-credits with Allen Lowe. B+(**) [cd] [09-01]

Halsey: If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power (2021, Capitol): Pop singer-songwriter, Ashley Frangipane, fourth album, also "an hour-long film experience set to the music" of her album, co-written and produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for that soundtrack feel. The trailer, perhaps the whole concept, is way too grandiose. but the music is remarkably tight. B+(***)

Inawhirl: Streugebilde (2020 [2021], Trost): Filed this under veteran pianist Georg Graewe, whose name appears first but not always. The others are Sara Kowal (harp) and dieb13 (turntables), so another reason for favoring Graewe might be that his is the only instrument that you really notice. Still, I've noticed him more elsewhere. B+(*) [bc]

Jake Breaks: Breaksy (2021, Wide Hive): Artist name given as Jacob B., credited with "breaks and cuts" (so, turntables?), band includes members of Throttle Elevator Music, with Gregory Rustall Howe credited with "songs, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, drums, quika, cymbals, and percussion. Label lists genre as hip-hop, but I filed these funk groove pieces under pop jazz, not that that's right either. B+(*) [cd]

Ka: A Martyr's Reward (2021, Iron Works): Rapper Kaseem Ryan, based in New York, sixth album since 2008. Dense and severe. B+(***) [yt]

James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds (2021, New West): Singer-songwriter from Texas, father was noveist Larry McMurtry, 10th album since 1989. Counts as Americana, with a feel for language and an eye for detail, over guitar which carries you along gently. I wasn't as quickly taken by this one as by his previous few albums, but enough comes through in the end. A-

Roscoe Mitchell: Dots: Pieces for Percussion and Woodwinds (2021, Wide Hive): AACM founder, Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist, 80 when this was recorded. The percussion works are too pointilist to generate any flow, but that was probably the idea. I don't see other credits, but this is sparse enough to be solo. Besides, everyone in AEC doubled on percussion (especially Mitchell). B+(**) [cd]

Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 8: Brian Jackson (2021, Jazz Is Dead): Always a struggle to figure out whether the album credits belong with the producers or the guest artist, or whether the latter is the title. The feature artists (so far at least) are still-live veterans from the 1970s, so presumably these are new tracks rather than remixes. Jackson, who plays various keyboards, is best known as Gil Scott-Heron's music collaborator. The albums are all short, but at 8 songs, 32:09, we won't ding this as an EP. B+(*)

Nelly: Heartland (2021, Columbia, EP): St. Louis rapper Cornell Haynes Jr., debut album in 2000 was called Country Grammar, one of the year's best for me. He's always been on the pop side of hip-hop -- soft beats and chorus hooks, nothing gangsta or underground. Concept here is to feature country acts, kicking off with Florida Georgia Line on an irresistible ditty called "Lil Bit." Nothing else that catchy, and not just because the headliner fade pretty fast as you go down the list (George Birge? Chris Bandi?). Eight tracks, 23:47. B+(*)

Kevin Sun: <3 Bird (2021, Endectomorph Music): Tenor saxophonist, plays clarinet on one piece, fifth album since 2018 (including one as Mute), all aces. "The implications of Charlie Parker's art are fathomless." (Is that somehow different from unfathomable?) The thing that most impressed me about Sun's debut was the depth of his understanding of saxophone history and lore, so I suppose it's not surprising that he would want to work his way through Parker's legacy. Mostly originals here, with two Parker pieces plus "Salt Peanuts" (Dizzy Gillespie/Kenny Clarke), so he seems to be signing Parker up for his own purposes. [By the way, title is sometimes transcribed as ♡ Bird, but with the heart on its side.] A- [cd] [08-29]

Tinashe: 333 (2021, Tinashe Music): "Rhythmic pop" singer-songwriter, last name Kachingwe, born in Kentucky but grew up in Los Angeles, fifth album since 2014. B+(***)

Jim Yanda: A Silent Way (2019 [2021], Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): Guitarist, originally from a farm in Iowa, has a couple albums (including one recorded in 1987 but released only in 2017). Studied with Paul Smoker. Recorded this in his living room before that became de rigeur. With Herb Robertson (trumpet) and Phil Haynes (drums). I admit I lost the thread midway through the second disc, but didn't mind trying to find it again. B+(***) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Peter Brötzmann: Love Comes Like Sour to Milk (1993 [2021], Trost, EP): One 21-minute track, originally released as a cassette by Galerie Erhard Klein, solo reeds (tenor sax, bass clarinet, tarogato) from a period when he released such abrasive albums as Die Like a Dog and The Dried Rat-Dog. This is easier to handle, perhaps because there is less to it. B [bc]

Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings (1966 [2017], Omnivore): Supposedly the original master of the live/comedy album that appeared on Liberty in 1967. The duo could be quite funny, but the album has is a pastiche, with a lot of crash-and-burn sound effects that don't wear well. The songs are hits, only rarely theirs -- "Cathy's Clown," a Beatles section, "Lightning Strikes" (the album's high point), and for a closer, "Hang On Sloopy." B

Old music:

ABC: Beauty Stab (1983, Mercury): English new wave band, from Sheffield, led by singer Martin Fry, with Mark White on guitar and Stephen Singleton on sax. Second album. Threatened to turn annoying, so I skipped this one, then trashed their Millennium Best Of, but I'm finding this a bit amusing. B+(*)

The Allman Brothers Band: Live at Fillmore East (1971, Capricorn): Southern rock band, brothers Duane (guitar) and Gregg Allman (keyboards, vocals), established the concept with two studio albums, then released this live jam. Duane died in a motorcycle crash a year later, and Berry Oakley (bass) died a year later, but Dickey Betts partly filled the gap and the band kept going into the 1980s, with solo careers and occasional reunions following. B

The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band -- Live [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1971 [2007], Mercury/Chronicles): Six tracks, 49:59, all drawn from the 1971 Fillmore East sessions, which originally appeared as At Fillmore East in 1971, and has grown by leaps and bounds since, culminating in a 6-CD box, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings. Three of these were on the original album, the rest on 1992's 2-CD The Fillmore Concerts, but the times most precisely match the 2003 remasters in At Fillmore East [Deluxe Edition]. Better than the original album, probably because they focus on blues they didn't write. Still doesn't help much when they go long. B+(***)

The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes On Forever: A Collection of Their Greatest Recordings (1969-73 [1975], Capricorn): Best-of compiled from five albums plus some (4?) extra live recordings, totals 1:24:11. Pretty much lives up to its billing. [Reissued 2001 on 2CD with 67:38 extra material, including album tracks up to 1979.] B+(***) [yt]

The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1969-79 [2000], Polydor): First attempt at a budget series best-of, with 11 songs, only one after 1973's Brothers & Sisters, only one live, a shorter and cheaper (and still in print) alternative -- not that shorter is what fans especially want. B+(***)

Amadou & Mariam: Je Pense À Toi: The Best of Amadou & Mariam (1998-2002 [2005], Circular Moves/Universal Music Jazz): Known as "the blind couple from Mali," Mariam Doumbia sings, as does guitarist Amadou Bagayoko. They've recorded at least since 1985. This picks songs from three French albums, solid work that doesn't quite delight me. B+(***)

Archers of Loaf: Archers of Loaf Vs. the Greatest of All Time (1994, Alias, EP): Punkish rock band from North Carolina, fairly major 1993-98, with Eric Bachmann heading off for a second group (Crooked Fingers) and a less distinguished solo career. Five songs, 17:29. B+(**)

Archers of Loaf: The Speed of Cattle (1992-94 [1996], Alias): Eighteen scattered outtakes, singles, radio shots, leftovers, the fallout of a group with two albums done and two more to come. B+(*)

Archers of Loaf: Vitus Tinnitus (1997, Alias, EP): Six-cut live album, plus two remixes from All he Nations Airports. Reminds me that I like their sound, even if nothing particularly stands out. B+(**)

Ashford & Simpson: So So Satisfied (1977, Warner Brothers): Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, a songwriting team at Motown before recording together in 1973. Fourth (or fifth?) album, all barely grazed the charts before Send It gave them their first gold record. B+(***)

Ashford & Simpson: Send It (1977, Warner Brothers): Christgau's review places this before So So Satisfied, but most other sources list it later, and the chart order makes more sense that way: So So Satisfied peaked at 180, Send It 52, Is It Stil Good to Ya (20). Also, two of Send It's singles didn't appear until 1978. High points are more funk or more disco, but I'm probably missing the point. B+(**)

Ashford & Simpson: Stay Free (1979, Warner Brothers): Seventh album, further into the disco era, which is the part I prefer to the strings and romance, but that's still their default. B+(*)

Ashford & Simpson: Solid (1984, Capitol): Title single hit lifted this to their fourth gold album. B+(*)

Bad Religion: All Ages (1982-94 [1995], Epitaph): Punk rock band from Los Angeles, formed in 1980, 17 studio albums through 2019, only one I've bothered checking out after I shit-canned their early Christgau A-listed Into the Unknown. This is a compilation, baited with two recent live tracks, occasioned (perhaps) by the exit of Brett Gurewitz, leaving singer Greg Graffin in charge. They were consistent enough I can't detect much change over this decade, but then my ears glazed over. Only lyric I jotted down: "I got ideas too." No doubt, but do I care? B

Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force: Planet Rock: The Album (1982-84 [1986], Tommy Boy): DJ/rapper Lance Taylor, first-generation compilation built around the same four singles that key the compilation I've recommended since 2001, Looking for the Perfect Beat: 1980-1985. The other three cuts here are less generous than seven on the other, but in its time, this gave you a pretty good sense of how hip-hop arrived. A-

Bang on a Can: Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing (2005, Cantaloupe): Classical group, founded 1987 by three composers not in the credits here (although Wikipedia says they are still "artistic directors"), achieved a measure of fame with crossover covers of Brian Eno's In Airports and Terry Riley's In C. Kyaw Kyaw Naing is a Burmese percussionist, a master of the pat waing (also credited with pat ma, si wa, gong, and drums), the composer of four tracks, with five more from other Burmese sources. A- [bc]

Count Basie: The Best of Early Basie (1937-39 [1996], MCA): As the owner of The Complete Decca Recordings, I didn't feel any particular need to buy this sampler, but recommended it to Christgau, who couldn't help but give it an A. Same here. Basie moved his band from Kansas City to New York and took the City by storm, becoming the very definition of swing. The band was loaded with stars, like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, and Dickey Wells, and Jimmy Rushing sings a few classics. The next period, on Columbia up to 1950 also has a definitive box (America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years) as well as a superb 1-CD compilation (One O'Clock Jump: The Very Best of Count Basie). A

Count Basie: Count Basie and His Great Vocalists (1939-50 [1993], Columbia/Legacy): Part of the label's Best of the Big Bands series, which offered "Great Vocalists" volumes for Les Brown, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Harry James, as well as this Basie set. Like many big bands, Basie kept both a boy and a girl singer on tap, but they appear on less than a quarter of Basie's early sides, so I thought it might be interesting to concentrate them -- especially as he started off with two of the greatest singers, Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes. This probably would have been better had they stopped there, but this also includes two tracks with Earl Warren (a classic crooner), three with Lynne Sherman (good but not great), and one with Ann Moore (a jumping "Jivin' Joe Jackson"). Still, hard to complain given the way Rushing opens ("I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me") and closes ("Blue Skies"). A-

Count Basie: Frankly Basie: Count Basie Plays the Hits of Frank Sinatra (1963 [1993], Verve): Original 1963 album title was More Hits of the '50's and '60's, with pretty much the same cover art, making me wonder if they weren't treading gently to avoid ruffling feathers. They were, after all, in the middle of a series of lucrative albums with Sinatra, so they would have been especially conscious of his songbook. Still, not the same without a singer, or a suitable soloist to focus on. B+(*)

Count Basie: Basie Jam (1973 [1975], Pablo): In 1973 Norman Granz, having sold off his Verve Records catalog to MGM, decided to round up the old gang and get back in business, as Pablo Records. His first new album was by Oscar Peterson, but Basie wasn't far behind. As with his old Jazz at the Philharmonic shows, he organized a jam session, with Sweets Edison on trumpet, Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis on tenor sax, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Irving Ashby (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Five tunes, only one under 8:50. B+(*)

Count Basie/Joe Turner: The Bosses (1973 [1974], Pablo): Recorded a day after Basie Jam, with the same group credited, plus Turner shouting the blues. The horns are rarely deployed, but things pick up when they do appear. B+(***)

Count Basie/Oscar Peterson: Count Basie Encounters Oscar Peterson: Satch and Josh (1974, Pablo): Two very different pianist, but if you've ever seen them together, you'll know that they loved each other. Basie was famous as the one who knew what to leave out, and Peterson threw more extraneous notes in than anyone short of Art Tatum. B+(**)

Count Basie/Zoot Sims: Basie & Zoot (1975 [1976], Pablo): Hard-swinging tenor saxophonist, backed by Basie's piano trio with John Heard (bass) and Louis Bellson (drums). B+(***)

Count Basie: Get Together (1979 [1986], Pablo): Jam session, cover split between pictures of Basie and Freddie Green (his long-time guitarist), with other names after Green's: Budd Johnson and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Harris (tenor saxes), Harry Edison and Clark Terry (trumpets), Gus Johnson (drums), and John Clayton (bass). Another nice swing session. B+(***)

The Bats: Compiletely Bats (1984-86 [1987], Communion): Rock band from New Zealand, sounds a bit like jangle pop, released three EPs before their 1987 debut album, and those (minus one song) are collected here). B+(**)

Delta 5: Singles & Sessions 1979-81 (1979-81 [2006], Kill Rock Stars): English post-punk band, formed in Leeds alongside the most explicitly political bands of the time, Mekons and Gang of Four, and shared an EP with the Slits and the Pop Group. I remember "Mind Your Own Business" from Wanna Buy a Bridge? (also covered by Chicks on Speed), but wasn't aware of their only album (See the Whirl, from 1981). This rounds up 16 scattered songs, front-loaded, tailing off a bit toward the end. A-

Ella Fitzgerald/Count Basie/Joe Williams: One O'Clock Jump (1956-57 [1999], Verve): Wiliams was a regular singer with Basie from 1954-61, moving up to headliner on 1955's Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings. Probably more Joe than Ella here. B+(*)

Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A. (1968, Plantation): Country singer from Texas, second album, title song a number one crossover hit skewering the "Harper Valley hypocrites." The then-unknown Tom T. Hall wrote that song, and three more worth hearing ("Widow Jones," "Mr. Harper," "Sippin' Shirley Thompson"), but the rest of the album is pretty remarkable, with "The Cotton Patch" and "Satan Place" reprising Hall's rhythm close enough he could sue, and "Run Jeannie Run" sounding like her own story. A-

Jeannie C. Riley: Yearbooks and Yesterdays (1969, Plantation): She never duplicated her initial success, but had 5 more top-ten country hits through 1971, her album chart positions tailing off 9-14-25-34. Three more songs by Hall, four more by Margaret Lewis and Myra Smith (including "The Girl Most Likely"). B+(**)

Frank Sinatra/Count Basie: Sinatra-Basie (An Historic Musical First) (1962, Reprise): Basie reinvented his band in the late 1950s: the soloists weren't as distinctive, but the "new testament" band's arrangers powered up the ensemble work -- the best sampler from the period was called The Complete Atomic Basie. In some ways, Basie's evolution tracked Sinatra's 1950s big bands, but richer and subtler. By 1962, both were famous and starting to decline, so this meeting helped both. Neal Hefti arranged ten songs Sinatra had long mastered. He sung them impeccably, and I doubt he's ever fronted a stronger horn section. Basie himself dropped out (except for the cover pic), with Bill Miller taking over the piano. A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Field (NoBusiness)
  • Lao Dan/Deng Boyu: TUTU Duo (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound: The Other Shore (Outnote) [09-10]
  • Joe Fiedler's "Open Sesame": Fuzzy and Blue (Multiphonics) [11-12]
  • Joel Futterman: Creation Series (2008, NoBusiness, 5CD)
  • Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Detail-90 (1990, NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Lionel Loueke: Close Your Eyes (2018, Sounderscore) [10-22]
  • Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Rested Turquoise (NoBusiness)
  • Liudas Mockunas/Christian Windfeld: Pacemarker (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Bryan Murray & Jon Lundbom: Beats by Balto! Vol. 2 (Chant) [11-07]
  • Itaru Oki Quartet: Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (NoBusiness)
  • Sam Rivers Quartet: Undulation (1981, NoBusiness)
  • Mototeru Takabi/Susumu Kongo/Nao Takeuchi/Shola Koyama: Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (NoBusiness)
  • Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971, NoBusiness)
  • Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell: Streams (Not Two) [10-15]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Speaking of Which

My interest in writing something this week has waxed and waned. At first I wanted to point out how pleased and proud I am that Biden has stuck to his guns on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite the barrage of sniping not just from the usual quarters (Republicans for partisan purposes, warmongers of all stripes) but from a mainstream media that loves to add fuel to whatever panic is taking hold at the moment. Then an anti-US, anti-Taliban fringe group [also see: Anatol Lieven: Who are the Islamic State in Afghanistan] dispatched a suicide bomber near the Kabul airport, killing 170 civilians and 13 US troops, and Biden vowed revenge (while still defending withdrawal). Someone should take him aside and remind him that "revenge is a dish best served cold," lest he throw out a brave and conscientious stand in a fit of anger. ISIS wants the US there, in range as targets, driving more and more people into their desperate ranks. It was stupid to let Osama Bin Laden bait us into "the graveyard of empires" in 2001, and it would be even stupider to repeat that mistake now. [PS: Biden did order a drone strike in Nangahar Province, allegedly on an ISIS target.]

While Biden hasn't (yet) back-peddled from the August 31 withdrawal date, it's coming on Tuesday, so we'll know more then -- one reason I wanted to hold off writing. Meanwhile, pressure to do something stupid is building: e.g., Leon Panetta, a CIA Director and Secretary of Defense under Obama, says "Bottom line is that our work is not done in Afghanistan. We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS." I don't know how he could possibly imagine that could work. The US is tied up just now trying to get the few Afghans willing to help the US out of the country. How can they possibly support a new infusion of troops without any kind of local support? The only chance I see to hunt down "those responsible" for the attack is to subcontract it to the Taliban. I have no idea whether they would be amenable to that, but from a practical point of view, it's more important to get them to disband terror groups than to satisfy America's revenge cravings.

