Sunday, October 12. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."
The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.
Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.
Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]
Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.
One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.
Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:
There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.
That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.
I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.
Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.
Wednesday, October 8. 2014
OK, this is an on-the-road experiment: instead of collecting a week's (or half-week's) links and comments, then posting the final result, I'll try it bit-by-bit (with a delayed posting date):
Peter Beinart: Without a two-state solution, Americans will challenge Zionism itself: Behind their paywall, but the basic argument is that American liberals have tended to support Israel because they like the appeal of Israel as a liberal democracy (like us) -- and the only thing holding up the long-promised "two-state solution" is Palestinian intransigence. However, that is in fact wrong -- pretty much categorically so, as should be clear to anyone who listens to what Netanyahu and his cohort say. If, in the end, all the "Jewish state" has to justify itself with is an ethnocracy empowered by gratuitous violence -- i.e., about the only plausible explanation of Netanyahu's tantrum this summer -- few Americans (neocon militarists and Apocalypse-minded Christians) will be willing to continue supporting Israel. That strikes me as fair, even if a bit removed from the jingoism still dominant in US political discourse.
This dawning of reality would be taken as good news by most critical thinkers, but Beinart remains committed to the Zionist idea that Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews not only in Israel (where they are, in Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar's phrase, "lords of the land") but also in the Diaspora. A more accurate analysis would show that Zionism is intrinsically hostile to the Diaspora, no matter how conveniently Zionists suck up to generous (albeit misguided) foreign donors.
I still believe the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. I believe that because, in a post-Holocaust world, I want there to be one country that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life. And I believe it because among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, nationalism remains a massively powerful force. To assume each community could subordinate its deep-seeded nationalism to a newfound loyalty to secular state strikes me as utopian. Secular binationalism barely works in Belgium. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea it's probably a recipe for civil war.
But this requires arguing that Israel/Palestine is, at least right now, fundamentally different than the United States. It requires defending Zionism as something alien to the American experience, something necessary because in Israel/Palestine, the civic nationalism we revere here is neither possible nor desirable. That's very different than arguing that the United States should support Israel because it's America’s Middle Eastern twin.
But if you take the "twin" aspect away, it's hard to see many Americans caring about Jewish nationalism, especially since the anti-semitism that Israel is supposedly the solution to is hardly evident -- nor is it clear that Israel's "solution" really works.
Paul Krugman: Why Weren't the Alarm Bells Ringing?: Review of Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- from the Financial Crisis, which explains the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing depression using the now-standard Minsky model: that prolonged economic stability leads to financial laxness, excessive leverage, and collapse. Krugman is skeptical that that's all there is to it.
First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn't mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the "secular stagnation" hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I'm not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that's true, bubbles aren't the root of the problem; they're actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they're not sustainable -- so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.
Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government's printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It's the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.
I've always found "secular stagnation" to be an oddly opaque term. The "persistent low demand" at its center is most certainly the effect of increasing inequality, where most people are increasingly denied the option to spend on real goods, while the rich often find their gains wrapped up in the illusion of inflated asset prices. This is, of course, a much deeper and more persistent problem than the stability of the banks. The Bush-Obama (or Paulson-Geithner) solution was to save the banks, figuring that if the front lines of the crisis held people wouldn't suspect that there was anything more rotten at the core of the crisis. But
the fact that the "Obama recovery," like the "Bush recovery" before it, feels so hollow should dispel us of such illusions.
Krugman's note on
2011 and All That is worth quoting at length:
But [Bill] Gross was by no means alone in getting these things wrong. Indeed, 2011 was a sort of banner year for bad macroeconomic analysis by people who had no excuse for their wrong-headedness. And here's the thing: aside from Gross, hardly any of the prominent wrong-headers have paid any price for their errors.
Think about it: 2011 was the year when Bowles and Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years. There was never a hint of crisis, but BS are still given reverent treatment by the Beltway media.
2011 was also the year when Paul Ryan warned Ben Bernanke that he was "debasing" the dollar, arguing that rising commodity prices were the harbinger of runaway inflation; the Bank for International Settlements made a similar argument, albeit with less Ayn Rand. They were completely wrong, but Ryan is still the intellectual leader of the GOP and the BIS is still treated as a fount of wisdom.
The difference is, of course, that Gross had actual investors' money on the line. But you should not take that to imply that the profit motive leads to intellectual clarity; Gross has been forced out at Pimco, but I've seen hardly any press coverage tying that to his having the wrong macro model.
Speaking of getting things wrong, also see
Jeff Madrick: Why the Experts Missed the Recession. Madrick's sources are primarily recently released FOMC debates and "Greenbook" economic forecasts, which show how completely events blindsided the very "experts" who were responsible for setting Fed interest rates, and thereby adjusting the economy.
Monday, October 6. 2014
Music: Current count 23893  rated (+23), 526  unrated (+5).
Actually, the week for me ended on Friday, October 3.
New records rated this week:
- Marcia Ball: The Tatooed Lady and the Alligator Man (2014, Alligator): sings blues, plays boogie-woogie, spins a fine yarn then goes for the filler [r]: B+(*)
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (2013 , FMR): more if you want more, but start with superv Vol. 1 [cd]: B+(***)
- Jack Clement: For Once and for All (2014, IRS Nashville): the late Nashville producer reclaims a few of his songs, with genteel smiling cowboy aplomb [r]: B+(***)
- Neil Cowley Trio: Touch and Flee (2014, Naim Jazz): Brit piano trio for fans of EST and Jarrett continue to keep semipopular jazz respectable [r]: B+(*)
- Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (2013 , Jen Bay Jazz): guitarist who admires Tal Farlow backed by David Hazletine, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash dream band [cd]: B+(**)
- Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (2014, Tompkins Square): pioneering harmony woman of bluegrass belatedly strikes out on her own, ancient and ragged [r]: B+(***)
- Prince: Art Official Age (2014, Warner Brothers): wondered if he was done, but give him a major label and he'll lay out some major label funk for you [r]: B+(*)
- Prince/3rdEyeGirl: Plectrum Electrum (2014, Warner Brothers): "all-female power trio" means they know Cream's basslines but don't sing like Jack Bruce [r]: B+(*)
- Matthew Shipp: I've Been to Many Places (2014, Thirsty Ear): yet another solo piano record, louder than ever in case you didn't get the point yet [r]: B+(*)
- Tricky: Adrian Thaws (2014, !K7): discovers own name and recovers old tricks for a wide range of poses, must be some kind of midlife crisis [r]: B+(***)
- Ulf Wakenius: Solo: Momento Magico (2013 , ACT): solo guitar, goes for thick chords to add gravitas to an intrinsically light album [r]: B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 , Analog Africa): obscurities from the heart of the heart of West Africa [r]: B+(**)
- The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 , Delmark): Seattle trad jazz band with banjo and tuba, makes the old songs zing [cd]: A-
- Charlie Haden/Jim Hall: Charlie Haden/Jim Hall (1990 , Impulse): live in Montreal a year late for Haden's big fęte, but this is more about the guitarist, drawing him out [r]: A-
- The Rough Guide to Arabic Jazz (, World Music Network, 2CD): rougher than need be, especially with the scene-stealing Cuban ringer the best cut by far [r]: B+(*)
- The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco (1965-93 , World Music Network, 2CD): dance dance dance with a pre-disco highlight that reminds me of Chubby Checker [r]: B+(***)
- The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): label annoying as ever, not that they can't program a songlist [r]: B+(***)
- Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63 , GVC, 2CD): various singers sharing Spruill's guitar, a still vital r&b period compiled [cd]: A
Old records rated this week:
- Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 , Vanguard): early sessions led by Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson, showing the company he keeps and progress [r]: B+(**)
- Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn (2005 , Nu Bop): piano-drums duo, half of David Ware's quartet, not quite finished [r]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Alessandro Collina/Rodolfo Cervetto/Marc Peillon/Fabrizio Bosso: Michel on Air (ITI)
- Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (Jazz Sick)
- Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (Jazz Sick)
- Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music)
- Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music)
- Will Holshouser/Matt Munister/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (Aviary): November 1
- Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders: A Beautiful Friendship (Summit)
Friday, October 3. 2014
A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:
Dean Baker: Eric Holder: The Reason Robert Rubin Isn't Behind Bars
Rosa Brooks: But This Threatiness Goes to 11 . . .
Patrick Cockburn: Does David Cameron Have Any Idea What Kind of War He's
Tom Engelhardt: Failure Is Success: Subtitle: How American Intelligence
Works in the Twenty-First Century. "Intelligence," of course, is not what
the word implies.
Glenn Greenwald: After Feigning Love for Egyptian Democracy, US Back to
Openly Supporting Tyranny
William Hartung/Stephen Miles: Who Will Profit From the Wars in Iraq
Paul Krugman: How to Get It Wrong. His blog is also full of examples
of people getting it wrong; e.g.,
Bill Gross, and
Kate: 'Only a suicidal country doesn't recognize the Bedouin problem':
Israeli minister seeks ways to lower Bedouin birthrate: and other
stories of life under the Zionist state. For another, earlier report:
J'lem settlers amok: 10-year-old Palestinian is run over, 11-year-old
is nearly abducted.
Richard Silverstein: Shin Bet Murders Palestinians Who Killed Three Israeli
Border Police Special Forces Command Confirms Execution of Hebron
Why be curious about "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"?
Meanwhile, TPM is still specializing on stupid people saying stupid
Ed Board Member: Give US Credit for Voluntarily Ending Slavery.
Tuesday, September 30. 2014
Time to wrap another batch of Streamnotes up: 21 days after the
September 9 column.
I've been running these approximately every three weeks this year,
and the average count has been close to 90. The Old Music section
focuses on Steve Lacy, after starting out with the much smaller
catalogs of Julius Hemphill and Henry Threadgill. The line between
Old Music and "Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries" is vague,
but generally speaking the latter were released in the last couple
years -- I go back as far as 2011 there.
The usual caveats about listening to music on the computer apply.
It's rare that I'll settle on an A- grade in only one play -- Sun
Ra and Roger Miller are two such cases, but they cover ground I'm
familiar with from elsewhere. On the other hand, low-B+ and below
rarely get more than one spin: I'm not especially concerned whether
I get those grades right, since plus or minus a notch makes little
consumer difference. More often I'm sure enough about the grade but
unclear on how to write the review: it's rarely worth my while to
give a record an extra spin just to write a better review, although
I did that routinely back in the days when I got paid for reviews.
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
September 9. Past reviews and more information are available
here (5406 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (2014, Blue Note): Instantly
regretted spinning this, knowing that by the time it was over I'd
neither grasp whatever intricacies may exist in the lyrics nor care.
Prolific, something like 14 albums in 14 years -- surprising at this
late date he'd go to the eponymous title, usually an introduction
but sometimes a fresh start, in his case more a collapsing worldview,
just his face (and a lot of hair) on the cover, just guitar around
Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (2013
, Delmark): Vibraphonist, has made a big splash since starting
to work with Chicago avant groups a few years back. Trio with bass
(Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten) and drums (Mike Reed), third album together
(starting with the one called Sun Rooms, natch), and goes a
long ways toward establishing the vibraphone a lead instrument.
Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (2014, Sub Pop):
Cincinnati group, had seven albums 1988-98, broke up, returning for
this one. I've only heard one of the old albums and don't recall it
at all. This strikes me as heavy, an attribute in rock I have little
desire for, but very accomplished for its type, I guess.
Aphex Twin: Syro (2014, Warp): Richard D. James,
enjoyed a measure of fame in the mid-1990s for his "ambient works" --
can't say as I was impressed, nor do I recall following any of the
aliases he's used since the last Aphex Twin album in 2001. This,
however, is fun throughout, a trippy mix of bass lines and beats,
with a little ambient coda at the end.
Avi Buffalo: At Best Cuckold (2014, Sub Pop): Southern
California group led by Avi Zahner-Isenberg, has a falsetto lead and
occasionally pines for the "In My Room" side of the Beach Boys.
Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art (2011 , Grand Hustle,
EP): Australian rapper, Amethyst Amelia Kelly, released her debut album
this year (below), but on the way to checking it out, I noticed this
thing -- her debut mixtape, credited as "Iggy Azalea Presents" ("Dirt
in Your Pussy Ass Bitch" is someone else's sketch [T.I.?]). Runs nine
tracks, 26:33, built around the video-ready single, "Pu$$y," a sharp
and nasty calling card.
Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (2014, Island): Rapper
from Australia, but her mentor is T.I. and her state-of-the-world
production is post-Gaga, post-Minaj even, a "pop/rap hybrid" that
eschews the soft center, aiming both sharp edges at the other.
"Fancy," of course, is irony, but anyone who'd describe herself
as "his new bitch" is bound to be trouble. Metacritic grade: 57.
Daniel Blacksberg Trio: Perilous Architecture (2012
, NoBusiness): Trombonist, based in Philadelphia, background
ranges from klezmer to Anthony Braxton. Backed with bass and drums,
keeps it interesting.
Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Love Supreme Collective
(2014, Ropeadope): Tenor sax and drums, respectively, plus Percy Jones
(bass), Adam Benjamin (keys on 3 of 4 cuts), and Chris Poland (guitar on
the other cut). The four cuts are laid out like A Love Supreme,
but run short (21:58), and rough.
Causa Sui: Pewt'r Sessions 3 (2014, El Paraiso):
Third collaboration between the Danish "heavy psych explorers" (i.e.,
fusion group) and Ron "Pewt'r" Schneiderman, who evidently does similar
stuff in Massachusetts. Three tracks for a vinyl-length album, expansive
with a slow burn at the end.
Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (2014, Columbia):
His "golden voice" is more gone than ever, but his tactic of using
female backing vocals keeps him limping along. As for the songs,
they're becoming more biblical not because he's thinking of death
so much as he's pondering very old things.
Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra
(2014, Planet Arts): Jazz Orchestra means big band -- 5 reeds, 4
trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, drums -- and Ives for
that gristmill isn't far from the postmodern big band norm -- not
swing but not terribly Third Stream either.
Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk
(2013, self-released): New Orleans "Indians" -- a featured story line in
HBO's Treme, their showy plumes and deep funk a phenomenon many of
us were hepped to in 1976 when The Wild Tchoupitoulas appeared, or
even earlier in 1974-75 when the Wild Magnolias released two albums. The
latter group was led by Theodore "Bo" Dollis, and now his son, born seven
years later but in the crew since he was 13, is at the helm of the family
business. His funk moves are hardly pathbreaking, and his use of a bit of
rap is tentative, but the basic shtick is irresistible, and the best thing
here is the most trad and true, a burnburning "Liza Jane."
Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (2014, Mello Music Group):
Rapper, west coast guy, very laid back, soft-edged, which oddly enough
draws you in.
Hal Galper Trio: O's Time (2014, Origin): Piano trio,
with Jeff Johnson and John Bishop -- picked them up on a Live in
Seattle album in 2009 and they're back for a fourth album. They're
fine players, and this album has impressive moments.
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: We're Back (2014,
Whaling City Sound): Drummer, son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, first
album was called Thrasher (1995), evidently an apt nickname,
his Dream Trio debuted on a 2013 album, consists of Kenny Barron and
Ron Carter so I can't claim he's given to overstatement. Booklet has
a picture of 13-year-old Thrasher: looks like he's been opening presents
and is showing off his new LPs (two Ron Carter records). Back cover says,
"Jazz Interpretations of R&B Classics," and as befits a '70s child
most are from Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire -- "What's Going
On" and "Pick Up the Pieces" are among the others. (Personally, I was
more into George Clinton during the 1970s.) They add guest stars you
notice when they're present but don't miss when they aren't: Larry
Goldings (organ), Warren Wolf (vibes), Steve Wilson (alto/soprano sax).
John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (2014, New West):
Singer-songwriter going back to the mid-1970s, when he had a younger
and weirdly slurred voice and sang about crushing ants and waterskiing
to heaven; some marvelous work, but was never as good after he had a
freak hit and kept cranking out albums nearly every year whether he
had worthy songs or not. This is his best in ages (probably since
1983) -- the songs matter, his voice has achieved a new level of
surrealism, and he's learned something from Adorno: "old people are
pushy/'cause life ain't cushy."
Kevin Hildebrandt: Tolerance (2012 , Summit):
Guitarist, sings several songs, leads a trio with Radam Schwartz on
organ and Alvester Garnett on drums. Four Hildebrant originals, one
from Schwartz, covers include "House of the Rising Sun," "Night and
Day," "Further On Up the Road," "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Swings
harder than soul jazz.
Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (2014, Stones Throw):
Underground rapper from Queens, usually sells himself short but
lets this one run a healthy 41:48. Beats seem a little off, but
he talks his way around them, and usually pays off.
William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz
Festival (2013 , NoBusiness): Sax-drums duets, the drummer
getting top billing because he's the best known or came the furthest or
maybe it's just alphabetical. Mockunas, at home in Lithuania, plays
soprano, alto, and tenor, and is consistently impressive on four long
Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (2014, RCA): Soul diva, lost
her American Idol bid to Fantasia Barrino but snagged a role
in the movie Dreamgirls and got an Oscar for it. Third album,
built around big disco beats and that gospel wail soul divas are so
Tommy Igoe: The Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy (2014,
Deep Rhythm): Drummer-led 14-piece Bay Area "supergroup" -- Aaron
Lington is the only name among the regulars that rings a bell, but
some "guest conspirators" are better known: Randy Brecker (trumpet,
one track), Kenny Washington (vocals, two). Not really a groove album,
just more of the usual big band blare.
Imarhan Timbuktu: Akal Warled (2014, Clermont):
Desert blues group from Mali. First album here but group dates back
to 1993. The rhythmic lilt is stock in trade for the genre, and the
vocals never threaten to break ranks -- the very constancy of their
sound over the entire album is their main charm, which is to say
this makes for nice background music.
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro
(2014, Strut): Nigerian saxophonist, one of the founders of Afrobeat --
Fela Kuti started out in Julius' band -- gets rediscovered by English
quasi-jazz group which previously brought some attention to Ethio-jazz
master Mulatu Astatke. In this one the sax bulls right past the beat,
impressive in its own right.
Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook
Vol. II (2014, ALMA): That would be composer Don Breithaupt
and lyricist Jeff Breithaupt -- evidently a big deal in Canada and
aiming at Broadway. The first volume was prefaced Toronto Sings.
This one evidently casts a wider net, although I hardly recognize
any of the singers. And I've yet to find a reason to care about
the music, which isn't to say that it's bad.
Kalle Kalima & K-18: Buńuel de Jour (2013
, TUM): Finnish guitarist, quartet adds Mikko Innanen (alto
sax), Veil Kujala (quarter-tone accordion), and Teppo Hauta-aho
(bass, percussion). The lead instruments tend to melt together
into a thick, richly flavored stew.
Sami Lane: You Know the Drill (2014, self-released,
EP): DJ from Bournemouth, has uploaded several mixtapes to Mixcloud,
this one a 29-minute continuous hip-hop flow, pretty hard-edged, lots
of N-words. She (I think that's right) has no discernible reputation,
just a Twitter account and 23 followers on Mixcloud, one of whom is
Alex Wilson, who currently ranks this 23rd on his 2014 list, just
behind Kris Davis (his only jazz pick) and ahead of Tacocat. I had
heard 39 of his top 41 so I thought I'd track this down. One annoying
problem with Mixcloud is that it keeps playing into her old catalog,
which is more EDM.
Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (2012
, NoBusiness): Piano trio. Pianist Lenoci, who credits Mal Waldron
and Paul Bley as teachers and plays much like them, has at least 15 albums
since 1991. A spirited improv set.
The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis & Osiris (2012 ,
Inarhyme): Drummer, teaches and therefore is based in Columbus, Ohio,
which keeps him and his sax trio out of the limelight. They have a
previous album, The State of Black America, on my top-ten
list for 2010. This one drags a bit near the start -- probably bass
solos, something too soft to hear -- but when Edwin Bayard's tenor
sax breaks through it's often mesmerizing. And the drummer's pretty
Alexander McCabe/Paul Odeh: This Is Not a Pipe (2014,
Wamco): Alto sax/piano duets. McCabe has impressed me in the past (cf.
2010's Quiz), and continues to in this sparer format.
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood: Juice (2014,
Indirecto): There's more to guitarist John Scofield than the organ
groove albums he did in the early 1990s although they were inspired
fun; more to MMW than organ grooves too, but a nice stretch with
Medeski on piano doesn't go very far.
The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (2014,
Cuneiform): Founded in 1980 with pianist Joel Forrester and soprano
saxophonist Phillip Johnston writing their songs, they broke up in
1990 and regrouped in 2006 with Mike Hashim (a superstar in my book)
taking over the tenor sax spot -- group has four saxes and no brass --
and since then they've done no wrong. I'm more struck than ever by
the gentle swing that permeates so many of their songs.
Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller
(2014, Blue Note): A jazz pianist, Moran's early career was auspicious,
debuting on a major label with a series of brilliant albums. In 2011,
he won a MacArthur "genius" grant, and that led to a project called
the Fats Waller Dance Party, and ultimately this album. He tapped
Meshell Ndegeocello, Lisa E. Harris, and Charles Haynes as vocalists,
and added some horn spots to his trio: Steve Lehman gets a superb sax
solo, and Moran's keyboard work is often dazzling, but the vocals strike
me as way off base -- so serious, so dour, even on "Ain't Misbehavin'."
Nicholas Payton: Numbers (2013 , Paytone):
New Orleans trumpet player, although you'd hardly guess that from
this album, where he spends most of his time noodling on a Fender
Rhodes, with guitar, bass, and drums cranking out underdeveloped
Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (2014,
self-released): Canadian postbop quartet with "co-leaders" Michael
Herring (bass) and Don Scott (guitar), plus Trevor Hogg on tenor
sax and Nick Fraser on drums, with Jean Martin lurking somewhere
in the background (co-producer, "mixing & additional recording").
Read somewhere that their influences list is topped by Wayne Shorter
and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Sounds like it.
RED Trio & Mattias Stĺhl: North and the Red Stream
(2013 , NoBusiness): Portuguese piano trio -- Rodrigo Pinheiro
on piano, Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums --
first appeared with an impressive eponymous album in 2010 (on Clean
Feed). They're joined here by vibraphonist Stĺhl, who does more than
add tinkle but can get caught up in the grind.
Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012
, TUM, 2CD): Trumpet great, has been working on large canvases
lately -- I count four 2CD releases since 2009 plus the 4CD Ten
Freedom Summers -- but this feels rather small and spotty as
it spurts and sputters, just one more horn: Henry Threadgill (alto
sax, flute, bass flute) plus bass (John Lindberg) and drums (Jack
DeJohnette). It does, however, remind me what a marvelous drummer
Wadada Leo Smith/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Balasz Pandi: Red
Hill (2014, Rare Noise): We might have to start talking
about Pandi as an exceptional drummer as well, and he's not the
only surprise here. Saft first came to my attention playing organ
for Joshua Redman, but his piano here is a million miles from there,
out somewhere you'd have to triangulate off Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor
to find. Morris, we should note, plays bass, not guitar. And while
the trumpeter starts with dark tones, he can't just sit on that in
Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (2012 , NCM East):
Leader plays bass clarinet and alto sax, in a quintet with Russ Johnson
on trumpet and Nir Felder on guitar -- front-line musicians who can
handle the whiplash speed changes.
Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (2014,
Random Act): Standards singer, has a dozen albums since 1982, more
often than not trying to search out some new terrain for ye olde
songbook -- an effort that works best when the songs have natural
swing, like Catchin' Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles
(1997), as opposed to The Music of Randy Newman (2011). The
subject here is Clare Fischer, a bit on the stuffy side, but
pianist-arranger Mark Soskin lightens and opens him up, Sara
Caswell's fiddle is a plus, and the singer can get by with the odd
Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet)
(2014, 429 Records): Starts unexpectedly with a bit of rockabilly fluff,
"Brand New Dance," but soon enough reverts to form, which is just fine
("I Knew Your Mother"), until he tries his hand at irony on a song that
kicks back like an untethered Uzi: "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas."
You know how much I hate Xmas music? This is one present I hope to never
Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (2014, Sugar Hill/Welk):
Country singer, doesn't write so has some trouble maintaining a persona --
she's too sweet to convince you she's the hopeless drunk of Chris Knight's
"Send It on Down" but maybe she does sleep with the devil -- at least that's
where she's picking her songs these days. (I normally tire quickly of Jesus
songs, but you're not likely to run across any of these in church.) The move
from countrypolitan MCA Nashville to a more trad label helps too.
