Monday, April 14. 2014
Music: Current count 23165  rated (+74), 557  unrated (-24).
Very productive week with most of the newly rated records found while trolling Rhapsody for Penguin 4-star recommendations, but a big chunk of the newly rated records -- half, I would guess -- were bookkeeping corrections I discovered while scrounging through database files looking for answers to the Downbeat critics poll. The Penguin Guide search got as far as G (more precisely, pianist Michael Garrick; the Tambastics record was listed under Robert Dick), so I expect there will be more of that in the future.
The Penguin Guide search generated nine A-list albums. I've been showing album covers for all the A and A- records listed in Music Week, but last week I had to arrange them in two columns to get them to fit, and this week would have required a hideous three columns (or me writing a lot more than I feel up to), so I cut the show down to three -- I expect that will be a limit going forward. The other idea I considered was to skip the bullet list and go ahead and post my review/notes weekly as part of Music Week. I certainly have enough material to post right now, but rather doubt that I will indefinitely into the future. So what I finally decided is to post my second April Rhapsody Streamnotes tomorrow (or soon after), and keep doing these abbreviated lists on Mondays.
Two big things chewed up my time this past week: 1) voting in Downbeat's Critics Poll, which involved answering 50-some questions about who or what is the best in the known universe; and 2) writing up responses to a number of questions Scott Woods posed for an interview at rockcritics.com. Both are honors, and perhaps most importantly, they put the ball in my court, which matters because I do much better at responding to pressure than setting out on my own projects. In essence, all this music reviewing after I said I would if not stop at least slow down is my way of procrastinating.
While unpacking is up this week, I'm noticing more and more records (in places like Downbeat and Jazz Times) that would previously have received but didn't get. Felt, well, ambivalent about that.
The Downbeat poll notes, by the way, are in the usual place. I should go back over them, round them out, write an intro, and post that sometime, but they're there in case I don't.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 13. 2014
Crowson this week, following up on the Kansas legislature's emergency school spending bill, which stripped schoolteachers of the right to a hearing if terminated:
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, April 7. 2014
Music: Current count 23091  rated (+46), 581  unrated (-13).
Big rated count, which usually means a lot of Rhapsody -- partly to fill up last week's post, partly post-post momentum, but I also took a big bite out of the new jazz backlog. And long as the lists below are, they don't quite add up to the rated total, which benefited from finding several bookkeeping errors. Still, none of the pictured (A-) albums on the side came after the Streamnotes post: could be evidence that I was successful in scooping up the best leads before the post. I've been leaning on my tracking file since then, but it's nowhere near as systematic as last year's metacritic file was.
Unrated count dropped because the mail dried up. This is probably temporary -- I got three packages today that I haven't entered yet, so next week is already guaranteed to bounce back -- but two records is probably the fewest I've received in ten years, and if you count things I bought I have no idea how far back you'd have to go -- forty years? Something like that.
Don't have anything more to say, so looks like I'll have to stack the covers double-wide.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 6. 2014
After yesterday's post on Kansas Republicans' latest attack on the environment, and the federal government's pathetic effort to protect it (Exterminating Prairie Chickens) I thought of another point I could have tacked onto the end. Most people think Kansas Republicans are a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, but the Kochs suffered a dramatic setback in the House a couple weeks ago when their campaign to end subsidies for wind power was voted down. Aside from certain shorelines, Kansas is probably the windiest state in the union -- constantly battered by front moving in from the north and the south, both deflected by westerlies which pick up speed (and warmth) descending from the Rocky Mountains. And Kansas has a lot of grazing land, so many landowners have taken advantage of various tax shelters and subsidies and installed "wind farms." The Kochs don't like this because they're in the oil business, and wind power competes with them. Of course, that's not how their propaganda arm -- the sorely misnamed Americans for Prosperity -- puts it. The party line is: government shouldn't pick winners and losers. That's the market's job, especially since the market doesn't charge oil and gas producers for externalities like pollution and global warming. If oil companies had to pay the full bill for their wares, wind power wouldn't need those subsidies to compete.
Of course, the Kansas House members don't understand externalities any more than they understand global warming, biodiversity, or the need for a competent school system. It's just that it's easier to satisfy the landowners and businesses that profit from wind subsidies, and they know good and well the oilmen will get their breaks too. Still, I have to wonder whether the windmills didn't have a secret selling point: they kill birds -- thousands every year. Maybe windmills are a secret weapon in the GOP's jihad against avian freeloaders?
Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon this takes on the Kansas state legislature's growing sense of omnipotence as they seek to nullify both federal and local laws, aggregating all power to themselves:
The little dog in the lower right corner is a regular feature of Crowson's cartoons. If its quote seems obscure, the endangered bird is technically known as the lesser prairie chicken. Meanwhile, the legislature continues to make news. The courts have ordered the state to come up with $120 million in extra education funding to make up for gross inequities in school funding, so the Republicans are begrudgingly offering a bill, trying to make it as hideous as possible. One clause denies teachers the right to a hearing on dismissal, inviting flagrant abuses of power by administrators. Another offers property tax relief to parents who undermine the public school system by home schooling or sending their children to private schools. (But, alas, not for those of us with no grade school children.)
The requirement for equitable school funding is written into the state constitution. Many Republicans would rather repeal that plank than cough up the money. [Also, it now appears that the House killed the Senate's education bill, so back to the drawing board.] [UPDATE: The bill was revived and passed both houses. They kept the plank that denies due process hearings when teachers are fired -- the teachers unions have vowed to take that to court, but one way or another it's an additional burden for teachers, and an invitation for administrators to abuse their power. The property tax breaks seemed to have died, but new tax breaks for corporations were added.]
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, April 5. 2014
For a couple decades now, it hasn't been unusual to hear right-wingers gripe about the Endangered Species Act, which gives the federal government some latitude in identifying species that are in danger of extinction and taking measures to prevent that from happening. Still, most complaints have been mere noise: rather than attack the principle of saving endangered species, they look for loopholes -- some way to clearcut a forest, say, without noting that the last remaining spotted owls live there. However, the rhetoric has escalated recently here in Kansas, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach is pushing a bill to expedite the extermination of prairie chickens (see Kobach urges tough Kansas bill on prairie chickens), going so far as to make it felony for the federal government to try to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA) anywhere in the state of Kansas. Moreover, other state senators (all Republicans) are trying to expand Kobach's bill to exempt another 70 endangered species, including whooping cranes, from ESA protection (see Wildlife, conservation bills stir strong feelings in Kansas).
The ESA law was laudably idealistic when it was passed in 1973, but it also came too late for many dozens of species that vanished since Europeans first settled in North America -- not to mention the many more species that became extinct after the first people arrived in North America some 10,000 years ago. The initial popularity of the law was probably based on several naive sentiments, like the assumption that its implementation wouldn't be much burden -- and for most people it really hasn't. Its opponents are shortsighted landowners who host or border endangered populations, and have designs to use that land in ways that destroy habitat needed for the survival of those species. Such people (or more often corporations) are few and far between, but they smell money to be made so they make a stink about it, enough noise to capture the allegiance of greedy right-wingers like Kobach. Deep down, they believe that owning a property should give them an unlimited right not just to exploit it for personal profit, but to destroy anything on that land that stands in their way. Moreover, they do not believe that the public has any rights or business limiting what they do with their property. Such ideas would be laughable -- laws have long placed limits on usage (zoning) and enforced liabilities (e.g., on externalities like pollution) -- but the right wing's ideological drive has been toward ever greater business "freedom" (a term which more and more means a lack of restraint and responsibility).
Kobach's statute, like most of what he proposes, is almost certainly unconstitutional in that it seeks to use state law to nullify federal law -- the only reason for waffling at all is that the current US Supreme Court has become so political that a majority recently ruled that the rich have a "free speech" right to bribe politicians. One thing you can be sure of is that Kobach follows no underlying legal or philosophical principle: figuring that the state government of Kansas, with deranged governor Sam Brownback and three-quarter Republican majorities, recently purged of nearly all "moderates," is his ideal power base, Kobach has supported laws both to nullify federal gun controls and to prevent any local Kansas towns or counties from passing their own gun control laws. The working principle for conservatives these days is to use any formula that gets them their desired ends: stacking the courts, rigging elections, flooding elections with special-interest money, or just dispensing with them altogether (e.g., some Republicans recently introduced a bill to make it illegal for certain Kansas counties to vote on allowing casino gambling).
You'd think such unscrupulous contempt for democracy would be met with a hysterical reaction, but thus far no affront has done the trick. If people really understood the consequences of giving Republicans the sort of unlimited power they enjoy in Kansas, the results would be catastrophic even way beyond the precedent set by G.W. Bush. But one might still cling to the hope that bad policies are still reversible: things may get awful for a while, but eventually the pendulum swings back. Extinction, on the other hand, is irreversible, which is one reason this attack on the Endangered Species Act seems so brazen, so terrifying, and so thoughtless.
By the way, on biodiversity, see E.O. Wilson: The Diversity of Life (1992, Harvard University Press). Wilson goes to great lengths to stress the economic value of biodiversity -- more so than I think is necessary (or even desirable), as I've found that I value the existence of most life forms even if I never interact with them: at the very least they enrich my understanding of the world, and that's one of the things I treasure in life.
To put the Endangered Species Act into a broader context, see David Quammen: The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction (paperback, 1997, Scribner). The new book by Elizabeth Kolbert: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014, Henry Holt) is probably also worthwhile.
Thursday, April 3. 2014
Another whopper, with 73 new records, 21 old ones -- neither anywhere near a record (November 30, 2013 had 100 new and 85 old, and I'm not sure that's it, but that's good enough for my point). Since I don't have any fixed time schedule -- perhaps a slight bias toward at least one per month and the option of more -- I'm inclined to run Streamnotes more often with fewer records. This is actually just 15 days since the March 19 column, but since I folded Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods into here I'm not writing anything else on music: it's all here. Works out to a bit more than six per day. I've worked that sort of grind for a long time. Thought it might be winding down, but I still spend most of my time listening, and most working at the computer, so jotting these notes down isn't a lot of extra work -- it even has a sort of mechanical pleasure to itself.
Thirty-four of the seventy-three new records came from CDs (or CDRs), what's left of my dwindling new jazz queue. Three of those made the A-list: Mike DiRubbo, Allen Lowe, Eric Revis -- not big names but Lowe and Revis have had A- records before, and DiRubbo has always made a strong impression -- and something called Free Nelson Mandoomjazz (a total unknown to me, probably you too). So about half of this is Jazz Prospecting, and about half (maybe as much as two-thirds) of that is stuff I wouldn't have bothered with had it not appeared in my mailbox. A couple more came from download links I got from publicists -- presumably I could burn them if I ever figured out how -- but realistically I doubt if I follow up more than 15% of the links I get. (Actually, only two below, but I had six last time.) The other eight jazz records below I got from Rhapsody (Akinmusire, Kent, Kühn, Rainey, Reeves, Rodriguez, Rosene, Russell -- all artists with enough track record to catch my attention), and they netted three A- finds, and two B- busts.
That leaves thirty non-jazz records, which break down roughly: singer-songwriter (5), other rock (9: a mix of alt, punk, pop, and hybrids thereof), rap (3), r&b (3), electronica (4), world (2), blues (1), and Leon Russell (a singer-songwriter with an album that would mark anyone else as an interpretive jazz singer, but doesn't quite merit that label). Probably a typical mix, although most months would have some country and folkie/Americana fringe. I've been following my own nose and what little guidance I could find (and trust, at least a little). I went after Russell, by the way, after a letter writer reminded me I used to like him -- actually, the letter writer was ragging on Christgau, who never liked Russell much. Most useful has been Jason Gubbels, who tabbed the two most far-afield surprises here (Big Ups, Company Freak; he also got to press first on Jon Langford, but my review was already written).
I didn't have the benefit of editing Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary this month, but it's up now at Odyshape. First impression: he likes Withered Hand and Drive-By Truckers a lot more than I do; Dance Mania and St. Vincent a little more; Pharrell Williams and Sisyphus much less. I need to track down Kool and Kass (shouldn't be much trouble, but the compilations will be harder both to find and get enough doc on to review -- as a rule of thumb, Soul Jazz always provides excellent doc, and Rough Guide rarely does, although their compilers usually have good ears).
