Wednesday, August 31. 2005
Static Multimedia posted the September 2005 edition of Recycled Goods today. This is the 23rd edition in a series that has now bagged 907 records. This was kind of a rush job after other projects chewed up most of the month, but I think I came up with a good mix of albums. Several are arguably new. Some months back I was having so much trouble getting good world music albums that I just dropped the recycled requirement. I figured that while most world records newly washed up in these parts are really old ones in their native lands, the distinction caused more confusion than it was worth. Two more records are new releases of live jazz concerts not really old enough to be classified as vault material: Sonny Rollins and David S. Ware. But starting short of material, I rather arbitrarily ruled them eligible anyway. I actually wrote them up for the Jazz Consumer Guide, but once the Voice published full reviews they deprioritized and lost out in the inevitable space squeeze. Besides, I could run them here.
We did two album covers this time. Although not identified as such, these are the Pick Hits. In that role Amadou & Mariam was the obvious choice, but I also wanted to show off the Rollins cover. Publisher had no problem with the suggestion, so this will probably be a regular feature. The mad scramble to make deadline partly contributed to the ACN, although I've done this a couple of times before, and as I notice reissues of albums worth pointing out I'll run this section. There's no reason I have to do fifty albums each time, other than that I'm trying to keep up. But it takes a lot of time, and I'm starting to worry that I don't have the time to handle this many properly.
The other frustration is getting enough of the albums that deserve to be reviewed here. This is especially a problem with world music, but the only genre I'm reasonably well supplied with is jazz. After world music, the toughest area to keep up with is recent rock, hip-hop, etc. Looking at the reissues section in Blender this month, I have 6 of 26 records reviewed, but they come from just three labels. One positive thing is the sudden uptick in country music this month, mostly thanks to Universal -- which had been largely absent from the column for the past year (excepting Verve, their jazz label). Would love to see more hip-hop and more dance music. Despite my complaints, this column can be a lot of fun to work on.
Tuesday, August 30. 2005
The first software job I had was working for a guy who habitually referred to computers as "the confusers," and was frequently heard to say: "To err is human. To really screw things up takes a computer." I'm reminded of this because the Village Voice took a week to post my sixth Jazz Consumer Guide after it appeared in print. The reason, I've been told repeatedly, was caused by their transition to new publishing software, something called InCopy. (Looks like it's an Adobe product, wouldn't you know?) Anyhow, after much complaining on my part, it's on the web now. Still has a few mistakes, the worst being that accents in the names of Dennis González and Pierre Dørge chop off their names and any following punctuation. Hopefully, they'll get those fixed.
I managed to squeeze 30 albums in this time. The line-up as published is:
Dud of the Month
Several other albums were in the file I submitted for edit, but lost out in the space squeeze:
Most of these will show up in future columns, although I've already written about Pepper, Young and Hill in Recycled Goods, and a revised version of Rollins will appear in September's Recycled Goods column -- up in a couple of days. (Also a David S. Ware review I originally wrote for JCG, then never used after Larry Blumenfeld lauded the record in the Voice. Francis Davis has a review of Rollins in this coming week's Voice, to which the only thing I have to add is that the new record isn't really as good as G-Man -- only seems that way when Rollins himself is playing.)
Last few times I published a Jazz CG column I followed it up with details of housecleaning. Despite the week's delay, I don't have that done yet. (Spent all last week working on RG, and the week before blogging.) So it'll be a week or two before I get all that sorted out and start up on the next Jazz CG. Also plan to do a piece on Billy Bang, who otherwise would have loomed large this time. Quite a bit of Ken Vandermark in the queue for next time.
Sunday, August 28. 2005
After a week where I filed blog entries every day, I've gone a week now without posting anything. Two excuses: One is that I've been waiting for the Village Voice to post my Jazz Consumer Guide, so I can pass on the URL. The column is in the print edition, but hasn't been posted. I'm told they're using some new software, and having trouble with it. As a software engineer, that strikes me as a particularly lame excuse. But even if some management twit made a real dumb decision buying bad software, most times workers can go in and fix those problems by hand. Another possibility is that the Voice's labor problems (i.e., management problems) have taken another step toward making the paper dysfunctional. Rumors are that the Voice is up for sale. While the Voice has managed to keep most of its political and cultural values through several changes of ownership in the past, including a stretch under Rupert Murdoch, one always worries that the end is just around the next bend.
The other thing holding me up is that I've fallen behind in getting September's Recycled Goods done, so that's what I've been working on all week long. I should have that done later today, and hope to build up some extras in the next week so I don't get caught short next time like I did this time. I haven't made much of an effort to line up Recycled records, but it's starting to look like I might be running low, of good records, anyway.
Meanwhile, some news items:
Saturday, August 20. 2005
Last week I was lurking in a bookstore and noticed a book called 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken Is #37), by Bernard Goldberg. This week I went back to the bookstore and found the book on sale 30% off, indicating that it's some kind of bestseller. I'm a sucker for lists, so I thumbed through the thing, but most of the names I didn't recognize, and most of those I did recognize seemed like peculiar choices. Then an article from Common Dreams popped up in my mailbox proposing six other people as the ones "Really Screwing Up America" -- seven actually, but Ken Lay managed to make both lists -- and I hadn't heard of half of them either. Someone named Philip Dhingra posted a web page with Goldberg's list and some info on who these people are and why Goldberg hates them, so that helps. I couldn't have told you who runs the ACLU or PETA or the Ford Foundation, but they all made the list.
For balance or confusion, Goldberg picks a few names from the far right -- Jimmy Swaggart, Michael Savage, David Duke. Seems like he could have consolidated those three slots by picking Fred Phelps, but I guess he didn't look too hard. Perhaps that's because he's so busy getting offended by things normal people just laugh off. For instance, Courtney Love leaves him so speechless all he can say is "Ho" -- and after doing that, he's got the balls to dump on Ludacris. One problem is that the list is weak on people who actually have any real power. He's got one billionaire on the list: George Soros, who sure screwed most of Asia but is better known in these parts for his philanthropy. He's got two U.S. Senators (Kennedy and Byrd), and two ex-Senators (Gore and Edwards), one ex-Governor (Dean), and a few U.S. Representatives and lower politicians, mostly black; not a Republican among them, unless you count Duke, who never got past the Louisiana state house. Most of the businessmen are has-beens (Lay, Dennis Kozlowski). He's got a real problem with TV news people and celebrities. According to Dhingra's explanations, slots 12, 13 and 14 were awarded for Dan Rather's Bush National Guard story. To make that screw up -- bad evidence for what was essentially a true, if not terribly important, story -- rank so high requires a lot of forgetting, not least of Colin Powell's U.N. speech, a piece of fraud that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Rather didn't have any effect on anything, except that he provided the Republicans with an excuse to talk about something other than Bush's record. (So maybe that was catastrophic for America?)
Even given my fondness for lists, I'm not going to nitpick or pose an alternative list. Part of this is that aside from a few obvious politicos, most of whom have been attracted to the Bush administration like flies to shit, I don't know who's screwing up America. Most of the folks on Goldberg's list are symptomatic or representative of ideas or attitudes he just despises: vulgarity, irreverance for America, the notion that minorities and women feel cheated, maybe greed. I question his commitment on the latter point because he rarely employs it except when attacking something else on his list, but also because it's the only thing he dislikes that bothers me much. Were I to put together such a list, no doubt it would be symptomatic and representative as well. The reason for this is that individuals just don't have all that much power; rather, they rise to positions that we call powerful because they represent broader forces. Religion, for instance, is a powerful force in American life. Someone like Ralph Reed isn't a mastermind; he's just particularly adept as exploiting it. He would be on my list, but if he disappeared someone quite like him would quickly take his place. It strikes me as a peculiarly right-wing thing to make a list like this, partly because the right overrates individuals, and partly because the right likes to fantasize about killing off troublemakers.
The other thing I want to point out is that Goldberg obsesses over cultural matters to the relative exclusion of politics and economics, which most of us realize are the real seats of power. This, too, is a right-wing thing, because the right is all about control, and culture is out of control. Mostly: big business has a stranglehold on mass distribution, but there are ways around that, and the shrinking number of huge corporations are still competitive enough that they're a lot more concerned with money than content. The result is that culture is demand-based -- more so now than ever, which in the U.S. at least had never been under much control. Hip-hop, for instance, has found a huge audience even though it often flaunts the verities that politicos of all stripes profess to believe in. It can do this because it, unlike politics, is free from the tyranny of the majority.
But Goldberg doesn't have a clue about culture. If he did, he'd have to worry more about Steven Spielberg (not on the list) than Michael Moore (#1). Rather, he looks for obvious political signs, which leads to his rants about culture celebrities -- actors, musicians, etc. The interesting thing about an actor talking about politics is that actors aren't selected for their politics. Actors are atypical in some ways -- looks, wit, charm, fame, wealth -- but their politics are surprisingly random, much like others who don't belong to the carefully selected political class. Goldberg picks on groups he calls "dumb" and "vicious" (with special opprobrium for Janeanne Garofolo, who he deems to be both). Interesting that these are the two characteristics that never get invited as talking heads -- instead, all of us left of center are stuck with people like Mark Shields and Tom Oliphant supposedly representing us. (Do they even belong to the same species?)