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent
of the Nether Creatures (1980 , NoBusiness): Cross was a
trumpet player from St. Louis (1933-87), played in bands led by Charles
Tyler and Rashied Ali, but this is the only album Discogs lists by him.
Saxophonist Ackamoor was originally Bruce Baker, b. 1950 in Chicago, has
a bit more, including a foundation in San Francisco. Don't know anything
about bassist Al Akbar. Drummer Ali, b. Raymond Patterson in 1936, is
Rashied Ali's brother, has a 1974 duo album with Frank Wright, and has
appeared on some of David S. Ware's last albums. So, a two-horn free
jazz quartet of some vintage, recorded in the Netherlands and reissued
in Lithuania in limited edition (300 copies) vinyl.
Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979
(1974-79 , Analog Africa): A backwater even by African standards, but
wedged between Mali and Ghana, triangulated by Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea,
you get a little bit of the whole region, minus the stars.
Aby Ngana Diop: Liital (1994 , Awesome Tapes
From Africa): From Senegal, six cuts, 31:59. Mostly drums and shouted
voices, the lead singer not obviously female, some synth or something
on a few tracks but window dressing to the drums.
The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932
(1995 , Delmark): Trad jazz band from Seattle, eight pieces (at
least at this point -- a 1990 album had six) including banjo and tuba
(Tom Jacobus, the designated leader). Trombonist David Loomis sings a
couple songs, and the clarinet (Craig Flory) is exceptional. Admittedly,
I'm a sucker for this kind of music.
John Hiatt: Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012 (2000-12
, New West): Christgau sent me Hiatt's first two albums in 1975 --
ones that he ultimately graded B but which became personal favorites.
It may have helped that I saw him playing solo in Indianapolis, a bit
of totally unplanned serendipity. So he became a guy to keep tabs on.
Two of his next five albums were pretty good, but the others weren't,
and I remember John Piccarella wanting to write about him in the Voice,
only to get stuck with Warming Up to the Ice Age. Yet somehow
I missed his 1987-94 period on A&M, which reportedly produced some
hits. He moved to Vanguard in 2000 and New West in 2003, and I've been
checking him out since I got onto Rhapsody, until this year finding a
regular series of low B+ albums. This "best-of" does what it should,
picking out his most indelible songs from six or seven albums and
packing them into the only album you need from the decade.
The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition]
(1980-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): The label's second round
compilations -- never specified as such so check the artwork and numbers --
tend to recycle newer pieces that have been farmed up through the label,
and come with bonus discs reissuing albums that had no traction under the
original artists' names. Can't tell from Rhapsody whether the booklets
have improved -- in cases where I've seen them, they usually raise more
questions than they answer. This Sahara extends from Mariem Hassan of
Western Sahara/Morocco through the Mali-Niger heartland to Libya, Sudan,
and Egypt, with Ali Hassan Kuban's Nubian music the clincher and the
ringer -- much earlier if not older-sounding.
Mamane Barka: Introducing Mamane Barka (2009, World Music
Network): From Niger, plays ngurumi with drums and sings, a rather limited
palette but one which pleases in a steady, study way.
Shaver: Shaver's Jewels: The Best of Shaver (1993-2001
, New West): Billy Joe Shaver was a veteran with some very clever
songs under his belt and some relatively uninspired albums when he teamed
up with his guitar-playing son Eddy Shaver for five albums, a gig that
ended when Eddy overdosed in 2000. The extra guitar brought some spunk
and polish to the albums, and the compilation weeds out the weak spots.
Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78
, Strut, 2CD): Cover starts out "Marshall Allen Presents" --
indeed who better to pick out a centennary selection of Herman Blount's
Arkestra? -- but I'm dropping Allen's name so as not to confuse this
with the ghost band he still leads. These are, after all, vintage
recordings -- at least I've been able to match them up to the date
range above, allowing a few seconds variation for the remastering.
Vocals on close to half of the tracks -- more than I wanted but they
do establish a theme, one that's out of this world.
The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978 ,
Sackville/Delmark): From Sherman, Texas; played in territory bands
until 1939 when he joined Count Basie, replacing the late Herschel
Evans. My favorite album of his is Buck and Buddy Swing the
Blues -- "Buck" of course is Basie bandmate, trumpeter Buck
Clayton, and the title is exactly right. This set was originally
released as The Buddy Tate Quartet as if the group was
somehow more than something he picked up touring. They scarcely
deserve the compliment, but every time the sax blows Tate is
nothing short of resplendent.
Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 , Vanguard):
Assembled from three early sessions -- wish I could find the session
details, but one cut comes from a 10-inch LP called Buck Clayton
Meets Ruby Braff, and the others were possibly led by trombonist
Vic Dickenson -- front cover has three photos: Dickenson, Clayton,
and Braff, and the credits include Edmond Hall, Buddy Tate, Nat
Pierce, and Sir Charles Thompson. Varies, but most of it swings,
and the ballads are lovely.
Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: A New Tradition
(1967-87 , Columbia): The last of five various artist volumes,
released with similar artwork along with many notable single-artist
compilations (see ACN?). Sony's catalog is so deep that the first
two volumes -- Vol. 1: The Golden Age (1935-53) and Vol. 2:
Honky Tonk Heroes (1946-61) -- are nearly as definitive as the
first two volumes of Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian
Collection. The next two volumes -- Vol. 3: Americana
(1954-84) and Vol. 4: The Nashville Sound (1953-73) -- are
far from definitive, as is this grab bag of label stalwarts (Johnny
Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, latecoming Merle
Haggard, an out-of-his-depth Bob Dylan) and a younger generation
intent on retaining the tradition (Asleep at the Wheel, Ricky Van
Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash).
Julius Hemphill: Raw Materials and Residuals (1977
, Black Saint): Sax trio, the leader playing alto and soprano,
with Abdul Wadud (cello) and Don Moye (percussion). Begins with a
boppish thrill ride. Ends with a tune that sticks in your head.
Julius Hemphill/Warren Smith: Chile New York (1980
, Black Saint): Improv duets, Hemphill playing alto/tenor sax
and flute, Smith percussion.
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table (1997,
New World): Hemphill died in 1995 after a prolonged debilitating illness
that left him unable to play from the early 1990s. But he continued to
write and organize sax choirs -- he was the main driving force behind
the World Saxophone Quartet. His last album was Five Chord Stud
(1993), a sax quintet including a young James Carter. But he left some
unrecorded music, including this set, posthumously recorded under his
name by a sax/clarinet/flute sextet: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy
Laster, Gene Ghee, Andrew White, and Alex Harding. Some marvelous
blending of harmonies here, but as is often the case with sax choirs
(even WSQ) I find myself yearning for some contrasting tone, or maybe
just a drum.
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues: Live in Lisbon
(2003 , Clean Feed): The late saxophone choirmaster's ghost band
carries on with Andrew Stewart replacing Gene Ghee -- carrying on: Marty
Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Andrew White, Alex Harding. Same plus
and minus ledger, although they can get a bit rowdier live, and that's
a good thing.
Orlando Julius: Super Afro Soul (1966-72 , Vampi
Soul, 2CD): Nigerian saxophone player, formed a group called the Modern
Aces in 1965, a missing link between highlife and Afrobeat -- Fela
Kuti started out in Orlando's band. This starts with a Modern Aces
album, then adds a somewhat later second disc by Orlando Julius &
His Afro Sounders -- one difference is that the three-minute songs
of the former give way to 6-8 minute pieces, the extra length adding
to the flow.
Steve Lacy: Early Years 1954-1956 (1954-56 ,
Fresh Sound, 2CD): A collection of five albums where Lacy is a sideman --
nominal leaders are: Dick Sutton (Jazz Idiom, Progressive
Dixieland), Tom Stewart (Sextette/Quintette), Whitey Mitchell
(Sextette), and Joe Puma (Modern Jazz Festival) -- and
they illustrate the oft-made point that Lacy started in trad jazz
influenced by Sidney Bechet before making the jump all the way to
the avant-garde. Obviously, the story isn't that simple, as this is
more transitional if never terribly boppish.
Steve Lacy: Soprano Sax (1957 , Prestige/OJC):
First album by the man who defined soprano sax over a 47-year career,
up to his death in 2004. The quartet includes Wynton Kelly on piano --
not the sort of pianist Lacy would work with later but a real treat
here -- as well as Buell Neidlinger (bass) and Dennis Charles (drums).
A couple standards, two Ellington tunes, one Monk -- a delightful if
somewhat conventional set. Gotta start somewhere.
Steve Lacy: The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960
, Candid): Smart moves toward Lacy's unique style, working
over tunes by Thelonious Monk (3), Cecil Taylor (2), and Charlie
Parker (1). Mostly trio with John Ore (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums),
plus Charles Davis (baritone sax) on one cut.
Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence (1961 ,
New Jazz/OJC): Quartet with bass and drums (Billy Higgins), playing
four Monk tunes and two Ellingtons (at least on the original album;
Rhapsody adds six "bonus cuts" with Wynton Kelly, but I can't find
any physical release with them, so I dropped them on second spin.
Steve Lacy: Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (1969-77
, Saravah, 3CD): Lacy first visited Europe in 1965 and moved to
Paris in 1970. After his early albums with Prestige and Candid, he had
trouble finding labels in the 1960s, but once he landed in France he
recorded tons of albums for small European labels, including five for
this French label, now rolled up into a 3-CD box. I decided it would
be best to treat the albums one-by-one, so they follow. Overall:
Steve Lacy Gang: Roba (1969 , Saravah): Recorded
in Rome with a mostly local band -- Enrico Rava (trumpet), Italo Toni
(trombone), Claudio Volonte (clarinet), Irene Aebi (cello), Carlo
Colnaghi (drums) -- in one 42:23 improv, split into two parts for the
LP. Open-ended but not all that coherent.
Steve Lacy: Lapis (1971 , Saravah): Solo album,
soprano sax with Lacy also overdubbing some percussion.
Steve Lacy Sextet: Scraps (1974, Saravah): With Steve
Potts (tenor/alto/soprano sax), Michael Smith (piano), Irene Aebi (cello),
Kent Carter (bass/cello), Kenny Tyler (percussion, flute), this is sort
of the prototype for a lot of Lacy's most difficult work, an odd mix of
space and cacophony, initially hard to listen to but it starts to make
sense after a while. Aebi also sings a bit, but I won't dock her (yet).
Steve Lacy: Dreams (1975, Saravah): With Steve Potts
(alto/soprano sax), Derek Bailey (guitar), Irene Aebi (cello),
Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass), Kent Carter (bass), Kenneth Tyler (drums),
plus guitar by Boulou Ferré and Jack Treese on two (of 5) cuts.
Similar to the Sextet, but Potts is more competitive, the double
bassists get more traction, and the guitars? Well, I'm not sure
what good they did.
Steve Lacy: The Owl (1977, Saravah): With Steve
Potts (alto/soprano sax), Takashi Kako (keybs), Irene Aebi (violin,
cello, voice), Jean-Jacques Avenel (autoharp, kora, sheng), Kent
Carter (bass), Olivie Johnson (drums). Aebi sang a bit in previous
albums, but takes center stage here. She has a deep voice, trained
for operatic cadences, and I usually find her ruinous, but isn't
so bad here -- perhaps because the music with its ad hoc Japanese
effects is so deliriously insane, I find her kind of amusing.
Steve Lacy: Axieme (1975 , RED): Solo
soprano saxophone, originally released on two LPs then combined
on a single CD. [Rhapsody only has "Parts 3 & 4" for 25:09,
so is 21:40 short of the full release.]
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo/Kent Carter: In Concert
(1976 , Ictus): Discogs agrees with Rhapsody on the title,
but the best Lacy discography calls this Live (probably
the title of the 1977 LP release). This version, with two extra
tracks, was part of a 12CD anniversary box Ictus released in 2006.
Soprano sax trio, the extra depth of Carter's bass helps round
the sound out.
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Clangs (1977 ,
Ictus): Duo, mostly soprano sax and drums, but Lacy is also credited
with "bird calls, pocket synthesizer, crackle box" and Centazzo
employs whistles and a wide range of percussion. The result is the
sort of rickety contraption imagined in the title.
Steve Lacy Quintet: Troubles (1979, Black Saint):
With Steve Potts (alto/soprano sax), Irene Aebi (violin, cello,
vocals), Kent Carter (bass, cello), and Oliver Johnson (drums):
Starts with a group vocal that turns into a very slippery slice.
Aebi returns with a vocal called "Blues" -- another very tricky
tune. In between is a short one called "The Whammies!" -- later
taken as the name of a marvelous Lacy tribute group.
Steve Lacy: The Flame (1982, Soul Note): A trio
with Lacy on soprano sax, Bobby Few on piano, and Dennis Charles
on drums. Still going through a phase where he flails a lot, bits
of genius but lots of collateral damage.
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Tao (1976-84 ,
Ictus): Duets, soprano sax with percussion, a set of numbered
pieces that appear on many Lacy albums of the period. The last
four come from an earlier live performance and they fumble a
bit at the start, but the later recordings are superb, constant
invention highlighted by the percussion.
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: Live in Berlin (1984
, Jazzwerkstatt): The pianist played on Lacy's second album,
Reflections, and they've appeared together many time since,
especially on duos like this one -- the first recorded one is from
1971, the last 2002; Sempre Amore (1986), with its
all-Ellington/Strayhorn program, is a personal favorite. This is
a mixed bag, denser than most, somewhat fanciful.
Steve Lacy Trio: The Window (1987 , Soul Note):
With Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and Oliver Johnson (drums), all Lacy
originals (one piece co-credited to Mary Frazee), six tunes, 7:00-9:14
each. A fine example of Lacy's style, dazzling actually, with none of
the things that occasionally make his other albums irritating.
Steve Lacy: More Monk (1989 , Soul Note):
Sequel, like Lacy's 1987 Only Monk all Monk tunes, done
solo on soprano sax. Plays them fairly straight, which makes me
Steve Lacy Double Sextet: Clangs (1992 , Hat
Art): Twelve musicians (counting two vocalists, Irene Aebi and Nicholas
Isherwood), but the only instrument doubled is piano (Bobby Few joins
Eric Watson), the second-stringers adding trumpet, trombone, vibes,
and percussion to Lacy's long-running Sextet with Steve Potts (alto
and soprano sax). One revelation is that Lacy's penchant for starchy
vocals isn't purely a matter of indulging his wife. But also, once
you get past the vocals, he does a marvelous job of integrating the
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: "Let's Call This . . . Esteem"
(1993, Slam): Another duo album, four Monks, Ellington, Strayhorn, two
originals each. Typical of what they do, how they interact, which is to
say masterful but somewhat estranged.
Steve Lacy Trio: The Rent (1997 , Cavity Search,
2CD): Basic Lacy, a trio with longtime collaborators Jean-Jacques Avenel
(bass) and John Betsch (drums), recorded live at Old Church in Portland,
OR before an enthusiastic crowd.
Steve Lacy Trio: The Holy La (1998 , Freelance):
Same trio, with Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass, kalimba) and John Betsch
(drums), cut in a studio in France -- the group have finally learned
to stretch out and relax, with the kalimba section sounding especially
lovely. Two vocals by Irene Aebi, arch and starchy as usual, but somehow
I'm getting to where I can stand her. [Sunnyside reissued this in 2003;
the Rhapsody version is missing a track, but Sunnyside's own website
indicates that the reissue is complete.]
Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite (2001 , Sunnyside):
The soprano saxophonist expanded his trio -- Jean-Jacques Avenel on
bass, John Betsch on drums -- to include George Lewis on trombone,
notable sonic heft, and wife/collaborator Irene Aebi for the vocals
on ten texts lifted from Beat writers (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg,
William Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Lew Welch, Gregory Corso, Robert
Creeley, Jack Spicer, Anne Waldman/Andrew Schelling, Kenneth Rexroth).
The problem, of course, is Aebi, who would sound stilted singing
Irving Berlin, much less texts written with no concern for music,
then scored with Lacy's angular whimsy.
Steve Lacy: November (2003 , Intakt): Solo
session from a festival in Switzerland, a little more than six
months before he died. One vocal is way off base, but the soprano
sax is unique, as ever.
Ron McClure Quintet: Descendants (1980 , Ken):
Bassist, played with Blood Sweat & Tears in the 1960s, has a couple
dozen albums since 1979, mostly on Steeplechase, this the only one I've
heard. Features Tom Harrell (flugelhorn), with both piano (Mark Gray)
and guitar (John Scofield). No real sense of how you would niche this
other than postbop with prominent bass solos.
Medeski Martin and Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps):
Best Of (1991-1996) (1991-96 , Gramavision): Organ-bass-drums
trio, relatively popular jazz-groove merchants in the 1990s, with this
collection sampling their second through fifth albums. Keyboard player
John Medeski and drummer Billy Martin have since mounted serious solo
careers -- forget about Chris Wood's Wood Brothers -- while keeping the
group going (their first album I A-listed was 2012's Free Magic).
Best example here: the medley "Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself."
Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio: Volume One
(1996 , Warner Brothers): With Larry Grenadier on bass and
Jorge Rossy on drums, the first of five Art of the Trio
volumes -- a claim that rises as a challenge, and execution that
plays off. Penguin Guide picked this one for their "Core
Collection." I find it a smidgen on the soft side, and I'm always
suspicious when jazzers take on the Beatles -- "Blackbird" is
especially suspect, but they do a remarkable job.
Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard
(1999, Warner Brothers): The Village Vanguard, that is, site of The
Art of the Trio Volume Two. More snap than the first one, but not
clear that makes it better. A superb pianist but I can't tell you why,
partly because no single thing stands out.
The Brad Mehldau Trio: Progression: Art of the Trio,
Volume 5 (2000 , Warner Brothers, 2CD): Had this on
long on the shelf, so after I played it and found it remarkable
in the usual ways I've never been able to articulate, I checked
Rhapsody for the Art of the Trio volumes I had missed --
turns out that Vol. 1 and Vol. 4 are the top-rated
ones in Penguin Guide, while this is the bottom-rated one.
Beats me why. Still a remarkable piano trio -- Larry Grenadier on
bass, Jorge Rossy on drums -- stretching out on a mix of originals
and standards, always precise, thoughtful, compelling, and, well,
Brad Mehldau: Anything Goes (2002 , Warner
Brothers): Same piano trio run through ten standards, starting with
a tentative "Get Happy," including Monk, Porter, Paul Simon, Radiohead,
"Smile," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
Roger Miller: The Best of Roger Miller, Volume One: Country
Tunesmith (1957-67 , Mercury): Anyone with a hankering
for Miller's mid-1960s novelty tunes -- from "King of the Road" to
"England Swings" to "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" and
maybe "My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died" -- should go straight
to the 12-cut 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection
(1964-66 , MCA), or the broader 20-cut All Time Greatest Hits
(1964-85 , Mercury/Chronicles), or the deeper 21-cut The Best
of Roger Miller, Volume Two: King of the Road (1957-72 ,
Mercury) that came out on the heels of this set. Before he was a star,
Miller was a struggling Nashville songwriter, making his living feeding
wry and sentimental tunes to Ray Price ("Invitation to the Blues"),
George Jones (cowrote "Tall Tall Trees"), and others while his own
recordings languished. Even the 3-CD 1995 box set, King of the
Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, which I've long regarded as
canonical, only snares 8 of these 21 tracks while adding 8 pre-1964
songs and more from the overlap period. But if you're set with (or
don't care for) the hits, or just a sucker for the homelier side of
honky-tonk, this opens up the most unsung period of one of country
Henry Threadgill Sextett: You Know the Number (1986
, Jive/Novus): Alto/tenor saxophonist, formerly of Air, actually
runs a septet here with Rasul Siddik (trumpet), Frank Lacy (Trombone),
Diedre Murray (cello), Fred Hopkins (bass), and two percussionists.
Avant but very upbeat, boisterous even.
Henry Threadgill Sextett: Easily Slip Into Another World
(1987 , Jive/Novus): This picks up where the previous one left off,
adding up to some of the group's most inspired interplay. However, they
also run into some tough spots, which may (or may not) include Asha
Henry Threadgill: Song Out of My Trees (1993 ,
Black Saint): Five pieces with various lineups -- three guitarists in
various combinations, two cuts with Ted Daniel on trumpet, one with
Myra Melford on piano, two with Amina Claudine Myers (one harpsichord,
one organ), one with Mossa Bildren grieving (backed by accordion, two
cellos, and that harpsichord) while Threadgill plays his most visceral
sax. An odd one.
Monday, September 29. 2014
Music: Current count 23870  rated (+27), 521  unrated (-2).
My brother was in town Sunday so I spent the day cooking old-fashioned
"soul food" -- fried chicken and pan gravy, baked potatoes and cornbread,
baked beans and creamed corn and greens with bacon -- with a flourless
chocolate cake for dessert. Couldn't concentrate on processing records,
so I wound up playing Coleman Hawkins, Lefty Frizzell, and Johnny Cash
from the travel case. Couldn't come up with a Weekend Update either.
Suffice it to say that the insane wars of the previous week are still
with us, as are the usual stories of police brutality, corruption,
inequality, bad economics, the subversion of democracy by the usual
claque of billionaires, and that old standby -- global warming.
Safe to say there'll be more of them next week (if there is a next
week) and next month and next year as well.
Wasting Sunday kept the rated count under 30, but it was actually
a remarkably good week quality-wise. I broke queue protocol and took
the Buddy Tate reissue with me in the car even before I catalogued
it, and it's kept me in a good mood all week -- not anyway near his
most consistent record, but so glorious every time the sax appears.
Roger Miller came up in some email correspondence -- I thought I had
this particular album, so when I saw it unrated and on Rhapsody I
dived right into it.
Four very different Sept. 23 releases wound up at A-: Aphex Twin,
Leonard Cohen, Wadada Leo Smith, and Lee Ann Womack. I gave each at
least three plays, hoping it's possible to be both first and right.
Chris Monsen seems to prefer Smith's The Great Lakes Suites,
which both overwhelmed me with its length and underwhelmed me with
its music -- Red Hill has an air of danger and excitement I
find lacking in the larger work, but Suites put a lot of
talent on display, including Henry Threadgill and Jack DeJohnette.
Microscopic Septet is another Monsen recommendation, languishing in
my mailbox for months. Orlando Julius appeared on a Phil Overeem
list (also Bo Dollis and a bunch of other records I haven't gotten
to yet; worth noting that Overeem has John Coltrane's Offering:
Live at Temple University on top of his "old stuff" list -- I
wasn't all that impressed by it, but I often react negatively to
Coltrane's last phase). Another EW person mentioned the Sun Ra.
Only gave it one play, but it was a delight, and I think I tracked
down all the dates (except for one of three previously unreleased
Given the extra overhead of managing the "faux blog" I may not
have a Music Week (let alone a Weekend Update) post next week --
it may in fact be several weeks before I catch up. We're planning
a trip east in October. Laura is flying to Boston and back from
Newark, so that's tightly scheduled. I'll be driving, so that's
real loosey-goosey -- I'm thinking Buffalo on the way out, and
DC (and maybe Nashville) on the way back. There will be a few
days on Cape Cod, but the main stretch will be six days at a
friend's big country house in the NJ Appalachians. I'm hoping
we can entice friends from NYC and environs to come out to visit.
(One enticement is that I plan on cooking.)
I've lined up some new technology for the trip. I picked up
a cheap Chromebook to replace the old Linux laptop, so I can try
working in the cloud. That won't really allow me to do much in
terms of programming, but maybe I'll focus more on writing. Also
picked up a Bose MiniLink Bluetooth speaker, which works nicely
with the Chromebook. I'll still have travel cases of CDs for the
car, but may leave the boombox home and play Rhapsody when I'm
Should leave by the end of the week. Don't know when I'll get
back. Best way to track whatever I post will be
this week expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes (most likely tomorrow --
if not I'll have to rename files). Maybe a Mid-Week Roundup or a
Book Report before I leave. If you want to get in touch during
the trip, holler at me, and we'll see what makes sense. (I'm not
looking to hook up with strangers, but know so many people along
the way it's impossible to personally contact everyone I might
want to see.)