As for the "old music" section, that's gotten to be very random. The Vijay Iyer records I noticed after reviewing his new one last time. I also got the impression that Rhapsody had quite a few Stomp Off records -- turns out the percentage is small -- so went on a hunt for ones I missed. I happen to be one of the few jazz critics who really loves trad jazz -- the Penguin Guide compilers are also so inclined, with a soft spot for the Brits -- so nearly everything I heard sounded superb. I wondered afterwords if I had gone overboard -- six A- records this month -- but thinking back I couldn't decide where to trim the curve back. If you don't share that quirk in my taste, none of them are likely to convert you, but I can't help you beyond that.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 19. Past reviews and more information are available here (4617 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Jaime Affoumado/Alex Blake/Arturo O'Farrill/Bill Ware: The Puppeteers (2013 , Puppet's): Drums-bass-piano-vibes, the artists listed alphabetically although the group is more evenly balanced, with Blake and Ware the lead writers (3 tunes each), but one each for the other two, and a cover from Papo Vasquez. Latin tinge isn't surprising from the first three, but Ware keeps pace and arguably leads -- a fast pace indeed. B+(**) [cd]
Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (2014, Blue Note): Trumpet player, from Oakland, third album. Glancing around my pad, I see his face on the cover of Downbeat, and as the record descends into its third awful guest vocal I'm reminded how in the early days of JCG I'd pick featured duds and almost invariably find those artists on the Downbeat cover. The best I can say is that some of the trumpet runs are poignant, as is the keyb piece with a child reciting names of the young and dead, e.g. Trayvon Martin, and when saxophonist Walter Smith III finally gets a chance to play (last track) he makes something of the opportunity. B-
Mike Bardash Quintet: Polygon (2013 , Rhombus): Pianist, has at least one previous album, leads what is basically a hard bop quintet -- even the album cover looks like it was salvaged from Blue Note in the 1960s. B+(*) [cd]
The Baseball Project: 3rd (2014, Yep Roc): Way back when I thought Steve Wynn had the right voice and feel for Americana, but the songs came hard until he tapped into this bottomless well of stories, names and numbers -- "Stats" just recites a few iconic ones, most of which I can still map. Most of the names here signify for me, (even if "13" wasn't self-evident), and I felt nostalgia for the line, "every summer every day the box scores keep me sane." Still, it's been twenty years since I read them every day -- I got past them, and will this too. B+(***)
Big Ups: Eighteen Hours of Static (2014, Tough Love/Dead Labour): Post-hardcore group debut, a short LP at 27:35, but the eleven tracks don't feel cramped or rushed. Bass leads the guitar, vocals are spoken or shouted, but coherent and thoughtful even -- e.g., the wish for justice. A-
Aloe Blacc: Lift Your Spirit (2013 , XIX/Interscope): Laura thought he sounded a bit like Bill Withers, but that was only a first approximation. He sounds more ragged to me, which in a younger man means he's probably not as talented. B+(*)
Blaqstarr: The Blaq-Files (2002-06) (2002-06 , Jeffree's/Mad Decent, EP): Baltimore DJ Charles Smith, has a stack of EPs including one that impressed me in 2011 (Divine), better known for working with M.I.A. Four cuts, 13:24, assuming the dates are correct from his late-teen years. B+(*)
The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014, Suicide Squeeze): Three women from Atlanta, good enough for a punk trio. B+(**)
Company Freak: Le Disco Social (2014, Opus Label): Disco, not just retro but a straight shot back to 1978 give or take a Chic twerk, aside from an occasional lyric like "keep the people dumb, and the terrorists have won" -- not that they mind dumb music, as long as you can dance to it. A-
Mike DiRubbo: Threshold (2013 , Ksanti): Alto saxophonist, eighth album since 1999, most on mainstream labels (Criss Cross, Sharp Nine, Posi-Tone, SteepleChase). Hard bop quintet, but sounds newer than a 1960s Blue Note throwback, with Brian Charette providing strong support on piano and Josh Evans hitting hot spots on trumpet. A- [cd]
Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans (2014, ATO): After 18 years, still a fine band with Southern drawls and a thick guitar sound. Still, on one play I'm not finding anything special, and searching is beginning to feel like work. B+(**)
Benjamin Duboc: St. James Infirmary (2013 , Improvising Beings): French bassist, has appeared in various free jazz groups since 2004 (plus an album back in 1997), goes solo here, with two 20+ minute tracks, fairly abstract despite the trad base of the title track. B+(*) [cd]
Rachel Eckroth: Let Go (2013 , Virgo Sun): Singer-songwriter, also plays piano and percussion. Has at least one previous album. Liner notes is a downloadable PDF file, so it takes a while to find out that virtually every song has a different lineup. They don't sound that different. She dares you to call her "eclectic." B [cd]
Colin Edwin/Lorenzo Feliciati: Twinscapes (2013 , RareNoise): Two bassists ("fretless and fretted") with rock backgrounds, Edwin from Porcupine Tree, Feliciati from Naked Truth and Berserk, add keybs, guitar, programming, and toys to their rhythms; also guest spots for David Jackson (sax), Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet), Andi Pupato (percussion, from Nik Bärtsch's Ronin), and Roberto Gualdi (drums, from PFM). B+(***) [cdr]
Scott Feiner & Pandeiro Jazz: A View From Below (2013 , self-released): Percussionist, plays pandeiro, a hand frame drum popular in Brazilian music. Fourth album since his debut, Pandeiro Jazz, in 2006, rounded out with Guilherme Monteiro on guitar and Rafael Vernet on electric piano, for a fairly typical Brazilian sound. B [cd]
Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: The Shape of Doomjazz to Come/Saxophone Giganticus (2013 , RareNoise): Sax trio from Scotland: Rebecca Sneddon on alto sax, Colin Stewart on electric bass, and Paul Archibald on drums. First album, designed as two EPs on one CD, the pieces built on deep fuzzy bass riffs with the sax cutting or wailing, closer to free than doom metal but resonates with that overtone. A- [cdr]
Erik Friedlander: Nighthawks (2013 , Skipstone): Cellist, fifteen-plus albums since 1995, gets a tight string groove going with Doug Wamble on guitar and Trevor Dunn on bass and won't let go. With Michael Sarin on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Griesgraber/Bert Lams: Unnamed Lands (2013 , self-released): Sounds like a guitar duo, but Griesgraber's instrument is a Chapman stick -- more strings, tapped rather than plucked or strummed. B+(*) [cd]
Hamell on Trial: The Happiest Man in the World (2014, New West): A guy with a guitar, a sense of humor, and more prominently a sense of indignation, often directed at the right targets but not always to much effect. B+(**)
Tim Hegarty: Tribute (2013 , Miles High): Tenor saxophonist, first album, a "'tribute' to my teachers," a list which starts with a 13-year-old Hegarty studying under Frank Foster. Two originals, the rest pieces by saxophonists (plus Monk) coming out of the 1950s, especially Jimmy Heath (4 pieces). Mark Sherman's vibes are a nice touch, and Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, and Carl Allen are superb. B+(***) [cd]
Lisa Hilton: Kaleidoscope (2013 , Ruby Slippers): Pianist, seventeenth album since 1997, started out as sort of a cocktail bar stylist, but has lately turned more ambitious. J.D. Allen joins in on tenor sax here and there and is always a plus but you don't miss him much when the piano leads. B+(**) [cd]
The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams (2014, Razor & Tie/Washington Square): Hard to tell in two plays whether a new record by a band with such a consistent sound is a typically good one or one of their best, especially without following with a lyric sheet -- when the sound is so consistent, that's where you have to go for fine evaluations. But phrase after phrase seems right, so my initial judgment is this album has nowhere to go but up. A-
Hutchinson Andrew Trio: Prairie Modern (2012 , Chronograph): Canadian piano trio, pianist Chris Andrew the main writer, with bassist Kodi Hutchinson collaborating on two pieces, and Karl Schwonik playing drums. Crisp and clean, well above average, but what grabs your attention is the guest saxophonist on six cuts: he plays like Donny McCaslin, for good reason. B+(***) [cd]
International Orange: International Orange (2013 , self-released): Debut album from David Phelps' guitar trio, with Gaku Takanashi on bass and Todd Isler on drums. Wouldn't call it a groove album but it moves along smartly, everyone contributing. One oddity: my copy has the same songs but different order from the one available on bandcamp. My copy is in a brown sleeve with a bit of orange on the cover. Don't know whether that's low budget finished product or promo. B+(***) [cd]
Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra: Habitat (2013 , Justin Time): Canadian saxophonist (credited with soprano here, but photographed with alto on her website), younger sister of trumpet player Ingrid Jensen, also in the 20-piece orchestra. This strikes me as a convergence into classical music, not so much a "third stream" project as a case of jazz musicians doing the same sort of intricate orchestrations as classical composers do -- not as annoying, though, probably because she eschewed the strings. B+(*) [cd]
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want (2014, Daptone): Throwback to, oh, Gladys Knight and the Pips, which isn't such a bad idea, even gives her a fairly clear niche, albeit a minor one. B+(*)
Matthew Kaminski: Swingin' on the New Hammond (2013 , Summit): Organ trio, with Dave Stryker on guitar and Justin Varnes on drums -- second album for Kaminski, and Stryker is well established, with a couple dozen albums going back to 1991. Nothing new, but it never quite seems to get old either. B+(*) [cd]
Stacey Kent: The Changing Lights (2013 , Warner Jazz): Jazz singer, from New Jersey but based in England, married to saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, who writes most of the original music (with lyrics by Kent or novelist Kazuo Ishiguro) and arranges the mix of standards (long on Jobim). She has a light, seductive voice, with songs in Portugese and French as well as English. B+(**)
Joachim Kühn/Alexey Kruglov: Duo Art: Moscow (2012 , ACT): Piano-alto sax duo. Kühn has a long discography going back to 1969 -- mostly prickly, intelligent small groups, his own strongest influence Ornette Coleman. Kruglov is a Russian alto sax player with 15 albums since 2002, and they push each other hard here. A-
Jon Langford: Skull Orchard Revisited (2011, Bloodshot): A new version of the Welsh-born, Mekons-bred, Chicago-based singer-songwriter's 1998 album Skull Orchard, backed by the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus -- who not only harmonize but can turn into a mob -- and packaged as a bonus stuck into a 96-page book. Of course, I don't have the book, but glancing through the 12-page sampler, and reading Christgau's review (June 17, 2011 -- oops, no link) make me wish I could. They help make up for what I missed from the original record, and while the chorus should soften the songs, they wind up beefing it up. A-
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Here Be Monsters (2014, In De Goot/Relativity): Second album Langford has used Skull Orchard as his band, the first 12 years after the album appeared with no common players, but same group here as the previous (minus a couple backing singers). The music is less commanding than on his All the Fame of Lofty Deeds or even the most recent Mekons album, but it's close enough, and what I've gathered from the lyrics -- including the atheistic "Don't Believe," the only song not attributed to Langford and band -- could interest me in a lyric sheet. A-
Mike Longo: Step On It (2013 , CAP): Pianist, studied with Oscar Peterson in 1961, played with Dizzy Gillespie 1966-73, has a couple dozen albums since 1972 including a big band project (The New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble). This one's a piano trio, his rhythm famous enough to get their names on the cover: Bob Cranshaw and Lewis Nash. One original, plus covers that include one from Diz, one from Kurt Weill, three from Wayne Shorter, and my fave, something called "Tico Tico." B+(***) [cd]
Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings: 1-4 (2012 , Constant Sorrow, 4CD): De trop, but I'm not sure you'd get a superior best-of if you reduced it to a single disc, and the rambling through the ramshackle past and random discoveries are much of the fun -- the booklet, an essential part of the experience, is already too abbreviated. Lowe's alternate title is "A Jew at Large in the Minstrel Diaspora" but that doesn't clarify much either, at least not as much as the intro story where Lowe is being hectored by Wynton Marsalis on minstrelsy and tries to counter that it's not so cut-and-dry. Indeed, it isn't, but rather than argue the point (as he's done in books like That Devilin' Tune), he just picks up a lot of the past and, aided by eighteen often-stellar musicians, slings it into the future, where it's even more peculiar. A- [cd, bc]
Romero Lubambo: Só: Brazilian Essence (2013 , Sunnyside): Brazilian guitarist, born in Rio de Janeiro but based in US. Has a dozen or more albums since 1990. Plays solo acoustic here, four of his own songs, four more by Jobim, ends with "Laura." B+(*) [cd]
Machine Mass [Tony Bianco/Michel Delville]: Inti (2012 , Moonjune): Drummer and guitarist, respectively, with both working in some electronics (Delville is credited with Roland GR09). They make an effective rhythm section, but the main interest here is Dave Liebman, listed as "featuring" on the cover. He mostly plays soprano sax. While I've often taken exception to that, much preferring his tenor sax, he really nails it this time. One cut adds a vocal by Saba Tewelde which we'd be better off without. B+(**) [cd]
Shawn Maxwell: Shawn Maxwell's Alliance (2013 , Chicago Sessions): Alto saxophonist, from Chicago, leads a 10-piece group with vibes and two French horns, but the one I find most annoying is the singer aping a horn -- something that almost never works. Take her away and the group occasionally navigates some tricky curves. B- [cd]
Aaron McEvers/M13: 1 Human, Too Human (2013 , Blujazz): Alto saxophonist, from Detroit, based in Chicago, his name appears on the spine but only M13 on the cover, his 13-piece band. B [cd]
Kristen Miranda: Double Time (2013 , self-released): Standards singer, first album, wrote one song here which sort of vanishes into the woodwork, but she adds something to great songs like "Where or When" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Joe Gilman plays piano, guitarist Steve Holman did much of the arranging, and the unknown horn players hit the right notes. B+(**) [cd]
The North: Slow Down (This Isn't the Mainland) (2013 , Dowsett): Piano trio: four originals by pianist Romain Collin (who has a couple albums under his own name), two by bassist Shawn Conley, none by drummer Abe Lagriman Jr., covers covers from Chick Corea, Christina Courtin, Thelonious Monk, and Bob Dylan. B+(*) [cd]
Itaru Oki: Chorul Zukan (2013 , Improvising Beings): Japanese trumpet/flugelhorn player (judging from the cover pics, looks like he's merged both horns into the same contraption), b. 1941 in Hyogo prefecture, moved to France 1974; AMG credits him with 8 albums, Discogs with 18. This is solo, although it sometimes sounds like his lines overlap. Fairly minimal at first, but grows on you. B+(***) [cd]
Phantogram: Voices (2014, Republic): New York electropop duo, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel -- guitar and keybs, both sing but mostly her -- second album. B+(*)
Yvonnick Prene & Padam Swing: Wonderful World (2014, self-released): Harmonica player, French (I think), backed by a Brooklyn quintet deep into Django Reinhardt -- Michael Valeanu is the guitarist, and Scott Tixier plays violin -- cover rather obvious standard fare, their tone sweet and lovely. B+(*) [bc]
Tom Rainey: Obbligato (2013 , Intakt): Drummer-led quintet, the names on the front cover as the stars they are: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (soprano sax), Kris Davis (piano), and Drew Gress (bass). The songs are all standards -- Ellington, Monk, and Brubeck from the jazz side of the street; plus Kern, Styne, and others lesser known -- so they have a wealth of melodic materials even when improvised beyond recognition. A-
Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo (2014, Top Dawg): Rapper, originally from Chattanooga before joining Black Hippy in California. Seems to have kept some of his Dirty South roots in the move, not that the newfound sunshine hurts. B+(***)
Dianne Reeves: Beautiful Life (2014, Concord Jazz): A fine singer, like Carmen McRae relying more on precise reading than jazz flair -- "Stormy Weather" is a good example here, but I'm not sure it's that good. A couple originals (one by producer-drummer Terri Lyne Carrington), some not-quite-standards (Stevie Nicks, Bob Marley, Ani DiFranco), most treated to a featured guest who rarely helps. B-
Dave Rempis/Lasse Marhaug: Naancore (2012 , Aerophonic): Both part of the Chicago-Oslo connection that made up Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, but this gives a much clearer case for Marhaug's electronics, which lean towards scratchy static and sheer noise. Rempis plays alto sax, and makes plenty of noise too. Most people will find this unbearable, but I chuckled most of the way through. [Released on LP only.] B+(**) [dl]
Dave Rempis/Darren Johnston/Larry Ochs: Spectral (2012 , Aerophonic): Three horns -- alto sax, trumpet, tenor/sopranino sax, respectively -- nothing else, so this is a little like Ken Vandermark's Sonore but the players complement rather than compete: keeps the volume in check, focusing attention on the interplay, which is quite remarkable. B+(***) [cd]
