Cerebral Decanting

Music Reviews every Wednesday .....

Art/Lit (& Politics) other days......

by Jason Gubbels

A Very Dangerous Talent: R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman

1.   

"Where do we begin, where will he end? Philip Seymour Hoffman does not — he must have been told this often enough — seem like a movie star. He’s boyish but untidy, a little overweight, hopelessly immature. He’s all of those things as Freddie, the prep-school thug in The Talented Mr. Ripley (99, Anthony Minghella). Yet I’m not sure there’s been a better performance in recent years — so nasty yet so vulnerable, such a cross of Mussolini and Billy Bunter.

Freddie is onscreen not much more than twenty minutes, and it’s easy to foresee Hoffman as a brilliant supporting actor. But in the year after Ripley, he alternated lead roles in Sam Shepard’s True West with John C. Reilly on Broadway; and he played the flamboyant drag queen in Flawless (00, Joel Schumacher), a film that had little purpose but to showcase a great actor.

That’s further proof, if anyone still needs it, of the gap between working for a Minghella and a Schumacher. Hoffman could be turned into an institution — but never properly tested. He is so good that only the best material is going to help build out sense of him. Meanwhile, search him out, as you might Kevin Spacey. There is the same very dangerous talent at work — astounding, yet so pronounced it could help make its own prison.”

—- David Thomson, The New Biographical History Of Film, 2004

2.

Michael Musto: Congrats on a deft performance, Phil. How did you avoid descending into caricature or mere impersonation?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: That scared the shit out of me when I was offered the part. What an esay guy to just mock or mimic. It would have come off kind of foolish. I worked hard to make it more about the story than just him. His character is incredibly important to that story, but ultimately what transpires is the story of an artist at the pinnacle of his career. It could be any writer standing at the gallows at the end of that film.

Musto: Capote is certainly not your introduction to playing gay. Are you drawn to gay projects or do they find you?

Hoffman: When I play somebody gay, I never think of it as “I’m playing a gay character.” It’s interesting to play all the different aspects of the character. There’s something else about the character that’s pulling me there that I identify with. With Flawless, it’s not that he was gay—I found it more interesting that he thought he was a woman. With Capote, it’s the story that he had as an artist. And in Boogie Nights, he was so completely stunted I don’t even think he knew his attractions were of a gay nature.

Musto: Are you ever frustrated that you’re cast as fringe characters?

Hoffman: It’s never really frustrating. I don’t judge the characters I play nearly as harshly as the people who watch them. I don’t see them as so fringy. But I guess you’re right. I’ve played a lot of people who live on the outside of things. The great thing about playing Capote is he was on the outside of things, but on the inside of everything. He was the it guy, the center of the party and attention. he was rubbing shoulders with Gore Vidal, Normal Mailer, and George Plimpton, for God’s sake, and riding on yachts and hanging out with Babe Paley. This isn’t Allen [the serial masturbator] from Happiness.

Musto: But I bet Capote made some obscene calls.

Hoffman: Yeah, to reviewers that did him wrong!

Michael Musto interviewing Philip Seymour Hoffman, Out Magazine, 2005

3.

"When Hoffman was in a movie, you knew there would be at least one thing to recommend it—usually more than one, because he tended to choose oddball, interesting projects and, when they were less than perfect, to elevate them with the commitment and craft his presence always ensured. He could turn a small part in a dumb movie into a Bonsai-scale character portrait (cf. the gonzo weather nerd he played in 1996’s Twister, a ridiculous action thriller that I secretly adore, in large part because of the glee with which PSH sells its demented tornado-chasing premise). When he had a small part in a good movie, like the lovelorn, closeted, painfully needy Scotty in Boogie Nights, you left the theater remembering him as one of the film’s key players no matter how many lines his character had. And when he got a crack at a great leading role—Willy Loman, Truman Capote, the Master—he could turn in a performance so definitive, so nuanced and mysterious, that it was a struggle to imagine the part ever belonging to anyone else.

He could be equally plausible as an exemplar of Falstaffian bluster (The Master, Charlie Wilson’s War) or abject self-disgust (Synecdoche, New York, Boogie Nights.) He could minister to a dying old man with the tenderest care (Magnolia) or drip with icy homophobic contempt (The Talented Mr. Ripley). He could play the famously fey Truman Capote (Capote) without queening it up. His unusual actorly physiognomy—the ruddy, transparent skin, the bulky but far from graceless body, the beetling blond eyebrows—lent itself to all manner of physical and gestural shape-shifting. But he didn’t transform in the manner of, say, a Christian Bale, by slimming down, bulking up, donning prostheses and voice filters, becoming “unrecognizable.” Rather, he sculpted his characters from the pliant clay of the voice and body he already had, making himself lumbering and clumsy in one role, sinuous and self-contained in the next.

Accomplished as he already was, Hoffman’s career nonetheless had a distinct feeling of being nearer its beginning than its end—he was the opposite of an artist in decline. It’s easy to imagine him performing into his 80s, challenging himself and surprising us in ever-different ways as he grew older, playing Winston Churchill or Falstaff or Captain Ahab or King Lear, directing and producing both for the stage and the screen, mentoring younger actors. That we’ll never get a chance to watch that lifelong creative flowering makes me want to destroy a roomful of furniture with the cold, methodical rage Hoffman’s betrayed jewel thief displayed in Sidney Lumet’s final film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. It’s a bravura moment that seems to cite the famous room-destruction scene in Citizen Kane, but with a performance that, in some ways, surpasses Welles’. For years to come—as long as I’m still around to watch movies, which right now feels like a very lucky position to be in—I’ll see other actors playing roles that should have belonged to Hoffman, and feel his loss anew.”

Dana Stevens, “PSH, RIP,” Slate.com, Feb 3 2014

4.

Tasha Robinson: Is there any project you’re particularly glad to hear people bring up?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: What I like is when you run into a person you might make an assumption about, and then they tell you which film of yours they like, and you’re like, “Oh really? Wow!” That’s a moment that’s very pleasurable. You meet someone and you think they’re just going to bring up Mission Impossible III, and they talk about Owning Mahowny. That’s satisfying, because then you’re affirmed about films you make that you might be proud of, that you think people aren’t seeing, or that a certain kind of people aren’t seeing. And it turns out that they are. It does have impact, and it does have this effect, it does live on. In those moments, I get affirmed, in those moments, it isn’t… These things don’t go out into the abyss of darkness, never to be seen again.