New records rated this week:
- Aphex Twin: Syro (2014, Warp): after more than a dozen year break, loses the ambient drag, speeds up the beats and kicks up the bass [r]: A-
- Avi Buffalo: At Best Cuckold (2014, Sub Pop): falsetto lead, occasionally pines for the "In My Room" side of the Beach Boys [r]: B+(*)
- Daniel Blacksberg Trio: Perilous Architecture (2012 , NoBusiness): avant-trombone trio, varied enough, inventive even, your interest never flags [cdr]: B+(***)
- Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Love Supreme Collective (2014, Ropeadope): sometimes flattery isn't imitation at all, just something else [cd]: B+(*)
- Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (2014, Columbia): his "golden voice" more gone than ever, his songs more biblical -- his way of feeling ancient [r]: A-
- Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra (2014, Planet Arts): big band Charles Ives, postmodern but third stream only in that it could use some swing [cd]: B+(*)
- Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk (2013, self-released): a little hip-hop isn't a funk breakthrough, but the tradition is in good hands [r]: B+(***)
- Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (2014, Mello Music Group): west coast rapper, very laid back, soft-edged, draws you in [r]: B+(**)
- Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (2014, RCA): bids to be taken seriously as a soul diva in a hip-hop world, which means . . . branding [r]: B+(*)
- Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (2014, Strut): London collective hooks up with another aged African legend, compounding respective strengths [r]: A-
- Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook Vol. II (2014, ALMA): aspiring Broadway songsters, big in Canada, OK but who cares? [cd]: B
- Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (2012 , NoBusiness): piano trio -- you don't know him (who knows Italians not on ECM?) but he's been around, turns heads [cdr]: B+(***)
- Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: Juice (2014, Indirecto): neither want to be remembered for organ grooves yet that's why they're drawn together [r]: B+(*)
- The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (2014, Cuneiform): [dl]: sax quartet + piano trio, Forrester and Johnston write 'em, the band swings 'em A-
- Wadada Leo Smith/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (2014, Rare Noise): what makes this better than Great Lakes Suites is a quartet that gets out of hand and pushes him [r]: A-
- Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (2014, Random Act): standards singer looking for new turf -- Clare Fischer is a bit stuffy, but she makes something of that [cd]: B+(*)
- Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (2014, Sugar Hill/Welk): imagine that Nanci Griffith had a dark side, one that drinks and sleeps with the devil [r]: A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (1980 , NoBusiness): avant quartet with three Muslim names you never heard of, now saved for history [cdr]: B+(***)
- Aby Ngana Diop: Liital (1994 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): from Senegal, some synth window dressing but overwhelmingly drums and shouted voices, tough as nails [r]: B+(***)
- Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78 , Strut, 2CD): Marshall Allen picks for Ra's centenary, more vocals than I'd pick, but you know [r]: A-
- The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978 , Sackville/Delmark): the new title has been used before, but with this guy the same old sax is timeless [cd]: A-
Old records rated this week:
- Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: A New Tradition (1967-87 , Columbia): first two are essential history; rest label onanism, this leaning neotrad [r]: B+(**)
- Orlando Julius: Super Afro Soul (1966-72 , Vampi Soul, 2CD): Nigerian saxophonist, earliest tracks suggest the Afrobeat that the later ones deliver [r]: B+(**)
- Roger Miller: The Best of Roger Miller, Volume One: Country Tunesmith (1957-67 , Mercury): old comp delves even deeper into pre-Doo-Wacka-Doo than the marvelous box [r]: A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Tara Davidson: Duets (Addo): October 7
- Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (Jen Bay Jazz)
- The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995, Delmark)
- Milt Hinton/Ralph Sutton/Gus Johnson/Jim Galloway: The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986, Sackville/Delmark)
- The Mike Longo Trio: Celebrates Oscar Peterson: Live (CAP): October 7
- Miho Nobuzane: Simple Words: Jazz Loves Brazil (self-released): October 21
- The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978, Sackville/Delmark)
- Ezra Weiss: Before You Know It: Live in Portland (Roark)
- Dann Zinn: Shangri La (self-released): October 1
Monday, September 22. 2014
Music: Current count 23843  rated (+29), 523  unrated (-5).
A sub-30 week. For a while I thought it was going to be even lower.
On the other hand, more A- records than usual. Much of the credit for
the latter goes to Robert Christgau: the return of his Consumer Guide
(or as he now prefers Expert Witness) alerted me to Homeboy Sandman
and Shaver, and prodded me to check out John Hiatt's latest -- I knew
it was out there, but given his last half-dozen albums I wasn't in a
big hurry to file another low B+. As it was, I followed up with Hiatt's
best-of, which combs those low B+ albums for a much better collection.
Christgau also wrote about Iggy Azalea in his new
Billboard column. I knew the name and thought her appearance on the
Ariana Grande album was its high point, but hadn't put together how much
I might like her.
Blog status is still uncertain. I noticed I've been getting a lot of
spam comments (I hardly know any other kind), which is an indication
that the database is accessible. I also heard from a reader depending
on the RSS feed, wondering whether I was all right. The "faux blog"
doesn't generate any RSS, so that notification avenue had been blocked.
(Pretty good solution: follow me on
Twitter.) So I went back
and added all the missing posts to the "real blog," and have kept them
in sync for the last week. That's a pain, but not understanding what
happened, and having no confidence that it won't happen again, for now
I lack a better solution.
Shopping advice request: I'm going to be traveling a lot soon, and
I'd like to buy a small Bluetooth speaker bar, like a Bose MiniLink
(strikes me as pricey) or Jambox Mini (clearly not as good). Anyone
have some advice/experience? I think it should allow for a wired stereo
connection (so I can plug in that IPod I foolishly bought a couple years
ago), but it will mostly be used with a new Chromebook, which should
make it possible to listen to Rhapsody on the road (if not in the car).
New records rated this week:
- Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (2014, Sub Pop): too heavy for me, but otherwise impressive, suggests growth over their long hiatus [r]: B+(**)
- Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art (2011 , Grand Hustle, EP): debut EP mixtape, goes straight for the snatch not trusting you yokels to respond to anything subtle [r]: B+(**)
- Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (2014, Island): Australian rapper sneaks up on America via the Dirty South -- she's got a mouth and is gonna use it [r]: A-
- Kevin Hildebrandt: Tolerance (2012 , Summit): guitarist-led organ trio with Radam Schwartz, swings hard especially on the covers, sings some too [cd]: B+(**)
- Hal Galper Trio: O's Time (2014, Origin): veteran pianist, lot more crunch and risk than those Mehldaus but also more things that don't work [cd]: B+(**)
- Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: We're Back (2014, Whaling City Sound): Ron Carter and Kenny Barron make dreams come true, on '70s soul skewed to Wonder [cd]: B+(**)
- John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (2014, New West): evidently included turning in his most consistent song album since Riding With the King [r]: A-
- Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (2014, Stones Throw): alt-rapper, beats seem a bit off but he talks his way around them, makes sense, small pleasures [r]: A-
- William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz Festival (2013 , NoBusiness): drums-sax duo, free improvs sound like comsummate skill [cd]: A-
- Imarhan Timbuktu: Alak Warled (2014, Clermont): average Saharan desert blues band, vocals never break ranks with the charming rhythmic lilt [dl]: B+(**)
- Sami Lane: You Know the Drill (2014, Mixcloud, EP): Bournemouth DJ uploads a 29-minute hip-hop flow, hard stuff, for her 23 followers on Mixcloud [dl]: B+(**)
- Alexander McCabe/Paul Odeh: This Is Not a Pipe (2014, Wamco): alto sax/piano duets, the latter steadying, but the sax is what you want to hear [cd]: B+(**)
- Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (2014, Blue Note): a dance tribute to Fats Waller, impressive pianistics and a surprise sax solo, but singers are way off [r]: B+(*)
- Nicholas Payton: Numbers (2013 , Paytone): New Orleans trumpet legend laid down some cushy riddim tracks, decided they didn't need trumpet dubs [r]: B-
- Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (2014, self-released): Canadian postbop quartet, cites Shorter and Rosenwinkel as influences, gets there [cd]: B+(*)
- RED Trio & Mattias Stĺhl: North and the Red Stream (2013 , NoBusiness): Rodrigo Pinheiro's avant-piano trio plus vibes, not just for tinkle [cd]: B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- John Hiatt: Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012 (2000-12 , New West): label/era best-of usefully reduces handful of inconsistent albums into one real solid one [r]: A-
- Shaver: Shaver\'s Jewels: The Best of Shaver (1993-2001 [2013, New West): no doubt Eddy Shaver added something to his old man's songs -- guitar, also production smarts [r]: A-
Old records rated this week:
- Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo/Kent Carter: In Concert (1976 , Ictus): a trio, his most stable format, bass steadying the soprano warble [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Tao (1976-84 , Ictus): duets, soprano sax and percussion on a cycle of pieces, constant invention with light touch [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy Trio: The Window (1987 , Soul Note): an even better trio, original tunes, dazzling style and touch, none of the usual irritants [r]: A-
- Steve Lacy Double Sextet: Clangs (1992 , Hat Art): only piano and voice are doubled, and as usual voice is the problem, not just Aebi this time [cd]: B+(**)
- Ron McClure Quintet: Descendants (1980 , Ken): BS&T bassist, has had long, little noticed solo career, offers tasty bits of Scofield and Harrell [cd]: B+(**)
- Medeski Martin and Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps): Best Of (1991-1996) (1991-96 , Gramavision): label best-of on their way up; the Monk-Marley segue is swell [cd]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio: Volume One (1996 , Warner Brothers): piano with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy, makes big title claim, neither nails/blows it [r]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio: Volume 4: Back at the Vanguard (1999, Warner Brothers): like Vol. 2, back at Village Vanguard, a bit faster and sharper, not necessarily better [r]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 (2000 , Warner Brothers, 2CD): I've rationalized the titles, but actually they're not quite the same, same for the music [cd]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: Anything Goes (2002 , Warner Brothers): continuing through the trio albums, always comes close, never quite blows me away [r]: B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (FMR): October 14
- Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin/Percy Jones/Chris Poland/Adam Benjamin: Love Supreme Collective (Ropeadope): September 30
- The Tommy Igoe Rhythm Conspiracy (Deep Rhythm): September 23
- Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra: Why Do You Ride? (Leo)
- Lefteris Kordis: "Oh Raven, If You Only Had Brains . . .": Songs for Aesop's Fables (2010, Inner Circle Music)
- Rafael Rosa: Portrait (self-released)
- Spoke: (R)anthems (River)
Sunday, September 21. 2014
This week's scattered links:
David Atkins: Unsettling science:
Steve Koonin has an obfuscatory piece in the Wall Street Journal today
claiming that the science of climate change isn't settled. But it's not
the usual radically ignorant posturing. As with much of the evolution
of the conservative "debate" over climate, it represents another move
in the shifting ground of conservative chicanery intended to paralyze
action to solve the problem.
Koonin doesn't dispute that the climate is changing and that the
world is getting hotter. He doesn't dispute that humans are causing
the change through greenhouse gas emissions. He doesn't even dispute
that these changes are dangerous. His position is that because we don't
fully understand all of the complex reverberating effects of climate
change, we can't make good climate policy yet.
[ . . . ]
Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change,
Koonin's ranks among the most disturbing because it's so obviously
calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible
conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.
By the way, a
People's Climate March took place in New York City today:
A comment I noticed on Twitter, from Robert Loerzel:
GOP lawmakers say there's no definitive scientific proof that there's
a Climate Change march today.
Carikai Chengu: How the US Helped Create Al Qaeda and ISIS: I've
alluded to this many times of late -- it's hard to think of Al Qaeda
without thinking of William Casey, even more so with Henry Kissinger
a new book -- but this bears repeating, especially since this
includes a few wrinkles I didn't even recall:
The fact that the United States has a long and torrid history of
backing terrorist groups will surprise only those who watch the news
and ignore history.
The CIA first aligned itself with extremist Islam during the Cold
War era. Back then, America saw the world in rather simple terms: on
one side, the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America
regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side, Western nations and
militant political Islam, which America considered an ally in the
struggle against the Soviet Union.
The director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan,
General William Odom recently remarked, "by any measure the U.S. has
long used terrorism. In 1978-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law
against international terrorism -- in every version they produced,
the lawyers said the U.S. would be in violation."
During the 1970's the CIA used the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as
a barrier, both to thwart Soviet expansion and prevent the spread of
Marxist ideology among the Arab masses. The United States also openly
supported Sarekat Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia, and supported
the Jamaat-e-Islami terror group against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in
Pakistan. Last but certainly not least, there is Al Qaeda.
Lest we forget, the CIA gave birth to Osama Bin Laden and breastfed
his organization during the 1980's. Former British Foreign Secretary,
Robin Cook, told the House of Commons that Al Qaeda was unquestionably
a product of Western intelligence agencies. Mr. Cook explained that
Al Qaeda, which literally means an abbreviation of "the database" in
Arabic, was originally the computer database of the thousands of
Islamist extremists, who were trained by the CIA and funded by the
Saudis, in order to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.
The article gets a little cloudier as it approaches ISIS. As far
as I know -- and I haven't read Patrick Cockburn's new book on ISIS,
The Jihadis Return, but I've read much of his reporting --
nobody's assembled a good accounting of the CIA in Syria. We do know,
for instance, that ISIS arms are overwhelmingly American, but we do
not know to what extent those arms were provided by the US by Syrian
rebels, looted from Iraq, or provided by Saudi Arabia or Qatar --
nations which are nominally allied with the US but are free to use
militant jihadis to implement their programs. Chengu does regard
ISIS as an offshoot from Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, but that runs somewhat
counter to the fact that another Syrian group, Al Nusra, claims the
Al Qaeda brand. The problem with secret organizations like the CIA
operating in Syria is that there's never any accountability, and
therefore never any reason for discipline or restraint. I think
that's reason enough to abolish the CIA (at least he "operations"
end of the racket): they can never plausibly deny anything, no
matter how outrageous, because their entire existence is based on
secrecy and lies. The US will never be able to be taken at its word
as long as the CIA exists.
Andrew Levine: Fear of a Caliphate, long and rather rambling, but
this much is surely true (bold added):
Talk of caliphates serves the IS's purpose, much as beheadings on You
Tube do. And talk is cheap, and become cheaper. Since 9/11, the cost
of getting America to do itself in has plummeted.
And so, the IS, wins: Obama's America is off to war again.
Worry about that; not about what the IS says it wants to establish
in the region or the world.
The potential for harm resulting from the United States and other
Western powers fighting against the IS is greater by many orders of
magnitude than any harm that the IS can do in the areas it controls.
As I've written before, what brought the World Trade Center towers
down wasn't Al Qaeda; it was gravity. As long as the US responds to
provocation with the same unthinking, unreflective automation as the
laws of physics, we'll never be able to command our fate.
Juan Cole: Shiite Militias of Iraq Reject US Return, Threaten to Attack
US Forces: More proof that US intervention against ISIS will be a
colossal failure even the Americans manage to kill every Arab who leaves
his house dressed in black. Nor are the threats only coming from Muqtada
al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army: the Badr Brigades and foreign minister
Ibrahim al-Jafari are upset that the US snubbed Iran in putting together
their "coalition of the killing." The Iraqi Army (effectively another
Shiite militia) is beginning to chafe about depending on US air support.
And Prime Minister al-Abadi is unlikely to have any wiggle room to make
concessions to Sunni tribes with the Shiite militias staging their own
revolt. Rather than destroying ISIS, the only thing the US mission is
likely to accomplish is the secession of Kurdistan from Iraq. Cole adds:
It is difficult to tell how serious these militia leaders' pronouncements
are, since they might be attempting to save face with their followers even
as they benefit from the US air cover. On the other hand, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq
actually did in the past kidnap US troops, and the Mahdi Army fought them
tooth and nail in spring of 2004, inflicting high casualties on them. Since
President Obama's air campaign requires Special Ops forces like Navy Seals
or Green Berets to be on the ground with the Iraqi Army, they should
apparently watch their backs. The people they are trying to help against
ISIL don't seem to appreciate their being there. And many of them seem
to prefer Iran's help.
Speaking of which, Kerry seems to have softened the anti-Iran stand (see
Changing US-Iran Relations: Kerry: Iran has a Role in Defeating ISIL
Militants, although I don't think we've heard the last from AIPAC
on this). The fact remains that the US is opposed to Assad in Syria,
but eager to fight against Assad's worst enemy, even if it winds up
aligning with Assad's allies to do so.
Matthew Kalman: Hoping War-Weary Tourists Will Return to Israel:
While Israel has generally been able to escalate its war on Gaza
without incurring any real costs or hardships for its first-class
citizenry, wars still make tourists nervous, so it shouldn't be a
surprise that Israel's tourist business has declined of late. (I
think it was during the 2006 war on Lebanon when we worried that
some of my wife's relatives were going to Israel; upon checking,
we were relieved to find out they had gone to Auschwitz instead.)
This year should have been a record year for Israeli tourism. In 2013,
Israel attracted 3.6 million foreign visitors. Numbers from January
to June showed a 15 percent increase. Then the war began in July,
and the number of visitors slumped. In July and August, the number
of tourists fell to 400,000, down from 578,000 in the same period
last year, a 31 percent decline. Ninety percent of cruise ship
United States flights to Israel were banned for 24 hours after a
rocket landed near Ben-Gurion airport. There was little damage and
few casualties, but those who came found themselves running for shelter
as air-raid sirens wailed in Tel Aviv.
The Israel Hotels Association said that occupancy rates, usually
80 percent in July, fell below 40 percent. Top hotels offered deep
discounts. The new Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya slashed its room rate to
$400 from $575. In Jerusalem, Hilton's new Waldorf-Astoria offered a
10 percent discount online and a 20 percent discount for inquiries
Dan Hotels, which owns the King David in Jerusalem, warned shareholders
in August that third-quarter revenue was liable to fall by 30 percent
because of war-related cancellations.
Wasn't the King David the hotel the Stern Gang blew up in 1948?
Kalman doesn't mention the most famous tourist during the war: a
Palestinian-American teenager visiting Jerusalem, where his cousin
was immolated by Israeli settlers, after which he was beat and
arrested by Israeli police, and was only allowed to leave the country
after Israel's normally servile allies in the US embassy intervened.
The article details various ideas Israelis have to revive the tourism
industry, but they don't include forgoing future wars, opening up
Gaza, or inviting Palestinian refugees to "come home" for a visit.
Alice Rothchild: Gaza and the American awakening:
The seven week war on Gaza is theoretically over though Israeli forces
continue limited incursions into the beleaguered and bombed out strip
of coastal land and over 11,000 wounded and 100,000 homeless pick through
the rubble of their lives, mourn their dead children, and survive hungry
on the generosity of overstretched international aid. The headlines are
all Abbas and airstrikes in Syria and Netanyahu declaring without a shred
of credible evidence that ISIS is Hamas and Hamas is ISIS. Even more
invisible are the ongoing land grabs, continued Jewish settlement growth,
and arrests and killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem. [ . . . ]
Although the media has largely turned its gaze elsewhere, the war in
Gaza has forced more of these kinds of contradictions to become painfully
obvious to liberal Jews in the US. While the Israeli government talks about
"pinpoint strikes" and "unprovoked attacks from Hamas" it has become
increasingly difficult to ignore the massive destruction of the Gazan
infrastructure, hospitals, schools, government buildings, UN facilities,
homes. With more than 60 Israelis dead and a Jewish population fearful
of the ever increasing reach of the primitive Qassam rockets, it is time
to ask if three devastating attacks on Gaza in six years and a policy of
periodically "mowing the lawn" is a long-term strategy that leads to an
end to Palestinian resistance and a secure Israel.
Jay Caspian Kang: ISIS's Call of Duty:
The similarities between ISIS recruitment films and first-person-shooter
games are likely intentional. Back in June, an ISIS fighter told the BBC
that his new life was "better than that game Call of Duty."
[ . . . ]
The use of video games as a recruiting tool is not new. The United
States Army has, for the past decade, offered "America's Army," an online
multiplayer shooter; it is among the most downloaded war games of all time
and has been credited with helping boost enlistment. In 2009, according to
the New York Times, Army recruiters hoping to attract enlistees
from urban areas set up stations in a Philadelphia mall where kids could
play video games and, if they so chose, talk to someone about what life
in the armed forces would be like. [ . . . ]
Aside from the recruitment films tailored to evoke video games, they
also have released a series called Mujatweets, which stresses the
brotherhood of ISIS fighters and shows them handing out candy to children.
Paul Krugman: Wild Words, Brain Worms, and Civility:
First, picturesque language, used right, serves an important purpose.
"Words ought to be a little wild," wrote John Maynard Keynes, "for they
are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking." You could say, "I'm
dubious about the case for expansionary austerity, which rests on
questionable empirical evidence and zzzzzzzz . . ."; or you could
accuse austerians of believing in the Confidence Fairy. Which do you
think is more effective at challenging a really bad economic doctrine?
Beyond that, civility is a gesture of respect -- and sure enough,
the loudest demands for civility come from those who have done nothing
to earn that respect. Noah felt (and was) justified in ridiculing the
Austrians because they don't argue in good faith; faced with a devastating
failure of their prediction about inflation, they didn't concede that they
were wrong and try to explain why. Instead, they denied reality or tried
to redefine the meaning of inflation.
And if you look at the uncivil remarks by people like, well, me, you'll
find that they are similarly aimed at people arguing in bad faith. I talk
now and then about zombie and cockroach ideas. Zombies are ideas that
should have been killed by evidence, but keep shambling along -- e.g.
the claim that all of Europe's troubled debtors were fiscally irresponsible
before the crisis; cockroaches are ideas that you thought we'd gotten rid
of, but keep on coming back, like the claim that Keynes would never have
called for fiscal stimulus in the face of current debt levels (Britain in
the 1930s had much higher debt to GDP than it does now). Well, what I'm
doing is going after bad-faith economics -- economics that keeps trotting
out claims that have already been discredited.
[ . . . ]
And of course, people who engage in that kind of bad faith screech
loudly about civility when they're caught at it.
I never think of myself as a rock critic more than when I'm writing
about politics. Rock critics are always sensitive to ambient noise, and
looking for some choice words to break through the din.
Also see Krugman's
Return of the Bums on Welfare, about "John Boehner's resurrection of
the notion that we're suffering weak job growth because people are living
the good life on government benefits, and don't want to work." Conclusion:
So basically the right is railing against the bums on welfare not only
when there aren't any bums, but when there isn't any welfare.
Amanda Marcotte: Creationism is just the start: How right-wing Christians
are warping America's schools: This, of course, is nothing new -- I
recall reading Paul Goodman's book Compulsory Mis-Education back
in the 1960s, when it first occurred to me that the ideological purpose
of school was to brainwash the masses. Still, the broad consensus of
received wisdom in the 1950s at least gave lip-service to science and
smarts, and painted US history as progressive -- we were taught that
the US fought for independence and free trade, that the North faught
against slavery, and that the reunited US frowned on imperialism and
put an end to fascism (although we still had to read Animal Farm
on the evils of Godless Communism). Now, however:
The attempts to indoctrinate children into the belief that America
is basically a Christian theocracy are bad enough, but that's not the
only conservative agenda item the books are trying to trick students
into buying. The books also try to subtly discredit the civil rights
movement by implying that segregation wasn't so bad, with one book
arguing that white and black schools had "similar buildings, buses,
and teachers," which the researchers argue "severely understates the
tremendous and widespread disadvantages of African-American schools."
Researchers also found that the books were playing the role of
propagandist for unregulated capitalism. One textbook argues that
taxes have gone up since 1927, but society "does not appear to be
much more civilized today than it was" back then. It's an assertion
that ignores the much reduced poverty and sickness, improved education,
and even things like the federal highway system, all to make an
ideological point. Another book argues that any government regulation
whatsoever somehow means that capitalism ceases to be capitalism, a
stance that would mean capitalism has never really existed in all of
That these books are stuffed full of lies and propaganda is not a
surprise. From the get-go, the State Board of Education made it clear
it was far more interested in pushing a right-wing ideology on students
than actually providing an education. In July, the Texas Freedom Network
reviewed the 140 people selected to be on the panels reviewing textbooks.
Being an actual expert in politics or history practically guaranteed you
couldn't get a slot, as "more than a dozen" Texas academics with expertise
who applied got denied, while conservative "political activists and
individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got
places on the panels." Only three of the 140 members of the panel are
even current faculty members at Texas universities, but a pastor who
used to own a car dealership somehow got a spot.
Heather Digby Parton: Wingnuts' crippling Ebola fury: Why they're enraged
about fighting a disease: Superficially most of these wingnuts appear
to be griping about ISIS rather than Ebola, but I suppose that's because
they prefer threats they can misunderstand to ones they cannot grasp, or
maybe they just prefer enemies they can kill to diseases that could kill
them. For example, Allen West:
The world need to step up against Islamo-fascism but I suppose fighting
Ebola is easier for a faux Commander-in-Chief than to fight a real enemy
of America. Nice optics there Barack, good try to change the subject,
and make yourself seem like a leader fighting a really bad flu bug --
all the while you dismiss the cockroaches who behead Americans.
