Wednesday, May 31. 2006
One thing I've liked about Billmon's website is that he has a little sidebar item on "Current Reading." I've been wanting to hack something together like that, and finally did. The cover images have been scraped from the usual places, but don't link to the usual stores. Don't have any accounts set up, and don't feel like linking for the hell of it. This could change in the future. In fact, I have a book review section on the website which I've never done much with, but that might be the right place to link if I choose to develop it further.
I also made a slight cleanup of the Links section. Again, the website has long had a Links section, which has almost as long been obsolete: another project desperately seeking time. But the real significance of these two changes is that they break out of the prison formed by the Serendipity blog software. Previously I used the "HTML Nugget" plugin for the links. Now I've created a brand new plugin which evals an arbitrary piece of PHP code. That code sucks in an external PHP file, which I can then program without having to hack through the Serendipity Admin interface. While this may not be a good idea in general, it will be a huge convenience for me. It means I can do development locally, then just blast the changed up.
Feels good to actually do a little programming for once.
The long-awaited, much-agonized-over ninth Jazz Consumer Guide has finally appeared in the Village Voice. The two pick hit slots went to pianists. I often worry that I know nothing and have nothing to say about pianists, but this proves at least that I know what I like. The title, "Second Term Blues," comes from a song on the Mario Pavone album. The guerrilla musician theme is suggested by the wide range of obscure musicians working on various fringes, which more than ever extend worldwide. Even the token retro choices are underground: Bob Rockwell has long worked out of Copenhagen; Harry Allen is based in New Jersey, but most of his records appear first, and often last, in Japan.
As usual, going into this I submitted more than would fit on the allotted page. As a bonus for those who bother to read here -- and if you do, you could figure this out anyway -- the cuts/holdbacks this time were:
No idea why one, and only one, and only that one, of the Honorable Mentions got cut. The Unexpected is a piano trio based in Barcelona, led by Sergei Sirvent Escué, a young player I find consistently engaging. He certainly would have fit nicely with the other pianists. The rest were held back for various obscure reasons -- mostly having to do with getting older records out before they become even older.
As usual, I haven't seen the print version, but I've heard that it has one serious error -- since corrected on the web. The Claudia Quintet saxophonist I identified as Chris Cheek is in fact Chris Speed. I knew that. That was just one of those stupid slip-a-gear mistakes that I seem to be prone to these days, and much worse than when I called Scott Amendola "Steve" given that this error mismapped a real, plausible musician. In case you're wondering why the Voice fact checkers missed this, the simple reason is that there are none. The editors do manage to catch a few things, but they usually -- foolishly -- assume I'm the expert. I try to be, but the fact is I screw up every now and then -- like once per column. So I'd like to make a proposition: I'd like to find one or two folks who'd be willing to fact check my Jazz CG columns. I'll send you a draft when it goes to the editor, and an update when I get it back, and explain how to dig into the secret compartments to follow how I work. Helps to be an expert, but errors like Amendola and Speed/Cheek could have been caught just by comparing my reviews to my notes. No compensation, although I reserve the right to send you some surplus schwag if I'm particularly impressed.
Jazz prospecting for Jazz CG (#10) has started, but only now am I getting serious about it. The collected prospecting notes for JCG #9 are here. This is the background against which the CG was selected. The published column covers 32 records. The prospecting file has notes on 198 records. I've started work on cutting the surplus down -- currently I have 153 rated plus 114 unrated records vying for next column's 30 slots, so realistically that needs to be cut down rather drastically, even though it means skipping over good records. I'm more impressed than ever by how much good jazz is being produced these days.
Monday, May 29. 2006
As each month approaches its end, I have to shift gears and scrounge the shelves for Recycled Goods, which takes time away from sorting out the steady flow of jazz prospects. Accordingly, not much of interest this week -- four of five new records this week aren't even jazz. Got so bad I almost decided to skip this week, but a little last minute mop-up helped. Next week gets serious -- about time, considering how heavy the new shelves are. But it's also appropriate: the long-awaited Jazz Consumer Guide (#9) finally hits the streets, in New York anyhow, on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. I still don't know what made the cut and what got held back. Don't have my surplus culled yet, either. Need to work on that. Stand by for announcements. Still don't know much about the longer term prospects for the Voice and/or Jazz Consumer Guide, but until I hear otherwise we'll keep on doing.
Dr. John: Mercernary (2006, Blue Note): The good doctor attacks the Johnny Mercer songbook, growling and snarling and occasionally kicking its ass. One Mac Rebennack original: "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer." Hardly needs saying! B+(*)
Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars: Carnival Conspiracy (2005, Piranha): The trumpeter behind Hasidic New Wave and the Klezmatics networks, pulling together forty-some musicians from eight countries to rip through songs in four languages interleaved with brassy instrumentals. Cover sez "File under: USA / World / Carnival / Klezmer / Brass" -- it's all those things, but I also like the closer for its solemn soulfulness. A-
Irving Fields Trio: Bagels and Bongos (1959 , Reboot Stereophonic): This could, and possibly should, be as tacky as its title and songs like "Havannah Nagilah" suggest, but it isn't, and that works too -- prim, proper, a light touch that keeps the piano up front, leaving the bagel- and bongo-rhythms wafting in the air, faint aromas of the exotic. A-
Ardecore (2005, Il Manifesto). Italian sources classify this as folk or folk-blues, although I suspect that this revisits at old Rome much like the Mekons rework country and western or the Pogues recast Dublin. One clue is that the title translates as "Hardcore"; another is that the core of the band comes from Zu, a group that straddles the politics of the Mekons and the Ex but usually ventures further into avant-jazz territory. But here Luca Mai's bari sax burnishes the luxurious sway of classic Italian melodies, while Giampaolo Felici sings with the coarse authority of a griot or cantor. A-
Toots Thielemans: One for the Road (2006, Verve): The reigning, all but permanent poll winner on "other instrument" -- in his case harmonica -- returns with an album of Harold Arlen songs. Good songs, of course. Harmonica adds soulful texture, but on nine of the songs it's background for nine guest singers, none of whom impress me as much as Carrie Smith did on Sir Roland Hanna's Arlen tribute. Also lurking in the background are uncredited strings. B