Speaking of irrational revenge fits, Josh Marshall has another good piece on the origins of the US invasion of Afghanistan: Remembering the Origins of the United States' 20 Year War in Afghanistan, in turn keying off an opinion piece by persistent warmonger Robert Kagan: It wasn't hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear. While it may be true that fear was the big selling point, I remember a lot of hubris. I also remember Arthur Vandenberg telling Harry Truman that if he wants to arm to confront Russia in what became the Cold War, he'd first have to "scare the hell out of the American people." That's what he did, aided by Republicans who had their own reasons for trumping up the Red Scare. But after the Gulf War of 1990-91, America's leading hawks (including Kagan) were convinced that the US military could have done so much more to clear out Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but were held back by cowardly politicians. The hawks stylized themselves as Vulcans (see James Mann's book, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet), and organized their Project for a New American Century (PNAC). (By the way, the first thing they did was to prepare a plan for Netanyahu to undermine the Oslo Accords, which promised to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their most fervent dream was that the US should be free to attack its enemies with the same impunity Israel had gotten away with.)

Marshall corrects a lot of things Kagan glosses over. Along the way, he quotes Max Boot as writing: "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets." That sounds a lot more like hubris than fear, but it also sounds incredibly stupid and racist. British rule reduced India from about 20% of world GDP to less than 5% -- meanwhile, the English working class weren't exactly wallowing in luxury. Imperialism may have benefited someone, but claiming it advanced humanity is ridiculous.

As it happens, I've been thinking about Boot's 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. The book was an important part of the neocon argument, specifically meant to overthrow the Powell Doctrine (which argued that wars should only be fought if you had: overwhelming force, clear objectives, and an exit plan; the 1990-91 Gulf War was Powell's triumph, but the aftertaste was bitter). Boot offered thumbnail histories of several dozen US military adventures that he classified as "small," excluding wars fought on home ground (including the many Indian wars), the two World Wars, and the ones in Korea and Vietnam that got big and ugly. From his subset, he argued that the US doesn't need to worry about small wars (resources, objectives, exit plan), because they all work out OK in the end. Within 2-3 years, Afghanistan and Iraq destroyed what little plausibility his argument ever had, but a more critical eye on the wars he touted should have raised doubts.

Take, for instance, Pershing's long march through Mexico following a border raid by Pancho Villa in New Mexico (it was originally called the "Punitive Expedition"). This lasted about a year, needlessly provoked the Mexicans, and in the end accomplished absolutely nothing (other than that it convinced a young officer named Dwight Eisenhower that the US needed better highways). It's a pretty close analog to the effort to catch Bin Laden (or Panetta's proposed punishment of ISIS-K), except that it was much closer, and didn't bother trying to over throw the Mexican government, or getting stuck with rebuilding the ruins it created. But sure, it could have been worse. They could still be looking for Villa, while turning millions of Mexicans into refugees.

By the way, amidst all of the articles about Afghans trying to flee the Taliban, I haven't seen a single piece about the more than two million Afghan refugees that the US wasn't able to settle and protect during the last 20 years. Most are in Pakistan or Iran, so it will be interesting to see whether the net number of refugees rises or drops once the Taliban settles in.

Marshall's article includes a graph of US troop levels in Afghanistan over time. Offhand, it appears as though the security situation deteriorated as US troop levels increased, at least up to 2009, when the military panicked and Obama ordered a "surge" up to 100,000 troops. The model there was the supposedly successful "surge" in Iraq, although what little success could be found there had more to do with turning Sunni leaders against an increasingly erratic Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, partly through bribe and partly because the US offered some protection against Shiite death squads (also encouraged by the US). No such magic switch was found in Afghanistan, so while the "surge" may have checked a Taliban offensive, it made no headway.

Beyond that, McChrystall's counterinsurgency program was defeated not by the Taliban but by American soldiers, who refused to accept the added risk of limiting civilian casualties. While Petraeus had supported McChrystall in theory, he quietly scuttled the program when he took over. After that, the only hope was "Afghanization," which worked even worse than "Vietnamization" had done to provide camouflage for a US withdrawal.

Some more Afghanistan links:

Also, a quote from Jeffrey St. Clair: Roaming Charges: Hour of the Goat, which says much of what I originally wanted to say:

One of the reasons Biden is having such a hard time making the case for the US's exit from Afghanistan is that he is congenitally inarticulate and he has no one around him who can make the case for him. Nearly everyone in both parties has been corrupted by this war: voted for it, funded it, planned it, rationalized it, stood silent as it started, very early on, to go bad, closed their eyes to drone killings, torture, and an occupation with no end. Even Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul. They own this war and the war ended up owning them. Aside from Barbara Lee, there aren't any heroes in this 40-year-long fiasco. But if Biden can stand firm as he's ambushed from all sides, not retreat from his retreat, and finally bring the occupation to an end, he'll go down in the history books a lot more credibly than the jackals who are assailing him.

St. Clair also notes a tweet from a @toddstarnes: "For every American who is killed, a city in Afghanistan should be wiped off the face of the Earth." The Romans used to talk about "decimating" villages. Hitler proclaimed bounties like this, up to 100-to-1. Morally Starnes is no better; mathematically, he's even worse.

A couple more brief notes on recent pieces:

Robert Christgau: Out of the Box: A substantial and very favorable review of the HBO Max documentary Betrayal at Attica. I should probably write more about this piece and the movie itself, which I watched again yesterday, but want to get this out without further delay. By all means, do watch the movie.

Luisa S Deprez: How Republicans Stoke Anti-Government Hatred: Refers to a new book by Amy Fried/Douglas B Harris: At War With Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust from Goldwater to Trump. Needless to say, it's a lot easier to break trust than it is to restore it. Trust in government matters because it's the one institution that is capable of helping people without having a side angle or ulterior motive (mostly based on money, something obviously biased to them that has). The main reason many people don't vote their economic interests is that they don't trust politicians to deliver, ergo distrust in government favors those with money, especially those whose money buys them personal connections to politicians. Adolph Reed extends this argument: The Whole Country is the Reichstag.

Henry Giroux: For Stanley Aronowitz: Radical labor historian, died a week or two ago. I read and admired his 1973 book False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness, and met him around then, when Paul Piccone brought him to Washington University for a lecture.

Hugh Iglarsh: The New Ozymandias: Twilight Reflections on the Obama Presidential Center. From this angle, the photo of the model of the "Great Tower of Nothing" looks especially garish.

David Klion: The 9/11 Museum and Its Discontents: "A new documentary goes inside the battles that have riven the institution." I'm not sure I even knew it existed, let alone had sold a half billion dollars worth of tickets since 2014. I find the whole thing rather creepy. "This is the story of 9/11 a visitor is left with: They attacked us for no good reason, we mourned, we rallied, and eventually we got the bastards [i.e., Bin Laden]."

Robert Kuttner: Biden Should Retire Fed Chair Jay Powell. When Trump replaced Janet Yellen (and I don't recall any Republicans suggesting he shouldn't pick his own Fed Chair), he was given a list of two candidates, and picked Powell. On paper, he looked like much the better candidate, and turned out to be better than expected, at least on monetary policy. (Not that he was loose enough for an inveterate debt-hog like Trump.) I always felt that Obama made a big mistake in renominating Ben Bernanke instead of picking a Democrat, but there was a big campaign to boost Bernanke, and Obama was a born sucker. There's another campaign this year to give Powell another term, and some economists I like (like Mike Konczal and Dean Baker) seem to be behind it, so I was interested to see Kuttner argue otherwise. He does so mostly on regulatory issues, and he's probably right there. One of the big problems with the Fed is that, while hawks on interest rates can choke the economy and put lots of people out of work, low interest rates mostly get sucked up by speculators and used to inflate the price of assets.

Ian Millhiser: A new Supreme Court case could blow up decades of US diplomacy: This is the case where a Texas judge ordered Biden to reinstate a Trump-declared "Remain in Mexico" immigration policy. Millhiser argues that "Kacsmaryk's decision is dead wrong," then gets even more upset.

Timothy Noah: The Blueprint for Corporate Power Turns 50: On Lewis Powell's famous letter to the US Chamber of Commerce, which urged corporate leaders to corrupt politics in favor of their class interests.

Aaron Rupar: How Ron DeSantis's Covid response became the model of what not to do.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Music Week

[PS: Posted an answer to a question about Obama and his legacy. Use this form to ask more questions.]

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36093 [36036] rated (+57), 221 [218] unrated (+3).

Tom T. Hall died last week. Obituaries tended to overlook his 35 albums, but invariably mentioned the number one single he wrote in 1968, "Harper Valley PTA," for Jeannie C. Riley. Growing up in Wichita, I knew a little bit about country music -- mostly from watching, with bemused detachment, Porter Wagoner -- but I wasn't a fan. My brother and I got turned away at the door of a Grand Ole Opry show downtown, the doorman correctly surmising that we wanted the car show next door. I managed to catch a set by Ronnie & the Daytonas there: the first time I saw live music, and probably the only time until I saw Sly & the Family Stone in St. Louis.

That's was shortly after the first time I heard of Hall. I went to a party thrown by one of the Sociology professors. When I introduced myself to a guest, he responded: "I got all your records." I had a little speech problem, and never managed to say Hull clear enough not to be transcribed as the more common Hall. When I did finally hear Hall -- probably at the behest of George Lipsitz, who was taking time before going to graduate school, and was very much into country music at the time (although I also recall him introducing me to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and to Johnny Otis).

I only slowly got into country music, picking up occasional albums over the 1970s -- from Hall: We All Got Together and Faster Horses, finding In Search of a Song later -- finally making a serious effort in the 1990s to catch up with (damn near) everything I had missed. The best Hall compilation ever came out in 1988: The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs, 20 of them, originally on 2-LP, later on 1-CD. In 1995, I finally felt confident enough to write something about a new (and disappointing) Hall box, combined with a more favorable review of the 3-CD Roger Miller box. (Of course, I remembered Miller vividly from his mid-1960s TV show and crossover hits.) I called this Kings of the Road, and submitted it to The Voice, but elicited no interest (other than, I suppose, that a year later Robert Christgau invited me to review Rhino's series of jazz compilations, which I called Jazz for Dummies).

One thing I'd have to correct from the Hall piece is my claim Hall "hasn't recorded anything very interesting since [1976]." I finally got around to Hall's 1978-80 RCA releases below, and a couple of them are pretty good. I wanted to dive into his early Mercury records, but I only found In Search of a Song on Napster, plus Ballad of Forty Dollars on YouTube. There are some post-1978 Mercury albums on Napster, so I may return to them.

Another son of Kentucky died last week: Don Everly. He seemed like an earlier generation, but he was a year younger than Hall, and his brother Phil (d. 2014) was younger still. They started off in their teens in the Everly Family group, then as a brother act had their first big hits in 1957 ("Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie"), when Phil was 18. Beyond radio singles, my first introduction was 1964's The Very Best of the Everly Brothers -- disparaged now because they re-recorded their pre-1960 Cadence hits to juice up their less famous Warners songs, from "Cathy's Clown" to the ultra-maudlin "Ebony Eyes." I replayed it, and also Rhino's Cadence Classics, but didn't have much luck digging further, and didn't look into their solo careers or their reunion -- they were famous for not getting along.

Before Hall died, I mostly picked unheard records of Christgau's graded list, from Youssou N'Dour to Lobi Traoré. A couple reggae albums were suggested by a Sly & Robbie list of their favorites, but further down the list got hard to find. Tried to catch up with the demo queue, picking off the things with the earliest release dates, but wound up losing ground. Got a package from NoBusiness today. They'll be listed next week.

Bought a package of "shaved pork" last week. Seemed like the perfect thing for bulgogi. It's cut so thin you can't grill it. I dumped it into a cast iron skillet and boiled the marinade off. Pretty intense. Picture here

I saw a tweet recommending Josh Marshall: Notes from the Press Paroxysm as the Evacuation Flights Continue. I hadn't looked at TPM when I was writing up my Speaking of Afghanistan post last week because, well, most of what they publish is behind their firewall never struck me as worth the cost. (Also, I find it especially aggravating that much of what they hide consists of letters from readers, which presumably cost them nothing.) Still, it's a good article, both for pointing out that there is a substantial but rarely reported level of ongoing negotiation between the Taliban and virtually everyone, and for the term "press paroxysm." When I flipped through the Wichita Eagle this morning, I was appalled at the level of ignorance and cynical exploitation in everything they published on Afghanistan (and not just from columnists like Marc Thiessen, whose very existence is an affront to intelligence and human decency).

I tracked down a couple of earlier Marshall articles. You Wouldn't Know It From the US News Coverage, But . . . points out that the top US-backed Afghan politicos are all actively engaged in negotiating with the Taliban: Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, even (from Doha) Ashraf Ghani -- who precipitated this Taliban offensive by refusing to negotiate while US troops remained, and who affirmed the government collapse by fleeing Kabul. On the media, see: The Fall of Kabul, Washington and the Guys at the Fancy Magazines. The latter talks about the "feeding frenzy" reporters are prone to: seeing a politician flounder, they're more than happy to jump in and take a few shots. (Kind of like how my dog gives chase only after she sees the other animal turn away.) Anyone who expects sober analysis from such creatures is bound to be disappointed.

For what it's worth, I'm delighted that Biden has taken a firm stand for withdrawal, showing both courage and a grounding in reality. He has far from an unblemished reputation on Afghanistan, but there's little value in bringing that up now that he's learned the lesson, except to underscore that the lessons are clear enough to convince even him. What I worry about is that in the current din we won't learn what we need to from this 20-year failure. Even if their complaints aren't accepted, the endless repetition of their shared delusions crowds out the clear thought we need.

New records reviewed this week:

Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol 1: Sonar (2020 [2021], Orbit577): Credited with "Horns and Reeds" here, first of three volumes, a single 28:58 piece, group includes Luisa Muhr (voice), Ayumi Ishito (sax), Nord piano, two guitars, bass, and drums. B+(*)

Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 2: The Middle (2020 [2021], Orbit577): Same group, one 31:32 piece. B+(**)

Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 3: After Life (2020 [2021], Orbit577): Another piece, this one 30:24. Starts with a bluesier voice, remaining more prominent here than on the other volumes. B+(*)

Tom Cohen: My Take (2021, Versa Music): Drummer, leads a set of organ trios through "Without a Song" and four pieces by 1950s saxophonists (Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson, Sonny Stitt, Wayne Shorter). With Joey DeFrancesco or Dave Posmontier on Hammond B-3, spots for saxophonists Tim Warfield and Ralph Bowen, and guitarist Steve Giordano. B+(**) [cd]

Paul Dunmall & Mark Sanders: Unity (2020 [2021], 577): British sax & drums duo, Dunmall playing alto, tenor, and C melody saxophones. B+(**)

The Go! Team: Get Up Sequences Part One (2021, Memphis Industries): British alt/pop group, sixth album since 2004. Pretty upbeat, almost deliriously so (especially the finale). B+(***)

Jared Hall: Seen on the Scene (2018 [2021], Origin): Trumpet player, from Seattle, second album, fairly classic-sounding hard bop quintet, with Vincent Herring (alto sax), piano, bass, and drums. Two Tadd Dameron pieces along with the originals. B+(**) [cd]

L.A. Cowboy: The Big Pitch (2021, Reconcile): Vehicle for singer-songwriter J. Frederick Millea, alias L.A. Cowboy. Discogs credits him/them with six albums 1997-98, nothing since -- evidently, a spat with industry execs caused him to give up. Hype sheet calls this "post-modern rock/swing fusion." Sounds like a Sinatra wannabe to me, but maybe there's something deeper going on. B [cd]

Lorde: Solar Power (2021, Universal): Pop star from New Zealand, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, third album. Laid back, somewhat dreamy, sinks in slowly, perhaps too much for my jaded pop reflexes. B+(**)

Francisco Mela: MPT Trio: Volume 1 (2020 [2021], 577): Cuban drummer/percussionist, studied at Berklee, albums since 2006. Trio with Henry Paz (sax) and Juanma Trujillo (guitar). B+(**)

Lady Millea: I Don't Mind Missing You (2021, Reconcile): Jazz singer, from Los Angeles, daughter of L.A. Cowboy J. Frederick Millea, who wrote and arranged these nine songs. Nice voice. Songs are a mixed bag. B+(*) [cd]

Dave Miller Trio: The Mask-erade Is Over (2021, Summit): Piano player, "(49)" at Discogs, ninth trio album since 2010 (including 5 with his daughter, singer Rebecca DuMaine), 1 original, 13 standards, about half from jazz musicians. With Andrew Higgins (bass) and Bill Belasco (drums). B+(*) [cd]

Steve Million: What I Meant to Say (2019 [2021], Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago, records at least since 1995 (title then was Million to One, followed up by Thanks a Million). Quartet reunites him with Steve Cardenas (guitar) and Ron Vincent (drums), who played together in Kansas City in the late 1970s, plus bassist John Sims. B+(*) [cd]

Mankwe Ndosi and Body MemOri: Felt/Not Said (2021, Auspice NOW): Vocalist, ties to Chicago and Minnesota, self-released debut from 2012, part of Nicole Mitchell/Black Earth. Backed with cello (Tomeka Reid), bass, and drums. Rather abstract, finding it a bit hard to follow. B+(*) [cdr]

Trineice Robinson: All or Nothing (2021, 4RM Music Productions): Teaches jazz voice at Princeton, seems to have a distinguished academic career, waited until 40 for her recording debut. Strong, skilled voice, resonant of gospel and r&b, co-produced by saxophonist Don Braden, with Cyrus Chestnut in the band. Wrote one song, lyrics for Wayne Shorter (used Jon Hendricks' for Monk), wide range of standards, including "What's Going On." B+(**) [cd]

Kalie Shorr: I Got Here by Accident (2021, Tmwrk, EP): Nashville singer-songwriter, originally from Maine, self-released an impressive debut album in 2019, then re-released it in 2020 on this label. Big, punchy sound, produced by Butch Walker. Five songs, all substantial, 15:02. A-

Alfie Templeman: Forever Isn't Long Enough (2021, Chess Club): British singer-songwriter, debut album at 18, EPs back to 2017. Plays lots of instruments. Has a rudimentary understanding of pop hooks. B+(**)

Waterparks: Greatest Hits (2021, 300 Entertainment): Houston band, suggested genres include pop punk and electropop, but none of those seem quite right. Released EPs from 2012, first album in 2016. This is their fourth album, not a compilation, and not much chance that any of these songs will be hits, but that's not for lack of hooks. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Cold Wave #1 (2017-20 [2021], Soul Jazz): British reissue label, picks relatively recent records that were supposedly inspired by the the late 1970s/early 1980s "cold wave" genre: synth-based dance tracks, rare vocals, everything compact and, well, cold. B+(**)

