Things from the UK that I’m enjoying

And I mean besides the stalwarts of rain, irony and mushrooms for breakfast, all of which I got to sample briefly on a work trip last week.

A recent discovery is Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson. The setting of a future Europe that has splintered into numerous microstates has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, even though it was published well before Scotland’s close-call referendum on independence. Technology plans almost no role in this imagined future, most of the thinking is about political and social changes and their consequences–a surprisingly rare strategy for any author, genre or otherwise. The book was highly recommended by Adam Roberts, himself a British author of no mean chops, and I did quite enjoy it–the best parts are almost like an Alan-Furst-for-the-2030s in the way they give you a view from the social and geographic margins of Europe. The plot of last third or so of the book rather falls apart, which for me keeps it from being the kind of masterpiece that Roberts calls it, but on the whole it’s both fun and thought-provoking. Previous British entries in this smallish category of “political science fiction” include Ken MacLeod’s excellent Fall Revolution series.

Under the more capacious category of obscure 1960s jazz, we have the UK reissue this year of Dejeuner sur l’herbe, a 1968 album by The New Jazz Orchestra. Neil Ardley is the man behind it, and no, I had never heard of him or most of the British players on this album before either. The rapturous comments on the Amazon.co.uk site call this one of the best jazz albums ever, which it probably is for a certain generation of British jazz listener. I haven’t listened to it enough yet to make that call, but already it is clear that it is in fact very good, and very reminiscent of the great Gil Evans albums of the 1960s. It’s a good reminder that there was some interesting stuff happening in the UK jazz scene back then. In particular I’m a great fan of Joe Harriott, who recorded some lively albums in the idiom of Ornette Coleman, and also some of the first and best attempts to meld jazz with Indian classical music.

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