All posts by Syd Fablo

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Charlie Haden – Liberation Music Orchestra

Liberation Music Orchestra

Charlie HadenLiberation Music Orchestra Impulse! AS-9183 (1970)

Made as a kind of tribute to the Republican (anti-fascist) side of the Spanish Civil War, Liberation Music Orchestra is political music in the same spirit as Paul Robeson‘s Songs of Free Men or the poetry of Pablo Neruda, like España en el corazón [Spain in Our Hearts] (1938) — even if Haden sticks mostly to a tone of determined hopefulness rather than the harrowing sadness of, say, Neruda’s devastating “I’m Explaining a Few Things.”  The music itself falls on the line between folk-inspired composition and free jazz — reference points are The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, and, of course, efforts by orchestra members like Don Cherry‘s Symphony for Improvisers, Carla Bley‘s Escalator Over the Hill, and Gato Barbieri‘s “Chapter” albums.  Bley provides arrangements.

Some of this constitutes dissonant free-form improvisation.  Frankly, though, this hardly represents the finest efforts along those lines from this talented group of performers.  It is actually the composed songs with arrangements by Bley that impress the most.  There is always a looseness and warmth, with many of the group passages having a Salvation Army band quality (like Dylan‘s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”).  The use of “sampled” pre-recorded vocals and flamenco-style acoustic guitar are rather unique aspects of this music.

There is a reading of Hanns Eisler and Bertold Brecht‘s “Einheitsfrontlied [Song of the United Front],” without Brecht’s lyrics.  Eisler was a student of Arnold Schönberg, but turned to popular music.  He and Brecht were German communists who wrote the song 1934 at the request of Erwin Piscator, to be used to rally the political left to fight back against Hitler and the Nazis.  The song later became associated with the Spanish Republicans.

The album is about more than just the Spanish Civil War.  Haden wrote “Song for Che” about the recently executed (as an injured, unarmed prisoner of war) Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, whom Jean-Paul Sartre famously described as “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age.”  There is also a recording of Ornette Coleman‘s “War Orphans,” which fits the theme but is not specifically linked to the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Civil War was kind of a sensitive topic in the United States for a long time.  Americans volunteered to fight with the republicans, in what were called the Abraham Lincoln Brigades.  Composer Conlon Nancarrow was among them, but he later moved to Mexico because of domestic hostilities to Spanish Republican sympathizers.  Then there is the term “premature anti-fascist”, coined to demonize because the U.S. government and U.S. businesses tended to align themselves with fascists.  But by the end of the 1960s, there was much hope that the tide was turning.  It never did, but prospects only grew dimmer in subsequent years.

“Circus ’68 ’69” is Haden’s own composition, inspired by an incident at the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention.  As Haden described in the liner notes:

“After the minority plank on Vietnam was defeated in a vote taken on the convention floor, the California and New York delegations spontaneously began singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in protest.  Unable to gain control of the floor, the rostrum instructed the convention orchestra to drown out the singing.  ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’ and ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ could then be heard trying to stifle ‘We Shall Overcome.’  To me, this told the story, in music, of what was happening in the country politically.”

Haden’s orchestra is split in two, somewhat like Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s Gruppen & Carré, with each half operating separately from (and against) the other.  Though it says a lot about Haden’s own sympathies that “Circus ’68 ’69” is followed by a warm reading of “We Shall Overcome,” which concludes the album.

This is something very likable about Liberation Music Orchestra.  It serves its purpose of linking the political struggles of the late 1960s United States to the Spanish Civil War, and beyond.  Even if the freely improvised parts are less engaging, the best qualities of the music shine brightly though all the rest.  This is an album worth returning to often.

Ed Rooksby – Review of Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History

Link to a review by Ed Rooksby of Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History (2005; 2011 trans.).  Losurdo’s counterpart book War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century (2015) should also be considered here, because it is arguably a better written (or better translated) book with a better exposition of its central argument.

“Liberalism: An Ideology of Exclusion? (Part 1)”


Selected quote:

“How do we make sense of this paradox at the heart of liberalism – the simultaneous invocation of liberty on the one hand and the justification and promulgation of severe forms of oppression on the other? The key to all of this, Losurdo argues, is to grasp that liberalism is founded on an implicit logic of exclusion. Only once we have understood this can we start to resolve the seeming inconsistencies. Liberalism has always pivoted, Losurdo argues, on drawing a dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – those who are worthy or capable (morally, intellectually, biologically/racially) of the gamut of rights and liberties we associate with liberalism and those who are not. Liberalism was always, of course, centrally concerned with the condemnation and limitation of despotic power and the corresponding assertion of rights to self-government, autonomy and so on – but this struggle was always waged by, and on behalf of, an exclusive section of humanity – what Losurdo terms ‘the community of the free’. The history of liberalism is thus in great part a history of how the particular specification and location of the boundary line between ‘the community of the free’ and the excluded has evolved and shifted.