Cold Wave #2 (2015-20 [2021], Soul Jazz): Opens with three pretty good cuts, but Job Sifre's "At Least We Try" raises the level, and everything else rises with it. First volume took the chill too seriously. This reminds you that lots of interesting electronica has been happening in obscure corners, but sometimes it helps to mix it up a bit. A-

Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett/Philip Gibbs/Pete Fairclough: Onosante (2000 [2021], 577): Saxophones (plus fife and bagpipes), piano, guitar, and drums, released with a run of 100 back in the day, and unpacked in memory of the late pianist -- who is indeed remarkable here, but also in fine company. A-

Old music:

Dave and Ansell Collins: Double Barrel (1971, Big Tree): Jamaican duo, singer Dave Barker and keyboardist Collins. Title song is one of the greatest rocksteady classics (lyric starts: "I am the magnificent"). Nothing else in its league, not much where Dave even gets a chance to sing, much less toast. The instrumentals are pretty seductive. B+(***)

The Everly Brothers: Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958, Cadence): Brothers Don (1937-2021) and Phil (1939-2014), from Kentucky, sang in close harmony, scored two big hits in 1957 both on country and pop charts: "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie." Their first album was hits and filler, but for this second album they got conceptual: all old country songs, done simply with just bass (Floyd Chance) and their guitars, no singles, nothing with hit potential (well, except for Gene Autry). B+(**) [yt]

Tom T. Hall: Ballad of Forty Dollars and His Other Great Songs (1969, Mercury): First album, already trading on his reputation as a songwriter (soon to be storyteller), especially after Jeannie C. Riley sung his "Harper Valley PTA" to the top of the charts in 1968. Three songs made his first (1972) Greatest Hits, and "Cloudy Day" wouldn't have been amiss. Too many flowers among the rest. B+(**) [yt]

Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971-75 [1975], Mercury): Nowadays, best to start with The Definitive Collection or, better still, The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs (but not the 2-CD Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher box, not that someone couldn't compile 2 or 3 CDs worth of prime material, but the compilers are often tempted to dilute the shrewd observations with his more mawkish sentimental fare). At one point, it was possible to get this and the 1972 Greatest Hits on one CD, a real bargain, since superseded. Hall released 7 albums from 1972-75 (vs. 5 1969-71). Even so, this plucks two more songs from 1971's best-ever In Search of a Song. And like every other compilation, this inexplicably omits "Pamela Brown" (here in favor of "I Love" and "I Care" and "I Like Beer," not that I mind the latter). B+(***)

Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits: Volume I & II (1967-75 [1993], Mercury): An artifact of the early CD era, when the things cost twice as much as an LP, but sometimes could hold two. Re-reading Christgau on the separate volumes (graded B and D+) convinced me to nick the latter a notch, but until better compilations came around, this offered at least a dozen genius songs, and if the filler gets sappy or soppy, I don't buy that as simple marketing shtick. It's just who he is, and a big part of what made him such a treasure. A-

Tom T. Hall: New Train Same Rider (1978, RCA Victor): New label, not quite the same songwriter, but sometimes he sounds like he could be. B+(*)

Tom T. Hall: Places I've Done Time (1978, RCA Victor): Found himself a batch of stories this time -- "Grocery Truck," "Three Sofa Story," "Man Who Shot Himself," "Son of Clayton Delaney," "Great East Broadway Onion Championship of 1978" -- which lifts the personal ("I Couldn't Live in Southern California") and even the generic ("Gimme Peace"). None rank among his classics, which may be why he covers "Mr. Bojangles." B+(***)

Tom T. Hall: In Concert! Recorded Live at the Grand Ole Opry House (1979 [1983], RCA Victor): Date not noted, but in Morello's twofer series this is slotted before a 1979 album, and he thanks RCA in his initial remarks -- aside from this, his RCA albums ended 1980. Highlight is the "I Like Beer" audience participation -- OK, but not what one hopes for. B

Tom T. Hall: Saturday Morning Songs (1979, RCA Victor): "For children of all ages," complete with "16 page coloring book." Second side has its own title: The "Is" Songs, as in "Easter Is," "Halloween Is," "Thanksgiving Is," "Christmas Is," "Your Birthday Is." Ten songs, all short, 22:07. Light and breezy, only occasionally shallow. Not something I expected to like at all. B+(**)

Tom T. Hall: Ol' T's in Town (1979, RCA Victor): One of his classic story songs -- "Greed Kills More People Than Whiskey," which would be more convincing if he tracked down the effects of greed on other people, not just the overstressed rich -- but his love and loss songs have gained some depth, and his sense of nostalgia is tuned about right. He was conscious enough about age to write "I'm Forty Now," and to retire a decade later. In between, the title may indicate that he's feeling old, or like his old self. A-

Tom T. Hall: Soldier of Fortune (1980, RCA Victor): Last album for RCA, aside from the live one released in 1983, when he returned to Mercury. Nothing especially memorable here, nothing terribly bad either (although "Me and Jimmie Rodgers" makes you wonder). B+(*)

Jackie Mittoo and the Soul Vendors: Evening Time (1968, Coxsone): Keyboard player for the Skatalites, second album under his own name. Instrumental, some classic grooves. A-

Youssou N'Dour: Djamil Inédits 84-85 (1984-85 [1985], Celluloid): Not sure what the history of this is, but the covers suggest a live recording, a bit rough and ill-fitting. The star looks very young, but no doubt he is the star. The horns are a bit much. [Reissued 2005 with an extra track as Badou.] B+(*)

Youssou N'Dour: Eyes Open (1992, Columbia): Recorded in Dakar, but mixed in New York. Nonetheless, voice and rhythm uniquely his. B+(***)

Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile: Lii! (1996, Jololi): Superstar from Senegal, has only sporadically had his work released in the US -- from 1986-94 on Virgin and Columbia, then 2000-10 on Nonesuch -- although there is evidently more released locally, like the series of late-1990s cassettes like this one. B+(***) [yt]

Negativland: Helter Stupid (1989, SST): Bay area "plunderphonics" group, constructs sound collages simulating the most annoying aspects of trying to listen to radio while someone else is twiddling the dial. Or, as they put it, "Negativland considers their music thought-provoking, even humorous." That, from a piece that claims their song "Christianity Is Stupid" is responsible for mass murder. B-

Yoko Ono: Season of Glass (1981, Geffen): Multimedia artist, including film and performance art, grew up in Tokyo, moved to New York in 1953, married John Lennon in 1969, shortly before the Beatles broke up, and they collaborated on several records -- two brilliant Plastic Ono Band albums of his, weird conceptual shit of hers, a separation and reunion, finally the collaborative Double Fantasy. This follows on his death, the songswiting and production straightforward, the singing a little wobbly. Nice sax solo on the opener, courtesy of Michael Brecker. B+(***) [yt]

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Between My Head and the Sky (2009, Chimera): The two songs Christgau picked out are better than I ever imagind. The others, well, are kind of all over the place. B+(*)

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Take Me to the Land of Hell (2013, Chimera Music): I suppose what turned me off from her was the single-CD Walking on Thin Ice, the select subset from the 6-CD Onobox that Christgau graded A and asserted "ought to convert anybody with better taste than Albert Goldman -- namely, you." I hated it enough to grade it C+, then didn't like her 1995 Rising much better (B-, vs. A- for Christgau). This supposedly "outstrips" both the latter and 1981's less bracing Season of Glass. I don't know what to make of this smorgasbord of anti-genre exercises, even a hint of Marlene Dietrich. B+(***)

Earl Scruggs & Tom T. Hall: The Storyteller and the Banjo Man (1982, Columbia): Just two of Hall's story-songs ("The Enginers Don't Wave From the Trains Anymore" and "There Ain't No Country Music on the Jukebox"), one joint title ("A Lover's Farewell"). Hall is pictured on the cover with his guitar, but Randy Scruggs is the guitarist here, with Scruggs on two tracks (plus banjo, natch), Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Byron Berline on fiddle (and mandolin, though that's mostly Scruggs), so the bluegrass band is impeccable. Starts deep in Scruggs' songbook with "Song of the South," doesn't neglect "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms," winds up with a pretty nifty "No Expectations" (Richards & Jagger). B+(**)

Sly and Robbie: Sly and Robbie Present Taxi (1981, Mango): Sly Dunbar (drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Jamaica's most legendary rhythm section, played on many albums from mid-1970s on. They introduced themselves as producers here, 12 songs by 10 artists (two each for Wailing Souls and Junior Delgado; one track credited by Dunbar, the others including stars Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. B+(***)

Chris Smither: I'm a Stranger Too! (1970, Poppy): Folk singer-songwriter, first album of what would turn into a long career -- although he didn't get to number four until 1991, after which he's released an album every 2-3 years. Eight originals, but the title comes from one of two Randy Newman songs (the third cover is from Neil Young). The originals pick up with "Love You Like a Man," which Bonnie Raitt retooled for her own purposes. B+(**)

Chris Smither: Don't It Drag On (1972, Poppy): Second album, the four covers more diverse (Bob Dylan, Willie McTell, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead), gives you something to recognize while the originals slowly sink in. B+(***)

Chris Smither: It Ain't Easy (1984, Adelphi): Smither recorded a third album in 1973, but it was shelved when the label (United Artists) closed, and didn't appear until 2005 (Honeysuckle Dog). It took another decade before Smither recorded another album. Despite the title, he makes this one as easy as possible: just guitar and voice, only three originals, with eleven covers, tapping into Chuck Berry twice. B+(**)

Chris Smither: Small Revelations (1996 [1997], Hightone): Seventh album, on a 2-year cycle since 1991. B+(***)

Omar Souleyman: Highway to Hassake: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1994-2006 [2007], Sublime Frequencies): Syrian (and now world) pop star, his style honed as a wedding singer, featuring an intense, high-speed attack which threatens to make his many albums redundant. First of several compilations of early work (most before 2001), this gives him the occasional break, which helps. A- [bc]

Omar Souleyman: Dabke 2020: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1999-2008 [2009], Sublime Frequencies): More from the same albums and sessions, the problem less that the quality declines than that it all sounds so much the same that one's interest starts to wane. B+(***) [bc]

Omar Souleyman: Jazeera Nights: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1996-2009 [2010], Sublime Frequencies): A third compilation, pretty upbeat. Not sure what the date breakdown is, as the later releases have later end-dates, but most songs appear to come from early albums. B+(***) [bc]

Spoonie Gee: The Godfather of Rap (1987, Tuff City): Rapper Gabe Jackson, from Harlem, early rapper, first single was "Spoonin Rap" in 1979, cut more singles for Sugar Hill, eventually came out with this his only album. Old school before it became old. B+(**)

Tinariwen: The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2000 [2002], World Village): Tuareg group, formed over the 1980s in exile in Libya and Algeria, returned to Mali (where they recorded this), eventually leaving to tour the world (especially as Mali fell apart). First album, B+(**)

Tinariwen: Amassakoul (2004, World Village): Second album, into the studio. B+(***)

Aaron Tippin: Ultimate Aaron Tippin (1990-97 [2004], RCA Nashville/BMG Heritage): Country singer-songwriter, established his working class bona fides with his debut single "You've Got to Stand for Something" ("or you'll fall for anything at all"). He cut five albums for RCA, turned into four best-ofs between 1997 and this 20-track CD in 2004, before he got more jingoistic after 9/11, fading after Stars & Stripes in 2002 (aside from a set of truck songs in 2009). Strong voice, solid songs, still I'm not sure they hold up as well now as I thought back then. B+(***)

Lobi Traoré: Ségou (1996, Cobalt): Singer-guitarist from Mali (1961-2010), third album, has a blues groove, and keeps it tight. B+(***) [yt]

Lobi Traoré: Rainy Season Blues (2009 [2010], Glitterbeat): Acoustic guitar and vocals, about as basic as blues gets, except I don't understand the words, or feel the anguish. But maybe anguish isn't the point. B+(**)

Warren Vaché: Iridescence (1981, Concord): Retro-swing player, debut album 1976, cornet and flugelhorn here, quartet with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jake Breaks: Breaksy (Wide Hive) [05-11]
  • Greg Burk/Ron Seguin/Michel Lambert: Sound Neighbors (Tonos -20)
  • Greg Burk: Simple Joys (Tonos) [06-28]
  • Lorraine Feather: My Own Particular Life (Relarion)
  • Kuzu: All Your Ghosts in One Corner (Aerophonic) [10-05]
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Dots: Pieces for Percussion and Woodwinds (Wide Hive)
  • Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Within Us: Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge (MAMA/Summit) [09-17]
  • Lukasz Pawlik: Long-Distance Connections (Summit) [07-13]
  • Q'd Up: Going Places (Tantara) [10-08]
  • Sidemen: Sidemen (Summit) [06-15]
  • Jim Yanda: A Silent Way (Corner Store Jazz, 2CD) [08-20]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Speaking of Afghanistan

I didn't expect the Taliban to take over Kabul so quickly. In retrospect, I can come up with three reasons, and one more point which is nothing but a hunch:

  1. The Taliban never was very popular in Afghanistan, at least outside of the Pashtun regions in the south and east. It took three years for the warlords to overthrow the Soviet-backed regime once the Russians left. (The Communist government in Kabul lasted longer than the one in Moscow.) The Taliban emerged several years later, took over the Pashtun regions, then struggled elsewhere. When the US entered in 2001, there were still parts of the country not under Taliban control, and the Taliban government quickly collapsed as the US invasion began.

  2. Most of the warnings of an imminent Taliban takeover came from hawks trying to reverse the American withdrawal. It was natural to assume they were exaggerating given their ulterior motives.

  3. Ultimately, all Americans turned out to be poor estimators of what most Afghans thought and wanted. This turned out to be true, not just for those blinded by hubris and/or propaganda, but also for those of us who thought we knew better.

  4. And this is the hunch: given that the Taliban wasn't going to give up the fight, the easiest way to end the constant killing and mass destruction was to surrender. Americans, so steeped in "live free or die" bluster (and centuries of military triumphalism, not that there's much evidence of that since I was born in 1950), may find this hard to swallow, but history offers lots of examples where terms matter much less than peace.

There had been a lot of strange talk over the last couple months about how, with US troops finally withdrawing (but threats of US air support for the still-US-backed Afghan government) about the advent of a new (and potentially lengthy) civil war. But for most Afghhans, war has been a constant plague for 42 years (dating from the Soviet "invasion," although resistance to the Communist regime had started earlier, only escalating in 1979 when the US took advantage of the situation), driven by foreign designs which inevitably provoked local resistance.

While the Taliban shared in responsibility for the violence, the US withdrawal gave them an opportunity to promise an end to the war. Afghan President Ghani refused to negotiate, but many lower officials and clan figures were willing to deal, ceding political power to the Taliban in exchange for security -- something the US and its proxies never could provide. The resulting change of power is more like a coup than a revolution, let alone a pitched battle. And while media and politicians in America are all "hair on fire" with their dashed expectations, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way things have turned out. In particular:

  1. Even if Biden wanted to (and he clearly does not), there is no way the US can return to Afghanistan, conquer the land, and stand up a new proxy government. They did that once, and the best they could do (over 20 years and several trillion dollars) fell apart the instant they left. All the US can hope to do at this point is damage control, and to do that they have to work with the Taliban.

  2. The great fear is that the Taliban will try to settle old scores by taking reprisals against the population. There is reason to think this will not happen, or at least will be limited. First, they've gained most of their territory by negotiating for security. Their credibility depends on honoring those agreements, as do their hopes of extending their power to parts of the country that have historically been opposed to the Taliban. Also, reprisals will fuel more refugees, which in turn will detract from their legitimacy.

  3. The late-1990s Taliban suffered greatly for two reasons: they proved incompetent at running the government; and they never managed to gain international recognition as a legitimate government. Their recent diplomatic efforts suggest they are likely to avoid the isolation of the late 1990s. Regardless of what happens with the US and Europe, they are likely to gain recognition early on by China and Russia, by Iran and Turkey, and (of course) by their former allies in Pakistan and the Arabian states.

  4. The 20 years of US occupation produced some tangible progress for at least some Afghans, even if not enough to legitimize the proxy government. I expect that the Taliban will want to build on those gains -- e.g., in education and public health -- which means that they will need to come to some sort of accommodation with the urban professional class. Their statements thus far are ambiguous, but it seems unlikely (especially if they continue to consolidate power without having to resort to violence) that they will return to the extreme Deobandi/Salafist postures of the 1990s Taliban.

  5. The fact that the US has already begun negotiations with the Taliban suggests that the US is not fated to repeat the die-hard grudges held against North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Iran. Still, US policymakers have a long ways to go to realize that they can work productively with parts of the world they cannot control.

Let's start off with a long quote. I was pretty critical of Matt Taibbi last week, but his piece this week makes some good points, especially the last line here:

Every image coming out of Afghanistan this past weekend was an advertisement for the incompetence, arrogance, and double-dealing nature of American foreign policy leaders. . . .

The pattern is always the same. We go to places we're not welcome, tell the public a confounding political problem can be solved militarily, and lie about our motives in occupying the country to boot. Then we pick a local civilian political authority to back that inevitably proves to be corrupt and repressive, increasing local antagonism toward the American presence.

In response to those increasing levels of antagonism, we then ramp up our financial, political, and military commitment to the mission, which in turn heightens the level of resistance, leading to greater losses in lives and treasure. As the cycle worsens, the government systematically accelerates the lies to the public about our level of "progress."

Throughout, we make false assurances of security that are believed by significant numbers of local civilians, guaranteeing they will later either become refugees or targets for retribution as collaborators. Meanwhile, financial incentives for contractors, along with political disincentives to admission of failure, prolong the mission.

This all goes on for so long that the lies become institutionalized, believed not only by press contracted to deliver the propaganda (CBS's David Martin this weekend saying with a straight face, "Everybody is surprised by the speed of this collapse" was typical), but even by the bureaucrats who concocted the deceptions in the first place.

The look of genuine shock on the face of Tony Blinken this weekend as he jousted with Jake Tapper about Biden's comments from July should tell people around the world something important about the United States: in addition to all the other things about us that are dangerous, we lack self-knowledge.