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Bobby Previte: The Coalition of the Willing< (2005 , Ropeadope): Not sure about the iconography, but the big quote under the clear plastic tray is from George Orwell's 1984, and the liner notes end with "Wake up everybody." Previte, Charlie Hunter, and Jamie Saft try to do their part by cranking up the volume, but all they get for it is a pretty decent fusion album. Skerik and Steve Bernstein help out, and Stanton Moore appears on one track. B+(**)
Dom Minasi: The Vampire's Revenge (2005 , CDM, 2CD): Dedicated to Anne Rice, inspired by her vampire books, of all things, this like so many large-scale projects in the jazz underground depends heavily on the auteur's friends. Critically, I would say, because they're an interesting bunch and add all sorts of strange and wonderful things to Minasi's amusing score. Just to cite a few: Borah Bergman, Perry Robinson, Mark Whitecage, Jason Kao Hwang, Herb Robertson, Steve Swell. Minasi's core trio is solid too, with Ken Filiano and Jackson Krall joining the veteran guitarist. The vampires, on the other hand, enter through Carol Mennie's two scats-plus-shouts -- "just one more" repeats ad infinitum until she takes her "bite" -- and Peter Ratray's somber recitation. B+(**)
Michael Blake: Blake Tartare (2002 , Stunt): Starts and ends soft, with guitar groove and searching sax in between, including pieces by Mingus and Sun Ra that punch up the drama in the middle. Nothing spectacular, but a very satisfying arc. B+(***)
Colin Stranahan: Transformation (2005 , Capri): Led by the drummer, a rather fancy postbop ensemble, with two saxes, piano and bass, plus trumpet on four cuts, vibes on another. Much of this impresses me despite some misgivings about the basic approach. B+(*)
Saturday, May 27. 2006
General Michael Hayden has been swept through the Senate's rubber stamp process to become head of the Central Ignorance Agency -- aka CIA, not to be confused with the actually useful Culinary Institute of America. Virtually no hearings. Fifteen dissents, including one Republican, the generally loathesome Arlen Specter. Even Russell Feingold seemed cautious in his opposition, saying: "I voted against the nomination of General Michael Hayden to be Director of the CIA because I am not convinced that the nominee respects the rule of law and Congress's oversight responsibilities."
This at least gets to the key point: if you're going to have an organization allowed to work in near complete secrecy, you have to staff and manage it with people who are not just trustworthy -- people who are beyond suspicion. Hayden isn't any such thing, but given how the current administration has politicized its use of so-called intelligence, anyone Bush nominated would be instantly tainted. At this point, that means that the problem is not merely a question of who should be director: the CIA has proven to be an intrinsically dangerous organization. That danger is a consequence of the CIA's ability to operate in secret, with little or no public oversight. (Congressional oversight counts for nothing, as the story of Jay Rockefeller shows: having been briefed on the NSA's illegal phone surveillance program, he was prevented from consulting his own legal counsel because the program was classified.) This sets up an atmosphere where CIA operatives can get away with anything, including providing totally wrong "intelligence" -- especially crap that is politically convenient, for their White House masters, or just for themselves.
We know very little about what the CIA actually does with its $40 billion/year. The actual information that they publish, like their nation summaries, amount to a mere drop in Wikipedia's bucket. While there's useful information there, that accounts for next to nothing of what they do. Beyond that, who knows? George Tenet's service in fabricating rationales for Bush's Iraq War got him a presidential medal, but we still know little detail about how the CIA turned out to be so spectacularly wrong. The CIA occasionally crop up in books like Cobra II, where everything they say and do turns out to be completely orthogonal to reality. Looking back at their glory days in the Cold War, we find them consistently misestimating Soviet strength and consistently misunderstanding Soviet intentions. Of course, back then they actually accomplished some things: like turning Iran into our Axis of Evil enemy, and training Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. Not to mention all those drugs they schlepped from Laos, or the occasional massacre in Latin America, or assassinating Patrice Lumumba, securing the Congo for several decades of what may charitably be described as rape and pillage. Oh, those were the days!
Since Tenet ducked out, the CIA was first handed over to Porter Goss, a political hack whose main task appears to have been to purge anyone who hasn't yet got the lesson that in this administration we make our own reality -- no point consulting anyone else. And now that the people are gone, the Wiretapper General can move his machines in. Sounds to me like a plot line out of 24, and for all we know it may be. That's the problem with keeping everything secret -- you never know what they're up to, what scams they're pulling, when the next gross fuck-up is going to slip out. The core problem, I think, is the word "intelligence" -- either in military parlance as a piece of information or more generally as the skills to systematically process that information, the key to establishing the truth and significance of intelligence is that it be subject to public scrutiny. Secrecy, by hiding information from the public, is the antidote to intelligence. In other words, secret intelligence = ignorance, which explains a lot.
A while back I argued against the Collins-Lieberman plan to demolish FEMA. That department, I argued, isn't intrinsically flawed. It's just being managed by bad people for bad purposes, starting with Bush. In theory, if you get rid of the bad apples, replace them with honest and competent and dilligent people, and give them a clear charter, they can come close to doing their assigned tasks. The CIA is different. Sure, they have the same incompetent and corrupt management, but in their case the whole program is rotten down to its foundation. They should have been abolished back when the Russians cleared out the KGB, if not before. But it's still not too late, even as the costs of not shutting them down keep building up. But given how untouchable they look to Washington politicos, it may be too late for us.
Friday, May 26. 2006
One thing I don't understand about George W. Bush is why he's always photographed walking to the podium when he appears before the press. I don't recall any other president being treated that way, except maybe Gerald Ford, but only when he fell down. Are we supposed to be impressed that even if Bush can't talk the talk he at least can walk the walk? One thing that makes this look even weirder is that he makes all his guests walk right along with him. Who can forget the memorable scenes of Bush, Sharon and Abbas hobbling to their three podiums at Taba? I'm reminded of this by pictures of Bush and Blair walking side by side to their joint denial conference. I didn't actually see a harness, but it sure looked like Bush walking his dog. I expect we'll soon see some touched up photos making the point explicit.
This kind of media manipulation doesn't just happen. They do it for a reason, even if it isn't an obvious one. I mean, it can't be that Bush's handlers want to distance their man from FDR -- a somewhat more successful war president. This reminds me of the story about how Bush's father, back when he was VP, took a tour of Jordan and insisted that there be camels in the background for photo ops at every stop. The other question, of course, is why the press puts up with this kind of manipulative horseshit. But I guess we've given up on them.