Of course, the most annoying thing about Goldberg is that he couldn't have spent more than a few weeks hacking this bestseller out of his own prejudices and ignorance. I've been trying to write a book for years, and it never occurred to me that it could be done so easily.
Friday, August 19. 2005
Tanya Reinhardt has an interesting piece called How We Left Gaza. She argues that Sharon never actually intended to leave the settlements, but boxed himself into a corner, and ultimately had to follow through because the U.S. held him to the promise. If you look back over the two years from announcement to implementation, you can find lots of evidence to back this view. She quotes a NY Times piece on Middle East Security Coordinator General William Ward: "General Ward, a careful man, confirmed that two weeks ago, American pressure helped stay the Israeli military when it was poised to go into Gaza . . . He predicted that there could be similar pressure should the need arise. 'That scenario is a scenario that none of us would like to see,' he said. 'There is a deep realization on the part of the Israeli leadership, including the military, about the consequences of that type of scenario.'" She doesn't talk about the reasons Israel wanted to send the military in, but obviously had they done so the effect would have been to stir things up, leading to more bloodshed. Neve Gordon, at Counterpunch, cites figure from B'tselem: "in the first ten months after the official decision to dismantle the settlements, Israeli forces killed 563 Palestinians in Gaza, whereas during the previous ten months period 264 were killed."
Reinhardt attributes the change in U.S. tactics to the disaster in Iraq. Bush's initial attitude toward Israel was one of malign neglect: give Sharon a free hand to do things his way. Bush wiggled a bit here and there in the run up to the Iraq war when he was trying to line up allies like the U.K. and Saudi Arabia that had concerns about Israel, but in the wake of what looked like victory the U.S. applauded an unprovoked Israeli air attack on Syria. Since then the U.S. position in Iraq has gone to hell in a handbasket. And while Israel may be America's staunchest ally, it's also America's most helpless and hopeless ally. Reinhardt concludes: "Over the years we have become accustomed to the idea that 'U.S. pressure' means declarations that have no muscle behind them. But suddenly the words have acquired new meaning. When the U.S. really does exert pressure, no Israeli leader would dare defy its injunctions (and certainly not Netanyahu). And so we have pulled out of Gaza. If the U.S. continues to lose ground in Iraq, maybe we will be forced to pull out of the West Bank as well."
Just yesterday, when I posted my peace plan, the idea that the U.S. might support something like that seemed like a pipe dream. But today I find an article from a totally independent source that suggests it may make sense after all.
Thursday, August 18. 2005
I finished the first draft of my Israel Peace Plan. I've researched and tried to understand this conflict ever since the 9/11 events. At the time, I understood that the attacks occurred within the context of a long history between the U.S. and the nations of the Middle East, and that U.S. relationship with Israel was a major piece of this history. I knew the general outline of U.S. history and world history in the 20th century -- the world wars, the Holocaust, the cold war. I was draft bait during the Vietnam War, and that profoundly affected my view of the world. Everything since then I encountered as news, not history. But what I saw in the aftermath of 9/11 was a nation on a warpath that few understood or even knew much about, so I determined to understand this as well as I could. One thing that became clear to me is that the rightward trend in the U.S. following Vietnam and in Israel following the 1973 war with Egypt and Syria -- not really a defeat in the sense of Vietnam but a major scare that cracked Israel's confidence in its founding Labor government -- followed parallel tracks, in both cases the rightwing gained power through the cultivation of fear and war, descending in cycles to ever more fear and war. This spiral is not only destructive of others; it rips at the social and moral fabric of America and perhaps even more intensely of Israel. Unless we change course, it looks like Israel today gives us a glimpse of America in the near future: a nation consumed in fear and hate, lashing out blindly at imaginary demons. Indeed, in some ways the U.S. has overtaken Israel, who have never managed an occupation as ineptly as the U.S. has in Iraq. (Not that Lebanon was anything for Israel to be proud of.)
The peace plan I proposed is a complex and subtle piece of work. I recognize that the Palestinians are incapable of achieving peace, not just because they have a litany of historical complaints that cannot be undone, but because they have no partner in Israel. The Israelis are incapable of achieving peace because they have trapped themselves in a web of myths, which among other things leaves them unable to trust anything the Palestinians might offer. But Israel's most self-deceptive myth is the notion that they are winning -- that their ability to squeeze the hostile Palestinians into ever smaller spaces will result in that ever elusive security. Given that the principals of this conflict cannot come to terms, the only prospect is pressure from outside. There's actually a long history of outside pressure constraining the conflict: the 1949 armistice agreements, the rollback of the 1956 war, the cease fires in 1967 and 1973, the Camp David agreement in 1979, the Madrid conference in 1991 and the subsequent Oslo agreement, the Roadmap. If anything, international interest in resolving the conflict has intensified since 9/11, as it has become ever harder to ignore how the conflict has fed the flames of terrorism in the U.S., Europe, Russia, and throughout the world of Islam. On the other hand, plans like the Roadmap go nowhere. This is partly because the U.S., which everyone agrees is the only party capable of exerting real pressure on Israel, has conflicting motives and sends mixed messages of no consequence to Israel. It is partly because the Roadmap focuses on Palestinian management of the terrorism problem, which Israel can exacerbate at will (and frequently does): as a tactic this ensures that the Palestinians will fail, and therefore there will be no progress; as strategy this treats the symptom without addressing its cause. More generally, by focusing on Israel and the Palestinians the Roadmap pretends that this conflict is local. But it certainly isn't local, either in its roots or in its consequences. On the one hand, Israeli behavior today is deeply rooted in the tragic history of anti-semitism, especially the failure of the world powers to stand up to or provide relief from Nazi Germany and its genocidal slaughter of six million Jews. On the other hand, Palestinian and Arab behavior today is rooted in the struggle against colonialism, which in Palestine was represented by the British Mandate which, among other things, paved the way for Jewish domination. There is so much fault on all sides of this conflict that it is almost pointless to try to untangle it all, but the world powers and their international institutions are as guilty as anyone. But the international community's responsibility to face up to the conflict doesn't come from guilt: it comes from a recognition that a future without international law, without a firm universal commitment to human rights, is a future that will make difficult challenges ever more perilous. Palestine was the first major problem that the U.N. had to face, and still remains the U.N.'s first and most spectacular failure.
This or any other peace plan can only come about through a concerted political movement. How that might happen is something way beyond my competence or even interest. When all is said and done, I'm just a critic. I'm throwing these idea out to show you what's wrong with all the other ideas out there. That they take the shape of a positive plan may be because there's too many dead ends in other people's proposal to track down explicitly. To be practical, the piece itself needs to be restructured. The plan itself should be rewritten with the clarity of law, while the supporting arguments should be moved to other documents. The political strategies in support of the plan need to be developed further for each specific constituency. I don't know how to do any of these things. But here the meme has landed. Carry on.
Wednesday, August 17. 2005
Probably time for another little news synopsis:
Postscript [Aug. 18]: Last item added a day after the rest was posted, but this is where it best fits.
Tuesday, August 16. 2005
Judy Press wrote an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle today, titled "Israeli disengagement is a bold step." Like most hasbarah, her piece is so full of errors that it defies any attempt to reply. I had trouble getting past the first paragraph:
Of course, in May 1967 the Arab armies weren't amassed anywhere near Israel. Much of Egypt's army was tied down in the civil war in Yemen. No Arab country expected to "wipe out" Israel. None wanted a war with Israel in any shape or form. There was merely a diplomatic crisis that had occurred with the U.N. removed monitor troops from Egypt, allowing Egypt to shut down Israeli shipping through the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel's pre-emptive attack targeted the prospects for a diplomatic solution as much as it did its Arab neighbors. Israel had been hankering for a border fight ever since the 1949 armistices. Israel tried to provoke a war with Egypt in 1954 when Mossad agents planted bombs in Cairo and Alexandria in what eventually came to be known as the Lavon Affair. Israel did attack Egypt in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, ostensibly to help the U.K. and France topple the Egyptian government and take back the Suez Canal. Israel repeatedly provoked border incidents with Syria, and occasionally attacked towns in the West Bank and Gaza, nominally belonging to Jordan and Egypt. There was nothing surprising about Israel's victory in the 1967 war: Israel destroyed Egypt's air force in the first hours of the war, leaving Egypt's tanks defenseless. Only the campaign to take the Golan Heights from Syria took the full six days. This may have been unexpected to outsiders, but Israel's military had no doubt of its plans or its success.
The Gaza strip was never part of Egypt. It was part of Britain's Palestine Mandate, and was included (along with adjacent lands) as one of the parts of the Arab partition of Palestine proposed by the U.N. in 1947. Egypt held Gaza as a protectorate pending formation of a Palestinian state, which at the time was impossible both due to Israeli opposition and Jordan's annexation of the West Bank. Had Egypt considered Gaza to be part of Egypt, they would have insisted on Gaza as well as Sinai as part of the 1979 peace deal. That Sinai might be 90% of the land area of Sinai plus Gaza is one of those meaningless numbers that propagandists throw out to confuse the issue.