That's a pretty succinct sketch of America in Afghanistan, but written generically so it also has obvious parallels with Vietnam (and Iraq -- a bit less of an embarrassment given that they wound up with a government we consider some kind of ally, but one which ultimately asked us to leave). Still, the coups, incursions, and occupations which didn't descend into quagmires exhibited many of the same traits: the main difference was that resistance there wasn't organized sufficiently to provoke Americans into showing true colors. In every case Americans see themselves as benign, although they're mostly self-interested and self-absorbed, oblivious to the harms they import on friend and foe alike.

Even though this week's events show clearly that Americans totally misjudged Afghanistan, you still see commentators clinging to the same conceits and delusions, especially in the sudden concern to evacuate as many Afghans as possible, saving them from the terrifying clutches of the Taliban. I don't doubt that there are people in need of saving, but let's be clear: this is a story which reflects the core story line we told ourselves: Taliban = bad, America = good. I'm not saying the US shouldn't take in refugees, but I'm not saying we should either. I understand the sense of obligation -- everyone should clean up after themselves -- but the greater moral lapse was launching the war in the first place. Accepting refugees is part of the price of colonialism, which is only made possible because there are always locals willing to trade old masters for new ones, to serve the invaders, to flatter and enable them. And, of ocurse, when they fail, they expect to be saved. They may be right, but they're still apologists for bad policy in the first place.

One thing I've always been critical of is how the US made no effort to negotiate a transfer of power in Vietnam that would have offered guarantees against reprisals for Vietnamese who supported the US, but were willing to stay. It's possible that the US will do better this time: the collapse of the provisional government was so fast that the US is having to negotiate with the Taliban just to get Americans out of the country. What would be better than carting off as many Afghans as one feels responsible for would be an agreement where the Taliban promises not to engage in reprisals, but the US (and other countries) have the right to offer exile to anyone who gets prosecuted by the Taliban.

I've talked about this idea before: an international treaty which establishes a "right to exile," where people who are jailed in one country can be claimed by another country, allowing them to continue their lives in exile. There would, of course, be much resistance to this from the United States, where we insist on the right not just to punish our own citizens for political crimes but to kidnap and imprison foreign nationals (or to just assassinate them -- note that for a "right to exile" to work, one would also have to outlaw capital punishment and extrajudicial killings).

Someone should write a book that carefully and critically sifts through the media hour-by-hour and day-by-day reporting on 9/11. I was in Brooklyn at the time, with Laura Tillem and Liz Fink, and they were glued to the TV while the towers fell, and the immediate human tragedy metamorphosed into a national (and international) political crisis. I spent most of the day loosely connected, one ear picking up the broadcasts, while I thumbed through a picture book called Century, which in my mind put the day's events into the context of the very bloody 20th century. I remember bits and pieces from the news. Most relevant here were the chyrons: by mid-day they were announcing "America under attack"; that evening, they came up with some grainy video from Kabul, showing a rocket explosion, so they changed the chyron to read "America strikes back." By the time the Kabul video appeared, it was widely reported that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Still, it was the media that assumed that the American response would be war, and they wasted no time cheering it on.

It took Bush-Cheney a month to launch its war, but the media blitz had answered one question: would launching a war be a popular move? There was no need for war, and every reason to expect that war would be ineffective and would cause longer-term repercussions that could easily spiral out of control. The number of people involved in 9/11 numbered in the dozens, with all the actual bombers already dead. Pakistan readily agreed to help find and prosecute the others. The Taliban balked, which hardly meant that negotiation was impossible. But Bush-Cheney, secure in the knowledge that the political media was gung-ho for war, rejected negotiation and plunged right in.

They knew that the Taliban was weak and unpopular, and that its hold on Afghanistan was fragile. The Northern Alliance still ruled the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, and still drew on international support to fight the Taliban. Just days before 9/11 Bush-Cheney decided to side with them, which made the subsequent decision to invade all but automatic. It didn't exactly go smoothly -- Alliance leader Mahmoud Shah Massoud was killed, as was US favorite Abdul Haq. But the CIA entered with buckets of cash and hired a bevy of mercenary warlords, while the Taliban and Al-Qaeda slipped away, to regroup and fight another day, leaving the US stuck with the rump of a failed state and a lot of jaded, war-weary people.

I referred to the rapid advance of US-backed forces as the "feel good days of the war." They didn't last long, but the high sufficed to get Bush-Cheney looking for bigger and richer game in Iraq. Meanwhile, the initial goal of mopping up Al-Qaeda had failed, and the exit of the Taliban left a vacuum filled by the warlords -- the same people whose mismanagement had made the Taliban possible -- plus some slapdash political veneer, and finally the US military. After that, it all went wrong, for more reasons than I can count. But one was certainly that Bush-Cheney were too committed to stripping public resources and undermining democracy at home to be bothered with building a competent, popular government half way around the world.

Some more recent pieces on Afghanistan (no attempt to be comprehensive or representative here):

  • Tariq Ali: Debacle in Afghanistan. Author previously (in 2008) wrote Afghanistan: Mirage of the Good War: "The problem was . . . the Western state-building project itself, by its nature an exogenous process -- aiming to construct an army able to suppress its own population but incapable of defending the nation from outside powers; a civil administration with no control over planing or social infrastructure, which are in the hands of Western NGOs; and a government whose foreign policy marches in step with Washington's. It bore no relation to the realities on the ground." Given how circumscribed the project was, is it any wonder that the anointed Afghans did little but help themselves to the spoils, planning to skip out as soon as the gig is up?

  • Eric Alterman: Altercation: How Low Can They Go? The Media's Afghan Coverage.

  • Zhou Bo: In Afghanistan, China Is Ready to Step Into the Void: And why not? There's little the US can do that China cannot, and little the US can do to China to express displeasure. And Chinese investments come with fewer strings, and less greed for returns (key line here: "China has patience"), than Americans or Europeans expect. And if the Taliban turn out to be really repressive, China won't mind. China might even give them some pointers. By the way, don't expect Pakistan to bow to US pressure now the way it did in 2001. China has become a more reliable anti-India ally than the US ever was, and that's the main thing Pakistan cares about. I also expect that US hostility will drive Russia, Iran, and Turkey into becoming friends of Taliban.

  • Patrick Cockburn: The Choice Facing Afghans: Do a Deal With the Taliban or Flee; also It is Government Weakness, Not Taliban Strength, That Condemns Afghanistan.

  • Laura Jedeed: Afghanistan Meant Nothing: Veteran, did two tours in the country, "all I feel is grim relief."

  • Fred Kaplan: America's Failure in Afghanistan Started 20 Years Ago: "It started in November 2001 . . . when an international conference decided the new Afghanistan would be led by a centralized government in Kabul following the principles of democracy and a civil society." Oh, that's what it was supposed to be? He makes it sound like the Afghans weren't ready for democracy, but perhaps the problem was that its centralized design was preferred by the US to install and control Hamid Karzai, viewed at the time as a friendly and pliant leader. I've long thought that a federal system would have worked better in that it would allow power to be more evenly distributed to localized ethnic groups. But that was only the start of the problems. The division of spoils among warlords fixed not democracy but feudalism as an operating principle. And excluding the Taliban from the political process made it possible for them to regroup outside the system, free from the taint of American-financed corruption, with no obligation to practice the democracy they were denied. Kaplan winds up quoting Michèle Flournoy, who admits that "the United States and its allies got it really wrong from the very beginning," and adds: "The bar was set based on our democratic ideals, not on what was sustainable and workable in an Afghan context." She doesn't explain what the latter might be, but the US tried rigged elections, bribery, and sheer force, and they didn't work any better. Kaplan also wrote: The One Big Thing Biden Got Right About Afghanistan: That it never stood a chance of working. A week ago, he also wrote: Trump's New Big Lie: Afghanistan. I don't get the point of saying "Biden has handled the situation badly." Even if one had anticipated the accelerated timetable for withdrawing not just troops but nationals and allies, it was very difficult to admit as much. It may even be the case that panic has let the military focus.

  • Jen Kirby: Who are the Taliban now? One of the few pieces I've seen that at least considers the possibility that the Taliban have evolved over their 20 years out of power, although the author (like most Americans) is clearly predisposed to cling to "but they're still the Taliban." That's certainly possible, but one thing I've learned in reading about Islam is that the religion can be flexible and tolerant when it suits its practitioners. The two big questions in weeks to come will be how tolerant the Taliban is of diversity internally, and how much legitimacy the Taliban will seek and achieve internationally. I think the two are related, with the key being how much resistance they encounter, both among Afghans and around the world.

  • Eric Levitz: Afghan Refugee Crisis Will Test the Strength of GOP Nativism: Not really. As long as they think it makes Biden look bad, Republicans may give him some guff over his failures, but anti-immigrant wing (well, more like the body) of the party won't want to welcome Afghan refugees, no matter how much they sacrificed to help America's stupid war aims (and not just because they're Muslims, although that's part of it). You're starting to see some of this, especially with Tucker Carlson. Expect more. At some point Trump will chime in, with "I like immigrants who aren't losers."

  • Anatol Lieven: The general lied and the fantasy died: "H.R. McMaster and other apologists for the failed policy in Afghanistan would like us to focus on anything but their complicity in it today." Also: Why Afghan Forces So Quickly Laid Down Their Arms: "Opposing Afghan factions have long negotiated arrangements to stop fighting -- something the U.S. either failed to understand or chose to ignore."

  • Ezzatullah Mehrdad/Sudarsan Raghavan: Anti-Taliban fighters claim victories as first stirrings of armed resistance emerge: "Claims that could not be independently verified," but a reminder that although the Taliban have taken all of Afghanistan's major cities, there are still pockets where they're not in control. I expect that the more violent resistance there is to the Taliban takeover, the more repressive the regime will become, the more unpopular, and the less successful. No doubt anti-Taliban guerrillas will attract sympathy from many Americans, but US government support would consign Afghanistan to many more years of futile war.

  • MME staff: President Ashraf Ghani in UAE on 'humanitarian grounds': I was going to make a joke about how fleeing gives him a chance to reunite with his foreign bank accounts, but the reports are more prosaic; e.g.: "Ghani had escaped with $169m in cash in bags before Kabul fell to the Taliban." [PS: Ghani denies taking cash: Ashraf Ghani says he fled Afghanistan to avoid being lynched.]

  • Viet Thanh Nguyen: I Can't Forget the Lessons of Vietnam. Neither Should You. One of America's finest novelists and critics, fled Saigon with his family when he was 4 years old, so not surprising that his lessons are not the same ones I drew from that same war.

  • Andrew Prokop: Why Biden was so set on withdrawing from Afghanistan: "Even in 2009, he didn't believe the military had a strategy for victory." As I recall, Biden was pushing a strategy he called "counterterrorism," while the military (especially General Petraeus and McChrystal) had come up with an ambitious "counterinsurgency" strategy, which would focus on building trust and winning hearts and minds. Obama went with McChrystal, then fired him after Michael Hastings' book (The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan) came out: not, as was often written, because McChrystal had made disrespectful remarks about Obama, but because the military had revolted, deeming the new strategy too risky to their security. (Note that McChrystal's second, Michael Flynn, was even more insolent, but Obama went on to promote him to run DIA.) Obama appointed Petraeus to take over McChrystal's command, but by then Petraeus had given up on counterinsurgency. It's doubtful that Biden's alternative approach would have done any good, other than by reducing the American footprint, which was what was really driving Afghans to embrace the Taliban.

  • Aaron Rupar: The dark irony of who TV news talks to about Afghanistan: "Cable news is dominated by the same Afghanistan hawks who created this mess." No surprise here: "Fox News has been by far the worst offender in this regard."

  • Grace Segers: Biden Finally Unifies Congress -- Against His Afghanistan Withdrawal Debacle: This just goes to show that politics in America has nothing to do with policy but is totally subject to rhetoric. If it sounds good, it must be right. It makes you wonder why politicians even try to win. After all, if you do, you're stuck defending yourself in the real world, while the losers get to second guess you every which way.

  • Liz Sly: Afghanistan's collapse leaves allies questioning U.S. resolve on other fronts: Sure, why not pile on? I wish I could chalk this up to lack of resolve. That might suggest that US security mandarins are developing a sense of limits. But really, they made a bet that failed, and has left them with no other options (OK, Steve Coll suggests "bombing Afghanistan to smithereens," but he doesn't explain how that might help). They did everything they knew how to do to stand up a friendly government with a well-equipped army. And, frankly, neither would have been viewed as more legitimate had the US continued to prop them up. As I've seen written several times recently, time was on the Taliban's side, not the Americans'. Either it works, or it doesn't, and it didn't.

  • Jeffrey St. Clair: Roaming Charges: When the Empire of Graveyards Falls in the Graveyard of Empires.

  • David Wood: "If Killing People Would Win This, We'd Have Won a Long Time Ago". Quote comes from Marine Colonel. Also quoted is an infantryman: "Those targets in Afghanistan will never end, because there's an infinite supply of enemy and a finite supply of us."

  • Robin Wright: Does the Great Retreat From Afghanistan Mark the End of the American Era? More likely the era ended when America got suckered into entering and taking over Afghanistan. After all, that was Bin Laden's plan all around. 9/11 was just bait, an audacious challenge to those "world's sole hyperpower" boasts. (By the way, I expected something better from Wright than this lament, but after she details all the times she went there with this or that general, you can see where her prejudices lie.)

  • Matthew Yglesias: Biden (and Trump) did the right thing on Afghanistan: "The war was lost long ago -- if it was ever winnable." No, it never was, but reading this shows more superficial reasons than the truism that wars only have losers, even if you can distinguish relative degrees. What's clear is that the US had no idea what "winning the war" might mean. I'm not even sure that they wanted to catch Bin Laden. (When Obama finally did, it changed nothing.) All they really wanted to do was to throw a gigantic temper tantrum -- to show the world that this is what you get for 9/11. How else do you explain the rejection of the Taliban's surrender offer? Omar's culpability was far less than Hirohito's, but the swelled heads in Washington couldn't see that. One more link jumps out at me here: "Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military": I guess Rumsfeld was right: you go with the Army you have, not the Army you want or need.

Finally, here's a list of books I've read on Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a few more general "war on terror" books, but not ones specifically on Iraq or other Arab countries (which would more than double the list) or Israel or American militarism (which would double it again). These are probably longer on background, with a relative shortfall of books on the Afghan government (and its corruption) and the evolution of the Taliban.

  • Robert D Kaplan: Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan (1990; paperback, 2001, Vintage)
  • Gilles Kepel: Jihad: The Trail of Politican Islam (2000, Belknap Press)
  • Ahmed Rashid: Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (paperback, 2000, IB Tauris) -- updated 2010.
  • Tariq Ali: The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002, Verso)
  • Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004, Penguin Books)
  • Anonymous [Michael Scheuer]: Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (2004, Potomac Books)
  • Rory Stewart: The Places in Between (paperback, 2006, Harvest Books)
  • Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage Books)
  • Tariq Ali: The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008; paperback, 2009, Scribner)
  • Ahmed Rashid: Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (2008, Viking)
  • Gregory Feifer: The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan (2009, Harper)
  • Seth G Jones: In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan (2009, WW Norton)
  • Jon Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009, Doubleday)
  • Gretchen Peters: Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda (2009, Thomas Dunne)
  • Nicholas Schmidle: To Live or to Perish: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan (2009; paperback, 2010, Henry Holt)
  • Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2011, Nation Books)
  • Michael Hastings: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Story of America's War in Afghanistan (2012, Blue Rider Press)
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf)
  • Andrew Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016; paperback, 2017, Random House)
  • Steve Coll: Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2018, Penguin Press)
  • Matt Farwell/Michael Ames: American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan (2019, Penguin Books)

I probably have 100 books on Afghanistan in my Book Notes file. I started to pull out a select list of books that struck me as interesting, but they're pretty uneven, and not many are recent. Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes is one of the most promising, but I kind of gave up reading about Afghanistan after the Hastings and Chandrasekaran books in 2012. I expect there will be a rush to write up what's happening now, as most recent books have fallen behind. Meanwhile, Craig Whitlock's The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (Simon & Schuster) is due Aug. 31, and Spencer Ackerman's more general Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (Viking) came out last week. Also on the schedule for November 30 is Tariq Ali's The Forty Year War in Afghanistan and Its Predictable Outcome (Verso), probably undergoing some minor touch up right now (it's an essay collection, no doubt including the articles linked to above).

One last thought: I found it pretty gratifying a few days back when Seth Meyers repeatedly referred to "the disastrous war on terror," as if that's not just established fact but common wisdom. He even posted a picture of Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the Afghanistan War authorization. On the other hand, I was dismayed in this article search to see another piece talking about how "9/11 brought us all together." I've rarely felt more separated and divided from other Americans than after 9/11 as war fever swept the nation. Still, not totally separated, as I was able to find a demonstration against the madness. (I was in New York at the time, but my wife had returned to Wichita, and she, too, found a friendly demonstration -- the beginning of our circle of friends after moving here in 1999.) There was nothing nostalgic about launching the war in Afghanistan. It was a recipe for disaster, and nearly everyone can see that today.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36036 [36001] rated (+35), 218 [220] unrated (-2).

Looks like a decent week, but count is off from recent weeks, especially given how much of what follows is old music. Had a couple days last week where I essentially gave up and just listened to oldies. Got a bit of a lift mid-week when Robert Christgau published his August Consumer Guide -- I'm linking to the time-locked website version, where everyone can at least get a list of records reviewed (there's a link there to the And It Don't Stop newsletter, where the text is paywalled). Five records below from this month's batch. Others I had previously checked out [my grades in brackets]:

  • Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (Darkroom/Interscope) [A-]
  • Robert Finley: Sharecropper's Son (Easy Eye Sound) [B+(***)]
  • The Goon Sax: Mirror II (Matador) [B+(**)]
  • Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (Heavenly Sweetness) [A]
  • Los Lobos: Native Sons (New West) [B+(*)]
  • Mach-Hommy: Pray for Haiti (Griselda) [B+(***)]
  • Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (Invada, EP) [B+(***)]

That leaves two albums unheard: Mach-Hommy's HBO (Haitian Body Odor), and Star Feminine Band. I replayed Mach-Hommy's Pray for Haiti, but left my grade unchanged. (Needless to say, all this was before Haiti was wracked by another earthquake, soon followed by a tropical storm.)

I cheated a bit in building a playlist for the Ace Directions in Music compilation (substituted a Miles Davis take of a Wayne Shorter song for the latter's own Super Nova version). The swap almost certainly didn't hurt the album, but not having the booklet, I'm missing the compiler's explanation for his choices, not least why he talks about the emergence of "electric jazz" instead of "fusion." Either way, it wasn't much of a "new age of jazz" -- which isn't to say that no new and interesting things were happening then, just that they are poorly represented in this compilation.