Meanwhile, the man who almost prevented us from realizing how horrible Bush would turn out to be as president has put a movie together explaining anthropogenic climate change -- that's global warming to you, bub -- to anyone not currently on the oil industry's payroll. I still have my doubts that Gore would be doing anything so useful had he been elected -- there's something about politics in America that drags everyone into the sewer. And it's not just something: a big part of this is the press. Paul Krugman puts it this way:
Bush's dishonesty could have been investigated back in 2000, if anyone had bothered. Instead, we kept hearing about how Bush was the sort of guy you'd like to have a beer with, while Gore was so totally obsessed with making himself president that he would probably crack up and have to be medicated if he lost the election. If it's unfair to compare Bush and Gore at this point, try comparing Gore to the last Republican to lose a presidential election. After Bob Dole lost, he just took the revolving door into the lobbying end of the racket, representing Dubai Ports and hawking Viagra -- such a Republican way of life, you know, making money, letting others fend for themselves.
Thursday, May 25. 2006
Perhaps it's just the engineer in me, but whenever I read about some problem, I can't help but think of ways around it. Bush's Iraq war was probably doomed from the start, but he could have done some things to limit the damage, and maybe they would have been enough to spin it into some sort of success. Of course, he didn't do these things, and I think the reason wasn't just oversight or even excessive optimism: the things that needed to be done weren't in his nature to do. On the other hand, had one the sense to do these things, one would also have had the sense not to start the war in the first place. Still, enumerating the steps he should have taken helps show how hopelessly ill-equipped he was to deal with the real world of Iraq.
This all seems so straightforward that it's remarkable that it's all so inconceivable for anyone anywhere near the center of power in the US. There are two core reasons for this. One is that we've long been convinced of our righteousness -- of the value of applying our way of life to the rest of the world, a fact that was proven by our triumph over fascism in WWII and communism in the Cold War. The other is that we cling to the belief that dominance works -- that as long as we are strong and forceful enough the rest of the world will follow our lead, to their as well as our benefit. Reasons like these are really just conceits: their very persuasiveness depends on never exposing them to examination, which is why no politician would dare suggest otherwise.
Israel is less a cause than a supreme example of this stubborn belief in self-righteous dominance. Israel is the only nation in the world today whose political system insists that one broad class of people are entitled to systematically repress another, yet we never allow ourselves to notice -- raise even the faintest question and Israel's flacks jump all over you, frantically trying to change the subject because Israel's behavior cannot survive scrutiny. By never challenging Israel, the US has become complicit in all that Israel does, which leads us to engage in the same sort of desperate escape from the real impact of our acts.
Few people in America actually believe that "might makes right" -- the opposite is closer to what they believe, but American might has gone off on its own, following its own brutal logic. Optimists hope for some silver lining in all that power; cynics look for ways to exploit it for their own benefit. But neither group -- the opposite ends of the respectable political spectrum these days -- dare rein it in. When I was a child, people liked to quote Lord Action: "power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's not something you hear much of these days. America's empire depends on circumspection, on plausible denial. The reason is that nobody wants to be under some empire's thumb -- two-plus centuries of revolution have made this point time and again. But America's power has become so corrupt that Bush and the neocons make no effort to hide it. No, they flaunt it, and that above all else was their purpose in Iraq. To succeed at what they wanted, they not only had to achieve short term goals like deposing Saddam Hussein. They had to bend the Iraqi people to their will, because only in doing so would they succeed in showing the world the hopelessness of defying American power. In that they failed, and that is why they failed.
The alternate approach I outlined above tried to minimize the raw use of power by finding points where we could establish that what we wanted to do was right -- so clearly right that others could see us in that light and assent to our plans. This allows that power may still be needed to overcome someone like Saddam Hussein who has repeatedly abused his power. But by stating our intents clearly and constraining our methods, we make it clear that we have no hidden agendas. Bush couldn't do this, not because he couldn't buck AIPAC, but because he had his own hidden agendas he didn't dare expose. Those of us who knew that, in our bones or in our minds, opposed his war -- not to save Saddam Hussein, who we have nothing but contempt for, but to save America from the consequences of Bush's extraordinary arrogance.
Wednesday, May 24. 2006
I marked a few quotes while I was reading Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (2006, Pantheon). The book was written by Michael R. Gordon, a New York Times correspondent who was "embedded" in the operation's command headquarters, and Marine General Bernard E. Trainor. Gordon and Trainor had collaborated on a similar book about the 1990-91 Iraq, which had become the definitive inside story of that war. Gordon and Trainor had extraordinary access to US military sources involved in this war, including still classified debriefings of Iraqi military sources.
The quotes don't attempt to synopsize the book. They are, rather, items that I found particularly revealing.
In other words, there was an inherent contradiction between the goal of destroying Iraq's command and control and the need to use those same mechanisms to secure Iraq once the enemy was defeated. One alternative would have been to provide sufficient manpower to establish a new command and control system. How much manpower that might have actually taken had never been more than a wild guess in previous war plans -- I suspect that Zinni's 380,000 figure was better tuned to dissuading his hot-headed political bosses from doing something stupid than it was a careful estimate of the all the ways invasion of Iraq could go wrong.
The book discusses Rumsfeld's ideology of "transformation" -- the idea that employing more precision technology would make it possible for the US to fight wars with less manpower. Following this line of logic, Rumsfeld bullies Franks into radically reducing his manpower requests for the invasion of Iraq. One aspect of this is discussed: reduction in manpower reduces logistic requirements, which allows the US to deploy its forces faster. Not discussed is a much more important matter: in order to sell the war, Rumsfeld and his cabal had to make the war to be as painless and risk-free as possible. If the generals insisted on the originally planned troop levels or more that would tip the public off that occupation wouldn't be a cakewalk and arouse the opposition. Publicly airing the risks of occupation would risk the whole adventure. Accordingly, Rumsfeld had to not plan seriously for the occupation because any realistic plan would weaken the rush to war.
Ironically, the one part of the postwar plan they couldn't sandbag was WMD, since that was their cassus belli. Accordingly, any military planner was free to raise the question of what happens when Iraq's WMD are deployed in any context.
P. 168, just before the start of the war:
Page 436, after Baghdad fell:
P. 446-447. Tikrit had been secured by the Marines:
It's worth recalling that Falluja broke into open revolt after a similar transfer of military authority. In general, rapid turnover of US forces meant that no matter how constructively one commander was able to work with local Iraqis, he would soon be replaced with someone clueless who would quickly undo whatever understanding had been established. This pattern was probably made worse by Rumsfeld's plans to understaff and quickly draw down US forces, but in many ways it's endemic to the way the US military is staffed and the expectations of its soldiers.