Then there are the right-wingers who fear illegal child refugees
will sneak Ebola into the country. Unless, of course, we head them
off by setting up an ambush on the Syria-Iraq border.
Paul Rosenberg: We really must remember the epic failures of George W.
Bush: Frank Bruni asks, "Whenever Barack Obama seems in danger of
falling, do we have to hear that George W. Bush made the cliff?" Well,
yes, not that there was no cliff before Bush, but it got much steeper
and less study under Bush's eight years of malign neglect and extreme
But the real problem here was not that Obama supporters attacked Bush.
It was that Obama himself did not. [ . . . ]
While it's true that we can't undo Bush's mistakes, that hardly
means it's foolish to keep them in mind. It would be foolish to forget
them, after the terrible price we've paid -- and at the same time when
the architects of that disaster are urging another mission in the Middle
East to "destroy" ISIS.
And yet, as with domestic policy, Obama's most significant mistake
has been his reluctance to break sharply with previous Republican policy,
call out their failures, and hold them responsible. War crimes have not
even been investigated, much less punished -- only those who sought to
expose them have been prosecuted. Yet, holding our own accountable for
their misdeeds would work wonders for regaining trust throughout the
I don't see how you can blame Obama's supporters. He did promise
change when he ran in 2008, and I'm pretty sure most of us took that
as meaning change from G.W. Bush, who gave us seven years of stupid,
pointless wars; two huge tax giveaways to the already rich; runaway
deficits; a bad recession early, a fake recovery, and an even worse
recession late, which he turned into a trillions of dollars of gifts
to the big banks; perversion of the criminal justice system and the
right-wing politicization of civil service; major failure in federal
disaster relief; complete inattention to festering problems like
health care and climate change; utter disregard for international
law. Obama, the Democrats, the press, everyone should have routinely
repeated that list, not so much to heap scorn upon the Republicans
(although they certainly deserve to be shamed) as to warn ourselves
against repeating such disastrous policies.
Indeed, most of Obama's problems since taking office result not
from the few changes Obama did manage -- Obamacare, for instance,
is a success by any measure, at least against the previous system
if not against the single-payer system we would have preferred --
but from the many ways he continued and conserved Bush policies.
Wednesday, September 17. 2014
Every year dozens of books are published about a topic that only a
handful of Americans care about: specifically, those with cushy "think
tank" jobs, plus a few military officers and State department bureaucrats
who aspire to those jobs. Most assume that the US has a rightful role
running the World Order, with some fretting that China or some other
nation is going to butt in and offering sage advice on how the US can
secure its rightful role. Against these stalwart hegemonists, now and
then someone will argue that a "multipolar" isn't such a calamity, but
they are in the minority, and are still so obsessed with dominance
they needn't fear about losing their status as Very Serious Thinkers.
The books, of course, are nonsense, predicated on unexamined ideas:
that chaos and war are the natural state of the world, that order is so
valuable you have to accept it from whoever can impose it, that inequality
is the best we can do given man's venal nature. That is, of course, the
way conservatives think about everything. Unfortunately, it is also the
way liberals usually think about the foreign world, given how readily
they have sucked up the prejudices of the West's imperial past. In 2003
Jonathan Schell published an antidote to that kind of thinking, a book
called The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of
the People. It was published just as the neocon ideology had become
fashionable and powerful enough to "create new reality" in Iraq, and
predicted failure for such hubris. Ten years later the results should
be clear, but still the foreign policy elite natters on, too absorbed
in their own prejudiced thoughts to have noticed their failures.
Case in point: a new book called World Order by America's
most venerable war criminal, Henry Kissinger. Fortunately, we don't
have to actually read the book: we can skim through the New York
review by John Micklethwait -- editor-in-chief of The Economist,
the kind of journalist who makes his living chronicling the rarefied
world of conservative "think tanks." (Micklethwait's most famous book
is The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, which every
4-5 pages reiterated the mantra that conservatives are America's "idea
people." He also wrote A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden
Promise of Globalization  and God Is Back: How the Global
Revival of Faith Is Changing the World , extolling the wonders
of free capital flows and fundamentalism, respectively. His latest is
The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State,
about how the future belongs to oligarchies that are able to usurp the
powers of the state.) Rarely has reviewer and subject been so perfectly
matched to bring out the worst in a book.
However, before we dive into the review, I should point out that
there is an alternative approach to international relations that is
wholly absent in the thinking of Kissinger and Micklethwait: the
idea that order can be obtained through the consent of equal nations
with a common commitment to basic, inalienable human rights and a
just body of international law. In the wake of two horrific world
wars, and the advent of even more destructive nuclear weapons, that
idea got so far as the founding documents of the United Nations --
before that body got turned into a cartel of superpowers -- and the
basic ideas have reappeared occasionally since. I could elaborate
more, but for now just keep the idea in mind.
The first quarter of Micklethwait's review is sheer flattery:
If you want to understand the point of Henry Kissinger, play this
mind game: Imagine that the nonagenarian had run American foreign
policy since Sept. 11, 2001, instead of two groups that had spent much
of the previous quarter-century condemning him. First came the
democracy-touting neoconservatives, who saw his realpolitik as
appeasement, and now liberal Democrats, who insist nation-building
must begin at home -- and therefore hate foreign entanglements, let
alone grand strategies.
Might a little realism have been useful in Iraq, rather than the
"stuff happens" amateurism of the Bush years? Would a statesman who
read Winston Churchill on Afghanistan ("except at harvest time
. . . the Pathan [Pashtun] tribes are always engaged in private or
public war") have committed America to establishing a "gender
sensitive . . . and fully representative" government in Kabul? Would
Kissinger have issued a red-line warning to Syria and then allowed
Assad to go unpunished when he used chemical weapons? Or let a power
vacuum gradually develop on Vladimir Putin's borders? Or looked on as
the South China Sea became a cockpit of regional rivalries?
[ . . . ]
Yes, passion, for this is a cri de coeur from a famous
skeptic, a warning to future generations from an old man steeped in
the past. It comes with faults: It is contorted by the author's
concerns about his legacy and by a needless craving not to upset the
Lilliputian leaders he still seeks to influence. It also goes over
some of the same ground as previous works. But it is a book that every
member of Congress should be locked in a room with -- and forced to
read before taking the oath of office.
It's not as if Kissinger didn't have the ear of the Bush Administration
after 9/11. He was, after all, Bush's first pick to chair the commission
that would report on the 9/11 attacks. (He turned the job down for fear
of having to disclose who his consulting clients were.) If he had any
reservations about Bush's approach to Iraq or anything, he was remarkably
circumspect about voicing them. And since when has Churchill been an
expert on anything? He always said he hadn't been elected to preside
over the dismantling of the British Empire, but no one did more to wreck
it, which he repeatedly did by insisting on substituting his prejudices
for any understanding of or empathy for the empire's subjects. On the
other hand, Kissinger's own record is nearly as bad. The suggestion
that he would have handled Syria and Ukraine better than Obama has --
admittedly a low bar -- overlooks how much his own policies contributed
to those conflicts today.
The premise is that we live in a world of disorder:
[ . . . ] Hence the need to build an order -- one
able to balance the competing desires of nations, both the established
Western powers that wrote the existing international "rules"
(principally the United States), and the emerging ones that do not
accept them, principally China, but also Russia and the Islamic
This will be hard because there never has been a true world
order. Instead, different civilizations have come up with their own
versions. The Islamic and Chinese ones were almost entirely
self-centered: [ . . . ] America's version,
though more recent and more nuanced, is also somewhat self-centered --
a moral order where everything will be fine once the world comes to
its senses and thinks like America (which annoyingly it never quite
does). So the best starting point remains Europe's "Westphalian"
balance of power.
The Westphalia treaties ended the 30 Years War in 1648 with a set
of agreements between nations/states/cities to respect each other's
autonomy and work with each other in prescribed ways. This later led
to an ever-adjusting set of alliances to maintain a balance of power --
which mostly worked to keep the peace in Europe (and to export war to
the third world) until its colossal failure in 1914. Kissinger always
thinks in the past, and far enough back as to ignore recent novelties
like the European Union, so balance of power is the best he can do.
Unlike the neocons, he recognizes that the US isn't the sole power in
the world, one suspects this has less to do with realism than with
the fact that it takes multiple powers to balance.
After all, while the neocons hate Kissinger, he has never really
reciprocated. The reason, I think, is that both worship power. It's
just that the neocons think they have so much power they can create
their own reality, and Kissinger, well, he's never been to type to
point out "the Emperor's new clothes" -- he's too much of a flatterer
for that, too worshipful of power.
The review goes on and on iterating Kissinger's past examples, a
litany of Richelieu, Metternich, Palmerston, Talleyrand -- curiously
enough, courtiers like Kissinger and not the monarchs they served.
Kissinger goes on to belittle the European Union:
. . . as Kissinger notes in one of his more withering asides,
unifications in Europe have only been achieved with a forceful uniter,
like Piedmont in Italy or Prussia in Germany.
For Kissinger, historical change not accomplished by force hardly
counts. Then he explains Putin and Russia:
Kissinger also canters eloquently through Russia. Vladimir Putin's
nationalism makes more sense once you understand the historical chip
on his shoulder and his country's centuries-long, remorseless
expansion: Russia added an average of 100,000 square kilometers a year
to its territory from 1552 to 1917.
Again, nothing like a historical factoid to explain away current
behavior or policy. This one is about as facile as trying to explain
the Bush occupation of Iraq as the latest wrinkle on Manifest Destiny.
It may indeed be that a nation capable of the former is predisposed
to the latter, but that leaves a lot of intervening history unexamined
in favor of a pat answer.
Still, the book stalls a bit with Islam. Religion used to be one of
Kissinger's blind spots: The word does not appear in the index of
Diplomacy. Now Kissinger seems to have swung too far the other
way. Islam's failure to differentiate between mosque and state suddenly
explains virtually everything (though not, presumably, the success of
the largest Muslim-dominated state, Indonesia). Iran is perfidy
personified. By contrast, Israel is a victim, "a Westphalian state" in
a sea of unreason. He does not mention its unhelpful settlement-building
or examine the Jewish state's own extremists (the man who killed the
peacemaking Yitzhak Rabin is a "radical Israeli student"). It all feels
like a rather belated olive branch to the Israeli right and its supporters
in America's Congress.
I suppose this is where you notice that Micklethwait is British: he
can't quite fall for the poor, tiny, beleaguered Israel line that is
political orthodoxy in the US. Kissinger has been around the block
enough to know better too, but to say so would take principles, or
courage, neither a Kissinger staple. Propounding ignorance about
Islam, on the other hand, takes neither. It's right up his alley.
The book recovers speed with Asia. Kissinger compares Britain's
effect on India to Napoleon's on Germany: In both cases multiple
states that had seen themselves only as a geographic entity discovered
a national one.
Another remarkable example of Kissinger's ability to look at al
the complexities of history and only see power relationships, then
to take the narrowest thread and explicate it through some totally
unrelated event in European history. Sure, Britain united India
politically -- more Bismarck than Napoleon, I'd say, until they
also split it into two warring halves -- but they also destroyed
India economically. (One thing I wonder is whether Kissinger would
have been so successful had stayed in Europe, where his audiences
and patrons might actually know much of the history he revels in.)
There is some repetition here with his last book on China, but he
moves quickly through the Middle Kingdom's self-absorbed history,
where foreign policy was largely a matter of collecting tribute
through the emperor's Ministry of Rituals and where soldiery was
little valued ("Good iron is not used for nails. Good men do not
become soldiers"). In 1893, even as Western forces were overrunning
the country, the Qing dynasty diverted military funds to restore a
marble boat in the Imperial Palace.
Middle Kingdom? Another example of forcing the present into the
distant past so he can avoid having to understand what's happening
there. I like the line -- "Good men do not become soldiers" -- but
modern China does not lack for soldiers, or for nails. While modern
China must in some sense continue to reflect and resonate ancient
China, the nation's remarkable economic growth of the past 20-30
years is more due to forced modernization. This is a modern (perhaps
even postmodern) phenomenon -- unexplainable through ancient history,
but also non-analogous to the processes that created similar results
in Europe and America. In particular, China (and most of East Asia,
Japan a partial exception) achieved its wealth without building on
imperialism, so is unlikely to look at the world the same way Europe
and America do. Needless to say, that's a thought Kissinger is
Is modern America capable of leading the world out of this?
Kissinger never answers this question directly, but the chapters on
his own country read like a carefully worded warning to a treasured
but blinkered friend. America comes to the task with two deep
character faults. The first, bound up with its geography, is a
perception that foreign policy is "an optional activity." As late as
1890, its army was only the 14th largest in the world, smaller than
Bulgaria's. This is a superpower that has withdrawn ignominiously from
three of the last five wars it chose to fight -- in Vietnam, Iraq (the
younger Bush version), Afghanistan. The second is that the same ideals
that have built a great country often made it lousy at diplomacy,
especially "the conviction that its domestic principles were
self-evidently universal and their application at all times salutary"
-- the naďveté of Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations and the
neoconservatives' forays in the Islamic world.
[ . . . ]
But the current disorder is more complex: chaos in the Middle East,
the spread of nuclear weapons, the emergence of cyberspace as an
unregulated military arena and the reordering of Asia. The challenge is
"not simply a multipolarity of power but a world of increasingly
contradictory realities," Kissinger writes. "It must not be assumed that,
left unattended, these trends will at some point reconcile automatically
to a world of balance and cooperation -- or even any order at all."
[ . . . ]
How do America's current leaders shape up? Here the book is both
irritatingly coy and implicitly devastating. There is no direct
criticism of the Obama administration and even a slightly comic
paragraph expressing Kissinger's deep personal admiration for George
W. Bush -- in the midst of a section on the cluelessness of his foreign
policy. But under the equivocation and the courtiership, the message
is clear, even angry: The world is drifting, unattended, and America,
an indispensable part of any new order, has yet to answer even basic
questions, like "What do we seek to prevent?" and "What do we seek to
One of my favorite rock lyrics is from the band Camper van Beethoven,
and goes like this: "If you weren't living here in America/you'd probably
be somewhere else." There are several problems with being self-centered.
One is that you can't see yourself as others see you, and as such you
have no clue when you do something wrong. Back when the US army was
smaller than Bulgaria's it still did things that were wrong -- 1890,
the very year Micklethwait cites, was the date of the Wounded Knee
Massacre -- but those wrong things were much smaller in scope and more
isolated from the rest of the world than they are today. I don't know
why Kissinger/Micklethwait complained about the size of the 1890 army.
Back then, the US was already the most prosperous nation in the world,
without getting into the trap of managing overseas colonies (although
it often treated Central America like one). Nor was the US isolated:
with the possible exception of the UK, no nation traded more all around
the world. What more do they want?
The notion of America as an "indispensable nation" dates from WWII,
when latent industrial might turned the tables against the Axis --
although we conveniently forget that most of the actual fighting was
carried out by the Soviet Union and China. Unfortunately, Americans
had too good a time in that war -- a massive Keynesian stimulus,
strict profit controls, and a sense of common purpose pushed a
previously depressed economy into overdrive, while all of the war's
destruction took place elsewhere. By the time the war was over, over
half of the world's industrial capacity resided in the US, and America
alone had the financial power to jumpstart the world economy. After
some early gestures to build a peaceful world community, Truman got
distracted and decided that the US should side with capital in the
international class war, so efforts like the Marshall Plan were turned
into political weapons against not just the Soviet Union but the whole
working class. The "Cold War" somehow managed not to destroy the world,
but the US repeatedly supported desperate attempts by colonial powers
to recapture their empires, and corrupt dictators and oligarchs when
independence was inevitable, while isolating nations that had the gall
to turn toward communism. Ultimately, the big loser of the Cold War
wasn't the Soviet Union, which gave up the game, but America's own
middle class democracy.
Micklethwait, possibly echoing but at least distilling Kissinger,
described the Cold War thusly:
In the Cold War, America's moral order worked: There was a clear
adversary that could eventually just be outmuscled, there were
compliant allies and there were set rules of engagement.
After the Soviet Union fell, America's foreign policy elites were
beside themselves with triumphal glee -- proclaiming The End of
History and looking forward to The Clash of Civilizations --
but their triumph was little more than a con. Had Reagan's rhetoric
caused the Soviet Union to disintegrate, why did communist states the
US confronted much more aggressively (like Cuba and North Korea) stay
communist? If communism was a dead end, how was China able to post
the world's strongest economic growth record over the last 25 years?
Moreover, when you sift through the real rubble of the "Cold War"
you find enormous chasms where the US took the wrong side of history
and left enormous destruction in its wake: the "chaos in the Middle
East" that Micklethwait bemoans is largely the result of America's
Cold War embrace of Salafist jihadism -- a program, by the way,
initiated in the 1970s when Henry Kissinger came up with the bright
idea of propping the ultraconservative Saudi monarchy up as a US
proxy in the Middle East (and soon thereafter Afghanistan). To say
"America's moral order worked" is well beyond insane.
This isn't to say that the US should have no role in the world
(although that would clearly be an improvement over the one the US
has practiced for nearly seventy years now). Clearly there are
useful and valuable things a large and rich nation can do in the
world -- the $750 million Obama just proposed to fight the ebola
epidemic is a nice gesture (although, as
Nick Turse recently documented, the US has a terrible track
record of running "humanitarian projects" in Africa). But what
needs to be done is for the US to meet other countries in forums
that give everyone a fair and equal shake, and for that to happen
the US has to stop throwing its weight around, trying to bully
everyone else into submission. More specifically, the US needs to
develop a genuine commitment to peace and human rights, to equality
and justice, to a sustainable stewardship of the earth. To do that,
a good first step would be to stop listening to Henry Kissinger.
In fact, a good step would be to extradite him to the Hague, to
finally be tried as the war criminal he was (and is).
Monday, September 15. 2014
Music: Current count 23814  rated (+39), 528  unrated (+4).
Rhapsody Streamnotes last
Tuesday, I kept diving into the old music, moving from Julius Hemphill
to Henry Threadgill, then to Steve Lacy (still not done there). I was
surprised to find that I liked the two early albums so much (both ***
in Penguin Guide; I went back and replayed the 4-star all-Monk
Explorations but left it at B+). And I was further surprised
that none of the later albums rated that high -- though I am just
filling in holes in a catalog I've previously heard much of. (Before
this week I had 37 albums rated filed under Lacy's name; now 51;
there are still 21 unheard albums in the database.) For the record,
I previously had the following Lacy records rated A- or A (counting
one filed under Roswell Rudd's name):
- School Days (w/Roswell Rudd, 1963)
- The Forest and the Zoo (1966)
- Esteem: Live in Paris (1975)
- Regeneration (w/Roswell Rudd and others, 1982)
- Morning Joy: Live at Sunset Paris (1986)
- Sempre Amore (w/Mal Waldron, 1986)
- One More Time (w/Joëlle Léandre, 2002)
- Early and Late (w/Roswell Rudd, 1962-2002)
A couple of those came out after his death in 2003. I suppose I should
also note that Lacy has more low grades (B or below) than nearly any other
jazz musician of his stature: I find a lot of his 1970s work to be very
sloppy, and I have a lot of trouble any time he hands the mic to his wife,
Irčne Aëbi (although my horror has somewhat diminished with this latest
batch of records). He also has a lot of solo albums that are intrinsically
limited -- Only Monk (1985) is one of the B records, even though
it seems like it should be better. Some more in the queue, and any time
I find something more I'll give it a listen.
Not many new records: most of last week's haul came in today and
barely got catalogued. Spent a lot of time with the two TUM records.
It should be noted somewhere that they have the best documentation
and packaging of any jazz label in the world. Also spent quite a
bit of time with Lomax, whose 2010 album, The State of Black
America, made that year's top-ten list. Saxophonist Edwin
Bayard is key to both, one of the most powerful young players I've
heard this decade.
I've kept the original tweet grade for Loudon Wainwright III below,
but the database grade is somewhat more generous. Although I single
out one extraordinarily bad song, it should be noted that nothing
else on the album rises to the level of Older Than My Old Man
Now (my top-ranked record of 2012). Also, my complaint about
that "2nd Amendment Xmas anthem" isn't political (as I tweeted,
"even if it's satirical and anti-gun"). Some brilliant ideas just
don't work, nor do stupid ones, regardless of artistic license.
(By the way, Matt Rice has a more judicious Wainwright review
Recommended music links:
Robert Christgau: Expert Witness: first installment of the new
Consumer Guide focuses on alt-rap records: Atmosphere, The Roots,
Homeboy Sandman, Open Mike Eagle; three A-, two HMs. More coming
each Friday. There's also an
interview with Christgau where he pegs Black Portland as
his favorite album of the year. I thought Atmosphere and The Roots
might have some upward potential when I reviewed them back when,
but I didn't get anything promising out of Black Portland --
although Tatum, Rice, and others did.
New records rated this week:
- Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (2014, Blue Note): singer-songwriter narrowly framed, both on cover and with guitar, as if we should pay more attention, but should we? [r]: B
- Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (2013 , Delmark): vibes-bass-drums trio with Flaten & Reed, doing much to let the leader roam/soar [cd]: B+(***)
- Kalle Kalima & K-18: Buńuel de Jour (2013 , TUM): guitarist, quartet adds bass, accordion, and alto sax, all melting together, thick & juicy [cd]: B+(***)
- The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis & Osiris (2012 , Inarhyme): drags early, but Edwin Bayard's sax is often mesmerizing, drummer pretty good too [cd]: A-
- Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 , TUM, 2CD): another 2CD monster but spare, with Henry Threadgill jousting, Lindberg & DeJohnette [cd]: B+(***)
- Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet) (2014, 429): pretty good album, as usual, except for that 2nd Amendment Xmas anthem [r]: D-
Old records rated this week:
- John Wolf Brennan/Alex Cline/Daniele Patumi/Tscho Theissing/John Voirol: Shooting Stars and Traffic Lights (1993-97 , Leo): [r]: B+(**)
- Julius Hemphill: Raw Materials and Residuals (1977 , Black Saint): early sax trio with cello and percussion, explosive postbop, seductive melodies [r]: A-
- Julius Hemphill/Warren Smith: Chile New York (1980 , Black Saint): sax-percussion duets, kind of sketchy as improv can sometimes be [r]: B+(**)
- The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table (1997, New World): ghost band, six-piece sax choir laying out some of his most storied harmonies [r]: B+(***)
- The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues: Live in LisbonB+(***)
- Jay Clayton & John Lindberg: As Tears Go By (1987 , Jazzwerkstatt): half tortured voals, half String Trio of New York, some pretty great Marty Ehrlich [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy: Soprano Sax (1957 , Prestige/OJC): first album, shows his horn off on Monk & Ellington, with very engaging Wynton Kelly on piano [r]: A-
- Steve Lacy: The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960 , Candid): mostly trio as Lacy lays out his unique soprano sax style, covering Monk, Parker, and Taylor [r]: A-
- Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence (1961 , New Jazz/OJC): two-horn quartet with bass/drums, indecisive squabbles over the usual fare (Ellington, Monk) [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy: Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (1969-77 , Saravah, 3CD): box rolls up 5 albums as Lacy gets weird, often several ways at once [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Clangs (1977 , Ictus): soprano sax and percussion duets, a rickety contraption with whistles, bird calls, clanging [r]: B+(**)
- Steve Lacy Quintet: Troubles (1979, Black Saint): tricky, slippery tunes with Steve Potts on second sax, Irene Aebi on violin or cello (or voice) [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy: The Flame (1982, Soul Note): trio with Bobby Few (piano) and Dennis Charles (drums), bits of genius and bouts of flailing [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: Live in Berlin (1984 , Jazzwerkstatt): typical mix for frequent duet partners, can get dense, also somewhat fanciful [r]: B+(**)
- Steve Lacy: More Monk (1989 , Soul Note): solo soprano sax, all Monk tunes, played fairly straight but stripped to bare bones [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: "Let's Call This . . . Esteem" (1993, Slam): duo, one of many they've done but too often they play past one another [r]: B+(**)
- Steve Lacy Trio: The Rent (1997 , Cavity Search, 2CD): trio, with Jean-Jacques Avenel and John Betsch, live before enthusiastic crowd, stretches into 2CD [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy Trio: The Holy La (1998 , Freelance): same trio, cut in studio in France, lovely kalimba stretch, two Aebi vocals (not too bad) [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite (2001 , Sunnyside): fine texts from famous beat poets, slippery and kinky music as only Lacy can, starchy vocals [r]: B
- Steve Lacy: November (2003 , Intakt): solo soprano sax, probably his last, a nice summation of his art; one vocals shows he can't sing either [r]: B+(**)
- John Lindberg: Trilogy of Works for Eleven Instrumentalists (1984 , Black Saint): belabored title and scores but somehow comes together impressively [r]: B+(***)
- John Lindberg: Quartet Afterstorm (1994, Black Saint): bassist-led, but trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and pianist Eric Watson star in taut ensemble [r]: A-
- John Lindberg Ensemble: A Tree Frog Tonality (2000, Between the Lines): quartet with Wadada Leo Smith and Larry Ochs bursting out, Andrew Cyrille superb [r]: B+(***)
- Pago Libre: Stepping Out (2004 , Leo): pianist John Wolf Brennan's avant-chamber group, violin dominating alphorn/flugelhorn, no drums [r]: B+(***)
- Henry Threadgill Sextett: You Know the Number (1986 , Jive/Novus): three horns, cello, bass, two percussionists, a boisterous avant-garde circus [r]: A-
- Henry Threadgill Sextett: Easily Slip Into Another World (1987 , Jive/Novus): picks up where predecessor left off, more or less inspired, vocal ok [r]: B+(***)
- Henry Threadgill: Song Out of My Trees (1993 , Black Saint): five pieces all over the map, like a grieving vocal over accordion/harpsichord/cellos [r]: B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (NoBusiness): CDR [LP only]
- Daniel Blacksburg Trio: Perilous Architecture (NoBusiness): CDR [LP only]
- Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (NoBusiness): CDR [LP only]
- Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra (Planet Arts)
- William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz Festival (NoBusiness)
- Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (self-released)
- RED Trio & Mattias Stĺhl: North and the Red Stream (NoBusiness)
- Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (2014, NCM East)
- Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (Random Act): September 30
Sunday, September 14. 2014
On September 10, getting a jump on the unlucky 13th anniversary of
Al-Qaida's planes attacks, President Obama laid out
his plans for the fourth US invasion and assault on Iraq:
Barack Obama became the fourth consecutive American president to
deliver a prime time speech to the nation about Iraq on Wednesday,
vowing to wage "a steady, relentless effort" to wipe out ISIS, the
Sunni militant group in Iraq and Syria which recently beheaded two
"Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy,
ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism
strategy," Obama said.