This week's "old music" continued my scan through the list of albums Christgau graded but I hadn't. My fault I went so deep into 1960s Manfred Mann -- just a personal itch I had to scratch. On the other hand, I barely touched Sparrow -- surprised to find so much on Napster. Next up: Youssou N'Dour, but most of what I missed is pretty hard to find.

Seems like I've been neglecting my new promo queue, but only 5 records there have been released (3 just this week). August is always a lax month, which is part of the reason I've been slipping.

I should probably write something on Afghanistan, but I don't see much urgency at the moment. (E.g., this relatively sane Aug. 13 article still thinks "a possible Taliban capture of Kabul itself could be a matter of months, perhaps even weeks.") I, too, didn't expect the Taliban to take over so quickly and completely. After all, the Soviet-backed regime held out three years after the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the 1990s Taliban never quite consolidated control before the US intervened. That suggests several things, of which the least well documented in the possibility that today's Taliban may be much more skillful politically than the old one was. The most striking thing about the current sweep is that most towns have been taken over without fighting, and we haven't seen anything like the massacres that occurred in the 1990s when the Taliban conquered cities like Herat. This suggests that the Taliban have much more popular support (or at least tolerance) than we have been led to believe. It also underscores how ready the mercenary army stood up by the US and NATO were to switch sides. That means that any effort by the US to re-impose order will have to start from scratch. Given that degree of failure after 20 years, that should be a sobering thought.

Needless to say, a lot of neocon idiots are piling on Biden for "losing Afghanistan." That makes for seductive rhetoric, but there's no reality to it. The venture was doomed from the start, both because we didn't care about (let alone understand) the Afghans, and because we didn't understand (let alone care about) ourselves.

New records reviewed this week:

Emily Duff: Razor Blade Smile (2021, Mr. Mudshow Music): Singer-songwriter from New York, fourth album since 2017, surprised to find she doesn't have a Wikipedia page, also that producer Eric Ambel has both a personal one and a separate discography page (as well as the expected pages for his groups, the Yayhoos and the Del-Lords). A-

Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: Conversations (2019 [2021], Spicerack): Bass duets, Jordan's first album as leader but he has side credits back to 1997, notably with René Marie. Fabian is from Sweden, grew up in Germany, studied at Berklee, wound up in New York, has several albums. B+(**) [cd]

Nas: King's Disease II (2021, Mass Appeal): Thirteenth studio album, sequel to his 2020 album. Nothing especially striking, but steady as it goes. After all, "We been doing gangsta shit for a long time." B+(*)

Pearring Sound: Socially Distanced Duos (2020 [2021], self-released): Alto saxophonist Jeff Pearring, has a previous album from 2016, recorded these duos with a notable list of musicians: "these shared musical moments tell the story of the complex state of being brought about by the numerous events of 2020." B+(***) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Simigwa (1975 [2018], Mr. Bongo): Highlife musician from Ghana, reissue of what seems to be his first album, although the eclectic mix of styles -- not lest a substantial shot of funk and a nod toward hip-hop -- strikes me as postmodern. B+(***)

Directions in Music: 1969 to 1973: Miles Davis, His Musicians and the Birth of a New Age of Jazz (1969-73 [2021], BGP): Surveys the turn to fusion, for which Miles Davis broke up his famous 1964-69 Quintet, then cycled through most of the roster here, breaking artistic ground while filling arenas. His followers did less on both counts -- aside from Keith Jarrett, who reverted to acoustic piano and achieved stardom on his own terms. While the others sold a fair number of records, their "new age" quickly lost interest. Two vocals make you wonder why they're here, not that either is without interest. B+(**)

Amy Rigby: A One Way Ticket to My Life (1987-97 [2019], Southern Domestic): Nineteen demos, the best a trial run for her brilliant debut album, the rest engaging and enticing but not quite as sharp as her songwriting became over the following decades. B+(***) [bc]

Joseph Spence: Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing (1965 [2021], Smithsonian/Folkways): One of the few major artists from the Bahamas (1910-84), folk singer, guitarist, his 1958 Folkways recordings the standard this offers an encore to. Off-kilter, redeemed by gospel spirit. A-

Old music:

Emily Duff: Maybe in the Morning (2017, Mod Prom): New York singer-songwriter, preferred genre rockabilly, first album, appeals immediately. B+(***) [bc]

Emily Duff: Hallelujah Hello (2019, Mr. Mudshow Music): A bit more drama, a lot more religion, which cuts back on the rockabilly spirit. "I'm going down, like my mother did, in a puff of smoke and alcohol." B+(**) [bc]

Manfred Mann: The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (1964, HMV): Brit Invasion group, had a few big hits, starting with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La," neither present on the UK version of this debut album. (As with other BI groups, the UK and US albums were different, and the UK version is the one I'm finding.) Led by South African keyboardist Manfred Lubovitz, who took exile in 1961, and used Manne (for jazz drummer Shelly) as his stage name -- the label shortened it, leading to a long series of Mann puns. Five original songs by singer Paul Jones, three with Mann. The nine covers were mostly blues, starting with "Smokestack Lightning" and ending with "Bring It to Jerome." B+(*)

Manfred Mann: Mann Made (1965, HMV): UK/US releases match, but Canadian slipped a single in. Nothing very appealing here. C+

Manfred Mann: Mann Made Hits (1964-66 [1966], HMV): "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" still sounds great, "Sha La La" sounds like a silly sequel, "Pretty Flamingo" I'm not so sure about, three more top-ten UK singles (including the lesser of two Dylans) are long forgotten, the others just weirdly scattered, as the band started to fall apart. B

Manfred Mann: The Best of Manfred Mann: The Definitive Collection (1963-66 [1992], EMI): With 25 cuts plus a bit of "Group Interview," more than anyone really needs from their early hit-making period. B

Manfred Mann: As Is (1966, Fontana): New label, Paul Jones and Mike Vickers departed, Michael D'Abo and Klaus Voormann arrived, ten originals with drummer Mike Hugg's name on most of them, covers of Johnny Mercer ("Autumn Leaves") and Bob Dylan ("Just Like a Woman"). By the way, HMV answered with the 4-cut EP As Was, credited to Manfred Mann With Paul Jones. B

Manfred Mann: Chapter Two: The Best of the Fontana Years (1966-69 [1994], Fontana/Chronicles): I haven't found a Chapter One, which presumably would be populated with for their EMI-controlled 1964-66 hits (and misses). With Mike D'Abo singing, their second period dropped their blues roots, smoothed out their rough edges, but rarely offered hit material -- the Dylan-penned "Mighty Quinn" appears here, but not much more of interest. B-

Manfred Mann: Hit Mann! The Essential Singles 1963-1969 (1963-69 [2008], Raven): Finally, a generous compilation (28 songs) that bridges the group's two "chapters," the early one on EMI with Paul Jones and the later one on Fontana with Mike D'Abo. The split is about right (19-to-9), all the memorable singles are present, and they get "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" out of the way first. Beyond that, they even present with a recognizable sound, which is rarely clear from the albums. Not an especially important group, but this finally gets them right. B+(**)

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Glorified Magnified (1972, Polydor): The keyboardist's fourth venture featured guitarist-singer Mick Rogers as his significant other. Their eponymous 1972 debut, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, picked out catchy tunes and gave them a great deal of resonance. The tunes fall short on this second album, except for the Dylan cover. B+(*)

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Get Your Rocks Off (1973, Polydor): Third album, released in UK at Messin', re-ordered with John Prine's "Pretty Good" replacing "Black and Blue" (from the Australian group Chain, supposedly thinking that Americans might find a song about slavery "unsuitable"). The UK title song was written by former bandmate Mike Hugg, the American one by Dylan, and the closing cover by Dr. John. B+(**)

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Messin' (1973 [1998], Cohesion): Reissue of the originally ordered UK album, plus two bonus tracks: "Pretty Good" (from the US Get Your Rocks Off release), and a single edit of "Cloudy Eyes." B+(**)

Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited: Mr. Music (1985, Earthworks): The chimurenga giant of Zimbabwe, his music (like his country) splitting the distance between Congo and South Africa. Five songs, 36:38. B+(***)

Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): Folk singer, second album, first of a series through 1978 on Philo -- I recommend her 1992 compilation, Things We Said Today: The Best of Mary McCaslin, which taps this album for five songs, and doesn't grab all the good ones. A-

Mary McCaslin: Prairie in the Sky (1975, Philo): Continues to play up the western in "country and," including a memorable take on "Ghost Riders in the Sky." B+(***)

Mary McCaslin: Old Friends (1977, Philo): Original title song plus nine covers, most cut against her grain, exceptional nonetheless, gently hooked by banjo and voice. A-

Mary McCaslin: Broken Promises (1994, Philo): After a decade in the business, she seems to have given up, only to stage this minor comeback after her 1992 best-of re-introduced her. Fewer covers, so fewer hooks. B+(**)

Mary McCaslin: Better Late Than Never (2006, Mary McCaslin Music): One more record, audibly older, couldn't be simpler, which works for me just fine. B+(***)

The Mekons: F.U.N. '90 (1990, A&M, EP): Six tracks, 28:30, reportedly covers, more obviously loops in samples, with some kind of electronica background. B+(*)

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: Collector's Item: All Their Greatest Hits (1972-75 [1976], Philadelphia International): Now remembered, much to the nominal leader's chagrin, as Teddy Pendergrass' original group. They recorded four albums before Pendergrass left, and this first-generation best-of picks their four R&B chart toppers, three more top-tens, and one extra album cut ("Be for Real"). This is great every time "Wake Up Everybody" comes around, but then I start to nitpick. I have two later, longer best-ofs at B+. Concentration helps, but still has limits. B+(***)

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes Featuring Teddy Pendergrass: Blue Notes & Ballads (1972-75 [1998], Epic/Legacy): In the intervening years, Harold Melvin became a footnote to Teddy Pendergrass, whose name is on the masthead for marketing reasons -- were it simply focus, why includes two Sharon Paige leads? And why include three songs already on Collector's Item? Aside from that the filler runs a little thin. B+(*)

The Mighty Clouds of Joy: It's Time (1974, ABC/Dunhill): Gospel group, formed in Los Angeles in 1959, recorded for Peacock from 1963-72, made their commercial move here, produced by Dave Crawford and recorded in Philadelphia. Crawford wrote 8 (of 9) songs, with occasional allusion to but scant mention of God. B+(***) [yt]

The Mighty Clouds of Joy: The Best of the Mighty Clouds of Joy Volume 2 [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (2005-10 [2016], Motown Gospel): Discogs has no entry for a Volume 1, which could have usefully covered their 1974-77 secular albums on ABC, or their earlier (1963-72 on Peacock) or later (1980-83 on Myrrh) gospel periods. Nor do they have source info for these 10 songs, but they are clearly live, and all appear on three 2005-10 EMI albums (In the House of the Lord: Live in Houston; Movin'; and At the Revival). By then, only Joe Ligon (d. 2016) remained from the original group. B

[Mighty] Sparrow: King of the World (1984, B's): Slinger Francisco, born in Grenada but moved to Trinidad when he was one, started performing as Little Sparrow and before long became Mighty Sparrow. The four poorly annotated volumes on Ice mark him as the greatest of all calypsonians: I recommend them all, as well as the early First Flight (1957-59), and don't doubt that much of what they missed is still worthwhile. But before those compilations started appearing in 1993, this (the 53rd album in his Discogs list) was the first one Christgau reviewed (while recommending two others even higher, More Sparrow More!! and Hot and Sweet -- the cover is so familiar I must have once had a copy, but didn't get it into my database. "Soca Man" shows he can do the beat without letting it define him. The wordier cuts are where he shines. A-

Mighty Sparrow: More Sparrow More!! (1969, Ra): I'm not prepared for a deep dive here, but couldn't resist the opportunity to play this one, namechecked in the Christgau review of King of the World. I'm also not inclined to cross check the titles here against the Ice compilations, but if I haven't heard "Sparrow Dead" and "60 Million Frenchmen" before I got cheated. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard "Martin Luther King" before ("segregation must be destroyed"), so I got cheated anyway. Fine print: "Acc. by Conrad Little and his Big Band." A-

Mighty Sparrow: Hot and Sweet (1974, Warner Bros.): Starts off with another version of "Dead Sparrow," so there may well be many, but this one is, if anything, even livelier. Keeps coming, too. A-

Nas: God's Son (2002, Columbia): Rapper Nasir Jones, father a blues/jazz guitarist known as Olu Dara, made a big splash with his 1994 debut Illmatic. Sixth studio album. Don't think he's right about "I Can," but the album looks up from there. B+(**)

Nas: Untitled (2008, Def Jam): Ninth studio album, looks like it could be eponymous but seems like the more descriptive non-title has stuck -- evidently the original idea was to go with the most overused word here, but cooler heads prevailed. "Black President" dates this precisely, but too much else hasn't aged at all. While I'd quibble, "Fried Chicken" is mouth-watering. A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sheila Jordan: Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (Capri) [09-27]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Speaking of Which

Wasn't going to write anything this week, but I got ticked off by Twitter today, and couldn't fit the depths of my outrage into a measly 280 chars.

Matt Taibbi: The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama: I've only read the "excerpt from today's subscriber-only post" -- not a great look for a guy who's accusing other people of selling out -- and probably wouldn't have gone that far had I not been irritated by seeing him plug the piece seven straight times in his Twitter feed, to his 542.7K followers (of which I am, with increasing regret, one). (I don't think I've ever tweeted about one of my posts more than once, not wanting to impose on my modest but growing 542 followers.) And I still probably wouldn't have mentioned it except for this line:

Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time -- he fooled us all. . . . He sold us out, and it's time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America.

So, six months after Donald Trump left office, after four years of presiding over the most corrupt, mendacious, inept, and cruel administration in American history, Obama is the one remembered as "a common swindler" and "one of the great political liars of all time"? These statements defy history and logic by a mind-boggling degree. But they depend not just on overlooking most of what Trump did in the last four years, but also on blaming Obama for the rest of Trump's malign legacy.

Look, I've been pretty critical of Obama not just in retrospect but from the early days of his presidential campaign. You can read what I wrote in two large compilations of my notebook blog for the years 2009-2012 and 2013-2016 -- with bits on the campaign in the 2001-2009 volume, as well as an accounting of the Trump years 2017-2020 (these files are in Open Office format, a free word processor program, but you should also be able to import then into Microsoft Word, if that's the tool you prefer or are stuck with; they are pretty long). In assembling those files, I was a bit surprised at how critical I was of Obama (and how early), because I don't remember bearing him any ill will -- indeed, I had no qualms voting for him over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, nor did I have any doubt when he ran against the war-monger John McCain in 2008 or the vulture capitalist Mitt Romney in 2012, so I think I can claim a fair and reasoned appreciation of him.

Early on I criticized him for his lack of critical insight and vision. Later on I faulted him for not recognizing Republicans for the lethal madness they had embraced, and for not doing enough to build up a Democratic Party capable of defending against them. At all times, he remained a staunch and naive believer in American dreams and fantasies. That may have contributed to the "hopeless cynical mess that is modern America," but wasn't it Trump who made fun of Obama for ending every speech with "God bless America"? Sure, Obama's platitudes failed to solve America's problems, but America didn't have to respond with his antithesis.

In the long run, Obama's legacy comes down to two things. He will be remembered for running a relatively competent and legal administration, at least compared to Republicans fore and aft. And we'll lament the opportunity costs, eight years desperately in need of solutions that never came, and that ended in vicious recoil. If Biden seems radical today, it's because so many years of inaction and folly have made sensible policies that much more urgent now.

Still, even though Biden's agenda and tactics today are rooted in a sharp critique of Obama's agenda and tactics, no one makes a big deal out of that. Obama, Clinton, and for that matter Carter, are respected but obsolete former Democrats, carrying on with their lives while they still have them. Carter, perhaps because he grew up in a more public-minded era, or maybe just because he got rich before he got into politics, has had a very honorable post-presidential career, while the others come off looking like grifters, even though their actual tenure in office was respectably free of corruption. Even Taibbi gives them a bullshit out ("getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American"; most Americans, including many of us whose roots in this country go back centuries, have nothing resembling that birthright). I'm inclined to be less generous: I hate the tendency to equate "American dream" with becoming rich and famous, and have serious doubts about the moral virtue of such a quest.

Still, why single Obama out for approbation that should apply to his entire class? If for hypocrisy, why assume that Democrats should eschew the material riches Republicans are expected to aspire to? Just because Obama's Democratic Party had a modicum of respect for workers, a whit of care for the poor, and a modest aspiration to opening up opportunities, doesn't contradict the warm support they habitually doled out to business. (It's the zero-sum Republicans who believe they're getting ahead by hurting others.) Obama may have been the last politician in America to truly believe in trickle-down: the silly notion that when you help the rich (e.g., by bailing out bankers), you're helping everyone. In one way Obama was exemplary: his failures are directly attributable to his faulty convictions.

Still, Taibbi's dumbest mistake is in using Obama to excuse Donald Trump. There's no excuse for that. Only shame.

Reminder: if you haven't already, go to HBO Max to see Betrayal at Attica. Brilliant film, featuring interviews with the indomitable Elizabeth Fink, and testimony from the resilient Frank Smith. I'm proud to have known both of them. And by the way, if you think "black lives matter" and "blue lives matter" are antithetical, you weren't in the courtyard at Attica that day, or in the courts thereafter.

Also, just found Amy Rigby's song released on Jan. 19, 2021, remembering Four Years of U. Webpage proclaims "We made it! (except for those who didn't)." Let me dedicate this to Diane Wahto, who once bravely proclaimed "we survived one George Bush; we can survive another." She did, but didn't make it through four years of Trump. Also to Kal Tillem, who didn't quite make it through the second Bush.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 356001 [35949] rated (+52), 220 [212] unrated (+8).

I've had a miserable week. I suppose that's reflected in the high rated count, inasmuch as I didn't feel up to doing anything else. (Well, I did hack out a Speaking of Which, which as far as I can tell elicited zero interest, not even a "like" on Twitter, so did it really happen?) Woke up this morning with blurry eyes. I can barely see to type this.

Note that the number of rated records inched over the 36,000 line. Actually came up one short Sunday night, but Monday morning I moved a couple albums up to get it over with.