Eric Revis: In Memory of Things Yet Seen (2013 , Clean Feed): Bassist, mostly associated with Branford Marsalis but his own records have been more avant-oriented. However, this one could be diagnosed as schizo, most obviously in the sax matchup, with everyday postbopper Bill McHenry on tenor and avant-barnburner Darius Jones on alto (with Marsalis dropping in on a couple cuts). I go back and forth on Jones, and he's only occasionally in top form here, but I wound up seduced where I least expected it -- the quiet spot melodies, like part three of "The Tulpa Chronicles." A- [cdr]
Alfredo Rodriguez: The Invasion Parade (2014, Mack Avenue): Cuban pianist, moved to US in 2009, second album (as far as I can tell; one obstacle is that AMG attributes this album to an Alfredo Rodriguez who recorded long before this one was born: 1985). Jumpy rhythms and nice spots for the pianist and saxophonist Roman Filiu, although the vocals don't strike me as a plus. B+(*)
Noah Rosen/Alan Silva: O.I.L.: Orchestrated Improvised Lives (2013, Improvising Beings): Rosen's a pianist, cut a well-regarded trio album for Cadence in 2000 but has rarely been heard from since. Silva is normally a bassist, started recording in 1969 in something called The Celestial Communications Orchestra. His credit here is "orchestral synthesizer" so you can think of him as a one-man backing orchestra but he's more upfront like a duo partner. B+(***) [cd]
Barbara Rosene: Nice and Naughty (2013, Stomp Off): Cover adds "Sweet & Sassy Songs From the 1920's & 30's" -- the singer's specialty, double entendres backed by a prime trad jazz band (credits are scarce, but violin and clarinet are featured). Big problem is Rhapsody only has 6 (of 21) cuts. B+(**)
Catherine Russell: Bring It Back (2014, Jazz Village): Jazz singer, fifth album since 2006, a late starter at age 50 but her mother, Carline Ray, didn't drop her first album until shortly before she died at age 88. Older still was Russell's father Luis, 54 when he sired her, well past his prime when he lead the hottest jazz band in New York -- see Savoy Shout in JSP (1929-30) or The Luis Russell Story 1929-1934 on Retrieval. Dedicating this to her parents, Russell picks out old songs and works her way inside them, backed with piano and/or Matt Munisteri's swing guitar and retro horns like John Allred, Dan Block, and Jon-Erik Kellso. A-
Leon Russell: Life Journey (2014, Universal): I wonder why the Bard of Tulsa never enjoyed a "living legend" career phase like Dr. John. Their careers run parallel: outstanding pianists, idiosyncratic singers, studio legends, closet scholars. But Mac could always blend back into New Orleans, whereas Russell never let himself fit into any tradition -- even as Hank Wilson. And having hit the charts for the first time in 30 years with his Elton John joint, here he returns with a collection of standards -- think Stardust, then think again, as he tries to get by with prefab strings, or the Clayton-Hamilton big band. One original, a boogie called "Big Lips," suggests this could have turned out different. B-
Akira Sakata/Giovanni Di Domenico: Iruman (2012 , Mbari Musica): First time I've heard of either, but Japanese alto saxophonist Sakata has a discography going back to 1980, and the pianist from Rome has a handful of albums since 2010. This duo is hard to judge, a mix of avant and postbop moves, sketchy but enough to suggest these may be musicians worth looking out for. B+(*) [cd]
Marc Seales: American Songs Volume 2: Blues . . . and Jazz (2012 , Origin): Pianist, sometimes electric, based in Seattle, backed with bass, drums, and Fred Hamilton on guitar. The blues pieces are originals. The jazz was licensed from John Coltrane ("Giant Steps") and Wayne Shorter ("ESP"). B+(*) [cd]
Shakira: Shakira (2014, RCA): I'm more impressed by the Blake Shelton duet than the Rihanna, although no surprise that the latter is the lead video. Ends with two songs in Spanish, one I can even translate, and yes, I'm crazy for her too. A-
Kendra Shank & John Stowell: New York Conversations (2011-12 , TCB): Singer, sixth album since 1992, backed by one of the most tasteful guitarists around, just bare support for songs on the slow side; about half originals, half standards, with Woody Guthrie and Fred Hersch-Norma Winstone the outliers. B+(**) [cd]
Sisyphus: Sisyphus (2014, Asthmatic Kitty): Rapper Serengeti, electronic artist Son Lux, and singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, previously released an EP as s/s/s, go for LP length here (51:26). The raps are low-key, especially given the lushness of the music, which finally becomes most compelling on "Alcohol" -- the last track. B+(**)
Skrillex: Recess (2014, Owsla/Big Beat/Atlantic): I was suitably amused by Sonny Moore's first EP (Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites), but the charm soon wore off. Now on his first full album, his electronica has outgrown his early video game sound, adding untold complexity along with arena-sized echoes. B-
Adam Smale: Out of the Blue (2013 , self-released): Guitarist, from northern Ontario, released first album in 2000 -- not aware of any more. Quartet, with Mathew Fries on piano, Phil Palombi and Keith Hall. Nice groove with Montgomery touches. B+(*)
Speedy Ortiz: Real Hair (2014, Carpark, EP): Four tracks, 13:17 total, following last year's debut LP. The lead song, "American Humor," twists and turns more impressively than anything on the LP, but the filler adds little, not even bulk. B+(*)
Daniel Szabo/Peter Erskine/Edwin Livingston: A Song From There (2013 , self-released): Pianist, from Hungary, based in Los Angeles, has a couple albums, nice trio here. B+(*) [cd]
Tacocat: NVM (2014, Hardly Art): Seattle group, three girls and a male drummer, formally punk rushing through 13 songs in 27:47 but no reason to think they'd reject a pop hook -- they're just not going to hang much on it. B+(***)
Tensnake: Glow (2014, Astralwerks): German electronica producer Marco Niemerski, classified as neo-disco (or is it nu-disco?), but when he went to line up guests he started with Nile Rodgers, and his main singer, Fiora Cutler, got a piece of more than half the song credits. The updated cover comes from Holland-Dozier-Holland. B+(***)
Tokyo Police Club: Forcefield (2014, Mom + Pop Music): Snappy little rock group from Toronto, fourth (or fifth) album, enough that they're getting more skilled than their aesthetic calls for, but clever enough not to let that throw a wrench in the works. "Tunnel Vision" got them the third star (for little things, not "I just want to make it through one more night"). B+(***)
Caetano Veloso: Abraçaço (2014, Nonesuch): Major figure in Brazilian music from 1967 on, although I've found that when he slows down, presumably to let the lyrics flower, he gives up the rhythmic idiosyncrasy that I most relate to. This swings both ways, leaving me uncertain. B+(**)
Joe Louis Walker: Hornet's Nest (2014, Alligator): Bluesman, from the generation that defines macho by how much jam you can make jerking off your guitar. On the other hand, he's already done all one can do with that model, so the most interesting things here are the odd covers like "Don't Let Go" and "Soul City" (except when they aren't). B-
Dean Wareham: Dean Wareham (2014, Sonic Cathedral): Singer-songwriter behind Luna steps out with a more substantial effort than last year's Emancipated Hearts, easily recognized although there is a new fragility both in voice and sound. B+(***)
Dan Weiss: Fourteen (2012 , Pi): Drummer, has a handful of albums, many more side credits, often on tabla (but not here). Some impressive passages here -- e.g., Miles Okazaki's guitar climbing over Matt Mitchell's organ -- but the whole thing is spoiled for me by the choral pieces (5 of 7). B- [cd]
The Westerlies: Wish the Children Would Come on Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz (2013 , Songlines): The group is a New York-based brass quartet, two trumpets and two trombones, with Seattle roots. (Their 2012 eponymous debut lists a couple more names but no instrument credits.) Horvitz joins in on keyboards and electronics for sixteen of his pieces, some turned out avery nicely. B+(**) [cd]
Pharrell Williams: Girl (2014, Columbia): Hitmaker, to use Rhapsody's unusually apt genre tag, celebrates turning 40 by using his full name for the first time, after using his first name for a 2006 album, and Neptunes and N.E.R.D. further back, but his real calling has been as a producer. Not all hits, but he finds the sweet spot pretty often, most flamboyantly in "Happy." A-
Withered Hand: New Gods (2014, Slumberland): Dan Willson, singer-songwriter from Scotland, goes for a lighter, more pop sound here (as compared to 2011's Good News), although the last two songs shift gears. Just before that was the title song, which Rhapsody has trouble playing. B+(**)
YG: My Krazy Life (2014, Def Jam): Keenon Jackson, from Compton, initials stand for Young Gangsta -- an oxymoron because gangstas don't get old (certainly not morons on oxy) -- the cover graced by his mugshot, and looking resigned to the moment, perhaps wondering why if he's such a sharp thief he didn't cop better samples. B-
Old Music: Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Johnny Cash: Out Among the Stars (1981-84 , Columbia): Billy Sherrill produced these sessions then shelved the album, deeming it "too pop" -- as opposed to the swill he actually released? The songs are a mixed bag, but Cash sounds fine, June helps out twice, Waylon joins in on "I'm Movin' On" -- and there's a clarity to the sound that I've never heard on a Sherrill album. Thank John Carter Cash for that. B+(***)
Fieldwork: Your Life Flashes (2002, Pi): The first of three 2002-07 albums by Vijay Iyer's piano-sax-drums trio, with Aaron Stewart on tenor (later replaced by Steve Lehman) and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums. The rhythmic mayhem between Iyer and Kavee is remarkable, and while the sax doesn't stand out, it blends in. A-
John Gill's Dixieland Serenaders: Looking for a Little Bluebird (1994 , Stomp Off): Banjo, tuba, and drums for rhythm, Steve Pistorius on piano, Gill on trombone, Frank Powers on clarinet, and two first-rate trumpets (Chris Tyle and Duke Heitger), both a throwback to old Dixieland and a rousing extension of the San Francisco groups that resuscitated it in the 1940s, the sound polished up a notch. A-
John Gill's Dixieland Serenaders: Take Me to the Midnight Cakewalk Ball (1995 , Stomp Off): King Oliver via Lu Watters, New Orleans through San Francisco, "New Orleans Stomp" and "Yerba Buena Strut" -- nothing new, other than that Gill is singing more, his croon perfect for the era. A-
Vince Giordano's Nighthawks: Quality Shout! (1992-93 , Stomp Off): The leader, probably best known now for the Boardwalk Empire soundtracks, has the bottom covered, playing bass sax and string bass as well as tuba. Stock 1920s arrangements scaled up for an 11-piece group, including Peter Ecklund and Jon-Erik Kellso on the cornets. When "Sugarland Stomp" comes around, they sure play that thing. A-
Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 (1986-97 , Strut, 2CD): Two dozen dancebeat singles from a small label (Ray Barrey's Dance Mania) navigating the Chicago "acid house" scene, the beats rather mechanical and the fairly minimal lyrics (e.g., "feel my motherfucking bass in your face") even more so. B+(***)
Vijay Iyer: Memorophilia (1995, Asian Improv): An auspicious debut album, makes a huge impression trying to dazzle us in many ways -- one configuration with Steve Coleman; another with Francis Wong, George Lewis and a cellist name of Kash Killion; with more compact stretches of piano trio. B+(***)
Vijay Iyer: Architextures (1996 , Asian Improv): Early album but such ambition! Solo piano intro, then a mix of trio and octet tracks, with the piano solos rising to the complex level of the horn arrangements and Liberty Ellman's guitar. A-
Vijay Iyer: Panoptic Modes (2000 , Red Giant): Three trio tracks with Stephan Crump and Derrek Phillips, plus eight quartet tracks with Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto sax, the intensity level stratospheric: impressive, but somehow I don't quite get the hang of it. B+(***)
Vijay Iyer: Blood Sutra (2003, Artists House): Quartet again, with Tyshawn Sorey taking over at drums, tightening up the rhythm section, which helps bring alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa much more into the music, a very potent balance -- although the pianist is even more masterful. A-
Roscoe Mitchell & the Note Factory: Song for My Sister (2002, Pi): Large group, notably the double piano-bass-drums sections with Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, plus guitar, violin, viola, trumpet, clarinet, bassoon, and the leader playing his usual panoply of saxes, flute, recorders, and percussion. Mixed bag, including some slippery swing at the end. B+(**)
New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra: Blowin' Off Steam (1990, Stomp Off): Odd that there's so little info available on the net for this Penguin Guide 4-star album: cover pictures seven musicians, and the only credits I've found list saxophonist Eddie Bayard as the leader, with Jacques Gauthé, Bob Havens, John Gill, Hal Smith, Steve Pistorius, and "more." Classic stuff, the sound a bit subdued, the musicianship superb. B+(***)
Pam Pameijer's New Jazz Wizards: Remember Johnny Dodds, Vol. 1 (2002, Stomp Off): Dodds was the great clarinet player to come out of New Orleans in the 1920s, playing with King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and many others, including the original Jazz Wizards, a group led by Richard M. Jones, the inspiration for drummer Pameijer's septet. Matthias Seuffert handles the clarinet here, Jon-Erik Kellso the cornet, plus trombone, piano, banjo, tuba. A-
Pam Pameijer's New Jazz Wizards: Remember Johnny Dodds Vol. 2 (2002 , Stomp Off): More of the same, can't fault it and might even give this volume a slight edge. A-
Harry Reser: Banjo Crackerjax 1922-1930 (1922-30 , Yazoo): A banjo virtuoso from Ohio (1896-1965), outside the Appalachian folk tradition but not quite jazz either, probably no surprise that he had his greatest success leading a novelty group called The Clicquot Club Eskimos. These are small band pieces, rooted in ragtime, intricate but jaunty, not that I'd go so far as to say zany. B+(***)
Harry Reser: Harry Reser and the Clicquot Club Eskimos (1951 , Bauer): Clicquot Club was a brand of ginger ale, so Reser's group was initially an advertising gimmic: their radio program was on the air 1925-35, but this record is later, a return to formula with a more modern 15-piece studio and songs they hadn't recorded back in the day -- Stephen Foster medleys, dance tunes, "Digga Digga Do." B+(*)
Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Streets & Scenes of New Orleans (1993 , Good Time Jazz): First album by trumpeter Chris Tyle's New Orleans-based trad jazz band, with Jacques Gauthé on clarinet, Dave Sager on trombone, Tom Roberts on piano, and John Gill on drums and vocals (a couple). Some generic New Orleans titles, most more localized, like "Congo Square," "West End Blues," "South Rampart Street Parade." B+(***)
Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Jelly's Last Jam (1993, Good Time Jazz): A repertory band, Chris Tyle and company move on to Jelly Roll Morton, which puts pianist Tom Roberts in the hot seat. Nothing wrong with him, but this does pick up with the horns. B+(**)
Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Great Composers of New Orleans Jazz (1996 , Good Time Jazz): Fifteen tunes from 1916-30, mostly obscure ones even if you know who Albert Brunies and Wingy Manone and Nick LaRocca and Armand Pinon are -- the one from Louis Armstrong hadn't been recorded before. No piano this time, but the horns are celebrating. B+(***)
South Frisco Jazz Band: Got Everything (1989-91 , Stomp Off): The San Francisco connection to trad jazz was built in the 1940s by Lu Watters and Turk Murphy, and this group follows in their steps, although I gather that "South Frisco" actually signifies Los Angeles. Bob Helm (clarinet) and Leon Oakley (cornet) are among the better known names. B+(**)
Chris Tyle's Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Sugar Blues: A Tribute to Joseph "King" Oliver (1995, Stomp Off): An octet for the occasion, with John Gill doing most of the arranging for a headier sound, and Leon Oakley joining with Tyle for the two cornet front line. A-
Wednesday, April 2. 2014
Another batch of new book notes. Last one came out on February 11 and cleared out a backlog of 52 books -- more than my usual 40 limit. I imagine I can do these posts monthly or so, and indeed with my research unfinished, a little less than two months has filled this post (40 titles) and left me with 33 in the queue. Notably, that queue includes a few books that are either just out (Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt) or forthcoming (David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism [April 4]; Nomi Prins: All the President's Bankers [April 8]; Matt Taibbi: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap [April 8]; Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State [May 13]). Given the importance of those books, another column should be due soon.
Sasha Abramsky: The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives (2013, Nation Books): Fifty years after Michael Harrington's The Other America, we still live in a land of poverty and want -- even more so now than then, as the trendline is getting worse and the political will to do something about it has vanished. Mixed views on this book suggest that jumping between anecdotal description and broadside prescription doesn't reall handle either end, but the problem is real enough.
Bill Bryson: One Summer: America, 1927 (2013, Doubleday): Pick a year, any year. Bryson picked the one when Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, the Mississippi flooded, and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, among other things (e.g., "the four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression"). Good chance Bryson could turn any year into something vastly entertaining and deeply informative.