The president was quick to emphasize that this won't be a war like
Iraq or Afghanistan, instead likening it to U.S. engagement in Yemen
and Somalia. He said it "will not involve American combat troops
fighting on foreign soil," and will instead involve "using our air
power and our support for partner forces on the ground" to attack ISIS
(also called ISIL).
"If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat
beyond that region -- including to the United States," Obama said. He
stressed that the strategy will be conducted with global allies,
saying the four elements of his plan are air strikes, support for
rebel forces on the ground, counter-terrorism and intelligence and
humanitarian assistance to civilians.
[Some quick notes: the second invasion of Iraq was under Clinton,
when US forces drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of the Kurdish enclave;
that was done without a military engagement, although Clinton also
conducted a sporadic air war against Iraq over much of his two terms,
a practice Bush continued upon taking office in 2001. US troops first
entered Somalia in 1992, so how is that working? The first person
Obama ordered killed was a Somali pirate in 2009. The US killed a
leader of Al-Shabab there as recently as Sept. 2. The US started
using drones over Yemen to assassinate alleged terrorists in 2002,
so that, too, is at best a slowly evolving "success" story.]
As usual, Obama managed to offend everyone with his position --
the hawks for not acting sooner and more recklessly; the rest of us
for throwing us back into another pointless, hopeless war. For a
guy who claims his first principle of foreign policy is "don't do
stupid shit," Obama just blew it. As near as I can tell, he did
this for three reasons:
When US troops finally left Iraq, due to the Iraqi government's
refusal to sign a "status of forces agreement" that would give US
troops immunity to commit crimes against Iraqis (as they had been
doing since 2003), Obama chose to celebrate the occasion as a great
American success story, and as such he became party to a war that
he had campaigned against. So when the success story unraveled and
Iraq sank back into a civil war that the US had started by turning
Shiite death squads against Sunnis, Obama felt obligated to repair
the damage, even where Bush and 160,000 US troops had failed. (Obama
made a similar gaffe when he touted a false recovery from the Bush
recession, leading people to think he was responsible for the whole
crash.) The net effect is that Obama is willing to destroy his own
reputation in order to salvage Bush's. That sure isn't the "change"
millions of people voted for Obama to bring about.
Obama is a pushover, and he let himself get snowed here. A
lot of people have been pushing for war against ISIS lately, and
they've painted the group as unspeakably evil, pulling out every
cliché and playing on every prejudice that has ever been used to
sell Americans on a war in the Middle East. Granted, most of the
people who've been agitating for war against ISIS were already
trying to push the US into war in Syria against ISIS' primary
enemy, the Assad regime. Many of them belong to the "real men
go to Tehran" faction that wanted to extend the 2003 invasion of
Iraq to overthrow the governments of Iran and Syria. But all the
publicity of ISIS' beheadings and massacres has gripped people
initially inclined against escalating a war, even, some would
say, the Pope (but see
this for a more nuanced reading). For someone like Obama, who
periodically feels the need to prove he's no pacifist, the chance
to vanquish a foe as abhorent as ISIS was irresistible.
Finally, Obama has outsmarted himself, thinking his peculiar
combination of aggression (bombing, special forces) and restraint
(no regular combat troops) will work magic while avoiding the risks,
the abuse and blowback that inevitably follows American troops all
around the world. The fact remains that no matter how light or heavy
you go in, bombing will inevitably kill the wrong people, intelligence
will inevitably be incomplete or faulty, and the proxy forces that
the plan so relies on will have their own agendas, ones that will
become more rigid with the commitment of American support.
Perhaps the worst thing about Obama's speech and the policies he
previously put into place is the open-ended commitment he's made to
the very same Iraqi political leaders whose misbehavior made ISIS
appear to many Iraqis (Sunnis, anyway) to be the lesser evil. Now
they know that when they fuck up again the Americans will have to
stick with them, because the US can never afford to lose face. (On
the other hand, maybe they should review the story of Ngo Dinh Diem.)
But nearly every aspect of the speech/plan is flawed. ISIS came into
existence in the crucible of Syria's civil war, and some group like
it will inevitably reappear as long as the civil war goes on, so it
will prove impossible to stop ISIS without also ending Syria's civil
war. Chances of that are thin as Obama has sided with the rebels
against Assad, not realizing that the most prominent rebel group
is ISIS, and that the US-favored "moderates" are firmly aligned with
ISIS. The situation in Iraq is no simpler, with the US fighting in
favor of the central government against ISIS but also siding with
Kurdish separatists against the central government. The desire to
work through proxies adds complexity, but perhaps not quite the mess
of a full-blown invasion and its inevitably messy occupation. Plus
you have the problem of managing domestic expectations. Obama came
out with a clever limited intervention plan in the much simpler
context of Libya and, well, look at how that blew up. Obama put a
lot of emphasis on the counterinsurgency doctrine Gen. McChrystall
tried to implement in Afghanistan, and failed totally at. American
soldiers are peculiarly inept at fighting Muslims, yet the are held
on such high pedestals by politicians like Obama that their repeated
failures are overlooked. Similarly, the diplomatic alliances the
US will surely need are often unapproachable due to other conflicts --
Iran and Russia are the major cases, but the traditional wink-and-nod
green light for Saudia Arabia to finance groups like ISIS also comes
And one should probe deeper, although there is little chance that
Obama will. Nothing is so opaque to those who believe that "America
is a light unto the nations" as the actual past behavior of the US.
Since the 1970s the US has financed Jihadis, and has encouraged the
Saudis and others to actively proselytize their fundamentalist brand
of Islam, even as it has turned back against us. Similarly, America's
Cold War ideology, still very much institutionalized, keeps us from
working in any meaningful way to with liberal, socialist, or any kind
of progressive movements in the Middle East.
The US government is similarly ignorant about ISIS, as are the
American people -- even more so as they only enter the equation as
targets for propaganda, where ISIS is made to look at evil as possible
while the good intentions and great deeds of the US are never subject
to scrutiny. We are, after all, the leader of the free world, as such
obliged to act to defend civilization, something no one else has the
resources or moral character to do. And so on, blah, blah, blah. To
be sure, part of the problem here is that ISIS hasn't been running
the sort of media relations program that, say, the Israelis mount
when they go on a five-week killing binge like they did this summer
in Gaza. Rather, ISIS has contemptuously killed journalists who might
have helped them get their story out. They must, after all, have
stories: even the Taliban, who weren't much better at PR, could go
around the room and recount the lost limbs and eyes that scarred
nearly every one of their commanders. Like the Taliban, ISIS sprung
from the killing fields of despotic regimes and foreign occupiers.
I'm not aware of any journalist who has gotten close enough to ISIS
to present their side of the story, although Nir Rosen's In the Belly
of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006) and
Dahr Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded
Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007) got relatively close to earlier
generations of anti-US resistance fighters in Iraq. The journalist who
has written the most about ISIS is Patrick Cockburn, who wrote The
Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (2006), and who has a new
book on ISIS: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.
For a sampling of his recent writings on ISIS, see:
Some quotes from Cockburn's Sept. 9 piece:
The US and its allies face a huge dilemma which is largely of their
own making. Since 2011 Washington's policy, closely followed by the
UK, has been to replace President Bashar al-Assad, but among his
opponents Isis is now dominant. Actions by the US and its regional
Sunni allies led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, which were
aimed at weakening Mr Assad, have in practice helped Isis.
[ . . . ]
So far it looks as if Mr Obama will dodge the main problem facing
his campaign against Isis. He will not want to carry out a U-turn in
US policy by allying himself with President Assad, though the Damascus
government is the main armed opposition to Isis in Syria. He will
instead step up a pretense that there is a potent "moderate" armed
opposition in Syria, capable of fighting both Isis and the Syrian
government at once. Unfortunately, this force scarcely exists in any
strength and the most important rebel movements opposed to Isis are
themselves jihadis such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the
Islamic Front. Their violent sectarianism is not very different to
that of Isis.
Lacking a moderate military opposition to support as an alternative
to Isis and the Assad government, the US has moved to raise such a
force under its own control. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), once lauded
in Western capitals as the likely military victors over Mr Assad,
largely collapsed at the end of 2013. The FSA military leader, General
Abdul-Ilah al Bashir, who defected from the Syrian government side in
2012, said in an interview with the McClatchy news agency last week
that the CIA had taken over direction of this new moderate force. He
said that "the leadership of the FSA is American," adding that since
last December US supplies of equipment have bypassed the FSA
leadership in Turkey and been sent directly to up to 14 commanders in
northern Syria and 60 smaller groups in the south of the country. Gen
Bashir said that all these FSA groups reported directly to the
CIA. Other FSA commanders confirmed that the US is equipping them with
training and weapons including TOW anti-tank missiles.
It appears that, if the US does launch air strikes in Syria, they
will be nominally in support of the FSA which is firmly under US
control. The US is probably nervous of allowing weapons to be supplied
to supposed moderates by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies which
end up in the hands of Isis. The London-based small arms research
organisation Conflict Armament Research said in a report this week
that anti-tank rockets used by Isis in Syria were "identical to M79
rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free
Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."
In Syria and in Iraq Mr Obama is finding that his policy of
operating through local partners, whose real aims may differ markedly
from his own, is full of perils.
Some more links on Iraq, Syria, and ISIS:
Tony Karon: Obama promises a long and limited war on Islamic State:
The IS thrives as a result of the alienation of Sunni citizenry by Syrian
and Iraqi regimes and the breakdown of the central state in both countries.
The Islamic State has taken advantage of the enduring hostility to U.S.
intervention in the region -- and also of Washington's subsequent retreat
and passivity. It trades off Iran's sectarian support for allied Shia
militias, Gulf Arab support for equally sectarian Sunni militias and
Turkish hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which translates
into an open border for thousands of international volunteers to cross
and join the IS. The gradual collapse of the nation-state itself in Syria
and Iraq has allowed the IS to break away from the transnational conspiracy
strategy of its Al-Qaeda precursor to raise its black flag in a growing
power vacuum that covers huge swathes of territory.
Phyllis Bennis: The Speech on Diplomacy That Obama Should Have Given Last
What's missing is a real focus, a real explanation to people in this
country and to people and governments in the Middle East and around
the world, on just what a political solution to the ISIS crisis would
really require and what kind of diplomacy will be needed to get there.
President Obama should have spent his fifteen minutes of prime time
tonight talking about diplomacy. Instead of a four-part mostly military
plan, he should have outlined four key diplomatic moves.
First, recognize what it will take to change the political dynamics
of sectarianism in Iraq. [ . . . ]
Second, instead of a Coalition of the Killing, President Obama should
have announced a new broad coalition with a political and diplomatic,
not military, mandate. It should aim to use diplomatic power and financial
pressures, not military strikes, to undermine ISIS power.
[ . . . ]
Third, the Obama administration should, perhaps this month while
Washington holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, push to
restart serious international negotiations on ending the complex set
of multi-faceted wars in Syria. [ . . . ]
Finally, an arms embargo on all sides should be on the long-term
Without political agreement, there is no solution. All you can do
with military power is try to shift the power relationships between
the sides -- in the hope of getting a more favorable agreement. But
if all you have are military goals, they are pointless. And the value
of shifting those power relationships goes down if you're willing to
consider an equitable agreement. No side can legitimately ask for
Paul Woodward: Is ISIS a terminal disease?:
President Obama might have been slow to come up with a strategy for
defeating ISIS but he seems to have been much more resolute in his
choice of metaphor for describing the enemy.
After James Foley was murdered, Obama said, "there has to be a
common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread." A few
days later he said: "Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won't be easy
and it won't be quick." Again, last night he said: "it will take
time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL."
Woodward offers three reasons why he thinks Obama like the cancer
Obama's political goal appears to be to secure support for an open-ended
relatively low-key military operation that will be of such little concern
to most Americans that it can continue for years without any real
I'm less impressed by his "reasons" -- what struck me more from the
quotes is (1) the assumption that it is his (or "our") body that has
been struck by the cancer, and that therefore the US is entitled to
treat it; and (2) how reducing the acts of people to the level of a
disease sanitizes our process of killing those people.
John Cassidy: Obama's Strange Bedfellows: The Right Liked His Speech:
Quotes from Rush Limbaugh, John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Larry
Kudlow applauding Obama's speech. (Podhoretz called it "the most Republican
speech Barack Obama has ever given.") However, afterwards, the right started
looking for high ground further to the right:
If a vote takes place in Congress -- and, at this stage, it's unclear
whether that will happen -- most G.O.P. members will likely express
support for unleashing the U.S. military on the jihadis. (Opposing the
President "would be a huge mistake," Kudlow warned.) The pressure from
the right will be aimed at expanding Obama's war, not stopping it. More
bombing; more U.S. service members involved; more everything. That will
be the line.
It's already being laid down, in fact. "Air strikes alone will not
accomplish what we're trying to accomplish," House Speaker John Boehner
said on Thursday. "Somebody's boots have to be on the ground." Some of
Boehner's foot soldiers went further -- quite a bit further. "This is a
stalemate strategy," said John Fleming, a Louisiana congressman who
serves on the House Armed Services Committee. "I think that we would
want to see an all-out war, shock and awe. We put troops on the ground,
we put all of our assets there after properly prepping the battlefield,
and in a matter of a few weeks we take these guys out."
Of course, when you're the greatest power the world has ever known,
all it should take is a few weeks.
Andrew J Bacevich: Obama is picking his targets in Iraq and Syria while
missing the point: Starts off by trying to out-think David Brooks,
offering that "the core problem" of the era is "a global conflict pitting
tradition against modernity." That conflict exists, of course, but Jihadists
aren't militant defenders of tradition. They belong to a more specific
reaction, one in response to imperialist exploitation working through
the corrupt elites of many Muslim countries, not against modernity's
individualistic ethos. Still, the following point is well taken:
Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
won't create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won't restore
the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won't dissuade Saudi Arabia
from funding jihadists. It won't pull Libya back from the brink of
anarchy. It won't end the Syrian civil war. It won't bring peace and
harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won't persuade the Taliban to lay down
their arms in Afghanistan. It won't end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan.
It certainly won't resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All the military power in the world won't solve those problems. Obama
knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war
that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary -- mostly
because he and his advisers don't know what else to do. Bombing has
become his administration's default option.
Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues
to drift, guns blazing.
Fred Hof: We Can't Destroy ISIS Without Destroying Bashar al Assad First:
Hof worked for the Obama administration 2009-12 and has not rotated to a
Middle East policy think tank, so I count him as untrustworthy, but his
main point strikes me as true:
The Islamic State -- just like its parent, Al Qaeda in Iraq -- cannot be
killed unless the causes of state failure in Syria and Iraq are addressed
and rectified. Although such a task cannot be the exclusive or even
principal responsibility of the American taxpayer, the president's
strategy, its implementation, and its outcome will be incomplete if it
remains solely one of counter-terrorism.
The essential problem that has permitted the Islamic State to roam
freely in parts of Iraq and Syria amounting in size to New England is
state failure in both places. Redressing this failure is far beyond
the unilateral capacity of the United States, as occupation in Iraq
and ongoing operations in Afghanistan demonstrate. Still the fact
remains that until Syria and Iraq move from state failure to political
legitimacy -- to systems reflecting public consensus about the rules
of the political game -- the Islamic State will remain undead no matter
how many of its kings, queens, bishops, rooks, and pawns are swept
from the table. And yet a strategy that does not address how America
and its partners can influence the endgame -- keeping the Islamic
State in its grave -- is simply incomplete.
Hof refuses to consider the possibility that in order to kill ISIS
the US could change sides and support Assad, possibly under some
face-saving deal that would cut the "moderate" rebels some slack,
maybe promising some democratic reforms to isolate ISIS. He basically
wants to run the entire US Army through Damascus ("Airstrikes will not
suffice . . . A ground element is essential, as it has
been in Iraq.") What he doesn't explain is how, once Assad has been
swept away, the US establishes a government in Syria that is broadly
accepted by the bitterly-divided Syrian people as legitimate -- one
cannot, for instance, point to US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya,
or Somalia as providing any comfort or confidence.
US Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map:
After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias
fighting President Bashar al-Assad -- and one another. Among them, even
the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons
over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside
extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.
"You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that
respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don't
exist," said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis
blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It is a very
dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer."
[ . . . ]
The Obama administration's plans to arm Syrian rebels have been
troubled by false starts since April 2013, when Mr. Obama first
authorized the C.I.A. to begin a secret training mission in Jordan.
Months after the authorization, the White House still had not
delivered details to Congress about the C.I.A.'s plans, and it was
not until September 2013 that the first American-trained rebels
returned to Syria from Jordan.
To date, the C.I.A. mission in Jordan has trained 2,000 to 3,000
Syrian rebels, according to American and Arab officials.
To expand the training, Mr. Obama announced a plan in June to spend
up to $500 million for scores of American Special Forces troops to
train up to 3,000 rebels over the next year. But the proposal languished
on Capitol Hill as lawmakers complained that the plans lacked specific
details. A revised plan now calls for as many as twice that number of
fighters, analysts said.
Even if Congress approves the Pentagon plan, as now appears likely
after Mr. Obama's speech on Wednesday, military planners said it would
be months before the fighters, to be trained at a base in Saudi Arabia,
would be battle-ready.
Fatigue from three years of war has left most of those forces exhausted
and short of resources. Since pushing ISIS from parts of northern Syria
early this year, Syria's rebels have few military advances to point to
and in many areas have lost ground, to Mr. Assad's forces and to ISIS.
But in many places they remain busy fighting Mr. Assad and are not eager
to redirect their energies to ISIS -- even while many say they hate the
Rami G Khouri: Why Obama Has Picked the Worst Allies for His War on
ISIS: Khouri thinks that the Arab states that Obama is trying to
line up for the war against ISIS may be effective in the short-term
but will only make Jihadism more prevalent in the future.
The combination of foreign-led military power and local Arab government
partners that must anchor a successful attack to vanquish the Islamic
State is the precise combination of forces that originally midwifed the
birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s and later spawned its derivative -- the
Islamic State -- today. [ . . . ]
The jails of Sunni-majority Arab regimes represent an important aspect
of the mistreatment and humiliation that many prisoners experienced,
especially those jailed for their political views rather than crimes.
Their jail experiences ultimately convinced them to fight to topple
their regimes as part of Al-Qaeda's aim to purify Islamic lands from
apostate and corrupt leaderships.
The fact that tens of thousands of Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis,
Sudanese and other Arabs are in jail today on often questionable
charges -- including many in Gulf Cooperation Council states who are
jailed simply for tweeting critical remarks about their governments --
suggests that Arab autocracy continues to define and plague the region
as a driver of homegrown Arab radicalism and terrorism.
Moon of Alabama: The Caliphate's Anti-Imperial/Imperial Dualism:
Asserts: "The Caliphate is based on original Wahhabi ideas which were
in their essence also anti-colonial and at first directed against the
Ottoman rulers." Those anti-imperial ideas also work against the US,
but the juicier target is the Saudi royal family, which made the
original pact with Abd al-Wahhab and, in their general subverience
to the UK and US may be seen as not holding up their end of the deal.
Much of this has to do with the way the Saudis distribute dividends
on their oil. A small fraction of the money goes through the state
to build a social welfare network which keeps the peace by making
Saudi citizens wards of the state and elevating them above migrant
workers who do the real work and are kept on very short leashes.
But most of the money goes to the numerous princes of the royal
family, who are much like the pampered scions of rich estates all
over the world: spoiled, sheltered, conceited, given to flights of
grandeur and folly. American bankers love these Saudi princes --
some are serious, but most are easy marks. The princes themselves
are schizo: blessed with wealth they never earned, some turn into
notorious playboys, some turn pious and shameful. The latter, plus
some wealthy scions of non-royal families like Osama Bin Laden
and their cohort in the Persian Gulf monarchies, are the ones who
finance jihadists, who hire poor, disaffected Muslims to die for
God, to expiate the sins of the Saudis. Of course, when the Americans
come calling, the top Saudis are quick to condemn the traitors in
their ranks, but they are less eager to cut them out because deep
down they are trapped in their piety. The caliphate is a deep idea
dating back to Muhammad himself -- indeed, the Turks wouldn't have
made a mockery of it had it not worked -- so it's no surprise that
its first appearance of reality should be so dramatic.
The new Caliphate followers are copies of the original Wahhabis who
do not recognize nation states as those were dictated by the colonial
"western" overlords after the end of the Ottoman empire. They do not
recognize rulers that deviate, like the Saudi kings do, from the
original ideas and subordinate themselves to "western" empires. It
is their aim to replace them. As there are many people in Saudi Arabia
educated in Wahhabi theology and not particular pleased with their
current rulers the possibility of a Caliphate rush to conquer Saudi
Arabia and to overthrow the Ibn Saud family is real.
In that aspect the Caliphate is anti-colonial and anti-imperial.
That is part of what attracts its followers. At the same time the
Caliphate project is also imperial in that it wants to conquer more
land and wants to convert more people to its flavor of faith.
Both of these aspects make it a competitor and a danger to imperial
U.S. rule-by-proxy in the Middle East. That is, I believe, why the
U.S. finally decided to fight it. To lose Saudi Arabia to the Caliphate,
which seems to be a real possibility, would be a devastating defeat.
The author cites two pieces by Alastair Crooke that are worth
You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism
in Saudi Arabia, and
Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family
as the New Emirs of Arabia. A lot of interesting material in those
two pieces. (One thing I didn't realize was that King Abdullah has made
a number of reforms liberalizing Islamic law in Saudi Arabia: recognizing
legal doctrines other than the Salafist, and Shiites to consult their own
legal scholars. All this, of course, exacerbates the split with hardcore
He also cites a "twitter story":
Billmon on Doublethink in U.S. Foreign Policy. Punch line:
Whether U.S. diplos still believe their liberal international bullshit
isn't a particularly important question but it is interesting. I tend
to think that they do: Both as classic Orwellian doublethink, a product
of social conditioning, and on time-honored principle that a salesman
has to believe in his/her product, no matter how fantastical. "Goes
with the territory."