Note that this is their "budgetary" model -- i.e., the one used to minimize the officially projected cost of the war, and therefore make it more palatable politically. This does not mean that they actually intended to withdraw all those troops. Otherwise, why would they be building all those "enduring camps"? The contradiction here follows the same pattern as previous contradictions.
P. 490, after Bremer took over:
P. 491-492, meanwhile in Falluja:
Sanchez, by the way, spent the early war on a boat in the Mediterranean, his troops denied access to Iraq through Turkey. The generals who actually fought the war scattered quickly after "mission accomplished" -- leaving Sanchez with holding the bag. Sanchez was later largely responsible for the Abu Ghraib scandal.
These were just the sections that I marked as I was reading. I don't do that often; had I planned ahead I might have marked up a good deal more. For instance, Lt. General John Abizaid predicted that US forces would be an "antibody" in Iraq -- the closest thing to insight in the whole book -- then came up with various crackpot schemes to put Iraqi faces on the occupation. When General William Wallace made his famous comment about the enemy they were fighting not being the enemy they had wargamed against, Rumsfeld and Franks threw tantrums and tried to get Wallace relieved. It's still noteworthy that Franks was ordered to revise the previous (Zinni's) Iraq war plans back in Sept. 2001, immediately following 9/11, even with Afghanistan also on his plate. It's also noteworthy how hard Rumsfeld pushed to get postwar planning under DOD control and away from the State Department, especially given how little effort DOD actually made on such planning. The politics behind that, as well as the politics behind the appointment of Paul Bremer, were mostly off Gordon's radar, so barely appear here. The book itself ends very quickly after Bremer comes onto the scene, so the idea that this is the inside story of the occupation is a reach. Much more happened later, but arguably with the looting and the bomb attacks on the Jordanian embasy and the UN headquarters the die was already cast.
Whatever it was that the CIA was up to was also off the radar here, but one constant emerges: every piece of information that the authors report the CIA as providing turned out to be deadass wrong. No reason here not to refer to them as the Central Ignorance Agency. Meanwhile, the Defense Intelligence Agency has no presence whatsoever. As far as I can tell, the sole reason for their existence was to filter shit for use as propaganda, pretending that the Pentagon actually knew something. But as I said above, the Pentagon didn't want to know anything, because the only things they could have learned were things that would have made the war less attractive. Their sole idea was to sell the war, and the harder that became, the less truth they could afford to admit.
The book has had a role in recent debates over Rumsfeld's fitness to command, even though that is certainly not the primary interest of the authors. (At least half of the book is a blow-by-blow account of military operations from invasion up through capturing Baghdad. As far as I'm concerned, that's the boring half, but that's the side their bread is buttered on.) Still, the basic judgment one has to return is that Rumsfeld functioned solely as the advocate for the prowar position and never made any sort of fair and impartial effort at getting to the facts, asking the right questions, or drawing the right conclusions. If he worked for me, I'd sure fire his ass. If the Democrats win control of congress later this year and want to sharpen up their knives with an impeachment project, Rumsfeld looks to me like the juiciest turkey to start carving on. But I suspect that his political goal is no different from Cheney's or Bush's, so he merely practiced his deceit and corruption in his ledership's interest. None of the troika really suffice as fall guys for the others.
The book also doesn't comprehensively focus on Franks, but it does do a pretty good job of making him look as dumb as he once said Douglas Feith is. That's cutting it pretty deep. As for the rest of the military brass, the book means to make them look good, but what they're good for is hard to say. Shooting ducks in barrels, fine. But they can't conquer a two-bit country without turning it to shit, which means that as an imperial legion they're worthless. Worse than worthless, in that all they do is make things worse. Anyone with the least critical instincts should have been able to recognize their shortcomings before they were deployed. Madeleine Albright once asked what's the point of having this extraordinary military if we never use it. The correct answer is that there is no point. It's just meant to be admired and feared. Use it and you lose it, which is pretty much what's happened.
One last point: Cobra II was the war plan, named in honor of Patton's WWII campaign across Europe. As the Perle quote shows, the architects of this war saw it as restoring the glory accrued to the US in fighting the original Axis of Evil. The persistence of WWII metaphors is an interesting psychopathology -- something that will be amusing to chew over once the wars themselves are put to rest. One wonders, for instance, whether this might be rooted in Israel's primal obsession with the Nazis. Or whether it's just a subconscious way of avoiding comparisons that would soon become obvious: Vietnam.
Tuesday, May 23. 2006
I've read books in a row about Iraq. They reveal a great deal about how the Bush-Cheney invasion and occupation went over the deep end. The reading order helps drive home a story of progressive damage and decay, both by moving forward in time and by shifting the focus more and more to the Iraqi resistance. The books:
These three books track one important vector in the progression of the occupation: namely, how the US first underestimated then thoughtlessly and recklessly amplified popular Iraqi resistance to the Bush-Cheney administration's vain and arrogant revolution -- also known as the Occupation. Other vectors are worth exploring: the selling of the war has been largely documented, although there is certainly more dirt to be revealed; the crooked intentions and gross malfeasance of the CPA and the reconstruction debacle still is largely undocumented, although its consequences are in plain sight; the interactions and interests of other countries and NGOs have been little explored; a comprehensive detailing of the damage to Iraq's society and economy from all quarters would be an eye opener. But the main thing these books show is that the disaster caused by the invasion and occupation was completely predictable on the basis of little more than a broad sense of history and a bit of insight into human nature.
We now know that when US forces invaded the Iraqi people were divided on the issue of whether to welcome their self-proclaimed liberators. We can look at this division as offering a window of opportunity when the US could have proven its good intentions. Too bad Bush-Cheney had no such good intentions, at least that offered anything most Iraqis might actually want -- stability, order, justice, progress, peace, prosperity. But even if the US actually meant well, the division was deep enough that it would sideline those intentions. Shadid and Rosen quote various Iraqi proverbs, but an American one suffices here: "when you're up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember that you got in to drain the swamp." The fact is that it's impossible to do good works when people are shooting at you. And we're not just talking about Iraqis shooting at their American liberators here -- the Americans were the ones who came in shooting from day one. It also seems to be impossible to only hit what you're shooting at, and it's even harder to know that what you're shooting at is the real problem. As it turns out, the scatter spreads, eventually roping everyone into the fight.