Ian Buruma: Year Zero: A History of 1945 (2013, Penguin Press): Every year things change a little, but an astonishing number of big things changed in 1945: the world war ended with Japan and Germany unconditionally defeated, the holocaust and the atom bomb were revealed, European colonial control over Europe and Asia had been undermined (but it would take some years to fully fracture), the map of Eastern Europe was quickly redrawn, various revolutions erupted, economies were in ruins (except for the US, which was never stronger), millions of people had been displaced, the "cold war" was quickly brewing (although at the same time the UN was forming). Much to write about, including the simultaneity of all that change.
David Brion Davis: The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (2014, Knopf): The author's third The Problem of Slavery book, the trilogy spread out over 45 years -- hard to overstate how important the first volume was in changing our view of slavery and racism. This picks up the story around 1820, focusing on the UK and US with a side glance at Haiti.
Jared Diamond: The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin): His two previous books -- Guns, Germ and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004) -- were high concept comparative mega-histories, sweeping and thought-provoking. Here he returns to his anthropology roots, writing about primitive societies, no doubt including a lot of New Guinea, since that's his specialty. Still, big questions abide: the transition to agriculture 11,000 years ago was not without its down sides, and those problems percolate up to the present.
William Easterly: The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (2014, Basic Books): Author writes on development economics -- e.g., The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good -- so he could be taken as one of the experts he disparages. But he cuts against the grain, and has no shortage of examples of ideas that haven't worked. Also, his argument for "respect of the individual rights of people in developing countries" seems right, as is his point that "unchecked state power is the problem and not the solution" (here we're talking about the predatory effect of dictators, not the fevers of the tea party).
Yuval Elizur/Lawrence Malkin: The War Within: Israel's Ultra-Orthodox (2013; paperback, 2014, Overlook): On the special roles and privileges of the ultra-orthodox in Israel, an often sore point for secular Jews in Israel, and I suspect one of the forces that relentlessly pushes Israel to the right, further estranging it from the rest of the world.
Lee Fang: The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right (2013, New Press): The "vast right-wing conspiracy" (in Hillary Clinton's apt phrase) has been carefully built up since the 1970s, and swung into full gear in 2009 to disrupt and undermine newly elected president Obama and the Democrats' "fillibuster-proof" congressional majority, and they did a remarkable job of it. This book goes into how they did it, how they manufactured a viable critique and enough noise to pose as grass roots momentum.
Caroline B Glick: The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East (2014, Crown Forum): Not a single state in Israel/Palestine where everyone lives with equal rights under equitable laws, though Glick dresses up Jewish dominance in various guises, including her claim that census data "wildly exaggerated the numbers of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza." So this does start to shift away from the "two-state solution" that gets so much lip service but no actual support from liberal Zionists, including virtually all American politicians.
Frances Goldin/Debby Smith/Michael Steven Smith, eds: Living in a Socialist USA (paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial): A mixed bag of essays, none afraid of the "S-word" but while some take the traditional tack and blame capitalism (e.g., Paul Street's "Capitalism: The Real Enemy") and some try to imagine post-capitalist (Rick Wolff) or ecosocialist (Joel Kovel) economic forms, others are likely more reformist, either intent on mitigating excesses of capitalism or using government to make amends. A big part of the reason socialism has come to be more respected of late is that the right uses the scare word so loosely, it now covers all sorts of modest reforms few old leftists would even recognize.
Daniel Gordis: Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul (2014, Schocken): Born in Poland, in his youth joined the fascist Betar movement, emigrating to Palestine in the 1940s where he quickly rose to head the Irgun, an ultra-right-wing paramilitary organization responsible for many of the worst atrocities of Israel's "War for Independence." Once the Irgun was integrated into the IDF, he went into politics, establishing himself as an extreme right-wing demagogue until he was suddenly invited ("without portfolio") into the "unity government" which launched Israel's expansionist 1967 war. A decade later he became Israel's first Likud Prime Minister, consolidating and furthering the nation's drift into militarism. He reluctantly signed a peace agreement which returned the Sinai to Egypt, allowing reopening of the Suez Canal, then plotted to destroy the PLO once and for all by invading Lebanon -- the act which, for me at least, destroyed the last shred of credibility that Israel possessed. This looks to be a sympathetic biography, which doesn't mean you'll come away liking the little monster.
Gershom Gorenberg: The Unmaking of Israel (2011; paperback, 2012, Harper Perennial): I read this a few years ago and was surprised I hadn't mentioned it here before. You can think of this as a kinder, gentler version of (not alternative to) Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. Both deal with the rot at the heart of a nation dedicated to the domination of one group over all others. The shadings differ a bit, with Gorenberg more concerned with the established religion, but religion wouldn't be so critical if it weren't needed to justify the occupation. Gorenberg previously wrote The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, which similarly soft-pedaled the origins of the settler movement while at least acknowledging the facts.
Greg Grandin: The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (2014, Metropolitan Books): One story here concerns New Englanders establishing colonial outposts in the south Pacific in the early 19th century, killing seals and selling them in China. Not sure what else you get here, but Herman Melville seems to be one prism into looking at early post-independence America, an "age of freedom" but also an "age of slavery."
Husain Haqqani: Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding (2013, Public Affairs): Of course, I doubt that the US could have done anything to make a success out of the 2001 Afghanistan intervention -- I think they sealed their fate in 1979 when they decided it would be such fun to arm religious fanatics to kill Russians -- but high on the Bush administration's list of tactical errors was their utter inability to come to a mutual understanding with Pakistan. (Nor did Obama do any better when he gave that pompous ass Richard Holbrooke the assignment.) Haqqani has been a Pakistani diplomat and is currently a professor at Boston U, so he's likely to be intimately acquainted with the sort of incomprehensible nonsense that makes for such epic misunderstandings.
Jacqueline Jones: A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race From the Colonial Era to Obama's America (2013, Basic Books): Rather than write a sketch history of racism in America, Jones takes six individuals including a slave in colonial Maryland and an auto worker in recent Detroit, real people to stand the various myths of race and the realities of power against.
John B Judis: Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Looks specifically at the years 1945-49, when the US had conquered the Axis powers and was starting to establish itself as a global hegemon, probing deep into why Truman sided with Israel and what that meant for the evolution of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Alison Weir: Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the United States Was Used to Create Israel (paperback, 2014, CreateSpace) covers the same ground, much more briefly. I've been reading Judis and am impressed with his depth and balance.
Michael B Katz: The Undeserving Poor: America's Enduring Confrontation With Poverty (1989; updated and revised, paperback, 2013, Oxford University Press): One effective way to keep poor people poor is to blame their poverty on their supposed shortcomings -- perhaps the title should be The Deserving Poor, since that's the thrust of interests which seek to deflect blame for impoverishment.
Stephen Kinzer: The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (2013, Times Books): A biography of two of the major architects of the Cold War, all the more potent when they controlled both the official (State Dept.) and clandestine (CIA) policy-making agencies, and weren't the least averse to going behind the back of the president who appointed them. Kinzer approached this story when he wrote one of the better accounts of the CIA coup against Iran in 1953 (All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror), then went on to take a longer look at American mischief (Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq).
Elizabeth Kolbert: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014, Henry Holt): Five massive waves of extinctions have occurred since the Cambrian period when most modern phyla came into existence, with each defining boundaries between geological ages, something we can discern with the perspective of millions of years. Kolbert is suggesting that the sheer quantity of species extinctions that have occurred in recent years is well on its way to adding up to a sixth major extinction event, and she's traveling around the world gathering and checking out evidence. Not the first book on this subject -- cf. Richard E Leakey: The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind (paperback, 1996, Anchor); Terry Glavin, The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among the Lost and Left Behind (2007, Thomas Dunne); and for that matter a couple classics: David Quammen: The Song of the Dodo: Island Biography in an Age of Extinction (paperback, 1997, Scribner); and Paul S Martin/Herbert Edgar Wright, eds: Pleistocene Extinctions: The Search for a Cause (1967, Yale University Press) -- but likely a succinct, thought-provoking summary.
David Landau: Arik: The Life of Ariel Sharon (2014, Knopf): Having just referred to Begin as Israel's "little monster," it's no contest who the corresponding "big monster" was. Sharon could never be described as Begin's henchman: Begin bears responsibility for the Lebanon war, and more importantly for letting Sharon run it, but none for the actual details of how Sharon ran the war. Sharon had been a great favorite of Ben Gurion's and Dayan's, but what they loved him for wasn't doing what they wanted but invariably going much farther: he not only destroyed things, he did so at levels and degrees his "superiors" couldn't dream of asking for. His Lebanon War was like that, leading to the massacre of thousands of Palestinians, and his suppression of the second Intifada was like that. Still, it is important to realize that Sharon wasn't insane (unlike, say, Begin, whose tortured mind seemed to be stuck constantly replaying the Holocaust). He could make a tactical retreat when he needed to regroup, and on some level he seemed to be completely cynical about politics and everything else -- the real reason he was capable of such brutality was that he knew he would be adored for it, although it also helped that he was utterly indifferent to what anyone else thought or care about. And that he was so successful for so long ultimately says much more about his country than it does him. Reviewers say this is "scrupulously fair," which is to say it's mostly warts because that's what his supporters admired so much about him. Anything less would be a disservice.
Jill Lepore: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (2013, Knopf): Benjamin Franklin's sister, who unlike Shakespeare's sister was a real person we actually know a good deal about, not that anyone bothered to focus much on her before. Lepore started as a notable historian of 18th century America, but then developed a knack for semi-popular nonfiction pieces in the New Yorker and learned to bounce masterfully between past and present, as in The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History.
Antony Lerman: The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist: A Personal and Political Journey (2012, Pluto Press): British Jew, in 1960s worked on a kibbutz and served in the IDF, later returning to England, working in think tanks, eventually turning into a critic of current Israeli policies.
Ian Haney López: Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (2014, Oxford University Press): For obvious examples, recall the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush (the "Willie Horton" one, not that the other was much better), then think of what else those elections delivered. López previously wrote White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race.
Bill McKibben: Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist (2013, Times Books): Author of one of the early books on global warming -- The End of Nature (1989) -- and many other books, writes about how he was increasingly drawn into political action, including leading protests against the Keystone XL pipeline. One step along the way was his activist manual: Fight Global Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community (paperback, 2007, St. Martin's Griffin)
Betsy Medsger: The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI (2014, Knopf): The inside story of a small group of people who broke into an FBI office in Media, PA, and collected and leaked secret files about FBI operations aimed at harrassing the civil rights and antiwar movements. Hoover had used his extraordinary power base to blackmail presidents as well as to further his reactionary political goals, a secret program that couldn't survive exposure -- so this burglary was the beginning of the end of his reputation and reign of terror.
John Nichols/Robert W McChesney: Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America (2013, Nation Books): $10 billion spent on the last election, and what do we have to show for it? Politicians of two parties beholden to money. That money distorts politics is one of the few things virtually everyone agrees on, yet it never emerges as a reform issue because the candidates themselves are selected precisely for their ability to raise money.
William Nordhaus: The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World (2013, Yale University Press): Economist, has his name added to recent editions of Paul Samuelson's legendary economics textbook (at least since 1985), and previously weighed in on the economics of global warming in 2008: A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies; also Warming the World: Economic Models of Global Warming (2003), and Managing the Global Commons: The Economics of Climate Change (1994). A moderate and sensible guide to the science plus a lot of ideas on modeling risks and costs -- should be an important book.
Ilan Pappé: The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014, Verso): A history of Zionism as ideology, how its fundamental ideas infuse Israeli culture, especially in institutions like the school system and reinforced through the media. Focuses on the framing of the 1948 "War for Independence" in its initial "official" narrative and later post-Zionist and Neo-Zionist incarnations.
Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014, Belknap Press): Presumes not to update Marx but to dance on his grave, celebrating not only increasing inequality but the fact that wealth inequality is increasingly inherited -- with the risk that workers may once again feel that they have nothing to lose in revolution except their shackles. "The main driver of inequality -- the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth -- today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values." Meanwhile, most Marxists will tell you that those returns are fraudulently jacked up, so not even more inequality can keep the machine running. Nonetheless, what happens at the bottom is all too real. Piketty's future is what he calls "patrimonial capitalism" -- pretty much the same sort of aristocracy the bourgeois revolutions struggled to overturn.
Kenneth Pollack: Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy (2013, Simon & Schuster): Ex-CIA analyst, wrote an influential book advocating war with Iraq, then turned around and became a dove rather than a "real man" on Iran in his book The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America. Evidently, he still feels we need his advice -- possibly because it wasn't taken last time, although diplomatic breakthroughs since this was printed have rendered much of the tough posturing he felt necessary to retain his credibility has suddenly become irrelevant.
Jonathan Porritt: The World We Made: Alex McKay's Story From 2050 (paperback, 2013, Phaidon Press): An expert on sustainable development strategies jumps ahead to 2050 to look back on how those strategies saved the world, through the eyes of a 50-year-old fictional Alex McKay, recalling not only what happened but how such change came about -- a mix of disasters and activism. Porritt previously wrote Capitalism as if the World Matters (paperback, 2007, Routledge), which gives business a positive role to play even if they don't seem up to it.
Gareth Porter: Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (paperback, 2014, Just World Books): One of the few journalists to see through Israel's relentless propaganda about Iran's "nuclear program" in what should be a very important book. Porter's Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam was an eye-opener in showing how US failure in Vietnam was rooted in arrogance.
Diane Ravitch: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools (2013, Knopf): Follow up to The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). Back in the late 1960s, after I dropped out of high school, I read a ton of books on education, of which the best was Charles Weingartner/Neal Postman: Teaching as a Subversive Activity, followed by Paul Goodman: Compulsory Mis-Education/The Community of Scholars. Those at least were books that recognized problems that I actually saw and attempted to overcome them. So my reaction here is that Ravitch is probably right as far as she goes, but, my oh my, has the level of discussion deteriorated. The last sensible thing I've read on education was Jane Jacobs: Dark Ages Ahead, and I don't see any indication that Jacobs is wrong. But I may be being too pessimistic, because the actual teachers and students I have known lately seem smarter and more dedicated than the ones I encountered back in the day. Unfortunately, I don't think they're getting those traits from school.
Barnett R Rubin: Afghanistan From the Cold War Through the War on Terror (2013, Oxford University Press): For many years one of the most insightful experts on Afghanistan, Rubin disappeared from public discourse when he signed on as an advisor to Richard Holbrooke and stayed on after Holbrooke died. His insider status -- he was also involved in the Bonn talks in 2001 and various other UN efforts -- no doubt informs this book, and probably compromises it as well. Leslie Gelb: "If published a decade ago, the insights in Barney Rubin's book could have prevented the Americanization of the war in Afghanistan." How lucky for Obama then to have co-opted the person he most needed as a critic?
Orville Schell/John Delury: Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century (2013, Random House): Goes back as far as the 19th century Opium Wars to get a handle on the intellectual threads that transformed China from peasant communism to a cutting-edge industrial powerhouse. Schell is one of the best-known historians of China.
Ari Shavit: My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (2013, Spiegel & Grau): A "feel good" book about Israel for a time when one has to wonder, but the heroic personal stories establish an air of such exalted wonderfulness that one can admit to historical atrocities like the forced exile of the entire Arab population of Lydda and then write it off by declaring it as one of the necessary founding blocks of today's wonderful Israel. Imagine something like Dee Brown rewriting Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and then turning around and explaining that every positive accomplishment in America since has only possible thanks to that act of slaughter.
