Notebook

At the beginning of December I took a trip to New York, and saw Berthold Viertel. I got home just as war was declared with Japan. Of course, our group was wildly excited – which surprised me, in a way, because I had seen it coming so long, and anyway I could never relive the days of August and September 1939. Then came news that San Francisco had been bombed: a journalistic rumour. A stout belligerent woman in the Haverford drugstore opined, “Well – I guess we can take it.”

Christopher Isherwood, “Diaries, Volume 1: 1939-1960”.

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Barbara remembered

From my albums of the year list: classical pianist Alexandre Tharaud’s ethereal homage to the singer-pianist known simply as Barbara. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of her death. Hindi Zahra, Rokia Traoré, Jane Birkin, Vanessa Paradis and Juliette Binoche are among the guests.

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Notebook

The temperature that night was -75.8 degrees, and I will not pretend it did not convince me that Dante was right when he placed the circles of ice below the circles of fire. Still we slept sometimes, and always lay for seven hours. Again and again Bill asked us how about going back, and always we said no. Yet there was nothing I should have liked better; I was quite sure that to dream of Cape Crozier was the wildest lunacy. That day we had advanced 1 1/2 miles by the utmost labour, and the usual relay work. This was quite a good march…

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, “The Worst Journey in the World”.

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The best world & roots albums of 2017

Close harmonies from Alabama, folk songs from Réunion and the rest of my choices in today’s Sunday Times. Full details here.

1 THE SECRET SISTERS: You Don’t Own Me Anymore (New West)

2 DANYEL WARO: Monmon (Buda Musique)

3 ALEXANDRE THARAUD: Barbara (Erato)

4 ELIDA ALMEIDA: Kebrada (Lusafrica)

5. THE EMILY ASKEW BAND: Alchemy (emilyaskewband.co.uk)

6. BABA ZULA: XX (Glitterbeat)

7. DECOSTA BOYCE: Electrick Soul (Vintedge Records)

8. MEKLIT: When the People Move, The Music Moves Too (Six Degrees)

9. DIPPER MALKIN: Tricks of the Trade (dippermalkin.com)

10. TUBULAR BRASS: Tubular Bells (TBR)

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Kind of blue

blue river 2

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The best jazz albums of 2017

A quirky journey back to the summer of love takes pride of place in my list in today’s Sunday Times. Full details here.

1 DJANGO BATES & FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND
Saluting Sgt Pepper
Edition

2 DAVID REES-WILLIAMS TRIO
Classically Reminded: Bach
Champs Hill

3 YOUN SUN NAH
She Moves On
ACT

4 PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND
So It Is
Legacy

5 DAYME AROCENA
Cubafonia
Brownswood

6 LEO RICHARDSON QUARTET
The Chase
Ubuntu Music

7 ILLINOIS JACQUET
The Illinois Jacquet Collection
Acrobat

8 STACEY KENT
I Know I Dream
Sony

9 MULATU ASTATKE
Mulatu of Ethiopia
Strut

10 THE HOT 8 BRASS BAND
On the Spot
Tru Thoughts

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The resistance, Islington 

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The champ

ali my book revIn The Times, my review of Jonathan Eig’s compelling, thoroughly researched biography of Muhammad Ali. Definitely a candidate for sports book of the year.

An American journalist whose previous books include a study of the black baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, Eig guides us through the many improbable twists and turns. He doesn’t give us the vivid prose of The Fight, Norman Mailer’s account of the Foreman bout, and there isn’t the sense of intimacy to be found in George Plimpton’s encounters with The Greatest in his classic collection, Shadow Box. But Eig’s book is a crisper read that Thomas Hauser’s conscientious oral biography of 1991, even though it is roughly the same length. Above all, it delivers a portrait of a hero that does not ignore his all too human flaws. Along the way, Eig suggests that Ali may have suffered cognitive damage as early as the first of his three bludgeoning bouts against Frazier. The challenger’s ringside doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, claims that he saw the warning signs after that defeat and advised him to retire. Why did Ali refuse? Pride and ego are sufficient reasons. But Pacheco adds another: “There is no f***ing cure to quick money.”

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A new voice

Meeting Elida Almeida was one of the highlights of my trip to Cape Verde earlier this year. You can hear more from her on “Kebrada”, my world music album of the week in the Sunday Times.

 

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