And that's just the first paragraph. They're all like that. The question is how to focus on the main problem without getting lost in all the errors and innuendos.
Here's a draft of a possible response:
Still, the idea of trying to boil so much correction down to so few words leaves much unsaid. Blaming the Palestinians for the ill-fated Oslo Peace Process overlooks the doubling of the number of settlers during the period, but just as importantly ignores the fact that the three prime ministers elected after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination had all been opponents of Oslo. How coincidental was it that peace failed on the watch of political leaders sworn to oppose it?
The bottom line is that several million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank live under a military occupation without essential political and human rights, and that several millions more live in exile, unable to return to their homes or to start new lives. This started for complicated reasons where nobody, including the major powers in Europe and America, behaved with much insight or fairness, but it has continued way past the point of any possible reasoning because it suits the political interests of parties in Israel and, sad to say, in the United States. Virtually no Arab these days rejects the right of Israel to exist at peace within its pre-1967 war borders. (The exceptions, I suppose, are the al-Qaeda types, who are enemies of most Arabs and all Arab states.) No Arab state represents even a potential threat to Israel. During the two years when Barak was promising to negotiate a final resolution to the Oslo process there was no anti-Israeli terrorism. Yet most Israelis feel themselves as embattered as ever, in large part because they have been taught to view as their God-given right the power to take the land of from those who have lived on it for many generations and to deprive those people of their rights and dignity.
One thing we should pay careful attention to in the publicity that comes out of the Gaza settlement evacuation is what the settlers have to say about the people who make up 99% of Gaza's population. Many of these statements are profoundly, shockingly racist -- a typical line I heard today was that Arabs were sub-human. In many cases settlers are determined to destroy their property lest it fall into Arab hands -- again, today I saw a clip of a settler torching his house as he left it. Nor are these aberrations: Israel's official policy is to bulldoze all the settlement dwellings, as indeed they did when they withdrew from their Sinai settlements. It speaks much about Israel today that this whole sorry episode (by which I mean the 38-year effort to plant settlers in Gaza) will end in rubble.
Postscript [Aug. 19]: In the August 18 edition, the Eagle published two letters in response to Press' column. I'm reprinting them here:
I don't know Bohn, but I gather that he's a retired Mennonite minister, and that he's spent considerable time in occupied Palestine as part of the Christian Peacemaker Teams' projects there. I've met several people who have worked with CPT, especially in Hebron, where the Baruch Goldstein incident took place. Even without Goldstein, the Hebron settlement is notorious for its constant attacks on and harrassment of Hebron's Palestinian residents. At the time (Feb. 25, 1994) Goldstein's act shocked most Israelis, leading to calls to dismantle the settlement (Kiryat Arba). When Rabin refused to take action against the settlement, he essentially allowed that the Oslo Accords could be wrecked by Jewish extremists. In 1995 Rabin was assassinated by another Jewish extremist, and Oslo deteriorated from there. Goldstein died in his attack, which in addition to killing 29 injured another hundred. He should be remembered as the first of the suicide bombers. His tombstone reds: "His hands are innocent and his heart is pure. He was killed as a martyr of God."
Two incidents in recent weeks have followed Goldstein's example, with Jewish settlers opening fire on Palestinian civilians, hoping no doubt to disrupt the "disengagement." These people are on the extreme right-wing fringe of Israeli politics -- so far out that their Kach party has been outlawed. That gives most Israelis an excuse to pretend that the extremists are not representative of Israel, but the fact is that what the extremists do resonates so perfectly with Israel's more mainstream right-wing parties that they have an ability to influence events far beyond their numbers.
These extremists are disproportionately represented among the settlers, especially in settlements like Kiryat Arba that were founded by political movements (as opposed to most settlements, which were founded by the government for some kind of security rationale). But most of Israel's settlers are there for economic reasons -- the settlements are highly subsidized -- and not for ideological reasons. Polls have indicated that more than half of all Israeli settlers would gladly return to Israel with some reasonable compensation, and those numbers have been demonstrated in Gaza. Those people didn't make the news. I suspect that had Sharon not been so ambivalent (or more likely, duplicitous) about removing the Gaza settlements their numbers would have been far greater.
Monday, August 15. 2005
The Village Voice published my review of John Prine's latest album, Fair & Square: Back From Fishing. I'm rather pleased with this one, not least because it's the first time since the '70s when the Voice has asked me to write about something other than jazz. I don't know whether they intended for me to jump on the album's politics, but the politics were there for the taking, so I jumped. I'm not in general an advocate of getting rude in political arguments -- much the contrary, I believe that respect is the single most important attribute of any decent person's politics. But sometimes some political figures lose their right to be respected, especially when they take advantage of every courtesy shown them to further their dishonorable goals. George W. Bush is such a figure, a person who deserves the honorific "president" as little as he deserved to be elected in the first place. So when Prine questions his humanity, I say it's about time.
Saturday, August 13. 2005
I ran across an interview with saxophonist Steve Lehman that ended with the following comment:
Coincidentally, I'm half way through a recent Jane Jacobs book, called Dark Age Ahead. The third of Jacobs' five major signs is the loss or rejection of science as a way of trying to understand the world. On the news tonight, I saw an item about how IMAX theatres in three cities in the U.S. South have refused to show a movie about the sea floor because the movie reflects current scientific ideas about evolution. Just last week G.W. Bush offered the opinion that the teaching of evolution should be "balanced" by also teaching the anti-scientific "intelligent design" theory. People like Bush are already living in a new Dark Age. One can illustrate that in many ways -- one that seems sufficient to me is Bush's ability to utter the words "clean coal" and act like he's describing something real.
As Jacobs points out, the loss of science is matched by damage to all forms of culture -- it's just particularly striking because science is so intimately tied to reason, and because science has exceptionally clearcut standards of truth and integrity. Lehman and Braxton are jazz musicians, so that's where their focus most likely is -- or at least that's where they stake their defense of reason and integrity; also for knowledge of the tradition that they continuously build on. It is unlikely that all that (what for lack of a better term we call civilization) will be completely forgotten, but every day we see it marginalized. One example of this marginality is that two recent sets of Braxton's quartet playing jazz standards were released as limited editions of 1000 copies, on a U.K. label run by a Russian emigré.
But the losses are real and significant. Every day people die, and with them we lose their memories, their knowledge, the talents and skills they developed and honed over a lifetime. Sure, they are replaced with babies, but babies know none of that: they have to relearn everything, a task that is more and more daunting as our history accumulates and our science and technology becomes more complex, and that can only happen under conditions where we can work diligently to perpetuate and extend our culture. Many things undermine those conditions -- ordinary things like ever tightening budgets and schedules, and extraordinary things like wars and natural disasters. In recent years it's been possible to point to failed states and failed cultures, to see significant parts of the world that have become radically improverished within the last few decades. In the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, this has happened largely because of the wrath of U.S. warmakers. In much of Africa the causes are less obvious, but the results are every bit as graphic. But it's happening here too, where estimates of life expectancy -- about as basic an indicator as you can find -- have started to fall. One scary thing about Jacobs' book is that most of her examples are from Canada. In that regard, Bush may be as much a symptom as a cause. That's not an encouraging thought.
Tuesday, August 9. 2005
Static Multimedia has published the August 2005 edition of my Recycled Goods column. This month I decided to clean house, clearing out 56 jazz compilations and reissues. Most of these titles appeared in series where it would make the most sense to group them together, and it would have taken months to get them all out under my "In Series" rubric. Grouping them together like this, I could also add some generalizations. For those, see the introduction.
The biggest problem any reviewer has when dealing with "best of" comps is how to weigh redundancy and completeness. The redundancy problem occurs when the music on this comp is also on others (often many others), or when the music comes from albums worth owning whole. There are many examples here. Louis Armstrong's Jazz Moods: Hot is an example of a good record no Armstrong fan needs because if you know what you're doing you'll already have the masters it is picked from. So why did I give it an A? Usually I try to approach records like this from the standpoint of someone who isn't a fan and doesn't know squat, so I ask myself how would a novice react to this music? In Armstrong's case that's pretty obvious. Elsewhere, it can get pretty difficult. Contemporary's Art Pepper and Blue Note's Horace Silver both reminded me strongly of the whole albums they came from. The difference in the grades was that the Silver collection brought out something that was less clear on the albums: his songwriting. Pepper just reminded me of the albums, which tells me that good as the comp is it will become useless once you move beyond it. Ergo, I graded it down a bit. The Armstrong, on the other hand, won't be useless. It'll just be redundant.
The most contentious review here is probably the Ellington. This was a case where my annoyance got the better of me. It actually is not so redundant because many of the '30s Okehs on the first disc aren't in print, except on European labels like Classics, and in random, comparably annoying Columbia compilations like 16 Most Requested Songs and Reminiscing in Tempo. On the other hand, it's not nearly as good as it could have been -- not even as good as RCA's old Beyond Category. Granted, reducing Ellington to two hours is a fool's errand. When I lived in Boston one of the radio stations there put on an "Ellington orgy" where they tried to play everything in order -- took something like three days around the clock, and while one couldn't possibly listen to it all, there were remarkable things playing every time I tuned in. In terms of scale, no one else rivals Ellington -- he's not just "beyond category" (his term for music that defies pigeonholing), he's also beyond compilation.