Midweek I was having a terrible time trying to figure out what to listen to next. Chris Monsen came to the rescue, with his 50 fave new music releases a bit past 2021s midway point. About a third were records I hadn't heard, so I scrambled to catch up. My unheard list is down to 2 now: William Parker's 10-CD Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World, and Anthony Braxton's 13-CD Quintet (Standards) 2020. Both are probably brilliant. Parker's 8-CD Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 is a full A, as is Braxton's 4-CD 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003, with his previous 4-CD 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 rated just a shade lower. Still, way too much music to try to digest streaming.

Two more albums from Monsen's list show up below in "limited sampling": a category for records that are only partially available online, not enough to grade but roughly sorted as prospects. Good chance the new Punkt. Vrt. Plastik album (a piano trio with Kaja Draksler) is as good as its predecessor. Intakt's Bandcamp only offers a cut or two, and only about half of their albums this year are on Napster -- three of those on my A-list (Aki Takase, Irène Schweizer, Silke Eberhard).

I also gave three of Monsen's "music of the spheres" picks another spin. (The fourth, James Brandon Lewis' Jesup Wagon, is already high on my A-list.) But I didn't find much reason to change my grades. I also checked out some of Eva Mendoza's earlier records, since Monsen regards her as the selling point to Parker's Mayan Space Station. My top-four (see list above) are: East Axis, Sons of Kemet, Lewis, and Barry Altschul, unless you count Anthony Joseph.

Before diving into Monsen's list, I returned to my checklist of records Robert Christgau has graded that I haven't heard. When I found Taj Mahal's Maestro available, I started digging deeper. There was some question whether I should bother with the early best-ofs, given that they've since been supplanted by more comprehensive ones. The first was a Christgau A-, and the second evinced some evolution in thinking about his canon, but in both I wound up referring to the 2000 The Best of Taj Mahal. In the end, I decided to substitute its cover scan for the other two. Manhattans came next, then (if/when I continue) Manfred Mann.

Couple quasi-political notes (maybe including them here will spare us another Speaking of Which):

My wife was pretty upset by Barack Obama's 60th birthday bash. As I noted in a comment to her Facebook rant, Obama now ranks 12th on Wikipedia's List of presidents of the United States by net worth, behind Bill Clinton (9th) and just ahead of GW Bush (13th). Those are certainly the top three in terms of cashing in on their "public service," more a sign of the times than of their personal greed. Bush started well ahead of the other two, but his business career was almost as inept as his presidency, with most of his wealth coming from his share as front man for the Texas Rangers, which was actually owned by much richer Texans. Clinton and Obama started out poor, but worked their way through elite colleges through a combination of obsequieousness and talent. As politicians they excelled at raising money, and in office they excelled at delivering wealth and power to their patrons. It's natural that they should aspire to belong to the class they had served so diligently. Still, Obama's extravagant party looks like one of those classic nouveau riche foibles, a case of excessive display to show the world he's arrived. Also to show that anyone who still thinks he's a community organizer (let alone a Mau-Mau) is dead wrong. But even if he is the living embodiment of "the American dream," he is a mere exception, not disproving the rule but reminding us how difficult it is for anyone less willing to prostrate themselves to the people who run the country, the ones a previous Democratic president dubbed "the malefactors of great wealth." (Note that FDR is down to number 10 on the Wikipedia list, just below Clinton.)

I should probably write something about Michele L Norris: Germany faced its horrible past. Can we do the same? I suspect the answer is no, and I'm not sure it's worth the trouble. I haven't read anything on Germany's de-Nazification process comparable to John Dower's book on postwar Japan, Embracing Defeat, but my impression is that the Germans simply didn't want to speak of their Nazi past, until the 1960s when you started seeing a bit of introspection (e.g., in the plays of Rolf Hochhuth and Peter Weiss). And really, it doesn't matter if you simply forget the past, and move on, trying to live better in the present. Israel's obsession with never forgetting the Holocaust hasn't done it, or anyone else, much good. Indeed, the persistence of the past has kept Israelis (and their morror-image Palestinians) locked in perpetual struggle over past wrongs, continuously added to). What we do need to do is stop lying about the past, and stop looking for a romanticized version of the past that justifies present inequality.

Approaching the end of Steve Benen's The Impostors: How Repubicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics. Next chapter is called "It's Like These Guys Take Pride in Being Ignorant." Indeed. Good book. Of course, he can't resist using Trump for examples, but all of his "post-policy" complaints are shown to have deeper roots and broader support in the Republican party. I still don't think "post-policy" has the right tone to it. Closer to the mark would be "nihilist."

New records reviewed this week:

Joshua Abrams/Chad Taylor: Mind Maintenance (2021, Drag City): Most sources are already taking the album title as group name, but as the actual artist names on the covers, I think I'm parsing this right. Abrams (normally a bassist) plays guimbri, while Taylor (drummer) plays mbira, I doubt for the first time. Minimalist patterns with a slight tonal shift. B+(***)

Altin Gün: Yol (2021, ATO): Dutch band, founded by bassist Jasper Verhulst, draws on Turkish folk music -- singers are Erdinc Ecevit Yildiz and Merve Dasdemir -- with funk rhythms and psychedelic overtones. Third album. Nice beat, despite foreign language, doesn't feel all that exotic. B+(**)

Miguel Ângelo Quarteto: Dança Dos Desastrados (2021, self-released): Portuguese bassist, several albums, group includes João Guimarães (alto sax), Joaquim Rodrigues (piano), and Marcos Cavaleiro (drums). B+(**) [bc]

Bleachers: Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night (2021, RCA): Jack Antonoff's group, third album since 2014, albums have sold well but he's probably better known as a songwriter and/or producer for Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Lana Del Rey. Obviously has some skills, but for some reason they work better when employed by someone interesting. B+(*)

Dr. Mike Bogle: Let There Be Light (2021, MBP/Groove): Plays keyboards and trombone, UNT graduate, managed the One O'Clock Lab Band for a few years, got a Grammy nomination in 1992 for arranging. Unclear on his discography, but seems to have two previous Trio albums, at least. Not exactly pop jazz, but I get the feeling he'd settle for that. B [cd]

Wayne Coniglio & Scott Whitfield: Faster Friends (2021, Summit): Two trombonists, backed by piano-bass-drums, with some guest spots. Relationship goes back to Whitfield's Jazz Orchestra East (2004-05), and includes a 2014 album together. Three Coniglio tunes, bunch of standards. B [cd]

Jack Cooper/Jeff Tobias: Tributaries (2021, Astral Spirits): No info available, unfortunate given that Discogs lists 10 Jack Coopers, but doesn't have this album. I have Jack Cooper (7) in my database, but this one appears to be the unnumbered Jack Cooper: based in England, has one previous album under his own name, plus several groups, like Modern Nature (5 albums, saxophonist Tobias in the group) and Ultimate Painting (5 more albums, a duo with James Hoare). Cooper's instrument seems to be guitar, picking out patterns with the sax trailing along. Might be more interesting if I wasn't also trying to figure out all this, but marginal in any case. B [dl]

Dominican Jazz Project: Desde Lejos (2020-21 [2021], Summit): Started with pianist Stephen Anderson toured the Dominican Republic in 2014, hooking up with local musicians like Guillo Carias (clavietta) and Guy Frómeta (drums), and others. They released an album in 2016, and followed up here in a Covid paste-up project. Sandy Gabriel distinguishes himself on sax. I could do without the vocal. B+(*) [cd]

Falkner Evans: Invisible Words (2021, CAP): Pianist, originally from Tulsa, moved to New York in 1985, debut 2001. Solo, dedicated to his late wife, a suicide last may. Measured, methodical, more than a little poignant. B+(**) [cd] [08-13]

Orrin Evans: The Magic of Now (2021, Smoke Sessions): Pianist, debut 1995, quartet with Immanuel Wilkins (tenor sax), Vicente Archer (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums). Wilkins impresses again. B+(***)

Fire!: Defeat (2019-20 [2021], Rune Grammofon): Norwegian group, since 2009, occasionally expanding to Orchestra weight, but most often a trio -- Mats Gustafsson (flute/baritone sax), Johan Berthling (electric bass), and Andreas Werlin (drums) -- here adding Goran Kajfes (trumpet) and Mats Ålekint (trombone/sousaphone). Starts with flute, which at least contains Gustafsson's tendencies to excess, although he later switches to bari and sticks mostly within the groove, letting the other horns provide the highlights. A-

Michael Foster/Ben Bennett: Contractions (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits): Saxophone and drums duo. Discogs lists 16 albums by Foster since 2013, 6 of those with Bennett, all but one of the rest collaborations with multiple credits. A bit of squawk-and-bash, but interesting for such. [On the other hand, hit reject on last track.] B+(**) [dl]

Frode Gjerstad Trio + 1: Forgotten City (2018 [2020], PNL): Norwegian alto saxophonist, first appeared in Detail c. 1983, 20+ trio albums, twice that is other configurations. The "+ 1" here is a second bassist, Øyvind Storesund, along with regulars Jon Rune Strøm and Paal Nilssen-Love (although Storesund has played in the trio before). Leader also plays clarinet and alto flute, further softening the edge. B+(*) [bc]

Devin Gray: Melt All the Guns (2019 [2021], Rataplan): Drummer, composed five pieces (19:17), with Ralph Alessi (trumpet) and Angelica Sanchez (piano) listed on slug line after title. B+(**) [bc]

Koma Saxo: Live (2019 [2021], We Jazz): Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, formed this three-saxophone (Otis Sandsjö, Jonas Kullhammar, Mikko Innanen) group for his Koma Saxo album, kept the group name. With Christian Lillinger (drums). Develops a circus-like atmosphere. B+(***)

Marthe Lea Band: Asura (2020 [2021], Motvind): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, also credited with flute, piano, guitar, voice, udu, percussion. Group adds clarinet, violin, bass, and drums. Leans hard on violin-signified folk music, builds playfully, but I'm more interested when the sax breaks out. B+(*)

Lean Left: Medemer (2018 [2020], PNL): Group formed in 2008 as The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, and they've met up regularly since then -- this is their sixth album. The former are Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor, guitarists in the Dutch post-punk group The Ex. The latter, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (from The Thing) and Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark, recorded their first duo album in 2002 (Dual Pleasure), with many more since. I haven't heard much by Vandermark over the last few years. (He's been as prolific as ever, but his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp only offers bits of albums.) But he sounds great here, pushed on by the guitar ferment, and a terrific drummer. A- [bc]

Michael Mantler: Coda: Orchestra Suites (2019-20 [2021], ECM): Trumpet player, from Vienna, best known for his work with Carla Bley when he was her second husband. Has always had a hankering to go long and orchestral, which he indulges here -- not something I've enjoyed in the past, but this sails along enjoyably. B+(**)

Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane: Ihubo Labomdabu (2021, Unlocked Keys): South African jazz pianist, has a handful of albums since 2016. Seems to be solo, straight and thoughtful, although the cover depicts a full band. B+(*)

Calle Neumann/Ketil Gutvik/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: New Dance (2020 [2021], PNL): Alto sax, guitar, bass, drums. Live concert set. Neumann has been around, with one record going back to 1972, side credits with Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen, and their mentor George Russell. This group was convened to celebrate the 5-CD box set release of The Quintet: Events 1998-1999, a group with Neumann, Gutvik, and Nilssen-Love. B+(***) [bc]

Caroline Parke: Pause and Pine (2021, self-released): Canadian cowgirl, lives on a ranch in Alberta, second album, knows a thing or two about raising cattle, growing wheat, running a farm house, and Marty Robbins. B+(*)

Part Chimp: Drool (2021, Wrong Speed): English noise rock/sludge metal group, formed in 2000, not a niche I'm interested in but the sheets of sound cloak a beat so lumbering that they're tolerable on structure alone. B [bc]

Riders Against the Storm: Flowers for the Living (2021, Divide and Conjure): Husband-and-wife hip-hop duo, Chaka and Qi, releases back to 2010 (with a 2014-19 gap). Short album, 8 tracks, 29:31. Bits of global funk and old school bounce that has me thinking Sugarhill Gang. B+(***) [bc]

Aksel Rønning Trio: ART (2019 [2021], Øra Fonogram): Norwegian saxophonist, backed by bass and drums, first album, not the guy who plays drums in Rønnings Jazzmaskin. Straight ahead, like his tone and balance. B+(***)

Claire Rousay: A Softer Focus (2021, American Dream): From San Antonio, electronic music, "field recordings for a modern world." Discogs credits her with 18 albums in just a couple years (from 2019). Ambient, perhaps something, hard to tell. B

Tine Surel Lange: Works for Listening 1-10 (2021, Sofa Music): Norwegian composer, debut album (CV lists various "works" going back to 2013), "a series of spatial electro-acoustic works . . . made in 5th order ambisonics." B+(**) [bc]

Arne Torvik Trio: Northwestern Songs (2019 [2021], Losen): Norwegian pianist, has a previous album from 2016, drops down to trio here with bass and drums. B+(**)

Young Pilgrims: We're Young Pilgrims (2021, Stoney Lane): From Birmingham (UK), "young brass band brimming with jazz-rock energy," unmoored from trad jazz formula, not that they've found much to replace it. B- [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Roy Brooks: Understanding (1970 [2021], Reel-to-Real, 2CD): Drummer (1938-2005), from Detroit, not a lot as leader but quite a few side credits -- starting in 1960 with Blue Mitchell, Sonny Red, Horace Silver, and Buddy Tate. Previously unreleased live date from Baltimore with Woody Shaw (trumpet), Carlos Garnett (tenor sax), Harold Mabern (piano), and Cecil McBee (bass). Five cuts stretch out past 20 minutes each, one to 32:25, and most are blistering. Or, as McBee puts it, "the music was trying to express the excitement of arriving at social justice." B+(***)

Carl Magnus Neumann/Christian Reim Quartet: Molde International Jazz Festival 1976 (1976 [2021], Jazzaggression): Norwegian group, leaders play alto sax and piano, backed with bass (Bjørn Kjellemyr) and drums (Ole Jacob Hansen). Back cover abbreviates the leader names for space, but they're obscure enough. Reim wrote five (of six) songs, the other "The Man I Love." B+(***)

Christian Reim Sextet: Mona Lisa (1973 [2021], Jazzaggression): Norwegian pianist, b. 1945, not much discography, but this live recording of a "post-bop extravaganza in 6 parts" is expertly paced, with lots of punch: two saxophones (Carl Magnus Neumann and Knut Riisnaes), trumpet (Ditlef Eckhoff), bass, and drums. A-

The Rough Guide to the Roots of Jazz (1918-30 [2021], World Music Network): Twenty-six songs, offers a fairly comprehensive survey of jazz in the 1920s, including most of the big names, and a number of classic songs.

Old music:

Billy Bang: Outline No. 12 (1982 [1983], Celluloid): Conduction by Butch Morris, three pieces by the leader, with three violinists (Bang, Jason Hwang, Joseph Hailes), four reed players (Frank Lowe, Charles Tyler, Henri Warner, David Murray), vibes, bass, two percussionists. [Reissued 2017 by Bill Laswell.] B+(**) [bc]

Brown Sugar: I'm in Love With a Dreadlocks: Brown Sugar and the Birth of Lovers Rock 1977-80 (1977-80 [2018], Soul Jazz): British reggae vocal group, three women. Caron Wheeler had a brief fling at fame in the early 1990s (both solo and in Soul II Soul), as did Kofi (Carol Simms), although less memorably. B

Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal Anthology: Volume 1 (1968-71 [1977], Columbia): First generation best-of, selected so perfectly the same ten songs reappear in order to open 2000's canonical 17-track The Best of Taj Mahal (the one you should start with), with nine early on 2005's 2-CD The Essential Taj Mahal. Most of these were inspired covers, his theme lifted from Goffin & King and made his own: "Come with me . . . and take a giant step outside your mind." They didn't release the expected Volume 2. Not that they didn't have more songs to work with, but they never wanted to give up these ten. A

Taj Mahal: Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff (1972, Columbia): First side is lives, which is cheap for the artist but doesn't offer the listener much. Second side offers four new songs, most marvelously "Cakewalk Into Town." B+(*)

Taj Mahal: Ooh So Good 'N Blues (1973, Columbia): Blues revivalist Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr., five years into a long career. A few obscurities, at least one of his own making, but he also takes songs you know ("Frankie and Albert," "Dust My Broom," "Built for Comfort") and throws them for weird curves. A-

Taj Mahal: The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 (1969-73 [2021], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Previously unreleased. One disc of trivial from his earliest and most fertile period, often living up to the billing. The big song where is "You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff." A second live disc from Royal Albert Hall in 1970. B+(***)

Taj Mahal: The Best of Taj Mahal (1968-74 [1981], Columbia): Second-generation best-of, swaps out four "must have" songs for four others -- good ones, with "Cakewalk Into Town" and "Chevrolet" top tier. "Volume 1" appears on the label, but not on the cover. Later reissued in "Collector's Choice" packaging. Still, The Best of Taj Mahal you want is the 2000 CD. A-

Taj Mahal: An Evening of Acoustic Music (1993 [1994], Tradition & Moderne): Live radio shot from Radio Bremen, mostly solo guitar and voice, with Howard Johnson (tuba/penny whistle) dropping in for the last five tracks. B+(***)

Taj Mahal: Best of the Private Years (1993-97 [2000], Private Music): Mahal became one of Peter Baumann's "artist re-development" projects, recording five albums for the label, only the middle three represented here. Leans toward eclectic covers, which sound good less for his added value than for starting out great. B+(*)

Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band: Shoutin' in Key: Live (1998 [2000], Hannibal): Band took its name from the 1996 Phantom Blues album. Opens with 6:19 of instrumental "Honky Tonk," before the singer enters with his usual far-ranging blues repertoire. B+(*)

Taj Mahal: Maestro (2008, Heads Up): He reccorded steadily from 1969-78, mostly for Columbia, briefly for Warners, starting in gentle country blues and picking up bits from the rest of the African diaspora, then struggled to find a label in the 1980s before picking up again in the 1990s, less consistently. He rebounds here, mostly because he's found his blues mojo again -- but he's picked up a lot of tricks and tics along the way. A-

Manhattans: Greatest Hits (1973-80 [1980], Columbia): R&B vocal group from New Jersey, had some hits during their 1973-86 run at Columbia, but most before this mid-term best-of appeared (with two new songs projected as hits, one eventually charted). B+(**)

Manhattans: Kiss and Say Goodbye: The Best of the Manhattans (1973-85 [1995], Columbia/Legacy): Long-running vocal group, founded in 1962, continued at least through 2008, lot of minor hits (45 charted) but only a couple big ones (the title song here, and "Shining Star"). This picks 19 songs from 11 albums, which is probably more than enough, but the mid-tempo or slower love songs (losing it as often as not) flow so effortlessly there's no need to quibble. B+(***)