— Tasha Robinson interviewing Philip Seymour Hoffman, The A.V. Club, Sep 15 2010

http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Biographical-Dictionary-Film/dp/0307271749

http://www.out.com/entertainment/interviews/2014/02/02/michael-musto-talked-philip-seymour-hoffman-about-playing-gay

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2014/02/philip_seymour_hoffman_death_remembering_an_actor_who_could_do_everything.html

http://www.avclub.com/article/philip-seymour-hoffman-45102

I Saw The Best Minds Of My Generation Destroyed By Macklemore Starving Hysterical Naked

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1. 

Don’t hate Macklemore because he’s white, hate him because his music is terrible. 

I hate Macklemore and Ryan Lewis because I think their music is terrible at best, and worse than terrible at worst. 

This is rap for people who don’t like rap that makes them feel proud of themselves for not liking rap, and for buying Macklemore albums, and as such it moves from bad music into immoral, bleached-out hucksterism, the undying legacies of Paul Whiteman and Pat Boone.

If there’s a better example of “white privilege” in the music biz in 2014, I can’t think of one. 

He is a contradiction and an anomaly and big slap in the face to Hip Hop and queer bodies in this country and the music industry. 

Yes, this is about how terrible Macklemore is. 

Macklemore failed to use the white privilege that he has readily acknowledged to challenge this structure of power in a moment when the world was watching. 

White privilege is real. It creates space for folks like Macklemore to do “conscious” and “positive” hip-hop and become superstars, while completely ignoring the work or killing the careers of black artists who wish to do the same. 

The Macklemore performance at the Grammys was astounding for its utter lack of control, its poor production values — pro-marriage-equality stand aside, the Madonna of 10 years ago would never have participated in something this shoddily constructed. 

Macklemore created and distributed sub-par music and appropriated (almost) as many cultures as the entire history of colonialism while acting-and-looking like a children’s cartoon villain. 

It’s the lowest sort of middlebrow, an art-like commodity that shallow people think is deep and dull people think is edgy. 

Macklemore is a ho-bag.

Macklemore did the hustle-and-grind necessary to trick the mainstream into somehow believing he’s interesting and talented.

Hip-hop that switches out faked emotion for real intellect and faked intellect for real emotion and has no discernible goals other than to congratulate its makers for making it and its listeners for purchasing it. 

Kendrick is OK with not winning a Grammy right now if they’re giving them out to folks like Macklemore. He’ll get his eternal glory some day. 

Macklemore should not be your ally, your savior, and hopefully not your favorite anything. 

Macklemore emerges then as just another white savior figure come to redeem the pathologized black masses. The fact that he doesn’t want the mantle means nothing. Lest we forget, real Jesus didn’t want the mantle either. Perhaps Lorde is Mary, the mother of Jesus, in this sick morality play. 

Maybe Macklemore might hate Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as much as I do. 

—- pull-quotes/selections from various commissioned media thinkpieces in the immediate aftermath of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis winning several Grammy Awards earlier this week. [Jack Hamilton (Slate), Brittney Cooper (Salon), Jay Stephens (Village Voice), Brandon Soderberg (SPIN), Jay Dodd (Huffington Post)]

2. 

Dave Brubeck was embarrassed. It was 1954, and he was pictured on the cover of Time magazine — only the second jazz musician ever to receive that particular mainstream media recognition. The chagrin came, he said, because he felt that his friend Duke Ellington — who was also interviewed for the magazine’s feature on jazz in the U.S. — deserved it more.

Duke and I were on tour together across the country and this night, we were in Denver. … And at seven o’clock in the morning, there was a knock on my door, and I opened the door, and there’s Duke, and he said, ‘You’re on the cover of Time.’ And he handed me Time magazine. It was the worst and the best moment possible, all mixed up, because I didn’t want to have my story come first. I was so hoping that they would do Duke first, because I idolized him. He was so much more important than I was … he deserved to be first.

This scene is reminiscent of the situation that the rapper Macklemore found himself in on Sunday night at the Grammy Awards. After winning the Best Rap Album Grammy, he publicly apologized to fellow nominee Kendrick Lamar, a heavily-tipped favorite for the award who Macklemore had publicly endorsed. Here’s what he sent Lamar as a text message and posted as a screenshot to Instagram:

You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you. I was gonna say that during the speech. Then the music started playing during my speech and I froze. Anyway, you know what it is. Congrats on this year and your music. Appreciate you as an artist and as a friend. Much love

Taken at face value, Macklemore’s backstage contrition, like Brubeck’s, is clearly bittersweet. Surely, both felt vindicated for their hard work, yet conflicted that an artist they felt to be more deserving was passed over. (In fact, the next year Brubeck released an album featuring a tune called “The Duke,” which has since become a jazz standard.) One can further surmise that both Macklemore and Brubeck, conscientious of their whiteness, were troubled that institutions had elevated them above black innovators in an African-American music.

[…….]

Macklemore took home four trophies in total, including the overall Best New Artist. It’s interesting here to note that Dave Brubeck was also a musician smiled upon by the Grammys, earning a lifetime achievement award in 1996. And his death in 2012 prompted the organizers of the 2013 telecast to organize a brief tribute on stage; musicians Kenny Garrett, Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea played “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” for a little over a minute. It wasn’t much, but it was certainly the most jazz we’ve seen on the nationally-televised part of the awards for quite some time.

Why might the Grammy Awards, or Time magazine c. 1954, or any other chronicler of mainstream taste reflect kindly upon artists like Brubeck or Macklemore? Their commercial success puts them on the radar, of course. And white privilege is certainly far-reaching here: the lacunae of white Grammy voters or journalists, the double standard applied to black political speech compared to that of whites, the career opportunities denied to artists who happen to be black. With these conditions in place — and, certainly, given catchy songs — Brubeck and Macklemore’s shared outsider qualities translate to alternative appeal. It’s easier for the powers that be to project purposeful intent onto their aesthetic decisions, rather than just weirdness.

Brubeck and Macklemore were no dummies. They knew that their “foils” at the time, Duke Ellington and Kendrick Lamar respectively, were also engaged in ambitious, conceptual, socially critical work that stood out from a formal or lyrical status quo. (For Lamar, it’s his good kid, M.A.A.D. city album; for Ellington, well, it’s most of his work, really.) And perhaps they were embarrassed because they somehow understood the process that made their recognition possible over giants of their field.