Richard Phillips/Stephan Richter: The dumbest US foreign policy question
asked this century: Who "lost" Syria?
And this begs the question: What are U.S. politicians saying when they
say they want to save Syria?
The answer to this can only be found in American hubris. Syria is not
America's to save. The reality is that only Syrians can save Syria --
just as it is only Iraqis who can save Iraq and only Afghans who can
Seeking an answer to the question "Who lost Syria?" is a foolhardy
quest on the part of U.S. politicians. Rather than a serious question,
it is just another manifestation of Washington's favorite political
sport -- blamesmanship.
Davis Merritt: Americans not ready for the truth about ISIS:
Former Wichita Eagle editor, usually a level-headed thinker, gets
all wrapped up in the futility of wars in the Middle East:
The religious extremism that defines the Middle East has been going on
for more than a thousand years. The West has been involved for more than
900 of those years. From Pope Urban's first crusade in 1095 to President
George W. Bush's ignorantly declared "crusade" amid the rubble of the
World Trade Center, extremists on both sides have periodically fanned
No American president can erase that history nor diminish its allure
to radical Islamists who want to write the next chapter in our blood.
Anyone who believes a few months of bombing can eradicate this latest
iteration of religious intolerance is living a fantasy.
Our 21st-century mindset doesn't tolerate lengthy wars; the half-life
of our resolve is about 18 months. So the president best avoid the word
"war," which implies beginning and ending points.
Unfortunately, neither can he say the truth: This is going to be
life in our world; learn to live with it.
A year ago Americans so overwhelmingly rejected Obama's proposal to
bomb Syria for using chemical weapons, recognizing that it wouldn't
solve anything and wouldn't even make a dent given all the other acts
of war. Indeed, it seemed probable that Congress (for once listening
to the American people) would have voted authorization for bombing
down. Now, supposedly an air war against ISIS enjoys popular support,
with Congress gung ho not only to authorize strikes but to appropriate
billions of dollars to train American proxies to fight the ground war.
This turnaround depends on being able to identify ISIS as uniquely
evil and dangerous, and while flashy stories of beheadings and mass
killings help, I suspect the main cause is deep-seated islamophobia
triggered by the prospect of resurrecting the caliphate. Last year
Syria was viewed as just another internecine sectarian conflict
between people we don't know or care about thousands of miles away.
The caliphate, on the other hand, would be a symbol of growing
Islamic power, an alarming shift in the world order, and that's
what starts dredging up reassuring memories of Pope Urban -- even
though most people who know the history of the Crusades regard them
as an embarrassing blight on European civilization. Merritt accepts
such wars because, regarding "religious extremism" as timeless, as
if the fight today is about an ancient character trait, and not
about anything more tangible -- like oil, or the ability of US
bankers to fleece Saudi princes, or the international market for
arms, or the constant jockeying of regional powers and their
never-very-dependable proxy groups. Those are all things that,
pace Merritt, we really shouldn't have to live with.
Paul Woodward: Most Americans support war against ISIS but lack
confidence it will achieve its goal: A NBC News poll says that
"62 percent of voters say they support Obama's decision to take
action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 22 percent oppose it."
But also that "a combined 68 percent of Americans say they have
'very little' or 'just some' confidence that Obama's goals of
degrading and eliminating the threat posed by ISIS will be achieved."
Woodward dissects these numbers. Among other points:
"Do you think President Obama presented a credible
strategy for destroying ISIS?" If the answer's "no" and this is why
you lack confidence in this war, then I'd take that as a fairly good
indication that you are following this story reasonably closely.
Of course the most obvious reason why Americans would be skeptical
about the chances of success for a war against ISIS is the fact that
after sinking trillions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and
the war on terrorism, al Qaeda still exists.
As has happened so many times before, Obama formulates his policies
in reaction to banal, superficial, political imperatives whose primary
purpose is to fend off critics.
On Thursday he presented his strategy for destroying ISIS because
only days before he got slammed for admitting he didn't have a strategy.
After he made various comments suggesting that he only aimed to
contain ISIS and was thus criticized for underestimating the threat
it poses and for being too timid in his response, he answered critics
by saying that his aim was to destroy ISIS.
After it was pointed out that fighting ISIS in Iraq would accomplish
little if it could continue to consolidate its strength in Syria, Obama
said the fight would be taken to Syria.
Each of his steps is reactive and political -- as though the primary
task at hand was to deflect criticism.
Probably more stuff to write about, but that's enough for now. I'd
be happy to return to writing about inequality, which is really the
big chronic issue of our era. Or maybe that old standby, the stupidity
of conservative Republicans (here's a
Ted Cruz example; and here's
Steve Fraser: The Return of the Titans, on the Kochs and their ilk).
Or global warming even, but the last couple
months have been overwhelmed by war news, and the one person who
could do something sensible and constructive to defuse conflicts
and resolve problems has repeatedly, almost obsessively managed to
make them worse. That person is US President Barack W. Obama. Yes,
he's finally sunk that low.
Tuesday, September 9. 2014
It's been 18-19 days since the
last one, but I've kept my nose to the grindstone and come up with
101 records here. That matches 101 last time, and only trails two (of
13) columns this year -- the biggest one was back on
March 19, when I cruised
through the Johnny Cash catalog.
A brief reminder here: the main reason I can cram so many records
in is that I don't spend much time with any of them. (That isn't totally
true: I must have played Richard Galliano six times before I bumped it
to A-, and I think the Margots got four spins each. But it's certainly
the rule: to get a second play a record has to convince me it has some
potential to rise on the grading scale. Most A- records got at least two
plays (Caffeine is one exception I recall), as do many (but probably not
a majority) of high B+ records.
About one-quarter of the records below are CDs that were sent to me
(or, very rarely, things I bought). Almost all of those are jazz, and
I still generally play everything I get no matter how awful it looks
(see Ricky Kej and Novox below). The other three-quarters I play on
the computer, most often from streaming sources like Rhapsody and
Bandcamp (where the latter presents full albums). I also get a fair
number of download links in the mail, but lately have done very little
to follow them -- some recent technical problems have added to my
customary disdain for such work. The streamed records are at a slight
disadvantage: I'm slightly less likely to give them a second spin,
my computer speakers aren't as good as the stereo speakers, nor do
the MP3 sources match up in sound quality. But all of the streamed
records start with some sort of rep, even if (cf. Dirty Loops) it
proves unfounded or downright ridiculous. And, of course, I'm more
likely to credit genres and labels of past interest -- dance pop,
Americana, underground rap are things I tend to follow -- and I
don't bother with stuff I generally dislike -- metal is the obvious
example. As my jazz mail declines, I've tried to compensate with
Rhapsody, but that only goes so far.
One thing that helps me figure out what to look for is my
tracking file, which I recently
expanded to retain my grade info. It includes a lot of stuff I'll
never bother with but it's useful to know it exists. Not nearly as
much information as past metacritic files, and as a result of not
doing that work I'm not nearly so much aware of what other people
are thinking. But that's just one more reason to ignore "alt/indie
rock" I've never much cared for -- New Pornographers is always a
good example of that.
Three sections below: new new records, new old records, and old
oldies. The middle section is always the short one, but it's the
sort of thing I previously covered in Recycled Goods (and would
today if it wasn't totally impossible to get the goods). The old
music section is a crate dig, and what shows up there varies much
by my mood. Most of what's there this time are older records from
Bandcamp stash (also shared by Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson,
Joe McPhee, and Paal Nilssen-Love, but I've focused on Vandermark),
and most of the rest come from my attempt to find Penguin Guide
4-star (and more often these days 3.5-star) jazz records -- although
at present I'm just sort of poking around there (no special reason
why John Lindberg and Jeff Palmer should be the main focus other
than that I've missed them in the past). The odd record out, The
Best of Joy Division, was suggested by
Michael Tatum. I try to catch up when I can.
I've also included a two lists of Catalytic-Sound records that
I didn't review this time: one (much the longer) I previously rated,
and another I haven't gotten to. Note that one reason some records
stuck on the latter -- notably the second Audio One -- is that the
site doesn't provide the full album. Can't review what you can't
hear (although sometimes it's tempting).
Good chance I'll get another one of these posted by the end of
September. Beyond that, who knows?
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
August 21. Past reviews and more information are available
here (5302 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Audio One: An International Report (2014, Audiographic):
One of Ken Vandermark's many recent big band projects: ten pieces (four
reeds, cornet, trombone, viola, bass, vibes, drums) -- much of the power
in the saxes where either Vandermark or Dave Rempis is having a terrific
day (I'm not betting on Mars Williams or new altoist Nick Mazzarella,
although I'm sure they help beef up the roaring ensemble sound). [One
reason I initially hedged here is that the same group also recorded
The Midwest School starting the night before. Only one track
available, not enough to review, but has more of that underlying r&b
romp I so like.]
The Bad Plus: Inevitable Western (2014, Okeh):
Piano super-trio: Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, Dave King, all three
contribute songs here and do considerable work elsewhere. Heavy on
the melodrama, perhaps, but such muscular chops, the sort of physical
prowess you expect in a western.
Bahamas: Bahamas Is Afie (2014, Brushfire/Island):
Singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen, from Toronto, has a winning way with
the confessional ballad, and can fancy it up a bit on occasion, not
that he always feels the need.
Cory Branan: The No-Hit Wonder (2014, Bloodshot):
A singer-songwriter from Mississippi who went to Memphis instead of
Nashville. Still, only when he pulls out all the country tricks do
the songs come alive ("Daddy Was a Skywriter," "The Highway Home").
The Bug: Angels & Devils (2014, Ninja Tune):
Kevin Martin, produced a lot of records 1990-2003 (when I finally
noticed Pressure), but they've thinned out since, this the
first in six years (during which he's been involved with Black
Chow and King Midas Sound). Best when he goes upbeat, possibly
Jamaican, but slow can be dull, and sometimes he seems to be more
interested in horror soundtracks.
The Cellar and Point: Ambit (2011-13 , Cuneiform):
Self-described as a "garage chamber" outfit. The "chamber" part
is earned by the preponderance of strings -- violin (Christopher
Otto), cello (Kevin McFarland), guitar (Terrence McManus and
Christopher Botta, with latter doubling on banjo), and electric
bass (Rufus Philpot) -- and percussion (Joe Bergen on vibes and
Joseph Branciforte on drums). The latter keep this moving, but
the strings all melt together.
Common: Nobody's Smiling (2014, Def Jam): Chicago
rapper, tenth album since 1994, a major label affair though only
about half of the guest spots ring a bell. Conceptually, about his
hometown, not a happy place these days. Fully half of the songs
are above the line, quotable even if not that notable. Dragging
my feet on the other half.
Eliana Cuevas: Espejo (2014, ALMA): Originally from
Venezuela, now billed as "Canada's Latin Music Queen," has a handful
of albums since 2003, writes and sings in Spanish so I'm not catching
much here, but musically seems pretty generic.
The Delines: Colfax (2014, El Cortez): Low-keyed
countryish rock group from Portland though the title song suggests
Denver, singer is Amy Boone although Willy Vlautin -- a novelist
Christgau has written about and the leader of Richmond Fontaine --
seems to be the songwriter. Stories about working on oil rigs and
wandering the streets in a PTSD fog are realer than usual. And the
music reminds me of a group called the Vulgar Boatmen -- slow and
Dirty Loops: Loopified (2014, Verve): Swedish group,
three male faces on the cover, touted as "ambitious jazz, prog rock,
R&B, and electronic dance-inflected pop music" -- not sure I hear
any of that, but I suppose if you jammed all that into a blender and
turned it to goop you might get something like this: synth fireworks
with histrionic vocals.
Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: Someday World (2014, Warp):
Hyde is the singer from Underworld, with a dozen or so albums 1988-2010
and a solo since. He takes the songs a little faster and harder than
Eno usually does,
Simone Felice: Strangers (2014, Dualtone):
Singer-songwriter, formerly of the Felice Brothers which made quietly
tuneful countryish-rock albums from 2006 and continue without him.
With a little more harmony, this could be another of them.
The Felice Brothers: Favorite Waitress (2014, Dualtone):
More harmony than brother Simone's album, of course, also more mayhem as
"Cherry Licorice" demonstrates.
5 Seconds of Summer: 5 Seconds of Summer (2014, Capitol):
Australian group: AMG argues they're the logical intersection of Green
Day and One Direction, although I don't know (or appreciate) the former
well enough to hear it. But you do get "boy group" harmonies with an
upbeat beach-rock vibe. Problem is it's as white as the antipodes, and
sooner or later orchestrated cheer wears thin.
Four Year Strong: Go Down in History (2014, Pure Noise,
EP): After four 2007-11 albums, a five track, 16:36, EP. Very upbeat,
with everyone trying to shout over guitar trying to drown everyone out --
a death spiral I see little value in.
Roddy Frame: Seven Dials (2014, AED): Scottish
singer-songwriter, first appeared in Aztec Camera with a near-perfect
1983 debut album (High Land, Hard Rain), about as lush and
catchy as pop albums get. The band folded in 1995 and he's been
knocking out solo albums since 1998, but this is the first I've
noticed. Still has a knack for pop melodies, but perfect is no
longer an option.
Larry Fuller: Larry Fuller (2013-14 , Capri):
Mainstream pianist, started out working with singer Ernestine
Anderson, has also appeared in Jeff Hamilton Trio and with John
Pizzarelli. Second trio album, all standards -- "Both Sides Now"
counts, but it's "C Jam Blues" and "That Old Devil Moon" that always
get my attention.
Richard Galliano: Sentimentale (2014, Resonance):
French accordion player, has recorded a lot since 1990, building
on the folk roots of his instrument, delving into tango and film
scores, always working in the jazz tradition -- draws on Ellington
and Coltrane here, Horace Silver too. With Tamir Hendelman's piano
and Anthony Wilson's guitar this risks becoming overly lush, but
that's sentimentalism for you.
Ben Goldberg/Adam Levy/Smith Dobson: Worry Later (2014,
BAG Productions): Clarinet-guitar-drums trio plays ten Monk tunes.
Ariana Grande: My Everything (2014, Island/Republic):
No longer a teen star, AMG says when this dropped she "was poised to
be the reigning pop diva of the mid-decade," citing her superior vocal
chops -- as if her rival is Adele and her archetype is Mariah Carey.
I always figured conceptual audacity was more important, but I've
spent much more time listening to Madonna and Gaga (and Lily Allen
and Nicki Minaj). But at least Grande has the studio budget, and
gets the expected results, more or less. But one play didn't reveal
the smash that will keep drawing the masses back so the rest can
sink in -- unless it's "Bang Bang" (with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj)
but I see that's only on the sucker-priced "deluxe edition."
Eric Harland's Voyager: Vipassana (2014, GSI Studios):
Drummer, second album but he was well established before his 2010
Voyager album, winning polls based on over 100 side credits
since 1997. Don't have a detailed credits list, but hype sheet
mentions Walter Smith, Julian Lage, Taylor Eigsti, Nir Felder, a
couple others. The instrumental passages behind Smith's tenor sax
are lush and grooveful. On the other hand, several cuts have vocals,
often just as window dressing, and they're awful.
Phil Haynes: No Fast Food: In Concert (2012 ,
Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, coming off a very good duo record
with trumpeter Paul Smoker, collects a couple of trio concerts with
David Liebman (more tenor than soprano sax) and Drew Gress (bass).
Joe Henry: Invisible Hour (2014, Work Song):
Singer-songwriter with a "plain Joe" persona and a natural touch
for everyday life serves up another helping.
Horse Meat Disco: Volume IV (2014, Strut): A collective
of four London DJs, remixing tracks that more/less date to the golden
age of disco -- where it all comes from isn't clear at this vantage point,
but the only track I immediately recogmized was "Getting to Know You,"
credited as "Getting to Know MC (Funked Over Mix) to Shahid Mustlaf MC,
but ultimately one of my favorite ever Parliament songs. [The CD version
has two discs, the second with "unmixed" versions of 12 (of 16) songs.
The digital release matches CD1. The 2-LP only includes 11 (of 16) songs.
Rhapsody only has 14 tracks (omitting "Got to Work (Hot Toddy Mix)" and
"I Love Your Beat").]
Ikebe Shakedown: Stone by Stone (2014, Ubiquity):
Seven-piece Afrobeat band from Brooklyn, second album, section horns
but no solos, no vocals either -- none of which is a big deal one
way or the other.
Jason Jackson: Inspiration (2012 , Jack &
Hill Music/Planet Arts): Trombonist, has a couple previous albums,
this one cut in three sessions with big bands and string orchestras --
credits list is a sore sight for tired eyes, but the names you know
are mainstreamers -- Roy Hargrove, Slide Hampton, Steve Wilson,
Terell Stafford, Rufus Reid. Some talented postbop there, but the
strings are a huge drag.
Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman: Winds of Samsara (2014,
Listen 2 Africa): Indian keyboardist and South African flautist, a
shared connection in Mahatma Gandhi and interest in Nelson Mandela,
various voices and what not, undercutting its modest exotica with
Wiz Khalifa: Blacc Hollywood (2014, Atlantic):
Puff of smoke on the cover, follow up to Rolling Papers.
Enjoyed two plays and don't have a thing to say, and no, I wasn't
smoking along. Mostly thinking about something else, which the
music suited fine.
Nils Landgren Funk Unit: Teamwork (2013, ACT):
Swedish trombonist, started as a mainstream player until he got
on the funk bandwagon, even singing some. Nothing George Clinton
needs to worry about, but more enjoyable than you'd expect. [I
started listening to this year's digital-only Extended
Version, then clipped it back to last year's CD -- not
actually much of a trim.]
Matt Lavelle/John Pietaro: Harmolodic Monk (2014,
Unseen Rain): Monk songs, done up with tricks from Ornette Coleman
as if the originals weren't kinky enough. Lavelle plays cornet,
flugelhorn, and bass clarinet (like no one else). Pietaro plays
vibes, bodhrán, congas, and percussion, a thin counterpart to
Lavelle's brave soloing.
Dave Liebman Big Band: A Tribute to Wayne Shorter
(2014, Summit): Seven Wayne Shorter tunes, arranged by Mats Holmquist,
and featuring Liebman probably because he handles both soprano and
tenor sax parts much like the model, whom he famously replaced (don't
recall right now how directly) in Miles Davis' band. On the other
hand, Liebman's always looked back to an earlier Davis saxophonist:
The Magic Words: Junk Train (2006 , Shake It,
EP): Lisa Walker (of Wussy) solo project, released in a run of 100
at the time, plus 25 more with handmade covers. Only runs 8 cuts,
28:15, so lo-fi I'm not really sure of much I've heard, but two
plays suggests there's something there.
Dean Magraw & Eric Kamau Gravatt: Fire on the Nile
(2014, Red House): Guitar and drums, respectively, a duo. AMG credits
Magraw with eight albums since 1994, classifying him as folk and new
age, probably because one of the albums was called Celtic Hymns.
The label is basically a blues outfit, but this is on the jazz side
of grooveful. Gravatt (b. 1938) is older, and keeps it honest.
The Margots: Pescado (2013, Okka Disk): Milwaukee
singer-lyricist Adrienne Pierluissi got help from guitarist John
Dereszynski and saxophone colossus Ken Vandermark to flesh out songs
for her lyrics. The latter's horns turn out to be notably tasteful,
as is the guitar, nicely setting up the deadpan tilt of the voice.
I doubt the lyrics rise far enough above the music, but when she
switches to Spanish I know better than to wonder.
The Margots: Soplé (2014, Okka Disk): More of the
same, but more songs rock and a few slow way down, and more are in
Spanish (at least I assume that's what it is -- the Bandcamp page
is tagged "brazilian jazz" and "tropicalia" but also "european free
jazz" and really this sounds like none of the above). Vandermark's
sax is less prominent but still tasty, and Adrienne Pierluissi is
one cool chanteuse.
J Mascis: Tied to a Star (2014, Sub Pop): Dinosaur Jr.
frontman, has recorded own albums since 1996 despite the occasional
band reunion. His last one, Several Shades of Why, surprised
me. This was more like what I was expecting: unassuming and less than
prepossessing, guitar that can get your attention, and a voice that
can lose it.
John McLaughlin & 4th Dimension: The Boston Record
(2013 , Abstract Logix): Interesting that as he passes into his
70s the original fusion guitarist seems more focused on the here and
now than on the transcendental goals he sought long ago. Live record,
concluding a US tour with Gary Husband on keybs and drums, Etienne
Mbappe on bass, and Ranjit Barot on drums. Hard edged, compressed,
more than a little clunky.
The Muffs: Whoop Dee Doo (2014, Cherry Red): Pop-punk
band from LA led by singer Kim Shattuck, around since the early 1990s,
back with first album since 2004, on an oldies label no less. Choppy,
cheeky, cheezy even.
Novox: Over the Honeymoon (2014, Label Z Production):
French band, from Lyon, leader-guitarist Pierre Alexandre Gauthier
cites George Clinton and Jimi Hendrix as chief influences, but he
finds it easier to fake the funk than play like Hendrix. Two horns,
synths, a turntablist, no singers but some vocal clutter. Probably
more accurate to call this "post-rock" -- but not everything that's
unclassifiable is interesting.
Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk (2014, Arista):
Bit off more than he could chew last time, ending up with his first
record that didn't go gold, so this time he borrows a page from Luke
Bryan and starts off with three party anthems in the first five (make
that four of seven: "when life gives you limes/make margaritas") --
albeit parties I want no part of. On the backstretch, he tries to
return to the sincere liberalism that won him Yankee admirers --
a JFK snippet, a song bragging about that "American Flag on the
Moon," an inclusive "Country Nation," another about "Going Green,"
then finally he taps Tom T. Hall for the obligatory Jesus song.
Still, even at his best he's awfully shallow: after all, "if you
want to know who we are/it's on the logos of our caps." More and
more I'm making him out as a "crunchy con."
Pattern Is Movement: Pattern Is Movement (2014,
Hometapes): First notes here sounded like a new wave throwback,
but this gets considerably softer, drippier, and drearier than
Ivo Perelman/Karl Berger: Reverie (2014, Leo):
Berger plays piano here, his original instrument although he is
better known for vibes, in a long career that puts him well into
his 70s now. He does a lovely job of setting up -- interviewing
is the word that comes to mind -- the Brazilian avant-saxophonist,
who pours emotion into his leads.
Anthony Pirog: Palo Colorado Dream (2014, Cuneiform):
Guitarist, first album, trio with Michael Formanek and Ches Smith,
doesn't have much flow or groove but that's the idea, something less
predictable than Montgomery or McLaughlin. Does get more interesting
toward the end when he works some feedback in.
Jeff Richman & Wayne Johnson: The Distance
(2014, ITI Music): Guitar duets, a couple with extra percussion.
Richman has more than a dozen albums since 1986. Johnson has a
somewhat shorter list going back to 1980. Pleasant picking,
strikes me as "new age" but is a cut above what gets classified
Ritmos Unidos: Ritmos Unidos (2014, Patois): Latin
jazz octet from Indiana, second album, drummer Mike Mixtacki seems
to be the central figure, also playing timbales and bata drums and
taking the vocal leads, but the most distinctive aspect of their
sound is the wash of steel pans.
Bruce Robison/Kelly Willis: Our Year (2014, Premium):
Second album for husband-wife team, both with substantial solo careers
behind them. Reading credits left-to-right, I filed their first under
Willis. Alternating vocals plays to their strengths, wears neither
Jason Roebke: Combination (2014, self-released):
Chicago bassist, works in avant circles, leads a quartet here with
Greg Ward (alto sax), Brian Labycz (modular synth), and Frank Rosely
(drums). A little thin and warbly.
Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte: The New Standard
(2014, Rare Noise): Piano trio, although Saft plays some organ too (good
chance he's played more organ than piano over the years). All original
material, with 4 (of 10) songs jointly credited, so the notion that any
of these pieces will emerge as standards is far fetched.
Akira Sakata/Johan Berthling/Paal Nilssen-Love: Arashi
(2014, Trost): Japanese alto saxophonist, born early 1945 in Kure (a
naval base town near Hiroshima), so in his first six months he survived
numerous conventional bombings as well as the first atomic bomb. Has
a substantial discography, especially since 2000 as he's played more
with free jazz figures around the world. He's on a tear here, sharply
accented by a drummer who's played often with Peter Brötzmann and/or
Ken Vandermark -- he most closely resembles the former, but even faster
on alto, and he adds a dimension with his vocals, as harsh as his horn.