Miles Davis may also be beyond compilation. Legacy has released Davis boxes on close to an annual schedule, with the 1970 Cellar Door live recordings on schedule for September. When they do so, they reissue the relevant albums and usually offer a "best of" for anyone curious but sticker-shocked by the whole box. Most of the Davis records this time are breakouts from last year's Seven Steps box, but again I tried to clear my shelves. The boxes are mostly of interest to people who want to hear it all, and the value of that completism varies quite a bit from box to box. Sometimes it makes most sense to stay small, as with Bitches Brew, where the original album towers over the outtakes, but other times there's much to recommend in going large, as with the Plugged Nickel box. Seven Steps breaks down cleanly into discrete albums, and it's marginal enough (as Davis goes) to make it something of a toss-up.
Next month I'll try to get back to my original idea of four even quarters divided between jazz, rock, roots, and world. I have plenty of backlog but don't have much written up yet, so late August is going to be crunch time. (Or maybe I can start to scale a very time-consuming column down a bit.) Meanwhile, working on Jazz Consumer Guide, due late this week.
Monday, August 8. 2005
The Aug. 11, 2005 issue of The New York Review of Books has an exceptional number of articles/reviews of political interest:
I'm a little too busy to do even a news rundown at this point, especially with the Israel news which mostly reminds me that I'm having trouble getting back to my big essay on that conflict. Also backlogged are a couple of movies and many books.
Sunday, August 7. 2005
Sixty years ago the United States dropped a uranium fission bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 140,000. Three days later the U.S. dropped a plutonium fission bomb on Nagasaki, killing 80,000 more. Both bombs spread significant radioactive fallout, leading to the premature deaths of many more. These are round numbers currently accepted, but are guesses and generalizations. As such, they obscure the individuals killed: a complete listing would fill four of our Vietnam Wall monuments, and make the point much more emphatically than numbers alone could ever do.
The bombings were both an ordinary continuation of the horrors of the World War and an extraordinary new turn. The continued a policy of bombing Japanese cities which, combined with the ensuing fires, had already killed between one and two million Japanese -- the fire bombing of Tokyo alone killed over 150,000. These were by any sane reckoning atrocities, but they came in the context of so many more atrocities that any effort to list them all became numbing -- round numbers, inadequate as they are, will have to do. The U.S. joined the war late in 1941 after Japan destroyed much of the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, leaving the Phillippines and the rest of the West Pacific open to conquest. Japan had attacked China in 1929, conquering Manchuria and initiating a prolonged invasion of China and East Asia that left millions dead. Nazi Germany was every bit as expansionist, having annexed Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia, then invaded Poland in 1939, then conquered Western Europe from Norway to France, bombed Britain, and finally invaded the Soviet Union. By the time the wars ended, the U.S. had lost three million soldiers, including 50,000 in capturing the Japanese island of Okinawa. The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the fight against Nazi Germany, with losses exceeding fifteen million. Germany and Japan had lost over ten million each, their wealth expunged and their nations wrecked. Perhaps most horifically, the Nazis' temporary advances allowed them to round up and kill ten million alledged enemies, including six million Jews in the most systematic act of genocide the world has ever known.
To sum up, the wars that ended in 1945 killed over fifty million people. Of this, fewer than one in two hundred died due to the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But terrifyingly, most of those deaths occurred within seconds from just two discrete events. When Japan surrendered less than a month later, Emperor Hirohito cited America's "new and cruel weapons." The deaths were the last and most spectacular of a war that had made atrocity an everyday affair. It was not unreasonable to conclude that the bombs had brought the war to an end. That position has been nitpicked since 1945, but remains widely held, and indeed it seems fitting that so much horror should have ended so horribly. One consequence of this is that everyone who grew up in the wake of the war grew up in the shadow of the bomb. The bombs were not just weapons; they were omens. For most of us they made war unthinkable, but that was never translated into policy. Some people learned to think about the unthinkable, and they found steady employment in the U.S. and other militaries.
There are a great many things that can be written about the bomb. The scientific story is immensely fascinating, with Richard Rhodes' two books (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun) providing the basic overview, to which we can add dozens of memoirs and secondary works. One point that is often missed here is that the science of the bomb, in particular the energy yield, was understood almost immediately by scientists all around the world. In the movie The Day After Trinity, which we showed last night to mark the anniversary, Robert Serber talks about receiving a letter describing uranium fission one morning, then giving a seminar on it that same afternoon. Rhodes' second book talks about bomb projects in Germany, Japan, and Russia during the war, and the successful Soviet project afterwards. What the U.S. Manhattan Project figured out that other projects didn't was the engineering to turn theory into practice. Once the bombs exploded, the only real secret the U.S. had became public knowledge: that such bombs are viable weapons. At the time, the U.S. had captured and sequestered the entire Germany bomb team, including the brilliant theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg. It's worth noting that Heisenberg, who had failed to produce any significant results during the war, came up with a correct model of how the bomb worked within a day after news of Hiroshima. It didn't take the Soviets long after the war to produce their own bomb. One thing that makes the scientists' story so interesting is that they alone understood the future of nuclear proliferation.
Far less has been written about the non-scientific aspects of the Manhattan Project and the post-WWII development of nuclear arsenals in the U.S., the Soviet Union, and elsewhere. While the scientists were critical to the conception of the bomb program, they soon lost all control over the potential use of the bombs. Control passed to the military and civilian political leaders, who were highly disposed to see the bomb as just another weapon in an arsenal of power and intimidation. As such, they worked hard to maximize their stockpiles of this power; only gradually did it dawn on them that nuclear weapons would be unusable in the post-WWII world, that the total warfare that had emerged in the Great War of 1914-19 and accelerated in World War II could not be sustained to any practicable effect. One consequence of this is that in the sixty years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki no nation, no political power, despite all too often the worst of intentions, has permitted their use. The notion that scientists, first of all Leo Szillard, had that nuclear bombs would make war obsolete has largely proven to be true.
Nonetheless, the sixty years since Hiroshima have seen plenty of wars -- marginal and much limited in comparison to the World Wars, but immensely destructive on any other scale. There can be no doubt that the U.S. bore any responsibility for the World Wars. Woodrow Wilson's late entry into the first left such a sour taste in Americans' mouths that the nation had nothing to do with the unjust settlements that followed and no desire to enter the second until Japan forced the issue. But Americans did not recoil similarly from the second World War. The war rebuilt an economy that had been shattered by the Great Depression and projected American power and ideals to the far corners of the world. And nothing symbolized this newfound power more than the atom bomb. The first half of the 20th century saw an astonishing march of scientific and technological progress, within a single lifetime transforming a horse-and-buggy into one that could unlock the universe's deep secrets and put them to exhilarating (albeit terrifying) use. In this context, the argument that America was obligated to lead the world out of the imperialist hell that had caused so much destruction became utterly seductive. However, that argument soon became perverted by the Cold War. One consequence of this is that since World War II the U.S. has never been free of blame for its subsequent wars, which have occurred with unsettling frequency and have driven the U.S. from a position where we might once have been able to speak for the aspirations of the whole world to a point where we only fight for our own selfish arrogance.
This postwar history reflects back onto the decision to drop atom bombs on Japan. Critics argue that Japan was for all intents and purposes already defeated before the bombs were dropped. They point to messages Japan passed through the Soviet Union seeking to negotiate an end to the war. With the war in Europe over, the Soviet Union, in accordance with promises made to Roosevelt, had declared war on Japan and was moving its armed forces to the East, threatening Japan even further. Japan's cities had been desroyed, and Japan was effectively isolated from most of its armies, still scattered across wide swaths of Asia and area that Allied forces had skipped over, like New Guinea. Japan's suicidal defense of Okinawa had been meant to send a message that Japan itself would also be defended to the last drop of Japanese blood, but Okinawa had fallen, and Japan's leaders could be certain that Japan would fall as well. So why, given that victory was just a short matter of time, did the U.S. attack with such unnecessary cruelty? One possible answer was that the U.S. was already contemplating its postwar rivalry with its ally, the Soviet Union: Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstrations, not to the defeated Japanese but to the victorious Soviets.
This argument is certainly wrong, although the Soviets did see the demonstration and they took it as a warning, moving with much haste to build their own nuclear weapons capability. The people who decided to drop the bomb understood very little about it or what it might mean. They had put a lot of money into developing it, in large part because they understood that science could hold the key to winning the war. German scientists had developed new weapons like jet aircraft and rockets. Before the atom bomb, the most significant Allied scientific breakthrough was radar, but there were many more. The atom bomb could be likened to dropping several thousand conventional bombs, and the U.S. had done that many times over without thinking twice. The radioactive fallout that we now recognize as one of the worst effects of nuclear weapons was poorly understood and lightly considered. (It is worth noting that virtually every scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project eventually died of cancer, but in 1945 they were still very much alive.) Meanwhile the lesson of Okinawa sunk into the racist psyches of the U.S. military: that the Japanese would choose death over surrender. The U.S. may have been certain of victory over Japan, but the leaders were so uncertain of the costs that even as the atom bombs were being readied for delivery they were urging the Soviet Union to engage Japan. The reason for that could not have been to give them a better view of the bomb.