—- Patrick Jarenwattananon, “Dave Brubeck Was The Macklemore Of 1954,” A Blog Supreme, NPR.org, January 30 2014

http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2014/01/30/267867603/dave-brubeck-was-the-macklemore-of-1954

Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 115)

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PICKS

Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread    (Blue Note)

Although John Leventhal’s sleepy-time-down-south production won’t be lighting a fire under anybody’s ass, there’s enough variety here to keep wandering ears occupied. From the Creedence crawl of “A Feather’s Not A Bird” to the electric sitar on “Money Road,” from the chimes waltzing down “Night School” to the bluesy Turtles quote within “Long Way Home,” it’s roots-rock with all the good and evil such designators bring to Nashville after-parties. But maybe the sixty-year-old Cash has the right to slap away Music Row with the aside “the money’s all in Nashville”. Besides, the only rootsy flourish I’d do without appears on the expert mainstream rock of “Modern Blue,” a Wallflowers detour off Highway 61 to Barcelona, which likewise offers the only lyrical stinker in the bunch. “My mind got changed,” Cash notes of her Mediterranean jaunt, only later filling us in as to how: “it’s a big wide world”. Better she keep her eyes on the undulating delta plains and Piney Woods of the southland that comprises this travelogue’s heart and soul, a southland that both birthed her beloved father and vexes her to this day. She never once submits to easy mythology - sometimes her gaze is detached (five cans of paint settling into sunken lands; hard roads that fit your shoes). Other times, she’s rendered numb (Emmett Till and Billie Joe McAllister). She crafts a Civil War reminiscence as if unearthing a lost version of “The Twa Sisters,” offers up a warm riposte to “Far Away Eyes” via an agnostic’s ode to gospel stations, and manages to make “you’re not from around here” sound inviting rather than foreboding to clueless Yankees. “It’s hot from March to Christmas,” she warns, then settles back into the climate-appropriate sleepy groove. 

Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues     (Total Treble Music)

Nobody likes some churl standing outside the bonfire of history getting all nitpicky, but can we talk a little bit about how Laura Jane Grace and co. here once again embrace a brand of anthemic skate punk so straightforward it makes NOFX sound like The Fall? Overlook the treble-heavy production, Grace’s farting-around bass, even the moonlighting drummer, and there’s still the pesky matter of guitars so tidily assembled I found myself scrawling “Manic Street Preachers” all over my notecards. Not that the album’s precision detracts from the messiness under discussion - far from it. Slamming through ten songs in twenty-eight minutes with nary a bum note nor frayed edge within earshot helps highlight the way these impressionistic sketches are giddy slaves to their own undeniable hooks, even when Grace is stumbling over the kinds of wordy couplets that have always tripped up smart hardcore types (“paralytic states of dependency / in her dysphoria’s affection / she still saw her mother’s child”). I prefer those lyrical moments when the singer trusts her own gift for gutter poetry (the humanistic agony behind “you’ve got no cunt in your strut”) or plainspoken hurt (“goddammit / I miss my dead friend”). And when Grace channels murderous rage in a lynching fantasy imagining a former tormenter strung up like Mussolini in the Piazzale Loreto, she manages to flip thirty-plus years’ worth of skate punk heteronormative violence on its nasty little head. Which doesn’t erase the fact that it’s a lynching fantasy - it just reminds us that progress needn’t always be progressive.

 

NEAR PICK

Beyoncé, Beyoncé     (Columbia)

Only fools and idealists demand political consistency from pop stars, yet it’s still worth questioning why Ms. Knowles delivers this frequently bombastic album’s two most explicitly pro-feminist sentiments via surrogates - Nigerian intellectual Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defining the F word in clear economic terms, Hajiba Fahmy delineating feminism’s respect for raunch via untranslated French. Yoncé’s own bullet points often owe more to Oprah than Adichie, as when she murmurs “it’s the soul that needs surgery” on an opener linking sugar-free snacks to “the disease of a nation,” or when she cools down “Partition’s” limo fuck by explaining “I wanted to show that you can have a child and you can work hard and you can get your body back” (cynics should be directed towards the concurrent sneak-release of Yoncé’s new perfume RISE, with a “fragrance concept” memorably described as that of “female empowerment”). Still, who expects Hélène Cixous-level intertextuality from a jet-setting part-time vegan? And given that Beyoncé’s beats are usually better than Cixous’, who needs consistency, especially when those beats add muscle to the handful of top-notch songs here, three of which are unapologetic Prince/D’Angelo sex jams that will hopefully scandalize any young fan grossed out by the image of a mother enthusiastically getting her grind on. From “I get filthy when that liquor get into me” to “I know you never waste a drip,” you’re goddam right she’s a grown woman comfortable in her own skin. When the hubby blurts out “eat the cake, Anna Mae” in the sweaty midst of “Drunk In Love,” you can almost picture her rolling her eyes even if she never once slows down her swerve.

Sochi Preview: Or, Seoul On Ice

1.  

South Korea lobbied hard to bring the Olympics to Seoul.

The city was not an obvious choice to host the Olympics: the capital of half a divided nation still technically at war, just thirty miles from one of the most militarized and dangerous boundaries in the world, in a country run by a military-led authoritarian regime.

South Korea’s political and business leaders hoped the 1988 Olympics would be for their country what the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had been for Japan: the symbol of a poor, war-ravaged country coming of age and establishing its place in the sun as a strong, affluent member of the international community.

North Korea did not respond immediately to the choice of Seoul as the site for the 1988 Olympics.

Toward the end of 1981, the Rodong Sinmun mentioned for the first time that the games “are said to be going to be held in Seoul in 1988,” ridiculing the “fascist” leaders of South Korea who hoped the Olympics would bring international recognition to their “so-called state”.

As it became clear that the Olympics would take place in Seoul, North Korea tried to persuade the IOC to change its mind.

2.

President Fidel Castro of Cuba took it on himself to champion Pyongyang’s cause. 

In November 1984, Castro wrote a letter to IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch criticizing the choice of Seoul to host the Olympics.

"The Olympic games in Seoul, in the form they are designed, do not contribute to the unity of the Korean nation, do not help heal the wounds of war, do not really promote peace, harmony, cooperation and friendship betweens peoples".

Given these problems, and especially after the socialist countries’ boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, Castro suggested that the IOC choose another site for the 1988 games.