Rebecca Solnit: The Faraway Nearby (2013, Viking Adult): Essays, I take it, "about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decayand transformation, making art and making self." She has a dozen or more books, all on things that fascinate me, yet I've only managed to make it through one slim one.
Alan Weisman: Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? (2013, Little Brown): Previously wrote The World Without Us (2007, Thomas Dunne), a speculation on how the Earth would adjust if human beings were to vanish. In this sequel, he asks how likely that is, how many people can the Earth sustain, and whether exceeding those limits -- depleting resources, changing climate, etc. -- could cause a population crash.
Hugh Wilford: America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East (2013, Basic Books): Previously wrote The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008). Robert D Kaplan popularized the term "Arabists" some while back in his book about US State Dept. Arab experts and how they tended to align with their subjects, especially against Israel. (I don't know that anyone's bothered to coin a term for pro-Israelis in State and the CIA, but a comparably long list of names could be rounded up.) So one "great game" has been between Israel and the Arabs, another between the US and the UK over influencing the Arabs (a game the UK surrendered around 1970), and another between the US and the USSR -- any of which could be the subject here.
Tim Wise: Culture of Cruelty: How America's Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future (paperback, 2014, City Lights): Obviously could write a lot more on this subject than 216 pages. Has mostly written on race politics in the past, a typical title: Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male (2008).
Some recent paperback reissues of book previously listed in hardcover. These are just a few of those I had noted, and I haven't done up-to-date research on them:
James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World (2011, Houghton Mifflin; paperback, 2012, Mariner Books): Sweeping history of both the real and imagined city in the various monotheistic religions and imperialist polities that try to claim her. Most recently, and importantly, that means Zionist Israel and its ongoing conflict, both for and against the past.
Lizzie Collingham: The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin Books): Moves from a first book about Indian curries under the British imperium to a worldwide inquiry into how food and famine were considered and acted upon by all sides in World War II -- a story which certainly includes the great Bengal famine.
Joseph Stiglitz: The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012; paperback, 2013, WW Norton): Important book by one of our most important economists, showing not only the structure of increasing inequality in America today but how that inequality stagnates the economy.
Patrick Tyler: Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't Make Peace (2012; paperback, 2013, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Israel is the world's most militarized nation, its ruling caste so invested in its military identity that as soon as one supposed enemy folds they conjure up another: soon after they signed the peace treaty with Egypt they invaded Lebanon; unsatisfied they supported Iran in its 1980s war against Iraq, and when Iraq fell (to the US in 1990 and again in 2003) they started fantasizing that Iran was out to get them with nuclear weapons. Tyler dates this back to the early 1950s when David Ben-Gurion turned on his former protégé Moshe Sharrett for considering peace initiatives. I think Ben-Gurion's war lust goes deeper, and that it has been more deeply ingrained in Israeli society, but this book covers the basic history.
I've read three of these books (Carroll, Stiglitz, Tyler), and can recommend all of them. The Collingham book looks to be very interesting.
Monday, March 31. 2014
Music: Current count 23045  rated (+38), 594  unrated (+1).
Having trouble with this "emeritus" concept, as once again the rated count is in the stratosphere. I thought I'd do a second Rhapsody Streamnotes for March, then remembered I don't have to: why not run it the first week in April, then (maybe) a second one later in the month? The draft file is long enough to run now, but a few days shouldn't make any difference.
Lots of A- records this week, but note that three (of four) jazz albums got to me via Rhapsody, so only one of sixteen CD sets listed below made the grade -- not that I'm unhappy to own the high B+ releases. The Rainey and Russell records came recommended by other reviews, but I wasn't even aware that the Kühn & Kruglov disc existed until I stumbled on it looking for Kühn's 2013 trio, Voodoo Sense, also on ACT but not on Rhapsody.
I'm up to 19 jazz records on this year's A-list, so there's little doubt that this will be another bounteous year for new jazz. I'm having much more trouble with non-jazz: only five finds this year, but the two this week impressed me enough I went out and bought copies. Good chance the Hold Steady will wind up a full A. Don't know whether this is due to me or the world: I'm certainly not listening to as many records this year as last. I have a cribsheet of possible things to check out (there's actually a lot more in the file than you can see, but what you can't is probably of lesser interest). I don't have a metacritic file this year: that would give me a better idea of what other people think, but that's rarely a good guide these days.
In the old records section, I've been sampling John Gill and Chris Tyle. Like the Penguin Guide authors, I have a soft spot for trad jazz, so when I noticed a couple Stomp Off records on Rhapsody, I thought I'd try to round up whatever I had missed (i.e., most of them). Turns out there aren't that many available -- indeed, the Silver Leaf Jazz Band records are mostly on another label -- but I've found a couple and will keep digging. [A second album by Gill is at least as good as the first, and I've found an album by tuba tooter Vince Giordano.]
Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary should be running over at Odyshape sometime this week, and you can already scroll back for the first two installments of his singles column ("Public NME"), and pieces that appreciate Withered Hand and Skrillex more than I do.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 30. 2014
I haven't posted anything since last Monday's Music Week. Not sure where all the time has gone, but after Monday's Music Week I should have a books post and a Rhapsody Streamnotes coming pretty quick. Tried to knock out a links post today and didn't get through nearly everything I wanted to look at. Still, a few things to chew on:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, March 24. 2014
Music: Current count 23007  rated (+40), 593  unrated (-6).
Heavy week for records rated, easily sailing past that 23,000 mark. Some of these showed up in last Wednesday's Rhapsody Streamnotes (Iyer, Serengeti), and once that went up I suffered a little "empty nest" syndrome and rushed to repopulate my draft file. I actually had Eric Revis written up by Wednesday, but held it back because I couldn't find a single cover scan anywhere on the web (or at least Google couldn't). I only had an advance, so couldn't help myself either, but I can show the cover now.
Main reason there are so many album covers is that I noticed Rhapsody has most of the early Vijay Iyer I had missed. With a new record out, it seemed like a good time to look back, but I didn't get them written up by Wednesday's post. I split his first five albums into three A- and two near misses, but more time and space could have resulted in a sweep. Clearly a major talent from the very start, even more so than Jason Moran (whose first four albums I have at A-, but nothing that high since). The rest of Iyer's catalog looks like this:
I also note A- side-credits with: Burnt Sugar (Blood on the Leaf: Opus No. 1); Carlo De Rosa (Brain Dance); Steve Lehman (Demian as Posthuman); Rudresh Mahanthappa (Codebook); Wadada Leo Smith (Spiritual Dimensions). Also 17 others rated lower. Remarkable career, and this just up to age 43.
Main thing I've been working on recently is an interview for rockcritics.com. If you have any questions you'd like to see answered, write me -- or, what the hell, use the underused comments feature -- and I'll see if I can work them in.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, March 19. 2014
Since folding Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods into this column, the number of records has increased, with this being the most voluminous Rhapsody Streamnotes ever: 108 records. One might think that's because this covers the longest stretch of time, but that's only marginally true: the last 16 days of February, when I was traveling to and from Florida, produced zilch. They contribute here only in that I played quite a bit of Johnny Cash on the road, which set my mind to thinking about going through his Columbia LPs.
I'm not all that surprised that I didn't find many A-list albums in that list. He only sustained the high level of his Sun records for a couple years -- pills maybe, or it could be that Columbia didn't care about LPs as long as Cash pumped out three per year (which, by the way, almost never hit 30 minutes). More surprising to me was that so few of the albums were bad (in that respect it probably helped that I skipped most of the holiday and gospel records). For a guy with a deep, unique voice, his was remarkably pliable -- a trait he shared with few peers, Louis Armstrong for one -- and that gave him a distinctive edge on damn near any song.
It's tempting to conclude that Cash was a singles artist, and that was true enough for the 1950s, but from 1960 on he wasn't really: I count 8 number one country singles from 1960 on (not bad until you consider Ronnie Milsap had 40), with 22 more cracking the top ten. And those numbers drop dramatically after 1973: only one number one ("One Piece at a Time" -- not his song but perfect for him) and only three more in the top ten (one of those with Waylon). Still, go with compilations to get started. The best is Columbia/Legacy's 1992 3-CD The Essential Johnny Cash (1955-1983), with 75 songs vs. 36 for the 2002's 2-CD The Essential Johnny Cash. (Both include Sun tracks, 14-8 is my initial count, the dividing line a bit murky without documentation, but the effect is to pull "Ring of Fire" and "Orange Blossom Special" into the shortened first disc.) On the other hand, I've been playing Columbia/Legacy's 2005 4-CD The Legend lately. I don't especially approve of the thematic organization, but find each disc delightful.
After leaving Columbia, Cash recorded a few albums for Mercury, then enjoyed a comeback with Rick Rubin's American Recordings, six volumes 1994-2003, some trickling out after Cash's death, plus the 5-CD box Unearthed, only one of which is redundant. I still have some loose ends in the early and late Cash, something to save for later.
Quite a few good records in the top section, even if most of them are jazz. I still haven't heard much non-jazz I care for this year -- even among Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary picks -- seven below, only one A- (New Mendicants, though he was also the one who tipped me to Laura Cantrell). With Christgau MIA, critics like Tatum, Dan Weiss (who's reviewed 9 records below), and Jason Gubbels (10) become all the more important (and I might add Matt Rice, whose tip on Knifefight led me to Serengeti, which, as it turned out, he had already reviewed). Still, none of those critics have weighed in on Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia -- the sort of record which gets a quick high HM here but might rise a notch with prolonged exposure. By the way, Tatum and Gubbels are moving their review columns to the relaunched Odyshape -- sad news for me as it means Tatum won't be gracing my blog in the future, but a useful consolidation for everyone else.
Of course, about half of the new records are jazz, and those marked [cd] are driven by my ever-dwindling mail queue -- whereas I try to only listen to promising non-jazz records, I often have to take what I can get when it comes to jazz. Still, I've spent more time looking for what I didn't get, adding five to the A-list (Halvorson, Hollenbeck, Iyer, Mehldau, Reed). Also found some I had higher hopes for (especially Roscoe Mitchell, who placed in my top ten last year). All documented below, albeit briefly.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on February 12. Past reviews and more information are available here (4523 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Juhani Aaltonen: To Future Memories (2010 , TUM): In recent polls, I've written his name in as best flute player around, and there's plenty here (and elsewhere) to justify those votes, but his main instrument is tenor sax, and I'd be happier if he focused more on it. With pianist Iro Haarla, two bassists, a drummer and a percussionist, this is a bit on the moody side but nearly triumphs anyway. Also has two stretches of exceptional flute. B+(***) [cd]
Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014, Total Treble): Punkish group formed in Florida in 1997 by guitarist-singer Tom Gabel, who has since changed him name (and I know not what else) to Laura Jane Grace, not that those changes have done much for his/her voice, other than to provide something novel to rant about. B+(**)
Ariel Alexander & Jon Bremen: Street Cries (2013 , self-released, EP): Sax and guitar respectively, although both are also credited with programming, and the group includes keyboards, bass, drums, and voice (Sara Leib). An intelligent groove record, its slightness matched by its brevity: 5 cuts, 26:07. B+(*) [cd]
Arild Andersen/Tommy Smith/Paolo Vinaccia: Mira (2012 , ECM): Norwegian bassist, name appears before the title whereas the others come after, so maybe I should demote them, but it would be real foolish not to feature the great Scottish tenor saxophonist, and of course it never hurts to give the drummer some. A little restrained compared to the same trio's Live at Belleville (2008), but very strong in spots. B+(***) [dl]
Katy B: Little Red (2014, Columbia): Kathleen Brien, aka Baby Katy, Brit dance pop phenom, second album, nothing grabs me as special first spin through although every beat is likely to sink in with enough reiteration. Deluxe edition adds five songs, extending 48:11 to 68:31, with little loss (or gain). B+(***)
Jeff Ballard Trio: Time's Tales (2013 , Okeh): Drummer, best known in the Brad Mehldau Trio although he has about 80 credits since 1988. First album with his name up front, an unconventional trio with guitarist Lionel Loueke and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon. They flirt with guitar-driven fusion early on, then slow it down and mix up the beat giving the sax more space. B+(***) [cd]
Bruce Barth: Daybreak (2013 , Savant): Mainstream jazz pianist, more than a dozen albums since 1993, this one gets an extra charge from Terell Stafford on trumpet/flugelhorn and, even more so, from Steve Nelson on vibes. B+(**) [cd]
Matt Bauder and Day in Pictures: Nightshades (2013 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, protégé of Anthony Braxton, has a handful of records including 2010's Day in Pictures, nearly the same quintet (Kris Davis replaces Angelica Sanchez at piano; on both records: Nate Wooley, Jason Ajemian, Tomas Fujiwara). An explosive mix, especially with Davis, but Bauder manages to stay within postbop bounds (what Jason Gubbels describes as "edgy Blue Note circa 1966"). B+(***) [cd]
Dierks Bentley: Riser (2014, Captiol Nashville): "Pretty Girls" is shallow enough for Luke Bryan. "Drunk on a Plane" isn't, but I wouldn't call that an improvement. Bryan may cause people to be miserable, but he doesn't wallow in it. Bentley may aspire to something more, but as his star dims he's less and less convinced it sells. B-
Tyrone Birkett/Emancipation: Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land (2013 , Araminta Music): Saxophonist, grew up playing gospel and kept the focus, with wife Paula Ralph Birkett singing on most of the tracks -- she has a classic gospel voice if you're into that sort, but never matches the crisp clarity of the leader's alto sax. B+(**) [cd]
Raoul Björkenheim: Ecstasy (2012 , Cuneiform): Quite possible that the packaging treats this as an eponymous group album, but the LA-born Finnish guitarist is the essential name fronting a group with sax (Pauli Lyytinen), bass (Jori Huhtala), and drums (Markku Ounaskari). Phenomenal guitar player, as you should know by now, and the group can make some noise, but a few off spots leaves this short of its title. B+(***) [dl]
Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love Marriage & Divorce (2014, Motown): Stars of the 1990s softening known as neo-soul, Kenny Edmonds an innovator, Braxton a follower happy to add some sex appeal, but old enough to resort to a themed storyline this time -- and not one they'd claim as their own, as the "starring" credit attests. Still, as fiction I wished they'd come up with a more rewarding relationship, not least because as it is all the fun songs are up front. B+(***)
Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (2013 , Thrift Shop): Country-ish singer-songwriter, got noticed on her 2000 debut Not the Tremlin' Kind, but she did seem a little trembly and a decade's worth of records never quite clicked -- closest was 2011's Kitty Wells tribute, which may have helped her focus, but doesn't explain the easy grace of these melodies. A-
