Adam Shatz is a Contributing Editor at the London Review of Books. (June 2019)

Follow Adam Shatz on Twitter: @adamshatz.


The Apostle of Now-ness

Don Cherry at the Amougies Festival, Belgium, 1969

Studio 105, Paris 1967

an album by the Don Cherry Trio

Home Boy, Sister Out

an album by Don Cherry
In 1978 the trumpeter Don Cherry was asked about his music in a documentary for Swedish television. “Well, for one thing,” he replied, “it’s actually not my music, because it’s a culmination of different experiences, different cultures, and different composers that involves the music that we play together.” This was …

The Mythologies of R.B.

Roland Barthes

Barthes: A Biography

by Tiphaine Samoyault, translated from the French by Andrew Brown

The Friendship of Roland Barthes

by Philippe Sollers, translated from the French by Andrew Brown
In 1978, Roland Barthes embarked on a series of lectures entitled “Preparation of the Novel” at the Collège de France. The novel? Which novel? The one that Barthes had long planned to write, of course. But he didn’t know quite how to begin, and he kept getting distracted. As Laurent …

Bad Boy from Buffalo

Julius Eastman, Buffalo, New York, 1972

Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music

edited by Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach

Unjust Malaise

an album by Julius Eastman
On a cold winter day in 1989, Julius Eastman huddled in a group of homeless men outside Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, warming his hands by an oil-drum fire, when a reporter from Newsday approached him. The day before, a young female doctor, five months pregnant, had been raped and murdered …

Silence Bigger Than a Table

Wadada Leo Smith at the Montreal Jazz Festival, July 2016

Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk

an album by Wadada Leo Smith
Some artists start out with a bang, others with barely a whisper. The trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, one of the most influential figures of the postwar black musical avant-garde, could not have begun his career more quietly. In 1972, Smith, then a thirty-one-year-old musician living in New Haven, …


Driss Chraïbi & the Novel Morocco Had to Ban

A father with his sons at home, Fez, Morocco, 1932

Laila Lalami, a Moroccan American novelist who grew up in Rabat, has praised Chraïbi as “the first writer I read as a child who created Moroccan characters that were believable.” But they were perhaps all too believable, and certainly too troubling, when The Simple Past (Le Passé simple) was published in 1954. Some Moroccan readers claimed that Chraïbi’s portrait of Moroccan traditional society was consumed by self-hatred, even a betrayal of the independence struggle. The novel was banned in Morocco until 1977. 

Capturing the Ephemeral Beauty of Improvisation

Tyshawn Sorey and Marilyn Crispell

The drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey has a lovely phrase to describe the practice of improvisation: “the adornment of time.” It’s the title of his gorgeous new album with the pianist Marilyn Crispell, recorded live in the fall of 2018 during Sorey’s residency at The Kitchen, a performance space in Chelsea. The music begins in near silence, punctuated at first by what sounds like knocking, or maybe hammering. It’s followed by thudding noises, strokes of a piano’s strings, a drum roll so subtle it might be an aural illusion, a crash of cymbals, the tapping of a glockenspiel, the pattering of piano keys. Over the next hour—there’s only one track—the collaboration’s architecture comes into radiant focus, gradually acquiring such physical power that you feel a kind of shock, and even sorrow, when it ends.

‘Orientalism,’ Then and Now

Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Snake Charmer, 1870

The Orientalism of today, both in its sensibility and in its manner of production, is not quite the same as the Orientalism Edward Said discussed forty years ago. 
The hard edge of today’s Orientalism targets the fragile fabric of domestic politics, the very possibility of coexistence, particularly in Europe and the US. The Western self, produced by this contemporary Orientalism, is not a liberal who measures his or her freedom or reason by the absence, or weakness, of those concepts in the East. Instead, he is an aggrieved, besieged white man standing his ground, with his finger on the trigger, against the barbarians who have made it through the gates. He is not Lawrence of Arabia, or even the Quiet American; he is Dirty Harry.

Rapping with Fanon

Performers with portraits of Ahmed Sekou-Toure, Leader of the Democratic Party of Guinea, Pan-African Festival, Algiers, 1969

Rocé’s anthology album carries more than a whiff of radical chic nostalgia, which he does little to conceal when he describes the 1960s and 1970s as “an epoch of struggles, of possibility.” Yet Par les damné.e.s de la terre is an unexpectedly moving document, not only because it presents an extraordinary archive of recordings, but also because it illuminates the radical hopes that Frantz Fanon’s ideas had once inspired. It is a powerful reminder of what that world sounded like.