Samaranch replied politely that the IOC was committed to hosting the 1988 games in Seoul.

"I think we must avoid the catastrophe which the choice of Seoul alone implies and share the Olympics" by giving part of the games to Pyongyang, Castro declared.

3.

In September 1984, the head of the DPRK Olympic Committee, Kim Yu-Son, met with Samaranch at the Hotel Prague in Moscow. “The Olympics cannot be held in half a country at war,” Kim implored. “In the interest of peace, North Korea must co-host the games”.

But Samaranch was unmoved, saying curtly, “In 1981 Seoul was chosen to celebrate the Games. That decision is final”

Around the same time, IOC vice president Ashwini Kumar visited the DPRK to discuss the issue with North Korean sports and government officials. The North Koreans reminded Kumar of Fidel Castro’s suggestion for a unified North-South Olympic Committee and an equal sharing of the games. Kumar replied that “the contract with Seoul City was sacrosanct and could not be violated”.

DPRK vice president Park Song-chol then showed Kumar a proposal North Korea had already distributed around the world, which included (1) a unified Korean organization for the Olympics, (2) equal sharing of the events by both sides, and (3) naming the games “Korea Pyongyang Seoul Olympic Games”.

Kumar did not think any of this was feasible, although he hoped that North and South Korea could work out some sort of mutual agreement for North Korean participation in the games.

In the end, South Korea and the IOC could not offer the North even a symbolic role in the games that the DPRK authorities found satisfactory.

Park Song-chol concluded his remarks to Kumar with a warning that hosting the games in Seoul alone was a recipe for violence.

4.

Although the DPRK pushed for co-hosting the Olympics until the very last moment, the proposal ultimately failed. North Korea refused to participate in the Games in any form.

Despite their initial support for a North-South shared Olympics, the USSR, the East European socialist countries, and China would not follow Pyongyang in boycotting the games. After the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the Soviet bloc’s reciprocal of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the socialist sports powerhouses were not willing to forego the opportunity to compete against the West for a third time in a row.

In the end, all of North Korea’s socialist allies except Cuba and Ethiopia attended the Seoul Olympics.

5.

On November 29 1987, all 115 passengers on a Korean Airlines were killed when their flight en route from Baghdad to Seoul exploded over Southeast Asia. The cause of the explosion was a bomb planted by two North Korean agents, one of whom - a young woman named Kim Hyon-hui - survived and became a celebrity in South Korea.

According to Kim, the purpose of the bombing was to sow fear in South Korea and the international community, and thereby undermine the Seoul regime and to disrupt or block altogether the Seoul Olympics.

Once the United States was satisfied with the accuracy of Kim’s confession, it placed North Korea on its list of states that sponsor terrorism, where it would remain for the next twenty years.

The Seoul Games proceeded as scheduled.

Unable to share or prevent the Seoul Olympics, Pyongyang staged its own international games the following year. The Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students (WFYS) opened in Pyongyang on July 1 1989. The DPRK applied all possible financial, human, and propaganda resources to the success of the Thirteenth WFYS. Pyongyang allegedly spent over $4 billion on the WFYS, including $33 million in grants from Moscow. The presence of Western foreigners in Pyongyang was unprecedented, at least since the Korean War. Some one hundred American delegates attended, and more than twenty American journalists were admitted to Pyongyang to cover the festival. Yet the event was largely ignored in the Western press, and was completely overshadowed by the Seoul Olympics.

—Charles K. Armstrong, from “Tyranny Of The Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950-1992,” Cornell University Press, 2013

http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?gcoi=80140100484410

http://www.amazon.com/Tyranny-Weak-1950-1992-Weatherhead-University/dp/0801450829

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/faculty/armstrong.html

Norman Vs. Kanye: Christopher Beha Considers The Advertisements Of Mailer

1.  So the Young Writer had known of Mailer, but what had he known, exactly? The man’s last great work, The Executioner’s Song, had appeared in the year of the YW’s birth, after which Mailer had shown poor form by continuing to live and write for almost three decades. He became less a writer than a pundit, with an opinion on every subject that strayed into his view. The opinions themselves — on Bill and Monica, on 9/11, on the Bushes and their Gulf Wars — were predictable and unimaginative or worse: the YW remembered, for example, Mailer’s contention that the New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani was a “kamikaze” who’d kept her job by means of racial and gender tokenism. This wasn’t provocative in an interesting way, just ugly and stupid. (That Kakutani was an analphabetic disaster whose continued employment by the paper of record was a genuine mystery only made matters worse: to put things in Mailer’s terms, his opponent was showing her chin, and he had opted to punch below the belt.)

In search of models for literary conduct, the YW looked instead to Pynchon, Gaddis, and DeLillo — writers with every bit of Mailer’s ambition who seemed by their actions to say that little could be won from too much contact with a fallen world. They could not be found on television, extemporizing about plastic or drugs or masturbation. They just wrote novels. Occasionally Mailer still did, too, but they were retellings of the Gospels or of Hitler’s childhood — a television host’s idea of important novelistic subjects.

Yet for all that, Mailer continued to loom, and he seemed to demand a reckoning. How could the Young Writer not engage in some way the man so many regarded as the very image of the serious American novelist? But then, in 2007, Mailer died, and much of his celebrity went with him. Perhaps no reckoning would be required after all. 

2.  Advertisements for Myself was the first of Mailer’s books to take the figure of Norman Mailer as its explicit subject and, not coincidentally, the first that struck the Young Writer as having achieved real greatness. That it had done so took the YW by some surprise, since it contained so much work that was manifestly no good, work its author seemed to know was no good — undergraduate juvenilia, Village Voice columns written in stoned haste. This very unevenness became part of the Mailer legend, a sign of his commitment to testing limits. We needed to see the man fall on his face once in a while to appreciate the risks he ran. “For those who care to skim nothing but the cream of each author, and so miss the pleasure of liking him at his worst,” he wrote in the note to the reader that opened Advertisements, “I will take the dangerous step of listing what I believe are the best pieces in this book.”

To skim in this way would have been a mistake, not just because Mailer wasn’t to be trusted to choose his best work, but because the book’s great breakthroughs were its “advertisements,” bits of interstitial polemic that explained the meaning of each selection and gave the whole both cohesion and narrative force.