“With this exclusionary logic in mind we can make sense of the paradoxes of liberal slavery, liberal empire and liberal authoritarianism towards wage labourers and the poor. In each of these three apparent paradoxes we are, in fact, confronting particular instances of the opposition between the justly free and the justly unfree. It is not that the brutal world of slavery, for example, represented a failure or negation of proclaimed liberal values, or revealed the hypocrisy of contemporary liberals, it is that the ‘community of the free’ in which the sphere of liberal rights and freedoms applied did not, and was not intended, to encompass black people. Liberalism, for Losurdo, was never a doctrine of moral universalism. We can see now, how racism and class contempt operated as necessary ideological supports for this system of exclusion. Slavery and colonial expropriation and domination was justified on the grounds that non-white peoples were by definition uncivilised, in a condition of ‘nonage’ (Mill), not fully human or even ‘savage beasts’ (Locke) and were thus rightly excluded from the ‘community of the free’. Similarly, workers and the poor in the metropolis were not intelligent, morally developed or, again, human enough to be admitted into the sacred space of the free community of liberals.

“It is not just that liberalism was long characterised by exclusion for Losurdo – it is also that, to a great extent, the liberty of the community of the free has depended on the exclusion and oppression of the unfree. That is, the relationship between the community of the free and the excluded has been one of exploitation in which the privileges of the former have been rooted in the expropriation and coercion of the unfree. It is here that class relations come into play.”


Bonus links: Critical Moral Liberalism: Theory and Practice (“liberal theories often serve as ideological cover for oppression of one group by others.”) and Against Liberalism and “François Furet, 20 ans après”

TV on the Radio – Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

TV on the RadioDesperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes Touch and Go tg254cd (2004)

A good album, though the presence of some filler (“King Eternal”, “Ambulance” and “Don’t Love You”) and the fact that “Staring at the Sun” isn’t a new song keep it from being a great one.  Still, if you cherry pick the best TV on the Radio songs from various releases up through at least  Dear Science you end up with some of the most interesting rock music of the day.

C.J. Polychroniou – Fraud

I have read a number of interviews and essays by C.J. Polychroniou.  Why to people keep publishing his drivel?  His ideas are naive, conclusory, and counter-factual.  He is one of those quaint anarchist-leaning fools whose ideas Lenin conclusively debunked over a century ago.  Why doesn’t Polychroniou just shut up, or crawl back under whatever bridge he lives under?

RYM Shitheads

Ever notice how the web site RateYourMusic is run by a bunch of shit-for-brains, bigoted assholes?  If not, well now you know.  They are a bunch of bigoted Liberals who engage in the most simple-minded discrimination against non-Liberal politics under the guise of multicultural, “politically correct” identity politics.  They also are full into the “Web 2.0” neoliberal exploitation regime, privatizing the collective and unpaid contributions of users — and the site doesn’t even make the user-contributed database “open source”, which would at least have been something (bearing in mind how inadequate that regime is), and likewise hasn’t sought non-profit status (again, bearing in mind the inadequacies of that corporate form).  Someday hopefully they all go to the gulag where they belong.  There was a time, when the site first started, when it had potential and was mostly a DIY user community, but it went off the rails, over time, and off a cliff once the site became corporatized.  A key turning point was when the site implemented regulations of the types of reviews it would permit, and began banning, deleting/unpublishing and — most egregiously — making unauthorized edits to — reviews posted to the site.  There regulations implemented simply didn’t pass muster and were really just attacks on certain disfavored viewpoints, combined with attempts to make the site appear to have more content reflective of commercial media (and hence, less DIY and more monetizable).  Then they eliminated one of the message boards, with only disingenuous explanations and circular logic.  All through this time they made a number of policy changes around things like “genre” tags designed to present the appearance of neutrality while pushing certain agendas.  What’s more, most of the early site administrators left to be replaced by a pack of sub-idiotic fools.  A cursory glance back at the site archives, to the extent they are still visible, shows citation standards for verifying information that would make scholars cringe, with precisely the same sort of crony culture that infects sites like Wikipedia.  Frankly, criminal prosecutors might use RYM as a test case for going after these Web 2.0 corporations that violate labor laws, because the site probably isn’t funded well enough to survive a legal challenge, thus allowing favorable precedent to develop that could later be used to go after the “big fish” of Silicon Valley and put those monsters behind bars where they belong.  In RYM’s case, they are probably also liable for copyright violations due to moderators editing reviews and posts (hence creating unauthorized derivative works).