That's pretty much what happened. A lot of things made it predictable, but one of the most basic is built into the very nature of armed forces everywhere, Americans included. John Powers, in Sore Winners: American Idols, Patriotic Shoppers, and Other Strange Species in George Bush's America, has a relevant footnote citing Colin Powell on Vietnam:
The obvious conclusion is that people with dull perceptions of right and wrong, especially ones armed to the teeth, shouldn't be set loose in someone else's country. Nir Rosen mostly writes about Iraqis, but he has one chapter on how American soldiers operate, called "If They're Not Guilty Now, They Will Be Next Time: Fall 2003." Here's a long quote (pp. 98-100), but it says a lot about the US occupation:
Prowar flacks keep insisting that we only hear the bad news from the occupation, never the good. The problem with this is that good news and bad news don't cancel each other out. Bad news is poison; mix that in with food or drink -- good news -- and you still have poison. It may be more tempting, but you have to dilute it extremely to overcome the toxicity. It's easy enough to find examples of US commanders who are conscientious, who understand that they need to help Iraqis and who try to act honorably, but even they are in over their heads, and the brass doesn't really support them -- to do so would mean that they'd have to knuckle down on every commander who makes the US unwelcome in Iraq. Do that and they'd get a mutiny, but that's not even the toughest aspect of the problem: the brass, and the administration, have only the slightest idea what makes them so unwelcome. The only insight the politicos have into this problem is their skill at manipulating US public opinion, as if Iraqis are following US polls to help make up their own minds.
Still, it goes on. I saw Nir Rosen and two Iraqi expatriates on PBS last night. Rosen reported that he had just got back from Iraq, and that the civil war there had grown more ominous than ever. In particular, he pointed out that Moqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army has to a large extent taken over the Iraqi police, and that Sadr has given up any interest in brokering a united Sunni-Shiite opposition to the US; now he's just another thug warlord. The two expats tried to hang on to whatever threads of hope they could find -- surely self-interest will favor cooperation over civil war. One expressed hope that direct talks between Zalmay Khalilzad and Iran will lead to some kind of breakthrough. I can't imagine what that might be. (Maybe he wants to become ambassador to Tehran? Before or after the apocalypse?) One effect of breaking Iraq into so many pieces is that none of its neighbors have the ability, much less the interest, in putting it back together again. Aside from the political embarrassment that would follow letting their defenses down, I doubt that anyone in the Bush-Cheney administration much cares either. They've reduced Iraq to the level of war-torn Afghanistan, or maybe even Liberia.
John Hicks died on May 10. Born December 1941 in Atlanta, he was 64. He was one of the most notable jazz pianists of his generation. While he recorded nearly 40 albums, he worked often as a sideman -- AMG credits him with 267 albums, but many of those are comps, and some are dubious, like the tenor sax he allegedly played for Dinah Washingtons before entering his teens; still, I've counted 160, and there are more. I don't have time to try to sort his career out, but I thought I'd at least mark his passing by glancing through his discography and checking off the ones I've heard against my database.
In chronological order (approximately):
One thing to note here is that the two B- grades are definitely not Hicks' fault. I've always had a lot of trouble with Betty Carter, but one thing I do grant is that she runs a terrific band. The Audience With Betty Carter is widely regarded as her masterpiece -- Penguin Guide gave it a crown -- and the parts where she keeps it zipped can be very impressive. It's not impossible that I'll return to the album and find I make peace with it. James Carter's Gardenias for Lady Day has real problems with the singer, the strings, and the concept, but the parts where only the quartet plays are terrific, and Hicks has a lot to do with that. One thing that's clear about Hicks is that he's always been a guy who brings out the best in everyone he plays with.
Monday, May 22. 2006
Third week of this cycle, and I'm still not really into the swing of the tenth Jazz CG. That's partly because #9 still hasn't run. Got bumped for Francis Davis one week, then for Robert Christgau's CG the next. I'm thinking it'll run next week, but I haven't heard officially yet. Meanwhile, I'm more into cleanup than real prospecting: some comps I've put off, some things that look like they're likely to wind up below the line. This is likely to continue slow the rest of the month, as I finish June's Recycled Goods and cull the surplus from JCG #9. A lot of new stuff on the shelf that I just haven't gotten to. Some of it looks promising, and no doubt there will be a surprise or two as well.
Brian Eno/David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1979-80 , Nonesuch): Interesting to think of this as jazz, even though neither principal has any jazz cred, and the record fit into no jazz tradition. But it also fit into no rock or pop tradition. It was a piece of pure experiment, pieced together ad hoc, using the studio (or more precisely, the tape recorder) as an instrument. It was unprecedented then, if not unrelated to Jon Hassell's Fourth World, but these days it is a type not far removed from things that jazz musicians do. This edition has seven extra tracks, each slighter, more minimal than the original eleven. Such narrow focus is perhaps its most jazzlike quality. A-
George Benson: The Essential George Benson (1963-80 , Columbia/Legacy): A good jazz guitarist, but conceptually he never got out of Wes Montgomery's shadow -- even if I have to score "California Dreamin'" in his favor, it's not much of a triumph. Turned into a gritless soul singer, then got worse, but this compilation cuts him off and doesn't dwell on all that. Instead, it packs sideman cuts with Jack McDuff, Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Tony Williams, and Dexter Gordon. B
George Duke: The Essential George Duke (1977-90 , Epic/Legacy, 2CD): This series usually tries to span an artist's career, even if that costs a little extra. But this one cuts its losses, sticking to Duke's Epic catalog, nothing but warmed over funk. Half sounds like secondhand P-Funk, replete with Bootsy-like interjections. Other half sounds like what Pedro Bell slammed as Turf, Hot Air & No Fire, except when the girls sing -- you know, Sister Sludge. First disc is further marred by a trip to Brazil, but the second, surprisingly, turns into tacky, sticky fun. B
Martin Taylor: The Best of Martin Taylor (1978-2004 , The Guitar Label, 2CD): Having only heard three of the Scottish guitarist's many albums, I hoped this might provide a welcome overview, but it's turned out to be frustrating and annoying. Inspired by Django Reinhardt, Taylor emerged in the late '70s with Stéphane Grappelli, and went on to record a splendid Spirit of Django tribute. He has a light touch, which doesn't swing so much as it floats, dazzlingly quick and clever. This works impressively in small contexts, solo even. But he also has a fondness for cheese, which is indulged throughout, but mostly on the first disc -- simpy songs, Kirk Whallum slickness, smooth jazz that turns syrupy. Second disc is more interesting -- a better best-of is clearly possible. B
Roger Davidson: Pensando En Ti (2005 , Soundbrush): Boleros and rumbas, mostly composed by the pianist-leader, played with an easy rhythm that lets the richness of the piano shine through. The group includes guitar, flute, and trumpet/flugelhorn, each folded in neatly. Davidson has a classical background, but he's worked in Latin forms before, notably on tangos with Pablo Aslan, who produces here. Lovely record, but it's almost totally lacking in tension. B+(*)