Regina Carter: Southern Comfort (2013 , Sony Masterworks): Violinist, won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2006, the year of her best album to date, I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey, and she has finally topped that with another sentimental journey, looping back around her family tree through a series of mostly trad. pieces and casts her into an old fashioned fiddle role, not that it's ever that straightforward. A- [cd]
Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (2014, Smalltown Supersound): Trumpeter Don Cherry's daughter, raised more in Europe than the US, had two sensational hip-hop albums 1989-92, a scattered career given a boost with 2012's The Cherry Thing -- punk anthems backed by a Norwegian avant-jazz trio. That led to an album of remixes, and that led to this collaboration between Cherry and the remixers -- spare electropop that grows on you without ever approximating a hit. B+(***)
Kris Davis Trio: Waiting for You to Grow (2013 , Clean Feed): Pianist, from Canada, got our attention with a series of quartet albums featuring Tony Malaby (2008's Rye Eclipse is the one to seek out), then lately has tried to scale back with intriguing solo and trio albums. This feels like a breakthrough. It helps, of course, to have John Hébert and Tom Rainey on board, but every piece shows us something new, from roughly fractured to delicately melodic. A- [cd]
Michael Dessen Trio: Resonating Abstractions (2013 , Clean Feed): Trombonist, teaches at UC Irvine, third Trio album, with Christopher Tordini on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. Sometimes a bit too abstract, but when they slow down Weiss takes off. B+(**) [cd]
DKV + Mats Gustafsson/Paal Nilssen-Love/Massimo Pupillo: Schl8hof (2011 , Trost): DKV is a Ken Vandermark sax trio, with Kent Kessler on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. They recorded quite a bit 1998-2001, nothing for a long while, then a 7-CD Not Two box set in 2012, Past Present (recorded 2008-11). This doubles them up adding two-thirds of the Thing (Gustafsson, Nilssen-Love) and Pupillo on bass (primarily from Italian rock group Zu) and sends them overboard into avant-noise. B+(**)
Henrik Otto Donner & TUMO: And It Happened . . . the Music of Henrik Otto Donner (2012 , TUM): Donner (1939-2013) composed the music and conducted the strings, with the orchestra (TUMO) conducted by Miko Hassinen, and supplemented by Juhani Aaltonen (tenor sax, alto flute) and Johanna Iivanainen (vocals on 4 of 8 tracks). The orchestra enjoys pushing boundaries, and the saxophonist has some fine moments. B+(**) [cd]
Violeta Ferrer/Raymond Boni: Federico García Lorca (2013 , Fou): Boni plays guitar and harmonica, accompanying 80-year-old Ferrer who reads poetry from Lorca -- in Spanish, I presume, because I'm not catching a word edgewise. That may have something to do with the settings, which emphasize the speech as abstract sound. B+(*) [cd]
Jean-Marc Foussat: L'Oiseau (2011-12 , Fou): French keyboard player, or possibly more accurately electronics -- his AKS and VCS3 synthesizers look more like patchboards, and the sound on this solo effort is what's technically known as "noise" with some bird chirps. I have a pile of his records, but this is a tough place to get acquainted. B [cd]
Jean-Marc Foussat, Sylvain Guérineau & Joe McPhee: Quod (2010 , Fou): Synthesizers, tenor sax, and soprano sax respectively. Two 21-24 minute pieces. The soprano is tuned in more to the synths and can compound the nuissance (maybe "noissance" should be a word), but the tenor steadies things and keeps this interesting. B+(*) [cd]
Jean-Marc Foussat & Ramón Lopez: Ça Barbare, Là! (2012 , Fou): López is a drummer, giving the AKS synth tones and processed voice of Foussat a steadying, which isn't necessarily regular, accompaniment, a big plus. B+(**) [cd]
Jean-Marc Foussat/Simon Hénocq: Nopal (2013 , Fou): Foussat's AKS synth and processed voice again, this time matched against Hénocq's guitars, fairly matched and even complementary noise sources. B+(**) [cd]
Get the Blessing: Lope and Antilope (2013 , Naim Jazz): Bristol [UK] jazz-rock group, bassist and drummer previously in Portishead, plus trumpet (Pete Judge) and sax (Jake McMurchie) -- and guest guitarist Adrian Utley (also from Portishead) -- fourth album since 2009. Steady on the beat, with the horns straying although not quite enough to merit the Ornette Coleman hype. B+(*)
Tord Gustavsen Quartet: Extended Circle (2013 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, satisfies ECM's fetish for quiet understatement but consistently plays well above the norm. Quartet adds the tenor sax of Tore Brunborg to his trio with Mats Eilertsen and Jarle Vespestad. Brunborg also fits the ECM model -- quiet and thoughtful, the results broadly atmospheric -- and again raises the bar (a bit). B+(***) [cdr]
Mary Halvorson Trio: Ghost Loop (2012 , ForTune): Jazz guitarist, probably the most notable arrival of the last decade although I've had all sorts of problems trying to get a handle on her work. This is live in Poland with John Hébert on bass and Ches Smith on drums -- should be a good showcase but remains sketchy. B+(**)
Mary Halvorson/Michael Formanek/Tomas Fujiwara: Thumbscrew (2013 , Cuneiform): Another guitar-bass-drums trio, the obvious difference a bassist who gets out in front more although I'd expect the drummer to be the improvement. Maybe it's just chemistry, as Halvorson works within the fractured rhythmic web but makes more out of it. A- [dl]
Scott Hamilton Quartet: Dean Street Nights (2012 , Woodville): Retro-swing tenor saxophonist with an English pick-up group -- John Pearce, Dave Green, and Steve Brown -- doing what he's been doing for decades: standards plus an original dedicated to Zoot Sims -- the ballads exquisite, but "Cherokee" doesn't quite ignite. B+(**)
Craig Handy: Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (2011 , Okeh): Tenor saxophonist, played Coleman Hawkins in the Lester Young cutting match in Altman's Kansas City -- seemed like a break at the time, but he's had a very spotty recording career. He goes back to R&B here, playing Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery, "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "I Almost Lost My Mind" and "Mojo Workin'" -- Dee Dee Bridgewater and Clarence Spady sing one each, Wynton Marsalis handles the trumpet slot, and Helin Riley plays washboard as well as drums. A- [cdr]
Billy Hart Quartet: One Is the Other (2013 , ECM): Veteran drummer, b. 1940, first appeared with Jimmy Smith in 1964 and must have a couple hundred credits since then, but a very scattered record as a leader, at least until this Quartet appeared in 2006 with major contributors Mark Turner and Ethan Iverson plus Ben Street on bass. Elegant postbop, but I'm finding the sax a bit languid, and the cover ("Some Enchanted Evening") misses every point I can think of. B [dl]
John Hollenbeck/Alban Darche/Sébastien Boisseau/Samuel Blaser: JASS (2013 , Yolk): Group name an acronym from the artists' first names, but also a shout out to the Original Dixieland Jass Band. Two horns -- Darche's sax and Blaser's trombone -- backed by bass (Boisseau) and drums (Hollenbeck), the rhythm fragmented and free, an atmosphere that favors the rougher, funnier instrument -- an opportunity that Blaser runs with. A-
Randy Ingram: Sky/Lift (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, second album, trio (Matt Clohesy and Jochen Rueckert) plus guitar by Mike Moreno, a nice for for the album's airiness. B+(**) [cd]
Vijay Iyer: Mutations (2013 , ECM): Two solo piano pieces lead off, then for the ten pieces that make up the title series he's joined by a string quartet (two violins, viola, cello), a chamber jazz move that, like so much he's done, defies expectations. A- [dl]
Stan Kenton Alumni Band: Road Scholars Live (2013 , Summit): Kenton died in 1979, and I don't know him or his legacy well enough to make the connections here, but there's enough gray hair in the picture to suggest that they played the man and not some ghost band. Interesting that none of the compositions or arrangements are credited to Kenton. The vocal track, "Stockholm Sweetnin'," is kinda cute. "America the Beautiful" isn't. B [cd]
Knifefight: Knifefight (2013, Anticon, EP): Beans, formerly of Anti-Pop Consortium, with producer Mux Mool (and guest spots for Cities Aviv, Kool AD, and Sub Con), for six tracks, 19:24. B+(***) [bc]
Jonas Kullhammar/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Espen Aalberg: Basement Sessions Vol. 2 (2012 , Clean Feed): Tenor sax-bass-drums trio, follows up a pretty good Vol. 1 released in 2012, and it's not clear why they held this batch back: it consistently hits the sweet spot in free jazz between chaos and beauty. A- [cd]
James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels (2011 , Okeh): Tenor saxophonist, from Buffalo, second album, a trio with William Parker and Gerald Cleaver, weaving free sax around more traditional patterns. A- [cd]
Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else (2014, Bloodshot): Very alt country singer: first album, 2011's Indestructible Machine, startled me with its fierceness, and there's some of that here too, but you have to look closer because your initial impression is overwhelmed by how much guitar weight she's put on. B+(**)
Made to Break: Cherchez La Femme (2013 , Trost): One of Ken Vandermark's groups, third album since 2011, with Christof Kurzmann manipulating electronics, Devin Hoff on bass, and Tim Daisy on drums. Three 20-minute pieces dedicated, in Vandermark's fashion, to women of the arts. The sax bounces over marvelous rhythms, my only complaint that some of the electronics drops out at moderately low volume, making me wonder what's happening. B+(***)
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Wig Out at Jagbags (2014, Matador): Back in the 1990s I thought he couldn't sing so I counted as miracles the albums he got away with it -- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain probably remains as the greatest rock album of the decade. His vocal lines here are every bit as convoluted but far less miraculous. B+(**)
Brad Mehldau Trio: Where Do You Start (2008-11 , Nonesuch): Along with Ode (which I still haven't heard), one of two 2012 albums by the trio, this all (but one) widely scattered covers (Elvis Costello, Nick Drake, two Brazilian pieces, Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, the title cut by Johnny Mandel and the Bergmans). Runs long but as crisp and fresh as their early albums. A-
Brad Mehldau/Mark Guiliana: Mehliana: Taming the Dragon (2013 , Nonesuch): Pianist and drummer, respectively, the former mostly playing synths here, the latter doubling on electronics. Giuliana comes from the group Heernt but has a fair number of jazz credits since 2003. Some spoken word, credited to Mehldau, works across the grain of the electronics. B+(**)
Pat Metheny Unity Group: Kin (2013 , Nonesuch): Rhapsody only has 5 of 9 cuts (including the one that's 0:38, but none of four tracks that top 10:00), so I can't really claim to have listened to this, but what I have heard is so underwhelming I can't imagine the missing scraps make much difference. Expands on 2012's Unity Band by adding jack-of-all-trades Giulio Carmassi. Still, the big question is why hire Chris Potter then not let him play? B-
Roscoe Mitchell: Conversations I (2013 , Wide Hive): The venerable AACM saxophonist is joined by Craig Taborn (keybs) and Kikanju Baku (percussion). First cut is called "Knock and Roll" and is about all the shrillness I can stand. After that they slow it down, open it up, and play off the oblique angles. Remarkable in some ways, but it can get awful rough on your ears. B
Modern Baseball: You're Gonna Miss It All (2014, Run for Cover): Philadelphia group, lo-fi with nasal vocals cutting through some rather fetching melodies. Rather short at 29:30. B+(***)
Jennifer Nettles: That Girl (2014, Mercury Nashville): Country singer, cut an album early then co-founded the group Sugarland, which I've avoided, following the rule that bands with logos are always awful. Her voice has little appeal and she adds little to her numerous co-credits, but manages to channel her inner Janis Joplin on Bob Seger's "Like a Rock." B
The New Mendicants: Into the Lime (2014, Ashmont): Veteran songwriters from Teenage Fanclub and the Pernice Brothers plus a drummer from the Sadies giving them roots, but not very deep ones, in three Anglophone countries. Their soft melodiousness gets compared to the Hollies, not that that's what the Hollies are remembered for, but then who recalls the Insect Trust? A-
Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter, grew up in St. Louis and works out of Chicago, second (or third) album, has a low-budget folkiness to it. B+(*)
The Jim Olsen Ensemble: We See Stars (2013 , OA2): Smallish big band -- two trumpets, one trombone, three reeds, extra percussion, leader plays flute -- the best known musician here Dick Oatts although there are a couple more I'm familiar with. Nice balance, no excess but doesn't seem to be missing anything. B+(**) [cd]
Ark Ovrutski: 44:33 (2013 , Zoho): Bassist, b. 1963 in Kiev, based in NY since 2005; second album, following Sounds of Brasil, postbop quintet with Michael Dease prominent on trombone, Michael Thomas on sax, and David Berkman on piano. B+(*) [cd]
Ulysses Owens Jr.: Onward & Upward (2013 , D Clef): Drummer, has a previous album on Criss Cross, pulls out all the stops here. For me the album goes off the rails with Charles Tuner's vocal on the second track, but a superb clarinet solo on down the line sent me to the credits to find Anat Cohen. B+(*)
Chris Parker: Full Circle (2013 , OA2): Pianist, based in New York, presumably not the same as drummer Chris Parker -- from Chicago, former leader of Toph-E and the Pussycats, released The Chris Parker Trio last year -- nor British bass guitarist Chris Parker, although there's an idea for a group. Second album (as best I can tell), quintet filled out very nicely with John Nastos on alto and soprano sax and Rob Thomas on violin. B+(**) [cd]
Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia: Devil's Tale (2013 , Asphalt Tango): Canadian guitarist, deep enough into Django Reinhardt he arranged this meeting with Romania's leading gypsy brass band, who fill out his contours impressively, lots of flash and muscle. B+(***) [dl]
Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Second Cities Volume 1 (2013, 482 Music): Chicago drummer, has used this group young avant-gardists to explore the rich legacy of the music in Chicago since the 1950s, but here reveals an Amsterdam connection, joining his core quartet with the cream of the Dutch avant-garde, including Ab Baars, Eric Boeren, Guus Janssen, and US expat Michael Moore -- almost like Sun Ra sitting in with the ICP. A-
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (2011-13 , Accurate): Saxophonist Ken Field's Boston group, personnel shifting among six live dates excerpted here but they're all of a piece, tapping into New Orleans tradition, most impressively on an old Albert Brumley song which segues into an avant-Dixieland "Que Sera Sera." A- [cd]
Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron (2014, Interscope): Matthew Hanley, rapper from Los Angeles, started out in Black Hippy collective with Kendrick Lamar, third album here, focusing on pills and blunts and soul food, nothing too heavy. B+(**)
Serengeti: C.A.B. (2013, Anticon, EP): Reportedly cut in Berkeley (2009-11) with Jel and Odd Nosdam, in sessions that also produced C.A.R. and The Kenny Davis EP (both out in 2012) -- seven tracks, 21:25, "not leftovers" they promise as if savoring the best for last, and indeed the ramshackle rhymes and beats offer a satisfying slice of life (pretend life, maybe). A- [bc]
Daniel Smith: Smokin' Hot Bassoon Blues (2013 , Summit): Started out in classical, cutting numerous records with damn near every note in the canon written for bassoon, then moved on to Bebop Bassoon. Aside from two Ray Charles tuns (with vocals by Frank Senior), these are mostly blues-based bop-era standards -- "Night Train," "Better Get Hit in Your Soul," "Back at the Chicken Shack," "Señor Blues," "C Jam Blues," "Moanin'," etc. Still, lead bassoon is at best a novelty. B+(*) [cd]
The Souljazz Orchestra: Inner Fire (2014, Strut): Canadian group, half dozen albums since 2005, fond of Latin and funk rhythms and often get them mixed up for a synthesis that isn't quite comfortable in any genre. B+(*)
St. Vincent: St. Vincent (2014, Loma Vista/Republic): Annie Clark's fourth album -- or fifth counting the duo album I file under David Byrne -- starts off quirky enough to make me wonder if this might be her breakthrough, and perhaps it is. B+(***)
Step Brothers: Lord Steppington (2014, Rhymesayers): MC/producer Evidence teams up with producer/MC Alchemist. Striking example: a repeated bass figure, a vocal fragment "I walked into the casino to see the rich man play," and Roc Marciano's fragmented rap. B+(**)
Ben Stolorow/Ian Carey: Duocracy (2013 , Kabosha): Piano and trumpet duets, a nice contrast on a mix of jazz and pop standards, not least "Cherokee." B+(**) [cd]
Tinariwen: Emmaar (2013 , Anti-): From the desert end of Mali, with several impressive discs since 2002, although this was cut in the relative safety of the US with a few Yankee ringers, and they all play it safe. B+(***)
Tri-Fi: Staring Into the Sun (2013 , self-released): Trio, with Matthew Fries on piano, Phil Palombi on bass, and Keith Hall on drums. Fries has several previous records, including Tri-Fi with this group in 2005. B [cd]