Nonetheless, the bomb made the Cold War inevitable. Possession by the U.S. and the even more untrustworthy U.K. (which had folded its own bomb project into the American one, and was thereby able to bring the blueprints home) gave the Soviets much to fear, while it increased the arrogance of anti-Soviet factions in the U.S. -- above all in the military. To understand this it is first necessary to sort out the matrix of conflict. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were two nations of similar size and potential power on opposite sides of the globe, with no real history of conflict and with much buffer space between them. The main difference was that the Soviet Union had been a theatre of war and had seen much devastation, while the U.S. mainland was isolated from the action, which gave the U.S. a huge short-term advantage. But in and of itself, this was not a prescription for conflict. But the U.S. and the Soviet Union were symbols of a second conflict which was indeed worldwide: the class struggle between capitalism and communism. This mattered much more to some Americans than to others.
The Soviet Union was formed when Communists under V.I. Lenin took control of the Russian Revolution in 1917, overthrowing the Czar and taking Russia out of the first World War. Lenin originally saw his revolution as the first step of a worldwide revolution, but in the wake of the War similar revolts in Hungary and Germany were defeated and the Soviets found themselves isolated and locked into a defensive war against counterrevolutionary forces supported by many foreign states. (Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. forces to Russia as part of this effort, but they were given ambiguous orders and were ineffectual.) The Soviet posture following the civil war was defensive, mostly oriented toward quelling internal dissent -- which Stalin did with exceptional brutality. During this period, they managed to use their connections to Communist parties around the world to reinforce their "socialism in one country" policy, which proved to be debilitating for most other socialist and communist movements. During the War, Stalin had discussions with the Allies on establishing post-War zones of influence which could act as defensive buffers against future wars -- a position that the U.K., in particular, agreed to. One result of this was that the Soviet Union looked the other way when the U.K. put down a Communist revolt in Greece, while the Soviet Union was free to establish puppet regimes in Eastern Europe from Poland to Bulgaria. Greece had been one of many nations where Communists had distinugished themselves in resistance against German or Japanese occupiers, and in several of those countries Communists were able to seize power with little or no Soviet support: Albania, Yugoslavia, China in 1949, and Vietnam in 1954. One way to look at this history is to see a plot where the Soviet Union continuously extended its worldwide power through fomenting revolutions led by local Communists. On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence of the Soviets undermining socialist and communist movements where it found anti-communist alliances convenient. Even later on, after the Soviets' alliance with the U.S. was irrevocably damaged, the Soviet Union had virtually nothing to do with local revolutions in Cuba and Afghanistan, even though they invested significant resources in those countries after the fact. The Soviet Union's nominal leadership of the worldwide proletarian revolution was a muddled affair, obliging them to support revolutions they had had nothing to do with fomenting.
The U.S. had effectively had a gentle revolution in the 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal came to power in the wake of the worst depression in American (or for that matter worldwide) history. It was gentle because Roosevelt's reforms were mild, and because the ancien regime of bankers and industrialists kept their seats of power. One effect of this was to significantly empower labor, and while few in the U.S. labor movement were close to the Communists, they weren't hostile to the Soviet Union. So the U.S. under Roosevelt established normal relations with the Soviet Union, and eventually entered the War as an ally. With the end of the War, the U.S. rapidly demobilized, converting wartime industrial capacity into sudden prosperity, which had the effect of moving the country to a more conservative stance, weakening labor and strengthening the anti-communist right. (In 1946 the Republicans gained control of Congress for the first time since 1930, and promptly passed the Taft-Hartley anti-labor bill.) The Truman administration itself was more conservative than Roosevelt had been, especially in terms of foreign policy, where staunch anti-communists like James Byrne had power. So when normal conflicts arose with the Soviet Union and local Communist movements made gains, the conservatives were quick to see a monolithic enemy emerging, urging the U.S. to adopt more confrontational policies. After all, the U.S. retained incredible military power to back up its position. Above all, the U.S. had a monopoly on the atomic bomb.
It should be noted that what came to be called the Cold War did not happen over night, and that the Cold War meant different things at different times. The following is a rough overview of several stages:
Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki matters because they remind us what nuclear weapons can do. Those two bombs are small yields by the standards of their successors -- hydrogen bombs are typically a thousand times more powerful, a scale that we can begin to imagine both by extrapolating from Hiroshima and by viewing pictures of test shots vaporizing whole islands. Second-guessing the decision to drop those bombs does little good, except that it makes us wonder what kind of people we were then, and perhaps helps us resolve to be better people now. World War II was a horrible trap, not only for the millions who died or were maimed but for anyone who took part. The irony, though, is that the people who struggled through that war came closer to saying "never again" than we are now. They set up worldwide institutions to resolve conflicts without war, and they set up laws to outlaw war -- going so far as to prosecute many of those responsible for World War II. On the other hand, we let that moment slip away, primarily because people in power were able to translate the basic class conflict that occurs everywhere there is capitalism into a conflict between nations. As we now know, class conflict between labor and capital can peacefully be resolved if we elect to work together and become a bit less greedy. If such a fundamental conflict is resolvable, that between nations should be relatively easy. But we're not there yet, not close, and the main reason is that the arrogance of the powerful is undiminished. Nuclear weapons may be the ultimate power but they have turned out to be useless as well as dangerous -- a power to destroy, not least to destroy oneself. The U.S. brought a horrible war to a climactic end with such weapons, but in doing so we now find, sixty years later, that doing so changed our relationship to the world from humble to arrogant, poisoned our own community, and made us feared and distrusted by much of the world.
Japan, meanwhile, by renouncing war and eschewing the nuclear weapons that they are technically competent to produce any time they wanted, has managed to put Hiroshima and Nagasaki behind them. Perhaps in the long run they have suffered less for our sins than we have.
Tuesday, August 2. 2005
Seems like the last couple of years Downbeat has come out with a Critics Poll I've taken the time to second guess them. (I'm not a voter, and I recognize only a few of the names listed.) Early on I did this as a self-check exercise, partly because I didn't recognize some of the winners (at least in the "rising star" division; there are still names lower down the lists that I don't recognize). I'm leaving out a bunch of categories that don't strike me as very useful -- groups, composers, arrangers. I'm reprinting the lists as published, though not the votes. Most categories have a second list for "rising star"; anyone on that list who is also on the main list has an asterisk in front of the name.
Hall of Fame: Steve Lacy, Jimmy Smith, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones, Muhal Richard Abrams, Erroll Garner, Billy Higgins, Lee Konitz, Andrew Hill, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Blanton, Don Cherry, Jo Jones, Oliver Nelson. Every year I complain that Jackie McLean isn't even on the ballot, so note that again. Downbeat's HOF has 103 members going back to Louis Armstrong, and most are beyond question. (Not all: I wouldn't have bothered with Red Rodney or Maynard Ferguson, both of whom I would have taken long before Frank Zappa.) No quarrel at all with Steve Lacy. Of the other finishers, I'd pick (in order): Konitz, Cherry, Hill, Smith, Jones (Thad and Elvin are already in). Many others are worthy -- Mal Waldron and Don Pullen are two who come to mind.
Jazz Album: Maria Schneider Orchestra, Concert in the Garden; Branford Marsalis, Eternal; Don Byron, Ivey-Divey; Alice Coltrane, Translinear Light; Pat Metheny Group, The Way Up; Bill Frisell, Unspeakable; Keith Jarrett, The Out-of-Towners; Joe Lovano, I'm All for You; Dave Douglas, Mountain Passages; Bill Charlap Trio, Somewhere; Geri Allen, Life of a Song; Von Freeman, The Great Divide; Jason Moran, Same Mother; Tomasz Stanko, Suspended Night; Grachan Moncur III Octet, Exploration; John Scofield, En Route. Ugh! The top two records made my duds list, and three more were stuck at B (Lovano, Charlap, Moncur). Two I never heard (Frisell, Scofield). Most were B+, with Byron, Allen, Freeman and Stanko breaking A-, and only Byron in my top ten. I can't fathom Schneider's record, which leaves me constantly doubting my reticence, but I've played it a dozen times and gotten next to nothing out of it. On the other hand, I have no doubt that Branford's album just plain sucks. My own choices have been listed elsewhere, so I won't repeat them here. The best album among the finishers is Byron, which showed up in most critics lists last year. I suspect that raw votes, as opposed to their points system (10 points for 3 choices, 5 point max) which factored in intensity, or permitted ballot stuffing, as the case may be. Schneider also won for Composer and Arranger, which are tough categories to sort out.
Reissue: Miles Davis, Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964; Albert Ayler, Holy Ghost; Andrew Hill, Dance With Death; Woody Herman, The Complete Columbia Recordings of Woody Herman 1945-47; James Brown, Soul on Top; Dexter Gordon, The Complete Prestige Recordings; The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions; Duke Ellington, Blues in Orbit; Charles Mingus, The Great Concert of Charles Mingus; Dexter Gordon, Mosaic Select; Coleman Hawkins, The Centennial Collection; Miles Davis, Birdland 1951. Note that there are four single-CDs, one CD+DVD, one two-CD, and six boxes here: now is the time for critics to thank the publicists. I've heard seven of twelve (Davis #1, Hill, Brown, Granz, Ellington, Gordon #2, Davis #2) -- all A- or better (Ellington) except for Birdland 1951, which made my Duds list. I would have voted for Don Pullen, Mosaic Select. But I'm still pissed they didn't send me the Ayler box.
Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Branford Marsalis, Jane Ira Bloom, Evan Parker, Jane Bunnett, Bob Wilber, Chris Potter, Gary Bartz, Sam Rivers, James Carter, Jan Garbarek, Steve Wilson. I'm sorry, but this is a bullshit list. (Talk about missing Steve Lacy.) Everyone but Bloom and Bunnett play tenor or alto as their first instrument, and of the rest only Parker and Garbarek are particularly notable for the soprano. (Wilber mostly plays it with Kenny Davern, who mostly plays clarinet.) I'd probably vote for Garbarek, then Parker, then maybe Davern. Rising Star: Ravi Coltrane, *Steve Wilson, *Jane Bunnett, *Chris Potter, Michael Blake, Stefano di Battista, *Jane Ira Bloom, Sam Newsome, Joel Frahm, Eric Crystal, Lol Coxhill, Marcus Strickland. Don't really know Coxhill but I gather that soprano is his main axe. Still, given that he's in his 70s already, he's not likely to rise much higher. Don't know a couple of these (Blake, Crystal). Don't have an obvious choice here.
Alto Saxophone: Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Greg Osby, Ornette Coleman, Kenny Garrett, Gary Bartz, Bobby Watson, Charles McPherson, Jackie McLean, Bud Shank, Anthony Braxton, Tim Berne, Steve Coleman. The edge that Konitz and Woods have over Ornette and Jackie is that they're working harder these days. Over the long haul the latter are more important than Woods and Shank (another estimable elder statesman), although Konitz is a tougher call. Braxton and Watson are both important players. I love Braxton's standards box, but find his compositions increasingly dry (which by now means Atacamba Desert dry). Not sure who I'd vote for. Rising Star: Miguel Zenón, Dave Binney, Stefano di Battista, *Greg Osby, Antonio Hart, Michael Moore, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Wilson, Soweto Kinch, Myron Walden, Ted Nash, Rosario Giuliani. Moore is an important figure, although I think of him more for his clarinet. Zenón and Nash are impressive. I like Osby's more primitive records, but don't like his more conceptual ones. This suggests that he has impressive chops but muddled ideas.
Tenor Saxophone: Joe Lovano, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Chris Potter, Von Freeman, Branford Marsalis, Michael Brecker, David Murray, Joshua Redman, James Carter, Eric Alexander, Fred Anderson. Ken Vandermark belongs on this list. He's older (41) than several listed (Potter, Redman, Carter, Alexander, but not Branford ), but he hasn't achieved the same level of recognition because he's done it his way, voluminously on tiny labels. Murray worked like that also, and is similarly underrated -- Lovano is three years older than Murray, and doesn't come close to Murray's discography, although by any other measure he's a dominating figure. Freeman and Anderson are interesting choices, with most of their recognition appearing after they turned 60. Beyond Vandermark and Murray, my third choice would be David S. Ware, Bennie Wallace, Scott Hamilton, or Tommy Smith. The latter is young enough (38) that I might sneak him into the Rising Star division. Rising Star: *Chris Potter, *Eric Alexander, Seamus Blake, Ravi Coltrane, Harry Allen, Mark Turner, Tony Malaby, Marcus Strickland, Ted Nash, Ken Vandermark, Donny McCaslin, John Ellis, David Sánchez. Aside from McCaslin, who I don't know, this is a good list, to which many more names could be added. Coltrane has two borderline A- records, which is how Joshua Redman started. Allen is a pleasant surprise, given that most of his records are only released in Japan -- Sony/BMG should take note. Everything I've heard by Malaby has impressed me. Some more names: Gilad Atzmon, Abraham Burton, Daniel Carter, Chris Cheek, Ellery Eskelin, Rick Margitza, Chris Speed, Assif Tsahar, Tim Warfield. Charles Gayle is too old to be rising, and too freakish to be a star, but deserves mention nonetheless.
Baritone Saxophone: James Carter, Hamiet Bluiett, Ronnie Cuber, Gary Smulyan, Joe Temperley, John Surman, Vinny Golia, Mats Gustafsson, Scott Robinson, Cecil Payne, Claire Daly, Charles Davis. Not as bad as the soprano list, but close. Most of those listed at least mostly play baritone, but for Carter it's just a sideshow, even if it is something he ought to develop further. Bluiett and Surman are the only major players on the list. Rising Star: *Claire Daly, *Scott Robinson, *Gary Smulyan, Alex Harding, *James Carter, *Joe Temperley, *Vinny Golia, *John Surman, Carlo Actis Dato, *Mats Gustafsson, Roger Rosenberg, Mwata Bowden. Same list, except for Bluiett and Cuber dropping out. Obviously, that's a problem.
Clarinet: Don Byron, Buddy DeFranco, Marty Ehrlich, Paquito D'Rivera, Ken Peplowski, Eddie Daniels, Kenny Davern, Louis Sclavis, Michael Moore, Ben Goldberg, Gianluigi Trovesi, Victor Goines. Byron's lead is huge and deserved, especially coming off the superb Ivey-Divey, not least because he specializes. Most of the rest of the list play other reeds, but Ehrlich, Sclavis and Moore are fairly slotted here. They're part of a tremendous growth in the use of clarinet, especially in the avant-garde. The patron and missing senior citizen here is Jimmy Giuffre, now in his 80s, and not recently productive. I've gotten to like Peter Brötzmann's clarinet and tarogato -- the softer sound makes the harsh music go down easier. Rising Star: Chris Speed, *Louis Sclavis, *Michael Moore, *Marty Ehrlich, *Ken Peplowski, *Gianluigi Trovesi, François Houle, David Krakauer, Anat Cohen, *Paquito D'Rivera, Gebhard Ullmann, *Kenny Davern. Some confusion here, with a lot of guys pushing or past 50 and Davern turning 70. Speed started off on tenor sax but has done some interesting work on clarinet, especially with John Hollenbeck. I think that the trend toward clarinet (and for that matter bass clarinet) will continue.
Flute: Frank Wess, James Newton, James Moody, Lew Tabackin, Jane Bunnett, Sam Rivers, Dave Valentin, Henry Threadgill, Jamie Baum, Robert Dick, Charles Lloyd, Holly Hoffman, Hubert Laws. A lot of dabblers, plus a few specialists. I don't much care for the high sound, and don't think much of the legacy thus far -- Sam Most, Herbie Mann, etc. On the other hand, I think there are two potential areas for development here: the trend toward heavier flutes is positive, even though alto flute isn't heavy enough; also the trend toward exotic flutes. I haven't heard anything lately from Dick, but I love his use of bass flutes. Yusuf Lateef and Roland Kirk pointed the way toward exotica, which continues in the erratic work of Bill Cole and Kali Fasteau. Among the diversifying saxophonists, Wess is one of the few (or maybe the only) who consistently sounds good on flute. Many of the others on the list I don't even associate with the instrument, perhaps because I'm trying to forget. Rising Star: Nicole Mitchell, Anne Drummond, *Jamie Baum, Ali Ryerson, *Jane Bunnett, *Holly Hoffman, *Dave Valentin, *Robert Dick, Karolina Strassmayer, Matthias Ziegler, *Sam Rivers. Several people I don't know here, including Mitchell.
Trumpet: Dave Douglas, Wynton Marsalis, Clark Terry, Nicholas Payton, Wadada Leo Smith, Tomasz Stanko, Roy Hargrove, Tom Harrell, Kenny Wheeler, Enrico Rava, Jon Faddis, Wallace Roney. Douglas over Marsalis is a gimme these days. I'm actually surprised that Wynton hasn't slipped further, but he still has a major label and narrow-minded apologists. Also surprised that Terence Blanchard hasn't made the list, given that he has the same label and caters to the same crowd, and is in any case at least as impressive. But more surprising is the rise of players far from the beaten path: Smith, Stanko, Wheeler and Rava. They've all been important for a long time, but relatively unknown. I might have voted for Douglas, Roy Campbell, and Dennis Gonzalez, but Stanko and Smith are worthy, Rava and Wheeler a shade behind, and there are others past 50 who were overlooked: Jerry Gonzalez, Raphe Malik, Hugh Ragin, Randy Sandke, Paul Smoker, Jack Walrath, and cornetist Warren Vaché. Rising Star: Jeremy Pelt, Ingrid Jensen, Cuong Vu, Steven Bernstein, Terrell Stafford, Brian Lynch, Maurice Brown, Ron Miles, Sean Jones, Irvin Mayfield, Alex Sipiagin, *Tomasz Stanko. I barely know Pelt -- he definitely has chops, but I wouldn't vote for him. Bernstein, Lynch and Miles are impressive. Another young guy I like is Russ Johnson; also cornetist Rob Mazurek.