Brad Goode: Hypnotic Suggestion (2005 , Delmark): Trumpet player, in a quartet with pianist Adrean Farrugia. Harvey Pekar notes that this 54-minute album was recorded in two and a half hours: "That helped add spontaneity, a live feeling, to the proceedings." Yes, but it also means that they kept what they came up with on the spot. Which isn't bad, but after playing it three times I've invested more time in it than they did, and have less to show for it. B
Yosvany Terry Cabrera: Metamorphosis (2004 , Ewe): A saxophonist from Camaguey in Cuba, now in New York. Plays alto, I think, but just specified as sax here. I've noticed him on several recent latin jazz records. He's if anything less prominent here, mostly because his sax is often shadowed by Avishai Cohen's trumpet. Normally I don't care for that approach, but this time it works. The other prominent instrument here is Mike Moreno's guitar. Latin, of course, but ranges a bit and never settles into a rut. [B+(***)]
John Ellis: By a Thread (2006, Hyena): This is one of those albums that tries to do everything and does it well enough to tease you into playing along. Instrumentally, Ellis plays various saxes, bass clarinet and ocarina, backed by Aaron Goldberg's keyboards and/or Mike Moreno's guitar -- not a large group, but a loaded one. Musically, we have various shades of postbop, including blues and funk riffs. It's all impressively well rounded. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Marc Mommaas with Nikolaj Hess: Balance (2005 , Sunnyside): Music this sparse depends on balance, which is evident here. Two tenor sax solos, the rest with Hess piano added. The tone is even handed, the dynamics measured -- the sax challenging but unaggressive, the piano helpful but less interesting. B+(**)
Zu/Mats Gustafsson: How to Raise an Ox (2004 , Atavistic): With two baritone saxes, this gets ugly fast and barely lets up. Still, it has some groove to it, mostly thanks to Massimo's bass, and it's the groove that holds it together. B+(*)
Lew Tabackin Trio: Tanuki's Night Out (2001 , Dr-Fujii.com): Better known for his featured role in wife Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band, Tabackin runs a tight trio on the side. This is a live set from Japan -- been out there a while, but has only recently become available here. He plays flute on three pieces -- a majority if you discount the two encore covers -- and runs through a smart set of postbop moves, getting a substantial sound. His tenor sax, of course, has more muscle tone, especially on the well studied encores -- "Body and Soul" and "Rhythm-A-Ning." B+(**)
Ran Blake: All That Is Tied (2006, Tompkins Square): Solo piano, something Blake has done a lot of. Blake is 70, having recorded 35 records since his ESP-Disk debut 40 years ago. I've only heard a handful, and can't say that I've ever made much sense out of him. I just have a promo, with a quote on the front from John Medeski's liner notes: "A journey into an intuitive, mystical, poetic, personal and important world." Haven't seen the notes themselves, but that's about what this sounds like, even if I don't have the imagination or vision to see it myself. Francis Davis applauded this record. Brian Morton went even further: "the most beautiful and challenging piano record of the last 25 years." I don't doubt but that there's something here, but I'm giving up on trying to get it. B+(**)
Charles Gayle: Time Zones (2006, Tompkins Square): I always appreciated Gayle's occasional piano forays. Even when he ventured into Cecil Taylor territory they provided a brief respite from his torrential sax. But a whole album of solo piano offers no such contrast. And the last couple of cuts settle into a lovely pastoralism -- compounding my usual confusion. He's looking good on the cover. I'm happy for him. B+(*)
Matthew Shipp: One (2005 , Thirsty Ear): Shipp has developed into a marvelously percussive pianist since he took over Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. But this solo piano album reverts to the melodic explorations of his early solo albums, with only a whiff of extra left-hand muscle. Not without some interest, but not a lot of movement. B+(*)
Sunday, May 21. 2006
Movie: Neil Young: Heart of Gold. A Jonathan Demme concert film, tightly focused on the performers, especially Young as he debuts his recent Prairie Wind album at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Young assembled a large group of performers: a core band led by pedal steel guitarist Bill Keith, an array of backup singers featuring Emmylou Harris, a horn trio, a string section, and a gospel choir -- the latter three used spottily, to mixed effect. The new album songs eventually give way to old ones: "Harvest Moon," "Heart of Gold," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Comes a Time," etc., mostly working in Young's country vein. Shot just before Young went in for surgery on a brain aneurysm, there is a sense to it that he might be writing his own epitaph. Opens with interview snippets of the musicians in cars on the way to the auditorium. Closes with credits running as Young alone on stage doing a song in an empty auditorium. I'm not a music video person, nor for that matter much interested in live music, and that's pretty much it here. Everybody's looking old these days, but still sounding pretty good. The featured album is his best in a while, although it recycles much of his country kit. Behind that his songbook, his catalog, is extraordinary. B+
Young has a new album out -- as Christgau remarked, it's as notable a news event as a record. I've had mixed feelings about it, finally jotting the following down in my notebook:
I did stick "Impeach the President" into the songs list I'm collecting. (Never do manage to come up with such a list come ballot time, so for once I'm trying to be prepared.) Thus far, the only other song on this list is Bill Sheffield's "I Don't Hate Nobody," from Journal on a Shelf.
I'm not totally down on "America the Beautiful" -- it shows up constructively in two recent Carla Bley projects: Looking for America (ECM) and Not in Our Name (Verve, look under Charlie Haden). I live in the "amber waves of grain" part of the country, and always enjoy a drive up to Coronado Heights when the winter wheat ripens.
Saturday, May 20. 2006
Tom Engelhardt wrote a piece about New York City's extravagant plans to memorialize the 9/11 tragedy by building a memorial museum, reflecting pools, and a 1776 foot "Freedom Tower" -- projected price tage, one billion dollars, give or, most likely, take a few hundred million. My gut reaction to this is that I've never heard of anything so obscenely self-indulgent, and there are many other overtones to it. Engelhardt starts to get a grip on it:
While this monumentalism says much about America, I'm at least as interested in what this might mean for the actual victims of the 9/11 attacks. I knew a secretary killed in the World Trade Center, though her husband, who I've known since he was a small child. I was in New York when the attacks happened, and spent quite a bit of time with the family. I've only been back once since then, but was shocked at what I saw. Since then I've lost touch -- partly my fault, but also indicative of what happened. Tragedy happens, but 9/11 wasn't just statistically significant. It played into a set of political agendas, which produced a unique reaction. One part was that the families of the victims were showered with cash. Given the ensuing Bush wars, it's tempting to view their windfall as blood money, but the reaction of the families was more powerfully conflicted. The money was unearned, except perversely through a sacrifice that no amount of money could compensate. The money was welcome, of course, because in America money is always something one needs, and one never quite knows how much is really needed.