Ken Vandermark/Agustí Fernández: Interacting Fields (2013, Discordian): Sax (or clarinet)-piano duo. One factoid I wonder about is how many times Vandermark has played in duos with a pianist? Damn few: maybe one with Jim Baker, maybe a bit with Misha Mengelberg, but mostly trios with Håvard Wiik, and hardly anyone else. Fernández, based in Barcelona, on the other hand has made a career out of duos: 19 (of 38 at Discogs) albums are duos. The pair are remarkably well matched on the hottest cut ("Clashing Particles"). B+(***) [bc]
Javier Vercher/Ferenc Nemeth: Imaginary Realm (2013, Dreamers Collective): Spanish tenor saxophonist meets Hungarian drummer, both with records I've enjoyed, but actually a trio -- back cover adds "with the collaboration of David Kikoski," the pianist filling out the gaps duos inevitably leave. Choice cut: "Giant Henge." B+(**)
Old Music: Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Johnny Cash: Songs of Our Soil (1958-59 , Columbia/Legacy): Not much of the rhythmic crackle of Cash's Sun sides -- at least until you get to the singles-oriented "bonus tracks" -- but his grim sketches ("Five Feet High and Rising," "The Man on the Hill," "Hank and Joe and Me") leave their mark, and no one has ever got more out of "The Great Speckled Bird." A-
Johnny Cash: Ride This Train (1959-60 , Columbia/Legacy): Original just has eight songs but runs 32:20, each song introduced by Cash talking about Indians and coal mining and lumberjacking -- not great "performance art" (as similar efforts would come to be called) but plenty of context and feeling; reissue adds four more songs, no talk. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: The Sound of Johnny Cash (1962-62 , Columbia): Sort of the common denominator for any Johnny Cash album, that sound: the rich, deep voice, the chunky rhythm, the chintzy backup singers. Short on originals, with "In the Jailhouse Now" and "Delia's Gone" the most memorable covers, outlaw fare both. B+(*)
Johnny Cash: Blood, Sweat and Tears (1962 , Columbia): Hard labor, scant rewards, explored in a set of songs that don't quite add up to the concept, the initial confusion evident in stretching "The Legend of John Henry's Hammer" out to 9:03, tacking on "Nine Pound Hammer" then letting his mind wander from pounding the rails to riding then ("Waiting for a Train," "Casey Jones"). B+(***)
Johnny Cash: Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1958-63 , Columbia): Singles and B-sides but nothing from Sun (so forget that "best of"), only one also on a Cash LP, so it's easy to think of this roll up, hot on the heels of his biggest hit to date, as just the next logical album in the Columbia series -- or would be if it flowed better, peaked higher, and gave up on the idiocy that the Alamo had anything to do with freedom. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964, Columbia): Half-written by folksinger Peter La Farge, who like Cash imagined an Indian ancestry and aligned himself with America's ancestors and victims, a sensibility and history that we all should all recognize. Not sure there's no condesenscion here, but the songs are tough-skinned, a favorite ploy to move closer to the drums. Only song you're likely to have heard here is "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," which much later Clint Eastwood turned into a brilliant movie. A-
Johnny Cash: Orange Blossom Special (1964 , Columbia/Legacy): Bob Dylan is a great songwriter but his three songs here fit oddly, as does "Danny Boy" with its torturous introduction, and for that matter "Amen"; on the other hand, Cash's "Long Black Veil" rivals Frizzell's, "The Wall" and "When It's Springtime in Alaska" are memorable stories, and the title cut chugs right along. B+(*)
Johnny Cash: Sings the Ballads of the True West (1959-65 , Columbia/Legacy): Originally a double LP with 20 songs, a real work of scholarship if not archaeology, starting with Hiawatha and going back to when Kentucky was darkest wilderness, nothing singles-worthy (which didn't stop them from releasing "Mr. Garfield"), a somber and often brutal compendium, my main complaint the condescending "Johnny Reb" and an excessive romance with six-shooters -- not that "The Ballad of Boot Hill" is anything but a withering critique of the gun cult. B+(***)
Johnny Cash: Everybody Loves a Nut (1965-66 , Columbia): The obvious move was to lighten up, but neither Jack Clement nor Shel Silverstein can consistently crack a joke -- Clement's "The One on the Right Is on the Left" is by far the best of the bunch -- and while Cash goes along with the mischief he is conflicted, even about playing "Red River Valley" on the harmonica. B-
Johnny Cash: Happiness Is You (1962-65 , Columbia): A throwback to Cash at his most folkloric, almost talking through a batch of songs where only his remake of "Guess Things Happen That Way" and a twangy "Wabash Cannonball" feel natural. B
Johnny Cash & June Carter: Carryin' On With Johnny Cash & June Carter (1967 , Columbia/Legacy): Skipping Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (redundant, although "Jackson" appeared there first). Cash and Carter didn't actually get hitched until after this record, and she only shared the headline on two later Cash albums. This one is very inconsistent, with two Ray Charles songs amplifying the messiness. Disappointing, as she was one of the few members of the human race with a voice that could stand next to his. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: From Sea to Shining Sea (1967 , Columbia): The title tracks, intro and coda, swell with the grandeur of America, but in between it's the ordinary details that matter -- a miner, a cotton picker, a shrimp boat hand, a prisoner, a checker game at a filling station, the unknown crafter of an arrowhead. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: The Johnny Cash Show (1970, Columbia): Recorded live at the Grande Ole Opry, the six cuts include two medleys and Kris Kristofferson's one great song, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," backed by a phalanx of unnecessary strings. B+(*)
Johnny Cash: I Walk the Line [Soundtrack] (1970, Columbia): A John Frankenheimer film named for Cash's 1956 hit, reprised here along with seven more Cash originals (new ones, I think, most notably "Flesh and Blood"), a couple orchestral versions (yuck), and a choral medley with "Amazing Grace." Stars Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld are pictured on the cover, and the whole thing runs 26:29. Not to be confused with the 1964 album of the same name (with its re-recorded Sun material), or the 2005 Walk the Line Cash-Carter biopic soundtrack, performed by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. B
Johnny Cash: Little Fauss and Big Halsy [Soundtrack] (1971, Columbia): A second quick soundtrack, but Cash gets bigger print than the long title or stars Robert Redford and Michael J. Pollard and comparable photo space, although their motorcycle has more shine than his guitar. With Carl Perkins, who wrote four songs, sings one of them, and picks on the instrumentals. B+(*)
Johnny Cash: Man in Black (1971, Columbia): One of the era's most effective antiwar songs ("Singin' in Vietnam Talkin' Blues"), although the hit was the solidarity anthem with the downtrodden, but for filler he begins and ends with Jesus, and too bad guest preacher Billy Graham doesn't have anything worthwhile to offer. B+(***)
Johnny Cash: A Thing Called Love (1972, Columbia): Three singles, "Kate" and "A Thing Called Love" fine but unexceptional, "Papa Was a Good Man" means well but requires too much special pleading, as does "Tear Stained Letter." B
Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash På Österåker (1972 , Columbia/Legacy): Back in jail, performing for the inmates of Sweden's Österåker Prison. The reissue significantly expands and reshuffles the original 12-cut 1973 album to 24 tracks, including a rewrite of "San Quentin" as "Österåker" and some between-song patter in Swedish. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: Any Old Wind That Blows (1973, Columbia): The hit here is "Oney" -- an impulse to violence I've never approved of, not that I'm unfamiliar, let alone sympathetic, with overlings who abuse their power, nor that I can't appreciate the impulse, or Cash's closing cackle. Meanwhile, Cash loosens up on nearly everything, even the Jesus closer, and is downright exuberant on "If I Had a Hammer." A-
Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash: Johnny Cash and His Woman (1973, Columbia): The second of only three widely-spaced duet albums, not much especially considering how much her voice and comic timing could have brought to the deal, and even here she's at best a backing singer on more than half the cuts, so you got to figure it's something with him -- and something oddly personal, given that he met her on stage. B
Johnny Cash: Ragged Old Flag (1974, Columbia): Cash wraps himself up in the flag, and he's entitled, his love of country so deep it survives the embarrassments and follies that have torn it apart. Then he sets to worrying. B
Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash Sings Precious Memories (1975, Columbia): Another gospel album, Cash's fifth (if you're counting), and probably his worst -- obvious fare like "Rock of Ages," "The Old Rugged Cross," "Amazing Grace," and the tile song rendered by a lame orchestra and lots of extra voices. Only tolerable when they pick up the pace (e.g., "In the Sweet By and By"). C-
Johnny Cash: John R. Cash (1975, Columbia): Only one original ("Lonesome to the Bone"), with the covers casting far for inspiration, finding it in such clever turns as Billy Joe Shaver's "Jesus Was Our Savior and Cotton Was Our King" and Randy Newman's "My Old Kentucky Home," but nothing quite fits. B
Johnny Cash: Look at Them Beans (1975, Columbia): Three Cash originals, with "I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs" the most revealing, a point he proves by trying to sing one from Don Williams. The title track comes from Joe Tex, and it's funny that they kept the horns. B+(*)
Johnny Cash: Strawberry Cake (1975 , Columbia): Live, from the London Palladium, starts with three songs from the Sun era, a story about watching chain gang workers, then "I Got Stripes." Then comes June Carter Cash's Carter Family tribute, interrupted by a bomb threat, and Cash's new title song, a Lonnie Donegan tribute, a song about the "Navajo," and a couple more. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: One Piece at a Time (1976, Columbia): The title track is such a perfect working stiff yarn that it comes as a surprise that Cash didn't write it. But seven tracks -- more than any of album of the period -- have Cash's name on them (or eight with the one by Rosanne Cash). B+(***)
Johnny Cash: The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976 , Columbia): The title track is by Guy Clark, but Cash's originals are better than par for the period (especially "City Jail"), June helps lift "Far Side Banks of Jordan," and this ends with a touching Gene Autry tribute, "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine." B+(**)
Johnny Cash: The Rambler (1976-77 , Columbia): A concept album, eight original songs with narration between: Cash's character gets dumped by his "lady" and hits the road, picking up a hitchhiker in Indiana with an ex called Calilou, so they drive west, get cold feet in California, and turn around toward New Orleans. Nothing wrong with the songs, nor interesting in the repartee. B
Johnny Cash: I Would Like to See You Again (1976-77 , Columbia): Waylon Jennings helps out on two songs -- "I Wish I Was Crazy Again" is more his line, but "There Ain't No Good Chain Gang" is a lesson Cash learned long ago. Cash's four originals are solid enough -- "Who's Gene Autry?" rings truest -- and his pick of the covers fills the album out nicely, with "I'm Alright Now" an upbeat gospel closer. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: Gone Girl (1978, Columbia): Cash's own "I Will Rock and Roll With You" is pretty ambivalent, even fretting about the weirdos in the wings, but he nails one by Jagger-Richards, rocks "It Comes and Goes," and corrals some catchy covers (including "The Gambler" and "Cajun Born"). The strings aren't fatal, but not a plus either. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: Silver (1979 , Columbia/Legacy): Reissue adds two George Jones duets to the one on the album proper, both remakes as is "Cocaine Blues"; then there's the twisted "I'll Say It's True" -- no idea what to make of that. B+(*)
Johnny Cash: Rockabilly Blues (1979-80 , Columbia): The title song refers back to "Texas 1955," and the album as a whole is a bit more upbeat with a bit more jangle than Cash's norm, but it's not what rockabilly sounded like back then, even when played by the Tennessee Two -- i.e., this sounds less like Cash than usual. Covers from Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Steve Goodman/John Prine, Rodney Crowell, and Nick Lowe don't sound like them either. No wonder he's got the blues. B
Johnny Cash: The Baron (1980-81 , Columbia): Countrypolitan legend Billy Sherrill enters as producer, pretty much killing off the Cash sound, and Cash didn't bother to write a line, but he sings fine, with "Reverend Mr. Black" and "Chattanooga City Limit Sign" the most satisfying songs, and the patriotic swell of "Greatest Love Affair" the yuckiest moment. B
Johnny Cash/Jerry Lee Lewis/Carl Perkins: The Survivors Live (1981 , Columbia): Three-fourths of Sun's circa 1955 "million dollar quartet" -- Elvis Presley had died in 1977 -- reassemble for a live show in Germany, doing some of their old hits ("Get Rhythm," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Blue Suede Shoes") and old favorites ("Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad," "Peace in the Valley," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "I'll Fly Away," "I Saw the Light"). Fast and sloppy, hard to complain, or see the point. B
Johnny Cash: The Adventures of Johnny Cash (1981-82 , Columbia): Cash fell off the country singles list in the 1980s: only "The Baron" (1981) cracked the top-20 (at 10), and only two (of three) singles even charted here. Of course, Billy Joe Shaver's "Georgia on a Fast Train" sounds fine, as does John Prine's "Paradise" and Merle Haggard's "Good Old American Guest." B+(*)
Johnny Cash: Johnny 99 (1983, Columbia): Where Cash finally covers Springsteen, twice, and I never want to hear "Highway Patrolman" sung by anyone else. Second best song is "I'm Ragged but I'm Right," credited to George Jones but old even when Riley Puckett sung it (and the title of a superb out-of-print RCA comp of "Great Country String Bands of the 1930's." But I've been spared by birth the slightest temptation to join in on "God Bless Robert E. Lee." B+(*)
Johnny Cash: Rainbow (1984-85 , Columbia): Legacy's compilations hardly ever extend beyond 1983's "Highway Patrolman" (even the one titled Columbia Records 1958-1986) making this one of Cash's most forgotten records. Chips Moman produced -- nothing crisp or sharp here, or indeed memorable, but nothing embarrassing either. B-
Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings: Heroes (1984-85 , Columbia): A spinoff, or maybe just outtakes, from the Highwayman project, two desperate artists in black give us more reasons to detest the concept, including the anthem "American by Birth" ("and Southern by the grace of God"). B-
Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson/Johnny Cash/Kris Kristofferson: Highwayman (1984 , Columbia): The quartet's third album, 1995's The Road Goes On Forever, rechristened them as the Highwaymen, but Jimmy Webb's title song is singular, and the artists are listed left-to-right across the front cover as above. Amusing to listen to trademark voices trading lines, but that just makes them pass faster. B
Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson/Johnny Cash/Kris Kristofferson: Highwayman 2 (1989 , Columbia): No names on the cover, just faces, so we'll keep the credit order. Cash's "Songs That Make a Difference" is the odd one out because none of the others do. B-
Budd Johnson & Phil Woods: The Ole Dude & the Fundance Kid (1984 , Uptown): Johnson was one of the swing era's tenor sax greats -- he rarely led sessions but they were often terrific, and he often shows up in the side credits of first-rate albums -- and this seems to have been his final session. Alto saxophonist Woods was a bebopper who grew to respect his elders and he meshes nicely here, with Richard Wyands on piano. A- [dl]
Gene Ludwig-Pat Martino Trio: Young Guns (1968-69 , High Note): Organ-guitar trio, with Randy Gelispie on drums. Martino's career ended with an aneurysm in 1979, then was resurrected, to much hoopla, in 1987, not that (in admittedly light sampling) I've found his work -- mostly soul jazz riffs with a touch of Montgomery -- all that impressive. Organist Ludwig has an even spottier discography with no melodrama explaining the gaps -- a couple mid-1960s albums, one in 1979, a steady stream of retro-soul jazz efforts since he turned 60 in 1997. This, however, is terrific, with the guitar racing so fast that Ludwig never gets to settle into his groove. Previously unreleased, I think. A- [cd]
Additional Consumer News:
Previously rated Johnny Cash albums (Columbia):
Also Columbia/Legacy's compilations (own records 1958-85; before that are cross-licensed from Sun; after from UME, either Mercury or American):
Columbia/Legacy has also started releasing a "bootleg" series, mostly from Cash's personal tapes:
Monday, March 17. 2014
Music: Current count 22967  rated (+33), 599  unrated (-12).