Ava Mendoza: Shadow Stories (2010, Resipiscent): Guitarist, from Brooklyn, first album, solo, four originals, six covers, drawing on blues, folk, and country, relatively straight, although elsewhere she gets fairly deep into the noise weeds. B+(*) [bc]

Ava Mendoza/Dominique Leone/Nick Tamburro: Unnatural Ways (2015, New Atlantis): Guitarist, from Brooklyn, featured on William Parker's new Mayan Space Station, has an underground reputation that previously escaped me. With keyboards and drums. Vocals head back to rock, but her guitar isn't that tethered. B+(*)

Ava Mendoza's Unnatural Ways: The Paranoia Party (2019, Sleeping Giant Glossolalia): Guitar trio, with Tim Dahl (bass) and Sam Ospovat (drums). With vocals, closer in spirit and tone to noise rock, although the timing wanders and the landscape is stocked with absurdities. I can imagine being impressed, but I just find it painful. B- [bc]

Ava Mendoza/Vijay Anderson/Stephen Gauci: Studio Sessions Vol. 4 (2019, Gaucimusic, EP): Guitar, drums, tenor sax -- the common denominator in this series, yielding top billing to the other lead instrumentalist. 6 tracks, 19:26. B+(**) [bc]

Pulnoc: Pulnoc (1990 [1991], Globus International): First official album, released after the collapse of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. The Velvets influence is strong, rhythm as much as anything else, with more adventurous guitar. Michaela Nemcova sings, less deadpan than Nico. Don't know about what, but seems perfectly at home. A [dl]

Riders Against the Storm: Riders Against the Storm (2013, self-released, EP): Self-titled EP, seemed like the place to look back for background, but had I started at the bottom of the list I would have found Speak the Truth, a full-length album billed as "a culmination of the past four years of RAS' journey through life, love, struggle, and music." First revelation here was that they seemed to start less in hip-hop than in cosmic mantras. Then they busted some rhymes on "Ghetto People." Five songs, 18:16. B+(*) [bc]

Riders Against the Storm: Speak the Truth (2010, self-released): Abbreviated RAS, first album, seems likely that more than just Chaka and Qi and the feat. guests are involved here. Twelve songs, three skits, most old school hip-hop, although the closing "Energy" is a dance anthem. B+(**) [bc]

Virunga: Feet on Fire (1991, Stern's Africa): Samba Mapangala, born 1955 in Congo, one of the main musicians to introduce soukous to Kenya and Tanzania, named his band after a volcano. He sings and wrote 6 (of 7) songs here, but his name doesn't appear on the masthead. Not a masterpiece, but the scent is redolent of East Africa's Guitar Paradise. B+(***)

Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Mark Feldman: Sounding Point (2020 [2021], Intakt): Violin solo, some overdubs. [bc: 2/8]

Fred Frith/Ikue Mori: A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall (2015 [2021], Intakt): Guitarist, credits "various toys and objects," and laptop electronics. [bc: 4/15] +

Alexander Hawkins: Togetherness Music: For Sixteen Musicians (2020 [2021], Intakt): British pianist, feat. Evan Parker + Riot Ensemble. [bc: 2/6]: +

Christopher Hoffman: Asp Nimbus (2020 [2021], Out of Your Head): Cello, with Bryan Carrott on vibes, plus bass and drums. [bc: 3/8]: +

Punkt. Vrt. Plastik [Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger]: Somit (2020 [2021], Intakt): Second album by piano-bass-drums trio, assumes title of first as group name. [bc: 2/13] ++

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Eivind Aarset 4tet: Phantasmagoria, or a Different Kind of Journey (Jazzland) [09-24]
  • Satoko Fujii: Piano Music (Libra) [09-17]
  • Kazemade George: I Insist (Greenleaf Music) [10-22]
  • Jared Hall: Seen on the Scene (Origin) [08-20]
  • Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: Conversations (Spicerack)
  • L.A. Cowboy: The Big Pitch (Reconcile) [08-15]
  • Lady Millea: I Don't Mind Missing You (Reconcile) [08-15]
  • Steve Million: What I Meant to Say (Origin) [08-20]
  • David Sanford Big Band Featuring Hugh Ragin: A Prayer for Lester Bowie (Greenleaf Music) [09-24]
  • Jim Snidero: Strings (2001, Savant) [09-10]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Speaking of Which

I've been reading Steve Benen's The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics, because it seemed likely to establish one of my own themes of late: that Trump is a mere reflection of the longer term moral and intellectual rot of the Republican Party. Of course, he couldn't resist illustrating this theme with Trump examples -- no one else has ever merged so succinctly thoughts that are fact-free, reason-free, careless, and mean-spirited. But Trump became the leader of the Republicans not because he paved the way, but he followed their Geist so flamboyantly. (Sorry for the German, but the usual translation of "spirit" doesn't quite do the concept justice; also it loses the sense of personification, the common root of "ghost," although in this case "zombie" would be more to the point. English speakers more often see the derivative Zeitgeist, the "spirit of the times," although the Republican Geist doesn't belong to the times so much as it attempts to defeat them.)

The thing that Benen doesn't make clear enough is that while the Republicans have been evil for quite some time -- from Goldwater they learned that extremism in defense of the rich is no vice; from Nixon they learned that winning justifies all manner of lying, stealing, and cheating; from Reagan they learned to live in a dream world of their own vanities; from the Bushes they learned that war is the ultimate form of self-glorification -- they didn't become shameless about it until the loss to Obama blew their minds. That was when Fox metamorphosed from being dutiful apologists for Republican politics and became raging agitators, spewing whatever rhetoric they could use to leverage their followers emotions, with no consideration for where that rhetoric might lead. They orchestrated an insurrection, and branded and sold it as the Tea Party. Having plunged the nation into an endless, hopeless series of wars, and having wrecked the economy on a bubble of deceit and fraud, they were voted out, and miraculously freed of responsibility for the disasters they had created.

Benen's formulation isn't quite right. Repubicans didn't "quit governing." They were fired, but since they weren't held accountable for the many things they had done wrong, the lesson that they learned was that they could get away with anything -- all it would take is the sort of confident bluster Trump excelled in. Yet to say they "seized American politics" gives them too much credit for deliberate plotting. They crippled political discourse, reducing it to their level of trash talk and gutter sniping. Their relentless attack media, combined with the deference showed by the mainstream media, gave them a huge advantage. They were also helped by Democrats playing into their hands.

Benen's favorite term for today's Republicans is "post-policy." Like "post-truth," it takes a glaring failure and refashions it as a clever novelty. But there's nothing new here: all "post-" means is we take no responsibility for failures, be they bad policies or mistruths. For Republicans, the key to unaccountability is their core belief: that government is incapable of doing things that help most citizens. You can trace that back to Reagan's joke ("The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help"), although the idea is older -- cf. Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand, among other cult favorites. Once you buy into that joke, the only reason you need for electing Republicans is to deny Democrats the opportunity to prove you wrong. On the other hand, when Republicans botch governance, they're simply proving themselves right. Trump did that so completely he ranks in their minds as "the greatest president of all time."

This is my second draft note on Benen's book. I started a few days ago just wanting to comment on one little quote:

In the days leading up to [Trump's] inauguration, the president-elect boasted, "We're going to have insurance for everybody. "He added that Americans "can expect to have great health care. . . . Much less expensive and much better."

The president-elect even went so far as to establish specific benchmarks: universal coverage, "much lower deductibles," and a simpler and less expensive system in which all Americans are "beautifully covered."

Trump's oft-promised replacement plan never materialized, which suggests either that he was never serious about coming up with one, or that he belatedly discovered "health care is hard" (didn't look it up, but I think that's an actual quote from him, followed by "who knew?"). Unlikely the latter, as there's no evidence that he could discern good from bad policies, unless one was labeled by party: Democratic policies are guaranteed to be "bad," because even if they work as defined, that would make Democrats look good, and that would be bad. On the other hand, Republican policies are always good, because they supplant bad Democratic policies, and even if they fail no one will blame Republicans, because, you know, government never works anyway.

But what I wanted to point out was that Trump could have offered a health care plan to replace ACA that would have met his pie-in-the-sky policy goals: a single-payer "Medicare-for-All" scheme. Sure, a lot of well-heeled business forces would have been upset, but if Republicans rallied to his plan, it could have been passed (even attracting some Democrat votes). Admittedly, it wouldn't exactly be the plan Bernie Sanders has been campaigning for. Once Republicans accepted the key concept of universal coverage, and the necessity of limiting some of the greediest, most predatory companies anywhere, they could still do much to tailor the program to their prejudices. Bill Clinton described the "end of welfare as we know it" deal he made with Newt Gingrich as "a good welfare bill wrapped in a sack of shit." One thing Republicans can still be trusted to deliver is a sack of shit.

A Republican version of single-payer would keep open a role for private insurance companies, but they would be selling supplemental policies, like they currently do for people who have Medicare. The universal health care policy would just cover the basics, including vaccinations, regular check ups, emergency room visits, a standard menu of surgeries, and the risk of catastrophic care -- just enough to keep the system viable, and save patients from bankruptcy. These services could be riddled with co-payments and deductibles, for which you could either have to buy supplemental insurance, or find providers willing to waive fees. In other words, the system would be stratified by class, with the well-to-do having lots of options, others less so. Private insurance would be cheaper, because the insurance companies are protected against serious risks, and could offer lots of choices. Also, political control of the system could be delegated to the states (or multi-state compacts), which would avoid the "federal takeover" charge.

There are lots of ways the system could be made more efficient. One big one would be to phase out patent monopolies, which would make the supply chain and pharmaceuticals much more competitive. One that appeals especially to Republicans would be to end (or at least cap) malpractice awards. (Supposedly this risk drives a lot of "defensive medicine" waste, but it's certainly true that malpractice insurance takes a but chunk of doctor income, and hospitals and drug companies have huge exposure.) The big question will be how to rearrange current health care spending to support such a system, but with modest cost savings it could be done without raising more net taxes -- a key requirement for Republicans.

Of course, Republicans won't propose anything like this. The greed of the health care system hurts all other businesses, but Republicans are committed to defending every existing profit-seeking scheme, no matter how dubious or dangerous. They believe in self-responsibility, which means everyone should take what they can, with the winners free to enjoy their spoils. They don't care that health care is a classic market failure, even given its cancerous growth, as it's expanded from negligible to over 20% of GDP. And, as noted above, they believe that government intervention would only cause more harm, even though no other alternative is up to the task. But also, Republicans don't care whether working people have health care, so they have no motivation to do anything to help people.

Every now and then, someone tries to point out that we'd be in even worse shape if Republicans had elected someone competent, instead of an incompetent moron like Trump. That underestimates the real damage that was done by four years of Republican rule, mostly by the minions given free range to implement their neuroses and fantasies. But it also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Trump's role in all of this. He was the front man, the media magnet. When people paid him so much the attention, they overlooked everyone around him. He had built-in deniability: after all, he was a moron. No one even tried to reason with him. He attracted an intense and impervious personal cult. When he won in 2016, I figured Republican regular would flock to him, if for no reason other than that he was their winner, and winning was the only thing that Republicans really cared about. And that's exactly what happened, but even now, as a loser-in-denial, he remains a powerful symbol for his party. He remains their leader, because he is them, and vice versa. They're all morons. They're all assholes. And they're proud of it. They think anyone who isn't with them isn't a real American, and they hate your guts.

If you could reason with them, they'd be able to see the advantages of backing a "radical" proposal like single-payer. But you can't, and they won't figure it out on their own. That's what makes this a good example of how limited they are.

A few recent articles I noticed:

Jonathan Chait: Tucker Carlson Has Seen the Future, and It Is Fascist: "Orban's Hungary is the road map for American authoritarianism." Only the headline writer uses the F-word here, but that's a bit of a trend regarding Viktor Orban's Hungary -- Chait prefers "authoritarian" but also offers "kleptocracy." It's probably easier to call fascist the leader of a country with a history of fascism, but there isn't much political daylight between Orban and Trump (or Carlson). But the disturbing thing about Orban as a model isn't his reactionary view but the way he's rejiggered Hungary's political system to ensure his party will rule even when the voters turn against him. His innovations read like a road map for the Republican Party, which studies and envies him. For more, see Zack Beauchamp: Why it matters that Tucker Carlson is broadcasting from Hungary this week.

Thomas Frank: US liberals' hysteria outlives Trump. We should be so lucky, and not just because Frank's tombstone for Trump seems premature. While it may be peculiar that it took a clod as outrageous as Trump to finally "induce such fear and loathing among the nation's highly educated elite" when a long string of precursors should have tripped warning signs, I say better late than never. The lack of "hysteria" in response to Reagan and the Bushes was no shortage of provocation, but it's not just frogs and lobsters who realize too late that they're being cooked. (One can't quite say the same about Nixon. While some of his crimes took a while to be uncovered, and some have never been given the scrutiny they deserved, the media did a better job of paying attention at the time, probably because so many people were marching in the streets in protest -- a big part, uncredited by Frank, of the "downpour of denunciation" that has dogged Trump.) I just found this piece, and don't have time to give it the fine-toothed reading it deserves, but I will offer a couple notes. No doubt there have always been liberal intellectual snobs -- Thomas Jefferson qualifies, and he owned slaves; while his pen pal John Adams didn't, you'd be pressed to find a contemporary with a lower opinion of the unwashed masses -- the line Frank draws between the elite opponents of William Jennings Bryan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Trump blurs what really matters: Trump is feared and loathed not because he's a populist (which, as Frank knows as well as anyone, he isn't even remotely), but because he represents a monstrous threat, not to their elitism but to the very foundation of principles they hold dear: liberal democracy, and the belief that America's exceptional wealth and success is based on principles of freedom, fairness, and justice for all. Frank's heroes have always been populists, so he's extra-sensitive to intimations of snobbery from elites he's never trusted. And so he has little trouble finding dubious examples of "hysteria" that have thrown up at Trump, such as the Russia "scandals," the "attack on norms," the lectures on the "authoritarian" threats to democracy itself. I've been critical on that front as well, not out of any desire to give Trump a fair break, but because I doubt the efficacy of those charges. In particular, I don't think the two impeachments did any good, and I don't see the January 6 investigation as leading to anything worthwhile. On the other hand, I don't know how to convey to people just how disastrous the 40-year Reagan-Bush-Trump era has been. So I'm inclined to cut people who are basically on my side a little slack. They don't have to reason correctly, as long as they get to the right answer. [PS: h/t to Matt Taibbi for the link, even though he did it for the wrong reasons, to make the wrong point.]

Gregg Herkin: Five myths about the atomic bomb: Well, let's list them:

  1. The bomb ended the war.
  2. The bomb saved half a million lives.
  3. The only alternative to the bomb was an invasion of Japan.
  4. The Japanese were warned before the bomb was dropped.
  5. The bomb was timed to gain a diplomatic advantage over Russia and proved a "master card" in early Cold War politics.

The first four are adequately explained in the text. Most importantly, Herken emphasizes the fear in Japan of the Soviet Union's entry into the war. Japanese leadership had realized that they had lost the war well before August, 1945, and had actually approached Russia over possible surrender terms, which was one reason Stalin advanced the schedule for entering the war. (Another reason may have been the impending use of nuclear weapons, which Stalin was vaguely informed of by Truman in Potsdam, and knew more of through espionage.) The fifth point comes from Gar Alperovitz's 1965 book Atomic Diplomacy. I read the book shortly after it came out, and thought it had merit, but I've had doubts since. There certainly were factions within the American military and foreign policy apparatus that saw Russia and Communism as postwar rivals, and did what they could to pivot to confrontation, but they didn't become dominant until 1947-48, with the Berlin airlift, and more so in 1950, with the "fall" of China and the opening of the Korean War. I'd go so far as to count Leslie Groves, the general in charge of the Manhattan Project, as one of those factions. And there was a broader consensus that the US should become the dominant world power after the war, which would inevitably (not necessarily consciously) lead to conflict with the Soviet Union. George Kennan, who became the architect of the "containment policy," was one of them. On the other hand, Truman had not bought into any kind of containment policy, at least by Potsdam, where he lobbied Stalin to enter the war against Japan. For one thing, I doubt Truman (or anyone, except maybe Groves) had any real understanding about the power of nuclear weapons. Truman didn't even know about the Manhattan Project until FDR died and he became president. A lot of factors converged to create the Cold War, and no one was smart enough to figure them out ahead of time (not even Kennan, who thought he was). Meanwhile, for all its moral conceit, it was the United States (alone) who committed the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That should humble us. But it hasn't.

Michael Kazin: The Revolution That Wasn't: "Do we give the activist groups of the 1960s more credit than they deserve?" Well, yes and no, it all depends. As I've said many times, the fundamental arguments advanced by the New Left won broad acceptance and came to permeate American culture, but they didn't get organized into effective political power, which allowed the right to make gains, especially in the 1980s. There are lots of reasons for this. Arguably, we were too critical of establishment liberals, and too naive about the growing conservative movement. We were too indifferent to unions, and they -- especially after the Cold War purge of communist-sympathizers -- had become too reactionary. Or maybe it was just the corruptibility of a political system where both parties work full time to court donors. This is a review of a new book by David Talbot and Margaret Talbot: By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution, which naturally focuses overmuch on marginal groups that were attracted by the idea of countering violence with violence. Such groups burned out fast, with little to show for their wasted lives.

Ian Millhiser: Georgia Republicans didn't waste any time in using their new voter suppression law. This lays out the mechanics of how the law could work. The first step is to challenge the election board in Atlanta, in hopes of replacing it with a state-appointed supervisor (i.e., a Republican), who could disqualify challenged voters (e.g., Democrats). Georgia is close enough that it wouldn't take a lot of cheating to tip the state back to the Republicans. If there is any saving grace in this, it's that this particular method will be hard to hide, and will raise a storm of protest. I generally think that voter suppression attempts are likely to backfire, as they motivate the targets to work that much harder to vote. Still, the Republicans are waging a full court press all across the country to steal elections. For more on who's behind all this, see Jane Mayer: The Big Money Behind the Big Lie: "Donald Trump's attacks on democracy are being promoted by rich and powerful conservative groups that are determined to win at all costs." Also: Richard L Hasen: Trump Is Planning a Much More Respectable Coup Next Time.