Trombone: Steve Turre, Robin Eubanks, Wycliffe Gordon, Roswell Rudd, Conrad Herwig, Ray Anderson, Bob Brookmeyer, George Lewis, Curtis Fuller, Slide Hampton, Grachan Moncur III, Frank Lacy. Anderson is my guy, but Rudd used to be. I thought Turre got distracted with the conch shells, but he seems to be playing more 'bone these days, and that's a good thing. Rising Star: Josh Roseman, Steve Davis, *Wycliffe Gordon, *Conrad Herwig, Jeb Bishop, Gianluca Petrella, Curtis Fowlkes, Wolter Wierbos, Nils Landgren, Wayne Wallace, *Robin Eubanks, Marty Wehner. I don't know Eubanks at all well -- I presume he's coasting on Dave Holland's coattails, but could be wrong. Bishop is leaving the Vandermark 5, so presumably we'll start hearing more from him as a leader; I think he's terrific. I haven't heard enough by Steve Swell, but he certainly deserves to make this list.
Acoustic Piano: Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Hank Jones, Brad Mehldau, Kenny Barron, Cecil Taylor, Herbie Hancock, Jason Moran, Bill Charlap, Randy Weston, Fred Hersch, Geri Allen, Mulgrew Miller. Nothing wrong with Jarrett, who works steady and always turns out quality product, but I'm not devoted enough to the piano trio or solo to get excited anymore. There are more significant pianists working today than musicians on any other instrument, even if you folded all the saxes together. So it's tough to rack this list, and many fine pianists are missing. I would have voted for Matthew Shipp, Marilyn Crispell and maybe Andrew Hill or Dave Burrell or Misha Mengelberg or Abdullah Ibrahim or Myra Melford. Rising Star: *Jason Moran, *Bill Charlap, Vijay Iyer, Marcin Wasilewski, Frank Kimbrough, Eldar Djangirov, D.D. Jackson, Matthew Shipp, Jean-Michel Pilc, Uri Caine, Tord Gustavsen, Ethan Iverson, Esbjörn Svensson. Shipp (45) and Caine (49) strike me as established, and both are major enough they belong on the main list with Moran and Charlap. Iyer and Pilc are both very impressive, although I don't know either well enough to rank them. Wasilewski and Gustavsen are credits to ECM marketing; they're both good but there are lots of comparable players. Djangirov is pure hype. I don't know who I'd vote for, but Russ Lossing is one I would consider.
Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John Medeski, Uri Caine, Lyle Mays, Matthew Shipp, Craig Taborn, Wayne Horvitz, Jim Baker, Marc Cary, Gil Goldstein. With three fusion dinosaurs at the top, this is a list in need of a revolution. I think Caine and Shipp are too committed to acoustic to be major factors here, but they point the way. Taborn could be the guy, but I'm not all that impressed yet. Haven't heard Baker on electric -- at least not that I recall. Rising Star: *Uri Caine, *Craig Taborn, *Wayne Horvitz, Django Bates, *Matthew Shipp, Jamie Saft, *Jim Baker, Andrea Parkins, *Gil Goldstein, Jim Beard, *John Medeski, Bugge Wesseltoft, Sam Yahel. Don't know most of the non-asterisk players.
Organ: Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Larry Goldings, Jimmy Smith, John Medeski, Sam Yahel, Alice Coltrane, Jimmy McGriff, Amina Claudine Myers, Dan Wall. At some point it may make sense to merge this with the electric keyboards, since the new Hammond and the Fender Rhodes seem to be merging, at least being played by the same people. Meanwhile, I'd probably pick Goldings, but I also like what Yahel's been doing with Joshua Redman. The late Jimmy Smith owned this list for decades, but now he's gone. Rising Star: *Sam Yahel, Barbara Dennerlein, Chris Foreman, Tony Monaco, *Larry Goldings, Mike LeDonne, Gary Versace, Wayne Horvitz, *John Medeski, *Dan Wall, Neal Evans, Rhonda Scott. Seems to be fading as a category, but not likely to disappear. Jeppe Tuxen, of Ibrahim Electric, is the most exciting organist I've heard in quite a while. Haven't heard anything from Dennerlein recently, so I'd say her star has faded.
Guitar: Bill Frisell, Jim Hall, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Russell Malone, Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, Kenny Burrell, John Abercrombie, Howard Alden, Charlie Hunter, Marc Ribot. Seems to be you could reverse this list and do as well. Frisell is major important but his records are very inconsistent. Scofield is a major underachiever. Metheny is limited by Kyle Mays and confused without him. Hall is obscure. McLaughlin has seen better decades. I don't like Malone at all, and spent most of 2004 cursing Wes Montgomery for every guitar record I suffered through. Abercrombie, on the other hand, is playing better than ever; Alden is the best of the old Concord crowd; Hunter and Ribot have been thinking hard and taking chances. Rising Star: Kurt Rosenwinkel, *Russell Malone, Peter Bernstein, Nels Cline, Jeff Parker, *Marc Ribot, Mimi Fox, Nguyên Le, Anthony Wilson, Adam Rogers, Dom Minasi, Ben Monder. Cline and Parker are definitely rising. Monder I know mostly from sideman roles, where he invariably adds something. James "Blood" Ullmer seems determined to move into blues, but still plays good guitar. Haven't heard anything lately from Wolfgang Muthspiel, but his early-'90s albums impressed me. Two young players I like are Raoul Björkenheim and Kevin O'Neill.
Drums: Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Brian Blade, Paul Motian, Matt Wilson, Lewis Nash, Hamid Drake, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Stewart, Kenny Washington, Herlin Riley. At this point Drake would be my first choice. DeJohnette and Cyrille have long been masters. Wilson and Stewart are younger players who have a lot of smarts. Nash and Washington are superb mainstreamers. Motian is an interesting figure but a rather strange drummer. Haynes has aged well, and survived all his contemporaries. It seems to be tough for avant drummers to make this list: Joey Baron, Han Bennink, Gerry Hemingway, Susie Ibarra, Sunny Murray, Tony Oxley. Rising Star: *Matt Wilson, *Brian Blade, Billy Kilson, Dafnis Prieto, *Hamid Drake, Eric Harland, *Bill Stewart, Jim Black, Terri Lyne Carrington, Dave King, Allison Miller, *Kenny Washington. The least one can say about King is that nobody hits harder; he has been buried in two good groups (Happy Apple, Bad Plus), and he is key to both. Black has done some interesting work. I didn't like Prieto's album, although most critics loved it. Some young drummers I like: John Hollenbeck, Lukas Ligeti, Paal Nilssen-Love, Stefan Pasborg, Roberto Juan Rodriguez, Dylan van der Schyff.
Percussion: Ray Barretto, Poncho Sanchez, Cyro Baptista, Kahil El'Zabar, Trilok Gurtu, Airto Moreira, Don Alias, Giovanni Hidalgo, Han Bennink, Zakir Hussain, Hamid Drake, Bill Summers. A mixed bag, given that these people mostly do different things. Rising Star: *Hamid Drake, Susie Ibarra, *Cyro Baptista, Leon Parker, *Giovanni Hidalgo, John Santos, *Han Bennink, Babatunde Lea, *Kahil El'Zabar, *Zakir Hussain, Satoshi Takeishi, Steve Kroon. This used to be a bongo-conga category, but as jazz sucks up more world music the range of percussion is expanding, which leads to confusion here -- comparing apples to apples is the exception, not the rule.
Acoustic Bass: Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Christian McBride, William Parker, George Mraz, Ron Carter, John Patitucci, Gary Peacock, Mark Dresser, Percy Heath, Greg Cohen, Barry Guy. Holland's pre-eminance is a curious thing -- he also won Jazz Artist, beating Joe Lovano, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis and Dave Douglas -- but probably derives as much from his group leadership as his bass, not that anyone doubts him as an all-time great. My first choice would be Parker. Some others worth considering: Mark Helias, John Lindberg, Mario Pavone, Reggie Workman. Rising Star: Ben Allison, Avishai Cohen, Scott Colley, Peter Washington, *Christian McBride, Drew Gress, Darek Oles, Reid Anderson, *John Patitucci, Wilbert de Joode, Henry Grimes, Joelle Leandre. The top guys here are first-rate, with Washington perhaps the best mainstream bassist working.
Electric Bass: Steve Swallow, Christian McBride, Richard Bona, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, John Patitucci, Matthew Garrison, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Bob Cranshaw, Stanley Clarke, Tarus Mateen, Victor Bailey, Eberhard Weber. Swallow owns this category, for lack of an obvious alternative. I'm not very familiar with any of the rest, excepting Cranshaw (a frequent sideman with Sonny Rollins, but only a sideman) and Tacuma. Rising Star: *Matthew Garrison, James Genus, *Richard Bona, *Christian McBride, Charnett Moffett, Steuart Liebig, *Victor Wooten, Andy Gonzalez, Skuli Sverrisson, Brian Bromberg, *John Patitucci, Stomu Takeishi. Matthew Garrison has been around a while, but doesn't have any records under his own name; he's the son of Jimmy Garrison, which seems to count for something. In general, this is a rather confused list, with a mix of smooth/funk groovers and guys who play both acoustic and electric. I know that Gonzalez is an important Cuban bassist, but I never knew he played electric. I liked Takeharu Hayakawa's performance on Satoko Fujii's Zephyros, but don't know anything else about him. I'm running across Stomu Takeishi quite a bit lately, but haven't really singled him out.