But it's more complex, and more convoluted than that. For one thing, the suffering was amplified by the scale of the attacks, by their conspiratorial agency, and by the intense publicity that ensued. So-called Acts of God tend to be consigned to fate, but the idea that these attacks were the work of a foreign network -- of Osama Bin Laden, of the militant Salafist-Jihadism in general, perhaps even of a massive, intractable "clash of civilizations" -- politicized the tragedy, turning mere victims into martyrs to help promote wars of revenge. Some 9/11 families reacted against these politics, but most went along with the flow. Either way prolonged the agony.
9/11's scale was matched by Hurricane Katrina -- in terms of deaths, that is; in terms of the number of people affected, the property damage and loss of livelihood far exceeded 9/11. Katrina attracted a lot of press, but it launched no avenging crusades -- at least not against the Army Corps of Engineers or the mystery behind global warming, although the Bush administration sunk to its usual embarrassing level of corruption and incompetence. In other words, Katrina was, like most disasters, something to put into the past. But 9/11 was kept alive, looming as a portent of the our fearsome future. Monuments help do this: their fundamental idea is to keep memory alive, where it's useful for people with axes to grind. That's why, for instance, the US South is dotted with Civil War monuments, but no monuments to the greater tragedy of slavery. That's why we have monuments to imperial wars, but not to genocide against Native Americans.
But this is just excess baggage for the individuals caught up in 9/11. I had an uncle who was killed in a car wreck when I was very young, leaving his three small children with no father and his wife with no husband. They all (we all) pulled together and made do. I saw no real, practical difference when my friend lost his wife. Indeed, there was little difference between then and when I lost my first wife, except for the sudden shock -- in my case spread out, but hardly diminished, by long illness. These things happen, and sadly, painfully, we cope with them. But we're constantly told that 9/11 is something different: not a personal tragedy, but some sort of national stigma. One consequence is how this interferes with the recovery of the people who actually bore the costs. Paying them off supposedly helps them out, but it also legitimizes the cause of war in their names.
The revenge of 9/11 has done nothing to salve its pain. The count of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq has nearly doubled the dead from 9/11, and rises inexorably. The count of Americans injured, often severely, is far greater. Meanwhile, the US has behaved far worse than the masterminds of Al Qaeda ever imagined -- an escalation of the cycle of revenge that only promises further tragedy. But putting all that aside, it's not just political opportunism that drives 9/11 activism. There seems to be a cultural dread of death, which especially in the case of sudden, pointless death seeks a peculiar form of immortality to find meaning where none is evident. Monuments and revenge are two traditional ways of bringing the dead purposefully back -- to meaning, if not to life. A more novel way is something like "Megan's Law" -- deny death by changing the rules. Makes one wonder whether what we really need isn't a new understanding of politics so much as a shrewd psychiatrist.
Tuesday, May 16. 2006
Saw two movies after the last such notebook entry. Figured since I had been ganging the movie notes up that wasn't enough. Then never quite found the time. Now it seems like it's been so long -- last report was actually dated March 7 -- that I've forgotten much of what I've seen. So I expect this will be patchy. But if not now it'd only get worse.
Movie: Caché. Not as clear as it could be, but a powerful testament to how strange and subtle blowback can be. Daniel Auteuil plays a minor television personality -- has a program about books -- who is stalked, taunted, and haunted by an Algerian he drove away from his childhood home. The significant thing here is not whether he was wrong then but how self-righteously aggressive he acts now -- the old best defense is a good offense ploy. Denial, after all, is not just a way to hide from responsibility; it makes sure no wrong is redressed. A-
Movie: Mrs. Henderson Presents. Was prepared for yet another dull exercise in the British notion that nudity is good for business. Found instead that the immaculately posed nudes were their own best critique. Also got some humor at the expense of the British upper classes, and an antiwar speech that strikes me as fundamentally correct, even if narrowly conceived. Like the British notion of the business of nudity. A-
Movie: Why We Fight. The title comes from Frank Capra's WWII propaganda films, but Eugene Jarecki doesn't do much with that. Instead, he spins what Gore Vidal calls "perpetual war for perpetual peace" around Dwight Eisenhower's lecture on the military-industrial complex. There must be a million ways to slice up this story -- James Carroll's new book is one I plan on reading soon -- but this one seems as valid as any. I could have done without the 9/11 blowhard, but even that story has some interesting twists. A-
Movie: V for Vendetta. This has a reputation of being pro-terrorist, but the terrorist in question is as tangible a product of horrific state-implemented torture as one can imagine. Where he differs from your garden variety terrorists is in the uncommon elegance of his vendetta and the gentlemanly grace with which he accepts his own flawed doom. But then, this is fiction; one should never forget that, or lose the knack of separating it from fact. As for the government that unleashes biological warfare against its own people to promote a panicked embrace of fascism, that's fiction too. But I still want to know who sent all those post-9/11 anthrax letters out. Those were fact, as was the mad rush to war that followed, not to mention the NSA snooping and other aspects that this fiction runs the risk of understating. A-
Movie: Inside Man. Clever caper, although I have all the usual caveats -- Nazis in the closet, remarkably principled and skilled Jewish crooks played by WASPs, Denzel's girlfriend confusion, whatever Jodie Foster was supposed to be. Spike Lee could grow up to be Sidney Lumet, if that's what he wants. B+
Movie: Friends With Money. Let's face it, money's wasted on the rich. B
If there was another, it's slipped my mind. Maybe I should go back to one short entry each time out. Not that there's been anything to see in several weeks.
Monday, May 15. 2006
Haven't heard a peep out of the Voice about the pending Jazz Consumer Guide. I had heard maybe 5/17, but I see that Francis Davis got his page into issue 20. Robert Christgau usually runs every other week. He had a page in issue 19, so he will probably get issue 21, but I don't know that. Christgau has a piece out of sequence in issue 20: an obit on Grant McLennan. Don't have a lot of prospecting to report this week, given that I spent most or all of five days listening to old David Murray records. Just wonderful.
Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (2005 , Delmark): One of the last nights at Anderson's Chicago club, with the saxophonist in charge, his long-time protégé Hamid Drake on drums, and Harrison Bankhead fattening up the sound with his bass. My main caveat is that this is much like what Anderson has been doing for the last 3-5 years -- I haven't heard all of his Velvet Lounge records, but the trend seems to be toward a measured, more balanced attack. Maybe he's getting old, or maybe he's just finding himself. [B+(***)]
Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa: Raw Materials (2005 , Savoy Jazz): Put this on as soon as I got it, and I've played it three times since, so this isn't really a first impression. But it really is just an impression: I've been playing the record in odd moments when I couldn't really focus. It took me a while before I realized that these pieces are just duets. Iyer is so adept at marshalling time and filling space that I never suspected anything to be missing. But my strongest impression of the record is that it annoys me. I'm inclined to blame Mahanthappa's tone -- a sour, metallic taste, all edge. I can think of other alto saxists with a similar bite -- most notably, Jackie McLean -- so perhaps there's something more bugging me here. Iyer's work here remains impressive -- he's a major figure, and judging from his other work Mahanthappa is at least a useful one. This leaves me with a conundrum: impressions thus far have made it clear to me that I'm never going to like this enough to rate it even as an Honorable Mention; on the other hand, it's possible that if I played it another 3-5 times I might develop the grudging admiration that would push it into low B+ range, or I might get so annoyed to list it as a Dud. Right now I'm not looking forward to either. B
Christian McBride: Live at Tonic (2005 , Ropeadope, 3CD): Three-plus hours of live action is a lot to sit through, but at $18.98 list this is something of a bargain. The breakout yields three cleanly distinct discs. All feature the same funk-fusion quartet, with McBride playing more electric than acoustic bass, Geoffrey Keezer more electric keyboard than piano, Ron Blake honking and Terreon Gully drumming. The first disc is just the quartet, with cuts selected from two sets -- reportedly the best, but really just a baseline. Second disc brings in guests Charlie Hunter, Jason Moran and Jenny Scheinman, stretching out for long and insinuating jams. Third disc has a different set of guests -- DJ Logic (turntables), Scratch (beat box), Eric Krasno (Soulive guitarist), Rahsaan Peterson (trumpet) -- on even longer jams with hip-hop flavor. Excessive, indulgent, lots of chatter and applause. B+(***)
Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 , American Clavé, 2CD): The first Conjure album, recorded in 1983 carried the self-explanatory title, Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed. Kip Hanrahan directed the music, composing some of it, bringing in a range of musicians to flesh out his ideas, with Reed himself reading the texts. Twenty-some years later, here is more of the same thing. Aside from Hanrahan and Reed, the only musician returning from the first Conjure album is David Murray, who looms large, as you may expect. Working on the rest. [B+(***)]
Kip Hanrahan: Every Child Is Born a Poet: The Life & Work of Piri Thomas (1992-2002 , American Clavé): Could have listed this under Thomas, who wrote and recites most of the words, or even Jonathan Robinson, who directed the documentary film this is the soundtrack to, but Hanrahan orchestrated this, much as he has the Conjure albums with Ishmael Reed. In some ways he's even more central here -- as gripping as the words are, the instrumental interludes are exceptionally captivating. Thomas is perhaps best known for his 1967 memoir Down These Mean Streets. [B+(***)]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Billy Martin & Grant Calvin Weston: Live at Houston Hall (2002 , Amulet): I tend to reflexively discount drum records -- maybe that's my rock roots, the result of listening to John Bonham go on and on and on. Martin, of Medeski and Wood fame, has more than a dozen albums on his own label now -- solo drums, duo drums, electrobeats, turntablists, remixes of all of the above. I've heard seven, which is way more than any non-fanatic needs, but they're all interesting in various ways. This, like most live albums, was probably more fun when it was experienced live, but even now it strikes me as the best of the crop, and one of the more consistently engaging, as well as exciting, drums albums I've heard. Even so, I'm unsure how to rate it. Maybe if Weston played more trumpet than just the splash midway through? B+(***)
The Bob Sneider & Joe Locke Film Noir Project: Fallen Angel (2005 , Sons of Sound): Film music -- don't get what film noir has to do with it, given that the films and writers are second generation and then some -- Dave Grusin, Mark Isham, Jerrald Goldsmith, Tomasz Stanko. Makes for smokey atmospherics, but not much more. B+(*)
Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band: The Subway Ballet (1988-2005 , Evening Star): Conceived as dancing commuters enter and exit the series of subway stops from Brooklyn to Harlem, the music fits the concept literally enough that the unchoreographed ballet is unnecessary. The highlight comes with the Hassidic diamond merchants, identified by David Krakauer's clarinet. As for the metatonal theory, all I know is that it doesn't require a piano. Bonus: four tracks from Sandke's early days as a fusion guitarist. Guess I was wrong when I grouped him with all those young fogies he's spent most of his career playing with and for. B+(***)
Diego Urcola: Viva (2005 , Cam Jazz): Like his fellow Argentine and frequent collaborator Guillermo Klein, Urcola plays Latin jazz but with a more extended European feel. He's not as ambitious as Klein -- more like a well travelled sideman who winds up calling in a lot of chits to make an album that he does little to dominate. The group is strong all around, with Antonio Sanchez and Pernett Saturnino on percussion and a slew of guests -- Dave Samuels' marimba and Paquito D'Rivera's clarinet stand out. Leader plays trumpet. B+(*)
Sunday, May 14. 2006
Tom Lehrer explained that he gave up on satire once he realized that reality had outpaced it. It was only days ago when Stephen Colbert described the Iraqi government as "fabulous," but already the news hype has trumped him: "magnificent" is the mot du jour. Friday's Eagle carried a piece by James Rainey of the L.A. Times called, "'Fed-up' Iraqis tipping off police." Some quotes:
In other words, it could have been worse. Isn't that magnificent? As for all those tips, you can slice them many ways. At slightly more than 1 per 100,000 Baghdadis, it's not like Iraq's suddenly become a nation of snitches. With only 1% of the tips not producing arrests, you have to wonder how carefully the authorities weigh the evidence. This certainly opens up a lot of opportunities for groups to sick the authorities on other groups, especially given that by now everyone is armed and suspicious. And then there's all that future collaborator taint. As for the paragraphs I left out, well, might as well reprint them too:
Like the man said, magnificent!