Akira Sakata/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Ketil Gutvik/Paal Nilssen-Love:
The Cliff of Time (2013 , PNL): Alto sax/clarinet,
cello/electronics, electric guitar, drums. The sax is as frenzied as
in Sakata's Arashi, but the sound is more muddled -- may have
something to do with production or reproduction although the extra
instruments are suspect as well. Terrific drummer.
Masahiko Satoh/Paal Nilssen-Love: Spring Snow (2013
, PNL): Piano-drums duo, the pianist's name is often transliterated
as Sato. He was born in 1941, and has a substantial discography since
1970, although it takes some digging to find it. Seems like a talent,
in this company flashing some avant moves on two long cuts.
Carl Saunders: America (2013 , Summit): Trumpet
player, broke in as a teenager in 1960 under Stan Kenton and worked in
many surviving big bands of the 1960s, including Buddy Rich and Maynard
Ferguson, as well as in his uncle Dave Pell's octet. Has close to a
dozen albums under his own name since 1995. The small group (piano,
bass, drums, percussion) sets his trumpet off nicely. Seven originals,
five covers -- "America the Beautiful," Chopin, Jobim, "I Can't Get
Started," "How Deep Is the Ocean" -- a bit corny.
Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth (2014, Lightning
Rod): A fairly legendary songwriter, noted for songs that were often
funny and catchy and corny at the same time, early on he was regularly
outsung by his clients but the margins have narrowed so his biggest
problem these days are songs that don't get past their titles ("The
Git Go" and "Long in the Tooth"); well, that and the chances you've
heard a few before -- like "Last Call for Alcohol" or "Hard to Be an
Outlaw" (on Willie Nelson's latest, reprised here complete).
Side A: In the Abstract (2013 , Not Two): Ken
Vandermark sax trio, with piano (Hĺvard Wiik) and drums (Chad Taylor).
Second album, after 2011's impressive debut, A New Margin. This
is more mixed, perhaps because the slower, more abstract pieces close
in on the territory of that other Vandermark-Wiik trio, Free Fall
(named after the Jimmy Giuffre album) -- I prefer the harder-edged
pieces where Vandermark plays baritone sax.
Tim Sparks: Chasin' the Boogie (2013 , Tonewood):
Guitar player, I file him under klezmer since many of his early albums
focused on Jewish folk music -- Little Princess: Tim Sparks Plays
Naftule Brandwein (2009) is one I'm particularly fond of -- but he
starts out closer to the fingerpicking style of John Fahey. Doesn't
chase the boogie very hard here, but everything here is very pleasant
as background and intricate enough to engage you. The closing "Blue
Bayou" is especially lovely.
Spider Bags: Frozen Letter (2014, Merge): Garage-punk
outfit, based in Brooklyn, singer Dan McGee has a talkie voice and a
bit of a drawl. First four songs go fast (3:30 max), the other four
stretch out (5:11-6:32) as they kick up the drone.
Statik Selektah: What Goes Around (2014, Duck Down
Music): DJ, so even though he gets lots of shout outs he depends on
his fairly illustrious guest rappers -- slightly more than half names
I recognize -- to get the messages across, or to make them up on the
fly. And they aim for more gold than their underground reps should
make them accustomed to.
Ed Stone: King of Hearts (2014, Sapphire Music):
M.D. and sometime smooth jazz guitarist, third album, anesthetized
grooves with a couple of nondescript vocals for those radio slots.
Street Priest: More Nasty (2012 , Humbler):
Guitar-bass-drums trio (Kristian Aspelin, Matt Chandler, Jacob Felix
Heule), "fragmenting free funk into textural noise"; 4 cuts, 35:29,
available as a download or a limited run cassette (250 copies).
Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am (2012
, Warner Brothers): Presumably the leftovers from the session
that produced Vol. 1, so I suspect my more favorable response
must be a change in me. Covers, country classics with a few lapping
into the 1970s (including two Kristoffersons, too many). But also,
Travis doesn't sound as broken or weary as I recall. And while no
one improves on Lefty Frizzell, Travis mostly holds his own.
Ken Vandermark's Topology Nonet: Impressions of Po Music
(2013, Okka Disk): Featuring Joe McPhee, whose 1981 album Topology
was the first of a handful of albums credited to "Joe McPhee Po Music" --
at the time a group varying between 7-9 players. (Later Po Music groups
dropped down as far as four members.) Vandermark's group includes three
saxes (McPhee, Dave Rempis, Vandermark doubling on clarinet), cornet,
trombone, cello, vibes, bass, drums, but the "impressions" -- based on
McPhee titles -- are pretty hit-and-miss.
The Bill Warfield Big Band: Trumpet Story (2013-14
, Planet Arts): Trumpet player, although he's spent most of
his career teaching, arranging and conducting the occasional big
band album since 1988. For the trumpet theme here he leaves the
big solos to Randy Brecker, but the trumpet story itself isn't all
that clear or pronounced -- at least it's less clear than Vic Juris'
guitar, which stands out over two pianists and the usual clatter of
Wussy: Duo (2013, Shakt It, EP): Out-of-print limited
release for Record Store Day 2013, hadn't noticed it as streamable
until now. Runs 7 tracks, 24:07, reportedly demos but with full band
sound, and the songs are substantial enough. Just not much to it, not
that their fans won't be lining up "to be the first to squeal."
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Cables to the Ace (2014, Communicating Vessels):
Label compilation -- having entered through the Green Seed I expected
more hip-hop but got only two cuts, the best ones here. The balance
is some kind of alt-rock, nothing memorable nor particularly annoying.
Chances are some (maybe even most) of these groups could turn in a
decent B+ album, but the mix doesn't help.
Jay Clayton & John Lindberg: As Tears Go By
(1987 , Jazzwerkstatt): I've seen two different reissue covers
(as well as the 1988 original on ITM) and the differ, one adding
& More Songs to the title, the other & Some More
Songs, the latter also dropping the ampersand from the credit
and slipping String Trio of New York in between. [Rhapsody has the
former, but attributes the record to Various Artists.] Unable to
sort this out, I reverted to the original credit/title. Lindberg
appears on all tracks. His String Trio of New York colleagues
James Emery and Charles Burnham join on 4 (of 8), with Marty
Ehrlich on reeds (mainly clarinet) on three others. Discogs
credits Clayton as singing on four, but didn't notice her on
the title track. Aside from the title track and "Drifting"
(Jimi Hendrix), the rest of the songs come from band members
(3 Lindberg; 1 each Burnham, Ehrlich, Emery). In other words,
this is something of a mess, basically a sketch for as many as
three separate albums. The one I want to hear more of is the
one starring Ehrlich.
Hyperdub 10.1 (2006-14 , Hyperdub, 2CD):
Ten year label anniversary sampler, specializing in a variant of
electronica called dubstep. Drums have a certain hollow log feel,
pretty consistent for a comp and nice when the music is loose,
but there are spots when it gets tedious. The label is planning
two more anniversary sets. Not sure when/if I'll get to them.
Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (1965 ,
Resonance, 2CD): Early, these two previously unreleased sets came
on the heels of Lloyd's auspicious debut, Of Course, Of Course,
retaining guitarist Gabor Szabo (also just breaking in) and bassist
Ron Carter, replacing Tony Williams with Pete La Roca, and before
Lloyd's more popular albums on Atlantic. Interesting parallels here
both to Rollins and Coltrane, although Lloyd had a softer tone and
integrates better with his group -- Szabo is terrific throughout.
Both sets include a stretch on flute, very much in character.
Pete Magadini: Bones Blues (1977 , Sackville/Delmark):
Drummer, led two albums 1976-77, two since then. This a sax quartet with
Don Menza on tenor, Wray Downes on piano, and Dave Young on bass -- all
strangers to me, but a mainstream blowing sessions like the old Prestiges,
a strong sax man, gets off on the right foot with "Old Devil Moon."
Don Pullen: Richard's Tune (1975 , Sackville/Delmark):
The pianist's first name album, a solo cut on the road in Canada and
originally released as Solo Piano Album, now named for its first
song, one dedicated to Muhal Richard Abrams -- a good hint if you want
to locate him, but he already has more rhythmic muscle even if his fully
developed style was still a few years away.
Suburban Base: The History of Hardcore, Jungle, and Drum 'n'
Bass: 1991-1997 (1991-97 , New State, 3CD): Label comp,
the label in question a side venture of a suburban London record store
called Boogie Times. I haven't developed any sense of how to tell the
numerous taxonomies of electronic dance music apart, and this doesn't
help -- very little doc here, no names I recognize, little reason to
differentiate even by disc. Still, functional, and something of a
AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: Hidden in the Stomach
(1996 , Silkheart): The first of five records where Ken Vandermark
sat in with Mats Gustafsson's sax trio (Peter Janson on bass, Kjell
Nordeson on drums). Two covers help pin this down: Charlie Haden's
"Song for Che" and Albert Ayler's "Ghosts/Spirits."
AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: I Wonder If I Was Screaming
(2000, Crazy Wisdom): The last of five albums with Vandermark sitting in
with Mats Gustafsson's late-1990s trio, soon to be replaced by The Thing.
The perennial problem with Vandermark-Gustafsson groups is to keep the
friction from melting them down. Here the trick appears to be tighter
Artifact iTi: Live in St. Johann (2008 , Okka Disk):
Ken Vandermark (reeds) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) pick up a couple
local musicians for Austria's Festival ArtActs 2008: Johannes Bauer
(trombone) and Thomas Lehn (synthesizer). One long piece (36:18), two
short ones (total another 11:00), highlights exciting, a few of those
quiet stretches that may force a live audience to focus but on record
tend to blank out.
Billy Bang Quintet: Invitation (1982, Soul Note):
With Charles Tyler (alto/baritone sax), Curtis Clark (piano), Wilber
Morris (bass), and Dennis Charles (drums), a solid (but less than
spectacular) outing for the violinist.
John Wolf Brennan/Alex Cline/Daniele Patumi/Tscho Theissing/John
Voirol: Shooting Stars and Traffic Lights (1993-97 ,
Leo): Piano, drums, bass, violin, soprano/tenor sax -- a group which
later recorded (generally without drums) as Pago Libre. Effectively
an avant-chamber setup, the violin more prominent than the sax.
Caffeine: Caffeine (1993 , Okka Disk): Ken
Vandermark (reeds), Jim Baker (piano), and Steve Hunt (percussion):
group played together as late as 2005 but this is their only album.
Not many examples of Vandermark with piano, which is surprising
considering how well he plays off Baker's frenzied block chord
The John Carter Octet: Dauwhe (1982, Black Saint):
Clarinet player, appeared on landmark Horace Tapscott albums like
The Dark Tree earlier and had a long-running quartet with
cornetist Bobby Bradford, doubled in size here but not in sound --
additions include James Newton on flute, Red Callender on tuba,
and Charles Owens on soprano sax, oboe, and clarinet. African
references abound, but the record doesn't quite go there.
Cinghiale [Mars Williams/Ken Vandermark]: Hoofbeats of
the Snorting Swine (1995 , Eighth Day): Title sounds
like the sort of noise rout both are capable of (especially in
one another's company), but what we get instead are fairly balanced
sax/clarinet duets exploring a wide range of possible interactions.
DK3: Neutrons (1997 , Quarterstick): Ken
Vandermark trio with a pair of rock musicians: guitarist Duane Denison
(Jesus Lizard) and drummer James Kimball (Laughing Hyenas, although he
also wound up with Jesus Lizard). Beats tend to be regular, and
Vandermark prefers riffing along to breaking loose, so this approaches
a post-rock ambience he never returned to.
The Frame Quartet: 35mm (2009, Okka Disk): What's
most distinctive here is the admixture of electronics by bassist
Nate McBride and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Otherwise, this is Ken
Vandermark on tenor sax and clarinet plus Tim Daisy on drums
powering their way through Vandermark 5 pieces, a little less
edge without the second saxophonist, and because the electronics
aren't ultimately that helpful.
Joy Division: The Best of Joy Division (1979-80
, Rhino): I've long felt that the two albums, Unknown
Pleasures and Closer, stand up well enough on their
own, and rated both above the Substance 1977-1980 and
Permanent: Joy Division 1995 compilations, with their
marginal trivia. Of course, we now know that after deep-voiced
Ian Curtis hung himself the band took a turn for the better as
New Order, the prototype here more tangible than the dead end.
John Lindberg: Trilogy of Works for Eleven Instrumentalists
(1984 , Black Saint): The bassist composed the three pieces, but
the most conspicuous credit alongside many genuine names is "conductor"
Anthony Braxton. Four brass (including Vincent Chancey on French horn),
three reeds (including Marty Ehrlich doubling on flute), piano, guitar,
bass, and drums. Seems a little clunky at first but eventually coheres
into something surprising.
John Lindberg: Luminosity: Homage to David Izenzon
(1992-06 , Music & Arts): Solo bass, with a couple vocal
asides. Izenson was noted for his arco bass work with Ornette Coleman.
John Lindberg: Quartet Afterstorm (1994, Black Saint):
With Albert Mangelsdorff (trombone), Eric Watson (piano), and Ed Thigpen
(drums), a rather freewheeling album with juicy solo spots (not least
for the bassist) and taut ensemble work.
John Lindberg Ensemble: Bounce (1997, Black Saint):
Bassist-led quartet, the tunes do favor a sort of bounciness, closer
to pogoing than swing or bop, scratched out schematically by Dave
Douglas on trumpet, with Larry Ochs less conspicuous on saxophones.
John Lindberg Ensemble: A Tree Frog Tonality (2000,
Between the Lines): Two-horn quartet, with Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet
and Larry Ochs on soprano/tenor sax, players who are willing to stray
well outside the lines, and a superb Andrew Cyrille on drums.
John Lindberg: Ruminations Upon Ives and Gottschalk
(2001 , Between the Lines): I don't know the work of Charles
Ives or Louis Gottschalk well enough to connect the dots, but the
credit sheet shows all original material by the bassist. The group:
Baikida Carroll (trumpet), Steve Korn (reeds, bansuri), Susie Ibarra
Paul Motian Quintet: Misterioso (1986 , Soul
Note): With trio mates Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, plus a second
saxophonist (Jim Pepper) and a bassist (Ed Schuller). Two Monk tunes,
frequent targets for drummer Motian. The rest fractured originals.
Paul Motian Trio: One Time Out (1987 , Soul
Note): With Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, starts a bit wobbly but
ends with a powerhouse piece ("Circle Dance").
The Kevin Norton Ensemble: Knots (1997, Music &
Arts): Drummer-vibraphonist, backed with cello and bass, with Bob
DeBellis on clarinet, alto sax, and bass clarinet -- looks like
David Bindman and David Krakauer also play clarinet on three tracks
NRG Ensemble: Bejazzo Gets a Facelift (1997,
Atavistic): Saxophonist Mars Williams joined Hal Russell's band in
1979, and after Russell died in 1992 Williams kept the band going,
recruiting Ken Vandermark as the other saxophonist. They cut three
albums as NRG Ensemble, this last one cut after Vandermark formed
the Vandermark 5, with Williams as the other saxophonist. Specialty
here is the racing saxes, and like most dirt track racing there are
plenty of crashes and spills, some funny, some not so.
Pago Libre: Stepping Out (2004 , Leo): Name
reportedly formed from bits of member names, although at this point
that's far from obvious -- "bre" is pianist John Wolf Brennan, the
one constant, here joined by Arkady Shilkloper (alphorn, flugelhorn),
Tscho Theissing (violin), and Georg Breinschmid (bass). Avant-chamber
jazz, with violin prominent and no drums, although this one swings
more readily than their earlier efforts.
Jeff Palmer/John Abercrombie/Arthur Blythe/Victor Lewis: Ease
On (1992 , Sledgehammer Blues): Organ player, has a handful
of albums with an especially notable band here -- alto saxophonist Blythe
is a good deal more avant than your average soul jazz players but can
work some blues licks in easily enough, while Lewis is a mainstream
drummer who can touch up anything.
Jeff Palmer/Arthur Blythe/John Abercrombie/Rashied Ali: Island
Universe (1994, Soul Note): Swapping drummers (Ali replaces
Victor Lewis) pushes alto saxophonist Blythe back into the avant-garde,
moving this from organ-based soul jazz to something well beyond. The
guitarist has always been one to go with the flow, even when it gets
choppy as it does here.
Sten Sandell Trio: Face of Tokyo (2008 , PNL):
Avant-piano trio, with Johan Berthling on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love
on drums. Recorded live in Tokyo in two half-hour chunks.
Alan Skidmore: After the Rain (1998, Miles Music):
Tenor/soprano saxophonist, an important figure in the British avant-garde
but you'd never guess that from this collection of ballads, backed by
Colin Towns' lush but undistinguished strings. Quite lovely, just a
bit shy of sublime.
Territory Band-4: Company Switch (2004 , Okka
Disk, 2CD): Ken Vandermark's big band, honoring (if not really following)
the old blues-based territory bands from Kansas City and points south
and west. The bands were numbered, this particular edition numbering
eleven musicians: two brass (Axel Dörner, Jeb Bishop); three reeds
(Vandermark, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Dave Rempis), piano (Jim Baker),
cello (Fred Lonberg-Holm), bass (Kent Kessler), two drummers (Paal
Nilssen-Love and Paul Lytton), and Lasse Marhaug (electronics). This
was the first Territory Band set to slop over to a second disc, in
large part because they spread the options out more, moving beyond
raw spontaneity to follow up a more deliberate plan -- if only it
were more clear.
The Thing: Action Jazz (2006, Smalltown Superjazz):
Mats Gustafsson's long-running sax trio, with Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten
on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. They made their first splash
featuring very hoary free jazz riffs on alt-rock hits, hooked to a
barely recognizable refrain. But by this point they've diversified,
covering Lars Gullin, Ornette Coleman, Yosuke Yamashita, Lightning
Bolt, and others plus an original named "Strayhorn."
Vandermark Quartet: Solid Action (1994, Platypus): Second
Quartet album, two years before the Vandermark 5's first record, from a
time when he was just out of NRG Ensemble and still playing with avant-rock
groups like the Flying Luttenbachers. This has frequent collaborators Kent
Kessler on bass and Michael Zerang on drums, plus Daniel Scanlan playing
violin/guitar/cornet -- as the counterpoint to Vandermark's tenor
sax/clarinet/bass clarinet. Lots of interesting, surprising moves; also
a tendency to get tied up.
Ken Vandermark: Standards (1994 , Quinnah):
I don't see any song credits, and don't recognize any song titles,
so consider the title a joke. Vandermark plays three tracks each
with four "improvising trios": Kent Kessler (bass)/Hamid Drake
(drums); Mars Williams (sax)/Michael Zerang (drums); Jim Baker
(piano/synth)/Daniel Scanlan (guitar/violin; and Kevin Drumm
(guitar)/Steve Hunt (drums). Trying on different looks, but the
final session with Drumm starts off explosively.
Ken Vandermark: Strade d'Acqua/Roads of Water (2008
, Multi Kulti): A soundtrack to a film by Augusto Contento.
Band contains many Chicago regulars including Jeff Parker (guitar)
and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) but no extra reeds so no jousting,
just soundtrack-ish colors and moderate background pacing.
Additional Consumer News:
Catalytic-Sound I still haven't heard:
- AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (1999, Wobbly Rail): 0/4 tracks
- Nils Henrik Asheim/Paal Nilssen-Love: Late Play (2006 , PNL)
- Audio One: The Midwest School (2014, Audiographic): 1/5 tracks
- Peter Brötzmann: Wels Concert (1996, Okka Disk)
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: At Molde 2007 (10 Years 10tet) (2007 , Okka Disk)
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Walk, Love, Sleep (2011 , Smalltown Supersound, 2CD)
- Peter Brötzmann/Shoji Hano: Funny Rat (1991 , EGG)
- Peter Brötzmann/Kent Kessler/Hamid Drake: Live at the Empty Bottle (1998, Okka Disk)
- Peter Brötzmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Paal Nilssen-Love: Ada (2011, self-released)
- Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love/Mats Gustafsson: The Fat Is Gone ()
- Peter Brötzmann/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love: Roma (2008 , self-released)
- DKV Trio: Past Present (2008-11 , Not Two, 7CD)
- Terrie Ex/Paal Nilssen-Love: Hurgu! (2011, PNL)
- Full Blast & Friends: Sketches and Ballads ()
- Mats Gustafsson: Parrot Fish Eye (1994, Okka Disk)
- Mats Gustafsson: Slide ()
- Hairy Bones: At Fresnes (2009 , self-released)
- Lasse Marhaug/Paal Nilssen-Love: Stalk (2004 , PNL)
- The Joe McPhee Trio: First Date: Live at the Third Annual Vision Festival (1998-2004 , CJR): 1 (of 2) tracks/li>
- Joe McPhee/Raymond Boni/Dominic Duval/Michael Bisio: Port of Saints (2000 , CJR)
- Vandermark 5: Live @ the Empty Bottle 1997 (1997, Savage Sound Syndicate): 0 tracks
- Vandermark 5: Thinking on One's Feet (1999, Savage Sound Syndicate): 0/7 tracks (Seth Tisue refers to album as Vandermark 5 vs. Santo)
- Vandermark Quartet: Big Head Eddie (1993, Platypus): 0/10 tracks
- Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love: Letter to a Stranger (2011 , Smalltown Superjazz): 1/10 tracks
- Witches & Devils: Live at the Empty Bottle (): 1/4 tracks
Records at Catalytic-Sound I have previously heard and rated:
- AALY Trio/DKV Trio: Double or Nothing (1999 , Okka Disk) [*]
- AALY Trio/Ken Vandermark: Stumble (1998, Wobbly Rail) [B-]
- Fred Anderson/DKV Trio: DKV Trio With Fred Anderson (1996 , Okka Disk) [*]
- Atomic/School Days: Nuclear Assembly Hall (2003 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Atomic/School Days: Distil (2006 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Ab Baars Trio & Ken Vandermark: Goofy June Bug (2007 , Wig) [**]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Stone/Water (1999 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet Plus Two: Broken English (2000 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet Plus Two: Short Visit to Nowhere (2000 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Images (2002 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Signs (2002 , Okka Disk) [B]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Be Music, Night (2005, Okka Disk) [**]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 1 (2006 , Okka Disk) [***]
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 2 (2006 , Okka Disk) [**]
- Peter Brötzmann/Hamid Drake: The Dried Rat-Dog (1994 , Okka Disk) [B]
- Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love: Hairy Bones (2008 , Okka Disk) [A-]
- Peter Brötzmann/Peter Friis Nielsen/Peeter Uuskyla: Medicina (2004, Atavistic) [A-]
- Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Sweet Sweat (2006 , Smalltown Supersound) [**]
- Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Woodcuts (2008 , Smalltown Superjazz) [**]
- Peter Brötzmann/Marino Pliakas/Michael Wertmüller: Full Blast/Black Hole (2008 , Atavistic) [***]
- Peter Brötzmann/Peter Uuskyla: Born Broke (2006 , Atavistic) [***]
- Cato Salsa Experience and the Thing with Joe McPhee: Sounds Like a Sandwich (2004 , Smalltown Supersound) [**]
- DKV Trio: Baraka (1997, Okka Disk) [*]
- DKV Trio: Live in Wels and Chicago (1998 , Okka Disk) [***]
- DKV Trio: Trigonometry (2001 , Okka Disk) [***]
- FJF: Blow Horn (1995 , Okka Disk) [*]
- FME: Underground (2004, Okka Disk) [A-]
- FME: Cuts (2004 , Okka Disk) [A-]
- Free Fall: Amsterdam Funk (2004 , Smalltown Superjazz) [*]
- Fire Room: Broken Music (2005 , Avatistic) [B]
- Gold Sparkle Trio/Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (2002 , Squealer) [**]
- Mats Gustafsson/Barry Guy/Paul Lovens: Mouth Eating Trees and Related Activities (1992, Okka Disk) [B]
- Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love: 4 Corners (2006 , Clean Feed) [A-]
- Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 1 (2008 , Smalltown Superjazz) [A-]
- Lean Left: Live at Café Oto (2011 , Unsounds) [**]
- Made to Break: Provoke (2013, Clean Feed) [***]
- Joe McPhee: Sonic Elements: For Pocket Trumpet and Alto Saxophone (2013, Clean Feed) [*]
- Joe McPhee/Peter Brötzmann/Kent Kessler/Michael Zerang: The Damage Is Done (2008 , Not Two) [**]
- Joe McPhee/Peter Brötzmann/Kent Kessler/Michael Zerang: Guts (2005 , Okka Disk) [***]
- Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love: Tomorrow Came Today (2007 , Smalltown Superjazz) [A-]
- Joe Morris/DKV Trio: Deep Telling (1998 , Okka Disk) [**]
- Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray: Rebus (2006 , Clean Feed) [A-]
- Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Hans Poppel: Like Rays (1996 , Knitting Factory) [B-]
- Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Dual Pleasure 2 (2003 , Smalltown Supersound) [B+]
- NRG Ensemble: Calling All Mothers (1993, Quinnah) [B+]
- Powerhouse Sound: Oslo/Chicago Breaks (2005-06 , Atavistic, 2CD) [A]
- Resonance Ensemble: Kafka in Flight (2011, Not Two) [A-]
- Resonance Ensemble: What Country Is This? (2012, Not Two) [A-]
- School Days: Crossing Division (2000, Okka Disk) [A-]
- School Days: In Our Times (2001 , Okka Disk) [A-]
- Side A: A New Margin (2011, Clean Feed) [A-]
- Sonore: No One Ever Works Alone (2003 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Sonore: Call Before You Dig: Loft/Köln (2008 , Okka Disk) [*]
- Spaceways Incorporated: Thirteen Cosmic Standards (2000, Atavistic) [A-]
- Spaceways Inc.: Version Soul (2002, Atavistic) [A]
- Steelwool Trio: International Front (1994 , Okka Disk) [A-]
- Territory Band-1: Transatlantic Bridge (2000 , Okka Disk) [B+]
- Territory Band-2: Atlas (2001 , Okka Disk) [**]
- Territory Band-3: Map Theory (2004, Okka Disk) [B]
- Territory Band-5: New Horse for the White House (2005 , Okka Disk) [*]
- Territory Band-6 with Fred Anderson: Collide (2006 , Okka Disk) [***]
- The Thing/Ken Vandermark: The Immediate Sound (2007, Smalltown Superjazz) [*]
- Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee: Human Encore (2012 , Clean Feed) [**]
- Tripleplay: Expansion Slang (1998 , Boxholder) [A-]
- Ken Vandermark: Furniture Music (2003, Okka Disk) [B+]
- Ken Vandermark: C.O.D.E.: Play the Music of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy (2008, Cracked Anegg) [***]
- Ken Vandermark: Mark in the Water (2010 , Not Two) [*]
- The Vandermark 5: Burn the Incline (2000, Atavistic) [B+]
- The Vandermark 5: Free Jazz Classics Vols. 1 & 2 (2000-01 , Atavistic, 2CD) [A-]
- The Vandermark 5: Airports for Light (2002 , Atavistic) [A-]
- The Vandermark 5: The Color of Memory (2004 , Atavistic) [A-]
- The Vandermark 5: Alchemia (2004 , Not Two, 12CD) [A-]
- The Vandermark 5: A Discontinuous Line (2005 , Atavistic) [A-]
- Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (2006 , Atavistic) [A-]
- Ken Vandermark Barrage Double Trio: Utility Hitter (1995, Quinnah) [A-]
- Ken Vandermark/Brian Dibble: Duets (2002 , Future Reference) [B+]
- Ken Vandermark's Joe Harriott Project: Straight Lines (1998 , Atavistic) [A-]
- Ken Vandermark/Pandelis Karayorgis: Foreground Music (2006 , Okka Disk) [**]
- Ken Vandermark/The Resonance Ensemble: Head Above Water, Feet Out of the Fire (2012-13 , Not Two, 2CD) [A-]
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets
following the grade:
- [cd] based on physical cd
- [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
- [bc] available at bandcamp.com
- [sc] available at soundcloud.com
[os] some other stream source
- [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely
available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist
Sunday, September 7. 2014
The Wichita Eagle op-ed page featured Trudy Rubin'
Decision Time on ISIS today, three days after the column originally
appeared. Having clamored for more war for years, she must be happy now
that Obama has vowed to "destroy and degrade ISIS" and hopscotched around
the world lining up a new "coalition of the willing" to share the dirt
and blame for another foreign intervention in Iraq and Syria (the last
one having been such fun). Rubin, meanwhile, has gone on seeking further
dragons to slay:
If Putin's actions in Ukraine aren't an invasion, then what is?