Kim Phillips-Fein: The Liberals Who Weakened Trust in Government: "How public interest groups inadvertently aided the right's ascendency." Review of Paul Sabin: Public Citizens: The Attack on Big Government and the Remaking of American Liberalism. Focuses on "public interest groups" in the 1970s (especially consumers and environmentalists), who often found liberal governments in league with corporations, undermining popular faith in government as an agent for the people. How much this ultimately helped conservatives as they rose to political power in 1980 is hard to say. A major problem for Democrats was that as unions started to lose power, they gave up on trying to represent the broad working class and came to be viewed as just another special interest, leaving them to compete with other public and private interest groups. What is true is that Democrats undercut themselves with a series of fiascos (like Vietnam), and wound up turning to business to make up for waning union support. The result was long-term loss of credibility, not that they didn't try to blame that, too, on Ralph Nader.

Aaron Rupar: Why Newsmax is failing: Interview with Jason Campbell. Viewership of the "Trumpier-than-Fox" channel is down more than 50 percent from January (average 300,000 to 114,000).

Alex Shephard: The Media Is Too Clueless and Sensationalistic to Properly Explain Breakthrough Covid: Or, well, really, anything else. Maybe they're right that most people don't want to understand, but it's not like they give them a chance. The same basic complaint is aired in Kate Aronoff: Why Mainstream Media Struggles to Explain the Infrastructure Plan's Climate Spending.

David Wallace-Wells: 'We Could Have Prevented This': "The scientist Eric Topol on the Delta variant and its dangerous impact." According to the New York Times, new cases peaked on Jan. 8 at 259,616 (all figures 7-day averages), then declined more or less steadily to 10,608 on July 5), before increasing again to 96,036 on Aug. 4 (+131% 14-day change). There has, however, been a considerable drop in mortality (although deaths are up 65% over the last 14-days, still below any point after the initial spike in 2020). Key line here: "the age skew of the disease and the age skew of vaccine penetration, taken together, mean that the country as a whole has probably had at least 90 percent of its collective mortality risk eliminated through vaccines." Lots more info here. [Oh, by the way, in headlines that need no further comment: Matt Stieb: GOP Representative Suing Nancy Pelosi Over House Mask Mandate Gets COVID.]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35949 [35900] rated (+49), 212 [210] unrated (+2).

Only one A-list album by closing time Thursday -- The Locals Play the Music of Anthony Braxton, which had me hooked less than a minute in -- but Phil Overeem came to the rescue. Three of this week's A-list albums came from his list (although I may have gotten to Dave before reading his list), as well as several high HMs.

Dan Weiss opened an "open grade" thread on Friday's Billie Eilish album. I never bother with articles on "most anticipated albums," but it's fair to say Eilish's would have topped most critics' lists. I gave it two plays, looked at a Tom Breihan review in Stereogum, and played all the videos there. Unusual move for me, something I last did for Taylor Swift last year, and before that -- well, can't remember. Videos didn't help, and the album struck me as slack and uneven, although a few songs registered nonetheless. My initial grade was B+(***), as I noted there. I played it a couple more times since, and also replayed Eilish's first album -- a high A- that wound up my number one non-jazz album of 2019. Part of my thinking was that perhaps I should bump it up to A, which would make it easier to give the new one an A-. What happened was the old one didn't get any better -- indeed, my reservations about the new one would have been as valid there -- and the new one has, if anything, more compelling songs.

Most of Weiss' commenters liked the album a lot, and Weiss seemed to like it more as the thread unwound. I ended my comment with "Moving on to Dave now." Which I did, and got there a bit faster (as I did for his 2019 album, Psychodrama). Los Lobos and Prince were also Friday releases.

The old music section is background for recent albums, with John Hiatt continued from last week, plus Brad Mehldau, Freddie Redd, and Jaleel Shaw. Redd died earlier this year, and the only things I had by him were two brilliant releases from 1960. I've heard all of Mehldau's early Warners releases, but had missed his earlier FSNTs. And although it seems like I've run into Shaw a lot, I didn't have any of his own albums in my ratings database.

The other piece of "old music" is the Pulnoc. Joe Yanosik, in his A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe, reports that Pulnoc's Live at P.S. 122 will finally get an official release in 2022. I recall having a cassette of Robert Christgau's top-rated album of 1989, but didn't get it into my database, so I begged a CDR copy, and didn't feel like waiting until real product appeared. I figured I'd have to go without a cover scan, but found this YouTube artwork, and synthesized my own fake cover from it. Not as great as remembered, but it was quite an eye-opener at the time.

Mike Hull's film, Betrayal at Attica, is streaming now at HBO Max. Here's a link (not sure if it's the best one). [PS: Here's the official movie website, and the archive. Mike talks about the making of the film with Jason Bailey on their Fun City Cinema podcast (seems to be locked up on Patreon, but you can find the audio here -- no idea why, but I had to restart it and scroll forward every 5 minutes or so, 42:02 in all).

New records reviewed this week:

BaianaSystem: OXEAXEEXU (2021, Maquina De Louco): Brazilian group, founded in Bahia in 2019, group name a nod to Bahian guitar and Jamaica sound systems. Elements of rock, rap, dub. B+(***)

Dave: We're All Alone in This Together (2021, Neighbourhood): British rapper David Omoregie, born in Brixton, parents Nigerian, second album. His stardom leaves him alone but constantly connected to the binds of race and class, the common condition that informs his brilliant title. A-

Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (2021, Interscope): Second album, still a teenager (though I'm not sure she ever was), produced by her brother Finneas O'Connell, reducing her budget to slack DIY beats. Nothing here grabs he like her debut, but lots of things hint at her appeal, not to say genius, even if her charms are decidedly cerebral. B+(***)

Alvin Fielder/David Drove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith: The Very Cup of Trembling (2016 [2021], Astral Spirits): Drummer (1935-2019), from Mississippi, moved to Chicago, played with Sun Ra, charter AACM member, returned to Mississippi but continued to play in groups with Joel Futterman and/or Kidd Jordan. Others play trombone, tenor/baritone sax, and bass. B+(***) [dl] [08-13]

Graham Haynes vs Submerged: Echolocation (2020 [2021], Burning Ambulance): Cornet player, son of drummer Roy Haynes, scattered albums since 1989, here with electronics by Kurt Gluck -- a Brooklyn DJ, with albums going back to a Bill Laswell collaboration in 2004. The combination recalls Nils Petter Molvaer's jazztronica, but the beats have more industrial and hip-hop overtones. A- [bc]

Alan Jackson: Where Have You Gone (2021, EMI Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, called his 1987 debut New Traditional, exemplified that genre through twenty more albums. Six years since his previous album is by far the longest gap in his discography. Long (82:52), mostly originals, covers from Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. "I got my boots/ I got my hat/ I'm bringing country back." B+(***)

Alexey Kruglov/Carolyn Hume/Paul May/Oleg Yudanov: Last Train From Narvskaya (2019 [2021], Leo): Russian alto saxophonist, several dozen albums since 2002, surprise I've heard virtually nothing by him before. Quartet with piano, drums, percussion. B+(*)

Joachim Kühn: Touch the Light (2021, ACT): German pianist, many albums since 1969, takes it easy with a solo one, 13 widely scattered songs, each nice and simple. Most touching for me was "Redemption Song." B+(***)

Jeff Lederer/Sunwatcher: Eightfold Path (2020 [2021], Little(i)Music): Tenor saxophonist, reunited the quartet from his 2011 album Sunwatcher: Jamie Saft (organ/piano), Steve Swallow (bass), Matt Wilson (drums). Impressive outside player, sometimes a little unsteady. B+(**) [09-03]

Gianni Lenoci: A Few Steps Beyond (2019 [2021], Amirani): Italian pianist, died at 56 in 2019, this his "very last concert - live at Talos Festival 2019." Solo, two pieces each by Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman. B+(*)

Les Filles De Illighadad: At Pioneer Works (2021, Sahel Sounds): Touareg group named for their home town in remote central Niger, third album. Saharan groove and chant, strong and clear but not all that exceptional. B+(**) [bc]

Lord Huron: Long Lost (2021, Republic): Indie band from Los Angeles, principally Ben Schneider, fourth album since 2012. Slouching toward ambiance. B

Los Lobos: Native Sons (2021, New West): Band introduced itself in 1978 as Del Este de Los Angeles, came up with one new song this time, contextualized with a dozen covers drawing on other Los Angeles bands, from Buffalo Springfield and the Beach Boys to War and the Blasters, including a couple of their Hispanic specialties. B+(*)

L'Rain: Fatigue (2021, Mexican Summer): Taja Cheek, "experimentalist and multi-instrumentalist," from Brooklyn, second album. B+(*) [bc]

Charlie Marie: Ramble On (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter, moved from Rhode Island to Nashville to focus on "classic country." First album, after a couple of EPs. B+(**)

Brad Mehldau/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: Variations on a Melancholy Theme (2013 [2021], Nonesuch): Piece was commissioned in 2011, and performed in 2013, but not clear whether this is that or something else. Then, as now, Orpheus is a going concern at Carnegie Hall, a small classical orchestra -- I haven't found a credits list, but count 27 heads in a (probably recent) photo. B

Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Ding Dong. You're Dead. (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio, with Ellen Brekken on bass (wrote 2 of 7 songs) and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums; seventh group album since 2011. B+(***)

Kassa Overall: Shades of Flu 2: In These Odd Times (2021, Flu Note): Remixes of 14 jazz pieces, ranging from Ahmad Jamal to Kris Davis, by the drummer-sometime-rapper, with various guests spliced in. Takes a while to start to kick in, not sure it ever really does. B [bc]

Ivo Perelman/Gordon Grdina/Hamin Honari: The Purity of Desire (2020 [2021], Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, trio with oud and percussion (mostly tombak and daf). B+(***)

Portico Quartet: Terrain (2021, Gondwana): English "modern instrumental music" group, dozen albums since 2006, originally distinguished by use of the Chinese hang, which now plays a minor role, behind the sax and keyboards that are Jack Wyllie's domain. B+(*)

Freddie Redd: Reminiscing (2013 [2021], Bleebop): Pianist, died in March at 92, didn't record a lot, but shared a 1955 piano album with Hampton Hawes, peaked with two A-list albums on Blue Note in 1960 (Music From "The Connection" and Shades of Redd), and wound up with a pair of 2015-16 albums on Steeplechase I haven't heard. This is a bit earlier, with Brad Linde (tenor sax), Michael Formanek (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums). Feels engagingly retro, reminding me more of Teddy Wilson than of the beboppers of Redd's generation. Or maybe with nothing else to prove, they're just having fun. B+(***) [bc]

Jaleel Shaw: Echoes (2021, self-released): Alto saxophonist, from Philadelphia, studied at Berklee, debut 2005. Lockdown exercises, most short pattern pieces, nice. B+(**)

Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Reels (2019 [2021], Burning Ambulance): Piano/drums duo, long-time collaborators. B+(***) [bc]

Gary Smulyan/Ronnie Cuber: Tough Baritones (2021, SteepleChase): Two veteran baritone saxophonists, backed by piano (Gary Versace), bass (Jay Anderson), and drums (Jason Tiemann). Tough isn't the word that comes to mind. Steeped in bebop, they still swing. B+(***)

The Spirit of the Beehive: Entertainment, Death (2021, Saddle Creek): Psych rock group from Philadelphia, band name from a 1973 Spanish film directed by Victor Erice (El Espiritu de la Colmena). Fourth album since 2021. I'm usually instantly turned off by this kind of pretentious pastiche, with bits of tune snipped apart and scattered like confetti. This one was amusing enough it took a while. B

Trak Trak: Sur Sur (2020, Ciclismo): Argentinian singer-songwriter Romina Schenone and a band that looks suspiciously German, play intense dance music that draws on cumbia and reggaeton. A vigorous workout, very catchy. A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Guillermo Gregorio/Damon Smith/Jerome Bryerton: Room of the Present (2007-08 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): Clarinet player from Argentina but long based in Chicago, started around 1963, still active. Backed with bass and drums. B+(*) [bc]

The J Ann C Trio: At Tan-Tar-A (1966 [2021], Modern Harmonic/Sundazed): Covers band, recorded this album at a resort in the Ozarks. Ann Delrene sings and plays electric bass, with Jerry Dugan (drums) and Carl Russell (guitar). Two Hank Williams songs anchor the LP sides, each followed by an instrumental, then four scattered surprises, ranging from "Hey Bo Diddley" to "Moon River" and (less successfully) "Girl From Ipanema" to "If I Had a Hammer." B+(***)

Prince: Welcome 2 America (2010 [2021], NPG/Legacy): Another posthumous album, recorded during the artist's "Welcome 2 America" tour. Album was recorded in Spring before 20Ten was released in July. The latter album picked up material as far back as 2006, and wasn't followed up until 2014. Not prime material, with the one non-Prince song (Dave Pirner's "Stand Up and B Strong") the one that grabbed my attention. B+(*)

Pat Thomas: The Locals Play the Music of Anthony Braxton (2006 [2021], Discus Music): British avant-pianist, took six pieces and sharpened the angles, giving them a more playful beat than we had any right to expect. With clarinet (Alex Ward), electric guitar (Evan Thomas), electric bass (Dominic Lash), and drums (Darren Hasson-Davis). Album could be attributed to The Locals, but group doesn't seem to have anything beyond this album. A- [bc]

Old music:

John Hiatt: Y'All Caught?: The Ones That Got Away 1979-1985 (1979-85 [1989], Geffen): Best-of limited to five MCA and Geffen albums, two I have at A- (Slug Line and Riding With the King), three well below that, compiled after he finally started selling some on A&M. B+(***)

John Hiatt: Perfectly Good Guitar (1993, A&M): Comes down hard on anyone who disrespects their guitar. Even if they do nothing special with it. B+(*)

John Hiatt: The Best of John Hiatt [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1983-93 [2003], A&M): Twelve songs, one predates his 1987-93 tenure with A&M, four from Bring the Family. Probably better than any of the constituent albums, but not by much. B+(*)

John Hiatt: Crossing Muddy Waters (2000, Vanguard): More of a folk label, so he accommodates by hiring a couple of bluegrass musicians -- Davey Faragher (bass guitar/tambourine) and David Immerglück (slide & 12 string guitar/mandolin) -- and ditching the drummer. Got him a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. B+(**)

John Hiatt: The Tiki Bar Is Open (2001, Vanguard): Second album for label, back to his (somewhat weird) normal. Enjoy the long instrumental outro on "Farther Stars." B+(***)

John Hiatt & the Goners: Beneath This Gruff Exterior (2003, New West): Long-time Nashville denizen lands on Nashville's premier alt-country label. Seems inevitable. First step was to give his Sonny Landreth-led band a name. And no problems with the occasional dip into rockabilly. As for the songwriting: "I do my best thinking/ sitting on my ass." B+(***)

John Hiatt: Master of Disaster (2005, New West): Produced by Jim Dickinson with his band, North Mississippi Allstars, helping out, plotting a return to the blues. B+(**)

John Hiatt: Mystic Pinball (2012, New West): Hits some kind of sweet spot: at 39, his highest charting album ever, but at this late date almost certainly not his best-selling. Pretty much his average album, flawless enough no one can complain, or get excited. B+(**)

Brad Mehldau/Mario Rossy/Perico Sambeat/Jordi Rossy: New York-Barcelona Crossing (1993 [1997], Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano/bass/alto sax/drums, recorded in Barcelona a couple years before Introducing Brad Mehldau, but released later. Mostly standards, with one original each by Sambeat and Mario Rossy. B+(**)

Brad Mehldau/Mario Rossy/Perico Sambeat/Jordi Rossy: New York-Barcelona Crossing: Volumen 2 (1993 [1998], Fresh Sound New Talent): Seven more pieces from the same date, all standards. B+(**)

Mehldau & Rossy Trio: When I Fall in Love (1993 [1994], Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano trio, Brad Mehldau with brothers Mario and Jordi Rossy (bass and drums). Starts with a fairly dazzling "Anthropoogy." Looks like the first Mehldau album released. B+(**)

Pulnoc: Live at P.S. 122 (1989, bootleg): Czech rock group, certifiable Velvet Underground fans, released a good album on Arista in 1991, a few more in Europe -- for full details, see Joe Yanosik's A Consumer Guide to the Plastic People of the Universe. A bit earlier, Robert Christgau flagged this bootleg tape as his top album of 1989. Someone gave me a cassette, but it never showed up in my database. Reports are this will finally be released on 2-CD next year, but life's short, so I figured I should go ahead and mention it now. A- [cdr]

Freddie Redd/Hampton Hawes: Piano East/Piano West (1952-55 [1985], Prestige/OJC): Two pianists, packaged together: starts with a 1952 Hawes quartet session (8 tracks, 21:20), with Larry Bunker on vibes, then tacks on Redd's 1955 debut trio (4 tracks, 20:07). Not an inspired match, but it moves the fast, boppish pieces up front, then relaxes a bit. B+(*)

Freddy Redd Trio: San Francisco Suite: For Jazz Trio (1957 (1990), Riverside/OJC): Starts with the 13:36 title suite, in five movements. Winds up a half-dozen pieces (three original, three standards). B+(**)

Freddie Redd: Redd's Blues (1961 [2002], Blue Note): With Benny Bailey (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), and Tina Brooks (tenor sax). Session sat on the shelf until 1999, when it came out in Japan. B+(*)

Freddie Redd: Music for You (2014 [2025], SteepleChase): First album since 1991, but still spry at 87, in a trio with Jay Anderson and Billy Drummond, playing one of his songs and a batch of standards. Nothing spectacular, but nice. B+(**)

Freddie Redd: With Due Respect (2014-15 [2016], SteepleChase): This looks to be his last album, his trio from the previous album plus some horns: John Mosca (trombone), Chris Byars (alto sax/flute), and Stefano Doglioni (bass clarinet). Give Byars a lot of credit here. B+(***)

Jaleel Shaw: Perspective (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist, first album. Originals, one by guitarist Lage Lund, plus a nod to Coltrane. With Lund, Robert Glasper (piano), Vicente Archer (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums), plus Mark Turner (tenor sax) on two tracks. B+(***)

Jaleel Shaw: Optimism (2007 [2008], Changu): Second album; Glasper, Lund, and Blake return, Joe Martin on bass and more guest spots. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lyle Mays: Eberhard (self-released) [08-27]
  • Trineice Robinson: All or Nothing (4RM Music Productions) [08-06]
  • Kevin Sun: <3 Bird (Endectomorph Music) [08-29]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

prev -- next