Violin: Regina Carter, Billy Bang, Mark Feldman, Leroy Jenkins, Johnny Frigo, Jenny Scheinman, Jean-Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood, Mark O'Connor, Mat Maneri. Really, it's Billy Bang, and nobody else comes close. Carter had a good turn on her cousin's Django record, and did some good work as Bang's successor in String Trio of New York, but her own albums are inconsistent-to-awful. Feldman has destroyed more than a few Dave Douglas albums, but manages to toe the line in Masada. Jenkins is a very important avant-gardist, but records rarely. Frigo is a delight in a trad vein. Scheinman is a rising star -- a sixth place finish after three records shows you both how short the established list is and how fast she's rising. (Her fourth album, by the way, is another real good one.) Rising Star: *Jenny Scheinman, Mat Maneri, Christian Howes, Miri Ben-Ari, *Mark Feldman, Carla Kihlstedt, Jeff Gauthier, Diane Delin, *Mark O'Connor, Zach Brock, Savoir Faire, *Didier Lockwood, Mary Oliver. Scheinman is the clearcut choice. Maneri is a difficult player, but not as difficult as his father. He's 36, but he's accumulated a lot of work by now, so I'd probably rank him behind Bang and Jenkins on the overall list. Another violinist I like is Jason Kao Hwang -- he specializes in Chinese classical music, so hasn't been exposed much. I think we're going to be hearing more jazz violin in the future.
Vibes: Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Stefon Harris, Steve Nelson, Joe Locke, Terry Gibbs, Dave Samuels, Khan Jamal, Mike Mainieri, Kevin Norton. Hutcherson is the career value leader, by a large margin, but hasn't done much lately. Burton is only rarely on the mark. I'm unimpressed by Harris. Nelson is a fine sideman. So Locke would be my first choice, followed by Jamal. Rising Star: *Joe Locke, *Stefon Harris, *Steve Nelson, Matthias Lupri, Bill Ware, Bryan Carrott, Gregg Bendian, *Khan Jamal, Matt Moran, Joe Davel, Charlie Shoemake, Gunter Hampel. Locke is 46, with 15 years of good records, so I think he's graduated. Harris is 32; I just don't care for him. Nelson is 50, but has very little under his own name; an excellent, long-established sideman. Don't know Lupri, and don't know the rest well (excepting Bendian, a drummer, and Jamal, 59), but I like what I've heard by Moran.
Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans (harmonica), Béla Fleck (banjo), Erik Friedlander (cello), Richard Galliano (accordion), David Murray (bass clarinet), Steve Turre (conch shells), Howard Johnson (tuba), Tom Varner (french horn), Scott Robinson (bass sax), Guy Klucevsek (accordion), Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud), Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon). Some good, some not so good. Some just variations on better known instruments, some off the beaten path. Hard to compare. Rising Star: Grégoire Maret (harmonica), Peggy Lee (cello), *Scott Robinson (bass sax), Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon), *Richard Galliano (accordion), *Erik Friedlander (cello), *Tom Varner (french horn), *Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon), Rob Burger (accordion), Paul Hanson (bassoon), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Howard Levy (harmonica). Quite a few people play bass clarinet these days, mostly multi-reedists, although few devote as much time to it as Murray does. It seems like the era of single instrumentalists has passed. Paul McCandless plays oboe and english horn as well as most single-reed instruments. Bill Cole plays didgeridoo, shenai, sona, piri, and various oddball flutes. William Parker is likely to play anything when he hooks up with Cole or Hamid Drake. Many of these cases are just exotica, but for someone like Abou-Khalil or Saluzzi that's bread and butter.
Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling, Andy Bey, Mark Murphy, Tony Bennett, Kevin Mahogany, Jimmy Scott, Bob Dorough, Bobby McFerrin, Freddy Cole, Jon Hendricks, Mose Allison, Ernie Andrews. Pretty dispiriting list. I'm tempted to say I can't stand any of them, but actually it's just Elling I can't stand. The rest (excepting Mahogany, Dorough, and Allison) I merely dislike. Rising Star: Jamie Cullum, Peter Cincotti, Giacomo Gates, Curtis Stigers, Phil Minton, Ian Shaw, John Pizzarelli, Miles Griffith, Michael Bublé, *Andy Bey, *Kevin Mahogany, Kenny Washington. At least here we're getting down to some guys I don't know. I've listened to Pizzarelli quite a bit, and I'm lukewarm on him. I've liked recent albums by Eric Comstock, Tony DeSare, and Eric Felten, all at B+ level. Only male jazz singer I can think of that I like a lot is the great trombonist, Ray Anderson.
Female Vocalist: Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, Luciana Souza, Sheila Jordan, Shirley Horn, Abbey Lincoln, Karrin Allyson, Nancy Wilson, Carol Sloane. The sexual differentiation of jazz singers is pretty extreme: many more female singers, much better. I've heard all these except Sloane, but Souza just barely, and Wilson nowhere near as extensively as her position demands. Jordan has long been a favorite, and her last album (a couple of years back now) was one of her best. Barber is quite appealing and interesting. Horn and Reeves can be very effective. I don't care much for Lincoln or Nancy Wilson, and find Allyson less than impressive. One not listed who probably deserves to be is René Marie. Helen Merrill is the most famous singer still working and not listed. Rising Star: *Luciana Souza, Tierney Sutton, Madeleine Peyroux, *Patricia Barber, René Marie, Stacey Kent, *Karrin Allyson, Claudia Acuña, Rebecca Martin, Roberta Gambarini, Lizz Wright, Lisa Sokolov. Not familiar with Gambarini, whom AMG credits with one 1991 album; must be something more there. Nor Stacey Kent, who has six albums and a solid reputation. Souza strikes me as much much better than Acuña. Peyroux has a Billie Holiday inflection that I find rather distracting. Martin is a singer-songwriter with minimal chops. Wright's a misplaced soul singer. Sokolov is in her own universe, an astonishing singer; no one else like her. I get a lot of new records by unknowns in this category. Most are forgettable. Part of the problem is that we're mixing several distinct styles and attitudes here. Jordan and Sokolov are vocal improvisers, going far beyond the broader category of interpretive singers. Cabaret singers are a subset of interpretive singers. There are also a few singer-songwriters mixed in mostly by label association. Also soul and blues singers and others that could be reclassified.
Record Label: Blue Note, ECM, Palmetto, Mosaic, Verve, Sunnyside, ArtistShare, Nonesuch, Delmark, Concord, Telarc/Heads Up, Fantasy. One thing all these labels have in common is good (i.e., generous) publicists -- although I'm a little confused about Nonesuch, and only recently started getting jazz from their publicist. Mosaic sells expensive boxes of reissues in limited editions, so their contribution to new jazz is nil. ArtistShare got a lot of press out of just two 2004 releases -- mostly touting their business model, without pointing out how much promotion they have to do to make it work. I have lots of opinions about labels, but before I spout some of them I thought I'd run through my 2004 record list and count up how many jazz records I got from each label (most, but not all, free to me). I just did new records (including some vault items, and in a couple of cases items of dubious jazz credentials but on jazz labels). I didn't do reissues or comps, so this underestimates the majors, Fantasy, and Mosaic, as well as some more obscure reissue sources. I also assigned weights to the records: 9 for A, 7 for A-, 5 for B+, 4 for B, 3 for B-, 2 for C+, 1 for anything below that, and summed them up in parentheses. So the top labels for me, in 2004, were: Fresh Sound, 29 (139); ECM, 16 (81); Arbors, 14 (68); Telarc/Heads Up/MCG Jazz, 17 (58); Blue Note, 11 (50); Palmetto, 11 (44); Verve/Impulse/GRP, 11 (44); Sunnyside, 8 (47); Thirsty Ear, 8 (47); Tzadik, 8 (42); Nagel Heyer, 8 (37); Concord, 8 (35); MaxJazz, 8 (35); Justin Time, 7 (43); Okka Disk, 7 (39); Smalls, 7 (39); Adventure Music, 7 (30); Narada Jazz/Higher Octave, 7 (23); Delmark, 6 (30); Cadence/CIMP, 6 (28); Columbia, 6 (28); Zoho, 6 (27); HighNote, 5 (28); Ayler, 5 (25); Winter & Winter, 5 (24); Shanachie, 5 (15); Atavistic, 4 (32); Boxholder, 4 (23); Clean Feed, 4 (22); Cuneiform, 4 (21); NatSat, 4 (21); Sharp Nine, 4 (20). If I went back to the Jazz CGs, especially the A-lists, this would settle down quite a bit, with Thirsty Ear, Sunnyside, Tzadik, Justin Time, and ECM doing best, plus a lot of Vandermark et al. on Atavistic and Okka Disk. Fresh Sound mostly fell through the cracks -- a lot of good but not great albums. Palmetto had a similar track record, but was a bit more variable. Telarc had a couple of good records and quite a few bad ones.
I don't know enough about blues these days to go into their blues categories. I've only heard one of their twelve top blues albums: Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company. Q.E.D. On the other hand, I know more about their "beyond" category than they do, even if I've only heard five of eleven records -- it's not like they get very far beyond.