Obama's been busy working on locking the US into a war there too. (See
David Frum: Obama Just Made the Ultimate Commitment to Eastern Europe,
something Frum is ecstatic about.) This series of events has reduced my
opinion of Obama to its lowest point ever. Some of this I explain in my
comment on the Peter Beinart piece below, yet even now I doubt that I've
pushed that argument far enough. Perhaps one reason I'm so appalled is
that there doesn't seem to be much uproar over what has to be judged the
most significant American pivot towards war since Bush invaded Iraq. As
Beinart puts it, "[Obama's] fierce minimalism fits the national mood.
President Obama's Mideast strategy is not grand. It's not inspiring.
It's not idealistic. But it's what the American people want and what
their government knows how to do." Really?
That so few rank-and-file Democrats feel up to holding Obama
responsible for his repeated belligerence probably has more to do
with the perception that the Republicans have become a full-fledged
threat to civilization. This is in stark contrast to the 1960s,
when we had no trouble turning on Lyndon Johnson -- and when the
Democratic Party essentially short-circuited the accomplishments
of the New Deal and Great Society out of a blind commitment to an
insane war in Vietnam. Like Johnson, Obama seems bent on sacrificing
whatever good he's accomplished on the altar of war. Little comfort
that he hasn't accomplished much to squander.
Some scattered links this week:
Peter Beinart: Actually, Obama Does Have a Strategy in the Middle East:
Argues that Obama is neither dove nor hawk, but "a fierce minimalist" --
which is to say he's a hawk who prefers small game taken with little risk
or long-term commitment. Of course, that doesn't explain his "Afghanistan
surge" -- in retrospect, that looks like a time-limited concession to the
military, a way of saying "put up or shut up." Beinart goes further than
the facts suggest:
On the other hand, he's proven ferocious about using military force to
kill suspected terrorists. [ . . . ] By contrast,
Obama's strategy -- whether you like it or not -- is more clearly
defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can
menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting
a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his
sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.
It's not that simple: Libya never was a threat to American civilians
(at least not until he intervened there). And he's actually broken new
ground in using drones to kill American citizens. So I think the focus
on "terrorist" targets has more to do with scale and risk. He's come to
realize that the US military isn't very effective (and often is down
right counterproductive) when deployed en masse, so he's avoided that.
He also seems to recognize that the US military isn't very effective
as an occupying force: they inevitably embarrass themselves, breeding
resentment and rebellion. On the other hand, give him the opportunity
to kill some "terrorist" and he's happy to pull the trigger. Republicans
taunt him as weak, so he's anxious to prove he's a natural born killer.
One could do worse than minimizing risk and damage, but "minimalism" is
a trap Obama walked into, either because he has no principles or because
he has no willpower to defend them against his security bureaucracy.
Kathy Gilsinan: To Kill a Terrorist, about one of Obama's minimalist
"success stories": the killing of Somali "terrorist" leader Ahmed Abdi
Godane. The most likely result there is that Al-Shabab replaces Godane
with another even-more-embittered leader and nothing more changes. And
I might as well point out Beinart's more recent post,
Pursuing ISIS to the Gates of Hell. Obama's vow "to destroy and
degrade ISIS" remains a bit muddled (why put the weaker verb second?),
and framing it with a "Jacksonian" revenge drama doesn't help.
Andrew O'Hehir: From 9/11 to the ISIS videos: The darkness we conjured
I think it's worthwhile to revisit the examples of Stockhausen and
Baudrillard, and their ideas too, in considering a new outrage that is
both literal and symbolic: the ISIS beheading videos. The criminal acts
depicted in those videos are on an entirely different scale from 9/11,
and it's important not to lose sight of that fact amid the understandable
shock and revulsion they have engendered. But the intended effect is
strikingly similar, and the ISIS videos are conceptually and historically
related to 9/11 as tools of provocation and propaganda. They are designed
to make a ragtag band of apocalyptic rebels look like a symmetrical
adversary to the world's greatest military power; to incite an exaggerated
response from that power, driven by panic and hysteria; and to attract
rootless millennials, both from the West and the Muslim world, to their
incoherent cause. So far it seems to be working.
I'm far less certain that the intent behind the beheading videos is
to provoke the insane response that Obama and nearly everyone on his
hawkish right have committed to, but that's the effect. Rather, they
show a profound inability to step outside of their own skin and see
themselves as others will see them -- a trait that Obama et al. sadly
share with them. If they were smart, they'd court journalists and get
them to at least cast reasonable doubts about their fanaticism. Of
course, if they were smart, they'd recall Islam's past tolerance for
other religions, a principle ("no compulsion in matters of faith")
which had allowed Christians and Yazidis (and Jews) to persevere
through more than a millenia of past caliphates. And they'd play up
the fact that they're seeking freedom from despotic police states
in Damascus and Baghdad. But no side is playing this smart: they
each tailor their propaganda to suit their own prejudices, confirming
their greatest fears and enabling their most vicious and violent
cadres to commit acts that will only exacerbate the initial problem.
Nick Turse: American Monuments to Failure in Africa? Until the US
military created the US Africa Command in 2007, you heard very little
about American military operations in Africa, because there really
weren't many. Now the US military is all over the continent, shooting
people and blowing shit up but also spreading their budget around on
"feel good" projects, much like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan:
As with Petraeus's career, which imploded amidst scandal, the efforts
he fostered similarly went down in flames. In Iraq, the chicken processing
plant proved a Potemkin operation and the much ballyhooed Baghdad water
park quickly fell into ruin. The country soon followed. Less than three
years after the U.S. withdrawal, Iraq teeters on the brink of catastrophe
as most of Petraeus's Sunni mercenaries stood aside while the brutal
Islamic State carved a portion of its caliphate from the country, and
others, aggrieved with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, sided with
them. In Afghanistan, the results have been similarly dismal as America's
hearts-and-minds monies yielded roads to nowhere (where they haven't
already deteriorated into death traps), crumbling buildings, over-crowded,
underfunded, and teacher-less schools, and billions poured down the drain
in one boondoggle after another.
More Israel links:
Jeffrey Goldberg: Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, and Israel: "I'm now glad
to report [ . . . ] that Elizabeth Warren has confirmed
for us that, on questions related to Israel, Clinton has nothing to fear
from her, at least."
Ofer Neiman: Israeli officer tosses Palestinian shepherds from their land
so settlers don't have to hear Arabic: Not only is the occupation brutal,
it can also be petty. Note that Arabic is an officially recognized language
in Israel. That anyone could think otherwise is testimony to the prevalence
of segregation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Avi Shlaim: For Israel, the beginning of wisdom is to admit its mistakes:
Not that he offers any indication that anyone in Israel is ready to do so --
least of all Netanyahu, whose "popularity plummeted from 85% at the beginning
of the operation to 38%."
Richard Silverstein: Mossad-Affiliated Israeli NGO: Khaled Meshal to the
Hague: Of course, "Israel hasn't signed the ICC protocol, in an attempt
to keep its own generals and spymasters out of the Hague defendant's chair."
Yet one of Israel's front groups wants the Hamas leader charged. Curiously
enough it's not for those "rocket attacks" Israel provokes then whines
about. It's because Hamas executed a number of Palestinians believed to
have collaborated with Israel during their latest round of war against
Gaza. I'm not fond of the death penalty, and it's hard to be sure of due
process in such a short timespan, but it probably isn't hard to link up
collaborator reports with specific bombings and deaths. Hillel Cohen has
written two books on Israel's use of Palestinian collaborators, one from
1917-48, the other from 1948-67, and obviously the practice hasn't changed
much over 47 years of occupation. For another twist on recent war crimes,
Hannibal Directive Focus of War Crimes Inquiry. Max Blumenthal also
The Hannibal Directive.
Philip Weiss: British pol is beaten by man in Israeli army t-shirt, and
the chattering classes are silent: Isn't this the great fear, that
the violence in the Middle East will be furthered by terrorists in the
Kate: As world watched Gaza, Israel announced 1472 new settlements in West
Bank: And many other stories, like house demolitions in Jerusalem,
an orchard chopped down by settlers near Hebron, the Gaza death toll
continuing to grow even after ceasefire (including a 7th Israeli
civilian). For a view of some of the destruction in Gaza, follow this
Assaf Sharon: Failure in Gaza.
Also, a few links for further study:
Kathleen Geier: Can we talk? The unruly life and legacy of Joan Rivers:
Seems about right, though I'm less of a fan.
Some critics claim to discern a humanistic project behind Rivers' comedy
of cruelty. For example, Mitchell Fain argued that River "says things out
loud what we're all thinking, in our worst moments," and that by doing so,
"the monster gets smaller." What seems far likelier is that the monster
gets socially sanctioned. For decades, a staple of Rivers' act have been
nasty jokes about female celebrities who are fat, stupid, or slutty, and
male celebrities who are allegedly gay. If she ever talked smack about
straight male celebrities, I'm hard-pressed to think of any examples.
That brings us to Joan Rivers' politics, which mostly were horrible.
On the plus side, she was pro-choice, an early supporter of gay rights,
and an Obama supporter. On the negative side, there is pretty much
everything else. Rivers was a lifelong Republican, and made many comments
over the years that left little doubt about her right-wing views. She
hated the movie Precious, not for aesthetic reasons, but for
frankly political ones ("I thought, Oh, get a job! Stand up and get a
job!"). Just last month, she voiced strong support for Israel's military
actions actions in Gaza and said that the Palestinians "deserve to be
dead." She adored Ronald Reagan and shamelessly fawned over the British
royal family. When writers on her show Fashion Police, who were
working full-time and only making $500 a week, went on strike, she
refused to support them. At times, her humor was outright racist.
John Mearsheimer: Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault:
A useful corrective to a lot of prevailing assumptions. Clearly,
the US (neocon) effort to extend NATO to the borders of Russia
has been deliberately and unnecessarily provocative, although one
could also argue that deep-seated fears that Russia might revert
its past patterns, both before and after the 1917 Revolution, of
trying to control what it thought of as its satellites had more
to do with NATO's expansion. Moreover, while US-backed "democracy
projects" were effectively an attempt at foreign subversion, it
would seem that Russia has been organizing support in Ukraine as
well. In America we reflexively assume we're acting with the best
intentions, but with Cold War blinkers we make little distinction
between democracy and neoliberal economic policies that lead to
inequality and corruption -- something the post-Soviet bloc has
had bitter experience with. There is much to be said in favor of
UN-based programs promoting democracy and human rights throughout
the world, provided such programs focus on need -- Saudi Arabia
is always a good place to start -- rather than the neocon checklist
of governments they dislike.
More dissenting pieces on Ukraine:
Jim Newell: GOP's Kansas nightmare: How a red state is on verge of
unthinkable upsets: I'd caution against counting these chickens
before they hatch, but so far the evidence does suggest that the
Democrats greatly improve their prospects at the polls when they
bother to run candidates. The Senate contest this year represents
a different twist on that, with Democrat Chad Taylor dropping out
to let independent Greg Orman run unfettered. I'm not sure that was
such a good idea, but Orman has a lot more money to work with, and
he might woo more Republicans -- they're pretty regimented on the
far right at the moment, but in doing so they've pissed a lot of
their own off. Also see
Nate Silver. As for the governor, Brownback is widely regarded
as a complete fuck up -- I look forward to campaign commercials
showing him and Rick Perry praying for rain. But oddly enough he's
not only doubled down on the lie that his tax cuts are "working" --
I think that's a euphemism for rich-getting-richer; the new joke is
that the only thing flatter than Kansas is the Kansas economy --
but instead of moving center to pick up votes he's been moving right
for more money. To be specific, the Kochs have been trying to kill
wind power subsidies, which many Republicans (including Brownback
until his flip) favor because it means manufacturing and service jobs
plus big royalties to farmers. The Kochs regard wind power as heresy
against free markets, but if you want to dig a bit deeper, see
Lee Fang: Charles Koch founded anti-environment group to protect
big oil industry handouts.
Monday, September 1. 2014
Music: Current count 23744  rated (+43), 523  unrated (-7).
Main thing that happened this week was that I stumbled across the
Catalytic-Sound website on Bandcamp. Ken Vandermark set this up,
and it currently showcases 137 albums by Vandermark and several of
his closely aligned friends: Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Joe
McPhee, and Paal Nilssen-Love. (Bassist Ingebrigt Háker Flaten has
website with a
good deal of overlap.) Shortly after I wrote my first
Village Voice piece on Vandermark, he sent me a big box of his
recordings -- I was thinking of doing something similar to my
Parker-Shipp CG but never
seemed to have the time -- so many of these are familiar. In fact,
next RS column has a list of 80 Catalytic-Sound records I've
previously reviewed/rated. Still, the site fills in some gaps,
so I spent a good deal of last week picking off the Vandermark
releases (I'll get back to Brötzmann et al. in due course). One
problem is that not every album can be streamed completely, but
the exceptions are (at present, anyway) few. Still, several
omissions particularly disappointed me: the early Vandermark
Quartet album Big Head Eddie (1993), and the brand new
Audio One: The Midwest School (2014) -- its companion,
An International Report, was the week's top find (I
also gave an A- to the early Caffeine). One I have
yet to get to is the 7-CD DKV Trio: Past Present box.
I suppose you could make arguments both ways as to whether
omitting tracks maximizes cash returns -- the idea behind making
all this music available is to sell it -- but for someone who
tries to cover as wide a swath as possible and who has little
time to double back, these sites are a terrific convenience and
help. I wish there were more of them, and hope they stay as open
I haven't been able to update the blog this past week, although
I occasionally do still receive mail about nonsense comments, so
it must be sort of working some of the time. I haven't made any
real progress toward moving on, and hardly know where to begin.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
- Audio One: An International Report (2014, Audiographic): yet another Vandermark large band, live at Green Mill, expect action, don't be too picky [bc]: A-
- Cory Branan: The No-Hit Wonder (2014, Bloodshot): singer-songwriter from Mississippi, went to rock in Memphis but country songs are fresher [r]: B+(*)
- The Bug: Angels & Devils (2014, Ninja Tune): best when he goes upbeat with that dub thing, but also has a penchant for horror soundtrack poses [r]: B+(*)
- Common: Nobody's Smiling (2014, Def Jam): Chicago rapper explores and deplores his home town, not that it isn't tough everywhere else [r]: B+(***)
- Eliana Cuevas: Espejo (2014, ALMA): originally from Venezuela, now "Canada's Latin Music Queen" -- a small fish in a barren pond [cd]: B
- Dirty Loops: Loopified (2014, Verve): three Swedish gents: synth fireworks and histrionic vocals driven by a frantic post-disco beat [r]: C+
- Four Year Strong: Go Down in History (2014, Pure Noise, EP): 5-song EP by punkish group so irrepressibly loud and catchy they're extra annoying [r]: B-
- Larry Fuller: Larry Fuller (2013-14 , Capri): mainstream pianist, came up working with singers and plays juicy standards in this trio, "C Jam Blues" a fave [cd]: B+(***)
- Richard Galliano: Sentimentale (2014, Resonance): French accordion player works the jazz tradition for sentimental moods, played up to the hilt [cd]: A-
- Ariana Grande: My Everything (2014, Island/Republic): no doubt she has what it takes to be a pop star; the question is whether she can make us care [r]: B+(**)
- Eric Harland's Voyager: Vipassana (2014, GSI Studios): mainstream drummer's second album, assembles a fancy band then wastes it with vocal dressing [cdr]: B-
- Horse Meat Disco: Volume IV (2014, Strut): old disco obscurities remixed to sound like old disco obscurities, plus "Gettin' to Know You" [r]: B+(**)
- Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman: Winds of Samsara (2014, Listen 2 Africa): Indian keyboard player meets South African flautist for synth-not-so-exotica [cd]: C
- Wiz Khalifa: Blacc Hollywood (2014, Atlantic): after two plays, all I can confirm is that this stoned rapper makes agreeable background music [r]: B+(**)
- J Mascis: Tied to a Star (2014, Sub Pop): Dinosaur Jr. frontman returns to form, his voice cracking and hiding behind some pretty decent guitar [r]: B+(*)
- Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk (2014, Arista): first half party anthems and livid fantasies; on the backstretch turns into a crunchy con [r]: B-
- Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte: The New Standard (2014, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
- Carl Saunders: America (2013 , Summit): spent most of his life in big bands but sounds great as the sole horn here, even when the covers turn corny [cd]: B+(*)
- Side A: In the Abstract (2013 , Not Two): Ken Vandermark reeds trio with Havard Wiik and Chad Taylor, more varied than Free Fall but lands there [bc]: B+(**)
- Spider Bags: Frozen Letter (2014, Merge): garage-punk with a talkie-voiced singer who seems worth listening to, plus they can stretch a riff [r]: B+(*)
- Ed Stone: King of Hearts (2014, Sapphire Music): guitarist-singer, touted as "the new George Benson," he isn't even that, much less the old one [cd]: C+
- Street Priest: More Nasty (2012 , Humbler): guitar-bass-drums trio, can't (or won't) fake the funk so they bust it into shards and stray noise [cdr]: B+(**)
- Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am (2012 , Warner Brothers): covers from the classics to Kristofferson, leftovers from Vol. 1 but ring truer [r]: B+(**)
- Ken Vandermark's Topology Nonet: Impressions of Po Music (2013, Okka Disk): Joe McPhee plays McPhee a generation removed, scaled up, not so po [bc]: B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Cables to the Ace (2014, Communicating Vessels): [cd]: B
Old records rated this week:
- AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: Hidden in the Stomach (1996 , Silkheart): Ken Vandermark joins Mats Gustafsson's rowdy trio, highlight Haden and Ayler covers [r]: B+(**)
- AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: I Wonder If I Was Screaming (2000, Crazy Wisdom): tighter songwriting limits meltdown by combustible sax men [bc]: B+(**)
- Billy Bang Quintet: Invitation (1982, Soul Note): scrounging, found one I hadn't heard and didn't find it especially remarkable, relatively [r]: B+(**)
- Caffeine: Caffeine (1993 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark, Jim Baker (piano), Steve Hunt (drums): I've never heard Baker play so explosively -- sure lights V up [r]: A-
- The John Carter Octet: Dauwhe (1982, Black Saint): adds decorative flute, oboe, tuba, African references to more visceral quartet with Bobby Bradford [r]: B+(**)
- Cinghiale [Mars Williams/Ken Vandermark]: Hoofbeats of the Snorting Swine (1995 , Eighth Day): Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams play sax/clarinet duets, w/surprising interactions [bc]: B+(***)
- DK3: Neutrons (1997 , Quarterstick): Ken Vandermark trio with guitar-drums from Jesus Lizard, one of those post-rock experiments he no longer does [bc]: B+(***)
- The Frame Quartet: 35mm (2009, Okka Disk): Vandermark 4, scratches second sax for an admixture of electronics, interesting but not quite the same [bc]: B+(***)
- The Kevin Norton Ensemble: Knots (1997, Music & Arts): drummer-vibraphonist, toys with Monk and swaps in various clarinets, a mix converging on same [r]: B+(***)
- NRG Ensemble: Bejazzo Gets a Facelift (1997, Atavistic): post-Hal Russell group with Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark racing, crashing, flips [bc]: B+(***)
- Territory Band-4: Company Switch (2004 , Okka Disk, 2CD): Vandermark 11-piece big band, for once does more than just thrash and raise hell [bc]: B+(**)
- The Thing: Action Jazz (2006, Smalltown Superjazz): Mats Gustafsson's power sax trio diversifies, not the worst thing that can happen to them [bc]: B+(**)
- Vandermark Quartet: Solid Action (1994, Platypus): a blast from the past, when V was straddling avant rock and jazz, making trouble for both [bc]: B+(***)
- Ken Vandermark: Standards (1994 , Quinnah): four "improvising trios," nothing standard, just a first taste of DKV, more Mars, some guitar thrash [bc]: B+(**)
- Ken Vandermark: Strade d'Acqua/Roads of Water (2008 , Multi Kulti): soundtrack, hushed tones, moderate tempos, a little color, everyone makes nice [bc]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (Delmark)
- Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (1965, Resonance, 2CD): September 16
- Pete Magadini: Bones Blues (1977, Sackville/Delmark)
- Dean Magraw & Eric Kamau Gravatt: Fire on the Nile (Red House): October 14
- Parker Abbott Trio: The Wayfinders (self-released): October 23
- Don Pullen: Richard's Tune (1975, Sackville/Delmark)