Willie Nelson – The Hungry Years

The Hungry Years

Willie NelsonThe Hungry Years Sony Music Special Products A22354 (1991)

The Hungry Years — not to be confused with a budget-priced compilation album from the early 1980s by the same name — is one of the most obscure albums in Willie Nelson’s vast catalog.  The original sessions were in 1976 at Studio in the Country, located in between between Bogalusa and Varnado, Louisiana.  There were overdubs in 1978, then the tapes were shelved.  They were found in a deteriorated state in the late 1980s, restored, and then further overdubs were added in 1989 and 1991.  Amidst Willie’s troubles with the IRS, he negotiated the release of The I.R.S. Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, of which a significant portion of the sales were committed to his tax debt (which was mostly accumulated interest and penalties, actually).  The I.R.S. Tapes needed to to go multi-platinum in order to cover the tax debt, which was overly optimistic.  It was sold by mail via 1-800 telephone numbers, supported by TV ads.  Starting around June of 1991, The Hungry Years was offered to callers as an add-on.  It is not clear that The Hungry Years was ever advertised aside from being mentioned to people calling the 1-800 numbers seeking the I.R.S. Tapes album.  But The Television Group, the Austin, Texas company running the telemarketing, went into bankruptcy, and by February of 1992 the 1-800 numbers were shut down.  While The I.R.S. Tapes was eventually made available in regular stores, it does not appear that The Hungry Years was ever sold through conventional channels like brick-and-mortar music stores.  So that means this album was only ever commercially available for less than a year, and even then only through an obscure call-in mail-order program.  Some discographies neglect to even mention that it exists.

The sound of the album falls somewhere between Sings Kristofferson and To Lefty From Willie.  The songs draw from the likes of Neil Sedaka and Paul Anka.  These were respected songwriters at the time, and even Elvis covered Anka’s “Solitaire” around this time.  Their songs have not aged all that well, though, because they fit too comfortably into the mold of being laments of the white patriarch dealing with having to be an “individual” after second-wave feminism and the decline of trade unionism.  Overall, there are a few too many little curlicues and other ornate features added to the music here.  It might be the overdub sessions — not one, not two, but three — spread out over 15 years that contribute to that, but Willie’s own contributions are partly to blame as well.  His vocals are a little overwrought sometimes, with too much vibrato and too often forced into the upper register of his vocal range.  Though even guest Emmylou Harris does the same on one song (“When I Stop Dreaming“).  He does add some interesting guitar solos on Trigger.  His sister Bobbie gets a good amount of time in the spotlight, which is nice.

There are all sorts of good bits on this album.  The biggest problem is that those good bits don’t ever come together in any unified and coherent way.  They just float around among more dubious elements and arrangements that are a bit off.  For instance, the 1989 overdubs add a horn section — one of the only times one of Willie’s album tried to recreate the style of Shotgun Willie.  But Shotgun Willie had horn arrangements in a classic soul style.  These are merely passable approximations.  The most sympathetic performance is probably the last song, “Carefree Moments.”  But the song itself is not particularly well-written, and a good performance can’t remedy that problem.  So this album always threatens to be really good, but seems to consistently fall short.

This rare album is no lost classic.  Yet considering the sorry state of so many of Willie’s albums from the 1980s and early 90s, this was certainly better by comparison.

Get Right With God: Hot Gospel

Get Right With God: Hot Gospel

Various ArtistsGet Right With God: Hot Gospel Heritage HT CD 01 (1988)

A great set of gospel from its glory days, drawing from the previous collections Get Right With God: Hot Gospel (1947-1953) and Get Right With God: Hot Gospel (Volume 2).  This is all high-energy, up-tempo stuff that rightly deserves the subtitle “hot gospel”.  The slightly crazed vocals, the imagery of fistfights with the devil, the tracts against moonshine, testimonies to the virtues of FDR, it all could probably never be duplicated.  And I say that knowing full well the paltry chance anyone would even try, ever.  There are a few well-known names represented here, like The Five Blind Boy of Mississippi, but mostly these are fairly obscure artists.  Nonetheless, this makes a great introduction to the genre.  There is a significant overlap with the longer and later-released set Gospel – The Ultimate Collection, which also looks pretty good on paper (though I haven’t heard that one).  If one track here stands out from the others, I would have to say it’s “I’m Going to that City” by Sister O.M. Terrell, which can give any delta blues track a run for its money.