Advertisements for Myself inaugurated the Mailer staple of taking candid stock of his competition, which he does in an essay called “Evaluation — Quick and Expensive Comments on the Talent in the Room.” He begins with James Jones and William Styron, two contemporaries he counted among his closest friends. To each he is alternately generous and devastating. From Here to Eternity is “the best American novel since the war,” but Jones’s subsequent work has been a “debacle.” Like Jones, Styron “may have been born to write a great novel,” but “his mind was uncorrupted by a new idea.”

More than a dozen other novelists get similarly mixed treatment. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a “small classic,” but Capote “has less to say than any good writer I know.” Despite an absence of “discipline, intelligence, honesty and a sense of the novel,” Kerouac “had enough of a wild eye to go along with his instincts and so become the first figure for a new generation.” On Bellow: “knows words, but writes in a style I find self-willed and unnatural.” On Salinger: “the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school.” On Ellison: “essentially a hateful writer: when the line of his satire is pure, he writes so perfectly that one can never forget the experience of reading him.” On Baldwin: “too charming a writer to be major.”

“Quick and Expensive Comments” concludes with Mailer’s earliest and most famous expression of literary misogyny, a confession that he hasn’t included any women in the essay because he doesn’t like the “sniffs” of women’s ink; “a good novelist,” he concludes, “can do without everything but the remnant of his balls.” While the YW found it possible to read Mailer’s later antifeminism in an interesting light — as an effort to find a stream in the culture willing to oppose him with the full adversarial force he required — no such defense could be made here. But it occurred to the YW that radical honesty wasn’t worth much if all one’s secret opinions were finally defensible. What passed for candor in the YW’s era had something self-serving about it. One made confessions with the attendant expectation of forgiveness. Or one expressed opinions only to psychologize or sociologize them away, so that reader and writer were left in the same comfortable liberal consensus. When Mailer told us his opinions, he allowed that they might be wrong, but he made it clear that he didn’t think they were wrong; that’s why they were his opinions.

The YW was tempted to say that what his own landscape lacked was Mailer’s willingness to offend, but this put the emphasis in the wrong place. Mailer was at his worst when he was obviously hoping to offend, as in his riff on women’s ink. Anyway, there were plenty in the YW’s time willing to say stupid things merely to get attention. But Mailer at his best simply told the truth as he knew it, whether it offended or not. And this was a rarer thing. 

3.  While reading The Mind of an Outlaw, the Young Writer decided that even the great essays from Advertisements and The Presidential Papers and Cannibals and Christians didn’t work nearly as well, a curious sign of how much Mailer’s power depended on the context he created for himself. Mailer’s effort at creating that context never let up entirely. He kept to his habit of taking on the talent in the room. In particular, he liked to speak up whenever it seemed that a younger male novelist might have made a shot at the big book. He worked them over in the same spirit with which he’d once worked over his peers, mixing admiration with disappointment.

He wrote a long review of American Psycho in which he acknowledged Bret Easton Ellis’s talent — “How one wishes he were without talent!” — before noting that “we cease believing that Ellis is taking any brave leap into truths that are not his own. . . . [H]e is merely working out some ugly little corners of himself.” A review of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections called it “very good as a novel, very good indeed, and yet most unpleasant now that it sits in my memory.” He added speculation that recalled his own situation after The Naked and the Dead:

Now, the success of The Corrections will change his life and charge it. Franzen will begin to have experiences at a more intense level; the people he encounters will have more sense of mission, will be more exciting in their good and in their evil, more open at their best, more crafty in their use of closure. So if he is up to it, he will grow with his new experiences (which, as we ought to have some idea by now, is no routine matter), but if he succeeds, yes, he has the potential to become a major writer on a very high level indeed.

In the event, of course, Franzen did almost the opposite. Rather than exploring his own celebrity he retreated from view for the better part of a decade to work on the next big book.

4.  In 1994, Mailer complained that the place in the culture once reserved for the novelist had come to be occupied by Madonna. The YW would say that in his own time this place belonged perhaps to Kanye West, but that Kanye more or less deserved that place, insofar as he had not just talent but Mailer’s fascinating combination of megalomania and vulnerability, Mailer’s willingness to make a fool of himself, Mailer’s belief in his own importance, and Mailer’s determination to take the case for that importance straight to the people. The YW remembered what Schiller had said — that a man must be a good citizen of his age, as well as of his country. What the literary world needed was a few good citizens willing to tell the age tough truths.

Instead, it had the writer as philanthropist (Dave Eggers), the writer as borscht-belt clown (Gary Shteyngart), and, worst of all, the writer as graduation speaker. Somehow the graduation speech — usually a genial collection of uncontroversial clichés — had become the great literary form of the day. The one David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College — certainly among the least interesting or challenging things he ever wrote — became his signature work. George Saunders, who had replaced Wallace in the role of the writer as secular saint, had recently spoken to the graduating class at Syracuse and told them to be nicer to one another. It was a fine idea — not for nothing had Jerry Springer once ended each broadcast with a similar sentiment — but it hardly seemed worth publishing as a stand-alone book. Doubtless when it is so published it will be bought for every graduate in the land, outselling everything else Saunders will ever write.

5.  Occasionally writers managed quite by accident to cause offense, but when they did they responded with great contrition. The YW had cheered when Jennifer Egan — a novelist he had long taken as a model — said that young writers ought to aspire to something better than “banal and derivative” commercial fiction. But after the remark hurt the feelings of banal-and-derivative-commercial-fiction writers, Egan had made a public apology, seeming genuinely horrified. It had bothered the YW that Egan retreated just when she seemed on the edge of insisting, as Mailer had insisted, that there was something unique to be gained from a great novelistic intelligence applied to its age, that such a performance was more valuable than the entertainment provided by commercial page-turners or prestige television dramas, that it was, for that matter, more valuable than literary fiction that lacked the same ambition. Because this news was not welcomed by mediocrities, and because mediocrities have feelings, Egan had felt forced to withdraw the remark.

But perhaps the YW was wrong to wait for someone else to lead the way, to expect someone to prepare the landscape for him. When it came down to it, the Young Writer wasn’t all that young anymore. 

Christopher Beha, ”Does Mailer Matter? The Young Writer and the last literary celebrity”, Harper’s December 2013

http://harpers.org/archive/2013/12/does-mailer-matter/

http://christopherbeha.com/

Dum Dum Girls, “Too True”

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On their expertly arranged and fleet-footed third album, Dee Dee Penny and her Dum Dum Girls (current lineup: Jules, Sandy, Malia) exemplify what is hereby dubbed indie-rock’s Wowee Zowee/A Season in Hell rule. To wit, a) bedroom projects, no matter how lo-fi their origins, soon embrace multi-tracked studio grandeur, and b) all white bohemians eventually discover the French Symbolists.

Concerning that first point, Dee Dee’s been moving steadily beyond the tinny clatter of her first EPs since signing to Sub Pop in 2009, all those whipsaw guitars crunching into separate channels while her throaty contralto gained heft and distinction. Sixties scuzz-pop royalty Richard Gottehrer remains her go-to studio advisor since first being tapped to theoretically produce 2010’s I Will Be, and her admiration is understandable: The dude wrote “I Want Candy” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” which means he’s pretty much the Cædmon of trash-pop. Still, the band only could pogo ahead over familiar chord changes for so long. Murmur as she might over the rumble of “He Gets Me High,” Dee Dee didn’t begin suggesting her own individuality until 2011’s Only in Dreams, tentatively embracing 4AD dream-pop……….

from my review of the new Dum Dum Girls album, “Too True” (Sub Pop), published this week in SPIN. You can read the rest of the review at SPIN’s site, thisaway.

http://www.spin.com/reviews/dum-dum-girls-too-true/

Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 114)

PICKS

Stephen Malkmus, Wig Out At Jagbags     (Matador)

Sure, sure, make jokes about his dad jokes, tsk-tsk his connubial bliss, talk up his graying hair. You’ve still got nine out of ten reviews explaining what exactly a jagbag is, so remember his jokes aren’t jokes at all - they’re witticisms, junk rhymes, amphigouri, brainy claptrap, everything befitting a fussy craftsman who has rarely courted cool or even rock and roll since breaking up his band. I’m glad Malkmus is back to saving his tossed-off wisdom for the tangled interior of verses rather than hanging choruses upon them. And his classic rock signifiers have rarely been deployed so lovingly, goofball time changes and all. There’s the slanted Workingman’s Dead sunshine on Pavement-worthy “The Janitor Revealed,” the lush college radio double bummer of “Lariat,” the phased-bass prog nonsense of “Shibboleth,” and those dual-lead guitars opening “Planetary Motion” and juicing across “Chartjunk” with such virtuosity you’d think Malkmus mistook Steely Dan for a boogie band. I even dig the twitchy 1.41 Johnny Thunders pogo that is “Rumble At The Rainbo” - a slice of rock sentimentality worthy of Mott the Hoople, and not just because SM calls out Ian Hunter three tracks later (“Mott The Hoople’s/got no scruples”). As such easy lines suggest, he’s what the academics call a minor poet. But how many minor poets can match his perpetual boyishness, his nerd bonafides, his mostly successful attempts at remaining abashed by his own romanticism? And how many 2014 rock and rollers would risk the uncool of playing so much guitar? I mean, aside from Kurt Vile?

Marc Perrenoud Trio, Vestry Lamento     (Double Moon)

Just how Euro is this youthful Geneva/Lausanne/Freiburg piano trio? So Euro they name their slow blues after a Monet series. So Euro their compositions give shout-outs to Igor and Ignaz Bösendorfer. And so Euro they disassemble old warhorse “Body And Soul” the way theatre troupes locate Shakespeare tragedies in any era aside from that originally intended by the author - a little ambient noise to open, a hint of Chopin here, a trace of the minuet there. But Perrenoud clearly adores both melody and the blues, coyly splashing a little dissonance into the mix even while his chords rise and fall in shimmering runs reminiscent of Richie Beirach. Drummer Regamey and bassist Marco Müller bring their game, the former hanging tight even as the leader showboats his way across the Bösendorfer tribute, the latter walking his bass all over the straight-ahead swing of “Madame JoJo”. And there’s little to no trace of the Euro academy on the quite funky shuffle of opening blues “Vestry Lamento”.

NEAR PICK

Burial, Rival Dealer     (Hyperdub)

One year ago, following the arrival of the sombre Truant / Rough Sleeper EP, I wrote that the music of everybody’s favorite maximalist digital composer “has assumed greater complexity - or grandiosity, one might worriedly note”. A few weeks ago, following the arrival of the less-sombre Rival Dealer EP, a trusted source opined “I like Burial, but this third track sounds like Enya”. And Enya it is. Track one squelches along nicely, track two is brief, and track three oozes liquid cheese. Thunder claps, rain patter, flutes, whisper-moans, heaving strings - really, even if you vocally support William Bevan’s move into the realm of anti-bullying PSAs, don’t bullied teens of all identities deserve better than this cornball mood music? Probably not Burial’s worst. But if somebody starts telling you this is his best, narrow your eyes accordingly.

Don’t Read The Comments: Just Another Reason Why Amiri Baraka Was Right

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1.   

Been scrupulously avoiding the mainstream obits RE Amiri Baraka. Still could’t help noting repeated headlines throwing up the politically suspect tag ‘Polarizing Figure”. Guess that means our dude was Electro Magnetic and As Charged.

Oh they think long and hard about throwing shade via The Code my sis. 24-7-365 they on that shady mission. Know exactly what they’re saying. And so do We.—or at least some of We, fortunately. (50 million being hella folk to fit on The Freedom Train all at once.)

— Greg Tate, Facebook feed, January 11 2014

2.  

Maybe sometimes a man wants to leave his wife and daughters and just needs a good excuse.

Beating one’s wife and small children must be a revolutionary act.

It’ll be a nice day when myopic racists like this are no longer coddled and their foolish reactionary rants no longer mistaken for insight.

He will be missed by “progressive” ideologues who celebrate “hate-America. hate-whitey” diatribes.

We should expect President Obama to memorialize him in a speech soon….right after some selfie portraits with some white female dignitary.

Spare us the hate! Baraka is alleged to have spoken for “the community”, unmistakable words of hatred, and NPR eulogizes him. Juan Williams truly spoke for all Americans, violating “progressive” sensibilities, and NPR fired him.

The argument is that leftists are entitled to hate anyone who isn’t “tolerant” of “tolerance.” Dehumanization from the pulpit of the lofted humanists.

Where did he get that piece of “info”?…about 4,000 “Israeli workers to not show up for work at the WTC? Did David Duke tell him that? It wouldn’t have been Allen Ginsburg. I’ll bet Baraka didn’t shy away from getting medical care from Jewish doctors, including the ones who must have helped plan 9/11. Right.

You’ll notice “progressives” make excuses for their pet ideologues.

Racists look to figures like Baraka to justify the “knockout game”, and the media is too cowed and/or ideologically committed to admit this fact.

Without commenting on his literary talent, Baraka’s kind of racialist, paranoid political rhetoric was incredibly dated. However, it has become the current CAUSE of America’s remaining race problems. Witness the public rhetoric associated with the Gates/beer summit episode, Trayvon Martin trial, Duke lacrosse hoax and Eric Holder’s Justice Department priorities. Racialism threatens to reverse individual human progress in race relations by 40 years.

— from reader comments on Neda Ulaby’s “Amiri Baraka’s Legacy Both Controversial And Achingly Beautiful,” All Things Considered, NPR.org, January 9-12 2014

3. 

Billionaires who back conservative Republicans are trashed on NPR when they die as “scathing TV ad” backers. But what about a black radical who wrote a poem blaming 9-11 on Israel and implying America was evil and terrorist? On Thursday night’s “All Things Considered,” NPR began by calling him “one of America’s most important — and controversial — literary figures,” under the headline “Amiri Baraka’s Legacy Both Controversial And Achingly Beautiful.”

The man’s invented Muslim name was Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). He was the poet laureate of New Jersey in 2002, but they abolished that honorary office after his poem. NPR cultural correspondent Neda Ulaby found his most controversial work wasn’t too negative, it was “complicated.”

— Tim Graham, “NPR Honors the ‘Complicated’ and ‘Achingly Beautiful’ Work of Radical Black Poet Who Wrote 9-11 Was an Israeli Plot,” Newsbusters.org, January 12 2014

4.

The feds steal money from us in the form of taxes and give some to NPR in order to bash us. Allowing a tax-payer funded forum to only produce far left rhetoric and produce hate speech against the very people who keep it going, should be a crime. You’re absolutely right, let the liberal trash fund the NPR hate center of propaganda and leftist diatribes.

Why are the Heros of the LEFT always Terrorists, Abortionists, lying, cheating Marxists?

Free verse is a great vehicle for a talentless schmuck to claim genius while, in fact, penning nonsense. Jones/Baraka was a perfect example of how an angry loud-mouth can write mostly incoherent free verse crap and claim the of honor of “poet laureate”. The formula is simple. Be Black and write anti-America and America is racist screeds and you’re in. His life is filled with anger - and for the most part he spent that life penning screeds of with same tired theme - Jews are evil, America is racist and evil. Whites are bad people. That sums up his work.

A small irony for this avowed Communist and convert to Islam - he died at Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey, once owned by Newark Jewish Community and purchased later by St. Barnabas Health System.

I’m sure some future screed-writer will claim he was “murdered” by the Joooooooooooooooos in the hospital.

Baraka; another black, racist, anti-Semite hate monger. If we ever run out of them NPR and MSNBC will be out of business. P.S. I hope this guy suffered on his deathbed. I’m sick of these types.

Anyone who adopts a name other then his truly given name,is immediately suspect as a pretentious fraud as far as moi is concerned .

Barry Soetero Barack Hussein Obama agrees with you completely PERIOD!

If this cat were white / NPR would recoil in fright / Because he is black / racism is right on track.

That’s not free verse.

Baraka, he done died - dead and black
night
He was
a Black man - killed by the white man
proud and Black - dead and black
black — you got that?

Yakatty Yak / Baraka was Black / but now he dead / He won’t be back / Although he gone - please take note / he still a liberal, they count his vote

I wanted to change my name to “Abdul Jabbar” but I couldn’t hit the hook shot.

Rather than “robbing or killing whites” as Baraka’s poem suggests, “Black People” would do much better if they took responsibility for their own lives and started contributing to society rather than being a drain on it. Otherwise, they will live in self-induced slavery forever.

What’s there to be celebrated? A paranoiac conspiracy theorist who manufactured an identity for himself and became a parasite from the public trough at make-work positions as leftist faculty at universities while lacking an education normally required for same.

Reminds me of another creepy black leftist who left his part time lectureship in chicago to run for president. If Barry needs a “poetry czar”, this idiot would do nicely.

We knew this old racist as Leroy (proper spelling) Jones, black panther (sorry animals!) white hater, anarchist. A man who hated civil discourse, society and also helped to make Newark what it is today.

The things he asks for perfectly describe rap music and the knockout game. The other crimes are all too common and sickening to read. Essentially he is calling for a small scale war. People have obviously been listening to him for many years. NPR foments hate and racial tension because it keeps us divided. It’s their number one goal.

I also see a connection between the left’s approval of this cop-hating wannabe Muslim “poet,” and Barack Hussein Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division at The Department of Justice. Adegbile is the lawyer who volunteered to defend the lowlife cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

"[The white man] owes you anything you want," wrote Baraka, "even his life." What a succinct and accurate summary of the liberal philosophy! I wonder if ol’ Leroi knew that there may be a "processing" fee that is applied to collecting said debt. The fee can vary, but it is commonly measured in the following amounts, 9mm, .357, .38, .45 and all the way up to 12 gauge. Could get expensive really fast.

Just another black loser!

You know, I was trying to think if there is a Muslim I have positive thoughts about…Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) is the only one who comes to mind.

Hey BARACK-a: hope you’re hating Hell, BOY.

He changes his name to LeRoi Jackson Johnson Jones Esq. The Magnificent, a manifestation of jive, absolute jive gibberish!!!

Let us mourn the loss of Obama’s father!

— from reader comments on Tim Graham’s NPR Honors the ‘Complicated’ and ‘Achingly Beautiful’ Work of Radical Black Poet Who Wrote 9-11 Was an Israeli Plot,” Newsbusters.org, January 12 2014

5.  

Wise I

WHYS (Nobody Knows 
     The Trouble I Seen)
 
     Traditional

If you ever find
yourself, some where
lost and surrounded
by enemies
who won’t let you
speak in your own language
who destroy your statues
& instruments, who ban
your omm bomm ba boom
then you are in trouble
deep trouble
they ban your
own boom ba boom
you in deep deep
trouble

humph!

probably take you several hundred years
to get 
out!

— Amiri Baraka, “Wise I,” 

Amiri Baraka Speaks Of John Coltrane

1.  Trane emerged as the process of historical clarification itself, of a particular social/aesthetic development. When we see him standing next to Bird and Diz, an excited young inlooker inside the torrent of the rising bop statement, right next to the chief creators of that fervent expression of new black life, we are seeing actually point and line, note and phrase of the continuum. As if we could also see Louis and Bechet hovering over them, with Pres hovering just to the side awaiting his entrance, and then beyond, in a deeper, yet-to-be-revealed hover, Pharoah and Albert and David and Wynton or Olu in the mist, there about to be, when called by the notes of what had struck yet before all mentioned.

2.  Trane carried the deepness in as thru Bird and Diz, and back to us. He reclaimed the bop fire, the Africa, polyrythmic, improvisational, blue, spirituality of us. The starter of one thing yet the anchor of something before. In the relay of our constant rise and rerise, phoenix describing its birth as a description of yet another (though there is not another) process. Trane carrying Bird-Diz bop revolution and its opposing force to the death force of slavery and corporate co-optation, went through various changes in life, in music. He carried the Southern black church music, and blues and rhythm & blues, as way stations of his personal development, not just theory or abstract history. He played in all these musics and was all these persons. His apprenticeship was extensive and deep; the changes a revealed continuity.

3.  The point of demarcation was Miles’ classic quintet, with Cannonball the other up-front stylistic vector. Style and philosophy confirmed each other. As I have said before, Cannonball was Miles’ confection of blues that would later be called fusion. Simple and charming in that context, but very soon commercial on the way to not. Trane, on the other side, was the way of expressionism. Nuclear and carrying the rush of birth and death and rebirth and redeath and new life and yet again forever, what is, as the Africans said, Is Is. Ja Is (Jazz) The Come Music.

4.  The ’60s, when he appeared full-up, was a period, a rhythm of intensity, the giant steps of revolution. This is why we always associate him with Malcom X, as a parallel of that turbulence. Trane’s annihilation of the popular song, so-called, was its restatement as a broader, more universal popular. His “My Favorite Things” could not be Hollywood’s. Hollywood is to make animalism and exploitation glamorous, and Trane was trying to speak of what will exist beyond animals, what had created them, and what will carry them away as waste. What is disposed.

5.  Trane’s constant assaults on the given, the status quo, the Tin Pan Alley of the soul, was what Malcolm attempted in our social life. And both African Americans, they carried that reference, Black Life, as their starting point and historical confirmation. The Truth sounds bland only if we don’t understand what it is said in opposition to. Since it is transcendent, invincible, existent even past whatever else we claim exists. Even the lie must use real life as a reference to trick us, as it claims to be truth. But Trane made no claims, either in his life or his work - what he did, he got from life, and we either recognize it with our selves or risk being wasted. Like Malcolm, what he was was reality; not to grasp it defines the quality of our consciousness, our closeness to what cannot finally be denied.

— Amiri Baraka, “The Coltrane Legacy,” from liner notes included with “The Last Giant: The John Coltrane Anthology,” Rhino Records, 1993

Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 113)

PICKS

Roswell Rudd, Trombone For Lovers     (Sunnyside)

The legendary trombonist has always adored gutbucket r&b and the Bristol Stomp like the self-respecting avant-gardist he is, and don’t overlook his tenure with Alan Lomax in the global jukebox field, a far more important association than his admittedly awesome one-off gig with Sonic Youth. But Rudd’s reputation will always be defined by his sessions with the New York Art Quartet, the many times he blew alongside Shepp and Lacey, his ensemble work with such giants old and new as Carla Bley and Allen Lowe. So consider this a great experimentalist’s populist opportunity to lovingly prance all over the Great American Songbook, defined liberally enough to include not only Duke Ellington but Santo & Johnny, Booker T. Jones and “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” plus Lennon/McCartney via Bob Dorough wiggling through “Here, There And Everywhere” like it was some lecherous Hoagy Carmichael obscurity. Cemented by the drum/bass duties of Aaron Comess and Richard Hammonds, Rudd bows to former Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas, re-imagines holiday chestnut “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as molasses-slow gospel blues, and reminds us via gypsy-jazz fiddle that “Autumn Leaves” first saw life as “Les feuilles mortes”. A concluding multi-part “Joe Hill” featuring The NYC Labor Chorus proves a bit more wobbly than most will prefer. But only reactionaries would argue that Rudd’s political head and heart weren’t in the right place.

Sun Ra and His Band From Outer Space, Space Aura EP     (Art Yard Records)

Herman Blount’s discography is deep enough that even bleary-eyed disciples can start worrying aloud about how many excavations from the vaults they need acquire. But this vault excavation is something special - a brief excerpt from a 1966 concert recording from the University of Buffalo, offering pristine, studio-worthy sound quality from the Slug’s Saloon / “Strange Strings” era of one of the finest jazz ensembles to ever stalk the land. John Gilmore as always plays Paul Gonsalves to Ra’s Duke, the great Ronnie Boykins digs into a bass solo worth every second, and Marshall Allen supplies majestic oboe. Usual suspects Clifford Jarvis and Teddy Nance do their thing. And the leader opens with solo piano only to shuffle over to the horror-porn croak of his beloved clavioline. Plus, you get this great chant, offered collectively to the bemused audience moments before the hard-swinging freebop of the title track takes off: “Sun Ra! And his band! From outer space! Will entertain you now!” The whole thing is over in less than twenty minutes. You’ll wish there was ever so much more.

NEAR PICK

Rokia Traoré, Beautiful Africa     (Nonesuch)

I get why some have anointed this offering the Malian songwriter’s “rock” album - recorded in the UK, Scottish drummer, Italian guitarist, producer did some time with PJ Harvey. But Traoré’s tangled with the non-traditional since she first double-tracked her vocals alongside ngoni and balafon on her 1998 debut, she’s been plugged into an electric Gretsch for years, and her vocals have always favored a Western-pleasing mellifluous timbre rather than the piercing cry of the griot. And despite a few crunchy grooves (“Tuit Tuit”) and grungy moments (“Kouma”), this is West African to the core, from the lovely “Ka Moun Kè” to the slow and steady pace of “N’Téri”. And it’s also fairly dull, right down to the vagaries of the wah-wah-graced title track, which summarizes an entire continent’s worth of women via such homilies as “every day / they face their destiny”. Even inside worldbeat circles, those sorts of things tend to get called out as banalities.