One more week like last and the ratings count will hit 23,000. I doubt that will happen, but 30+ weeks show I haven't made much progress weaning myself off writing about music, although it is starting to happen. The most common path to a 30+ week is a lot of quickies on Rhapsody (like last week's Johnny Cash orgy), but I'm pleased to note that I've knocked a dozen slots off the unrated list, dipping back below 600.
Exceptional number of A- records this week (seven) but only one arrived at my snail mail box (one more came as a download link from a publicist). I have to credit tracking down recommendations from other critics, and I'm actually a bit surprised that I only came up with seven. For instance, three B+ records here come from Chris Monsen's 2014: Favorites (Made to Break, Matt Bauder, and Lydia Loveless) -- Monsen reads my mind so efficiently I sometimes check his lists to see what I'm thinking, but none of those records quite did it for me. Laura Cantrell was recommended by Tatum and Gubbels. Several records showed up in Seth Colter Walls' monthly jazz picks at Rhapsody. The Mehldau I found while looking for the new one. Budd Johnson just fell out of the sky.
You shouldn't have to wait long to get write-ups: I'll run a Rhapsody Streamnotes column later this week -- possibly as early as Tuesday. Maybe I'll catch a break after that.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 16. 2014
It seems like I've written dozens of drafts of sketches of designs for a new music website, with this just one more step in the series. However, events -- admittedly not all that well understood by me -- have conspired to make this a do-or-die proposal. Or more likely, a final, soon-to-be-forgotten, stake in the ground.
In 2001 I built a website for Robert Christgau. By that time he had written three decade-spanning Consumer Guide books based on more than 30 years of more-or-less monthly columns. They totalled over 10,000 short album reviews with letter grades, so the first thing I wanted to do was to collect them into a database that could be queried in various ways: by artist, by title, by label, by release year, by grade, etc. I added to this an archive of Christgau's numerous essays (or "pieces"), grouping them variously by subject or publication. These, too, were indexed in a database, but I never wrote the code for flexible queries of that database, so they were only accessible by browsing directories or using search tools -- one of many unfinished design intents.
As I was working on the Christgau website, I came to recognize various flaws in the design or problematic limits, and started to think about how a Version 2 would address them. One big problem which has confounded me ever since is that my simple artist and label tables were overnormalized: in the real world there were extensive clusters of related artist (and label) names -- just to pick one example, Christgau has reviewed Peter Stampfel records released under eleven different artist name variations. It then becomes very difficult to turn those separate entries back into a coherent listing for Stampfel. (I did eventually come up with a hack for this problem but it isn't a proper solution.)
While I was thinking about the design of a Version 2 of the Christgau website, I was fleshing out a generalization of the same concepts that could be used for other writers to generate websites similar to Christgau's. I called this the Writer's Website Project. If you look at Hullworks.net you'll still see a slogan for the project ("Dedicated to making free content on the web cheaper") and a broken link promising further info. That project foundered on some fairly pedestrian technical problems -- e.g., I never got the user management code worked out, which is a basic piece of every CMS package ever developed. But I also didn't get a lot of writers to work with, some who were sympathetic had already tied themselves up with a paywall outfit called Rock's Back Pages, and I was getting increasingly sucked into my own writing.
Parallel to the above, I had been cobbling together my own website. I started in 1998 when I was working for SCO -- they hosted employee pages under the "ocston" disclaimer -- and I turned them into TomHull.com after I was sacked in 2000. One of the first things I did was to take an old file called "records.txt" which listed most of the records I owned and grades as best as I recalled and turn it into a primitive (flat-file) database. I added both new records as I heard them and recommended records from various references sources (the current totals are 48882 records listed and 22955 rated). I also collected my old rock critic writings into an archive. In 2003 I started adding to them by writing Recycled Goods, in 2005 the floodgates opened with Jazz Consumer Guide (and its spinoff Jazz Prospecting), and in 2007 Rhapsody Streamnotes. In the course of those three columns I've probably written over 10000 short reviews -- enough to stuff into my own Christgau-like database, if only I liked that database.
Several reasons I haven't done that yet. One is that while it would be handy for me personally to have such a database, I've become convinced that what the world needs is a music website where many people can come together to share their knowledge and opinions about music. Rather than doing something personal -- or, as the Writers Website Project proposed, having lots of people do something personal -- I would rather contribute my data as a seed for something other people can build on. One thing that has become clear to me is that while tracking individual critics has a distinct advantage in coherency, no single critic can cover a broad enough range to satisfy many other people.
On the other hand, I'm not looking to cover everything (like All Music Guide) or to take a neutral position (like Wikipedia). I'm looking at least for the coherency of a tribe -- a group of people who approach music in sufficiently similar ways that their opinions are likely to be of interest to each other. Who these people has never seemed like much of a problem -- I know dozens of obvious candidates -- not that getting them to work (and to work together) is easy. But it's long seemed to me that the basic principle of "build it and they will come" applies here. The problem has always been building it.
The following section is a brief sketch of his I imagined doing that:
When I built the Christgau website, I used the basic free software platforms of the time and coded the entire site from scratch. I used PHP as the coding language, and stored the data in a MySQL database (plus the file system). The web server itself was Apache, although I hardly did anything at that level. My first inclination has always been to follow that same approach, which meant expanding the website by developing an increasingly sophisticated data model. Indeed, most large music websites (e.g., All Music Guide, Discogs) are so closely bound to their data models that you practically reverse engineer them by looking at how the pages are organized. The major exception to this is Wikipedia, which has a vast amount of music information without any specialized data structures at all.
I ultimately decided that there are three main problems with the hard-coded "from scratch" development model:
Since I built the Christgau site, a lot of people have written, using the same free software tools, more general "content management systems" that can be used and then customized for a wide range of websites. I've used several such packages over the years, and they vary depending on what sort of interactions they support, how much collaboration, and how easy they are to customize. I did an extensive search and review of these packages 5-7 years ago, picked out a couple, and unfortunately they didn't work very well -- a setback. At this point I'm hopeful that two packages I don't yet have much experience with will work out better: Mediawiki and WordPress.
Mediawiki is the software used to implement Wikipedia, and web's vast online encyclopedia to everything. The main purpose of the music website is to provide a reference resource: an encyclopedic guide to all worthwhile (in the tribe's opinion) music. Mediawiki imposes no fixed structure on this, although it leans toward atomicity: one page per album, one page per artist with links to each album. Index pages can be grouped any way that makes sense: a list of albums under labels, a list of artists under genres, lists by year or period. One feature I regard as particularly important is recommended album lists, which again are just hand-edited lists. Adding a new feature, like a section on music books, is as simple as doing it.
Mediawiki is focused on collaboration, and by default allows anyone to edit pages (although this can be restricted). As protection against sabotage, it provides strong revision control. Each page has a discussion page, so you can keep a running log of notes about proposals for editing pages. It has useful templating features: it's very easy to create "stub" pages (e.g., when you need to add a musician or album) and it's easy to identify stub pages needing further revision. One could, for instance, start by generating stub pages and dumping my review data onto the discussion pages, relatively quickly creating a substantial start.
I have other questions about how to use Mediawiki: in particular, how to extend it. One essential part of the website is a rating system, combining the ratings of dozens or hundreds (or potentially thousands) of contributors. To do this we need a special database which has album information, grader information, and grades. The main complication to album data is release info, which sometimes matters for graders and often doesn't. I'm inclined to limit qualified graders to people who fill out a fairly extensive profile (not all of which need be public) and who are able to grade a substantial number of albums (at least 1000, maybe more). We would need hand-coded pages to maintain the database, and some code which can be embedded on Mediawiki pages to pull out the current grading summary. Also pages of links sorted by ratings data. From a development standpoint, the ratings database could be developed separately and merged at some future point.
We should also give some thought to licensing. I'm inclined to use a license compatible with Wikipedia to make it easy to move data back and forth, helping both websites.
Mediawiki provides fairly minimal tools for identifying recent changes, but they would make for a very dry news source. Accordingly, I suggest using WordPress in a blog mode for providing a news feed -- both about the reference site and on current music news. (I assume this would be more reviews than gossip or download links, but that may just be me. It could also have a non-review focus like Odyshape.) It looks to me like the front page of a WordPress site could present multiple streams (virtual blogs), so these could be blocked out with a reviews stream, one for news, one for reference site change activity, one for new ratings data, and so forth. Several of these may require custom code to be written to create custom plugins. (I haven't looked at the plugin interface, but there are several thousand plugins readily available, so how hard can they be?)
It's not clear to me whether there are any incompatibilities to running two CMS systems on one website: the packages are designed to install each in its own directory, both use MySQL but each picks a distinct table prefix so they can share the same database. The user systems would be distinct, resulting in the inconvenience of having two login names and passwords (but only if you work on both parts). Links from one part to the other may be a bit trickier, but no more so than linking to external websites.
I currently lease a fairly low-end dedicated server, so I assumed this site could be built there. And I own a usable domain name, TerminalZone.net, so there would be very little cost (work is another story) to setting up something. I never tried putting a business plan together, because I've never had a sense of how to raise money off such a website. One could, presumably, beg more money to buy more bandwidth if that becomes an issue, but funding staff (and freelance writers) is not something I personally worry about: while nice for those receiving, I'm not sure that it really helps much.
But then that may be one reason I'm just throwing this out, and expecting nothing to come of it.
After MSN dropped Robert Christgau's Expert Witness blog, I promised to write something about what I thought it would take in a music website for people of similar tastes to move forward in a post-Christgau world. This is (more or less) the post I had expected to write, but much water has passed under the bridge since then, including some things that may (or may not) be confidential (but that I don't understand well enough anyway). The stuff I do best understand is that I've dropped my Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods columns, so I've started to back peddle as a music critic, and will before long become as washed up as anyone else. (In the meantime, I have moved part of those efforts into Rhapsody Streamnotes, and have what I think is a very nice and possibly even useful column coming out next week.) So my personal desire to keep the world informed on new music has started to wane.
On the other hand, I am leaning towards doing more technical website work. I'm looking at WordPress for a couple very different applications. I'm also likely to do more programming, so I'm shifting focus a bit, and that's led me to described the website above more in terms of tools than content.
About two years ago several acquaintances asked me to put together some sort of webzine. We had, at the time, a mailing list with about a dozen names on it, but it gradually became inactive through nothing like a conscious decision. That could easily be resurrected to talk about this. As I said, I'd be willing to contribute some technical resources and coding skills (although possibly not up to the entire job) and a lot of data if other people would take it over and drive it forward. Nor am I terribly rigid about any aspect of this -- not that I haven't spent a lot more time thinking about this than the few hours it's taken to throw this post together.
Wednesday, March 12. 2014
Meant to pull one of these together last Sunday, but I got sidetracked on the many horrors of gun mishaps.
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, March 10. 2014
Music: Current count 22934  rated (+52), 611  unrated (-3).
I can't say that I'm fully recovered from the Florida trip. For one thing, I still have in front of me a large pile of notes, maps, and bills from which I meant to reconstruct an itinerary of the trip. I also meant to finally unpack the CD cases so that next trip, for the first time in five years or so, I can start out fresh. Since I got back the weather has been crazy up and down, ranging from sub-zero to today's 72F. The initial blizzard when I returned made me want to hibernate, but a couple days ago it was warm enough I finally washed the car, then it got cold again, now warm again.
This week's rated count is way over the top, but most of it comes from an in-depth exploration of Johnny Cash's Columbia albums. I've wanted to do Cash for a long time. I put his name on my request list for the New Rolling Stone Album Guide but someone else grabbed him. (I wound up with George Jones and Willie Nelson.) Back in 2012 I begged Legacy for a review copy of Cash's 63-CD Complete Columbia Collection, to no avail. Then last week, while trolling through Rhapsody's "new country" list, I noticed a bunch of reissued Cash, so figured this might be the time to dig in. I had, after all, played quite a bit of Cash on the Florida trip -- including all four discs of The Legend. I tried to take the albums in chronological order, skipping compilations and some of the gospel. And they went fast: aside from the live albums, I doubt that more than five 1958-85 albums cracked 30 minutes, even near the end when the under-2-minute songs of the 1950s had gone extinct. Not everything is on Rhapsody yet, but most of it is there. I didn't bother with the Sun or Mercury albums, or his final act with Rick Rubin -- all of the latter and most of the others are in the ratings database already. Full report in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes (probably mid-month, given how fast they're piling up).
Still not finding many 2014 releases of note, other than among the jazz releases that are still finding me. With no metacritic file this year, I've started a much simpler tracking list to remind myself of what's out there. Thus far it's mostly assembled from AMG and Metacritic, certainly not the most reliable sources out there. Nothing there that I've already rated, so it's not likely to be that useful to you.
One more point worth noting: I keep running into people who recommend WordPress as a web publishing platforms, so I'm finally taking a serious look at it, in the context of several projects, including the currently stalled Terminal Zone and Notes on Everyday Life, and perhaps most urgently for Wichita Peace. Most projects need both a news series (last-in first-out, like a blog) and a cluster of static pages. WordPress is commonly used as a blog, so I need to explore how viable it is for reference pages. (For the music site, my thinking is that Mediawiki is the superior tool, but overkill for a less expansive site.) I'll also need to look into the plugin interface and possibly build something (especially for the music site). I also need to look at the commenting system. I've been using Serendipity for my blog (and several others), and its handling of comments has been pretty close to useless. If anyone has much experience with WordPress, especially going beyond the ordinary, I'd be interested in hearing from you.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week: